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<nettime-ann> Chris Gilbert's resignation over Venezuelan Exhibition
Oliver Ressler on Tue, 6 Jun 2006 23:06:27 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime-ann> Chris Gilbert's resignation over Venezuelan Exhibition


.
Chris Gilbert - statement on resigning 5/21/06

I made the decision to resign as Matrix Curator on April 28, but my
struggles with the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive over the
content and approach of the projects in the exhibition cycle "Now-Time
Venezuela: Media Along the Path of the Bolivarian Process"
(http://www.bampfa.berkeley.edu/exhibits/nowtime/index.html) go back
quite a few months. In particular the museum administrators -- meaning
the deputy directors and senior curator collaborating, of course, with
the public relations and audience development staff -- have for some
time been insisting that I take the idea of solidarity, revolutionary
solidarity, out of the cycle. For some months, they have said they
wanted "neutrality" and "balance" whereas I have always said that
instead my approach is about commitment, support, and alignment -- in
brief, taking sides with and promoting revolution.

I have always successfully resisted the museum's attempts to interfere
with the projects (and you will see that the ideas of alignment,
support, and revolutionary solidarity are written all over the
"Now-Time" projects part 1 & part 2 -- they are present in all the texts
I have generated and as a consequence in almost all of the reviews). In
the museum's most recent attempt to alter things, the one that
precipitated my resignation, they proposed to remove the offending
concept from the Now-Time Part 2 introductory text panel (a panel which
had already gone to the printer). Their plan was to replace the phrase
"in solidarity" with revolutionary Venezuela with a phrase like
"concerning" revolutionary Venezuela -- or another phrase describing a
relation that would not be explicitly one of solidarity.

I threatened to resign and terminate the exhibition, since, first of
all, revolutionary solidarity is what I believe in -- the essential
concept in the "Now-Time" project cycle -- but secondly it is obviously
unfair to invite participants such as Dario Azzellini and Oliver Ressler
or groups such as Catia TVe to a project that has one character
(revolutionary solidarity) and then change the rules of the game on them
a few weeks before the show opens (so that they become mere objects of
examination or investigation). At first, my threat to resign and
terminate the show availed nothing. Then on April 28, I wrote a letter
stating that I was in fact resigning and my last day of work would be
two weeks from that day, which was May 12, two days before the "Now-Time
Part 2: Revolutionary Television in Catia" opening
(http://www.bampfa.berkeley.edu/exhibits/nowtimept2/index.html). I
assured them that the show could not go forward without me. In response
to this decisive action -- and surely out of fear that the show which
had already been published in the members magazine would not happen --
the institution restored my text panel to the way I had written it.
Having won that battle, though at the price of losing my position, I
decided to go forward with the show, my last one.

One thing that should make evident how extreme and erratic the museum's
actions were is that the very same sentence that was found offensive ("a
project in solidarity with the revolutionary process in contemporary
Venezuela") is the exact sentence that is used for the first Now-Time
Venezuela exhibition text panel that still hangs in the Matrix gallery
upstairs. That show is on view for one more week as I write.

The details of all this are important though, of course, its general
outlines, which play out the familiar patterns of class struggle, are of
greater interest. The class interests represented by the museum, which
are above all the interests of the bourgeoisie that funds it, have two
(related) things to fear from a project like mine: (1) of course,
revolutionary Venezuela is a symbolic threat to the US government and
the capitalist class that benefits from that government's policies, just
as Cuba is a symbolic threat, just as Nicaragua was, and just as is any
country that tries to set its house in order in a way that is different
from the ideas of Washington and London -- which is primarily to say
Washington and London's insistence that there is no alternative to
capitalism.

I must emphasize that the threat is only symbolic; in the eyes of the US
government and the US bourgeoisie, it sets a "bad" and dangerous example
of disobedience for other countries to follow, but of course the idea
that such examples represent a military threat to the US (would that it
were the case) is simply laughable; (2) the second threat, which is
probably the more operational one in the museum context, is that much of
the community is in favor of the "Now-Time" projects -- the response to
the first exhibition is enormous and the interest in the second is also
very high. That response and interest exposes the fact that the museum,
the bourgeois values it promotes via the institution of contemporary art
(contemporary art of the past 30 years is really in most respects simply
the cultural arm of upper-class power) are not really those of any class
but its own. Importantly the museum and the bourgeoisie will always deny
the role of class interests in this: they will always maintain that the
kinds of cultural production they promote are more difficult, smarter,
more sophisticated -- hence the lack of response to most contemporary
art is, according to them, about differences in education and
sophistication rather than class interest. That this kind of claim is
obscurantist and absurd is something the present exhibitions make very
clear: the work of Catia TVe, which is created by people in the popular
(working-class) neighborhoods of Caracas, is far more sophisticated than
what comes out of the contemporary art of the Global North. The same
could be said for the ideas discussed by the Venezuelan factory workers
in the Ressler and Azzellini film that is shown Now-Time Part 1
(http://www.ressler.at/content/view/93/lang,en_GB). (Of course, it is
not because these works and the thoughts in them are more sophisticated
that we should attend to them; what I am saying is simply that it is
clearly an evasion and false to dismiss anti-bourgeois cultural
production -- work that aligns with the interests of working class
people -- on grounds of its being unsophisticated.)

To return to the museum: I believe that the enormous response to the
"Now-Time" cycle -- there were 180 visitors to the March 26 panel
discussion that opened "Now-Time" part 1 and if you google "Now-Time
Venezuela" you get over 700 hits -- put the class interests that stand
by and promote contemporary art in danger, exposed them a bit. I suppose
some concern about this may have given a special edge to the museum's
failed efforts to alter my projects.

I think it is important to be clear about the facts that precipitated my
resignation: that is, the struggle over the wording of the text panel,
which fit into months of struggle over the question of solidarity and
alignment with a revolutionary political agenda. That issue is discussed
above. However, it is also important to understand the context. Again,
it is too weak to say that museums, like universities, are deeply
corrupt. They are. (And in my view the key points to discuss regarding
this corruption are (1) the museum's claim to represent the public's
interests when in fact serving upper-class interests and parading a
carefully constructed surrogate image of the public; (2) the presence of
intra-institutional press and marketing departments that really operate
to hold a political line through various control techniques, only one of
which is censorship; finally (3) the presence of development departments
that, in mostly hidden ways, favor and flatter rich funders, giving the
lie to even the sham notion of public responsibility that the museum
parades). However, to describe museums and other cultural institutions
as simply if deeply corrupt is, as I said, too weak in that it both
holds out the promise of their reform and it ignores the larger
imperialist structures that make their corruption an inevitable upshot
and reflection of the exploitive political and social system of which
they form a part. Such institutions will go on reflecting imperialist
capitalist values, will celebrate private property and deny social
solidarity, and will maintain a strict silence about the control of
populations at home and the destruction of populations abroad in the
name of profit, until that imperialist system is dismantled.
Importantly, it will not be dismantled by cultural efforts alone: a
successful reform of a cultural institution here or there would at best
result in "islands" of sanity that would most likely operate in a
negative way -- as imaginary and misleading "proof" that conditions are
not as bad as they are.

In fact, with conditions as they are, a different strategy is required:
there should be disobedience at all levels; disruptions and explosions
of the kind that I, together with a small group of allies inside the
museum, have created are also useful on a symbolic level. However, the
primary struggle and the only struggle that will result in a significant
change would be one that works directly to transform the economic and
political base. This would be a struggle aiming to bring down the US
government and its imperialist system through highly organized efforts.


We live in the midst of a fascist imperialism -- there is no other way to describe the system that the US has created and that exercises such control through terror over populations both inside and outside. History has shown that to make "deals" or "compromises" with fascism avails nothing. Instead a radical and daily intransigence is required. Fascism operates to destroy life. It installs and operates on the logic of the camp on all levels, including culture. In the face of that logic, which holds life as nothing, compromises and deals at best buy time for the aggressor and symbolic capital for the aggressor. One should have no illusions: until capitalism and imperialism are brought down, cultural institutions will go on being, in their primary role, lapdogs of a system that spreads misery and death to people everywhere on the planet. The fight to abolish that system completely and build one based on socialism must remain our exclusive and constant focus.

Chris Gilbert



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