Open Letter in Support of the Space Hijackers

Concerning the ludicrous and satirical performance of a group of activist-artists on April 1, 2009, at the ill-fated G20 summit in London; whom the British police now propose to bring to trial in a court of law as criminals…

Space-Hijackers“The vehicle, owned by anarchist pranksters the Space Hijackers, bore a number of fake CCTV cameras bolted onto its turret, a plastic pipe with holes in it for a gun and a bumper sticker that read “How Do You Like My Driving? 0800 F**K YOU”. It blared Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries from a sound system. If you can show me a police force that does all that, I can show you a police force on acid.” Leah Borromeo

A number of writers were requested to provide letters specifying the artistic nature of the work done by the Space Hijackers, to support them against spurious charges of impersonating police officers; and that was easy to do, after the extensive reflection occasioned by the ultimately failed attempt of a Federal prosecutor to criminalize the activities of the Critical Art Ensemble in the United States. Further information on the current situation may be found here and here.

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October 2, 2009

To whom it may concern,

I am an art critic, internationally recognized by invitations to speak across the world, notably at venues such as the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, on the occasion of the major survey exhibition “Forms of Resistance” in 2007, or at the 11th Istanbul Biennial in 2009, entitled “What Keeps Mankind Alive?” I have published essays in the catalogues of both these events, as in numerous others; and the Van Abbemuseum in collaboration with the WHW curatorial group is now releasing my latest book entitled Escape the Overcode: Activist Art in the Control Society. I state the above to establish my credentials as an expert in the domain of socially engaged art, which is of increasing import to public museums and universities through the world.

Because of this interest in socially responsive forms of art, I was curious to see in the British newspapers on April 1, 2009, what I immediately considered to be one of the most striking, innovative and successful pieces of public performance art to be realized anywhere in the world this year, namely the performance of the “Space Hijackers” group in their obviously fake and deliberately satirical armored vehicle during the G20 summit in London. By offering distorted and, it must be said, hilariously comical imitations of real institutional practices, groups such as the Space Hijackers carry out the vital democratic function of holding up a mirror to society and asking everyone to judge as to the beauty and desirability of our collective reflection. Indeed, this is an instance of what sociologists such as Ulrich Beck or Anthony Giddens call “social reflexivity,” whereby the members of a society represent the state of its institutions, stimulate debate on those institutions among their fellow men and women, and attempt in this way to increase awareness of current developments, in order to fortify the sense of responsibility to the present which defines citizenship in a democracy.

It must be understood by all those concerned that this is art. It will be exhibited in museums, analyzed by critics such as myself, enjoyed and appreciated by visitors and recorded in the annals of art history. However, for all of this to occur the artistic gesture must first be realized outside the museum, in public space, on significant occasions such as the meeting of the G20. Only in this way can its meaning be forged in the hearts and minds of the public, creating the raw material of immediate social relations which, through photographic recording and audiovisual testimony, will later be offered to more sustained debate, and indeed, to the memory of society, through the multifarious operations of the art institutions (museums, journals, magazines, websites, universities, etc). The most important transformation of art since the 1960s has been the introduction of this new category of performance art, which is created flush with social reality before becoming a formalized aesthetic artifact for presentation at diverse locations in space and time.

For at least half a millennium, since the Renaissance, art has been one of the vital focus-points of social reflexivity in the Western societies, extending the necessary debates that sustain democracy from the purely intellectual plane into the fully human dimension of sensuous experience. In this case, the death of an innocent bystander after an unprovoked beating during the G20 summit clearly underscores the importance of the debate on excessive police power raised by the performance of the Space Hijackers. To prosecute artists for fulfilling their professional and ethical obligation to a free society would be to turn democracy on its head, depriving citizens of one of their most vital resources in their ongoing attempt to govern themselves. Please do not make the mistake of attempting to interdict such practices. History has consistently shown this to be impossible.

Thank you for your consideration of these arguments. I remain disposed to offer any further clarifications.

Brian Holmes

4 Responses to “Open Letter in Support of the Space Hijackers”

  1. brianholmes Says:

    For another damn impressive hilarious artistic performance around the G20 in London, check this:

    http://tinyurl.com/government-of-the-dead

    Obviously the radical anthropologist Chris Knight who helped organize, first the mock hanging of the bankers by the neck, then the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” protests, has also had plenty of problems with the authorities:

    http://tinyurl.com/professor-suspended

  2. fryingpanfireblog Says:

    Thank you Brian.

  3. Gökhan Turhan Says:

    Thanks Brian, after witnessing all what took place in Istanbul during anti-IMF & WB demonstrations, this letter did really good for me. Btw, on Saturday I visited Biennial at last after a one-month period of hesitation, and there I saw your book on sale, I was all broke, however managed to find someone who did provide me with your book. It’s all wholeheartedly written as far as I can get into the gist, and tomorrow I’ll utilize some of your ideas in my post-modern lit. class. good luck.

  4. Derek McCrea Says:

    Can we order your books online?

    –Aha! Very soon I am glad to say, Escape the Overcode will be available online, distributed by Amsterdam University Press. It has been beautifully designed and printed but I think the books are still in Istanbul! Unleashing the Collective Phantoms, with essays devoted primarily to the counter-globalization movement and related activist art, is available from Amazon. Mind you, the new book is also available right here, entirely for free, scroll down the page until you get to the article “Book.” And most of the older essays, like Reverse Imagineering, Cartography of Excess, Liar’s Poker, The Flexible Personality, are available here or via search engines. So happy reading…

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