When we’re tired, capitalism wins
In my previous blog post, I talked about the feeling of restlessness and persistence I was sensing during my stay in Athens. Both internal and external emotions, which brough me back to environments and situations that originally inspired my research project. In the days before leaving Greece, I had a few last meetings talking with local activist and artists in which the discourse on energy, commitment, and burnout in relation to major political and artistic projects occurred again. We talked about the overflowing joy at the core of local social processes, in contrast with the different energy that characterises today’s scenery, much frailer and drained by the effects of the pandemic and even more by years of increasingly ferocious repression and violent nationalist policies. In the conversations, we discussed the need to withdraw along with the determination to not lose the knowledges and relations developed in these processes, the strategies of downsizing and reallocation of both economic and human resources, as well as the difficulty of setting boundaries.
In times of hyper-productivity, our energy is constantly sucked by capitalism, which requires us to perform, consume, interact, and take part in the market. As we engage in ‘enthusiast-driven’ or ‘passionate work’ – formulations used to hide conditions of overwork, precariousness and underpayment performed in exchange for social and symbolic capital – what energy do we have left for passions outside the boundaries of labour? Furthermore, living in a state of permanent alert and anger – or what journalist Naomi Klein defined as ‘disaster capitalism’ – we find ourselves anxious and exhausted, no longer having control over our attention and energy. Hence, as we try to react to recurring emergencies and injustices, we end up not having enough energy to organise and imagine something different, and well summarised by a post on Medium: «When we’re tired, capitalism wins.» Then: how to imagine a redistribution of energy? How to develop forms of organising and timelines that seeks to limit or prevent the dissipation of (human) resources?
In a lecture entitled ‘Against a Logic of Scarcity: On Militant Abundance’, Valeria Graziano and Giulia Palladini discussed the potential for a militant abundance by analysing different forms of political organising that have tried to undo the capitalist dichotomy between scarcity and abundance. Specifically, they describe the notion of ‘striking-in’ based on the idea of strike as a moment of internal reorganisation of work and resources outside the capitalist framework, and the example of the ‘reverse strikes’ carried out in Italy in the 1950s, during which unemployed people would self-organise to build necessary infrastructures and force local politicians to follow up their work with public investment and remunerations. By reclaiming the right to determine the conditions of production and reproduction, reverse strikes aimed at showing the abundance of work and resources that existed in collective work, outside capitalist regulations. Militant abundance is thus posited as a way to denaturalise the notion of scarcity and develop a different relation to resources, while imagining an alternative logic of production beyond the neoliberal regime. I found this idea of militant abundance particularly powerful, especially in relation to energy. Imagining forms of organising intended to preserve and manage resources outside the capitalist patterns of performativity, responsiveness, and urgency could be a way to regain possession of one’s time and energy and mitigate episodes of burnout and withdrawal, which are increasingly frequent in politically and socially engaged milieux.
At the end of March, we all finally met at the University of Iceland for the FEINART Symposium on Socially Engaged Art (26 March 2022). At the Symposium, Mirwan Andan and Ajeng Nurul Aini, members of ruangrupa, presented the story of the collective, some of the projects realised, and the methods of collaboration implemented over these two decades. In the presentation, titled ‘Hanging-out: Sharing Resources’, they also discussed the notion of lumbung, a collective pot or accumulation system used in rural areas of Indonesia, which they have adopted as their main curatorial approach for the upcoming documenta 15. In the lumbung, the resources produced by a community are stored to then be proportionally distributed according to common criteria. In ruangrupa’s practice, the lumbung becomes a model of resources management, describing a collective pool of resources, shared by the collective and a network of groups, artists, communities, and individuals, with the aim of establishing and cultivating an integrated support system and creating a more sustainable and fairer ecosystem of production. Emphasising the principles of sustainability along with the need to preserve and nurture one’s means, the lumbung as a model of resources management stands for another way of envisioning principles of distribution and collectivisation outside capitalist extraction. While focusing on the material aspect, the lumbung might also be interpreted as a model of energy management, through which tasks and responsibilities are reallocated within the collective on the basis of contingent needs and capacities.