Since 2008 Spain is facing a severe financial crisis that caused diverse cuts in the public sector—as a common practice in such times the cultural sphere has been affected by cuts ever since. Public space plays a particularly important role in Mediterranean countries, it functions as a social spot for encounter, get together and enjoyment of the mild climate. As one can easily assume a lot of the ease disappeared in times of crisis, nevertheless, public space gained a particular important role in civil uprisings, protests and the occupation of squares as for example the Plaza del Sol in Madrid through the indignados movement. In these times several artists and artist collectives reflected upon the role of art within society, and a trend towards more political performance related pieces can be observed in the last years. Performance art comes in all shades and disguises: it is a genre in which the performer works live sometimes with collaborators and borrows styles, techniques and rituals from all kind of areas. The performer focuses on his body and uses it as a tool to express himself or relate to the space or audience.
Flamenco as a tool for freedom of expression
flo6x8 is a collective flamenco group that relates to the tradition of protest songs through flamenco dance, vocals and music. Flamenco is a folk art particularly rooted in the South of Spain in Andalusia, which involves singing, dancing, guitar playing and hand clapping. It dates several hundred years back and has always been the musical outlet of the poor or marginalized, particular attributed to certain ethnic groups including Roma. The musical genre is strongly rooted in its community and continues to be passed on from one generation to the next. Usually the dancer interprets the vocals and musical rhythms with a bodily expressed choreography. Most Spaniards can relate to the genre and it is part of the collective musical and artistic imagination. In its traditional form flamenco expresses emotions and the human condition, translating feelings ranging from happiness, to death over loneliness, passion, sensuality and seduction into bodily expressions.
Reclaiming space through the body
The collective flo6x8 uses this musical outlet and translates it into their indignation over the financial situation and austerity in Spain and reconnects the genre with its origins as an art form of social awareness. Taking its name directly from a common flamenco rhythm it inscribes itself into a whole cultural tradition. Since their public appearance in 2011 most of their performances take place in banks, cash points or even the parliament. They use the strategies of flashmobs with all its spontaneity and the unknown result of the event. The freedom of movement, bodily expression and the appropriation of space are the essences of these performance pieces. Titi Mon Parne, the pseudonym of one of the group members, explained their particular interest between the bodily experience and capitalism in an interview as following: “The body is an element that we all have; it’s what makes us human. But capitalism on the other hand is totally the opposite. It’s an arbitrary construction, one that’s so far from anything that makes us human.”
The experience of the protest body
The work of flo6x8 and other groups in public and private spaces is particularly important, but also in danger since Spain passed the controversial Citizen Security Law in July 2015. This new law puts the freedom of expression of artists and activists in jeopardy. Its strict regulations of the freedom of assembly and expression in protests are sanctioned with huge and disproportionate fines ranging from €100 to €1001 for lesser infractions and up to €600,000 for very serious infractions. Refusing to dissolve a protest, for example, is a serious infraction. The new draft law also redefines public space—and therefore public order—which now extends to private spaces such as bank branches, as a means of criminalizing the hundreds of occupations of banks by citizens protesting against bank fraud and abusive mortgages.
The flamenco performance contradicts the behavior of the body in a highly controlled space as a bank. The usual bodily experience is regulated: one has to queue up, keep silent, keep distance to the next client, be discrete, talk often to the clerk through a glass window etc. The performances of flo6x8 reclaim that silenced and body oppressing space back and show that it is the basic human condition that we experience our environment through the body. The powerful images that these actions create contradict the usual protest image, that are expected by the media.
The projects of flo6x8 can be categorized as socially engaged art as they work within the realm of the public and translate democracy to a spatial construct where transparency, visibility for everyone and public space are main factors. The neoliberal strategy to restrict this space is revealed through their projects as they visualize the marginalization and the restrictions. Following the tradition of a lot of socially engaged projects, they rely on specific aesthetics that can easily be sensed among images or their videos and are shared widely over the internet. Theirtactics contradict the usual protest image through playful moments or the use of irony and humor.
These events create new images that create a powerful new archive of counter protest images. It is interesting to see how those images and tactics are echoed by other groups and movements around the world where they are appropriated for the site-specific problems. A network of these groups is spreading around the globe and collaboration and knowledge transfer in between them are more and more important. Through their open collaboration they gain more visibility and can create a powerful tool for social change.