is an art exhibition expressing and unraveling states of political desperation. Activists, artists and very concerned people have created posters, manifestos, DIY kits, postcards, stickers, buttons and multi-media projects for free distribution.
Traveling through the country, this show creates space to build relationships and foster dialogue around the desperate state of affairs laid by a disastrous administration, complacent congressional leaders and a un-empowered populous.
Why are we so desperate?
In November 2008 something is going to change. The worst president ever will finally be voted out of the White House. But, as the infamous writing on the wall reads, IF VOTING CHANGED ANYTHING THEY'D MAKE IT ILLEGAL. The desperate push by progressives to include Ralph Nader in the 2000 elections and then their desperate about face towards Nader in 2004 is forgotten history. Now, in 2008, even though Nader is back in the race, we are still firmly rooted in the abyss of a two party system.
For many of us born after the assassinations of JFK, MLK and Malcolm X, belief in revolutionary change through electoral politics is not easily resuscitated. Our first political memory falls somewhere between Nixon's resignation and Bill Clinton's lies about having sex with Monica Lewinsky. Obama's seductive oratory style that instills nostalgia for movements we can't remember, Clinton's ability to go up against the men weighing down the glass ceiling, and Edwards' anti-corporate power to the people rhetoric is countered by Nancy Pelosi's miserable failure to radicalize the senate and end the war in Iraq as the first woman Speaker of the house.
The potential for the executive branch to be made up of firsts: the first president to be a black man or the first woman or Latino vice president, is not enough. The Bush white house knew the power of representation, and they delivered: Condoleeza Rice, Alberto Gonzales, John Yoo, Clarence Thomas and Mary Cheney's baby. Choosing to vote based on community affiliation has led to more exclusive tendencies, not less.
What are our options?
Despite the the crisis in American leadership, there's a real utopic moment before us. Electing the first president of color, indeed, might bring change. But our political system, in which any president would work, is fraught with inequities, violence and power plays in which change looks like reform. Movements, not leadership, new technologies, or more consumer products, is what makes long term, change.
Now is not the time to congratulate ourselves for supposedly moving past our radicalized state, we must not be complacent. How much do we compromise when we chose to participate in a stubborn old beast of a system that is unlikely to learn new tricks or rollover. How do we connect communities, select alliances, establish coalitions? Is it possible to be so reckless that desperation can be re-imagined as a tool for political organizing? Do we need to delve fully into an emotional crisis or can we wallow in our desperation and find creative possibilities for effecting social change?
The Audacity of Desperation had an additional stop in NYC in June. Steven Lam has organized a very cool 3 day event based on the original questions raised by this show. The fact that this project can be fluid and morph as necessary in different spaces, connecting with artists/activists/concerned folks beyond those of us already involved is one of the ways we understand The Audacity of Desperation to be "political," and also a catalyst for social change. Creating relationships -not for networking or career building but to break out of the deep isolation and sense of desperation we all feel after the last 8 years under the Bush Administration becomes one of the few radical acts that cannot be legislated away.
If you're in or near New York, check out what Steven has put together and meet other folks involved. If you want to host another The Audacity of Desperation stop, let us know ideas you have for more collaborations.
Continental Drift Through The Midwest Radical Culture Corridor
On June 4th this conference kicked off at the Audacity of Desperation exhibit at the Urbana IMC. The folks who organized this - including our own Sarah Ross and others participating in the Desperation show- did an incredible job. Being in the Midwest, we learned first hand the consequences of food shortages and depleted crops as well as the politics of supporting local and organic farms versus corporate and government subsidized farming and food sources. Check out the below links for more information about this conference and the larger " Continental Drift" project. It's a fantastic ongoing event we had the honor of connecting with. (note: in the midwest ending a sentence with a preposition is kosher)
Jessica Lawless is a video artist and founding member of the Seattle based self-defense and arts organization, “Home Alive.” Her videos have screened internationally in film festivals, activist spaces, art galleries and universities alike. She co-facilitates the FTM Alliance group for loved ones of transgendered and gender queer folks. Jessica teaches Media Studies and Women/Gender Studies at the Claremont Colleges.
Sarah Ross is an artist whose works focus on myths of health, safety and cleanliness that surface in the physical and visual structures of everyday spaces. She teaches at various institutions including the Illinois State University and an Illinois state prison, and works with U-C Books to Prisoners, and Education Justice Project.