I Rep Malang: Indonesia Bali Funk and the struggle for the Word.

Presented at Sonic Ontologies: Music as Translation
School of Transforming Cultures, University of Technology Sydney, 23 May 2012.

This paper concerns the inaugural visit to Australia of the Indonesian poet, activist and MC, Nova Ruth, over the summer of 2007—8 on behalf of Gang, an Australia-Indonesia cultural exchange, and in particular our collaboration; a song titled Arek Malang Kudu Seneng and this subsequent vinyl record. 

I consider this to be one of several artifacts of a minor history—that came together over a series of slight coincidences, overlaps and happy accidents—played out against the backdrop of two significant events. The first being the hospitalisation and death of Suharto in January 2008, Indonesia’s second President and New Order autocrat, whose 31-year-reign had come to an end a decade earlier during an era of popular revolt known as the Reformasi. The second significant event was the much anticipated ‘Apology to the Stolen Generations’ by the then newly elected Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in February 2008.

Dropping English
Some drop science, well I’m dropping English.’   N.W.A.  Express Yourself, 1988. 
A handful of artists had arrived from Indonesia for Gang that summer and between them and the local co-conspirators here, we spoke varying degrees of English and Bahasa. I knew a few words of Bahasa, but fortunately Nova speaks a very sophisticated English, and we were able to develop a significant rapport. Nova spoke English in such a way that Hip Hop parlance would intertwine with what I dubbed a Reformasi-styled earnestness. For example, Nova told me of her stage debut at a freestyle battle where she unexpectedly dropped a word considered taboo. This word caused some fuss amongst the organisers, who wanted to edit or delete it from the recordings that they planned to release on CD.
Nova described to me how she really had to ‘struggle for the word’ in order for the recordings to remain uncensored—a phrase which struck me as unusual, and we began to say things like:

‘Hey Nova, I got a car this afternoon do wanna go struggle for the beach.’

‘Hey Mas, can you struggle some salt across the table.’

And so, ‘struggling for the word’ became a principle phrase in our rapport.

The Word from a rapper whose name was a mathematical equation
The phrase ‘Word’ has a specific use in Hip Hop parlance as an affirmation of truth. According to the definition voted most popular on Urban Dictionary, Word is the shortened form of the phrase: ‘my word is my bond’ originated by inmates in U.S. prisons.

According to Hip Hop mythology it was the B-Boy enigma, The Rammellzee—a pioneer of Wild Style writing and a rapper whose name was a mathematical equation—who introduced the phrase into the Hip Hop lexicon.

The Rammellzee theorised a world where letters armed themselves to revolt against the tyranny of Roman alphabetization. He believed bombers who put ‘burners’ on the sides of trains—the elaborately designed pieces that drew all round respect and awe—were heir to a secret knowledge akin to medieval monks operating in a mostly illiterate world, and in the words Hip Hop scholar Dave Tompkins, demonstrated the ‘extraordinary power of words to shape reality.

The Ramm’s life work was the development of the dual philosophies, ‘Gothic Futurism’ and ‘Ikonoklast Panzerism’ that concerned the secret powers of language and letter forms. The story goes that in the early development of these theories (in the late 1970s early 1980s) he had broken the English language down to its most basic form. During this phase any attempt to strike up a conversation with the Rammellzee would be met with a solitary monosyllabic response—Word.

The Rammellzee reduced the entire system of spoken English into a single subdefining sign, rendering its ‘affirmation of truth’ into the equivalence of the untruth of hegemonic white Anglo-American tricknology.

The Word made me do it
When Nova and I first met she told me her father Toto Tewel was also a musician—a rock god, actually—and I later discovered something of a national treasure. He was revered as a guitarist performing in numerous bands including Kantata Takwa, Swami, Elpamas and Kelompok Pengamen Jalanan (KPJ)—all groups whose music had been banned by Suharto during the Reformasi. I’d asked Nova to hear some of her father’s music and she produced some yet-to-be released recordings in which Toto Tewel had re-interpreted traditional Balinese motifs for the electric guitar.

Nova also mentioned Toto did not like Hip Hop. Right then and there we decided to steal his tracks to make something new. Arek Malang Kudu Seneng stages an altercation between Nova and the performance artist Exi Mahardana as MC SBY. SBY is the widely used acronym for the current Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. President SBY is also an enthusiastic songwriter and coincidently Toto also plays in the President’s personally selected supergroup.

Arek Malang Kudu Seneng is assembled over a sequence of predominately Baile Funk breaks. Baile Funk is a genre of dance music derived from Miami Bass and Afrobrazillian rhythms that developed in the favelas of Rio. It had a sudden explosion of popularity across Europe and America (and of course Australia) with the advent of broadband technologies, and from exposure and commercialisation via superstar DJs and producers such as Diplo.

As such, Arek Malang Kudu Seneng sits within the genre of ‘global mash-up’ or ‘global bass’, and it could easily be read as following that particular music trend. Alternatively, it could be read as a critique of the ‘Diplodisation’ of globalised Hip Hop via an accelerated hyrbridisation of regional sounds. But as I was organizing these Brazillian rhythms together with Toto Tewel’s Balinese licks, I thought of it instead as a bending of pop flows, in which Rio’s Baile Funk became Indonesia’s Bali Funk. It’s a terrible pun, but it’s true. The Word made me do it.

I Rep Malang
Nova and Toto are both from Malang, a city in east Java known for its fiercely proud ‘Arema’ culture expressed through it’s punk bands, rock musicians and a famous football team. Malang Arema—generally understood as Malang teenagers—exhibit a fierce local pride and refer to themselves as ‘Arek Malang.’ According to Nova they also have a reputation for being ‘trouble makers’ (ie hooligans).

Nova and MC SBY rap in Malang-style Javanese that is considered coarse by many in the West of the island, and Nova appeals to ‘the young people of Malang to better use their great energy in more positive directions. Not okol (muscles), but akal (brains).’ [1]

I knew none of this as the song took shape in my bedroom studio. As I was at the time attempting to learn some Bahasa, I was listening very closely to the vocal takes for familiar sounding words. Nova laughed out loud when I removed my headphones to ask her:

 ‘Did you just say ‘I rep Malang’?’

It was an unintentional pun on Malang-Javanese and Hip Hop terminology that coincidently holds its meaning (I rep Malang/Arek Malang). Admittedly it’s a very slight pun, but it was enough to lead us to think more about this process of workable miscommunication.

Wordplay also common to Indonesian slang, is complicated by a number of regional languages and dialects playing across the lingua franca of Bahasa and English, which is also recognized as a working language in the Indonesian constitution.

A technique common to Javanese slang is to reverse the word. For example I have a friend, Maya, from North America who lives in Yogya. When you say Maya in reverse it becomes Ayam. Ayam is the Bahasa word for chicken, and henceforth Maya became known as Maya Otos—in turn, the reverse of Soto Ayam the popular chicken soup available at many street vendors.

It’s a cute nonsensical nickname that draws Maya into a matrix of spoken processes that familiarize and reassure and are ultimately hospitable. Everywhere Maya Otos goes in Java the street vendors unintentionally call out her name…backwards.

Maya is now something of a celebrity in Indonesia, so presumably everybody knows her name. I suspect this confirms what The Rammellzee already knew—that the world made of words is full of un-signifying things.


[1] Sista Nova, ‘Arek Malang Must Be Happy (I rap Malang)’, gang re:Publik (ed) Crosby, Alexandra et al Gang Festival NSW Australia 2008.

Aztec (No) Futurism

Jorge Arreola & Jorge Juan Moyano, Emptying a FOLDING TIMELINE

TIEMPO MATERIAL Espacio Cultural Edificio S, Sotano, La Universidad Iberoamericana Ciudad de México, 8 Marzo – 6 Abril, 2012.

Billboards and hoardings stand large and empty over Ciduad Juarez – advertising nothing – a testament to NAFTA’s empty promise of prosperity.

Merz – marks, scratches and layers of paint, pen, paper, plastic, popular icons, snatches of newspaper headlines recount gods, monsters and mortals at war and/or at play.

Painting and photograph face off. Terminal points transmit a field of forces that oscillate, attract/repel. A re-presentation that allows one to perceive at once the socio-political processes (colonialism, capitalism, postmodernization, globalization) that manifest as the maquiladoras-theme parks-yonkes-check points-dental clinics-discount chemists-red-light-districts that signal the trash strewn limits of the first world.

Times change. Bodies once caught within the gears of industry (and once sacrificed to cosmic machinery) are superseded by more flexible forms of info-techno-capital that self organize, reproduce, work and expend. Biopolitical forces conditioned within a climate of semiocapitalism propel the processes of life (and death) along the border.

Too old for Juarez, too young for America. Los Ni Nis—Generation Free Trade—got wise to the fact that the fast cash from the dirty work in the drug trade is the only way to make any sense of their short lives. Homicidal and suicidal foot soldiers in a war already absorbed into the everyday.

Una mujer decapita a un integrante de Los Zetas is a grizzly YouTube artefact of an act that quite literally attempts to unmask the state, and predictably reveals no villain nor any great conspiracy. Captured-tortured-decapitated-broken- blogged-tagged-Tweeted – desensitized poor players are caught in a self-perpetuating game of impunity. Echoes of pre-Colombian mythology in recent history suggests an ancient order or blue print of the present in the past, but what is the use of such a meta-narrative? What is so good about such an underlying truth? Why bother with meaning at all?

“I answer tentatively that I think there is a correlation between the causelessness of Mexico's war and the savagery. The cruelty is in and of the nihilism, the greed for violence reflects the greed for brands, and becomes a brand in itself.” [1]

Billboards and hoardings stand large and empty over Ciduad Juarez – advertising emptied of its symbolic meaning – promise nothing, but belie a significant philosophical shift. As a relic of the future, they hint at a time to come once liberated from the repetition of myth and unbound from the insistence of history.


[1] Vulliamy, Ed. “Ciudad Juarez is all our futures. This is the inevitable war of capitalism gone mad.” guardian.co.uk, 20 June 2011.

The House that Thatha Built


I entered Sri Lanka for the first time over December with my mother who was last there in 1973. We hoped to visit the house my grandfather built in a village near Jaffna in the 1940s. It was one in a series of distinct houses built by ‘Malaysian Returns’ – Jaffna Tamils that had left to work in Malaysia but returned later to re-settle.

My mother, who was born in Singapore, lived in this house for only one year yet still bears strong childhood memories of her time there. As a family accustomed to the city life of Malaysia they had trouble adjusting to the ways of the village. Thatha eventually acquiesced to the family will and they returned to Malaysia, leaving the house to care takers.

My parents moved to Sydney soon after my sister and I were born, extending the family network. I can recall an incident from my childhood when a group of young men came to our house to solicit donations for ‘the movement’. My father sent them away firmly stating that we were Malaysian Tamils with no interest in their cause.

Years later, during the ceasefire I developed my own interest in the island, but family friends advised against visiting. ‘You look Tamil, but you only speak English – it will only cause you trouble!’

My interested was again piqued after the 2004 Tsunami. Then in 2009 diaspora politics suddenly nose dived into my activist concerns, as boats full of Tamil refugees arrived in Australia in the aftermath of war. My investigations around this issue lead to a lesser known history of South Asians at sea; of ship borne anti-colonialism and dockside activism that had real effects in Australia, as well as travelling further abroad. My own engagement with this history took its course from a tattoo–performance in a Sydney gallery, to find an absurd connection with an anti-authoritarian T-shirt maker in Guadalajara, Mexico, and eventually prompted speaking engagements in Toronto, Canada.

Jump Ship with WT Nobert, Gaffa Gallery Sydney, 11 February 2010

I was circling around the international diaspora, but had yet to arrive at Jaffna. Upon reflection it was a process of negotiation across politics, family and traditions that I had spent most of my life questioning and departing from. By the time I touched down at Bandaranaike International Airport, mother in tow, I had no idea what to expect.

From Colombo it was an overlong haul in a clumsy minibus that delivered us to Jaffna sometime after midnight. After a day to recoup and sight see, we finally arrived – on Christmas day – at the house that Thatha built. Once wide and grand, it was now in a state of disrepair, having passed through several hands since my grandfather packed up his family and left. It is currently home to a large family of fisher folk forced to relocate by the fighting several years ago. Having arrived unannounced, they cheerfully allowed us to poke around.

A question of race

Conversations with family and friends revealed not only a sense of relief that the war had ended, but also some trepidation regarding the momentum of re-nationalisation, and with it the urge to forge an all encompassing national identity in an effort to alleviate the issue of race in post-war politics.

As discussions in the media and elsewhere indicate, there are concerns that establishing an overly patriotic code of national identity will invariably lead to defining a standard by which the national may exclude or discriminate – potentially stifling the political representation of not only Tamils, but also Muslims, Burghers and other ethnicities identified on the island.

My praxis over recent years has engaged with processes of dis-identifiaction and de-nationalisation – problematising aspects of my Tamil identity and Australian citizenship – with the intent of opening a space for (trans)cultural practice that operates beyond the allure of race and the agenda of nationalism. As a critical practice, it is most often placed in Australia within a discourse of Asian orientated multiculturalism, which I complicate by linking it to a history of anti-colonialism.

At the conclusion of my trip I was interviewed for the program Connections on Young Asia Television that, as the title suggests, connects Sri Lankans around the world. When asked about my Sri Lankan identity I replied that I had a very tenuous connection to Sri Lanka, but a problematised affiliation with the Tamil diaspora. I was quickly advised that in Sri Lanka the word ‘diaspora’ carries connotations of internationalised support for anti-state terror.

Dinner with an NGO

What then is the role of the diaspora now that the dream of Tamil Eelam has been quashed? Before leaving Colombo I had dinner with a friend of a friend from Toronto now working for a non-government organization (NGO) that designs and implements basic education and food programs with communities devastated by the war.

The competing and contradictory narratives as to what occurred during the final stages of the war and its effects on civilians are well known, so naturally I probed him for information on interment camps which are still operational, displaced people that might never return to their homes and areas developed with World Bank initiatives that are now completely flattened.

Speaking carefully he talked of a generation that has known nothing but the trauma of war, who have lived through circumstances that his organisation have neither the resources or qualifications to deal with. Projects such as counseling are not only difficult to implement, but may also be politically discouraged for establishing some sort of account that contradicts the Government narrative. Instead their NGO focuses on rebuilding, educating and designing pathways for development with the communities concerned. He appeals to the diaspora, as those with a long serving interest in the region and its people to help establish long term rehabilitation projects and to encourage translocal connections with people limited in the extreme, regardless of their race or ethnicity – encouraging a globalised circuit that effects de-nationalised change.

The Lanka Project
January 2012

Planking: A post-political dilemma of life in excess

“The rules of the lying down game are simple: lie face down, with palms touching your sides and toes touching the ground, get someone to take a picture of you and post it on the internet.”[1]

On May 16 2011, Acton Beale plunged to his death while attempting to plank from the balcony rail of his seventh floor Brisbane unit. Was this an act of bravado gone wrong, or was Beale acting on a desire to become one with the objet petit a central to the middle class condition – an obsession with ­real estate and the prize of home ownership? By collapsing his life into art, might Beale’s act belie a subconscious desire for death?

Let’s consider this short-lived copycat craze indigenous to Facebook culture as a real world actualisation of socially mediated identities. The smartphone-enabled recursion of ‘plank and post’ reflects the current epoch’s seamless integration of the personal with the post-political, (re)producing meme-like unfunctionality across the commodified, socially mediated circuits that prescribe contemporary subjectivities.

As a reductive performative gesture, planking recalls Minimalism’s foregrounding of forms and their relationship with the spaces they inhabit. Planking’s collapse of life into art parallels Minimalism’s collapse of content into form – unfunction as perfection.
Planking also sits contemporaneously amongst relational and social art practices, extending the genealogy of psychogeography and urban play. As with dérive, skateboarding, BASE jumping and parkour, planking displays an urge to rub against the grain of bureaucratised and commercialised space.

While skateboarding and parkour have been readily absorbed into commodity culture, planking’s defiant unfunctionality effects as human strike.[2] Just as the aesthetics of funk subverted the surplus physical labour of black bodies, planking subverts the aesthetics of white-collar affective labour. “I am planking” announces null, interventionist, dissimulating bodies arousing labour’s latent drive to un-funk-tion.

Free market capitalism imagines an order external to the human condition – a metaphysical supra-intelligence – as an objective, non-human and therefore rational ordering of life. Necro-economics extends this logic to conclude that, given certain conditions, people will surrender their lives in order to maintain market equilibrium.[3]

As a surplus of affective labour, might the art of planking indicate zones of excess life that could potentially destabilise the free market? Do plankers risk life by acting on a subconscious death drive return to an inorganic state? Did Acton Beale realise his post-(necro)political subjectivity by exposing himself to death?

Planking reveals the play of subliminal and necro-economic forces on the post-political subject engaged in symbolic surface interaction. As such, we might observe planking as a psychogeographic symptom of a contagious affective disorder of surplus labour with the potential to destabilise the equilibrium of the metaphysical free market, thus requiring regulation by death. Ergo, death by planking could be seen as the ultimate un-funk-tion of surplus affective labour – the quintessential gréve humaine – that presents a contemporary post-political dilemma of life in excess.


[1] “The lying down game: how to play” The Telegraph 09 Sep 2009
[2] W, Alden “Notes on the ‘Human Strike’ or the ‘Grève humaine’” The Anvil Review February 6, 2011
[3] Montag, Warren ‘Necro-economics: Adam Smith and death in the life of the universal’ Radical Philosophy 134 (Nov/Dec 2005)


Published DAS500 13 November 2011

The Politics of Ass

In Mexico it is impossible to ignore the escalating violence of the ‘War on Drugs’ and the symbolic and often flamboyant forms of death in public view. Along the border a generation of los ni nis – disillusioned youth who neither work nor study[1] – are being lured into narco organisations, sometimes by force, to partake in these cruel practices.

In a country that has a well-established culture of death, such displays inform a unique popular dialogue. The true crime blog ‘el Blog del Narco’[2] emerged in 2010 as a response to an unprecedented media ban on often charismatic narco content. After the murders of several journalists reporting on narco activities, these anonymous bloggers could make ambiguous claims and draw international notoriety for showing stories from the front lines of the drug war that no one else dared to. Simultaneously, a generation of narco youth raised on social media began courting celebrity by posting the dispatches, threats and trophy videos that drive an emerging trend of watching real deaths online – a nefarious spin on prosumer net culture.

Recently I became fixated on the teens Gabriel Cardona and Rosalio Reta, american citizens from Laredo, Texas, who had fallen in with the ruthless crime organisation, Los Zetas. The childhood friends were trained as sicarios (hitmen) and would kill across both sides of the border, earning as much as $10,000 per hit plus perks such as kilos of cocaine, sports cars and women. Cardona and Reta were arrested in a sequence of dramatic events following a police sting at a safe house in Texas. Whilst awaiting trial Cardona had a fellow inmate tattoo two wide-open eyes on his closed eyelids, and Reta had his face tattooed with the markings of a jester. They are now serving multiple life sentences.

Earlier this year I released a proposition in Mexico hoping to provoke a discussion about the popular dynamics of narco culture and chase up on rumours of drug money being laundered through the art world. To my surprise, a prominent young art collector named Andréa Quiñones–Armería responded to my call and we met soon after to discuss the implications of the piece. The next day we approached a tattoo artist, before hastily arranging a date with Yautepec, an enterprising gallery in Mexico City. Four days after our first meeting Andréa had the faces of Cardona and Reta, who had their faces tattooed in prison, in turn tattooed on her ass.

Located along a busy thoroughfare and framed within the floor-to-ceiling gallery windows, the performance played out as a raucous, near spontaneous event in full view of the public, as well as being streamed live online and Tweeted. The act I proposed, a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement of narco teen power by literally ‘giving it the arse’, was transformed by Andréa whose social standing laced it with feminism and class subversion. In Latin America the word is ‘ass’ and – as Andréa’s partner made clear to me mid-tattoo – a woman’s ass in particular is a trigger for desire. Now permanently inked with two very distinct faces of narco terror, Andréa also bears some of that strange power.

El Beso Negro (The Black Kiss) took place at Yautepec Gallery Mexico City on June 27 2011 with the tattoo artist Greñas Rotten.


[1] Time, Mexico’s Lost youth: Generation narco, http://www.time.com/time/ world/article/0,8599,2028912,00.html. Accessed 28 august 2011.
[2] El Blog Del Narco, http://www.blogdelnarco.com. Accessed 28 august 2011.


Published DAS500 4 November 2011

Crimes of praxis: documentary and friction

A Propósitio…
Yoshua Okón & Miguel Calderón, (1997), video still. Image courtesy of the artists.

The universally popular sport of mocking authority has a distinct place in Mexican cultural life, a nation where blatantly corrupt civic institutions are penetrated by organized crime.

In 1997 the Mexican artist Yoshua Okón and, quite literally, his partner in crime Miguel Calderón set the bar for anti–authoritarian art mischief with A Propósitio… (1997). A work comprised of a guerilla style video documenting Calderón stealing a car stereo is projected large behind a wall of 120 car stereos, also stolen, that the pair had acquired on the black market.

Upping the ante, Joaquin Segura produced Someone Else’s Doc Martens (2002), a hasty hand held video in which Segura and his friends mug a stranger for a pair of boots identical to those worn by the artist. An accompanying action shot in glimmering night vision as the video ‘Hangover’ (2003), documents Segura cracking a just–drunk bottle of wine over the head of an unsuspecting passerby before bolting, cursing towards the camera.

Regardless of whether you consider these actions to be real or staged, here in the Distrito Federal they are plausible – performances of the kinds of random street crime that punctuate everyday life in one of the world’s most populated cities.

These ‘documentary frictions’ of mediated violence flow along the course of global capital as artists from these ‘Third World’ margins appear more prominently in the contemporary art field. These works transform the frictions that arise from economic inequalities, policy failures, and population displacements into cultural commodities, that might also trade on an ‘Economy of Fear’.

Mexico has a supply chain of sanguine imagery, from Aztec rituals, a bloody Revolution and the more recent ‘War on Drugs’, that are ubiquitous in public culture. An analysis of the kinds of torture at play in the current ‘Narco Wars’ notes similarities to techniques used by the Spaniards during the Inquisition[1], suggesting that deeply imbedded colonial violence continues to be re–played in contemporary society.

Drawing closer to home, a recent work by Vernon Ah Kee also uses the documentary form to comment on an ongoing perversion of civic powers. Tall Man (2010) concerns the figure of Lex Wotton and the violent community uprising in Palm Island 2004 that was a consequence of the death in custody of Cameron ‘Mulrunji’ Doomagdee. Doomagdee died after an ‘accidental fall’ with the arresting officer, Chris Hurley, broke four of his ribs and ruptured his liver and spleen.

Wotton was charged with inciting a riot in 2008 and handed a seven–year gaol sentence. Hurley, however, received a medal, a promotion and was re–located to the Queensland Gold Coast. Admittedly, I am yet to see this work, but I am very familiar with some of its source material – a video of the events used to prosecute Wotton. By remixing this evidence it’s possible Ah Kee performs a cultural re–balancing, where Wotton[2] emerges as the anti–authoritarian hero he is considered by many – and not only Palm Islanders – for “standing tall”[3] against the continued re–enactment of colonial violence.


[1] Vera, Rodrigo “Salvajismo primitivo” Proceso No. 1805, 5 June 2011
[2] I too have re–edited and exhibited this particular video for the exhibtion ‘Nice Dreams’ with Gustavo Böke, Black & Blue Gallery, Sydney 2009.
[3] Reilly, Maura “Vernon Ah Kee Tall Man” Art Asia Pacific 73 May & June 2011


Published DAS500 3 July 2011

A Merry Life and a Short One

Laura McLean’s High Seas and Erased Adjuncts First Draft Gallery January 2011.

European expansions ensured that the world as we know it was logged, charted and administered by the time the 20th century rolled around. Later developments in satellite and communication technologies added more layers of data to these geopolitical schemas, and more recently Google Maps has ensured that anyone with internet access can have unprecedented detail of regions otherwise unknown via its ‘Street View’ and ‘Satellite’ functions. Given the ideology of transparency and accessibility that marked early net culture, it’s ironic (although not unexpected) that now the only blank spaces on the map are the sensitive military and government zones blurred by Google[1]. For most of us it appears life beyond the scope of Google is but a fantasy of the last century.

"Are we reduced either to nostalgia for the past or nostalgia for the future?"[2]

The high seas have long been active zones for radical thinking. In another era ideas of self–empowerment and stories of revolution were carried by seamen across colonial shipping routes. Around the world dockland communities harboured progressive mixed race movements that campaigned for labour reform and citizenship. Recent scholarship suggests that during the short lived but long mythologised ‘golden age of piracy’(roughly 1690-1725) some crews sailed under Articles of an unprecedented egalitarian nature that were often preferable to the terms of more legitimate ventures [3].

Jump to the present where the much publicised trials and tribulations of the file sharing site The Pirate Bay, as well as the more spectacular cause célèbre Wikileaks, has foregrounded the difficulty of (and keen opposition to) policing data flows and intellectual property. As authorities scramble to pin a charge on Wikileaks spokesperson Julian Assange it seems inevitable that the alleged US army source Bradley Manning will feel the full weight of the law to serve as warning to all potential ideologues that radical urges acted upon, however historically effective, are sure to be crushed.

 Laura McLean’s High Seas and Erased Adjuncts proposes a model of these relations and surfacing ideologies – flag states, rouge territories, non–aligned actors with their inherent complications, co-operations and (temporary) consolidations. Tiered islands marked with flagpoles and connected via lines of colour coded pennants suggest uniting and dividing alliances. Their undisclosed or undefined semaphore brings to mind the mixed signals of regional geopolitics. Migratory re–zonings, border (in)securities and unaligned operatives complicate the rhetoric around people smuggling, drug trades, foreign aid and terrorist activities.

 The Erased Adjuncts of retrieved propaganda prints recall past ideologies, territories and power blocs. McLean’s selections of phrases and symbols are suggestive but never explicit glyphs of an earlier era that are altered, appropriated or simply re-presented.

Perhaps High Seas and Erased Adjuncts serve as streamlined ideological icon? An ornament poised for action, stripped of locative contextual content, or perhaps a daydream of idyllic ‘Islands in the Net’ – delocalised, decolonized, non–aligned and..(ahem)..free?

Amidst all this T.A.Z. talk and nineties net nostalgia, I can’t help but add an adjunct of my own – a mental picture of Squatspace Sydney at the onset of the last decade. At the height of their public battle against developers and the council the words “Brief Utopia” appeared, painted in large letters high up on its Broadway face. Lasting for some time after the squatters were evicted it served as a reminder – an ideological trace – as well as an echo of an earlier potent era. For High Seas I’ll indulge in retrieving another, more appropriate phrase from the past: Sous les paves, la plage.


[1] IT Security. Blurred Out: 51 Things You Aren't Allowed to See on Google Maps
[2] Bey, Hakim. “Pirate Utopias” – T. A. Z. The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism, Autonomedia (1991).
[3] Räthzel, Nora. "Life Under the Jolly Roger: Reflections on Golden Age Piracy – Interview with Gabriel Kuhn," darkmatter Journal, Issue-5, Pirates & Piracy, 20 December 2009.