Multitude is a „multiplicity of singularities acting together“ (Antonio Negri/Michael Hardt), „the many, seen as being many“ (Paolo Virno): a network that is neither homogeneous nor self-identical. The concept of the multitude is a counterproposal to the idea of the people, a revolutionary subject that is difficult to grasp or to define – and has been both praised and criticized for this openness. The 10th edition of The Art of Assembly looks at the role of the assembly as a tool and strategy for the multitude to make decisions and to communicate. Political theorist Antonio Negri revisits the concept he – together with Michael Hardt – popularized in the earl 2000s while climate activist Anna Clara Basilicò looks at its potential for current movements.
Can institutions be driving forces of change? Or are they doomed to be bastions of the status quo, capable of slow reforms at best? Arguments about institutions, instituting and institutionalizing are at the core of many progressive movements. But what would it actually mean to imagine institutions in a radical democratic way? How can we understand museums, theatres, galleries, festivals, biennales as assemblies – not only symbolically but by consequently re-negotiating their organizational structures? Curator Ahmed Al-Nawas, focusing in his work on collaborative, anti-racist and de-colonizing practices, takes a close look at the role of authorship and representation within collectives. Nora Sternfeld, art educator and curator, negotiates the possibilities for a radical-democratic museum, imagining a future that is more than the mere extension of the present. And Sarah Waterfeld, spokesperson of the collective Staub zu Glitzer (Dust to Glitter) that occupied 2017 Volksbühne in Berlin with its transmedia theatre production B6112, demands a fundamental rethinking of the way the iconic ‘people’s theatre’ is run.
B6112 is an anti-capitalist, queer-feminist, anti-racist, transmedial theatre production by the artist collective Staub zu Glitzer (dust to glitter). It was established on September 22nd 2017 with the occupation of the Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz in Berlin and is not over yet. With and within this artwork, specific demands are made on theatres as institutions: overcoming bourgeois exclusivity, the radical opening of space for a self-organization process and the collective, participatory development of a new city- or state theatre model. It is not enough to designate a small group of people as collective directorships and to appoint them to managerial positions. In addition to egalitarian wage policies, there has to be a fundamental discussion about who is entitled to a theatre stage and who the final decision maker should be in this respect. Berlin’s free space and project-room culture is dying out and one approach is to demand tax-financed institutions for self-organization, although and precisely because this does not correspond to the self-image of these elitist cultural areas. As a place founded by organized workers, the Volksbühne should play a pioneering role in the discourse of participation, anarchist organization, and anti-fascist engagement.
About ten years ago the series of square occupations all over the world begun – after Tunis, Cairo, Athens, Madrid the wave swept over to New York. Mid-September 2011 the fist protest begun in the midst of Lower Manhattan’s bank towers: Occupy Wall Street became a symbol of resistance against financial capitalism and big corporations. And it’s assemblies set examples for a different way of discussing and decision making that influences activists all over the word but also resonated in theatre and art. On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the occupation of Zucchotti Square the 8th edition of The Art of Assembly takes a close look at its legacy: Philosopher Judith Butler, author of the probably most influential book on assemblies in recent years, asks how – in the light of recent pandemic experiences – an ethics of care can enter into our politics of assembly. Writer and activist Max Haiven summons the ghosts of Occupy and looks – in the the spirit of the late anthropologist and OWS key figure David Graeber – back at a haunted decade.
The assemblies of the numerous square occupations during the last decade have often been laboratories of radical forms of democracy, experimenting with non-hierarchical structures and consensus models instead of majority voting. While watching these movements with sympathy, political theorist Chantal Mouffe emphasises also the necessity of dissensus, of an agonistic pluralism in which adversaries openly fight for their hegemonic projects. Philosopher and sociologist Didier Eribon reflects on the conditions and the limits of such mobilisations and insists on the unsurpassable plurality of movements like the gilets jaunes in France, or more recently, the massive strikes and protests against the demolition of the public sector, as well as the demonstrations against racism etc. In the 7th edition of “The Art of Assembly” Eribon and Mouffe discuss how much agonism social movements can bare and how the diversity of democratic demands should be addressed.
Taking up David Graeber’s theorization of Occupy as a movement not simply for political change but for a different kind of politics, Max Haiven presents these afterlives of Occupy as indicative of our political-economic moment where both power and resistance are reconfiguring themselves.
presumed access to shared space. And yet, there have been ways to occupy public space that accept the safety protocols for Covid-19. How then do we think about “safety” in relation to assembly? We speak about the right of peaceable assembly, but do we speak as often about safe conditions for assembly? The idea of safety brings up ambivalent viewpoints, and it became a key topic of debate for the Occupy movement and for the uprisings of the Arab Spring. “To play it safe” means not taking risks, not asking for too much, so what role, if any, does danger now play? If we think that heroic forms of risking our lives is part of a political struggle, what happens when the risk that I take is immediately a risk to you as well? Where does an ethics of care enter into our politics of assembly?
Paris. She is the editor of Gramsci and Marxist Theory (1979), Dimensions of Radical Democracy. Pluralism, Citizenship, Community (1992), Deconstruction and Pragmatism (1996) and The Challenge of Carl Schmitt (1999). She is the author of Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. Towards a Radical Democratic Politics (with Ernesto Laclau, 1985), The Return of the Political (1993), The Democratic Paradox (2000), On the Political (2005), Agonistics. Thinking the World Politically (2013), Podemos. In the Name of the People (with Inigo Errejon, 2016), and For a Left Populism (2019).
Discussions about representation in assemblies, democracies and legal cases are usually reserved to human beings. But recent discussions around the Anthropocene and new materialism have fiercely challenged such anthropocentric limitations. Professor for Law Radha D’Souza argues that the concept of rights is fundamentally flawed as it is always associated with private property, contracts, and contractual social relations. Drawing on insights from indigenous cultures and everyday practices, she points out the centrality of assembly for collective life among animals and humans. Performance maker and theorist Sibylle Peters deals in her practice as theorist and theatre maker since many years with concepts of assembling – recently also trying to create zones of companionship in which humans and other co-species can come together without food chains or zoo cages getting in-between.
In 2019 Sibylle Peters devised a project called Animals of Manchester (including humanz) for which she tried to install a zone of interspecies equality in a park. Live artists, animal rights activists, researchers, kids and a number of species present in Manchester worked together to imagine and rehearse an alternative version of the city: How would it look like, if all species – including humanz – had the same rights?