The Art of Protest: Radical Hope Envisioned and Embodied

Amy Hay

John Dixon

Abstract:

Some of the visual texts examined include the scribbled pictures in the meeting minutes of an ecumenical group formed to protest state inaction. The doodle showed various individuals as puppets, and included scientists and public officials, and in the process reveal a particular understanding of the world. One group used a striking picture of a young child getting their blood drawn in a fundraising letter and in the process identified the state as the enemy. Another environmental activist used striking visuals for the letterhead of her monthly newsletter. Sometimes there were dancing demons or dioxin-labeled chickens that had come home to roost. An examination of such visual texts offers important understandings of the ways activists effectively frame and challenge scientific and state authority while at the same time offering a different entry point, and potentially a more positive one, for us to understand difficult and unpleasant issues connected to environmental degradation and catastrophe.

Activism represents an especially important recovery project, not only because activists persevere in the face of significant and often depressing obstacles, but because meaningful change frequently happens incrementally, obvious only in hindsight. While many environmental social movements appeal to emotion and morality, they also ground themselves in the lived experience. Thinking about the things that sustain social movements offers hope in times when an individual or group may be a solitary voice in the wilderness, or when such forces transform society. We all may need to practice the art of protest as we address the realities of environmental loss and need for resilience and recovery.

How do you define radical hope?

Hope that nurtures change, often in the face of daunting opposition. Activists work to make change happen, and visual images and rhetoric offer one way to measure their hopes, fears, understandings, and determination.

How does radical hope emerge from my case study?

The various visual texts produced by environmental activists represent activists’ awareness, critiques, and humor as they pursued challenges to entrenched power. These texts often embody the idea of radical hope – a consciousness and commitment to determination, perspective, righteous anger, and biting humor while engaged in changing society and the world. Examining the materials produced by anti-toxic activists, an understudied area of environmental protest, provides a lens by which to understand the visual culture of protest and the emotional state(s) which sustain them.

Required Texts (Readings, Images, and Film):

  • Thomas W. Benson, excerpt, Posters for Peace: Visual Rhetoric and Civic Action (Pennsylvania Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, reprint, 2015).
  • Linda Gordon, “Dorothea Lange: The Photographer as Agricultural Sociologist,” The Journal of American History, 93, No. 3 (Dec., 2006), 698-727.
  • [Gordon examines the work of noted photographer Dorothea Lange during the Great Depression. Lange’s photographs captured the effects of the economic crisis in rural America and made an argument for government intervention.]
  • James M. Jasper, “The Emotions of Protest: Affective and Reactive Emotions in and around Social Movements,” Sociological Forum, 13, No. 3 (Sep., 1998), 397-424.
  • [Jasper discusses the centrality of emotions to collective action and protest.]
  • Nicolas Lambert, A People’s Art History of the United States: 250 Years of Activist Art and Artists Working in Social Justice Movements (New York: The New Press, 2015).
  • T.V. Reed, “ACTing UP Against AIDS: The (Very) Graphic Arts in a Moment of Crisis,” in The Art of Protest: Culture and Activism from the Civil Rights Movement to the Streets of Seattle (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005).
  • Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities (Chicago, IL: Haymarket Press, 2015).
  • Ralph Young, Make Art Not War: Political Protest Posters from the Twentieth Century (New York: New York University Press, 2016).
  • DamNation (2014)Documentary Film: Activists focused on river and wetland restoration make a film about America’s “deadbeat” dams. These are dams that no longer serve the function for which they were built and which now disrupt and destroy local ecosystems. The documentary provides a historical overview, interviews with activists, and contemporary encounters in advocating that these dams be removed and watersheds restored.
  • Finis Dunaway, Seeing Green: The Use and Abuse of American Environmental Images (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015)
  • 1971, “Crying Indian,” Public Service Announcement 

Expecting the Unexpected—The Role of Art in the Dissemination of Radical Hope

Patrick J. Reed

Abstract: In my artworks-on-paper, I use collage to demonstrate a subversive model for inclusive, non-hierarchical, non-subjugating modes of social and environmental consciousness. I rely on this fundamentally anarchic and queer aesthetic tradition for its ability to amalgamate and ally incongruities in profoundly unexpected ways.

The motivations behind my creative endeavours are jointly informed by two lines of thought.

One is Ben Nicholson’s notion of “collage thinking” as proposed in his book Appliance House from 1990, in which he wrote “Collage is part of everyone’s experience and, however well it is understood, it seems to refer to a group of ephemeral things brought together by a logic that disturbs, or negates, the status of the individual elements.” The other is Timothy Morton’s concept of “dark ecology,” in which all things have the potential to coexist in an exquisite state of bittersweet bliss and “pain without suffering,” a state of mind that is erotic, spiritual, and particularly attuned to collusions of the biosphere.

Collage, and by extension collagist thinking, promotes an uncomfortable balance that is applicable in an ecological dimension and has the potential to be radically more open and ethical as a mindset than the attitude of comfortable imbalance that is pervasive among the late late capitalism of the West—and therein lies the hope.

How do you define radical hope?

Radial hope is the willingness to accept and initiate radical empathy, radical capacity, radical  partnership, and the radically unforeseen with the hope the one has the strength to do so.

How do you see radical hope emerging or playing out in your case study?

This project is my contribution to the campaign of radical hope as I have defined it above. My artworks demonstrate the ecological implications of collage, and function as catalysts for engaging others in contemplating the queer ontological shift engendered by collage thinking.

Readings and Resources (that exhibit or are sympathetic to the possibilities of collage thinking):

  • Bourriaud, Nicolas. Relational Aesthetics. Paris: Les Presse Du Reel, 1998.
  • Burroughs, William S. Naked Lunch. New York: Grove Press, 1992.
  • Cage, John. 4’ 33”. Leipzig: C.F. Peters Ltd. & Co. KG, 2012.
  • Cage, John. Litany for the Whale. Leipzig: C.F. Peters Ltd. & Co. KG, 1980.
  • Caulfield, Sean. The Flood, 2016. Hand-carved woodblock panel. 6 x 9 m. Edmonton, Alberta, Art Gallery of Alberta.
  • de Maria, Walter. The Lightning Field, 1977. Land art work. 1 mile x 1 kilometre. Catron Country, New Mexico.
  • Morton, Timothy. Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology After the End of the World.Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013.
  • Scriabin, Aleksandr. Mysterium, 1903-1915. New York: G. Schirmer, Inc. 1915.
  • Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. London: Penguin Classics, 2003.
  • Solaris. Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. 1972. New York: The Criterion Collection, Inc., 2002. DVD.

 

The Rise of Optimism in the Conservation Movement

Elin Kelsey

Paper: Crowd-sourcing hope and cultivating interspecies relationships in the Age of the Anthropocene and the Digital Revolution

Abstract:

The Digital Revolution is unleashing new understandings about life on Earth that rival the impact of the 15th Century discoveries of Columbus and Magellan (Arts, van der Wal & Adams, 2015). This new wild world is not the passive, subservient, humans-at-the-top version described in Aristotle’s great chain of being (Henning, 2014). It is a world where humpback whales use their social networks to improve their populations’ recoveries and mother trees distribute their energy across their root networks to improve the resilience of the forest. It is a world filled with the capacity to act and interact. And all that action and interaction creates resiliency in circumstances we might never have imagined.

Yet environmental news in mainstream media continues to be overwhelmingly reported as “bad news.” (Project for improved environmental coverage, 2015; McCluskey, Swinnen & Vandemoortele, 2015). And, doom and gloom remains the de facto environmental narrative not only for the ways in which we communicate environmental issues but also for the ways in which a range of environmental disciplines frame their fields of study. Environmental issues are real and horrific. But failing to separate the urgency of environmental issues from the fear-inducing ways we communicate them, blinds us to the collateral damage of apocalyptic storytelling. Hopelessness undermines the very engagement with environmental issues we seek to create.


In this paper, I describe the rise of optimism in the conservation movement. In 2014, I co-launched a twitter tag in an effort to crowd source and share examples of hopeful conservation successes (Kelsey, 2016). #OceanOptimism reached more than 75 million people in its first two years. It continues to spread across instagram, snapchat and other social media platforms and has sparked new campaigns for #EarthOptimism, #ConservationOptimism, #ClimateOptimism and more. This groundswell of optimism is sweeping through the global environmental community and has been embraced by leading public institutions including the Zoological Society of London and the Smithsonian Institution.

The rise of optimism embodies a revolutionary appreciation of the active capacity of other species and ecosystems to heal. Not in the superficial, “the earth will heal itself” rhetoric that abdicates human responsibility, but through a far-reaching recognition of recent breakthroughs in the study of the cognitive, social, emotional, and cultural experiences of other species.

How do you define radical hope?

I contend that it is not hope that is radical in the Age of the Anthropocene.  What is radical is seeking to topple anthroparchy and its deeply entrenched belief in the superiority of humans over other species. Recognizing agency and self-efficacy in the other-than-human world, and creating sustainability practices and policies that amplify this collective capacity for resilience is fraught and radical – and long overdue.

How do you see radical hope emerging or playing out in your case study?

Life in the Anthropocene demands an embrace of the complexity, specificity and ambiguity of inter-species relationships. It challenges us to include the nonhuman world in pressing political, social, economic and cultural issues (Holm and Taffel, 2016). The most recent estimate puts the total number of species living on planet Earth at 8.7 million (Mora et al, 2011). These millions of species are active participants in the world. They drive resilience and recovery.

In this case study I argue that social networks – in both human digital and non-human cultural contexts – hold promise for sourcing and spreading conservation solutions which in turn beget hope.

Readings/Resources:

  • Elin Kelsey giving a keynote on Wild Contagious Hope at the UN Life Below Water conference in Malmo, Sweden October 2017
  • Read how others feel about hope and the environment on this exhibit created by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society.
  • Follow #OceanOptimism on twitter, Instagram, Facebook or snapchat
  • Watch this TED talk by Suzanne Simmard about how trees talk to each other through social networks
  • Watch this video on the capacity  of whales to change climate
  • Read (or listen) to this article on humpback whales and compassion
  • Read this editorial on emotions and environmental education from the Canadian Journal of Environmental Education Vol 21 (2016)
  • Watch this interview on hope and the environment with Elin Kelsey on The Green Interview.
  • Visit this website on Earth Optimism: https://earthoptimism.si.edu/

Radical Hope in Turbulent Times: Sources of Inspiration from Politics to Poetry

John Barry

WB Yeats, ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping
slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket
sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

Hope Is The Thing With Feathers, Emily Dickinson

‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—
And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—
And sore must be the storm—
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm—
I’ve heard it in the chillest land—
And on the strangest Sea—
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb—of Me.

In the turbulent times we live in and the uneven and unjust production and experience of social, economic and ecological harms, hope in all its manifestations is both available (if we look hard enough for it) and much needed.    

How do you define radical hope?

​The inspiration behind this workshop, and my own interest and work on ‘radical hope’ is based on that concept which came across almost a decade ago when I first read Jonathan Lear’s remarkable book, Radical Hope. In that book, Lear outlines a peculiar human vulnerability, one which all papers touch upon in different ways. As Lear puts it

“We seem to acquire it [this vulnerability as a result of the fact that we essentially inhabit a way of life. Humans are by nature cultural animals: we necessarily inhabit a way of life that is expressed in a culture. But our way of life –whatever it is– is vulnerable in various ways. And we, as participants in that way of life, thereby inherit a vulnerability. Should that way of life break down, that is our problem” (2006: 6).

This leads him, and us, to a troubling existential blind spot within (most) human cultures “the inability to conceive of its own destruction and possible extinction” (2006: 83). This means, for example, that we do not typically prepare our younger generation to consider or to prepare for the possible eventuality of our way/s of life, the terms and practices we use to render such ways of life, of common goods etc. to be vulnerable, so vulnerable they might, someday disappear completely. This ‘ontological insecurity’, to paraphrase Anthony Giddens, is not something we usually or usually willingly do. It is speculative (it may not happen, so why worry about it?), it is worrying and disturbing – hence thinking about possible futures might compromise one’s enjoyment of their present), and even if there are troubling times ahead human ingenuity, improvisation and resilience coupled with technological innovation will ‘take care of it’.  Radical hope for me is not the same as optimism. As Vaclav Havel so perceptively put it “Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out”.

In this way ‘radical hope’ is a clear eyed recognition of the problems we face, a courageous and explicit disavowal of the temptations of a naïve (and at times dangerous) assumption that ‘all will be well’, but nevertheless a belief in the capacity of human agency.  Hope, as Emily Dickinson, put it “is the thing with feathers”. Or as Lear notes, “What makes this hope radical is that it is directed toward a future goodness that transcends the current ability to understand what it is. Radical hope anticipates a good for which those who have the hope as yet lack the appropriate concepts with which to understand it” (2006: 103).

How do you see radical hope emerging or playing out in your case study?

Politically, my main area of interest and concern, there is much work to be done in establishing a critical, inspiring and realistic ‘infrastructure of hope’ which I view as allowing for a dialogue around new ideas about we organise the economy, conceive of a ‘good life’, reconfigure our democratic politics and so on.   In the realm of ideas and the politically feasible there is a crying need for unleashing creativity and rethinking and repurposing established ways of ideas, practices and frames of reference. Our crisis is as much a crisis of creativity as it is a crisis of capitalism, the decline in a belief in collective change, climate change and so on.   Such a creative dialogue to establish an ‘infrastructure of hope’ calls for public i.e. political debate and hybridisation and interdisciplinary cross-pollination between science, technology, philosophy, ethics, with participants from faith communities, those of no faith, citizens, experts, civil servants, business, trades unions, teachers, academics and students and many more besides.  In short, radical hope and the creation of an infrastructure of hope may call for something akin to a new Renaissance or Enlightenment. A new Enlightenment however based more on modesty and critical self-reflection than the often bullish and arrogant anthropocentrism of ‘the Anthropocene’. Radical hope in our turbulent times I would suggest calls us to reflect less on how we as a species can control or manage the planet, to ‘take hold of the tiller of creation’ as Teilhard de Chardin put it.  Perhaps it calls us to manage that for which we need no new technology or science, to manage not the planet or the more that human world, but rather to manage our relationships (both material-metabolic, conceptual and moral) with the earth, its entities and processes. And, while the reappraisal of our relationships is a quintessentially political act, and thus ‘radical’ in the Latin sense of ‘getting to the root’ of the problem, the sense of hope outlined here is radical in another sense.

This is the sense of hope as an antidote to the dangers (or comforting temptations) of what can be a debilitating negativity in forensically detailing all the problems of the current time.  Hope here is a virtue guarding against the political and intellectual vice of dwelling in a self-righteous negativity, to ‘curse the dark’ but without also ‘lighting a candle’ for fear of being seen (or self-regarded) as naïve, politically or ideologically motivated or even ‘utopian’.  Here what makes this hope radical is in the sense that Raymond Williams so aptly put it:

“To be truly radical is to make hope possible,

rather than despair convincing”.

Readings:

  • Sharon Astyk (2008), Depletion & Abundance: Life on the New Home Front (New Society Publishers).
  • Vaclav Havel (1985), The Power of the Powerless (London: Routledge).
  • Vaclav Havel (1986), Living in Truth (London: Faber and Faber).
  • Rob Hopkins (2008), The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience (Totnes: Green Books).
  • Gerry O’Hanlon SJ (ed) (2017), A Dialogue of Hope: Critical Thinking for Critical Times (Dublin: Messenger Publications).
  • Pope Francis (2015), Laudato ‘Si: Care for our Common Home, available at: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html
  • Jonathan Lear (2008) Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation (Harvard University Press).
  • Alastair McIntosh (2004), Soil and Soul:  People Versus Corporate Power (Aurum Press)
  • Susan Sontag (1978), Illness as Metaphor, (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux).
  • Raymond Williams (1989), Resources of Hope: Culture, Democracy, Socialism (London: Verso).
  • The poetry of William Butler Yeats and Padraig Kavanagh
  • Marvin Gaye’s 1971 album – What’s Going On
  • Henryk  Górecki’s Symphony No. 3: Symphony of Sorrowful Songs
  • Dr Seuss’ The Lorax,  

 

Looking at the ordinary – a tender practice of forging relationships

Tania Katzschner 

 

We live in truly perilous times with rapidly worsening social and ecological conditions. It is not difficult to feel deep despair as we gaze upon the world we currently inhabit. Although we are surrounded by plans, solutions, a sense of urgency, sometimes outrage, intentions, critiques, protests, and ‘wars’ on everything, we are somehow failing to meet the growing world crisis at social, political, economic and environmental levels. This paper, and corresponding section, explore how to inspire actionable hope and avoid propelling the same old patterns into the future and how to go beyond the questions of the present.

This moment poses challenges for which we possess neither effective knowledge nor adequate practices. In this context of crises, the promise of modernization no longer appears persuasive and our universal ‘one-world’ world is being challenged with an unprecedented degree of publicity for the first time and this paper argues that this possibility needs to be cared for. This moment invites us to create the means for posing problems differently.

This section of the course attempts to do this by reflecting on the practices and sensibilities of a transformative urban nature project in Cape Town. The project risked slowing down to nurture profound levels of observation and conversation in order to protect capabilities for flourishing. The project created spaces for competing ideas, discussion and debate and helped create conditions where anything could happen, especially that which is beyond our limited knowledge of cause and effect.

This section searches for the art of fostering possibilities and argues that the art of paying attention must be reclaimed to nurture well-being and in order to work towards a more life-sustaining world.

How do you define radical hope?

Seeing success as elusive practices such as conversation and relationship rather than infrastructural and material changes.

How do you see radical hope emerging or playing out in your case study?

Different ways of being together is called for. This is a fundamental change in order to meet what is coming towards us. This shift in quality also emerges from the insistence on the idea of ‘practice’ instead of ‘guidelines’ or ‘models’. Radical hope is also about resisting the constant need for intervention – but rather embracing aspects of the uncertain.

 

The case study depicts the practices and sensibilities of a transformative urban nature project in Cape Town. The projects moves forward not with the aim of finding solutions but with the aim of understanding problems. It pays attention to the ordinary everyday and works towards a delicate subtle activism.

Readings, videos, movies, artworks

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Eisenstein, Charles – Nov 2016

https://charleseisenstein.net/essays/this-is-how-war-begins/

Haraway, D (2010) ‘When species meet: Staying with the trouble’, in Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, volume 28, number 1, pp 53-5.

Donna Haraway lectures at the San Francisco Art Institute, April 25, 2017.

‘Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene’

Joint Visiting Artists and Scholars and Graduate Lecture Series Event

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GrYA7sMQaBQ

 

Kaplan, A and S Davidoff (2014) A Delicate Activism- A Radical Approach to Change, published by the Proteus Initiative

http://www.proteusinitiative.org/books-and-other-publications

Katzschner T (2013) ‘Cape Flats Nature: Rethinking Urban Ecologies’ in L. Green (ed) Contested Ecologies : dialogues in the south on nature and knowledge, Cape Town: HSRC Press.

https://www.academia.edu/3646294/Contested_Ecologies_Dialogues_in_the_South_on_Nature_and_Knowledge

Layne, T (2013) ‘Ordinary Magic: The Alchemy of Biodiversity and Development in Cape Flats Nature’ in SOLUTIONS for a sustainable and desirable future, Volume 4, issue 3, pp 84-92.

Paddock, T (2015) ‘Is Democracy an Enemy of Nature?’, post on Organisation Unbound, January 2015.

[online] available at:

http://organizationunbound.org/expressive-change/is-democracy-an-enemy-of-nature/

Stengers, I (2014) ‘Gaia: The urgency to think and feel’.

[online] available at:

https://osmilnomesdegaia.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/isabelle-stengers.pdf

Listening Carefully

Carsten Wergin 

In this contribution, I draw on entangled ethnographic moments recorded in October 2015 in Heidelberg (Germany) and May 2017 in the Kimberley region in Northwest Australia. I argue that respectful and careful listening (to others) is a crucial skill through which to inspire radical hope. Commonly rendered invisible by an overemphasis on representationalism, in particular ill-defined ‘opportunities’ for economic development, my aim is to bring to the forefront practices of sonic engagement with/in the world as significant performative means to counter large-scale industrialization proposals.

How do you define radical hope?

As that which can stem from (radical) collaboration and co-becoming fostered by listening carefully.

How do you see radical hope emerging or playing out in your case study?

  1. In the truths of myths and storytelling that contest the dwelling of allegedly objective matters of fact,
  2. In the sonic intra-actions of diverse collaborators and their value regimes that hint towards new forms of onto-epistemic partnership.

In the video below I speak about how to address these issues ethnographically, with reference to my work in the Kimberley (Northwest Australia):

  • Carsten Wergin (2017) How Can Australian Indigenous Experience Change Western Perspectives of the World? Latest Thinking (Open Access Video Journal), LT Video Publication, DOI: https://doi.org/10.21036/LTPUB10513
  • The film Naji (2015) is set at the Kimberley coast and shares a story about Bugarrigarra (Creation Time) in Northwest Australia: https://vimeo.com/111236595

Selected Readings