Uprising

UPRISING is a series of monthly public performances exploring ideas and practices of revolution. All of the UPRISINGs are performed by a crew of volunteers who may or may not be performers, who show up wearing white clothes and learn the performance an hour before it starts. UPRISING references the fact that 2008 is 40 years since 1968, a year of worldwide revolutionary activity. UPRISING is presented by Links Hall in Chicago.
Rather than attempting to re-create 1968, UPRISING performances have created public demonstrations of the possibilities for a more loving, just and humane present and future. In spite of my long history as an activist and participant in many public actions of protest, UPRISING is not engaged in opposition: it is explicitly about world-building. Performances have varied widely from month to month based on venue, weather, and theme, but they have all shared a commitment to flexible structure, ambitious intentions, and sense of humor. This work is inspired by the words of the late poet Sekou Sundiata, who called on artists and activists to “uncover a ‘transcendent’ vision of society that lifts our visions to the highest possibilities of human conduct.”

UPRISING has referenced 1968 and revolution in different ways each month:

*   January’s action involved the performance of 240 acts of love correlating to the 240 weeks we’ve been at war
*   in February a class of DePaul freshmen researched campus rebellions of 1968 and performed radical honesty on the DePaul Quad
*   in March we dug in the earth at the kickoff of the community garden at 61st and Blacksone
*   in April, still vibrating from the biggest earthquake Chicago’s had since 1968, a roomful of people waiting for a punk show at NFO XPO participated in a performance including one activist’s testimony
*   in May participants played tug of war on Michigan avenue, pulling for causes we painted on the sidewalk
*   June’s UPRISING explored symbols and gestures of solidarity within the Chicago Dyke March in Pilsen
*   in July we worked the theme of revolutionary sex/gender inside the sex club at Bijou Theater
*   in August we waved community-created flags at the Logan Statue where activists gathered for the Democratic National Convention in 1968
*   in September we asked participants in the 40-year anniversary celebration of the Young Lords to be explicit about what liberation means
*   in October we considered the current state of revolutionary feminism at Women and Children First Bookstore
*   in November we sent messages of compassion to the next President of the United States
*   in December we activated intergenerational dialogue at the Jane Addams Hull-House for the AREA 68/08 event

The passivity of current cultural consumption has left many people hungry to participate in something meaningful. UPRISING tries to provide models for the participation of artists, non-artists, and activists in meaningful, hope-filled activities as a strategy for building revolutionary culture. In UPRISING performances, I have seen time and time again that people WANT TO and WILL participate in meaningful projects if they are given an opportunity to do so in a way that is both safe and challenging. Volunteer performers and audience members astound me with their willingness to infuse the performances with their dreams of a better world.
One thing I noticed as the year went by is that the aesthetic and practical choice to go for complete sincerity really enabled both volunteer performers and audience members/passersby to engage with the work. I have felt like part of my job is to keep refining an explanation for what is going on that is simple, genuine, and heartfelt—and avoids art jargon or other language that might make people feel unqualified to participate. This project is not snarky, nor is it ironic. These are process choices that relate to my hopes for the relationships we might cultivate in a more humane world.
I’ve been politically engaged in Chicago since 1988. The Women’s Action Coalition, Insight Arts, and many other groups have provided space and encouragement for my interest in cultural work tied to political movement. In this context, I decided to make UPRISING for a somewhat selfish reason: to be engaged in a practice of encouraging myself to have hope. But what has succeeded in giving me hope are the ways in which volunteer performers and audience members have actually made the work happen.
Part of me feared that a project dedicated to envisioning and manifesting positive visions for the world would be too corny to attract participants, but that has not been the case. I now understand that I have access to a lot of people who are really willing to put their life energy into activating the world in which we want to live. I have been really inspired by the ways in which I have witnessed others taking these ideas and making them fiercely their own—which is really the way world-building has to work.
The economic reality of UPRISING is that its total outside funding is $600 from the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs. There is no ticket income: performances are free. To support the project, UPRISING is accompanied by EVIDENCE, a monthly photo postcard documenting each month’s performances. EVIDENCE postcards are sent to subscribers who support the work at $120/year or $10/month. Links Hall provides administrative and marketing support for both UPRISING and EVIDENCE. EVIDENCE is an experiment in finding ways for caring people to be involved in the work even if they don’t experience it firsthand.
UPRISING monthly performances will continue through the end of 2011. It is my hope to cull meaningful gestures, materials, and research from these performances and use them to create a new piece called CIRCULATE, which will tour to 12 different places in 2012.
We are currently seeking appropriate events and venues for UPRISING 2009-2011. If you are curious about what that might mean, please email me at
nicolegarneau13@sbcglobal.net. To subscribe to EVIDENCE, please contact Links Hall at 773-281-0824 or info@linkshall.org. Documentation of UPRISING is at
nicolegarneau.com. ◊