08 July 2010

Thom Donovan on "Commoning and Art Practice"

Thom Donovan will be visiting the Bay Area next week, and the Nonsite Collective is looking forward to hosting his presentation "Commoning and Art Practice" (the second event in a summer suite on the contemporary commons) Sunday, July 18 at Nicole Hollis Studios (935 Natoma St./San Francisco/2pm). In anticipation of this conversation, Thom has posted the following notes:

Since this past summer, 2009, I have been thinking about histories of commoning in relation to social, somatic, and aesthetic practices. The discussion that I would like to host for the Nonsite Collective will orient itself around notions of commoning in relation to our various practices as educators, activists, artists, builders, movers, and thinkers.

The legal concept of commons originates in 13th century England around the signing of the Magna Carta and Charter of the Forest. In the Charter of the Forest, specifically, legal rights are provided for the common use and enjoyment of property by each and every social member. I am particularly interested in how this legal right—being in common—might be activated in our present, and how art, activism, education, and cultural production might set precedents for such a legal foundation.

As I see it, art and aesthetics have a decisive role to play in creating conditions of possibility for the legal reactivation of the commons. We find such conditions of possibility in Earthworks, Land, and Maintenance art, much of which has to do with land use and property rights. We also find precedent for legal challenges to commoning in live art as it connects with strategic civil disobedience, and somatics as it connects with biopower and toxic remediation.

How can the Nonsite Collective, in coalition with sister organizations such as The Center for Land Use Interpretation, Center for Urban Pedagogy, Ocean Earth, and 16 Beaver be a think tank for rethinking strategies for practical resistance and aesthetic inquiry towards an emergent commons? If the commons is utopian (of no place) or polytopia (of many places) and has historically tended to emerge at critical points of struggle and antagonism, how can art contribute to and critically reflect conditions of commoning? How can art model the commons — which is to say, how might it provide experiments in the practical organization against anti-democratic social hierarchies and the expropriation of labor, land, and natural resources?

I have many questions, and they all filter into my approach to the topic of commoning: how can we reach out to lawyers/legal advisors to test the law through art/performance/co-motion? How can we channel resources to practical projects whether in the form of private or public funding? How can institutions and apparatuses of education become better sites for resistance to expropriation and social hierarchies which prevent democratic behaviors? To what extent can commoning counteract behaviors both toxic to democratic practices as well as ecologically sustainable existences? To what extent should the body—or bodies in common—become a site where, to paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr., we may once more “make our bodies the case” before the conscience of local, national, and global authorities. If the body is a frontier for expropriation of our rights to exist, what are the consequences of once more making the body a site of vulnerability and contestation, a visible wound by which emergent social formations or subjects may express their common will and concern?

Some texts that I’ve been drawing on include the following:

Peter Linebaugh’s The Magna Carta Manifesto; Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker’s The Many-Headed Hydra; Marx’s 27th Chapter of Capital vol. 1 on “Expropriation of the Agricultural Population from the Land”; Sylvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch; Agnes Denes’ The Human Argument; Fred Moten’s Hughson’s Tavern and In the Break; Mierele Ukeles’s “Manifesto for Maintenance Art”; Ocean Earth Development Corporation; Robert Kocik’s and Daria Fain’s The Commons project; Anna Halprin’s Moving Toward Life: Five Decades Of Transformational Dance; Henry David Thoreau’s "Huckleberries"; and Stephen Collis’s The Commons and “Of Blackberries and the Poetic Commons” (linked at Nonsite Collective here ).

Hope you'll be able to join us!

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