We are a media connective, not a collective.
—Nicol* Angrisano, motto of insu^tv
I am driving through the central station zone, or at least this is what Neapolitans once called it. This overcrowded crisscross of trains, bus terminals, stores, and vendor stalls now goes by Chinatown. The area morphed fast and furiously, with Naples’s port stocking more than three million tons of legal and illegal, mainly Chinese, merchandise that then spreads throughout Europe (Saviano 2007, 7). Most shops here are now Chinese-owned and they are surrounded by street markets where the rest of the migrant population makes their daily ends meet. Surveys estimate at least 120,000 to 130,000 documented migrant workers have settled in Naples (Direzione Generale dell’Immigrazione e delle Politiche di Integrazione del Ministero del Lavoro e delle Politiche Sociali n.d.). Naples and its province host 56.4 percent of the entire migrant population of southern Italy because of its location, the services and businesses available, the work opportunities, and the port and the railway that connect to other parts of the country. One in four migrant workers lives in Naples, and they have transformed its social and economic fabric.1
On this particular evening in 2007, I am driving to meet up with insu^tv—this motley, friendly crew of social workers, teachers, designers, doctors, architects, journalists, researchers, tinkerers, media makers, and students with a background in political organizing. We have a planning meeting, but with the vendors and shoppers gone, the eeriness of the area disorients me. I stop my car to ask a sex worker if she knows how to get to the CSOA Officina 99 in the industrial area behind the station. “Of course honey, I’ll take you there if you drop me off to work. I’m Anna.” During the brief drive, Anna talks about her life as a trans woman in the area but I am left to wonder why she knows the kids from the social center. When we get close to Officina, her clients are waiting impatiently and we have no time left to chat.
The CSOA Officina 99 has not changed much since it was squatted when I was in my late teens. The building crumbles, the ceiling leaks, and even though the city council has entrusted the large building to the activists who run it, no one has enough money to maintain it. Nevertheless, for almost three decades, the youth of Naples have congregated in this old industrial structure dancing to the tunes of 99 Posse and other indie bands in the crowded concert hall, discussing politics and culture at meetings and performances, recording music, programming free and open-source software (F/OSS) in the hacklabs, or sharing food and wine on the massive roof terrace. Many friendships, loves, and alliances were shaped or broken in the graffiti-tagged rooms of Officina 99. One could write almost thirty years of Neapolitan activism history by peeling off the layers of colorful posters and flyers that cover many of these rooms.
Some things I notice are different: there are the TV headquarters with a control room, a large space for live events, a music recording studio for bands, a radio studio, and an open kitchen for collective cooking. Cables network everything, so that when other groups are not using the facilities, creative television making has free rein. The control room piles up all sorts of technology, DIY rigs, refurbished PCs, digital cameras, mixers, and so on. I notice what is on air from the monitors: children talking about their ideal neighborhood. The shaky camera tells me it is probably the product of a workshop in a school. On the PC screen, I see how Soma, the media player I heard so much about, automates the programming through a system accessible 24/7 from outside the studios.
Insu^tv’s Pog, together with a hacker from Milan and a Greek exchange student, cleaned up the mess of clunky proprietary players from the refurbished computers and brought the transmission system into the twenty-first century of F/OSS during a hot, beachless summer. Originally Soma operated pirate radios and the team proudly showcased the results of the crafty mod at a hackmeeting in Palermo (interview with Pog, 2008). Apart from not relying on proprietary software, and having made the broadcasting system much more reliable and efficient, Soma also offers the possibility of inserting a message crawl at the bottom of the screen. This is how viewers learn about upcoming events and find the information to contact insu^tv staff. Radiolina, the local radio transmitting from Officina 99, also uses the same platform to broadcast its radio shows remotely.
On Officina’s roof, the tall antenna irradiates insu^tv and Radiolina waves into east Naples. Over the years, insu^tv developed relations with broadcasting specialists for technical support and many local commercial TV channels and pirate radios have also donated surplus technology.2 The Cooperativa Megaride built two very tall antenna poles for insu^tv using sailing boat masts. The donation acknowledged the media activists’ support after they documented the workers’ successful occupation of a shipyard that led to a takeover of their reckless boss’s bankrupt business. Now, with this broadcasting system beaming a signal of quality as good as any other local channel, insu^tv offers its transmissions to thousands of viewers in the central and eastern areas of the city. Because Naples has the highest population density on the Italian peninsula (21,586.3/square mile), this microbroadcaster potentially reaches more viewers than any other channel in the Telestreet network. Indeed, for many in the audience, it “looks good” but the insulini—or like the neighbors call them, “the television people”—are still surprised when they are stopped in the street and complimented. With so much on their plates from the production side, they have little time to wonder about the size of their audience. Some insulini do not even get the signal in their homes and have never watched the programs from the comfort of their sofa.
As I spend more time at Officina, I realize that it is not only the physical place that has changed. On a random afternoon, I open the door to signora Franca, a middle-aged lady who has come to bring us cake (and wants to help clean the place!). Franca and many of her friends live in the neighborhood and have become comfortable with the social center during a wave of protests against a proposed dumping site in an old tobacco factory around the corner. People from Officina were involved in the protests, and the squat became a meeting place for the neighborhood. Some of the residents still come here after they celebrated their victory against the dumpsite plans. I sense the difference since Officina’s golden age, when the Neapolitan youth flocked to its overcrowded events from all parts of Italy but the social center struggled to root itself in the neighborhood. Now, the events no longer pack a crowd because newer social centers are easier to reach. At the same time, Officina has won the trust of many in the neighborhood, who appear more comfortable frequenting the place.
Some of the neighbors show up at a cinema downtown to watch the videos on gender freedom in which they also starred. We are showing a series of shorts during Maygay, a festival on gender and sexuality insu^tv has co-curated.3 This is one of the many public events that expands and solidifies the ties between groups that met when producing media. The audience of insu^tv find each other in public. In the DIY TV studios, at the meetings, on the streets, and at the public events, the insu^tv community and its members, including myself, become together while they meet and participate. The interactions that drive this becoming mature in the collaborative media making and in the repurposing of technologies, of familiar languages and television formats. Through the practices described below, repurposing facilitates myriad psychosocial connections that are therapeutic and inform an ethical attitude that gives the project its political force.
Domenica Aut: Connection Machine
Locals come to Officina to be a live audience for the TV shows, especially Domenica Aut (Sunday out). Domenica Aut, insu^tv’s most popular format, is a talk show that takes place on a Sunday, usually once a month or every two months, depending on the other projects running simultaneously. The show involves studio guests, video features, live entertainment, and theme cooking of food to share with guests and audience. For those familiar with Italian popular culture, the title itself already points to the idea behind the show. Domenica In (Sunday in) is a mainstream Sunday afternoon show that, since time immemorial, has kept entire families glued to the screen with music, dance, games, and comedy (and a lot of veline [a certain kind of showgirl] in bikini). Insu^tv’s show is about a Sunday out but also about autonomous Sundays (and no bikini unless it takes place on the beach).
Domenica Aut repurposes a familiar format, with some of its tropes and symbols, to create a space for unfamiliar encounters among participants. The show is an occasion to carry out new inquiries, to investigate and discuss the problems plaguing local communities. As people come together they become more than just an audience. Unlike a TV audience, where the viewing experience is mostly isolated, the participatory character of Domenica Aut sets up an environment where individuals and groups become familiar with the technical process, share ideas, and experience the show in relation to one another. In some cases, the collaborations also kick-start new initiatives that address what has emerged during the inquiry.
Sitting on the benches of Officina at an episode kick-off meeting, pizza and pen in hand, the insulini choose the episode’s topic: this time we are looking at the effects of new antidrug legislation on the local territory. We research the threads that lead into the local communities and establish contact with key stakeholders to define a point of view and collectively produce the show: there are drug users, lawyers, legalization advocates, public health specialists, centers for addiction and mental health, possibly a drug dealer, and chocolate—lots of it—for the in-studio chef. The next meeting is with some of the stakeholders to decide how to structure the show, what to give priority to, whom to invite as experts in the studio, what to cook, how to execute the interviews and minidocumentaries, and so on. This episode will become In^sostanza—a pun on the word in substance, which, in Italian, can mean both “in the drug” and “in essence.” A couple of months later I will be involved in planning “Onda su onda” (Wave upon wave), an episode on/with the Anomalous Wave, the 2009 student movement opposing the reform and privatization of the education system. “Onda su onda” will be produced together with the Neapolitan students organizing the protests (insu^tv 2009b).
During my first weekly meeting at insu^tv, I also find out that Anna knows Officina because of a Domenica Aut episode on sexual freedom. The episode involved, among other things, a series of inquiries about and interviews with local sex workers. The members of insu^tv who drove around on the mobile clinic with nurses and social workers had used the night visits to popular cruising sites to chat with the sex workers. They invited Anna and her colleagues to participate in the show and to come to a screening of Mater Natura (Andrei 2004), a local independent movie on transgendered people. The interactions had established enough confidence that, on the night of the screening, Anna and a few others even brought a copy of another movie that a French filmmaker had made about them, contributing to the programming.
For insu^tv, Domenica Aut is “the first television show that invites you to turn the television off” (insu^tv n.d.). This two- to four-hour-long program asks you to leave the house, meet the groups involved in the production of the show, and come to the studios to “enjoy the smells, and warmth of television” (insu^tv n.d.). Smells and warmth: the choice of words could not be more unusual and at the same time spot-on to describe the multisensorial relations that inhabit the studios during a show. The cooking, the music, the mock ads and short videos that liven up the breaks, the heated discussions among audiences and experts, the relaxed environment: all contribute to a unique sensory experience of television. In this environment, one easily finds a member of the audience rolling up cables, holding a boom mic, or chopping tomatoes.
In a media environment where closed industry standards and protocols govern most chains of signification, Domenica Aut’s openness to experiment with alternative visual languages and with the terms of engagement of media making fundamentally reframes the function of television. Crucial for this purpose is also the practice of inchiesta (inquiry) tied to autonomist tradition of co-research. Domenica Aut provides in essence a tool to probe the changing territory—paying attention to forms of conflict, social needs, practices of dissent, and solidarity—using media. The goal of producing a TV show and the twist of involving groups in the process of production add a joyful and fun dimension to an otherwise common militant practice. Inchiesta is a collaborative epistemological practice that, while it unfolds, informs the emergence of alternative subjectivities, devising new modes of subjectivation and setting up a web of new connections.
I knew Domenica Aut from watching the episode “Citta’ e Periferia” (City and suburbia), where insu^tv brings together civic associations working in Scampia, notorious for its high unemployment and criminality and for one of the recent bloodiest Camorra feuds (fictionalized in Matteo Garrone’s movie Gomorrah). “Citta’ e Periferia” explores another face of Scampia in the work of local community art projects like the Gruppo Risveglio dal Sonno (GRIDAS, Awaken from Sleep Group) and Voci di Scampia (Vo.di.Sca, Voices of Scampia). Lounging on green inflatable armchairs with the orange and yellow backdrop of the studio walls, Asterix introduces eighteen-year-old Rosario Esposito La Rossa, author of Al di là della neve: Storie di Scampia (Beyond the snow, stories from Scampia) and founder of Vo.di.Sca.4 Esposito La Rossa recounts his youth in Scampia and his frequent close encounters with death at the hands of the Camorra, and describes the self-run projects that young people are developing to cope with the social trauma and police repression. At the bottom of the screen crawls insu^tv’s text with the title of the show and an invitation: “Naples center and periphery: the informal metropolis tells its story—Initial notes from an inquiry into the real city—Scampia through the voices and stories of its inhabitants—To participate, come to Officina 99, Via Gianturco 101” (insu^tv 2006). A video that Vo.di.Sca produced during a workshop with insu^tv follows Esposito La Rossa’s interview. Afterward, the audience discusses with GRIDAS how to stimulate social involvement using street art and carnival allegorical floats and masks (GRIDAS n.d.; insu^tv 2006).5
Vo.di.Sca’s youth had also participated in an inchiesta: as they made videos about the area, revealing the mechanisms that govern their lives, they gained a better grasp of what it means to think about solutions.6 It is no coincidence that autonomist researchers have often framed co-research as a mode of organizing in itself. Moreover, the critical engagement with technology and this collaborative mode of knowledge production facilitate a shift from product (counterinformation) to process (coproduction). This means that the production-based research supersedes content-driven practices where independent information is one more product to circulate, that is, consume. Insu^tv and its collaborators engage the affective, connective, and creative potential of working together to make sense of issues that directly implicate the groups involved. People who usually do not encounter each other are not only in the videos and on the stage but also in the audience that participates in the debates. With all the different stakeholders, the making of and participation in the episodes of Domenica Aut trigger the temporary reconfiguration of group boundaries to their outside. Difference is effaced but it no longer forms the basis of the interaction because the process of making displaces the identity-based posturing of those involved. The mediation of the inchiesta via the camera, editing, and viewing screens sets the focus of interaction on the process of collaborative making around issues that directly affect everyone. Thanks to this mediation, groups can interface with each other in a more organic way. My random encounters with Franca and Anna and the planning of Domenica Aut confirm what I heard from the insulini. Over the years, Domenica Aut effectively linked people: Domenica Aut is a means, or better a machine (Guattari 1995), to engender connections.
In Domenica Aut, but also in other activities like the media literacy workshops, the technical objects of media production cease to be hypnotic or an easy source of marvel for the uninitiated. Instead of simply functioning as a tool for the production and circulation of information, technology—once demystified, hacked, and reassembled—entangles individuals and their environment. Anyone who has been behind a camera knows that the experience of filming is not purely visual and that what stands beyond the screen is also felt through other senses. Sounds, smells, heat, fear, and excitement, to mention a few, are often part of how an individual perceives her environment through the LCD viewer. In this process of mediation there develops a synergy between a diversity of elements that come together as the affects that ooze from the warmth and smells of filming together clinch across the disparity of information. Then, what only holds potential at the level of the preindividual becomes something felt in the collective. More precisely, the video camera and the other objects for editing and screening propagate a new field of relations and relay the process of individuation between individuals and their transindividual milieu.
The cabled spaces, the transmission technology, the exchanges among the people, the food, and the affects all converge in a process of individuation of the TV channel and broader community outside dominant signifying chains. The chains of significations replace the mainstream media’s overstylized, sexualized discourses and images so distant from everyday experiences. In the proxy-visual space of sensorial and bodily mingling, the making together and the watching redefine the role of TV and its studios as a space for conviviality and collective reflection. In this sense, Domenica Aut is a theater of collective individuation where technical objects like the cameras and the transmission apparatus literally mediate between individuals and their environment—and among groups—instituting and developing a relation; technical objects partake in genuinely creative activities. The repurposing of technology is immanent to these processes of collective individuation; technological innovation itself cannot be seen as separate from other processes of individuation—and from broader processes of change.
As part of a psychosocial therapeutic approach to collaborative media production, insu^tv repurposes both technical objects, like video cameras or transmission technology, and the autonomist practice of inquiry to break down group boundaries and preestablished modes of communication. Officina’s space brings the TV studio closer to home, where the interlocking of technology and sociality, not the TV apparatus alone, creates a machine for connections. The connection machine fosters porosity that seeds transformation in the larger activist field from the smelling, talking, hearing, watching, and tasting by the individual through a collectivity that spills outside the studios. The connection machine runs on repurposing—and repurposing as a political strategy to generate energy is in excess of the reuse of technology or the appropriation of televisual language. It functions at a higher level of the system. I am moving across layers and levels of repurposing here, in a transductive manner. More on this soon.
Media Coproduction and Its Reverberations
In July 2010, insu^tv and fellow Media Indipendenti Napoletani (MINA, Neapolitan Independent Media) member Radioazioni supported GRIDAS during a series of protests and initiatives to retain the squatted building that had housed the project for thirty years. The collaborative initiatives that included floats, music, and dancing in public squares convinced the local administration to give in to GRIDAS’s demands and grant access to the building. I have seen and heard about these kinds of reverberations from collaborations between insu^tv and other groups often. Some of the stories are indeed very inspiring.
The episode “Citta’ e Periferia” could not ignore the presence of immigrants who live so close to Officina 99, especially because, during the production phase, a sudden wave of police repression started targeting the street markets that migrants run near the railway station. With some support from insu^tv, a group of Senegalese migrants was able to produce a video inquiry that identified in a new urban development project the root cause of the crackdown. Within a few weeks, the Senegalese recorded interviews with the ambulanti (itinerant street vendors) and drew out unseen connections between the destruction of cultural diversity, the displacement or elimination of businesses with regular permits, and social problems like homelessness and unemployment. The symbolic power of a camera helped the migrants initiate a conversation with the authorities that led to the discovery of plans to gentrify the area. The plans did not include a consultation with the local migrant population, which has been a constant presence for more than fifteen years. The video inquiry screened at a public meeting between three hundred migrants and the authorities and was received by the city council representatives with promises to include the migrant population in the urban planning of the area.
The collaborations with migrants over the years have taken various forms, from media literacy workshops for filming and editing to incorporating them in the stable programming. Both Radiolina and insu^tv have had migrant-run projects, especially news in different languages. After the initial project on the persecution of street vendors, the TG migranti (Migrant news) was, for a while, a regular show at insu^tv. Unfortunately, because of fast turnover of the crew (migrants often have to chase work opportunities around the country), this project could not be sustained. Even during the video-editing course I attended with a new group of immigrants, it was clear that it is hard for them to honor their commitment due to their precarious life and work conditions.
For insu^tv, practices of knowledge sharing and training are key, and in some cases, the energy generated during the media literacy workshops has enabled insu^tv production practices to reach a different level of collaboration with groups and communities. These efforts have solidified in the feature-length documentary Una montagna di balle (Wasting Naples). Starting from 2005 (with a Domenica Aut episode), insu^tv followed the evolution of the garbage emergency plaguing the Campania region, where Naples is located. By 2008 the seriousness of the crisis had turned the entire area into a worldwide spectacle of monstrous heaps of garbage, equally horrifying Italian and international publics. The source in a nutshell: a fourteen-year-long state of emergency declared to cope with the garbage crisis periodically removed avalanches of waste taking over the streets for months on end instead of addressing the problem in a sustainable way.
The longer version of the story includes the fact that, in addition to this ineffective treatment of legal waste, since 1994, the areas surrounding Naples, Caserta, and Benevento have been the illegal burial ground of toxic waste from the industries in the north of the country. Over and over, independent investigations have pointed to the collusion between the business sector, the government, and the Camorra, but this link is hard to break because low waste disposal costs make production prices low and make small industries competitive transnationally, boosting the Italian economy. Legal and illegal waste has been dumped and buried in hidden, cheap, and unsafe landfills with devastating consequences for the surrounding territory and for the health of the population. The situation is so dire and the incidence of cancer so unprecedented that international science journals discuss the high levels of toxicity in the region with expressions like the “death triangle” (Senior and Mazza 2004).
Overall, the business connected to the management of waste, ranging from transportation and storage to incineration and energy production—which also involve receiving government subsidies—offers such high profit that any sustainable and environmentally friendly alternative has been sidestepped by reckless for-profit policies. However, as garbage turns into a commodity traded in the stock market (insu^tv 2009b), the level of conflict between a desperate local population and the authorities rises. The conflict climaxed in the large mobilizations of 2008–9 only to end with the militarization of areas handling garbage, violent police repression, and the legal prosecution of the protesters. Insu^tv attempted to “open a crack in the official version” about the garbage crisis (“Campania” 2009), through inquiry and media support of the protests.
The crew was able to report on the mobilizations at different sites but also train groups in the more isolated communities to produce their own documentation of the protests that were being silenced. In the summer of 2008, together with MINA, insu^tv ran a twenty-four-hour media center in Chiaiano to cover the ongoing mobilizations. The Chiaiano woods are one of the few green areas in Naples, and its inhabitants had barricaded the entrance to the provincial park to prevent the construction of a landfill. For two full months, the woods in general and the media center in particular became a round-the-clock site of coagulation of many groups involved in the struggle. We were the only source of reliable information available to the citizens, and we were also a place for meeting, strategizing, and socializing. The connections among some groups and people became so strong that, when we were forced to dismantle it, the inhabitants from the area would not let us go without promising to be back.
This bond is emblematic of an entire period of struggle where people, often completely new to organizing, met each other, shared knowledge, and fought against repressive and violent policing. They experimented with alternative forms of governance, like the self-organized recycling site that the population of Gianturco and Officina 99 set up in January 2008 in the old tobacco factory to stop the opening of an urban dumpsite in an already heavily polluted industrial area. Citizens set up new organizations like the regional coordination body for waste management and for the public management of water in an effort to have a voice in the debate (Zanotelli 2009). During these protests, communities became more familiar with activist practices, from sit-ins to culture jamming, and I with the new emergent activist scene, which was meeting in the streets once again. In Naples, garbage became the new battleground; as a new cycle of struggles swelled up, groups involved in other environmental struggles around Italy came to visit and expressed solidarity.7
All throughout the crisis, independent media was a key counterpoint to the national news’ racist representations of the southern mob. For the Italian brand of environmental racism, the spatial management of garbage in the region is inextricably connected with the special management of people through the localization of dumpsites at the “spatial, economic, social and political margins of society” (Petrillo 2009, 14). The “abnormalization” of the population in popular culture and in the media is the oil that makes the governmental machine run smoothly. Superstition, violent inclinations, restlessness, self-destructive drives, pointless revolts with no political claims, irrational aggression, and rage are the basis of current stereotypes and assumptions about the south in the same way they were in the past (18–19).8 The process of categorization and division that applies to the terrone—the dirty southerner—and the migrant alike easily becomes a discursive component of governmental assemblages that solidify during crises to justify the call for a state of emergency. These assumptions combined with more modern claims about the Not in My Backyard (NIMBY) syndrome engender a formidable discursive field that leaves no space to critique destructive political decisions.9 In 2008–9 Naples, Frantz Fanon had Michel Foucault as his sidekick in many discussions about the forces and power relations sustaining the conflict. Independent media became the medium to tell this story.
In fact, it was very easy to deny the political validity of the work of all the committees and associations whenever politicians and media could mobilize these near-colonial racial discourses about the south to point behind the protest to “natural” effects of a sort of pathology, as well as to the archaism and potential criminal motives of the protesters. I heard these explanations every time I was away from the sites of organizing, even from my parents, southerners themselves. For those who participated in the media center, and for those watching its coverage, the construction of the narrative about the crisis cut across dominant binaries between modern incineration technologies and the antimodernity of the protester—but also across the opposition between the rational government and citizen and the irrational revolting masses reappearing from old folkloric tales. The self-portrayal of the communities in resistance was all the more powerful because it was immediate and unmediated: it used Mogulus, one of the first livestreaming technologies, to broadcast to television.10
For those who had access to the live feed, Mogulus created an affective link between the viewer and those in the street (Renzi and Langlois 2015; Thorburn 2015). It did not just cover the police brutality; it also broadcast the cultural initiatives and debates taking place at the media-center-turned-TV-studio. Mogulus was also fundamental in providing a shared framework of understanding in a context where the depoliticization of conflict in the mainstream national discourse and the racialization of these protests had had the effect of isolating and pitching one community against the other. Elise Thorburn (2014) has demonstrated how critical use of streaming technologies can engender sociotechnical assemblages that function as nodes of counterpower and provide the space for the construction of subjectivities in the streets. The circulation of alternative forms of knowledge, and the collaborations that started around networks like MINA, aimed to offset these centripetal forces fragmenting the resistant social fabric.
The mobilizations against the garbage crisis had different effects in different parts of the region. In cases like Gianturco, groups were able to stop the government and affirm political subject positions otherwise denied to the protesters by institutional politics (Petrillo 2009, 118). The Italian army brutally suppressed the blockades to defend Chiaiano’s woods and many other attempts to protect citizens and environment. In 2009 Prime Minister Berlusconi inaugurated the first of many incinerators planned for the region and imposed an information ban on waste management, turning the waste management into a secret sector of social services.11 The repression and the construction of an incinerator cleared the streets of angry residents and garbage alike. With the end of the protest cycle, the communities and groups insu^tv had trained came back to insu^tv with more than five hundred hours of footage, asking for a documentary that told that story. This was a turning point for the group and a moment when the connection machine shifted into turbo gear as it experimented with a new model for collaborative documentary production. The method relied on the direct engagement and participation of groups and individuals interested in the production of what became Una montagna di balle, or Wasting Naples.
Among the techniques used to include groups in the production process was open space technology (OST), which allows scalable self-organizing work among large groups of people to narrow down an initial open agenda to more focused work (Open Space 2016). Though the method mostly serves the corporate world, insu^tv was able to repurpose it with the help of a compagno who had received OST training. OST effectively assisted short-term discussion and the decision-making process needed to produce an initial film sketch. After the OST session, the group posted all the material assembled on a blog to build a chronological history of the events and compare the video footage with the texts produced.
The second phase of the production process called upon the same communities for a crowdfunding campaign and soliciting professional contributions for the production of the film: screenwriting, music, research, and so on. Many more people joined insu^tv as producers through the crowdsourcing site Produzioni Dal Basso (Bottom-up Productions). The final cut that insu^tv edited provides an accessible narrative thread in the voice of well-known actor and environmental activist Ascanio Celestini. “Here the state of emergency is another form of government; they should teach it in political science: there is monarchy, tyranny, democracy . . . and emergency!” (insu^tv 2009b), jokes Celestini as he narrates the story of Wasting Naples. This seemingly light-hearted joke reveals the question guiding the documentary: “What if ‘living in a crisis’ was just someone’s strategy to make profit?” (insu^tv 2009b). The fairy-tale structure that frames the inquiry into the garbage emergency makes it intelligible to the audience, who would otherwise be overwhelmed by the plethora of reports and interviews with experts, community workers, and those affected.
Despite the fairy-tale trope, with the typical evil characters and heroes that belong to this genre, Wasting Naples presents a multilayered analysis of the relationships among government, the media, the eco-mafia, powerful corporations, and poisoned areas, crops, and inhabitants. Beyond its local value, as a connector, the documentary brings garbage into a critique of capital, to see where it intersects with other issues. It delivers a map of the relations between the governmental assemblage behind the waste removal economy. Of course, most of the information was already available but no one had brought it all together, not even the judge involved in eco-mafia investigations who, at the cinema premiere, declared (somewhat pompously) to the press that he “will follow up on the evidence presented to the audience” (Chetta 2009).
Upon completion of the documentary, every coproducer who participated in the process received a copy of the film. The distribution process was key to continue tapping into the connective potential of Wasting Naples thanks to various steps during which the film circulated around the communities involved and a wider audience in the form of DVDs (or other digital formats), screenings, special events, and online streaming. DVDs and other digital copies were released under the Creative Commons noncommercial license for easy sharing, and on the same day of the release of the documentary one could already find it on popular torrenting sites.
In the grant-writing jargon of insu^tv, the aim of the method used for Wasting Naples is to produce a film that “1) Activates co-producers’ participation, strengthens internal community ties and involves new individuals outside of the target communities; 2) Gathers the resources necessary for the completion of the film; 3) Instils into everyone involved the feeling that they are an active part of the production process.”12 During the screenings, Wasting Naples was used to generate discussions, organize forums, support campaigns, or forge new ties among groups. The insulini participated in public screenings and events organized by third parties both in Italy and abroad. The film, subtitled in multiple languages, screened at film festivals and at cultural institutions. Following two large sold-out cinema premiers, Wasting Naples had more than 150,000 views online, nearly 300 public screenings (of which 25 were abroad), and was broadcast on Current TV and Sky Italia satellite channels. A copy was included in the package handed to the European Union special rapporteur leading an independent investigation into the garbage crisis (ami 2010).
Wasting Naples circulated so far and wide because it offered a rare insight into a complex and opaque state of affairs that was made relatable through powerful images of solidarity, determination, and in-depth analysis. It was also so successful because it had the solid support of the communities involved in its making.
We Are All Nicol* Angrisano: Co-individuation and Compositionality as Becoming Together
In Wasting Naples, the self-representation of the communities proliferates the coproduction process using poetic language to string the stories together. The narration exploits the tension between the loving tone and images of Naples and scenes of police brutality, government neglect, and environmental devastation. Violence and frenzy mark the garbage emergency and yet the police beatings, expropriations, and army incursions do not drown the voices that speak directly to the viewer. Even though the film aims to expose the reasons for the crisis and break the silence about the opposition to local waste management, the documentary also celebrates the strength of the population challenging a de facto occupying army and talking back to the mainstream media racist representation of the southerner.
In the months of production and postproduction, I witnessed the individuation of a collectivity unfold in the larger milieu of the garbage crisis. The process was not merely narrative and discursive but embodied, transindividual, and mediated by the documentary assemblage (its technology as well as production methods). The connections among groups became more porous as people encountered and recognized each other at the workshops, filmed on the street, attended the OST event, contributed to and donated to the crowdsourcing campaign, turned up at the premiere, and hosted events and debates. In this context, the production of the we in Celestini’s fairy-tale-esque narration transformed Wasting Naples into a choral narration that spilled out of the screen. The support and networking of the documentary contributed to its narrative, kept the energy high, and encouraged the sense of being part of something. This ongoing individuation stretched across groups rather than within a larger group.
The bio of Nicola Angrisano, the collective pseudonym used to name the director of insu^tv, nods to this process.
nicol* angrisano broke into the mediascape one day in 2003. This mysterious and charismatic character perpetrates guerrilla communication actions to free the infosphere. nicol*’s stomping grounds are the Neapolitan airwaves. In 2004, leading a group of media activists, s/he powered the first transmitter, sending an interference signal, cracking the monotonous and smooth surface of the mediascape. This is how insu^tv was born: a Neapolitan pirate television broadcasting in a shadow cone of the S19/UHF frequency. For five years, insu^tv has been exploring the surrounding territory, and together with various social movements it inquires into and traverses different experiences. During the production of the documentary Wasting Naples, on the local garbage crisis, nicol* has been contaminated by the experience of the communities hit by the events, thereby reinforcing the assemblage of affinity groups and individuals involved in direct narration of reality. nicol* angrisano stands for a multiplicity of visions and perspectives, it is a hybrid form: it uses a lowercase letter because s/he refuses the concept of authorship; s/he takes the asterisk to inflect for all genders. Nicol*’s is a collective—a connective—identity of a group of media activists radically searching for different reading cues to transform simple narrations into tools of struggle and liberation from the yoke of mainstream disinformation. (Toronto Free Broadcasting 2009)13
Insu^tv chose the collective pseudonym nicol* angrisano in 2003 in the artistic and activist tradition of nom de plumes like Monty Catsin and Luther Blisset. In particular, the Luther Blisset Project that started in Bologna in 1994 and spread to various cities spawning a series of pranks, radio shows, and publications critiquing and embarrassing the mainstream media for five years was very much on insu^tv’s founders’ minds when they started the pirate TV (Alfio, qtd. in Stein 2016). As Marco Deseriis discusses in his study of Luther Blisset, the choice aimed “to obfuscate both the identity and number of referents”; it connected activists to a historical knowledge of struggles and enabled them to fold that knowledge into contemporary tactics (2015, 3).
Deseriis defines names like Luther Blisset as improper in the sense that they are not attributable to a circumscribed domain and therefore do not facilitate a process of subjectification based on the proliferation of difference. Instead, improper names mediate processes of subjectification as users recognize each other in the name and their heterogeneous utterances and actions are brought into the same discursive space. Furthermore, Deseriis traces a shuttling between heterogeneity and homogeneity, totality and difference. Improper names express this shuttling when they function as a milieu where the singular and the multiple, the individual and the collective engender each other in the process of sharing an identity (Deseriis 2015, 3–4). The nicol* angrisano bio recounts an origin tale in fantastic actions and heroic deeds—breaking into an enclosed mediascape, doing guerrilla to free the infosphere, finding allies, etcetera. This framing contributes to mythmaking and lends symbolic power to those who claim nicol*’s deeds and productions.
At insu^tv, each of us has been Nicol or Nicola, to attend screenings, curate events, give lectures, make movies. There were even a few perfectly delirious moments where nicol* angrisano achieved the impossible—being a multiplicity granted the gift of ubiquity. Nicol* was in many cities and countries at once. Nicol*’s event profile pictures were always ambiguous; the hotel check-ins were furtive and hilarious whenever film festivals booked rooms under the award-winning director’s name. One time, a distracted scholar even published a study of insu^tv that described the director as a real person. The improper name was a powerful way of becoming together, embodying a tradition of intimacy and media making that traveled through decades of Italian media activism from Radio Alice to tactical media. In the toggling between the individual and the collective the ties became stronger, increasing the potential for new connections. In writing this chapter—or perhaps even this entire book—in fact, the process repeats itself. I write as Nicol, with nicol*, for a Nicola that is always more than the sum of their parts.
Deseriis emphasizes how improper names work toward the production of a common (Deseriis 2015, 214). And while the improper name’s relation to the common enables me to highlight the value of relationality among individuals, the capacity of individuations to transduce across layers of the social outspreads this relationality, through technical objects, to the wider field of transindividuation that occurs around the garbage crisis and projects like Wasting Naples. I shift the emphasis now from collective assemblages of a shared alias (that is, relationality among humans) to connective assemblages of collaborative filmmaking to think in terms of connectivity and porosity, or compositionality that includes technology. After all, “we are a media connective, not a media collective” is nicol*’s favorite political statement.
An Ethics of Connection
As a connective, insu^tv always holds its potential to mutate in interaction with its environment. Each connection with other bodies and objects, each new project, each recombination of elements prompts a new individuation. In essence, the group conceives of its work as creating resonance by giving priority to acts that extend beyond themselves to become contagious—to affect and relay through the pleasure of being and creating together.
This approach—a kind of ethical conduct—guides insu^tv’s actions, redefining the direction of politics at a moment of stasis in Naples. Insu^tv’s ethics considers how every individual act can also inform collective becomings to generate critical mass. It evaluates actions and ideas in function of their potential to tap into the sociality of politics to foster social cohesion that is conducive to political action. Importantly, more than a chain of individual acts that are separated and spontaneous, a web of acts nested in the coproduction practices triggers the collective individuations, which can resonate with each other while the activists address social, political, and economic issues. As a system based on difference (rather than identity), the individual is always in precarious (metastable) equilibrium and continuously individuates.
Simondon discusses how accepting and engaging the metastability of certain structures—that include the individual—is at the basis of an ethical comportment toward oneself and others: “Ethics is the sense as well as the direction of individuation, the sense of the synergy among successive individuations” (2006, 229). This approach to ethics as an openness to affect and be affected (Deleuze 1988; Spinoza 1992) is integral to connective activism where the repurposing of media thrives on a desire to come into composition because people are eager to work together on projects that weave their interests and concerns together. Insu^tv’s ethical comportment offers some ways of using collaborative media making to break down the signifying chains that rigidify interactions, and that social norms and political ideologies unavoidably crystallize. This is due not simply to discursive practices but to a myriad of affects, perceptions, and memories that impact the openness and closure of systems like groups or individuals, as seen with Domenica Aut: “The value of an act is its breadth, its potential to unfold transductively” (Simondon 2006, 230). Insu^tv’s set of (changing) engagement practices indissolubly connects the experimentation with social relations to processes of individual and collective individuation. These practices inform the connection between individuation and politics because it is at this ethical threshold that it becomes possible to repurpose the social field for politics through media production. In this sense, I argue that insu^tv repurposes ethics for politics, at a time when politics badly needs to be reinvented.
Metastability is unpredictable, and the last years at insu^tv have posed a challenge to the sustainability of connective activism. As energy circulates, circuits may fry. The question I am now concerned with has to do with what happens when assemblages destabilize and decompose. Can this ethical attitude support recomposition?