dr.woooo on Tue, 8 Apr 2003 10:19:50 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> deserting the art bunker by John Jordan

>From John Jordan <

Date Mon, 7 Apr 2003 15:50:45 -0300 
Subject deserting the art bunker 

hi friends and fellow deserters - here is the talk i gave in the 
culture bunker - the tate modern in london last week... during an 
event entitled -  Live cultures: performance and the contemporary.....

an attempt at a smart bomb aimed at the heart of the bunker -

you can either see the web cast - below ( scroll down to the last day )


or you can read the notes - below

enjoy and critical feedback would be great..as its going to be 
published in a catalogue later on..

heres to walking away

love JJXX

Presentation at LIVE CULTURE - Live Art at the Tate Modern - London 30th March

The art of desertion

"Life is so horrible that one can only bear it by avoiding it. And 
that can be done by living in the world of art." Wrote gustave 
Flaubert a little over hundred and fifty years ago..

  And what has changed ? What has really changed?

Here we are today, safe in the art bunker.

Protected from the mess of the world outside, by thick white walls, 
and the cosy comfortable frame of culture.

I imagine that most of us didn't wake up this morning thinking the 
world is a wonderful place and that the future has everything to 
offer us and our children.

NO -

I imagine most of us woke up and switched on the TV or the radio, or 
opened our newspapers and found ourselves numbed, angered or saddened 
by the words and the fictions, the images and the lies of war.

But deep down, at the root of our sadness perhaps we realised 
something else, something that was there before, a feeling that the 
real war began a long time ago. And that today and tonight's war in 
Iraq played out for us in the spaces between reality TV and Hollywood 
is just one small part of a permanent war, a total war.

A war waged everywhere, against everyone, everyday.

A war whose collateral damage is the collapse of the world's 
ecosystem, the spread of hunger, the paralysis of poverty and 
exclusion, and the erosion of human dignity.  "We don't do body 
counts, " said general franks referring to the Iraq campaign, nobody 
could ever keep count of the bodies that pile up in the war that 
never stopped.

This permanent war has many command centres-one of them is not so far 
away from here. It's in other bunkers on the other side of the river 
Thames. Bunkers where battles are fought with computer mice and 
wires, desks and screens, spread sheets and numbers. Battles planned 
in the war rooms of capital - the trading floors, the banks, the 
exchanges, the corporate head quarters.

This is the war of money against life.

Waged by market fundamentalists whose only god is economic growth. 
Whose only laws are profit and competition?
It's the most normal, familiar war there could beŠ.

  Another command centres of this war is even nearer to us - it's 
right here ---- it's inside our heads, its in our muscles and our 
skin, its in every action, every gesture, every whisper and thought, 
caress and choice we makeŠ

Its a command centre called complianceŠ. and its us.

Against the backdrop of the war of money against life, we performŠwe 
actŠand most crucially we complyŠ

Therein lies the greatest secret of the powerful, who want us to 
believe that they wield their power over us with their awe inflicting 
violence, their weapons and armies their police forces and 
psychological operations.  But the threat of violence is not where 
their power really lies. It lies within us; it comes from those of us 
who acquiesce from below not those who command from above.

We uphold their power, and their wars, through our cooperation with 
their orders and our obedience to their systems.

This is why their greatest fear is that we disobey and desert.

"We have never seen such ugly times" my friend Brian Holmes wrote to 
me late last night.

It's a time of great crisis, unprecedented instability and simple choices..

We have entered the swansong of our present world system. Over the 
last decade a crisis of legitimacy has swept across the institutions 
of governments, systems of democratic representation, and corporate 
capitalism - combined with an economic decline unseen since the 

Last time capital was in such crisis it took war and the death of 30 
million people to get it back on track. This latest war in Iraq is 
just another attempt to forcefully realign a society out of kilter, 
to distract us from focusing on a failed global system and to fill us 
with so much fear that we forget to imagine any other way of living.

"We have never seen such ugly times" and we have a choice. Obedience 
or desertion

I think its time to desert  - time to step away - time to escape the 
bunker mentality.

We have to stop pretending that taking risks in the space of art, 
pushing boundaries of form, and disobeying the conventions of 
culture. . Making art about politics.. makes any differenceŠ we have 
to stop pretending that art is a free space, autonomous from webs of 
capital and power. We have to stop pretending that the popularity of 
politically engaged art within the museums, magazines and markets 
over the last few years has anything to do with really changing the 

But change the world we must.

And I make a plea for the artists to desert, to turn our backs on the 
system Š walk away from the museums which have simply become 
outsourced corporate PR agencies, abandon the draw of glamour and 
fame, move out of the spotlight that assumes a monopoly of creativity 
and discard the notion of us being the experts of the imagination.

I plea for us to refuse the spaces that make us separate from 
society, give up our privilege, renounce the cult of the individual 
and recognise the powerful "we" which comes out of the many separate 

Its time for the artist to become invisible
To dissolve back into life.

Its not a plea to take art to the streets or bring life into the 
gallery, theatre and museum - both those things have taken place 
continuously over the last century.. It's a plea for the artists to 
abandon our identities ŠŠ but not our creativity,

It's a plea to value our creativity more, to understand its 
transformatory power and apply it directly to social change, to 
social movements, to acts of disobedience and strategies of survival.

It's not a plea to lay down arms, to give up the weapons of 
imagination, far from it. We should never abandon beauty; never 
forget the joy of creativity, the strength of our visions.

What Marcuse calls arts ability to challenge the monopoly of accepted 
reality is perhaps our most powerful weapon and one that all 
rebellions desperately need if they are to create e new ways of 

Its time to recognise that art should never have existed as a 
category separate from life.

Its time to re write Flaubert and to perhaps say.." Life is so 
horrible that we can only bear it if we know we are changing it. And 
that can be only done by leaving the world of art."


"But where's the art" she asked? I tried to convince the Arts council 
of England's Live art officer that developing an interdisciplinary 
project involving performances, media campaigns, a web sites and the 
creation of the worlds first therapy group for men addicted to 
pornography,  was art.

  It didn't work.

I tried to explain that they way I evaluated the aesthetic of my 
practice was through its social function. That I saw art as creative 
problem-solving mechanism, which could be applied to all walks of 

But I couldn't convince her and I walked out of that institution with 
tears in my eyes, feeling tongue-tied and misunderstood.

  For some reason I decided to take a roundabout way home and walk up 
Whitehall  - as I reached downing street I saw a sea of hundreds of 
bodies lying on the ground, many were being dragged away by the 
police, and there I met Jason who I subsequently learnt was one of 
the founders of the radical direct action movement in the UK - we 
chatted - I told him I was an artists.

I explained that I had spent most of my life trying to find a space, 
which contained both the social engagement of politics and the 
irresistible imagination of art -That I was constantly striving to 
develop a creative practise that was engaged directly in social 
change rather than creating representations of issues and strugglesŠ. 
I didn't want to illustrate political change I wanted to make it.

"Do you paint paintings of protest" he asked me Š I sighedŠ. the 
tears returned to my eyes and I walked awayŠ.

For years I tried to bring down the walls built around definitions of 
what art could do. In the early nineties many projects I was involved 
in simply made the art invisibleŠ a strategy for public involvement - 
A spoof development agency to uncover a buried river in south London, 
a spoof sex shop in a high street to discuss the relationship between 
men and pornographyŠ facades that brought people into the work 
without the baggage of art anywhere to be seen.
But something still didn't feel rightŠ

Then on an early morning in 1994 I climbed over a wall topped with 
shards of broken glass and everything changed. For the first time I 
threw my body in the way of a bulldozer to stop the construction of a 
road, the m11link road which was due to destroy 350 houses and 
several ancient woodlands in east London.

Suddenly live art meant something completely different - the 
pragmatic collided with the poetic, the performative with the 
political. .  Placing my body directly in the cogs of the machine, as 
a point of resistance in the flow of power, was not just playful but 
felt deeply effective.

  It was costing the road builders thousands of pounds in delays, it 
was generating images that catalysed debate in the mainstream media, 
and within the chambers of government, and it was radically changing 
the lives of people who were doing it.

This I found out was direct actionŠDirect, un-mediated  im-mediate 
action to change something.

  At its simplest, direct action is about taking direct control of our 
own lives, and refusing to accept the authority of bureaucrats or 
politicians, 'leaders' or 'experts' to act on our behalf. It shies 
away from the dangers and betrayals of representation,  and it's 
taking matters into our own hands and acting collectively to address 
the issues that concern us.

If we see someone who is hungry, we cook them a meal, if we think a 
mega damn should be stopped we put our bodies in the way of the 
rising water. It's not about asking others to do things for us, it's 
doing things for ourselves - its homeless Canadians squatting empty 
buildings; US Hacktivists blockading the World Trade Organisations 
website, Indian farmers burning fields of Genetically Modified crops, 
landless Brazilian peasants rebuilding their lives on occupied land.

  It is not a tactic of last resort, something that we turn to when 
all other forms of campaigning; such as letter writing and lobbying 
have been exhausted. Quite the opposite: it is the preferred way of 
doing things and It is both a way of working and a model for how we 
see a future society run.

Discovering Direct Action was my moment of desertion, I slowly melted 
into a social movement, gave up the label of artists, but kept the 
weapons of creativity by my side and I soon realised that this was 
the most powerful, inspiring and socially efficacious context that I 
could use those weapons in.

I immersed myself into direct action politics, eventually working 
with Reclaim the Streets, a group I stayed with for 7 years until the 
end of 2000.

For the first time in my life I felt art merging with the everyday, 
I experienced the return of pleasure and play into politics, I felt 
extraordinary levels of collective creativity being applied to mass 
actions that were changing people, changing the world and changing 
the way radical politics was perceive. 

Reclaim the streets tactics and ideas spread across the world in the 
mid nineties and were to be a key component to rise of the global 
anticapitalist movement which erupted on new years day in 1994 with 
the indigenous Zapatista uprising and had its coming out party in 
Seattle at the World Trade Organisation shut down in November 1999.

(Slides sequence here - describe basic rts tactics etc

Explain street party/tripod

M41- Carnival -DressesŠ

J18 - masks and choreography - global - Anticapitalists besiege city 
of London..

June 18  inspired activists in Seattle to believe that they could do 
the impossible and really shut down the WTO summit, which is exactly 
what they did. The struggles against capitalism had now spread from 
the global south to the global north.. Diverse movements were 
converging and building an entirely new way of seeing revolution 
which was not about taking power, not about taking seats in 
government, but breaking power  into little pieces and sharing it 
between  us, about creative alternatives to the capital that 
celebrated diversity and based on local desires.
It was about taking risks and inventing a new forms of radical 
politicsŠ. forms that respond to particular contexts and places.

There's a big difference between taking risks in the world of art and 
in the world outside..

In the art world when you provoke, disobey the rules, push the 
boundaries, questions the cannons you get discovered, rewarded, 
In the real world you are, marginalized, surveilled, beaten and imprisoned.

There have been many times I have wanted to return to the safety and 
comfort of the art bunker - when plain clothes police officers spent 
a week following me everyday as I took my son to school, when special 
branch raided my flat, when I was framed for something I never did, 
when the group I worked in couldn't recover from the vicious campaign 
of crimanalisation by the British media and the state.

But I stayed outside, I knew where I was most effective and I paid 
the price for deserting the art system, the price for applying 
radical creativity to places which are out of bounds, real places, 
places where it made a real social difference,

I couldn't pretend anymore.

Listening to the screams of people as they were beaten to a pulp 
while they slept in their sleeping bags in the Diaz School, during 
the night of revenge by the Italian state in Genoa after the massive 
G8 protests. Witnessing broken teeth, ribs and jaws, punctured lungs 
and 66 people carried out of the raid on stretchers. Seeing the long 
streaks of blood smeared across a white marble floor, smelling fear 
and terror in the empty school building. 

It felt real to me - more Powerful than any drop of blood or pain or 
violence of I've seen in live art.

Hearing about a middle aged woman breaking into an RAF base last week 
and causing 25 million pounds of damage to a Tornado bomber with a 
hammer and calmly waiting for the police to arrest her, thus risking 
many years in prison.

It felt real to me - More courageous and more useful than any 
durational performance

Witnessing a large medieval catapult firing teddy bears and soft toys 
over the fence erected around the summit of the Free Trade of the 
Americas in Quebec. Pulling the fence down and dancing on its back as 
bends and buckles. Seeing the clouds of tear gas rise above the city, 
fired at the rate of one minute for 3 days and nights, laughing as 
someone expertly hits the gas canisters back towards the police with 
an ice hockey stickŠ

It felt real to me. More absurd, more adventurous and often more 
dramatic than any theatre.

Observing an entire society creatively dealing with  complete 
economic collapse in Argentina.  Hearing about the government being 
deposed by the sound of millions of clashing pots and pans. Watching 
bankrupt factories being occupied and run by the employees 
themselves, witnessing those who have nothing experimenting with ways 
to grow food and work autonomously from capitalist systems, Listening 
to neighbourhood assemblies debate the future of their communities, 
practising direct democracy without leaders or representative, while 
standing in a circle on a Buenos Aires street corner.

  It felt real to me - More sustainable, more participatory and on a 
much larger scale than any Socially engaged site specific art 

I could speak for hours of the extraordinary creativity I've seen 
displayed by the anticapitalist movements across the worldŠ.

But I must end nowŠ

I just want to say - There's an unprecedented global social movement out there.

A movement of movements which is the living embodiment of the slogan 
"one no and many yesses."

The "no" is a clear rejection of the single economic blueprint where 
the rule of capital is absolute, while the "many yesses" refer to the 
multitude of diverse, people-centered alternatives.

The act of desertion is not just saying no - in fact its saying yes,
yes to other ways of running our society,
yes to a future without  war,
yes to a culture of life.

  "Be realistic and do the impossible, because if we don't do the 
impossible, we face the unthinkable." Murray Bookchin

WE ARE EVERYWHERE - a radical publishing project is out this summer....


"The role of the revolutionary artist is to make revolution 
irresistible." Toni Cade Bambara
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