For this special art and activism-themed issue of frieze, gymnast / collector / dealer / gun-runner Jean-Philippe Obu-Stevenson has granted us an exclusive extract from his memoir of a life in art and politics, Keeping Myself Occupied (Editions Obu-Stevenson, 2013)
As many of those involved in the events of May 1968, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Occupy movement, the Arab Spring and the release of Aung San Suu Kyi will tell you, my work as a curator has played a defining role in setting a radical agenda for millions of political activists, peace campaigners, defenders of liberty, power-crazed ideologues and bloodthirsty warlords across the world. It has been a testament to the indefatigable sovereignty and merciless might of curating as a profession – not to mention exhibition-making as a terrifyingly powerful assault weapon – that exhibitions of mine such as ‘Molotov Cocktails Are On Me!’ (Swindon Community Centre, 1969), ‘Guerillas in the Mist’ (Brazzaville Bus Terminal, 1977), ‘total war! New Directions in Curating’ (Defence and Security Events International Arms Fair, London, 2009), ‘Expensive Pictures of Riot Police Beating a Litter of Defenceless Kittens in Front of the Bank of England’ (John O’Groats Contemporary Arts Lab, 2011) and my unrealized proposal for Documenta IX, ‘Eat Lead, Commie Nazis!’ have had such a profound impact on global geopolitics, one so incalculably huge in scope that as yet nobody has commented upon it. Last year, I organized ‘The Revolution Will not Be Turned into a Talks Programme’, a symposium on how we might rethink bloody intractable civil war as a form of exhibition-making, held at Miami Beach, and sponsored by Haliburton, HSBC and Mexican Drug Lord Juaquin ‘El Hámster de Muerte’ Rodriguez. It included James Franco and Jeffrey Deitch in conversation on the role of the Sandinistas in relation to Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine, and the premiere of Anyone Seen My Spectacles? (2012), my new docu-drama history of the Situationists, featuring Simon Cowell as Guy Debord and Lindsay Lohan as Michèle Bernstein.
Everyone who attended was dumbstruck by the rigour with which I dissected complex political issues. For example, when asked by my charmingly idealistic but intellectually inferior colleagues in the art world about politics, I subjected them to what I call ‘The Adorno Test’. ‘Do you think the Occupy movement has a future or has it been riven by internecine quarreling amongst the Left?’ asked one audience member. ‘Adorno would call your question moronic and tell you to talk to the palm ’cos the face ain’t listening’, was my tough-but-fair reply. ‘Why is this symposium sponsored by a corrupt US oilfield services company?’ asked another. ‘Adorno would spit in your face and then compliment me on my unparalleled grasp of the alienating effects of capital,’ I rejoined. The questions continued as members of the audience, many brought to tears by my audacious analyses of hegemonic power, left in droves, unable to bear the intellectual load I was putting upon them. ‘Piss off back to Schipol, you fraud!’ called one, as she left the room giving me the international one-fingered salute of proletarian solidarity. ‘Adorno would ignore your question and continue gently stroking my face, whispering sweet nothings into my ear,’ was my sage advice to them.
I am often consulted (usually by heads of major banks facing corruption charges, and leaders of repressive regimes) about how we might make the world a better place in which to live. It is my belief that only curators can fully comprehend the true complexity of the world, and that artists and critics are but the cannon fodder in our battle for cultural and, ultimately, global supremacy. The truth is that all problems faced by the world can be solved by exhibitions. One day, in the not-too-distant future, poverty will be eradicated by a carefully curated set of collateral events – film programmes, talks, performances, etc. Peace and trans-cultural understanding will be achieved through a deeper reading of dense and grammatically impenetrable wall texts. Racial and sexual equality will be realized through newly commissioned contextualizing essays published in a full colour catalogue designed by an up-and-coming young Swiss design duo. Starvation will be a thing of the past, thanks to plentiful post-private view dinners and press preview breakfasts. Once again, curators and their celebrity friends will be able to travel thousands of miles by air to idyllic Greek islands for private conferences and not feel any guilt about environmental damage, because a specially commissioned artist (say, Liam Gillick or Olafur Eliasson, but probably James Franco) will have discovered a clean and sustainable fuel source. And I will take my rightful place as Imperial President and Beautiful Eternal Ruler of the World and … [We’re doomed. – Ed.]
First published in Issue 149