WWW³ (WORLD WIDE WEB / WILD WO.MEN WITCHES / WORLD WITHOUT WORK) is a cycle of research and creation I undertook in 2017. On the theoretical level, the question that animates me is “How can magic and post-capitalism be intertwined to help us manifest the future?” But as this is a project based on the creation and production of a corpus of artworks, I have a subsequent question: “Can art occurrences (be it exhibitions, workshops, laboratories, performance events, open studios, reading groups, or else) be facilitating the propagation and activate the sharing of various postcapitalist ideas and theories?”. And this, always from the perspective of my feminist art practice.
As I have noticed during my last cycle of research, which focused on the figure of the witch as a feminist figure, the disenchantment of the world - witch hunts and colonization of the so-called “New-World" were the most violent and efficient of its manifestations - have mainly served the interests of capitalism and patriarchy. Despite what Marx says and the general admission of a slow process of the advent of capitalism that would then gain its full form in the nineteenth century, I tend to agree with what Sylvia Federici demonstrates in Caliban and the witch: Women, the Body, and Primitive Accumulation (2004): the horrible European witch hunts matched a transition from a feudal regime to a capitalist one. This transition was effective through, for one thing, the privatization of communal lands and the expropriation of peasantry, which led to the new obligation for people who were formerly serfs to become "salaried workers". This, of course - and this is still the case today if we think of austerity measures - impacted women even more than it impacted man. If in the 14th century women received half of a man’s pay, by the 16th century, they would receive a third. That transition also brought a more advanced form of oppressions on the bodies of women, who then became the main producers of the labour power, by given birth to it (through birth labour) and caring for it (through domestic labour and carework).
[T]his process required the transformation of the body into a work-machine and the subjugation of women to the reproduction of the workforce. Most of all, it requires the destruction of the power of women which, in Europe as in America, was achieved through the extermination of the “witches”1.
Thenceforward, women have been quasi-entirely excluded from the social spaces and confined to the domestic ones. This domestication was accompanied by a control over their bodies and their reproductive functions. Rulers of the new mercantile capitalist states realized that the number of citizens was the main element that determined a nation’s wealth: more people equal more workforce and more armed force. This particular point is, according to Federici, the main reasons for the witch hunts, since the witches were the one people would turn to, to prevent pregnancy, either to happen or to be carried to term.
Federici also points out that capitalism needed to "disenchant" the world to achieve efficiency and predict the pace of capital production and accumulation. Therefore, for me magic and witchcraft have could have a link to a postcapitalism world, even if only because magic and witchcraft have a strong link with the pre-capitalist world.
I think of magic - and the enchanted state of the world that was active before the shift of paradigm that had put reason as a supreme value, contemporarily to the witch hunts - most of all as a means of imagination and action. And those are exactly what I believe we need in order to overcome this late stage of capitalism: imagination and action.
For instance, in Dreaming the Dark. Magic, Sex and Politics ((1992) 2015), the witch, writer, teacher and activist Starhawk says that magic is: "the art of changing consciousness at will”. She adds: "According to this conception, magic includes politics, which aims at the change of consciousness and, consequently, and therefore conduct change itself. [...] Magic can be very prosaic. A leaflet, a lawsuit, a demonstration or a strike can change the consciences.2"
Another interesting point of view on the question is the one brought by the activist and editor Pierre Pignare and the chemist and now sociologist Isabelle Stenger in their book La sorcellerie capitaliste – Pratiques de désenvoûtement3 (2007). Their thesis, following Starhawk and other reclaiming witches4 ideas, is that we have inherited a culture that has rejected pre-capitalist knowledge to the point that “we are bewitched people who don’t believe in bewitchment”. They believe that in order to resist – and defeat the bewitchment – communities need not to merely report the horrors of capitalism, but to develop thinking and ideas, produce their own knowledge and create alternative imaginaries.
In a slightly different line of ideas, the philosopher Federico Campagna, in Technic and Magic: The Reconstruction of Reality opposes two reality-systems. On the one hand, the reality-system of technic, which is the hegemonic one of our times, and is mainly what supports finance and economics, science, production, etc. It shapes we consider being part (or not) of history and, even reality. On the other hand, he proposes to analyze the alternative reality-system of magic. For Campagna, the magic reality-system is a form of “world-making imagination5”.
While participating in a discussion about magic with Jean-Luc Nancy and Timothy Morton in the documentary film The rare Event6, Campagna says :
“I was thinking that an interesting way to look at magic is to see it in the context of what it does. Usually, it emerges, I think, as a “necessity magic”, when the sense of reality starts to slip. Reality starts to disintegrate as a fact - so the extreme form of metaphysical nihilism – and then magic does something which is, as you said it doesn’t work with power as such but, it does one fundamental thing, which is regrounds reality onto itself; recreates it. It always has a cosmogonic aspect to it. It’s always about the recreation of the reality, and thus, the recreation of a certain ground where certain things are possible.7”
I believe this definition can apply to and to art and creation as well. Campagna himself is opposing poetry to the reality-system of technic (which is ruled by descriptive language), therefore associating it with magic. Could it be that artists have a specific “power” on the world that is particular to them? A power of imagination, that would eventually enable some deconstruction of reality in order to “reground” it? In other terms – and in an apparently very simplistic though: could artists be considered as (some of) the magicians of the 21st century?
I see at the moment that, in addition to a tradition of women and queers appropriating the figure of the witch in the art realm - as well as outside of it - in the 70’s and 80’s; and in addition to a strong contemporary comeback of this very empowering type of appropriation (AA Bronson, Jesse Jones, Johannes Paul Raether, Adelita Husni-Bey, Camille Ducelier, Juliana Huxtable, FASTWÜRM, etc.), magic is also more and more perceive as a tool for political thinking, action and change within the art world itself. For instance, at the last Venice biennale one could both witness Jesse Jones’s piece Tremate! Tremate! (Tremble! Tremble!), where the witch dance was used as a “political myth for socialist-feminism” and the exhibition Il mondo magico curated by Cecilia Alemani in the Italian Pavilion. In regard of what interests us here The reading/La sedute from Adelita Husni-Bey was the most revealing work comprised in the exhibition. The video-installation documents a Tarot workshop that took place with a group of teenagers in New York. The Tarot cards were designed by Husni-Bey as the following major arcanas: Extraction, Soil, The Ongoing End, Dirt, Vulnerability, Value, The Colony, Abstract Threat, Simulation, Real Threat. The reading was then discussed in relation to Standing Rock protests (where an Indigenous tribe fought to protect their land from an extraction company, which started in 2016), and in collaboration with the theorist, indigenous representative, or artist guests who came to talk about those topics to the teenagers to enlight the reading.
As to complete the loop, Adelita Husni-Bey says to have been influenced by the reading of Capagna’s work, and also by Sylvia Federici Caliban and the Witch. Which doesn’t come as a surprise because this book is a very strong bridge between capitalism and our relation to magic.
Interestingly enough, Federici has also spent the last 40 years thinking about wages for housework. In Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle (2012), which regroup texts written between 1974 and 2012, she theorizes the nature of housework and reproductive work, and discuss ways to reconstruct our relationship with them it in ways that provide an alternative to capitalist relations.
As for theories on exiting capitalism and postcapitalism itself, I have been gathering and reading a number of texts. Most of them have in common the interrogation of work and the crisis in the work world, ecological and social concerns, and a call for the left to appropriate new technologies. And they all call, unsurprisingly, for a post-work world.
In La sortie du capitalisme a déjà commencé8 (2007), the philosopher André Gorz states that the objectives put forward by the governments and political parties are unreal diversion only masking the fact that capitalism is incapable of offering a future. While underlying the work crisis and the environmental destruction, Gorz suggests that the merchant imaginary - which is the belief that one needs to be submissive to a work that is sold to an employer, and to buying the necessary goods with the money gain through this work – makes us unable to envision an exit from Capitalism. Nevertheless, Gorz also state that the exit from capitalism is already in action - if only because the system is collapsing, warning that if we do not appropriate commonly this exit, chances are it manifest itself under a violent “war socialism” aspect, imposed along with rationing, and restrictions. But he proposes that autoproductivity, open source and free software and other forms of creative commons can be used as tools to appropriate the exit from capitalism
Those ideas resemble the ones present in Post-Capitalism: A Guide to Our Future (2016), where the economist Paul Mason describes the emergence of what he sees as a new economic paradigm supported by the rapid evolution of information technologies and information goods. For Mason, this information economy towards which we tend could contribute, if we act on it as a collective society to call into question the structure of the current economy and the late capitalism. His argument is that information goods are not "rival" goods. They can therefore be consumed by several people at the same time, unlike the material goods that they are rivals. Thus, two people cannot smoke the same half of a cigarette, but can listen to the same mp3 file. According to Paul Mason, this could contribute to the overcoming of capitalism.
For him: " «Postcapitalism would be a state in economics where the majority of stuff is produced outside the market, cheaply or for free by people whose work is not primarily rewarded by wages against the hours they’ve worked. » " (Ideas, April 06, 2016)
This is one of the reasons why universal basic income is considered as a post-capitalism issue by several authors. In Inventing the Future. Post-Capitalism and a World Without Work (2015) and Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek's propose that post-capitalism would be a world where technology is reclaimed for the people in order to face the work crisis. Already known for their “Accelerationist Manifesto,” that argues for the co-opting by the left of the new technologies within capitalism, in order to accelerate its inevitable crash, they now suggest that every task would be automated and that the world would become a world without work. This would go along with the implementation of a real universal basic income. The working title of my project - WWW³ (WORLD WIDE WEB / WILD WO.MEN WITCHES / WORLD WITHOUT WORK) - is in part inspired by this book.
In The Problem With Work. Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics and Postwork Imaginaries. (2011) Kathi Weeks, from her stance of radical feminism - that also puts the gendered roles of man breadwinning and the women householding in question - follows Gorz in analyzing the power relations, the (im)possibilities of imaginative projects, and the life subordinated to work. Kathi Weeks call for a post-work future and puts forward utopian demands that resonate with those of Srnicek and Williams.
The alternative feminist point of view I have nourished in my precedent research, and the unveiling of authority mechanism on what we admit as the truth, the rational, the academically valid or commonly accepted ideas has left me ready to imagine other sets of possibilities for the future. I do believe that we have to change our perspective on the world, if we even want to have a future. And I call that “magic” might as well be this new perspective we need. This might seem naïve (I believe it isn’t), but simplicity might be very efficient at certain moments.
My art praxis consists in interrogating diverse existing knowledge – be they historical, socio-political, economic, etc. In an inclusive and feminist perspective, I am particularly interested in minority and dominated knowledge, that are being made invisible in those greater field of knowledge. I consider witchcraft, for instance, as one of those dominated (almost eradicated) knowledge.
In order to bring a fluid relationship between intellectual experience and artistic experience, I create my pieces on the basis of what I discover or learn through all the theoretical research. The art pieces can then refer directly to certain knowledge or ideas, sometimes it becomes a pretext to discuss that certain knowledge or idea. Sometimes it’s very clear to the viewer where the piece comes from, sometimes not that much, but it always is created on the basis of what I have uncovered by my research. My installations and performances aim to be spaces where those specific ideas can be shared through lectures, discussions, informational clues, or other forms of sharing it, in an attempt to reclaim some power as a collectivity.
So “How are magic and postcapitalism intertwined?” For a start of a hypothesis, I believe that the enchanted state of the world – what I would situate before the witch hunts of early modern Europe - is a pre-capitalist state, so it would be fair to imagine that it could also be summoned back to be part of a postcapitalist state of the world too.
As for the second question I spoke of earlier, “Can art occurrences be facilitating the propagation and activate the sharing of various postcapitalist ideas and theories?” I would at this stage simply state that I have a strong intuition that yes. Furthermore, I believe it is for me the best way to do so, at the moment. Art could be an ideal “inventing” method; an ideal magic method, if you will.
1 FEDERICI, Sylvia, Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body, and Primitive Accumulation, Brooklyn, Automedia, 2004, p. 63
2 STARHAWK, Rêver l’obscure, femmes, magie et politique, Paris, Cambourakis. Coll. Sorcières, 2015 (1982), p. 39. (Personal translation from the French quotation)
3 The capitalist Sorcery – Practices for Defeating Bewitchment (personal translation)
4 Reclaiming witches is an organization of modern feminist witchcraft that aims to combine the goddess movement (which is as wide as including both spirituality and scholar research on the prehistorical goddesses oriented religions) with political and grassroot movements, like for instance anti-nuclear or anti-capitalism.
5 PASQUINELLI, Teodora, On magic, Arte e Critica n°90, September 2017.
6 The Rare Event is a 48 min color documentary, with Tuomo Tuovinen (Green Man), Etienne Balibar, Federico Campagna, Timothy Morton, Jean-Luc Nancy, Elizabeth Povinelli, Gayatri Spivak, Dorothea Van Hantelman, Manthia Diawara. It was commissioned by LUMA Foundation and directed by Ben Rivers and Ben Russell (A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness (2013)) that world premiered at the Berlinale last February.
7 CAMPAGNA, Federico, in RIVERS, ben and Ben Russell (Direction), The Rare Event, Switzerland / France / United Kingdom, 2018, 48 Min. Transcript.
8 The Exit from Capitalism Has Already Begun (Personal translation).
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