THE FUTURE OF CULTURE IS COMMON

© Dan Perjovschi

A Conference on Commoning Cultural Activism, Aesthetics, Organization and Policy

8, 9 & 10 February 2022
Lange Sint-Annastraat 7, 2000
Antwerp

The future of culture will be common, or there will be no culture at all.

Culture is always the result of creating, sharing and teaching, remixing, reappropriating, interpretating and critiquing. Even the most ‘autonomous’ artists use forms or languages that were passed over to them. One might also say: culture is a ‘common’, that is, a source of value that is produced and governed by everyone, and that therefore can never be the exclusive property or product of anyone.

In practice, however, the functioning of culture is often regulated either by the market (via cultural and creative industries), or by the state (via government policies, subsidies). By consequence, it is seen and treated as either a private or a public good, which often means that it either needs to be profitable, or that it needs to fulfill some kind of function in the service of the government (e.g. participation).

What would happen if we start considering culture as a common, and what would it entail to treat culture, and cultural production, in this light? What kinds of conditions would need to be in place for culture to thrive as a common?

In this 3-day conference, we want to investigate the many ways in which commons shape culture, and, vice-versa, how culture shape the commons. The conference is structured on the basis of four thematic clusters: ACTIVISM, POLICY, COMMONS ORGANIZATION and AESTHETICS. In keynote lectures, debates, and workshops we will address the following questions:

  • How can artists and other cultural professionals organize themselves more independently from governments and markets? Can the framework of the commons help to fight the precarious conditions of the contemporary cultural sector? Does “commoning” entail a different relation of artists to audiences, and to one another?
  • What strategies do activists use to struggle for a space between or beyond market and state, and how do they use art and culture to appropriate ground, making it common again?
  • How could a governmental policy relate to cultural commoners, and how do topdown and grassroots initiatives be aligned?
  • And finally, do cultural commoning practices have different artistic and aesthetic demands and expressions than cultural production from the official (subsidized) institutions or commercialized art?

Combining lectures with debates, workshops and artistic presentations, the conference is aimed at scholars as well as policymakers, activists, artists, cultural professionals and students who want to work with and in (culture) commons.


PROGRAMME

February 8th – Day 1

14.00-14.10

Registration and Welcome

14.10-15.30

Roundtable with the researchers of the project Sustainable Creativity in the Post-Fordist City.  Moderated by Pascal Gielen, the CCQO researchers will introduce, present and debate their main findings and current new directions. During the panel, Karina Beumer will carry on a live drawing performance on the inputs and outcomes of the discussions.

–    Culture Commons Quest Officers involved: Giuliana Ciancio, Hanka Otte, Lara Garcia Diaz, Louis Volont, Maria Francesca De Tullio, Thijs Lijster, Walter van Andel

15.30-16.00

Break

16.00-17.30

Launch of The Rise of the Common City: Cultural Commoning in Urban Environments, a book about the artistic dimension of urban activism (Brussels: Academic & Scientific Publishers, 2022) – Culture Commons Quest Officers and contributors Iolanda Bianchi and Stavros Stavrides.

17.30

Reception

February 9th – Day 2

8.30-9:00

Registration and Coffee

9.00-9.15

Welcome and Introduction to the FWO Odysseus project – by Pascal Gielen

9.15-9.30

Introduction to the program and speakers – moderated by Annelys DeVet, CCQO member, researcher and designer

9.30-10.15

Activism Keynote From Urban Activism to Urban Commoning– with guest lecturer Frederieke Landau, Radbound University

10.15-10.45

Questions and discussion

10.45-11.15

Coffee Break

11.15-12.00

Policy Keynote Common-Based Cultural Policy: leaning on three forms of democracy – with guest lecturer Hanka Otte, Cultural Policy researcher and CCQO member

12.00-12.30

Questions and discussion

12.30-13.15

Debate session with Activism and Policy guest speakers moderated by Annelys De Vet

13.15-14.00

Lunch

14.00-15.30

First parallel workshops session

–    Activism: Activism & Academia: friends or opposites? – with Roberto Sciarelli (Universidade de Coimbra, Scugnizzo Liberato); Ana Sofía Acosta Alvarado (Université Paris 13, L’Asilo); Verena Lenna (Permanent, Community Land Trust Brussels, Commons Josaphat); Bas van Heur (Permanent, VUB)

–    Policy: For a commons-based cultural policy: Lessons Learned – with contributions from De Grond der Dingen (Willy Thomas and Sigrid Bosmans) and Dancing Museums (Roberto Casarotto and Luisella Carnelli)

–    FRINGE Space

15.30-16.00   

Coffee Break

16.00-17.30

Second workshop session

–    Policy: Let’s shift roles! – a workshop with Stefan Kaegi, Rimini Protokoll

–    FRINGE Space

17.30-19.30   

Reception

February 10th – Day 3

8.30-9:00

Registration and Coffee

9.00-9.15

Welcome and Introduction to the FWO Odysseus project – by Pascal Gielen

9.15-9.30

Introduction to the program and speakers – Moderated by Gerlinde Van Puymbroeck, VUB Brussels

9.30-10.15

Commons Organization Keynote Balancing an organizational existence – with guest lecturer Corinna Dengler, University Kassel   

10.15-10.45

Questions and discussion

10.45-11.15

Coffee Break

11.15-12.00

Aesthetics Keynote The Ethics of a Planetary Commons: What does an anti-capitalist commons look like?– with guest lecturer Oli Mould, Royal Holloway, University of London

12.00-12.30

Questions and discussion

12.30-13.15

Debate session with Organization and Aesthetics guest speakers moderated by Gerlinde Van Puymbroeck

13.15-14.00

Lunch

14.00-15.30

First parallel workshops session

–    Commons Organization: Circlusion (part I) – with Larre, feminist art collective and activists

–    Aesthetics: Art as common sense: reimagining the artist’s practice – with Rebekka de Wit, theater-maker

–    FRINGE Space

15.30-16.00   

Coffee Break

16.00-17.30

Second parallel workshops session

–    Commons Organization: Circlusion (part II) – with Larre

–    Aesthetics: Ciné Assembly – with The Post Film Collective, creatives and activists

–    FRINGE Space

17.30-19.30   

Reception


KEYNOTES

Activism

From Urban Activism to Urban Commoning

Keynote speaker: Frederieke Landau

This session focuses on the role of commoning within the realm of urban activism. On the one hand, the concept of the commons currently permeates the vocabulary of urban activists seeking horizontal, inclusive, non-patriarchal and non-competitive forms of life. On the other, states, markets and municipal power agents are known to instrumentalize and anaesthetize urban activists’ dissent. Commoning activists, hence, are perpetually challenged to navigate the fine line between effectively transforming law, economics and society – “fixing” the ills of capital-led urban development – or not being heard at all. With these premises in mind, this session will revolve around three main foci: organization, co-optation, and culture. Qua organization, the session aims to lay bare the various tactics and strategies pursued by commoning activists and is especially interested in the challenges that come with the “communal”, group-based nature of commons-based activism. As co-optation, the session seeks to gain insights into how commoning activists are impacted by, but also avoid, instrumentalization. Therefore, focusing specifically on the conceptual differences between notions such as the “commons fix” (De Angelis) and “commons washing”. With culture, the session aims to understand better cultural commoning activism – i.e., the practices of mutual aid among artists and cultural workers that stem from the collectivization of the means of (cultural) production. 

Policy

Common-Based Cultural Policy: leaning on three forms of democracy

Keynote speaker: Hanka Otte (CCQO researcher)

The commons do not lean on a system of representative democracy but make use of two other forms of decision making: deliberative and agonistic democracy. The cultural sector, including social-artistic projects, contributes to such democracies as artists show people other possibilities to create new (visual) languages for expressing their feelings.  However, cultural policy in western countries appears to be completely embedded in the logic or principles of representative democracy. Hence, to support the commons, we should be able to relate these to other kinds of democracies; we should open up to them, creating a space for them to resonate with each other. Building on three case studies conducted for the FWO Odysseus project, Hanka Otte will illustrate what strategies are needed to co-create between these kinds of democracies and how art can contribute to such co-creation. She will draw the first lines of a new division of roles between the actors involved, which she argues is a condition for a common-based cultural policy.

Commons organization

Balancing an organizational existence

Keynote speaker: Corinna Dengler

Organizing a commons-based initiative is surrounded by different tensions that need to be managed:  value creation and distribution; mutual and individual value; short-term and long-term value; and all those tensions resulting from evaluating which normative system makes value(s) come into being in a collectively-held structural model. This session will focus on the conflicts and dilemmas that arise within these tensions and some possible mechanisms for the sustainable organization of commons-based initiatives. Specifically, the discussion will build on the concept of “valuing value” (Oskam et al.) for the sustainable development of collaborative business models to mobilize it into the organization of commons-based initiatives. Valuing value can be described as the discovery process through which multiple actors search for agreement about what (environmental, social, economic, …) value to create, how to share it and, thereby, how to satisfy each actor’s interests. Expanding on this, the session will further explore how the multiple values that commoning aim to create could manage the labor necessary to ensure and satisfy the well-being of its actors in a balanced way for its continuing organizational existence. Questions discussed will focus on: what (sort of) value systems should be used to proceed with such balancing? How can activities and time spent in productive and social reproductive spheres be valued and quantified to collectively find a balanced model?  What are organizational, social limitations and conflicts that emerge from such processes? And, what tools can facilitate these processes?

Aesthetics

The Ethics of a Planetary Commons: What does an anti-capitalist commons look like?

Keynote speaker: Oli Mould

What does the common look like? How does it feel, sound and smell? It might be impossible to answer these questions in such a general, broad manner, but it is still worthwhile to ask whether they belong to a particular aesthetic of the commons. If – as has been discussed extensively from Adorno onwards – the commodity forms and the process of commodification have affected what culture has come to look like, as well as the kinds of culture that we consume and the way we experience it, how would the opposing move of “commoning” art and culture affect its aesthetics and our mode of experience? In our culture, which is commodified through and through, the common is actually not “common sense” anymore – i.e., what and how people generally perceive and experience. Therefore, in what ways can art and culture contribute to a new common sense, in the dual meaning of a thoroughly common experience of the sensible, as well as sensuous experience of the commons?


WORKSHOPS

Activism

Activism & Academia: friends or opposites? (40 participants)

The workshop “Activism & Academia: friends or opposites?” focuses on the complex relationship between commons-based urban activism and scholarly research. The workshop’s central question is: how may academic research be used as a form of activism itself? The workshop will question the idea of a clear-cut separation between “experts” and “non-experts” in commoning and urban matters, as well as the idea of “neutrality” of scientific knowledge. Namely, speakers and participants will discuss: how can activism benefit from academic knowledge? How can academic knowledge be put at stake and in dialogue with activist knowledge? How can the former recognize the latter? These questions will be investigated by bringing into dialogue 1) urban activists who collaborate with academic researchers in order to reach their goals and 2) academic researchers who navigate within the grey zone between academia and activism. The panel will be led by a moderator who will involve the speakers and the audience in the debate.

Guests: Roberto Sciarelli (Universidade de Coimbra, Scugnizzo Liberato); Verena Lenna (Permanent, Community Land Trust Brussels, Commons Josaphat); Bas van Heur (Permanent, VUB); Ana Sofía Acosta Alvarado (Université Paris 13, L’Asilo)

Policy

Shifting roles for a commons-based cultural policy – Lessons learned (50 participants)

In this workshop, two cases that the researchers Giuliana Ciancio and Hanka Otte have explored will be presented by their initiators and organizers: The Ground of Things in Mechelen, Belgium and Dancing Museums in Bassano del Grappa, Italy. Both cases represent fresh, creative ideas about sharing and self-governing public space and look at the cultural realm as the arena of encounter, conflict, and activism. Despite not defining themselves as culture commons, they both had the objective to explore a possible artistic civil space and therefore fit the premises observed for understanding culture commons: horizontal decision making, public spaces managed and designed together with citizens, museums as spaces for interaction between different communities and the art practice as the terrain of social construction. In both cases, there was direct co-operation between governmental parties, artistic practices, cultural organizations and citizens.

Each experience will be discussed in three-quarters of an hour, focusing on both possibilities and difficulties encountered in their experimentations in the context of a pluralistic democracy: The Ground of Things on the local level, Dancing Museums on the level of EU. We question (as they do themselves) the longevity of their cultural efforts inspired by a pluralistic democratic conception. According to their empirical journeys, Ciancio and Otte think those efforts have to do with the possibility and willingness of all stakeholders, to reposition their roles. That applies to the government, the cultural organizations, the artists and the citizens involved.

Our guest speakers will share with us how both the new possibilities and difficulties encountered, in their view, related to the roles of the stakeholders and how this either constructed or destructed the artistic space as a civil space they both were aiming at.

Guests: Willy Thomas and Sigrid Bosmans (De Grond der Dingen), Roberto Casarotto and Luisella Carnelli (Dancing Museums)

Let’s shift roles! (50 participants)

Under the inspiring guidance of none other than Stefan Kaegi of Rimini Protokoll, we will envision together and experience the roles each stakeholder should or could take in a co-imaginative political dimension (as Giuliana Ciancio calls it) or in a co-creative (as Hanka Otte calls it) common based cultural process.

In this one and a half-hour role play, up to fifty conference participants including artists, researchers, politicians, cultural activists, local and EU policy officers, representatives of EU networks, students and cultural professionals will participate. The workshop will be observed by students, and at the end, every participant will be asked to fill in a questionnaire. The aim will be to gain a profound insight into the process of shifting roles and points of view. Co-imagining shared goals for the shaping of the fundaments for a commons-based cultural policy.

Guest: Stefan Kaegi (Rimini Protokoll)

Commons organization

Circlusion by Larre (20 participants)

“Care” is a concept widely used in the cultural milieu in relation to the need for devising more sustainable structures that could pay attention to the (precarious) conditions in which cultural workers operate. However, care has historically built upon complex power relations structures easily replicated depending on how care is inserted into cultural institutions or artistic practices. Thus, if care is being used today as a value to guide political and structural changes in our everyday lives, cultural practices and organizations, a space is needed from which to point out the complexities, the difficulties and the fuss that care in itself entails. Do we want cultural institutions and artistic practices to operate from the standpoint of care? What exactly does this mean? Which kind of mechanisms, tools, infrastructures or governing models allow that?

The workshop unfolds in two deeply interconnected sessions that will invite guests to reflect, discuss and co-create tools and mechanisms to implement care as an organizing principle within their own context, community, collectives, practices and/or cultural organizations.

Guests: LARRE (Collective: Priscila Clementti, Angela Palacios, Lara García Díaz)

Aesthetics

Ciné Assembly (50 participants)

In Ciné Assembly, The Post Film Collective practices cinema as a form of polyphony, place-making and communal assembly, which entails collective knowledge-production, reciprocal exchange and ethics of connectedness. Ciné Assembly is a workshop format where The Post Film Collective takes the materials, reflections and process of their first film project “On Recreation” (working title) to co-elaborate with the workshop participants. The film project explores a polyphonic cinema practice while taking its cue from the poem “Recreation” by Audre Lorde. In her poem, Lorde explores a double binding of interrelating activities – “it is easier to work / after our bodies / meet” – that led to “recreation”, with its connotations of play, reciprocity, care, repetition, and regeneration. Through Ciné Assembly, the film process is available for the continuous re-composition of both conditions and artistic forms. The gathering of various languages, expressions, and rhythms prevents the film production from nesting neatly, preserving relational geographies of connected struggles, imaginaries, and resources. The Post Film Collective elaborates on the work and experiences of The Post Collective into the realm of cinema upon an invitation by filmmaker Robin Vanbesien. Since 2018, The Post Collective is an autonomous platform of co-creation, co-learning and cultural activism created by and for refugees, asylum seekers, sans-papiers and accomplices. It introduces a range of artistic, cultural and employment opportunities and provides a commoning environment for its members regardless of their legal status. The collective aims to develop creative alternatives beyond the dominant systems of control and exclusion it is facing. This means facilitating the position where one does not struggle to be assimilated but instead rethink and re-conceptualize critically a future together as a community.

© Michiel Devijver

Guests: The Post Film CollectiveMahammed Alimu, Marcus Bergner, Hooman Jalidi, Sawsan Maher, Mirra Markhaeva, Robin Vanbesien and Elli Vassalou.

Art as common sense – reimagining the artist’s practice (40 participants)

In his book The Great Derangement, the Indian writer Amitav Gosh argues that the climate crisis is a crisis of the imagination. We need stories to imagine the ubiquity of the emergency. Artists are also to blame if we fail to solve the crisis, he argues. Anoek Nuyens and Rebekka de Wit, writers and theatre-makers, took Gosh’s words at heart and explored this assignment in their performance “Unless you have a better plan”. Together with scientists, philosophers, writers and activists, they tried to imagine new ways of relating to animals, nature, and the commons. One of their conclusions was that it is difficult to “get out of the centre of our own thinking” whilst living in a world where self-actualization is the thing to aim at.
Despite Gosh’s ideas – now that the facts are clear – on the artists’ role to imagine the crisis, the self-actualization paradigm seems to be sustained, reinforced even, through how artists and the arts are looked at. Through how they are represented in the cultural sector. For example, Anoek’s and Rebekka’s faces had to be on the poster of the show, because “faces sell better”. And, in the discourse surrounding their play, they were represented as “splendid individuals”.
In this workshop, we want to think of new ways to represent and talk about art and artists. Not at splendid individuals, not as grumpy geniuses, but as resulting from common work and sense. What would the consequence be for the functioning of the cultural field, its valuation and evaluation of cultural work?

Guest: Rebekka de Wit, theater-maker


MODERATORS AND CONTRIBUTORS

Pascal Gielen (CCQO Director, Professor)
Karina Beumer (artist)
Walter van Andel (CCQO researcher)
Louis Volont (CCQO researcher)
Maria Francesca De Tullio (CCQO researcher)
Annelys DeVet (CCQO researcher & designer)
Stavros Stavrides (NTUA researcher)
Giuliana Ciancio (CCQO researcher)
Thijs Lijster (CCQO researcher)
Andrea Marsili (CCQO assistant, Conference coordinator)
Gerlinde Van Puymbroeck (VUB researcher)
Iolanda Bianchi (IGOP researcher)
Lara García Díaz (CCQO researcher)
Arne Herman (CCQO researcher)