Living as Form

The publication “Living as Form: Socially Engaged Art from 1991-2011”, edited by Nato Thompson, is launched later today as a followup to the 2011 (September 24–October 16) exhibition Living as Form at Creative Time in New York. So, if by any chance you’ll find yourself at powerHouse Arena (37 Main Street in DUMBO) desperately searching for an exploration of art and activism from the past 20 years you need not look any further.

Over the past twenty years, an abundance of art forms have emerged that use aesthetics to affect social dynamics. These works are often produced by collectives or come out of a community context; they emphasize participation, dialogue, and action, and appear in situations ranging from theater to activism to urban planning to visual art to health care. Engaged with the texture of living, these art works often blur the line between art and life. This book offers the first global portrait of a complex and exciting mode of cultural production—one that has virtually redefined contemporary art practice.

Living as Form grew out of a major exhibition at Creative Time in New York City. Like the exhibition, the book is a landmark survey of more than 100 projects selected by a thirty-person curatorial advisory team; each project is documented by a selection of color images. The artists include the Danish collective Superflex, who empower communities to challenge corporate interest; Turner Prize nominee Jeremy Deller, creator of socially and politically charged performance works; Women on Waves, who provide abortion services and information to women in regions where the procedure is illegal; and Santiágo Cirugeda, an architect who builds temporary structures to solve housing problems.

Living as Form contains commissioned essays from noted critics and theorists who look at this phenomenon from a global perspective and broaden the range of what constitutes this form. Contributing authors: Claire Bishop, Carol Becker, Teddy Cruz, Brian Holmes, Shannon Jackson, Maria Lind, Anne Pasternak, Nato Thompson

Description from MIT Press

Cover image from MIT Press

Architecture in dialogue: I Am Sitting In A Room

“I am sitting in a room, different from the one you are in now. I am recording the sound of my speaking voice, and I am going to play it back into the room, again and again until the resonant frequencies of the room reinforce themselves so that any resemblance of my speech, perhaps with the exception of rhythm, is destroyed. What you will hear, then, are the natural resonant frequencies of the room articulated by speech. I regard this activity not so much as a demonstration of a physical fact, but more as a way to smooth out any irregularities my speech might have.”

Choose a room the musical qualities of which you would like to evoke. Attach the microphone to the input of tape recorder #1. To the output of tape recorder #2 attach the amplifier and loud speaker.

Record your voice on tape through the microphone attached to tape recorder #1. Rewind the tape to the beginning, transfer it to tape recorder #2, play it back into the room through the loudspeaker and record a second generation of the original recorded statement through the microphone attached to tape recorder #1. Rewind the second generation to it’s beginning and splice it into the end of the original recorded statement on tape recorder #2. Play the second generation only back into the room through the loudspeaker and record a third generation of the original recorded statement through the microphone attached to tape recorder #1.

Alvin Lucier, “I Am Sitting In A Room”, for voice and electromagnetic tape, 1970

Tactical Urbanism vol. 2

Following the 2011 release of ‘Tactical Urbanism vol 1‘ (pdf), editor Mike Lyndon and Street Plans Collaborative recently presented the second volume of their sympathetic, soft and Portlandianised version of aaa’s handbook for alternative practice, ‘Urban act’ (2007) – produced as a collective project within the framework of ‘Urban Tactics‘. Read ‘Urban Tactics vol 2’ in full text, via issuu, below:

Initial Points: Anchors of America’s Grid


Initial Points: Anchors of America’s Grid. Image from CLUI


Historic Map of Principal Meridians and Base Lines. From the U.S Bureau of Land Management. Click for full size version

Originating from the Land Ordinance Act of 1785, the PLSS (Public Land Survey System) set out to divide the American landscape (or rather 2/3 of it) into a rectilinear grid. On display through April 22 (2012) at the The Center For Land use Interpretation (in association with the Institute of Marking and Measuring, the National Museum of Surveying and the Principal Meridian Project) are images, descriptions and detailed scientific recollections of the construction and monumental afterlife of the 37 initial points used for this super-sized spatial engineering project.

‘Initial Points: Anchors of America’s Grid’, looks at the historic surveying infrastructure of the USA, and how literal monuments of place have evolved into expressive cornerstones of space. These surveying points, located in places such as swamps, under manhole covers in roads, and on top of mountains, are the physical locations that tied this grid to the ground. Looking at them in a contemporary context explores the process and importance of the endeavor of surveying, and reveals a latent cadastral history of the nation, as it expanded westward.

Introduction from the CLUI site

As the introduction suggests, the exhibition (seemingly) offers an unsentimental and parallel projection of the land survey project. One, the specific socio-economic-technological necessities underlying the construction of a national spatial institution. Two, not as necessary, the dismissal of any pre-exising socio-spatial structure that was an integral part of the economic (selling and distributing land to finance and structure government), nationalising, and colonising (selling not only land but existing places) motivations behind the survey. In that double layered projection the exhibition unfolds as a story about the constitutional difference between space and place, as well as a Borges like constant reminder of the imprecision with which cartographic space sometimes corresponds to community and place, if constructed without regards to spatial implications rendered by social geographies, landscape, histories, cultural gravitation etcetera. Or, as Katya Tylevich writes in a review: ‘…that, perhaps, is what makes the show most compelling: this delicate tension between information and implication.’

Two other exhibitions excavating the potentials and fallacies of the spatial and mental American grid recently opened. Keith Krumwiede’s (assistant dean at Yale School of Architecture) ‘Freedomland’ (review from Domus) at WUHO Gallery, and ‘The Unfinished Grid: Design Speculations for Manhattan‘ at The Architectural League, marking the 200th anniversary of the Commissioners’ Plan for New York (1811) (different in resolution and intentions from the township structure of the Land Ordinance Act) with the presentation of eight commisioned projects reflecting visionary future adaptations of Manhattan’s urban grid.


Initial Points Ohio. Image from CLUI


Surveyor sketch showing the 36 (1×1 mile) numbered sections of a 640 acres township, according to the 1785 ‘Land Ordinance Act’

Notes: Abstract possible II

Lately the collaboration between Maria Lind, the exhibition ‘Abstract Possible’ (through artist Goldin+Senneby and writer Mara Lee) and Bukowskis (Lundin Oil and M Storåkers) has caused a minor Shakespearean storm in the socio-mental repository of contemporary Swedish art debate. So far all is well, and the stale, playground like, fixation with the moral fall of the (now announced) former ‘enfant critical’ Maria Lind, is petty but vaguely understandable. But, the more articulate critique, raised by for example Kunstkritikk (Frans Josef Petersson) and Sinziana Ravini (DN) (searching in vain for a critique from ‘the belly of the beast’), of the curatorial and institutional imprecision with which ‘Abstract Possible’ has entered the collaboration, as well as the turbid position taken by the exhibition well inside of the oil black production system still remains partly unanswered and highly valid – not least after reading the report “Contemporary Art and its Commercial Markets: A Report on Current Conditions and Future Scenarios” (part financed by Bukowskis) published as part of the exhibition. From inside the simple outlines of capitalist and neo-liberal political landscapes of art production no articulate critical outcry is really to be heard. And the blurred political critique that nevertheless do escape, unfortunately appears as unable to find any resonance in the debate, which instead is turned into an infested issue of singular moral choices and artistic obligations. With the words of Frans Josef Petersson; ‘supposedly offensive and preventive initiatives such as ‘Abstract Possible’ rather becomes examples of profound defensiveness, constituting affirmative grounds for the very system they wish to criticise’ (transl.). As such the collaboration is an obvious failure of will. At the same time it is a failure of painful interest and utter importance.

ed (27/2). Maria Lind’s direct but somewhat rationalising response to Ravini in todays DN, arguing that the reactions are part of the proactive intentions of the project and that its take and inside-out description of the economic art system and ongoing instrumentalisation of art funds are one-off. No further qualitative (how) clues are given. Another sober read at tsnoK (Det är ett systemfel att hon sammarbetar med kapitlet) lamenting the collapse of art critique and its inability to address art and curatorial practice as a critical position within an expanded (from traditional institutional critique) political and politicised framework.

Dolores Hayden: Grand Domestic Revolution


Radom still from the lecture

Dolores Hayden speaking about the ‘Grand Domestic Revolution: Recovering the Forgotten History of Feminism and Housing Design’ (follow the link for the stream) at a lecture arranged by The National Women’s History Museum (NWHM) and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Departing from an aculeate review of MoMA’s exhibition ‘Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen’ (2011) she moves on to a parallel description of the history of materialist feminism, first described in her 1981 book “Grand Domestic Revolution”, and argues for a multi-layered historical perspective adopting controversy and juxtapositions regarding class, economy, gender and socio-spatial structures.

Women’s Design Studio


It’s not All Swings and Roundabouts, WDS publication, 1990. Photo by Nishat Awan

Designing Housing for Older Women, WDS publication. Photo by Peter Lathey

Due to lack of sufficient funding and resources the Women’s Design Studio recently announced their decision to wind up the organisation as of January 2012. About WDS form Eeva Berglunds article “Building a Real Alternative: Women’s Design Service” (pdf) featured in field vol.2:

The 1980s were a significant period for feminism, and so it is not surprising that the direction WDS took then has stamped its work ever since. In the 21st century WDS is still feminist and rights based. It has continued to develop familiar themes, entered new collaborations and nurtured old ones, and it has ventured into new territory as opportunities have arisen. Among its more inventive foci have been exploring cycling from a women’s perspective and expanding its work on safety into a specific focus on parks, published in 2007 as What to Do About Women’s Safety in Parks.

Periods of financial insecurity have been endemic from the beginning, but even with limited resources it has sustained a unique portfolio of expertise. Arguably this is more urgently needed than ever. Women’s experiences are still low on the agenda and when they are prominent, women as flesh and blood social beings still get ignored, rased or misrepresented. In built environment discourse and practice, abstract notions of ‘other’ and ‘different’ invoke female attributes and experiences but rarely connect to women’s concrete realities. Routinely in recent years, women have been pressed into rhetorical service as an alternative or transgressive or otherwise supposedly eye-catching feature of a professional contribution or political platform. In stark contrast to this, WDS keeps its eye on women as real victims and real agents.

If it has survived as such, an unusual organisation, it is I believe, largely due to this commitment to the empirical, which was laid down first in the work of Support and then in the team that constituted WDS in the mid to late 1980s. It seems likely that this was made possible by the working culture of the organisation. This too, was contingent. More than once as a possible response to a funding crisis, the possibility was raised that WDS should become part of some kind of academic institute. ‘It’s interesting that we remained independent,’ an interviewee recalled. Perhaps, in fact, it was more than interesting, it was fundamental to enabling WDS to take risks, explore and to expand horizons in the way it did.

“Building a Real Alternative: Women’s Design Service”, Eeva Berglund, field vol.2, issue 1: “Alternate Currents”, October 2008