Autonomy and Instituency: independent cultural and artistic practice in Rome
The Italian model of the often squatted self-managed social centre was born out of the social movements of the 1970s in Italy, such as Autonomia Operaia. The type of social impact to which such centres aspire has changed over the years. Indeed, they have turned the cultural realm into their primary area of intervention. A common trait of these centres lies in their relation to legality. In recent years, they have tried to find, and institute, forms of legality for collective ownership and horizontal management. One of the most successful of these attempts is the Teatro Valle Occupato, a former theatre that was squatted by entertainment technicians, cultural producers, artists, and creative workers in 2014. Another common trait of recent squatted centres is their investment in the production of culture. Through processes of horizontal management and the collectivization of labour, many cultural events in Rome are organised and promoted by squats or self-managed social centres. Offering an extensive range of cultural activities, these centres play a key role in local communities and have become pivotal for livelihoods in, and in some cases for the well-being of, the city’s neighbourhoods.
In this framework, my research project investigates forms of cultural production in the context of autonomous and creative institutionalism in Rome. Drawing on the work of Cornelius Castoriadis, as well as existing research on institutionalism, autonomy, and the relation of art to activism, this project addresses the ways in which self-managed social centres initiate bottom-up, collectivising and horizontal processes. It considers how these spaces act upon a mutual understanding of their role in the wider political ecology of the city and use different forms of radical institutionalism. This research has a historical dimension in that it differentiates pre-2001 and post-2001 forms of activism in Italy.
This research revisits the performativity of the radical imagination, investigating how it is intertwined with practices of commoning, activated within and by Rome’s self-managed, squatted spaces and creative institutions. It interrogates ways of imagining and producing cultural projects as part of politicised and creative institutionalism and explores their impact on social transformation in contemporary Rome. Finally, it questions what is at stake as independent/autonomous cultural production becomes increasingly influential in the city’s political landscape, affecting governmentalities and processes of state formation.