Category: Resources


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).



curating and caring, curating and affect, feminist curating, social reproduction, art patronage precarious labour in art


This article considers the changing definitions of curatorial labour in the light of affective economies of care and love. It examines how recent conceptions of curating shift emphasis from caring for objects and collections to producing and managing social networks, collective energies and professional relationships. While curators prioritize their care for artworks and artists, they often overlook the low-status and infrastructural activities that sustain curatorial production. At the same time, by over-identifying with their work, and instrumentalizing their personal relationships and energies, curators risk self-exploitation and burn-out. By recognizing curating’s inter-dependent nature, this article prompts a redefinition of curatorial care and calls for a reallocation of curatorial and institutional priorities and resources.


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