The Yes Men’s New York Times Edition: Iraq War Ends

November 12, 2008

yesmen_nytThe Yes Men deliver another fake! BBC reports that the interventionist art/activist group distributed 1.2 million free copies of a fake New York Times edition in New York and Los Angeles. The headlines: Iraq War Ends. The date: July 4, 2009. Replacing the NYT’s venerable “All The News That’s Fit To Print”: All The News We Hope To Print.

70 years ago, Orson Welles’ radio broadcast “War of the Worlds” sparked mayhem because listeners mistook scripted fiction for real-time fact. Today, The Yes Men are taking this a step further by simply turning the dates forward.

Is this a fake NYTimes, as the BBC describes the action? Or is it prophetic? Is this a fake-real paper or a real-fake paper?

Certainly, my fingers are crossed that come July 4th, 2009, the NYTimes WILL, in fact, read: Iraq War Ends.

Ah… art. One small step for The Yes Men, a big leap for humankind. Nothing like putting something out into the universe I’m told.

Two Artworks Use People as Primary Material

July 7, 2008

Regular People: it’s the art material of the moment.

Last week, Turner Prize winner Antony Gormley won a turn at creating a temporary public artwork for London’s Trafalgar Square. The site is the square’s empty fourth plinth, which has become both a stage for contemporary art experiments and a critical platform from which to question what constitutes a “public”.

The piece is called “The One and The Other”. 2,400 volunteers will occupy the plinth one at a time, for an hour each, 24/7 for a hundred days. These human subjects individually and collectively become the art objects.

In the Independent, Gormley describes:

It’s an opportunity to perform an act of collective creativity, people contributing one hour of their lives that represents Britain now… the exercise will present a national portrait of this time.

…it will be a moment of theatre, someone lifted from common ground and made into an image when they are on top of the plinth … It will be a spectacle, but I’m also concerned about the subjects, what they learn about themselves, exposed in a public arena.

Over at the Tate, another Turner prize winner Martin Creed is exhibiting his new piece “Work No 850”. It consists of a runner sprinting the entire length of the Tate’s neoclassical sculpture galleries. The 86-metre sprints will be “performed” every 30 seconds, from 10am to 6pm, for four months.

In the Telegraph, Creed explains:

Running is the opposite of being still. If you think about death as being completely still and movement as a sign of life, then the fastest movement possible is the biggest sign of life. So running fast is like the exact opposite of death – it’s an example of aliveness.

While both artists are saying that they are celebrating human-ness, these projects (and similar others) make me uncomfortable. I can’t help thinking that regular people are being turned into material objects intended for display and commodification.

There’s a deep, underlying violence to these creative acts. And neither artist seems to have a clue.

In 1904, a 22-year old pygmy named Ota Benga was taken from his home in the Congo, exhibited at the St. Louis World’s Fair, and then put on display as a caged animal in the Bronx Zoo. 40,000 visitors came each day. (He was “rescued” but eventually killed himself.)

It’s 2008. I’m not sure how these artists differ from Ota Benga’s zookeepers a hundred years ago. As they say, the more things change…

Environmental Activist Scales NYT Building in Times Square

June 5, 2008

Alain Robert, nicknamed the French Spiderman, scaled all 52 stories of the New York Times’ spanking new building on Eighth Avenue in Times Square this morning. He climbed in observance of World Environment Day.

robert_nytAccording to news reports and eyewitnesses, Robert had hitched himself up over a glass awning on West 41st Street and began climbing with nothing more than his bare hands and feet. (Designed by Renzo Piano, the horizontally-piped facade which allows maximum use of natural light also seems to function quite well as a ladder. Who’d have thought.) At one point, Robert stopped to unfurl a green fluorescent banner announcing: “Global Warming Kills More People Than a 9/11 Every Week.” He then continued climbing.

The NYPD received a 911 call at 11:30am, proceeded to the scene, and arrested Robert when he reached the roof at about 12:22pm. He had scaled the entire building in about 40 minutes.

The 45-year-old environmentalist claims to have climbed over 70 skyscrapers and monuments around the world as a call to action. Robert writes on his website:

I have climbed in New York, as a peaceful way to create support for far greater and urgent action from world leaders on global warming. Emissions are still climbing. So am I…

World leaders meet again next month at the G8 conference in Japan. YOU can help make sure they get the message…

Some are calling Robert insane. And his Spiderman strategy may already be inspiring copycats. This evening, NYT reports that a second person climbed the very same building on the southwestern corner facing Port Authority Bus Terminal on West 40th Street. He was arrested at 6:38pm when he reached the roof.

I suppose the city just got itself another tourist attraction.

(Seriously: In 2007 Robert was deported from China for illegally climbing its tallest building. Officials later invited him back to legitimately climb a mountain as a tourist attraction.)