Eternal Network (9/14)

Fahlstrom_Notes.jpgNo movement, whether artistic or political, can be grasped without understanding the bridges it had to burn. This is the reason for looking back one last time at the unresolved problems and dead-ends of the Seventies. Take the case of an avant-garde painter and all-around experimentalist who was born in Brazil, raised in Sweden and moved to New York in the early Sixties after a couple of years in Paris. Oyvind Fahlström came out of a tradition that mixed painting and concrete poetry. He produced narrative abstractions based on science fiction novels and comic books, then “variable paintings” using painted magnets on a white metal ground, then expanded his sense of visual rhythm and narrative articulation into three dimensional space, with pieces that were like sculptural drawings. But his work really became more intense and passionate after 1968, when he started engaging directly with leftist politics.

At that point he launched his “Monopoly” paintings, which were actually board games complete with playing pieces, wheels of fortune and tragically realistic rules, like World Trade Monopoly (1970) or Indochina (1971). The latter featured little yellow tokens representing one million dollars each, to be spent by one player or team, and heart-shaped red ones representing two Vietnamese lives, to be expended by the other. “Rules oppose and derail subjectivity, loosen the imprinted circuits of the individual,” he wrote in a text called “Take Care of the World.” In the same period he also did a tremendous cartographic painting entitled World Map (1972), which crams the five continents into a dense and conflictual space, bursting with geopolitical detail. To create such pieces, Fahlström would compile sheets of color-coded notes, where he reduced large quantities of complex information down to narrative figures incorporating informational notes and occasional comic-book style captions. This gave him a verbal-visual vocabulary that could be deployed across different genres and media: installations, cartographic paintings, game boards, theatrical performances, radio broadcasts, multiples...

The most complex geopolitical piece of the later years was Garden: A World Model (1973). It consists of flowing, leaf-like forms of painted metal, attached to central rods emerging from brick-red flowerpots. The title alludes to the ecological issues raised by the Club of Rome report, The Limits to Growth (1972), authored by Donna Meadows on the basis of Jay Wright Forrester’s experiments with computerized simulations of global inputs and outputs (so-called “world modeling”). At first the whole thing looks green and organic, but when you get closer you realize the leaves are covered by Fahlström’s informational pictographs, which distill a complete analysis of the balance of power between the developed capitalist countries, the Soviet bloc, the emancipatory projects of the Third World and the insurgent leftist movements that were attempting to support them from the north. Once again, the central issue is that of solidarity.

003.05.FahlstromGarden.jpg 005.FahlstromMNCs.jpg007a.FahlstromStrike.jpg


A fascinating complex of images details the powers of multinational corporations (MNCs), which, as an Allende figure painted in red explains, “are not accountable to or regulated by any institutions representing the public interest.” Another indicates the role of corporations such as Honeywell in a future of “global surveillance systems for electronic warfare,” and recounts how in the period of 1961-69, the International Police Academy in Washington “trained 5,900 police officers... to fight the left.” Fahlström saw a stark choice between global fascism and “global cooperation to preserve the world for all.” Most interestingly from today’s perspective, he showed how a multinational tire company could use its global production facilities to reduce the threat to profits represented by a national strike – and how a flow of information to the other countries could intervene to create a transnational unionism. Already it was clear to him that computer technology would also have to play an emancipatory role.

It seems to me that in 1973, a work like this posed two key questions, both of which Fahlström was aware of, but for which he had no serious answer. First and most obviously: How could a work of art like this contribute to the political activism that it suggests, when it was confined to an expensive single ediion shown in a museum? Second, with some hindsight: how could any of the goals it pointed to be achieved, at a time when the leadership of the Sixties’ movements was being decimated by FBI and CIA counter-insurgency operations?

Though no one could have realized the full extent of the disaster at the time, Fahlström watched the takedown of the Allende government from afar, and made one of his most beautiul pieces about it, called At Five in the afternoon (1974). It’s a map of Chile, pierced by long needle-like stalks suppporting organic forms that bear poetic fragments from Lorca and Sylvia Plath. 1969 had seen a landslide victory for the reactionary US president Richard Nixon, who came into power under the shadow of what he called the silent majority. COINTELPRO in the US itself and the CIA-backed CONDOR program in Latin America were devastating for Left projects in the Western Hemisphere. Dictators arose in the Southern Cone and tens of thousands were disappeared. But the situation in Western Europe, though incomparable, also turned quite nasty. In Germany, bombings by the Red Army Fraction helped provoke massive computerized surveillance by the state, prefiguring today’s full-blown control society. In Italy, ‘68 came late – not in the spring of that year, but in the “hot autumn” of 1969. However it lasted through the Seventies, culminating in the youth insurrectionary movement of 1977, whose counter-cultural protagonists would have a huge influence on later European activism. The repression that followed was exceptionally severe, with an entire political generation in prison at the close of the decade. As for France, a Socialist government under François Mitterrand was finally elected in 1982 – four years too late. By 1984 the core of their economic program had been liquidated under pressure from the international financial establishment and the period of adaptation to neoliberalism had begun.

Where to look for the scattered threads of a cultural revolt that would ultimately knit back together into the tactical media of the Nineties? How to create a mobilization without centers or leaders, that can break out of sectarian cul-de-sacs and appeal to passers-by through the subversion of mass culture? Situationism has received endless attentions from the theorists and art historians, but only a few are willing to follow its distortions through punk subcultures and beyond (Dan Graham in Rock My Religion and Greil Marcus in Lipstick Traces). But the garden of forking paths to the future also includes Fluxus, mail art, Neoism and cyberpunk – plus activist video, free software and Reclaim the Streets, as we’ll see down the line. Annmarie Chandler and Norie Neumark have caught some of this in an edited volume called At a Distance: Precursors to Art and Activism on the Internet. Less straight-laced and more up to date, Tatiana Bazzichelli cracks it wide open with her book Networking, recently translated from the Italian. What she has done is draw on the self-understanding of the people who made it happen, notably the mail-art duo Vittore Baroni and Piermario Ciani, plus the Luther Blissett Project and the Wu Ming Foundation. Visual art and literary groups in the hyperindividualistic Eighties and Nineties would once gain seek to “derail subjectivity,” but not with the tragic realism of inexorable rules, as Fahlström did. Instead they would offer the do-it-yourself poetics of open and freely appropriable networked myths.

Something will disappear in all this: namely, the organizational form of the Communist party, and its (often imaginary) links to nationalist projects of Third World liberation. The question to raise while investigating the development of a new emancipatory aesthetic and a new form of political mobilization, is what – if anything has emerged to replace the traditional forms of solidarity on the left.

posted by BH


Karen Eliot is a name that refers to an individual human being who can be anyone. The name is fixed, the people using it aren't. Smile is a name that refers to an international magazine with multiple origins. The name is fixed, the types of magazines using it aren't. The purpose of many different magazines and people using the same name is to create a situation for which no one in particular is responsible and to practically examine western philosophical notions of identity, individuality, originality, value and truth.

Anyone can become Karen Eliot simply by adopting the name, but they are only Karen Eliot for the period in which the name is used. Karen Eliot was materialised, rather than born, as an open context in the summer of '85. When one becomes Karen Eliot one's previous existence consists of the acts other people have undertaken using the name. When one becomes Karen Eliot one has no family, no parents, no birth. Karen Eliot was not born, s/he was materialised from social forces, constructed as a means of entering the shifting terrain that circumscribes the 'individual' and society.

The name Karen Eliot can be strategically adopted for a series of actions, interventions, exhibitions, texts, etc. When replying to letters generated by an action/text in which the context has been used then it makes sense to continue using the context, i.e. by replying as Karen Eliot. However in personal relationships, where one has a personal history other than the acts undertaken by a series of people using the name Karen Eliot, it does not make sense to use the context. If one uses the context in personal life there is a danger that the name Karen Eliot will become over-identified with individual beings.

scrounged from Neoism, Plagiarism & Praxis, by Stewart Home

Letter from Luther:

Alice and the Dreamachine


As I understand it (always glad to be wrong, because we are mythomaniacs) George Brecht and Robert Filliou came up together with the idea of “The Eternal Network” in 1968. In fact it was the English translation of a French slogan, La Fête Permanente.

So what was that? A system of continuous gift-exchange with no accounting, taking place through the mail or by any other means, and ensuring that art would always be available, anytime, anywhere, since it could potentially be made by anyone. Filliou is famous for a few things: Teaching and learning as performing arts; the aesthetic equivalence of well done, poorly done and not done; plus the phrase that everybody loves: “Art is what makes life more interesting than art.” Mail art succeeds where conceptualism failed, that’s one way to see it. It’s the poor man’s Mona Lisa: no gallery, no museum, no prestige, no price tage, no insurance value. Just stamp it up and throw it in the box. Plus there’s a kind of unwritten rule for exhibitions, a how-to. Send out an open call; accept everything that arrives by the opening; return some documentation to all participants.

The real question is, why did Ray Johnson look so good in Nineties' Italy? I mean, Neoism was obvious, it was the London-Bologna axis, punk, multiple names, Ralph Rumney, psychogeography, all that baloney. OK, I agree, Stewart Home is overrated – mostly by himself – but still, he’s done great stuff. From there, it’s quite a stretch to fixate on a dandy from the New York art world. But that's how it was done. You know, an urban legend even says the StopPub movement in faraway Paris – those roving bands back around 2002, 2003, who would come out the metro and cover up, tag, subvertise, tag or just plain rip to shreds all the huge adverts on the quais – they would sign all their communiqués “Ray Johnson.” What’s it all about? A Zapatista in Greenwich?

The answer is: he’s a mind invader, he wanted to fuck (with) the art world, like us with the media. Some people made a film pretty recently, How to Draw a Bunny, which is a mix of sentimental BS and some really great stuff, like the scene that shows two classic Ray Johnson effigies side by side, the one says “copyright” and the other says “copyleft.” You can see how antagonistic he was, basically against ownership, also against curators and any kind of authority. The best scene in the movie is a hilarious anecdote about a series of silhouette-portraits that he did of some collector called Morton Janklo. Ray does the portraits on his own initiative, proposes a sale but asks an impossible price, changes it constantly with dadaistic additions and reductions, then gradually transforms the entire series into something else, with a blow-by-blow correspondence to the buyer detailing his own ritual sacrifice. What he’s doing is rendering ownership impossible, while feeding the collector’s identity into a permutation-machine, a continuous metamorphosis. Of course he was a dandy, of course he sold his stuff whenever he could bear to, who cares? The thing is to be a trickster in the circuit. The straight art world is just another mass-media.

Check this one, I dragged it out of the archives, specially for you. Bologna in ‘77, Italy at the height of the counter-culture, just before the guns would come out of the basements and everything went to pieces. It was the time of the mythical Radio Alice, which drove Guattari completely wild and made him into a media-theorist. The great thing is they built it on top of an old military transmitter that was in somebody’s attic. Anyway, just one text-transmission from Radio Alice days. Live on the air on the air 35 revolutions ago. I don’t think this one was ever done into English:

False Information Produces Real Events

Counter-information has denounced the lies of power; wherever the mirror of the language of power distorted reality, counter-info has reestablished the truth. But as mere reflection.

Radio Alice, language beyond the looking-glass, has constructed the space where the subject can recognize herself, not as a mirror, not as the restoration of truth, not as immobile reproduction, but as a practice of existence in transformation (and language itself is a level of this transformation).

Now we're going further. It's not enough to denounce the lies of power; we need to tear apart its truths. When power tells the truth and proclaims itself to be the Natural Order, then we need to decry the inhumanity and absurdity of the order of reality that their order of discourse reflects, reproduces and consolidates. Lay bare the delirium of power. And more than that. Take the place of power (self-valorization). Speak with its voice.

Send out signs with the voice of power, with that tone of voice. But send out false signs. Let's produce false information showing what power hides, to produce revolt against the forces of discursive order. Let's reproduce the magic trick of falsiflying truth to say with the language of the mass-media exactly what they want to banish. With just the slightest twist, power shows its raving delirium: [trade union boss] Lama says every day that absentees will be shot on sight.

But this truth of power hides behind a tiny linguistic shield. Let's break it, and make Lama say what he really believes.

But the strength of power is to speak with the power of blows.

Let's have the Prefecture say it's all right to take free meat from the butchers.

Take that path, beyond counter-information, beyond Alice, and reality will transform language. Language will transform reality.

building the dada-mao action cell


It's all in the book, Radio Alice: Bologna 1977, by Lorenzo Misuraca. Yeah, it was great, it was hippy, it was peace and love, the middle-class kids from the university went on the air just oozing with phrases about “young proletarians” working slow, sleeping in, having sex, smoking dope and running rampant. Then those same university kids went rioting like crazy when one of the real young prolos got shot for real, by the real cops of the real Communist Party. Well, that was life with the so-called “Historic Compromise,” we gotta talk about it someday. What I want to say is, Baudrillard, the simulacrum, The Matrix, we’ve known that stuff forever. You can’t speak truth to power, even if it’s sometimes fantastic when people try. Because “power,” when you get there, is its own simulacrum, and what’s worse, it builds itself up in what it calculates to be your image. The one who knew all that, the deep subversive force, was William Burroughs. That’s where Deleuze got the whole idea of the control society.

Burroughs wasn’t exactly a net kind of a guy, he was too old. His machine was the tape recorder. He had this idea – it’s in The Ticket that Exploded, but I think it’s everywhere, in everything he did after a certain point – the idea was that what you could do was record stuff, even yourself, and edit it, splice it, slow it down, doctor it up and play it back in the wrong place at the wrong time. Then the Matrix would collapse into its own psychic nightmare! Culture jamming was nothing new. It was old news when it came back in the Nineties, old news and good news, for sure. But in 1984, exactly the year when Gibson came out with Neuromancer, there was something really new. It was the German film, Decoder. Make Ray Johnson into a post-punk with an electronic sound studio. Turn him on to Genesis P-Orridge and subject him to Bourroughs’ and Gysin’s Dreamachine. Then plug him into the magnetic fields of hacker desire. Before you know it, cyberpunk stalks the universe! That’s when mythopoetics started to get really, really interesting.

-- imagined by Luther Blissett



Japanese Counterparts

In post-war Japan a critical and antagonistic, but also playful, form of networked organizing and public art emerged. It was grounded in the specificity of Japan yet also coordinated with international artistic movements such as Fluxus. Much of the politics of the work need to be read against the backdrop of the 1960 signing of ANPO (Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan), the re-signing in 1970, and the broad social movements that responded to these developments. The most well-known art collectives from Japan of this time are Gutai and Hi Red Center, however lesser-known projects and groups include:

Psychophysiology Research Institute (Sisehin Seirigaku Kenkyujo) was a mail-art collective organized by Ina Ken-ichiro and Takeda Kiyoshi between December 1969 and June 1970 while they were studying at Tokyo Zokei University but were dissatisfied with the curriculum of their school and desired a “communication-based strategy.” Each participant was identified as a "research institute" corresponding to their locale or surname (such as "Tokyo Research Institute or "Itoi Research Institute" named for Itoi Kanji. On 7 separate occasions the organizers sent mail out to 13 different artists, many living in small towns.  All of the responses received at the “bureau” (AKA Ina and Takeda) were xeroxed and mailed out to every "research institute" and the results (68 in all) were compiled into a portfolio which described the project as an "invisible art museum" that assembled and distributes records of action or non-action of individuals."



The Model 1,000-Yen Note Incident (1963-74) started with a copy of a 1,000-yen note made for artist Akasegawa Genpei in 1963 and led to a criminal investegation and trial of the artist for currency fraud. What started out as copies of money made into invitations for an exhibition, turned into a tool for performance art pieces. The entire affair was turned into a huge collective art project by the artist when he was arrested and brought to court as a “thought pervert.” In his essay “On Capitalist Realism” he wrote, “By the way, my printed matter that became a legal matter of sorts, contrary to my intentions, is not a counterfeit but a model of the 1,000-yen note. It differs from a counterfeit or a real 1,000-yen note in that in my intention and in its actuality it is ‘unusable,' and thus a model of the 1,000-yen note stripped of the function of paper currency.”After he was indicted in 1965, his colleagues created The Model 1,000-Yen Note Incident Discussion Group (Senkon). This group aided in his defence, held fundraisers and made public educational materials and events. Additionally, they conceived of the trial as a performance work known as Exhibition Event at the Courtroom. This event was conceived of as having participants ranging from self-identified artists implicated in the trial to “non artists” such as police and lawyers who formed in Akasegawa’s words an “inadvertent collective.” Akasegawa was found guilty in 1967 and the verdict was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1970. He was forced to spend 3 months in jail and 1 year on probation, later re-emerging as a popular author working under the pen-name Katsuhiko Otsuji.



This experimentation with authorship is also illustrated in the works organized by Group I, whose name meant “I is of tan’i [unit], i of ichi [position], i of iso [phase]. That is to say, we loosely mean each one of us is a unit within the multitute, and is positioned within it.” In several works every member of the group would participate in digging a hole and refilling it, or each would produce the same painting. Before Group I, the well-known collective Gutai did a exhibition at the Yomiuri Independent gallery under their shared identity (later they would identify themselves as individuals). In the late 60s, Kashihara Etsutomu, Koizumi Hiroo and Maekawa Kinzo created the work What is Mr. X simultaneously with the goal of creating an aesthetic “average.”

- Posted by Daniel Tucker

Art, Anti-Art, Non-Art: Experimentations in the Public Sphere in Postwar Japan (1950-1970) edited by Charles Merewether with Rika Iezumi Hiro (Getty Research Institute, 2007)

After the ‘Descent to the Everyday’: Japanese Collectivism from Hi Red Center to The Play, 1964-1973 by Reiko Tomii from “Collectivism After Modernism” Edited by Gregory Sholette and Blake Stimpson (University of Minnesota, 2007)

Deconstruction of the "I": An Experiment by Kashihara Etsutomu at The National Museum of Art, Osaka (2012)

State v. (Anti-)Art:Model 1,000-Yen Note Incident by Akasegawa Genpei and Company by Reiko Tomii (Positions: east asia cultures critique 10.1, 2002) pp141-172

No Money posted by "A" on Big In Japan blog 7/22/2011