Nov 12 2013

Modes of Resistance: 2013 Creative Time Summit

by Aditi Ohri

“The Resistors” panel at the 2013 Creative Time Summit, New York City. From left to right: Levan Asabashvili (Georgia), Ann Messner (USA), Jimmy McMillan (USA), Chen Shaoxing (China), Ivet Curlin (Croatia), Rachel LaForest (USA). Courtesy Creative Time, New York.

Artist and activist, Ann Messner, and Jimmy McMillan, 2009 New York City mayoral candidate for the Rent Is Too Damn High Party. Courtesy Creative Time, New York. 

Chen Shaoxing of Xijing Men with his interpreter. Courtesy Creative Time, New York.

Rachel LaForest, executive director of Right to the City alliance. Courtesy Creative Time, New York.

“The Resistors” at the 2013 Creative Time Summit, New York City. Courtesy Creative Time, New York.

In late October, artists, activists, community organizers, politicians and architects converged in New York City for the  2013 Creative Time Summit. Between panels, conversations, lectures and presentations—bookended with dinners and cocktail receptions—the experience was chaotic, frenetic and, depending on one’s ability to process massive amounts of information in a short amount of time, awe inspiring. Aiming to be a catalyst for collaboration and reflexivity, the Summit facilitated the sharing of ideas and insights and inspired lively debate on issues of capitalism, place-making and belonging—all played out with mutual respect and admiration. 

Creative Time is a major player in the emerging field of “social practice,” a strain of artistic production that takes social energy as its medium. This year, over 30 international speakers were invited to discuss the theme of “Art, Place & Dislocation in the 21st Century City,” which centered on the challenges inherent to an artistic practice that initiates social change in urban spaces. Among the most captivating presentations were from Neil Brenner, professor of Urban Theory at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Rick Lowe, founder of Project Row Houses in Houston, Texas, the renowned feminist art critic Lucy Lippard,  Antanas Mockus Sivickas, former mayor of Bogota, Colombia, and a five-speaker panel titled “The Resistors.”

At “The Resistors,” which took place on the final day of the Summit, Ivet Curlin, member of the Croatian curatorial collective What, How and for Whom (WHW), played moderator, framing the discussion by questioning how each participant might generate active modes of resistance to neoliberal urban development in their respective region. One politician, two artists, an architect and a community organizer responded with an array of possibilities, involving interdisciplinary collaboration  and creative protest.

Local presenters included Jimmy McMillan, former New York City mayoral candidate and leader of The Rent is Too Damn High Party and Ann Messner, a participant in the groundbreaking The Real Estate Show of the 1980s, which exposed New York City’s profiteering relationship to its low-income neighborhoods.

Chinese artist Chen Shaoxiong spoke about his collective, Xijing Men’s 2008 project, the Xijing Olympics, which parodied the cultural spectacle generated by the Beijing Olympics, calling attention to the displacement of over 1.3 million people that occurred as a consequence of the event. In the imaginary city of Xijing, the Olympic games consisted of marathon napping, lifting weights with one’s middle finger and a torch race in which the three members of the collective run to light each others’ cigarettes in front of the “Xijing stadium.” The Xijing Olympics demonstrates how artists can change the way the world is seen by disrupting the authority conferred upon nationalist spectacle. When asked “how can we craft the kind of cities we want to live in?” Chen responded simply by insisting that we must imagine them first.

Though urban development and gentrification disrupt the social fabric, they also offer the possibility for creative revision and the shifting of social positions. A common thread running through all of the presentations was the potential for artists and activists to form productive alliances to fight the consequences of gentrification—whether it be through informational campaigns, public performances or the creation of community spaces in neglected urban areas.  Rachel LaForest, executive director of Right to the City, an American organization dedicated to halting the displacement of marginalized groups from urban neighborhoods, conveyed this current strain of radical optimism succinctly in her suggestion that pessimism is a luxury today’s change-makers cannot afford.

The 2013 Creative Time Summit took place on October 25–26, 2013. The event can can be viewed online here.

Aditi Ohri is an artist and writer based in Montreal.