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<nettime> Maps for the Outside
Brian Holmes on Wed, 4 Dec 2002 15:14:06 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> Maps for the Outside


[Those of you who were at the No Border camp in Strasbourg last 
summer, or at the Hub in Florence during the ESF, probably received a 
copy of the maps made by Bureau d'Etudes with collaboration from 
several others (including myself). You can find one example at 
http://utangente.free.fr/index2.html. To give background on the 
projects and their relation both to art practices and political aims, 
I wrote the this text for "Geography - And the Politics of Mobility," 
an upcoming expo in Vienna (info below). I'll also be raising some 
methodology questions at World Information this Friday morning in 
Amsterdam. - BH]
*******

Maps for the Outside:
Bureau d'Etudes, or the revenge of the concept

The closure of the gallery space is a classic conceptual gesture. 
Witness this proposal by Robert Barry: "My exhibition at the Art & 
Project Gallery in Amsterdam in December, '69, will last two weeks. I 
asked them to lock the door and nail my announcement to it, reading: 
'For the exhibition the gallery will be closed.'" (1) Conceptual art 
can be defined, not simply as the refusal of the commodified object 
and the specialized art system, but as an active signage pointing to 
the outside world, conceived as an expanded field for experimental 
practices of intimacy, expression and collaboration - indeed, for the 
transformation of social reality. (2)
	Thirty-two years later, in October-December 2001, the French 
group Bureau d'Etudes reiterated the gesture, sealing off the 
exhibition space of Le Spot, a converted industrial building in the 
port city of Le Havre. Instead of a simple sign, they confronted the 
visitor with a book, Juridic Park, which upon closer inspection 
proved to be a detailed set of maps to the "legal subsoil" of the 
city. But these maps, like the more recent cartographic projects, do 
not simply embrace the outside of one of modernity's specialized 
subsystems. Rather they detail the proliferating closures of a 
totally administered society, where almost every square inch of 
terrain is strictly codified for exclusive, proprietary uses.
	The name of the group, "Bureau d'Etudes," denotes an expert 
consultancy, a study office for technical research. Theirs is an 
intensely precise apprehension of the world, shot through with 
flashes of dark humor. But their work in its broadest dimensions is 
also the foundation, or perhaps the springboard, for an antagonistic 
utopia.

Beginnings
In 1998, with the exhibition Archives du Capitalisme, Bureau d'Etudes 
started producing organizational charts showing the proprietary 
relations between financial funds, government agencies, banks and 
industrial firms. A number of these graphic charts, or "organigrams," 
were deployed as part of an installation including black-and-white 
photographs of heads propped up on wooden pickets (presumably CEOs), 
as well as a scale model of a proposed new parliament building, to 
articulate the voting rights of those with real power in today's 
society. The exhibition was an autonomous project in an artist-run 
space, at the time called the "Faubourg," in the city of Strasbourg. 
For a subsequent show entitled Le Capital, mounted by Nicolas 
Bourriaud in the city of Sete, an organigram detailing the relations 
between the French state and a panoply of major transnational 
corporations was blown up to wall size. Squares and rectangles of 
varying proportions, each identified with a name (Societe Generale, 
Dresdner Bank, Mitsubishi, Pirelli, etc.) were connected with a 
labyrinth of elaborately traced channels, printed in black against a 
white ground. The result was something like an all-over painting for 
the computer and finance-obsessed 1990s: an aesthetics of 
information. In other words, one of the historical failure-points of 
what has been called "conceptual art."
	Sooner or later, artists working on the analysis and 
transformation of social reality must face the obvious question: How 
to escape the formats, publics and modes of exchange that are offered 
by the gallery-magazine-museum system? The answer is a gradual 
process, a social and psychic experiment. Invited to a group 
exhibition for which, as usual, they would not be paid, Bureau 
d'Etudes responded by creating a "zone de gratuite," Free Land, where 
treasures and all kinds of junk could be deposited and taken away 
without the intermediary of money. The experiment of the free zone 
was pursued in a gallery/living space in Paris, where theoretical 
curiosity and the more practical prospect of something-for-nothing 
drew a variegated public. Expanding on the question of the artist's 
real social status in an age of casual labor and mass 
intellectuality, Bureau d'Etudes worked with Alejandra Riera, Andreas 
Fohr and Jorge Alyskewycz to launch the "Syndicat Potentiel" or 
"Potential Union," a proto-political association addressed to 
intellectual and cultural producers whose aspirations take them 
outside all professional categories. The key ideas here came from the 
French anarchist traditions, but also from theories of the gift 
economy, developed by the anthropologist Marcel Mauss and reworked by 
French social critics after the great strikes of 1995, in an era of 
structural unemployment. (3) Among the first co-operators were the 
group Plus tot te laat, from Brussels - jobless artists who had 
occupied an unemployment bureau, transforming it into a center of 
expression and reflection on the meanings of work in contemporary 
society. Such reflections in turn led to increasing proximity with 
the squatters' movements, whether in France, Italy or Germany. From 
these beginnings, Syndicat Potentiel grew into an open-ended frame 
for intimate and networked collaborations, with the explicit goal of 
producing autonomous counter-knowledge, oriented toward an economy of 
_gratuite totale_ (in which basic services such as living space, 
water, electricity, access to communications media, etc. would be 
"totally free"). (4) The project continues today, giving its name to 
the self-managed space in Strasbourg where the art group had produced 
its earliest proposals.

Opportunities
It is against the almost invisible background of Syndicat Potentiel 
and a parallel project, "Universite Tangente," that the recent 
cartographic projects deserve to be understood. They came as an 
unexpected, long-desired opportunity. The rupture of consensus 
brought by the Global Days of Action, beginning in May of 1998, 
served to galvanize the wider counter-globalization movement, through 
innovative uses of the Internet as a worldwide distribution system 
operated from below. A kind of autonomous, do-it-yourself 
conceptualism began to emerge, whereby "attitudes become forms": an 
idea or phrase arising in one locality (for instance, "Our Resistance 
is as Transnational as Capital") becomes a geographically distributed 
political performance (the "Global Street Parties" against the annual 
G8 reunions). (5) In perfect accord with Lawrence Weiner's famous 
dictums, the work could be carried out by the initial authors of the 
ideas, realized by others, or not done at all - something like a 
taste of planetary exchange, where the "art" is "totally free."
	Even as these protest forces emerged on a large scale - 
mapping out the power structures of globalization with their feet, as 
it were - the rise of the information society and the deregulating 
thrust of neoliberalism had made it possible for relatively small, 
highly mobile groups to appropriate and use advanced technologies, 
acting upon extremely sophisticated visions of the world. Yet these 
new possibilities for the application of specialized research were 
not immediately visible in France, due to language barriers, a 
pitifully conservative art scene, and critical discourses dominated 
by the aging communist professors of Attac. Perhaps it was as late as 
December 2001, with massive protests at the EU summit in nearby 
Brussels, that the potential for a more active distribution of the 
antagonistic maps became clear. Further institutional projects, at La 
Box in the city of Bourges, then at Kunst-Werk in Berlin, served as 
occasions for the initial production of graphic charts in large print 
runs, for broad distribution. These helped prepare the knowledge and 
the skill-sets needed for two autonomous, collaborative productions, 
both printed in thousands of copies for specific activist events: 
Refuse the Biopolice, for the No Border Camp in Strasbourg in July 
2002, and European Norms of World-Production, for the meetings of the 
European Social Forum in Florence in November of that same year.
	This delayed access to the counter-globalization movements 
meant that the antagonist maps, with their extraordinary complexity 
of analysis, have come at the right time - after the initial 
breakthroughs of the first period of dissent met their enforced 
pacification and partial neutralization, as a consequence of the 
violence unleashed by the police riot in Genoa. Both these maps 
present an excess of information, shattering subjective certainties 
and demanding reflection, demanding a new gaze on the world that we 
really live in. These are synoptic visions of the contemporary, 
transnational version of state capitalism, as constructed "by 
collusion between specific individuals, transnational corporations, 
governments, interstate agencies and 'civil society' groups." (6) 
They make visible the institutional patterns that have structured 
themselves in an overarching, terrifyingly abstract space, almost 
totally beyond the grasp of the democratic counter-powers formerly 
exercised within the purview of the national states, and indeed, 
almost totally invisible - at least until recently when the 
communicative possibilities have allowed a certain measure of 
"cognitive mapping" to be performed by inhabitants. (7)
	Refuse the Biopolice, focused on contemporary control 
systems, also offers more detailed readings of the way that 
surveillance and incarceration technologies are implemented for 
profit by private firms, in collaboration with national and 
interstate agencies. As for the map of European Norms, it 
specifically charts the vast administrative structure that has arisen 
around the bureaucratic European Commission, whose directorates, 
innervated by the demands of corporate lobbies, produce the 
"industrial standards, territorial models, ideological guidelines and 
truth criteria" that help structure the production of a life-world - 
a steel-and concrete form of continental integration, vying with its 
distorting mirror in North America. European Norms also presents the 
interlocking structures of so-called "organized civil society," which 
serves to legitimate the status quo; but at the same time, with the 
lighter traceries of its mysterious, biomorphic front cover, devoted 
to "inklings of autonomy," it presents the patterns and meshworks of 
worldwide potentials for resistance.
	These maps aspire to be cognitive tools, distributing as 
broadly as possible the kind of specialized information that was 
formerly confined to technical publications. Yet on another level 
they are meant to act as subjective shocks, energy potentials, 
informing the protest-performances as they are passed from hand to 
hand, deepening the resolve to resist are they are utilized in common 
or alone. In this sense it is the very closure of their intellectual 
discipline, the rigor of their conceptual effort to depict a totally 
administered world, that makes them _maps for the outside_, signs 
pointing to a territory that cannot yet be fully signified, and that 
will never be "represented" in the traditional ways. "Solidarity with 
extraterrestrials" reads one such indication, in an almost empty 
bubble at the lower left-hand corner of the cover of European Norms.

Perspectives
The acceleration of the last few years has been vertiginous, for 
everyone. Today, the accumulated knowledge of recent projects and the 
beginnings of a genuinely networked collaboration make it possible to 
envision more strategically focused mapping projects. The three 
studies presented in the catalogue of the Vienna show - Info war, Bio 
war, Psychic war - respond to a need to grasp the fully military 
strategies of legitimation and population control that have emerged 
since 1989, with the end of the bipolar stasis predicated on the 
madness of mutual "overkill." (8) Similarly, more limited and precise 
maps of transnational state capitalism can now be imagined, attuned 
more closely to the possibilities of the protest and direct-action 
movements. Another perspective is the possible invention of a 
computer database, with a visual interface allowing the user to 
situate specific power-players within a nexus of supporting and 
opposing relations. Much remains to be done.
	In this light, the old dilemma of the relation to museum, 
magazine and gallery structures fades toward insignificance. For the 
tactical media underground in Europe, art shows offer useful research 
deadlines, a chance to share ideas and critiques, at best some 
production money - and at worst, a damaging distraction. The revenge 
of the concept has been to finally create parallel and alternative 
circuits of experimentation, production, distribution, use and 
interpretation. To be sure, these circuits are hardly consolidated - 
but the best way to do so is to maintain other urgencies, which 
cannot be treated within any of the specialized subsystems.
	Perhaps one such urgency can be expressed as a question, for 
artists and activists who must now address increasing levels of 
confrontation in the world. The question runs like this: Is it still 
possible to sublimate antagonistic conflicts into the pacifying 
rituals of reasoned, agonistic debate? (9) Or in other words: Can 
properly political relations be wrested from a totally administered 
world?

Brian Holmes




This text will be published in the catalogue of the exhibition 
curated by Ursula Biemann, "Geography - and the politics of 
mobility," at the Generali Foundation in Vienna, opening January 16, 
2003. Participating groups: Frontera Sur RRTV, Raqs media collective, 
Multiplicity,  Makrolab, Bureau d'Etudes. A conference with further 
participants will take place on Jan. 18.



Notes
1. See Robert Barry, Gallery Closing, Amsterdam, Art & Project, 
December 17-31, Bulletin #17, in: Ursula Meyer, ed., Conceptual Art 
(New York: Dutton, 1972), p. 41.
2. Thanks to Andreas Broeckman for pointing my browser to a Howard 
Slater text that broadly supports this definition. See the opening 
section of "The Spoiled Ideals of Lost Situations - Some Notes on 
Political Conceptual Art," at <www.infopool.org.uk>.
3. The journal M.A.U.S.S. ("Mouvement anti-utilitariste dans les 
sciences sociales") offers a look into some of the background ideas 
informing the debates over value in France after 1995.
4. See the Syndicat Potentiel website 
(http://syndicatpotentiel.free.fr) for a far more precise overview, 
with texts on _gratuite totale_ among many other subjects.
5. Those wishing to piece together the history of the Days of Global 
Action may consult the websites of People's Global Action and London 
Reclaim the Streets, among others.
6. The quote, from Refuse the Biopolice, applies to all the recent maps.
7. I refer to the famous phrase by Frederic Jameson, who in 1984 
called for "an aesthetics of cognitive mapping" to resolve "the 
incapacity of our minds, at least at present, to map the great global 
multinational and decentered communicational network in which we find 
ourselves caught as individual subjects." See his essay, 
"Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism," reprinted 
in a book under the same name.
8. Anyone with doubts about the epochal shift in military strategy 
after 1989 can consult John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt's books, such 
as Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime, and Militancy, 
available as PDFs at <www.rand.org/publications>.
9. The antagonistic/agonistic distinction comes from Chantal Mouffe 
and Ernesto Laclau, in Hegemony and Socialist Strategy; those who get 
bored reading dense books can listen to the video of Mouffe's talk at 
the recent "Dark Markets" conference, available at 
<http://darkmarkets.t0.or.at/video/mouffe.ram>.

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