Pascal Gielen – Sustainable Creativity in the Post-Fordist City – Commonism – The Art of Civil Action – Residences Reflected

Pascal Gielen coordinates the CCQO and he is interlocutor/supervisor of the multitude of singular projects of the research team.

At the moment his own researches/book projects are focused on Commonism (together with artist Nico Dockx- Royal Academy for the Arts, Antwerp), The Art of Civil Action (together with historian Philipp Dietachmair – European Cultural Foundation) and Residencies Reflected (together with art historian Irmeli Kokko – Academy of Fine Arts, Uniarts Helsinki; and art historian Taru Elfving – Frame Contemporary Art Finland).



A New Aesthetic of the Real

‘Commonism is not a narrow-minded one-party ideology. Just as the Rhineland and neoliberal model it could shape society though and in that respect it is political ideological in nature, or perhaps we could say it is ‘meta-ideological’, as it accommodates multiple party political ideas.’ – Gielen & Lijster, 2015

Every ideology is good at hiding the fact that it is one. That’s what makes it an ideology. To paraphrase Mark Fisher (2009): Every ideology claims realism. So it claims that it is not an ideology, not a belief-system, but reality: just the way things work and just the way things are. By consequence, it is just how (we need) to do things and how (we need) to deal with things. Communism was an ideology, fascism was also one, neoliberalism certainly is one, and probably most religions function like this. They are all aesthetics of the real. They claim to be the only real truth and by this claim those beliefs give form to society as real. Ideologies are very good in turning a belief into a reality, because they are make-believe and in this way they function as self-fulfilling prophecies. Ideologies are performances of reality.

And, we can confirm, there’s a new one in the making. It is called ‘commonism’. After half a century of neoliberalism, we are excited to welcome this new ideology. For the record, it’s not about communism with a ‘u’, but commonism with an ‘o’. It is still in the margins, very often still under the radar, but we cannot ignore the fact that it’s popping up everywhere: the commons. After the ‘enclosure of the commons’ by privatization, by neoliberal politics or simply by capital, it seems that the era of the ‘disclosure of the commons’ is now dawning. At least, that’s what some people, mostly from the political left, believe in. What is this belief about? They believe that social relationships can replace money (contract) relationships. They certainly believe that we need more solidarity. And they trust in peer-to-peer relationships to develop new ways of production. Some of them think that economy sucks while others believe that only this economy sucks. Most of them agree that the contemporary political model of democracy does not stand for real democracy anymore, because representative democracies are becoming more and more the servants of a financial elite. So, we need another, more radical political system and some people even dream of a direct democracy.

The research wants to map those new ideological thoughts. How do they work and, especially, what is their aesthetics? Just as communism, fascism or neoliberalism, commonism is an aesthetic of the real. It’s a belief, a make-believe that claims realism.

At least it claims to stand closer to our contemporary ecological and social reality than capitalism. But it is also nearer to how social relationships really function, and much closer to what humanity in general is about. The former technocratic soviet communists, the German Nazis, the Italian fascists and the contemporary western neoliberals all share one characteristic: They neglect(ed) the human condition in their political and economic organization of society. Commoners, on the contrary, put this human figure back in the centre. That’s why they think about the ecological, social, political, economic, and even the mental conditions of mankind. Commonism is concerned about the total person in his or her total context and global environment. And it’s this total concern that makes commonism more and more convincing. At least, this new belief gives the impression that it stands nearer to reality today than neoliberalism does. And we—the editors of this book—confess: we too believe in a more common future. We too are sick off neoliberalism and its perverse mechanisms, and we also believe that the proposals of the ‘commoners’ fit better with the contemporary global reality, and with the human condition in general. But, probably unlike a lot of ‘commoners’, we also strongly believe that this belief is an ideology. That’s why we speak about ‘common-ism’, by the way. We do this because we see that commonism too is an aesthetic of real: it argues and operates in the name of realism. In that sense it does not really differ from Friedrich Hayek who started his neoliberal project in the 1940s in name of reality. Just as commonism now, neoliberalism was at that time a very marginal project (Srnicek and Williams, 2015), and just as with neoliberalism we do not yet know if commonism will grow and take up a dominant position, as neoliberalism did in the 1970s. We even do not yet know if we really want this, but just as with neoliberalism that’s out of our hands. For us the main difference probably lies here: just as most historical ideologists, Hayek did not see himself as an ideologist, but as a… realist. Well, the difference is that we do! We say we believe in commonism and also that we know it’s an ideology. So, as a consequence, we are ideologists. And all commoners are, but maybe not all of them agree. Probably their distancing themselves from the notion has to do with the quite negative image the concept of ideology has, as a thing that hides things, that works as an ‘opium of the people’, which masks reality in name of reality. But maybe it’s better to invert this way of reasoning. At least we try to do this here by saying: we are ideologists, we are conscious of our make-believe and we are very aware of the fact that we construct a reality. But we do this, because we are convinced it is a better reality and we also believe it fits better with the contemporary human condition. We could call it a self-conscious ideology, one that tries to convince others because it’s convinced of the truth of another reality than the contemporary one. And we use the same strategies as all the other ideologists by saying that this current reality is not true, it is fake, it is cynical and opportunistic, but certainly not real. And just like other ideologists we do so in the name of realism. For us, this is a way to open up the horizon for this book. Through contributions by artists, theorists and researchers we want to evoke a better understanding of the commons as an ideology. That means as an aesthetic of the real: a way of giving form to society and our contemporary human condition. With Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten we understand aesthetics as ‘the art of thinking beautifully’ about what could be beyond the horizon (Raunig, 2015). For us it’s a way of thinking of a better, more beautiful world that manifests itself in the liminal zone between fiction and non-fiction, imagination and reality, utopianism and realism. In the aesthetic of the real, fiction can become reality and reality is constructed in the shadows of human imaginations. In this research and book we want to put a spotlight on those reciprocating movements for the commons. How is the commons constituted in society? How does it shape our reality of living together? What strategies and what aesthetics do artistic commoners follow?

Fisher, M. (2009), Capitalist Realism. Is There No Alternative? Winchester UK: Zero Books.

Gielen, P. & Lijster, T. (2015), ‘Culture: The Substructure of a European Common’, In: Gielen, P. (ed.) No Culture, No Europe. On the foundation of Politics. Amsterdam: Valiz, 19-65.

Raunig, G. (2015), ‘The Invention of Aesthetic Law. An Experiment on the Aesthetic Horizon and the Art of Living Beautifully’, in: Gielen, P. & Van Tomme, N. (eds.) Aesthetic Justice. Intersecting Artistic and Moral Perspectives. Amsterdam: Valiz, 95-111.

Srnicek, N. & Williams, A. (2015), Inventing the Future. Postcapitalism and a World Without Work. London & New York: Verso.



Cultural Explorations of a Transnation Civil Society

This research/book project aims to discuss the potential of arts and culture for the establishment of a transnational civil space. Different voices from various theoretical fields in the social and cultural sciences but also activists and artists will explore if and how arts and culture can offer the building bricks for a locally rooted civil society in a globally connected context. All texts in this publication are based on two general assumptions:

The contribution of arts and culture to the formation of democratic processes and their strongly determining role for the constitution of a civil domain often remains underappreciated. This publication argues that cultural initiatives nonetheless play a key role in unlocking dormant democratic potential in our societies. Arts and culture build a cornerstone of the civil domain, especially as civil society around the world increasingly deals with global questions and starts to assume transnational forms of organisation.
While the civil domain has traditionally been considered as an area of mainly national relevance the last two decades have seen a growing number of cross-border initiatives of supranational significance and sometimes even global outreach (e.g. Occupy, the Indignados, etc.). Witnessing these developments however also came along with the realisation that most of these initiatives vanish almost as quickly as they have gained wider public attention. We therefore ask ourselves how such preliminary developments towards a more transnational civil domain could be made more sustainable. Which strategies and forms of organisation can such new initiatives assume in order to sustain their activities and increase their local influence and global significance?
The research/publication will analyse a number of cultural organisations and new forms of citizen initiatives from all over Europe. Supported by interviews and texts by or about cultural activists and artistic projects that have worked across Europe but also beyond we try to get a clearer image of some of the new tactics and strategies they have developed. All texts and contributions specifically focus on the role of arts and culture in these new citizen-led initiatives and how these new approaches put the ‘art’ of civil action into practice.

Although the majority of cases to be discussed in our publication come from the (wider) pan-European context we also highlight views of analysts from other political contexts and inquire practices on other continents. These non-European voices do not only support our search for the potential of establishing a transnational (global) civil space. Citizen initiatives that operate in an entirely different cultural, socio-economic or political context can also serve as insightful examples for the development of new European practices.

A variety of ongoing socio-economic transformation processes in societies and communities inside the European Union provide the analytical backdrop for all reflections in this book: a central point of departure is the transition from the traditional welfare state or Rhineland model to a neo-liberal model that goes along with the withdrawal of state support structures. It might be exactly for this reason that Europe currently witnesses the emergence of more and more new, autonomously operating citizen initiatives. Nevertheless, it is therefore also very important to analyse initiatives that historically do not share the same political, economic or cultural context – especially when it comes to investigating the variety of roles arts and culture might have played for these new civil initiatives.

In this framework The Art of Civil Action presents a colourful mix of cases and conceptual views on citizen-led cultural initiatives from Europe and around the world. Our hope as editors is that the diversity of analytical approaches as well as the examples of new organising structures and artistic voices we compiled for this book may contribute at least a small (cultural) brick for building the transnational civil domain of the future.



Alternative Economies of Exchange in the Arts

The research/book examines the present and potential function of residencies for artists, the art world and the society at large.

The globalization process and the increasing growth of the art market have all had an impact on the latest developments of artists’ residencies. The core function of residencies continues to be in support of artistic development, to provide time and space for making art, research and critical reflection. However, residencies have today become also attached to biennials, museums, scientific research centres, universities, even airports and businesses of various kinds. While residences are becoming integrated into the intensified and expanding processes of production in the arts, new artist residency organisations are founded, often by artists, more as a breakaway or escape from these structures. Often established in remote areas, the ethos behind these residencies includes a search for more sustainable alternatives than the neoliberal condition allows for artistic practice.

This present breakaway of artist-run residencies suggests a continuation of Western artistic movements of the 19th and 20th Centuries, where the rural and the urban have in turns played the backdrop in the changing conditions. This has also resonated with shifts in the role of artists, such as in the movement from the rural ‘artist colonies’ of the 19th century to the bohemian experimentalism in the cities of the 20th Century (Nina Lübbren). The latter cosmopolitan artist communities represented intellectual homes across nation state and language boundaries in a Europe of anti-Semitism, nationalism, patriarchy, and restricted mobility. The modern realm of art with its own landscape and language was created by the emigrant or exile (Caren Kaplan). Now, the ‘altermodern’ nomad artist described by Nicolas Bourriaud is characterized by diversity of possibilities, several alternative routes and roots in art and aesthetics, times, places and cultures – with an attitude of resistance against the standardizing forces of globalization.

Reflected against this background the research/book at hand asks: What is the present ethical and social role of artist residencies in contemporary society? What is the relationship between the classical art world system and the residencies of today? What is the role of residencies for artists in the present? What kind of artistic endeavors do residencies support? How do they meet the changing needs of individual artists? How can residencies provide retreats not only from patterns of thought but also pressures of production or even political prosecution? How can residencies provide alternative openings and infrastructures to nurture artistic work in the midst of current societal transformations and environmental crisis? How can residencies impact change within the art institutions that adopt them as tools? Can residencies develop a new economy for the arts that could work outside the market (maybe also outside the state system) and function as a means to create sustainable global solidarities and relationships?