Speed interview about media, activism & art, conducted by Andre Mesquita (Brazil)

Quick answers:

AM: Nowadays, there are some groups and collectives liking the activism with artistic interventions, especially at the public space. For you, you, what causes contributed for the integration between art collectives, the interest for the biopolitics and activism on the last years in different countries like USA and Canada?

GL: Without wanting to sound too mechanic or deterministic (or even marxist!), the artists you mention respond to big social changes in society, and in the world. One could say: the topics have chosen them. Of course the rise of the other globalization is playing a role here, but that’s minor. What is more important is the common search for new forms of political engagement. Artists play an important role here as catalysts. Whether they succeed in this is another matter. I am still optimistic. Under the Bush regime things can’t get much worse, no? So many North-Americans are role models for me. Change has to come from inside there. We have to support them. If the world is ever going to change, it will have to come from inside the USA. What Americans need is moral support, perhaps not even financial or conceptual. In fact, they can articulate very well where the problems are. They are Masters in Diagnostics. On the organisational level, knowing how to create a cultural hegemony, well… that’s another matter.

AM: What is the importance of the tactical media at our days? The Internet lost your potential as an tool of “electronic disturbance”?

GL: I never bought into that phrase to start with. Many geeks and hackers disagreed with ED. They felt that the Internet as an open architecture was something worth defending and have been busy dealing with spam and virusses and other forms of remote attacks such as DOS. My work also, to some extend, deals with online conflicts and how to deal with them from a community perspective. Nowadays the scene has anyway shifted, away from so-called progressive types and leftists, towards radical Islamists. From a social perspective they are not much different from the 14 year old adolescent wizzkid or scriptkiddie. They are isolated and are on the defense and can easily be mobilized by older people who are into ideology. Secret services all over the world are now ready to take up the ‘virtual war’ (much unlike five or ten years ago).

To go back to your question regarding tactical media, I have been writing about this recently: It was written for the Brazilian tactical media reader which is due to come out soon:


AM: For you, the technological reappropriation is a way to reduce the distance between the exclusion of individuals and the economic contradictions of the pancapitalism?

GL: I am not a fan of the concept of ‘reappropriation’. We are users. That’s our faith. When it comes to military technology, we could perhaps say that this or that art project reappropriates, but that’s not a very easy thing to do. I think here of a project like Makrolab. In my view there is no technology without users. We’re constitutional subjects of techno-culture and not a special effect, or a redudant factor. We’re not marginal but centrestage and in that sense do not need to take anything back. Perhaps we need more distance… The problem that I see is that of forced inclusion. There is no outside anymore. Think of the program to introduce (electronic) ID cards in India. That’s so massive–and essentially a software problem. Yes, this all can be explained as ‘economic contradictions of pancapitalism’. When it comes to (autonomous) research, there is still a great deal of work to do in this area. If there is anything we need to take back then it is public infrastructures such as roads, education, water supply. We need to reclaim the wave and cables, but that’s well underway if look at the emergence of the wifi movements.

AM: Détournement, plagiarism or other words that means the recombination of preexisting elements can be the only way to produce a political, social or artist work in these days?

GL: No, I would never go there if you look for ‘political strategies’. What you mention here are specific cultural techniques that are to be used in certain circumstances but that are never to be generalized. Maybe you should read Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter’s The Rebel Sell, Why the Culture can’t be Jammed. Their ideas are based on Thomas Frank’s work.

AM: Groups like The Yes Men and Yomango utilizes the “gaps” of the capitalist/neoliberal system, producing an interventionist/tactical media attacks against the corporations. How can local action, promoted by these and other groups, have a global impact?

GL: Without wanting to downplay the work of Yes Men and Yomango, but please, let’s not go there… tactical media groups, and that includes my own work, can not and should not be instrumentalized and put in the limelight as Great Examples. That will only lead to disappointment and disengagement. Good works inspire, and yes, spread like memes. But they cannot match the xxl size problems of today’s world. I am sorry, media activism is simply not up to that task. In a same way I also do not believe that the ‘media question’ is not at the centre of problem or should even be seen as the cause of the problem (let alone be seen as the solution). BTW. the groups that you mentioned here already have a global impact. One could even say that they are too much global, and not even local. That counts for most tactical media actions.

AM: The Critical Art Ensemble developed the concept of artist as an “amateur” and needs the collaboration of multidisciplinary people. The hybridism between art and activism shows the end of the specialization of work?

GL: No, not at all. But I guess this is an old story. We need more specialists and researchers, not generalists. We need specialists that can communicate, without losing their competence. We need more ‘free cooperation’ (see: www.freecooperation.org). In order to get there we need a better understanding how people collaborate these days. This is social knowledge and to a little extend we need some knowledge too about the possibilities, and limits, of today’s online tools (see Web 2.0).

AM: Some of the collectives quoted above participated of exhibitions in galleries and museums. What is the relevance of the insertion of activist art at an institutional space?

GL: Your question implies that there is still an outside, but I fear that this is for most of us no longer the case. There are few autonomous art spaces, and those that exist have their own perculiar ritual aspects as well… What artists can do is intervene and create temporarary autonomous spaces, yes. That’s rare and if you happen to be inside one, and make that experience, praise yourself lucky, as it is something unique. All the rest is boring fights in everyday life about negotiating space inside the system. The relevance of it, in my view, is not very big. It might mean something for individual careers. it might be useful from an educational perspective, but not as a source of inspiration or a sign of counter/anti-power. Great art these days gets passed around. You perhaps bump into it on a festival, a temporary space, but you don’t see it in museums or galleries.

AM: For you, the anti-corporate movement is actually “stagnant”?

Yes, but there is more to it. We’re in a necessary next phase of a movement. After its moment of becoming, and the event on the street, the clash with authorities, there always is a moment in which the energy consilates, cristallizes into structures. The other-globalization movement, as it is called these days, is searching for alternative forms of energy, living, transportation, food production, trade etc. Much of it is politics of the everyday life. We will see a lot of that over the coming decades–and there is very little to argue against that, except that it will not provoke new thoughts–or movements for that matter.

AM: After September 11, any kind of protest in the USA could be, for the American Government, a “pretext” for a terrorist act. What is the role of the integration between activism and humor in sense to produce a critical message about this political situation?

GL: There is very little humor, to be honest. Remember that the Danish cartoon depicting the prophet Mohammed was published in a conservative newspaper. The left is no longer playing a role in the major debates of our time, and this case is reflecting that situation. The left is divided, as usual, and doesn’t know whether to defend freedom of speech or to show restraint and support Muslims, in according with the multi-cultural ideology. There have been little progressive action regarding to 911. Against the war in Iraq, yes, in early 2003, but not after the invasion. The anti-war movement is strong, but not visible in the streets. All the events work in its favor, that’s ironic. There is little to do, except to wait for Bush’s next dramatic move.

AM: The traditional ways of protest, like manifestations or sit-ins, are actually ineffective?

GL: Let’s not make such general statements. And never say never. The action forms against communist regimes in Eastern Europe in 1989 were simple but very effective. Look at the multitude of methods that finally defeated the Apartheid regime in South-Africa. The Internet can play a supporting, coordinating role in change, but not more than that. Movements do not grow out of the media spectacle. What we need is dispursed, heterogeneous groups that work on similar issues and that meet, merge and multiply. That’s how movements come into being.

AM: I`m making a study of culture jamming practices and I would like to know if you have an opinion about subvertising/ billboard banditry. For you, can this kind of intervention on advertising reveal the real purpose of the corporations?

GL: He, there is no ‘real’ or ‘valse’ purpose. In my view culture jamming is useless fun. That’s exactly why you should do it. Commit senseless acts of beauty. But don’t think they are effective, or subversive, for that matter. The real purpose of corporation cannot be revealed by media activism. That can only be done by years long, painstakingly slow, investigative journalism. Brand damage has never been proven enough. What we need is research and thinking, brainstorming, and then action.