‘New world summit’, Jonas Staal, 7th Berlin Biennale @ KW, April 26th, 2012

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The New World Summit is an alternative parliament for political and juridical representatives of organizations currently placed on international terrorist lists. The nontransparent procedures by which these lists are created are considered a threat to democratic politics by numerous political parties, human rights organizations, lawyers, and philosophers. Often political prejudices, diplomatic relations, and economic or military interests play a decisive role in labeling an organization as a “terrorist group.”

The parliament of the New World Summit forms a democratic supplement to the existing political order. The event questions those politics that are based on exclusion and deny any form of true political participation to those groups that have been listed. The New World Summit aims to articulate a new kind of public political space where representatives of the organizations debate the limits of the current democratic system. The referents who are participating in the summit are not prosecuted, but see themselves as agents of fundamental democratic principles. The event itself is based on a notion of fundamental democracy pursuing the ideal of an open, egalitarian society.

The New World Summit is a project by Rotterdam-based artist Jonas Staal in collaboration with Younes Bouadi (producer), Robert Kluijver (curator), Paul Kuipers (architect), Vincent W. J. van Gerven Oei (editor), and Sjoerd Oudman/the NWS Design Collective (design). Please visit also www.newworldsummit.eu.

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ART IN DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACY by Jonas Staal

1.The struggle of art in the twentieth century is characterized by an aspiration for freedom. It has battled the church, the state and the wealthy bourgeoisie in order to no longer have to serve a religious, political or economic agenda. Politics in The Netherlands took that battle seriously. In our post-war era, politics had assigned to art the financed duty to be free. Any direct ideological commitment had become suspect, as a result of the role played by art in the Nazi and Stalinist systems. The conclusion of both politics and the art world was that it was better not to be engaged at all, than to be engaged with the wrong parties. A generic politics – a politics that exchanged ideology for management, out of fear for dirty hands – sponsored an equally generic art. An art that does not dare to serve a larger political project is thereby nothing but entertainment for the voter-consumer and his managers.

Without making explicit their ideals, both art and politics have fallen prey to demagogues and populists, who utilize the spineless landscape of capitalist democracy and its art as an open field for ideas. Ideology is back, yes, but it is in the hands of racists such as Dutch far-right Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders. And art is political again: but only because those same agitators discard it as a plaything of the elite. We are in need of a proactive politics and a proactive art, which dare to serve a truly ideological project. The outlines hereof have become visible in recent times. From activists for Internet freedom, such as WikiLeaks and Anonymous, to the worldwide Occupy Movement: democracy is being defended fundamentally as an open, non-exclusive space. A movement such as Occupy, for instance, is not a readymade ideology, but an instrument, through which politics is brought back to the streets, and democracy is shifted from representation to action. Fundamental democracy is thus an ideological project that does not compose a political system by itself, but actually makes it available for society as a whole.

What can be the role of art within this political movement? According to the Polish artist, Artur Żmijewski:

“By becoming once again dependent, art may learn how to be socially useful, even at an operational level.”

Art may only become of social significance again if it dares to make the ‘freedom’ it has gained in the 20th century serve an ideological project. The movement in service of fundamental democracy is in search of a truly new visual language, a form that effectively makes the democratic instruments available for the people as a whole. This is where art can demonstrate its power, namely: its imagination.

2. My answer to Żmijewski’s call is manifested through my project New World Summit; a two-day conference that will take place in Berlin on the 4th and 5th of May. Political and juridical representatives of organizations that are included in the so-called international “terrorist lists” have been invited to speak within the framework of an alternative parliament. These lists include organizations that are internationally considered to be state threats. In the European Union, a secret committee, the so-called “Clearing House”, draws up this terrorist list. This occurs in a highly undemocratic manner: “The process for adding or removing names from the terrorist list is done in secret by a committee which generally meets bi-annually, and there are no public records of these proceedings.” (Source: “Adding Hezbollah to the EU Terrorist List” – Hearing before the Subcommittee on Europe of the Committee on Foreign Affairs House of Representatives, June 20, 2007).

The consequences for these organizations and people who are in contact with them includes a block on all bank accounts and a travel ban – whereby in the latter case we have managed to make a few legal exceptions. History is written by the victors. Whoever gets hold of the monopoly of violence in our society, ultimately decides who is a terrorist and who is not. The terrorist thereby is not only excluded from the political process but is also excluded from the rule of law. Think of prisons such as Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, or the extraordinary rendition program of the C.I.A., wherein terror suspects abroad are kidnapped in order to be interrogated in the prisons of allied countries, and generally also to be tortured.

One consequence hereof is the overall weakening of constitutional law. Since everyone is a potential terrorist, civil rights (such as the right to privacy) are restricted, while the power of the state over the citizen and the judicial system is strengthened. The proposal put forward by the Freedom Party for the arrest of potential terrorists upon suspicion (i.e., without actual proof) is in that same line. The justification for this is invariably that democracy must be resilient against its enemies: terrorists supposedly hate the free Western world and its acclaimed democracies.

But these organizations – which are characterized by a range of different ideological currents, from communist to socialist, from Marxist to anarchist, nationalist, racist, religious-fundamentalist and sectarian – are not by far all opposed to democracy as such. There are organizations that support free elections and advocate equality between men and women, rich and poor, majorities and minorities. Many of them struggle for self-determination and against military occupation or other forms of oppression. For what the West has imposed upon the world as “democracy” in the last decades, has not exceptionally led to corruption, injustice and subordination of local interests to those of a Westernized local elite and their foreign patrons.

The organizations on the terrorist list are accused of terrorizing civilians with violence. 9/11 is the most extreme and frequently cited example thereof. But they are themselves terrorized by Western military operations. What is the fundamental difference between the 3000 victims of the Twin Towers and the hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq, as a result of the Western “liberation”? Terror and state-terror thus constitute two sides of the same coin.

These examples are not intended to legitimize these organizations’ employment of violence, but to make clear that the qualities considered to be ‘distinctive’ of democracy – such as free elections, equality between men and women, gay marriage or even policies against terrorism – can also be found in a variety of organizations on these terrorist lists. Hence these symbolic qualities do not constitute a democratic organization or state per se.

The violent policy of the so-called “terrorists” therefor reflects the violent policy of the so-called “democracies”. The purpose of the New World Summit is to bring these together, by creating a new political space. A space where the boundaries of our current system are mapped out. A supplement to our parliamentary democracy: a platform for its ‘shadow side’. Only together do they constitute the world order in which or against which we have to take a position today. Together they constitute the conflictual field wherein we must define what we actually understand under the notion of democracy.

3. And this question – what is the democracy that we stand for? – denotes the project in which I see art and politics united in a significant manner.

Fundamental democracy is the project I wish to defend. Not as an exclusive good for the nation state on the one hand, or the “terrorist” on the other, but for everyone, always, under any circumstances. I believe in democracy as a universal movement. A movement that fights for a non-exclusive political space where every voice can make itself heard, seen and felt, without a ‘state of exception’.

As an artist I want to create the conditions for this political space. I do not want to create art within a so-called democracy; I want to help shape democracy myself. And as it has become apparent globally, I am far from alone therein.

Also signed by: Artur Żmijewski and Joanna Warsza (curators 7th Berlin Biennale), Robert Kluijver (curator New World Summit), Younes Bouadi (producer New World Summit), Paul Kuipers/EventArchitectuur (architect New World Summit), Vincent WJ van Gerven Oei (editor New World Summit), Kasper Oostergetel and Geert van Mil (build-up New World Summit), Sjoerd Oudman and the New World Summit Design Collective (design New World Summit).

Text source: http://www.berlinbiennale.de/blog/en/projects/new-world-summit-a-congress-with-jonas-staal-27199 and http://www.berlinbiennale.de/blog/en/comments/art-in-defense-of-democracy-by-jonas-staal-22715

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