The fighting stance is the most fundamental body posture in any type of Martial Art. To have a good stance allows you to move effortless and quickly. It also allows you to transfer force from your body to your arms and legs. You block and you attack out of the fighting stance and after each move you return to it. To have a good stance means that you are always alert and ready.
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Almost exactly 100 years ago, Arthur Cravan, born Fabian Avenarius Lloyd, staged a boxing match between himself and Jack Johnson, the heavyweight world champion at the time, in order to avoid British military service.
It was a means to escape. 1
Arthur Cravan was Oscar Wilde’s nephew and like his uncle he was a poet. In order to draw enough attention to the fight, he pretended to be a European champion. It was right in middle of World War One. Both Cravan and Johnson were almost broke and urgently needed money. Johnson had just escaped federal charges and a prison sentence in the United States, while Cravan needed to pay for his passage to the United States.
The match happened in Barcelona on the 23rd of April 1916. Film rights were sold, which was much more profitable than the amount of issued tickets. Yet for the film to be feasible, the match had to last for at least six good rounds. The show turned out to be a disaster. Cravan froze as soon as he entered the ring. He did not dare to fight back. Johnson played with Cravan for six rounds, then he knocked him out with a single punch. 2
The public felt cheated and suspected that the outcome was fixed. The next day local newspapers headlined the fight as ‘The Great Swindle’.
Nevertheless Cravan made enough money to leave Europe.
He got away.
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Already in the 1920-ties, Walther Benjamin described withdrawal as a an act of resistance 3
. Several decades later in the early 2000s, ClaireFontaine formulated her idea of the ‘human strike’ 4
. She describes it as the most general strike of all. ‘Human strike’ means to become stranger, even to abandon one’s own sense of self in order to interrupt and to transform the instituted order of things as well as our belonging to it: withdrawal as a ‘means of halting’ 5
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When I decided to come to London to do a Masters degree at Goldsmiths University, I realized that it was almost impossible for me to afford the average rent, the tuition fees, the high living expenses, and to focus on my studies at the same time without making debts. I had to find an alternative, an affordable way to enter the city.
I did not stage a boxing match. Instead I decided to buy a cheap old van (Mercedes Benz 310 KA / built in 1992) in Germany. Friends who work as mechanics showed me how to restore it 6
: I cut out the rusty bits and I learned how to weld the broken parts. I repaired the underfloor and I lacked the car body. Later I insulated the van. Then I constructed a bed and a simple kitchen.
In August 2014 I drove it to London to live in it. With the help of other friends I gained access to the networks of their friends. This is how I managed to find an affordable place to park my van. Cody Dock is in the London Borough of Newham, right in the centre of the so-called ‘Arc of Opportunity’. The rent is just one hundred pounds. Internet, electricity, and basic facilities are included in the price. Officially I am Cody Dock’s first artist in residence. At the same time I applied for a DAAD scholarship 7
to cover the tuition fees and to have a monthly income.
I got lucky.
I got in.
* * *
a SUPERNOVA happens with enormous speed.
It is is the opposite of halting.
In 2010, the authorities of London and the London Borough of Newham co-produced a silent promotional video of three minutes length for the 2010 Shanghai World Expo: ‘London’s Regeneration Supernova’. It advertises large areas of Newham as an ‘Arc of Opportunity’ for foreign investors. 8
The catchy title of the video refers to the brightest light in the universe: It is emitted by exploding stars for just a few milliseconds. However, it seems to me that the makers of the video did not take into consideration that a Supernova also is an extinction event. On a cosmic scale it describes a dying star. It either leaves a void, or it collapses into a black hole. What follows is emptiness.
But isn’t there also the saying that war is the father of all things? After the old is destroyed, the new can be built (once again). In the end the comparison to the cosmic death of a star may therefore be not very far away from the truth: an urban Supernova in the guise of regeneration is indeed desirable for investors.
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If the system is too rigid to be broken, the only viable option is to find gaps that can be exploited. For example I had to ensure that my van was affordable, but still met London’s Low Emission Standards to avoid excessive fines. One needs to know the rules first in order to navigate them. Yet perhaps even more important than knowing those rules is a network of allies and friends.
* * *
From my van I have a good view on Damien Hirst’s sculpture ‘Sensation’ 9
, which is part of a public sculpture trail. Next to Damien Hirst’s work, you can find sculptures by many other artists, including Martin Creed, Anthony Gormley, Mark Wallenger and Bill Viola. The Line 10
cuts right across the ‘Arc of Opportunity’, from the Queen Elizabeth Olympic park in the North, all the way to the O2 Arena in the South.
‘Sensation’ is constantly monitored by live CCTV to keep the public at a convenient distance. For example, whenever children play soccer around that sculpture an alarm goes off. A disembodied voice out of a speaker commands: back off!
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The idea for ‘London’s Regeneration Supernova’ can be traced back to one single person: Clive Dutton (born 6 May 1953; died 6 June 2015) 11
. In 2009, Newham Council employed him to redevelop the Royal Docks. At this point several attempts to regenerate the area had failed already. Prior to the 2012 Olympics, Clive Dutton designed the masterplan for the area. His agenda, but also the legacy of the Olympics, resulted in the biggest shopping mall of Europe in Stratford (Westfield), an urban research centre at Royal Victoria Dock (Siemens Crystal) and a cable car (Emirates Air Line), which now connects the Royal Docks with North Greenwich (O2 Arena). In May 2013 the Royal Albert Dock was sold to a Chinese property developer. 12
Clive Dutton knew that art can be used to brand and to promote a new positive image. Hence, The Line
was opened in 2015 to connect all of these landmarks: Westfield, Siemens, Emirates Air Line, O2.
This is not a new situation. Already after the decline of London’s former docklands in the 1980-ties, Canary Wharf was privatized. It soon became the centre of the UK’s banking and finance sector. In consequence property prizes started to increase in the area, a development that is expected to continue for many years to come.
* * *
From an investment point of view, the increase of property prizes by almost 40% in recent years is positive 13
, even though it inevitably results in the segregation of London’s diverse working class.
Nearly half the population in Newham lives below the poverty line. Locals and most immigrants cannot afford the high cost of new expensive houses. There is just not enough affordable housing left. In consequence they are either displaced further and further out, often beyond the outskirts of town, or forced to live in precarious conditions 14
. Thus Anna Minton argues, that the conversion of public property into private property, owned and secured by international corporations, has led to intensified social class divisions and a climate of fear. 15
It is a well known fact that not only public art, but also the very presence of artists in an area, is used by developers to increase its value. 16
In an urban Supernova, property, capital and art are linked in a complex dynamic.
* * *
A fair balance does not exist. We are surrounded by an unprecedented amount of accumulated wealth. Yet it is inaccessible for most of us. The gap between rich and poor grows bigger. Indignation. We feel anger, sadness, fear and helplessness. We are faced with constant conflict and crisis, yet we seem to be unable to imagine a different future. One could argue that we have lost control.
Resistance against what?
If we are to some degree aware of global politics and the power mechanisms that are responsible for violence and inequalities in the world, and if we are conscious of the permanent ‘state of exception’ 17
we live in, we know that change has to start within ourselves, because we constitute the system that encapsulates and absorbs our lives.
* * *
Withdrawal or open rebellion? Personally, I feel discouraged by the outcome of past revolutions. But isn’t there also the constant risk that withdrawal becomes an act of compliance 18
, rather than an act of resistance? And doesn’t getting away inevitably mean to get into something else?
* * *
Sometimes I still feel like the distant traveller in ‘Sans Soleil’ by Chris Marker, who comes from a future that has lost its ability to forget. He wants to understand. Yet it is as impossible for him to grasp the idea that unhappiness once existed in the history of his planet, as it is for me in the present to imagine the existence of poverty in a poor country. Even if I choose to go and live there, I will always be a distant traveller. Even if I give up all my privileges, there still is the dilemma that I cannot do anything about the privilege that has allowed me to choose in the first place. 19
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