In this second part of our interview with Alan W Moore, he discusses how squatting has changed looking at the possible over commercialisation of squats like Paris’ Rivoli 59 and then he turns his gaze on the future of squats. What does squatting as a; political, social, artistic force look like in the face of the inexorable push of modernity?
How has squatting morphed from those 70’s periods until more present day?
I wasn’t around for those earlier days of squatting. I’ve worked more as a kind of scholar-journalist. But I’ll be presumptuous and say: Squatting as a social movement has been continuous, with a good deal of interchange between generations of activists. It’s a culture, and it’s deep. Economic, political and social conditions of course always change. Now it’s much harder. With gentrification in full swing in most cities (what geographer David Harvey calls rent-seeking by the capital starved for profits), the big squeeze is on and there aren’t so many buildings to be squatted for living.
Laws in Holland and the UK have changed, so it is legally more difficult. Political and cultural occupations, often of some duration, are still regularly undertaken. I’d say these are now much more purposive, and more clearly explained to the public. (In years past many squatters didn’t talk to the corporate media.) Squatting has also become a tool used by tenants’ rights groups (e.g., the PAH in Spain) and anti-gentrification activists. So, the movement has broadened. It has strong support from students of critical legal theory, as a form of “commonising”.
Has squatting become too fashionable (think Rivoli) losing much of the ‘integrity’ so to speak of earlier times and indeed why has it lost that integrity?
I don’t think so. People squat for all sorts of reasons, and under all kinds of conditions (“opportunity structures,” as Hans Pruijt called them). The 59 rue Rivoli art squat became legalized. The building was renovated for them, and they accepted all sorts of official controls. They were born of a squat – (like ABC No Rio, actually) – but now they are an administrated art studio space like many others in Paris. The city works closely with squatters. It’s weird, and a little creepy how they do it.
I think Gängeviertel in Hamburg managed their legalization much better, because they were closely connected to the squatting tradition in that city, to the Hafenstraße in St. Pauli, just like the Park Fiction project before them.
As long as we’re alive, I hope we’ll be meeting together and doing things that aren’t motivated by money or prestige.
As for “integrity”, I’d think that should mean seeking and maintaining connections to the social movements, particularly the squatting movement. Tacheles in Berlin lost their building because they abrogated that connection in exchange for a deal with the city government. They posed as “good squatters” as versus the other “bad” ones. That was a choice, to turn their backs on the larger movement for their own purposes. But when the eviction came, they had no support on the street. Of course, they had many good years living and working there. But now it’ll be a real cool shopping center, and all the neighboring bars will be sold to multinationals.
Following on from the previous question how/does the legalisation of squats affect the art produced?
Again, this is something I’ve not studied closely. There are many areas of research on squatting open for new initiatives; that question is perfect for an MA thesis.
Just generally, there’s less security in a squatted space. We went into our occupation in 1979 fully expecting to lose all the art in the show. I just lost a whole exhibition over the summer in a space here. (I wasn’t too upset, because it was e-prints.) Anyhow people saw it. So, it obviously affects what you’re going to do.
Some of the finest examples of wall painting (call it graffiti, street art, what you like) is in squats. The paintings in Forte Prenestino in Rome are amazing, some of the best I’ve seen anywhere. The basement of CSA Tabacalera in Madrid is another place of interest. There’s many more.
Some legalized squats have become significant contemporary art spaces, like W139 in Amsterdam, and Shedhalle in Zurich. They have innovative management structures which try to preserve the energy and initiative of the early days insofar as possible. The Amsterdam city government carefully managed the provision of space for independent autonomous culture, albeit with many bumps along the road. NYC, in contrast, doesn’t really give a shit whether artists can’t pay rent in their few cultural facilities. (I’m thinking of the development of Brooklyn Navy Yard, Bush Terminal and other more-or-less public buildings, as well as innumerable private ones.) There it’s institutionalize or fuck off.
Squats in Europe have always made provision for migrants
To return to the root of the question – squats are more suited to events than exhibitions or artistic production. (Again, there are exceptions, like ADM, “the free-haven of Amsterdam”, where artists live and work in a naval warehouse, and build monster machines for their festivals.) I keep hoping for some change with the emergent modality of social practice art, but that’s an academic thing and professors don’t want to send their students into illegal venues for many reasons. Because I’ve retired from teaching I can pine for that to happen.
In the West as globalisation and immigration has increased, how has the art created in squats changed (if it has)?
Squatting has always been an international movement. I met a Russian girl in a hardcore Paris squat who spoke English well. What was the difference, I wondered at the time, between her and a young business-class professional? She was certainly having more fun! Squats in Europe have always made provision for migrants – setting up aid offices, space for organizing and socializing, and many cultural events are produced by them. So, occupied social centers can be very international multi-cultural places. Again, this has been true for as long as I’ve observed, and in archives-(for example 56A in London) you can see that migrant solidarity is a continuous line of work in squats and social centers.
How has the internet affected the popularity of squats and indeed the ability for squats to carry powerful messages to the masses?
Well, as for the masses I don’t know! But certainly, it’s made a big difference in the sense that it has homogenized the movement, and allowed it to spread internationally, especially now in the East of Europe. Hacklabs have been a part of squats from very early on, when they came out of pirate radio and its technical requirements. (See texts by Geert Lovink and Franco “Bifo” Berardi on this.) It’s about managing your own communication when your message isn’t being carried to the “masses” ever. Corporate social media and groups connected on more encrypted systems have become important. Squat.net is a network from the ’90s, and it’s still active and quite important for squatting news. Other older networks have kind of faded away, but new ones are in development. Some countries need very secure communications because of spying and repression. That’s a big concern now.
One thing quite interesting has come out of the ideology of hacking which is the notion of hacking the city, hacking every sort of rule or arrangement to turn it to one’s own purposes, to create spaces of autonomy. It’s a strong concept.
What does the future of squats look like in this changing world-do we still need them?
Things change fast. I still blog. As for the “age of” question, squats and autonomous spaces will always be places where things can get done face to face, not virtually, nor mediated by electronics. That’s always going to be crucial for humans, if not for robots. As long as we’re alive, I hope we’ll be meeting together and doing things that aren’t motivated by money or prestige.
Featured image by Natasha Rodriguez
Second image unknown
Third image by Dave Stuart