In Defense of Transgression

In the days following Donald Trump’s election, we at Red Wedge – shell-shocked and terrified as we were – ran an editorial arguing the basics of survival and resistance for artists and leftists alike. Few need reminding of the terrors that were – and still are – gripping those close to us. Non-male identifying friends and comrades were threatened for wearing their hair “too short.” Armed posses of white supremacists were announcing their intent to patrol colleges and abduct professors teaching the “queer agenda.” The need for self-defense was obvious. And it still is. 

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Sewerbot

Sparking arms, busted legs, broken heads, and smoking torsos, fell into the sewer with splashes and wet slaps. I listened from the top of the pile, upside down and pressed between a torso and a cement wall. I heard, above me, men return the cart to SynCorp’s loading dock. I paused for a few beats of silence and turned on my ocular lights.

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Preliminary Notes Toward a Gonzo Marxism

Marxism is many things. Whether or not one agrees with the likes of Michael Heinrich that it is not a worldview (I believe it most certainly is), it denotes a varying set of processes of collective and individual human practice and cognition. Whether or not you want to call that a worldview, well, you do you, boo.  To define it is thus, in a sense, to engage in it. Marxism of course is not limited to being operationalized, as it were as a “discourse” or a set of written procedures. As is apocryphally told, the great American revolutionary socialist Big Bill Haywood once remarked that he neve read Marx’s Capital but his body was covered with “marks from capital”.  Yet accepting the absolute primacy of sensual creative human practice, what Marx calls “form giving fire” of human labour, there is still the word and the set of words, the discourse, better yet, the rhetoric, or even better yet the poetic.

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Art, Gentrification + The Right to the City

The right to the city is a cultural right as much as it is a political and social one. Over the past fifty years, capitalism has dramatically changed the character and rhythm of the city. As rents have gone up and schools have been neglected and privatized, our alienation from urban environments has been underlined. This is illustrated and concentrated in the relationship of both governments working and poor people to art.

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We Are All Outsider Artists Now

“Outsider Art” positions art and artists in or outside the art world. “Art Brut” and “Outsider Art” were terms coined during the reign of the modernist avant-garde, in the 1940s and 1970s respectively. In this, whatever problems these concepts had, they initially positioned artists in and outside a conscious stream on ongoing aesthetic innovation, a stream in which a significant minority of artists had political sympathetic with anarchist, socialist, and Marxist politics. But, as Boris Groys observes, the modern avant-garde became, in the late 20th century, a weak avant-garde, avoiding the strong politics of modern art, as well as the strong images of classical and popular culture. There are number of reasons for this transition.

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Red Wedge Special Online Issue

This special online issue includes essays by Shannon Bell, Jordy Cummings, Laura Fair-Schulz, Joe Sabatini, Adam Turl, and Cam Scott; interviews with Anupam Roy, Tyler Bee from the Beehive Design Collective, and Kate Doyle Griffiths; reviews from Jason Netek, Agatha Slupek, annd Neil Rogall; poetry and short stories from Urvi Kumbhat, Benjamin Balthaser, Margaret Corvid, Tish Markley and Trish Kahle; visual art from David Mabb, Richard Reilly, Jon Cornell, Laura Fair-Schulz, Octavio Quintanilla, Nathan Nun, Anupam Roy and Adam Turl; audio/video from Alexander Billet, Magally Miranda-Alcazar and Adam Turl.

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The Way of Transgression

There are concepts whose time has passed, and each usage now betrays or strays from the initial power of the term. “Transgression,” when deployed by such thinkers as Michel Foucault and Georges Bataille in the1930’s-to-late 20th century was a radical concept articulated with change and resistance. That is not to say that transgression wasn’t often a means for the homogeneous order to absorb elements marked outside of it and/or or at its limits.

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Temporarily Embarrassed Millionaires

My work pivots from the following ideas and concerns:

  • Art was shamanistic in origin (under primitive communism).

  • The present day avant-garde is a “weak avant-garde” (see Boris Groys) detached from both the modernizing and utopian impulses of the modern avant-garde.

  • The solution to this weakness is a popular avant-garde that deals with the lives and concerns of the majority of the world (the working-class, the exploited and oppressed).

  • A viable strategy to combat the weak avant-garde is “narrative conceptualism;” putting the stories of working-class people up front in experimental artwork.

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Nightmares of Capitalist Modernity part 2

According to Franco Moretti, the fear of bourgeois society can be summed up in two names: Frankenstein and Dracula. He notes how both were born in 1816 on a rainy evening near Geneva, at a time when industrial development was just beginning to get underway (1997, 83). His argument is that Frankenstein and Dracula are dramatic, totalizing monsters. Unlike the feudal or aristocratic ghosts who were confined to a castle, these figures go international, expressing the motions of capital and labour. While originally published in 1983, his argument resonates most strongly in the late neoliberal period.

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Arnold, Califronia, 1985

Wives pick through the avocados, press the rinds, sinking their thumbs into the meat to ensure that this one will produce quality guacamole. In the carts, small children wind their fingers around their metal cages, burn their palms on the nylon safety belts better suited for suicide. Where are the husbands? The only man in sight stands behind the chilled meat counter. He leans now, over the grinder, making sausages. His hand rests on the control, missing an index finger, perhaps an accident that someone has served on a plate of hors d’ouerves two plates down from the guacamole. Almost unseen, a teenager with unnaturally blonde hair sweeps the floors, down each aisle in an easy, angled movement that dances under the wheels of the carts, the only sound the leather pants she wears in defiance of the dress code. The one she tells her manager she would follow if only the job provided health insurance and now she slips a pack of Virginia Slims from behind the counter and steps outside. Nearly invisible, and she promises herself she only took the pack because wages are so low they really stole them from her anyway.

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