A report by Agentur, within the framework of the research project The Aesthetics of the Popular Fronts.
“Our work is not based on the tired old idea of reaching out to the people,” the pen name Virginia wrote in an article in July 1936. “We are the people.” The article was published in the French daily newspaper Comœdia, in a special section devoted to the country’s new Houses of Culture, les Maisons de la Culture. The fourteen articles that made up the section testified to the energy and the wild heterogeneity of the movement: there were texts on mural painting and newly founded film co-ops, lecture tours and people’s choirs, interdisciplinary scientific collaborations and workers’ theaters. Among the authors were several of the most famous writers, artists, and filmmakers of the French 1930s, such as André Malraux, Jean Renoir, and Fernand Léger.
The houses of culture served an essential function in the political project of the Popular Front. What had begun as a series of lectures arranged in the offices of the magazine Commune, turned into a country-wide network of self-organized cultural institutions, with ambitious programs of exhibitions, performances, concerts, and courses. Between 1935 and 1938, over 70 culture houses were founded in France, from Paris to Marseille. As both an institution and an idea, the House of Culture was of critical importance to the Popular Front: it served as an infrastructure for social organization, but also as a model for culture’s role in an equal and just society. The vision of an egalitarian culture embodied in the houses of culture went on to exert an important influence over the development of the cultural policies in the European welfare states.
Culture House Culture House Culture House draws on the special section on the French Popular Front’s House of Culture in the daily Comœdia, which is now published in full in Swedish translation. It is a report on the life of cultural institutions and the future of cultural policy, on decentralized self-organization and centralized state apparatus, on atrophied concepts and vigorous bureaucracies. Can the Popular Front’s houses of culture give us a new perspective on the development of cultural policies in Sweden, from the 1930s until today? Can the study groups and the forms of mediation of the houses of culture teach us something about the changing conditions of the writer in a postdigital public sphere? What would be a house of culture adequate to the social, political, and technological conditions of the present?
With presentations, interventions, lectures, and artistic contributions by Emily Fahlén, Jörgen Gassilewski, Elof Hellström, Pedram Nasouri, Sara Parkman, Kim West, and Ellen Wettmark, we invite to common reflection regarding an important institutional model in the history of modern cultural policy, from the popular front period until today.
Culture House Culture House Culture House is the third in a series of reports produced by the independent research group Agentur, within the framework of the research project The Aesthetics of the Popular Fronts. The reports take the form of public events, arranged at different places and institutions in Sweden and abroad during the fall of 2020 and the spring of 2021; videos based on documentation of the events, directed by Agentur, and published on digital platforms; and printed publications, produced in collaboration with a number of Swedish and international publishing houses, platforms, and magazines.
The event Culture House Culture House Culture House takes place on Friday November 6, 6–8.30 pm, at Cyklopen, on Magelungsvägen 170, Högdalen. Please note that because of the new guidelines from the public health authority, this is now a closed event.
The video Culture House Culture House Culture House, based on documentation of the event, as well as on specifically commissioned presentations, will be published on November 22 on agentur.ooo and cyklopen.se. Press play!
The publication Culture House Culture House Culture House will be published in collaboration with Stockholmstidningen in December 2020. The publication will feature a Swedish translation of the special section on the Popular Front Houses of Culture from the daily Comœdia, as well as essays and artworks based on the contributions to the event and the video. Would you like to read?
Thank you to FWD Fred Wenzel Displayservice, and to our collaborating partners.
History is not over (February 12, 1934): Mint September 17 / Video now online on agentur.ooo and m-i-n-t.se! / 1|21 Press in November.
Must Be Written Later: Titanic October 15 / Online November 8 / Chateaux in November.
To Philosophize With Labor: Biskops Arnö week 47 / Tydningen in January.
How Much Is Your Iron?: Marabouparken December 17 / online in January / Lulu-journal in January.
Counter-Attack: event January 21 / online in February / 1|21 Press in the spring.
For more information, see here.
Agentur is an independent research group for critical cultural production, based in Stockholm. Committed to an ideal of social equality, it seeks to invent new forms, methods, models, and functions for progressive cultural work in a new, postdigital public sphere and an increasingly precarious labor market. Agentur operates as a multidisciplinary critique bureau. It conducts longterm research projects on issues of public interest in a polarized and fragmented present. Among Agentur’s participants there are poets, artists, critics, researchers, designers, and public servants. In 2020–21, Agentur conducts the research project The Aesthetics of the Popular Fronts.
About The Aesthetics of the Popular Fronts
“Popular Fronts” was the common name of the coalitions of liberal, social democrat, and communist parties that were formed in several countries during the 1930s, in order to establish united fronts against the rise of fascism. Artists and authors, filmmakers and journalists, cultural workers and politicians mobilized for the purpose. The research project The Aesthetics of the Popular Fronts is based on detailed studies of artworks they created, texts they wrote, projects they realized. The aim is to draw up a provisional map of a historical, cultural, and social situation, in order then to ask if that history can still be our history. Is there a tradition of anti-fascist unity politics that stretches back to the moment of the Popular Fronts, with which we may still be able to identify? The immediate background to the project is the rise of the new far right in Sweden, Europe, and globally today. It poses the question of how, at what levels, and with what means we can in the most effective way counteract that rise culturally and politically.
The project is supported by Kulturbryggan.
Image: Christoffer Paues, Trea nr 3 för folkfronterna, 2020.
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