How does it feel to be a problem?
Kassel, April 27–29, 2017

How does it feel to be a problem?
A performative anti-fascict, trans-feminist, and anti-racist forum
Kassel, April 27–29, 2017

“Sharing the world with other living things, that is the ultimate debt.
That was the key to sustainability for humans as much as for non-humans.”
Achille Mbembe

iQhiya, The Portrait, 2016, performance, Athens School of Fine Arts (ASFA)—Pireos Street (“Nikos Kessanlis” Exhibition Hall), documenta 14, photo: Stathis Mamalakis

The Parliament of Bodies, the Public Programs of documenta 14, emerged from the experience of the so-called “long summer of migration” in Europe, revealing the simultaneous failure not only of modern representative democratic institutions but also of ethical practices of hospitality. The Parliament was in ruins. The real Parliament was on the streets, constituted by unrepresented and undocumented bodies resisting austerity measures and xenophobic policies. Meanwhile, the effects of extractivist and predatory forms of financial neoliberalism and necropolitical forms of government were portrayed by the media as a Southern “crisis” (“the Greek economic crisis” and the “refugee crisis”) against which the rest of Europe had to be protected.

During the 1990s, the globalization of financial neoliberalism presented itself as “the end of history” with the seamless extension of free-market democracy and the progressive undoing of the borders of nation-states. Instead, a new form of neo-national-liberalism has taken shape. The radical right reenters the political mainstream, institutionalizing xenophobia, racial, and sexual discrimination. While democratic institutions are being voided of content, ecologic destruction and ethnocidal terror rise to unprecedented proportions. The planet seems to be going through a process of “counter-reform” that seeks to reinstall white-masculine supremacy and to undo the democratic achievements that the workers’ movements, the anti-colonial, indigenous, ecologist, feminist, sexual liberation, and anti-psychiatric movements have struggled to grant during the last two centuries. In this context, it is urgent to use what Tony Bennett has called the “exhibition-complex” against itself, transforming the Public Programs into a site of activism, alliance, and cooperation.

After eight months of activity in Athens, The Parliament of Bodies is gathering for the first time in Kassel calling for an anti-fascist, trans-feminist, and anti-racist coalition. The Parliament of Bodies takes W. E. B. Du Bois’ question “How does it feel to be a problem?” (asked in 1903 in The Soul of Black Folks, after he had come back to America from being a student in Germany, reacting both against racism and European romantic nationalism) as a possible interpellation directed today at “the 99 percent” of the planet, taking into consideration the process that African philosopher Achille Mbembe has called “becoming black of the world.” Whereas the modern colonial and patriarchal regime invented the “worker,” the “domestic woman,” the “black,” the “indigenous,” and the “homosexual,” today new government technologies are inventing new forms of subjection: from the criminalized Muslim to the undocumented migrant, from the precarious worker to the homeless, from the disabled to the sick as consumers of the industries of normalization to the sexualized worker, and the undocumented transsexual.

There are neither natural roots nor identity politics binding The Parliament of Bodies, but a constructed network of synthetic alliances. This performative gathering establishes no hierarchies between radically different knowledge, languages, and practices, between activism and performance, between theory and poetry, between art and politics: collectively, we experiment with the construction of a public space of visibility and enunciation. This is a gathering of those who have become a “problem” for today’s hegemonic discourse: we don’t share identities, we are bound by different forms of oppression, of displacement and dispossession more than by our skin color, our sex, gender, or sexuality. The Parliament of Bodies is not made of identities but critical processes of disidentification. We are bound by a passion for memory, transformation, and survival.

This event will also be the occasion for a gathering of all societies working in Athens (The Society for the End of Necropolitics, The Society of Friends of Ulises Carrión, The Apatride Society of the Political Others, The Cooperativist Society, The Society of Friends of Sotiria Bellou, and The Noospheric Society) and the newly formed societies of the Parliament in Kassel, including The Society of Friends of Halit.

The Parliament of Bodies calls for a forum of multiple voices and languages. We need new political, philosophical, and aesthetic grammar, different from those endorsed both by the modern colonial museum and the neoliberal art market. From the dissatisfaction with available scholarly and exhibition languages, The Parliament of Bodies proposes to enter into a collective experiment where voices and bodies mix, where public history, fiction, autobiography, political ecology, self-ethnography, action, music, and poetry merge.

As an institution-in-becoming and without constitution, The Parliament of Bodies inhabits sites of contested histories, whose memories force us to question hegemonic and romanticized narratives of democratic Europe. In Athens, it is located in Parko Eleftherias at the Municipality Arts Center, a building that was the headquarters of military policy during the Junta years of dictatorship in Greece, between 1967 and 1974. In Kassel, The Parliament of Bodies will be hosted at the rotunda of the Fridericianum. Constructed under Friedrich II, the Fridericianum opened in 1770 as a library and one of the earliest public museums in Europe. In 1810, Jérôme Bonaparte, King of Westphalia and Napoleon’s youngest brother, commissioned architect Auguste-Henri-Victor Grandjean de Montigny to remodel the rotunda of Fridericianum, which for a short period became one of the first parliamentary buildings in Germany. After 1813, the building again became first a museum and later a library. In the 1930s, it was also a site of gathering for the Nazi Party, until it was burnt to ruins during the bombing raids on Kassel in 1941 and 1943. From 1955, it became the most emblematic site for the documenta exhibition.

In order to inhabit this historic rotunda, neither chairs nor the semicircular architecture of the parliament have been provided. Instead, architect and artist Andreas Angelidakis has created “Polemos,” a series of soft blocks coming from the process of disassembling a military tank. The military industry producing war technology is one of the main industrial resources of the city of Kassel. Thus, “Polemos,” war is the other side of “Demos,” Angelidakis’ installation for the Municipal Arts Center at Parko Eleftherias in Athens. Interrogating the necropolitical foundations of modern democracy, “Polemos” is Angelidakis’ statement for this anti-fascist, trans-feminist, and anti-racist front.

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