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Glenn Rikowski


Sunday – 02.12.12 – Sympathetic Materialism – An Evening with Allan Sekula

1. Introduction to Sunday
2. A note on sympathetic materialism
3. Untitled preface to Waiting for Tear Gas
4. Lottery of the Sea: Prologue and Ending
5. The Forgotten Space – screening at MoMA, Monday, 02.13.11
6. Related readings/viewings
7. Filmography
8. About Allan Sekula

1. Introduction to Sunday

What: A screening and conversation with Allan Sekula
Where: 16 Beaver Street, 4th Floor
When: 7pm
Who: Free and open to all

We propose to organize this evening’s discussion with Allan into two parts, which we’re calling “world” and “globe.”

Looking back at the recent resurgence of anticapitalist street protest in the US, we would like to begin with a look at his documentation of the Seattle counterglobalization demonstrations of 1999.

Looking forward to the screening of his newest film, The Forgotten Space, the following day (Monday), we’ll look at some of his other work that engages globalization and maritime space.

— Part 1 – World – Waiting for Tear Gas [White Globe to Black] (1999–2000)

Taken on the streets of Seattle during the 1999 WTO protests, Waiting for Tear Gas is a sequence of color slides that sketches a kind of group portrait of the demonstrators. Ben Young will open the discussion with a set of questions and proposals raised by looking at Waiting for Tear Gas today, especially after the renewal of anticapitalist street demonstrations in the US by Occupy Wall Street. Some of these include: the persistence of the human figure after humanism; the genre of the (group) portrait in an age of individuals; the ethics and politics of care in the face of social and economic violence; waiting as an experience of exposure, radical passivity, means without ends, or messianic time; the tempo of attentive expectation  that runs counter to the insistent rush of direct action; the street as a space of appearance that is both material and virtual; and what the practice of “antiphotojournalism” (as Sekula calls it) and the reinvention of documentary look like today, especially in the context of social media.

— Part 2 – Globe – Lottery of the Sea: Prologue and Ending (2006, 25 min.)

If the world is a form of relating to others, a continually renewed set of social bonds, then the globe can be understood as the instrumental grasping of the earth as a map, as a tool, as a space to be measured, calculated, and mastered. While much recent criticism of capitalism has focused on the financialization of the world, Sekula has been engaged in the long-term investigation of the material circuits of manufacturing and commodity exchange, focusing on the ocean as the unseen matrix of globalization. We’ll get a sense of this work by screening the prologue and ending to his video Lottery of the Sea. This is partly a tale of the mobility of capital, under the flag of convenience, chasing profits across the globe by evading limits on environmental damage and exploiting the poorest workers; it also pictures something like the promise of a world community that capital establishes materially but prevents politically. At the same time, this work also helps mark Sekula’s shift from “disassembled movies” created with still photography to the essay film, and what he had earlier resisted as “the tyranny of the projector.” How has this also shifted the balance between the triad of literature, painting, cinema that framed his earlier work, and what does it mean for art, documentary, or antiphotojournalism?

We hope that looking at both works together will open up a discussion to which many voices will contribute.

2. A note on sympathetic materialism

“Sympathetic materialism” is a term Allan Sekula has used to describe a solidarity “born of seasickness” in certain seafaring writers accustomed to the long duration of ocean travel. But it can equally be applied to his own work: the patient, careful attention of the photographer to the conditions and details of everyday life seen from below, especially the impingements and labors of the body.

As a writer, he has criticized the latent humanism of much social documentary, on one hand, and the dream of autonomy in formalist aesthetics, on the other. As a photographer, he has cannily reworked the photo and text-based series inherited from conceptual art, continually questioning the fullness and sufficiency of any single image. But this emphasis on questioning images is not a simple negation or refusal of the particular, the phenomenological, or the aesthetic. Rather, by arranging pictures into sequences and often paring them with text, his is a materialism attentive to the manifold surfaces of the world, one that seeks to forge links within this profusion of details. It is also a materialism that returns again and again to the human figure in its milieu: not only in the workplace, but also the in-between spaces of transit, transport, and circulation, as well as the spaces of unemployment and unworking–at the margins of work and exchange. This is perhaps partly what led him to the sea as the vantage point for much of his work of the last twenty years.

In the reversal of perspective produced by going to sea, it may no longer be possible to hold onto the earth, or the space of the street, as the static ground of life or politics; instead, when viewed from the ocean, the land becomes another island or ship floating alongside us. And we know that the water does not raise all boats, but can sink them too. If the capitalist order forces us all to sea, it threatens us not only with seasickness, but total wreckage. It may then be a question of cultivating something like sympathetic materialism among those in the lifeboats.

–Benjamin Young

3. Allan Sekula, untitled preface to Waiting for Tear Gas [White Globe to Black] (1999-2000)

In photographing the Seattle demonstrations the working idea was to move with the flow of protest, from dawn to 3 AM if need be, taking in the lulls, the waiting and the margins of events. The rule of thumb for this sort of anti-photojournalism: no flash, no telephoto lens, no gas mask, no auto-focus, no press pass and no pressure to grab at all costs the one defining image of dramatic violence.

Later, working at the light table, and reading the increasingly stereotypical descriptions of the new face of protest, I realized all the more that a simple descriptive physiognomy was warranted. The alliance on the streets was indeed stranger, more varied and inspired than could be conveyed by cute alliterative play with “teamsters” and “turtles.”

I hoped to describe the attitudes of people waiting, unarmed, sometimes deliberately naked in the winter chill, for the gas and the rubber bullets and the concussion grenades. There were moments of civic solemnity, of urban anxiety, and of carnival.

Again, something very simple is missed by descriptions of this as a movement founded in cyberspace: the human body asserts itself in the city streets against the abstraction of global capital. There was a strong feminist dimension to this testimony, and there was also a dimension grounded in the experience of work. It was the men and women who work on the docks, after all, who shut down the flow of metal boxes from Asia, relying on individual knowledge that there is always another body on the other side of the sea doing the same work, that all this global trade is more than a matter of a mouse-click.

One fleeting hallucination could not be photographed. As the blast of stun grenades reverberated amidst the downtown skyscrapers, someone with a boom box thoughtfully provided a musical accompaniment: Jimi Hendrix’s mock-hysterical rendition of the American national anthem. At that moment, Hendrix returned to the streets of Seattle, slyly caricaturing the pumped-up sovereignty of the world’s only superpower.

–from Alexander Cockburn, Jeffrey St. Clair, and Allan Sekula, Five Days That Shook the World: Seattle and Beyond_ (London: Verso, 2000). Also available online:

4. Lottery of the Sea: Prologue and Ending (2006, 25 min.)

The Lottery of the Sea takes its title from Adam Smith, who in his famous Inquiry into the Wealth of Nations (1776) compared the life of the seafarer to gambling. Thus notions of risk were introduced by Smith through an allegory of the sea’s dangers especially for those who did the hard work, and also for those who invested in ships and goods. The film asks: is there a relationship between the most frightening and terrifying concept in economics, that of risk, and the category of the sublime in aesthetics?

It is an offbeat diary extending from the presumably “innocent” summer of 2001 through to the current “war on terror” by way of a meandering, essayistic voyage from seaport to seaport, waterfront to waterfront, and coast to coast. What does it mean to be a maritime nation? To rule the waves? Or to harvest the sea? An American submarine collides with a Japanese fisheries training ship. What does this suggest about the division of labor in the Pacific? Panama decides whether to expand the width of its canal, over which it now exercises a certain qualified measure of sovereignty. How is it that a scuba diver would be most prepared to question this great flushing of the jungle watershed? Galicia is presented with an unwanted gift of oil, with important questions following about the monomania of governments able only to conceptualize danger in one dimension. Barcelona turns anew to its seafront, producing a pseudo-public sphere and new real estate value to the north and even greater maritime logistical efficiency to the south. In between, we visit blizzards and demonstrations in New York, drifting prehistoric mastodons in Los Angeles, militant drummers and bemused African construction workers in Lisbon, millionaires or millionaire-impersonators in Amsterdam, and the stray dogs of Athens, all by way of thinking through seeing the sea, the market, and democracy.

5. The Forgotten Space – screening at MoMA, Monday, 02.13.11

What: screening and discussion of The Forgotten Space with Allan Sekula
Where: Museum of Modern Art, theater 2
When: 7pm

The Forgotten Space (dir. Allan Sekula and Noël Burch) follows container cargo aboard ships, barges, trains and trucks, listening to workers, engineers, planners, politicians, and those marginalized by the global transport system. We visit displaced farmers and villagers in Holland and Belgium, underpaid truck drivers in Los Angeles, seafarers aboard mega-ships shuttling between Asia and Europe, and factory workers in China, whose low wages are the fragile key to the whole puzzle. And in Bilbao, we discover the most sophisticated expression of the belief that the maritime economy, and the sea itself, is somehow obsolete.

A range of materials is used: descriptive documentary, interviews, archive stills and footage, clips from old movies. The result is an essayistic, visual documentary about one of the most important processes that affects us today. The Forgotten Space is based on Sekula’s Fish Story, seeking to understand and describe the contemporary maritime world in relation to the complex symbolic legacy of the sea.

6. Related readings/viewings

——Waiting for Tear Gas——-

Alexander Cockburn, Jeffrey St. Clair, and Allan Sekula, ‘Five Days That Shook the World: Seattle and Beyond’ (London: Verso, 2000).

Allan Sekula, ‘TITANIC’s wake’, (Cherbourg-Octeville, France: Le Point du Jour Editeur, 2003)

——The Forgotten Space——-

The Forgotten Space (website):

Allan Sekula and Noël Burch, “Notes on the Forgotten Space”

Discussion with Benjamin Buchloh, David Harvey, and Allan Sekula after a screening of The Forgotten Space at Cooper Union, May 2011 (21 min.):

——other works on globalization and maritime space——-

Sekula interview with Grant Watson, “Ship of Fools” (22 min.):

Allan Sekula, “Between the Net and the Deep Blue Sea (Rethinking the Traffic in Photographs),” October 102 (Fall 2002): 3–34.

Sekula, ‘Fish Story’ (Rotterdam and Dusseldorf: Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art and Richter Verlag, 1995).

Sekula, ‘Deep Six/Passer au bleu’ (Calais: Musée des Beaux Arts, 2001).

‘Allan Sekula: Dead Letter Office’ (Rotterdam: Netherlands Foto Instituut, 1997).

Sekula, ‘Performance Under Working Conditions’ (Vienna: Generali Foundation, 2003).

7. Filmography

The Forgotten Space (2010, with Noël Burch)
The Lottery of the Sea (2006)
Short Film for Laos (2006)
Gala (2005)
Tsukiji (2001)
Reagan Tape (1984, with Noël Burch)
Talk Given by Mr. Fred Lux at the Lux Clock Manufacturing Plant in Lebanon, Tennessee, on Wednesday, September 15, 1954 (1974)
Performance under Working Conditions (1973)

8. About Allan Sekula

Allan Sekula is an artist, photographer, writer, and, more recently, film and video maker. Since the mid-1970s he has exhibited and published many photography-based works; he is also the author of a number of key essays in the history of photography (including “On the Invention of Photographic Meaning,” “Dismantling Modernism, Reinventing Documentary,” “The Traffic in Photographs,” and “The Body and the Archive”).

Recent works Ship of Fools (1990–2010) and Dockers’ Museum (2010) are currently on view in “Oceans and Campfires: Allan Sekula and Bruno Serralongue,” San Francisco Art Institute; earlier works are currently included in “State Of Mind: New California Art Circa 1970,” Orange County Museum of Art; “Under the Big Black Sun: California Art 1974–1981,” Museum of Contemporary Art, LA; and “Light Years: Conceptual Art and the Photograph 1964-1977,” Art Institute of Chicago. Polonia and Other Fables (2009) was recently on view at the Renaissance Society, Chicago; Zacheta Gallery, Warsaw; and the Ludwig Museum, Budapest.

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‘I believe in the afterlife.

It starts tomorrow,

When I go to work’

Cold Hands & Quarter Moon, ‘Human Herbs’ at: (recording) and (live)


‘Maximum levels of boredom

Disguised as maximum fun’

Cold Hands & Quarter Moon, ‘Stagnant’ at: (recording) and (live, at the Belle View pub, Bangor, north Wales)  


‘Human Herbs’ – a new remix and new video by Cold Hands & Quarter Moon:

‘Stagnant’ – a new remix and new video by Cold Hands & Quarter Moon:  

‘Cheerful Sin’ – a song by Victor Rikowski:

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The Battle in Seattle: Its Significance for Education


Two-day workshop at the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice (CSSGJ) at Nottingham University on 2 and 3 December 2011 with Samir Amin as keynote speaker

Since the completion of the GATT Uruguay Round and the establishment of the WTO in the mid-1990s, the international free trade agenda has been drastically expanded including now also issues related to intellectual property rights, trade in services and trade-related investment measures. The WTO Doha negotiations round launched in 2001 had been intended to complete ‘unfinished business’ especially in the area of free trade in services, public procurement and agriculture. At the same time, resistance to these developments has increased with the demonstrations at the WTO ministerial conference in Seattle in 1999 as a first landmark event. The latest attempt to revive the Doha round in July 2008 ended in failure. In view of the problems at the multilateral level, both the EU and the USA have increasingly engaged in bilateral strategies of free trade agreements. These strategies include the expanded trade agenda and are a tool to achieve what has been impossible within a multilateral setting.

Free trade strategies have increasingly become a problem for the international labour movement. On the one hand, trade unions in the North especially in manufacturing have supported free trade agreements. They hope that new export markets for products in their sectors will preserve jobs. On the other, trade unions in the Global South as well as social movements more generally oppose these free trade agreements, since they often imply deindustrialisation and the related loss of jobs for them. Unsurprisingly, transnational solidarity is difficult if not impossible to achieve as a result. At the same time, however, it has to be asked what free trade actually is and whether we can call the existing system really a free trade system? How trade unions understand both these questions is fundamental for their chances to understand each other. Understandings of free trade, which draw on alternative economic theories – see, for example, Samir Amin’s theory of unequal exchange and imperialism – may open up new avenues. 

Additionally, a focus is required on countries’ different position in the global economy, core, semiperiphery, periphery, the related dynamics of uneven and combined development structuring it, as well as the related implications for labour movements in view of free trade. Equally, a sector specific view is required, as particular sectoral dynamics are likely to have an influence on trade unions’ outlook on free trade.

In this workshop, we intend to focus on the problematic around free trade, the current free trade system and the related neo-liberal ideology, as well as analyse the problems for trade unions and social movements in more detail. The objective is to understand better the dynamics underlying free trade as well as explore possibilities for transnational solidarity against the background of uneven and combined development. This will also involve a discussion of alternative conceptualisations of free trade based on different economic theories and the related implications for labour movements. The workshop intends to reach beyond academia and facilitate discussions between academics and trade union researchers as well as social movement activists.

In more detail, we invite papers by academics, trade union researchers and social movement activists in the following areas:

• Basic analyses of what a ‘proper’ free trade system is;
• Analyses of current free trade policies, the implications of neo-liberalism as well as the concrete results of free trade policies for the populations affected. Can we call the current system a free trade system?
• Analyses of free trade policies and the relationships with other policies of neo-liberal restructuring;
• Implications of countries’ structural location in the global economy as well as sectoral specificities for trade unions’ positions on free trade;
• Analyses of resistance movements to concrete free trade agreements with a specific emphasis on co-operation and/or non – co-operation between trade unions and social movements;
• Analyses of the position of specific trade unions and/or social movements on free trade;

Paper proposals of ca. 250 words should be sent to by 9 May 2011. There is no registration fee for the workshop and all participants will be provided with coffee/tea breaks, two lunches and one evening dinner free of charge.

The workshop is supported with a small research grant of £6960 by the British Academy (SG102043) as well as a grant of £1750 by the University of Nottingham priority group Integrating Global Society.

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Until recently, anyone who suggested nationalising the banks would have been derided as a ‘quack’ and a ‘crank’, as lacking the most basic understanding of the functioning of a ‘complex, globalised world’. The grip of ‘orthodoxy’ disqualified the idea, and many more, without the need even to offer a counter-argument.

And yet, in this time of intersecting crises, when it seems like everything could, and should, have changed, it paradoxically feels as though very little has. Individuals and companies have hunkered down to try and ride out the crisis. Nationalisations and government spending have been used to prevent change, not initiate it. Anger and protest have erupted around different aspects of the crises, but no common or consistent reaction has seemed able to cohere. We appear unable to move on.

For many years, social movements could meet and recognise one another on the *common ground* of rejecting neoliberalism, society’s old *middle ground* — those discourses and practices that defined the centre of the political field. The crisis of the middle has meant a crumbling of the common.

And what now? Will neoliberalism continue to stumble on without direction, zombie-like? Or, is it time for something completely different?


Turbulence: ‘Life in limbo?’

Gifford Hartman, ‘California in Crisis: Everything touched by capital turns toxic’

Bini Adamczak and Anna Dost, ‘What would it mean to lose? On the history of actually-existing failure’

Frieder Otto Wolf and Tadzio Mueller, ‘Green New Deal: Dead end or pathway beyond capitalism?’

p.m., ‘It’s all about potatoes and computers: Recipes for the cook-shops of the future’

Colectivo Situaciones, ‘Disquiet in the impasse’

George Caffentzis, ‘‘Everything must change so that everything can stay the same’: Notes on Obama’s Energy Plan’

Walter Mignolo, ‘The communal and the decolonial’

Massimo De Angelis, ‘The tragedy of the capitalist commons’

Rebecca Solnit, ‘Falling Together’

Rodrigo Nunes, ‘What were you wrong about ten years ago?’


…a collection of texts, ten years after the protests against the World Trade Organisation in Seattle, asking people from across the global movement, ‘What were you wrong about ten years ago?’, at t-10.

Contributors to the feature are: David Solnit, Gustavo Esteva, Emir Sader, Phil McLeish, Rubia Salgado, João Pedro Stédile, A CrimethInc ex-Worker, Precarias a la Deriva, Trevor Ngwane, Marcela and Oscar Olivera, Heloisa Primavera, Chris Carlsson, The Free Association, David Bleakney, Olivier de Marcellus, Go Hirasawa and Sabu Kohso, John Clarke, Guy Taylor, Thomas Seibert, Dr Simon Lewis, Amador Fernández-Savater.

The Issue is illustrated by the photo series ‘Flat Horizon’ by Marcos Vilas Boas.

Turbulence: Ideas for Movement are: David Harvie, Keir Milburn, Tadzio Mueller, Rodrigo Nunes, Michal Osterweil, Kay Summer, Ben Trott.


Copies can be ordered from

Turbulence is free, but we ask that you make a donation towards postage: (any additional donations greatly appreciated!)

All texts are also freely available via our website as of today.


A collection of resources to help publicise the issue (posters, flyers, web-banners, etc…) can be found here:

Get in touch if you can help out translating any of the articles in this issue:

Order a bundle of the magazine to distribute in your part of the world.

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The Battle in Seattle - by Glenn Rikowski

The Battle in Seattle - by Glenn Rikowski

Signs of Revolt – Creative Resistance and Social Movements since Seattle

EXHIBITION AND TALKS: Space Hijackers/Ultimate Holding Company/Reel News/kennardphillipps/ Cactus Network/Jonathan Barnbrook/Pedro Inhoue/Noel Douglas/David Gentlemen/Guy Smallman/Jody Boehnart/ Jess Hurd/Notes from Nowehere/Movement of the Imagination/Rebel Clown 
Army/ Indymedia London/Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination/ Creative Resistance Research Network/ Turbulence/War Boutique/Josh On

Opening Times: Weekends 10-10pm, Weekdays 12–9pm
Shop 14
The Old Truman Brewery
91 Brick Lane
E1 6QL

10 years ago, in November 1999 an alliance of direct action activists, environmentalists and trade unionists shut down the meeting of the World Trade Organisation in Seattle, stopping the next trade round of Capitalist Globalisation. In the process they sparked a Movement of Movements right across the globe its slogan became ‘Another World is Possible’.

This November exactly 10 years from that momentous demonstration, and with most of the predictions of the movements rapidly coming true what with the crisis of the economy, a permanent state of war and the collapse of our eco-system wrecking lives across the planet, the rich and powerful meet again in Copenhagen to discuss the next Climate treaty after Kyoto, yet again activists are preparing to challenge the idea that the Market can solve the problems of the world, and take another step toward that possible world after Capitalism.

Signs of Revolt is an exhibition that weaves together the story of the past decades social movements, drawing out the influences and connections between and across the movements against Capitalism, War and Climate Change. Using archive material and documentary photography and video from movement photographers and filmmakers, it reveals the story of how we got from Seattle to Copenhagen.

Interspersed in this narrative are works by artist and designer activists and collectives, produced during, within and for the movements, this is the first time such a collection has been brought together in the UK and it will be a chance to reflect upon and celebrate the new creative impulses that the movements spawned and the possibilities for developing the creative capacity of future movements, these issues will also be discussed in greater depth during a series of talks during the exhibition.

As Capitalism threatens our very existence, Signs of Revolt defiantly maps out possible routes to a future filled with hope…

Festival of Radical Communication–a weekend of talks as part of Signs of Revolt:


Contact and to register for the weekend (it’s free but we need to know numbers!):

“they can cut all the flowers, but they cannot stop the coming of spring” Pablo Neruda

Noel Douglas
+44[0]7989 471159

The Battle in Seattle: Its Significance for Education – by Glenn Rikowski: 

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