Aesthetics of Resistance

by Frans Jacobi

 

A couple of weeks ago, I visited Gothenburg and walking down the central avenue of the city I ran into a demonstration by coincidence. Around fifty young people were marching behind a car. The marching youths were surrounded by a similar number of police and the demonstration was tailed by ten to fifteen police vans.
The amount of police was quite astonishing compared to the rather small crowd of demonstrators and that inconsistency immediately caught my attention. Another strange thing was that the demonstrators only carried two banners – a small velvet flag and a large black banner, both without any text. Neither the music blasting out from the front car nor the occasionally shouts and rants from the youngsters gave away any clues about the goal and content of this demonstration.
I was really baffled by this lack of communication in a situation normally specifically designed for communication. During the fifteen minutes or so I followed the demonstration, two persons were arrested after a very short
outburst of tumult: a tall guy in his twenties and a young girl not older than seventeen. Apart from these two minor incidents the atmosphere between police and demonstrators was friendly. Many demonstrators seemed to be chatting with the other part, and a female police officer was running around the edges of the march photographing each and every protester with a large telescopic lens.
What at first sight seemed to be a very recognizable event, soon made me wonder, What was actually going on? Why the massive amount of police? Why the empty banners? Of course I could have asked some of the
people – police or demonstrator – what was going on. But by intuition I chose to stay uninformed, keeping my position as casual passerby. I took a couple of photos, followed the march for some time and left, curious and
bewildered. Somehow I was aware that there had been something crucial, something important hidden in the situation I had just stumbled upon The above story was the beginning of my application to the PhD program
at Malmö Art Academy. My proposal took this small event as the starting point of an investigation into what I thought was some new kind of activism centered around a refusal to communicate. Quoting J.G. Ballard, Bernadette Corporation, Guy Debord, the Situationists, Hardt & Negri, Paolo Virno, Jean Fischer and Jimmie Durham, I had some ideas about “constructed situations”, about the exit from the dominating discourses of
society, an ‘exodus’ as Virno calls it, about “another world” and becoming ‘another.’
Half a year later – now an official PhD candidate – I revisited Gothenburg to start my investigations into that demonstration. It took me one and a half day to figure out that it had not been a real demonstration – it had ‘only’ been a police exercise. The local police was training how to handle violent protest. They had recruited an entire gymnasium to act as protesters and then marched through the city, rehearsing different modes of conflict.

My project evaporated and I felt quite bewildered – not only thrown back to square one, but, even more, out of the game. From this point zero, nothing is what it seems – a fake, superficial proposal. I have tried to redirect my project back into reality, but as it is with reality today nothing is what it seems to be.
Now choosing a series of real events – three crucial, large-scale moments in the very recent history of Scandinavian protest movements – my focus is still on the constructedness of these events. On how the establishment of
a certain regime of pictures and their representation in media becomes the underlying goal of an activism that seemingly aims for something else.
The three moments I have chosen to investigate are:
– The Anticapitalist riots during the EU summit in Gothenburg, Sweden 2001;
– The YouthHouse Movement in Copenhagen, Denmark 2007/2008;
– The Climate Justice Action and other attempts at protest surrounding the CoP 15, Climate Summit in Copenhagen, Denmark 2009.
– To create an outside point of reflection/mirroring, I also visited Tiananmen Square, scene of the riots in Beijing in 1989.
Closely linked with the idea of “constructed situation” or “creating another world” is the idea of “becoming another.” In his introduction to “Robespierre, or, the Divine Violence of Terror,” Slavoj Zizek quotes Gilles Deleuze. “They say revolutions turn out badly. But they’re constantly confusing two different things, the way revolutions turn out historically and people’s revolutionary becoming.”
This “revolutionary becoming” or “becoming the people” as Zizek puts it, is the other prime focus of my investigations. How do the scattered crowds of activists and protesters in the three chosen moments “become movement”? What kind of visual and aesthetic strategies facilitates this ‘becoming’?
These activist practices are often inspired by art or resemble certain art strategies, since parts of the contemporary art scene are incorporating activist strategies. My project has been researched through a process of performances, exhibitions, and writing. An attempt at creating a kind of performative research, where the different spatial and symbolic strategies of the activist movements and the opposing agents of power are transformed into speculative constructions of text, performance, and space.
RESPONSE/ Jan Kaila Let me begin with the techniques of the research Frans Jacobi calls “performative research”, i.e. the researcher stands up and is a sort of figure in the performance. In Jacobi’s text, I have read about the Brechtian use of the author as actor within the play. It seems to me that Jacobi uses such a strategy as a part of the research. But not only the performance, also exhibitions and writings are to be included in his
PhD research project.
My first – pragmatic – question then is, How would people be able to evaluate the entire project? How would Jacobi summarize such a PhD project for a committee? Subsequently, in using the Brechtian model,
is there a transformation to a meta-level for commenting on the project? Or does it imply writing a meta-text that will go beyond, not in value but mentally, the performance? Is that needed or not?
The project contains a lot of information that is dealing with politics. The political in the demonstrations, the organizations, the individuals, and the movements is described in an almost anthropological sense. As part of the scripts for the performances, I find that very fascinating, since it also concerns the question of new knowledge in a documentary sense. However, the image of demonstrations and movements, the political in public space, all emerge as being extremely stereotypical. In the context of what I just called the anthropological sense, the question arises of how much straightforward information should be included in the phenomena under research?
What fascinates me as a result of the anthropological information, though, is how Jacobi researches symbolism and various aesthetic approaches the movements use as strategic and practical tools for their demonstrations. The movements and the way they operate have never been analyzed in that sense. At the same time, however, Jacobi’s project is a continuation of 20th
-century political art and, therefore, deals with many elements that have been done and discussed in the 20th century. What would happen if one divides the 20th century into two opposites, one being the political avantgarde, especially in the 1920s and its continuation later on; and the other the fascistic, totalitarian kind of art emerging in Germany and then after the 1930s to some extent in the Soviet Union? If one looks at these opposites and their relation to art and politics, one could use a Benjaminian concept as a tool. Walter Benjamin mentions two different kind of approaches, the one is aestheticization of politics and the other is politicization of aesthetics. So, my question is how does Jacobi see his work in the context of a continuation of the 20th century?
My last question refers to what most of us are familiar with and that is that the political situation in Denmark has been very complicated and of course – from a leftist point of view – very problematic. That situation in Denmark has been going on for ten years now. Therefore, Jacobi’s research in the Danish context, I suppose, gets a very specific political dimension. How important is such a situation for political engagement in relation to the research one does?

 

Taken from maHKUzine10.pdf/

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