A Brief Conference Review

On the 18 and 19 of May, 2017, the University of Manchester hosted the interdisciplinary conference Everyday Revolutions in Southern and Eastern Europe. We took the opportunity to organize a panel on visual protest repertoires and present our research project, the first occasion in two years to present together. Due to a general strike in Greece, responding to a fresh round of austerity, not all of us were ultimately able to attend, however. Here we’ll say a few words about the conference and quickly summarize our main contributions. While there is also a lot to reflect on in regards to the suicide bombing at the Manchester Arena on the night of the 21st shortly after the conference ended, we will not do so here. Needless to say, the death of concert attendees is a terrible loss for the families affected, and to the vibrant and diverse community of Manchester.

The conference brought together many PhD, post-Doc, and academics at other stages in their careers to present and debate research around the concept of Everyday Revolutions. The organizers write: “Moving beyond questions of radical transformation and irreversible political change, the concept of ‘everyday revolutions’ problematizes the overlooked revolutionary potential of small-scale resistance, grassroots mobilisation, counter-culture, liberation movements, and alternative provisioning, among others.” The Keynote was delivered by Prof. Davina Cooper. With the title ‘What good is playing at being a state?’, she explored the various meanings, manifestations and critiques of the state, and its impact on daily life.

With this frame, we chose to each present our individual work within the wider project of “Contentious Images, Unruly Practices.” We did not spend any of our limited time on the general framework, save a brief introduction given by Julia at the top of the panel. While the picture was incomplete due to Angelos’ absence, and the “work in progress” point we are at, the panel was ideal also for our own reflection upon the interconnections in our works.

In her contribution, Julia traced the evolution of her research project on street art in Athens Aesthetics of Crisis from a rather static social movement studies framework towards one more attuned to the contingencies of everyday life. Following Lauren Berlant’s understanding of the crisis as “an emergency in the reproduction of life, a transition that has not found its genres for moving on,”[1] she offered a critical feminist framework for understanding the current proliferation of street art in Athens as a meaningful intervention into the current political configuration. She described how the walls of the city have come to function as a living archive of the current historical conjuncture and a site for imagining new political potentials and encounters. Considering street art not merely as visual artifacts but also as performative practice, Julia argued that street art is not a static representation of its given socio-cultural context but also has the potential to actively transform urban space and reimagine everyday life by inscribing alternative histories and possibilities into the very surface of the city.

The focus of her analysis was with figurative artworks, expressive portrayals of the corporeal and affective impact of crisis and austerity of everyday life. By making visible the shared affective condition of the crisis, one marked by precaritization and uncertainty, street artists claim the walls of the city as a space for emotionally processing the continuous state of exception. The task of dealing with this deeply felt precarity is typically relegated to the privacy of the domestic sphere, as demanded by what anthropologist Athena Athanasiou calls the truth regime of crisis and austerity: “not only do people have to engage in a daily struggle against economic hardship and humiliation, but they are also called upon to bear all this without any sign of outrage or dissent.”[2] By visualizing this collective vulnerability of the everyday in public space, works of street art may eventually become meaningful as a basis and resource for political solidarity and community formation.

Next, Marija explored the multifaceted phenomena of video activism and how it is adopted and used by the feminist antimilitarist women´s organisation Women in Black (Žene u crnom) in Serbia. More than ever the vast amount of circulating digital videos and the influence they have today, both on our everyday life but also in protest settings, calls for examining conceptualisation, production, and use of digital videos in their local context. She proposed exploring video activism of WiB through a peformative lens as an act of visual writing of women´s history and their struggles and video as a visual artefact for documentation, representation and research of this history.

Special focus was on videos that were produced to promote a feminist model of transitional justice. This model is presented through the concept of Women´s Court, a unique model in the region of Ex-Yugoslavia, developed to offer a different safe space for all women (witnesses, activist and academics) for their voices to be heard. The aim of the first videos made by WiB´s video activist group in 2010 was to make visible the effects of various models of transitional justice, especially of the feminist approach to justice to the broader public, and to facilitate a change of values, ideas of peace, justice and solidarity (Women in Black, 2011). Today there are 17 videos produced around the topic of Women´s Court for internal and external audiences, which were made to document and represent the project: it´s development, implementation and discussions around it. The effectiveness of these videos is directly linked to their performative character. They should not be seen only as representation; rather, they can also have their own life, potential and power to create possible worlds.[3] Under certain circumstances they can produce countervisuality[4], new political subjectivities[5], articulate opposition or resistance and thus renegotiate or even reverse power relations. Moving images produced by WiB are not just presenting a new model of justice but are also showing internal (activists) gazes and powerful political images of women: attendant in the past and present historical political events, diverse, united, active, images which are challenging dominant patriarchal and nationalistic public discourses and have a great potential for the production of new political subjectivites.

David took the occasion to work out the central concept of “general atmosphere”[6] in his work. The atmosphere is composed of various elements, from bodies and sounds, to movement, clothing, and materials such as banners, stickers, and flares. But it is also context. The atmosphere is thus not just an aesthetic concept, but should be regarded as inviting also the analysis of the temporal and special moment in which it is being created. Deeply visual, atmosphere communicates the subject of the protest, along with its object and demand. When fans create atmosphere in a stadium, they are doing something similar, and when they protest, as in the case of Olimpija Ljubljana fans over the course of 2013-2014, they deploy the same visual repertoires.

In football, this atmosphere is a key dimension of the game. Matches are radically transformed without active supporters in the stadium. This in turn informs fan protest strategies, such as using the boycott, but it also is the core of free labor for the industry of football. Where fans generate exciting and colorful atmosphere, they are subject to a double exploitation: paying entrance fees and delivering a performance that the industry is able to use for promotion of its product (of which the fan is part – and this is in addition to their operating costs). In the field of fan labor this is an established part of the analysis. [7] But it has rarely been considered in the context of sport fans.[8] While the fan protest is generally not a radical rupture, and in the case of the Green Dragons is reformist in nature, looking at fan labor, the use of boycott as a tool, in conjuncture with notions of how capitalism is able to financialize affect, it becomes an opportunity to better understand forms of everyday exploitation. As a result, we are also better able to identify the dynamic between these forms of appropriation and those who resist and seek alternative social and economic relations.

***

References:

[1] Lauren Berlant, “Austerity, Precarity, Awkwardness,” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association, Montreal, 2011, https://supervalentthought.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/berlant-aaa-2011final.pdf.

[2] Judith Butler and Athena Athanasiou, Dispossession: The Performative in the Political (Cambridge: John Wiley & Sons, 2013), 149.

[3] Lazzarato, M (2003) Struggle, Event, Media. Republicart 5.

[4] Mirzoeff, N (2011) The right to look: A counterhistory of visuality. Durham: Duke University Press.

[5] Razsa, M J (2014) Beyond ‘Riot Porn’: Protest Video and the Production of Unruly Subjects. Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology 79 (4): 496–524.

[6] van Leeuwen, A, van Stekelenburg, J, and Klandermans, B. (2016). The phenomenology of protest atmosphere: A demonstrator Perspective. In European Journal of Social Psychology. 46(1), 44–62. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ejsp.2139

[7] Stanfill, Mel and Megan Condis, eds. 2014. Fandom and/as Labor in Transformative Works and Cultures 15. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2014.0593

[8] Tarver, Erin. 2017. The I in Team: Sports Fandom and the Reproduction of Identity. Chicago:University of Chicago Press.

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