Dorian Batycka and Ehsan Fardjadniya in Conversation

Ehsan Fardjadniya and Dorian Batycka discuss their experience within different protest movements in Canada and the Netherlands and the relationship between art, communications technology and politics.

Published with kind permission of Dorian Batycka.

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Dorian Batycka is a lumpenproletarian activist, performance artist, DJ, street poet andunemployed academic. He is a semiotic gas emanating from the Errorist International and co-founder of HAVN, a multidisciplinary project space located in Hamilton, Canada. He goes by several pseudonyms including Dizzy F Richard and Sans Papier. Twitter: @temp_projects

Ehsan Fardjadniya is an artist an activist currently based in Amsterdam, Netherlands. In 2000, he left Iran as a political assylum seeker and has since then developed a multidisciplinary practice around the ideas of empowerment and participatory democracy. In 2011, he initiated the organization and building of a mobile information platform at Occupy Amsterdam.

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Interview: Sunday, June 3rd 2012

Dorian Batycka:
These past weeks we have seen many uprisings here in Canada, initially in Montreal with students mobilizing to protest increases in tuition. More recently this movement has transcended the issue of tuition and has now become a popular movement inclusive of targeted attacks on civil liberties and the enactment of Bill 78 by the Premiere of Quebec, JeanCharest, designed to outlaw peaceful protests and the freedom of assembly. Many view this Billas illegal and have mobilized in support of what is known as “Casseroles Night in Canada”(#CNIC), happening Wednesdays in cities all across Canada and now the world, consisting of people going out into the streets and banging pots and pans. These pot-banging demonstrations are a new development in the months long uprising in Quebec. Initially, Quebec civil society, including students, their parents, professors, labour unions, environmentalists, and ordinary neighbours, drew their inspiration for these noisy events from Chile's anti-government protests of the 1970s and 1980s. The Chilean protests were called the cacerolazos, however, I not only see connections with the Chilean protests of the 1970s and 1980s, but also affinities with more recent global protest movements including those presently fighting against austerity policies in Greece, as well as the Occupy movement we saw erupt last year. You were very involved with the Occupy movement in Amsterdam, what was your role there and how did it evolve over time?

Ehsan Fardjadniya:
I had a multi-tasking role situated where I thought there was the greatest need. So I helped with doing many different things such as building tents - a kitchen tent, a media tent and the general tent - out of which came the idea of the ‘information hut’. For me, it was, and remains a tempting idea to build a monument for the Occupy movement in Beursplein Square Amsterdam, but I don’t see the need for it right now. The information hut was at the corner of the general tent in the first two weeks and needed a location different than a regular tent for several important reasons. Namely, what I felt was most necessary in the context of the early days of Occupy Amsterdam was that the information hut function as a structure that would reach and communicate with people easily. Plus, if we had a solid and well built information hut we could keep valuable things such as laptops and electronics inside at night under lock and key. Back then I was living in the office of an old water filtration company in Amsterdam Noordthat had a massive garden and lots of materials I could use for various purposes. In several days time, plans were in the works to move all the parts for the information hut from my place in Noord to the occupy encampment in Beursplein Square, and it took us approximately three weeks to even start building the information hut due to the fear of eviction and the difficulty of achieving consensus on the project. This was because some occupiers believed a fixed construction could give an excuse to the authorities to evict us. Here again we were confronted with a dilemma: making a political gesture or continuance of the camp in the face of possible eviction. But of course I believed that an information hut was a very important aspect of promoting and advancing the central causes of the movement. One of the occupiers who happened to be a lawyer gave his OK and consensus was reached at the General Assembly and the next step was gathering the separate parts of the structure within the occupy encampment itself. This proved to be a bit more challenging due in part to the tents already set up in Beursplein Square, and so our solution was to build the information hut on wheels. Around this time, I also met a man named Henk, who was about 60 years old at the time, but in superb condition and who had worked all his life building huts on the beach. With his knowledge and expertise we embarked on building the information hut on four wheels about the size and height of a standard trailer. The ultimate goal of the information hut was that it be used as a public library and repository of books and publications. It also evolved to include a few laptops with Internet access to be used by members of Occupy Amsterdam. With the wheels, the information hut could also be mobile and share information about the occupation on the road; similar in away to another project I am presently involved with - the Pirate Cinema.


Image: Information Hut, Occupy Amsterdam Encampment, Beursplein Square, 2011

DB: Tell me more about the Pirate Cinema, what is it and why did you decide to make it?

EF: I had this idea before Occupy Amsterdam. The information hut at Occupy Amsterdam was meant to be a mobile multimedia platform and so is the Pirate Cinema. The installation consists of bicycles able to produce electricity through a pedaling mechanism outfitted with an extra windturbine, used to charge batteries and power a projector and sound system. In the short term, I am still constructing the Pirate Cinema and it will be ready in the next four weeks. The focus of the Pirate Cinema, like the mobile installation hut from Occupy Amsterdam, is meant to disseminate free information and copyrighted culture and reveals it in civic spaces promoting open public access.

DB: Interesting, in my own work I am very much engaged with attempting to understand the ebbs and flows of information, both on and offline. If we understand information within a wider context, namely, within the context of such large-scale informational projects such as Wikileaks,do you think all information should be public, accessible and open?

EF: Yes. I think this is very self-evident and of course I think information should be open and accessible to the public at large.


Image: Plan for Pirate Cinema, 2012

DB: I agree. When Occupy Amsterdam began and eventually splintered off with some members squatting the Shell Research Laboratorium building in Noord, and others remaining in Beursplein Square in the city centre, how do you think this affected the movement?

EF: The Shell Research Laboratorium is a very large building with no electricity or plumbing. For a few members of Occupy Amsterdam who felt themselves quite exhausted and wanted a more quiet and warm place to work, it initially seemed like a very good idea to squat the Shell Research Laboratorium in Noord. However, consensus wasn’t reached at the General Assembly for the occupation of the Shell Research Laboratorium because a few occupiers didn’t want to be associated with squatters. Their argument was that squatters have a negative image and the occupy movement will therefore be associated with squatters and nothing more. However, several members of the group splintered off and went ahead and occupied the Shell Research Laboratorium anyway. This obviously created a large rift and separation within the Occupy movement in Amsterdam. When the movement splintered and several of us went to occupy the Shell Research Laboratorium, we began conducting General Assemblies there as well. We thought that the Occupy movement in Amsterdam was not solely inclusive of the encampment in Beursplein Square, but should also include other neighborhoods, occupations and situations in the city. An issue also arose pertaining to log in and access to update occupyamsterdam.nl. At the time, I was helping set up a live stream channel and was always frustrated that I couldn’t log in to the channel when I was scheduled to stream. Every time I wanted to, I had to find the right guy to log in to his account on my computer and when the Internet dropped I had to find him again in order to log in and so on and so on. I personally found it very frustrating to work under these circumstances and became frustrated with the lack of access and openness to the website’s back end system. My views were that the Occupy Movement is a decentralized movement and that the control exercised by a select few over the domain name and access to the back end of the site, centralized the movement in the hands of a select few, something I believed, and still do, to be antithetical to the Occupy movement and the ethos of the movement more generally. This situation, in combination with the squatting of the Shell Research Laboratorium really splintered the movement in Amsterdam.
DB: In our occupation of the student centre here at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, our situation is markedly different. The student occupation here is a collective of us who have essentially created an information hut in the heart of the commercial space of the student centre. On most nights there are at least a few stragglers sleeping in our encampment/information hut in the student centre, dialecticing and planning various actions and interventions. Here, we are now the longest running occupation encampment in Canada, a fact many outside do not know. But in all fairness, the administration has been somewhat accommodating and allowed our encampment to remain as a physical space, and there is only about a core 150 of us, mostly students, but also some faculty and independent scholars, of whom Dadaist and Bertrand Russell scholar Stefan Anderson is one. However, there have been other occupations in Canada whereby certain 'undesirables' became associated with the movement, namely those simply there to make trouble and cause violence. I’m curious to know, how did members of Occupy Amsterdam deal with 'undesirable' individuals such as the mentally ill and those involved with Occupy Amsterdam for the wrong reasons (i.e. to supply drugs or to cause trouble)? Part II: Do you think calling the police on 'undesirables' is counter-revolutionary? Or more broadly, do you think enlisting the support of government security is somewhat antithetical to the ethos of the Occupy movement?

Image: Occupy McMaster Univeristy, Hamilton, Canada, 2012

EF: This issue was one of the most time consuming discussions during the General Assemblies. Basically, the security of the camp assumed the role of peacekeepers. I remember that at the time, certain members of the peacekeepers held tremendous sway over decisions made at the General Assemblies and in effect created a mini police state in Beursplein Square.They also started to build a very well facilitated and warm tent for themselves. Apart from the peacekeepers, there were several situations in which we had to call the official police to remove undesirable individuals from the encampment who were stealing and causing trouble and clearly at the Occupy encampment for the wrong reasons. In my opinion, the official police should be there to protect the public - be it members of the bourgeoisie or us occupiers. However, since we aren’t living in an ideal situation, I found calling the official police to remove undesirables from the camp paradoxical and somewhat troubling. On the other hand, the location of Occupy Amsterdam was in Beursplein Square, in the very heart of the city, in walking distance from the red light district and all the nightclubs. By extension, we received many homeless people in very vulnerable psychological conditions looking for a place to stay and community. Many of them no doubt improved their wellness during their time spent at the occupation of Beursplein Square, but many also attempted to abuse the situation in anyway they could. By stealing, by getting too drunk and aggressive etc. So the question of how to deal with these people took a great deal of time during the early General Assemblies, and in my view, the political reasons of occupation became subordinate to these issues. As I mentioned earlier there were many cases whereby occupiers were forced to call the police for the removal of certain individuals. This relates to what in the Netherlands is known as the ‘Polder Model’, or the Dutch political decision making system that it is largely based upon a search for consensus in the dialogue between organize dinterest groups and government organizations. Polder is also a piece of land surrounded by water and dikes, and metaphorically, as were we at the occupation in the centre of Amsterdam. Having said that, to me it seems easier to disagree with calling the police in theory, especially when confronted with a sweeping knife in the hand of a drunkard.
DB: Do you think that after Tahrir Square and the eruption of the Occupy movement and now the Casseroles movement that we are presently living through a renaissance of the Left?

EF: I think it is more about the deep grievance of people.

DB: What about capitalism though? In much of your work as an artist and activist you are engaged with pointed criticisms of commodity fetishism and the spectacle of desire, but historically, many revolutionary artists and members of the so-called ‘avant-garde’ eventually become co-opted by capitalism and their work is used to reaffirm the system and to make it seem natural and inclusionary of alternative views and ideas. How do you negotiate your role as an artist within this situation? Namely, how do you conceive of your work within the context of early twenty-first century capitalism, or to echo the title of Marco Scotini's publishing project, your art in the context of post-fordist society?

EF: Well, I’m not so convinced we are living in capitalism. I’m not sure if we are living in any kind of ism. Some say democratism, which in my opinion is more relevant than capitalism. I don’t know how to identify revolutionary artists or avant-gardes either. I think that the art world is generally dominated with corruption and hypocrisy. It’s very hard to do away with the temptation of fame, of becoming a successful artist, the super star, the immortal name, etc. These are very ingrained aspects reflected in the art world(s) and become acutely manifested in free market ideology. I think we are experiencing the old doctrines of free market treatment for cultural policies being enforced with much greater emphasis today more than ever, especially in the Netherlands, but also as you say, in Canada too. This amounts to less public funding and more dependency on the free market for artists and cultural producers of all kinds. On the other hand, the commercial market for culture is suffering from the economic crisis and changes to the way culture is produced, consumed and exchanged (i.e. free downloading). I think if we step back and look at it from a wider lens, we can think of culture as information. Culture manifests itself in a variety of forms: text, image, smell and other sense perceptions. In this regard, the amount of information and ‘culture’ we produce every day is increasing exponentially. And I think that in the future our culture will become, as Alan Moore gracefully put it, like vapor.

DB: But look at for example the austerity measures and capitalist forces of neoliberalization atwork in Greece and China, here we have two totally different but mutually constituting situations.On the one hand, you have Greece hit with terrible austerity measures designed to decimate public resources and social programs in the name of abstract national debt. In China, you have forces at play expanding private enterprise thereby creating a politburo of elitist business and commercial interests at the top of the political spectrum, in effect creating a singularity of state capitalism. With these forces of capitalism clearly at play in these two separate yet intimately connected geopolitical situations, I think it is important to understand the forces and relations of production in Europe and other parts of the world if only to understand the role of art innormalizing critique vis-à-vis 'sub cultures' and the historical ‘avant-gardes’. With this in mind, what do you think about the relevance of the history of Marxism today? What can we learn from historical figures, such as, for example, Lenin, if anything at all? In this respect, how do we avoid repeating the 'failure' of communism? Or, as Slavoj Zizek put it previously [in “How to Begin from the Beginning,” New Left Review 57 (May-June 2009)], in linking Lenin to Samuel Beckett, is the point, after all, to: "fail again” and to “fail better?” And how do you conceive of the'failure' of Occupy Amsterdam and the 'failure' of the Occupy movement more generally, namely, to bring about material - social and economic - changes to the world?

EF: I think we should all become losers and be proud of it.

DB: Erroristaz 4 life!

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