Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Trans-Pacific Artivist Solidarity

Another fabulous project from the inspired and passionate folks at Just Seeds, this time to bring attention to the environmental and humanitarian devastation inflicted from liquefied natural gas exploitation on both sides of the Pacific Ocean.  Three Portland-based Just Seeds members (Alec Dunn, Roger Peet and Pete Yahnke) teamed up with Indonesian political art collective, Taring Padi to create a twinned set of two large-scale block prints depicting the poison effects of liquefied natural gas exploration and mining in Java and the destruction of farms and natural habitats that would result from the construction of the Palomar natural gas pipeline across the Cascade Mountains in Oregon. 

The two prints are touring both the US and Indonesia and serve as the spark to raise awareness and foster solidarity. This image is from a recent Taring Padi protest organized at the site of the Sidoarjo mud-flow, an environmental and social disaster area in North Java. The desolate area in the background is the result of a blowout of a natural-gas well.

Proving activism and solidarity can pay off,  LNG cancelled plans for their proposed pipeline through the fragile Oregon ecosystems.

Tonight in Portland, you can see the prints up close at the exhibit's closing (7pm, at the Fresh Pot on NE Mississippi). You'll hear about the threats still posed by LNG development plans and see a presentation by Roger about the project.  If you miss that, catch up with the project or buy small silkscreen versions of the prints at the project blog here.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

No Touching Ground

I love it when the virtual breadcrumb trails I follow around the web intersect with the real ones found on the streets.  Such is the case with No Touching Ground, my new favorite Seattle street artist.  Although Seattle is awash in stickers and graffiti,  just a small handful of artists practice large scale unsanctioned public works.

I'd seen some of NTG's work around Seattle and liked it without knowing the origins (NTG doesn't sign his pieces), then via some serendipitous facebook posts and some more web sleuthing, discovered that the same guy who was putting owls on highway overpasses and wolves on utility boxes was responsible for the large hand-colored John T. Williams mural on Capitol Hill. Recently, I had the opportunity to talk to NTG about his upcoming show at 4Culture.  On a quintessentially Seattle rainy evening, we sat in a typically hipster Capitol Hill cafe and talked about Seattle activism, street art and fishing.

NTG has spent much of his life on two famous sounds, Prince William and Puget.  When he first came to Seattle to live, he made his home in artist lofts in one of the grittier parts of the city.  A recent BFA graduate, he concentrated mostly on oil painting, but was increasingly affected by his new urban environment and at the same time wanted to release his art from the confines of gallery walls.  Those impulses gave rise to his first street art.  The sense of alienation he felt is echoed in his wheatpastes, creatures of the wilderness surprised to be surrounded by so much concrete.

To keep himself from getting too tethered to the city or secluded in the rarefied bubble of an artist's life, NTG spends his summers working as a professional commercial fisherman during the Alaska salmon run.  In a flannel pattern jacket and dark gray Fidel cap, he blends seamlessly into the PNW coffeehouse crowd, his secret street artist identity hinted at only by some wheatpaste and paint stains on the frayed edges of his long sleeve shirt cuffs.

NTG's Wheatpaste
When I ask if his work is political, he responds, "Whenever you put something up in an unsanctioned public place, it's going to be political by nature." The John T Williams mural came partly out of a sense of responsibility to community.  "I would want someone to do a memorial for me if  I were shot by the police," he says.  We talk about the similarities between the small band of dedicated street artists and the tiny number of committed political activists, lamenting the anemic response to the miscarriage of justice in the Williams case.  People don't want to leave their comfort zone to go out and protest or push the limits, he says, they don't think it concerns them.  He spent 3 days listening to testimony at the inquest.
Overunder's mural, underneath the wheatpaste
His work continues to be inspired by contemporary events and themes of social justice like the collabortive piece he recently completed in Brooklyn  with Overunder.  As the elements take their toll on NTG's wheatpaste, Overunder's mural will be progressively revealed underneath.  

NTG with NKO and photographer Dan Hawkins, are part of the The New Mystics. Their 4Culture show opening April 7th is part representation/part reproduction of a large scale installation piece the three artists created in an abandoned peanut butter factory in the industrial SODO area of Seattle. 

At the time NTG was working on the installation, he was going through a transition himself, having just been laid off as an art teacher.  The title of the show, 'tomb' and the subject of his work reflect the idea of transformation and loss, grieving the old, but also making space for what's to come.  The crosses are from photographs taken from an old Native cemetery in Alaska, then wheatpasted to palettes and scattered around the abandoned building that was destined to be destroyed in a dramatic fire just a few months later. Now the site is being championed by the Mayor as a permanent city-sanctioned homeless encampment. After the 4Culture exhibit, the artists plan to take the reproductions of the old factory walls back to the site and photograph the reproduction of the installation in its place of origin, completing the circle.

photo by Dan Hawkins
Keep an eye on the streets and the skies for No Touching Ground's future work in Seattle, and look for his narrative street and conceptual art to keep responding to contemporary social justice concerns and expand the conversation about outsiders, underdogs and alien environments.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Lest we worry. . . .

about the radiation reaching our shores, it's good to be reminded that we've been raining down radiation from nuclear explosions for over 50 years now.  

Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto has created a beautiful, undeniably scary time-lapse map of the 2053 nuclear explosions which have taken place between 1945 and 1998, beginning with the Manhattan Project's "Trinity" test near Los Alamos and concluding with Pakistan's nuclear tests in May of 1998. This leaves out North Korea's two alleged nuclear tests in this past decade (the legitimacy of both of which is not 100% clear).


Closer to home, Kim Stringfellow created "The Hanford Project" as an art installation and permanent website documenting the history of radioactive contamination to the environment, workers and nearby residents over the 40-some years The Hanford Nuclear Reservation operated, producing plutonium for the US nuclear arsenal during the cold war. Plutonium from Hanford was used in the first nuclear test explosion at Trinity and in the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki. Today, Hanford is the most contaminated nuclear site in the United States.

From the April 2011 Harper's Index:

Radioactive animal droppings found in 2009 near the Hanford nuclear site in Washington : 33

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Inspired Artivizm on Seattle Streets

Someone brilliantly replaced the front page of the Seattle Times with this satire last week in several downtown boxes.  Sadly, the fake isn't much more shocking than the real pages of the Seattle Police Officer's Guild newsletter. In recent articles, officers have freely expressed their racist tendencies.  Others, including the message from the president of the police union, defensively bristle against any scrutiny of the recent spate of police brutality and the underlying attitudes that seem to perpetuate it,  one officer even calls it a "jihad" against police

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Design of Dissent

Egypt April 6 graphic
Serbian Otpor logo
A recent mention in the New York Times about ties between Egypt's uprising and the Serbian Youth Movement, Otpor, which helped topple Milosevic; along with a facebook note by friend and photojournalist Kael Alford led me on the trail of this stylized fist. You'll find it repeated on banners of protesters and resistors from Serbia to Iran to Zimbabwe and now Egypt. Recently I heard a friend say, "art can turn a cause into a movement." I'm not sure I'd credit art alone, but certainly art, or in this case, graphic design, can give the movement a unified identity and a sense of common cause.

The US press has given a lot of play to a previously obscure American academic, Gene Sharp, who seems to have helped inspire to these brave dissidents and a host of others across Eastern Europe and Asia. I tend to agree with Stephan Gowans' analysis here, Sharp's ideas are the culmination of a long history of non-violent resistence including Gandhi, Martin Luther King and others. Some of his organizing advice is even reminiscent of Rules for Radicals.  The idea that one 82 year old American white guy is  the major mobilizing impetus for millions of Egyptians is just another form of colonialist thinking (one that Sharp himself rejects, to his credit.)

Sharp, unlike Gandhi and King, is not driven by passion for a political cause.  In recent interviews, he has been careful to eschew his "lefty, pacifist" past which included a jail stint for refusing conscription during the Korean War. He is more of a pragmatist these days, promoting non-violence simply because it is the most efficient way to bring about regime change. This focus on the means to the end, along with the fact that he seems to be quite cozy with the US Military (evidently DARPA funded his first book) and the consistency of the fist logo across the many movements he's inspired has led some to conclude that there's a CIA common thread. I guess I wouldn't be too upset to find that some of my tax dollars were helping to train the masses in non-violent organizing techniques designed to topple oppressive dictators--compared to, say, Star Wars missile defense, assassination attempts on Castro, and abstinence-only education. I do wish I knew who was behind the fist design though.

back to Egypt

And some more good raised fists (I don't think the CIA had anything to do with these):

from Cuba

IWW Poster, 1917

Tommie Smith and John Carlos' black power protest salute at the 1968 Olympics

Saturday, January 29, 2011