Rehearsing Freedom

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Why should we discuss the question of freedom within the condition of neo-liberal societies? Is the question of freedom still relevant after all emancipatory movements in 20th century, after the fall of Berlin wall, after global march of democracy, last but not least after postmodernist denial of utopian thinking?

We propose understanding of freedom as a process. Freedom is not a state. It is a dynamic set of relations in societies. Democratic societies are based on the protection of different rights including the right of free movement of people, religious, scientific and artistic expression. These rights are unquestionable and guaranteed to citizens of democratic regimes. But freedom as a set of relations in societies is always to be reinvented. At the very core of freedom is a constant questioning of its borders. Art through its history has been very sensitive exactly on that issue.  Freedom is constantly rehearsed, meaning is invented, reinvented, tried out, abandoned, shaped, formatted, reformatted, improved, confronted … everything that we can say about a rehearsal process we can also say about freedom.

Art is considered as one of the last fields or subsystems of free expression in neoliberal societies. All the other fields have been heavily regulated, mainly by the logic of capital as well as by the protection of the free flow of capital. Public space is increasingly privatized and the issues raised in the public space are more and more driven by capital. The same goes for mass media and for scientific research, which are all driven by the interests of the owners.

How then does art operate in these conditions of the shrinking space of free expression? As artists and professionals in the field, we have much easier access to the media and public space than most of the population. How do we deal with this?  Are we actually the only opposition of our time? How do we understand, condition, rehearse, stage and communicate freedom?

The question of freedom is also culturally and geopolitically conditioned. Do we, outside of the “West”, understand freedom in the same way? Is Western democracy the ultimate model of a free society, or is it the least bad of the existing ones? Does the “rehearsing freedom” concept come only from “young democracies”?  And last but not least, how much is artistic freedom conditioned by safety and related regulations, by the dictate of mobility which strongly influences standardization of production modes and dictates artists’ pragmatic mental patterns (“suitcase performances”)?

Janez Jansa
Maska, www.maska.si

Dossier with articles by MA DeVlieg, J Jansa, B Kunst, JP Saez, M Stamenkovic, pp 57 – 81, in L’Observatoire des Politiques Culturelles, N° 33, May 2008.

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