My visit to the phenomenal @Large exhibit
on Alcatraz, envisioned and remotely coordinated by Chinese dissident artist Ai Wei Wei, came on the heels of a mid-life crisis. The timing could not have been more poignant.
During my time on Alcatraz exploring the inspiring exhibit, the Burning Man organization published "Bringing the 10 Principles Home," a blog post I wrote profiling a series of inspiring Burners in DC and in the Deep South. Beyond merely celebrating counter-culture through art, these homegrown heroes:
present moving illustrations of how our socio-cultural revolution in the dust can inform and inspire the default world. They practice the 10 Principles — and the various skills we build during our gatherings — to build conscious counterculture in the default world, and shift the latter in a more humane, peaceful, and sustainable direction.
Do you know other artist-activists building a brighter day? If so, please drop me a line to point me in their direction.
It felt eerie to watch my social media feeds light up with posts about this article at precisely the same time that I was stunned into speechlessness by the foremost artist-activist of our epoch. Suffice it to say serendipity abounds in the bay area!
The ferry ride to Alcatraz from the SF pier is gorgeous. Reaching the island, one gains the initial impression that it's an idyllic summer camp...as it might have been, were its earliest prisoners not Hopi Indians forced into detention for refusing to send their children to US government indoctrination camps. The origins of the facility both surprised and astounded me, and brought home Ai's profound genius.
The first exhibit we witnessed brought the installation into immediate and sharp focus, depicting the faces of dozens of whistleblowers, dissidents, and exiles in Legos across the inside of a large room. A giant wing overlooking the scene evokes liberation, though in the ironically appropriate setting of a confined (though expansive) room.
Climbing the hill to the remainder of the exhibits in the main prison area offered the juxtaposition of magnificent views and the overwhelming inexorability of iron walls, built on a sacred native site to detain natives in the service of the empire that attempted to enslave and then committed genocide against them.
We heard various sound installations, including freedom songs from artist activists around the world played from inside the walls of prison cells. The commonalities among their struggles, the themes of merely wanting to be free, and the universality of their need to raise creative resistance in seemingly every country around the globe resounded as much as their voices, haunting the space like ghosts.
Another exhibit brought us into the prison infirmaries and showers, where we heard Tibetan chants alongside those of the native Americans removed from their lands to make space for the westward expansion of a proto trans European-American empire. Writing letters to an American CIA whistleblower
in prison for releasing classified information about torture -- while those omplicit in human rights abuses continue to run amok
(drawing government paychecks as law professors and judges, of all things!) -- brought home and back to the present the timeless themes raised in the exhibit, impressively crowd sourced in its construction from half a planet away.
Ai's work moved me to tears, and made my plans for later this year (which I hope will make me only more effective in the movement to liberate the U.S.) seem like an auspicious chance to add my own thread to his tapestry.
[Update: Waking up a few Fridays later to discover Ai among my latest Twitter followers in the wake of my arrest in the Senate was a personal highlight I will be hard pressed to surpass]
Do you feel inspired by Matt Grason's grassroots local organizing addressing climate change, or Alli's non-stop direct action organizing promoting peace & justice, or Rica's colorful and vibrant sculpture highlighting food security and transparency, or Melvin's work expanding after school programs and serving the interests of low-income black residents of Jackson, or Ai's world-historical work organizing everyday supporters into powerful projects for human rights? If so, follow their example by raising your voice creatively.
If you need ideas, please reach out and tell me a bit about your interests. I've got networks in most parts of the country and am always eager to connect allies to their neighbors.