Autonomy Symposium

On 7, 8 and 9 October the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven hosted the Autonomy Symposium, which was organized in the context of The Autonomy Project, in which I'm involved. The symposium boasted appearances by Franco Berardi, Thomas Hirschhorn, Peter Osborne, Jacques Rancière and Hito Steyerl, among others. The symposium was something of a joint venture between the Autonomy Project and Nikos Papastergiadis, who had proposed a Rancière symposium to the Van Abbe.

For once, a symposium was worthy of the name, as discussions on the ins and outs of aesthetic and/or political autonomy took on a great sense of urgency in the current state of not just this nation. Plenary lectures alternated with smaller workshops and masterclasses in the museum library and various other spaces, though the technocratic term "masterclass" (beloved by funding bodies) seems a complete misnomer for what actually transpired, as the "audience" increasingly emancipated itself and the "masters" took on the role of ignorant schoolmaster. It will no doubt have various and repercussions af in the participants' various practices. A number of publications are being planned; in the meantime, you can find archived videos at

The symposium sold out in no time and we could easily have filled a larger lecture theatre than the Van Abbe's, but the relatively intimate scale was an important factor in the success. It is disconcerting to hear that the Van Abbe is now being attacked by the social democrats (!) in Eindhoven for not following the populist blockbuster approach that has become the sole norm in the dismal Dutch museum landscape. The Autonomy Symposium, which fostered such a sense of agency in those who took part, is just one example of the Van Abbe's attempt to create forms of publicness and collaboration that go beyond an economistic and deeply contemptuous approach to audiences. If I have been critical of some of the Van Abbe's projects, it is because they deserve to be taken seriouslyand the same cannot be said of most other museums in this neck of the woods. Get ready to defend the Van Abbe!

Postscript, 18 October: In a kind of practical extension of the Autonomy Project, a lot of letters explaining and defending the value of Charles Esche's programme at the Van Abbemuseum were written in the last few days. The direct or indirect addressee of these epistles was PvdA spokesperson Arnold Raaijmakers. Rather than supporting an institution that offers one of the most convincing counter-models to a post-public sphere dominated by the destructive "creative industries" approach, this pallbearer of Holland's long Dutch social-democratic tradition obviously thinks it more strategic to mimic the populist-neoliberal logic of Halbe Zijlstra and Geert Wilders, proposing drastic budget cuts and effectively demanding that the museum become another generic machine for churning out provincial and culturally meaningless polder blockbusters. Some sent their letters and statements to the museum or to Raaijmakers directly; others to the Eindhovens Dagblad, the local rag. A selection of the latter (some in Dutch, many in English) is here. At today's debate in the culture committee of Eindhoven's city council only the PvdA and the SP supported Raaijmaker's slash-and-burn plan, yet there seems to be broad support for a less radical, watered-down version from 2013 on.

Photo by Emilio Moreno.