Rene — Journalisms — Some Remarks on CAE case or The Implausibly Possible

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Rene — Journalisms — Some Remarks on CAE case or The Implausibly Possible
“Journalisms:” or “Our Correspondent:” or “?”
The title and mission of this collective project
is a work in progress. But the general idea is
that we cannot be in all places at all times.
So those who would like to can write a “report”
or “editorial” or “correspondence” to share
experiences for the benefit of others.
To take part, send submission or for more information
please write to journalisms@16beavergroup.org
or post online:
related links:
Some Remarks on CAE case or The Implausibly Possible
“Bentham laid down the principle that power should be visible and
unverifiable. Visible: the inmate will constantly have before his eyes the tall outline of the central tower from which he is spied upon.
Unverifiable: the inmate must never know whether he is being looked at at any one moment; but he must be sure that he may always be so.”
– Michel Foucault, Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison
It was almost 2 years ago that through our Radioactive series at 16Beaver, we attempted to identify and discuss the changing political climate after September 11 and its direct impact on cultural production. Our concerns centered on: “addressing the ramifications of ‘heightened security and policing’ of the ‘Homeland’ on cultural production.”
Furthermore, we sought to question: “the role and responsibility of cultural spaces/workers in contesting and calling into question these emerging social/political problems.”
Through those discussions, one of the compelling points which was raised, had to do with how little policing needed to occur from without. Martha Rosler wrote at the time: “The sad truth is that at present we don’t need official censorship. Our cultural institutions have learned to do it very well all by themselves”
The recent actions of the Federal Authorities in attempting to bring a case against Steve Kurtz of the Critical Art Ensemble only confound the most neutral observer. Is this offical censorship or unofficial
intimidation? Does this have more to do with the manufactured fear and paranoia that we have been witnessing and/or is this the expected
consequence of measures like the Patriot Act? What would convince the authorities to go this far? Is the work that CAE produces or encourages so threatening or is this just a big mistake?
Of course, people will weigh in on these questions and arrive at different responses, but are these the most interesting questions to be asking anyway? Clearly the manner in which CAE has been working, the issues they are confronting, and the ideas they are disseminating are threatening to the John Ashcrofts or Tom Ridges of the world. I can imagine that for some, now is not the time to just ask questions.
Action is clearly what is necessary now, but of what kind? Which actions should or could be taken to resist and further call attention to what is taking place? And if we further interrogate the range of questions possible, what about setting aside whys for a bit and considering the possible effects of these recent actions by the authorities?
How will these recent actions by “Uncle Sam” effect the larger
cultural/educational institutions that invite or (in)directly support groups such as CAE – Groups who take a critical stance towards the government, towards ‘pancapitalism’, towards ‘business as usual’ and work to destabilize or question the status quo?
And what of the historical relations between previous cultural wars to the the not so quiet one which seems to be going on today? Does an action such as this serve as a great warning to ‘our cultural institutions’? If so, how can we insure that this sort of intimidation does not work? What of the relationship between the resistance to the actions taken against Steve to broader social movements / resistances?
Before concluding these brief remarks, I do once again want to visit another text written at the time of the Radioactive project (September 2002).
François Bucher wrote:
“The last point is perhaps that we need to wake up to the fact that there will not be a clumsy Cultural Bureau to fight in an epic battle of liberals against repressors; that effective resistance to censorship now is far more complicated.”
Although the current circumstances do suggest a clumsy version of the cultural bureau, I am still convinced by these remarks. If we do take François’ point to heart, then the question that begs itself to be asked is how in voicing our outrage and dissent today, how in resisting these unjust actions taken by the government against Steve and CAE, can we also avoid oversimplifying this particular situation.
The complexity of this case (and most cases of censorship) is that it operates on several fronts at once. First, it appears that power is rendered visible and verified, to the degree that action has been taken against Steve. Yet, outside the visible and verifiable, the effect of this action is that it further reinforces a self policing: it draws a visible line that says, “cross this line, and you may be next at the cue.”
It precisely at this point when the visible and unverifiable take hold and the policing or censorship occurs internally (whether within the
individual or institutions). Thus, an action like this succeeds with or without it succeeding in litigation.
So when I speak about not oversimplifying, I am not just thinking about the relation of these actions to other actions taken by the US government against citizens and non-citizens of this and many other countries. I am also thinking about what a “successful” resistance to this action would be?
Should “success” be judged by having the government drop this case against Steve? Of course, yes!
But can we or should we also consider and attempt to outline how can we construct a resistance that may also aid others who might suffer from this same fate in the not too distant future? Can we or should we also convince or force some of the larger institutions and universities which purport to recognize artistic freedoms (not to mention basic
constitutional rights) to take a clear position? * Can we or should we connect to other groups and people who have also experienced a similar fate?
These remarks are not meant to detract or take anything away from the grave situation Steve faces nor to take away from the necessity of organizing events which raise awareness and necessary benefits to raise funds for the defense. It is only to call attention to the necessity of considering our responses to this case within a wider ‘theater of
operations’ and within a temporal consideration which recognizes that what may be implausibly possible today will easily become plausibly possible tomorrow.
Last year’s fiction is today’s sad reality, the question remains, what are we doing about it?
And how?
*To their credit, both the College Art Association and MASS MoCA, have supported CAE by making public statements that call into question the actions of the FBI.
To read the letter of support from the new president of CAA Ellen Levy and CAA Executive Director Susan Ball please see link below: