Impeccably curated by artist-organizer Leslie Dreyer at Random Parts gallery, Boom: The Art of Resistance is an exhibition that does not advertise its impact, and it could be mistaken for “scrappy” if one ignored the precision of the show and the assumptions jammed into that word. Installed in the small storefront-apartment space in Oakland, a few of the show’s works are in the well-used kitchen where gallery co-director Juan Carlos Quintana cooks his meals and lives his life; and a visit to the show might easily segue into a hangout, a drink, or a party. It begs the question: What kinds of conversations can be had in what kinds of kitchens?
Such a gathering would occur in view of a 2001 documentary film—Boom: The Sound of Eviction, from which the show adopts the leading, econ-onomonopoetic part of its name —playing on a loop on a side-table. The older Boom is a detailed account of the socio-economic effects of the first major dot-com explosion of 1998-2001. The footage is grainier than today’s HD video, and the cars are a bit less streamlined, but the story remains uncannily the same. The influx of a global network of tech industry workers has incentivized evictions on a mass scale—around 1000 a month, recently, by some accounts—under many different guises and justifications.
Random Parts is located in the East Lake neighborhood, just east of Interstate 880, just north of Fruitvale. It’s a neighborhood poised for the sort of “transformation” that tends to divide people into “dread” and “desire” camps according to their respective, historically conditioned levels of access to capital; the waterfront is just beginning to witness the construction of Brooklyn Basin, the largest real estate development project in the history of the East Bay. What sorts of kitchen conversations will this development, with its high-rise condos and boutique retail, make possible, and what others will it make impossible?
How might I do justice to a show as crucial as Boom: The Art of Resistance? I mean as a spectator, as a reviewer, as one who shares space with its conditions. Because this is what the exhibition asks, firmly and directly, with no waste of breath, time, space, or energy, all the while knowing that it takes new idioms, and surprise scenographies, to get the question across. What does directness require in this moment poised on the edge of “augmented reality,” when large institutions claim cynically to be the centers of “doing something about it,” and “wonder” is the domain of a rentier class (or, in the words of the Gay Shame collective, “brogrammers and Beckys-who-techie”) that performs extractions on a widening repertoire of cognitive and relational functions.
Yes, Boom does ask that we do justice, but it asks with a particular inflection. It is precisely tuned to the scale of lives, while it refuses the ambivalence of strategic individualism. Take, for instance, Amara T. Smith and Ellen Sebastian Chang’s ongoing performance ritual House/Full of Black Women (2016-ongoing). The work, which manifests in multiple “episodes” across a span of two years, addresses “the displacement, well-being, and sex-trafficking of Black women and girls in Oakland.” It does so by sending an enigmatic troupe of veiled, white-lace-clad figures into the pricey new night-life sites of Uptown Oakland, searching, with old-fashioned lanterns and framed mirrors (worn like masks and necklaces) for some idea of home that can be carried in the collective, to be moved through the long, historical night of trauma. Maybe they’re reflecting back the funereality of white-privileging cultures of housing, and housing-finance. They are like figments of various domesticities syncretized in bodies—lampshade hats, doily shawls and curtain skirts—haunting out a space for living in the easily startled spaces of capital.
Or take the twenty-plus year legacy of POOR magazine (the rare first issue is on display in the exhibition) a poor-people-led publication and arts organization founded by Lisa “Tiny” Gray Garcia and Dee Gray. Flipping through the magazine, one is reminded of how long and intensely the landless movement has been fighting against police violence; and how, before there were hashtags and statuses, there was the strange and economical poetry of the street, the sort of symbolism that can only be whittled down to brevity by necessity, experience, and the expertise of IRL networks.
This review would have to be much longer to account for the depth and complexity of all the works/movements/actions represented in Boom, all of which are fierce, smart, and dense, but I must mention one more, a poster for the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust designed by Jesus Barraza and Melanie Cervantes of the graphic arts collaborative Dignidad Rebelde. It describes the background and stipulations of the Shuumi Land Tax. This is a voluntary annual financial contribution that East Bay residents can pay (online or off) to the indigenous Ohlone stewards of the land, who have no tribal recognition by the federal government, and whose ancestors’ remains are stored in archives at U.C. Berkeley and San Francisco State University. The tax goes towards the acquisition of land for the purposes of re-establishing Ohlone cultural practices and to return the ancestors to the land. In the group’s words:
If you live on Chochenyo and Karkin Ohlone land, you are inadvertently benefitting from the genocide waged against the Ohlone people and the theft of their land. Whether you know it or not, however you feel about it, this is an inescapable fact.
We could pay it right now. We, the readers of these words. It’s not very expensive: between .00375 and .0075% of annual Bay Area rent. I mean, why not? It is, quite literally, the least one could do, without doing nothing; one might say that nothing good can happen here until this injustice is recognized. It’s difficult to ask, on behalf of others, especially on behalf of oneself. Go see the show, and pay your taxes.
Boom: The Art of Resistance is on view through September 10, 2016.