This presentation was put on by the SFMOMA at the Bayview Opera House in San Francisco, stuff as part of a “live art” series the museum is presenting about the forthcoming book by Rebecca Solnit; Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas. Solnit’s book is part geography, sildenafil part activism, part history; she and her team of artists, cartographers, and writers have created a series of seven different maps of San Francisco, depicting alternate histories or uncovering forgotten aspects of the area. Right Wing of the Dove, one of the seven maps created in conjunction with SFMOMA, records the history of conservative war machines in the Bay Area; whether it is the location of the military bases or that John Yoo teaches at UC Berkeley, the map offers a concise, partial, history of the military-industrial complex in the bay area.
“The Bay Area’s Military-Industrial Complex” discussion brought artist Trevor Paglen and activist super-star Antonia Juhasz, both contributors to Solnit’s publication, together to talk about the military-industrial complex and its implications in the Bay Area. Juhasz gave a long, yet informational, talk about Chevron. Bringing to light several interesting facts about the gigantic corporation, for instance Chevron’s corporate headquarters have been in California for 130 years and that Chevron is the fifth largest corporation in the world. As most activists do, she had many thoughts about Chevron and what to do in response to this corporate monster.
Following, the somewhat tedious and humorless diatribe of Juhasz, Trevor Paglen took the stand. Paglen, an artist/geographer, gave a run-down of the contents and sites on the map. He opened his talk with the idea that the Bay Area has long been an imperial outpost, as the last city of the American West and an expansion point into East Asia. There is a long history of army/naval/air force bases in this area that have been used in numerous wars spanning several centuries and exist in their modern formations, although most of the bases are now closed and contain superfund sites that the State is never going to clean up. In addition to the more obvious physical connections to the military-industrial complex, he highlighted many other connections to the military in this region, lurking in plain sight.
UC Berkeley researchers spearheaded the discovery of irradiated uranium and the creation of weapons-grade plutonium. The university is home to the Cyclotron, a key technology in the development of uranium by separating and isolating isotopes needed for atomic studies. Until recently, UC Berkeley also oversaw the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories, another key center for weapons research. This combination of research and technological development were instrumental in the development of atomic weapons. Think of that the next time you are cruising through Berkeley’s “nuclear free zone.”
Paglen discussed pertinent Silicon Valley companies with ties to military and government research. For example, San Jose’s Jeppesen DataPlan, Inc., a subsidiary of Boeing Company specializing in navigational systems and most recently in the coordination of logistics for CIA’s black-ops “rendition” of suspected terrorists,moving prisoners from country to country. Paglen pointed out that now instead of moving suspected terrorists into black-ops confinement facilities, the CIA has decided to make hit-lists of the terrorists; cheaper I suppose?
Paglen also discussed the AT&T surveillance case leaked by Mark Klein, a technician at the AT&T building at 611 Folsom Street. This was the site of illegal wire tapping done during the Bush administration, under the guise of collecting information about potential terrorist attacks. The interesting point that Paglen raises about this situation, is how the case against AT&T was thrown out and as if to add insult to injury, the company was given carte blanche to perform the surveillance—retro-active immunity; turning illegal covert actions into legal, State sanctioned activities. People were outraged about these illegal government activities, the case was brought to light, the state made their actions legal, and people forget what they were outraged about. This is an astute observation about American culture in general and the public’s relationship to State apparatuses. There are countless other examples of this cultural amnesia, the Patriot Act comes to mind, and an interesting thought about geography and space and how we forget the most obvious indicators of our own relationship to the state, even when the infrastructure is part of the daily landscape.
Both Paglen and Juhasz’s work is about making hidden things visible; actively challenging the tendency of people forgetting what is right in front of them. Juhasz’s activism was clearly an act of witness. Witness to the suffering of others and making these sufferings public; this type of thought has an explicitly moralistic ideology behind it. The idea of speaking truth to power is both inherently righteous and in Juhasz’s opinion a social necessity. In juxtaposition, Paglen was more skeptical about the ability of people to change this sort of social relationship He implied a process of recuperation by the State in its ability to normalize these outrages and therefore pacifying the public. To highlight this difference of approach, an audience member asked about what kinds of actions should be done in response to these acts. Paglen said he “honestly didn’t know” and wouldn’t give the audience a bullshit response, Juhasz dove into a five minute spiel about the victories of Chevron activists.
There will be several more of these talks in the upcoming months. For more information visit SFMOMA’s event page. Most of the events are free and open to the public, some require museum entry.