The UN is still not Irrelevant.(Unedited Artforum Diary)
UN Youth Climate Summit, UN Climate Action Summit, UN General Assembly’s 74th General Debate
WE THE PEOPLES
(Where to even fucking begin….)
Part I—The Youth Climate Strike in NYC 19 September 2019—Greta’s Mom
“Fossil Fuel to the Climate Strike? We should take public transport.”
“We have a drag queen in heels in a 40 lb. wig. Tell her that.”
Striking with Greta’s Mom requires its own hair and make-up detail. Aside from Greta, only her Mom aka Lady Bunny could part the sea of thousands of youth who showed up to strike on last week’s blistering Friday from Foley Square to Battery Park for the #ClimateStrikeNYC. It was as if Bunny’s presence completed Schoenberg’s unfinished third act of Moses and Aaron who laconically noted about his life, “I am an intruder everywhere, welcome nowhere.” Bunny is “welcome everywhere” and the founder of Wigstock knows a thing or two about exits and crowds.
Anticipating the love, Eyespy Films’ Michael Isabell and my climate activist ally/art advisor Mary Hoeveler (who the above text exchange was with) were enlisted. Fitting the wig and our signs necessitated an Uber XL for height, not girth. Our driver Rachid apologetically dropped us blocks from the start and we self-consciously exit with Lady Bunny, whose sign declares, “I AM GRETA’S MOM.”
No one would argue with that.
Aptly starting the strike ascending the stairs to NYC’s Department of Education at Tweed Courthouse in heels, Bunny turned to face the ‘peoples’ and a phalanx of shutters started firing lobbing bon mots to the multitudes in a fake Swedish accent while genuinely, declaring, “How proud I am of my daughter Greta, for her bravery and forceful activism in the climate crisis.” Thunberg’s biological mother is the opera singer/2009 Eurostar contestant Malena Ernman.
The momentum only affirms what my Swedish friend, the artist Anneè Olofsson said on What’s App earlier “Besides being a good place to raise children, there can only ever be one of something at a time that’s good in Sweden.” (Don’t read Sontag’s essay, “A Letter From Sweden.”) Catalyzing a world youth movement “um, well yeah, that’s good” as high schoolers from Canarsie quipped upon seeing Lady Bunny, shrieking, “We love you! It’s so AWESOME you are here and striking with us. Can we pleeeease get a selfie?”
‘Lady Bunion’ as she started referring to herself joined the resolute youths in chanting “Sea levels are rising and so are we!” Adlibbing with, “Sea levels are rising and so is my cholesterol!” Literally being moved by the crowd, the variety of signs reflected the diversity of the participants, ranging from the unimaginable: “I WANT TO BE AS OLD AS JOE BIDEN ONE DAY,” to the tween-centric: “THE ONLY THING THAT SHOULD BE BURNING UP IS THE JONAS BROS.” to the factually earnest, “SCIENCE isn’t an alternative FACT.”
Four hours later we arrive at the the rally in Battery Park after running into the artist /activist Molly Gochman and Simone Frazier who are literally filling in cracks in the sidewalk for the public participatory artwork Red Sand Project. It is time for Bunny to pull out the flats from the Tory Burch bag and reapply makeup to depart before the speeches begin, and this time, “Please, no photos, please.” I escort Lady Bunny to the corner and miraculously a yellow cab appears to put she and her wig in the back seat passing me the torch and now, “I AM GRETA’S MOM.”
Our next stop is to accompany the Flores whistleblower and expert, Dr. Warren Binford to a panel at CUNY Law School on the separation and detention of kids by the US at the border. who notes in the car, “Not exactly dinner conversation, nor do I imagine it finds its way into the art world.” Rumor has it that it has and Jodie Foster could portray the whistleblower when the film gets made. The panel had already started and our late arrival in L.I.C. was conceivably welcomed affirming that as the legal expert on children’s rights and sex trafficking, people will always welcome the individual who acts.
After the panel we head over to the UN to catch the last cycle of the three-hour video installation, VOICES FOR THE FUTURE of an iceberg breaking apart that is mapped onto UN Headquarters by the New Zealand artist Joseph Michael. When asked about the addition of the texts, Michael explained that “even a work of art needs to go through a diplomatic process at the UN and the Department of Global Communications had wisely, yet unintentionally become a collaborator.” It now inadvertently meets the UN’s Sustainability Development Goals to reduce, recycle and reuse.
At this point it’s a wrap and heading downtown I delete Uber and prepare my UN press pass to take the subway in the morning to head back to the UN for the first ever, Youth Climate Summit.
Even Greta’s Mom will be watching.
Part II—UN Youth Climate Summit 21 September 2019—It’s Not About Glaciers
“It was like the first warm and sunny day in Berlin when everyone heads to the Tiergarten. The exception being that we were sunbathing during our afternoon break at the first ever Youth Climate Summit on the lawn at the UN Headquarters in New York and everyone still had their clothes on.” As told to me by a green ticket winner who wanted to remain anonymous.
Like most people who know better, the only time to ever set foot on the HighLine is before 7:45 am. I walk up from Chelsea and take the 7 train to Grand Central to the UN. The visitor entrance looked as if every exchange student who could possibly get a visa to the US was waiting in line for their UN tour. They were the official youth delegates with SDG lanyards suspending Youth Climate Summit IDs around their necks. The exuberance from the Global Climate Strike the previous day hung in the air like Lady Bunny’s hairspray (I know) as it was estimated that 7.6 million people took to the streets. Their determination and anger and commitment smells like… over 50% of the world’s population that is under the age of 21. They are those children and grandchildren that everyone keeps talking about saving the planet for.
I start to meet the 1,024 youth from the 140 countries attending the summit in the security line. Beginning with Zero Hour’s founder, 16-year-old Jamie Margolin and their members who are doing the next “Big, big thing,” with their platform developed from Our Children’s Trust lawsuit against the US government. Adjacent was Team 54’s Daniel Gbujie from Nigeria, “doing advocacy work on climate action for the most vulnerable in the 54 countries comprising the continent.” No small thinking there. As a youth who grew up surfing behind the ‘orange curtain’ in Santa Ana, California (BTW, as did Fred Tomaselli) we were a part of the 20 million who took to the streets on that first Earth Day on April 22, 1970. I have rhetorically asked myself repeatedly since the 80s, “what the fuck happened? (Besides Reagan)” It was science then, it is science now. Their accusations that we have abdicated our responsibility for justice and the stewardship of planet is correct. We have. It will be them who save us, the planet, and the Internet, with or without our support.
This generation 0 (zero) has a profound understanding of the necessity for plurality and justice and how impactful and sustainable change is accomplished. Somehow the millennials got the placebo in the experiment.
In the Niemeyer/Le Corbusier building I imagine I am smelling burnt sage up in the media room overlooking the Trusteeship Council Chamber. I think, huh, they are vaping in the UN. I look down to excitedly see it’s Makasa Looking Horse performing a Lakota blessing to open the summit in order to ‘heal anyone in leadership’ in a white-calf-pipe ceremony from the “greatest continuous democracy in North America.” Following the prayer, everyone is invited to join her outside to smoke the Čhaŋnúŋpa. Let’s hope some leaders did.
The next speaker needed no introduction and the very brief remarks were to thank the UN and the SG and immediately hand over the microphone to the other youth activists, saving words for the General Assembly address she would give in the morning. The others: Bruno Rodriguez (Argentina), Wanjuhi Njoroge (Kenya), and Komal Karishma Kumar (Pulau) were the green tickets holders who won their UN all-expense-paid trip to attend the summit for their “commitments to climate action and solutions.” Introduced as the listener Secretary-General António Guterres spoke and his alarming remarks foreshadowed the opening speech he would give in the morning, saying that: “For the first time there is a serious conflict between people and nature and between people and the planet. This could be absolutely destructive for the future of our communities, and for the future of our societies. It is not only a question of glaciers… it is the suffering of people. I encourage you all not to be careful.”
At the break I head outside and walk over to see the Pollution Pods. Holding my breath I walk through the geodesic domes filled with air that actually emulates the pollution levels from various cities with the artist Michael Pinsky. I head back into the Visitor Center lobby to queue for Jeppe Hein’s participatory performance BREATHE WITH ME where one inhales and dips a brush in paint while raising the brush to the top of the wall. They then begin to paint a line while exhaling, until they run out of breath, or wall. In Hein’s words it is a “collective breath for the world, keeping us together, connected, sharing the same air.”
It was time to get some air.
Part III—UN Climate Summit 22 September 2019—Sugarpova
The assembled collectively witnessed that the U.S.A. was ‘not’ participating in the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit. That would be churlish given the administration pulled out of the Paris Agreement. However, they were present for the announcement that Russia was now participating in the Paris Agreement. Ad-out Russia. In the opening address, the Secretary-General deplored us to understand that “what we are seeing is not appalling, it is apocalyptic.” Significant shade was thrown as 45 was deservedly called for not taking action in the single most ‘existential’ threat of our lifetime. The upstanding included Secretary-General Guterres, France’s President Macron, and Beyond Carbon’s Bloomberg to resounding applause from the capacity filled hall. Bloomberg tried another tact and welcomed the president and as a provocation offered to listen to his proposed actions on the Climate Crisis. What Crisis?
Gradualism is over.
Leave it not only to the youths, and who better than to admonish than Greta Thunberg and to tell it like it is. She too, had no reason to meet with the administration in DC as “they need to listen and work with the scientists.” Thunberg’s singularity is the persistence and the insistence on calling out the need to take responsibility and to trust the science. That morning was no different. Every single person in that room metabolized the impassioned plea, besides Leonardo DiCaprio who was remotely ‘dared’ to take action, which he is working on with his own named foundation. Flanked by the twin murals of Fernand Leger (1956) from his not front and center seat, DiCaprio had the sense not to speak this year, as the rest of us would hear Indiana Jones appearing as Harrison Ford to represent Conservation International. Ford began by talking about how the rainforest has been talked about for 30 years and continued talking. “Whatever,” was the comment from a youth climate activist who did not want to be identified in the context of celebrities and came from Guatemala, and was also a green ticket winner who felt the same when the Game of Thrones star and Charlie Chaplin’s granddaughter Oona Castilla Chaplin whose esoteric speech at the Youth Summit had the resounding response that, “We want to watch celebrities act, we don’t want listen to them. But, they can support our causes.”
Really Harrison, the kids are alright.
Throughout the day, the most notable presentations were made by the Least Developed Nations and included the First Nations/Indigenous Peoples and their representative to the UN. One of the most commanding presentations was by the Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Amor Mottley. Unfortunately, the PM had to leave early to assess the catastrophic situation in Barbados and not before saying that, “In good conscience, I cannot give the speech that I prepared. We, as a small State, are used to being treated as if we didn’t exist. What happened in the last 24 hours is not a science-fiction movie. We must have caring and empathy. It is not about governments any more, it is about people.” Mottley could have been talking about the youth climate activists. Why is it always the case that the victims and most effected are those that contribute the least, and can often have the greatest impact, if only they are listened to.
Part IV—The UN General Assembly 25 September 2019—The Apocalypse
Intelligent, inimitable, indefatigable, multi-lingual and utterly humane — UN Secretary-General António Guterres opened the general debate Tuesday morning to a full house reminding us that the UN Charter begins with, “we the peoples” as the summons to place people at the center and that the organization exists to serve and uphold our shared humanity where ‘trust’ is imperative.
He consistently raised the issues of human rights and gender parity in the world. Given that only ten percent of the 193 Member States of the UN are women, Secretary General, the States still have a lot more work to do. The battling order for the general debates were kicked off by Brazil—where the Amazon continues to burn and Bolsonaro’s nationalistic address was to tell the world leaders, “We reject the attempts to exploit and use the environmental agenda and indigenous policy agenda to further the economic interests of foreign countries.” It wouldn’t be Bolsonaro unless there was a ‘praise be’ and at least one unveiled homophobic comment talking about the relations between a ‘man and woman’ that had Mother’s Father aka Pence nodding and smiling in a cutaway in agreement with Pompeo.
The line up only worsened as the president of the United States went from ‘we the people’ to ‘me the mamochka’ on his tele-prompted nationalistic, anti-globalist diatribe. I wondered if Bill Barr’s bagpipes will be allowed in prison. Certainly Core Civic will make an exception for their partners. But, they too may end up being incarcerated in their own facilities. “Praise be.” There must be a way for the UN as a sovereign territory to annex New York City in all of its multilateral, five borough’d-ness. In case the 2 degree threshold is not met, envision hydraulics lifting the granite bedrock while enraged waterways submerge the vacant and over-priced storefronts along Bleeker Street that function as NYC’s barometer as a microeconomic microcosm. Hopefully, we don’t get there and hey — tell the technocrats they won’t save us, and as the youth say, hope is for the hopeless. My phone just pinged and a text message from Extinction Rebellion popped up about October’s actions.
Sorry California—Gavin Newsome you have the 4th largest GDP in the world, so seceding is your only option if this impeachment and the election go awry. Greta’s ‘dare’ to detail the actions in how the UN’s sustainable development agenda for ‘peace and security, poverty eradication, zero hunger, quality education, climate action and inclusion’ will be accomplished in their respective states, or not.
Part V—The UN General Assembly 26 September 2019—High Crimes and Misdemeanors
I was just escorted down from the 38th floor of the UN Secretariat Building where the past 30 seconds were spent shooting His Excellency, the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy with the UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Expectedly, my media cohorts were Ukrainians who were joined by the even more expectant group, the Americans. At the start of the ‘photo opportunity’ we were informed that questions were out of the question, and if one chose to ignore this, both they and their press privileges would promptly be revoked. That was my intended purpose, but equally not desirous of removal, or to ask an existential question — which there seem to be a plethora of these days, including that Biden staffer who slipped in Kierkegaard as a moment in the last debate. For an arts publication to get a media pass after the official UN deadline, well, let’s say it is Promethean. Or, one is told they know people in high places.
While waiting for the HE and SG, I began split screening about the TV news show/political satire that is in development with Lady Bunny on the climate crisis. Imagining Bunny in that room asking President Zelenskyy,“How it is to actually be a servant?” The official photographer of the former comedian, lawyer and current president of the Ukraine is listed as Mikhail Palinchak, and if that is actually him, he suddenly asked me to move from my centrally staked out position. If one knows anything about real estate, or being in a pool — position is capital. Within earshot of all in the room my response was, “Nemaye.” That elicited laughs in close quarters where I was wedged between the official UNTV person and a photographer whose hair kept creeping into the right side of my frame. I had to keep tucking it behind their left ear to get my shot. Mikhail, apologetically asked if he could shoot over my left shoulder. My hesitant, yet diplomatic response was, “Tak.” Our negotiations were over.
If only politics were so simple, and with our positioned intimacy and a few minutes to kill and not be killed, I asked Mikhail if he by any chance knew what kind of bullet their president held up yesterday during his morning and lightly attended address at the start of Day 2 at the Seventy-fourth session and the 5th plenary meeting of the UN General Assembly. (The detail seemed important and I wanted confirmation of my research I spent doing between speeches that afternoon. The Internet revealed it to be a Spitzer boat tail bullet pricing out between $17.99 and $34.49 each. I also consulted a munitions savvy friend (We all have one.) who wrote that the description refers to the shape, and more importantly that in gun speak it is a .50 BMG if USA or NATO, or 12.7 x 108 mm if Russian or Chinese. It is used primarily in a heavy machine gun round, though also used by snipers. Which one is it President Zelevenskyy? I make a note to file a F.O.I.A. to see if the aid from the U.S.A. made it possible for it to be a $10 bullet, and then I promptly cleared my cache.
Before Zelenskyy’s official address started, the elder statesmen-bro-photo pool joked on the bridge about how, “wouldn’t it be hilarious if the Ukrainian president actually read the ‘not verbatim’ transcript of his July 25th call with the Whitehouse by the Notetakers in the Situation Room.” I was thinking the same thing. I took that one step further and imagined a dance theater piece of the same title with Meg Stuart’s Damaged Goods and sent an email and registered the domain name. My mind stayed in deutschsprachig countries and seeing Schlingensief’s Bitte Liebt Österreich! (Please Love Austria, 2000) and the question of whether political theater is still possible when we are witnessing the disabling of political potential in reality. That was a question for Thomas Bernhard, but are we?
What Zelevenskyy did that none of the other despots or dignitaries had done besides the ethical Secretary-General up to that point, was to invoke the arts. Maybe it’s his background in comedy and TV, as his address began with opera and the telling of a sniper killing the Ukrainian baritone and countertenor Wassyl Slipak who decided to leave opera and returned to the Ukraine as a freedom fighter when Russian invaded in 2014. Taking on the moniker Meph, which at first appeared to be an alliteration of Meth which was also in use by the Nazi soldiers and Hitler himself in WWII as was chronicled in the book book Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich by Norman Ohler, but Meph was correct and it was in reference to Faust’s Mephistopheles.
Zelevenskyy seamlessly shifted to literature, albeit — the genre of war referencing Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front and Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. Warhol and the ’15 minutes’ also made an oblique appearance, ending with yet another double entendre for war, the theater—that did not get transcribed in the official statement. Officially, I was a notetaker for this publication, and it should have read, “I hope this phrase is an awareness of the threat to the planet, not an announcement in the theater.’ I looked out the window and the Pollution Pods were gone. By the way, Mikhail’s response was, “Nemaye.”
Security is orthogonally tight during the UNGA and half expecting to be re-body scanned and dog sniffed following our descent and re-entry to the 27th floor, I Vipassana’d beyond the impulse to go down to the smoking area outside the UN cafeteria to bum a fag from the British EU sympathizer I met on the media bridge in the GA Hall while watching Boris Johnson deliver his punk’d-out, dystopian and truly bizarre second to last—Day 1 address on AI. Avoiding the unmentionable, his one reference to Brexit flatlined as a joke in the near empty chamber. BORIS, it is the UNGA — FF’sS and everyone has somewhere else they need to, or would rather be, including Parliament and your brother.
Twenty years ago I was playing chess in the smoking section of that cafeteria because that is where the chess tables were located (that currently has no single use plastics—go UN!), which would have made it all the better to distill the utterly insane news cycle of the past week. Nearly a decade earlier, and the same year the Ukraine gained independence—with a weiss wine in hand and a cigarette packed evening in Wuppertal, Pina Bausch told the Berlin-base composer Laurie Schwartz and I about how she had no desire, or reason to go to Sicily to develop Palermo, Palermo as there was enough information for it to be imagined, even before the world wide web. The Italian anti-fascist writer Ignazio Silone was toasted for warning us against being ‘spiritual tourists.’
I did ask myself if my UN credentials, the visa cum press pass had not been approved, and if Secondino Tranquilli was still alive, whether he would have been more approving of my attending in person or my feigning attendance. All of the proceedings are streamed live and available online at UN Web TV. Perhaps is a graduate performance art/architecture course in the making for GSAPP.