CRITICAL ENCOUNTERS / LEGACIES OF 1968
25-27 MAY, VENUŠE VE ŠVEHLOVCE, SLAVÍKOVA 22, PRAGUE
“THE DUTY of the writer, of the poet is not to cowardly shut himself away in a text, a book, a magazine, from which he will never emerge, but on the contrary to emerge go outside to shake to attack the mind of the public if not what use is he?” A. Artaud
On the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the “Mai ’68” Paris Student Uprising & the “Pražské Jaro” (1968 Prague Spring), Prague Microfestival/MicroLab – in conjunction with Alienist magazine & the Centre for Critical & Cultural Theory – will host a series of critical encounters between artists, activists & theorists on the appropriations & reinventions of the idea of dissent. Confronted by the virtual criminalisation of protest in many socalled Western democracies – by rampant commodification & the normalization of dissent within the culture industry – & by the bold resurgence of neo-fascism inside the political mainstream, what forms can active resistance take? And is there a future for the “avantgarde”?
Where past disillusionment taught that the only successful revolutionary force had been the bourgeoisie, today such claims are less exclusive. The corporate & cybernetics revolutions of the past fifty years have utterly transfigured the social matrix. Society itself has become the paradigm of the algorithmic imaginary. Social subversion has for decades been systematised as the norm, mirroring the institutionalization of the “scientific” & “information” revolutions. For its part, the general momentum of social critique had already been absorbed by postmodernism before the declared neo-liberal “end of history” & the Fall of Communism – in whose wake the self-proclaimed “avantgarde” (already a front for cultural laissez-fairism) became a mere regurgitator of memes – while sectarian extremists have since taken control of the public discourse of civil disobedience, subversion & dissent.
Today, a complete reshaping of political consciousness is being undertaken by quasi-fascist parties from within the institutions of Western democracy. Meanwhile, the interventions of the alt-right (proclaiming that “politics is downstream from culture”) – from Chanology & Vaporwave to Breitbart, CasaPound, Pegida & the “performance art” of Martin Konvička’s Prague Caliphate – have concretely affected public discourse & the collective consciousness in ways far beyond the reach of the institutional avantgarde, whose counter-actions (confined to the world of art capitalism & celebrity “dissidents”) are at best an irrelevance, at worst a form of complicity. In the face of such “manufactured dissent” on both sides, how does the “spirit of ’68” manifest today – beyond mere revolutionary nostalgia & a tragic view of history?
In 1972 Guy Debord observed that the single major concern of the Soviet Union was to hold socialism in abeyance. The threat of popular insurgency (which also drove US policy in Vietnam) dominated Soviet global strategy: it represented the Kremlin’s real fear of the “Czechoslovakian process,” just as it determined their French proxies’ opposition to Mai ’68. In what ways did Cold War cynicism & the defeat of “socialism with a human face” produce the resurgence of populism today, in this era of #fakenews & “social media”? With the highest stakes in play, was the lesson of ’68 merely to renew social-democratic faith in ballot boxes, passive resistance & poetry that “chides industrialists for making life extinct”? Is this the “human face” of New World Order irrealism, taught to believe in fairy tales of Velvet Revolutions?
The Invisible Committee write: “the demise of the USSR didn’t come about because a people revolted, but because the nomenklatura was undergoing a changeover.” (Just as the end of the Vietnam War wasn’t caused by the Moratorium, nor the demise of Nixon – who was re-elected in 1972 in a landslide – by public exposure.) Today, subjected to unprecedented forms of manipulation, surveillance & parliamentary cretinism – & in the wake of decades of democratic “failure” to curtail the numerous forms of oppression conducted in its name (to curb the excesses of the IMF & World Bank, to prevent the Iraq Invasion, to hold the architects of the Global Financial Crisis to account, to defeat austerity rhetoric & protect against the widespread suspension of civil rights, etc.) – what possible futures are there for popular dissent in the “West”? How is its task to be represented? And for whom?
Friday 4-6pm, 25 May: Vanessa Place, Stewart Home, Jan Běliček, Louis Armand. Moderator: Benjamin Tallis
Saturday 4-6pm, 26 May: Milos Vojtěchovský, Magdalena Platzova, Andrew Hodgson, Jonathan Austin. Moderator: Benjamin Tallis
Sunday 4-6pm, 27 May: Tereza Stejskalová, Germán Sierra, Adeena Karasick, Vít Bohal. Moderator: Louis Armand
ABOUT THE PARTICIPANTS: Louis Armand is a writer & director of the Centre for Critical & Cultural Theory, Prague. Jonathan Austin is is a political sociologist at the Centre on Conflict, Development & Peacebuilding, Geneva. Jan Běliček is a journalist, activist and writer who edits the A2LARM magazine. Vít Bohal is a musician, writer & member of Diffractions Collective. Andrew Hodgson is an editor at 3:AM magazine & researcher of British & European avant-gardes. Stewart Home is a London-based artist, filmmaker, writer, pamphleteer, art historian, & activist. Adeena Karasick is a Canadian poet, performance artist, and essayist. Vanessa Place is a writer, criminal appellate attorney, & co-director of Les Figues Press. Magdaléna Platzová is a writer, actress and teacher who lives in Lyon, France. Germán Sierra is a novelist & neuroscientist at the University of Santiago de Compostela. Tereza Stejskalová is manager of the Feminist (Art) Institution at Tranzit Gallery, Prague. Benjamin Tallis is Senior Researcher at the Institute of International Relations, Prague, & edits New Perspectives. Milos Vojtěchovský teaches media art history and theory at the Center for Audiovisual Studies at FAMU in Prague.
VENUE: VENUŠE VE ŠVEHLOVCE, SLAVÍKOVA 22, PRAGUE
*This project is supported by the European Regional Development Fund-Project “Creativity & Adaptability as Conditions of the Success of Europe in an Interrelated World” (No. CZ.02.1.01/0.0/0.0/16_019/0000734) & by the Centre for Critical & Cultural Theory, Philosophy Faculty, Charles University, Prague.