In 2005, three artists, Stephan Dillemuth, and Jakob Jakobsen, wrote There Is No Alternative: The Future is Self-Organised (TINA1). They went on to issue a second call in 2012 with the same title that focused on reclaiming self-organisation from what they saw as several forms of appropriation (TINA2). For me, both calls are seminal texts, both in terms of understanding the role of art and culture in a capitalist society and in terms of thinking about different ways that artists and arts institutions can present viable alternatives to systems that dominate our everyday lives.
I recently revisited TINA1 and TINA2 and realised just how much they both remain incredibly relevant to our everyday lives today, offering a range of possibilities that might help us begin to think and act differently – to begin to really self-organise, not against the dominant systems and institutions, but alongside them, at the borders, the peripheries, the margins. Whilst chatting about this with some colleagues, they suggested I attempt to revisit the texts and produce a third version that might be in some way useful to artists, arts workers, arts institutions, and others as we face incredibly difficult times ahead. This is my attempt.
I am aware that my text, TINA 3.0, adopts a less revolutionary stance. This is intentional. I believe it is time to understand that self-organising, whilst radical, is not something that needs to stand in opposition to the status quo but can instead develop in and around its edges. My approach here is to attempt to be progressive and tactical, because social action and social justice now and in the immediate future can only be realised if we work together, disagreeing with one another but also understanding that the things we have in common and our desires for a better world for everyone mean we must push for lots of little changes now that can be nurtured and grown in the future.
TINA 3.0 is therefore a call (following Suzi Gablik (1991)) for the re-enchantment of art and our broader cultural lives as, in the words of Raymond Williams (1961), a long revolution – a gradual shift towards understanding that self-organisation is part of human organisation, of being human, and art can be an active element in the re-creation of our everyday lives and relationships, rather than a call for some form of violent (symbolically, at least) uprising.
The Coming Re-Enchantment
The world is on a knife edge. But that is the way they – those who dominate our everyday lives – want it to be. Capitalism has always been about boom and bust. The “free markets” and “austerity” of neoliberal capitalism has led to constant precarity for more and more people, including artists, arts workers, and many arts institutions. Capitalism began by the enclosure and inclosure of our common lands and ways of living and working collectively – a process known as primitive accumulation by dispossession. This process carries on today, not just in terms of land and labour, but in terms of every element of our lives – physically and digitally. This process treats nature and people as “things” to be stolen, bought, sold, fought over. Today it is called neoliberalism. This process turns some artists into individual heroes and celebrities but many others into freelancers battling for commissions that are increasingly unlikely to support reasonable standards of living. It turns arts institutions into enterprises, arts workers into expendable casual workers, and audiences and community members into “targets”. The forthcoming “Great Reset” will only accelerate this system. The most violent incarnation of “Schumpeter’s Gale” of creative destruction is just around the corner.
This is something that can be changed, slowly. It will be a struggle in which our best action is the re-enchantment of art, of cultures and our everyday lives. We need realisable alternatives, and we need to focus on developing them and trying them out now. Critique and direct action are important, but without living proof that we can do things differently, we will always lose. It is not enough to believe, to hope – we must listen, enact hope, and embody trust. And this is where self-organising really offers alternative futures. Self-organising is not about selfishness but about collectiveness: cooperation, not cut-throat competition.
Cogs in New Wheels
As artists and arts workers, we must acknowledge that we, no matter how trenchantly we resist it, are, like everyone in the West and in many other parts of the globe, are part of the capitalist system – part of a neoliberal system. We are all complicit, no matter how hard we try to avoid, deny, or escape it. As artists and arts workers, we are part of the Creative Industries and therefore part of neoliberalism’s “human face”. And we are model neoliberal workers – precarious, competitive, flexible, disorganised, creative, and enthusiastic. But these facts do not mean we should feel downhearted. Just because we’re part of the system doesn’t mean we can’t change the system from the outside – from the borders, margins, peripheries, and edges, and from the inside – from within the institutions of art, the businesses, the focus groups, the state agencies, etc. Our ability to make such changes lies in our abilities to self-organise and produce new alternatives.
For example, many art organisations may “perform” social justice and community care, but they can embody compassion and embrace their communities with our help. This requires openness, deep listening, trust, and systems that create participatory democracies and cultural democracies. This requires self-organisation because they will not do this and cannot do this on their own. No amount of state aid or coercion can achieve this. But, by self-organising for change, we can all help do this together.
We can repurpose old wheels and make new wheels, and we can do this collectively and incredibly creatively. We can help set these wheels on different paths towards common good and shared humanity and repairing our devastated planet. We can do this. We must do this because there is no neoliberal future to build and simply shoring up the old simply prolongs the inevitable shift. We must begin the shift towards common ownership, shared humanity and away from ecological catastrophe now by self-organising our own alternatives in our own everyday lives. This is where our creativity can be used for the common good and as a means of beginning to re-enchant our art and our everyday lives. We must reconfigure and reinvent the wheels.
The Race to the Commons
Our present system all too often uses its meritocratic mirage to hide the realities of class, race, gender, identity, age, ability, religious and cultural inequities. The reality of neoliberalism is that it offers an inequitable, often pre-determined fast-track to the top for some, and a race to the bottom for most. We all strive to get on the track but soon find that it is a competitive game of winner-takes-all in which some are given wings whilst most must drag chains and iron balls.
Yet we also feel a drive to cooperate and work together to do things differently: to stop the race and start helping one another so that everyone can share their journeys. This is the spirit of escape and the spirit of collective, mutually supportive action. This is the race to the commons – a race that is not a race at all, but the beginning of new shared journeys.
A re-enchanted art can help us unlearn our deeply engrained capitalist narratives. A re-enchanted art can help decolonise our colonialist and colonised minds. A re-enchanted art can help self-organise movements towards common wealth and common good. A re-enchanted art can develop new forms of cultural production that are about sharing, not competition. A re-enchanted art can re-enchant our everyday lives, reconnecting us with one another and with nature. Self-organisation is key here to enabling the spaces we need to begin our little acts of re-enchantment. These acts are not about breaking the system. Rather, they are about common sense and shared hopes. These cultural acts are about rediscovering what it truly means to be human and about how deeply we are connected to one another and to nature.
By self-organising collectively, these acts of re-enchantment can become new carnivalesque spectacles, freed from the shackles of commercialism and state control. Our carnivals and spectacles once turned the world upside down before they were enclosed by capital. And we can once again self-organise Spectacles of the Commons to re-enchant our everyday lives – rekindling togetherness, trust, and hope.
So, the future is still self-organised. It must be. It offers multiple visions of a re-enchanted world that begin to form new realities and to develop complex, democratic networks of collective actions that do things differently and overcome centuries of injustices. Instead of centralised power, a self-organised future would be confederated and truly democratic. This is something we can start enacting now. Let’s start re-enchanting our lives by organising and celebrating our many alternatives now.