with Thomas Gokey
& Yates McKee
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
In her recent essay “Lost Properties,” Chris Kraus profiles a number of artists who have found creative engagement in contexts far afield from the dominant institutions of the art world. There are art school graduates who operate a brewery to support a small gallery, and a group of artists who are organizing against the debt system. “Being an artist [today],” Kraus writes, “doesn’t necessarily mean making drawings or paintings or sculpture or even installations or videos. The desire to pursue a life in ‘fine art’ simply means a desire to respond creatively to the present, just as the disciplines of ‘poetry’ or ‘rock & roll’ were ciphers for countercultural lifestyles in other eras.”
The anti-debt organizers who Kraus discusses are involved in the Rolling Jubilee, a project of Strike Debt, an activist group that emerged from the ferment of Occupy Wall Street. The Rolling Jubilee purchases distressed debt for pennies on the dollar and then, instead of collecting on the debt, abolishes it. So far the project has abolished $18.5 million in medical and student loan debt. A central reason for the Rolling Jubilee’s success has been its use of tactics that powerfully combine symbolic and concrete forms of agitation—an approach that has been influenced by the artists involved in the project. Kraus suggests that if the Rolling Jubilee can be construed as partly an artistic undertaking, it is one that flouts received ideas about art and political engagement: “[The Rolling Jubilee] goes straight to the conceptual heart of semio-capital, in ways that material-based, old-fashioned ‘political art’ can only contemplate. Instead of producing objects that fetishize past revolutions, projects like the Rolling Jubilee abstract the concept of debt with wit and elegance, and, in the same gesture, attack and ameliorate it.”
For this event, Chris Kraus will discuss art, artists, and activism with Thomas Gokey, an artist who is one of the organizers behind the Rolling Jubilee. Also participating in the conversation will be Yates McKee, a writer and activist who is completing a manuscript for Verso entitled Art After Occupy. Rather than addressing abstract questions about the relationship between art and politics, this conversation will take a resolutely empirical approach. What kinds of actual social movements and radical projects are actual artists engaged in today? Do they participate as artists, or is this aspect of their identity incidental to their involvement? Do artists have particular skills and knowledge that can be useful to emancipatory struggles? Conversely, in what ways do artists, wittingly or otherwise, contribute to the cooptation and recuperation of these struggles?
Chris Kraus is the author of four novels, most recently Summer of Hate, and two books of art and cultural criticism. She co-organized the Artists Space exhibition Radical Localism: Art, Media and Culture from Pueblo Nuevo’s Mexicali Rose with Artists Space and Marco Vera. Her third novel, Torpor, will be released in Semiotexte critical edition in 2015, and she’s working on a biography of the American writer Kathy Acker.
Thomas Gokey is a visual artist, educator, and organizer with Strike Debt. He is currently a PhD candidate at the European Graduate School and received an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His work has been exhibited internationally. Recent projects include the LibraryFarm, a collective farm on public land in upstate New York, and GutenbAAAAARG, a pirate printing press. He is one of the people working on the Rolling Jubilee, a project of Strike Debt.
Yates McKee is an historian and critic of contemporary art writing in the aftermath of Occupy. He has worked with groups including Occupy Theory, Arts and Labor, Strike Debt, Global Ultra Luxury Faction, Direct Action Front for Palestine, Illuminator Collective, and Flood Wall Street. His writing has appeared in October, The Nation, Tidal, Artforum, Oxford Art Journal, and Waging Nonviolence, and his book Art After Occupy is forthcoming from Verso in 2015.
The panel will be moderated by Michael Andrews, a writer, editor, and member of Strike Debt. He is on editorial staff at e-flux journal.