This really has been a tough year or so, the old money or the gun question…but having profited from the hallucinations of my cultural capitalist overlords, I can come back to this more or less intact…and let’s talk about those contemporary art goons later…
The Venice Biennale, hmm, well it pretty much looked like every other biennale I’ve seen since 1997, but I was vaguely interested because of the Jung, the utopian and the outsider. But as usual what I really enjoyed was Venice itself and kind of hanging out there, wandering in and out of art stuff in a rather mindless way. Whilst there were a few good things, the graffiti done by other visitors was the most entertaining and further to that I enjoyed watching people, who I presume are artists of one kind or another, undertaking personal projects whilst they were there. For example, a girl who was doing some time lapse photography of herself near the billionaire super yachts with their dedicated exclusion zones etc (very current of course), or some middle aged ladies wearing matching op-art dresses (and kinda reminding me of Eva and Adele, but without the drag) who asked me to photograph them for their art project. That all got me thinking that, rather than the usual curatorial “position” (scaled on the crap-o-meter), it would be great to gather up all of these artist/visitor projects and make a biennale about that…ah like all good ideas its time will come, or at least some turd will read this and nick it. (I’ll talk about my “friends” at the Kunsthalle in another post…)
LA artist Alex Shaefer’s latest chalking activism brings the criminality and duplicity of the financial sector into sharp focus. Alex was arrested earlier this year for a chalking protest outside of Citibank; he was held for 12 hours, but the case was never pushed forward by the prosecutor and he was subsequently released from his bond. Of course this is a considerable victory and vindication for Alex and for freedom of speech and protest. However, one must also be suspicious that the reluctance of the authorities not to proceed is a calculation that it is better to allow these protests to continue, rather than making the actions of an artist/activist a cause célèbre, which would bring the criminality of a corrupt system under scrutiny and perhaps give considerable impetus to investigation and prosecution. Recently we have seen that contemporary banking practices include tax evasion, rate rigging, market manipulation and money laundering, but we’ve also seen the important report on Tax Haven activity, by James Henry, almost completely buried. Henry’s research shows that the wealthiest people and corporations on the planet are holding US$21-32trn in tax havens and secrecy domains. Further, even a casual look at the data shows a striking correlation between the amounts of sovereign debt and transfers to tax havens. I was quite saddened to see an apparent direct relationship between the amounts of new sovereign debt (created after the introduction of the Euro) and transfers to tax havens in the case of Greece. This is surely circumstantial evidence of a kleptocratic crony capitalist criminality and as such we must insist that it is investigated. But without protest and constant iteration, there will be no desire on the part of compromised parties (legislators, regulators etc) to essentially investigate and/or prosecute themselves and their friends.
If you haven’t seen Alex’s paintings, I recommend visiting his various sites. His images of protest and burning banks are outstanding. These images aren’t a call to violence, they are a poetic that give an insight into the internal decay and destruction of these institutions. Their sentiment somehow reminds me of one of the protest signs from last year : “YOU are the Crisis!” Hmm, let’s not be scared to point fingers.
Alex Schaefer is also a very cool painter, his street scenes seem to run from the serene quotidian right up to the red area of the riot gauge, where the banks are burning and the people are taking the streets. But with this gentle, even playful activism, he exposes the scary, but somehow ridiculous, tendencies towards state repression. The pat down was offensive but amusing in that one could imagine the cop looking for some concealed chalk. They’re not so stupid after all, they can see that an idea is more powerful than anything they have on their bat utility belts. Schaefer was kept in custody for eight hours for his trouble and has an approaching arraignment and process.