Standing outside the Judson Memorial Church on Saturday night, two days after the Day of Action and the same week of the raid on Zuccotti Park, I, along with a group of art lovers, artists, Occupy Wall Street protesters and random passerby, watched people being turned into living art objects by artist Michael Alan in his film We Are All Living Installations: Occupy Yourself (2011) that was organized in conjunction with the OWS Art and Culture Committee.
Projected on Judson’s doors continuously for three hours, Occupy Yourself is based primarily on footage from Alan’s live art piece, Michael Alan’s Living Installation, where he paints, sprays, sculpts and uses any materials possible on performers to transform them into pieces of art, interspersed with Alan’s drawings, music and text. Produced by Alan and Garry Boake, We are All Living Installations: Occupy Yourself also features Kenny Scharf at his Cosmic Cavern in a pink wig.
One of the main OWS Art and Culture Committee organizers, Alexandre Carvalho approached Alan early in the planning of Occupy Wall Street to see if Alan would participate in an artistic event. As he explained to me, Carvalho believed that Alan’s art had a resonance with their cause.
As Carvalho asserted:
“His work is all about the revolution in my humble opinion. The lines, the lines … fluid playing all around and at the same time crossing through your gut. You feel alive again and the way those lines transgress the place that they are traditionally expected, to win the world outside in the Living Installations.”
While not a part of Occupy Wall Street himself, Alan, who is represented by Gasser Grunert Gallery, felt that he could lend a positive artistic voice to Occupy Wall Street’s mission.
Originally planned to be projected on the Red Cube in Liberty Square, Alan’s and Carvalho’s plans changed once Zuccotti Park was raided since they were worried that an art film might get caught up in the violence occurring in that area. Alan suggested that they move to Judson Memorial Church, which not only was giving refuge to the protesters but also has a long connection with performance art and postmodern dance.
Looking at We Are All Living Installations: Occupy Yourself first as an art piece, the film was striking in its depiction of the Living Installations as a coherent body of work. Before attending the projection, I felt I might get bored of watching the film over and over again but, much like the Living Installations themselves, I was mesmerized by the dripping paint, the addition of sculptural elements, the movements of the performers and their near disappearance into the space around them.
While I am an avid attendee of Michael Alan’s Living Installation and have even written reviews of the shows, I never even conceived of them together. Taking the Living Installation as well as other elements of Alan’s work as a complete whole in the film is that the over-arching message of the work and how they can be used with the Occupy Wall Street protests can be interpreted.
While I’m getting a little tired of how everything is becoming “Occupy _____” now, the film title Occupy Yourself does have two distinct and relevant meanings: a plea for individuals to both inhabit their own bodies and a call to others to work toward their personal goals. Both of these meanings of the film have correlations to the Living Installations and Occupy Wall Street.
Enduring strenuous performances of five or six hours, the performers of the Living Installation have to be totally completely comfortable and present in their bodies to dance, stand, sit in milkcrates, perform the choreographed movements. The Living Installation is a Do-It-Yourself show with Alan footing the bill for much of the materials used and often losing money or just breaking even to make it happen. The film projection on Saturday was also completely DIY — the projector was balanced on a ladder and the sound was projected from Alan’s personal computer speakers.
For Alan, the film, as well as the Living Installation, is a push for people to recognize they have the ability to realize anything whether it’s being turned into a sculpture or occupying Zuccotti Park.
Toward the end of the projection, the left-hand print fell off of Judson’s facade. Strikingly, hilariously and somewhat frighteningly illustrating this drive himself, Alan jumped on the Judson Church’s railing to hold it up for the remainder of the film.
Observing the audience, there was a wide range of people there including some of the performers, kids from the projects, gallerinas and a fewer number Occupy Wall Street protesters than I expected. Responding to my questions on the noticeable amount of art viewers versus OWS protesters, Calvahlo explained to me that they wanted to keep the event low key to maintain the safety of the protesters at Judson because the church is being surveyed daily by the patrol police and there are rumors about undercover cops inside the church doing headcounts. I did wonder though if OWS protesters were now less enthused with using art because of the increasing violence and mass demonstrations.
The film and the free outdoor projection also allowed for passersby — business men and students to Greenwich Village drunk frat boys — to stop and watch for even a few minutes, as Alan and Cavahlo passed out sandwiches and flyers to the audience. While I was there, I overheard a group of guys in suits wondering aloud whether the performers in the film were robots.
In the end, I was relieved to witness an OWS-related event that did not erupt into police violence, though I can’t deny that I was a little scared at first going to the projection. With the constant barrage of violent imagery of clashes between the authorities and the peaceful protesters surrounding the OWS protests all over the country, I think Alan’s art film projection was an important counterpoint as a means of potential protest on the smaller scale.
Carvalho wanted the film to prove that OWS was still alive and regrouping but what the real importance of the projection to me was the possibility of art, especially accessible public art in the street, enacting a peaceful change even if it is on the individual level.
Michael Alan‘s We Are All Living Installations: Occupy Yourself took place at Judson Memorial Church (55 Washington Square South, Greenwich Village, Manhattan) on Saturday, November 19 and was organized in conjunction with the OWS Art and Culture Committee.
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