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.
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.
Didier Eribon is a French sociologist and philosopher. He was professor of sociology in Amiens and visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley, at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, at the universities of Harvard and Yale, at New York University (NYU) and at Columbia University. His socio-autobiography Return to Reims (2009) in which he reveals the break-up of French society attracted international attention. His work Insult and theMaking of the Gay Self (1999) has become a classic and a founding document of Queer Studies. Among his most recent publications are La société comme verdict(2013) and Principes d’une pensée critique (2016).
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?
“Assemblism” is a term used by Dutch artist Jonas Staal to describe the role of art, performance and theater in the performative assembly of mass protests and social movements, which is central to his own artistic work. US-American political theorist Jodi Dean on the other hand emphasizes in her writing that social movements need to be translated into a new communist party if they want to become sustainable. So, what is the potential of art in not only investigating or inventing new forms of assembly but also in contributing to the process of transforming them into sustainable organizational structures? And how do recent political mobilizations – from anti-mask-demonstration up to the storming of Capitol Hill – change an often romanticized view on the assembling of bodies in space?
In the United States, the long March of 2020 came to an end on May 26 when protests against the police murder of George Floyd broke out in Minneapolis, Minnesota, quickly spreading all over the country. Also occurring throughout the summer and fall were rallies “defending blue lives,” anti-mask demonstrations, and protests demanding an end to coronavirus shutdowns. On January 6, 2021 a mob stormed the US Capitol, intent on “stopping the steal” of the presidential election from defeated incumbent Donald Trump. In what way does an analysis oriented toward precarity and bodies in space help us understand the politics of the movements? How might emphases on the assembling of bodies in space require a divisive political supplement, an anchoring in history and fidelity to a truth?