Giorgia Trasciani

Art will save the world! And who will save art?

Sunday January 2nd, 2022

Una manifestazione del 26 dicembre 2021 contro le chiusure dei luoghi della cultura a Bruxelles (NICOLAS MAETERLINCK / BELGA MAG / AFP)

From the disobedience in the cinemas of Brussels to the new restrictions for places of art and culture. A survey of the Belgian situation. “L’art souvera le monde!” used to shout the demonstrators, quoting Dostoevsky, filling the streets of Paris and shouting their anger against the decision to close cultural sites, just over a year ago. A year later, after deferred reopenings, millions spent by the structures to adapt to sanitary measures, sanitation and restrictions of various orders, the venues risk closing again. This is what is already happening in half of Europe in order to limit social contacts. First Denmark, followed by Holland, which on 17 December decided to sacrifice all 'non-essential businesses'. On 26 December it was the turn of Belgium, which, with the exception of museums that can remain open, is trying to shut down culture. The reaction was not long in coming in one of the countries of Europe where the cultural sector has been most active against this kind of treatment. #StillStanding For Culture had brought thousands of artists onto the streets, with more than 300 actions in hundreds of cities in Belgium. And once again on 26 December 2021, workers, accompanied by culture advocates, demonstrated. On a rainy Sunday afternoon in Mont des Arts, Brussels, they mobilised against the closure of indoor cultural activities. And the 'désobéissance culturelle' is organising itself. Since the announcement of the measures, December 22th, the announcements of 'résistance' have multiplied. For the moment, 81 cultural venues remain open in French-speaking Belgium. These are cinemas and theatres that have decided to keep the dates they had planned. The decision also divides the institutions. If the concertation committee - CODECO - is fully supported by the ministry and central institutions, some local authorities dissociate themselves, announcing that enforcement of the decision will not be carried out. Thus, police officers in the Brussels area will not carry out any checks in cinemas that decide to stay open this Sunday, while the Galeries, Kinograph, Palace and Vendôme cinemas in turn decide not to comply with government instructions and to stay open. A “revolution accomplished”, Thoreau might say, the subject refused obedience, and the public official did not comply. [caption id="attachment_314" align="alignnone" width="770"] ©Belga Photo Laurie Dieffembacq[/caption] A civil disobedience that takes strength from the contradictions that characterise political choices, not least the idea that art is defined as “non-essential”. Indeed, one wonders whether social contacts of all kinds are being restricted, or whether treatment is differentiated on the basis of the type of exchange between people. While shopping malls and shops are crowded for the last late Christmas shopping, cinemas, theatres, concert halls (the latter have hardly ever reopened) remain empty. Once again, the market logic, as Polanyi would define it, dominates, and takes precedence over the others and in particular over reciprocity. If everything is a market and the entire social complexity is reduced exclusively to the productive aspect, it was precisely the pandemic that showed us that through reciprocity and giving (the food collections, the volunteers who brought medicines to those who were sick and shut in their homes, the involuntary health volunteers who worked endless shifts) it was possible to resist, it was possible for a moment to think that everything could change and that another society could be imagined. Culture is not just a productive sector, it is not just entertainment. It is an integral part of our democracy, and of our being together. It is a form of expression and humanity, "it is the conquest of a higher consciousness, through which one is able to understand one's own historical value, one's own function in life, one's own rights and duties" (Gramsci). To quote Marcuse, in a society deprived of culture, the human imagination is defined within the perimeter of alienation. Man is then able to imagine only within the limits of the repetition of what has been seen and experienced. The free play of the creative imagination, an inexhaustible source of possibilities, is confined by the principle of performance, whose values it is called upon to reinforce. Perhaps then it is only by saving culture from commodification that we will save ourselves. Through a re-launch strategy based on new ways of supporting all workers in the sector, micro and small cultural enterprises, through a diversification of actions that pays attention to the territory and promotes access to culture in places where it has never been and where it is even more needed today, in order to feed a new imaginary.