Good Fences Make Good Neighbors, taken from a Robert Frost poem, is the (ironic) title of the massive installation (set up in 300 locations throughout all of New York) inaugurated last week, created by Ai Wei Wei for the 40th anniversary of the Public Art Fund. Like the recent documentary by the Chinese artist, Human Flow, Fences is a reflection on borders, barriers and migratory movements.
Of similar inspiration is The Federation, an idea with a name almost willfully Star Trek-esque, launched by Laurie Anderson and Tanya Selvaratnam. But it is one of the many initiatives of “the resistance.”
The Federation is a project hatched this spring in a West Village loft during a series of meetings almost recalling those of the Carbonari Italian revolutionaries, involving artists, curators, representatives of international cultural institutions, activists already working on the midterm elections, young veterans of the Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton campaigns, and, on a few occasions, even the Attorney General of New York, Eric Schneiderman (concerned that the artistic community, compared to the scientific and judicial worlds, is not mobilizing enough against the implications of Trumpian policies). The Federation had its official unveiling during a panel held on Oct. 11 at the New York Film Festival.
“I was in Berlin in March, and we started to think about what could be done to keep the borders of culture and art open during a time when geographical boundaries are becoming more difficult to cross,” Laurie Anderson explained. “The first idea was to give further encouragement to the relationship between cities, the strong bond that exists between the international cities that make up the circuit on which artists, musicians, dancers, directors move. To strengthen those contacts and reflect on the implications that the closing off of borders has on our work.”
“We didn’t know what would come of it, and right now it’s still a work in progress,” Selvaratnam continued. “The goal is to build a network of programmers and activists who would give visibility to these issues through cultural events of every type. And also to provide a trove of resources that artists, especially those from the countries targeted by the travel ban, can tap into, with our site as starting point.”
The aims of The Federation, expressed in its manifesto, are to: “keep cultural borders open, stand up for freedom of expression and provide safe spaces for that expression to occur, fight back around defunding of the arts, use the arts as a catalyst for empathy and critical thinking between diverse communities, and acknowledge the validity and necessity of different approaches towards upholding these principles.”
Diverse groups and individuals have joined the organization, among whom the Public Theater, the Film Forum, the Brooklyn Public Library, Spotify, the literary organization PEN America, Tumblr, the artists Joan Jonas and Shirin Neshat, and the Film Society of the Lincoln Center.
The first date scheduled for collective action, in several U.S. states — where The Federation is developing a network — and also abroad, is an Art Action Day set for Jan. 20, the anniversary of Trump’s inauguration.
“On that day this year, some museums decided to stay closed in protest,” Selvaratnam recalls, “something with which we disagree. Art must be proactive, joyful, and make itself heard. It’s also for this reason that we chose this symbolic date.”
Anderson concluded, just before being interrupted by the surprise entrance of the Resistance Revival Chorus (the choir led by a group of female activists who have been organizing a series of protest musical events ever since the Women’s March): “And we hope that it will be true chaos.”
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