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Matteo Pasquinelli on the sabotage of rent


For Cesura-Acceso, Matteo Pasquinelli writes about rent–among the annoyingest of monthly things–as well as gentrification, and art’s relationship to it. Read Pasquinelli in partial below, or in full via Cesura-Acceso.

Coming of age in the heyday of punk, it was clear we were living at the end of something—of modernism, of the American dream, of the industrial economy, of a certain kind of urbanism. The evidence was all around us in the ruins of the cities. […] Urban ruins were the emblematic places for this era, the places that gave punk part of its aesthetic, and like most aesthetics this one contained an ethic, a world-view with a mandate on how to act, how to live. […]

A city is built to resemble a conscious mind, a network that can calculate, administrate, manufacture. Ruins become the unconscious of a city, its memory, unknown, darkness, lost lands, and in this truly bring it to life. […] An urban ruin is a place that has fallen outside the economic life of the city, and it is in some way an ideal home for the art that also falls outside the ordinary production and consumption of the city.

–Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost


Rebecca Solnit’s words resound today like an enduring lament out of time, not because punk is gone for good with all its vinyl memories and suburban ruins—no! Punk and, more generally, art are very alive today, though in their petit bourgeois caricature they have turned into the current mode of production. It is untimely to romanticize punk and underground art as the drive toward a space “outside the economic life of the city.” Quite the opposite: growing on the ruins of the Fordist regime, they anticipated from within the spectacular, biopolitical, cognitive turn of today’s economy. Punk accelerated the tendency of cognitive capitalism like an ischemic spasm.

Indeed, faster than any other form of art, music incarnates the unconscious of technology and dominant means of production, and in particular their crises, the shift from paradigm to paradigm. Repeating the history of experimental music is a useful exercise of political economy. Whereas Futurism, for example, welcomed the age of machines for the masses, punk and postindustrial music, in contrast, paid tribute to the disintegration of Fordism. Beyond the surface of their industrial fetish, Throbbing Gristle, the most experimental and filthy of UK punk bands, declared as early as 1976 their drive for “information war,” while in Germany computer-made music was already becoming popular, influenced by Kraftwerk (literally, “power station”). In the late ’80s, techno music appeared in Detroit: the traditional soundtrack of Motor City started to incorporate the synthetic presentiment of coming digital machines. The term “techno” was in fact inspired by Juan Atkins’s reading of Alvin Toffler’s book The Third Wave, in which the first “techno-rebels” were described as the pioneers of information age. These few examples show how art avant-gardes look against, precisely because they grow within the ontology of the present, and never outside. Punk music started to play information, right when information started to become value. It is in the same years, coincidently, that Paolo Virno marks the rise of post-Fordism and the subject of the multitude in Italy, “with the social unrest which is generally remembered as the movement of 1977”, which was centred around the rise of the so-called “Creative Autonomy” in Bologna.

Today, we find ourselves at the very end of the parable of the information age: we are witness to the sunset of the political paradigm of knowledge society, the policies of cultural industries, and the easy dreams of “creative cities.” In 2012, the financial crisis had become a global hurricane hitting all the cities in Europe, the destruction of which included arts funding. These are the very ruins of post-Fordism on which the art world is called to work and which a contemporary punk wave would be asked to “occupy.” Here, the old political coordinates and artistic concepts no longer function. Indeed, the nostalgic notion of underground belongs to the age of industrialism—when society had a sharp class division and was not yet atomized into a multitude of precarious workers and freelancers.4 What, then, is the form of resistance specific to the current age of financial capitalism?

If punk and the political movements of 1977 anticipated cognitive capitalism, where is today’s movement that crosses the very crisis of cognitive capitalism and projects itself beyond the financial crisis? In which innervations can new artistic and political avant-gardes be found at work? In this text, I will sound the “ruins” that a knowledge society and financial capitalism are leaving behind. Not surprisingly, the economy of ruins—inaugurated by punk—will be found introjected within the general gears of cognitive capitalism, and exploited by a general process of financial speculation.


There is a red line connecting the art colonization of urban spaces, the mode of production specific to knowledge society, and the financial tricks of speculative capitalism. This text tries to connect these three interactions experimentally: art and metropolis, art and mode of production, art and financial crisis.

The relation between the spaces of the metropolis and artistic and cultural production is today an obvious one. The city of Berlin could be taken as the most notorious example within Europe. Especially in East Berlin: the art colonization of urban and industrial relics of Fordism is still an ongoing affair—not only the vestiges of previous totalitarian regimes, but also the stratification of failed urban plans form the geology and humus of the cultural world. This stratification includes a thick immaterial layer of cultural and symbolic capital, which has catalysed the “creative city” buzz and well-known processes of gentrification. There is an immaterial architecture that was fed unconsciously by Berlin’s art world and underground subcultures until a few years ago. Today, this mechanism is debated politically and within local media, and is openly recognized by inhabitants of certain districts undergoing heavy gentrification (such as Prenzlauer Berg, Kreuzberg, and Neukölln). The capitalism of speculative rent, which started with the first pension funds on the New York stock market at the end of the ’70s, had to intervene in rent prices of Berlin to be finally understood and discussed in plain words by the art scene. It is common sense nowadays to recognize that the art underground has become one of the main engines of real estate business, as our lives have been completely incorporated within biopolitical production (that is, the whole of our social life being put to work to produce value).

The relation between cultural production and real estate speculation was less obvious when the discourse on creative economy was booming. Time has passed, and the literature that pushed the hype of “creative cities” (such as Richard Florida),5 or denounced their hidden neoliberal agendas and social costs, has become extensive. Usually both radical critics and liberal partisans of “creative economies” were used to employ a symmetrical paradigm, where material and immaterial domains were defended in their autonomy and hegemony against each other. Therefore, the metropolis was described in terms of urbanism or symbolic capital, material economy or the supposedly virtuous economy of creativity. Opposing this, a new link between material and immaterial domains became manifest in the processes of gentrification. The processes of gentrification show new forms of conflicts, frictions, and value asymmetries that can no longer be described with the grammar of the industrial political economy, and not even with the cheap political economy of the supporters of the new creative commons.