The following is the lead editorial from Red Wedge's first full print issue, which is being sent to the printers shortly. Copies of Issue One can be ordered at the Red Wedge shop.
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In August 2012 a handful of Chicago-based Marxist art junkies launched Red Wedge. The moment was distinctive: Tunisia, Egypt, Occupy Wall Street, the Indignados in Spain, general strikes in Greece and South Africa. Our aim was to try to pull together the artistic and creative flourishes that came with the social and political upheavals: the music and poetry of Tahrir Square, the painting, sculpture and performance of Occupy. It was impossible to ignore the transformation of public space when working-class people took it over. The static reminders of authority and alienation became living breathing carnivals of resistance. It was our belief that this indicated a new audience eager to discuss the aesthetics of rebellion and ready to explore the intersection between art and radical theory. We hoped our website might be a humble contribution to building and cohering a new cultural resistance.
From the earliest days our intention was to launch a print edition as well as maintain an online website. We have posted hundreds of articles examining everything from Marxism and romanticism to punk rock and feminism. We’ve hosted concerts for Pussy Riot and art shows for Greek anti-fascists. We published our editorial/manifesto “Issue Zero” pamphlet. And now, at long last, we are publishing the first issue of our printed magazine.
2015 is, of course, not 2012. But it is marked by the memory of the recent past. Occupy was driven off the streets. The Arab Spring faces the specters of counter-revolution and foreign intervention. The popular occupations of squares in Spain and Greece had waned. Fascists and the far-right pose a threat across Europe. But the ruling class has not been able to stop the revenge of history. The election of SYRIZA, the first major electoral victory for a left-wing anti-austerity party in Europe, is a major step forward. Whatever contradictions SYRIZA faces its victory can raise expectations beyond the narrow confines of the neoliberal imagination. The increasing popularity of Podemos in Spain likewise demonstrates both the promise and challenge of the present moment. National self-determination rumbles in Scotland, Catalonia and Kurdistan, pulling against the yoke of imperialism and neoliberalism. Workers in South Africa and Venezuela are grappling with the exertion of their power.
In the U.S., the rebellions provoked by the acquittal of the police killers of Michael Brown and Eric Garner — first in Ferguson, Missouri and spreading across the country — have reshaped American protest. In a continuation, divergence and further articulation of Occupy, the #BlackLivesMatter movement has moved from symbolic to actual disruptions, blocking highways and organizing shopping-mall die-ins. These actions will impact all facets of American creativity.
The experiences of the movements of 2011 and 2012 have shown us that one does not simply superimpose the urge for a better world on top of the present. Our moment requires a deeper understanding of social change, the state, repression, oppression, the working class, and so many other concepts. And just as all of these things are shaped and reshaped by the ever-shifting needs of capital, so do capital’s crises create fissures to be widened in people’s consciousness as they start to ask increasingly radical questions.
That is why we have dedicated to this first issue of Red Wedge to a concept that, while straightforward on the surface, yields a growing amount of urgent questions. It would be easy to produce an issue on the theme of “Art and Revolution,” examining the connections between radical politics and art in the general abstract. It would also be clunky and out-of-step at this moment in time. Rather, we believe that the question posed is: How we actually present an alternative that engages with the here and now, so that the cracks, the fissures, and the openings created by neoliberalism’s failures can be exploited and pried apart.
As neoliberalism has herded our futures into a cul-de-sac it has stilted the popular imagination. It is telling that the most recognizable collisions between culture and politics in 2014 surrounded The Interview — a cheap formulaic bro-comedy dripping with racism, sexism and imperial hubris. Even after the hacking of Sony Pictures — and leaked emails that exposed Hollywood’s creative poverty — The Interview was made into a patriotic rallying point. Moviegoers rising to sing “Proud to Be an American” following two hours of Asian stereotypes and dick jokes confirms a sad state of affairs.
Apocalypse and dystopia may have been a subversive cultural warning five or ten years ago. But those tropes have been absorbed into daily life, confirming an ever-growing sense that the only alternative to the present is the barbarism inherent within it. In Ferguson, Missouri you can buy Walking Dead-themed lottery tickets at the corner store. Too many artists don’t even seem to be asking if anything might be salvaged from the rubble. Many others are uncertain. It is our belief that the most daring action for contemporary artists and producers is the imagination of a better future: to find the loose threads of hope and revenge in our anemic culture and pull. As one SYRIZA voter argued following their electoral victory, “it is time for the revenge of dreams.”
That is why the cultural moment does not simply call for “art and revolution” but “art plus revolution.” The difference may seem pedantic. But it is an important one. Counterposing contemporary art, literature, film, music and poetry with an abstraction of what revolutionary art “should be” is too limiting. Far more productive, interesting and useful is the struggle to apply a radical worldview to art and creativity as they actually exist in the here and now. From that point we can start to grapple with what it means to “revolutionize everyday life” in the present.
The articles of our first full print issue point towards such a framework. Red Wedge editor Adam Turl and feminist writer Ashley Bohrer examine the kids of dynamic expression that came out of history’s most earth-shattering revolutions: the Russian and French, respectively. Their goal, however, is to ask about their relevance today. What do the Constructivist artworks of October and the crafts of Jacobin France tell us about radical art today? Red Wedgeeditor Brit Schulte, in a piece on contemporary feminist graffiti, puts forth examples that might provide some answers. Editor Crystal Stella Becerril’s essay likewise encourages us to look at how the place of women of color might be challenged in popular music.
Our reviews section naturally continues in this vein. Paul Mullan reviews Nicolas Lampert’s A People’s Art History of the United States — published as part of the series edited by the late historian Howard Zinn — and traces the history of “art from below.” Red Wedge editor Alexander Billet listens to D’Angelo’s Black Messiah -- one of this winter’s most relevant albums -- and asks what it might mean for what some are calling a rebirth of Afrofuturism in the post-Ferguson world.
Of course, what is an arts magazine without any actual art? Craig Ross, a recent addition to our editorial board, shares with us his stunning images from his “Steal Away” series, narrating the visions of rebel slave leader Nat Turner. Our prose and poetry both hail from across the pond in Britain: Adam Marks and Winston Groom’s contributions are both off-kilter, oddly narrated, and yet also speak to contemporary tensions while coming off as strangely familiar.
If there is one piece in this issue that ties together these themes -- art’s capability to draw together the subversive past and hopeful future into an incendiary present, the punctuation of radical ideas with radical aesthetics -- then it would have to be our roundtable with the members and artists of Oracle Productions. A small, independent theater company on Chicago’s north side dedicated to providing free performance for all, they have quickly become an impressive feather in the cap of the city’s art scene with their renditions of works by Bertolt Brecht, Upton Sinclair, Gore Vidal and other politically engaged authors. And all with a style that is distinctly unique: organic yet worldly, gritty and uncompromising yet undeniably human at the same time.
If even a small handful of today’s young artists, writers, musicians and performers can pick up this magazine and glean inspiration from it, a bit of extra strength to be bold and create something that tests the manufactured boundaries of right and wrong, good and bad, then we at Red Wedge will have done our job. The times we are living in cry out for for this kind of creative expression. We agree with science fiction writer (and anti-capitalist) Ursula K. LeGuin who, upon accepting the National Book Award, told her audience:
I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries — the realists of a larger reality.
This dreaming — this envisioning of a larger reality — may be the most radical thing artists can do right now. We believe this magazine, “Art + Revolution,” is a modest contribution to that project. It is dedicated to all those who are on the streets and on the front lines: fighting for “the revenge of dreams.”
Issue One: "Art + Revolution" will be published in February by Red Wedge.