The entire contents of this book (except the index) are available for free on this site, but you can still buy hard copies should you so wish. This book was written in 1987, things have moved on since then (both for the author and in the world), so please bear that in mind….
It is rare for an art movement to be completely original. The go forward meanings of avant-garde do not mean that its movements are a tabula rasa and this is certainly true for Situationism. Spurred by many previous concepts, this artistic and political movement started emerging during the early 1960s in France and it experimented with the idea of constructing a situation – hence the name. Constructing a situation was setting up an environment favorable for the fulfillment of a particular desire. This was the main concept for all representatives of Situationism. All of the initial theories concerning the development of this movement came from an organization called Situationist International (often referred to simply as SI) – a group whose activities we shell investigate to detail in the remainder of this text.
It should be noted that Situationism as an art movement did not produce too many artworks – as a matter of fact, if one somehow takes Asger Jorn and his pieces out of the Situationist equation, the movement’s output is next to none. However, Situationism is credited with providing some of the most revolutionary theories at the time, concepts that heavily impacted the art scenes for decades. Many of their game-changing ideas can still be found in today’s contemporary art. With all of that being said, we will now investigate how the Situationist International group and Situationism as a movement came to be, as well as exploring just how influential they were to art history.
Destroy The NORM! – Image via cvltnation.com
Origins of Situationism
Situationism was not born overnight nor out of thin air. Originally, it emerged as a part of Lettrism, a movement whose members were operating in the late 1940’s Paris. Naturally, the Lettrist leader Isidore Isou, a Romanian-born French poet and visual artist, had a massive impact on the development and emergence of Situationism. The Lettrists were heavily influenced by Dadaism, Surrealism and the general idea of avant-garde which aimed at challenging everything deemed as traditional. With such goals in mind, members of Lettrism attempted to apply critical theories based on these concepts to all aspects of the arts and culture. Their main guiding star was the lettrie, a term that set the very title of the movement. Lettrie was a style of poem writing which reflected pure form yet was devoid of all semantic content, a characteristic which Lettrists desired to implement in other kinds of art-making.
During the year of 1952, the radically left wing of the Lettrist movement, which actually included Guy Debord who will become the key founder of Situationism, broke off from Isou’s organization and formed the Letterist International, a new Paris-based collective of avant-garde artists and political theorists. This new artistic and literary movement will prove to be pivotal for Situationism as it provided the roots for what would become many of the key theories behind SI. The main concept which was adopted was the new theory of psychogeography – the feelings evoked in the individual by their current surroundings. Detournement also emerged at this point. This was the idea of recontextualizing an existing work of art or literature in order to radically shift its meaning to a new one which had revolutionary significance.
Isidore Isou – Hypergraphie, 1964 – Image via macda.cat
Emancipation From Lettrism
The official Situationist International was fully formed in the year of 1956. At that time, numerous members of the Lettrist International made contact with several different creative collectives at the First World Congress of Free Artists in Alba, Italy. Here, many young thinkers found common ground and they decided to fuse themselves in a new organization which was intended to represent their ideas better than their current groups (most members were from the Lettrist International, the London Psychogeographical Asociation and the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus). Slowly but surely emerging as the leader of the new collective, Guy Debord wrote the newly-formed Situationist International’s manifesto in the June of 1956, titling it Report on the Construction of Situations and heavily combining the agreed concepts with the ideas of Karl Marx. This is one of the reasons why SI always had problems with many aspects of capitalism. The entire manifesto was also underlined by a strong sense of Surrealism, meaning that Andre Breton also had a huge indirect say in the matter. Besides Debord, other notable members of the who have been with the Situationist International from the very start were theorist Raoul Vaneigem, the Dutch painter Constant Nieuwenhuys, the Italo-Scottish writer Alexander Trocchi, the English artist Ralph Rumney, the aforementioned Danish artist Asger Jorn, the architect Attila Kotanyi and the French writer Michele Bernstein.
It was from here on out that the Situationist International started to heavily influence arts, politics and urbanism. Its advocation of a cultural revolution and creation of Situationism made it the perfect backdrop to influence popular culture. One of their main interests was making a person living in the capitalist system see art as part of their daily living. The first four years of the Situationist International were marked mostly by the collaborations and theories presented by Guy Debord and Asger Jorn as the two unofficially became SI’s de facto leaders. The two wanted to invoke a cultural revolution within the Western society. Although the group would later swim into much more political waters than it was first intended, the Situationist International had an enormous influence on the art scenes across Europe.
The Situationist International manifesto – Image via pinterest.com
The Role of Situationism Within Art
The connection between Situationism and art is extremely diverse because the members of the group came from such different backgrounds. That fact makes Situationism one of the most interesting gems of modern history to explore, but it also poses a challenge to anyone interested in such an endeavor. Another troubling occurrence to confidently analyzing the art of Situationism is that a number of members never stayed steady with their conceptual basis, constantly evolving alongside the collective.
Primarily, the SI rejected all art forms which were autonomous and detached from politics. Naturally, this led to a new definition of what art actually is, a fact that often connects the actions of SI with early Conceptualism. Guy Debord and early Situationism was heavily based on the aforementioned concept of psychogeography, presented in Guy’s Psychogeographique de Paris. In it, he took a map of the city of Paris, cut it into pieces and glued different parts together. Among other things, the newly formed map was supposed to indicate locations which were able to evoke most emotions from people standing there. Also, this version of the city is thought to be a series of linked transformable structures which were able to adapt to current needs of art. This concept became instrumental to the early French street art scene which will soon start to be emerging on the creative wings of Ernest Pignon-Ernest.
Another important novelty Situationism introduced was also pivotal for urban art as we know it today – members of the Si were the one of the first to use graffiti. These were short and powerful statements, such as the one from 1952 when Guy wrote Ne travaillez jamais! (Never work!) on various locations in Paris. Via such interventions, representatives of Situationism were using public space, altering it in order to convey a message to the public. Situationism also introduced the roots of performance art, a medium that was later continued by Fluxus artists. This form of expression also explored the way surroundings could be used in order to send a clear message to the observers.
Asger Jorn – Letter to my Son – Image via tate.org.uk
Posters, Collages and Hypergraphy
A very modern form of artworks commonly found within the SI’s creative arsenal was their work with comics, posters and publications. Through their guerilla tactics, members would paste their propaganda around urban surroundings, often using popular comics with changed content placed in the speech bubbles. This misappropriation was called détournement. Situationism presented some new utilizations for the medium of collage as well. Asger Jorn was the one who stood out in that department. He used collages in his films as well as for his technique in which he would cover up some aspects of famous paintings, therefore changing the context of the piece.
Another interesting novelty SI adapted to their own requirements was the so-called hypergraphy, also known as metagraphics. This method was based on merging poetry and graphics, combining text and visual ways of communication. The technique was originally developed by the Lettrist movement and Asger Jorn was the one to work with it the most until he left the SI in 1961. He left because of his worsening health and disagreements concerning the events that we shall soon discuss. The moment Jorn abandoned the SI’s artistic cause is the moment many experts agree that Situationism in its finest form ceased to exist. Although he lacked the personal warmth and persuasiveness to draw people of different nationalities and talents into an active working partnership, Jorn was the creative motor of the Situationist International.
Situationist Détournement – Image via bp.com
The Year of 1968 and the End of SI
After Jorn abandoned the SI, the group basically consisted almost exclusively of the Franco-Belgian section, led by Guy Debord and Raoul Vaneigem. These two were much more comfortable with political theories then creating pieces of art, so the entire organization was shifted to accommodate such tendencies. Observed from an artistic perspective, the group which founded the Situationism was doing next to nothing to advance it from that point on.
One of the group’s favorite activities during their political period was visiting various institutions and scandalizing the capitalistic authorities – a kind of project which placed the members in the heart of the 1968 uprisings. The May of that year was a volatile period of civil unrest in France, punctuated by demonstrations and massive general strikes as well as the occupation of universities and factories across the land. The protests reached such a point that political leaders feared civil war or revolution and many believed that the chaos was a direct result of SI’s activities. Ultimately, the chaos of 1968 served as a series of events that cemented the Situationist International as a capable and noteworthy political organization. After the uprising was brought to a halt, SI became notorious and lost many members. By the year of 1972, Gianfranco Sanguinetti and Guy Debord were the only two remaining members of the SI. The entire organization was dissolved that same year.
Graffiti in the University of Lyon, May 1968 – Image via wikipedia.org
Effects Situationism had on Arts, Politics and Culture
As was said earlier, Situationism did not produce too many artworks, instead focusing on developing theories that had deep and long lasting effects on modern art. Other aspects of culture were affected as well – for example, Debord’s analysis of the spectacle has been influential among people working on television and the emergence of punk subculture was also inspired by the SI’s theories. The development of advertisement as we know it today also owes a lot of its aspects to Situationism.
Since much of SI’s efforts were focused on politics, it comes as no surprise that this was the field that felt their influence the most. Communists and other leftists were fascinated with Situationism and its ideas, regularly incorporating their concepts within their political guides. Dislocating the SI’s concepts from Marxism, anarchists also held some aspects of Situationism in high regard, allowing it to influence both the music industry and all levels of punk design.
As for art scenes, it is possible to trace Situationist ideas within the development of other avant-garde threads such as Neoism, as well as artists such as Mark Divo. As it was mentioned before, SI’s theories helped set the course of the French street art scene which later served as an inspiration for urban interventionists on a global level. Due to its concepts of using an environment, SI also impacted the rise and evolution of Installation art, as well as Performance. Ultimately, Situationism as an art movement offered the authors a new perspective that was applicable to all levels and kinds of art making, proving that avant-garde was far from dead and that pieces of art were more than capable of playing a pivotal role within our societies. Situationist International may have turned a lot of its attention to politics, but their true legacy can be found echoing throughout art history.
Editors’ Tip:What is Situationism?: A Reader
This anthology gathers together a broad range of critical material about the Situationist International. The texts run sequentially according to date of original publication, thereby providing an overview of the way in which situationism has been historicised in the Anglo-American world. A wealth of historical and interpretative information is provided by various contributors. This plurality of voices ranges from underground legends to art theorists, ultra-leftists to professional academics, whose opinions blend and clash to provide a book that is far more vibrant than a conventional monograph. Contributors include Sadie Plant, Chris Gray, Bob Black, Alastair Bonnett, Stewart Home, Jean Barrot and George Robertson. Ultimately, this book offers an overview and analysis of Situationism, one of the most interesting art movements of the second half of the 20th century.
Elliot, K., Situationism in a nutshell, Barbelith Webzine, 2008
Barrot, J., What is Situationism?, Flatland, 1991
Knabb, K., Situationist International Anthology, Bureau of Public Secrets; Revised & Expanded edition, 2006
Nabuco, J., Situationism: A Compendium Kindle Edition, Schiffer Publishing, 2012
Debord, G., Chtcheglov, I., Jorn, A., Vaneigem, R., Khayati, M., What is Situationism? A Reader, AK Press; 1st US, 2001
Featured Images: Guy Debord, Michèle Bernstein and Asgar Jorn – Image via spike.com; Guy Debord – Naked City – Image via pinimg.com; Asger Jorn – Photo of the artist in a studio – Image via pinimg.com
For Marxists, economic relations are believed to shape and maintain virtually every other aspect of human life. Capitalists, on the other hand, have a different view of what economic relations should look like, but share the Marxist conviction that the economy represents the highest ordering principle in society. The idea that every other value should be subordinated to the primacy of economics—which is often referred to as economism—is anathema to us. Like our ancestors in Indo-European Antiquity, who relegated the mercantilist classes to the lowest rungs of society, there are any number of things that we value over and above strictly financial considerations. The shortlist would include virtues like courage, brotherhood, loyalty, and honor, but it would hardly end there.
Nevertheless, there is a tendency for people on “our side” (and I use this designation very loosely) to equate the rejection of economism with an attitude that almost seems to idealize poverty. They will attempt to make a virtue of their own financial failings by acting as if they’re somehow too noble, or too “spiritual,” to even bother thinking about money. When someone else succeeds in carving out a manageable living (or, as is more often the case, some small pittance) by making music, writing books, or creating art that these people purport to care about, they will respond by declaring that said individual is now a “sell out” who “only cares about money.” Of course, this behavior is partially motivated by resentment. Tell a few friends about your trip to Europe, or that nice bottle of bourbon that you and your wife/girlfriend just finished, and at least one of them will respond with the reliably cringe-worthy “must be nice!” Yes, it is nice, asshole. It is all the more ironic when this sort of thing comes from people who claim to be “pagans” or “heathens,” because it smacks so much of Christianity (as Nietzsche observed, ressentiment is the driving force behind the Nazarene’s slave morality). A pagan is comfortable with all of the “worldly” things that the Christian rejects, and there is nothing quite as worldly as money.
But what is money, really? Gold bugs will decry the modern monetary system as a fiat currency, not backed by a physical commodity like silver or gold. The argument for the gold standard is based on gold’s historical track record as a reliable source of value. There may be some truth to the claim that gold holds its value better than an arbitrarily-issued government currency, but the idea that gold has any more intrinsic worth than paper money ignores the fact that, in the end, a Krugerrand is just a hunk of metal that has value only because people have decided that it has value. Of course, we all understand that this “value” is a stand-in for something else, and that something else is power. This is not to say that money is the highest form of power, but it is a reasonable barometer of worldly success. And, as in other power relationships (and let’s face it, all relationships are power relationships) money can make us sovereigns or it can make us slaves.
When you don’t have adequate access to money, chances are you’ll find yourself in one of two situations: either dependent on the generosity of others (or worse, dependent on the State) or working yourself to death at menial jobs just to get by. In the first instance, you have clearly abdicated your own power. If you are completely dependent on someone else (and especially someone outside of your own immediate family or tribe) for your personal upkeep and maintenance, than there is a certain sense in which that person owns you. In the second instance, you are literally working like a slave. Slaves are fed, clothed, and otherwise provided for by their masters. If you are spending all of your time working just to pay for basic essentials, than how is your situation really any different from that of a slave? Furthermore, low-paying menial work is, quite literally, soul-crushing. In my early twenties, I worked on a framing crew during the day and in a shipping warehouse unloading trucks at night. I told myself that I could get up early, or stay up late, to read, write, or do the other things that I felt were meaningful. Sometimes I managed to pull it off. Mostly, I was just too tired. My time (the most valuable asset that any of us has) was being siphoned off by people I couldn’t have cared less about.
Ironically, high-earners often fall into a similar trap. The danger here is that money will become an end-in-itself rather than a means-to-an end. One of the tricky things about money is that the more you make, the more it will seem like you need. I have often marveled at the phenomenon of extremely rich men who spend their entire lifetime building up a fortune that vastly exceeds their own, or even their children’s, ability to spend it. This kind of behavior resembles nothing so much as a junkie vainly chasing after the rush that first got them hooked. As you become more affluent, a similar pitfall involves buying “stuff” that only has value as a signal of status. But pursuing recognition based on material possessions is the ultimate fool’s errand. That’s because there will always be someone with a bigger house, a fancier car, or a trophy-wife with higher-end cosmetic modifications than yours (I am being facetious, of course). What’s more, the kind of people who are impressed by this sort of thing really aren’t worth trying to impress. All of this is greatly exacerbated by the fact that the dominant culture (notice I avoid calling it our culture) is constantly encouraging us to take on debt. By going deeper and deeper into debt, you can acquire the appearance of wealth without necessarily having any. Soon you will find yourself working just to service your debt, and you will be no better off than the poorer man who works at things that he hates just to satisfy his basic needs.
Whether you’re working just to get by, with no time for anything else, or whether money has become like a drug that you pointlessly consume, the power that money represents has become a power over you. The first step in breaking this power—and in putting it to work for you instead—is to start thinking about what money is for. In slaveholding societies, it was a common practice to allow slaves to buy their freedom; basically, the slave could pay a set amount of money to reclaim ownership of himself. This should be our goal as well: to use money intelligently to free ourselves for the things we really care about. Essentially, there are two ways to do this. The first, and probably the ideal way, is to figure out how to monetize the activities that you want to be doing anyway. This might involve opening a restaurant or a gym, a tattoo studio or an auto-repair shop. Many of you are writers or musicians, and it has never been easier to self-publish and sell your own work online, often with little to no start-up money. The important thing here is not getting rich (although it’s certainly possible), but rather to figure out how to satisfy your basic needs without wasting your entire life in the process.
The second—and perhaps more ambitious—way to buy your own freedom is by creating passive income streams that leave you with plenty of non-working hours. This might involve accumulating rental properties, or buying small businesses like self-service car washes or Laundromats that generate money without requiring full-time maintenance. My own personal long-term strategy involves a mixture of these options. I hope to build up my small publishing business into something more financially viable, while continuing to manage real estate on the side (instead of the other way around). Of course, all of these strategies involve acquiring at least some capital to get started, which means having a financial plan you can begin to implement now. Although I don’t endorse everything he says (you will have to ignore all of the Jesus-talk, for example), the popular financial writer Dave Ramsey is not a bad place to get started. That said, one of the biggest practical steps you can begin taking in the near-term is to always live below your means (this is the exact opposite of what the average American does). Do not buy the biggest house or the most expensive car that you can. Do not status-signal by acquiring “stuff” which will only get in the way of your greater goals, and never buy “stuff” using credit.
Finally, if you get to the point where you have extra money to spend, spend it on things that will increase your real status as a free and powerful human being. Spend money on books and education, jiu jitsu and boxing classes, gym memberships, tactical training, and travel that broadens your personal horizons. Whenever possible, avoid giving your money to marketers and corporations. They are the Enemy. If it’s feasible, buy books, clothing, music and other products from friends and fellow-travelers. One of my personal indulgences is buying artwork, and I never begrudge the money I spend on art because I know it’s going to support people who are trying to live their own dreams, outside the produce-and-consume economy of the System. Encouraging a network of mutual financial support that will help all of our comrades to buy their freedom is one of the first steps we can take toward building a nation.
Money is neither the Highest Principle—as the overlords of the Inverted World would have it—nor is it the “root of all evil.” Like a gun or a knife, money is neither good nor evil, but a tool. Although he was speaking about war, the words of Heraclitus ring just as true about cold, hard cash: “some it has made gods, and some men; some slaves and some free.”
Now it’s a key route to illegal trading on the dark web.
How we used the dark web to investigate drugs in the post
Newsbeat ordered MDMA, cannabis and former legal high Spice on one of the dark web’s marketplaces using virtual currency Bitcoin.
Deliveries to a PO Box took around a week to arrive.
We then collected the drugs and gave them to a government-approved lab for testing and destruction.
Newsbeat spoke to delivery staff who said they had “definitely handled suspect packages” but there was “nothing they could do”.
We were told that some random spot-checks do occur but most workers we spoke to had never seen a sniffer dog.
Image captionThe dark web is a murkier part of the internet, a collection of thousands of websites that use anonymity tools to hide their IP address
The Home Office says it is spending £1.9m trying to “increase understanding” in how organised crime networks “adapt and diversify” using technology.
A Royal Mail spokesperson said: “Where Royal Mail has any suspicion that illegal items are being sent through our system, we work closely with the police and other authorities including the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency to assist their investigations and to prevent such activities from happening.”
A trio of Midtown burglars waited for the stroke of midnight to pull off a $6 million New Year’s Eve heist, law-enforcement sources said Monday.
“They laid in wait until the ball dropped,” said a law-enforcement source.
The three hooded and masked men broke into a West 36th Street jewelry wholesaler at 12:01 a.m. Sunday in what appears to be an inside job — while 7,000 cops were distracted protecting Times Square revelers just a few blocks away.
The source said the thieves “100 percent” planned the heist to coincide with the ball drop.
They made off with around $6 million in gems and are still at large, police sources said.
The burglars were caught on video inside Gregg Ruth, a commercial jewelry store known for its rare yellow and pink diamonds. One of the robbers, a bearded white male in a hood without a mask, looks straight into the camera during the heist, surveillance footage shows.
From contra info and translated to English by anonymous
*all footnotes from translator
Text received on December 18th, 2016:
When Christmas starts, anarchy ends…
Politics begin where anarchist ethics end
It was only a few years ago, on December 13th, 2013, when some hooded ones burned the Christmas tree located on Avenida Reforma. This action took place during manifestations against subway ticket hikes, that tragically ended between the reform and recuperation by NGO’s and governmental agencies of social welfare; however at the same time these occassions witnessed spontaneous actions, autonomous organization and sabotage from the oppressed and exploited. After this symbolic anti-capitalist act, one friend still remains in prison accused of setting the Christmas tree sponsored by Coca-Cola on fire. The -symbolic- burning of the tree from Coca-Cola, wasn’t just meant as an attack against the symbol of North American capitalism, but also as an attack against the culture of consumerism, an attack against religious traditions imposed by those who believe they’re the owners of the world, an attack on patriarchy, against power and all religious and moral authority.
The State in an obvious communion with the aberrant moral ideologies imposed by the Catholic Church, or by Christianity, responsible for keeping alive religious-patriarchal traditions of the family, that are a piece of the puzzle of domination, that fit perfectly within capitalism and consumerism, turning itself into a product to be sold. In the Germanic language, Weihnachten or Christmas Eve means a night of blessing, is an instrument of domination and social control, that functions like an instrument of subjection by means of the concession to the State and Capital, while giving the exploited “freedom” to consume, at the coast of their own exploitation. Christmas is also an instrument of force today in moral submission that continues to perpetuate the idea of a patriarchal family (or matriarchal as it might be) and brings a little bit of social peace and comfort the mass tormented by the horrors of the State and Capital. It is a glutinous party of total consumption, a day of neighborhood gatherings, a day of hypocrisy, a day of falsehood, a feast for capital. Capitalism and the Church are those who celebrate when the “anarchists” lose their ethics and principals, fulfilling traditions that have been established at the expense of blood, death, feminicide, and the exploitation of animals and nature.
Today, there is the almost mythical manifesto of the anarchist Bakunin entitled, God and the State, which has been one of the most important books for the development of anarchist thought that is unfortunately being overtaken by the Christian-pacifist doctrine of Lev Nikilayevich Tolstoy –in an assertion according to millenarian anarchists–. This millenarian pollution has plagued anarchism by the presence of this person who was never fully vanquished, and in these times and places when the perspective of conflict has started to be revived from the ruins, to be seen and put into practice; it also also been revived and exists among us.
A libertarian Christmas party is simply the reflection of this aberrant religious pollution and deviation from an anarchist ethic that seeks the destruction of all power and authority. It is evident today that the many efforts of “good thinking” aim to bury the insurrectionary perspective, we now know that insurrectionary thought was not born a few years ago from the theses of Alredo Bonanno and so many other friends, but the perspective of attack, of conflict, and the permanent insurrection has been and still is present, even with multiple strains. This effort to supplant ideas and practices focused on the destruction of the State and power, by the followers of the absurd anarcho-Christianity, are simply and always will be ill-defined.
More specifically, what do we see behind the libertarian accommodation?
Politics has killed the ethics of when some “anarchopunks” and anarcho-christians are given chores like those of politicians, resorting to the art of deception, manipulation, lies, and masks for the sole purpose of getting along with people and their neighbors to gain recruits for their anarchist struggle. The same entities who accuse comrades of acting like politicians who “steal”, today act like those same politicians who deceive. In this form, their antiquated view of progressive reform in society towards anarchy will be fruitless. Just as a politician uses many strategies to seize power, reaffirming the values of the system by calling attention to the vile reproduction of patriarchal feasts is a deception. Or perhaps, we’re mistaken, and you already believe in God, since these holidays are nothing more than the reaffirmation of the reign of God on this earth, to reaffirm the omnipotent power of the Church and State. The need to bear, the get along with, and continue with the welfare work of the social State, and the religious ethics of charity and the continued reaffirmation of the absurd and silly campaign of “anarchy is not a crime” and “anarchists are beautiful and good,” through acts of social welfare like collecting toys for poor children.
The abhorrent anti-religious perspective of an anarchism that breaks with all of the dogma and power is being overtaken by the idea of “coexistence” born in part from celebrating the same festivities that Capitalism imposes on us with unique dates of union and fraternity. It is also being supplanted when the same language of the system is reproduced, even more so, when as written above, by the dates marked on the calendar of world capitalism. Mother’s Day, International Women’s Day, Flag Day, Labor Day, Valentines Day, are the dates revindicated or against what we struggle for, however as you know, always attending the marked dates by the State and Capitalism in order to protest and show affection, with love and support. This is the most obvious way to clearly show that the State and Capital are still the owners of their lives and actions.
The imprisonment of a friend accused of burning the Christmas tree and the struggle he has carried on inside the prison (no matter how questionable he is) is reduced to almost nothing when antagonistic “libertarian” acts vindicate the values and festivities of Capital and the State that are simply against the intervention of those hooded ones who sought to attack religious morality and a symbol of Capitalism. Above all, it is a joke when the same people who refute the actions of these friends and publicly mock them, are the same people who then posthumously hang medals of “solidarity” on the prisoners, to reproduce in the end, acts contrary to the struggle of friends.
We have no doubt that among the Christmas-partying anarchists (Oh! I ask for a xmas celebration in the name of heaven!) there are always present, the good consciences and friends who think (without thinking) that they are doing what is right in order to spread anarchist perspectives amongst society, without a doubt there are, but always behind it all is the respect for the moral authority of a leader disciple like that of Tolstoy, that few know, and that in the past many opposed, that seeks to impersonate anarchist ethics with the neurotic, crude, moralistic, aberrant, and pacifist Christianity.
Fire to the Church and to all religious, authoritarian, patriarchal and morals of power!
Just as the Catholic Church in México is gaining more power, just today when ultra-right groups call for marches for life, marches for family, anti-abortion marches; just as these Christmas celebrations continue to represent the abyss of consumerism and continue to reduce individuals to commodities; precisely today is when were should attack religious morality, it’s when we should continue the discussion that has given rise to debate and the anti-religious critique in all of it’s splendor, it is when we must turn up discourses almost lost and actions against religion and it’s unification with the State in submission to morality and exploitation.
It is precisely today that we need to burn all their churches and sabotage their religious festivities, since these are not of the people, but of capital, of the church, of religion, and as an old anarchist once said of religion, it is more of the yoke of the people and the antithesis of the individual.
Day by day, fire to the Church, the State, Capitalism, and all types of power and authority new and old!
Compañerxs anarquistas de la región de México D.F. 17 de Diciembre de 2016
 México City (DF), México
 North America is Canada, The United States of America, and The United States of México, see also NAFTA. Interestingly enough, México consumes the most Coca-Cola out of any country in the world.
“Una salus victis nullam sperare salutem.” (The one hope of the conquered is to not hope for salvation.)
-Virgil, The Aeneid
“If death comes we will keep destroying things in hell; disgusting world, I will laugh as I see you falling, in this eternal confrontation…”
-Eleventh Communique of the Individualists Tending Toward the Wild, 2016
Eco-extremism is one of the newest schools of thought in our time, but more than a school of thought, it is a plan of action, an attitude of hostility, and a rejection of all that has come before it in techno-industrial society. Born out of various radical ideologies such as animal liberation, insurrectionary anarchism, anarcho-primitivism, and the neo-Luddism of Theodore Kaczynski, it has germinated and sprouted forth into something entirely other: into a love poem to violence and criminality; a radical ecological vision where hope and humanism are overcome by the barrel of a gun, the explosion of the incendiary device, and the knife stalking human prey in the darkness. All of its true adherents are currently unknown. It is not an ideology that was formed in the academy or even in “alternative” political spaces. Its writings can only be found (some would say ironically) on anonymous sites on the Internet. Eco-extremism was formed in the shadows, and will remain there, a clandestine threat until all eco-extremists are captured or killed… that is, until others take their place.
Shortly after I wrote my essay in Ritual Magazine, “Towards Savagery: Recent Developments in Eco-Extremist Thought in Mexico,” the main group described in that essay, Reacción Salvaje (Wild Reaction) disbanded (in August 2015), citing a new stage of their struggle and development. Many of the websites that I used for my research also went silent or announced their end. Nevertheless, eco-extremist rumblings could be heard in the south, echoed via news stories on the Internet. Groups such as the Pagan Sect of the Mountain committed attacks in Mexico State and other parts of that country, using the same rhetoric against the “hyper-civilized”, and without concern for morality and mass technological society. One of the main journals of eco-extremism, Regresión Magazine, continued to be published out of Mexico.
By January of 2016, new eco-extremist websites and even an extensive video documentary on eco-extremism emerged online. By the end of the month, the First Communique of the re-founded Individualists Tending Toward the Wild (Individualistas Tendiendo a lo Salvaje, ITS) was issued on the main eco-extremist website, Maldición Eco-extremista, as well as on anti-authoritarian news outlets. Soon, it began to emerge that the continuation of ITS had spread to other countries, namely, Chile, Argentina, and later Brazil, along with allied Nihilist Terrorists groups in Italy. Eco-extremist texts have been translated into languages ranging from Spanish and English to Turkish, Czech, and Romanian. Eco-extremist actions in the last calendar year have ranged from arson, bomb threats, indiscriminate bombings, to the murder of a scientific worker at Mexico’s largest university. To our knowledge, no one has yet to be arrested or investigated for these crimes.
Recent eco-extremist theory has emphasized action above historical study and theory. Much of the polemical energy earlier this year was consumed by a defense of “indiscriminate attack”: that is, bombing, shooting, arson, etc. that does not take into account “innocent bystanders,” but strikes at a target regardless of what “collateral damage” might result. Other issues of contention have been the relationship between nihilism and egoism (the idea that ITS and other eco-extremists do not believe in a future and fight in the here and now for no particular strategic goal,), primitivism, animism / paganism, and individualism. In what follows I will discuss essential terms and concepts that will hopefully clarify eco-extremist language and rhetoric. It should be noted at the outset that eco-extremism does not aim for absolute clarity for the impartial observer, but rather seeks to stimulate affinity in those who are similarly at odds with technology, artificiality, and civilization.
Eco-extremism is a tendency that seeks to recover the wild. It exalts one’s ancestral warrior instincts and declares war on all that is civilized. Eco-extremism is embodied in individual eco-extremists hiding in plain sight who emerge with cold ferocity at the opportune time. The eco-extremist is an individualist in that he defies the prohibition of the collective or community, any community, to fight, injure, maim, or kill. No collective has the authority to tell him or her what to do, as they have all forfeited their (non-existent) authority with their continuous war against Wild Nature. Along with the renunciation of the collective is a renunciation of hope or any “future primitive”. Eco-extremists believe that this world is garbage, they understand progress as industrial slavery, and they fight like cornered wild animals since they know that there is no escape. They look death in the eye, and yell, “Hoka Hey!” (Today is a good day to die.)
Eco-extremism is violent resistance that mimics the reflexive reaction of Wild Nature itself against that which seeks to alienate and enslave all living and inanimate things. It is against the artificiality of modern society, and all that subjugates human instinct to a “higher end”.
Let us, however, start to define our terms:
Wild Nature: Wild Nature is the primary agent in eco-extremist war. The philistines oppose the invocation of “Wild Nature” as atavism or “superstition,” but they do so merely out of their own domestication and idiocy. “Wild Nature” is all that grows and is manifested on the planet in animate and inanimate objects, from pebbles to oceans, from microorganisms to all of the flora and fauna that have developed on Earth. It also encompasses all of the stars, galaxies, moons, suns, meteors, etc. More specifically, “Wild Nature” is the acknowledgement that humanity is not the source and end of physical and spiritual reality, but merely a part of it, and perhaps not even a major part. Eco-extremism, insofar as it thinks about epistemology at all, is based on realism as governed by our animal senses and instincts. As Chahta-Ima stated in his essay, “What do we mean when we say, ‘nature’?”:
“Nature exists because the human mind is weak and limited. It is mortal, it is made of flesh, and ultimately this is its limit, even if we can’t see it. It’s playing a game with the rest of existence, and it will lose. The existence of nature is the limit of thought. It is the fact that all things are not for us, our thoughts do not make things: the things are there for the taking, and would be there without our intervention. In other words, we are not gods, we are not spirits, precisely because those things don’t exist as we have come to understand them. Our thought does not and cannot comprehend everything, which is why it is so miserably unreliable.”
Eco-extremism thus posits a pessimism concerning human endeavors and achievements, whether these are physical, spiritual, or moral. That is why it opposes civilization, especially in its techno-industrial manifestation. Modern civilization seeks to subjugate all to itself, and its hubris is its downfall. Eco-extremists seek to be instruments of that downfall, though they do not believe that they can bring it about themselves. More importantly, Wild Nature is found in us primarily in our instincts and in feeling the groan of the Earth in the face of the destruction caused by civilized life. This tendency seeks (albeit imperfectly) to recover beliefs based in the mountains, deserts, coasts, swamps, forests, animals, phases of the moon, and so on.
Many eco-extremists hear the call of their ancestors who resisted their subjugation. When Wild Nature speaks it does so in the language of their Teochichimeca ancestors, the Selk’nam, the Yahis, the Navajo, the Maoris, the European barbarians, the Waranis, the Taromenanes, the Seris, the Toba, and any other group that fought against the extinguishing of their ancient way of life. Wild Nature is thus within us, in the individuality that refuses the thought and morality of civilization and domestication.
Individualism: More than a philosophical current, individualism is an important tactical choice within mass society. It’s the decision to become a wolf in the midst of all of the sheep. It is the decision to look after one’s own interest and act accordingly. Individualists learn from solitude and look for self-realization because they have understood that one can no longer abide by the norms and customs that civilization has dictated to them. Individualists deny accepted morality, and they reject the values taught to them from birth. They don’t wait to take initiative, but rather join together with those of similar disposition to improve their theory and practice. Individualism is a weapon against the progressive collectivism imposed by the system. As one eco-extremist wrote:
“‘I and afterwards I!’ I cry trying to finish off my domestication, breaking the bonds of useless relationships, launching headlong into a war against civilization and its slaves. Against its collectivism, its altruism and humanism. Death to the relationships founded on hypocrisy! Long life to sincere affinities! My allies who fight this already lost war along with me know: For me it will always be me before them, and vice versa: their ‘I’ before my ‘I’. Thus we will continue since we are amoral and egoist individuals.”
Individualist eco-extremists are cautious and spiritual, they love deeply and when they hate, they don’t forgive. They are indiscriminate when they act, as well as cold and calculating. They prowl about with guile just like the fox, and camouflage themselves in urban and rural landscapes. Eco-extremists use everything at hand to accomplish their goals, yet they try to bind themselves to the sacred past knowing that the time for peace is no more. They seek to offer their victims as a sacrifice to their ancestors and the Earth itself. As in many of the past wars against civilization, the driving force behind it is neither morality nor justice, but vengeance.
Indiscriminate attack: The modern progressive mind objects to indiscriminate attack since it has not yet been able to shake off Western morality. For eco-extremists, acting indiscriminately is one of the primary methods of attack. To attack indiscriminately is to strike a target without regard for “innocent bystanders” or “collateral damage”. While eco-extremist individualists usually take aim at targets that are significant to the techno-industrial society (government ministries, universities, transport vehicles), individualist terrorists do so with the intent of inflicting the maximum amount of damage, and this includes human casualties. As ITS expressed in its Fifth Communique of this year:
“We consider as enemies all those who contribute to the systematic process of domestication and alienation: the scientists, the engineers, the investigators, the physicists, the executives, the humanists, and (why not?), affirming the principle of indiscriminate attack, society itself and all that it entails. Why society? Because it tends toward progress, technological and industrial. It contributes to the consolidation and advance of civilization. We can think of all who form part of society as being mere sheep who do what they are told and that’s it, but for us it’s not that simple. People obey because they want to. If they had a choice and, if it were up to them, they would love to live like those accursed millionaires, but they rot in their poverty as the perennially faithful servants of the system that enslaves us as domestic animals.”
Eco-extremism carries out indiscriminate attacks as an echo of Wild Nature itself and to show that its hostility toward society is real. Tsunamis don’t suddenly stop when they reach poor neighborhoods, alligators don’t distinguish between the innocent and the guilty in their nocturnal hunts, and hurricanes don’t attack people according to race. Eco-extremism is part of that cycle of action and reaction. The time for “revolutionary action” has long passed, and eco-extremists aim to carry out a real war, with real casualties, and actions that are not merely symbolic but actually draw blood.
Nihilism: Nihilism is primarily a refusal of the future. As I described in my essay, “Primitivism Without Catastrophe,” human societies at all levels, but especially techno-industrial society, are exceedingly complex, made up of as many unwieldy parts as there are people. Thus, any aspiration to shepherd people into a collective course of action, whether it is humanism, socialism, liberalism, or even anarchism will not work, and will be opposed by those who seek to resist their own techno-industrial enslavement.
In the “Eco-Extremist Mafia” (as they like to call themselves) there are Nihilist Terrorists, particularly in Italy. These nihilists adhere to the position that true nihilism is active nihilism or it is not at all. It is no use to speak of one’s “nihilism” or “egoism” while one pays taxes and obeys traffic laws. Such a purely passive egoism or nihilism is perhaps more akin to Buddhism or the philosophical nihilism of the 19th century, which upholds all of the things that condemn one to be a cog in the great societal machine, but offers some sort of invisible integrity or purity (or a particular “emancipated space”) akin to “spiritual liberation”. Active Nihilist Terrorism as practiced by the Memento Mori Nihilist Sect and others seeks to attack that which obviously enslaves the individual to society, and that attack must always be a physical attack against real targets such as machines, buildings, etc. and the humanoid automatons who build and run them. All other manifestations of nihilism or egoism are no better than Christian or Far Eastern asceticism.
“The pure blow to life that flows at the margin of ‘living’. I am the criminal nihilist who denies obsolete humanity, transcending the moral-mortal human, existence in an identifying and categorical representation in equal evaluations.”
-Nechaevshchina, “Nihilist Funeral”
Paganism / animism: Eco-extremism is founded on pagan animism, and it attempts to rescue ancestral deities that have often been forgotten by Christian / secular society. For both deeply personal and strategic reasons, the eco-extremist seeks to revive the worship of the spirits of the Earth and to offer sacrifices to them. The strategic component is to renounce and oppose the philosophy of secular scientism upheld by some anarchists who cry, “No gods, no masters!” Eco-extremists acknowledge the need for spiritual authorities, even if these are poorly understood or mostly forgotten, as they still ultimately determine the course of life and death. No warrior can make war on his own: there are always greater forces at work, ones that even techno-industrial civilization cannot dominate. In the eco-extremist war, in spite of tactical individualism, a spiritual component is needed to carry out an attack against this putrid society and get away with it. It also reminds the eco-extremist that ultimately whether he or she lives or dies is not up to them, but up to forces that have been and will be even after we are gone. As Halputta Hadjo stated in his monograph, “The Calusa: A Savage Kingdom?”:
“[The eco-extremist] can lash out or he can surrender, but whatever he does, he does within the blindness and impotence of his own carnal nature. That is no reason to give up, and it is no reason to despair. It is every reason, however, to revere those forces that created things this way, and these are the ‘spirits’ or the ‘gods’ of a specific environment, whatever you want to call them. The attitude of eco-extremists is undying hostility toward technological civilization in the name of the spirits that are his lost patrimony.”
Like the savage warrior of the past, the eco-extremist is reminded that, while the scalp and blood of the enemy might be his in the short-term, in the long term, his fate is to decay like all flesh, with his spirit rejoining the wind and the dust. The eco-extremist does not run from his “spooks”, his “dark side”, or his ignorance, but embraces them to give him courage against the enemy. These are his gods, his own guardian spirits that are emissaries from Wild Nature. He does not require the mathematical rationality of the domesticated to act, but acts out of instinct with understanding to strike at his foe. His one solace is that he too is Wild Nature, that its lament is his lament, that its ultimate victory will be his own, even if he will not live to see it with his physical eyes. In the end, all lofty sentiments and ideas are a mere heartbeat away from being extinguished, which should give the eco-extremist a sense of urgency in the fight against domestication and artificiality.
Conclusion: War with an expiration date, war without end
Eco-extremism is the tragic sense of life embodied in our epoch. It is a product of the contradictions of our time, of the haziness of anthropological scholarship, of the renunciation of political action, and of the contemporary ideological impasse. This tendency knows that this impasse will not be solved by better philosophies or moral codes, but only in the destruction of all that exists, including the “hyper-civilized” (i.e. all of us). Techno-industrial society is a problem that should have never existed in the first place, and all of the “defects” and “contradictions” of eco-extremism as an ideology are the result of society’s contradictions reflected as in a distorted mirror. There is no solution. The only appropriate response is fire and bullets.
This attitude puts the eco-extremist at odds not only with the authorities of techno-industrial society, but also with other so-called radical groups. There are no “call-outs” or expressions of “solidarity” in eco-extremism. There is no attempt by eco-extremism to morally or philosophically justify itself.” Innocence” or “guilt” never enter into the eco-extremist calculus. Indeed, this tendency eagerly absorbs the “worst” aspects of modern society, including common criminality, without any lawyerly effort to justify itself through the logic of civilized “justice”. The recent introduction to the essay, “The Calusa: A Savage Kingdom?” highlights the societal actors and groups that eco-extremism seeks to imitate in our time:
“‘The Calusa: A Savage Kingdom?’ teaches a valuable lesson; namely, that much can be learned from both the small nomadic groups and the great pre-Columbian civilizations. Here there is no danger of falling into a theoretical ‘contradiction,’ as eco-extremists can reference the Selk’nam as well as the Mayas. They can refer to the experiences of petty criminals as well as those of the large mafias; the Guatemalan gangs as well as the rigid organization of the Islamic State. That is to say, eco-extremists are free to refer to whatever they like, without any hint of morality, with the only condition that it gives a particular useful lesson concerning the planning and execution of their war.”
Theoretical eclecticism is only countered in the eco-extremist with single-mindedness in violent attack. The eco-extremist has cast off his or her affinity with the hyper-civilized and sees virtually everyone as an enemy. These individualists have come to value attack more than their very lives, as countless other warriors and savages have done before them. They don’t ask for help from those whom they have come to see as at best useless, and at worst the hated adversary worthy of death. The eco-extremists are already on the radar of the authorities of the countries where they operate, and beyond. They are under no illusion that they will be able to evade them indefinitely.
Wild Nature corrodes civilization little by little with entropy as water diminishes a stone. Along with climate change, earthquakes, and other natural disasters, new individualists resisting their domestication will take the eco-extremists’ place, perhaps mindful of those who have come before them. We are now entering an age of extremes, an age of uncertainty, where leftist illusions and conservative platitudes can no longer prepare us for our future course. The individualist will continue to be an invisible menace, immune from the moral coercion of the herd, and working in the complete privacy of his or her own thoughts and desires. The masses may rage and the authorities lament, but there will always be pockets of destructive refusal, emerging like sparks in the dark only to go out again, until this society is ground into powder, and the spirits of all warriors go off once more to hunt in the land of the ancestors. Axkan kema, tehuatl, nehuatl! [Until your death or mine!]
* The Psychology of Modern Leftism
* Feelings of Inferiority
* The Power Process
* Surrogate Activities
* Sources of Social Problems
* Disruption of the Power Process in Modern Society
* How Some People Adjust
* The Motives of Scientists
* The Nature of Freedom
* Some Principles of History
* Industrial- Technological Society
Artists have long gotten away with murder, sometimes literally. After Benvenuto Cellini killed his rival, the goldsmith Pompeo de Capitaneis, in 1534, Pope Paul III—a Cellini fan—reportedly pardoned the Florentine artist, declaring that men like him “ought not to be bound by law.” In 1660 the Dutch painter Jacob van Loo stabbed a wine merchant to death during a brawl in Amsterdam, and then fled to Paris. But, as the art historians Rudolf and Margot Wittkower have noted in their vigorously researched 1963 treatise on the behavior of artists, Born Under Saturn, van Loo had no problem being elected to the Royal Academy there just two years later. His reputation as an artist was what mattered.
Artists have not only indulged in criminal behavior and then been forgiven for it, by philosophers and historians, princes and popes, they have also sometimes openly advertised it. “I do not understand laws,” Arthur Rimbaud wrote in 1873, summing up the attitude of the renegade artist. “I have no moral sense. I am a brute.”
Those lines, as well as Pope Paul’s (which Cellini shares in his autobiography), appear in Mike Kelley’s 1988 installation Pay for Your Pleasure, a long hallway lined with painted portraits of dead white men (intellectuals, artists, and the like) paired with choice quotations from them celebrating destruction, violence, and lawbreaking. It is, viewed from one angle, an indictment of the archetype of the artist as a macho man unbound by legal codes.
The installation is always shown with an artwork by a murderer, selected based on the exhibition’s location. (A painting by the serial killer turned artist John Wayne Gacy appeared in the debut.) Writing about Pay for Your Pleasure, Kelley wondered, “How can we safely access destructive forces?” and suggested that “criminals themselves, safely filtered through the media, serve the same function” as art. Gacy’s paintings, he argued, “allow us to stare safely at the forbidden.” He sets artists and criminals together, on the same level.
André Breton appears in Pay for Your Pleasure as well, alongside this infamous bit from his “Second Manifesto of Surrealism” of 1930: “The simplest Surrealist act consists of dashing down into the street, pistol in hand, and firing blindly, as fast as you can pull the trigger, into the crowd.”
This is a milestone moment: criminality explicitly proposed as a work of art.
No Surrealist ever acted on Breton’s suggestion. Nevertheless, his statement cracks open a secret history, hiding in plain sight, of artists who have not only broken laws to make their art, but have used lawbreaking itself as their medium. They have stolen artworks, robbed banks, and purchased and distributed drugs, experimenting with crime in much the same way that their contemporaries have experimented with silk screens or video. They have explored crime’s psychological effects (on both perpetrator and victim), its very definition, and its place in culture.
Hand-colored film stills from Ulay’s First Act – There Is a Criminal Touch to Art (Berlin Action Series), 1976.
COURTESY THE ARTIST AND MOT INTERNATIONAL, LONDON & BRUSSELS (8)
In 1976 the artist Ulay, then 33 and based in Berlin, drove to the Neue Nationalgalerie, stole Carl Spitzweg’s Der arme Poet (1839)—a painting much loved by Hitler—and installed it in a local Turkish family’s living room. Jörg Schmidt-Reitwein documented the action on film. The artist was arrested and faced a 36-day prison term or a 3,600 Deutsche mark fine. He fled the country. (Oddly enough, the painting was stolen again, in 1989, while on loan in Copenhagen. It has never been found.) The resulting artwork, There Is a Criminal Touch to Art (1976), provides a solid script for how the criminal art piece is usually created: the artist commits a crime, publicizes it (often with the aid of juicy documentation), and then, when the authorities swoop in, slips away.
This template (and this article) excludes acts of civil disobedience, like Pyotr Pavlensky’s setting fire to the entrance of the FSB’s headquarters in Moscow last year, or the “People’s Flag Show,” organized at the Judson Memorial Church in New York in 1970 to protest anti-desecration laws. The criminal artwork, by contrast, takes stranger forms, toward more diverse ends. The artist adopts the role of the trickster, complicating notions of both criminality and art. If politics are involved, they are approached obliquely, as in Ulay’s work, which layered critiques about German immigration policy, latent Nazism, and cultural patrimony.
In contrast to the Ulay piece, Maurizio Cattelan’s Another Fucking Readymade (1996) is, unsettlingly, free of any motivation beyond self-interest. Asked by the De Appel Arts Centre in Amsterdam that year to create work for a group show, Cattelan responded by simply purloining a Paul de Revs show—and all of the office equipment—from the nearby Galerie Bloom and exhibiting it as his own work.
The theft was a “survival tactic,” Cattelan later told curator Nancy Spector in an interview, sounding a bit like someone arrested for stealing food from a store. He had been given only two weeks to produce work for the show, he explained, but it usually takes him six months to come up with something. And so, he continued, “I took the path of least resistance. It was the quickest and easiest thing to do. Afterward, I realized that it was much more about switching one reality for another.”
After some initial outrage from the proprietors of Galerie Bloom, who called the police, the Italian artist was allowed to display his work for the first few days of the show before returning it to the gallery—an outcome that nicely highlights the special dispensation artists often enjoy when committing their crimes. And for the record, yes, Cattelan’s heist seems to have been suspiciously well orchestrated—an inside job, perhaps, or maybe a complete fabrication. Rumor and exaggeration are baked into many criminal artworks. (Cattelan did not respond to requests for an interview, though Galerie Bloom is on record as being mystified about how he pulled off the caper.)
Ulay and Cattelan are not outliers. Amazingly, there exists a whole subgenre of criminal pieces that involve stealing works, or parts of works, by other artists. In their brilliant book Lifting: Theft in Art, which accompanied a 2007 traveling show of the same name that originated at the Peacock Visual Arts Center in Abderdeen, Scotland, Gavin Morrison and Fraser Stables highlight the work of Ivan Moudov, Timm Ulrichs, and Mark Jeffrey, which also involves art thefts. (Cattelan and Ulay are explored in depth, as well, and I am indebted to the authors for their impressive research on all these artists.)
In his series “Fragments” (2002–7), Moudov presents bits of artworks he has stolen on his travels. In part, he said, the work is meant as a reaction to the lack of contemporary-art institutions in his native Bulgaria; it is an attempt to bring knowledge to his homeland. More atavistically, it is also a way for him to feel closer to the art. “I appreciate the Native American belief that when they scalp their enemies they take their power,” he said. “My situation is not exactly the same but I do think that I become stronger.”
If Cattelan’s theft was a riposte to the overproduction demanded of contemporary artists, Moudov’s project, involving the permanent alteration of artworks, represents something far more problematic. The same goes for Eva and Franco Mattes’s series “Stolen Pieces” (1995–97), which eerily mirrors Moudov’s work. For two years, the Matteses, then at the start of their careers, stole tiny pieces of famous and generally very expensive artworks on view in museums—a flake of paint from a Vasily Kandinsky, a label from the pedestal of a Jeff Koons sculpture, a bottle cap from an Ed Kienholz assemblage (their first job), and a fragment of a fragment chipped off of a Marcel Duchamp urinal.
Only in 2010—when the statute of limitations had expired for their crimes, their dealer suggested (the artists reject this)—did they show the purloined scraps, along with video and photographic documentation of their activities, as art. Franco told the critic Blake Gopnik that the series was “absolutely not vandalism. I thought it was the greatest tribute I could ever pay to these artists.” That seems a rather disingenuous statement, but it does beg the question of what crime the Matteses had actually committed. It was theft, to be sure, but they had stolen something with almost certainly no monetary value. How do you value a chip of paint from a blue-chip painting? They had committed vandalism, but it seems unlikely in most of the cases that even the most astute conservators would have spotted the damage.
Installation view of Maurizio Cattelan’s Another Fucking Readymade, 1996, on view at De Appel Arts Center, Amsterdam.
COURTESY MAURIZIO CATTELAN’S ARCHIVE
Such pieces raise all sorts of philosophical questions regarding what constitutes an artwork and what constitutes a crime. The Matteses’ attention to the statute of limitations is particularly canny—some might say devious. If, after more than a decade, no one would hunt us down and prosecute us, their actions seem to argue, perhaps there was no crime at all. And that presents a frightening question: exactly how much of an artwork would they have had to steal before someone noticed?
When artworks are stolen or altered, judgments can be hazy. But other artists have made even more morally questionable choices, as Chris Burden did in his TV Hijack (1972), when, while being interviewed live on a California television station, he took the host, Phyllis Lutjeans, hostage. “Holding a knife at her throat, I threatened her life if the station stopped live transmission,” he wrote later, adding that he told her he was going to make her perform obscene acts. Interviewed in 2015, Lutjeans told a California radio station that he did no such thing. “I remember him saying. ‘Phyl, don’t worry,’ ” she said. And anyway, she knew it was art.
Some victims of criminal artwork have not taken it so well. When the filmmaker Joe Gibbons decided to rob a bank in Providence, Rhode Island, as part of a film he was shooting, he has said, he tried at first to add some levity to the situation when he slipped a note to the teller informing her about what was going on. “I tried to make it a funny note, something to get it on the news,” Gibbons told the New York Post last year. “The upsetting thing there was that the teller was jolted by the note. It really upset her.”
The teller in the next bank he robbed, this one in Manhattan’s Chinatown, however, kept her head and slipped an exploding ink-dye packet into his bag along with the money, which totaled only about $1,000. (Gibbons later said he thought it would make “a great souvenir” when he heard the packet go off.) Gibbons bragged about the action to incredulous friends; he believes he was apprehended because one of his former students turned him in.
In fact, the heist that led to his arrest was rather amateurishly executed and something of a farce—not least because Gibbons apparently deliberated for some time about whether to go through with it while standing outside of the bank, causing the battery to start to die on his video camera during the action. It was all of a piece for Gibbons, who has regularly toyed with alternate identities in his videos, trading one reality for another (à la Cattelan) and making it difficult for viewers to distinguish fact from fiction.
On the one hand, Gibbons has said that what got him “over the final hurdle was the desperation of not having any money and not having a place to stay, not having anything to eat.” On the other, he at least claimed to have been inspired by certain radical antecedents. “I read the works of Arthur Rimbaud, who essentially believed a poet had to descend into the depths of all that was bad and report back,” he told the Post. “This whole thing has been one long project about discovering the disenfranchised portions of society.”
After spending a year in jail in New York, Gibbons is, as of this writing, out of prison but on bail awaiting trial for the Rhode Island robbery. The ultimate irony—or maybe this was part of his plan all along—is that he will not be able to benefit financially from showing video that he shot during the Manhattan holdup because New York’s Son of Sam law prevents criminals from profiting in any way from their crimes. Instead, he recently exhibited some simple, subtle drawings at the Southfirst gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. One shows his cafeteria tray at the prison on Rikers Island.
Rob Pruitt, Cocaine Buffet, 1998.
COURTESY THE ARTIST AND GAVIN BROWN’S ENTERPRISE NEW YORK/ROME
‘It was important that the activity include fracturing a legal code,” the late Dennis Oppenheim told Morrison and Stables, when they interviewed him for their book. He was discussing Violations (1971–72), which consists of 153 hubcaps reputedly stolen from cars in California, along with a video of the artist making off with one of them. “Fracturing” is the key word: the subtitle for the piece rather gleefully lists “Evidence of 153 misdemeanors in violation of Section 484 of the California Penal Code (Petty Theft).” But Oppenheim clearly knew it would be impossible to trace the individual hubcaps back to the cars even if the authorities came into his show, to say nothing of actually convicting him of the crime.
One could divide criminal artists into two separate camps—ones that seek to tangle up and obscure issues of causality and criminality, “fracturing” it (the Matteses, Oppenheim), and those who blatantly break the law (like Gibbons and Cattelan, even if the latter would ultimately get off the hook). David Hammons falls into the second camp, embracing crime in his 1981 performance Pissed Off, in which he urinated on Richard Serra’s soaring T.W.U. (1980) sculpture, then installed in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood. Knowledge of the piece exists thanks to photos snapped by Dawoud Bey, which show Hammons taking a casual pee and then having what looks like a friendly exchange with a New York City police officer. (Whether or not he was arrested remains a matter of speculation.)
While Pissed Off has long been understood as a kind of critique of the Serra work, Hammons was also committing one of the quality-of-life offenses that have mired many minorities and lower-income city residents in the legal system (and which the de Blasio administration has sought to decriminalize). Could the work have been complete without the artist at least risking being pulled into the same system?
There are too many artworks that incorporate illegal drugs to go into here, but Rob Pruitt’s Cocaine Buffet(1998) is of particular interest, since it throws into stark relief the very real risks taken by Hammons, an African-American man committing a crime in public. It was 1998, and for a group show at artist Jennifer Bornstein’s loft, Pruitt presented a 16-foot-long line of cocaine on a mirror and invited guests to partake. Once people got snorting, it reportedly lasted for about ten minutes.
“I think that the cocaine line was also a line in the sand,” Pruitt—whose career prior to the event had been at a nadir—would later muse. “People were able to see me new again.” It was a work open to multiple interpretations—a potlatch; a bribe; a bit of critical participatory theater, as the viewers, the drug users, were forced to kneel down, supplicating themselves before the artist; and a perfect illustration of the insularity of the art world, which is the reading that seems most interesting here.
Judging from photos of the event, there was at least half an ounce of cocaine in that room, a felony punishable by one to nine years in prison under current New York State sentencing guidelines. (If there were four or more ounces, which seems like an outside possibility, it would have been a three-to-ten-year sentence.) Yet both artist and participants were apparently sure no authorities would be tipped off. At a time of increased penalties for drug offenders, it was a breathtaking assumption of privilege.
nstallation view of “Derek Frech: Counter Measures” at Interstate Projects, 2015. Frech’s work jams radio, cellular, and Wi-Fi signals.
COURTESY THE ARTIST AND INTERSTATE PROJECTS
Crime is changing with technology, and so is the criminal artwork. A whole book could be written on artists who break into networks, tweak and alter digital information, and steal legally protected material, playing with notions of copyright and privacy. But technological advances are also changing crime in more unusual ways, “fracturing” legal codes, as Oppenheim put it.
Derek Frech and Aaron Flint Jamison have each produced artworks that allow people to jam various signals—radio, cellular, and Wi-Fi, among others. Using them in many countries, including the United States, is illegal. Both artists brush up against the very edge of the law, in effect placing a loaded gun in someone’s hand and letting him or her decide whether or not to use it.
New technologies are leading to tough new questions. In 2014 the Swiss artists Carmen Weisskopf and Domagoj Smoljo, who operate under the name !Mediengruppe Bitnik (and were profiled last year in ARTnews), exhibited at the Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen in Switzerland items that a shopping bot they had programmed randomly purchased on the darknet, the area of the Internet that traffics in illicit information and goods. Among the things acquired by the bot were ecstasy pills, which are illegal in that country.
In what can only be described as a glorious coincidence, the kunsthalle is located next to a police station. Had the artists committed a crime? asked Mike Power in the Guardian. Yes and no. “We are the legal owner of the drugs—we are responsible for everything the bot does, as we executed the code,” Smoljo told the paper. “But our lawyer and the Swiss constitution say art in the public interest is allowed to be free.”
The issues raised by Random Darknet Shopper (2014–), as the piece is titled, are no longer merely speculative. As year by year the world becomes increasingly dominated by complex, interlocking systems that are beyond the scope or expertise of any one individual, it is not hard to imagine an artwork that begins as a program or a process and then expands into other, untested legal territories. (Already works of bio-art have sparked legal action; the Critical Art Ensemble was hit with cease-and-desist letters for engineering materials that could kill Monsanto’s “super crops,” as Carolina Miranda has reported in these pages.) Can a work that behaves in ways that its creator did not intend still be considered an artwork, or is it something else entirely?
Richard Nixon’s old line about executive privilege—“when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal”—proposes a tempting formulation: when an artist does it, it’s not illegal. I suspect that would not satisfy artists or judges or ethicists. But this much is certain: In its most extreme manifestations, the criminal artwork places artists or viewers at risk, opening them both to the possibility of physical or emotional harm, or at the very least, the power of the state. It lays bare systems of power in ways that other art cannot, rendering them painfully visible.
Andrew Russeth is co-executive editor at ARTnews.
Update, May 23: Clarified that Eva and Franco Mattes’ dealer suggested that the statute of limitations played a role in the time of the unveiling of their work. The artists did not propose this.
A version of this story originally appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of ARTnews on page 102 under the title “When Felonies Become Form.”
This is not a history, a series of biographies, or a compendium. Anyone looking for a reference work on the subjects herein must look elsewhere; I make no attempt to present complete, comprehensive data. Nor am I offering a critique.
This is a panoramic portrait of a scene, rendered in photos, documents, artwork and words. It illustrates the evolution of a movement.
I selected these materials because they most vividly animate the individual subjects. The narrative, in each subject’s own voice, offers little historical hype. From hours of taped conversations, I picked snippets that offered glimpses behind the masks of art and crime.
I asked all the questions herein, or presided over all interviews as editor (I note a few exceptions). In many cases I borrowed from the work of Michael Moynihan and Boyd Rice, my star interrogators from the days when I ran the all-interview Seconds magazine. I reproduce exchanges as they originally appeared in print. You’ll figure it out.
“Aesthetic Terrorism: Using the element of surprise through the usage of past clichés, knowledge and ‘home truths’ being flung out of joint, and therefore used as possibly a weapon or subversive force.”
— J.G. Thirlwell a.k.a. Foetus, 1984
1984 played out prophetically: George Orwell’s novel came to chronological coincidence, triggering the much-ballyhooed fulfillment of its dire predictions. 2001, however, didn’t see the Space Age promised in Stanley Kubrick’s film.
In the years between—an intense era bracketed by the Cold War and the Digital Age—rape, murder, torture, pedophilia, cannibalism, drugs, sedition, racism and blasphemy mixed with Pop Culture, history, literature, news, movies, TV, philosophy and science. All varieties of taboos and criminal advocacy coalesced, beyond “confrontation” or “shock.”
The artists, from a cross-section of American life, ranged from the abused to the spoiled, from successes to also-rans. Some basked in the limelight; some barely acknowledged their creativity.
Yes, I too am featured herein. You wouldn’t want a book like this from someone without an intimate knowledge of the subject matter, would you? The scene I describe I saw from my own vantage point. So what?
In the Eighties a new demographic arose: Caucasian, mostly Goy but including a few Jews, creative, urban, alienated, beat down by media, blamed for everything, very smart, looking for trouble, turned on by sex murders, happy to hurt others, eccentrically eclectic. The Sixties and Seventies had comprised the Golden Age of anything-goes; TV raised its offspring on equal doses of love and hate, good and bad, right and wrong. Traditionally compartmentalized taboos commingled haphazardly, their varied threats superimposing, juxtaposing, fusing.
The transgressive, subversive, pornographic and forbidden mixed with the legitimate, the approved, and the party line, sparking an aesthetic revolution. Rock provided the soundtrack; drugs provided the universal experience. A new outlaw type, a criminal aesthete, a true threat to society, flourished.
Starting circa 1984, through back-alley channels of Punk, zines, college radio, and a loose network of the like-minded, the artists found one another through mutual gravitation. Their inspirations included Manson, LaVey, Nietzsche, Crowley, the Occult, World War Two, drugs, murder. As their artwork and networking progressed, a unique look and feel developed. Only in retrospect does the scene come into focus; at the time it seemed to be simply a super-alienated version of Punk.
Two types found confluence in this scene: further-out elements of the Cinema of Transgression crowd, and those on the outer limits of Apocalypse Culture. Transgressive: New York, Heroin chic, all black, leftist/anarchist, fucked-up. Apocalyptic: West Coast, LSD, Speed, neo-psychedelic, fascistic, fucked-up. Generally speaking, the two currents merged into a loose, distant association of criminally-inclined artists in whose troubling work a multitude of taboos converged.
LSD, Speed, Heroin, Cocaine, Ecstasy, Absinthe, Marijuana, uppers, downers, Xanax, Valium, Methadone, beer, whiskey, vodka, bourbon, rum, gin, NoDoz, sleeping tablets, cigarettes, coffee and caffeine made it happen. Throughout recessions, boom times, bubbles, the AIDS epidemic, the Pax Americana and the War On Drugs, the characters herein got by somehow, surviving and spewing venom. Their art hurt people, set a bad example, burrowed into impressionable minds, subliminally implanted time-bombs in the unstable.
New tools, and new uses for old tools: videos, cassettes and copy machines evolved into Sci-fi gadgets. For example, in the beginning (1987) Seconds went to the cheapest printer as hastily typeset, hand-made “mechanicals” on stacks of shaggy, re-used cardboard. In the end (2000) a Mac G3 processed everything, spitting it out on two CDs.
Since Day One art challenged everything; its history abounds with misanthropy and anti-authoritarianism. Some used art to inflame and overthrow. It always incited, excited or blasphemed!
Historically, an artist tackled a single taboo, driven by fetish, injustice, poverty or disease. However, the artists herein broke all taboos simultaneously. They mixed it all. Aesthetic Terrorism!
A history: When at first some unheralded individual, tripping on LSD, grabbed a ballpoint pen and on notebook paper doodled, Underground Art began. When every icon lay smashed, every hypocrisy got exposed, and every taboo was broken, Underground Art ended—or, more precisely, percolated into above-ground mainstream art, where the status quo appropriated it.
Underground Art kicked off when a new perceptual tool became available: LSD. Illegal and without psychological precedent, it inspired uninhibited outlaw art documenting Psychedelia’s expansion into a far-reaching culture ultimately ravaged by the War On Drugs.
The first generation of Underground Artists, while quite mischievous, ultimately sought living beauty and bliss. This book features the “second generation,” who sought death and destruction.
From an era of nothingness, emptiness, zero, from the end of time, the end of history, Hello There! From an era of egos, cocks, pussies, narcissism, solipsism, hedonism and nothingness! From this fabulous era of nothingness, Ahoy, You Of Tomorrow! Study this era, these exhilarating days. Learn these lessons, you weak ones of the future—you watered-down versions of this day’s denizens. You scum of tomorrow—Fuck You!
From an era of anger and hate, action and reaction, alienation, fucked-up people, lies, crime, blood and bullshit—from an era of primal passions, hard drugs, hard cocks, killer art et cetera, Hello There!!!