Reflections on Surrealism & Revolution

Throughout this course, I’ve gained an appreciation for and an awareness of the importance of the collective in artistic action. Mixed in with these observations, however, is the realization that academic communities are in a constant state of flux. Each year new friendships are strengthened, and then in the spring with graduation or fellowships, those friendships become long-distance connections. Year by year the community changes. I think, then, it becomes important to form friendships with incoming students and to branch out beyond the university to become part of non-academic communities.

I’ve also realized the importance of training in both art and activism. Effective activism appears simple in its execution, but that is because it has been discussed and planned in detail. I want to continue to consider how I might contribute to story-based activism, so this summer I will read the Center for Story-based Strategy’s book Re:Imagining Change – How to us story-based strategy to win campaigns, build movements, and change the world and will watch the Center for Artistic Activism’s webinars. My plan is to follow the threads from this class to find additional artistic activist communities, develop a plan for attending trainings or bringing training groups to Milwaukee, and forge a new path for my activism.

As a writing teacher, I’m interested in embodiment and materiality and how these methods of composing can enhance a student’s engagement with their topic. In looking back through my notebook for the class, I found my notes while watching the documentary Ah! The Hopeful Pagentry of Bread & Puppet, and remembered the role of making and eating bread in their performances. The physical act of chewing and the mental act of considering the plays, chewing them, figuring out a meaning for yourself, were intertwined. I want to bring embodiment into my writing classroom in meaningful ways, and give my students ways to physically stay with ideas for longer periods of time.

I also hope to develop ways to bring the writings and theories of the Situationist International, Flux, and Oulipo movements into my writing classrooms and to discuss how and why we occupy certain spaces. My proposal “The Situation: Embodiment, Visual Literature, and Agency in the Creative Writing Classroom” was recently accepted for the Creative Writing Studies Organization 2017 conference in November, and I look forward to discussing the role of artistic activism in pedagogy with other creative writing teachers.

In my own creative work, I have been exploring visual and aural elements in hybrid texts. Learning about fluxus artists has opened up an exciting avenue to learn about past and present work in this field. At the end of this class, I feel hopeful that art can enact political change and a responsibility to use my artistic capabilities in collaboration with activist communities.

Mapping the Lovers’ Derive

“I’m your audience, and you’re mine” (Bernstein 96).

In All the King’s Horses, Michele Bernstein portrays an open marriage between Genevieve and Gilles. They meet a young woman, Carole, whom they are both attracted to, and Gilles enters into a relationship with her.

The balance of power shifts when Gilles falls in love with Carole. Genevieve acknowledges this change, and the potential dangers: “For the first time, perhaps, he wasn’t sharing things with me” (43). Genevieve is blocked out of Gilles’ relationship on two levels. This sharing is both of information, and the physical act of sharing Carole.

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Invitations and Infiltrations

In my research on Fluxus, I found that the movement had two main goals: (1) to challenge elite art institutions and to (2) meld art and life so that they are inseparable. In order to blur these boundaries, they experimented with form through “intermedia” – creating genres of art that crossed traditional categories, like visual poetry. The enactment of art was another way to reach for this goal. Performance and the actions of the viewer became important ways to change the dynamics of space. The audience was no longer separate from art, required to stand at a distance so as to protect the integrity of a piece.

“Fluxus art involved the viewer, relying on the element of chance to shape the ultimate outcome of the piece.” – The Art Story

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The Materials of the Situation

“The interest is not in consciousness and its freedom, but in the production of new situations as an end in themselves” (Wark 58).

In The Beach Beneath the Street, McKenzie Wark introduces the many players in the Situationist movement through a historical derive. This form allows the reader to experience the feeling of being within the SI. It’s a process I’ve enacted in my own life many times: someone introduces me to a new subject or concept, and then I spin off into learning more, following hidden paths of information, making my own map of the topic. What I remember most about these moments is the feeling of being absorbed, of traveling into a different mindspace where connections can occur. Transposing myself into a moment where time is past and present, and a time outside of both. Continue reading

Who Am I? Who Are We? What Are We?

“Towards the end of his life, Aimé Césaire has declared that the question he and his friend Léopold Sédar Senghor came to raise after they first met was: ‘Who am I? Who are we? What are we in this white world?’ And he commented: ‘That’s quite a problem” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

Shifting from Breton’s question, “Who am I?” to the collective “Who are we?” helps me to consider the roles that both the individual and the collective play in social movements. In his poem, “Emmett Till,” Césaire flips the equation of a racist, rural South by positioning a young black man as an individual person and his white murderers and the society that enabled their violence as a faceless group. They are an assimilation of “five centuries of torturers,” “five centuries of cheap gin of big cigars/ of fat bellies filled with slices of rancid bibles.” Continue reading