I had the opportunity to conduct an email and phone interview with the artist on Saturday and Monday, March 9th and March 11th, 2013. She answered the following questions, which further illuminate her position on the relationship between art and activism. Hopefully, after reading the artist’s responses, the viewer may be compelled to view her work with even a new perspective and understanding of her role in the tradition of nonviolent resistance.
1) Have you studied the tradition of nonviolent resistance and leaders such as Gandhi and King? If so, how have they influenced your trajectory?
AB: I was definitely influenced by them but most of my influence comes from direct action training sessions I have attended given by young activists. Lately I’ve been struggling with the blurry boundaries between violence and nonviolence. These definitions are not always clear. It’s a matter of degrees so I always try to keep this in mind. Is cutting a hole in the fence of a nuclear ammunitions factory, in order stop the production of nuclear weapons (like the Plow Shares), a violent act? Some would think so. Can trespassing be violent? An act done for necessity of defense may have violent aspects but can still be more peaceful than a violation of greater injustices and human rights. I have been very influenced by Barbara Epstein’s book, Political Protest and Cultural Revolution – Nonviolent Direct Action in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Also I studied Gene Sharpe’s books on The Politics of Nonviolent Action. I probably learned as much about nonviolence from the Black Panthers as I did King. I was early on influenced by Dorothy Day. Lately I’ve been trying to live my personal life in a nonviolent manner, something which is much harder than enacting NV strategies in my political life. This is where Gandhi comes in (see his text “My Faith in Nonviolence” 1930).
I produce work in an archival manner. I research and collect materials and then use the information to help make my work. All of my ideas come from the research. I often just shift the frame: I see readymades in the materials and actions of nonviolent protests. I just enact these activists’ practices and put them in galleries and then that’s about it. I add some tropes from the visual vernacular of aesthetics to elicit pathos sometimes. Many of ideas particularly early on in my work came directly from the texts I mentioned above. Literally the tree sitting platforms are made by a tree sitting activist. He comes to visit me from northern CA where he has been living in a tree for the past 3 years in order to prevent it being cut down. I have borrowed materials from actions, put them in exhibitions and after the show they are used for actions again.
2) What role do you think art plays in the realm of civil resistance, and why is it important for art to be political?