In Protest at Berkeley Art Museum

May 11, 2012  |  By
Filed under: Field Notes

For one night only, on Wednesday, May 9, the Berkeley Art Museum presented In Protest, a collection of protest posters commissioned by a variety of artists and writers, including Zarouhie Abdalian, John Baldessari, Amy Balkin, Amy Franceschini, Doug Hall, Paul Kos, Tony Labat, Shaun O’Dell, Rigo 23, Piero Golia, Jordan Kantor, Kevin Killian, Martha Rosler, Allan Sekula, Mungo Thomson, Natasha Wheat, Charlie Dubbe, and me. The show was curated by Joseph del Pesco and Connie Lewallen. One hundred copies of each poster were printed in Oakland by Horwinski Letterpress, a firm that has printed protest and union posters for decades. Half of these were stacked on the floor of the lower gallery at BAM, where visitors could pick their favorite — or one of each — and take them home with them, like one of those Felix Gonzales Torres shows people just love. The other half will be distributed to local activists for use in upcoming protests and events.

Here’s Charlie Dubbe standing next to his poster. I believe that’s Open Space’s Suzanne Stein in the background. The “Enough” poster, one of my favorites, is by Paul Kos.

Charlie Dubbe

 

In the background is Kevin Killian’s poster, comprised of quotes by poet Jack Spicer, with Jordan Kantor’s poster in the foreground.

Posters by Jordan Kantor and Kevin Killian, 2012

 

Here’s Rigo 23′s poster, with a few others in the background.

Rigo 23's poster, 2012

 

And here’s someone taking a photo of the poster I wrote.

Dodie Bellamy poster, 2012

My poster reads: “The monstrous and formless have as much right as anybody else. Smash the conveyor belt of U.S. graduate writing programs.” The top half is a quote from my novel The Letters of Mina Harker. The bottom half is me acting out. When I finished it I felt rather silly. All the terrible things in the world that deserve to be protested against, and this is all I could come up with? When confronted with the task of writing a protest poster, I felt inadequate. I felt like I had to be pithy and artless and forceful. I really wanted to come up with something angry, like something the civilians would shout on the Odessa Steps in Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin. The intimidating brevity of the protest poster form reminded me of something I heard in the mid-’80s when Kevin (Killian) and I were visiting some friends of his from graduate school who were living in Los Angeles. His one friend, Gail, after getting her Ph.D. in English, went into advertising, and wrote the then popular slogan, “Use your noodle,” for an ad for Top Ramen noodle soup. Gail said that in her advertising agency, writers were looked at with suspicion if they wrote more than one line a day. I’ve always wondered, what if your one line came early in the morning, do you sit around and pretend you’re straining for inspiration the rest of the day?

As I look at the run of posters spread out in my living room now, I realize that there’s no one right way to make a protest poster. There’s room for anger, there’s room for humor, there’s room for pathos. Maybe there’s even a space for the monstrous and the formless after all. In the last analysis, I’m glad not only to be included among these amazing artists and writers, but I’m also glad I did what I did.

2 Comments

  1. Suzanne Says:

    Hi Dodie, that is totally me in the background, yes (and I’m glad to see my hair is looking pretty good!). Your poster was one of my favorites that night for both its humor and because it is a protest against the one of the things we seem to feel isn’t worth protesting–in the face of “all the terrible things that deserve to be protested against”—but is absolutely a key symptom of the social sickness of factory-made spin cycle of consumption without cease. David Brazil at the start of his reading that night took off his shirt and put on a yellow We Are Everywhere tshirt with a rainbow, and I appreciated that reminder so much. We should be in protest of every piece of the machine, and it’s only by dismantling or refusing every sick part that the job gets done, and not everyone can talk about everything at every minute. I laughed so much when I saw your poster, because it felt so true in such a great way, a kind of bringing it home, considering, largely, the audience for those prettily made posters. I liked Kevin’s reminder from Spicer too, so simple PEOPLE ARE STARVING. Oh, and so many others of them. “While the people sleep, the state dreams”….whose was that? xoxoxox

  2. Dodie Bellamy Says:

    Suzanne—thanks so much for your comments. I too love Amy Balkin’s “While the people sleep, the state dreams.” It’s so eerie. The image it invokes in me is sort of the opposite of Goya’s “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters.” The dreaming State is all about “reason,” and Goya’s scary birds are now Apache helicopter gunships. Maybe I’m tripping out too much here. Implicit in my poster is the insane need for certification (and therefore uniformity) in our culture. I think of one writer’s mini-bio I read where he listed his awards even before his books. I wish I’d been at your BAM reading later that night. I was hiding in my post how I wasn’t actually able to attend the In Protest event due to conveyor belt responsibilities. All the photos are by Kevin Killian. He said you gave an amazing reading. xox

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