Collaborative practices have become more the norm than exception as interdisciplinarity has moved from a mythical ideal to being a requirement for success in the art world as well as academia. Yet in times when hybridity seems to be celebrated in many cultural institutions and events—transmediale included— there is often a feeling of exclusivity and form of elitism in the most cooperative and process-oriented of cultural activities. Collaborations in the arts and culture field often seem to fail to adequately address questions of power, such as who has the privilege to initiate projects, invite participants, and generally be “inclusive.” As Ewa Majewska points out in her reflections on moderating the 2019 transmediale Study Circle Uneasy Alliances, the neoliberal imperative is to always succeed but collaborations come with many factors that potentially hamper the smooth individual fulfillment of pre-set goals. When we collaborate, prejudice must be challenged, compromises have to be made, goals redefined, and priorities reset. Alliances are interesting forms of collaboration because they include heterogeneity from the get go, as a term for how different actors come together in a relationship of common interests.
As a theme for a transmediale Study Circle that over a few months gathered a small group of theorists, artists, and activists—namely Jennifer Bennett, Marta Dauliūtė & Viktorija Šiaulytė, Carolina García Cataño, Wojciech Kosma, Ewa Majewska, Patricia Reed, and Robin Vanbesien—Uneasy Alliances stresses the possibly friction-filled aspect of disidentification between allying parties. It was proposed to its participants as a potential form of transversal progressive action today and as a means to build solidarity and achieve social change across issues of class, gender, race, and technology.
The term “Uneasy Alliances” was initially inspired by Judith Butler, who uses it in a key post-Trump inauguration moment: her lecture “This is what resistance looks like,” which took place at UCLA on February 15, 2017. In it, Butler asks if “identification is still a sufficient basis for solidarity?”, arguing that it cannot always be the basis of alliance. Solidarity for Butler today is achieved rather by building a common understanding of inequality across different regions and social positions and acting jointly upon that as opposed to stressing rigid identity politics. Of course, these uneasy alliances are easier to talk about than actually practice, and the Study Circle should be understood more as an attempt to discuss some possible starting points and examples of such alliances rather than presenting a clear methodological road-map. Answers are bound, in any case, to carry the contradiction of being both multiple and adhering to singular contexts rather than any one-for-all principles. Yet the hope here is that these articles, personal reflections, project accounts, and conversations that originated from the Study Circle process will provide the incentive to forge even uneasier alliances in the future.
The contributions to this issue thus tackle different topics but they do have in common that they consistently raise questions of how the parties in an alliance are to be defined, how subjects are formed and reformed as well as the question of building common languages and practices. The initial conversation “Uneasy Alliances, Alliances of Unease: a Conversation” very much stakes out both the themes and projects that the discussion was engaging with as well as introducing the different viewpoints of the participants as well as their first attempts to find common terms or problem areas.
In his contribution “Solidarity Poiesis,” artist Robin Vanbesien introduces another key term of the 2019 transmediale festival: Structures of Feeling. Adopting this term from Raymond Williams, Vanbesien describes how the process of engaging with the post-debt crisis solidarity movement in Athens made visible the coming together of different cultures of lived experience of crisis that influenced the forming of new social practices. Here it is these lived experiences that provide the growing ground for uneasy alliances rather than the individual actors as such. The plurality of lived experience and how to find adequate forms of representations for it is also something that preoccupies Jennifer Bennett in her publication SAVE,which is the subject of the interview entitled “The Power of Self-Organization,” conducted between the artist and transmediale curator and Study Circle co-initiator Florian Wüst. SAVE is a mammoth book that emerged out of a series of travels and conversations, often inspired and complemented by internet-based research and thus may also be understood as a post-digital publication project. The already mentioned contribution by Ewa Majewska, entitled “Living in Contradictions,” discusses the question of language further and rediscovers dialectics, not to resolve issues in a Hegelian manner, but to give room for the contradictions that on the one hand make alliances so uneasy and on the other also make them worthwhile—efforts through which we might acknowledge both our individual hardships and the need for common goals beyond them. The schizophrenic thoughts that permeate Carolina Garcia Cataño’s “Broken Thoughts” very much articulate the inner tensions that such contradictions bring about on the plane of everyday existence where media flows constantly remind us of realities greater than ourselves at the same time as they provide the very same means by which we also can turn away and close ourselves off. This often perplexing conflation of independent activist and artistic practices with the flexible and hypermediated realities of global capital and entrepreneurial lifestyles is something that Marta Dauliūtė & Viktorija Šiaulytė have worked through in their documentary project Good Life and in their contribution they relate this to the startup urbanism on the rise in Berlin.
Together with my co-curators/facilitator of this Study Circle I would like to thank the circle moderators Ewa Majewska and Wojciech Kosma as well as all the participants for always being highly engaged and willing to share their inspiring thoughts and practices. A great thanks also to the entire transmediale team, Lieke Ploeger and the (now sadly defunct) project space Spektrum and to all the members of the audience who contributed to the circle workshop and events.