Conceptual Cluster 2: Disagreement and Agonism

by idasandstrom

Superkilen summer 2012

Drawing on Jacques Rancière, Introducing Disagreement (2004) this post is a beginning of a discussion on Superkilen – a recently opened public space in central Copenhagen, designed to celebrate the cultural diversity of the area Nørrebro. Superkilen, developed in collaboration by the architectural offices Topotek1 and BIG, and the art group Superflex, is the result of a competition conducted by the municipality of Copenhagen. The project operates in the interstitial terrain between architecture and art, and has been presented as a ‘vehicle for integration’. The principal design concept – to fill the space with more than 100 different objects from around the world – has resulted in a highly diversified milieu, disparate from other urban spaces in the city. At the formal opening in June 2012 several speakers stressed how essentially different (anderledes) this area is to the rest of the city, and the singularity of this particular space.

Superkilen is located in Mjølnerparken, an area defined as a ‘ghetto’ by the Danish government. The official definition operates through criteria’s constructed to describe the level of exclusion from ‘the Danish society’ and indicates a high percentage of immigrants or descendants from non-western countries, a high percentage without connection to the labour market and/or a high level of convicted crime (Ministry for Social Affairs, 2010). Spaces of exclusion, of parallel worlds, are described by Rancière as breeding grounds for potential political subjects, subjects uncounted by the police. Acknowledging Mjølnerparken as fertile ground for politics and subversion suggests a threat to the police. In respond the police operates through inclusion, as inclusion renders it impossible to quarrel on the common. For the distribution of the sensible to be intact, the countable categories of society must include all. Therefor only a counting of the uncounted can disarm and neutralize a potentially political space, and thereby prevent an antagonistic dispute on the common.

The project of Superkilen was approached by the architects as “an exercise in extreme public participation”. The spokesperson for BIG explains: “Rather than a public outreach process towards the lowest common denominator, or a politically correct post rationalization of preconceived ideas navigated around any potential public resistance – we proposed public participation as the driving force of the design, leading towards the maximum freedom of expression” (BIG 2013 n.p.). A general designation of Superkilen could be that it resembles a somehow roughly drawn caricature of a plural world. Lately a massive outbreak of graffiti has indicated that all actors are not yet assembled as allies to the project. Other, more articulated voices in neighborhood, have expressed sharp critic to the project and what they experience as a quasi-participatory process, resulting in a project almost identical to the vision brought to the table by the architects (see Politiken 2010-07-14).

To me, the space as such – filled with disparate objects (street furniture, play tools, commercial signs) and covered with clashing colours (red, pink, orange) – makes a rather weak picture of ‘the maximum freedom of expression’ that it claims to be the result of. The space is, in its colourful rubber ground and eye-catching artefacts, reminiscent of a popular fairy-tale playground in Malmö. Assuming (with good reason) that Superkilen is not intended for children primarily, one may ask for whom the splendour of colour is intended. Is it perchance for another particular – yet countable – category within society; ‘the immigrants’? Superkilen’s has, it seems, offered inclusion in return for the political. Is Superkilen best understood in the light of the police’s need of control, or can it on the contrary be seen as an emancipating space opening up for multiple interpretations, by breaking with habitual uses of public space? The answer may well, considering the scope of the question, be contradictory; Superkilen might, in spite of its initial intentions, render new and unforeseen political subjectivities beyond the police.

Jacques Rancière , ‘Introducing Disagreement’, in Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities, Vol. 9, No. 3, 2004, pp. 3-9.

Chantal Mouffe, ‘Artistic Activism and Agonistic Spaces’, in Art and Research, vol. 1, no. 2, Summer 2007.

Claire Bishop, ‘Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics’ in October, vol. 110, Autumn 2004.