Table of Contents:
The Problem of Art's Morality | Joel Kuennen
Body as Material in the Surveillance State | Tara Plath
Queering Film Production | Lauren McQuade
Bringing Self-Defense Performance into the Community | Joel Kuennen
If resistance hasn’t been on your mind lately, you haven’t been paying attention.
In an explosive presidential primary season, the loudest voices on both sides of the aisle flaunt their outsider statuses, reacting against the mainstream. While appeals to the electorate vary considerably—there is, of course, little consensus about what this horrible mainstream is—these pols invoke followers’ desires to push back against the often nebulous source of their frustrations and fears.
The Resistance Issue Commission: Alfredo Salazar-Caro, Resistance.gif, 2016
Much of the prevailing rhetoric makes scapegoats of what, or whom, the candidates are against. But resistance is not just the position of grumpy white men afraid of change. It is equally the territory of those who want to construct new systems in politics or culture—those who constructively push back against the status quo. And it’s not happening underground. It’s the anti-establishment candidate, Bernie Sanders, experiencing a groundswell of popular support; it’s the Black Lives Matter movement becoming an enduring household name, its activists named runner-up for TIME’s 2015 “Person of the Year”; it’s Beyonce and Kendrick Lamar marrying political imagery with pop performances at some of the nation’s most widely televised events. Imaginative, positive resistance pursues a vision of what one supports, not simply what one is against.
The stakes of resistance are tremendously high in places like Syria, Iraq, and West Africa, where civilians today are struggling and surviving under armed conflicts. But resistance is also an essential characteristic of the ostensibly peaceful, democratic society. Indeed, the Resistance Issue asks what resistance looks like in a place like America, a putative democracy with oligarchic tendencies. A place where pushback against economic and racial inequalities is met with equally impassioned resistance to progressivism and the upturn of the status quo. Resistance under these circumstances can be an affirmation for justice—but it can also improve and even save lives.
In this issue, our writers profile artists whose practices react against hegemonic power in the United States. And in the context of a heated primary season, Editor Joel Kuennen matches a resurgence in opposition to political correctness with a conversation about freedom of speech and art.
In her films and artwork Laura Poitras makes visible the post-9/11 surveillance state, fighting back through the very act of exposing something so vast and pervasive that it’s nearly impossible to see. Tara Plath heads to her solo show at the Whitney and considers the way bodies are drafted into her revelatory artwork, from her documentaries like Citizenfour to multimedia installations in the gallery.
Leading up to this weekend’s Academy Awards ceremony, widely criticized for its nominees’ staggering lack of diversity, Lauren McQuade heads on set to meet with Hobbes Ginsberg and Chloe Feller, founders of LA’s Red Lighter Films. Marrying intersectional feminism with film, their production company aims to challenge the mainstream film industry’s persistently narrow perspective. These artists aren’t waiting for Hollywood’s systems to change—by creating the representations they want to see, they’re doing it themselves.
Shaun Leonardo’s art is instrumental: in the wake of Eric Garner’s death in the hands of arresting police officers, the NYC-based artist literally teaches people how to resist a chokehold. Joel Kuennen speaks with Leonardo as he brings his performance out of the art world and into schools and communities where the work remains poetic, but also becomes a potentially life-saving gesture.
This issue’s cover art by Alfredo Salazar-Caro pays tribute to figures of resistance like Black Lives Matter activists. Figures shift back and forth, fists rise up and settle back down. Resistance can be both political spectacle and an affirmation of human rights; it’s push and pull, holding on a line of tension and trying to break through to the other side.
(Image at top: Christian Petersen, 2016)