‘What is Kilometer Zero? But where is it? Who is it? Is it you?’ The woman was asking the question in a wine cellar in Paris. It was toward the end of one of our night-shows. On stage a writer with a pale bald head and round glasses was reading something about an orange rolling down a flight of steps. In the back was an art exhibition of books cut to ribbons. They were pouring themselves from their spines. An organisation which calls itself a zero of any kind is already attempting to annihilate definitions. The kilometer zero of a city is a place where journeys get scratched out; at the same time it is a focal point, and a clear-dawn departure. Since its foundation in 2000 — literally at Kilometer Zero Paris (at the foot of Notre Dame, and right across from the Shakepeare & Co. bookstore where the founders met) — kmz has been an unstable combination of wild-eyed idealism, artful opportunism, constraints, belligerence, astonishing contingencies, hectic projects, swirling events, utopian communities, subterfuge, betrayal, raucous hedonism, sordid conditions, acts of faith both good and bad faith, and fulminations of an underground myth. It’s been a comet through the lives of many who came close to it, and at some point, while spinning in its tail, everyone of those people will have asked, ‘What is Kilometer Zero? But where is it? Who is it? Is it you?’ To throw some kind of a bag over the question, we normally say we are an international collective of artists and writers who come together around independent project-driven activities (as opposed to an explicit manifesto or creed). These projects take many forms, but are roughly corralled into the following pens: magazine, theatre, advocacy, night-shows, events mise en scène, and art installations, exhibitions, and performances. The magazine was in many ways what seeded kmz as a collective platform for divergent expression. That platform was extended into the night-shows, at first in smoky Paris bars, then twisting round darkened corners into what became our own series of venues, as well as collaborations with numerous other art squats and alternative spaces. theatre, political advocacy, and performance and installation art were all natural nodes in the rhizomatic growth of the organisation. The ordering principle, if there ever has been one, is a voice, and the medium through which it travels. We have published to date five issues of the Kilometer Zero magazine, each in a unique format, and according to a lawless production schedule and editorial mandate. This has been facilitated by the magazine’s fully independent status, by which neither sponsors nor advertisers are able to exert pressure. Areas covered include literary fiction, politics, art, poetry, philosophy and music. Here are a few of the pieces that we like: the Robin Hood Project was a product placement sting operation — we sourced designer goods, purportedly for advertorial content, and then redistributed them to poor neighbourhoods in Paris instead of giving them space in the “content” of the magazine. Evolution is a text-art decatych involving a chain of artists and writers responding sequentially to each others’ work. The Mechanics of Porn is a zero degree account of a three month covert coding operation inside Eastern Europe’s largest porn web-business. The most recent issue of the magazine focuses on Marseille, and reviews it as a potent border town in the nexus of Arab-Occident relations. Kilometer Zero magazine has been variously described as “truly impressive” (Noam Chomsky, linguist and political philosopher), “really terrific” (Dennis Cooper, novelist), and “one of the most stunningly designed and intellectually-driven magazines in the world right now. I am not exaggerating." (Stephen Marshall, Guerilla News Network). We’re distributed commercially in the US, and around the rest of the world via our wholly unique and personally forged network of some 50 independent bookstores — stretching from Copenhagen to Sydney, and from Toronto to Istanbul. There are two aspects to the magazine which almost don’t make sense: one is that it is founded on ludicrously non-commercial principles — i.e. no sponsors or advertising, and a substantially independent distribution network which excludes chain bookstores. Two is that it really good looking. It was a very deliberate decision on our behalf to aim for extremely high-end production values — not just the quality of the design and content, but also the of the paper, the colour values, and the printing. Specifically we felt it was important to be able to produce a magazine just as glossy and high impact as a mainstream commercial, and yet fill it with alternative content of a kind that could never conceivably appear in any of the publications it might look a little like (or indeed, anywhere else at all). A wolf in sheep’s clothing. Or perhaps a lamb in place of a yawping hydra .... One of the things which made this possible was the digital revolution. Right as we were coming into our stride, it was suddenly conceivable with just a laptop, a scanner, and pirated software to make a really stunning printed object. Okok — so we used the pornlords’ slide scanner in Budapest one time ... but otherwise, we went entirely without expensive “professional” equipment. A further major factor was our involvement with the Paris art squat scene. For several years we had our offices in art squats — at first Chateaudun in the 9e, and subsequently the Vide Gousset in the 4e. These were incrediably enlivening places which not only allowed us to flatten out costs massively, but also inspired a whole range of burgeoning activities. In particular, the night-shows took off. These started as cabaret-style venue events, where off the back of the magazine platform, we would invite writers to come and read, performers to perform, bands to play, fire-eaters to eat fire and so on. To begin with we were hosting these night-shows in sypathetic Paris bars — generally places with basements where we could be wild and dark. The bar got the drinks revenue, and we got to run our dog and pony show. But as we entered the art squat scene, possibilities started opening up and forking simultaneously on numerous fronts. The scale and ambition of the night-shows took off, involving far more elaborate stages as we obsessively reconfigured and recreated the performance space. Art shows and installations became more prominent, and the already anarchic open mic sesssions became sprawling beasts in the Paris night. They were nothing if not memorable. I guess we became hipper and more underground. We were also able to start running our own bar, which began to bring in a little revenue, as well as a lot of divisive and nefarious squat politics. Pennies do odd things to erstwhile penniless bohemian utopias. Furthermore, the squats offered a nurturing ground for what was to become Kilometer Zero theatre. The first show was a staged reading of a one act play, and from this grew an astonishingly robust theatre company. A slew of full productions followed, both in squats and professional theatres, both in Paris and internationally, both new writing and original treatments of established work. Again some highlights: Earth was an absurdist parable that we took on tour from Café de la Danse, Paris, to Amsterdam. First Love was a dramatisation of the seminal Beckett novella which marked a turning point in his post-war writing, and set the stage for Waiting for Godot et al. Lysistrata was a politically timed one-night show staged almost on the eve on the invasion of Iraq, through which we raised €1,500 for a development fund for women in Afghanistan. Typewriter Piece we played in the Espace Cardin, Paris; Until I Get my Gorgeous Wings in the Union Theatre, London. Again the digital revolution was prominent as we started to play with DV cameras and incorporate film into the theatre productions, overlaying performers and projections with concurrent monologues. Our short film “!” played at le Zenith to an audience of 3,000 people. The night-shows too started branching out and going on tour, encompassing Prague, Amsterdam, London and New York. As our scope and audience grew, as well as our sophistication for organising live events, we became increasingly aware of the potential for our network to engage in political advocacy. The internet, and the rising consciousness of democratic capitalism as both the ideological victor of the post-Cold War era, and as the wreaker of terrible global disparities, were the larger forces driving a wave of independent media. Naomi Klein and Michael Moore were both breaking into the mainstream, and George Bush Jnr. was the inspiration for a worldwide trade in anti-neocon content and paraphenalia. We played a central role in organising the anti-Bush demonstration Paris in 2002, and brought advocacy into our core activities with the Pssst...America tour. So where is kmz now? What is it? Who is it? Is it you? The network still exists, and although we now live in different cities, we maintain an active board, and come together around project-driven activities and events mise en scène. Indeed there’s a sidebar of recent things up at the top of this page.