When artist Chris Silva got an invite to participate in an art show at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA), he wanted to make sure he brought his best work. The "Transmission LA" show carried the outsider street credibility of its curator, Beastie Boy Mike D, and being censored for his efforts was the furthest thing on Silva's mind.
But while the traditional art world is populated with thin-skinned control freaks bent on manufacturing self-serving historical narratives, "Transmission LA" couldn't be bothered with stuffy old conventions like freedom of expression. The breath of fresh air that convergence culture is supposed to bring to the stuffy hallowed halls of fine art reportedly comes with a cost to artistic integrity, one that Chris Silva was not about to pay. His art featured a product manufactured by a competitor of a MOCA corporate sponsor and he says his video projection was censored specifically because of this.
I discussed the ugly issue of his art being censored with the artist a few days after the May 5 incident.
MAT GLEASON: First, tell me about the event you were in at MOCA, who organized it?
CHRIS SILVA: The event I participated in was B.Y.O.B which was selected by Mike D to be a part of his "Transmission LA" event at MOCA's Geffen wing. Rafael Rozendaal is the person who came up with the BYOB event format.
MG: What does BYOB stand for?
CS: The term B.Y.O.B. stands for "Bring Your Own Beamer." Beamer being European slang for projector.
MG: What was your role in BYOB?
CS: I was invited to participate in the event (LINK TO EVENT PAGE) by Rafael as an artist. Essentially as an artist in this event, one would show up with their own projector (beamer) and project their art on a designated space. It is somewhat of an open format; a rogue, and chaotic way of displaying art. BYOB is an alternative experience that I think is pretty great.
Chris Silva's projection at BYOB on the left in this shot of the entrance of the Geffen Contemporary wing of LA MOCA.
MG: So all the conventions of museum culture are being left in the dust by this one event and your projection, entitled "Up a Wall", is rolling and then you notice it has been blocked -- explain what happened next...
CS: I came to check on my equipment, and noticed that a postcard was taped over the part where the light comes out. I thought it was really odd that someone would try to block my projection and not just turn off my projector. So I took the card off, fixed the image back the way it was supposed to and immediately got rushed by Felipe Lima, one of the "Transmission" organizers and two other people who I did not know, one of them wearing a gold chain with a Mercedes logo hanging from it.
MG: Can I just say that gold chain with a Mercedes logo hanging from it is so beyond tacky and used to be very un-MOCA, okay, okay go on...
CS: I was then told that I had to take down what I was showing and that I could show something else if I had it. I was also told that the reason I couldn't show it is because someone from Mercedes corporate was "pissed" about it and basically took it as a "fuck you" to Mercedes. I asked to talk to the person who made this decision, and was denied, literally told "you don't want to talk to them, they are pissed".
MG: Wow, censorship in the name of advertising without competition is so boring and square, it is a real dumbing down of the evil elitist vibe that museums try to cultivate in the absence of any actual power to influence society...
CS: This to me is a classic case of the corporate world trying to flex its muscle on the "nobodies". Is the MOCA the appropriate place for this kind of flexing? Of course not ...or is it? Giving the power of curation and enforcement of corporate policies on an exhibition and venue like this is not the way it is supposed to go down. Is MOCA a car lot? Is MOCA a venue for advertisements where the interests of the brand comes before the art? Who empowered them to simply go around and pluck whatever art out of the show to throw in the trash? I made this art on my own dime, traveled down there on my own dime, displayed it on my own time.
MG: When did you make the video, and did you make it for the event?
CS: It is a still photograph that I edited specifically for the event. It is in line with my interests in the automotive. I'm actually working on a project that I'm trying to get funded that involves working with a UK artist to build a 1:1 scale 3D wireframe version of that exact racecar (2010 Peugeot 908 HDI FAP). I made that clear to those who told me to take it down.
MG: Artists are in an historical period that I call "The Age of Compliance". Artists are allowed to be free and edgy in a narrow range of behavior and expression as various intermediaries feed off any advances made by the artists. These intermediaries, these middlemen are insulated from being rendered obsolete by the vital energy inherent in great art. Where did you situate the compliance level of your art before this incident and can you feel any urge to change that after such an ugly confrontation?
CS: I totally agree with you on the compliance assessment. There is a certain amount of compliance that is prevalent with not biting the hand that feeds you, but in cases like this, I'm not being fed anything but another line item on my CV, I can practically make those up if I wanted. I'm actually the provider of content for the event that they are putting on, the unspoken agreement is that I show up and not charge them for the art that I am providing, and they provide me with a venue in which to show. They broke that agreement. Does anyone think it would have made a difference in the bottom line if my piece stayed up? I wouldn't think so. Peugeots aren't even sold in the US, let alone a race car with only three existing copies in the world.
...If anything, this whole incident just makes me more infuriated that this level of censorship exists and to be frank, is widely accepted. I got more "what did you expect?" kind of replies when asking people how they felt about this. I don't think the experience is going to change my art making as much as it is going to change my opinion of the materials I work with (I used Mercedes wheels IN THIS PIECE. Never again). I'm not looking to burn bridges, I simply don't think it is right what they did or more likely commonly do to artists/the world.