What Could Post/Autonomia Mean Today?

Issue no4
Aug - Sep 2019
Ziektebeelden

On May 19-21 the Post/Autonomia conference took place at SMART Project Space in Amsterdam, analysing the legacy of the Italian Autonomia movement from the seventies and connecting it to the current political attitude towards contemporary art, artists and art institutions.

The <em>Post/Autonomia</em> conference has gathered a large number of diverse speakers with different (non) academic backgrounds which proves the growing interest in autonomist legacy ranging through food politics to art practices. Despite the variety of modes of engaging with post/autonomist vocabulary, concepts and with the ‘movement’ itself, there were few insistently re-emerging and overlapping methodological points of reference. The more or less visible presence of those points has blurred the thematic division of the conference and by doing so it has given an idea of the living, changing aspect of autonomist legacy. 

First re-emerging point of reference is a ‘love-hate’ relationship to Marxism. At times, this return to Marxism has led to questioning its validity, for example when speaking about today’s changes in reading Marx’ notion of general intellect. Another frame of reference was a sometimes confusing correlation between the French post-structuralism, for example with Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of desiring machines and autonomist focus on the creative force of living labour. The third, and definitely not the last one, is the ubiquitous constant movement between theory and the political. Apart from those most ‘tangible’ points of reference what was surprisingly missing (or was simply not enough) throughout the conference was the feminist legacy (there were some feminist moments in the discussions about refusal to labour as a possible form of resistance), and a specific recognition of the role of the financial market in current economic situations and its position within the post/autonomist paradigm. Those small moments or missing spots got lost in the midst of, or beyond the discussions on the role of media, technology, precarity, multitude and contemporary political events in either supporting or in reshuffling of power and capital’s structure.

First day of the conference started with a panel on the affective power of the relation between labour and subject production. The closeness of subjects to capital can generate a creative and equivocal power. On the one hand such a relation results in a colonizing force of ‘self-branding’ of private life, thus of obscuring the temporal frames of labour. The economic mechanisms operate in all aspects of life and inspire identity formations that are manifested on capitalist terms. This has not only become one of the main mechanisms of training for one to be a better manager of one’s life but it also has far reaching consequences for the very meaning of being. Subjectivity is neither defined anymore by collective political activation nor by solely one’s position towards the ownership of property but by repetitive, all-encompassing incorporation and constant mimicking of the creative mentality of an entrepreneur. On the other hand labour as one of the basic necessities in life can be hijacked and turned into a vital power that might change the being by re-evaluating the existing market demands and conditions. This taking over of neutralized, narrowed individualism of identity and subjectivity in order to claim those basic formations of one’s political existence to be collective, to be a multitude could be made possible by a general mobilization.

The final panel and the discussion on commons have shown how the probably most visible post/autonomist concept of precarity and immaterial labour is in itself precarious in different institutional and geopolitical contexts. How is the power of precarity and a resistance to it embodied in the light of recent events in Spain, in the context of budget cuts in the Netherlands and in the post-political environment of the universities? The lively discussion after the panel has made visible that whenever a philosophical concept is in relation to, or confronted with a materially concrete situation, the fissures of this concept come into light. Those fractures or moments of disagreements create space for questioning and resisting a particular meaning of a concept, which in turn shows that a concept is neither an absolute nor a dogma. Inversely, post/autonomist concepts are and remain political precisely in conflicts and questions that they generate.

The strong critique of neoliberal belief in individual creativity is a point of entrance to bring up the role of contemporary art, artists and art institutions. What is the shape of the art and artists’ role in all that? How is the artistic community to be like? Maybe the first step would be to shed light on art, artists, their audience, migrants and workers’ capacity to imagine the social reality differently with a help of care and political solidarity.

Post/Autonomia Conference
19-21 May, 2011
SMART Project Space, Living Room(s), Amsterdam
You can find the programme of the conference here

Organizing committee:
Vincento Binetti, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; Joost de Bloois, University of Amsterdam; Silvia Contarini, Universite Paris Ouest, Nanterre La Defense; Monica Jansen, Utrecht University; Federico Luisetti, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Frans-Willem Korsten, Leiden University/Erasmus University Rotterdam; Gianluca Turricchia, University of Amsterdam

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Metropolis M Magazine for contemporary art No 4 — 2019