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politics

In this post I’m going to try to articulate some of the concerns I have about the commodification of public space through technology. As networked, augmented, technologically mediated experiences start to dominate our lives, how do we make space for non-consumption based activities, how do we design new forms of common space for reflection and conviviality?

thisspaceisnotforsale
The post has been in draft form since mid November after I went to the service celebrating the life of my favourite Flatlander and good friend, Nic Hughes. In the church was a projection, made by Nic, that sparked a chain of ideas. This post is trying to collect them together. On a side note, I love the fact that Nic continues to challenge and inspire me in his death, I’m sure this will be an ongoing thread in my life, I’m going to continue to blog about Nic’s influence on my thinking in celebration of a great design mind.

Godisfoundintheshit

Projecting ‘THIS SPACE IS NOT FOR SALE’ and ‘GOD IS FOUND IN THE SHIT’ onto the wall of a church shocked me slightly. My first thought was: surely you’re not allowed to do this, the church wouldn’t stand for it. It’s an act of rebellion and nonconformity, this is bound to be looked down upon by an institution of such conservative values. But I wasn’t quite sure why I thought this, it’s been niggling me ever since.

It maybe due to the medium of projection itself, it seems to be far too flippant for a place of worship – the church is a space for frescos and stained glass; mediums that last, hold ideas in concrete form. A projection is too ephemeral, too ‘light’, to exist in a church. So in a world were screens are being placed everywhere, will the church be one the last places to succumb; a place of digital resistance, where the flow of data is slowed, frozen in an ideological time lock.

St. Peter's Basilica

I don’t know the context in which Nic produced the work, I think it was during his time involved with Vaux. But as I entered the church, it hit me like a truck, the reconceptualisation of the church as a space away from the dynamics of free market capitalism is both appealing and something I’d never fully considered. Although the writing of George Bataille (in particular Against Architecture) and Henri Lefebvre have long been favourites of mine, I’ve never fully embraced the role of the Church in contemporary spatial politics.

“What is an ideology without a space to which it refers, a space which it describes, whose vocabulary and kinks it makes use of, and whose code it embodies?” Lefebvre demands. “What would remain of the Church if there were no churches?” Lefebvre writes. “The world of commodities would have no ‘reality’ without such [spatial] moorings or points of insertion, or without their existing as an ensemble,” he reminds us. “The same may be said of banks and banking-networks vis-a-vis the capital market and money transfers.” Notbored

In an era of supermodernity, where the non-spaces of ultra-captialism reign supreme, the common space of contemplation away from consumer demands must be one of the main attractions of the church. The physical and mental spaces of worship will always remain other to the forces of contemporary consumption. As every inch of the globe becomes ever increasingly constructed to aid smooth consumption, does the church offer a new role as a sanctity away from consumer pressures?

My obsession with the politics of space have always been focussed on the materialisation/concretisation of certain ideological and philosophical positions. Therefore, my reading of churches and cathedrals has remained at a level where I see them as the embodiment of authoritative and oppressive power. You only need to travel around Italy to fully understand the role of architecture in the meditation and promotion of a higher being. The architecture is literally awe-inspiring, it makes one feel small and humble, in the presence of something greater than oneself.

St. Peter's Basilica

I also know that worship doesn’t only occur in great temples and cathedrals, it also occurs in humble surroundings, from halls to huts. You only need to travel to the light industrial estates off Old Kent Road on a Sunday to see the vibrancy and popularity of the African Churches. In these ex-spaces of production, warehouses get re-appropriated to gather people together to sing and pray. Although the architecture of faith is important to frame the activity, the programmatic function of the space comes from the community – individuals belief, intention and action.

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I think what I’m getting at is something similar (yet less articulate) to my friend Adam Greenfield‘s, The City Is Here For You To Use. We are the city, our patterns of behaviour and actions construct the cultural fabric of our cities, but we are also participating in the digital layer of our urban condition, we need to be proactive in the construction of spatial relations. We need to take the power back. The emergence of new forms of contemplative spaces will emerge through the collective need and desire for them. They can be supported by new technologies, or destroyed by them, but whatever happens, unless we want our spatial experience to be dominated and controlled by the corporate elite, we need to find digital common spaces. We need to find the role of the individual in the construction of our socio-spatial future.

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Last November I gave a talk at the UMEA Fall Summit, organised by the wonderful Matt Cottam, (you can watch it here if you like) during the talk I discussed two of DWFE‘s projects: The Parasitic Spectacular and Green=Boom. Considering that UMEA is a relatively conservative design school, I was pretty worried about how the work was going to be received. So when the first questioner stood up and introduced himself as one of the Architecture Professors, I was sure I was in for a grilling. His question was: “Your work seems to have a theme running through it, the deconstruction of violence, as a group do you have an agenda?” – with this I gave a sigh of relief, followed by a mild sense of panic.

Although the media consumption of violence has been an inexplicit concern of ours, to hear it spelt out so clearly, shocked me slightly. My answer was rambled and probably banal, but the question has stuck with me. It’s the word ‘deconstruction’ that I continue to struggle with.

Deconstruction has a long and rich theoretical tradition in continental philosophy, but also in architecture through the collaborations of Derrida and Eisenman and the work of Bernard Tschumi. The Parc de la Villette was the subject of my undergraduate dissertation, and so i admit to having a long term interest in the semiotic qualities of architectural practice, but i’m deeply suspicious of the practical affect on spatial politics – does the approach overturn the dominant politic of the day? By looking at DWFE’s work as a form of deconstruction can I understand the role, meaning and direction of the work in a new way? Has DWFE become a bastard child of Deconstructivist Architecture?

First I have to consider whether or not our work aims to deconstruct violence. The answer is yes and no. The intention wasn’t prefigured in our collaboration, or even a hot topic in our discussions, but now looking at the projects, the obsession with contemporary representation of violence is a common thread. Our work aims to subvert and challenge preconceptions – through images and experiences we want people to consume violence in a different way – the work is auto-critical. We’d like the projects to reconfigure people’s mental model of how and why violence is used within our culture. To do this we speculate on new relationships to violence (or previously considered violent experience). We use the powerful aesthetic of violence to hijack cultural meaning. So in this way, there is a strong link (or more accurately, parallel) to deconstruction, through the examination of media representations beyond binary oppositions, we generate new meaning.

The other thing I hadn’t fully considered was our ‘agenda’. The work grew organically, driven by our interests, curiosity and conversations – if we had an agenda it was more to do with the role of design, not the function of it in relationship to violence. We’ve spoken about G=B in terms of a failed boundary test in taste, but what do we see it achieving?

The role of design as a form of critique has been fully documented, one of the ever-present discussions between Laura, Jimmy and myself is the level to which designers make their ideological position explicit. We normally disagree and the dialogue continues. It’s a fine line between making evocative work, that demands reflection, thought and an inner soul searching and work that comes across as preachy, superior and condescending. To some extent this is why I see the projects as ongoing research – they enter the world and uncover opinions, prejudices and positions… They discover their role as they grow and change.

I guess a thread that is shared between is that the role of design in the mediation of experience is messy and complex, through the production of new experiences we can start to uncover the hidden politics and meaning of violence within our culture.

Bedford square

Bedford sq is fascinating at the moment; on one corner there is a pro-life protest outside the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, on the neighbouring corner there’s a counter protest by a pro-choice campaign. A couple of weeks ago I was on the square with Herbie. He ran up to the pro-life people, to be greeted with pious scowls, he soon ran off towards the pro-choice desk. He was met with smiles and warmth / laughter and conversation. Ignoring my political position on the matter, I find it ironic that those stood on the corner, fighting for ‘life’, didn’t seem to see the joy of it. It’s was quite sad.

Pro-life protest

Beyond that, I find the spatialised aspect of the protest intriguing. Both camps ignoring each other, creating a geography of decision making. As you move around the square you encounter different ethical positions, it’s an argument in spatial terms. You move to locate yourself in the debate.

This is spatial politics at its most explicit. The thing that struck me, was that the process of understanding and navigating the ideas was far easier when physicalised. The contradictions and aesthetics of the philosophy involved was unmasked. The agendas were exposed for all to see.

This is something that gets lost on the internet, the abstraction and reliance of language means that complex debates spiral into rhetorical and circular debates… forget the internet of things, I want the space of networked political debate… this is a lot harder to do, when faced with a man and a toddler.

Herbie is pro-choice