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programthematic project seriessymposium

introduction : concept : artistic contributions : symposium

SYMPOSIUM and DISKUSSION on carnivalesque strategies in the media and as a form of activist practices

Shedhalle, Saturday, 11 December, 2004, 15.00 - 19.00

Participants: Minerva Cuevas (Mexico City)
Marcelo Expósito (Barcelona)
Brian Holmes (Paris)
Sabine Kock (Vienna)
Matthias Rothe (Frankfurt/Oder)

The symposium is presented in conjunction with the first chapter of the thematic project series series entitled Spectacle, Pleasure Principle or the Carnivalesque? The point of departure for this project is a re-reading of Michail M. Bachtin’s text Literatur und Karneval. Bachtin analyzes the influences of the medieval culture of laughter and the popular traditions of the carnivalesque on literature. In his theory of the novel, he proposes that the carnivalesque is a means of “turning the world upside-down and thus suspending the prevailing order and all forms of fear, reverence, piety and etiquette that have emerged from it”. In Bachtin’s view, laughter and the carnivalesque are defence mechanisms that enable people to undermine external and above all internal constraints and censorship and, at least temporarily and symbolically, to expose a subconsciously perceived “popular truth” that opens up an entirely new avenue of access to the world. Although Bachtin’s analysis is limited to the sphere of literature, the text was banned from publication in the Stalinist Soviet Union because the powers-that-be saw it as a potential threat to public order. Even though actual carnival was limited to a very specific point in time and was thus an ephemeral phenomenon per se, and even though “no limits were imposed on laughter itself – as long as it remained laughter”, i.e. as long as it could not be associated with specific political demands, the liberating, utopian aspect of the carnivalesque was feared nonetheless.

Activists and artists have long been interested in the carnivalesque as a mode of expression for political and social criticism and resistance. Prominent examples include the “fun guerrillas” and the “Global Carnival against Capital” organized by Reclaim the Streets and other groups, an action that took place during a G8 summit of the heads of state of the eight leading industrialized nations on June 18, 1999.

The carnivalesque can, on the one hand, exert a stabilizing influence on existing systems of order by virtue of its safety-valve function, and it is also appropriated and/or produced by the fun society as mere spectacle. On many believe the other hand, that there can be no revolution without pleasure or the liberating utopian potential of the carnivalesque. In view of this inherent dialectic of the carnivalesque, questions arise as to the efficiency of this mode of expression as a means of achieving political aims.

The symposium addresses these questions from scientific, artistic and activist perspectives and examines the possibilities offered by carnivalesque strategies in the media as a form of activist practices that relates directly, in both institutional and non-institutional contexts, to the field of cultural production. The question of the roles of intervention and the symbolic in the field of artistic work is open to discussion.

Timetable: Matthias Rothe
Minerva Cuevas
Sabine Kock
Brian Holmes / Marcelo Expósito

Followed by a discussion

Minerva Cuevas
artist and political activist; lives and works in Mexico City

In a kind of self-institutionalization process, Minerva Cuevas adopts a corporate form and a corporate name in her pursuit of a strategy of self-assertion and autonomy. With her "Mejor Vida Corp." (Better Life Corp.), she imitates the anonymity and the market strategies of major corporations; at the same time, however, she turns these strategies against big business in several different campaigns and interventions. In addition to her office in Mexico City, she also uses art institutions as a distribution platform or a starting point for activist projects. Aside from MVC, she has also initiated such projects as MVC-Biotec and MVC:Radio. She is also a member of

Marcelo Expósito
artist, curator and critic; lives and works in Barcelona

Marcelo Expósito is represented as an artist at the current exhibition at the Shedhalle. His 60-minute film entitled Radical Imagination (Carnivals of Resistance) (2004) was produced specifically for the exhibition. The piece is the second video in the Entre sueños (Between Sleeping and Waking) series, which is concerned with new social (protest) movements within the context of globalization processes and the post-Fordist reconfiguraton of urban space. Radical Imagination (Carnivals of Resistance) focuses on the Carnival against Capital, an action involving carnivalesque strategies carried out on June 18, 1999 and devoted to reconquering public space and calling attention to the objectives of the movement. Expósito presents excerpts from both his current video and the first film from the Primero des mayo (la ciudad-fárica) (May Day – The City as Factory) series and explains the contexts.

Brian Holmes
culture theorist, critic and translator; lives and works and Paris

Holmes has been actively involved in the anti-globalization movement. Working with the Paris artists' groups Ne Pas Plier, Bureau d'Etudes and others, he has been concerned with developing artistic strategies for the world-wide protest movement. His contribution to the symposium is the lecture and slide show ?Do-It-Yourself Geopolitics? in which he investigates the subversive potential of forms of collective protest within the anti-globalization campaign.

Sabine Kock
Culture theorist, member of the IG Freie Theaterarbeit; lives in Vienna

Proceeding from Renate Lachmann’s theoretical observations on ambivalent carnivalesque elements in popular Renaissance culture, the objective is to describe the complex field of literary, theatrical, cinematic, political and feminist discourse through examination of such phenomena as carnivalesque montage in the (anti-establishment) literature of GDR author Irmtraud Morgner, the relationship between resistance and the (carnivalesque) grotesque as an interplay of forms in a current Vienna OFF theatre production by Toxic Dreams and a theatrical film documentation on the events in Genoa by a feminist film collective. Discussion will be focused on the underlying question of the (genre-) specific effective mechanisms of publicity and reception.

Matthias Rothe
Academic Assistant in the Department of Culture Studies at the Europa-Universität Viadrina in Frankfurt/Oder since 2001

Current research projects: Theory and history of the dramatic arts, Sensitivity, History of rhetoric

Matthias Rothe is co-editor of Ritualisierte Tabuverletzungen, Lachkultur und das Karnevalesque (Engl.: Ritualized Violations of Taboo. The Culture of Laughter and the Carnivalesque), (Frankfurt/Main, Berlin, Bern, Brussels, New York, Oxford, Vienna, 2002), a book published in conjunction with the symposium of the same title. His current interest in the carnivalesque is reflected in his work on early 20th-century avant-garde theatre and the theme of "surveillance". Rothe is fascinated by such aspects of carnivalesque protest as the relationship between theory and practice; he examines, for example, the basic assumptions and theoretical premises from which activists who make use of carnivalesque methods proceed and pursues the question of the extent to which these assumptions and premises are fulfilled by what actually develops during and out of the protest itself.

SYMPOSIUM: Saturday, 18 June, 15.00 – 18.00
Playfulness and pleasure between resistance and longing

Robert Pfaller (philosopher, Art University, Linz),
Patricia Alleyne-Dettmers (anthropological linguist, Konstanz),
Rudi Maier (Medialogical Association of Ludwigsburg)

Robert Pfaller

The pleasure principle in culture

As Johann Huizinga points out, only those who know they are “merely” playing a game can be captured by the spell of the game. Only the undeceived are enthusiastic. This suggests a special kind of imagination – the charming, preserved illusion that is involved in all pleasureful practices of a culture and imbues all spectacles with magic. Yet in our time, the pleasure principle faces resistance from both religious and supposedly “enlightened” cultural tendencies devoted to destroying everything suspected of being associated with magic. This leads to a destruction of public openness, to a “tyranny of intimacy” (Richard Sennett), which exploits the “culture of the spectacular” that is based on the principle of intimacy (and is thus hostile to spectacle). But this process is also intensified by the very ideology that currently best serves the forces of neo-liberalism.

Robert Pfaller teaches Philosophy and Cultural Studies at the Kunstuniversität Linz and the Technische Universität Wien. He has held guest professorships at universities in Berlin, Chicago, Oslo, Strasbourg, Zurich and other cities. His publications include Die Illusionen der anderen. Über das Lustprinzip in der Kultur, Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp, 2002.

Rudi Maier, Medialogical Association of Ludwigsburg

Narrenproduktion - Zur Disziplinierung der Zeichen der Revolte
[Fools’ Production – Disciplining the Symbols of Revolt]

"Get up, stand up", "Fight for your right!", “Radicalize life!" - just a few examples of traditional left-wing movement slogans that have also been appropriated by commercial advertising in recent years. We recognize this as a sign of an embattled relationship that exists since 1967, a relationship in which the symbols of revolt are to be disciplined and the leaders of revolt characterized as fools and eccentrics. Yet these often playfully designed advertisements reveal a lot of the underlying order of successive societal formations from 1967 to the present – a multimedia introduction to the field of “Advertising and Revolt”.

Rudi Maier, activist and culture scholar; has worked with the Mediologische Vereinigung Ludwigsburg Medialogical Association of Ludwigsburg, Fan of Yes Men and Stuart Halls, Star Trek, Donna Haraway and the Communicationguerilla. Lives in Ludwigsburg, where he pursues his interest in the infinite vastness of 21st-century logoscapes.

Patricia T. Alleyne-Dettmers


The presentation discusses the case study Gangajal: Holi Water, as played out in carnival celebration on the streets of Notting Hill in London. In it, the designer re-choreographs two universal mythologies of origin, scanning a geographical area from the Ganges River, in India, and the Western European Catholic myths of creation and destruction in the Garden of Eden. This makes for another reading of “aesthetic difference” in its utilizing of interstitial space transformed into a power space within the celebratory carnival play frame. In this way, it provides the locus for political resistance, in its encompassing of all the performance genres –music, dance, and theatrical performance etc., engendered through carnival celebration.
The presentation is set up in three movements: The first provides the historical contours of Trinidadian Carnival - an Emancipation Project transported with Afro-Caribbean migrants to Britain, which in turn facilitated the actual shape and agenda for Notting Hill Carnival as it developed in Post War Britain. The second part describes the case study itself, and its symbolic re-possession of past mythologies – Indian and Western European. The third questions the future of multiculturalism in Britain as it relates to performance at Notting Hill, London.

Patricia Tamara Alleyne-Dettmers is a professionally trained linguistic anthropologist who has studied and researched Trinidadian Carnival for more than the last ten years (and continues to research Carnival in Britain) from the inside perspective of the native masquerader, and from the outside as the professional anthropologist. Currently she teaches a variety of courses on the Caribbean along with Post Colonial Studies in the department of Sociology at the University of Hamburg, Germany.