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Symposium and Discussion on carnivalesque strategies

ZURICH, SITZERLAND.- The F + F school of art and media design, the Shedhalle and the STH (department of theory studies of design and art at the academy for design and art in Zurich) present SYMPOSIUM and DISKUSSION on carnivalesque strategies in the media and as a form of activist practices: Shedhalle, Saturday, 11 December, 2004, 15.00 - 19.00.

Participants: Minerva Cuevas (Mexico City); Marcelo Expósito (Barcelona); Brian Holmes (Paris); Sabine Kock (Vienna); and Matthias Rothe (Frankfurt/Oder). The symposium is presented in conjunction with the first chapter of the thematic project series series entitled Spectacle, Pleasure Principle or the Carnivalesque? The point of departure for this project is a re-reading of Michail M. Bachtin’s text Literatur und Karneval. Bachtin analyzes the influences of the medieval culture of laughter and the popular traditions of the carnivalesque on literature. In his theory of the novel, he proposes that the carnivalesque is a means of “turning the world upside-down and thus suspending the prevailing order and all forms of fear, reverence, piety and etiquette that have emerged from it”. In Bachtin’s view, laughter and the carnivalesque are defence mechanisms that enable people to undermine external and above all internal constraints and censorship and, at least temporarily and symbolically, to expose a subconsciously perceived “popular truth” that opens up an entirely new avenue of access to the world. Although Bachtin’s analysis is limited to the sphere of literature, the text was banned from publication in the Stalinist Soviet Union because the powers-that-be saw it as a potential threat to public order. Even though actual carnival was limited to a very specific point in time and was thus an ephemeral phenomenon per se, and even though “no limits were imposed on laughter itself – as long as it remained laughter”, i.e. as long as it could not be associated with specific political demands, the liberating, utopian aspect of the carnivalesque was feared nonetheless.

Activists and artists have long been interested in the carnivalesque as a mode of expression for political and social criticism and resistance. Prominent examples include the “fun guerrillas” and the “Global Carnival against Capital” organized by Reclaim the Streets and other groups, an action that took place during a G8 summit of the heads of state of the eight leading industrialized nations on June 18, 1999.

The carnivalesque can, on the one hand, exert a stabilizing influence on existing systems of order by virtue of its safety-valve function, and it is also appropriated and/or produced by the fun society as mere spectacle. On many believe the other hand, that there can be no revolution without pleasure or the liberating utopian potential of the carnivalesque. In view of this inherent dialectic of the carnivalesque, questions arise as to the efficiency of this mode of expression as a means of achieving political aims.

The symposium addresses these questions from scientific, artistic and activist perspectives and examines the possibilities offered by carnivalesque strategies in the media as a form of activist practices that relates directly, in both institutional and non-institutional contexts, to the field of cultural production. The question of the roles of intervention and the symbolic in the field of artistic work is open to discussion.

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