Isabelle Frémeaux and John Jordan, co-founders of the Insurrectionary imagination laboratory (Labofii), are preparing for December their Climate Games around COP21, the conference on climate. Games that engage the public in a hacking climatic justice. Interview.
Following the publication of “Les sentiers de l’utopie” (Utopia paths) by the publishing house la Découverte, you are preparing Climate Games as a “support” of COP21, the international conference on climate in December in Paris. What is it all about?
Isabelle Frémeaux: With our Climate Games programme for rallying during COP21, the United Nations conference on climate change, we are joining forces with a number of social movements that have decided to highlight and act against the manipulation and engulfment of the negotiations by the power of multinational companies. We have decided to propose a large-scale game that considers the cyberspace as well as the street as playing fields, in which teams will be formed to devise civil disobedience actions against the power of multinational companies. We want a game that allows you to offer a range of approaches and tactics that go beyond what is often presented as opposing, symbolic actions against more drastic actions, like blockades.
John Jordan: Prior to the Climate Games, we are proposing a series of HACKCOP hackathons. We conducted two recently, one in the Gand Antiekstudio Vooruit and another at the Lieu Unique with PING and ArtLabo in Nantes. The following ones will take place next month in London and at the Berliner Festpiele in Berlin. The idea is to bring together artists, activists, gamers, hackers, developers, to create the Climate Games platform but also to imagine its missions, its forms of actions, propose a map of Paris and its suburb where everyone will be able to enrol a team and receive information, for example on the localisation of the blue team (coppers), the grey team (lobbyists), etc.
We are very inspired by Bertolt Brecht who talked about his theatre work as a way of training people to the pleasure of transforming reality. For us, it is exactly what the encounter between art and activism can offer. Capitalism is monopolising desire, fantasies, and one has to admit the left wing party revealed itself useless on these issues, it always thinks information will change people.
“We know perfectly well that hundreds of people come to die in the Mediterranean trying to escape from the economical and social disaster to which they are subjected. We know it, but we do not act. It is not information that makes us act, it’s the desire for another world, it’s fantasy and pleasure.”
We hope that the Climate Games will be a link for people who have never carried out direct actions, so that they can amplify this growing movement for climatic justice and ensure that one does not talk about energy transition without including the word justice, that one ceases to talk about environmentalism without talking about social issues. The way humans dominate each other can be seen in the way man dominates nature.
Could you tell us more about the Insurrectionary imagination laboratory (Labofii) that you created in 2003?
I.F.: I am not an artist, I was a lecturer in Media Culture Studies in London for 15 years, and have been involved in green-libertarian movements (to keep it short) for about 10 years. The Insurrectionary imagination laboratory creates places for artists and activists to work together, trying to dissolve these identities, to combine the imagination and creativity of artists with the audacity and social commitment of activists.
J.J.: I have an artistic background. However I hate this artist label that suggests a monopoly on creativity, as if the rest of the world was not creative. In fact I also hate the word activist because it suggests that activists are the only ones to truly transform society and that they have a monopoly of social transformation. I define myself rather as an artist-activist, but neither artist nor activist. I was a lecturer at the Academy of Fine Arts before we both became deserters to create Laboffi and new forms of civil disobedience.
“Any form of change, what can be called social progress, is the result of disobedience actions. Women wearing trousers, week-ends, contraception, gay marriage, all those benefits are the result of actions carried out by people who disobeyed, who went to prison, who were killed, who were seen by society as mad people, terrorists, etc.”
Since we have entered the anthropocene, we need to offer alternatives, other ways of managing our economies, our relation to nature, our social relations. We need to commit to carry out actions of resistance, of disobedience, to stop this suicidal machine that has literally set the climate on fire and that has lead to the extinction of two hundred species per day.
“We are trying to think out the YES, the creation of alternatives, and the NO, the civil disobedience.”
How will your Climate Games be organised?
J.J.: Jameson said “the biggest problem of political philosophy, and later, political science, is the creation of the group.” In the anthropocene era, the problem takes an even larger scope. It doesn’t just happen amongst ourselves, human beings, but also between us and the others, the non-humans.
This group issue, how to collaborate together, is also at the centre of our work, how to create ways of working together, without domination. Our workshops always start with this question: how does a group get created? We work a lot on creating trust between people and giving out tools for horizontal decisions. Put into action during Occupy and the movements in Spain, these tools have existed for a very long time, they are tools of consensus, how to organise meetings, groups, etc.
Do the games you propose act as occupation exercises and then serve as a base for discussion?
J.J.: Many of our games are ways of thinking with our body. We are very inspired by permaculture, this design practice developed in the 1970s by scientists who had observed the difference between mono-industrial agriculture and the way a forest self-manages itself.
“Permaculture shows us we have a great deal to learn from nature if we want to create more resilient, more diverse, more productive and less energy-greedy social systems.”
We use chairs and movements to explain the principle of edges: on the edges of an ecosystem, between a forest and a meadow for example, there are a lot of interactions between numerous different species. It is in this diversity unity that one finds the greatest evolution driving force and the greatest creativity.
I.F.: The physical game is an effective way of taking pleasure in being together but also of learning by other means than pure rationality. I am quite influenced by feminist educational methods that talked about knowledge and learning that came from body movement, emotions. The game does that very well. It allows you precisely to work seriously without taking yourself too seriously.
“You are much more creative when you enjoy yourself, and you enjoy yourself more when you have a range of activities at your disposal, including activities where you simply run, laugh, play. It brings out an intelligence that does not appear when one only calls upon rationality.”
How do you link tactical games and the smartphone application in the preparation of the Climate Games?
I.F.: The games are used as tactical training tools. We take very simple children’s games to demonstrate just how games can actually be very useful to learn how to stick together, be vivacious, be attentive… The application will be used as an organisational tool as well as an educational tool. As for organisation, it will provide the geolocalisation of targets, or police officers, or other teams, in order to be able to produce movements as flowing and effective as possible in the town. As an educational tool, it will be used to show why it makes sense to target such–and-such company, such–and-such event or lobbyist, how they work, why you should take action.
J.J.: Our main story is: “We are nature defending itself.” The game is still under definition. In practice, you name your team after a species, the mycelium team for example, and you try to examine the possible targets, like Solutions21, great event of green capitalism organised during the COP, sponsored by GDF Suez, etc., at the Grand Palais in Paris. Then you prepare your team to take action, block, infiltrate it… Whilst you are taking action, you can look at your smartphone and check if 30 police vans are taking the direction of the Grand Palais and decide if need be to leave quickly and go and block a lobbyist in his/her hotel. Once the action has been carried out, you post pictures of your action on the website, and you receive points. And if the action is very funny, you get more points. In December, we want a grand theatrical launch like the Hunger Games film: the games are beginning, do not forget who is the true enemy.
Is it a way of making a lot of room for humour?
J.J.: There will be many points for actions that make people laugh a lot. It is important for us who are non-violent. We define violence as the act of harming something that is alive. Breaking a window is not violence, but it is not strategically very useful either.
«Les sentiers de l’utopie» (Utopia paths), la Découverte ed.