Focus Artistic Research

Parrhesia: The Risky Activity of Speaking Up and Speaking Out

Project lead: Ulrike Möntmann, PhD
Peter Weibel - Research Institute for Digital Cultures
Duration: 22.02.2021 - 21.02.2025
Austrian Science Fund (FWF): V 856 Richter-Programm (inkl. Richter-PEEK)
Ulrike Möntmann’s project “Parrhesia: The Risky Activity of Speaking the Truth” again focuses on a marginal group, and with the aid of arts-based research and practice seeks ways out of systematically imposed powerlessness. 
The research project centres on the conditions of life for female drug addicts before and after the onset of their addiction. That they are regarded as a negligible social phenomenon and, moreover, the women experience themselves as guilty in principle and justifiably imprisoned, in no way diminishes their suffering from a life on the streets and in prison characterised for the most part by (sexual) violence. On the contrary: being structurally condemned literally to voicelessness and therefore also to defencelessness raises the question of whether recounting the stories of their lies in public can prove to be an emancipatory act. In an interdisciplinary amalgamation of art and social science Möntmann’s gender-specific study analyses a phenomenon that concerns society as a whole from a variety of perspectives. To expand areas of action and the circulation of knowledge of her Outcast Registration network, the findings of the projects conducted so far in central Europe will be supplemented and extended by a number of projects conducted in prisons in northern and southern Europe.
The key theoretical concept of the project is Michel Foucault’s conception of parrhesia, which describes the courage and the duty to speak the naked truth; from a seemingly powerless perspective to take up a stance sincerely and candidly against powerful persons and the established order at the risk of being sanctioned. Parrhesia reveals existing hierarchies, here based on the position of female drug addicts pushed to the outermost margins of society. The initial question contradicts the widespread cliché that junkies have nothing significant to say. In prison, society’s most isolated space, the project participants discover art as a potential space of action. In their biographies recurring patterns and contingent structures become visible, in particular the disproportionate nature of the consequences of offences they have committed and that have been committed against them.
Art thus becomes a socio-political means of mediation and, through the employment of aesthetic media, an instrument of public visibility. Art interventions and empirical research prove to be effective and complementary investigative methods that can be applied in an interdisciplinary context. Within the framework of new collaborations with research institutions in the countries where the project will be carried out in the future, a large-scale network is being established with expertise that will promote and enrich arts-based research on possibilities for socio-political interventions in the long term.