The central HQ of the 2009 Art Strike Biennial switched constantly between Alytus Art School, Hotel Dzukija about five minutes walk away, and a bar-cum-restaurant located between these two venues in downtown Alytus. At the art school a lot of coffee was consumed, at the hotel innumerable bottles of wine, and in the bar industrial quantities of beer and cold beetroot soup. The Dzukija was an old school Soviet hotel, a concrete shell with stained glass in some of the public areas and cantilevered stairs between the floors. The building was absolutely crammed full of original oil paintings by official Soviet artists of yesteryear. In keeping with the Dzukija’s theme of Soviet nostalgia, the maids would leave overflowing bins in the bathrooms and failed to replenish toilet paper; all of which created a very relaxed bohemian atmosphere.
Perhaps the most interesting innovation art strikers brought to the Dzukija Hotel was the introduction of an ‘anarchist orgy suite’ on the second floor. This was a bedroom that had been assigned to a visiting anarchist from Vilnius (much of the Vilniaus Anarchistai group was present), that was put to collective use. The keys to this room were left permanently in the lock on the outside of the door, and according to unsubstantiated rumour anyone could go inside for ‘fun’, but in doing so risked being locked-in. As far as I’m aware the only person to end up trapped in the ‘orgy suite’ was the Italian autonomist Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi, and when he was finally freed he announced casually in English: “I’ve just had an adventure’. He was locked in on his own, so this incident provides no evidence to back-up the endlessly whispered rumours about ‘orgies’ taking place in the room.
Aside from the Vilnius anarchists, Saulius Užpelkis was perhaps the individual most involved in engaging Bifo in ongoing political debate over beers. Although originally from Vilnius, Saulius has been living in London for the past year and he numbers among those recently denounced in The Sun for holding orgies on the roof of their squat in Poplar. I had a long discussion with Saulius about this and came away with the unsurprising view that the tabloid coverage I’d seen was not very accurate.
Bifo gave a couple of public talks during the Art Strike Biennial, but I found his bar room conversation even more enthralling than his lecture style. The first of Bifo’s official talks dealt with the development of radical media strategies from the seventies to the present: he stressed the difference between the serving up of information by the mass media, and his own desire for real communication. The second talk was based around precarity ‘theory’, and since I’ve argued against Alex Foti’s version of this ridiculous notion elsewhere (with regard to the Copenhagen riots a couple of years ago), I won’t go into it here. That said, while Bifo has taken up precarity ‘theory’, I nonetheless see his thinking as being way superior to Foti’s overall; and he is also a charming, delightful and very likable guy.
The key figure in leading discussion at the art school was Redas Diržys, and he worked hard at integrating the out-of-town strikers with the local teenagers also in attendance. What finally united the various factions was not so much theoretical debate, as practical activities. On Wednesday afternoon there was supposed to be a propaganda workshop. However when I turned up for it with my old friend Lloyd Dunn, the anarchists ‘running’ it had disappeared. I hauled Redas Diržys out of an office and we had a discussion about whether or not there should be an approved set of slogans for demonstration banners. In the end we agreed that those making the banners could use any slogan they wanted, but that all slogans would be translated into Spanish. Among the slogans I contributed was ‘Fly LSD’.
The Spanish banners were used on both a demonstration and a monstration, with around 50 art strikers marching around Alytus to the sound of banging drums and chanting in Lithuanian. The demonstration stopped in the town square for political speeches and a song in Estonian from Reiu Tüür. On the monstration art strike balloons were handed out to passers-by, and the march stopped in the town square for a game of Simon Says orchestrated by Charlie Citron. The demonstration and monstration were organised on consecutive afternoons and at both events marchers wore special art strike picket line clothes designed by Stephanie Benzaquen and Rotem Balva; these had been run up by local tailors. Meanwhile local sensibilities were simultaneously flummoxed by street paintings that had been executed by Nathan Crothers and Reiu Tüür.
After the demonstration on Thursday, there was an unofficial boating trip at a local lake that had lost most of its water, resulting in rowers frequently running aground. Martin Zet and Stefan Bohnenberger played leading roles in these almost water-borne activities. Following the monstration on Friday, a scratch orchestra came together to play improvised music outside Alytus Art School. This was followed by an after dark film screening on the outside wall of a derelict cinema.
On Saturday morning there was a game of three-sided football, with three teams and three goals. The triolectical anti-sport was followed by Mantas Kazakevicius demonstrating how to use a Reichian cloud buster, then the strike wound down with a wine tasting organised by Kurt Ryslavy and Natalie Yalon. Naturally Saturday night concluded with an over-the-top party in the Hotel Dzukija, which is a good way of reminding ourselves that while we’re demolishing serious culture we should have a smile on our lips and a song in our heart.
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!