Monstrous Complicities

Kike España

Kike España works at Suburbia bookshop and is one of the editors of Subtextos. Kike participates in the cultural and social center La Invisible and in Fundación de los Comunes and has a PhD in Urban Theory.

Gerald Raunig

Gerald Raunig works at the eipcp (European Institute for Progressive Cultural Policies) as one of the editors of the multilingual publishing platform transversal texts, and at the Zürcher Hochschule der Künste as professor for philosophy.

La Casa Invisible, Malaga, Spain 2017

In the multiple crises we have experienced in recent years, the actors of the cultural field often reduced themselves to an orderly retreat of progressive forces, to the business of managing cultural programmes for mainstream publics and bourgeois elites, to rescuing their shares of the cake, to obediently executing ever new austerities and new normalities. Yet, as the crisis is a multiple one ― economic, ecological, corporeal, affective, a crisis of institutions and most of all a crisis of subjectivation ― it also produces ruptures in the modulating continuum of services, cuts and practical constraints, at best desiring machines, incomplete complicities, and monsters within and beyond actors and institutions in the cultural field, who start to think about an altered function in relation to socialities, geopolitics, and histories. And this is not bad for the molecular revolution.

When some of us proposed the concept of “instituent practices”, it was the mid 2000s, and the times of post-anti-globalization-movements like Euromayday and no-border-camps. Next to post-Guattarian institutional analysis, we developed the term out of Toni Negri’s texts on con-stituent power as a Spinozian potentia and power of recomposition, connected with the idea of a constitution as permanent constituting that was adequate for constituent processes from the early Venezuelan revolution around 1999 up to the proposals for a European constituent process. Our take on instituent practices obviously insisted on the long history of constituent power (from the French revolution’s constituante to contemporary struggles), and that is why we used the ending -ent, when we wrote about instituting. With this ending, we clearly referenced the conjunctions of instituent practices and molecular revolutions. But “instituent” also emphasized the fact that in every new composition, there is an act of instituting, and there is a duration of instituting, a persistent chain of interventions into a territory, a sociality, an ecology, against the project form, against the non-situated practice of many artists, but also of activists as professional revolutionaries.

There was also a specific point of intervention in the art field, when with the concept of instituent practices we wanted to loosen the fixation of the diverse practices and so called “waves” of institutional critique. This fixation was not only the problem of de-politicizing and aestheticizing strands in art history and art practice, suppressing the socio-aesthetic force and political context of what was coined institutional critique in the 1970s, but already then we argued that institutional critique just does not suffice, if it is fixated on the institution or even on a mere take-over of the institution. On paper and in theory, be it marxist-leninist or feminist or Benjamino-Guattarian, we already knew, that taking over the state apparatus, the institutions, the existing structures would not help, if there is no transformation of the apparatus: The march through the institutions would not be enough. Installing new directors and curators, more progressive and diverse persons for the institutions would not be enough. Providing new content, but keeping the institutional form would not be enough.[1]

From the 2007/8 financial crisis on, which also was a multiple crisis, an institutional assault became imaginable, which impelled the transformation from “public institutions” to “institutions of the commons.” Instead of feeding the remainders of the welfare state into the modulating mechanics of machinic capitalism, it seemed to become obvious and necessary to reorganize these remainders in order to redirect the modulating institution and to transform the public into common. In a certain way, this implied no less than inventing the state anew, specifically because, while and where it still rudimentarily functions. Or rather it implied inventing a new form of state apparatus while the old one still exists. Bottom-up reinvention of the institution ― not meant as a molar procedure, like a block or just a takeover of existing structures ― can only succeed as molecularizing the institution, if it is tried out from many different sides, in small contexts, in many micromeasures, and in radical openness to questions of organization.

It is farfetched to expect art institutions to reinvent the state, but in comparison with other state institutions, such as health, education, science, or research institutions, the cultural field certainly had advantages. An odd mixture of claims of autonomy, experimental orientations, the self-evident expectation of critical stances and attention to political topics enhances their potentiality. In the art field, it is also possible to build on concrete experiences of the decades before: while the otherwise neoliberal policies in machinic capitalism, sometimes under the flag of a “New Institutionalism,” undermined institutions in the 1990s and 2000s, a minoritarian line of radical cultural policies developed in the visual art field, which was already to be interpreted, in certain aspects, in the direction of institutions of the commons. They have all become experienced in starting more or less radical experiments in self-transformation, sometimes at the level of content, theory, and discourse, sometimes also concerning their modes of production and molecular forms of organization. From smaller ones like Shedhalle in Zurich, already in the 1990s a place for radical feminist critique to Kunsthalle Wien with their curatorial team WHW since 2020, and also big museums of contemporary art like the Vanabbe in Eindhoven, producing a Dutch variant of transnational critical art practices and decolonial educational projects, among others connecting with the collective future Documenta curators from Ruangrupa. Or the Spanish cases of MACBA in Barcelona, with its clear link to social movements throughout the 2000s, or for the 2010s the Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid – a national museum with the name of the Queen in its title ― and yet at the same time famous for its advanced political exhibition program and for specific cooperations, amongst others with the Fundación de los Comunes.

The Fundación de los Comunes is a laboratory and assemblage of self-organized spaces and projects in Spain, social centers, social media networks, independent bookshops, activist research groups, copyleft publishing projects, hacker communities, political design workshops, artivist ― groups, and nomad universities, all of them experimenting with new forms of institutionality. Turning against hierarchical, vertical, molar procedures, yet not neglecting aspects of organization and reterritorialization, they are molecular models not only for themselves. They are also striking in their potential to molecularize the fields of culture and knowledge production, with effects on the cooperating art institutions. More than an instrument or a change agent, not just necessary outside of the art institution to transform it into an institution of the common, not just a trouble-maker, the Fundación de los Comunes is made out of trouble, being produced by the troubling middle of complicit, instituent relations. Of course, this relationship can go either way: often enough the molar state apparatus swallows the molecular machines, but there is enough knowledge about processes of capture, conquest and appropriation right here and now to anticipate and conjure them, potentially infecting all its parts with monstrous, orgic, nonrepresentationist, radically inclusive procedures.

It is in this context that a specific type of complicity between Fundación de los Comunes and Museo Reina Sofía is framed. When we use the concept of complicity, as developed by Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, we want to show the productive ambivalence involved in this kind of relationship. An accomplice is someone who helps commit a crime, even if s/he does not take part in its material execution, so it already contains in itself something of a conspiracy; either understood as collaboration with the state apparatus or as excessive political involvement in movements. But, on the other hand, complicity is a feeling, an affection, something that is not on one side or the other, but that traverses the parties. For both cases, yet another concept from Harney’s and Moten’s conceptual toolbox comes to the fore: incompleteness. Complicity is not complete because neither does it ever reach the point of being safe from the capture of the state apparatus, nor does it ever reach the point of being completely captured. Complicity remains incomplete. Incompleteness shows the greatest weakness and, at the same time, the greatest strength of complicity. One is not complicit in a general or total way, but complicity is felt in concrete practices, in certain situated conspiracies, in plots in which the walls and algorithms of the inside/outside of the institution are traversed to evidence its inconsistency and the only possible allegiance to the care of undercommons life.

Such incomplete complicities we can trace in 2017 between Museo Reina Sofía and the social center La Casa Invisible, Fundación de los Comunes’s nod in Málaga. The museum was preparing activities for the 80th anniversary of Picasso’s Guernica, which featured an exhibition curated by Timothy Clark at the museum in Madrid. In this frame, it was decided to hold a series of lectures in Málaga, Picasso’s hometown. But these conferences would be held neither at the Picasso Museum, nor at the Pompidou Center, nor at the Carmen Thyssen Museum, nor at the Contemporary Art Center, but at La Casa Invisible, a self-organized and occupied social and cultural center that continues to be attacked and/or ignored by the Málaga City Council. Málaga as a city is the paradigmatic example of the radical transformation from disciplining to controlling the city, organizing the city as a single company and with a single brand, where its only task is the attraction of tourists, of capital, of valorization. It is the new urban mutation of capital that combines gentrification, touristification, commodification and museification in the city of attractions. All at the service of the city as one big amusement park; the franchise-museums are only concerned with the number of visitors and managed directly by the marketing departments or directly outsourced as private real-estate-artistic business. Picasso, in his relationship to Málaga, only exists as a brand to be exploited, as a folkloric fetish of the figure in souvenir stores, as a flashing sign of a pizzeria for tourists, as a deformable figure of capital that serves both for a kiosk and for a block of tourist apartments.

Against this slick, smooth and newly authoritarian form of the city, the museum and the social center developed the conference Picasso in the monster institution. Art, cultural industry and right to the city at La Casa Invisible. The content of the conference was interesting for developing concepts and strategies against the city of attractions, with the help of theoretical reflections and artists projects like the ones of Rogelio López Cuenca and Elo Vega. Yet the most important aspect of the conference was the shared organization of the museum and the social center, and its effects on the city of Málaga. The asymmetry was more than evident, on the one hand a state museum of great strategic importance and institutional weight and, on the other, an enormously fragile and precarious occupied social center; in this kind of incomplete complicity it is quite important to ask who wins or loses from the relationship, who gets profit and who gets credit, who complicates life and whose life goes on in complications. But it is even more relevant to affirm the concrete productivity of complicity, the resources and relationships brought into play, the currents of desire, the affections and alliances generated, the political imaginations opened up. There are not two totally differentiated parts, there are vectors of incomplete complicity playing in a terrain of high risk of institutional capture and, at the same time, a climate of instituent power preserving and caring for undercommons social life.

Monstrous complicity does not only mean that the relation between the parts is always incomplete and turbulent, but also that it does not rely on identifiable parts, but generates something new in the turbid middle that does not deny the monster, that does not return to calm after the storm, to homogeneity after disruption. This complicity forces the institution not only to give more of itself but to find the monster in itself, as well as it forces the instituent practice not only to put itself at risk but to leave its cave without ceasing to be a monster. This is the revolutionary task of monstrous complicities: to unfold and multiply the monster in the middle. That is why there can never be peace and tranquility in this complicity, only ongoing turbulence, the everyday and everynight emergence of the monster in everything.

We are in need of fantasizing about the possibility of taking the monster complicity between Museo Reina Sofia and the set of instituent practices in and around the Fundación de los Comunes further, in a more radical way, through an ecology of revolutionary political-sensitive practices. While the state institutions and the creative industries remain compliant to capital´s regimes of accumulation, property, individualization and colonial violence over deviant subjectivities and socialities, new streams of orgic-monstrous ecologies can emerge from the subsisting complicities. Orgic and incompletely complicit, like in the wording of a text from around ’68: “When representation discovers the infinite within itself, it no longer appears as organic representation but as orgic representation: it discovers within itself the limits of the organized; tumult, restlessness and passion underneath apparent calm. It rediscovers the monster.”[2]

[1] We painfully learned how this theory turned into practice on a quite broad basis, when the Spanish 15M-movement after its great years of instituting and its municipalist beginnings experienced the trap of taking over the state apparatus without changing it. What started as an assault on the city, on the city in its state form, forming cities against the state, got trapped in various institutionalizations. Between 2015 and 2019, in Barcelona and Madrid and other Spanish cities confluences of post-15M-parties and movement candidates took over, but failed in inventing desiring machines and instead fed their desires right into the apparatuses. Leftist contents, yes, for some years, but no transformation of the forms and the structures and the apparatuses.

[2] Gilles Deleuze, Difference and repetition, translated by Paul Patton,New York: Columbia University Press 1994 [1968], 42 [translation slightly modified].