Kike España is showing us around La Casa Invisible, a squatted DIY venue and organising space nestled amongst the labyrinthine backstreets of Málaga. It’s an enormous building. The central courtyard is busy with local misfits and activists, spurning the usual tourist crowd. A cash bar keeps everyone watered amongst LGBT+ flags and a banner that reads “Málaga no se vende” – Málaga is not for sale.
As we wander round, we accidentally interrupt a group of women having a discussion in the main exhibition space, up on the first floor, overlooking the touristic low tide below. We poke our heads out of a row of floor-to-ceiling windows. It is early December and Málaga is out of season. Nevertheless, I meet a surprising amount of fellow Newcastle residents who have come for a cheap getaway. You cannot escape the swells of visitors. Except here.
We move on quickly down meandering corridors. Louis Moreno, who gave a talk on spatial conjunctures and new urbanism that morning at the Universidad de Málaga, says they make him feel like he’s playing Resident Evil.
Long corridors appear like blind alleys, lined by doors over two meters tall, as if built to accommodate creatures not of this world, and you wonder if a devil dog might jump out at you at any moment. But the space is not foreboding. We British folk are simply not used to having so much room to manoeuvre. It is hard not to be intimidated (or perhaps just awestruck) by so much possibility.
We stop for a while in a small office and peruse a library of books in Spanish and German, taking a few freebies for the road that have been produced by some of the groups that use the space. The one book in English we find is a gargantuan omnibus edition of all three volumes of Grant Morrison’s 1990s comic book series The Invisibles, which tells various stories of the extraordinary, often outcast and often queer members of a secret organization fighting social oppression through violence and magic in time-fucked London.
And here we were, in the headquarters of Málaga’s own Invisibles, who are resisting psychic oppression through other means.
The whole building functions as a hypersigil, as Morrison might call it: a defiant stamp within the city’s topology; a circle of salt creating an inner sanctum that keeps capitalist sorceries at bay. But what is notable is that the building openly functions as a thorn in the side of the city’s preferred way of doing things. It’s very existence is a provocation.
I am reminded of Mark Fisher’s comments on capitalist counter-sorceries: La Casa Invisibles is “a weapon built from the very same materials that capitalist sorcery itself uses.” In a city threatened by overdevelopment and the seemingly irresistible influence of AirBnBs, La Invi (as it is affectionately known) shows what other forces the occupation of property can be used to conjure.
Perhaps that is what we sense (and eventually find) lurking in the building’s many darkened rooms. Horrors not to spook us, but to unsettle the forces of capitalist realism that seek to penetrate the building from its outside.
I’ve wanted to come to Málaga for some years now. When I was at Goldsmiths in 2017, following the death of Mark Fisher, I was part of a reading group for Fisher’s last book The Weird and the Eerie. There, I got to know then-lecturer in Visual Cultures, Stefan Nowotny.
In the pub afterwards, Stefan often spoke about a dream he had: of moving to Málaga and setting up a communal living space, which also housed facilities for organising, cultural production, and academic research. A few years later, the dream is now a reality.
La Casa Azul, much like La Casa Invisibles, is home to a small group who work in various different fields. Their collective library of books in all languages sprawls across rooms, corridors and staircases. There is also a bookshop directly downstairs, Librería Suburbia, which I was excited to discover was selling the Spanish translation of my book Egress. There’s a sound studio and various printing presses (from riso to letterpress), as well as a flat for guests. This was home for our five-day stay.
I am visiting with Natasha Eves, a co-conspirator with whom I’ve organised a few of the For K-Punk events over the years. (We’re curious to see if one such an event might work in Málaga…)
We talk about Mark’s work often, and I’m immediately reminded of the other cities in which I’ve discussed his writings over the last few years. In particular, I’m reminded of a talk given in Ljubljana in late 2021 to celebrate the Slovenian translation of Capitalist Realism. There, discussions oscillated around the various spaces squatted and occupied by publishers, theatre companies and artists ever since the revolution in 1987. But a journal was produced around the time of my visit discussing the potential “eviction of culture” from Metelkova as the right-wing government cracked down on leftists and counter-cultural producers in the city.
The same problems and threats were to be found in Málaga as well – indeed, as they are everywhere. La Casa Invisible was the focal point of a great deal of attention in this regard. Though the building has not been served an eviction notice explicitly, the government has repeatedly (and often passively) cracked down on its activities – for instance, by shutting off the building’s water supply, which likewise affected the bar in the courtyard and which was now not supposed to sell anything. But the space has found a number of ways around the council’s disruptive methods: on our tour of the space, Kike showed us a room to the back of La Casa Invisible that housed almost 9000 litres of water, which they had delivered periodically and which was independently connected to the plumbing by those who work and organise there.
The reason for the local government’s stifling of La Casa Invisible’s activities seems to be that it is an “unofficial” space. Nothing more. The city’s liberal council is a stickler for the rule of law, of course. The space hardly seems “unsafe”, however. It’s the (liberalist) principle, the restrictions of which only serve as a means of controlling cultural production (and, by proxy, cultural capital) in the city.
There is a deep irony to this behaviour. In recent decades, the city has embraced the fact it is the birthplace of Pablo Picasso, and this fact is fixated on in order to drive tourism. But as is often the effect of driving a tourist economy at all costs, the city itself is suffering as rents rise and AirBnBs replace housing in the city centre. Local residents are understandably cynical of the council’s obsession with Picasso in this regard, especially because he lived here only fleetingly. He produced no art in the city, as he was only a young child when he resided in Málaga; downstairs in La Casa Azul, a sign in the window reads: “En este lugar nunca estuvo Pablo Ruiz Picasso”, meaning “Pablo Ruiz Picasso was never in this place”.
On our second day, Natasha and I decided to visit the Museo Picasso Málaga. Despite all we’d heard about the city’s relationship to the artist, we found ourselves pleasantly surprised. The rotating collection of works, changed every three years, was thoughtfully curated and both of us left feeling deeply inspired. Though Picasso’s reputation is often questioned today, not least for his tendency to be a scoundrel, the museum celebrated his radical influence on twentieth-century art as a whole. Leaflets advertising the museum articulated this succinctly:
Picasso’s fundamental contribution to the 20th century stems from his transformation of the work of art into an expression that vindicates absolute individual liberty in the face of conventions, rules, manifestos and dogmas. Picasso switched from one style to another with unparalleled ease. He interpreted and played down the canons developed by the great painters of the past, and manipulated stereotypes and myths of bourgeois culture, opting to bestow dignity on quotidian anecdotes and short stories that became great visual poems in his hands. Picasso was an artist who rethought the history of painting and thus revolutionised the fundamental and previously untouchable principles of representation. He demolished once and for all the hierarchical humanistic relationships in which the representation of the human form was more important than that of the object.
This expression of “absolute individual liberty in the face of conventions, rules, manifestos and dogmas” was further affirmed in the last part of the museum’s exhibition, entitled “Picasso face-to-face with the museum”, which explored how Picasso travelled across Europe in his youth to see the works of many of the great master painters, producing studies of or otherwise adapting and challenging a European canon.
Particular attention was paid to his studies of Velázquez’s masterpiece, Las Meninas. Rather than passively receive and merely try to copy these great works, however, Picasso challenged them, using them as objects that he could paint again by his own hand, in various styles.
His approach was truly modernist in this regard, making each work new again. In this sense, his love of art museums seemed to function as a kind of state-sanctioned compartmentalisation: the past was fixed in these places; all the better for him to push off from their foundations and out into the future that lay so clearly beyond their walls.
For all of Picasso’s radicality, however, it was easy to see how the city itself was not re-appropriating the artist’s own response to the world around him.
In one section of the exhibition, focusing on Picasso’s “magic” paintings, the evocative copy stencilled onto the walls argues that “Picasso demonstrated how desire could disassemble the body into independent parts, to be encountered and enjoyed one after another, seemingly at random.” It is an approach that speaks to the modernist schizophrenia of Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus. In Picasso’s hands, though a essential resemblance is never entirely lost from the subjects he depicts, facial features crowd and swarm the canvas in ways that are affectively relatable but far from reality — “freckles dashing towards the horizon, hair carried off by the wind, eyes you traverse instead of seeing yourself in or gazing into in those glum face-to-face encounters between signifying subjectivities.”
Whilst such an approach is invigorating inside the museum, the city centre of Málaga begins to feel like a grotesque inversion or parody of Picasso’s deterritorializing approach. Whereas the topology of the face is disassembled so that subjectivity flows smoothly across the evacuated space of the Real, the very topology of the city is disassembled so that it is capital that flows smoothly across the evicted properties of real estate. Picasso is reterritorialised and put to work, not so much as a challenge to norms of aesthetic expression but instead as a way to usurp culture itself and allow easy access for capital instead.
It is for these reasons that, in spite the museum’s sensitive and affirmative curatorial engagement with Picasso’s work, the veneration of Picasso elsewhere was, with a sickening irony, also suffocating the potentials of his own legacy and those who were also born or otherwise live here. You can only hope that the irony of the situation is lost on those in charge, otherwise the Picassofication of Málaga is nothing less than cruel. In approaching its already tenuous relationship to its most famous “son” in this way, the city’s local council actively stifles and neglects the sorts of spaces that might actually produce more credible local heroes and radicals in the future.
Picasso was never in this place; nevertheless, they ignore those who are here, who are challenging an establishment in ways Picasso did himself, who might likewise revolutionise the city’s culture in the present. But whereas Picasso is made abundantly visible, those who do live and work in Málaga today are actively invisibilised by his shadow.
In his talk given at the Over-Tourist City conference at the Universidad de Málaga, Louis Moreno discussed the shifting nature of gentrification and its relationship to “ground rent”. Once again, Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus was brought to the fore, as Louis drew on the book’s chapter about apparatuses of capture, applying it to recent real estate developments in London’s King’s Cross.
For clarity, “ground rent” is that foundational exchange that makes the owning of property profitable in the first instance. A shop, for example, may lease its premises from a landlord, and so, although a tenant may produce income for themselves through whatever commercial activities they undertake, the landowner is always at the top of the economic hierarchy, feeding on all that happens below and wielding their power as the titleholder to influence the kinds of activity that are deemed to be legitimate, etc. The same is true of all property, including housing, with ground rent necessitating the selling of our labour in order to pay for the rental of our homes.
But the point for Deleuze and Guattari is how these different ground rents overlap and comingle. We must pay our rent, and so we go to work, but it is often the case that our workplaces often have ground rents of their own, and so we must work both to sustain ourselves, our workplaces, and other properties in our local community. In this way, as Deleuze and Guattari write:
Ground rent homogenizes, equalizes different conditions of productivity by linking the excess of the highest conditions of productivity over the lowest to a landowner: since the price (profit included) is established on the basis of the least productive land, rent taps the surplus profit accruing to the best lands; it taps “the difference between the product of two equal amounts of capital and labor.” This is the very model of an apparatus of capture, inseparable from a process of relative deterritorialization.
But there is a point at which our communities can shift, both by shutting down some institutions and replacing them with others. To explain this, Deleuze and Guattari focus on the politics of exchange (whether related to stock, labour or commodities):
Take two abstract groups, one of which (A) gives seeds and receives axes, while the other (B) does the opposite. What is the collective evaluation of the objects based on? It is based on the idea of the last objects received, or rather receivable, on each side.
Presumably, there will come a point when the farmer who sells seeds has enough axes, or perhaps needs axes less frequently than the axe-producer needs to sell them. Similarly, the axe-producer who buys seeds may reach a point where they need seeds no longer, and may in fact be capable of harvesting their own. This process of exchange is unlikely to be viewed as indefinite, then. Each side of the exchange will no doubt have some idea of when they reach the limits of their need. This is what Deleuze and Guattari mean when they write of “the idea of the last objects received, or receivable, on each side.” They continue:
By “last” or “marginal” we must understand not the most recent, nor the final, but rather the penultimate, the next to the last, in other words, the last one before the apparent exchange loses its appeal for the exchangers, or forces them to modify their respective assemblages, to enter another assemblage.
Put another way, at what point must the seed-axe producer prepare to change their relations? At what point is it necessary to enter into a new seed-x or axe-x assemblage?
We will consider that the farmer-gatherer group A, which receives axes, has an “idea” of the number of axes that would force it to change assemblage; and the manufacturing group B, of the quantity of seeds that would force it to change assemblage. We may say, then, that the seed-ax relation is determined by the last quantity of seeds (for group B) corresponding to the last ax (for group A). The last as the object of a collective evaluation determines the value of the entire series. It marks the exact point at which the assemblage must reproduce itself, begin a new operation period or a new cycle, lodge itself on another territory, and beyond which the assemblage could not continue as such. This is indeed a next-to-the-last, a penultimate, since it comes before the ultimate. The ultimate is when the assemblage must change its nature: B would have to plant the excess seeds. A would have to increase the rhythm of its own plantings and remain on the same land.
From here, Deleuze and Guattari write a surprisingly beautiful passage on how this kind of exchange, this shifting of assemblages, is not just limited to economic machinations but rather underpins the “economics of everyday life”, which allows them to generalise the assemblages of production-consumption to refer to everything from alcoholism to love. They write:
We can now posit a conceptual difference between the “limit” and the “threshold”: the limit designates the penultimate marking a necessary rebeginning, and the threshold the ultimate marking an inevitable change. It is an economic given of every enterprise to include an evaluation of the limit beyond which the enterprise would have to modify its structure. Marginalism claims to demonstrate the frequency of this penultimate mechanism: it applies not only to the last exchangeable objects but also to the last producible object, or the last producer him- or herself, the marginal or limit-producer before the assemblage changes. This is an economics of everyday life. For example, what does an alcoholic call the last glass? The alcoholic makes a subjective evaluation of how much he or she can tolerate. What can be tolerated is precisely the limit at which, as the alcoholic sees it, he or she will be able to start over again (after a rest, a pause …). But beyond that limit there lies a threshold that would cause the alcoholic to change assemblage: it would change either the nature of the drinks or the customary places and hours of the drinking. Or worse yet, the alcoholic would enter a suicidal assemblage, or a medical, hospital assemblage, etc. It is of little importance that the alcoholic may be fooling him- or herself, or makes a very ambiguous use of the theme “I’m going to stop,” the theme of the last one. What counts is the existence of a spontaneous marginal criterion and marginalist evaluation determining the value of the entire series of “glasses.” The same goes for having the last word in a domestic-squabble assemblage. Both partners evaluate from the start the volume or density of the last word that would give them the advantage and conclude the discussion, marking the end of an operation period or cycle of the assemblage, allowing it to start all over again. Both calculate their words in accordance with their evaluation of this last word, and the vaguely agreed time for it to come. And beyond the last (penultimate) word there lie still other words, this time final words that would cause them to enter another assemblage, divorce, for example, because they would have overstepped “bounds.” The same could be said for the last love. Proust has shown how a love can be oriented toward its own limit, its own margin: it repeats its own ending. A new love follows, so that each love is serial, so that there is a series of loves. But once again, “beyond” lies the ultimate, at the point where the assemblage changes, where the assemblage of love is superseded by an artistic assemblage — the Work to be written, which is the problem Proust tackles…
Intriguingly, despite its deceptively dry delivery, we might use this same section of Deleuze and Guattari’s work to discuss the Picassofication of Málaga. As far as cultural production is concerned, and the (economic) validity of radical art, it seems that Picasso is precisely this last or marginal figure for those who oversee the governance of the city today. It is as if an artist-economy assemblage has long since passed its limit.
But there is nonetheless something that follows the limit: it is the threshold. “The threshold comes ‘after’ the limit,” Deleuze and Guattari write, “‘after’ the last receivable objects: it marks the moment when the apparent exchange is no longer of interest.” When the threshold is crossed, Deleuze and Guattari “believe that it is precisely at this moment that stockpiling begins.” And in Málaga, it is Picasso himself who is now stockpiled.
Following the life of Picasso, the city’s (already tenuous) relationship with a cultural radical is cauterised. It is as if, because Picasso was so productive, no assemblage with any other artist is deemed necessary, and so the city shifts the formation of its cultural exchanges, using the accrued products of its artist-economy assemblage with Picasso to sustain a new tourist-economy assemblage.
The artists who come after Picasso are jilted, discarded, made invisible through the devaluation of their activities, and all the while the culture of the city is threatened with stagnation, smothering its citizens for the sake of what is currently (economically) productive at the expense of all else.
It is a kind of utilitarian relation, perhaps, but in focusing specifically on the shifting value of ground rents, despite this kind of relation being functionally central to everyday life, it is precisely everyday life that suffers. Indeed, everyday life is itself devalued, so that the economic benefits of tourism trump the quality of life of those people who actually live and create in Málaga itself.
On our third day in Málaga, we returned to La Casa Invisible. Over lunchtime, the venue and its supporters had organized a demonstration against the various inane threats to its existence. As was soon reported by local press (awkwardly Google-translated):
From the building on Calle Nosquera 9-11 in the capital of Malaga, a day of “MOBILIZA-ACCIÓN” #LaInviSeQueda has taken place within the calendar of actions of the citizen space. On this occasion, a demonstration has not been called, but a new mobilization with “the idea of staging that if they play La Invisible we will take over the city,” according to a statement. […] “The irresponsible claim of Mayor Francisco de la Torre is clearer than ever: to put an end to a consolidated social and cultural project with almost 16 years of experience,” they detail in the letter that they have sent to the media.
The demo was incredibly well-attended and might just have been the best organised demo I’ve ever been to. (Spot me briefly beneath a tree in this video taken by @adrianagru.) Leading the charge, a monstrous Major Francisco de la Torre, with devilled face, top hat and far-reaching limbs bobbing alongside a real-estate body. Behind him, a drum procession, followed by hundreds of marchers.
Not being a Spanish speaker, many of the speeches and chants were lost on me, but I learnt one: ¡La Invi se queda! (The Invisible remains.) Stefan also noted how some of the placards carried or attached to trolleyed sound systems reflected what those involved with La Casa Invisible were often reading.
Against a tendency in Britain to see political thought as anathema to political action, here there were no anxieties about wielding placards that referenced radical principles and concepts from political philosophy. That being said, the most accessible sentiments were inevitably by favourites. This included a quote from the late Foucault: “Where there is power there is also resistance”.
The whole action was intensely affective, and it is not the first to have occur in the city in recent months. As Gerald Ruinig writes in an invigorating article on the transversal website, describing an atmosphere that was certainly replicated on the march I attended:
Incompliant flight, breaking through the consumption and movement patterns of the expensive shopping mile, stares of disbelief from passersby and even most of the protest participants are astounded by what is possible on this day.
This was readily apparent when I bumped into a group of elderly Geordies I’d met in a bar a few nights before. “You causing trouble?” one of the men asked, catching me off guard. It took me a few seconds to recognise him, but once I did I explained, as best I could, what was happening. They left no less bemused than when they arrived.
How is this possible in a city that has become more and more beholden to tourism? That caves in to the assignment and handing-over of the city center to speculation, gentrification and touristification? Culture instrumentalized as attraction in the competition amongst cities and as brand in the service of tourism — from the claim to Picasso’s birthplace to the countless museum institutions erected of mediocre quality? How is this possible, above all, in a city that is now also shedding its liberal cloak and attempting to evict the sole remaining sociocultural oasis in the thoroughly-touristified desert of its center?
These questions are palpable, even to the non-Spanish speaker and, indeed, someone like myself who is visiting the city for the very first time.
From La Casa Invisible, we meandered through the centre of Málaga, stopping off in a number of the city’s plazas. Each one played host to a different performance, from traditional to interpretative dance and also a lot of singing, often to the tune of popular songs with their lyrics adapted for the protest itself.
The demo was intended to last from 1130 to 1330, but went on for at least another hour. At that time, the local policía upped their attempts at intimidation. First, this amounted to simply videoing protesters and gathering information; after 1330, the procession was stalked by three riot vans and police officers with riot helmets and firearms attached to their belts. The response felt acutely exaggerated; there was no possibility of this crowd, enthused with collective joy, turning violent.
The final stop was Plaza de la Merced, close to La Casa Azul, where there was more singing and a particularly affecting performance by a solitary dancer. The dance began with Capoeira-like attacks on the monstrous major, followed by a teasing of different audience members (offering up a yellow box — displaying the logo of a local gig economy company, something like Uber — before taking it away), and ending with the smashing of three ceramic roof tiles, which are ubiquitous across the city’s skyline.
Having not understood any of the songs or speeches, the message here was clear as day. The major’s liberalist obsession with property was stifling life in the city, not just in threatening the existence of La Casa Invisible as a free and accessible cultural enterprise but also life as it is lived more generally, which cannot be understood here without paying specific attention to its cultural traditions, its political radicality and its communal spirit.
There is a vibrant life beyond commerce here, one that feels even more special to a pitiful Brit. On our final evening, sitting outside one of three bars named after Picasso in the Plaza de la Merced, our conversation turned to political grief. In the UK, the phrase oft repeated is that the Tories are governing on borrowed time. But if a general election were called tomorrow, who would you vote for? Internally, I entertain the idea of not voting, despite being deeply cynical of those who don’t.
I feel increasingly tired of life in England. Each trip to Europe, especially around the Mediterranean, is stark in contrast to everyday life in the UK. Good food is easily accessible and markedly cheaper. A slower pace of life leaves more room to meditate on one’s own existence. One never feels quite so smothered by drudgery. Though this may just be a somewhat touristic perspective on la Vie en rose – as who doesn’t feel lighter when on holiday – there is a distinct kind of political hope felt here too.
For a few years now, as I’ve often documented on this blog, I have watched with keen interest as Mark Fisher’s work is taken up in other countries and translated into other languages. It is an interesting development for a writer who often feels so parochially British. But I have found that his critical view of life in Britain is an interesting measure for others to use. What often feels settled in the UK, what often feels past the point of no return, is far less settled elsewhere.
If history has ended everywhere, its passing has been marked relatively recently here. Other places in Europe lack Britain’s depressive liberal continuity. Whereas I am often left wanting to fight for something long lost, in Málaga and elsewhere this process of stultification and capture is still ongoing. There is far more active resistance, it seems. Nothing is taken for granted and no hegemony is taken as a given. Another world and another life is possible. Though it is no less under threat, the gaps in the firmament feel wider and most hospitable. And although there is anger and resistance in abundance, it is so heavily underlined by a visceral collective joy.
After the march, we take a siesta, then return to La Casa Invisible for drinks and a lock-in. Originally a club, La Invi’s present occupiers know how to make the most of the space that they are in. They sell bottles over the bar for cash and two local musicians play an hours-long set of improvised techno, facing off against each other to produce an infectious river of sound.
There is no DJ-raver assemblage here. There is no waiting for the “last” song. (A way to get around licensing laws? No fees to be paid on music no one will ever hear again.) The assemblage dissolves into a pure multiplicity of joy and celebration that I imagine lasting all night. But I do not have the stamina to find out. I walk back through the city centre alone in the early hours, having made friends with a few people who soon seem too tired to entertain a monolingual foreigner in a second language. I do not blame them. They have put up a fight today like I have never seen.
On our final day, before heading back to the airport to catch our flight home, Natasha and I visit the Centre Pompidou next to Málaga’s port — another monstrosity of capitalism. All cranes, cruise ships and shipping containers, it reminds me of Felixstowe, that “nerve ganglion of capital.”
Inside the Centre Pompidou, we visit a small exhibition of works by Lucio Fontana, which also features appearances from Yves Klein, Giacomo Balla and Piero Manzoni. Many of the works included form part of Fontana’s explorations of holes and slashes, perforating the flat topology of the canvas.
“I don’t want to make a picture”, Fontana said. “I want to open up space, to create a new dimension for art, to link it up to the cosmos as it extends to infinity, beyond the flat surface of the image”, helping to give rise to the Spatialist movement.
Here again, I feel a resonance with Málaga’s activists and radicals, who perforate the topology of the city in their own ways. But the past and present are cleft apart here still. It is abundantly clear that what is fetished in the city’s cultural institutions struggles to exist in actuality outside their walls. Indeed, just as Picasso is reterritorialised by Málaga’s local council, so is Fontana. Here, his holes are contained. The relation to infinity that he strove for so absolutely is ironically denied. The portals torn into canvases lead to nowhere. They are rendered black holes here, where possibility goes to die.
Nevertheless, La Invi se queda. The Invisible remains. The newest dimension of spatialised politics can be found in the heart of Málaga, and the local council cannot wait to flatten it, fill it with another gift shop perhaps, selling even more Picasso tea-towels, so that the city’s residents and tourists alike might use these former abstractions in the course of their drudgery. No other possible appropriation is allowed. Certainly not a true deterritorialisation of their limited purview of urban possibility. But I have no doubts that La Invi will continue to put up a fight, picking holes of its own in the fabric, the shroud, of the city’s Picassofication, ripping it up to start again.
After the last, infinity…