Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Overlapping Geographies of Occupy and the Arts

Posted by Demetra Pappas and Doug Singer, OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA/FRANKFURT AND KASSEL GERMANY -- One year ago, the word “occupy” was largely used to reference landlord tenant matters, rather than politics (and certainly was not used to reference art).  Then last autumn, Occupy Wall Street began, precipitating a movement that reached across the country to the Pacific, and across the Atlantic to Europe. 

In early August, I went to the Oakland Art and Soul, which took place in the infamous Occupy city of  Oakland, California.  The next day, The New York Times Magazine had a lengthy article by  Jonathan Mahler, “The World Capital of Anti-Capitalism,” depicting a very different place than the peaceful, music (blues to indy) and food filled (including the best pulled chicken I have ever had in my life) locale which I had spent a sunny August afternoon.  Travelling with me was Barry T. Bassis, who wrote up the festival for The New York Resident glossy monthly review of “Summer Musical Highlights” (, September 2012, p.  97). The next day, reading reports of lawlessness and looting, Bassis commented that he was glad to have read the piece the day after the visit, which he might not have made had he read the piece the day before.
So it was that I read, with particular interest, an article barely 48 hours later, in the New York Times, by Jack Ewing, “Occupy Frankfurt Camp is Closed as Health Hazard,” (Tuesday, August 7, 2012, p. A6), regarding the clearing of Occupy in Frankfurt, a city I was scheduled to – and did -- visit later the same month.  The article pointedly reported that the tent city, at the doorstep of the European Central Bank (which I thought to be fascinating living visual symbolism of marginalization by members of the 99% relating to the 1%) was closed only after months of tolerance and court litigation by protesters, who “argued with police, beat drums and played loud rap music, but there appeared to be no physical confrontation” (Id.).  Ewing’s article compared Frankfurt’s camp – and its clearing for reasons of hygiene and health hazard – favorably with the clearing earlier in the year in New York (and let us not even discuss the Oakland Occupy clearing efforts, notoriously mishandled).  During my visit to Frankfurt, I pointedly asked to see the Occupy site. What one local businessman told me was that Occupy Frankfurt had rules, which it well-enforced, with Occupy equivalents of Neighborhood Watch.  Again, the German businessman – who had not read the NYT piece, articulated that the central reason for the clear out was hygienic, with a secondary reason that some non-political miscreants had gravitated to the site to engage in unlawful drug use and similar conduct.  As something of an irony, on the day we drove past, en route to another city, there were still some Occupy tents and citizenry, seemingly peaceably assembled.  Perhaps even more instructive was that this was in the midst of Frankfurt’s Museum Embankment Festival (which I likened to New York’s Museum Mile having been placed on the banks of the East River, with music stations, culinary eateries and artisanal stalls set up a mile on either side of the river, with mansion and museum gardens also opened to the pubic for the purpose), though some distance from the embankment arts and museums sites.

The German city of Kassel, which hosts the experimental arts festival dOCUMENTA from June through September every fifth year, since 1955, was a location where Occupy and art merged.  A docent told me that one of the primary questions sought to be presented in dOCUMENTA (perhaps the biggest art festival in the world) is whether something is art.  In Friedrichsplatz, the main square, where the infamous “hole in the ground” (not visible as anything other than a small circle within the concrete of the square) is located, there were Occupy tents.  In addition, there was a series of small (knee high, two five year old child-wide), perfectly constructed tents with single words or phrases on them (my particular favorite, perhaps as a former criminal lawyer, was “abuse of power"). Virgilio Pelayo, Jr., of dOCUMENTA 13, confirmed that the miniature Occupy Art tents were created by the Occupy Camp. Of import here is that Kassel and dOCUMENTA 13 not only showed tolerance but also innovation in embracing what I call "Occupy Art".  

Demetra M. Pappas, JD, MSc, PhD, prepared the text used in this piece following visits this summer to California and Germany and she teaches in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at St. Francis College in Brooklyn Heights, New York, where she was named the SGA Faculty Member of the Year for 2011/2012. Her first book, “Historical Guides to Controversial Issues in America:  The Euthanasia/Assisted Suicide Debate,”  (Greenwood Press) is due out in September 2012.  She can be reached at and followed on Twitter @DemetraPappas. Doug Singer, the CEO of Daily Food & Wine,, created the images used in this piece during a recent trip to Frankfurt, Germany and Kassel, Germany.  He can be reached at

1 comment:

  1. What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee,
    The image can be seen at who can supply you with a canvas print of it.