e-flux journal issue 119: “The Collective Body”

e-flux journal issue 119: “The Collective Body”

e-flux journal

Marta Popivoda, Yugoslavia: How Ideology Moved Our Collective Body (still), 2013. Documentary, 61 minutes.

June 16, 2021
e-flux journal issue 119: “The Collective Body”

guest-edited by Zdenka Badovinac

with Ana Dević; Iskra Geshoska; iLiana Fokianaki; Oxana Timofeeva; Ivana Bago; Agata Adamiecka-Sitek; Neylan Bağcıoğlu, Merve Elveren, Görkem İmrek, Saliha Yavuz, and the Omuz Dictionary Group; Nikolett Erőss; Ana Vujanović; Azra Akšamija; Jela Krečič; Bojana Piškur; and Raluca Voinea

The Covid-19 pandemic has attacked not only our individual bodies, but our collective body as well. Through thirteen contributions by writers who are mostly from former socialist countries where the space of freedom is contracting once again, this special issue of e-flux journal asks what this collective body actually means, and what it has become.

These changes are not only happening in Europe’s former socialist countries. Something similar is also occurring in Greece and Turkey, where two essays in the issue originate. This is not to say that all is well elsewhere, that democracy is thriving in Western Europe and North America, for example. On the contrary, we see similar processes throughout the world—heightened surveillance through digital technology, expanding capitalism, hatred towards those who are other or different, populist movements growing stronger, an increasing number of authoritarian leaders.

What distinguishes the East and South of Europe from the economically powerful West is, among other things, the fact that these countries have failed to build a modern system of public institutions where experienced leaders have the deciding vote. They lack the long tradition of strong democratic mechanisms that should offer protection from the capriciousness of whoever is in power. At the same time, the various governments that have come to power since the fall of socialism have shown no interest in socialism’s democratic roots, which were very much alive in some places. Today, these countries are dominated by a brutal pact between neoliberalism and authoritarianism, with no end in sight. In this formation, collaborators from the Second World War are given legitimacy while socialism and its symbols are demonized. And, like everywhere else in the world today, the people in these countries are being brainwashed by a bombardment of information, important and trivial, true and fake, that they no longer even react to, let alone take a position on.

Despite the growing absence of clear discernment and reflection, resistance is building in the streets. The protests during the pandemic have not only been a way to stand up to power; they have also been massive cultural events. We now witness a return of the old Eastern European methods of inserting politics into every pore of public life—including public institutions, their staffing, and their content. When corruption, nationalism, and the power of institutional religion are all on the rise, when patriarchal values are again prevailing and anti-immigrant policies are sowing fear, and when governments are minimizing environmental problems, we also see a growing number of resistance movements organizing, which give birth to an alternative collective body.

To give readers a better sense of the voice of difference in this part of the world, I invited only women to write for this issue. Women, after all, are at the heart of many of the protests taking place throughout Central-Eastern and Southern Europe. They are victims of the new authoritarian pressures, but also important agents of transformation. These writers portray a climate of division between the memory of the great social ideas that once guided and connected us in a collective body, and the twin forces of nationalism and neoliberalism that each, in its own way, tears what we once called society into pieces.

In order to speak of a society, there must be a prevailing sense of comradeship and mutual solidarity among people. Otherwise, we can only speak of private interests. People are social beings, and today, when we spend most of our time isolated in our homes, what we miss most of all is the touch and immediate closeness of others. But our isolation is being preyed upon by those who want to make money off us, who exploit our pain to bolster their power. The women assembled in this issue write about how our collective body is shaped not only by our desire for closeness and care for others, but also by our fears, our disappointments, and our subordination. Especially today, when authoritarian politicians try to unite us under various populist movements and again attack international solidarity with ideas about “the national body” and “traditional identities,” we need to stand up for the collective body in its constant process of emergence and transformation … [continue reading]

—Zdenka Badovinac


Ana Dević—Bones, Muscles, and Connective Tissue: Tales of Collectivity
For more than a half century, the Yugoslav collective body performed enormous ideological and metabolic work, and became exhausted. Rescued from the dustbin of history, it was turned into an “ur” collective body that neoliberal capitalism and the twenty-first century tore limb from limb—dismembering the collective body. Everyone took a piece—museums, galleries, archives, books. Where that collective body once stood is now an empty stage—which also means that new beginnings are possible. How can we build our collective body anew?

Iskra Geshoska—The Collective Alice, or, on Fear, Death, Multitudes, and Pain
How to create a community within the arena of biopower without killing off the individual? How to create a collective, and not some zombifying crowdedness, while living in a democracy that is currently being transformed into a discursive category debated at conferences? How to create a body, a Hamletian body that will stand against and redefine the imposed lie of capitalism, of injustice?

iLiana Fokianaki—A Bureau for Self-Care: Interdependence versus Individualism
With the industrial revolution, curing and caring for oneself took an individualist turn: it became a private affair for the privileged. Self-care was turned into a sign of cultural sophistication for the Western imperialist class.

Oxana Timofeeva—Rathole: Beyond the Rituals of Handwashing
Covid-19 probably has its own ratholes, which our society tries to block with the help of protective masks and sanitizers. If recent psychotherapeutic treatment for OCD aims at correcting the symptoms of the disease, the task of Freud’s psychoanalysis was to find its cause. Freud’s rat is a medium, biting through the walls the boy tried to hide his desire behind, breaking through the cordon sanitaire of his misplaced affections. A rathole is a break, a crack in a disciplinary blockade.

Ivana Bago—The Autoimmune Condition: A Report on History
I propose that we view the autoimmune condition both as a medical diagnosis and a heuristic, periodizing device, whose etiological impasse encapsulates the symptoms of the planetary crises of today, and at the same time activates a mounting pressure, and desire, to overcome them.

Agata Adamiecka-Sitek—Polish Autumn: Body Politics and a New Subject
The bodies that filled the streets of Polish towns and cities in the fall of 2020 created transversal connections and grassroots institutions. Artists were part of this great creative collective too. In particular, their work supported the communication strategies of the protests.

Neylan Bağcıoğlu, Merve Elveren, Görkem İmrek, Saliha Yavuz, and the Omuz Dictionary Group—OMUZ
Omuz is a new solidarity network in Turkey that came into existence shortly after the worldwide lockdowns in early spring 2020. A few days after the first Covid case was “officially” announced in Turkey, a small group of art professionals began seeking financial support for art practitioners who lost their secondary jobs, which had been their primary sources of income. 

Nikolett Erőss—Triple Braid, or, What Gives Us Reason to Hope?
Is there a need for a Roma museum of contemporary art? Who would shape its collections, and according to what criteria? Is it possible to avoid the traps of stereotypical representation? How would such a collection represent the civil rights and emancipatory struggles of the Roma people, along with the historical and present-day contexts of these efforts?

Ana Vujanović—The Collective Body of the Pandemic: From Whole to (Not) All
Nothing makes more sense today than to revamp the social imaginary of our collective body. That body is in danger. It is under attack by other species. It is wounded. Its immunity has to be built. It has to be taken care of. It should heal. And it can only heal collectively. At the same time, nothing seems less probable.

Azra Akšamija—Future Heritage?
Considering the unprecedented existential threats posed by climate change, the scarcity of resources, and the ever-increasing number of forcefully displaced people that at this point have surpassed eighty million worldwide, we must ask ourselves which type of future heritage we want to build today. Is the T-shelter really the best we can offer to protect the bodies of displaced people in the present and in the future?

Jela Krečič—Cancelling Art: From Populists to Progressives
It has become abundantly clear how “politically correct” discourse and the sensibilities of so-called “cancel culture” have become tools of the art-system hierarchy, enhancing an image of museums’ self-doubt and self-reflection. As much writing by contemporary activists and theorists of black liberation show, this is only a cosmetic reaction.

Bojana Piškur—Trees, More-Than-Human Collectives
We need to learn from trees and forests. We need to practice a politics of solidarity with nonhumans. Without this understanding, the only common ground that humans and nonhumans will have is a planetary future without us. 

Raluca Voinea—Countryside Roads
The image of clusters of trees frozen in time, disconnected from their former environment, could not be more appropriate as a metaphor for how advanced desertification is engulfing our collective soul and draining its sap.

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