The Art of Action

Bay Area artists react to President Trump’s 100-day plan

442
Illustration by Owen Thomas
Illustration by Owen Thomas

Artists across the Bay Area gathered at an alternative inaugural ball on Jan. 20 at the Royal Nonesuch Gallery in Oakland. Gallery goers were sworn in on books including “On the Origin of Species,” “The Republic” and “The Feminine Mystique.” The ball, hosted by a group of Bay Area artists and activists, launched a series of events for the first 100 days of President Donald Trump’s presidency in response to his 100-day plan to “Make America Great Again”.

The 100 Days Action project invites artists to propose interactive events to resist the negative changes of the new administration. UC Santa Cruz graduate student Elia Vargas and alumna Melissa Wyman are among those participating in the project.

“It’s absolutely a time for direct action, it’s time for mobilization. It’s a time to be angry at Democrats. It’s a time to be angry at Republicans,” Vargas said. “It’s a time to be angry at any institution that is normalizing the current state of affairs.”

The project is organized by 15 Bay Area artists, educators, activists and writers who stand up against bigotry, xenophobia, racism, sexism and environmental destruction through various art media.

These events, which can be hosted in public or at home, are posted on the project’s communal website in a calendar format. Actions have included spreading compliments, creating poetry from media headlines and joining in performance protest.

The calendar is already filled with one to three events every day until early March, with rolling acceptance for proposals until April 10. The final actions will take place on April 29, the 100th day of Trump’s administration.

In addition to 100 signed executive orders that impact both the environment and underrepresented groups, like the Sioux tribes affected by the Dakota Access Pipeline and immigrants recently subjected to raids, Trump has just signed executive documents to allow the construction of the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines. The two pipelines, which will carry crude oil, will likely contaminate water and harm indigenous groups associated with the land.

In response to this executive order, graduate student Elia Vargas proposed a public performance piece in which he will be soaking his hair in crude oil to stir a conversation surrounding water contamination and geopolitics.

“I have been so alarmed and overwhelmed by the whole apparatus that [Trump] has been attempting to put into place that I find it more important to respond in total and respond with force,” Vargas said.

He says his performance interjects into a complex conversation about the materiality of crude oil, its various histories and its capital value.

UCSC alumna Melissa Wyman hosted a collaborative and interactive performance piece on Feb. 4 at Mills College in Oakland. The event was part of an exhibition called Resistance Training, which was curated to build a sense of community amidst political change.

Wyman’s action, Collaborative Combative Drawing, integrated art and self-defense by inviting participants to use their bodies to release energy onto large pieces of paper. A group of participants donned helmets and body pads, stood above a single piece of paper and reached down with their drawing instruments, fighting each other for space to draw. Each participant’s work was added to the previous person’s, creating a collective experience on a single paper.

Wyman said her physical action is a creative outlet in a time where action needs to take place and people need to know how to defend themselves and move forward when they’re feeling stuck.

Nicole Kempskie, artist and 100 Days Action participant, calls the movement a beautiful forum for bringing together different types of artists and activists and getting people engaged every day in political action.

“It’s important to see that everyone in their own way is making an effort for positive change,” Kempskie said.

Kempskie’s contribution to the project is an online web diary entitled 100 Days of Doodles, where she posts new drawings every day related to the actions of the Trump administration. Kempskie said they are a personal outlet that bring lightness and joy to the very serious political actions currently taking place.

“There is so much that we don’t have control over, but no one can take away our way of expressing our emotions — that’s truly ours,” Kempskie said. “Art is such a perfect way of doing that and such a powerful vehicle for doing that.”