STATISTA

Statecraft - Pioneer Usage - Representation

A brave new world? In conversation with Emanuele Braga

Wie sollten sich Künstler*innen heute in einer Welt positionieren, in der Rechtspopulismus auf dem Vormarsch ist, sich alte Konstanten und Wertesysteme ändern und die Digitalisierung alle Bereiche unseres Lebens durchdringt?

Svea Gaum und Anton Schünemann im Gespräch mit Emanuele Braga
Emanuele Braga ist Mit-Initiator des Künstlerkollektivs MACAO Milan. Er leitet unter anderem das Projekt CommonCoin.


S
How did MACAO Milan evolve?
E
Around 2010, there was the financial crisis, this political environment with Occupy Wallstreet. There was the same in Spain, then there was Arab Spring, in France was this strong movement about the condition of labor and in Italy we started with building political networks on the national level to think about self-organization of movements within the cultural sector. In Italy, but not only there was this sensible perception that the public system was collapsing with strong cuts of welfare and investment in education and culture. The institutions were spending a lot of money and there was no possibility to interact and work with the public sector for artists. Museums, theatres, this sort of dinosaurs, were totally focused on the maintenance of the buildings, but without any investments in cultural programs paying the artists and the research.

The result was a big frustration in the art scene, because there was no space for research or salary for artists in the public sector. In the private sector on the other hand, there was this rising of creative industries, especially in Milan. But again, there was a lot of exploitation, also in the private sector, since they are basically based on working poor availability and there is a lot of competition if you want to step on higher levels. That’s why in 2012 MACAO was born, like an intersection between an anti-gentrification movement specifically rooted in a city that was defined by creative industries and the attempt to establish an alternative way to conceive the art production and distribution. And in this sense we decided to start MACAO with occupying the biggest skyscraper in Milano that was owned by one of the most important Mafia man in the last century and on the other side launching this acronym of MACAO. The word Macao is a fictional idea of an alternative art museum because Macao has no meaning. It was simply the same as all the other modern museums in Europe: Macba, Maxi etc., something with “m”, “a” and “c”, you know? We had a lot of feedback of how the people were imaging an alternative art museum in Milan. And in this skyscraper, we had thousands and thousands of people, designers, performing artists, photographers, media, university classes - like a cross-section of society. So we launched this idea to conceive our language and our ability to create art as a means for political transformation.
A
Looking at all the projects and artists involved in MACAO, every single artist in Milan seems to be part of MACAO. How did you connect to really become a kind of movement? How did it all start?
E
In the very beginning this project was promoted by five to fifteen people. The people were stepping in a more passive and listening way. After some time, they might propose and organize something themselves. But we decided to not have an artistic direction. The assembly decided that every two weeks there is an open call for projects, where also people from the outside can propose projects. This is a way to be open for the outside. It means if MACAO has an involvement in music production, it is only because the people inside MACAO are investing in it. It is more a matter of presence and relationship than really an artistic direction. If I am present and develop a certain discourse, I occupy more space in the program. If I give up and nobody is interested in substituting me, there is no one to do my research.


“Care is one of the most important political battlegrounds”

A
Nowadays, artists start to act a lot as curators or moderators, rather than having one project and spending their lifetime on it. It has become more communicative and complex.
E
Of course this already is an institutionalized way of practice. There are a lot of critical voices concerning this phenomenon. Sometimes a great artist is calling other artists to just fulfill an idea or concept. The so called artist is in the end simply a worker hired by the curator, like a wall painter that is the right person to fulfill this function. But the art process is in the hand of the curator, you know. Activism and political issues are already a big hype in the art institution. On the other hand, I think there is something very important behind that because a political issue could also be seen as good content to do business and so the aestheticization of activism is good stuff to sell. To me, care is one of the most important political battlegrounds. In terms of added values, being able to take care of a relationship in a community room is an alternative way to develop a system from the bottom. This is the way we produce social fabric, the social network we are in. Care is the most valuable field. More than the traditional job society we live in, with its distribution and logistics systems. Hence, care is replacing work and is in our post-work-society the real treasure.
S
Is that your major belief?
E
We are aiming at creating a safe space. We spend a lot of time to create something like the queer lab, counseling or the maintenance of the space. The main target is to listen to other people, i.e. discussing sexuality.


From a skyscraper to the slaughterhouse: a new residency

A
Could you please tell us the rest of the story of MACAO? Because if I understood right, you were banned from the skyscraper? You switched locations, right?
E
We tried to establish MACAO in the Skyscraper but it didn’t happen. We occupied five places in one day and finally decided to stay in the last one. It was associated with the stock exchange market, a half abandoned place, a wonderful palace. That place is still running. We also worked with the town hall, to introduce new laws for abandoned spaces, private and public. Not only for MACAO, but for the whole city. The public administration started to understand that the central issue that we pointed at was a problem for the city in general. A lot of them were of course not willing to show that they were following our provocative way of pointing at. However, they introduced a law that the private owners had to renovate abandoned spaces. We proposed to have a map of abandoned spaces also updated by citizens, in which you can start to manage a program temporary or not in order to regenerate the building. This was also possible for groups of people without any company behind them. This was now realized by the city with a lot of restrictions and changes. It’s a pilot project, so it’s a success. But we have to understand that everything needs a lot of time and in the end it is a by-product one can reach.
A
I wanted to come back to the notion of “caring”. I think it is striking, that the “new” artist is not only considering him- or herself an artist only located in the art world, but more as an activist. The projects are more and more concerned with the society, such as projects for refugees and the neighborhood.
S
Maybe to create an utopia?
E
I have this image. Basically, politically there are three main fields in which the extraction of value and the exploitation is central: sexuality and gender; race, migration and working poor; and climate. All these three are a matter of care. That’s why I think we must think of care as intersectional.


Public space is a political space

S
You consider public space as a political space. What does that mean to you? Specifically, concerning urban development?
E
We are all socially trained. It is a consensus that we sit on a chair and not on the floor, etc. Therefore, the public space is a place of social roles and conceptions. How do we use this space and our role? We do this social training every day, and it is not mandated by a municipality or by law, it just happens. So that’s why the public space is a political space. We did a lot of performances to find out what we can do and what we cannot do. The people that controlled the space immediately started to act up. In this dimension we have conceived the public space as political as I think. So all in all, it is about what is possible and what is not possible.


Gentrification: the unspeakable word?

A
I want to touch upon the question of gentrification directly. Do you think that the work you do at MACAO has an effect on gentrification in the center of Milan and what are your ideas about discussing it or changing it through the movement?
E
MACAO is born a little bit after the traditional idea of gentrification. It was also happening in Milan.  That’s why we were quite conscious about how artistic action and gentrification were related.
Ten years ago, we had a symposium with a group of artists from Bucharest. And there was a certain moment, where they stopped on the discussion and said that this is the third panel that they talked about gentrification and everyone is so concerned and complaining. And then they said that they don’t have gentrification. They were waiting for it! The city had no money and no company invested, nothing happened.
These guys meant it ironically of course, they are not naive. The point is that:  if a big city in an economical crisis such as Bucharest that makes no investments of any kind (no public money, no labor market, no private investments, no tourism, no factories), the problem is bigger than just discussing about gentrification. So this argument leads to frame the issue of gentrification. Gentrification usually is the process in which the capacity of a city to attract private/public investment produces a social inequality (poor people can't effort the cost of the living).  The usual reaction is: we need to keep the shark investors far away from our city! But the cities that are passing by a big depression usually do not have this position. Usually they need investments.  So in the end, in my opinion it's more interesting to empower an activism and a policy making that is able to attract investments but also has the power to not produce social inequality.
You see, the discussion should be transformed to ask the question of how to use the investments in a more equal way. Every investment puts you in a role that they want you to play. Gentrification needs the role of antagonism in a certain moment but again, the problem is how simply not loose fighting. If you lose, the only thing left to say is: this is bad company. The question is: How can we use this investment to risraisee serious agency in order to force them to redistribute the value in a different way. And this is still the problem in Milan, there is still no investment in infrastructure. In the periphery there is no social infrastructure. It’s crazy! In the center there are those luxurious apartments.
What I think is useless right now, is the fight “against” an antagonism such as gentrification where it was already decided who won. We have to establish a public discourse where we can negotiate with the stakeholders. We have the power to force them more and to limit them more. Another key point is how we can empower alternative infrastructure and organizations In order to be an alternative especially considering ownership. How can we have financial capability in order to enforce trust union and cooperative ownerships platforms? We for example cooperate with “Mietshäuser Syndikat” on international level.


Participation as greenwashing?

A
There are institutions in Berlin similar to MACAO. The critique was often raised that not everyone can participate? Most of the time, the people involved are highly professional and older men. How do you include the variety of the society? Because you already mentioned the case of race, gender etc.? Do you have a format for that? Since inclusion is key to your concept?
E
I never liked this race on how you share the cake. This logic is a bad logic, it’s competitive. I think it is more important to conduct consensus on your content. For MACAO it is totally open. The problem is this greenwashing. I have to get you with my content. You must gain this respect. It is more a problem of content than of methodology.
S
In our seminar we touched upon the word “art washing” a lot of times. And I was asking myself, the Torre Galfa was vacant for 10 years, right? And after you were banned from it, they built a spa and luxurious apartments. Are you critical about this development? Is it art washing?
E
I think they didn’t buy it because of MACAO. It was a broader context.
A
Do you might have some examples of other cases? There is so much going on in Berlin and a lot of people are really engaged and build up a lot of worth and ideas for their community. But then they are acquired in one form or the other for monetary reasons.
E
I was living in Berlin 10 years ago for 5 years. And for me, Berlin lost. They lost this challenge completely. Back then, they had the possibility to enforce this infrastructure of organization based on the added value of creative ideas. And engage social equality.
A
Is Milan loosing or winning?
E
Milan is at risk of producing too much fake. A bubble. But anyway, it is a hype. Totally different to Berlin. It is like talking about New Jersey and New York.