GUITAR ARMY BRAT
"Our program is cultural revolution through total assault on the culture...Our culture, our art, our music, newspapers, books, posters, our clothing, our homes, the way we walk and talk, the way our hair grows, the way we smoke dope and fuck and eat and sleep--it is all one message, and the message is FREEDOM!...We don't have guns yet--not all of us anyway--because we have more powerful weapons: direct access to millions of teenagers is one of our most potent, and their belief in us is another."
--John Sinclair, "The White Panther State/meant", 1968
To commemorate that weird utopian moment of cultural politics behind demands of "rock n' roll, dope and fucking in the streets" during my highschool years, the collaborative artwork "Guitar Army Brat" is my homage to the White Panther Party and similar disruptions inflamed in Ann Arbor, Michigan youth 1969-73. The form the work took was that of an 8' x 5' wall installation, of photocopied imagery and assembled texts from my archives pasted on Rufco-Wrap roofing plastic, in the shape of a guitar and a panther, plus additional acrylic paints. The assemblage's title derives from Guitar Army, the 1972 book by the high-profile White Panther rhetorician "Minister of Information" John Sinclair.
Sinclair is now a jazz poet and blues
disk jockey in New Orleans, while
copies of Guitar Army--a source for some of these images
and texts--were recently available at ArtRock (1-800 262-7249)
in San Francisco.
From the Haight-Ashbury--and to some degree New York's lower east side--"Freek" culture washed back into a midwest at its industrial apogee as an early form of Punk. Leathery garage skronk adding teeth to utopian hippie politics, the Panthers modeled for us young impressionables rich ethical ideals of community, ecstatic personal liberation and nonprofit creativity that are hard to forget three decades later. In January 1998 Artists' Television Access (A.T.A.) put out a call for artworks and presentions to accompany a two-night film series curated by Molly Hankwitz "May 1968 - May 1998", to honor continuing student activism with works by Guy Debord, anonymous footage from 1969 of the SFSU Student Strike, SFSU grad student Sarah Lewison and others. This seemed like a good time and place for me to revisit the old over-the-top words and rich graphics of those Michigan White Panthers.
Yet I didn't want to just put up in 1998 a nostalgic wall of remembrance, but hoped for something with contemporary significance and vitality. I enlisted graffiti-experienced Ben Peterson, highschool class of '95 and half my age, to take my display somewhere new with color and further graphic augmention. The idea was for the revolutionary spirit of a past era to be remembered by one artist while being "finished"--absorbed, read, studied and updated during the painting process--by a younger one, a student now. Originally from Nevada and studying Art at City College of San Francisco, I met Ben through Max Good. Max's mother Ingrid Good has been a friend of mine since highschool, when we sometimes attended White Panther-organized free Sunday rock concerts featuring bands like the MC5 and the Up.
After a couple phone and coffee-fueled conversations, I handed over to Ben my collaged imagery and words on their rolled-up cut plastic. He then worked on it alone and when ready, took it to A.T.A. at the beginning of the month for hanging, the rest of the walls decorated with French student posters. Three weeks into the month A.T.A. held two evenings of "May 1968 - May 1998" films, the second of which included presentations by Bad Subjects Charlie Bertsch, John Brady, Joel Schalit and Matt Wray. UC Film historian Julian Bourg spoke on Guy Debord, whose "Society of the Spectacle" and unfinished final film were shown that evening. I spoke too, but that night not as a Bad Subject since my involvement in that project has never been as a student radical, supposedly the unifying focus of A.T.A.'s May commemorations.
And how did the final "Guitar Army Brat" look to me, its initiator? Well, Ben's restraint surprised me, and I was pleased his additional painted contribution didn't obscure the collaged texts. He put no written statment of his own in the side of the guitar left blank for him to mirror mine, and later told me he had more faith in "imagery and direct action" than political words. Most of all I was shocked at Ben and Molly's hanging of the work, about eight feet above the heads of the crowd. Such a site was prominent...but made its historical radical documents illegible! It was my intention for the White Panther writings, manifestoes and news stories (some about successful settlement of their suit in the 1980s against the FBI for early-'70s harassment), the photos of smiling stoned Michigan hippies and Gary Grimshaw-designed concert flyers to be street-level, person's-nose-level, in your face. "Guitar Army Brat" was re-installed in a new ground-level high-traffic site in A.T.A. for the rest of the month of May.
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Mike Mosher has exhibited at A.T.A. in 1988, 1993 and 1997.
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