Actually, the Dead Are Not Dead
Bergen Assembly 2019
POINT OF DEPARTURE
Hans D. Christ and Iris Dressler, the artistic directors or conveners of the upcoming Bergen Assembly, have invited these ten artists, curators, theorists, and activists to form with them the core group that generates the contents and formats of Bergen Assembly 2019 in a collective process: Murat Deha Boduroğlu, Banu Cennetoğlu, María García, Hiwa K, Katia Krupennikova, Viktor Neumann, Paul B. Preciado, Pedro G. Romero, Simon Sheikh, and Emma Wolukau-Wanambwa.
Bergen Assembly, an international project of contemporary art taking place every three years in the Norwegian city of Bergen, originates from a critical approach to the biennial format. Against this background, the point of departure for the core group’s work was the concept of assembly itself, which is critically examined both in terms of its political implications and in regards to aesthetic practices. What does it mean when a biennial (or in this case a triennial) is called an assembly? What expectations of art and the curators does this articulate? The focus is on the general frameworks and techniques of collective political or emancipatory action – and the questions how, in what form and with whom we intend to develop and shape these practices in the context of an art project.
Out of the discussion process three positions regarding the assembly – or the relationship between art and political action – have crystallised: the parody of political institutions through the inversion of their order (Assembly of Idiots); the exploration of the resistive and emancipatory potential inherent in the arts (Doing Assembly); and ‘hauntology’ – the integration of those who are no longer or do not yet exist within the living political present (Assembly of Phantoms). These three approaches will form the more or less tangible, overlapping undertones of Bergen Assembly 2019 (for more information see Figures of Thought, below).
ACTUALLY, THE DEAD ARE NOT DEAD
As the writer and filmmaker Alexander Kluge says, it is a mistake to think that the dead are dead. He proposes listening and talking to them, sharing their experiences: for example in regards to long gone, buried and unused moments of possible emancipation that enable the imagination of another present and future. Phantoms or spectres, the not presently living, are important allies not only in the process of emancipation but, as philosopher Jacques Derrida states, in the struggle for justice: a justice-to-come (à-venir) which is based on the recognition of and responsibility towards those who are no longer or not yet here, and who appear to require justice.
Bergen Assembly 2019, titled Actually, the Dead Are Not Dead, addresses the spectres, the appearances of the not presently living. It deals with our responsibility to the past (no longer) and the future (not yet). This responsibility is set against the subjugation of life to the politics of death. The politics of death deny the past and the future. They destroy the material basis of life for large portions of the population, approving and accepting the physical and social death of workers, the poor, or refugees. They hazard the survival of the planet, involving wars and weapons of mass destruction as well as violence against ‘other bodies’. They are the roots of slavery and colonialism: the basis of Western capitalism.
Politics of death are behind the many lives that do not count and the deaths that are not mourned, those whom philosopher Judith Butler calls the ungrievable and political scientist Achille Mbembe the living dead. How to mourn collectively for the ungrievable? Mourning in Western cultures has the function of ensuring that the dead do not return. In contrast, Actually, the Dead Are Not Dead calls for a form of mourning that evokes the return of these dead – for the sake of life.
The programme of Bergen Assembly 2019 is conceived as a fabric of diverse temporalities and rhythms, scenes and formats, nodes and (thematic) trajectories full of rifts and returns, density and dispersion, visibilities and invisibilities. It focuses on long-term artistic projects that are based on far-ranging experiences of co-operation with local and international activists, groups, and communities and/or are long-term projects in the field of artistic research.
FIGURES OF THOUGHT: ASSEMBLIES
Assembly of Idiots
The word ‘idiot’ derives from the Greek idiōtēs, which can be translated as ‘private person’ or ‘layperson’. In the Greek polis, the idiōtēs were originally citizens interested in politics, who spoke in the assembly and courts on their own initiative.Later they were replaced and silenced by the rhetor, the professional speaker. Forced into the role of the laypeople, they retreated to the private sphere.
An Assembly of Idiots suspends the model of the political assembly in which the right to speak is hierarchised and delegated to professionals. It is an assembly of those whose concerns are regarded as non-political, that is, not of public interest. These are people who move on the margins of the political community. An Assembly of Idiots parodies political institutions by breaking open, inverting, and changing their structures of order. Conversely, the question is raised as to what extent existing political institutions themselves – from the parliament to the construction of the nation-state and transnational political structures – can be described as parodies.
Parody, understood as something that is able to change – to repeat and alter, double and distort – what it parodies, might be a central element of all emancipatory action. In this sense, parody would be at the core of a Doing Assembly that aims both to shape alternative spaces for political action and to change the existing conditions through the means, methods, and experiences specific to art, theory, and activism.How can the knowledge and experience of resistance and emancipation be shared among different social discourses, contexts, and realities? What languages, tools, and methods are available for achieving this and what conceivable alliances can be formed in the process? Any Doing Assembly concerns, in a very specific way, the questionsof how, in what form and with whom we imagine political action.
Assembly of Phantoms
When solidarity among the living exhibits cracks, then we are dependent on the solidarity of the dead–Alexander Kluge (with Heiner Müller)
Important allies in the process of emancipation and the struggle for justice are those who no longer, or do not yet, exist – the ‘not presently living’ (Jacques Derrida) to which an Assembly of Phantoms is dedicated. As the German writer and filmmaker Alexander Kluge says, it is a mistake to think that the dead are dead. He proposes listening and talking to them, sharing their experiences: for example in regards to long gone, buried and unused moments of possible emancipation that enable the imagination of another present and future.
In his ‘hauntology’ (Spectres of Marx, 1993), the French philosopher Jacques Derrida argues for a ‘being-with the not presently living’: a being-with the spectre, which adheres to a different temporality, a ‘non-contemporaneity with itself of the living present’. It is about the recognition of and responsibility to the past (no longer) and the future (not yet) – as precondition for a more just world. For Derrida, this justice-to-come (à-venir) lies in the permanent breaking open and changing of the existing order, that is, in a genuinely parodic act.
See Lene Rubinstein, ‘The Athenian Political Perception of the Idiotes’, in Paul Cartledge et al. (eds.), Kosmos: Essays in Order, Conflict and Community in Classical Athens(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).