Friday, April 2, 2010

Action Alerts: WAVE BOOKS Events, April / Art Strike? / Whirlpool Strike! / Simone White at XPoetics

Keeping up with the devastating union-busting landscape is nearly impossible, but here's one thing you can keep an eye on/take action from afar on: Whirlpool's ongoing union-busting despite receiving millions of dollars (or perhaps because of millions of dollars) in stimulus money.  Outsourcing jobs to Mexico has meant business as usual with regard to organized labor there--one more plant that is now not organized, the working conditions and pay for those workers thus incredibly poor, while across the boarder those jobs are now gone.  This is not about protecting American jobs--despite claims of protectionism that still linger as anti-union rhetorics--but lifting up working conditions internationally, as the AFL has been working with Mexican organizers on this and other campaigns for several decades now. 

Standing up to Whirlpool
Whirlpool was the beneficiary of over $19 million in economic stimulus funds, but that didn’t stop the company from announcing plans to close a plant in Evansville, Indiana, and move manufacturing jobs to Mexico.
We were outraged. So we joined with our friends from the
AFL-CIO to protest Whirlpool's decisions and demand good jobs in America. In February, over 5,000 workers and labor leaders personally delivered a petition to Whirlpool with 10,316 signatures from American Rights at Work supporters!
» Read more about the petition delivery


Speaking of strikes, due to computer problems, I had to have this incredible work forwarded to me.  An important re-up of Thom Donovan's interest in art strikes. Important questions for poetry, perhaps of utmost importance. Read his post at Harriet blog for more, but here's part of Thom's important discussion on the feasibility/urgency of the art strike (and for now, as I myself couldn't access it), as part of work published in the forth. issue of WIG, one of the handful of journals that I think is a must, has the greatest potential as an ongoing force in contemporary visionary, documentary, and socipolitical poetry and poetics.  First, here's perhaps the best way to support WIG: to subscribe and also to submit.  The first issue includes work by CA Conrad, Anselm Berrigan, Laura Elrick, and others.  Kristin Gallagher and Tim Shaner edit the journal:

130 E. 49th Avenue
Eugene, OR 97405

$4, checks payable to Tim Shaner   

and here is the essay fragment from Thom (hope neither WIG nor Thom minds that I reproduce parts of the post here, as I'm unable at moment to get to the initial post due to computer whackery):

The following is from an essay forthcoming in WIG, an off-line poetics journal devoted to writing and labor practices edited by Kristen Gallagher and Tim Shaner. Given Sina’s fruitful posts about poetry and work, I thought I should post it to Harriet with the permission of WIG, which I urge everyone to support. For more information about WIG please check out Rodney Koeneke’s write up about WIG vol. 1 at his blog Modern Americans.

I wrote “Art Strike Anyone?” almost exactly a year ago. I would like to rewrite the essay now, having changed my mind and complicated some thinking since then. Work stoppage/slow-down, hiatus, sabbatical, redistribution of effort/energy/labor are ideas that I’d like to keep exploring in relation to previous endeavors by poets and artists. Another line of research (unexplored here) that I’d like to eventually follow concerns the history of poets/artists aligning with other laborers, of which there are obviously many compelling precedents in the 19th and 20th centuries.


Art Strike Anyone?

The only two art strikes I am aware of (that go by the name “art strike”) are one proposed by Gustav Metzger in the 70s following the closing of New York City art institutions in May 1970 by the Art Workers’ Coalition, and another proposed by Stewart Home in the late 80s, which resulted in quite little participation as far as I can tell, however much documentation (see the Neoists’ Art Strike Papers online).* In the case of Metzger’s strike, the strike was aimed at what we would call nowadays “institutional critique.” By asking artists to not participate with galleries, museums, and other venues for the reception and distribution of art, Metzger intended to call out art as a commodity, and address the social value of art when it is not serving as an object of fetishistic exchange and cultural evaluation (the making of tastes, fashions, social hierarchies, etc.)

While institutional critique remains a vital problem among artists, it is a realm of art that constantly risks being subsumed by the object of its critique insofar as art institutions tend to recuperate these critiques into its presentational modes and economic dynamics. A telos of this subsumption can be found in Andrea Fraser’s work, who went from giving tours of museums that parodied the ‘authority’ of the tour guide, to a situation in which she was selling herself as the product to the highest bidding collector. One can perceive a similar limit in live artists from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, many of whom now seek to reify their apocryphal works by providing photo-documents and other ephemera from the original events and, more recently, ‘reenacting’ them for live art biennials such as Performa in New York City.

Home’s art strike turns a skeptical eye on art as a cultural force elevating some to prominence while submerging others. What Home intended, it would seem, through his proposed art strike, was to level the social in relation to the cherished position of the artist as cultural purveyor. Home states such a position in response to Alain Jouffroy’s 1968 article “What’s to be done about art?” (the seed of Metzger’s and Home’s strikes) wherein Jouffroy states:

“It is essential that the minority advocate the necessity of going on an ‘active art strike’ using the machines of the culture industry to set it in total contradiction to itself. The intention is not to end the rule of production, but to change the most adventurous part of ‘artistic’ production into the production of revolutionary ideas, forms and techniques.”

In response to Jouffroy, Home writes in an article entitled “About the Strike”:

“The problem with this proposal is that without ending the rule of production, avant-garde artists would simply swap one privileged role for another. Instead of providing entertainment for a privileged audience, artists are to form themselves into a vanguard providing ideas, forms and techniques for the masses. While such a role may be attractive to the artist, it does nothing to alter the oppressive domination of a so called creative elite over the rest of society.”

While many of Home’s propositions are attractive, my problem with Home’s art strike is that it will not acknowledge an inherent value of stopping work, whereby one may recognize the production of art as a labor practice and not working (hiatus or striking) as a particular expression of one’s responsibility as a cultural producer. Likewise, while Home rightly frames the problem of Jouffroy’s art strike as one of privilege—and specifically the artist’s privilege to make and evaluate culture—what he does not affirm is that the artist can act in socially transformative ways beyond the making of works of art, or the artist’s involvement in art institutions, economies, and systems of distribution.

This past year saw the release of the Taiwanese artist, Tehching Hsieh’s, first comprehensive artist’s monograph with MIT press, Out of Now: The Lifeworks of Tehching Hsieh. This monograph describes the artist’s career from the late 70s until the present. Inasmuch as the trajectory of Hsieh’s work is to stop making work, talking about art, or entering a gallery, museum or other space for the distribution of art works for a year, and to eventually give up making art in order to merely “survive” through the century, Hsieh’s work offers a vital precedent for any further stopping of work by individual artists or artists organized to strike.

Hsieh’s problem of stopping work begins in the 70s, when for a year he decides to stay in a cell placed in his TriBeCa art studio. During this time he rents out space in his 5,000 square foot studio to fund his activities. He determines to do nothing except to perform the basic activities of a prisoner confined to their cell; he talks to no one, and only receives basic sustenance from routine visitors with whom he does not speak. While Hsieh will not discuss art (or anything else for that matter) with anyone during his confinement, he does produce documentation of the performance that will allow him to frame the work for exhibition and retrospection. This documentation consists of photographs taken daily of the artist in his cell. For each day that Hsieh is confined to the cell, he takes a single photograph from the same position of the cell. Collated in the MIT monograph, theses photos appear a crystallized time-lapse mug shot of the artist over the course of 365 days.

In subsequent pieces, Hsieh determined to punch a time clock in his studio everyday for a full year, and remain outdoors for a year. For another year, he committed to being roped to the artist Linda Montana while purportedly not talking to or touching his collaborator. Yet another year was devoted to not making art, discussing art works, or entering buildings in which art was being shown, discussed, or sold.

Examining the documentation of Hsieh’s one-year performances make me think about all that the artist must have experienced while not making art objects, that is, while withdrawing from an economy involved with visual art. And this seems the point of the work: to imagine the vanishing of art itself for lived social practices as a limit of aesthetic autonomy. What, for example, could have kept the artist’s mind and body active while refusing to go outside the confines of a cell for a year (an experience obviously lived daily by actual detainees)? What social difficulties and practical dilemmas did the artist encounter while remaining outdoors in the streets of New York City (the state of necessity, obviously, of all homeless, itinerant, and displaced people living in the city). What daily struggles does one face with another individual whose most private needs can not be extricated from one’s own (a fact we all face cohabitating with others, only not usually on such extreme terms)? Finally, what can we consider the work of art when what comprises the work itself is the avoidance of working—to not give one’s labor power to art as it is expressed by a set of cultural practices and activities?

In an interview with artists Delia Bajo and Brainard Carey for The Brooklyn Rail in August of 2003, Hsieh discusses his work since his “five year plan,” claiming this work to have been one of surviving into a new century. Since the arrival of a new century, Hsieh’s interviewers wonder how his work has changed. Hsieh’s answer is nothing less than a flat refusal to account for his life activity in terms of art per se. In the place of this activity, the artist provides selected artists with studio space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn without charging rent. As the artist himself describes in the interview:

Rail: Yet the fifth piece where you did not make art is similar to what you are doing now, isn’t it?

Hsieh: That was a piece of art. This is not. Action is not necessarily art. But I don’t really care about what is art and what is not. I want to know if something is interesting and that doesn’t have to be art. If there is an interesting message, let’s talk about it. Otherwise I am not interested. I say I have done six pieces, not more. I continue to say this. But I am now not doing, and I am not an artist now....  [continued]

Hsieh’s work makes me imagine the use of stopping work in order to record and discuss what happens when we are not working. It also makes me think of how much work poets already do that seemingly has little to do with writing poetry. In my own life, I not only write poems, but criticism and scholarship about poetry, art, and other forms of cultural production more often than not without pay. I also curate a reading series, host poets in my home, edit a magazine, catalogue a digital archive of poetry recordings, and teach. What would happen, I sometimes wonder, if all this activity were to fall by the wayside and myself and other poets were to do something else with our time? What if this work stoppage was organized? What if other poets were also to decide to stop working and document what they do when they are also not working? Would this documentation then be a kind of poem? Would the effort spent not attending poetry as a form of work have more value then the writing of poems?... To what extent do what we do as poets also inform what we do as part of a job or social activity? I don’t doubt that being a poet, in many of our cases, cannot be separated from what we do for a living, even if what we do for a living is not supported by our writing poems, or being involved in a culture of poets.

In Robert Kocik’s 2001 book, Overcoming Fitness, Kocik speaks of “poetry outsourcing”:

“DEFINITION Poets ‘placing’ themselves by pursuing new roles, omitted modes of operation and revenue generation at once provides perfect architectural specifications for a location out of which such modes may be facilitated. Outsource simply means taking the role of the poet out into society in novel and necessary ways as well as taking into poetry concerns, resources, substances and practices ordinarily considered extrinsic to poetry.”

Can we see the work that we do when we are not writing poems or involved with poetry culture as a ’side-project’, or better yet, as a way of using what skills we have cultivated as poets to inform different modes of activity? What if we kept track of the work we “outsourced” from our regular activities as poets? What if this became the work, or worthy of reflection in a way that poetry or art should also be worthy of reflection? One possible activity during an art strike could be to document and discuss what we would like to do as poets who are no longer engaged with poetry. Who are, thus, outsourcing their labor (since it is difficult for most of us not to have some kind of work at all times)

An art strike could also be an opportunity for poets to discuss problems that underly poetry, but are not usually considered of the craft itself. These problems may concern how we gather, what we eat (diet), how we make homes/where we live, politics, economics, ethics (the consequences of our actions), sexuality/erotics, pedagogy, ecology, science, health. Though we tend to organize these realms of activity through the poem anyway, what if our discussions about them displaced the making of the poem itself? What if the making of the poem were no longer our concern, and our concern became the mediations of these subjects and the way these subjects become addressed within social practices? What if we formalized a gathering dynamic beyond institutional formations such as the museum, gallery, and the academy? What if in the process of the strike we could carve out new spaces, spaces that would exist differently than those we have (and too often settle for)?  [continued]

What if poets were to enter into conversations with workers from other fields and disciplines during this time? What if we were to share research, and put heads together? What if this also were to be done outside the framework of the academy, where most of the money now goes to the sciences for the development of military-related technology? What if artists were to conspire with poets to circumvent their own economies, where visual art is fueled too much by commodity, and poetry so much by gift exchange and courtesy? What can models of poetry economy and community have to show artists frustrated with the pursuit of problems within a hyper-commodified economy? What if sustainable spaces can be created outside these economies? Spaces that don’t ignore their relation to the commodity, but foresee other economic and social modalities? Spaces that, likewise, feel comfortable laying bare their own relation to the commodity as a source for both pleasure and exploitation?

Poets have many of the tools necessary to redirect culture, and they have learned these by apprenticing themselves to a fellowship of poets, and to the making of the poem within a series of discourses and communities. What if this ’skill-set’ were applied to a different activity?

An art strike would only lead to more work, and reflect so much of the work we already do in the absence of poetry per se. What if many of us committed to an art strike for a certain amount of time, in hopes that time itself will open new possibilities for poetry as but a small, but consequential, part of social experience?

*Gustav Metzer called for a three year strike in 1974 as well. There is also currently an art strike ongoing until 2012, led by Spart.


I myself am deeply interested in the questions Thom poses, think them right-on--these, in part, are what helped strike up (no pun intended) a friendship.  As former union organizer, and as someone for whom titles, and even more generally, identifications simplicter, I find terribly problematic as they often strive for exclusion and not clarity, I'm interested in striking insofar as this would be an organized affair. And insofar as not uniquely, I had to stop organizing, was locked out, so to speak, by becoming ill.  As someone who also wrote (and still writes) poetry, writes on poetry, etc., I had to ask: what to do now?  And am always in some way on a quest to find ways to organize, or to reimagine social relationships (what organizing, in the end, amounts to) with the skill-sets I have and now have access to.  The poet asking "how does what I do affect things, and how might it, and how should it?" is not dissimilar from anyone posing such problems/asking such questions.  The corporal practices and ecosystems that I try on often show up as documentation, or, poetry: such is the case with the four large ecosystems-ritualistic behavior sets that end up as collected data cum sections of Occultations. 

Withdrawing from writing or art practices per se, or taking such practices outside their normatively conceived habitats, conventions, realms?  Doing so, then seeing what shakes out later, evidencing it, so to speak, to re-affirm Hsieh's apparent stance above, can either be thought of as a work stoppage in the service of doing X, or simply now doing X and, not now anyway, doing Y.  And yet.  Perhaps because I have been associated with or identified as a Y-doer, you decide to continually re-frame my doing X as "still doing Y," what I am doing currently as really being a Y kind of activity, hence "still doing Y."  The subsumption by the heteronomous market, however small potatoes within the larger gridlines of capitalism, of the differently behaving individual or group forces any striker, no matter the work stoppage, to re-code the striking vocabulary, hence its organized tactics.  Hence my interest in taking the work stoppage further if at all, or in any case asking whether the art strike of 74 goes far enough?  Building an organizing committee that can generate both ideas for a sustained strike and systematically develop an organizing plan, there would, in my estimation, be room to extend, to radically shift yet make overt and differently useful, what many of us I take to be already doing: purposefully ignoring the life-art distinction made so often.  The use here would be for some of the reasons Thom mentions, including the realization that poetry-making is labor, and yet as labor, it's not work to be reified or fetishized or pedestalized as it often is.  To fetishize aesthetic practice is also to bound these practices, crop them: it occurs I think, as a reflexive avoidance of talking about why it is that our constellation of "communities" is based solely on a gift-economy often disinclined to recognize itself as culturally important, embedded, complicit and situated, but important just as important but not more so, and as contiguous with, many modes of producing, living, consuming, etc.  Many of these modes are actions we as writers of poetry perform every day.  Thus I'm especially interested in Thom's future hooking of the politics and possibilities of the poetry strike with his interest in the history of art's interaction with labor movements, as here, I think the question of whether the poetry strike can be envision as connected to, or as part of, ongoing labor struggles, future wildcat strikes (illegal, of course), etc., whether this sort of affiliation strips the poetry strike of its particular power and function, or whether it would make for fruitful (say, arrestingly alien to the culture industry) stagings. I think of the First Internationale, some of the Wobblie campaigns and guerilla theater--companies taking to the streets as strikers who have moved their labor elsewhere, put it into a different context (the picket line)--at the turn of this century, and the May 68 strikes in France as viable areas of research in this regard.

It is with the sense that there is something classist and telling (viz. alienation and capitalism) about the poet thinking that her work in poetry is "real" and her day-job necessary yet in some way "fake" that makes the poetry strike viable yet difficult to do. Kocik, I think, takes interest in a sort of art strike, at least insofar as in Overcoming Fitness he implores us to think about how else we could think about, and act on, making spontaneous life-art happen, riff on that to try out behaviors that have as of yet no apparent poetic function.  Yet Kocik seems to be in this state of becoming all the time already.  It's the implicit, "already doing" what an art strike might potentially do, that, for Kocik perhaps, but at least for me, gets me thinking that to propose striking would need to involve some things more like what Thom implies and Kocik proposes, Thom with these extraordinarily good starter questions, further organizing steps, and not simply withdrawing without replacing that witheld labor with other activity akin to the picket line--a set of activities, or a systematic making space for unanticipated activities that creates for both visibility and greatest potential that these un-predictable activities/behaviors be somehow, some way, distinct from our poetic practices normatively defined as-such, behaviors felt by all participants in their unusual presence.  Otherwise, to withdraw one's writing labor simply, to simply withdraw, as with any hiatus, would cause less internal transformation in the striker who is already only ever writing poetry insofar as "writing poetry" is very much (tho in form, perhaps not entirely) a de dicto distinction from, say, writing a love letter or a hello email to a friend, the writer who takes "living poetically" to be a living, constant process of becoming.  Not to mention the tacitcal necessity of needing to be visibly "on strike" thru new behaviors.  

At the same time, due to the gift economy of poetry (and due to the increasing pressure put on workers in this economy), there is less buffer against the increasing legitimacy of the non-writer's claim that the work stoppage appropriates the language and activities of organized workers without also taking on board the risks of threat, termination, and so forth.  So, among the things to make explicit would necessarily be the withdrawing of all poetic activities--as Thom mentions, for example, the archival work--while giving testimony as former strikers (I myself am one) to how transformative that process is. Risky and often frightening, yes, but also wildly transforming insofar as how I spent my time, and who I spent my time with, as a striker, changed who I was and how I valued.  How might a poetry strike take shape--what would its morphology be--from the outset, such that these interlocking discussions receive full coverage, as the would with any work stoppage?  So far, even here in a small space, Thom's questions point out that we fetishize (and again, in my analysis this is partly due to how little cultural weight is put on the use value of poetry--our work--by people who don't themselves identify as poets), and, that there is potential in an organized works stoppage here, potential to open up the field for new social interactions, shows, perhaps, that there is a considerable amount of alienation within us for such a move to make sense yet ring weirdly to some--"strike?  What labor?  What work?" Lest the work stoppage be thought of as born of privlege, let's not assume that the "poet" who publishes or who writes has greater degrees of freedom socioeconomically than anyone else.  I see no evidence that this is the case, or at least that this generality can pass muster.  I see evidence that we share some degrees of freedom in our ability to choose to write, tho even this corroded 1st amendment is a just a piece of paper and not much more for many, many of us--again coming back to issues of class and access.


In the meantime, if we're still going to engage in poetic activities as per usual, it'd be good to:

Check out poems from and discussions about (also forth. reading info regarding) Simone White's first full-length collection, House Envy of All the World (Factory School), one of the best books that's come out this year in my opinion.  It's over at the ever-awesome XPoetics, yr corner store for all x things poetry/poetics.


Another call to check out the new Critphoria, which, as you'll see, takes some time getting thru it (and it's absolutely worth yr time).  From an earlier post: 

Quick note--DO check out the new issue of Critphoria.  Oooh, there's a lot to sift thru here, so perhaps another blog post.  For now, recommended--the issue includes among many other fantastic poets, work from Kristin Prevallet, Robert Kocik, Rodrigo Toscano&Nathalie Night, Thom Donovan, I could go on but I won't, so do visit them and dig in.  I'm just getting started--found the issue while procrastinating this evening.

From Wave Books, a series of events/exhibits from fantastic poets, so if in/around Seattle, check em out:

In honor of National Poetry MonthWave Books is working with the Henry Art Gallery to bring poetry into the daily life of the Henry. Throughout the month of April, the Henry is featuring audio and text installations, limited-edition postcards, and an Emotional Tour of the Henry, all created by the poets of local poetry press, Wave Books. In addition, each Saturday of the month is featuring a Poet-in-Residence, four Northwest-based poets working publicly among the artwork; see schedule below. 

For complete information, visit the Henry Art Gallery website here:

Featured on each Saturday of the month are the following Poets-in-Residence:

Saturday, April 3: Evelyn Hampton
Saturday, April 10: Don Mee Choi
Saturday, April 17: Howard Robertson
Saturday, April 24: Karena Youtz

We hope you will join Wave Books and the Henry Art Gallery for National Poetry Month, here in Seattle!

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