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By Any Fluid Necessary: Making Art During Trumpism

The following commentary is one in a series from KCET and Link TV writers and contributors reflecting on how the incoming president will shape, change, and redefine the future of California.

 

“Michelle and Barack are not your parents,” arts consultant, and lesbian, Beth Pickens reminded us. “They’re not abandoning you to an asshole, alcoholic father.”

We chuckled, realizing our collective inner child was on display.

The barefooted Pickens stood on a yoga mat at Pieter, an L.A. performance space. I sat in a concerned circle among 50 or so queers, writers, artists, and political activists that bright, winter afternoon. Through social media, Pickens had invited us to “show up, listen, and share.” She assembled us with the promise of “a free... guide with tips for making art under fascism.”

Since I love free stuff almost as much as I love my constitutional republic, I found myself sweating indoors and staring at Pickens’ toes.

My neighbor passed me a stack of pink, zine-like booklets. I took one and examined its black title — “Making Art During Fascism.” I flipped through it.

The tract laid out a brief yet practical approach to doom. Pickens used it to steer the workshop. With guide in hand she read us an introductory letter. It compared our fight against Trumpism to the fight against AIDS. As inspiration, her letter invoked Gran Fury, the arts collective spawned by ACT UP. If you don’t recognize Gran Fury’s name, you’ll still likely recognize their work. Gran Fury famously took the Nazi’s pink triangle and turned it into classic American political iconography. They dangled this genocidal punctuation over the equation “Silence = Death.”

Pickens flipped past her intro. She told us, “Find something to write with.” Thoughtful silence prevailed as we filled out pages titled “Self-inventory,” a Trumpocalyptic spreadsheet of sorts. This inventory married simplicity with utility. Completing it cauterized the nebulousness that seems to be this historic moment’s hallmark. The answers I scribbled brought into focus what I have to give and what I don't. The inventory reminded me that sometimes, being very, very rudimentary is the best thing to do during a crisis.

Since we’ve welcomed a new year, and face a we’ve-been-hadminstration, I urge you to take your own inventory. Ask yourself the same questions Pickens confronted us with: What can I offer? What’s an issue that directly affects me on which I want to focus in 2017? What’s an issue that doesn’t directly affect me on which I want to focus in 2017? Are there opportunities for coalition building? What do I most fear about the new administration? What am I most outraged about? Which, if any, communities or groups am I afraid will abandon me in this political climate? What would I need from this group to counter this fear? What am I willing to give up to support a larger outcome? What am I not willing to give up? Who are at least five people I deeply trust? Who do I know that has politically mobilized during prior eras? What do I need to be well physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, and spiritually? In what ways do I want to my art practice to be integrated into my activism? In what ways do I want to keep them separate? Where am I on the activist continuum, behind-the-scenes or on the front lines?

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As an artist and writer, the other boon I crucially needed, and got, from Pickens’ workshop was validation. She urged us not to throw in the artsy towel. She quipped that running for public office or enrolling in law school won’t necessarily gear us up. In fact, it could worsen things. Remember the last time a shitty artist ran for office? By promising us that our work is necessary, Pickens communicated a message that feels woefully foreign to American writers and artists: our human capital brightens our republic.

When I asked fellow writers and artists to opine on queerness, creativity, and Trumpism, writer Cheryl Klein stated: “Trump is the opposite of art.” She added that art possesses an irrepressibility that spiritually comforts her. Klein’s assessment reminds me of philosopher Alain de Botton’s argument that “art should serve the needs of our psyche as efficiently and as clearly as it served the needs of theology for hundreds of years,” and to de Botton’s end, I invite you to fight in a place that lies beyond the reach of orange fingerprints: your imagination. Below are instructions for a Yoko Ono-inspired piece to be undertaken in the sacred, gray space between ears.

 

Waterfall To Be Constructed In Your Head

Imagine standing in an alley.

Before you, a dumpster fire burns.

Levitate. Hover above its witchophobic heat.

Pull down your Levis.

Let your bladder release a furiously beautiful stream

Of Klondike, Black Hills, and Sierra Nevada golds

That sparkle as

They extinguish chaos.

Ogle rainbows that spring from your gilded

Mississippi.

Chant, in a voice that is part James Earl Jones,

Part Betsy Ross,

Part Phillis Wheatley,

Part Arthur Ashe,

Part Bea Arthur,

Part Selena,

Part Princess Leia:

By any fluid necessary.

By any fluid necessary.

By any fluid necessary.

 

 

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