Weed and the practice of freedom

— Claire Fontaine

“True, the weed produces no lilies, no battleships, no Sermons on the Mount…Eventually the weed gets the upper hand […] the lily is beautiful, the cabbage is provender, the poppy is maddening—but the weed is rank growth…: it points a moral.”1
Henry Miller, Hamlet

This dossier has long roots that first broke through during a 2014 encounter with Helena Reckitt in Toronto. She had organized an exhibition there, at OCAD University, entitled Getting Rid of Ourselves. The dialogue that took place between us she then pursued with her students and colleagues in the Goldsmiths curatorial program. Two consequent symposiums took place: the first came together under the title of Feminist Duration in Art and Curating at Goldsmiths in 2015 and the second in 2016, titled Now You Can Go in homage to the enlightening book of Carla Lonzi, Vai Pure, filled four days and nights across several venues in London.

Part of the exchanges of Now You Can Go were posted rapidly on YouTube. Others exist only in the form of working notes, for oral presentation, that the authors did not want to systemize by transforming them into written texts. What one reads here is not a comprehensive transcription of the symposiums; what we publish is not assessment of the state of things in itself. Anyhow the reverberations of these projects can be felt in our present: on October 1st, 2016, at La Monnaie in Paris, the symposium Work, Strike and Self-Abolition : Feminist Perspectives on the Art of Creating Freedom took place. Other voices were included that in turn brought out other problems and continued the research.

Feminist Duration in Art and Curating and Now You Can Go were born in a context where, albeit with a non-programmatic emphasis, the hierarchy between the visual and conceptual was abolished with success. Once this wall was knocked down, the question of the life-form irrupted naturally in the debates: to create artworks, thoughts, modes of existence, agencements, life-forms, from this standpoint, creates a continuum that one must address and analyze as such, without compartmentalizing it.

From the revulsion that past feminists held towards professional identity, that was seen as a disgraceful compromise, the one of artists who could no longer bear their human, social and professional context or the one of mothers who fought against their jail-like identity and the contradictory imperatives of family and society, emerged other questions and a laboratory of lucidity was born, operating in the absence of any identity platform whatsoever. We observed women (as we observed ourselves) at the interior of society well-aware of our complicities with the disaster and so of our capacity to stop it. Once every dream of exteriority and exemplarity has been abandoned, theory and thought could be put at the service of life, liberating speech and allowing it to emerge in irreverent, joyous reflections. We found in these inquiries a paradigm that allowed us to flee habitual hierarchies, without even having to stop and critique them, pushing us in a direction that permitted a coexistence between contemporary art and radical thought. On the outside of the cage of the critique, beyond any commentary or prescriptive relation of the conceptual towards the visual, the immense potentiality of feminist theories (socially humble and politically noble) proved its capacity to fertilize and inspire visual expression.

There is an art of thinking that creates an art of living and neither of them thinks nor exposes itself as such—they are the forms of virtuosity that would get contemporary art out of the swamp of misunderstandings.

To invent one’s own freedom is a solitary collective work. It is a necessity if we do not want to renounce thinking : in our present furrowed by wars, it is vital to ask ourselves what type of peace or truce we need and what type of work we wish to contribute towards it.

The testimonies of contemporary professional women collected by Lia Cigarini are illuminating on this subject. In her 2006 “Another narration of work,”2 she underlines that the partial overcoming of the division between productive and reproductive spheres has not in turn effaced the specific tie women have with life and the work of care. A young group of women were interviewed about the priorities they place between the work (of love) that they take charge of at home and the professionally recognized and remunerated work they do outside of it. Their response was to categorically refuse any fixing of priorities between the two. “This response, writes Cigarini, is interpretable as an instance of ambivalence, but I believe that one can and one must read it differently: as a double yes to work and to maternity, and thus as an entirely different way to think of work […] In the sphere of work, and not solely in that of sexuality, the proposition of a political praxis by women is radically different than that of the masculine matrix. It is a politics that is based on life-forms.”

The politics of life-forms produce themselves through the radical modification of symbolic hierarchies and the insurrection of subjected knowledge—of which self-consciousness is a luminous example. Cigarini concludes by recalling to us that the workerist culture of the past—which continues to infect our present in an anachronic manner—never included in its narratives the feminine experience of work and that women, in order to produce this change, had to leverage their most intimate experiences, the most disqualified and least exploitable from a political standpoint. These experiences could never find their place in the unfolding interpretative paradigms.

And what if, in the manner of the Deleuzian-Guattarian weed, this vision and practice of life, this life-form of the double yes has infiltrated patriarchal capitalism and discretely infested the foundations of a destructive civilization? The question is by no means idle. We hope that an affirmative response can be gleaned from the following texts.

Translated from French by Anna De Filippi

1- Henry Miller and Michael Fraenkel, Hamlet (New York: Carrefour, 1939), quoted by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987).

2- This essay was first presented as a talk at the 12th International Association of Women Philosophers (IAph) conference in Rome (August 31st–September 3rd, 2006) and then published in Critica Marxista, no. 6 (2006). Available here in the Italian original: http://www.universitadelledonne.it/cigarini.htm