Arts Collaboratory

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Commons, Networks, and Models of Alternative Organizations in Culture

Cooperativa Cráter Invertido presenting their practice. Photo: Binna Choi.
Binna Choi, Drawing the Commons, diagram, 2015

During the Arts Collaboratory Assembly in Senegal, a public forum was held at Librairie Athéna in Dakar. The forum was created as a means of opening up a discussion between those active in the local Senegalese context and the international Arts Collaboratory participants. Taking as a premise the bankruptcy of neoliberal forms of organization such as management, financing, and social relations, the evening addressed how new movements and models were emerging to contest neoliberalism’s resulting precarity. Moderator and historian, Ibrahima Wane, set out the collective task unpack the notion of commons in relation to this struggle and how it is understood and practiced by organizations in various regions. To introduce how Arts Collaboratory has also undertaken a process of commoning, Arts Collaboratory Partner, Gertrude Flentge of DOEN Foundation, presented how the network’s affective relations, through community building, have catalyzed a shift toward a more collective way of working. Moving on to describe the network’s overall desire for a shift that re-configures the role of institutions and funders into a potentially more horizontal alignment.

Deepening the discourse of the commons, Arts Collaboratory Facilitating Partner and director of Casco – Office for Art, Design and Theory, Binna Choi, presented a colorful sketch diagram to give an overview of a contemporary understanding of the commons. Tracing its recent reemergence to the 2008 global financial crisis, she also referenced how organizations from Arts Collaboratory have shown a longer tradition of its use. Emphasizing the relations that the commons produces, such as horizontal, communal and cooperative, also offered a way through which a joy of living can emerge.

The anthropologist, Abdourahmane Seck, explored how the notion of the commons can be seen in aspects of traditional Senegalese society, giving a number of local examples including in music and literature of what can be considered commons. Ndèye Mané Toure and Marion Louisgrand Sylla of Kër Thiossane in Dakar discussed the development of their Breakfast in Commons, a program to construct a local commons for research, in which Seck also took part. These discussions developed into the idea of creating a School of the Commons with the residents of the cooperative garden, Jet d'Eau. The aim of which is to reclaim public land in the shadow of a housing block, combining rural and urban knowledge of the commons, to produce a fertile space to activate a new community.

Commons as a way of life was also expressed in the practice of Mexican City based-collective Cooperativa Cráter Invertido. Two members, Yollotl Alvarado and Jazael Olguín Zapata, spoke of the group's formation as an affinity formed by trust, respect, and compromise with a difference. Their motivation, however, was formed out of a resistance against the politics espoused by hierarchical institutions. Through their own study of the indigenous Zapatista Movement, and 1970s collectives in Mexico, they developed tools for their own governance, such as weekly assemblies that produced a commonwealth of work and life together. One of the main foci of the collective is on the use of publications as a record for all their events, actions and discussions. Made in order to extend these ideas to other communities, building a movement of solidarity.

Confronting larger scales of collaboration, Patrick Mudekereza of Centre d'Art Picha in Lubumbashi and Molemo Moiloa of VANSA in Johannesburg, discussed their ongoing collaboration titled PANIC (Pan African Network of Independent Contemporaneity). The project aims at building a continent-wide platform for knowledge production and collaboration, through initiating an online directory mapping art spaces in Africa. Another ongoing collaboration is Revolution Room, which expands on cooperation outside organizations through working with communities to form common spaces for experimentation.

The diverse examples of commoning practices presented over the evening, while stemming from diverse cultural conditions and a multitude of unique tools, showed a mutual desire to find forms that resonated beyond borders and language.