Anarchism and Art: Democracy in the Cracks and on the Margins.

Author:Stoneman, Adam
Position:Book review

Mark Mattern, Anarchism and Art: Democracy in the Cracks and on the Margins

Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2016; 196pp; ISBN 9781438459196

The Steelworks, a painting by French artist Maximilien Luce from 1895, depicts workers gathered around a blast furnace, eyes fixed on a swirling cloud of pink and blue sparks. They stand on the verge of a century in which ordinary people would seek to forge a modern and humane world out of the flames of revolution. Closer inspection reveals that Luce composed the image with thousands of contrasting dots; this style of painting--pointillism, in which individual 'points' of colour collectively achieve a unified vision--was seen as a direct reflection of contemporary anarcho-communism.

But what art forms reflect today's anarchist practices? Mark Mattern's Anarchism and Art attempts to answer this question by turning to a more recent set of cultural activities: DIY punk music, poetry slam, graffiti, street art and flash mobs.

In different ways, argues Mattern, these art forms reflect principles of horizontal democracy, equality and autonomy, and challenge 'contemporary forms of domination' (p2). Operating on the margins of society, these subcultures tend not to confront power structures directly, but rather represent an 'interstitial' (p5) strategy for progressive change; micro-interventions that open the possibilities of alternative modes of existence, and in doing so prefigure an emancipatory, more democratic world.

Mattern draws on Hakim Bey and John Holloway here, placing value in isolated acts of resistance, or 'personal insurrections' (p23), and, as with the Occupy protests, focussing on the politics of formal practices and processes; poetry slams break down boundaries between artist and audience by encouraging active participation; graffiti and flash mobs (seemingly 'spontaneous' and sudden performances in public spaces) create 'Temporary Autonomous Zones' in which participants proclaim their independence from authority and right to the city, while DIY punk bands practice autonomy through their rejection of the commercial music industry --for Mattern, even siphoning fuel illegally to keep a tour bus on the road is a...

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