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6 posts from August 2013

30 August 2013

The Art of Occupy

FightBackOrange
Colectivo Cordyceps, Mexico City, Mexico (website: Justseeds Artists' Cooperative)

If you’ve been to our Propaganda exhibition (and if you haven't, you only have until 17 September), you might have spotted the above print. It’s in a fairly dark corner, so unless you looked at it carefully (or read the accompanying label) you might not have realised that it is a relatively recent poster coming out of the Occupy Movement. It was interesting to me that Ian, one of our Propaganda curators, should choose that particular poster out of a portfolio of prints that we acquired from Occuprint last year. Viewed up close, the text  'the 99% have no borders' is a bit of a give-away, but from a distance it looks like a fairly traditional political poster which could come from more or less anywhere (in fact it’s from Mexico) and from any period.

The use of prints and posters to disseminate views on political issues and causes is nothing new of course, – they’ve been employed pretty much ever since the invention of printing, but they really came in to their own in the early twentieth century as technological developments enabled the relatively cheap mass production of posters. And they remain a simple but effective way of reaching the public and getting a message or viewpoint across.

I’ve been fascinated by the sheer volume, diversity and creativity of printing that has come out of the global Occupy movement. The portfolio alone is a good example of this – 31 hand silk-screened prints by 31 artists/groups, chosen out of hundreds of submissions from across the world, but all reflecting the values and many concerns of the movement. A fundraising initiative for Occuprint (a non-profit group affiliated to but independent from the Occupy Movement), the portfolio has been issued through the Booklyn Artists' Alliance in an edition of 100. It is curated by Booklyn’s Marshall Weber and Occuprint organiser Jesse Goldstein, together with various other Occuprint editorial committee members. The portfolio also includes a copy of issue 4 (November 2011) of the Occupied Wall Street Journal, a special folio issue on the poster art of the Occupy movement, the curation of which led to the establishment of Occuprint itself. Occuprint’s website was also launched in November 2011 and now hosts hundreds of images, including the portfolio prints and submissions, all of which can be freely downloaded for non-commercial purposes. More posters continue to be added and the website offers not only a wide range of support materials for local activists, but a fantastic resource for studying the art of Occupy (and much more besides).

BallerinaBull

Creator: lots of people  #Occupy Wall Street NYC General Assembly

When Occupy Wall Street (OWS) sprang up in September 2011 with the occupation of New York City’s Zuccotti Park, its birth was announced with a particularly arresting and now iconic image – that of a ballerina on top of the Wall Street bull, which appeared in Adbusters, the Vancouver-based anti-consumerist magazine. The bull is just one of the many new symbols that has emerged out of Occupy graphic art, and it is joined by more traditional images (e.g. the raised fists in Fightback), plus appropriations and re-interpretations (e.g. the Guy Fawkes mask, and David Loewenstein's underground 'inverted' fist ).  As Marshall Weber has noted, there is evidence of a variety of historical art influences in the imagery -from Russian Constructivism to Latin American political graphic art to Pop. Although the quality of imagery varies enormously, there are some wonderful, memorable and humorous posters, and it is clear that poster-making is an important strategy for participants of the Occupy movement.  

TipOfTheIceberg

David Loewenstein, Lawrence, Kansas. http://www.davidloewenstein.com

Occuprint organiser Jesse Goldstein describes the graphic work coming out of Occupy as 'social movement culture,' quoting Dara Greenwald and Josh MacPhee’s definitition of this as work 'born from a context in which large numbers of people mobilized to achieve transformation goals.' He says that perhaps the single cohesive thread of Occupy’s cultural work is 'a self-assured dismissal of corporate media channels and the confidence that alternatives can be, and are being, built.' The graphic work is just one aspect of a growing number of cultural practices which include social media, public camping etc., and Goldstein goes on to say that, 'While it’s too early to tell, there does seem to be the possibility that Occupy will successfully reclaim a portion of the cultural commons from a media sphere that has thoroughly infected our everyday lives with ubiquitous branding, messaging, news cycles, and stylized uniformity.' He notes that many of the images on the Occuprint website were created for local use and then passed on to Occuprint, whilst others only exist in the virtual world -'copies without originals.'  He also emphasises the importance of the idea of imagining the future in this social movement culture. 'If anything, the work focuses on the future of the movement itself, and the constituent power that will be required to make the world anew.' - Alexandra Clotfelter’s poster The Beginning is Near, being a perfect example of this.

BullBeginningIsNear
Alexandra Clotfelter, Savannah, GA  Website: http://www.ladyfawn.com

Goldstein acknowledges that 'The images on our site will one day be important, collected, preserved and themselves referenced, as the past is referenced today….The Occupy movement has become conscious of itself as an active producer of history, and this future potential permeates the social movement culture that is beginning to take shape. This, I believe makes the collection at Occuprint an archive of the future.' For me, there was never a doubt that we should have at least some of this material in our collections since it would be important for future researchers studying a whole range of subjects. Aside from the portfolio, we have collected placards, leaflets and other ephemera that help bring to life the movement, culture and a wide variety of political, social and economic issues. The images have in fact already appeared and been discussed and debated in a number of journals and blogs (see below for a few examples). So perhaps not only is the beginning near, the future is now.  

Jesse Goldstein, Occuprint: Archiving the Future, Socialism and Democracy vol.26, no. 2, July 2012 (available online in the library’s reading rooms)

Sarah Kirk Hanley Ink: Political Art for a Contentious Time art:21 September 14 2012

Nato Thompson, “Debating Occupy,” Art in America 100, no. 6, July/August 2012, pps. 99-103 (includes several images from the portfolio accompanied by statements from artists, curators, writers, and critics on the impact of the Occupy Movement).

[C.H.] 

 

28 August 2013

The Fierce Urgency of Now: Dr King's 'I Have a Dream' revisited

A rather comfortable morning at the US Embassy, London: US geniality, good coffee, some pastries, and padded seats in the auditorium.  An ambassador, several professors, a lord (and director-general of the BBC), as well as students.  Outside, the sun was shining. 

We were here for a live airing of the BBC Radio 4 and World Service programme, 'I Have a Dream', a 50th anniversary tribute to Dr King's speech at the March on Washington on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C., on 28 August 1963.  Introduced by Professor Clayborne Carson, editor of the Martin Luther King papers, the radio programme, which was broadcast around the world, began with the voice of Dr King booming out over the National Mall, and was then taken up by human rights activists from around the world: including Congressman John Lewis, Doreen Lawrence, Mary Robinson and His Holiness the Dalai Lama.  The oration was concluded by Stevie Wonder, declaiming the words much in the manner of Dr King.

The airing was introduced by Ambassador Barzun, two mornings into his new job.  As we sat in our comfy chairs, he reminded us that the full name of the March on Washington was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and that freedom was not possible without economic opportunity.  This, and the sadly still-present legacy of slavery and racism are likely, one suspects to be themes touched on by President Obama during today's commemorations.   As Dr King said in his great speech: '1963 is not an end, but a beginning.' 

Today's events are being live-streamed here by the State Department.

[M.J.S.]

26 August 2013

Celebrating: World Dog Day

Pelorus Jack Mascot of HMS New Zealand (HS85-10-29327)

Above: Pelorus Jack of HMS New Zealand. Looks like he loved his job. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Public Domain Mark
These works are free of known copyright restrictions.

At Team Americas we like to give opportunities to all and our canine friends might have felt they had a 'ruff' deal on World Cat Day. But do not fear, we bring you Canada's finest historical pooches for World Dog Day! Unfortunately, it seems early twentieth century Canada was less fond of dogs and so they make fewer appearances in the collection than our feline friends. That said there's not a single cat with a Union Flag in the rest of the photographs...

Squidge Regimental pet of the 24th Battalion (HS85-10-29943)

Above: 'Squidge', proud to sit wherever you tell him. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

An English Setter of the breed coming from the kennel of PL Llewellyn and sometimes termed the Llewellyn Setter photograph of a drawing (HS85-10-14981)

Above: 'Squirrel!' Image from Wikimedia Commons.

So, with that, enjoy World Dog Day everyone - Team Americas will, it's a bank holiday over here!

[PJH]

19 August 2013

Andrea Wulf: Out of Archives and Libraries

As a historian I’m spending much of my time in archives and libraries. Carrying huge folios or maps is the only physical activity involved in that – but sometimes my research takes me to other (maybe slightly more exotic) places.

I’ve just come back from an extraordinary trip to Ecuador and Venezuela where I followed the footsteps of Alexander von Humboldt for my new book ‘The Invention of Nature’. Armed with transcriptions of Humboldt’s letters and diaries – which were of course mostly done in the British Library – I climbed in the Andes, paddled down the Orinoco and got soaking wet in the Llanos.

From 1799, for almost five years Humboldt travelled through South America, Mexico and Cuba – I had only 15 days (and I skipped Mexico and Cuba). I went to the archives in Quito where I saw Humboldt’s passport from the Spanish king and many of the drawings he did while in South America. I saw river dolphins swimming in the Orinoco and capybaras playing in the flooded plains of the Llanos. Tarantulas were our breakfast, lunch and dinner companions – not quite what I’m used to in the Rare Books Reading Room in the British Library.

Most exciting of all, however, were the Andes. Humboldt spent months and months climbing along the mountain chains and valleys, gathering material for his new vision of nature. When he reached Quito in early 1802, he systematically climbed every volcano nearby. He crouched on a precariously small rock ledge on the Pichincha to stare into the deep crater, on the Antisana he encountered rain and wind so vicious and cold that it felt like ice–needles piecing his face, he tried (but failed) to reach the perfectly cone–shaped summit of the Cotopaxi and then went up the Chimborazo (then believed to be the highest mountain in the world).

I tried to do some of this – I got to the crater rim of the Pichincha, but no way I was going to hang over that ledge! On the Cotopaxi we were enveloped in thick fog and didn’t see a thing. My fabulous guide Juan Fernando Duran Cassola found the hut on the Antisana at 4000m where Humboldt spent a miserable night before climbing the volcano. Standing there last month on a clear sunny day with the glorious snow–capped peak of the Antisana behind us and four majestic condors circling above, we were suddenly surrounded by a herd of wild horses. Research can’t get better than that – or, so I thought … until we went up the Chimborazo.

P1020079

It was on the Chimborazo that Humboldt’s vision of nature as a unified whole came to a conclusion – a web of life in which everything was connected. For Humboldt, climbing the Andes was like a botanical journey which moved up from the equator to the poles – the whole plant world seemed to be stacked up on top of each other. The zones of vegetation ranged from tropical plants to the snow line near the peak. There were palms and humid bamboo forests in the valleys, and further up conifers, oaks, alders and shrub-like berberis similar to those in the European and northern Asian climates.  Higher still, Humboldt encountered Andean zones with alpine plants, many of which were similar to those he had seen in Europe. With ‘a single glance’, he said, he suddenly saw the whole of nature laid out before him.

As we scrambled up the barren slopes of the Chimborazo with the air getting thinner and every step getting harder, I couldn’t imagine how it must have been for Humboldt. At least I had seen photographs of the Andes before I went there, but here was Humboldt, a former Prussian mining inspector, dressed very inappropriately for such a climb and carrying his instruments up the volcano. Every few hundred feet, for example, he would measure the boiling point of water, he measured the blueness of the sky and bottled air to investigate the chemical components. Madness. I was wearing proper hiking boots and only a little rucksack with some food, extra clothes and water (and didn’t have to camp outside) but still every step was exhausting.

P1020253

When we reached 5000m (the highest base camp today on the Chimborazo) we stopped – less than 1000m below where Humboldt went. The clouds came rolling in while we were bathed in sunshine. This really felt like being at the top of the world – and very close to Humboldt.

Andrea Wulf is an Eccles Centre Writer in Residence for 2013.

15 August 2013

Literally, a blog post

A friend emails, angry with rage, with the news that the Oxford English Dictionary has updated its definition of 'literally' (in 2011) to include the sense of ‘used for emphasis rather than being actually true’. This slippery slope began  c. 1769, when Frances Brooke penned the following line for Emily Montague: 'He is a fortunate man to be introduced to such a party of fine women at his arrival; it is literally to feed among the lilies', as the online OED reveals.  (It also points out that this sense is colloq.*)  In 1876, Mark Twain took up the empathic baton in  Adventures Tom Sawyer: 'And when the middle of the afternoon came, from being a poor poverty-stricken boy in the morning, Tom was literally rolling in wealth.'  More recently (2008), a warning shot was fired in The Herald-Times (Bloomington, Indiana): '"OMG, I literally died when I found out!" No, you figuratively died. Otherwise, you would not be around to relay your pointless anecdote.'

Fired up by access to some of our online resources, I visited Early American Fiction 1789-1850 and, literally, stumbled across this from Emerson Bennett, in his Leni-Leoti; or, Adventures in the Far West (1849)

In a few minutes I had completely recovered
from my swoon; but it was a long
time before either of us could master his
emotion sufficient to hold conversation.
We looked at each other, pressed each
other by the hand, mingled our tears together,
and felt, in this strange meeting,
what no pen can describe, no language
portray. We had literally been dead to
each other---we who had loved from childhood
with that ardent love which cements
two souls in one---and now we had come
to life, as it were, to feel more intensely
our friendship for the long separation.

It is true: they have great doctors in the Far West. [MJS]

* It also includes the advice, belt-and-braces style: 'Now one of the most common uses, although often considered irregular in standard English since it reverses the original sense of literally (‘not figuratively or metaphorically’)'

08 August 2013

The Cats of Canada

The Globe kittens (HS85-10-13446-11)

Above: some of our colleagues may bring you illuminated cats but we bring you cats and books!

Public Domain Mark
These works are free of known copyright restrictions.

Those of you on Twitter will have noticed it is World Cat Day and here at Team Americas we love a bandwagon. So, here's a selection of wonderful felines from the Picturing Canada collection. Enjoy!

A garden party (taken from life) (HS85-10-8754)

Above: a (rather scary) garden party

Fritz the cat (HS85-10-11178)

Above: Fritz, looking magnificent

Topsey's curiosity (HS85-10-20757)

Above: Topsey is curious...

The Globe kittens (HS85-10-13446-3)

Above: another set of bookish kittens to round us off

All images are from the Picturing Canada collection on Wikimedia Commons. You can read more about the collection over at Public Domain Review.

[PJH]