I finally delivered my first ever presentation at an international conference (which is, apart from the professional experience, great news, for I could tick the conference box, as one of the ‘deliverables’ of the training programme).
In the following I will briefly describe the panel I have convened and chaired at the 9th International Conference of the Degrowth Movement and share some of my (our) experiences coupled with some critical remarks.
Why that conference? Are you a ‘degrowther’?
No, I am not, and frankly, I am not even well-versed in the international discussion and debate around the term, let alone the so-called movement. I did have two reasons, though. Okay, maybe three.
Motivation number one was to find a conference somewhat distant from the ‘regular’ options of contemporary-art-centred conventions, one which puts emphasis, next to theory, on practice, too.
Moreover, I wanted to broaden my perspective and listen to/meet with scholars and activists from a circle (scene) that don’t I know all-too-well, which is to say that I was inclined to check how such events proceed outside of my bubble (the Marxian global gang). Hence, when I saw the CfP by the International Degrowth Conference, in which they were seeking paper-and panel proposals for the ‘artistic ecologies’ stream, I felt that the call fit my plans.
The third decisive factor was the location: this year, Zagreb was home for the summit, which, given the regional focus of my research project helped me make the decision to apply.
Given the thematic focus of the ‘artistic ecologies’ stream, it was obvious from the beginning that I would try to persuade my colleagues and dear friends, Bogna Stepanska and Kuba Depczynski – two Polish cultural workers I had the honour of working with during my secondment in Poland last year – to apply with a panel proposal around our shared interest in ‘postartistic’ ecologies. I got lucky, they both liked my idea. After a brief discussion, we each came up with our abstracts, gave it some shape, and were waiting for the organisers’ decision. Thankfully, our panel proposal, ‘Less is Enough: Postartistic Practices and Degrowth’ was accepted.
The conference took place between the last days of August and the first days of September and was visited by over 300 registered attendees. An event of this size is even a little scary, not only because of the sheer number of folks, but also for the rather overwhelming schedule of paper presentations, panels, and keynotes. I attended some of these and learned a lot about invigorating small-scale practices.
Our panel started with Bogna’s presentation, ‘Ecofeminism or Death’, which was a concise inventory of some of the most significant ecofeminist artworks by Polish and international practitioners, as well as a theoretical overview, with special focus on the work of Françoise d´Eaubonne[i]. The next one was Kuba’s talk on ‘Postartistic Plain Airs in Poland’, which was a context-based case-study analyses, summarising the activities of the Consortium for Postartistic Practices (KPP) in the mining town of Opolno-Zdroj[ii]. (These revamped ‘postartistic plain airs’ have been taking place in Opolno since 2021, and I consider them one of the most important endeavours in the region- the reason for using them as case-study in my dissertation.) My presentation was an attempt to link ecofeminist postartistic practices from the East-Central-European semiperipheries with the notion of degrowth, which was followed by a very lively discussion, thanks to the few but engaged audience we attracted with this panel.
It was a great pleasure to spend time with friends, to work on our shared passion, and to talk and talk and talk about our very specific, very much admired, but very troublesome region again.
When it comes to the conference as a whole, hmm, I must say, I don’t think that it is a public event that serves the goals I think I share with orthodox degrowthers. I might go as far as to say that I am not a fan of the big conference at all. And even though I understand how hard it must be to put a schedule together for a convention of this size, I must say that I was (we were) somewhat disappointed by the way thematic streams were put together – or kept apart, rather. The ‘artistic ecologies’ stream’s presentations happened at seemingly random times and locations which meant, the organisers missed the opportunity to showcase an exciting bouquet of anti-capitalist praxis that is (or should be) part and parcel of the degrowth movement.
P.S.: earlier this summer, I had the honour to engage in a conversation with Yulia Krivich around topics of war, decolonisation, activism against Westsplaining, and the political economy of cultural production in Poland today. Do check FEINART’s YouTube channel in case you missed this one, or the numerous other lectures.
 They are both art historians by training, they both work at the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw (MSN), as well as at the Office for Postartistic Practices, and in addition, are founding members of the Solidarity Cultural Centre Sunflower. Kuba and Bogna are facilitators of the ‘postartistic plain airs’ in Opolno-Zdroj, organisers of the programme series ‘Antifascist Year’; and, the list of their innumerable and extremely valuable projects would fill the character limit of this blog entry.
[ii] The idea of which comes from Polish artists, researchers, and scientists, who, in the 1970’s organised ‘artistic plain airs’ (their phrasing for a retreat), one of them in the very same village of Opolno-Zdroj. Importantly, one of the organisers was the historian/theorist Jerzy Ludwinski, who coined the term, postartistic practices.