24 August 2013

Article: Liz Kinnamon, "London Riots, Living Walls: Questions of Resistance in Late Capitalism"

Street Art vs. Capitalism by Escif in Grottaglie, Italy, 2011
Deleuzian-inspired e-journal Rhizomes dedicates the virtual pages of its most recent 2013 issue (no. 25) to the cultural and political potential of graffiti, where amongst its offerings (varying a little in quality and glowing exaltation of street art's potential) nestles Liz Kinnamon's incisive commentary, "London Riots, Living Walls: Questions of Resistance in Late Capitalism". Critically investigating the revolutionary potential of graffiti and rioting practices as political speech acts, Kinnamon takes two temporally proximate events in 2011 - the street art conference in Atlanta, Living Walls: The City Speaks and the riots across the ocean in the United Kingdom - to explore the loaded question: "In a neoliberal capitalist climate ... where capital is continuously, cannibalistically folding in, what becomes of attempts to find a way out?"

A lucid break-down of the consumerist atmosphere of the UK riots follows, and a surprisingly complementary reading with the officially-sanctioned graffiti happenings staged during the Living Walls conference. Kinnamon paints a sad picture of the blunted and sanitised evolution of these anti-authoritarian practices since the 1970s:
"We are fully planted in a time when resistance is co-opted, folded into capital, and rendered harmless. ... But even before someone trademarks and stamps a slogan from the latest peoples movement onto a t-shirt, many so-called rebellions bear an already-resemblance to the systems they allegedly oppose. The actors in the UK riots and Living Walls utilize and exhibit the same characteristics capitalist governmentality has conditioned in them."
Yet hope is not completely lost: Kinnamon leaves us with some space to salvage these modes of political speech (rioting, graffiti) from their integration into capital through the work of Rei Terada via Michel Foucault's concept of parrhesia. However, the forms which these speech acts adopt, it would seem, will always be precarious and ambivalent at best.

Rhizomes is an open-access journal. All the essays in the current issue are all freely downloadable from their website. Its archive is also worth a lengthy browse; it can be found here.

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