An open letter to the participating artists and sponsors of the 2018 Athens Biennale.


[ Update: 1 October 2018 – Since my letter below was published, the Athens Biennale organisers have released two public statements doubling down on the very trivialisation, dismissal and gaslighting of the harassment and antisemitism I am here taking a stand against. They engage in wholly unwarranted attacks on me, including the unconscionable libel that my words below constitute "the epitome of online hate speech", wilfully misrepresenting events and my communications, and attempting to distort and frame the abuse I have experienced as nothing more than a "flame war". The Biennale organisers' actions here are beyond the pale, and as the Shut Down LD50 group has noted in a strongly worded statement of support, "by attacking a victim of antisemitic abuse, the curators accuse a Jewish artist of trivialising antisemitism by protesting it. This is as unacceptable as it is absurd." ]


I am writing, with regret, to make public my withdrawal from participation in the 2018 Athens Biennale, and to highlight the reasons for this. My withdrawal is due to the organisers’ collective failure to take any decisive stand against the abusive behaviour of another of the invited artists, and their campaign of berating and harassing individuals fighting fascism and antisemitism, particularly within the art world.

Over the past two years, as the creator of HEWILLNOTDIVIDE.US with LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner—an artwork resisting the normalisation of division—I have been subjected to widespread targeting, harassment and attacks from the far right. My work has been on the receiving end of two arson attacks by neo-Nazis and white supremacists; one at Le lieu unique in Nantes, and the other at a private residence in Tennessee that could have all too easily resulted in multiple deaths.

I have been the subject of a foiled murder plot by armed white nationalists, in which I had to be evacuated in the middle of the night by security services whilst working on a project at a museum in Europe. I have also had multiple white supremacists turn up on my doorstep—in some cases equipped with firearms—in both the USA and Europe, carrying ‘Smash Cultural Marxism’, ‘Kekistan’, and Confederate flags, and making threats to my safety and those around me.

The torch-bearing antisemites who marched in Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us” were the very same individuals who targeted us in New York, where their slogan was coined in response to our work by one of the rally’s organisers, Identity Evropa’s Nathan Damigo. Our artwork was forced to relocate from Albuquerque in February 2017 due to serious and credible threats of terrorist attacks, including mass shootings and vehicle attacks from far-right groups, foreshadowing the murderous events of Charlottesville. The work was then infamously stolen and defaced by two members of the violent neo-Nazi group the Traditionalist Worker Party.

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In recent weeks, I have been targeted on social media by individuals associated with LD50, the fascist-leaning London gallery that was widely protested in spring 2017. Among them is Daniel ‘DC’ Miller, a writer and former Frieze and Art Monthly contributor. Miller directed dozens of abusive and bigoted tweets at me and those supporting me, and began making particularly sinister threats of violence, including a sequence of posts that read: “You’re on the list too now…”, “They probably think I’m joking”, “BLOOD”, and “Watch your steps…”, alongside satanic symbols and images of my face.

At one stage, Berlin-based artist Deanna Havas, who had an exhibition at LD50 in 2016, joined in with Miller, replying to his posts and engaging in antisemitic abuse, posting swastikas at me, and laughing to my face at a far-right image depicting one of the neo-Nazi attacks on me and my work. Havas also made a series of posts about acquiring a gun and calling for a “fatwa” against “socialist” art students.

On looking closer at Havas’s social media pages, I found further antisemitic posts and a longstanding support for the far-right hate campaign against me and my work. Since this is an individual working in my industry, with whom several people I know have shared a platform, I felt it imperative to make others aware of this, and so I uploaded screenshots of a number of those posts to a webpage.

At the same time, the authorities were alerted to Miller’s and Havas’s threats of violence and antisemitic abuse, and these are now the subject of an ongoing police investigation. Given LD50’s association with far-right figures such as Brett Stevens, who was an inspiration for—and subsequently praised—the mass murderer Anders Breivik, these threats of violence cannot be taken lightly, and it would be irresponsible to ignore them.

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In response to my highlighting Havas’s antisemitism, the artist Daniel Keller (whom I have never met nor had any engagement with previously) began aggressively berating me on twitter. He repeatedly tried to lecture me that I should keep quiet about Havas’s antisemitic abuse, that it was “utterly harmless”, and that it was “not the kind of antisemitism that has any effect on [his] life”.

Despite being pointed to the facts of the gravity of the attacks I have faced and the extent of Havas’s antisemitism, Keller’s gaslighting and scorn continued for two weeks, during which time he accused me of “punching down” (to be clear, calling out antisemitism is never punching down), and called me a “dickhead” and a “bitch” for speaking up. At the same time, Keller was in dialogue with Havas on twitter, deriding me and engaging in further personal insults.

Keller has a history of attacking those who call out fascism, whilst making excuses for and minimising the fascism of others. In March 2017, he took to Frieze magazine to describe the anti-LD50 protestors as “disgusting” and similarly accused them of “punching down”. He berated the protestors for taking a stand, stating that “the video of dozens of demonstrators screaming ‘Nazi scum off our streets’ into the face of the sole counter-protester (who as far as I can tell…isn’t a Nazi) made my skin crawl.”

That sole pro-LD50 counter-protestor was in fact the aforementioned DC Miller, a figure who publicly espouses fascist views and extolls the ideas of Italian “superfascist” philosopher Julius Evola. That these details are so readily available makes Keller’s words all the more alarming.

[ Update: See this thread on Miller appearing in Athens as Evola after this letter was published. ]

Keller’s lecture, The Basilisk, is due to appear at the Athens Biennale. In this lecture, Keller again takes aim at the LD50 protestors, and presents a false dichotomy between LD50 gallery, which he implies should not be protested, and someone he deems an “actual fascist” in the UK Prime Minister. Keller also talks extensively about Pepe the Frog, without once acknowledging that the overriding association of Pepe today is as an antisemitic symbol. In fact, Keller does not mention antisemitism once in his entire half-hour presentation. He does in passing, however, deride the ADL for categorising Pepe as a hate symbol, calling this “absurd”.

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Following Keller’s messages, and on learning of his involvement with the Biennale, I contacted the organisers to inform them that I could not share a platform with someone engaged in this kind of abusive conduct towards me, and their minimising and enabling of antisemitic abuse and fascism.

The organisers’ response has unfortunately been wholly unsatisfactory. They repeatedly attempted to absolve themselves of any responsibility by insisting that the Biennale is not a platform; yet it patently is. They attempted to minimise and dismiss Keller’s behaviour by describing it as operating within an intellectual “art-bubble”, and as part of the “etiquette” of social media, as if that has no real-world consequence. Yet it absolutely does; these platforms are an essential and potent part of the real world.

The organisers were continually dismissive of the harmfulness of Keller’s actions, maintaining simply that the Biennale is a space for “heterogeneous projects” to exist—as if Keller’s gaslighting and his minimising of antisemitic abuse was merely a case of taking sides or holding contrary opinions. They insisted instead that they are “no jury”, as if that excuses them from their complacency and inaction. However, it does not; art institutions are not neutral.

[ Update: In addition to continued abusive posts from Keller since this letter was published, another of the Biennale's exhibitors, the edgelord British artist Ed Fornieles, was caught egging on a far-right antisemitic troll's harassment of me on social media, shown here. ]

Keller’s personal motivation and ideology, whatever it may be, is not of primary concern here; what matters are his words and his actions, the very real harm they cause, and their impact in enabling antisemitism and fascism. By minimising, excusing and platforming this, the organisers of the Athens Biennale are contributing to the very normalisation of antisemitism, fascism, and other forms of bigotry that should be fought at every level.

Against this, we must all take a stand.

Luke Turner
London, 4 September 2018

Links to documentation:

DC Miller's abusive social media posts
Deanna Havas's abusive social media posts
Daniel Keller's abusive social media posts
Sample of far-right / neo-Nazi targeting, harassment and attacks


CC:

British Council
Frame Contemporary Art Finland
Goethe Institut
European Cultural Foundation
Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen
Iaspis
Office for Contemporary Art Norway
Quadriennale di Roma
European Regional Development Fund
Hellenic Republic Ministry of Culture and Sports
Regional Operational Programme of Attica
Athens Culture Net
Aegean Airlines
NEW Hotel Athens
NetSmart
Moratis Passas