Can Europe Make It?

Introducing Teatro Valle – searching for a European commons

‘European citizenship’ is a ‘constituent’ process that emerges, develops and is constantly elaborated within social practices. How does the practice of the commons effect it? This week’s guest feature reports back on an experiment conducted last September in Teatro Valle. 

Andrea Mura Dario Gentili
24 February 2014

This week's openDemocracy guest feature, entitled Teatro Valle – Searching for a European Commons is edited by Dario Gentili and Andrea Mura, two research fellows in philosophy respectively working in Italy and the United Kingdom.

We want to offer you a taste of the highly significant experience of Teatro Valle, the oldest theatre in Rome, which, following its occupation by a large group of citizens in 2011, has achieved international recognition for its attempts to elaborate new social, political and cultural practices around the idea of direct democracy and cultural commons.

Gathering of the Oecumene project

The articles that follow this week aim to offer you a sense of this occupation over the last few years, and the kind of critical reflections that have accompanied Teatro Valle Occupato’s trajectory around the concept and practice of common goods.

Here are contributions by some of the researchers, activist and artistic groups that in Teatro Valle last September 2013 attended a major event with the express desire of enacting new forms of dialogue and sharing based on the practice of the commons at a European level.

Image courtesy of Nuovo Cinema Palazzo

The event, Spatial Struggle, arose from the joint initiative of Teatro Valle Occupato and the Oecumene Project (Open University), an EU-funded project whose research agenda – as familiar to readers of openDemocracy – has been precisely to rethink citizenship beyond traditional tropes in contemporary European thought.

This shared ‘search for a European commons’, however, also became possible only thanks to the collaboration of a number of other groups (Quinto Stato, Macao, Nuovo Cinema Palazzo, Metropoliz, Teatro Rossi Aperto, Mezzocannone Occupato) as well as individual contributors. Collective rehearsals, discussions, art and staged film performances allowed artists, activists, researchers and ordinary citizens to narrate and represent their own ‘acts’ of citizenship, assuming indeed that ‘European citizenship’ is a ‘constituent’ process that emerges, develops and is constantly elaborated within social practices. The event included keynote speeches by Costas Douzinas, David Harvey, and Engin Isin, eliciting widespread interest in the public in a moment marked by crucial economic and political difficulties in the Italian context.

Presentation 3.jpg

Guest editors, Dario Gentili and Andrea Mura introduce their authors

In Italy, encounters based on the ‘commons’ have been used to rethink the idea of citizenship, allowing for a political and legal conceptualisation that moves beyond the institutional framework of the state, highlighting its dimension as a social practice. This Monday we launched with, ‘The austerity of the commons: a struggle for the essential’, to introduce you to the rather unique concept and practice of the commons in Italy, and a second article by members of the ‘collective’ running the Teatro Valle Occupato, ‘Spatial struggles’ which offers an insight into the experience of ‘Valle’ as a theatre that is also an agora.

This is accompanied by video materials by Macao, another important experimental space in Italy, which contributed to the Spatial Struggle event. The videos expose the relation between speculative investing in real estate, financial speculation, and abandoned and unoccupied buildings – often architectural monstrosities devastating the surrounding environment – and point to the possibility for critical and constructive interventions, as was the case with the formation of Macao, when a group of activists and art workers occupied an empty skyscraper in Milan, Torre Galfa, transforming it into a new influential Arts, Culture and Research Centre in the city. 

On Tuesday we published,‘Why an empty space (tent) in an occupied theatre?’, to give you direct access to the artistic dimension of the event, which included a panel of artists who had been collectively invited to interrogate their poetics as well as their artistic practice as an act of resistance. Among the artists, the theatre company Motus set up a refugee tent inside the theatre, re-creating the ‘scenic’ space of their last work, Caliban Cannibal, in which a post-colonial reading of Shakespeare’s play The Tempest was enacted and staged. In their contribution to the guest week they offer a literary account of their contribution to Spatial Struggles, together with a video of the group’s work.

On Wednesday, a contribution from Engin Isin, keynote speaker at the event, entitled ‘Acts, Affects, Calls’, considers the ability of art, when it is making a political intervention, to govern our bodies as well as our minds, through bodily affects.

On Thursday in ‘What is the fifth estate?’,Giuseppe Allegri and Roberto Ciccarelli turned to the examination of the condition and practice of the Fifth Estate, which, besides being an existential condition for millions of people, is also a network of citizens in Italy exchanging their experience and the results of their experiments. This group too contributed to Spatial Struggle.

This Friday, Maria Rosaria Marella looked at the commons as a legal entity. Her article chronicles the formation of a ‘Constituent Assembly of the commons (CAC)’, first gathered together at the Teatro Valle Occupato in Rome in 2012 in an important legal, social and political experiment, attempting to rethink the notion of the ‘commons’ in legal terms through an ‘original alliance’ between legal theorists and movements.

Costas Douzinas, who also contributed to the event as keynote speaker, concludes our Teatro Valle guest feature today, Saturday, with an article on ‘The age of resistance’, and a Mediterranean in ferment.

Two video interviews with David Harvey and Rosi Braidotti, accompany the week's feature. The interview with David Harvey was recorded at Teatro Valle during the event, and retains some of the flavour of Spatial Struggle. But both interviews are part of a broader project by Andrea Mura entitled ‘Indebted Citizenship’, and conducted on behalf of the Oecumene Project and the Open University’s Centre for Citizenship, Identity and Governance (CCIG) to help frame the wider context of crisis and austerity within which the Teatro Valle event was designed and played out.

All the articles are enriched with photographs from the event, courtesy of Tiziana Tomasulo, from the collective of Teatro Valle Occupato, and the Nuovo Cinema Palazzo, an ex-cinema in a historic district of Rome that was occupied by citizens, artists and students to block the scheduled opening of a casino. This space too was transformed into another experimental space for artistic, cultural and social production. 

An editorial partnership with Open University

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