Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘activism’

15 OCTOBER, 2008

The Other Electorate

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What the presidential election has to do with aliens and coffee cups.

Vote The presidential election is almost upon us, and next leader of the free world is only a few million ballots away. And as important as voting is in shaping the future of the nation, its impact goes far beyond the domestic sphere. Because, after all, electing the so-called “leader of the free world” impacts the “free world” in its non-American entirety. Which is why it’s interesting to see what said “free world” would do if it had a say in the American election.

Enter If The World Could Vote, a politically independent site that lets people from all over the world cast an imaginary Obama/McCain vote in the presidential election. Originally a modest curiosity-inspired initiative by three guys from Iceland, the project has reached critical mass with close to 250,000 international votes to date, a number getting interestingly close to the U.S. population. We won’t gloat and tell you whom the overwhelming majority voted for, but you can see for yourself.

So go ahead, cast your vote (in the great words of a certain someone, yes you can, even if you’re in the U.S.) and join the Facebook group.

Aliens Vote Meanwhile, let’s not forget the voiceless group most powerfully impacted by the presidential election — the  nation’s 29.1 million (that’s 10% of the population, for the mathematically-challenged) home-owning, tax-paying aliens who don’t have the right to vote. (Taxation without representation, anyone?) That’s where Aliens Vote comes in — a site that gives people living in the U.S. who are not American citizens (both permanent residents and visa holders) a chance to cast a “what-if” vote for Obama, McCain, or neither.

Cups The project comes from Cuban Council, a small American digital design shop including a number of non-America employees. Results will be revealed after the election, but if you’re anxious for an unofficial prediction, there’s always the fallback option of the infamous 7-11 predictive cups poll.

(And, of course, if you’re not content with just guessing outcomes, make sure you influence them, too: Vote.)

>>> via GOOD, Sun Sentinel

23 SEPTEMBER, 2008

Spotlight Series: Gimme Moore

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Why P2P file-sharing can spell the demise of the Bush administration and how not to let American Idol take over the White House.

MOORE VS. BUSH, ROUND 2

We’re doing something a little different today — because today is the day filmmaker-slash-activist Michael Moore’s latest movie, Slacker Uprising, comes out. (Plus, it’s a nice transition from last week’s themes of P2P revolutions and the current White House being easily mistaken for a potato.)

Slacker Uprising And just like us today, Moore is doing something different with this himself: He’s giving the movie away as a free download, making it the first major feature-length film to debut legally as a free internet download. In his typical convention-defying, sticking-it-to-the-man style, he’s offering not one but five ways to snag it — from iTunes and Amazon Digital downloads to a number of live streaming options.

He’s doing it for two reasons: To get the word out and thus further the film’s ultimate goal of getting more young voters out on November 4, and to thank all his supporters over the years with a free gift on the 20th anniversary of his first film, Roger & Me.

The film was shot over 42 days leading up to the 2004 election, when Moore toured 62 cities across America with the same mission: Turning out a record number of young voters, which he considers a success given young adults voted in greater numbers than they ever had historically, and the youth segment was the only demographic group Kerry won.

Slacker Uprising (We, on the other hand, are less generous with the acclaim for a year in which American Idol still received more votes than the presidential election — quite the eye-opener when the American public finds a marginally talented popster to be a better idol than the nation’s leader.)

So go download the movie or find a screening near you so you can rub elbows with like-minded potato-haters. (Heck, host one, even.)

And, um, go vote on November 4, mmmkay?

08 MAY, 2008

Reclaiming Urban Landscape | Part 4

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This week, we’re looking at ideas that claim our urban space back from the gruesome grip of commercialization, concrete and the general ugly of the city, or what grannies and Major League Baseball have in common.

MONKEY SEE MONKEY REDO

After we gave props to groundbreaking graffiti executions, it’s only fitting that we also honor non-graffiti urban guerrilla art — especially the kind that makes a social statement. Because, after all, if we’re gonna be claiming our streets back from the grip of modern indifference, we’d better have something to say.

PIXELATOR

Yeah, yeah, we’re into advertising. Fine. But here’s the thing: we’re into good, smart advertising. Which means we’re all the more eager and willing to call out the really, really bad stuff — and root for the rebels out to take it down.

Like Pixelator: an outlaw guerrilla project that uses NYC subway entrances as its canvas, covering those eye-stabbingly ugly video billboards with a lit-up panel of 45 color- changing blinking squares. We love the extreme euphemism with which the team behind it, Jason Eppink and Jen Small, talks about the work, calling that ultimate bottom-of-the-barrel advertising “exhibitions” and the suits behind it “artists,” as if only to draw our attention to the point: our aesthetic sensibility is being relentlessly polluted by the visual atrocities of the corporate world.

Pixelator is about taking a stance against it all, a stance they invite you to join them in: here’s how you too can pixelate some public ugly.

Next, let’s take on those hideous in-train subway ads — now that’s something you’re forced to stare at for quite some time, because it’s usually between them and the smelly dude talking to himself… although we’re always far more intrigued by the latter. (Draw you own conclusions, bad ad people.)

IMPROV EVERYWHERE

The concept of “guerrilla art” is by definition undefined. Which means it’s not confined to any medium or dimension. Sure, a lot of it is static, physical art. But some of it is dynamic, complex, and mobile. Which makes it all the more impressive.

We’re talking about guerrilla get-up Improv Everywhere — a group of comedy-minded citizens who cause carefully orchestrated “scenes of chaos and joy in public places.” The NYC-based group, founded in 2001, has amassed an enormous following of unofficial national and global chapters. They’ve done over 70 such stealth comedy missions, recently making major waves with the Frozen Grand Central one.

Besides being a wildly impressive stroke of such large-scale genius, the stunt got major mainstream love: not only did it land in the latest episode of Law & Order: SVU , but it was also cool enough for R.E.M. to blatantly rip off. (Nicely done, Gestalt — lost your creative bone along with your hair?)

Improv Everywhere’s founders met through the infamous Upright Citizens Brigade and much of their improv is inspired by the teachings of the cult group that brought us ass pennies.

We just dig the entire concept because IE’s missions jolt pedestrians out of the private zombie bubbles we mindlessly walk around in all day. They remind us to come to and pay attention — because when you look at how long it took the Grand Central passersby to notice the extreme and obvious bizarrerie, those Orwellian drone-filled scenes seem frighteningly nonfictional.

SECRET WALL TATTOOS

Guerrilla statements are all the more indulgent when they mess with institutions that take themselves a bit too seriously. Especially if the messing is kinda hidden, producing even more of a jaw-drop when accidentally discovered.

Case in point: you may remember the “secret wall tattoos” of pickings past — drawings in spaces normally covered by hotel furniture only revealed when said furniture is moved. Word on the street is the movement was started by Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme, who compares the idea to the delightful discovery of the toy hidden in a box of Cracker Jacks.

Today, there’s a whole following of independent artists spreading the hospitality mischief. And curiously enough, hotels hungry for street cred are actually paying artists to do that stuff. But street- cred-for-sale discussions aside, we love the idea — what better form of social art protest than taking some of that mind-numbingly bland space back?

So here’s to injecting a bit of scavenger-huntish excitement into the otherwise bland hotel experience. Next time you check in, make sure you peek behind the paintings… and maybe pack a Sharpie of your very own.

MARK JENKINS ART

We’ve been obsessed with Mark Jenkins for quite some time, so it’s no surprise we honor him here. His street art installations are an exquisite hybrid of playful and unsettling, from the human- legged shopping cart to his Storker Project

But besides the gotta-love-it shock value of his brilliantly cast and positioned sculptures, we love what his art stands for. In a rather compelling interview with The Morning News, the artist shares what drives him: a certain outrage at how stagnant institutionally authorized public art is — monuments, memorials and the like seem to cling to the past rather than push the city into the future or challenge its present.

And that’s a pretty big social statement — how come our culture chooses to glorify the works of the past rather than celebrate the artistic vision of the present?

Plus, we just can’t stop laughing at the wall-diver.

BANKSY

Okay, okay, Banksy fans: relax. Here it comes… although we’ll preface it by saying we’re a bit ambivalent about the “social statement” quotient of Banksy’s art: somehow, it always seems to be a bit too ego-gratifying (a.k.a. “Oooh, look at what I can get away with!”) as opposed to challenging ordinary folk to stand for something.

But despite selling his works at auctions, we have to hand it to Banksy for smuggling his own art into the MoMA, The Met, The Museum of National History, The Brooklyn Museum, the Tate Gallery, and…wait for it… the Louvre. Sure, this may be the ultimate ego-driven prank — but it also challenges our relationship with art and makes us question. What belongs in this museum? Why? What makes it better than that?

And, really, while we may admire his exquisite technique (and his ability to sneak a live red elephant into a gallery), we find that all- important social perception shuffle is what really makes him a guerrilla maverick.

Because it’s not about what you can get away with, it’s about what you let people take away from it.

CANSTRUCTION

Guerrilla art doesn’t always have to be unauthorized. In fact, the more people are on board, the more of a difference the effort can make. And when it’s about solving a really, really serious social problem, then it’s really worth noting.

We found out about Canstruction by fluke, stumbling upon a bizarre public installation downtown — several gigantic sculptures of anything from the Philly Phanatic to an iPod, all made entirely out of food cans. Turns out, Philly was just one stop on the Canstruction national circuit — an operation of the Society for Design Administration, the design/build competition travels the country, challenging teams of engineers, architects and students to construct enormous sculptures out of full cans of food.

Here’s the social kick: after the competition, all the cans are donated to local food banks and distributed in emergency hunger relief programs. Since Canstruction was founded in the early 90′s, 10 million pounds of food have been donated — sodium overdose aside, that’s one massive stab at the poverty monster.

Check out the gallery of work to get amazed, inspired, and even fired up to participate. And, hey, if your city isn’t on the tour map, you can always host a competition. Talk about grassroots initiative.

KNITTA PLEASE

knit.pngHere’s another blast from the Brain Pickings past. “Guerrilla knitting” may sound like a laughable oxymoron (visuals of prankster grannies materialize), but it’s actually a brilliant form of public art that blasts the urban grayness away with a bold splash of color.

Heading the movement is Houston-based Knitta Please, a group of 11 men and women out to reimagine the cityscape. Since 2005, the crew has been wrapping ordinary city staples like lamp posts, bike racks, parking meters and other random personality- deprived objects in colorful hand-knitted sleeves.

The yarn ninjas have since color-bombed their way around the world, knit-blasting places like Seattle, Harlem, Paris, El Salvador, The Great Wall of China and the Notre Dame Cathedral.

And we love the statement they’re making — what better way to wrap up our week-long tribute to guerrilla work that claims the city back from the gray grip of faceless concrete?

Missed parts 1, 2 or 3?

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