In Strike Art: Contemporary Art and the Post-Occupy Condition (Verso, 2016), Yates McKee shows that during the five years since Occupy Wall Street—a period that has also witnessed the upsurge of the black liberation movement, climate justice mobilizations, the struggles of workers, debtors, students, tenants, and more—artists have increasingly embedded their practice in expanded fields of political organizing. While much such work has taken place outside the art system, in many cases it has also involved doubling back upon art institutions themselves as arenas of action in ways exceed the traditions of Institutional Critique, including the work of groups such as The Natural History Museum; Free Cooper Union; the Global Ultra Luxury Faction, known for its actions at the Guggenheim; and the recent intervention of the Decolonial Cultural Front at the Brooklyn Museum. In such work, creative direct action is coupled with long term movement-building work in which the reclaiming of certain artistic infrastructures proceeds alongside the cultivation of new political formations that far exceed the domain of art per se.
This conversation takes the release of Strike Art as the occasion to address the following proposition: If we are seeing a move from Institutional Critique to institutional liberation (the latter being an admittedly multivalent term) it is imperative that an ethos of decolonization be developed in the process—one that draws links between struggles against displacement, dispossession and white supremacy from the occupied Lenape territory of Manhattan itself, to the frontiers of real estate speculation in New York such as Chinatown and Bushwick, and the ongoing colonization of Palestine.
Yates McKee is an art historian whose work has appeared in venues including October, Grey Room, Oxford Art Journal, e-flux Journal, Texte zur Kunst, South Atlantic Quarterly, and The Nation.
Nina Felshin is an independent curator, writer, and activist. She is the editor of But Is It Art?: The Spirit of Art as Activism and her past exhibitions include Black and Blue: Examining Police Violence; Disasters of War: From Goya to Golub; Global Warning: Artists and Climate Change. Earlier this year, she edited the fake New York Times, produced by Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), which parodied the paper's skewed Israel-Palestine coverage. Her critique of the Brooklyn Museum's "This Place" exhibition appeared last month in Hyperallergic: http://hyperallergic.com/298529/a-photo-exhibition-about-israel-and-the-west-bank-that-chooses-sides/.
Amin Husain is an artist and organizer with groups including MTL, Global Ultra Luxury Faction, Decolonial Cultural Front, and Direct Action Front For Palestine. With Nitasha Dhillon, he is currently completing On This Land (onthislandfilm.wordpress.com), a film about the Palestinian struggle.
Victoria Sobel is an artist and one of the many founders of Free Cooper Union. She is currently a fellow at the Vera List Center for Art and Politics at The New School, where she is exploring alternative models of student governance, transparency, and accountability. She writes, "I want to sit down in the street, you don't let me sit down in the street."
Praise for Strike Art:
“This irrepressibly vibrant page-turner is the first art historical reading of Occupy Wall Street, and a canny account of politically engaged art before, during and after the events of 2011. I’m tempted to call it the sequel to Artificial Hells, but this would do a disservice to its enthusiastic approach to activism. No left melancholia here—just a powerful commitment to the liberatory horizon of both progressive art and politics.”
—Claire Bishop, author of Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship
“A lucid and sure-footed guide to today’s renaissance of art radicalism. A participant as well as a critic, McKee knows exactly what he is talking about, and the result is red hot.”
—Andrew Ross, author of Creditocracy and the Case for Debt Refusal
“McKee’s elegant and illuminating book investigates the intersection of activism and contemporary art in a way that transforms our understanding of both.”
—Michael Hardt, coauthor of Empire
“Why in this era of neoliberalism and its diktat—Commodify Everything!—has art increasingly become a critique of commodification? Is this anomaly an expression of the peak of cynicism—with artists making money by criticizing it—or is this the prefiguration of a new connection between art and anti-capitalist revolution? If these questions concern you, then Yates Mckee’s Strike Art is a book you need to read.”
—George Caffentzis, author of In Letters of Blood and Fire
“In this lively and engaging book, Yates McKee turns the old concept of the Art Strike on its head. Strike Art asks its readers to move outside the art system and get ready for the artist as organizer. A must-read for activists, visual or otherwise, everywhere.”
—Nicholas Mirzoeff, author of How to See the World
“In this inspirational and engaging analysis, McKee positions art as more than mere protest graphics, rebellious puppetry, or subversive chanting: the energies of social, economic, and political transformation go right to the heart of Occupy’s world-changing creativity. Art in the post-Occupy condition—one that addresses climate justice activism as much as Black Lives Matter, Strike Debt as much as post-capitalist commoning practices—surpasses the containment of art institutions, daring to reinvent the very terms of life today.”
—T.J. Demos, author of The Migrant Image: The Art and Politics of Documentary During Global Crisis
“A profound and insightful book that asks us, using descriptions, history and theory, if there can ever be art without movement, or movement without art.”
—Marina Sitrin and Dario Azzellini, authors of They Can’t Represent Us!: Reinventing Democracy from Greece to Occupy
“Strike Art is written by someone who was directly involved in the day-to-day organizing work of Occupy Wall Street, and who continues to participate in the movement’s afterlife. McKee’s book is therefore replete with granular information about the ambitious, and sometimes ambiguous, revolt of the 99%, details that other commentators can only address in a second-hand manner. In this sense he aligns his writing with Walter Benjamin’s well-known directive that authors become producers with a ‘tendentious’ tilt towards working class struggles.”
—Gregory Sholette, author of Dark Matter: Activist Art and the Counter-Public Sphere in the Age of Enterprise Culture
“Because he is both committed to what he recounts but also nuanced in his criticisms, McKee’s book is one of the most coherent presentations of the new kinds of activist art that we have seen emerge since the development of social media and by and large after the emergence of the alterglobalization Left in the late 1990s.”
—Marc James Léger, author of Brave New Avant-Garde