Katja van Driel: Trespass and transformation - Piracy as a social and spatial practice

Advisor/tutor: Doreen Mende

Independent reviewer: Amadeo Policante

Arnhem, June 2013


What does piracy do? Departing from this simple question, this text tries to explore the potential of piracy as a creative instrument and to look at its role in contemporary urban struggles for space. I want to suggest that piracy creates a tool for interaction with larger, global circuits and to re-claim political spaces, whereby I see its strength precisely in the factor that often is used to disqualify piracy as an activity: It is an economic practice, thus not primarily driven by ethical or ideological motivations but this provides piracy of the potential to initiate experiments that interfere with, evade and disturb the smooth flow of capital. The revival of sea piracy is a relatively new phenomenon and part of a complex global conflict concerning access and resources. It is only with the end of the Cold War and the subsequent decreasing importance of the nation state as the exclusive territorial sovereign that sea piracy returns after more than a century. I want to elaborate on how these recent developments can be seen as part of a historical continuum related to capitalist expansion that goes back to the Golden Age of piracy and early global capitalism in the 18th century.
The text focuses on pirate practices that involve physical and social spaces and through that create visibility as well as a presence in time and space. I want to think along the pirate as a figure or symbol embodying conflicts connected to regimes of capital and property. Furthermore I am going to explore piracy as a tool that marginalized populations in different parts of the world and under different historical circumstances use to create access to institutions and to social participation. I will look at how different artistic works investigate those aspects of piracy. The concept of the war machine by Deleuze/Guattari will reoccur throughout the text as a model to theorize what kind of power is exercised by piracy.


This enthralling and aptly adventurous work offers a significant and original thesis. It also offers a wide range of sources, used selectively to support a complex argument. And all of that is rendered with verve and cogency.

First of all, the candidate shows an authoritative understanding of all the theories used in the piece. Moreover, she demonstrates a refreshing ability to apply different theories in order to further her analysis of history and society. Her use of Deleuze and Guattari's concepts of nomadism, smooth/striated space and the war machine, in particular, is commendable. Such concepts are not only properly understood and explained, instead they are truely turned into effective tools for independent thinking – something deeply in tune with a Deleuzian epistemology. Her efforts to further our understanding of the figure of the pirate, both as an historical reality and as a symbol, result in a coherent and compelling argument, with high points of originality. Her analysis of the ways in which contemporary art has interpreted anew the meaning of piracy - particularly in the work of Anja Kirschner and Jota Izquierdos – is compelling and significant. Admittedly, the thesis lacks a coherent structure, its argumentation appears somehow convoluted, and the author's train of thought is often difficult to follow. Nevertheless, this is the result of a genuine attempt to explore uncharted grounds and open new ways for thinking. This is why I believe this is, overall, an excellent thesis, which has the potential to constitute the foundation of original forms of artistic practice. A.P.