But I was first struck by the true dimensions of that problem in 1970, when Faith and I attended a guerilla art action protest against Art Strike, which was itself a protest against ‘racism, war and repression’. A group of famous white male artists led by Robert Morris decided to withdraw their work from the Venice Biennale, a prestigious international exhibition, in order to protest US bombing of Cambodia and the murder of college students at Kent, Jackson and Augusta. Although the protest was supposed to be against ‘Racism, War, and Repression’ (sexism was not yet on their agenda), Art Strike then expected to mount a counter-Biennale in New York without altering the all-white male composition of the show. This seems to be the key to understanding the intrinsic limits of Western cultural avant-gardism: while it can no longer deny its own white male supremacist presuppositions it cannot be rid of them either.
In the first years of our feminism, working through an organization that we founded called Women Students and Artists for Black Art Liberation (WSABAL), Faith and others succeeded in opening this exhibition to women and people of color. WSABAL was also influential in the subsequent development of Ad Hoc Women Artists, led by Lucy Lippard. This group repeated WSABAL’s 50 per cent women demand in their protest against the Whitney Biennial, which was in the habit of including white male artists almost exclusively. Specifically because of Faith’s research and support of Ad Hoc, black women artists Barbara Chase Riboud and Bettye Saar were included in the next Whitney Biennial.
[Michele Wallace “Invisibility Blues”]
In 2009 artists in Alytus responded to the EU city of culture award to Vilnius, by declaring an Art Strike and hosting an Art Strike Biennial. I was involved with the IWW at the time and put forward the idea of creating a psychic workers union. This was to counter Bolshevik ideas of a division between cultural, political and economic organization of workers as well as the bourgeois Eurocentric ideas of art production as separate from other creative activities.
The Psychic workers union was indeed formed when I left the IWW in 2009 after briefly organizing with the Cambridge branch as they would not support the terms of myself and the Art Strikers of Alytus – so we created the DAta Miners Travailleurs Psychique. This summer we have been attacking the Manifesta Biennale, the Berlin Biennale and also linking up with the artists of the Dakar Biennale. We saw it imnportant to not only attack Eurocentric bourgeois culture at its source (the art biennial) but also in its neo-colonial form in Dakar, Senegal while also extending the hand of comradeship to the African black and coloured artists there.
This is not about identity politics – but about (re)defining what we mean by the Proletariat! Any situation is defined in Time, Space and Class – and its measurement begins with the here and now – our own situation as workers who are constructing it.
That’s why recent texts of the psychic workers are always talking about black power. The failure to link up the strikes (of workers), the protests (of students) and the riots (of the so-called “lumpen” proletariat) in a time when the most vulnerable in society are being hit by government cuts is not necessarily the sign of total defeat. Much is going on which is invisible - unrepresentatable – outside and beyond the surface of the spectacle. However international proletarian organizing and uprising will inevitably make contact with the spectacle in order to destroy it.