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Occupy LAAAAAA: Artists in Solidarity (Anna Mayer edition)

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Today I’m excited to highlight artist Anna Mayer, a performance artist who maintains a solo practice as well as an ongoing collaboration with Jemima Wyman as CamLab. Anna admits that she doesn’t “have an activist practice in the way that I have an art practice,” so though she is a strong supporter of the Occupy movement, she approaches it more aesthetically and formally rather than in terms of radical action. Her interest lies in the ability of Occupy LA (OLA) to “generate culture,” and sees the role of artists as providing aesthetic means through which to extend the message of the protesters. She is concerned, in her practice and in the movement, with bodies and embodiment, and sees corporeal relations and interactions playing out in this  site of resistance.

What are you making/interested in making with regards to Occupy LA & the Occupy movement in general? Why?

AM: I’m interested first and foremost in supporting the Occupy movement—and doing things that are performative is a way of being there in a way that is engaging for me and, I hope, for others. I don’t have an activist practice in the way that I have an art practice, so the way that I engage with ideas and events is first and foremost as an artist. Also, I can’t be at OLA very often, as I work full-time and have to chosen to continue to meet art world deadlines, so I tend towards wanting to formalize or aestheticize my presence there.

I feel the OLA movement’s strengths are that it’s embodied and, because it’s located in a specific place and durational, it’s visible and undeniable in a way that other actions aren’t. The text that Nancy Popp, Mathew Timmons, and I did a performative reading of speaks to these issues—in her speech-turned-essay Judith Butler talks about how, because bodies were implicated at the Tahrir Square protests (for which many camped out durationally), the stakes were different than other kinds of protests. This kind of embodiment isn’t a new tactic, but it’s an effective one.

In my work I’m interested in the issues of embodiment and implication, as well as playing with established rhetorical strategies and enacting more than one voice. These issues are all day-to-day concerns at OLA.

What role do you feel you/your work plays in interfacing with the protest? What role would you like it to play?

AM: I’m interested primarily in emphasizing the bodily aspect of the protest—aestheticizing  the experience in such a way that it makes protesting bodies more visible. Jemima Wyman and I (we collaborate as CamLab) did a performance where we stretched a long—60’—length of optical fabric between our bodies and invited passerbys to cut a head hole and occupy it with us. This was about mapping the space between our bodies and others’, making all of us more visible to people walking or driving by. These are ideas that we work with in our practice already, so to take it to OLA felt fairly seamless. The fabric was a conversation piece for the people in and around it to start talking.

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Many recent actions seem based on performing “scores” – why do you think this is, and how do you think these performances “perform” in the Occupy context?

AM: Scores have the potential to be enacted by anyone, so that way of working probably feels inclusive and/or accessible. It isn’t about presenting a fully-realized spectacle that puts an audience in the automatic position of viewer. With a score at hand there is always the possibility of the viewer performing, too. Conceptually I think scores are perfect in the context of OLA because they’re about the imagined or proposed, which is a lot of what protest is about for me. That said, I think the more materially-engaged works or actions that have happened and are happening are also very effective in their more invested strategies.

How do you feel the AAAAAA list is operating? What role is it playing? What are the challenges or benefits of this loose grouping?

AM: The AAAAAA list seems to be useful in that it provides a kind of structure for a number of LA artists to enter the protest. People make connections with potential collaborators and supporters through its online presence, too.

I’ve struggled somewhat with the idea of artists organizing in a way that’s overtly autonomous from the OLA infrastructure and/or in a group that’s too tightly packaged, because that makes it easier for the effort to be only about art concerns/careers rather than about the protest. However, I think AAAAAA works because its very loose infrastructure is something that’s manageable for people to join and contribute to (or not). Many artists who work jobs to support themselves are short on time and energy for much else, so it’s good to be able to start with an already existing network.

I’ve come around to the idea that part of the strength of OLA is that it can generate culture that extends beyond it. I also hope that artists can use their networks and presumed ability to ‘tastemake’ to (potentially) bring more bodies to the movement.

There has been criticism of the Occupy movements and the horizontalism of the General Assembly – a polyphony of voices and lack of clarity in message or goal. What are your thoughts on this critique?

AM: I believe that this movement is a chance for a conversation that is actually—despite so much criticism that it’s ‘all over the place’—narrow enough to where a number of different kinds of people and groups can discuss and negotiate not only what is being discussed but how. This process is non-efficient if we think about efficiency in terms of streamlined internet activism or some kind of idealized (false) vision of how Congress takes care of business. I appreciate how this protest demands its own timeline. This is in a large part because so many people have taken up residence in the protest, giving over large chunks of their schedules and lives to the in-person process of discussing how and, eventually, specifically what.

What are your own hopes for the Occupy movement?

AM: I hope it can be sustained indefinitely. Monday morning (November 7) I read in the LA Weekly about City Council hearings to decide whether $1 million of city money would go to fund Gensler (corporation) or to fund housing for people who are homeless. In that article Occupy LA is reported on as an entity that is now lobbying in city affairs. That such a relatively new coalition can have that kind of agency is testament to its strength and necessity. I hope that the very necessary critiques from the inside of the movement—see DeColonize LA and ‘Are Women Safe at Occupy Protests’, among others—will make it stronger and longer.