Rachel Liebert, Impolitikal

Rachel Jane Liebert on the artist as revolutionary

Or, The WarOnTerror is a War On Imagination : : : The Artist is a (R)evolutionary*

I write this as someone originally from Aotearoa [New Zealand] who for now lives in NYC doing research, teaching and activism around the surveillance of our psyches&bodies&lives within psychiatry, policing, porn, protest, public education…

Seemingly different struggles, (all starting with ‘p’, and) all embedded in neoliberal circuits of security; knots in the same piece of string wrapped and woven around the globe.

Choking us.
And something to be collectively undone, and played with.

Sitting in the library of the City University of New York, looking out the window onto 35th Street: school buildings defended by friendly&racist security-guards, US war criminal General Petraeus teaching an honors course proclaiming the world is “on the threshold of the North American decade”, some professors competing for grants from the Department of Homeland Security, others being fired for their pro-Palestine politics, NYPD spies infiltrating Muslim student groups, Black liberation organizations being shut down, the US military being welcomed to recruit EthnicallyDiverseStudents, faculty being told to report “bizarre and unusual” thinking or behavior for psychiatric intervention, student and teacher protestors being beaten and arrested (and stalked by Fox News) and, in a few days, the Board of Trustees passing a policy that criminalizes those of us who engage in “expressive activity”.

Aka: activism.

So extreme, yet so everyday. It’s not unusual to walk out our front steps and be face-to-face with police or soldiers armored in bulletproof vests, helmets and machine guns. Only to look up Fifth Ave and then see building upon building flanked with American flags. Occupied as a nation that produces and profits from the WarOnTerror, this visual-cum-political landscape is so blatant it camouflages itself…

And so it’s from here that I’ve also been watching as people back [in New Zealand] have been protesting the recent passing of the [Government Communications Security Bureau] bill; wondering if this critique of surveillance has now entered the mainstream because those who are typically privileged by our colonial, hetero/patriarchal, capitalist society (Pākehā, cis-gendered men, the rich) are now negatively affected by it.

This is okay… and it makes me a-little pissed and more-than-a-little worried. People considered a threat to the social hierarchies on which NewZealand depends have been violently surveilled for decades – from TūhoeActivists to TheParanoid and SoloMumsOnTheDPB. The history&expertise&desire in our different bodies cannot be shouted over by the outrage of those lubed by these not-so-secret-yet-still-so-hidden practices of domination.

To do so is to erase experience&existence.
To colonize.

The GCSB bill shines a light on the shadow of Aotearoa; protest needs to confront, not collude in, surveillance&imperialism – both within and beyond national borders. Tied alongside CUNY in the image I described above, it’s a banal&fundamental knot in the WarOnTerror.

And it marks a fucking scary slope.

Done in the name of intercepting future threats, surveillance has a ghostly friend: prevention. Interventions in the present do not just mean that threats from the future are never realized: they also mean that threats from the future are never falsified. Surveillance creates the conditions for its own proliferation; generating the insecurity it supposedly addresses.

Producing an infinite Market of distrust: we fear (our dependency on) each other and we fear (our inability to predict) the future… Locking us into rigid borders of who-and-what we think we-and-the-world are-and-could-be… Petrifying possibility.

The WarOnTerror is a war on imagination.

And imagination, says philosopher/poet/mystic/activist Gloria Anzaldūa, is at the soul of (r)evolution. Emerging where differences collide and something else becomes, (r)evolution comes from spaces of creativity. Art. Changing the shape of the world and all of us in it – tethering thephysicalthespiritualthepastthefuturethepoliticaltheintimate – the artist, Anzaldūa argues, is a shaman. Crafting a radical healing&dreaming&transformation.

At CUNY it’s been tempting to protest our militarization through surveilling surveillance, policing police, threatening threat. Being militant. Yet there is something loopy here. Neoliberal circuits of security also suffocate our ability to imagine; a suffocation that haunts our activism.

: : Form and content are inseparable : : (R)evolution requires imagination : : Protest must do creativity : :

(A connecting energy
that invites collective risk&desire
that does the world-of-possibility
that we want to see
that pulls us into the future).

This is not a question of what art can do for (r)evolution, reducing it to a vehicle for a message, making it hollow. Art is (r)evolution. As the doing of imagination, it is pre-figurative politics at its most beautiful&subversive. And, in a world where protest is increasingly imprisoned, diagnosed, shamed – immobilized through prisons, drugs, norms – labeled Terrorist, Patient, Deviant – doers of imagination are more needed than ever.

Being YoungGifted&Broke forces us to know dependency and unpredictability – to live lives counter to neoliberal circuits of security. Freer from conservative, Market demands, we occupy a radical marginality from which to create not for profit&privilege but for something porous&public and colliding with the status quo.

Making the image shake.

Revealing its impermanency&instability; not as something to be afraid of, but as something generative, infinite, awaiting…

The artist is a (r)evolutionary.

* This piece was originally written in November 2013 for Young, Gifted & Broke, a grassroots art magazine in Aotearoa.

Rachel Jane Liebert is a PhD Candidate and Adjunct Professor at the City University of New York. Her research currently explores the circulation of psy diagnoses and treatments under politics of terror, and has been mobilised for a number of creative, collaborative projects that counter the policing of our psyches/bodies/desires/spaces. Find her online.