- Activist Technologies:Think Again!
Taking up the work of the online and on-the-ground artist collective Think Again—a collective that extends the work of HIV/AIDS graphic artists into multiple issues and venues—I want to consider a question facing those of us concerned with political art, both those who make it and those who critique it: by what means are political artists addressing the present historical formation of cultural, economic, and political tendencies? More specifically, how does graphic and digital political art command or develop the capacity for attention and critique, reroute control exerted by dominant media cultures, intervene in political practices associated with the globalization of capitalism, such as neoliberalism and structural adjustment, as well as the intensification of militarism and (bio)terrorism? I want to suggest that political artists such as Think Again are working in a tension between a politics of representation concerned with identity, signification, desire, and ideology critique and a politics of affect, which emphasizes the capacity to affect bodies directly in their capacity to mutate, shift focus, attend and display interest, follow flows, and coalesce in assemblages. I want further to underscore and to understand the extent to which the work of Think Again inherits the legacy of HIV/AIDS political graphics of which it is simultaneously critical. In the transformation of that legacy, I read a response to the present in which "queer" contributes anew to social criticism.
On-the-ground and cyberspace activist responses in the United States to the effects of globalization and to the Bush administration's recent practices and policies (attacking civil liberties, pursuing a disastrous unilateralist foreign policy, plundering the environment, dismantling social services) have been as various as the aesthetic and political traditions from which they draw: documentary realism (Love and Diane), social satire (Fahrenheit 9/11), stand-up comedy (Reno's performance, "Rebel without a Pause"), and performance art (Yoko Ono's "Cut Piece"). What unites a number of them—including the billboard, sticker, photographic, [End Page 133] collage, wheat-paste poster, and postcard graphics of Think Again—is that they are undertaken by engaged intellectuals trying to forge multifront responses to conditions of permanent war and right-wing attacks. Their responses are lodged in unevenly related social movements (feminist, queer, antiracist), under conditions they understand as radically historical. Refusing to identify themselves independently of the context of that struggle is a key element of their project: anonymity and solidarity reign over individual, industrial, or aesthetic forms of identity. Think Again affirms its resistance to the institutional language of the artist's intentional singularity and the pious exhibition of his or her autonomous artwork; many shoot, many design, many distribute, many invent. One cannot not therefore address work such as this contextually, wholly within the fabric of its aesthetic and political commitments.
The work of Think Again is by turns funny, flip, quick, camp, popular, commercial, slick, glossy, tactical, limited, site-specific, of-the-moment, condensed, and inflammatory. Among political artists generating graphic resources for demonstrations and online circulation, the collective is the clearest progeny of the graphic artists of the 1990s. Their work aims to intervene in mediatized environments, whether the World Wide Web or downtown Los Angeles, by hijacking the grammar and image-repertoire of commercial media such as the billboard, the wheat-paste poster, the postcard, or the truck display. Their address is not limited to the global middle class with access to the Internet, but their work circulates and links with others' work there. They provide signs and stickers for demonstrations, they circulate work on the street, they convert commercial spaces into fora for public commentary. Think Again borrows, for example, in Hello/Hola (2002), the format of introductory "Hello My Name Is . . . " labels to comment on the horrific production of anonymous seriality in the murders of young women workers at maquiladoras ("golden mills") in Juarez, Mexico; to take another example, they mimic the "Gap" clothing chain graphic on stickers placed next to automated teller machines to swerve attention, while cash is literally flowing, to the income "gap." The work reveals, however, a knowledge of the limits of a politics of hybridity and cannibalism...