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
  • TBA
  • Nov 2 Reading group
  • Nov 3 Discussion: Marina Vishmidt x Ewa Majewska
  • Unions and Cultural Workers
  • Nov 30 Organising workshop
  • Dec 1 Discussion
  • Autonomy in Education
  • Dec 14 Reading group
  • Dec 15 Discussion

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.