Masterful cinema usually leaves little to accident. With the film world completely oversaturated by works that are intellectually lazy and yet somehow overwrought with production costs, this is easy to forget. Many would say that the age of the auteur is behind us. It’s overly glib, but also understandable.
Throw in a film that cuts against this, where everything is well-placed and intentionally so, and a film-going public hungry for something that hits the sweet-spot between smart and emotionally satisfying will not be able to stop talking about it. Enter, like an unexpected guest who has been hiding in your basement, Get Out.
To rise to and consolidate power 20th century fascism invoked crude race and national origin myths. This is part of what led Breton to pose the problem of counter-mythology, a different set of stories; stories that would animate resistance – that would bring the weight of the past crashing down on the enemies of socialism and the working-class. As Walter Benjamin wrote, the hatred and sacrifice needed for revolution is nourished “on the picture of enslaved forebears.” For Breton this was bound together with Surrealism and its intersections of chance and plan, individual and collective psychology, dream and consciousness, individual and collective action. As our contemporary far-right movements have gained ground they have brought back the “belligerent gods.” And among the neo-fascist “alt-right” there is a return of esoteric occult fascism in the “Cult of Kek” and its Pepe the Frog fascinations. So, just as before, we need our own animating counter-mythologies – our own stories for living and fighting in this world – for ridding it of the “myths of Odin."
We desperately need to explore a new genealogy for radical art – one that does not focus on obsessive materiality or abstracted gestures (isolated from social catastrophe); that does not avoid the brilliant moments of resistance that sustain us, but is not simply propaganda (although we need propaganda). Soulèvements – curated by philosopher and art historian Georges Didi-Huberman (winner of the 2015 Adorno Prize) – on display at the Jeu de Paume in Paris –provides an important contribution to exploring an alternative tradition for radical art.
There have been key moments when forms and modes of perception and expression shift in a profound manner. Such shifts may be met with skepticism, even hostility. Eventually, a new paradigm seems to emerge, although the malleable nature of art is such that the new paradigm can co-exist with its forerunners – yet not always peacefully so. The predictable and easily danceable swing tunes of Benny Goodman-era jazz developed into the more amorphous, multi-dimensional bebop. The realism of 18th century paintings gave way to the new imageries of “modernism” and later to “postmodernism” (a term simultaneously impossible to prescriptively define and curiously passé).
The uses and abuses of Rosa Luxemburg as a revolutionary icon are many, and they tend to focus excessively on the tragedy of her death or on her intellectual relationship with Lenin. Old Stalinists display great alabaster busts that disfigure her as a mute, empty eyed martyr to the cause of the mass murderer with whom she shares a bookshelf. Far worse than irrelevant or instrumental, the left has managed to render one of the most magnetic, vivacious and daring of its intellectuals as boring. Consequently the most exciting thing about, Red Rosa, Kate Evans’ graphic biography of the Polish-born German revolutionary is that when she undertook this extremely ambitious project, she scarcely knew anything about her.
What’s the best thing about Gary Ross’s The Free State of Jones? It is clearly a film that will rile the “All Lives Matter” crowd. For conscious white-supremacists and “color blind” racists alike, the portrayal on screen of a white Southerner – an army deserter – in league with runaway slaves in defiance of the tax man, the war machine, and the system of human bondage, amounts to a giant slap in the face. And it should be. But The Free State of Jones is much more than that. Here we have a mainstream film about a band of rebels in conscious opposition to economic inequality and horrendous racial injustices. What's more, they are led by a proponent of a utopian, agrarian-socialist vision of society.
A collection of anti-racist activist and photographer Syd Shelton’s work from Rock Against Racism has been collected together for the first time. Is this book a nostalgic trip to the bad old days of 1970s racial conflict or does it have something to offer a new generation fighting the changing face of racism in the 21st century? Maybe both?
Shelton’s starkly black and white photographs portray the sharp contrasts in 1970s Britain. National Front marchers and anti-racist crowds, the police and the youth on the street, the punks and Rastas, Sikh pensioners and black and white kids, the bands and the audiences.
Remi Kanazi’s second, and most recent collection of poetry, Before the Next Bomb Drops: Rising Up from Brooklyn to Palestine, could be summed up with the line: “the world is a messed up place,” the first line of the poem, “Nothing to Worry About.” Is the line fitting? Yes, and, no. Most poems, after all, are connected by themes of exile, displacement, colonialism, homelessness, violence, and police brutality, themes that, at first glance seem bleak. Nonetheless, to the attentive reader, these themes are the building blocks of a larger argument, an argument that calls for human solidarity against oppression of all kinds.
Robert Wyatt, now in his 70s, is surely one of the most intriguing, distinctive and sometimes infuriating musicians born out of 1960s Britain. His musical output has been intermittent, not surprising for someone suffering depression throughout his life, as well as the consequences of an accident in 1973 that left him permanently paralyzed from the waist down. Yet his recorded output contains many wonders. The surrealist psychedelia of the early Soft Machine and Matching Mole, the intensely personal bittersweet Rock Bottom, the series of Rough Trade singles which include his forlorn interpretation of Chic’s “At Last I am Free”, his version of Elvis Costello and Clive Langer’s anti-war “Shipbuilding” about the Falklands War as well as an eclectic series of collaborations with musicians such as Bjork, the Raincoats, Carla Bley and Brian Eno.
"Corpocracy,” currently at the Station Museum of Contemporary Art in Houston, provides another opportunity to reexamine important questions of a genuinely militant and engaged art practice. The show features political, mostly contemporary work by artists such as Michael D'Antuono, Kenneth Tin-Kin Hung, Packard Jennings, Eugenio Merino, Yoshua Okón, Stephanie Syjuco, and Judi Werthein. One arts collective is featured as well: the Beehive Design Collective.
Modeled on retro, aluminum signage, with chasing lights that flicker on and off in different patterns, Steve Lambert’s Capitalism Works For Me! True/False (2011) spells out the work’s exclamatory title...