JS: Thanks Kate. In order to add more context to this discussion I think it is important to bring in some of the political narratives in Charlie’s work. Charlie, your work references, or enables, a number of radical political positions, and for ‘Assembly’ you will be developing this strand of your work.  Could you tell us a bit about who you will be working with and what has informed your invitations?

CW: The work itself will function as a social space and for the most part I’m happy for it to do just that. I suppose this type of work will illicit three obvious types of response: there will be people who will look at the work as a complete sculpture from an outside vantage point; others will consciously engage and partake in the work expecting to experience art; and again others will unconsciously use the space not thinking of it as art at all. Most people will probably do a bit of all three. Of course this assumption is based on past experience but I’m fully prepared to be wrong about this and hopefully surprised by an unforeseen outcome.

I’m very much interested in the political narrative as you say, and with my work I try to push and pull at the aesthetics of activism.

My own initiation into activist politics came from my involvement in the M11 Link Road protests in and around Wanstead and Leytonstone in the early ‘90s. I was about 10 or 11 years old and my neighbourhood was suddenly swamped with a very different type of person. It was interesting to see how local working class socialists, like my parents, would interact with these new ‘crusty’ professional activists. I was totally drawn in, and found it difficult to understand why anyone wouldn’t be, it was like having the circus come to town.

Something that was key to this type of community was activity. There was always something being made or built, games being played, music, dance, cooking; collective activity was valued above and beyond any other type, seemingly because it was the same collective spirit which fuelled and was felt on demonstrations. In their down-time these activists wanted to have the same feelings of solidarity as they did whilst actively protesting. I wanted to pursue the relationship between activism and activity so specifically invited groups and individuals with this kind of focus.

Seeing younger people now getting involved in movements like Occupy and Anonymous, and a myriad or smaller less well known collectives, it seems clear that a particular set of aesthetics function as an entry point to the discourse.

I think now more than ever is an important time to interrogate the fundamentals of this aesthetic and think about how it moulds certain ideals.

At the Time and Motion show at Auto Italia South East we had opened up a twitter feed with a hashtag to let people interact in their own space. Some of the feedback was extremely hostile and targeted largely at the look or feel of the building the event took place in, a disused car showroom only fairly recently refurbished but now marked for demolition. The event was focused on Autonomism and self-organisation with participation from amazing speakers and groups such as Nina Power, Mark Fisher, Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi and was co-organised with the radical groups Deterritorial Support Group and Book Bloc Bookshop, yet some people couldn’t see past the Ballardian space, it being haunted by the spectres of capital!

Some threatened to burn the building down, others suggested we try and squat a nice house in Belgravia. These comments revealed a very superficial relationship to the way radical ideas could be manifested in real space.

The most revealing of all was @dannyanarchy‘s criticism – that the show looked like an ‘Anarchist Ikea’. DSG later turned this around in a Guardian interview proclaiming to be “happy with ‘Ikea anarchism’, because they give reasonably good design, on the cheap, to a lot of people, and it’s very popular. It’s better than the alternative, which is handmade anarchism.”

This is a real point of interest for me: you can flick through an Ikea catalogue and read it as a series of proposed utopias that really don’t look so different from the ideals of activists. In turn websites have sprung up teaching people how to hack Ikea furniture to serve new purposes, and why not? A lot of the aesthetics of activism have already been assimilated by capital anyway, why not pull them apart and start again?

JS: Thanks Charlie, I am particularly interested in where you say “it is an important time to interrogate the fundamentals of this (protest) aesthetic and think about how it moulds certain ideals.” I completely agree, it is an aesthetic that seems to seek separateness from the traditional political discourses through the use of its own developed set of materials and forms.

However later on you bring in this idea of interfacing with the known aesthetics of the time; a moment where there is not separateness – for example with the Ikea hacking – instead there is a co-opting and evolution of the dominant (design) aesthetic which sets up important possibilities for those wishing to subvert or think outside established or traditional political discourses.

Sarah I thought I would bring you back in at this point, you have been following this conversation as it has developed and I was wondering if there were any points you might like to pick up on or questions that you might like to ask Charlie?


JS: Thanks Charlie, a really interesting response. I thought it would be interesting to bring in someone who you have worked with a great deal – Kate Cooper – who is part of the collective Auto Italia. Kate, Charlie has responded to several different projects at Auto Italia; I specifically wanted to ask you if you might talk a bit about his built environments – in particular how has his practice provided a framework for enhancing or challenging your curatorial, intellectual or educational programme?

Kate Cooper / Auto Italia: We have worked with Charlie in a number of different ways since we met him and I think he has a very unique way of approaching collaborative work. It is interesting to hear about his mother’s engagement in the flag making and the practical beginning to collaboration which then develops in more creative partnerships.

This is something which I can definitely relate to and I think it is something that is shared by the way in which we try to approach collaboration at Auto Italia. We are interested in keeping ideas and possibilities open and developing a good working relationship and a really great project.

The thing that Charlie has managed to do in collaboration with us is create a space which facilitates other kinds of meetings, collaborations and partnerships. His openness and generosity really translates into some of the work and especially in the structures he made for ‘We Have Our Own Concept of Time and Motion,’ which we produced last August. I also found the way he worked with the archival material we had in that project really inspiring. He has a unique way of personalising our relationships with objects and negotiating the terrain between social moments or inter-personal relationships, and the images and objects which are used to create personal agency or group solidarity.

DSG, Strike! Occupy! Retweet!, 2011DSG, The Post Political = The Most Political, 2011

Breaking Free, Freedom Press/EM Books