4. Designing for durability
Arendt believed that if the revolutionary spirit is to give shape to a durable public space and institutionalised participatory freedom, then there must somehow be a synthesis between durability and innovation. The public form of this durability must domesticate the spirit while making provision for constant renewal and regeneration.[i] An allodoxic intervention must deal with this tension in both its processes and outcomes.
In his theorisation, de Certeau says that the tactics of single isolated actions can modify privileged spaces. Tactics depend on opportunities which should be taken advantage of — but, de Certeau warns, single actions lack any base where ‘winnings can be stockpiled’, ‘positions can be built up’, and ‘raids can be planned’.[ii] However, commons slowly crystallise like atoms in a crystal latticework (in Helfrich’s words).[iii] While it may not be possible to stockpile successful tactics to build up positions, they can help new commons to arise and expand existing commons through affiliation. This can be done from all sides and without resorting to hierarchies or centralised systems. Also, here allodoxic interventions are making provision for durability in their processes. This includes developing capability and confidence as a set of lasting skills, which can be passed on to others. Such confidence can also be reused wherever pressure is needed to move forward with alternative ideas about society and the place of the commons within it.
Baroness Elsa was the most published poet at the New York-based magazine The Little Review. It provided a durable platform for her confrontational feminist and artistic agendas.In devising work that aligned with and supported the wider social movements of formal organisations, Baroness Elsa’s ‘constellation’ of poems employed tactics to subvert regimes of economic and political control, exploring ideas relating to new forms of production and governance.
Shifting to a long-term vision, where artists work with larger scales and greater complexity with on-the-ground organisational allodoxic forms, has the potential to generate more durable structural engagement and revolutionary activity. In my current role as the Earth Arts Curator for the Australian Earth Laws Alliance (AELA), I am drawing from my background volunteering in successful grassroots campaigns with the organisation Get Up. One such effort, which took place during the 2007 Federal election, saw Prime Minister John Howard loose his local parliamentary seat of Bennelong.[iv] In October this year, as part of an event comprising a national art exhibition and two-day conference on the rights of nature, there will be a one-day tribunal proceeding at the law courts, which will be streamed into venues throughout Australia. These regional events aim to build conversations and develop working knowledge about alternative governance, moving society beyond poor agricultural methods and neo-extractivism. Alongside this, I am developing alliances within the national and international art fields to support AELA’s existing participation in the movement for the global rights of nature.
Local capable active loop systems are programmes that are closed to the influences of globalised market activity, and for that reason they can assist with rethinking the economic field and markets. In 2012, I began co-developing a woodworking collective to create a local capable active loop system for the Blue Mountains. Three aspects were at the core of the project: diverting wood and green waste from tips for reuse, creating local employment, and creating bioregional resilience in the face of national and global financial and environmental collapse. The programme springs from a simple idea of cutting, storing, curing, and then selling wood from trees that is normally mulched for wood chips, dumped at tips or in the bushland, or is pushing the storage limits of local businesses.
Fifteen local tree-lopping businesses expressed interest in the program, which supported sustainable building and furniture making and the possible revitalisation of all woodworking trades. Adding value to local wood resources counters the felling of tropical rainforests for the industrialised and mechanised building and furniture markets with their massive carbon footprints. An adjunct project to increase opportunities for wood collection involves opening up tree shading on all the northern facing aspects for residential dwellings, which would improve solar passive heating across the region and enable a greater uptake of rooftop solar electricity generation systems.
In another example, co-members at Permaculture Blue Mountains developed a permablitz program for general reskilling in traditional food growing. These backyard programmes have been developing dynamic teams and projects to reduce food mileage, while enhancing food sharing, plant swapping, communal seed collections, and the development of more comprehensive agriculture programmes. Permablitzes can be the practical tools that lead people to conceptualise the social implications of capitalism.
Allodoxic interventions utilising consumer power within communities can build capability for production and entrepreneurialism at a grassroots level. Little Sun is an allodoxic intervention initiated and co-founded by Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson that benefits off-grid communities in seven African countries and contributes towards building a more robust local economy. Rather than using a short-term option, such as donating lamps without first investigating whether the region has electricity, the programme focuses on the longer-term goal by building profitable local businesses that distribute solar-powered lights that he co-designed with Frederik Ottesen.
This section focuses on the broader structuring of societal arrangements arising from allodoxic interventions, even though rights, as discussed in the previous principle, also contribute to durability through their institutionalisation. In an interview in 1970, Arendt pointed out that no blueprint can be developed on the basis of past revolutionary actions, because every large upheaval has developed a new form of government independent of all preceding revolutionary theories.[v] Nonetheless, Arendt’s recommended ‘council system’ of political activism requires the unearthing of what she calls the ‘lost treasures’ of previous revolutions. In this sense, the models presented by the convoy or caravan, artist organisations, and other allodoxic interventions would qualify as rediscovered ‘treasures’.
Arendt asserts that political institutions are manifestations and materialisations of the living power of the people, because they decay as soon as people desert them. She illustrates this with the example of the evaporation of government power structures and monopoly of violence in times of revolution.[vi] Italian academic Matteo Bortolini points to some of Arendt’s best-known remarks on representative democracy and its problems, starting with her famous 1970 essay, Civil Disobedience. As Bortolini points out, Arendt was defending a combination of representative and direct democracy, in which the latter would assist and complete the former through voluntary associations.
Arendt does not question the necessity for creating permanent and authoritative institutions for managing society. As Bortolini says, she ‘calls for the substitution of modern representation and sovereignty with a confederative principle of subsidiarity as the formal and practical principle on which the political architecture can be based and legitimised’.[vii] Within this council-system arrangement of opening up spaces for direct participation by combining representative and direct democracy, power would be constituted horizontally. Units would work in alliances to make decisions and act, as well as to control and check each other’s power.
This horizontal operational activity is shown in the many ways in which artists test, reinvent, curb, and expand tactics. It also shows how they use thinking processes to support this activity, how they sometimes have to make quick decisions and reduce complexity to a minimum, while being prepared to constantly readjust their goals in response to the reactions they get.
Images of the caravan as convoy also come to mind. Baroness Elsa’s programme was much like a caravan, deriving its nomadic quality through specific interventions in concrete locations and linking together different locations of resistance. It is here that a durable formation can be found. It is a concrete version of the functional sites that James Meyer outlines, and which I applied earlier to the processes of allodoxic interventions.
Arendt believed that people were free but not sovereign. The latter requires the violation of the freedom of others and is therefore the death of plurality. However, once established, these allodoxic interventions can provide freedom in the true Arendtian sense, as evoked in her account of revolutionary worker’s management, an explicit homage to what she saw as the cornerstones of both ancient and modern forms of the political.
Arendt and Aristotle asserted that to be a genuinely full member of a community one must be active in its political affairs. No less important is Arendt’s Aristotelian insistence that the public realm is a sphere unto itself, separated by a wide gulf from the interests and desires that make up civil society. By distinguishing the political realm from others, Arendt restores to politics an integrity and dignity that is denied by the liberal tradition, a tradition that views politics as subservient to civil society and the economic. However, my notion of allodoxic art contests this type of limitation in several ways: primarily in the way that this type of politics can exist within community workings of capable programs as described above.
Arendt’s identification of politics as action means that the notion of citizenship must be thought of as participatory. Following on from this, allodoxic interventions must be thought of as participatory citizen acts. Arendt made activist choices in her personal life to prioritise political participation in concert with others when civic intervention was called for. This opens up a space for Arendt’s views on the political sphere to incorporate socio-economic struggle as part of allodoxic interventions.