Common Tern Works

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Common Tern is an internationalist cooperative of worldmaking cultural workers engaged in plural forms of anticolonial, anticapitalist, antifascist, politics and aesthetics. Common Tern Works is its cultural production wing. 

Contemporary conditions in this global postcolony make it clear that culture uniquely coheres the questions of capital to those of colony in this ongoing global fascist moment. With so many compulsive returns to the past to try to create maps for the present, the category of the cultural worker stands out as needing to be centred in our analyses and our action, for the constant crucial and immediate work it does—as artist, as educator, as community organizer—in producing new maps and relations in our world. Many of us have felt the need to connect across cultural workers in different spaces that can allow us to together articulate an overt political programme centering the global south, and to acknowledge internationalism as a practice in many forms. 

The realms of politics and aesthetics, and the question of sensibility, are a central locus around which our contemporary struggles are being waged. Our limitations in prevailing over them have a lot to do with the prescribed forms in which art, academia, and political activism are supposed to be cast in in order to be legible and valued as valid interventions as such. Many efforts at bringing these realms—artworld, academy, and professional politics—closer often lapse into a kind of subsumption, and a mere transfer of institutionalities and disciplinarities.  To counter that, we feel the need to recover the actual locus of cultural production as the unifying frame for what we are all engaged in, thus allowing a direct relation to critical and historical discourses rather than satisfying contemporary performances of institutional value production, in politics, activism, organizing, scholarship, and art. 

As a continuation of the work many of us have been doing in various contexts, this new cooperative hopes to convoke a different political subject and different vectors of connection across various localities. It hopes to be an autonomous space of cooperation that provides an exit from institutional reliances, anchored and unanchored in various sites, held together by a cultural production wing to actually put those collaborations out into the world. It could provide space for the kind of connections and network we need in these fascist times without the nauseating performances even our friends and mentors sometimes require of us. 

Importantly, we hope that the Common Tern Co-op would not be held hostage to Anglo-US ideas of what counts as arts, letters, education, and political work, thus relieving us of the need to appease the institutions that see themselves as vanguards of these performances and productions. We value the work of organizations such as the Tricontinental Institute for Social Research, and have learnt from its structure and commitments. We want to extend that practice into, as Fred Moten and Stefano Harney put it, what surrounds that which is deemed as instrumental and logistical politics, art, and scholarly practice, with variations in form, genre, and “utility” of participation as spaces of relations and abundance. 

Here is the founding statement of Common Tern. Our first congress was held on February 13, 2021.

Please join us, as we forge ahead and set sights in a concrete way. We would appreciate your thoughts on the document, and also to know what resonates with you and what doesn’t, in order to cobble together and materialize a shared vision for an internationalist, anticolonial, and materialist political and aesthetic practice and sociality. We believe that something of a shared project is possible, in a different vein and key than the modes of knowledge, experience, solidarity, and activism native to various isolated realms of cultural work, limiting our vision of what is liberatory and just.

Everything that we are attempting is without any financial or institutional support, is purely a labor of love, and can grow into whatever we need it to be for many of us at this time and in times to come. 


Common Tern Works

Multi-modal “production” label, micropress, online gallery

The production platform of the Common Tern Coop, the Common Tern Works “label” or “imprint” consciously intervenes in the modes of legitimacy and value provided by the artworld to academia, and by academia to professional politics, and the other way around in both cases, in working across these boundaries and divisions of labour, challenging the institutionalities and publicities preserved in these modes. It courts multidimensional works spoken by and for the figure and labour of the cultural worker as a way to provincialise the formations of the academic, the artist, and the political organizer, and the institutional formations of these, native to the Global North, bringing the Global South in their fold through neoliberalism. It will also be an umbrella for the reproduction/reissuing of independent works from friends and artists. Governed by a subcommittee of the Co-op, various members of the co-op will offer their capacities to facilitate production under the label. For instance, Folio Books, a publishing house in Lahore, will be one of the key sites of this production. On the web, it will name a multi-modal publishing community that includes digital version of the texts under the imprint as well as audio and visual works publicised under the label.