In May 2004, artist and activist Steve Kurtz is wrongly arrested and charged with bioterrorism for using biological specimens in an artwork about genetically modified food. In November 2008, the art and activist group The Yes Men distributes 80,000 copies of a fake edition of the New York Times that features articles on a better future, including the Iraq War ending and free public education for all. In March 2009, hacker and artist Ricardo Dominguez leads an online protest against the University of California President’s website that crashes the site’s servers.

Today, in our era of globalization and the internet, artists and activists are blending together to create new methods for politically intervening in the world. Notably, they use a multitude of media–films, videos, websites, blogs, software, social media, and do-it-yourself electronics–to protest, resist, and re-imagine their current social and political situations. These artistic practices blur the distinction between art and activism in unique, shocking, and affective ways.

In this course, we will look at a variety of these approaches to artistic political intervention in the 21st century, such as tactical media, electronic civil disobedience, and hacktivism. We will pay particular attention to how artists and activists define and participate in political action as well as how different forms of media enable and require different forms of intervention.

We will read from a range of texts and disciplines to critically engage with these practices, including first-hand documents and manifestos by artists and political groups, as well as essays in art history, philosophy, media studies, and journalism.

Our focus on media will help us continually ask and attempt to answer: What happens to art when artists become activists? What happens to political action when activists become artists?

We will draw on these groups, works, and texts: The Facebook Suicide (Bomb) Manifesto, Wikileaks, Critical Art Ensemble, The Yes Men, The Invisible Committee, Radical Software Group, A Hacker Manifesto, Electronic Disturbance Theater, The Situationist International, The Zapatista Army of National Liberation, Raqs Media Collective, Counter-Cartographies Collective, Edu-factory Collective, Tiqqun, Hakim Bey, Colectivo Situaciones, Turbulence, AAAAARG, and The Journal of Aesthetics and Protest.

Instructor: Zach Blas
zachary -.- blas -@- duke -.- edu
Office Hours: by appointment


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