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.
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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?
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.
epresentation they also organize and influence very concretely how legislative bodies work. The 13th edition of The Art of Assembly looks at how architecture shapes decision-making – and at what alternatives there might be. David Mulder van der Vegt, who has researched the design of the parliament halls of all 193 member states of the United Nations, reflects on the correspondence between their layout and the type of democratic structure they represent; Markus Miessen proposes the concept of “crossbenching” as a practice of independent individuals acting without mandate, and without having to respond to a pre-supposed set of protocols or consensual arrangements.
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.
“Crossbenching” is a practice of individuals acting without mandate, a conceptual frame that he generated out of the necessity to come to terms with a critique regarding normative forms of participation. His work as an architect has interrogated everyday spaces for pluralist governance and the spatial choreographies of how to set a setting. Crossbenching, as a practice, acknowledges the critical importance of social gathering based on the performative, the choreographic, and space as its mobilizing agent: the potential to think the question of democratic becoming through the physical scale (and design) of assembly. By presenting friction as a productive variable, he emphasises the emancipatory potential of architecture and design as a tool to shape what he calls “Cultures of Assembly”, a democratic setting, which is highly choreographed, while dealing with questions of physical proximity and accountability generating productive friction between its oppositional bodies. In a Mouffian sense, this produces a space for choreographed agonistic debate. Here, architecture and design become an enabler: both in terms of how an audience may react to it, but also in terms of how a setting influences the way its members talk to each other, and the way in which they interact. This is not to be mistaken with a form of social engineering. But rather: the power of the object.
“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?
Assemblism describes the visual morphologies that emerge from the practice of “performative assembly “in popular mass movements, as termed by Athena Athanasiou and Judith Butler. But to canalize the energies and imaginaries that emerge in assemblies, durational infrastructures are needed to ensure egalitarian forms of social organization, as Jodi Dean has argued in Crowds and Party. What is the role of art in shaping and propagating new life-forms from the squares into a new emancipatory institutionality? This talk will explore the role of alternative parliaments, utopian training camps, experimental biospheres and collective action lawsuits in furthering assemblist imaginary into egalitarian presents and futures.