One of Philadelphia's smartest and scrappiest small, no-profit art spaces, Marginal Utility, run by curators David Dempewolf and Yuka Yokoyama, is known for forging long-term commitments with artists. This departure from alternative space norms enables it to follow artists' careers over years and provide project support at key moments. The gallery then contextualizes the resultant exhibitions through dialogic convenings and a newsprint publication, which it distributes freely at around the city. With Center support, Marginal Utility presented one of its most ambitious projects to date, Five Acts: Chronicles of Dissent, examining the aesthetics of protest on the heels of the Arab Spring.
Following closely on the heels of revolutionary events in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya in 2011, Five Acts: Chronicles of Dissent explored the topic of protest through the work of five artists: Yael Bartana, Andrea Bowers, Sharon Hayes, Naeem Mohaiemen, and Mark Tribe. These artists investigate the gestural languages and visual aesthetics of protest from an anthropological distance rather than engaging in acts of political disobedience directly. Addressing issues of war, political freedom, environmental disaster, and gender inequality, some of their works re-enact historic moments, such as protest speeches during the anti-Vietnam War movement, and connect those events with present concerns. Others document unique acts of dissent—a settler vs. soldier game created by Israeli teenagers after an evacuation of Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip, for example—that have had little public exposure. Through the exhibition, visitors gained insight to the recent eruption of pro-democratic demonstrations around the world. Five Acts: Chronicles of Dissent was guest-curated by Yaelle Amir, curator of the 2010 edition of Art in Odd Places, a public art festival in New York City. David Dempewolf and Yuka Yokoyama were first-time Pew Center for Arts & Heritage grantees.