Archiving Meaning: New Exhibition Turns Lens on OWS
In fall 2011, at the height of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests, all anyone needed to stay on top of the action was an Internet connection and a thirst for information. Videos, photographs, blog posts and tweets from the protests were posted round the clock, creating a virtual representation of OWS that transcended geographical and political boundaries.
Since the protests in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park ended, there has been much made of the movement’s next step, turning the energy it created into a sustainable force. But what about that virtual data stream that OWS created? Where does it go? How do we make sense of it?
These are the central questions of #searchunderoccupy, a new exhibition at the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center (SJDC) at Parsons The New School for Design. Through video, photography, audio, live feed tag clouds, posters, blogs and performance projects that examine the participatory techniques of OWS, #searchunderoccupy explores OWS as a “living archive,” continuously documented through traditional and new forms of digital and social media.
But #searchunderoccupy is more than an archive. This isn’t about creating an archive, but figuring out what the implications of a living, changing, contested archive are,, said Radhika Subramaniam, director and chief curator of the SJDC and faculty member at Parsons. The show explores the tension between classification and dismantling, and asks visitors to consider how many different characterizations of the same event can stand alongside, jostling one another.,
A true New School affair, the exhibition was organized by students and faculty from across the university, including Subramaniam, students Brianne Cole, Piril Gunduz, Reena Katz, Daniel Kim, and Laura Trager; faculty members Melanie Crean, Julia Foulkes, Melissa Friedling, and Nitin Sawhney; and Carin Kuoni, director of the Vera List Center for Art and Politics at The New School. The exhibition design was done by student Lee Gibson, and the graphic and web design by students Laura Scherling, Dan Selden and Nicholas Brewer.
That many voices contributed to #searchunderoccupy is indicative of The New School’s broader relationship to OWS. From hosting classroom discussions and teach-ins to, briefly, being home to an occupation, The New School is inextricably linked to the OWS story. Our community is actively involved in Occupy Wall Street, and for those who are not, these issues, radical disparities, debt, are still profoundly relevant,, said Subramaniam.
For organizers and participants, that is #searchunderoccupy’s greatest strength. My involvement with OWS spurred from sheer curiosity, at that point it was all word of mouth with little media coverage, but it quickly became a daily activity,, said Haimy Assefa, an International Affairs student at The New School for Public Engagement, whose work is on view in the show. I felt strongly about giving Occupy Wall Street a voice though my photographs. The protesters are often painted as spoiled kids; my photos try to portray the wide spectrum of people involved in the movement.,
To broaden the dialogue throughout the exhibition’s March 2- April 1 run, the organizers of the exhibition will host a series of teach-ins, performances and public programs at the SJDC, including a conversation on the proliferation of media around OWS with Paper Tiger Television Collective’s Martin Lucas, and a discussion on archival agency, and swarmchiving, with artist and writer Gregory Sholette . In timing with the opening, the student group Bricollab organized a participatory art project using direct democratic techniques.
And in keeping with OWS’s commitment to open participation, students, faculty and the general public can weigh in from anywhere. The interactive website searchunderoccupy.org, which serves as a virtual homepage for the show, invites visitors to submit material of their own and join the conversation.
No matter how they participate, #searchunderoccupy is certain to leave visitors with more questions than answers, which is precisely what the organizers intended. I hope the exhibition makes people think about sense and ambiguity, and how closely the two usually live in the world,, Subramaniam said.
#searchunderoccupy is on view through April 1 in the Arnold and Sheila Aronson Galleries at Parsons The New School for Design, 66 Fifth Avenue, and is free and open to the public. For more information, including gallery hours, please visit www.newschool.edu/parsons/sjdc.