Peng Collective. is as a platform for new forms of protest: a group of people from different backgrounds such as activism, NGOs, journalism, advertising come together to do something politically radical. For that, they make use the different forms of languages- from performing, theater to hacking-, the internet and new medias to create debate on topics that are important in their point of view. Since the starting point of their actions they create their own creative strategies to bring new forms of political protest. The name of the collective? “Peng!” the sound of a fake gun.
We had special time for our interview with Alice Ramoli for their successful initiative, Peng!
Who forms Peng collective? What are the mains forms of your activity?
Peng is born as a platform for new forms of protest. People from different backgrounds, with different skills asking how can we do something politically radical and use the new media and different languages to create debate on topics we believe that are important. We have a core group which goes from 4 to 7 people depending on the time. We have a big network of friends and collaborators with whom we work project-based.
As actions, we have been doing a lot of fakes, pretending to be some politicians or corporations, stealing their identity, going to conferences and announcing things they would never do. For example, we pretended to be Google and announced a really creepy privacy product which a few years laters almost took reality. So sometimes we try to take the identity of the enemy and use it to announce something much better or much worse, so that they have to take position on this. This is one of our most successful forms.
On the other hand we also do more traditional calls for civil disobedience. For instance in 2015 we did one for the refugees. Which was one of our most successful actions. We said the regulation that the refugees must stay in the first country where they arrive was unjust because it denied people the freedom of movement. So every good European citizen with the privilege to move should take someone in their car and bring them to wherever they want to go, even though it is illegal. Because it is the law that is unjust.
What makes you move to take an action at the initial point? How do you choose the topics to work on?
Well, there are enough injustices to be spoken about. We have a topic that is important to some of us and then we try to develop an idea of how we can disturb our enemy and make people aware of this injustice. This is the starting point.
We don’t have a fix agenda for topics. If someone in the group is interested in one topic she or he makes a proposal and we decide together. It can be on environment, sexism, human rights and so on. We decided not to choose only one field but try to show how different topics are important and connected from a leftist point of view. Using the new media is the differentiating point for our activities.
Could you tell us about your process of coming together for the actions. How is the research period?
Each time, the process is different. Sometimes first we have the idea, we talk about it and try to understand how we can make it stronger, how we can frame it to make it work in the media. Sometimes, there are corporations or a cultural institution as funding partners and then we already have the idea within the partnership and go for operations for realisation of the topic. Both ways are possible. Together we brainstorm about who could be interested partners, which organisations are working on the topic, what is happening already, what is missing, from there we start to think how we can create some scandal in the medias.
The research period may take from one month to six months depending on how big is the project. Research means mapping of the narratives, what is the political problem, how do media and people talk or not talk about it, who are the important partners, what is happening internationally on the topic. We try to map the field and understand what are the core points and side topics that are not so talked about but which are connected. Who are the people who every day have to fight this problem, how can we get them to work with us?
Could you tell about ‘The Call A Spy Show’, the action where you were calling real agents and talking to them, trying to convince them to change their jobs and about such daily life topics? This was such an intelligently interesting project.
In 2015 we did a project on surveillance. Since then it is one of the most important topics. Still people look at it with fear, it is very tacky and not so easy to engage with. We did a campaign on this topic, inviting a fake organisation to help people exit secret services. We tried to give a different perspective to the topic trying to focus on the people behind these institutions rather than the institution. When the campaign was over we got the leak of phone numbers. As a second phase of the project we thought let’s try to reach these people who know everything about us and we don’t know anything about them. We showed it in theaters and art venues as an installation with phone booths where people can enter and call these numbers. It was funny for us because we never thought of making art. We didn’t have any problem with suing as we don’t do it everyday and calling is not a crime.
How do you manage your finances?
We are non profit association. At the beginning we were doing everything more or less without money, with people working for free. Later some cultural institutions became aware of us as something new that can create attention and media response. Most of our funding come thorough culture field and some smaller from NGOs and organisations who finance social movements. We also give workshops and lectures.
Is this your core job in your life?
It is different for every each of us. For some of us it is a side job, some have been doing it as their main job for sometime. It depends on how many projects and how much money we have. For me, it has been my main job for three years. Now I have a second job and I try to do less. Of course, we haven’t been able to be financed all seven of us all the time. So it is not yet a stable organisation financially.
I am from Italy and actually when I tell my friends this is my job, they get surprised and ask me how is this possible that there is money for this?!-laughs- So I think Germany is also a very special case, since there is a lot of public money for culture. As well as a strong independent press, which is like the stage where we want to work on. Being able to get such visibility is rather a peculiar situation when compared to countries like Italy or Turkey. Also, this kind of discourse or communication, civil disobedience work well in a certain type of society, in a democracy well aware, able to use irony. For instance, I wouldn’t suggest to make our work in Saudi Arabia. It is important to see the context that makes it possible financially and with all the resources.
You also mentioned meeting a lawyer, do you really need a lawyer?
Yes! We do need a lawyer. Actually we have two lawyers: one for criminal-law which is guiding us legally about actions that are seen as a crime; and a media lawyer, more specialised on image rights as we often play with faking identities of existing corporations who do have copyright. We talk with these lawyers regularly before we start an action. We tell them our concepts and ask what are the risks and how to minimise them. They help us understand first if it is possible at all, second what are the risks to take, and third how to minimise. And in case we get sued they provide the legal assistance. Some of us already got sued.
Is there anything that you want to tell to your future self?
I think it is important to see the moment when there is too much institutionalisation and see the moment when to take a step back. We have been having quite a lot of success, things happened in a way we wouldn’t have thought: receiving attention from art events, universities asking us to teach, political parties trying to approach us. So I would tell to my future self or the future group not to lose completely this initial rebellious movement. Because, it is of course flattering to have reached the mainstream but we have to be very aware to not just become a cultural product, or just an actor in the art world and not to lose the contact with social movements. I see that the more success the more danger arrives. And it is also a daily negotiation between how to get some funding and power and not to lose the original spirit.
Interview: Müge Olacak / Interpretation: Şıvgın Dalkılıç / Turkish translation: Sena Burcu Şahin / Photos: by Peng!