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.
Hospitality – with all its seeming generosity – is a complex concept: Who is invited into our societies, our assemblies? What are the relationships between guests and hosts? Is unconditional hospitality possible? The architecture of public space, the infrastructures of coming together, the borders and thresholds around them inform how we come together, what is prevented from happening, what is possible. The 11th edition of The Art of Assembly looks at the physical relations of gatherings, how bodies and objects are organised, how radical concepts of democracy can be represented in space. Architect and researcher Merve Bedir since long researches infrastructures of hospitality and mobility as well of the residue of solidarity in urban and public space. For raumlabor architecture is a tool, in search for a city of possibilities, considering themselves activists, operating within the urban landscape. And for architect and scholar Marina Otero Verzier is concerned with how the work of architects, in coordination with other social and institutional techniques, produces differential spaces that either facilitate or prevent their encounter of bodies.
Hospitality is first and foremost a social practice and can be situated in any place and become manifest in many ways. Hospitality is a design factor for buildings with rapidly decreasing relevance. Security, commercial value and hygienic measures are becoming the ruling flavours of our time. Many buildings that are designated to perform hospitality such as hospitals, airports, welcome centers, border posts, fair grounds, stadiums, governmental institutions or climate summit halls fail completely in this respect. We are surrounded by the multiplication of growing fortresses that strive to protect us from the rest of the world and the rest of the world from us. We can only steer against this trend if we make hospitality a spacial practice.
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.
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?
The Schandwache (Vigil of Disgrace) took place in October 2020 at the monument to the former mayor of Vienna Karl Lueger. Lueger is considered one of the most pronounced anti-Semites of the 20th century. His memorial is disputed. The aim of the action was to protect graffiti from removal by the authorities. It that had been placed on the monument by unknown persons in the summer of 2020 to mark it as a “Schande (Disgrace)”. The “Schandwache” took place in cooperation with 16 civil society, cultural and political organisations in the week before the elections in Vienna. Before the opening, two of the “Schande” inscriptions were replicated as gold reliefs and applied to the monument. The installation was destroyed the same day by right-wing extremists. In the course of the following public debate, representatives of the Vienna city government spoke out in favour of a redesign of the monument.
“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.