The scene opens on a desolate back alley of Greenpoint recently converted to a bar frequented by the downwardly mobile scions of the petit bourgeoisie. The final strains of… are heard floating off into the midnight air.
Enter Arlen and Jason. They sit and engage in awkward but jovial art masculinity, exchanging pleasantries regarding their latest readings in “critical” theory. Suddenly a flash of light fills the stage and seated next to them appears critic, curator and noted anarcha-feminist-communization rat-witch, Erin Sickler. They commence the interview:
Erin: Let’s start with the origination myth of H.E.N.S.? Where did it come from? What came before? You two met at Columbia right?
A rumbling is heard in the tympani, the earth opens revealing a giant forge resembling Columbia’s Low Library. Arlen and Jason commence to sing:
Con forza ma non tropo presto
Arlen: Yes! Our artist subjectivities emerged fully formed from the great forge of cultural capital and debt that is Columbia University!
Jason: (Violently beating molten steal) HO HO HA HAY! Shape my hammer a hearty sword! (Wiping his brow) The blackened branches how bright they burn!
Arlen: Their glowing how fierce and fair! Now smelt me the stalwart steel!
Jason: HO HO HA HAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The smoke and fire subside and both take their seats and resume sipping beer. Eventually, Arlen speaks.
H.E.N.S., Alternative Pedagogy and New Left Daycare II, consisting of: H.E.N.S. World-Historical Sock-Tragic Puppet Drama, Marxist Baby Buggy Bouncers, Pragmatic Piscine-Pedicure Program; Showing the Subject’s Passage from Vulgar Individualism to Agonic Pluralism [Sylvia Rat Which], 2012
Arlen: Yes, before making H.E.N.S. we made a lot of collaborations that attempted to negotiate various institutional forms. We had been studying at a moment when projects like Bernadette Corporation seemed like interesting models, when the performance of art as corporate marketing tinged with quasi-irony seemed like the thing to do. The market held a lot of sway at that point.
Jason: And then it collapsed.
Arlen: Originally, we were “Die Störung” collective which was a fake-German, predominantly male avant-gardey art collective.
Jason: The name is fake German.
Arlen: Or, rather, a bizarre use of the noun “die Störung,” meaning “disturbance, agitation, annoyance, interruption, etc”. None of us really spoke much German.
Erin: Was it just the two of you?
Jason: No, there were at least two other people involved and occasionally three or four. We made a magazine called Die Störung. The collective wasn’t Clayton Deutsch’s idea, but the magazine was. He is an interesting painter and also a giant sports fan, so his idea was to make a magazine that exactly parroted the form of the ESPN magazine. We even re-drew the font. We copied the layouts. It really looks like ESPN.
Arlen: It included sections like “The Big Ten Anti-Capitalist Artworks” and “How To Be Post Human” with lots of charts and graphs. There was an article about KMART and Wal-Mart sales for that year where we just replaced Kmart and Wal-Mart with Columbia and Yale. It was a pretty mean and jaded attack on the art market that we were discovering in school. I wrote a pseudo-academic article about theories of the voice in psychoanalysis and latter 20th century theory. It included some real scholarship, and I had been studying the literature in relation to my own work at the time, but it was written in intricate strings of jargon that generally turned into jokes by the third clause of each sentence. It was very fun to write.
Jason: It was our final project in Graduate School.
Arlen: And then we made a gallery show, which was sort of groping for ways of reconfiguring the gallery post-economic crisis. It was very naive and sloppy in retrospect—we wanted to turn the gallery into a soup kitchen, a performance venue, and a meeting place all at once. It was like 15 different things, a terrifying relational hodge-podge.
Jason: It was kind of a parody of relational spaces, ala Liam Gillick. Only Arlen, Kyle Borman, and Carlos Sandoval built this bench that was unbelievably uncomfortable and housed all the art. It was too narrow and too low and had weird flesh-colored patterns.
Arlen: It was beautiful. It was bamboo and contained the work in these octagonal recessed niches below the bench. You basically sat on the art.
Jason: You had to look between people’s legs to see the art.
Arlen: There was a kind of leveling that took place within the structure of the show, at least superficially. There were a ton of famous artists because we had access to them through the debt/cultural capital production machine called graduate school, and also a bunch of nobodies and random friends. It was called “The Practice of Joy Before Death: It just would not be a party without you.”
Jason: Good title.
Arlen: The statement was a screed about hedgefund trading and art.
Jason: We are still beating this horse to death, but it was an attempt to reverse the formula of the artist as the model for the perfectly efficient capitalist subject and instead claim that hedgefund traders were the perfect artists. It was also kind of sad and desperate. We had a room in a gallery that had a name and we wanted to just shove everything in it. It was a slightly mindless attack.
Erin: How did you start to hone or refine that impulse?
Arlen: The next thing was the counter approach of the retreat. We built a giant chicken house upstate on our friend Dana Hoey’s farm and filled it with art. The first show was called “Materialist Praxis in Contemporary Abstract Photography.” That might have been the best show we’ve done. It was certainly our most tightly curated show and I still think that the structure, the “Guineakunstraum Hoey-Wasow,” reigns as the greatest cultural institution in the Hudson Valley to this day.
Die Störung, Guineakunstraum Hoey-Wasow, 2009
Jason: We actually thought about the interrelation between the artists and the space and we talked to all the artists in advance, which was completely new for us. Gareth James made this incredible piece that was a field desk for the insurrectionary general to write commands from upstate to his comrades in the city.
Arlen: And there was this beautiful Eileen Quinlan photograph. It is the only thing that remains intact. Also, we should also say that the structure itself was built with a sort of arts and crafts meets high modernism palatial aesthetic with some social realist shingling to boot. On one side we made a rising sun over the fields, inlaid in shingles, to represent the Great Leap Forward; the barefoot artists sent to the countryside to work off debt making chicken houses. Dana Hoey housed me for about six months while I was building that structure.
Jason: Many hundreds of times more effort went into that building then what was required to simply build a chicken shack and put art into it.
Arlen: It was actually a house for Guinea hens (not to diminish the needs of chickens). It was accompanied by this interesting text that unfortunately has yet to be published, where we explore the interrelations of artists’ flight into the Hudson Valley, the real estate industry, and animal husbandry. We interviewed Elizabeth Grosz about her work on art and animals and she did us the favor of killing us—I mean she didn’t care about the performativity of the questions, but she totally demolished their assumptions and arguments. She was pretty dismissive of the radical artistic potential of using domestic poultry – much preferring the wild. Also for Grosz, art is, “politics continued by other means” and we have chosen to see the means as inseparable or at least always overlapping uncomfortably.
Jason: She also challenged the base anthropomorphism on display in the way we formulated our questions based solely around human needs, using the guinea hens as props. Grosz insists on the impossibility of ascribing human motivations to Animals. For her, the notion of Animals making Art or participating in Art discourse, for their own purposes, is just as ridiculous as the idea of Animals making politics. Animals may perform all kinds of activities that exceed the requirements of bare survival, that do more than simply propagate the species, but not in the same way as humans do. Art might be the site of similar excess for Humans, but that doesn’t mean that Animals give a crap about Art or Politics, and any blurring of that line should be downright suspect. That’s one hit we deserved to take, no question.
Die Störung, Guineakunstraum Hoey-Wasow, 2009
Erin: Have you read this Susan Sontag article “The Aesthetics of Silence? “ In it, she argues that artists who destroy their own work or abandon it and claim some kind of higher moral ground by doing so, are only able to make that claim based on their already extant celebrity. Otherwise the abdication makes no sense. So when Rimbaud flees to Abyssinia or Duchamp spends his golden years playing chess, they are retroactively adding power and authority to their work by charging it with an “unchallengeable seriousness.” She questions whether this performative silencing lends itself to a kind of systematic irony or cynicism, a total negation and denial of agency that in the end “leaves one without any breath at all.”
Arlen: No, I haven’t read it, but I would say that we were never cynical politically or artistically, nor cynical about the complexities of the interrelations between these realms. We were, however, uncertain as to what constituted an interesting and productive combination of the energies of art and energies of politics, given our social milieu and available tools.
Jason: Not every Art destruction is equivalent to every other, that is, it isn’t always necessarily ironic or cynical or calculatedly self-aggrandizing. Or maybe it is. Destroying art might always be a necessarily tactical staging of an irony, like every dramatic anti-market gesture. We are pretty clear about the theatricality of what we are doing. At least in our own heads. It still seems like a useful maneuver, however, the melodramatic denial of art, although “useful” might be the wrong word.
Erin: What came next?
Jason: We were both super broke. We kind of still are, more or less. Also we were getting dissatisfied with the rhetorical space we were stuck in. We stayed there as a kind of stubborn ethics, it was kind of on purpose, but I don’t think that either of us realized it would become so frustrating.
Arlen: By an ethics, do you mean we were trying to articulate a critique of a certain type of facile activist or do-gooder art, which fails to interrogate the social position or cultural fantasy of the artist? A position we were afraid of inhabiting ourselves?
Jason: That and insisting that art production, no matter what its material endpoint, necessarily performs an ideology about art at the same time it is producing whatever other sets of value. The risk otherwise is to make some functional claim about art that it cannot deliver. In other words, art produces rhetoric rather than straightforward, effective politics. At that point it wasn’t even activist art that we were interrogating; it was the artist subject as a place of authenticity. We were like comedians trying to get the wording right.
Arlen: Yes, I think Grosz was very important for us at the time, both as inspiration and adversary. What you were pointing at before, Jason, is a quite beautiful theory of arts in relation to the evolutionary excesses of sexual selection; a kind of vitalist feminism by which we were disabused of the fantasy that there can be any straightforward relationship between the production of “critical art” and the creation of a new artistic or political imaginary or ideology. Grosz was very, very good at shifting the terrain on which anyone thought about artistic or social change, pointing out that revolutions never happen in the sense that one imagines them. She uses evolution and her read of Darwin to postulate evolutionary excesses as crucial to any thinking of the political or artistic change. I think our differences with Grosz are simply around where and when she demarcates the shift between the realm of the “political” and “artistic” as well as how they inter-relate in a very clear way.
The next large project was this holistic healing center, which was a collaboration with the artist Einat Amir for the Volta Art Fair. It was an interesting project in that it was simultaneously super ironic and incredibly sincere—there was a dossier of nubile young artists and a few famous people who each filled out a profile and charged an hourly rate to talk to people about their practice. We built this entire ridiculous pseudo-healing center, with furniture, vegetation, and meditation platforms, elaborate things to have your feet massaged on, and contemplative cabbages, which are a charm for acquisition of wealth in Confucian symbolism. It was a funny way of forcing of the artist into elaborating their position as service worker. It began to pose the uncomfortable and socially-inept but necessary question of how the work of producing oneself as “artist” in a market relates to the production of other service worker positions, specifically, in this case, to the work of alternative healing, massage, and sex work.
Jason: It was a satisfying project because the joke was so flat, so uncomplicated, and yet the actual objects produced to deliver the joke were incredibly complicated: a one-liner delivered by a huge apparatus. We do have a tendency to pile on.
Erin: Did that make you think you could organize in another venue, beyond art fairs?
Arlen: More like it helped to drive a conflict internal to the work to a breaking point, this tension between what was an ironic performativity explicitly aware of its own social conditions versus a desire to re-inject different kinds of political energies into art or to “pollute” the art realm with the political and vice versa. We began to think about how one might contend with the formation of artist subjectivities by questioning the role of the artist in relation to the role of the service worker in the broader economy.
Erin: It is amazing how few people will make that leap into another sphere or discipline, and instead always insist on the recuperation of inter-disciplinary or extra-disciplinary activities into the frame of art. Take Creative Time, for instance. I don’t know why that is. Maybe it is the conflicting criteria of an art action versus of a political action that makes it difficult for practitioners to clearly identify to whom their work is addressed? Or maybe there is just a bias in the privileged dialogues of art or academia that fails to recognize the critical knowledge formed outside those spheres?
Jason: The space outside of actual existing art discourse—which is necessarily determined by market conditions—doesn’t look like art. You no longer have access to the market and that is the outside horizon of art.
Erin: I don’t believe that. I actually think that having an aim, or aspiration, or even a utopic locus, outside the realm of art is the only thing that allows for a vital art practice. The market is a chimera; it offers only the appearance of agency.
Arlen: I think what Jason is saying is a warning, that without a self-reflective stance legible within the current parameters of art discourse, the work will not be received as art and that scares people, especially the “artist,” because it would potentially render their work invisible.
I think we all understand that the irony of the contemporary art market is that is perhaps the greatest machine ever created for producing value from nothing. Any practice, whether singular or collective, object-based or immaterial, discursive or sock-puppet based, etc. can somehow be art. However, this basic statement of fact can become a sloppy and brutalizing truism when used to discredit counter-practices by defining them as always-already subsumed by the market. At its worst, this dismissal of counter-practices can simultaneously reinforce and obscure what is actually the dominant and terrifying fantasy: that of the singular artist-subject-visionary-curator-critic-avant-garde collective going it alone on the open market because there is no alternative.
Jason: I’m talking about those art practices that choose to stay within the parameters of art as such, but do so in the name of politics, as though the right and proper place to think politics is always from within art. We’re clearly not fatalistic or hopefully even all that despairing about the possibilities for counter-practice, but it’s going to have to unsettle our most passionately held identifications as artists, or at least our positions in the market and as producers, and perhaps even our legibility. At least that assumption has been near the core of a lot of H.E.N.S. strategic decisions.
Arlen: Yeah, I think the truism of market dominance becomes even more violent when it intersects with a totalizing fantasy of “Late Capitalism,” “Spectacle Society”, “forced consumption”, “Empire” or whatever term is used to generalize contemporary human life. At its worst, this can become a violent erasure of differences in lived experience. The thesis that the market has subsumed all subjective experience usually goes hand-in-hand with the assertion that a particular subjective experience, usually that of some upper-middle-class predominantly male worker, is the model experience of all workers at any given time. A good example of this is immaterial labor theory where we are told that we are all, despite our superficial differences, “telecommunications workers,” or the terrifying extension of Beuys’ “everyone can be an artist,” which is taken to mean that everyone is forced to be an artist of consumption because they live in a culture which celebrates and enforces non-stop consumerism. When taken to their extreme, these descriptions of subjective experience generated by capitalism can turn into deeply narcissistic fantasies, which fundamentally disavow the existence of lived differences and fail to use them as a productive force.
To be sure an analysis of how capitalism produces and reproduces certain subjectivities and ideologies is crucial, but we know that it always does so unevenly and depends on different sorts of labor and different life-worlds which exist both inside and outside of it’s mechanisms for self-perpetuation. This is were Silvia Federici’s work became super important in Occupy and offered a needed alternative to the platitudes of Immaterial Labor Theory and Post-Marxism in general. I think that with H.E.N.S. we try to insist that in fact we do not always have to be “artists”, at least not as the term has come to stand in for the free, autonomous, self-actualizing, sovereign individual or the avant-garde collective. Also, we insist that there are different experiences of labor, which certainly cannot be described by any universal worker prototype or be effectively described by being designated as “immaterial” or “affective” labor. Perhaps your read of Federici is right, Erin, in that the implications of her work are that labor should be abandoned as an organizing frame, but in the process of doing so there are many experiences of labor which would need to be articulated and worked through. There are differences between people, produced by social violence, biology, or personal choice. These can be productive differences, if we are willing to acknowledge and work with them.
Jason: Take Bruce High Quality, as an example. They are really great raconteurs. They are super-efficient; they are smart; they know how to source; they know how to raise money. They just put a giant cast of the inflatable union strike-rat across from MoMA in some fancy restaurant. They don’t have relationships to existing unions; they don’t do solidarity strikes. Maybe they do – but did they try to put that thing out front of Sotheby’s? No. It is a great idea, but it stops right at the point where it feels the ground getting soft beneath it. In their social milieu, it is their shtick, to be on that line of art and not-art but never cross it. And they won’t ever cross that line. They can’t. Or perhaps, we can give them the benefit of the doubt, maybe they are acting outside the art context and it is just rendered invisible to us because of their visibility in the market.
Erin: At what point does that way of working reach its end for you? When do you start working with activists?
Arlen: It got boring and I think the difference between what Jason just articulated by the cynicism of the art world is just too small.
Jason: We had a conversation along these lines that was quite pointed. It took a while to germinate. That was the day that we called Tracy Kwon, who was organizing with the National Mobilization Against Sweat Shops (NMASS) and Chinese Staff in the Lower East Side.
Erin: Why Tracy?
Arlen: We started doing all this research into unregulated work in New York.
Erin: I saw the performance at 6to8 months. There was the deadpan delivery of the research on nail salons in Chinatown and then an operatic performance. It wasn’t quite integrated yet.
Arlen: Which was a problem we worked out as the project developed.
Jason: The puppet show is what allowed us to combine the research and the performance, to give a detailed lecture on socioeconomics and let the puppet do the performance.
Arlen: I think at some point, we just kind of decided based on our own aging, precarity, and insecurity that we had to really deal with the personal and class issues that were determining our lives. We decided that there was an interesting, excessive energy produced in art that had to intersect with the social in a necessarily difficult and incompatible way.
Erin: And yet sock puppets seems just about as absurd a performative gesture as you can get.
H.E.N.S., Alternative Pedagogy [Rosa, Karl, and the Pedicure Fish], 2012
Arlen: I think what interests us is the intersections of the different logics. Any new social form or revolution is necessarily mixed with the same kind of excesses as those produced by art. This is very different than saying art or artists are going to be a driving force in social change. That is always a disaster. We know by now that artists are, at the best, rather counter-revolutionary and, at worst, used as representations of the perfect capitalist individual. Instead, the lesson here is that artists need to learn to play well with others. I think that this learning is their only productive role in “revolution,” hence the need for the new left daycare but we will get to that at the end of the interview.
Erin: But how do you get to Tracy Kwon specifically?
Arlen: Chinese Staff and NMASS were the primary groups organizing in Nail Salons in New York.
Erin: Ok, but then what interested you in nail salons specifically?
Jason: Because they are an industry rampant with labor abuses, dominated by immigrants and staffed by undocumented immigrants.
Arlen: Really the nail salon is a terrible institution in many ways, just as galleries and worker centers are terrible in their own ways—we were trying to triangulate the three of these Lower East Side institutions in a productive fashion. And, of course there is painting involved. There is glamour, and decadence, and display. Also, nail salons are the best locations for relational aesthetics, places where people go to talk, get touched, and cared for. Manicures are literally caring for the extensions of the body (individual-nails/social-community). Within the H.E.N.S. discourse we refer to “manicuring consciousness,” “manicure contestation,” etc. How these concepts relate to actual manicures is of course problematic when manicures are experienced by women as enforced forms of beautification or grooming in keeping with gender norms.
Erin: And you were already interested in playing between different kinds of spaces.
Arlen: Yes, and nail salons were the most problematic space we could have chosen as two predominantly heterosexual white men.
Jason: There were other, more problematic places we could have chosen, but we could not have chosen them because they were too problematic. It was a compromise, because ultimately we are nice guys.
Arlen: Of course choosing the problematic site is a tricky thing in contemporary art because there are so many artists who get off on offending political correctness and there is a heroism attached to that. Also there is a long and sordid history of the male artists appropriating tropes of femininity as avant-garde gesture. You have to at least try to do something in a way that calls those heroics into question, something generative beyond whatever value it accrues to you as an artist as cultural capital, wealth, or celebrity.
Jason: The weird thing about making confrontational political art is that you can find yourself making casual, even flippant, references to some non-artworld sphere that has serious implications at the level of human suffering. If the point of making political art is to leave the space of bland formalism then the last thing we would want to do is to make a tawdry metaphor for the sake of offending the bourgeoisie, who can’t wait to be offended.
Arlen: There was also this desire to react against some of the theoretical trends of the time put forth by Badiou and Agamben, which were popular when we were in grad school. From Badiou, there was an aggressive call for a unified militant politics of subjectivity that did away with the ethics of difference or rather did away with the thinking through of difference. Part of what we were proposing with H.E.N.S. was a situation in which difference could be activated as a productive force, necessarily forged because the conflicts of gender, class, race and language are so obvious and unavoidable. In Agamben, we were reacting against his strange Messianic social ineptitude: the idea that if everyone could just slough off social distinctions, and forget their identities, then we could have a big party in the empty shell of capitalism and patriarchy. In particular, he focuses on advertising and pornography as sites where this liberation will occur. I think that against this notion that we can become “whatever” – meaning, forget ourselves and be free – we would focus on the joys of the struggle and process of cultivating “manicure contestation.” Also we had just been studying with Johanna Burton, and she can teach the hell out of the thinking of sexual difference through queer theory, which gave us a performative definition of difference.
Jason: Oddly enough, as we were rebelling against this fantasy of the unified radical subject in Badiou, we ended up working with Chinese Staff and NMASS, whose members routinely subsume all potential differences for the sake of a unified class-consciousness. There’s a powerful quasi-Maoist contingent within both organizations—well-informed, strident, Communist ideologies with a ground game that was designed 30 years ago to produce class-action litigation. They desire a mass movement, but the most effective tool they have for producing results are lawsuits. It is a super contradictory environment and that is fascinating, and vital in a way. There is a fantasy among some activists that every battle is carefully selected for the raising of class-consciousness, but there are usually other reasons for picking battles. That fantasy can become an artificial support to daily, often mundane operations like organizing a demonstration, canvassing a petition, or making photocopies.
Erin: What did you do at NMASS/Chinese Staff?
Arlen: We were warm bodies in the room. We designed propaganda, spent time on pickets, did a lot of outreach, phone banking, t-shirt printing, endless meetings, etc.
Erin: How were you translating that experience into performative works?
Arlen: I certainly got off on being a chameleon, interfacing between a group like Chinese Staff and a group like OWS Arts and Labor, trying to convince people to engage a joint political project and reflecting upon how my own articulation of the problem was different depending on the group. But you mean specifically about the work produced?
Erin: I mean when that work feeds back into some form of performance in an art context, how do you differentiate those spheres, art and activism, or how do they play off one another?
Arlen: Maybe the Ludlow 38 performance is a place to start. Our fantasy was that there could be effective solidarity built between these two very different institutions that co-exist geographically and have certain real reasons to work together.
Jason: Can I say that it failed? Our ambivalence blossomed immediately, when we were asked by this gallery, which is a satellite of the Goethe institute, to garner the participation of NMASS in a traveling show called the Making of the Chinese New Working Class, about existing labor movements in China.
Arlen: What was interesting and problematic about that performance was that our approach was to find a way for Ludlow 38 to be instrumentalized by NMASS and not the other way around.
Jason: And we couldn’t think of one. Very quickly it was clear to us that Ludlow 38 was basically useless to NMASS at that moment. There’s a certain credential for an art institution to have an activist organization participate in a politically focused art show – it has a certain currency – but it doesn’t work the other way around. After that, we came to the conclusion that if the term art worker has any meaning at all, then it must be as a laborer inside the art market, someone who makes money by serving the supply side of this market.
Arlen: Part of what was so great about working with Chinese Staff and NMASS is that it is a total crash course in disabusing oneself of the fantasy of being a good liberal. Tracy made the point to me numerous times that many of the nail salon workers we were working with were making more money than I was, even as they were suing for back pay. And she was right; some of the people were making 40 to 60 thousand dollars a year culled from tips and the subminimum wage they receive. Which is not to say that they shouldn’t be suing for back pay because they are not being paid minimum wage; some were really making nothing.
Jason: But she was trying to point out the contradiction about the favor you were doing them.
Arlen: Yes, it was part of the “go to hell with your liberal charity bullshit” speech that she is so good at giving.
Erin: What did you actually do at the Ludlow performance?
Arlen: it was a weird, creepy synthesis of the ecstatic and informational.
Jason: It was a long lecture about gentrification on the Lower East Side occasionally interrupted by a strange rewriting of the play “The Measures Taken” by Brecht.
Arlen: At the end of the play, the Young Comrade sacrifices for communism. He burns himself in the lime pit because he has compromised the mission. In our version, this sacrifice is recast in the ritual of taking off the old nail polish and putting on a new manicure. We proclaimed that this new manicure would be resistant to gentrification, no longer beholden to the community boards, and the bribery of free artist spaces. It was about a transformation in class identification by the artist to allow the artists to resist being deployed within the process of gentrification and instead form an allegiance with other low-paid workers.
****Taped conversation ends***
H.E.N.S., Alternative Pedagogy [Rosa and Karl in the Black Forest], 2012
Erin: So where are you now? Maybe you can add a bit about the space in Brooklyn and plans to open up H.E.N.S. 2.0 as a daycare facility?
Giant flash of light, Arlen and Jason disappear; in their place appear two sock puppets expostulating on the former H.E.N.S. practice and the rise of the new left daycare:
Sock 1: Yeah I guess we haven’t actually said anything about the space in Brooklyn and how it functioned. I think we should quickly say that what gave the project a broader and richer life than it ever would have had initially was the expansion in thinking around issues of class and the new possibilities for collaboration, which were enabled by Occupy. There was a period when all of a sudden lots of people who had felt extremely trapped and isolated in their precarity, without the means to speak about it, now were finding a language with which to plan resistance and cultivate ways of opening up to each other.
Sock 2: There was a breakdown in hierarchies all over the place that allowed people the space to be wrong and learn from each other. It did not last for very long, but it was extremely exciting. Lots of people from Chinese Staff and NMASS, who might not have taken artists seriously as possessing any political intelligence or aptitude, were suddenly forced to confront a movement that was getting huge coverage and generating a conversation around domination in places where such a conversation had been largely forbidden before. Alternately a lot of artists who fancied themselves creatively engaged in the “political” were confronted with limitations in their tactics, ideology, and institutional structures. So basically we were lucky to be hosting and arranging an array of meetings and workshops – on Zoning and Displacement, Workplace Organizing law and strategy, Immigration policy as a tool of class domination, etc. – with hugely motivated and excited groups of people who might have been unlikely to make it into the same room previously.
Sock 1: The vitriol and smug satisfaction that now surrounds much discourse around the “death” of Occupy largely reveals the fact that the movement did cause a real opening up of consciousness and breakdown in hierarchies both in the broader culture, but also in the social milieus and institutions of the left itself. We have great hope that these breakdowns will allow for new alignments in the future. Really all the failures of the movement were utterly predictable, expected and almost not worth repeating as many have, by now, become little more than punishing clichés: people commandeered the movement for their own ends, people were bored by the slowness of the process, the left is full of competitive infighting, back-stabbing and vying for position, there were too many Manarchists who couldn’t play well with others and lets not forget that the movement faced immense police violence, sabotage and infiltration. Whatever—these things happen. There will certainly be a period of reflection as the movement reconstitutes itself in various ways over the coming months and years.
Sock 2: What the Occupy movement did help to expose was that the current system is untenable. The extension of class domination through the production of a culture of debt, ecological degradation, the demand for perpetual work and perpetual consumption, an entrenched system of race and gender inequalities, and the rule of money in the pseudo-democratic process, have reached and surpassed a breaking point and all that is left is for mass social upheaval to continue and grow. Our contemporary cultural and economic system seems capable only of producing really boring, violent subjectivities which no one who has any ideas or creative desires wants to live with anymore. “Destroying the system” is no longer a clichéd pseudo-radical speech act but just a statement of the inevitable process of dealing with the dismantling of a system that only facilitates violence.
Sock 1 and 2: With the daycare program, we are still very uncertain as to the long-term form it will take. On the one hand there is the idea of doing actual childcare and that will certainly be a component—Jason and Deborah are going to have a baby any day now. Arlen is considering doing a Masters in early childhood development both to inform the H.E.N.S. project and because no one can make a living as an adjunct professor in New York any more. As the project has existed thus far the notion of “daycare” has been primarily used as a means of working out theoretical squabbles internal to the left, as a call for the formation of new collectivities in excess of divisions that have traditionally sabotaged left social movements. The creation of spaces for contestation/playtime essential to the working through of productive antagonisms. Also, the notion of “daycare” is used as a critique of the mainstream institutional left for neglecting social services and basically leaving them to the right wing in this country. It is telling that most childcare now takes place in churches and the right wing has spent decades learning to be communists at the community level while simultaneously creating the infrastructure for political and economic domination at the national and international levels. Also we are about to release a great kids book about party formation starring a Rat-Witch and a Pedicure Fish.