The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination

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

Rejoins le Labofii à Nantes du 17 au 19 avril pour co-créer une nouvelle forme d’action de désobéissance, dans les rues et le cyberspace

10301287_10153767221349358_3896830089616749696_nTu as envie de participer à ce qui pourrait être l’action de désobéissance de masse la plus innovante qui soit contre le chaos climatique? La frontière entre le réel et le virtuel te fascine? Tu es artiste, activiste, designer, joueur, hacker, et tu adores les projets collaboratifs? Rejoins nous au Lieu Unique du 17 au 19 avril!

Pendant les mois menant aux mobilisations lors du Sommet COP21 de l’ONU sur le changement climatique à Paris en décembre 2015, le Laboratoire d’Imagination Insurrectionnelle (labofii) organise une série d’événements pour créer une nouvelle forme d’action de désobéissance: les Climate Games.

Ce cadre d’actions de masse transmedia vise à fusionner la rue, les corps et le cyberspace, et va transformer la ville en un champ de résistance totale, ouvert à tou-te-s. Pendant les Climates Games, des équipes vont tenter de réussir des missions qui leur permettront de marquer des points en agissant aux racines du changement climatique, à Paris ou au delà. Ces actions non vionlentes et créatives, qui pourront aller du blocage des lobbyistes qui sabotent les négociations à l’ONU jusqu’à des interventions théâtrales, la fermeture de mine de charbon ou des actions en ligne, prendront place sans coordination centralisée, mais les équipes pourront utiliser une application de smart phone pour reporter leurs succès en temps réel.

Pendant toute l’année 2015, les Climate Games seront développés grâce à une série de hackathons et d’ateliers pendant lesquels les participants travaillleront collectivement à l’élaboration de tous les aspects des Climate Games: développement de la platforme interne-smart phone app, règles du jeu, récit, création des missions, etc. Ainsi nous explorerons ensemble la frontière entre l’espace public et le cyberspace, le réel et le virtuel, le monde du jeu et celui de l’activisme.


Nous vous invitons à nous rejoindre de vendredi 17 avril à 18h jusqu’à dimanche 19 april 18h, pour un week end d’intense collaboration ludique et créative afin de poursuivre l’élaboration des Climate Games. Ce week end sera en effet la suite d’un hackathon d’une semaine en Belgique en mars, ainsi que d’une résidence du Labofii au LU dans le cadre du projet 0.CAMP organisé par PiNG. Il incluera également des présentations d’autres artistes participant à 0.CAMP.

La participation à ce week end est gratuite, mais les places sont limitées. Merci de vous inscrire en remplissant ce formulaire avec le 1er avril (réponses envoyées le 5 avril). Il est important de pouvoir participer à la totalité du week end.

Pour plus d’info, n’hésite pas à contacter info (at) labofii.net

Last chance before June to see the show: “We Have Never Been Here Before”

klepto-bladesLast chance to see : “We Have Never Been Here Before” (watch an extract of the show here from centrale fies, Italy)   At the fabulous Im-possible futures festival, Vooruit, Ghent.. Before the London gig on 1st June at the 2 Degrees Festival, Arts Admin (where we will also be running a hackathon for performers, activists and artists info coming soon …

« Joyeux bordel », week-end de formation : Art et Activisme – PARIS.

jB

Dans le cadre de la campagne Requins 2015 et à l’occasion de la sortie du livre Joyeux bordel, Attac organise un week-end de formation : « Joyeux Bordel – Art, activisme et chaos climatique. Une introduction aux stratégies et tactiques de résistance créative ».
Samedi 28 février et dimanche 1er mars 2015, à Paris

Vous avez envie de (vous) mobiliser pour lutter contre les causes du chaos climatique ?
Vous avez souvent l’impression que toutes les actions se ressemblent et ne parviennent plus à intéresser ou avoir de l’impact ?
Vous voulez constituer un groupe affinitaire pour mener des actions de désobéissance civile créatives, joyeuses et, surtout, efficaces ?
Rejoignez-nous pour un atelier de deux jours, lors duquel nous invitons artistes et activistes à venir explorer ensemble les synergies émergeant de la fusion entre art et activisme pour élaborer ensemble de nouvelles formes de résistance créative.

Organisé à l’occasion de la sortie du livre Joyeux Bordel – Tactiques, principes et théories pour faire la révolution, cette formation examinera un éventail d’approches, du canular au démantèlement stratégique, du théâtre invisible au travail médiatique, pour aboutir à un design collectif d’une action pour la justice climatique.

Organisé conjointement par 350.org, les Jeunes Amis de la Terre, Attac, Les Liens qui Libèrent et le Laboratoire d’Imagination Insurrectionnelle (Labofii) [1], le week-end sera animé par John Jordan et Isabelle Fremeaux du Labofii, avec la participation d’Andrew Boyd, co-auteur de Beautiful Trouble , la version originale du livre.
Cet atelier trouvera des applications concrètes dans le cadre de la campagne « Mettons les combustibles fossiles à la retraite » de 350.org , de la publication du guide éco-citoyen « Climat : comment choisir ma banque ? » des Amis de la Terre et de la seconde édition du « kit anti-requins » d’Attac.


  • Quand ? Samedi 28 février de 10 h à 18 h et dimanche 1er mars de 10 h à 16 h (présence exigée sur les deux jours).
  •  ? Au Jardin d’Alice – 20 rue de Reuilly – Paris 12e (métro Reuilly – Diderot).

La participation est gratuite mais les places sont limitées, merci de vous inscrire en remplissant ce formulaire (cliquez ici) avant le 22 février.

Participate in co-designing creative resistance in the streets and cyberspace against climate chaos

Dice

Are you an artist, designer, hacker, gamer, activist, … ?
Do you want to take part in actions balanced between physical and virtual reality?
Join in on the Climate Games during the Hackathon #hackcop Ghent

In the lead up to the protests at the Paris COP21 Climate Summit (Dec 2015), The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination, GroenFront!, Climate Express and Multimedia Design KASK Ghent join forces in the creation of a new form of disobedient action: the Climate Games. The goal: transforming the city into the playing field of a mass disobedience action.

During the Climate Games teams score points by completing peaceful, creative missions that target the root causes of climate change. Taking place in the city, all participants coordinate their actions by means of an open source smartphone app.

Throughout 2015 these Climate Games will be developed during a series of Hackathons involving activists, artists, designers, hackers, gamers, scientists, architects … We are calling on anyone who wants to defeat those who play deadly games with the climate to join for a week of collaboration and creativity.

The first Hackathon takes place between the 16th and 21st of March in Vooruit, Ghent
This Hackathon plans to work primarily on the game play, rules, overall narrative and aesthetics of the Climate Games as well as the development of the smart phone app. It will be a lively workshop that shares knowledge and introduce newcomers to forms of creative resistance

Participation is free of charge, but places are limited
Transport, accommodation and meals are at participants’ expenses

Interested? Then fill in this application form before March 1st.

In collaboration with Multimedia Design KASK Ghent, Kunstencentrum Vooruit, GroenFront!, Climate Express & The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination.

Intense 3 day workshop on art & activism against fossil fuels – Brussels

8951_599_-1_FSImage_0_Global_Divestment_day

The art of creative resistance: a workshop with the Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination and Platform (tbc) – February 12th – 14th 2015  10.00 – 18.00
Faced with the urgency of the social and ecological crises it is clear that everything has to be transformed ; this includes the definitions of art and the way we struggle for a better world. For the last decade the Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination (Labofii) has been bringing artists and activists together to design and carry out new forms of creative resistance. For the festival Burning Ice, taking place at the Kaai Theatre in Brussels, the Labofii will facilitate an intense three day workshop which will co-create actions to take place with the general public on Saturday 14th of February. (see details below)
Open to artists and activists interested in the boundaries between politics and performance, art and activism, the workshop will explore how we can escape the old rituals of protest to find a space where the poetic and the pragmatic fuse into successful and efficient moments of disobedience. The workshop will be hands on, we will work together to design and then implement actions (with the participation of the public on the 14th) around the theme of climate chaos and the movement to divest from fossil fuel corporations.
The workshop is free but places for February 12th and 13th are limited. If you would like to apply please fill in the form here. The deadline for applications is Monday 19th of January

For more information, contact info (at) labofii.net
On the 13th of February at 20.30, the Labofii will present the show We Have Never Been Here Before  at the Kaaitheater, Sainctelettesquare 19 – 1000 Brussels.
“The Labofii… reminds us of the time when it was still possible for free theatre to try out loving anarchic social utopias… The is about saying goodbye to representation and is therefore the most radical form of theatre” The Frankfurter Rundschau, 2010.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Love Life – Hate Fossil Fuels: An info-action day for the climate. February 14th 2015  10am – Midnight.
“If each of us loved our homeplace enough to defend it, there would be no ecological crisis, no place could ever be written off as a sacrifice zone.” Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything : Capitalism vs. The climate. 2014.
In 2015, St Valentines day will not be what it used to be. The Kaai will open its doors to the public and transform the theatre into a temporary climate action zone to celebrate a culture of life over the toxic culture of fossil fuels. Coinciding with the 350.org global day of action, calling on institutions to take their investments out of the fossil fuels corporations, Love Life : Hate Fossil Fuels will take us on a day long adventure of creative resistance (prepared during the workshop) together with an international array of artists and climate activists.
Food and information will be shared, you will hear about plans for the Paris UN climate summit mobilisations and a taster training in civil disobedience will warm you up for the “action speed dating” event. The “speed dating” will culminate in affinity groups taking on “secret missions” to be performed across the city. As darkness falls we will return to the Kaai to party and celebrate life over profit with our new found rebel friends.
Please bring food to share and ferocious love to give away.
With The Climate Coalition, Climate Express, The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination, 350.org & Platform.

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

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 105 other followers