Jesse Goldstein


Jesse Goldstein. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Interview conducted by
Emma Scott Hagle (Scripps '21)
Charmaine Lau (Pitzer '19) 

Jesse Goldstein is a printmaker and member of multiple art collectives, including Occuprint and Space 1026.

A curator for the Occuprint, an art collective created in response to and in support for the occupy Wall Street movement, Goldstein started the group’s Kickstarter to raise international awareness for Occupy Wall Street, to raise money for screen printing, and to make a limited edition portfolio of numerous artists’ works. Over $24,000 was crowdfunded for the cause. This portfolio was published by Booklyn, a non-profit artist run organization which helps artists and bookmakers produce and distribute their artwork.

Goldstein is currently an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the Virginia Commonwealth University where his work focuses on waste, wastelands, and the political economy of green technologies.

What did your role as one of the curators of Occuprint entail?

The original idea for Occuprint came out of a conversation that Josh MacPhee had with the editor of the Occupied Wall Street Journal. Early on in the occupation of the park, they discussed making an all-posters issue of the paper. Josh and I had worked together before and he asked if I wanted to do this with him. From there we very quickly tried to solicit images for the paper. We felt like we didn't have any time to do things in an open and inclusive fashion - because it seemed like the paper needed to get produced as fast as possible. So, we initially reached out to friends, to people who had already been posting occupy imagery on the internet, and other artists and designers that we knew. As it turned out, the paper took way longer to make than we had expected, so maybe we did have more time than we thought - but in the moment of the occupation, everything felt very immediate and rushed. By the time we had a full paper designed, there were a bunch of images that we had collected that didn’t fit in the final product, so almost as an afterthought, we decided to make a website to throw the images up, so that we could respect the artists that got us stuff so quickly. At that point, we were also working with some more friends - and one in particular - John Boy, took charge of making the website. He did a really amazing job with it - and in the few weeks that the site was initially up, we started getting folks emailing us with images. One of the earliest images that came in was this amazing image of the wall street bull in red ropes called "The beginning is near" by Alexandra Clotfelter.  This image was immediately popular, and really put Occuprint's website on the map. Soon after we started getting 5-25 submissions every day from all over the world. Initially I think we assumed we would put all of the images up on the website, but we soon saw that some curatorial discretion would be necessary - not because we wanted to judge the quality of the images, but more to try to best represent the diversity of the movement. You can read the curatorial statement here.

Our role as curators first meant trying to figure out a way to best contribute to the movement through the collection of images that our website was building - for us this meant highlighting the diversity of the movement - geographically, politically, and aesthetically.

Once we had this huge collection and once the Occuprint issue of the OWSJ came out, we decided to raise funds to make a print portfolio. The idea was to create a limited edition set of screenprinted images from the collection that could tell the story of the movement/moment through images. We ran a Kickstarter to raise money for the portfolio which generated 23k or so. We did two things with that money - first we used it to create the portfolio. We partnered with an organization called Booklyn to make the portfolio - along with Occuprint member Lindsay Caplan, they helped with the curatorial decisions, choosing which images to include - and they then sold the portfolio to cultural institutions, libraries, museums, and universities, for a lot of money. Second, we used the money we raised from the Kickstarter, and then eventually from portfolio sales, to fund more projects. The first and biggest thing we funded was a "general strike" paper for the upcoming MayDay - along with thousands of large offset posters and 10s of thousands of stickers. We used Interference Archive as a distribution hub, and tried to get as many of the posters, stickers and 35k newspapers out into the world. Mostly in NYC, but we also sent large care packages to occupy sites in about 19 other cities. After that we still had more money from portfolio sales, which has gone to help fund a number of smaller projects, including something called the Rare Earth Catalog, which was an Occuprint production for the people's climate march. Currently, we're working with a Puerto Rican photographer on a small newspaper and distribution project based on his post-hurricane work.

How do you navigate being an artist and curator? Do you approach art differently depending on which “hat” you are wearing? How so? Do the two blur together?

The two are very different. As an artist you are focused on creating a singular piece - whether it’s a poster or an experience. As a curator, you're thinking about the broader social implications of putting a number of projects together, and while the final product is still important, it’s a product comprised of many creative visions, as opposed to a product that you have more direct control over. That said - so much of Occuprint entailed functioning as producers and curators, but I still feel proud of that work as both an artist and as a curator - so I guess the two really do blur together. And in some ways, maybe the two terms don't actually matter that much at all (except of course institutionally!).

Did you participate in the creation of the Occupied Wall Street Journal? Or only in the printmaking?

I put a lot of work into the poster issue of the Occupied Wall Street Journal. Not only did I have to learn how to create print ready files for a web-press, but the editor had decided that instead of doing the normal CMYK process, that we would print duo-tone. So, I had to learn a lot from the press operators about what colors I could use, how the different inks might work with one another (some colors would be too easy to smudge apparently), and then how to properly create duo-tone separations for printing. It was a lot of fun, but actually kind of stressful at the time.  I also helped coordinate all of the printing for the portfolio - and printed a few of the prints myself. 

How effective is art as a vehicle of political resistance? Especially if the creation/production of the art inevitably requires some sort of funding and therefore often plays into the very capitalist systems and hierarchies most political art tries to critique?

This is too big of a question to answer here. But short version: art or maybe more broadly cultural production is a crucial dimension of political resistance - of building cultures of resistance. Creative production is one of things that helps bind activists into a movement, it offers shared vernacular and identities for people to help make sense of their solidarity and resistance. What I’m talking about - social movement culture - is very different than "political art" - which can encompass a range of things, including art that is politically themed but maybe less connected to political movements. I would say in this latter category there is a bigger risk of "art in the style of radical" happening - where radical critique becomes an object of contemplation and consumption, and the art has less to do with actively fostering a culture of resistance. But where the lines are drawn is always going to be complicated and maybe even contradictory. So I don't think it’s fair to categorically denounce any types of art practice as necessarily "selling out" to the capitalist system they mean to critique - without considering the art in a broader strategic context. You're right to be cautious in regard to these dynamics - but I think it’s also necessary to be generous and to consider how people are trying to navigate a really difficult position most of the time. That said - there's definitely some "political" art out there that makes me want to cringe. 

Do you believe the Occuprint silk screen prints were the most effective way to reach a larger audience? Why prints and not another medium? Looking back now, would you have curated the same images and fund-raised the same way or changed Occuprint’s strategy?

Definitely not - the screenprints were primarily a fund raiser - though they do now exist in libraries and other institutions like that - so maybe that’s a good thing? or maybe that’s providing these institutions a means to reify and contain this historical moment? not sure. But we initially made the screenprints as a way to fund the offset posters, stickers and newspapers that we had printed in much larger quantities. Now the printing I did with the Screenprinters Guild at Zuccatti park is another matter - but that’s off topic. 

What are your feelings on print portfolios versus bound books? Do you prefer one over the other? In what circumstances would you use one over the other?

We made a portfolio because Booklyn has a great model for selling them to institutions. The benefit of the portfolio is that it allows a purchaser to display all of the images, sort of like an art show in a box. I suppose a book is better for broader distribution - it’s just not something I have as much experience with. 

Your research and teaching specialties focus on waste and the environment. Do these interests affect not only the content of your work but also the methods and production technologies you use? 

Oh man that’s a tough question. Short answer is yes, but not in the ways you would expect. My work has a lot to do with thinking about alternative forms of production, social reproduction and creativity (which capitalism often labels as waste as a pretext for controlling or enclosing these various energies and potentialities) - so I like to think about ways in which inefficient and accessible forms of making can provide a basis for spurring interesting social relationships and practices. I really appreciate all of the strangely designed posters in the Occuprint archive. I really appreciate the various scales of media production that we worked with and continue to work with, even if they don't have "maximum reach." I like making things that don't feel polished, but that do feel genuine in their intent. 

Jesse Goldstein