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.
→ Kim West, “AGENTUR – Notes on Problems and Forms of Work”, in: Editorial meeting – A Gathering Towards a Critique of the Contemporary, 2020, online here.
→ Maja Hammarén, “5 frågor till Agentur om Folkfronternas estetik”, Paletten no. 321–322, 2020.
“Popular Fronts” was the common name of the coalitions of liberal, social democrat, and communist parties that were formed in, among other places, France (Front populaire), Spain (Frente popular), the US (Popular Front), and Chile 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.
Among important examples of organizations related to the Popular Fronts are the French filmmaker Jean Renoir’s radical cooperative Ciné-Liberté, Georges Batailles’s revolutionary political group Contre-attaque, and the radical cultural organization A.E.A.R. (Association des écrivains et des artistes revolutionnaires), which among other things set up the International Congress for the Defense of Culture, to which authors such as Bertolt Brecht, André Malraux, and many others contributed. Among important works from the period, Simone Weil’s Factory Journal could be mentioned, as well as Tillie Olsen’s feminist workers’ novel Yonnondio, and Charlotte Perriand’s photo murals for the world expo in Paris in 1937.
The Aesthetics of the Popular Fronts is based on detailed studies of these and related projects. The aim is to draw up an aggregate image of a historical social and cultural situation, in order then to ask if that history can still be our history. Is there a tradition of antifascist unity politics that stretches back to the moment of the Popular Fronts, with which we may still be able to identify? Is there an aesthetics of resistance – to borrow a concept from Peter Weiss – to which we can still refer, and that we can draw energies from, and mine for methods and models?
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. In a situation where the extreme right employs new modes of organization through social media and digital platforms, there is still a lack of progressive counter-initiatives in the field of cultural policy.
How should we read the aesthetics of the Popular Fronts – their different cultural policy initiatives and their claims for a politics and aesthetics of unity – today, thirty years after the collapse of “actually existing socialism”, and in the midst of a historical crisis for European social democracy? How should we think the cultural policy visions and the popular education projects of the Popular Fronts in a totally transformed social, cultural, and technological context?
c/o De Nieuwe Diepte
Årsta Skolgränd 16A
117 69 Stockholm
Core participants 2020–21: Emily Fahlén, Jörgen Gassilewski, Rikard Heberling, Elof Hellström, Martin Högström, Ingela Johansson, Emma Kihl, Christoffer Paues, Samuel Richter, Kim West, Ellen Wettmark.
The research project The Aesthetics of the Popular Fronts is supported by Kulturbryggan.