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A report on "Now-Time Venezuela" at U.C. Berkeley Art Museum


More on the political art world flutter of the moment...
In discussing Cheryl Meeker’s take on Chris Gilbert’s resignation from the University of California at Berkeley art museum, I neglected to include the URL for her excellent piece:

What exactly is the show that occasioned this resignation? It is the second of Chris Gilbert’s exhibitions which I have considered from afar, never having seen them and making do with only the sketchiest of descriptions. The “Now-Time” show includes videos of Venezuelan factories. That is, it is a series of documentary works representing the revolutionary changes within the processes of production in the Venezuela of Hugo Chavez. Given that a former U.S. presidential candidate on the right has suggested that the CIA should kill Chavez (which most have viewed as an only somewhat hysterical expression of current policy), it is fair to say that this exhibition brings no cheer to the U.S. State Department.

Sarah Lewison described the show and its effects on artists and others working in community media in the SF area in her post on Mute Beta:
“The Now Time Venezuela Cycle at the University Art Museum is terrific. It was a super destination to send students to learn about horizontalidad, social organizing and production, collectivity, to discuss individuality, neo-liberalism, engaged media practices etc….
“Is solidarity just a declaration or is it something that is cultivated daily? The Venezuelan workers on the Bolivarian process might say that solidarity is a daily demand and a daily attention to your actions and those around you, in the region, the neighborhood and the watershed. In Gilbert’s statement, in a little free book that was distributed inside the exhibition, I read about the attention Venezuelan worker coops take toward nurturing micro-politics and about cogestion, a Venezuelan form of co-management based upon and expressive of the relationships between the factory, workers and surrounding society. In one video I learned that the Cocoa Industrial Coop Unon Cimå shares their cafeteria luncheons with 40 indigent local children. These are small things I learned from Oliver Ressler and Dario’s Azzellini's excellent project --necessarily supported by Chris Gilberts’ commitment to the present time endeavors of these Venezuelan workers.
“The Now Time Venezuela exhibition implies these are important things to learn. It demonstrates sympathy and promotes respect for this progressive movement that binds economics with social, cultural and environmental values. It shows the work Venezuelan people are engaging in, and their conditions, and gives insight into their progress. It is not only aligned—it is inspirational. It invokes action and creativity of outlook as the basis of change. And these things are happening now; children with their lunches, managers accountable to workers and to an ecosystem, and all the little details of how people are collectively implementing the integration and distribution of local political, economic and social power, with or without our expressions of solidarity (although there might be an expedient time for us to express solidarity someday through our own actions, on the street and in political chambers).
“Without getting into the details of a curatorial statement, there was no question as to the positive orientation toward the subjects and their messages(the Catia TVe and the Factory workers). This exhibition had a large and enthusiastic audience too; you had to wait around to get to sit and use head phones in Oliver and Dario's piece. The place was, for a museum space like that, packed.
“Down stairs in the Catia-TVe exhibit, people were hanging around and talking about many related things while watching the videos (including Gilbert's 'solidarity--' statement) and exchanging phone numbers for further discussions. Spanish speakers were translating and describing the Spanish language community TV videos for English speakers.
“The exhibit left no doubt as to the political alliances of the curator and no question of the political commitment of the project, by sheer acknowledgement of the relevance and impact of these curatorial selections. The real loss is that Gilbert perhaps was blind to this, that there was a disconnect between him and his potential supporters. I don't know all that happened of course, but in casually surveying public intellectuals, folks doing political art, community and activist stuff, organizing etc. I found there weren't so many people who knew he was here yet and what he might represent for the area. Only a small spectrum of people here knew his previous work and others didn’t get the opportunity to get acquainted. an issue of speed? Impatience?
“There didn’t seem to be any effort to gather people together and discuss the museum’s censorship of his language. There apparently wasn’t any attempt to try engage in some new challenging social relationships as were demonstrated in the videos, characterized in Venezuela as social production.
“In the context of Oliver and Dario coming for installation and the opening, there was a little flurry of 'labor in the museum'—some deliberate outreach to local unions, and a very invigorating discussion at the usually sedate Pacific Film Archives auditorium which Gilbert mentions in his letter.
“When the Catia-TVe people came, it was fortunate Martha Wallner of Paper Tiger and Deep Dish TV attended the opening. She was then able introduce Ricardo Marquez and Gabriel Gil of Catia TVe to Berkeley Community media, connecting them with those doing similar work (something they were entirely unaware of when the arrived in Berkeley). While here they interviewed Gilbert and they also did an interview with another Berkeley Professor who had been denied tenure but resisted the decision and ultimately succeeded. Can the workers at UAM take over the factory? Was there some other unrevealed factor behind Gilbert’s decision? ….
“The Now Time Venezuela program demonstrates an aspiration many of us share for another kind of society, one achieved by an overturning of economic means for new ends, for the development of a new social, economic and cultural productions and relationships.
“I think that with all of our education and training, this aspiration for another kind of society would be better served by dialogue and recognition of potential community and alliances rather than an ultimatum.
“` a social production of a company is a new life concept.’ (from Fabricas de Control Obrero)”
-- Sarah Lewison 6/13/06

This seems very much the point of producing activism and information about activism within the space of the art institution – it is about creating new social forms. How is this to be done during a period when every form of authoritarian behavior is condoned, and every expression of deviant opinion repressed? I think it is too much to expect that the people who open the window on the question shall also be the ones to answer it.