YELLING MOVIE IN A CROWDED FIRE HOUSE
Yesterday, as we all know by now, 12 people were killed in the offices of CHARLIE HEBDO in Paris. The arrest of a member of PUSSY RIOT in Moscow and the detaining of artist Tania Bruguera in Havana pale in comparison. One is a flexing of the atrophying arm of power of these respective countries. The other is a horrific, senseless murder of a group of artists whose whole reason to go to work was to provoke. It's not complicated. Certain artists (myself included) when told "You shouldn't do that." immediately do just that. We seem to be hardwired for it. Some appreciate our provocations. Others are annoyed, offended and disgusted that we are allowed to do what we do. A very few will try to stop us.
Are there limits to free speech? Yes, of course. You can't incite riot with hate speech. You can't spray paint a swastika on a shul. You can't scream FIRE! in a crowded movie theater. But you can use loaded imagery and satire against public figures, religion, and a myriad of other subjects. Recently i made the mistake of addressing a class of graduate art students in SF and flippantly stating that "Moslems have no sense of humor." This was a gross generalization that I regret. There's a gazillion Moslems in the world. I'm sure plenty have good senses of humor. I apologize.
But what a small minority of very well armed, extremist, radical Moslems use as an excuse for murderous mayhem is the fundamentalist interpretations of the Koran, which states that it is a blasphemy to publish the image of the Prophet Mohammed- either positive or negative. This makes political cartoonists like the ones at CHARLIE HEBDO public enemy number one for ISIS, Al Queda and any lone wolf with an ax to grind.
My immediate reaction to this is to flood facebook with images of the prophet, in solidarity with my fallen French colleagues. But then I sleep on it and think better. Art and religion are my stomping ground. Provocation is easy for me. Even when I'm not trying I have a tendency to piss people off. What fun is it to preach to the choir? The last week I've been working on a piece that involves four bleached deer skulls. I had no idea what form it would take. The circular motifs that seem to be developing in recent work- of "henges" and "flowers" continued in this particular work. And before I knew it a svastika appeared. Damn! What do I do with that? Well, I'm nothing if not intuitive in my process. If it wasn't for Hitler this image would still be a revered, powerful symbol of luck and auspiciousness. I know it will piss people off. I can't help that.