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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
The General Assembly has been at the core of many social movements during the last decade: A zone of gathering, of building community, of experimenting with the way democracy can function. A space not only for trying out but living a different kind of decision making. Art historian Julia Ramírez-Blanco (Barcelona) just finished a book on the Spanish 15M movement, Oliver Ressler (Vienna) is one of the main documentarists of worldwide social mobilizations since many years. In the second edition of Gesellschaftsspiele – The Art of Assembly they reflect the crucial role of collective decision making for developing political alternatives.
Assemblies are normally held on a scale that allows for direct discussion and participation. However, during the Spanish protest camps of the 15M movement in 2011, massive assemblies defied these notions by blowing up scale, and also challenged the idea of a more or less fixed group that thinks about issues with a certain continuity. These mass assemblies, in turn, emphasized the performativity and the rituality. Julia Ramírez-Blanco addresses the potential and contradictions of those mass assemblies and discusses the evolution of the format toward a more manageable form in the neighborhood assemblies.