The Art of Occupy

The beginning spills through city veins
Into the arteries
And under powers poison clouds
We move like the shadows
Through the alley ways
Through nightmares bought and sold as dreams
Through barren factories
Through boarded schools
Through rotting fields
Through the burning doors of the past
Through imaginations exploding
To break the curfews in our minds

Our actions awaken dreams of actions multiplied
A restless fury
Once buried like burning embers
Left alone to smolder
But together stacked under the walls of a dying order
All sparks are counted
Calloused hands raised in silence
Over the bonfire of hope unincorporated
It’s flame restores tomorrows meaning
Across the graveyards of hollow promises
As gold dipped vultures pick at what is left of our denial

And the youngest among us
Stare at us stoned like eyes determined
And say
Death for us may come early
Cause dignity has no price
At the corner of now and nowhere
Tomorrow is calling
Tomorrow is calling
Do not be afraid

Zack de la Rocha

Michael Taussig, writing about Occupy in New York City, said that with the movement, politics “as aesthetics is back”.  As something of an explanation, he cites Jean-François Lyotard: “A successful attack on the belief in necessity would inevitably lead to the destruction of kapital’s very main-spring.” (40)  To speak of an aesthetic politics, or of politics as art, is not to imagine political action with accompanying folklore or agitprop; art as confectioner’s sugar sprinkled over what is truly serious.  Taussig saw in Occupy, and herein lay its radicalness (along with that of all of the occupy movements of the last five years, one may add), a struggle that was not only about income inequality and the corruption of democracy.  In Taussig’s words, it “is about the practice of art, too, including the art of being alive.” (18)  Life lived as art, as an aesthetics of existence, reveals the socially necessary as contingent, profanes the sacredness of norms, laws, authorities.  It imagines and renders possible the making and re-making of life, suspending imposed obligations.  It does not destroy what is in place, but holds it in abeyance, revealing that it need not be so, and that one might prefer to do things otherwise.

An aesthetics of existence is not by itself revolutionary, but it opens a liminal space and a present/now time outside or within the fissures of administered, controlled economic and statist space-time.  Being betwixt, between, those in this new space-time occupy a magical reality where novel ways of being in the world emerge, erupt, in intense gestures of individual and collective self-creation: politics becomes art, as art becomes politics.

Perhaps as with no other of the occupy movements, the north american movement found forms in an extraordinary variety of expressions: poetry, literature, music, video, street art, theatre, performance, music, alternative media of all kinds …

Taussig was above all struck by people holding up their handmade signs: “like centaurs, half-person, half-sign.”

I see the sign as an extension of the human figure, that history is being made by this stiller-than-still conjunction, heavy with the weight of ages and the exhilaration of bucking the system.  And then I realize that this centaur-like quality and stiller than stillness – this terrible gravitas – occurs because the sign holder is posing for photographers, or rather, because the sign is being made to pose for the camera with its very stillness calling to mind … that wonderful line of Adorno’s in which he tells us that the trick to Benjamin’s style is the need to become a thing in order to break the magic spell of things.  Compare the statuesque quality of the centaurs with the radiance of the sign to come. (26-7: Michael Taussig, “I’m So Angry I Made a Sign”, Occupy: Three Inquiries in Disobedience)

We share below images of Taussig’s centaurs, examples of graphic art from Occupy (source: and video, all part of the proliferating polyphony that was Occupy’s beauty …

























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