Our Autonomous Life collective participates in forum with Silvia Federici, Amsterdam, NL, February 2013

On Friday, February 1st, Casco is organizing a day long forum with Silvia Federici to explore the underlying concept of ‘the commons.’  The collective who produced and participated in Our Autonomous Life will engage with Silvia during both forums. I won’t be able to participate due to the drastic cutting of funding to the arts in the Netherlands, which for my selfish reasons, means that Casco is not buying me a train ticket to attend the forum. Boo! Although apparently its freezing in Amsterdam, so maybe not so Boo after all…

I’ve only heard about Silvia in the context of the Art World, and not via Academia. Der Salong, an anarcho-collective within the Munich Art Academy with whom Binna Choi and I conducted a workshop, had invited Silvia for a workshop as well.  I know that the Centre for Possible Studies, a project of the Serpentine Gallery, had also invited her to speak here in London and that it was a ‘big event.’ So, when I heard that OAL was going to participate in a forum with Silvia, I was pretty excited.

Since I couldn’t participate in the forum, my role has been to read Silvia’s work and to help the OAL participants who will be physically present with their contributions. I read three texts which can be found on the commoner website, “Wages Against Housework,” “On Sexuality as Work,” and  “The Unfinished Feminist Revolution.”

I was completely shocked by how simplistic her work is. The writing from the 70s is classic marxist feminism: myopic, utopic, and naive, and banal. Feminist studies from within academia has completely dismantled the essentializing and myopic perspective from which Federici writes and the points that she makes. See the work of  2nd wave/70s feminist such as Mary Daly and Kate Millet, if you are interested in this perspective.  To read critiques, see the work of bell hooks, Chandra Mohanty, or any 3rd wave feminists.

The piece written in the 2000s made some interesting arguments. For example, Federici claims that the obesity crisis originates from reproductive labour– in this case, cooking– being contracted outside the home on a large scale.

I’m confused as to why her work is celebrated by the Art World when its simply a rehashing of 1970s 2nd wave feminism, which has been critiqued and dismantled for being exclusionary and essentialist? Is it that gender studies as a field hasn’t really reached the art world and as a result, such ideas are seen as revolutionary? I’m perplexed and would love to be enlightened by someone out there who finds Federici’s work brilliant and insightful. Otherwise, my conclusion is that the emperor has no clothes.

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2 thoughts on “Our Autonomous Life collective participates in forum with Silvia Federici, Amsterdam, NL, February 2013

  1. Silvia and George Caffentzis were (are) the guts of the Midnight Notes Collective (http://www.midnightnotes.org/). She wrote “Caliban and the Witch”, which is a cult classic on primitive accumulation. Sorry you think she’s slow, but…. she is finally getting a few moments in the “sun” of international regard, and it is long overdue. Also she is a really sweet person.

  2. Hi Alan,

    Thanks for the comments. She may be a sweet person, but that is besides the point. Moreover, her work in the midnight notes collective and the book that you mentioned are not listed in the biographies that these art projects have written to publicize the events that they organize with her, which I believe means that these pieces are not the texts that make her so appealing to the art world.

    The ideas and points that she espouses in her writing from the 70s has been thrown out in academic feminism, so why is her work being held up as critical and revolutionary in the Art World? Her contemporary writing is not particularly insightful or original either– just a summary of facts and figures from various sources. There are more interesting ideas coming out of radical left movements than the ones that I read in her texts.

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