Wishing to propagate the « playful revolution », the Artivist Collective participates in the insurrection of consciousness to create new economic, political and social systems. They do not give lessons for a penny, they do not form a homogeneous thought but a group that defines itself through sympathetic subversive action. They are not the companions of the system, the unwavering « positivists » who accompany the boat when it sinks, telling us that it continues to float, or that their small actions at the margin will bring the boat back to the water. No ! Even if, like all of them, they have their contradictions, they rather want to laugh by tirelessly denouncing the absurdity of this world that is being made for us and that is being pushed, in these uncertain times, to its paroxysm. Meet two members of the Collective with laughter guaranteed!
Kairos: You present yourselves as Artivists, do you think that art is no longer subversive and has also been completely recuperated?
Nicolas: Yes, the art has clearly been recovered. What distinguishes us is the activist side to which we are very attached, and from this side we are more difficult to recover even if there are always attempts.
One can say that art before was protesting, I think of jazz in the United States as a vector of struggle against racial segregation.
Pierre: But jazz was not art. I don’t think they wanted to make art. Louis Armstrong, at 18 he was in prison, he was a lout from New Orleans, he didn’t say to himself « I want to make art ».
Do we have to tell ourselves that?
Pierre: To answer your question, for me art is not subversive, it may have been, but I don’t believe in it. Before, it was the kings, the courts that financed the artists. Frank Lepage explains it well(1), for example Jack Lang in 81, French minister of culture, endorses the idea that culture equals art: people have no culture. Art is about experts who produce contemporary stuff and who absolutely must not have any political discourse, who do grandiloquent stuff but without any background. The artivism consists precisely in renewing with the political side of the art, renewing or establishing it…
Nico las: Where art is most subversive is when it is least political. That is to say that it is when art is the most natural, when it will push people into the simplicity of emotions, that it will be the most subversive.
Pierre: Contemporary art is also linked to a form of hyperexpertise, there is a form of dispossession of culture which should however be something shared, which belongs to all of us, in the same mechanism of depriving people of the understanding of what is nuclear or GMOs.
You talk a lot about the playfulness of artivists. But the consumer society is fun: Ipads, Playstations, giant screens, …, it’s fun!
Pierre : Precisely, there is such a power of seduction of the capitalist society that according to me the only way to oppose it is to propose a playful, cultural alternative, of the imagination. It is not to oppose the necessarily constructed discourse, because we have it everywhere, too much. It doesn’t work anymore.
It’s not « anti » then.
Nicolas: it depends, sometimes we are in the protest, we make blockades, etc., and then there are other times when we are going to divert the symbols of this society so that people ask themselves the question of this absurdity of the system in which we are.
Pierre: That’s really what artivism is all about. Doing a block, there are plenty of others who do it. To reveal the absurdity and to propose other imaginary, it is what perhaps characterizes the artivism, or all that one tries to make. It is necessary to specify besides that the artivism it is not « us », we do not want to have the monopoly of the artivism, there are other people who make that.
Nicolas: Are you sure you should have said that?
Pierre: We said we had to say it! (laughs)
Speaking of names, how did the artivist collective come about?
Pierre: It was born from the will of people who were already doing activism and who wanted to do something more fun, who met three or four of them and launched the collective.
But to come back to what we were saying before, I believe that this playful aspect is the essence of artivism. To put it differently, I think capitalism is very playful, is very seductive, and the question is always « how will we convince? », there is a seduction side to it. What we’re doing could work if it spread, if people took it over. My conviction is that we must oppose another, stronger happiness. And that’s what imagination can do. Projecting worlds that are fun, playful, cool, that invite « yes, I want to… »…
Which are also collective, because capitalism is tempting individually but…
Pierre: Absolutely. To be able to show this is already magnificent, it opens doors to others I think, and to oneself.
Nicolas: You also have the joy of living and the links which are also an incredible engine to be able to continue to be an artivist and to be able to continue to fight against the world in which we live. I think that if there was not this side of the protest, it would be very tiring.
You talk about it a little on the site, for example of the « drums of love » to put a little gaiety and joy of living in the demonstrations of left, trade unions…
Nicolas: We did it yesterday for the Indignados. It’s a real pleasure to make people dance in the street and to spread this joy of living, clearly, directly, through music.
You said that it was difficult to oppose the seductive force of capitalism. I wonder if you don’t sometimes say to yourself, if this is the last laugh before the great catastrophe? Or if there are ways to open up other possibilities?
Nicolas: The big catastrophe, I think it’s been there for years. When we see what we have been seeing in the media for the last thirty years, we have never seen so many gloomy news items and so many depressing things.
Pierre: I think it is useful, even if for me the catastrophe is almost inevitable. But even if it happens, I think it will not have been useless to propose other imaginary before, rather than waiting for the wall and the chaos.
Nicolas: I also think that among artivists, we are strongly anchored in the present. I believe that we do not have the long term vision that many other associations have.
Pierre: It’s quite normal because we proceed in reverse: we start from actions, for the most part on subjects we don’t know well. We don’t start from a reflection following readings; we say to ourselves « there is a conference there », there is one who proposes, it seems funny, it is rather amusing because we don’t know the subject well yet, we document ourselves and there we learn a lot. I want to know why I’m here and it’s built during, so we are in the present.
Nicolas: And with a lot of artivists you have a change of behavior after each action.
It is a reverse movement, it is rather the action that leads to the theory. But you still have a long-term political vision, otherwise you wouldn’t go to the car show to defend the myth of the car… Can you be anchored in the present and have this vision?
Nicolas: That depends on each artivist, because we don’t have a common line in the long term. We are going to take action against lobbying, against Coca-Cola, but we are not going to say what to do in the long term against lobbying, against Coca-Cola. It’s just that we don’t think it should exist.
Pierre: That’s it, that’s our first conviction. That’s why we rarely work alone. With CEO (Corporate Europe Observatory), for example, we have done actions on lobbies. We needed a speech, but we knew we didn’t have time to produce that because we’re not in it.
Pierre: Among artivists, there are different personalities, different ages, which is particular because groups are usually more uniform. As a result, there are guys who work in associations and who know very well where they are, and next to them, you have 17 year old kids who come to have fun and who fit into themes but who are not in the same realities. But it is still the action that connects.
Nicolas: The need for action. It’s a nice path, there are also a lot of different desires and it led to the dry toilets project, a concrete action networked with Worms; you also have the Rhythms of Resistance, a samba on Brussels, the clown brigade, …
You said that you were linked to many associations. What is the external view of artivists: are they safe clowns or disturbing protesters?
Pierre: We are on the edge all the time trying to lean to one side and not the other.
Do you have concrete cases where you’ve disrupted and others where you thought « we thought it would disrupt, » but it didn’t have the expected results?
Pierre: Yes, I have a very recent one, it’s the right-wing demonstration. Great success in quotation marks, the media even listening to our instructions not to « spill the beans » beforehand. In short, a great result! And a few days later, it struck me, there was a press conference here at the « House of Peace » on land grabbing and the whole project related to peasant agriculture, and there was strictly nobody there.
Nicolas: …so when you call the media on a serious subject that affects millions of people in the world, there’s no one there, and when you propose something fun, all the media arrive, all because for them it’s a show.
And paradoxically it sells?
Pierre: Yes, it sells.
Nicolas: I think that this action also allows us to have something as we like it: to destabilize people and perhaps bring them to think in a different way, outside of all the frameworks that we currently propose to them. It’s not just clowning around, it’s not just the desire to act like a jerk in the street, it’s also a process that is there to bring a reflection.
I would like to rebound on this desire to change the way we look at a social problem. When will we have a parody of a left-wing demonstration to denounce their drift, particularly that of productivism?
Nicolas: (laughs) You have very rich ideas. You should come to the artivist collective.
Pierre: Yes, it could. It reminds me of the right-wing protest, whose first criticism is that it is a bit of a left/right caricature. We had thought, we wanted to avoid that too and we did not succeed too badly I think, but it is super complicated, they are super fine messages to make pass. We don’t control the media. Besides, I’m still on this question of the media because it’s frankly our job, that’s what we try to do, we think about it a lot. That’s the heart of what we want to do, is to dismantle the media itself.
Nicolas: To talk about the left-wing parties again, there are two things in the demonstration that shocked me. There was a time when we talked about degrowth with a guy who was from the left, a small guy from a party, he used exactly the same neoliberal arguments that we hear to break us, that is to say that he told me « you want the degrowth of the third world countries ». So it’s true that we have to caricature them too. And the second time I was called a fascist during an assembly of the indignant because I asked him to remove his flag since we were there as citizens and not as political parties.
But I think that at this level we will also be divided within the collective for this kind of action aiming at caricaturing the actions of the left, the demonstrations of the left or the parties of the left. I think that clearly within the collective we all agree to say that the PS, the mainstream left is not a left at all…
Pierre: or Ecolo!
Nicolas: … everyone agrees on that…
Fewer people agree then that the « radical » left-wing parties are productivists.
Pierre: It is perhaps less clear.
Nicolas: And it’s true that afterwards, choosing between caricaturing the left and doing an action against it, carrying out an action in support of undocumented migrants, who need it a lot at the moment, or targeting right-wing parties, I think there’s no photo. If we had a little more time, maybe we’d do it, but now…
It’s interesting because you often answer my questions by saying that everyone has different opinions, but at the same time you are a collective that manages to survive with different positions of these members.
Pierre: There is no search for a common discourse. There is never a meeting where we say « now we have to say we are decreasing ».
Do you want to ask yourself a question, just like that?
Nicolas: (Laughs). That’s your job.…
Pierre: … I have one: « Do you think we have never had a tangible result on an action we have done »?
Well, you see, it works!
Nicolas: That’s an individualistic question that you ask yourself (laughs)!
By the way, he wants you to reassure him (laughs)
Nicolas: I remember, during the greenweek, Coca-Cola who came to show its new plastic bottle, magnificent, arch-biodegradable, in front of a totally stunned audience, did not do it and totally changed its speech by introducing its conference. We had made our speech before.…
Pierre: He didn’t dare to put that thing out and he said: « I’m not gonna say we are green2 « .
It is easy to fall into the guilt trip. Do you try to avoid this in your actions?
Nicolas: Our actions are not aimed at people directly, in the collective we do not try to make people feel guilty because we should already see where the problem comes from.
Pierre: I would like to say that I have no qualms about making Gabola, the director of Coca, feel guilty, with these people you have to go. I think it’s great that these people who are always on red carpets, who shake hands all their life, are in restaurants, are intoxicated by the whole society, we come and tell them « you’re shit » to their face. I love it!
Nicolas: There is a great pleasure in being the little grease spot on this beautiful neoliberal blue.
Interview by A.P.
- Homme de spectacle français, il pose l’éducation populaire comme fondement de « travail de la culture dans la transformation sociale et politique ». Il différencie la culture, pour tous et par tous, de l’art, devenu malencontreusement synonymes. Voir http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franck_Lepage et http://www.la-bas.org/article.php3?id_article=1960