Imagining Institutions Otherwise: Art, Politics, and State Transformation

IMAGINART explores how artist and cultural workers are collectively experimenting with and reimaging public institutions. Following the “social turn” in contemporary art, a number of political and cultural theorists have argued that art’s primary function is to “imagine reality otherwise” and incite social change. Still, despite this theoretical interest in art’s capacity to reconfigure society and politics, there is a dearth of empirical studies showing how this happens in the everyday practices of artists and political movements. Accordingly, this multi-researcher project undertakes a series of ethnographic studies of artists-run socio-institutional experiments in relation to transforming state infrastructure; they explore the role of artistic practices in reimagining and transforming societies from below.  Against the backdrop of state failure, transformation or withdrawal under (post)colonial, postsocialist, neoliberal, and (post)pandemic conditions, art and cultural workers are creating “micro-utopias”: alternative spaces of collaboration and cohabitation in which to prefigure new forms of organized collective life. IMAGINART researchers explore creative institutional experiments in Hungary, Indonesia, Italy, Kurdistan, Palestine/Lebanon, and South Africa. In these contexts, artistic practice has figured prominently in recent protest movements against oppression, colonialism, corruption, neoliberal restructuring, inequality, and racism. What does it mean for political and social projects to present themselves as art and what agency does this enable and/or disable? Can we reimagine the state and our failing institutions through art?

Funded by the Dutch Research Council (NWO)