Occupy Everything
Nato Thompson
May 2012

"You can’t do that here," says a police officer during the re-enactment of a local dance in a town square. Did you ask the authorities? Where is your permit? Is this a wedding? You can’t do that here. So goes the film of Yaminay Chaudhri, a captivating performance/intervention caught on video that brings the joys of the village into deep contestation at the urban center. Pleasure comes to find its opposition in the form of permits and police authority. After much cajoling, the officer relents and says, “I am tired of the government as well.” So the dance begins.

When can the dance begin again?

Here we sit in our private villages. We have our dances, sometimes shared on the Internet, sometimes forwarded as tweets. Sometimes we laugh at them on cable television or play them on our home gaming system, or sometimes we see them out of the corner of our eye drunk in the corners of the city. We are furtive creatures in a digital age, ever creeping into ourselves hoping to find the kinds of freedom we dream of in the crevices of our scattered minds. But the world outside is a monster. It is corralled, policed, seen from a distance, like the photos by Allen Bryan of the backs of trucks driving by on the freeway. It is on the go. Slipping past us. On the move and without much time to stop, to chat, to dream with us and gossip. It is just on the go.

And the public realm remains elusive.  A phantom. The world outside our doors a mystery. The conspiracy must remain a theory because the world outside eludes us. We can’t stop long enough to truly look. We distract ourselves with jittery phone service. We stopped believing A.D.D. was an ailment as it became the global behavior. Can an ailment consume the majority? Chris DeMarco photographs crop circles. No wait, she doesn’t. She photographs what appear to be crop circles, but they have been left behind by the military. Strange rusted circles rusted in the earth and concrete reminding us of missions, maneuvers, and powers that we have little access to. What are they up to? We do not know. A lion sits supine on display glass, its body rendered inert under the eyes of a disengaged public. Linda Pinkans’s photos don’t just ask “what is nature?” but instead what is it to want to watch nature. And even hints at a sort of exhaustion by the lion. The watching of nature itself loses meaning as nature becomes a stand-in for a lost longing.

Without the public, our minds lose juice. They become dried figs, raisons in the sun. They become enamored with oxygen because they can’t breathe. Opinion polls gain in urgency as the country realizes it really doesn’t care. Opinion polls make us believe that we all truly have an opinion, that there is a public. The Situationists critiqued the Surrealists for believing that the infinite imagination remained in the dark corners of our cortex. They said, in essence, that if you want to change how you think, don’t see a therapist but instead change the city. But we can’t change the city. The city won’t let us. It’s in our way. It won’t let us occupy the squares. It wants us always moving. We can’t sleep in front of the banks. We can’t challenge the rich where they live. We can’t dance in public.

So we hide in our homes. Nurturing our dreams on energy drinks, booze, and yoga. Hoping that the mind will unleash itself and make the day-to-day something uncanny. We become Ralph Ellison’s invisible man, hiding in our hearts. We take the intimate and make it perverse. Mimi Graminski crochets chess pieces. Mark McCarty photographs his wife in the shower. Her skin becomes a textural landscape, hypnotic and strange. Sanford Mirling twists objects into sexualized lugubrious acid trips, the velvet ropes of the elite turned into William Burroughs’s inspired orifices. Or the spectacle of Disney becomes a stand-in for past haunted memories in Amanda Bengle’s subtly terrifying paintings. As Thomas Kincaid passes away, we find his legacy in the haunting images of a supersaturated body politic unable to tear the fantasy from memory. The memory of mother is not like Dumbo’s mother but, in fact, is Dumbo’s mother. We are the lost children of a fabricated dream.

And the body becomes vulnerable and strange, a more captivating outdoors than the outdoors. Inside it is less watched. Warren MacMillan has the sexual fantasies of sado-masochist joy, pain, and wildness leaving the front door of the suburb. Women screw men with a soccer ball under the bed. Abraham Ferraro signs the dotted line with an analogue machine, the identity of the signer superseded by the mechanistic virtuosity of a Doctor Who-inspired robot. Philip Palmieri paints bodies with bandages, the wounded trying to look A-OK. The beat-up body that is the public comes to say hello. And Sara Haze goes deeper still to the cellular level to witness the abstraction of forms that are the material culture of our bodies themselves. Strange to think we are made of small circular cells, when we feel we are made of fabricated dreams.

We are dreamers, but we can’t dream alone. We must escape the confines of our interior lives. Tatana Kellner makes a road that heads through nature. Out there. Through the mire of masked medical men and authorities, it is out there. In the unchartered terrain of the lived public. Bodies in space. Being together. Occupying together. Refusing the cranked-out dreams of a dying country whose only product is the manipulation of its people. Occupy. Occupy their lobbies. Occupy their offices. Occupy your office. Occupy your body. Occupy everything, because while dreams can save us, we can only have them together in public. We can only dance together with each other, our bodies, in public. Occupy everything.