Creative responses to the utterly aestheticised modes of exploitation—that is, to the ways, practices and strategies for the dispossession of the common, of creativity, cognitive labour and political expression, modes which today are merely being perpetuated, mutated and cloned and which capitalism is based on and, along with it, often also our own role in it—can be performed as innovative militant practices;1 these practices come into being, operate and take effect in research-related and militant conditions and, while doing so, they are necessarily integrated into/as everyday practices based on the common, and they are also incorporated into the discursive dimension of the common. This integration, which is, in fact, a contribution to the process of politicisation of struggles, is key to the success of any emancipatory endeavour.
Militant activist actions thus reflect a specific approach to protest as one of the possible ways of expressing anger, discontent, desires, needs, creativity, etc., while they also raise important questions concerning the pitfalls of aestheticised resistance as the kind of resistance that is constantly exposed to attempts to neutralise its political potential. What does the infatuation with changing the (by now completely disclosed) totalitarian representational discourse by creative means of expression say about us, who are we really addressing in doing so, and what are the effects of such an approach, which is sometimes based on a Sisyphean infantile complex of expectation that the authorities will satisfy our desires and meet our needs one day?
At the same time, there is an interesting (side) effect to those aestheticised instances of resistances that manage to create a certain crack in the established order of things, that is, that manage to relativise the dominant art paradigm, which certainly contributes to the “crisis” more significantly than it may seem at first sight. Such actions are also characterised by a specific temporality of their politicality, in other words, by the fact that—in a certain period, albeit fairly briefly—they establish a free territory in the middle of the necrocapitalist desert2 in which it is possible to detect and feel the libido of resistance as the only possible answer to comprehensive repression, as opposition to the subjection of life to the power of death, as a manifestation of an active intervention into space for the sake of re-establishing politics – the establishment of speaking instead of the production of noise,3 the establishment of horizontal modes of organisation of community and the common.
The aestheticisation of crisis and (aestheticised) responses to it
Neoliberalism aestheticises its permanent crises to conceal the numerous and constantly reproducing types of exploitation of precarious workers, migrants, Others, natural resources, animals—in short, anything that can bring pleasure based on material profit to a handful of people.
Neoliberals have learnt from the experience of classic commodity aesthetics4 that aestheticisation can be tackled on a much larger scale and practised at several levels simultaneously: the spatial level (which manifests itself in the processes of gentrification of cities and towns), the scientific/technological level (which enforces the necropolitical agenda), the repressive/controlling level (which intensifies, legalises and exalts the violence of repressive apparatuses in all possible directions), etc. The aestheticisation of crisis—as something completely self-evident—should conceal the fact that the poor majority secures prosperity, from which it is then excluded through privatisation or dispossession in favour of a wealthy minority.5
The crucial element here is the emphasis on the shift towards necrocapitalism, which is close to the paradigm of death or zombified life, rather than the apparently predictable and therefore less problematic, cyclic, crisis-related currents, which are supposedly conditioned by the technocratic/economic categories, such as indebtedness, economic growth, fiscal policy, etc. These cycles and swings of ultimate “progress” in a perpetual state of traumatic emergency can certainly be substantiated, presented and determined using various econometric strategies. However, the indicators determined in this way remain empty signifiers, a self-serving instance of counting that says nothing about the causes of crisis, which lie in the subtle, increasingly perverse forms of exploitation—the human exploitation of nature, people and non-human animals in general; in fact, it’s the opposite—these indicators conceal the causes of crisis.
The technocratic/economic aestheticisation of crisis is thus, perhaps, even more covert than the aestheticisation based on the sensual (for the most part visible) manipulation of traditional commodity aesthetics. In the present moment, when the apologists of capital-parliamentarism6 on duty prescribe universal “austerity measures” and the “tightening of belts” in favour of bank “recapitalisation”, it seems that even these masked mechanisms of the aestheticisation of crisis are becoming ever more visible, for they keep meeting with mass rebellions and struggles on a global scale. There exists a latent possibility—if the excluded, the potential supporters of direct action, reject this repression—of the aesthetics of economy as covert violence becoming the aesthetics of overt physical violence, which is precisely what has been happening in the streets of Greece, England, USA, Egypt, Spain, Turkey, Slovenia and around the world for quite some time.
Specific performative approaches can, no doubt, contribute to the increase of potentiality of emancipatory struggles; however, we need to bear in mind that, in these cases, we are not dealing with art-as-we-know-it, or with art that operates in the name of the dominant paradigm of artistic production or within this paradigm; rather, these are specifically aestheticised creative militant practices, or the aestheticised germs of such practices, which spring from communal initiatives and are recognisable by some common features: they start from a preliminary reflection on the situation into which they intend to intervene; they usually occur in the so-called public space (which is different from common space),7 or they at least refer to it; they deploy improvisation; they usually use a minimum of material and technical means, as well as voluntary input from the actors involved; they often involve interdisciplinary creative approaches combining visual, acoustic, theatrical, circus- or entertainment-related and other action elements; they do not count on classified and standardised audiences, for they do not address any particular audience, but rather—and this is extremely important—anyone (which is different from addressing “the public”). In other words, they enable everyone—anyone who, in a specific constellation of place-situation-reflection, is interested in doing so—to enter the space-time of a planned but not necessarily controlled performance.
In this sense, they occupy, liberate and exploit the potentiality of space beyond the merely physical space—the space of ideas, concepts, knowledge and imagination. They respond to attempts to curtail freedom by re-appropriating the common, where the private that corresponds to this common cannot be a self-serving site of truth. In its essence, the performative effect created alongside all this is never singular, self-referential, for in terms of content (conceptually, discursively), it derives from the particular complex, multi-dimensional crisis situation, which it attempts to address and, above all, tries to intervene in, to realise itself in it and to correspond with it by using specific performative means. The aestheticised reflection-action is thus a specific political/performative act, which is co-created by its protagonists.
Creative responses to aestheticised exploitation and devastation of the common, which are inevitably aestheticised, can neither function nor take effect in an emancipatory manner without a certain research-oriented,8 theoretical, reflexive and political background, which means their being actively involved in the practices of the common, their contributing to the co-creation of struggles and these struggles’ persistent politicisation. This involvement, this contribution to the politicisation of struggles, is key to contextual positioning, power and, ultimately, the success of their emancipatory efforts.
To facilitate a better understanding of the circumstances that are relevant to the chosen example of such an activist practice—intervention in a gallery, which I will consider shortly—I will first summarise briefly the relevant protest activities.
Recently,9 a significant number of street protests have taken place in Slovenia as well as almost everywhere else in the world; above all, these protests are a response of the people to the increasingly radical capitalist devastation. Self-organised groups and movements in Slovenia were protesting as part of the popular uprisings, which also included occasional instances of direct action, through which various affinity-groups expressed their indignation at the situation in their society, which was directed, above all, against the corrupt elites, often under the mother of all banners: “Nobody represents us!” (“Nihče nas ne predstavlja!”). These instances of direct action did not include any noticeable physical attacks on buildings symbolising authority, such as throwing stones at banks, shop windows or state administration buildings, or on objects of consumerism and bourgeois symbols, such as setting cars on fire, etc.—images that are often associated with protests in Europe and elsewhere. We witnessed only a few instances of stone throwing during the protests in Maribor, and the target was mainly the municipal building in Maribor, whose mayor and city council had lost the trust of the local population thanks to their corrupt actions. Also in Maribor, there occurred a series of physical attacks on the new stationary radars for traffic control.
Conversely, in Ljubljana, a series of symbolic street actions took place that, each in its own distinct way, pointed out the causes and the local agents of the crisis situation. For instance, some state administration and government buildings were marked with such tell-tale phrases as “Money to the people, not the banks!” (“Denar ljudem, ne bankam!”—this sign was posted at the entrance to the Bank of Slovenia in response to the “recapitalisation” of banks, which is just another name for the abuse of common assets) and “Kindergartens, not camps!” (“Vrtce, ne lagerje!”—this sign was plastered onto the building of the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sport in response to the state’s attempt to lower the standards of childcare institutions). There were some other telling examples of direct action, such as the hanging of the banner “Where is a strike?” (“Kje je štrajk?”) on the tower of Ljubljana Castle during the union protests in Congress Square; or the throwing of balloons filled with variously colours at the fronts of certain buildings that the protesters passed by (the Bank of Slovenia, several bank offices in the centre of Ljubljana, McDonald’s on Čopova Street); using ropes, the protesters tried to move the fence set up by the repressive forces, supposedly to protect the parliament building (a symbol of power, a symbol of the representative system?) from the protesters (the people, who, in a Western-style democracy, are able to protest freely?), as they wanted to use the platform in front of the parliament building as a site for expressing their anger; however, they were prevented from doing so, largely by means of the reduction of available physical—so-called public—space;10 the very same protective fence was burnt symbolically on another occasion; the slogans that started circulating in various channels of communication, from street graffiti to in-depth reflections, following these actions read “The fence must fall!” (“Ograja mora pasti!”) and “Fences are everywhere, justice is nowhere!” (“Ograja povsod, pravice nikjer!”). During one in a series of street rallies, a protective metal grille at the entrance to the Bank of Slovenia was set on fire. In the light of anger related to the mayor of Ljubljana being suspected of corruption, Ljubljana’s Pride Parade also included an action by the group the Rebellion Social Women-Workers (Vstajniške socialne delavke), who were throwing bloodied sanitary pads and tampons at the mayor during his address to the participants of the parade and shouting “We do not want politicians, and we are not giving up the parade!” (“Politikov nočemo, parade ne damo!”).11 At the same time, the group called the Black Rainbow Jihad Party Army protested against the instrumentalisation of the parade under the banner “Abolish gender!” and shouted “We are gay, Zoki’s not OK!”12
All these actions were quite closely monitored by the repressive forces and, above all, a strict regime of protection of so-called “public law and order” was introduced. This slippery legal category, based on the existing legal structure, elegantly subsumes (legalises, justifies, naturalises, internalises) many repressive acts and surveillance in the name of “security” to preserve the status quo. I will not go any further into explaining this point of view here; I will merely use it as a starting point. However, for the sake of general understanding, I will emphasise that the so-called “rule of law” does not guarantee equality, let alone freedom, far from it; in fact, it has the exact opposite effect, for in its obsessive legalism, it merely reproduces hierarchies and thereby also justifies and normalises inequality based on the accelerated criminalisation of active emancipatory efforts.
In the context of this writing, I am starting with the assumption that the autonomy of art is precisely what is being established during the aforementioned instances of direct action (which originate from the condition of life marked by precariousness, discrimination, etc.), that is, during the street performances/happenings aimed at the mutual empowerment of all participants, or the joint response of a gathering of bodies and minds to systemic violence, a response that is marked by solidarity, self-organisation and self-initiative.
Since this is creativity in resistance and since this resistance is real (and not anaesthetised in advance through a certain self-serving aestheticisation, which produces a reification effect), since it is not interested in “establishing one’s name” through authorship but is rather realised in the humour of anonymity, the rebellious/insurgent acts in their singularity are also artistic performances, actions, gestures, happenings. This art—the art of/in protest—is effective in its process, in the very act, in its temporariness, transitoriness, and finally in its efforts to set up alternatives to the dominant order, which always includes certain protest and is conditioned upon it.
At the same time, and paradoxically, in this process, we are dealing with art-which-is-not-art; moreover, we are involved in it. In fact, this paradox—which actually opens up, demystifies and transforms the paradigm of art in force within the system (as a codified profession, a closed system of appreciation of artworks and names)—constitutes the execution of transgression of the prohibition of its transformation.
In the creative self-organisation of direct action (which destroys/abolishes the order of the “allowed”, “acceptable”, “prescribed”, “possible”), art can be everybody’s concern—anybody’s, in fact, for everybody can be creative and everybody can express their creativity autonomously (having in mind the autonomy contextualized in the common). The aesthetics of direct action consists in a redistribution of the sensual, which eludes all established rules, while it is temporally and contextually limited; it holds true at a certain moment, in a certain place, the here-now, in a certain performative, rebellious context. This temporariness and the abandoning of all rules, the dispersal of creativity (non-authorship) do away with the threat of its instrumentalisation for the purposes of particular interests; in fact, the very possibility of any totalisation of a creative act is thus abolished. In the heterogeneity of resistance,13 there lies the great power of opposition to all hegemonies, including the hegemony of the art system as such and its constant attempts to neutralise resistances.
“We are not going to be the excavator demolishing Rog”
The protest is by no means limited to its street incarnations; rather, it has also been taking place in other discursive forms, through various reflections, discussions,14 debates, articles, broadcasts, panels and spatial interventions. One such intervention, which was particularly actively registered by the media and the so-called artistic community, was the action at the Alkatraz Gallery—which operates within the cultural association KUD Mreža, which in turn operates within Autonomous Cultural Centre Metelkova City in Ljubljana—during the exhibition Socialdress – Power to the People by Marija Mojca Pungerčar.
Two contextual circumstances must be kept in mind in order to understand this important event:
Firstly, at the time of the intervention, the broader debate about the issue of gentrification was extremely important for Metelkova City (and remains to be so today); gentrification represents a grave danger for the current status of Metelkova City as an autonomous space. Namely, gentrification is a phenomenon that marks the processes of struggle for space in the city of Ljubljana, where we are dealing with a fairly obvious usurpation of (potentially) common spaces for the purposes of various commercial, public-private, pretty, likeable, artistic, designed, polished, sterilised, bourgeois, self-sufficient, isolated contents, which are vacuous from a social point of view. The city centre was the first target of gentrification; commercial contents are already dominant there at the expense of privatised, destroyed, broken-down and perversely transformed (potentially) common spaces. According to the criteria of the powers that be, Metelkova City is also part of the strategy of gentrification, for it brings to it a welcome bit of exotica with its concurrent transformation into a trivialised tourist attraction, an “open-air museum” and an extension of the “museum district” (the southern part of the once unified complex of former military barracks). We should not forget that Metelkova has been continuously, ever since its establishment, under the threat of legalisation or demolition (the pulling down of the building of Mala šola is an example of demolition that has already been carried out), which actually means destruction of its autonomy (referring to the autonomy in its name), dismissal of the creative and critical potential of its users, and neutralisation of one of the few spaces in the city that is not entirely subject to standardisation, classification and codification.
Secondly, the problematic part of the Socialdress project was developed and realised in workshops as part of the RogLab project, the so-called pilot project of the Rog Centre, which was established following the planned renovation of the building complex of the former Rog bicycle factory in the centre of Ljubljana, and it is implemented by the public institution of City Museum and Galleries (MGML), which was founded by the City Municipality of Ljubljana.15 Namely, for more than seven years, the Rog factory has been temporarily occupied for the purposes of carrying out various creative activities based on self-initiative and self-organisation of its users. A lot of activities take place at Rog (musical events, exhibitions, debates, social activities, skating, dance lessons, etc.), while the space itself enjoys the reputation of a social meeting point, which constitutes an important improvement to the general situation of shortage as regards common spaces in Ljubljana (that is, spaces that are free from legalist dictates, spaces that are based on the principles of non-profitability and solidarity).
When dealing with the (from their viewpoint) unpleasant fact of this space being occupied, the authorities that be have chosen the strategy of repressive tolerance; they give the users a free hand with regard to their internal organisation, while simultaneously controlling them constantly and denying them access to electricity; and they are preparing a seemingly bold plan of renovation and transformation of the complex into a centre of contemporary arts by means of a so-called public-private partnership, appealing to the convenient reason of preserving industrial heritage; however, the plan has not been put into practice yet, supposedly due to the current economic crisis. The predictable “consequence” of construction of the future centre of contemporary arts, complete with the inevitable hotel, fancy apartments and underground parking spaces, would be the eviction of present/future users of the Rog space, the discontinuation of their activities, and the permanent usurpation of the space for the purposes of mainly commercial or commercially backed activities.16 In short, a typical gentrification-oriented manoeuvre of the powers that be, as already seen on numerous other occasions from Berlin to London and Stockholm.
In the case of RogLab, it is important to note its spatial realisation in the shape of a remodelled steel container—whose form is reminiscent/copy of a critical artistic practice that we saw in Ljubljana a few years past—which gives a sterile, cold impression, while the resulting spatial gap is particularly symptomatic, for the object is situated outside the Rog complex, on the neighbouring river embankment. The revitalisation of Rog, promoted via RogLab in unison with authorities’ agenda, is thus an external process also from a spatio-political point of view; that is to say, it proceeds in an exclusionary, authoritarian manner, despite the declared commitment of its producers to cooperate actively with the actual users of Rog, who, among other, declare: “Instead of spending for unreasonable projects, the municipality should rather direct the money to the needs of already expressed needs of the community.”17
In this gap between high-brow and low-brow production, between the well-mannered, disciplined white container and the queer, weird, colourful space of Rog, in the gap, which the representative container as the product of the celebrated “creative industry” emphasises with its positioning in a perfectly real space, we can glimpse the entire meaning of the truly political space, co-created by the excluded, dirty, illegal users of Rog, and the potential of the possible future conflict, which can make possible greater visibility of this gap, that is, precisely the greater visibility and audibility of those scumbags, junkies, waifs, the unemployed, artists, the erased (alluding to the act of erasure), slackers, rioters, activists—all those expelled Others that creative industrialists fear so mightily.
We can discern from numerous available sources18 that the described conditions were the key starting points of reflection, which was followed by (re)action, that is, intervention at the Alkatraz Gallery. Namely, a group of masked individuals visited the exhibition Socialdress – Power to the People, collected almost all of the exhibited items and took them out of the gallery instantaneously. What they left behind were short printed messages in the form of a pamphlet, which read “We are not going to be the excavator demolishing Rog” (“Ne bomo bager, ki ruši Rog”). Therefore, this was about establishing a performative connection with a perfectly real situation in the local environment.
As a trace and part of the intervention, the pamphlet established a direct link between this particular exhibition at Metelkova City and the repressive threat to the Rog complex, and it probably appealed to solidarity between Metelkova and Rog; namely, Metelkova, too, has been constantly subject to the threat of destructive excavators, which the whimsical powers that be can send after it at any time. In its own way, the used symbolism of the excavator expresses the disagreement of the protagonists of this action with the setting up of the exhibition of protesters’ slogans in a Metelkova gallery and with the promotion of such artistic products, for by setting up this problematic presentation, Metelkova assumes the role of collaboration in the gentrification and depoliticisation of space, enforced by the powers that be and their structures, against which the popular uprisings are (were) aimed.
Conversely, the message of the action can also be understood as a clear call to the artists to take responsibility for their own actions.19 Its protagonists have, above all, detected and recognised the power of aestheticisation of insurgent practices, which manifested itself through two channels in this specific exhibition.
Firstly, it was evident in the specific aestheticisation (alienation, transformation, soft commodification) of the social potential of seventeen women, favouring the unemployed ones, for whom the Socialdress project made possible a peculiar assertion: in dressmaking-embroidery workshops, they produced various useful textile items (a collection of clothes and textile items for home and housekeeping – tablecloths, cooking gloves, bags, bedspreads, etc.), which, following the principle of social economy, should be incorporated softly into the consumer logic and the exhibition logic of the art system. The stitched items were marked by a gesture that obviously provoked the protagonists of the action. Namely, various slogans, shouts and paroles from the banners of popular uprisings were sewn onto the exhibited items, including “Power to the people, not political parties!” (“Moč ljudem, ne strankam!”), “The streets belong to us!” (“Ulice so naše!”), “He is finished!” (“Gotof je!”), “Nation is much different when hungry!” (“Narod lačen je ful drugačen!”)20—the protesters’ paroles used in this context should be understood as commodified.
And secondly, we should not ignore the fact that the exhibition, which was conceived in the context of the gentrification-related role and practice of RogLab, was put on display by a gallery that operates within ACC Metelkova City; hence, even simply due to this spatio-political positioning, we probably could expect it to counter such practices deliberately, actively, and to think them through in one way or another. At one of the most recent forums of Metelkova users, a debate was taking place concerning the dangerous process of gentrification that had been eating into the northern part of the complex for quite some time;21 the result of this debate was a joint press release,22 which was also stimulated by, among other things, the efforts of the neighbouring Museum of Contemporary Art (run by the state institution Moderna galerija) to achieve a more organic mode of collaboration with Metelkova City. Precisely at this intersection of institutional and (at least declaratively) non-institutional logic in the field of art (!), which at last turned out to be a not-so-unimportant field of (class) struggle, the (necessary) opening up of the conflict (or at least pseudo conflict) obviously occurred.
Beyond the status of difference
The aim of this writing is by no means to incite pro and con argumentations concerning such actions, which intervene in the established order of art production, for I start from a consciously utopian, “impossible” standpoint that an artwork put on display is simultaneously situated in an open space of interaction or possible intervention, which, in its passive instantiation, is usually reduced to mere observation.
Interaction with the work of art, which in our case was performed as “theft”, “alienation”, “vandalism”, “performance” and “activist action”, depending on the individual preferences of its commentators, was in fact all this at the same time. In fact, its emancipatory potential originates precisely from this polysemy, which relativises, demystifies, disintegrates, opens up, performs, materialises and, at the same time, hybridises these meanings. Calling this action “theft” or “vandalism” can mean lacking the understanding of its performative effect, but can also mean the opposite, and it goes hand in hand with the dominant agenda of the criminalisation of life and the pacification of every truly political (collective) involvement.23 The criminalisation of expressing protest is already a completely visible practice among the defenders of the current regime of the “tightening of belts”.24
In any case, both theft and a truly emancipatory performance concern transgression of the limit of the legal/permitted, which is imposed biopolitically; here, we are dealing with the transgression of prohibition of conflict, with the elimination of a number of civilisational, legalist breaks, obstacles and prohibitions, with those disciplining patterns built into our unconscious, which, however, are nothing but impediments to ideas/practice of freedom/politics.
Therefore, theft/performance cannot be an act with a predetermined moral assessment, value, a moral plus or minus, for it is always an intervention into complex, causally connected given conditions, and in this case, these conditions were fairly transparent: aestheticised, commodified protesters’ slogans, produced as a humanitarian entrepreneurial gesture within the gentrification process of the local “creative industry” (with no visible distancing from this context), at the margins of the context of popular uprisings, almost in the middle of protests, put on display at the gallery or supported by the gallery that is part of an autonomous (?) space.
The rage of the protagonists of the action at Alkatraz was thus an immediate response to the specific attempt at representing crisis conditions in the art context, which, so it seems, they understood as an attempt to hijack protesters’ slogans. Instead of the diligent, obedient and shopping-minded audience, “rioters” entered the gallery and impersonated thieves of images in their performance, to intervene in yet another attempt to artificially/artistically accelerate the slippage of resistance into spectacle. Namely, the activist, self-organised gesture of writing insurgent slogans on T-shirts, banners or walls is something different from the gesture of assembling these slogans within a corrupt creative-industrial and contemporary-artistic production context. In this process, the uprisings’ paroles were refashioned into commodities/merchandise units, for they were intended for a perfectly real sale;25 but the trouble, of course, is the fact that the uprisings’ slogan in not a brand; rather, it is its radical opposition.
Following this logic, we could say that the protagonists sent a specific message with their action: that “revolution”, resistance, protest, autonomy and the DIY approach, which the Socialdress project is trying to appropriate, are not for sale. At the same time, it seems that the setting up of this exhibition in this specific gallery was understood as a gesture of extended systemic violence, which the exhibition perpetuates perversely. Obviously, in this context, ACC Metelkova City was understood and defended as a space of political and not as a space of self-sufficient culture (whatever this slippery word might mean), entertainment, clubbing, art—perhaps also as a space in which such interventions are self-evident, welcome and far from scandalous.
Rather than an attack on very specific symbolic targets, that is, the gallery and the exhibited items, this intervention can be interpreted as an assault on the very institution of art, on its immanent untouchability and elitism, or as an instance of re-opening the issues (co-)created by the institution of art; an attack on its increasingly perverse production of normality; on its marked gentrification potential, which it enforces persistently; on its perverse, traditional adherence to neutralisation of resistance, to distortion of any emancipatory political gesture into an “exhibit”, specimen, aesthetic gain, (art) product that is quoted on the market, in the gloomy system based on the artists’ stardom and the hierarchy of their managers; an attack on its alienating effect; on its practice of creating empty, dead spaces and empty signifiers; on its active involvement in the necrocapitalist logic, its hypocritical practices of putting into circulation practices that seem collaborative while they are actually based on hierarchies.
Rather than a merely physical attack, the intervention should be understood as a reflexive-active attempt to break with the seeming untouchability, “autonomy”, sanctity and self-evidence of the legalised, normalised, classified, commodified representation and its uninterrupted charging with the creative energy of resistance, to which it actually contributes nothing but rather pacifies it systematically while twisting arbitrarily its meanings and contexts.
The naïve question of whether the institution of art will ever admit all this is not key here. Above all, we are confronted with the question of whether we are going to allow the existing institutional modus vivendi—which is based on criminalisation not only of protest but also of social security (debt instead of unconditional social welfare), labour (the erasure of the unemployed from registers), education (increasingly payable schools), health system (payable health care), etc.—to keep destroying, reducing and managing the time-space that belongs to all to “the letter of the law”. In relation to contemporary art—and within it—this space of politics is necessarily established as a space beyond banal aestheticisation precisely when its protagonists, consciously and thoughtfully, resist its apparently exclusive position and its mechanism of the aestheticisation of resistance, one of the key perverse mechanisms of the neutralisation of thinking, practised by the (internalised) Master, and affecting either the standardised posts of the curator, gallerist and director or the artist who has become utterly flexible.
There are numerous reasons for previous and anticipated diversions within the so-called field of art, but it is wise to be aware of the thesis that every field is a field of struggle,26 while, as a consequence, there is no field that, in the long term, and despite all invested efforts of its agents, could remain closed within its self-referentiality without its enforcers resorting to repression. The action at Alkatraz confirms this. Namely, the case was reported to the police, for “the thieves […] have caused damage worth roughly 30,000 euros.”27 Somebody who was part of the autonomous context of Metelkova called the police to Metelkova. The question that this fact raises is: what exactly happened to its autonomy in that moment?
The assessed value of damage is also interesting, but the most telling elements here are the attempt to evaluate uprisings’ slogans and the swift presentation of the project in the neighbouring Museum of Contemporary Art. This Coca-Cola logic of capitalising on protest and on the attempt to sell it through art channels, the logic we have seen on numerous other occasions, tells us that classic commodification28 in the expected combination with repression has taken place. And the art apparatus—which is not only a symbolic, but also a perfectly human apparatus—responded to the attempt to invade this logic performatively in a perfectly rational, military way, as if it were part of the structure of the former barracks of the Yugoslav national army at this very location in Metelkova, and it immediately, and pragmatically, sought repressive means, lawful, legal instruments to protect its position, to defend the existing order of its production, which should remain untouchably “autonomous”, which should defy vandalism with surveillance cameras, security guards, repressive services, that is, systemic violence, as it is done in all obscure centres of cultural tourism, based on the many-a-time resold creativity of the living and the dead.
Despite this perfectly tangible response of the art apparatus, which has been trying for quite some time to establish theoretical as well as physical boundaries between art and activism, it must be emphasised that it is erroneous to understand the articulation of such boundaries in the sense of defending the autonomy of Art from militants, in the sense of preserving the status of art as an exception, as something that produces difference, a phenomenon that should remain within controlled limits, under surveillance, managed from above, ostensibly within life, yet, outside of freedom. Such boundaries—if we want to understand and perform art as an emancipatory practice —are artificial (artistic?), they are the true germ of totalitarianism, while their abandoning is realised through subversion of authoritarian impulses practised through contemporary art production.
For it is only with the absence of the boundary between art/creativity and militant activism that we can start talking about a space-time of freedom that has a creative and politically emancipatory charge. In such a space-time, art is written in small letters, for it has no special, sublime and self-serving value; in other words, it does not have the status of difference, which would grant it any kind of privileges; beyond the discourse of hierarchies, the sublimation through the aesthetic, that is, the redistribution of sensible, is subject to some other rules, in fact, to the absence of biopolitical rules.
In light of our example, the uprisings’ slogans were an emancipatory, creatively liberating—artistic—gesture precisely when they were in the streets, when they were carried by the hands of the collective body and of the individual bodies of the protesters. They were artistic precisely in their insurgent gesture, which, at its very core, resists all attempts at systemisation. Similar (but not the same) slogans—systematised within the paradigm of artistic production—can be perceived as artworks; however, this precisely is the fundamental problem and key to understanding their distorted meaning, which is actually humanitarian,29 decorative and utilitarian, for it functions within and in favour of the terror of the rule of law and its alienated art paradigm, when it tries to refashion protest as a banal merchandise unit.
Given the multitude of such examples, it is hardly surprising that the efforts to interrupt the production chains of “creative industries” are an increasingly important part of struggles not only for spaces of freedom, but also for the dissemination of the emancipatory potential of performance (art).
1 Practices that adhere to direct action.
2 “Today, surplus value and its capitalisation are based on death (on dead worlds). In the first capitalist world, we are not dealing with the logic of maximising the value of life, but rather with a logic that secures the minimal condition of survival, and sometimes not even that. This is the logic that structures the contemporary neoliberal global-capitalist social body.”—Marina Gržinić, Reartikulacija razmer ali evropsko-slovenski nekrokapitalizem, Reartikulacija, 2, 3, 2008, pp. 4–5. The notion of necrocapitalism by Subhabrata Bobby Banerjee (Live and Let Die: Colonial Sovereignties and the Death Worlds of Necrocapitalism. Borderlands e-journal, 5.1, 2006) derives from Achille Mbembe’s concept of necropolitics (Necropolitics. Public Culture, 15, 1, 2003, pp. 11–40).
3 Jacques Rancière, Aesthetics and Its Discontents, Polity Press, 2009, p. 24.
4 Cf. Wolfgang Fritz Haug, Critique of Commodity Aesthetics. Appearance, Sexuality and Advertising in Capitalist Society, University of Minnesota Press, 1986; Robert Kurz, Die Welt als Wille und Design. Postmoderne, Lifestyle-Linke und die Ästhetisierung der Krise, Tiamat, 1999.
5 The potential theoretical starting points, which analyse the preconditions and reasons for aestheticisation, include Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of symbolic capital (Le sens pratique, Minuit, 1989), Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment (Verso, 1997), Jean Baudrillard’s Pour critique de l’économie politique du signe (Gallimard, 1972 / Dražba umetniškega dela. Časopis za kritiko znanosti, 20, 144–145, 1992, pp. 27–38) and Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle (Zone Books, 1995).
6 Or: the coupling of “the market economy and the electoral ritual”—Alain Badiou (Conditions, Continuum, 2008, p. 166).
7 In contrast to public space, which is just another name for space controlled “in the name of the public” and managed from above (to organise an art event in public space, for instance, one needs permission from an appropriate authority), common space is characterised by unconditional openness grounded in a dissensus-based agreement (Jacques Rancière, The Emancipated Spectator, Verso, 2009, p. 49), horizontally conceived co-/self-management and non-hierarchical, non-authoritarian mode of self-organisation.
8 I am thinking of militant research, which is transformative in itself. Researcher-militant is not a researcher determined by his or her academic position, s/he is not just a declared activist; rather, s/he can be any adherent of the method of direct action and constant dissemination of the potentiality of emancipatory struggles, which takes place through research integrated into the given configuration of space-time.
9 The text from here to the next chapter is based on a part of the article Emancipacija na robu estetskega režima / Emancipation at the Edge of the Aesthetic Regime (Časopis za kritiko znanosti, 40, 254, 2013, pp. 113–120), which I completed at the beginning of April 2013.
10 Recently, a participant in the performative protest action was sentenced for his actions without being on trial, which is an unprecedented novelty in Slovenia, albeit one that is becoming a rule in the existing legal order, which is increasingly based on the criminalisation of life. There exist: a telling video interview with the protagonist, Irfan Beširević, Ampak jaz sem bil z ljudstvom na cesti (Komunal, 4 Jan 2014), a text by Vesna Lemaić, Kriminalizacija življenja (Mladina, 25 Apr 2013), a text by Kajtimara Srd, Zaostrovanje kriminalizacije protestov (Komunal, 9 Jan 2014), and a text by Vstajniške socialne delavke, Kriminalizacija upora – kriminalizacija življenja (Komunal, 14 Jan 2014). All links last accessed 22 Jan 2020.
11 Mihael Topolovec and Aleš Zobec, Parada: Trg politik – paradoksi spogledovanja parade in oblast, Narobe, 7, 26, pp. 20–21.
12 Black Rainbow Jihad Party Army’s press release (Biti neotesan, FAO, 20 Jun 2013, was available at http://www.a-federacija.org/2013/06/20/biti-neotesan/, last accessed 17 Feb 2014). Zoki is the nickname of the mayor of Ljubljana, Zoran Janković. The president of Slovenia, who was also invited and present, “did not speak publicly at the event” after these interventions (Trinajsta parada ponosa, Pop TV, 1 Sept 2013, was available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AtNvdI67o2U, last accessed 17 Feb 2014).
13 The attempts to homogenise the most recent protests against the escalating capitalist devastation in Slovenia were visible in some (for the most part, failed) attempts to centralise protest activities within the horizontally organised popular uprisings, which were manifested in the efforts to establish a prearranged programme for each demonstration and to set up a central stage equipped with a sound system (in Republic Square and Congress Square) and with a predetermined list of invited speakers; in the programming of performances by musicians and artists in the service of culturalised protest; in the blanket condemnation of “protesters’ violence” (the attempt to move protective fences, the expression of discontent with the presence and the role of the repressive forces), etc. Among the attempts to (promote) protest(ing) in a “civilised, cultured, bourgeois” manner with an emphasis on “non-violence”, an initiative stood out, which (perhaps inadvertently) became a metaphor of sorts for the festivalisation of resistance with its efforts to turn the protests into a protest festival with a more or less uniform, recognisable visual image. The festival is a typical form of the liberal artistic production of spectacle and it is a fairly dominant form of cultural production in Slovenia. Centralisation and festivalisation can be understood in light of either a lack of understanding of, or an attempt to usurp, the very concept of horizontality of protests, originating in a critique of representation and the elites derived therefrom (reflected in the slogan “We do not discriminate, you’re all done with!” (“Ne diskriminiramo, vsi ste gotovi!”). Festivalisation concerns the modus of pacification of protest, which imposes an obedient, non-dangerous mode of expressing anger and, as a consequence, its neutralisation.
14 It is worth pointing out the initiative by the association of the anticapitalist bloc, a series of discussions To Think the Impossible / Misliti nemogoče, which established a horizontal model of debating topical issues: Beyond Representation / Onkraj predstavništva, Nationalism and Uprising / Nacionalizem in vstaja, Gentrification and Autonomous Spaces / Gentrifikacija in avtonomni prostori, Media Autonomy / Avtonomija medijev, Criminalisation of Resistance and Life / Kriminalizacija upora in življenja etc.
15 Details about RogLab were available at http://www.roglab.si/sl/o_roglabu, last accessed 14 Feb 2014.
17 Izjava aktivnih uporabnikov bivše tovarne Rog ob načrtovanih spremembah projekta, Njetwork, 12 Jul 2013, last accessed 22 Jan 2020.
18 The following sources testify to how some media, one gallery and one ad hoc group responded to the action: Andreja Kočar, Iz galerije odnesli vse izdelke z delavnice Socialdress: Ne bomo bager, ki ruši Rog, RTV Slovenija, 9 Oct 2013; Jernej Kaluža, Incident v galeriji Alkatraz!, Radio Študent, 9 Oct 2013; Izjava Galerije Alkatraz v zvezi z uničenjem razstave Socialdress, Galerija Alkatraz, 9 Oct 2013; Nadstandardni komite Rogovcev za pomoč pri gentrifikaciji Ljubljane, Slovenije in širše (Deluxe Rog Committee for Assistance with the Gentrification of Ljubljana, Slovenia and Beyond), Rog, gotov si!, Komunal, 10 Oct 2013. All links last accessed 22 Jan 2020.
19 This is a translation of parts of the statement issued by a group of alleged performers of the action, signed as Maska/maskara/maškarrrrrrrrrra (the translation follows the original’s “unedited” style): “Hands up, this is not a robbery! This is a statement! On Tuesday, 8 October 2013, we carried out a political performance at the Alkatraz Gallery – at Metelkova!! ///It is high time that the part of the art community, which builds its portfolios by sponging off protest, gets slapped in the face/// […] ///Slogans, paroles and cries of protesters have no exchange value!/// […] What is socially produced, belongs to no one, belongs to every one! Whoever appropriates the language of uprisings and tries to sell it as an act of ‘empowerment’ is a T.H.I.E.F., no different from capitalist bosses and matriarchs. There is nothing liberating in unpaid labour, which this project aestheticises. […] ///It is downright impossible to grant this exhibition emancipatory potential. Better empty galleries than empty heads!/// […] Institutions and projects, such as RogLab, MSUMaistrova [alluding to MSUMetelkova, but switching the street in its name with the neighbouring one], SCCCA [alluding to (former) Soros Centre for Contemporary Art Ljubljana], Second (or Third?)Chance, Portorož [alluding to the Prostorož association], if we only mention the most obvious ones, are complicit in Ljubljana becoming an even more gentrified, exclusionary city and they participate in the marginalisation, criminalisation and commodification of various forms of expression, which are not based on the logic of profit. […] ///The autonomous cultural centre Metelkova as a space whose very existence could and should hinder the processes of gentrification and commodification must not take part in the destruction of spaces of freedom!/// RogLab as a perverse creation of creative industries was the production setting of the project ‘Social dress’ (My Ass), which was accepted with open arms into the Alkatraz Gallery at Metelkova as a stop on the way to the final destination – MSUMaistrova. And we robbed this train! Keywords: Clothestopeople! Fossilstomuseums! AutonomytoRog! ReflectiontoMetelkova! […] P(M)S: all errors in this text are intentional!” (Facebook, 10 Oct 2013)
20 Maja Prijatelj, Gotof je! z vstaj na predpasnike, Delo, 27 Aug 2013, last accessed 22 Jan 2020. The last slogan was much more present in its inclusive form: “Hungry people is getting much different!”.
21 Cf. Metelkova, special issue of Časopis za kritiko znanosti, 40, 253, 2013.
23 On the contradictions of understanding violence: “Subjective violence, which is usually presented to us as an ‘outbreak’, ‘excess’, ‘deviation’ from the ‘normal condition’, is merely a consequence and not the cause of state violence, which maintains this ‘normal’ state invisibly (by means of ideological and repressive apparatuses). In fact, only with subjective violence does state violence become visible, that is, is revealed in all its brutality.”—Lana Zdravković, Čigava je vstaja in komu naj služi, Dnevnikov Objektiv, 23 Feb 2013, last accessed 22 Jan 2020.
24 See note 10.
25 See note 28.
26 Pierre Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural Production, Polity Press, 1993, pp. 30, 107–108; T. Adorno and M. Horkheimer, ibid., pp. 98, 100–101.
27 A. Kočar, ibid., see note 18.
28 A preview and the pricelist of products in the Socialdress series was available at http://www.socialdress.net/index.php?htm=socialdress/moc_ljudem-ponudba, source: Moderna galerija Ljubljana, 6 Jan 2014 (Zaključevanje kolekcije Socialdress – Moč ljudem, Vmesna postaja 1:1, MSUM, 9 Jan 2014; “At the event, the offer of the art collection Socialdress – Power to the People will be presented for the first time, and will be available upon request. You will be able to order the textile items during the event.”). An interesting announcement on the Socialdress project’s website in its own way commodifies the very purpose of empowerment: “All empowered household textile items will be on display at the solo exhibition …” Usually, it is people who get empowered, not objects. The collision between the assessed damage in the amount of 30,000 euros and the actually offered value of products, which can be determined from the pricelist, is also telling; if we add up the values of all available items, we get a significantly lower amount of their total value. Such collisions can be interpreted as proof of the real power of fetishisation as a consequence of working within the systemic (art) paradigm.
29 The humanitarian approach is based on a hierarchy between the victim and the donor, that is, on preserving the subordinated status and the paradigm of the victim.
This text is partly related to the public lecture/conversation of the same title, which was conceived and hosted by tandem Kitch at the invitation of the Tribuna journal (30 Apr 2013, Kiberpipa, Ljubljana).
Translated from Slovene by Polona Petek. Hard copy is available in Maska (30, 169–171, 2015, pp. 32–47).