What Would it Mean to Win?


What Would it Mean to Win?
40 mins, German/English.
Oliver Ressler and Zanny Begg, 2008.
Sound: Kate Carr

“What Would It Mean To Win?” is a film based on the most recent counter-globalisation protests in Heiligendamm (June 2007). It is structured around three central questions – Who are we? What is our power? What would it mean to win? – and combines documentary footage shot during the blockades against the G8 summit in Germany, interviews and animation sequences.

Recently the counter-globalisation movement has gone through a certain malaise accentuated by the shifts in global politics in the post 9/11 context. “What Would It Mean To Win?”, as the title implies, addresses this central question for the movement. During the Seattle demonstrations “we are winning” was a popular graffiti slogan that captured the sense of euphoria that came with the birth of a new movement. Since that time however this slogan has been regarded in a much more speculative manner.

This film aims to move beyond the question of whether we are “winning” or not by addressing what would it actually mean to win.

Exhibited in “Things Fall Apart”,  Artspace, Sydney, “Magazine 08: Positive Critical Imagination”, Edinburgh Art Festival, Edinburgh, “Risk”, Kunsthalle Luzern, Luzern, Switzerland, “Revolution, I Love You”, Trafó Gallery, Budapest, Hungary, Taipei Biennial, Taipei , Taiwan, 13th Art Biennial Pancevo, Gallery of Contemporary Art, Pancevo, Serbia, European Social Forum, screening program, Malmoe, Sweden, “Signs of Change: Social Movement Cultures, 1960s to the Present”, Exit Art, New York USA, “Asking We Walk: Voices of Resistance”, Free Exhibition Hall/Den Frie Udstillingsbygning, Copenhagen, Denmark, Freewaves, LA, USA, “Signs of Change: Social Movement Cultures, 1960s to the Present”, Miller Gallery, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, USA, DUTV – Drexel University Television, Philadelphia, A Staged Dissent, Loughborough University, Loughborough, England, TXAP Sukabumi, Indonesia, E-flux Video Rental, Maumaus / Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon, Portugal, Sarai Media Collective, Delhi, India, “Disclosures”, Plastic People, organized by Gasworks, London, Great Britain, Festival International d’Art Vidéo de Casablanca, Casablanca, Diagonale Film Festival, Granz, Austria, Kunsthalle Luzern, Switzerland,Wyspa Institute of Art, Gdansk, Poland, Tour de Lorraine, Kino in der Reitschule, Bern, Politics, Künstlerhaus Dortmund, Dortmund, Germany

What would it mean to win?

By Gerald Raunig

The anti-G8 protests in Germany’s Heiligendamm in the summer of 2007 were a significant climax of leftist movement practice. And not least for the reason that they proved that the anti-globalisation movement some six years after 9/11 has by no means come to an end. The myths of Genoa and 9/11 as a double catastrophe and the beginning of a decline of the social movements in the summer of 2001 have proved themselves wrong. The metamorphoses of the movement are multifarious, and fractures cannot be dismissed either, but not in the sense of a decline, but in the sense of ruptures and transformations, of inventions and recompositions, of the search for new forms of political organisation and social concatenation.

What would it mean to win? is the title-giving question of the film by Zanny Begg and Oliver Ressler about Heiligendamm and the most current aspects of a social movement. Other questions resonate behind it: Is it actually possible to win? And before that: Against whom? And still more abstractly: Does anyone actually want to ‘win’? It is a basic statement of the film that ‘winning’ in the form of a united, revolutionary subject and the taking over of state power has no great future. Rather the ‘We’ that asks itself the question as to what it means to win, has to accept the form of a question, the form of an undefined movement, stumbling and stuttering, like the music in the cartoon fragments in Begg’s and Ressler’s film that complement the pictures of actions and theoretical commentaries with playful reflections.

Just as this fragmented, multitudinous ‘We’ evades every definition and every organic representation, it also makes sense that Begg and Ressler – instead of dwelling on the spectacular riots in Rostock at the beginning of the summit or on the media-effective Greenpeace actions along the coast of Heiligendamm – immediately plunge into the depths of the micro-political fabric in the fields and camps around the G8 summit. The pictures and original sound that the two artists have captured of the actions and social forms of organisation around Heiligendamm are impressive, not only in content but also in the careful and exact way in which they are presented on film. Particularly convincing are the picturesque images of the blockades and the attempts to break through the police lines in the far hinterland of Heiligendamm; above all, the pictures of the effectiveness of the ‘five finger tactic’, the strategy of the repeated division of larger groups upon contact with the police lines until their gaps finally lead to breakthrough – a strategy of the active scattering of non-conforming masses in the wide meadow landscapes on the East Sea.

These dispersions, unfoldings and duplications also correspond to the claim of the film borrowed from Zapatism that life does not have to mean the same film every day but on the contrary every day a new one. Instead of affirming the one world of global capitalism, but also without claiming that only one other world is possible, it is a matter of inventing many worlds. This implies for one thing the creation of other worlds but also the concrete actualisation in the here and now of every day a new film, an infinite film programme, an infinite programme of the invention of worlds.

Emma Dowling, one of the six protagonists of the film refuses accordingly to answer the subjunctive question as to the meaning of winning, by interpreting the movement currently in the making in Heiligendamm as winning: Her comment ‘We are winning!’ refers to the extended present of coming together, exchange, discussions in the camps, the delegitimisation of an illegal power such as that of the G8, but also to the proliferation of this current development in the daily routine beyond Heiligendamm, into the everyday struggles dictated by racism and sexism, into situated knowledge and local discussion.

The very actions of Heiligendamm, their aesthetics and form could be interpreted as citations from the time around 1968: this could be partly unconscious or partly ironic, for example when a block of the ‘naked power’ – some twenty naked men and women almost rubbing shoulders with the shields and truncheons of the robocops’ lines – chant the slogan ‘Anyone who touches us is a pervert’. What is being commented on here and treated with irony – more or less affectionately – is both the media construction and the uncompromising reality of machistic Black Blocks, such as hit the headlines a few days previously in Rostock, and also the Woodstock tradition of staging quasi-innocent nudity.

The more recent forms of action like samba bands, anti-G8 cheerleaders and clowns armies coincide with aesthetic-political records of practices in the 1960s. Begg and Ressler take up the aesthetics of these actions and transport them right into the formal aspects of their film. The film begins with Bob Dylan’s Blowing in the Wind, interpreted by a mouth-organ activist and ends with the scene of two tambourine women in the camp (the gender-technical adaptation of Hey, Mr Tambourine Man!), creating a double Zeitgeist (1968-2007) whose dissociated and at the same time empathetic innuendo fortunately is not lost. In contrast to the Social Forum it is not Gilberto Gil standing here, or more appropriately perhaps Joan Baez on a large stage; the film on the contrary offers a stage for micro-political practices, and aesthetic-political ways of existence. It is here that the strength of Begg and Ressler’s film lies in comparison to other examples of visual representation of the anti-globalisation movement: not to denounce but rather to enhance aspects of counter-information and counter-propaganda, at the same time building in several levels of reflection which avoid hammering home an all too simple solution.

Gerald Raunig is a philosopher and art theorist who lives in Vienna, Austria.

from: Artlink – Contemporary Art Quarterly, vol. 28, #4, 2008