Com­monism

The Guardian - G2 - - Live Reviews - Gareth Llŷr Evans

★★★☆☆ Birm­ing­ham Rep Un­til to­mor­row

Billed as a “per­formed con­ver­sa­tion”, Andy Smith and Amund Sjølie Sveen’s Com­monism is per­for­mance as an in­vi­ta­tion to lis­ten, to col­lec­tively take up space and to spend time imag­in­ing a fu­ture far dif­fer­ent from our pre­car­i­ous present. They pro­pose that com­monism, as a prin­ci­ple or an idea, of­fers a po­ten­tial fu­ture of both rad­i­cal equal­ity and rad­i­cal free­dom.

For an hour, Smith and Sveen per­form a scripted con­ver­sa­tion dis­tilled from their own length­ier ex­changes. Pages are turned and ideas ge­nially de­bated: eco­nomic sys­tems and wealth dis­tri­bu­tion, pol­i­tics and the de­mos, na­tions and bor­ders, labour and au­to­ma­tion.

I doubt that much here would be new or con­tro­ver­sial to any­one with a slightly left-lean­ing bent or a pass­ing in­ter­est in the state of the world. There is, how­ever, an open ac­knowl­edg­ment of the priv­i­leges that al­low for two white, mid­dle- aged men to stage a sub­sidised chat for a pay­ing au­di­ence. And there is an un­der­stand­ing that an equal fu­ture for which they ad­vo­cate will rightly ne­ces­si­tate that the stage be ceded to oth­ers.

How­ever, while Com­monism might se­dately look to­wards the hori­zon, in the in­ter­play be­tween its min­i­mal the­atri­cal­ity and a sin­cere com­mit­ment to ac­tual shared pres­ence and col­lec­tive po­ten­tial, it also guile­fully in­ter­ro­gates its lim­i­ta­tions, po­lit­i­cally and per­for­ma­tively.

Smith and Sveen’s con­ver­sa­tion cul­mi­nates in the dis­tri­bu­tion of a hand­book that con­tains the prin­ci­ples of com­monism. Shift­ing from staged con­ver­sa­tion to procla­ma­tion, copies are dis­trib­uted to the au­di­ence. Read af­ter the per­for­mance, un­en­cum­bered by even the most min­i­mal the­atri­cal trap­pings, one is struck by the text’s dif­fer­ence in reg­is­ter and how these ideas might now func­tion be­yond the stage. It is not a step-by-step guide, but hav­ing negated their own the­atri­cal­ity, these ideas, even ab­stractly, feel con­crete and of the world. They sin­cerely in­vite us to do with them as they will.

The man­i­festo fea­tures a quote from Sara Ahmed’s Liv­ing a Fem­i­nist Life, re­mind­ing us that “we” is “not a foun­da­tion but what we are work­ing to­ward”. As al­ways: the great work be­gins.

Se­date de­bate … Amund Sjølie Sveen and Andy Smith

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