April 26, 2012:
“For free,” a handwritten sign says. It’s pinned to the wall above the kitchen counter. The first donated food has arrived. A huge pot of stone soup steams next to bowls of tomatoes, kiwi, potato, apples and eggplant. I make two cups of coffee, chop some fruit, grab some croissants and go downstairs to find Garth.
The guy with the solar panel display asks Garth to move one of our sings so he can pin some text to the wall. His long hair is slicked back. He wears aviator sunglasses and gold-tipped boots and carries a metal suitcase that he says is his entire life.
A young fellow and his father approach.
“Can you give us information about this area?” the son says. “I’m confused by this space. There doesn’t appear to be a structure we can follow and I don’t really understand what’s going on.”
Garth and I are the only ones in the Hall. No one else is awake. We explain the Occupied Biennale, then we explain The Global Square. The young man walks away inspired.
Carolina and Heather arrive. They have to go upstairs to work online because the internet doesn’t work in the Hall. Garth and I stay on the Global Square couch. We have to hold down the space. Turf wars are already beginning.
I don’t understand the territorial mentality. That was one of the first contradictions I noticed within this movement when Garth and I arrived at OWS in October. This movement is supposed to be about people from different projects collaborating and working together, not drawing property lines and erecting distinct, separate booths with electric fences around them.
We make signs while Heather and Carolina work online. The physical situation makes me feel like a flunky. Someone who does the simple tasks while the people in control do the meaningful work elsewhere.
“Two months ago, they had all this international press,” Garth says. “Now they just have two people sitting here with markers, coloring on signs.”
Yeah, and one of them doesn’t know shit about the internet or website building, I think to myself.
One of the main developers decided not to show even tho the group bought him a plane ticket. The other has been out of contact for days.
I highlight a calendar. Garth copies the definitions of Stigmergy, Epistemic Communities and Concentric User Groups onto a sign. Visitors trickle in. A finely-dressed black woman passes by with her hair in a tight bun. She reads an incomplete sentence off of Garth’s sign.
“Projects are driven by ideas…”
She laughs. Hwah-hwah-hwah.
What is so funny? Is it obvious that projects are driven by ideas? Is that why you’re laughing? If you weren’t so distracted with the smell of your own beautiful anus, perhaps it would also be obvious to you that the sentence you’re reading isn’t finished being written.
Why would you judge and critique a concept that isn’t fully formed? Where does this woman come from? Who does she think she is?
I didn’t think that people like this actually existed. I thought they were stereotypes cultivated for the purpose of providing background extras for films about Andy Warhol. A woman comes down the stairs. Her bleached white hair is shaped like a space ship and she wears an outfit of only gold clothes. They’re worse than stereotypes, they’re cartoons. All they do is drift, look and judge. They don’t actually do anything. All of life is a show and they are a passive audience, critiquing it as they watch it go by.
I feel on edge. I don’t like being observed like an exhibit. And I certainly don’t like being critiqued. It suddenly occurs to me that I don’t have to put up with their shit. I’m so trained by my experiences working in the service industry. I’m brainwashed to keep quiet when someone disrespects me out of some delusion that they’re better than me.
“I could be an absolute asshole to these people if I wanted to,” I say to Garth.
I go to the kitchen for some soup. The Solar Guy comes in.
“I want to put up a sign that says, ‘No cooking meat in this kitchen.’ I hate the smell of cooking animal corpses,” he says.
Well, I hate the smell of sweaty feet, but I can’t kick the other occupiers out of the sleeping room. I live here. I have nowhere else to go. If I can’t cook meat here, I can’t cook it at all. I don’t want to become a vegetarian so this guy won’t have to smell meat cooking. I didn’t come here so people could dictate my lifestyle and my eating habits based on smells they don’t like.
Animals eat each other. That’s how life is.
I sit on our blue couch downstairs and watch cartoons. Pierre runs up to us in his flight suit.
“Tomorrow. One R or two?”
He runs away again.
I feel out of my element. The conversation has switched from philosophy to coding. I can talk philosophy and make art all day, but I know nothing about the intricacies of the internet. The Global Square is a system I want to make a reality. The ideas on which it is based are exactly like the ones in my head. I want to contribute in a way that makes the group value me. But I don’t yet know how. I’m afraid that this will turn into one of those situations where the group just views me as Garth’s pet, someone who follows him around on a leash because I have nowhere else to go, someone who’s only here because he’s here. At least I can advertise. I can explain the project to passersby in a way that inspires and interests them.
I’m really here to write a story about the whole scene. That is my function. I’m on my own.
Carolina and Heather come back down to the couch in the afternoon.
“We’re gonna go to a Vietnamese restaurant with soup for 3 euros,” Heather says. “You guys wanna come?”
“Someone has to stay here and protect our space,” Garth says.
“I hate this!” Heather exclaims. “This is set up like a farmer’s market. People aren’t working together, they’re just protecting their turf. I hate that you guys are down here and we’re up there. We should all be sitting right here doing this together, and we should be able to go out and eat together without having to worry about people kicking us out of our space!”
Garth stays back while I walk to dinner with Carolina and Heather. The restaurant is cramped, but the chicken noodle soup is incredible. It comes in massive bowls. We discuss why people aren’t working together. The Occupy Berlin group is a closed circuit. Those of us from other countries feel like outsiders. It’s hard to say whether it’s a cultural difference or a trait of the group itself.
When we get back to the KW, the courtyard is packed. It’s a mosh pit. People spill drinks and eat bratwurst. I thought the opening would be on the 27th. Apparently it’s right now. It takes an hour to get down the hallway. The balconies are filled with spectators looking down on a big assembly taking place in the center of the Occupied space.
The activists sit in a huge circle, discussing why they are at the Biennale and having a whining session about how the visitors are just looking at them like they’re an exhibit. They’ve been debating these issues since before Garth and I arrived and making no progress toward an answer.
“Well, I have to admit, I do feel a bit foolish sitting here practicing politics in an art gallery where we are on display,” one fellow says.
While Heather, Carolina and I were at dinner, Garth was ambushed by other Occupiers who drove him out of the space in which we’d set up The Global Square. They moved all the projects and displays against the walls to accommodate for the crowd of onlookers. Heather is enraged and the fact that they ganged up on Garth after we left and eradicated him from our space.
Carolina gets on stack. When it’s her turn to speak, she walks toward the balcony and screams up at the observers. “Silence! We need some silence! We are here to talk about the world situation! If you’re not going to join us, you can leave!”
She speaks loudly, aggressively. It’s volatile moment. Even the other activists are visibly uncomfortable with her extreme directness. I love it. This is what we need. The activists I’ve met so far in the Occupy movement have been way too polite. I’m not here to be polite and I’m glad I’ve met two women who feel the same way. Heather speaks next. She has a very quiet voice and she refuses to use the people’s mic. She wants people to shut up and listen. She talks right over everyone who attempts to make her use hand signals or shorten her sentences so the group can repeat them.
“I came here to connect and create!” she says. “Are we going to do that, or should I just put a big picture of myself on the wall so you all can walk by and look at it?! Some of you think this movement started on September 17, 2011! Some of you think it started on May 15th, 2011! It started in 2010! It started with my work at WikiLeaks! In 2010 we woke up! In 2011 we stood up! In 2012, we rebuild! That’s what I’m here to do!”
After Heather and Carolina speak, they disappear and the group goes back to debating what they’re doing and why they’re here. It’s such a waste of time. How can you not know why you’re doing what you’re doing?
Garth goes around picking up shattered glass so people won’t get it stuck in their feet. As he’s coming down a hallway with bottles in his hands, a drunken blonde grabs him and drapes herself all over him, wrapping her arms around his neck. He pries himself away and she stumbles down the hall, running into a door frame with a loud bang. All the activists disappear. Garth and I tire of fighting the crowds. We go to bed. The sleeping room smells like hell, but it’s the only place that’s quiet.
I’m disappointed with the whole day. I’m disappointed that Occupy Activists used the Majority Rule tactic to drive Garth out of our space the minute we left him alone. I’m disappointed that everyone is here for themselves rather than to connect and collaborate. I’m disappointed that we’ve made a display of ourselves rather than making an example of the kind of community we want to see in the world. I’m disappointed that we came here to share projects and ideas with people, but when those people showed up, the projects and ideas were swept into the corners to make room for a mindless goddamn cocktail party. I’m disappointed that no one even knows what the hell they’re doing here. It’s fucking obvious.
Here it is:
Why Occupy is at the 7th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art:
1) Art is the act of visualizing, creating and sharing something new. Occupy is envisioning, creating and sharing a new way of organizing communities and of governing humankind. We are always engaged in an interactive, communal, constantly-evolving work of art.
2) When a new way of thinking about or representing a concept emerges in the world, artists are usually the first to introduce it to the general public thru their work. It makes sense not only to work in the same space with artists, but also to work WITH them.
And to answer the other question:
Why are the visitors responding to us as tho were are an exhibit instead of interacting with us?
1) We are building within this space an example of the society we would like to see. We have arranged it like an art exhibit, so people are responding to it like they’re looking at an art exhibit. It consists of separate, distinct projects, booths and displays which do not interact or collaborate with one another. They are arranged in lines against the walls.
A community is not made up of information booths and passive observation stations. It includes living space, working space and education space among other things. People should eat, sleep and work in the hall. They should LIVE there. If we are not interacting with each other, the visitors will not interact with us. Our ideas, our models for society and government, are new. We have to show people what to do with them, otherwise they will just pass on by. We are responsible for being an example of what we’d like to see in the world.
This group has failed so far in that respect.