Normality in [the] Crisis (2009)

Options for radical art practices in heterogeneous social space

A symposium by the Festival of Regions 09 – Normality at the Subversive Fair in Linz
Congress language: English
16 May 2009, 11 a.m. — 8 p.m.
Hafenhalle, Industriezeile/Derfflingerstraße, Linz, Austria

with Alejandra Aravena, Marina Gržinić, Ruth Noack, Gerald Raunig, Dmitry Vilensky and Stephen Wright

Moderation of the final panel
Stefan Nowotny

Concept and organization
Martin Krenn

Radical social practices and interventions in art question social norms. The spectrum ranges from co-operative, socially committed and participatory projects through to politically symbolic, provocative actions. An extended concept of art, subversive techniques and testing the so-called ‚freedom of art‘ are deployed in this context, usually strategically.
The situation becomes political especially when the concern is in establishing a relationship between artists and project participants which requires an inversion of power relations that is aimed at redistributing resources and the implementation of equal rights for all. The spectrum of participation stretches from occasional encounters with residents and passers-by through to collaboration with theorists, activists and political groups. If the relationship between artists and participants is radically thought through and implemented, then both strategic alliances and political relationships are possible. This leads to a critical concern with the relationship itself and simultaneously establishes a specific way of acting.
Due to the current financial and economic crises, radical practices in art find themselves in a special situation because they are accompanied by a crisis in normality. Fractures and gaps occur in existing power relations and patterns of thought. These openings offer new targets for radical artistic interventions. Thus the configuration of power relations around which society is structured could itself be at stake in the sense of being the subject of an „agonistic struggle“ (Chantal Mouffe). This is especially true where society is conceived of as a heterogeneous social space in which opposition should not be suppressed but can become productive.
The symposium Normality in [the] Crisis will engage with options and traps of political practices in art, locate them within art history and discuss the potential of the numerous feminist, anti-racist and anti-capitalist projects of recent years within the context of current social upheavals.


Alejandra Aravena: Crisis?
In terms of normality, there is no economic crisis. The patriarchy in its neoliberal phase requires collecting its seed for the „priests of Pluto“. Why not deliver the money to debtors, the poor, the workers? It is not normal according to the logic of the system: „The wealthy people are blessed by God. It’s better to give the money to companies and banks. They will guide us.“

Social movements have managed to break, apparently, the normality of the system. I believe that feminism is a way to reach a completely different society from what we are seeing now. Not an adaptation of the system, not a tolerant hetero-patriarchy. I’m not a feminist to applaud women in the armed forces, as I am against war and against all militias. I’m not a feminist to celebrate women in power, as it is still the same power that the hetero-patriarchy uses; once again, to do a work that is not prestige work. At the end, everything is as it is now or worse: more war, more hunger, more inequality and more repression. And the empire is far from dying: we talk in English in a German-speaking country, in a world where most people speak Chinese and most other countries speak Spanish.

The social struggle is a test of faith. Not the faith monopolized by religion. But there are tools, theoretical and practical, and we will be defined by the way we use them. How many times do we fall into the logic of the system! How many times do we measure success by the “mass” that attracts? How many times do we use media that we know is impeded or monitored? How many times do we remove the authors and authors restrict their „product“ in order to be „not stolen“?

Marina Gržinic: Political act as a self-determination
Against scientific academism and empty art radicalization
In my paper I want first to put light on how today normality is regulated, safeguarded and reproduced in what I call (making a reference to Achille Mbembe) neoliberal-financial necrocapitalism. I want to present how and through which processes the crisis is normalized, and secondly to expose some artistic-political projects and positions in the space of Europe that propose an uncompromising subversive political act that asks to de-link reality and capitalism. Today capital and power (including institutions of art, the social, political and economical) privatize each other. It is a relation of not a simple mirroring, but of a co-property in- between capital and reality and capital and power. Subjectivities are directly subsumed to this total process of capital privatization. Some positions propose a concept of self-determination that presents a political act of intervention in contemporary society in order to fight normalized racism, coloniality, anti-Semitism and new institutional, esthetical and educational forms of subjugation to capital interests. These positions are, among others, The Research Group on Black Austrian History and Present (Araba Evelyn Johnston-Arthur and Belinda Kazeem), Vienna; maiz – Autonomes Zentrum von & für Migrantinnen, Linz; Lëvizja VETËVENDOSJE (“The Movement SELF-DETERMINATION!”) from Kosovo; and the artistic, political and theoretical platform Reartikulacija from Ljubljana.

Ruth Noack
Is the crisis contained in artistic practice comparable to the crisis of normality?
And is such comparison productive? Can an understanding of artistic crisis help us confront normality? My contribution will engage in these questions.

Gerald Raunig: Genealogies of 1989. Inventing the Transversal Intellect
In my talk I want to investigate „1989“ not in its traditional meaning as a chiffre for the abolition of communism with its complementary idea of a „natural“ transition to neoliberal capitalism. In the light of the effects of the actual forms of „crisis“ i will try to discuss a quite contrary understanding of „1989“ as a double possibility of a coming communism, of a communist becoming.
But at the same time, it is necessary to reflect on the necessity of developing new concepts for these new kinds of communism. One possible point to start this reflection is the practice of artists and intellectuals that transgresses the usual formats of dissidence, spectacle and universal/media intellectuals. I want to refer to these contemporary practices to develop Marx‘ notion of the „general intellect“ into a non-universalist approach i call the „transversal intellect“.

Dmitry Vilensky: On Hegemony, Dissidence and the education of class consciousness
First I should say my position of speaker in the framework of this conference is rather special one, because the “heterogeneous social space” unfortunately exists only in the West – all the other activists and artists still have to face rather homogeneous and repressive politics.
I often ask my self – what to do with these drastic differences? What is the value of our so called peripheral struggle? – We can hardly believe in the theory of weak link anymore… That’s why it is more than often that these struggles look so outdated and irrelevant compared with amazing deliberate and sophisticated subversive practices of our Western comrades who have much more resources and opportunities.
The current economic crisis in Russia broke a temporary consensus of the
Putin’s normalisation that was already build on elimination of all oppositional voices in politics and culture. It accelerates with enormous speed into escalation of the most gloomy repression and direct terror against all activist and oppositional voices.
How can one challenge the situation?
The answer is simple but hard to realise – to develop clear and uncompromised politics that can wake up consciousness and trigger a mass resistance to the politics of the state that runs our country into historical dead end. We need radical politics that would make its appeal to the people. In the situation of desperate need for the basic reforms of public sphere demanding basic liberal-democratic freedom – like a freedom of speech, get rid of censorship, free and fare election and so on… we might need to actualise a radical theoretical invention of Lenin and think that the leading agent of these classical bourgeois transformation should not be a respectful historical agent of these reforms – a bourgeoisy – but a working class itself.
So again we need to dedicate our self to the education of class consciousness. And I would suggest to look at the current situation from the general position of historical materialism because I still believe that we should first of all maintain the historical perspective and analyse the current process from these position. For the historical materialists the history is developing through the chain of Events – revolutions or moments of popular mobilisations each of them are the culmination of a struggle for emancipation. History is a clash between different groups of society who defend not only their right to speak out, but also their vision of the future and their claims to the truth. Historical materialist calls this clash as class struggle.

Stephen Wright: Invisible Norms: wresting art from itself
All too often, would-be political art practices take for granted that they are challenging norms merely because they are agonistic with respect to mainstream political discourse without adequately questioning whether they subvert the norms and conventions of the “art police” (to adapt a Rancièrian term). Their „politics of perception“ is commensurately weakened, for if art does not first critically attend to its own norms, taking the measure of their own crisis, then it cannot per se have much norm-busting value in the broader social sphere. How can the precepts and injunctions of artistic normality – spectatorship above all – be challenged? Of course “normality”, standing as it does astride the shifting sands of legitimation, is never a stable gauge benchmark against which to measure effective action. But if art is not to inadvertently reproduce the operations of reification that it claims to contest, then it must first wrest itself free from its own normalcies and abnormalcies.


Alejandra Aravena
Chilean Sound Engineer, director and founder of Radio Numero Critico, a counter-informative lesbo-feminist collective transmitting since 2002. Since 1999 she has produced and conducted feminist and lesbian radio broadcasts transmitted by formal radio. She is also part of an audiovisual collective producing short documentaries covering subjects such as post-dictatorship political prison, historical memory of social movements and satirical actions against discrimination toward women and lesbians. As an activist she has done workshops on feminism and technology as mechanisms of empowerment. In coordination with other organizations she worked in technological areas at lesbian arts festivals and at encounters of lesbian feminist of Latin America.

Marina Gržinic
Philosopher, artist and theoretician. She works in Ljubljana and Vienna. Grzinic is Professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, Institute of Fine Arts, Post Conceptual Art Practices. Grzinic is one of the founders and editors of Reartikulacija (Artistic-Political-Theoretical-Discursive Platform), Ljubljana. Marina Grzinic’s last book is Re-Politicizing art, Theory, Representation and New Media Technology, Akademie Bildenden Künste Wien, SCHLEBRÜGGE.EDITOR, Vienna 2008. She is active as video artist, working together with Aina Smid.

Ruth Noack
trained as an art historian and works as critic and curator. In 2007, she curated documenta 12, Kassel.

Gerald Raunig
Philosopher, art theoretician, lives in Vienna; works at the eipcp (European Institute for Progressive Cultural Policies), Vienna; co-ordinator of the transnational research projects republicart (, transform ( and Creating Worlds (; (co-)editor of two series of books at Turia+Kant, Vienna: „republicart. Kunst und Öffentlichkeit“ and „es kommt darauf an. Texte zur Theorie der politischen Praxis“; member of the editorial board of the multilingual webjournal transversal ( and the Austrian journal for radical democratic cultural politics, Kulturrisse ( Recent books published by the New York publisher Semiotext(e): Art and Revolution. Transversal Activism in the Long 20th Century; A Thousand Machines. A Concise Philosophy of the Machine as Social Movement.

Dmitry Vilensky
currently lives and works in Berlin and St. Petersburg. Vilensky works mainly within a framework of interdisciplinary collective practices in video, photography, text, installation and interventions in the public sphere. In 2003, he initiated the platform ‚Chto delat?[What is to be done?]‘ with a workgroup of artists, critics, philosophers and writers. Their goal is to merge political theory, art and activism. Together they publish an English-Russian newspaper with a special focus on the relationship between repoliticalisation of Russian intellectual culture and its broader international context. These newspapers are usually produced in the context of collective initiatives such as art projects or conferences.

Stephen Wright
Paris-based art writer and research fellow at the Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art (Paris). He has curated „Dataesthetics“ (WHW, Zagreb), “Rumour as Media” (Aksanat, Istanbul), “In Absentia” (Passerelle, Brest) and “The Future of the Reciprocal Readymade” (Apexart, NYC), as part of a series of exhibitions examining art practices with low coefficients of artistic visibility, which raise the prospect of art without artworks, authorship or spectatorship.

Stefan Nowotny
Philosopher and board member of the European Institute for Progressive Cultural Policies, presently working in the framework of the two transnational projects transform and translate; 2004/05 lecturer at the University of Lüneburg (Kulturwissenschaften); 2001–2003 Visiting Fellow at the University of Louvain-la-Neuve (Centre de philosophie du droit). He has published various essays on philosophical and political topics, co-edited several anthologies, and translated a number of texts from both French and English into German, among which G. Ch. Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak?” (together with A. Joskowicz).

Martin Krenn
Artist and Chair Person of the Austrian Artists Association – IG Bildende Kunst
Krenn is focusing on strategies and methods of resistance to the governing relations of power. In this, he makes use of different media, mainly photography, video and internet and realizes his projects in the form of exhibitions (moving from the position of artist to that of curator), web, and interventions in public space. Since 2006 he teaches Interventionist Art at the Department of Art and Communicative Practice/University of Applied Arts in Vienna.