Normally you will find Tools for Action live on the street, with inflatable sculptures that reinforce protest. Now that we can’t get together in one place, we want to meet you in a live performance, an investigation into new forms of assembly.
For the online edition of the Dutch OEROL festival, we will experiment with a new performance format, called SAMENSCHOLING. (Dutch meaning Assembly, but also meaning educating, togetherness..) On Monday 15th of June, Wednesday 17th and Friday 19th from 20.30-22.00 you can participate from your own location in an exercise in jointly forming a movement at a distance.
With the help of mobile phones and movement assignments, we investigate our sphere of influence in a live video connection. Looking at the sky together, walking synchronously, turning. How are you connected to your surroundings? You can do the live exercises from home, on the street, at the campsite, or on the beach.
After each experiment we discuss the experience and reflect on the link between awareness, individual action, collective action and what is needed for social change.
The participatory art work “Signals, Resonating Revolutions” by Tools for Action, has experimented with new forms of public assembly in the context of the commemorations of the November Revolution 1918/19 in Berlin. This anthropological essay seeks to sketch out and analyse three crucial characteristics of the experiment: its power to unveil the multilayeredness of histories, the making of a counter-monument, the fostering of dissensus.
– by Charlotte Klein
Running, jumping, bouncing, laughing. I laugh. I laugh a lot seeing others wiggling with the inflatable sculptures on their backs. A swirl of red light: when I twirl around with that guy, I imagine how it looks from afar. I cannot turn my head all the way to see the sculpture on my back, to see my red light. But I hold the switch: click, click. And again. Am I on or off, now? Flicking lights in a domino effect, forming a snake, making a circle, running away pretending to be a shooting star, and again twirling. Seeing the group with some distance it looks as if they are doing gymnastics: in a circle holding hands, bending to the right, then to the left. I catch up, squeezing into the circle. We bend to the front and our inflatables touch over our heads – creating a space, a secret space. Faces shine red, and happy. Seeing one another in our secret space.
“Signals, Resonating Revolutions” is a participatory and experimental performance by the art and activism collective Tools for Action. They developed and built a hundred red inflatable light sculptures in order “to celebrate the joy of assembling and to test new forms of collective communication in public space”. The experiment was the opening event of the Berlin-wide project “100 Jahre Revolution Berlin 1918/19” – a “commemorative season” celebrating the 100th anniversary of the November Revolution in 1918, which led to the Weimar Republic. The whole project was organised by Kulturprojekte GmbH, a subsidiary company of the state of Berlin, which develops, coordinates and promotes cultural projects in the city. The vignette at the beginning of this piece captures some of my own experiences in the first experiment on the 11th of November 2018 in Berlin-Mitte. In the following, I seek to sketch out three crucial characteristics of the experiment: first, the multilayeredness of histories highlighted by the experiment, secondly, it works as a counter-monument, and finally, it fosters dissensus.
Firstly, “Signals, Resonating Revolutions” facilitates an understanding of the myriad modes of collective memory making, as it allows us to trace the multiplicity of overlapping historical narratives. The date of the November Revolution, the 9th November, is coined by polarising political and ideological moments in context of German historical narratives: the celebration of the revolutionary proclamation of the free democratic republic in 1918 coincides – not by hazard, but out of fascist political strategy (see Tworek and Weber, 2014) – with the commemoration of the pogrom against Jews in Nazi Germany in 1938. Hence, the celebrations of the November Revolution including Tools for Action’s collective experiment needed to take place two days later, on the 11th of November 2018, as the uprisings could not be celebrated on the same day as the killing and persecution of hundreds of Jews was commemorated. The institution in charge, in this case Kulturprojekte GmbH as an arm of the Senate Department of Culture of Berlin, aligned these acts of public commemoration in accordance with what is understood to be common sense and value. Clearly, this case shows, that the negotiation of this multilayeredness is a political act.
Moreover, by directing the performance along chosen prominent sites of the November Revolution, the shiny, inflatable tools highlight the eclectic relationship between history and urban space. Landscapes, and the urban in particular, are coined by change and reflect a multitude of histories. Working as “the locus of the collective memory” (Rossi in Hebbert, 2005: 587), the urban landscape acts as a reminder of the past, and as background for current actions and imaginations of futures – of utopias. Hence, the experiment is nurtured by the place, powerfully pointing to its ambiguity of history. Shedding light on these histories engrained in the built environment, activates and emphasises the landscape’s function as “medium for and outcome of [human] action and previous histories of action” (Tilley, 1994: 23; emphasis of the original). Tools for Action uses the city as space for gathering, exchange, and debate, as “tool of thought and action” (Lefebvre, 1991: 289).
Secondly, the activated inflatables give rise to variations of communication and effect people’s ways of relating with each other. From a subjective perception, or rather feeling, it is not primarily the objects shining and blinking, but the individuals themselves reacting to and resonating with each other. Here, to resonate means to relate, to position and to try to understand one’s own impact on the visual impression of the crowd – the power of the visual is consciously used. The experiment sheds light on people’s role in public space by transferring forms of societal communication and public gathering to a visual level, literally highlighting them. This demonstrates effectively the agency of objects, and artworks in particular, which Alfred Gell (1998) evinces. Being made for playing, bouncing, connecting people and igniting emotions, the inflatables open a “channel for further social relations and influences” (ibid., 2006: 172-173) once they are activated by the participants – who are obviously not only spectators, but exert their agency in synergy with the inflatable on their back. The euphoria captured in the opening vignette also depends on the inflatables’ balloon-like features: their ephemerality is tangible – their fate is literally up in the air. This possible, imposed ephemerality adds up to the whole temporary and performative character of the experiment.
Hence, I argue, that “Signals, Resonating Revolutions” creates an ephemeral counter-monument – powerfully claiming new ways of remembrance. In line with James E. Young’s (1992) argument, that all durable and solid monuments carry “fascist tendencies” (ibid.: 274), Tools for Action playfully challenge permanent perceptions of memory making. I consider the notion of the counter-monument to be fruitful in this context, because it “asks us to recognize that time and memory are interdependent, in dialectical flux” (ibid.: 294). Consequently, the artwork points to the efficacious nature of acts in the present: societal communication, civic participation and public gathering are enacted in the now and have an impact on (imaginations of) futures. The experiment and the inflatables themselves create a queer way of countering memory making, actively working against a reduction of individuals to “passive spectators” (ibid.: 274). Above all, the experiment and its inflatables widen communication channels and heighten the subjective and emotional qualities of memory work.
Thirdly, the experiment ignites euphoric and unpredictable group movements in public space. Hence, “Signals, Resonating Revolutions” renders societal possibilities visible and works as “process for social transformation” (Bell in Schacter, 2014: 186-187). Reflexive in nature, the carnivalesque appearance and experience pushes boundaries, underpinned by a stark “belief in the transgressive utilization of public space” (Schacter, 2014: 180). These counter-practices are innovative and productive of meaning. Simultaneously, Tools for Action are funded by and depend on state institutions. In broader terms, I understand the relationship between Tools for Action and Kulturprojekte GmbH as a clash between the notion of experiment – being playful and open-ended – on the one hand, and the notion of event management – being regulatory and output-driven – on the other.
Hence, the experiment and Tools for Action engages in what Chantal Mouffe (2007) calls “the ‘agonistic’ struggle” (ibid.: 3), deemed fundamental to democracy. I understand the experiment as “critical art”, because it “foments dissensus, that makes visible what the dominant consensus tends to obscure and obliterate” (ibid.) The experiment’s agonistic and dynamic ways of moving and assembling in public space aim at a variety of narratives and voices, at discourse and dissensus. Thereby, a way of questioning singularised – supposedly uniting – historical narratives is enacted in public space. Above all, the carnivalesque experiment reveals that behaviour in public space, commemoration and writing of history – all seems to be common sense – are based on hegemonic structures. Thus, any order or narrative is necessarily political. The flicking, bouncing inflatables are tools, which facilitate and enrich public assembly as well as explorations of what dissensus means. The experiment is efficacious, because public space is a “battleground” (ibid.) of narratives and practices. “Signals, Resonating Revolutions” has a reflexive, overturning, and unsettling attitude, producing “new knowledge” (Kapferer in Schacter, 2014: 170) in a civil, emotional, bodily and synaesthetic manner.
Above all, through light and movement “Signals, Resonating Revolutions” lets social relations within the present-day city and its historical entanglements become tangible. Tools for Action’s social experiment reveals the political character of public space and memory work. The inflatables are tools for counter-practices; they challenge not only conventional movement patterns, but also generate knowledge and innovative practices of remembering as well as public assembly. The experiment makes us curious about the utopian ideas and civil dynamics developing at future activations of the tools, when the revolutions resonate again.
N.B. This sketch is based on a thorough analysis of the experiment; see my essay “Signals, Resonating Revolutions”: Unveiling the power of inflatables in public space and memory work (forthcoming).
by Charlotte Klein | 2019 | email@example.com
University College London Anthropology
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Hebbert M. (2005) The street as locus of collective memory. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 23: 581-596.
Lefebvre H. (1991) The production of space In: Jen Jack Gieseking WM, Cindi Katz, Setha Low, Susan Saegert (2014) (ed) The people, place, and space reader. New York, London: Routledge.
Mouffe C. (2007) Artistic Activism and Agonistic Spaces. Art and Research 1.
Schacter R. (2014) Ornament and order: graffiti, street art and the parergon, Farnham, Surrey, England: Ashgate Publishing Limited.
Tilley CY. (1994) Space, place, landscape and perception: phenomenological perspectives. In: Tilley CY (ed) A phenomenology of landscape: places, paths, and monuments. Oxford: Berg, 7-34.
Tworek H and Weber T. (2014) Das Märchen vom Schicksalstag. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
Young JE. (1992) The Counter-Monument: Memory against Itself in Germany Today. Critical Inquiry 18: 267-296.
Tools for Action and Dancers withoutTänzer ohne Grenzen invites everyone to participate in the rehearsals and the Opening Performance “Signals, Resonating Revolutions” of the project “100 Jahre Revolution – Berlin 1918 / 19” from Kulturprojekte Berlin.
Tools for Actionis pleased to announce the project “Signals, Resonating Revolutions” as part of the the official opening ceremony of the 100th anniversary of the German Revolution by Kulturprojekte Berlin.
In 1918|19 the first German democracy was proclaimed in Berlin and basic rights, like the right to assemble, freedom of opinion and votes for women were established. 2018 marks the centenary of the German Revolution 1918|19.
Tools for Action is asked to do the opening performance of the November Revolution 1918|19! For this occasion we developed red, inflatable light-sculptures: new tools for public assembly and creative resistance! Together with the organisation Tänzer ohne Grenzen e.V. (dancers without borders) we will be activating these new tools in a collective choreographic experiment together with hundreds of participants.
We are currently looking for participants, who want to test our new tools and rehearse with us.
general Rehearsal, Saturday, 3.11.2018 17:00 – 19:00 h Meetingpoint: Exit of subway Tiergarten
Final opening performance: Sunday, 11.11.2018 16:00 – 19:00 h Meetingpoint: Podewil, entrance via Waisenstraße 26 (courtyard), U2 Klosterstraße
Impressions of first rehearsal, on the 27.10.2018 here.
Join the Light Bloc!
Join us for an experiment in resonating revolutions!
TOOLS FOR ACTION in collaboration with Tänzer ohne Grenzen invites everyone to participate in the rehearsals and the Opening Performance “Signals, Resonating Revolutions” of the project “100 Jahre Revolution – Berlin 1918 / 19” from Kulturprojekte Berlin.
We are proud to present the exhibition Floating Utopias (26.04.20187 – 24.06.2018) and accompanying symposium Floating ideologies – Material Disobedience (19.05.2018).
With: Ahmet Öğüt, Ant Farm, Anna Hoetjes, Anika Schwarzlose, Artúr van Balen, Eventstructure Research Group, Franco Mazzucchelli, Graham Stevens, Huw Wahl, Marco Barotti and Plastique Fantastique, The Yes Men, Tomás Saraceno, Tools for Action, UFO
Ever since the first hot-air balloon ascended in 1783, inflatable objects have inspired the imagination of alternative worlds. In the nineteenth century, aerial towns colonized the skies and floating labs surveyed the world. Flying cameras popularized the view from above. Starting in the 1930s, gigantic floats attracted attention to socialist and capitalist mass parades. Along with the ideals of the generation of 1968, inflatable spaces and performances entered into architecture and tested new forms of coexistence.
‘Floating Utopias’ presents the broad range of pneumatic media in an exhibition and accompanying interventions in urban space. The project juxtaposes historical and contemporary works and raises questions as to their potential for artistic and activist practices. Until today, inflatable objects serve as tools for aesthetic and political interventions: artists and activists situate their works between surreality and functionality, fiction and fact. Inflatables invite us to be playful and disobedient, they forge communities and prompt participation, generate attention and agency.
The exhibition is realised within the democratic arts society neue Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst (nGbK) Berlin.
Adress:nGbK, Oranienstraße 25, 10999 Berlin Open:Daily 12-19h, Wed-Fri 12-20h Language(s):German, English Entry: free Organized by:neue Gesellschaft für bildende Kunst
Artúr van Balen, Fabiola Bierhoff, Alexander Dunst, Anna Hoetjes, Jantien Roozenburg, Hannah Zindel
Exhibition design: Agustina Pascotto and Jazmin Lourdes Schenone in collaboration with Jantien Roozenburg
Symposium: Floating Ideologies – Material Disobedience
Much to the frustration of centuries of inventors, hot-air balloons can only be steered vertically, not horizontally. The uncontrollable, disobedient element of balloons points to both a burden and a promise of liberation. Inflatables are used as tools of observation and disguise in the military, as tools of attraction in mass spectacles and as tools for direct action in protest situations. This symposium investigates how inflatables have the potential for tactics and strategies ranging from centralised technologies of control to insurrectionary bottom-up approaches for empowerment. Where can inflatables take us? And what are the ethical dilemmas, considering that tools can be used by actors with different political agendas?
Artúr van Balen: Guided tour of the Floating Utopias exhibition
(artist, activist, co-curator exhibition Floating Utopias)
15:00 – 15:45
Guided tour through the exhibition and introduction to the themes of the symposium Floating Ideologies – Material disobedience.
Tom Ullrich: Flying barricades
(mediatheorist and historian)
16:00 – 16:45
Barricades and balloons are two centuries-old French inventions that do not initially seem to be connected. However, their stories both touch on extreme situations of armed conflict as well as political and artistic protest. The article illustrates this peculiar exchange of airy blockades and resistant balloons with literary, visual and cinematic documents – from the uprising of the Paris Commune in 1871 and Albert Robidas utopia of a pneumatic twentieth century to the time of the protests around 1968.
Anika Schwarzlose: Disguise and Deception
16:45 – 17:30
Inflatables and their use by the military for bluff and deception, as a means of propaganda, make believe, disguise and distraction.
Inflatable decoy weapons and infrastructure as attempts to simulate resources, manpower and mobility, date back to before World War II. An American unit known as the “Ghost Army” gained international fame. But also in Germany, the army has employed very similar methods. The unit “Tarnen und Täuschen” creates inflatable tanks, bridges and replica weapons – starting out in Eastern Germany during the cold war, and still active today. An artist talk and interviews with army technicians give an insight into the history of military inflatable use and construction.
Moritz Frischkorn: Choreography of things, from 1968 to today
18:00 – 18:45
In 1968 American choreographer Merce Cunningham presented his piece ‘RainForest’, a movement study about the apparent wilderness of his homeland in the Northwest USA. The ‘Silver Clouds’ by Andy Warhol – helium-filled, silver balloons floating on the stage and into the auditorium – were the central actor and the only stage setting of this choreography. With reference to Cunningham’s work, the aesthetic writings of Yvonne Rainer and current works by Mette Ingvartsen, the role objects play in contemporary choreography is addressed, whether on the stage or the street. At the same time, I examine the question of what constitutes the resistant choreopolitical potential of things, and how this can be developed and preserved?
Shailoh Phillips: Floating Ideologies: Ethical Dilemmas for the Politics of Direct Action
(Artistic researcher, PhD/ philosopher / activist)
18:45 – 19:30
Inflatables are floating and light-weight tactical tools, ideal for sending political messages, disrupting protests and blocking streets. However, the political orientation of such tools are not fixed; indeed, they are filled with nothing but air. Tools of liberation can easily be appropriated for nationalist alt-right agendas, flipping to become tools of oppression. This performance lecture will look into the underlying critical dilemmas of the ethics of inflatables in direct action.
Huw Wahl on Action Space (1968-1978)
Film screening and discussion :
20:00 – 22:00
Founded by my father Ken Turner and his wife Mary Turner in 1968, Action Space used large inflatable sculptures to create interventions in public spaces. By bringing together artists, performers, dancers, painters and musicians, the movement sought to produce cultural democratic spaces for art, education and creative play outside of the restrictive space of the gallery system. This film looks at those years between 1968 and 1978, exploring contemporary and pertinent issues around public/private space, individual/collective creativity, community and responsibility, emancipation and play. It features archive footage alongside discussions with key members of the movement, present-day writers and theorists. The film is based around the making of a new inflatable sculpture within which contemporary performances and happenings are staged.
The mirror barricade is a social sculpture consisting of silver reflective inflatable cubes that can be assembled within seconds into a barricade. The playful tools for blockading roads were built by citizens of Dortmund, who positioned themselves against xenophobia and the so-called “Day of German Future” neo-Nazi rally on the 4th of June 2016.
The exhibition reflects on the process, the forming of the “social sculpture” through an installation, a video and a small publication. The installation consists of an inflatable wall that divides the room into two and serves as a semipermeable membrane. A projection shows two separate videos: the first shows the fabrication workshops and barricade trainings at schools, combined with interviews of 12-13 year old students who explain how they learned to make inflatable cubes and put them to use as a barricade. The second video shows aerial footage of a mass choreographed barricade training with more than 200 people participating, combined with film clips of the inflatables used at two counter demonstrations against the neo-Nazi march: a playful, family-friendly demonstration at Wilhelmsplatz (the square in the district Dorstfeld, what the self-proclaimed neo-Nazis call their “national liberated zone”) and the barricade at BlockaDO, the more radical demonstration that promoted nonviolent civil disobedience for blockading the neo-Nazi march. The BlockaDO demonstration was kettled in immediately after the start. The cubes became cushions and a protection barrier between angry protesters and police forces. The police response was to cut the inflatable works into pieces. Here the question arises about how to deal with neo-Nazi marches and which values are defended in our society.
A small publication designed by Studio Pandan serves as the teaser for Tools for Action’s upcoming book, with texts about the history of barricades (Tom Ullrich), an analysis of the transformative potential of play in demonstrations (Seraphine Meya) and a text describing the pedagogical aspect of the project (Helena Breidt).
Action funded by the the Dortmund Municipality for Diversity, Tolerance and Democracy, the Municipal Integration Center of Dortmund, LUSH Charity Pot, Rosa Luxembourg Foundation, the Heinrich Böll Foundation, Dortmund City Marketing and a crowdfunding campaign.
Dortmund, Germany, 2016
Coordinated with the Schauspiel Dortmund Theater
and Schools without Racism – Schools with Courage
The Mirror Barricade (Die Spiegel Barrikade) is a social sculpture consisting of silver reflective inflatable cubes that can be assembled within seconds into a barricade. The playful tools were built by citizens of Dortmund, who positioned themselves against xenophobia and the so-called “Day of German Future”, a neo-Nazi rally on the 4th of June 2016. The barricade was designed to enable Dortmunders to literally held up a mirror to the extreme-right marchers and make space for reflecting on the kind of society we want to live in.
The School Workshops
Every cube was made by a citizen of Dortmund during a public workshop. The main focus was to work with students at 14 local schools that were part of the network Schools without Racism — Schools with Courage. During daylong skillshare workshops, students worked together in teams to construct inflatable cubes and also took part in discussions about xenophobia.
The whole day was designed to encourage team building. From the very beginning when a truck of supplies from the theatre would arrive, all of the students, teachers and artists from Tools for Action would unload the truck together. We would begin by setting up six custom tables in the school gymnasium or the aula assembly hall, transforming it into a convivial factory for building barricades of the 21st century. The goal was to create a supportive, open and fun environment where students could feel safe to talk about issues of racism and discrimination. By building the cubes together, students built friendships for supporting each other to be courageous and take action to stand up for multiculturalism and inclusion.
Pupils of the Bert-Brecht Gymnasium do an action training with their self-made inflatable barricade. Foto Peter Bandermann
As a preamble to the fabrication workshop, students would first engage in a discussion about racism and xenophobia, convened by the local organization Respekt Buro. The discussion exercises were designed to bring to the surface the influence of neo-Nazi ideology on traditional German values. It also created space for students to talk about the internationally interconnected neo-Nazi scene in Dortmund, which focuses much of its recruitment on students just out of high school.
After the discussion and presentation about inflatables by Tools for Action, the fabrication workshop began. The entire class would gather together to watch a step by step of demonstration of how to measure and cut the pattern for the inflatable cube. Then the students would form into teams, each locating themselves at one table and using custom-crafted tools to make their cube pattern. The rest of the day would be an ebb and flow of the group coming together to watch a demonstration for the next step, then returning to their team’s table to work together on that step.
One by one the teams would finish their cubes and inflate them. As the silver forms would fill with air, so too would the hall fill with excitement and laughter. Students would bounce the inflatables high into the air in celebratio
n and then assemble all the cubes together to learn a series of choreographies dubbed the Barricade Ballet. These choreographies doubled as an action training in ways these playful tools could be used to intervene in the neo-Nazi march. “Double spaghetti” and “Pumpkin” where among the favorite code words for intervening with these inflatable sculptures as an artistic form of direct action.
The international network Schools without Racism, Schools with Courage (Schule ohne Rassismus – Schule mit Courage) began in Germany in 1995 during a period of increasing racist and extreme right-wing violence. This was the motivation to create a network in which young people have the opportunity take a stand against daily discrimination in their living environment. In this framework students can ask, “What kind of society do I want to live in?” and actively contribute to building a society where respect and multiculturalism are at its core.
On June 4th, when more than 500 neo-Nazis gathered in Dortmund, counter-demonstrators connected the cubes together to form a barricade, to literally hold up a mirror to the extreme-right marchers. The Mirror Barricade also protected counter demonstrators by functioning as a shield against neo-Nazi violence and police repression.
The inflatable barricades were located at two gathering points in the city: a playful, family-friendly demonstration at Wilhelmsplatz (the square in the district Dorstfeld, what the self-proclaimed neo-Nazis call their “national liberated zone”) and the barricade at BlockaDO, the more radical demonstration that promoted civil disobedience for blockading the neo-Nazi march. The BlockaDO demonstration was kettled in immediately by police, who had formed a cordon around the neo-Nazi march. The cubes became cushions and a protection barrier between impassioned protesters and police forces. The police response was to cut the inflatable works into pieces. Here the question arises about how to deal with neo-Nazi marches and which values are defended in our society.
Blown up within minutes from a formless piece of plastic, the inflatables are huge props for visibility. Stretching across roads and intersections, their glittering metallic surfaces and surreal weightless forms captivate the eyes of the public and media. They are more than just walls, though — when the cubes are thrown into the air, the street is transformed into a spontaneous playground. In the battle of the spectacle, the Mirror Barricade is a tactical tool for saying NO to xenophobia and racism, and YES to imagining what else might be possible.
The Mirror Barricade created an unpredictable, stunning, aesthetic image of togetherness in Dortmund — standing in solidarity against xenophobia and exclusion whilst in solidarity with refugees and inclusion.
Text by Katherine Ball with contributions from John Jordan.
Ende Gelände is an annual mass action of civil disobedience calling for “here and no Further” for fossil fuel extraction. From 13-15 May 2016, 3,000 demonstrators gathered in the Lausitz region of Germany to blockade the Welzow Sud Lignite Coal Mine, owned by Vattenfall.
Inflatable barricades were set up to block roads leading to train tracks transporting coal supplies. Made of silver inflatable cubes, the barricades prevented police from accessing railways occupied by thousands of demonstrators.
From the rail lines and forests, demonstrators descended into the coal mine and climbed onto the digging machines — forcing the mine to shut down due to health and safety regulations restricting the machines from operating when unauthorized persons enter the mine.
For three days, demonstrators held the blockade of the mine and railways delivering coal to the nearby power plant, also owned by Vattenfall. By preventing coal from being delivered, one unit of the of the Schwarze Pumpe Power Plant had to be completely shut down and the other unit reduced its production by 2/3. Because of the lack of supplies, 1300 MW of the dirtiest power was prevented from entering the power grid.
600 demonstrators entered the power plant, attempting to shut it down completely due to health and safety regulations. Inside the plant, demonstrators were attacked by riot police and pepper sprayed. The demonstrators attempted to leave the plant, frantically jumping over fences, running along an exit road, and breaking through police lines. 130 people were kettled by the police, photographed for three hours, held until 4am in the cold and wind (the temperature dropped 4-6 degrees celsius at night), and finally arrested and brought to the local jail in Cottbus, Germany. Meanwhile, the coal railway and mine blockades continued. The cubes were played with inside the kettle, bringing fun and conviviality into a scenario intended to dehumanize. At one point, one cube escaped the kettle and the police refused to give it back. So demonstrators inflated another cube, chanting: “We are inflatable, another cube is possible!” (a play on “We are unstoppable, another world is possible.” )
The Ende Gelände actions were part of a larger call to put an end to burning lignite coal in Germany. Lignite is the dirtiest form of coal. It emits far more CO2 than other fossil fuels. Lignite is the main reason why German CO2 emissions have started rising. In Germany, lignite burning is higher today than at any time since the 1990s. No other nation burns so much.
Photo credit: 350.org / Paul Levis Wagner Photo credit: Fabien Melber Photo credit: Kevin Buckland Photo credit: Tools for Action / Katherine Ball Photo credit: Tools for Action / Katherine Ball Photo credit: Tools for Action / Katherine Ball Photo credit: Reuben Neugebauer
Vattenfall, one of the big energy corporations in Germany, wants to sell the Welzow Sud Coal Mine and Schwartz Pump Power Plant, instead of shutting them down. A new investor on the other hand would reinvest large sums into lignite mining in the area. In order to avoid catastrophic climate change, this coal has to remain in the ground. One of the largest lignite mines in Germany, the Welzow Sud Lignite Coal Mine is where the climate is being negotiated — and where demonstrators are holding the line for climate justice.
In preparation of the Ende Gelände action, a “training for trainers” occurred in March 2016, organized by 350.org, the Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination and Tools for Action. Representatives of climate activist groups from all over Europe learned how to organise for the action and make inflatable cubes. Every group representative then took home 2-3 rolls of silver insulation foil, tape, a fan and a battery — enough to make 11 to 16 cubes. Fifteen trainers went back to their respective countries (including Netherlands, UK, France, Denmark, and Sweden) to teach people to make inflatables. 60 cubes were made during these workshops and then brought to Germany.
At Ende Gelände all these inflatables came together for the first time. During the camp, a HQube was set up where people came to find out more about the cubes. 200 people were trained in a rolling programme of role playing trainings in the fields behind the camp in preparation for the actions
The inflatable barricade tactic creates a new visual language for direct action, where play, fun and beauty are pivotal. The technique was first developed by Tools for Action in Paris during the UN Climate Summit. The video below gives an impression of the training for trainers.
Inflatable barricade training for December 12(D12) . The word “barricade” comes from the French word “barrique” meaning “barrel”. The first barricades were hollow barrels rolled out into 16th century streets, filled with stones and secured with metal chains. Tools for Action, a Berlin-based arts collective, developed a barricade with a similar construction principle. Modular lightweight sculptures made of insulation foil are filled with air and attached together with velcro. A set of cube-shaped units (like cobblestones) can be quickly inflated at different locations, forming a line that hinders sight and movement when brought together en masse. They can be more than walls though – when people throw the individual cobble- stones into the air, they turn a street into a spontaneous playground.
In Paris, the city where the concept of a barricade originated, Tools for Action has invented a new type of inflatable blockade in preparation for protest at the 2015 UN Climate Summit. The inflatable barricades were ´Made in Paris´ and sent to different climate activist groups around the world to be used on December 12.
Actions in the United States and London
The inflatables have been sent in packages to activist groups in New York, Portland and London marked “Fabriqué á Paris.” The inscription refers to the climate conference taking place in the city under a state of emergency. It also refers to the barricade being invented in Paris in the 16th century.
The inflatables have already been used to blockade the offices of the US Forest Service in protest of logging in the Mt. Hood National Forest and a construction site for fracked gas in Westchester, New York. This tactic addresses the fact that climate change is a global problem that needs a site-specific direct response.
“Red Lines are not for crossing”
A red line is drawn across these infatable barricades, symbolizing the demands drawn up by the Coalition 21, a network of 130 civil-society organisations. The red line entails a drastic and immediate reduction of greenhouse emissions and a recognition of the historical responsibility of industrialized countries. It also demands the installation of a monitoring system with the authority to penalize transgressors, and sufficient financing from more economically developed countries for a global transition to clean energy, including compensation for the suffering and loss that climate change has caused.
The barricades were assembled by hundreds of helping hands, connecting French farmers opposing a destructive airport, locals from the Montreuil neighbourhood in Paris and solar panel engineers from California. The construction studio in the social center Jardin d’Alice was a meeting point for discussions, skill sharing, and imagining how this simple tool can be used.
Inflatable sculpture in front of Jardin d´Alice. Photo by Artúr van Balen
Come build inflatables with us in Paris!
Tools for Action is giving skill-share workshops and trainings how to build your own inflatable sculpture and use it as a tool for protest at the United Nation Climate Conference (COP21).
You can find our studio at the Art Build Space at Jardin d´Alice, 19 rue Garibaldi in Montreuil, 93100.
We’re here pretty much everyday making inflatables, so feel free to come by anytime. We’re always here: Thursdays to Sundays: 12h – 20h.
If you can’t make it to Paris, you can also join the crew building inflatables in London for the solidarity demonstrations that will happen there. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info about London inflatables.