Dec 10

Infrastructure and Resistance

Wanda Gág, March 1927 cover of New Masses, in Andrew Hemingway, Artists on the Left: American Artists and the Communist Movement 1926-1956 (2002)

Art works by Rocky Dobey: Dark Age Ahead (Toronto), Carnival Against Capitalism (Quebec City, 2001), Take the Capital (Ottawa, 2002), Resist G8/820 (Toronto, 2010)

Cover design by Scott McCowen for Cary Fagan’s City Hall and Mrs. God (1990)

Are some buildings monstrosities? Can they be captured and catalytically converted?

In the first image, the skyscraper is a symbol for capitalism against nature. What nature? Possibly nature in a holistic sense: human and non-human ecology; or as a substitute for an idea of human nature: sustainable communities that put human needs before corporate greed.

The New Masses cover reminded me of Rocky Dobey because his work often features feudalistic skyscrapers. His structures are usually under some form of attack, often decapitated, suggesting that they must be destroyed because what they represent is rotten to the core. These pieces have an epic quality. Whether speaking to local struggles against gentrification or global convergences against capitalism, you get the sense that the whole world is at stake.

At this symbolic level, there is very little room for compromise. But what do we make of these structures? It’s an even more interesting question when you learn that Rocky has worked in high rise construction for over twenty years. If you are working on a particularly odious project, what do you say? “One day, it will fall”. Or “We will be back”? Imagine one hundred thousand construction workers Christening one hundred thousand toilets in luxury condo units saying “We will be back”. Not with our wallets, but with our tools, and our friends, and their friends, and we’ll come in a spirit of community.

Sort of like this re-imagining of Toronto City Hall that I randomly stumbled upon. The occupation of City Hall transforms it. Residential clotheslines and fire escapes eliminate the distance between residents and “governance”. In this image there is no bureaucracy, just direct democracy.