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Lateral activism

Joni Taylor


not copyright, boat-people.org, emerging from a workshop led by Deborah Kelly at the Tactical Autonomous Zone [TAZ] not copyright, boat-people.org, emerging from a workshop led by Deborah Kelly at the Tactical Autonomous Zone [TAZ]
Following on from what is now merely referred to as ‘September 11’, the world climate was an unplanned and underlying issue at this year’s futureScreen festival, which included the TILT symposium and seminar. The positioning of TILT (“Trading Independent Lateral Tactics”) had to become far less dramatic and serious than the electro-militant attempts to overturn the status quo as seen at other similar-themed events in the late 1990s. The serious political issues merely reinforced the importance of humour and theatrics so vital in successful subversion.

The line-up was exceptional. Organisers Leah Grycewicz and Josephine Starrs put together a group of established art practitioners and independent media makers of the calibre of ®TMark, Steve Kurtz (Critical Art Ensemble), Ricardo Dominguez, Francesca da Rimini, as well as artists from the experimental music and squat subcultures such as Mark Gunderson (Evolution Control Committee), Agnese Trochii (Discordia), Spanky and Stealth Video Ninja.

Although the international representation was phenomenally strong, it was the local and Indigenous participants who brought the important issues into focus: Australia’s geographical and ethical positioning in these times, who is doing what, and the impact this has in collaborating with other activists around the world.

The symposium (“Talking Tactics”) acted as a take-off point. In what was a memorable introduction, immigrant community worker Paula Abood opened the conference with her film Of Middle Eastern Appearance. Has the world really changed for “the invisible” people after September 11? Melbourne artist Deborah Kelly presented an entertaining look at her invasion of public spaces as an art practitioner. Famous for her Hey Hetero series, many may have noticed her “ESCAPED REFUGEES WELCOME HERE” poster in windows across town.

On the other end of the spectrum to Kelly’s comparatively “low tech” operations, Steve Kurtz gave an eye-opening talk on the possibilities of bio-engineering. Tactical response for Kurtz involves resisting the capitalisation of the food chain by developing genetic alternatives.

To many, the avant-entrepreneur ®TMark was the conference superstar. His exposé of the infiltration of the Yes Men into various World Trade Organisation seminars was hilarious. (The ongoing dialogue is highly recommended.) Coming to a town near you.

Noteworthy were the comments and observations about the manipulation of media and structured narratives around such events as the G8 summit in Genoa. Marco Deseriis (Italy) presented an at times harrowing account of the lead up to the death of Carlo Giuliani. It emphasised the necessity for independent media such as www.indymedia.org and www.freespeech.org in exposing such “truths” as the creation of popular reaction to violent protesters such as the Black Blok. Other independent media organisations represented included Australia’s The Paper as well as www.shnewz.org, edited by John Hodges. Rix-c was represented by Rasa Smite and Raitis Smits, and is based in Riga. It is the uniting point for many Eastern European media centres and lists such as XCHANGE and www.borderland.org [expired].

The importance of watching the watching was again highlighted by Ricardo Dominguez of the Electronic Disturbance Theater who talked about his Anchors project, which he described as “little sister watching big brother.” This method of implementing panopticon-like ideas in areas of indigenous oppression is a continuation of actions in the Chiapas region in alliance with the Zapatistas.

Kevin Buzzcott (Keepers of Lake Eyre) and Rebecca Bear Wingfield, from Irati Wanti, are Arabunna people and anti-nuclear activists. On the same panel as Dominguez (“Poisoned Planet: Waste Not, Want Not?”) they reiterated the dangers of uranium extraction, and how the responsibility of Australians is now more urgent than ever. Methods of spreading Indigenous ideas and rights don’t have to be high-tech either. It can be done, explained community worker Nina Brown, on the one and only radio station in Coober Pedy.

The technological capabilities of the net are still a tactical method under review, but the more empowering DIY approach to the www structure is replacing sheer techno utopianism. Irene Graham and Scott Mcphee addressed censorship, privacy and the law, while Mark Gunderson showed how programs such as Napster could be used to address copyright laws and intellectual property.

Other elements of the festival included the TAZ space at Imperial Slacks Gallery. This dark cross-cabled techno environment grew during the course of the festival with ongoing collaborations, both technical and intellectual, and daily workshops.

Outcomes of a festival like this are important. Following the event, most of the participants continue to communicate with each other on a net list. Dominguez has created a web toy for Irati Wanti in its fight against Western Mining, and other spontaneous collaborations occurred at events like cinema concrete and Stealth Video Ninja.

And who were the raiders and tactical players that literally exploded out of the festival borders? There were vigilante boat projections on the Opera House, unannounced Chilean songs of mourning and exploding gnomes that were strangely ignored by officials.

Breaking away from the screen-based technologies altogether, TILT was a gathering, at times spontaneous and informal, sharing, discussing and presenting alternatives to science, arts and politics.


TILT, part of dLux media arts’ futureScreen 01, in association with ANAT, Imperial Slacks, House of Laudanum & Metro Screen. Seminar: “Tactical Media”, Paddington RSL, Oct 8; Symposium, College of Fine Arts, Sydney, Oct 12-14

RealTime issue #46 Dec-Jan 2001 pg. 21

© Joni Taylor; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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