editor's note: Sections of this article were originally published in Clamor Magazine
Imagine a three story media production studio that appears for one weekend, brings hundreds of queer and feminist independent media producers together for the video taping and staging of their own “television shows,” talk shows, historical reenactments and skill-sharing workshops. In October, Pilot TV did just this by creating a unique space for collaboration, asking questions and building community in a wonderful and experimental temporary autonomous television studio.
PILOT TV is a hybrid activist convergence taking the form of a do-it-yourself television studio. We invite you to take part in 4 days and nights of participatory, creative problem-solving to rethink how we “stage” protest. Help us turn this three-story Chicago building into a fully functioning Hollywood studio, replete with fantastical sets, collaborative crews, and improvised madness.
Stage a panel discussion as a talk show, lead a workshop as a cooking show, get behind a camera, sew a costume, party all night, or just show up and get involved in the conversation. PILOT will be an open-ended space for those of us involved in the global anti-capitalist movement to come together in sweat-space, build momentum, and strategize our biopolitical resistance on (and off) camera.
As the last vestiges of public space, natural resources, and community-control
are bought-off; our bodies will continue to be the final line in the struggle
for autonomy. Join us at the PILOT laboratory for 4 days of fleshy resistance,
aesthetic experiments and tactical performance! Trespass the corporate control
of media with nomadic TV, pirate radio broadcasts, and guerrilla drive-in
screenings! Enjoy parties, community meals, and do things on camera that
you could never do legally in real life!
--From the call for participation disseminated last summer.
Daniel- So where did the idea for Pilot come from?
Emily- Well, in initial conversations between another organizer, James Tsang, and myself, we kept throwing around this word, this idea of “Transfeminism.” We were excited that it had no set definition and thought it might have some possibility in terms of encompassing a wide variety of new feminist concerns (and old concerns as well, like the idea that biology shouldn’t control your destiny…) Our conversations about defining transfeminism quickly multiplied into all these other slogans and exclamations of our desires for “Body Flight!” and “Feminist Trespass!” against biopolitical control and capitalism. Our basic idea was that we should work out these questions with our peers in a productive, performative, open-ended space. It eventually was settled that we would call people from across the continent to come and take part in a weekend of collaborations producing feminist television “pilots”, which would then be edited, compiled, and redistributed back to all participants so they could distribute them on their local public access channels, schools, or microcinemas wherever they live. This would also have the effect of building a new network of anti-capitalist transexuals, queers, and feminist media producers for possible future action.
D- Can you mention some of the models, other events and projects that Pilot was inspired by?
E- Pilot was moved to build a horizontal production space that could feed into, and in some ways differ from the incredible horizontal distribution networks created by the global Indymedia movement. We were inspired by projects like DIVA TV, Deep Dish and Paper Tiger, as well as lesser-known histories of queer, feminist, and collective media activism such as the Videofreex and Raindance Corporation. In addition to those influences, we decided that Pilot should take the best aspects of botha protest convergence center and a Hollywood tv studio.
The thing that is so exciting about these convergence/hub spaces that develop during large protests is that they become these participatory sweat-spaces where all sorts of interactions are possible and are activated just by filling a room with people, resources, and passions. We imagined that this potential for collective self-realization would be multiplied if we threw the variables of a TV studio (sets, props, cameras) into the mix. I find often that the experience of engaging in a convergence center is a lot more meaningful, both personally and politically, than the foregrounded "protest" itself. These are places where people are coming together, teaching each other, sharing workshops and food, housing each other and practicing direct democracy.
D- Another element in the Call for Participation mentioned that Pilot was an event to rethink how we (as activists) "stage protest." How do we stage protest? How can an experimental event format like Pilot inform how we protest?
E- Looking at protest as something that is “staged” as opposed to natural allows you to be strategic in how you interrogate the meaning and effectiveness of a collective action. Consider that “demonstrations” are just that; mass performances where we demonstrate this fairly scripted scenario where people march, hold signs, reach catharsis, scuffle with police, hold candles, etc. In fact, this performance is so well scripted that police agencies often “rehearse” it, casting undercovers in our roles, and compensating for any ‘improvising’ we may try to do. [For web version, this could link to this great mpeg video of Chicago Police performing protesters on the news]
Clearly what needs to happen is a total rethinking of the project of social protest and what we do with the agency of collectives. The premise during Pilot was to make this performative nature transparent in order to open it up for poetic, aesthetic, and practical restaging. We shared a really wide array of possibilities with each other; from direct political interventions like the Women on Waves pirate abortion ship to the intimate performance of John and Yoko’s “Bed-In” against the war in Vietnam.
D- There were more than 35 different “shows” that were taped during the weekend including a talk show called “Feeling good about feeling bad” which focused on the experience of political depression, a performative lecture by the Society for Biological Insurgents, and a genderqueer erotic remake of the 1925 Eisenstein film Battleship Potemkin. Considering all of the kinds of shows that happened during the weekend, what were people trying to figure out?
E- We were trying to educate each other about the incredibly rich history of feminist media activism, and some of the early utopian proposals for what video and television might be. The popular meaning of feminism has been whittled down to these very narrow clichés, but in fact it is a set of essential tools for ethical social practice and resistance to patriarchy, hierarchy, and capitalism. As far as trans-feminism relating to media democratization, we didn’t privilege either one as a concern. We saw them as coexistent and interdependent struggles. I guess it is on this level that feminism most strongly informs anti-capitalist movements today. Our concern during the weekend was about doing activism from the level of the body up. Starting with how we meet our basic needs for food or healthcare, up to things like how we resist oppressions based on race, citizenship, gender, or sexuality, our position as laborers and consumers in the global economy, the importance of feelings, the bodies made up by our families, communities, and cities.
D- The founding document that you sent out read, "Calling all trans-activists, women, queers, male feminists, media activists, intersexed hackers, radical educators, genderchangers, direct-actors, performance artists, anti-racists, mothers, documentarians, prop collectors, youth video collectives, squatters, fence-climbers, cyber-feminists, urban farmers, prison abolitionists, women's health-care providers, all-girl graffiti crews, resistant bodies and trespassers of all kinds !!!” Did that happen?
E- Well I am not sure if there were actually any intersexed individuals who were also "hackers", but basically yes. It felt unlike any other activist convergence or media context I've ever been in, in the sense that the majority of people participating and coordinating technology were all women, or had at one point been a woman, or were becoming women!
D- So you have talked about the ways in which Pilot responded to the conference and protest models of social space, but what about the Hollywood influence? When I rode my bike down to Bridgeport (the neighborhood in Chicago where Pilot took place), I came across a huge sign on the hill by the highway reading "PILOTWOOD." Hollywood is a pretty messed up place in a lot of ways, how did it serve as inspiration?
E- Well, it's inspiring in the sense that there is so much symbolic wealth there! As a LA native I really think people need to be fucking with the spatial referents remaining in Hollywood, you know, like staging takeovers and sit-ins at news stations, or doing direct actions in the guise of a movie shoot. In terms of Pilot, the main thing we were appropriating was the Fordist vertical-integration model of media production, where everything happens "in-house." While production has been decentralized incredibly, there is still this phenomena where tons of skilled individuals with cameras, lights, scripts, and makeup will come together into one building in the morning and at the end of the day a television show will come out. For Pilot we borrowed this myth of the Hollywood studio and got rid of the unnecessary hierarchical divisions between producers, directors, actors, and audience members.
One of the problems we encountered was that there just wasn’t enough set up and breakdown time for people to shoot 9 TV shows a day, even with the three sets we had. Because of this there wasn’t enough time for the education of people with less technical expertise, so hierarchies of knowledge were set up due to a sped-up production schedule. Some of the problems at Pilot can be worked out in future events. And there did seem to be a big interest on the part of participants in making that happen. Maybe it will turn into a more permanent studio, or possibly a mobile production house like the soviet cinema trains.
D- In terms of the actual productive capabilities of Pilot, it would be helpful if you could elaborate on the different ways in which resources were pooled and technology was acquired. Did Pilot have fundraisers or grants?
E- No, we didn’t have any grants but we raised maybe a hundred bucks and built community prior to the event with a call-out zine and CD, conversations, show-and-tells, and a weekly speakeasy restaurant that we ran out of various apartments called the Secret Café. Quite a bit of the A/V equipment was acquired through a parasitic technique where individuals with access privileges at jobs or art schools worked together to leverage large chunks of equipment for everyone during the weekend. Meanwhile, everyone who came contributed some kind of resource to the pool, whether it was their construction skills or their DV camera or their wig collection.
D- And in the end?
E- Pilot proved that it is possible build a TV studio without ANY money whatsoever, that with self-organization and collective resource sharing we can build alternative infrastructures that are equally as fantastic and sustainable as anything made for the traditional capitalist economy! All in all, the weekend was an incredibly packed and complex experience. It was marked by lots of improvisation, pleasure, dialogue, public sex, failure, creative television production, skill sharing, and countless new relationships. I can’t speak for the rest of the Pilot participants, but I know I experienced community the way I would like it to be everyday; queer as fuck, and experimenting together …for all the trespassing to come.
Please see www.pilotchicago.org for more information or to get involved in the post-production efforts.
About the authors:
Emily Forman was one of 25 Pilot co-plotters and has been deeply involved in collaborations and other organizing efforts ranging from the Department of Space and Land Reclamation campaigns to the Autonomous Territories of Chicago. She is always down to work on projects that sound excessive and impossible! firstname.lastname@example.orgDaniel Tucker is an artist and activist living in Chicago who is generally interested in art that happens in streets. He was one of over 100 participants in the Pilot TV project last October. Tucker is also initiating an independent research project about “self organized” group process and organizational structures. email@example.com
By “transfeminism” we generally meant “…working across different forms of feminism, and in the same breath, we also want to recognize that trans/genderqueer people are daily trespassing in the gendered spaces of capitalism. Spaces which try to determine us biologically, which seek to confine us to recognizable markets, binary restrooms, and social roles. Being gender-queer means not only ‘crossing-over’ back and forth (female to male, male to female) but is a radical refusal of the gender-border altogether!”