[-empyre-] Re: what is to be done: the public secret --forward from Sharon Daniel (Henry Warwick)
I just want to say to Henry that I agree - the phenomena that he
lists certainly fit the definition of the public secret, particularly
because of their apparent intractability. It is difficult to know
what is to be done in the face of such overwhelming problems. It is
much easier to slip into collective denial. How do we force ourselves
to face our own self-annihilation? and at the scale of the problems
Henry addressed? The list he posted - his focus on overpopulation
and depleted resources - made me think of an interestingly
controversial project "A-Portable", a refurbished shipping container
that functioned as a mobile gynecological clinic designed by Atelier
Van Leishout in collaboration with Dr. Rebecca Gompers, founder of
"Women on Waves" in Amsterdam. "A-Portable" was designed to allow Dr.
Gomperts to make first trimester abortions available where the
procedure is illegal by performing them in international waters -
19km from shore just outside national jurisdiction - free of charge.
"A-Portable" was exhibited as a work of art in the Venice Biennale
and the subsequent media attention was intended to provoke activism
that would lead to legislative change. There were many questions
around the actual use of "A-Portable" after the exhibition and
initial launch. I admit have not followed the history of the project
and I don't mean to suggest that it was a successful intervention but
I bring it up merely as an example of a pragmatic strategic approach
to both education (direct education in the clinic setting and
political education through the media) and activism that operated, in
part, in the realm of art practice and exhibition. It also provided a
catalyst for legal activism. I was very taken with a quote from the
text, which accompanied the exhibition at the Venice Biennale,
"To understand the work one must move from ontology, (what is art?)
to pragmatism (what can art do?). Herein lies a possible revival of
avant-garde politics - no longer historically "ahead", nor operating
through shock and estrangement, but rather producing works that make
things possible right now..."
I think that A-portable actually did operate through shock and
estrangement and, I think that is why it succeeded in getting the
attention that it did - - if it was ever really operative it could
also have changed the realities of the individuals and communities it
engaged. While I tend to see the latter as much more important there
is the problem of scale that Henry's post makes clear.
There are many answers to the question "what can art do?" in
productive and practical resistance to the public secret at varying
levels of scale - Ricardo's post provides a number of really
productive answers in the realm of grass-roots activism and critical
pedagogy which do not rely on shock estrangement and do not always
get the attention of the art world or media that is necessary to
facilitate social change.
There are secrets that are kept from the public and then there are
"public secrets" - secrets that the public chooses to keep safe from
itself, like the troubling "don't ask, don't tell." The trick to the
public secret is in knowing what not to know. This is the most
powerful form of social knowledge. Such shared secrets sustain social
and political institutions. The injustices of the war on drugs, the
criminal justice system, and the Prison Industrial Complex are
OK - here's a few public secrets:
1. There are too many people.
2. We are way into overshoot and unless massive sacrifices are made immediately
in terms of economic and material wealth that is re-directed into mitigation
efforts, the planet will experience a massive die off in the 21st century.
3. Government exists to protect and project the interests of the ruling class.
4. We Are Atlantis.
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