Cutting edge activists on campus

By Drew Hunt

Critical Encounters has selected social activists Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonnano as this year’s Artists in Residence, an annual designation that brings notable artists and media makers to campus to work hand-in-hand with Columbia students.

Bichlbaum and Bonnano, known collectively as the Yes Men, are a pair of political provocateurs dedicated to exposing major corporations’

unethical practices.

While on campus, they will spearhead a unique workshop called the Yes Lab. The workshop will operate as a platform where students and community members can create different forms of political and social advocacy in the style of the Yes Men’s eccentric activism.

In addition to their workshop, the Yes Men’s traveling art exhibition, “Keep it Slick: Infiltrating Capitalism with The Yes Men” is currently on display at the Glass Curtain Gallery, in the 1104 Center, 1104 S. Wabash Ave.

The exhibition has been featured in galleries across the world, and the Columbia showing marks the exhibit’s final destination.

According to Astria Suparak, the exhibition’s curator, their work is geared toward drawing public attention to issues including climate change, corporate greed and human rights by using their own brand of satirical activism.

Suparak said the Yes Men’s work is very elaborate and therefore requires extensive planning.

“The exhibition is a great way to see it all in one location,” Suparak said.

The gallery will also feature recreations of the Yes Men’s prior works and fantasy scenes which include numerous interactive media installations.

Additionally, students will be able to see faux press releases created by the Yes Men, as well as the props and costumes they use when staging their elaborate pranks.

Neysa Page-Lieberman, director of the Department of Exhibition and Performance Spaces at Columbia, played an integral role in procuring and hosting “Keep it Slick” for the Glass Curtain Gallery.

“[The Yes Men] are very much advocates in mentoring the next generation,” Page-Lieberman said. “They’re also the kind of people who feel you can learn from the next generation. I think they like having a chance to work with young people with fresh ideas.”

Mentoring a younger generation is precisely the duo’s aim when it comes to the Yes Lab.

“[The Yes Lab] will give students and community partners the opportunity to bring in issues they care about,” said Lott Hill, director of the Center for Teaching Excellence, the office hosting the Yes Men as Artists in Residence.

“It will help lead folks through the process of designing media interventions.”

Essentially, students and community members participating in the workshop will collectively decide on an issue they deem important and relevant to society. Then the Yes Men will facilitate the process in order to find the ideal way to have the group’s message heard.

The Yes Men will collaborate with students to create what Hill describes as a kind of “ad campaign,” based on exposing the chosen issue.

Suparak considers the Yes Lab a good opportunity for students to learn about the Yes Men’s “tricks and tactics.”

“[Students] will see all the different ways the Yes Men have approached different issues over the last dozen years, through dozens and dozens of actions,” Suparak said.

Despite being known for their jauntily prankish work the Yes Men are considered to be on the cutting edge of cultural activism.

Hill described their reputation as a major incentive in hosting them as Artists in Residence.

“They really take on corporate identity,” Hill said. “They have found a way to essentially manipulate media so corporations are held accountable for the actions they take that often affect the lives of individual human beings.”

Hill hopes the Yes Lab will teach students new forms of activism to better help their creativity.

“We want for students to understand … the power that they hold in what they create,” he said. “We are all

creating something.”