Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Art and Activism:
The Power of Billboard Banditry

--Feature: "The Carvajal Chronicles"--

For an artist and activist like myself, the concept of how art can be used as a catalyst for activism and change, comes naturally as my first article for The Lohasian. As part of my regular column "The Carvajal Chronicles," the editor and I decided to begin by my writing and presenting video expose's exploring this fascinating issue. This is just the part one of several more to come in upcoming installments.

As a filmmaker, I first got involved in the art of "billboard banditry" as I was making a documentary about the now defunct art collective known as ARTFUX. I still remember with vivid clarity the first time members of ARTFUX and artist Ron English got together for the very first time in order to liberate five billboard that they created right in the heart of Manhattan. Entitled “ART PUSHES; ART PROVOKES; ARTFUX,” I produced this documentary when I was still in college. ArtFux disbanded in the mid-nineties with half becoming CICADA.

Being an outsider looking in through the lens of my camera, I could even feel the adrenaline pumping through my veins as I watched with awe members of ARTFUX and Ron English go up a seven-story building in order to culture jam a 40X60 foot billboard and replacing it with one they created with the image of a very confused UNCLE SAM and the message “CENSORSHIP IS GOOD BECAUSE ______ _______ _______! In my documentary “POPaganda: The Art & Crimes of Ron English” there is a small segment depicting that day (you can purchase the POPaganda DVD from Cinema Libre, or Netflix). In the meantime, you can watch an eight-minute excerpt below.

Art has always been a reflection of, and a reaction to, the times...in that, perhaps, ultimately all artists are activists, and all genuine lovers of art participants in a call for cultural transformation. In the case of Ron English and his "billboard banditry," English hijacks corporate advertising challenging us (the audience) to change the sham of reality that advertisers have created for us and reminding us that free speech still lives. Ron English subverts traditional images and words into confrontational art meant to inspire and "activate" its viewers. He challenges the growing "culture of junk" and in his work asks us to demand integrity, truth and respect from corporations that chronically dumb us down to sell us up.

In upcoming weeks we will explore that influence that art has on society, and look at other artists of today, and yesteryear, who pushed the boundaries of art as a vital tool of social change.

Video Feature (Approx: 8:00):
"Popaganda: The Art and Subversion of Ron English" (Dir: Pedro Carvajal)

Pedro Carvajal is a respected New York City based documentary filmmaker whose work spans coverage of issues such AIDS, Addiction, Art amongst others. Pedro was born in Maracay, a lovely city surrounded by cloud forests in Venezuela. Carvajal's video column on The Lohasian,"The Cavajal Chronicles," will feature video expose's on leading social issues of the day. Pedro can be reached directly at Harvest-Moon@juno.com

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