Sunday, December 5, 2010

Games for a New Class

Do the young people working job to job, contract to contract, without expectations that sustained their parents, and the migrants being exploited with no labor rights constitute a “new class” of precarious workers, a “precariat”? Or are they somehow in a temporary limbo before “real” work, or simply living the new conditions of labor with no claim on any kind of historical destiny? This was a thread in the discussion after the presentation of Alessandro from the San Precario group in Milan, in New York recently as the guest of the 16 Beaver Group.
The show began with a video of a young man in bed tossing and turning for fear of rent, losing his job, all the insecurity – and the figure of San Precario appears to him. The revelation, however, is different: Do not believe in me, believe in yourself and the power of others like you; I am a saint so that you do not become a martyr. San Precario figures in the banners of the “precarious conspiracy” of volunteers in Milan, the Chainworkers collective, which continues to organize temporary workers. The group has some 30-50 members, each of them networked to other political groups. They use “viral media and subvertising” to advance their agendas in the media and the public eye.
Some of these usages were cute, like saint cards for San Precario. Others were game-like, in the spirit of Jasper Groetveld's “marihu” schemes that organized the Provos in Amsterdam. A precarity puzzle assembles into a schematic picture of a different world. Trading cards depict “superheroes of precarity” (collect them all!). An elaborate precarity tarot, carefully designed, can indeed be used to predict the (limited, insecure) future. A pad of lotto-like slips form a game called “Welfare for Life”; it promotes (propagandizes) the “dream demand” for a guaranteed income, “flexicurity” for the new conditions of labor.
This isn't such a dream, it seems. The question is being debated in Lombardy, the province of Milan. It's a rich one, accounting for some 25% of Italy's GNP. To put this into discourse is an achievement. Just as the Chainworkers efforts have shifted the term from “flexible” worker to “precarious.” “We went against that word,” Alessandro said. “They were using it at first.” To shift mainstream political discourse through creative political agitation is a great achievement. In the U.S., it seems only the rightwing can do this (e.g. “death tax,” and “Obamacare”) through sheer weight of media capital (Fox).
There's a lot more – the most glamorous achievement of the group's “spectacle phase” was a spectacular intervention into Milan Fashion Week 2005, a trumped up controversy between the designer Serpico Nari and the social centers of Milan. (The Chainworkers were based out of CSOA Pergola.) The radicals vowed to blockade the modista's runway show, and a phalanx of cops showed up. The designer and radicals were one in the same, as it turned out – Serpica Naro is an anagram of, well, you can figure that one! And the media reported on the rough conditions workers in the fashion industry live with. And Euromayday, a carefully nurtured by now Europe-wide “rebranding” of the great workers' holiday as a street festival of the new class.
Those who want more can check out the links to videos, and Stevphen Shukaitis' essay explaining it all very well at:

the image is from metadesigncom's photostream

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

News: UK & Hamburg

From London, JJ writes to tell us that the Slade School of Art -- two buildings of it -- was occupied by students two days ago. They are planning 3 days of alternative education, art, activism and disobedience this weekend, from Friday night 3rd to Sunday 5th December. The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination will be supporting this and we are calling on all art activists friends to take part in this act of creative rebellion against the cuts in the UK... Its going to be a great space for planning, discussing, plotting the next steps of what looks like a rising movement in this country, but one that needs our collective radical imaginations .... pass on and proliferate xx
Folks there are invited to either:
1) Propose a workshop/event/ talk/ performance/action/installation/ that you could contribute to the weekend ( a short description of it, what you need space and time wise etc )
2) Write a statement of support to the occupation - esp from international artists etc .. would be great
3) Just turn up with your body and rebel soul
The blog for this is -- Please email your ideas to me at and
Meanwhile, in Hamburg, the travelers are out for the holiday season: Michel Chevalier writers that the banners they are carrying say "squat the city...accept alternative housing... self-determined living.. allow bauwagenplä end to hight rents, gentrification and displacement/expulsion... let's take over the city." Ho ho ho! (Photo is from the Hamburger Morgen Post.)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Consensus Assembly versus State Authority

To a full house at ABC No Rio, Amy Starecheski reported on her stint as a researcher in residence at Christiania, the famous, long-lived “free city” squat in Copenhagen. In the back of the room, on the grimy graffiti smeared cartons that serve as a countertop, the Brooklyn anarchist group In Our Hearts was “doing distro,” laying out a buffet of books and pamphlets.
Amy is an oral historian and student of anthropology. Her presentation mixed sound clips of her interviewees, videos and stand-up analysis. She talked principally about the consensus process of decision-making at Christiania, and how it has played out during the recent years of negotiation with the Danish state. After 30-odd years of existence, operating autonomously, and thereby largely outside the laws of Denmark and the city of Copenhagen, a rightist government was elected with a pledge to “normalize” the district. Their plans included privatization of all land and buildings, and development through high rise towers. The community – which charges “use fees,” not rent to its residents – appointed a negotiating committee to talk to the state. This committee insisted to the authorities that it had no power, and must report back to the assembly of all residents to make any decision. Amy observed that, from her study of the history of colonization, peoples who refused to designate and empower leaders were more difficult to colonize. In this sense, she said, consensus decision making turns out to be a mode of strategic resistance.
After some time negotating, the assembly was faced with a deadline, and a devil's bargain to privatize and develop Christiania. As part of the negotiation process, they were required to give an answer to the plan, yet were unable to reach any consensus. “Let's send someone out to play the flute,” one resident suggested. This idea excited and united the group. At an infamous 2006 press conference, a red curtain was raised and a flute player tooted while a jester dancing and scattered paper scraps. This was taken by the state as a non-answer. Clearly rooted in Christiania's long theatrical and circus tradition, this gesture was the only thing that everyone could agree upon. Despite the absurdity of it, the flute player's strategic response to the state helped to bind the community together.
Why did the state forebear? Why not just clear the place? The site is surrounded by woods and clearly indefensible. As a shoemaker told Amy, Christiania is “as famous for their riots as for their hashish.” The place also enjoys wide public support in Copenhagen. With the flute concert, Christiania called the state's bluff. There were no evictions.
In March, the adverse possession case of Christiania will reach the Danish supreme court, and Christiania is expected to lose. The peril to the “free state” is far from over.
But for the while, the very form of Christiania's governance has proven an effective form of resistance. “The state abhors consensus democracy; that's the beauty of it,” said one woman. The snail is an emblem of this process, and there is a large sculpture of one at the entrance to the community. It is the mascot of Christiania.
The consensus process, however, can be boring. It means many and interminable meetings. It can stifle new ideas, and keep people from speaking freely. The eloquent can use the meetings to garner power. One of Amy's interviewees said that for five years three angry people ruined every meeting by their raging. “When the structure is so loose,” she told Amy, “there will be a heightened power group. It's just not official.” (This point of view echoes the essay “Tyranny of Structurelessness” that came out of the U.S. feminist movement in the 1970s.) There were some attempts to reform the consensus process, but these were blocked by the substantial groups of drug dealers in the community, called “pushers.” Amy's interviewees agreed that in consensus assemblies there needs to be an understanding of the proper role of charisma, and controls on those with the gift of gab. When they act as spokespersons that is okay; but when they use their suavity to garner power, it is wrong.
After Amy's talk, Rolando Politti, a recycling artist from the Lower East Side of New York who was also a resident artist there, spoke about the process of “normalization” that is slowly and relentlessly asserting itself in Christiania. Brindalyn Webster, another artist who researched in the community, passed out elegantly printed envelopes with quotes printed on them from interviews she had conducted. (Inside were folded up longer texts, and, unaccountably, a seed packet of catnip.) The packed house of 30-odd folks read aloud from these texts, as Brindalyn passed them out in waves. In the process, we all became a sort of theatricalized assembly of Christiania, ventriloquizing the cogent, often passionate beliefs of these remarkable people.

photo: the flag of Christiania

Links: ABC No Rio, NYC cultural center
In Our Hearts
promotion for Amy Staracheski’s talk
website of Christiania

Thursday, November 18, 2010

There's a flood out in California...

[I've been writing, and neglecting this blog; more soon on Amy's trip to Christiania. For now, a spot of breaking news via the Edu-Factory list, your source for worldwide student revolt news...]
Protests against new fee hikes being met with violence
By mtd
San Francisco – As of 8:45am, 200-300 students are blocking entrances to the William J. Rutter building at the UCSF Mission Bay campus, where the Regents are scheduled to meet. On the agenda today and tomorrow are another 8% fee increase and a move to change “fees” back to “tuition,” which was formally prohibited under the California Master Plan.
Cops have reportedly donned riot gear and have begun to arbitrarily charge and assault the student pickets. Already, 2 UC Berkeley students have been arrested for unknown charges.
This also follows last night’s news of an agreement between the UC and UAW Local 2865, the union representing Teaching Assistants, Graduate Student Employees, and Academic Student Employees. Following 5 months of bad faith and illegal bargaining practices from the UC, unfair labor practices, stalling, walking away from the table, lying, and refusal to concede anything, the UAW bargaining team has accepted UC’s original proposal on wages, employment notification, and summer childcare in exchange for a minor concession on childcare reimbursement. If the contract is ratified by the membership, TAs will receive subinflation wage increases of 2% a year locked in for the next 3 years.
8:55am: There was a confrontation between students and police in the parking garage. Many of the Regents have been able to enter, smiling as they watch cops hit students.
9:15am: Reports that students and workers have pushed through the police barricades and are storming the building. Several students are badly hurt from police attacks and some have been maced. More arrests, 5 total: 3 Berkeley, 1 Santa Cruz, 1 Davis.
9:20am: Confirmed: students are inside the building!
9:30am: Police are indiscriminately pepper spraying students. Police have put masks on.
9:45am: Daily Cal reports that Berkeley student government Vice President Ricardo Gomez was among those pepper sprayed by police.
n Tue, Nov 16, 2010 at 4:32 PM, Liz Mason-Deese wrote:
Cal Admins Blockaded
BERKELEY, California – As of 6:30am this morning, students at UC Berkeley have begun blocking the entrances to the California Hall, the main administrative building on campus. All entrances are surrounded.
8:50am: UCPD has opened up an entrance. Alameda sheriffs have come as back up.
9:40am: Numbers are still low, between 50-100. Expecting more, for now they’re just waiting. [correction: numbers closer to 40.]
10:20am: More from thosewhouseit.
edufactory mailing list

Friday, August 20, 2010

Hanse City Dream Squat

Despite late Hamburg action and some visits in Berlin, I posted nothing here for a while, because I was on vacation. We rolled off to the Baltic Coast, starting out from Lübeck. Like Hamburg, Lübeck was a city of the old-time Hanseatic League, but the most westerly one, which was not part of the communist east Germany. The old city is rather small. It was ferociously bombed during the world war. The Marienkirche was deliberately destroyed in the last months of 1945, as revenge for the Luftwaffe's destruction of the cathedral in Coventry. Now the old gabled buildings of Lübeck have been lovingly reconstructed, and the city is rich again.
Just outside the old city is the Lübeck Alternative, a small grandfathered squat center which began in 1978. (I have the book, but haven't read it.) Behind the group of buildings is a Bauwagenplatz, an encampment of trailers for living. The Alternative is right across the street from a giant ugly new convention center, making for a curious juxtaposition. On one side of the road, punk concerts and a grungy bar. Across the street when we visited, a beer company was sponsoring a festival with bland entertainment and local restaurants offering “tastes” for many Euros.
Out of Lübeck we journeyed eastward along the coast, Wismar, Stralsund, Greifswald, Wolgast – Hansa League cities all, except for the last, part of the old Pomeranian duchy. (Their lead coffins have been returned to the church crypt in a new installation.) Many gabled roofs, half-timbered houses, fat straw roofs, and many many vacation rooms. Tourism seems the main industry now along the coast, that and making smoked fish. The tourists are nearly all Germans. Unless you speak the language, you can have a hard time.
Along the road on Rügen island we passed an abandoned dance hall, a mssive weathered gray edifice from socialist days. There are abandoned buildings along the coast – especially those beside the railroad. (The new Alternative is in one of these.) But I saw no evidence of any occupation action, and only one political sticker on the whole trip, one warning of talking to the police. That tiny shred of political evidence was balanced by a nazi graffiti on a medieval tombstone stuck into the wall of the Kloster ruin, a site made famous by Caspar David Friedrich's paintings. There is road- and trainside graffiti, big letter work, maybe by one or two vacationing artists. Otherwise, not even any evidence of alternative culture. (“Live jazz” once a week at a town cafe no longer counts.) The Baltic coast of eastern Germany seems a desert in this respect, but who knows what is hiding in the cracks? Driving through Greifswald we spied a clutch of punks on the street. The town is no tourist mecca, and there were a good number of abandoned buildings. We didn't stop. Could that be the punk Baltic? Inquire in Lübeck.
Caspar David Friedrich also made Hiddensee island famous with his early 19th century painting of the striking steep chalk cliffs, one of the first tourist postcards. That view, now clogged by trees, is today the site of a multimedia nature show. We visited Ahrenshoop, on Hiddensee island, touted for its history as a former artists' colony and resort of famous modernist authors and thinkers. Now it is mostly a massive encampment of resort hotels crammed together on a narrow spit of land. The art colony is sporadically evoked, mainly by galleries alternately schlocky and craftsy. (An interesting project, a “museum box” investigating the island's cultural history, is run by a school and was closed for the summer.) How many “sleepy fishing villages” became artists' colonies, and thereafter massive modern resorts? When artists arrive rural working people should shiver in their boots.
We fetched up in Ahlbeck for a couple days, a classic old-style Baltic coast beach resort town with all the trimmings: Long pier, cabanas for rent, horse and buggy rides, and garish sea palace hotels, all that – but no artistic pretensions. In our hotel I dreamed of a squatted social center called Squat Anya. In this fantasy I was being shown around by a guy who led me up tottering stairs in the back of the place past piles of sodden paint chips which had flaked off the walls. The front rooms were still dry, with dusty décor left over from a gala party. One banner read, “Making Revolution” with paper cutouts of 18th century soldiers. Another read “Taking Revolution,” hung over abandoned buffet tables. A girl told me that was where they held their VoKu, or weekly free meals. I suppose in dreaming this that I was thinking about the seaside resorts in the U.S. south that have appropriated revolutionary iconography as décor. Here in the former DDR (socialist east Germany, ended in 1989) I have no idea how folks relate to their pasts. Almost no one speaks English and my German is rudimentary. Ahlbeck is mostly old folks and families. A less hip place is hard to imagine. Occasional outbreaks of kitsch that make rural Georgia look modernist add to the claustrophobia. My sense of the place – and somehow I took it as exemplary of the whole coast – is that the people are overwhelmingly conservative. We watched the reactionary Frenchman Jean Le Pen on Pomeranian German TV making a visit to Japan. He went to a shrine associated with the Japanese military which even government ministers avoid. Le Pen may be old and doddering, but his venom is fresh. Even without translation it leaks through the TV to corrode the comfortable furnishing of contemporary liberalism, by vociferously honoring the defeated forces of a militant genocidal imperialism. But how is this kind of defeat internalized if it is always repressed, always kept out of public view? In the east of Germany first fascism and then communism fell – the first violently, amidst unimaginable ruin, and the second quietly, but leaving behind complex remnants. Does “Ostalgia” – fond feelings for a vanished egalitarian albeit relentlessly repressive regime – translate into any grounds for new forms of contemporary resistance to hyper-capitalism?


a Myspace page for the Lübeck Alternative concert space

Photo: Caspar David Friedrich, "Kreidefelsen auf Rügen," 1818

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Lost in Repression

I went with my Hamburg guide to a demonstration against police repression. The rallying point was a tourist center, near the famous immigrant embarkation point – ah, yes, here it is on the cover of the Eyewitness English guidebook, the Landungsbruecken. It's made from thick, rusticated masonry and features nicely expressionistic glowering statues. As a fine art sculptor Ernst Barlach does not thrill me, but this style in architectural ornament is a gas – like a Hollywood monster movie. A couple of dour looking statues near the top of one building looked exactly like the intimidating policemen who were marshalling beneath...
The march was part of a series of events considering state repression around the 9th anniversary of the police murder of Carlo Giuliani. He was killed in Genoa, during protests against the G8 meeting. The symbol of this campaign was the surveillance camera. The discussions, organized at a place in Hamburg called Centro Sociale, considered a repression which is “versatile, comprehensive and subtle.” But the repression in evidence at the event on Saturday certainly wasn't subtle.
The demo marshalled slowly – at first a speaker with some 20 or 30 around a truck, and then the crowd appeared. There were many – the paper estimated 1,000 – and they marched along the Hafenstrasser, waterfront road near the harbor. There were, said a speaker, just as many police present. It was pretty frightening, i must say -- to see all the German police with their body armor and helmets, also tanks and armored vehicles parked above the parade route. Mostly it was young people in black clothes, and many punks, but also mixed in older people marching, marching along the street with the police following in a line...
From the overpasses, tourists were watching – they had been blocked from coming down into the assembly point, where tickets to attractions are sold. People also watched from the balconies of hotels and luxury apartments. The punks were chanting -- all in German, I didn't understand any of that.
Also along the so way some of the formerly squatted houses – now they are all legal, low-rent apartment houses – had put out banners in support. One house, with the motto “Out of Control” painted on it, put on a display of loud fireworks from their roof. Sometimes these marches, which end at the Rote Flora occupied social center, conclude with a riot. This follows on, I was told, from a police provocation, a charge on the crowd or such. Then the young men react. On May 1st they demolished a bank with cobblestones. It seems almost necessary for that to happen, from the state's point of view. If you call out 500 or 1000 police onto the street, even bring them from other parts of Germany (there was a troop here from Berlin, one person said), then you have to justify the expense somehow. So there is a riot; you must make one happen so the repression has "value."
We left the "parade" before the end, where the riots sometimes happen. But the newspaper reports no riot, all was peaceful. This confirms one observer's guess – now, with the political situation uncertain, the CDU right wing party would not risk provoking the (anemic) left Greens by beating up on people of the left. If they do, there could be no coalition, and new elections would be called.

Unter dem Motto "Lost in Repression" haben am Sonnabend rund 1000 Linksautonome auf St. Pauli demonstriert. (beneath the motto: "LIP" about 1,000 left autonomists demonstrated in St. Pauli district.)
Photo: Michael Arning, Hamburger Abendblatt -- more photos at:

Lost in Repression? Control Yourself!
details of the campaign, in German
propaganda here:

and a very impressive ad spot for the Pirate Party, which spells out the problem in English, German and Spanish: called "spot of the Pirate Party"

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A New Grand Bazaar

Years ago I was in Germany acting like an artist, and I took part in a group show at NGBK in Berlin. There a critic observed that my art was kindisch, like Sesame Street. I was a little hurt by that. But now I think it is okay. So also is my theory, like in a playground, observing and learning from what the other children are doing. I like that the Frise Kuenstlerhaus where I visit now backs onto a playground. I especially watch the cool kids, not the ones who are always following the rules and staying close to the teacher, but the kids who have their own fort.
This is only to say that things that happen influence my theory. Since I have been in Hamburg, I have had a few of these kindische theoretical insights. Basically what is going on in cities now is a culture war, a struggle between productive and consumptive culture. This is a struggle between the local and the global, between self-organized, self-sustaining cultural producers and cultural marketers, i.e., culture within capitalism. It is most dramatically exemplified in Hamburg maybe by Gaengeviertel -- productive culture asserting itself, and the opera house monument to classical consumption, an as yet unbuilt tower of babel, reaching for the heavens of parity in signifying global cities' consumptive power, a crystalline crown of pure money. Now this consumptive culture ideal is consumptive in another sense: it is sick because of the economic crisis.
I see these two kinds of culture as exemplified in the movement of occupied self-organized social centers as versus capital markets and their collaborating institutions. To be sure, markets can act independent of the interests of speculative finance capital, just as institutions can collaborate with other actors rather than mainly or only with the speculating rich.
With its rich mix of activities, the SC embodies production culture, whereas the institutions of showing have galleries and stages in them where things are shown to be consumed. Most people only look, but the rich can buy. (Already we have here two kinds of “rich.”)
So, to other kinds of markets: in the Altona district of Hamburg where I stay, there is the Mercado, a vertical shopping center, air-conditioned in summer and warm in winter. Very nice. But inside no one is making anything, except money. In Istanbul there is the Grand Bazaar. It is a famous labyrinth of consumption, shops upon shops, arranged over centuries to make the winding streets of Altona seem like a grid. But among this maze are numerous workshops, called “hans,” where things are made. So the Grand Bazaar, a descendant of the caravanserai, and built to support the great mosque Hagia Sophia, contains both imports and local products in its form. To get into the Mercado, a local producer must start outside, to deal with the capitalist mediators who run the shops, and only then maybe they will be allowed to come inside. That can seem a little strange if you live and work next door.
The huge building that was recently occupied by artists in Altona is an amazing design. It is a department store with a parking garage – very typical for the USA. But there the the store and the garage are separate buildings. I have never seen them squashed together in such a manner. This old department store is gargantuan, but very exciting in its form. Now it is empty. Artists occupied it, turning it into a warren of productive culture with many outlets – galleries, shops, theaters and meeting rooms – forming around its public edges. The artists were evicted. Now it is to be taken over by Ikea, and become again a pure outlet for an archetypical multinational capitalist actor. Not only that, but it will be knocked down and rebuilt.
The form of the Ikea store in USA is invariably a shed, the cheapest form of construction, really like a humongous shipping container in Swedish national colors of blue and yellow. How nice! How simple! And how appropriate for Hamburg. I am sorry, but I think an Ikea shed would be a stupid replacement for the incredible grand architectural construction that sits like an abandoned space station in Altona.
The Frappant project was constituting itself not only as housing, or even as housing for productive capacities (studios and ateliers), but also as a market. But this was looking as if it would be self-sustaining, like a social center. The people who would run and maintain the place would live there, so they would not need to be paid much. The people who worked there would also sell there, like in a bazaar or medieval market. So there would not be any profit. If you are a capitalist, of course, this kind of situation would be intolerable. Where is there any room for you?
Now I see in Berlin there are a number of projects to reclaim Tegel airport, long abandoned, as a public space. This is very nice. Tegel was the site of the famous Berlin airlift. This was a response to a Soviet siege – very medieval, which the USA and western allies responded to by throwing food over the walls. It is a high moment of climate-destroying “air power,” and also of the form of post-war global trade, also really destructive of atmosphere. (Although I can't complain that I am here because of it.) Really the airlift of food falling gently from the air to defeat the brutal siege was the heavenly apotheosis of free trade. When he crowed about it, John Kennedy said, “Ich bin ein Berliner,” a nice bit of Germglish. Many people liked that he claimed he was a pastry. Now Tegel can be reclaimed for making pastries if you like, instead of bringing in things from other places.
So I apply this kind of kindische thinking to analyze the function of the social centers in Europe as I have understood it. The classic squat provides housing. They take an abandoned building – not abandoned in terms of ownership usually, but unused – renovate it and maintain it. There is no profit in that for the owner! But people need housing. This is understood. So finally some of the squats are legalized as social housing. This is good. The modernist social contract requires that the workers get housing in return for giving up their lives to the factories. You can see the same kind of deal in China today with the corporate barracks for the poor peasants who come to the cities to work. But maybe that isn't really so useful in the post-modern city. Maybe that kind of social housing, really a state subsidy for industrial capitalism, isn't what cities need.
There is no profit in making this social housing, to be sure. And finally people who were bold and aggressive when they were young get cheap apartments. That is nice, but.... what is the social benefit?
I think maybe the social benefit lies in what kind of people they are.
And that comes back to Richard Florida's arguments for the creative city, which Hamburg planners were very entranced with. Activists all over Europe (especially in UK) have vigorously criticized Florida's “creative class” ideas as a theoretical blunt instrument for planners of the hypercapitalist city to do what they want while pretending to respect people and culture. And what they want is to knock everything down and rebuild it bigger and more slick, so everyone who was there before falls off onto the edges, away from the new playground of the rich and their workers. Who are the real creative class? Those who can reconfigure everything, the masters of the universe. You say you are an artist? Ha, ha, ha! What do you really make?
So the occupation movement in the global cities proposed as a counter argument their own fort built in the woods of property-as-commodity, built inside large abandoned buildings in the form of the social center. (Hamburg now so far as I know has really only one, the Rote Flora.) Why should a city give these buildings to the activists who take them? Why should a city even give space to artists? Why shouldn't a city just dogmatically enforce all property rights?
Well, the answer to the last question is I think now maybe obvious. If you dogmatically enforce property rights, you uphold only speculative capitalism. And in this moment of crisis, when speculative capitalism has proven that it doesn't lead to uniform social benefit, but instead very efficiently produces mass social disruption and ruin, maybe it isn't so wise to put all your eggs into that one basket. Unless you like to color the ground with them... and egg tempera is a very durable pigment.
But it is less obvious why these aggressive people should get this space in the city. Maybe they should get it because of the social effects they produce. This is some of what Richard Florida says when he responds to the Hamburg manifesto, “Ohne uns.” That manifesto text concerned the hyper-gentrifying city that was being built without us, that is, without the cultural producers who are not rich.
What of this social effect, though? Of what value is that? Or, rather, how does that create value? Let me call that the Ganas effect, after a commune in Staten Island named Ganas, the Spanish word for “desire.” (It is only one letter away from ganar, or “win.”) The Ganas commune is not especially idealistic. They are business people. Ganas produces festivals in the community where they are located. That place is mostly poor, pretty depressed, full of immigrants and many abandoned institutional buildings. Year after year the waterfront festivals were very small-scale but charming events which involve a lot of artists who play for free, and the immigrants who can bring their families and eat cheap and have the kids be entertained. Very modest, really. But the people of Ganas build a kind of magical atmosphere around these events. How? There are about 20 people in the commune working the event, and as they move around they look at each other, smile, wave, interact nonverbally. (Ganas is deeply invested in using a special set of group psychological techniques among themselves.) This interaction spills over to everyone else who is there – every other person there also sometimes gets a direct look, a smile, a nod which has just bounced off another commune member. This is the social glue that makes everyone at the event feel that they are acknowledged and that something special is happening.
In a temporally condensed form, this is the kind social effect that artists and activists have in a community. Artists are always looking for connections and customers, and activists are always trying to organize people. For these reasons they look at people, say “hello,” and interact more than most people. People in the ideal shiny slick hypercapitaliist city are more or less going to their jobs and back home to their families. They can seem like figures in those marvelous toys where everything is on a track, running, running. They are entrancing to watch, but kids get bored with them really quickly. They want something they can move around off the track. Something they can play with. Similarly, the spillover effect from the kinds of social relations activists and artists engage in benefits a community by making people there more social. More social people create more networks, and more new initiatives likely to succeed than do alienated unsocial people.
So this is the primary social value that artists create. And I argue that activists also make it. They have bars, VoKus, cafes, infoshops, bike ateliers, and other primitive anti-businesses. They organize demonstrations. And all of this activity is useful in stimulating people involved in other parts of the city economy to think of what they do differently.
In Madrid a new artist occupation has been legalized by the state. It is called Tabacalera, because it is in a huge formerly state-owned tobacco product factory. (Actually it was first built to make snuff and playing cards for the royal court.) Like a giant cigar, the social nicotine from Tabacalera can stimulate Madrid's neurosystem to make faster connections. This could become addictive...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

It Begins in San Francisco...

A group of housing activists occupied the vacant second floor of a building on the corner of 20th and Mission Streets Monday night and said they don’t plan to leave unless they are forced out.

T-Mobile occupies the first floor.

“We are going to vote with crowbars,” said one protester at the rally that began at 5:50 p.m. at the 16th Street BART Station.

Another added, “You can put me in a house or in a jail, but if you put me in jail, it’s going to cost you more.”

Read more:

Sunday, July 18, 2010

15h Anniversary of Reclaim the Streets Celebrated by European Union

I may have to retitle this blog "Flexible Governance." I am diggin' this, as are a million Germans... [Reblog from Associated Press/Yahoo] "People gather, to celebrate `` Still-Life '' People gather on the Autobahn in Essen, western Germany, to celebrate 'Still-Life' on Sunday, July 18, 2010. The most-travelled motorway in Germany A40 is closed for one day on 60 kilometers for the most spectacular event of the European Cultural Capital Ruhr 2010, when 20,000 tables are set as the longest banquet of the world. About one million visitors and inhabitants of the Ruhr agglomeration area meet, eat and drink together on a Sunday between the cities of Dortmund and Duisburg in Germany's most populated region." (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
Now, as crisis government shrinks, civic creativity is being outsourced... So take the next step! DePave Summer 2010!

Reclaim the Streets archive

DePave Summer 2010

Saturday, July 17, 2010


After the intensity of the Tabacalera's beginnings in Madrid, I bounced through Berlin to Hamburg. Now I am staying in a schoolroom a few blocks from the spectacularly busy port on the Elbe River. My hosts Sabine and Michel led me on a tour of the major historical sites during my first day, and I am afraid it passed in a blur. The next day Sabine showed me more, including the famous Gängeviertel occupation in center city.
That first day we had a drink on a terrace at a historic Bauhaus-constructed school building overlooking the Elbe. (I don't know the name of it.) The school has been vacant for 10 years, and only now some artists have permission to open a small cafe with exhibitions inside. Upon walking into the elegant modernist classic the first thing that struck me was the extraordinary flow of air through the building. It was coming from the terrace and rolling through the rooms, freshening the interior on a very hot day. This school is to be torn down to build a high-rise building, luxury apartments with views. There has been talk of occupying it to forestall this destruction.
Then we walked along the Elbe riverfront. Sabine pointed out a trendy bar that had been a squat only a year or so ago. Many giant luxury buildings have been built along the waterfront, ;like a wall obscuring the view of many others. Despite these monster, the walkway along the water remains a public access. We walked through tables filled with diners at one point.
Then Park Fiction hove into view. This is a park designed with multiple S-curved lawns to resemble a flying carpet, and tall metal palm trees, and it is full of people, chatting, drinking, strumming guitars. The park in St. Pauli neighborhood is the outcome of a 15 year long struggle to reclaim public space from top-down development plans of the Hamburg government. Park Fiction was a participatory planning exercise led by artists. They organized the process as a game, and collected an “archive of desires.” After the group was invited to present at the prestigious art fair Documenta, the city started to deal with them more seriously. The outcome finally was that the city withdrew its intentions for another giant high-rise, and today there is the park. (The Park Fiction group is in the thick of engaged artistic practice worldwide; of that more later.) Next to the park is the Golden Pudel Klub, the original squatter's bar with a political music scene which does a booming business – about which I am told they are ambivalent. Park Fictioneers remain very active, working with a new group called “It's Raining Caviar.”
We met Michel at a bar on Haffenstrasse, the harbor street where Autonomen squatters staged pitched battles with police to defend their squats in the 1980s. (Eddie Yuen, et al. eds., book “The Battle of Seattle” has a chapter on this.) Today it is calmed, and we walked on to Rote Flora, which remains an resistant occupied social center in a standoff with the city. We arrived at the antique theater which is the focus of a nightlife area thronged with young folks. A bassy disco was in progress, but a woman there showed us inside, and took us to the silkscreen atelier in the back. It is here that the beautiful monthly schedules are produced to be posted on the street. (Some of these are in the House Magic exhibition, since Michel had brought them to NYC.) Michel told me that during the winter the silkscreen workshop is the warmest room in the place, so the bands sit there between shows! Rote Flora houses a social movements archive which I hope to visit.
The next day, Sabine took me by the vast abandoned department store that is slated to become an Ikea (a Swedish furniture giant). This was occupied in protest and then evicted. We ended up at Gängeviertel, a recently squatted cluster of late 19th century buildings, survivors of wartime bombing, that adjoins the center city with its massive skyscrapers. The place is a relatively recent occupation, and it faces the stark skyscrapers of the Springer publishing company in a contrast that could not be starker. The artists turned it into an overnight warren of studios and ateliers (see diagram above). The surprising thing about this occupation is that they are talking with the city, which has been almost amiable! (The article from Der Spiegel below lays out the situation quite well.)
After this intensive introduction to the Hamburg scene, and a lot of biking and getting lost, I spent this day in bed, studying. Now I am going to hear some music... and probably get lost again! But for the “House Magic” project, it is clear to me that Hamburg is the place to be.


my hosts, Kuenstlerhaus Frise

Park Fiction

Christoph Schaefer's 2008 lecture at MIT is online; at about 27 minutes he talks about the Parkl Fiction project

Es Regnet Kaviar/It's Raining Caviar

Rote Flora website

Gängeviertel website

“Squatters Take on the Creative Class: Who Has the Right to Shape the City?”
By Philipp Oehmke (translated from German),1518,670600,00.html

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Tabacalera Is Smokin'

Yesterday was busy! After a long lunch and a rest, we returned to Tabacalera, the new CSA in Madrid. (That is Centro Sociale Auto-gestionada, or self-organized social center.) A party climaxed the events of the week long fiesta for three years of “red”-sistance thrown by the CSOA Patio Maravillas (that's “O” for okupa, or occupied, a squat). Thanks to an artist who has been working with the group since the beginning, we quickly met half a dozen of the most involved people in the space. My Spanish is growing, leaning on guesses at the infinitive forms of many Latin-derived English words. Also I have learned a sort of Spanish word order from my lover, now much damaging my English prose style I am sure. While I can somewhat speak, I cannot well understand what people say to me...

Before our friends arrived, it was frustrating. We were to meet Ely at the cute, brightly-painted hut which is the bicycle workshop in the patio behind the building, but the way out back was blocked by a tape and a guardian. We could see people outside sitting there, but were not allowed to reach them. Also I needed water, but no one was serving at the bar. In frustration, I waited on the street for Ely.

Later my problems were solved in a very revealing way. The access to the patio is through a wooden spiral staircase, really a hole in the floor behind a cabinet, in a room that houses the historical relics of the old Tabacalera factory. “No tocar los cosas historicos,” (?) the sign reads – don't touch the historical relics. People had been vague about directions to us. It's kind of an open secret: Down the rabbit hole, and you are in the patio. When our friends arrived, we went to the bar, where there was by now a good press of people. I saw the stacks of plastic cups behind the servers, and behind the bar a large kitchen. I simply trotted in, grabbed a cup, and poured myself a cup of water at the sink. A sign behind the bar says something like, “This is not a bar. This is a place to serve yourself.” Not true during a big public event, but the principle holds true. Always, if you act, like you know what you are doing – yes. But the place really could use a drinking fountain!

At length Ely arrived, and we chatted on the street. She said that a number of people who had been active in the CSOA Laboratorio – 1, 2 and 3* – were central in the assembly at Tabacalera. They had long wanted a neighborhood center in Lavapies, the multi-cultural district where many of them lived. The giant building had been empty for ten years since the privatization of the cigarette-making business. Now at last, after long lobbying with the city government, they finally have it.

When Montfrague arrived with Manuel our tour began. First I met Anna, who did not have much English, so I tried to talk to her about the situation in the U.S., in NYC with ABC No Rio. She asked if it had been a squat. No, but founded in an occupation, and later, during the period of most contest with the city, in the 1990s when the Lower East Side squatter movement was most strong, the whole building of ABC was actually squatted. Today the director is a squatter, living in a now-legalized building wiith a very low rent so he can afford to work at ABC for very little money.

Anna was in the cafe, where a Czech actress talked with us about her job of doing theater for free. Tabacalera is dedicated to free culture as a foundational principle. The actress was a curious person, smiling, very sweet. At one moment I saw that she was standing with one foot in a large green plastic tub...

After this we descended into the basement, where years ago tobacco leaves were stored. There I was introduced to Ciril, who was central to the Taller Urbana, a group of street artists working collectively. They had a big table, with many people around talking, drawing, drinking – and in the first bay of the basement warehouse a sort of ad hoc exhibition area for the products emerging from the Taller. Ciril it turns out worked at Tacheles, the famous Berlin squat and art center, in the 1990s, from '92 to '96. These were during the glory days after die Wende of '89, when the wall came down and many vacant properties near it in the former city center were up for grabs. The Berlin squatter movement seized the day.

Ciril thought the scene in Spain was sluggish, so he went to Berlin and stayed for four years. Now, after the Barcelona squat scene has been more or less crushed, Madrid is where it is at. Ciril asked me to talk to the Taller next week, and I look forward to return and discuss the House Magic project. The street art inside the Patio Maravillas last year before their eviction was extraordinary. The winding stairs of the building were a blaze of colorful forms. Although the installation was a chaotic free-for-all, and many people didn't like that, the result was a striking spectacle. Something like that, if it could be put together with the coherence of the 2640 and Justseeds installations I have seen in the U.S., would be a wonderful show which could travel to cities all over.

Back upstairs, we stood beside the stage as a punk ska band blew it out to the crowd. Too loud for my old ears!, yes, but a crowd of boys were moshing like monkeys, and everyone seemed to dig it. The band – I didn't get their name – had horns, and one musicians used a penny-whistle and then a bagpipe. I couldn't well hear any of the “oi!”-ish chants, but if they didn't have to do with Spain's soccer victory, I'd be surprised.

At lunch I learned the bizarre story of the oracular octopus who has infallibly picked the world cup winner for many years by fishing food from a bowl marked with different flags. The creature is German, actually. I hope its disappointed keepers didn't eat it! All this was revealed over a delicious plate of the animal served with potatoes. I suggested that Spain should not eat “pulpo” for a while to honor the oracle.

A couple of the Patio Maravillas crew showed up beside the stage, bouncing to the music. Of course it was too loud to talk. Later in the hallway I met Luis, who has good English, and I learned more. I asked about the “legitimation crisis.” Tabaclera is a CSA, not a CSOA or occupied space, but in residence legitimately. The graffiti on the banner outside – “vendidas!” (sell out) – reflecting the fear that many squatters have that a legitimated space will mean that the other okupas will more easily become targets of the state. Luis said that remained to be seen, but that many of the other okupas were already seeing the usefulness that Tabacalera could have to the movement. The fact that the Patio Maravillas party was drawing a crowd of many hundreds shelling out 3 euros each could mean a lot for that place. I recall the confidence Pierpaolo Mudu expressed in London about raising money for a publication through a concert at the massive Roman CSOA Forte Pretestino. “Once with Manu Chao, and we have it.” Although free culture and “copyleft” are ideals in practice, there is disagreement about what role money should play in the new CSA. People are seeing the possibilities.

So the criticism being expressed by the graffiti outside may not end up to be too toxic. The movement in Madrid, Luis told me, is more open and less fractionated than it is in Barcelona. This cooperation among many people of many ages and points of view has made something like the Tabacalera possible.

Of course, when money appears, many open hands appear also. Manuel told me that the state has been making noises about the group in Tabacalera paying rent. I suggested that if they were to budget their project, with the “in kind” work, the “sweat equity” that everyone is providing cleaning, repairing and administering the space, the calculation should end up with the state owing them for providing such an extraordinary service on such a scale!

Just as Leoncavallo in [Milan] began in 1979 to provide volunteer social service, so the Tabacalera CSA stands ready to become a primary artist-run cultural center for a city which has never had one. Right now, in the heyday of its beginnings, the place is as Manuel said, “boiling.” How in the long run it will be run can be open to question. There are already many disagreements to be worked out in assembly, frictions between the culture of activists and artists. Manuel and I had an obscure argument about Tabacalera administration. I think he saw it as a kind of collection of groups, like religious cults, each revolving around a guru. I maintained that, with its anarcho-syndicalist tradition, Spain is in the best position to realize anarchism in its ideal, as “the highest form of order.” (Although their students now may not really get it, Stefano Harney, Matteo Pasquinelli, Stevphen Shukaitis and others teaching “critical management studies” in the London business schools are rolling out the really new ways of doing sustainable democratically organized economic activity.)

Manuel spoke also of the Medialab Prado. This e-art workshop and learning center lies behind the Caixa Forum museum in the city center, around the corner from what should be Henry Kissinger's favorite hotel should he dare to come to Madrid. (I guess this by the cloud of black cars and body guards all around out front.) Medialab Prado is a small but important state-funded center of special culture that represents the cutting edge of technological development in the kind of culture industry every city dreams of nurturing. The Medialab had an organizational meeting this week to discuss making some kind of arrangement with Tabacalera. What is the result I don't know yet.

As the evening continued my magic language pill was wearing off. I met two members of a “conceptual art group” called Tauromachia whose project I could not understand at all, only that it will be big. They were working on set-ups in the large sculpture studio we visited earlier. One of these artists told me he was working with a dancer who had choreographed movements in which she was at once bull and matador. “Ah,” I said, “the hamburger that eats itself!” I'm afraid that was a little flip for the week in which the bulls are running the streets in Pamplona. The Spanish relation to food is a lot more mystical than in the U.S.

All in all, though, this was a very big evening for me. Many of the initial goals of the House Magic project seem now somehow to be within reach – at last! A genuine relation with a CSA, deeply rooted in the squatting movement, can help move this information to the U.S. in its pure and unmediated form. We shall see. But the prospects are good.

As I move on to Hamburg, I have finally and unexpectedly, come upon the kind of public private cultural development project I had been looking for in Madrid. The Tabacalera it seems to me is real anarchist urban development, a clear instance of “the city from below.”

*We showed the video “Laboratorio 3, Ocupando el Vacio” at the House Magic show at ABC No Rio. I recommend it. The trailer is on YouTube.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Flexible Governance

I had heard about La Tabacalera as soon as I arrived last week, but only yesterday did I get around to see it. I wandered through the decrepit halls of this new artists' project located in an immense former tobacco factory in a kind of disbelief. This emerging cultural utopia is right off the busy traffic roundel at Plaza de Embajadores, near a cluster of university buildings, and only a few blocks from La Casa Encendida, a large well-funded cultural center with a fine exhibition series, films screenings, workshops for young people, etc.
La Tabacalera has been given over to artists temporarily by the Ministry of Culture. I don't have the whole story yet – and given my lack of Spanish, may never have it... But La Tabacalera appears to be a kind of outgrowth of the work of Patio Maravillas, the occupied social center evicted last year only to reappear in a building on Calle de Pez owned by a bankrupt firm.
The Tabacalera is a building with a very interesting history, for labor and “capital,” built in the late 18th century as a royal manufactory of liquor and playing cards, then tobacco and snuff. Now it is to be a “CSA,” a self-organized social center – but not an “okupa,” occupation, but a legitimated short-term use. From the organizers' own account, an invitation from the Ministry to put up a photo show in the place turned into a proposal to organize a self-managed social center in the very multicultural and historically poor neighborhood of Lavapiés. After long wrangling, this was accepted – for a while.
The plans as announced are incredibly ambitious. Dozens of projects, ateliers, theaters, studios have been launched. All activities will fall under “copyleft” common license; they will be collaborative and cooperative, and ecologically sustainable. The Tabacalera is “self-organizing” – meaning that the administrative functions will be discharged in assembly, a regular open meeting, just as in a social center. This is horizontal rather than vertical administration.Symbolically, the assembly meets in the former office of the factory boss (“jefe”).
The Tabacalera outcome has a tortuous history, which may be seen to have begun at a conference at the Museum Reina Sofia in February of last year considering the case of the occupied Patio Maravillas. The talk was titled “Art of the Crisis.” The shadowy Spain-wide cabal of academics called Universidad Nómada produced a text at the time. Then in May of '10 Observatorio Metropolitano, a multi-disciplinary group which published a fat book on Madrid as a global city, organized a meeting to consider “economic crisis, social crisis and new political scenarios.” In particular, they wanted to talk about “the different possibilities of re-appropriation of common resources against the urban model of governance.” When eggheads get serious about activism, some different things become possible.
The building now sports a coat of arms with two dogs, a flute and the motto “quien la propone se la come” (“who proposes eats”). But already this is disfigured with graffiti – “vendidas” (sell outs), indicating that there are many who do not accept this line of action. (The legitimation question, extensively discussed at the SQEK conference by Miguel Martinez, is a divisive one among occuupied social centers and squats.)
The space is only on loan – Cinderella will have to fold her dresses on February 2011. Then a hard-line vertical governance may step back in to a building renovated by the free labor of dreamy-eyed volunteers. There are many things to be said from a skeptical point of view... Still, it seems promising. It is an outgrowth of very well coordinated and intelligent pressure by partisans of OSCs rather than the kind of clumsy appropriation of activist strategies by government and private firms that has been seen in Copenhagen.
I hope to find out more. There is a dance this Friday, concluding Patio Maravillas' third annual festival of resistance, “ Crítica Urbana.” As Times Up Bill always says, “you gotta have tunes.”

La Tabacalera

An opening invitation, issued in later June:

a detailed explanation on a left website

a lot of work to do – “architects of necessity”

Patio Maravillas conference at Reina Sofia last year

(Casa Encendida is showing now a splendid assemblage of artists' publications culled worldwide and installed in a library-like atmosphere as part of “Inéditos 2010.” )

Friday, July 2, 2010

Summer from Below

Now we are so many particles in motion... I am in Madrid, early July. It is very hot. So much has been going on since my last post! In late May I went with Matt Metzgar and Carla Cubit to talk about political squatting at the exemplary anarchist Wooden Shoe bookstore in Philadelphia. Matt organized the New York City Squatter Archives, part of which is now at the Tamiment Library, NYU, and Carla is an artist, a maker of brilliant assemblage works, who lived in the Lower East Side squats in the 1990s. Alan Smart, who is working on Provo, came along. We all stayed the night at the luxurious Basekamp, courtesy of Scott Rigby. I packed up the “House Magic: Bureau of Foreign Correspondence” show which had been there to take it back to New York.
At the roundtable at Wooden Shoe a number of Philly squatters turned out to talk over their issues. A “cloud” of crusty punks sat on the street out front of the bookstore, entering only occasionally to use the toilets. At one point, a speaker said he thought there were thousands of squatters in Philadelphia. But there is no network, no organization at all. Traditional housing activist groups do not support them. (The Kensington Welfare Rights Union squatted a number of buildings for the poor in the 1980s, achieved some of their housing objectives, and backed away from the tactic.) There is, in effect, no movement – but there is a lot of action!
Although it was not possible, I would have liked to go to Detroit in June. The Allied Media Conference there was soon followed by the U.S. Social Forum. Many friends were there – part of A New World From Below: An Anarchist and Antiauthoritarian Convergence. I haven't had time to track the blogs, but now that I cruise 'em, I see Nicolas Lampert has done a great series of reports on the Just Seeds artists' collective blog. And the gang from Area Chicago have dedicated a bloggish zone to the conference. So there is a lot of reading to catch up on, as well as the main left news outlets reporting on events like the conversation between Grace Lee Boggs and Immanuel Wallerstein.
Instead I went to London for the Squatting Europe Research Collective meeting (SQEK). This was an intimate gathering of people squeezed into a tiny little building called LARC (London Action Resource Centre). For five days these researcher/activists shared plans and papers, analytic frameworks, stories and camaraderie on squatting as a social movement. This experience has really super-charged my understanding of the subject and questions around it. A week later I am still typing up the notes, and there will be much to come about this here and on the House Magic website as I scope the Madrid scene and move on to Hamburg.
London is big, and I stayed with friends in Deptford, a good way from Whitechapel. I skipped the party in Hackney, and the visits to OSCs like Ratstar and Infoshop 56A. But we did all meet to support the Foundry eviction resistance. Here is a photo of the doomed building in Shoreditch...

Links mentioned:

Monday, June 14, 2010

"Anarchist Track" at U.S. Social Forum Gets Beefy

Cindy Milstein sends this along, and it looks great. I am in London for the SQEK conference at this time. But if you are in Detroit, check this out -- and report it back somehow!
Subject: The IAS at the U.S. Social Forum, as part of the New World from Below convergence: The New World from Below Organizing Collectives--a collaboration between AK Press, City from Below, the Institute for Anarchist Studies, Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative, Manifesta Musicians’ Collective, Midnight Special Law Collective, Red Emma's, Solidarity and Defense, Team Colors Collective, and the Trumbullplex--is proud to announce the New World from Below convergence at the U.S. Social Forum (USSF) in Detroit from June 22-27, 2010 (;
We believe that social forums can greatly contribute to strengthening social movements both in the United States and internationally. The ecological destruction and economic disaster, coupled with disillusionment about the Obama presidency, makes the USSF in Detroit an urgently needed convergence. We hope to bring what’s unique about anarchist and antiauthoritarian organizing to the social forum, and spark conversations not only about strategies of resistance but also visions of reconstruction from the bottom-up.
To that end, the New World from Below Organizing Collectives will be hosting the New World from Below workshop track within the USSF. This track will bring together 36 talks, panels, and workshops organized by anarchist and antiauthoritarian collectives from across the continent. These will all take place in the USSF’s spaces at Cobo Hall and surrounding locations.
We will also be hosting the New World from Below convergence center, where each day a different collective will organize this space for tabling, art and performances, facilitated anarchist strategy sessions, and socializing as well as networking. The center will be located at the Spirit of Hope Church, 1519 Martin Luther King Junior Blvd., Detroit, MI 48208, at the corner of MLK and Trumbull. And Food Not Bombs/IWW Solidarity Kitchen will be serving food at the New World from Below convergence center.
See the New World from Below Web site for the full schedule as well as updates and posts over the coming two weeks:;
And see you, we hope, in Detroit.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Happy Birthday, Malcolm X!

Today I went along to a demonstration for Picture the Homeless in Brook Park in the South Bronx, NYC. It was really charming, a lovely place, little grove of trees, broad sunny area for plots of vegetables, and Mexican dancing group and singing group performing. Rebel Diaz arts collective also, rapping about the banks. PtH is moving on some vacant properties -- dropping banners on them, calling for their occupation by homeless families. I was up to their HQ earlier working on one of the banners. I did the sketch for the one with the words "BLOOM BERG" on it! (From an idea by a young woman, painting by many kids, and letters by Seth Tobocman, a great political artist.) Sebastian was there with his camera interviewing, and mentioned the strike in Puerto Rico at the university there. This news is BLACKED OUT in North America, but looks like it's building to an island-wide general strike... (I am embedding the links as an experiment, now -- the English sources on this story are Occupyca blog and Me and Matt Metzgar of the Loswer East Side Squatter Archive project and artist Carla Cubit are going to Philadelphia on May 29th, to talk at Wooden Shoe Books about political squatting. It's a roundtable, organized with Basekamp. Drop by if you are in town! We need to hear about the Philly story...

Monday, April 26, 2010

Falling in Spring

The 4th Anarchist Book Fair at Judson Memorial Church was a bucket of fun. All the oldtime radical geeks from NYC were there, and scads of anarchist travelers crouched on the sidewalks outside, dressed in colorful shades of black. The “House Magic” wallpaper went up in the hallways, and after the fair it was rolled up and taken away to the offices of Picture the Homeless. We even had a little Keystone Kops action, as local police with federal handlers raided a center in Brooklyn at 13 Thames Street, arresting members of the Independent Anarchist Media (I AM) collective as they were preparing to decamp to Manhattan to mount the film screenings for the book fair. This bit of foolishness was blasted all over the web – the blog Animal pegged it: “Anarchist Film Fest Gets Free Promo from NYPD.” It seems the police walked in without a warrant to enter, the probable cause being that the door of the place was open, and they thought it was a squat. A couple were arrested; judges the next morning dismissed all charges. The place is Surreal Estate, which I gotta visit, since it’s an active little joint. I don’t get over to Brooklyn much… But, as the U.S. Social Forum approaches in late June, I want to chat with local folks who are going. And they are.
At the ABF I flogged the “House Magic” zine. The proof of number two is finally at Bluestockings (still not on the web, sorry!). I’ve been striving to get HM#2 online, but at the fair I found out many people don’t really see online zines. The Affinities journal issue from Canada, the Monster Institutions issue of Transversal, and the fabulous UK compendium of social centres called What's This Place don’t seem to be as well known as they deserve. At ABC No Rio, the House Magic display featured a number of photocopied tape-bound copies of these online texts, and they sold (for copying costs). At the NYC ABF, I traded some of these for books I wanted. I saw a lot of retro stuff at the ABF – manuals of Zerzanesque neoprimitivism, of course, which appeal to my love of Ovidian Golden Age nostalgia (the New Suburbanism), and a charming richly made zine from Portland “Communicating Vessels” which proudly announces “no website”: CV, P.O. Box 83408, Portland OR 97283. Illustrations by Valloton, texts about Rexroth and Surrealism in the Arab world? This is modernist anarchism in the sense that Allan Antliff means it. Also out of Portland, “At Daggers Drawn,” a translation of a dark and brilliant Italian text of romantic incitement printed in silver ink on black paper (so it can’t be photocopied) in 500 copies. The IWW had lots of new merch and an online store! Zapatista merch was also on display. I have a doll, so I bought a scarf. There were lots more booths and texts of interest, like the Aftershock Action Alliance, taking off on Naomi Klein’s notions of solidarity in the face of crisis capitalism;’s lovely zine on food service shitwork (also a download) “Abolish Restaurants”; and an important tip to the South African, which is dizzyingly international. I also traded for the chubby 2007 centennial edition of “Solidaridad Obrera,” the voice of the Spanish CNT.
So it was inspiring… Like that oh-so-68 picture up top. It's from an especially fetching collection, the newsprinted “After the Fall, Communiqués from Occupied California,” which collects “the major statements from the recent wave of occupations” in the public universities of California in advance of the March 4th mobilization. This mobe was more effective against the Bologna Process in Europe, I believe, than here in the U.S.. The full impact hasn’t really registered on U.S. students, or, rather, it is doing so unevenly. A key point in the “After” text is how the the growth and even continuance of the California public higher education system is collateralized against the fees students pay. A burden of crushing debt on students is thus augmented by the state’s incentive to constantly raise those fees… It’s a subtle point, but it is of such oppressive taxes, no matter how cleverly they made be hidden, that revolutions are made.

Photo: Students occupying Wheeler Hall, University of California Berkeley, from the “After the Fall” book.

NYC Anarchist Book Fair

Police raid on Anarchist Film Festival group

Promo for the film fest

Surreal Estate

Affinities: A Journal of Radical Theory, Culture, and Action

Monster Institutions issue of Transversal

What's This Place

Daggers Drawn

IWW online merch store

“After the Fall” download

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

HM#2 on Display, but Still Unripe...

Why so mute? Angst, I guess. But it’s been rolling, for real. "House Magic" zine number 2 has been beautifully designed and photocopied, and a few issues have trickled out (Bluestockings, Printed Matter). Yes, it was in proof in January for Philadelphia, and now it is spring -- but there remain still some problems, and some of it must be amputated. The pdf will be online in two weeks, for certain. (Contact me directly and I'll send you the current version.) Meanwhile, HM#2 was displayed in a nice display rack in the zine library at ABC No Rio for the Ides of March show this month. That show closes on Friday (4-9, 7pm), and zines related to the OSC movement will be sold for cost of copying. We will also sell “moonshine” made by the Aaron Burr Society. Next stop, the 4th Annual NYC Anarchist Book Fair at Judson Church (4-17, 11am-7pm), where the project will have a table display. Come on by and see, say "hi!", and talk about your experiences with the OSC movement for the record. Over the break – I am struggling with teaching early modern art history – I was in Madrid to talk at the new Patio Maravillas at Calle Pez 21. I was supposed to talk at La Macula, but they were evicted a few days before. The talk took me by surprise, so I rambled on, mostly about New York City. Miguel Martinez invited me: he has posted his SQEK group’s research agenda now, and is planning an international meeting in London in later June. I want to be there, after (even overlapping) the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit. Thereafter Amsterdam, Hamburg, and Berlin. A leisurely summer is in prospect. BTW: A nasty situation developing in San Diego for Ricardo Dominguez because of his group's work on behalf of migrants. Read and support:

ABC No Rio “Ides of March” show:

Aaron Burr Society:

4th Annual NYC Anarchist Book Fair:

the new Patio Maravillas:

the defunct La Macula:

The SQEK: Squatting Europe Research Agenda:

photo: The wall at the new Patio Maravillas cafe

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Watching TV online

The snow in New York is heavy and persistent. The zine “House Magic” #2 is in the hands of the designer. I called it for “winter,” but now maybe better call it “Spring 2010” since it will not be PDF’d until next month. I am hopeful, but uncertain where the project goes from here. As a traveling exhibition, it is much to bear, and my resources are thinning. Still, I have been digging, digging in the subject, and will start more to present my findings here.
I watched another part of “In Between the Movements,” the video project by Martin Krenn, which is online. This was the discussion between Gerald Raunig and Krenn at WUK in Vienna, 2008, in German subtitled in English. (From the WUK website: “The autonomous cultural center WUK (short for Werkstätten- und Kulturhaus) in Vienna,” one of the biggest in Europe, “is rooted in the ideas and demands of the ‘70s for spaces to enable contemporary cultural activities.”) It begins with the a primer on Félix Guattari’s idea of transversality, which arose out of his observations on the structure of power in his mental clinic. Specifically, the concept seeks to identify a flow of power outside of vertical hierarchies and horizontal forces. (Are those charismas? Let’s face it, I still don’t get it.) Then Gerald and Martin trot through the free school of WUK, talking about the way that school worked democratically between the interests of teachers, parents and students.
From the contradictions of this school, Raunig talks then of the “rule of forced self-administration” – in order to participate, one must attend the meetings where decisions are made. This is a key part of “instituent practice,” the arising of movement-based institutions. He notes the divide between two Vienna squats, the autonomous Ernst Kirchweger Haus and the institutionalized WUK. These two are antagonists: one is “good” since it accords with revolutionary principles, whereas the other is “bad” since it accords with neo-liberal civic transformations. (And, in other contexts, e.g., Zurich, one is “good” because it plays by the rules, and the other is “bad” because it’s illegal, and therefore subject to state repression.)
Raunig wants to dissolve this dichotomy, to reconcile the two positions, so that both are seen as movements, as part of the “machinization” of Deleuze and Guattari. Good luck. The radical anarchist “position,” that “a movement without institutionalization exists,” is not really at odds with the position that small scale “civil society institutions” could exist, and then create the “big Other of institutions.” Rebels will always need lawyers. And without direct action, we wouldn’t have any autonomous spaces to embrace or resist institutionalization.
In other news, I learned via Krax of the Ljubljana OSC Metelkova Mesto, which is thoroughly integrated into the youth tourist infrastructure of clubs and hostels. (City Mine(d) plans a conference there.) Rozbrat in Poznan, Poland is facing mid-March sale of the land their OSC stands on after 16 years renovating and enlivening “wasteland” in that gentrifying city. And I stumbled upon the first 2007 issue of a Canadian e-zine called “Affinities: A Journal of Radical Theory, Culture, and Action,” which has articles on queer autonomous spaces, radical world building, Italy's Social Centers (by Steve Wright), Argentina’s worker-recovered enterprises movement, Zapatistismo in the U.S., and much more.

Martin Krenn, “In Between the Movements”


Rozbrat stays!

Affinities: Theory Culture and Action

Friday, February 19, 2010

Continental Drift jibber-jabber in L.A.

I have to post this. I am a fan... And this looks like a hardcore egghead slam jam on the Left Coast.
Continental Drift; Control Society/Metamorphosis with Brian Holmes
at the Public School in Los Angeles February 27 and 28th
Come down and participate in a two-day theory convergence, a “Continental Drift” seminar with the Paris and Chicago based theorist, Brian Holmes.
Though this Drift is situated on the West Coast in a time of University of California occupations and walkouts, it is connected to the budget cuts and "crisis" brought on by changing economies around the world and the emergence of a neoliberal control society over the past few decades. This drift aims to trace these situation and find ways for liberatory culture to supercede the moment.
1. The Continental Drift; Control Society/Metamorphosis
2. On Brian Holmes and the Drift
3. UC Strikes and Beyond
1. The Continental Drift; Control Society/Metamorphosis
Saturday, February 27 –Sunday, Feb. 28
@The Public School 951 Chung King Rd., Chinatown, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Join us for a mostly horizontal seminar conversation with Brian Holmes, UC strike Organizers and Academics and independent intellectuals.
day 1. 2/27- control society
12 pm: disassociation (psychological effects/desire)
facilitators: Liz Glynn and Marc Herbst
2 pm: financialization & the UC crisis
facilitators: Aaron Benanav and Zen Dochterman
4 pm occupation/ collective speech
facilitators: Cara Baldwin, Nathan Brown, Maya Gonzalez, Evan Calder Williams
7 pm: discussion day one
facilitators: Brian Holmes, Solomon Bothwell
day 2. 2/28- metamorphosis
12pm: Autonomous Space
facilitators: Hector Gallegos, Robby Herbst
2 pm:. Precarity
facilitators: Christina Ulke, Sean Dockray
4 pm: Brian Holmes Lecture
7pm: Sharable Territories/ Bifurcation
facilitators: Jason Smith, Ava Bromberg
Note: This is a collaboratively organized event. Organizers include Zen Doctherman, Cara Baldwin, Jason Smith, Sean Dockray, Liz Glynn, Solomon Bothwell, Christina Ulke, Marc Herbst, Robby Herbst.
2. On Brian Holmes and the Drift
Brian Holmes is an art critic, cultural theorist and activist, particularly involved with the mapping of contemporary capitalism.
An article Brian wrote that he asked to read in preparation for the drift:
Holmes on the UC Strikes:
Journal interview we did with him from issue 4:
Some publications by or with Brian Holmes:
The Drift has taken a variety of forms in its manifestations at 16 Beaver (2004-2006) in New York, through the Midwest’s Radical Culture Corridor (2008) and in Zagreb Croatia (2008)
Here is An interview with Brian Holmes from the first continental drift in NYC in 2004.
3. UC Strikes and Beyond
The Drift was independently organized though occurs in coordination with the
Beyond the UC Strikes working group.
The working group occured when folks who were participating in the strikes and talking about them
decided to meet up the the Los Angeles Public School to see what could be done.
We are promoting these linked events.
These are not specifically Journal events. The working group includes Organizers include Cara Baldwin, Solomon Bothwell, Micha Cardenas/Adzel Slade, Zen Dochterman, Sean Dockray, Ben Ehrenreich, Ken Ehrlich, Liz Glynn, Marc Herbst, Robby Herbst, Elle Mehrmand, Marko Peljhan, Kenneth Rogers, Jason Smith, Cybelle Tondu, Christina Ulke, Caleb Waldorf, Michael Wilson and Kim Yasuda.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Chicago Town

I am writing in the palatial Hostel International in Chicago,and the annual College Art Association conference is over. This is a great city, but the conference was strange. It is, as always, a heterodox assembly of artists and art historians, from the reddest revolutionary (intellectual, to be sure), to the most unreflexive treasurers of cultural capital. The latter have the upper hand, since those who honor the legacy of 19th and early 20th century scholar-dealer Bernard Berenson have all the money. (Berenson was an assiduous student of the Morellian method. Evolved as a means of identifying criminals and criminal “types,” Berenson used it to recognize the authorship of medieval and Renaissance painters. [I'm wrong on this: thinking of Cesare Lombroso; but the very adaptable Morellian method was linked to detective work.]) So we all wander around the Hyatt Hotel here, a giant, incomprehensibly mazelike, interconnected complex.
Chicago, though, is the locus of numerous significant political cultural projects, and the gang rallied around this year, producing a number of talking events inside and outside the convention. At the thick of it was the group Temporary Services, and the north Chicago space Mess Hall.
I was snowed into New York and so missed the “shadow session” In fact, I missed my own session on autonomous education initiatives and their relation to art institutions. My co-chair had to fill in. Everything went well, they say. I hope so. It was arduous getting here (late), and I have been basically exhausted for days… But for me these conventions are always fun. And, since I am teaching art history again, they are a source of renewal of that basic disciplinary intelligence, such as it is.
Meanwhile, the “House Magic” zine catalogue is in proof – although we bound it backwards, so the first run is pretty unimpressive! Maybe it will be a collectible someday.
The table of contents is as follows: 1) Introduction – More “House Magic” Tricks; 2) Reflecting on the “House Magic” Project; 3) Barcelona: Fighting for “Thousands of Homes”; 4) Michel Chevalier at ABC No Rio, 2; 5) Last Call Hamburg in New York (Frise Kunsthaus); 6) Vincent Boschma, The Autonomous Zone/de Vrije Ruimte (Amsterdam); 7) Bullet Space: “The Perfect Crime” (NYC); 8) Telestreet: Pirate Proxivision (Italy); 9) El Patio Maravillas Turns a Corner (Madrid); 10) Christiania: Survival of the Interesting; 11) Christiania: How They Do It and for How Long; 12) Scandinavian Bulletins; 13) NYC’s Picture the Homeless Goes to Budapest; 14) AK57, Budapest; 15) The Story of Villa Milada, Prague; 16) Rozbrat Squat, Poland; 17) Greek Bulletins; 18) rampART, London; 19) SQEK: Squatting Europe Research Agenda; 20) Andre Mesquita, Real-Time Action in Brazil.
I hope to have it printed by the end of the month. It may still happen – there is nothing much more to do but pay for it. Pretty much the same day it goes to press, the PDF will go online at the HM:BFC website. The archive show remains up at Basekamp in Philadephia (see previous post). No events are yet scheduled.
picture: the "key" in the Reuben Kincaid Realty office window, Bridgeport, Chicago, 5/09 (pic by me)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

"House Magic" is up near Independence Hall

I wrote this while training out of Philadelphia last week. The railscape is what you usually see in a decaying U.S. city: scrap yards of twisted rusting metal, empty factories with busted windows and walls broken open, junkyards, trash dumps and spills, vacant houses. Then there are odd, inexplicable spots. The newly roofed geodesic dome in an industrial park. A train caboose standing in a field, with washing hung on a line behind it. A community garden, and beyond it a couple of low-rising row houses with bright murals rising up their three story heights. The long strips of spray-painted names on parked railroad cars, factory walls.
Like so many other U.S. cities, Philadelphia is a place that has forgotten itself. Its rich have moved out, building their corporate monuments somewhere else, and letting the old city – the city of the 20th century and before – sink quietly into the ooze of time. Basekamp hosted the “House Magic” show in their space located only a few blocks from the historic city center. The famous 18th century revolutionary Benjamin Franklin’s house was here, and his visage and silhouette is everywhere. But it seems a quarter of the stores and buildings are empty. Lovely 19th century constructions, some very fancy, are shuttered. Many have been disfigured with “modern” style storefronts, blank, cheap attempts to clean them up at the street level. The impression of dereliction, misuse and abandonment is strong. Coffeeshop proprietors look glum. Their shops are empty at mid-morning. Again and again I am the only customer. Somewhere rich people are hustling and bustling and spending their money, building new prosperity somewhere else, and electing politicians who promise to keep their money out of public hands. But in downtown Philadelphia, there is depression, many ragged poor and beggars.
“House Magic” went up on the wall at Basekamp, where it will remain for some while (not sure how long exactly). It is part of the series “Plausible Artworlds,” a year-long project Scott Rigby has been percolating for some time now. Last week the Library of Radiant Optimism was set up with a little alcove for their “book of the month club” project, and The Public School open self-education franchise was launched in Philadelphia. So “House Magic” is in good company. Last Tuesday was the conversation, an online and in-person discussion of the social center movement that was dense and interesting. I look forward to receiving the audio and email transcript of the HM:BFC installment of this regular series so that I can post it on the “House Magic” website.
Albon Jeavon showed up at the talk from the Wooden Shoe anarchist bookstore, and spoke a little about the squatting movement in Philadelphia past. One of the leaders, it seems, was elected mayor! Then he sold out the movement. His brother was recently imprisoned for fraud. There are numerous squats in this city, but this was not a research trip so I did not investigate. Albon told us of LAVA, the activist-owned place that runs many programs similar to those in OSCs (occupied social centers). It is described as a “media center,” and its occupants publish the Philadelphia anarchist newspaper The Defenestrator. Hopefully Basekamp and Wooden Shoe will do more projects together. It seems like a good direction as the political landscape in the U.S. begins to darken once again. The hope invested in Obama's presidency is starting to turn sour, and the reactionaries are once again emboldened to lead the people on in their selfish, destructive course.
Things around the “House Magic” project became clearer at Basekamp, the first unpacking of the developed out-of-town suitcase version of the HM:BFC project. (Chicago was a modest trial run.)
The zine catalogue #2, which was ready at the Basekamp show as a proof, includes a good deal of NYC material, trying to draw out some connections between that well-known (if under-published) squatting scene of the 1980s and '90s and the European social center movement. They are really separated in time, the new wave of activism in EU and the long-ago bravado of the nascent U.S. anarchist movement.
Upon arriving and unpacking the “suitcase,” I discovered that I did not have the clipboard materials that go on the boards, that is, the dossiers we had laboriously assembled by downloading and translated material from OSC websites. What to do, what to do? I lost sleep Monday night. On Tuesday, I started out to remake the clipboards. In a few hours I had pretty much succeeded! And I think the material is somehow less opaque and more engaging than the “original” research materials we assembled in the spring of '09. It is certainly more current. And in doing this I realized again the nature of the HM:BFC project – it is a process exhibition, not a finished art object. I was reifying the old clipboards, even though in truth they were only a beginning of an on-going research project that is only real, only living insofar as it is continued, or even, as I had to, begun anew.
The ideal “suitcase” setup, I think, would include a workstation with an online computer and a printer so that visitor/participants could download and print out their own researches and add them to the dossiers or start new ones. Each “suitcase” show should build the whole, accreting the record of the many experiences of doing bottom-up, grassroots, disobedient, radiantly optimistic urban development using creativity and labor rather than capital. These stories are all remarkable and we need them badly.
“House Magic” will live at Basekamp for a while, and hopefully there will be film screenings and discussions around the questions that will continue and generate more material. The next “suitcase” will be in Baltimore -- probably more like March than February, since everything is moving more slowly than I thought, and now I have to go back to work. But with any luck, we will snowball out of Philly to Crab City, Baltimore, and from there build movement towards the Detroit U.S. Social Forum in June. By then I hope we have assembled also numerous U.S. dossiers reporting on the American versions of the European OSCs. They are more numerous than I think we all realize.


The Library of Radiant Optimism for Let's Re-Make the World

The Public School

Wooden Shoe Books

LAVA, the Lancaster Avenue Autonomous Zone