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Jonas Staal: Re-Forming Representation

Jonas Staal and Jan Fermon, Collectivize Facebook, 2021, installation. Photograph: Bienal de Arte Paiz Guatemala, 22nd Bienal de Arte Paiz Guatemala: Lost. In Between. Together. Courtesy the artist
Looking at projects including New World Summit (2012–ongoing) and Collectivize Facebook (2020–ongoing), Sven Lütticken looks at how Jonas Staal’s assemblies gather agents that are usually excluded from conventional political arenas, bringing into existence parliaments with and for stateless states, autonomist groups, and blacklisted political organisations.

Adept at the art of self-definition, Jonas Staal has articulated complementary and overlapping conceptual frameworks for his practice. The first is that of Assemblism, which is predicated on a morphology of live assemblies; on the other hand, that of Organizational Art aims to foster emancipatory organisational structures. 1 These are interrelated concepts rather than mutually exclusive categories: Artist Organisations International, for instance, was an assembly at HAU (Hebbel am Ufer) in Berlin that presented a putative ‘international’ of artist organisations – practitioners of Organizational Art. In fact, Staal’s practice is characterised by an attempt to go beyond the Occupy-style horizontal and spontaneist assembly both by designing assemblies more carefully so as to avoid endless and aimless debates, and by integrating them in long-term projects and emergent organisational structures.

“You can conquer a place without occupying it. This is what is called a market.”

Here, I will focus on the dialectical relation between specific assembly-forms – the summit, the parliament, the tribunal, the council – and organisational structures, as articulated in or suggested by Staal’s work. My analysis centres on what I see as some of the fundamental parameters and strategies of his work, which means that I largely abstain from a more detailed reading of the proceedings and dynamics of individual projects. I argue that Staal consistently engages with forms of representation, and seeks to re-form them. Insofar as, according to Jacques Rancière, modern and contemporary art constitutes an aesthetic regime that breaks with the representative regime of art, this is not because modern art has ditched figuration for abstraction, or representation for pure form. 2Rather, modern aesthetic practice de- and re-composes the forms of representation in more than one register – challenging, but not cancelling out, the divide between artistic work and political action.

Studio Jonas Staal, New World Summit – Utrecht, 2016. Photograph: Nieuwe Beelden Makers Utrecht University, produced by BAK, basis voor actuele kunst, Utrecht. Courtesy the artist