An art movement sprang up in New York in 2000 fueled by Outsider artists frustrated with their exclusion from the walled garden of the fine art scene in the galleries. They started in bars and on the street and called themselves The Antagonists. They are still thriving today, working around the world in every medium from murals to writing and music.
Documentary Self Medicated: A Film About Art serves not only to chronicle the history of The Antagonists but also follows founder and director Ethan Minsker around the world visiting Antagonist events. The movement has expanded to Mexico, Berlin, Lisbon, and Quito.
A thread that runs through the work of the Antagonists and the artists themselves is isolation and dysfunction. Many of the artists have known no other family group. They keep their existential angst and depression in check by making and sharing art as a form of therapy. In the film, we meet some of the artists and hear their stories of depression, mental illness, loneliness, and how art has helped them cope.
“…they keep their existential angst and depression in check by making and sharing art …“
The movement mostly eschews digital publishing, which is an interesting decision given what a ubiquitous part of the culture the online world is now. Even their occasionally published fanzine, Psycho Moto Zine, is published on paper (though it has been digitized and can be found online if you look hard enough). They prefer physical media, painting on walls, and painting outside (note: Film Threat started as a Zine, so there’s great affection here and respect for that medium.)
Keeping their social media presence to a minimum and staying away from blogs and online publications have spared them the travesty of the dreaded comments section. If you want to make a shitty comment to The Antagonists you’re going to have to go to a show and talk to the artist (Minsker, for example) to his/her face. This retro approach has a real charm. The artist might have had a few drinks and decide to punch your lights out. That act, too, would be art.
The physical art has a shared rough aesthetic. Many of the artists have developed their talents to fine art level, but mostly they work in the Outsider context, with DNA from punk art mixed in. The quality of the work, it seems, is largely not the point. The Antagonist manifesto suggests the focus should be on making art, and that completed art has less value and should be abandoned in favor of a new project. They consider themselves an apolitical group, open to all, and hoping that artistic expression can take the place of dogmatic adherence to ideology.
The film is beautifully shot and edited and features a great soundtrack of Antagonists music, mostly punk with some acoustic blended in. You can find Antagonists doing readings of stories or sharing their art in New York and around the world, baring their souls and healing them at the same time.
Self Medicated: A Film About Art (2015) Directed by Ethan Minsker. Starring Richard Allen, Raul Ayala, Mike Cohen.
7 out of 10