Reenacting the Unenacted?
About The Muster
On May the 14th, 2005, artist Allison Smith transformed Governors Island the former U.S. military base located only minutes by ferry from the southern shore of Manhattan into a stage for an unforgettable work of public art, commissioned by the Public Art Fund. Inspired by American Civil War battle reenactments, The Muster was a "polyphonic marshalling of voices" in which Smith invited artists and non-artists alike to declare a cause and create a campsite-installation in response to her question: "What are you fighting for?" Combining celebration, art, craft, history and activism, this earnest and jubilant event embodied the complexities of its political, aesthetic, and cultural moment.

Allison Smith is a New York-based artist, whose diverse practice investigates the cultural phenomenon of historical reenactment, or living history, using it as a means of addressing the relationship between American history, social activism, craft, and queer identity. Her work has recently been seen in exhibitions at Artpace San Antonio; Palais de Tokyo, Paris; Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, New York; and elsewhere.

Produced with the inimitable flair of the ever-talented graphic designer Jorge Colombo, this book documents the Muster and places it within broader contexts. Included are more than 140 photographs, a foreword by Susan K. Freedman, President of the Public Art Fund, and essays by Tom Eccles, curator of the project and director of the Bard Center for Curatorial Studies, James Trainor, US editor for Frieze, Anne Wehr, Communications Director for the Public Art Fund, and "Mustering Officer" Allison Smith.
A friend attended this event and said it was ridiculous. Semi-diverse clumps of artists standing around looking clueless, waiting for some leadership or an idea to emerge, with no common purpose except the need to be "seen" and the vague desire to "help out." Reenaction is an interesting social phenomenon--so what? "What are you fighting for?" is a "When did you stop beating your wife?"-style question, in that it assumes you are fighting and the questioner doesn't know why, and one should have the good sense not to answer it, thus saving yourself becoming fodder for a coffee table book. Perhaps one purpose the mustering served was to parody the Iraq war protest marches of '03, where every leftist "cause" under the sun was represented and the participants were so busy working on their funny signs and costumes they forgot what was needed--a grim unified front, hundreds of thousands strong, to stop the coming senseless slaughter. Somehow parody doesn't seem like the idea behind "The Muster," though.

- tom moody 3-21-2007 8:55 pm

You are right on the money Tom.
But hey, maybe the "inimitable flair of the ever-talented graphic designer" and some carefully edited photos will set us all straight on this.
- anonymous (guest) 3-22-2007 3:58 am

Flexitarians Against Nothing Unite. Excellent critique, Tom.
- yer (guest) 3-22-2007 7:32 pm

you should have dressed as sherman and burned it all down as you drove them into the harbor.
- dave 3-23-2007 12:47 am

or dressed as mr peabody, put them in the time machine and set the controls for the center of the sun yesterday.
- bill 3-23-2007 1:27 am

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