Here is where we ask you to upload your blog posts in response to Module THREE materiality…
Here is where we ask you to upload your TWO blog posts in response to the chosen conceptual clusters in Module TWO.
Chantal Mouffe poses in her paper ”Artistic Activism and Agonistic Spaces” one of the most crucial issues on the condition of contemporary art practices of today:
”Can artistic practises play a critical role in a society where the difference between art and advertising have become blurred and where artists and cultural workers have become a necessary part of capitalist production.” (Mouffe 2004 p. 01)
The essence of Mouffe’s issues concerns the possibility and capability of revitalizing the political power of contemporary art closely connected to the realm of public space. Instead of artistic practises as part of a capitalistic system, she emphasizes arts role in terms of actively questioning the prevailing capitalistic value system that controls the society. Mouffe builds on a political ethos rooted in the idea of agonism closely associated with the French philosopher Jacques Rancière’s ideas on disagreement. Disagreement questions the idea of “the common” in terms of consensus as this is based on a political model of representation of political interests (for instance groups of people) in which the political subjects of representation themselves have been excluded. Dissensus thus questions the idea if a society in which democracy is built around a common consensus to even be democratic in its nature. “Consensus means erasing the contestatory conflictual nature of the very givens of common life” (Rancière 2004 p. 07)
As the society’s political ethos is always mediated and materialised through the construction and notion of public space, a fundamental question regarding contemporary art – related to issues of the public space – is thus how art can reformulate our relationship to public space. While the notion of public space according to consensus, operates in terms of the platform where consensus takes place and is manifested, the agonistic approach of the public space is “always plural and the agonistic confrontation takes place in a multiplicity of discursive surfaces” (Mouffe p. 03) Thus an artistic activism according to Mouffe, rooted in agonism “…makes visible what the dominant consensus tends to obscure and obliterate.” (Mouffe p. 04) Art as an opportunity to undermine the present power system through the production of alternatives.
Translated into practice – after having read Mouffe’s text – it however appears obvious that Mouffes spectrum for what could be labelled artistic activism is not just an issue of politics and space but also time. Or maybe better expressed: duration. The situated art Mouffe refers to in terms of artistic activism, refers to the temporary and often volatile, in which political actions in most of the cases become synonymous with the ephemeral and the instantaneous. From this I draw the conclusion that art, according to Mouffe, can not remain agonistic over time without being deterritorialized and decoded by the prevailing power structure(s). That thus public art in terms of permanent art can not be really political. Mouffe’s proposed artistic activism seems to appropriating the epithets “political”.
This is problematic, as according to my opinion, artistic heterogeneity implies an openness towards the fact that different artistic expressions operate differently in terms of levels of speed, intensities (fast or very slow) and duration (temporarily or permanent). The permanent artwork operates within another realm of duration and speed and intensity then the ephemeral, but this, does according to my opinion, does not make the first mentioned per see incapable of acting political.
The discussion on public art including so called permanent art, does for sure, continuously need to revitalize itself and its relation to power structures. How art continuously could remain producing meaningfulness, as an on-going active negotiation with a specific site in question. The critical art has an important role in this visualization of power structures, but I mean that it must be allowed operating from several realms and levels of speed, duration and intensities.
Reflexion based on
Jaques Rancière ‘Introducing Disagreement’, in Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities, Vol. 9, No. 3, 2004, p. 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.
The three texts analyse the relationship between theory and practice from various perspectives. In extension, it brings up questions as to what theory is and what constitutes practice? In the conversation between Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault a new relationship between theory and practice is discussed. This relationship is “partial and fragmentary”, rather than one being the application of the other. To Deleuze, theory is invariably local, related to a limited field, and subsequently applied in another sphere.
Deleuze uses the “relay” to explain how he understands theory and practice to be interrelated: “practice is a set of relays from one theoretical point to another, and theory is a relay from one practice to another. No theory can develop without eventually encountering a wall, and practice is necessary for piercing this wall”. Deleuze brings up Foucault’s analysis of penal institutions, where at one point it became necessary for the prisoners to be heard, a form of practice which informed the theory – as a relay to another set of theory rather than as a simple affirmation or application of theory. “The emphasis was altogether different: a system of relays within a larger sphere, within a multiplicity of parts that are both theoretical and practical”.
This new relationship between theory and practice is thereby ultimately one where “representation no longer exists; there is only action — theoretical action and practical action, which serve as relays and form networks”. This shift can be compared with Marx, as proposed in his theses on Feuerbach: “Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it” (Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach, no. 11). Foucault suggests that “theory does not express, translate or serve to apply practice: it is practice”. To Foucault, theory is a “regional system” of the struggle against power. Both Foucault and Deleuze agree that theory is inherently opposed to power [which would suggest that power is opposed to theory?]. Power is here understood as something enigmatic elusive, incomprehensible in totality, only perceivable in its expression, as Foucault puts it: “everywhere that power exists, it is being exercised”, the problem is that in most instances, it is masked, hidden and it is the task of theory to expose these hidden power relations.
In Eyal Weizman’s text “Lethal Theory”, critical theory is applied to question the power of the military doxa, a set of dangerously rigid beliefs , both to the soldiers themselves and civilians. As Naveh puts it: “we employ critical theory in order to critique the military institution itself”. If power is understood to be opposed to theory (an e contrario interpretation of the relationship between power and theory elaborated by Foucault and Deleuze), the question becomes: how does the introduction of theory into a system (the military) opposed to theory transform this system? On the surface, the answer is very literal; theory is employed to break down actual walls, according to Weizman. Yet, by questioning the military logic, (critical) theory in extension, must on a different level question power and how it is exercised. Despite claims of the opposite, “this theory is not married to its socialist ideals” (Weizman), one could argue that making a military establishment start to think rather than recognise will ultimately transform not only its operational tactics, but also its own subjectivity, and its relation to power.
Conceptual Cluster 1: Relations and Agency
As the world is getting more segregated and spatially divided between rich and poor, and increasingly so during the past three decades through neoliberal politics (Harvey 2008:32), professionals and practitioners working with urban development, as planners, architects and preservationists, are developing practices within a sustainability discourse. Some of these practices aim at reaching municipal goals of social sustainability, for example poverty reduction and equality. The roles and practices of professionals in urban development are debated and under negotiation, and Awan, Schneider and Till (2011) speaks of “critical practices” as a way to make transformative actions against non-reflective practices of habit and repetition. Drawing on Lefebvres understanding of production of space, they state that the architects’ work produces social space and that “every line on an architectural drawing should be sensed as the anticipation of a future social relationship” (2011:30). Social space is never neutral, but political and charged with dynamics of power relations, hence architectural production is not a neutral action. Rather than “architect”, the authors suggest “spatial agent” to describe an actor who negotiate to reform conditions, and who “engage transformatively” with structures of society (Awan, Schneider and Till, 2011:28-31). Archtiecture may also be seen as a shared activity, a relational practice, where the architect acts together with others in a network of different agents. Petrescu (2012) believes the architect can initiate such network of actors, as a kind of urban tactics (in De Certeau’s sense of the term), by creating “relationscapes” where different agents and relationships between people, material and spaces are produced. The aim would be to empower agents to manage space and to maintain democracy. Petrescu and her atelier aaa (atelier d’architecture autogérée, small letters) design agencies rather than objects, and she questions current architectural regulated practices. Her participatory approach aims at working with others to empower them, instead of on behalf of clients or of oneself. The archiect’s role in Petrescu’s suggestion is manifold; to create a rhizome system, to empower agents, to produce facilitating (architectural, physical) objects to enhance appropriation of space, and at the same time to map and visualize the network and the process. In Petrescu’s work, the mapping becomes performative and an actor in itself, one agent amongst the other, which mirrors the process. She explains that the mapping can “enhance experience”, help to create and reveal agents, and to discuss things otherwise invisible (Petrescu, 2011). Coming back to Harvey’s analysis of the consequences of neoliberal politics on urbanization, the division of space due to urbanization is a global process, which he believes possible to struggle only on a global scale with finance capital. Harvey finds the idea of the city functioning as collective body politics, where progressive social movements might emanate, implausible (Harvey, 2008). In the light of this perspective, Petrescu´s suggestion of the extended architectural role as an empowering agent on a local scale, might be more in favour of empowering the architect than the local people. However, as Harvey also points out, social movements may be supported by local state apparatus, which could contribute to a reshaping of the city (Harvey, 2008:33).
Awan, Nishat, Schneider, Tatjana & Till, Jeremy (2011) “Introduction” Awan, Schneider & Till (Eds.) Spatial Agency. Other Ways of Doing Architecture, Routledge, London
Harvey, David (2008) “The Right to the City” New Left Review 53, September October 2008, 23
Petrescu, Doina (2012) “Relationscapes: Mapping agencies of relational practice in architecture” City, Culture and Society, 3 (2012) 135-140
In the previous blog post I addressed (travelling) concepts (Bal 2002), in general, here I will focus on a specific concept – aura – and how it can be used. The concept of aura features from the work of the German philosopher Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) in his theory of modernity and interpretive readings of modern culture. It first appeared in his essay “Little History of Photography” from 1929 and was later developed in his artwork essay; “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” from 1936 (there are four different versions of the essay). Benjamin used the concept of aura to articulate the shift when the subject of capitalism turns into the subject of modernity in the middle of the 19th century. It appeared in the crossroads of literature, painting, photography, philosophy and modern subjectivity. According to Benjamin is aura the luster or attraction that has been associated with the uniqueness of the work of art that subsists in our perception. He writes in “Little History of Photography”: – “What is aura, actually? A strange web of space and time: the unique appearance of a distance, no matter how close it may be” (1927: 285). Benjamin claims that it is the aura of the work of art that withers in the age of mechanical reproduction. Even the most perfect reproduction of a piece of art is lacking in one particular way – its presence here and now. The process is symptomatic and its significance outreach beyond the field of art. (1936: 222-223).
I first came across the concept of aura in economist Ivar Björkman’s doctoral dissertation; Sven Duchamp: Expert on production of Aura: A study on Entrepreneurs, Visions, Business and Art (1997) where conditions that influence the aura of a product are investigated. Björkman use the Swedish furniture company Källemo AB and its founder Sven Lundh as a case study. (Källemo specialize on exclusive “arty” furniture produced in limited editions where the most important quality aspect is the visual quality. Lundh stated the well-known quote “It [a piece of furniture] shall stand the wear of the eye”). Björkman claims that aura is a social and cultural construction, created by people and is not something that is just “out there” He argues that the majority of aura experiences are interweaved with a variety of cultural factors that influence the experience. For example tend museums to reinforce the perception of aura and media tends to influence the observer’s consciousness of aura. Björkman has in his study tried to deepen the understanding of what is regarded as cultural context for a design company and how value is created in the company. He claims that aura is created in the “art world” which consists of a number of actors, from institutions to professional reviewers, who due to their high cultural credibility has the power to decide what is art and not art (1997: 36-39).
I find the concept of aura useful in my research on modern Swedish furniture where I study how particular pieces of furniture become something called modern classics. I am interested in how different factors and aspects (eg. context, framing, quality and aesthetics) influence us in our perception and definition of modern classics that I also think contributes to their survival, visually and commercially. It is these qualities and values that add to the aura of the furniture or their uniqueness.
Aura is an enigmatic term. Its nuanced understanding does not make it less inscrutable. I will conclude with a quote by philosopher Mieke Bal: “Concepts are never simply descriptive; they are also programmatic and normative. Hence, their use has specific effects. Nor are they stable; they are related to a tradition” (Bal 2002: 28).
Benjamin, Walter. (1936). “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. Illuminations.
Björkman, Ivar. (1997). Sven Duchamp: Expert on production of Aura: A study on Entrepreneurs, Visions, Business and Art. [Sven Duchamp: expert på auraproduktion. Om entreprenörskap, visioner, konst och företag]. Diss. (selected parts)
agency > agencement (fr.) > agencer (fr.)
put in place
verbs describing actions to induce/provoke/make/shape/modify/intensify/attenuate/transform/extend/… ‘relations’ between people, places, spaces and things, in order for them to hold together
and in order to articulate affinities (or aversion) between/from/towards/into/through/… them. A bit like the 6 doors giving the verbs good company.
1. The Pleasures of a Door (Francis Ponge)
Kings never touch a door
It is a joy unknown to them: pushing open whether rudely or kindly one of those great familiar panels, turning to put it back in place – holding a door in one’s embrace.
… The joy of grasping one of those tall barriers to a room by the porcelain knob in its middle: the quick contact which, with forward motion briefly arrested, the eye opens wide, and the whole body adjusts to its new surroundings.
With a friendly hand it is stayed a moment longer before giving it a decided shove and closing oneself in, a condition pleasantly confirmed by the click of the strong but well-oiled lock spring.
(from The Nature of Things, Red Dust New York 2011)
2. Doors (Georges Perec)
We protect ourselves, we barricade ourselves in. Doors stop and separate.
The door breaks space in two, splits it, prevents osmosis, imposes a partition. On one side, me and my place, the private, the domestic (a space overfilled with my possessions: my bed, my carpet, my table, my typewriter, my books, my odd copies of the Nouvelle Revue Française); on the other side, other people, the world, the public, politics. You can’t simply let yourself slide from one into the other, can’t pass from one to the other. You have to have the password, have to cross the threshold, have to show your credentials, have to communicate, just as the prisoner communicates with the world outside.
How to be specific? It’s not a matter of opening or not opening the door, not a matter of ‘leaving the key in the door’. The problem isn’t whether or not there are keys: if there wasn’t a door, there wouldn’t be a key.
(from Species of Spaces – The Apartment, p.37 – Penguin Twentieth Century Classics)
3. The act of making an opening raises the question of how to close it – an opening enables connections, but does not prevent them, so protective or filtering components such as doors, gates, windows, shutters and sun control elements are created to do this. These allow the opening’s function, form and the impact it has on a space to be altered.
Doors and gates are components used to close or open a passage through a wall. They allow rooms to be closed off from other rooms or from the outside area, while allowing people to pass through. The difference between doors and gates is a matter of dimension: while a a door approximates to the size of a human being, gates are used to close off larger openings.Doors and gates can be constructed to permit entry to certain users and to exclude others.
(from Open/Close, Birkhäuser 2010, Introduction – theoretical foundations p.8)
4. When the building was finished he seemed particularly happy with what to some might seem a small detail: a raised door sill between the spaces of the house. While at first sight this is clearly an unconventional detail that might cause a distracted visitor to stumble, these raised sills also form a spatial threshold that, to a certain degree, makes a door unnecessary and makes you conscious of the action of entering a space. An ambiguous threshold that negotiates between accessible and yet secluded.
A parallel can be drawn with the Japanese Noren, the short split cotton or linen entryway curtain that is traditionally hung in a doorway and makes us bow a little and pay tribute to the space we enter. ‘It wasn’t long before Katsuyuki arrived, making a poetic entrance as she gently lifted one side of the noren curtain, bowing her head slightly as she floated through it’.
(from Substantiating Displacement, Arnaud Hendrickx, 2012, p.188)
5. De Drie Hoven, Amsterdam (Herman Hertzberger)
6. hide and see
wipe ones feet
take off ones shoes
put them on again
lift ones feet
sit (in the doorway)
turn the key
give a hug
verbs describing some actions induced/provoked/made/shaped/modified/intensified/attenuated/transformed/extended/… by ‘relationships’ between people, places, spaces and one of many (material) agents of architecture.
In a previous life I used to be an architect and partner in a Brussels based architectural firm named RAUW. We started in 1998 as a collaborative practice. The name ‘RAUW is both a word and an acronym. RAUW is the Dutch word for ‘raw’, while RAUW also stands for ‘Realisatie van Al Uw Wensen’ (Realisation of All Your Wishes). The name was chosen to be a constant reminder of the task that lay ahead of us when we started. To respond to a duality, a short-term and a long-term view, a problem solving and an explorative approach, a smooth, rational, politically correct side and a rough, ‘uncooked’ spontaneous side…’. Besides our architectural activities we also focused on architectural graphics and drawing. This was an activity that we developed with a certain degree of autonomy from our architectural practice. Some digital traces remain and can be found on the outdated websites rauw.org and amplify.be
In 2008 I took a break from architectural practice to be able to focus my attention on aspects of architecture that I could not develop in the context of the office. As a consequence my activities shifted towards architectural education and research. In 2011 I started a PhD at Chalmers. The project I am working on bears the (provisional) title ‘Invisible Things, a journey through organizations of matter in architecture’.
The project focuses on architecture’s built and tangible reality and how to bring that about, i.e. the construction subjects of architecture. It is concerned with the processes and acts of fabricating, assembling and shaping architecture, with understanding matter and the inexhaustible possibilities to transform it into architecture, as well as with getting your hands dirty and going into the action of making architectural things.
In order to be able to construct architecture we need to understand the theories of making as well as the practices of it. Unfortunately, when it comes to learning about making and constructing architecture, we almost automatically and exclusively end up in the realm of technology (and science). However, both fields of knowledge are not well equipped to deal with all facets of making, since they are primarily oriented towards producing certainty, control and prediction and acutely lack sensibility for aspects that are not quantifiable, calculable and certain. Aspects of making that are characterized by doubt, mess, imprecision and ambiguity are absent, avoided or solved.
It is necessary to complement the traditional instrumental and quantitative approaches of architecture’s physical making with qualitative and interpretative one’s. The existing paradigms must be put under critical scrutiny and questioned with regard to their explicit and underlying thoughts, methods, systems, organizations and theories.
An attempt to do this is what the Invisible Thing’s journey is about, at least for an important part. Valuing and dealing with apparently simple though often neglected underlying questions – how to make/construct/materialize architecture? How to understand the richness, complexity and organization of making? How to learn about it and how to teach it? – is another part of the challenge. I will try to create keys to interpret and understand ‘making’ architecture in a more comprehensive and exhaustive manner – one that is complex, interpretative, approximate, sensitive, particular and ambiguous besides being exact and abstract. Hopefully this can lead to a certain degree of (re)-identification, (re)-framing and (re)-formulation of principles, (re)-consideration of theories, (re)-telling of stories, (re)-construction of pedagogy, de-familiarization of familiar approaches and consequently their (re)-discovery.
What interests me in this conceptual cluster is the historical implication of the political order of consensus. Jacques Rancière suggests that the collapse of the Soviet system was “an internal weakening of the very democracy that was assumed to have triumphed” and that it, opposed to what we would think, “reduced democratic life to the management of local consequences of global economic necessity.” Instead of a reappraisal of the political dimensions of Western democracy the logics of the liberal market order became the dominant model of democracy. This political-economic structure or what Rancière calls “the consensual order” was favored on both left and right and turned “political forms into instruments of economic interests and necessities.”
Chantal Mouffe also recognizes a weakening of democracy in recent years and similarly argues that this is due to the dominance of liberalism, in which political questions are depoliticized to mere “technical issues” to be settled by experts. She defines the dominant tendency of liberal thought as rationalist and individualist that is “unable to grasp adequately the pluralistic nature of the social world.” Mouffe argues that in the political world of liberalism antagonism is negated, as the conflicts posed by social pluralism cannot be dealt with through the universal consensus of reason.
The observations of what the consensus of economic necessity is doing to marginalized alternative ideologies or social movements in opposition to this leading identification of democracy is not new. In the world before the fall of the iron curtain, both left and right – i.e. the Soviet five-year plan and the Western capitalist economies – practiced the ideology of equilibrium although in very different localized (nationalized) versions. Neither could we assert that the depolitization of politics through rationalist decision-making came with the neo-liberal politics of the 1990s but was observed already by Max Weber in the beginning of the 20th century. However, what is clear with the reasoning of both Mouffe and Rancière, although they never say this explicitly, is that the mainstreaming of ideology in parliamentary politics is disarming any opposition to the consensual order – especially that on economic policy – through the apolitical system of public administration.
In the light of such concern with the future of parliamentary politics, rather than the Mouffe’s concern with artistic practice, I think that both Rancière’s and Mouffe’s dismissal of, for instance, Hannah Arendt’s agonistic public space is rather problematic. The rejection rests, I believe, foremost in their total refusal of any a political structure based on coming to an agreement, and secondly, in the scope of concern. We could see Arendt’s critique of the bureaucratic systems of political governing revealing “the banality of evil” in another historical context than Rancière and Mouffe, but nevertheless criticizing a consensual order in which plurality of thought, opinion, and action is undermined.
The possibility to reach into the center of politics with marginalized issues is, according to Rancière, impossible in a consensus democracy as consensus means “erasing the contestatory, conflictual nature of the very givens of common life.” Yet he believes that that it is “possible and necessary to oppose a thought of political precariousness” (and consensual stability) as “[p]olitics is a local, precarious, contingent activity – an activity which is always on the point of disappearing, and thus perhaps also on the point of reappearing.” I do agree.