Poetic Terrorism and Guerrilla Art in the 21st Century by Jane Crayton  
aka JanedaPain

"Art as crime; crime as art." Hakim Bey.

One of the most relevant statements made about art by a man whom  
walked the line of expressionism. Hakim Bey, did he see the future, or  
did he contemplate the past, a combination of both I would guess.

The word guerrilla is a word of Spanish descent (guerra, meaning war)  
first used to describe the Spanish-Portuguese guerrilleros  
(insurgents). Guerrilleros have existed through out time often in  
defense of some wrongs imposed to a group of less represented and  
defended peoples. They often fight a foreign invader or a ruling  
government and crimes against humanity. In the modern world we have  
seen these same groups and individuals come out in a new form of  
guerrilla tactics that is often non-violent and thought provoking art.  
Unfortunately in the post 9/11 era we are now limited in our  
expressions, for fear that they may be considered terrorism and not  
art. Mind you some of these artist push the line, evacuating  
neighborhood and closing down cities, all in the name of their art  
projects and political views. But is it the over reaction of our post  
9/11 era that has taught us to react with such eager and violent  
haste, and condemn the works of these political artist?

Is it the art or the tactics, that deliver the fear that resonates in  
the unaware and suddenly captured audience? That sudden and captured  
audience today can be an over alerted citizen or government workers.  
With the heightened threat of terrorism and the orange security levels  
at the airports, we are all being programmed that we are never to be  
safe again. And what a great subject for an art project, huh? Artist  
around the world are finding them selves in precarious positions, and  
having to explain themselves to courts around the world and defend  
their art. These artist are the guerrilla artist of the 21st century.  
But are they justified in their use of guerilla tactics for making  
their statement? Is this a struggle to control the people and their  
freedom of expression? Where do we need to draw the lines for artist  
and government?

To be an artist has always been a daring act and a future of  
impoverished hell. It has always been looked down upon until or unless  
you achieve fame for your art. Artist usually tend to lean towards the  
side of interesting characters, someone daring, someone expressive of  
ideas and opinions, someone sending a message. Their approach when  
successful is usually one of great surprise and inventive nature.  
These artist are often ridiculed at first and later praised for their  
daring ability to take on a challenge when all are against them.  
Typically guerrilla artist have been viewed as punks spray painting on  
the sides of buildings, but this goes far beyond simple vandalism.  
There is a culture, a revolution and a style of guerrilla art that is  
comparable to a peaceful protest utilizing guerrilla tactics.

Banksy a graffiti and guerrilla artist from the UK has delivered some  
of the best examples of well engineered guerrilla art. His art is  
legendary, from dodging Israeli soldiers to paint beautiful scenes on  
the 'security' wall in Palestine. To placing a parking boot on a  
sculpture in a central square in London. He has placed multiple pieces  
of modern remakes of art like Early Man goes to Market, and The  
British Pensioner in the Hat and Coat, in london Museums where they  
were not discovered for days even weeks. What a brilliant mind, how  
better to get into the museum, than to put your work there, yourself,  
video tape it and then wait for it to get discovered. But his  
guerrilla art is not just self promoting, he is making political  
statements by painting on the security wall in Palestine, and by  
placing the parking boot on the historical statue in a central  
location of London.

Mode 2 one of the most recognized graffiti artist in the Uk. Known for  
his unmistakable style  and technique of sketchy fill-in with detailed  
backgrounds and scenes. His work is more like paintings, yet his  
technique is definitely that of a graffiti artist. His work can be  
found around the streets of London and his commissioned work can be  
found on some large Billboards. He is considered a guerrilla artist  
because of his guerrilla like tactics of graffiti art. The simple fact  
that most of it is illegal painting on private property, makes it  
illegal. Although his work is relevant as a guerilla artist, this  
trend of guerrilla tactics has grown and become a popular way for  
artist and activist to render their work in public spaces.

A group of artist who seemed to pickup wisely on the term guerrilla  
artist is the Guerrialla Girls. "We're a bunch of anonymous females  
who take the names of dead women artists as pseudonyms and appear in  
public wearing gorilla masks." is how the Guerrilla Girls describe  
themselves. This artist based feminist performance group started in  
New York. They have been surprising people all over the world with  
their outrageous guerrilla performances that often incorporate social  
and feminist issues. They focus more on the issues, than their  
personalities and individual identities, by wearing the gorilla masks.  
Their feminist conscious statements and demonstrations often transform  
the audience, and community, addressing a specific theme the girls  
have decided to share with the public. Would their audience take them  
as serious if their faces were shown? And do they fear public and  
social exclusion from their peer groups if their identities are  

Yes Men are a group of artist and guerrilla activist utilizing  
artistic guerrilla tactics. Utilizing technology, New Media and  
theatrical tactics to achieve their desired identity alteration or  
'correction'. From redesigning dummy websites to recreating fake  
marketing packages, to spoof the media with live interviews of  
impersonated persons whose identity they wish to correct.  In November  
of 2004 the Yes Men went on BBC with breaking news that the Dow  
Chemical Company, (whom they claimed to be representatives of ) were  
going to clean up the mess in Bhopal and compensate the victims for  
their companies lack of responsibility. From this "identity  
correction" of Dow Chemical Company, they helped show the true  
intension of the company which did not intend to help the victims at  
all. The Yes Men call out actions by industry, commercial or political  
persons by utilizing guerrilla tactics. They often imitate company  
executives, and 'big time criminals' to publicly humiliate them in  
order to 'correct' their public identities. Their targets have  
included Mc Donald's, Dow Chemical, and Elected officials just to name  
a few.

The South Venice Billboard Correction Committee (SVBCC) A collective  
group of artist who administer radical social art changes to  
billboards in South Venice. This group works with guerrilla tactics to  
redesign and illustrate their social and political agenda. This group  
works to recreate a new politically corrected ad in place of the old  
ad. The group uses the existing design and redesigns the billboard to  
create a new public message. These actions are obviously illegal and a  
defacing of private property. The group is well aware that their  
activities are illegal, yet they continue to execute these guerrilla  
tactics to administer what they call "radical social art changes" to  
the billboards in order to deliver their social message. These guys  
literally scale the billboards at night and repaint them, and create a  
completely different message, in this public space. The idea that  
public spaces are the new canvas for political generated guerrilla art  
is a unique phenomena of the 21st Century New Media Artist.

Artist Jason Sprinkle (1969-2005), also known as Subculture Joe, was  
also an artist whom seemed to only catch negative attention from the  
city of Seattle. On Labor Day of 1993 Jason and his accomplices tied a  
ball and chain around the foot of Jonathan Borofsky's "Hammering Man"  
stature, that graced the entrance to the Seattle Art Museum.  
Sprinkle's guerrilla art performances and installations ranged from  
celebrated to terrorism related. In 1996 Sprinkle abandon a truck with  
a large red metal part of an installation in it, flattened all the  
tires and painted on the fender read a graffiti tag "the bomb". As a  
result the Seattle bomb squad was called out, city blocks were  
evacuated and robots deployed to disarm any potential exploding devices.

"Christopher Boisvert, 25-year-old student from the School of Visual  
Arts in Manhattan, may have the next few years to think over the  
implications of art in public places. That's because a class project  
he produced involved some art placed in a very public place that  
unfortunately went a bit awry. The public place was Union Station, one  
of New York City's busiest transportation nexuses, and the public art  
was the placing of close to 40 black boxes at various locations with  
the word 'FEAR' emblazoned on them," MAYORBOB writes. "To say that  
this project created a stir would be a gross understatement. In this  
post September 11th world, a display like that is going to engender  
just one reaction - fear. Union Station was shut down for about five  
hours while the NYPD bomb squad checked out the boxes. Boisvert turned  
himself in when he found out that the police were questioning people  
about the incident." This is just another example where the artist  
although making a very powerful statement, should have been more aware  
of his actions and the potential fear that he created with his  
political and social statement. And if he did think of the potential  
dangers and the potential reactions to his art piece, should he have  
considered delivering it differently, or accepting the responsibility  
of it, or be prepared to cover yourself adequately like the Billboard  
Correction group or even Banksy.

But these incidents are not limited to guerrilla artist, because even  
artist whom simply speak of the controversial subject of terrorism are  
subject to suspicion. Within a few weeks of the September 11th  
terrorist attacks, the FBI contacted the Whitney Museum of American  
Art about Mark Lombardi's drawings' on exhibition there. Mark Lombardi  
had apparently committed suicide the year before but his controversial  
work illustrating the links between terrorism and the global economy  
were still on display in the museum. Lombardi's work is considered not  
only art but also pieces of detailed and researched history. His art  
works are obvious interest to the government in the wake of the new  
era of terrorism we now live in. But is it really as bad as they want  
us to believe, or has the technology and the tactics of terrorism just  
fed the fear of radical self expression to be included within these  

Zanny Begg, produced a work of 10 life size checkpoint US solders for  
exhibition in the town of Sidney as a part of the [out of Gallery]  
project. Each life size replica was to have the slogan "Checkpoint for  
Weapons of Mass Distraction." Her intension was to satirize the US  
search for weapons of mass destruction. Zanny was instructed to remove  
her life size solders shortly after erecting them by the City Counsel  
and Mayor Leo Kelly. She was threatened with arrest and her works were  
later impounded. "It's a disgraceful interference with the freedom of  
speech of these artists," said Council of Civil Liberties president  
Cameron Murphy. Another exhibition in November was canceled because  
the title "Guerilla Art" some how "discredited the council" according  
to Kelly. Artist are now being censored by city councils and mayors,  
and art work is being confiscated in the 21st Century. Artist are no  
only being targeted as terrorist, but they can not even display work  
on the subject of terrorism or occupation. Is our own censorship not  
just as bad as the ones we are trying to grant to those in which we  
seek to give freedom through war...yeah...um... thats an oxymoron.

Columbian born painter Fernando Botero exhibited works in California  
that depict the Abu Ghriab prison and suspected abuse to prison  
inmates. His works are bold and courageous, and depict the artist  
disgust in US policy regarding prison inmates. "I, like everyone else,  
was shocked by the barbarity, especially because the United States is  
supposed to be this model of compassion." His goal is to make people  
remember the human tragedies sot hat no one will forget the unjust  
action of the US soldiers to Abu Ghraib's prisoners. His pictures look  
to shake people to disturb them, to make them think, and hopefully  
make them act. We have artist that are working with portraying the  
victims and the perpetrators of terrorism on both sides of the fence.

Nasrin Mazoi, a graduate student selected to present works at the  
Museum of Israeli Art in Ramat-Gan displayed six portraits of  
Palestinian males all she averred, were prepared "to blow themselves  
up in order to change the present situation."  Her work has now  
traveled around the world, featuring these life size pictures of  
apparent suicide bombers or family members of one. This is not an  
isolated incidence of a Pro-Palestinian exhibition but it is a rather  
bold and very critical one. Some of these works have been lucky enough  
to squeak buy, but others have been subject to censorship and  
confiscation clearly because of the controversial subject.

Steven Kurtz is an associate professor of art at the University of  
Buffalo, in Buffalo, New York.  He aroused suspicion in Spring 2004  
when he called medical personal to his home because his wife  
unexpectedly died. When medical persons arrived at his home to help,  
they became suspicious of some medical, scientific, and technological  
equipment in his home. The authorities over reacted and shut down his  
neighborhood, evacuating people from their homes in surrounding  
neighborhoods, and closing streets. They took the body of his diseased  
wife into custody and arrested him, while dozens of agents searched  
his property. Mr Kurtz was now facing criminal charges as a member of  
the Critical Art Ensemble, "dedicated to exploring the intersections  
between art, technology, radical politics and critical theory". In  
July of 2004 a grand jury rejected the 'terrorism' charges, but he  
still faces federal criminal charges today for mail and wire fraud.  
What is interesting about Steven Kurtz is that he was arrested not for  
his performance or his art per-say, but because of what they thought  
it could be. Gary Younge from The Guardian in Buffalo describes the  
situation. "What began as a personal tragedy for Mr Kurtz has turned  
into what many believe is, at best, an overreaction prompted by 9/11  
paranoia and, at worst, a politically motivated attempt to silence a  
radical artist." So where is the limit between crime and art, and art  
as crime? How do we define Kurtz, and other radical artist that work  
in new mediums that push boundaries with technology, should we limit  
their research? These are all important questions to be asking artist  
and their audience in the 21st century.

Are you scared to speak out, demonstrate, or produce radical art? I  
am, and I think even writing about this could get me on a list of  
people to be watched. I fear the police-state in which we live today,  
wants to censor our art and prosecute our artist as terrorist. I think  
that each of these artist has the responsibility only to themselves to  
weigh these actions, for they know their art has consequence, that is  
why it is so potent. It is apparent that the government wants to  
regulate what is said and demonstrated to the people. It is obvious  
that the current US administration is prepared to make permanent  
changes to laws in order to ease the legalities of entrapment for  
these guerrilla artist.

That said, when Banksy is striding through the Museum with a fresh  
addition ready to hang, does he not consider what will happen if he is  
caught and apprehended. Is it not the ultimate publicity for your work  
to be discovered and captured or even detained? Although horrible in  
the case of Steven Kurtz, who was not actively presenting work at the  
time of his arrest. Is he still not aware of his potential  
surroundings and the danger his work could have to his personal life  
and freedoms. But as artist and as activist, I think we are all  
willing to take these risks in our work and activism. I think some of  
us have been luckier than others. And I believe that some have  
carefully executed plans of great detail, with wisdom of potential  
hazards and legal obstacles.

When we examen the most recent incident in Boston on January 31st,  
where two artist Peter Berdovsky and Sean Stevens were charged with  
creating a panic because they placed electronic LED art that somehow  
caused a bomb scare. The installation was actually commissioned by the  
Turner Broadcasting Network and the art work depicting a popular  
animated character from Adult Swim's, Aqua Teen Hunger Force "flipping  
the bird". The artworks were actually installed for several weeks  
without, panic or notice throughout the entire country. What is crazy  
is it was a guerrilla marketing plan by the network, and they had  
several hundred LED boards placed in cities throughout the United  
States. Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis called the stunt  
"unconscionable," while Boston Mayor Thomas Menino called it  
"outrageous" and the product of "corporate greed." Democratic Rep. Ed  
Markey, a Boston-area congressman, added, "It would be hard to dream  
up a more appalling publicity stunt." It seems that because the city  
over reacted, with the resulting "snarled traffic and mass transit  
closings as the bomb squad fumbled to find all the LED light boards.  
Do they now seek revenge for their over-reaction, or should they just  
consider themselves lucky to have gotten a good practice run.  
According to a student Todd Venderlin, "It's so not threatening --  
it's a Lite-Brite," he told the press, referring to the children's toy  
that allows its users to create pictures by placing translucent pegs  
into an opaque board. "I don't understand how they could be terrified.  
I would if it was a bunch of circuits blinking, but it wasn't."

When we look back into history we see that the great artist, scientist  
and inventors of our time have often had their actions and theories  
mistaken for evil conspiracy driven terrorism.  Even Galileo was taken  
into custody and held by the church for speaking his views and  
publicly demonstrating his support of the new heliocentric view of the  
solar system. The modern inventors have to be risk takers in order to  
produce their inventions in theory, art and science. Yet they need to  
exercise extreme caution when demonstrating with guerrilla tactics  
because their politically charged art is still subject to the new laws  
of the Homeland Security Act, and may end up face to face with the  
terrorism task-force in the 21st Century. Hakim Bey said it best, "The  
best Poetic Terrorism is against the law, but don't get caught. Art as  
crime; crime as art."


Art of Mode 2. Retrieved Feb. 2, 2007  

Begg, Zanny. Retrieved Feb. 10, 2007  

Belluck, Pam. 2 Arrested in Boston Over Bomb Scare. Feb. 1, 2007  
Retrieved Feb 2, 2007  

Bey, Hakim. Chaos: the broadsheets of ontological anarchism, Poetic  
Terrorism ?1995 <http://www.charm.net/~profpan/chaos.html>

California Department of Corrections. Retreived Feb. 2, 2007  

CNN Report.  Two plead not guilty to Boston hoax charges. Feb. 2, 2007  
Retrieved Feb 2, 2007  

Hackett, Regina. Jason Sprinkle, 1969-2005: Celebrated acts of  
guerrilla art caused notoriety, changed him. Seattle Post, May 25,  
2005 Retrieved Feb. 11, 2007  

Guerrillagirls.com; Retrieved Feb 9, 2007 <http://www.guerillagirls.com/>

MAYORBOB. edited by John Plastic, That's not my Terrorist Attack, It's  
My Art Project!; Dec. 18, 2006 Retrieved Feb. 2, 2007  

Munro, Catharine. Uproar over council ban on anti-war art display. The  
Sun-Herald; Feb. 6, 2005, Retrieved Feb. 10, 2007  

NPR. The 'Conspiracy' Art of Mark Lombardi, Nov. 1, 2003 Retrieved  
Feb. 10, 2007  

Roth, Frimet. Terrorism and Art, Jan. 19, 2005 Retrieved Feb. 10, 2007  

Scigliano, Eric. Hammered man, beautiful mind. Seattlepi.com, June 1,  
2005 Retrieved Feb 11, 2007  

Vallen, Mark. Art for a Change. Fernando Botero Paints Abu Ghraib.  
Apr. 10, 2005 Retrieved Feb. 11, 2007
Yesmen.org, Retrieved Feb 10, 2007 <http://www.theyesmen.org/>

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