Counterhegemony: Think Laboratory

Counterhegemony: Think Laboratory                           

Friday December 5th-Sunday, December 7th, 2014                                                             

Reading Room in Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius

Curated by Andrea Liu

“Counterhegemony: Think Laboratory” is a three-day unofficial school of the “Counterhegemony: Art in a Social Context NIDA Fellowship Program,” with talks, performances, speakers & panel discussions, a culmination of the Counterhegemony program’s exploration of politics of participatory spectatorship, art & law, and Foucault’s notion of geneaology:  

In the vein of Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, seminal contributor to the critical pedagogy movement, “Counterhegemony: Think Laboratory” is a non-hierarchical platform for ideas that rejects the traditional hierarchy between speaker and audience. Each plenary is presented as a provisional “proposition” to be responded to by the audience. We invite the public of Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius to participate in our three-day think tank as we brainstorm to foster a critical vocabulary and new ways of engaging with the issue of counterhegemonic discourse, art, cultural production and activism: 3 DAYS FOR 10 PROPOSITIONS.

Friday, December 5th

Opening Remarks:

Unpacking the Polemics of “Activated Spectatorship” in Participatory Art


With the rise of “participatory art” in 90’s, artists increasingly abandon a discrete self-enclosed “art object,” shattering the division between artwork and audience, incorporating participants in their artwork: from Jeremy Deller’s re-enactment of a miner’s strike in Battle of Orgreave, to Santiago Sierra’s transgressive use of workers in “delegated performance,” to Tania Bruguera’s “Arte Util” that rejects art’s aestheticizing function, positing instead that art must serve a socially “useful” purpose. We trace the history of the polemics of “active” vs. “passive” spectatorship, with its roots in Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle’s denunciation of the passivity of a society numbed by individual consumption, going through the theories of Claire Bishop, Grant Kester, and conclude with an application of these ideas to Christoph’s Wirth’s “Applause!” piece.

(Andrea Liu)

PROPOSITION #1: MILO RAU: Transgression, Defamiliarization, and the Monster of the “Normal”


Milo Rau (Switzerland, 1977)* is a Swiss theater artist who seizes upon fraught historical moments considered “socially deviant” (Rwanda genocide radio, Anders Breivik massacre), and de-familiarizes us from our complacency that we are not represented by or within this speech. Through the paradox of un-theatricalized reenactments in a theater context, his work unsettlingly implies how the brutalization of society has become normalized in the “civilized West”.  Rau is founder of theater collective International Institute of Political Murder; his works include The Last Days of Elena and Nicolae Ceausescu, Breivik’s StatementHate Radio and have been shown at  Berliner Theatertreffen, the Kunstenfestivaldesarts (Brussels), Avignon Festival, Sophiensaele, amongst many others. He had solo exhibitions at Kunsthaus Bregenz and Migros Museum of Contemporary Art.

*thru skype

PROPOSITION #2: Law as Raw Material: Jonas Staal and the New World Summit


Counterhegemony set out to examine law not as a pre-existing unity or body of warranted “true” statements or stipulations, but an unstable epistemic field of competing evidential and inferential claims--that is, law as “produced” rather than represented.

How can art and cultural production suffuse, problematize and/or intervene in the apparatus of law?  How can art and culture form domains in which the exclusions, violence, or socialized coercion that have been normalized through legal constructs of citizenship, property, and personhood can be dramatized, reformulated, or destabilized and in which alternative paradigms can be proposed and disseminated? How can law be a “raw material”— the bounds of illegality/legality; law as ritual, artifice, cloak, architecture, or pure form?  

Jonas Staal’s artist projectNew World Summitdeconstructs the mythology of the terrorist and debunks the intersection of political, economic, ideological and juridicial interests that are invested in upholding the notion of the “terrorist.” New World Summit is an extraordinary experiment that creates a nomadic parliament of representatives from groups deemed “terrorists” by so-called “liberal democracies,” engaging with law to formulate a polemics about terrorism as a social construction antithetical to democracy’s principles of transparency and due process.

(with brief conversation with Andrea Liu at end)

Jonas Staal (Netherlands, 1981) has developed his projects with the Royal Flemish Theater in Brussels (4th New World Summit, 2014); the Kochi-Muziris Biennial (3rd New World Summit, 2013), the 7th Berlin Biennial (1st New World Summit, 2012) and BAK, basis voor actuele kunst, Utrecht (New World Academy 2013-14; New World Embassy, 2014).


Saturday, December 6th

PROPOSITION #3: Beyond Reactionarism—Up Against the Wall Again-there is no passive or activeby Georgia Sagri


Georgia Sagri’s work is often perceived as being ridden with repetitive nuggets of strident nonsense, but is actually engaged with dismantling past and future systems of framing (identity, social behaviors, lifestyles). The work is thinking through doing.

During Occupy Wall Street movement, Sagri and 10 comrades took over a New York City gallery (Artists Space) and occupied it against the will of the so-called directors, creating an autonomous space for 36 hours. Sagri has been strongly engaged in the anarchist movement which led her to the past years to raise a certain skepticism about the lifestyle of anarchism and –isms in general, and to think through strategies in which organization can go beyond binaries such as passive and active, inside and outside, male and female.

Georgia Sagri (Greece, 1979) has had solo shows at Kunsthalle Basel, Anthony Reynolds Gallery(London), Andreas Melas and Helana Papadopoulos Gallery and groups shows at the Whitney Biennial, Kunst Werke (Berlin), PS 1, the Kitchen, Kunsthalle Basel, Real Fine Arts (NYC), Murray Guy, On Stellar Rays, the Lyon Biennial, and has been artist-in-residence in Indonesia through Issue Project Room (NYC) since November 2014.

PROPOSITION #4: INSTITUTION: Friend or Foe to Political Protest?--The Aftermath of the Berlin Bienniale/ Chto Delat in conversation with Jonas Staal

(moderated by Andrea Liu)


Chto Delat is an internationally reknowned Russian art-activist collective preoccupied with the representation of historicity within Russian culture, whose performances exquisitely meld the didactic with the performative, the cerebral/theoretical with the sentient/bodily. Chto Delat was founded in 2003 by a group of artists, critics, philosophers, and writers from St. Petersburg and Moscow with the goal of merging political theory, art, and activism.

Artur Zmijewksi’s 2012 “Forget Fear” Berlin Bienniale was an experimental biennial that attempted to circumvent “business-as-usual” art object-based biennials and galvanize a political consciousness--yet it drew widespread denunciation for putting activists on display in a zoo-like manner, rendering inert their political agency. It became a magnet for those already skeptical of “political art” to offer “proof” about how rending art “political” will always “fail.” A case study of the paradoxes and pitfalls of the institutionalization of political protest, was the “Forget Fear” Berlin Bienniale a “failure” and if so for whom (or for what agenda)? And if so, what does this mean now? Jonas Staal and Chto Delat will discuss.

PROPOSITION #5: Congress of the Former East: Collectivity, Post-Communist Consciousness and the “Lazy West”


TkH Collective (represented by Marta Popivoda [Serbia]) in conversation with Chto Delat (represented by Dmitry Vilensky/Olga Tsaplya Egorova [Russia], P.O.L.E. (represented by Pavel Sterec/Tomas Uhnak [Czech Republic]), and Leone Contini (Italy)

Marta Popivoda’s work is haunted by being the last generation in Serbia to remember a political system before the onslaught of democratic “wild capitalism,” her work grappling with howcommunist ideology was gradually exhausted through changing relations between the people, ideology, and the state. P.O.L.E. discusses how with the fall of communism, countries of the former Eastern Bloc were put in a subservient “vassal state” relation to Western Europe, treated as “small children” who had to learn the ropes of how to become “democracies.”

While those in the “lazy West” have always taken certain privileges for granted and a political system as inevitable, collectives of the former Eastern Bloc/Yugoslavia/Russia had to re-calibrate notions of solidarity, collectivity and political resistance after the fall of communism. If political resistance before 1989 was largely defined against the Soviet regime and 1989 can be understood as the “revolution against the revolution,” how do movements of political resistance align themselves today in the former Eastern bloc/former Yugoslavia/Russia relative to the question of “Western democracy?” Does submitting to Western “democracy” inevitably mean falling prey to Western capitalism?

(moderated by Andrea Liu)

Marta Popivoda (Serbia, 1982) is a filmmaker and cultural producer whose work (either solo or in collaboration with TkH collective and Ana Vujanovic) has been exhibited at Les Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers, Arsenal (Berlin), the 63rd Berlinale, Kunstlerhaus der Halle fur Kunst und Medien (Graz), Stadtgalerie im PROGR (Bern), the Kitchen (NYC) and Tate (London) Performance Room.


18:30-20:00: Screening of Chto Delat film “THE EXCLUDED” (realized in collaboration with Chto Delat School of Engaged Art and friends) and discussion with Chto Delat


Sunday, December 7th               

PROPOSITION #6: “Non-Aligned Movement” by P.O.L.E.


The Non Aligned Movement was found in 1961 in Belgrade, a movement of 120 countries that rejected the U.S./West/NATO vs. Russia binary, to ensure the sovereignty, territorial and security of non-aligned countries in their struggle against the two power blocs. The countries of the Non-Aligned Movement contain 55% of the world population. Tomas Uhnak will discuss P.O.L.E.‘s project concerning the Non-Aligned Movement and a report back from Belarus (the only country on the European continent who is a member of the non-aligned movement) .

P.O.L.E. is a Prague-based collective who has exhibited at Tranzit, Galerie Amu, Karlin Studios and Academie of Arts and Sciences Prague.

PROPOSITION #7: On the Peripheries of Legality by Leone Contini  


In conjunction with the Counterhegemony discursive module “Law as Raw Material,” Contini’s work exists on the periphery of legality while working with informal economies propagated by migrant communities and refugees, thereby facing a confrontation between two ethical codes. On the one hand, there is State control over bio-diversity, territory and economical transactions; on the other, an ethical code based on self-sufficiency, local economies, rescue of the neglected rural land, sustainability, food awareness etc. The “positive state of exception of the artist” allows one to play on the edge between these ethical codes – and on the edge of legality.

Leone Contini (Italy,1976) has been artist-in-residence at Delfina Foundation, London (Politics of Food); Harlem Studio Fellowship (NYC), “#1 Under Construction Open Residency - Beirut/Milano”, and Tirana Art Lab, Albania. He has exhibited at Danish Pavilion at the 54th Venice Bienniale, Stadthausgalerie (c/o Kunsthalle Münster), Kunstverein, Amsterdam, DOCVA Milan (amongst others).

14:00-15:00 LUNCH BREAK

PROPOSITION #8: Achim Lengerer: Rehearsal as Artistic Method and Sociopolitical Format


The “Trotsky Rehearsal” is based on Lengerer's ongoing research about the "rehearsal" as an artistic method as well as socio-political format. In two days of open public rehearsals, Lengerer performs various forms of historical documents about the controversial reception of the play ‘Trotsky in Exile’ by German/Swedish writer Peter Weiss. In public rehearsals, Lengerer stages text and sound recordings from various archives as fragments of the controversial reception of the play together with participants. The fragile potential of the unresolved/unfinished is laid open in order to question Weiss' differentiation between active political engagement versus the staging of topics to activate contemplation on politics.

Achim Lengerer (Germany, 1970) has had solo shows at Goethe Institut-Paris and After the Butcher, and group shows at NGBK, Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, Israeli Center for Digital Art, Shedhalle Zurich and is a Ph.d candidate in studio art at Goldsmiths in London. He runs the gallery space/publishing house Scriptings in Berlin.

PROPOSITION #9: Debunking Western-Centric Bias in the Ukraine Crisis (Leone Contini and P.O.L.E., moderated by Andrea Liu)


Foucault’s notion of “truth regime” deals with the politics of truth construction, and how certain statements have the power to be deemed true and certain statements never acquire this power (regardless of their actual truth or falsity). How are contending narratives of the Ukraine war represented? How is the West able to project a mythology about its higher moral ground as a democracy?  How is the art world indirectly used to extend and strengthen this neoliberal propaganda about democracy? 

PROPOSITION #10: De-Heterosexualization Clinic


‘This heterosexual looks SO HAPPY in this picture because the take their acceptance in society for granted. This heterosexual is SO HAPPY because they never felt contradiction between their public role and their private self. This heterosexual is SO HAPPY because all the templates to constructs identity (family, home marriage, man woman) map perfectly onto them with no surplus, friction or cognitive dissonance.’

Taking Sara Ahmed’s seminal Affect Theory essay, “Happy Objects” as a starting point, we will look at the “politics of good feelings", or how happiness functions within the heteronormative family as a promise that directs us toward certain objects, which then circulate as social goods—while those excluded from the structure of the production of “good feelings” (queers) are ostracized as “affect aliens.”

(comments by Andrea Liu)

18:30-20:00: ROUND TABLE: Closing plenary: What does “Counterhegemony” mean?

(with Dmitry Vilensky, Nikolay Oleynikov, Georgia Sagri*, Jonas Staal, Achim Lengerer, Leone Contini, Tomas Uhnak) moderated by Andrea Liu

Avoiding art or cultural production that dwells in mimicry, in the symbolic, the aestheticizing, the ornamental, or therepresentational, “Counterhegemony: Art in a Social Context” Fellowship Program looked for artists/ conference speakers whose work and cultural production is rooted in a sociopolitical context.“Hegemony” can be understood as a form of subordination that manifests itself in economic, geopolitical, cultural, sexual/gender terms. What does “hegemony” mean to us and in what ways are we “counter” to it (or are we? If so,how?)

*thru skype

“Counterhegemony: Think Lab” is conceived by Andrea Liu (Curator of “Counterhegemony: Art in a Social Context Fellowship Program”). Special thanks to Rasa Antananvicuite, Zivile Etevicuite, Linas Ramanauskas and Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius for their help in organizing.