Is Occupy Art?

A few days ago a young Australian artist, Carl Scarse, sent me an email asking if I know anybody who would publish an article with the title “Is Occupy Art?” – talking about the occupy movement. In this case especially about Occupy Melbourne, Australia. While I was reading his lines I remembered Joi Ito’s first talk at the MIT in his function as the head of the MIT Media Lab where he asked the audiene, mostly art students, why “overthrowing a government by the people” isn’t considered an art form – everyone seemed to be struck by a new thought.

But if you understand art as a field of experimentation, innovation, critical thinking and exploration – then why not considering “occupy” or “overthrowing a government by the people” as art? Artist have been and hopefully will be always at the forefront of change. They seem to have sensors for the new … and many of them are ready to break out of the so-called organized art scene or art business, controled and influcend by a few.

Just like occupy;-)

So WE weren’t struck by a new thought. WE’re rather pleased to hear all this. Since a few month we@we-magazine are working on a new edition: WE & The Arts. It will deal – among other topics – with this question: The WE at Tharir Square, the WE in Occupy, the WE in governance – what kind of examples do we find in the arts? And you will be suprised how many …

Against this background WE publishes Carl’s personal message to Robert Doyle, 103rd Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Australia, and shares his thoughts why Occupy is art.


Is Occupy Art?
Is Art Memetic Innovation?
Is There An Environment That Is More Conducive To Memetic Innovation?

By Carl Scarse

“The primary use of the word “art” is to collect together cases of memetic innovation, as contrasted with cases in which familiar memes are deliberately deployed.“ Donald Brook

For the last week I have been mopping up my life, I, along with many other creative people that have been splashed with a fair dose of Occupy. I dived head first into the Melbourne incarnation of this worldwide meme at the first chance I got. I had time to spare; I was researching for my upcoming ‘Art’ and ‘social entrepreneur’ projects. A few months later and I have emerged with my face and words being smeared across most tabloids, a load of life experience, a wealth of knowledge, a lot of new skills and a raft of new collaborators.

I wish to state one thing very clearly to Robert Doyle, and any other of his pencil pushers. I will continue to defend Occupy, because I believe it is one of the greatest social art experiments the world has ever seen. Check out other social art experiments being discussed by art students.

There is a difference, as Donald Brook explains, between ‘art’ and ‘works of art’, they are not alternative names for the same thing. The art world’s commodification of the concept of ‘Art’ has had grave consequences and hence you see the art world being the first thing sinking within the corrupt capitalist tsunami that is sweeping our world into a diabolical recession.
I had a personal broad shot fired over my head by Robert Doyle in relation to my involvement in Occupy. In a poorly formed Herald Sun article he labeled me a “hypocrite” for taking public funds and being critical of the Doylocracy that he seems to think City of Melbourne is. As I said in response, “the City of Melbourne is like a beautiful boat, with a very bad captain”.
I would not have guessed a few months ago that I would be personally attacked for being a dissident artist; I thought that Ai Weiwei had that ground covered in communist China. Doyle’s attempt to strip my livelihood is not that far away from secret detention. It will effect how I am going to continue as an artist; I assume it will be harder for me to receive funding for my projects.

Robert Doyle’s silencing of individual voices within the City of Melbourne over Occupy Melbourne has been noticed. This city’s young creative’s need some brave people on the inside to speak up. I have friends that sit within the City of Melbourne various boards and committees who inform me that Occupy has been a talking point around the water cooler and compassionately mentioned in meetings. I ask all involved in Arts at the City of Melbourne to support “community engagement through the arts”, even if it is of the critical bent.

There are rumours that the Malthouse Theatre uninvited the Lord Mayor to it’s season premier after his heavy handed attack on Occupy Melbourne. Robert Nelson, the respected arts writer for the Age also criticised “The lord mayor’s belligerence over the occupation” in his wrap up of the Melbourne Festival, that occurred concurrently to Occupy Melbourne’s six days in City Square. 

I have talked about de-framing art; ripping the rigid elitist frames off personal creativity. I see galleries, curators and other cultural gate keeping devices being questioned in this new, user generated society. I won’t pester you ‘art world’, but just so you know, I criticise because I care.

I am excited about the new ideas I’m working on at the moment. Most already reverberate on the edge or outside the current art world paradigm. The majority of them don’t culminate in anything like an object or a product.

For example:

All three of these projects were designed to operate in similar way to Occupy. They are designed to be of their time, audience generated and conducive to starting conversations. They aim to traverse an interesting ground between worlds: Online/Offline, Collective/Self and Fiction/Fact.

It seems that recent events in the ‘art world’ and events in the ‘real’ world have meshed in particularly fortuitous ways around the world. In Melbourne it was the encampment of creative revolution around the AES+F cherub baby. In New York it was the conjunction of Living as Form – an art exhibit taking place in the abandoned space of the old Essex Market on the Lower East Side, sponsored by the well know social engagement art aficionados: Creative Time.

The Occupy movement is said to have started as a conversation between Kalle Lasn and Bill Schmalz the founders of Adbusters Magazine. Adbusters describes itself as “a global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new social activist movement of the information age.” They are most often called ‘culture jammers’ a term that has it roots in the European based Situationist International Group, which was founded in 1957. It is interesting to note that the Situationists also used the tool of Occupation in France in 1968.

So in summary, what I think I have learnt from all this is that you probably can’t create memetic innovation, but I think you can create the right environment for memetic innovation to occur. From my experience the reflexive community focused environment that was Occupy Melbourne in City Square, generated lots of great ideas and actions. It has started new memetic balls rolling.

It is a pity that all the creative energy seems to have been forced into exposing the injustices against Occupy Melbourne, instead of solutions for the future. Although the ‘tent monsters’ are entertaining.

If you would like to get more of my dissident artist thoughts over the coming months and years please sign up to my mailing list, I have a feeling it’s going to be an interesting ride.

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