'Capitalism' Tag Archive

Dec 05 2012
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Angeli Novi’s Time Bomb Ticking in the Continuum of History


By Snorri Páll Jónsson Úlfhildarson, originally published in the Reykjavík Grapevine.

There is a photograph by Richard Peter of a statue of an angel overlooking the card-house-like ruins of Dresden. During three days in February 1945, the German city was annihilated by the allied forces using a new firestorm technique of simultaneously dropping bombs and incendiary devices onto the city.

The photo resonates with philosopher Walter Benjamin’s essay ‘On the Concept of History,’ in which he adds layers of meaning to a painting by Paul Klee titled ‘Angelus Novus’. Benjamin describes Klee’s angel as ‘The Angel of History’ whose face is turned towards the past. “Where we see the appearance of a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe, which unceasingly piles rubble on top of rubble and hurls it before his feet.”

Wanting to “awaken the dead and to piece together what has been smashed,” the Angel’s wings are stretched out by a storm from Paradise, which “drives him irresistibly into the future, to which his back is turned, while the rubble-heap before him grows sky-high.”

“That which we call progress,” Benjamin concludes, “is this storm.”

Can You Stand in the Way of Progress?

If the storm disenables us to fix the ruins of the past, what about preventing the storm from blowing? That would not be so simple according to art collective Angeli Novi, comprised of Steinunn Gunnlaugsdóttir and Ólafur Páll Sigurðsson, whose exhibition is currently showing at The Living Art Museum (Nýló).

Under a confrontational title — ‘You Can’t Stand in the Way of Progress,’ shaped as the ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ sign of Auschwitz — Angeli Novi have greatly altered the museum’s space with an installation of sculptures, soundscapes, smells and videos, including a 20-minute film of the same title as the exhibition. The film is a kind of kaleidoscopic time machine, examining the plight of generations which, one after the other, become tools and puppets of economic and historical structures.

In a well-cooked and stark manner — adjectives borrowed from Nýló’s director Gunnhildur Hauksdóttir — often shot through with streaks of black humour, the exhibition displays a dark image of Western civilization via versatile manifestations of the horrors embedded in capitalism, industrialism, nationalism, religion, the dualistic and linear thought of occidental culture, and the individual’s buried-alive position in society.

The metaphor here is literal as the only visible body-parts of the film’s thirty protagonists are their heads. The rest are buried under ground. Between themselves, their chewing mouths fight over ceremonial ribbons carrying a collection of Western society’s fundamental values, doctrines and clichés, in a dynamic collision with a collage of significant images behind them — “the history of Western thought,” as author Steinar Bragi points out. Towering over a coffin shaped as a baby’s cot, located in a mausoleum at the museum’s entrance, the same ribbons have been tied onto a funeral wreath. A single cliché, “From the Cradle to the Grave,” hangs between the mouths of two children’s heads that stick out of the black sand below the coffin. A smooth corporate female voice greets the visitors: “Welcome to our world!”

I Sense, Therefore I Think

“It’s very pessimistic,” Steinar Bragi says during our conversation in a bunker-like room of Nýló. “The film shows us disembodied beasts, fighting over the phrases that our entire society is built upon. I always see the head as the rational approach to life, stuck in these dualistic pairs that are so far from reality as I experience it. We have sensibilities, then emotions, and finally there are words and reason. Reason is useful for certain tasks, when one has to go from place A to place B, but it’s only a tool to be used on something far more extensive.”

Steinar and I agree that society is constantly simplified into Cartesian dualism — “I think, therefore I am” — the ground zero of Western thought. And while dualism doesn’t necessarily reject sensibilities and emotions, Steinar maintains that it locates reason on a higher level. “Reason is expected to control, which it certainly does in a small and unglamorous context, but it’s only an expression of what lies beneath.”

Enemies of Progress?

It’s clear that the core of this rationalism is simplification such as how political and social conflicts tend to be reduced to a fight between alleged good and evil forces. This not only brings us to the religious nature of the myth of progress, but also the power of language. Because “although they are hollow and empty and repeatedly chewed on, these phrases are also very powerful,” as literary scholar Benedikt Hjartarson points out. “They conduct the way society is shaped. They manifest the social and economic reality we live with.”

As former director of US aluminium corporation Alcoa Alain Belda told the newspaper Morgunblaðið in March 2003: “Some people are against progress.” He was referring to the opponents of the Kárahnjúkar dams, constructed in Iceland’s highlands to create energy for Alcoa’s smelter. “But fortunately,” he continued, “the world is growing and people are requesting better lives.”

Such an argument equals economic growth and people’s welfare, portraying the megaproject’s opponents as enemies of progress. At the same time it negates the destructive nature of progress, manifested for instance in the culturally genocidal impacts — in the form of displacement of populations — and irreversible environmental destruction often associated with large-scale energy production, and how the lives of whole generations are wasted by wars waged for power and profit.

“We see this contradiction within modernity,” Benedikt continues, “how the idea of progress thrives on destruction and always calls for annihilation.” But unlike the revolutionary destruction encouraged by 19th Century anarchist philosopher Michail Bakunin — who stated, “the passion for destruction is a creative passion too!” — the annihilation inherent to progress is rather used as a stimulus for an unaltered continuum of the status quo under the pretext of development. Thus, the contradictory nature is evident again, as well as the religious one: “The present is never here,” Benedikt says, “it’s always something we are aiming for.”

Violence Intrinsic to Social Contracts

The film displays a great amount of violence, which musician Teitur Magnússon sees with a strong reference to alienation. “One feels like it’s somehow supernatural, like it’s not the work of humanity but rather of a monster that’s eating everything up, and we don’t seem to have any control of it.”

Artist Bryndís Hrönn Ragnarsdóttir furthermore connects this brutality with authority. “Humans aren’t able to handle more power than over themselves,” she says. “As soon as someone is granted higher power, violence enters the picture.” She maintains that some sort of violence is intrinsic to all simplifications — “all of society’s attempts to try and settle upon something” — meaning a wide range of social contracts, from organized religion to written and unwritten rules regarding people’s behaviour.

A Leap Into the Future

As Angeli Novi’s subject is not only complex but also polarized — layered with our cultural history of construction and destruction, repression and revolt — the exhibition doesn’t preach any simple solutions to the great problems it addresses. Such attempts are often just as contradictory as the myth of progress itself, or as philosopher Slavoj Žižek ironically sums up in his analysis of what he calls ‘a decaf reality,’ when the “very thing which causes damage should already be the medicine.”

Thus, one cannot resist wondering if there actually is a way out of the horrors analysed and manifested in the exhibition. Or is humanity bound to be stuck in a premature burial while the seemingly unstoppable catastrophe witnessed by Benjamin’s Angel of History keeps on enlarging into eternity?

With images referring to France’s July Revolution of 1830, Angeli Novi reject such a vision and suggest instead a peculiarly creative approach to revolt. Already during the revolution’s first day, clocks on church towers and palaces all over Paris were shot down and destroyed, signifying the urgent need to nullify predominant social structures and ideologies by putting an end to the time of the oppressors.

In continuum of this rebellious tradition of what philosopher Herbert Marcuse referred to as “arresting time” — directly related to what William Burroughs called “blowing a hole in time” — Angeli Novi transcend the well known demand for “all power to the people” with a leap into the future, granting wings to the mind and calling for all power to the imagination.

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See also:

Saving Iceland: Kárahnjúkar Dam Blown Up in New Film by Angeli Novi

Jón Proppé: Standing in the way of progress

Þóroddur Bjarnason: Jafnvægislist (Icelandic only)

Angeli Novi’s webiste

Nov 09 2011
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From Siberia to Iceland: Century Aluminum, Glencore and the Incestuous World of Mining


A special report for Saving Iceland by Dónal O’Driscoll

Preface

Glencore are the majority shareholder of Century, the owner of one operational and one half-built smelter in Iceland, it’s key operations for aluminium smelting. But who are Glencore and what are the implications for Iceland? This comprehensive article profiles the world’s biggest commodity broker, who’s only comparable predecessor was Enron. The profile covers the reach and grip of Glencore’s domination of metal, grain, coal and bio-oils markets, allowing it to set prices which profit very few and are detrimental to many. It shows the tight web of connections between the major mining companies and Glencore through shared board history and shared ownership of assets, cataloguing key shareholders (and board members) who’s stakes make them larger shareholders than institutional investors in ownership of Glencore. These connections include Rusal’s co chair Nathaniel Rothschild, a financier with a $40m investment in Glencore, and a personal friend of Peter Mandelson (former EU trade commissioner and British politician) and George Osborne (UK Chancellor).

The article details the human rights and environmental abuses of Glencore at it’s many operations, including the 2009 killing of Mayan indigenous leader Adolfo Ich Chamán who spoke out about Century’s activities in Guatemala under CEO-ship of Peter Jones (still a Century board member). It claims that Glencore is higher than most in the running for most abusive and environmentally detrimental mining company, going where lesser devils fear to tread – trading with Congo, Central Asia and embargoed countries such as Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and apartheid South Africa. Glencore founder Marc Rich was involved in trading embargoed Iranian oil, and fled the United States in 1983 accused of insider dealing and tax dodging over Iranian deals, becoming one of the 10 fugitives most wanted by the FBI, until he was pardoned by Bill Clinton. Glencore is still run by two of his main men. Read More

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Aug 18 2010
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Does Man Own Earth?


On Magma, Björk, the separation of philosophy and reality, xenophobia, green industry, false solutions, borders, Earth conservation and liberation. By Snorri Páll Jónsson Úlfhildarson and originally published in The Reykjavík Grapvine, August 13th 2010.

There are countless reasons for Magma Energy not being allowed to purchase HS Orka. Those who have no idea why should quit reading this and get their hands on books like Naomi Klein’s ‘The Shock Doctrine’ and documentaries like ‘The Big Sellout’ by Florian Opitz. They show how the privatisation of natural resources brings about increased class division and poor people’s diminished access to essentials—without exception.

People could also study the history of Ross Beaty, the man that wants to build Magma Energy to being ‘the biggest and best geothermal energy enterprise in the world.’ Ross is the founder and chairman of Pan American Silver Corporation, which operates metal mines in Bolivia, Mexico and Peru, where mining is done by the book: environmental disasters, human rights violations, low paid labour and union restrictions, to mention but a few of the industry standards. Read More

Aug 16 2010

Inside a Charging Bull


Iceland, one year on
By Haukur Már Helgason

After Iceland’s three banks collapsed in October 2008 – a bankruptcy bigger than Lehmann Brothers’ in a republic of 300,000 inhabitants – the public overthrew a neoliberal government through mass protest, precipitating a general election. On election day, 25 April 2009, the conservative head of Iceland’s public radio newsroom sighed his relief: ‘Judging from the atmosphere this winter a revolution was foreseeable in spring, some sort of revolution – that something entirely different from what we are used to would take over. Now we know better.’(1) Read More

Jan 15 2010

Green is the New Spectacle


By Jason Slade
Originally published in the Nor easter

The Spectacle

Environmental issues can oftentimes be very complex. Some issues directly relate to climate change, and some do not. However, it is very important to connect the dots between issues because almost all environmental problems are caused, at their base, by capitalist expansion, commodification and privatization. Corporations have used the climate crisis and growing public concern about environmental issues to their advantage. They have learned to use the rhetoric of environmentalism to justify extremely oppressive projects whose sole purpose is to increase their power and to continue the cycle of production and consumption. Incredibly destructive projects, such as hydrofracture natural gas extraction in Upstate New York, are marketed as clean. This absurd spectacle must be stopped.

In Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle, he writes, “The spectacle presents itself simultaneously as all of society, as part of society, and as instrument of unification … The spectacle grasped in its totality is both the result and the project of the existing mode of production. It is not a supplement to the real world, an additional decoration. It is the heart of the unrealism of the real society. In all its specific forms, as information or propaganda, as advertisement or direct entertainment consumption, the spectacle is the present model of socially dominant life … It is the sun which never sets over the empire of modern passivity. It covers the entire surface of the world and bathes endlessly in its own glory.” And now the light of that sun is green. The green spectacle is confronting the climate crisis with hollow solutions presented to us in a pleasant, prefabricated package that can be bought if we can afford them and allow us to pollute in good conscience. In an absurd twist, these corporate false solutions cause the poor, and those who resist these schemes, to be blamed for destroying the planet. “It is not the oil companies who are to blame for climate change, but the poor who do not buy carbon offsets when they travel.” Thus, the climate crisis becomes another way to make money and increase corporate power. Read More

Jan 30 2009

The Icelandic Government has Collapsed… and then what? – A Letter from Icelandic Anarchists


A letter from Icelandic anarchists who have taken part in the revolt against the recently collapsed government. The article originally appeared on Aftaka.org, an Icelandic anarchist website.

The Icelandic Government has collapsed and some people talk about a revolution. In a way it is true. Ordinary people overthrew this neoliberal government by writing articles, holding speeches, noise demonstrations, bonfires, car horns, direct action, civil disobedience and minor sabotage. A nation that before had hardly put up any resistance to abuse of power for a long time, finally stood up and said: “No thanks! No more shit!”

But what will follow? Have we reached the ultimate goal? Is the minority government of the Left Greens (Vinstri Grænir) and the Social Democratic Alliance (Samfylkingin) enough? Are we just going to settle for new elections this spring?

Read More

Oct 13 2008

Capitalism Thrives on Inequality


By Snorri Páll Jónsson Úlfhildarson, originally published in Morgunblaðið -

In his article, “Is There Enough Aluminium in the World?” Jakob Björnsson, former director of energy affairs points out that “by far the biggest part of alulminium usage in the world today is in the industrial countries, where 25% of the people of the world live.” He also mentions that when China and India will have gone through proper indutrialization, 62% of humanity will live in industrial countries and the other 38% are also on their way there; that they want to enjoy the indstrialized countries’ living standards, even dream of cars and beer cans. These are very important facts.

Two things make Jakob’s article very interesting. Firstly, he says that it is a realistic oppurtunity that all human beings on the planet can reach the “qualities of life” and lifestyle that Occidentals now live with. Secondly, he states that human equalitiy is possible inside the system we live in. Read More

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