Fight Club

Allison Smith's project inspires protest

On a sunny Saturday in May 2005, Allison Smith and a ragtag crew of revolutionaries stormed Governors Island—a disused U.S. military base just south of Manhattan—and dug in for the night. This was no ordinary protest; rather, the dissidents made their bivouacs in an attempt to answer self-appointed "Muster Officer" Smith's question: "What are you fighting for?" Smith, a New York–based artist, devised her sortie along the lines of Civil War reenactments (in which weekend warriors dress in period costume and play Antietam or Bull Run) but instead of limiting her troops to that fine old conflict, she bade them to declare their own causes and fashion campsite-installations based on them. Some 50 participants did so, and—with homemade banners proudly unfurled—set about trying to define themselves, and the very nature of protest, for the next 24 hours.

What emerged after the motley protesters and some 2,000 observers left the island the following day was anything but a united front, as the causes espoused by Smith's volunteers ranged from the sincere ("Free Reading," "Inspiring a Closer Relationship with the Sea") and searching ("Inner Peace in a Warring Nation"), to the merely silly ("The Power of Pink") and the truly outrageous ("Sequined Religious Figures"). The New York Times likened Smith's project to "a sort of camping adventure for artists," and judging by the swank documentation online and in book form, that's not far afield: It must have been one hell of a party. Gorgeously designed by Jorge Colombo (a frequent Voice contributor), Allison Smith: The Muster combines the casual chic of an album cover by Mark Farrow (for the Pet Shop Boys and others) with the vernacular charm of Victorian broadsheets and the graphic fervor of early-20th-century Russian Constructivism. Stuffed with color photos, exquisite typography, and essays that help to contextualize—if not actually explain—Smith's ambitious project, this tiny volume is sure to delight art-obsessives with a taste for history, whimsy, and (wo)men in uniform.

 
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