Tuesday, December 8, 2009

"Climate Bottom" at Christiania

What do I know?, I'm sitting in New York. But Thursday is the Radical Urbanism conference at the Grad Center here, and Jordan Zinovich will talk about Christiania there -- and I see that Interactivist.net bears this interesting post about the "Climate Bottom," a summit, or rather anti-summit taking place simultaneous with the muck-a-mucks' one in Copenhagen. Christiania, despite their troubles, is a place unafraid to host activists during the global summits of the rulers. As one of the greenest and most sustainable places on the planet since the 1970s -- (a friend of mine insisted that it wasn't "hypocrisy" to repress them during the summit, only "a paradox") -- this community is a beacon to the world... our world... the world of the future. Make noise -- be seen -- tell all the party people what you mean!

Climate Bottom info

Friday, December 4, 2009

That It Was...

Back in NYC after my little jaunt to Madrid. Before I left, Jay entertained me at his squat in Tetuán. It is in a very old building, of which there are a number abandoned in advance of new construction of apartment houses. Now, with the crisis, the construction is stalled, so some of the deserted houses are being used. We also visited a new social center in the district, across from a mosque. It is run, Jay said, by Zapatistists, and is a local social center as opposed to say, Patio Maravillas or Malaya (closed), which are open SCs located in the central city. The local SCs are just that -- dedicated to the concerns of the community in which they are located. The open ones are more public, and, like Patio, may be more culturally oriented. Jay is a member of the media group SinAntena, which made a documentary "Lavapiés: 18 años de okupación." [URL below] I dropped back into NYC just in time to catch the very end of the An Architektur group's sympsium, "Ten Days for Oppositional Architecture: Towards Post-Capitalist Spaces," in a storefront in Dumbo, Brooklyn. This was an ambitious event, produced by a Berlin collective which publishes a journal of the same name. It was part of a performance art festival called Performa, and was held in a space donated by a real estate group (naturally). (Further evidence, of course, that Stefan Dillemuth's prediction of "corporate rococo" is coming true; "post-capitalist" in this instance having perhaps another stopping point than socialism!) A number of the presentations are on their website in audio form, including the sessions on decommodification of housing, the prospects of planning, and the commons: taking versus granting rights. I made it to the wrapping up session, with invited guest Damon Rich. Rich works as a planner in Newark, and is a founder of CUP (Center for Urban Pedagogy). This group is committed to education, and to "making policy public." On that website, they have posted a PDF of "Predatory Equity: The Survival Guide." It describes the cycle of speculation in property that destroys low and middle income housing in the USA. This is the cycle, said planner Peter Marcuse in a session last night, that must end. Why is land a commodity?, he asks. It's a natural resource. Housing tends to be a monopoly, with a largely fixed supply. A rise in rents does not lead to an increase of units, just more profits for the owners. In this panel, sponsored by the CUNY Center for Place, Culture and Politics (run by Neil Smith & David Harvey), Rob Robinson of Picture the Homeless and Max Rameau of Take Back the Land called for a nationwide land and housing direct action initiative, to reclaim TARP properties (that is the U.S. "Troubled Asset Relief Program," under which defaulted home mortgages were bought by the government.)
These houses are held off the market so that the price of the remaining supply may rise. To assert the moral right of persons to be housed -- to argue that "housing is a human right" -- is an argument that these activists feel can now be made. PtH has been meeting with the visiting United Nations special rapporteur on adequate housing.
This is clearly important stuff. And a nationwide campaign is needed before the government decides to bulldoze
the nation's cities where it is possible for poor folk to find housing. PtH organizer Frank brought this up rather quickly, but it's a bombshell. As the UK Telegraph reported in June, "“Dozens of US cities may have entire neighbourhoods bulldozed as part of drastic `shrink to survive' proposals being considered by the Obama administration to tackle economic decline." This story is being followed by rightwing blogs. There is a restatement on a site called "Inhabitat" with the motto "design will save the world." They seem pleased that the plan would be "big news for environmentalists," since the poor districts would be replaced by parks and forests. Again, Werner Von Delmont would approve. Fox hunting anyone?
While I have been dabbling in the discourse of planning and finance as it has been purveyed in NYC lectures and symposia on the crisis this year, I continue to investigate the social center movement, and collective forms of disobedient direct action in the cities of the world. This Sunday (12-6-09) I will lead a second conversation about European squatted social centers as part of the Public School for Architecture produced by the Common Room group. The talk will take place at 3pm in Brownie's Cafe in the basement of Avery Hall (the Graduate School of Architecture building) on the Columbia University campus. The second issue of the catalogue of the “House Magic” project will be produced this month. Texts and images are invited by the closing date of December 15th of this year. Please send to awm13579[at]gmail.com, and include in the subject line: “HM2”.

see the film "Lavapiés: 18 años de okupación":

An Architektur event:


"Making Policy Public" Predatory Equity Survival Guide:

Photo by Brett Weinstein from inhabitat.com

Friday, November 13, 2009

Dry Fears for Fate of Marvels

I joined a group of volunteers at the weekly bar at Seco SC in Madrid last night. They were trying to karaoke, but the software was not cooperating. Earlier in the evening, there had been an assembly meeting at the SC Patio Maravillas (really a “CSO” for “Centro Sociale Okupado”; Seco is legalized). El Patio is under an order of eviction, which could come any day. They were discussing what to do. Earlier in the year, the authorities had announced the time of eviction, so hundreds of people were able to assemble. This time the cops are being more cagey. So tactics were discussed… Let’s just say at this point that an innovative use of technology is planned by the “hacktivists” of the place. Stay tuned to the website!
Ironically, Patio was criticized for negotiating with the authorities. This SC was hoping to legalize itself. Other squatters criticized this position, arguing that if one group negotiates, the state can more easily criminalize the other groups. The argument became incendiary, when some people planted a bomb in the door of Patio. The explosion blew out the door. Still, the incident was not reported, the perpetrators were suspected. A family argument? Perhaps…
Some at Seco expressed bewilderment about the younger squatters in Madrid. To these older social center volunteers, these youth seem “identitarian,” overly immersed in their sullen, conformist subcultures to be doing any useful political work. (I remembered the man outside Joe’s Garage in Amsterdam earlier this year, who told me that the place was “a social center for squatters”!) I suggested this might be after-effect from the Copenhagen “Youth House” eviction, in which the forces of the right pretty much rubbed young peoples’ noses in the facts of their powerlessness. Kids from all over Europe converged to fuck up the streets, and a new wave of squatting was born. I am told now it has even spread to super-sedate Munich.
Tonight in Madrid there is a party at a squatted social center in an old building inside a cemetery in the La Elipa neighborhood. This will be a very late night hardcore goth and rap scene, so again this old man won’t go. The motto of this squat, I’m told, is: “Dando vida en espacios muerte” – Bringing life to dead spaces.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Big Political Show

It’s over now, the Creative Time “Summit” last weekend – a great hit, with many folks in town chatting up the work so far – that is, political art in its new formations. The Yesmen took the “prize,” since, indeed there was one. An award ceremony I missed, since the show at New York Public Library was sold out. I came later Saturday (pretending to be on my way to do research very overdue in that library), and managed to sneak into the shindig, thanks to a friend from Baltimore Development Cooperative.
The procession of artists with great schemes was consistent throughout the day. Then the presenters went upstairs to a conversation room for closer discussions. I heard of the terrible cost young people have paid for taking part in “pirate radio” projects in Mexico, pursued by corporatist death squads, and learned more of the harrowing conditions of prisoners forgotten in the U.S. in SuperMax prisons (TAMs movement). At the same conference, a rich artist spoke of his work portraying some of the poorest of the poor in Rio, then leveraging the money raised from the artworks to help create a cooperative enterprise that employed tens of thousands. It was an incredible story Vik Muniz told, and I’d really like to know more details about how it was managed. Mel Chin, another famous artist there, spoke of his project with schoolchildren to produce handmade hundred dollar bills – “fundreds” – in the amount needed to clean up the lead pollution in New Orleans’ soil ($300 million). Of course the famous were not the big story of this event. (But hey, it’s New York, so of course it will be.) Creative Time is very good about making their proceedings public, so I look forward to the DVD or whatever they choose to release about this stimulating convention.
In a party afterwards Jos of Bikvanderpol tipped me to the existence of two major catalogues of exhibitions which surveyed the Dutch squatter movement of the 1970s. I look forward to learning more. The question of how artists represent their squatting experience is at the heart of this project. I wrote of this in a text about Andrew Castrucci’s Bullet Space squatted art gallery project for which he is preparing a 25-year show. (It is posted at post.thing.net; URL below.)
The first Public School lecture class on the social centers movement went well. (It was a lecture only because time was short; another meeting is scheduled for November 22 at the Van Allen Institute.) The very day of the class, Miguel Martinez sent me the manifesto of a group of scholars studying social centers. They ask a host of good questions. Their third meeting is scheduled for June, 2010 in London.
While I confess I was making fun of these guys earlier, the Berlin-based An Architektur group is swinging into action here with a conference, “Ten Days for Oppositional Architecture: Towards Post-Capitalist Spaces” in Brooklyn, November 12-21. They have lined up a good bunch of speakers, including Neil Smith and David Harvey from NYC, Teddy Cruz from San Diego, Brett Bloom from Urbana, Max Rameau from Miami, and Peter Linebaugh from Toledo, Ohio. Many other great people are involved, and although I will miss this conference, I am hoping to locate the “House Magic” library of social center books and films in their “reading corner.”

Creative Time “Revolutions in Public Practice”
my text, “Bullet Soaked in Piss” – about the Bullet Space gallery in NYC
“Ten Days for Oppositional Architecture”

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Deadlines, Falling Leaves

Rolling forward on the project -- end of year events, May 2010 for version 2. Just a quick note to let you know I am presenting the “House Magic” project on European squatted social centers as part of the Public School (Architecture) Tuesday, 10/20 at 4pm at the Center for Architecture on LaGuardia Place. This is a part lecture, part round table to consider how best to represent this movement based on the first “House Magic” as an object of critique.
536 Laguardia Place between West 3rd St. & Bleecker
Public School for Architecture website: http://nyc.thepublicschool.org/
(see below for session title, details)
We will look at Dara Greenwald’s “Tactical Tourist” (2007; 15 min.), a video of a trip to Barceona to visit Milles Flores and Can Masdeu SCs, then discuss the recent “House Magic: Bureau of Foreign Correspondence” shows at ABC No Rio and Sculpture Center as part of the University of Trash. Virginia Villardi will present on her work with ESC Atelier in Rome.
(Dara's great video is online here: http://www.daragreenwald.com/ )
Related news:
I plan to produce a second incarnation of the “House Magic” exhibit project in May of 2010. There is as yet no venue and no budget. Any suggestions are welcome. The project is invited to Baltimore in December. We will also likely visit in Philadelphia during the winter months. I will be in Madrid for a week or so during early November.
The “House Magic” zine catalogue #2 deadline closes December 1st, 2009. There are a number of texts based on presentations at ABC and in Queens that are going into the zine, but your experiences and reflections on the social center movement are also very welcome. The deadline is hard; production begins on that date.
BTW: Thanks to the Solo Foundation for a grant to assist with printing for the first zine catalogue, and the purchase of a video camera.
The “course” is titled:
“Representing the Social Center Movement”
The squatted social center has been an important movement globally, and especially in Europe, since the late 1970s. The life cycle of these "monster institutions" (coinage by Universidad Nomada in Transversal) reveals a lot about autonomous political intitiatives and state responses. This course considers the movement, and seeks new strategies to represent it to a general audience. An earlier effort, "House Magic: Bureau of Foreign Correspondence," will serve as a case study and object of critique.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Getting Schoolish

The Public School project from Los Angeles is doing a "public school" here in New York. I have proposed a "class" on the social center exhibition project, and a few people are interested. The title and description is as follows: "Representing the Social Center Movement: The squatted social center has been an important movement globally, and especially in Europe, since the late 1970s. The life cycle of these "monster institutions" (coinage by Universidad Nomada in Transversal) reveals a lot about autonomous political intitiatives and state responses. This course considers the movement, and seeks new strategies to represent it to a general audience. An earlier effort, "House Magic: Bureau of Foreign Correspondence," will serve as a case study and object of critique."I put this in quotes because my intention is to present the information I have gathered and the project so far, and open the question of representation up to discussion. I invite all who are around -- and even some who are not -- to join us when the meetings are finally scheduled. (Who knows when that will be? Soon, I hope.) I want to do the next events in May of 2010. If you want to attend meetings, go to the website -- http://nyc.thepublicschool.org/ -- "browse classes" and sign up for this class, or express interest. You will be contacted when the meetings are arranged. The fund raising effort is slowly beginning... Solo Foundation gave $1,000!
Speaking of schools -- be sure to check out the occupation underway in University of California's idyllic Santa Cruz campus -- http://likelostchildren.blogspot.com/. It is really inspiring -- like a movie. As our Spanish friends say, occupying spaces produces subjectivity. You don't know what it feels like until you do it.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Return from Vacation

[NOTE: Hyperlinking is causing problems and delays in posting -- here they are indicated by asterisks, and put at the bottom.]
It is beautiful fall weather in New York City right now, and I am back in town and be back on the job. Right after a road trip vacation, I slammed into the weekend symposium with Franco “Bifo” Berardi organized by 16 Beaver Group. This was very heady, and ultimately rather depressing. Bifo considers the social center movement in Italy to be of the '90s, although he did note that a new one had just started, called Bartleby -- after Herman Melville's Wall Street clerk who "preferred not to."Some friends came soon after from Seco Centro Sociale in Madrid. Although there were five of them, they were a little shy, and we did not have a chance to do a public event with them. They brought an armload of books from Traficante des Suenos bookstore, and we sat down and had some beers. They had attended a 40th birthday party for the Young Lords Party in Harlem! (The Young Lords, as I note in the first post on this blog, were inspirational political occupation artists in NYC in the 1970s.) I hope in November I will have a chance to renew contact with Madrid, and go further on cooperation.Hamburg, where Michel Chevalier had the “House Magic” catalogue in his Autonopop store this summer, is sending us two artists to talk about their experiences in self-organizing. They are from the FRISE aka Künstlerhaus Hamburg, and they are doing an exchange project with Le Petit Versailles garden here. That project is run by Jack Waters and Peter Cramer, former directors of ABC No Rio. On October 5, Sabine Mohr and Torsten Bruch (both FRISE artists) will speak about artist organized projects and the development of artists’ self-organization in Hamburg at the Goethe-Institut Wyoming Building on East 3rd St. NYC on the 5th of October. Their project, installed from Oct. 2 – Oct. 12 at LPV garden focuses on the artistic exploration of the use and preservation of public space and public premises—particularly open green spaces in highly developed, urban environments.My German is slim, but their web links look pretty cool, and I’ll Google translate some of this stuff and study it. The Frappant group seems most directly concerned with architecture and urban space. They also run an internet radio station, and have started a new artists’ house occupation which they are blogging into My Space Comedy! An extended conversation/symposium with other European groups has been loaded onto YouTube as “Gaengeviertel versus Subvision” parts 1, 2 and 3.In book news, the Prestes Maia occupation in Sao Paulo (2002-07) is described in a text by Andre Mesquita in the Australian catalogue “There Goes the Neighborhood” (May 2008). That is the high rise occupation many in NYC have dreamed of, as they contemplate all those halted and vacant luxury co-op developments in formerly poor neighborhoods. Andre contacted me, but I have not been able to follow up to learn more about self-organization in Brazil. Virginia Villari, who wrote the text on ESC Atelier in the first issue of the HMBFC zine, has agreed to work on a second iteration of the “House Magic” project, which we have agreed to try to put together in May. Maybe this will be the “museum of the social centers” that one Canadian editor envisioned. At least our next phase of work will include the social center movement Latin America, long overdue for investigation. BTW -- let me know via email to awm13579 [at] gmail.com if you want me to send you a compressed "House Magic" zine #1. Next – a report on the visit of the artists from FRISE in Hamburg.
Bifo symposium
Young Lords Party anniversary reunion
Le Petit Versailles garden
[see also projects on Radio --
http://www.fsk-hh.org/ ; Comedy -- http://www.myspace.com/vorwerkstift]
Prestes Maia background

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Busy at Last in NYC

HOMELESS TENT CITY! One Hundred Homeless and Allies Grilling Food, Playing Music, Taking Back The Land at 115TH AND Madison Avenue in New York City. Call for all to come out and show your support. Bring food, hang out, share company...
At 11am EST, July 23 Picture The Homeless and allies installed a tent city in a vacant bank-owned lot at 115th and Madison Ave. 100 people are in the lot, enjoying corn, beans, bread, fruit, and music by the Welfare Poets. Police are on the scene, but everything's calm. We have a casita, a stage, barbeque grills, banners, signs, cardboard shovels and pick-axes, and tent structures!
As the foreclosure crisis festers, Bloomberg and the banks fail us. Across the street from the tent city is public housing, where families are doubled and tripled up. Over-crowded apartments, the shelter industrial complex, or sleep on the streets - we need better options. From Miami to Sacramento to now here in NYC homeless people aren't waiting around. Come show your support! 115th and Madison, we'll be here as long as we can. (They're bloggin' it; for Twitterers, it's pthny; and Facebook tiny.cc/pthonfacebook.)
Yes, that's the press release. And I've just left the lot. This is a great project, a long time planning, and they have generated a very friendly atmosphere. The set is by the Not An Alternative crew from Brooklyn, and it looks both festive and homey. Frank Morales is the lead organizer; an Episcopal priest and a long-time eloquent squatter, he is wearing his clerical collar. I found a little poison ivy in the lot, but we took it out pretty much before anyone got bit. Oh, and twenty plus cops and plainclothes are standing by in a line just outside the lot. I met up with the gang at Union Square Park and we headed uptown on the subway, trailed by police. Experienced activists chatted with the cops -- Ben of ACT-UP, and Chris of the Shadow newspaper. Legal observers in their green hats rode along with us, just as they did during the RNC 2004 protests. Most of this activist crew is young, however, and I'm happy to see it. When we got to East Harlem, we were split into groups. Our group, me and the Japanese writer and journalist Sabu, were followed by five cops. We went around in circles and finally hailed a black car. Where but in America can you ask a cab driver to take us somewhere because we're being followed by cops? He was like, "Okay, where to?" Some congeros showed up and beat drums, played guitar; one guy danced very nice. Then lunch was dished out, and everyone relaxed under the tall trees in the shady grove and chatted. I'm back at work on my writing here in the library -- hope it's gonna last up there! (BTW: "House Magic: Bureau of Foreign Correspondence" zine is ready to ship, and it looks real slick. It costs $8 to make and post in the USA.) Wow, only a couple hours, and the cops are massing. It looks like everyone still there is going to jail. It's raining in New York. At least they made the New York Times. This is one inventive group of creactivists.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Stalled construction in NYC: My first reblog...

Hi folks -- first some project news.... I cannot post the 'zine catalogue to the web. It is too big, even compressed. If you want me to sent it to you via FTP, please contact me at awm13579 [at] gmail.com with subject line "send me the HMBFC zine, please!", and I will get it to you.
There is some serious business in the air here -- I'll report it when it goes down. In the meantime, the glossy bourgie magazine New York has started paying attention to the scuttlebutt about squatting in Brooklyn with the following article on what they are calling "the Billyburg [as in Brooklyn's Williamsburg] Bust"....
[This blog post is here, along with many snarky comments, and another article on "heroin-addicted hobo invasion" of squatters to Williamsburg. Repression, anyone?]
Oh pity the poor denizens of Williamsburg. The erosion of hipster trust funds is leading their greasy little utopia to slowly devolve into some sort of Mad Max-esque, post-apocalyptic real estate wasteland, just like Miami! So says New York Magazine. Anyone who's walked around Williamsburg lately can see the painful signs of a busted bubble. New developments sit virtually vacant. New building constructions have stopped cold with the landscape of the area littered with semi-constructed buildings. We already knew things were bad, but we had no idea that things were this bad.
With sales across Brooklyn down a staggering 57 percent from a year ago, Williamsburg, with its high density of new construction, has taken on an ominous disposition. Walk down virtually any block and you'll come across an amenity-laden building that sits nearly empty: relics of a moment in history that seems, increasingly, like a fever dream.
Most unsettling are the cases of the developers who seem to have vanished, leaving behind so many vacant lots and half-completed buildings-eighteen, to be precise, more than can be found in all of the Bronx-that large swaths of the neighborhood have come to resemble a city after an air raid.
All over the city, overleveraged developers have seen their projects stymied by the recession, but the highly speculative nature of what's happened in Williamsburg stands out as exceptionally dramatic and misguided-New York's version of the collapsing exurban "boomburgs" in Florida and Arizona.
Oh but wait—This is only the beginning!
Part of what makes the present situation so dire is that it is still in the early stages of unfolding. There are already about 400 new apartments on the market in Williamsburg, and additional condos are completing construction every month. According to a study (Real estate broker David) Maundrell released last month, 2,818 new apartments will have hit the market by the end of this year, with another 2,766 projected by the end of 2010. On top of this, Fannie Mae, the country's most dominant home-mortgage lender, recently implemented a policy requiring that buildings be 70 percent in contract before guaranteeing mortgages, thus delaying the moment when a developer can stop covering the taxes and common charges on a finished project.
The writer of New York's massive piece, David Amsden, took some time to visit a few of the new developments in the neighborhood.
I made my way to a building called Warehouse 11, on the corner of Roebling and North 11th Streets. Marketed by David Maundrell, the building has 120 total units (plus the requisite yoga center, playroom, parking garage, 24-hour concierge, gym, and communal sundeck). While the model apartment seemed an appealing enough place to live, there was something generally off about the building as a whole: Despite having been on the market since early 2008, only 30 percent of the units were in contract, and it was clear that construction wasn't complete. The list prices, too, were significantly higher than comparable products, as if the developer had not been informed about the current state of the economy. A few weeks later, I noticed the front doors of the lobby had been padlocked shut. The process of foreclosure had begun.
Looking at the bright side, we suppose all of these vacant new developments will lead to some awesome squatting opportunities for the hipster looking to enhance his or her hardcore street cred. We look forward to having our tips line flooded with ridiculous Williamsburg hipster squatting stories for years to come!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Oh yeah, the catalogue!

The "House Magic: Bureau of Foreign Correspondence" zine catalogue of the exhibition on European Social Centers at ABC No Rio is done. It is the first. There will be at least one more, with a closing deadline of the first week August. (These deadlines are firm, people!) At this moment, the zine catalogue exists only in a print form. There are several copies in Queens, a few in Madrid, a couple in London and Hamburg. When I can get some help to make a PDF, it will be online for everyone to download. Here is the table of contents of volume one, Spring 2009:
Why “House Magic”? – a background on why this project was undertaken
Film and lecture program
Excerpts from an exhibition about the New Yorck Bethanien
Michel Chevalier discusses the Rote Flora in Hamburg, and projects at the New Yorck Bethanien
Communique from RampART Social Centre
Micropolitics plans in London
400th Anniversary of Dutch Squatters in Manhattan
Krax City Mine(d) call for a European Conference of Social Centers
A Roof Over One’s Head, by James Graham
Atelier ESC, Rome, by Virginia Villari
Communique from Social Center Cox 18, Milan
Michel Chevalier translates “Rhino Féroce,” about a Geneva squat
Danish artists talk about a road occupation in Copenhagen at the University of Trash
Credits and acknowledgements

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Quick Trip

Back in Madrid, on recreation I thought. But things have changed in a few months, and I was sucked back into a little action. I went by Traficante des Sueños and ran immediately into Pablo, outside talking on his cel. He directed me to a talk at El Patio Maravillas, the Madrid social center, that very evening. This rundown place in February had some encouraging bustle and a seedy looking bar. Now the place is plastered with a galaxy of posters and paintings, and humming with activity. They organized a "jornadas," or conference at the Reina Sofia art museum in February on the role of social centers in an increasingly provatized culture. I found this out from Dani, a filmmaker from Frankfurt I interviewed who is living in a squat in the Madrid suburb of Tetuan. Although he was involved in the first group at Patio, he is ambivalent about what he sees as the new bid for legitimacy. Surely, I suggested, something as vibrant as Patio is good for Madrid? It seemed there one could make a very long video of authority figures asking you to leave an ostensibly public space you had wandered into to get out of the sun. Unfortunately El Patio is only open during the evening.
During one evening I attended a session I assume of the permanent working group on precarity. The speaker was Zoe Romano of Serpica Naro in Milan. (As the talk was in Italian, with a translation into Spanish, I faded quickly.) Serpica Naro is an anagram of San Precario, the fictitious saint of the precarious worker which has been carried in hilarious procession in numerous demonstrations. Ms. Romano showed some of the projects the group has done. The presentation is part of a series of meetings, including a workshop, on questions around precarity and the commercialization of cultural institutions. Very interesting, dense, and too demanding for a vacationing burnout case.
Still, I later met and interviewed Dani with my camera, and he interviewed me. I will show the tape in Queens, at the University of Trash. Dani is involved with the Cinesinautor group (cinema without authors, which meets at Patio), and spoke of his group's encouraging meetings with people in Tetuan in their project to make a movie portrait of the district. He was surprised that the people who attended were not conventional in their ideas of what the movie might be. They were thinking like Dziga Vertov, Dani said, encouraging experimentation and imagism rather than narrative and coherence. While I envy Madrid its social center scene, everything looks more glamorous from far off. Dani complained of a strain of intolerance between social centers, antagonisms that were working against network. Dani is a fan of the writings published in Tiqqun, a French group I did not know. Very heady stuff it is, and looks to me at first glance like an egghead Crimethinc.
It's clear at the least that the scene in Madrid continues to cook hard. The social centers are clearly essential laboratories of collective forms, the only places perhaps from which one might imagine an integrated (i.e., non-academic) egalitarian future culture emerging, able to withstand the "desert" conditions outside of capitalism.
I also met with the artists of Democracia, Iván López and Pablo España. They are pretty well established, it seems, having curated the Madrid Abierto (Open Madrid) public art component last year that coincided with the art fair Arco. They recently did a controversial project called Welfare State (2007). They set up bleachers for an audience to watch the demolition of the shantytown El Salobral, just south of Madrid. The people cheered, the bulldozers did wheelies -- it was "like a rodeo," Iván said. There was a lot of criticism from the left, it seems... While most of the residents of the encampment had been relocated, many had not, and activists were there to do eviction defense. The project was hot at the very least, directly political in a way that U.S. work really avoids. It struck me as Laibach-y, NSK-like -- taking the position of the police, exploring the subjectivities of the right. From other work the duo showed me, I can't really think they inhabit that ideology. But playing into it surely earned them some enmity! The Welfare State project was included in a great Australian show on public space issues called "There Goes the Neighborhood." I just got the catalogue from Half Letter Press in Chicago for pretty cheap. (The photo is by Olga Berrios of a show at Patio a while ago; I'll post my own later.)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Whose Land Is It?

Last night I attended the talk by Max Rameau of Miami Take Back the Land at the City University of New York Graduate Center. Max has been conferring with Picture the Homeless, a Harlem based group, which is in turn in league with the academic unit Center for the Study of Place, Culture and Politics whose director, Neil Smith was also there. His colleague Peter Marcuse of the Columbia University planning department also spoke, as did two veteran New York City squatter activists.
Max Rameau’s position is by now well known in activist circles. (You can see him talk on the City from Below website.) His group founded the Umoja Village shantytown, taking over city-owned land in the black Liberty City neighborhood of Miami that had been intended for sale to a private developer. Not surprisingly in view of the tumultuous past of the district, the city kept hands off. Take Back has now taken over another tract of land to grow fresh food in a community garden.
After Max, Brenda Stokely spoke. She had participated in a squatting campaign – then called homesteading – in Harlem during the 1980s. She reminded the audience that the state moved against their organization under criminal enterprise statutes (RICO), although the grand jury refused to indict. Neil Smith spoke of the “global social crisis” which has closed down this last and greatest wave of gentrification. Now, he said, there is the political possibility of changing the rules of the game, to forward tenant and neighborhood control of city housing resources. He too warned that state repression is likely, given the example of 1930s activist movements that led to public housing.
Frank Morales spoke, pastor of the St. Marks Church. For him, squatting is “putting flesh on the bones of an abstract right” to be housed. He briefly recounted his work squatting in the Bronx, beginning with the St. Ann’s Avenue garden, described by Jonathan Kozol in his book “Amazing Grace.” His views on the agenda of capital, “spatial deconcentration,” were formed through contact by murdered housing activist Yolanda Ward. Frank ended by expressing the hope that this panel might issue a call for a large-scale occupation movement in New York City.
Finally, Peter Marcuse asked what happens after a squat? What can happen, and what ought to happen, and what needs to happen so that what ought to happen can. He recalled the policies of NYC’s last progressive mayor, John Lindsay, who set up the Division of Alternative Management in the city housing department. In the absence of such policies, the cycle will continue as it has after this interruption. “The next generation of gentrifiers are buying up houses now,” he said.
Additional References:
text of a Neil Smith interview on conditions in Berlin conducted by Andrej Holm, a sociologist who was later arrested by the state (he was later released)
Frank Morales is a forceful speaker; here he is in a KPFA interview in March.

[The “House Magic: Bureau of Foreign Correspondence” show on European squatted social centers is now up in Queens, NY as part of the University of Trash through 8/3/09. I am preparing a zine catalogue of the first part of the show; submissions are welcome. Firm closing 5/31.]

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

HM:BFC Up in Queens

The "House Magic: Bureau of Foreign Correspondence" project begun at ABC No Rio has become a research component of the "University of Trash" at the Sculpture Center, in Queens NY. HM:BGC will participate in UofT events; the schedule is here. This Saturday (5/16) from 4-7pm, the Baltimore group behind the City from Below conference will present. They will discuss Participation Park, an ongoing public art project and activist initiative based on converting a vacant lot in east Baltimore into an urban farm, social space, community kitchen, radical planning studio, free store, and adventure playground. Then Monday (5/18) 7:30pm at Brecht Forum, Max Rameau of the Florida Take Back the Land group will talk.

Monday, May 4, 2009

"HM:BFC" in a Blur -- It's the Last Week

The last week of this "House Magic: BFC" show looks pretty tight. [It's pasted below.] So I am promoting the shit out of it. Last night at Bluestockings with Emily Piper Foreman talking about our project, and the situation in global cities it was a pretty serious crew. The tech didn't work. We weren't reading. We may be getting close to assembly. I showed pretty much part one of this blog, with the sign for the Real Estate Show, "a building is not a precious gem, to be locked -- boarded and hoarded." Seth Tobocman's building-fist and the bulldozers, police and angry crowds, the nationalist Puerto Ricans standing in front of the church they took that was not serving them, Adam Purple's expunged Garden of Eden, where beauty was pitted against housing as the City of New York turned the people against art and reaped the political benefits of philistine destruction. The tangle of the Rivington School sculpture garden, Tacheles, EIPCP's Transversal, old Amsterdam squat posters, websites from Ela Eskalera Karakola, which Emily had visited, el Patio Maravillas, Centro Sociale Seco, a mani for Cox 18 in Milan, the call for last year's day of action at this time, and then our show. The computer is slogging up with spyware, so I'll get those "HM:BFC" installation photos up some other time. There is the great flag of the pirate Queen, which Julie Hair copied from our download of "What's this place?" BTW Jordie Montevecchi's short film “Take Over,” about the group that took an old church in Brighton, UK, was lovely and affecting. I hope we get a chance to show it again at the "University of Trash" in Queens. Opens March 10th at Sculpture Center which is quite near P.S. 1, if you are in town. This is the current schedule and updates now going on are here: http://collectiva.wikispaces.com/House+Magic. Bifo was here talking about Radio Alice. Now there is going to be a radio station...
THIRD (and last) WEEK
Tuesday 5 May 09
“Visions of Utopia,” directed by Geoff Kozeny; Part One, the historical background (94 min.; 2009); and excerpts from Part Two, on urban communes Two (about 30 min); collective living discussion with James Andrews of Nsumi, other invitees
Wednesday 6 May 09
Zurich -- The Art Squat – “Dada Changed My Life,” directed by Lou Lou and Daniel Martinez (2004; time?) about the Zurich art squatting action that saved the Cabaret Voltaire Guest: Olga Mazurkiewicz
Thursday 7 May 09
Denmark, Copenhagen -- “Christiania You Have My Heart,” directed by Nils Vest (62 min.; 1991; Danish with English subtitles); talk with Rebecca Zorach
next venue for the boxed-up "HM:BFC" for the summer is at "University of Trash."
press release: http://www.sculpture-center.org/pressSpecific.htm?id=12595

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Chicago Spring

Oh man, I didn't realize how far behind I was on blogging this show! "House Magic: BFC" has been up and running for a week. It was a nonstop exhausting ordeal, but the two more weeks it has to run should be smoother sailing. We had a great first week, with Michel Chevalier of Hamburg Target: Autonopop group presenting. Michel also spoke about the social center Rote Flora, and brought some beautiful distinctive posters they had made to advertise their schedules. Next we showed Jordie Montevecchi's short film "Takeover" about Brighton squatters, which is a really tight, affecting piece of work. And the week finished with the "De stad was van ons"/"The City Was Ours," Joost Seelen's remarkable documentary on the Dutch squatting movement 1975-88. (It is online at squat.net videos.) And we still have two weeks to go!
This weekend a “suitcase” version of the “House Magic: BFC” exhibition is in Chicago, at the Version>09 (or Versi9n) arts festival. This multi-venue artist-organized festival is themed around “Immodest Proposals." This included “temporary housing structures, independent contemporary art space networking, one day only exhibition formats,” a “free public school” and etc., etc. (thru May 3). It is coordinated out of the Co-Prosperity Sphere art space in the Bridgeport neighborhood, a place run by Ed Marszewski. I slept last night on the floor of “Edmar”’s studio, and this morning I browsed his bookshelves. Koolhaas “Content,” Bruce Mau “Massive Change,” Mike Davis “Ghost Cities,” Chris Marker films… Edmar also publishes a magazine called Lumpen. The current issue reprints an interview with Max Rameau of Take Back the Land in Miami. As part of the Versi9n, the large window of the CPS art space contains two installations. One is a ghostly office, with huge electronic consoles, and two enclosed bunk beds. It looks like a spaceship. This morning there is a crumpled pair of jeans, shiny shoes and a beer bottle on the floor in the window, because a party-goer is sleeping it off in one of the beds. The corner window shows a model for the community of Bridgeport after Chicago Olympics redevelopment is done with it – a totalizing wipeout, the Bridgeport Superphere Olympic Village megacomplex. Is this for real? I don’t know, but Chicago is a candidate city for the Olympics, and that usually means massive redevelopment and often displacement. The other window shows the offices of “Reuben Kincaid Realty” which advertises properties to squat. Very cute!
The “House Magic” display is set up in the lobby of the Nfo Expo, and extends into the Free University. Today is the last day. I am coffeed up and ready to talk! Last night I visited the Experimental Station for a children’s evening, the King Ludd’s Midway Arcade. These were beautiful hand-made games by Material Exchange,
There I met Karen, who started the Massolit bookstore in Krakow, Poland. She was very interested in Rozbrat, the social center in Poznan, and offered to facilitate communication. She introduced me to Jack Spicer, one of those who had started the Experimental Station by squatting University of Chicago land to make a community garden. Just as we began to talk, my ride was leaving. These were the people of Incubate (Institute for Community Understanding Between Art and the Everyday – whew!). When “car guy” moves in a big U.S. town, you must move with him/her. It was that or face an hour long bus ride through the poor parts of Chicago on late Saturday night. Sigh.
Besides Karen, I talked with Emily of St. Louis. She told me of a group of squatters who had started a community garden and greatly improved their building in a derelict neighborhood in St. Louis. The city evicted them. Discouraged, they moved to Kentucky. Many cities are tearing down vacant buildings as quickly as they can. The fear is that they will become drug dens, crack houses, dens of vice. Those cities that cannot distinguish between socially productive squatters and criminals will simply drive motivated young people away from their failing cities…

Monday, April 13, 2009

How Occupation Works (events)

The Anarchist Book Fair at Judson Church was nice. I bought Erick Lyle's book "On the Lower Frequencies," since it had been recommended to me by a few people. Surprisingly, it includes the story of a remarkable squatting action in the late 1990s... The AFB was a nice touristy thing to do during my internal vacation. Now that is done, and it's back to work for me. It's time to make the donuts, as my favorite Lower East Side malcontent Clayton Patterson says... (although I'm afraid he has been pissing in my batter!) One member of the ABC No Rio visual arts collective, Michael Cataldi, is starting work today on his University of Trash installation at Sculpture Center in Queens, and Nils Norman is flying in. I'll be blogging this speaking event coming up, a panel at the Left Forum next weekend; here's the dope:
SATURDAY, 12-2:00 PM
How Occupation Works
16beavergroup (Chair)
Kurt Hill - People's Firehouse
Father Frank Morales and Jerry the Peddler - Squatting Movement of the Lower East Side
Lynn Owens – Sociologist, on Amsterdam squatting movement
Take Back NYU : Ellie Kahn, Drew Phillips and Olive McKeon
New School in Exile: John Clegg
and Friends from Picture the Homeless
This workshop is concerned with occupation as a means of resistance: inspired by the latest NY schools occupations, the chicago's factory sit in and historical squatting of empty buildings in New York and elsewhere. We would like to investigate the struggles in which such tactics emerge and are useful and in addition develop a how-to of occupations in light of the current economical and political situation.
And another event -- “ we will occupy yet we're against your occupation” -- an open screening at the Migrating-Forms festival @Anthology Film Archives
Sunday April 19th 2pm 90 Minutes
Occupation is used to describe two entities: one related to the state, its strategies of control, and the other is part of the strategies of resistance, to occupy a building as a protest for example, or simply to occupy/squat a building to live in. In relation to this topic, everyone is encouraged to bring in a cued selection from a video or a film by others or themselves (Length: 1:00 to 5:00 minutes).
16Beaver is the address of a space initiated/run by artists to create and maintain an ongoing platform for the presentation, production, and discussion of a variety of artistic/cultural/economic/political projects. It is the point of many departures/arrivals.

Friday, April 10, 2009

"House Magic: BFC" Schedule of Events

[This is a place to post the events that I can edit, so this will be the most up to date post of them, I think. See also: ABC No Rio events calendar, and our emerging wiki website.]
This is the schedule of events for "House Magic: Bureau of Foreign Correspondence," the show about squatted social centers at ABC No Rio, NYC. For nine Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings we will have evening events. (The show will also be open during the day, beginning around noon.) Films about squatted social centers and related questions will be available to view in the gallery, and also will be screened in the evening, accompanied by discussions around a bowl of soup and bread – an evocation of the VoKü (Volxküchen, or people’s kitchen) of German and Dutch squats. The films will start at 7pm. A $5 freewill donation is requested to cover the cost of the films. Here is the schedule: APRIL FIRST WEEK Tuesday 21 Germany -- German films to be announced. Guest: Michel Chevalier, Hamburg.
Wednesday 22 United Kingdom -- “Take Over,” directed by Jordie Montevecchi. The film follows a group of Brighton, UK, squatters who take over an old church.
Thursday 23 Netherlands, Amsterdam – “The City Was Ours,” by Joost Seelen (time?; 1996; Dutch with English subtitles) Amsterdam squatting movement, 1970s to 1980s; Rijksmuseum occupation, 2008 & other short subjects
SECOND WEEK Tuesday 28 Spain, Barcelona -- Octavi Royo, "Okupa, Crónica de una Lucha Social" [Spanish & Catalan with English subtitles] Reflexión sobre el fenómeno de la okupación que empieza con el desalojo del Cine Princesa en Barcelona (1996) y termina en la actualidad; Dara Greenwald "Tactical Tourist" [English]; selected bangin' shorts from "Resistir es Crear: 10 años junto al Centro Social - Casa de Iniciativas de Málaga" Guests: Dara Greenwald, Brooklyn, others we hope
Wednesday 29 Spain, Madrid -- "Laboratorio 3, Ocupando el Vacio" (66 min.; 2007; Spanish with English subtitles); music videos from Casa Iniciativas, Malaga
Thursday 30 Italy – program to be announced
MAY THIRD WEEK Tuesday 5 -- “Visions of Utopia,” directed by Geoff Kozeny; Part One, the historical background (94 min.; 2009); and excerpts from Part Two, on urban communes Two (about 30 min); collective living discussion with James Andrews of Nsumi, other invitees
Wednesday 6 Zurich -- The Art Squat – “Dada Changed My Life,” directed by Lou Lou and Daniel Martinez (2004; time?) about the Zurich art squatting action that saved the Cabaret Voltaire Guest: Olga Mazurkiewicz
Thursday 7 Denmark, Copenhagen -- “Christiania You Have My Heart,” directed by Nils Vest (62 min.; 1991; Danish with English subtitles); talk with Rebecca Zorach on her visit to the Copenhagen free town
In the gallery: A rotating selection of videos about squatted social centers will be playing in the gallery, as well as the following artists’ documentaries: Oliver Ressler -- “5 Factories - Worker Control in Venezuela,” 81 min., Span./Ger./Engl., 2004 {with Dario Azzellini}, and “Disobbedienti,” 54 min., Ital./Ger./Engl., 2002 {with Dario Azzellini}; and “What Would It Mean To Win?” 40 min. / 2008 / PAL / Engl./Ger./French (with Zanny Begg),Marcelo Expósito, "Primero de Mayo (La Ciudad-fábrica) [First of May (The City Factory)]" (61 minutes, 2004) Span./Engl.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A review of “Occupy and resist! Examining the European Social Center Tradition,” by spud

This reblog comes from the City From Below public blog about the session I co-chaired in Baltimore. Spud beat me to it… “Submitted by spud on Sat, 03/28/2009 - 21:11. in [subject] * squatting social centers:
“I [that is, spud] attended this session in the basement of the Village Learning Place this afternoon. I arrived a few minutes late, and the smallish room was crowded to capacity. By the time I arrived, questions were already being taken from audience members, and there couldn't have been too much time for any lengthy presentation before that. I assume that it was intentional to have organized the workshop in an informal, conversational manner.
“Because there exists such a huge discrepancy between squatting in the US and squatting overseas [I disagree, but of course I’ll have my turn…], a fair amount of discussion revolved around the legal and strategic issues involved in moving into an abandoned space without immediate eviction. (The answer, broadly speaking, is two-fold: 1. don't announce yourselves if you don't have to, and hope to avoid detection, or [er, "and"] 2. build yourself a solid base of support amongst both your neighbors and the community you hope to build.)
“Both of the presenters, Alan Moore and Lynn Owens, are essentially researchers, and needed to defer to the first-hand expertise of audience members in a number of cases -- a woman from Barcelona and a long-time squatter in Rome provided helpful information about their specific experiences.
“Four other audience members, hailing from Durham, NC, chimed in with the hope of hearing more about the actual organizational structure of the Social Centers in Europe (but very little response was offered). These attendees belong to a self-styled "Social Center" in Durham and were hoping for tips from their analogs in Europe. They received none, but their description of their own organization, El Kilombo was itself inspiring.
“Overall, an interesting conversation, but not very useful in terms of any strategic information, and it seemed like a lot of questions went unanswered, though they raised enough points for a much longer session.”
* Add new comment.
Yes, Spud, you are right! [That’s me.] Our presentations were deliberately very short. The question is, What are the questions? That is not to be flip, but only to say that a strategic casebook, a "best practices" kind of compendium of what we need to know about EU social centers, is some ways off. And it begins with the questions you ask. I was delighted that the Roman woman responded directly to a question from the audience, something like, "How does a big social center run?" That's pretty vague... her answer was succinct but short. Hey, we are on our way! -- Alan W. Moore

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The City From Below: “Hello”

Baltimore is a charming city. It is of a type deemed obsolete during the modernist era -- a European style walking city. Yet because the city’s been depressed for so long, they haven’t had the money to destroy that charm.
The City From Below conference was held in an old Methodist church, a grand basilica with stained glass and a light-filled community room behind. The church was crumbling, its congregation unable to support the place. Two years ago they invited in the crowd of radicals around Red Emma’s bookstore who have helped maintain the building in exchange for using it for special events. Now they run the front, and installed a bar and kitchen. The diminished congregation meets every Sunday in the back. That the Methodist ruling body (synod?) would go along with this rather than seek to sell off the handsome old building is good, but I found it surprising. Perhaps they had no other options. I saw another old church in town that had been converted into an office complex, yet was still entirely vacant. (On perusing the church’s history page, I see that it is in itself a radical congregation with a transgendered minister, so maybe the Methodist bigwigs don’t have so much to say about it!) Red Emma’s crew doesn’t own the place. Cash poor, but rich in energy, labor, faith and vision -- Baltimore’s radicals are the best contemporary users of this great religious assembly hall. They have and will accomplish much there. It seems like a model arrangement. It’s also a libertarian’s dream, the return of social and cultural services to “faith-based” hands.
The conference was very exciting, and filled with interesting and unusual presentations. It had the substance of an academic symposium without its stultifying rituals, constraints, and necessary uselessness. It had the networking intensity of a neighborhood organizing conference, as indeed it was, hosted as well by Baltimore’s United Workers Association, which is building their April campaign behind t-shirts and posters with the stern and striking visage of Harriet Tubman, the slave-freeing heroine of the 19th century Underground Railroad.
One could follow any of a number of threads in the sessions, and when the videos are mounted to the web, we’ll be able to follow up on the others. (Some are on the UWA site already.) I followed my friends, through the egghead theory and cultural work panels. In the opening plenary and a later speakout session, I caught a good invigorating dose of the community organizing strain. The keynote speech was a recording by Mumia Abu Jamal, the long-jailed black journalist. Several of the sessions were animated by the prospect of direct action squatting by the recently dispossessed on foreclosed properties and vacant lands. A strong thread of permaculture and urban farming packed in the clear-eyed crusties and would-be hayseeds, like one gal wearing a vintage fox pelt as a hat.
It was the braiding together of these strains that made the conference so exciting. If there is in fact a grassroots revolution in the making, a true insurrectionary urban development, this is what it might look like. This was its planning meeting.
[The image is by Icky, of Justseeds.org, which did posters for the City From Below.]

The Dirty South

Baltimore -- I am training out of the city now, past block after block of boarded up row houses without a soul on the streets. The “City From Below” conference has folded its tents. (A detailed account of relevant sessions will be posted here soon...) It was a titanic effort of grassroots organization undertaken by a bunch of freedom-loving anarchistas clustered around a bookstore called Red Emma’s. Baltimore is one of this country’s shrinking cities. Since deindustrialization, the city on the Chesapeake Bay has lost a third of its inhabitants. (Now, 15 minutes out of town, the train passes high-tech factories and a military air base, signs of the “rimming” of business -- moving out to the suburbs – that has affected many U.S. cities.) The eminent geographer David Harvey gave a talk on Friday from the top of Federal Hill. This unique promontory overlooks downtown Baltimore and the Inner Harbor. From this hill Lincoln’s zouave army trained cannon on the city below to keep the state of Maryland from seceding from the Union during the Civil War.
This day Harvey pointed with his fingers and fired only his analysis. A score of undistinguished or plain ugly high rises and office towers litter the landscape, the results of decades of “public-private partnerships.” While these heavily subsidized and now doubtless largely vacant buildings were constructed, the city’s neighborhoods, especially its schools, were systematically starved of funds.
So where, I asked my hosts, was the bronze statue of John Waters, the filmmaker whose early work celebrates the quirky denizens of Baltimore in the 1970s? Or better yet Divine, his earthy drag queen hero(ine)? Those movies made Baltimore seem like an east coast New Orleans, brimming with fun craziness. I’m afraid Divine, should she appear, would be hustled out of the “new” Amtrak station -- a beautifully preserved turn of the last century Beaux Arts building now marked by signs, loud regular announcements, and roving squads of police with dogs. They’re on the lookout for Arab terrorists, of course. It's plainly absurd. We should better be protected from rogue ice blocks and polar bears. But repression makes jobs. On these streets large black signs with white letters proclaim: “BELIEVE.” Blue flashing lights mark surveillance cameras, and across from the tiny nightclub and bar strip a large set of klieg lights prepares to blast nighttime crowds with a military daytime. Closing time fun. Inner Baltimore, the depopulated city of the bourgeois, is like much of the urban United States clearly a police state. Running it seems to be the only growth industry in town. This is George W. Bush’s lasting legacy, the production (for both domestic and foreign consumption) of an overwhelming paranoiac fear in his constituency.
The last day of the conference was a sorry one for me. Through an hour’s inattention, my coat with my camera in it was taken. This happened in an adjunct building of the conference, a beautifully restored public library run by community volunteers. (The city defunded many neighborhood libraries years ago – to educate the workforce in the futility of aspiring, one supposes.) During the session, the library was of course open, and local people were coming in and out. It was a reminder of the desperation of many Baltimoreans. Thieves haunt open situations, where people are relaxed and trusting. When we started work at ABC No Rio in 1980, we had to warn every woman who entered not to let her purse out of her sight. The charming children who ran about the place were thieves. Teaching two hour classes in the Bronx in 1998, I had to tell my students to take their textbooks with them when they took their break. A ring of thieves was picking up the expensive books while their owners went to the bathroom, later to resell them. Places where people come to learn – art centers, schools, libraries – are places where people let their guard down. Those people are easy prey.
The incident was profoundly upsetting to me -- not for the camera, which was aging, nor the jacket, although it was a good one and I’m wearing three shirts in the springtime chill air. I lost dozens of photos I had made of European social centers -- made and not yet downloaded. Plain stupidity… I paid for it with a sleepless night of remorse. Lessons learned: in the field, tech stays on your body. Data gets duplicated immediately, as soon as it is practical to do so. (Think of it as corroding the recording device.) And always know where is the nearest used clothing store!
But back to Amtrak: What is this loony social model costing us? What is it preventinig us from doing? In the clean, overly-patrolled security zones of the under-used Amtrak rail station is the potential for small scale enterprise -- mobile food and beverage carts, which can go where the customers are and don’t require as high a level of patronage as a fixed establishment. I paid $5 for a roll and coffee, a very unsatisfying breakfast at a silly price. So I’ll never do that again, and they lost a customer. That place can only sell to the unwary. This kind of retail strategy in the station runs counter to any professed ideology of market competition – you funnel customers into a zone where there are no other options, then overcharge them for shoddy goods. Amtrak in Baltimore does what airports used to do (and many still do). The egregiously overplayed security scenario -- (only in Baltimore, not in New York, where there is certainly more risk) might be some kind of way to make air travelers feel more comfortable. It’s not a grungy old antiquated rail station, really, it’s just like an airport! The “tarting up” of this lovely rail station in airport drag is carried forward by a gleaming white plastic bench with a luggage measuring guide, just like the airport, and two plastic plants placed atop this glaringly ugly piece of furniture, like bangles on a brassiere....

Thursday, March 26, 2009


Last night the Visual Arts Collective of ABC No Rio met to update on exhibition plans and proposals. My scheme for “House Magic: Bureau of Foreign Correspondence” got taken apart and put back together. The show will be sharper and more focused. The new format is going for graphic and punchy – “eye candy” for the casual viewer. Accumulations of information relevant to the different centers will be held on clipboards next to the stenciled images of social center logos on the walls. The focus of the exhibition will be on the events, the screenings and discussions. Each member of the group is going to take a different social center, and try to gather information from them over the next few weeks when the show opens. Whatever the result is will be put onto a clipboard, even if it’s nothing.
This was a strenuous meeting for me – actually a series of them, since I’ve been working at ABC, and the storm has been gathering. But it was increasingly clear to me what was probably obvious to everyone else long ago, that I could not do even half of what I’d planned, and the public presentation was at risk of looking shitty. I don’t feel proprietary about my concepts. One thing I’ve learned is that my own ideas for situations recur over and over. I do what I do; I’ve done it before, and if I don’t do it now, I’ll do it later. The big outcome of collectivization is relief – I can relax, as the whole load comes off my shoulders…
A very significant development to come out of this meeting was Michael Cataldi’s offer to include “House Magic: Bureau of Foreign Correspondence” in the “University of Trash” exhibition he is making with Nils Norman at the Sculpture Center in Queens over the summer. So, once the show concludes at ABC No Rio, the correspondence desk and show walls will be carted over to Queens. We will be able then to welcome visitors until early August. So this show at ABC in April is really only the beginning, only just the start…
In other news, Franco Berardi, aka Bifo, is coming to New York. He will talk to Mackenzie Wark at the space run by Change You Want to See/Not An Alternative in Brooklyn next week. I took a peek at Bifo’s list-serve, Rekombinant. It announces a new SC in Bolognia, called “Bartleby” (he of “I prefer not to,” Herman Melville’s Wall Street office worker character). The squatters are streaming radio from the place…

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Picture the Homeless Getting Busy

I'm prepping like mad for this show April 17, and far behind -- but I must mention this action. Last week an organized group of homeless activists took over a building in East Harlem, aka "Spanish Harlem." (It was covered in the Spanish language press.) These guys learned their chops from people in Miami, at Take Back the Land. One of the key groups involved is called Picture the Homeless, which for ten years has been very active and inventive in their activist work. It's about housing, not social center style occupation. I am looking forward to conversations in Baltimore this weekend, to learn more about it!

Photo: A homeless man, with his cup for change, sleeps on the street in downtown Vancouver (Steve Bosch/Vancouver Sun) -- it's not New York, but I loved the handmade quilt.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Free Schools, Free Minds

An exciting session tonight at 16 Beaver, lasting some three hours, with Anna Curcio and others from the Edu-Factory project. They run a website, and have a book coming out from Autonomedia soon. The subject – or the problem is the corporatization of the university worldwide, stimulated definitely by the Bologna Process in Europe. This has motivated many self-education initiatives. The conversation was wide ranging, with many of the people present involved with autonomous education projects, as well as working as teachers in colleges. 16 Beaver is a group of “self-educators,” primarily artists and media makers, who have been meeting in lower Manhattan for several years. Anna it turns out was involved in the ESC social center in Rome, along with Paolo, who I had spoken with in London. ESC is part of the second wave of social centers which arose after the Genoa G8 protests were so brutally repressed, Anna said. There are also centers in Rome, Milan, Bologna and Turin. This social center was set up across the street from a large university, and its members engaged the students directly, providing study space, counseling and other services in an autonomist atmosphere. Now, she said, the task of the Edu-Factory group was to “stay within and against” the educational system. They are starting a journal, which will feature texts in different languages.
This morning on the way to Tribes I stopped in at the "Broadcast" exhibition at Pratt Manhattan gallery. It's coming from the ICI in Baltimore, which I'll be in two weeks for the City from Below conference. (That website is really shaping up!) The picture above is Gregory Green's mobile radio station project, " Radio Caroline, The Voice of the New Free State of Caroline." He set it up in the gallery, and it's just as chaotic and intentional as any real radio station -- only 1 watt, though. Radio Caroline was a famous pirate radio station off the coast of England in the 1960s and ‘70s. The artist duo neuroTransmitter memorialized this broadcast adventure in their sculpture “12 Miles Out,” which was also in the "Broadcast" show. Like many of the social center places I’ve “visited,” the Radio Caroline it seems was a virtual location, a free state which could not be visited, only heard.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Crossing the Desert

It’s now called “House Magic: Bureau of Foreign Correspondence.” And I’ve been working on the show this week at Tribes office. Steve Cannon is great, an irascible hipster saint. The response from my European friends and comrades to the call for materials has been – well, silence! Last night I asked my friend who lives in a commune in New York and runs a café for them if he would speak at the show about collective living. Earlier, another member of the same group had declined, saying they didn’t want to be identified with squatters. My friend more or less repeated the line, critiquing the show plan in its parts and in concept. He said it would be a “fuck you!” in the face of any general audience. This made me sad. I believe this group has a great method and lots of experience which they could share with progressive people. But it is not getting out. (In general, for more information on the network of this group, see the website run by the Federation for Intentional Communities.) Well, they have their reasons, which I respect. But there is such profound fear of other ways, even among those who are living alternatives! We are really now sadly ungathered tribes.
“House Magic” and “Monster Institutions.” Magic and monsters, the realm of fantasy that is not reality. Reality is regulated. We are regulated first by our poverty, our lack of wealth. That is lack of the means to accomplish big things, to be enterprising, to make changes in our world. Then we are regulated by laws, by customs and usages – all of which run in the interests of wealth. So then, if the light never turns green for us, how are we to cross the street? We must just go, go across. Sooner or later the officer comes to write us a ticket, which we must answer. But we are over there. We are on our way…

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Draft Press Release for April '09 Show

We have a draft press release… “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE”: "House Magic: Bureau of Foreign Correspondence," part one of a project exhibition at ABC No Rio, New York City, April 17 to May 10, 2009
The social center movement in Europe will be the focus of a project exhibition at the Lower East Side cultural center ABC No Rio during the month of April. Images and information, videos and discussion will engage the realities of this vital urban movement.
The social center phenomenon arose in the late 20th century. An outgrowth of political squatting, the social center in occupied vacant buildings was a key feature of the Italian Autonomist movement of the 1970s and '80s. Squats on the Lower East Side of New York City in the 1990s borrowed elements of the English and German social center models, including cafes, infoshops (library/bookstores), performance spaces and art galleries. Across Europe, the often short-lived social centers became important organizing foci of the global justice movement during the first decade of the new century.
The "House Magic: Bureau of Foreign Correspondence" exhibition will be an open structure, a newsroom and a channel for a continuous flow of information from the social centers themselves. Bulletins will be posted, banners will be painted, soup will be served. Video documentaries will be screened, radio podcasts will be played, and guests will discuss their experiences with social centers.
The social centers arose out of direct action squatting. In the new century, however, these actions have been less about housing, and more intended to create social, cultural and political space for action in the city.
In many cases, social center squatting is a response to gentrifying development in the city, an instance of "bottom up planning and architecture." The social centers are usually well integrated into the neighborhoods in which they are set up, and provide free space for cultural activities to take place. Many social centers work closely with immigrant groups, organizing, supporting and demonstrating to protect their rights.
Throughout the month of April we will be working the theme at ABC No Rio, processing and presenting information about the social center movement. A key node in global justice organizing, squatted social centers have sprung up in cities throughout Europe. They represent a new wave of activism, often highly theorized, with participation by both radical intellectuals and grassroots activists.Increasingly architects, urban planners and artists are joining political activists in this movement.
"House Magic" is the first step in an ongoing project which invites public participation as we share the stories and synthesize the lessons of the vivid life and often spectacular deaths of these temporary autonomous zones.
Among the centers and agencies past and present considered in the show are Bowl Court, Ramparts, CoolTan, ASS and 56a in London, El Patio Maravillas, Seco, Laboratorio, Caracole and SinAtena (Madrid), La Casa Invisible (Málaga), Krax City Mine(d), (Barcelona), ESC (Rome), ROG (Ljubljana), and many others.
references: "Social Center" on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_center
blog of the show, called "Occupations and Properties" -- Photo: "Fingers of an extreme nail-biter" from Wikipedia entry on "nail biting."

Monday, March 2, 2009

Back to the Books

I'm back in NYC, after a week in LA for the CAA conference. I bounced there straight after Amsterdam, and talked about mapping projects I did with classes in Atlanta and Tampa. Re. occuprop, Atlanta is home to the long-lived group Mad Housers, centered around Georgia Tech, which builds shanty-style houses for homeless people where they are encamped. I also talked at the Public School, a very cool place for meeting and discussion. It is in a basement in Chinatown, off Chung King Road, where many art galleries are located. You reach it by going down an alley off a closed street, with restaurant staff at the back doors blowing reefer on their breaks -- very mysterious. The circle of politically engaged artists in California has greatly enlarged since the days of the “Cool School” of Pop artists. There was a party for Dara and Josh, who curated the great poster show "Signs of Change," which is now on tour. (Here it is in Pittsburgh, likely an ephemeral link.) There I ran into Ava Bromberg, who put together the swell “Just Spaces” show in LA in ‘07. The network of participants and bibliography of readings on that website remain an inspiration for anyone trying to work through cultural institutions to address these kinds of social justice issues.
Now begins the process of going over notes, and sorting through the materials brought back from Europe. Gradually the shape of the ABC show will emerge... now it is only something in mind, although it is already taking place in my dreams. (I bought a book on Belgian Surrealism at CAA, and find interesting Paul Nouge's theorization of absences -- that is exactly what this project is about, the absences or aporias of contemporary activism, the things not being done.) As I do this I will add those materials and reflections to this blog. But I am moving out of the realm of direct, on-site observation and conversation into a zone of more mediated considerations.
[image: Andrew Becraft's "Lego revolutionaries" series, Marx & Engels; it should be Hegel, for his "Philosophy of Right," but hey, they're just so cute!]

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Deep Past in "Kraaken"

My week in Amsterdam is ending, and it has been a doozy. A grand city, gilded with the architectural dust of antique empire, but a village for all that. There are many squats here, both legal and illegal, new and old. The movement -- “kraaken” – began in the 1960s, during the time of the Kabouters, the band of radical political provocateurs who were the successors to the infamous Provos of white bicycle fame. To get some handle on this past, I trotted to the International Institute for Social History, a grand imposing building, which houses a squatting archive. Actually it’s part of the state archive… but it’s all in Dutch. Thank goodness I’m into art! The archive was assembled by Eric Duivenvoorden, who also put together the magnificent book of posters, Met emmer en kwast. Veertig jaar Nederlandse actieaffiches 1965-2005. (That’s roughly “with bucket and paste, 40 years of Dutch action posters”—thanks to Google translate.) The book is packed with lovely posters, many of which are on the IISH website.
I also watched “It Was Our City,” a film about the Amsterdam squatters movement 1975-1988, made in 1996 by Joost Seelen. (Duivenvoorden co-wrote the scenario.) The story told in the film (subtitled in English) is both inspiring and cautionary. The squatting movement began in earnest in Amsterdam in the 1970s. It was about housing – too many of the few vacant buildings were being held off the market for speculation, and young people needed places to stay. The government’s housing bureaucracy was swamped and ineffective. One the “kraaken” of empty houses got underway, it was full speed ahead. The police finally reacted, the mutual violence escalated, and in the end the squatters were fighting amongst themselves.
Afficionadoes of “demo porn” would love this film. Once the police first attacked to clear a squatted house, the squatters got real about their defenses. The first defense of a house from eviction was entirely passive. The defenders were beaten. Next came the first real defense – doors and windows were barricaded, and as cops started climbing the ladder, the squatters poured oil on them. When they ran out of oil, one shouted, “It’s all gone, come and get us!” The event turned into a kind of slapstick. Old people were not so amused by the police tactics. “This is like the war,” they said, like the Nazis had come back.
The squatters trained, dressed with helmets and leather jackets, defensive sticks and gloves for the next confrontations. A kind of apogee was reached with the defense of the Big Keyzer Squat in 1978, a massive building owned by a big corporation, OGEM, with ministers and ex-ministers financially involved.
The “squatting surgery” barricaded the building with medieval ingenuity. First wooden sheets went up on the windows, then steel plates and pipes behind (these were welded), then scaffolding and sandbags. There’s much more… but that brief description is enough to clue you to the unique combative and entitled nature of Dutch squatting. As was explained to me later, Holland is a consensus society, where they try to appease everyone. It is far easier to give in to the legitimate demands of a militant band of organized squatters than it is to enforce the absolute property rights of big capital.
Today many squats exist, new and old. I visited one not too old, a small building called Joe’s Garage. The place is surprisingly neat and tidy, with tile-lined walls like a butcher’s shop or charcuterie, and well appointed with blond wooden tables and chairs. By no means my idea of a rough and tumble squat! There’s a bunch of folks around the bar, and at a table seated a bald-headed 30ish gent in leather pants. I smile and nod. He is not smiling. The soup is very good, with cress maybe and mushrooms, butter and flour. I pop a fiver into the “donatie” box, and the barkeep smiles and asks me if I want a beer. Yes, an ale. He’s never heard of it. I get a Jever. Everyone ignores me. Unlike Ramparts, I am not giving a talk, and I know no friend of the space. Two French girls enter. They order beers in English. Their entry is attended by much interest by some young men, but they sit by themselves and do not take soup. They are ignored. More folks arrive. I am pleased to see that it is multi-generational. One elderly lady arrives bearing a fat package.
Soon the dinner is ready. It’s a kind of bean fry up with pineapple! (“an experiment”) says one of the cooks. More folks enter; three English gals talking of their gay affairs. They are there to eat. But I must go, having played only the fly on the wall… Outside a raffish looking gent is smoking a cig. “Lovely meal,” I say. “The best café I’ve been to in Amsterdam.” He replies, “It’s not a café. It’s a social center for squatters.” This remark I thought was revealing. I think by “social center” he meant “social club.” Many squatters have their own idea of what they are about.
Nazima, a student writing an ethnography of Amsterdam squatters, had tipped me to Joe’s Garage. She asked me if I’d consulted Squat.net? Well, no. I’m really winging it here. Nazima was generous, but a little mystified by my project. My principle contact here is Renee Ridgway. She is an artist and long-time Amsterdammer, fluent in both Dutch and English. But during the first days of my visit she was laid up in bed. It took a while for us to meet…

Thursday, February 19, 2009

NYU Reoccupation in New York City

This is a difficult thing to do... but they have done it, they say. Live, with streaming video, the politicals are back inside New York University. Here is the skinny. Meanwhile, I am in Amsterdam, in the beautiful state archives building housing the International Institute for Social History. I am researching squatting in Amsterdam, hindered perhaps a little by the fact that everything is in Dutch. Saw a great film, though -- "The City Was Ours" (1996), about the movement. I will have much to report when I get a chance to blog up good... Now I shall go in search of SCs. Into the fog and rain!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

“My Dear Edifice”: Roaming London

I was invited to talk at the Ramparts Social Center in East London by Peter Conlin, a Canadian graduate student who is closely involved with the space. Ramparts is a solidly built 3-story warehouse with a café on the ground floor, gallery and offices on the 2nd, and 3rd floor offices. The night I spoke saw a hot night of action for a traveling art show called “The Archetist,” based on a psychological cyberpunk story about a psycho-architect who analyzes nomadic buildings. Despite the wacky costumes and fringe-type theatricale, the content made the work seem very appropriate to present in a social center. The effort was somehow removed from its fan fiction context into a wider zone of social significance by being held in a space that has exhausted its appeals and hangs perilous awaiting eviction. Why the bailiffs haven’t come is a mystery… Their forbearance is attributed to “the crisis; it costs money to stage an eviction, and then some more to seal the building.
I spoke in a rambling way about my work researching artists‘ collectives. I was pleased to see Nils Norman showed up with a friend for the first part. After my talk I had interested albeit brief conversations with Rampart people -- the place was bone-chillingly cold… A fellow also named Alan told me of Area 10, an artists’ project space in Peckham, that is producing a big event Sunday. It is a factory building with artists’ studios. They have stopped paying rent because of lack of services.
Alan introduced me to a friend who had organized a Pirate University project in Barcelona. (I regret his name escaped me.) They staged a talk on Jacques Derrida’s concept of nothingness while seated on chairs in the middle of a street in London. It sounded like the perfect combination of post-structuralism and activism, mixed to the pitch of absurdity. He lamented the fractious nature of squatters ni Barcelona, saying there was no unity -- two years ago it was better, he said. Oddly enough this was precisely what Alan was saying to me earlier abuot London. “Network is coming,” wrote the organizers of the social center conference in January, but it seems it may have to clamber over the fractious tendencies of autonomists worldwide. [Next: A visit to Queen Mary.]

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Madrid: The Traffic in Dreams

So Pablo takes me on a fast tour of Diagonal the newspaper, which has a very clean, bright modern storefront tucked into Lavapiés, an older part of the city of Madrid. The place includes a store selling t-shirts and media items. In the back, a fellow is folding aprons printed with a bright red and black design in Constructivist style -- “keep the kitchen clean!”
Diagonal published Pablo’s review of the Barcelona conference of European social centers in early January.
In the basement a meeting is slowly getting underway of organizers of the “sin papeles” community (without papers), preparing for an upcoming demonstration. It will be a march from Lavapiés to Sol, the historic city center of Madrid.
Many of the sin papeles are Senegalese and other Subsaharan Africans who have been coming into Spain in increasing numbers in the last 10 or so years. We chat outside the Diagonal offices with a Pakistani activist -- about New York. Not so surprisingly, many immigrants to Spain speak English; so many, that handouts in Spanish classes may be written in English.
After our visit to Diagonal, I follow Pablo into the Metro, and we head downtown to the Seco social center. The pink panther is the logo of Seco.
This centro is located in a city-owned building now, a strikingly designed rounded modern structure. The building was sitting empty, and the Seco group, which began working in a squat years ago, was given the use of the site after a negotiation. There is a small rent which they mostly pay. Inside Seco a clutch of kids play on the internet, and a small group of youths is conferring. It is the hacklab, Pablo says. A small room holds bicycles and parts of the Critical Mass group -- Bici Crítica, an uphill struggle in Madrid. Classes in Spanish at three levels are held here for immigrants.
Seco is near a working class district which is now 35% immigrants. Seco strives to relate to these populations. I am introduced to Elia, who is traveling to NYC this summer… August. She is shy with English, and quickly returns to setting up for a party, a music night honoring the “Mods” of UK.
I was impressed by Diagonal. Like Traficante, it is a very together left space, not a squat, not dirty or unimproved at all. Seco also is very clean, a modern building, not brand new but not shabby.
Bernat emerged from the classroom where he had been teaching Spanish. Pablo said he was a writer for Diagonal. Bernat is a very personable Catalan wearing a black and white kefiya. Guillermo was also there, a researcher making “maps” of the social movements in different Spanish cities. He was reserved, and although he spoke English very well, I did not have a chance to speak with him. Bernat sees the predecessors of the social centers of today as very definitely rooted in the “ateneos” (athenaeums) of the Republican era, cultural centers where working class people could educate themselves. I asked Pablo about the questions which had preoccupied me in regards to the social centers, that is the subjectivities that participation in their activities generates and requires, the new mentalities beyond capitalism. In the words of the Universidad Nómada text, it is a matter of “creating new mental prototypes for political action.” For Pablo at this moment, the challenging work of Seco SC klies in the conversations of diverse people, making the “mixtape,” or “building the Esperanto of our movement.”
On Friday afternoon I had a very good talk with J, a hacker from Miami. He was participatng closely in the “Garage Science” workshop at Media Lab Prado, and asked that we meet there. There I found him huddling over his project. In the middle of a swirling crowd of techno hackers stood the great Steve Kurtz directing the actionj, or as he put it, trying to help out the folks working on various techno projects. (Just what these did consist of I had not the time to learn.) Also on hand by purest chance was the architect and urban theorist Kyong Park, in town to give a talk at Casa Encendidas. Kyong now teaches in San Diego, and works mainly in Asia. He was in the lab because he was having problems with his computer. After suffering through an intricate technical presentation on the electrical properties of various fruits, J and I repaired to a Turkish café nearby. He has been working with a group called SinAntena, also based in the Traficante space. This is , a media outfit that has been covering political events in Madrid, including squatting. Jay sees the social center squatting in Madrid as having come out of the shantytowns on the city’s periphery. These arose in the 1970s and ‘80s. Most were destroyed. Some were replaced by permanent housing (That’s the solution recommended by the UN, according to Mike Davis in his book “Planet of Slums.”) Gradually squatting moved into the city center. The task of building a social center is arduous, and many folks cannot sustain it. Many people J knows now squat only for housing, not to make a social center. This kind of energy is rare!