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Images and other symbols can be used in political conflict by standing in for forms of power. Symbols give political groups a sense of unified purpose, a common literacy or history. Flags, logos, hand gestures, works of art, all change how they are interpreted when they are put to use. Is this change always violent, a form of dominance, stealing an image? Can an image be freely given, set free from the cycle of violent re-purposing? How are peace symbols made?

The Problem Solver

“The people must recognize the defects of the old invention, and someone must make a new one.” -Margaret Mead “Warfare is Only an Invention not a Biological Necessity” (1940)

What can happen in a museum? In 1945, representatives of fifty countries convened in the War Memorial Veterans Building—SFMOMA’s original home—to draft the United Nations Charter, imagining a global system of government designed to produce peace through consolidated power. “User Agreement” is an ongoing artwork centered in research and performance, beginning with a focused series of events and installations at SFMOMA throughout October 2016 (more info here and here). We will work towards reverse engineering the technologies of peace—treaties, protocols, symbols and systems—in order to learn from what has already been invented, to repurpose and re-contextualize, to create new possibilities for interaction, and to fix existing bugs. Working backwards from the ways peace has been put to use through images, actions, and language, we will unpack and re-imagine techniques of mediation, conflict resolution, and treaty-making as performances, workshops, and interventions. Translated, abstracted, dispersed—our goal is to develop and make available new technologies for peace, conditions for engagement that preserve difference and acknowledge unanswered questions.

We’ll be live-streaming audio from each performance here, as well as “The Problem Solver,” a catalog essay in the form of a guided meditation:

“The Pattern is a path for processing thought.

It is a place to move slowly, to enable thoughts to settle,

a sieve or a filter.

Turn a corner, wind towards center. Observe thoughts inside and outside of the pattern.

The Pattern represents the possibility of embodied peace—“Positive Peace”.

Positive Peace is the presence of Equality, the restoration of Justice, and the healing of relationships. It is how we create social systems to serve the needs of all persons.

Positive peace is not simply the absence of direct violence. It is the absence of both direct and indirect violence,

a position completely free of worry or fear.

if you desire peace, prepare for peace
The rise of soft power
dissolving of hard power

the radicalist
the gradualist
choose speed of reform

where begins process of total disarmament
here or then?

peace as stillness between conflicts
peace as stillness

A description of harmony
A walking peace

Shifting energy of liberation
into energy of building
examine state within
to be peace and build peace

A tarnished mirror
that shines when polished
dipped in mud
passed through fire

A conscious effort to elevate life-condition
human revolution
healing the dull mirror
who could be your master?
how could anyone be your master?

The definition of Peace is itself unstable, varied, not agreed on.

Positive peace has many simple and many complex forms. It operates at all scales, from momentary pleasure, self-healing and well being, to the complete restructuring of all societies, the complete elimination of all violence and oppression.

Positive peace is a state of calm alert, a position free of worry or fear, a state of readiness held comfortably in place by external structures that affirm and improve life.

Emperor Ashoka ended a long period of bloody conflict and Imperial expansion by enforcing a regime of peace throughout the empire. Stone monuments displayed his edicts of forgiveness, nonviolence, and quality of life for all beings. Carved in stone: amnesty for prisoners, an end to war, elephant sanctuaries, forests that could not be cut down. A harmonic form of dominance, derived from Imperial power.

“All men are my children. What I desire for my own children, and I desire their welfare and happiness both in this world and the next, that I desire for all men. You do not understand to what extent I desire this, and if some of you do understand, you do not understand the full extent of my desire.”

What is state of readiness?
state of readiness for violence?
state of readiness for non-violence?

Positive Peace is self-control, self-rule: for you, it is an inward peace-keeping operation, refining your focus towards openness and compassion.

no greater
or lesser
than over yourself?

Positive Peace is a state of being not grounded in specific actions. it continues forever as a process in the background of all human interactions.

it is the beginning and the end of peaceful communication.

Do you hear that?
whistling sound?
should we tell them about it?

how many are you?
who is responsible?

who owns the air?
does capitalism erode all pleasure?
yes or no?
what does pleasure erode?

which is better
vision in motion
or discovering the subconscious ?

how quietly can you speak?
show me?
how far can you see?
questions for women?
yes or no?
image of the sun pendulum
observe the sky?
what is changing?
glacier in retreat or water in advance?
observe the sky?
uncertainty or pattern?
observe the sky?

On the other side of the Pattern is the The Tangle.

The Tangle is an enormous, unruly confusion.

There is a critical urgency to untangle the tangle. This is a process that will require all people to cooperate with one another.

The Tangle imagines Peace-Making as struggle, a form of active problem-solving—“Negative Peace.”

Negative Peace is the absence of direct violence, the prevention of harm, the prevention of war.

Peace within this framework does not, by itself, erase conflict completely or permanently.

Negative Peace is constant in its management of conflict. Negative Peace is the process of struggle.

In the struggle to untangle The Tangle, we strategize and cooperate, we develop and share innovative techniques, new ways of seeing and solving the problem.

Factions may evolve from within the struggle— some participants see more value in Tangling than in Untangling— opposing affinities form in dissent.

There is fine line between tangling and untangling. Fine lines can be difficult to draw—conscious tanglers are difficult to separate from conscious untanglers. Their movements are similar.

The Tangle is a path between persons, a language for the recognition and mediation of conflict.

The Tangle addresses itself to all of us—now that it exists, it can’t ever stop existing.

If the Tangle becomes untangled it may swiftly become tangled again, without our constant management and vigilance. Calm and alert.

We are complicit in solving the problem of The Tangle. Whether or not we see ourselves as participants, it doesn’t matter. There is no neutral place. There is no self in isolation. The Tangle addresses itself to all of us.

Thought and action
Stem the flow of unhappiness
Use dialogue to create solidarity
Inform and concern

For the sake of peace
For the sake of peace

what inhibits the world from inventing peace?
who inhibits the world from inventing peace?

Violence proscribed by strong central powers
Held comfortably in place by allegiance to a group
by the naming of a population
Drawing the conditions for aggression
race war
class war
national war

who is that person?
and who is that person?
and who is that person?

Rousseau pointed out that If we had no sovereign states, we would have no war. Hobbes pointed out that we would have no peace either.

William Graham Sumner wrote “if you want war, nourish a doctrine. Doctrines are the most frightful tyrants to which men are ever subject, because doctrines get inside a man’s own reason and betray him against himself. Civilized men have done their fiercest fighting for doctrines. The reconquest of the Holy Sepulchre, the balance of power, no universal dominion, trade follows the flag, he who holds the land holds the sea, the throne and the altar, the revolution, the faith— these are the things for which men have given their lives. What are they all?”

What makes doctrine?
What make doctrine reasonable? believable?
How to un-make doctrine?
How to loosen the hold of doctrine on oneself?
(what is) the most beautiful word?
what are some variations?
can you be more specific?
Would you prefer not to?
ask me?

have you met?
and have you met?
and have you met?
what happened earlier?
do you agree?
how many agree?
how many disagree?
is this a good balance?

“Doctrines are always vague; it would ruin a doctrine to define it, because it could be analyzed, tested, criticized, and verified; but nothing ought to be tolerated which cannot be so tested.”

Thought and action
Stem the flow of suffering
Use dialogue to create solidarity
Inform and concern

For the sake of peace
For the sake of peace

Law only needs precedent. One premise for the rule of international law is that all persons participate in a single community, and as such, are subject to the same common law. Rights and values, having been articulated and refined through history, are acquired by the community in a process of consistent reasoning. The greater the consistency, the stronger the law.

By what authority? With what permission? And who will decide?

Laws between sovereign states are, like manners, difficult to enforce. Politics must be polite, or there is no recourse but to dissociate. Failing to honor a treaty, allowing the agreement to collapse, a state loses access to the process of peace. Meaningful relationships cannot be established or repaired. Agreement becomes impossible. The scope of this impossibility is made legible in The Treaty of Versailles, ending World War I: “Without this healing act the whole structure and validity of international law is forever impaired.”

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, one outline of the path to peace, exists as a treaty between all persons. It orders human lives by suggesting a structure that embraces everyone, a rule of law to which all can appeal. The right to have a nationality, to belong to a state, builds peace through structured, universal representation.

Can Peace be universal? Or is peace specific? Can it embrace humankind or only the detached individual?

In America, we reserve the right to refuse to belong to this or any other state. We have laws to aid our escape from law.

Margaret Mead wrote that “Warfare is an invention like any other of the inventions in terms of which we order our lives: marriage, cooking our food instead of eating it raw, trial by jury, or burial of the dead, and so on”

What is the next invention that will shift the order of human lives? Can it be peace?

“A form of behavior becomes out of date only when something else takes its place, and, in order to invent forms of behavior which will make war obsolete, it is a first requirement to believe that the invention is possible”

Thought and action
Stem the flow of violence
Use dialogue to create solidarity
Inform and concern

For the sake of peace
For the sake of peace

Submerged in suffering
find tranquility in reasoned judgements
In world of learning

the possible
functions of machines?
inventing things
that can only be made
with tools that don’t exist?

Are you an inventor?

Words, a healing breeze, or a sword
forms a new peace agenda:
The invention of non-violent

How to redraw the abstraction of Enemy?
Acknowledge fear, stereotype, and distortion
Dissolve negative attachment to difference
Join conversation without hesitation
How does War form its own culture?

We are wasting time, resources, and energy. How much better would it be to only waste time, to become inefficient, to move slowly, with consideration, to space out, to stare, to examine closely, to imagine broadly, to search the ruins.

Thanatos the death instinct and Eros the life instinct
Repulsion and attraction

Johan Galtung wrote that “Imperialism is a species in a genus of dominance and power relationships.” If dominance relations between nations and other collectivities will not disappear when Imperialism disappears— then how to disappear the root, the relationships that holds oppression comfortably in place?

Imperialism splits up collectivities in terms of harmony of interest, disharmony of interest, and conflict of interest. There is, first of all, a gap. In imperialism the center grows more fully than the periphery. The center is enriched and nourished, while the periphery is starved. We must ask how to grow the periphery, how to transfer value, how to confuse, dissolve or multiply the center, and how to harmonize the whole?

This is a problem of reality— of seeing the real— of becoming real— of realization. When image and reality do not align, but appear to align, we convince ourselves that image and reality align, a face and a mirror.

We are a problem solver. We are looking at images that flip—seen upside down or sideways they un-fool the eye.”

reading list

For “User Agreement,” our research process absorbs overlapping bodies of knowledge—academic, legislative, artistic, political, philosophical—surrounding the subject of peace. Here’s what we’re reading, an open set of suggestions that we’ll continue to synthesize and compare as we go.

“There are no homeless words. Humans are the homes of words, their sovereign masters… Words live within us, they leave and return to us. They serve us devotedly from the moment we are born until we die.” – Chinghiz Aitmatov

“The reasons for writing a book can be brought back to the desire to modify the existing relations between a man and his fellow beings. The relations are judged unacceptable and are perceived as an atrocious misery” – Georges Bataille, Oeuvres Completes, vol.2, 143

“Civil Disobedience Manual”

Jane Addams
“Newer Ideals of Peace”

Saul Alinsky
“Rules for Radicals: A Practical Primer for Realistic Radicals”

Hannah Arendt
“On the Nature of Totalitarianism: an Essay in Understanding”

Black Lives Matter
“Guiding Principles”

Partha Chatterjee
“Nationalism as a Problem”

Eileen Crist
“The Poverty of Our Nomenclature”

Frantz Fanon
“The Wretched of the Earth”

Jo Freeman
“The Tyranny of Structurelessness”

Mahatma Gandhi
“An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth”

Boutros Boutros Ghali
“An Agenda for Peace”

Antonio Gramsci
“Selections from the Prison Notebooks”

Thich Nhat Hanh
“Peace is Every Step”
“The Art of Communicating”
“The World We Have: A Buddhist Approach to Peace and Ecology”

Donna Haraway
“Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene”

Stefano Harney & Fred Moten
“The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study”

Simon Harrison “Four Types of Symbolic Conflict”

Daisaku Ikeda
“For the Sake of Peace: Seven Paths to Global Harmony”

V. Jabri
“Critical Thought and Political Agency in Time of War”

Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Strength to Love”

Ursula K. Le Guin
“A Non-Euclidean View of California as a Cold Place to Be”

Subcomandante Marcos
“The Fourth World War Has Begun”

Margaret Mead
“Warfare is Only an Invention—Not a Biological Necessity”

Jean-Luc Nancy
“The Inoperative Community”
“Being Singular Plural”

Reza Negarestani
“The Militarization of Peace”

Claudia Rankine

Jean-Jacques Rousseau
“Reveries of a Solitary Walker”

Kumkum Sangari
“The Politics of the Possible”

Elaine Scarry
“The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World”

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
“Can the Subaltern Speak?”

Henry David Thoreau
“Civil Disobedience”

Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing
“Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection”

UN Committee on Human Rights
“Universal Declaration of Human Rights”

Vladimir I. Vernadsky
“The Biosphere”

Paul Virilio
“The Aesthetics of Disappearance”
“Politics of the Very Worst”

Cornel West
“A Love Supreme”