An online night school made up of discussions, talks and readings exploring Eastern and Western histories and practices of cultural autonomism. Five sessions, from October to December.

While the pursuit of freedom could be taken as the goal of numerous cultural movements throughout modernity, cultural autonomism –– appearing in the late ‘60s –– critically departed from these cultural and political precedents. Autonomism came to be the name for diverse Leftist political movements that rejected political parties and official union representation in the late 60s–90s. Autonomists were found in squatting, free radio, zine and urban community art movements. This new approach toward cultural freedom quickly grew, making its way throughout the world in the decades that would follow. There are many paths to autonomy and each one is marked by the particular regional conditions it developed within.

The night school hopes to explore these paths through dialogues between Eastern and Western thinkers, activists and artists. The central questions of the school are: How did the ideas of cultural autonomism appear in Eastern Europe? What distinct traditions and disruptions can be discerned in this context? How is autonomism relevant as an artistic/cultural/political strategy today? And in what ways has it failed and thus needs to be rethought? How are its shortcomings and potentials connected with problems of the historical avant-garde and modern philosophical traditions? And finally, how do these notions of cultural autonomy extend from and critically engage with labor movements through cultural workers unions and other labor organizing practices?

HOW TO PARTICIPATE

The school will take place online and is made up of 5 reading sessions and 5 accompanying public talks. Although diverse engagements with the program are welcome, we do invite you to join the night school as a kind of informal course wherein a discussion would mature over time as to cultivate a communal knowledge about autonomism and its strategic potentials in the present.

SESSIONS

  • Introducing Cultural Autonomism: Learning Not to Labor
  • Oct 6 Reading group: Stevphen Shukaitis, Learning Not to Labor
  • Oct 8 Discussion: Stevphen Shukaitis x Tomas Marcinkevičius
  • Freedom of Cultural Work as Commodity Fetish
  • Oct 19 Reading group
  • Oct 20 Discussion: Ana Vilenica x Agne Bagdžiūnaitė
  • Weak Resistance or the Protest of the Tired Housewife
  • Nov 2 Reading group
  • Nov 3 Discussion: Ewa Majewska
  • High Culture / Low Wages!
  • Dec 1 Discussion: Inicjatywa Pracownicza x Artworkers’ Forum x Marina Vishmidt x Emilija Švobaitė x Vaida Stepanovaitė x Noah Brehmer
  • Dec 5 Reading group
  • Autonomist Organizing in and through Movement Spaces
  • Dec 14 Reading group
  • Dec 15 Discussion: 16beaver

Talk #1

8 October, 7pm UTC+03

Cultural Autonomism: Learning Not to Labor

  • Stevphen Shukaitis
  • Tomas Marcinkevičius

The discussion will be live streamed and accessible without registration on Kaunas Artists’ House FB page. The event will be in English.

Autonomists envisioned a world where new forms of creative expression would proliferate through the mass refusal to participate in meaningless soul crushing work. In our first session, we will learn about the various cultural strategies Autonomists developed to unlearn work, considering both their shortcomings and potentials in our own contexts. Stevphen and Tomas will guide the session and consider this problematic through reflection on the regional contexts in which they personally encountered such politics – for Shukaitis, Brooklyn of the 90s, and for Tomas, somewhere between Alytus, Kaunas and Vilnius in the 00s and 10s.

Reading #1

6 October, 7pm UTC+03

Online (Upon registeration we will send you a a zoom link, write to: paths.to.autonomy@gmail.com)

PDF

We will look at Shukaitis’ text “Learning Not to Labor” (11 pages). The paper traces the refusal of work as (post)autonomist strategy of political resistance and follows its overlap with cultural/artistic labor—trends that to this day define (at least partly) most (post)autonomist political practices. Plus, it introduces some of the most popular autonomist terminology and the problematic of, quote, “cultural politics becoming substituted for all forms of politics”. On the other hand, autonomism also suggests a possible way out of this impasse: the focus on ever-dynamic class composition. The text can be found here.

Talk #2

19 October, 7pm UTC+03

Freedom of Cultural Work as Commodity Fetish

  • Ana Vilenica
  • Agnė Bagdžiūnaitė

Live streamed and accessible without registration on Kaunas Artists’ House FB page. The event will be held in English.

Those who lived the transition from state-socialism to market-parliamentarism, all encountered the promises of autonomy offered by the ‘improved’ cultures of neo-liberal capitalism. Yet, who benefited from the supposed freedoms that came with the market driven restructuring of public cultural infrastructures? Who enjoys the autonomy promised by market-capitalism: a collective body of socio-economically secure cultural workers OR a reserve army of precarious, ‘independent’, cultural entrepreneurs?

The speakers will critically reevaluate the popular discourse that socio-cultural autonomy was simply eliminated under ‘socialist totalitarianism’. They will introduce how autonomy was in fact socially articulated in forms that diverged from, and even put into question, the hegemonic Western understandings of the concept. Vilenica will approach the “extra-institutional” visual art in Yugoslavia and post-YU societies and their implications on the socio-economic context, focusing on art collectives and groups rather than on individual art production. Bagdžiūnaitė will address the forms of autonomy accessed through Houses of Culture in the Soviet period and their continued impact and potential in the present. Her research is based on the interviews and reflections of cultural workers in Cultural Centers (after 1990) and Houses of Culture (before 1990) in Lithuania.

Ana Vilenica is a member of the Roof an anti-eviction organisation from Serbia, the Radical Housing Journal collective, editorial collective for Central and East Europe of the Interface a Journal for and about Social Movements and the EAST-Essential Autonomous Struggles Transnational.

Agnė Bagdžiūnaitė lives and works in Kaunas. Bagdžiūnaitė holds a MA degree in gender studies (Central European University, Budapest) and political science (Vytautas Magnus University, Kaunas). Her research interests include art and politics, as well as critical feminist, social reproduction, and social movement theories.

Reading #2

18 October, 7pm UTC+03

Online, a Zoom link will be sent upon registration. The reading will be in English. Please register at paths.to.autonomy@gmail.com until 17 October.

PDF

Katja Praznik, “Autonomy or Disavowal of Socioeconomic Context: The Case of Law for Independent Cultural Workers in Slovenia”

In her article, Praznik challenges the benefit of “artistic autonomy” for the artists themselves. Taking the example of how the figure of “the independent cultural worker” was legalised in Yugoslavian Slovenia in 1982, she shows how this move by the state was a preparation for the neo-liberalisation and precariatisation of cultural labor. The essential problem of “cultural producers addressing their working conditions in ideological terms (autonomy) instead of approaching them in terms of class relations (labor issues)” is illustrated with examples from state-socialist (welfarist) and post-socialist Slovenia.

Moderated by Tomas Marcinkevičius.

The text for reading can be found here.

Talk #3

3 November, 7pm UTC+03

Weak Resistance or the Protest of the Tired Housewife

  • Ewa Majewska

Live streamed and accessible without registration on Kaunas Artists’ House FB page. The event will be held in English.

In East Europe we live in accelerated times. Since 1989, the velvet revolution swept the hegemony of the state, opening ways for corporate and private capital to dominate individuals and groups, while at the same time dismantling whatever was left of the social. Margaret Thatcher only said that "there is no such thing as society". The combined forces of institutional politics and capital of the last three decades do everything to make this proverbial statement into reality. Therefore when we read various versions of "Accelerationist Manifestos", we smile. How could we move faster than we already do? We had to catch up with the West, with Europe, with the world, global warming, the South, the North, colonialism, feminism, international academia, corporate work regimes, consumerism, internet, creative capital, cultural industries... we had to jump in all this and nobody cared to teach us to swim in the late capitalist, neoliberal waters –– many of us have drowned. This makes us all weak, but also survivors. Aha, the Second World, or the East, almost literally disappeared from the geopolitical maps. Nobody understands where we come from anymore.

This means that our understanding of political agency and resistance differs from those established in the North, West and South. We should begin by saying "we are not over yet" as, by the way, begins the Polish and Ukrainian national anthems; songs that pretend to define all of us, not just nationalists, thus we can also reference them, even if only in order to reject nationalism.

Weak resistance is for those who persist, surviv, who struggle. Of those denied identity or who reject it or both. Of those directly involved in forming political strategies, while at the same time doing the ordinary, common things; of those, who share, and thus work around the public/private distinction.

For an intro to weak resistance, see: https://krisis.eu/weak-resistance/

Ewa Majewska is a feminist philosopher and activist, living in Warsaw. She lectures at the Art Academy in Szczecin, she taught at the University of Warsaw and the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland, she was also a visiting fellow at the University of California, Berkeley; ICI Berlin and IWM in Vienna. She published four booksand some 50 articles and essays, in journals, magazines and collected volumes, including: e-flux, Third Text, Journal of Utopian Studies or Jacobin. Her current research is in Hegel's philosophy, focusing on the dialectics and the weak; feminist critical theory and antifascist cultures. Her next book, Feminist Antifascism. Counterpublics of the Common,will be published in 2021.

Reading #3

2 November, 7pm UTC+03

Online, a Zoom link will be sent upon registration. The reading will be in English. Please register at paths.to.autonomy@gmail.com until 17 October.

PDF

Ewa Majewska, “Feminist Art of Failure, Ewa Partum and the Avant-garde of the Weak”

How to deconstruct a hegemony without succumbing to the hegemon’s rulebook? In her article, Majewska looks at the works of Ewa Partum, one of the first Polish feminist artists (active since the 1960s), through the lense of weak resistance: weak universalism, weak messianism, weak thought, power of the weak, weapons of the weak, and, of course, the (queer) commoner’s art of failure. With works like “Legality of Space”, “Tribute to Solidarity”, “Stupid Woman”, and “Women, marriage is against you!”, Partum explored possibilities to “destroy masculine hegemony [in arts and in society], without ever presenting herself as authority or expertise”. Rejecting the “false distinction” between melancholic feminist art and resistant art (and betwen melancholy and resistance?), Majewska shines a light on some ways to resist patriarchal neoliberalism “without the heavy burden of dramatic staging, heroic gestures and messianic hopes”.

Moderated by Tomas Marcinkevičius.

The text for reading can be found here.

Talk #4

1 December, 8pm UTC+02

High Culture / Low Wages!

  • Inicjatywa Pracownicza
  • Artworkers’ Forum
  • Marina Vishmidt
  • Emilija Švobaitė
  • Vaida Stepanovaitė
  • Noah Brehmer

Live streamed and accessible without registration on Kaunas Artists’ House FB page. The event will be held in English.

In May 2019 cultural workers from the Polish Union Inicjatywa Pracownicza (Workers’ Initiative), began a campaign called “High Culture / Low Wages”, demanding better contracts and salaries. In August 2020 cultural workers, supported by Artworkers Forum, went on strike at the Tate Modern after the museum announced it would cut more than 300 jobs from its commercial arm, Tate Enterprises, regardless of the government providing a 1.57b support package for the sector. We all know that working conditions in the cultural sector of Lithuania are plagued with inequalities, low-salaries, and flexible, project dependent contracts (if we get any at all) –– could unions help us? In this session we will address the importance of building a cultural workers’ union movement in Lithuania. We will also consider how unions are more than just economic bodies, supporting autonomous political and creative expression.

See the report of Workers’ Initiative here:https://www.ozzip.pl/english-news/item/2663-high-culture-low-wages

See a petition supporting an art school workers strike, prepared by Artworkers' Forum, here: https://www.metamute.org/community/your-posts/four-fights

Reading #4

5 December 4pm UTC+02

Please register at paths.to.autonomy@gmail.com until 5 December. Online, a Zoom link will be sent upon registration. The reading will be in English.

PDF (p. 139-151)

Airi Triisberg „Art Workers’ Movement in Tallinn: The Politics of Disidentification“

Who, exactly, is an art worker’s employer, around and against which they could unionise? Is it the institution that commissions the work, or the institution that provides you with a grant, or an art academy that employs you on an intermittent basis? Or is it, at the end of the day, "yourself", or the "society" at large?.. How, when employed in many institutions (or none), and in unclear periods of time, could art workers go on strike or organise a collective act of refusal? These and other material and ideological obstacles, faced by Estonian art workers organising in the Union of Contemporary Art (Kaasaegse Kunsti Liit, KKL), seem very recognisable and actual to Lithuanian art workers, as well. For starters, Triisberg suggests that we state our status as art workers and engage in the process of "disidentification"—fighting against the beliefs that "art making is a hobby (...) and is not supposed to be a source of stable income, and (...) that art practitioners are entrepreneurs who are selling their products in the market".

Moderated by Tomas Marcinkevičius.

The text for reading can be found here (p. 139-151).