On October 12, the Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley and the Curatorial Practice at the California College of the Arts are partnering to host a live-streaming of the Creative Time Summit, an annual conference in New York that brings together cultural producers–including artists, critics, writers, and curators–to discuss how their work engages pressing issues affecting our world. To jump-start the conversation in advance of the event, attendees have been asked to submit a paragraph on a keyword associated with one of the summit themes: Inequities, Occupations, Making, or Tactics. This posting is by Stuart Sherwin, American Cyberculture student at UC Berkeley.
Occupation is a word whose meaning has changed in many people’s minds this past year. It’s connotation, at least for many people of a certain political persuasion, now suggests a consensual, intentional gathering of people. It now evokes a sense of community-building and collective striving. But we should not forget the historical meaning of the word–and not delude ourselves into thinking that we are really occupiers. Historically, the occupation of land connoted raw force and the despair of the occupied. Most of the world was occupied by European empires less than a century ago, and unimaginable violence was visited upon populations in nearly every instance. The legacy of these empires is so violent that militarized states installed by imperial and neo-imperial powers have continued the military occupation of their people since the end of formal empire. It was under two years ago that millions of young people in the Arab world stood up in opposition to these regimes. And in every case except for Tunisia (and somewhat Egypt) the state unleashed its full violent force against the protestors: Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia. Of course, only ten years ago we saw another Middle Eastern state unleash its full destructive force against a rebelling population: Israel during the second Intifada, when it destroyed entire refugee camps leaving tens of thousands of Palestinians twice homeless. All this is what modern occupation entails and implies, and we should recognize that this is why last year’s Occupy movement failed in its key goal of occupying public space. It is because the Occupations were disbanded by militarized police, because we are not occupiers, we are occupied. Not that the movement really failed–it has had some success on the discursive level–but just that we should look abroad and stay mindful of how easily the real occupiers are willing to go to war with the people they occupy.