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? 

Floating University © Pierre Ardenis

XI: Architectures of Hospitality (Merve Bedir, Benjamin Foerster-Baldenius/raumlabor berlin, Marina Otero Verzier & Florian Malzacher)

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.

Floating University © Pierre Ardenis

BENJAMIN FOERSTER-BALDENIUS / RAUMLABORBERLIN ° Hospitality as Spacial Practice

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. 

VIII: 10 Years Occupy Wall Street (Judith Butler, Max Haiven & Florian Malzacher)

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.

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.

JUDITH BUTLER ° Where are We Now? Assembly, Care, and Connection

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?

CHANTAL MOUFFE ° Towards an Agonistic Conception of Assembly

Paris. She is the editor of Gramsci and Marxist Theory (1979), Dimensions of Radical Democracy. Pluralism, Citizenship, Community (1992), Deconstruction and Pragmatism (1996) and The Challenge of Carl Schmitt (1999). She is the author of Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. Towards a Radical Democratic Politics (with Ernesto Laclau, 1985), The Return of the Political (1993), The Democratic Paradox (2000), On the Political (2005), Agonistics. Thinking the World Politically (2013), Podemos. In the Name of the People (with Inigo Errejon, 2016), and For a Left Populism (2019).

© 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.