07 01 08

alternative (economics + societies)

elisabeth steger

To come immediately to the point: In his interpretation the New York-based artist Gregory Sholette states that Oliver is an artist who speaks. Well, I would not maintain the opposite, would not call Oliver an artist who is not speaking. Everyone and everything is speaking. After having a close look to Alternative Economics, Alternative Societies the question is: What is Oliver actually doing? 

He is producing video-interviews with anti-capitalistic thinkers/writers whose “only mutuality seems to be that they like to read, to read much and that they are dissatisfied with the existing system of society” – as he is characterizing his chosen partners in an interview made by Raimund Minichbauer. So I would say that Oliver listens, that the developed video pool refers first of all to his own reading and that he wants to show it to us by producing  public space and caring about it.


The book touched me directly in two ways. First of all it made me remember the starting point of my “carrier” as an activist. About that time when Margaret Thatcher has pronounced the death sentence to all alternatives (probably you all know this sentence, so I do not have to re-write it)  I` ve been carrying my schoolbooks in a bag made out of jute and printed with the words “jute instead of plastic”. Today in 2008 we´ ve become older and we have to confess that Thatcher actually hasn´ t been totally wrong, she has been right in one, but only in one point: there is indeed no way out, because all humans are mortal, or,  putting it into a mutilated syllogism which rules our culture (according to Roland Barthes) we could state this enthymemes: The human being is mortal, therefore Margaret Thatcher is mortal; or Margaret Thatcher is mortal, because human beings are mortal; or Margaret Thatcher is a human being, therefore she is mortal etc.

But let´ s leave those dark politics behind and step to something lighter. Recently I` ve been reading a fiction of Marge Piercy and that´ s the second point why Oliver ´ s book has caught my interest. Marge Piercy the feminist anarchist writer has been one of  the interview partners in the project which already lasts 4 years.  I´ ve suddenly felt the wish to get the book extending my library when I´ ve been reading the mail Oliver has sent out to inform the “transformers” about publishing. I´ ve met him then in Graz at a conference he has been co-organizing ( ) but we didn´ t speak to each other there. I´ ve been busy with talking with Alex Foti, Laila Huber, Radostina Patulova, Josip Rotar ... that´ s the way it goes in networked circles. But finally we´ ve met in a cafe house in Vienna and I´ ve got one copy, one of the existing thousand (would be funny to know the group of the thousand copy owners)


Oliver has produced 17 video interviews from 2003 till now and hopefully his project will continue. The transcripts of these interviews are given in an updated and bilingual version (English/Polish) by this book which is strictly speaking an art catalogue. Aneta Szyłak, co-editor and head of the Wyspa institute of Art in Gdansk ( ) initiated this project on the occasion of the exhibition of Oliver ´ s installation in her institute in 2004. Obviously there has been chosen another strategy in addition: besides the posters in public space, the installation in art spaces (videos and tapes on the floor), the information on the sites and the website of the artist himself ( ) it has been set  a “symbolic act and an actual statement” – Aneta Szyłak is writing in her introduction. She is furthermore calling the book a “collection of minoritarian voices ... in graspable and accessible form”. Unfortunately its exactly the (sound of the) voice which disappears if you publish a transcript of a video interview in written format.

But let´ s have a look at the appearing pictures. The visual part of the videos hasn´ t been left out completely: to every transcript there are set at least two printed video stills which show “a talking head” (that´ s an often mentioned critic of Oliver ´ s video technique but precisely one should speak about “talking upper bodies”). Maybe its worth to name the exceptions: we have the interview with P.M., the founder of bolo` bolo, which is important  because he actually refuses being filmed at all. Acting with similar sensibility of the representation problem are the Zapatistas who appear in front of a camera only with the famous black mask, with a collective face half-hidden. Then Takis Fotopoulos: his hands are shown in the gesture of reading, then a diagram of  his “Inclusive Democracy” and some logos. The Cover of a Marge Piercy book is printed next to her words. That´ s fine because aesthetics of book covers differ from country to country. We get a view to the sea too, only in black and white, but a poet and the sea - I do agree. Ralf Burnicki is searching for another perspective than a permanent view on heavy traffic in Bielefeld and Maria Mies´ words are adorned with a still showing 3 painted arrows on a street indicating 3 different ways to go: left or right or straight ahead – you see, Germany could be called Carmany as well. Nancy Folbre shows us an Utopian bill of the Caregivers Republic (and I´ ve got it). During the interview with Michael Albert a helicopter has been flying above – that reminds us to the absent sound. All the tones, the voices and environmental sound naturally vanishes into thin air in a book. Producing a CD/DVD on the basis of the material would have been another strategy to bring the thoughts to a broader audience. Let me put this here as an idea as a confessing book lover.


The photos which close the book are quite informative, give us coloured views of the installations and posters, the exhibitions of Oliver ´ s project  which have taken place in art spaces in 21 different cities of our world (not only Europe).  The graphic design  of the book cover is leaning to the typographic of the posters: “Alternative Economics, Alternatives Societies” is printed in huge letters, red and white colour altering. If we open the book the title is repeated again, but now in black and white. Some thoughts about the colours: in my shelves Alternative Economics, Alternative Societies will be put next to three other publications of  republicart (the yellow one, the light-red one and the dark blue-green one) and for a moment I´ ve thought: Oh, the new one is an Austrian book – but then I realized that the Polish flag colours are red and white too. For sure the colour concept has not the background of nationalist ideas, we come back here to Gregory Sholette´ s statement: Oliver , or better his colour concept is speaking, it is speaking even very loudly. And red and white reminds us at least to building site tapes and this association in case of an open, work-in-progress project is well fitting. Although – in my imagination the seepage´ s colours would be a bright morning light: ”... to which extent its seepage can be considered as a practical effect is hard to foresee”, Aneta Szyłak is speculating here about the projects future (She has drawn our attention to the word seepage and to this: 


“...the all embracing discrimination of women. It goes down deeper than the prevailing political and economic calamity, it is tougher than any political terror. There is no indication that it will change fundamentally, on the contrary even the minimum securities of women are jeopardized through conservative tendencies, through newly provoked religiousities”


A book at my home is never alone! Citing here at last the exile writer Libuše Moníková helps me to emphasize the minus: Only 5 of the 17  interviewed “minoritarian voices” are women´ s voices. And these 5 women are: 2 sociologists, 1 economist, 1 union activist, 1 writer. Putting myself into the position of Oliver who is undertaking long- distance travels to meet his interview partners, I would go to India, try to meet Vandana Shiva. Her book “Staying Alive” has been an important book of my reading carrier. Moreover it´ s a voice from India. Actually the women who get space in the book are living in USA, USA, USA, Latin America, Germany and Spain. There is more like that.

s. also

Elisabeth Steger