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[Art Strike 1990-1993]
Taking the Offensive: A Rant
In all the recent months of anti-censorship activities, amid all the talk, amongst all the articles, the letter writings, etc., there's been a noticeable lack of what I would consider one of the most important ingredients in this battle: propaganda. As far as I'm concerned, and in relation to my own visual art practice, the xerox machine is one of the most powerful weapons we as artists have available to us in the fight against censorship. It's cheap, quick and accessible. Much of what I will be addressing has the xerox machine in mind and I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Chester Carlson, the inventor of xerography, for inventing such a revolutionary process.
- Blast all artists who still buy into the myth of artistic genius and the whole ideological baggage that goes with it and who don't see how it serves to separate and divide us at precisely the time when we should be throwing all that crap out the window.
- Blast artists until they finally put away their egos along with their crumbling portfolios and realize that collective and collaborative action in the defense of cultural diversity brings with it a much greater personal satisfaction than any one person exhibit.
- Blast censorship exhibits in galleries and preaching to the converted. We should be taking it to the streets, getting it published everywhere, getting it in newspapers, on public transportation systems, on car bumpers, T-shirts. Sticker the cities, stencil the streets. If I get invited to send work to another flag show I think I'll puke.
- Blast all the tired old "political art" aesthetics. Mix it up, plagiarize, recombine, appropriate, do whatever is necessary to catch people's attention, infuriate them, inundate them, assault their senses. You could start by plagiarizing Barbara Kruger's work and inserting your own texts. Her work's perfect for it.
- Blast all artists who refuse to see that the Cold War has come home. How many painters, photographers, and arts administrators have to be strangled by the legal system for artists to realize that it's their front door which could be the next one to be kicked in.
- Blast the whole bunch of artists rushing over to the new bohemia in the Eastern Bloc with their travelling exhibits and performances when the war on
culture is well and truly under way here.
- Blast all the people who are jumping on the censorship bandwagon during the Festival of Freedom Expression and then will slump back in front of their TVs the next week.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
If I was
cultural czar I would declare a war for
culture and I'd call it "A Thousand Points of Propaganda." And these are some of the things I would want to set up.
First of all we need to take a large leaf out the rights methods of operation: we need national organizing, national coordination and we need to compile the biggest fucking mailing list in the world.
We need to create a network of "Art Against Censorship" xerox image-banks that could serve as distribution centers across the country. These would be places where artists could send copies of their work which in turn would get distributed to anti-censorship groups. Anyone who attended the Urban Scrawl opening at Cheapart and the Armpit gallery (both in San Francisco) recently would have sensed the possibilities in this kind of approach.
We need to set up propaganda workshops where visual, etc., materials would be provided, and people could come together for an evening to create, party and then xerox the whole lot and hit the streets the same evening. This work could then be exchanged and distributed to other "Propaganda Workshops" throughout the country.
Put together a xerox booklet with images and text entitled "How to Answer 20 of the Most Difficult and Awkward Questions About Government Funding for the Arts". Something that would inform people in a straightforward way about the complex issues in this debate and facilitate them in countering the Right's arguments. Xerox in the thousands, distribute and encourage people to recopy it.
Set up decentralized Propaganda Combat Units that can quickly mount a
cultural response to local and national incidents of censorship (ACT-UP and Boy/Girl Akimbo have created useful models).
Explore the potential and use in new ways all the other available duplicative technologies in this
cultural offensive: fax, computers, modems, video, etc.
Finally, I would declare an all-out overt war whose slogan should be: Artists The New Freedom Fighters!
Stephen Perkins, San Francisco, June 1990