Interviews

Talking About 100 Days Action, Part 2

April 30 is the last of Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office. To mark that inauspicious event, I spoke with Kenneth Lo, artist and social media manager for 100 Days Action, and artist Ricki Dwyer, who contributed the intervention Shred and Re-weave the American Flag. Our discussion ranged from how resistance efforts have changed since the inauguration, to the role artist–activists play in those efforts either by choice or a sense of obligation.

Ricki Dwyer. Shred and Re-weave the American Flag, 2017; participatory action, performed on January 27, 2017, at Open Windows Cooperative in San Francisco, as part of "100 Days Action"

Ricki Dwyer. Shred and Re-weave the American Flag, 2017; participatory action, performed on January 27, 2017, at Open Windows Cooperative in San Francisco, as part of 100 Days Action. Courtesy of the Artist.

Roula Seikaly: Kenneth, you’re leading the social media charge for 100 Days Action. Have you noticed a change in the proposals? Are they responsive to proposed or realized executive orders, such as the Muslim travel ban, or defunding Planned Parenthood? Or are proposals more consistent in the sense that a general protest is mounted?

Kenneth Lo: I’d say both. Even before the travel ban was executed, there was the idea that Trump would do it. It happened to be timed almost perfectly that when the first travel ban was proposed, we featured Lizania Cruz’s project My Immigrant Route. That was a popular project that saw a lot of participation. But I’d say that for the first month, the submissions were more concerned with self-care.

RS: Self-care for the artists themselves, or self-care as a collective action?

KL: Both. Like, “We’re tired, we’re screaming. Let’s do some yoga. Let’s have some food.”

RS: Have you noticed people coming to interventions on a repeat basis? Or is it more of a one-off experience?

KL: I think people’s habits are based around the art spaces. We’ve been at Royal Nonesuch Gallery, Southern Exposure, and now Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Each space has slightly different communities of patrons. I don’t know if there is a lot of overlap, but it’s possible. There was an urgency on Inauguration Day, when a lot of people showed up at Royal Nonesuch Gallery for the first time. People pop in and out. On social media, people are keeping track of events and deciding what works for them.

Ricki Dwyer: Can I ask where you got your conviction about actions?

KL: My convictions?

RD: Yeah! I mean, being involved in 100 Days Action, and your way of speaking about it, I sense that you’re passionate about this effort. Do you believe marches have an impact? What led you there?

KL: I don’t know if it’s having an impact, to be honest. But I’m heartened to see marches, to see people in the streets expressing outrage, and I want to see more of that engagement. I want to see more people writing postcards and calling elected officials and voicing concerns. I don’t know what else we can do. But we must do something.

RS: How are you feeling as we get close to the end of 100 Days Action and the overall intervention? Is there anxiety, or hopefulness?

KL: I feel like, what, he’s still here? After all that?

Ricki Dwyer. Shred and Re-weave the American Flag, 2017; participatory action, performed on January 27, 2017, at Open Windows Cooperative in San Francisco, as part of 100 Days Action. Courtesy of the Artist.

Ricki Dwyer. Shred and Re-weave the American Flag, 2017; participatory action, performed on January 27, 2017, at Open Windows Cooperative in San Francisco, as part of 100 Days Action. Courtesy of the Artist.

RS: It’s been a concentrated effort for you and everyone associated with 100 Days Action. I’m curious if there’s a sense of what you want to do next, or questions of how momentum for resistance is sustained.

KL: We’re going to rent an Airbnb with a hot tub, and we’re going to have a drink, and not fight over which projects make it onto the calendar. In terms of 100 Days, we’re talking about how we continue. How do we proceed as an organization? Do we sponsor more curated or direct projects, or create more projects ourselves, or go back to being individual artists making political work on our own? I don’t know. Right now, we’re just trying to get through the last month, which has been stressful.

RS: Stressful how?

KL: It feels like we’re in a durational performance piece, and all of us have other jobs and art careers to mind. This feels like a third job. We’re seeing each other almost exclusively, not our other friends. We’ve been meeting since November 20, and it’s been all-consuming. It will be good to reconnect with life outside of this effort.

RS: Shifting gears for a moment, let’s talk about Ricki’s intervention. Ricki, your intervention involves a sacred national symbol. How did you settle on the project?

RD: It came out of rage. It felt like the only thing to do now. I only had a couple of people express concern about it, either for me or for their own discomfort at cutting a flag. It felt cathartic. I think the intensity of the power for that symbol allowed the project to be more impactful as an action.

RS: Where do you find these flags?

RD: It started when I found a giant, half-burned flag at the corner of 24th and Mission Streets. I knew I had to keep it. I collected two more burned flags from other projects, and I ended up purchasing a few more for the event—the weird thing was buying American flags that were made in China.

RS: Flags represent an enforced form of patriotism, but in shorthand. The flag takes the place of discussion or engagement with others. Also, flags are a contested space. How do you relate to that?

RD: A lot of those ideas I agree with. The most patriotic thing we can do is to question authority. It was beautiful, the cutting and weaving intervention. The floor was covered in giant flags, and people were cutting into them from different angles all at once. We were walking all over them, too. It was a night of cathartic coming together.

RS: Who makes the first cut? Is it you, or a participant? Does that matter?

RD: It didn’t matter. Some people wanted to sit and cut, and some people wanted to weave.

RS: As the cutting commenced, did you notice any hesitation in the participants?

RD: If there was a moment of anxiety, I didn’t notice it. I was surprised by how many people attended whom I’ve never met. The space, Open Windows Cooperative, was packed. That so many people showed up just to cut into a flag was powerful.

Ricki Dwyer. Shred and Re-weave the American Flag, 2017; participatory action, performed on January 27, 2017, at Open Windows Cooperative in San Francisco, as part of 100 Days Action. Courtesy of the Artist.

Ricki Dwyer. Shred and Re-weave the American Flag, 2017; participatory action, performed on January 27, 2017, at Open Windows Cooperative in San Francisco, as part of 100 Days Action. Courtesy of the Artist.

RS: When people were engaged, either cutting or weaving, was it quiet? Were people talking?

RD: People were talking, and it’s one of the things I thought was most successful. There was a lot of active conversation about what we were doing.

KL: What do you think it meant for the participants?

RD: There was a lot of talk about how this is the time for change, a time for action, a time to take steps forward. I felt like that was what people were generally talking about. There was a sense of having or exerting power. On top of that, nearly everyone was trying to learn to weave for the first time. So that contributed to the experience as well.

KL: Was the flag project a departure from your usual practice?

RD: Yes and no. I’m a weaver, and most of my work involves craft and social practice. I also teach weaving, so it was a great way to bring my pedagogic style into my art practice.

RS: I’ve been reading criticism that suggests that people who weren’t alive during the Vietnam War, who are protesting now, aren’t personally invested enough. Will today’s protests be as effective? Are we burdened by a history of protest?

KL: I think it’s a different game, speaking in sports terms. It’s not unfair to compare the different eras, but they are radically different. I don’t think it’s fair to blame youth today. I’m sure middle-aged people in that era made similar complaints. Painting millennials with a single negative stroke isn’t fair.

RD: I think there is some truth to the criticism. Everyone is watching a horrific train wreck, and I think a justifiable paralysis sets in.

Ricki Dwyer. Shred and Re-weave the American Flag, 2017; participatory action, performed on January 27, 2017, at Open Windows Cooperative in San Francisco, as part of 100 Days Action. Courtesy of the Artist.

Ricki Dwyer. Shred and Re-weave the American Flag, 2017; participatory action, performed on January 27, 2017, at Open Windows Cooperative in San Francisco, as part of 100 Days Action. Courtesy of the Artist.

KL: I have a question for you two: What do you think is the role of art workers in times of crisis?

RS: I want my writing practice to support the artists. The feeling of “what do I do at this point, what skills can I offer, who can I talk to” set in. What will be a historical record of this moment? I want the conversations I have with artists to live somewhere, and if, fifty years from now, someone is curious to know how we responded to this crisis, they’ll be able to read about it.

RD: I don’t think there is a general obligation for an artist to be an activist. I tend to pay attention to what an artist’s practice is doing or talking about, and find value in that. I also think that if you are approaching a place where you’re reaching a larger audience, then there’s an obligation to contribute to these conversations.

KL: I don’t think people with art or writing skills have to use those skills in service of resistance, but I wonder: What can they, or we, do with those skills in this context? I’ve been thinking about how we boost morale, what arts organizations can do.

RS: How do you answer that question?

KL: I think it’s about small ripples right now. It’s a question I ask myself and others, but I don’t have an answer.

RS: Will that come in hindsight, after 100 Days Action comes to an end? Does it come with historical perspective?

KL: I think there are some things that can be answered immediately, but that most of it will come with reflection. And that is frustrating, but it has to be okay for now.

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