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The Occupy L.A. mural
So this happened. On Saturday I attended the second performance of The Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Gounod’s Faust. I was sitting in the orchestra pondering this mess of a production (more on that later) as the first intermission was drawing to a close. As the lights dimmed and the crowd quieted, awaiting the arrival of conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin, a man’s voice, which sounded as if it were coming from above the orchestra level, suddenly began to shout “occupy Wall Street” repeatedly. It was shouted about 10 times by my estimation, but by the second or third salvo the rest of the audience started to respond. There was supportive applause, laughter, and groans in equal amounts. Amidst the pervasive mumbling were some shouted retorts, some more colorful than others. Someone from the Metropolitan Opera’s house staff started to come out on stage. But before this man with a headset could make any announcement, the shouting stopped and he retreated back into the wings without comment. Nézet-Séguin came out seconds later and the show went on more or less like nothing had happened. I assume the shouting man was escorted out, but I don’t actually know this since I didn’t see him. The whole incident didn’t take more than a minute or two. It was the second such Occupy movement-related activity at Lincoln Center in three days. I had caught the tail end of the protest that followed Thursday’s performance of Glass’ Satyagraha at the Met.

And while I didn’t have much to say about it then, Saturday’s shout out reminded me of something from before. When I was finishing college, I once had an opportunity to have dinner with a small group of fellow students, our professor, the philosopher and author Linda Singer, and her friend and colleague, Judith Butler. Butler had just given a talk about photography and the right-wing politicians who were trying to score points over the work of Robert Mapplethorpe and public funding for the arts. She discussed the controversy over what she slyly described as pictures of “appendages resting on velvet” and people asked her questions about the typical American preoccupations over “rights” and “censorship”. But eventually, the conversation turned to some of the problematic elements of Mapplethorpe’s work concerning issues of race and aesthetics. Someone posed a question about the difference between tactics in critiquing Mapplethorpe’s work from these two very different ideological perspectives. Butler’s answer, as I remember it, was that the best way to address any concerns about art, or how it is made, funded or supported, should take a proliferative form. If you’ve got a problem with how art is made/produced/funded, then make/produce/fund your own in response in a manner that addresses your concerns and critiques. Fight art with art so to speak.

How all this relates to Thursday and Saturday at the Met Opera can be interpreted several ways. But I’ve always favored this idea that the best response to anything you don’t like is to be proliferative and productive in response. The opera house and the particular artistic forces it relies upon, have always been the locus of cultural contention, political or otherwise. Composers like Verdi and Wagner, or Glass and Adams for that matter, regularly infused their work with political concerns and shaped them in response to the issues of their days. Currently there are numerous musicians and artists who have been supportive and involved through such organizations as Occupy Musicians putting together both performances and recordings across the country. On the West coast meanwhile, members of Occupy L.A. have yet to protest in or at an opera performance there. Yet, some of the people camped out by L.A. City Hall produced a mural left behind when the city later evicted them from the site. The city is now trying to preserve that mural as a piece of public art. And while that won’t immediately resolve any of the social and economic justice issues at the heart of this movement, there is something powerful in it. We need more art, and more speech to bring about change - not less. Here’s to a world of such beautiful revolutions.
2 years ago | | Read Full Story
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