Do-It-Yourself Geopolitics:
Cartographies of Art in the World

by Lothar Blissant

What interests us in the image is not its function as a representation of reality, but its dynamic potential, its capacity to elicit and construct projections, interactions, narrative frames.… devices for constructing reality.

-Franco Berardi "Bifo," L'immagine dispositivo

Vanguard art, in the twentieth century, began with the problem of its own overcoming – whether in the destructive, dadaist mode, which sought to tear apart the entire repertory of inherited forms and dissolve the very structures of the bourgeois ego, or in the expansive, constructivist mode, which sought to infuse architecture, design and the nascent mass media with a new dynamics of social purpose and a multiperspectival intelligence of political dialogue. Though both positions were committed to an irrepressible excess over the traditional genres of painting and sculpture, still they appeared as polar opposites; and they continued at ideological odds with each other throughout the first half of the century, despite zones of enigmatic or secret transaction (Schwitters, Van Doesburg....). But after the war, the extraordinarily wide network of revolutionary European artists which briefly coalesced, around 1960, into the Situationist International (SI), brought a decisive new twist to the dada/constructivist relation. With their practice of "hijacking" commercial images (détournement), with their cartographies of urban drifting (dérive), and above all with their aspiration to create the "higher games" of "constructed situations," the SI sought to subversively project a specifically artistic competence into the field of potentially active reception constituted by daily life in the consumer societies.

The firebrand career of the Situationist International as an artists' collective is overshadowed by the political analysis of the Society of the Spectacle, a work which deliberately attempted to maximize the antagonism between the radical aesthetics of everyday life and the delusions purveyed, every day, by the professionalized, capital-intensive media. The SI finally foundered over this antagonistic logic, which led to the exclusion of most of the artists from the group. But with the notion of subversive cartography and the practice of "constructed situations," it was as though something new had been released into the world. Without having to ascribe exclusive origins or draw up faked genealogies, one can easily see that since the period around 1968, the old drive to art's self-overcoming has found a new and much broader field of possibility, in the conflicted and ambiguous relations between the educated sons and daughters of the former working classes and the proliferating products of the consciousness industry. The statistical fact that such a large number of people trained as artists are inducted into the service of this industry, combined with the ready availability of a "fluid language" of détournement which allows them to exit from it pretty much whenever they choose, has been at the root of successive waves of agitation which tend simultaneously to dissolve any notion of a "vanguard" and to reopen the struggle for a substantial democracy. And so the question on everyone's lips becomes, how do I participate?

"This is a chord. This is another. Now form a band." The punk invitation to do-it-yourself music supplies instant insight to the cultural revolution that swept through late-1970s Britain. And the hilarity, transgression and class violence of public punk performance comes surprisingly close to the SI's definition of a situation: "A moment of life concretely and deliberately constructed by the collective organization of a unitary ambiance and a play of events." The relation between punk and situationism was widely perceived at the time. But there was something else at stake, something radically new by comparison to the disruptive tactics of the 1960s. Because the D.I.Y. invitation had another side, which said: "Now start a label." The proliferation of garage bands would be matched with an outpouring of indie records, made and distributed autonomously. In this way, punk marked an attempt at appropriating the media, which in a society dominated by the consciousness industry is tantamount to appropriating the means of production. Punk as productivism. There's a constructive drive at work here: a desire to respond, with technical means, to the recording companies' techniques for the programming of desire. The punk movement in Britain was an attempt to construct subversive situations on the scales permitted by modern communications.

Something fundamental changes when artistic concepts are used within a context of massive appropriation, amid a blurring of class distinctions. A territory of art appears within widening "underground" circles, where the aesthetics of everyday practice is lived as a political creation. The shifting grounds of this territory could be traced through the radical fringe of the techno movement from the late 1980s onward, with its white-label records produced under different names every time, its hands-on use of computer technology, its nomadic sound systems for mounting concerts at any chosen location. It could be explored in the offshoots of mail art, with the development of fanzines, the Art Strike and Plagiarist movements, the Luther Blissett Project, the invention of radio- or telephone-assisted urban drifting. It could be previewed in community-oriented video art, alternative TV projects, AIDS activism, and the theories of "tactical media." But rather than engaging in a pre-emptive archaeology of these developments, I want to go directly to their most recent period of fruition in the late 1990s, when a rekindled sense of social antagonism once again pushed aesthetic producers, along with many other social groups, into an overtly political confrontation with norms and authorities.

This time, the full range of media available for appropriation could be hooked into a world-spanning distribution machine: the internet. The specific practices of computer hacking and the general model they proposed of amateur intervention into complex systems gave confidence to a generation which had not personally experienced the defeats and dead-ends of the 1960s. Building on this constructive possibility, an ambition arose to map out the repressive and coercive order of the transnational corporations and institutions. It would be matched by attempts to disrupt that order through the construction of subversive situations on a global scale. Collective aesthetic practices, proliferating in social networks outside the institutional spheres of art, were one the major vectors for this double desire to grasp and transform the new world map. A radically democratic desire that could be summed up in a seemingly impossible phrase: do-it-yourself geopolitics.

J18, or the Financial Center Nearest You
Does anyone know how it was really done? The essence of cooperatively catalyzed events is to defy single narratives. But it can be said that on June 18, 1999, around noon, somewhere from five to ten thousand people flooded out of the tube lines at Liverpool station, right in the middle of the City of London. Most found themselves holding a carnival mask, in the colors black, green, red, or gold – the colors of anarchy, ecology, and communism, plus high finance, specially for the occasion. Amidst the chaos of echoing voices and pounding drums, it might even have been possible to read the texts on the back:

"Those in authority fear the mask for their power partly resides in identifying, stamping and cataloguing: in knowing who you are. But a Carnival needs masks, thousands of masks... Masking up releases our commonality, enables us to act together... During the last years the power of money has presented a new mask over its criminal face. Disregarding borders, with no importance given to race or colors, the power of money humiliates dignities, insults honesties and assassinates hopes.

"On the signal follow your color / Let the Carnival begin..."

The music was supposed to come from speakers carried in backpacks. But no one could hear it above the roar. Four groups divided anyway, not exactly according to color; one went off track and ended up at London Bridge, to hold a party of its own. The others took separate paths through the medieval labyrinth of Europe's largest financial district, converging toward a point which had been announced only by word of mouth and kept secret from all but a few: the London International Financial Futures & Options Exchange, or LIFFE building, the largest derivatives market in Europe – the pulsing, computerized, hyper-competitive brain of the beast. The trick was to parade anarchically through the winding streets, swaying to the samba bands, inviting passing traders and bank employees to take off their ties or heels and join the party, while a few smaller groups rushed ahead, to dodge tremblingly into alleyways and await that precise moment when a number of cars would inexplicably stop and begin blocking a stretch of Lower Thames Street. The sound system, of course, was already there. As protestors shooed straggling motorists out of the area, larger groups began weaving in, hoisting puppets to the rhythm of the music and waving red, black, and green Reclaim the Streets flags in the air. The Carnival had begun, inside the "Square Mile" of London's prestigious financial district – and the police, taken entirely by surprise, could do nothing about it.

Banners went up: "OUR RESISTANCE IS AS GLOBAL AS CAPITAL," "THE EARTH IS A COMMON TREASURY FOR ALL," "REVOLUTION IS THE ONLY OPTION." Posters by the French graphic arts group Ne Pas Plier were glued directly on the walls of banks, denouncing "MONEY WORLD," proclaiming "RESISTANCE-EXISTENCE," or portraying the earth as a giant burger waiting to be consumed. The site had also been chosen for its underground ecology: a long-buried stream runs below Dowgate Hill Street and Cousin Lane, right in front of the LIFFE building. A wall of cement and breeze blocks was built before the entrance to the exchange, while a fire hydrant was opened out in the street, projecting a spout of water thirty feet into the air and symbolically releasing the buried river from the historical sedimentations of capital. The protestors danced beneath the torrent. In a historical center of bourgeois discipline, inhibitions became very hard to find. This was a political party: a riotous event, in the Dionysian sense of the word.

The quality of such urban uprisings is spontaneous, unpredictable, because everything depends on the cooperative expression of a multitude of groups and individuals. Still these events can be nourished, charged in advance with logical and imaginary resources. The six months preceding J18 overflowed with an infinitely careful and chaotic process of face-to-face meetings, grapevine communication, cute-and-paste production and early activist adventures in electronic networking. An information booklet on the global operations of the City was prepared, under the name "Squaring Up to the Square Mile." It included a map distinguishing ten different categories of financial institutions. Posters, stickers, tracts and articles were distributed locally and internationally, including 50,000 metallic gold flyers with a quote from the Situationist Raoul Vaneigem saying "to work for delight and authentic festivity is barely distinguishable from preparing for general insurrection." A spoof newspaper was handed out massively on the day of the protest, for free, under the title Evading Standards; the cover showed a dazed trader amidst piles of shredded paper, with a headline reading "GLOBAL MARKET MELTDOWN." But most importantly, a call had been sent round the world, urging people to intervene in their local financial centers on June 18th, the opening day of the G8 summit held that year in Cologne. A movie trailer had even been spliced together, with footage from previous worldwide protests and a cavernous, horror-flick voice at the end pronouncing "June 18th: Coming to a financial center near you."

This event was imbued with the history of the British social movement Reclaim the Streets (RTS), along with other activist groups such as Earth First!, Class War, and London Greenpeace (a local eco-anarchist organization). RTS is a "dis-organization." It emerged from the anti-roads movement of the early 1990s, fighting against the freeway programs of the Thatcherite government. The protestors used direct action techniques, tunneling under construction sites, locking themselves to machinery. It was body art with a vengeance. References to earlier struggles emerged from this direct experience, including a 1973 text by the radical French philosopher André Gorz denouncing "The Social Ideology of the Motorcar." The year 1994 was a turning point for this movement, in more ways than one. It saw a summer-long campaign against the M11 highway link, which involved squatting the condemned residential district of Claremont Road and literally inhabiting the streets, building scaffolding, aerial netting, and rooftop outposts to prolong the final resistance against the wrecking balls and the police. But it was also the year of the Criminal Justice Act, which gave the authorities severe repressive powers against techno parties in the open countryside, and politicized young music-lovers by force. After that, the ravers and the anti-roads protestors decided they would no longer wait for the state to take the initiative. They would reclaim the streets in London, and party at the heart of the motorcar's dominion.

The first RTS party was held in the spring of 1995 in Camden Town, where hundreds of protestors surged out of a tube station at the moment of a staged fight between two colliding motorists. Techniques were then invented to make "tripods" out of common metal scaffolding poles: traffic could be easily blocked by a single protestor perched above the street, whom police could not bring down without risk of serious injury. News of the inventions spread contagiously around Britain, and a new form of popular protest was born. Later events saw the occupation of a stretch of highway, or a street party where sand was spread out atop the tarmac for the children to play in, reversing the famous slogan of May '68 in France, sous les pavés, la plage ("beneath the paving-stones, the beach"). Ideas about the political potential of the carnival, influenced by the literary critic Mikhail Bahktin, began to percolate among a generation of new-style revolutionaries. From these beginnings, it was just another leap of the imagination to the concept of the global street party – first realized in 1998 in some thirty countries, within the wider context of the "global days of action" against neoliberalism.

London RTS was part of the People's Global Action (PGA), a grassroots counter-globalization network which first emerged in 1997. Behind it lay the poetic politics of the Zapatistas, and the charismatic figure of Subcomandante Marcos. But ahead of it lay the invention of a truly worldwide social movement, cutting across the global division of labor and piercing the opaque screens of the corporate media. For the day of global action on June 18, video-makers collaborated with an early autonomous media lab called Backspace, right across the Thames from the LIFFE building. Tapes were delivered to the space during the event, roughly edited for streaming on the web, then sent directly away through the post to avoid any possible seizure. Perhaps more importantly, a group of hackers in Sydney, Australia, had written a special piece of software for live updating of the webpage devoted to their local J18 event. Six months later, this "Active software" would be used in the American city of Seattle, as the foundation of the Indymedia project – a multiperspectival instrument of political information and dialogue for the twenty-first century.

As later in Seattle, clashes occurred with the police. While the crowd retreated down Thames Street towards Trafalgar Square, a threatening plume of smoke rose above St. Paul's cathedral, as if to say this carnival really meant to turn the world upside-down. The next day the Financial Times bore the headline: "Anti-capitalists lay siege to the City of London." The words marked a rupture in the triumphant language of the press in the 1990s, which had eliminated the very notion of anti-capitalism from its vocabulary. But the real media event unfolded on the internet. The RTS website showed a Mercator map, with links reporting actions in forty-four different countries and regions. The concept of the global street party had been fulfilled, at previously unknown levels of political analysis and tactical sophistication. A new cartography of ethical-aesthetic practice had been invented, embodied and expressed across the earth.

Circuits of Production and Distribution
J18 was clearly not an art work. It was an event, a collectively constructed situation. It opened up a territory of experience for its participants – a "temporary autonomous zone," in the words of the anarchist writer Hakim Bey. With respect to the virtual worlds of art and literature, but also of political theory, such events can be conceived as actualizations: what they offer is a space-time for the effectuation of latent possibilities. This is their message: "ANOTHER WORLD IS POSSIBLE," to quote the slogan of the World Social Forum movement. But what must also be understood is how these discontinuous political mobilizations have helped to make another world possible for art, outside the constituted circuits of production and distribution.

The simplest point of entry is the internet. Email lists and websites have opened up a new kind of transnational public sphere, where artistic activities can be discussed as part of a larger, freewheeling conversation on the evolution of society. Some of the early players in this game were the New-York based website and server called The Thing, the Public Netbase media center in Vienna, the Ljudmila server in Ljubljana, etc. From the mid-1990s onward, these platforms were all involved with the development of "," which could be produced, distributed, and evaluated outside the gallery-magazine-museum system. The do-it-yourself utopia of a radically democratic mail art, which had been evolving in many temporalities and directions since the 1960s, suddenly multiplied, transformed, proliferated. In 1995 the transnational listserve Nettime was constituted, in order to produce an "immanent critique" of networked culture. Such projects could appear as intangible and ephemeral as the "temporary autonomous zones." But they helped give intellectual consistency and a heightened sense of transnational agency to the renewed encounter of artistic practice and political activism which was then emerging under the name of "tactical media."

The concept of tactical media was worked out at the Next 5 Minutes conferences, which have taken place in Amsterdam since 1993, at three-year intervals. David Garcia and Geert Lovink summed it up in 1997: "Tactical Media are what happens when the cheap 'do it yourself' media, made possible by the revolution in consumer electronics and expanded forms of distribution (from public access cable to the internet) are exploited by groups and individuals who feel aggrieved by or excluded from the wider culture." The key notion came from Michel de Certeau, who, in Garcia and Lovink's reading, "described consumption as a set of tactics by which the weak make use of the strong." At stake was the possibility of autonomous image and information production from marginal or minority positions, in an era dominated by huge, capital-intensive media corporations and tightly regulated distribution networks. But De Certeau spoke primarily of premodern cultures, whose intimate, unrecorded "ways of doing" could appear as an escape route from hyper-rationalized capitalism; whereas the media tactics in question are those of knowledge workers in the postindustrial economy, much closer to what Toni Negri and his fellow-travelers would call the "multitudes." With their DVcams, websites and streaming media techniques, the new activists practiced "an aesthetic of poaching, tricking, reading, speaking, strolling, shopping, desiring.… the hunter's cunning, maneuvers, polymorphic situations, joyful discoveries, poetic as well as warlike." This was very much the spirit of n5m3, in the spring of 1999, just as the counter-globalization movement was about to break into full public view.

The confidence of tactical media activism represents a turnabout from the extreme media pessimism of Guy Debord, whose work describes the colonization of all social relations, and indeed of the human mind itself, by the productions of the advertising industry. Toni Negri's theory of the "real subsumption" of labor by capital, or in other words, the total penetration of everyday life by the logic and processes of capital accumulation, appears at first to echo that pessimism – but in fact, it marks a reversal. Empire develops the theory of the real subsumption through a reflection on Michel Foucault's concept of biopower, defined as "a form of power that regulates social life from its interior, following it, interpreting it, absorbing it, and rearticulating it." Biopower is "an integral, vital function that every individual embraces and reactivates of his or her own accord." But this internalization of the control function has the effect of offering the master's tools to all the social subjects, and thus it makes possible the transformation of biopower into biopolitics:

Civil society is absorbed in the [capitalist] state, but the consequence of this is an explosion of the elements that were previously coordinated and mediated in civil society. Resistances are no longer marginal but active in the center of a society that opens up in networks; the individual points are singularized in a thousand plateaus. What Foucault constructed implicitly (and Deleuze and Guattari made explicit) is therefore the paradox of a power that, while it unifies and envelops within itself every element of social life (thus losing its capacity effectively to mediate different social forces), at that very moment reveals a new context, a new milieu of maximum plurality and uncontainable singularization – a milieu of the event.

Faced with the conditions of real subsumption, or total physical and psychic colonization by the directive functions of capital, one of the paradoxical temptations for artists is to reverse the terms of the equation, and to step into the open, cooperative field of the event in order to directly represent the globalized state – showing its true face, or becoming its distorted mirror. This is what the Yes Men have done, by launching a satirical mirror-site – – as a way to pass themselves off as representatives of the World Trade Organization. Appearing before a lawyer's conference in Austria, on a British TV news show, at a textile industry convention in Finland, or at an accountant's congress in Australia, always at the invitation of unsuspecting functionaries, the Yes Men reverse the usual activist's position of "speaking truth to power." They speak the truth of power, by complying with it, assenting to it, over-identifying with it, exaggerating and amplifying its basic tenets, so as to reveal the contradictions, the gross injustices. And in this way, they bring the critical distance of art into the closest possible contact with political life. By miming corporate codes with precise and sophisticated writing, and by infiltrating the virtual and real locations of transnational institutions, they carry out what Frederic Jameson called for long ago: the "cognitive mapping" of "the great global multinational and decentered communicational network in which we find ourselves caught as individual subjects." So doing, they act like a miniaturized version of the counter-globalization movements themselves, whose participants have restlessly "mapped out" the shifting geography of transnational power with their feet. But the Yes Men are very much part of those movements, they are immersed in the world of punctual collaboration and deviant appropriation of professional skills for the creation of the political event. The collaborative process is clearly symbolized by the project-table drawn up by their earlier avatar, ®™ark, which lists interventionist ideas and the material and human resources needed to carry them out; readers are invited to contribute time, money, equipment, or information, or to propose a project of their own.

Bureau d'Etudes is another artists' group which has followed the mapping impulse to the point of producing a full-fledged representation of tremendously complex transnational power structures, which they call "World Government." They carry out "open-source intelligence," where the information is freely available for anyone willing to do the research. The artistic aspect of their project lies in the graphic design, the iconic invention, but also in the experimental audacity of the hypotheses they develop, which try to show the impact of farflung decision-making hierarchies on bare life. Like the Yes Men, they engage in multiple collaborations, exchanging knowledge, participating in campaigns, distributing their work for free, either in the form of paper copies or over the internet. And like many contemporary artist-activists, they are extremely dubious about the kind of distribution offered by museums; they only appear to consider their own production significant when it becomes part of alternative social assemblages, or more precisely, of "resymbolizing machines." One of their goals is to create a "map generator," which would be "a machine allowing everyone to generate the maps they need for their actions, by entering data concerning the business or administration in which they work, or about which they have found some information." There is a double aim here: to identify the spatial organization and ownership hierarchy of the long, fragmented production lines of the global economy, and at the same time, to suggest the possibility of alternative formations that could articulate different publics. As they explain: "A production line is heterogeneous and multilinguistic from the very outset. It has no border, even though it has relative limits. It constitutes a republic of individuals, in other words, a non-territorial republic, which emerges in the face of the increasingly real perspective – confirmed by the gradual application of the WTO's General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) – of a privatization of those functions which still remain the monopoly of the State (justice, education, territory, police, army)."

The virtual freedom of net-based distribution, the concrete experience of temporary autonomous zones, and the analytic project of critical mapping all come together in this reflection on the circuits of production and distribution. The problem that emerges from an artistic engagement with geopolitics is no longer just that of "naming the enemy," or locating the hierarchies of global power. It is also that of revealing the political potential of world society, the potential to change the reigning hierarchies: "If we think of a production line as a republic, then each object becomes a flag, a global sociopolitical assemblage: in other words, a symbol. But this symbol needs to be resymbolized, its meaning must be extracted, the relations of production must become visible. Only then would the most ordinary supermarket catalogue appear for what it really is: a world social atlas, an atlas of possible struggles and paths of exodus, a machine of planetary political recomposition." For artists, the resymbolization of everyday life appears as the highest constructive ambition. But what does it entail? What kind of work would it take to help transform society's gaze on the relations of production?

Collective Interventions
The construction of global brands in the 1980s and 90s entailed the integration of countercultural and minority rhetorics, as well as the direct enlistment into the workplace of "creatives" from all the domains of art and culture, a process denounced by North American critics like Thomas Frank or Naomi Klein. A more sophisticated theoretical approach, emerging from the Italian theorists of Autonomia, has recently shown how corporations build "worlds" not only for their consumers, but also for their employees – that is to say, imaginary systems of reference, both ethical and aesthetic, as well as architectural environments, communications nets, security systems, etc., all aimed at maintaining the coherency of the firm and its products under conditions of extreme geographic dispersal. The imposition of these worlds as a set of competing frames for everyday life requires a cultural and psychic violence that can lead to different forms of rejection: in this sense, the trashing of Niketowns and McDonalds by anti-corporate protestors, or the "Stop-pub" movement that defaced hundreds of advertisements in the Paris metro in 2003, are direct, popular expressions of the critical stance taken in a book like No Logo. Echoing these destructive acts, many of today's media artists seek symbolic disruption or "culture jamming": détournement as a formalist genre, Photoshop's revenge on advertising. But a deeper question is how to initiate psychic deconditioning and disidentification from the corporate worlds – contemporary equivalents of the dadaist drive to subvert the repressive structures of the bourgeois ego.

The constellation of artists' groups and subversive social movements operating in the city of Barcelona has taken some audacious steps in this direction. The galvanizing effect of the Prague protests against the IMF and the World Bank on September 26, 2000 (the first big European convergence after Seattle) was particularly strong among these circles, which constantly evolve in a net-like or rhizomatic structure, making any attempt to identify them ultimately fruitless – and that's part of the idea. An early collective known as Las Agencias, working with another group called Oficina 2004, launched a subversive tease campaign in the streets, announcing Dinero (money) followed by three dots, then completing the phrase a week later with Gratis (money for free). The idea, it seems, was to short-circuit the advertising promise of instant gratification and to subvert the demands and deferrals of labor, while at the same time pointing toward a utopian economy of free time and creative possibility. Other projects went on to bring pop fashion to the protest campaigns, introducing the Prêt-à-révolter line of defensive clothing, offering all kinds of accessorized option-slots for the latest in tactical media gear, then the New Kids on the Black Block poster campaign, which made ridicule out of the heavily moralized discussion of violence or non-violence that followed the protests against the G-8 in Genoa, Italy, in July 2001. The Yo Mango project – which has spread to become an international network – associates an omnipresent fashion brand, Mango™, with a Spanish slang expression meaning "I shoplift" (the British translation is "Just nick it"). Performances involved stealing clothing items and putting them on display in museums; and these evolved, in a very interesting way, to the practice of "Yo Mango dinners," where participants used specially outfitted clothing to lift generous collective meals from participating supermarket chains. The aggressivity toward any kind of integration to corporate-backed cultural institutions is obvious.

Another ephemeral collective, known as "Mapas," took aim at the 2004 "Universal Forum of Cultures" in Barcelona, a corporate-sponsored municipal extravaganza of debate and multicultural entertainment, widely perceived by locals as a manipulation of the Social Forum movement for the ends of political consensus-building, real-estate speculation and boosterism of the tourist economy. For this campaign a map of the city was made, showing the sponsorship links between the Forum and temporary employment services, consumer-product distributors, arms dealers, polluting industries, etc. The idea was to produce a menacing atmosphere, then bifurcate in unexpected directions. An action was undertaken against the weapons manufacturer Indra: several dozen white-suited "arms inspectors" surged up the stairway of the firm's Barcelona office and began disassembling the communications equipment, which was placed into boxes marked "Danger: Weapons of Mass Destruction." Even more effectively, a photographic "Forumaton" was set up in various locations, allowing grinning residents to "pose against the Forum," with signs that said "The Forum is a business," "The Forum is for real-estate speculation," "The Forum is a piece of shit," and so on. A crescendo was hit with "Pateras Urbanas," a sea-going invasion of the Forum on precarious rafts like those used by immigrants crossing the Straits of Gibralter. Hundreds of participants; outlandish costumes, pirate flags; four hours in the ocean with the Coast Guard everywhere; and a wild landing on the grounds of the tourist spectacle that wanted to turn its back on anything real. The action was all over the Catalan newspapers, and the deflation of the "Barcelona logo" provoked resounding peals of laughter from the people that have to live in it.

Could this kind of subversion go further, deeper, involving broader sections of the population and producing positive effects of resymbolization and political recomposition? The Chainworkers collective in Milan thought so. Acting as labor organizers without any particular artistic pretensions, they sought to build an iconic language that could reach out simultaneously to kids doing service jobs in chain-stores, temp workers, and freelance intellectual laborers, the so-called cognitariat, who are sometimes better paid but face similarly precarious conditions. They did illegal demonstrations and banner-drops inside shopping malls where all rights to assembly in public are curtailed. Their website,, was conceived as a legal information resource and a way to create collective consciousness. But their best tactic proved to be a reinvention of the traditional Mayday parade, around the theme of casual labor conditions. The event quickly outstripped anything the unions could muster; by the third year, in 2004, it brought together 50,000 people in Milan and had also spread to Barcelona. What you see in the streets at these events is a new kind of mapping, not just of power but of subjective and collective agency, which means affects, ideas, life energy. It is a popular, militant cartography of living conditions in the postmodern information economy, created by the people who produce that economy on a day-to-day basis. This cartography is conveyed in living images: dancers in pink feather boas disrupting the fashion trade in a Zara store; African workers wearing bright white masks that say "invisible" on them; a giant puppet representing different kinds of burn-out temp jobs (call-center slaves; pizza ponies; day-labor construction workers). A huge green banner drapes the side of a truck hauling a sound-system through the crowd: "THE METROPOLIS IS A BEAST: CULTIVATE MICROPOLITICS FOR RESISTANCE." One of the posters for the event shows a contortionist from an old-fashioned circus – an allegory of the flexible worker in the spectacle society.

The Mayday parades are an assertion of biopolitics, against all the sophisticated methods currently employed for physical and psychic control. They develop an aesthetic language of the event for its own sake, as a territory of expression. But the same event formulates a political demand for the basic guarantees that could make a flexible working existence viable: an unpolluted urban environment; socialized health care and lodging; high-quality public education; access to the tools of information production – but also, to the spaces and free time necessary for social and affective production, or what theorists call the production of subjectivity. This last is vital for psychic health, because otherwise one will fall prey to all the consumer and professional worlds that are explicitly designed to vampirize the isolated individual and feed on his or her desire. In this sense, the political struggle is directly artistic, it is a struggle for the aesthetics of everyday life. The pressure of hyperindividualism, or what has been called "the flexible personality," is undoubtedly what has given rise to the widespread desire to construct collective situations, beyond what was traditionally known as the art world. The indeterminacy of the results, the impossibility of knowing whether we are dealing with artists or activists, with aesthetic experimentation or political organizing, is part of what is being sought in these activities.

Innumerable artist-activist collectives could have been described here, along with other social movements, local and national contexts, inventions and consensus-breaking events; but I preferred to stick as close as possible to personal experience. What matters, at the end of the last century and the beginning of this one, is the slow emergence of an experiential territory, where artistic practices that have gained autonomy from the gallery-magazine-museum system and from the advertising industry can be directly connected to attempts at social transformation. The urgency, in 2004, is to reinforce that territory with both words and acts, and to use it for further constructive projects and experiments in subversion. The appropriation of expressive tools from the information economy – from the schools, the training programs, the workplace and the practices of consumption – opens up an enormous field of possibility, where artists, alongside other social groups, can regain the use of political freedom.

A few questions, to close. Can the tactics of the early counter-globalization movements be thoroughly discredited and repressed, by the abusive equation of direct-action practices and terrorism? This has been attempted, in both the United States and Europe; but the repression itself has made the fundamentally political nature of the informational economy crystal clear; and the outcome may still depend on the ability to combine the communicative value of humor, invention and surprise with the force of ethical conviction that comes from putting one's body on the line. Can the internet be normalized, to become a consumer marketplace and a medium of passive reception or carefully channeled "interactivity"? It's an important public space to protect, through unbridled use and free exchange as well as better legislation; and the chances for entirely muzzling it, and thereby totally voiding the First Amendment and similar constitutional rights to free expression, look relatively slim. Do events like the Mayday parades, with their focus on urban living and working conditions, represent a fallback from the early ambitions of the counter-globalization protests – a retreat from the utopias of do-it-yourself geopolitics? The fundamental issue seems to be finding concrete political demands that don't block the transversal movement of struggles across an unevenly developed world. The work of cartography, on both the spatial and subjective levels, may contribute to a continuing extension of the new experiential territories, in search of a deeper and broader process of resymbolization and political recomposition, able to link the scattered actors and construct the situations of social change. It's hard to think there could be any other meaning to the word "collectivism."