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  • Editor’s Forum:“The Commons as Network”
  • Amy J. Elias

As shared public space in which everyone has an equal stake, the commons has undergone radical transformation and redefinition in the twenty-first century. The arts have taken up the cause of commons preservation in a variety of ways, from the creation of media commons to the exposure of commons destruction in protest art to the enactment of commons principles in certain forms of participatory art, accelerationist aesthetics, and affect theory. But the arts may be being redefined as forcefully as the commons itself, forced to collude with a globalized market environment or marginalized as a harmless entertainment through variegated social, political, and economic mechanisms.

Q: I asked a group of artists and scholars in different arts fields to consider what the “networked commons” means for art and artists today—when “networked” is defined not only in terms of technological connections but also in terms of affective and social relations. Does the commons become redefined, reanimated and re-politicized if conceived not only in terms of spatialized geographical and legal territory but also in terms of timely networks, broadly defined? Might the arts intervene to redefine the commons—beyond copyright law and jurisdictional legalisms—and shift paradigms for shared environments from geography to flow, group to network, statement to dialogue, space to time, mind to body, solo to chorus, self to networked community? [End Page 35]


In his book The Undercommons, Fred Moten describes a process of social gathering, based in the improvisatory, that holds out the promise to affirm and share the tacit knowledges of the disenfranchised. They know—because they experience it on a daily basis—the violence, both physical and psychic, embodied within a profusion of discriminatory practices. Throughout the fluid and protean coming-into-connection of the undercommons, alliances are forged, critique is formulated, survival given hope. In his reenvisioning of Marxist explications of the workings of power and economy, Kojin Karatani argues that Marx’s theories failed to predict the current organization of world power because they focused on modes of production rather than modes of exchange. Whether in the form of the gift, plunder and re-distribution, or com-modification and capitalization, our modes of being in relation to one another are constructed from the transfer more than the creation of things, feelings, thoughts, and beliefs. In her book Performance, Diana Taylor asks, “How would our disciplines and methodologies change if we took seriously the idea that bodies (and not only books and documents) produce, store, and transfer knowledge?” Although all three scholars launch their inquiries in order to elucidate substantially different aspects of human experience, strikingly, all three of these interventions share an apprehension of the bodily motion through which the social is constituted.

To consider human movement as central to an analysis of commons, or any other social formation, is not to shift focus from mind to body, or from space to time, or from self to community, but instead to recognize the unity of mind and body, the relationality of space and time, and the interdependence of self and community. Such an analytic perspective also focuses our attention on process and on the changingness of the events we hope to understand. So, what if we all practice thinking about moving as a form of thinking, and, at the same time, reflecting on the moving/ thinking we are doing as we do it?

SUSAN LEIGH FOSTER is Distinguished Professor of Choreography, History and Theories of the Body in the Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance at UCLA. Her research areas include dance history and theory, choreographic analysis, and corporeality, and she is the author of three anthologies as well as Reading Dancing: Bodies and Subjects in Contemporary American Dance (1986), Choreography and Narrative: Ballet’s Staging of Story and Desire (1996), Dances That Describe Themselves: The Improvised Choreography of Richard Bull (2002), and Choreographing Empathy: Kinesthesia in Performance (2011).


My interaction with common spaces has been guided by my instinctive response to exhibition spaces, nature, and urban fabrics when I have had the chance to work on public commissions. When approaching a space, I never make assumptions...


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pp. 35-50
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