How to be an Obstacle

By Louise Oldfield, 10 December 2001

The ICA’s ‘How To Be An Obstacle’ conference, which promised to ‘explore the limits and opportunities offered by direct action’, looked like being a bumper two days. In the light of the events surrounding September 11th, it also seemed reasonable to hope that a more broad-based audience might attend.‘Community’ was the buzzword of the weekend. The need for the movement to broaden out its base and re-engage the politically disenfranchised was constantly reiterated. But the event itself didn’t come anywhere close to achieving this. There was much talk of the north/south divide in direct action across the globe, yet the question of the same divide in the UK movement was completely ignored.

By Saturday afternoon, after a fairly uneventful session on activists’ use of the net, I was waning. Curiously, the specially commissioned video interview of Antonio Negri, the Italian political dissident and co-author of Empire currently under house arrest in Rome, was screened in Italian without subtitles. For the few of us who can speak Italian, this was the most in-depth talk of the whole weekend, addressing the relevance and future role of direct action.

By far the most memorable performances came from Ricardo Dominguez of the New York-based Electronic Disturbance Theatre. He managed to wake up the audience during the first session of the Sunday morning like a slap around the face with a double espresso. Dominguez gave a captivating performance centering around what he termed the ‘politics of the question, not the politics of the answer.’

The choice of such an exclusive venue for an event of this nature was both predictable and inexcusable since it furthers the segregation, fragmentation and exclusivity of the ‘movement’, effectively ignoring the very people who are suffering under the global order it claims to combat. Next time it would be nice if someone could remember to invite them along to speak for themselves. Until the UK communities are given a voice and a platform and respected in the same way as visiting community activists, things really will not change.

Louise Oldfield <lou AT> is founder of creative solutions agency Liquid Works [].

How To Be An Obstacle // ICA, London // 10-11 November 2001// []