[-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.


Sharon wrote:

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 "public secrets."

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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