Thursday, April 28, 2011

In Memoriam: Keith Aoki

Keith Aoki, panel from "Pictures within Pictures," Ohio North University Law Review 36, 2010

Through a Facebook post by fellow Kresge Fellow Glida Snowden, I learned of the untimely passing of Keith Aoki on April 26 at age 55. At the time of his death, Aoki was Professor of Law at University of California-Davis. But those in the Detroit art community of a certain vintage (i.e., kinda old like me) will remember him as a talented young multi-media artist. Aoki was part of what I call the "Lost Generation" of Detroit art, a cadre of conceptual, performance, and video artists who worked in the city between the so-called first and second generations of the Cass Corridor art movement. The Lost Generation also includes Jim Hart, Diane Spodarek, Joe Banish, Lynn Farnsworth, and Jim Pallas, among others. One of Aoki's paintings from his days in Detroit is part of the James Duffy bequest to the WSU art and art history department, and it was on view during a show of the collection there a couple of years back.

I have special memories of Aoki's performance piece "Wings over Nudetown," a send-up of Cass Corridor hagiography which was part of a series of exhibitions put on at the DIA during the time John Hallmark Neff was curator of contemporary art. A comic strip documentation of it was published in The Detroit Artists Monthly, a magazine put out at the time primarily by Spodarek. (Click here to see a PDF of the comic posted by Jim Pallas on his website.)

After graduating with his BFA from Wayne, Aoki moved to New York where he received an MA in art at Hunter College. Besides being a damn fine draftsman, Aoki was a really smart guy. And at some point his interest turned to the law, and so he got a JD from Harvard and embarked on an academic career. But he often combined the two disciplines, legal scholarship and art, using his considerable drawing talents to illustrate his academic work. In this sense, he was also a pioneer of the new pedagogy that uses pop culture for didactic purposes.

Aoki went on to become a significant scholar in cultural studies and intellectual property law. Perhaps his most well-known work, though, is the graphic-novel format treatise on the creative commons Bound by Law, co-authored by another important copyright law scholar James Boyle. He also had his graphic work published in The Nation. But my favorite Aoki effort in this vein is actually the legal legwork he did for the underground rock band Negitivland (who among other things are generally credited with coining the term "culture jamming") for their 1997 CD DisPepsi, a satire of consumer culture consisting of cola-commercial sound collages, a classic work of cultural production in the creative commons.

Click here to read James Boyle's appreciation of Aoki. And click here to download the entire text and images of "Pictures within Pictures" from the Social Science Research Network.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Belaboring the representation of history in Maine

Judy Taylor, History of Maine Labor, 2008, oil on canvas. (Photo: James Imbrogno, courtesy Imbrogno Photography and the artist.)
My dissertation advisor at the New School Jeff Goldfarb runs a current events blog called Deliberately Considered. A well-known and highly regarded political sociologist, Jeff's idea is to use the blog form to expand rational debate in what Yochai Benkler calls "the networked public sphere" rather than engage in simple punditry. (Click here to read my review of Jeff's last book The Politics of Small Things: The Power of the Powerless in Dark Times.)

Today's Deliberately Considered features my post on the recent controversy in Maine over a mural depicting episodes from that state's labor history. For those of you who don't know, the mural, which was completed in 2008 under the auspices of the Maine Arts Commission and installed in the lobby of the State of Maine Department of Labor building was removed and put into storage in an undisclosed location (perhaps for "extraordinary rendition"?) by newly elected governor Paul LePage, a Tea Party-backed Republican. One wonders whether Rick Snyder is now contemplating a nice beige wallpaper for the Rivera Court.