On the limits of institutional assimilation of activism  

by Jaime del Val

November 2011


This is an English translation of the full uncensored original version in Spanish from November 2011 - director's cut. I thank La Orgia Loca / Mad Orgy, for the translation.

*I am playing here with the multiple meanings of the English translations of the word “Comisario” in Spanish, that means both art curator, police officer or superintendent, commissioner, steward and commissar or commissary. The latter is the name for an official in any communist government whose duties include political indoctrination, detection of political deviation, etc. Commissary is also a person to whom some responsibility or role is delegated by a superior power, a deputy; but it can also mean a a store selling supplies to the personel of a military camp or similar. All of these meanings apply more or less ironically and critically for the purposes of this writing.

As a person who presents her work and organizes events in museums and academic institutions, and who is also very involved in various fields of activism, I defend the multiplicity of productive and often complex relationships and feedbacks that occur between the institutional and activist spheres.

However, I believe that it is necessary to be attentive to the instrumentalizations and abuses that are sometimes made by the academy and the museum when it comes to appropriating emerging activist and artistic practices in a non-horizontal plane of relationships.

The cycle La Internacional Cuir, curated by B. Preciado at the Museo Reina Sofía, seems to present one of these cases, where the institution appropriates the Spanishization of the term queer used by groups in Chile and Spain for years, a program is designed vertically, without counting on collectives and artists in the curatorship (where the curator takes a considerable fee and the artists few or none, always in order to enhance the paternalistic figure of the curator) and activists are marginally included in a debate before the invited groups have even agreed and confirmed their participation, which shows the inexistent dialogue of the institution with them; while leading performers are invited to perform for free or for paltry fees in exchange for the curricular promises provided by performing at the Institution (forms of exploitation known at the Art Institution, but which seem to be accentuated when the guests are precarious activists).

This seems to be the usual practice of certain curators who practice the institutionalization of the queer brand as a kind of marketing of personal self-promotion, disguised, of course, as a "launch" of the poor collectives who apparently would not know how to live without the museum. Curators who abound in the production of subversion brands (post-porn, drag king, transgender ...) that unfortunately territorialize diffuse fields in which many people are working and developing an interesting and irreducible production, which refuses any institutional labeling.

This rehash of Anglo-American theories and practices of the last decades would be very welcome if it were posed for what it is: diffusion and importation, not production of the new. The new appears precisely in the domains that are irreducible to labeling in which many artists and activists are working and that it is problematic to confine to institutional labels.

Because one thing is the legitimate self-denomination of these groups and their strategic identification, with performative, performatic or visibility purposes, and another that from the vertical point of view of the curator they are assimilated in the label available to the institution.

None of these issues can be judged in black and white, and there is much to defend against the presence in institutions of minority movements. It is about not saying yes to everything by pure pressure from the institution, and reflecting on the particular circumstances of each event.

Having said that, who are these commissioners, who, disguised as subversion behind a destroy punk pose, set themselves up as champions of a queer orthodoxy, reproducing the same mechanisms of exclusion and hegemonic power in the minority territories of the movement and censoring everything that exceeds their doctrine, anyone who does not play the game, or who is overshadowed by having their own speech? Who do these curators serve other than themselves? Perhaps the institution in which they rely to pursue a career, using the activist groups for it? How long will some of them continue to endure the institutional blackmail of: either we assimilate you or you don't exist?

Until when to put up with these curators, raised on false pedestals, who decide groups, activists and artists count in the public light which and which ones do not, thereby reproducing the most stale mechanisms of power, in abysmal contradiction with the horizontality of the movements that they engulf?

It is bleeding, for example, the absence in the sample of videos of the Chilean CUDS (University Coordinator for Sexual Dissidence), who put the term cuir into circulation years ago, but who committed the irreparable mistake of rebelling against a censorship imposed against them by Pedro Lemebel, friend of the curator of La Internacional Cuir, censorship to which they reacted by performatively simulating his death with the action "Post-porn killed Lemebel" recorded in the video "La muerte de la loca". As a consequence they have been totally excluded from it, they are not even mentioned in the introductory booklet.

The same has been done with other groups that have put the term cuir into circulation in Spain, such as the Acera del Frente, as well as other groups that work in this line, more recent and very active today, such as the Transmaricabo Assembly of the 15M movement in Sol.

The commissioner defends his use of the term when speaking of "geopolitical displacement towards the south, in counterpoint to the Anglo-American colonial discourse." Is there anything more colonial than appropriating something while excluding those who start it? It inevitably reminds me of the Anglo-American multinationals that go to the tribes of South America to appropriate their recipes to patent them. Only now the tribes are the unprotected species of sexual dissent, turned themselves into museum patents.

The videos excluded from the CUDS and other Sudaka videos that were not shown at the Reina Sofía Museum will be screened on Thursday, November 24 at the JORNADA ANOARKISTA 1.0 (Annusarkist session 1.0) at the CSOA K.O.A.L.A. an essential and glamorous cycle curated by anonymous Sudakas where I will have the honor of participating with the Rat Massacre.

All about the Commissar

Another example of this kind of frustrated misappropriations (can we call it frustrated plagiarism?) of the commissary is located about a month ago, in October 2011, when she was organizing a seminar in UNIA-Seville, with the original title of Common Body, a concept that I have been developing for years in the homonymous working group that I coordinate at Medialab Prado, as well as in numerous writings and projects, (which the curator knows to the point of having congratulated me on several occasions for projects developed in the framework of the group, in the brief reconciliation we had in the last year, promoted by her). I wrote first to the commissioner and then to UNIA demanding that the circumstances and context in which said concept was put into circulation be cited, as a minimum matter of ethics and commons, and after much insistence on my part that they correct the plagiarism, instead of including the requested citation, the Commissar changed the title and concept of the seminar to Improper Body. But for this, none of the polite communications on my part has been enough, it has been necessary for me to threaten to perform a public wank as a protest performance at the door of his seminar if she did not make the pertinent corrections, and she knows that I am capable of doing it.

I could narrate similar actions by the curator around 20 years ago when I was editing the Reverso Journal, where I published some of her first serious writings in Spanish and whose attempts to appropriate the editorial project led me to expel her withringly from the editorial board in 2001. Many colleagues tell me about similar episodes of abuse of power, misappropriation or plagiarism on behalf of the commissar, but unfortunately, as with sexist violence, almost no one dares to report it. Why is it?

The only true talent of the commissary appears to be personal marketing, with its associated components of appropriation and communication skills, tactical strategy, and power networking, resulting in a blatant instrumentalization of activist and theoretical movements. The Commissar does nothing that is not tactically studied based on the personal benefit that it can bring her: the political alliances, potential enemies, money, prestige or power that she can gain with each situation. As a kind of Facebook of radicalism, she deals with co-opting the most radical margins from within, turned into museum brands that only serve her personal career, taking over the institution to reinforce it by enthronement within, not to deconstruct it, but selling it as a revolution (like Facebook does), following a strictly neoliberal logic of niche market production.

Her clever marketing strategy knows how to touch the chords of activists thirsty for subversive proclamations. And it is also very convenient for institutions: like Silicon Valley companies, it is a matter of being in the right place and time launching the disruptive idea that generates a market. The post-porn market, the queer market, the drag king market, the trans market, the dildo market: "I launch your career in the museums," she told an activist in a paternalistic tone to silence her complaints by means of blackmailing ... An activist who effectively silenced herself by giving in to blackmailing ... But what need do activists and "queer" artists have to be “launched in the museums” and assimilated into institutionalized labels?

It is thus logical that her discourse lacks any philosophical depth or consistency, nor true originality. Pure effect. Words with subversive resonances that recycle the ideas of others until their origin is blurred. All this preemptively stunted behind a destroy punk pose, which is actually built on foundations of vicitimism and which is used to justify any abuse, including the most ethically inadmissible actions (such as when the Italian activists around Liana Borghi were finishing translation the Manifesto to publish it with great effort in their small publishing house and they found out that the Commissar was negotiating with Feltrinelli, an operation that they immediately dismantled: "e stata sputtanata in tutta Italia" they told me).

Think about her first book, for which she herself told me in 1999 when we met at the Summer University of Homosexualities in Marseille, she had chosen a Manifesto format that allowed her to avoid citations and thus the recognition of genealogies of her proposals. She told me about it as an apology before publishing it, or so it sounded. When about a year ago she proposed to reconcile with me, it was undoubtedly to avoid enemies on the horizon in her attempt to put her claw in the Reina Sofía, where I do some activities. Now she seems to think that I have orchestrated the Lokal Kuir from the 15M movements, (very far from reality, on the contrary it is good to see that there are active and multiple resistances, that the curator does not seem to want to recognise in her complete absence of capacity for self critique).

Inordinate lust for power, egomania, (some would say bipolar paranoia, I prefer to avoid pathologizing terms), and most importantly covert victimism and aggressiveness, disguised as humor and revolution ... Synthetic words that in the end say nothing, a technique appropriated from Donna Haraway, who practices it with much more art. In every sentence of hers there is an excited mix of Haraway, Butler, Foucault, and echoes of Derrida and Deleuze and Guattari (whom he doesn't really understand), and continuous microplagies from other authors, that's the Commissioner's algorithm. Pure excitement,  and plagiarism-remix without content. The commissioner should have stayed at the religious seminary where she began to study philosophy (she was going to be a nun, yes, not many know this information). At least she would have upset some convent instead of co-opting radical movements. This perhaps explains some of their attitudes and her program in general, such as the attempt to generate a religion around hir own cult and dogma, the reproduction of mythologies, the desire to re-inscribe great narratives that are precisely the problem, and messianic paternalism, so close again to Silicon Valley. As with Facebook, there is always someone who asks something good to be said about her, and if you do not do it, someone will attack you by censoring, as in any religion.

A purely textual subject, reproducer of territories of power, who reduces the body over and over to representation, infinitely reproducing the apparatus of categorization and labeling of everything, under the excuse of "visibility", reproducing appropriation ... as when some of my colleagues, who did stand up to him, asked her not to enter as an observer in a suit in the post-porn workshop that the commissar himself had organized, telling her that if she wanted to be inside, she should undress like everyone else and get involved in experimentation, after which she quit the room ...

Hir mouth fills up talking about technology, but she has zero interest in and knowledge of the analogue or digital techniques of the artists she curates. In reality, she is incapable of thinking about technique from within, s/he limits himself to instrumentalizing Foucault's heritage even though she pretends to be overcoming it. Actually, the desire to surpass Butler and Foucault in fame seems to be one of their main motivations, perhaps the only one. Saint Preciado wants to pave her way towards a queer hagiography. But Butler and other authors do not instrumentalize collectives as she does. Why doesn’t she devote herself to making her own art and theory, instead of phagocitysing artists, theorists and activists? His mouth fills with talking about the relational, of other economies, but he reproduces the worst of the existing ones.

I work with institutions but never from them or at their service, I create projects and networks where institutions are part but never the center, they participate in activities within a very diverse logic and economy. Collaborating without hoarding. The commissioner's strategy is the reverse: to enthrone himself in the institution with the messianic excuse of launching the movements or the naive pretension of hacking the disciplinary institution from within. But if that were her real claim, she would promote horizontal activities and not the continuous and hierarchical cult to himself, with his mafia-like networks of power and his exclusionary indoctrination that institutes niches and dogmas of radicality: can there be something more opposed than this to the radical in horizontal movements? Aggression, egocentrism, paternalism and domination that are the exact antipodes of all horizontal forms of collaboration, such as those supposedly promoted by the groups that he phagocityses. It is the neolocolonial economy of continuous appropriation. Its success is precisely because of the way it builds upon the existing regimes. What is needed are alternative economies that have nothing to do with the circulation of contagious signifiers in the logic of eternal citation, nor with the cult of any dogma or figure.

As a kind of queer accelerationism, the curator presents the most extreme and nihilistic logic of a tendency, a symptom of an era that must be overcome. The paradox of expanding the machine of representation to infinity. But his logic prevents him from getting out of there.

The commisar’s lesson is that she embodies to an extreme degree everything that is desirable to avoid. His only meaning is therefore to be overcome. But we are still far away from this it seems, and all this is just part of a larger problem.

What is the Commissar a symptom of

What should concern us most is what the commissar is a symptom of: the proliferation of contagious affects in the viral media - which I have been calling the Panchoreographic, part of an Affective Capitalism - and of mafia ways of weaving networks of power and influences that reproduce the apparatus of domination where alternatives are supposed to arise. A cancer in the bosom of the most radical movements. Why else do so many dear ultrasubversive colleagues agree with me about the commissarin the corridors and in private, but do not dare to raise their voices, or even give in to the commissioner's blackmail? As when the self-proclaimed Supreme Bitch modified her post in support of this writing after receiving a threatening call from the commissar - (note added after publication)

Something smells rotten in queer movements if the most supposedly subversive and radical people continually yield to the blackmail of characters like the Commissar in order not to lose her invitations to museums ... And certainly the curator does not hesitate to virulently boycott anyone who does not give in to that blackmail. It would be better to reduce to silence such characters, raised on false pedestals, who take advantage of the logic of the proliferation of contagious affects in viral media with a single objective: to have everyone talk about them. For my part, these will be my last words about the Commissar, in order not to contribute to this proliferation.

This writing is the result of my disgust with a "radical" movement where its agents selfcensor for the purpose of institutional assimilation, co-opting the movement from within. The problem is not the Commissar, who is just a symptom of a much more general problem in radical movements, visible also in the 15M.

Queer dies of success by force of the tautological logic of its own theory: the decontextualized self-referential citation, and the hypertextualization of everything, the reductio ad absurdum of everything to text, and representation, the endless reproduction of the logic of domination ... The curator is an example of this both in content and in form. ...

Permanent microplagiarisms (as limit expression of the logic of citation and of “queer contrebande”). Pure excitation and incitement without content. Pure expression of a viral means of homogeneous contagion. Pure exponential multiplication of the regime of representation as the only dead-end political option, and of the body subjected to that reductive regime. 

The commissioner expands a logic of confrontation that has dominated many sectors of feminism for decades. Far from overcoming dualisms between constructionism and essentialism, far from finding "synthetic" transversalities, he reproduces in content and form a territorializing, exclusionary and radical expression of constructionism, taken to its most absurd tautological and self-referential expression. In his frustrated attempt to transfer the performativity of gender to the body and sex, what she has done, far from claiming an irreducible body, is to reduce the body even more, taking to its extreme limit the tendency of an era to reduce (to categories, codes, measurements).

The body as code, the body as text, is the mantra that summmarizes this trend, which by the way many feminist colleagues cling to, just as they cling to the idea that we cannot get out of the frames of representation and representation. of domination: very convenient when one wants to seize power in one way or another. They have NOT understood movement: that is the irreducible element. They are unable to think about it, because they are anchored in their screens, tables, classrooms, ubiquitous grids: they have assumed the erasure of movement and the fiction of the Cartesian mind from which the body is unthinkable beyond the codes that fix it. Thus they reproduce the problem of reducing the body to domination grids within movements that could question this limit.

But isn't the opposite what we need? Claim the irreducibility of the body? ... Postqueer Microsexes ...

Do we want this queer police? Obviously, NO .... ZERO TOLERANCE. We don’t want queer mafia, or queer police or institutional dogma commissioners, nor saints on false pedestals. Our mouths fill with rebelling against the system and not tolerating paternalism and authorities, and we nevertheless enter into this kind of game? Where are the outraged and fed up capable of resisting these abuses of power? Perhaps it is time for us to make another video along the lines of the one made by the CUDS ... A new "crime" is being prepared, or perhaps an antivirus: The Microsexes killed BP ...

Nothing more queer / cuir / kuir than to contaminate institutional spaces. Nothing LESS queer / cuir / kuir than the appropriation-phagocytization-assimilation-globalization in the institution performed by the censorship of the Commissar on duty. The dividing line between one and the other is sometimes very thin.

Fortunately, voices and various reactions arise that rebel against these manipulations, such as the counter-debate scheduled to coincide with the aforementioned cycle by some of the people from Barcelona and Madrid initially programmed in the Reina Sofía Museum cycle and who decided not to attend to it, and entitled LA LOKAL KUIR. INSTITUTIONAL DYSPHORIAS IN AUTONOMOUS STRUGGLES, held at the CSOA Casablanca at 6:00 p.m. on November 18.

Although it would have been desirable that this counter-debate did not coincide in time with the museum's program, since it involves esteemed colleagues that we cannot dismiss as complicit or victims of the institution, and many of them produce very interesting works, which can choose, or not, to associate their project to a label as a visibility strategy or for whatever reason. At the end of the day, in the face of the unequal situation, we must take advantage of the institution rather than let it take advantage of us.

Personally, I would have liked to attend both events to set in motion a problematization of these power relations that goes beyond black and white dualisms and reciprocal demonizations, in the face of a political issue of the first order that does not only affect a commissioner, an institution or a concrete movement, but rather points to a whole tradition of parasitic and unequal relationships.

Because behind this specific controversy there are much broader problems:

1. On the one hand, the complex relationship between queer / cuir / kuir movements and the academy. Asking whether one or the other came first is redundant: they have been constituted in relations of reciprocal productive contaminations for two decades, until they are difficult to separate.

2. The phagocytizations of the term queer / cuir / kuir that have occurred for more than 15 years in the Anglo-American sphere and more than ten in the Spanish-speaking world, due to the decontextualized use of the term as a label and flag.

3. The way in which queer / cuir / kuir has been territorialized as a "radical" option in gender and sexuality policies, thus becoming the opposite of what it was: a territory of power, which excludes and silences other possible politics, closing the horizon more and more, instead of opening it, around a familiar repertoire that gravitates around the performativity of identity and its subversive parody.

4. The processes of globalization of queer / cuir / kuir politics, which are part, whether we like it or not, of the colonial-postcolonial apparatus and which we often welcome without the slightest criticism, while questioning until we are fed up the globalization of the "gay" or of compulsive Hollywood heteronormativity, where we often confuse autonomously promoted crossbreeding with covert colonization.

5. The problems derived from the untranslatability of the term, which is sometimes used to disguise its entry into the academy, turning it into the opposite of what it was: a territorial brand instead of a deterritorializing movement.

6. The unequal power relations that historically occur between institutions and movements and that some try to disguise by criticizing Michel Foucault, when in reality the mechanisms of institutional control, instead of disappearing, have become even more ubiquitous, perverse and camouflaged.

7. And, therefore, the problems of power that arise within supposedly horizontal movements but that are never completely horizontal and where many do not hesitate to praise the paternalistic figures of the Commissaries, while others try to excuse their abuses of power behind the catch-all of empowerment, when victimhood is not directly resorted to. As if our aim was to dethrone those in power to sit in their place: Don't we have anything more interesting to do? Is this the result of decades of struggles and experimentation? Is it that we are not capable of inventing other politics?

In general terms, until there is a horizontal dialogue with the institutions, the relationship is poisoned a priori, and this requires processes that in most cases are conspicuous by their absence, yielding to the voracious appetite of our mercantile culture to sell prefabricated brands: the Queer Fame Academy.