Mutable Matter@AAG 2012

Just wanted to remind everyone about the two sessions I am participating in: ‘Ruinations’ (followed by a panel and ‘Design, Design Activism and the Democratic Production of Future Social Natures’ where I shall boldly present in the ‘Radical Democracy, Alternatives, Utopia in Architecture and Design’ section. The ‘Design Activism’ sessions are pursuing a productive dialogue between designers and geographers, whereas the ‘Ruinations’ sessions are bringing together geographers, artists and architects. Both sessions address social change, and how we are – or could be differently – implicated in it.

The ‘Ruinations’ sessions draw attention to the social violence that is committed through certain forms of artistic/commercial/academic exploitation of urban decay. Participants seek to illustrate how even some well-intentioned projects can disempower local residents and lead to further displacement. By contrast, ‘Design Activism’ intends to explore possibilities for positive change through design or related strategies. An ambitious aim, but we’ll see what we can come up with… Looking at the offical post-session plans, brain storming in local bar might indeed lead to unexpected ideas!


Design, Design Activism and the Democratic Production of Future Social Natures@AAG 2012

Image: ‘Portable garden’ (Maria Kalathaki as part of ‘Mutation’ project by Angela Last)

The preliminary programme for next year’s AAG came out last week. Am currently trying to get the placement of our ‘Ruinations’ session changed, which seems to have got spread over two days, with the discussion of the papers taking place on the Friday before the presentation of the papers on Sunday… Hopefully this can be fixed! Meanwhile, the other session I am participating in (as a presenter), ‘Design, Design Activism and the Democratic Production of Future Social Natures’, does not seem to have attracted such logistical issues. Am very curious about the content and dynamics of this session. So far, the organisers have sent some e-mails round to encourage participants to exchange reading lists, as well as comments we have come across that struck us as central to the debates this session is engaging with.

What the design activism session seeks to bring into dialogue are two lines of inquiry that have been pursued in (and outside) geography: design as a ‘technological fix’ and design with a different utopian drive: as social movement that offers resistance to design as purely materialist and instrumental. The latter is, for example, being discussed in the Open University’s ‘Stitched Up’ research group, which looks at the ‘politics of generosity, sharing, voluntary simplicity, informal provisioning and craft’ and how ‘these practices can potentially contribute to sustainable futures’. I am particularly curious about this session, because it seems to bring people from different fields together. Having done work around tension between technocratic remediation and resistance from a design background (fashion) first, I encountered quite a different sort of discourse when I moved into geography.

Being interested in the democratisation of ‘innovation’ and questions of materiality and political agency, I also find the second theme of the session intriguing, which talks about ‘materialising’, e.g. about ‘provid[ing] some kind of material substance to a new progressive politics of the environment’. Naturally (excuse the pun), I am a bit concerned about any claims to ‘materialising’, however I think that there are still a number of debates-to-be-had in the design activism field about materiality and agency, which can benefit both from a design and a geography perspective. As it looks, there are going to be three sessions (and perhaps some post-session chats?), so hopefully plenty of opportunity to exchange perspectives!

Ruinations @ AAG 2012

As a somewhat unlikely follow-up to my participation in Gail Davies, Neal White & Steve Rowell‘s Experimental Ruins workshop, I have ended up co-organising a session for the next Association of American Geographers (AAG) meeting in New York (24-28 Feburary 2012). Entitled ‘Ruinations: Violence, Snafus, Porn’ it will critically examine phenomena such as ‘ruin porn’ and the general violence of urban decay. For those who have asked, SNAFU stands for Situation Normal: All Fucked Up. We found the plural was more appropriate in this context.

There will be two sessions: a paper session and a discussion panel, which will feature aforementioned Neal White and Steve Rowell (Gail Davies is off doing her own session with Jamie Lorimer and Richard Pell, entitled ‘Practices for a Post-Natural History’) as well as Mireille Roddier, Anya Sirota, Andrew Herscher and Stephen Graham.

Here is our abstract:

From Piranesi to Camilo José Vergara, the representation of ruins has been instrumentalized for symbolic and aesthetic purposes, and alternately posited as picturesque, sublime, nostalgic or abominable. While cultural critics of the mid-twentieth century turned to everyday life as the base of ideological control, this century is revealing an unprecedented preoccupation with investigating sites of disenfranchisement and decay. Although “shrinking cities” may be symptomatic of the ongoing capital extraction from the Global North, it is not their reality but rather their increased visibility that is generating the Western world’s attention to ruins.

What does this increasingly popular object of study reveal about our current mechanisms for cultural production, and consumption? What is found in the neglected layers of the palimpsestic city? What range of purposes do the mediation and dissemination of such images serve?

This session is intended for architects, artists and geographers to reflect upon the relationship between the representation of ruins and the violence they symbolize or deny. It will address and question:

• The seemingly clear border between ‘recreational’ ruin exploration and its ‘scholarly’ counterpart;
• The immediacy/authenticity of experience and the structures for disseminating the representation of such information;
• Tactics for publically appropriating socially marginalized sites;
• The naturalization of destruction as antidote to ‘catastrophism’ versus the self-alienation leading mankind to “experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order” (Walter Benjamin);
• The artistic production posited by the previous opposition, respectively: beautification as psychological reassurance in crisis management, or a call for the politicization of art.

The session will be accompanied by a field trip.