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.

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.

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?

ISABELLE FREMEAUX & JAY JORDAN / LABOFII ° Compos(t)ing Together to actually do shit!

co-design and deploy forms of creative disobedience since 2004. Consensus decision making and assembling is at the heart of this process, which is always entangled with radical movements and yet also has a foot in cultural institutions. Whether it was co-organising the horizontal processes of Climate Camps, transforming theatre stages into meetings to organise disobedience, facilitating the mass talk shops at Occupy London or at the zad of Notre-Dame-des-Landes, coordinating shared life and struggle against an airport and its world – the Labofii has tasted many flavours of assembling. This talk/film explores Labofii’s experience of these different contexts and ask how can artists use assemblies in the art world without becoming extractivist and loosing the powerful potential of reciprocal relationships to activist movements

ANTONIO NEGRI ° The Politics of Multitude

Antonio Negri is an Italian philosopher and activist. He has taught at the University of Padua, at the Ecole Normale Supèrieure and other European, American and Asian universities. His books have been translated into different languages and have established him as one of the most relevant thinkers at international level. Together with Michael Hardt he is the author of Empire (2000), Multitude (2004), Commonwealth (2009) and Assembly (2017). (2017). He is among the members of the international collective Euronomade.

VII: Agonistic Gatherings (Didier Eribon, Chantal Mouffe & Florian Malzacher)

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 ° How and When Can We Say “We”? On Social Protest and Political Dissent

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).

© CHRIS PAYNE

VI: Assembling More Than Humans (Radha D‘Souza, Sibylle Peters & Florian Malzacher)

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.

The Chruch of Stop Shopping © Savitri D

IV: Choirs of Precarity & Power (Claudia Bosse, The Church of Stop Shopping, Alia Mossallam & Florian Malzacher)

Choirs are a very specific form of assembling – from representing “the people” in Greek tragedy via all kinds of religious choirs, political choirs, revolutionary choirs up to the legendary human mic at Occupy Wall Street and the iconic chants at Tahrir Square in 2011. Theatre director Claudia Bosse, art theorist Alia Mossallam, and the activists of The Church of Stop Shopping discuss the potential (and perhaps dangers), the tenderness, the precarity and the power of synchronised singing, chanting, shouting along concrete artistic and activistic practices in Cairo, New York and Vienna.

The Chruch of Stop Shopping © Savitri D

THE CHURCH OF STOP SHOPPING ° Singing Toward Assembly

Savitri D explores some of the intersections between Assembly and Song through her work as Director of the Stop Shopping Choir, using mostly casual video and audio recordings she relates the experience of song and singing to the formation of Assemblies and Movement Building.