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<nettime> RE : Re: The Messy, Dirty, Silly Interplay of Art and Activis
Sophie Le-Phat Ho on Fri, 16 Nov 2007 02:34:22 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> RE : Re: The Messy, Dirty, Silly Interplay of Art and Activis Artivistic 2007


Sorry for posting this a bit late... this is, for better or worse, *NOT* part
of the "indigenous debate".

Indeed, thanks lotu5, for taking the time to reflect about Artivistic 2007.
Looking forward to see you back in Montreal soon :)

> Which leads to my main critique. A large part of why I came to
> Artivistic was because I thought that No One Is Illegal (NOII) Montreal
> was going be a large part of the three day Imaginary Border Academy, and
> I wanted to work with local organizers, bridge our common struggles,
> discuss differences and share stories. Unfortunately, NOII formally
> pulled out of the conference at the last minute. They felt that they
> were not included enough in the planning process. I know that
> negotiating the demands of social movements and "the art world" is
> difficult. Still, I feel that the organizers of Artivistic needed to
> make it more of a priority to respond to the concerns of NOII and work
> more closely with them so that they would be involved, especially after
> advertising a three day workshop that included NOII. For a conference on
> art/activism with hopes of participants engaging in local action, I feel
> like it is critical to engage the local activist community to help
> provide context, direction and ongoing commitment instead of weekend
> actions. Also, the critique NOII gave of being included late in the
> process is a common mistake that political organizers make again and
> again, trying to be inclusive after the fact, inviting people into a
> project already well formed gives them less say over the form as well as
> less ownership of the process.

Oh did we learn from that experience. That was one of my biggest
disappointments at Artivistic 2007 [ UN.OCCUPIED SPACES ] as well. But some
clarification is needed here. NOII-MTL pulling out of Artivistic at the last
minute was a result of a long series of misunderstandings and general
miscommunication. For one, NOII-MTL was *not* included late in the process.
That is simply a fact. Artivistic and NOII-MTL had been in touch about the idea
of the Imaginary Border Academy (IBA) since the fall of 2006, that is, more
than a year ago, when the project didn't even have that name yet. I remember
because that is around the same time I moved to London from Montreal to pursue
post-graduate studies and had talked about that too with one of the NOII-MTL
folks. Around the same time as well, Artivistic was organising a special
roundtable discussion on nationalism(s) in collaboration with the MAI
(Montréal, arts interculturels). One of the speakers was also from NOII-MTL and
that person became our main contact person for the noborder workshop/working
group since.

The idea of approaching NOII-MTL for Artivistic 2007 arose from our interest in
inviting the artists of Schleuser.net -- a lobby group for smuggling people
across borders. More specifically, members of Schleuser.net coined the
expression NO ONE IS ILLEGAL back at Documenta X (in 1997), which has since
become a heterogeneous global campaign of various autonomous nodes. Thus it was
naturally interesting for us to invite them to talk about their project and
their particular experience of the links and twists between art and activism,
and language. Even more interesting, logical and pertinent, was to invite
NOII-MTL to collaborate with Schleuser.net during Artivistic 2007. Which we
did. Thus between the beginning of 2007 up to a few weeks before Artivistic in
October, on an unregular basis, folks of Artivistic, Schleuser.net,
Duo.Irational, HTMlles and NOII-MTL have been either exchanging or copied in
emails with the explicit aim of coming up with a collective plan of action for
Artivistic 2007. Now that proved to be very difficult to achieve for reasons I
cannot be sure of yet, but probably something to do with the distance, the lack
of leadership, the lack of a specific framework, busy people, etc. 

At a few months prior to the event, no firm plan of action had been developed
yet but as the programme was getting more together, more artists plugged into
the noborder workshop as well. Upon my return to Montreal after a year overseas
(Artivistic 2007 was organised by four women in three different countries),
about 5-6 weeks prior to the event, I finally phoned the contact person of
NOII-MTL since she hadn't been responding to my emails for several months. At
that point, I start realising the possibility of huge misunderstandings... As I
understand it better now, NOII-MTL kept on waiting for a proposal from
Artivistic. On the other hand, we kept on wanting NOII-MTL to be part of the
collective process, along with the other artists, of coming up with that very
proposal. I even recalled saying on the phone that we could not possibly have
anything to propose to them as we needed their input first, at least in terms
of local current campaigns and struggles! Which obviously would be the point of
departure for such a collaborative workshop. That is when I managed to get two
examples of campaigns that I transmitted to the rest of the workshop
participants or members of the temporary working group. 

Now at a few weeks before the gathering, we had passed a threshold as
organisers where our everyday was filled with emergencies to attend to. Finally
we managed to call a face-to-face meeting a few days before Artivistic started
with most of the members of the noborder working group (most of whom had
already arrived from overseas), including two people from NOII-MTL (both of
whom are also artists, including the main contact). Apart from the positive
aspects of finally meeting in person, what was in my face too was the extent to
which we (me/Artivistic and NOII-MTL) were not communicating and kept on not
clearly understanding what the other meant or was trying to say. Literally. It
is as if we were not speaking the same language (which sounded like English on
both sides). That morning, we also received our newly printed flyers which we
distributed to everyone. NOII-MTL took some in order to distribute but mostly
discuss their involvement during Artivistic, which I learned that morning that
they had not done yet at all since they were still waiting for a proposal from
"us." A day or two before Artivistic officially started, we find out that none
of the members of NOII-MTL is available to participate, and they also mention
having issues about how their name was promoted in our print material.

Why am I describing all this in such detail? Artivistic and NOII-MTL are in
good terms -- that is not relevant here. Our communications have always
remained respectful. As somewhat logical beings and people who somehow arguably
participate in the same struggles, we all quickly realised that we completely
misunderstood each other all these months. Some people of / linked to NOII-MTL
even participated to some activities, as well as interviewed Schleuser.net
during Artivistic. So this response here is definitely not attempting to make
up excuses for Artivistic or enter in a useless blame game. The point here is
to raise the issue of *methodologies* between art and activism, and to develop
a reflection around the *objectives* behind such initiatives as Artivistic. To
further question this "blending of art and activism" as it were. Why do "we"
want to collaborate with "non-artist" activists? Do "we" actually want to? And
if so, how can "we" do it? Basically, I would like to use this experience with
NOII-MTL to raise important questions about self-organisation, collaboration,
and even composition in struggle. These questions came up to me because I
realised that treating NOII-MTL exactly like I did the other artists of the
working group was at the origin of many of our misunderstandings, and
ultimately to their absence during IBA.

By saying they were interested in collaborating, NOII-MTL did not mean they
were going to, where the opposite was true for Schleuser.net, Irational.org,
Boredom Patrol of CIRCA, and others. I know from being in and around activist
groups for several years that activists try to apply the values they defend in
their everyday organisational lives, which often includes consensus
decision-making. Here I write "they" but I might as well write "we" since
Artivistic is definitely also built around the idea of making the world we
fight for exist now, here. But we have chosen to go at it gradually,
experimentally, as we are also a young and relatively inexperienced collective,
with some members more politicized than others (as in probably any collective),
but also because we want to be as *inclusive* as possible. All this to say that
somehow it did not cross my mind that NOII-MTL would be in the impossibility of
"approving" a proposal of collaboration in that context of decision-making.
Here comes of a conflict. Self-organisation (as was attempted through the
noborder workshop) implies that politics are "emergent" or emerging. On the
other hand, emergent politics cannot be "proposed", then
approved/rejected/amended/etc. This is what I mean by conflictual
methodologies. Of course, Artivistic and NOII-MTL have vastly different
mandates. NOII-MTL is a political group and they belong to a culture of
criticality perhaps turned into suspicion, thus leading to the need of
scrutinizing any association. Artivistic is not a political group in its strict
sense. But we are political. I mean we want to talk about politics, we want to
live out politics in critical, creative and experimental ways. We don't have a
campaign per se (a term belonging more to the activist world!), we simply want
to bring diverse peoples that work on diverse campaigns and/or projects (a term
belonging more to the art world!) of necessarily diverse politics to share
their experiences and possibly build new ones collaboratively. In my eyes,
Artivistic is a space for learning collectively how to become better activists.
This is because I believe that art has that potential of freedom for us to
imagine, question and be who we want to be. As far as I'm concerned, the notion
of activism is up for grabs: forget what activism is or looks like, become an
activist! In that sense, Artivistic fights against the alienation that hinders
action towards social change, but that some activists ironically contribute in
maintaining through an exclusive and negative attitude...

Given the above, _why_ then collaborate with "non-artist" activists? Since some
activists are also artists obviously, here, "non-artist" could mean operating
outside of an artistic framework. Moreover, there exists also a long history of
artistically-influenced activism all over the world, this is no news flash. On
the other hand, Artivistic clearly still belongs to an artistic framework; we
send out CFPs (call for proposals); we apply for funding to arts councils
(although that proved to be more difficult in the past, again, because of set
categories); and so on. Basically we use a methodology of festivals or of
conferences, but we are neither. Artivistic is a gathering. The focus is on
engagement. Of course, many people refer to Artivistic as a festival or a
conference, and that is normal/fine as we have not sufficiently departed from
those idioms yet (eg. Artivistic is not a camp, nor a picnic, etc.) nor have we
clearly developed a new vocabulary because, for the moment, we still want to
benefit from existing categories (eg. of funding..!). In that sense and on
other levels too, Artivistic is also an experiment in camouflage... and is
interested in methodologies that bring up surprising and unusual links that
make us imagine another world is possible (and making it "irresistible", as
John Jordan proposes).

It has been suggested that one of the most successful aspects of Artivistic
2007 was the intense blend of very passionate people and the inspired/inspiring
projects they work on. This is due to the fact that many of us share similar
concerns and experiences as people interested in the interPlay between art and
activism. Thus in working at one of our main objectives, that is, to facilitate
an eclectic network of support and inspiration, we consequently experience the
paradox of being less confronted with different concerns as experienced by
activists outside an artistic context. Someone suggested that there is nothing
wrong with "staying" in the artistic and cultural fields... But the experience
with NOII-MTL showed me that there is much to be learned from trying to
collaborate with people with different methodologies and concerns. Ironically,
the IBA (Imaginary Border Academy) had the latter as part of its aims -- in a
way, we might have reached that objective but on a different scale and not in
the way we imagined it would happen... And I think that what can be learned is
very important. Otherwise, what is the point of being interested in the
interPlay between art and activism if we are not committed to learn from, build
dialogue, and ideally collaborate, with other activists? I think Artivistic is
situated among these efforts that give priority to affinities rather than
identities, to organisation rather than composition, to coalition rather than
community, to flexibility rather than hierarchy. Although "precarity" has
become a buzzword for many, it still helps me to imagine new ways of linking
multiple conditions together in order to gradually and creatively build
resistance. Cosmopolitics is also a helpful concept... Artivistic I think is
concerned with learning how to form affinities and how to organise in the
multitudes; how to be flexible but uncompromising at once; how to feel
challenged but supported at the same time.

Furthermore, I think Artivistic is also a space where we can be confronted with
our own embodied and everyday oppression by trying to actualise projects such
as self-organisation. At several occasions during Artivistic 2007, participants
and organisers felt anxiety and loss when confronted with the idea of
self-organising. And this is something we are still learning and quite clumsy
at: how to speak about and live out the politics we want while being born and
socialised in a capitalist society? How can we bring ourselves to take
responsibility for own participation? Well, most likely by developing better
communication, by continuing to give importance to process, and...??

I would be happy to hear about other people's experiences of collaboration
where language, methodologies and categories were especially shown to be
contentious so that we can possibly learn and build on those experiences. The
good news is that IBA ended up being successful as members of the working group
and new ones who joined in during Artivistic self-organised in order to form an
autonomous and global network for building a copyleft curriculum about borders:

          http://borderacademy.org

I have recently joined the mailing list and will post on the wiki shortly.
Anyone interested can contribute and participate. And who knows, this might be
a platform for collaborations with NOII-MTL, and many others...

Sophie

for Artivistic
http://artivistic.org





Sophie Le-Phat Ho
http://artivistic.org/
http://theupgrade.sat.qc.ca/
http://dpi.studioxx.org/
http://www.terminus1525.ca/
  
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