Philosophies

Architecture + Philosophy research seminar, ResArc, Sweden: Dr Hélène Frichot, Critical Studies in Architecture, KTH Stockholm

Month: November, 2015

Transitional Imaginaries – Socialities

by bojanboric

Post-Socialist period in CEE counitres is based on the disintegration of the previous centralized system of economy and politics. No one new for sure where the transition exactly would lead after dismantling the communist party and political apparatus. The only perceivable goal was that somehow societies would transform into Western-Style democracies but no theory of transition was ever proposed nor written that would provide guidelines for this process. Every country was supposed to find its own path (Stanilov, K. 2007). However, there is a certain consensus among scholars which interpret the notion of the post-socialist transition as top-down market economy driven economic and institutional transformation accompanied with democratization of politics. According to Ludek Sycora, the development of the post-socialist cities is today governed by the shift towards market economy. Therefore, it could be assumed that the economic restructuring is the main driver of institutional change in the CEE countries. In this context, the institutional reforms were the top-down process of the ideologically based reforms characterized by the departure from the centralized system based on “multiple transformation dynamics” (Sykora) consisted of institutional, social and urban transitions.

If the economy was conceived as the diving engine of change imposed from the top down, what if the questions are posed from the other end, from within the complex and diverse fabric of society that provide many cultural and social nuances, invisible for the eye of the classical economic science based on their reductive lens.

In the Eastern European context the advanced liberal economic policies imported from the west are at the heart of the mechanisms driving the social and institutional transformations. The paradox is that in the West there are calls to “rethink economy as a central organizing cultural frame” (JK Gibbson-Graham 2014). This is exemplified through the calls for alternative thinking by the “Occupy Movement” for example or by other types of social movements critical of the blindness expressed by the “economic orthodoxy” that calls for growth and overarching economic theories, no matter what the consequences for the environment or for the perpetual threat of economic crises.

Within economic anthropology studies there are efforts to approach economic practices that are based on “performative rethinking” about economic practices.

The important point here is that the diverse economic practices of the everyday are taken into account through the ethnographic studies. This approach takes into account the “rich pallet” of interactions that make up the daily pattern of human life, such as “making a living, surviving, getting by, getting ahead, gaining respect, building a future, maintaining habitats and juggling different regimes of value” (JK Gibbson-Graham 2014). The ethnographic approach is especially relevant in the places where there is an ongoing social change, such as in the post-Socialist transition because they reveal and engage with the complexity of social processes revealing nuances that are invisible through the conventional empiricism.

One may claim that an illusion of the linear conception of time represented by the notion of “transition” as conceived within a dominant capitalist economic transformations are the product of the “capitalocentric discourses of economy” (JK Gibbson-Graham 2014) that leave very little space for non-capitalistic imaginaries. The alternative would be to theorize economies that provoke open questions, instead of providing dead ends theories that examine all social change according to the dynamics of capitalist and market economic processes.

Transition – a Fiction of Progress (subjectivities)

by bojanboric

In the post-Socialist Eastern European context, the “transition” – is a euphemism used to describe the processes of change in the former socialist Central an Eastern European countries that started in 1989 after the collapse of Soviet Union. The “transition” meant a rapid economic and political transformation of twenty eight countries of the former Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries which is about one sixth of the Earth’s total land mass (Hirt S. and Stanilov K. 2009)

However, the term “transition” is highly contested and ambiguous. The meaning of the term extends well beyond the rationalist approach of the political economy executed through shrinking of the state, massive privatization of public assets, decentralization, and other neoliberal reforms. The term “Transition” is also problematic since it implies a linear historical progression with a beginning and a projected end toward a perceived goal. It is an attempt to frame historic period of social transformation in the post-socialist Eastern European context within an “end of history” framework of understanding. The fiction of the populist narrative and operative process of legal and institutional transformations are mutually supportive mechanisms of social transformation. Furthermore, there is also a cultural dimension related to transformation of society that has produced a specific kind of a city, today also labeled as the transitional or post-socialist city.

The social and cultural transformation of post-socialist Eastern Europe (term “post-socialist” also being a problematic terminology) is associated with the post-modernism where the ideological metanarratives are resisted through commodification of culture, populism and fragmentation. I believe that the narrative of “transition” in terms of the notion of linear path of certainty is a populist fiction that represents a period since 1989 and has after the 25 years lost its meaning in the sense of passage from socialism to market economy and free market capitalism. The transitional or post-socialist city has acquired perhaps new different meanings and today it should be either dismissed as a utopian narrative of progress or it should be studied for its “own logic” (Hirt S. 2012) and in its own right. Bauman claims that the end of socialism is the end of modernity. He links common enlightenment roots of communism and capitalism and considers both socialism and capitalism as products of modernity. According to Sonia A Hirt, post-modernism is a “cultural-epistemological shift” represented through architecture and urbanism of fragmentation, privatization, reduction of private sphere, as well as the abandonment of the ideals of emancipation, etc. Therefore it is possible to relate the post socialist post-modernist city to the Western context of post-modernism. Fredric Jameson, describes post modernism as fascinated with populism and kitsch. He avoids periodization hypotheses because it represents historical periods in linear terms presents a historic moment through massive homogenization and “obliterating differences”. This is why it is important for Jameson to view post-modernism as “cultural dominant” and not merely an aesthetic style. Such conception allows for coexistence of different features within a system of thought.

While under the under the socialist modernist state: “shaping space to shape society” (Hirt S. 2012) was the norm and according to Georg Simmel, the modernist culture was defined by the “dominance of the objective spirit over the subjective” in the post-modern world of late capitalism, the human subject is unable to keep up with evolving surroundings transforming into a “post-modern hyperspace” of the city. Jameson claims that we have not kept up with the evolution of the space since our sensibilities were shaped by the late modernity. While in modernism the imperative of planners and architects was to shape spaces in order to shape society, in transitional and the post-modern world it is the mutating hyper-space that is perceived by human subject as disorientating, ambiguous, mutating space that causes “disjunction of body and its built environment”.

Jasmin Matzakow

by jasminmatzakow

Photo-Mikael Bergman, objects-masterstudents of Adellab

 

I’m a 33 year old German-Greek jewellery artist, living in Stockholm, and auditing this course. I’m curious to learn more about ways of making the implicit actions in the art jewellery scene explicit not only through objects but also through verbal language.

I apprenticed to a goldsmith for one year before attending the jewellery of Burg Giebichenstein Kunsthochschule Halle, where I received my Diploma of Arts in 2010. In 2008, I co-founded Schmuckkantine, a platform that organized workshops, exhibitions and catalogues. In 2013, I moved to Stockholm to pursue studies in the Ädellab department at Konstfack University College of Arts, Crafts and Design, from which I graduated 2015 with an MFA. During my studies, I co-founded The Pack, a team of two artists and one designer researching the meaning of craft in our society in a philosophical context.

The focus of my latest body of work lies on the function of jewellery as a wearable reminder of healing and the responsibility for taking care of ourselves. Jewellery is a good medium for being a reminder as we carry it with us in an intimate, yet visible way, and we enjoy it. I circled around the question of how the reminding can take place by looking at different sociological and philosophical theories on how and why we engage with objects, in particular from Deleuze and Guattari. I researched tattooing and scarification traditions that humans created for protective reasons on physical and magical levels. Tattoos and scarifications create pain and small injuries in a controlled and ritualised setting, and I am interested in how this connects to healing: the painful experience is supposed to have transforming powers.
I chose wood as my base material because it has similarities to the human body. Trees have joints and a skin-like bark which can become scarred. I have applied my findings to wood that I cut, burned, sliced and tattooed. My work process is ritualised, disciplined and repetitive. The transformation the pieces undergo is aggressive, yet resolved to a point that exposes a beauty inherent to the process and to the outcome. This beauty is important to me: It is here that one can be reminded of the possibility of healing after a painful experience.

Heterogenesis, everywhere

by jasminmatzakow

Jasmin, burned wood

While burning wood, scrubbing it and burning it again and again, I have some time to think. The Philosophies course is still very present in my mind, but I cannot get lost in the intensity of my thoughts because I have to take care of the fire, an attention seeking element. I have space for my thoughts to roll around in the background, though. My focus returns to what my hands are doing. Even though the burner is a rough tool, I can use it quite precisely. When I cool the wood in water and start scrubbing off the charcoal surface, I feel with my hands every little bump, every line, every change since the last scrubbing. I go back to the burner and follow the same lines with the flame, either erasing them or defining them more, depending on how the water moves, comes up to the surface, and then evaporates. I think of what Felix Guattari said in The Three Ecologies about heterogenesis: “Individuals must become both more united and increasingly different” (p.45). Initially, I perceived this as an opposition. The more I think about what it could mean, and how it can be applied, the more these two elements turn into complements. When I, as an individual become more united with my community and surrounding, I am more committed to it. At the same time, when I become increasingly different, I am more aware of myself. My actions and their consequences and I become more responsible, which connects back to my commitment. Looking at what my hands are doing at this moment, I see the actions of my burning in the wood. I see heterogenesis in my work process, at this precise moment: it is the way I watch over the details in my wood, how they change, how precious they are to me, and how aggressively and firmly I burn the wood down to a small piece. Both are necessary to create the tension and delicacy I am searching for in my work; they do not oppose but rather enrich each other. These two examples, of how I can begin to understand heterogenesis, remain in my mind for the following days. I talk to friends and colleagues about it. We agree that we are very accustomed to think in dualities. It is quite a challenge to endure seemingly opposing things, feelings, thoughts, etc., to just give them space, to not judge them as two sides of a coin, as an either/or, but let them be equals, floating around. Even in this example I continue to think binary, but our world is composed of so many elements, and heterogenesis is not a dual system. So: I am not only a committed, responsible human. I am a committed, responsible and emotional human. I am a committed, responsible, emotional l and stubborn human. I am a committed, responsible, emotional, stubborn and foolish human. All at the same time and with the same right to exist. How nice.

I continue working on my burned piece of wood. It has become thin and fragile. As it is now, I do not like it because it is stuck in between different kinds of shapes and messages. Is it not dual, not contrasted enough for me? Indeed, I would prefer it to be thin and strong or thick and fragile. It is very hard for me to endure its current indecision. Is indecision the opposite of heterogenesis? Or is it a part of it? Where is the connection between a united, different individual and my abeyant piece of wood? United and different is what I am looking for in my work, not indecision. So, how can the piece move from indecisive to heterogenic? This is what I need to find out. Go.

On Real Estate as the 13th Element

by hannesfrykholmuma

Basic RGB

 

In his critique of the 2014 Venice Biennale, Reinhold Martin argues that real estate, and the regulations and economy that constitute it, should be considered an element along with the other (the door, the wall, the stair etc). Martin suggests that real estate is “a primary infrastructural element” that expands through the infinitely repeated process of subdividing undeveloped land “into a one-stop shop for single-family suburban homes.”[1] In the repetitive process of suburban housing, developers acquired “large, undeveloped tracts of land, […] laid out street patterns and utility grids, divided the land into smaller parcels, and built residential neighborhoods on those parcels.”[2] Since the main exhibition on “Fundamentals” according to Martin shies away from real estate as “arguably the one truly globalizing force” it also fails to recognize the ties between the elements of architecture and the economic and political conditions in which these elements are always situated.[3]

In Martin’s text contemporary architecture is placed in an unavoidable relation to power, and the most urgent question is therefore how to “limit, redirect or neutralize it, or at least not to be seduced by it”.[4] This call for a withdrawal from the power’s seduction reveals an understanding of the concept as innately repressive and static. In discussing power, Sven-Olov Wallenstein’s makes a distinction between on the one hand Michel Foucault’s understanding of power as being a relative and changing “series of transitional forms”, and on the other hand Giorgio Agamben’s reading of the concept as a “sovereign operation” happening in a “moment before or outside of history”. Martin appears closer to Agamben than to Foucault on this matter.[5] Power becomes an ontological concept that defines life from outside of life itself. This presents a problem. As a practicing architect it is impossible to detach from the structures of power, but at the same time it is impossible to engage in them, if one does not want to take the explicitly callous position of accepting global inequalities, etc. We are left with negation as the only way out.

Martin’s focus is mainly on the process of real estate prior to the completion of the project. The many different immaterial aspects of real estate, such as the “site acquisition, planning, construction, financing, insurance and marketing” take part in defining the conditions for particular modes of life. However, once the physical space of real estate is there, through for example a subdivision housing, it also carries an impact on a mundane level – through the doors, stairs, floors, lawns, driveways, etc. All of these elements form certain modes of life, and even though the immaterial forces are still there – for example through the ever looming threat of another housing recession – there is an immediacy of life that happens independently of planning documents, site acquisition and marketing. Martin does not deny this. His point is simply that the mechanism that produced all of the other elements, ie. real estate, should have been acknowledged in the biennale exhibition, as a primary condition.

There is a valid point in Martin’s critique of the exhibition’s tendencies to frame the elements as inert artworks rather than as performative objects located in a larger infrastructure. Is the Fundamentals exhibition not simply a collection of dead artifacts? A bestiary of the many different designs of toilets, that is then safely reintroduced into capitalism by the business fair-like seminars held around the inauguration days of the Biennale.

In his critique of the essentialist tendency of the exhibition, Martin introduces another essential category that operates with similar universal claims, that is real estate. Real estate supersedes and frames all other elements. It reduces them to components in an infrastructural system. Real estate is everywhere. It is for Martin the most common condition in which architecture meets the world. It appears in the subdivision units and in the colonization of generic land, but also in ”cultural monuments, leisure palaces and other political-economic symbols.”[6]

The concept of real estate, if analyzed from the “micro-historical” perspective that pervaded the main exhibition, probably would have been dissected into more parts than just “land”. The point is not the “eternal recurrence”[7] of a limited set of architectural categories, but the analysis of the small parts of architecture as a way to produce “evidence of key moments of […] metamorphosis while offering an interpretation of architectural elements as products of cultural and political shifts”.[8] To analyze the minor parts of architecture, can be a way to study the micro-politics of power as something plastic, rather than as a transcendental force of permanent oppression. This to me is an aspect missing in Reinhold Martin’s critique.

Hannes Frykholm

 

[1] Reinhold Martin, “Fundamental #13: Real Estate as Infrastructure as Architecture,” Places Journal.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Sven-Olov Wallenstein, Biopolitics and the Emergence of Modern Architecture (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2009), 16ff.

[6] Martin, “Fundamental #13: Real Estate as Infrastructure as Architecture”.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Rem Koolhaas, “Foreword,” in Elements of Venice, ed. Giulia Foscari (Zürich: Lars Müller Publishers, 2014), 7.

 

Some reflections on the spectacle of neo-liberalism

by hannesfrykholmuma

forum gallery

Caesar’s Palace Forum Shops, Las Vegas, NC

Critical readings on neo-liberal urbanism sometime express an almost moral indignation over the visual appearance of this new landscape and its glossiness, surfaces, images, spectacle or simulacra. David Harvey’s text on urban entrepreneurialism is a good example of this reaction. In his critique Harvey notes that economy of the current city has entailed “ephemerality and eclecticism of fashion and style rather than the search for enduring values, […] quotation and fiction rather than invention and function, and, finally, […] medium over message and image over substance.”[1] So what are the things no longer there? “Enduring values”, “invention”, “function” and “substance” appear to be the things that have been marginalized in the city of entrepreneurialism. Yet, these words seem alien, even in the tradition of David Harvey.[2] Are they not part of an enlightenment project that disenchanted the world through rationality, economy and engineering, all in an efficient synergy with the expansion of capitalism?[3]

In the act of negating the phantasmagoria of capitalism, Harvey’s critique reproduces ideas of rationality and function that have been entangled with the capitalistic expropriation of life for the last centuries. Perhaps more importantly, this kind of critique misses the opportunity to challenge neo-liberalism in a realm that it has claimed for much too long; namely that of our fantasies. Instead of only calling for the loss of continuity and substance in current capitalism, it is interesting to ask why the expressions of “fiction”, “image”, “fashion” and “style” that appear in neo-liberal urbanism are so mundane and boring? In his book Dream: Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy Stephen Duncombe writes:

“Between arrogant rejection and populist acceptance of commercial culture lies a third approach: appropriating, co-opting, and, most important, transforming the techniques of spectacular capitalism into tools for social change. [—] To do this means recognizing that consumer culture—its crafted fantasies and stimulated desires—speaks to something deep and real within us.”[4]

It is nothing new that architecture is deeply entangled with the current economic system. Even the vocabulary of architectural practice bears signs of this, as in for example the use of the word “project” as both verb and noun. The projective signals a direction, as in the “projectile”, but at the same time it is a temporary engagement. Pier Vittorio Aureli notes that a project “addresses a potential future situation, but in doing this it seeks to organize the available means towards a possible end.”[5] The project in this sense is not permanent but rather a transaction involving materials and work during a limited period of time. It reflects an economy that is built on instability and changes, where adaptability and transformation are signs of vitality.

Every new project is a form of adjustment to specific conditions and requirements. For Boltanski and Chiappelo the notion of the “project” is located in an economy that transcends its critical forces through a grammar of inclusion. They write, “[a]nything can attain the status of a project, including ventures hostile to capitalism. Describing every accomplishment with a nominal grammar that is the grammar of the project erases the differences between a capitalist project and a humdrum creation (a Sunday club).”[6] The concept of the project also entails an aesthetic dimension through the spaces and experiences that it promises. Sven-Olov Wallenstein argues that architecture always entails “prefiguring or ‘projecting’ of future human sensations: the architect composes a pattern of possible movement, a possible trajectory of the body”.[7]

The aesthetic dimension of the projective is related to a particular set of criteria for experiences in the neo-liberal city. The neo-liberal economy operates on a sensorial and bodily level. Investigating the aesthetics of the spaces of neo-liberal economy opens up for a better understanding of how desire is generated in relation to certain activities within this economy. There is in this sense an aesthetic dimension in any built environment, a sensorium that produces affect. To simply negate the sensorial aspects of the current economy as being the chimera of an underlying condition is to disregard the ways in which it operates to form subjectivities on a spatial and experiential level.

Hannes Frykholm

 

[1] David Harvey, “From Managerialism to Entrepreneurialism: The Transformation in Urban Governance in Late Capitalism,” Geografiska Annaler. Series B, Human Geography 71, no. 1 (1989): 12f.

[2] Or maybe not, if we juxtapose the rational critique of Karl Marx to the dreams of utopian socialists like Charles Fourier and Henri de Saint-Simon.

[3] Cf. Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment (Stanford CA: Stanford University Press, 2002).

[4] Stephen Duncombe, Dream: Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy (Ann Arbor, MI: New Press, 2007), 16.

[5] Pier Vittorio Aureli, The Project of Autonomy : Politics and Architecture within and against Capitalism (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2008), 16.

[6] The parallels between the contemporary starchitect and what Boltanski and Chiappelo refers to as the “great man of the projective city” is obvious here. Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello, The New Spirit of Capitalism (London: Verso, 2005), 111.

[7] Sven-Olov Wallenstein, Biopolitics and the Emergence of Modern Architecture (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2009), 25.