"STORM THE REALITY STUDIOS
RETAKE THE UNIVERSE"
What follows has been hidden from history
Redacted / Expunged / Recuperated
.......CALL IT WHAT YOU WILL.....
This polemic is about a Russian guy called Alexander Art who threw Molotov cocktails at the outside walls of London’s Tate Modern Gallery in late 2017
This polemic is about our strident intervention to help get Alexander Art out of prison banged-up by Tate Modern’s cultural authorities.
This polemic is about Alexander Art’s obsession with the early 1920s Russian avante garde artist Kasimir Malevich mirroring a somewhat similar obsession re the Icteric groupuscule in the mid to late 1960s and which was celebrated in the “Poetry Must be Made by All! Transform the World!” exhibit in Stockholm’s Moderna Museet. Nearly 3 decades later this innovative though recuperative exhibit was somewhat proclaimed in Anselm Jappe’s biography on Guy Debord.
This polemic is about a film The Square which received the Palm d’Or in Cannes, France in 2018; a film that never once acknowledged the vital source of its inspiration (i.e. The Fekkin ‘Wise Twins & Ron Hunt in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne) Instead we receive in this film an insipid, banal recasting....
“The truth must be silent. Go to your considerate stone”
Enobarbus to Mark Antony in Anthony & Cleopatra
by Bill Shakespeare
......CENTURIES LATER AND IT’S STILL THE SAME OLD SHIT.....
A word of caution: what follows may also appear haphazard, disjointed and
shapeless but is nonetheless dialectically connected
What follows is a brief involvement with VOID magazine (published by Morbid Books) in late 2017/ early 2018 following an article we placed in Issue no 2 entitled “Welcome to Future Ecocide” which was a spin off from BIG Garbage / BIG Artwash / BIG Greenwash = BIGGER ECO-DESTRUCTION on the RAP web and also published in Benedict IWs mag in New Zealand in late 2019 and which finally morphed into Feral Wilding Subverts Suicide Capitalism.
These two texts weren’t just a simplistic ‘revolutionary’ ecology in the sense of Murray Bookchin’s statement that “Ecology is the only revolutionary science” but involved wider memories of past nature-oriented Icteric experiments in Newcastle in the mid to late 1960s or, if you like, a proposed reshaping of humanity and nature inextricably combined. To take a specific example: Icteric was also about the lost history of the Russian avant-garde at the time of the Russian Revolution and its immediate aftermath. The seminal figure of Malevich played a big part here and we were duly fascinated not only with White on White and the Black Square but also Malevich’s Suprematist coffin which we reconstructed together with a weeklong performance art ritual which ended up with one of us kicking to bits a replica painting of The Black Square. Naive yes, but we were basically fascinated by the table rasa Malevich announced as we ineluctably two years later became much more fascinated by Malevich’s comments than his artefacts. Comments like, “Come comrades swim with us into the whiteness” a prelude to prising open “anarchy’s new dawns” perhaps more tellingly situated re Anton Ciliga’s comment in The Russian Enigma written many years after Malevich’s death that the aura of Russia generally was “despotism tinged with anarchy”. However, by then we had gorged on the forbidden fruit of the Situationists and more knowingly could then situate Malevich as an interesting stepping stone en route to a much more profound critique of art and culture in general in relation to capitalism, and certainly a critique which was – and still is – much more explosive. Sadly we then noted that Malevich in his final years obviously was feeling the full force of Stalin’s despotism lapsing into real, old time cornball art products, such as self portraits, etc. as he degenerated into something like Tracy Emin’s concept of ‘stuckism’.
The die was cast and from then an increasing fascination with the failure of the Russian Revolution and European revolution in general took over swiftly surpassing all the Trotskyite spieling as “anarchy’s new dawns” lauded the often magnificent experiment that preceded the crushing of the Spanish Revolution of 1936-8. But neither would the somewhat obsessive Russian puzzle go away like that especially that emphasis on active nihilist extremism. Would it break out again, and how?
And sure enough it did
Alexandra Art belongs to a rebellious, born-again, anti art movement (among other explosive pointers) that quite quickly developed a profile in Russia a few years before Putin came to power in Russia in 2000. It’s a movement that undoubtedly bears comparison with the nihilistic rebellion around the time of the emancipation of the serfs in the 1860s, personified most tellingly at that time through Dimitry Pisarev’s totemic book, The Destruction of Aesthetics. More than that it also heralded a revolt of form which carried on expanding its scope until crushed by the brutal hand of Stalinoid social realism from the late 1920s onwards through to the banality of the Brezhnev era beginning in the mid 1950s right up to 1970s-80s Samizdat. The final stage was epitomised through the god-fearing figure of Solzhenitsyn that latter day novel writing parody of Dostoevsky with books like The First Circle and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Like Dostoevsky more than a century earlier, Solzhenitsyn finally escaped the Gulag – but ironically only to end up self –imprisoning on New York’s Lower East Side in a house surrounded with barbed wire becoming a somewhat ludicrous figure then mockingly obliterated in Situationist Bruce Elwell’s New York based Midnight Notes mag in the late 1970s. Solzhenitsyn’s ‘radical’ stance however was limited to a revolt of content; an attack if you like on the mores of the pseudo-communists of the ruling Russian bureaucracy but an attack presented via traditional and outdated cultural forms, in his case the novel.
In the early 1990s in Russia, Perestroika (Openness!!) then kicked-in and the Berlin wall came crashing down followed by a period of utter chaos spreading throughout Russia as the old Communist Party nomenclature morphed –more or less – into the new oligarchy. One of the friends of this new oligarchy was none other than former KGB agent-in-chief name of Vlad (The Impaler) Putin. Then inevitably betraying his former supporters the guy became a Mafia-like boss adopting the role of Peter the Great or at least, some kind of new Tzar in a thoroughly ultra-capitalist Russia. Hardly surprising then that a new generation of radical nihilists began grabbing the rebel limelight, and how! The detonation of Pussy Riot in 2012 with all the shades of global fallout from punk rock under Malcolm McLaren’s former provocative influence hit the headlines worldwide. Truth to tell this outburst had been in preparation for a number of years.
Within this conundrum let’s now add a missing curiously meandering link: During the heyday of the Situationist International from the late 1950s to its demise in the early 1970s, there was some kind of discreet affiliation with various radical artists, émigrés from Russia’s pseudo-communist totalitarianism. These émigrés were treated with a certain amount of leniency combined with respect by SI members simply because they had gone through really tough background experiences simply because they were prepared to stand up for their beliefs. In no way were these gals and guys snowflakes. However, this leeway tended to become something of an obstacle especially the necessity of precise radical thinking that wasn’t tolerated among the SI’s West European or American counterparts. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be any record of what these Russians had gotten up to though you get the impression that some of these émigrés had been pretty effective provocateurs finally getting some of their edgy piss-takes onto the pages of Time Mag in the late 1960s. One especially caught the eye: a drawing of Lenin carrying a sexy semi-naked stripper in his arms; if you like porno tipping into really telling subversion! What happened to this bawdy Russian form of Dutch Provo – if you can call in that - in the next four decades, Gawwwwd alone knows!
Hoping to create a more open general response we tried to get other actionists involved so we could create a stir.
The following is an email to Class War’s, Ian Bone in 2018
And then something happens!!!!! Out of the blue I get contacted to help a guy in bad shit; lo and behold part of the Russian avant-garde that came to prominence after Pussy Riot put on their provocative and courageous performance in the cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow in 2012. After going into ‘things’ more we both felt we had no choice but to fully support Alexandra Art’s actions. Sure, the guy is confused (his initial naivety about Tate Modern / letters to the Queen, etc – like 19th century appeals to the Tzar, etc,) but there’s that admirable streak of daring authenticity and sheer guts – so Russian – that I’ve always admired since becoming a Dostoevsky addict at the age of 17; that indomitable Russian spirit for true human liberation and willing to go through hell and high water to get there.
I had long suspected there had been some kind of rub-off from King Mob and related material - the Newcastle Black Hand Gang – etc, especially the sheer sexualised, bog wall utter crudity used to put forward a message of liberation that decades later appealed to genuine Russian rebels combating the fearsome neo-liberal capitalism ransacking that country where the gap between rich and poor was to become the most extreme in all Europe. And for sure they’d become aware of English Punk and no doubt started making connections. For years I suspected Voina (War) - and just to say pre Pussy Riot - was acquainted especially when I realised there were old codgers in that group of largely young rebels. (Three years ago I also found out there was a Black Hand group of young Iranian women street artists putting up subversive visual messages and were always getting done in by their country’s revolutionary guard. Again this was cheering seeing that generally 98% of contemporary ubiquitous street ‘art’ world-wide is just decorative nonsense). Whatever!!!
For sure I think Alexandra is an admirer of Pyotr Pavlensky who fled recently from Russia to France where he now has set fire to a bank getting banged up in the Santé- for I don’t know how long - and is calling for a renewed French revolution! I’ve included here an attachment on Pavlensky which I find hilarious particularly that bit calling in prostitutes as witnesses in his trial. It’s like something out of a more updated Dostoevskyian account of Russian nihilists, one that takes in the theatre of the absurd bringing about endless, admirable laughter. (But then what’s that bit about Ukrainian nationalism??) Moreover, once similar individual Russian émigrés would have been in awe of ‘The West’ now not so much, or, should we say, hardly at all? Or maybe their perspectives are changing at the speed of light and are somewhat all over the shop? For sure part of Pussy Riot were taken in by western celebrity figures and cultural benefactors like Saatchi & Saatchi and the same can also be said of Pavlensky. For certain I will be most interested how Saatchi & Saatchi can recuperate these present outbursts; will they drop some of the ‘Russians’ like a ton of hot bricks?? Or just ignore, carrying on as if nothing happened, simply keep the glamour going as the money endlessly piles into their coffers.…..
On November 23, 2017 Alexander Art created on the Tate Modern wall his "Monument to despair" with Molotov cocktails.
Above: Photos after the fire was extinguished.
The following provocative statements which we put together were handed over to Tate Modern curators in a bid to free Alexandra Art
(To be expected the directors / curators did not reply but did our interventions have a positive effect? Well surprise, surprise, we weren’t allowed to know … Nonetheless, some of our own shit is permanently (?) on display at the Tate – which is why we were asked by the VOID collective to intervene in the first instance. However, we have never checked out where this shit is placed exactly as the Tate Mausoleum is too depressing –too anti life - to enter).
“Having remained partisans of a still unacceptable anti-art activism gateway to an individual / communal creative insurgency which characterised King Mob fifty years ago we fully support the explosive, courageous direct action of Alexandra Art in drastically exposing the utter bankruptcy of what still passes for modern art venerably displayed in London’s Tate Modern’s kleptocratic citadel. What this guy has done - this latter day heir of the best moments of Russian nihilism - from Pisarev and Chernyshevsky in the latter half of the 19th century through to Malevich in the first two and a half decades of the 20th century, really does mean something. But what precisely? It points to a lacunae world wide – and not just in Russia – that the revolution of modern art has so far not been followed up via the praxis of the modern art of revolution. Instead, post the liberating creative uprisings of the late 1960s / early 1970s, an extensive decrepit period of social glaciations underpinned by the rise of neo-liberal capitalism has gradually kicked-in destroying all hope of authentic life. This malaise has been aided and abetted by an obsequious, all enveloping post-modernism recuperating and disabling the best of subversive responses emanating from modern art whose heyday was dead and gone by the mid 20th century. All that survives are mere entrails getting ever weaker, displays of meaningless boring sensationalisms, gimmicks, surface appearances and vapid repetitions decade after wearisome decade. It amounts to the idolatry of eternal, same old, same old entertainment; an endless show of visual nothingness hung out to dry in super de-luxe gentrified vistas crowned with sensational price tags instantly accessible on every dreary Iphone.
Fiat money and the dregs of modern art are now inseparable. In comparison Alexandae Art’s direct action is the only creative act Tate Modern has ever hosted, albeit unwillingly though for certain the museum’s biggest ever hit! Beyond the shock of this genuine event lies the rediscovery of the creative praxis of total social eco-revolution ridding the world of commodity fetishism, the law of value, money, wars, work, celebrity culture, etc, etc. In short, an ever over-arching intensifying alienation existing side by side with an abject 24/7 misery visited upon the human psyche under the sway of a suicide capitalism hell-bent on destroying most life on Planet Earth”.
............Dave Wise, aka The Fekkin’ Wise Twins, January 2018............
“Fiat money and the dregs of modern art are now inseparable. In comparison Alexandre Art’s recent on-the-ball direct action happening is the only creative act Tate Modern has ever hosted, albeit unwillingly though for certain the museum’s biggest ever hit! Beyond the shock of this genuine event lies the rediscovery of the creative praxis of total social eco-revolution getting ridding of money and commodity fetishism, etc., forever. No wonder the shits in charge of KULTUR – of Artwash and Greenwash - want this guy locked up forever…..
What Alexandre Art has done - this latter day heir of the best moments of Russian nihilism - from Pisarev and Chernyshevsky in the latter half of the 19th century through to Malevich in the first two and a half decades of the 20th century, really does mean something. And don’t forget, Chernyshevsky’s What Is To Be Done? was the template a few decades later for Vlad Lenny’s, What The Fuk Are You Doing, Matey?.
Remember too, fifty years ago, as partisans of King Mob, we also attacked the dregs of art everywhere not only theoretically but with many fiery outbursts too. A leaflet collectively created by King Mob in 1968 demanding that anti Vietnam demonstrators should also wreck the Mill Bank Tate Gallery resulted in the museum firmly bolting its doors for 48 hours. Yes, some of us in King Mob paid a lifelong price for doing what we did – including the destruction of a few hallowed aesthetic portals elsewhere – a price which also included eternal blacklisting. But are we complaining? ARE WE SHIT…… WE THOROUGHLY ENJOYED IT……”
…………………The Fekkin’ Wise Twins, January 2018………………
“Alexandre Art is the latter-day heir of the best moments of Russian nihilism dating back to the Russia of the 1860s when Chernyshevsky, but in particular Pisarev, attacked the need for art, arguing he would much prefer to be “a shoemaker than a Russian Raphael” / “Shakespeare or a pair of boots”? etc, etc. It is also the era of Dostoevsky's House of the Dead, (a remarkable proto-documentary refusing standard novelistic features like a plot and fictive characters) and Marx’s correspondence with Vera Zasulich resulting in his recognition of the validity of the Russian agrarian commune (the Mir) that so undermined his schemata in Capital I that the sweeping of the peasantry from the land was necessary and progressive. In England, it signalled a revival of practical efforts to recreate the Commons (an idea bigger than ever today though on a very different level than two centuries ago) enhanced by what could be learned from “Primitive Communism” (the N. American Iroquois, for example hailed by Marx and excellently elaborated on by Franklin Rosemont in 1970s Chicago). Chernyshevsky (who died in the Tsarist gulag) would also write a prescriptive book called What is to be Done. Chernyshevsky’s dislike of Pushkin (Russia’s national poet) would be surpassed by the detestation of Mayakovsky and the Russian avant-garde in the first two and a half decades of the 20th century, Malevich announcing the death of painting in his White on White, Rodchenko replying with his Black on Black. It has been rightly called “The Great Experiment” and would, because of that, be suffocated for decades by so-called ‘Soviet Communism’ (which in reality was a brutally totalitarian form of state capitalism destroying the Russian workers’ councils along with Nestor Makhno’s radical Ukranian insurrection plus the revolt of the Kronstadt sailors in 1921, etc. Clearly, then, Alexandre Art’s courageous gesture is connecting, no matter how confusedly, with an astonishingly rich Russian past which really did shake the world- and may well do so again”.
………………The Fekkin’ Wise Twins, January 2018………………
Incendiary cocktails versus ‘creative’ food cocktails…
Alexander Art’s ‘Molotov performance’ at Tate Modern on 23rd of November, 2017
Can we evaluate Alexander Art as truth to tell he’s all over the shop apparently moving in all directions at once? There’s powerful determination alright and you can only admire his drastic actions at Tate Modern despite the fact there’s no coherent ‘general’ theory informing his fire bombings even though he is learned having acquired an often vast array of knowledge. The guy both likes and dislikes Tate Modern, the latter disposition gaining the ascendency the more he doggedly hung on to the building’s forecourt situated in Southwark Council space and not on land owned by the Tate. Alex Art proclaimed his presence for five months wearing a sign saying, “Tate modern destroys works of art” having taken issue with the Tate’s security guards early on for destroying the installation he was creating outside the gallery. It’s certainly true that day in and day out the Tate’s security guards harassed him. Later he was to further accuse Tate Modern for being “aggressive to modern artists” (c/f here “Metaperformance Resistance to Tatecide”) However, and it must be said, in no way has Alex Art superseded the trajectory of modern art which characterised the first half of the 20th century and his main inspiration still remains stuck in the moment of Kasimir Malewich’s Suprematism. He really does in his own words want to “reload abstract art” via a hoped for “abstract idealism” neglecting to acknowledge that the day of abstract art is well and truly kaput, over and out. Then blocked by Tate authorities from ‘reloading’ Alex lashed out proclaiming ARTOCIDE via his “Monument to Despair” made up of Molotov cocktails thrown in the middle of the night against the outside forecourt walls of Tate Modern. Brill! Previously - and possibly for some time - the guy had been against “corporatized art museums” despite having had art exhibitions back in Russia with tachiste paintings for sale accompanied side by side with telling quotes from Van Gogh, Dostoevsky (inevitably) William Faulkner, Kafka, etc. Alex Art then goes on to proclaim Tate Modern as nothing more than “a theme park, where the paintings of Picasso and Matisse are posters so that people can more actively visit the restaurant.” Alex further proclaims: “It’s not a museum. It’s a place for rent”. THIS IS GOOD STUFF!! EXACTAMENTE!!!
He furthermore goes onto declare that beyond modern art people need to understand “the whole universe of performance” whilst still believing in “eternity art” (whatever that is though he suggests that the 19th century English landscape painter JMW Turner is a good example) and as such sees no intrinsic artistic merit in “protest art”. Does it matter and isn’t the notion of artistic merit meaningless today? Alex doesn’t speak English so it’s hardly surprising that the guy knows nothing about the Situationists and related moments like King Mob and the American Motherfuckers, or indeed Mao Spontex in France to name the most prominent. Reading Alex’s writings you get the impression his historical knowledge stops with Surrealism suggesting that really subversive books from Western Europe / America have yet to be translated into Russian. A missing time lag of over 50 years or so at the very least seems to be the present malaise in Russia’s ‘cultural’ bookshops. On the other hand, is this truly accurate? Alex Art knows about – and more to the point really rates - the individuals that hung around a fledgling Situationist International; people like Piero Manzoni of the cans of “Artist’s Shit” fame, (one which was sold at Sotheby’s recently for 100 grand) Yves Klein - noting approvingly his axiom, “emptiness as a piece of art,” etc. In his “Manifesto of the New” Alex Art revealingly comments: “First of all we need to cancel all the talk about the death of art and the false authority of those who proclaim the death of art” wanting instead art’s “reincarnation in the person.” In reality this turns out to be a Malevich revival - a new Suprematist world outlined in Alex Art’s “Prehistory Doctrine” of “932 ideas for Suprematist innovation” – a world of suprematist ginger bread and food in general to everything within the house and street! (More than a few shades of Icteric here)...... Silly, silly bugger, he simply cannot confront the limits of end of art - art, reaching out to more contemporary and relevant subversive truths!
Alexander Art condemns modern day Russia: “There is no point changing anything in Russia, because in Russia, apart from Putin, nothing else exists”. This comment from late 2017 is in retrospect almost positively optimistic considering what was to kick-in world-wide as tin-pot dictatorships subsequently spread like wildfire more or less modelled on the American Caligula-like /Ubu Roi-like former President Trump who had only been in power a few months before Alex kicked off with molotovs in Britain. It’s worth asking, how long can this situation last as these shithead aspiring dictators are hardly in the mould of classical fascism, 1930s style? They give nothing, or at least, very little to ‘the people’ trapped by neo-liberal economic paradigms. Their roles really are endless variations, ironically, on performance art, absolutely and limitlessly favouring the ultra, ultra rich. However, Russia is something else within the performance nexus as the country’s brighter moments of inspiring subversion since the turn of the millennia have, over the last 3 years, been brutally crushed by an equally maniacal President Putin extending his reign into immortality, as he recreates himself as the ‘eternity performer’, meaning we are all fukking useless artists now!
..........And then there was Pyotr Pavlensky
When the name of Alexander Art crops up in conversation inevitably the figure of Pyotr Pavlensky is triggered almost simultaneously. Both essentially were moulded in the shadow and fall-out from activist subversion around the post collapse of the Berlin Wall 1990’s group Voina (War) and both exiled themselves from Russia voluntarily settling in Europe as indeed had happened previously with other Voina participants. Each considers himself a type of performance art activist in terms of extremism never before seen in its brief history. In a sense this finale of Voina is perhaps the last explosive fall-out from Happenings which were all the rage in Europe/America in the mid to late 1960s. Though literally explosive these Russians still consider themselves to be artists in a somewhat traditional sense of the term playing with form referencing poets, novelists and ‘writers’ or painters seeking glory in the Louvre or, perhaps heading for a future Museum of Everyday Life? Self important? Most certainly and the notion of artistic genius seems to remain well to the fore. Does this hamper their subversive efforts? Well, yes it does as an equally subversive anonymity is a big No No. But is it heading in the direction of a collective subversion ricocheting seemingly ad infinitum? Well it has the potential. However there is a big difference between say a Black Block anonymous collective setting fire to a bank and the same bank set on fire as part of a individual’s aspirant artistic archive; that moment where the poetry made by all blurs with the stance and portfolio of the classical poet cum artiste.
With this in mind –if you like – a short resume of Pavlensky’s ‘oeuvre’- if you can call it that - is necessary.
Sometime during 2017 Pavlenksky was granted political asylum in France because the guy over the previous 5 years or so had really got himself into a helluva lot of trouble in Russia which received an enormous amount of publicity both in the official media and a lot more so in the growing nexus of social media in Russia. Pavlensky was – and still is – very media savvy grabbing the headlines at all cost but does that mean his ‘stuntonomics’ is a career move that helps make lots of future dosh? In short, like a Banksy or a Tracy Emin in the UK? Hardly. And wasn’t that true even for the 1990s and Brit Pop in general whilst in Russia a counterpart like the ETI (Expropriation of the Territory of Art) were punished – as the protagonists were really done in - over and out. Nowhere more clearly than when Alexander Bremov sprayed up a caricature of a green dollar bill on a so-called “priceless” Malevich painting. Yep, really, really memorable. Similarly it cannot be said that Pavlensky makes money out of his sensationalist acts. On the contrary along with jail sentences, loony bin lock-ups, etc., he has landed himself with huge fines WHICH HE REFUSES TO PAY! Terrific. However as befits the nexus of entertainment capital, others in Russia do make dosh out of his antics. Thus, Burger King in St Petersburg made a mint out of specially marketed hamburgers inspired by Pavlensky’s performances and Russian youngsters everywhere gobbled them up in admiration....Also, never forget in the laudable antics of these contemporary end-of-art activists there’s more than an element of 19th century Dostoevsky-like, larger-than-life, mind-boggling nihilism which makes many of them admirable...AND FOR SURE MOST OF THESE GALS AND GUYS CAN’T BE BOUGHT! Around this time Pavlensky with his partner Oksana Shalygina set up a magazine which he said was “non-buyable and non-saleable” which is undoubtedly a fine gesture. Even better in 2016 he gave money to insurgent, anarchic groups suggesting his bank balance was pretty meaningless to him. Then unscrupulous western entrepreneurs also moved in quickly hoping perhaps to cleanse their tawdry money-grubbing reputations as they conned the guy. Thus in 2017 Pavlensky exhibited in London’s Saatchi Gallery “Art Riot” exhibit as in the same year he participated in a Beyond the Pleasure Principal exhibition organised around Sarah Lucas by the British Arts Council in Warsaw. Don’t forget Sarah Lucas as one of the Saatchi funded YBA’s (Young British Artists)commoditised sensationalists of the 1990s executed (!) in 1992 her Penis Nailed to a Board. Now who did that influence? Read on!
Remember Pavlensky came to prominence in Russia in 2012 in the aftermath of Pussy Riot’s “Punk Prayer” in Moscow’s main orthodox cathedral. In response to the jailing of the punk feminist outfit he sewed-up his lips (act entitled “Seam”) outside of Kazan cathedral, St Petersburg. Then the guy really decided to spectacularly expose the repressive behaviour of the Russian authorities wrapping himself in barbed wire outside St Petersburg Legislative Assembly (act entitled Carcass). In 2013 in a performance entitled “Fixation” Pavlensky drove a nail through his scrotum pinning it into the pavement of Red Square next to Lenin’s mausoleum alongside a written statement about Russian political apathy; “Fixation” being “a metaphor for the apathy, political indifference and fatalism of modern Russian society.” In 2014 Pavlensky in an act entitled “Segregation” cut off, Van Gogh –like, part of his ear in a protest against “the political abuse of psychiatry in Russia”. Then in November 2015 Pavlensky set fire to the doors of the Lubyanka – the former headquarters of the old Soviet KGB - now the FSB Russian Federal Security Services (the act was entitled “Threat”.) In reality he’d got fired-up over what was happening in the Ukraine supporting –unfortunately it seems and probably unknowingly - the right wing government with its fascist sympathies. (In parenthesis here one can only speculate if Pavlensky had heard about Nester Makhno’s anarchist uprising in the Ukraine -1918-21- or indeed had read books like Voline’s The Long Revolution). The outcome was he was fined a massive half a million roubles which he commendably never paid! Previously Pavlensky’s actions had resulted in arrest followed by psychiatric intervention now he was to spend seven months in jail awaiting trial. It’s undoubtedly true that if Pavlensky hadn’t continually played on art / film / media references, playing on the roll of misunderstood artistic genius, he would have received much stiffer sentencing......Even so Pavlensky felt his days were numbered in Russia and exile beckoned.
In October 2017 he was granted asylum in France only to almost immediately set fire to a Banque de France building on the Rue de la Bastille in a performance act he entitled “Lighting.” A little later he asked a blind man to testify as his witness, selected because he could not possibly have seen the blaze, really winding up the judges who utterly flummoxed sent him to a prison loony bin. More broadly it could be said the weapons of these avant-garde performers are none other than a real life theatre of the absurd deliberately pushed off the stage becoming in the process something else entirely! In response the judges could basically do nothing but shake their heads in bewilderment their traditional roles in rags and tatters unwittingly having become part of the performance. “Lighting” was inevitably accompanied by another memorable statement: “The Bastille was destroyed by a people in revolution; the people destroyed its symbol of despotism and power. The Banque de France has taken the place of the Bastille, and bankers have taken the place of monarchs.” Sentenced by a French court for the blaze Pavlensky was banged-up in the Fleury-Merogis prison and the same prison in which Jacques Mesrine was finally incarcerated. Learning more and more about France the Russian had quickly indentified with Mesrine’s amazing prison escapades rather in fact like Debord and other situationists had before him. Yep, Pavlensky was quickly catching on to the really subversive spirit which continually flows through the beating heart of France.
Inevitably too as befits a latter day Dostoevsky–like realisation in everyday life, Pavlenksky’s oeuvre is like an innovative pot pourri combining The House of the Dead. The Damned, The Idiot and Crime & Punishment all at once. Alongside this - again as in Dostoevsky - there must always be extreme self-abasement and vile disgust at your / our own human failings especially regarding sexual proclivities and lack of any kind of sexual control and one which so often is often taken to extremes with no room for any moralistic judgements! No wonder the Surrealists memorably called Dostoevsky, “The Shakespeare of the lunatic asylum”. True to type, Pavlensky was also forced out of Russia with allegations of sexual assault alongside threats of 10 years in the slammer for everything else he’d gotten up to. However there’s a query here. The new sex angle was most likely a state set-up which was easy to carry off as Pavlensky during the Lubyanka trial (which he regarded as intrinsically part of the “Threat” performance) he’d persuaded prostitutes to act as character witnesses who then claimed he was the dregs of humanity and a lousy artist, an accusation Pavlensky was well satisfied with (c/f enclosed newspaper article here). But then things really did get hot so he fled Russia with partner Oksana Shalygina as both had been accused of raping a woman. It’s almost certainly a lie though Alexander Art when interviewed in London in 2017 believed enough of these accusations were true.
Then to cap it all, in France in 2020, Pavlensky set up"Pornopolitics" website intent on exposing, "the representatives of power who impose Puritanism on society while despising it." Benjamin Griveaux, a former government minister in President Macron's En Marche party was one of those who got caught in the crosshairs of Pyotr's weapon. (Griveaux, was/is a typical hypocritical figure who banging on about "traditional family values" was having a secret liaison with a woman sending her vids and mucky messages). Pavlensky got hold of one of the vids and posted it on his Pornopolitics web. It showed Griveaux having a wank in the kitchen! Griveaux was sacked immediately but liberal France was horrified at the Russian's crudity and official feminists hated it, even more so when they found out about the previously commented upon prostitute interlude during the extended Lubyanka "Threat" performance. What a dirty low-down way to frame a wanker! Instead of having a good laugh the PC brigade proclaimed high moral principles.
Pavlenksy in front of his art fire performance at the Banque de France
Finally though there was another much more interesting response. Since “Lighting” the more or less autonomous id-dominated Gilets Jaunes movement had burst on the scene in France with much fire-raising with Pavlensky proclaiming he was the inspirational precursor in the techniques of how to burn a bank. Well maybe but don’t forget as an artist he was also interested in his portfolio therefore he stayed in front of his flames inviting arrest. (Similarly Alex Art after chucking Molotov’s at Tate Modern hung around the joint for five hours blowing a horn before he was arrested). The polyglot, open-ended Gilets Jaunes, on the contrary, also involved fire raisers but they were hit and run activists into anonymous revolutionary sabotage and not fire-raisers with an overwhelming artistic ego. The same movement however was delighted when Grivaux the wanker got the chop and they didn’t give a fuck at the underhand way it was done; in short more in the line of the old New York Motherfucker slogan, “fight foul life is real”.
Below: A report from some newspaper..........
Below: A Statement by Alexander Art
And now for something seemingly totally unrelated but is
Above: Kasimir Malevich’s funeral, Leningrad, 25th of May 1935
The real origin of The Square is about an authentic anti capitalist cum anti art movement involving creative investigation and contestation together with the inevitable fuck-ups back in the rebellious late 1960s in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. Subsequently, it wasn’t superceded but derailed through stealthy - even lethal - banal recuperation. Almost immediately a step backwards was taken as the contestation was frozen into a museum exhibit that became something of an iconic big hit in the world of what is acceptable. The Poetry Will be Made by All! Transform the World exhibition put together by Ron Hunt from Newcastle was curated by Pontus Hulten in Stockholm’s Moderna Museet in 1969. The exhibit combined neglected moments from Russian Futurism with a big emphasis on Malevich’s Suprematism along with montages put together by Stuart Wise illustrating Surrealist ideas for the transformation of Paris in the 1930s together with various incendiary images and manifestoes from the here and now, especially New York’s Black Mask and Motherfuckers with whom we were collaborating. However this was the moment authentic revolt world-wide was beginning to stagger unsure of what to do and where to go next. In its turn this exhibition sparked numerous acts of what had quickly morphed into tried and trusted pseudo-confrontation all now safely ensconced within the recently updated paradigms of an art world where everything ‘changed’ in order to remain the same. (Examples of this so-called change was the rise of performance art transforming into the ‘land art’ movement of Robert Smithson, Andy Goldsworthy and Richard Long, etc - both secondary imitations of authentic contestation though looking original because of its new eco edge before the descriptive greenwash definition had seen the light of day).
The neon-lit 'white' edge of the Black Square from the 2017-8 film
Alas, decades of stasis were to pass and then belatedly the original exhibition was again recognised as an ‘iconic’ moment which needed to be somewhat remembered / repeated / celebrated again. Thus a fall out organisation from the German performance art Happeners Fluxus transformed into e-flux in January 2014 now presided over by a revamped, hipster-oriented curator name of Hans Ulbricht Obrist who taking full control even interviewed authentic rebels like ex situationist Raoul Vaneigem. Obrist had also taken over a top administrative position running Hyde Park’s Serpentine Gallery in London along with other prestigious positions. e-flux was shortly followed with Obrist’s 89plus 2015 exhibition in both Zurich and again in Stockholm’s Moderna Museet. Some of the promotional blurb for the exhibit in the latter gallery did minimally tell the truth: “The exhibition itself was inspired by the seminal 1969 show at the Moderna Museet”. Immediately the new repeat exhibit ricocheted. Indeed where would the Corbynista Labour party in the UK have been without it as deputy leader John Mcdonnell took it up, imitating the title and helping create the Momentum movement (c/f MONEY/MONEY/MONEY/MONEY: Sanguinetti & Alexis Renoir on the arsehole, Jean-Marie Apostolides. Plus speculations on QE, UBI, automation and AI) By then 89plus was a MSM / social media hit and in this air conditioned maelstrom almost immediately a film beckoned, one which would crown all previous endeavours and which found its raison d’être in The Square which then went on to capture the establishment’s top prize: the fekkin’ Palm D’Or!
Strange, yet not strange at all and yet no doubt we will be accused of living on Fantasy Island, or if not that, simply being downright liars. But that’s exactly how an elongated recuperation works even if becoming more far-fetched, even phantasmagorical. Although this particular event concerns cinema and the very axis of what was once lived passionately and directly turning into prize winning, ultra passive representation and resignation, is it unique? Not at all as indeed something similar had happened over sixty years ago in France.
Back to 1961 and the Cannes Film Festival. A certain ‘notorious’ Alain Resnais had just won the Golden Globe prize for his nouvelle vague French film Last Year at Marienbad based on an anti-novel novel by Robbe Grillet. Why notorious? Well Resnais had been refused entry to the Cannes Film Festival because he had signed Jean Paul Sartre’s manifesto of the 121 against the French Algerian war. At the time our miniscule authentic band of late teen miscreants in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne didn’t know about any of this until a year later when we piled into a tiny ‘art’ cinema on Northumberland Street, Newcastle’s main drag. After having been recently turned-on at the same gaff by Quatre Cent Coups (Four Hundred Blows by Francois Truffaut) we thought we couldn’t go wrong. Uh-Huh. Walking out at the end one of us (David Young) said: “Last Year at Marienbad, bad, bad, bad”. But we were young – and naive in another way - and though able to recognise Surrealist quotes and the Magritte-like cum De Chirico-like estrangement, we missed the essential: that this film was the recuperation of Lettrism re the latter’s negation of cinema making such subversive concepts appear flippant and whimsical.
True, by 1961 we had heard of Lettrism but basically knew nothing about its broad, perceptive theory and we certainly didn’t know who Isidore Isou, the Lettriste ‘leader’ was. Nay, farther back, in deepest Co Durham, a vague knowledge of the word Lettrism alongside skiffle had come to our attention in a loser’s bottom end secondary modern school on Kirk Merrington’s pit spoil heap football field as we played the tough pit-laddies from the nearby pit villages of Pity Me and Seldom Seen. But then there was nothing and no more salient subversive facts were immediately blowing in the wind…
By 1961, true we’d become more sophisticated but the essential was still missing: we didn’t know about Guy Debord and his ground-breaking anti-film of 1952, Howls in Favour of De Sade on the very year the Lettrist International came into existence and a step forward from a more narrowly focussed Lettrism. And the crux of this ‘film’ that no film was now possible, that cinema was dead, was dynamite. Henceforth – it suggested - shit on this passive contemplation of nothingness, this endless staring at a blank screen pointing towards a horrific empty visual world of things; of endless saleable commodities via a substitute life of spectacle…. As for Howls in Favour of De Sade, well for sure we knew something (though basically nothing) about it as after all Alan Ginsburg’s seminal Beat Generation eruption in America was a poem named Howl. We only realised the connection – and its cultural recuperation via ‘edgy’ poetry some 10 years later…..
Yes we knew about avant-garde cinema but it was Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov that captivated and then on a more thrilling level, A Propos de Nice / Zero de Conduite by Jean Vigo followed by Rene Clair’s Entracte, etc, but then – more explosively – there was Luis Bunuel’s, Le Chien Andalou and L’Age D’Or. In comparison the more recent international recognition of the French nouvelle vague seemed tame in comparison. For sure we knew about the Cannes film festival and the opportunist antics of sometime surrealist Jean Cocteau who supported Hitler, etc. We knew Andre Breton despised him and we agreed, though again we were lacking on essential details. We didn’t know that in 1955 Cocteau had redesigned the Palme D’Or and that Isou had disrupted the official jury system appointing his own awards showing his film manifesto “Treatise on Venom and Eternity” outside the official grounds where “A sizable commando of some thirty lettrists, all wearing the filthy uniform as their only really original trade mark, showed up at Cannes determined to provoke a scandal that would draw attention to themselves.” This indeed was the post second world war rootless generation of vagrant rebels against work refusing to market anything they produced such as their free Potlach mag, who brought into being the ambience of an undomesticated derive and psychogeography. That year there were such ructions in Cannes that ever after the Palme D’Or became a pretty rigid event…..
Finally attendance at the Palme D’Or ceremony was by INVITATION ONLY and in 2017 was won by the film:
We aren’t about to go into the plot and narrative of The Square as anybody can read about that via the Wikipedia blurb or buy the DVD for a few quid. In any case that’s of no importance here. This polemic is about establishing subversive markers that have been deliberately derailed to make an acceptable cinematic presentation…. Broadly the film is supposed to be a comedy taking a gentlemanly piss out of performance art. Yawn, Yawn, Yawn …
Right from the very beginning the Icteric-like gallery style spoil heaps appear and they keep on re-appearing throughout the 3 hour long film, except that in our present greenwash age they seem to alternate between piles of grain and piles of muck and sand. Re the latter Robert Smithson is mentioned playing on the real landscape /art installation rubbish designed by Robert Smithson which has nothing to do with real ecological intervention within nature. And then in the film perhaps a modern state of the art vacuum cleaner accidently hoovers everything up. Laugh, Laugh, Laugh…. Ugh, Ugh, Ugh!
Above: Icteric spoil heaps on an art school floor in Newcastle Above: The spoil heaps in the Palme D’Or film
Right from the very beginning too, the film is about a Stockholm based Museum of Modern Art getting into “cutting edge art” on the level of Exhibition / Non-Exhibition, Site / Non-site. More specifically it’s about placing random objects in museum space where they instantly are re-anointed as art. In the film an old formalised bronze sculpted statue on a plinth of – most likely – some historically famous Swedish warrior on a horse is unceremoniously pulled off by a crane creating a new space for…. a square. It quickly becomes obvious that this new square is based on Malevich’s Black Square of 2015 –though doesn’t specifically say so - with its original white border replaced with a thin strip of white neon lighting (see above photo). In fact a much, much bigger new Black Square of 4 by 4 metres is cut into old cobblestones, replete with brass plaque proclaiming intentions: “Equal rights and obligations” “The square is a zone of trust and care”, etc, meant to “activate the audience”. Elsewhere, the film bangs on about “relational aesthetics” a combination of art & sociology. The film continually plays with provocative contestation from an anonymous audience activated and pissed-off with art language mumbo jumbo; only to be dismissed by the platform as a rash of tourettes syndrome when somebody calls the art “garbage”. All pointlessly in-joke clever, clever bullshit.
Yet the backdrop is all ultra modern and is about the niche culturally oriented really rich along with endless hi-tech gadgetry and You Tube videos. In short there’s hardly any difference between the rich, disoriented, somewhat alienated bo-ho La Dolce Vita milieu of Last Year at Marienbad and the fuks portrayed here. So nothing much has changed in this respect. The original Lettriste milieu were more or less poverty stricken scruffs and we were hardly much different making do in a real communal piss-up with home brew wine and beer. Cars figure in The Square narrative but the vehicle driven by the central caste bo-ho’s has to be a Tesla, manufactured by Elon Musk Tesla; an obnoxious multi-billionaire showman ‘visionary' –who else? As for the art / anti art conundrum it is only about one thing only: Big Money boosted somewhat by the uninspiring ‘creative’ food obsession typical of affluent modern art museum audiences. In itself in any case the ‘art’ is about nothing more than finding the best piece of sensationalism going, one which will attract both the MSM and social media. In short: the gateway to Big Bucks and after all a Malevich suprematist painting went for $60 million in a Sotheby’s auction in New York in 2008. In the film the curators are the real subject as they are the lynch pin of art valorisation and in the film they hit the jackpot through a purposefully distasteful vid showing a poor kid blown apart within the space of the cobblestone square. Finally there’s a pseudo-passionate appeal –seemingly spontaneous - for the ultra rich to put everything right in the world. Obviously there’s nothing about obliterating the rich bastards once and for all.
Towards the end of the film its bye bye Icteric, enter King Mob and the gorilla /donkey invasion of Powis Square, Notting Hill in 1968. In the film, a sedate, rich, cultured, gathering in a super de luxe luxury dining venue needs some frisson initiated by the organizers in a “Welcome to the Jungle” episode. A guy imitating a gorilla enters and slightly fuks them around until he really does get out of hand and then has to be knocked out cold by some now agitated members of the audience. In no way though does this episode subvert the audience / performer nexus central to the function of capitalism. Indeed, if anything the film is a paean of praise for the wonders of capitalism.
Above: The film’s imitative gorilla performance
Towards the end of the film the camera pans over myriad ascending stairwells in a modernist block of high rise apartments for the poor. It’s also a straight lift from a photo in our book, Wildcat Spain Encounters Democracy “entitled lean over the staircase we are going to hold an assembly”. Apart from none of this is about subversion and social revolution. This is about getting the highest shittiest monetised award in the film industry: the Palme d’Or at the Cannes film Festival plus the Goya award for best European film plus the Robert Award for best Non-American film.......and no doubt the "plus" goes on and on and on ......
At the end of the film the credits contain a long, long, list of all those involved, that is apart from the initial very real instigators …. Always remember, only substitutes and pastiches are of any significance in an empty, ultra-commoditised, performance oriented society…………
Of course there are no abominable copyright restrictions to anything we do and anybody is free to do whatever they wish. However, The Square steals in a predatory ultra-monetised way, not so “ideas can be improved and plagiarism implies it” – mentioning yet again that great quote from Lautreamont – but so real intervention can be further trashed and the real thought of history further derailed.
Then there’s that other great axiom: “Poetry will be made by all and not by one” though today even here we have now to add a big “Yer-Wat”? Yeah, for sure the great slogan is from Isodore Ducasse’s Poesies and not The Songs of Maldoror remembering Ducasse wrote under the pseudonym of the Comte de Lautreamont – a posh title most likely imitating the example of Lord Byron – and a pseudonym which Andre Breton described as “execrable”. Yep this axiom, along with so much else’ truly was a subversive lashing out that promised so much and yet today has got so lost, elongated, bent, estranged without disturbing this baneful olde worlde with its endless facelifts. A world indeed that has bent over backwards to fully bring it on board without disturbing the status quo of art galleries / poetry gatherings / salons / lecture theatres / universities / cultural festivals / etc, and essentially the big dollario that always but always is present in these vacuous commoditised gatherings. For sure poetry will be made by all BUT as it stands in the dismal perspectives of these nastily reactionary times, is and will forever be qua poetry, qua painting, qua sculpture, qua music, qua architecture – all redundant cultural specialities - until we all throw up. Today an endless mediocrity gets ever worse as a smoke and mirrors increasingly valueless and unsubstantial capitalism heads at breakneck speed towards disaster, yet in mundane day-to-day space and time, appears so unbearably slow in happening..
Finally, it’s not as though our experience is unique. The film The Square mirrors to some extent, although in a much more camouflaged way the story of the Monkey Wrench Gang in the America of the 1970s first transformed into a novel by Edward Abbey and for a least the last 10 years has been proposed as the basis for a film starring Hollywood celebrities. Way before that in 1960 there was The Train which in turn inspired the German happener Wolf Vostell to re-enact in real life, the film’s train crash when in reality the film was a kind of Hollywood Lettriste anti-art transplant starring Burt Lancaster plus nouvelle vague actor, Jeanne Moreau. Derailment in the purest sense of the word! However by 1960 Lettrist film techniques were, in a marginal way, present in Hollywood as after all, one of Hollywood’s most celebrated directors, Orson Welles, in 1952 made a cinematic interview with Isodore Isou which will have done the rounds. Moreover, where would William Burrough’s acclaimed film The Towers Open Fire have been without Isou? Or indeed his slogan which fronts this polemic -"Storm the Reality Studios",etc, which King Mob rather opportunistically deployed on a banner in a raucus London demonstration back in the good ole' days of 1968.
But we were situated in the “right little, tight little island” of an England determined on cretinism at all costs especially on the cultural front in regard to the rise and fall of form; a typical response somewhat like the following: “We are having nothing of that ‘Art is Dead’ stuff. God Save the Queen”! Our previously mentioned early 1960s “miniscule authentic band of late teen miscreants in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne” loved The Train correctly scenting “an anti-art movie” - as we referred to it at the time - without yet again knowing about its Lettrist origins....as we wearily repeat ourselves yet again...
From 1950 onward all performance art was to depend upon publicity becoming the common denominator with the movie camera as the essential tool even in relation to the most acutely subversive acts which could end up with the perpetrators getting banged-up.. Perhaps the first and finest, Michel Mourre's and Serge Berna's anti clerical intervention during Notre Dame's Easter Sunday High Mass on 9th April 1950 was such a hit because that new invention, the TV camera was prominently filming the service. The convulsions which followed raged throughout the French press for at least 10 days drawing in many of the big figure of the time from stalwarts of the Communist party CGT to the French Resistance to Andre Breton, etc. A pattern was thus set and 18 years later a slogan from 1968 exhorted: "Make shame more shameful by giving it publicity". In the following decades the world went publicity mad and alas subversion didn't escape its deadly embrace. It was if the individual stunt even if exceptional, even if ending in jail, had become the be all and end all of insight; a brief flash of enlightenment and fame followed by nothingness. And there's the rub! Something more genuinely sustainable and collective must resolve this impasse, the brilliant act accompanied by lucid explanation which can resonate for a long time, sharpening many emerging minds already embarking on subversive thoughts and lifestyle; praxis thus begetting better praxis.
But then we can also self-critique here for isn't there now a tendency in all media whether MSM or Facebook, etc., to instantly eradicate mention of all spectacular subversive acts. The flurry of discussion around Alex Art in late 2017 has since been 'disappeared' or redacted as have more recent acts especially against Tate Modern re the following; http://artiusnews.com/newsmaking.php/index.php?controller=post&action=view&id_post=230&ref It's true the latter was a bit of a garbled act but in the age of the tech disinformation giants which makes "the Gilded Age" tycoons of the late 19th century look pitiful controllers in comparison, what more can we say.........?
A Fulmigthbaglio Scenario?
As the Covid-19 cultural “curtain falls” does “universal darkness bury all”? (To readjust John
Milton’s Apple Iphone).......
Or could this be the beginnings of a social transitioning; an emancipation from Suicide
Art may have been declared dead in the mid to late 1960s as its practical realisation based on the premise of the good life became part of the desired total revolutionary utopia. However, as we sadly know it didn’t turn out like that. Degraded, wiped-out, jaded, art’s ghoulish corpse was able to rise from the grave to haunt the rest of society transmogrified into an accelerating anesthetization cum aesthetization of everyday life. This ghostly spectre of art’s former vitality was then let loose draping its shroud itself across every aspect of post-modernist urbanism; a surface spectacle of art wash increasingly blending with green wash promoted throughout all the new, so-called ‘creative’ industries springing up world-wide even if mainly concentrated in the over-developed countries. This tendency coincides with - indeed replaces – capitalism’s industrial base epitomised in huge, often monolithic factories employing vast amounts of blue collar workers. Today automation which tries to reign absolutely has given way to giant, largely robotised warehouses stationed by the side of smart motorways readied for equally giant driverless vehicles.
However a word of caution is needed. The emphasis here must be on “tries to reign” because at the moment an incomplete robotisation exists alongside the traditional manual worker wage slave which is nowadays invariably forced into the horrible position of insecure, non-unionised pitiful contracts with equally pitiful salary. On top of this misery, usually these gals and guys are hounded by thuggish Logistics directed overseers who don’t give a fuk so long as the imperious demands of ever increasing speed-up takes place according to algorithmic diktat. This casually employed workforce if we are in luck could explode at any time as west London’s Angry Workers World keeps telling us. Let’s hope they are really onto something.
Alongside this artificial intelligence dystopia but nonetheless reining supreme ideologically is a vast, largely low wage and insecure service sector economy based on entertainment in which ‘end of art, art’ is further distilled, regurgitated and endlessly reprocessed spreading out over, colonising all space. It’s all part and parcel of the essential veneer of a service economy of ultra-financialised city centres. Nonetheless the spectre of the art gallery cum cultural centre still remains the valorising hub of this nexus endlessly appearing and disappearing everywhere on what’s left of our former somewhat living and breathing streets which nowadays have morphed into barren, hollowed out, soulless corporate landscapes. Meanwhile a ubiquitous curator cum director has become something akin to the financial broker of this aestheticised stock exchange. Nothing else matters as truly more than ever, art really has become, “the one commodity that helps sell all the others”, a form of selling relying - post 1968 - on slick, often one-off shock tactics much of it encapsulated within the ever extending revolution of modern art inherited and recuperated from its heyday many moons ago. It is the moment when the work ethic has given way to the work aesthetic and central to the battery farm office arrangement required by an elite landlord / rentier class firmly buttressed by off-shore junk bonds and associated derivatives.
Moreover the act, essentially the performance has become the fulcrum of capitalism and Event / Intervention is the essence of politics reinforcing a reified, passive spectator oriented everyday life. More than ever it is the realisation of that Performance Principle which so preoccupied Herbert Marcuse.Presentational theatricised happening on the flat screen is all that matters as real authentic touchy feely life withers and dies. Representation 100 years ago was already beginning to replace authentic experience , today it has engulfed us to the point where none of us can breathe.Tellingly in the late 19th century Jarry’s Ubu Roi blurted out “The work of art is a stuffed crocodile” which could easily be the motto behind the endless stunts required of our present day pastiche-like loathsome would be dictators and their allies strutting their stuff....
But behind this entire facade lies a startling but hidden reality: the mechanisms of capitalist reproduction are grinding to a halt even heading towards absolute impasse as value evaporates (c/f Robert Kurz’s The Insubstantiality of Capitalism). Fixed capital (machinery, plant’ etc) is heading towards complete triumph over variable capital (wages) with the consequence of a precipitous fall in the rate of profit as the essence of unpaid labour (i.e. the rate of exploitation) unravels precipitously. The so-called ‘solution’ to the financial crisis of 2007-9 - surreptitiously recognising this impasse - was to place capitalism on a life support machine in an ICU (Intensive Care Unit) artificially prolonging what is left of capital’s life span until ineluctable death one day will finally engulf this still living corpse. But when? Alas, we cannot know that although the interim feels like the proverbial can endlessly kicked down the road, hence the almost daily proliferation of complex, obscure financial instruments which try to compensate for this impasse often simply covering up a planetary looting which Rosa Luxembourg emphasised 100 years ago. Then in 2020 along came the Covid-19 pandemic and the ICU became more pressurised than ever. NO ESCAPE looms and its more alarming than ever because are “we” - or if you like “the people” - ready to make the huge jump heading towards human /social emancipation this dire situation demands.
100 years ago a similar pandemic engulfed a sizable part of the globe though not the entire planet unlike today. Inevitably a number of articles comparing the two catastrophes have appeared in the MSM. However, apart from some interesting, even illuminating technical cum scientific aspects which are of real interest there is in all of them a glaring omission: no journalist mentions the Spanish flu epidemic coincided with the largest ever potentially revolutionary uprising in world history involving in the main the peoples of the European continent. More importantlyperhaps, between 1918-21 did any revolutionary treatise mention the pandemic? In retrospect, remarkably György Lukács superb totalising subversive effort History and Class Consciousness made no mention and perhaps less so, you would have thought the Californian IWW Wobblies would have added some pithy comments. We now sadly know that the failure of this revolutionary period especially that of the German revolution plus that of Russia (i.e. by enlarge the creeping counter revolutionary role of the Bolshevik party) paved the way for many of the horrors which then unfolded throughout the next 80 years of the 20th century and indeed after. Did the first pandemic wreck capitalism or was the main factor the revolutionary crisis further impacting on shattered economies product of the sheer cost of the First World War? We can be fairly certain that it was the latter and quite unlike today where Covid-1984 is more or less unintentionally, even accidently subverting the world economy. Nonetheless the debt post the aftermath of the First World War was dramatic and in retrospect could perhaps be said marked the first real moment of capitalism’s inability to successfully re-valorise hence the necessity to create the faked stimuli which immediately characterised “The Roaring Twenties” dramatically ending with the calamity of the great stock market collapse of 1929. Moreover, at the same time there was much discussion around “bending the law of value” not only via Lenin, etc, but also played a part in the emerging panaceas of a young John Maynard Keynes. For certain it marked an essential tinkering with the mechanisms of capital’s reproduction that ever since have exponentially increased even though getting ever weaker. Today, all the complex financial derivatives are being stripped back to their bare bones by the Covid-19 crisis and no “Roaring Twenty Twenties” beckons despite the backdrop of stock market highs, whereby an unreal shareholders casino economy buttressed by superficial economists endlessly trot out some some séance-like scenario of future “levitating tables” desperate as these jerks are to keep the changing paradigms of the new proletariat eternally locked into their chains offering these schmucks endless magical placebos of future sunlit uplands.
As for the centre stage performance service sector - the so-called human touch of capitalism – a long goodbye beckons. For most people it’s something like a trauma as the totality of the entertainment TV/Internet spectacle collapses involving music venues, tourism, theatre, cinema, ‘creative’ eateries and sport, seemingly ad infinitum... But for a relatively pitiful few –for us – potentially for all of us - who have been self-isolating via an updated and time honoured version of The Great Refusal from this noxious spectacle for years and decades, it also suggests the possibility of real liberation as we never connected with any of this shit in the first instance! It points to a transition period, a real loosening of the ties whereby capitalism has colonised all our sensory perceptions as a battle erupts between Naomi Klein’s concept of Disaster Capitalism and a more traditional Capitalist Disaster, a toing and throwing never before experienced in the alienated pre history of the human race. Neither can we be too optimistic here especially regarding the merits / non-merits of CTH (Conspiracy Theory of History). It could be said that Covid-19 has been used by the state as a far more successful way of policing ‘the people’ than the previous Islamic terrorist strategy even though neither was invented as some deep state ploy whether Chinese, American or who ever. Various states have merely grabbed hold of these catastrophes and tried to take advantage of them as the means of absolute subjugation making Orwell’s Big Brother appearing archaic and wooden in comparison. Recently something of this trajectory has been helped on its way by the contemporary QAnon conspiracy that has gained such remarkable traction. Alas it is nothing more than a smart phone variation of the medieval Ship of Fools culminating today in The Storm where all people who don’t possess mush for brains are vanquished so that barbarism – at long last – can triumph. All Hail the dumb fuks Rapture…….
Essentially Disaster Capitalism was first formulated by the neo-liberal economists of the 1930s-40s, especially Joseph Schumpeter’s concept of “wave-form” “creative destruction”. Three decades later such concepts received an upgrade through the auspices of Milton Friedman and the Chicago School of Economics. In essence it was formulated around acting ruthlessly pushing through privatising agendas whenever something calamitous happens in the outside world. In short, that moment when the population at the receiving end of tragedy are so disoriented they are unable to concentrate on the veracity of directives swiftly imposed by government leaders acting brutally. Naomi Klein in her 2007 book The Shock Doctrine references recent examples around local events such as Pinochet’s coup in Chile in 1973 and the devastating impact Hurricane Katrina in 2005 had on New Orleans as Disaster Capitalism quickly and brutally ensconced itself. At these horrendous moments, financial speculators quickly moved in looting and grabbing virtually everything standing.
However the emphasis here is on local events but (and it’s a big but) can the same process be repeated when the entire planet has been hit almost simultaneously by a disaster such as the Covid-19-84 pandemic? Hasn’t the world population for the first time in its history become negatively united by common and basic, gut connections of grief, angst, fear, suicidal feelings, job survival worries, shattered human relationships and behaviour, all crazily enmeshed in what Jacques Camatte recently described as an unprecedented “world nervous breakdown?” Moreover, nobody but nobody ever gets out of a nervous breakdown quickly and that will be equally true regarding the totality of Planet Earth. Of course the financial /political racketeers endlessly bang-on in the MSM spotlight about immanent V curves for the economy, about seizing this and seizing that but can they in any effective, lethal, devastating way ensure all opposition can be permanently crushed? Preferably pronto! Will 5G work? Will this be the victory for total surveillance making George Orwell’s original1984 look like child’s play in comparison; a transition from the recuperative emptiness of the post modernist cultural vampires who made lucrative careers for themselves preying on the life-enhancing rebellions of the late 1960s to the horrors of the post human? Will AI transplants within the human body manufacture the cyborgs who will gradually phase out Homo sapiens as we’ve known ourselves for thousands of years followed by the finale whereby everybody is utterly separated from each other underlined by the human touch becoming a nigh on illegal act? Chipping of cats and dogs? Shit, you ain’t seen nothing yet!
Indeed aren’t we almost half way there? Fordism 100 years ago alongside its formal reproduction in a largely urban working class community and its lived-in spaces was then the essence of society buzzing with liberatory potentialities (nigh on 50 years later this potentiality was highlighted through the derive / psychogeographic ambience cum experimention, etc). Now all that has been liquidated product of a largely neo-liberal economic totalitarianism which bit by bloodthirsty bit is hell bent on destroying all the amazing possibilities inherent in existing - and future - emancipatory human behaviour. When we get derive repeats today they truly are mired in nothingness; human ambience having been replaced by something like hunt-the-thimble cum Pokémon artistic walks (e.g. as Slade art lecturer Tanya Loi along with others takes participants around London’s Kings Cross or up a once vibrant Kilburn High Road to note various out of the way artistic adornments. No ebulliently seething Biddy Mulligan’s here!) And need we remind you dear reader that some of the language of classic psychogeography (i.e. Ivan Chtcheglov’s notion of Quarters) has been purloined by all the wretched crew of post modern algorithmic planners and architects to designate their abysmal concrete, steel and glass structures. (Hopefully, Anselm Jappe’s recent book CONCRETE! will be quickly translated into English. Fat chance wouldn’t you think?) Modern Manchester, or rather Manc-Hattan as it’s been re-named, is a glaring example of purloined Quarters deriving from the notion of a newly re-created anti-commoditised Hacienda outlined originally by Chtcheglov only to be vulgarised by the cultural sales pitch of Tony Wilson’s Factory Records in the 1980s preparing the ground for something ten times worse.
Hence today there’s also much talk –re the usual forward planning – about “ re-wilding” that part of Manc-Hatten where the musical Madchester of the late 1980s took-off situated alongside that tributary of the River Irwell that slides through the old cotton mill buildings of the late 19th century close by the city centre. However this “re-wilding” is merely the usual buzzword for anodyne, domesticated greenwash adornments that are beginning to spring up everywhere and have nothing to do with that real natural cyclical Spring in the truly bio diverse fecund sense of the word.
Also, not too far away in Nottingham the city council has a similar plan but on a much bigger scale and through “green corridors” and “zones for pond dipping” will reconnect the city to Sherwood Forest. Notts Wildlife Trust is part of the plan and wants to bulldoze what’s left of the half demolished huge, ugly 1970s Broadmarch shopping centre replacing it with an “urban wilding venue”; to be designed by Influence Landscape Architects assisted by the Wildlife Trust’s “head of marketing”. Needless to say WTF all has this to do with authentic wilding? Well nothing but there again the aim of the Wildlife Trust is to find a new way to “recover the economy” now that Nottingham along with cities generally are facing their gravest ever crises in their long history. Needless to say –yet again - what has this to do with the supercession of political economy and /or genuine peoples’ autonomy? But what can we expect from bureaucratic officialdom?
Elsewhere former ‘revolutionaries’ assist in the self-same process no more so than in Barcelona where Ada Colou a former Los Indignados rebel from the inspirational Spanish squares occupation movement of 2011has now withered into becoming the city’s mayor. Post Covid 19-84 Colauwants to place Barcelona at the forefront of the “green revolution” which in practise seems to be nothing more than placing hundreds and hundreds of raised up wooden anti-nature planters everywhere over paved malls where the car –now of course electrically powered - will still be king. Ah, the planters which separates and isolates all bio-diversity allowing essential earthworms, etc to roam up and down throughout the soil at will.
As if the above details aren’t distressing enough other dark forces also beckon intensifying separation, isolation and massive passivity via the Covid 19-84 lockdown.. An increasingly scientistic hospital complex could become the arena of a hideous cyborg experiment as it contorts into the hub whereby sexual organs and other sensory organs are superseded by algorithmic body part upgrades. (Admittedly all this is far-fetched for the moment) Such a trajectory could be superseded by a grotesque finale when the super rich are the only “human being substitutes” left after capitalism has collapsed asphyxiated by its own internal formal contradictions having in the meantime laid waste to billions of human beings, nature and Planet Earth. By then all free thought, all free action, all human emotion will have been curtailed substituted by an absolutely omnipotent fictive screen; a “fall of life” like never envisaged in The Society of the Spectacle in 1967 underpinning the moment when love and desire have disappeared substituted by an ever extending emptiness as the only administered solution...... However, it will be accompanied by the final bitter irony: these substitute humans will no longer be the super-rich as money will be redundant along with hedge funds, banks, property portfolios and the rest of the commodity economy but alas for these idiots with no post-capitalist utopia in sight….
Or will our present turmoil carry on and on but with the trajectory that common ruin and mass extermination will still be the extended outcome? Or will light - or what’s really necessary – will enlightenment slowly or perhaps rapidly dawn? For sure there are signs of uprising everywhere with mini riots (and not so mini-riots) augmented by wildcat strikes, many, if not most, beneath the radar. Nonetheless, the backdrop is, we are adrift, all all alone, alone on a wide-wide contaminated sea? An impossible situation! Meaning no matter what, we will be collectively forced to change our ways and behaviour; indeed perhaps via that controversial phase of the later Debord suggesting we will be “forced to love freedom.” Now more than ever before in pre-history, real creative initiatives can only come from below not ushered in by aspiring bureaucrat’s pro-moing old regurgitated New Deals or whatever they will be named? And for the first time ever genuine creativity – sufficiently informed by art’s former hopeful heyday – will optimistically erupt and blossom. In that sense the individual artistic ego longing for fame, even fortune, and which has been the backdrop of much of this wayward text is on the cusp of becoming irrelevant. In short, a dead end experiment at the moment the omnipotent “performance principle” self-destructs; that endless ever changing display of “Fashion. Mr. Death. Mr. Death” as Giacomo Leopardi put it a couple of centuries ago….
Moreover isn’t the city finished as we know it? Couldn’t much of its function be heading towards impasse if not destruction? That moment where property values collapse or are held in abeyance and all those vacuous post modernist designer ‘creative’ engineering spaces rapidly lose their economic meaning? Even though empty of ambience nevertheless another more basic emptiness is what’s important here and the distance memory of mass squatting again beckons where search for an astounding new community could also begin to take off after lost decades… For sure the last thirty years or so has seen the rise and rise of the worst architecture ever, basically a legoland of contorted shapes assembled by algorithmic builders who no longer have an artisanal clue. However, once people storm these forlorn citadels of glass and steel will any of this really matter? Will not the old German SDS slogan of 50 years ago once again be shouted out: “ALL BUILDINGS ARE BEAUTIFUL” as occupiers truly re-invent everything according to their own needs - even whimsies -and with everything made possible because of that essential bottom line, all for diddly-squat as rent and ownership evaporate into the mists of history…..
Though the follow through from Covid-19 practically suggests the city is at its greatest turning point in history even if dark horizons still await us in the shadows. Freedom from economic diktat beckons but so does its opposite. Empty buildings will be there for seizure according to the multiplicity of human desire at the same time as they could be vulnerable to the most unscrupulous predators. Shark landlordism could also have a bit of a comeback enabled by bully boy thuggery demanding rent payment on the dot. Equally liberated space could be prey to evolving County Lines drugs Mafioso brutally and randomly killing inhabitants at the drop of a hat; a Mafioso even more addicted to grabbing the last penny against a startling backdrop suggestive of brilliant possibilities: the on-going collapse of money hopefully transitioning to the gift society. This necessitates the formation of ‘never work’ anarcho-brigades democratically mandated by a collective occupying base. These brigades (for want of a better term) must be anti-machismo skilled in fighting inheriting - perhaps -the best of ancient chivalric Courtly Code traditions ever at the ready.....and so on.
When do we start? Today of course - in determined inauspicious, anti-egotistical ways slowly but surely getting rid of consumerism within ourselves individually and collectively. Do we really need much more than basics regarding food, clothes, heating, a roof over our heads plus essential whatevers; the latter, more precisely intimated by Rimbaud in his stunning line from A Season in Hell, “I am a thousand times the richer, let us be as miserly as the sea”? And while we are reshaping our lives let’s get rid of the car and the preponderance of Internet second life (except as a means of spontaneous organisation and/or communicating initiatives, etc). Let’s rediscover nature through a fumbling growing oneness with wilding pointing towards a withering away of industrialised agriculture as autonomous collective un-farming is re-imagined and practised together with the development of cunningly disguised slaughter-free, vitro cell-based ‘cultured meats’ aided by water, air and carbon dioxide which radical chemistry extols and which even a MSM figure like George Monbiot goes along with. (In parentheses, at least it’s a welcome change from chemistry’s glyphosate alliance with Big Agric and Big Pharma though we also now have to note that monopolies such as Cargill have recently taken more than an interest in ‘cultured meats’. Yet again recuperation rears its ugly head!) Regardless, such an authentic basis also allows for a growing sensitivity towards each other’s real needs as screen-life collapses in over giving up on itself as something-like a dialectically complex humanely sensual joyous life is seized for the first time ever on the earth as a transitional universal basic income (the last edict of the last bureaucrat perhaps?) is ushered in heralding the dawn of a world without money, states, government and hierarchies. How do we, how will we experience this subjectively? Perhaps like the following:
“the loss of certainty without religion /a painful passage of becoming another -
essence moves from its ground into existence -then simple immediacy of being”
Below: Let’s end this longish text on a miniscule particular experiment. Among the photos here are four belonging to a series of bird boxes we placed in Martin Bell’s Wood on Wormwood Scrubs, west London during the spring of 2020. In some respects their acknowledged Fourier-like drift of thought mirrors the previous sentiments penned by Sila Trevor. One final point: why did it take so long to write-up this longish text on the Russian events plus The Square both having taken place some time ago? Simples. Although we are well able to proclaim the message of autonomous eco intervention marking out a future liberatory passage related to the supersession of art, there was another pressing need far, far superseding just another theoretical text; meaning an on-going hands on praxis was more than essential. It had become axiomatic. PRAXIS, PRAXIS and yet more low-profile PRAXIS. It was now overwhelmingly necessary to prove that we could take over a few acres of semi urban public land; a kind of marginal nutcase arena where a wide variety of off-limits, sometimes shady, semi-industrial down home ‘businesses’ – for want of a better description - once flourished spreading over a constantly changing welling-up base of a thoroughly unusual, even turbulent ancient artesian well. This well had become overgrown with un-navigable bramble thickets yet within a few years we massively increased the area’s bio-diversity…How did we do this? Basically we uprooted often six metres high, seemingly never ending bramble bushes sprouting from huge bulbous roots buried in yawning deep, ever moving grykes welling up from underground cavernous streams. We needed this to be recognised, and indeed it was recognised - often with astonishment - and proclaimed as such by those familiar with the external sides of this formerly dense rubble-like bocage, peppered with rough sleepers. Indeed, this wood gradually revealed itself as something strange and magnificent as the shape of crazy, awry trees seemed to possess a human quality, of having taking up their roots for an occasional hidden from view walk; or if you like, a practical realisation of the magical fairy tale wood. Seeing the earth beneath endlessly moves so tree roots do the same in tandem becoming in the moonlight a friendly Triffid maze as the many squirrels also morph into elves. No wonder children now love this ‘magic’ arena stimulating the mind to wander in riotous regions and for their dogs to go mad scenting all other animals like as if they’d taken a hit of doggy smell, rare quality LSD.
In some ways this burning ecological necessity inside our souls to keep on going in Martin Bell’s Wood reminds one of a statement from Gerard Winstanley in the 1640s, never forgetting that Winstanley was a lost and buried subversive his memory extinguished by the baneful but mighty ideology of the British Empire until Germany’s Eduard Bernstein and a significant early social democrat, in the late 19th century revived Winstanly’s often terrific contribution:“Many things were revealed to me which I never read in books, nor heard from the mouth of any flesh. Yet my mind was not at rest, because nothing was acted - that words and writing were all nothing, and must die, for action is the life of all. And if thou dost not act, thou dost nothing. I took my spade and went broke the ground upon St George Hill in Surrey”.......
As an aside, in Martin Bell’s Wood, the crazy artesian terrain also beckoned we re-create ‘spoil heaps’ again but not like the aforementioned Icteric art gallery exhibits in Newcastle; rather they were necessary so essential plants for larvae of all kinds could survive set above an often dank base. Most importantly there was no prior artistic ego at work here, no ‘oeuvre’ in play and as much as possible we worked low profile – even semi-hidden and anonymous. Nonetheless a certain infamy plus growing fear of our practical and nature knowledgeable capabilities began spreading far and wide initially among local inhabitants though after a couple of years or so even penetrating the unfathomable minds of bureaucratic eco-officialdom. All this was enhanced by the simple fact that no money, no wages, no sponsorship was involved in this labour of yearning love. It took three years of sheer toil from 2017 onwards to do this leaving virtually little time for writing or even travel! The reality was low key, day in /day out back-breaking work never forgetting we are old timer coffin dodgers whom the authorities tended to dislike even loath. But we gave as good as we got as in turn we regarded the authorities as imbecilic. However, because we didn’t ask permission to do what we were doing we inevitably suffered constant harassment, no more so than when an armed cop patrol pounced on us saying they’d been informed we were “burying bodies!” Luckily the guy in charge was a Geordie from Newbiggin and once a particular joke related to his Northumberland town was mentioned by us, laughter broke out and the confrontational atmosphere instantly evaporated. Phew!
One final comment which needs to be endlessly nuanced: what we are doing ecologically isn’t about protecting centuries old areas of “outstanding natural beauty” rather it’s about realising the fecund potentialities of hidden away territories often referred to as “landscapes of contempt”. For the future with the distinct prospect that cities will fall apart as hubs of capitalism means at the very least cities will have to be reimagined. Previously “landscapes of contempt” usually referred to former post industrial ‘blight’ i.e. terrains of muck and dirt, often surrounding abandoned broken down buildings morphing into rubbish dumps, etc. Tomorrow, post Covid-19-84 this definition will have to be broadened to include former financial locations that have fallen by the wayside and which will be in the process of being re-colonised by ‘new’ nature alongside a possible ‘new indigenous’ / multinational community of imaginative rough-ish de-domesticated sleepers with something of an all-rounded vision of a new world to realise. We therefore hope our probing experiments and insights will be copied and improved upon EVERYWHERE. And in the last few weeks lo and behold the official ecos have deployed some slogans we put on totem poles to head their clicktivist campaign against the proposed destruction of part of Wormwood Scrubs Common by HS2.
However, the ins-and-outs of this experiment especially in Martin Bell’s Wood needs an in-depth explanation though alas all that remains for another day. …….. For sure – reinforcing what was said in the introduction - much of this tract may seem haphazard, pointlessly wide-ranging even disconnected, but isn’t this practically perhaps how a revolutionary totality possibly might unfold in real life? Apropos the aforementioned return of the Icteric terrills post the nearby Grenfell Tower tragedy in 2017 something real bad happened. Substitute school buildings were erected on a nature-rich occasional car park adjacent to Martin Bell’s Wood which destroyed a remarkable swathe of bee orchards, unique for inner London. In response we handed out a leaflet Destruction by Aesthetics which mentioning the bee orchids also alludes to Dmitry Pisarev –our old friend from 50 years ago whose name again turned up in our furious tracts to Tate Modern authorities regarding the jailing of Alexander Art.