Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination

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= a collective which "aims at opening spaces, real or virtual, and bringing artists and activists together to work on and co-create more creative forms of resistance and civil disobedience". [1]



"The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination (Lab of ii) merges art and life, creativity and resistance, proposition and opposition. Infamous for touring the UK recruiting a rebel clown army, running courses in postcapitalist culture, throwing snowballs at bankers, turning hundreds of abandoned bikes into machines of disobedience and launching a rebel raft regatta to shut down a coal fired power station; we treat insurrection as an art and art as a means of preparing for the coming insurrection. The Lab of ii is now in the process of setting up an international utopian art/life school on a Permaculture farm in Brittany."


  • You use this term ‘insurrectionary imagination’. Could you just say a little bit more about what you mean by that?

IF: The imagination has the potential and is a fundamental ingredient for insurrection. We wanted to reclaim the offensive and the defiance that is often lacking in art. By calling it a 'laboratory' would call on the idea of imagination without having what we feel can be quite a bland understanding and bland connotation of the word ‘imagination’ which is very often seen as something lovely and creative and child-like by actually reclaiming the existence of the defiance of what we wanted to do. This is why we put the word ‘insurrectionary’ in the name of our collective.


We don’t actually believe in the separation between artists and activists, and we don’t actually believe in those two terms. We think the notion of art as a separate action in everyday life is a very recent phenomenon within the Western tradition. In most cultures there isn’t a separation of art and everyday life.


We think that activism, this idea that activists have this monopoly on social change, is exactly the same as art having a monopoly on creativity. Actually everyone can and has the capacity and does change the world in some way, all the time. So in a way it’s a kind of dialectical relationship, because we wanted to get rid of both those notions. For us, creating an insurrection or some kind of revolutionary change (which we think is absolutely necessary), we have to provide the alternatives to capitalism and the climate catastrophe and resist the problems that are happening that we can’t divide.

We see the DNA of social transformation as being two strands. Being the creation of alternatives such as Transition Towns etc, and a resistance, a resistance against the fossil fuel industries, the banks that fund them and so on. One without the other is absolutely pointless, because if we don’t resist then we forget who the enemy is and there’s a massive danger that our projects become simply experiments in laboratories for new forms of green capitalism. If we don’t create the alternatives, then of course we simply have a culture of resistance and a culture that’s simply saying ‘no’ all the time and that isn’t sustainable in terms of mental health and personal sustainability because people just burn out.

Historically we see the division of these two movements being absolutely a problem, and I think the 1970s is a classic example. For us in all our projects, we try to make models of alternative forms of living. So we haven’t flown on a plane for 10 years, despite the fact that we have this international art world career, where most of the people in that world spend their life on aeroplanes. We live ecologically, we live in a yurt in a community where we set up an organic farm, where we put the land into production. For us that’s not necessarily political but that’s what we do normally anyway, and resistance work is always done without hierarchy. We teach consensus at the beginning of all our projects and we try and use permaculture principles to make them happen.

As one example, and this is relevant because our latest project is geared towards the COP 21 in Paris, the UN Climate Summit which is aiming to find a universal agreement on CO2 emissions and adaptation and so on in December this year. In 2009, we were invited by 2 museums to do projects around COP15 in Denmark, in Copenhagen. We were invited by the Arnolfini Gallery in Bristol and the Centre for Contemporary Art in Copenhagen.

We had already spent some time in Copenhagen. We published a book on alternatives called Paths Through Utopias, unfortunately only available in French, Korean and German. And we spent some time in Christiania in Copenhagen, a self-managed community in Copenhagen. We noticed then, during that time, that there were thousands of abandoned bikes all over Copenhagen. So we thought: there’s the material. There's a permaculture principle, "create no waste". We thought let’s see what we can do with the waste of Copenhagen with these abandoned bikes. Let’s transform them into tools of civil disobedience.

Traditionally, civil disobedience in the Gandhian, Thoreau tradition is through the body and we thought what can we do with the body and a bicycle? We proposed this to the two museums, they both agreed. In the project we worked with the Climate Camp as the movement we were working with and the idea was that we would produce prototypes in the Arnolfini Gallery where we would put 50 people together in an open free workshop, we would teach them the basics of permaculture principles and so on, and we would then go – ok, what can we do with these bikes, and design a prototype that we’d then take to Copenhagen to then scale up.

Then we had an interesting moment when both museums said "you can’t do any welding in the museum". So we thought ok, fine, we’ll get a container outside and we can put an image in it and it’ll be a more public space anyway, so the problem was the solution. Then they had a phone call from the Copenhagen curator and she said "we’ve got a container, but there’s just one little thing. We just talked to the Police in Denmark, and there are certain rules about what is a bicycle.

A bicycle can’t have more than three wheels, it can’t be more than 3 metres long etc etc. If your objects are outside of those rules then you have to write to the police, you have to show them the design and it will take 3 weeks before they come back to you and say you’ve got the right to go on the road. So we said "well that’s very interesting, but we’re doing civil disobedience. We don’t really care whether the bikes are legal or not". At which point there was this pause, and she was like "so you’re really going to do it..." (