April 3, 2015

“Assuming Boycott: Resistance, Agency,and Cultural Production”

Vera List Center for Art and Politics

Ahmet Ögüt, Pleasure Places of All Kinds; Fikirtepe Quarter, 2014. Sculpture, mixed media; 60 x 60 x 28 inches. Private collection, Amsterdam. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Boycott as a political and cultural strategy has rarely been more prominent than in our current moment. From art institutions and universities, to cities and entire countries, many have been affected by positions that pose as “withdrawal” or “disengagement” and in fact often result in various actions and pointed engagement around a specific issue or question.

This colloquium concludes a year-long cycle of seminars and programs on cultural and academic boycotts as special conditions for discourse and art making, organized by the Vera List Center for Art and Politics at The New School starting in spring 2014. Building on the themes and examples discussed in these seminars, the colloquium “Assuming Boycott: Resistance, Agency, and Cultural Production” brings new voices to join previous speakers in articulating a way forward for future boycott movements. Among the confirmed speakers are Joslyn Barnes, Kareem Estefan, Patrick Hebert, Maria Lind, Ahmet Ögüt, and Chen Tamir. In anticipation of a related publication, the colloquiumfocuses on key texts developed during specific campaigns and the shifts in language and implementation of their principles, over time, to reflect changing contexts. The speakers also look closely at the impacts on freedom of speech and censorship, as well as the challenges of ethically engaging or disengaging in campaigns at significant physical and political distances. How have strategies, alliances, lead actors, and guidelines responded and adapted to a changing cultural, political, and economic environment?

Americans understand freedom of speech as inalienable—so long as there is no immediate incitement to violence—yet throughout much of the world, forms of expression deemed widely offensive or dangerous are banned. But who is the ultimate arbiter of taste and offense? Artists not only challenge notions of the acceptable and unacceptable, at times they provoke administrations to clearly indicate what is permissible and what must be censored, altering codified understandings of freedom of speech and demanding that the public confront the unseen forces that define that society.

For artists and cultural producers separated from the target of dis/engagement by physical, political, philosophical, social, financial, and cultural distance, building networks for the exchange of information, materials, resources, and ideas poses a unique challenge. While technological innovations facilitate these flows, they are subject to monitoring and tampering that threaten the safety and security of individuals and information. At the same time, separation may prevent the artist or cultural worker from realizing the full impact of their work. How do these actors maintain closeness across seemingly impenetrable distance?

For up-to-date information, please visit our website.

The program is organized by the Vera List Center for Art and Politics as part of the center’s 2013–2015 curatorial focus on Alignment. It is curated by Carin Kuoni, director/curator, Vera List Center; and Laura Raicovich, president and executive director, Queens Museum.

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