Human microphones, neighbourhood assemblies, camps in public space, mass protests organised through digital media – the first half of this decade has seen many new forms and ways of assembling. Most of these assemblies took place in the name of ‘real democracy’, with ‘real democracy’ not being a fixed political program but rather a new practice of getting together and of sharing, that seemed to constantly reflect on its performative protocols and media strategies. Since the year 2000 new forms of political gatherings have also been an important focus in the arts. With projects like Christoph Schlingensief’s Chance 2000, the exhibition Making Things Public. Atmospheres of Democracy by Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel or LIGNAS participatory Radioballets reclaiming public space we have witnessed the development of an experimental art of assembling. The Hamburg based live art collective geheimagentur has taken part in this research for more than a decade. In this context “The art of being many” has initially been the title of a position paper written by geheimagentur for the International Forum of the Theatertreffen Berlin in 2008. In this paper geheimagentur analyzed and criticized current strategies of audience participation in terms of their economical, political and aesthetical implications. For a long time the copresence of a public audience in one place was understood simply as the basic premise of performance and theatre. But with the development of participatory performance art the form of the assembly turned from a premise into an experimental setup: If and how a public assembly emerges as part of a specific performance became a core question of participatory art. In other words - in art and activism the assembly as such has been revisited, redefined and reclaimed as the basic mode of political participation. On these grounds “The Art of Being Many” became a research project aiming to collect experiences and knowledge produced by these innovative practices and experiments.
In September 2014 artists, activists, researchers and participants from all over Europe and beyond gathered in Hamburg, Germany, for an assembly of assemblies. Sharing experiences from real democracy movements and artistic experimentation they came to explore new ways of gathering: collective insights into the materiality, the timing, the agenda, the desires and the catastrophes of being many. This book presents some of the outcomes of this gathering. However, the following texts are not supposed to archive what happened at the Hamburg get-together and to draw up the balance. By putting together theories of assembling, materials taken from the event as well as reflections on the contexts from which „The Art of Being Many“ came into being, we rather aim to contribute to the art of being many, to a new theory and practice of gathering as an ongoing research program.
Eds geheimagentur, Martin Jörg Schäfer, Vassilis S. Tsianos
geheimagentur is an open collective working in Performance Art, Cultural Studies, and activism. Martin Jörg Schäfer teaches Literature and Performance Studies at the University of Hamburg, Germany. Vassilis S. Tsianos teaches sociology at the University for Applied Sciences Kiel, Germany.