Carnival – Another Map for Contemporary Art

This article is a part of the room: AptArt

We’re getting ready for the Pirate Carnival on Saturday, September 16, at the Alexandra and Ainsworth Estate – also known as ‘Rowley Way.’ Lately, I’ve been thinking about how Carnivals4David has evolved over the last few years. There have been three of them so far. This one is the fourth.

Despite huge enthusiasm and over 200 locations worldwide joining us, the first Carnival got very little press coverage. The media landscape is set up so that news of any collective action is difficult to find. To catch the press’ attention, you’ve got to spice things up with images of protest, all-out conflict, and straight-up defiance against authority. As Clive Russel put it: “The Press only turn up to an execution.” But are we even interested in media coverage? I think so because if you understand Carnival as a political gesture constructed to enter and ultimately change the public imagination, then media is the best way to start. 

For the second Carnival, we attempted to work with existing institutions and joined a group working with the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid.

Two days before the event, our event was canceled unexpectedly, and our venue revoked.

Thankfully, we pulled it off with the help of the awesome Church of Stop Shopping, our Spanish pals, Leo Bassi, and friends from the Museum of Care. It turns out our main mistake was trying to play by the rules and apply for permits.

The next Carnival was when the David Graeber Institute opened in London.  It was held in Rowley Way in 2022. We mixed with the tenants of the incredibly beautiful Council estate, with whom we co-created art, had a costume parade, and shared a fantastic two-hour feast that seemed straight out of a fairy tale. The food was never-ending, thanks to our Rowley Way residents.

We had brilliant artists from Ocean Rebellion, ArtFabrika, Paris68redux, This Ain’t Rock’n’Roll, and the Art Blockers from Extinction Red Rebel Brigade, who, with the Estate’s kids, friends, and people passing by, all worked together on a huge poster-making workshop protesting the climate crisis. On a dark September night, the brutalist buildings of Rowley Way were taken over by the Church of Stop Shopping choir, the Extinction Rebellion Red Brigade, and clowns, giving the whole thing a surreal vibe.

The procession, led by Rev. Billy, started quietly along the Estate’s Red Road, and as Billy got louder, the crowd grew, and it turned into a passionate prayer: “Look out for each other! Water your neighbor’s plants! Feed each other’s pets! We’re children of the sun! We want solar power, not Margaret Thatcher’s gas and oil individual heaters!”

The Rowley Way Estate, like many neighborhoods worldwide, has been trying to go green, often without much help from the local authorities.

The day after tomorrow, we will connect a joint production of costumes with the carnival procession and a shared meal with collective conversations.

The question is: Could the Carnivalesque mindset, which was banned at the end of the Middle Ages by emerging capitalism, re-enter our lives? And if so, how might it change them? 

As a follow-up to the 2023 Carnival4David, we are preparing a Carnival4David for the Venice Biennale next spring.

Imagine: an open-to-everyone Carnival in Venice, tapping into the city’s pirate and carnival roots, and happening right in the middle of one of the swankiest art events in the world! Could it be a way of shaking things up and changing how we deal with the powers that be? Can we experience Carnival as direct action that transcends the Art World? 

Direct action, unlike protest, does not have to negotiate with existing power but acts as if another world already exists, thus creating it in the cracks of the existing system. 

For generations, artists from all over have seen getting into the Venice Biennale as the ultimate milestone in their careers. Sure, they hope for real-world benefits like higher art prices and more commissions, but deep down, what drives this passion is the belief that it’ll finally place the artist and their work on the map of contemporary art, giving meaning to years of dedication and effort.

What if, instead of competing with other artists for the limited places in the Biennale (and the art world as a whole), we introduce another map of contemporary art? What if we create an art map with room for everyone, where there is no need to compete within a field filled with a carefully selected list of professional career artists? 

With the participation of Paris68redux, David Graeber Institute, Museum of Care, Nika Dubrovsky, Clive Russell, Ocean Rebellion, ArtFabrika, This Ain’t Rock’n’Roll, the Art Blockers, the Extinction Red Rebel Brigade.

Many projects work with the idea of collectivity. At various exhibitions, I have seen artistic installations that create imaginary states where anyone can obtain an imaginary citizenship. 

The art world is flooded with experiments with the cooperation between artists and audiences, more and more art projects are going in the direction of theater or activist actions. 

I was particularly impressed by Documenta 15, which featured numerous collective anti-colonial projects. 

In dialogue with all of these works, the project of Carnival is being thought through.

We will also offer our own form of truly pirate engagement in the debarkation and reorganizing of power in cultural practices by infusing the city in various forms with David Graeber’s university lectures, which he gave at fancy universities worldwide.