The Natural History Museum is a new museum that offers exhibitions, expeditions, educational workshops and public programming. Unlike traditional natural history museums, it makes a point to include and highlight the social and political forces that shape nature. These forces include those affecting the atmospheric climate on Earth, as well as the funding climate within museums of science and natural history.
The Natural History Museum had its grand opening at the Queens Museum in September–October, 2015. It was timed to coincide with the People’s Climate March, an historic march through the streets of New York City, with an anticipated hundreds of thousands of people calling for climate justice.
To celebrate the launch, a series of panels, workshops, and performances with artists, activists, scientists, anthropologists, historians, and theorists introduced the public to the historical and theoretical framework that informs The Natural History Museum’s programs. Presenters included authors Christian Parenti and Astra Taylor, scientist Michael Mann, artists Hans Haacke, Mark Dion and Liberate Tate, historians Fred Turner and Stuart Ewen, media/political theorist Jodi Dean, activists Eddie Bautista and Elizabeth Yeampierre, and others.
In tandem with the museum’s opening was the launch of The Natural History Museum’s mobile museum, a 15-passenger tour, expedition, and action bus.
Formerly known as The Change You Want to See Gallery, this is our Brooklyn-based venue where we host coworking, artist talks, film screenings, panel discussions, meetings, workshops, parties, and our production studio.
If advertising is the engine of capitalism, then brands are its symbolic currency. Branding is a complex communications system of signifiers that leverages psychoanalytical principals of irrationality and desire. As activists and socially engaged cultural producers we recognize the problems associated with a culture designed around consumption. Unlimited growth in a finite ecosystem is a recipe for global catastrophe. The practice of branding is a central force driving the system towards its inherent limit. How are we to respond?
A typical reaction is to reject branding/advertising with anti-advertising rhetoric. But the successful negation of representation is as likely as erasing language. After all, signs and symbols are the basis of communication. Another approach would be to deconstruct the internal workings of branding, making visible the ways in which society and individuals are determined by irrational drives, skillfully manipulated by corporations. Becoming aware however does little to circumvent a pervasive practice that ignores rational understanding as it preys on our subconscious.
With these challenges in mind this presentation series plans to explore the mechanics of the branding industry, it’s principles, and tricks of the trade. To see what lessons we might learn. How might activists and cultural producers leverage the tools of advertising, marketing, public relations and spectacle production? Can we produce our own brands in the service of a progressive politics? Does a brand communicate a fixed message, or can it be interpreted to signify a variety of meanings? If so, can we intervene upon and appropriate brands to point them in a direction of new meaning?
September 24 – November 5, 2009, with Douglass Rushkoff, Stuart Ewen, Joo Young Oh, Carrie McLaren, Steve Lambert, Stephen Duncombe, Jessica Teal, and Loid Der. Events live-streamed at http://livestream.com/notanalternative.
Global urbanism is one of the most significant trends of this century. For the first time, a majority of people on the planet now live in cities. As populations shift to urban centers, space – which is already at a premium in most cities and dwellings – becomes an even more pressing concern. Short of growing our architecture ever higher and spreading the creep of concrete, we seek solutions that consider size constraints alongside questions of environmental, social and economic sustainability.
Artists and designers, developers and planners, activists and architects respond to these challenges with creative solutions. But our fixed gear bikes and rooftop farms, geo-location apps and LEED certified lofts are lifestyles cum commodities, quickly subsumed into brand campaigns, used to sell a spatial agenda. Kill your Facebook profile, grow your food, you are still a walking talking advertisement for gentrification whether you like it or not.
Inevitably, where people converge, spatial conflicts arise. The ideas and desires of one group come at the expense of another. While social media and technology are heralded as cost-effective means to open-source the city, this participation is only partial, presenting an imagined consensus that obscures deeper forms of social exclusion. Too often, participation affirms a system rather than challenging it. And our contemporary system contradicts sustainability principles with a fundamental and fatal design flaw: that of impossible, unlimited growth.
Given these conditions, how can cultural creatives and spatial practitioners participate productively? What are constructive forms of critical engagement? What does an architecture look like that acts not to serve a community but to produce it? How might we open-source the city in invited and uninvited ways?
Re:Group proposed that with participation now a dominant paradigm, structuring social interaction, art, activism, the architecture of the city, and the economy, we are all integrated into participatory structures whether we want to be or not. The exhibition showcased work that subverts existing systems or envisions new alternatives to the ways in which individuals can take part, or choose not to take part, in social and cultural life.
Re:Group featured work by thirteen artists, designers, hackers, activists, and collectives exploring both the potential and limitations of participation, networked collaboration, and distributed labor. From the “crowdsourced” projects Ten Thousand Cents and White Glove Tracking to the tactical media art of The Yes Men and Ubermorgen, from the urban interventions of John Hawke and The Institute of Infinitely Small Things to the open platforms of Ushahidi and MakerBot – the exhibition represented a diverse range of critically and socially engaged work that rethinks the institutional practices within urban planning, civil engineering, transportation, industrial design and production, relief work, and the news media.
Creative activism considers the relationship between representation and action, the material and immaterial. Contemporary activists employ traditional tactics as well as those that take into account our hyper-mediated world of signs and symbols, stories and spectacle.
The Yes Lab, Not An Alternative, and the Center for Artistic Activism are teamed up to produce “Creative Activism Thursdays”, a series of lectures and workshops with theorists, activists and artists from around the world.
From the merry militants of Serbia’s Otpor movement to the the anarchic hacktivists of Anonymous, from Spain’s New Kids on the Black Bloc, to the AIDS activists of Act-Up, we unpacked cultural tactics and creative strategies from social movements, both current and historic.
Upgrade! NY was a monthly programming series co-produced by Eyebeam and Not An Alternative. From 2009-2010 we organized a thematic series on “open source” as it relates to activism and creative practice.
Upgrade! NY is the New York node of Upgrade!, an international network of autonomous nodes located throughout the world that are united by art, technology, and a commitment to bridging cultural divides.