Secret Service Visits "Secret History of Sin": Stamp Art Exh

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Secret Service Visits "Secret History of Sin": Stamp Art Exh

Postby admin » Wed Nov 08, 2017 7:10 am

Secret Service Visits "Secret History of Sin": Stamp Art Exhibit Asks, "What is Evil" While Feds Ask For Info
by Jamie Murnane & K. Anderson
April 13, 2005

NOTICE: THIS WORK MAY BE PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT

YOU ARE REQUIRED TO READ THE COPYRIGHT NOTICE AT THIS LINK BEFORE YOU READ THE FOLLOWING WORK, THAT IS AVAILABLE SOLELY FOR PRIVATE STUDY, SCHOLARSHIP OR RESEARCH PURSUANT TO 17 U.S.C. SECTION 107 AND 108. IN THE EVENT THAT THE LIBRARY DETERMINES THAT UNLAWFUL COPYING OF THIS WORK HAS OCCURRED, THE LIBRARY HAS THE RIGHT TO BLOCK THE I.P. ADDRESS AT WHICH THE UNLAWFUL COPYING APPEARED TO HAVE OCCURRED. THANK YOU FOR RESPECTING THE RIGHTS OF COPYRIGHT OWNERS.


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Gallery viewers at the opening shortly after Secret Service agents left.

For the first time in Columbia’s history, a campus gallery exhibit has incited a Secret Service investigation.

Columbia officials were stunned when two Secret Service agents showed up for the opening of the new Glass Curtain Gallery exhibit “Axis of Evil: The Secret History of Sin.”

According to Columbia’s media relations director, Micki Leventhal, the agents arrived before the opening, demanding to speak with Michael Hernandez de Luna, the exhibit curator who was not yet present. Hernandez de Luna is no stranger to controversy as he is the stamp artist who was single-handedly responsible for shutting down Chicago’s Loop post office for several hours in October 2001 when he sent a skull and crossbones stamp through the mail with the word “anthrax” written on it.

Though the stamp was found to be harmless, Hernandez de Luna has been under a federal investigation for the incident. And while there is politically controversial art in “Axis of Evil,” Leventhal said, “We do not know, officially, the nature of their inquiries.”

It was made clear, however, that the inquiries had “nothing to do with Columbia,” Leventhal said, and the only request that was made was for Hernandez de Luna to contact them within 24 hours.

It is unclear whether Hernandez de Luna has contacted the agents, as he said he is not allowed to talk about the incident. He did say that he was “not too surprised by the turnout of the Secret Service,” as all his exhibits are documented by postal authorities.

He was surprised, however, that agents decided to turn up for “Axis of Evil,” having said, “This is one of my safest shows ever.”

Leventhal said the gallery will be unaffected.

“We are an art school,” Leventhal said. “We’re a communication school and we stand firmly for freedom of artistic expression and academic freedom.”

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The Postcard for the exhibit previews some of the “graphically political” work (according to a viewer discretion notice on the door of the gallery) that’s on display.

“Axis of Evil: The Secret History of Sin” is a collection of stamp art featuring 47 artists from 11 different countries that opened at the gallery on April 6.

“He coined the term ‘Axis of Evil’ like the Nazis hijacked the swastika,” said Hernandez de Luna, referring to President George W. Bush’s statement claiming that certain countries are responsible for evil.

Out of this explosive statement has come an effort that ruminates on the reality of evil as we know it.

Hernandez de Luna, former Columbia student who has several of his own pieces in the show, credits the college for opening doors to such a controversial exhibit.

“There’s many institutions that will not take on shows with such a raw cacophonic edge,” he said.

Greg Weiss, gallery coordinator of the Glass Curtain space, said he does not remember any other time that an exhibit has generated so much interest before it even opened. Weiss said they chose the exhibit because they thought it would resonate with the students and the public.

“It’s very timely in the sense of our political and social climate,” Weiss said.

Robert Billings, a Los Angeles-based political artist, is an eager participant in the show. Billings said he likes controversial art because it opens up a dialogue.

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“It’s not necessarily condemning evil, but asking ‘What is evil?’” Billings said of the exhibit.

New York-based artist Gerard Barbot is also participating in the show. Asked what people should take away from the show, Barbot was quick to comment.

“I would wish that people would be more aware of what’s going on in the world as well as what’s going on in their own selves,” Barbot said, adding that stamp art is functional.

“It’s meant to be licked and stuck on an envelope,” he said. “I’ve used mine already.”

And Hernandez de Luna doesn’t consider his work complete unless it’s actually been sent through the mail (either successfully or with a cancellation stamped on it).

The idea for the show originally came from the mind of Jim Swanson, owner and operator of Qualiatica Gallery and Press. Swanson first created a hardcover catalogue of the art and a companion DVD, which included essays and discussions by artists and other interested parties. Both were titled, “Axis of Evil, Perforated Praeter Naturam.” Swanson explained that “perforated praeter naturam” means to punch holes in the supernatural, and that’s just what he wanted to do.

“We’ve created a metaphor that puts fear into people and that has to be addressed,” Swanson said.

A friend of Swanson’s suggested stamp art as the medium, and Swanson hired Hernandez de Luna to curate and navigate the art.

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According to both Swanson and Hernandez de Luna, 99.9 percent of the art was solicited.

“It was a global call. I said, ‘Show me what you guys think of evil, and don’t send me none of that pansy-ass stuff neither,’” Hernandez de Luna said.

Hernandez de Luna is known for controversy and justifies it by saying it is exactly what being a successful artist is all about.

“Any publicity makes his art more valuable,” said Swanson of Hernandez de Luna’s attitude toward trouble.

Trouble ended up being just another part of the birth of this already controversial exhibit and collection. Swanson and Hernandez de Luna embroiled themselves in a legal battle over the collection and Hernandez de Luna’s payment for his work on the project. The creators of this thought-provoking, artistic endeavor are not on speaking terms.

The exhibit, which was supposed to go hand in hand with Swanson’s catalog and be shown at Qualiatica, Swanson’s gallery, is now an independent project of Hernandez de Luna’s.

Swanson has retained rights to the catalog book, the DVD, and the title, “Axis of Evil: Perforated Praeter Naturam.” Hernandez de Luna has the rights to the collection and to exhibit the show to the public.

“Axis of Evil: The Secret History of Sin,” which will be on display at the Glass Curtain Gallery, 1104 S. Wabash Ave., through May 11.
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Re: Secret Service Visits "Secret History of Sin": Stamp Art

Postby admin » Wed Nov 08, 2017 8:48 am

When Bears Growl (Or How I Became the Subject of a Secret Service Investigation)
by Jeremy Lassen
June 12, 2005

NOTICE: THIS WORK MAY BE PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT

YOU ARE REQUIRED TO READ THE COPYRIGHT NOTICE AT THIS LINK BEFORE YOU READ THE FOLLOWING WORK, THAT IS AVAILABLE SOLELY FOR PRIVATE STUDY, SCHOLARSHIP OR RESEARCH PURSUANT TO 17 U.S.C. SECTION 107 AND 108. IN THE EVENT THAT THE LIBRARY DETERMINES THAT UNLAWFUL COPYING OF THIS WORK HAS OCCURRED, THE LIBRARY HAS THE RIGHT TO BLOCK THE I.P. ADDRESS AT WHICH THE UNLAWFUL COPYING APPEARED TO HAVE OCCURRED. THANK YOU FOR RESPECTING THE RIGHTS OF COPYRIGHT OWNERS.


Someone once said “If you poke a bear with a stick, expect it to growl”. On April 20th, 2005, I poked a bear with a stick. On Tuesday, June 7th, it growled.

A little background: At the beginning of April, I came across several news stories describing a secret service visit to an art gallery. The gallery was exhibiting a show that had a piece of art featuring a picture of Bush, and a gun. There was some online discussions as to weather investigations like this have a chilling effect on artistic and/or political speech. I felt very strongly that this investigation was silly, as the piece was by a well known and well respected artists. A simple background check ought to have been sufficient. Showing up at the gallery sends a message that this type of art is not acceptable.

In response to this incident, I created a series of collages, entitled “Bush and Guns”. I “remixed” pictures of Bush (from the AP Photo wire) and guns (randomly found on Flckr)… I posted these new images to Flikr, as a set entitled “Bush and Guns”. With each picture, I posted a link back to the original story, with an explanation that the collage series was a commentary on this incident in Chicago. I posted this set to several “anti bush” political groups on Flikr, and received some positive feedback on them. I also urged others to create “Bush and guns” artwork, and post it online, as a sort of protest against actions and policies, that, to my mind, have a chilling effect on people’s first amendment rights.

On June 7th, Two Secret Service agents showed up at my place of employment and asked to speak with me. One agent said they wanted to talk about something I posted online. I asked what, he one responded “You post a lot of stuff online, don’t you?” and then showed me some color printouts of my “Bush and Guns” pictures. I was as helpful as possible, and explained to them the about the incident in Chicago, and the context of those pictures.

The agents started out with “easy” questions, like my name, address, what I did at my job, etc. Then they started asking if I’ve ever been under psychiatric or psychological care or counseling. They asked me to sign a medical release form so they could contact local hospitals and health care providers and confirm my answers. They asked if I belonged to any organizations. When I said no, they specifically asked if I belonged to the NRA. They then began to ask me to explain each picture, and what I meant by them. I did so.

During the course of the interview, the Agent indicated that the pictures came to their attention because someone reported them to the secret service, and that they have to investigate everything. They assured me that there was nothing political about this… that their personal feelings about Bush had nothing to do with it… they may or may not like Bush anymore then I do, but it wasn’t personal… they were just gathering information.

After about 45 minutes, one of the agents said (paraphrased from memory, not an exact quote) “Let me be frank… I’m having difficulty seeing these pictures as ‘art’. You’re a publisher, and a systems administrator. How do you suddenly become an ‘artist’.” I pointed out that not all art is created formally by trained elites, and that there are plenty forms of artistic expression like this, such as stencil and graffiti art.

He then went on to suggest that the process of digitally manipulating photos of the president, and putting his image in context with guns was akin to seeking his home address, and personal information about him (instead of going to his supervisor), if I had a professional complaint about him. (!?!?!). I was a little flabbergasted at this, and said, no… it’s a creative process… Juxtaposing elements that wouldn’t normally be together is a common artistic technique.

I asked the agent “what can I do to give you insight into where I am coming from. I don’t think my pictures represented a threat, and never intended them that way… they were social and political commentary on the incident in Chicago, and on the police state in the mentality that has pervaded our culture.” The agent then said something that REALLY confused me. He said “You could ‘retract’ them”. I asked what he meant -- “Remove them from online? replace them with a statement saying I don’t advocate violence against the president? what?” Both agents resounded to this specific question, with a generalized yes… that would be a good step.

These agents had previously told me that they were just gathering facts, and had no power to bring charges against me… that they would impartially gather information and present it to their boss, who would then decide if federal criminal charges should be filed against me.

After speaking to me, they asked to interview my boss. They also asked me to help put them in touch with my wife, who was out of town – They would need to interview her also. They also mentioned the possibility of interviewing members of my family… my mother in particular.

I’ll admit it. I was very freaked out. The first thing I did when I got back to my desk was delete the pictures from Flikr. Then I deleted my LiveJournal account, because in it, I talk a lot about politics, and how unhappy I am with the Bush regime.

I’ve INTELLECTUALLY known what the phrase “Chilling Effect” means, from a legal standpoint. But I now know, deep down, in a very personal way, I know what it means. I’m cold as Ice. When confronted with 2 guys with a badge and some formal questioning, and some vague hints, my first action was to self-censor. Maybe I’m just a sissy with no backbone, but that’s what my reaction was.

Hopefully the process of talking publicly about this incident will help me thaw out.
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