The Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley is sponsoring the working session “Occupy as Form” on February 10, 2012. Participants have been invited to post some brief thoughts on the topic in advance of the event. This guest posting is by Geoffrey Wildanger, graduate student in Art History at UC Davis.
The current question is what comes next for occupy? As the squares and parks have been swept by brutal police repression, as winter makes tents significantly less attractive, occupiers ask how to escalate. If occupying is itself a form—tents, general assemblies, cardboard signs with personal stories attesting hardship—the question of content remains. Occupy is form, but what is its content? This question is all the more essential now that the question of changing the form is more important. In other words, to play with Marx, how do we move from formal to real occupation? This question has played a significant role amongst left-wing theorizers of the occupy movement, those who have asked whether occupy is essentially anti-capitalist, whether west coast occupiers are more radical than east coast, and the relationship between the names “occupy” and “decolonize.” While it is impossible to decide in such a short space the content of the occupation movement—or, its more global name, The Movement of the Squares—the question remains whether a new form can be found, one into which it can be sublated, in order to advance its cause. As the occupiers have come to occupy not just tents in squares, but foreclosed homes, banks, university buildings, hotels, and ports, the movement’s form has also changed. No longer are the occupiers positioning themselves in public, seeking recognition as a public; now the movement is also taking concrete measures to change the world. Camping on a public square—even without permission—does not effect private property in the same way as seizing buildings to be put to public use. The question of form can arguably become a question of occupy as discursive and as material practice—the distinction between which lies in its content.