Borders, Boundaries, Nations: Spaces of the Deomcratic Subject
∙ Michael Allen ∙ SP19

+/x: 2020 B(u)y-enniale, Sacred / Profane
Denationalizing the 2020 Venice Biennale

Curatorial Statement:

The Biennale Architettura 2020 is reifying the relationship between Corporations and the State. This year’s theme: B(uy)-ennale – sacred x profane, imparts an independent curatorial framework in which nations are presented on the world stage in an agonistic fashion. The sacred-ness of the State and the profanity of the Corporation are not constituted as static determinations but rather oscillate between both, dependent on the People’s interests. These People are not citizens of the nation, but profit – the true disciple of the Capitalist religion.

Given that national pavilion curators would either directly bias their corporatist relationship with extra-state actors or face incredible pressure from state actors to do so, the independent administrative body of the Biennale has decided to posit the collaborations ahead of time. Each nation will work in collaboration with a corporation to devise their supra-national pavilion. The determinations for each supra-national pavilion collaboration are founded on agonistic relationships which elucidate the contemporary understanding of the nation to the outside world. The State and the Corporation will not necessarily be of the same nation but rather are formulated out of an innate sacred and profane relationship – a reality of dialectical materialism – based on their prior actions and maneuverings of power.

The supra-national pavilions will occupy the space of each nation’s existing pavilion. Those nations whose pavilions are in the Giardini will remain there as will those in the Arsenale and the Scoletta dei Battioro e dei Tiraoro, among other existing distributed sites. Ethiopia has been granted their inaugural pavilion in the Scoletta dei Battioro e dei Tiraoro in light of recent tragic events, who’s collaboration partner, Boeing, will have to reconcile with.  

Other featured collaborations this year include: the United States x Cambridge Analytica, due to the role of the latter helping elect the president of the former; Israel x WeWork, due to the role tech-startups play in recruiting graduated Israeli military cadets;  France x LVMH, due to the recent billionare donation battle for funding the reconstruction of Notre Dame; Finland x Tesla, due to the proliferation of subsidized EV’s based primarily off Finland’s sovereign wealth fund; Norway x Canadian Natural Resources Group Ltd., due to the recent divestment by Norway of oil and gas extraction companies; Russia x Mail.Ru Group, due to the appointment of the new CEO for the latter who is the son of the government’s state-sponsored television network, thereby consolidating all Russian sovereign information within the county; Great Britain x Uber, due to Britain’s ban on Uber in part based on their hiring of low-skilled immigrants; Germany x Bayer, due to the latter’s recent acquisition of US-based Monsanto; Japan x Ikuboss alliance, due to the imparting of effectively government propaganda through the corporations to increase gender equality and thereby increase women laborers; Canada x Hudson Bay Company, due to the latter existing as the formation of the former, and displacing First Nations people as its founding; Mexico x Ford, due to the proliferation and reliance on maquiladoras by the latter in the former’s borders, capitalizing on SEZ’s; China x Foxconn, due to the fairly recent workers rights violations in Apple’s supply chain and the former’s broad suppression of actual unionization efforts; Ecuador x Wikileaks, due to the former’s revocation of Julian Assange’s asylum in their London embassy; and finally Nigeria x Shell, due to the former’s reliance on the latter for export-oriented development, suppressing counter-economies in the process leading to paramilitary insurgent attacks.

Speculative Critical Response from a Biennale-goer:

The shroud of plausible deniability was ripped away at this year’s Biennale Archittetura. Called the B(uy)-ennale: Sacred x Profane, the theme this year would have only been more on the nose had it been called State x Corporation or Capitalism pt.1 x pt.2, but I suppose the curators would not have been so forthright with the content had it been given that name. While engaging in previous years’ Biennales, the corporate sponsorships had been subdued, treated only as a merch tent or supplemental affair, whereas this year’s exhibition promised to keep no prisoners – the raw and uncut version of State and non-state actors must be front and center forcing Biennale participants to directly come to terms with contested topics. Countries and Corporations must confront each other in some cases, while simultaneously suing each other in court. A lofty challenge for an independent curator collective to posit.

However, this premise relied on the assumption that the Countries and Corporations could come to some sort of mediation to create an exhibition that would in some senses rectify the situation and present it to the public. This proved not to be the case, especially when the collaborators were from the same country. Capitalism is dead, long live capitalism. In many cases, the exhibitions were just a series of corporate greenwashing campaigns, not only not recognizing conflicts of interest but rather selling the patrons of the Biennale, in some cases literally. Mexico x Ford’s pavilion just looked like a recapitulation of last year’s Detroit auto show – promising the latest and greatest EV’s, working to build transnational relationships, and promising fair pay and good working conditions for all in Mexico’s maquilas while China x Foxconn brought in Apple and launched the new Iphone (the headphone jack is back people). Meanwhile Israel x Wework unveiled new military-turned-civilian tech in advance of this year’s CES show. The Giardini and Arsenale were turned into a global tradeshow, yet maybe that was the point by the curators. While some patrons were swept up in the festivities, I stepped back from the crowds and noticed others passively shaking their heads with a regrettable look while subtly trying to hide any branding that was on their person.

After needing to remove myself from the stench of Capitalism, I walked to the Scoletta dei Battorio, hopefully to see a change in tact, the presentation of a reconciliation between opposing forces, I was promised Nigeria x Shell and Ethiopia x Boeing, what I got was a crowd. Away from the factitious throngs of well-to-do Venetians and internationalites, the infra-ordinary people of Venice were gathered around towers of paper, the wind threatening to send its contents scattered throughout the city. Upon closer observation, it seems that these two national pavilions had decided to take a stand against their corporate collaborators. Rather than accepting their money to develop a shiny object of a pavilion, they spent their own capital on simply printing all the court documents asserting the corporations are liable for wrongdoing. It seems that the corporations in turn accepted this exhibition proposal and added their own documentation, stating that they were innocent in the matter. I suppose at least this outcome was better than keeping the records sealed – let the public, and the courts by extension, figure it out.

I suppose then if we are to ask ourselves, is there anything sacred anymore? All that we’re left with is the vague notion of public(s) – but only those that aren’t caught up in the capitalist consumer crowds? In the end the curators have turned the spotlight back on us patrons, holding us complicit in the irresolvability between State and non-State actors. So long as capital(ism) is at the center, sacred and profane remain subjective and neither can fully resolve itself or extricate itself without suppressing the other.

The United States[s] of Me
Rededication of the Gateway Arch: New Nation

In the early 21st century I saw the return of a nationalist imperative. A backlash against a global neoliberal agenda, a George Soros agenda, a World Bank and IMF structural adjustments agenda – laced with an alt-right imperative, a white-nationalist imperative, a retain your own safety and security imperative. Nations closed borders while opening their networks. Nations isolated themselves from the outside world, only to spit outrage at foes geographically disparate from them. People laughed at Brexit, the British buffoon named Boris or was it the Orange one; the ill-advised, ill-informed publics, only to see the same thing manifest here. Which stop, an Irish back stop? Or a stop to the idea of a global governance, a failing of the European Union. A union not so united anymore – but was it ever? Gone is the TPP, gone is NAFTA, rise tariffs rise. The One Belt One Road, Internet Plus, Smart Europe …. A pipe dream, fodder for the re-election machine and the authoritarian regime.

But the climate changes on. People’s liberated isolation, one’s own migration from the state, a migration as a refugee, an embedded autonomy. From the yellow vests in Paris to the orange vests in the Mediterranean, people yearned for a piece of a Western vision, a post-WWII vision, a Bretton Woods vision. But that ideal has departed for its master, the elitist agenda – a capitalist jouissance. But this, here and now, is not a neo-Marxist fantasy nor a Luddite’s daydream. No I am here now, not because I retreated from the system but because it was envisioned anew. As Mackay + Avanessian once said:

the failure of a future that was thought inevitable’ by Marxism –   the failure of capitalism to self-destruct as part of history’s ‘intrinsic organic development’, for the conflict between productive forces and capitalist relations of production to reach a moment of dialectical sublimation, or for the proletariat to constitute itself into a revolutionary agent. [1]

The proletariat has been snuffed out, an endless horizontalism with no end goals in mind. The trappings of La Zad, the detourn-ers, and Occupy. We are the 99%, but what do we really want? The project of socialism was lost, somewhere during The Great Leap Forward, the message undermined by the congenial lure of power structures to the elite. Likewise the John O’Sullivan world – the world of Manifest Destiny – exists not, in which he said:

What friend of human liberty, civilization, and refinement, can cast his view over the past history of the monarchies and aristocracies of antiquity, and not deplore that they ever existed? What philanthropist can contemplate the oppressions, the cruelties, and injustice inflicted by them on the masses of mankind, and not turn with moral horror from the retrospect? [2]

Gone are monarchies and aristocracies, gone are democracies and parliamentaries, gone is Reagan and Thatcher, gone is Trump and May, gone is Merkel and Macron, gone is Orban and Modi, gone is Left and Right, gone is East and West, gone is inclusive and exclusive policies – the postmodernists have won. Self-differentiation reached its conclusion. I am no longer a citizen of state, of place, nor race, no monoliths remain. I am an individual, the humanist is dead, long live the humanist project, the in-humanist project. Forget its past – what the original begot - the colonialist and the imperialist. As Reza Negarestani says:

Inhumanism is the extended practical elaboration of humanism; it is born of a diligent commitment of enlightened humanism. A universal wave that erases the self-portrait of man drawn in the sand, inhumanism is a vector of revision, It relentlessly revises what it means to be human by removing its supposedly self-evident characteristics while preserving certain invariances, At the same time, inhumanism registers itself as a demand for construction: it demands that we define what it means to be human by treating the human as a constructible hypothesis, a space of navigation and intervention.[3]

Full stop. A moment of clarity, while Andrew Yang’s Freedom Dividend accelerated the pursuit of humanity: not left, not right, but forward. The beginning of Universal Basic Income, the beginning of the age of automation, the beginning of the age of the new enlightenment, the beginning of the age of a new humanism. Yes, I stand here today at the dawn of the Second Great Enlightenment, where gene editing has re-entertained the project of “human nature,” where automation has changed the laboring moral imperative, where one exists only for one’s own self-actualization. The inward turn from the nation-state has left only the individual and their own capacity to operate. The map of the nation is me. Polarization led to self- segregation. Self-segregation led to self-differentiation. Self-differentiation led to self-actualization. I am an individual and you can tell me no different. Everything is not connected as Graham Harman says.

We admire nothing more than the ability to see connections between apparently disconnected things. Every event in the contemporary world seems to speak in favor of interconnectivity: globalization, convergence, super powerful communications media, the new cosmopolitanism, and the nested feedback loops of climate change. The idea of autonomous individual things existing in isolation from each other now sounds like the crusty old philosophy of fossilized bishops and patriarchs out of touch with the latest trends.[4]

I am this autonomous individual thing existing in isolation, liberated from the grasp of capitalism – by “exacerbating its uprooting, alienating, decoding, abstractive tendencies.” [5]

Monuments and national symbols have shed their signification to structural mechanisms. Now, they operate removed from contextual signification, the new plop art – what is left is only individual interpretation. Our lazy memory – an amnesiac landscape or is it aphasiac? A voluntary cognitive dissonance, landscape legacy undergirded no longer by State institutions. How quickly opinion becomes fact, a post-truth, post-digital era. Did not this condition graduate with a turn away from State-building? Or was it merely accelerated as a by-product of social dissolution? So how do I progress when solidarity is singular? How do I consider monuments to a prior condition, a priori or posteriori? Reason or experience? Neither, it becomes. It becomes different from itself, by itself, to itself – to any one, to an individual, to me. It is reconstructed as I am reconstructed, it is re-signified as I am re-signified. Its message is not prescribed, but derived.

So gleaming arch I address you. Yesterday you were a monument to the West, then you were a monument to the “West,” and now you only face west. Man erected you to man, by man for man – re-scripted as a monument to a nation but now you are a monument to the individual. I can only say my opinion. Humphry’s opinion was different:

Part of the history and character of Man is that he stops on occasion in the pursuit of his destiny to build a monument to his previous achievement. Today [one] marks such an occasion … Please tell each passer-by that he helped build The Gateway …  [I] realize here today that the only reality in dedicating a monument is in [one’s] own rededication to what the monument signifies. Th[is] monument [is] either a living or a cold memorial … by the measure of what it evokes in those who stand before it. [A cold memorial] has no real influence on the lives of those who live beside it. [So] The Gateway Arch will be a living memorial. Whatever is shoddy … whatever is ugly … whatever is waste … whatever is false … will be measured and condemned by this new standard of excellence. [6]

But, you no longer remain a living memorial for me, you are a cold memorial – you have no real influence on me before you. You are an act of labor, a monument to materiality and no more. Perhaps that last line is more potent framed in this manner, “whatever is false will be measured by this new standard.” False narratives, and false binaries begone, you are of no consequence to my individuality, so likewise your monumentality is incised. This in-humanism leaves no place for the constant, the determinate, the predictable, and the complacent. The only meta-narrative is that there is no meta-narrative. The desires of collectives are inarticulate, there is no room for a singular understanding. Everything remains different from itself, so too must you. Your construction is no longer tied to my construction of self – my construction of humanity – my hypothesizing. You will continue to fade away, as you no longer serve my interests, as I re-construct myself and re-signify my landscape.

So [individual] who am I to you? Who are you to me? We share nothing, except this moment, in this non-place. My opinion is my fact, and so too you to yours. You consider it as I consider it, but that is all our shared commonality – our process of becoming different from ourselves, of constructing our own humanity, writes anew its signification. We both consider it apart from its a priori designation, and its a posteriori context. But that is all. I am my own self, and you are yours – I cannot impart my transcription on you for you should call me false. So, let me don my devices and dance to my own drum.

[1] Robin Mackay + Armen Avanessian, “Introduction,” #ACCELERATE: The Accelerationist Reader, 37

[2] Excerpted from "The Great Nation of Futurity," The United States Democratic Review, Volume 6, Issue 23, pp. 426-430. The complete article can be found in The Making of America Series at Cornell University <>
[3] Reza Negarestani, “The Labor of the Inhuman,” #ACCELERATE: The Accelerationist Reader, 427
[4] Graham Harman, “Keynote Graham Harman: Everything Is Not Connected,” <>

[5] Robin Mackay + Armen Avanessia, #ACCELERATE: The Accelerationist Reader, back cover

[6] John Heritage draft of the Vice-President Hubert Humphrey’s remarks for the dedication of the Gateway Arch.
< >

So, what did the United States of Me really mean? Here I will attempt to unpack further what I meant in my essay as well as reflecting on additional critical questions posed and consider those in light of readings and discussions within this class and the Global Structures and Problems class.

Is a nationalist agenda unequivocally undesirable? I begin my report with this assertion but let us consider the timing of its rise in the global West. We can generally agree that the golden age of neoliberalism occurred during the years of Reagan and Thatcher. Here I am defining neoliberalism to exclusively mean the infiltration of market logics into non-economic contexts. This occurred as a result of the Washington Consensus exacting structural adjustments – development prescriptions – to the developing world. As a result, privatization and de-regulation soared while trade barriers were eliminated. However, the dream of the invisible hand granting equity through capitalistic market tendencies involving newly developed and democratic nations was a failed enterprise, thus we know. This failing of the neoliberal project in the 1990s can be attributed to neoliberalism’s universality, zero-sum game competitive tendencies, the rise of new technologies, and domestic backlash against hyper-globalization tendencies among countries in the global north. So, in this context is it not a good thing that domestic policies of protectionism rose? That we as a nation moved away from the project of neoliberalism in such an extreme sense and back toward the idea of a nation-state, a nation-state simply defined as a sovereign entity? As all other things are, maybe it’s a continuum and we also must understand our other options. So, let us turn to Dani Rodrik’s inescapable trilemma of the world economy.

The condition I just laid out characterizes the “golden straitjacket” leg of Rodrik’s diagram. An idealized European Union would constitute the “global governance” side and the United States post-WWII with an idealized Keynesian economic theory would constitute the bottom leg of the diagram. Rodrik posits that we must pick two stations in this diagram, making us effectively choose between the three legs previously described. Now, in the context of this class and in preemptive response to our final project it seems that the agenda is to advocate for a global governance style of economy. In this system both people and capital flow freely, without the conditionality or allegiance to national sovereignty. Great, but it would seem that populist tendencies would once again resurface as universalism takes root. In such a system, it seems likely that differentiation would be white-washed as people no longer identified by nation but by some other identity characteristic, perhaps religious (thereby fueling more religious extremism) by ethnicity (thereby reinforcing racist tendencies) by culture (fueling increased self-segregation rather than integration) or any other number of factors by which we self-identify. This seemingly inescapable trilemma even under ideal conditions is why I effectively posit in my essay, why not pick ONLY one?

Instead of trying to rationalize an immanent binary, what would happen if we instead purely focused on the station of democratic policies, rejecting both hyper-globalization and national sovereignty (aka the nation-state). I extend this idea by conflating democratic policies to a return to the humanist project. Democratic policies in my mind implies individual affective agency, but not in terms of agency toward a nation-state as that station is eliminated. So if the democratic politics aren’t in reference to a representative democracy as I assert, then they must be turned toward inward – a democracy of the self. Here is where the terms and theories of accelerationism, inhumanism, agorism, left-libertarianism, and synthetic freedom enter in. What I am positing is that, in such a system the project of the human, a new enlightenment, will begin. I argue that perhaps this has already started with the advent of gene editing, further pushed along by the new documentary called “Human Nature” which aired at SXSW this year speculating on exactly these post/trans-humanist futures. Furthermore, I argue that identity politics and political correctness in this context will self-differentiate to such an extreme that only the individual is left as group-belonginess, i.e. any notion of collectivity, is undermined. Hence why, I assert that this is not a neo-Marxist fantasy. Rather what I am advocating for, although much of my essay can and should be taken polemically, is a synthetic freedom as defined by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams in “Inventing the Future”: a freedom from outside (read: State) influence with a material capacity (and agency) to act. This is effectively the same principle as agorism and intrinsic to left-libertarian principles. The thing is, is that I am not advocating for working within the current political system (Rodrik’s pick two option) nor retreating from it (the Luddite’s daydream) but rather envisioning it anew. The ironic thing, which I hint at in my essay is Andrew Yang’s Freedom Dividend, the central platform for his presidential bid in 2020 - basically a universal basic income ($1,000/mo./citizen 18-65yr), is a tool of governance which could be used to turn against governance. This universal basic income (granted at a higher pay rate), along with automation and a redefined work-ethic de-coupled from a protestant moral imperative of labour/suffering are the main points of Srnicek + Williams book – an elaborated accelerationist manifesto. While Yang considers himself a capitalist, I would argue that he’s an semi-accelerationist but wouldn’t admit to it, as it would be political suicide. The point being that a future where the individual is re-entertained and de-coupled from the power structures which made the imperialist project occur as a result of the first Enlightenment, could be a productive enterprise. In such a system, the citizen of self – a US of Me – might not be such a dystopian nightmare nor a critique of the present condition but a reasoned future.