The rise and, particularly, the fall of “alter-worldism” in the first decade of the new millenium brought about an unexpected neo-institutionalist political imagination in European social movements, perhaps as a deferred action of the virtualities of the “general intellect” revealed around 1968. Meanwhile, public institutions, our museums and universities among them, were trapped in the governance of an opaque mass of individualized subjects, being their sustainability underscored by the very neoliberal regime they were obliged to serve.
The unbearable awareness of living “on the edge” and in a state of structural crisis made some cultural institutions look around and recognize in the questions on institutionality contemporarily raised by social movements a possible raison d’etre, an ultimate life saver against “zombification”. Some contemporary cultural agents found in this radical imagination an echo of the promises of emancipation of 20th century avant-garde movements, as well as a luminous horizon towards which to look up in a time when they were obliged to keep their eyes on their feet as the floor was cracking beneath.
Alliances were held and projects were developed in which “monstrous institutions”, as movement structures called themselves, and “progressive institutions”, as our museums were usually called, improvised and negotiated a common ground for action. On our side, this probably happened due to the increasingly thin and fragile walls of contemporary institutions and the proverbial ambivalence of artists, academics and curators, who were seldom becoming a sort of double agents. On the side of the movements, this was seen as a way out from previous cul de sac and as a step forward in the longer term task of building new institutions.
Even if general pesimism may obscure our diagnosis of the present, the violence of the current situation seems to problematize severely the viability, although not the urgent need, of both instituent processes and institutional transformations, at least as we imagined them when we conceived “the uses of art” five years ago. On the other hand, the instensification of budget cuts, bureaucratic control and cultural wars tend to make of contemporary institutions either complicit instruments of power or suspicious conspirators against a vulnerable social order, within a black or white logic. Our cherised ambivalence has definitively lost its grounds.
As long as this “state of war” is going on, may we assume conspiracy as a plausible logic for action? in such a case, should we encourage an “art of conspiracy”? with whom should/could we conspirate? with which purpose? how would this conspiratory attitude affect our definition as institutions?