The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination

“This isn’t a normal traveling theatre company you know!” Scotland Yard.

An Open Letter in the Dark

Suffragette_Banner_-_Musuem_of_London

Suffragette Banner, 1911

An Open letter in the Dark

The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination,Brittany, 26th October 2014

«Dark times lie ahead of us and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.»

Professor Dumbledore to Harry Potter and the magician students of Hogwarts.

«Ethics and Aesthetics are one. »

Ludwig Wittgenstein, journal entry 1916.

Dear Tomas, Margit and the others reading this letter,

We are sorry it has taken so long to get back to you, but this letter has not been an easy one to write and things have been difficult here. We are also sorry that what began as a letter has perhaps become a long “manifestos against a world that we hate”(to quote one of the lines in your festival’s statement of purpose).

We are writing with a sadness that reaches to the tips of the fingers with which we type. This weekend the French Police, acting on the orders of the dictatorship of the growth economy, killed Remi, a young ecological justice activist. He was a year older than my son Jack who played the music in We Have Never Been Here Before. A heavily armoured riot cop shot him in the back probably with a concussion grenade, the explosion ripped his life away on the spot. The tragedy took place on La ZAD (Zone A Défendre) du Testet, a new autonomous zone of ecological resistance inspired by the original ZAD near our farm in france, where the struggle against a new airport for Nantes, has been successful. The ZAD du Testet where Remi was murdered is resisting the construction of a dam that is cutting down hectares of forest and destroying a richly bio-diverse wetlands eco-system just to water fields of industrial maize. Once again we are confronted with the fact that when people do more than symbolic action, when they place their bodies directly against the machines of the system, the response is violence, extreme violence. We write this letter with sadness, love and rage in our veins.

As you may know in Dec 2015, the COP21 UN climate summit will be held in Paris, there will be a huge global citizens mobilisation during the conference. All of the Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination’s (Labofii) work this year will lead towards creative acts of disobedience during COP21 to pressure the worlds governments to be coherent between their words and acts. Despite the rhetoric, since the COP talks began and promised to do something about the climate, emissions have risen 61%. Science say that radical emission cuts must happen now if we are to stay within the safe zone of 2 degrees of warming. Meanwhile fossil fuel companies are planning to continue business as usual, they are banking on a 4 degrees rise which means runaway climate change, a warming could render this planet with an atmosphere between mars and venus. World climate expert and head scientist at the British Governments Tyndall centre for Climate Change Research, Kevin Anderson, says that: “ If you have got a population of nine billion by 2050 and you hit 4C, 5C or 6C, you might have half a billion people surviving.” This is why some people call it a climate holocaust, pushed by an economy which puts money in front of life…

For 2015 the Labofii envisages a series of shows, mass public trainings in the choreography of protest and performative hackathons in London, Berlin, Hamburg and Paris, where we will develop efficient new tools of creative resistance to take out into the streets and conference halls at COP21.

We Have Never Been Here Before, the show that you invited us to present at the Donau festival, is explicitly about the personal and political obstacles in the fight against catastrophic climate change and the accompanying workshop for artists and activists, explores both psychological and strategic questions of how we can act in the face of such challenges1. But it is first time the Laboffii had done a piece that stays in the theatre and does not take to the streets, does not disobey, in many ways it was the kind of work we normally would call “pictures politics”, representations of political action, art “about” politics, definitely not our “normal’ practice. It’s what we jokingly call our “holidays in representation” (our last “holiday in representation” was when we produced the book/film Pfade durch Utopia, Nautilus, 2012). We Have Never Been Here Before was an admission of weakness and a moment of reflection on the efficacy or not of the work we have been doing over the last decade.

A lot of the so-called “political art” in the art world pretends to do politics. At best it is purely symbolic protest, at worst it builds ‘zoos’ to observe the authentic ‘real’ activists. As you know the Laboffii believes that the role of art is not to show the world to people, but to transform it directly. We don’t want to make political art but to render politics artistic. This is why most of our work involves bringing artists and activists together to create new forms of civil disobedience which are then enacted in the public sphere. However this attachment to materially transforming social life, goes for both our art practice and our everyday life, for we cannot separate them.

In order to make art politically we have to pay attention not just to everyday life but to the mechanisms of reproduction in the world of culture. In a geek like way this means that every time we get an invite from a theatre or festival, museum or biennial before we accept, we look at the list of sponsors. You can imagine our faces when we saw on the front page of your festival site in big white letters, an advert for the “Preferred Carrier”: Austrian airlines. “We fly your smile” is their motto.

Perhaps the smile refers to the fact that thanks to offsetting we can still fly without feeling guilty, Austrian airlines are proud that you can pay someone else to plant a tree or set up a windmill to assuage a climate crime. But offsetting is about as rational a response to the problem as was paying for absolutions to redeem your sins in the middle age. In the Dutch republic of the 15th century there was a price for each sin, to be payed to the church who would offset it through prayer. For example absolution for incest was afforded at 36 livres, three ducats, whilst if you poisoned someone it was a sixth of the price.2 Kevin Anderson, refuses to fly and thinks that “Offsetting is worse than doing nothing. It is without scientific legitimacy, is dangerously misleading and almost certainly contributes to a net increase in the absolute rate of global emissions growth.Keep consuming, keep polluting, no need to change our behaviour, business as usual with a nice greenwash tint. But it’s not just greenwashing that is useful to corporations at the moment, it is also artwashing, the magic slight of hand that transforms ‘radical’ art into a tool for upholding the status quo.

Many of our artists and intellectual friends fly from biennial to festival, from one city to another to make “radical culture”. It’s all part of the “rights” of the hyper mobile cultural class, a global generation that that has been uprooted from any material place, ripped from local communities, distanced from contexts where they might have some agency in transforming the material world. It suits the status quo that the radical thinkers and makers don’t have a territory, belong to nowhere and float in an abstract vapid world where no solution is graspable, where radical thinking has no anchor in action. But as John Berger says “to improve something, you really need to know the texture, the life story of that thing”, and knowing the story of somewhere takes a lot longer than a festival or a residency, according to some farmers it can take a thousand years to know a place.

The Tyndall Centre says residents of the UK need to cut their CO2 emissions by 90% by 2050 (others say by 2030) if we are to have a chance to avoid runaway climate chaos and to equitably distribute the right to emit CO2 globally. Its worth remembering that a single runway of a large european airport can emit more than the entire CO2 emissions of a large african country and that if it were a country air transport alone would be 7th on the list of largest present day CO2 emitters. At the moment the average Briton emits 9.5 tonnes per year (an Austrian 7.9) One flight from the UK to New York and back emits 1.2 tonnes, which equals, if we have to cut by 90%, the total amount of C02 a Briton could use per year to keep the climate safe and just. That would mean anyone really believing in climate justice who flew to New York, for instance to the recent People Climate March called by Ban Ki Moon, would use up their annual credit on the trip alone and that means for an entire year could not eat, take a train, use the internet, put the lights on… nothing.

What is it in our culture that makes some people think that their presence to such events is so vital that it trumps the need to reduce global emissions? The capitalist chasm between our beliefs and behaviour is spreading as fast as the desert…

Looking beyond the front page of the festival website we also went to the sponsors page, where we discovered not only Vienna International Airport, but also EVN which owns coal fired power stations and distributes gas across Europe. Coal fired power stations are not only directly responsible for taking our world to a place with temperatures similar to hell, but they also releases a constant stream of mercury, nitrous oxides, sulfur dioxide, and a range of other toxins that enter our bodies and inflict serious damage to our soft vital organs and those of every animal in its vicinity. Dirty money can’t get more dirty than coal.

Then we saw that on the top of the list of sponsors is the distinct black and yellow logo of Austria’s biggest bank Raiffeisen. In 2011 Raiffeisen  won a financial  “deal of the year” award for their funding of a Russian oil companies’ new refinery  and for setting up export infrastructure for siberian open cast coal! Like every bank it has a fossil fuels equity portfolio filled with oil, coal, gas and fracking companies from across the world.

Recent research shows that 21st century climate crisis has been caused largely by just 90 companies, many of them household names – BP, Exxon, Shell, Chevron, Gazprom – which between them produced nearly two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions generated since the dawning of the industrial age3. Half of those emissions have occurred in the last 25 years, the generation that has known about the dangers of climate change. But all of these companies are fueled by banks, without their capital no oil, gas or coal ever leaves the ground. If our culture perceived these banks as part of the problem rather than as partners, perhaps the future would not be cancelled. If these companies were forced by popular social movements to shift their investments away from fossil fuels, maybe we would be winning.

It comes as no surprise that another cultural institution is providing the social approval and progressive sheen on companies whose toxic activities have nothing to do with a sustainable and just future. Your enthusiastic presentation of the festival says you desire “a paradigm shift in society”, but these companies continue business as usual and they are using art as the perfect mask of hypocrisy, a moral offset for their ‘sins’. In fact the best way to look at it is not that these companies are supporting the arts, but that the arts are supporting their lie that they care about anything other than making profits even though it means annihilating the life support systems of this planet. In fact this kind of sponsorship is an act of anesthesia, something that numbs us, stops us perceiving the reality that is at the root of our poisonous capitalist culture, it is quite the opposite of an aesthetic act, an act that enables us to feel the world, to sense it deep within our guts.

Of course, some will respond that “without flying the international art world cannot continue”, that in a climate of general budget cuts festivals desperately need money to put up shows that inspire, that we need to live in the “real world” and that sometimes compromises need to be made in order to survive…

Such logic seems absurd to us: do we really want to continue the survival of the international art world at the expense of the survival of our species on this planet. Or do we want an art world that provides models for other ways of living and behaving in this one ?

Art is simply paying attention,” wrote Alan Kaprow, the american artist who was credited for creating the first “Happenings” – performances where the line between artists and audience, art and life were blurred. In this world where our attention is being bombarded by neurone stimulating semiotic goods 24/7, the Labofii finds this definition of art fitting. We are witnessing a non stop psychic war of images and information waged by capitalism over life, which is having a deep psychic affect on our lives. Like the burdening of our atmosphere with too much CO2, our synapses cannot keep up with the mass of information, our psychic landscape has been transformed by weapons of mass distraction in the war for profit and growth.

We no longer have time for attention, the overload leads us to paralysing panic, where changing our world feels as out of reach as true joy. “The economic crisis” Franco “bifo” Berardi writes, “depends for the most part on the circulation of sadness, depression, panic and demotivation.”4 For the Labofii “paying attention” is an inherently political definition of art, because a moment of “attention” is an act of disobedience and desertion from the chaos of a society of mass attention deficit disorder.

The Society of the Spectacle is “unity in separation” said Guy Debord. Two generations later, this vision perfectly describes our present, the realm of extreme separation where we are violently separated from our needs and desires. It’s a world without worlds, where we are split from our food sources, from our soil, from our plants and our water. The worlds that sustain our life have become alien, unknown planets. We have forgotten how to make our shelter, how to heal ourselves, how to clothe ourselves. We feel alienated from the bacteria that makes up 10 percent of our body weight and yet keeps us alive. We witness 200 species being pushed to extinction every day by the economy, and yet we think this will somehow not affect us.

This society of separation creates a world where we can think one thing and do another, where we can have a set of ethics that are totally separate from our actions, where we can engage in political ideas which are never lived in our everyday life. “Oh I know I shouldn’t buy these H&M jeans,” says the conscience consumer, “I know they were made in sweatshops… (sigh) but they suit me so well and I really NEED a new pair don’t I ?” Perhaps we don’t even know how to link how we feel to how we behave anymore. Last year a journalist revealed that apple godhead and guru, Steve Jobs, refused his children access to i-phones and i-pads, because he thought they would be detrimental to their psychological health; but it did not stop him marketing such devices to millions of other peoples children across the world.

A certain discipline of attention”5 is how The Invisible Committee describes communism, in their manifesto CALL, which celebrates a radical exodus from the metropolis. To “pay attention” to the world is communicating with it, its a tool against separation and distraction, its a weapon of reciprocal relationship. It means observing the world in the same way an artists observes her material, the cook his ingredients, the dancer her gestures, the gardener her seeds, the hacker her code. Its an act of focused sensing, not just with the eyes, but with the entire sensible mind and body. Kaprow might have called this ‘art’, but Bhuddist call it “mindfullness”, neuroscientists “direct experience”, christian’s “contemplation” and in arabic it is know as “sabr” – a key practice of islam. This surrendering to the present moment that seems to be a central ritual practice of human society, bypasses the existential ego of the self and overcomes the anxiety of past and future. In such a state we can experience information coming into our senses in real time, we pay attention to the world once again. If art is simply paying attention, then not only does it escape from the prisons of the art world and from the clutches of the creative classes monopoly on it, but it enables us to make conscious ethical choices free from the terrorising autopilot of consumer capitalism.

Far from some kind of spiritual retreat from the world, for the Labofii this “paying attention” leads us to making material decisions about our everyday life, it is an attempt to melt the boundaries between art and life. As artists and activists working towards a postcapitalist culture, we want to live the world we talk and dream about in the present moment, we want to have coherence between our thoughts and our acts. All our work involves non hierarchical processes, we have set up an organic farm and commune and we have not taken a flight for ten years. None of this is to be pure but simply to be coherent, to not separate our aesthetics from our ethics. And none of this is enough unless we are also engaged in dismantling the system of capitalism and domination that is at the root of the crisis.

We were excited to read your festival’s statement entitled 10 YEARS REDEFINING ARTS. For us the redefining of art, or what Joseph Beuys would call “expanding the concept of art”, is a central question in the age of the Anthropocene6. In such an age, the ancient distinction between natural history and human history, between culture and nature collapses and so must art must change radically. We must unshackle ourselves from representation, tear down the walls between art and life and re distribute creativity to everyone. Following Kaprow’s vision of the future of art might help us: We may see the overall meaning of art change profoundly” he wrote “from being an end to being a means, from holding out a promise of perfection in some other realm to demonstrating a way of living meaningfully in this one.

In your statement we read that the aim of Donau festival is “to establish a radically new festival model, which, on the one hand, would correspond to the ideas and needs of emergent art forms and, on the other, of a paradigm shift in society.” You also say that the recent focus is on “central global themes such as the human-animal-nature relationship, exploitation, exclusion, repression, and migration” and “we will dream with our artists of societal counter models, of ephemeral anarchic world concepts; we will tend paradisiacal gardens in our minds and wed ourselves with plants and animals; we will proclaim vehement visual, sonic, and vocal manifestos against a world that we hate and draft fragile, tender declarations of love to a world that we dream of and believe can become reality.” The words are really beautiful, the ideas are courageous and we share them with you. But do they fit with the reality ? Or are they purely symbolic gestures thrown without paying attention into the winds of the coming storms.

When you write that you want “a paradigm shift in society” how do u imagine this change will take place ? How can a festival like this which props up the “old world that we hate” be part of the change ? Do you think capitalist culture will somehow undergo a voluntary transformation to a sane, equitable and sustainable way of living ? We think not, we think we have to undo this culture completely and rebuild entirely different ways of being and sharing of our worlds. No real solutions to this crisis will be put in place by those in power if it means them not profiting from it. As escaped slave Frederick Douglas knew so well when he was fighting the horrors of the slave trade and declared “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. “

For us at the Labofii the goal can be summed up in a sentence: to remove the ability of the rich to steal from the poor and dismantle the ability of the powerful to destroy our biosphere. The role of art for us is to make this process as creative, desirable and effective as possible – to stop the war of money against life in the most beautiful way possible. Sadly we don’t see how we can do this by being part of the Donaufestival without violently tearing our ethics from our aesthetics.

Perhaps in an age of extreme ecological and social crisis, the key questions artists and curators need to ask themselves are: Can these the institutions of culture be machines for amplifying our potential to transform the status quo, or are they palaces carefully engineered for us to play the fool in, whilst outside the kings and queens continue to play Russian roulette with our future whilst enriching theirs.

Initially when we saw the sponsors we decided we would come to the festival, do the show, redistribute our fees to activists on front line communities against climate catastrophe in the global south and organise an intervention against the very sponsors themselves. We would launch a kind of infiltrated undercover guerrilla action that bites the hand that feeds. We do not care about spoiling our reputation within the world of art, we don’t care to not be invited back, we care about the political efficacy of art more than our careers. We have done this before, most infamously when the Tate Modern tried to stop us taking actions against their sponsors British Petroleum, during a workshop they themselves commissioned on disobedience7.

We wrote to the Yes Men and Reverend Billy who were also invited to the Donaufestival, to see if we could set up a two day Hackathon in Krems with them to co-plan actions against Raiffeisen. But we soon realised that even if we did do this, the actions themselves would simply be symbolic, would not really have much of an effect, the fossil fuels would continue to be sucked out of the ground and burnt and we would just be the fools in the palace once again, playing the old role of shocking the bourgeoisie and needlessly upsetting you the curators.

But we don’t want to pretend to do politics in the art world. And so we are stuck. We did not know how to proceed, of course we wanted to come, we love making work, we love performing and we thrive off the creative ebullience of festivals. We have never seen the Danube river in its all its glory and we were excited to spend time with some of the art activists and friends we most admire, the Yes Men and Reverend Billy. But how to do so without becoming part of the machinery that we want to dismantle ? How do we avoid even an act of self sabotage being easily digested by the boundless appetite of the art world ? If we were cynical we would just accept the fact that we would be recuperated and go for it – it’s the “shitty reality”. But cynicism is simply another word for obedience to the system and we don’t want to dwell in the shit of reality, thats why we make art.

And so we would like this letter, or manifesto, or whatever it is, to be a proposal for a dialogue about what a “radically new festival model” could look like rather than just a shut door that says sorry we can’t take part. We would like it to be the start of something rather than the end, something more than symbolic words or acts we share together. Something that helps put bodies in the way of the machine rather than greasing its cogs.

Yours in solidarity John and Isa.

The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination

1 The blurb advertising the workshop begins: “Faced with the immensity and complexity of the catastrophic entwining of ecological, economic and social crises that threaten our entire way of life, in fact threatens life itself, we often feel paralysed. “We could do more”, our intuition nags at us, and yet something holds us back from actions commensurate with the scale of the problem.” The two day intensive workshop ends with a collective brain storm, using dozens of ping pong balls, to design actions of creative disobedience against the corporate take over of the UN COP processes in Paris. We hope to tour the show and workshop to mobilise for Paris and later in the year, to develop a series of Hackathons and theatrical mass disobedience trainings all aimed at preparing for the mobilisations in Dec 2015.

2George Monbiott, Paying for our Sins, 18th October 2006, The Guardian. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2006/oct/18/green.guardiansocietysupplement

4Franco “Biffo” Beradi, Precarious Rhapsody, Minor Compositions, 2009.

5 CALL was the book that preceded their infamous “Coming Insurrection.” available for free http://www.bloom0101.org/translations.html

6The Anthropocene is a proposed new geological epoch where there are more trees growing in farms than in the wild, where more rock and soil is moved by bulldozers and mining than all ‘natural’ processes combined and where the climate is tipping out of control due to the burning of oil, gas and coal. Industrial capitalism is irreversibly altering the natural cycles of the biosphere, nature is now a product of culture. It is not longer just asteroid impacts and volcanic eruptions that herald mass extinctions, it is us, the 20% of the world that is consuming 80% of it’s resources.

7In 2009 the Labofii was invited to hold workshops in art and activism at Tate Modern, they entitled it ‘Disobedience makes history’. The Tate curators wanted the workshop to end with a public performance intervention. When the Laboffii was told, in an email, by the curators that no interventions could be made against the museums sponsors (which happen to be British Petroleum) the Labofii decided to use the email as the material for the workshop. We projected it onto the wall and asked the participants whether the workshop should obey or disobey the curator’s orders. Despite Tate staff trying to sabotage the discussion taking place, the participants ended up making an action against BP’s sponsorship and afterwards set up a collective Liberate Tate dedicated to liberating the Tate from its oil barons. The collective has since made global headlines with its creative unauthorised interventions in the museum, often using lots of black molasses. Of course the Labofii will never be invited back to the Tate.

The Beat of Courage; the Shape of Hope: creative resistance in the face of catastrophe

A 2 day workshop with

The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination

Saturday 5 & Sunday 6 July 2014 – 10am to 6pm

Berliner Festspiele - Schaperstraße 24 - 10719 Berlin

fa14_labofii_we_have_never_been_here_before_media_gallery_res

As a society we are caught between a sense of impending apocalypse and the fear of acknowledging it. In this ‘caught’ place our responses are blocked and confused. On one level we maintain a more or less up-beat capacity to carry on as usual… and all the while, underneath, there is this inchoate knowledge that our world could go at any moment. Unless we find ways of acknowledging and integrating that level of anguished awareness, we repress it; and with that repression we are drained of the energy we need for action.” Joanna Macy

Faced with the immensity and complexity of the catastrophic entwining of ecological, economic and social crises that threaten our entire way of life, in fact threatens life itself, we often feel paralysed. “We could do more”, our intuition nags at us, and yet something holds us back from actions commensurate with the scale of the problem.

Even Yvo de Boer, (executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2009) recently asserted that “The only way that a 2015 agreement can achieve a two-degree goal (the ‘safe’ limit to warming) is to shut down the whole global economy.” Thus “what are we waiting for? And to do what?” will be some of the core questions that this workshop will explore.

We will delve into our fears of action, and attempt to find collective tools to overcome the feeling of disempowerment that can overcome us in these dark times.

Participants will be encouraged to share and reflect upon personal and historical stories of courage and disobedience, learn to trust each other and engage in horizontal processes of organising, as well as explore tools for effective strategies that are required in order to organise appropriate responses to the injustices of the climate catastrophe.

Working with local artists and activists and using a diversity of participatory and playful methods of popular education, it will aim to start a momentum towards collective organising and affinity group building for effective disobedience in response to the UN’s 2015 Paris Climate summit.

The workshops will be facilitated by Isabelle Fremeaux, co-founder of the Labofii, and will be in English.

In parrallel to the workshop is the show: We Have Never Been Here Before, written and performed by John Jordan, co-founder of the Labofii. Participants are encouraged to attend the performance on Friday 4 July, as is content is key for full engagement with the workshop. Free tickets are available for all selected participants.

http://www.berlinerfestspiele.de/en/aktuell/festivals/foreign_affairs/fa14_programm/fa14_programm_gesamt/fa14_veranstaltungsdetail_98532.php

The workshop is free, but places limited, bookings need to be made by June 15th (with a short letter to labofii@berlinerfestspiele.de explaining why you’d like to attend, this is to get a sense of who you are so that we can tailor the workshop to the participants). Confirmations will be sent by June 22nd. Participants will be expected to bring lunch to share with others on both days.

The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination

“It reminds us of the time when it was still possible for free theatre to try out a loving anarchic social utopias… This is about saying goodbye to representation and is therefore the most radical form of theatre” The Frankfurter Rundschau, 2010.

“This isn’t a normal travelling theatre company you know.” Scotland Yard, (British Police HQ) 

The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination (Lab of ii) merges art and life, creativity and resistance, proposition and opposition. Infamous for touring the UK recruiting a rebel clown army, running courses in postcapitalist culture, throwing snowballs at bankers, turning hundreds of abandoned bikes into machines of disobedience and launching a rebel raft regatta to shut down a coal fired power station; we treat insurrection as an art and art as a means of preparing for the coming insurrection. The Lab of ii is now in the process of setting up a school for creative resistance and a communal organic farm in Brittany.

New Radical Communities: talk at London’s Royal College of Art.

DSCF1082The Royal College of art’s SUSTAIN programme held a public lecture on the question of radical communities. John Jordan from the Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination gave one of the talks where he draws (not very straight) lines from William Morris to Artivisme via hope and utopias. You can see the video of the talk here.

Lab’Utopie

LabutopieLe Laboratoire d’Imagination Insurrectionnelle Présente: Lab’Utopie.

Un atelier cartographique et un acte de désobéissance. 8 -13 Octobre, La fureur de lire, Maison communale de Plainpalais, Genève.

“La réinvention du quotidien n’est rien d’autre qu’un passage au-delà des bords de nos cartes” Lucy Parsons (activiste Afro Américaine,1853-1942)

Le Laboratoire d’Imagination Insurrectionnelle (Labofii) est à Genève pour faciliter un atelier d’artivisme et de cartographie radicale: Lab’Utopie. Une équipe d’architectes, activiste, artistes, géographes, illustrateurs-trices, permaculturiste et plus encore, travailleront avec le public pour créer une gigantesque carte collective des pratiques utopistes genevoises, passées, présentes et futures. Cet objet finira par devenir un outil de désobéissance créative le dimanche 13 Octobre.

Vous êtes invité-e-s à nous rejoindre avec vos souvenirs et rêves de résistances et d’alternatives collectives, de sécessions de l’empire, d’histoires secrètes et émotions partagées.

Du 8 au 12 octobre entre 18h et 20h venez à la Maison communale pour participer à la réalisation de la carte, qui sera également visible chaque jours entre 20h30 et minuit (sauf samedi de11h à minuit).

Pour honorer l’histoire radicale de Genève et inspirer de nouvelles voies post-capitalistes l’acte de désobéissance prendra place à 14h30 dimanche 13, rendez vous à la Maison communale pour un périple utopiste secret.

Pour plus d’info : info@labofii.net

Letter to a corpse

CIFAS, Brussels.

CIFAS, Brussels.

This is a talk  I gave during the CIFAS,  event in Brussels. It was written as a letter to my dead father who is buried in Brussels a few miles from the theater where the talk was taking place. The short introduction is in french the rest of the letter is in english.

Lettre à un cadavre.

Merci Charlotte, Antoine et tout le monde à CIFAS de m’avoir invité. C’est un plaisir de retourner à Bruxelles, car c’est la ville où j’ai vécu entre 2 et 16 ans – C’est la ville de mon enfance.

Mais mon enfance était cadrée par les façonneurs capitalistes et guerriers de cette ville,– car mon père travaillait à l’Otan et j’allais à l’école Européenne. Je faisais partie des gens qui ont transformé cette ville en QG de l’expansion du monde néolibéral…

Mais mon père est mort, il y a 33 ans, quand j’avais 15 ans et lui en avait cinquante…Il est enterré dans le cimetière de Tervuren.

C’était un homme très réservé, renfermé même, nous n’avons jamais parlé d’art, d’activisme, ou de la ville… mais ce matin j’aimerais lui lire une lettre, une lettre à un cadavre à propos du cadavre qu’est cette civilisation.

Malheureusement je vais la lire en Anglais car mon Français n’est pas assez affûté et de toute façon les rares moments où mon père et mois nous parlions, c’était en Anglais.

Cette lettre est plutôt une esquisse d’idée, de concept et de questions, – demain au VTI je parlerai plus de ma pratique et d’action.

Le rôle de l’éclaireur, qui est un terme militaire, est d’aller en avant pour rapporter des informations aux troupes derrière pour qu’elles voient plus clair… Mais peut-être qu’à la fin de cette lecture vous penserez qu’en fait je ne suis pas allé en avant du tout, mais en arrière, et que le monde semblera beaucoup plus sombre qu’avant.

Mais c’est dans le sombre que pousse les graines, c’est dans le noir qu’on voit les étoiles et souvent c’est en regardent en arrière que l’on comprend où on est.

Alors je commence :

++++++++++++++++++++++++

Dear Dad

When you died you left your books.  From these books I’ve tried to reconstruct the you that I never knew. This letter is partly inspired by a book about the city you fell in love with and where you met mum before you had to move to brussels –  it’s a history of the Paris Commune of 1871…   But before we begin to talk about a city in resistance, the promises of autonomy and the dangers of art, lets talk about life.

You were my age when you discovered the cancer that was to kill you a few years later. It was the late 1970’s, an age where many feared the world would be wiped out by nuclear war.  For a week every year you would leave the family, the city and disappear, holed up in a bunker you would simulate a nuclear attack with your colleagues. You would imagine and play with the apocalypse.

Mum always said that you believed you were working for peace, I will never know what you really believed in,  but the stories I read in a youthful student diary of yours and some of the books you left, suggests that you had at least flirted with radical ideas. Ideas that maybe didn’t really fit with the life you were leading and the work you were doing at NATO.

And it makes me wonder, were you infected with the deep disease that lies at the heart of capitalism, this plague of extreme separation that affects so many of us. Had you separated what you believed in from how you acted in the world, had you allowed there to be chasm between your politics, your aesthetics, your ethics and your everyday life.

This question of rebuilding the relationship between idée’s and acts, to merge life and thoughts, to stop putting worlds into boxes and try to live a coherent existence is what has made me radically change my life over the last year. After 25 years of being an art activist in the megapolis, I deserted,I  left London, not to escape, but to start a new front, a front that merged resisting this world and creating new ones – that might survive the future.

In a way I was responding in acts to the words of the artist,: Alan Kaprow, one of the inventors of Happenings. He wrote:  “We may see the overall meaning of art change profoundly – from being an end to being a means, from holding out a promise of perfection in some other realm to demonstrating a way of living meaningfully in this one.

 

I begin this letter sitting in my new home, the late summer sun streams into our large yurt. I feel the cool breeze from a bee’s wings cross my cheek, it flies so close. I wonder if it has come from one of the hives next to the stream? The sweet taste of breakfast honey lingers in my mouth did it recognise the whiff of its own work?

From my desk I see the 7 hectares of land in which we produce our food and the food for some of the towns and villages around us.

Dad, I wish you could see the choices I made in my life. I wish you could meet some of my friends with whom I live and share my life with. I wish you could listen to your grandson playing his viola in the symphony orchestra or Dj’ing at his squat parties. I wish you could hear this letter im reading out loud to a crowd of strangers a few kilometres from your grave.

But perhaps my greatest regret is that I wish I had asked you as you lay dying of cancer -  what you had regretted about your life.  I feel that those words could have taught me so much more than the books you left me.

A recent study entitled “The five top regrets of the dying” was based on conversations a nurse had had with terminally ill patients. All of them were knowingly living the last days of their life and they spoke to her about their regrets.

The top five were:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

 3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

4.  I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

And finally

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

These regrets speak of the disease of separation to me. A separation between work and friendship, between the right to life and the right to happiness.  A dislocation between our passions and our actions.

The metropolis is one of the most efficient systems of separation within the machine of capitalism, it is founded on perhaps the most violent separation of all –the separation of our biosphere from human life.

It is a milieu in which everything is done so that humans only relate to themselves, so that we create ourselves separately from other forms of existence, other forms of life. It has become the reign of the artificial over everything.

Within the metropolis a spell is cast on us all, a spell that commodifies every relationship. This magic is best summed up by the radical philosopher and farmer – Wendell Berry -  when he writes:

“Educated minds, in the modern era, are unlikely to know anything about food and drink, clothing and shelter. In merely taking these things for granted, the modern educated mind reveals itself to be as superstitious a mind as ever has existed in the world. What could be more superstitious than the idea that money can bring forth food.”

But the metropolis not only enchants us, it also seduces us.

In the worlds oldest surviving written story, the Mesopotamian epic of Gilgamesh, Enkidu the wild man, is seduced into the city, into being “civilised”, by the whore of Babylon. His seamless life with the natural world, where he eats wild plants and drinks from the rivers, is broken, and he soon dies regretting that he had been lead astray to become complicit with murder of a fellow and the destruction of the forests.

The epic of Gilgamesh, was perhaps the first tale that tells the story that has remained with us ever since, that urban ‘civilised life’ is the epitome of progress and that the dirty, barbaric, chaotic, natural world’s only value is to be controlled, captured for our use.

The tablets with the story written on them were found under the great walled city of Uruk built 5000 years ago. Surrounded by cedar forest, it lived off some of the first farmed and irrigated fields in the history of humanity.

Like most civilisations it did not last much more than a couple of thousand years.

If you go there now there are just dusty ruins surrounded by desert, nothing grows, its bone dry, all life has gone.

Even before the Sumerian civilisation collapsed, the epic of Gilgamesh asked what price people pay to be civilized. Its a question many of us should perhaps be asking ourselves as we face the final confrontation between capitalism’s need for infinite growth and the finite resources of a single planet.

I can imagine you sighing, Dad –like some of the people in the audience here perhaps. “Oh my god! I can see what’s coming, he wants us to leave the cities and return to the stone age!”

Well lets talk about the stone age then.

The extraordinary thing is that no city is much more than 5000 years old. That’s about 70 life times away, 70 generations, a blip in history, just 0.002 percent of the two and a half million years since our first ancestors began to sharpen stones.

What is just as extraordinary is that our minds and bodies are no different from these ancestors of ours. If we could build a time machine and transport a child from the mouth of a cave in the upper Paleolithic to a Brussels apartment in the early 21st century and raise them as our own, they would have just the same chance as a contemporary child at getting a degree in quantum physics or becoming a famous computer programmer.

The only evolution has been cultural, not physical.  We have the same intelligence and sensibilities. We are gatherer hunter bodies living in a very recently artificialised domesticated world, no wonder it seems so strange and wrong sometimes.

All the archeological and anthropological evidence, much from the study of contemporary gatherer hunters, backs up the ancient myths of the fall from paradise and the golden age. For the last 99.998 percent of human history we gathered our food from the wild – nuts, berries, fruit the occasional hunting and scavaging of game.  We worked less than three hours a day and the rest of the time was spent telling stories, singing, making love, sleeping, dreaming.

Anthropologist Kevin Duffy who studied the Mbuti Pygmies wrote: “try to imagine a way of life where land, shelter and food are free, and where there are no leaders, bosses, politics, organised crime, taxes, or laws. Add to this the benefits of being part of a society where everything is shared, where there are no rich people and no poor people, and where happiness does not mean the accumulation of material possessions.”

Try to imagine. That is how humans were for most of history.

Pehaps the law of the jungle was not competition and coercion, the survival of the fittest – but quite the opposite: a spirit of generosity, of sharing and of anti-authoritarianism. Everything belonged to everybody, we were deeply connected to each other and the worlds we passed through, there was no hierarchy. But that story doesn’t quite fit the myths of capitalism.

Around 10,000 years ago a radical revolution occurred, things began to change faster than anything had ever before. Some people started playing around with seeds and plants, it seemed like a good idea. Something about it was seductive and we began to farm and settle.

Farming achieved quantity at the expense of quality: more people and more food, but not necessarily better food or better lives. From eating thousands of different species of plants we were reduced to a handful of starchy roots and grasses –  and we had to work hard, very hard, digging, sowing, planting.

The Neolithic revolution was perhaps the most radical revolution in history, no other invention has had such huge consequences, except perhaps the burning of fossil fuels.. but we will come to that later.

The deal of the Neolithic was that we swapped a life of interdependence with the natural world to one of dependence to a few domesticated species.  By domesticating our food we domesticated ourselves. Without our care the plants died and without them we starve.

Around the farmed fields grew villages, surplus and then cities, and with that came divisions of labour, social heirachies; rituals, priests, kings, politicians, bosses, inequalities, poverty, ownership, the state, armies and ….war. The equilibrium between our land base and human life was thrown off kilter.

Now at the start of this, perhaps humanities final century, the metropolis is everywhere. The city as a politically autonomous zone, federated with other diverse cities,  an old European tradition, has been destroyed everywhere by the centralised state and its metropolitan mind set. The division between the urban and the rural no longer really exists. The countryside is simply an industrial food factory or a place to consume during leisure time. The culture of the metropolis has subsumed all territories, everywhere is the same, same clothes, same music, same shops, local difference has been eroded.

We are living the final consequences of the disequilibrium between our biosphere and our culture – our society is at war with the natural world and the metropolis is the command centre, a command centre than runs through every one of us. Any study of the ruins of past civilisations reveals that nature normally wins the war and that the poor suffer most.

100 million people died in the wars of the last century, another 100 million are expected to die due to climate change over the next 18 years, nearly all of them people with life styles that produce very little CO2. The Climate catastrophe is not only a war on the biosphere it is war on the poor.

Dad, unlike your generation, mine never experienced cities in ruins, and I have little memory of living under the shadow of nuclear war, but the shadow that the future throws on my generation is equally terrifying once one understands the full significance of runaway climate change, and the exhaustion of virtually all our natural resources under the pressure of consumer capitalism.

The armagedon of your war was one of ‘ifs’. ‘If’ physical conflict is declared, ‘if’ the button is pushed, ‘if’ the interbalistic missiles are launched.

My war, is not a question of ‘if’s”. It’s already happening as our eco systems fracture.  We are in the midst of the 6th greatest extinction, the first in 30 million years, it is the consequence of a war of ‘development’ whose weapons have increased exponentially since your cold war began half a century ago.

More goods and services have been consumed by the generation alive between 1950 and now, than by all the generations in all of human history before.  The natural limits of our global ecosystems have been surpassed many times over, no amount of financial speculation or hi-tech intervention will buy the system its way out. This time the inevitable collapse of civilisation will not be local but global, the only question left is how de we navigate the future to make sure that this crisis brings out the best in humanity rather than the worse.

To get through it we are going is going to require a cultural transformation as radical and deep seated as the Neolithic revolution 10, 000 years ago. We are going to have to imagine a paradigm shift in the way we are human, in how we sense the world, in how we live and make culture, in what it means to live with all other forms of life that we share our world with.

Try to imagine.

Artists are good imagining that which seems impossible, in proposing futures that do not fit within the paradigms of the present, in daring to set sail for Utopias even when the maps have not yet been drawn.

But artists are also easily seduced by fame and fortune, like Enkidu they can be lead astray, they can loose their feral force and be manipulated into throwing a life line to a dying system rather than sinking it and beginning something new. Too many so called ‘creatives’ are masking the horrors of capitalism with their progressive art and culture, remaining dependent on the very machines that they are denouncing, reproducing the system using their creativity which in the end makes it appear cleaner, more progressive, more desirable.

It’s very fashionable to be doing politics in the art world of the early 21st century. But despite the number of Biennales and exhibitions plastering the words activism, social change, resistance and the political all over their catalogues, the majority of the work is simply representation of activism, pictures of politics, fictional insurrections, micro gestures with little strategy for how they might evolve into any meaningful social transformation. There is little effort to use creativity to build new social movements yet a lot of work capturing the energy of movements into the realm of art, as if it were a zoo for exotic species – the “real activists.”

Part of the paradigm shift will be to radically transform the role of art, to give up representation and turn to transformation, apply our creativity in the service of life, and this Dad is where your book on the Paris Commune comes in.

We will go back in time again, to a period not unlike our own, a drawn out transition between eras, a time of potentialities with multiple visions and choices of possible futures, just like now.

It’s the summer of 1871, Impressionist painter Eduard Manet writes to Berthe Morisot, “Quels terribles événements et comment allons-nous en sortir? Chacun en rejette la faute sur son voisin et, en somme nous avons tous été complices de ce qui s’est passé.”

He is disturbed by an event that sent shock waves through the end of the 19th century, the Paris Commune.

From the 18th of March to the 28th of May, 1871 the Commune radically transformed the city of Paris. It was an insurrectionary blast that cracked a fault line between the competing forces of the century, it was a fissure between capital and the people, the rulers and the ruled, between those who desired autonomy from the state and those who profited from slavery.

What began as a kind of 19th century Woodstock – a resistant festival where bodies reinvented themselves and new forms of life were acted out; ended with the stench of rotting corpses filling the streets of Paris. In the last bloody week of that brief utopian spring, 30,000 communards were shot dead by a republican government desperate to wipe radicalism from the city of light.

If the commune was one of the first insurrections of the modern era, what where the artists doin ? Most of the Impressionists – the painters of modern life -  including Manet, Morrisot, Cezanne and Monet, escaped Paris, they took refuge in sea side cottages and rural retreats, many continued painting – portraits, seascapes, silent couples sitting at tables, bunches of flowers…

One artist famously did the opposite, he remained in the insurrectionary city, and put down his paintbrushes. ART WAS NOT ENOUGH.

Convinced that the commune was a prefigurative embodiment of the ideas of his friend and founder of modern anarchist theory Proudhon, Courbet immersed himself in organising. His art became the creation and performance of new forms of life.

“I am up to my neck in Politics..” he wrote in a letter to a friend “Paris is a true paradise, no police, no nonsense, no exaction of any kind, no arguments! Everything in Paris rolls along like clock-work. If only it could stay like this forever. In short it is a beautiful dream. All government bodies are organized federally and run themselves.”

A few weeks later as Marx described, “to broadly mark the new era of history it was conscious of initiating… the commune pulled down that colossal system of martial glory, the Vendome column.” Made from granite and thousands of melted Prussian cannons, with a golden statue of Napoleon in the guise of roman emperor at its summit, this monument to hierarchy and war was incompatible with the solidarity and horizontality of the commune.

Despite initial reservations, Courbet eventually signed the decree for the columns destruction and helped plan the rebellious festival that brought this hated symbol crashing down. The destruction of the Vendome column was a piece of total theatre

; invitations were printed, bands played and twenty thousand people watched as the winches pulled and the column fell engulfing the square in a huge cloud of dust.  It was the closing act of the brief utopian experiment and perhaps the first act of modern art activism.

Six days later the Republican troupes broke through the barricades and began their massacre.  Seventy two days of experimenting with new forms of life ended in a week of ruthless killing. Tens of thousands of communards were rounded up, summarily executed or arrested. Marshall law was declared and the impressionists began to return to town.

Two years later the impressionists first exhibition opens, it revolutionises painting, but in fact their shock aesthetics are just masking the horror. It was what today we might call “artwashing”.

The magical slight of hand that transforms ‘radical’ art into a tool for upholding the status quo.

The free and liberated crowd of the commune was erased with portraits of isolated individuals. Streets stained with death were washed away with still lives bursting with colour. Modern life returned, and with it the myth of the artists as disengaged, ‘neutral’ aesthetic rebel.

The possibilities of the world were reduced again, a bifurcation closed in on itself.  The new forms of social life that arose during the Commune, such as the heated direct democratic debates in the new grassroots clubs, the requisitioned empty buildings transformed into public housing, the expropriated workshops turned into worker owned cooperatives, the demand for female suffrage; everything withered away like plants brought indoors. Many of these forms would take decades to re emerge, others are still waiting.

From now on progress would be to aspire to an ordered comfortable Bourgeois life. Good furnishings, the smell of freshly cut flowers, the sacred family unit, obedience everywhere and the state as only imaginable form of social organisation.

Impressionism had restored the ‘normality’ of modern life. According to art Historian Albert Boeme, modernism was built on the desire to hide the “guilty secret” of the commune. Fearful of taking sides and of getting too close to that which they could not control, the Impressionists had put art in the service of business as usual, in their fear they had domesticated and erased the experiment in new forms of life.

These different roles of the artists during the commune is a lesson for all of us in this similar moment of crisis and transition.

Having the courage to disobey and let go of fear seems central to me, and as I finish this letter writing in Paris, looking over the rooftops of this metropolis wondering what would have happened if all the artists had remained in the insurrectionary city, I can’t help wondering whether this beautiful world of ours may well be terminated because of too many acts of obedience.

With every act of obedience we remake the world as it is and undo the world as it could be. With every nod to authority we let go a bit more of who we are.

I was never sure of who you were dad, and although your books might remain, your corpse is sure to have become the food of worms. 10 years after the Commune Charles Darwin wrote that “·Worms have played a more important part in the history of the world than most persons would at first assume”. He had observed that worms create our humus, they literally construct the soil and therefore make the earth hospitable to humans.

Without them there would be nowhere for seeds to grow, there would be no plants, no forests, no food.  And without food there would be no human history – no ritual, no art, no cities, no culture.

He also realised that worms protect history, their castings are what stop archeological artefacts from rotting, they help us learn from the past. They are as much cultural agents as natural ones.

Darwin called worms  “small agencies” whose “accumulated effects” turns out to be huge.  Like artists and activists, with their small intelligent improvisation and their political acupuncture points they are perhaps a healthy reminder that the small can transform history when it embeds itself deeply in the materiality of the world.

The commune offered the artists a choice, to stay in the city and apply creativity to rebellion and the construction of new forms of life beyond the state or to escape the city to continue to make art whose surface was radical, but which in fact returned everything back to normal and threw a life line to the sinking machine.

We have a stark choice, either we feed this system; encouraging its behaviour, collaborating with its institutions, promoting its values and masking its horrors – or we do the opposite: starve it of its life blood, rob it of its glamour, weaken its status, break our dependence on it and create spaces of true collective autonomy that will take us into the future..

Our choice in this moment of crisis is perhaps a mirror image of the commune.

I think its time for the ‘creatives’ to leave the metropolis, to starve capital and capitals of creativity and to create new forms of life on the edges, in the cracks.  Outside the centres of the metropolis there is the capacity to find space and time to free our minds and bodies from the constant bombardment of capitalist forces that mould our sensibilities and refashion our needs. After all the front line of the battle against capitalism is the way it shapes our sensibilities. How can we perform postcapitalist life when we are immersed in its mania 24/7. We need acts of desertion that create cracks in which new conditions for different types of relations can occur. I no longer believe this is possible in the artificial hyper controlled space of the modern metropolis.

The atmosphere of freedom and creativity that was in the past attributed to cities needs to be brought back to the countryside, to the small villages and towns that could be part of a process of secession, part of a return to the dream of the Paris commune, a federation of communes of communes, autonomous from the state and capital.

When our energy and fuel systems inevitably break down millions will be forced to leave the cities, in search of food and fuel. The key question will be how do the communities in the countryside cope with the influx, how do we create spaces for the fugitives that nourish and share in a time of crisis rather than control and privatise.

Try to imagine.

Nine years after you died dad, the entire system that you were fighting against collapsed due to popular uprisings and economic crisis. The mega machine of the soviet empire, which seemed totally invisible, melted away within months. I doubt you would have ever imagined such a thing was possible.

Most of the science says that we have 10 years to radically reduce our carbon emissions if we want to stop runaway climate change. What the next 10 years will look like I have no idea. All I know is that I don’t want to look back and regret that I did not try to do more than simply imagine another future. I want to look back knowing that I had had the courage to performed that future in the present and shared it.

I love you dad

JJ

Lab’Utopie – A free workshop with The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination 8-13 October 2013, Geneva

“The reinvention of daily life means marching off the edges of our maps.”
Lucy Parsons (Afro American radical, 1853-1942).

Art activist collective, The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination (Labofii) is coming to Geneva to facilitate a workshop in artivisme and radical cartography – Lab’Utopie. We are looking for local artists, activists, graphic designers, illustrators, concrete utopians, radical researchers, rebel historians and geographers to take part in the workshop.

The first pathways of Utopia often begin as marks on a map, lines of connection between needs and desires, dreams and realities, the present and the future. For Geneva’s literary festival, La Fureur de Lire, the Laboratory of Insurectionary Imagination will co-create a giant collective map of Geneva’s history of utopian practices past, present and future. The map will collect memories of collective resistance, secessions from empire, secret stories, alternative visions and utopian emotions. Researched, designed and realised by the workshop participants in collaboration with members of the public, Lab’Utopie will end with a performative act of disobedience to reclaim Geneva’s radical history and inspire paths towards a postcapitalist future.

The workshop will take place from 8th – 13th October at the Maison du Peuple, from 11am-8pm. A series of skype preparatory meetings will also take place throughout September. Participants will learn forms of consensus decision making, and work collectively to produce the map, which will be set on a 5 metre circular blackboard.

There will be specific roles to fill in in order to carry out this project, and participants will be selected on the suitability of their skills, their interest and experience in collaborative work and the fusion between art and activism. At least some of the participants will need an excellent knowledge of the local alternative scene, be local to Geneva in order to carry out research and interview key figures for the project.

We are particularly looking for
- graphic designers
- illustrators
- cartographers
- artists / makers
- activists
- researchers / interviewers
- anyone who will feel passionate about the project…

Application form

Please fill this in and send it to info@labofii.net

DEADLINE FOR APPLICATION: JULY 31th

Name:
Email:
Tel Number:
Address:

Age:
Gender:

Why are you interested in the workshop ?

What do you believe you will bring to Lab’Utopie (e.g. skills, knowledge, contacts) ?

Have you taken part in art activism before, if so what ?

Have you been involved in direct action/civil disobedience movements, if so what and how ?

Are you part of a group/collective if yes describe their work ?

Do you have any access requirements that might want to tell us about?

Where did you hear about the workshop?

If you want to include a CV, bio or documentation of past activities this may help us understand a bit more about you.

The workshop is free, but participants will be asked to bring food to share for lunch. Participants are required to attend the whole workshop.

Thanks for filling this in, we only have limited space. The results of application will be given on 15th of August.

ARTIVISME – ATELIER 21 Avril Paris.

The People v the Banksters snowball fight, Labofii, 2009. Photo : Kristian Buss. Le Laboratoire d’Imagination Insurrectionnelle vous invite à un Atelier gratuit :

L’Artivisme :

Une introduction aux stratégies et tactiques de résistance créative. 

Dimanche 21 Avril – 10h – 19h  (places limitées, inscription nécessaire.)

Atelier Rouart, 40, rue Paul Valéry, 75016 Paris. (Dans le cadre de l’exposition CHESSROOM)

Le Laboratoire d’Imagination Insurrectionnelle (www.labofii.net) fusionne l’imagination de l’art et l’engagement radical de l’activisme, créant ainsi de nouvelles formes de désobéissance civile, plutôt que des représentations de la politique. Le collectif est célèbre pour avoir transformé des vélos en machines de désobéissance pendant le sommet de l’ONU sur le climat à Copenhague, répandu de la mélasse dans la Tate Gallery afin de protester contre le sponsoring de BP et organisé une bataille de boule de neige contre les banquiers dans le centre financier de Londres.

Dans l’atelier Artivisme, le Labofii explore les synergies émergeant de la fusion entre art, activisme et permaculture. En faisant se rencontrer artistes et activistes nous élaborerons ensemble des stratégies et des tactiques pour créer de nouvelles formes de désobéissance et résistance créative.

La permaculture est une approche radicale alliant sagesse traditionnelle et science  contemporaine. Au centre des préceptes de la permaculture, on trouve le constat qu’en observant la façon dont fonctionnent les écosystèmes, par exemple les forêts ou les prairies, nous pouvons apprendre à construire des systèmes sociaux qui sont énergétiquement efficaces, résilients, d’une grande diversité et très productifs.

L’atelier sera animé par deux membres du collectif  Isabelle Fremeaux et John Jordan et est destiné à des artistes et des militant(e)s qui veulent explorer les interstices entre créativité et résistance.

Pour s’inscrire (les places sont limitées et nous voulons avoir un équilibre entre participant artistes et militante(e)s ) envoyez  un mail avec Artivisme dans le sujet : info@labofii Avant le 7 avril avec un paragraphe expliquant pourquoi vous voulez participer a l’atelier. Nous vous dirons si vous avez une place avant le 10 avril.

John Jordan est un artiste-activiste, cofondateur de Reclaim the Streets et de l’Armée des clowns. Il a été un des caméramans du film de Naomi Klein, The Take, et a notamment codirigé le livre We Are Everywhere. The Irresistible Rise of Global Anti-Capitalism (Verso, 2004). Isabelle Fremeaux était maître de conférences en Media & Cultural Studies au Birkbeck College-University of London avant de déserter l’Université. Sa recherche-action explore l’éducation populaire et les formes créatives de résistance. Ensemble, ils ont produit le livre film Les Sentiers de l’Utopie.(la Découverte, 2011) et fondé Le Laboratoire d’Imagination Insurrectionnelle.

 

Un débat avec les artiste de Chessroom et Chantal Mouffe animé par Sinziana Ravini aura lieu le samedi 20 Avril – 18h.

La r.O.n.c.e welcomes volunteer utopians / La r.O.n.c.e accueille des personnes motivées

 

DSCF2440

ENGLISH ABOVE /  FRANCAIS EN BAS

la r.O.n.c.e  (the Labofii’s new HQ) welcomes volunteers…

We are a collective of 8 people, called la r.O.n.c.e, who are currently settling up in South Brittany(France), and we will be happy to welcome volunteers from May in order to discover (just like us!) permaculture and organic food growing by helping out with everything that need doing on site.

La « r.O.n.c.e. », (aka Resist. Organise. Nourish. Create. Exist) is a collective of farmers, artists, mechanics, cooks, permaculturists, botanists, trainers that aim to experiment with a post-capitalist life and creative forms of resistance. Our collective brings together activists (e.g. against the Notre-Dame-des-Landes airport), who are using consensus decision making and are respectiful of the expression of emotions.

We are currently settling up on a 15 acre site, located 4 km away from a train station and within a very active region. An organic market garden is starting off this year and also has three donkeys, which will be eventually used to work the land. We are also planning a self managed mechanic workshop, a vegan nomadic kitchen, a lab/training centre on art and activism, a forest-garden and the refurbishment of buildings.

We would prefer that volunteers stay about three weeks (but this would obviously need confiming after a week spent together), to have proper public liability insurance and to become a member of the « friends of la ronce » (a non profit organisation aiming to support our projects). The conditions are very basic (no hot running water, sleeping in a caravan without heating, etc) and our food is mostly vegan. We speak French and English.
If you are interested, please send an email explaining why you want to come, when and for how long, your experience, the language(s) you speak, etc)

Basile, Caroline,  Eric,  Jean-Marie, JJ,   Isa, Mathilde, Prune (+ Azzaro, Quazar, Loustic)

Contact : laronce@riseup.net

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Bonjour chers et chères ami-e-s de la ronce!
Merci de trouver ci dessous notre invitation à venir partager un peu de temps avec nous…
La r.O.n.c.e., collectif de huit personnes en cours d’installation dans le Morbihan (sud Bretagne), accueille à partir de mai des personnes motivées pour découvrir (tout comme nous !) la permaculture et le maraîchage biologique en donnant des coups de main aux activités qui se mettent en place.
La « r.O.n.c.e. », acronyme pour résister/organiser/nourrir/créer/exister, est un collectif réunissant paysan-ne-s, artistes, mécano, cuisinier-ère-s, permaculturistes, botanistes, formateur-ice-s pour développer une base permettant l’expérimentation d’une vie post-capitaliste et de formes créatives de résistance. Notre collectif rassemble des gens engagés, en particulier dans la lutte de la ZAD (contre l’aéroport de Notre-Dame-des-Landes) et attachés à la méthode, au consensus, à l’expression des émotions.
Nous sommes en cours d’installation sur un terrain de 7 ha situé à 4 km d’une gare, au cœur d’un territoire dynamique (associations, initiatives rurales, réseaux, etc.). Une activité de maraîchage biologique débute cette année sur une partie du terrain, qui accueille aussi trois ânes. Sont notamment en projet : un atelier mécanique autogéré, une cuisine collective itinérante, une école de formation autour de l’art et de l’activisme, la création d’un jardin-forêt, la rénovation du bâti.
Nous demandons aux bénévoles de venir pour trois semaines minimum (évidemment, la durée est à confirmer après une semaine passée ensemble), d’avoir une assurance responsabilité civile et d’adhérer à l’association « les ami-e-s de la r.O.n.c.e. ». Les conditions d’accueil sont rudimentaires (pas d’eau chaude courante, couchage dans une caravane non chauffée) et la nourriture est en grande majorité végétalienne. Nous parlons français et anglais.
Si vous êtes intéressé-e, merci de nous envoyer un e-mail de présentation (pourquoi vous voulez venir, quand et combien de temps, vos expériences, les langues que vous parlez, etc.).
A bientôt!
Basile, Caroline,  Eric,  Jean-Marie, John,   Isa, Mathilde, Prune (+ Azzaro, Quazar, Loustic)
Contact : laronce@riseup.net

Atelier “se réunir pour agir” sur LA ZAD 9 Février

meet

Un atelier co-faciliter par Le Labofii  et autres membres de la r.O.n.c.e

samedi 9 février 2013,

Atelier “se réunir pour agir” Chaque mois sur la ZAD :

Envie d’organiser, de résister, d’agir et de construire collectivement mais pas de se taper des réunions interminables tuant l’enthousiasme – soit parce qu’elles sont dominées par des grandes gueules, ou parce que l’on ne sait pas comment les rendre efficaces et exaltantes ?

Nous sommes quelques un-e-s à avoir expérimenté certaines techniques et outils (facilitation, consensus) dans des contextes divers (mouvements alters, camps action climat britanniques et français, luttes locales, etc) et proposons de les partager pour tenter de rendre les réunions et prises de décisions plus efficaces, collectives et dynamisantes. Conscient-e-s des limites de ces techniques mais n’ayant rien trouvé de mieux pour l’instant (!), nous souhaitons les faire connaitre, les faire évoluer et mettre en commun nos expériences pour avancer dans nos contextes respectifs.

Quand et où ?

Le deuxième samedi de chaque mois de 16h à 19h, à la Châteigne (salle à préciser à chaque fois). Le premier de ces échanges aura lieu le 9 Fevrier à partir de 16h. Tou-te-s sont evidemment bienvenu-e-s, avec experience ou pas autour de ces questions …

Pour plus d’info : info@labofii.net

PART 2 of RURAL REBELS AND USELESS AIRPORTS.

PART 2 of Rural Rebels and Useless Airports  (for part 1 see previous blog )

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Preface:

This update should have been posted weeks ago. But the turn of events meant that we had little time to sit, write and reflect. Words may well be weapons, but in the heat of struggle bodies speak louder than words.

Saturday, November 17th – Day of Reoccupation.

A yellow forklift truck leads the way; walking close behind is a block of Zadists carrying a fortified banner declaring: No to the airport and its world.  Behind them 20 tractors pull huge agricultural trailers filled with building materials: piles of pallets, straw bales, tyres, doors, windows, prefabricated wooden walls, hundreds of planks, corrugated iron roofing, tools – pretty much anything you can think of, including kitchen sinks.

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We sit on top of one of the trailers. The affinity group from our local village has decided to build one of the constructions for today’s reoccupation action – we have named it the Black Bloc Sanitaire – it’s a shower block and bank of compost loos. The pile of building materials that we sit on is much more messy than the trailer behind us which carries the wood for a group of young architects. The architects have a super neat stack of carefully numbered pallets and the rumour is that they have already practiced setting up their dormitory building in the main hall of the Nantes school of architecture. Our construction doesn’t even have plans that are to scale, but we are hoping that the collective energy of the day and a dose of spontaneity will see something rise from the pile of rubbish we are sitting on. This is the opportunity of a life time for anyone who has ever dreamt of building their own cabin, rebel palace or fortress: A free plot of land, no planning permissions or building regulations and hundreds of people keen to help build.

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None of us know where we are heading, the location has been kept a secret. From high up we see the river of human being flowing behind us, snaking through the country lanes as far as the eye can see. As always, we have Radio Klaxon on in the background, they have just announced that the mainstream media think that there are 40,000 people are on the action and over 400 tractors! We are all here on an illegal demonstration whose aim is to build a rebel settlement together on the land earmarked for the airport (see part 1). Last night the president interrupted a state visit of Poland to make a statement about the protest, reminding the French public of the “power of the law.”

A year ago, when I first saw the flyer for this action, with its floating date to reoccupy 4 weeks after the first eviction, I thought it was a great idea but that it would be a handful of tired traumatised post eviction activists symbolically rebuilding a couple of huts. Little did I imagine I would be taking part in one of the largest act of mass disobedience I’ve ever experienced and that we would have enough material to build a hamlet. The fact that there is not a single police officer in sight, however, not even a helicopter watching above, is strangely disconcerting.

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A “magic” clandestine group of farmers and activists chose the plot of land where the new buildings will be erected. The organising assembly (of over 150 people) decided by consensus that we should not squat land that already belonged to the airport builders (such as all the plots evicted over the past month) but work with one of the owners of the many private properties that is still in the process of expropriation. This would give the new settlement a stay of execution as the authorities would have to follow legal proceedings before destroying the buildings.

The tractor turns off the main road into a long straight potholed lane, we must be nearing the site. Jules, our local sheep farmer has been swigging beer bottles all the way.  His hold atop our pile is becoming increasing precarious as the convoy stops and starts. The tractors grind to a halt and people start pouring into the field beside us, a huge blue circus tent is rising, a truck with a sound system is set up  – its time to unload.  A fortnight ago, at the dead of night, Jules and I were graffitiing a series of motorway bridges together. That night as we painted slogans announcing the date of the reoccupation we knew that something was in the air, that this day could be a game changer for the struggle of La ZAD, what we had not realised was that it would be a day that also changed us.

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A newly cut path leads into the middle of a sprawling sweet chestnut coppice. Thousands of people are lined up either side of the track, shoulder to shoulder, forming human chains that stretch over half a kilometer from the tractors to the building site.  Piece by piece, hand by hand, they pass construction materials along the lines. Planks, drainpipes, furniture, pots and pans, logs, bathtubs, stoves – everything one needs to build a settlement – all passed between so many strangers in the seemingly spontaneous effortless choreography of cooperation.

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Within minutes the roots of trees are removed, hundreds of old car tyres are filled with earth for foundations and prefabricated walls begin to rise in the two clearings. People are swarming around the building sites brandishing tools, others look on in amazement. Frank, who is coordinating our team, kneels in the mud, our rough plans in his hands, he is staring at the 300 pallets flowing his way on a seemingly unstoppable human tide – he’s at a loss for words.  The human chains just keep bringing material into the woods. I turn away to chat with Lucille about where to build our cob bathtub boiler, by the time I turn back around, another construction has risen up out of the crowd.

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In the creative chaos no one seems to be bumping into anyone, nothing is being dropped or broken. There is a certain grace about self-organisation at this scale, a surprising suppleness of so many bodies working together. People are smiling, laughing, joking; they are sharing a sense of purpose yet feeling part of something so much bigger than themselves. This has become something much more than simply a rebel crowd, it has become an intelligent swarm fuelled by the irresistible spirit of disobedience.

The sun inches under the tree line. The sound of hundreds of hammering hammers fills the woodland. A field kitchen begins to cook. A medic’s tent has been set up next to a large tepee like structure rising up through the branches. In the woods, a group is weaving chestnut cuttings into what looks like the gate of a medieval fortress, we ask them to teach us how to do it and an impromptu wood weaving workshop takes place. In the clearing the architects have dug a well for water and are collecting bucket loads of clay. A Breton bag pipe plays and dozens of muddy feet dance joyfully on the straw and clay to mix the cob. Another makeshift team is cramming the mixture between the walls to form insulation for the dormitory, which is beginning to resemble a Swiss mountain chalet despite being built entirely of industrial pallets.

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From a neighbouring field comes the sound of a women’s choir singing: “La Java des Bons-Enfants” a catchy dance hall tune about an infamous 19th century anarchist attack with lyrics by Guy Debord, godfather of Situationism. “The radiant future is taking place” the song ends “and the old world has been sent to the junkyard”. Debord would have recognised the beauty of this moment, this passageway into the marvellous, where life takes on a passionate quality cracking the passive consumer spectacle of capitalism. Lucille turns to me “This is what our world should look like” a smile grows across her freckled face, tears edge across her eyes.

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There are still no police to be seen but if their helicopters had looked down at the tens of thousands of people working across this landscape it would have resembled a convulsing ants nest, a purposeful self-managed organism without central command. They might have observed that out of the complexity of this multitude a collective intelligence was emerging, an intelligence greater than the sum of its parts. For those whose entire system is based on control and obedience, pyramids of power and hierarchies it would have been a frightening sight. The example of so many strangers cooperating in resistance is much more intimidating to the state than a burning barricade or a hail of cobblestones.

This is postcapitalism in its purest form – people creating together, organising without leaders, driven by the intensity of their passion rather than profit margins and merging work with pleasure. “ It seems that we are working perfectly well without bosses.” says Lucille as she moulds the clay around the bathtub with her hands, “could we have been lied to all our lives? ” she laughs.

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The coming of the night does not stop the work; under head-torches, moonlight and generators the human chains and constructions continue. At the edge of the coppice beside the timber frame of one of the buildings brought by a crew all the way from Dijon (800 kms away), someone begins to set up a drum kit and a few amps. Improvised jazz accompanies the hammering late into the night, whilst in the fields opposite under the circus tent, hundreds pogo wildly in the muddiest of mosh pits to legendary Belgian punk band Rene Biname.

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Monday November 19th 

Jean is on his mobile phone when we arrive in his farmyard. He is discussing the media representation of the reoccupation  – “Ok I better get back to my cows, see you later” He turns to us. “The mobile phone reception is getting worse, it’s got to be the cops”. Jean has a herd of 37 dairy cows. When the Zadists first arrived he was never particularly friendly. The strange breed of degrowth postcapitalist activists felt a million miles away from his life as a farmer. But little by little links were made, first over aperitifs, then through discussions about farming. The Zadists asked if he could reduce the chemicals he was spraying on the maize fields next to their cabins, he agreed and eventually began to test organic methods on some of his crops.  Now he has become one of the many members of this fronline community of affected farmers whose solidarity with the Zadists has strengthened over the years. On the wall of his outhouse there is his complex milking timetable, next to it an anarchist poster declaring “NO to full time employment.”

We have come with Ishmel to help him move some of his belongings that have been stored in Jean’s attic since his house was destroyed last month. “I’ve got all sorts in my loft” Jean explains “solar panels, wind turbines, power tools. But mostly I have lines of washing. Nothing dries on the Zone, it’s so humid, the Zadists come here to dry clothes.”

There are already preliminary archaeological digs taking place on his land where the airports access roads are due to be built. “Last week the cops came with their bulldozers and I suggested a short cut to them – no need to take the road, you can go via the bottom of my field – I told them.  They were really grateful for the tip.” He winks cheekily.  “A few minutes later their commander walked back up here fuming. Their machine had sunk deep into the mud. It’s marshland down there! You don’t need much to resist, just a bit of local knowledge!” His hearty laugh chuffs clouds of steam into the cold December air.

In fact the humidity has become one of the resisters’ greatest helpers. Not only in terms of legal challenges around wetland disruption. The riot police in their heavy body armour find it hard to navigate through the thick mud and when a shower of well aimed sludge rains down onto their visors they become even more disorientated. All of them have been shipped in from afar, La ZAD is alien territory for them, they are used to policing streets, football stadiums and town squares, not forests and fields. It becomes particularly disconcerting for them at night when out of the dark woods comes the howl of wolves, emanating from the mouths of Zadists avoiding their road blocks by passing across country.

We move Ishmels belongins to his new home, a kitsch caravan lent to him by a local. “Someone gave me Jose Bove’s pipe last night!” Ishmel whispers.

“What?” Isa’s eyes nearly burst out of their sockets.

Bové was part of a group of green MP’s who on the eve of the reoccupation action broke into a boarded up building on the edges of la ZAD to symbolically “squat” it in front of a gaggle of press cameras.  A radical farmer involved in the Larzac rebellion, infamously imprisoned for dismantling a McDonald’s in 1999 and more recently for anti GMO actions, he is now a green member of the European Parliament. His trademark symbols are his Asterix like moustache and pipe.

“We made bets” Ishmel continues -  “200 euros for stealing Bove’s pipe during the reoccupation demo and 300 for Eva Joly’s signature glasses (Green Party presidential candidate). I don’t think anyone managed to grab the glasses.”

There has been heated debates around the role of political parties in the struggle. A year ago, before La ZAD became a household name in France, some local Green Party (EELV) MP’s had called the Zadists “violent agitators” and “extremists”.  “These Ultras are totally autonomous, “ one of them told the press “we don’t know how to get rid of them.” The green party also kept silent on the airport plans following the presidential elections so that they would be given cabinet seats.  Now they together with a bunch of bandwagon hitchers, are demanding the end of the evictions, but solidarity feels empty when you know that it is based on vote winning and popular opinion. The Zadist wanted Saturday’s action to be seen as a popular uprising, freed from political parties, they had asked that no one bring party placards or flags, the request was followed fairly well. Ishmale was part of a clown army who took on the role of throwing mud at those who refused – “the large red flags of the NPA (Trotskyist party) made easy targets” he jokes.

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We return to the construction site. So many hands working together over the last three days have built miracles. The main structure of our Black Bloc Sanitaire is finished and we are putting the last touches to our wood fired boiler, there are two dormitories with working stoves, the large communal meeting room is having its windows fitted, the kitchen is filling up with donated vegetables and the workshop has a forge churning out catapults. There are even new plans for a bar christened No TAVerne (a reference to the No TAV movement against the Lyon-Turin high speed railway project).

The idea is that this new settlement temporarily named la Chât-teigne will function as a collective space from which to organise resistance to the airport. Other kit houses brought on Saturday, are still waiting to be put up on the zone for individual living spaces. La Chât-teigne will remain collectively run by all the groups who helped build it. On the improvised info board a chalk message reads: “Spare 20m square cabin ready – ring 067674196 to tell us where.” It doesn’t take long to find a home for it in the Rohanne Forest under the tree houses that have already been rebuilt since the evictions.

We work all day on the shower block. By late afternoon I start to feel peckish. I’m standing on the roof nailing the tin down when someone hands me a large platter of oysters, a bottle of cider and a joint: “This is what utopia looks like!” I quip. “..and it’s delicious!”

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Friday 23rd November.

The morning is still, the dormant landscape is wrapped in the hush of winter.  The new dormitories in the chestnut grove are packed with sleeping bodies snuggled up warm and cosy. The sun slowly limps above the horizon. Then the sound of smashing glass. Tear gas canisters are thrown into the dormitories, police officers scream. Everyone, including children, is pushed out into the cold. Simultaneously a kilometre down the road, hordes of gendarmes on foot bypass the new barricades by going via the fields. The first building to be squatted at la ZAD, an old farmhouse named Les Rosier, is rapidly evicted. The news travels fast, we jump in the car and head for the zone.

Isa and I arrive via a network of green lanes that don’t have police roadblocks on them.  Radio Klaxon announces that bulldozers are on their way to La Chât-teigne and that Les Rosier is already half destroyed despite the ten farmers tractors blocking the farm yard.  Are they really going to knock down La Chât-teigne even though the court case hasn’t gone through? 40,000 people helped build it, tearing it down will have an impact on so many people whose lives were touched by the magic of the reoccupation action.

We run through the fields and reach the Rohanne forest, it’s completely surrounded by gendarmes.  There are over 500 on the Zone now, the area is totally shut down. We gather a small crowd and manage to break through a police line in the adjoining field, our hands raised in the air: “Only you are armed,” we chant.  We burst into the forest. As we run we glimpse other bodies darting through the thick trees, dozens of figures all heading towards La Chât-teigne. We come across an affinity group huddled behind a tree covering their faces with chalky white anti tear gas lotion. “What’s happening?”  I ask. “Its full on down there!” one of them replies “It’s war!” We keep going drawn by the crack of tear gas grenades.

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The low winter sun’s ray’s bounce off the gendarmes shimmering shields. Hundreds of them ring the clearings.  Bulldozers pulling hulking skips churn up the earth like entrails, trees have been flattened and the air is thick with tear gas. What was once a new rebel hamlet filled with life and creativity has become a battle zone. The collective kitchen is now a stockpile of wooden ammunition cases filled with tear gas grenades waiting to be shot at us and the meeting room has become the gendarmes temporary HQ.

Some people stand and talk to the police lines trying to reason with them, others try to approach the cabins from every angle charging out of the forest screeching. Sticks, distress flares and stones fly through the air, rubber bullets bounce off the tree trunks. “Put her in your sites” an officer in front of us commands his gun wielding colleague, “ that will get her to leave.” Isa freezes in fear. We turn around and take cover behind a coppiced chestnut tree. I’m beginning to be able to recognise the difference between the smoke trail arc of a teargas canister and a concussion grenade. “Put your fingers in your ears!” I scream, as one lands next to our feet and explodes in a deafening din.  No wonder the birdsong has gone from the grove.

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Ishmel runs up to us.  “Apparently the operation is being run by the minister of interior himself ! They have announced that they are confiscating all the tools and building materials. Bu doesn’t look like they are going to flatten it today!” he says,  as yet another concussion grenade ruptures the forest air. We tune back into Radio Klaxon, the minister of interior Valls has just told the press that the operation was to  “stop a cyst from growing,” that he could not “let a base camp be installed, whose sole role was to lead violent actions”. Within seconds of his statement, twitter is alive with word plays, our favourite being “Valls – cyst my ass!” More and more people are arriving on the Zone, there must be well over 1000 resisting.

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In the Rohanne forest hundreds use their bodies to block the bulldozers and specialised police climbing team from tearing down the new cabin and tree houses. It’s clear that the authorities would not be able to move the crowd without resorting to violence. When faced with civil disobedience tactics it seems they are less trigger happy especially with the media presence and shift in public opinion.

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Evening falls, the gendarmes have stood around the immobile machinery all day and don’t want to be in the forest after dark. Their retreat is followed by a torrent of airborne mud and the cry: “We live here and we will stay here!” As we chase them out of the woods Lucille tells me about a new technique. If you aim the mud at the top of the knees, the ooze slides down between the leg and the body armour and means that the riot cop can’t bend his knees anymore. With a bit of luck he soon topples over like a playmobil character!

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The diversity of tactics at la ZAD seems to be working and is clearly destabilising for the gendarmes. They never know whether they are going to walk around a hedgerow and meet a line of protesters using civil disobedience tactics, or face a hail of beer bottles from behind a barricade or an angry farmer blockading with several tonnes of tractor. At no point since the evictions have the farmers or the ACIPA (ngo) condemned the more militant tactics.

As we make our way to the evening coordination meeting, Radio Klaxon lists dozens of solidarity actions taking place across the country. Tractors have blocked the road bridges of Nantes and St-Nazaire and crowds are assembling in front of prefectures in over 30 cities. In St Affrique, Aveyron (700 kms away), the town hall is occupied and several councillors in favour of the airport have been locked in. In Paris an unauthorised demo has just ended with seventy-eight arrests. It seems that the ant’s nest has been well and truly disturbed!

Sunday 25th November. AM

My hands are still stinging as I type. I have washed them five times but the toxic tear gas molecules sink deep into ones pores. Whilst I was in the Rohanne forest I jotted down the company name and telephone number that was written on the side of one of the bulldozers. Given the fact that the drivers wear balaclavas to hide their identity, it seemed that someone had forgotten to cover up this interesting information. When I got home I emailed the details to La ZAD’s web site, which has a captivating minute-by-minute updated information time line. Within a couple of hours of the company details being posted online, they were forced to make a public statement claiming that they had sold that particular bulldozer to someone else.  They claimed that they had been inundated with emails and telephone calls since the posting.

A few months ago there was a handful of local support groups against the airport, now there are over 180 and even if people are unable to physically be present on the Zone there are extremely efficient and simple forms of virtual resistance springing up. The job offer to do the pro airport public relations work on the internet’s social networks, had to be withdrawn following it leak – on social networks! Bogus enquiries for the job application to be sent out shoved a spanner into the employers bureaucracy.

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The police operations on the Zone lasted from Friday to the early hours of Sunday morning with increasing state violence.  On Saturday there were 400 people on the ground in the Rohanne forest, some courageously resisting by stripping naked and forming a human chain, but they were repressed and unable to stop the tree houses and cabins being evicted and destroyed.  That afternoon 8000 supporters of the struggle took to the streets of Nantes facing a militarised city. As water cannons pummelled the crowd seemingly out of nowhere a communiqué arrived from the ministries of environment, transport and agriculture, saying that the forest clearance work that was due to begin in January, would be delayed for six months to makes sure all the environmental regulations were followed. Whilst confirming the “economic necessities for building the airport”, it said that until an independent group of scientists had made all the assessments on biodiversity, the clearance would not take place. Also mentioned was the setting up of a mission to work with locally affected parties to find ways to minimise the destruction of agricultural land.

Then later that night as the gendarmes attacked the barricades on the lane leading to the Chât-teigne, another government communiqué was sent out. This time from the airports champion, Prime Minister Ayrault. “ For the sake of appeasement” it said, the government had decided to set up a “dialogue commission” and was inviting those against the airport to come to the table. He did however make it clear that there was no doubt at all about the project being built!

Immediately ACIPA responded, they refuse to take part until all forces of order retreated from the zone, to which the minister of interior responded: ”There are never conditions to dialogue.”

As the clashes continued under blindingly bright police floodlights, a characteristic response to the “negotiations” was penned by a handful of Zadists. It had twenty one “non exhaustive, open demands”, these included: the closing of all companies with more than 12 employees, a life times income for all workers, twenty hours of sunshine in winter, nuclear energy replaced by ministers pedalling, the Élysée (presidents residence) transformed into a wetland, Valls and all members of the ministry of defence and interior  to get “fuck the cops” tattooed on their foreheads, Pipe lines to be used only for transporting fruit juice, 60 acres of land be given to everyone who has ever lived on la ZAD and the final demand, “that all negotiations be made illegal” – perfectly rounding off this fitting response to the farce of democracy, where “dialogue” is not about resolving a problem but simply an exercise in saving face whilst continuing business as usual.

By Sunday morning when the police stopped their assaults and returned to their now customary roadblocks, 100 activists had been injured, many from direct hits by concussion grenades and rubber bullets. By law these have to be fired at 30 degrees in the air and not aimed at people. An outraged local doctor wrote to the ministry of interior listing the injuries.  “ The shrapnel from grenade explosions, “sometimes up to a centimetre long” she wrote, could on entering the body have “reached arteries, nerves or vital organs”. Shocked she described how the ambulances were deliberately slowed down by police blockades.

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Sunday PM

A mass picnic has been called for Sunday lunch to continue to build La Chât-teigne. We arrive armed with bread, cheese, wine and a handful of tools, over 11,000 euros worth have been taken away by the authorities. Groups are busy picking up the thousands of tear gas canisters that litter the forest; there are plans to turn them into Christmas garlands to decorate socialist party head quarters.  The settlement is still standing, a few windows have been smashed, our cast iron bathtub boiler has been broken in half, plumbing inside the bathroom has been damaged and all the bedding in the dormitories contaminated with CS gas. But hundreds of people have returned to bring back some utopian spirit to the chestnut grove. We get to work repairing, cleaning up and building an extra touch to the Black Bloc Sanitaire:  a lookout tower! The familiar and reassuring sound of hundreds of hammering hammers has returned to the forest.

As we sit down to eat we hear that a few members of a group of elected councillors and MP’s (which numbers over 1000 and have named themselves strategically if somewhat humorously: The Collective of Representatives Doubting the Pertinence of the Project of Notre-Dame-des-Landes) have chained themselves to the railing of the prefecture in Nantes. They are demanding a meeting with the prefect, no dialogue can begin, they say, until all police operations stop on the zone.

A band arrives. They cross the churned up mire, carrying accordions, guitars and a small child on their backs. A police helicopter buzzes overhead, it must be observing the ants back at their rebel work. The band begins to play gipsy tunes. Then in the distance we hear the rumble of machinery. It’s heading towards us. It’s getting louder and louder. It sounds like dozens of huge engines approaching rapidly.

From the next-door clearing we hear a thunderous applause. It’s tractors, fifty of them! They have forced their way pass the police blockades and have come to protect La Chât-teigne. The farmers spend the rest of the afternoon chaining each tractor together in a ring. Real western style – circle the wagons! They promise to leave them there and set up a rotor for the weeks to come. Farmers from across the region together with activists will keep watch in the chestnut grove every night. Every time the state attacks us, the social ecology of this movement gets healthier; the unity in diversity flourishes and the movement becomes more and more resilient.

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One of the most unexpected parts of this diversity is the group of 200 airplane pilots “doubting” the new airport. Some of them have been wondering why when planes approach the already existent Nantes airport, the control tower changes their course to pass over the heavily built up north of the city, instead of over the more rural south: ”We think it’s to incite the general public to want the airport moved elsewhere,” pilot Thierry Mason told Le Monde newspaper.  A recent letter from one of them to the French president explains with solid statistics that due to the economic crisis, rising fuel costs (e.g. Peak oil) and the UN Kyoto CO2 commitments; all talk of future growth in European air traffic is a fiction, and this project useless.   Some of the pilots fly over the Zone in micro-lights taking pictures. From the air, La Chât-teigne is looking more and more like Asterix’s rebel Gallic village.

 Notre-Dame-des-Landes

Following the weekend overtures from the state, the prefecture promised to pull back all the police if: “all illegal construction stopped”. The Zadists refused through practice. The Zone has never seen so many new huts, tree houses and guerilla architecture popping up so quickly. Despite a ministry of interior decree that now bans all building materials from entering the zone there are nearly as many dwellings as before the evictions began.  Laura from the Sabot is just one of the many Zadists who lost their homes in the first wave of destruction and has now rebuilt a cosy new hut. At La Chât-teigne more buildings are rising, including a children’s crèche and due to the numbers of people passing through, another dormitory, this time made from roundwood.  In the middle of the lake on the other side of La ZAD there is even a floating cabin that you can only access by rowboat. The dynamic equilibrium of this movement has returned, the no and yes in balance. Everyday life has become inseparable from struggle, as activists plant vegetables, tractors become barricades, rioters become builders and architecture an act of disobedience.

On the day following the Prime minister’s call for dialogue, undercover cops masked up and dressed as activists infiltrated the middle of crowd behind a barricade. When  the barricade was encircled and gassed by riot police and the crowd began to resist, the infiltrators broke cover. From the middle of the crowd they pulled out telescopic truncheons and arrested 5 people. One of them, named Cyrile, was sent to prison the following day for five months. Perhaps it was a last resort gesture, an attempt to throw the seeds of fear amidst us. Perhaps they wanted to awaken the cop in our heads, a cop that is much more dangerous than all the cops on the ground who for 3 months have failed to frighten us off.

Whatever it was, it backfired like every other brute state strategy. Cyrile’s letters written from his prison cell, now widely circulating online, show he is neither frightened nor broken: “ The common people mustn’t submit,” he wrote, “for this system is adrift. We are not far from running onto the rocks of global capitalism. We will not however leave this ship that can change course towards a better world. We aren’t its captains, but it is us who sail it. There is a reverberating alarm call throughout La ZAD. You can’t snuff it out forever.”

Navigating towards an unknown future is a beautiful way of describing a truly libertarian ecological politics, a politics where unity in diversity is fed by the power of natural spontaneity, the very key to all forms of evolution.  In their worn out mechanistic logic governments still see managing the world as a game of chess, a dualistic strategy of opposing forces. Such logic of domination is an outmoded way of being in the world. Working against nature rather than with it and repressing the spontaneity of human and ecological systems, their thinking is as archaic as the grand construction projects built to control and shape the landscape in their like. The growing breed of revolutionary ecologists neither wants to dominate or surrender to the currents of the future, we just want to navigate them and create space for life to move on against the forces of extinction.

During the first week of evictions, I had an argument with some members of an affinity group who were cutting down a tree to make a barricade in an area where other activists had asked that no trees be felled.  When I reminded the chainsaws wielding barricaders of this, they shouted at me arrogantly. “You have to break eggs to make an omelette, this is war you know.” “Anyway “ said one of them said  “who cares! It’s all going to be concrete one day.”

“Why are you here then? “ I asked angrily. “If you think there is no chance of us winning then what’s the point of fighting? “. He shrugged and continued to cut into the tree. This toxic spirit of cynicism abounds everywhere.  Normally, outside activists circles, it surfaces with words such as: “ Whatever happens they will do what they want!”, it’s such a powerful idea that it allows every sort of horror to take place and abandons the making of history to the hands of elites.

History shows us that the most powerful tool of rebellion is not the size of your party or the power of your weapons, but your ability to create the expectation of change. Insurrection is the art of feeding the imagination. Before October few doubted that the airport would be built, now thousands do and it’s contagious. In the days leading up to the Egyptian uprising local activists spent time in shopping districts warning women that something was going to happen and that they should stock up on emergency food for their family. Revolutionary expectation became embodied in the material realities of everyday life.

In the late 80’s few predicted how rapidly the changes would sweep across Eastern Europe, leading to the collapse of the Eastern Bloc. Most experts looked at the balances of power, e.g. social movements size versus the state apparatus, what they ignored was that it’s the expectation of change that has most power.  Even if it seemed an impossible contest on the ground, once the minds of a population had radically changed anything could happen.

To commemorate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall, the BBC asked people in 27 countries if capitalism was working well, only 11% of those questioned said yes. Nearly one in four said it was a fatally flawed system and that another economic system was needed. It seems most of us now expect something different on the horizon. The problem is that we find it hard to imagine what something else looks and feels like, perhaps somewhere amongst the complex diversity of La ZAD we can find clues and directions, new maps and currents.

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When the banner “Cesar you seem to be stuck in the mud!” was put up on the zone as the evictions began to go wrong, few thought that even some of Cesar’s (the name of the police operation) soldiers would turn against their leaders.

Days after the last offensive, the main police officers union published a flyer protesting at the work conditions at Notre-Dames-des-Landes. The officers complained of too long hours, acute tiredness, disorganisation and too much central command. An officer specialising in public order later admitted that given the “appropriate means” they could clear the entire Zone but that whatever happens it would be impossible to hold the territory: “we cannot stop people returning at night or the next day” he told the Telegramme newspaper.  In his eyes there may have to be a permanent police presence from now till 2017 when the airport is due to open, but the extra costs will be astronomic.

The rise in security costs was one of several factors that decimated UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s megalomaniac road building programme in the 1990’s. Following protest camps on numerous road sites – in the trees, on the ground and underground, with ingenious networks of tunnels inspired by the Vietcong; the British government cancelled 700 future projects. In an economic dictatorship, where balancing the books is more important than saving the climate this insane airport has more chance to be stopped because the budget doesn’t stretch than because of its ecosidal impacts.

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POST SCRIPT

On the 11th of December, the court signed the destruction order for La Chât-teigne, the legal team responded saying that as numerous people actually lived there they would also need an expulsion order before they came in with bulldozers. Just as the news of the order came out a press release by the prefecture, claimed that a police squadron had been “ambushed” by “fifty helmeted assailants wielding shields, Molotov cocktails and sling-shots.” Yet another attempt at criminalising the movement and breaking the precious links of solidarity floundered when a farmer told French radio: “We respect their way of fighting. The violence comes from the police.”

Over a month later and the eviction has still not materialised, La Chât-teigne remains a hive of activity and each week a different support group from somewhere in France takes turns to run the hamlet and devise a week of events. There have been workshops in everything from samba dancing to Japanese Tanuki mask making, film screenings, photo exhibitions, gigs and discussions. In a few months time as the soil heats up, seeds will begin to sprout in the huge poly-tunnels that have been put up nearby.

As I finally finish this long overdue update a three-day festival “ManifestZAD”, with radical rapper Kenny Arkana headlining is ending. Despite another decree written to disrupt us, this time banning the erection of any marquees and police attempts to block food, water and other resources entering the festival site – 20,000 people braved winter weather and acres of mud to party against the airport and its world.

I have rarely laughed so much as we did that night, trying to dance and move in the ooze.  It was so sticky that we kept getting sucked deep down into it, unable to move our legs anymore we were paralysed by the grip of the earth, our bodies moulded by mud. At one point I had sunk so far it took three grown men to pull my abandoned boot out. All we could do was to laugh. And amongst the classic slapstick scenes there was a spirit of solidarity that seemed unbreakable. Strangers became friends helping each other free themselves from this goo of life, this humid soil which is ultimately the living foundations of everything that feeds us, clothes us, enables us to breathe.

On la ZAD that night we were becoming mud, becoming part of this dark complexity a teaspoon full of which holds four billion micro organisms recycling death into life for us all everyday. The word humble has its roots in humus, it means to literally  return to earth. Perhaps the future will be built by heroic acts of humility rather than arrogant temples to growth. Perhaps civilisation’s dream to suck this Zone dry with its concrete and tarmac, steel and plastic will be vanquished by wetness.

“We don’t want to occupy the territory, we want to be the territory.”

The Invisible Committee, The Coming Insurrection.

 

Photos by JJ and Pan.

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