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(from) the Ground*

Some Positions

When we were planning for the upcoming edition of Continental Drift in Zagreb, we thought it might be helpful to provide some entry into some of the disparate practices and thoughts that we have been attempting to put in conversation in previous editions of Continetal Drift. Included below is a very sample.

{ Area Magazine } { Lize Mogel }
{ Ayreen Anastas & Rene Gabri } { Naeem Mohaiemen }
{ Counter-Cartography Collective } { Aras Ozgun }
{ Concerned Subject } { Gregory Sholette }
{ Pedro Lasch } { Scott Dane & Nicholas }  

Area Magazine

Creating Infrastructure Through Activist Research | areachicago (the at sign)

AREA (Art/Research/Education/Activism) is a publication and event series in Chicago. While the main project is an attempt to document, challenge and strengthen the local political and cultural left, there is also an emphasis on researching the conditions of this context.
When we started this project in 2005, there was a feature article in the Economist hailing Chicago as a “post-industrial success story.” This declaration was curious and conflicted significantly with our experiences and observations. So one question that was able to inform the development of AREA as an activist research project was a slight reframing – “Is Chicago a post-industrial success story?”
There is much disagreement amongst the local business elite and academics alike about whether Chicago qualifies as a “global city.” While this status distinction is unimportant for AREA and can be seen as a rhetorical strategy linked to place marketing and encouraging competition between cities, the qualities that compose urban life in work and play at this point in capitalist development are considered important. One approach we have used to examine this is a conceptual limiting strategy that is borrowed from literary traditions – if you limit and focus the framework to a specific area or topic, then you can more fully explore that area and find your way into complex ideas through that lens. In our work, Chicago is the lens through which we view the complexities of an increasingly mobile capitalism.

Here are some of the questions we have asked using the platform of AREA Chicago’s “Local Readers” publication series:

• What kind of infrastructure of services and resources do we need when our welfare state is in disrepair and being increasingly privatized? (AREA #1)
• What kind of food policy can we create to make sure that people of the city are healthy enough to pursue organization? (AREA#2)
• What are the things we mean and want when we say we? What are critical approaches to the commonplace political concept of solidarity? (AREA #3)
• In contexts where more and more Chicagoans are entrapped in the expanding industry of mass incarceration, how can meaningful, visionary and practical changes to the criminal justice system occur? (AREA #4)
• What is the role of education and pedagogy in strengthening social movements? (AREA #5)
• How do experimental policies turn the city into a social and economic laboratory? (AREA #6)
• What kinds of logics and strategies do contemporary social movements inherit from their predecessors, especially the New Left and Counter-Culture Left of the late 1960s/early 1970s? (AREA #7)

In addition to publishing online and in print, AREA circulates this research by participating in local coalitions and alliances alongside connecting to regional and international networks and gatherings such as Continental Drift, the Radical Midwest Cultural Corridor, “This is Forever” Autonomous Marxist lecture series (NYC), Spatial Justice lecture series (Los Angeles), the National Conference on Organized Resistance, Re:Activism (Budapest), Urban Fest (Zagreb), Learning Site (Copenhagen) and many others. Through the lens of critical practices place in Chicago, we can provide a case study in the current shape and trends of left cultural and political organizing in the early part of the 21st century. We can offer a different narrative of Chicago to the world than a “post industrial success story” or a “global city” – we can present a city where the shit has hit the fan and people are creating the infrastructure that is necessary to take control of the fragile conditions of their lives and environment.



Ayreen Anastas & Rene Gabri

The Left needs Mediators:

For Deleuze a political distinction between right and left , is in relation to movements, the right is about blocking, the left is about embracing movements, two completely different methods of negotiation. If the state works to capture or channel movement and partition space, the left avoids capture, invents new channels, or re-invents the meaning of existing ones.
The left has to re-create the meaning of mediators, the ones who make us able to express ourselves in relation to a problem and would never express themselves without us. To make visible what otherwise may stay invisible.

It begins through an awareness that one is always working in a group, even if one was working on one's own. One works in a group since one works in a series, a relay. The mediators that we form are always in a series. If we're not in a series, we're lost.
The right does not face this problem, since it has its mediators working directly for them in place on the field. The left needs more free mediators. A mediator for a philosopher can be an artist or a scientist, for an artist a geographer or anthropologist, mediators can even be objects. Without them nothing happens. They are fundamental.

In "What Everybody Knows" our collection of videos from Palestine, we choose this title, precisely in relation to that question. We are experimenting with the idea of mediators, and how one can be effective in a specific and targeted way. So in that sense, for our writer friends we may be the mediators, and for us, our protagonists are another series of mediators, the geographer, the activist, the family father, the Bedouin, the Falafel store owner, and so on. One may assume that one knows all about Palestine, one is on the right side and so on, but is that enough? No.

To explore all possibilities of movement under a military rule which restricts and constrains. To talk to people, and not assume that we know. We need to create our truth on the ground, in lived experiences, not just our own, but those whom we struggle with, which implies, that the production or fidelity to this truth involves working on this material. And this work is a small fragment of what needs and is being done by other colleagues.

If the right is about opposing movements, it is also well aware to keep us busy with the wrong arguments. This has been the history of recent Palestine, bargaining and hard negotiation for well known facts. We have to go ahead and do the work that is really needed instead of lingering there in the wrong arguments.



3Cs_Counter Cartographies Collective:

Interventions in the Knowledge Machine
The counter cartographies collective was born in the ambiguous yet exciting context of a progressive university in the US South (1). Different concerns, interests, anxieties and politics began to merge into a series of conversations in hallways and cafes. In particular a group of us were consistently gnawing at how to rethink forms of political intervention in the context of our campus and the US university more generally. How to overcome the limits of existing forms of intervention and how to challenge the discourse of the isolated ivory tower…?

Our first collective steps can be traced to fall 2005. We put together an initial research intervention on the main campus during Labor Day trying to challenge notions of work, non-work, knowledge work, etc.,…a drift, a stationary drift in this case (2) to open a space of questioning. Other interventions and presentations followed culminating in a long-term involvement to trace the multiple contours of the territory we inhabited and find ways of re-inhabiting it.

Our next project built on the influence of contemporary activist research and radical mapping projects, especially Precarias a la Deriva and Bureau d'Etudes (3). Following the long standing tradition of the disorientation guides among campus activism in the US, we wanted one that was more graphical than the text-based production so far.

In the disOrientation Guide (4) the Counter-Cartographies Collective tried to situate the modern research university as a complex scalar actor working at many different geographical scales. The map we produced sought to read the university in terms of three linked eco-epistemological frameworks: as a factory, a functioning body, and as a producer of worlds. In addition, the disOrientation Guide serves to arm its users with new tools, contacts and concepts to reinhabit, intervene in or subvert the university and its territories- a Re-Orienting function if you will.

In the summer of 2007 the 3Cs started tracing the development of Carolina North, a 250-acre industry/university collaborative research park that the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill hoped to build on a large tract of forest a few miles north of the university

What follows is our attempt to catalogue the visions, logics and motives which produced the necessity and inevitability of a new university-corporate research park at our university. In some senses, then, this is a contextually specific project. However, many of the distinct logics we studied here in this place were explicitly global and national.

Just as 'Carolina North' articulated distinct logics together with contextual specifics, we contend that a set of broader logics and discourses is traveling the United States, and perhaps the globe, held together in the name of 'the 21st Century University', 'the global university', or 'the world-class university' It is precisely because of its complex and contradictory nature that this vision is so powerful-- it has become many things to many people. But this complexity also opens up new lines of flight. A cartography of the complex assemblage of 'the global University' is our ultimate project. We are working now in a few sites within that assemblage which, we argue, any map would have to include (5).

The intersections between our project and the continental drift take two forms: one methodological and the other thematic. Being very sketchy:

First- Counter-cartography as a tactic/method to reorient ourselves in a shifting terrain…to discover/open new sites for intervention, critique, organization,… a tool that helps re-navigate taken-for-granted terrains (such as the university), highlight their transformations, and re-inscribe new territories and modes of being.
Second-. As the questions of creating ‘competitive knowledge economies’ become increasingly strategic goals for the states of the Global North the university becomes increasingly important as a strategic geopolitical site. While we can’t hastily jump to conclusions here- this intersection between a continental drift into regional blocs and the role of the university, becomes a potential site for exploration. How do we think the initiatives to create the SPP (6) between the countries of North America and the increasing economic importance of things such as ‘research campuses’, Offices of Technology Transfer at schools, university spin-off industries, etc.? More importantly how do we think of the relation between the university as: a growing economic and political actor; but also one of the few sites in N.America that serves as a base/incubator for radical thought; and the growth of the “Homeland Security Campus” (7).

1. Home of the first municipality to officially proclaim non-compliance with the Patriot Act in a state that claims itself to be the most military friendly state in the country).
2. (see Labor Day Drift)
3. (see Drifting Through the Knowledge Machine)
4.(click here to learn more)
5. A brief preview of this work was presented at the ongoing Edu-Factory discussion (
6. Security and Prosperity Partnership- also know as NAFTA+.
7. See “Repress U,” by Michael Gould-Wartofsky. Could it be that now the time has come (according to Homeland Security) to ‘tame’ the potential radical lines of flight that can happen at universities since their strategic role becomes too important to be abandoned to dreamy students-egg-head radicals- and administrators that believe too much in academic freedom…



Concerned Subject

No Santa for Hazleton

In the summer of 2006, the town council of Hazleton, a small city in the state of Pennsylvania, passed the most aggressive anti-immigration legislation in the United States, instituting harsh penalties for any employer or landlord having business dealings with undocumented workers, as well as declaring English the official language of the town and forbidding the translation of any official document into another language. These laws became a national test case for a conservative moment toward local anti-immigration ordinances that sought to institute re-write an already abysmal set of federal immigration laws by making them even worse. Tens of other municipalities attempted to pass “copycat” statutes, and even more towns or counties publicly considered doing so. Despite the fact that Pennsylvania is a landlocked state with no port or international border, the largest number of these racist anti-immigration laws in 2006 were (and still are) pending in that state.

I had initially been interested in an on-the-ground media project with at-risk and displace Latino and Hispanic residents of Hazleton, but as donations from conservative think tanks flowed into the town's litigation to actually enforce these laws, it became clear that the actual lived social and economic conditions in the town had nothing to do with the national media portrayal of the same struggle. Nationally, the mainstream television news presented an incredibly positive narrative surrounding the town's efforts to effectively drive out immigrant populations via scare tactics. In truth, fear's around the very visible economic decline of a former coal mining town had been used to mobilize popular support for their legislation locally. Presenting this project in its development at Continental Drift helped me recognize this struggle as a site where Neoconservativism and Neoliberalism were in a high degree of tension. This led me to develop strategies of media intervention where, within a playful fictive space, the language spoke directly to a set of economic issues in a very real way. The project also fit into a dialogue about possible sites for protest and intervention in the face of increasingly militarized urban spaces. is a website launched in late December of 2006, supposedly by the “concerned citizens” of the town with the support of the town's telegenic mayor. The launch was announced by a press release declaring Santa Claus “America's most loved undocumented worker” and describing the town's extension of their anti-immigration campaign into a cultural and symbolic realm. Calculated to play into a slow holiday news cycle, within days the Associated Press, Reuters, and hundreds of other blogs, newspapers, and television news outlets had, while declaring the story a hoax, circulated the rumor that Hazleton had banned Santa Claus. This cut short the town's positive media honeymoon and forced a higher degree of honesty regarding their racist intentions when the mayor clarified that Santa was welcome, only spanish-speakers were not. Because several features of the site—donations sought for a television scare campaign about Santa, a form to send letters to Santa telling him to stay out—were configured both as plausible public anti-Santa campaigns and to feed directly back into the town's municipal offices, the campaign introduced both disorganization and the need for a defensive press in the face of internationally poor PR.


Pedro Lasch


Part 1 (2006) INDIGENOUS IMMIGRANTS: In the 2006 session of Continental Drift I presented some ideas, practices, and collaborative initiatives I have been involved with surrounding the social and aesthetic resistance movements of American Indians (ie, Indigenous people from America, the continent), international workers, and immigrants worldwide. A significant part of these endeavors has focused on what people refuse to examine because they claim it to be “obvious” or because, like Margareth Thatcher, they think “there is no alternative.” Some of the obvious objects and subjects that have concerned me are 1) the aesthetic and political forms or structures that rationalize and condition our ideas and experiences of citizenship as based on a) a racialized ethics of facial recognition and b) the use of the words natural and naturalization. These investigations and productions with the use of mirror-masks have come under the heading of Naturalizations Series (2002-ongoing) and they all ask: What are we before we are naturalized? 2) Thinking and being among indigenous immigrants has also led me to produce LATINO/A AMERICA (2003-ongoing) a series of individual and collective map-making/counter-cartographic activities that critically project and twist the relationship between word and image, landscape and abstraction, population and geography. 3) Last, but not least, I have deeply and pleasurably played with many ideas and processes with the children, families, and friends who have participated in the workshops, events, and political actions of Art, Story-Telling, and the Five Senses, the ongoing experimental bilingual education program I designed and co-founded in 2001 with the immigrants’ organizations Asociación Tepeyac de New York, and Mexicanos Unidos de Queens. All of these projects have developed in the form of games, non-habitual habits, and temporal rearrangements, what I also call open routines. Tactically and pragmatically engaging with some of the spaces, people, and histories of official legitimation (art institutions, academies, governments, corporations, foundations, etc), these are chains of connected but individually framed interventions that happen mostly outside or against them.

PART 2 (2008) TIANGUIS TRANSNACIONAL: The ideas Brian Holmes has been developing with us since 2005 through the notion of Continental Drift, and the constant intellectual, aesthetic, and socio-political experimentation we’ve embodied at 16Beaver for almost a decade (crazy!) have become more than fundamental to my life and understanding. In addition, I find that the philosophical contradictions perceived in the combination of the words, indigenous and immigrant, as well as the epic social transformations created by the populations that are conventionally described by them, have yet to be explored in their full potency. Doing so along the shifting edges of Fortress Europe could be particularly interesting, especially as people might benefit from ideas unfamiliar to them, such as Claudio Lomnitz’ modernidad indiana (Indian modernity), or the life-long project of the late Guillermo Bonfil Batalla -- whose work I consider to be as crucial as Frantz Fannon’s. During this next chapter of Continental Drift in Zagreb (Croatia), however, I want to specifically propose immigrant indigeneity and indigenous migrancy as two theoretical and practical categories that should be used in direct relation to drifting. I am hoping we can do this together, by using this lense to revisit a few past 16Beaver projects (International Lunchtime Summit, Worldwide, 2003; Divided States Tour, Dennark, 2005; Between Us, South Korea, 2006), while also beginning a dialogue about Tianguis Transnacional * a new set of ongoing investigations I begun in 2004 in the street markets of Mexico City, charting an organic exploration of the sites of contestation between neoliberal globalization and the aesthetic, social, and political manifestations of the so-called "informal sectors" of society.

* Note: The word Transnacional may be seen as a simple yet significant Spanish intervention in the globally recognizable Transnational. Drawing on the transformative power of the Spanish speaking immigrant population on the U.S., this one letter difference points at dramatically divergent experiences of globalization that are created by a “free” flow of goods and capital on the one hand, and a violent regulation of population flows on the other. The word Tianguis is more obscure. It is a Nahuatl (Mexican Indigenous language) word that has survived five hundred years of colonization, and in the process has undergone very meaningful transformations. Used in pre-Hispanic times by the inhabitants of the Aztec empire, this word simply meant ‘market’ or the equivalent of our contemporary ‘shopping mall’. In contemporary Mexican Spanish, however, tianguis has become a prominent synonym of informal trade, illicit street stands, and the so-called black (or grey) market. The hegemonic Aztec “mall” has been thrown onto the street by the Spanish colony. The Indigenous street keeps fighting back, though, refusing to forget the meaning of the word, and insisting on the daily practice of a tianguis that threatens the very foundations of social and economic control, colonial urbanism and its State taxation system.



Lize Mogel

The Privatization of War: Colombia as Laboratory and Iraq as Large-Scale Application
is a collaboration between myself (an artist) and journalist/researcher Dario Azzellini. This project has been exhibited in art contexts and also published in various international newspapers.

“The Privatization of War” diagrams the relationships between the United States and private military contractors (PMCs); and their activities in Colombia and Iraq. These nations are two key sites that exemplify PMC operation in the new world order.
The privatization of military services is a worldwide business worth $200 billion a year. PMCs are an enormous part of this economy, offering “products” from logistics (such as building military camps and prisons) to strategic support (radar and surveillance) to open combat and special sabotage missions. PMC corporations are based globally, and recruit heavily in the global south.

It is advantageous for governments to hire PMCs. As private corporations working on foreign soil, they are less accountable to the public or to military law. In Iraq, the death of PMC employees does not have as great an impact on American public opinion as does the death of soldiers, although thousands have been killed to date. Approximately 1 in 6 military actors in Iraq are PMCS.
In Colombia, conditions for “good business” are ensured by PMCS, in cooperation with the Colombian and US armies, transnational corporations, paramilitaries, the CIA, and the DEA. These ever-shifting coalitions are enacted to undermine not only the armed insurgency but also campesino organizations, unions and unionizing efforts, and social movements. (DA & LM, 2007)

How do cultural projects become effective as agents of change? Is information and interpretation enough? What is the common ground for artists and activists to meet? How can cultural production affect policy?



Naeem Mohaiemen

Muslims Or Heretics: My Camera Can Lie starts life in 2003 as a polemical human rights documentary about Ahmadiyyas. The Ahmadiyyas are a disputed sect within Islam. Originating from India, and spreading through proselytization, it became one of the beachheads for conversion of African Americans to Islam (until the rise of the competing Nation of Islam). After years of anti-Ahmadiyya protests, the sect was banned in Pakistan in 1973. In the 1990s, a similar protest movement flared up in Bangladesh. The core controversy revolves around whether their belief in a prophet after Mohammed is heresy. What could be a nuanced, layered conversation around interpretations of/from Arabic (e.g., does khatme nabuwwat mean final prophet or seal of the prophets?) has degenerated into an anarchic mob movement which also serves as a trojan horse for the Political Islam project.
The 2004 screenings of my "finished" film ran into a Dhaka audience that is hyper-aware of other, future audiences. The coincidence of showing the film at the same time as the global media flap over Abu Ghraib turned it into a referendum on the War On Terror (WOT™). Audiences refused to give any approval or "authenticity" blessing..... After my naive opening statement that this was a film for "us" (who exactly is?), one viewer taunted me: "bhaishaab, we all understand Bengali, so tell me, who are those subtitles for? And how many times must we see that Twin Tower footage...that's always designed for a western film festival circuit!"

In this first iteration of the film, there is grainy, out of focus footage of "militant" rallies shot filmed a great distance. Supposedly clandestine work with a subject so "ferocious" they can only be viewed at a distance. But when I returned to the project in 2005, I found rally organizers welcoming the press. Their fierce expressions, funeral white garb and angry signs were all an extended form of performance art, designed to give the BBC-CNN-SKY camera crew exactly the right, ready for prime time visuals. This time, I noticed a camera mounted on the truck of the protesters. It was filming the fiery speeches and filming us. Where was that tape going, who was its audience? Michael Ignatieff once described plane hijacking as auteur filmmaking with real people. Here too, the militant groups are in control of their own image production.

John Gray points out that "projecting a privatized form of organized violence worldwide was impossible in the past. Equally, the belief that a new world can be hastened by spectacular acts of destruction is nowhere to be found in medieval times...." Egyptian radical theorist Sayyid Qutb borrowed from European anarchists like Bakunin (“The passion for destruction is also a creative passion”), especially the idea of a religious vanguard that would bring a world without rulers-- something with little precedence in Islamic thought.

On an individual level, militant groups in Bangladesh have rejected the escalating “modernity” project represented by the mushrooming of an aggressive consumerist culture. The madrasa recruits can’t afford to drink Coke, download Josh ring tones, buy bar-coded fruit at Agora or wear jeans from Westecs. Within their violent program (what some mistakenly call “Islamo-anarchism”) is fury at an economic system that has left them behind. But you could also argue that it is hypercapitalism that has rejected them, because it doesn't know how bracket in communities of intense, rigid faith. Perhaps, those you cannot sell product to cannot be allowed to exist.

Questions:So who are those subtitles for..?

Naeem Mohaiemen works in Dhaka/New York, using video, archive & text to explore historical markers and failed revolutions. []



Aras Ozgun

A fictitious commodity is something that has the form of a commodity (in other words, that can be bought and sold) but is not itself created in a profit-oriented labor process subject to the typical competitive pressures of market forces to rationalize its production and reduce the turnover time of invested capital. There are four key categories of fictitious commodity: land (or nature), money, knowledge and labor-power. Each is often treated as a simple factor of production, obscuring the conditions under which it enters the market economy, gets transformed therein, and so contributes to the production of goods and services for sale.

Land comprises all natural endowments (whether located on, beneath or above the earth’s surface) and their productive capacities in specific contexts. The current form of such natural endowments typically reflects the past and present social transformation of nature as well as natural developments that occur without human intervention. Virgin land and analogous resources are not produced as commodities by capitalist enterprises but are appropriated as gifts of nature and then transformed for profit – often without due regard to their specific reproduction cycles, overall renewability, or, in the case of land, water and air, their capacities to absorb waste and pollution. Money is a unit of account, store of value, means of payment (for example, taxes, tithes and fines), and a medium of economic exchange. Regardless of whether it has a natural form (for example, cowrie shells), a commodity form (for example, precious metals) or a fiduciary form (for example, paper notes, electronic money), the monetary system in which such monies circulate is not (and could not be) a purely economic phenomenon that is produced and operated solely for profit. For money’s ability to perform its economic functions depends critically on extra-economic institutions, sanctions and personal and impersonal trust. Insofar as money circulates as national money, the state has a key role in securing a formally rational monetary system; conversely, its increasing circulation as stateless money poses serious problems regarding the regulation of monetary relations. Knowledge is a collectively produced common resource based on individual, organizational and collective learning over different time horizons and in varied contexts – non-commercial as well as commercial. Since knowledge is not inherently scarce (in orthodox economic terms, it is a non-rival good), it only gains a commodity form insofar as it is made artificially scarce and access thereto is made to depend on payment (in the form of royalties, license fees, etc.). Thus a profound social reorganization is required to transform knowledge into something that can be sold. Finally, the ability to work is a generic human capacity. It gains a commodity form only insofar as workers can be induced or coerced to enter labor markets as waged labor. Moreover, even when it has acquired a commodity form, labor-power is reproduced through non-market as well as market institutions and social relations.
Bob Jessop, The Future of the Capitalist State (Cambridge: Polity, 2002), pp. 13-14.



Gregory Sholette

The contemporary art world has always secretly depended upon an informal sphere of social production that invisibly anchors its symbolic and fiscal economy, much as the known universe is said to be stabilized by a missing mass of unknown dark matter. The work of interventionist and activist artists forms a part of this dark matter sphere, which also incorporates a range of productive forces including the “army” of unemployed art professionals and amateurs who support the economy of high art. Thanks however, to neoliberalism’s dependency on networked social labor and horizontal information platforms, many of these same informal practices are being illuminated. This recent materialization of dark matter is generating a series of challenges for mainstream art institutions. My work seeks to map the status of this dark matter production by tracing the effects of neo-liberalization upon politically committed artists as a post-war culture of administration is transformed into a post cold-war culture of entrepreneurship.

Many key assumptions held by an earlier generation of politically engaged artists and activists about what oppositional culture is and what it is not, are also being challenged today by a new wave of interventionist practitioners who are less concerned with demystifying ideology than with ‘creatively disrupting’ it. Unlike many of the critical art practices of the 1970s and1980s in which dominant representational forms were systematically analyzed through a variety of methods ranging from Semiotics to Marxism to Psychoanalysis, the new approach plows directly, some would say even gleefully, into what Guy Debord described as The Society of the Spectacle. Groups such as RTmark, The Yes Men, Yomango, Center for Tactical Magic, and the Critical Art Ensemble today take full advantage of increasingly widespread and affordable digital technologies in order to practice what they call Tactical Media, a mode of critical cultural practice that is similar to, yet also contrasts with the work of such previous collectives as the Art Workers Coalition, Artists Meeting for Cultural Change, Political Art Documentation/Distribution, Group Material.

What is unique and different about these recent, antagonistic artistic practices is the way they mobilize flexible organizational structures, communicative networks, and economies of giving in order to produce a nomadic “highjacking” of mainstream authority, rather than a clearly defined space of difference and opposition. At the same time, such interventionist art reveals a definite similarity to the entrepreneurial spirit of the neo-liberal economy, including a highly plastic sense of identity, and a distrust of large institutional forms. In the late 1970s Theodor Adorno cautioned that high culture was increasingly becoming another instrument of administration. In the 1990s it was the world of administration that moved closer to that of culture as private business interests extolled the non-linear thinking and flexible working habits of creative laborers.

G.S. 12/30/07

For further reading, please download:
Twelve notes on collectivism and dark matter



Scott Berzofsky, Dane Nester, Nicholas Wisniewski

How can our artistic, activist and research-based practices respond to the overwhelming urgency of the present moment, to the sweeping “double movement” of neoliberal globalization?

We are now living in a period of unprecedented geopolitical transformation: By 2050 the world’s population is expected to peak at 10 billion (the current population is 6.6 billion). For the first time in history, the majority of people on the planet will live in cities. Three quarters of all future world population growth will take place in the emerging megacities of the global South, where there is virtually no planning or infrastructure in place to accommodate these new residents or provide them with services. Consider the prospect of a “planet of slums” in relation to the recent warnings of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which claim that unless we significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions (80% by 2050) and therefore largely free ourselves of carbon emitting technologies, the planet will be unable to avoid some of the worst consequences of global warming, including sea levels rising enough to submerge island nations, the elimination of one-quarter or more of the world’s species, widespread famine in places like Africa and more intense hurricanes. The potential danger of these circumstances is escalated by the violent partitions and enforced inequalities of what Naomi Klein has recently termed “disaster apartheid.” As Klein suggests, the situations we witness in post-Katrina New Orleans, the West Bank or US-occupied Iraq are not exceptions to the norm, but rather present themselves as windows into a near-future terminal condition of neoliberal globalization. A world in which spatial politics have been reduced to Green Zones of privilege and security, Red Zones of poverty and despair and the militarized borders that keep them apart.
Can we shift scales of analysis and recognize the impact of neoliberal policies and uneven geographical development within our own cities? How are local struggles for affordable housing, environmental justice and the “right to the city” related to the larger concerns described above? How can experiments and interventions at the local level contribute to a global movement of resistance to neoliberalism and the invention of alternatives?

Over the last year we have been working on an ongoing site-specific project in east Baltimore based on converting a vacant lot into a sustainable urban farm and social space. We are squatting the land and collaborating with residents to produce a space that responds to our collective needs and desires. We are interested in generating a process of small-scale urban planning which is participatory and dialogical. During the first season we produced a variety of vegetables that were distributed for free within the neighborhood. The project has been informed by Felix Guattari’s concept of “ecosophy,” discussed in his short book, “The Three Ecologies,” published in 1989. In it, Guattari argues that in order to respond to the challenges we face today we must develop a new ethico-political articulation that integrates the three ecological registers—the environment, social relations, and human subjectivity. Our project is a modest attempt to put this concept into practice.



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*ground as the contradiction and tragic failure of capitalism right now:
--ground rent, for everything that concerns housing
--ground to the bone, for flexible labor
--ground as the earth itself, overheating and poisoned
--ground zero wherever a bomb goes off and people die