Since the mid-nineties
video has played an important role in my artistic practice.
In theme-specific installations realized in art institutions,
such as "Learned Homeland" (1996), "Institutional
Racism" (1997), "The Global 500" (1999)
and "Sustainable Propaganda" (2000), video
was a central element that was employed in combination
with text/image montages or photos in wall and spatial
installations. These videos are based on interviews
that were conducted for segments of the topic of the
Since 2000 I have
been making videos apart from exhibitions, which can
also be presented outside the immediate field of art.
These videos move between art and political activism
and deal with themes and practices of resistance in
a non-institutionalized left.
In this text I would
like to formulate some thoughts on two videos finished
in 2002, which focus on the partial fields of the movement
that is usually called the "anti-globalization
movement" in the predominant media discourse.
The video "This
is what democracy looks like!" (38 min., 2002)
deals with events revolving around a demonstration prohibited
by the police against the World Economic Forum on July
1, 2001 in Salzburg, in the course of which 919 demo
participants were surrounded for seven hours for no
immediate reason by martialist police forces. The democratic
basic right to free speech in public was suspended,
while the non-democratically legitimated leaders of
corporations were able to expedite the neo-liberal reconstruction
of society without disruption within the framework of
the WEF behind closed doors. As a participant in the
demonstration, I ended up inside the encirclement by
the police and tried to film the events with the video
camera from within the demonstration.
Shortly after July
1st, I decided to take my video material on the events
around the encirclement of the demonstrators as the
starting point for a video. At the same time, I was
confronted with the fact that I was addressing an event
of which the course and dramaturgy were strongly determined
by repressive police tactics and the arbitrary actions
taken by politicians and police. Through being encircled
by the police, the demonstrators were forced into a
predicament, in which their possibilities for reacting
to the hourly changing negotiation positions and the
repressive conduct of the police were severely limited.
This unequal power relation convinced me to address
the events exclusively from the perspective of the demonstrators
and to leave out the perspectives of the police, the
mayor or "neutral" observers, which already
dominate media reports. For this reason, I conducted
interviews with six demo participants several weeks
later, whose descriptions and assessments are marked
by the distance of time and a critical reflection.
The decision to realize
the video "This is what democracy looks like!"
was accompanied by the intention of additionally working
on another video about a different segment of the anti-capitalist
movement, which was to focus more on political practices
and options for taking action beyond immediate reactions
to police tactics. I decided to make a video about one
of the groups that I find most interesting, the Italian
Disobbedienti (the disobedient ones), which carried
out actions against deportation prisons still under
the label "Tute Bianche" at that time and
took part in mobilizations for a democratic globalization.
The Disobbedienti are distinguished not only by their
political analyses, but also demonstrate options for
agency and possibilities for an alternative social development.
With the video, I wanted to address the actions and
theoretical considerations of the Disobbedienti, who
are still too little known outside Italy. For this reason,
I conducted a series of interviews with the protagonists
of the Disobbedienti for the video in collaboration
with the author Dario Azzellini in summer 2002.
In both the video
"This is what democracy looks like!" and the
video "Disobbedienti" (54 min., 2002), only
people involved in the "movement of movements"
speak up and assume the role of active speakers in the
video. Whereas the image level in "This is what
democracy looks like!" consists of video material
shot by myself and other video activists in Salzburg
during the demonstration, and the interview partners
are not seen, but only speak about the events represented
by video images, in "Disobbedienti" there
is an emphasis on the physical presence of the discussion
partners. All the interviews were filmed standing in
places that are immediately significant for the practice
of the Disobbedienti. The way the interview partners
are staged and the sequences shot while walking underscore
the importance of the body for the concept of the Tute
Both the videos "Disobbedienti"
and "This is what democracy looks like!" largely
dispense with off-camera commentaries, which evaluate
and create distance in many documentaries as transitions,
comparisons and questions, or which, in the case of
a militant group, express separation from the actions.
Through this formal reduction and the strong presence
of the protagonists, Dario Azzellini and I approach
the topical position of the interview partners as filmmakers.
The conceptual arrangement of the video indicates our
fundamental agreement with the analyses and practices
of the Disobbedienti, through which the video becomes
a political statement.
The videos are thus
fundamentally contrary to the investigative journalism
of bourgeois media, which insists on its alleged neutrality.
The "democratically balanced" television news
feature, for instance, that contributes to the exclusion
of left-wing perspectives and perpetuates this exclusion
despite its asserted objectivity, is only a direct point
of reference to the extent that it is exactly reversed
in this video practice. The motif of the political activist,
so popular in television news reports, as a "violence-prone
demonstrator" (the attribution invariably occurs
only in the masculine form) is the starting point in
both videos for debating the discourse on violence,
through which attempts are made to divide the anti-capitalist
movement into "violence-prone" and "peaceful"
demonstrators, pitting them against one another and
thus weakening the movement.
In discussions the
video "Disobbedienti" is sometimes criticized
for the density of its information and the simultaneous
complexity of what is said, because the video requires
the full attention of the viewers throughout the entire
duration of 54 minutes. In the way it is edited, "Disobbedienti"
repeats the high speed of the speech of the interview
partners as a formal element and makes no attempt to
resolve it with breaks. In order to focus the viewers'
attention even more on the arguments of the protagonists,
the continuous flow of images in the video is interrupted
in several places with white surfaces. These white surfaces
are directly related to the white overalls of the Tute
Bianche, the function of which is explained in more
detail in the video, but they are also the expression
of a wish to inspire viewers to fill the visual lacunas
with their own ideas. In other words, they represent
the attempt to find an open visual correspondence for
a development that is to progress questioningly and
without prefabricated models in keeping with the concept
of the Disobbedienti.
Less often there
is a criticism that the video tends to heroize the Disobbedienti.
Yet when one asks people, who are in part politically
active themselves, about the reason for this criticism,
one hears that the rejection is based on the spectacular
appearance of the actions and an asserted avant-gardist
comportment of the Tute Bianche or the Disobbedienti
(which they themselves negate). As the representatives
of the Disobbedienti eloquently describe in the video,
however, the spectacle is purposely used to attract
the attention of the media. It is thus not an end in
itself, but rather a calculated strategy. Contrary to
the argument of heroization, in the video Francesco
Raparelli also addresses the criticism of the Disobbedienti
that it is a problem, when the Disobbedienti's civil
disobedience becomes a logo or verbal representation
of practices that have already been carried out by other
subjects of the conflict.
I would counter these
objections with the importance of conveying the political
practice and assessments of the Disobbedienti, thus
providing audiences outside Italy with an opportunity
to learn from these experiences, to critically reflect
on them, and to perhaps even adapt one facet or another
into one's own ideas or practice.
Because of their
subject matter, the videos "This is what democracy
looks like!" and "Disobbedienti" are
also shown and received outside an immediate art context.
In addition to presentations in political contexts,
there are also presentations in cinemas and at video
festivals. For me, though, it is immensely important
to continue to show the videos in art institutions,
because I regard them as central places, where there
is a certain scope for dealing with marginalized political
perspectives and practices.