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Poetic Terrorism

From Arthur Rimbaud to Samima Malik poetry has aspired to terrorism. Samima Malik is the ‘the lyrical terrorist’, convicted of “possessing records likely to be useful to terrorists” in the UK in 2007. Visual artists from the Berlin Dadaists to George Bolster’s, Art Terrorist exhibition at House Gallery, (London, 2001) have attempted psychological warfare.

Hakim Bey, the theoretician of poetic terrorism writes in T.A.Z – the temporary autonomous zone, ontological anarchy, poetic terrorism, (Automedia, 1991): “The audience reaction or aesthetic-shock produced by Poetic-Terrorism ought to be at least as strong as the emotion of terror – powerful disgust, sexual arousal, superstitious awe, sudden intuitive breakthrough, dada-esque angst”.

Along with what could be dismissed as mere art there has been direct action by poetic terrorists. In 1986 the Australian Cultural Terrorists kidnapping Picasso’s Weeping Woman from the NGV and issued demands to the Minister of Police and the Arts, Race Matthews. How To Make Trouble And Influence People (Political Hooligan Publications, Sydney, 1996) is a wonderful little publication documenting “Australian pranks, hoaxes and political mischief making” in a random order. It reproduces many fly-posters, altered billboards and leaflets created by these pranksters.

Poetic terrorism is isometric cultural warfare. The culture jammers, nihilists and associated Dadaists are attempting to blow up mass consumer culture. Poetic terrorists are similar to militant terrorists in many ways both feel isolated and ignored. Except, unlike the militants, poetic terrorists do not have an exaggerated belief in the effectiveness of violence. Instead, poetic terrorists have an exaggerated belief in the effectiveness of art and poetry. “Like charging a regiment of tanks with a defective slingshot.” Wm. Burroughs writes about John Heartfield’s anti-Nazi photomontages. Burroughs, himself advocated the use of tape recorders and cutups as a weapon of psychological warfare in The Invisible Generation (1966).

Taoist Jihad is a group of poetic terrorists, musicians and culture jammers. I met members of the group when I was involved with Clan Analogue in the late 1990s. I liked their choice of samples from Bollywood and Hollywood. And I enjoyed their crazy political actions as they always included a sense of fun and danger. I witnessed their black magic action against President Soharto in 1998. The burning an official photograph went very badly as the cardboard smoldered and the black candles kept on going out in the wind but it worked.

I remained in touch with some members of Taoist Jihad. Others have vanished completely. DJ Phatwah maintains that “many of the group went into hiding late in 2001” the truth is that they just denied membership, cut communications and got full-time jobs. The members of Taoist Jihad didn’t intend to become musicians or artists, nor have they become full time artists, their work was the late adolescent creative out bursts of university students. My role has been to facilitate communications from the group and help organize their upcoming exhibition at Brunswick Arts.

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About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

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