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Cierra Bankia

Fiesta #CierraBankia (Shut down Bankia), enmedio, 2012.



»Degrowth, values and the role of art in the transformation of society«
Leonídas Martín interviewed by Stella Veciana


What does degrowth mean to you? What is your vision of a degrowth society? In what respect does society depend on growth?

We, the friends I work with and me, use terms related to a progressive exit from neoliberalism more than degrowth, which is not easy! Because neoliberalism does not operate just outside, it is not a system you relate to from one place to another, but it also operates inside of you. And here it becomes complicated and this is why it interests us to work with signs, symbols and cultural expression. Because we think that this spirit that embraces everything, the outside and inside of oneself, is based on symbology and in culture.

This is why we want to counterpose it in the same way, creating a sort of contra-spirit. We understand this as a value system that makes us see and relate to the world in a certain way. These values are constructed by culture; we are active agents within this cultural system. Therefore, the work we try to do is a cultural contra-spirit that does not respond to neoliberal values, but to others.

Which are your new values and which have been the dominant  values until now?

The neoliberal values are many, but can be summarized basically in one, which is competition. Today we are all machines that compete against each other, a sort of particular personal enterprise that competes with the other to survive. Against this we want to counterpose other cultural values they can be for example; cooperation, as a fundamental value, and capacity building, or the creation of a better life, of a good life (Buena Vida) that represents something different to what it means to us today.

The concept of Buena Vida you mentioned, do you relate it to the indigenous cultural understanding of Buen Vivir?

Well, I do not know what the indigenous understanding of Buen Vivir means. When we talk about Buena Vida, again we conceptualize it as opposed to neoliberalism. The good life in neoliberalism means to accumulate money, to have money as a principal resource to be able to do whatever you want and especially to dispose of it, in order to have whatever you want.

In this sense I think we need to compose values that associate the good life with something different, not so much with having, and with accumulating property, disposing of resources in order to do things, but for example by having a different relation to time, a different relation with others, breaking the relation that establishes neoliberalism between time and benefit, and associate it to other things such as care, to accompanying, collective enjoyment, all this.

When we start to think like this, about the neoliberal occupation, but also its resistance, we realize that there already exist today a lot of experiences that are proposing a different relation to the world than the one imposed by neoliberalism, different to competition between persons, countries, peoples, enterprises, between all. Some of these experiences are well known and have big names. The social fights awake this kind of experiences, for example “You Are Not Alone” in the USA, all the student network against debt, or here PAH, the Platform for Those Affected by Mortgages. They are cooperative collective experiences that facilitate and empower, and propose a different relation to life.

Which is the role of art in this context? How can different artistic methods or strategies promote other kind of values?

This is precisely what we are researching, what our work is about. We are a group called “In between collective”, Enmedio Colectivo. I am part of it. We give ourselves this name, because we are all cultural agents, some are artists, other photographers, others filmmakers who did not find their place in the spaces allocated by neoliberalism for these practices. The professor in the academy, the designer in the design agency making designs for private companies, the artist in the art world in galleries, museums, etc. There we did not find ourselves comfortable. We did not believe that we could develop our potential in an adequate way. So we invented another space, a space halfway between any space and at the same time, in between.

And from there we research what you are asking me about. How to establish starting from cultural symbols, how to create cultural symbols that counterpose the neoliberal values and at the same time create new ones. The ones I was mentioning basically; art or cultural expressions that aim for cooperation more than competition, that aim for capacity building, that train the one who receives the cultural sign, to look at it, and do something with it. And with this training they stop delegating lots of things that he or she could do for him or herself.

And on the other side, something that interests us a lot is what I was mentioning before about good life, creating a cultural system that represents a different life that makes us enjoy life differently. Everything we do we invent, we do not have a fixed formula. We do everything; we work with photography, with design, with film, video, interventions in public and private spaces. And we try to develop cooperative processes.

There appears an idea, something that affects us, something we want to act upon because it affects us in the first person, that is important to us. When this happens, we establish a collective cooperative system where lots of other people are included,
and this brings us to adventures that do not have a closed or known end, we never know where they will lead us. 

Could you give us an example how you work?
Well, for example the party we did at Bankia. When Bankia asked the Spanish state for millions and millions, 23 million Euros to save their bank, the state accepted, and gave them public money. This made us very angry. And we decided to do something about it. We decided to send some anonymous mails to clients of Bankia who also felt bad about this asking them to cancel their account. Because we thought it was better that the bank collapsed instead of all of us paying this debt.

Once we had done this, we went to one of the offices of Bankia nearby our studio and hid there until someone came and closed his account. Then we organized a surprise party for this person, who came out of the office flying on wings! What we were really doing is intervening in the moment and in this specific office, but more importantly shooting a video, which on the same day received lots of visitors, around half a million in the first 5 to 6 hours.

We made a cultural sign that could expand through networks with the secret message contained, what I told you before, another life not related to the capitalist accumulation and competition but related to cooperation and capacity building, being able to do something in a given situation, not leaving it to someone else. At the same time, it became an joyful situation. Everybody had a good time, not only the ones who lived through the situation in situ but also all the ones who saw the video, an entertaining cheerful video.

This is occurring today in micro-experiences of all kinds, people that are betting on a cooperative relation with their own capacities, with what they do. This is part of a personal decision, saying to oneself “I do not want to go on relating to the world like this”. And there appears the other, with whom to work, to cooperate; to address this decision, also to share and to realize this decision. This has no name, and almost no visibility, but is working. The crisis is provoking us, that once you take this personal decision it becomes something collective, it becomes more frequent and more intensive.

Enmedio is one of these kinds of experiences, very small and humble. A group of artists, designers, cultural actors that decide to relate with what they know, what they do in a different way than what is expected in neoliberalism. This is degrowth for us. We say: “we sustain ourselves in the unsustainable”. At the present we sustain ourselves in the unsustainable. Maybe there is the precipice waiting for us, and we will say “it was unsustainable” and we will be dead. But for now… yes, with lots of difficulties, but no more than neoliberalism offers you. In other words, to confront every day this neoliberal spirit that embraces all.

The only way to sustain yourself in this, is having confidence in the other, in your friends, with the colleagues you are working with, and to go on confronting it together. In the moment this breaks, for the individual it is very difficult or impossible to do because your life is in play, and the risk is precisely your life! If you start to understand the world this way; if I do not compete for this, it will remain with someone else and not me, if you cooperate the cooperation itself helps you to understand things differently.

How do you cooperate to do common projects? What kind of knowledge do you need to realise these alternative projects?

You come to a collective such as Enmedio with a range of knowledge. In our case, knowledge of art, design, culture… we can write, make films and photographs, we are interested in art but the collective experience itself as the process of Enmedio makes you question a lot of things regarding this knowledge how you had thought about it, and how you had interiorized it.

When your own experience, is put into practice with others there appear very different realities that were not included in the learning processes in which you had been inserted. Therefore, this modifies our knowledge and teaches us. And from this learning is where we start from or want to start from. Forgetting the other values that do not respond to the values we want to produce and to start to address this new one, and see where it leads us. t is not a closed or defined map, it is a map we make on the way, and which may be useful to us, though not to another group who will have to decide for themselves or draw their own map.

Culture is one of these social entities, if you want to call it like this, where neoliberalism operates mostly, where it is deeply rooted, where less cooperation and more competition has been taking place. We have understood culture at least since the last century as competition, the other artist, photographer, writer is a rival to me. This has to do with the concept of culture itself, how we understand it, and the concept of cultural agents, cultural worker and what an artist is. The neoliberal spirit we were talking about determines this very individual notion we relate to the art profession. Therefore, breaking it is not so easy. Also, because individuality in art is not associated to loneliness, for example, as a negative concept or to frustration but is related to freedom and it is very difficult to oppose something when you are thinking it is not negative, but you are associating it to something so beautiful as freedom.

But from the perspective of Enmedio we conceive it as precisely the mechanism that represses us. Believing that you are free within your individual artist practice is actually a new code of discipline, the new repression not allowing you to get out of the neoliberal system. This is why it is so difficult for culture to open to cooperation, and to compose new values. Culture can mention them, include them as content, you can see plenty of examples when you walk through museum, the journals of photography, everywhere. But in the creation of these values, real capacity building in artistic practice and production you will rarely find.

How do you archive joint decision-making in your collective?

Well, with conflict, confronting conflicts, fighting, and throwing cats at each others heads, all that. But also having fun sometimes, but a process that is not simple, not easy. It requires openness to conflict, and also understanding, especially for we have taken this decision, that this is what we want. Wanting to do something together requires conflict and we pass them as well as we can.

We meet each week, once or twice. These meetings have to do with several aspects, the logistics of the collective, and conceptual proposals, brainstorming, analysis of ideas, shared thought. These are the two aspects we work on in our meetings.

What can art contribute to social transformation from your experience?

As I said before, these micro-experiences are taking place all over the world, and are becoming more and more usual. The attempt to not compete, to collaborate, to cooperate, not to close what I can do, what I know in myself but articulate it with others, and establish processes of cooperation between what you know and what I know. This is happening but has no visibility.

There lays the importance of art, to provide a new imagery to all these new values that are appearing everywhere but are mostly invisible, cooperation in very limited social segments. From my point of view, therefore the function of culture is very important giving visibility to these existing processes. And on the other side, to articulate them between themselves, which is not offering an image of them, but operating in their own combinations, so that links, ties, connections are created. This is also a cultural and artistic work, somehow... an amazing function, very important!

There are a lot of examples of seeds of transformation, you just mentioned the dispersed projects that already are transforming society with different values, but in the moment they enter into the mainstream they cannot deal with the general tendency to become the same?

This is a classical problem: “you have sold out”. I think this happens, one operates within the alternative. But the alternative does not mean outside of neoliberalism, there is no outside where one could position oneself. The idea of the mainstream as you are saying, is arrival by necessity. We get there because we need some resources to archive what we want, we can also get there because we want to enrich, and that it is, well… But, a priori some of the practices we have been talking about before in this interview, they get there to gain access to bigger resources, and develop their experience with more strength.

Obviously, to acquire these resources we can lose autonomy. Because to get to these resources also requires very specific codes. For this reason I insist that only cooperation is able to confront that. Because as an individual and I am not only referring to an individual person, but an individual collective that knock on doors of an institution, an enterprise or anyone in order to obtain, the most important question is the designation of these resources.

What does “you have sold out” generally mean? Having gained resources of a specific institution? No. Having obtained resources of a specific institution and making use of them in a certain way. It is the second part. What will you do with this money? What will you do with these resources, human resources, and symbolic resources? Because if you are going to use them within the closed circle, meaning a single person or a single group or a single political party, or whatever… you are not changing anything. You are not offering new values, independently of what constitutes your discourse, the contents you are expressing with your art.

Therefore, what do we take, where do we take, but above all what do we do with it. Here is where politics enters, the management of what is common. Our work is curious, for example, I am doing this interview, I am the face of Enmedio now. This means several things in cultural terms, as the representation. I am making a representation of a collective in this moment. What happens through this representation of the collective is that my name is getting known, that my face is seen, you cannot see the others, you do not know them, you only know me. This confers a symbolic value upon me, which I can capitalize because my name is better known. I fluctuate more in the market of names.

We know this because we are cultural agents, and we know that culture at least until now is based on this. We may achieve someday a culture based on something else, where names do not matter, where the faces are not relevant, but for now this has capital. We collectivize this capital. “Okay, I will go to do the interview”, or the conference and they will know me more and my name is known, but what do I do with this name? What do I do with the capital that this generates? It is not only economic, if you go to a conference you get paid, or for your name, other times it is symbolic, as I said. But what do we do with this benefit?

There is where politics comes in, the politics of the collective of how we are going to distribute these resources, what are we going to do with the resources obtained with our work. I put the example of the interview but I could also talk about a collective process, a project. A project awakens a lot of things, as the party in Bankia we were talking about before, for example. It awakens all what we have been talking about, creating a social imagery that confronts the decision of the state about giving money to Bankia. But it also awakens other things such as fame for the collective Enmedio. Again, it is symbolic value that articulates itself economically in neoliberalism as money, resources, or getting grants because you are well known.

We as a collective try to socialize this all, manage it together. Here is where we establish our politics. It is not easy nor simple. It brings problems. It is complex. It is not a bed of roses but it is what we have decided to try, I don’t know…


Barcelona, July 14th, 2014


Leonídas Martín - Professor of audiovisuals, new technologies and political art at the University of Barcelona (UB), and the School of Design (ESDI). All projects and movements I have been involved stand out as being known in the international art circuit, and in social networks of activist (Agencies, Yomango, Pret a Revolter, New Kids on the Black Block, V Housing, etc.). Usually I write about art and cultural policy in several blogs, magazines and newspapers. As audiovisual producer I created documentary films for different TV channels. I am a member of the group of cultural agitation Enmedio ( more

stella veciana

Dr. Stella Veciana - Studies in experimental arts (Universität der Künste, Berlin) and computer arts (School of Visual Arts, New York). Doctorate on the intersection of art, science, technology and society (Faculty of Fine Arts, UB). She is the founder of the Research Arts platform dedicated to transdisciplinary and participatory artistic research for sustainability. Her artistic work has been exhibited internationally in museums, galleries, art centers and festivals as well as in foundations, NGOs, universities, research centers and congresses (Akademie der Künste Berlin, Kunsthalle Nürnberg, Hangar Barcelona, UNESCO, Heinrich-Böll Foundation, Bread for the world, ZEF Development Research Center, Degrowth Conference, KIBLIX Festival, etc.). She has extensive university teaching experience (Faculty of Fine Arts Barcelona, Leuphana Universität Lüneburg, Technische Universität Berlin, Universidad Politécnica Valencia, University of Saskatchewan Canada, etc.). Collaborator and researcher in inter/national projects (Forschungswende, Soft Control, PIPES, Living in sustainable villages, etc.). Manager of national and European projects (ICN). Development of higher education learning processes in "real world laboratories" for sustainability (between ecovillages and Leuphana Universität). Member of the Federation of German Scientists VDW. more

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