Interviews

Talking About 100 Days Action, Part 1

On November 8, 2016, Donald J. Trump reached the nation’s highest political office after a long and brutal election cycle. In response, artists throughout the United States mobilized to resist regressive policy changes that would set progressive efforts back by at least fifty years. Writer and activist Ingrid Rojas Contreras collaborated with numerous Bay Area artists to form 100 Days Action, a creative affiliation described as a “forum for resistance” and “a call to all bodies that stand against bigotry, xenophobia, racism, sexism, and the destruction of our environment to act together.” I spoke with Contreras, Zoë Taleporos, and Dana Hemenway of Oakland’s Royal NoneSuch Gallery about how artist–activist gestures for 100 Days Action are selected, and the role that arts institutions can play in times of political crisis.

Jenifer K Wofford. No Scrubs, 2017; participatory action, performed on January 21, 2017, at the Women's Marches in San Francisco and Oakland, as part of 100 Days Action. Courtesy of the Artist.

Jenifer K Wofford. No Scrubs, 2017; participatory action, performed on January 21, 2017, at the Women’s Marches in San Francisco and Oakland, as part of 100 Days Action. Courtesy of 100 Days Action.

Roula Seikaly: How are interventions vetted and selected? Have you received proposed gestures that haven’t aligned with the 100 Days Action mission?

Ingrid Rojas Contreras: Our curatorial team sits together in pairs to review each proposal. We look at each gesture and decide if it is within our mission, and if it is, we ask which dates are appropriate or workable, and then situate them within the calendar. We received a proposal that was physically violent, where the gesture crossed a line we don’t want to violate. We’re trying to be inclusive and to reach out, but there have to be hard limits to what we support. We’ve published actions that are edgy, but not too extreme. We don’t want it to go that far. We’ve also received suggestions that we wouldn’t feature in the calendar. For example, people getting together to write postcards and sending them to senators and representatives. Since that isn’t an artistic gesture, we agreed to signal-boost the effort through social media, but not add it to the calendar.

Dana Hemenway: I wanted to add that even though there are some gestures that were not included, the 100 Days Action project is still monumental. It’s a huge undertaking. As anyone who plans events knows, lead time before an event is crucial for preparing and promoting it. There’s something to do every day—from an administrative perspective, it can be overwhelming. That said, it’s also what makes it such a powerful project.

Zoë Taleporos: The organization was built in such a small amount of time. To mobilize that many people and to settle on decision-making modalities and set the mission—Ingrid and company just jumped right into it. I think sometimes a narrow response time can prompt the most creative and organic things.

Lizania Cruz. My Immigrant Route, 2017; participatory action, performed on January 21, 2017, on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, as part of 100 Days Action. Courtesy of 100 Days Action.

Lizania Cruz. My Immigrant Route, 2017; participatory action, performed on January 21, 2017, on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, as part of 100 Days Action. Courtesy of 100 Days Action.

RS: What responsibility—if any—do arts institutions have in times of political crisis?

IRC:  In Colombia, we are so accustomed to artists and poets responding to politics and political crisis. That’s the norm. If there is something that happens politically that’s troubling everyone, the next day in the news, artists will be interviewed for their perspectives. Growing up in that context was such a positive experience. Writers are also more political, and I think it’s because the wider context can’t be escaped. I grew up thinking that in times of crisis, the first people that I want to hear from are the artists, and then from the politicians. I’m more interested in hearing from artists, poets in particular, because they tend to be so focused on tiny and important details. Their command of nuance in otherwise un-nuanced situations is incredible. It gives a person oxygen. There is a responsibility for public institutions to respond, to create events. I think it makes sense to sustain flexible space, if not the whole institution, in which quick responses can be realized.

Stephanie Syjuco. Reap What You Sew: Banner Making Workshop, 2017; participatory action, performed on January 8, 2017, at Royal Nonesuch Gallery, as part of 100 Days Action. Courtesy of 100 Days Action.

Stephanie Syjuco. Reap What You Sew: Banner Making Workshop, 2017; participatory action, performed on January 8, 2017, at Royal Nonesuch Gallery, as part of 100 Days Action. Courtesy of 100 Days Action.

ZT: The 100 Days Action residency at Royal Nonesuch Gallery ends on February 15. I think it’s interesting that the first responders are the small, alternative art spaces. We are the most nimble ones, for sure. That said, it’s hard as a small institution to host an event or residency for 100 days. I’m glad to know the project moves on to Southern Exposure next.

DH: I agree that there is a nimbleness to being a smaller institution. It allows us to incubate projects, as word about it gets out and ideas for gestures or interventions solidify. The temporal aspect—the 100 days—means that projects don’t have to solidify all at once. It gives the group a chance to respond quickly as needed and draw in those who couldn’t participate at the beginning. That’s been fascinating to watch.

ZT: Each venue brings its own strengths and resources. It will be exciting to see what each space can provide, and how much bigger and more ambitious 100 Days gestures will be, moving forward.

Continue to Part 2 of this interview, conducted with artist Ricki Dwyer and 100 Days Action‘s social media manager Kenneth Lo.

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