ExArgentina found its thematic starting points in the economic crisis and uprisings in Argentina in December 2001. The project lasted for four years, giving us a span of time much longer than the usual haste with which exhibitions and cultural events have to be managed, providing a continuum that provides the precondition for truly critical, complex artworks. The project consisted of several stages: from November 2002 to May 2003 we stayed in Buenos Aires, where we met various groups and artists and started a process of cooperation and discussion, which was to last four years. In the fall of 2003, we returned to Berlin and organized the conference “Plans for Leaving the Overview.” The conference was intended to discuss the theoretical and methodological issues that had so far crystallized with people from Europe as well. It was followed by the exhibition “Steps to Fleeing from Work to Action,” which was shown at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne in March 2004. Part of the exhibition was also shown in September 2004 in the exhibition “How Do We Want to be Governed” at a Centro Civico in in Barcelona. This spring, the final part of ExArgentina took place in Palais de Glace, a city institution in Buenos Aires, and was organized by the Argentine artists, who brought in many new artists and groups. This last part of the project consisted of an exhibition and a 6-week workshop, in which issues important to the project were now discussed in the light of the current political situation.
We first traveled to Buenos Aires with the intention of starting a kind of genealogical practice, with which we wanted to explain the political and economic crisis that happened in Argentina in 2001 / 2002. We based this on the concept of genealogy that Foucault developed in his lectures at College de France in 1976. We developed concrete questions: Which cases could be compared with the Argentine crisis – e.g. Mexico 1994, Russia 1998, Asia 1997? Who are the protagonists of the crisis? Why are the new investors’ buildings and shopping malls never pictured, but always only the burning tires of the street barricades? What are the connections like between political apparatuses and profiteers? Which identitary images does the crisis found, and how can one work against them? These questions disappeared in the first weeks. They landed in the same place where two stacks could be found in bookshops: one stack offering a multitude of books analyzing the crisis and corruption in Argentina, the other offering psychological guides and self-help literature. For us, both of these stacks were the symptom of a bourgeois dilemma: there is a permanent analysis and criticism of the political present, which may have no other social connection than to the prison of self-optimization.
Through the artists and groups that we met, it seemed at first as though we were moving away from an analysis, because we were involved in a process of social solidarity and political self-organization that we had not known before. It is difficult for us to describe this process without reproducing kitsch: battles in the street, assemblies in occupied factories, outrage at the everyday repression on the part of the police. We believed less in the images that were produced for these battles at the time than in presence and experience in a specific situation that is not suited to be a reproducible model. We observed how the “intellectuals” behaved in this situation. We noticed that it seems to be part of the intellectual’s job to always be capable of judging and maintaining one’s own balance – as though one were sitting in a loge and watching a play in the theater. It became very clear that the “power of judgment” defines a social status, whose holders are intent on maintaining this status. The point was holding a political criticism that cannot escape from the prison of representing its own interests. It became apparent that this judging functioned according to the immanent categories of government or a social stock-taking.
In Buenos Aires we read John Holloway’s book “Change the World Without Taking Power”, which had just been published in the German translation. Holloway drafts a negation that understands the no to capitalist harmony as the beginning of a social action. He succeeds in suspending the “no” from the various futility judgments that it is so often linked with, because he seems to be lacking the historical perspective. Negation also means the refusal to draft a post-revolutionary scenario with its new state, its new society or its new work. We liked the topos of flight and leaving in Holloway’s book, which could be used differently from Foucault’s topos of war / battles. Shortly before our return to Germany, there was an event in Buenos Aires, which was to describe the status of our project so far. It was called “Plans for Fleeing from Work to Action”, and it translated this concept of negation to our experiences as follows.
We came to Buenos Aires to start a project that informed as precisely as possible about the so-called crisis in Argentina. However, we met no mere informants here, but people who are involved in something that we would like to call ‘Fleeing from Work to Action’. On the one hand, ‘fleeing from work’ characterizes the flight of capital, the withdrawal of the investors from a lost wager, the surrender of industries and thus also the end of a form of exploitation that was organized in jobs. At the same time, this flight also entails a further loss of rights in the jobs that still exist, an extreme repression and expulsion of those who are unemployed. On the other hand, ‘fleeing from work’ can also mean all the forms of self-organization among those who have been left behind. It can mean that this unexploitability is a form of release to what one could call social action. This action is the opposite of work; it is no longer separated from the environment and the life in which it takes place. Maybe this inapplicability is a precondition of self-education, in the sense of a release. This release is especially a concern of the institution of art, because ‘work’ is usually negotiated there in a highly exemplary way – in the separation of contexts and the compulsion to find universal gestures in order to be of value. ‘Plans for Fleeing from Work to Action’ therefore also means finding an emergency exit from these institutions’ lack of political expression.
In conclusion, we come now to the concept of “militant research”, which we rediscovered in the discussions with Colectivo Situaciones, and which summarizes for us the involvement with and holds the affective relationship to the “object of research”, in which the subject lays down their office as an instance. In the exhibition in Cologne we assigned artistic works to this concept, among others. (We had a total of four concepts that we assigned works to: negation, militant research, cartography and political narrative.) Ultimately, however, this concept applied to the overall project, because all the participants strongly identified with it.
We initially related “militant research” as a mode of working exclusively to activist and collective modes of working. In retrospect, however, this seems too narrow. We had long discussions about importing activism into the institution, in which a polarization between the “street” and the “museum” quickly emerged, but in which neither place was really questioned in the end. Instead, the places were elevated to criteria. Activism is not inviolable, we found many activist statements universalizing, coarse and paternal. We also found it characteristic that many subsequent invitations related exclusively to activist works, as though professional curators connect activism with an extreme topicality – the latest news that will already be supplanted tomorrow by the next. In the project it turned out that militant research is not so much a discussion of grounding, and certainly not a discussion in which one can forget one’s own individuality and enter into a movement identity. For us, militant research was explicitly a method discussion.
Yet this method discussion is ultimately oriented again to the ethics of genealogy: How closely must one listen, how precisely must one think, how vehemently must one proceed against the repressiveness of not wanting to know exactly? Which images can be found, how can one’s own experience be envisioned in them, and how can one describe in them one’s own involvement? Which measure of credibility, of the interest in communicating to observers and of the revisability of the work can be achieved?
This text has been adapted for the newspaper format by David Riff. For complete German and English versions of the text, see https://www.eipcp.net