interviewed by Sky Pape
Part 1 of this interview is available here.
5. You have a great belief in activism, which obviously informs your art. While all humans may share the responsibility to be politically and socially aware and active, do you believe artists have a particular responsibility to grapple with these issues in their work? What would you describe as the responsibility of the artist?
I think artists have the same responsibility as everyone else. This is a profoundly lopsided world where a tiny handful controls the wealth and knowledge that humanity as a whole has created. Should this be maintained or transformed? How do people place themselves in relation to that? And for people who are in the minority on the planet and who have the relative freedom to work with their heads and not their hands, for those of us who eat food others grow and wear shoes that others make, we can choose to contribute to maintaining the status quo, where the world feeds us, or we can contribute to getting rid of this whole setup. I don’t think that this means that all art must be narrowly and didactically addressing social questions, but I do think that in this era, all people need to recognize that humanity is confronting both grave danger, as the Bush regime plunges the world into a high-tech Dark Ages, as well as a potential opportunity to wrench an entirely different future out of this madness and get the world to a whole new era through revolutionary struggle. And artists can play an important part at this moment. There are very, very, very big ideological, philosophical and political questions up for debate at the moment. The world is changing very rapidly, and the cohering norms of this society are fraying and being challenged. And there is much transition throughout the world. Artists can make work that addressees some of this, including the instability and transition that we are seeing within our culture. We can make work that directly looks at this, and we can make work that reflects on it indirectly and abstractly. I don’t believe that there is only one formal strategy or method to engage these questions. But if artists try and stand aside from these questions, they are accepting the world the way it is, and their relatively privileged position within it. And beyond general and ongoing need for major social change, history will judge what people at this particular moment do or don’t do. Artists are as accountable as everyone else. And our art matters. It reflects a viewpoint of how the artist looks at the world and what is important. We are all sitting on top of a volcano that is about to blow. Are we encouraging people to look at the beautiful scenery that can be seen from the mountain, walk gently down the hill, or grapple with the mounting pressure and magma below our feet and helping people imagine and bring into being a world much further from Vesuvius.
6. Besides yourself, Hans Haacke, Fred Wilson, Leon Golub, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Sue Coe, and recently Judy Chicago, are names that have come up in discussions of creators of visual political art. Are there any artists you would cite as examples who create arguably good visual art that presents potent socio-political content?
I think that there are lots, though many more are needed. A few examples I like are William Pope L, Alfredo Jaar, Krzysztof Wodiczko, Nancy Spero, Diego Rivera, Edward Kienholz, Roy DeCarava, Cai Guo-Qiang, Jacob Lawrence, and Carrie Mae Weems. Also Arnold Mesches, Basquiat, and Banksy.
7. Who is your intended audience?
This is a good question and one which I think more artists should think about. Who is your art for? That said, I don’t look at this narrowly. I want my work to reach a very broad audience. As I have indicated, I want my work to contribute to humanity getting to a whole new era of freely associating human beings, a communist world. For that to happen there needs to be revolution, proletarian revolution, led by the proletariat. As part of contributing to this, I want people who are oppressed and exploited in this society to be able to relate to my work. When they see it, by and large I want them to see their world reflected in it and I want them to be able to “get it” on some level. I show some of my work on street corners and sidewalks to reach some people who wouldnâ€™t go to the museums and galleries where most of my work is shown.
That said, most of my work is shown in venues where it is mostly seen by an art world audience. There is a very positive side to this. As I said earlier, it matters tremendously what the debate and discourse in society is and how the people in the broad middle class view the key questions of the day. For example, at a time when religious fundamentalism, and in the US, Christian fundamentalism, is a huge question, how people think about issues like this matters. So, last summer, I made Literal Biblical Horror (http://dreadscott.net/biblical.html) to encourage people to think about what the world would be like if the bible were taken and applied literally and made the law of the land. While I hope that it is viewed by a range of people, mostly it will be seen by people who go to sculpture parks. But for the world I want to help bring into being, I refuse to let those who wish to keep the status quo have unchallenged access to my friends, colleagues, peers and fans.
8. Your work, which you describe as “Revolutionary Art — to propel history forward,” deals bluntly yet also metaphorically with so many critical issues: racism, patriotism, censorship, police brutality, war, historical revisionism, and more. In the spirit of an ongoing project of our own here at Artists Unite, we’d like to pose the question, “What is the most important thing on your mind right now?”
In a word, Revolution. In relation to this, the big thing I’m really grappling with is rupturing through the ceiling on peopleâ€™s dreams and engaging in dialog to help people think about a radically different future. Millions and millions of people are deeply worried, upset, opposed to and angered by where Bush has dragged the world. They don’t like the unending, unjust, illegal and immoral war for empire, complete with threat of war with Iran. They don’t like torture and the gutting of basic legal rights. They don’t like the attacks on science, where many kids can’t even learn about evolution. They donâ€™t like the assaults on abortion rights. They donâ€™t like people shot 50 times on their wedding day by NY cops. But many peopleâ€™s hopes are limited to a belief that in 2008 somehow this will all magically go away. And peoplesâ€™ hopes for the future have been channeled to a dream that perhaps we could get Obama or Hillary and that somehow these candidates share the same values, goals and morality that we hold dear. We desperately need to have loftier goals and have our sights set much higher. As part of contributing to this dialog, I recently made Let 100 Flowers Blossom, Let 100 Schools of Thought Contend (http://dreadscott.net/100Flowers.html). From the 1870s to the 1970s millions of people believed they could change the world and set out to do just that. This work looks at the past with an eye to the future. It consists of 100 photographs and 100 flowers in vases on shelves in front of each of the photographs. The photographs are images from the Paris Commune, the Russian Revolution and the Chinese revolutionâ€”revolutions where the proletariat held power and was attempting to lead all of humanity to a classless communist world. People all over the world donâ€™t have to live the way we are forced to now. To get to a brighter future people need to break out of the shackles that have been set on peoplesâ€™ sights. A brighter world is possible, and I would encourage people to engage with the writings and speeches of Bob Avakian as part of getting to that brighter world.
image: Literal Biblical Horror, 2006, permanent outdoor installation at Franconia Sculpture Park in Minnesota