Surviving This Stupid Era of Anti-Culture, Moralism and Cynicism

It feels like it’s getting worse, even though we are being constantly told that the economic growth will set us free, that we are all going to have a better life, that everything will be just fine. It’s as though we’re being shown pictures of heaven, but that we have to sacrifice for it here, pay for it now, in this life, because what awaits us in the distant future will be a land flowing with milk and honey and roasted chicken falling from the sky. The truth is that heaven is nothing but a huge deception; we will never see or experience it. Not just because it’s unreal and non-existent. Even when considered as a metaphor, it doesn’t hold water. It won’t be better if we tighten our belts, waive our rights, be patient when not being paid for work executed long ago, or make sacrifices to help the economy grow, i.e. help companies to generate more profit and consequently raise salaries and recruit new employees, where the state will collect all the taxes, redistribute the money from the rich to the poor and everyone will be better off. Not true, and for this simple reason: because such a scenario is no longer considered a sacrifice but the natural state of affairs. Because we live in capitalism. And after a decade of neoliberal newspeak – about how it is unfair to parasitize off trade and commerce, which strive and are honest and are the only ones generating value added whilst the state (read: culture, social policy, education and health system) destroys it with taxes and suffocates it – most people now buy it. They believe it’s fair for companies to not pay taxes (or social contributions!) because who really needs a state in the first place, but since we have it, it has to lose weight and become very very thin. It’s enough to have a good justice system to provide for order, justice and integrity, whereas it is up to the people themselves to find a way to make a living, they should work rather than putz around with performances, or theatre, dance, film or music. Those good enough will make money, whereas others should do art in their free time and not expect that the hard-working shareholders will give money for their "putzing around". This is the outcome of a decade of neoliberal newspeak: the political parties boasting a platform programme that privatises the health system, the education system and everything else. And tax reduction plus enforcement of "a social cap", so that the rich will get even richer and the poor even poorer (lower the taxes – and, consequently, the redistributive power of the state – less money for culture). And then they shamelessly argue that this is the way to reduce poverty and provide a better life for everyone.

I guess it’s clear why this year’s City of Women Festival is focused on survival tactics. Because culture is ever more about survival, and because women are traditionally masters of such tactics; they have to support not only themselves but everyone else around as well (their parents and children, their relatives and friends, sometimes homeless people, too, and everybody else in need). Also, the festival itself is being ever more left with nothing but the art of survival by having to produce and show more with the least money possible. It consists of a number of female artists that make hardly any money at all for their commitment, their creativity and their performances that make us shiver, soothe us, upset us and never leave us indifferent. In addition to their engagement in art, they also have to be creative in their everyday lives. They keep looking for ways in which to survive, how to make something small big, what to eat, where to drink and what to wear, and most of all where to find funds for ideas, inspiration, production and promotion. But such an attitude can also be dangerous, because it shows that something small can grow into something big. And then again – if they don’t show it, who will recognise their artistic strength? The intertwinement and complexity make it blatantly obvious that culture is the home of the precariat, its origins and its beginning. What has been true in culture for a long time is now being transferred to all other areas: flexibility, temporality, contracts, self-employment, deferred payment, no payment, no contributions or insurance, no working time or subsidies, no nothing. Saška Rakef and Jasmina Založnik will address this issue as hardly anyone else could, through their own experience and their ability to reflect, in a subtle way but nevertheless straight and without mercy.

This year’s Festival will also demonstrate that in many parts of the world, survival tactics are essential to save lives. How to otherwise survive in Palestine is addressed by Raeda Saadeh when, through a symbolic vacuuming, she wants to point out the absurdity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict best expressed in the slogan "a land without people for a people without a land." Larissa Sansour fills this emptiness and bareness with images of a skyscraper housing the entire Palestinian population – now finally living the high life. Marina Gržinić and Aina Šmid demonstrate the necessity of massive migrations from Africa to Europe because it is about lives and survival; sad enough, the immigrants are confronted with hostility, racism and nationalism, as though a lot of people on "this" side weren’t in similar shoes or unable to relate to another person in poverty or misery.

Of course, there’s more to the Festival. We don’t want to reveal just yet what tactics you can develop to have a good life – or, if not the good life, then to just make it through life. Or how technology can help you or complicate your life, or what is happening in space or what happens when we find ourselves in some place between here and there, between in and out, between presence and absence, a place so mysterious as to call and invite us: "Come, come and see!" So come. This year will be as exciting as always. I hope you’ll enjoy it or at least take something home and digest it in peace. See you!

Vesna Leskošek, Honorary President of the Association for the Promotion of Women in Culture – City of Women