Activism

a/k/a Mrs. George Gilbert extends Coco Fusco’s in-depth examination of racialized imagery. Fusco combines fictional and documentary source materials to reflect on the use of electronic surveillance against Black intellectuals and activists in the 1960s and 1970s as part of covert FBI operations. These actions bear a striking resemblance to contemporary Patriot Act-inspired activities of American law enforcement.

One of Zaatari’s earliest experiments in documentary video, All Is Well on the Border emerged from the filmmaker’s desire to understand Israel’s occupation of Southern Lebanon following the 1982 Lebanon War. The video presents a series of testimonies by Lebanese citizens who were detained during the occupation, each presenting an image of resistance that falls outside the dominant narrative of liberation and solidarity promoted by the Lebanese left.

In the video An Evening with Kembra, Glennda and Brenda attend one of Kembra Pfahler's dinner shows on New York City's Lower East Side. At her show, she performs cabaret versions of songs from her band The Volumptuous Horror of Karen Black. After the show, the group discusses the relationship of her work to queer culture. Interspersed throughout the video are two short clips: a skit entitled Drag Queen Starter Kit, and a call to boycott a bakery due to its discriminatory behavior. 

In October 1969, the Videofreex visited the home of wealthy political and social activist, Lucy Montgomery, as she was hosting the Black Panther Party of Chicago during one of their most fraught times – the period just after Chairman Bobby Seale was wrongfully imprisoned for inciting riots at the Democratic National Convention a year earlier. This video documents an interview with the wife of Bobby Seale, Artie Seale.

In Bad Grrrls, Glennda and Fonda LaBruce attend a Riot Grrrl conference on New York’s Lower East Side. At the conference, they conduct interviews with punk women, performers and artists, including Penny Arcade and Sadie Benning. In doing so, Glennda and Fonda navigate a range of perspectives on feminism, punk, and underground activism. Furthermore, they engage with questions of drag’s relationship with feminism, and how one would reconcile the problems of punk with Riot Grrrl’s desire for women’s liberation. 

Blight, 1996

"Blight was made in collaboration with composer Jocelyn Pook. It revolves around the building of the M11 Link Road in East London, which provoked a long and bitter campaign by local residents to protect their homes from demolition. Until 1994, when our houses were destroyed, both the composer and I lived on the route of this road. The images in the film are a selective record of some of the changes which occurred in the area over a two-year period, from the demolition of houses through to the start of motorway building work.

Through a stack of personal journals, this video reconstructs a biography of the South Dakota-born, New York City-enlightened artist James Wentzy. Tracing his days starting out as a struggling artist and later involved as an AIDS activist, the video provides an intimate portrait of a neglected hero. Wentzy reads from journals and shares old family snapshots and notebook sketches. “I hope I don’t die of sainthood,” Wentzy jokes in an entry from 1990—the pivotal time when he was becoming involved with ACT-UP and beginning to live healthier after the revelation of his HIV-positive status.

Spanning two years of protest and resistance, this video chronicles the politically-motivated police harassment of the homeless population in Manhattan’s Lower East Side; including suspected arson, illegal eviction, and the demolition of buildings that forced families onto the street. Taking its title from a quote by Malcolm X, By Any Means Necessary is an indictment of government systems that violate the law willfully and at random in the service of wealthy real estate developers.

"We buried ten Cadillacs in a row alongside Interstate 40 (the old Route 66), just west of Amarillo, Texas; each car represented a model change in the evolution of the tail fin. This was clearly a sculptural act, but with a minimal amount of formal manipulation. Media Burn, created a year later in San Francisco, was a live performance. It was a spectacle staged for the camera culminating in the 4,000 pound Phantom Dream Car crashing through a pyramid of TV sets to the cheers of the audience of 400.

Starting with student-recorded VHS footage of two successive Take Back the Night marches at Princeton University, Birnbaum develops a saga of political awareness through personalized experiences. This localized student activity then progresses to, and is contrasted with, the 1988 National Student Convention at Rutgers University. Through this dynamic portrait, Birnbaum posits a series of compelling questions: How can the voice of the individual make itself seen and heard in our technocratic society? What forms of demonstration support this expression? How is a voice of dissent made possible?

The Videofreex had several experiences with the Black Panther Party, including interviewing Illinois Chapter Deputy Chairman Fred Hampton and New Haven Minister of Information Cappy Pinderhughes. In this tape, recorded on March 5th 1971, the Videofreex one-person camera crew Bart Friedman is walking the hallways of CBS, trying to find out where a video statement by Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver is located. The shots are mostly close up on people’s torsos and there is some image loss, but the sound is intact. The tape has an eerie espionage feel.

Shot in October 1969, this tape gives an inside view of the workings of late-sixties radical groups and the debates going on within their ranks. At a meeting of Yippies, there is a discussion about the nuts and bolts of fundraising through benefit concerts and events in an attempt to finance support efforts related to the Chicago 8 Conspiracy Trial.

An interview with a group of people shot in October 1969, some of whom were involved in The Weathermen’s "Days of Rage" actions. As those present recount the significance of the actions, and the possible ramifications on the movement as a whole, some critics voice serious complaints.

Judy Chicago (b.1939) creates large-scale, collaborative artwork has brought greater prominence to feminist themes and craft arts such as needlework and ceramics. Her most famous work, The Dinner Party (1979), was an enormous collaboration with hundreds of volunteers including ceramicists, china painters and needleworkers. The monumental finished piece has place settings for 39 mythical and historical famous women, writing them back into the heroic history usually reserved for men. Earlier in her career, Chicago was part of the Finish Fetish movement within Minimalism.

Little Radek, the step-dancing Bolshevik; Machera, the Andean Robin Hood, and Maria Spiridonova, the Russian socialist assassin are your guides for Past Leftist Life Regression therapy. In this third Inner Trotsky Child video, narrator Lois Severin— a former Trotskyite turned suburban housewife—attempts to radicalize the personal fulfillment and self-help scene.

Though this video segment bears the title Construction Workers Rally, much more than issues of labor are addressed. On May 8th of 1970, approximately two hundred demonstrating construction workers, mobilized by the New York State AFL-CIO, had attacked 1,000 high school and college students and others protesting the Kent State shootings, the American invasion of Cambodia, and the Vietnam War.

In conversation with Carol Vontobel (behind the camera) and Nancy Cain, Curtis (Mary Curtis) Ratcliff describes getting her first legal abortion, soon after the state of New York legalized the procedure in 1970. Curtis supplies details of the cost of abortions at the Women’s Medical Center in New York City versus clinics such as Planned Parenthood, as well as a play-by-play account of her experience at the Center, describing the efforts of a counselor, the doctor’s demeanor, and demographics of the women using the Center’s services.

Though difficult at times to understand what is happening due to audio damage, this tape provides rich historical documentation of a protest on Wall Street in May of 1971. The tape also records the energy in the air created by motivated activists who took to the streets at Columbia University in protest of the Vietnam War.

—Faye Gleisser

Footage from the May Day 1971 events in Washington DC. Davidson, a Videofreex member, gets arrested, and what follows is rarely seen footage of the inside of the detainment bus and the jail cell, videotaped by an arrestee.

In this interview, American artist, independent curator, writer, and experimental filmmaker, Vaginal Davis reflects on her initiation into the punk rock and art scenes of Los Angeles during the 1980s and 90s, her stylistic influences, and her ongoing efforts to theorize queerness and visuality. Caught between the opposing poles of Hollywood classicism and the rawness of punk, Davis defines her unapologetically gender-bending, campy, and at times aggressively critical performances as scenarios, rather than spectacles or entertainment.

Turner Prize winning conceptual artist Jeremy Deller works across many different mediums, creating highly political and frequently collaborative works. Defying conventionality, Deller often exhibits outside of traditional gallery spaces, such as his 1993 twist on artist open studios, Open Bedroom, a secret exhibition in Deller’s family home while his parents were on holiday.

Executive produced by Sara Diamond at the Banff Art Centre, co-produced by Michelle Baughn and Suzanne Lacy, directed by Tom Weinberg and Dick Carter, and edited by Holen Kahn.

The first of the series includes:

What Does Away Mean? by Jem Cohen advertises the need to recycle through reconsideration of landfills and garbage disposal.

Pro-Choice is Pro-Life by Jane Pratt makes its point with the simple logic that every child should be cared for and wanted.

Historic Preservation by Jim McKay counsels for the preservation of historic buildings endangered by urban decay.

This video collects public service announcements created by a number of independent producers, including Jem Cohen and Michael Stipe of R.E.M.  Powerful and provocative, these PSAs address issues such as organic farming, abortion rights, street harassment, and the environment. Included are:

They Have Dreams by Natalie Merchant and Abigail Simon which focuses on the plight of homeless children.

The third compilation in this series of progressive, creative public service announcements for under-reported issues. Featuring various styles and formats, from street photography to optical printing, from edgy black and white film to hand-drawn animation, the seven spots in this latest installment are:

The Breathing Tree by Eric Darnell and Doug Loveid, an animated easy-to-understand explanation of how forests contribute to life by producing oxygen.