September/October 1980

'International Workers Day Show'
by Susanna Sedgwick

Art and politics are wild lovers. They incite scandal, thrive on public flagellation by the establishment and though they are into dominance among each other, they fight against it as a social more.

Strange bedfellows as they may seem, Art and politics have a long standing relationship and are now well on their way to a climax in the hotbed of the 80s.

Supporting so controversial a couple is never easy, but there are those who do, despite the hassles. Colab, Collaborative Projects, has been instrumental in bringing Art and Politics between the sheets of inner city streets. Colab was instrumental in organizing the Real Estate Show, geared toward bringing art out of the high-tech galleries and into low income neighborhoods where it is accessible to all. Their next big success was the Times Square Show (reviewed in EYE, summer '80) and now a Colab affiliate has opened a gallery over at 156 Rivington Street.

"We got this place as a direct result of the Real Estate Show. City housing realized they couldn't get rid of us so they conceded us this space. It was a buy-off really." says Becky Howland, one of the No Rio members.

They took the place, named it "ABC NO RIO" inspired from an old corrugated sign in Spanish across the street and got to work.

The recent show at No Rio is described in their flyer as "the glamorous and controversial International Art Show, a collage of contemporary political art and poetry from around the world." The show came to New York thanks to Joseph Nechvatal who brought it from San Francisco. The San Francisco Poster Brigade conceived the show as a "May Day Mail-in Art Show", to which revolutionaries from all over the world would mail their posters as a tribute to May 1, 1980, International Workers Day.

The collection is a collective cry of protest from workers all over the world. In the past ten years poster art has burgeoned as a new form of socio-political art. Posters are easy to mail, not prohibitively expensive and accessible to all.

Posters, as well as postcard art, color xerox graphics, lithographs and silkscreens cover the walls from corner to corner of the gallery. There are political postcards from West Germany, woodcuts from Japan, and the assortment of socio-realistic posters whose color separation and art are clearly the work of sensitive artists as well as incensed revolutionaries. The black and white photographs from Northern Ireland by Cameraworks are an anguished rendering of the effects of war on humanity.

From the Rock Rebels in Holland the message was "Rock Against Beatrix". The English organization Rock Against Racism (RAR) are also wel represented. The Rock has been thrown and will continue to roll gathering momentum and a whole new generation of rebels.

What exactly are the plans for No Rio? Are they going to continue as a socio-political gallery or be sucked into the compromise of an "alternative space"? It is a hard question to answer, but Becky Howland, Alan Moore, Joseph Nechvatal and Bobby G., all of whom were instrumental in getting the gallery off the ground with the help of Colab, seemed to agree on one point. In the words of Becky Howland: "It's important to learn about the neighborhood, to reach these people, rather than just have a 'White Club' ."

The means proposed to do this would include video workshops with local youths' participation, art shows that would concern the neighborhood and its possible artists and events. They also hope to provide a program which would help the locals become more aware of their rights and consequently exert more control in the ceaseless battle between neighborhood and urban developers.

Alan Moore voiced the goals of No Rio very succintly: "I feel No Rio could have a political purpose. It should stress the areas of common concern between the artists and the oppressed people. We want to create a certain communication, if we can do this we will have achieved something."

Artists are often as undermined and persecuted as the socially oppressed, who in turn harbor many artists.

Hopefully No Rio will give art and politics a chance to do their thing openly using all media available to further their cause.

In fact, as this article goes to press, I've got the word on the next shows scheduled at No Rio for October. A show of "Suicide, Murder, and Junk, the last group show," organized by John Morton. Also a show on Animals living in Cities featuring rats, roaches, pigeons and other urban wildlife, organized by Christy Rupp.

No Rio is embarking upon something which could mean a shot in the arm to the relationship of art and politics.

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ABC No Rio: The Culture of Opposition Since 1980