Platform for Art, Culture
and the Public Domain

Double Crisis: Architecture and the Good Cause

The Good Cause, 09 mrt ’14 – 01 jun ’14
Stroom Den Haag
Hogewal 1-9, The Hague
Entrance: free

In recent years, a number of exhibitions have aimed to retrace, reformulate and restore the social dimension of architecture. In some instances, this desire for social urgency manifests itself in dreams of bigness: future bigness in the case of new “smart” cities and sustainable tech-towns, past bigness in the case of nostalgia for historical examples of strong public architecture or urban design, for instance in the post-WWII planning apparatus in the Netherlands, or in the anonymous public works of the 1960s and 1970s applauded in the exhibition by OMA, Architecture by Civil Servants at the last architecture biennale in Venice. More commonly, however, “architecture of consequence” (to echo the title of an exhibition at the former Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAi) in Rotterdam) is envisioned within the domain of architectural acupuncture: well-placed, site-sensitive and bottom-up interventions. The 2010 to 2011 Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) exhibition Small Scale, Big Change, for example, showcased a selection of handpicked projects from the four corners of the world that according to the museum’s press release “signal a renewed sense of commitment, shared by many of today’s practitioners, to the social responsibilities of architecture.”

The exhibition The Good Cause: Towards an Architecture of Peace—initiated as a research and publication project by Dutch architecture platform Archis in 2010 and presented at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal before travelling to Stroom Den Haag—clearly taps into this trend. Duplicating both the emphasis on architectural micro-makeability and its projection of big-scale change, the show focuses on eight projects of architectural peacekeeping and social stability that tackle the role of architecture in territories engaged in or following periods of conflict. In turn, these case studies are linked to maps, schemes and diagrams of post-WWII wars, international laws and UN-based pacification methods—which in the case of this iteration of The Good Cause are connected to See You in The Hague, an umbrella program initiated by Stroom Den Haag that aims to shed light on the city of The Hague as a global centre of justice. In doing so, the project makes a claim to march towards a twofold goal: “on the one hand it aims to influence governmental political and military decision-making with regard to peace- and reconstruction missions; on the other hand it wants to provide architects and urbanists with extra tools and with insights into their action radius.” This goal resonates with the “forums” and “fields” method as developed by the research project Forensic Architecture at Goldsmiths, University of London, which, among other things, extends architecture beyond the built object and nudges it into a network of discussion platforms and interventionist toolboxes.

The Good Cause similarly transposes architecture into a broad cultural domain: projects range from a historical reconstruction of a public garden to a manual for building typologies and regulations; architectural tools vary accordingly. Still, the feeling cannot be done away with that the main thematic of the show somehow neutralizes or at least papers over the interesting elements of these cases. For what is “the good cause”? Should not this category be questioned in each and every project, rather than assumed as the basis for their selection and presentation (as— the accompanying folder to the exhibition describes these as cases of “good practices”—is being done now)?

In an introductory note to the project’s website (www.architectureofpeace.org) the Archis team justly acknowledge that “reconstruction is a highly political process in which every step that is seen to favour one side over another can ignite new violence,” adding that “unbalanced reconstruction can create new inequalities, which would lead to new grievances.” Further, in an Archis publication that precedes this exhibition, Volume’s theme issue Architecture of Peace (2010), social scientist Gerd Junne is equally cautious about making big claims toward “architectures of peace”, which he fears are often at risk of capsizing into architectures of conflict: “You build in the wrong place, or with the wrong people, or with the wrong symbols … there is a very great chance you’ll get it wrong.” Indeed, it is the reversal of the exhibition’s title, Architecture of Peace: Towards the Good Cause, which would start to reflect on “the good cause” as an epistemological, sociopolitical and ethical horizon, and concurrently, begin to ponder the precarity of local works that reach towards a quasi-theological and, in fact, idealist goal. Before advancing micro-makeability as a panacea against all possible ills, this approach could chart the possibilities, challenges and limitations of practicing and/or placing architecture in communities plagued by a lack of resources, social sensitivities and other difficulties. Most of all, however, it would acknowledge the tension in connecting local projects to something as vague and universal as the good cause, which contends to inject these projects with architectural meaning and significance.

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Revolution at Point Zero. Discussing the Commons with Silvia Federici and Tine De Moor

Last year, New York-based activist and philosopher Silvia Federici lead two days of lectures on the commons from 31 January–1 February, organised by Casco – Office for Art, Design and Theory in Utrecht, centred around the ideas raised in her book Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle (2012). In introducing Federici and announcing “Composing the Commons” as a motto guiding the coming years’ program at Casco, Casco director Binna Choi mentioned that Federici’s presentation was part of the living research project initiated in 2009 titled the Grand Domestic Revolution (GDR). Choi detailed how GDR explores communal ways of working and living involving a wide a range of activities inspired by nineteenth-century Materialist Feminism, a movement that organised cooperative domestic work. Various types of collectives or groups have been engaged in the development of GDR since, she continued, creating a network of collaborations spread throughout different countries. Where the domestic space is conceived of as a “ground zero” for starting change that can apply to a broader social realm and social systems, the commons is at the core of this change.

In addition to Federici, on the first day of lectures at Casco contributors included Tine De Moor, an outspoken voice in the Dutch discourse around the commons and director of Institutions of Collective Action and professor at Utrecht University, and initial respondents Dutch artists coalition Platform Beeldende Kunst and artist Elke Uitentuis from Artists Occupy Amsterdam. Eluding strict definitions, the commons were then discussed in presentations by Federici and De Moor and subsequent Q&A sessions with the audience. De Moor pinpointed the way in which self-organised groups or so-called private-public partnerships are often market-driven, concluding that commons are not a weapon against privatisation but an alternative which should operate in parallel. Federici’s position, on the other hand, gravitated towards how the commons—or the practice of commoning—can be a transformative form of reproduction, leading into a discussion wherein the notion of building a commons intrinsically means building a collective subject with the desire to reclaim resources.

Here follows a condensed and edited report of the conversations on 31 January and 1 February.

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Commonist Aesthetics
and more to come

Open! has been online for 5 months now, publishing columns, essays, book reviews and artists’ contributions on topics that it has been involved with since 2004, back when Open was still an actual printed publication – see Back Issues. Now an online publishing platform, Open! has been busy exploring the changing conditions of the public domain and the notion of publicness from a variety of international and interdisciplinary perspectives as well as examining the consequences that the recent privatisation, mediatisation and globalisation processes have on our social and artistic practices.

For its launch in September 2013, Open! invited a variety of theorists and artists to submit short texts on pressing topics that focus on the subject of art and the public domain. These contributions were published between September 2013 and January 2014 and can be found in the Column section on the homepage. They address a broad range of artistic, social and political issues that are relevant to Open! and its readership. We also published a number of unique essays, including a lively discussion between Camiel van Winkel and Steven ten Thije on the subject of contemporary art discourse.

In the mean time, Open! appointed author and editor Janine Armin to work on the book review section to make it a more solid and prominent part of the Open! site. The results of these changes will become evident in the near future.

Although we want to maintain the freedom to publish individual essays of interest, we are going to begin focussing more on the structural elaboration of a few specific themes: beginning with Commonist Aesthetics, which will be followed by Regimes of Illegality and New Forms of Political and Social Mobilisation. The theme of Commonist Aesthetics is a collaboration between Open!, art historian and critic Sven Lütticken – who is also a member of our editorial board – and the Utrecht-based Casco – Office for Art, Design and Theory (www.cascoprojects.org). Both Open! and Casco are very involved in the issue of commons and related re-evaluations of the notion of ownership and power relations. Last year, Casco organised Revolution at Point Zero, a two-day symposium that attempted to define the commons in the fields of art and social work. Scholar and activist Silvia Federici and Tine de Moor (Professor of Institutions for Collective Action in Historical Perspective at Utrecht University) were the distinguished speakers at the symposium.

Commonist Aesthetics allows us to introduce “the idea of commonism” – not communism – a topic that various writers and artists will explore and expand upon in the coming months. In his short introduction, Lütticken describes commonism as a constellation of practices and lines of thought that generates productive tension. Commonist aesthetics are related to the world of the senses or a “residually common world”.

The texts we plan to publish will cover the notion of commonist aesthetics in various ways. We will commence this new theme with essays by Jodi Dean and artist duo Klaas van Gorkum & Iratxe Jaio, which will later be followed by an extensive report of Revolution at Point Zero symposium, in which Silvia Federici and Tine de Moor will both have their say, and with contributions by Marina Vishmidt and Kerstin Stakemeier, among others.

March 2014

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