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<nettime> no-wto art

(en) US, Seattle--Make your own revolution (Fw)
>From "Robby Barnes" <robby_barnes@hotmail.com>
Date Mon, 19 Jun 2000 14:40:44 -0400


      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

Art for protest's sake
The Battle in Seattle lives on at the intersection of politics and art.

LAST WINTER'S anti-WTO protests were some of the best and most inspiring
actions I've seen humans take in my lifetime. Now, it's probably because I
a reputation as a cynical old bastard, but when I express this opinion to
people they always seem surprised that my feelings are so unequivocally
On the other hand, maybe it's just because my thoughts contradict the TV
coverage, which portrayed the action either as a failed attempt by boring
to maintain a civil discourse or a successful attempt by demonic and
"self-avowed" anarchists to deprive Seattle taxpayers of five crucial days
of holiday
shopping. Or both. (And, by the way, let me just say that the term
"self-avowed" is redundant, and its constant use by commentators only served
to suggest
that TV people consider their viewers too stupid to know what the word
"avowed" means. Plus, some of the nicest people I know are avowed
anarchists. Anyway.

Really, though, who in this day and age seriously expected the mass media to
give objective coverage to what was essentially an anticapitalist uprising?
I don't know what it says about our society that we have to turn to art for
unbiased reporting, but I'm not complaining, because this month Seattle is
enjoying a number of works of art, music, and film that both reflect and
embody the spirit of the anti-WTO movement.


"The Whole World Is Watching: Art, Images + Literature from the WTO
Protests" runs at the Center on Contemporary Art (CoCA) through July 1 (in
with several events at the Independent Media Center and the 911 Media Arts
Center). The show creatively juxtaposes representative art (that is, art
the protests) with functional art (art that was actually used in the
protests), subtly erasing the distinction between reportage and
participation. As
with the protests themselves, there's a refreshingly broad palette to choose
from: a photo of the Lusty Lady's marquee ("Nude World Order") shares space
with a large papier-mâché businessman, an autographed door (from an
anarchist squat), and a huge, collectively produced graffiti-influenced
mural. How's
that for multiple perspectives?

Perhaps the most thought-provoking piece is "Take Off the Head," which
presents 525 woodcut-style portraits of politically influential figures,
from Nigeria's
Olusegun Obasanjo to Arkansas' Paula Jones, without specifying their
relationships to each other or the WTO. The implicit message--"Figure it out
not so much a challenge as an invitation, and as such represents the
grassroots spirit of the protests far better than anything presented on
during that exciting week last December.


That news coverage--thankfully--is used sparingly in Trade Off, a
documentary about the anti-WTO protests that won Best Documentary at this
year's Seattle
International Film Festival's Golden Space Needle awards (and may gain wider
release this summer). The film--the first feature from director Shaya
to balance political content, humor, and striking images, such as a fast
360-degree pan at the intersection of Fourth and Pike that reveals colorful
stretching to the horizon in all directions. Mild-mannered and hilarious
activist Mike Dolan becomes a de facto narrator as interview segments are
with footage of relevant images. Early in the film he expresses his
commitment to the struggle by looking directly at an interviewer and
deadpanning, "I
have TWO cell phones, all right?" The one potential disappointment for
Seattle audiences derives from the film's focus on the broad political
of the protest. Having made that (quite reasonable) choice, it tends to
steer clear of items that may be more superficially colorful or of greater
interest: The conflagrations that occurred when police clashed with crowds
on Capitol Hill, for instance, are not mentioned at all.


Meanwhile, on the musical front, we have a CD from the No WTO Combo: Live
from the Battle in Seattle (on Alternative Tentacles Records). The NWTOC was
one-off project featuring Krist Novoselic of Nirvana and Sweet 75 on bass,
Gina Mainwal of Sweet 75 on drums, Kim Thayil of Soundgarden on guitar, and
Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys as the lyric-spewing vocalist. Originally
scheduled to play on the first night of the protests, the band was put off
by the tear gas and general mayhem. They did perform the next night, though,
and this recording documents that show. Those who braved Paul Schell's
partial curfew ("Protesters will be met with tear gas and rubber bullets,
but if you're here to shop, everything's hunky dory!" What if I wanted to do
both?) were treated to a set of pure energy embodied in music. As Jello
aptly proclaims in the 15-minute tirade that introduces the CD, "The
turtle insurrection has begun!" The music mixes relevant old favorites from
Jello with WTO-specific new songs all wrapped in Paris '68,
joie de vivre. If that's not punk rock, I don't know what is....


The No-WTO Combo's performance also forms the centerpiece of "This Is What
Democracy Looks Like," a six-minute documentary currently being Webcast on
Actually, it's not really clear whether the piece is a documentary with
background music from the combo or a music video that utilizes WTO footage,
that ambiguity is itself intriguing. The Fastband Globalcast, under whose
auspices the documentary appears, was founded by Novoselic and Roderick
of Sky Cries Mary as an attempt to blur the line between documentary,
political action, and art. Initially Webcasting from New Orleans, the
soon plans to feature continuous Internet transmissions from studios in Los
Angeles, Amsterdam, Edinburgh, Rio de Janeiro, Bangkok, and Sydney.

TAKEN COLLECTIVELY, these works paint a picture of a world in transition.
The portrayal of this movement by a variety of media, each operating from a
perspective, serves to underline its nondogmatic, nonhierarchical nature.
And that may be the best part of all: I have to refer to it as "this
because it doesn't really have a name; it is so decentralized that no single
term, slogan, or ideology will suffice. There is no one leader/spokesmodel
to be idolized, imitated, and ultimately co-opted. There is no one book or
song or movie or painting that can explain it. Make your own art. Make your
own life. Or, as Billy Bragg once sang, "Start your own revolution--cut out
the middleman."

By Joe Schloss

Seattle Weekly, June 15 - 21, 2000


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