XVI: Shifting Power. When Grassroots Movements Win Elections (Athena Athanasiou, Teodor Celakoski, Marcelo Expósito & Florian Malzacher)

When activist movements gain momentum, even win elections after many years of struggle and work on the ground, there is a lot of enthusiasm – but also larger-than-life expectations. A diverse electorate with often very different expectations demands immediate and fundamental shifts of politics. The parties once in power just wait for any opportunity to attack. The former establishment uses its long-knit networks to slow down any transition. And former allies accuse the elected representatives of their compromises. So, what does it actually mean to govern, to change structures, work with a large administration, include the political base, and accomplish concrete change?
Inspired by the impressive development of the Croatian movement “Možemo!” with its landslide victory in the Zagreb city elections in May 2021, in this edition of The Art of Assembly cultural worker and activist Teodor Celakoski describes the strategies used to achieve “Možemo!’s” success and talks about the difficulties to implement new policy. Artist, activist and former member of the Spanish parliament Marcelo Expósito gives insides in the struggles, achievements, and failures of Podemos and other citizens’ electoral organizations in Spain. Drawing on the trajectory of SYRIZA after winning the general election in Greece in 2015, philosopher Athena Athanasiou reflects on the general conditions activist movements are confronted with when coming to power.

MARCELO EXPÓSITO ° The (forever postponed) dream of a real democracy

The official political discourses persist in glimpsing the way out of the crisis after each new crisis experienced during the… Read more MARCELO EXPÓSITO ° The (forever postponed) dream of a real democracy

TEODOR CELAKOSKI ° Možemo! – Step by step

The presentation will demonstrate the trajectory of a progressive political project taking place in Zagreb and Croatia. This trajectory could be condensed into answers to several questions. What preceded the emergence of the political platform?  What are the tactics and strategies that have brought Možemo! to power? What differs activist struggles from politics in power? What are the innovative organizational structures and ecosystem of the political platform? And what are the next steps? 

ATHENA ATHANASIOU ° Shifting the conditions of possibility

What do we lose when we win? What do we win when we lose? Such questioning involves the collective work of reimagining and recuperating places and times from where to engage, again and again, in practices of countering institutionalized injustice and of instituting otherwise. Taking place within -and constrained by- “the measure of the possible” (to recall Walter Benjamin), activist movements and left coalitions struggle to make life more bearable in the present for those whose lives have been subjected to class, racial, and gendered powers, while, at the same time, shifting the conditions of possibility posed by the existing present. Enacting possibilities for the future in the present involves reconfiguring the agonistic temporality of living, acting, and thinking with others in the precarious interstices of “no longer” and “not yet.” Such movements and coalitions are never at one nor at ease with the present time. Rather, they take the present as a historically situated field of performative and transformative possibility. Athena Athanasiou discusses ways of situated knowledge production through which worldmaking is envisioned and performed beyond the normalized order of the present as it has been imposed by the current neoliberal and neoconservative forces.

© Barbara Braun / MuTphoto

XV: Parliaments of Things and Beings (Eva von Redecker, Alexander Karschnia/andcompany&Co. & Florian Malzacher)

Latour sums up, “The question is no longer to grand rights to non-humans, but to accept to be dependent on them.” But what does that actually mean? How can non-human representation look like, what would be a non-anthropocentric assembly? In the 15th edition of The Art of Assembly the theatre group andcompany&Co. praises the intelligence of insects and considers renaming itself ANTCOMPANY, while philosopher Eva von Redecker proposes a “revolution for life” in order to escape the prison of capitalism and find new forms of solidarity: Care instead of domination, regeneration instead of utilization, participation instead of exploitation.

EVA VON REDECKER ° The Assembly is dead

The Assembly is dead. It rests on an ableist appeal to mobilization. It celebrates human representation when even the most basic ecological processes of regeneration are jeopardized by humanity’s mode of reproduction. Assemblies expose protesters to state violence, surveillance and fascist counter-attack. That is, if the assembly is not itself already populated by fascists, as many of the recent Corona-demonstrations were. Good assemblies might be elating, but their spirit often evaporates devoid of effects.

ANN LIV YOUNG ° Coming too close

The performances of Ann Liv young often rely on irritation and direct confrontation. There is no shelter, especially for the audience. She pushes the limits, psychologically and sometimes physically. In her lascivious, exalted, and merciless shows Ann Liv Young comes close, too close, psychologically and physically. Trash and depth, naked flesh and gender awareness, flagellation and redemption, chaos and order – her works deconstruct pop-cultural stereotypes, interpret fairy tales very idiosyncratically or retell the biographies of historical personalities. Not infrequently, to land on the ground of desolate reality, Ann Liv Young unsettles her audience by provoking and embarrassing them, transcending the boundaries of intimacy.

TANIA BRUGUERA ° Truth or Dare

Tania Bruguera is a Cuban artist and activist whose work often considers totalitarianism, immigration, and human rights. Bruguera, who intended to raise awareness and expand cultural inclusion, defined her work as arte útil (useful art). Her work has been represented in leading collections of MoMA and Tate Modern among other places. In 2015 she founded the Institute of Artivism/Instituto de Artivismo Hannah Arendt (INSTAR) in order to “foster civic literacy and policy change.” In 2021 she agreed to leave Cuba to assume the position of senior lecturer in media and performance at Harvard University in exchange for the release of 25 political prisoners.

CLAIRE BISHOP ° Revisiting Participation

of Spectatorship (Verso, 2012). In anticipation of a reprint to mark the book’s tenth anniversary, this talk will gauge the development of participation over the last decade in art and performance (and beyond). It will revisit the book’s blind spots—namely, omissions concerning technology and race–and reflect on how the book’s central aesthetic argument, in favor of antagonism, has lost force in the last decade.

DAVID MULDER VAN DER VEGT ° The Architecture of Assembly

Parliament is the space where politics literally takes shape. Here, collective decisions take form in a specific setting that organizes relationships between political actors through architecture. The architecture of spaces of political congregation is not just an abstract expression of a political culture – it participates in politics. Since 2010, architecture office XML has explored the double-sided relationship between space and politics in a series of projects, ranging from art installations, and research, to an interior for a meeting hall of European government leaders in Brussels. In 2016, the office published the book PARLIAMENT, that documents and compares the plenary halls of the parliaments of all 193 United Nation member states. Looking closer at the settings of these deliberative spaces and exploring their tactile and symbolic meaning, also raises questions about the ability of political spaces to envelop collective-decision-making for the specific challenges of today. Parliaments seem to be merely expressions of the past that anchor the political status quo. What role can architecture play in rethinking our models of collectivity? Can the architecture of parliaments provoke another politics? Comparing settings between East and West, North and South, democratic and authoritarian regimes, allows looking at national assemblies as more than mere ornamental and symbolic representations of national values, taking them seriously as actors in the shaping of future times.