Closing 2011 / Opening AFH 2012

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Low Lives: Occupy

[NOTE: This is a supporting text for Low Lives: Occupy, which will be presented by the Hemispheric Institute in early March.]

Low Lives: Occupy [Draft 1]

By Paul McLean


In his rather grim assessment of the domain of small screen video in the introduction to Video Vortex II: Moving Images Beyond YouTube, Geert Lovink writes, “The Attention War is real.” Nothing has authenticated Lovink’s claim more profoundly than Occupy Wall Street. Earlier in the short but seminal text, Lovink doggedly propositions us with a sequence of questions about the future of online video, finishing with this one: “Is online video liberating us from anything?”

Post-9-17-2011 (the day OWS materialized as an occupation of Zuccotti Park), we have some new answers about the utilitarian value of online video. I’m not referring to anything remotely art-centric here, yet, with regards small-screen, networked video transmitted on/for/by electronic devices.

I mean moving images that seemingly erupt from the societal margins and shoot into the monopolized global perceptual space, disrupting the placid managed surface of acceptable 1% talking points. I mean movies that project a 99%-oriented iteration of real events into the stream of content wired people access to figure out what’s happening now, and not just what’s happening in one’s particular, preferred info-silo.

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What Would Jesus Occupy?

 Panorama view of the Bethlehem Steel Plant from across the Lehigh River, in 1896, with the iron furnaces. Lehigh Canal is in the foreground.

By Paul McLean


O little star of Bethlehem, PA
Haysoos is shuffling through the empty schoolhouse
with an ole mop & his yeller bucket of wishez
[no dream of Amer’ca in the dingy DOW water
sloshing with every broke step by stoop-backed
brown man in his bleached cheap plastic sneakers
haunted by echoes of USh Chambersh of Commersh
who painted these glistening cinder block walls
the pallor’d institutional grey green, ‘n’
a pint ay vodkey.] /KILL PROGAM - exec

Such will be the lottery of Bill Gates,
by programmable matter, won, while fuck-pump
Dread Scott burns our Constitution & stomps
the Flag for his wee-wee. No livin’ wage steel.
In Beijing, now, the star also rises.

It was the Lenape gave Manhattan its name
& in return got smallpox & pogroms, clearances
like the ones at Liberty & of Skye.

Heidegger, right about Time in 4D. So Christ
should be here, now, then. There. Moving


Gnarled knuckles on the stick handle,
a grimace and a curse, out of breath, to fear
for Maria & child, blessed & all in a pen


Occupy Massey, that’s got away wi’ murder
Occupy BP, that’s got away wi’ murder, and to p’isen
    the Gulf, whilst Tony whined on his po’ life
Occupy Goldman, Sachs - destroyer of nations
Occupy the Fed, the White House, the Congress,
    the torturers, the spies, the corrupt’d/-rs
Occupy Bloomberg, now there’s a scoundrel!
Occupy, Occupy, Occupy,
    Give them all cells to Occupy!
Bush & Cheney, Rove & Rummy, Paulson & Greenspan
Occupy, Occupy! A NEW Treaty of Easton, Eton, etc.
No more, Moravia, no mas.

'ere cauldron of bloody stew, a feast, I tell you.
& look what they did to poor Edwin Drake, who
was born not too far from Catskill. Oil, drilling.

Jesus to Schwab the decks for a tsar,
by the light of the burning barges at Homestead
but for the grace a God go I, fungible


600 Trillion for the hedge funds, 26 for the banksters
& no WMD, no victory in Iraq - just Occupy Hannity’s maw
so he onct could yammer true, ‘at the 1%’ll do anythin’
- A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G - Mother
To be god & immor’al & potent as sZeus, fr’ ‘heir perches
an ye Alps, li’ vultures scanning the rims of spinning planet
for a bit more of silver flash, in the mouth of the cor’se
of all gentes.

So on the day of this white-less nativity, beginning
of beginnings, same old same old,
we kneel to pray. A stroke in his chest took the custodian
down, and no insurance had he to pay his debt,
a slave in the morning, free by night.
no mas, repite, repo.


Among the most widespread and enduring forms of progressive organization in the suburbs are environmental groups, food co-ops, and politically oriented arts groups and small galleries. These work with the domestic ethos of home and garden rather than against it, and they do a lot of good. They support open space preservation and local farms, particularly organic farms, and establish neighborly micro-economies as alternatives to the mall and highway hegemony.

Much of what the Occupy Wall Street movement advocates in the way of human-scale, participatory, and sustainable social organization already exists amidst the country clubs and ranch houses of the suburbs. It is small in scale and particular organizations tend to struggle with the attrition of a difficult economy and, alongside that, the general drift toward the preoccupied life; people have kids to take care of, things to do. Nonetheless, the alternative economy persists, resistance is fed in the most seductive way by local honey, herbs, cheese, beer and vegetables, and in a more spiritual sense by local art, music, and poetry. Seduction is not revolution, clearly, but it is something not to be scorned.

In thinking about Occupying culture in the suburbs, then, the coop and the alternative arts space came to mind as institutions to enlist. The challenge is to introduce the dynamic of a vanguard social movement, Occupy Wall Street, into these institutions and, beyond that, to determine a format that would best encourage a creative exchange of ideas and approaches among the participants in a given project. This is partly a matter of striking a balance between contributions from local artists and those based outside the area. It wouldn’t do simply to install an exhibition of Occupy-related work from downtown Manhattan in a suburban gallery; this would run the risk of being a show rather than an action. Similarly, one would hope that any event would advance the principles of the movement rather than support or illustrate them.

Occupy Wall Street is inherently transformative; it arose, and continues to arise outside of and in contradistinction to the parameters of party politics, class and social divisions, established forms of mobilization and resistance; it is a profoundly cohesive and inclusive civil rights movement, civil rights understood in terms of economic as well as political enfranchisement. If an expression of art and social activism in the suburbs is to reflect and engage the Occupy movement, it should be internally transformative, not just another cultural event in the suburbs but one that is informed by the questions that have impelled the occupations and street demonstrations worldwide: what does democracy look like? What does art for the ninety-nine per cent look like? Is an occupied suburb possible, an occupied suburban culture and social expression?

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Wall Street to Main Street





Wall Street to Main Street is a collaborative art project linking Occupy Wall Street and the rest of America, via the classic small town of Catskill, NY.  Just as the Occupy Wall Street Movement has sought to focus attention on the wide needs of the 99 percent, Wall Street to Main Street illustrates the ways in which re-use of vacant storefronts can revitalize a local economy, and reconnect a battered community’s dreams and aspirations.
Focusing on art as a vocabulary of ideas, exhibitions sites are planned for 8-15 vacant storefronts along the town’s Main Street, as well as nearby cultural and educational venues. Catskill is central to the historic home of our nation’s first environmental vision, several pioneering new agricultural projects, and one of the nation’s most heralded new community radio stations. The proposed project, co-organized by the OWS Arts and Culture Working Group, Fawn Potash (Project Director, Masters on Main Street) and Geno Rodriquez (former Director of The Alternative Museum), will include panel discussions, projections, radio programming, performances, and installations of the art of OWS. Nearby Bard College, Vassar College, SUNY New Paltz and Albany will be invited to organize panel discussions combining political science, economics and art experts. Tentatively scheduled for March, April and May of 2012, the project will culminate in a summer celebration in the historically influential Hudson Valley, home to both America’s first great entrepreneurial efforts and the Woodstock Festivals, with details TBA.

The project goals of Wall Street to Main Street are:

  • To explore art as a vocabulary for understanding the economic issues at the heart of the Occupy Movement with visual, intellectual and dynamic opportunities for education, dialogue-building, and a showcase of wildly creative artistic expressions pioneering every medium;
  • To show the significant role of artists in this and past movements as the vanguard of social and political change, as well as the role communities play in nurturing and legitimizing such vision;
  • To model a peaceful partnership between cultural organizations, educational institutions, protestors, artists and the citizens who make up our home communities;  
  • To explore ideas expressed in the art works calling attention to real-world economic problems, fundamental democratic processes, and an urgent need for systematic reform.  

The unforgettable photographs, videos, signs, puppets, interventions, posters and graphics of the OWS phenomenon will be augmented for this first Wall Street to Main Street event through invitations to local artists, students and recent alumni from studio art programs that have participated in Catskill’s groundbreaking Masters on Main Street program over the past year. The organization of Wall Street to Main Street will be collaborative, fostering creative exchange between OWS artists, the local community and the 99% everywhere.
Wall Street to Main Street represents an opportunity for Catskill to be at the forefront of an international art movement, with attendant opportunities for the entire community; just as the town once benefited as the starting point for our nation’s pioneering growth westward, as the center for its first internationally-recognized art movement, and as the home to some of its leading inventors and thinkers.

Wall Street to Main Street [An Essay]

By Paul McLean

Mic Check! Mic Check! Mic Check!
Look around
You are a part
of a Global Uprising
We are a Cry
from the Heart
of the World
We are Unstoppable
Another World
is Possible
Happy Birthday
#occupy movement


Occupy Wall Street for a short time created direct consequences for those who bear the primary responsibility for our current malaise. We knocked at the door. It was about being there. Calling out corruption, injustice, greed and the systemic debasement of democracy by the 1%, the Occupiers of Zuccotti Park disrupted the message machine of corporate media, which today is to a great extent a service industry for global syndicates. By now, a lot of us know the 1% org-chart. It’s been exposed, through the cloud of obscuration, by a bunch of amateurs, mostly. Here’s a typical Occupy logic thread: Does General Electric own NBC? [1] Does GE pay US taxes? Is the former CEO of GE in the cabinet of President Obama? A hand-painted cardboard sign held aloft by a young occupier may not be much, compared to the power of GE to suspend America’s disbelief, letting ride the reality that our democracy is corporate-owned and super-rich 1% controlled, but it’s something.

OWS protesting at Jeffrey Immelt’s home

Did OWS manage to straighten out the corruption of US democracy, which GE represents, in the duration of the actual occupation of Liberty Square? The short answer is “No.” OWS wasn’t really capable of that, any more than a temporary projection of light beams is capable of knocking over a high-rise office building. The prime collateral effects so far of OWS – focusing-attention, causing-inconvenience, enforcing-transparency, pushing-accountability, etc. – are not consequences like a guillotine’s consequences for the 1%, but they are something.

Maybe there are more important things than generating consequential phenomena, or after-effects, per se. Positioning is not a negation. A ripple in the water caused by the stone dropped in the pond is not the stone. Maybe tossing the rock is the expression that matters. OWS is like the rock tossed into the pond, drifting down to the bottom, disappearing, while the ripples in concentric circular formations transit the surface.

OWS has platformed expression as itself, again. The signs, the drumming, the chants, the puppets, the speeches, the performances (musical and theatrical)… the People’s Mic: These are protean methods of projecting self-/collective-self into the commons; fundamentally human behavior, but in America it also happens to be good citizenship, when carried out non-violently.

Photo by Paul McLean

Something’s got to give, though. People are fed up. Artists are fed up. Remember what Kennedy said about violent/non-violent protest? I saw a guillotine, pre-9-17, at the Abbot Kinney Festival (2010) in Venice, CA, made by an artist with a new vision for credit applications, and a bloody message implied. The seams in the social contract are starting to fray. Maybe in Oakland’s occupation they threw rocks, but as far as I know, that never happened in OWS. But what did happen at Occupy Wall Street? Baudrillard might have said that the something that happened between September 17 and November 15 never happened, and we have the pictures and video to prove it. OWS may not have destroyed the 1%, but it was something, something expressed. That expression continues, like ripples across a pond.

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Closing Party for Social Photography II

image: Aura Rosenberg, Decemberists, 2011

The closing party for Social Photography II, A Benefit Exhibition of Cell Phone Photographs is tonight from 6 to 9 pm.
Any prints bought at the closing party will be ready for pick-up on Thursday, December 22  from 1-6 pm.
Social Photography II
A Benefit Exhibition of Cell Phone Photographs
December 6-20, 2011
Opening: Tuesday, December 6 | 6-9 p.m.

Closing: Tuesday, December 20 | 6-9 p.m.

carriage trade       
62 Walker Street
New York, NY 10013
thur-sun 1-6pm

Peter Scott / Director
Vivian Cheung / Gallery Assistant
Simulation of a Higgs boson decaying into four muons. Photograph: Science & Society Picture Librar/SSPL

This file photo shows a layer of the world’s largest superconducting  solenoid magnet (CMS), one of the experiments preparing to take data at  European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN)’s Large Hadron  Collider (LHC) particule accelerator, before its completion in 2007  [Credit: AFP]