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Part of the Problem. Or, in other words, everything upholds intolerable structures. But this phrase is also a call to confront contradictions and complicity, which concern everybody and yet cannot be measured by the same standards across social divides. It makes sense to question what you buy or how you fly or whether it is right to make posts on Facebook against data-extractivism. But above all, the phrase means recognising that the very subjectivity that rises up against intolerable structures is also shaped by them. At a level of political subjectivation, the fact that the subject is a product of the relations it runs up against is as old as it is fundamental. The question here is what are the means and horizons for denouncing one’s own subjectivity and subjection. To realise that subjection and the self as part of the problem is to say that the dividing lines are not only out there, but that they cut right through each of us – yet in radically different ways which cannot be mediated by the rituals of consensus liberalism. The gratification of finding oneself on the right side is treacherous. Instead, the dividing lines need to be undone by inverting the interiority and isolation that subjection produces. The essence of a politically engaged cinematic practice was always intimately tied to the possibility of providing a screen for the externalisation and realisation of the collective subjectivity whose individuated isolation is thus contested and no longer speechless.

The present moment is undoubtedly one in which the sense or realisation of one’s systemic implication – that one individually might be part of the problem – is deepening. On the one hand, that is simply because the life of countless people, in particular that of the younger generations across Europe and globally, has been ruined by neoliberal politics and its promises of “self-actualisation”. The mediation between reality and the aspirational horizon of capitalist subjection – the role performed by culture – is breaking down, and thus the veil and varnish of liberal capitalism at large, and with it the remnants of the belief in inevitable progress and reform. It is no longer possible to “resolve” this contradiction, this gap in and of the individual self. And on the other hand, especially in the West, the sense of one’s systemic implication is deepening at a larger historical scale too in the face of a global disaster capitalism. Everything “modernity” (that is, Western modernity with its sense of liberty and progress) seemed to belief about itself is in question. That is not to say that the West is advanced or at the forefront in this realisation. It’s quite the opposite in fact: Western subjectivity has foreclosed the insight into the scale of its own implication in “dividing the species” (Frantz Fanon) and pushing the planet to the brink of disaster, while for everybody else, it was out there in plain sight. Again, the degrees of realisation of what it means to be part of the problem are vastly different.

Both registers are existential: neoliberal subjection – that is, precarious life caught in isolating competition without hope for upward social mobility; and the sudden sense that the carpet is being pulled out from beneath the “modern subject” (that is, the Western one, or that modernised according to Western standards) and its certainties, that the structural and systemic underpinnings of everything the liberal West believed itself to be and its monopoly on history are shaken. Knowledge of these structural and systemic underpinnings is circulating as the result of long political and epistemic struggles. But it is aided by the new ways in which knowledge is distributed, which simply make it much more difficult to maintain the colonial and bourgeois forms of control and hegemony – both for the worse (how should one term the “emancipation” of the resentful set, traditionally held in check by their belief in authority and now let loose?), but also for the better. That is because it’s undisputable that knowledge from the “margins” is about to change the fabric of modern knowledge as such, and that it can only defend itself and remain unchanged through denial and by resorting to living a (collective) lie. And Europe has experience in doing so; both the history of colonialism and fascism provide ample proof to this end.

The current “backlash”, the authoritarian strivings and resurgence of fascist structures, is thus the reactionary answer to this realisation of “being part of the problem”. It is the assertion of self-determination where capitalism has abandoned the aspirational promises of its liberal horizon of “equal opportunity”, and it is also the defence of privileges of the Western subject that are systemically and structurally based on, and indeed brought into being, by deep-seated, entrenched structures of exploitation and division. The ghosts of centuries therefore assemble around Europe – and yet this is only another imaginary displacement, for the ghosts have long since been within and not without. It is where the two vectors of disempowerment and self-entitlement meet, and the realisation of being “part of the problem” is deferred or foreclosed, that a configuration of affects is formed that accounts for the not-so-new-normality of reaction, the breaking-open of structural racism and systemic violence.

For Forum Expanded, this means drawing attention to the forms, images and narratives that result from existential practices and relations. These are not always “well-told” stories according to laws of genres (and increasingly, the algorithms that automate the reproduction of “viewing habits”). If the works derived from such practices are addressing themselves to a spectator at all, they do so primarily to induce this sense of implication: namely that there is no innocent, objective or neutral viewpoint, no safe distance, and that the dividing lines are not only out there, but that they cut right through each of us. And in being divided, there is no commonality. And common understanding does not come cheap.

Existential experimental cinematographic practices are by definition practices of political subjectivation; manifestations of and interventions into, rather then reflections of the specular constitution of the subject and its consciousness. Perhaps we can refer to today’s experimental not as those filmmakers and artists working with “new forms” (whatever they may be) first and foremost, but rather as those who emphasise the price of commonality, who refuse to give it away cheaply. At a curatorial and institutional level, the slogan “Part of the Problem” thus also means that the very idea of the public sphere, and the participation, representation, visibility and voice within its forums, is systemically implicated in the structural violence that so many of the artworks and films speak about. And while the role of cultural institutions has been to uphold the image of a functional public sphere, the price for this culturalisation has become untenable.

This is not a judgement about the state of the art nor a flirtation with institutional awareness, but a hope that we can gather around the peculiar sense of commitment that each of the works puts forward. “Part of the Problem” thus means neither that we as festival makers put ourselves in the position to ultimately judge which artworks are “part of the problem” rather than the solution, nor that we are comfortably on top of things and ahead of ourselves by reflexively subjecting the agency of the festival and our role to a critique. It means instead that we recognise that one cannot comfortably stay “ahead”, that being contemporary means to erase the comfort of critical distance, as if it were enough for “critical topics” to be raised and voices to be heard or rendered visible. The hope we invest in this this edition, as filmmakers and audiences gather in the ritual of watching and debating novel cinematic images, might be to sharpen the senses for what we have in common and yet still makes us unable to realise our commonalities. To realise that today’s borders cut right through us, as situated spectators, and yet in existentially different ways. And that it will not be the intolerable structures that we run up against from which we will derive the power to undercut these divides.

Anselm Franke is a curator, author and head of the Department of Visual Arts and Film at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt. He is also the co-founder of Forum Expanded and part of their curatorial team.

The motto of the 15th Forum Expanded is “Part of the Problem”.

Funded by:

  • Logo Minister of State for Culture and the Media
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