Occupy LACMA



Occupy L.A. and the Art World

A wave of art projects go hand in hand with the protest

By Catherine Wagley Thursday, Nov 24 2011

On Nov. 11, artists Elana Mann and Juliana Snapper brought two big, flesh-colored papier-mâché ears and a handful of poster-board signs with ears drawn on them down to the tarp-covered library at Occupy L.A. There they met up with a small group of artists, writers and curious occupiers, who joined them on a “listening walk,” navigating the encampment while holding the handmade ears in the air to show bystanders that listening was going on.

Given the dense visual activity around City Hall right now, focusing on just sound is not easy, and occupiers who noticed them seemed to appreciate the effort. One called it the Van Gogh parade. Others said, “Can

PHOTO BY LUCAS KAZANSKY During Artist Sinnombre's performance The Ballad of the Disenfranchised at Occupy LACMA last weekend, visitors could choose a word from the bowl to fill in the blank on the sign.

During Artist Sinnombre’s performance The Ballad of the Disenfranchised at Occupy LACMA last weekend, visitors could choose a word from the bowl to fill in the blank on the sign.

you hear me?”

“It’s good that you’re listening,” said a man who walked with them briefly. “Did you go down to the south side, where there were all those cops today? You really should go listen down there.”

Mann, a performance and video artist, has attended the movement’s general-assembly gatherings and seen people get riled up and ideas left behind. “We had noticed both how difficult it was to listen at Occupy L.A.,” she says, “and also the amazing speaking and listening techniques that arehappening in the Occupy movement.”

When the Occupy Wall Street effort began its spread two months ago, many in the arts community felt an affinity toward the protestors, not only agreeing with their stance on inequality and anger toward finance companies but seeing a parallel in the arts world, where museums and other institutions are struggling to keep afloat and often playing it safe to stay in donors’ good graces. Occupy L.A. has been an opportune setting for art projects that channel these anxieties.

This spring, Mann and concert soprano Snapper (along with two others) co-founded the group ARLA (a shifting acronym that has stood for Audile Receptives Los Angeles and A Ripe Little Archive). Many of their strategies come from Pauline Oliveros, an accordionist-turned-composer who began experimenting with electronic music in the 1950s, before it really even existed. She pioneered what she calls Deep Listening, or “listening to everything all the time and reminding yourself when you’re not listening.”

Like a lot of the artist activity at Occupy L.A., the ARLA performance would have happened occupancy or no occupancy, and in fact already had, at the Getty two weeks before. Participants there consisted of families and children, and the museum’s pristine granite surfaces provided an atmosphere emphatically different from the tent-covered one downtown.

But the fluid nature of the camp, with leaders and inhabitants changing regularly, and the baffling inclusiveness of the movement’s “occupy everything” agenda, made it an ideal setting for Deep Listening. Feeling heard put people at ease. The occupiers invited Mann and Snapper to come back weekly, and they obliged.

“They said that there were few, if any, opportunities to get together as people, rather than around a particular issue,” Mann says.

Since the recession hit, a number of artists’ projects have taken measured approaches to questioning the practices of museums, trustees and other elite players in the arts economy. In the same way that most members of Occupy L.A. would encourage the involvement of politicians, artists seem less interested in attacking institutions than reforming them.

When the collective Machine Project “occupied” LACMA for two days in 2008, building birdhouses on the balconies and playing live music in the elevators, they just wanted to open the museum up to a little more diversity. But when the current Occupy movement spread to museums in New York last month, with demonstrations outside MoMA and the New Museum, organizer Noah Fischer was confrontational, declaring, “No longer will we, the artists of the 99 percent, allow ourselves to be tricked into accepting a corrupt hierarchical system.”

Occupy LACMA, organized through Facebook by an anonymous artists’ group and held Nov. 20, was more tempered. It targeted LACMA as a symbolic center of the creative community and claimed no “singular objective” other than “to hear and listen.” Occupiers wore red, the color of the supports of the nearby Broad Contemporary wing, and held political discussions at a table in the museum’s courtyard.

One of the artists who participated in Machine’s earlier LACMA project was Liz Glynn, whose current series of performances at MOCA, called “Loving You Is Like Fucking the Dead,” explores her own conflicted relationship to the museum, an institution that’s both an amazing resource and a “crystal palace,” austere and averse to change. The first week of November, Glynn’s MOCA Goes Dark happened a few blocks above the Occupy headquarters at the museum on Grand Avenue. Blindfolded visitors, led through the permanent collection by the sound of jangling keys, had to trust security guards and visitor service volunteers. This performance and the final one, a dinner party scheduled for Dec. 1, rearrange the hierarchy of the museum idealistically, making visitors and the employees on the pay ladder’s lower rungs more central to its functioning.

Glynn is on the committee of the Public School, an artist-founded, consensus-run, curriculum-free school based out of a Chung King Road storefront. Anyone can propose a class and anyone can volunteer to teach. Justin Biren, also an artist and committee member, advocated for moving classes down to Occupy L.A. the week the encampment started. “The main purpose was just seizing the moment and showing solidarity,” he says. “The whole [Occupy] thing folded perfectly into the underpinning of the Public School.” Classes, including one on civil disobedience and another on architecture theory, met in the Occupy L.A. library until, days before NYPD raided Zuccotti Park, the committee decided to move back to Chinatown (a public university sanctioned by the movement had begun to hold classes at the library, too).

  Occupy LACMA                                                              Sunday, November 20th, 2011, 2:00- 6:00pm

301913_327014333980663_306083222740441_1559065_589638745_n 302379_327015090647254_306083222740441_1559091_749640301_n 308204_327015140647249_306083222740441_1559093_680976399_n 308797_327015060647257_306083222740441_1559090_244351241_n 309050_327014913980605_306083222740441_1559085_192292529_n 310519_327014837313946_306083222740441_1559082_1778971993_n 310665_327014807313949_306083222740441_1559081_825416569_n 316642_327014933980603_306083222740441_1559086_569986544_n 317045_327015027313927_306083222740441_1559089_169982414_n 318379_327014580647305_306083222740441_1559073_1654858187_n 320668_327014650647298_306083222740441_1559076_385731356_n 320822_327014693980627_306083222740441_1559077_1449490402_n 375603_327014370647326_306083222740441_1559066_809978090_n 376738_327014513980645_306083222740441_1559071_1083852665_n 376844_327014777313952_306083222740441_1559080_1791122028_n 378655_327014740647289_306083222740441_1559078_1732276623_n 378657_327014453980651_306083222740441_1559069_1839240427_n 379881_327014963980600_306083222740441_1559087_1060665938_n 380107_327014627313967_306083222740441_1559075_480177902_n 381086_327014547313975_306083222740441_1559072_1428646182_n 382045_327015127313917_306083222740441_1559092_1403871242_n 385914_10150394081661553_710721552_8664948_708216826_n 386388_327014763980620_306083222740441_1559079_968077939_n 388171_327014987313931_306083222740441_1559088_743399439_n 390468_327014393980657_306083222740441_1559067_1747841006_n 390837_327014870647276_306083222740441_1559083_1431517927_n 391919_327014277314002_306083222740441_1559064_976016378_n IMG_6750 IMG_6751 IMG_6752 IMG_6753 IMG_6754 IMG_6755 IMG_6756 IMG_6757 IMG_6758 IMG_6759 IMG_6760  IMG_6761 IMG_6764 IMG_6766 IMG_6767 IMG_6769 IMG_6771 IMG_6772 IMG_6776 IMG_6780 IMG_6781 IMG_6785 IMG_6786 IMG_6787 IMG_6788 IMG_6789 IMG_6791 IMG_6792 IMG_6795 IMG_6797 IMG_6798 IMG_6799 IMG_6800 IMG_6801 IMG_6807 IMG_6809 IMG_6810 IMG_6811 IMG_6812 IMG_6813 IMG_6814 IMG_6815 IMG_6816 IMG_6817 IMG_6818 IMG_6820 IMG_6823 IMG_6824 IMG_6825 IMG_6826 IMG_6827 IMG_6828 IMG_6830 IMG_6835 IMG_6838 IMG_6839 IMG_6843 IMG_6844 IMG_6847 IMG_6848 IMG_6849 IMG_6852 IMG_6855 IMG_6862 IMG_6864 IMG_6865 IMG_6866 IMG_6868 IMG_6870 IMG_6871 IMG_6879 IMG_6886 IMG_6889 IMG_6891 IMG_6892 IMG_6893 IMG_6894 IMG_6895 IMG_6896 IMG_6898 IMG_6899 IMG_6900 IMG_6902 IMG_6903 IMG_6906 IMG_6908 IMG_6909 IMG_6916 IMG_6921 IMG_6922 IMG_6923 IMG_6925 IMG_6926 IMG_6934 IMG_6936 IMG_6938 IMG_6940 IMG_6942 IMG_6945 IMG_6947 IMG_6948 IMG_6953 IMG_6955 IMG_6956 IMG_6958 IMG_6960 IMG_6965 IMG_6967 IMG_6986 IMG_6988 IMG_6995 IMG_7001 IMG_7003 IMG_7006 IMG_7009 IMG_7012 IMG_7013 IMG_7017 IMG_7019 IMG_7028 IMG_7031