Friday, May 20, 2016

On Activism and Art

 Receiving a text these days, one denoting a friend's emergency, seems like more of an act than when one receives a voice-call. It could be tied to the fact that when we receive such texts [1], we are on the defensive, ghosts of Nigerian princes past and what have you.

When I received just such a text from a friend who needed to meet up “right now”, I tried to call her, to better know what exactly I was walking into, but she wouldn't answer.

Off I went, then, several blocks away. As I walked there, the stench of gasoline filled the air. There were wolves walking about. And by that I mean youngsters slinking about, their eyes a little too wise and shifty for my tastes. As I approached the building, I noticed that these young people were wearing balaclavas as watch caps.

I tensed up, heart racing until I saw my friend waiting outside the address.

"What's up?" I asked, looking around, wondering if she was to blame, or if she was part of the crackling air or the streets.

"I don't know them," she said a little too quickly.

She looked nervous, but she had that glint in her eye that spoke of a plan being hatched.

She dragged me inside. It was a gallery, empty as it were, and dark. She switched on all the lights, picked a lock, and in we went.

The first room was filled with variations of a theme: life-sized statues of homeless people, sitting on cardboard or newspapers in various postures. Some were huddled around a make-believe fire, others crouched ready to pounce. Most of them just looked defeated in some way, though a few were mean mugging the viewer.

I looked closer: some of the cardboard and newspaper had something like an article on freedom or war or manufacturing jobs moving to China. I glanced over to see her reaction. I liked this and it was very much in line with some of her work—she was the most brilliant artist I knew, mind you—but she was bristling at some specter in the distance.

Assuming it was the art sinking into her soul, or something like that, I walked into the next room. This one was filled with paintings and sculptures. One painting was interesting enough, a blur of people, looking dismembered, ethereal, while a kind of mat or map—I couldn't really tell—made of playing cards and 1s & 0s, stood out as clear as day. The more I looked at it, the more it seemed like the people were being eaten by the mat.

I was jolted by the shockwave of an explosion outside, followed by a burst of gunfire. Yells, screams, like ghostly echoes, filtered through to the room. She approached me, waving off my concerns about what was going on outside.

The work wasn’t hers, but her ex’s, she told me, hissing, the anger now obviously steaming out of her pores. That mediocre man had stolen her work and was now garnering much attention.

I nodded, it was reprehensible. I said as much. She smiled something wicked and walked off. I walked over to the sculptures. Here were various sizes of the female+belly+breasts+hair in various combinations. It did look very similar to her work.

Unfair is the the world.

She came back, all grinning with two sledge hammers. I balked, refused.

At first she pointed out that she had shut off the cameras and engineered the riot outside and so chances of getting caught were close to nil.

“But, wait, how the hell did you engineer a riot?” I asked, impressed.

“I’m an artist,” she said.

I shook my head. “The fuck.”

She elbowed me. “It’ll be fun.”

“But you can’t just destroy this.”

Her face darkened. “It’s essentially mine.”

“But they’re still his work…. he created them.”

“Stole. My. Ideas. Verbatim.”

“He created them.”

“Yes. But this mediocre man is making millions off me.”

I paused. This was murky territory. We even had conversed abut this, how creativity and theft were in many ways similar. How there was a line that one couldn’t define. And yet she was now trying to do just that.

“These are exactly the same as you made them?”

She gave me an eviscerating glance.

Outside the sirens and yells grew louder.

“Help or leave.” She turned, slipped on some goggles, and started smashing the sculptures.

I paused, then picked up a sledge hammer. It was wrong, but I needed to find out about how she engineered a riot. The alone was worth this transgression of hers upon our friendship.

[1] inevitably in the electronic form

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