Making Plans at Human Resources
To refuse to engage the political imaginary at a time when it seems especially futile, capricious, or simply inadequate to contend with the violence of a post-truth reality—one that directly impacts specific communities in real ways—makes sense. But if we don’t mobilize the imaginary, how will we ever stave off the curse of Margaret Thatcher’s assertion: there is no alternative? Far from a recent task, this is certainly no less difficult post Brexit, post election, post inauguration, mid travel bans, mid deportations, post pipeline authorizations, mid discriminatory bathroom laws, mid presidential media wars. Furthermore, to merely restate (and often misquote) Adorno’s there is no poetry after Auschwitz, now, in 2017, is to submit to Thatcher’s mandate, that there is no possible alternative to capitalism, and much less (I’ll add) to corporate governance, white supremacy, heteropatriarchal, and heteronormative rule. Held at artist-run space Human Resources, in Los Angeles, from March 18 to March 26, 2017, Making Plans, organized by Kyle Bellucci Johanson and Matthew Lax, decommissions such a ruling by reminding us that to conceive of possible futures, we must first assess our present.
With works by Kim Zumpfe, Astrovandalistas, Ishi Glinsky, Nuttaphol Ma, Jimena Sarno, Díaz Lewis, and Aram Han Sifuentes, Lax and Bellucci Johanson approach the following quote by Fred Moten as curatorial material: “I’m not so much despairing as asking a question about making plans.” In the same conversation this quote is lifted from, On Poetry and the Turntable by Kevin Beasley and Fred Moten, Moten expands on a Deleuzian idea of working through exhaustion and proposes that within exhaustion, we arrive at other ways of making plans, of reconfiguring realities. Moten tells of a “social insurgency that accompanies that exhaustion, that desire to exhaust the system and make something else.”
Some of this planning might emerge through care or maintenance. In reference to traditions of his tribe, the Tohono O’odham Nation, Ishi Glinsky’s War Regalia is a large-scale ceremonial shirt, made of latex, horsehair, and beads, and is paired with its twin in scale, Giant Button Up, a collared work shirt lined with abalone shells as buttons. The industrial latex used to make War Regalia is so heavy it causes the shirt to deteriorate over time. As a result, the artist routinely mends it, turning the piece into a work of ongoing repair, a resistance through up keeping.
Such planning surely takes time, and thus becomes a different kind of work, one that likely occurs after hours, and forfeits rest for “planning.” Mr. Proud, why do I have to memorize the Star Spangled Banner? is a durational piece by Nuttaphol Ma, in which he clocked in with his personal time clock for eight-hour graveyard shifts, to fill neatly delineated grids on the wall with the Chinese character zhèng, meaning ‘correct,’or ‘upright.’ Each section is outlined with thread that is delicately wrapped around burnt incense stubs protruding from the wall, completing at a distance the U.S. flag. The characters, repeated over and over, are all slightly different; sometimes they are assertive and other times they trail off, faithful to the state of the writer, who has etched his presence through attendance, with diligence and fatigue. Ma’s use of the zhèng character refers to the uprightness of the wall, which Ma is called upon to match—as in Ma has to be upright to write on the wall. Ma must then hold a position reminiscent of a disciplinary imperative, that of standing in a corner, or facing a wall. Interestingly, while Ma carries out the self-imposed punitive action of writing lines, he faces or stands up to the uprightness and correctional rigidity of institutional walls. In his book Defacement, Michael Taussig writes “The shortest way between two points, between violence and its analysis, is the long way round, tracing the edge sideways like the crab scuttling. This we also call the labor of the negative.” Instead of burning, shredding, or destroying the flag, Ma constructs one that more accurately reflects its relationship, as he sees it, to the body of a laboring nation. If the labor of inscription constitutes the body of the flag, what becomes of the body of the laborer, who after toiling through night shifts, I imagine returns, further exhausted, to some other job?
Collaborative duo Díaz Lewis (Cara Megan Lewis and Alejandro Figueredo Díaz-Perera) comments on the imaginary in a state of post-truth in their piece, A Dream Deferred. A two-channel video depicts an intergenerational family soccer game in the desert. One video is crisp and occasionally focuses on a girl reading Langston Hughes’ poem Harlem from her iPhone, while the other is grainy. At first, I think this might be one family playing soccer in the same desert, spanning a few generations, and shot in different decades, but as I pay closer attention, I recognize some of the players in both videos. The two videos were shot at the same time with different cameras, one on 8mm and the other in HD video. The use of different cameras to shoot the same scene calls for the questioning of the framing device—technological, cultural, historical. In the drone age, I might imagine other lenses that would capture this very group of bodies differently: what would they look like from above? A group of brown bodies in movement, in this particular political landscape, might just as quickly be construed as a group of bodies in illegal transit. In other words, the different cameras and lenses indirectly expose the discriminatory apparatus that monitors and controls the mobility of brown bodies.
Hanging from the ceiling is Jimena Sarno’s suspended exploded, which is a partially dismantled chicken coup that hovers above two small speakers playing an Appalachian folk song called My Little Rooster. The sculpture offers a fictitious version of a chicken coop from Leon Trotsky’s family estate in Mexico City—where he stayed after he had been kicked out of Diego Rivera’s house before his assassination. The same year he moved to the estate, The Manifesto for an Independent and Revolutionary Art, signed by Rivera and Breton and allegedly written by Trotsky and Breton, makes the following case for art:
True art is unable not to be revolutionary, not to aspire to a complete and radical reconstruction of society. […] The communist revolution is not afraid of art. It realizes that the role of the artist in a decadent capitalist society is determined by the conflict between the individual and various social forms that are hostile to him. This fact alone, insofar as he is conscious of it, makes the artist the natural ally of revolution.
In The Undercommons, Stefano Harney and Fred Moten distinguish between planning and policy. Planners, Harney and Moten say, don’t make change, they just plan. Planning, then, must not be done towards the goal of being calcified into policy—which is seen as a form of opportunism, geared to profit from the imaginary and to re-establish hierarchical command through the deputization of these plans, herein enacting violence against the planners it pathologizes: “Policy says that those who plan have something wrong with them. This is the first thrust of policy as dispersed, deputised command. What’s wrong with them? They won’t change. They won’t embrace change. They’ve lost hope. So say the policy deputies. They need to be given hope. They need to see that change is the only option.” Planning, therefore, is a serial rejection of policy, a perpetual moving: “We plan to be communist about communism, to be reconstructed about reconstruction, to be absolute about abolition, here, in that other, undercommon place, as that other, undercommon thing, that we preserve by inhabiting. Policy can’t see it, policy can’t read it, but it’s intelligible if you got a plan.” Operating from the plain space of referential privilege, it is true that the effectiveness of art is limited. But out of these limitations comes the potential to imagine, to be unfixed, like a shuffling before a movement. That no plans are made in the show is not a shortcoming of the show’s curatorial promise. Making Plans reflects a set of experiences, conditions, and alliances, and suggests that plans might be made on the sidewalk outside the space, or on the ride home, or the next day on the way to work—somewhere beyond and between institutional thresholds.