Sunday, October 21, 2012

Let's Have a Party

Popular festivals – a preview of content from the forthcoming “House Magic” journal #5.

Big, popular short-term cultural events – festivals – have long been a principal cultural product of the 1970s occcupations. Call it convergence, rendezvous, or festival, these periodic celebrations play key roles in the life of land occupiers, reigniting the excitement and affirming the solidarities of the initial occupation, and the camaraderie of encampment. (See the story of the Amsterdam Balloon Factory of the Dutch free community of Ruigoord in House Magic #4, “Aja Waalwijk on TAZ.”)
The nomadic festivals of the Rainbow Family in the U.S. began in 1968 with a “be-in” in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. The “gatherings” continue to this day on U.S. government park land, a demotic shadow of the upscale Burning Man festivals in the Nevada desert. Governments in the U.S. have never stopped trying to put the lid on these festivals, however.
Michael Niman, author of “People of the Rainbow: A Nomadic Utopia,” maintains a website of numerous documents relating to the group's struggles with government agencies managing the lands they encamp
Ryan Neeley, “The Government's Secret War on Music Festivals” details the trials of Jimmy Tebeau, musician in a Grateful Dead tribute band called The Schwag, who has held numerous festivals on his privately owned land; ownership does not protect these festivals from government harassment
The 1970s counterculture festival tradition continiues in the periodic events organized by urban “art squatters” in Europe. A number of them were held this year.

A Flop, with Beatings
In July, an Intersquat Festival was called for late July in Fribourg, Switzerland by a coalition of Swiss groups. The organizers, however, did not hide under cover of culture, but brandished their militancy. They chose to attempt a major occupation as the opening of the festival. Not surprisingly, it was violently suppressed. There were 52 arrests, accompanied by police “batoning anything that moved, including passers-by and people already on the ground, arresting people in cars and trains, in cafes, shopping” – arrestees were swabbed for DNA. It became an exhibition of police violence and a celebration of activist masochism.
call-out for the Fribourg Intersquat Festival
event report of the brutal repression

Cops join the party during a demonstration of students in Torino, Italy // from World Riots (students' faces are blurred in the photo, not masked)

Emigration, Secession, Mass Shovel-In
Festival lies behind the recent strategies of the Dutch Damoclash group, working with the cultural squatters of Schijnheilig. They use the form to make very specific political points. In August of 2011, 50 Dutch artists and activists traveled from Amsterdam to Prishtina, Kosovo. “The Dutch budget cuts and severe police brutality towards squatters and cultural activists in The Netherlands is pushing artists into exile. Therefore we're seeking asylum in Kosovo.” In July they opened a temporary embassy of the “new Damoclash free state” in the Vondelpark of Amsterdam to prepare the trip.
In September of 2012, the Dutch squatters staged Damoclash, a one-day festival. “Damoclash is a recurring free and chaotic, culturally and non-commercial festival that merges protest art, politics and debate into a fun event.” The target of the temporary occupation was a patch of unbuilt land at Oostpoort, Amsterdam, where a publicly funded development was planned, the kind of mega-project they see as “very risky.”
Under the theme of “Gentrify It Yourself!,” they called people to “Take a shovel in hand, come to Damoclash and become one of our Cultural Partners (OCP). Show that you want to help build the city of Amsterdam. Come in your builders clothing, safety helmet, lights, battery drill.”
Who are the Damoclash?
Damoclash: 2011 trip to Kosovo
Damoclash call-out for 2012

Charter of Occupation
Festival was also themed politically for three days this September with the Festiv' Aligre, produced by the “Free Commune of Aligre” in Paris. This sudden government was declared by the organizers after local officials denied them a license. The demand was familiar – public participation in the planning decisions that would affect the community. But this faux government first declared themselves “guardians of public disorder” for a period of festival, evoking the oldest traditions of European carnival. Street food, music concerts (all types), story-telling, dance (“garbage ballet”), cycling activities by the collective Vélorution – all are artfully described and intermingled with discussions on “this famous question, how to occupy public space.” These discussions were purposive: to frame a “charter” on how to manifest public space to be “hailed” as the school year starts. Naturally, the project is supported by numerous collectives, the town hall, city and state cultural ministries, and, significantly, the Fondation Abbé Pierre, named for the renowned French squatter priest, and local tenants' groups.
Festiv' Aligre
Abbé Pierre
Next: Classic Art Squats

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

“House Magic” #5 Is on the Front Burner...

image by Eric Drooker
This blog is part of the “House Magic” research and information project on the culture of squats and occupations. The fifth number of the journal is now in preparation. It will include texts proudly pirated from around the worldwide web. Most of them, produced during these last two revolutionary years, must be edited for a limited paper space. As part of the editorial process, I'm putting up some of these texts now as links for readers of this blog to see. Analytic comments and glosses as well as personal experiences and viewpoints are welcomed. (Had I the skills and time, the whole thing would be available online in an expanded version; in the meantime, this is how it goes.)
The SqEK Group NYC Conference Proceedings
SqEK – Squatting Europe Kollective conference in New York City: Academic Papers February of 2012 saw a SqEK conference coinciding with the AAG meeting. A day of academic sessions took place at the Hilton Hotel – all the abstracts of the papers are posted at:
“Squatting in Europe Now”
A public talk at the Living Theatre, NYC. A nearly complete transcript is posted at:
Many of the talks were recorded and mounted to YouTube by Sebastian Gutierrez. There are four; the first is “SQEK I -- Squatting Europe Collective.” They include brief descriptions of the situation with squatting in the Netherlands, Italy, France, United Kingdom, and Spain.
“The Necessary Squats,” by Miguel Martinez
Miguel of SqEK wrote this account of the eviction of CSOA Casablanca in Madrid in September of 2012. He was closely involved in that collective.
“The Sabotaj Story”
Story of the 2011 squat of a vacant supermarket in Brighton, protesting the supercession of a family-owned business by a chain store.
String of Evictions of Madrid Social Centers
Short reports – La Salamanquesa in Salamanca barrio, in May of '12; La Osera in Usera, and La Cantera in Vicálvaro in July.
La Salamanquesa –
La Osera –
La Cantera –
“Creative Destruction,” by Jens Balzer
New York Times blogger argues that the final eviction of Tacheles in Berlin is a “normal” part of gentrification. Now young people must get together and buy properties.
“Contaminating the University, Creating Autonomous Knowledge: Occupied Social and Cultural Centers in Italy,” an interview with Claudia Bernardi
Bernardi discusses ESC, the Rome social center as an “occupied atelier for self-education.” She also talks about the relationship the extra-legal project has with the university, and ESC's work with immigrant communities. The recent theater occupations she says come from the idea of culture as a common good.
The Victor Martinez Community Library, Oakland, California
Abandoned library brought back to life.
“Spain: The Big Squat,” by Ter Garcia
This March 2012 roundup of squatting in Madrid focuses on the relationship between the 15M movement, the neighborhood assemblies, and the banks.
“Real change needs massive support. Art affects only a minority” – An interview with Jeudi Noir
This December 2011 interview concentrates on the tactics and aesthetic techniques that the Paris-based housing group uses in their occupations. Includes a timeline. By curatorial consultant Anne Faucheret for Steirischer Herbst arts festival.
“Notorious Possession: Occupying Foreclosed Homes With Art” by Robby Herbst
A September 2012 story about artist Olga Koumoundouros, and the foreclosed house she occupied in the Van Nuys area of Los Angeles, California. Discusses her engagement, techniques, and the neighborhood groups she worked with.
“Call for ‘No Borders’ – Borders Exist to Exclude,” by Sutapa Chattopadhyay
An extensive article by SqEK member, based on her interviews with Bangladeshi immigrants at the CSOA Casablanca in Madrid.
“Non vengo dalla luna: Short Report of a Political-Theater Experiment,” by Carla Vitantonio Account of a 2010 tour of Italian social centers by two theater artists.
SqEK member Mujinga produced #7 of "Using Space" in August of 2012, a zine about squats, social centres and alternative ways of living. It includes an update on the criminalisation of squatting in England and Wales, and excellent memoirs with lessons learned by squatters in London and Seattle.
28 pages including cover; formatted for double-sided printing
“Squatting in Europe: Radical Spaces, Urban Struggles,” edited by the Squatting Europe Kollective
forthcoming from Autonomedia in 2012
Table of Contents is at –

Next, Art and More...