Category: Articles


Marco Baravalle & Emanuele Braga


Marco Baravalle and Emanuele Braga will be at Teatro do Bairro Alto, in Lisbon, for a live presentation of the Art for UBI manifesto. Before that, they answered some questions about this work and its central theme, the Unconditional Basic Income (RBI or UBI).

You dedicate all your time to studies. You behave in class, read the textbooks, do your homework. Progress and repeat the procedure at each new difficulty level until you unlock a new map. In the world of work, the days lengthen, and your concentration narrows. There is no longer time for discovery and all the time must be dedicated to complying, with professionalism and resilience, with the orders of the boss. You depend on your salary, social security does not guarantee a dignified life, and among so many duties, changing is no longer a right. You have to work at the expense of the present, and work with fear of the future that you never know what it will bring. Working to pay the rent, to feed the family, to enjoy the world. It is from the work that the reward comes, it is the work that justifies the salary, and it will be our aptitudes to do so that guarantee us a dignified life, we are told. But will it be so?

Without telling anyone’s story, this story that anyone can identify with, reflects a systemic narrative. Our life, from an early age, is organized according to work, in a bet based on the expectation that the salary will fulfill, one day, in a hypothetical future, the missive of guaranteeing each employee a dignified life. But if for many years its questioning was out of the question, the data we have today make it more difficult to believe it.

The inflation that is reflected in the profits of large corporations, the galloping cost of housing in low-wage areas, precariousness, which is spreading around the world like a virus that erodes rights and guarantees, with an almost pandemic character, or the flagrant crisis climate, not only threaten the promise of seeing a dignified life in wages, but also denote the perversity of the paths we have followed behind this idea. Faced with so many signs, it is urgent to broaden the horizons of our vision and that is the proposal of the Institute for Radical Imagination, the space where the Art For UBI manifesto by Marco Baravalle, Emanuele Braga and Gabriella Riccio was born.

“While the financial elite continues to use the art market as a safe haven for financial assets, the Covid-19 pandemic has further highlighted the fragility and precariousness of artistic workers around the world. This context fueled the discussion around the Universal Basic Income. The Art for UBI manifesto argues that this measure is a necessary condition to rethink an ecologically extractive economic model, correct race and gender asymmetries and change the current neoliberal structure of the art world”, reads in the project description.

Bringing together in book format a set of artists’ essays on Unconditional Basic Income, Baravalle, Braga and Riccio seek not only to create a publication that informs this debate, but also to initiate a broader conversation about the necessary changes in our society. As a result of this intention, Baravalle and Braga will be on the 29th of June (Thursday) at the Teatro do Bairro Alto, in Lisbon, for a live presentation of their manifesto and, before that, they responded by email to a short interview about their investigation.

Emanuele Braga is an activist, artist, co-founder of the Institute of Radical Imagination and member of MACAO, a structure where he experimented with Common Coin and Bank of the common. He contributed to the Income performances. The unconditional speech, at Wiener Festwochen in June 2021, and in One income, many worlds, at Museo Reina Sofia, in September 2021. Marco Baravalle is an activist, researcher, co-founder of the Institute of Radical Imagination and member of S.a.L.E. Docks, an independent collective dedicated to the relationship between art, activism and gentrification. He was one of the contributors to the performance One income, many worlds, at the Museo Reina Sofia, in September 2021.

Shifter (S.): I know it’s a tough question but since you’ve delved into the topic. Are you able to give us a snapshot of the horizon in relation to UBI? What did you feel are the main obstacles and, by the way, what did you feel would be the biggest gains globally?

E.B.: I think we need to flip the perspective: the truth is that work is no longer enough. The financialization of the economy and the dismantling and precarization of the labor market have made it impossible to distribute sufficient wealth through work. For this reason, I believe we should take these two possible scenarios in the European area seriously: on one hand, struggles for a welfare system that replaces and complements the lack of income from work. On the other hand, we must prepare for major processes of social expulsion and revolt.

M.B.: If, as Emanuele says, wage work is no longer the unique tool for the distribution of wealth, is also true that the main obstacles to deeply rethink our system in Europe, come from reactionary governments which, beyond their populist rhetoric, once in power, cut on the already weak welfare system and enact laws that widen the gap between rich and poor. We are witnessing this very process right now in Italy. But this is not simply a problem of the far right. The rigidity with which Macron reacted to the large French movement against his pension reform is unbelievable. On the other hand, the movements in France show that broad layers of society are strongly posing the issue of income distribution and are also doing so in connection with other issues, such as that of environmental justice.

S.: Lately, with the emergence of generative technologies we have seen a fuss about a possible devaluation of artists. However, if we understand these models we see that they are not really creative, they cannot really replace artists, they can produce objects that replace art in the value chains. This has more to do with the economic model of art than with art itself? Do you agree that there is confusion around this idea, and that it is important to think collectively about what is art and what is the art market?

E.B.: I don’t believe that AI is stealing artists’ jobs. I think the relationship between art and technological innovation should be interpreted in a different way. Creativity, the figure of the artist, has been the laboratory for transitioning from the paradigm of factory work to the post-Fordist one. It’s a production model based on being entrepreneurs of oneself, being flexible, collaborative, and multitasking. Within the paradigm of creative industries, the social organization of digital platforms has developed. The laboratory of creativity and the surplus it continually reproduces are captured by capital in the form of technological innovation. Creativity dissolves into society like an aspirin in a glass of water, as Paolo Virno said in “Grammar of the Multitude.” Now I add: from that glass of water, algorithmic control of society and the automation of our behaviors have emerged. Behind AI, there is the collective intelligence of billions of people who contribute to its capabilities, and hundreds of thousands of underpaid workers who invisibly maintain its infrastructure and functioning. Unlike the creative industries, art now more than ever has a role in giving expression to subversion, sabotage, and the space to de-automate the technological circuits of domination.

S.: Do you think it is important to free artists from this almost existential need to produce for the market?

E.B.: I don’t want to perpetuate the idea of art as a space of privilege, created by individuals who can afford it economically and culturally. Our friend and comrade Gregory Sholette, in “Dark Matter,” contrasts the enormous invisible production of symbols, art, and culture that takes place in activism and social cooperation with the few artists recognized as famous by the art system and the market. The immense production of art, signs, and culture within society is to famous artists what dark matter in the universe is to the few visible stars. I believe that as art institutions, we need to build discursive devices that exist within the social and the struggles. While the art market tends to commodify activism and militant research, aestheticizing the struggles, I believe in the exact opposite: we should understand how expressive dispositifs can become war-machines (in the sense Gilles Deleuze uses this term) to organize processes of liberation within society.

M.B.: I would like to add that I think it is very important to create new possibilities of subjectivation for artists outside the market. This is one of the goals of radical art, to find ways for art and for being an artist (or art worker) within, but also against and beyond the predefined track (art school-biennials-museum-gallery). This doesn’t mean, as in the common sense of avant-garde, to merge art and life, but to win new autonomy for the art fact, more autonomy from the pervasive presence of capital.

S.: Do you think this change is essential and necessary to unlock transfeminist and decolonial struggles? Can it be a way to mitigate structural inequalities?

E.B.: The feminist perspective was the first to focus on this point, going beyond the interpretation that the working class made of Marx. Feminists have asserted that the central aspect of capital extraction lies in the invisibilization of reproductive labor. Capital has always profited from the cycles of life reproduction more than from exploiting wage labor. In the investigations we are conducting in various European territories, it becomes evident that citizenship and race are the other main dispositifs of exploitation. Denying equal rights and forcing individuals along racial lines to perform the most degrading jobs and social positions is an incredible lever for exploitation and the accumulation of privilege. Recognizing a Universal Basic Income and universal social services such as education, healthcare, and housing for everyone is undoubtedly a measure that breaks the chains of blackmail and exploitation. It is a way to ensure that all individuals have access to a basic level of economic security and fundamental services, regardless of their background or circumstances.

M.B: We see how often gender, race and class exploitations are intersected. We need to find ways to create a positive intersectionality too. That is why, beyond its social impact, we focused on the possible impact of UBI on gender, race, and ecological inequalities. If I may, one limit that is often visible within the art world at this very moment is a widespread attention towards decolonial and queer perspectives, but in the framework of a general acceptance of the neoliberal system. On the contrary, I agree with the Combahee River Collective (a collective of Afro-American feminists from the 70s) when they wrote: “We are socialists because we believe that work must be organized for the collective benefit of those who do the work and create the products, and not for the profit of the bosses. Material resources must be equally distributed among those who create these resources. We are not convinced, however, that a socialist revolution that is not also a feminist and anti-racist revolution will guarantee our liberation”.

S.: Some critics of UBI say that promoting such an agenda – where the money goes to the individual – may promote a more individualized society and lead to a disconnect from collective causes or even a weakening of social democracy. What would be your counter-argument to this criticism?

E.B.: I have no idea; I’m not trying to sell anything, but to understand. In the investigations we have conducted by listening to people, I have come to understand that people are prone to depression, burnout, bullying, feeling lonely and isolated, to the point of quitting their jobs because it is work that induces individualism, loneliness, and selective competition. Work, not UBI, leads us to be lonely and competitive. Secondly, people who have access to social services and income support usually begin to cooperate. They do things they couldn’t afford to do before. I believe it is similar to managing leisure time, time for nurturing relationships, for play, for doing something meaningful, for organizing based on one’s beliefs. I don’t think anyone has ever feared that granting more leisure time would result in a society of competitive individualists. It seems absurd and propaganda full of bias and preconceptions.

M.B.: I think such a statement is simply a lie. The neoliberal system is based on the ideology of individualization. Cooperation is disincentivized, our networked economy is the fruit of social intelligence, but its fruits are sifted and harvested for profit. Instead, we think that income guarantee measures and a solid welfare system are important tools to free up all that time now invested in individual competition and give more breathing space to collective dynamics and cooperative processes.

S.: Your project has several formats, among them a book where you put together several perspectives on the UBI. You identify yourselves as artists but you are a little different from the orthodoxy of producing pieces for the market or the galleries. Do you think it is important to go down this path, and create these pretexts for artists to think more about the world and less only about their next exhibition or their next work?

 E.B.: The history of art is filled with artists who have said things that couldn’t be said, who have shown what cultural and political regimes tried to make invisible. The history of art is also populated by political dissidents and activists who pretended to be artists or used art as a means to express their thoughts without being directly imprisoned. The history of art I want to belong to is populated by these kinds of figures. I challenge you to search carefully and study the history of art beneath the surface of appearances because I don’t believe you will find many artists who have made their mark without belonging to one of these two categories.

M.B. In my case I don’t even identify as an artist. I usually introduce myself as an activist, researcher and curator. To me, Art For UBI is mainly a tool for experimenting a method of performative militant investigation. Something where aesthetics and politics intersect. Maybe Emanuele is right, our genealogy is to be found mainly in that “other” history of art (one of the many that exist), and indeed what characterizes our curriculum is a long commitment to grassroots activism.

S.: And how important is it to do it collectively? Do you think that the traditional path of art is giving rise to artists who are also more isolated? Is it necessary to recover the social fabric?

E.B.: I have been working as an artist for 25 years, and I have always signed my main works with collective signatures. In truth, even when I sign a work with just my name and surname, I know deep down that I am cheating. I strongly feel that the works, actions, speeches, and texts we produce are the result of complex situated relationships. I would be nothing without the network of relationships in which I choose to operate. Authorship lies more in the series of interdependencies we choose or happen to have. I am nothing on my own. And my name is always an anagram, the meaning of which is continuously evolving and implies collective intelligence, non-human resources, desires, and conditions of oppression. That is why I advise everyone, when they sign a work as a single author, to spend a lot of time explicitly elucidating the genealogy and interdependencies from which it derives.

M.B. Emanuele’s answer perfectly works for me too. Let me add one thing. Besides recovering the social fabric, I think what is commonly called radical art must also re-discover its way to conflict and social struggles. Too often in the past decades socially engaged art has presented itself with an NGO attitude, worried about repairing supposed micro-fractures while completely ignoring the structural causes of such damages.


Marco Baravalle e Emanuele Braga estarão no Teatro do Bairro Alto, em Lisboa, para uma apresentação ao vivo do manifesto Art for UBI. Antes disso, responderam a algumas questões sobre este trabalho e o seu tema central, o Rendimento Básico Incondicional (RBI ou UBI, na sigla em inglês).

Dedicas todo o teu tempo aos estudos. Comportas-te nas aulas, lês os manuais, fazes os trabalhos de casa. Progrides e repetes o procedimento a cada novo nível de dificuldade até que desbloqueias um novo mapa. No mundo do trabalho os dias alongam-se, e a tua concentração afunila-se. Já não há tempo para a descoberta e todo o tempo se deve dedicar ao cumprimento, com profissionalismo e resiliência, das ordens do patrão. Dependes do salário, a providência social não garante uma vida digna, e entre tantos deveres mudar deixa de ser um direito. Há que trabalhar para as custas do presente, e trabalhar com medo do futuro que nunca se sabe o que trás. Trabalhar para pagar a renda, para alimentar a família, para fruir do mundo. É do trabalho que surge a recompensa, é o trabalho que justifica o salário, e serão as nossas aptidões para o fazer a garantir-nos uma vida digna, dizem-nos. Mas será mesmo assim? 

Sem contar a história de ninguém, esta história com que qualquer um se pode identificar, reflete uma narrativa de carácter sistémico. A nossa vida, desde cedo que se organiza em função do trabalho, numa aposta baseada na expectativa de que o salário cumprirá, um dia, num futuro hipotético, a missiva de garantir a cada assalariado uma vida digna. Mas se durante muitos anos o seu questionamento esteve for de questão, os dados de que hoje dispomos tornam mais difícil acreditar nela. 

A inflação que se reflete nos lucros das grandes corporações, o galopante custo da habitação em zonas de baixos salários, a precariedade, que se vai disseminando pelo mundo como um vírus que corrói direitos e garantias, com um carácter quase pandémico, ou a flagrante crise climática, não só ameaçam a promessa de ver no salário uma vida digna, como denotam a perversidade dos caminhos que temos percorrido atrás desta ideia. Perante tantos sinais, urge alargar os horizontes da nossa visão e essa é a proposta do Instituto para a Imaginação Radical, espaço onde nasceu o manifesto Art For UBI de Marco Baravalle, Emanuele Braga e Gabriella Riccio. 

“Enquanto a elite financeira continua a usar o mercado de arte como um porto seguro para ativos financeiros, a pandemia da Covid-19 evidenciou ainda mais a fragilidade e precariedade de trabalhadores do meio artístico em todo o mundo. Este contexto alimentou a discussão em torno do Universal Basic Income (Rendimento Básico Universal). O manifesto Art for UBI defende que esta medida é condição necessária para repensar um modelo económico ecologicamente extrativista, corrigir assimetrias de raça e género e mudar a atual estrutura neoliberal do mundo da arte”, lê-se na descrição do projeto

Reunindo em formato livro um conjunto de ensaios de artistas sobre o Rendimento Básico Incondicional, Baravalle, Braga e Riccio, procuram não só criar uma publicação que informe este debate, como iniciar uma conversa alargada sobre as mudanças necessárias na nossa sociedade. Fruto dessa intenção, Baravalle e Braga estarão dia 29 de Junho (Quinta feira) no Teatro do Bairro Alto, em Lisboa, para uma apresentação ao vivo do seu manifesto e, antes disso, responderam por e-mail a uma pequena entrevista sobre a sua investigação. 

Emanuele Braga é ativista, artista, cofundador do Institute of Radical Imagination e membro de MACAO, estrutura onde fez experiências com Common Coin e Bank of the common. Contribuiu para as performances Income. The unconditional speech, no Wiener Festwochen em junho 2021, e em One income, many worlds, no Museo Reina Sofia, em setembro 2021. Marco Baravalle é ativista, investigador, cofundador do Institute of Radical Imagination e membro de S.a.L.E. Docks, coletivo independente que se dedica à relação entre arte, ativismo e gentrificação. Foi um dos contribuidores para a performance One income, many worlds, no Museo Reina Sofia, em setembro 2021.

Shifter (S.): Sei que pode ser uma pergunta difícil, mas dado que mergulharam no tema: são capazes de nos dar um retrato do horizonte do RBI? Quais são os principais obstáculos e quais seriam os principais ganhos globalmente?

Emanuele Braga (E.B.): Acho que temos de alterar essa perspectiva: a verdade é que o trabalho já não chega. A financeirização da economia e o desmantelamento e a precarização do trabalho tornaram impossível distribuir suficiente riqueza através do trabalho. Por essa razão, acredito que na área europeia devemos levar estes dois possíveis cenários a sério: por um lado, lutas pelo estado social que substitua e complemente a falta de salário pelo trabalho. Por outro, temos de nos preparar para grandes processos de expulsão e revolta social.

Marco Baravalle (M.B.): Se, como o Emanuele diz, o dinheiro do salário já não é a única forma de distribuição da riqueza, também é verdade que o grande obstáculo para pensar o nosso sistema da Europa, vem dos governos reacionários, por de trás de retóricas populistas, que uma vez no poder cortam no já fraco sistema de proteção social e decretam leis que aumentam a diferença entre os ricos e os pobres. Estamos a assistir a esse processo agora em Itália. Mas não é um problema exclusivo da extrema direita. A rigidez com que o Macron reagiu ao grande movimento francês contra a sua pensão de reformas é inacreditável. Por outro lado, estes movimentos em França mostram que mais camadas da sociedade estão a questionar em força a distribuição de rendimentos, e também o fazem em conexão com outros problemas, com a justiça ambiental.

S.: Ultimamente, com a emergência dos modelos generativos temos visto muita conversa sobre a possível desvalorização dos artistas. Contudo se entendermos como funcionam estes modelos vemos que não são criativos, não podem substituir artistas – quanto muito podem produzir objectos para ser transacionados nas mesmas cadeias de valor. Acham que isto tem mais a ver com o modelo económico do que com a arte em si? Acham que é importante colectivamente pensar o que é a arte e o que é o mercado da arte? 

E.B.: Eu não acredito que a IA esteja a roubar trabalhos de artistas. Acho que a relação entre a arte e a inovação tecnológica tem de ser interpretada de forma diferente. A [ideia de] criatividadea figura do artista, foi um laboratório para a transição do paradigma do trabalho operário para um paradigma pós-fordista. É um modelo de produção baseado em ser empreendedor de si próprio, flexível, colaborativo, multi-tarefa. Dentro deste paradigma das indústrias criativas, a organização social das plataformas digitais desenvolveu-se. O laboratório da criatividade e o excedente que esta continuamente reproduz são capturadas pelo capital em forma de inovação tecnológica. A criatividade dissolve-se na sociedade como uma aspirina num copo de água, como diz Paolo Virno no “Gramática da multitude”. Eu acrescento: que desse copo de água emergiu uma sociedade de controlo algorítimico e a automação dos nossos comportamentos. Por trás da I.A. está a inteligência coletiva de milhões de pessoas que contribuíram para as suas capacidades, centenas de milhar de trabalhadores mal pagos que invisivelmente mantém a infraestrutura e o seu funcionamento. Ao contrário das indústrias criativas, a arte mais do que nunca tem o papel de dar expressão à subversão, sabotagem, ao espaço para desautomatizar os circuitos tecnológicos de dominação. 

S.: Acreditam que o RBI podia ser importante também para libertar artistas da sua necessidade quase existencial de produzir para o mercado? 

E.B.: Eu não quero perpetuar a ideia da arte como um espaço de privilégio, criado por individuos que podem pagar por ela económica e culturalmente. O nosso amigo e camarada, Gregory Sholette, no “Dark Matter”, contrasta a enorme produção invisível de símbolos, arte, cultura, que se dá no ativismo e na cooperação social, com os poucos artistas reconhecidos como famosos pelo sistema artístico e o mercado. A imensa produção de arte, signos, e a cultura da própria sociedade está para os artistas famosos como a matéria negra no universo está para as poucas estrelas visíveis. Eu acredito que enquanto instituições artísticas, temos de construir dispositivos discursivos que existam dentro do social e das lutas. Enquanto o mercado da arte tende a mercantilizar o ativismo e a investigação militante, a estetizar as lutas, eu acredito no oposto: devemos compreender como os dispositivos expressivos podem tornar-se máquinas de guerra (no sentido em que Gilles Deleuze usa este termo) para organizar processos de libertação na sociedade.

M.B.: Quero acrescentar que é muito importante criar novas possibilidades de subjetivação dos artistas fora do mercado. Esse é um dos objetivos da arte radical, encontrar caminhos para a arte e para ser um artista (ou um trabalhador da arte) dentro, mas também contra e para além dos caminhos pré-definidos (escola de artes-bineal-museu-galeria). Isto não significa, como no senso comum de vanguarda, fundir a vida e a arte, mas antes ganhar uma nova autonomia para a arte, uma maior autonomia da presença pervasiva do capital.

S.: Acreditam que esta mudança é importante para desbloquear outras “lutas transfeministas e decoloniais”? Pode servir para mitigar desigualdades estruturais?

E.B.: A perspectiva feminista foi a primeira a focar-se neste ponto, a ir para além da interpretação que Marx fez da classe trabalhadora. As feministas afirmaram que um dos aspetos centrais da extração de capital reside na inivisibilização do trabalho reprodutivo. O capital sempre lucrou mais de ciclos de reprodução mais do que da exploração do trabalho assalariado. Na investigação que estamos a fazer em vários territórios europeus torna-se evidente que a cidadania e a raça são outros dois grandes dispostivos de exploração. Negar direitos iguais, e relegar indivíduos racializados aos trabalhos e às posições sociais mais degradantes, é uma alavanca incrível para a exploração e a acumulação de privilégio. Reconhecendo um Rendimento Básico Incondicional, e serviços sociais universais como a educação, a saúde, ou a habitação para todos, é, sem dúvida, uma medida que quebra a cadeia de chantagem e exploração. É uma forma de assegurar que todos os individuos têm acesso ao nível mais básico de segurança económica e aos serviços fundamentais, independentemente do seu contexto ou das suas circunstâncias.

M.B.: Vemos muitas vezes como as explorações do género, raça e classe se intersectam. Precisamos de encontrar formas de criar intersececionalidade positiva também. É por isso que, para além do impacto social, nos focados nos possíveis impactos do RBI no género, raça e nas desigualdades ecológicas. Se me permitem, um limite que é por vezes visível dentro do mundo da arte neste preciso momento é a atenção generalizada a perspectivas decoloniais e queer, mas enquadradas no sistema de aceitação geral do sistema neoliberal. Pelo contrário, eu concordo com a Combahee River Collective (um colectivo de feministas afro-americanas dos anos 1970) quando escreveram: “Nós somos socialistas porque acreditamos que o trabalho deve ser organizado para benefício colectivo daqueles que trabalham e para criar produtos, não lucros para os chefes. Os recursos materiais devem ser equitativamente distribuidos por aqueles que criam esses recursos. Nós não estamos convencidas, contudo, que uma revolução socialista que não seja também feminista e anti-racista, garanta a nossa liberação”

S.: Alguns críticos do RBI dizem que promover essa agenda – de dar dinheiro aos individuos – pode promover uma sociedade mais individualizada, provocar a desconexão de causas colectivas e um enfraquecimento do estado social. Como responderiam a esta crítica?

E.B.: Não faço ideia, não estou a tentar vender nada, mas a tentar compreender. E na investigação que temos feito ao ouvir as pessoas, eu fui-me apercebedo que as pessoas estão vulneráveis a depressão, burnoutbullying, a sentirem-se sós e isoladas, ao ponto de se despedirem dos trabalhos porque é esse trabalho que induz o individualismo, a solidão e a competição seletiva. O trabalho, não o RBI, torna-nos mais sós e competitivos. Para além disso, as pessoas quando têm acesso a serviços sociais e a apoios ao rendimento, geralmente, começam a cooperar. Fazem coisas que antes não se podiam dar ao luxo de fazer. Penso que é similar À gestão do tempo de lazer, tempo de nutrir relações, de brincar, para fazer algo com significado, para se organizar com base nas suas convicções. E não acho que alguém tema que dar mais tempo de lazer às pessoas possa resultar numa sociedade de individualistas competitivos. Parece-me absurdo e uma propaganda cheia de viéses e ideias pré-concebidas.

M.B.: Eu acho que tal afirmação é simplesmente uma mentira. O sistema neoliberal é baseado na ideologia da individualização. A cooperação é desincentivada, a nossa economia em rede é fruto da inteligência social, mas os seus frutos são escolhidos e colhidos apenas por lucro. Em vez disso, acreditamos que as medidas de garantia de rendimento e um sistema de segurança social sólido são instrumentos importantes para libertar todo o tempo atualmente investido na competição individual e dar mais espaço às dinâmicas colectivas e aos processos de cooperação.

S.: O vosso projecto tem várias vertentes, entre elas um livro com várias perspectivas sobre o RBI. Vocês identificam-se como artistas, mas o vosso trabalho foge à ortodoxia da produção de peças para o mercado e as galerias. Acham que é importante seguir esta via, criar pretextos para os artistas pensarem mais sobre o mundo e menos sobre a próxima exposição?

E.B.: A história da arte está cheia de artistas que disseram o que não podia ser dito, que mostraram o que os regimes políticos e culturais tentaram tornar invisível. A história da arte é também povoada por dissidentes políticos ou ativistas que fingiram ser artistas ou que usaram a arte como forma de exprimir os seus pensamentos sem serem directamente presos. A história da arte a que quero pertencer é povoada por este tipo de figuras. E deixo o desafio de procurar e estudar cuidadosamente a história da arte para além da superfície, porque não acredito que se encontre muitos artistas que tenham deixado marca sem pertencer a uma destas duas categorias.

M.B.: No meu caso, nem me identifico como artista. Normalmente apresento-me como activista, investigador e curador. Para mim, o Art for UBI é sobretudo uma ferramenta para experimentar um método performativo de investigação militante. Algo onde a política e a estética se intersectam. Talvez o Emanuele esteja certo, a nossa genealogia encontra-se principalmente nessa ‘outra’ história da arte (uma das várias que existem) e, de facto, o que caracteriza o nosso currículo é um logo compromisso com o activismo de origem popular.

S.: E quão importante é fazê-lo coletivamente? Acham que o caminho tradicional das artes tem dado lugar a artistas mais isolados? É necessário recuperar o tecido social neste aspeto?

E.B.: Eu tenho trabalhado como artista nos últimos 25 anos, e sempre assinei os meus principais trabalhos com assinaturas colectivas. Na verdade, mesmo quando assino um trabalho só com o meu nome e apelido, eu sei que, lá no fundo, estou a fazer batota. Tenho uma grande convicção de que os trabalhos, as acções, os discursos, e os textos que produzimos, são resultado de um complexas relações situadas. Eu não seria nada sem a rede de relações em que escolho operar. A autoria baseia-se mais nessa série de interdependências que escolhemos ou que calhamos a ter. Eu sozinho não sou nada. E o meu nome é sempre um anagrama, cujo significado está em constante evolução e implica inteligência colectiva, recursos não humanos, desejos e condições de opressão. É por isso que aconselho toda a gente, quando assina uma obra como autor único, a passar muito tempo a elucidar explicitamente a genealogia e as interdependências de que ela deriva.

M.B.: A resposta do Emanuele adequa-se perfeitamente ao meu caso. Mas deixa-me acrescentar uma coisa: para além de reconstituir o tecido social, eu acho que aquilo que habitualmente se chama arte radical também deve redescobrir o seu caminho para os conflitos e as lutas sociais. Muitas vezes, nas décadas passadas, a arte engaja socialmente apresentou-se muitas vezes com uma atitude de ONG, preocupada em reparar supostas micro-fracturas enquanto ignorava completamente as causas estruturais de tais danos.


by Marco Baravalle

published on ARCH+ #252 Open for Maintenance 2023

The Institute of Radical Imagination (IRI), founded in 2018, is a network of artists, academics, and curators working at the intersection of art and the commons. Their project Art for Universal Basic Income (Art for UBI)—consisting of a manifesto, a campaign, a book—advocates for an unconditional universal basic income (UBI) above the poverty threshold and focuses on the role of art worker struggles in the transition to post-capitalist forms of social organization. The project also includes a performance, which will premiere on the occasion of the German Pavilion’s opening on May 19, 2023, in the context of the 18th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, and will draw on the experiences of cultural workers in Venice and beyond. Ahead of the performance, its coordinator Marco Baravalle, a founding member of the IRI and Art for UBI, writes about the origins of the project and the structures and assumptions underlying the Venetian cultural scene. 

Art for UBI

The driving force behind our campaign is Art for UBI (manifesto), a collectively written text developed in online public assemblies convened alongside art worker protests during the COVID-19 pandemic. Published in 2021, the manifesto consists of 14 articles on the benefits of an unconditional universal basic income for art workers, as well as for workers more generally. It highlights the benefits not only in the realm of pay and artistic production, but also in the battle for trans-feminism, de-colonialism, and climate justice. Its drafting started from the premise that a systemic solution is needed to address the fragmentation of artistic labor and the by now normalized idea that everyone should be an “entrepreneur of himself.” Such a solution should be firmly opposed to the micro-corporatisms and competition typical of the neoliberal model, which blocks the formation of united battle fronts.

In Italy, the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 were tough times for workers in the cultural and entertainment sectors, who had to fight for professional recognition in the form of the so-called quarantine pay. But if the halt imposed by the pandemic dramatically highlighted the importance of having access to reliable forms of income, it did so by exacerbating a structural feature of artistic work: that of discontinuity. In the realm of cultural production, discontinuity is the byproduct of the necessary preparation, bureaucracy, autodidactics, and the constant filling out of funding applications, but also of sexism, the erosion of rights, and blackmail directed at these professionals for whom precarity is so often an unavoidable part of the job. Art for UBI (manifesto) makes the case for a publicly granted income as a means to pay art workers for their enormous amounts of invisible labor and to give them the option of saying no to shit jobs and abuse.

In 2021, Art for UBI helped organize a protest in Venice against the neoliberalization of museums and the city’s cultural policies, a process which hinges on the precarization of labor. The protest was initiated by the Sale Docks collective—which I am part of—along with the cultural sector workers network Mi Riconosci? (Do You Recognize Me?). In Rome, Art for UBIjoined performing arts workers in the temporary occupation of the Globe Theater. That same year, in Madrid, Art for UBI was turned into a performance titled Una Renta Muchos Mundos / One Income Many Worlds, which was shown in the Museo Reina Sofía and various community spaces around the city. In October 2022, a new Art for UBI performance was shown at the Le Alleanze dei Corpi festival in Milan, this time with the title Incondizionatamente (Unconditionally). In this way, Art for UBI has transformed from a platform into a fundamentally hybrid assemblage challenging the separation between art and politics.

A Performative Investigation

The following notes are taken from a “self-investigation” carried out by Sale Docks in 2017. The goal was to cast light on the working conditions of those laboring in the giant culture factory of Venice. I refer to it as a “self-investigation” not only because of its relatively small scale (16 interviewees and around 50 questionnaires), but also because the sample of interviewees was structurally very similar to the composition of Sale Docks: aged between 25 and 40, white, majority women, many with a university degree. This is the typical profile of the cultural precariat that sustains the Biennale and its many spin-off businesses.

When I say “investigation,” I do not mean it in the traditional journalistic or sociological sense. I am thinking instead of the militant political tradition of the Italian workerists in the 1960s—those of the Quaderni Rossi journal, which was followed by Classe Operaia. The workerists broke away from traditional Marxism and, in part, from the Italian workers’ movement more generally. This was due, first and foremost, to an epistemological shift, intended to free revolutionary knowledge from its ideological shackles and put it to the test of reality by centering on a critique of labor. This did not lead to the end of dogma or blind trust in Marxist “sacred texts,” but rather to a rereading of these texts in light of how they played out on the ground—or, in the 1960s context, on the factory floor in the industrial centers of northern Italy. The so-called Conricerca (Co-research)—a research methodology put forward, in particular, by Romano Alquati—was not a quest for knowledge on the subjects but with the subjects, implying an end to the distinction between the theoretical and the political. It offered a way to interpret the process of knowledge production not as a single moment prior to a transformation in the status quo, but as a participant in the transformation itself.

The Sale Docks initiative of self-investigation continues, although it has taken on the hybrid form of a performance within the assemblage of Art for UBI. Through performance, Art for UBI is able to create a space of radical autonomy. According to philosopher Jacques Rancière, such autonomy is one of the oppositions that characterizes art, and also a sign of art’s radical nature. Rancière sees art as defined by its ability to construct an elsewhere in respect to the social context in which it is produced, with its miseries and violence, and to function as a force for the “distribution of the sensible,” pointing to potential new forms of communal living. In today’s era of neoliberal art, however, the condition of this autonomy is not—as classical aesthetics and common sense would have it—the astronomical distance between art and life, but rather the distance, yet to be created, between art and capital: an inherently social issue which Art for UBI needs to tackle head-on.

It goes without saying that carrying out an investigation of workers today is not the same as during the 1960s. The main arena of class struggle, at least in Europe, is no longer the Fordist factory. Furthermore, it must be said that while the workerists correctly identified the points at which the broadest class ruptures would occur—the mass worker (operaio massa) first and the social worker (operaio sociale)later—our goal here is much less ambitious: realistically, perhaps our investigation/performance can make a little headway in an analysis of the subjectivity of the artistic precariat. As such, certain  questions have come to form the basis for our work: Is it possible to do an investigation through a performance? Is it possible to do so in a way that does not result both in a sub-par investigation and a sub-par performance? What even is a performative investigation? Is it simply a study with a performance as its output? What type of knowledge does it generate? Is staging an investigation into a particular segment of cultural work a gesture that begins and ends with the staging itself, or is it an action capable of forging alliances, further actions, and routes to community building and collective action? Can a performance help us advance the struggle for rights and fair pay? Is it possible to make the performance an autonomous space without feeding into the apparatus of capture that is the neoliberal dispositif of art? To hint at least at some of the responses to these complex questions, we can look to the results of the Sale Docks self-investigation, which highlights some of the thornier issues. Issues that, at this point, I will leave it to our interlocutors to voice.

May I switch to English?”—the culture industry’s global supply chain

This phrase, says Antonia, was the exit strategy of choice for her US temporary employer whenever they wanted to avoid sensitive topics such as contracts, back pay, or work trips. Antonia is a university student in Venice and she attends a few training courses run by non-profit cultural organizations. As a first job, she worked off the books for one of the big Venetian events companies with strong ties to the Biennale. For five months, she regularly worked over eight hours a day, having been left in charge of running ten exhibitions—alone, and in spite of her lack of experience. Her duties included handling press, hooking up internet in the exhibition spaces, managing staff, writing daily reports on the condition of displayed works, and everything in between. All of this for two or three hundred euros a month, paid in cash. We are not talking about a start-up here, but about companies managing dozens of properties in Venice; during the Biennale, the rent for these places runs to hundreds of thousands of euros, ensuring healthy profit margins. Understandably dissatisfied with this situation, Antonia decided to leave. She wanted to strike out on her own and set up a business with friends and classmates. She registered for a VAT number but soon realized that being a freelancer was not really a suitable option, the fiscal regime being too rigid for someone with a low and inconsistent income like hers. In the absence of any financial safety net, she quit. But now that she had cut her teeth in the field, she was contacted by the head of another small company working in cultural events. It was an international company based in a European capital, with links to Venice on account of the Biennale and its international showcasing opportunities. Antonia’s first conversation with them was brief: “Hi Antonia, I need a personal assistant.”—“When?”—“Can you move here by Monday?” She accepted the role, but it was the same tune. Her boss was late in providing her with a work contract, the pay was insufficient, the hours long. She started to receive requests from the company manager unrelated to work. Nobody helped her make professional connections. In fact, Antonia found herself systematically excluded from social events and, eventually, decided to move back to Venice and re-enroll in university. She says she needed to remind herself why she had chosen the artistic field in the first place. So much of her experience is typical of work in the cultural sector, in which the chain of exploitation, defined by informality and working off the books, begins at university and then extends to a global scale.

“There has to be a third way in between all the young people working for reduced rates and the big companies forming oligopolies to inflate prices”—labor market distortions

Giorgio has been running a nonprofit contemporary art space through a cultural association in Venice since 2010. He did not take his first salary until 2016 and he is still waiting to earn back the 20,000 euros he put down as an initial investment. His comment—reported above—touches on two issues that kept coming up during our conversations with art workers. The first is the difficulty of operating as a legal enterprise in a market where newcomers work for next to nothing in exchange for building a portfolio, thereby undercutting those small businesses that demand larger investments in hopes of securing fair pay for themselves and their collaborators. It must be emphasized, however, that newcomers are certainly not the biggest culprits in this regard. On the contrary, the worst offenders come when we move up the chain from self-employment and small businesses to the multi-million-dollar business of contracting out cultural services—so-called “outsourcing.” Big firms that share the market for these services at a national level are undoubtedly the ones profiting most from underpaid workers. At the other end of the spectrum is the second issue, which is very specific to Venice and its prosperous industry of cultural events. Here, a handful of wealthy companies are in charge of an enormous quantity of real estate, including palazzi and other prime locations. They rent these out to the highest bidder, paying little or no attention to the nature of the project at hand. These companies have come to function as the “landlords” of culture, turning the extraction of profit into a culture in itself. This is not artistic production; it is an artistic rental market. In an emptied-out city, the rental companies are custodians of the emptiness. Art is the perfect decoy, enabling them to spin profit from a void. It may seem different, but it is exactly the same logic that drives the market for short-term holiday rentals. Art is simply the latest agent of touristification in a city already on its knees.

“Entrepreneurs make money from products. Associations, on the other hand, have to find money to make a product that doesn’t generate any profit of itself”—the difference between businesses and associations

Most event organizers in Venice are associazioni culturali, or cultural associations. Simona is a member of one that focuses on live art and experimental music. She lived in Venice for 17 years before being forced to return to the mainland. Her job in the cultural sector had ceased to be financially viable, and she was no longer willing to supplement it by working as a cleaner for a tourist rental agency. For her, it is clear that the solution to the endemic precarity of art work is not everyone becoming an entrepreneur of themselves. She rejects the idea that we should always expect cultural production to conform to the logic of business. “Instead,” she says, “culture should be financed through a legal structure such as that of the association, which is formally bound to prioritize content over profits.” In our current legal context, however, this alone is often not enough. For obvious reasons of conflict of interest, members of an association do not take a share of the profits; instead, we need guidelines regarding how to pay them and any potential collaborators for their work. More public funding programs should be open to associations, rather than exclusively to cultural businesses. Associations, unlike businesses, are inherently concerned with the social development of the place where they carry out their activities, but the social cohesion they bring has yet to be deemed valuable in economic or political terms. Talking to Simona raised a crucial point: There is a whole world of young professionals out there who do not want hand-outs from the state, but simply to be in the position to put their talents to use and have their work recognized. Entrepreneurial individualism is often the professional reality for cultural workers, but associations offer the possibility of a collective alternative. An example? For several months, Simona’s association has been holding open meetings with similar organizations operating in Venice. It is still early days, but the first three meetings led to the idea of building an online platform listing everyone’s services and finding a physical space in which they can share skills and technical equipment.

“I’ve never really thought about a universal basic income … welfare is good, but for everyone, not just for cultural workers”—the misunderstanding of welfare as privilege

Roberto’s opinion was one that came up a lot in the interviews. Many people did not have much of an opinion about an unconditional universal basic income.

Others, in keeping with the neoliberal discourse, maintained that competition is the only route to professional validation, as well as an incentive to make high-quality content. Regardless, almost everyone was pro-social welfare, so long as “it’s for all jobs, not just a few.” The different rationales for this radically anti-corporate position—a position shared by Art for UBI—are interesting. While a minority of cases had political motives, the vast majority of interviewees seemed to have a general feeling of guilt and embarrassment at being paid in a form other than wages or invoices. There was a widely shared perception that welfare is a privilege, not a right. This ambiguity around rights and privileges is a constant in the field of cultural work. The

idea of having rights makes workers uncomfortable. The concept that their invisible, unpaid labor should, and could, be financially compensated seems largely alien to them. For many young people, the few salaried positions that have survived the relentless outsourcing of the culture industries are the privilege of a group of “untouchables”—older workers with permanent contracts, who are now demotivated and resistant to change. It is worth noting that, of all the interviewees, only one mentioned—correctly—that a universal basic income differs from traditional welfare, in that it constitutes a structural way to value life according to the terms of the current system of production. Most interviewees acknowledged, at least in part, this value system: they know they are creating value when they organize an event, transform an apartment into a cultural center, or share original content online, yet it rarely seemed to occur to anyone that this labor should be financially compensated.

“I’ve realized that, in this city, volunteering is important.”—the creative bohemian

This is another quote from Roberto, who collaborates every so often with one of the city’s small cultural spaces. The space is run on a nonprofit basis by a group of young people who use it to host events such as concerts, book launches, workshops, small exhibitions, and meetings. I have to admit Roberto’s comment surprised me. It echoes those of several other interviewees who have found ways to integrate informal cultural projects into their lives. Roberto had never considered that the space could be a fertile ground for developing his own artistic work. This is partly because it does not have all the technical equipment he needs, but mainly because he sees his presence there as something he does to volunteer and show support to his friends who run it. In this sense, there seems to be a clear division between the independent cultural scene, where one volunteers, and formalized working arrangements, where one makes serious art.

Nicoletta expressed a largely similar view, commenting on the phenomenon of turning private apartments into temporary spaces for small-scale cultural activities. She told me, “It’s not so much about the specifics of the show or the concert. It’s more that, in a city that’s so completely overrun, it’s truly fulfilling to have somewhere just to be with friends, to share a drink … no one’s there talking about careers.” No career talk, thankfully. But what we could call Venice’s “independent scene” is clearly perceived as a refuge, as an interruption to the stretched-out time dedicated to performing labor. It is not that conviviality and building relationships cannot themselves serve the function of aesthetic variables, but this is not the point. The point is that this apparent pause in the cycle of value production, characterized by informality, is in reality one of the classic tools of neoliberal urban transformation, which exploits “the creative bohemian.” In Venice these initiatives luckily function more as ways to reclaim and decommodify for-profit spaces, rather than as bridgeheads for the gentrification that has been ravaging the city for years leading to the exodus of its inhabitants. Still, the lack of self-reflection within the independent scene, and its reduction to a space of conviviality, serves to keep it subaltern to the city’s institutional landscape and the dominance of the industry of cultural events.  


In 1971, Danilo Montaldi published his Militanti politici di base (Grassroots Political Activists), a collection of testimonials from activists based in the lower Po valley, gathered through conversations and interviews. The book retains the spoken syntax of these interactions, including the use of dialect. This is a history from below, presenting the lived reality of the political struggle of the late 19th century, to the years of antifascist resistance, to the struggles of the 1960s. In the introduction, Montaldi writes of the conflicting character of some of these voices: “In addition to the life forms, worldviews, and ideologies that endure and accompany contemporary man, and not just in his moments of weakness … are others that come to establish themselves, suitable for and in keeping with the changing times but which are also clearly anticipatory; a premise. It may seem odd to talk of anticipation and ‘memories’ in the same breath, but, as you will see, the animating force for these various subjectivities is always a certain conflict with historical time, which extends from political reasonings to all of life’s norms and customs.” Times have changed, along with contexts and methods, but it is worth taking note and keeping this passage in mind as we set forth on our Venetian campaign—because art and militant investigations have at least one thing in common: when they insist on having the last word, they end up becoming a gravestone for the possible; but when they succeed in embracing what is yet to come, they retain the radical character of a premise.

  • 1 See Institute of Radical Imagination, Art for UBI (manifesto), eds. Marco Baravalle et al. (Venice: Bruno, 2022), accessed March 14, 2023, mutation-2020/som-iterations/art-for-ubi/.
  • 2 Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, trans. Graham Burchell (Lon- don: Palgrave Macmillan 2004), 226.
  • 3 See Romano Alquati, Per fare conricerca (Rome: Derive Approdi, 2012).
  • 4 See Jacques Rancière, Aesthetics and Its Discontents, trans. Stephen Corcoran (Cambridge: Polity, 2009) 43–44.
  • 5 “What we must therefore recognize both in the linear scenario of modernity and postmodernity, and in the academic opposition between art for art’s sake and engaged art, is an originary and persistent tension be- tween the two great politics of aesthetics: the politics of the becoming-life of art and the politics of the resistant form. The first identifies the forms of aesthetic expe- rience with the forms of another life. The finality it as- cribes to art is to construct new forms of life in common, and hence to eliminate itself as a separate reality. The second, by contrast, encloses the political promise of aesthetic experience in art’s very separation, in the resistance of its form to every transformation into a form of life.” Ibid.
  • 6 Operaio massa and operaio sociale are two diffe- rent subjectivities formulated by the Italian workerists. Operaio massa is understood as the typical assembly line worker who is only responsible for a very small task within an automated process of production and, as a result, becomes disqualified as an “unskilled” worker. Operaio sociale is a worker who identifies with the work- ing class, although they are not necessarily subjected to the classic Fordist relationships of production which tra- ditionally take place inside the factory, but more gene- rally to capitalist relations of production that extend into all economic sectors. See Antonio Negri, “Proletari e Stato: Per una discussione su autonomia operaia e compromesso storico” in Libri del rogo (1976, reprint, Rome: Derive Approdi, 2006), 144–45.
  • 7 See Danilo Montaldi, Militanti politici di base (Turin: Einaudi, 1971).
  • 8 Ibid., XI.


We invite you to read the article by Kuba Szreder on Art Review

Including reflections on IRI activities like the platform around the Art for UBI (manifesto) and The School of Mutation, one answer, argues sociologist Kuba Szreder, is that formal art education simply teaches students how to take part in the art market. Here Szreder, who helped set up the Free/Slow University of Warsaw, a set of discussions, strike actions and publications responding to art and academia’s frenetic pace, explores the potential that lies beyond the traditional institutions of art education.

  • Neoliberalism and the contemporary applications of really useful knowledge
  • Against artistic exceptionalism
  • F/SUW: reclaiming time
  • Art for UBI: reclaiming social imagination
  • Le Cercle d’Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise (CATPC, the Congolese Plantation Workers Art League): reclaiming resources
  • Radical pragmatism of really useful knowledge


IRI shares the Declaration by Dmitry Vilensky published on Chto Delat website with the idea to open a space of critical thinking on the complex present situation that art and cultural institutions are called to face.

“With great sadness, Daria Serenko (Feminist Anti-war resistance)  and I have decided not to participate in the discussion organized by Creative Time and Vera List Center “Teach-in on Ukraine for Artists and Activists”. We want to thank Larissa Babji, Nikita Kadan, and Mykola Ridnyi for their willingness to take part in this event together with us.

After spreading information about the event on social media, Daria and I both received a lot of angry messages. The accusation was that Western experts and Russian activists would have nothing to teach about the war in Ukraine, and that especially the Russians should give their places to Ukrainian speakers in light of the current situation.

Of course, neither Daria nor I can teach anybody anything about Ukraine – just opposite, we were invited modestly to talk about the situation around anti-war protests in Russia and to show solidarity with the Ukrainian struggle.  We totally respect and understand the anger of anyone who is demanding a total and undifferentiated boycott of Russian voices in any context. There are no nuances in class war, as we used to say.

Those in Russia who have resisted the local fascist regime from the very beginning and have not received anything from it except repression, we do not need to be celebrated.

It is our privilege that we never had to speak from the position of nation, force, militarization, and violent struggle. This has never been our language of resistance. We have always spoken from the position of weakness, vulnerability and care that today is shared by all protesters in Russia and Belarus, facing draconic wartime legislation  We will continue our anti-war campaigns in all possible forms.

Today’s growing movement against the war and the fascist regime continues an age-old struggle in Russia against autocracy and colonialism. We are proud to belong to this tradition which the current regime is trying to silence and erase.

There is an old Polish slogan: For our freedom and yours (Za naszą i waszą wolność). It was first seen in 1831 at a patriotic demonstration in Warsaw, held to commemorate the Russian Decembrists. In partitioned Poland, it meant that a Polish victory would also mean liberty for the peoples of Russia–fellow inmates in that “prison house of the peoples.” The slogan made it clear: the Polish struggle for self-determination and nationhood was aimed not at the Russian people but at tsarist despotism. It was also a call to action. To be freed from serfdom at the arbitrary hands of oligarchs and bureaucrats, Russians would have to topple the regime that expands into other countries and colonizes them. This common history of struggle against Russian imperial autocracy has a colossal meaning to all “real” Russian culture–and not the one we are now “learning” about from Putin and his cronies.

Today, what we need most are discussions based on mutual respect and solidarity. We cannot participate in discussions where all Russians and everything Russian is considered as a culture of oppression and colonization. We respect this view of Ukrainian patriots at a time of fascist war, in light of all the regime’s atrocities. But we cannot agree. Silencing our common history and our emancipatory heritage is exactly what Putin is doing. Please do not help him.

Nevertheless, we support your fight; it is our fight as well. We still believe that this war is not Russia’s war, but that of PutinZ and his regime and we are grateful to you for this chance to formulate and advocate this position.

Glory to Ukraine, glory to the people of Belarus and Russia who resist, glory to anyone who does their best to stop the war and care about life not death!”

Dmitry Vilensky, 12.03.2022

this post is open to comments


The internal polarization in Ukraine between pro-European nationalism and Russian nationalism, which has lasted and grown for years, does not explain the political point of the contemporary conflict. It does not explain why this conflict will go down in history for having sanctioned the end of bipolarism and the formalization of multipolarity.

The solidarity of neighbouring countries such as Poland, the Baltic countries, Romania, Moldova expresses this. The dominant narrative and also operational belief in the political subjectification of these peoples is the defence of civil rights and the desire for democracy against Putin’s autocratic and homophobic despotism. And this creates an internationalist axis between the movements of solidarity and mutual aid towards the Ukrainian resistance and activists who are filling the streets and suffering unprecedented repression in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Oppressed peoples in Ukraine are dying in the name of an idea of ​​democracy that is unable to defend them, which is no longer able to prevent the threat of the atomic bomb on its own with its own economic and diplomatic power.

I think this is the most significant fact: there is a bloc that has sharpened the weapon of repression and authoritarianism and white supremacist populism that is no longer afraid to assert itself and which questions democratic principles and a culture based on civil rights.

And I say this because I am not listening to the old communists of the European left, but to the young antifa, anarchist and communard activists who are in Ukraine, Poland, Romania, the Baltic countries, Turkey and Russia

This advance, including military, by the Putin regime in Ukraine, is a sign of the crisis in the West. The West is in geopolitical decomposition. NATO is in geostrategic retreat. I would start from this consideration to understand what is happening.

In fact, Europe is proving defensive and powerless in the face of Putin’s criminal actions. It is watching the massacre in Ukraine helplessly, expressing its opposition with sanctions, but without sitting at the negotiating tables because de facto is not legitimated by Putin.

Europe is immobilized, rightly non-interventionist and pacifist for the terror of opening an atomic conflict. Terror that Putin does not have. Those who think that this crisis is being won by a more politically united and energetically autonomous Europe, strengthened by sanctions and its untainted morality, are wrong. Europe is uniting in this crisis, internal ties are strengthening, but it is not expressing strength, but hypocrisy as usual.
Europe feels more united as people who are terrified and embraced in a bunker under the bombs feel more united … It is a cohesion dictated by fear not by a vision. NATO is defenseless from a diplomatic point of view, because it knows that it has lost the authority to mediate and or oversees global geopolitics without fighting. This is another fact: Europe and the United States have lost the role of arbiter of the world balance.

It is no longer enough to send a few Marines undercover as they have successfully done in half of South America. If they want to sit at the table, they must show that they have the courage to fight with the atomic bomb. For this they do cannot sit at the diplomatic table and they have also lost the right to speak. Only China perhaps could play this role.
For this reason, I believe that the opposition, by the nostalgia for the cold war, between NATO and Russia, neither with NATO nor with Putin… is, after all, right, but out of focus.

The truth is that after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet Union, Russia turned into a fake liberticidal, authoritarian and homophobic democracy and that the enlargement to the east of Europe came first of all for a sincere desire of the people to have civil rights and democratic governments. Soft power and Western interference to make this happen have occurred but they have been in the background and within a geopolitical framework in which NATO has lost ground everywhere.

With this I don’t want to defend NATO, of course. Indeed, we have almost always harshly criticized it, just think of Bush’s wars to export democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan. But let us also realize that these wars have been a failure. And I believe they have failed militarily because they were already the latest rushed gestures within a West that have been losing and declining in the global political scenario for several decades. Putin is advancing, because he knows that China is advancing, the Arab world is advancing and because he knows that the West is in a terminal crisis, with respect to its position.

We should be happy that NATO is weak and that this West is decomposing because we have never liked NATO and this kind of West. But we should be equally angry that Putin is a dictator who kills intellectuals and homosexuals and massacres people in Syria, Chechnya and Ukraine.

However, if this is the case, we should also be very aware that there is a void and a very substantial disaster to be filled. There is no need to attack NATO or to rehabilitate NATO … Salvini, Trump, Bannon and Brexit are already thinking about it … there is a need and the urgency to have very quick ideas on what comes next and instead of NATO and of this West.

Because if these ideas do not come to us quickly and we waste time barking against NATO, there is an increasing risk that in the meantime Putin or some nationalist in his place will also take away those few civil rights and democratic principles that we still have the privilege to have.

On closer inspection, the only alternative projects that grew up in the folds of globalization and the crisis of the West as an empire, were the EZLN and Kurdish confederalism. They are the only experiments with which an attempt has been made to create counter-hegemony, including military ones, from an indigenous (non-Western) perspective and at the same time further develop the culture of civil rights, feminism, interdependence between humans and the environment and direct democracy.

There is a need as soon as possible for a European political project that asserts itself on the same level: as a democratic space, of civil rights but which is also capable of being very radical on ecology, universal income and post-colonialism.

If Europe is not radically green and radically open in its migration policies, it will not be able to defend democratic and civil rights, and it will be politically wiped out by nationalism. I use the word radical deliberately because I suffer from the opposition that has arisen in recent years between civil rights and social rights. I think this opposition is false and a product of liberal washing.

If we take anti-patriarchy, ecology and decolonization seriously, in a radical way, we soon come to talk about universal basic income, school, health, minimum wage, right to housing and the cost of the gas bill.

European party representation is clearly lagging in grasping this agenda, with the exception of the political class that has grown up in the ranks of Podemos in Spain, in municipalist experiences such as Barcelona en Comun and now Možemo in Zagreb, or part of the ongoing discussion in the European Greens. As I said at the beginning of this speech, the only ones to keep the anti-capitalist, anti-patriarchal, decolonial and ecological agenda are the social movements.

Those same social movements that are bringing humanitarian aid to refugees first Syrian, Afghan, sub Saharan, and the anarchist and anti-fascist Ukrainians who are shooting at Putin and Russian activists who are getting arrested in the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg. It is this alliance that the media and European parties should listen to and learn from in order to set a vision of Europe in a multipolar world.

Finally, there is a global geopolitical question. I started this article by sanctioning the end of bipolarism and the formalization of multipolarity. I then said that Europe has a future if it manages to re-establish itself on a radically post-colonial and ecological basis.

And I have said that if we do not want to succumb to Russian nationalist threats we must give an alternative vision of what will take the place from the void left by NATO. To do this, we need to look at Africa and South America in a completely new way. Starting with what is happening in Chile and the alliance between indigenous perspective, social justice, and ecology of the new President Boric, the post-Bolsonaro future of Brazil, and the enormous energy that the new generation of Africans is creating.

Emanuele Braga, March 2022

This post is open to comments for those who wish to contribute or articulate on the topic


Performance and instituent capacity

“We don’t need new art, but new institutions instead” (Fusco, 2020) thus Coco Fusco declared in October 2020 when, amid theBlack Lives Matter outburst, we begin to realize that art institutions – museums, biennials, festivals, theaters, cultural centers – despite the declarations of intent, they continue to be spaces for the reproduction of a white, Eurocentric and patriarchal knowledge.

I would like to look at the relationship between art and political activism through a lens opening up on instituent practices because I believe it can account for the aesthetic dimension and the political dimension as interrelated, inter-acting forces, which mutually co-establish themselves in a continuous motion of material experimentation. When the reappropriation of art institutions is conceived and carried out in continuity with artistic practices, there is a different involvement of the artists, who are involved in a process of subjectivation, instead of a mere commitment or participation. It is not a question of taking a position on something that happens elsewhere or to others, but of putting into play and redesigning one’s biography, material conditions, relational and productive systems, multiple economies that operate continuous changes of scale – from the personal to the political, from singularities to what we can define transindividual (Simondon, 1989). Art is therefore reconfigured as a space of radical imagination, capable of rethinking the status of institutions, artistic and not (cfr. Van Campenhout, L. Mestre 2016), as well as that of creation, aesthetics, and languages.

With Deleuze of Instincts and Institutions (1955), we can describe institutions as expressions of imaginative power and social creativity, places where tendencies and desires manage to have an impact on the real, and where the world becomes available as a space for action. So says Sara Ahmed, providing a feminist perspective on the relationship between spatiality, acting, and (from my point of view) institutions, in which the bodily dimension is decisive: what we come into contact with, shapes us (AHMED, 2007). This availability of space for action is not uniformly distributed: not all bodies and subjects can access it in the same way, or have the same forces, temporalities, materialities at their disposal. This availability differs from body to body, defined by proximity to or distance from this space of possibility, and it is crossed by inequalities. Instituent practices generate systems of proximity, in which languages, experiences, knowledges, habits, postures are reproduced, and in which variation and codification are continuously at stake. In addition to aesthetic and poetic practices, writing and composition unfold their full potentials in their ability to bring new political and bodily performances into the world, thus questioning the existing framework. Hence, gesture, body, and public space as a generative choreographic but also political sequence.

How to create new institutions? Can this work of political creation draw on procedures, repertoires, gestures, and knowledges trained in the arts? In the era of exhaustion of political and social mediations, can artistic institutions function as alternative spaces for new citizenship and social cooperation? What autonomies does artistic and creative work need, to express itself as a full liberated power? In which subjectivity is it embodied? These are the focuses around which this path unfolds, composting theoretical issues with inventions that come from the practices. As Valeria Graziano writes, what is at stake is understanding whether the artistic field, emerging from an idea of self-sufficiency, can become a tool capable to generate other ways of creating:

“The recreative industries always corresponded to exercises in the fragile temporality of sheltering both our labor force, allowing us to experience its potency as it disentangles itself away from capitalist forms of relation, but also to experience our constitutive difference not as something to be merely managed, but as the true source of the pleasure found in the ‘creative function’ of the body politics.” (Graziano, 2019)

Dark Matter (1). What do we say when we say “artist”?

I have been working for twenty years in the performing arts in different roles: as a performer, actress, author, dramaturg, and educator in the transmission of knowledge and training. As an “artist” it is politically necessary for me to destabilize the status of exceptionality and separateness of the artistic work. A status enjoyed on the level of social recognition and that contributes to the construction of an abstract and almost mystical figure, the last remnant of a now-vanished aura, and intertwined with the all-male myth of the “genius-creator”. On the contrary, and in spite of any claim to the autonomy of the aesthetic, those who work in the artistic field find themselves with both feet firmly planted in the material swamp of the slippery real neoliberal economies, where – too much often in fact – the differences of social class and origin decisively contribute to the progress of professional biographies and “careers”. Art – when observed under the lens of the work and forms-of-life of those who practice it – is anything but a sharp object with well-defined contours. Besides the more official,  recognized, and variously “contractualized” works, there is, as a matter of fact,  a whole “dark matter” that has no name. Borrowing the definition from astrophysics, that is how  Gregory Sholette defines the whole hidden activity that institutions, ministerial programs, and influential voices of culture do not recognize, yet constitutes the complex and multidimensional body of the production and economies of the art world:

“it includes makeshift, amateur, informal, unofficial, autonomous, activist, non-institutional, self-organised practices – all work made and circulated in the shadows of the formal art world, some of which might be said to emulate cultural dark matter by rejecting art world demands of visibility, and much of which has no choice to be invisible.” (Sholette, 2011)

As a note of my personal biography – being pretty aware it being part of a collective biography – I would add that in this dark matter, we might also count all those activities that are not closely artistic, yet allow the sustainability – always on the verge of survival – of the very fragile economies of those who work in the art world in Italy. As a consequence of the absence of a welfare system recognizing the statute of structural intermittence of the artistic work and its specific forms of precariousness, the off-work and unemployment-covered hours must actually be filled by other jobs. Jobs  that must themselves be precarious and intermittent enough to combine with the unpredictable instability of artistic activity; jobs that therefore one may be able to abandon at any time in the event of an artistic engagement or the confirmation of an artistic residence, without any consequences; jobs that must allow (unpaid) time to dedicate to the development and promotion of one’s own artistic projects; jobs which must be invisible enough, not to affect the identity of the “artist”. Being a bartender, a waitress, a dishwasher, working in catering – the catering sector being the dark side as opposed to the glittering of the art world – working in clubs, doing graphics, projects in schools, art-linked teaching in the most different fields, workshops, seasonal jobs, and moreover cleaners, riders, babysitters, call center operators, leafleting, and so on. Who am I, how am I defined socially? Low-paid, unsecured, and mostly undeclared jobs that reappear at different times in the artist’s professional life and not just in the early years of training. In the absence of welfare measures, these junk jobs or stopgap jobs fill and compensate for an existence marked by an intermittence not only of income but also of professional identity, a discontinuity that defines subjectivities with a temporality “other” than that of the wage-labor society. “Against-the-time jobs” – one may define them – which have the effect of fragmenting, even more, our already fragmented enough lives. So many pieces that often struggle to make a whole. 

How can we explain this composite economy made up of many often concurrent and inconsistent identities? And again, is it really possible to speak of the “artists” without naming this material component that absorbs life, time, and energy, and which is treated as the shameful shadow to be omitted from curricula and portfolios?

Practices of radical imagination

Start from the practices is an indication that comes from feminist thought and which allows us to reposition the relationship between art and politics in the contemporary world. A relationship not without shadows and ambiguity. Performing arts are here meant as practices, as ways of human doing, as a space for counter-hegemonic narratives, rather than as art objects that can be decoded according to the canons of aesthetics or art history. bell hooks write – in his fundamental reflections on the need to decolonize narratives, representations, and on the strategic centrality of cultural formations – that language is a place of struggle (hooks, 1990)

Following this indication, two possible tracks open up. One track is about investigating artistic processes focusing on the experimentation of languages and the imagination of the sensible, bringing the world to the world every time anew. Giving the final cut to the original gap between feminism and art in Italy, Carla Lonzi already in 1977 in the Female Revolt Second Manifesto declared that the bare theme setting is no sufficient criterion for evaluating the political consistency of an artistic (or political) action. Indeed, quite the opposite: “the more you deal with the woman, the more alien you are to me”. A radical and final declaration – displaced on the level of the aesthetics – that cuts ties with a whole tradition of political art that thematizes and argues, tells, and represents without affecting the existing canons and grammars. Art expresses a part of its power in the ability to make the world – or in Rancière words, to open up a new distribution of the sensible: “aesthetic acts as configurations of experience that create new modes of sense perception and induce novel forms of political subjectivity” (Rancière, 2000). In this sense, language is to be considered among the institutions of social organization, starting with Hume who theorized the mobility and the evolutionary capacity of social institutions as a result of historically and culturally determined conventions. Nature and the artifact are configured in a bidirectional dynamic co-implicating and modeling each other – a theme upon which feminist thought has dug and continues to dig unprecedented and generative paths. (Caleo, 2018). Thus, crystallized social relationships are naturalized – as it happens to the relationship between the sexes and the institution of heteronormative binarism – yet, with Butler, they can also be subverted at any time. (Butler, 1988). It’s about interrupting the repetition of the performance and of the given repertoires, in order to open up to the instituent potential and the rewriting capacity that the performative makes manifest. It is in these connections and at the productive intersection of those debates, that the idea of ​​fictional institutions opens up. To be understood in both ways: as the conventional and artificial the character of the institutions, which are therefore to be considered fictions, narratives that can always be rewritten from scratch; but also – thus Blanga-Gubbay and Piazza – as a terrain of possible falsification and invention, which trespasses into the exercise of art. Here we investigate the possibility that invented institutions, as well as aesthetic acts, can impact reality with transformative effects. At the same time, fictional institutions have the capacity to crumble and tarnish the alleged solidity of the existing institutions: “they do not claim their realness, but rather transport the same ideas of institutionality as in the realm of fiction.” (Blanga-Gubbay, Piazza).

A parallel track – one upon which I focus further below – attempts recognition of the political action of artists and art workers who have activated processes of subjectivation and instituent proposals. In Italy at different temporal heights and in different ways, these struggles have taken on the practice of occupying, managing, or self-governing spaces as a form of artistic precariousness self-organization. The occupation of spaces traditionally is an invention made available to movements since the 1960s and 1970s, and which in Italy has an extraordinary intensity – from housing occupations to the occupation of workplaces, social centers, urban spaces, and abandoned lands. IN the very same years and in addition to those occupations, the artistic experimental scene also passed through the creation of capillary networks of non-institutional places – from cellars to galleries, and independent festivals. The Italian feminist movement, unlike the North American one, rather than negotiating entry into “major” institutions – whether they were artistic institutions or university departments has – has known an extraordinary proliferation of autonomous institutions: libraries, publishing houses, self-managed counseling centers, independent self-awareness spaces, study groups, seminars for medical, sexual and political self-training, and homes for women. An archive so rich in innovations, knowledges, and imagination, that can always be thrown in, reactivated, incorporated in different times and contexts.

Looking at artistic activism of the 2010s, the practice of the occupations expresses its instituting capacity as well as its political autonomy. In Teatro Valle’s early days the activists declared “today we occupy a theater, just like once workers occupied factories”. A claim going beyond the self-representative dimension, and immediately leading to the productive dimension – through the direct management of the means of production, the setting up of informal economies, the experimenting of new relational systems – and the imaginative dimension of a new institutionality. The art of self-government in a different way, outside the neoliberal repertoires of production and competition, inventing new ways of cooperation able to trigger social transformations and recall a different idea of citizenship.

Teatro Polivalente Occupato

Ten years later today, in a fully changed political social phase, yet again on the verge of a crisis that will hit hard, I am interested in the possibility of building ramified genealogies. Multiple genealogies – from the nineties to nowadays – useful to link the threads among some junction experiences that marked and reconfigured the political space, as well as the languages of the artistic activism in Italy. With a cross-eyed and a chronologically reversed gaze, I am going to look at the experience of the TPO from a perspective that embodies the experience of the Teatro Valle Occupato, Macao, L’Asilo, reading again and opening again questions in light of the political urgencies of the present. Rather than a historical analysis, keeping these stories alive and always playing at inventing new connections is an exercise in prefiguration launched towards the future (Graziano, 2016). A getting intimate with other temporality and stories – Haraway would say – as a practice of imagination and thought.

2011 Teatro Valle Occupato / Macao / L’Asilo

The pulsating matrix of the occupations of theaters and art spaces was the need to self-organize precarious work during the crisis. We are in the open flow of a movement that is active on several fronts, born to counter the economic crisis of 2008 and the austerity policies that intend to address the crisis by cutting resources and welfare. The neoliberal choice to privatize and cut funds and resources in the public sectors of immaterial and cultural work (schools, universities, cultural heritage, performing arts industry) is equivalent to a direct contraction of the employment opportunities, in a sector already heavily exposed and precarious. In Italy, in the 2009-2010 two-year period, universities are fighting against the Gelmini reform, which with a series of measures reorganizes education and public universities in a decidedly corporate-management direction. Not only students but also precarious researchers are mobilized to occupy the roofs of universities. It is propagation by contact: the meeting with the researchers – reinforcing the awareness that there were common conditions in cognitive and cultural work – pushes the singularities inside the immaterial production sector which remained on the margins of public discourse, and up to then dispersed, to speak up.

A week of “Spacial Struggles”, Teatro Valle Occupato, September 2013

At the time of the temporary occupations of the Cinema Metropolitan in Rome in January 2011 (which was closed to be transformed into a shopping center), and after that on June 11 during the occupation of the Teatro Valle, the activists defined themselves as “intermittent and precarious cultural workers” (AA.VV. DeriveApprodi, 2012).  Those occupations will be then followed by the occupation of L’Asilo in Naples and Torre Galfa skyscraper and Macao in Milan. Other occupations follow across the entire national territory. Those actions are the result of an already active relational policy, a federative doing and thinking together, a connective tissue, which is initially favored precisely by the nomadic and mobile nature of the workers of the art and performing arts sector: who are almost never definitively rooted, who use work in different places and contexts, who frequently change employers, and who often know each other. This cartography includes the sister experiences of Sale Docks in Venice and Angelo Mai in Rome which, although previously born, share the same postures and desires. A network composed of sometimes ephemeral and heterogeneous nodes – unstable yet boiling –  of spaces but also of territorial micro-politics, groups, and scattered subjectivities.

Teatro Valle  Occupato, Artcock “Inside Teatro Valle”, December 2011

On a smaller scale, this rising movement breathes in resonance with other global insurgencies, different from each other, yet interconnected by common words and practices, such as the re-appropriation of public spaces and the call for self-government and direct democracy: from the Spanish 15M to the revolutions in North Africa, the Occupy Movement in the US, Gezi Park in Istanbul, the revolts and experiences of self-government during the crisis in Greece (schools and hospitals).

I would like to focus in particular on one node in the generative richness of the cultural world struggles: the graft between, on the one hand, the artistic precariousness subjectivation process seeking its own forms of self-organization, speaking out, finding alliances and inspiration in other sets of cultural (and not) precariousness; and on the other hand, the many scattered struggles over the commons: from public water, the damaged territories of the South, the No Tav in Val Susa, to the digital commons. It is a double movement: on the one side, to allow art workers struggle to escape from corporatism within which they often entrench themselves in the need to recognize their own exceptional nature; on the other side, to open a perspective on the productive commons, intended not only as primary resources management alternative model but also as work direct self-government in a collective and disseminated way. In this tangle, the theme of new institutions becomes an innovative tool and practice of artistic activism, generating models, prototypes, experiments actually in progress of possible systems of production.

MOTUS at Teatro Valle  Occupato, projection on stage, 1995

Many are the experiments: permanences; training schools for workers; self-inquiries; collective art management tables; participatory writing of new statutes; alternative forms of income as well as informal and circular economies, or the use of a common currency; the collaboration with universities and the decentralization of research activities outside the academy; self-training seminars; collective writing; new dramaturgy projects; the creation of artistic, performative, musical, visual, editorial, curatorial projects. This is the terrain – as Giuseppe Allegri points out – on which creative and minor use of common law is activated, through non-state institutions where

“it is possible to experiment with practices of freedom, inventing forms of self-governance in relationship to others: imagination and a constituent practice, which is the result of social conventions that, instead of replicating the tradition, find new ways of behavior and rules of conduct produced by the collective agreement around the satisfaction of the needs of a community that intends to self-govern.” (Allegri, 2012)

1995 “From the hypermarket to cyberspace”. Teatro Polivalente Occupato (Bologna)

On November 6, 1995, Teatranti Occupanti, an acronym bringing together several young research companiesoccupies the theater of the Academy of Fine Arts via Irnerio 54/c in Bologna, which had remained closed for thirty years: “From now on, every possibility is open, if desired”. Desire and subjectivity are the first elements that I am interested in highlighting because it is in these years that we begin to thematize and recognize – even if this term was not yet used – the question of the precariousness of the artistic world. The subjectivity that takes shape in this occupation is varied and multifaceted: students, technicians, artists from various disciplines, performers, visual artists, videomakers, musicians, choreographers, graphic designers, self-builders, set designers, curators, sound technicians, cybernauts. Often, with that undisciplined posture typical of the countercultures of the 1990s, one is more than one thing at the same time. The choice to name themselves “theater people”, and not “artists” gives a sense of the complexity of roles and functions, rejecting the idea that the artist is separated from the environmental ecosystem. After all, a company is (historically) already a small cell, a nomadic collective identity, an ephemeral temporary institution. Here also available as the first infrastructure of political organization: at the time of occupation, the coordination of the companies dissolves reconfiguring itself into a  more open and heterogeneous subjectivity. Over a period of ten years, the Tpo will in fact be inhabited, with different degrees of intensity, by many artists and companies sometimes transitory, or resident, regular guests, as well as its belonging militant activists.

Teatro Polivalente Occupato, 1995

Unlike other independent spaces or festivals – as in those same years in Bologna in the case of the Link -, the selection and design of a precise aesthetic line have never been the guiding criterion. I believe this as a choice of cultural policy which, sometimes putting at risk the level of “artistic quality”  – a concept with which the occupants explicitly argue since the moment of occupation – opens up to other possibilities that are not yet codified. Like at Teatro Valle, an inhomogeneous and osmotic modality is preferred to the program and the curatorial identity, that allows those spaces to be transformed into a very fertile compost, nourishing undergrowth that, feeding the scene from the bottom, allows even unexpected combinations to grow. Unstable assemblages, which mix and hybridize different communities – from the hypermarket to cyberspace, that’s to say. Once again, desires!.

The attempt to keep both the political and the artistic experimentation together has generated innovative practices on both fronts. First of all on the front of the art world where the dominant practice of groups and companies was certainly to regularly use informal, independent, or occupied spaces and contexts, yet mostly without determining their political perspectives. Although the independent circuits established in the 1980s and 1990s were large, interconnected, and highly populated – in the performing arts, as well as in the music and publishing industry, with all the independent labels, magazines, and fanzines -, the experimental scene continued to depend on more institutional systems. Tpo attempts therefore a path of strong autonomy which – starting from its own material, economic and production conditions –  opens a path of subjectivation: “it has contributed to developing specific skills with respect to the use of technical and artistic means of production” (1997). The issues of cultural and immaterial work and precarious subjectivity will become central in the struggles of the following years – from the manifestations of MayDay (2001) and San Precario (2004) to the struggles of the French intermittents, with their coming to the surface in 2003 and the following cycles of struggles -, but they find a first dazzling incarnation in the experience of the TPO, prefiguring new forms of artistic activism.

TPO 2000
TPO 2000

Second of all, the attempt is also innovative on the front of the political spaces, in which cultural activity has always been perceived as a sideline programming, rather than as a field of struggle and a space for the cultural workforce self-organization. In the experience of the Tpo, activism is also expressed through aesthetic choices, experimentation with new languages, new productive and cooperative practices. Not by chance, it chooses to label itself an “occupied theater” rather than a social center, precisely to mark a discontinuity in its approach to the materiality of cultural work. It is a work of political imagination, as well as of artistic invention. No coincidence that the Tpo becomes humus for two other experiences at the crossroad of the struggles of the following years: the birth of the Bolognese node of Indymedia, and Sexyshock (2001) a feminist pink – queer activism space.

Alike the Valle, also Tpo  (no) plan was to occupy it for three days and “see how it went”: an ability to improvise that we can read as one of the skills that art can lend to political organization, namely a form of instant composition, connected to the present and open to the unexpected, in some way an alternative to the programs and plans of traditional political structures.

Dark Matter #2. Between the folds

The critical analysis of live arts gives us a privileged observation point from which to read the transformations of contemporary work in the neoliberal framework – it is in fact the “activity without work”, unproductive, performative, that becomes the paradigm of production in the post-Fordist economy, as Virno highlights in his seminar “A Grammar of the Multitude” (Virno, 2004). In my opinion today it is precisely this trait placing art, and in particular live arts, in intimate proximity with capitalism, that we must know how to look at. Proximity that hides in the folds of an aestheticization of the political that every form of artistic activism must question and undermine. Even the gradual collapse of the boundary between artist and activist is sometimes almost encouraged by the institutions and the art market and reveals peculiar traits of ambiguity. In the society of performance, this indistinction is accompanied by the request to be more and more performative, more and more involved: the artist must be able to be the entrepreneurs of themselves (cf. Gentili, Niccoli, 2015). Thus, politics becomes work, and vice versa. Already in 2001 Virno clearly pointed out that creativity had been transformed into managerial skills of the self, in an increasingly opaque indistinction between life-time and work-time. That is what Hito Steyerl calls an economy of the presence, which also becomes a measure of efficiency, and the value of social activity put to work:

“in addition to developing works, artists, or more generally content providers, nowadays have to perform countless additional services, which slowly seem to become more important than any other form of work. The Q&A is more important than the screening, the live lecture more than the text, the encounter with the artist more important than the one with the work. Not to speak about the jumle of quasi.academic and social media PR formats that multiply the templates in which unalienated presence is supposed to be delivered. The artist has to be present, an in Marina Abramović’s eponymous performance”. (Steyerl, 2017)

In recent years – especially since the 2008 economic crisis and the global insurgencies that resulted out of it – art institutions, biennials, festivals, forums, conferences, and also many other artistic processes, focused their programming on radical politics and the performance of the struggle. The creative economy extracts value putting into play the political and the common, as Marco Baravalle points out in his analysis of new curatorial trends: it is possible to recognize in their “mimetic” forms “the governmental trait of contemporary cultural industries, that function precisely through the enhancement of the interstitium, the differential of freedom, the compatible excess”. (Baravalle, 2016). Neoliberal governmentality that parasites the relational forms and the networks created by social cooperation, resorting to the use of the rhetoric of participation and community, in the mimetic desire to re-shape the expressive and trans-bodily intensity of the struggles, and increase the value of the experience that they offer. Temporary communities occasionally convened, pre-packaged contexts in which it is possible to place oneself, in a safe and conflict-free way. In what way is this action of  absorption actually compensated with forms of widespread redistribution, or with the negotiation of different production models?

We can certainly read this trend as a symptom of needs that are not satisfied – the need to participate, to feel part of a community of meaning, to speak up, to subvert asymmetrical and toxic relational systems – and which get intercepted by the more organized artistic system. Yet this trend risks being a mere substitute – deconflicted, pacified, neutralized – for political action. Anesthesia and aestheticization. Political radicalism becomes a packaging, translated into a regime of representation in which every transformative force is neutralized. Even though they evoking political radicalism, seldom do such contexts become real spaces of subjectivation, or even more concretely, infrastructures of support and active solidarity for the  more fragile and more exposed organized forms of activism.

At the same time, this attitude leaves the door open to possible action strategies. In the experience of the cultural occupations – such as Valle, Macao, L’Asilo – many have been the experiments in which a strategic alliance has been attempted with some formal institution – universities, international cultural institutes, foundations, publishing houses, national theaters of other European countries, or even  fashion brands, to name a few – whose objectives stratify. From a purely defensive level, where the support of official institutions aims to publicly “protect” the activist spaces from possible acts of repression. To a level where the practices become more complex and substantial: including forms of redistribution of resources, or forms of provision of logistic and service infrastructures, such as access to calls, use of spaces, transnational networks, or agreements. Another possible area of engagement of cultural institutions opens up on the right to the free movement of bodies, in an attempt to actively oppose – not only as a form of self-representation – the violent European migration policies. As in the case reported by Hito Steyerl of the Cultural Center of Suruç in Turkey, which during the emergency, became a place to welcome refugees fleeing the borders after the Daesh attack in Kobanê. The artistic institutions could be able to mobilize the available means and infrastructures, both material and relational. Let’s imagine the saturation of the administrative functions specific to the institution, to multiply protocols, authorizations, study visas, certified training activities, and so on. 

This is undoubtedly a battlefield that can be activated and solicited by artists and cultural workers in the coming years, and whose ability to generate conflict – instead of the domesticated spaces of the art market – will be a useful indicator. Occupying – both materially and symbolically – the territory of the institution has a very different meaning from institutionalizing anomalous spaces, or the mimetic reproduction of existing institutions. This difference passes precisely through the transformation of the political space and the “performative reconfiguration of institutions, as an infinite and not-determined place of conflict” (Athanasiou, 2016). Furthermore, through the relational ecosystem created by the Institute for Radical Imagination – a fictional institution that also includes Macao, Sale Docks, and L’Asilo – it was possible to engage the Reina Sofia Museum, a prestigious Spanish artistic institution, to be part of a network that supports the action of artists/activists engaged in the struggle for unconditional basic income. (see Art for Ubi Manifesto). This same ability to diversify and hybridize different levels and actions is the sign of the intelligence of the struggles, which know how to move simultaneously, on different levels, with different strategies. Inventing and giving shape to new autonomous institutions of the municipality and, at the same time, hacking where possible, the existing institutions, creating monster assemblages and navigating between the interstices, like reticular mushrooms, thriving in between the cracks. Post-anthropocentric practices for transcorporeal subjectivities to come.


Thanks to Bettina Cottone, Elena Lolli, Andrea Masu, Valentina Medda, Giulia Selmi, Marco Otto Mercante, Massimo Carozzi (and others) who in these years, in various ways, with their reflections and affective archives push to keep alive the artistic and political thought on the Teatro Polivalente Occupato 1995/2005.

Bibliographical references

Aa. Vv., “Teatro Valle Occupato. La rivolta culturale dei beni comuni”, DeriveApprodi 2012.

S. Ahmed, “A Phenomenology of Whiteness”, «Feminist Theory», 2007, vol. 8(2): 149–168.

G. Allegri, “Quali istituzioni per le pratiche costituenti del comune? Primi appunti per un uso creativo e “minore” del nuovo diritto comune” in S. Chignola (a cura di), “Il diritto del comune. Crisi della sovranità, proprietà e nuovi poteri costituenti”, Ombre Corte, Verona 2012.

A. Athanasiou, “Performing the Institution ‘As If It Were Possible’ ”  in M. Hlavajova, S. Sheikh (eds.), Former West: Art and the Contemporary after 1989, The MIT Press, Cambridge – London 2016.

M. Baravalle, “Curare e governare. Bourriaud e Obrist: la svolta relazionale della curatela”. «OperaViva», 19 Dicembre 2016, disponibile online:

D. Blanga-Gubbay, L. A. Piazza, “Fictional Institutions. On Radical Imagination”, in Van Campenhout, E., Mestre, L. (eds.), “Turn, Turtle! Reenacting the Institute, Performing Urgency #2”, Alexander Verlag Berlin, Berlin 2016.

J. Butler, “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory”, «Theatre Journal», XL, 4 (December 1988). 

J. Butler,  Gender “Trouble.Feminism and the Subversion of Identity”, Routledge, New York 1990.

S. Chignola (a cura di), “Il diritto del comune. Crisi della sovranità, proprietà e nuovi poteri costituenti”, Ombre Corte, Verona 2012.

G. Deleuze, “Istinti e istituzioni” (1955), Mimesis, Milano 2014.

Eco/Pol, I. Caleo (a cura di), “Bodymetrics. La misura dei corpi | Quaderno Uno | natura · cultura · artificio”, IAPh Italia Associazione Internazionale delle Filosofe, 2018, available online:

U. Fadini, “Il tempo delle istituzioni. Percorsi della contemporaneità: politica e pratiche sociali”, Ombre Corte, Verona 2016.

C. Fusco, “We Need New Institutions, Not New Art”, in «Hyperallergic», October 26, 2020, (last access 02/01/2021).

D. Gentili, M. Niccoli, “Intellettuali di se stessi. Lavoro intellettuale in epoca neoliberale”, «aut aut», no. 365, 2015.

F. Giardini, “Beni comuni, una materia viva, in Dire, fare, pensare il presente” (ed. Laboratorio Verlan), Quodlibet, Macerata 2011; 

V. Graziano, “Recreation at Stake” in A. Vujanovic, L. A. Piazza (eds.), “A Live Gathering: Performance and Politics in Contemporary Europe”, b_books, Berlin 2019.

V. Graziano, “Prefigurative practices. Raw materials for a political positioning of art, leaving the avant-garde”, in Van Campenhout, E., Mestre, L. (eds.), “Turn, Turtle! Reenacting the Institute”, Performing Urgency #2, Alexander Verlag Berlin, Berlin 2016.

S. Jop (ed.), “Com’è bella l’imprudenza. Arti e teatri in rete: una cartografia dell’Italia che torna in scena”, Il Lavoro Culturale, 21 dicembre 2012, available  online:

M. Hardt, A. Negri, “Commonwealth”,  Harvard University Press, Cambridge 2010. 

P. Dardot, C. Laval, “Common. On Revolution in the 21st Century” (2014),  Bloomsbury Academic 2019. 

b. hooks, “Yearning: Race, Gender and Cultural Politics”, South End Press, Boston 1990.

B. Kunst,  “Artist at work. Proximity of art and capitalism”, Zero Books, Winchester – Washington 2015

C. Lonzi / Rivolta femminile, “Secondo Manifesto di Rivolta femminile”, Roma 1977.

J. Rancière, “The Politics of Aesthetics. The Distribution of the Sensible” (2000) continuum, New York 2004.

M. Sheldrake, “L’ordine nascosto. La vita segreta dei funghi”, Marsilio, Venezia 2020.

G. Sholette, “Dark Matter. Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture”, Pluto Press, New York 2011.

G. Simondon, “L’individuazione psichica e collettiva” (1989), Deriveapprodi, Roma 2001. 

H. Steyerl, “Duty Free Art. Art in the Age of Planetary War”, Verso Books, London, 2017. 

A. L. Tsing, “The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins”, Princeton University Press, Princeton 2017.

E. Van Campenhout, L. Mestre (eds.), T”urn, Turtle! Reenacting the Institute, Performing Urgency #2”, Alexander Verlag Berlin, Berlin 2016.

P. Virno, “A Grammar of the Multitude. For an Analysis of Contemporary Forms of Life”,  Semiotext(e), The MIT Press, Cambridge 2004.

Web Sites of the Movement

About Tpo: Massimo Carozzi, audio documentary “Cinque anni di desiderio”:

Short biography of the author

Ilenia Caleo is a performer, activist, and researcher. Since 2000 she has been working as an actress, performer, and dramaturg in the contemporary scene, collaborating with various companies and directors including Motus, Davide Iodice, Lisa Natoli. With Silvia Calderoni, in 2018, she created KISS, a performance project with 23 performers, produced by Santarcangelo Festival and CSS Udine. Master Degree in Contemporary Philosophy, Ph.D. Fellow in Art and Performance Studies at Università La Sapienza (Roma). Her research focuses on bodies, feminist epistemologies, aesthetics, new institutions, and forms of cultural work. At present, she is a researcher at the IUAV University of Venice and coordinator of the Arts Module within the Masters in Gender Studies and Politics at the University Roma Tre. She collaborates with the research group of the five-year project “INCOMMON. In praise of community. Shared creativity in arts and politics in Italy (1959-1979)”, ERC Starting Grant directed by Annalisa Sacchi (IUAV). She is an activist in commons and queer-feminists movements. Politically and artistically she has grown up in the underground counterculture.


political theory / subjectivation / new cultural institutions / performing arts / performativity  


There is a family similarity between art and politics, between art and activism, following Deleuze (1987) who notices a constitutive affinity between the work of art and the act of resistance. Starting from the practices – an indication that comes from trans-feminist thought and that allows us to reposition the relationship between art and politics in the contemporary, a relationship not without shadows and ambiguity. I intend the performing arts as practices, ways of human doing, a space for counter-hegemonic narratives (hooks, 1998), rather than as art objects that can be decoded according to the canons of aesthetics or art history (Deleuze, Guattari, 1991; Rancière, 2000).

This paper, therefore, investigates, on the one hand, the artistic practices that focus on the experimentation of languages ​​and the work of political imagination (Athanasiou, 2016) – the theme, as Carla Lonzi (1977) already declared, completing the original break between feminism and art in Italy, is not a sufficient criterion. On the other hand, it attempts a recognition of the practices and political actions of artists and art workers who have activated processes of subjectivation and institutional practices (Ahmed, 2007; Deleuze, 1955; Van Campenhout, Mestre, 2016), starting from the multiple genealogies of some experiences in Italy from the 1990s until nowadays – from the Tpo of Bologna to the Teatro Valle Occupato, passing through Macao and the Angelo Mai. The critical analysis of live arts gives us a privileged observation point to read the transformations of contemporary work in the neoliberal framework – it is precisely the unproductive, performative “activity without work” that becomes the new paradigm of production in the post-Fordist economy. (Virno, 2001). In my opinion, it is also this trait that today places art, and in particular live arts, in intimate proximity with capitalism (Kunst, 2015) and between the folds of an aestheticization of the political, that every form of artistic activism must question and put in crisis (Steyerl, 2018).


Illustration by Kaya, On the Biennale’s ruins, 2020.

Too much love and friendship connect me to many people working for and around Venice Biennale. Too much admiration connects me to many that thanks to La Biennale made Venice a place to come back to instead of a “once-in-a-lifetime” tourist destination. Not light-heartedly these pages will go down as an exercise of speculation and critique. I am  participating in the uncertainty of those people risking to lose their jobs, watching their business fail, not getting their contracts renewed, being unable to access the already miserable existing welfare measures. Considering the earnings in monetary terms: room attendants, janitors, technicians, workers, freelancers, researchers, teachers, journalists, tourist-guides, artists, architects, curators, performers, etc. will –  more or less – lose something due to a possible (yet hopefully unlikely) cancellation or postponed events programmes linked to the various departments of La Biennale.



Image WHO

translation by Gabriella Riccio

Do we change, now? It will probably always be worse: the techno-authoritarian drift

Coronavirus management risks dragging everyone into techno-authoritarianism: a social life awaits us in which we are controlled every move we make. Through GPS, cell phones, cameras in public spaces and streets it will be possible to understand if we really respect the rules of social distancing. At first they will tell us that their data collection will respect anonymity and that it will be performed “only” to understand mass behavior. Then they will come to individual sanctions and integrated ranking systems. Those who are unemployed will have to stay at home or go shopping at the most, only those with a job will be allowed to move or take a plane.

If we have a fever a sensor will prove it for us, and it will directly communicate it to the person who is processing the complete picture of our profile. 

Individual biometric data, data on our movement, data on our economic situation, data on our sleep and our free time, will transform society and the way it is managed, highlighting the social areas to support and the areas to sacrifice.

This is what awaits us after Covid-19, this is how states and markets are thinking of reorganizing the crisis and the post crisis, or the permanent infra crisis. This is the toolbox for the bio-politician at the end of the 20th century.

Those who govern us are now turning to those tools. In the past ten years, perhaps China was the boldest in testing a pervasive and data driven governmental social control program called Social Credit System, Silicon Valley practiced with Cambridge Analytica piloting two or three elections quite successfully, but they were only test benches. Society must be administered through data we can collect. Data must be as accurate and precise as possible. Doing so risks may decrease. Whose risks? Market, growth and productivity risks. If there are too many sick people, factories’ assembly lines must slow down and start a few less planes. If there are few sick people, it’s possible to push for a moment on the accelerator. If there are too many riots among the poor, better to increase welfare a little. If nobody complains old people in hospices can silently crack, people who are no longer productive and only represent a burden on pensions.This crisis is not originated by banks and financial system, but from the real economy. That’s the reason why the reaction will not simply imply the financial system to vampirize state welfare, real estate investments and working conditions. What awaits us is something even worse: direct selective control over populations and resources. Financial activity will no longer be sufficient: what capital will need is a designed extermination of lives and control over resources.

This probably is the real news after the advent of the virus: biopolitical control based on data analysis will not only be functional to a neoliberal agenda, but it will be aimed at a Malthusian program of selective extermination mixed to a  biotechnological and military control of lives and natural resources on a global scale.

The Things out of fashion

This scientific use of data to administer the “factory-society” will be the neoliberal bi-partisan response to COVID-19. I believe it will imply the principle of selecting the unnecessary: the ones who are considered useless and weak. Those who will apply this principle will de facto be more selective than those who declared themselves openly fascist, nationalist or than those who are eager to gain full powers. It will be the triumph of the modernist project conceiving society as a designed machine of production capable of extracting value from our lives and resources to accumulate profits.

I call it “out of fashion” because  this tired political class imagery is inspired by those great science fiction movies from the 80s and 90s until getting to the first series of Black Mirror ten years ago. I don’t think I’m being too pessimistic by saying that this is what will most likely happen. 

On the contrary, what we are interested in is something else: we are interested the possible not in the probable. The probable is the result of a calculation where costs and benefits are optimized without questioning the existing paradigm. The point is to change the rules of the game, instead of simply to minimize losses.

We are the heretical daughters and sons of this generation. For us this stuff is out of date. We see through different eyes. We refuse to be reduced to numbers that count for an interest rate, we must be able to look beyond data, profiles and brownie points, we are much more than computing power.

If the future awaiting us all is data driven, the point is not simply to behave well and dynamically obey the rules of social distancing, the point is to understand which political model are these rules functional to? If the only attempt is to minimize life losses to guarantee the economic model that led us to this crisis with a minimum of profit then the right thing to do is to go on strike. We are by far beyond this techno-fetishist dream of controlling nature, growth and production.

The radical imagination

We like profiles, we like curves and we even know how to read them. We like softwares, we like sensors and we also know how to code them. We like to set the alarm clock and let a machine take care of what to do. We are that generation that grew up with algorithms and screens in place of dolls and toy cars. We played, loved, used upside down those tools, we threw against the wall artificial intelligence, plastic things, touch screens and metal detectors.

We are not against computers and data, but we rebel against the all too human and porn-patriarchal dream of reducing everything to a toy for control in the hands of increasingly impotent people.

Now we really understand what it means to be deeply powerless when we open the door and feel the fear of dying breeze. We are the ones who do not want to die and do not want to kill their loved ones.

What we really care about now is a radical change: a gesture of radical imagination, now!

The fundamental problem urging us to find an answer now without wasting any time is: what is useful?  what do we really need now?

Remaining in the psychosis of the emergency we are only increasing anxiety and making more and more mistakes. What is going on is real, it is no fantasy. People are really dying of a virus that has made the leap in species and which we have difficulty controlling.

The theme of the construction of the self is linked to our capability to accept that the other is not something to be controlled with hysteria, instead it is something to be understood. When Donna Haraway says that only from some concepts we can think of other concepts, she suggests that everything is in a “specific relationship”. Now more than ever Our task is to stay in this understanding of respons-ability. If we let the car run in the direction in which it has accelerated so far we will go more and more towards the tragedy and hit against a wall.

The dream of one thing: some points for the big jump

1 / Universal Basic Income

Europe and the entire world are entering a crisis which will not be the same for everyone. Many will not be able to support themselves through their work. Precarious, self-employed, unemployed workers will not have enough income to survive.The present model of production based on support for banks and businesses to get work and wages moving again is not sustainable. It is extremely urgent to set the economic measures for this crisis differently. This is the time for a universal and unconditional basic income covering the whole population. It must be conceived as a non-emergency measure and a long-term plan. Anti-crisis economic financial coverage measures must not increase national debts.  Europe must promote for its own survival common fiscal and economic policies for debt mutualisation in the creation of new liquidity instead.The same logic must be followed by bottom-up self-organised networks of alternative economic spaces, both at local and transnational level. We must develop networks based on mutualism, that do not generate credits or debits. They should manage common portfolios together, supporting access to goods and resources and the income for everyone.

2 / The Care

This pandemic made clear the scandal of neoliberal policies based on cutting welfare during the past thirty years. This pandemic has shown with all its evidence the centrality and importance of social reproduction. Everything now turns around the capacity of public health, of doctors, researchers and nurses, to cope with the saturation of the resuscitation rooms.

Now everyone can see that we are in the hands of those who are delivering goods and food to our homes, those who are cleaning offices and hospitals, those who are taking care of the elderly, those who are continuing to pick tomatoes in the countryside: they are mostly migrant workers. These are the ones who are suffering even more these days.  These are the women suffering from domestic violence in their own homes. These are the ones who are taking care of the education of boys and girls now that schools are closed. 

This is the social fabric that was always made invisible. This is the social fabric that was always denigrated and considered marginal in the eyes of economic and investment policies. The Unnecessary Ones! They are the ones who are saving our ass, right now that capitalism is in shock and does not know what to do. They are the ones who –  as it has always been, stressing the “always”! – are doing everything possible to resolve the crisis.

This is where we have to start from again: from the bottom-up self-organized welfare, from the groups of activists who are bringing drugs and food to those who cannot move from home, from the new logistics of the doing in common, of the taking care of, of the doing what is useful.

We must claim to start from policies that put first public investment in health, in anti-violence centers, in education, in housing and social services.

We must immediately demand the regularization of all immigrants on European territory.

And if they have the courage to go back to make invisible the care, worse to criminalize it, or throw it into the hands of wild privatizations, we all should go on strike, because now more than ever if this social block stops, then the entire world will stop.

3 / The Cosmos

It is pointless to fight like superheroes for nature, for the forest and against climate change. We are at a very important political crossroad. Environment as an ecosystem and as a common good is at stake. The process of creating a common area cannot man as the hero or the guilty one on the one hand, and climate, biodiversity, plastics, robots on the other. We must get out of the paradigm of the modern era, based on a system of control, profit, sins and debts. Even in a Calvinist perspective made of self-flagellation and guilt, we continue to consider the Vitruvian man being the center of the universe. The new perspective, considering the ecosystem as a whole, can only represent the beginning of a new cosmogony,  where human beings are not at the center of the universe, they are fighting with the forest and not in the forest. The human being is no foreign privileged body. The human being struggles together with biodiversity, together with air and together with water.

4 / The Digital Platforms

We must invent new digital platforms capable of  taking away the monopoly of big capital platforms. After the 2008 crisis, large digital platforms took on the task of monitoring and determining social behavior. The pandemic future will increase the role of digital platforms in determining our social behavior. The only alternative to this concentration of power is to increase democratic control of social platforms, in the many possible ways placing them in the hands of democratic states. At the same time, we need to develop cooperative models of digital platforms. From knowledge archiving, to logistics, distribution, welfare services, food and energy chains, we must develop self-organized cooperative platforms that decentralize governance and federate reproductive and productive alliances.

We must promote a double movement: strengthen the role of democratic states in the development and control of digital infrastructures as a welfare and non-business oriented service, and, at the same time, develop cooperative and independent bottom-up platforms. Only one of these two directions can reveal to be weak or authoritarian, which is why we must promote their synergistic and coexistent proliferation.

5 / The Bodies

We are losing our bodies and the relationship between the bodies as we have known it until now. To claim a body means to escape the total digitalization of our interconnections. The speed of the optical fiber, the speed of transmission and production of information is not comparable to the transmission speed of our nervous system. If we saturate our perception at the speed of the optical fiber we will dissolve. Our body can only suffer, scream, go crazy, paralyze and dissolve, if it will be immobilized and connected most of the time to a wifi router.

To de-automate this process of digitizing our relationships and destroying our bodies, we need to build new rituals. New circuits for the making of relationships.

The creation of this body is an ecosystemic working: we need to build balanced complex systems as a refuge for all those scarcities and resources that are running out. Affectivities, mineral resources, sexuality, food, concepts, economies, artificial intelligence must weave together to build a new, monstrous and balanced social body.

6 / The Cultures

What is lacking the most in the digitalization of social life is cultural production. In the reclusive and digitized society, in the automated disciplinary society, what will fail most is knowing how to think. Museums, schools, universities, concert halls, cinemas, art spaces, research centers, libraries as conceived, designed and attended until now, no longer have a physical reason to exist.

Culture must reclaim a right of intermittence, being able to be the place to take distance, the epoché [ed. suspension] in an infected world, the convivial space to be able to sleep, to rest and to dream. Culture is the place where alterity is built. The right to sleep and to dream meaning the right to unplug from some of the forms that have so far doped and saturated the forms of artistic production.

The virus will perhaps make biennials, fashion week and all the great events that in recent decades characterized the enhancing creativity cycle by transforming culture itself into the major branch of the tourism industry and real estate market. Shortly said: we could only toast to their possible obsolescence. This is the moment to fill this void with an artistic production based on the long-term, the care, the integration with local and decentralized supply chains. A synergic perspective of the many artistic disciplines no more conceived as spectacle, but rather conceived as the research field and symbolic engine to dream of the world to come.

Italian version on Dinamopress



by Massimiliano Mollona

Growing up in the 1980s (I was 10 in 1980) my politics has been a minor form of resistance – a militant self-reflection, a plural mode of articulation – against the immaterial violence of finance; the molecular capture of late capitalism; the ghostly superficiality of the neoliberal person and the grand narratives of the male, bourgeois, white civilization that (re)emerged at the end of history.

Today I face a different history. Capitalist institutions have reorganised themselves following the old predatory and monopolistic logic. In 2011 and 2013 I did not understand that the young comrades who were out in the street with me were fighting a different war – a war against their physical and political annihilation – and moved in a different existential space – a space of immense material and imaginative desolation. I could not fathom that their future would arch back into the folds of totalitarianism as witnessed by our ancestors.  Now it is clear. We live in a time of radical enclosures. People everywhere are being jailed, expelled, stigmatized and confined in intellectual, moral and physical enclosures put up by capitalist markets and absolutist states operating in tandem. It is not only about the “excluded.” The condition of refugees and exiles represent us all.

To be radical today means to claim the gestures of commoning, culture of solidarity and determination to exist in common back from the history of anti-totalitarian and anti-capitalist struggles and to bring these histories and practices to bear onto our future. I see culture, art and imagination as forces that can both freeze the flow of life (in a movement of institutionalization) and put life in motion (in moments of radical opening). Culture is radical (anti-capitalist and decolonised) when it goes beyond the enclosures of the “usual people” and builds connections across socio-economic divides; challenges the cynical language of the master and the exclusionary logics of difference,

negative freedoms, boycotts and art occupations that mirror the occupations of capital (it’s impossible to beat the master on his own turf) and embarks in empathic and sensuous journeys outside of the capitalist “self.” As we enter into a new era of primitive accumulation, the virtuoso skills of the baroque intellectual have become obsolete. We need a light and portable weapon stripped down to its very core (Susan Sontag – the radical intellectual as ascetic and destroyer).

For me radical imagination stems from a double movement of anti-capitalist critique and of epistemological and discursive construction of a new post-capitalist imaginary, including new forms of production and representation in which art and politics inform each other. But this radical imagination is risky. It needs a safe space and a long-term horizon to be cultivated.  The Institute wants to be such safe space – an alter-institution, both inside (because of where we come from) and outside (because of what we are aiming for) the hegemonic institutions of capitalism (museums, universities and institutional politics) and “the west” intended as a mental and a geopolitical space. The Institute wants to be a space of freedom, an exilic space turned into commons – not as act of survival but as “communal luxury.”

I see the institute as a research-curatorial-activist group engaged in research interventions (starting from the 5 we highlighted in Naples) and working with a methodology that combines pragmatic and tactical actions with an ongoing reflection on how, as a culturally diverse and geographically dispersed collective, we can institute otherwise.

The call from the projects comes from a specific urgency and the institute becomes a structure also for archive (memory and documentation). Became a repository. A specific methodology, and conceptual framework.


Relationship between the visible and the invisible

To map or to create a diagram means to visualize a certain chose contents, be it the physical geography of a portion of space or the relational network of people and organizations working to define an Institute for Radial Imagination. Of course, by creating maps, we are only partially describing already existing territories that will define the space covered by the Institute activity.

During the first phase of this attempt we immediately encounter a first problem of knots that can not be mapped, of relations that can not be made public because of safety reasons. This happens in Turkey of course, but it could happen elsewhere, especially if IRI will focus on the space of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. So first of all we decided to allow a geography of opacity, but the presence of invisible territories must not lead to a disengagement on these very portions of space. How do we visualize the urgencies, the emergencies, but also the richness of answers and the agency that these invisible territories embody? How do we, as an Institute, culturally and politically deal with it without paternalism and without the arrogance of representing them and speaking for them?

Translation and Geography

An issue, linked to the previous point, that emerged in the conversation with alessandro Petti, in that of translation of the theoretical vocabulary of the Institute. Alessandro noted that the vocabulary of the commons could be shared even in the Arab context, even if, historically, it has more to do with Islam. Alessandro also pointed out that it would be important to really engage with the space of the Mediterranean also by promoting activities in those contexts that apparently look “more difficult”.

Representative logic

Another issue with design the rational map of the Institute was the difficulty of appear in the diagram as a spokesperson of a certain activists group, where the issue of representation is especially felt. Again, the dialectic between visibility and invisibility comes back and it raises questions about the individual and the collective. Questions that are probably relevant for our Insitute too. How an aspiring Institution for Radical Multitudinarian Imagination represents itself?

Finding the right routes

The single knots of the Institute already show a very complex geography, a variety of fields of intervention that (from activism, to art, to academia) compose a rich map. This may sound obvious but the map Showa that we deal with individual or collective subjects characterized by full agendas and scarcity of time, sometimes facing a lack of resources, sometimes dealing with repressive political conditions and/or with the global economy attention. A crucial challenge for the future of IRI will be to serious consider these starting conditions. We need to find those unexplored routes on the map that will boost meaningful cooperation between the different knots and not only a reciprocally instrumental relation on episodic bases.

Towards a queer Institute?

We must pay attention to gender balance, the risk of creating a male Institute is always present. And gender balance is a good starting point, a deeper reflection should be developed on the “becoming minor” of the institute. Do we instead want a queer institution? What does it mean? How do we achieve this goal?


Towards the constitution of a new think-tank for a post-capitalist transition in the Mediterranean

by Massimiliano Mollona

The Institute of Radical Imagination is a think-tank inviting experts – political scientists, economists, lawyers, architects, hackers, activists, artists and cultural producers to share knowledge on a continuous base with the aim of defining and implementing zones of post-capitalism in Europe’s South and the Mediterranean. The think-tank works nomadically across the nodes of the network – Madrid, Athens, Istanbul, Cairo, Palestine, Naples – and connects with other nodes in “global south” – Eastern Europe, Latin America, South-East Asia.

IRI is a hybrid between a travelling research centre, a refuge for intellectuals and artists at risk, a radical museum and a policy-making body generating ideas and applied knowledge that respond to specific urgent needs on the ground – more than a structure, an intellectual logistical infrastructure operating across existing arts, academic and activist networks.


  1. Legalisation of the commons
  2. Radical pedagogy
  3. Work and labour commoning
  4. Rethinking Citizenship
  5. Space and architecture of the commons
  6. Economies of the commons


As culture becomes the main economic driver of post-industrial cities, cities are becoming sites of urban rebellion and of commoning led by artists and cultural producers. Discussions around the commons normally revolve around the commons as: (1) a physical resource (2) intellectual property or (3) labour. In Italy, the lawyers from the Costituente dei Beni Comuni – a legal commission set up by the parliament during the referendum against the privatisation of water in 2005 –  managed to transfer the legal framework for common good onto the realm of cultural organizations. Led by lawyer Ugo Mattei, occupied cultural centres such as the Teatro Valle become legalized commons (‘fondazione’ dei beni comuni). More recently, the municipality of Naples, in conversation with the group of lawyers (Giuristi Democratici di Napoli) associated with the activist space Asilo Filangieri (Naples) agreed to give to residents of the Asilo a monthly ‘social income’ in recognition of their role as generators of cultural and political – relational – value in order to cover the ordinary and extraordinary maintenance costs of the building – a spectacular UNESCO-protected palace in the historic centre. Unlike the agreement of Teatro Valle, which was under private law, the agreement between the municipality of Naples and the Asilo Filangeri is under public law, considers as commons both the physical space and the work of the activists and attempts to capture a broader political, cultural and economic notion of the public There is also considerable work that is being done on urban commons in Spain and on intellectual property right and industrial patenting in Greece. The issue of urban common also touches upon the legal and institutional relationships between political movements and various state levels and the coexistence of autonomous and horizontal forces within a common logistical infrastructure – including configurations of democratic confederalism, communalism and municipalism. What are the next strategic steps for IRI in terms of greater embeddedness in the urban fabric and of establishing ongoing collaborations with social centres and occupied spaces across Europe and the global South? What can IRI learn from the modus operandi of urban commons and how can IRI, and its network, support these? What practical tools can be developed – such as Basic Income pilot projects or an internal currency of the commons – to facilitate the struggles of commons that share similar languages and practices, for instance, in Spain and Italy?

Or conversely how to activate south-to-South networks of solidarity across urban experiences and contexts, such as Greece, Turkey, Cairo, Zagreb or Palestine, that are radically different?


The global backlash against universities and academics, in the forms of extreme marketization (as in the UK), nepotism (Italy, Greece) and violent state repression (Turkey and Hungary) has led to the worldwide collapse of public education and the privatization of knowledge. In this context, there is an urgent need to both reclaim the public role of universities and of commoning of cultural production through alternative institutional forms. In fact, the first priority of the Institute of Radical Imagination is to devise its own institutional framework, mission and modus operandi at the crossroad of knowledge production, art and activism.


De-commodification of Work – Cultural Work and Immaterial Work

In 2009 the OECD calculated that half of the workers of the world worked in the informal economy. By 2020 it will be 2/3 of the global working population. In fact, the technologically determinist assumption, made by some post-capitalist scholars (Mason, 2016 and Srnicek and Williams, 2015) that the world is moving towards automated, information-driven and attention-based ‘platform capitalism’ (Srnicek, 2016) or even the idea of a global proletariat (Standing, 2016) underestimates the huge scale of the global informal economy, the low-skilled manual jobs in the service and tourism economies and the feminization and racialization of the economy that started in the peripheries in 1990s, has now reached the old centres. More research needs to be done on contemporary forms of precarious, domestic, informal and semi-rural employment for instance, on the subsistence of eco-femminist perspectives of Maria Miers (1999) and Vandana Shiva (2005); the domestic economy and the reproductive commons discussed by Silvia Federici (2012) and Federica Giardini (2015) and on the informal economy (Breman, 1996, Mollona, 2005). Informal workers tend to self-organise themselves in anti-establishment and community-based political groups and undercommons for instance, the urban cooperatives in El-Alto (Zibechi, 2005) and Rio de Janeiro or Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in India. An important form of labour commoning is cooperative work. Cooperativism was central in anti-colonial, anti-capitalist and anti-dictatorship movements in Latin America, India and other non-aligned regions in the 1970s and 1980s. Then in the 2000s it was appropriated by the start-ups in Silicon Valley -for instance see the domesticated version of cooperativism by Wolff (2012). Can the IRI organize itself along the principles of mutuality and of cooperative labour?


Notions of economic development and progress are intrinsically political in the way they are premised upon imaginary and fantasmatic constructions of citizenship and personhood. Because capitalism is a form of economic dispossession based on the systematic de-humanization of “the other”,  no economic and political commons are possible without a radical openness towards the other.  New forms of gender and sexual discriminations linked to the feminization of labour are emerging. The right to appear of lesbian, gay, queer and transgenders is under attack. The catastrophic impact of the European refugee crisis on the European Left shows that the enclosures and ‘expulsions’ (Sassen, 2015) of late capitalism – based on racism, homophobia and the coupling of appearance

and privilege – require new and expanded notions of personhood and citizenship. What would a basic charter of citizens’ right, one which takes the extreme point of view of refugees, exiles and dispossessed migrants, look like? How can a new human-right discourse be developed – one which is neither universalist nor culturally relativist but recognizes the structural complexities, unevenness and queerness of late capitalism? How can artists and cultural producers contribute to imagine ‘other’ form of personhood and citizenship – equal and yet unique, open and fluid? With its location in the Mediterranean and the South of Europe, IRI is committed to work towards the construction of a charter of “citizenship of the commons”, sketching an horizon of radical solidarity rooted in the experiences of exile, forced migration and expulsion.


The refugee crisis has highlighted the relationship between space, mobility and inequality. The main markers of colonial dispossession and dependent development in the global South have been processes of urban favelisation, slummification and mass rural-to-urban migration associated with trajectories of forced industrialisation and debt dependency.  Moreover, the logic of late capitalism is multi-scalar and entangled in broader processes of nation-building and neo-colonialist “development” with planetary economic, social and ecological impact. Most of such global and planetary trends of spatial inequality resist western and ethnocentric terms of gentrification, occupation and privatization. How can the relationship between space and power and the notion of common space be rethought from a non-ethnocentric and decolonized perspective? IRI is committed to experiments of urban co-habitation, commoning and post-capitalist architecture.


Parasitical Finance and Sharing Economy

How can IRI develop a post-capitalist economy  – sustainable, “diverse” and demonetized? What kind of economy is the economy of commons? Can commons rely just on reciprocity or redistribution? Can common and capital coexist? Can the market be used for non-capitalist or anti-capitalist purposes? The post-industrial capitalism identified thirty years ago by the likes of Fumagalli, Moulier-Boutang and Negri has mutated into a new kind of financial-industrial-immaterial capitalist complex  dominated by high-tech giants (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google – FANG) and invisible monopolistic platforms. Unlike the outmoded logic of industrial capitalism – rigid, dyadic and mechanical – the “social logic of derivatives” (Randy Martin) is polyphonic, infrastructural and animistic – open to parasitical contaminations, re-appropriations and subversion.  In order to bypass the traditional functioning of the capitalist market, subvert the anti-social logic of capitalist money, deflating the capitalist system from within, and re-embed value within relationships of care and social  reproduction IRI will develop projects of parasitical finance (see for instance the Robin Hood project), alternative currencies (for instance faircoin) or sharing economy.

also read
A common vocabulary for IRI

IRI Mission and Values

Notes on Mapping the Institute of Radical Imagination


The Institute of Radical Imagination is a think-tank inviting experts – political scientists, economists, lawyers, architects, hackers, activists, artists and cultural producers to share knowledge on a continuous base with the aim of defining and implementing zones of post-capitalism in Europe’s South and the Mediterranean. The think-tank works nomadically across the nodes of the network – Madrid, Athens, Istanbul, Cairo, Palestine, Naples – and connects with other nodes in “global south” – Eastern Europe, Latin America, South-East Asia.

IRI is a hybrid between a travelling research centre, a refuge for intellectuals and artists at risk, a radical museum and a policy-making body generating ideas and applied knowledge that respond to specific urgent needs on the ground – more than a structure, an intellectual logistical infrastructure operating across existing arts, academic and activist networks.