Fake Art/Fake Protest

by on Oct.25, 2011


There is fake art on the Chinese market. Art that is not authentic, art that has no author, whose author is not the name on the price tag but a group of art students who were merely practicing their craft more than thirty years earlier, many obscure angles on the same nude. In another case, a fake jade burial suit passed for ancient and was auctioned off as ancient in order to procure investment, to build up capital for the attraction of more capital for the purpose of funding a “development.”

What is “development,” anyway, and what does it have to do with Art?


There are fake protests in the streets and public squares of America. We need FAQs to explain them to people. They have no clear message. They are poets without a clue (or are they?) Their faces are not the right shade of green. Their complaints assemble themselves into no coherent strategy. They are only meeting, only occupying a space, only eating and rolling cigarettes.


They do not understand the structural problems in the system that have to be altered for any true change to happen. They need more theory than they’ve got, more planning behind their actions, more … oh wait, they’re gaining numbers. The media is watching. Call out the unions, bring in speakers, find figure heads, win elections, quick (Mainstream “Left”).


They’re just hippies smoking dope and ruining our (previously unused) public spaces. They’re a joke, a butt-face target for Wall Street hecklers hanging out of fourth-storey balconies drinking champaigne. No wait, they’re gaining numbers. Now they are commies, they’re in league with George Soros and his secret plan to destroy America he’s been talking about for twenty years. They are the long foretold beginning of the end, another sign of Armageddon. The world WILL end in 2012. The fall of America is imminent.


Go buy gold and silver because who knows what anything will be worth when the economy collapses and, if you do and it doesn’t (though we all know it probably will), I’ll keep my advertisers. Buy up canned foods because you can’t eat gold and silver (even though they catch the shine of the eye so pretty) and because buying up stuff will help the economy. Make sure you have a safe to put your gold and silver in and your shotgun handy because the looting masses will be coming to your door. No, they will, because most people are like that: greedy, envious thieves in mobs coming to rape and pillage what is not theirs. We are the good people, and we have to hang on (Mainstream “Right”).

[Note the lack of a picture depicting nonviolent protesters. This was semi-intentional after the fact.]




Abalone shell w/ochre

Recently discovered: human beings 100,000 years ago knew how to make paint. Read about it here, and here, and here. Or just google it and watch how many copycat results pop up.

In fact, they didn’t just make paint, it seems they had paint-making “kits” and seem to have manufactured it in quantity so they could plaster it everywhere on their bodies and dwellings. The planning and cooperation involved indicates an intelligence level previously thought unlikely in our ancestors.


(Anyone else find that assumption less than flattering? Apparently, we haven’t developed as much as we thought we had. Actually, on second thought, I like that a lot.)


But what does “development” have to do with Art? For that matter, what does Art have to do with “protest”? Isn’t protest supposed to DO something?

Fake art, fake blog post?

(OK, so I’m a theorizer and I just lured you here with pictures. Here goes…)

Maybe Art has nothing to do with either development or protest, or maybe Art is the filthy red ocher no one knows how to make until they start mixing things together. Maybe Art is what a person does with that ocher once it’s mixed and just lying around waiting for someone to play with it. Maybe Art is the drive to gather in the streets and fill a space with all the boiling stuff inside us by writing it down on any spare material available — clothing, cardboard, a city sidewalk? Maybe this trial and error results in development?

(Development, but not progress — progress is too often called on to justify wars and exploitation. Art by its nature stands in opposition to that kind of thing. It is not justifiable. It is extra. Using it for any practical means, such as justifying warfare, kills the Art in art. Still, Art tags along and subverts its own subversion.

Protest is also born of excess. Obama is touring the country and threatening executive excess to prevent this excess of protest from boiling over and/or to channel this excess his way — excess in the service of con-serving the system from the excess negative sentiment it has generated. Excess that some call a “farce.” (As if politics was anything but.) Excess to save an excessive system from crumbling under the weight of its own excesses. I could go on…)
So maybe Art is homologous to Protest. Art protests impermanence and invisibility by fashioning extraneous objects (or extraneously ornamenting otherwise useful objects) out of whatever impermanent materials are lying around. Art is only semi-permanent in its impulse, not in the objects it assembles or configures.

Art is only visible in its objects. Art is not Eternal. It does not Immortalize. It only makes divine in the sense that human beings set up statues to represent their gods because they have an impulse to do so. These, too, crumble and are replaced by statues in the mind.


The impulse of Art, as a human impulse, goes on as long as human beings (apes?) persist and retain that impulse, though the objects Art inspires may and do fade.

So we must realize that a world without Shakespeare is imaginable and radically possible (likely?), though to some it might seem a horror world. Homer was likely a compiler and a reviser, a refiner and recorder of materials he (she?) inherited. Old films are “remastered” and often changed or “improved” (ruined?) in the process.

Art is not enacted on stable media. Even stone weathers. Disasters happen. Wars …

What might we have lost in the burning down of the library of Alexandria? Why do we so covet the long lost work of any well-known painter or writer? Why else restore the full cut (as far as possible) of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis? Why do I care that I can watch all the shows I remember from my childhood on Netflix and Hulu? These actions are not due to Art’s permanence, but its impermanence, its inability to preserve itself unchanged even in my memory, its inability to be more than a relic at the whim of the forces of nature and human desire (the effects of which we call History), to be anything but part of the rubble of history that is forgotten unless someone remembers or unearths it.


So we see that anything that must be preserved in order to persist is fragile by nature. In the case of Art, what is preserved is an expression chiseled in stone.

Thus, the irony of those who belittle “expressive” poetry — what is poetry, what is Art, if not expressive? The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets, by pushing the bounds of in-expressivity to what is sometimes perceived as a breaking limit, so that some readers stress and strain over the question of meaning and signifier, nonetheless affirm that Art is an expressive continuum. We stand before the mute goddess and expect her to speak to us.

Art is elastic. It rebounds and ricochets. It means things its authors do not intend to viewers never intended to experience it.


How long can one speak in gibberish before a pattern of meaning emerges? The expression of the deepest grief may be the same low murmur repeated on end; inexpressible joy may inhabit the most colorful but repetitive chatter — how the apes and my children learn(ed) speech.

Occupy that. Wait around for it. Deny it if you can. Or protest me. I could use the publicity.


8 comments for this entry:
  1. adam strauss

    I guess I don’t get the point of defining art–it simply (this of course is not simple) depends. Really isn’t any “material”–i’m counting voice as in the case of opera etc–which is manipulated art? Anything which isn’t natural biology (yes I mean the seeming redundancy)–an oopsy pregnancy etc–would surely be art….until one can plausibly argue that wind has artistic plans for the rocks it whittles and turns fantastic in which case then what matter won’t be?! I, this moment, am inclined to believe that sentience is natural biology (yesyes there are “exceptions”) and that consciousness is art. MMM, thus Naomi Campbell is a postmodern Bernini–which is totally true.

  2. adam strauss

    I think minus the definitional–tho it’s so provisional definitional may be wrong–framing I basically agree with the above post.

    Rad that Starbucks goes “beyond” Bob Marley and plays Burning Spear. And Steel Pulse! Reggae is such an interesting genre–so very, very masculinist, frequently appealing racial politics, and generally shitty gender ones. Ok tangents must be ended!

  3. Johannes

    “All I do is protest.” (Bob Dylan when asked in 1965 why he didn’t write “protest songs” any longer.)


  4. Johannes

    Also, the Chinese have a fake Catholic church, complete with bishops appointed by the Chinese govt, not the vatican. For some reason I first didn’t write the vatican but “the avant-garde.”


  5. Johannes

    OK, one more comment. The “fake protest” thing is really interesting because that seems to have been the main criticism of the Croatoan protests of the Poetry Foundation – it’s embarassing, not thought-out, spontanous, etc, not a real protest. The real protests approach Wall Street, not poetry.

    The thing I keep criticizing Kent Johnson for is to participate in this rhetoric by saying – the Croatoan protest is the only real thing happening in poetry, this is real avant-gardism, this is the true inheritor of the avant-garde. And this is what I wrote about in my post comparing the Croatoans to Zurita – Zurita’s protests were, as far as I can tell, not “protest songs” a la early Dylan, but a kind of “fake protest”, tranvesticism, pageantry, theatricalizing the spaces of Chile with “superstars of Chile.”


  6. Jared

    I agree with your points, Adam. I don’t think I’m aiming to define art in any kind of totality or in an exclusionary way, but to point out that both art and protest get criticized for being less than they “should” be, for being “fake” or ineffective, as if art can be anything other than fake — just as you say, it is a by-product, if that’s the right word, of sentience, and thus not natural in the strict sense of a force of nature, the wind, water erosion, and so on (unless the human is thought of as, loosely, a force of nature, in which case maybe there is no such thing as art, a provocative stance I’d be willing to entertain).

    I digress. Perhaps I’ve given the wrong impression and put too much emphasis on defining, but what really interests me is the question of what causes these similar reactions against art and against protest. A common theme revealing itself in the groupthink of society right now is that there are certain expectations of things like art and protest that, when not met, cause a reaction somewhere between revulsion and a rolling of the eyes. So I’m trying to examine a few aspects that they share, but these aspects clearly do not encompass the totality of either. I would call it more of an intersection, a crossroads.

    I think the assumption that a total “definition” of art or protest is even possible is something that a lot of art protests, by its very existence. Any such definition, if taken as true, would silence a lot of what we know as art. Similarly, the reaction against this assumption is part of the makeup of the art of protest being practiced/developed in the various occupations.

    On some level, it seems enough for these bastard forms to simply exist, pulling the carpet out from underneath “realist” expectations. I would say that those expectations, once drawn out into the open, reveal the outlines of establish(ment)ed thinking that any truly radical protest or art must deal with. And so it was much more important for the Croatoan group to show that the Poetry Foundation would call the authorities on its protesting collective (in the presence of Zurita, no less) than for the protesters to achieve any one demand.

    I think that Johannes’ post that I linked to (and that sits at the center of several other posts regarding these matters, some of which I’ve also linked to) does a great job of showing that the way to deal with the establish(ment)ed is exactly to “inhabit,” “infect,” and otherwise “reappropriate” the old/dying/dead and the spaces they call their own. To demand a particular change of policy ultimately creates yet another dead arm attached to the dead body of society. And this, of course, brings us right back to the ideas of occupation and of making a “show.” I find this synergy fascinating…

  7. Jared


    Yes, and this week we’re hearing that the “real” protests protesting wall street are also “not real” — that is, most of the big banks have left wall street for uptown and locales around the world, the actual trading that used to be done on wall street is now done on servers in NJ, that the trading floor is now “mostly a show,” this list could go on, so that the protestors are “only protesting a symbol.” And which is the true occupation? Wall street? Washington? Tahrir square? Who are the leaders, godammit?! Hysterical!

    Dylan’s also in the news for passing off paintings as authentically his own take on his recent visit to China when he actually “just copied” photographers’ existing work, described I think as “tracing.” So yes, just being in the world in such a way that the world cannot readily accept, forcing the spaces of society to shift in order to hold oneself rather than shifting oneself to the outlines in place. Making a church for oneself or out of oneself and carrying it with one wherever one goes. Of course, the Chinese version of the catholic church likely holds a whole other cache of realizations, state-influenced as I believe it is…

    New wine in old wineskins? Then laugh hilariously when the inevitable happens?

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