The Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley is sponsoring the working session “Occupy as Form” on February 10, 2012. Participants have been invited to post some brief thoughts on the topic in advance of the event. This guest posting is by artist Tirza Latimer, Associate Professor and Chair of Visual and Critical Studies at California College of the Arts in San Francisco.
The horizontal governance and DIY aesthetic politics of Occupy foster a visual culture of creative diversity–letting “a thousand flowers bloom.” Occuprint, a website showcasing donated graphic designs of protest from all over the world, makes this case visually. As part of the creative commons, the graphics can be freely downloaded for noncommercial use.
Occuprint evolved out of a special issue of the Occupy Wall Street Journal devoted to graphic arts. In addition to replicating donated graphics, Occuprint posts best practices for the production of agitprop and guidelines for setting up a print lab “at your own occupation.” A print lab can be anything from an tarp canopied studio for silkscreen printing or stencil making to an area staked out on a sidewalk where cardboard boxes are broken down, dabbed with poster paint, and transformed into colorful placards.
This collaborative, donation-based production ethos contrasts with the for-profit parasite industry that has sprung up to provide Tea Party demonstrators with “poster kits.” These can be ordered online and delivered by overnight courier to the customer’s protest destination hotel. (Kits come complete with a list of officially sanctioned Tea Party slogans).
The pro bono output of Occupy’s print labs has attracted the attention of major museums and historical societies, including the Smithsonian Institution. Ad hoc venues and formal galleries alike have displayed Occupy ephemera. In New York, the storefront of Printed Matter in Chelsea, for instance, showcased Occupy graphics as did NYU’s Gallatin Galleries. (Gallatin hosted the unjuried show “This is What Democracy Looks Like.”)
Within the Occupy movement, Archive Working Groups have sprung up to assure a measure of narrative self-determination. Due to the practical and ethical issues raised by the collection, storage, and conservation of physical artifacts, digital preservation prevails as Occupy’s preferred archival method.
Occupennial, an affinity group of the OWS Arts & Culture working group, launched one of the first digital archiving projects, Occupy with Art. The site archives Occupy’s creative output and provides a hub for the discussion of art-related actions and initiatives.
For example, a post titled “Evict Us—We Minify” called for participation the Occupy Boston Tiny Tents Task Force. TTTF produced hundreds of miniature A-frame tents for distribution at ATM machines throughout the city.
It is a commonplace observation that digital media has played key roles in contemporary uprisings from Arab Spring to Occupy. The role digital media plays in the production, transmission, and archiving of agitprop, though, warrants more sustained interrogation.