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Friday, April 29, 2011

Maine - Fighting Governor's View of Homogenized History


by Joseph Mulligan

Maine Governor Paul LePage has garnered public intrigue after ordering his Department of Labor to remove from its lobby Judy Taylor’s mural depicting that state's history of labor struggle, & this, in the midst of a heated legislative debate. This act of censoring pro-labor art brings to mind the destruction of Diego Rivera’s “Man at the Crossroads” at Rockefeller Center in 1934 – a piece which, incidentally, would later be recreated in Mexico City.

In Maine, a group of media artists known as BrokeFix, reacted to this decision on April 2, 2011 by obtaining a digital image of the mural &, as their online video shows, by projecting it onto the fa├žade of the capitol building in a stealth act of defiance. In keeping with the militant vocabulary of the Avant-garde, the name assigned to this act of political art is a “photo-bomb”. That it has been praised by progressives in the national media leads us to ask: in our increasingly polarized political climate, is this progressive art?

The issue here is (at least) double-sided. First, it highlights the spuriousness of the motives behind Governor LePage’s decision to order the removal of the mural precisely at the moment when the very issues of labor’s place in the state budget were being discussed at the legislative level. One need not venture far in this direction before it wreaks of rats. Yet there is also the question of how & to what extent BrokeFix’s projection of the mural image back onto the capitol building actually integrates itself into the political discourse to thereby alter the course of our political reality.

After carrying out their assault, BrokeFix members were interviewed by The Huffington Post, on the basis that their identities remain anonymous. In that interview, the group explained that they intended for the video to become “something of a springboard for more people to get out there & produce something. Anything." With impassioned & militant rhetoric, these artists have put a face on the faceless workers that Maine’s new budget will negatively affect; & they have done so without showing their own faces, out of fear that taking a public stance would put their individual well-being at risk.

They have realized this artistic & political performance with the hopes of inspiring other people to “produce something. Anything”. & here we must pause... Anything? Is this BrokeFix’s criterion of artistic & political production: Anything? I’m going to suppose it is, so that by meeting such a vague prerequisite, I can look forward to enjoying their support when I finish my ode an untied flip-flop or a eulogy for my 2008 federal taxes. Brokefix is not advocating the artistic production of “anything”, but what are we to make of their vagueness?

Later on in that same interview, members of BrokeFix argued, "The weight of futility that our society places upon the individual is a meaningless illusion that disappears as soon as you realize that your own two hands can lift it away. Power exists within you as soon as you choose to use it." BrokeFix seems to level a critique against the Governor for hiding the real & toiling existence of the worker by elevating the role of the individual. & this is a curious element among certain progressive movements to take note of in the United States: more than oppose, they rival.

In the explosion of the BrokeFix photo-bomb we do not hear the dialectics of the work of art, but see the projection of ecstatic temerity. This is the fear factor of our country. Here we have a group disagrees with the governor, but can only frightfully stammer out a rivaling critique of his actions, & in a state of excitement overcast by confusion, they take an stance in this issue the way a visitor from out of town, who hears the roar of a crowd in the distance, is drawn to a sporting event & inevitably ends up rooting for a team. Art that yields effective social & political change does more than simply reflect what the establishment turns a blind eye to & keeps from the public eye; it redefines the terms of the establishment’s legitimacy. That’s what the Egyptians just did.

Joseph Mulligan
April 22, 2011
New Paltz, NY

Joseph Mulligan is a New Paltz resident who, among other endeavors, writes for the Barner Books - blog.   While we at Barner Books really like his ideas, they are his own.   Read and enjoy his postings.   Joseph also has a blog known as The Smetling Process

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