Thinking Through the Arts and Design at Berkeley: California Countercultures

Spring 2017 Lecture Series: Thinking Through the Arts and Design at Berkeley: California Countercultures


We are reprising last year’s Big Ideas course, “Thinking Through the Arts and Design at Berkeley,” and once again, this course will open its doors to the public each Wednesday at noon.  This year’s theme — “California Countercultures” — is co-taught and co-organized by Natasha Boas, independent curator, and critic of contemporary art and theory, and Michael Cohen, Associate Teaching Professor in the African American Studies Department. We will use the “Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia” exhibition at BAMPFA as springboard to ask: What is a counterculture? What kind of culture does a counterculture counter? Can culture be a space of political opposition? Can culture be revolutionary? Students and members of the public will also explore literary, cinematic, and performance works at other campus venues and Bay Area organizations.

Join us on Wednesdays throughout the spring semester, from 12pm to 1:30pm, in BAMPFA’s Theatre, as local and national activists and artists help us seek out new ideas and new art forms while struggling to create a new world within the shell of the old. California Countercultures is sponsored by UC Berkeley’s Big Ideas Courses and the Arts + Design Initiative, with additional support from Cal Performances and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.



Avant-Gardes and Radicals

Wednesday, January 25
Beat Notes: From the Rat Bastards to the Mission School with Natasha Boas

Natasha Boas Ph.D. is an independent international curator, critic and scholar based in San Francisco and Paris. Trained in 20th century Modernist avant-garde movements such as Dada, Surrealism and the College de la Sociologie, she has continued her investigations of subcultures, outsider artists and emerging art movements with such original work as  “A Partial and Incomplete Oral History of the Mission School” in Barry McGee (BAMPFA and D.A.P 2012). Energy that is All Around (Chronicle Books and San Francisco Art Institute, 2014) and Bruce Conner: The Afternoon Interviews (intro: Re/Search 2016.)  Most recently, she lectured at the Centre Pompidou on “Bricolage and Countercultures.”


Wednesday, February 1
On the Left Edge: California’s Renegade Tradition with Iain Boal

Iain Boal is a social historian of science and technics, affiliated with the University of California and Birkbeck College, London. He is one of the founders of the Retort Collective,  an association of radical writers, teachers, artists, and activists, which has existed in the Bay Area for the past two decades.  Boal co-authored Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War  (Verso) along with UC Berkeley Art Historian T.J Clark and others. He is co-editor with James Brook, Resisting the Virtual Life: The Culture and Politics of Information City Lights Books (1995) and is an expert on the history of the bicycle.

The Long 1960s in the Bay Area

Wednesday, February 8
North Beach Beat Generation featuring poets Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Jack Hirschman

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, is a poet, painter, liberal activist, and the co-founder of City Lights Booksellers & Publishers, a gathering place for the literary avant-garde and a focal point of the Beat movement. Author of poetry, translations, fiction, theatre, art criticism, and film narration, he is best known for A Coney Island of the Mind (1958), a collection of poems that has been translated into nine languages.

Jack Hirschman is an American poet and social activist who has written more than 50 volumes of poetry and essays. He is affiliated with the North Beach Beat generation and in 2006 , Hirschman was appointed Poet Laureate of San Francisco by Mayor Gavin Newsom and named Poet-in-Residence with Friends of the San Francisco Public Library. Hirschman continues his work supporting the literary community and is the key organizer for the now biennial San Francisco International Poetry Festival.


Wednesday, February 15
Civil Rights Movement Photography and Its Legacies with Leigh Raiford

Leigh Raiford is Associate Professor and H. Michael and Jeanne Williams Chair of African American Studies at UC Berkeley. Her research focuses on the photography of black social movements in the United States and the relationship between visuality and racial justice. Raiford is the author of Imprisoned in a Luminous Glare: Photography and the African American Freedom Struggle (University of North Carolina Press, 2011).  She is co-editor with Renee Romano of The Civil Rights Movement in American Memory (University of Georgia Press, 2006) and with Heike Raphael-Hernandez of Migrating the Black Body: Visual Culture and the African Diaspora (University of Washington Press, forthcoming 2017).


Wednesday, February 22
Hippie Modernism with Greg Castillo

Greg Castillo, Associate Professor of Architecture at UC Berkeley, specializes in the architectural history of Interwar and Postwar America and Europe. His research and teaching focuses on  paces of consumption, countercultural design in the ‘60s, transatlantic transfers of architectural practices, a global survey of modernist architecture, architectural history research methods, and a writing and publication workshop. Castillo is also the Guest Curator of “Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia”.


Wednesday, March 1
Pynchon’s Paranoid California with Michael Cohen

Michael Mark Cohen, Associate Teaching Professor in the African American Studies Department at UC Berkeley, is interested in the cultural and political history of the United States from the Civil War to the Present. His research interests focus on the history of racial formations, class conflicts and popular radical social movements between the 1870s and 1930s.


Wednesday, March 8
Experimental Art and Subjectile Space with Dena Beard

** Featuring a surprise new performance by Brontez Purnell–Emotional/Content **

Dena Beard, Executive Director of The Lab since fall 2014, has led the organization through a rehabilitation of its facility and is inaugurating a new program of commissioned artistic projects with Ellen Fullman, Jacqueline Gordon, Dora Garcia, and Brontez Purnell. Beard was formerly Assistant Curator at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA). At BAMPFA Beard organized exhibitions with D-L Alvarez, Lutz Bacher, Anna Halprin, Desiree Holman, Barry McGee, Silke Otto-Knapp, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and worked on forty additional projects with artists such as Martha Colburn, Omer Fast, Jill Magid, Ahmet Ogut, Trevor Paglen, Emily Roysdon, Tomas Saraceno, and Tris Vonna-Michell.

Brontez Purnell is the author of the cult zine “Fag School,” Cruising Diaries, the front man for his band “The Younger Lovers,” and founder of the Brontez Purnell Dance Company (BPDC). Formerly a dancer with Gravy Train!!!, he has danced for Amara Tabor-Smith, Keith Hennessy, Eric Kupers, Nina Haft, and South African artist-choreographer Athi-Patra Rugra. Purnell has presented original dance works at the Berkeley Art Museum, CounterPULSE, Kunst-Stoff Arts, The Lab, and others. With cinematographer Gary Gregerson and lighting designer Jerry Lee, Purnell produced, choreographed, and scored “Free Jazz” (2012), a 8mm B&W dance film.


Wednesday, March 15
Poetry and Protest: Ishmael Reed

Ishmael Reed is a poet, novelist, essayist, playwright, songwriter, public media commentator, lecturer and publisher.  Author of thirty books, Baraka Books of Montreal published The Complete Muhammad Ali, his latest non-fiction work in 2015, and his essay collection, Going Too Far: Essays About America’s Nervous Breakdown, in 2012. Other recent books include his tenth novel, Juice! (2011); and New and Collected Poems, 1964-2007 (2007). In December 2013, his seventh play, The Final Version, premiered at the off-off Broadway Nuyorican Poets Café. He is founder of the Before Columbus Foundation and PEN Oakland, non-profit organizations run by writers for writers. He is a MacArthur Fellow, and among his other honors are the University of Buffalo’s 2014 Distinguished Alumni Award, National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize nominations, and a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Award. Awarded the 2008 Blues Songwriter of the Year from the West Coast Blues Hall of Fame, his collaborations with jazz musicians for the past forty years were also recognized by SFJazz Center with his appointment, from 2012-2016, as San Francisco’s first Jazz Poet Laureate and in Venice, Italy, where he became the first Alberto Dubito International awardee, honored as “a special artistic individual who has distinguished himself through the most innovative creativity in the musical and linguistic languages.”  His online international literary magazine, Konch, can be found at  His author website is located at


Wednesday, March 22
“Ana Mendieta:  Decolonialized Feminist and Artist” with Laura Pérez

Laura E. Pérez is Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley. She is the author of Chicana Art: The Politics of Spiritual and Aesthetic Altarities (Duke University Press, 2007). She curated UC Berkeley’s first and only US Latina/o Performance Art series in 2001-02; co-curated, with Delilah Montoya, the multimedia exhibition “Chicana Badgirls: Las Hociconas” at 516 ARTS gallery in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2009, and curated “Labor + a(r)t + orio: Bay Area Latin@ ArtsNow” at the Richmond Art Center in 2011. She has published in numerous anthologies on feminism, Chicana/o and hemispheric decolonial cultures, Chicana/o religiousity, journals, and art exhibition catalogs.

Contemporary Countercultures / Punk to Occupy

Wednesday, April 5
“Art/Politics/Aesthetics (notes from the field)” with Stephanie Syjuco

Born in the Philippines , Oakland-based artist and Assistant Professor in Sculpture, University of California, Berkeley , Stephanie Syjuco creates large-scale spectacles of collected cultural objects, cumulative archives, and temporary vending installations, often with an active public component that invites viewers to directly participate as producers or distributors. At Berkeley, she is working to expand a conceptual and materials-based pedagogy, combining methods of the handcrafted with digital technologies and social engagement in order to speak of the frictions within late-capitalist society. Working primarily in sculpture and installation, her projects leverage open-source systems, shareware logic, and flows of capital, in order to investigate issues of economies and empire. Most recently she has been engaged in the research and dissemination of fabric banners, sharing imagery and slogans patterns fro protest. Syjuco created a 41-page how-to on Google Docs. “I wanted to show how easy it can be to make them,” she writes in the introduction.


Wednesday, April 12
Diggers, Communes and Counterculture and the Death of Hope with Peter Coyote

Peter Coyote has performed as an actor for some of the world’s most distinguished filmmakers, including: Barry Levinson, Roman Polanski, Pedro Almodovar, Steven Spielberg, Martin Ritt, Steven Soderberg, Sidney Pollack and Jean Paul Rappeneau. He is an Emmy-Award winning narrator of over 120 documentary films, including Ken Burns, National Parks, Prohibition, The West, the Dust Bowl and this year’s acclaimed The Roosevelts for which he received his second Emmy in 2015.  Mr. Coyote has written a memoir of the 1960’s counter-culture called Sleeping Where I Fall which received universally excellent reviews, and his new book, The Rainman’s Third Cure: An Irregular Education, about mentors and the search for wisdom, was nominated for one of the top five books in Northern California in 2015.


Wednesday, April 19
San Francisco Punk with V. Vale

V. Vale is a San Francisco cultural historian, writer, keyboard player and, as Vale Hamanaka, was a member of the initial configuration of Blue Cheer. In 1977 V. Vale founded as sole proprietor Search & Destroy, San Francisco’s first Punk Rock publication. In 1980, V. Vale launched as sole proprietor RE/SEARCH. V. Vale is most likely the longest lasting (and still active) Punk publisher. Although Vale released books that include Jello Biafra, Henry Rollins, Lydia Lunch, and many other Punk notables, RE/SEARCH is actually best known for its impact on the total world of underground culture.

Machine-Art, Rituals and Technology

Wednesday, April 26
“Over the Top : when too much is never enough” with Mark Pauline of Survival Research Lab and Amy Critchett of Bay Lights in conversation with Natasha Boas

Mark Pauline conceived of and founded Survival Research Labs in Nov 1978. Since that time, he has operated Survival Research Lab (SRL) as an organization of creative technicians dedicated to redirecting the techniques, tools, and tenets of industry and science away from their typical manifestation in practicality or product. SRL has staged 56 mechanized presentations around the world, consisting of ritualized interactions between machines, robots and special effects devices.

Amy Critchett is the founder of Art+Audience, Executive Producer of Leo Villareal’s public work, including The Bay Lights, and wife of the legendary Mark Pauline of Survival Research Labs. She is passionate about changing the game where art, audience and innovation meet.