Collective Performance as the Verification of Equality: The Case of Arts Against Cuts and the Turner Prize Intervention

  • Abstract:
    This paper seeks to describe the eruption of British anti-cuts activism of winter and spring 2010/11 as an instance of Rancièrian politics. My particular focus will be those performative activities organised under the banner of the Arts Against Cuts collective: marches, occupations and public interventions, in particular the Turner Prize action of December 6 2010 (See: My objective is to examine how grass roots arts-activism of this sort operates, especially in terms of the pressure it manages to exert on power. This pressure, I argue, depends upon the mobilisation of an atypical collective “identity”, that which Rancière calls subjectivation. I use the scare quotes in the previous sentence to indicate that a subjectivation is a way of being that actually evades what we might conventionally describe as identity. For Rancière identity is synonymous with closure, domination and power. To claim anti-cuts activities for a Rancièrian politics is to assert they are verifications of equality in dissensus with the hierarchical logic of government cuts. The minimal content of any verification is an assertion that everyone is capable of having a hand in his or her own governance. This is a performative process in which a particular political grievance – an instance of inequality – is brought to light and contested. Power and its resistance therefore ultimately operate according to a sensory-symbolic logic rather than a resolutely “material” one. Under this model those who might lack material strength and resources can leverage police order by utilising those performative methods open to everyone. That is, they can perform as equal thereby destabilising the status quo.