reportback from: On The New Abduction of Europe Conference-Marc Herbst

On The New Abduction of Europe Conference
Marc Herbst


At the End of February, I participated in The New Abduction of Europe in Madrid. This 4 day event was organized by the an rhizomatic node in Spain’s autonomous network, Fundacion de los Comunes, and the Reina Sophia Museum.

There were several different workshops with the aim of focusing activists and organizers, mostly throughout Southern Europe, on strategies and goals from within the charged environment of Madrid’s post 15M movement and the activism of the PAH. There were a variety of working groups, including “Debt and austerity against democracy in Europe” and “European techno-politics”.

My compas and I participated in a 3 day workshop called “New Alliances in Cultural Production,” which was a real trip. Look at the list of participants and you’ll see why- it contained a depth of practitioners from a true variety of institutional backgrounds.


Though I’d hoped we’d be figuring out how from our diverse positions might collaborate in the creation of liberatory culture, it ended up being about the identity crisis of Progressive European Museums. But you take what you can get-.

Monster Law
I didn’t understand the problem, like why can’t museums just re-structure and start doing cool stuff? What’s the big deal that they might not be able to directly collaborate with autonomous collectives, or that they might be able to give precarious staff more say in museum management. What was the blockage. I’m not used to thinking about these sort of things. Alan Moore kept expressing the question, “why is it that the Spanish institutions haven’t heavily collaborating with the movements? Why is the dada work in the Reina Sophia not doing traveling exhibits to the squats and cultural centers? And because this conference was organized between the museum and the Foundation de los Communes, it seemed like they were already working together But Allen knew the answer before I did, the Spanish state is a stickler for laws.

During one lunch (asparagus soup improvised to be vegetarian but with a wine bottle too… this was a free meal), I sat next to a Swedish woman who was working at the MayDay Room in London and a Spanish lawyer. I asked the lawyer what’s the issue about collaborations between institutions and the movements if they are already working together. No, that’s the problem, said the lawyer. This conference is partially because the relationship is about to fall apart. The structures here can’t hold, there must be bureaucrats breathing down the Reina Sophia’s neck, and the Van Abbe museum is about to go in to a major identity crisis.

Turning to woman from the Mayday Room, I asked about the programming. The place hasn’t really opened its door to the public yet she says, and we turn to their non-profit board? Knowing the answer, and using it as a question to go deeper into the subject I ask, “What is mayday room, a nonprofit?”

No not exactly, she says, and I’m surprised. She goes on to explain that since the crisis and before, England has been inventing evermore definitions and sub-categories within the non-profit sector- it’s a booming sector. In order for them to privatize more and more of the public sector and eke out profits and functionality for the corporations that emerge, they’re having to invent more and more legal frameworks to do so. “I think MayDay Room is characterized as a charity, but I’m not really sure.”

We’d been together for more then a full day already, but that afternoon, we finally began a discussion. Stevphen Shukaitis pitched it to the organizers that if we were going to talk about museum restructuring, we should try and ground it in practice so as to avoid a continuation of the first day’s identity crisis. He hoped to discuss, on a practical level how groups deal with the ethics of free labor.

I thought it was a good, practical suggestion. Museums could benefit from considering their extended relationship or the ecology of their relationship to political and social movements who make up the dark matter in which any cultural production and consumption occurs. The most ethical utilization of free labor is when it is labor that serves the commons, the thing that no one can directly own. It seemed sensible then that a dynamic museum might more actively conceptualize any new emergence in relationship to that which we all tend, and not to private concerns.

There was a useful strain of nihilism throughout the weekend. “Whose going to stand up for public culture?” was the question that was answered “no one”. Its not so much that “culture” is in trouble, it’s the public that is. No one has the money and everyone has their own culture. If they hadn’t figured it out already, the public was violently ejected from major museums by Thatcher and Reagan, allowed to hang out in the back and smoke cigarettes. Or was it the museum that was allowed to stick around for some time until the financial crisis made someone realize that these big lumoxes needed to prove their value, their worth.

Ana Mendez de Andes, our host from the Foundation de los Communes reminded us that we needn’t always see institutions as a big old scary guy- that they were here for us to occupy. No one disagreed, that seemed like what this was the proposal that brought us together. That wasn’t the point of the strain’s nihilism, it was more a shared understanding by the diverse actors involved (including those who worked in the museums) that no one was there to stand up for museum at any proper scale. Hillary Wainright (editor of Red Pepper Magazine and an officer in the former secret progressive state welfare machine/liberatory culture generator the Greater London Council) had said that Thatcher was able to so quickly dismantle and cut through the welfare state because the subjectivities the welfare state produced were, in general passive. Or better, that these sort of institutions, as currently constituted, suggest an audience that is ontologically passive regardless of programming.

The opposite of this is seen in MACAO or TeatroValle; squatted cultural spaces and a squatted theatres in Milan and Rome, respectively. They actively produce cultures and audiences who are willing to flaunt the law in order to enjoy culture. Those present from MACAO and TeatroValle had a lot to add to the conversation. Both theatres and a third, the Embros Theatre in Athens, passionately presented their core a legal question resting in relationship to their audience. The squatted centers rest on the contested legal notion that all property is theft, and that culture for the greater good of the public has by natural law the right to exist. The state and the public institutions are simply blind to the issue and the needs of those who do not exist on paper.

On paper, Teatro Valle has situated itself in a double bind. it has set up its legal structure as a paper tiger. It has papered in a “board” on foundational documents constructed as a Trojan horse for its true decision-making assembly, the general assembly. Teatro Valle was founded the day after Rome passed a referendum which ensured that Rome’s water would never be privatized, bound up in the theatre’s raison d’ etre of theatre is a legal commitment to the commons. Teatro Valle’s approach has been observed by the courts and has been, at last report, received a similar response to what Lou Gottlieb got when he tried to define Morningstar Ranch as owned by god. The court hasn’t been happy- and the theatre risks further criminalization for this issue.

In their efforts to invent alternative institutionalities, the Van Abbe and the Reina Sofia are confronting unique issues. Though it wasn’t fully clarified, the Reina Sophia said that they were “stretching the law” to be able to work with Foundation de los Communes. It is operating as a large public institution in an atmosphere of austerity under the watchful eye of a reactionary government.
The Van Abbe museum faces an issue that strikes at the core of their dynamic mission- privatization. The Van Abbe said that they were the last publicly owned city museum in all of the Netherlands. This public museum, built on worker’s sweat, people’s interest and public money is slated to be privatized. Their pressing question was how they might get ahead of this issue that strikes at the heart of their identity.

Publics have swung in to action to protect common cultural inheritances, recently on the night when Bloomberg first threatened to close Zucotti Park, and throughout the Gezi Park encampments. The Teatro Valle which was present at the conference came into existence when the theatre formerly housed within the building was shuttered by the government and its audience and the broader theatre community responded with occupation and outrage. The Embros Theatre in Athens has been cyclically occupied and shut and reoccupied in response to the withering public culture sector and the need to have operating theatre spaces. Arrested in order to produce theatre, an art form at the heart of the political notions central to what we imagine of Athenian Democracy.

Could the Van Abbe seize this imminent moment, and carefully plan through this crisitunity? What it required, we came to understand, is legal work- a careful playing of the law to proactively organize a system that works to meet the needs of the museum, its workers, and a new as yet defined relationship to their audience.

Law can easily be corrupted. Law can be used to defend illegal things- the state does this all the time when allowing people to starve and die. Law is perverted to protect private interests over public interests, to give corporations more freedom then the human beings that create it. Through some of the afternoon we played with the terms in which all we activists might use law. Should we occupy the law? Should we reclaim it? Should we use the law to fight against how illegality is produced legally? (Teatro Valle’s Valeria Colucci articulated this nice tongue-twister.)

Gerald Raunig suggested we activists might become more fluent in creating and using monster law. Monster law, a use of the law that bases itself squarely within the schism between the formal conflict between the Reina Sofia and the Foundation de los Communes, on the schisms between organic law and the constitutions and courts and legal practices today, on the schisms between the laws of mother earth, the laws of mother earth according to the Bolivian and Ecuadorian Constitution. A law based in a critique of the perverse practices of European and American Human and Corporate Law which can’t contain the contradictions which living subjects find themselves in- contradictions between the structures of everyday life and the suicidal needs of capital which perversely (in an ever-dwindling fashion) sustain them economically.

In a moment of poetry, Alan Moore’s recited the name of the museum as the subaltern to the hordes, the crowds which pass through its halls. He asked that it might present a decidedly avant-garde subject that might be mad, social, useless, or hallucinatory. The museum could be like the trickster or the avant-garde plotter mad with sweat and sneering in the corner like a madman. .

Alan provided an illuminating caveat regarding the avant-garde. He suggested to the gathered Europeans that he meant Avant-garde in the American Sense, in the sense of artists and activists who hadn’t lost their power to the modernist state project, to Lenin and all the subsequent cultural managers.


Here’s a response to this report-back from Dan Wang

New Abduction of Europe.
New Alliances in Cultural Production

* Laurence Rassel – Fundaci Tapies (Barcelona)
* Klara Jaya Brekke- Crisis-scape / Occupied London / MayDay Rooms (Athens/London)
* Gerald Raunig – European Institute for Progressive Cultural Policies – EIPCP (Zurich)
* Joaqun Vzquez – UNIA Arte y pensamiento (Sevilla)
* Anej Korsika – Punk University (Ljubljana)
* Bojana Piskur – Moderna Galerija (Ljubljana)
* Anders Kreuger – Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst – MUHKA (Antwerpent)
* Stevphen Shukaitis – Autonomedia (London)
* Marc Herbst – Journal of aestethics and protest (London)
* Alicia Carri – La Casa Invisible (Mlaga)
* Salvatore Lacagnina / Paolo Do – Istituto Svizzero di Roma (Roma)
* Ana Mndez de Ands / Beatriz Garca – Observatorio Metropolitano (Madrid)
* Hilary Wainwright – Repepper Magazine / Transnacional Institute (London)
* Jess Carrillo – Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofa (Madrid)
* Diego del Pozo – Subtramas (Madrid)
* Sally Gutirrez / Jos Manuel Bueso – Derivaciones Magnticas (Madrid)
* Marcelo Expsito – Fundacin de los Comunes (Barcelona/Tarrasa)
* Marc Herbst – Journal of Aesthetics & Protest (London)
* Emanuel Braga – M^C^O (Milano)
* Valeria Colucci – Teatro Valle Occupato (Rome)
* Maria Castel / Kamen Nedev – Bookcamping (Madrid)
* Hypatia Vourloumis – de-regulators (Athens)
* Nick Aikens /Ulrike Erbslh /Alessandra Saviotti /Gemma Medina – Van Abbemuseum (Eindhoven)
* Michelle Teran – Journal of Aesthetics & Protest/PAH

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