by Demi Spriggs and Konstantinos Argyriou Contested Editing
This article is an experimental research photography and writing piece, that attempts to put forward the use of fakes to rearticulate stories of space under COVID19. Since we feel that our resources at this time are particularly limited, especially in terms of mobility, that we may have to move towards digital ways of creating communities and the experimental use of these mediums in taking control over our stories. We collaborated on this work by way of the stories we shared during lockdown, Athens 2020-2021.
A while ago, at a small conference on anarchy and geography at an anarcho-communist squat in the neoclassical decay of Athens’ urban centre, I had a brief conversation with Simon Springer, otherwise known as the anarchist geographer. My main wonder for a while was if there was any worth in pursuing the potential of a counter mapping archive, what could be made of an anarchist museum? This reference wasn’t one to an archive of anarchist activities and histories, though I do believe that a conservation of anarchy as a political position and lifestyle is a revolutionary act. I was rather referencing a potentiality of a museum that lived out (and out of) anarchy through experimental and collaborative methodologies that took a scatological approach to conservative archives of human geographies. As in to take a shit on colonial cartographies…
Moving to a few years later, from the same neighbourhood and the same city (Athens, Greece) just down from that neoclassical building, the pandemic came. My final pre-lockdown memory was sitting late one night and reading the fairly embarrassing argument, published in the European Journal of Psychoanalysis, in collaboration with Antinomie journal, between philosophers Giorgio Agamben and Sergio Benvenuto. Agamben’s vehemence towards the legislative degree that grants militarization of certain regions on the grounds of ‘public health and safety issues’, came with the following speculation:
‘The disproportionate reaction to what according to the CNR [council of national research] is something not too different from the normal flus that affect us every year is quite blatant. It is almost as if with terrorism exhausted as a cause for exceptional measures, the invention of an epidemic offered the ideal pretext for scaling them up beyond any limitation.’ (Agamben,)
The quarrel continued as such:
Benvenuto:The measures taken in Italy are not therefore, as one of my favourite philosophers, Giorgio Agamben, argues, the result of the despotic instinct of the ruling classes, who are viscerally passionate about the “state of exception”. Thinking that the measures adopted in China, South Korea, Italy and so on are the consequence of a conspiracy means falling into what other philosophers have called “conspiratorial theories of history”. I would call them paranoiac interpretations of history, like the millions who believe 9/11 was a CIA plot.
Agamben: An Italian journalist applied himself, according to the best practice of his profession, to distorting and falsifying my considerations on the ethical confusion into which the epidemic is throwing the country, where there is no longer even any respect for the dead. In the same way as it’s not worth mentioning his name, it’s not worth rectifying his predictable manipulations
To which Benvenuto replied with the eponymously titled: Forget about Agamben.
The quarrel came out in early March 2020, and was very much distinct from that brief conversation I had with the ‘anarchist geographer’. But by proximity this photo research emerged out of an overlap of these two conversations, when we were confronted with COVID19 that, through governmental reactions, brought about changes to our geographies similar to those that Agamben vents about.The summer of my interaction with the anarchist geographer seems a watery memory of a time when resistance to the issues that Agamben raised felt a little bit more doable. In a sense Agamben’s quarrel with Benvenuto articulates the limits of critique as a tool for organising against our current ways of being, especially in this time where existential threat prevails, when ‘crisis’ actually comes. So we might instead begin to think of how we can subvert those spatialised power relations that Agamben has built his academic career on identifying, when we are physically prevented from collectively occupying almost any spaces.
One of the issues of humans is our cities. Cities have for so long managed to maintain the myth of being reserved only for us humans, it was no wonder that us two-legged city dwellers began to panic. We have for long accepted some of our earthly oddkin as long as they follow us on chains. We had come to terms with the presence of unacceptable species and that we should tirelessly attempt to bleach away, noise out, build blockages over. But we were, by no means, willing to accept the presence of a submicroscopic infectious agent, that neither identifiably reasoned with or against our reason. One month after reading that argument between philosophers, those who had shelter were indefinitely confined to them, hidden away from this uninvited guest, trying to make sense of an array of accounts, to learn to adhere to new regulations, to learn to internalise the responsibility in the ways our bodies moved. As we had to undergo emergent forms of bureaucratisation, we began to grieve for the ways of life before. Resistance is a process that is vital if we are to survive climate disaster and trash this bloatedness of this monopole late capitalism that is set to unleash new microbial threats, with our too many holes to cover. So it seems this process should extend to welcoming these new agents into our worlds (we can think of the warnings of Octavia Butler and Ursula Le Guin), and our archives must reflect this. We need not to argue like the Italian philosopher’s above, but perhaps we might instead turn to our stories.
Stories of Space. We used to wander out our cityscapes, archiving our steps with documents and papers that the state forced us to carry, drawing single lines of our social worlds. We wrote papers everywhere we went, 6 for exercise, 4 for assistance, there’s a number specifically for funerals. Most of our papers for the duration of the lockdown have been scribbled on post-it notes, we even started to use old receipts as ways of mapping our movements. So since we are not to be found without identity papers, or without proof of movement, the papers move endowed with our own social worlds. The post-its evolved into a counter-map to our social and intimate worlds. They formed tiny archives of basic movements around the small area of the city. In a way, looking at our post-it notes was a chance to imagine other worlds. Calvino’s invisible city. Divided. Shaped and etched from leg to leg. More than two legs becomes a mapping of oddkin.
I remember a geography volume I once read on power and the production of identity and space, including the work of geographers concerned with the exploration of how we perform space, and how we might use and subvert spatialised practices to create sites of struggle. Specifically if one thinks of how we are allowed to move and operate in spaces, and how these spaces demand a certain set of repetitions in order to function: the judge requires legal language, the political conference requires politicking, the refugee camp relies on performances of boundaries, of differing papers required to get in and out, depending on who you are, and what other spaces you occupy. It seems that a lot of what we might consider as geography is about how conditions of access are reproduced. The papers we sketched out were to reinvent our landscapes, bringing up different terms of access, adapting practices of mobility. Our papers, in this, were performative practices that at once reproduced and resisted these emerging relationships of territorialisation, as the state made claim to govern our spaces, as the trails etched out our individual lengthy journeys, as our fingers scratched out the terms of this contract. We began to collect them, forge them, write new ones, keep them as artefacts. It developed into a strange collection, that through boredom and experimentation we began to play with, to replicate. Through this process, we wondered to what extent this collection could be considered as an archive. We wondered if they were real even as replicas, as forgeries, as fakes. If they could be preserved as fakes, how could they subvert the stories of governance of space, to tell stories of boredom, of resisting terms of access? Could they, through embracing their fakeness as resistance but also their way of telling the story of humans embracing non human agencies, operate as those counter-maps that might contribute to an anarchist museum? It is part of our resistance to construct our own archives. We tell stories of space that dance on Calvinoesque pathways between reality and fakes. Appropriate fake news. Regurgitate and chew up illegal walked experiences.
Grafiokratia is the Greek word for the English term bureaucracy. It signifies the power of signed papers. Cartography, from its greek etymology, means (quite literally) paper and formal writing. Fake grafiokratia might be our way of storying to turn the governance of spaces in on itself, lending opportunities to reconfigure our cartographies. We think that in what is regrettably cited as the era of fake news that it may be time to start thinking through the fake as a form of collective and intimate empowerment, as an enhanced and coordinated Butlerian slippage that allows us to flirt with the making of our own geographies, to tell our future stories and archive them in what-might-be-known-as an anarchist museum. This is a first example in its early stages of what something in this archive might look like. Our collection of fakes speaks of an intrigue about the potential of things that walk awkwardly along the intersection between the replica and the real – that wander with us.
Demi Spriggs: freelance editor and founder of Contested Editing, an editing and translation digital common looking towards challenging conceptions of authorship and epistemological violence.
Konstantinos Argyriou: logotype and book designer, and collaborator with Contested Editing. Animal photographer. Find him on Instagram.