Blog Post

Just Seeds-Art, Activism, and Functional Group Blogging

The past year on the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign campus has been full of art activist projects. As an MFA candidate in New Media who is interested in work that exists in the world of art and the world of social change ,simultaneously, I have been particularly excited about this. I intend to use my HASTAC blog platform to highlight both past and current art and activist projects that have touched the UIUC campus in one way or another.

First up, Oakland based artist Favianna Rodriguez and the artist collective she belongs to, Just Seeds. Rodriguez visited the UIUC campus last semester to talk about her multi-media practice that draws its inspiration from social justice issues. (Read her blog about her visit here.) The campus group Iresist, which organizes around issues affecting people of color on the UIUC campus, brought her out from California. Rodriguez meet with students at Allen Hall, where she did workshops on several differen print techniques. At the YMCA, she discussed her colorful screen printed posters on topics including gentrification, globalization, race and gender to a large audience.

Rodriguez has recently co-edited a book with one of the Just Seeds founders, Josh MacPhee, called  Reproduce and Revolt. The book is particularly interesting for its democratic approach to copyright. Rodriguez and MacPhee worked with their network of contacts to collect and organize black and white images around topics including sexual identity, health care, and the environment. The images can be scanned and used freely as stencils, posters, t-shirts, etc. in support of the activist causes they reflect. The bilingual book, presents a powerful take on sharing and disctibuting intellectual property for the greater good and enrichment of the larger community. The authors concede that this is a tradition in print graphics culture, to share images and ideas from one print shop to another. I am interested in how this traditional print media model can be shared and expanded in  digital culture. Favianna concluded her visit the UIUC campus with a screen printing workshop using images from the book.

Rodriguez and the rest of Just Seeds  work both on and offline to build a creative culture of support in art activist communities. For them digital media, and the potential it affords for networking, sharing and distributing ideas, is a powerful tool. Just Seeds began as a distribution mechanism and organizing structure for artist, Josh Macphee in 1998. Just Seeds emerged as the artist run cooperative and blog in 2007, when MacPhee already extending his collaborative arts based initiatives, formalized connections with several other artist activists around the United States, as well as the New York based collective, Visual Resistance. Just Seeds combined with the preexisting Visual Resistance online presence, which at that time  reflected mainly the concerns of those developing creative responses to social justice issues in New York City. MacPhee and Visual Resistance combined their separate online presences to create a virtual destination point for merchandise and commentary produced by collective members on issues ranging from street art, queer identity, war, and activist history. I would like to conclude this report by discussing the Just Seeds blog.

I am particularly interested in how the collective maintains and manages their online presence, at this point a store and a blog, and how it adds to the production and distribution of their political graphics. Much like Just Seeds, the HASTAC community is a group blogging situation with contributors in multiple locations. Just Seeds members are expected to contribute to the blog at least once a month. With 25 members posting at this rate, the blog quickly became a resource for exhibition announcements, crtiques on contemporary political art, installations, murals, and book reviews. Just Seeds does not restrict the content which makes for diverse postings on topics from interviews with participants in people's movements to labor in the digital economy. Current Just Seeds collective member and former Visual Resistance member, Kevin Caplicki, describes the blog as a tool for the group to build collective identity, a necessity for maintaining a sense of community in this decentralized group.  Caplicki asserts that it would be very hard to facilitate the cooperative without the use of technology. The cooperative communicates through conference calls, email, and Crabgrass, a free software provided by  riseup.net team, "designed for social networking, group collaboration and network organizing." Networked technology provides the cooperative with support for the business but also for their art practice allowing them to post in process art works for group critique.

Despite, all of the amazing ways that technology has supported and extended the reach of collaboration in this example, the group still meets face to face for yearly organizing retreats, with smaller regional meetings. Caplicki says, "There are small collections of members in various cities with each of them taking on different tasks necessary to run the cooperative business. It is also very common that we travel between our respective locations, and have impromptu meetings and skill shares on newer techniques." Caplicki concludes that the combination of digital media, technology, and face to face meetings has allowed the group to grow and spread ideas about art, activism, and creative social movement building throughout wider audiences including our campus on the prairie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

17

3 comments

Thanks for this Bonnie, way to kick it off. It's hard not to reference our recent visit from the group Red 76. Red 76 is a moniker for collaboratively based projects conceived most frequently by Sam Gould. In his talk, he focused on his creation of Non-Heirarchical spaces, which take form in dinners, radio broadcasts, beer drinking and other (formal and informal) methods of organizing. 

The most engaging part of the lecture, for me, was his example of an early anarchist community in Home, Washington. At the turn of the twentieth century, it was considered a model, utopian community of anarchists. Labeled as an unincorporated, free love community, it rests in the Pacific Northwest and was also a thriving radical publishing hub in its time. Gould described the community as an example of an intentional community, where many (and most) members were actively caring about each other and the ideas of other creative peoples.

Home, WA really struck me as a construct that online communities such as HASTAC strive for. In the sense that everyone can be heard, should be heard, and all topics are entitled to an equal playing field. Whether or not these online groups achieve these goals, it is important to recognize some of the values they strive for and how they are not so much different from the Non-Heirarchical spaces Red 76 seeks to create. The inadequacies that often revolve around membership and cooperation involve both sectors, whether we talk about them or not. It gets messy when we talk about the Internet as a utopia and even messier in terms of public/private space.


 

I think Jamie Owen Daniel's essay "Virtual Communities?: Public Spheres and Public Intellectuals on the Internet" makes some point on this, although perhaps a bit out of context: "Merely allowing 'diverse relations of power and privilege' to intermingle in cyberspace does not magically render those constituencies equal, given their various histories of deprivation or exploitation. This inability to confront the bigger, less easily manipulable world outside the electronic classroom is, it seems to me, symptomatic of a key flaw in the premature celebration of the internet as a potential counter-public sphere, for no matter how you de- or reconstruct the hierarchy of authority, no matter how many voices you allow or encourage to intermingle, you still can't make a democratic classroom, or a democratic culture, in a society based on a system that remains fundamentally anti-democratic."

26

Wow, Bonnie, thank you so much for posting about Just Seeds. They've been one of my most beloved group blogs and art communities, and right now, in my office, I'm surrounded by many of their prints and posters. I particularly love the way you've highlighted the way they've negotiated so many different mediums and techniques. They use very low-budget screenprinting and print blocking on the one hand, and a really amazing technological interfact on the other. They build online community and networks, but have really emphasized a sense of personal network and accountability too. They've successfully mixed activism, ideas, but also been able to sustain themselves, because, as we all know - online hosting, physical spaces, events, other projects - none of them are inherently cost-free. They've done a phenomanal job, as you outline above, at really working through these ideas and not being paralyzed by the idea of perfection -- they've been willing to figure it out as they go.

So much more to say on this later, but wanted to drop you a note saying I'm really excited to read your thoughts on them and other arts & activist uses of new media. Thanks again for posting this!

31

This is great. I'm looking forward to more!

23