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.
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Curators International, the organization responsible for touring the exhibition, eight artists and collectives have withdrawn thus far, including Allora & Calzadilla, Ultra Red, Women on Waves, Basurama, Celine Condorelli & Gavin Wade, Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency, Chto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.
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  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
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
Wendelien van Oldenborgh
AdalahNY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel
￼Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
Gulf Ultra Luxury Faction (G.U.L.F.)
Melissa M. Forbis
New Yorkers Against the CornellTechnion Partnership
Not an Alternative
Omar Joseph Nasser-Khoury
Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel
Rachel Schragis Rafeef Ziadah
16 Beaver Group
US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel
US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation
Update, 4:19pm EDT: Hyperallergic has confirmed that Allora & Calzadilla have withdrawn from the exhibition; the body of the article has been updated accordingly.