Wolf Conference 2024 | To Make the Revolution Irresistible

Apr 19, 2024 - Apr 20, 2024 @ -

Public Trust, 4017 Walnut Street
Class of 1978 Pavilion, Van Pelt Library 6th Floor, 3420 Walnut Street

To Make the Revolution Irresistible: The Role of the Artist in the 21st Century

The Wolf 2024 Cinema & Media Studies Conference

(Artwork by Erik Ruin)

Recent years have seen a groundswell of artworks that claim an investment in politics, especially in the wake of the George Floyd protests. But what does it mean to make political art within capitalist infrastructures? Is revolutionary art possible in our current age? This conference seeks to address the question of political artmaking practices, and shed light on artists that make community-oriented and public-facing work. Instead of a series of academic talks, this conference aims to bring together a community of artists, especially those with longstanding ties to Philadelphia and its environs. It brings together three roundtables, each of which are organized around a different theme: Graphic Arts, Community Engagement, and Speculative Poetics. The conference takes the late Philadelphia-based artist-activist Toni Cade Bambara’s dictum as a starting point: that the “role of the culture worker” is to “make the revolution irresistible.” How can artmaking today inspire the desire for mass transformation of our material and social realities? How can art help us imagine a new and better world?

This conference will also feature a ‘Book Fair’ during the lunch hour where the artists and writers will have the opportunity to sell their work.



Friday, April 19 | Public Trust, 4017 Walnut Street

7:00-8:00pm | All That is Solid, a multi-channel performance by Erik Ruin, with collaborators D. Hotep (Sun Ra Arkestra, guitar) and Julius Masri (electronics, percussion).

Public reception to follow

Saturday, April 20 | Class of 1978 Pavilion, Penn campus

10:00am | Breakfast

10:15-10:30am | Welcoming Remarks | Ian Fleishman & Julia Alekseyeva

10:30am-12:00pm | Round Table I: Agitation in Comics & Graphic Arts | Chair: JS Wu
Julia Alekseyeva
Mattie Lubchansky
Josh Macphee
Ben Passmore
Erik Ruin
Chelsea Saunders

12:00-1:00pm | Lunch & Book Fair

1:00-2:30pm | Round Table II: Art and Community Engagement | Chair: Chi-ming Yang
Tabitha Arnold
Phoebe Bachman
(Mural Arts)
Liza Goodell (SpiralQ)
Josh Graupera
Sarah Mueller
Rachel O'Hanlon-Rodriguez (SpiralQ)

2:30-3:00pm | Coffee Break

3:00-4:30 | Round Table III: Film, Poetics, and Speculative Futures | Chair: Ricardo Bracho
Ephraim Asili
Sophie Lewis
M.E. O’Brien

Alina Pleskova
Ingrid Raphaël
Tafari Robertson

4:30-4:45pm | Closing Remarks | Julia Alekseyeva

4:45-6:00pm | Public Reception



Julia Alekseyeva is an Assistant Professor of English and Cinema & Media Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. She has just completed a book manuscript tentatively entitled Antifascism and the Avant-Garde: Radical Documentary in the 1960s. This work argues that French and Japanese practitioners and theorists of experimental and political documentary of the 1960s saw their work as engaging explicitly in an everyday practice of antifascism. In addition, she argues that this practice and ideology is tied to the work of the 1920s Soviet avant-garde, and especially to avant-garde documentarist Dziga Vertov. Along with her academic research and teaching, Julia Alekseyeva is also an author-illustrator, whose award-winning non-fiction graphic novel, Soviet Daughter: A Graphic Revolution, was published in 2017.

Mattie Lubchansky is a cartoonist and illustrator living in Queens, NY. They are the former associate editor of the Eisner-winning nonfiction comics publication The Nib, where they were also a contributor. They are the author of The Antifa Super-Soldier Cookbook (Silver Sprocket, 2021) and Boys Weekend (Pantheon, 2023). They are currently working on a new novel for the Pantheon Graphic Library about utopian separatism for release in 2025.

Josh Macphee is a founding member of both the Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative (Justseeds.org) and Interference Archive (InterferenceArchive.org). He is the author of Graphic Liberation: Political Graphics & Social Movements, An Encyclopedia of Political Record Labels, and is co-editor of Signal: A Journal of International Political Graphics and Culture. He regularly works with community and social justice organizations building agit-prop and consulting on cultural strategy.

Ben Passmore is the author of the Ignatz Award-winning comic collection “Your Black Friend: and Other Strangers” (Silver Sprocket) and the Eisner Award-winning “Sports Is Hell” (Koyama Press/ Silver Sprocket). His forthcoming graphic novel “These Black Arms to Hold You Up,” a graphic history of Black armed rebellion, will be released in the fall of 2025.

Erik Ruin is a Michigan-raised, Philadelphia-based printmaker, shadow puppeteer, paper-cut artist, etc., who has been lauded by the New York Times for his "spell-binding cut-paper animations." His work oscillates between the poles of apocalyptic anxieties and utopian yearnings, with an emphasis on empathy, transcendence and obsessive detail. He frequently works collaboratively with musicians, theater performers, other artists and activist campaigns. He is a founding member of the international Justseeds Artists' Cooperative, and co-author of the book Paths Toward Utopia: Graphic Explorations of Everyday Anarchism (w/ Cindy Milstein, PM Press, 2012). Current projects include the Ominous Cloud Ensemble, an ever-evolving, collectively-improvising large ensemble for projections and music. His  work has been recognized with grants from the Rhode Island State Council of the Arts,and the Puffin Foundation, and residencies at the Macdowell Colony, the Blue Mountain Center, AS220, and 40th st AIR.

Chelsea Saunders is an illustrator, writer, and animator based in Westchester, New York. Her cartoons have appeared in publications such as The Nib, and Current Affairs Magazine. Her most well-known piece — done for Current Affairs in 2018 — is titled “The Campus: As It Exists in the Mind of a U.S. Conservative,” which went viral last year in 2020. She was also the recipient of the 2019 John Locher Memorial Award for cartoonists under 26 whose work demonstrates both clear opinions and strong artistry on political and social topics. Chelsea is currently working on her debut graphic novel with Little Brown Books, about the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921.  

Tabitha Arnold makes labor-intensive art. Born and based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, she studied painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, and later transitioned into a self-learned practice of punch needle embroidery. Her meticulous tapestries feature spiritual imagery and historical art motifs on pieces as large as seven feet tall. The themes of Arnold’s work cover the radical past and ongoing struggle that threads all working people together. She’s inspired by the history of the labor movement, as well as her own direct experiences as a worker, organizer and artist coming of age during a wave of unionization and class-consciousness. Arnold’s textile practice has been profiled in Jacobin Magazine, Hyperallergic, and Burnaway, and her works feature on issue covers of Dissent Magazine. She is a 2023 MacDowell Fellow and part of the American Craft Council's 2022 Emerging Artist Cohort, with works acquired by international collectors as well as the Boston Museum of Fine Art. She is currently creating a tapestry series that documents labor struggle in East Tennessee from the early 20th century to the 2024 UAW campaign at Volkswagen Chattanooga.

Phoebe Bachman (she/they) is an artist, facilitator, curator, and activist based in South Philadelphia. Over the past decade, they have cultivated an interdisciplinary creative path grounded in collaboration and social justice. Their diverse methodologies include mapping and collage, interventions in public spaces, developing popular education tools, and facilitating engaging events. Selected projects include The People’s Budget, a public art initiative reimagining Philadelphia’s City Budget (2021-2024); The View from Here, an exhibit featuring artists from SCI Phoenix and San Quentin (2024); End the Exception, a multi-disciplinary project advocating for the end of the exception clause in the 13th Amendment (2020-2024). 

Liza Goodell is a mask and giant puppet maker and Co-director of Spiral Q. Through Spiral Q's Justice Works and Peoplehood programs, Goodell supports roughly 20 actions a year by facilitating banner, puppet, prop and sign making in community art builds, loaning puppets from Spiral Q's collection, and strategizing around artwork and messaging with a wide range of Philadelphia organizers. Goodell has been a guest artist at the Cleveland Museum of Art’s annual "Parade the Circle" for the past 16 years, designing, building, and leading parade performance ensembles for audiences of around 70,000. Her masks and puppets have been on display (Cleveland Museum of Art, Grounds for Sculpture, University City Arts League) and notably a mailbox puppet she created with Spiral Q and Vote that Jawn now has the distinction of being a part of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History collection.

josh graupera (they/them) is an artist living in Philadelphia, PA. Their practice explores the relationship between visual art and participatory action, using drawing, screen printing, zine-making, and facilitation practices. josh is a co-initiator of seed project, a community arts project in Lancaster, PA, where they document and archive arts resources and happenings in the neighborhood they grew up in. In 2019, they began working with the Youth Art & Self-empowerment Project (YASP) as an art and poetry workshop facilitator working with kids who are charged and incarcerated as adults. In 2014, they created blockadia, a multi-modal mythology about an inter-galactic utopia for BIPOC people in response to the police killing of Michael Brown. josh has participated in residencies and programs at The Fabric Workshop and Museum Post-Graduate Apprentice Training Program, The African American Museum of Philadelphia Residency for Art + Social Change, Electronic Textile Camp, Second State Press, Mural Arts of Philadelphia’s People’s Budget Office and the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture among others.

Sarah Mueller is a cinephile, a life-long learner and (very proud) 22 year community-rooted resident of Philadelphia. Sarah has had the great honor of working for and serving alongside some of Philadelphia’s most esteemed independent media institutions including (but not limited to)—Scribe Video Center, BlackStar Film Festival, Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival and PhillyCAM. Intrinsic to her life-long work is the notion that having the ability and access to create and experience deep and diverse depictions of one’s various identities on-screen is a basic human right. She proudly calls West Philly home!

Rachel O’Hanlon-Rodriguez (she/they) is a multidisciplinary performance-based artist, organizer, trauma informed teaching artist, facilitator, and non-profit management whiz. They joined Spiral Q as Operations Associate in 2021 to contribute more directly toward justice and equity through creativity and communal art making. Rachel's work, whether administrative or creative, is rooted in curiosity, harm reduction, healing, and community building. They received a Master's in Theatre & Certification in Non-Profit Management from Villanova University. Rachel’s solo performance, She Was A Conquistawhore, is touring to the Denver Fringe Festival this June. Follow along the creative journey at @spiralq or @the.inter.section on Insta; visit www.spiralq.org or www.rachelohanlonrodriguez.com to learn more.

Ephraim Asili is an African American artist and educator whose work focuses on the African diaspora as a cultural force. Asili’s films have screened in festivals and venues all over the world, including the New York Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, The Berlinale, and the International Film Festival Rotterdam. Asili’s 2020 feature debut The Inheritance premiered at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival, and was recently the focus of an exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art where it is a part of their permanent collection. In 2021 Asili was the recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship. During the summer of 2022 Asili directed a short film Strange Math, along with the 2023 Men’s Spring/Summer fashion show for Louis Vuitton. In 2023 Asili was the recipient of a Harvard Radcliffe Fellowship, and in 2024 Asili was awarded a grant from Creative Capital. Asili is currently the Director of the Film & Electronic Arts at Bard College where he is also an Associate Professor of film production and film studies.

Sophie Lewis is a writer and independent scholar living in Philadelphia. Her long history of anti-liberatory deployments of women's rights, Enemy Feminisms: TERFs, Policewomen and Girlbosses Against Liberation, is forthcoming from Haymarket in February 2025. Her first two books, both published by Verso Books, are Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against Family (2019) and Abolish the Family: A Manifesto for Care and Liberation (2022). Sophie has a PhD in Geography at Manchester University, as well as an MA Politics from the New School, and a BA in English literature from Oxford University, which was followed by an MSc in Environmental Policy (also at Oxford). Dr. Lewis teaches short courses on social and critical theory at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research, open to all and online. She also has an unpaid visiting affiliation with the Center for Research on Feminist, Queer and Transgender Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. You can find her lectures and writings at lasophielle.org, and become a subscriber at patreon.com/reproutopia.

M.E. O’Brien writes on gender freedom and capitalism. She has two books: Family Abolition: Capitalism and the Communizing of Care (Pluto, 2023), and a speculative novel entitled Everything for Everyone: An Oral History of the New York Commune, 2052–2072 (Common Notions, 2022), coauthored with Eman Abdelhadi. She serves on the editorial board of two magazines Pinko, on gay communism, and Parapraxis, on psychoanalytic theory and politics. Her work on family abolition has been translated into Chinese, German, Greek, French, Spanish, Catalan and Turkish. Previously, O’Brien coordinated the New York City Trans Oral History Project, and worked in HIV and AIDS activism and services. She completed her PhD at NYU, where she wrote on how capitalism shaped New York City LGBTQ social movements. She is a practicing psychotherapist, a clinical social worker, and in formation as a psychoanalyst.

Alina Pleskova is a Moscow-born, Philadelphia-based poet and editor. Her poetry collection, Toska, was published by Deep Vellum in June 2023 and is a finalist for a 2024 Lambda Literary Award. She is a recipient of the Leeway Foundation’s 2020 Art & Change and 2022 Window of Opportunity grants, and was a writer-in-residence at The Betsy Hotel in Miami. Her writing has been published by the American Poetry Review, Jewish Currents, the Poetry Project, Poetry Society of America, Prolit, and elsewhere. She is a founder of the Cheburashka Collective, a group of women and nonbinary writers who are emigres/first-gen/refugees from the Soviet diaspora. More at alinapleskova.com.

Ingrid Raphaël is a transdisciplinary artist, filmmaker, educator and curator. Their upcoming speculative genre film has received support from the Center for Afrofuturist Studies and Independence Public Media Foundation; and their first co-director role for the short doc They Won't Call It Murder with support from Field of Vision. They've facilitated self-guided curriculums like Webs of Time and Malleable Futures at Black Quantum Futurism, Afrofuturism on Screen at No Evil Eye Cinema's alternative film school Film Futura, and their popular Webs of Care workshop at Eyebeam, Powerplnt featured in the 2021 Are.na Publication. Their recent solo exhibit Pitch Blue explored archival and textile memories of migration, displacement, and longing -- with an upcoming tour in the works. Their dance work has been featured at Pace Gallery New York and the Collegium for African Diaspora Dance at Duke University. They are the co-founder of the microcinema NO EVIL EYE CINEMA and currently teach Experimental Cinema at the university-level.

Tafari Robertson is a multidisciplinary artist originally from Austin, TX, based in West Philadelphia. His practice involves moving fluidly between creative projects and mediums exploring new ways to preserve Black cultural spaces and experiences. Currently, he's exploring a historical methodology unique to Black communities in development of a Black Historians' Department that honors the intergenerational legacies of people dedicated to keeping our history alive.


The conference, free and open to the public, has been made possible thanks to the Penn Dick Wolf Cinema & Media Studies Fund with the support of the Wolf Humanities Center and the Center for Experimental Ethnography. It has been organized by Julia Alekseyeva, Assistant Professor at Penn English and Cinema & Media Studies, with the assistance of Penn Cinema & Media Studies Nicola M. Gentili, Senior Department Administrator and Associate Director Undergraduate Studies, and Davor Svetinović, Graduate Coordinator and Assistant to the Chair.