Category Archives: Dispatches


Sarah Augusta Lewison and Dan S. Wang


Days after the fall of Mubarak, the Wisconsin Uprising emerges.

Days after the fall of Mubarak, the Wisconsin Uprising emerges.

“What time is it on the clock of the world?”

This treatise and travelogue follows on an impulse to revisit the outbreak of popular protest in Madison, Wisconsin in February of 2011, when a mass movement was born, one that linked at a key moment to protests in Tahrir Square and prefigured the months-later Occupy Wall Street in New York. When a reactionary state governor threatened labor autonomy, thousands of Wisconsin workers, students, pensioners, and families occupied the state capitol building for sixteen days and nights, and later forced an early election. Encouragement came from supporters all over the country and the world. An Egyptian protester in Tahrir Square acknowledged the Wisconsin workers’ struggle through signs delivered virally; Wisconsin protest singers paid the favor forward by posting video tributes to those in the heat of Spain’s Indignados movement. The horizontal contagion of uprisings across different national and regional contexts in 2011 revealed a sympathetic political imaginary of resistance that could instantly bridge great distances.

But as the uprisings, occupations, and mass movements projected themselves and were received as spectacularized images, their translocal and transcontextual significance was diluted; either flattened into broad universals about human struggle, or overshadowed by local urgencies. As demonstrations met with repression, the euphoric exchange of transnational support was preempted by the spectacle of heavy policing, leading viewers to experience the unrest as the disciplining of unruly publics. In this essay we look to the rhetorics of recognition between contexts of those connected by but suffering unequally from the predations of neoliberalism in the year 2011. Admitting our own investment in the reciprocal recognition between peoples engaged in different struggles, we mourn that the translocality could not be sustained. But we also understand why. Protest politics based on the mass spectacle model preordains the transnational factor as an easily ignored superficiality.

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Interview with Sarah Ross of Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project


HEATH SCHULTZ: I thought it would be a good place to start if you could talk a little about your history of working with incarcerated men? Why do you think this work is politically important?

SARAH ROSS: I’ve been teaching in state prisons for almost a decade now. I first started working with incarcerated women in 2001. Between my stints in art school I worked with survivors of domestic violence through a non-profit in Portland, Oregon. I started going to a county jail to talk with women about safety plans and what they would do when they got out. Four years later when I moved to Illinois and was looking for a job with my newly minted MFA and I saw a posting with a community college to teach art history in a prison; I figured — I can do that! But I was pretty naive.

Jail and prison are totally different as are the populations of men vs. women. At first I thought I could bridge the divides between differences (free, unfree, class, race, gender), or better “education” would be a bridge of those divides. But I quickly realized, in a prison, I could not shake this profound power I had of being able to move where you wanted, when you wanted. Going into a prison as a free person reiterates the level of inequalities between freedom and confinement. They are stark, brutal and tragic. It made me uncomfortable to be in my own skin there, to have that much privilege, to witness this catastrophe of confinement and only have the tool of art history to wield. Within six months I thought I couldn’t do it. I stuck it out and over the next few years I self-educated by reading everything I could and trying to connect with others in this movement. Between that and having really important conversations in class about race, representation, the power of images and the beauty of images, etc. is what kept me coming back.

Two or three semesters later, Brett Bloom (of Temporary Services) and I started a reading and screening group in Urbana, Illinois to collectively understand more of the U.S. carceral history. We met twice a month and the group was called Prison Impact. It was the saddest, most depressing group because not many people participated, but significantly, the subject matter was and is still angering and devastating. We met for about 8-12 months and learned a lot but ended it and about a year later we started holding the group at the prison in Danville, Illinois (about three hours south of Chicago) with incarcerated people.

I didn’t seek out prisons to start teaching… instead, I really dumbly of fell into it. Which is to say a lot about my own social position and how something like a prison figures into my daily way of living. I think prison is a kind of ground zero for the most massive inequalities in our society and therefore it must be engaged and questioned. Precisely because prisons are often isolated it is possible for many of us to not consider conditions of confinement. This is not happenstance, it is completely by design. In this way I think it’s critical to think about how spatial arrangements facilitate a kind of blindness or at the very least a disconnectedness.

Read more at The Journal of Aesthetics & Protest…

“Something that has to do with life itself”

World of Matter and the Radical Imaginary


 A Review of the show at UNY Graduate Center, New York, 9/1-11/1, 2014 / by Brian Holmes

In the antechamber of the exhibition there is a parable. For centuries the fisherfolk of Urk lived on an island in the middle of the Zuidersee. Then in 1932 the Dutch government decided to build dikes against the ocean. The island is now anchored on dry land. It must have been as if the world had turned upside down. Yet the film Episode of the Sea, by Lonnie van Brummelen and Siebren de Haan, does not really explain why the fisherfolk of Urk remained attached to their ancient trade. Instead it is all about the present. Images of nets tell a story of deep entanglement in the regulations of the European Union. You are encountering an age-old way of life that has always had to deal with human transformations of the environment.

How to face the natural crisis of global society? How to engage with the overwhelming material conditions of the Anthropocene? In the year 2014, awareness of human-induced global warming seemed to reach a kind of planetary tipping-point. Yet earlier experiences like the Fukushima meltdown, the BP oil spill or the flooding of New Orleans show that profound shocks to consciousness can be erased by dull, everyday reinforcements of the industrial norm. The point is to go beyond just reacting to the next inevitable blowout. If we want to break the cycle of disaster, public outcry and induced denial, then changes in our mental maps, or indeed, in our shared cosmologies, must be followed by transformations of our social institutions. Maybe it’s not such a bad idea to begin exactly where World of Matter does, with the institutions of representation. At stake is the relation between the capacity to make images of worldly things and the capacity to remake an inhabitable world.

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Thinking with a River


“We are so fortunate to be living now because the challenges are so many and we need to use our imaginations in new ways.” Grace Lee Boggs

In June this year, torrential rains at Iguazú led to the closing of tourist sites, and the platform for viewing the waterfalls was all but destroyed. The upper Paraná was said to be carrying 33 times its usual flow and near Ascuncion, and farther west again in Paraguay, at least 300,000 people were flooded out of their homes. This was a month before we flew from Chicago to Buenos Aires, and when our group arrived at Rosario in late July, the still expanding floodwaters were speeding flotsam and freshwater weeds along its swollen surface. Rosario is quite distant from where the Rio Pilcomayo flows into the Paraguay and then joins the Paraná, but people in that city know it takes 25 days for upriver floods to bring the river up along their own shores. The flooding becomes more frequent as land upstream is deforested, mined and paved for roads and cities. Do the people know this too? And I wonder whether the people in St. Louis, near where I live by the Mississippi, know how many days it takes for upstream floodwaters to reach their banks. Those intervals between floods here and floods there might open a window in the skew of time between this place and that, north and south, that illuminates the interdependencies of our fortunes. This meeting is then a question of how to interrogate our temporal and causal connections to locate the time of a river. And to learn how the patterns that emerge from a river and its basin might address the daunting problem of how restorative ecological engagement is so outscaled by global financial ambitions. As Graciela Carnevale points out, there is no more need for growth. How then can humans move toward reinhabiting the basins and rivers as partners, rather than as exploiters?

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Between the Bottomlands and the World

Between the Bottomlands and the World is a video trilogy and book project that explores a rural mid-western town of 6000 people—a place of global exchange and international mobility, inscribed by post-NAFTA realities. Recent scholarship shows that immigrants are moving to rural communities in the Midwest at the same rate that they are moving to cities. Historically, Midwestern cities were home to industries that attracted immigrant workers, becoming hubs for those seeking work. Today, many remaining industries lie outside the city, in rural towns unencumbered by urban regulations. In the case of Beardstown, the major industry—a slaughterhouse—recruited new immigrants from the Texas border, Mexico, and later from Congo, Togo, Senegal, Puerto Rico and other Caribbean locales, to what was an all-white, “sundown” town.

As social struggles have been fought and won in this small town, its existence has consistently relied on one multinational corporate giant, which is currently Cargill. Hence, workers come and go, hogs are slaughtered and shipped out at the rate of 18,000 a day, grain travels from the fields to the Cargill loading docks on the Illinois River where they enter national and international markets. Between the Bottomlands… tells this story of global mobility in a rural, Heartland town, through looking at the trades of meat and grain as well as the stories of newcomers. One chapter (Submerging Land) looks at the engineering of contemporary agricultural land from a network of rivers and marshes that once surrounded the town, while a second (Granular Space)explores the vast transportation network connecting Beardstown to ports across the globe. A final, forthcoming, video (Moving Flesh) uses interviews with long-time residents and new-comers, from such disparate locales as Detroit, Mexico and Togo, and re-stages them through fictionalized and composite characters, relating the current effects of globalization on individuals and communities. This final video is subtitled in French and Spanish.

The first two videos are included in their entirety below, along a short introduction to Moving Flesh.

A book will accompany the videos, with an experimental glossary and an essay by Faranak Miraftab, an urban planner and principle researcher on this project. Between the Bottomlands and the World is a project by Ryan Griffis and Sarah Ross.