Once upon a time the current Republic Square in Ljubljana was named the Revolution Square. A part of it is a monument to the revolution. It speaks about anti-imperialistic resistance, the establishment of the free community of inhabitants of Yugoslavia, and of Slovenia as an autonomous part of that community, in which people hold the power. A part of the monument’s ambience is the eternal flame. It is not burning any more (and that is not really in accordance with the official strategy of preserving the highest ranked monuments), unlike the famous one from Sarajevo that, together with others around the world, keeps the memory of the fallen in the world wars. Social priorities are different here for plenty of time now, yet this does not mean that the flame will not be ignited again, or, that it does not burn in other ways.
One day in March 2020 we woke up to find ourselves in a managerial dictatorship that is linked with the global infective farce. Those circumstances have not emerged over night, but we have been co-creating them passively or actively in all areas, also and especially within the culture industry. The radical managerialization and “professionalization” of creative activities have significantly strengthened the apparatus power of culture and strongly limited the autonomous acting of artists who then tried to transform themselves into producers and the self-employed (one-man companies), many of them being forced to leave artistic work. In Ljubljana, for instance, there is a very small number of instances of successfully integrated producers within the so-called cultural NGO sector, then a fragile order and peace within the field of public institutions, and progressively brutal precarity in the artists’ micro world that is more or less perpetuated by all the agents involved.
The revolution square had been a parking lot for a long time, with a garage underneath it that serves as a linkage between a shopping centre, two business-as-usual tower buildings, and a cultural and conference venue called the Cankar’s Home (Ivan Cankar was a pro-Yugoslav modernist writer). That meaningfully ambivalent, visually cute, yet slightly ominous shopping-cultural-banking-parking whole also integrates the parliament, here named the States’s Assembly (the name seems to be telling that that assembly is not quite related to the people). The urban whole of the revolution square is a unique spatial expression of (the local variant of) capital-parliamentarism. The revolution that has been gradually transformed into the capital-parliamentarism still echoes from its corner; shaped as a monument it acts as a discrete rupture in the “human monumentality” of the square and the surrounding buildings.
Primož Bezjak and perhaps someone else: the x mark network at the revolution square (April 2020)
In the period of restricted freedom of movement (restricted officially, but only by bypassing the constitutional regulation, as it could be concluded from available sources) actor Primož Bezjak steps into the inspiring setting of the square and pastes some black stage tape x-es on the ground. He does not have to deal with a fourth wall, ramp, text and audience. He makes a strictly geometric network of a repeating raster as an illustration of the forced antisocial distancing (that should be preventing the spreading of infection), at the same time symbolically showing the possibility of presence (or stressing the absence) of protestors in front of the parliament.
The action realized physically happens to have primarily a non physical effect, as it has been performed on a practically empty public surface and mediated via social networks and press reports. It has warned of conditions we can feel during the local and global infective farce: radicalization of repression that strongly intrudes into the freedom of movement in public space, freedom of protesting and other freedoms fought for and won in the past. It has articulated the potential of protest in the absence of protestors: the x-es “gathered” instead of people warn that people and bodies that we pledge in protesting exist. By showing the emptiness of the protest space the action is revealing the empty space of politics (as a matter of the common) and the sharpening of managerial totalitarianism.
The action comments (criticizes, anticipates?) the forced antisocial distancing as the artist puts x marks taking into account the regulated distancing between individuals. Such a marked distance makes a multilayered impression: insisting on the right to protest (attached to accepting the managerial command to respect the security rule/distance), we can understand it as an ironizing of that order (the rasterized position marks make associations with body disciplining and public discourse militarization), or as both aspects together.
The x-es are from the visual perspective a link to Malevich’s black cross that has been continuously (pseudo)reproduced by the Neue Slowenische Kunst art group, inscribing itself in the contemporary art canon as a piece of the East in the West. However, in the current time of overall un-canonization (in the context of the intensive de-masking of the power structures i.e. class differences—in the middle of the forced masking of inhabitants), an inscription in a canon, or, in other words, commitment to institution, is perceived as more obviously irrelevant from the emancipatory perspective: Bezjak’s meta-author action is individual, there is no particular formal instance behind it, which is the only option when considering any radically liberating artistic gesture which is ceaselessly escaping the managerial (producer-, festival-, curator-, museum-related) agenda that neutralizes emancipatory outcome.
The politicization in the common (as radically public) is never qualitatively the same as the politicization in the institutional (as pseudo-public). Following that thought, the x-es net on the square/agora that celebrates revolution/republic—in-between junctions of hegemonic banking business, parliamentarism, the culture and convention halls mixture (that celebrates Ivan Cankar), consumerism, and the locally holy automobile-oriented lifestyle—are recalling the understanding of (Aristotelian, western) theatre as politically impotent: during the two months of the creepy “stopping of public life”—propaganda-related expelling of people from public space and forbidding of socialization—the institutional theatre has only been repeating the big brother mantra “stay at home”, while its representatives and collectives have been silent in the political sense, in terms of addressing the public in the context of any critical reflection of the current circumstances. The same silence could be noticed when it comes to the official representatives and collectives of universities, faculties, schools, museums, cinemas and other public institutions, that mostly insisted on a pathetically protective online approach, while some even, being a better pope than the pope himself, were preaching about accommodating to a different normality as our destiny, or, whatever is the brave new world’s word for that governance-related construction.
As usual, an individual artist was the one capable of a protest speaking, and in this case it happened to be an announcement of resistance spreading in a context beyond the institutional. How to avoid losing oneself in the coordinates of governance is the question that has been provoked by the net of x-es as a metaphor of invisible coordinates between invisible people in a progressively tangible matrix.
People of Ljubljana: recreational bicycle protests (May 2020)
The answer to that question has been sketched soon after the x mark action, and embodied in the form of weekly bicycle protesting in Ljubljana’s streets and on the revolution square connected with the parliament building. But rather than addressing the parliament as a symbol of the concentration of power, this time, thanks to the special circumstances, the stress is being put on repetitive passing-by of people in movement: the moving on bicycles is continual (as, supposedly, only recreation is allowed, not the “public gathering” which in a neo-Orwellian context seems to have the meaning of only statically gathered bodies), and the focus is on the collective dancing body; the crowds of self-organized cyclists ride in concentric circles, scream paroles and requests, sing and play music, take care of internal coordination and safety, synchronize moves, take photos and record the happening. The collective choreography and sound dimension of protesting are at the same time spontaneous and planned.
The cyclists’ choreography in all its (un)predictability embodies and anticipates the possibility of abolishing the system of representation—the parliament is only a side matter, an object of observation, an alienated service, rather an object of revealing of the governance syndrome (hidden face) than a symbol of a political subjectivity that, now more than obvious, does not work (or, works in favor of corporatism, imperialism, managerialism, exclusivism, cultural and scientific hegemony, elitism, materialism)—and the (re)emerging of direct decision making (which is, as well as community self-management, even inscribed in the Constitution of Slovenia).
The bicycle happening on the revolution square is non-Aristotelian, celebrative, festive, a theatre-non-theatre practice that does not set up a mirror to institutionalism, but only acts, it emerges to vanish in a generically unrepeatable space-time of the non-straight gaze, without production protocols, without subventions, without directing, without audience. The bicycle happening is an expression of performing the desire. It is realized beyond any hierarchy. It is not neither we nor I, it is we-me. Such happening is a memo to the literate theatre of boredom that it will possibly not survive the dictated disinfected future that it currently (unintentionally?) flirts with.
Stepping over the forbidden
The one who understands life as a phenomenon that cannot be disinfected, therefore as a phenomenon characterized by immanent inclusion—of everything, other lives, viruses—knows that collectivity is the key for the turn from managerial devastation to a community of the empowered. The question how to stage, dance, perform, and have an audience while respecting the forced antisocial distancing is the question of the frightened one. A refusal of dividing is an imperative in order to make the performative—bodily, tactile, dance, collective, common—practices possible. If the refusing works in the streets, it can also in theatre and other auditoriums.
The context of the alienated avatars (the symbolism of the x marks on the revolution square) that is, to an extent, already a reality of social networks and online labour and education, has been transformed into a concept of interrelated physicality (on the same square): faces from facebook are, nevertheless, real faces; communicating with no touching is, yet, a touch (closeness of other bodies) and not a contact (virtual one); the static x-es are suddenly mobile and danceable, not part of a rigid order any more. Movement is truly the right word when we talk about resistance—the liberating movement.
The contrast between the static x net without people and the bicycle happening at the same location reflects two visions of community and the common. However, both actions are characterized by a stepping over the forbidden that makes them possible. In the time of restrictions imposed as modus operandi for everything, not only related to the public, but often also to the deeply intimate, the gesture of breaking the restriction is being increasingly understood as crucial (and not as violent as bourgeoisie used to understand it during the previous people’s uprisings), which is linked to past experiences of citizens’ disobedience.
The flame of network resistance smolders and burns on revolution squares, artistic, non-artistic, contra-cultural resistance that disappears during its own emerging to grow again where the cultural hegemony would rather not expect it—within itself.