The Yes Men pose as representatives of ExxonMobil and the Natural Petroleum Council in 2007.

COURTESY CREATIVE COMMONS

On October 15, Pioneer Works in Red Hook, Brooklyn, will play host to “WTF Do We Do Now,” a one-day town-hall-style conference conceived by Creative Time and culture-jamming activists the Yes Men, to consider America’s current social and political strife. The meeting will gather artists, activists, and those inspired to articulate new calls to action on such topics as racism, climate change, violence, and gender equality. The event is free with registration and open to the public—with beer and food provided.

“We spent 20 years in one world and suddenly we’re in a different world where the same ideas don’t apply,” Jacques Sevin, co-founder of the Yes Men, told ARTnews. With his collaborator Igor Vamos, Sevin has staged a litany of protest-minded media spectacles and pranks under the aegis of the Yes Men beginning around 2000. Among their actions are “Share the Safety,” a fake National Rifle Association campaign last year that promised to donate guns to those who couldn’t afford one, and “Polar Pals,” a 2013 collaboration with Greenpeace that saw the duo pose as members of oil company Gazprom as they navigated the canals of Amsterdam towing a polar bear they claimed to be gifting to the city as a gesture of goodwill.

A spectacle staged by the Yes Men at Occupy Wall Street in 2011.

COURTESY THE YES MEN

With the current political reality threatening to overwhelm the kind of satire his group has become known for, though, Sevin said he was feeling at a loss. After a conversation with Nato Thompson, artistic director of Creative Time and author of the books Seeing Power: Art and Activism in the 21st Century (2015) and Culture as Weapon: The Art of Influence in Everyday Life (2017), he decided the best way forward was to hold what Sevin described as an “un-conference.”

The day’s proceedings will be split into three parts, beginning with a “decompression,” Thompson told ARTnews, to allow everyone the chance “just to acknowledge how shitty we feel.” That will turn to analysis, as those gathered discuss issues of concern. Then comes strategy. Guest speakers including political scientist Frances Fox Piven, filmmaker Andrew Freiband, and Avram Finkelstein, a storied AIDS activist and co-founder of Silence=Death, will be on-hand to guide the conversations. 

“Usually a conference like this would just start with the last part: what do we do?” Sevin said of the structure of the event. “I think we have to be a little more careful here. We do need to discuss what we do, but also what is going on in the first place. How do we take care of ourselves?”

“The most important goal is to just come together,” Thompson said. “I don’t want to assume we’re all on the same page, but it is good to get together to see where everyone’s heads are at. I think it’s important to find a space of reason, collectively.”