Wednesday, October 7, 2009



In July this year, The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination, was commissioned by the Copenhagen Centre for Contemporary Art ( ) to make a new piece of work for Rethink, ( ) an exhibition of "political" art during the December UN climate change summit. On wednesday last week the gallery pulled out claiming it could no longer continue to support the project for "practical reasons". In fact they were frightened that the project involved non-violent civil disobedience and that this might be disapproved of by their funders. On thursday we wrote them an email about taking sides ( see emails below), on thursday we sent them brian Holmes Essay "Liars poker" which begins "Basically, what I have to say here is simple: when people talk about politics in an artistic frame, they\'re lying." (, on friday greenpeace activists climbed the tower of the gallery ( the tallest church in copenhagen) and dropped a banner telling obama that it was the right city but the wrong time to visit the special danish police force was called.. The contemporary art centre got it's taste of resistance after all !!

Below is some of the correspondence... we are now desperately looking for space in copenhagen and will be writing an open letter to curators about the issue of taking sides...

Dear John.

I will phone you later, but want to send you an e-mail first to be sure to explain you my opinion more exactly than I might be able to do on the phone.

As I was working on the draught of the contract last night, it got increasingly clear to me how absurd and impossible the situation would be for both of us. A contract that could really reassure Nikolaj would make it very difficult to work with for you. You would have to find ways to evade the contract, and I would feel very uncomfortable about that. You might easily be put in a difficult situation between Nikolaj and the collective group you are working with. That means that it could be difficult for you to control the communication that comes out from the group and that could mean that the contract would be senseless. It's not the way I like to work with artists, and I don't feel convinced of the good result of a process based on on a contract we know in advance will not be kept. You will be extremely disturbed by the contract, and we will have a role, we don't believe in.

That's why I think we must cancel our collaboration on this project. I'm very sorry to have "wasted" your time on this negotiation process. I wanted very much to include your in the exhibition and I hoped to find a solution, but as I said above last evening it became obvious to me that it was without sense. I don't think your project should be limited and cut in every way to fit into a contract, It was like cutting a big colourful bird to fit into a small grey cave.

I suppose that you have lost time in relation to planning your work in another context in Copenhagen. I'm sure you have a good network here, but if you need any help to find new solutions, I should be happy to help you. I don't know exactly, if I can, but I have some suggestions.

I really hope you understand my considerations, maybe you have the same. I also hope we could collaborate in the future, for example on the Utopia project.

I phone you this afternoon at 4 p.m. so we can talk a bit and not just do the communication with the more impersonal e-mail.

Very best wishes


dear elisabeth..

I was not surprised to read your email this morning, it filled me with a certain sadness and relief at the same time. Yesterday evening we went for a walk on the marshes of the Thames estuary, the sun burst orange through the colossal grey clouds, the river flowed seaward, mud brown as always. Hundreds of electricity pylons walked across the flat landscape, black wires feeding London with its lifeblood. On one horizon the flares from oil refineries burn incessantly, on the other a power stations steams and roars as the mountains of coal are shovelled into it's furnaces. Here we are on the edges the city, a place of burning, and here we are on the edge of history, at the start of a century which may not have a future.

Walking on the edge of sea and land, city and country, Isa and I talked about the Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination's complicated position on the edge of art and activism, between subculture and mainstream. We have always loved edges. It is on the edge that creativity comes alive. The point where a forest meets meadowland, or the sea slaps against the shore are the most dynamic parts of an ecosystem. It's in those slithers of space that a multitude of different species coexist and the engine of evolution moves fastest. Nearly everything we take for granted in society began as an experiment on the margins. From the idea of universal suffrage to the implementation of the weekend, from the science of climate change to the abolition of slavery, from workers rights to organic agriculture, yesterdays marginal and impossible eventually becomes today's normal. It is this reason that we try to have one foot in the imagination of the art world and the other in the courage and commitment of the political world for we believe that when artists and activists share worlds magic can happen.

But edges are like tightropes, one has to walk carefully and make sure one is always in balance. A lean too much one way will lead to disaster. It felt like despite your great enthusiasm and commitment and your wonderful creative solutions we were leaning to far towards the needs of the art world and that the autonomy of the political would be constrained. In the end as you say so beautifully the colourful bird would be cut to fit a grey cage. We would, as critic Suzy Gablik wrote in her beautiful book "The reanchantment of Art", be stuck within the prisons of the art world. But beautiful birds dislike cages and prisons, they like to perch on the edges, jump and fly....

I don't think we should ignore the fact that this is a form of aesthetic censorship, that in the end the world of art is compromising our autonomy and creativity. Art is a free space as long as it doesn't push the laws of the real world, as long as its set in the safety of the purely conceptual imagined gesture. I think it would be sad for us to leave this debate somehow private and in the shadows, for i think it is key to the whole concept of your show. Standing on the edges of kakotopia we need to redefine the role of art in social change, we need to question the role of institutions and museums, the needs for courage and stepping out of line, the fact that there is no neutrality we are all taking sides. And im wondering if there is a way ( that would not take too much time, as now our work is well and truly cut out with finding a space) that we could make this debate public ?? In 1909 the artistic avent garde was launched with the violent misogonist futurist manifesto, it was the same year that Ford built his first car factory and the era of burning began. I cant but help thinking that 100 years later we need to rethink art and politics in such a radical way that we might not recognise either the art or the politics anymore, i can't help thinking that the future is finished...

I look forward to speaking later....