After Occupy: Art, Gentrification and Civil War, 25-26 Jan 2014

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An Event that I am organizing, inaugurating the publication of the book I edited Creative Space: Art and Spatial Resistance in East Asia (Yuk HUI & DOXA, Hong Kong: Roundtable Synergy Books, 2014):

Urban borders cannot be dissolved by art, but only be established by it. The increasing number of urban borders in our community is the consequence of gentrification. Artists and designers together with galleries, biennials, property developers and governments have become the main generators of segregation and urban borders in our contemporary society. Borders are setup not only by the difference between how much one earns, but also (or even more so) by lifestyle and taste. Gentrification employs art and design to augment the property price and destroy existing communities. Urbanisation and culture industry go hand-in-hand. It is intriguing to think of what Henri Lefebvre wrote forty years ago in Urban Revolution, where he criticised Le Corbusier, “the street contains functions that were overlooked by Le Corbusier: the informative function, the symbolic function, the ludic function. The street is a place to play and learn. The street is disorder.” Today it is evident that this freedom and playfulness has become productive for what Richard Florida calls ‘creative cities’.

Besides participating from within and attempting to make change, what else can artists, architects and other intellectuals do to resist this enormous force? Perhaps it is only through war that we can fight against taste and aesthetics imposed on us by the cultural industry. These borders created through gentrification are by no means expressions of heterogeneity in our society, since heterogeneity in this sense, serves nothing other than to pacify. Harmony and heterogeneity are actually synonyms for indifference and individualism. By decomposing society into social atoms, lifestyle and its aesthetics can effectively affect each individual.We use the word ‘civil war’ as described by the activist group Tiqqun, who refers to the civil war in France (1871) and Spain (1936-1939) in which we see the possibility of building a totally different community. People were able to self-organise and trust each other, in other words, to realise another possibility outside the control of capitals. It is also a warfare of the production of forms of life against the imitation of lifestyle, to establish a communitarianism against individualism.

Towards the end of 19th century, Asian countries have been forced to develop a culture of copying in terms of technologies, democracy, rights, institutionalisation, financialisation, and art. Copying becomes the raison d’État of development: urbanisation, culture industry, preservation, and privatisation. But when copying becomes rationality, it produces a numbness of imagination, we arrive at the time that all reflections and resistances against gentrification only find its source in morality and humanities. We think that it is necessary to pick up again the question of civil war to serve as a means to rediscover a communal life to come. If we repeat all forms of resistance from the West, we are not exempt from copying. What could be the possible response to gentrification and the self-destruction of communities in East Asia? What would forms of life and civil war mean in East Asia, a region that shares similar cultures and sensibilities? What kind of new roles can we find for artists and activists in this repetition of civil war? In recent years in East Asia, different groups have been experimenting with different forms of organisation and engagement with communities, for example the plan of returning from urban to rural such as Ou Ning’s Bishan community project, autonomous experiments like the Youth Autonomous Lab (Wuhan), Tak Cheong Lane (Hong Kong), groups use art as weapons of resistance such as Wooferten (Hong Kong), Amateur Revolt (Tokyo), Map Office (Hong Kong), Parallel Lab (Swiss-Hong Kong), etc.

After Occupy: Art, Gentrification and Civil War is a two-day series of talks and workshops focussed on developing this line of thought and sharing different experiences in East Asia, including Mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan and Korea. The event also launches a new book Creative Space: Art & Spatial Resistance in East Asia (Yuk Hui & DOXA), which is the starting point for many of these discussions.

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