Some words on the conditions of movement for art, artists and the otherwise, set in the tight space between the nomadic european biennale Manifesta 2022 in Prishtina and the rest of the infinity of the universe.
“Two distant lovers (= one more neoliberal trend?) may look at the moon or a bright star at the same time across borders, oceans, etc., and ideate it as a token of a romantic union. (Because they look at the same moon across borders, oceans, etc.) The ephemeral shooting stars, in contrast, cannot stand in as patrons of such traditional unity. Rather they infiltrate and transgress big pictures and spheres, granting odd wishes now and then to the ones lost in transition.”
1. Shooting Stars
Mid-August again, the second row of summer days. The frailest stars have grown tired of the scorching sun, let go and fall. They fall in dozens. Unprepared for the bellig- erent atmosphere of that earth of ours, they glow to dust upon encounter. To be less ideological, we should correct: It is actually our planet with its heavy atmosphere that is annually crossing the space of the falling stars. The falling stars are actually just common space rocks, one a sister to the other. Different from the big shot stars, they do not attract much attention to themselves until they get torn into the belligerent planet’s pull. As shooting stars, they light up and burn out at once and for all.
When star dust reaches the planet earth, it does not recognize national territories and militarized borders. For ground-bound critters like us, on the other hand, there is stuff like Fortress Europe1, a promise of free movement for those with the right papers, a deadly interface for others, and a hardly reachable freedom or temporary sweet dream for others again. The fortress reigns us with walls and spells and separates us crawling ones in complex divi- sions. The shattered-glass-like (think Kintsugi2) borders of Southeast Europe create places that are outside-within and zones of complicated ambiguity. Places divided in diversity.
“What is the reason for your trip?” the border police might ask you. In the Balkans, the lines called borders at the same time are imaginary and dead-serious. Now my story goes like this… “I am visiting friends / a blockbuster exhibition / a music festival…”, “Yes, I have a hotel reservation,” “And return tickets, of course, “… But the other answers in my head are roiling silently: “I hope to fall in love and get married,” “I will do portraits on the street and earn some money”… “Ah no, wait, that is not EU on the other side.” It will take some hours to reset one’s mind after such a transgression. Then, after a long and exhaust- ing border-crossing trip, say to Prishtina, maybe your head finds some rest in the soft grass, say in front of an unfinished cathedral with a complicated history. You en- joy the evening cool facing up to the sky, and get greeted by the meteor swarm, the Perseids. “They cannot be bothered by border patrols… One ought to have a spaceship to travel like them”, you may exclaim, and just when you turn your head, you see one manifesting in front of you: A nomadic european biennale has landed in this much-test- ed city, an envoy-vessel of the international art scene. It has landed despite the broken glass, both a promise and a reminder of how unequal freedom of movement is distributed (Try traveling Europe with Kosovarian papers …and consider that our computers’ language aid is suggesting that we meant to write “Bolivarian papers” here.). The vessel Manifesta is an alien to us, and we cannot dare to try to define the whole meaning of its landing in Prishtina. We would like, though, to call in another unreal star- ship to keep it company.
2. Spaceships of kinds
We brought up the hostility of the atmosphere towards the meteorites. It is not independent of the current turmoil and the further militarization of international politics that we used the word belligerent (meaning hostile, but also literally waging a war) to describe our planet’s atmosphere. It is not arbitrary that the “shooting star” evokes analogies with shooting soldiers in us. People who were sisters to each other, drawn into a belligerent turmoil, turning them into soldiers, that kills them or changes them trying. Every imagination comes from places… And the spaceship we want to call to accompany Manifesta is connected to this fact. It is a battered old thing. We do not concern ourselves with the origin of things, but we can trace it back to a few past appearances on this planet…
In 1871 in a French prison cell, Louis August Blanqui, political agitator and militant activist, propagator of the dictatorship of the proletariat, had to watch the knock- down of the Paris commune from his confinement. In his isolation, he thought about the infinity of the universe and the connectedness of all things and beings: The uni- verse is infinite in time and space: eternal, boundless, and indivisible. All bodies, animate and inanimate, sol- id, liquid, and gaseous, are linked to one another by the very things that separate them. All holds together. (…) The universe as a whole is made up of stellar systems. To create them, nature has no more than a hundred simple bodies [elements] at its disposal. (…) And to fill the vast expanses, nature has to repeat infinitely each of its original or typical combinations.3 “Therefor everything that can exist, must exist in one of the infinite parallel worlds,” he concluded. Blanquis’ musing about the universe was no disinterested science. It was not neutral but connected to the question of how another world was possible.4 Witnessing the triumph of the counter-revolution, he writes: The progress in this world is only for our descendants (nos neveux). They are more fortunate than we are. All of the beautiful things that our globe will see, our future descendants have already seen; they are seeing them right now, and they will always see them—though, of course, this is in the form of the twins that have preceded and will likewise follow them. (His parallel worlds had a temporal shift as well.) His writing was connected to his affective situation in forced isolation, too: But is it no consolation at all to be constantly aware that, on billions of earths, one is in the company of the loved ones who, here today, are no more than a memory for us?5
So our starship was probably seen in 1871, launching through the assumably barred window of that French prison cell. Don’t ask us how it did that. In fact, in a very material sense, one could argue that the starship could launch from that prison cell because the respectable editors of a French scientific paper thought their readers would find it interesting, or curieux, to see how “the famous socialist agitator dealt with a scientific question.” 6 And that is only superficially a contradiction, as our unruly starship of situated thought7 often manifests in the force field of the powerful institutions it criticizes.
It has overcome the prison walls that kept Blanqui without forgetting them. The eternity, according to the stars and their parallel worlds and times, is its refuge and line of flight and potentiality. Choosing freedom of the kind that cannot be maximized, it does not abandon us but re- turns home to a different earth time after time. On one of those homecomings on one parallel planet, it must have visited another famous prisoner. He lived in 1920’s Italy and thought all women* were intellectuals8. His name was Antonio Gramsci, and his Albanian ancestors may have once lived south of Prishtina in the Albanian city of Gramsh. On the sudden appearance of our imaginary starship in his cell, he did not hesitate. Quickly he bent to grab a sharp shard from a shattered chamber pot that he kept hidden under his mattress. In one swift movement, he raised his frail body towards the spaceship and scratched “organic intellectual”(8) into the vessel’s hull, thus nam- ing it for the future. Who knows about this incident will not be surprised to hear that Gramsci was not only very concerned with thinking from a place but also with cultural hegemony. With his action, he set an important theoretical landmark/scratch-tag that should reprogram our spaceship and time warp it away from white male European revolutionaries in an instant: “All women* are artists, too.” bell hooks invites us to think. On a small screen in the ship’s education center, we see the Black American activist, thinker, and educator at her desk at the City College of New York. There must be a revolution in how we see the function of art; that revolution can only happen if we acknowledge that our minds and imagination have been colonized. Such a revolution would necessarily begin with diverse programs of critical education that would stimulate collective awareness that the creation and public sharing of art are essential to any practice of freedom10, she adds helpfully.
The ship we describe is the one we can decipher. Other people would describe another ship. We inscribe into it our legacy, and it is easy to mistake our story as the only one, especially as it has been historically dominant. But it is also the potential of starships to bring stories from different worlds together. Stories from places and times, from parallel worlds, that at times intertwine. There is no scientific claim that the dangerous times between two social orders, the “belligerent” atmosphere around what Gramsci calls an interregnum11, produce more shooting stars in the earth’s sky. But it sure changes the mode of passage for common rocks, rare earths, “superfluous” populations, and the food they ought to eat on earth. It also changes art, artists, and how they can move. The stories told of such times are of great importance. They must not be repetitions of old stories. We are not in the cold war. A new state does not have to be an ethnic nation. The more structured and unequal the possibilities to move around and share one’s stories become, the more important the politics of starships become.
Do they come to open spaces and connect parallel universes, distribute the voices and the art to those bound in place otherwise and educate and enable critical thinking? Or do they come as colonial enterprises opening new markets for the influential ones, playing alien abductors kidnapping Pristinas talents, extracting resources, and capitalizing on the exoticized? (Just listing some of the known technical possibilities of the starship industry.) When our battered starship, camouflaged as a shooting star and towed by the Manifesta Hyper-Ship, will land in Prishtina, it does so by asking these questions. Questions about the conditions of movement for artists, refugees, thoughts, things, commodities, pieces of art, “western” festival visitors, local artists, local fruit vendors, police, boxes of old shoes, capital, and starships. Questions about who can participate in the utopian laboratories of art? Who gets to be an artist?
Arts could be the most versatile way to tell stories. Furthermore, it is an ideal space for not only imagining utopia, but for using those parallel worlds, creating them to experiment with social transformation in a creative and safe space. The question is: is it possible that some invisi- ble walls stop us from reaching the utopian space? Yes, it is. In our case, this could be borders in our minds, symbolic capital, lack of material resources, and unequal possibilities for participation, to name just a few. When the spaceship lands in Pristina, the local artists have opportunities to make their work more visible and get ready to be launched in Europe. But only in case the paperwork for those works of art is ready. Anyway, small digital messages still could be sent almost anywhere, so what’s the matter…
Stardust does not recognize borders and brings new material, we could say talents. Moreover, some of it is too itchy for someone’s eyes. Two things related to the future of art on earth could be deciphered from the bet- terknown parts of our spaceship. First, everyone is an artist. Second, as a mixtape by Gayatri Spivak suggests: The impossible solution is the infinite unguaranteed patience to learn from below how to teach the subaltern.12 How to teach those who are excluded from socio-economic institutions? How to teach those who are dreaming of being included in some of the existing socio-economic institutions? We should teach them and learn from them how to create supporting social institutions which could help all of us to become gleaming stars without burning to dust in an instant. But the overall framework for be- coming a sparkling shooting star is listening, learning, and having your starship work with unheard voices. This kind of spaceship would be transformed in many xeno- genetic13 ways by local ideas mixed with neighboring, european, global, and extra-terrestrial spices of mind and arts (and also stardust). What could be the next stop? We do not know. But it is hoped that such a new spaceship will equip us to be ready to start the process of becoming seeds14 of a different revolutionary society. As the times are good for virality and pandemics of all kinds, we dare
to hope that a vessel programmed to do so may spread kindness, resistance, and the prospect of a possible future like an unstoppable airborne infection.
…And this could be the end of this text, but we have yet another small chapter for you. Bonus.
3. Art as a critical utopian travel-Agency?
We got drunk last night on stardust and hyper engines. We got high on the thrust of our trust in the immaterial. Thoughts. Ideas. New stuff emerging from temporary laboratories stole grace from parallel universes. Zapp it makes as the high collapses. We are back in our vulnerable bodies. The ideas can travel without borders – still. Sometimes15. But many artworks have a body. And the artists do, too. Both the artwork and artist have to fulfill some conditions if they want to go places. Even the utopian experiment, the temporary parallel worlds created by art, are most effective in the embodied experience of their participants. It is bad to rely on Starship-Economy for freedom of movement and future-of-the-earth, very bad. Manifesta is an opportunity for the local artist, but also a dream that some artworks could reach the global market. Once it takes off again, it will leave an imprint reading: If you’re happy in a dream, does that count?16
In their best moments, art exhibitions are unfinished places. So are newborn countries. Places where we could be open to create a critical utopia, a space that could exist anywhere and can be understood as the ability to trans- form individual consciousness through immanent prac- tice and to transform society by means of an example.17 We should be brave enough to go over any nationalism, to find a way to establish an absolutely new reality where we can survive as artists and people within an economy based on solidarity, not on neoliberal markets. Are we go- ing on a journey searching only for a personal utopia, or are we going to see the horizon of change with immanent, continuous critical reflection of our practice? That is the question. In the end, we should be careful with our wish- es and dreams; Especially with those which are related to the person’s success, and even much more with those that just look like utopia and social change but leave the real new world order to exist in some parallel universes far away.
Thanks for Your Patience.
By Emanuel Haab and Nikola Koruga
1 No Border Network / Asian Dub Foundation (2003/2022),
POTPURI, Gazeta 01, 09/22
2 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kintsugi 2022/08/20: “As a phi-
losophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.”
3 Louis-Auguste Blanqui and Matthew H. Anderson. „Eter- nity According to the Stars: L’éternité Par Les Astres“. CR: The New Centennial Review 9, Nr. 3 (2009): p 3, 56. https://doi.org/10.1353/ ncr.0.0087.
4 World Social Forum / Arundhati Roy: “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breath- ing.”
5 Louis-Auguste Blanqui und Matthew H. Anderson. „Eter- nity According to the Stars: L’éternité Par Les Astres“. CR: The New Centennial Review 9, Nr. 3 (2009): p 58, 57. https://doi.org/10.1353/ ncr.0.0087.
6 ibid. p 2
7 Haraway, Donna. „Situated Knowledges: The Science Ques-
tion in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective“. Feminist Studies 14, Nr. 3 (1988): 575. https://doi.org/10.2307/3178066.
8 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonio_Gramsci#Early_life 2022/08/20
9 Gramsci, A. (2011). Prison Notebooks. Columbia University Press.
10 hooks, b. (1995). Art on My Mind: Visual Politics. New Press.
11 Gramsci, Antonio, and Antonio Gramsci. Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci. Repr. London: Lawrence & Wishart, 2012. p 276
12 Spivak, G. C. (2012). An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization. Harvard University Press. p 217
13 Please read the Xenogenesis Trilogy by Octavia Butler be- fore you become bored: Butler, Octavia E. DAWN, ADULTHOOD RITES, IMAGO. Aspect, 1997.
14 And once you’re at it, also read all about Earthseed in her Parable-Books: Butler, Octavia E. Parable Series 2 Books Collection Set by Octavia E. Butler. Grand Central Publishing Ltd, 2021. Also in a more general sense, the imaginary of this text draws heavily on the work of afrofuturist and africanfuturist artworks. To mention another favorite among many: Please check out the books and online videos of Nnedi Okorafor: https://nnedi.com/ / https://duckduckgo.com/?t=f- fab&q=nnedi+okorafor&iax=videos&ia=videos
15 In this text, we wrote about spaceships and shooting stars, but we left out satellites. For the dependence of current day idea-trav- elling on many layers of embodied digital infrastructure see among others: Tabita Rezaire: https://www.tabitarezaire.com / Valentina Vukšić: https://enginesofdifference.org/2021/05/30/staying-with-the- tech-trouble/ / spideralex, Femke Snelting, Constant: https://radio. creatingcommons.zhdk.ch/forms-of-ongoingness/index.html , https:// pad.constantvzw.org/p/feministserver
16 Arundathi Roy
17 Firth, R. (2013). Toward a Critical Utopian and Pedagogical
Methodology. Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies, 35(4), 256–276. https://doi:10.1080/10714413.2013.819721. p 4