In May 2012 the first New World Summit took place in the Sophiensaele theater in Berlin. Wooden Constructions hanged with colorful flags framed the circular space which became the stage of many different international political organizations, invited by Artist and founder Jonas Staal. All of those, are autonomous groups, currently listed on the so-called ‚international terrorist lists‘. One of them was Fadile Yildrim, a representative of the Kurdish women movement, an organization, founded on the principles of gender-equality, communal economy and self-governance. Speakers like Yildrim, fighting for a stateless and fundamental democracy, inspired Staal to continue the New World Summit, with the goal, to host every organization currently banned by the ‚Terrorist Lists‘. (Staal, 2012)
In Complaint!, Ahmed collects interviews and testomonies of people, challenging the power structures that institutions are reproducing. Similar to the book, the New World Summit becomes a complaint collective, where the stories of those who where silenced, are told. Through performance art, Staal forms an alternative parliament, where activists, diplomats and artists, otherwise excluded from democratic discourses, could present their work to an audience.
As an visual artist, Staal explores the relations between art, propaganda and democracy. He believes democracy to be limitless, at least in definition. In reality, secret committees like the Clearing House operate in secret, and have the power to single-handedly dismiss political groups as terroristic. Outside the public eye, they decide who gets the right to speak, to participate and who not. An inherently undemocratic practice, which is influenced by diplomatic prejudices and personal gain of nations and governments. But what if the political models, of blacklisted groups „are more democratic than capitalist-democracy itself?“ (Staal, 2019) In that case, Staal argues, „their threat is primarily ideological.“ (Staal, 2019) This ideology of the capitalist-democracy is described by him as „democratism“, a democracy that is stagnant and „ideological of administration and governance“ (Staal, 2013, P. 73). It is a democracy where organizations, fighting for liberation and equality, like the Kurdish women movement, can be silenced by one committee to keep up their status quo. But if we think of the Clearing House comittee as merely a tool for reproducing power structures, the state/nation is the one who builds those power structures. „Power works by making it hard to challenge how power works.” (Ahmed 2021, P 125), Ahmed writes in her book. In her sense, political organizations, like the ones mentioned are, in the eyes of democratism, complainers. By challenging the power structure build by the state, they become the problem, not the structure they were complaining about. Institutions like the Clearing House are silencing complainers by cutting them off from public discourse and from their access to resources. “Power is not simply what complaints are about; power shapes what happens when you complain.” (Ahmed, 2021, P 24) Challenging power structures by not participating in the reproduction of the violence and harassment of that structure, that violence gets redirected towards oneself. ”If escalation can be another method of stopping a complaint, escalation includes not only the increase of force but the denial of force.” (Ahmed, 2021, P 135). The violence directed towards the complainer takes place behind „institutional blinds“ (Ahmed, 2021), away from the public eye, or is justified by declaring the complainer as a thread to democracy. Either way, the complaint is contained or shut outfrom the institution, to protects itself, its reputation and of course, its status quo. Democratism creates it‘s own narrative about a democratic and positive environment, by dividing people into „us“ versus „them“, turning „them“ into threads to the system. The New World Summit aims to „redefine who exactly is “Us” and who is “Them” (Staal, 2019). Staal puts together those alternative parliaments of organizations labeled terrorists, to „structurally oppose a series of monopolies“ that he describes as „the pillars of democratist politics.“ ( Staal, 2013, P 76)In the chapter „Mind The Gap!“ (Complaint, 2021), Ahmed talks about the gap between what the institution appears to be and what the actual experience inside the institution really is. Looking closely, democratism acts against the core principles of democracy, which it is stating to protect, by controlling what information is publicly available and which not, therefore controlling the flow of information. Ahmed also writes about control of the flow of information“ as an „effort to stop a complaint“. (Ahmed, 2021, P 98) Art is a medium to transport information and can therefore be used as a political tool by the institution itself, but also, against it. By using art‘s relative autonomous position in politics and society, the New World Summit brings back the information, hidden and contained by democratism, back into the public eye. Staal opens up spaces for political speakers, in an effort to answer the question. „how, from the perspective of an artist’s practice, to use the discursive space opened by Institutional Critique“. (Staal, 2013, P 76)Art is how we can express complaint, even bypassing existing anti-terrorist laws:
„I propose a pedagogy of fundamental democracy as its counterpoint, aimed at teaching how to liberate democracy from the state, The revolutionary tool called „art“ will be the weapon to bring this pedagogy into practice and fight the representatives of democratism passionatly.“ (Art After Democratism, 2013, P 254)
Ahmed, S. (2021). Complaint! (1. Aufl.). Duke University Press.
Staal, J. (2012). New World Summit-Berlin. Jonas Staal. Abgerufen am 3. Januar 2022, von http://www.jonasstaal.nl/projects/new-world-summit-berlin/
Staal, J. (2013). Art After Democratism: The Pedagogy Of The New World Summit. In Pedagogies Of Disaster (S. 247–255). Department of Eagles.