Permanent Ignition

permanent ignition: turin

The permanent ignition project emerged as a form of dialogue and collaboration involving the artist collective C.CRED [Collective CREative Dissent] and a number of activists, historians, and film makers active in Italy during the socially and politically so significant years of the 1960s and 70s. This dialogue developed and took as its form a series of meetings and walks based on a number of pivotal historical sites and locations that, taken together, form a kind of virtual historico-political terrain of what is likely to be one of the more intense developments of the post-war anti-fascist struggle of the far left in Europe. The material assembled during our meetings and walks (photographs and videos, texts and graphics, drawings and maps, gifts and contributions from collaborators and participants) were then used to construct a series of counter-monuments at particularly significant sites in Turin city centre. These permanent ignition counter-monuments were events rather than objects, transient structures rather than permanent installations. They relate to several historical narratives and events, yet remain linked, also, to a futural element in that their history is practiced as a form of collaboration and dialogue; as an event and an intervention; as a form of knowledge production as well as a form of dissention.


permanent ignition:

The permanent ignition: Stuttgart-Stammheim project developed as an artistic research project engaging with the history of the first generation of RAF militants in Germany in the late 1960s and 70s. In this version of the permanent ignition project, we decided to ‘occupy’ plots of land at locations significant to the history of the first generation of the RAF (a site just outside the prison in Stuttgart-Stammheim, the US army base in Heidelberg, the forest surrounding Frankfurt Airport) and define them as sites for future counter-monuments opening up to discussions around the politics of commemoration and, more specifically, the conflict between the RAF and the West-German State. The sites were delineated using white duct tape, metal poles, industrial tape, and similar materials. Having marked out the sites, we then organized installations displaying the archives gathered during the research period leading up to the project. In conjunction to the exhibition of the archives, we produced a text/paper dealing with the historical period and the sites addressed, and invited people to join us for a discussion both around the legitimacy and relevance of the group and the sub-historical archives and narratives explored in the project, and what a potential monument, located at the sites marked out could look like, how it could function, and what it issues it could raise. These delineations, installations, events and situations all took place during three roadtrips across Germany and France, at host venues and in public spaces. Additionally, manifestos, communiqués and other texts by RAF were edited and re-written using photocopiers and typewriters, our revisions being based on workshop discussion of the current conditions for political engagement and activism in light of the legacies inherited from the 1960s and 70s. The texts thus produced, along with material from the project archives, were used for posters, leaflets and read out aloud during interventions along the way. On our return to London, a storefront exhibition was organized during which C.CRED formed a band with a deliberate lifespan of 24 hours to compose, rehearse and perform a song concluding the project.


permanent ignition: erfurt
(the stasi edits)

Premised on the notion that in order to construct a critical and reflective space for contemporary forms of cultural and socio-political dissention one needs to seriously and continuously explore various historical formations of resistance and opposition in different fields, the Permanent Ignition project emerged as a platform for collaborative forms of research on specific historical manifestations of dissention, often including both reading and discussion based research, and conversations, dialogues, interviews and other forms of direct collaboration with people involved in or affected by the historical moments and processes engaged with. The earlier manifestations of the Permanent Ignition project include: Permanent Ignition: Turin, a collaboration with former activists involved in the radical left-wing movement in Turin in the 1960s and 70s, revisiting sites in the city associated with this period thus generating photo and text collages superimposing a plurality of narratives and perspectives on the movement and its history, collages that were later projected onto public buildings and sites around the city; and, Permanent Ignition: Stuttgart-Stammheim, a project involving three trips through Germany, building up a photo and text archive contextualizing the alleged 1976-77 suicides of the core group of militant activists of the first generation of the Red Army Faction in the prison in Stuttgart-Stammheim, an archive that was later used for displays and presentations, and as a basis for a series of public discussions, interventions and events related to the historical narratives explored and the ways in which they have been commemorated.   

In the most recent manifestation of the project – Permanent Ignition: Erfurt (The Stasi Edits) – C.CRED sets out explore dissention within the framework of the former GDR and, in particular, the repressive control and surveillance system developed by the Stasi, including the phenomena of so called informal co-workers and conspiracy dwellings. What narratives of dissention do these histories present us with? What do they articulate and what can be articulated, in turn, from their history? What space do they leave for dissention in our current political situation? 

Within this context, it soon became clear that any investigation into particular East German mechanisms of surveillance and social control and the concrete strategies of dissent and resistance these generated could not be discussed in a vacuum, but instead needed to be contextualised in current German political debates. Between the perspective of the victims of Stasi surveillance, nostalgic glorifications of the “good old days” by large parts of the increasingly economically and socially marginalised East German population or their reductive banalisation in the mass media, and attempts by a small, but well-organised and vocal group of ex-Stasi personnel and among certain parts of the new post-communist party to re-contextualise the Stasi as a legitimate tool of national security there is little or no space for a consensus on how and by whom these histories should be represented. Former dissidents feel ignored and not taken seriously by the leftwing spectrum of the mainly West German dominated political and cultural elites who continue to strategically draw on examples of positive aspects of the East German system in current political debates or to use dogmatic socialist thought in general as a valid source of intellectual and political engagement – while these in their turn have little time or use for the lived experience of political dissidents in the East, and resent the way their experience is often used to promote a narrative of a universal historical victory of capitalism as the only remaining viable political system and to discredit any form of current or historical leftist project. 

Permanent Ignition: Erfurt (The Stasi Edits) tries to give space to and at the same time contextualize these different current political manoeuvres and the many coexisting and conflicting ways of talking about the Stasi and the GDR in general that they give rise to.

In more concrete terms, Permanent Ignition, in its current version, consists of an audio installation based on a series of conversations recorded in Erfurt in August 2007 with various people we encountered that agreed to participate in the project. Without targeting specific groups or people, and not wanting to operate under the pretension that the project would somehow provide the ‘whole picture’, the conversations we entered into were premised upon our position being an ‘outside’ one and the conversations themselves being a form of improvisation, an improvised way of gathering knowledge and mapping out perspectives through meeting people who would introduce you to other people, who would in turn, introduce you to yet another set of people. The process was documented as audio recordings of the conversations, including conversations around the project itself among members of C.CRED, and with spontaneous photographs documented our itineraries across the city in order to conduct the conversations, a spatial and visual texture texture linked to, in different ways, the references made in the interviews. For the audio installation, these informal and improvised conversations have been edited into a series of themed tracks that have been installed on four different set of speakers positioned on low plinths in the exhibition space. The tracks are looped and played simultaneously on all four sets of speakers, creating a complex soundscape of overlapping voices that at times can be distinguished from one another, and at other times become little more than white noise, forcing the visitor to sit down next a particular set of speakers to make out the theme, narratives and perspectives outlined in the recorded conversations. Each set of speakers is also provided with a small booklet containing an elaboration on our position coming into this situation, organizing the interviews and editing the recorded material, thus juxtaposing our different positions as ‘artists’ coming into this situation to the diverse range of positions of those participating in the project, positions that are further emphasized by one word ‘citations’ taken from the different conversations and outlining different positions and perspectives on these issues, that are printed on panels installed on the walls of the exhibition space.

Permanent Ignition: Erfurt (The Stasi Edits) thus deliberately creates disarticulations by superimposing and counterposing sometimes conflicting narratives and voices so that the sound comes to oscillate between meanings, narratives, syntax, articulations and disarticulation, non-syntactical sound, openness. It engages with history not in the sense of a meta-narrative, the history, or even one history, but in the sense of critical practice whose direction is futural, transformative, constructive and affirmative of an alternative to a repressive and recuperative, fixed image of the past that dictates the rules both of the present and the future. A kind of history, in other words, as a crystal image that cannot be owned, that does not provide the whole picture, that does not totalize but remains partial and fragmented. Like looking into a crystal, coming into the audio installation, one doesn’t get the whole picture, the whole story, an easy answer or dichotomy of positions, one gets only a series of slightly skewed fragments of a history, fragments repeated from different angles and perspectives to form an entity that is not closed into any one meaning or position, but that opens up a potential to think difference and to think differently. Within this context, and premised on such notion, we hope that the Permanent Ignition: Erfurt (The Stasi Edits) installation, and the audio tracks that feed into it, will simultaneously construct and problematize, help articulate and disarticulate, form a kind of polyvocal speech that simultaneously destabilizes dominant articulations and accounts and renders possible critical reflection and ‘other’, new, perspectives that exceed the reductive and often legislative, authoritarian and moralizing binary logics that tend to constitute the framework for historical reflection available to us. Permanent Ignition: crystal images of a history that can never be owned but the function of which is to continuously assert our irrevocable dissentious potential.

The various installments of the Permanent Ignition project was produced for:
Permanent Ignition: Turin – the biannual BIG Torino 2002: BIG Social Game (Turin, Italy), and Stacione (Pristina, Kosovo).
Permanent Ignition: Stuttgart-Stammheim – Oberwelt Gallery (Stuttgart, Germany), for a mini-residency (within a residency) with Neighbourhood Public Radio (Hamburg, Germany) and for Yesvember, an exhibition / events program at a Camberwell storefront (London, UK).
Permanent Ignition: Erfurt (The Stasi Edits) – Kunsthaus Erfurt (Erfurt, Germany) and South Hill Part Arts Centre (Bracknell, UK).