Low Lives: Occupy

By Paul McLean

[NOTE: This is a supporting text for Low Lives: Occupy, which will be presented by the Hemispheric Institute in early March.]


In his rather grim assessment of the domain of small screen video in the introduction to Video Vortex II: Moving Images Beyond YouTube, Geert Lovink writes, “The Attention War is real.” [1] Nothing has authenticated Lovink’s claim more profoundly than Occupy Wall Street. Earlier in the short but seminal text, Lovink doggedly propositions us with a sequence of questions about the future of online video, finishing with this one: “Is online video liberating us from anything?”

Post-9-17-2011 (the day OWS materialized as an occupation of Zuccotti Park), we have some new answers about the utilitarian value of online video. I’m not referring to anything remotely art-centric here, yet, with regards small-screen, networked video transmitted on/for/by electronic devices.

I mean moving images that seemingly erupt from the societal margins and shoot into the monopolized global perceptual space, disrupting the placid managed surface of acceptable 1% talking points. I mean movies that project a 99%-oriented iteration of real events into the stream of content wired people access to figure out what’s happening now, and not just what’s happening in one’s particular, preferred info-silo.

Online video has occupied Big Picture reality, finally offering more than laughing babies, cute kitties and bedroom guitar maestros. Online video is maturing as a decentralized syndicate for unmediated transmissions. What OWS has proven is that the “margins” are really the main, and the Dark Matter Greg Sholette describes in his book by the same name, [2] the 99% - is us, to paraphrase Pogo.

To date (as of this writing), Global Revolution, the OWS online video (OV) channel has logged 248,918,179 viewer minutes. OWS is winning its attention war, and it’s using OV, nested in an impressive array of network tools (websites, chat rooms, social media, email/texting chains, phone trees, etc.) to do it. The dynamics of concentricity [3] have served OWS well, in its stunning expansion from local protest gathering to worldwide phenomenon.

If OWS has taught us anything about the notion that online video is capable of liberating us, it has taught us by demonstration that 99% liberation is not a function of video technology. OV is not the cause. It’s an app. Liberation, if it is to come, will be a function of direct confrontation with the forces that would enslave us. Video can provide an important support role, mostly as verification or promotional tool, but it will not suffice as a proxy for bodies in the park or on the street.

Maybe, to come at this from a different angle, we can flip-flop Lovink’s OV assertion to apply it to OWS. “The real war is attention,” and that’s not true. War is about breaking things and killing people. OWS is peaceful assembly for the redress of grievances. It’s good citizenship. Getting people’s attention with courageous action, in the face of oppression, affirming the 99%’s right to know the truth as it happens, that’s how OWS managed to help OV realize itself, as a valuable platform in a democracy movement, as opposed to a valuable asset in a co-opted 1% consumer saturation market.


Video is still never completely at home in the art world, and there are plenty of reasons, some technical, some philosophical, and some economic. A prime problem for online video as art is distinction. Why is one YouTube video “art” and the next one million videos less than art, say, only “entertainment?” “Play” at the Guggenheim [4] smacked into this quandary. This is a platform issue, but the enigmatic subtext is status quo in the discourse enveloping art in the machine age. Where does the artist stop and the machine take over? The conjectures pertaining to material and immaterial qualities of art also pertain here, and are even exacerbated. The “art” of online video is untouchable by the viewer.

Perhaps that’s where we should introduce Low Lives: Occupy. If we mash-up Dark Matter conditions with the classist-conditioning implicated in determining what is “untouchable,” and throw in the separation between the subject and the user that is inherent in OV, we at least get to a formulation that is rooted in Otherness. By framing the entire phenomenon in a construct as inclusive as “the 99%,” the alienating power of the Other binary is dissolved. We are the 99%. Low Lives: Occupy is an attempt to codify that togetherness.

It helps to review the first three instances of Low Lives to obtain a measure of the proposition. Performance is a factor. So is the live event commingled with its documentary version in a single time-based presentation format. The network of affiliated presenters adds a layer of community as an analog feature. The virtual streaming component suggests an echo of the real that sustains, after the original action concludes. The locations, the settings, the players, the machines, the narratives, the modulating intensities varying from piece to piece – all combine to refuse homogeneity, which OV, if nothing else cannot help but induce. Compression is a fact of computerized translation. Still, with Low Lives, we know that somewhere during each performance the laws of nature apply – unless, as one participant demonstrated, the performance is situated in Second Life. [5] In short, we have dimensional conditions, with rules that can be broken without damaging the relation between the original and the reproduction, in a span of Time that encompasses both as identical-related phenomena.


Lovink and the essayists in VV2, and others in the field provide excellent expansion on the prime domain issues OV engenders, affecting the medium and ripe for considering in the broader context. In my estimation the central issue is Time as object and everything else as subject. A veritable (or virtual) syndicate or consortium of fine thinkers have addressed and are addressing the “everything else” already, dancing with the Object Time, which correlates in the case of Low Lives as an unfolding performance matrix. To mark precursors for Occupy (and OV), we should take into account the writings of Shanken, Groys, Lillemose, Quaranta, Lanier, Sterling, Bishop, LaTour, Paul, Kittler, Manovich and some others – Baudrillard, Agamben, LaTour, Badiou, Heidegger, Hegel and the effervescent Zizec, plus the speculative realists. We have a library to draw from, and Low Lives is the kind of holograph that’s appearing. [6]

That said, Post-9-17, we’re beyond networks, design fictions, Second Life, curating, Continental Theory, Relational Aesthetics, gadgets, artificial intelligence, cybernetics, hacking, weakness and interfaces. Even hyperrealism and the parallax view don’t adequately intervene, deconstruct, critique or predict OWS. Not to say that all of these pre-texts don’t figure in the new schema. They do. They form a Cloud of data that in the aggregate provides ample atmosphere to supply the storm that is OWS with material and immaterial conveyance. They form a pre-extant chorus for Occupy, like a repetition of pronouncements at the People’s Mic. They introduce, clarify and explain the action. They help the OWS thing to start making sense of senseless, brutal, humanity-negating malaise, and move toward solution out of problem.

Our common library, like the mini-version that blossomed in Liberty Square and now lives online, [7] functions as an anti-industrial Cloud storage network, owned and operated by corporations in cahoots with the militarized 1% shadow government that is displacing our actual democracies. If information is power, then the much-propagandized Cloud industrial complex is a power-grab, utilizing technology to off-site the production of anything and everything, from ideas to accounting numbers, with little accountability on the back-end. The truth is, a healthy democracy would nationalize the so-called Cloud into a shared resource. One possible app would be close-to 100% voting. How’s that for an for data storage applications for real-world/real-time processes. Given the 1% hatred of our freedoms, don’t expect any announcements of such anytime soon [unless Occupy, and/or its inevitable successor(s), succeed].

To reference the post-clearance of Liberty Square’s meme, OWS is replete with big ideas, too big to be evicted. It’s just that the big creative idea isn’t bigger than violence and power, which in the end wins by evicting bodies, not thought. Still, an archived performance can play hell on the apparatus of eviction. Databased online video plays a mean game of chicken with the violent 1% powers that be, because the methodologies of spin can – especially the rewrite of history for propaganda purposes – can continue to be contradicted by the video instance of the actual event.

Control of the grid, therefore becomes a first-order priority (which is why Anonymous is such a good monkey wrench, and Wikileaks, too). The powerful 1% recognizes just how tenuous, fragile and provisional management of the 99% is at this moment. Without compliance of the masses, the whole “ball o’ wax” will surely melt down. That’s not conjecture. It’s happening. Like a cloudburst.


Occupy Wall Street drew enough notice with D.I.Y. media to command a national stage and reorder the discussion. – “New Media Rules for the New Ways We Watch” by David Carr, NY Times (December 24, 2011) [8]

I think it’s vital to recall the leaking of the Iraq War video, pre-9-17, that showed civilians blown away by soldiers firing from an American helicopter. [9] If the pepper spray videos had a definite precursor, this was it. We can talk all we want about ideas too big to be evicted. There are still some onscreen images that are bigger and more visceral than ideas, pictures worth more than words or vocalized ideas. Although neither words nor pictures, moving or still, are nothing like the real thing, baby, they are close enough for government work.

We mustn’t pretend that the translation of small-screen video from a predominantly personalized or privatized viewing experience to a commons is insignificant. While the corruption of “Play” by corporate co-optation undermined that venture, the trajectory is correct. The distinction between the “real thing” and a virtual simulation, which is embedded in the movement from alone-time to shared-time and –activity, leads us precipitously into another realm of OV that is verboten in polite concourse. Let’s face it. The biggest usage so far of home-screenings on OV is pornographic. Again, art’s conflation with porn on the small-screen is a problem of distinction. Programs like Low Lives remind us that the utility of OV is potentially much more powerful than the seedy, abject isolationism that attaches to the medium’s primary application. Online video, thanks to OWS and art projects like Low Lives (and many other apps, from D.I.Y education to comm-tech utilities like Skype), is emerging as a viable platform for assembly and assemblage, or in the case of Low Lives, montage. [10]

Low Lives adjusts or re-orients the privatization of producing and usage of OV to the commons, but it does so in an innovative wedding of live and streamed action. The two kinds of performance are integrated into a symbiotic program arrangement that sequences both as equal components, unfolding over a time line.


“True time is four-dimensional.” – Martin Heidegger, Time and Being [11]

What’s the energy driving a video’s movement from precarity into viral ubiquity? As we acknowledged above, two words can get to the point – “pepper spray.” One is better: Time. As Heidegger suggests, the nature of time brings about an “opening up,” “reciprocal relations,” a gifting and reaching out. The aspects of absence and presence blur in what is elemental being in time, a dimensional prospect. The prospectus, with ubiquitous proofs, as we are beginning to have with OV, is that experience can possibly span the reality of being there and witnessing, when both are supported by active participation. The “we” of the commons and the people expresses as a fact of media, beyond self- and the castle of self. We are discovering through OV a new kind of home to occupy with ourselves, and it isn’t Freudian. It’s more properly situated in the domain of media philosophy and performance – but not necessarily art. The space for art has to be dedicated for such an intervention, which is what Low Lives does.

It should be noted that this is what TED and other “creativity” conferences do, too, under the pretense of establishing an uber-“art” for global governance, marketing, economic and other 1% purposing. To reduce the TED-type scheme to one word, it’s “management,” in the app produced like an extravagantly funded telethon. The currency TED, etc. (Blouin, et al.), try to get us to donate is our attention, our wonder and ultimately our compliance with the big-picture such conferences attempt to seduce us into accepting. This is happy-face corporatism, conflating inspiration with neo-colonial, enforced “shared values,” as the World Economic Forum describes it, in appropriately Orwellian fashion. [12] Such artificial projections of idealized corporate-owned common “interests” are only the latest iteration of anti-commons propaganda and social design servicing the extraction/exploitation complex that has defined high and low informatics since Benedict created the first monastic corporation to sell wine and heaven to the serfs. [13]

Even given the structural equivalents, clearly, Low Lives is not TED, but something much more visceral, humble and vital. Low Lives is an antidote to TED, and the WEF, an anti-spin machine. Low Lives is a machine of the common body, not a definition of the body as a machine, as programmable matter, ordered by sparkly hi-end graphics and the best production values blood money can buy.  

Since the occupation of Zuccotti Park began, the pixilated grunge of unsteadied moviemaking has become a formidable enemy of spin. The scenes we witnessed, via OV, of kettled young women doused in chemicals, howling in pain of the euphemistic non-lethal sort, kickstarted the Occupy movement. If a General Assembly could only get a shoulder-shrug out of a couch potato, and the People’s Mic could only mostly generate mimicry, if not mockery, the shock of senseless authoritarian violence on the streets of Manhattan brought thousands of vacillating 99%ers into the streets. TED, to bring it into the mix a final time, is the anti-GA.

As an assemblage, OWS managed to mobilize a massive demos in support of 99% liberation, in great measure because of hand-held cameras in the hands of amateurs. In every protester-cop scrum, we could see multiple hands pushing mini-cam phones and small video cams into the action, while chanting, “The world is watching!” Millions of people actually did watch, and react. The low-resolution videos of police brutality during OWS street actions, uploaded almost In Real Time (IRT), substantiated liberation-as-PoV, as a new media multi-use tool and tactic. The impact on the MSM info-scheme was immediate. Traditional news outlets like The Guardian invited video submissions as a means of clarification of fact, of reality, of actuality. The result was faceted PoV, and a better-equipped viewer, one that could employ multiple perspectives to generate an assessment of what happened, “on the ground.” This improved comprehension translated into rapid response, a popcorn effect, adding thousands to Occupier nodes all over the planet. Now, the data accumulated in those street actions is evidence in lawsuits and legislative hearings that may remedy some egregious anti-citizen oppression, enacted as brute force or the regulation that enables it.

Low Lives: Occupy in a sense promises to do the same with performance art, streaming for OV. This is a new iteration of art and artifact. The flattening dynamic inherent in computer-based visualization is bleeding into the purview of Time, itself, as an enacted scenario. The implication is that humanity now is humanity as it always is. As such, we can bypass the euro-derived meta-data that has been attached to all things cultural for centuries, for several millennia. Our experiential freedom to witness, and/or as participant (without an Other), is revived. We can imagine the painting of the cave wall 30,000+ years ago in Chauvet, as a good subject for Low Lives presentation, today. “Low” then may translate as the re-emergence of the subterranean as an un-secret or open source expression of our essential humanness. Maybe then we can accept cave bears and computers as our collaborators, re-situating our creative time in terms of sentience, rather than knowing. Maybe we can re-create Mystery, in this way, for a new iteration of art that is for all of us. Art can be more than a folly just for the few who robotically collect things by 1% “artists” like Jeff Koons, as a functionary complement to extraction/exploitation and property ownership activities, for un-democratic profits, power-over, and classist prestige.

[1] Free download here:

[2] In the Occupy with Art library:

[3] My article for the Brooklyn Rail on concentricity and OWS:

[4] The Guggenheim webpage for “Play” ( and an ArtFagCity story on the “Biennial” (, typical of the problems “Play” engendered during its conception and execution

[5] Second Front- The Infamous Tommy Lee Incident (

[6] Reference Libraries: Reading Group Number One ( and the European Graduate School online library (; EGS has a burgeoning set of resources on this site



[9] From Sunshine Press: Wikileaks has obtained and decrypted this previously unreleased video footage from a US Apache helicopter in 2007. It shows Reuters journalist Namir Noor-Eldeen, driver Saeed Chmagh, and several others as the Apache shoots and kills them in a public square in Eastern Baghdad. They are apparently assumed to be insurgents. After the initial shooting, an unarmed group of adults and children in a minivan arrives on the scene and attempts to transport the wounded. They are fired upon as well. The official statement on this incident initially listed all adults as insurgents and claimed the US military did not know how the deaths ocurred. Wikileaks released this video with transcripts and a package of supporting documents on April 5th 2010 on (

[10] Maybe we can learn something about OWS from “Breaking Down,” Richard Dienst’s essay in New Media, Old Media: A History and Theory Reader:

Whatever it tells us about the interplay of media, this complex material makes a startling point: the history of cinema can be told, it seems, everywhere but in cinema. Yet, as the initial episodes insist, the history of cinema is the only history that needs to be told, because only cinema has been capable of telling the story of its time. But it failed, and that is the real story. Only cinema could have constructed the linkages between technology and life required by the modern world; only cinema offered a way to show one life to another without threatening both. Montage - understood first as the production of connections, comparisons, constellations and other kinds of relationality - is the only form, the only technique, cinema has to offer to help us live historically. All the rest - its plots, its clichés, its obedience to ruling ideas and awful prejudices - would be precisely what montage could undo by cutting open. But, again, cinema got caught up in everything but pursuing its only real task. The "beautiful care" [beau souci] of montage turned out to be a burden heavier than any film, or any filmmaker could bear: it is nothing less than the obligation to make history out of every image, to know how to slip dreams into reality, when to splice memory into the flow of forgetfulness, and moments of beauty into unfolding catastrophes of modern life. Cinema let us know that all these images are somehow *there*, adjacent to each other, if not us. We do not lack for images; if anything, the images lack a "we" who could bring them together.

[11] Heidegger, Martin. On Time and Being. Trans. Joan Stambaugh. New York: Harper, 1972. (excerpted by Clifford Stetner)(


[13] Check this out!

[14] Recent treatments of note: Werner Herzog’s much-acclaimed Cave of Forgotten Dreams ( and Joseph Nechvatal’s Immersion Into Noise (


Low Lives: Occupy! Anti-Art and the Readymade Revolution

by Ashley Sanders

On March 3rd, thousands of people in over ten different countries will point their projectors to occupy building facades, movie screens and bare white walls with transmissions from a performance phenomenon known as Low Lives: Occupy! LL:O! is an artistic celebration of the Occupy movement that uses the medium as its message, pushing the grainy, live-stream, camera-phone-style footage that made Occupy famous to stage a series of simultaneous, real-time performances that interrogate, explore and push the limits of what Occupy means. The pieces will run the gamut from direct action to spectacle, and the audience will be equally diverse and democratic: anyone with an internet connection can gather with any number of people and watch as artists and activists from everywhere stage five minute pieces that blur the line between art, politics, and performance.

And why does this matter? It matters because, as cops in riot gear evicted Occupiers in Boston’s Dewey Square, a projection went up on a building façade behind them. It was written in scrawling font and it said one simple thing: “You can’t evict an idea.” And whoever projected that was partly right. The occupations that began last September were both physical and psychic; they were about people reclaiming public space as a platform for a giant shift in public imagination. It was about resisting physical eviction in parks so we could evict the CEOs in our heads—all the notions that told us that we were weak and worthless and wrong.

But Dewey Square did get evicted, at least physically, and the projection eventually went dark. Now thousands of Occupiers around America are wondering what to do with their un-evictable but homeless ideas.

It’s an old problem, one that has plagued both political art and resistance since its inception: the ability of bourgeois capitalism to eat up, spit out or assimilate its detractors. In fact, the Occupy movement bears some striking resemblances to the Dada art-resistance movement of the early 20th century. Both movements were filled with people who were convinced that society had become a sick spectacle—that war, technology and empire had employed the once-humanist notions of rationality, law and government in the service of profit and empire. This made the whole human project deeply suspect, or, in the words of Dadaist Marcel Janco:

We had lost confidence in our culture. Everything had to be demolished. We would begin again after the tabula rasa.

Art, politics and culture were broken, and so the Dadaists decided to fight using anti-art. If modern capitalism was a spectacle, they’d out-spectacle it, reading nonsense plays and angry manifestos in public spaces. And if bourgeois culture valued conformity at any cost, the Dadaists would defy convention, wreaking havoc on the outer boundaries of art and blurring the inner boundary between art and daily life. Dada insisted on gatherings of so-called disorder to call out the actual insanity of a world bent on growth and war.

Fast forward a few years, and you’ve got Duchamp submitting urinals to art exhibitions in a mockery of the establishment. He had his own word for his throwaway objects. He called them ready-mades, the detritus of a culture that could not see itself rightly.

And then, of course, the inevitable: Instead of blowing up the art world, Duchamp was absorbed by the ever-elastic establishment, becoming instead the iconic if defiant step-child of the bourgeois art scene.

The Dadaists had waged a brave experiment. They placed art outside the world they abhorred and used it as anti-thesis, a performance to call out performances, a spectacle on spectacle. Their art was necessarily outsider, eventually infiltrative, and ultimately adopted and neutered. Anti-art—art as social protest—seemed to have failed. The idea kept going but it had no public space, no gathering to inhabit.

That’s why I thought about the Dada last time I visited an Occupy camp, and laughed at how a bunch of kids were unwittingly riffing on a rich history. Here was a grand resuscitation of politics as public spectacle, a neo-Dadaist experiment where art was the performance itself. The signs were clear and earnest, but the bigger message was still a cipher, a babble of inspired incoherence at the sheer largeness of what they were fighting. And they were fighting, sadly, a lot of the same things as their predecessors: mad war, mad growth, and an economy gone wild. They came carrying their ready-mades: cardboard signs scavenged from a nearby dumpster, old camping tents. A deft use of everything usable for fighting empire. Above them were the towers of world finance, centers of industry and economics and democracy-as-capitalism, the establishment that rejected them just as soundly and as surely as Duchamp’s old urinal—the establishment that did not like to have its story of freedom and prosperity challenged.

There was one big difference, though, between the old spectacle and the new, and it was sayable in two words: camera phones. Everywhere I looked, people were filming. The most basic minutiae of the revolution was available at any given moment on YouTube.  I’ll spare you a quip on the tired phrase about the revolution being or not being televised, because I have a different point to make: the averageness was. Televised, that is. By that I mean that any grandma or surly teen or tech-savvy toddler anywhere in the country could tune in, live, to see the protesters ignored. To see them kettled. To see them bored and pepper sprayed. We were spared nothing—the dull, deadening doldrums of long passages of time, the occasional high points, the stuttering moments in The Great Speeches, the snide conversations carried on by the live-streamers as they went about their daily business. We saw a revolution in its totally mundane reality. We saw a digital ready-made of regular life in extraordinary times, something unfit for the sound bytes and high gloss drama of the media establishment. We saw anti-art step toe to toe with empire. In a throwaway medium, we saw what the culture did not want us to see about what it did not want to see.

Except lots of people didn’t want to throw it away, and lots of people wanted to see. Lots of people watched, singly or in groups, as the drama and the anti-drama unfolded. And that was the difference, the way that history was laughing at itself. If Duchamp and Co. fought from the outside, fighting the master with the master’s garbage, Occupy had somehow negotiated a halfway space, using the master’s tools to get live footage of the master’s house.

And so: Dada wanted to blow up art, and was consumed by it. Their idea did not die, but it was tribeless, homeless. Wandering. Then Occupy flared up, and tried to use the empire’s art against it. For a few moments, the old idea had a new home. And then we were evicted, too, and are wondering what to do with our big idea. Wondering: Will we resist being swallowed?

If Dada taught us one thing, it was performing the spectacle. If it taught us two things, it was that we are always situated in the belly of the beast, always fighting with what we’re fighting against, wanting success enough to be spit out but not success enough to be digested.

That’s why Low Lives: Occupy! is so important. At a time when many Occupies have been evicted, it provides a virtual gathering space in the service of spectacle. At a time when elites are trying to squash the idea itself, it’s a way of remembering. It merges the oldest traditions—gatherings, rituals, performance—with the wily, subversive anti-art of low-fi technology. It is an anti-bourgeois celebration of the low, the average, the mundane and a reminder of how big and bad and strong the low can be. It will blend art and action in yet another blurring of the line between art and politics, commentary and commentated, art and anti-art, the fighter and the fought-against.

This time we’re claiming our caughtness, our entrapment in the system of canonization and representation. LL:O! reminds us of our job in the mad resistance: to perform our outrage ‘til we know what it means.

About Author: Ashley Sanders

I am an activist fighting for democracy and an end to corporate rule. I first got involved in activism by organizing an alternative graduation when my college invited Dick Cheney to speak at our official ceremony, and haven't looked back since. I worked as the youth spokesperson for Ralph Nader’s 2008 presidential campaign, organizing people to fight corporations in their communities. I have also organized extensively for Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County, California, a collective committed to community sovereignty, bioregional democracy and alternatives to corporate control and capitalism. While there, I helped to launch the Campaign to Legalize Democracy/Move to Amend, a national grassroots campaign to amend the Constitution to abolish corporate constitutional rights and to organize local communities to declare independence from corporate rule. I'm now working to organize Salt Lake to support this national amendment and to wage a people’s battle against major corporate polluters. I also work on democratic community revitalization, feminist empowerment and political street theater, and am currently working on a play and book.