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.

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.

MARKUS MIESSEN ° Crossbenching

“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.

SCHOOL OF RESISTANCE ° Assembling Political Power

On the weekend of the German federal elections of 2021IIPM, NTGent, Schauspiel Köln and the School of Political Hope hosted together with #LeaveNoOneBehind and numerous organizations from all over the world a School of Resistance for a new politics of humanity and justice. How can the system of dehumanization, illegalization and exploitation of migrants in Europe be overturned? A manifesto signed by over 80 public figures and a joint fundraising campaign which supports human rights lawyers to bring responsible politicians and officials to court, explored new possibilities and potentials for the convergence of art and activism. Is art a future tool for survival for global citizens to become agents of change in times of crisis?

MILO RAU ° From symbolic Institutions to Microecologies

Milo Rau believes in staging and realistic representation in his theatre plays, while for his tribunals and trials or the General Assembly he invented what he calls „symbolic institutions“ – an open, often antagonistic gathering of opinions and conflicting thruths. Recent projects like The Revolt of Dignity or the School of Resistance tries to hack the economic and political systems by means of art, constructing what Milo calls „alternative micro-ecologies. In his talk, Milo will trace his path from theatre plays and trial projects like Orestes in Mosul or The Moscow Trials to symbolic institutions like The Congo Tribunal and General Assembly – the basis for his actual holistic approach in projects like The Revolt of Dignity or A filmschool for Mosul that he develops with various partners from the arts, civil society and politics.