"I speak as a victim of America's so-called democracy. You and I have never seen democracy—all we've seen is hypocrisy." 

                                   —Malcolm X

Performance and Populism: mobilization, popular power and embodiments 
an international conference online Nov 3-5, 2021*

Performance and Populism responds to the global escalation of neoliberalism, the crisis of democratic institutions, and the rise in demands for popular sovereignty at the turn of the 21st century. This period is defined by the persistence of extraction economies, racialized violence and the narrowing of democratic rights; an emphasis in security and law enforcements to ensure private property and the accumulation of capital. At the same time, we are witnessing an upsurge of people reclaiming power placed in the hands of the banking and business elites that dominate public services, communication systems, manufacturing industries, centres of knowledge production, and other systems of geo-political, social, and cultural life. The failure of institutions to defend various demands of the people triggered the rise of populism on both sides of the political spectrum.

Performance and Populism puts focus on left-wing populism. This point seems to be particularly important to address in the contemporary political conjuncture. With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019/20, the inequalities have been exacerbated, the xenophobic, anti-immigration and nationalistic sentiments strengthened, and the institutionalization of extreme right-wing discourses and politics and authoritarian regimes increased. Under such circumstances, the need to empower the left with the ideas of economic transformation, political innovation, and social, geographical, and cultural connectivity, becomes even more urgent. The construction of 'the people' and 'popular power' become important issues for local and transnational alliances on the left. So far, left populism appears as the most successful strategy of the progressive politics. Yet, few studies move beyond a 'management' perspective ultimately designed to explain the rise and role of leaders.

Performance and Populism takes its lead from Performance Studies to broaden the debate on constructing, imagining and embodying 'the people' and mobilizing 'popular power' on the left. The interdisciplinary approach of Performance Studies which combines social theory and performance practice presents a methodological and analytical challenge to populism. It demonstrates how various performance practices give rise to a people, stressing their role in reshaping politics, institutions, and governments. Combining a performance studies approach with that of political culture, art, and praxis allows us to expand the conversation about left populism towards more specific forms of mobilization, collectivism and politics.

The multifaceted, transnational and partisan approach to the main topic of this conference raises innovative research questions about art and politics, the formation and critique of collective identification, and the relationship between the people and the institutions.

Revolution After the Apocalypse?

In conversation with Vijay Prashad

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Perhaps the time has come to invert the famous dictum that it's easier to imagine the end of the world, than the end of capitalism. Undoubtedly, "the end of the world," in its various meanings, has become the prevailing Zeitgest and reality of the early 21st century, whether it comes to escapist dreams of Silicon Valley, or to various contemporary social movements like Extinction Rebellion or Fridays for Future. The end of the world as we know it — or Extinction — seems to be our only horizon. The question arises how to go beyond both the fetishism and commodification of the Apocalypse on the one hand, and whether, on the other hand, precisely a new sort of political eschatology can be used as a mobilizing force in the task of going beyond a world-system based on never ending exploitation, extraction and expansion? If there is no kingdom to come, neither on Earth nor on Mars, how can we get to terms with what Günther Anders called the "naked Apocalypse" — or the "Apocalypse without kingdom"? Once eschatologies with a "happy end" — from the Judeo-Christean one to secularized eschatologies of revolutionary movements — become obsolete, what is the meaning and role of Revolution? Even if it seems impossible to imagine the end of capitalism, what if it is precisely by imagining and re-imagining this end — what comes after capitalism? — that we can also arrive at the possibility of a different end of the world.  

Endangered Human Movements

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Endangered Human Movements is the title of a long-term art based research project, started in 2014. The project focuses on human movement practices, which have been cultivated for centuries all over the world. 

Within this frame, a series of performances, workshops, films, installations, talks, publications and a comprehensive online archive are developed, in which ancestral embodied practices -movements, dances and forms of world-making, re-appear in the context of theatre, museum and beyond. This re-appearance entails a movement towards decolonizing contemporary art and cultural practices by introducing critical perspectives from the fields of sociology, anthropology, history, philosophy, visual arts, dance, choreography and contempo-traditional indigenous Amerindian knowledge. The latter encompassing not only contemporary shamanism, but also orally transmitted knowledge, social knowledge about the body, about movement and touch, about healing, about plants, about perception, about the interconnectedness of life forms, and about ritual diplomatic knowledge applied to the relationship with other beings.  The fifth volume of the research deals with ancestral forms of relation between humans and mountains, which are embodied through dance and rituals of reciprocity, specifically in the Northern Highland of Puebla Mexico and in the Andes of Chile.  In this presentation Amanda Piña gives an insight into her art-based research and artistic work, focusing on the fifth volume of her research titled Danzas Climáticas and on eco-somatic practices, as a possibility of rehearsing a decolonial ecology. Throughout the lecture, she unpacks the political implications of embodied practices in the frame of the so called Anthropocene.

Commune: Mobilizing Popular Power from Geo-Political Souths

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This keynote roundtable brings together activists, artists, and scholars from a variety of geo-political souths to consider the notions of popular power and the commune in relation to populism. Panelists will engage expansively with both the commune and acts of communing as practices of embodied, political mobilization that radicalize democracy and build popular power. Panelists will first share briefly about an aspect of their work in relation to conference themes. The remainder of the roundtable discussion will address what it means to think and act from geo-political souths, and will consider the role of cultural and communal practices in the development of leftist political formations.

*this conference was produced by a collaboration between faculty of the university of warwick and the university of california, berkeley, nov 3-5, 2021. For a full program and organizing credits see: https://tdps.berkeley.edu/performance-and-populism