A STATE OF PRE- 21st Century Re-Alignments in Art and Politics

“A State of Pre-” is a pluridisciplinary investigation into the conditions, subjectivities and agencies provoking a realignment of art, thought and politics in the 21st century. Drawing on the contributions of its diverse participants we would like to share some of the basic theoretical concepts and art related to the past three years of the Re-Aligned Project.

As a thematic umbrella-project dedicated to art and political movements advocating change, resistance, rebellion or revolution in their respective societies, the Re-Aligned Project has been defined by an ongoing series of workshops, exhibitions, artist-in-residencies, seminars, conferences, street and public art festivals. An interactive map of the project is found at www.Re-Aligned.net, which documents three years of engagement across Europe, Russia, the Middle East and Northern Africa.

Future historians will judge whether the wave of revolts of our time bear comparison to 1640, 1789, 1848, 1968, or perhaps, following further major convulsions, will be seen as the capitalist antipode to the communist collapse of 1989. What is clear today, is that we live in a time of worldwide instability, where hegemonic government by consent is under intense pressures due to the crises of transnational elites above, and the discontent of vast majorities below, which are forced to bear the brunt of the ensuing problems.

Next to the economic and ecological crises of mondial scale, there are political conflicts being played out in widely differing arenas which show remarkable structural similarities. The notion of a non-aligned positionality, which invokes the refusal of multiple mainstream positions, describes one such common structural feature. An Egyptian, Russian, Chinese or Cuban oppositional intellectual, for example, will reject (local) authoritarianism while often simultaneously maintaining a highly critical stance vis-a-vis (global) western forms of historical and/or current expansion and oppression. A European or US Occupy activist, as much as an African or Latin American intellectual, will similarly reject an authoritarian conception of communism while fighting the rapacious logic of neoliberal capitalism. In all cases, concomitant with a clear non-alignment with the outmoded mainstream social paradigms of the 20th century, we see what we call re-alignments of the 21st. Although a term kept deliberately open to multiple readings, re-aligned initially describes a re-engagement with and re-merging of activist and intellectual currents that are replacing the apathy and disillusionment, apolitical irony, particularism, single-issue and identity politics of the previous epoch. It describes the “third”, “fourth” or “fifth” ways being sought between vertical and horizontal forms of organization, between particularist identities and unarticulated hybridities, between difference and universalism.

The period preceding our current era, sometimes called postmodernity, saw a sustained focus on cultural-ethnic issues, post-colonial and national-independence narratives, post-communist nation-building and religious revivals, gender related liberation movements and also numerous new ways of reading popular and commercial culture and society. While subverting and superimposing and making these configurations clash, many power relations which postmodernist theory and art engaged with and critiqued, however, were often paradoxically strengthened and reproduced in this same period, rather than overcome.

Explanations for this require a re-orientation of perspectives. It has been argued that precisely postmodernism’s aversion to “meta-narratives”, the “universal”, “reality” and similar overarching conceptions furnished the “conditions of ignorance”, so to speak, for the macroeconomic neoliberal depredations of the past decades. Discussion of general social and political structural movements remained out of fashion, suspect, even unspeakable, in an environment where collective convictions and ideals were ridiculed as simplistic, dangerous and antiquated, often forced to be couched in obscure jargon, while the power-relations they decried took their heavy toll.

Over the past years, the clarity of the need for common agency has led us to speak of the re-aligned approach as engaged in multilectic thinking. Careful to avoid reversions to single-issue, single-culture, single-tradition thinking, that is, abandoning diversity or falling into undifferentiated universalism, this likewise multivalent term describes the aim, amidst the maddening multiplicity of our times, to redevelop models for holistic worldviews. The plethora of currents and movements which constitute re-alignments we speak of, are a type of globalisation ‘from below’. Due to their undeveloped, still-localised nature, we hence describe them as having a pre-mondial agency. This is an agency for which politics, art and thought are only now beginning to imagine structures and give a language to.

Following the near-collapse of global markets in 2007-8, multiple waves of resistance and rebellion against diverse forms of oppression, enslavement and injustice have washed the world. From dramatic battles for basic freedoms and human rights, to forceful anti-corruption movements, to rising rejection of corporate and state control and disenfranchisement, to angry demands for advanced forms of equality and justice, not dissimilar grievances and claims have been brought to “the square” in a wide range of societies. Although nothing is certain, the chances are these grievances, and bold proposals for solutions to them, will again cross critical thresholds with the amplitude of ongoing ecological, financial, social and cultural crises.

In short, we wish to investigate the horizon which lies before us. We are in a state of “pre-”. Contrary to the fin de siècle pessimism of what may be called the non-aligned generation of the “post-”, re-aligned movements are part of a quest for a wider mondial commons. Going beyond the ubiquitous “post-” of the outgoing epoch (post-war, post-modern, post-Soviet, post-communist, post-ideological, post-history, post-colonial, post-human, etc.) what may be called a re-aligned generation of the “pre-” – naturally defined not by age but vision – seeks the proliferation of common orientations, desirables and initiatives in face of mondial crises. The Re-Aligned Project has set its focus on these currents of our antecedent, not to say antediluvian predicament.

Ivor Stodolsky and Marita Muukkonen

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Illustration: From the opening of “To the Square 2”, 2014. Photo credit: Jani Ahlstedt/Checkpoint Helsinki/Perpetuum Mobile

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