LA VS WAR
John Carr respondent
(Note: This survey was filled out as a phone interview between John Carr and Journal editor Robby Herbst. The conversation followed roughly the format of the survey.)
1. Your name, names of collaborators or collective name (aliases are fine).
John Carr (respondent) with the rest of the Yo Peace crew and the entire LA VS WAR cohort.
2. Name of activity, campaign, project etc…
LA VS WAR.
3: Is this activity affiliated with any other groups?
Brandy Flower/Hit and Run, Azul 213 , Man One/Crewest Gallery, Yo What Happened To Peace (a traveling exhibition consisting of 150 artists), The Center for the Study of Political Graphics, Ofelia Esparza, VJ Scott Beibin (of the Lost Film Festival), KPFK, Frosty/Dublab, Julie Rasmussen, Spectr, Azul 213, Mear One, Shervin Shabazi, Mike Russek, Jeff Birkmeyer, Todd Lazer, and Andrew Lojero/Art Don't Sleep.
4. Dates of activity (month, year, duration, is it ongoing?).
April 10-13th 2008
5. Location(s) of activity (city, street, store, gallery, web site, be specific).
The Firehouse, 710 S. Santa Fe Avenue, Los Angeles CA 90021.
6. Type of activity (please attempt to classify the tactic).
7. Target and goal of activity.
To inspire people of Los Angeles.
After doing the Yo What Happened to Peace exhibit (A traveling exhibition of posters Carr organized into existence back in 2003- editor) I got to know artists from all over the city. I got the feeling that artist are antiwar in general. So my vibe on the city is that it is pretty progressive and open minded and really antiwar. To me it wasn’t that much of a leap to make that statement, LA Vs WAR.
I wanted to network as many of those people together as possible, to unite and do a big show and make a big statement. I was thinking “it’s LA artists against the war, it’s people in LA against the war”. I just actually wrote that down as a shorthand note, “LA VS WAR”. I was sharing that with a friend and we were laughing about it and saying that would be a great title, and it stuck. I wanted it to be bold. It’s almost uncomfortable.
For me the event was about getting out of your comfort zone and expanding and making as big a statement as possible, cause it really was tight, the event was timed with the 5th anniversary of the war. That’s a major milestone. Everybody’s sick and tired of the war. It’s ridiculous how long this has gone on with no end in sight. The death toll is mounting, the cost is mounting; our country is in a state of disaster. Why not just make a statement that would get people uncomfortable and make a giant statement like that, be bold about it?
By getting out of our “comfort zone” I mean that for me I hadn’t put together an event of that scale before, nor had I done a poster campaign of that scale in the city before. We’d been doing wheat pasting of antiwar posters, but we hadn’t taken the financial risk of putting something together that big and taking a risk of doing a campaign that big. Theoretically we could have been fined a lot of money for doing this. We had to get permits for the event, we had to talk with the police, with the agencies. Plenty of other groups, like the ANSWER Coalition, when they go out and do big poster campaigns they actually get thousands and thousands of dollars in fines sent to there office.
It’s not so much getting out of your comfort zone, it’s that we wanted to expand ourselves. We wanted to do something wider and bigger. We had a great time doing the poster campaign. We were postering pretty consistently for a couple of months; we had a lot of people who came out who helped us along the way.
The war has been such a backdrop of our culture for so long now; to some extent we almost just take it for granted. So many people are expressing themselves about it in ways, and you know we wanted to do something that was trying to shock people again. The powers that be, they’re like, “go ahead have your protest make your posters, we don’t care we’re still going to keep doing this anyways”. And there was something about just doing something that was very direct. It wasn’t about “let’s make some clever statements and visual word plays and be kind of sarcastic ”. We just wanted to get back to direct messages like “LA VS WAR”. Like this other poster we put up which said “End The War”, a big typography piece to just get back to the core message of the whole movement. Direct message, all message.
(I don’t want to put words in your mouth but I will for a second. I would say that there is something audacious about that message, and about the exhibition’s events; like you were talking about before, bringing lots of different communities together to make it happen. Just this entire massive gathering of this collection of media that’s all about that singular thing - and that was really fucking audacious- editor)
Thank you. That’s what I was trying to say about getting out of your comfort zone, expanding ourselves and pushing ourselves beyond what we are used to doing. Yo What Happened to Peace has been a great project and it’s had quite a bit of legs. It’s been able to do a lot of interesting traveling to different spaces and places. But I always had a bit of a feeling that we were still kind of operating in a bit of obscurity. The more kind of audacious we get and the bigger we push the message the more we see that we have so much more support for that message than we ever imagined. And there’s really no need for anyone doing antiwar stuff to feel like they are alone or in obscurity at all because there’s such a massive level of support. We had thousands of people that came through the LA VS WAR event. People were just ogling everything and really excited about it. People from all walks of life came through. That was exciting to see, the large-scale reaction of positivity.
Putting together the event, we tried to reach out through as many places as humanely possible. Among other places, we targeted the Latino community for sure. We did this by making sure that we included a good selection of artists, and also through their networks, and by reaching out to the graffiti community, and making that a major part of it. We had tons and tons of tagger kids coming through who may not have necessarily come to an event like this, but who came because some of their favorite graffiti writers were there.
9. What was the outcome of activity?
A lot of people bring up the whole thing of “are you just preaching to the converted”, “are you preaching to the choir” and there’s some value really to be had with asking that. But I don’t think that we were just doing that. I think there were a lot of people just curious because they saw LA VS WAR posters everywhere. With that message everywhere, and the messages on MySpace, all the different social networking sites, the stickers and t-shirts, and all that stuff, they were like “well what the hell is that” – so they came out.
But for the people who are the choir, it’s important for the choir to have songs to sing. That they have a sense of community and a place to come and sing, to keep going, to keep having that energy inspiration and enthusiasm to keep doing what they do, I think that has a lot of value. We are artists. This is what we do.
We make art and we share it with people, we have exhibitions, DJ’s spin music for people. These are all things that people already do all the time in different arenas. LA VS WAR was a chance for us to all come together for the fifth anniversary and make a big statement together and have it be. The more people in the choir with us singing the more it’s going to resonate and the more it’s going to create ripples and then go outwards from there.
Do you have any estimates of how many people went through the space?
We are thinking some-were between 5 and 6 thousand, just kind of a guess.
10. What did you learn from this activity?
Through all the mistakes that I made I learned how to be a better organizer. I’ve learned how to work with large groups of people in teams and stuff. With LA VS WAR event we had to do the whole thing completely from scratch on a much bigger level than we are used to doing. It taught me how to do things on a bigger scale, how to promote bigger, how to do bigger wheat paste posters, how to put more of them up in an efficient way, and how to network together. Doing this event kind of helped us step up our game in all different kind of ways.
When you are talking about putting up bigger wheat pastes, did you develop any tools for that?
I come from a graphic design background and I got into the whole art thing like five years ago doing the Yo What Happened to Peace thing. It was my entree into the art world and that was a gallery thing. We’ve done lots of gallery shows and I really wanted to get out onto the street cause that’s where this work belongs. It’s great to have it in a gallery, but it’s really got to be complimented by having it on the street, to be out there. I really have gotten bit by the bug, just totally enamored and totally inspired, to put things out there on the streets.
We’ve been hitting it hard for the past year and a half but for LA VS WAR we really stepped it up and actually printed bigger posters. We are used to printing 18” x 24” and the posters we did for LA VS WAR were 2’ X 3’. We’d been printing on newsprint and I’d go to art stores and buy pads of paper but then I found Uline. It’s a packing and shipping company. They sell newsprint as a packing material. You can get 1600 sheets of 18” X 24” paper for $47.00; you can get something like 600 sheets of 2’ X 3’ for the same price. In the quest to find the ultimate cheapest most high volume thing, we located this great deal on large volume paper. And then we just had some great collaborators and volunteers and team members. We all just came together and had massive print making sessions. Two or three thousand posters maybe went up for this event.
11. What influenced the decisions you made in creating this activity? (be specific)
Last summer (2007) I saw some events that were impressive because of their ability to reach a lot of people. Banksy’s LA show was really well put together. The work was outstanding and it was a great coming together of so many different things. He did the media stunts – he reached a lot of people with that. There was another show called Wooster on Spring that happened in NYC and the imagery that came out of that was really amazing. It reminded me of some of my earlier inspiration of getting into this kind of political art – being a teenager and discovering punk rock, discovering hip hop and things like that. Seeing this political consciousness expressed through artistic means – this got me so fired up that it just changed my life. It sent me on the course that I am on now.
It’s always been my dream and my wish to share this with other people because I feel like it really had such a major and profound impact on my life. Now that I’ve been blessed with that it’s my sacred honor and duty to share that with other people. Like when you are fortunate and blessed enough to have been exposed to someone like Noam Chomsky’s work, to really understand it, it becomes like a duty and an honor to be able to share that with other people. Because a lot of people spent a lot of their time and risked a lot, some their lives, to be able to share this type of radical information with people, dedicated their lives to it. We are fortunate to be able to have been educated by the fruits of their labor and how selfish would that be if we sat up in our little ivory towers, or in our comfort zones, holding on to that information and go “I know that about the establishment and the power elite and all that stuff but I am just going to not really do anything about it”. I think it’s really important that if we have been blessed enough to have been exposed to that information, that those people have dedicated so much to bring to us, that it’s our duty to share it.
So it’s just passing on that inspiration, hoping that other people like me, who are maybe a sensitive kid who was raised in maybe an alienated type of environment, maybe a conservative environment, or maybe an environment surrounded by a lot of violence or poverty or different types of problems that could be alienating, but you feel like you know something is wrong or see something wrong, but you don’t know what to do about it and in comes this artwork or this information or this book that you read, that lets you know that you aren’t alone. I saw what was going on other places through artwork or music. One of the reasons why I do what I do is because I had a vision in my head. In my mind I thought, “well I am going to go to New York or LA and I am going to find this amazing group of people that have it all figured out, and then everything is going to be cool”. And you get there and you are like “wait a minute there is no utopian place” – this is true especially if you live in America. You have to go crawl your way and figure things out, make your own community. There are definitely incredible people everywhere that you can network with. So this was some of the impetus for doing Yo What Happened to Peace and LA VS WAR. I want us all to be united. I want LA to be united in the peace movement.
12. How do you measure success for this activity?
It goes back to what I was saying about the inspiration thing – I think that just to see people’s faces when they came in, and to see the kind of joy and excitement that people felt there, to also see some of the artwork that was created live on the spot – there was a tremendous sense of satisfaction from that, and a feeling that just pulling it off at all was a success.
I think that the sheer numbers of posters that went up and the number of people that came out – I think that we achieved what we had set out to do. The posters were all over the place and because we got up that meme of LA being against the war, that was one of the big successes.
13. In order to continue and be successful with this or other related activities, what would you do or need? (Be specific: is it a question of tools, more people, concepts, lock boxes, training, cultural change.)
We are all asking this question ourselves right now. A lot of people got inspired by what we did and want to do this in other cities. We are thinking if we were to do something that was labeled a “VS WAR” kind a thing, what shape would it take? One of the considerations with the LA thing was that this is our home town and we’ve been building these relationships and these networks and getting all kind of homie hook ups and special things from left and right ‘cause this is our community. And to go on and do something in a different city or in a different place and have a whole different set of considerations, how do you bring something like that to another city and have it still feel homegrown? How do you have it be part of the local expression? If we did these events, the Yo What Happened to Peace thing would always travel with it, but it would be showcase of the local artists and their antiwar expressions, and kind of honor the work that they’ve been doing since the War On Terror started, since Bush got into office. We really would need to make multiple trips, network with the local artists and activists and come ready to print and set up our own print making thing – our print making tools and our cinch clamps and our screens and everything – we’d have to find artists and connect with them and there studios and be down to work with them. It’s there cities. They know the streets they know the neighborhoods.
It’s about working together. That’s something I got inspired from Robbie Conal. We started going out on these poster missions, going out every few nights saying we’ll hit this area or that. The way that Robbie does it is that you don’t need to go running around until 4:00 AM multiple nights a week and be totally exhausted. Just go out once with 30 or 100 people and hit the whole city in one night. So than we started trying to get bigger crews going out and trying to have other people going out instead of us going out more times. Go out fewer times with more people.
When we went out on the LA VS WAR thing, we weren’t just putting up those pink LA Vs WAR posters. We were putting up all kinds of stuff. For any 1 of those pink posters, probably 5 of something else went up. All the different artists that came out were putting up there antiwar pieces next to it. That’s part of the plan. We are down to print whatever. Whatever messages need to get put up for this thing, we want to support it. If it’s stuff about healthcare, about the war, immigrant rights, whatever the messages are that need to get pushed, we want to be working with the activists. We’ll design their stuff. We’ll print it, well go out. We just need hands. That’s the thing about everyone collaborating; the more hands we have going out on the street the more stuff we can put up in a shorter period of time.