Nettime mailing list archives

<nettime-ann> [Newsletter] Taipei Biennial 2008
Oliver Ressler on Fri, 5 Sep 2008 18:22:31 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime-ann> [Newsletter] Taipei Biennial 2008


A section on the counter-globalisation movement for the
Taipei Biennial 2008

Curated by Oliver Ressler

The trope “A World Where Many Worlds Fit” goes back to the Subcomandante
Marcos, when talking about the Zapatistas’ struggles in the Lacandonian
Rainforest in Mexico. Since their uprising in 1994 the Zapatistas have
been fighting for a less-hierarchical, autonomous world with more
options to offer in democratic decision-making processes. They fight
against an existing world, which calls itself “democratic”, but should
rather be seen as a form of sophisticated oligarchy that functions
especially in favour of the interests of the political and economic
elites. In other parts of the world the stick that punishes people who
envision another world is usually not so visible. But, this can change
suddenly when those in power assemble in the framework of the summits of
the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Trade
Organization (WTO), World Economic Forum (WEF), or the G8. Though the
decisions made by politicians and business leaders at such meetings
affect the lives of all people in the world, the negotiations take place
hidden from the public gaze, behind fences and under massive security
with the protection of thousands of riot-police. These gatherings have
become a symbol for the undemocratic and illegitimate formation of
global capitalism.

At each of these summits individual and collective singularities from
all over the world come together in order to express their opposition to
the way global decisions are taken and realised. These mobilisations of
attendance at summit meetings are the movements’ most visible public
appearances. According to most narratives, the action taken against the
WTO in Seattle in 1999 launched the birthplace of the new movement. The
events at Seattle articulated a form of resistance and protest of the
centres of capitalism that proved strong enough to shut down the WTO
summit there. Since 1999 this global movement has shown up at each
meeting of World Bank, IMF, WTO and WEF – unless the scared politicians
decide to meet in the mountains, in deserts, or in dictatorships in
order to avoid publicly shown dissent at their summits, which were
originally introduced for publicity purposes. Even though this movement
is the first that is truly globalised, it is usually described as a
counter-globalisation movement. It can actually be called the “movement
of the movements”.

At the demonstrations, counter-summits and mass blockades many
individuals and collectives come together: media activists, clown army,
pink block, naked block, black block, anarchists, socialists,
Trotskyists, members of ATTAC, human rights activists, feminists,
migrants, indigenous people, artists, etc. Many activists switch between
these identities. All these singularities have their own images,
banners, different public appearance and slogans, that do not only
represent something, but contribute to the creation of effective
blockades and to the creation of a space. This space is both one of
representation, as well as a space for action that in the best cases
also spreads to other areas such as the local neighbourhoods of the
activists. This new social subject, sometimes referred to as the
“multitude”, builds horizontally organised networks and has a radial
transformation of society in mind.

“A World Where Many Worlds Fit” attempts to present a global movement as
an example of collective intelligence through a variety of artistic
practices, and wants to function as “a space for thinking”. The 12
artists involved in the project demonstrate a strong commitment to
social movements and do not position themselves as “neutral” in relation
to them. Many of the included works focus on the cities that have now
become known for past demonstrations, counter-summits and/or blockades
and are used as shorthand descriptions for these events: Seattle,
Prague, Salzburg, Genoa, Buenos Aires, Gleneagles, St. Petersburg or
Heiligendamm. The exhibition can be seen as a kind of course, which
addresses important steps of the movement of the movements.

Whether or not this globalisation of resistance will be successful in
the future will depend on whether upcoming summits can be mobilised to
show our dissent to the world and our desire to create other worlds. As
Tadzio Mueller eloquently outlines*, it will be essential for the global
movement to develop a critical and convincing anti-capitalist strategy
to fight climate change, as this is a central issue of world-wide
importance that the G8 exploit to legitimise their meetings in the
public, and that “asks the question of property and class struggle” and
“talks about collective social transformation”. If we manage to bring
such an agenda into public debate, the movement of the movements will
probably also play an important role in the political landscape in the
ten years after the upcoming G8 summit in Maddalena in Italy.

*In: “What Would It Mean to Win?”, A film by Zanny Begg and Oliver
Ressler, 40 min., 2008

Artist’s works in the exhibition:

Four Protest Symphonies

An audio track by Seattle-based composer, improvisor, and phonographer
Christopher DeLaurenti permeates the exhibition. “Four Protest
Symphonies” is a series of front-line recordings made at various
actions, including the World Trade Organization protest in Seattle in
1999. Spattered by pepper spray, enshrouded in tear gas and pelted with
rubber bullets, Delaurenti was engulfed in a maelstrom of drums,
slogans, chants, screaming and violence. These are cemented with
combative field recordings of the various protests, art actions, police
transmissions, National Oceanic And Atmospheric (NOAA) weather alerts,
radio broadcast anomalies (splashes and sprays of tape hiss, enigmatic
numbers glossolalia, crude phase encoding), and wild card audio snatched
from the airwaves to compose a vivid sound-scape of dissent.

Whose World? Our World, 2008

The artist, designer and activist Noel Douglas presents an installation
based on graphic material that he has produced over the last seven years
as part of his involvement with different social movements. The banners,
posters, t-shirts, books and magazines included in the installation have
been used and disseminated during many recent anti-capitalist and
anti-war protests. In “A World Where Many Worlds Fit”, Douglas arranges
these objects in a nine-metre long vitrine. Displayed on a panel in the
vitrine are numerous spreads from books and magazines promoting and
popularising the ideas of the movement. Alongside these are laid out the
popular “Regime Change Begins at Home” playing cards, which satirise the
playing cards handed out to troops by the US military in Iraq. On the
floor of the vitrine thousands of “Capitalism Means War” dollar bills
are spread out, these were handed out during the major demonstrations
against the impending War in Iraq held on February 15th, 2003. On the
glass window, a vinyl tape with the text “Ceci N’est Pas Le Capitalisme”
(This is not Capitalism) frames the work. This tape was used at
demonstrations across Europe and the US as a temporary street “line” to
hang posters from. Shown here hung on the walls, these posters called
for demonstrations against the G8 and instead for participation in the
European Social Forum. There are also those that simply visualise the
problems of capitalism using a more direct agit-prop approach with many
proclaiming one of the central slogans of the movement, “Another World
Is Possible”.

To eat, to create, 2008

The Argentinean artist/activist collective Etcétera presents
documentation of their Buenos Aires based street actions in an
installation that includes information about the original local context
and situation. Since late 1997 Etcétera has implemented a poetic, absurd
and surreal artistic practice into street actions that take a crack at
important issues such as social injustice and human rights agendas.
Their work became even more pertinent in the midst of the enormous
economic crisis that peaked in 2001 and that sent Argentina spiralling
down to levels of emergency and starvation.
Etcétera's actions, like many enacted in the public space, are ephemeral
and circumstantial. They re-imagine the activity of the street as a
performance in a specific space and a specific time. As a result of the
dissemination their amazingly humorous and bitter sparks of activism
into cultural institutions, artistic circuits and the web through
videos, cartoons, pamphlets and manifestos, Etcétera have inspired
numerous kindred spirits and related projects.

History is a work in process, 2007/2008

Petra Gerschner produced a photo-documentation of the activities made
against the G8 summit held in Heiligendamm. She celebrates the work of
activists, who aim to become the subjects of their own history, by
literally illuminating them in the form of a light-box with a precise
selection of four photos.
“Join the Winning side – Smash Capitalism”, reads a light-installation
on a truck in one of the images. This slogan represents the approach of
the global movement to not only comment on social conditions, but to
also actively change them. The work attempts to transpose the energy and
enthusiasm of the activists and hints at the possibility that with
collective experience and action, resistance is feasible and can be
successful. At the same time Gerschner raises questions about the visual
representation of the movement of the movements in the collective global
In a second work, a digital print from the series “What does memory mean
to you?” (2001/2006), Petra Gerschner lays bare the demonstrative power
of state forces by confronting political advertising and slogans with
pin-ups, which all came together in the public space during the protests
against the World Economic Forum in Salzburg.

The Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army: Operation “HA HA HA”

One of the works in the exhibition that ventures beyond a documentation
of the activities of the “movement of the movements” is by the British
artist/activist John Jordan whose practice merges art and social
engagement, and favours transformative actions over representation. He
is one of a number of artists who consider themselves part of the
“movement of the movements” and intervenes wherever and whenever
possible. Jordan's installation consists of documentation from the
Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army’s operation “HA HA HA”, which
took place during the G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland in July 2005.
The central element of the installation is a large canvas map that shows
the area around the G8 summit, which was used by activists for
organising protests. Two video monitors are placed on opposite corners
of the map, with pink ribbon connecting them to locations on the map
where the activist's events occurred. One short film shows a performance
of police and clowns competing in a strange game together, and the
second documents clowns magically breaking through a line of riot
policemen and occupying a road.

Timeline Piece, 2008
This is what democracy looks like!, 2002

A timeline of the global movement, spanning from the momentous actions
against the World Trade Organization Conference in Seattle in 1999, up
until today, is layed out by Zanny Begg in a 12 metre long wall drawing.
It is a kind of framework for “A World Where Many Worlds Fit”, that not
only sets up a relationship between the various works, but also tells
its own stories. Embedded in Zanny Begg’s huge timeline is Oliver
Ressler's video “This is what democracy looks like!”. The video presents
the events of July 1, 2001, which took place surrounding a demonstration
against the World Economic Forum in Salzburg in Austria, where 919
demonstrators were encircled by the police and detained for more than
seven hours. In the video the demonstrators take the role of active
spokespersons and describe what was happening from their own individual

What Would It Mean To Win?, 2008
This film, a collaboration by Zanny Begg & Oliver Ressler, was made on
the blockades of the G8 summit in Heiligendamm, Germany in June 2007 and
focuses on the current state of the movement of the movements. Combining
documentary footage, interviews, and animation sequences, the work is
structured around three questions pertinent to the movement: “Who are
we?” “What is our power?” and “What would it mean to win?” The protests
in Heiligendamm seemed to re-assert the confidence, inventiveness and
creativity of the movement of the movements. In particular the five
finger tactic – where protesters spread out across the fields of Rostock
in order to slip around police lines – proved successful in establishing
blockades on all roads leading into Heiligendamm. Staff working for the
G8 summit were forced to enter and leave the meeting by helicopter or
boat thus providing a symbolic victory to the movement.

The Archimedes Project, 2001

The objects and photographs of the “anti-corporate corporation” RTMark
chronicle the corporation's commitment to direct intervention. For the
protests during the G8 summit in Genoa, RTMark produced pink, blue,
black and purple mirrors that were distributed to a thousand activists.
The mirrors focused and reflected sunlight at police helicopters and
other aggressive assault vehicles, as well as into the eyes of attacking
The work is titled “The Archimedes Project”, after the ancient Greek
mathematician who reputedly used several large mirrors to focus the
glare of the sun at invading Roman ships, burning them to a crisp and
thus saving the city of Syracuse in what is now Sicily, Italy. The
Italian press hilariously characterised these mirrors as weapons and
included them amongst the police's other official weapon
classifications, which included cell phones and Swiss army knives.

Waiting for Teargas, 1999

Allan Sekula's slide installation “Waiting for Teargas” was produced
from the photographs he had taken during the protests against the World
Trade Organization Ministerial Conference that took place in Seattle in
1999. Sekula’s concept was, in his words, “to move with the flow of
protest, from dawn to 3 a.m. If need be, taking in the lulls, the
waiting and the margins of events. The rule of thumb for this sort of
anti-photojournalism: no flash, no telephoto zoom lens, no gas mask, no
auto-focus, no press pass and no pressure, to grab at all costs, the one
defining image of dramatic violence... The alliance on the streets was
indeed stranger... varied and inspired... There were moments of civic
solemnity, of urban anxiety, and of carnival. Something very simple is
missed by descriptions of this as a movement founded in cyberspace: the
human body asserts itself in the city streets, against the abstraction
of global capital. There was a strong feminist dimension to this
testimony, and there was also a dimension grounded in the experience of

WTO Action Collectible, 1999

Gregory Sholette’s “WTO Action Collectible” comprises a “commemorative”
action figure and an accompanying poster that refer to the police
tactics that labelled unarmed protesters as violence-prone during the
now legendary Seattle World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference in
Sholette's plastic figure – which comes equipped with interchangeable
“action arms” that are useful for deflecting tear gas grenades and an
authentic “radical” mascot carrying a Molotov Cocktail – also makes
reference to the long, if little known history of militant political
resistance in the United States: from the great rail strikes of the late
19th century to the National Student Strike and mass demonstrations of
May 1970 that followed the shooting deaths of anti-Vietnam war
protesters by National Guardsmen at both Kent and Jackson State

Tactical Frivolity + Rhythms of Resistance, 2007

This video focuses on various forms of protest that occur across the
European continent. It brings into play femininity, and blurs
gender-expectations. As a work about a particular moment of joy and
expectation at the global movement's early days, “Tactical Frivolity +
Rhythms of Resistance” questions the social order through unanticipated
role reversals and confuses the response of the media and the police to
label such forms of protest as violent. As the artists write, “Tactical
frivolity sought to undo classical anarchists vs. police, one-to-one
confrontational tactics, by multiplying front-lines and making an
extremely ironic use of femininity and kitschy representations of the
body in direct action. Music and dance provided this radical
redefinition of street protest not only with a powerful tool to
practically dissolve or détour police violence, but also with the
strongest possible image (and soundtrack) to realise how street
demonstrations can become the unleashing of the body’s desires in the
moment of protest itself”. The work demonstrates that resistance can
result in a lot of creativity and fun, which is important to draw in
larger crowds who are not necessarily active and who normally see
activism as a sour and professional exercise of a singular political

Protest Match – Kirov Stadium, 2006

In his video “Protest Match – Kirov Stadium” Dmitry Vilensky focuses on
the heavy security tactics enforced upon the Russian Social Forum that
ran parallel to the G8 Summit in Saint Petersburg in 2006. These tactics
included the detainment of former delegates long before their arrival in
the city; coercion of print-shop owners to not print pamphlets,
blackmailing and arrests. The video reviews the situation at the Russian
Social Forum in the Kirov Stadium, the space that was offered by the
authorities. A series of interviews with Russian political activists
discuss this particular event, where it was impossible to demonstrate
and where even participation in the forum became a perilous pursuit.

On September 12, 2008, between 2 and 4 pm a round-table discussion with
participating artists will take place in the framework of the Taipei
With Zanny Begg, Noel Douglas, Petra Gerschner, Oliver Ressler, Dmitry
Vilensky and Federico Zukerfeld & Loreto Garin Guzman from Etcétera.

The 6th Taipei Biennial is curated by Manray Hsu and Vasif Kortun.
Organizing institution is the Taipei Museum of Fine Arts.
Dates: 13 September 2008 - 4 January 2009
Press preview: 11/12 September 2008

nettime-ann mailing list
nettime-ann {AT} nettime.org