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Over 100 Artists and Intellectuals Call for Withdrawal from Creative Time Exhibition

by Mostafa Heddaya on June 10, 2014

A view of the "Living as Form" exhibition in New York, October 2011 (photo Allison Meier/Hyperallergic)

A view of the “Living as Form” exhibition as it appeared in New York, October 2011 (photo Allison Meier/Hyperallergic)

Over 100 artists and intellectuals — including Judith Butler, Lucy Lippard, Chantal Mouffe, Walid Raad, Martha Rosler, and Gayatri Spivak — have signed on to a public letter calling on participants to withdraw from Creative Time’s traveling Living as Form exhibition on the grounds that it is currently showing at an institution with a “central role in maintaining the unjust and illegal occupation of Palestine.” The missive comes in response to revelations last week that the important social practice exhibition curated by Nato Thompson had been touring in Israel for six months unbeknownst to participants, including its present appearance at The Technion, a university in Haifa with extensive research-and-development links to the Israeli military and defense technology industry.

Authored by a new group called the BDS Arts Coalition, the letter to participating artists details The Technion’s military work, including the development of drones and unmanned bulldozers, and invokes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.  “Creative Time and ICI are, according to their statements, choosing to disregard the BDS call and unwilling to withdraw the exhibition. They have placed the responsibility on artists to do so,” the letter reads.

Reached for comment regarding the contents of the letter, Creative Time provided Hyperallergic the following statement:

The open letter reflects the seriousness surrounding issues pertaining to Israel and Palestine as well as considerations of social justice, art and the infrastructures within which we participate. We fully respect artists making their positions known. It should be noted that some artists have signed this letter and others have not. We are thinking through the implications of the letter and more broadly how this organization fits within a larger constellation where art meets social justice as there are various meaningful ways to contribute to social and political change. At Creative Time, you can count on the fact that we are giving this issue the time, thought and care it deserves.

Carolina Caycedo's installation lit up in 5 different languages outside the historic Essex Street Market everytime someone came up from the subway exit pictured. (photo by Janelle Grace for Hyperallergic)

Carolina Caycedo’s installation in ‘Living as Form’ (2011) (photo Janelle Grace/Hyperallergic)

According to Renaud Proch of Independent Curators International, the organization responsible for touring the exhibition, eight artists and collectives have withdrawn thus far, including Allora & Calzadilla, Ultra Red, Women on Waves, Basurama, Celine Condorelli & Gavin Wade, Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency, Chto Delat, and US Social Forum (USSF). (Proch added that USSF did not show in Israel, while Ultra Red appeared at the Tel Aviv venue but not at The Technion; as we have previously noted, exhibition venues select from a large roster of artists and works in Living as Form.)

“There’s this supreme irony that of all exhibitions to find themselves in this position, it’s Living as Form,” said the art historian Yates McKee, a member of the BDS Arts Coalition who moderated a talk for the show when it was in New York. McKee further stated that in addition to informing the public, the goal of the newly-inaugurated BDS Arts Coalition is to bridge the activist vein of such historic groups as the Art Workers’ Coalition and the recent endorsement of the BDS boycott movement by the American Studies Association. “We see this as a great opportunity, a great occasion to generate this discussion and to generate this attention,” McKee said.

bdsopenletter_images

Images of military technology developed at The Technion included in the open letter

Creative Time has previously raised objections from artists subscribing to the BDS movement at their 2012 Summit, from which the Egyptian media collective Mosireen withdrew. This prompted other boycott participants, including the artist Josh MacPhee, to dedicate their invited speaking time to discussion of BDS and related issues.

“The uniqueness of Creative Time is how much rhetoric they deploy that is on surface political … None of this is about any individual in Creative Time doing something bad, it’s potentially an opening to have a much bigger conversation … they should be able to recognize that’s a good thing, even if on the surface it looks like they’ve done something quote-unquote bad,” MacPhee told Hyperallergic.

Nitasha Dhillon, another participant in the 2012 Summit, cited the Living as Form tour’s perceived violation of Creative Time’s own commitments to transparency at that time. “When I found out about the Haifa thing [Living as Form at The Technion], I was shocked because I hoped Creative Time had taken a step forward rather than three back given what happened at the [2012] Summit,” Dhillon, who is also a member of the BDS Arts Coalition, said.

The BDS movement, also known as a “cultural boycott,” has drawn support from a number of figures in popular culture, including the musicians Roger Waters of Pink Floyd and Brian Eno. MacPhee likened the boycott to the “direct historical precedent” of actions surrounding South African apartheid thirty years ago, noting Paul Simon’s violation of a United Nations boycott in the 1980s.

In March 2013 The Nation published a lengthy article by Adam Hudson critical of Cornell University’s planned Roosevelt Island partnership with The Technion and the use of technologies developed there in operations against Palestinian civilians.

The list of signatories as it appears in the full text of the letter, with categories specifying the two types of participating artists withdrawing, follows.

Withdrawn [from The Technion venue] and in support:
Celine Condorelli and Gavin Wade
Chto Delat?
Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency
Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla
U.S. Social Forum
Women on Waves

Artists in ‘Living as Form’ and signatories:
Cemeti Art House
Minerva Cuevas
Ultra Red
Wendelien van Oldenborgh

Signatories:
Adalah­NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel
Alexander Dwinell
Amin Husain
Andrew Hsiao
Andrew Ross
Angel Nevarez
Anjalika Sagar
Ariella Azoulay
Art Palestine
Ashok Sukumaran
Ayreen Anastas
Barrak Alzaid
Basel Abbas
Benj Gerdes
Blithe Riley
Brian Holmes
Brian McCarthy
Bronson Wood
Chantal Mouffe
Chitra Ganesh
Chris Hedges
Claire Pentecost
Common Notions
DAM
Daniel Tucker
Dario Azzellini
David Graeber
Dipti Desai
Doug Minkler
Elena Wood
Ethan Heitner
Favianna Rodriguez
Fawz Kabra
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
George Caffentzis
Gulf Ultra Luxury Faction (G.U.L.F.)
Guy Mannes­Abbott
Hakan Topal
Hyla Willis
Invincible
Jakob Jakobsen
James Cairns
Jennifer Hayashida
Jeremy Brecher
Jesal Kapadia
Josh MacPhee
Judith Butler
Kareem Estefan
Khaled Hourani
Kodwo Eshun
Laura Dvorak
Laura Hanna
Laura Whitehorn
Lindsay Caplan
Lisa Duggan
Lucy Lippard
Mariam Ghani
Marina Berio
Marina Sitrin
Marshall Weber
Martha Rosler
Mary Patten
Melissa M. Forbis
Molly Crabapple
Mosireen
MTL Collective
Nadia Awad
Nathan Schneider
New Yorkers Against the Cornell­Technion Partnership
Nicholas Mirzoeff
Nicolas Lampert
Nitasha Dhillon
Noah Fischer
Not an Alternative
Occupy Theory
Ohal Grietzer
Olivia Robinson
Omar Joseph Nasser-Khoury
Paige Sarlin
Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel
Pamela Brown
Paula Chakravartty
Peggy Ahwesh
Praba Pilar
Rachel Schragis Rafeef Ziadah
Reem Fadda
Remi Kanazi
Renée Jabri
Ricardo Cortés
Ruanne Abou­Rahme
Rosalyn Deutsche
Ryan Wong
Sarah Farahat
Shaina Anand
Silvia Federici
Simon Leung
16 Beaver Group
Stefan Christoff
The Narcicyst
Tidal Magazine
TJ Demos
US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel
US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation
Valerie Tevere
Walid Raad
Yates McKee

Update, 4:19pm EDT: Hyperallergic has confirmed that Allora & Calzadilla have withdrawn from the exhibition; the body of the article has been updated accordingly. 

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  • Brian

    BDS stands for boycott, divestment, sanction not boycott, divestment, boycott.

  • Art-Truth

    its a real shame that so much positive energy is going towards criticizing two well-intended and amazing organizations for bringing an exhibition that criticizes structure such as the Israeli government and Technion’s research arm onto their OWN CAMPUS – rather than individuals and organizations engaging in real malfeasance and intellectual dishonesty.

    the art world has no backbone. there’s

    NO

    FUCKING

    WAY

    these artists did not know their shows were in Israeli for 7 months at Artport, besides maybe Wikileaks. they are just responding to social pressure. as long as no one noticed, they didn’t care.

  • Amin Husain

    I re-iterate my Open Letter to Creative Time: I say the following as a Palestinian raised in Palestine and forced out. Art is not neutral and neither is a social justice mission (whether actual or perceived) that, in the name of global justice, neglects a systematic annihilation of an indigenous people. Art, in such a context, parades lofty ideals of justice and equality, and sprinkles aspirational dreams that mesmerize, and includes fiery rhetoric that dresses up rivers of blood flowing and human scares that otherwise would be visible and felt. Today we must ask, and re-examine, what are we doing? why are we doing it? what is the cost? In the context of a show that goes to Technion in Haifa, what justice is advanced? I ask because, to be clear, despite the apology, Creative Time is not withdrawing its show and neither is ICI. So, what justice is the show facilitating in this context? It is, in fact, legitimizing an ongoing annihilation of a defenseless people. See, the art may seem to be dealing with issues of justice in the abstract, but operationally it is normalizing that exact injustice it is dialoging about. It facilitates conversations that lead nowhere while people are slaughtered, an entire population is caged, starved enough not to die, and experimented on for new technologies that are exported for profit to oppress other people, probably of color. Do you see the irony? Consider the aborigines of Australia, the First Nation of this country, the Jewish people during the Holocaust. In advancing justice, and in the interest of global social justice, freedom of expression and dialogue, would you or Creative Time do work in any of those geographies at the time? So when we say ‘never again,’ never again for whom exactly? I think we are at a moment where Creative Time chooses which side of history it is on. There are no ‘gray zones’ after Occupy Wall St. I do not want to see Creative Time on the side of history that is blind to its complicity and is happy with a Museum for the Palestinians, lamenting how could those present have been so silent for so long. No one should settle for a memorial for a people that once was in the name of art or justice or dialogue or mission or imaginary gray zones. People have the capacity and urge to learn and grow and act out justice in their lives every day. The question is what is Creative Time doing to facilitate that? Creative Time can facilitate a conversation about #BDS, that’s a dialogue that makes sense, that’s a dialogue artists that participated in 2012 Creative Time Summit were promised, which BDS first emerged as an issue. If we are to engage in meaningful conversation we have to be honest with each other and ourselves. What are we doing? Otherwise, the outcome is both absurd and catastrophic. Consider the above an open letter to Creative Time ~ With respect and militant love to both Nato Thompson and Creative Time

    • katrinanyc

      Amin, no Palestianians were “forced out” except by Arab countries who asked you to leave so that they could invade Israel. A quick check on Wikipedia will help you.

      Nice try, though.

      Leave your flawed politics out of art.

      • daniel perera

        Wikipedia? Better yet: Ilan Pappe’s ‘The ethnic cleansing of Palestine’ http://amzn.to/SE7bxT

        • katrinanyc
          • tristan jones

            You mean this part? “Factors involved in the exodus include Jewish military advances, attacks against Arab villages and fears of another massacre after Deir Yassin,[10]:239–240 which caused many to leave out of panic; expulsion orders by Zionist authorities; the voluntary self-removal of the wealthier classes,[11] the collapse in Palestinian leadership,[12] and an unwillingness to live under Jewish control.[13] Later, a series of laws passed by the first Israeli government prevented them from returning to their homes, or claiming their property.”

  • Edward Shott

    Why do Jews always want to censor the TRUTH? What are they afraid of? This kind of Censorship is rampant in Chelsea.

  • James Egnor

    Please therefore feel free to not bother coming to my country then; after all, is not the US the “Great Satan” and does the US not have more of a heavier hand in terms of manipulating the machinations of other lands? Yikes….yes, there are issues regarding “who’s right, who’s wrong” within the Israeli/Palestinian situation….but you better boycott us too. And I suppose China and Russia will be out of the running for future exhibits, yes? And I suppose future exhibitions should avoid most countries in the EU due to media reportage of ultra-right wing groups and the politics of anti-immigration toward pretty much the same target group as Israel is demonizing. Is there going to be an end to this? And boycotts,sanctions and divestments did really well for present day South Africa…or is that considered to be now a n appropriate country? At what point should art and its inherent culture be “above” realpolitik?

    • daniel perera

      Sorry to point it out, James, but your tirade is based on not one, but two logical fallacies, namely: “1) let’s not dare punish a guilty party anywhere, lest we’re prepared to punish all guilty parties, everywhere; 2) punishing guilty parties in the past has not led to permanent peace and prosperity for those involved, therefore it will always be futile to punish guilty parties.” Do you see the profundity of the shit that underlies your argument? I wasn’t aware that the alternative to ‘realpolitik’ was depoliticization (and therefore complicity with structural dehumanizing violence). What a privileged and sad world you and those who think like you must inhabit.

      —A Guatemalan citizen (who, by the way, is very much aware of the active role that the US –and Israel– played in our own twentieth-century genocide against Mayan peoples and leftist dissidents. We are fighting for justice here, too, don’t you worry about that)

      • James Egnor

        Yes,,,I am a dimwit,,,I obviously have offended your sensibilities.

        • James Egnor

          Nice editing job there…..by the way….the point of my bullshit, privileged post was to comment upon the fact that no country is entirely guilt-free from acts of war, terror, genocide, blah blah blah.

      • http://hragv.com/ Hrag Vartanian

        Please refrain from name calling.

      • katrinanyc

        Guilty of what, Daniel?

        • daniel perera

          Really, Katrina? I mean, the fact that your question can still be posed in 2014 partly explains why BDS is growing. [Of course, many reading this will feel compelled to label me an anti-semite or a self-hating Jew or a deluded flower child or a radical leftist or a combination of those]. The fact remains: there’s an illegal occupation underway (not a ‘conflict’, much less a ‘situation’, as James put it above), through which a whole people is being systematically subjected and denied equal rights under the law by the state of Israel. And there’s bad faith, on top of it, which only fuels the escalation: the settlements continue to grow unabated (the fact that someone like Tzipi Livni can now openly denounce them as an impediment to any negotiated agreement should be a telling sign: http://bit.ly/TPwcr5). Finally, the sheer asymmetry of power between Israel (a state) and the Palestinians (a stateless people) makes it hubristic to argue that the latter’s guilt is commensurable with the former’s, and that therefore no civil punishment of Israel such as BDS is legitimate or unbiased or just (I’m only anticipating this counter-argument with regard to the ‘degree’ of Israel’s guilt vis à vis the Palestinians': it’s fallacious). Note that nowhere am I even insinuating that Israeli Jews are ‘bad’ or ‘evil'; what is evil here is the structure of power relations currently in place: one that is being continuously perpetuated. To align with BDS is to renounce and denounce that complicity (be it active or passive) with that structure, in order to fundamentally alter the terms through which the occupation can be explained away and rendered invisible.

          • katrinanyc

            Let me guess. You’ve never been to Israel. You love anti-Israel news. And you love Fidel Castro.

            Keep it going!

          • daniel perera

            Nice try, Katrina, but it seems that you’re the one who drank the Kool-Aid here. Anyway, it’s Sunday and I have some time to entertain your comical impression of me (i.e. it only betrayed how susceptible you yourself are to propaganda and demagoguery):

            I spent 5 months in a kibbutz when I was eighteen. My grandfather migrated from his native Jerusalem to Guatemala in the early 1920s (a sort of ‘inverted aliyah’). My paternal lineage goes back centuries in historic Palestine. He became one of the founders of the Sephardic Jewish community of Guatemala. While in Israel, I was able to visit my great-great-aunt in Tel Aviv, who’d fled Bulgaria and had spent time in the detention camps of Cyprus before finally arriving in Israel after WWII. My mother is not Jewish, and I was raised in a secular household.

            As a Guatemalan, I grew up during our ‘civil war’, an euphemism for the US/Israel-backed brutal regime of counterinsurgency that left 250,000 of our mostly-indigenous population and leftist dissidents murdered and forcefully disappeared between 1960 and 1996. I’m sure you’ll understand how absurd (and even offensive) your accusation of ‘wearing the t-shirt’ might be to people intimately familiar with the implications of guerrilla insurgency and of military counterinsurgency and repression. There’s nothing naïve about my leftism, Katrina. FYI, in a historic trial last year a national tribunal ruled that genocide was committed by the military regime. So I find it nothing short of tragically ironic that Israel chose to actively support a dictatorship that systematically engaged in the commission of crimes against humanity (in the same way that it chose to support the South African Apartheid regime). What happened to ‘Never again’?

            I have also been to and spent time in Cuba and admire a whole lot about its people, its spirit, its proud history and its dignified resistance to US-interventionism (a notable exception in the Western hemisphere), yet –here’s the kicker, hold on to your hat!– I am also not a ‘Castrista’ and I firmly believe in the need for structural democratic reform there (have you been to Cuba yourself, by any chance?). Yes, I am profoundly critical of capitalism, and yet I refuse to entertain the ridiculous (unimaginative, fear-mongering, knee-jerk) assertion that the only alternative is ‘communist Cuba’ (or Venezuela or whatever). Wake up and look around you: it’s 2014! Che Guevara t-shirts, really? (You could’ve at least used Subcomandante Marcos, who’s been the t-shirt icon of choice since the mid-1990s ;).

            The main point here is that you turned our discussion into something personal and ideological, completely unrelated to the matter at hand. I had provided an argument and had expected a counter-argument in response, not a ludicrous and infantile attempt at cybernetic character assassination. I decided to tell you a little bit about myself only to dismantle the cartoon that you attempted to make out of me (and by extension, of every other voice that dares critique the ‘unimpeachable’ Israeli state). Next time, try evaluating what people have to say based on the facts and/or the internal strength and coherency of the arguments, and don’t worry so much about the person who typed the words.

            In short, the only demagogue here is you.

          • katrinanyc

            Dan, the biggest propaganda is the one you espouse with BDS, including that of “Israel Apartheid.” Again, propaganda. Having been in S. Africa during actual apartheid, I can tell you the BDS propaganda and the real thing are not even analogous.

            What you know of Israel is very little. And you are not Jewish, so no worries, you do not have Jewish “self-hatred.” You just have hatred.

          • http://hragv.com/ Hrag Vartanian

            I’m curious how would you respond to Desmond Tutu, the South African freedom activist, who said there is a comparison: http://www.jpost.com/Diplomacy-and-Politics/Desmond-Tutu-Israel-guilty-of-apartheid-in-treatment-of-Palestinians-344874

          • katrinanyc

            Both Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela have “interesting” views about politics outside their own country, Hrag.

            Have Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela spent considerable time in Israel? No.

            Consider also that Desmond Tutu has had a passionate affair with Fidel Castro, who up until recently incarcerated his own people for simply dissenting with his views. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_rights_in_Cuba

            Apples. Oranges.

            We should stick to the politics that we know.

            Long live the arts. In countries that embrace them.

          • daniel perera

            Katrina,

            1) It’s Daniel, not Dan.
            2) Calling an argument propaganda and bowing out is not debating.
            3) I also lived in South Africa, in a Cape Town township, so spare me your simplistic conclusions.
            4) Telling people what “are” and “are not” is not only presumptuous but extremely offensive. (Besides, when push comes to shove, the enemies of the Jews always beg to differ).
            5) Calling critics hateful (and critique, hatred) is simply a cop-out, and only betrays your own incapacity to argue the points and keep a cool head.
            6) For someone so interested in (a superficial and skewed reading of) history (re: Tutu and Mandela, below), you certainly avoided the question of Israel’s role in Latin America and South Africa. You say Castro imprisoned his citizens for simply dissenting. That is correct and it is horrible. But why not also acknowledge the fact that Israel supported (i.e. armed, equipped and trained) military regimes in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and beyond that not only imprisoned dissidents, but also tortured, assassinated, massacred, and forcefully disappeared hundreds of thousands them (‘their own citizens’) during the last third of the twentieth century? Again, your capacity for considered and balanced debate is astounding.

            There’s no way to argue with hysteric paranoia and demagoguery. Good luck to you. I’m out.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gXPL0kyom9U Beverley Price

    Cool Doods + obsessive compulsives, As easy as it is to like Father Christmas, so it is to potshot Israel – surely the Planet’s most favoured/ most Chosen/ most ideal/ terminal symbiotic partner – perfect adversary , so accessible , so visible, same cultural spectrum, available for Judeo-Christian conscience and guilt.Big tick. Israel gets the job hands down.

  • Harry Abrams

    Just in case the management of this exhibition hasn’t already figured it out….a project is well underway to hijack this art show by the BDS movement, which is a thoroughly misguided effort to “free Palestine” by poisoning arts, cultural and educational events and venues in order to showcase a harsh, undemocratic and violently racist propaganda, wearing the sheeps’ clothing of human rights. The intention of all these machinations is to use your organization indirectly in order to destroy the nation state of Israel . Unfortunately artists and intellectuals are easiest for these criminals to manipulate. Thank you for your consideration.

    • katrinanyc

      Israel is solid. That is what is so bothersome to the “freedom fighters.”

      It is odd that there are no protests in New York over any of the Creative Time — or any other organized art — exhibits. Yes, New York. No one is stepping up for Native American rights in the United States. Surely, the faulty deeds on which our country is based is worth examination no? No?

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