My friend, the artist Lucas Carlson, taught me how to use my voice. He was brave. He fought with real demons and took his own life in 2007. Those were dark times.
We were all traumatized and competitive and silent in the early 2000’s when I attended Columbia for an MFA. We paid for access. The holy of holies of Chelsea was revealed to us as a magic pyramid that governed the art world which was to be our hunting ground. We were taught that the real game, the real art, was money and celebrity. Free-thinking was frowned upon as earnest or naïve. We would use our intelligence strategically, to compete against each other and make it to the top. A few students became millionaires or jet setters soon after leaving school. Most did not but thought they might soon. We weren’t very nice to each other and didn’t challenge the obviously fucked up system. Instead, we honored it. The stakes were just too high.
As Kafka has shown, power is architectonic, but the walls are usually invisible. I have always seen these walls. Lucas taught me how to break through them by speaking out loud spells. One day on the 1 train heading downtown, he spoke out, like those crazy homeless people or the kids selling candy for their basketball teams. This is shocking, repugnant, possibly breaking ancient New York class regulations, but Lucas did it. Annoyed by a subway ad, he ranted about the public education system to all who would listen. This started an underground conversation - an immediate unfreezing of the world, a herbal antidote to the poison of Late Capitalism and 9-11. We were free. I learned from Lucas that honesty and bravery are an artist’s occupation.
I wish that Lucas was here to be part of the Occupation of Wall Street- he would have loved it as I love it. Because from the first time that Lucas showed me how to perform the wall-breaking speak out, I’ve had this seed in the back of mind and its been growing. That’s how I arrived at Wall Street before the occupation. Three years after Obama’s government had continued every war and defended every banker The Aaron Burr Society and I initiated the “Summer of Change” on Wall Street. (www.summerofchang.net) On June 21st 2011 we began offering $700 in US coins in a series of public numismatic rituals. We showered coins and rhetoric upon the very stones of Wall Street across from the Stock Exchange- donning god-like coin masks. Tourists, workers, homeless people and children, picked up the coins, never investment bankers. But the bankers and traders did stand in the back and listen as we loudly and publically railed in presidential tones against the surreal economic crimes of our times. When the revolution really happened- a few days before the equinox, our voices were warmed up, we were ready!
The first day of Occupywallstreet, I was there in my coin-mask, shouting fragments of FDR rhetoric at the lone Russian TV station who showed up to cover the protests.
The next week, with the movement in full swing, the park fully occupied and more people coming all the time, it was time to begin occupying the subways. This meant talking out in car after car full of silent strangers. And they began talking to each other, as Lucas had managed in the dark days of 2007. As I write this, many people are occupying subways from the outer corners of the megatrolpolis to the cores of Times Square and Union Square. We are spreading the message to wake up, speak out, and come together all over New York City, which has the same wealth disparity as Honduras.
This week we are going to occupy museums. We will read out statements written by consensus to the effect that we can see through the shabby pyramid schemes of the MoMA and the Guggenheim and of course the Frick- that ongoing PR campaign for the “Worst CEO in American Hoistory.” Museum board members inflate the value of their collections through the same kind of shady deals that Wall Street traders are known for. Their sense of ownership of the art historical cannon is an affront to art iself – we know it’s all about money now, nothing about art. We’ll stand in front of so-called houses of high culture and recount how hundreds of thousands of artists have been silenced by a system of economic injustice for way too long- just as the American public has been silenced and trauma caused by the big banks. We artists are finally learning to use our voice, and when I say artists I mean everybody.