One special thing about artist praxis in the Bay Area is the unusually large number of collaborative art-making groups here. That number includes artists collectives, cooperatives, communes and intentional houses, Burning Man camps and crews, anarchist and self-organized groups, anonymous and open source affiliations and coding groups, public interventions, demonstrations, happenings, spontaneous participatory actions, and many other kinds of contexts where people contribute to a project that ultimately will be credited to an alias or collective identity, but not to an individual artist.
The timeline of Bay Area modernist and postmodernist art practice can well be outlined by the activity and influence of the Bay’s best-known collaborative entities. Beginning with the Diggers, Free City Collective and Com Co; the Cockettes, Angels of Light and Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence; the San Francisco Mime Troupe and Merry Pranksters; Ant Farm, TVTV and Optic Nerve; Suicide Club, Billboard Liberation Front and Cacophony Society; Survival Research Labs — to name just the best known.
Collective action is also a lens through which we can begin to identify missing or marginalized art histories since it has generally been through collaborative organizing that minoritarian and activist creative impulses in the Bay Area have been established and proliferated. The Free Print Shop, radical, anarchist, Latinx and black collective muralists and print shops, East Totem West, Berkeley Free Press, AK Press, Rock Paper Scissors Collective, Hackerspaces, the open source movement, numerous women’s groups, the Radical Faerie movement, et al.
The contributions these entities make to both Bay Area culture and national art discourse is remarkable, yet astonishingly there hasn’t been a survey of contemporary groups and their histories.
The exhibition hopes to introduce a compelling conversation about the Bay Area’s unique political and activist culture that tends to generate these and other collective aliases.
About the tool and this site
I thought it would be interesting and useful to try to visualize some of those connections as a sort of geneological or taxonolgical experiment — to try to trace backwards and sideways some the ways that interconnected artmaking influences artists over time and vice versa.
As a one-person research project, it’s a pretty hopeless task, but as a crowdsourced project there’s potential to draw in a large number of data points. Since lots of this information potentially already exists in someone’s (Facebook) social graph, it seems like a good idea to try to build this tool as a layer on top of that.
The exhibition is currently designed to have two parts:
- The exhibition of artwork
- An interactive, crowdsourced data visualization facilitated by the tool
The exhibition of artwork and writing and programming that accompanies it will present new work by ~5 active East Bay collectives that directly refers to or critiques a project created in the past by a collective that each considers their “ancestor” or direct inspiration.
Writing and programming around the exhibition hopes to examine praxis in context of socioeconomic and cultural themes, sparking an discussion about the motives for artists working under aliases or in groups. Possible themes or motives include: political solidarity and activism; scale or project of activity; alternative funding models; cultural or tribal affinities; skirting and subverting the law; safe havens for outsiders; proliferating esoteric knowledge or praxis. (I’m still working on clarifying this list.)
The interactive part of the exhibition will launch several months before the exhibition opening, and continue on after the exhibition closes. There’s going to be a separate social media campaign to facilitate a wide range of people contributing information to the exhibition using the tool. Goals for the tool:
- re: research — increase the breadth of the exhibition’s coverage of lesser known groups
- re: documentation — act as crowdsourced first-person sources to verify data
- re: representation — counteract or diffuse my implicit research biases
- re: ownership — create a sense that the exhibition is about and for these groups and their members
- re: discovery — allow for greater understanding of the connections between groups re: membership, praxis, motive, subject matter territories — especially for members of those groups who may not have been aware of these connections
- re: curatorial stance — buttress the argument that this aspect of Bay Area art history should be taken more seriously by contemporary academics and writers