January 15, 1 pm – 6 pm


How does social change actually happen in a complex and tightly articulated society like the United States? Are we likely to see any deep and pervasive change in our own lifetimes? How to perceive it when it comes, how to participate when it’s still in flux? How to cultivate an understanding of the processes of social change among those who are directly affected?

To open up these questions, Brian Holmes has begun developing a multimedia archive containing articles, images, audiovisual materials, web pages and full-length books. The idea is to carry out an analysis of long waves of change lasting roughly fifty years, during which interrelated patterns of social, economic, geopolitical and cultural development all cohere into recognizable eras. One such era was the Keynesian period of mass-manufacturing industry and welfare-state governance that held sway from the New Deal of the 1930s to the long recession of the 1970s. Another is the era of globalized neoliberal or informational capitalism with its powerful emphasis on communications and finance, through which we have been living quite precariously since the early 1980s. The archive uses four fundamental categories to examine specific features of each rising and falling wave and to analyze the contradictions that gradually take hold in each domain of collective life. The accumulation of such contradictions ultimately precipitates a deep crisis, a period of relative chaos transforming social relations. The financial meltdown of 2008 and the continuing recession no doubt mark the beginnings of such a crisis, with other tumultuous events sure to follow in the coming decade. We have been submerged by these waves before. But it will never be “just like the last time.”

Brian’s in-depth lecture at Mess Hall will concentrate on the theoretical models that have been developed to organize the archive: a selective synthesis from the Marxist traditions, including long-wave theory, the technological innovation school, regulation theory and world systems analysis. These technical approaches are explained briefly and without jargon, in order to provide frameworks for experiences that we are living through every day. Organizing ideas from autonomous Marxism and psychosocial insights from Felix Guattari also help to see how individuals and groups become agents of change. So far the archive covers the emergence of Fordism, its crisis in the late 60s and 70s, and the onset of neoliberalism. Our discussion will focus on the turning points of the present, since 2008. By examining each others’ socially engaged projects we can probably start to see a pattern emerging. To operate within a recognizable pattern, to sense that each situation is part of a larger dynamic, shaped by particular agents and reshapable by others: this is the political and existential use-value of such a study.

This project has been launched in collaboration with the Viennese researcher and media artist Armin Medosch. The intention was always a networked process unfolding in various communities, as a response to the decay of the public university and the lack of useful approaches to the meltdown. At Mess Hall we hope to provide a kind of map on which to situate a year-long series of artistic and activist engagements with the political economy of the present. Working out of different social contexts, using various relational forms and media, individuals and groups will bring us to closer grips with the irreducible singularity of the now. The real analysis of the present has to be carried out in the flesh, with expressions and interventions. For those who wish to contribute, a planning and programming session will follow on Sunday. You are welcome to propose some input. Each participant in the workshop will also get a DVD copy of the archive, so they can read some of the texts and explore the issues further. The theoretical study and the constitution of the archive will continue.

For a short look at the ideas, see:

[and then the day after]

The Slow-Motion Research/Action Collective (Chicago Branch)
Sunday 1/16, 11am–2pm

Brian Holmes’ lecture/workshop on Saturday 1/15 introduces us to several complementary theories of the present, each of which seeks to make sense of daily life after the financial meltdown of 2008 and the on-going “jobless recovery.” This workshop is part of an ongoing transnational research project that Holmes and others have launched.  A key component of the project is the formation of a multimedia archive that will serve as a resource for others seeking to grasp this slow-motion crisis in order to transform it. The production of this archive, which includes articles, images, audiovisual documents, and full-length books, is also an invitation to YOU!

We invite each of YOU to join US and help launch a Collective Research/Action Project on the political economy of the present at Mess Hall from January 2011-January 2012.  Guided by our desire to understand the financial crisis that impacts on all aspects of our daily life and by our determination to intervene in ways that are useful and urgently needed, we call on those who desire to become RESEARCHERS-AT-LARGE.

Here’s how we imagine this working:  at this first meeting the day after Brian’s workshop, we will discuss what we want & need to know about the present crisis and brainstorm possible research topics and action plans.  This is a SLOW-MOTION action collective, so we will then return in a month to PROPOSE research projects in a public session. These detailed proposals might aim for the realization of exhibitions, oral history projects, public interventions, or more traditional research.  We will work together to shape & implement these proposals (or some portion of them) over the course of the year, and will plan regular public report-backs at Mess Hall (again these might take any form–lectures, exhibitions, performances, zines, skillshare workshops, public experiments, puppet shows, etc.).

We CAN create the knowledge we NEED.  We do not require permission.  We do not need academic degrees.  We require only the DESIRE to know and the determination to shape the present in support of our FREEDOM DREAMS.  Join us.



  1. Rebecca Conroy Says:

    Hi Brian, I am a Sydney based artist/researcher currently in Mexico where the weather is a lot warmer than Chicago. I would really like to take part, but alas I don’t think I can stretch my journey that far. How can I be involved over the year as the slow motion open source collaborative research takes place? And do you have an email I can send you more detail on the contours of what I am specifically interested in? Gracias, Rebecca Conroy

    • Brian Holmes Says:

      Aha, great question! I think there must be a way… In fact, let’s exchange some ideas (I will write to you) and then I can also bring up that issue with the people at Mess Hall. I think it would be excellent to have some artistic collaboration on this, as well as on the strictly political economy side.

  2. Ten Postulates for Technopolitics - machine quotidienne Says:

    […] advance of the workshop at Mess Hall I’m posting a text from the Technopolitics group at The Next Layer (you have to sign in for […]

  3. Brian Holmes at Mess Hall | S.E.A.S. Says:

    […] Brian Holmes at Mess Hall […]

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