On the Political Turn. PART 2

Security guards removing stickers.

During these years, most often without any support, cultural workers produced diverse cultural or political experiments amidst specific strictures and needs that operated across categories of what is considered as appropriate political or theatrical practice. These emergent practices included collective platforms, home-made performances, urban and cultural interventions, destituent acts of cultural critique and occupations/ spatial reclaimings. These experiments brought to the fore both the challenges and potentialities of the political and the cultural while exemplifying the tension inherent in the fugitive relationship between the two. However, as the crisis continued, these practices often appeared discontinuous, ephemeral, impotential and faced multiple failings. At the same time, new private cultural institutions appeared, to support and gradually formulate this landscape. Neon Foundation annually offers a few grants for the arts, while the Stavros Niarchos Foundation is currently preparing the construction of the new National Opera and National Library outside the city centre of Athens. Since it opened in 2010, the Onassis Cultural Centre offers a rich international programme of cultural, experimental work for Greek audiences and also what is almost the sole opportunity for paid work to a limited number of selected Greek artists. As such, following the global tendencies, it has demonstrated an interest in political works and art in the public realm and it has also funded an urban regeneration programme for the transformation of the city centre, "Rethink Athens". In the dilapidated landscape in which the State has withdrawn, these cultural institutions perform a paradigm shift in cultural production.

Bojana Kunst (2015) writes that today art institutions seek to become social places especially in times of crisis of political participation demonstrating "the meticulous normative procedures, excellent logistical skill and top-off curatorial management [...] but they should be somehow protected from their own political consequences, consequences of their own events, from their own production of sociality in the sense that they should not endanger their status as receivers of public of private money". In other words, even though the institution foregrounds its social and political role, it fails to be affected, as Kunst indicates by the "political consequences of the their own events". Rancière questions the forms of so-called political art, and argues that, despite a century of critique directed at the mimetic tradition, the assumption remains that "art compels us to revolt when it shows us revolting things, that it mobilizes when it itself is taken outside of the workshop or museum and that it incites us to oppose the system of domination by denouncing its own participation in that system" (2010, p. 135).

In the summer of 2014, a series of stickers appeared in the streets and cultural spaces of Athens. The stickers were a form of satirical critique vis-à-vis various dominant Greek institutions. Each sticker copied the graphic design and logo of one institution and a short text commented on the policies and politics of this institution in a satirical manner. "No more political theatre in Stegi" (commenting on the Onassis Cultural Centre and its interest in politicised forms of theatre), "Re-map, Re-think, Re-activate Re (Greek expression) go to hell" (commenting on a series of gentrification projects in the city of Athens), "From outside Bella Bella (all pretty) from inside katsivella (mess)" (National Opera), "What did you use to do in National Theatre of Northern Greece Sotiri" (commenting on the artistic director and his previous position related to certain scandals). On 30 June 2014, this series of stickers appeared all at once in front of an open theatre show in Herodium Theatre. Placed in between posters for upcoming shows, the impotential stickers performed an intervention. An intervention that evidently disturbed since security guards rushed to remove the stickers.

As the political turn is recapitulated by art institutions, biennials and top-bottom organisations, we might ask how such practices of politicised theatre and/ or art activism might affect actual structures, processes and modus operandi. How might these practices destabilise the structures that they appear to simultaneously support and oppose? And what new responsibilities do they produce as they are performed within dominant institutions across different locations? As Rancière argues, maybe the assumption that "art compel us to revolt when it shows us revolting things" needs to be rethought as we engage once again with political questions, "needs", artworks and practices. Rancière claims that "doing art means displacing art's borders, just as doing politics means displacing the borders of what is acknowledged as the political" (2010, p. 149). What might be the emergent forms of the dissensual, as re-configurations of artistic and political practice? How might we begin to differentiate practices within this political turn and how might such practices displace the border of art and of politics? Engaging with such questions while resisting easy answers we might begin by thinking about actions and practices that seek to intervene within a specific reality, through precarious operations. Emergent, impotential practices appear from within the strictures of a "here and now" and resist functioning as an artistic outcome. Practices that cannot simply be considered as artworks or even forms of political opposition. Practices that navigate between art and politics as there are implicated in a specific landscape and its "needs" and therefore remain emergent, incomplete, interrelated. Whether these actions are stickers, posters, destituent acts, performances or instituent practices, it can not be denied that by their very nature they are also impotential, ephemeral, precarious, insufficient and vulnerable in the face of dominant powers and monopolies leaving us uncertain about the 'universal' activist strategies that might remain polemical in the new "landscape of the visible the sayable and the doable'" (Rancière 2010, p. 149). However, within and beyond social and political "turns" and configurations, what remains relevant today is an ongoing critical rethinking of the intentions and modes behind how we practice art and politics within the specificities of temporary reconfigurations of time and space.


Bauman, Z. 2000, Liquid Modernity, Blackwell, Oxford.

Becker, C. 2012, "Micro-Utopias: Public practice in public space", in N. Thomshon (ed.), Living as Form: Socially engaged art 1991-2011, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, pp. 64-71.

Boltanski, L. and Chiapello E. 2007, The New Spirit of Capitalism, Verso, New York.

Brenner, N. and Theodore, N. 2002, Spaces of Neoliberalism: Urban restructuring in North America and Western Europe, Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford.

Kioupkiolis, A. 2013, "Για μια άλλη δημοκρατία των κοινών", RED notebook, viewed 15 March 2015.

Kunst, B. 2015, "The Institution between Precarization and Participation", Performance Research, vol. 20, no. 4, pp. 141-146.

Mouffe, C. 2007, "Artistic Activism and Agonistic Spaces", Art and Research. A Journal of Ideas, Contexts and Methods, vol. 1, no. 2, Summer, viewed 10 June 2013.

Rancière J. 2010, Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics, Continuum, London.

Some of the stickers in the streets of Athens.
Some of the stickers in the streets of Athens.
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