ArtsEqual - A Hopeless Cause? Five Rancièrian Anti-Affirmations
Just as the first academic year of ArtsEqual is coming to an end, and summer holidays (or summer conferences) are in sight for many of our researchers, participants and followers, it seems a good time to reflect on some of the founding ideas of the project. One of these inspirations can be found in French philosopher Jacques Rancière’s presupposition of equality, which can be seen woven into many of our research designs, our interventions, and even our public media material - this ‘radical perspective’ that we so often mention, is adopted from the Rancièrian notion that equality is the starting point, not the destination.
We had the privilege to meet Jacques Rancière during a workshop on the 7th of June, and a public discussion on the 8th, that were organized as part of the course: Intervention on Equality and Aesthetics of Knowledge, by Ivana Momčilović and hosted by Gregoire Rousseau at the Fine Arts Academy of the University of the Arts. These days involved intense, and occasionally tense, discussions into the differing perspectives and interpretations of Rancière’s theories. In thinking how we may build upon the Rancièrian inceptions of the ArtsEqual initiative, we have drawn upon these conversations and debates to compile five anti-affirmations. We hope that reciting these anti-affirmations daily might interrupt the flow of your status quo (it rhymes), and inspire, well, if not positivity - something else. Something uncertain. Something different. After all, isn’t that Rancière’s point?
Anti-affirmation 1: There is no project
We are not a unified project. We are disagreement.
Anti-affirmation 2: There is no strategy
We can’t have strategic steps to something we already have. If we are already equal, we don’t need to plan the route to get us there.
Anti-affirmation 3: There is no solution
This is not a problem solving mission. The arts are not going to save the world.
Anti-affirmation 4: There is no future
The future is an empty prophesy. Effect change in the here and now, in whatever direction.
Anti-affirmation 5: There is no hope
Hope is a misplaced and false projection of an impossible utopia.
Now, before you place your resignation letter at the altar of Friedrich Nietzsche, Rancière does offer some alternatives to existential despair.
With over sixty ArtsEqual researchers with different aims and approaches, it should be clear that we cannot be unified as a coherent, single project. ArtsEqual is rather composed of many different projects, that do not strive for an unachievable, undesirable consensus, but share a passion in disagreement (in the Rancièrian sense of dissensus). Dissensus refers to the process by which actors challenge the norm, disrupt existing inequalities, and reconfigure the existing socio-political order.
Artsequal’s ‘strategic steps towards equality’ should not be mistaken for an attempt to ‘institutionalize equality’. If equality is presuppositional, we cannot institutionalize equality - it is already there. Instead, Rancière suggested that we might consider the spaces and processes within institutions that allow for dissensus, as interruptions to the status quo. These interruptions might enact equality in making new ideas and new ways of thinking and being possible. So, which direction are these steps leading us?
In engaging with policy, ArtsEqual is by necessity looking towards the future, and Rancière himself suggested that all we need is an ‘energy to move forward’. Yet, in contradiction with himself, Rancière warned against projections of a 'false utopia', and that hope would only result in disappointment. So is ArtsEqual then a hopeless cause? Rancière seemed to believe that it might be. But also, that this might not be a bad thing. If we take the idea that we are already equal seriously, and engage in democratic action with one another through dissensus, he claimed that we might find a joy in the changes of the here and now. To achieve this, he said, we need not hope but trust. A trust in the capacities of those we are working with, and ourselves, to learn and to create.
At many points during our discussions as part of the course, we were reminded that ArtsEqual is inspired by Rancière’s philosophy, not a wholly Rancièrian enterprise. However, these days also reminded us that confrontation and disagreement are necessary conditions for activism in the arts, and in the politics of social change. In this spirit, we offer these anti-affirmations in trusting (not hoping) that you will find a little joy somewhere within the dissensus and interruptions they might provoke.
… let’s disagree about them in autumn.
Alexis Kallio and Tuulikki Laes
Post-happy activist musician scholar educators
Team 2, ArtsEqual