Performing Urgency #2 – Series Edited by Florian Malzacher. 'Turn Turtle, Turn! Reenacting The Institute' is a creative and intellectual analysis of the new turn in the perception and workings of the institutes in the performing arts. What has become apparent in the last ten years or so is a move towards an engaged re-appropriation of the arts institute in artistic (performance) practices, and a more in-depth collaboration between institutes and artists in rethinking the functioning, the position, and the decision-taking structure of these organisations. Rather than the institutional critique in the field of the visual arts, in the performance sector the institute can often be considered as a focus point for the concerns of diverse players in the field (artists, producers, programmers, union structures), which helps them to address issues that otherwise could only be dealt with in fragmentary meetings and practices. This book addresses the crisis of the institute within a context of severe economic, political and social crisis. In several contributions in this book, authors refer to the Occupy movement as a major source of inspiration for new 'instituent practices', as art theorist Gerald Raunig calls them. His essay deals with a pretty well-known example of such a radical takeover, the Teatro Valle Occupato in Rome.
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reenacting the institute
Elke Van Campenhout & Lilia Mestre
turn, turtle! reenacting the institute
Performing Urgency #2
A publication by House on Fire
House on Fire is supported by the Culture Programme of the European Union.
The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.
House on Fire are: Archa Theatre (Prague), bit Teatergarasjen (Bergen), brut Wien (Vienna), Frascati Theater (Amsterdam), hau Hebbel am Ufer (Berlin), Kaaitheater (Brussels), lift (London), Malta Festival Poznań, Maria Matos Teatro Municipal / egeac (Lisbon) and Théâtre Garonne (Toulouse).
Elke Van Campenhout & Lilia Mestre
Performing Urgency Series Editor:
Leonilda Saraiva dos Anjos, Aileen Derieg, Sandra Fluhrer and Nadine Feßler, Vicky Morrison
The text ‘Art Presented as if it Were Something Other Than Art’ was originally published in Rekto: verso, no. 58, 2013.
Sofia Gerheim Caesar
Various Artists, Roel Hoogenboom, Bernhard Kahrmann, Vladimir Miller, Florien Model, PAF, In-Presentable festival, La casa Encendida, Flavio Ribeiro, Simone Steiner
Alexander Verlag Berlin
Co-publisher:Live Art Development Agency
The White Building
Unit 7, Queen’s Yard
White Post Lane, London E9 5EN
Printed in Maia (Portugal) by Maiadouro ISBN 978-3-89581-433-4
Legal Deposit 415014/16
© 2016 the authors and House on Fire For reprint and subsidiary rights, please contact Alexander Verlag Berlin
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
From Volxtheater to Teatro Valle Occupato
The Endless Possibilities of a City-Theatre:
Daniel Blanga-Gubbay and Livia Andrea Piazza
Fictional Institutions: On Radical Imagination
Art Presented as if it Were Something Other Than Art
Herbordt / Mohren
Vera Sofia Mota in Conversation with Deufert & Plischke
Could I Move Closer?
Juan Dominguez in Conversation with Victoria Perez Royo
Artistic Strategies to Cope with the Institute
Ana Bigotte Vieira
Turn, Turtle! Uso [Use], Espaço [Space] and Falta [Lack, Missing]
Elke Van Campenhout in Conversation with Vladimir Miller
Exoskeletons and Hospitality: The Institute in a State of Unfolding
Elke Van Campenhout
Strange Love: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Institute
The Pitfalls of Institutional Pedagogy
Raw Materials for a Political Positioning of Art, Leaving the Avant-garde
Commoning the Arts? A Field Report
Valentina Desideri and Jan Ritsema
paf — Movement Research Definitive
House on Fire
When we think of institutional critique, as the term has been coined in the visual arts, not so many examples come to mind within the performing arts field. What has become apparent in the last ten years or so, though, is a move towards an engaged re-appropriation of the arts institute in artistic (performance) practices, and a more in-depth collaboration between institutes and artists in rethinking the functioning, position, and decision-taking structure of the organisations.
If we look at the history of institutionalisation within the performing arts, it is clear that the institutes can be perceived as crystallisations of artistic and creative practices that preceded them, rather than as governing monoliths that dictate the field. In that sense the move towards ‘reclaiming the institute’ is not so much an act of de-masking, than it is an attempt to re-politicise the institutional field, an attempt to make the institute matter again as a centre for intensification to address common concerns. The institute helps to focus the concerns of diverse players in the field (artists, producers, programmers, union structures), and helps them to address issues that otherwise could only be dealt with in fragmentary meetings and practices.
In that sense the renewed interest in artistic practices as well as in institutional collaborations with artists, seems to be driven by a positive vibe, an interest in changing the governing structures from within, rather than a critical denouncement of their power structures.
It’s no coincidence that ‘the new spirit of the institute’ manifests itself at a time when Europe is suffering from multiple institutional crises. Confidence in the political and economic structures is at an all-time low, and the public funding of social, educational, scientific, and cultural institutions is under pressure due to state cuts and privatisations. Some institutional entities wield power without the necessary authority; others possess a residual form of authority, but not enough power to be able to set things in motion. In southern Europe, where the economic crisis hit hardest, a new generation takes matters into its own hands. In several contributions in this book, authors refer to the Occupy movement as a major source of inspiration for new ‘instituent practices’, as art theorist Gerald Raunig calls them. His essay deals with a pretty well-known example of such a radical takeover, the Teatro Valle Occupato in Rome.
The story of Jan Goossens, the former artistic director of the Brussels city theatre kvs, proves how a fundamental re-politicisation can also occur within a relatively large, and (still) structurally subsidised art institution. His artistic policy aimed to rebuild an exclusively Flemish repertory theatre into a multidisciplinary and culturally more diverse theatre that could address a wide range of different inhabitants of the small world city, Brussels. His recollections show how difficult the process of instituting can be. There are many practical obstacles in the way between dream and reality.
For artists who are enthusiastic about ‘the new spirit of the institute’, to resort to fiction opens up a field of possibilities. Daniel Blanga-Gubbay and Livia Andrea Piazza analyse some imaginary organisations created by artists. Art reveals itself here as a site for radical imagination, relatively free from practical constraints, which can help us to re-think artistic and non-artistic institutions. When reflecting on these fictional organisations, Blanga-Gubbay and Piazza distinguish between different degrees of separation between fiction and reality, which characterise each of them. Artistic projects in which these two poles seem to coincide, often reveal the fictional basis of real existing institution we have come to regard as ‘natural’. The dramaturg Sébastien Hendrickx also examines the power of the ‘as-if’. In a number of projects by young Belgian artists, he detects a potential to think radically differently about the institutional futures of various social sectors. At the same time he warns against the instrumentalisation of artistic imagination, which can be triggered by the demand for explicit social engagement in the arts. The artist duo Herbordt / Mohren discuss in turn their participatory art work The Institute, a fictitious entity that relates to site-specific situations.
Some contributions for this book tackle the relationship between artistic practices and existing institutional frameworks. They propose diverse strategies of implication and engagement, opening up possible futures and alternative exchanges between parties that are too often still seen as adversaries. Projects by deufert&plischke reposition the audience as a political agent by inviting it to partake in the work itself. In Vera Sofia Mota’s interview, the so-called artistwin explains how it uses the theatre as a construction site for temporary micro-societies. In conversation with Victoria Perez Royo, Juan Dominguez discusses how in his past artistic and curatorial work, he related to the art institution in three predominant ways: by leaving or ignoring it; being in-between (neither totally inside nor outside of an institution); and resisting the institution. Royo and Dominguez also reflect upon the divide between the current needs of artists and art works and the bureaucratisation which characterises the big cultural institutions in their native country, Spain. With Ana Bigotte Vieira’s essay, we turn to the situation of the Portuguese art field and more specifically to Lisbon, from 1986 to present times. ‘Lack’ appears in Vieira’s text as a mode of curatorship that brings to the fore what is needed for an artistic practice that is not yet accommodated by the institution. It’s a motivation for intervention. In an interview with Elke Van Campenhout, the artist, scenographer, and researcher Vladimir Miller explains how he regards the institute as an architectural entity: a spatial organisation of people and things, communications and power relations. In his work, the notion of the ‘gap’ questions the stability paradigm and the role it plays in shaping institutional environments and workspace politics.
The institutional forms explored in this book include the theatre institution and the pedagogical institute, which seem to have complementary temporalities. Where the theatre is the place of production and presentation, the school or research environment provides the context for a longer period of investment of development and reflection. In ‘Strange Love: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Institute’, Van Campenhout proposes the concept of the ‘tender institute’ where she proposes critical love and radical embrace of the different other as a pedagogical tool. She developed this concept pragmatically as the founder and general coordinator of the post-master in artistic research a.pass in Brussels. Various Artists contributes to this publication with three models created within this context.
The Silent University, a project by Ahmet Öğüt focuses on bridging the divide between art and institutionalised pedagogy by suggesting a new structure as a parallel knowledge transfer platform. It is specifically geared towards refugees and asylum seekers. The Silent University stands as an example for the recent trend of artist organisations: organisations founded by artists not to support their own work, but organisations as the (artistic) work itself.
At the end of the book, the focus shifts towards the institute of the commons. Nowadays, more and more art institutions seem to open up a renewed investment in the common, the transformational power of the coming-together of an ‘interest community’. A re-ordering in order to be able to transform what comes to the surface in this move towards transparency of the power and decision making organisation of subsidies, and ‘matters of concern’. Institutional discussions in that sense go far beyond the limits of disciplinary issues, and open up a common field of discussion around societal, ecological, and political questions that cannot always be addressed exhaustively in particular artists’ practices. Valeria Graziano proposes the concept of ‘prefiguration’ as a promising conceptual candidate for undertaking an alternative reflection on the contemporary politics of arts. Through his own research project, Nicolas Galeazzi articulates on the commons discourse and the option of commoning principles in the making of institutional frameworks in relation to the propositions of American political economist Elinor Ostrom. The book ends with the case of paf (Performing Arts Forum) a privately owned initiative in St. Erme, France which has proposed a radical form of common management of space, ideas, and practices since 2006. It’s a project initiated and run by artists, theoreticians, and practitioners themselves. Its autonomy is constantly contaminated, corrupted, and deviated by the currents of people and interests that keep circulating within the space.
Turn, Turtle! Reenacting the Institute is the second part of the publication series Performing Urgency, commissioned by European theatre network House on Fire, which will continue half-yearly. Performing Urgency focuses on the relationship between theatre and politics, and asks: How can theatre engage in contemporary social and political issues without compromising art or politics? What kind of knowledge or impact can art generate that activism and theory alone cannot? What are the processes and methodologies of political theatre today? It aims at a broader discussion of the conditions, aesthetics, concepts, and topics of contemporary performing arts.
In the manifold crises of machinic capitalism in the recent past it is possible to reflect on the experiences of the 1990s and 2000s, to an ever-expanding scene of transversal practices between political activism and art production. These experiences, however, are nothing other than delicate beginnings, which must construct their abstract machine in light of the multiple crises today. This is where a critical theatre practice also moves from the critique of the institution in the direction of instituting; it becomes instituent theatre.
When I talk about an ‘instituent practice’, this is not the opposite of institution in the same way that a utopia, for example, is the opposite of bad reality. Nor is it necessarily to be understood in its relation to institutedness. Instituent practice as a process and concatenation of instituent events is instead an absolute concept that goes beyond the opposite of institution: it does not oppose the institution, but it does flee institutionalisation.
This understanding of instituent practice further develops ideas with which Antonio Negri established his concept of constituent power. In his 1992 book Potere Constituente (the English title is Insurgencies), Negri primarily pursues the question of how a constituent power could be imagined, which does not produce constitutions separated from itself, but rather constitutes itself: con-stituent power as a com-position that constitutes itself in a machinic process. Starting from this terminological genealogy, instituent power is also to be understood as self-instituting. In this, it goes through two temporalities that also make up its two components: on the one hand the component of what is evental in the instituting, on the other the component of persistence, of insisting on repeatedly starting again. Multiplicity extends into all these dimensions of instituting, as far as possible into all the folds of the spatial surfaces and temporal continua: there is the multiplicity dispersed over a plane, which is condensed and composed in the moment of instituting (event, incision, break), and there is the continual multiplication of instituting along a timeline (stream, process, persistence).
The first component, the temporality of the event, the break, the incision, the first time also enables questioning the connection between con-stituent power and in-stituent practice. This raises problems of the form of concatenation, problems of inclusion, and problems of authority in a double sense: authority as a decisive instance, which installs itself implicitly or explicitly as a hierarchical position; but also ‘authority’ as a singular ‘origin’ of instituting, as machinic-dividual authorship (auctoritas). If instituent practice can be understood as stream and as incision, then it is the event of instituting, in which the preliminary decision is made about how cooperation develops, how the con- in constituent power relates to the mode of instituting.
The discourses surrounding ‘the author’ of instituting occurs here in two different and decisive modes: on the one hand as an ‘authoritarian’ subject imposes its form on the object of instituting; on the other hand, as an instituent machine, the ‘authorship’ of which does not depend on an individual or collective. Transposed to artistic practice, this terminological bifurcation of au(c)thority recalls the distinction between the paternalistic artist, on the one hand — who identifies an audience or a community and chooses it as her / his object, predicting and preceding it — and the artistic singularity, on the other, who / which enters into the machinic stream that leads to instituting, where sometimes more, sometimes less artistic skill is needed. In this second mode there is no talk of the avant-garde, of the artist predicting or even preceding, but rather of becoming-common as experimenting with forms of social organisation, with instituting and composing singularities. This mode of instituting is therefore not only symbolically effective, but its tendency toward either an authoritarian positing or a com-position of the singular is also crucial for its later potential as insisting, instituent practice and for the ongoing impulses for machinic-dividual production of desire.
On the second temporality of instituent practice, the process, the stream, the insistence: these mutually interlinked main components of instituent practice centre around the properties of long duration, persistence, and repetition, which are only seemingly opposite to the event. The instituting, the first, repeats itself, but not as an origin — strictly speaking, there is no strong first time in the flux of instituting. Instituent practice does not stop with instituting a break or an incision, but is instead distinguished by ever new instances of instituting, the first time of which is actualised in a non-linear way in potentially endlessly different variations.
Multiplying and perpetuating the event of instituting allows a change in the quality of composition: the concatenation of the many, ongoing, and differently-composed instances of instituting forestalls an authoritarian mode of institution, turning against the closing (in) of the institution. The multiplication of instances of instituting shifts the composition of the multiplicity distributed over a plane with every new event of instituting.
Of course, an instituent practice could emerge in any social field. But let us stick for a moment to a specific example between theatre and occupation. Amateur theatre in the anarchistic-autonomist sense and in the Brechtian tradition was started in 1994 in the squat Ernst-Kirchweger-Haus (ekh) in the Viennese workers’ district Favoriten. Autonomist political groups, anarchists, and Kurds began to squat in the house, which had previously been used in the 1930s as a varieté theatre, in 1990. In addition to the autonomist and Kurdish-Turkish groups, in the mid-1990s there were also Roma families and refugees living in the ekh, which was repeatedly the focal point of political disputes. These disputes sometimes took place with the Communist Party of Austria as the owner of the house, which did not entirely accept the squatters without resistance, and sometimes with the police, whose raids were apparently aimed at combating the specific combination of autonomist and migrant squatters (as well as those without papers).
Volxtheater, as theatre activists in the ekh called their practice, arose firstly from the idea of switching from event organisation (in other words, from setting up the pa for concerts all the way to cleaning toilets) to producing the event. Secondly, it arose from the fun in expanding the primarily musical event experiences by introducing more performative and linguistic elements, which led to the development of their versions of operas (from the opera of ‘Beggars for Beggars’, to the dog-opera, to the trip-hop opera).
Counter to the class-specific function of the bourgeois theatre, counter to spectacular cultural industry formats, but also counter to the structuralised forms of the independent theatre of the 1990s, alternative processes of working and rehearsing were developed. Volxtheater activist Gini Müller later summarised these processes in his article ‘Transversal or Terror?’ (2002): ‘Interests, conflicts, living conditions continuously changed the group composition, but the principles defined in the beginning remained: no director, collective work and decisions, no personal fees, open to interested people’. From 1994 to 1997, in addition to smaller projects, Volxtheater developed and produced Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s Three-Penny Opera, a free interpretation of Kleist’s Penthesilea, and Heiner Müller’s Der Auftrag with considerable success as operas with band and dj participation and eventually the use of electronic music. The treatment of these plays became increasingly free with the authority of names entirely dispensed within the collective production process and the performances evolving in Volxtheater plena and experimental rehearsals.
Following their successful first production, the Three-Penny Opera, the theatre collective decided to update Kleist’s Penthesilea as a play about wild women, going beyond the classic identitary clichés of femininity and women’s struggles, and instead experimenting with queer, transversal concepts. What was raging and resistive about Kleist’s Amazon drama, written in 1806-07 and condemned as unplayable after its première 70 years later, was used to develop a contemporary aesthetic of women’s resistance. In this way, a feminist furioso was to be created, in which women ‘naturally’ appear militant, yet without simply assuming macho-martial poses:
Fighting. Nothing easier than that. Every female memory stores enough wounds inflicted by society as a structure or as a man. A little autonomist screaming or dance exercise releases memories of long repressed offenses from the cramps and posture damage. Our bodies and voices, necks and stomachs are marked by the — fortunately failed — education to be good, pretty, pleasant little girls. A few warm-up exercises and our fists start pounding by themselves. (Volxtheater Favoriten, Penthesilea, 1996)
Going beyond Kleist’s position of abstracting gender aspects, the Volxtheater Penthesilea was used to invent a non-particular offensive from gender-specific experiences of oppression. To begin with, the queen and the main heroine were abolished, priestesses and princesses turned into comrades, and the heroine’s monologues re-distributed among many women. Lesbian love relationships, Achilles’ becoming a woman, the idea of a world with any number of gender variations, but also the attempt to link anti-sexist and anti-racist strands (an autonomist Amazon group kidnaps the Minister of the Interior, whereby the Amazon army meets the reality of the year 1996, which in the ekh is one of more and more police raids and associated racist assaults) expanded the strategies of breaking out of identitary models.
The collective discussions and rehearsals in the months before the performances provoked crucial conflicts and an exchange of experiences, which were to decisively influence the further development of the Volxtheater all the way to the renowned VolxTheater Karawane (PublixTheatreCaravan). Especially the disputes over classic cadre obedience, rationality, self-discipline, and subordination under the flag of a primary contradiction were played out again and again. This process is described by Volxtheater:
Vehement discussions. Should we show Amazons as they are supposed to be? Those that place the collective struggle above their own ego trips? Those that listen calmly to one another, not interrupting, always considerate of the weakest members in their group? Or should our Amazons’ Kleistian conflicts, the love of a man, the madness, the megalomania, the passion for war lead them into disarray? Vehement discussions. Shouldn’t the courageous women resistance fighters in the male-dominated liberation movements fight twice as much? Against armies. And against the patriarchal structures in their own organization. Haven’t they been barred often enough from fighting against patriarchal structures within the organization because of the need for unity against the class enemy?
Volxtheater did not stop to break through processes of structuralisation and closure in the political project of the squatted house and to initiate a persistent movement of opening and instituting. Later this instituent process increasingly expanded: from performances in the ekh itself, to guest performances in other squatted houses, to performances on the street, and finally various forms of activist theatre caravans. In controversies revolving around organisational forms and contents, however, the Volxtheater kept coming back to its implicit function, to the most important aspect of the pre-caravan Volxtheater as an instituent practice. Even with the first performances in the ekh, it was not solely a matter of criticising capitalist society and bourgeois theatre practice, but also of using the means of collective art production to institute something new.
Institutions of the Common
As Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt write in their preface to Commonwealth (2009), the commons is, on the one hand, ‘the common wealth of the material world — the air, the water, the fruits of the soil, and all nature’s bounty — which in classical European political texts is often claimed to be the inheritance of humanity as a whole’. On the other hand, and this is the aspect stressed by Hardt and Negri, the commons encompasses ‘those results of social production that are necessary for social interaction and further production, such as knowledge, languages, codes, information, affects, and so forth’. In terms of the latter, the commons therefore means the practices of interaction, of care, of living together in a common world. These are practices that do not consider ‘humanity’ as separate from ‘nature’, either in the logic of exploitation or in that of protection.
On these two levels Commonwealth can be interpreted as an ending to the authors’ trilogy (Empire , Multitude , Commonwealth) that correlates with the fading of the anti-globalisation movement. This is a further step towards actualising post-operaist theory and to enrich it with new theoretical currents (in this case mostly queer, feminist, and postcolonial concepts). Yet, the talk about the end of the anti-globalisation movement is taken in by all too simple ideas of cycles of struggles and submerges the various changes, passages, and trajectories of the different social movements (probably already since 1968, doubtlessly since the 1990s). On the other hand, taking into account the continuities of movements such as the Zapatistas, of anti-globalisation, social fora, precarious workers, and student occupations, the discourse about the end is nothing more than a pathetic phantasy of rupture. From this perspective Commonwealth not only constitutes an end of a trilogy, but also marks the beginning of a new boom of social struggles connected to all those movements.
Over the course of the whole book one can discern a third aspect of the common — in addition to the two prevalent meanings introduced in the preface — one that picks up on the issue of the concatenation between the singular streams of a multiplicity as a central theme: the common as a self-organisation of the social relations. Self-organisation should not be understood here in any way as a simple empirical fact or a nature-like automatism, but as the political project of instituting the common. This implies that the common cannot be perceived as being-common, but only as becoming-common, as a constant production of the common. It also implies that the common and the singularities are co-emergent, not only compatible, but constituting each other.
An institution of the common can emerge through the (self)transformative molecularisation of existing institutions, but it can also be practiced as an occupation in the sense of occupying new territories. Of course, there is nothing on earth like an empty space or territory, but in the multiple crises state apparatuses (and for that matter art institutions) start to leak, some of them are evaded and others are emptied out. This is a potential moment of instituting persistent occupations.
It is more than a temporal occupation, more than occupations like the one of Théâtre de l’Odéon in 1968 or the cultural section of the Occupy movement (known as ‘Occupy Museums’) in 2011 in New York. An art institution of the common applies permanent and persistent modes of occupation. Of course in the last 50 years many occupation movements included actors of the art field. In 2011, alongside the revolutions of the so-called Arab Spring and the M15 movement in Spain (and even before the movement which became known as the Occupy movement), emerged a new wave of occupations in Italy, this time in the field of theatre. In that year many theatres and cultural spaces across Italy were occupied: the Cinema Palazzo and the Angelo Mai in Rome, the s. a. l. e. Docks in Venice (occupied already in 2007), the Asilo della Creatività e della Conoscenza in Naples, the Teatro Coppola in Catania, the Cantieri Arsenale and the Teatro Garibaldi Aperto in Palermo, and the Macao in Milan.
All of these occupation practices have been linked to or influenced by the occupation of the Teatro Valle, the oldest theatre in Rome (founded in 1727), which was occupied by actors, directors, musicians, and cultural workers when it was threatened by privatisation in June 2011. Its occupiers renamed the theatre ‘Teatro Valle Occupato’ and declared it a bene comune: a common good. They occupied the space on 14 June 2011, the very day of a referendum, when Italy’s water system was declared a bene comune. There was a deliberate connection with and return of the two meanings of the commons in Commonwealth: the first aspect, the material, ‘natural’ component of the commons, represented by water, was connected to the immaterial common good of theatre production.
The instituent machine of the Teatro Valle became a reterritorialising force. The social machines and body-machines of actors, musicians, directors, technicians, and other cultural workers re-territorialised the traditional everyday life of a theatre and fabricated a new territory. Of course, this occupation was based on the profound crisis of labour in the cultural field, on the precaritisation especially of the younger generations of theatre workers, on the corruption of classical theatre production and its consumers.
But it would be far too narrow to conceptualise the Teatro Valle Occupato as just another sign of protest against the theatre world.
As in all cases of the occupation movements in 2011, the seizing of the space was connected with questions of assembly, of condensation, of the form, place, and time of reterritorialisation. The occupiers took seriously the space and time they set up, taking time for long, patient discussions and time to stay in this place, and developing new forms of organisation and production every day. Here the theatre was not just a symbol anymore; the stage was not just a privileged space of representation, but also a place of nonrepresentationist, inclusive, molecular organisation. And all of a sudden there was also a front against the Valle, or even more than one front. Conservatives began to reel off their traditional discourses of ‘aesthetic relevance’: ‘non è accaduto nulla di teatralmente rilevante’, not seeing that a radically new ethico-aesthetics can emerge only from evading the logics of the spectacle and from the experiments with molecular organisation. Then also the old independent theatre scene began to feel excluded, and some from the old left complained — ‘tecnicamente siamo di fronte a una privatizzazione mascherata’ — that the Valle was masking privatisation in their eyes. For the activists these attacks might have been harmful, but in fact they were just a symptom of the misunderstanding of the common, still applying the old private-public dualism.
Yet the idea of the theatre as a bene comune was not just a flowery expression of a bunch of new hippies in the background of the creative industries. It was closely connected to the combined social and juridical invention of an institution of the common. In this sense, the occupiers also worked hard to establish a new legal structure: the Fondazione Teatro Valle Bene Comune. After 27 months of occupation, they presented the statutes and the ‘political codex’ of their foundation on 18 September 2013. In this political codex, they declared the Valle an institution of the common, based on self-organisation and consensus, on new forms of social security in discontinuous forms of creative labour, on an economic model against privatisation, and finally on an understanding of intellectual property that builds upon the social richness of knowledge as a commons.
It is evident that new institutions of the common need protocols and lasting consensual agreements. But even with the most revolutionary set of rules, the molecular machines are in constant danger of being swallowed by their own state apparatus. So the really urgent questions are not about the symbolic quality of the occupation or the hegemonic discourses, but rather questions of this kind: what happens in the oscillations between the sociality of the occupation and the model-like prescription of the rules of an institution of the commons? How not to forget that the institutional process was generated inside the struggle? How to avoid the molecularisation of the molecular organisation? Here, the third aspect of the common comes into play again: the protagonists of the Valle transcended the purely legal logic and recomposed multiplicity exactly through the social-juridical procedure of a constituent process in which legal text machines and social machines work together. A finished and stabilised constitution was not the aim, but a constituent process, an instituent practice in search for commonism. The many assemblies, transversal projects, and ethico-aesthetic experiments were not meant to be striated, standardised, and cut down by the legal structure of the new fondazione, but the procedures of the constituent process were supposed to produce the common as collective self-organisation and self-education. In this sense the statutes of a foundation of the commons that was never legitimised by the state could only serve as components of a molecular becoming-common. Occupying the theatre does not mean taking over the old institution and giving it new rules, but transforming and reinventing its very forms, inventing an instituent theatre.
i. Origins of a Flemish Repertoire Company
When kvs, the Royal Flemish Theatre of Brussels, was founded on 1 October 1887, there was no artistic agenda as such. The new cultural institution’s mission was overtly political and its strategies were broadly cultural. In the nineteenth century, the Belgian state was unitary, Francophone and bourgeoisie-dominated,and offered little cultural, political, or economic space and power to its Flemish community. kvs was therefore founded to play a leading role in the cultural and general emancipation of that Flemish community, which in Brussels formed a large, powerless majority. kvs quickly turned into the symbol of what was, at first, a battle for cultural recognition (mainly a language struggle taking place before the Second World War), then a fight for political representation. A symbolically crucial moment in the struggle for linguistic emancipation was the very first speech ever made by a Belgian King in the Dutch language at kvs in 1894 — it was during that speech that the Flemish Theatre was given the title of ‘Royal’ Flemish Theatre by King Leopold II. (King Leopold II at that time was also the individual owner of the Congo Free State in Central Africa which became an official Belgian colony in 1907, a topic kvs has dealt with extensively in the past ten years).
The political fight for representation came into full force after the Second World War, when kvs had really become the cultural ‘centre’ from where an emerging, self-conscious Flemish bourgeoisie imagined itself, albeit without having gained any formal political representation and power yet. Identifying with and strongly supporting kvs was by then an integral part of almost every Flemish citizen’s civic responsibility. Throughout its history, the kvs has played an important role, without any real interruption or change, in developing a theatre repertoire in Dutch, housing a company of prestigious Flemish actors with ‘national’ visibility, and developing a Flemish cultural audience and intellectual community. The institutional shape of kvs was traditional: an intendant / director had the entire artistic responsibility — they made the repertoire decisions, they picked the permanent actors, and they staged most of the productions. This ‘bourgeois repertoire company’ model (not unlike the model of many Central- and Eastern-European National Theatres and of some the city theatres in Germany) remained the dominant institutional model of kvs up until 2001.
The struggle for Flemish emancipation was eventually successful in prompting far-reaching political reforms. After decades of both slow and sudden reforms, it even ended up fundamentally changing the Belgian state model. Within their own region and community, the Flemish acquired substantial competences and financial means to give shape to their own future. The Flemish community in Brussels — where the French-speakers had in the meantime become the majority — turned into one of the best-protected minorities in the world. Culture was disconnected from the Belgian federal level and became a matter for the community level, which meant that kvs
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