Ten thousand wiles and a hundred thousand tricks

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Meeting Points is a multidisciplinary contemporary arts festival focusing on contextualised presentations of art from the Arab World. The 7th edition of Meeting Points is a series of successive exhibitions, taking place from September 2013 to June 2014 in several cities of Europe, Asia and the Arab World: Zagreb, Antwerp, Hong Kong, Moscow, Beirut, Cairo and Vienna. In comparison with previous versions of Meeting Points, this sequence of exhibitions takes a step out of the Arab World – in terms of the cities where they take place, the list of participating artists and the general stance to refrain from national or regional representation.

This is very much to do with timing. The process of organising Meeting Points 7 coincided with the aftermath of the popular rebellion that has been shaking the Arab World since 2011, and also with the rise of various other social movements across the world. The last two years have been a time of intense public discussion about the existing social and economic system.

The events that took place, and continue to take place, have been celebrated as indications that political movements of a new kind – without hegemonic organisation or charismatic leadership – are emerging, promising alternative routes to emancipation. Yet these have also been decried as failed revolutions, allowing for speedy conservative restoration through an intact coercive apparatus, or, even worse, descending into chaos and ethnic and religious strife.

The recent uprisings in the Arab World are of specific interest within the narrative of progressive revolutions in the 20th century. Although their ultimate political outcomes are to be assessed, they reopened the question of how to think revolutions historically and politically – a question that had been suppressed for decades by neoliberalism after the defeats suffered by the leading oppositional ideologies. The Arab revolutions have also functioned as test-sites for the sharing of new political experiences across geographies.

The title of this exhibition is a quote from the revolutionary philosopher Frantz Fanon’s book Wretched of the Earth, written in 1961 as a reflection on Algeria’s liberation from French colonial rule, whose title, in turn, quotes the opening lines of the Internationale, the song of the world workers’ movement.

Fanon’s reflections on the anti-colonial struggle, his unforgivingly critical analysis of how nationalist movements behave once they are in power, his assessment of violence, the central importance he assigns to class struggle, his characterisation of the urbanised Lumpenproletariat as the “spearhead of the revolutionary movement”, his endorsement of international consciousness against the exclusiveness of identity politics, and of organisational structures as safeguards against the “pitfalls of spontaneity” – all this might be fruitfully employed for assessing not only the recent mass mobilisation in the Arab World, but also the events unfolding internationally since the beginning of capitalism’s latest structural crisis.

As an exhibition title, the phrase Ten thousand wiles and a hundred thousand tricks refers only indirectly to Fanon’s analysis of the passage from colonialism to neo-colonialism and the transformation of anti-colonial revolutionaries into the administrators of a post-colonial order, but it does use his insight to assess the role of middle classes in today’s movements and configurations, including the new globalised class of artists, curators and intellectuals. Similarly, the “wiles and tricks” make us think of the many creative counterstrategies for exposing, recycling and subverting oppressive infrastructures, which have erupted in recent protests and uprisings and forged new alliances between political activism and aesthetic gestures. Yet the exhibition itself is not an attempt to highlight or archive these outstanding episodes of our time. “Wiles and tricks”, rather, allude to the ever-shifting ground of complex, unfinished social processes that we see in the Arab revolutions and in the current radical reconfiguration of capitalist development throughout the world.

Ten thousand wiles and a hundred thousand tricks forays into the interwoven topics of revolution and counter-revolution, agency and co-optation, in an attempt to show how the waves of hope rise and sink again – the rhythm of expectation and disappointment. It does so in an attempt to point out our need for stubbornness and endurance in critical times, and to claim our right to optimism, wrestling it back from the language of advertising so that it may once again offer us new alternatives and perspectives.

Elaborating degrees of identity and difference between the past and the present, the exhibition adjusts to the specific geographies and histories in which it will be realised. It juxtaposes recent works by contemporary artists and filmmakers with historical positions. At M HKA both these aspects of the exhibition are illuminated by a selection of works from the museum’s collection. A variety of artworks are presented within an exhibition format imagined as a forum for critical pedagogy. Ten thousand wiles and a hundred thousand tricks believes in the explanatory power of images across cultures and time and understands the realm of images as a social location capable of mobilising ideas.

 

What, How & for Whom / WHW