Profile — 23 Nov 2018
Jonas Staal’s ongoing project New World Summit is an artistic and political organization that invites communities excluded from mainstream channels of democratic participation to contribute to “alternative parliaments.” Participants have included representatives of stateless nations, blacklisted political organizations, and autonomous groups. Summits are convened at the invitation of cultural and educational institutions and developed with alternative diplomatic bodies such as the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organizations (UNPO) and the Progress Lawyers Network, and are held in parliaments conceived by the artist in collaboration with frequent collaborators such as architect Paul Kuipers and designer Remco van Bladel. The parliament’s architecture and the event’s visual materials are reimagined for every new iteration in direct collaboration with the participants, and the summit relocates to a new city each time it is produced, thus making it stateless in itself. All members are given full freedom to express their political beliefs in the process of building new alliances, but are held accountable for their positions by audience members.
In Freedom of Movement, Staal presents artistic documentation from New World Summit: Stateless State, which was held at the Royal Flemish Theater in Brussels from September 19-21, 2014. This fourth version of the summit centered around the question: To what extent is the concept of the state still capable of representing and protecting a person's right to self-determination in the 21st century?
The project was prompted by the legacy of the War on Terror, which used national security to justify blacklisting, banning travel, and surveilling certain populations. Staal argues that such policies contribute to an erosion of civil rights that effectively renders certain individuals and groups stateless. This, he believes, is increasingly becoming the dominant experience of precarious citizenship. However, various participants to the summit contend that the condition of statelessness could encourage new forms of social organization that deemphasize national borders and state sovereignty.
Staal’s installation recreates the summit through video, architectural models, and other remnants of the event, including maps created in collaboration with each participating organization which outline the territories and/or political models they contest or claim. These individual maps are combined in a single “alternative world map,” which served as the summit’s central visual backdrop. This encourages a reconsideration of statehood from the perspectives of those who oppose or are excluded from mainstream political discourse.
Staal sees the summit as expanding on strategies of institutional critique, a tactic through which artists examine systems of power that operate within cultural, governmental, and educational organizations. While set within cultural institutions—which are often thought to be apolitical—the project serves as an example of how art can catalyze civic engagement, and provide the context for new modes of political action to arise.
About the artist
Jonas Staal (1981, Netherlands) studied at the AKI Academy for Visual Art and Design in Enschede, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and he holds a Ph.D from Leiden University. He is the founder of the New Unions campaign and the artistic and political organization New World Summit. His work includes interventions in public space, as well as exhibitions, performances, publications, and lectures. He has presented his work at venues including the Moderna Galerija, Ljubljana; Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven; BAK, basis voor actuele kunst, Utrecht; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow; Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw; the Oslo Architecture Triennial; the Berlin Biennale; the Bienal de São Paulo; and the Kochi-Muziris Biennial. His recent books include Nosso Lar, Brasília (Jap Sam Books, 2014) and Stateless Democracy (BAK, 2015), and his book To Make a World: Propaganda Art in the 21st Century is forthcoming from the MIT Press.