[The Seven by Nine Squares home page] [YAWN 20] [Art Strike 1990-1993]

Proletarian Posturing and the Strike which Never Ends

'Censorship is a more populist form of subjectivity than imagination because it does not require the construction of alternative ("imagined") possibilities, only familiarity with existing ones.'

For some time now, there has been a momentum of dissident culture, strengthened by conformity, and organized around a series of attacks on various subjects. The "material" side of this process has been the creation of events and materials which transmit [1], in a relatively conventional manner, a collection of attitudes towards various aspects of dominant culture. These attitudes can be simplistically summed up as distaste for work, production, originality, "high" and "low" culture, and received identities. These elements of social relations are added to the usual list of exploitations in capitalist society. A variety of experiments have been proposed to investigate the negations of these "abstractions." "Multiple names," anonymity and explicit plagiarism have been used to undermine the idea of identity or ownership in culture. At the same time, participants have been hell-bent on historicizing themselves and their activities, partially in order to insert these discourses into mainstream politics and culture, and perhaps also for reasons which are more unpleasantly in contradiction with their stated aims.

The so-called "Festival(s) Of Plagiarism" were essentially an outgrowth of the Neoist Apartment Festivals, collective events which themselves plagiarized the Fluxus festivals of a few years before. The primary difference between the Festivals of Plagiarism and the Neoist festivals were the Plagiarists' intention to focus on a single set of ideas; plagiarism and so forth. Plagiarism had been an element of Neoist activity, but Neoist festivals had and have an omnidirectional character and involved an assortment of experimentation and exotica in presentations, politics and habitation. During the "Festival Of Plagiarism" in London, a repetitive critique of "ownership" and "originality" in culture was juxtaposed with collective events, in which a majority of participants did not explicitly agree with the polemics. Many of the participants simply wanted to have their "aesthetic" and vaguely political artwork exposed, and found the festival a receptive vehicle for doing so.

Throughout much of these ideas loomed "abstract" questions of power, even at the level of event organization. In a very obvious way, "activists" were structuring events and language to give weight to a programmatic agenda of ideas. At the same time, there was considerable dissent as to what those ideas consisted of. In partial response to this ironic crisis, a participant from the London Festival organized a Festival of Censorship in Baltimore, during which participants would make presentations in support of censorship and against the idea of the sanctity of information or expression [2]. Support of Censorship logically followed a critical understanding of questions of autonomy and power in culture. In the same way that explicit plagiarism undermined the distinction between production and consumption, explicit censorship attacked the distinction between the creation and destruction of possibilities. The Festival was short and poorly attended, and again, only a few of the participants completely supported its ideological bent. Many of the events were advertised but did not occur. The "value" of either festival was primarily "academic"-feeding discussion around various issues rather than creating militant engagement.

A related project is the "Art Strike of 1990-1993" (and related "strikes") which centers around the refusal of the "creative identity." In the time before the Strike, activists have staged disruptions, pickets, interviews and publications. Participants in the Strike refuse to be identi ed as "creative individuals" in order to investigate the received attitudes in their own identities and to create political polarization within the "art world." The Strike is also intended to propagandistically demoralize those members of the ruling class who justify their attitudes through culture, by exposing the possibility of "militant" opposition to them from the usually supportive art world. The Strike is voluntary self-censorship, attempting to expose some of the possibilities which are socially suppressed by the existence of the "art" context. The Strike is full with contradictions in that it tends to draw attention to those individuals who are organizing it in a way which detracts from its overall purpose. It has been particularly difficult to avoid having individual strikers identified by the media. Many of the supporters of the Strike will cease their activities though they have never considered them art, generalizing the strike to include a total refusal of "creativity." This recognizes the extent to which it is the social perception of the identity rather than some "real" absolute identity which is in question. Though the questions surrounding the Strike will continue after its inception, for the most part they will have practically ended for participants, who will no longer engage in discourse about culture at all.


  1. Though these activities claim to be open to all, it is apparent that they tend to attract "individuals" who have a particular intellectual orientation. Beyond the exclusivity of specific ideas, the milieu in which these activities take place has fairly limited appeal to most people.
  2. A Festival Of Non-Participation took place concurrently in Scotland, concerned primarily with "Revolution, Unemployment and Suicide."