The Parliament of Bodies

The Parliament of Bodies, the Public Programs of documenta 14, emerged from the experience of the so-called long summer of migration in Europe, which revealed 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.

The Parliament of Bodies acts against the individualization of bodies but also against the transformation of bodies into a mass, against the transformation of the public into a marketing target. Against essential origins, reified borders, and identity politics, the Parliament of Bodies proposes to act as a space for cultural activism, inventing new affects and creating synthetic alliances between different world struggles for sovereignty, recognition, and survival. Inspired by micropolitical self-organization, collaborative practices, radical pedagogy, and artistic experiments, the Parliament of Bodies is a critical device to queer both the ruins of democratic intuitions as well as the traditional formats of the exhibition and public programs. It brings together artists, activists, theorists, performers, workers, migrants, et cetera to experiment collectively on a radical transformation of the public sphere and the proliferation of new forms of subjectivity. The Parliament of Bodies is neither a bank nor a collection of data, neither “folk” nor a corporation.

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The Parliament of Bodies began construction in Athens seven months before the opening of the documenta 14 exhibition, launching in September 2016 with 34 Exercises of Freedom at the Municipality Arts Center at Parko Eleftherias. Since then, it has been assembled through six Open Form Societies: the Noospheric Society, dedicated to alternative technologies of consciousness (coordinated with Angelo Plessas); the Apatride Society for the Political Others (coordinated with Nelli Kambouri, Margarita Tsomou, and Max Jorge Hinderer Cruz), exploring anticolonial discourses and practices, global migration, and the current transformation of the nation-state; the Society of Friends of Sotiria Bellou (developed with AMOQA, Athens Museum of Queer Arts), dedicated to the proliferation of queer and transfeminist politics; the Society for the End of Necropolitics (coordinated with Georgia Sagri), which looks for ways to counter the technologies of death of capitalist colonial history; the Society of Friends of Ulises Carrión (coordinated with Arnisa Zeqo), which takes the tactics of the eponymous Mexican artist as a starting point to examine cultural strategies and practices of noninstitutionalized art; and the Cooperativist Society (coordinated with Emanuele Braga and Enric Duran), working on circular economy and “communing.”

The Open Form Societies have been modeled on La Société des amis des noirs, created in France in 1788 to abolish the slave trade, promoting the creation of social and friendly bonds between those who were considered citizens and those who were considered legally and politically unequal. They pursued these aims vigorously by writing and publishing antislavery books, prints, posters, and pamphlets and by organizing public lecture tours and theatrical displays in the towns and cities of Europe. At the heart of colonial empires, antislavery societies functioned as a countercultural public program to develop epistemological, discursive, political, and poetic-imagination alternatives to the colonial regime. Likewise, the Open Form Societies of the Parliament of Bodies aim to act at the heart of the exhibition device, within the complexity of a global neoliberal economy, in a context of growing neocolonial and neofascist discourses. The treatment imposed on Greece since the beginning of the new century has announced the current transformation of global Western politics.

Beginning in January 2017, the singular societies began to cross-pollinate, creating friction and bringing different languages and practices into dialogue. Three weeks after the April opening of the exhibition in Athens, the Parliament of Bodies gathered for the first time in Kassel, calling for an antifascist, transfeminist, and antiracist coalition. The Parliament of Bodies took W. E. B. Du Bois’s question “How does it feel to be a problem?” 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.” That event gathered all the Athenian societies of the Parliament together with the Society of Friends of Halit, the first society of the Parliament in Kassel, dedicated to fight institutionalized forms of racism and named to honor the memory of Halit Yozgat, murdered in Kassel by neo-Nazis in 2006. June 2017 sees the inception of other new societies, such as the Society of Friends of Lorenza Böttner, named after the mouth and foot painter and performer Lorenza and dedicated to physical and neurological diversity and ghting disability oppression.

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 police during the years of dictatorship in Greece, between 1967 and 1974. In Kassel, the Parliament of Bodies is hosted in the rotunda of the Fridericianum. Constructed under Friedrich II, the building opened in 1779 as a library and one of the first public museums in Europe. In 1810, Jérôme Bonaparte, King of Westphalia and Napoleon’s youngest brother, for a short period transformed the rotunda of the Fridericianum into the first parliamentary building in Germany. In the 1930s, the building also served as a gathering place for the Nazi Party, before being burnt to ruins during bombing raids on Kassel in 1941 and 1943. From 1955, it has been the most emblematic site of the documenta exhibition.

Throughout the run of documenta 14, the Parliament of Bodies with its societies will be active both in Athens and Kassel,
like a dissonant and yet synchronic practice of heteroglossia and heterogeneity. Nomadic and performative, working as a stateless heterotopia by means of multiplication and displacement, the Parliament of Bodies acts within the spaces of the exhibition as well as within spaces of both cities (theaters, associations, studios, squares … ) that are experimenting with new forms of sovereignty beyond the norm.

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