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Liberate Tate


There was a new Liberate Tate action this week. There’s a week of performances streamed live on the Liberate Tate site. Yes, that’s my face. A couple of early reports on ArtInfo and the Guardian. Slightly more discreet and less spectacular than the last action, which deposited a two-ton wind turbine blade in the Tate’s turbine Hall, but it was an interesting experiment in instead moving things out of the museum towards the sites affected by BP’s sponsorship. Even if Tate are simply ignoring BP’s multiple violations of their ethics policy, the brand damage seems to be taking hold even among conservative critics.

What Moves Us? Affective micro-politics in art and activism

(“Cleaning up after capitalism,” The Vacuum Cleaner, 2003.)


I’ve just co-edited a special issue of the journal Parallax with Anja Kanngieser, titled “What Moves Us?”

We aimed to focus on the invisible minor, micropolitical aspects of the often very visible, flamboyant ‘creative’ activist projects which have become increasingly visible across social movements, the academy and galleres. The idea was to find some frames of analyses that could explore how the affects of these practices, how they feel for everyone involved, are tied to their effects upon the world.

Because practice is key to this perspective (and to the forms of creative activism we’re looking at here), we tied to bring together papers informed primarily by various types of participatory action and militant research. That is, research upon creative modes of dissent which the authors themselves worked with, drawing on primary texts, interviews, participatory action research and critical self-reflection. From this grounded perspective, we also looked for contributions able to emphasise not just successes but moments of conflict, tension and failure within such projects, moments when creative dissent prompts more disjunction than commonality, resentment or antagonism than interaction.

I’ll put the whole issue up as a free PDF online asap.

Some of the ideas around this issue were explored while at the Truth is Concrete festival in Graz, Austria. Anja and I collaborated on a radio project with the same title, interviewing participants and contributors to the festival as a kind of inquiry, beginning with the festivals’ framing as a ‘marathon camp.’ Aired on Truth is Concrete Radio, Austria, 2012.

#PDFTribute to Aaron Swartz

I got quoted in a couple of the news pieces on the twitter #PDFTribute to Aaron Swartz, for sharing my articles online for free. There’s one that tells the story nicely here.

The San Francisco Diggers, Performance and Labour


UCL’s Art History department recently organised a symposium on “Performance and Labour.”I gave a paper on the San Francisco Diggers, a political art and theatre collective from the 1960s, looking at their role in the recomposition of social movement culture in the US and the later impacts I’d argue this had on ‘performance’ and ‘participaton’ in business and other organisations. They made audio recordings, so you can listen to me stumble through my presentation, and the other great presentations from the rest of the day, here:

Gavin Grindon – Trip Without a Ticket: The Digger Free Store and the re-composition of collective performance in contemporary art

A version of this talk that I gave at the Courtauld institute for the symposium Polish Art in Public Space was also translated and published in Polish here. It makes links between the SF Diggers in the 60s and the Polish Orange Alternative in the 80s.

Together, What Can We Do?

This was a guest post (originally here) for the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest blog, in response to this call out, about how people practicing whatever kind of activist-art can engage with the current vogue for this stuff among big art institutions and how it gets curated by them. The call out was written partly in response to my earlier post about the Berlin Biennale on the protest camps blog, which coincided with a parallel, similar response by Stephen Lambert and Stephen Duncombe to the Creative Time summit. The other posts on the JOAAP site are well worth a look too.


Pick Apart the Different Approaches

The claim often made by art critics and historians of activist-art, that “this is bad art but good politics” (or more rarely heard, vice versa) is inadequate to address either its art or its politics. In so far as this art is explicit about its uses, the two are interdependent. Tania Bruguera has framed this work as ‘useful art’1 but in discerning the specific kinds of use involved, we might more critically say that this is strategic art. As is often observed, this work does not attempt only critique or representation, but action and change. Writing about this work then needs to engage with its aims and its use of resources, position and manoeuvre towards these aims. Similarly the claim that this work represents an ‘ethical turn’ requires an imaginary prelapsarian state of aesthetic autonomy from which this work has turned. Behind its seeming neutral periodisation lies the old familiar bourgeois fear of ‘fine’ art falling to crude ‘propaganda’ (itself a claim tied not just to fine art’s ideological ways of seeing, but to the strategies of exclusive cultural policies that sustain it). This strategic aspect was not lacking from previous art, but simply unaddressed, or critiqued without action. The turn here is not towards ethics, but strategy.

Art history, even in the form of visual cultural studies, is not conceptually well-equipped to writing about this work. Art-historical terms which try to identify and grasp a coherent artistic community or tendency—whether ‘social practice,’ ‘activist-art’ or earlier, ‘interventionism’—are far weaker and more vague as a means to grasp the wide breadth of strategies involved in this area. This is a problem of composition. Critically moving forward would mean picking apart some of the different approaches taken within what is actually a very broad strategic range. Not just in what works aim to achieve, but in their methods—even when using the same words to describe them. What critics, artists, and others actually mean by ‘activism,’ or the specific organisational forms of ‘social practice,’ can vary widely, from direct action to community organising or various forms of social or charitable work.

One way to grasp this strategy, as Stephen Duncombe has in his work, is to draw not on art history but on the world of marketing strategy. He and Steve Lambert argue that the most relevant tools might be found in “textbooks in the fields of marketing, advertising, and public relations. Theories in human cognition and decision making, for example, are far more applicable, useful, and insightful into the work of the artistic activist than discussion of its relation to the newest aesthetic or Albers’ color theory.”2 Indeed, many coinages to grasp this work draw from these worlds, from Holmes’ “Reverse Imagineers” to Duncombe’s own “ethical spectacle.”3 We might argue, as the autonomist Raniero Panzieri did of academic sociology and its method of inquiry, that we can re-engineer these disciplines’ conceptual tools into weapons, if only we hold them right.4 But holding them right involves a close attention to how these tools ordinarily function. The most common basic problems are that they negate any conception of already-existing agency in characterising their subjects in the role of passive receivers, or that although they also focus on the efficacy of success, what they mean by winning is something very different and so their criteria of measuring it is problematic. For example, some critics argue that their very means of measuring agency are also the means of exploitation.5 At least some of the values of real grassroots social change may be ‘immeasurable’ in these terms. The risk here is of providing a fuzzy language which, eliding key issues of strategy, instead eases the passage of radical cultural opposition not just into forms of ‘ambient advertising’ but into other cultural forms of ‘ethical’ capitalism, for example in artists offering to museums educational programs whose visibility and critique is diminished, or a box checked in their social responsibility programs and policies.6

Arguably less warped by capitalist strategy and more easily appropriated are some of the more critical tendencies within the disciplines of history, sociology, design, and material culture. Their attention to history from below, peoples’ history, social movement studies, or ‘the material turn’ of affect and effect provide a conceptual vocabulary often already allied with existing grassroots political strategies. This is an approach I’ve tried to develop in my use of notions such as ‘affective composition’ in an article reprinted in the last issue of JOAAP.7 Perhaps the closest disciplinary language is provided by returning to the notion of art’s existing uses. Although often less critical than these latter disciplines, cultural policy studies (and with a narrower institutional focus, museum studies) are directly concerned with the social role and impact of art and culture, and usefully do so in a manner that, already closely tied to current artistic modes of production and reception, allows an easier entry into existing discourses and debates on art and its institutions. Activist-art’s strategic focus on social impact and institutions means that here the artists’ work expands into cultural policy’s realm of concerns. What it does is forge one part of what Stefano Harney and Fred Moten have framed as what we might call a kind of cultural policy from below.8 That is, activist-art’s labour and strategy extend organisationally into the labour and strategy usually only attended to by others around the artist and their work (from museum workers up to government employees). But the policy they take part in attempts to enact a strategy of instituting the common rather than enclosing it, and the institutions through which it is enacted are not usually those of government, but at root, those of social movement.


1 Bruguera’s ‘Conversation on Useful Art’ took place in New York on 23 April 2011 and in London on 27 May; and Dean Kenning and I organised the symposium, ‘Art… What’s the Use?’ on 14 Jan 2011 at London’s Whitechapel Gallery.

2 Stephen Duncombe and Steve Lambert, “An Open Letter to Critics Writing About Political Art.”

3 Brian Holmes, “Reverse Imagineering: Toward the New Urban Struggles“, Stephen Duncombe, Dream: Reimagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy, New Press, New York, 2007.

 4 ”A socialist sociological practice demands a rethinking of sociological tools in the light of the hypothesis underlying this basic assumption: given that conflicts are functional to a system that is advanced by them, they can be turned into antagonisms and no longer be functional to the system.” Raniero Panzieri, “Socialist Uses of Workers’ Inquiry”.

 5 See Massimo De Angelis, Measure, Excess and Translation,” The Commoner, 12, 2007.

 6 A parallel strategic critique argues of earlier community art that it was often turned into ineffective but cheap forms of social work. Martha Rosler, “Theses on Defunding,” Art, Activism and Oppositionality: Essays from Afterimage, Duke University Press, Durham, 1998 pp.94-135.

 7 Gavin Grindon, “Surrealism, Dada and the Refusal of Work: Autonomy, Activism and Social Participation in The Radical Avant Garde” The Oxford Art Journal 34:1, 2011, pp.79-96.

 8 Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, “Policy and Planning,” Social Text 27:3, 2009, pp.182-187.

Protest Camps and White Cubes

Reposting a guest blog I wrote for the Protest Camps blog:

How might activist-art be supported rather than undermined by the visibility and space offered by contemporary cultural institutions? Reporting on the Truth is Concrete festival in Graz, Austria, guest blogger Gavin Grindon looks at recent trends that bring protest camp structures into the art world.

Stuttgart21 Protest CampStuttgart21 Protest Camp by German photographers Frank Bayh & Steff Rosenberger-Ochs

Since late 2011, the cultural capital of protest camps has risen rapidly. One of the places this has been both reflected and reproduced is in the art world, with a wave of adoptions and appropriations of the visual and material culture of recent movements, and especially of protest camps, in exhibitions and biennales. While this de-marginalisation of what Yates McKee has recently framed as the “aesthetic techniques”[i] of social movements is to be welcomed, it raises the central question of how these techniques are transformed by being placed in this frame: not only in the particular incidence of some object or image appearing and the familiar discussion about ‘recuperation’ which might follow, but in how this appearance on centre stage impacts upon the ongoing working of these techniques outside this context, and the demarcation of what is legible as the field of ‘the political’ more generally.

This adoption of the material and visual culture of protest camps has occurred in the context of several related trends; the growing vogue in contemporary art for participatory and socially-engaged art practices, particularly those which make broad political claims or utopian promises[ii]; at the level of cultural policy, the tendency for biennales and large exhibitions to geographically shadow international governmental gatherings (and their accompanying summit-camp protests), drawing on and adding to the claims often made for these temporarily composed city-sites as spaces of democratic debate;[iii] and lastly the contemporary art vogue, associated with both these tendencies, for embracing political art, especially extra-institutional or ‘activist-art’ work. This tendency is evidenced by, for example, the 2008 Taipei Biennale or the 2009 Istanbul Biennale as well as many other smaller shows over the last few years.

This blog post is written, over the sixth and seventh days of Truth is Concrete, part of the Steirischer Herbst arts festival in Graz, Austria and focuses on both this use of camps in contemporary art, as well as on the debate this opens about the potential conflicts and agreements between the strategies of social movements, activist-art and cultural institutions.[iv]

Camping within exhibitions has taken several different forms in this period.[v] In late 2011, during the ambitiously titled exhibition DADA New York II: The Revolution to Smash Capitalism at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, the small number of local Occupy protestors were permitted to use the gallery as a space to shelter from the unforgiving weather, and set up camp inside. Far more ambiguous, the 2012 Berlin Biennale gave over its ground floor space not specifically to local activist groups but to international invited representatives of Occupy camps. The bottom floor of the Biennale became a semi-autonomous space in which a functioning camp was observed by gallery visitors, who were invited to join discussions. From movements, there were both sincere attempts to make use of this space as a opportunity for global networking between occupy camps and calls to refuse the paradoxical invitation to occupy, or to attempt to exceed and expose the limits of the invitation.[vi] This latter critique is founded on the solid and longstanding experience of the mistreatment of movements in their representation in contemporary art and media, but also exhibited a tendency to essentialise a recuperated ‘inside’ and a radical ‘outside’ which offered a narrow conception of the spaces and forms of social change which made invisible the potentials, as well as the pitfalls, of such an opportunity.[vii]

Its reception within the art world exhibited a not-dissimilar but typically even more simplistic and abstract conception of political possibility.[viii] Given the combination of the agitational tone of the biennale’s announcements, which attacked much of the art world’s pretentions to political agency and called instead for a turn to use-value – and the act of placing some of this broadly ‘interventionist’ work in a context of international art tourism which has previously mostly neglected and derided them – the slew of negative reviews were to be expected. This isn’t the place for an extended critique of the hopeless critical impoverishment which regularly underlies the vacuous conceptual shitstorm of contemporary art criticism’s approach to political engagement. But what became repeatedly clear is that the narrow critical terms with which the work was approached, many of the practices supported were all but illegible to these critics as art (one common criticism was that there was nothing to look at). When it came to the camp, one of the most common readings was that Artur Zmijewski, one of the curators, had placed Occupy in the space as an egomaniacal move which made the camp part of his own artwork. His previous work had typically put controversial or subaltern social groups in awkward or ironic positions.

Judith Halberstam’s Queer Art of Failure

However, this reading was deeply sexist in so far as it was only possible if one remained wilfully blind to the work of his less-well known and female co-curator Joanna Warsza. In either case of its art-world or social movement-world reception, what was inevitably highlighted were the limits of the form of an art exhibition to work with both social movement forms and art which attempted to take a productivist turn towards such forms. One of the more interesting critical responses to the exhibition, in Afterall, recalled for me Halberstam’s Queer Art of Failure when it argued that the reasons for these confusions lay in the fact that this biennale indeed failed to function as a well-oiled viewing machine for processing art tourists precisely because it was oriented differently and trying to achieve something else. It was a biennale, but it was not an exhibition: “the building was less an exhibition space in the conventional sense than an incubator, encampment…”[ix]

My own, albeit fleeting, experience of this space was that there were several problems with this invitation to occupy. Certainly there was a curatorial problem in the assertion of autonomy for the camp, and the inevitable limits which were to be placed on it. However, in Berlin the main problem seemed to be with the camp itself and its response to the space. I was only a brief visitor, so these are only my impressions rather than a participant or fully-grounded account of events, which might reveal a different story. My impression, however, was that the camp had responded to the space of a biennale by understanding itself as in exhibition, as on show. The occupiers used the space to start making art. There were several installations, some using video, around one side of the camp. There was also an intense profusion of banner-making and sloganeering wall-painting and graffiti. However, most of it appeared to be an ostentatious performance of political identity, made up not of either specific social demands or new poetic slogans, but assertions of identity and behavioural injunctions. The result was not only some rather ugly banners by the standards of many recent protest banner making, but some embarrassing and awkward lowest common denominator sloganeering, whose broad and nebulous claims sometimes seemed like a caricature of ‘activist’ identity. In only understanding the space as an exhibition, and not in fact as a camp, the occupiers seemed to in fact play into their critics’ hands, and rush headlong towards the kind of discomfort and antagonism created by the collision of ossified identities one finds in Zmijewski’s art. In terms of the potential uses of the space, it seemed like a missed opportunity. Rather it provided not so much a functioning project-space as an impetus to critique how the pairing an art institution and activist projects such as protest camps might relate to or transform each other.

Berlin Biennale

Berlin Biennale

This all brings me to where I’m sitting now, several months later, not at an exhibition but at a cultural festival, Truth is Concrete in Graz, Austria. The event has some curatorial overlap with the Berlin Biennale, but explicitly takes a different organisational form. A 24/7 ‘marathon camp,’ in which a mixture of screenings, performances, workshops and presentations, and an open stream of impromptu events occur at all times, day and night for a week. However the number of formal lecture-style presentations debilitatingly outweighs other formats and brings it closer to something like Creative Time’s ‘summits’ in New York. The model of a durational camp seems to borrow its model from Occupy camps. But the intensive and exhausting model of a marathon, aside from its competitive associations, seems an awkward match for a productive space of critical reflection and convivial collaboration. The event also, crucially, describes itself as a camp, with invited participants (myself included) put up in dorm-style rooms on site in order to participate in events, and with daily general assemblies.

This transposition of an activist organisational form, most recently associated with occupy camps, into a cultural festival is a problematic move. Such assemblies emerged as a part of social movement strategy with a specific function, addressing in radically democratic fashion what is to be done, whether organising a direct action or fixing the compost toilets in the camp. In the festival, this bottom-up strategy is turned upon its head and returned as a top-down cultural policy strategy. Decisions about events, from timetabling and food distribution to general critical orientation have already been decided by the curatorial team. The GA instead becomes a managerial ‘feedback loop,’ a space for complaint or perhaps some responsive debate, but not for organisational decisions or structural change. Its strategic function had fundamentally changed, and became one determined by the structure of inviting groups together as part of an annual cultural ‘show’ rather than by those groups wilfully collaborating for their own strategic reasons.

123 Occupy Inflatable Assembly

This shift is also partly a problem of Occupy movements themselves, in so far as they tended to fetishise the GA model, and turn it not only into an all-purpose solution but primarily into a space for debate and discussion over and above its organisational role. The inspiration may have been close to the idea of 123Occupy’s temporary architecture project for a ‘pop up’ inflatable general assembly,[x] but its end result was closer to the philosopher Peter Sloterdijk and architect Gesa Mueller von der Haegen’s bitterly ironic suggestion for an inflatable pneumatic parliament that could be airdropped onto countries with a ‘democratic deficit’ in order to supply instant democracy.[xi]

Instant Democracy

This strategic disjunction was embodied in one image. Burak Arikan had produced a map of social movement strategies for the Berlin Biennale which was reproduced for this event, using data analysis to connect words such as ‘appropriation’, ‘documentation’ or ‘humour’ in participants’ accounts of their work, with common phrases printed as central nodes in larger type. On the opposite wall, the same approach was applied to the network of names involved (though these were only official speakers– those invited to stay and make up the camp remained invisible. Speakers were also geographically separated, with hotel accommodation outside the camp. Likewise on the event’s website speakers and ‘grant holders’ were listed separately). With some participants appearing in huge text, with connections to all the others, and others in smaller type, this was not a movement of shared political strategies, but a map of cultural capital in action. A few days in, a cheeky vandal added ‘Karl Marx’ in the bottom left corner in tiny type, with no connection to anyone on the map.

Speakers Network from Truth is Concrete

This seems quite a strong critique, but it is a critique of only one part of the festival. It is also offered in the spirit of trial and error which I found in Berlin.  The question seems to be how activist-art, aligned with movement strategy, might be supported rather than undermined by the visibility and space offered by contemporary cultural institutions? As they are, such institutions are not often geared either organisationally or intellectually to a productive engagement.

Over the first few days, with this dynamic in place, frustration seemed to grow among many participants – especially those who were used to being active. I undertook a radio project with Anja Kanngieser titled ‘What Moves Us?’ which took the form of an inquiry into the composition of the event. Interviewing participants separately, there were common responses that they felt blocked or frustrated, that “something needs to happen.” The preponderance of the lecture format, often with no time for questions or open debate, and given overwhelmingly by white male figures, became oppressive as video and audio of the talks were live streamed into the cafe. Even when eating dinner or having a drink, the drone of male voices continued to be piped in over one’s convivial discussions with others.

Comment Box

By the third day, the space had been covered in more or less coherent hand-made signs exhorting one to ‘shut up, white boy,’ or berating the speakers for the overuse of elitist academic and theoretical language that covered up more than it explained. I also heard responses in the other direction, which complained about the imagined ‘anti-intellectualism’ of these complaints. My own response in this case was that what was being asked for was actually a more sophisticated intellectual engagement, grounded and interrogable rather than evasively abstract. One other speaker even suggested that his job was to create new ideas for ‘activists’ to use, apparently intimating that they should stop complaining and get to work lugging his excellent concepts around the city, which prompted a sharp discussion about where radical theoretical ideas actually come from and what kind of use they have.

Later in the day, a feminist working group placed a message box in the bar area, outlining a series of criticisms of the lack of participation and asking for suggestions on changes which they could collectively propose to the organisers in the next GA. Later, the GA – or a large part of it – left the main GA to head outside the building and meet instead with local activists who were camping nearby. The next day, the GA left for an action within the Kunstmuseum directed against its sponsors, involving an exorcism from Reverend Billy and his choir, the spilling of ‘oil’ characteristic of Liberate Tate and a few smoke bombs. [xii]

Feminist working group table

As actions go it had clearly been a little rushed in its conception and organisation, but this was a kind of open, experimental learning grounded in embodied, practical collaboration rather than debate or theoretical discussion. Changes were evident in the format of discussions, too, as some speakers moved from the stage to the floor and began talks announcing that they were happy to be interrupted at any point for questions or requests for clarifications, and tended to give more time for discussion rather than presentation. On the Thursday, participation in the GA seemed to dissolve and Dmitry Vilensky of Russian collective Chto Delat, asked to facilitate, instead suggested that what they had was a different sort of forum which deserved another name.

Feminist working group table

From the mixture of support and fear from the curatorial team regarding rumours of an actual action occurring, it seems there were also strategic conflicts at an internal organisational level, but the vision of those within the team who did push for a more genuine engagement is deeply heartening among the other stories one hears of the depressing lack of curatorial backbone and honest intellectual engagement when dealing with activist-art.[xiii] With two days to go, it seems inappropriate to try and summarise just yet as much as the vision of the event is laudatory in so far as it attempts not to simply ‘show’ the new vogue for activist-art as a means to accumulate cultural capital, but makes some effort to intellectually and ethically engage with it in terms of the strategies from which it emerges.[xiv] But there is much work to be done.


[i] Yates McKee, “Eyes and Ears” in Michel Fehrer, ed. NonGovernmental Politics, Zone, 2007. See also his forthcoming Sensible Politics.

[ii] On this utopianism, see TJ Demos “Is Another World Possible?: The Politics of Utopia Recent Exhibition Practice” in Gavin Grindon, ed. Art, Production and Social Movement, Autonomedia/Minor Compositions (forthcoming), as well as Claire Bishop, Artificial Hells, Verso, 2012.

[iii] See Kirsty Robertson, “Capitalist Cocktails and Moscow Mules,” Globalizations 8:4, 2011. pp. 473-486.

[iv] I’d also like to say thank you to Amber Hickey and Stefano Harney for reading it over and offering some really helpful comments.

[v] It would be possible to point to precedents too, from Mark Wallinger’s 2007 State Britain, recreating a camp in a gallery, to popular actions such as the occupation of the 1968 Venice biennale and Milan triennale.

[vii] A grounded reflection on the camp from a participant argues that it was a productive and worthwhile failure: http://takethesquare.net/2012/05/31/open-letter-to-the-occupybiennale-do-artificial-contexts-pervert-replication/ . For an interesting precedent to this debate, see for example the exchange between representatives of the Resistanbul anti-IMF mobilisations and art critic Brian Holmes around the 2009 Istanbul Biennale, which occurred at the same time as these mass mobilisations: www.brianholmes.wordpress.com/2009/09/01/istanbul-biennial

[viii] There are numerous examples, but typical of the tone is http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/Berlin-Biennale-branded-a-disaster/

[x] They suggest several designs, with assembly instructions at www.123occupy.com

[xi] See Sloterdijk’scontribution to Latour and Wiebel (eds) Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy, MIT Press, 2005.

[xiv] On these potential conflicts and collusions of interest, see Amber Hickey’s Strategies for Hosting Art Activists: A Guide for Arts Institutions, available at http://www.amberhickey.com/docs/StrategiesforHostingArtActivists_Hickey.pdf

Un Guide D’Usager Pour Demander L’Impossible


The User’s Guide to Demanding the Impossible I co-wrote has been translated into French, and published as a little booklet accompanying issue 108 of the Canadian magazine Inter: Art Actuel.

Un Guide D’Usager Pour Demander L’Impossible

A User’s Guide to Demanding the Impossible


I wrote this text with John Jordan in a real hurry over three days in Dec 2010, between the first and second days of action by UK students against the government cuts. It was intended to be a simple, accessible intro to creative activist histories and strategies, and to prompt some reflection on what different creative forms of action were possible in that moment, especially with so many fine art and design students occupying their art schools. We photocopied it as a handmade zine and left copies with different groups of occupying students, and did some workshops with some of them, and it went up online as a free PDF, first of all on the Arts Against Cuts blog. It was later released by Autonomedia/Minor Compositions as a little book which you can get a free PDF of or buy a real copy of here. You can get it from Amazon, but you know, don’t.

There are some things about the text that I disagree with a little now (that’s always the way, though), but it got a really enthusiastic reception that took me a bit by suprise, but was of course lovely. It seems to have ended up on lots of undergrad courses, and so far it has been translated into French, German, Italian, Greek, Polish, Turkish and Portuguese. I’ve even seen some new English versions pop up in small runs with new covers and art. I’ll try and put PDFs of the different translations up on here as soon as I can.

You can read an interview with John and I about the book that Marc Garrett did at Furtherfield, and it got a really thoughtful review along with some other texts coming out of that moment from Tom Coles for Variant.

A Users Guide to (Demanding) the Impossible




How to Draw Capitalism? Iconography and the Occupy Movement

Last week I was part of organising a workshop at Occupy London. Reposting this report on the event from the Protest Camps blog:


Last Wednesdaythe Creative Resistance Research Network hosted the first ‘How to Draw Capitalism‘ workshop at Occupy Finsbury Square. Sat in a circle as the sky drew dark and air turned cold, a dozen occupiers huddled around a splattering of markers and pencils. The workshop was designed to explore the ways in which capitalism and capitalists are represented in social movements and develop new ideas for icons and imagery that capture the contemporary moment.

While signs and images decorate Occupy camps across the world, the banners, posters and flattened cardboard canvases covering these reclaimed spaces are far more likely to use words than images. In this movement we have seen an upsurge of witty slogans, bold typefaces and creative ways of displaying the ’99%,’ but icons and images remain few and far between. As artists’ cooperative JustSeeds founder Josh MacPhee has said, this has much to do with the difficulties of representing global capitalism in simple, iconic imagery. The same goes, it follows, for financial collapse and debt crisis. There are only so many dollar signs one can draw.

In the Civic Paths project, Lana Swartz writes that while the Occupy Movement has not yet created its own sets of icons, as we saw with ACTUP in the 1980s, It does have a visual culture rich with culture jamming. Appropriated popular culture icons range from Monopoly’s Uncle Moneybags to Warner Brothers’ V for Vendetta (an image first appropriated by the web activist group Anonymous). These figures fill the campsites and websites of Occupy protesters. Occupy Sesame Street, Occupy Star Wars and Occupy Gotham have also made a number of appearances, along with Robin Hood in his many variations from Disney to Kevin Costner.

These pop culture plays have received both praise and criticism. Retooling easily recognisable images reaches viewers by appealing to people’s sense of familiarity. We see Cookie Monster hoarding all the cookies and many of us are in on the joke, we can instantly connect to the character and through this, to the sentiment of the symbols. In this sense, popular culture reappropriations are effective for spreading messages as they can reach a wide audience and touch viewers who already have feelings invested in these icons. On the other hand, those critical of culture jamming see these appropriations as further promoting brands, inadvertently drawing attention (and at times money) back to corporate power.

Seeking to create and circulate more new images and icons, Occupy activists in the states have started an interactive, interanational website called OccupyDesign where camps can submit design requests and designers can create and comment on images from these briefs. The organisers also host face-to-face iconathons and their website provides access to stickers, flyers and posters for download and distribution. This initiative taps into David Harvey‘s recent advice that to succeed the Occupy movement must, among other things, “bring together the creative workers and artists whose talents are so often turned into commercial products under the control of big money power.”

As creative jobs, arts education and arts budgets face increasing cuts, now certainly seems the time to tap into existing talent pools of creative workers who have their own stories to tell about life in the crisis. Sat in that circle last Wednesday at Finsbury Square, one of the three underemployed recent graduates of the Royal College of Art participating in the workshop asked the group, “How many people do you know with a permanent contact?” We went around the circle of twenty and thirty-somethings, many with two or more degrees, to each give our answer: “Maybe 10% of my friends”, “I’d say 5″, “I can’t even think of one…”

Anna Feigenbaum

Open Discussion With Ben Morea of Black Mask / Up Against the Wall Motherfucker


I organised an event last month at LARC in East London with the folks at Red Channels, which I was really excited about.

We’re Here to Talk About the Family: A discussion with Ben Morea
17th June, 18.00-19.30, LARC, 62 Fieldgate Street, London.

Please join us for an open discussion with Ben Morea, publisher of Black Mask (1966-1968), and member of Up Against the Wall/Motherfuckers (1968-1969).

Active in the art and anarchist communities of New York City’s Lower East Side from 1959-1969, Morea dropped out of public sight for 35 years before resurfacing at New York’s 16Beaver space in June 2004 at an event or…ganized by Eve Hinderer. Things in the world had apparently gotten too bad, too similar to the conditions of the late-60′s–when Morea was both theorizing and practicing an insurgent form of street action to challenge all forms of authority–for Ben to not try to help. Since 2004 Morea has given a number interviews and participated in a series of public discussions to share his experiences in “The Family,” as he refers to the Motherfuckers, with the hopes that today’s militants might find their story useful.

Afterwards, LARC’s red and black club will be running a bar and social, so hang around.

FB event link, feel free to share: https://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=230603233632914#!/event.php?eid=230603233632914 Members of Lisbon’s Edições Antipáticas, Madrid’s La Felguera Editores, and New York’s Red Channels have organized a series of discussion events for Ben in England, Portugal, and Spain from June 16-July 1.

Some recent editions of the collected writings of Black Mask and the Motherfuckers include: London’s Unpopular Books (1993), Melbourne’s Homebrew Press (2007), Madrid’s La Felguera Editores (2009), Oakland’s PM Press (2010), and Lisbon’s Edições Antipáticas (2011). Ben Morea now has a blog at www.e-blast.squarespace.com

…Sadly it couldn’t be audio recorded, but you can hear a really quick  interview I did with Ben on the edition of Dissident Island Radio from that week.

And you can read a a couple of great short blog posts on the event here and here