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Jaime Giménez Arbe, alias "El Solitario"

Nuría Güell graduated from the University of Barcelona with a degree in Fine Art and continued her studies under Tania Bruguera at the Behaviour Art School in Havana, Cuba. Güell has won several awards in Spain and her work has been exhibited in biennials, museums and galleries across the world. What makes her work particularly thought-provoking and relevant today is that she is an artist who doesn't just stop at commenting on social injustice and unethical practices. Instead, she immerses herself into the mechanisms responsible for them and then turns them upside down in order to develop projects and alternative models that will foster a critical understanding and independent thinking of the public.

In 2009, the artist wanted to understand the ongoing recession and started studying monetary politics. The result of her research is the manual How to Expropriate Money from the Banks. It's a guide packed with strategies, legal consultation and analytical texts that people can download for free and apply to their own life.

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More recently, she worked with Jaime Giménez Arbe, a famous Spanish anarchist and bank robber known as El Solitario ("The Loner") and convinced him to design the plan to rob a bank from the high security prison where he was detained. She sold the first chapter through an auction house and gave the money obtained to El Solitario.

For Deterrence, she teamed up with Enric Duran (an activist who, in 2008, cheated the banks out of 498.000 Euros he then used to finance projects that offered socially-conscious alternatives to capitalism) to teach high school students about the current financial system. That's the kind of knowledge we are all in dire need of. Yet, the concept of money and what it entails is not part of any school curriculum (at least any that i know of.)

In Intervention # 1 the artist established a cooperative and used it to hire a construction worker who had lost his job and been evicted from his house. The objective of the contract was to remove the entrance doors to empty buildings that Caja Mediterráneo (CAM) had acquired at auction after evicting families who lived there. The contract signed through a legal entity ensured the impunity of the worker. Banks use a similar strategy to circumvent the Ley de Enjuiciamiento Civil (Civil Indictment Act) with impunity and purchase evicted properties for half of their valuation.

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Intervention #1, Jaula de Oro, Alicante 2012

I could go on and on but check out her website if you're curious about her projects. In the meantime, I'm very happy that Nuría has accepted to answer my questions for the blog. If you want to read her answers in spanish, i copy/pasted her original answers at the bottom of the post.

I'm amazed by all the information provided for the project Displaced Legal Application #1: Fractional Reserve: videos, conference, a detailed PDF on "How can we expropriate money to banks?", etc. Are there lessons in this project that a citizen apply easily in their every day life?

Yes! This was the objective of ​​the work which, in addition to functioning as a potential exercise for thinking, also functions as a resource for citizens to use. I want all my projects to propose a strategy that can be replicated. Sometimes it is implicit through the process of the work but in this case, being a manual, the idea that this is a resource for citizens is more explicit. There is a chapter entitled Step by Step, which details all the steps necessary for any citizen to expropriate banks. And if anyone has any questions, they can always write us, they won't be the first to do so and we will be happy to advise them.

Check out the PDF: How to expropriate money from the banks.

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Ayuda humanitaria / Humanitarian help, 2009. Photo via art21

I actually learnt a lot while watching the videos on the project page. I learnt things that should be basic: what is money, how does a bank generate money, etc. So i would say that your work has had an impact on my own life. But more generally, what do you think is the role of an artist working on socially-engaged projects? Can they really have an influence on the issues they denounce/engage with?

I believe that we are at a critical moment, both historically and socio-politically, and that the role of the artist and the art should thus measure up to the situation, without being condescending. That's why I want my projects to work on two levels: within the art context but also outside of it, since the transformation through art projects into something real interests me far more than the mere representation. My goal is that they function not only as resources for citizens but also as potential devices for thinking through the conceptual density. I'm not interested in representing political ideas but in offering opportunities for thinking and resources through the action, that can truly counter political systems (albeit on a micro level) or generate a counterweight.

The roles of art and the artist can be many, but for me, at this time of urgency, I think that political art is the one that holds a discursive struggle that manages to subvert the hegemonic discourse that subjects and oppresses us. Hence my interest in projects that have a life outside the art context, as I want to reach other segments of the population and not only the elite who visits art institutions.

The concept of operativity is important to me when working on projects that have a social dimension. And by that I do not mean operativity in the art project itself but an operativity that transcends art and the project and that it is effective for people who engaged with the work.

Yes, I think you can exert a real influence or transformation through art. I know of people who are expropriating banks by following the manual, my Cuban husband got his nationality by marrying me as a result of an art project (and we're getting divorced!) and María, a political refugee from Kosovo who has been living illegally in Sweden for 9 years because the government has denied her asylum twice, will receive a work permit in a month thanks to a contract we did through a museum that hired her to play hide and seek with the visitors of the Göteborg biennial.

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Too Much Melanin, Sweden, 2013. Image a-desk.com

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Poster for Too Much Melanin, Sweden, 2013

Also does the fact that you are an artist helps your projects? Because on the one hand, being an artist gives you certain liberties and ensures that you will reach a certain type of audience. On the other hand, the fact that you are 'labelled' as an artist might make you seem less serious, some people might dismiss some of your work because they are actually 'only' art projects.

Right. This is another feature of art that I use for projects: Autonomy. As we all know, throughout history, art has attempted to break free from the powers -religion, monarchy and politics- that wanted to use it for their own purposes. But as you say, this achieved autonomy makes art a more permissive space with the consequence that some people, as soon as they learn that it is an artistic project, refuse to consider it as a possible force that can have transformative effects on reality. What interests me is to instrumentalize this autonomy in favor of achieving the objectives of the projects. I call it using art as umbrella, in the sense of a 'space of protection'. And I use it strategically to carry out certain alegalities which work for me as a significant resource. Somehow, I think there is also a less conscious desire to test the boundaries of art, if there's any such thing.

For now, apart from a death threat, I never had any problems, although I am aware that there is a legal risk in all my projects and perhaps at some point the protection that art gives us with won't be enough anymore.

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Jaime Giménez Arbe making mocking face at the police photos

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Wanted

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Displaced Moral Application # 1: Exponential Growth, 2010-2012 (photo Roberto Ruiz)

If i understood correctly Jaime Giménez Arbe was in a high security prison when you got in touch with him. How easy/difficult was it to communicate with him? Did you manage to actually meet him or did the whole project take place via letters? Phone or email conversations?

Yes, the fact that Jaime is locked in a high security prison has made the whole process of the project more complex, because many of the letters are intercepted by the guards. At first we communicated well through letters but at some point they cut our exchanges. The police put me on the blacklist and the letters that Jaime was sending me never arrived. Part of the information could get out of the jail with the help of the lawyer who visited Jaime, and the other part of the robbery plan was hidden within the letters that Jaime was sending to his family who later had it sent to me. Communicating via e-mail is impossible since prisoners are kept incommunicado and without access to the internet. After more than two years of correspondence, he was sometimes authorized to talk to me on the phone. Although it was always for a brief moment as they cut the call right away.

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Drawing with the instructions to build a thermic lance included in the plan

For your project, "El Solitario" wrote a book to describe various strategies to rob a bank. How could such a document get out of the prison? I always imagined there would censorship and that communicating such texts would be illegal in prison. Does the fact that this is an art project gave him more license?

In this case not even art could justify the content.

Something we had in our favor was that Jaime was writing in Spanish and Portuguese while prison guards were Portuguese wardens and therefore could not fully understand the contents of the letters and i was receiving most of the controversial information until they put me on the black list and our communication channels were cut.

For another project I've done with political prisoners in Spain it was indeed through "art" that we managed to get information about the systematic institutional torture to which prisoners living under the F.I.E.S.1 regime (Special tracking inmates file) are submitted.

Could you give more details about the result of the sale of the first chapter of the book at the auction house? Do you know who bought it and where the text is now?

What interested us the auction is that if someone bought the first chapter, it was because of the symbolic capital that the Spanish state itself and the police have given to Jaime with their criminalization campaigns that labelled him as "public enemy number one." The first chapter was auctioned and the money went to Jaime.

I do not know who bought it, the auction house keeps the anonymity of their buyers.

What do you think were El Solitario's motivations to participate in the art project?

I think Jaime had several motivations. First of all, I think, was the fact that I was already working on the project D. L. A. # 1: Fractional Reserve in collaboration with two anarchists appropriators of banks whom Jaime highly respects, that made him trust me.

On the other hand, there was an ideological affinity. In his letter of response to my proposal, he said he wanted to work on any project that exposes and visualizes banking ethics and the perverse strategies used by financial institutions to generate profits.

And finally, imagine living a life of total isolation and solitary confinement, perhaps having contact with someone from the outside will be like a window of air and light that somehow pierced through the walls of darkness within which he is confined.

Do you see many parallels between financial activity and the art business?

Yes, I see parallels with the art business. In both cases what matters is profitability, and by that I mean the creation of value out of a potential value, a key strategy in the inflation that both banking and speculation in the art business are based on. The objective in both cases is to generate maximum profit, often without regard to cultural, social and / or human values.

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Cardinal testing a Pietro Beretta Ltd's weapon, one of the major arms manufacturing companies in the world, the Vatican Bank (IOR) is its largest shareholder

I'm also very curious about one of your work in progress APLICACIÓN MORAL DESPLAZADA #2: AD PIAS CAUSAS. Can you already tell us what the project will be about?

One day before the "International Day for the cessation of weapons", I stole some hosts from the parish church of my town preventing the Priest to give the Holy sacrament to the parishioners and avoiding the collection of funds for the Holly Roman Apostolic Church. I was interested in commercialising the hosts in the art market.

With the profits from this action my intention is to order an hypothetical practical plan to commit an outrage against the Vatican Bank which is the first investor of one of the major weapons world companies. The aim of the plan is to expropriate the Bank's goods and it will be design using all the weapons that the Bank finances.

The Holly Roman Apostolic Church is the authority symbol by excellence and one of the most influential powers in the world on a political level. Its major wealth is sustained by the commitment of the faithful even thought in a political level this is backed up by all the material wealth of which the Church is the owner. As a result of the two concept of "guilt" and "sin" that have been perpetuated along the centuries, the Church has increased its earnings through the selling of the forgiveness. Throughout its history, the Church has destroyed, slavered and pillaged entire communities with the pretext of the evangelisation, helping Nazi war criminals to find refuge in foreign countries in order to escape international justice, covering sexual abuses among the priest community in the media and funding terrorism from the investments done by their financial institution.

The I.O.R. (Vatican Bank) benefits from the privileges of the Vatican Bank to move money around the world avoiding international laws and working as a tax haven. It is located in the tower of Niccolò V inside the city of the Vatican and it is a bunker that keeps cash money, golden ingots, goods, as well as art works stolen by the Third Reich and offered to the Church. Currently, it is the major shareholder of Pietro Beretta Ltd, one of the major companies producing weapons of the world.

Paradoxically the I.O.R. justifies all its actions under the concept of "ad pías causas", that is to mean by the religious qualities: its compassion and mercy.

Thanks Nuría!

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Answers in Spanish (the last question was answered directly in english):

I'm amazed by all the information provided for the project Displaced Legal Application #1: Fractional Reserve: videos, conference, a detailed PDF on "How can we expropriate money to banks?", etc. Are there lessons in this project that a citizen apply easily in their every day life?

Sí! Esta era la idea de la obra, que además de funcionar como un potencial dispositivo de pensamiento funcione también como recurso para que los ciudadanos lo puedan usar. En todos mis proyectos me interesa que haya una estrategia que sea replicable, a veces está de manera implícita a través de la operación de la obra pero en este caso, al ser un manual, es más explícita la idea del recurso ciudadano. Hay un capítulo titulado Step by Step, que relata todos los pasos para que cualquier ciudadano pueda expropiar bancos. Y si alguien tiene alguna duda, que nos escriba que no será el primero que lo hace y para nosotros será un placer asesorarle.

PDF: Cómo expropiar dinero a entidades bancarias.

I actually learnt a lot while watching the videos on the project page. I learnt things that should be basic: what is money, how does a bank generate money, etc. So i would say that your work has had an impact on my own life. But more generally, what do you think is the role of an artist working on socially-engaged projects? Can they really have an influence on the issues they denounce/engage with? 

Considero que estamos en un momento histórico y socio-político crítico y que por tanto el rol del artista y del arte debe estar a la altura del mismo, sin ser condescendiente. Por eso intento que todos los proyectos funcionen a dos niveles: dentro del contexto arte y fuera del mismo, ya que más que la representación lo que me interesa es la transformación en lo real que se puede llevar a cabo a través de los proyectos artísticos. Mi objetivo es que además de como recursos ciudadanos funcionen como potenciales dispositivos de pensamiento a través de la densidad conceptual. No me interesa representar ideas políticas sino ofrecer posibilidades de pensamiento y recursos a través de la acción, que realmente puedan contrarrestar sistemas políticos (aunque a nivel micro) o generar contrapoder.

El rol del arte y del artista pueden ser muchos, pero para mí, en este momento de urgencia, creo que el arte político es el que lleva a cabo una lucha discursiva que logra subvertir el discurso hegemónico que nos sujeta y oprime. De aquí mi interés en que los proyectos también vivan fuera del contexto artístico, ya que me interesa llegar a otras esferas de la población que no son solo las elites que frecuentan las instituciones artísticas.

El concepto de operatividad para mi es importante en los proyectos de carácter social, pero no me refiero a operatividad dentro del proyecto artístico sino de una operatividad que transcienda al arte y al proyecto y que sea efectiva para las personas qué con el proyecto se han relacionado. Sí creo que se puede ejercer una influencia o transformación real a través del arte. Sé de gente que está expropiando bancos a través de seguir el manual, mi esposo cubano obtuvo su nacionalidad a través de casarnos a raíz de un proyecto artístico (ya nos estamos divorciando!) y María, una refugiada política de Kosovo que lleva 9 años viviendo en Suecia de manera ilegal porque el Gobierno le han denegado el asilo dos veces, en un mes ya tendrá permiso de trabajo en Suecia gracias al contrato que le hicimos a través del museo para que jugara al escondite con los espectadores de la bienal.

Also does the fact that you are an artist helps your projects? Because on the one hand, being an artist gives you certain liberties and ensures that you will reach a certain type of audience. On the other hand, the fact that you are 'labelled' as an artist might make you seem less serious, some people might dismiss some of your work because they are actually 'only' art projects. 

Exacto. Esta es otra de las características del arte que utilizo a favor de los proyectos: La autonomía. Como todos sabemos a lo largo de la Historia el Arte ha tratado de liberarse de los poderes que lo querían usar para sus fines, como fue la religión, la monarquía y la política. Pero como tú bien dices, esta autonomía lograda hace que el arte sea un espacio más permisivo, hasta el punto de que alguna gente al saber que es un proyecto artístico lo desacredita como posible potencia transformadora de efectos en lo real. A mí lo que me interesa es instrumentalizar esta autonomía a favor de lograr los objetivos de los proyectos. Yo lo llamo usar el Arte como paraguas, refiriéndome a un espacio de protección. Y lo uso de manera estratégica para llevar a cabo ciertas alegalidades que me funcionan como recurso significativo. De alguna manera no tan consciente creo que también hay una voluntad de testar lo limites del Arte, si es que tiene.

De momento, más allá de una amenaza de muerte, no he tenido ningún problema, aunque soy consciente que en todos los proyectos hay riesgo a nivel legal y que quizás en algún momento la protección que nos brinda el Arte no sea suficiente.

If i understood correctly Jaime Giménez was in a high security prison when you got in touch with him. How easy/difficult was it to communicate with him? Did you manage to actually meet him or did the whole project take place via letters? Phone or email conversations?

Sí, el hecho de que Jaime esté encerrado en una prisión de alta seguridad ha complejizado todo el proceso del proyecto, ya que muchas de las cartas son interceptadas por los carceleros. Al principio nos comunicábamos bien a través de las cartas pero llegó un momento que nos cortaron la comunicación. La policía me puso en la lista negra y las cartas que Jaime me enviaba a mí nunca me llegaban. Parte de la información la pudimos sacar de la cárcel gracias a la abogada que visitaba a Jaime, y la otra parte del plan de atraco Jaime lo camuflaba dentro de las cartas que él enviaba a su familia y después ellos me las hacían llegar a mí. Comunicarnos vía e-mail es imposible ya que los tienen incomunicados y sin acceso a internet.

Después de más de 2 años de correspondencia, alguna vez le han autorizado permiso para que pudiésemos hablar por teléfono. Aunque siempre ha sido bien breve ya que enseguida cortan la llamada.

For your project, "El Solitario" wrote a book to describe various strategies to rob a bank. How could such a document get out of the prison? I always imagined there would censorship and that communicating such texts would be illegal in prison. Does the fact that this is an art project gave him more license?

En este caso ni el Arte pudo justificar los contenidos.

Algo que teníamos a nuestro favor era que Jaime escribía en español y que los carceleros eran portugueses, por lo tanto no entendían completamente el contenido de las cartas y mucha información controversial me llegó hasta el momento que me pusieron en la lista negra y nos cortaron la comunicación.

En otro proyecto que he realizado con presos políticos en España sí que fue a través del "Arte" que logramos sacar información sobre la tortura institucional sistemática a la que están sometidos los presos FIES1.

Could you give more details about the result of the sale of the first chapter of the book at the auction house? Do you know who bought it and where the text is now?

Lo que nos interesaba de la subasta es que si alguien adquiría el primer capítulo era debido al capital simbólico que el propio Estado español y la policía han otorgado a Jaime con las campañas de criminalización a su persona tachándolo de "enemigo público número uno". El primer capítulo se subastó y el dinero fue para Jaime.
No lo sé, la casa de subastas guarda el anonimato de sus compradores.

What do you think were El Solitario's motivations to participate in the art project?

Creo que la motivación de Jaime fue por diversos motivos. Primero de todo creo que el hecho de que yo ya estuviera realizando el proyecto D. L. A. #1: Fractional Reserve en el que colaboraban dos anarquistas expropiadores de bancos a los que Jaime respeta mucho, a él le dio cierta confianza.

Por otro lado había una afinidad ideológica, en su carta de respuesta a mi proposición me dijo que quería colaborar en cualquier proyecto que denunciara y visibilizara la ética bancaria y las perversas estrategias que usan las entidades financieras para generar beneficios.

Y por último, imagino que viviendo en un régimen de vida de aislamiento total e incomunicación, quizás el hecho de tener contacto por carta con alguien del exterior debe ser como una ventana de aire y luz que de alguna manera agrieta los muros de la oscuridad a la que está condenado.

Do you see many parallels between financial activity and the art business?

Sí, con el negocio del Arte sí veo paralelismos. En los dos casos lo más importante es la rentabilidad, ósea generar valor de un valor potencial, estrategia clave dentro de la inflación en la que se basa la banca y la especulación del negocio artístico. El objetivo en ambos casos es generar los máximos beneficios, en muchas ocasiones sin tener en cuenta valores culturales, sociales y/o humanos.

I'm also very curious about one of your work in progress "APLICACIÓN MORAL DESPLAZADA #2: AD PIAS CAUSAS". Can you already tell us what the project will be about?

One day before the "International Day for the cession of weapons", I stole some hosts from the parish church of my town unabling the Priest to give the Holy sacrament to the parishioners and avoiding the collection of funds for the Holly Roman Apostolic Church. I was interested in commercialising the hosts in the art market.
With the profits from this action my intention is to order an hypothetical practical plan to commit an outrage against the Vatican Bank which is the first investor of one of the major weapons world companies. The aim of the plan is to expropriate the Bank's goods and it will be design using all the weapons that the Bank finances.

The Holly Roman Apostolic Church is the authority symbol by excellence and one of the most influential powers in the world in a political level. Its major wealth is sustained by the commitment of the faithful even thought in a political level this is backed up by all the material wealth of which the Church is the owner. As a
result of the two concept of "guilt" and "sin" that have been perpetuated along the centuries, the Church has increased its earnings through the selling of the forgiveness. Throughout its history, the Church has destroyed, slavered and pillaged entire communities with the pretext of the evangelisation, helping Nazi war criminals to find refuge in foreign countries in order to escape international justice, covering sexual abuses among the priest community in the media and funding terrorism from the investments done by their financial institution.

The I.O.R. (Vatican Bank) benefits from the privileges of the Vatican Bank to move money around the world avoiding international laws and working as a tax haven. It is located in the Torreón of Niccolo V inside the city of the Vatican and it is a bunker that keeps: cash money, golden ingots, goods, as well as art works stolen by
the Third Reich and offered to the Church. Currently, it is the major shareholder of Pietro Beretta Ltd, one of the major companies producing weapons of the world.

Paradoxically the I.O.R. justifies all its actions under the concept of "ad pías causas", that is to mean by the religious qualities: its compassion and mercy.

Sponsored by:





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The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on ResonanceFM, London's favourite radio art station, is aired this Wednesday afternoon at 4pm.

Today's guests are Evan Roth, Becky Stern, Geraldine Juárez and Magnus Eriksson from the Free Art and Technology Lab (F.A.T. Lab), a network of artists, engineers, scientists, lawyers, and musicians who are committed to supporting open values and the public domain through the use of emerging open licenses, support for open entrepreneurship, and the admonishment of secrecy, copyright monopolies, and patents.

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F.A.T. Lab (Kyle McDonald), The Englishman from the series Liberator Variations, 2013

Some of the members were at the MU gallery in Eindhoven last week for a F.A.T. Lab retrospective as well as for the launch of THE F.A.T. MANUAL. In this episode, we will be talking about 3D printed guns, Ideas Worth Spreading which allows you to deliver your own pirate TED talk, open culture and how to remove Justin Bieber from your web browsing.

The radio show will be aired this Wednesday 20 November at 16:00, London time. Early risers can catch the repeat next Tuesday at 6.30 am. If you don't live in London, you can listen to the online stream or wait till we upload the episodes on soundcloud.

F.A.T. GOLD Europe. Five Years of Free Art & Technology is at MU in EIndhoven until January 26, 2014. THE F.A.T. MANUAL is on print on demand but you can also download it for free.

The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on ResonanceFM, London's favourite radio art station, is aired this Wednesday afternoon at 4pm.

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Brett Scott, a campaigner, former broker and a Fellow of the Finance Innovation Lab. Scott is the author of The Heretic's Guide to Global Finance. Hacking the Future of Money published by Pluto Press (and available on amazon USA and UK.) The book "is a friendly guide to taking on the world's most powerful system. It sets up a framework to illuminate the financial sector based on anthropology, gonzo exploration, and the hacker ethos, and helps the reader develop a diverse DIY toolbox to undertake their own adventures in guerilla finance and activist entrepreneurialism."

We'll talk about the book, the bitcoins, Brixton Pound and other radical approaches to global finance of course but also about Scott's plan to start a London-based school of financial activism.

The show will be aired this Wednesday 16th of October at 16:00, London time. Early risers can catch the repeat next Tuesday at 6.30 am. If you don't live in London, you can listen to the online stream or wait till we upload the episodes on soundcloud.

Explore Everything: Place-Hacking the City by Bradley Garrett, an ethnographer from the School of Geography and the Environment at University of Oxford working within the global Urban Explorer community.

Available on Amazon USA and UK.

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Publisher Verso writes: It is assumed that every inch of the world has been explored and charted; that there is nowhere new to go. But perhaps it is the everyday places around us--the cities we live in--that need to be rediscovered. What does it feel like to find the city's edge, to explore its forgotten tunnels and scale unfinished skyscrapers high above the metropolis? Explore Everything reclaims the city, recasting it as a place for endless adventure.

Plotting expeditions from London, Paris, Berlin, Detroit, Chicago, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, Bradley L. Garrett has evaded urban security in order to experience the city in ways beyond the boundaries of conventional life. He calls it 'place hacking': the recoding of closed, secret, hidden and forgotten urban space to make them realms of opportunity.

Explore Everything is an account of the author's escapades with the London Consolidation Crew, an urban exploration collective.

The book is also a manifesto, combining philosophy, politics and adventure, on our rights to the city and how to understand the twenty-first century metropolis.

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Climbing Battersea Power Station

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In Detroit

Like almost everybody else i guess, i'd like to be Bradley Garrett in my next life... Minus the troubles with the Transport for London, of course.

Bradley is a writer, photographer and researcher at the University of Oxford. He is also part of a group of urban explorers who trespass into derelict industrial buildings, sewer mazes, construction sites, deep shelters, drains, transportation networks, skyscrapers and other tall structures (mostly for the unique perspective they offer on the city below), and even in the (then) under-construction 2012 Olympic stadium. Urban explorers enter where they are not supposed to set foot, they avoid security guards and often operate at night. They never, however, willingly cause damage nor commit criminal offences. Bradley compares urban explorers to computer hackers: both groups assist in strengthening security by exposing systems' weaknesses through benign exploration.

The reason why Bradley's name might be familiar to some of you is that he is part of the London Consolidation Crew. The group were all over the English newspapers last year when they entered, one after the other, London's 'ghost' tube stations. They had already gained access to a number of them when, 4 days before 'the royal wedding', they tried to get to the British Museum Tube Station, starting at Russel Square station, running across the platform, down the piccadilly line, then switching to the central line tracks. They were caught but the British Transport Police let them off with a caution but Transport for London issued an ASBO forbidding them to talk to one another for 10 years, or to carry any equipment that could be used for exploration after dark.

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Airplane graveyard at George Air Force Base (The Southern California Logistics Airport)

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Hiding from security at Airplane graveyard at George Air Force Base (The Southern California Logistics Airport)

They've also infiltrated many other fascinating locations (some of which we will never see, no matter how much we are ready to pay.) They climbed on foot the 76 stories of the Shard when it was still under contruction. Or Burlington, Britain's Secret Subterrean City, the place where the British government was to be rebuilt in case of a nuclear attack. They also visited several of the 33,000 derelict buildings in Detroit. The took photos from the roof of the closed down Sahara casino in Las Vegas. They climbed up the wings of the Angel in Gateshead to wrap a scarf around its neck. The played with the London Rail Mail, a miniature underground railway used by the Post Office to move mail between sorting offices. They walked around the unglamorous but rather interesting London sewerage system designed by Joseph Bazalgette in the 19th century. And they managed to move around unnoticed in the spectacular plane graveyard of the George Air Force Base (The Southern California Logistics Airport).

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Grain Tower Battery

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Las Vegas

In his book, Bradley narrates the many expeditions of the LCC in London, in the rest of Europe and in the United States. It does sound dangerous (and indeed it often is) but, as he explains, UrbEx is not just about adrenaline. It is also about exploring the fractures in the city, working together as a group, gaining a deeper understanding and awareness of the city and more importantly experiencing the world in non-scripted, non-normative, non-capitalist ways.

The pages also come with the reflections and lessons that each expedition brought about: the social exclusion felt by urban explorers who become unable to connect with people living a 'normal' life, the direct experience of the authoritarian state, the realization that the city is built vertically as well as horizontally.

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The London Underground

Explore Everything: Place-Hacking the City is a lively book. One moment, you're exploring the architectural remains of the Soviet Union. Next, you are wondering along with the author whether or not it is ethical to visit drains when you know you might be disturbing the homeless who live there (as it happened in Last Vegas a city of 580,000 inhabitants that count 14,000 homeless people)?

I have severe vertigo and a reluctance to spend the night in a cold, humid bunker. But i'm grateful to Bradley for giving me an opportunity to live vicariously and comfortably through some of the episodes of his breakneck adventures.

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Battersea Power Station

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Climbing up The Shard at night

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Michigan Central Station

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To an abandoned Brach's candy factory in Chicago

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On top of the 72-story Legacy Tower

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Hacking The London Underground

Crack The Surface - Episode I, short documentary focusing on the culture of Urban Exploring

Episode 2.

This Will Have Been: Art, Love, and Politics in the 1980s, by Helen Molesworth, chief curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) Boston.

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Available on amazon USA and UK.

Publisher Yale University Press writes: Art of the 1980s oscillated between radical and conservative, capricious and political, socially engaged and art historically aware. Published in association with the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, this fascinating book chronicles canonical as well as nearly forgotten works of the 1980s, arguing that what has often been dismissed as cynical or ironic should be viewed as a struggle on the part of artists to articulate their needs and desires in an increasingly commodified world. The major developments of the decade--the rise of the commercial art market, the politicization of the AIDS crisis, the increased visibility of women and gay artists and artists of color, and the ascension of new media--are illuminated in works by Sophie Calle, Nan Goldin, Mike Kelley, Jeff Koons, Sherrie Levine, and Lorna Simpson, among others. Essays by leading scholars provide unique perspectives on the decade's competing factions and seemingly contradictory elements, from counterculture to the mainstream, radicalism to democracy and historical awareness, conservatism to feminist politics.

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Group Material, Untitled, 1991

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Christy Rupp, Rat Patrol, 1979

Unlike the fashion of that decade, the art of the 1980s never really benefited from a revival. It generally remains overlooked and unbeloved. Yet, while reading through this book, i realized that just like today's artists, the artists of the '80s had plenty to fight for and fight against.

Many factors contribute to make the 1980s a fascinating period: the HIV/AIDS crisis, Ronald Reagan elected twice as the President of the U.S.A., the secrecy surrounding gay and lesbian life (Molesworth argues that the 1980s began with feminism and ended with queerness), queerness itself which i think is a very 80s word, the return to figurative imagery, a world that became increasingly media-saturated (and indeed the artists represented in This Will Have Been belong to the first generation to have grown up with a television in the home), etc.

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Peter Nagy, Intellectual History, 1984

But the 1980s are also hold mirror to our times. Think of the ongoing resurgence of feminism, the current debate about footballers ashamed to 'get out of the closet', the Occupy movement which has so much in common in form and force with the ACT UP actions against a governmental lack of concern for the AIDS pandemic, the global economic recession, etc. Are we as combative, as revolted, as inspired as they were in the '80s? Is there anything today's socially-engaged artists can learn from a previous generation?

This Will Have Been is the catalogue of an exhibition of the same name. It is only one of the many possible retrospectives of art in the 1980s. First of all, because it is very U.S.A.-centric but also because it looks at the artistic production of that decade through the lens of desire.

This Will Have Been is divided into four non-hermetical sections that each explores a specific issue/desire.

"The End Is Near" is about the desire to break with the past. The 1980s was characterized by debates about the end of painting, the end of the counterculture, the end of history, the end of modernism.

"Democracy" addresses political desires under the conservative governments of Reagan and Thatcher, and in particular the renewed interest in the street as a site for public intervention, the increasing awareness of the importance of the mass media, the growing prominence of South and Central American artists and artists of color, and the pervasive commitment to the political that shaped the period.

"Gender Trouble" elaborates on the implications of the 1970s feminist movement by gathering works that interrogate and ultimately expand our sense of the social construction of gender roles.

In "Desire and Longing" artists working with appropriation techniques are held in relation to the emergence of queer visibility brought on by the AIDS crisis.

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Carrie Mae Weems, American Icons: Untitled (Letter holder), 1988-89

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Carrie Mae Weems, American Icons: Untitled (Salt and pepper shakers), 1988-89

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Guerrilla Girls, The Advantages of Being A Woman Artist, 1988

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Deborah Bright, Dream Girls, 1989-90

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Peter Hujar, Daniel Schook Sucking Toe, 1981

Peter Hujar's portray of members of the gay subculture in New York's East Village were often part document, part theater--collaborative performances between himself and the person in front of the camera.

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Black Audio Film Collective, Handsworth Songs, 1986

Formed in 1982 and dissolved in 1998, the seven-person Black Audio Film Collective (BAFC) explored Britain's emerging multicultural society, combining a montage aesthetic with personal reflection to invent a new genre of moving image that challenged traditions of British documentary and drama, and profoundly influenced contemporary avant-garde film-makers and theorists.

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David Hammons, How Ya Like Me Now?, 1988

The painting of a blond and blue-eyed Reverend Jesse Jackson's was originally installed in Washington, DC, near the National Portrait Gallery which displayed no portraits of blacks at the time. Misinterpreting the work as racist, local African American youths smashed the piece with sledgehammers. The painting was moved into a traditional gallery and David Hammons subsequently added a row of upside-down hammers as a reference to the incident.


Charles Atlas, Mrs. Peanut Visits New York, 1999


Marlon Riggs, Tongues Untied (trailer), 1989

Marlon Rigg's Tongues Untied mixes documentary footage with personal account and fiction to address the specificity and difficulty of being both black and gay in North America.

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Richard Hamilton, Treatment Room, 1983-84,

Richard Hamilton's Treatment Room, where a video of Thatcher giving a speech plays over a hospital bed in a bleak room, was an urgent response to the assault on the National Health Service.

The design of the catalogue (by Scott Reinhard Co. with James Goggin) is particularly stunning, simple and efficient.

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This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s

catalogue essay.
Image on the homepage: Guerrilla Girls on Tour.

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Oliver Ressler, Politics thwarting the logic of rule, 2005

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Disobedience Archive (The Republic). Exhibition view. Photo Castello di Rivoli

I caught the last weekend of the exhibition Disobedience Archive at Castello di Rivoli.

Disobedience Archive is a video collection which explores four decades of social disobedience: from the uprising in Italy in 1977 to the anti-globalization protests and to the insurrections in the Middle East.

The Castello di Rivoli is a stunning contemporary art museum a few kilometers away from Turin. The exhibition had a theme i'm particularly interested in. The works brought together were worth the trip to Rivoli. So far so good. Except that Disobedience Archive (The Republic) was an extremely frustrating exhibition. Videos that were made to inspire people to question, contest and discuss suffer from being hosted into a grand castle located in a provincial town. Rivoli might be one of the most prestigious contemporary art centers in Europe but the well-earned title is not enough to attract the crowds. When i visited the show, on a Saturday afternoon, the rooms were almost empty.

Still, splendid castle to spend an afternoon:

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Photo Castello di Rivoli

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Photo Castello di Rivoli

This one is part of the collection of the museum. It has nothing to do with Disobedience Archive but how could i resist adding it:

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Maurizio Cattelan, Novecento, 1997. Photo Castello di Rivoli

But let's get back to my grievances about the exhibition. The whole setting was as unappealing as possible: aside from a stern broadsheet at the entrance of the show, there is no information to give context and meaning to the works. The chairs to view the videos -some of which are over an hour long- are remarkably uncomfortable. There are too many videos to see in one visit and i'm not sure many people are ready to shell out 6.50 euros each time they want to come back and watch the films they had missed on their first visit.

There is a website for the video archive. It contains no video at all.

A frustrating exhibition thus. I would have liked everybody to spend hours watching the videos but i can't blame anyone for not doing so. This was a show that only the 'intellectual elite' would have seen. It shouldn't have been. Still, i'm glad i fancied myself as being part of that 'cultural elite' because the content was exceptional.

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Disobedience Archive (The Republic). Exhibition view. Photo Castello di Rivoli

The archive is divided into nine sections: 1977 The Italian Exit looks at the revolutionary movements in Italy in the 1970s, with a focus on 1977, year of large-scale violent confrontations with a reactionary state. Protesting Capitalist Globalization documents or comments on the new social wave against globalization. Reclaim the Streets presents proposals to create autonomous social spaces through experimental forms of education, community, urbanism and architecture. Bioresistence and Society of Control refers to Foucault's analysis of the ways the operations of power extend beyond the institutions of state. Argentina Fabrica Social explores the political and economic crisis that stretched from the 2001 uprising to the election of Néstor Kirchner. Disobedience East brings together videos of political and activist art from post-communist Europe. Disobedience University shows alternative practices and strategies in which consumption is seen as a form of co-realization and collaboration. The Arab Dissent tries to raise questions about changes and antagonism in the Middle East. Gender Politics suggest the destruction of gender identity.

The show counts 57 videos. I wish i could link to all of them but only a handful can be viewed online. Here's my very subjective selection.

Unsurprisingly i made a beeline for the section entitled Bioresistence and Society of Control as it focused on issues encountered within prisons and asylum centers, on bacteriological experiments in warfare programmes and on other strategies deployed in the modern state to regulate and control life.


Genterra, Critical Art Ensemble, 2002

The Critical Art Ensemble had 3 films in the show. One of them was GenTerra, a collaboration with Beatriz da Costa. The video documents a participatory "theater" performance that gave the public an opportunity to get a more critical and hands-on understanding of transgenic organisms in relation to environmental and health exposure.

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Ashley Hunt, Corrections, 2001

No video for Ashley Hunt's work, alas! In Corrections, the artist investigated the privatization of the prison system in the United States, exposing the role of the penal institution in preserving racial and economic divisions within society.


Angela Melitopoulos, The Cell - Toni Negri and the Prison (Prologue)

Angela Melitopoulos filmed three interviews with sociologist and philosopher Antonio Negri. The first in 1997 while he was in exile in Paris, the second in 1998 in the cell of Rebibbia prison in Rome, and the final one in 2003 in Rome, after his release.

Negri's report on his life as a prisoner describes new forms of control in the penal system, the psyche and mentality of prisoners, and forms of resistance with which he was able to retain "the freedom of his spirit".

One of the highlights of Disobedience East is a film by Harun Farocki & Andrei Ujica.


Harun Farocki & Andrei Ujica, Videograms of a Revolution, 1992 (short extract)

Videograms of a Revolution uses -professional and amateur- video archives to examine the role of television in the infolding and understanding of the 1989 Romanian revolution. 'Demonstrators occupied the tv station in Bucharest and broadcast continuously for 120 hours, thereby establishing the tv studio as a new historical site.'

Half of the videos in the section The Arab Dissent were dedicated to the occupation of Palestine.

Khaled Jarrar, Infiltrators (Trailer), 2012

Khaled Jarrar's Infiltrators follows individuals and groups as they are looking for gaps in the seven meter high wall that separates the Palestinian territories from Israel.

I only saw one film in the Disobedience University selection and i think i struck gold with that one:


Eyal Sivan, ITGABER. He Will Overcome, 1993. On science and values


Eyal Sivan, ITGABER. He Will Overcome, 1993. On State and laws

According to professor Yeshyahu Leibowitz, "the honest man should know that he should never respect the law too closely". Israeli filmmaker and critic Eyal Sivan sat down with the philosopher and listened to him talk about ethics, science, values, but also about State, religion, law and human responsibility.

Even though Leibowitz took part of in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, he openly criticized the politics of the State of Israel, in the name of a Jewish tradition of responsibility and divine law. During the conversation, the philosopher expresses his support and solidarity with the Israeli soldiers who refuse to serve in the Occupied Territories.

The 57 videos were accompanied by two thematic rooms. The opening one contained artworks and archive documents related to the student and workers protests in the Italy of the 1970s. Again, a bit of context and explanations would have been welcome.

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Photo from La Stampa

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Photo from La Stampa

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Disobedience Archive (The Republic). Exhibition view. Photo Castello di Rivoli

The final room amassed books, props and other objects associated with political and social dissent in first decade of the 21st century. Works by Nomeda & Gediminas Urbonas, Superflex, Journal of Aesthetics & Protest, Oliver Ressler, Arseniy Zhilyaev, Critical Art Ensemble, etc. It should have been a fascinating, informative and inspiring display. Alas, and I'm going to repeat myself, short texts about their meaning and significance would not have been superfluous (the ones in the broadsheet/guide of the exhibition were a bit too general.)

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Disobedience Archive (The Republic). Exhibition view. Photo Castello di Rivoli

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Disobedience Archive (The Republic). Exhibition view. Photo Castello di Rivoli

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Photo from La Stampa

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Photo from La Stampa

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Disobedience Archive (The Republic). Exhibition view. Photo Castello di Rivoli

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Photo from La Stampa

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