SUPERFLEX’s latest activities revolve around the related ideas of self-organisation and what they describe as counter-economic strategies. Self-organisation, in SUPERFLEX terms, means a community organising itself independently of existing state or corporate structures, and often, but not necessarily, in opposition to them. One characteristic of this kind of organisation is that any decisions are made by the group as a whole. There is no hierarchy, and any organisational structure is open and representative, existing only to implement community decisions. This is in contrast to the model of most corporate or state institutions - even in Western democratic systems, of course, communal participation consists largely of a vote every three-to-five years to select a candidate from a limited range of options.
The Counter-strike project manifests itself as an archive of films that document or fictionalise self-organised communities, along with a free, public presentation of the online multiplayer videogame Counter-strike. The films range from Eisenstein’s classic ‘Strike’, a fictionalised account of the failed Bolshevik revolution of 1905, through documentaries such as ‘Christiania, you have my heart’, that presents the hippy-anarchist enclave of Christiania in Copenhagen as a functioning, alternative social model, and ‘The Coconut Revolution’ that documents an uprising on the Pacific island of Bougainville, a rebellion at a mine owned by Rio Tinto Zinc that turned into an armed struggle between the newly formed Bougainville revolutionary Army, and the state forces of Papua New Guinea. The films present a range of scenarios, from the optimistic to the disastrous, that show self-organisation as simply a method - a necessary response, a calculated strategy or the accidental outcome of a situation - that, in itself, is neither a good thing nor a bad one.
The game Counter-strike itself began life as a mod, or modification, of the commercial release Half-Life, created by an informal group of hackers and gamers for their own entertainment and initially distributed for free. Counter-strike is an online, multiplayer, team game - now, in its commercially released form, the most popular, with up to 100,000 games taking place at any one time - that you can’t play alone. Players form new teams from game to game, often playing alongside complete strangers that they will never meet, but with whom they must cooperate if they are to succeed. Counter-strike also plays out, in limited form, a scenario with a certain contemporary relevance, a conflict between ‘terrorists’ and ‘counter-terrorists’. Though this back-story means little more than the choice of the black or white pieces at chess, the game makes more attempt at ‘realism’ than most others of its genre, explosions and wounds neither dramatically exaggerated nor magically survived, and a choice of real-life weapons and strategies.
The Counter-strike installation, although at first sight far removed from a conventional art exhibition, uses film and interactive media to do exactly what we should expect any art exhibition to do - to examine the means of representation and to undertake an active reinterpretation of its subject. Counter-strike goes one step further, offering participation, framing the online game as a kind of self-organisation and asking the audience to make the conceptual step up from the amoral role-playing it offers to a consideration of the complex, real-world situations examined in many of the films.
Self-organisation is also at the root of another project, ‘Guaranápower’, that developed out of a meeting between SUPERFLEX and a Brazilian farmers’ cooperative, COAIMA. Guaraná is a berry that has long been harvested by the indigenous people of the Amazon region for its medicinal and energy-giving properties and whose caffeine-packed seeds now form the basis of some of Brazil’s most popular soft drinks. The multinational corporations that buy most of the guaraná have, through mergers and mutual agreements, formed a cartel, and consequently the price paid to the farmers has dropped from $25/kilo to $4/kilo in four years, while the price of the products the corporations sell has remained the same. The corporations - Ambev, an affiliate of Dutch food giant Wessanen formed out of the merger of Brazilian drinks manufacturers Antarctica and Brahma, and PepsiCo, who have signed mutual distribution deal with Ambev - have established a small plantation of their own. Nowhere near large enough to supply their needs, it functions as a veiled threat to the local producers - accept the situation, or we will expand and put you out of business completely.
The COAIMA cooperative was formed by farmers who refused to accept the conditions the corporations are trying to impose, in an attempt to find a way to regain their livelihood. In collaboration with SUPERFLEX, they came up with a plan to produce and market a competing guaraná drink of their own. With very few resources, the funding available to the project when presented as art to Western audiences is crucial, but an equally important aspect is that of the ‘counter-economic strategy’. For some time, SUPERFLEX have been producing ‘Supercopy’ goods - copies of designer products, including Lacoste shirts and Poul Heningson light fittings, that don’t try to pass as the real thing but declare themselves as ‘Supercopies’ in a classic anti-marketing move. SUPERFLEX talk about the international profile of global brands as being a ‘raw material’ that can be exploited by such counter-economic strategies, in the same way that the raw materials and labour forces of developing countries are exploited by multinational corporations.
So the ‘Guaranápower’ experiment is to produce a prototype soft drink that plays off the brand identity of ‘Antarctica’, Ambev’s biggest product, currently being launched in Europe by Pepsi. Using a colour-scheme and typeface that echoes the ‘Antarctica’ packaging, ‘Guaranápower’ at the same time states very clearly that it is not ‘Antarctica’, and the label carries a short text introducing COAIMA and the background to the project.
SUPERFLEX often talk about their projects as tools - products or systems that are not the exclusive property of the artists but, instead, only make sense when they are being used or adapted independently by others. Recently, they have extended this approach in two ways. First, the development of ideas or strategies, such as self-organisation or counter-economics, as conceptual tools that can be applied to a wide range of situations. Second, the idea of the art world itself as a tool that, whether or not you believe it has any value in and of itself, can be used to serve diverse ends far beyond the traditonal system of galleries, collectors, dealers and museums.