Please post your reading response for Bourrriand and Hou 24 hours before class. Thanks!


13 thoughts on “Interventions

  1. Due to these intense social norms cities are places of strict program especially in what is considered public space. If a Nolli map of any first world city were quantified, it might be concluded that the majority of the city is public and that all of this space can be utilized by each of the occupants of that city. Upon further analysis it might become apparent that in fact the space that can be utilized by every person in that city is far less than originally quantified. This is because public space in contemporary cities is tiered and each tier has a specific prerequisite for use. The lowest tier of public space could be considered municipally owned public parks. These spaces can be occupied by anyone provided they are clothed and conduct themselves in a manner that does not disturb the other users of the park. As you progress through the tiers of public space additional prerequisites are added on top of the previous. The next layer of public space might be public buildings such as libraries, swimming pools, city hall, ect.. These spaces require occupants to be clothed, wear shoes, and in some cases not to have a pet with them. The highest tier of public space is undoubtedly public roadways, where social norms are most strict and the prerequisite for use are highest. In order to legally use a public roadway in a first world city, one must be operating a vehicle, the definition of which varies across governmental jurisdictions. Evident, at least in north America, the social norms concerning roadways are heavily enforced, both by police, representing the legal system, as well as by the portion of the general public who can be considered legal users of roadways. It is common to witness or even be a part of an altercation where another user of a public roadway disagrees with the way in which you are utilizing the public space, an incident far less common in a public park.
    Guerilla urbanism is increasingly becoming an important tool to breakdown social norms within our system of tiered public space. Through this action of breaking social conventions increasingly equal levels of access to the city can be given to all individuals. Precedents such as Park(ing) by Rebar are excellent examples of methods through which the deep seated conventions of space surrounding automobiles can be dismantled. In addition this project is a good way to communicate what might be missing in a specific urban space or even in the lives of citizens occupying that space. I feel that it is important for architects to question social conventions both in relation to buildings being designed, but also in a general sense in relation to the way people operate within urban spaces. This doesn’t mean that architects know how to operate in urban space better than anyone else; it simply means that architects have the tools to question conventions that could generate the necessary critical mass to generate large scale change in the way urban space is utilized and understood.

  2. Last Words
    Osama Al-Sehail

    When I wrote my first reaction in this course, which was about Spatial Justice (week 1), I did not imagine then that my fifth and last reaction to the weekly readings would be in the last week (week 11). Personally, I usually try to avoid actions and making decisions at the last moment, because there is no moment after the last moment for adjusting. But in this case I found myself unintentionally driven to leave my last words to the last week. And I have been asking myself continually over the last three weeks, Why do I not want to finish the last reaction (the fifth one) and close this issue finally? Indeed, I do not have any ideas about what pushed me to do that. When I began my reading for this week about Guerilla Urbanism and Interventions and examined the case study, I was compelled automatically to write down these words with one idea in my mind, ” I know now why I left my last words to the last week.” My impression about this reaction is similar to writing a conclusion to the course. I recall now the topics of this course during our journey over the last 2 months. Without any doubt, the topic of week 11 is the conclusion or the last station of our journey, which determines the meaning of humans’ actions generally and in our case those dealing with urban spaces.

    From this perspective, the topic of this week, Guerilla Urbanism and Interventions, raises subjectively the following questions: What does urban space mean at the present day? How can we realize the meaning of humans’ artworks today?

    At this moment, I have stopped in my writing process for quite a while since I do not know how I should answer these questions. I do not mean I cannot answer them, but I feel there is something unclear preventing me from continuing to write. I have an inner feeling that is encouraging me to do something that reflects the meanings that I am trying to deliver here. While I was thinking about these questions, I remembered an image I saw a long time ago. I think it was one from a biennale in which there was an enclosed space including two objects only: a gray classic car and two bicycles tied together. I remember when I saw this picture the first time, I asked myself “What does it mean and what is the purpose of it?” I can explain now the purpose of it clearly; the issue does not relate to the objects themselves but their relations to spectators. At this moment I can imagine my answer to the questions. It amounts to collecting small paragraphs from different sources and arranging them together. The meaning that is revealed from the relationships among them and the sequences of the ideas will constitute the answer that I am endeavouring to deliver here: (1)

    • “Artistic activity is a game, whose forms, patterns and functions develop and evolve according to periods and social contexts; it is not an immutable essence.”

    • “In order to invent more effective tools and more valid viewpoints, it behoves us to understand the changes nowadays occurring in the social arena, and grasp what has already changed and what is still changing.”

    • “…learning to inhabit the world in a better way, instead of trying to construct it based on a preconceived idea of historical evolution. Otherwise put, the role of artworks is no longer to form imaginary and utopian realties, but to actually be ways of living and models of action within the existing real, whatever the scale chosen by the artist.”

    • “Unlike the conventional practice of urban planning, which tends to be dominated by professionals and experts, the instances of insurgent public space suggest the ability of citizen groups and individuals to play a distinctive role in shaping the contemporary urban environment in defiance of the official rules and regulations. Rather than being subjected to planning regulations or the often limited participatory opportunities, citizens and citizen groups can undertake initiatives on their own to effect changes.”

    Finally, there is one thing remaining in this reaction I think is significant to complete the whole picture. Any attempt to exaggerate the dramatic changes in our ways of dealing with urban spaces and architecture will be unhealthy or unreal because we cannot demolish in a few months a thinking way that has continued over years. But at least, comprehending the issue will help us to take the first step to dealing with the human issue with a real view rather than an idealistic approach. Accordingly, I can say: the last words in this reaction could be the introduction to our new reaction in architectural and urban practices.


    1. Because of the technical issue with blogs that do not allow me to paste the picture, I just put the texts in separate paragraphs to deliver the concept. All quotations are collected from:
    Bourrriand, Nicolas. “Relational Aesthetics(1998).” In Participation”, edited by Claire Bishop. London: Whitechapel; Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2006. 160-171.

  3. This week’s readings present a rising trend, or at least a recent recognition by contemporary urbanists, of guerrilla, temporary, tactical urbanism and their subsequent interventions in public, privatized or contested space. Working from a provocative perspective of use, ownership and control of space, Watson (2006) describes that, “public space is always in some sense, in a state of emergence, never complete and always contested” (p 7). Moreover, this reading of the definition of public space is supported by Crawford (2008) who writes,
    “Everyday space stands in contrast to the carefully planned, officially designated and often underused public space that can be found in most American cities…. [It is] a zone of social transition and possibility in the potential for new social arrangement and forms of imagination” (p. 9).
    Authors like Watson, Crawford, Hou recognize that there is a growing tension over controlled spaces that are meant to represent public spaces and that the access to these spaces is increasingly sought after, even if the space is privately owned. Furthermore Merker (2010) describes this control and uneasy set of codes enshrined in the notion of public and how it is seen as not negotiated, but rather regulated in many North American cities, despite the literatures’ recognition that public space itself is in a constant state of transition and flux,
    “Contemporary industrialized societies have generally accepted the banishment of unscripted, generous exchange in the public realm in favour of a hyper commercial alternative…public behaviours unrelated to commercial exchange or economic production fall into two basic categories: loitering or other illegal and disruptive activity; and assembly, celebration, and cultural spectacle, which are heavily scripted and contained by permits and other official permissions. When an unregulated act of generosity is interjected into this environment of commercial consensus, the result is a cognitive disruption” (p.50).
    Perhaps as a response to this control and limitation of access, temporary, guerrilla, or tactical interventions “pop up” (Bishop, 2012) despite and in spite of the institutionalized, privatized, commercialized, etc., controlled space. Many of these interventions appropriate or reclaim privatized space that was never intended for pubic access, such as guerrilla gardening in empty, and at times fenced lots. Often the interventions aim to reframe a prescribed use in the public realm, such as Rebar’s Park(ing) Days. Hou (2010) describes what the potential outcome of these actions in a wider frame,
    “These instances of self-made urban spaces, reclaimed and appropriated sites, temporary events, and flash mobs, as well as informal gathering places created by predominantly marginalized communities, have provided new expressions of the collective realms in the contemporary city. No longer confined to the archetypal categories of neighbourhood parks, public plaza, and civic architecture, these insurgent public spaces challenge the conventional, codified notion of public and the making of space” (p. 2).
    For Hou (2010) the single intervention, or “instances” play a larger role in urban landscapes, whereby they actively rezone (as it were), or repurpose space to make, or remake place that was originally designated by institutions, property owners and specifically, without the necessary inclusion of professionals, such as, planners, designers, architects (although in many cases, like Park(ing) design professionals might be involved separately from the city government and private interests). There is a level of agency and capacity building that is self-made, without the top down guidance that sets the control mechanisms over space in the city generally. Zeiger (2012), sees these interventions as an opportunity for the professional, giving space for “finding new ways to practice and provoke within the fields of architecture, urbanism, and design” (Zeiger, 2012) as a result of this self made agency that is arising amongst citizens and those outside of the normal notion of citizenship.

    Reading this trend in urbanism for the urbanist, architect, planner, can be difficult, because many like Bishop (2012) sees, “these emerging signs of temporary urbanism are novel.” (p.3). Moreover, Bishop (2012) suggests that a shift in the line of questioning on how professionals can incorporate temporary urbanism into practice,
    “Hitherto, both theory and practice in urban planning and design have been overwhelmingly concerned with permanence…Given the overwhelming evidence that cities are a complex overlay of buildings and activities that are, in one way or another, temporary, why have urbanists been so focused on permanence?” (p. 3)
    Here, the professional might be able to reconsider what it means to zone and design space in the public realm, particularly when it comes to its programming and real accessibility by a diversity of groups over time. In a similar discussion, Bourriaud (1998) describes that there were large misunderstandings of the emergence contemporary art, particularly installation pieces in the 1990’s, so much so that,
    “An overwhelming majority of critics and philosophers are reluctant to come to grips with contemporary practices. So these remain essentially unreadable, as their originality and their relevance cannot be perceived by analysing them on the basis of problems either solved or unresolved by previous generations.” (p. 7)
    Moving toward reframing public space, the ideals of the public realm and what it means to be the public in the constantly changing and increasingly complex city, willingness needs to come from professionals. Design professionals are in a position to act as the critics and the philosophers of (con)temporary urbanism. Interventions, although many times are in response to “problems either solved or unresolved by previous generations” (Bourriaud, 1998, p.7), and even a response to the unrecognized problems. Zeiger understands that
    “These projects hold at their heart a belief that change is possible despite economic or political obstacles, or disciplinary or institutional inertia. And the prospect for real change builds as more and more works accumulate in exhibition catalogues and digital venues. Broadcast via Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter ad design blogs, these new temporary provisional projects can be read relationally to each other without explicit contextual concerns” (2012).
    From this we might consider that reading these contemporary “happenings”, as the Situationists might have called them, can be done without the professionals, rather there is an increase in the ability for the “public” to read and suggest what the “public” means. Although this may be an entirely privileged view over the wider accessibility of temporary urbanism, the interventions’ outcomes are unpredictable, just as public space, as defined by Watson and Crawford, is unpredictable. Referring to the interactive gallery installations of the 1990’s, such as work done by Damien Hirst, Bourriaud (1998) observes, “their author has no preordained idea about what would happen: art is made in the gallery, the same way that Tristan Tzara thought that “thought is made in the mouth (p. 40).

    Bishop, Peter, and Lesley Williams. The Temporary City. London, New York: Routledge, 2012.

    Bourrriaud, Nicolas. “Relational Aesthetics (1998),” In Participation, edited by Claire Bishop, 160-171. London : Whitechapel ; Cambridge, MA : The MIT Press, 2006.

    Hou, Jeffrey. “(Not) Your Everyday Public Space.” In Insurgent Public Space : Guerrilla Urbanism and the Remaking of Contemporary Cities, 1–17. New York: Routledge, 2010.

    Merker, Blaine. “Taking Place: Rebar’s Absurd Tactics in Generous Urbanism.” In Insurgent Public Space : Guerrilla Urbanism and the Remaking of Contemporary Cities, edited by Jeffrey

    Hou, 45–58. New York: Routledge, 2010.

    Watson, S. (2006). City Publics: The (Dis)Enchantments of Urban Encounters. New York :

    Zeiger, Mimi. “The Interventionist’s Toolkit.” Places (2012).

  4. A year ago, I was ready to believe in the progressive thinking predicting “the end of public space”, as multi-media platforms of expression seem to become its virtual equivalent. Facebook and Tweeter allow us to keep a close eye on our everyday friends’ lives, but equally to keep in touch with our international acquaintances and even forge new relationships with unknown individuals. We can express our feelings and publically, or personally, communicate our experiences, beliefs and desires. Isn’t this the precise function of a public space: to hear and be heard? So why would we need a physical public space if we have learned to express our emotional states in virtual environments? It seemed to me that public spaces such as squares, market places, and even certain parks were at the verge of extinction in the next generations. This becomes suggested by numerous sites around the city which remain unoccupied by the general public and rather transform into sleeping quarters for homeless people.
    I changed perspective on the subject very recently, during my research on gentrification in Pointe-Saint-Charles, a predominantly poor neighbourhood. The residents are discouraged by the urban fabric to forge strong communities as little public space is allowed for in the dense construction. However, 40% of the population lives in some sort of affordable or social housing, which inevitably brings them closer together as a group of individuals with similar preoccupations. The neighbourhood community is highly politicized and often protests to protect their rights to better living conditions. They take over the streets and paint the grounds in chalk, expressing their beliefs in physical public space. Visibility becomes their stronger weapon, using the physicality of the body as an extension to their political beliefs and an incentive for others to follow.
    The biggest win for the community was the appropriation of the Bâtiment 7, which is an industrial building part of the CN rail yard facilities that were sold to a private developer for the sum of 1$ to be transformed into condominiums. The public held numerous protests and kept pressuring the future development project by trespassing and occupying the industrial site until, four years later, they received ownership of the building, along with 1,000,000$ for reparation. It was a huge win, as this space is projected to become a community center, a common ground public space for artistic and social gatherings. This entire process of resistance clearly states that people are still in need of physical public spaces, and by extension, physical human relationships. The building’s walls become merely a container housing a greater need for interaction and inclusion, which in a poor neighbourhood are significant values that are rarely forged in more gentrified areas of the city.

  5. “The automatic cash machine has become the transit model for the most elementary of social functions, and professional behaviour patterns are modelled on the efficiency of the machines replacing them […]” This passage in Bourriaud’s essay is perhaps the one that struck me the most. It also made clear how his notion of relational aesthetics has a charged social agenda and how it is, through its manifestation in contemporary art, critical of and relevant to today’s societal, behavioural and cultural patterns.
    The loss of sociality through shared experience in physical space is the result of the proportionately growing virtual space, of the incoming supremacy of social media as the interpersonal communication tool. I find this “dwelling” in cyberspace through a virtual connection with our environment and the world is causing alienating isolation and is lessening the importance of human identity, of our worldliness. People become cerebral beings, more active under the avatars they have created on the internet than as actors and human beings in the real world. I believe that relational art’s goal to “tighten the space of relations” is profoundly relevant and critical of our reality today.
    This being said, when reading Jeffrey Hou’s text in the book he edited, I found that his account of the decreasing interest in public matters (and the associated increase in individualistic interests) could partially be blamed on the electronic reign, the rise of social media and the constant inhabitation of the virtual. Far from “proving me wrong”, Hou acknowledges this new social realm and its undermining of place-based sociality, yet sees in it a remarkable device for democracy and the empowering of the masses.
    Forced to admit it was true that Twitter & co. had allowed the organisation and unfolding of countless protests, decision-overturning and “uncensonring”, I wondered what elements social media, the internet and electronic devices had that I considered to be detrimental to our condition as physical social beings and inhabitants of the real world.
    I found that what really bothered me was the widespread use of virtual space as the place in which to dwell, as a gigantic public space for useless exchanges. I also realized that I had nothing against its use as a tool for planning and organising political, social (and even leisure) activities, or as a tool to call for help, to inform of critical information, etc.
    Essentially, I am against the excessive use of cyberspace as a place of sociality, but I am very much in favor of its use as a tool or an instrument.
    For me, if public spaces for virtual identities replace public spaces for human bodies, the importance of physical place for humanity will decrease, accelerating a very harmful alienation from our environment. “Facebook life” is a tragic example of this.
    However, if the internet and social media are used as tools, as instruments to achieve specific political and democratic goals, for instance, I think the crucial and irreplaceable role of human exchange through shared physical space will not be undermined. The organisation, mainly through Twitter, of the 2011 protests in Egypt are an example of a positive exploitation of virtual space’s distance-bridging capacities.
    I think encounters and sociality in physical space play a critical part in the health and well-being of humanity, yet their importance is threatened by an increasing shift towards virtual living. Cyberspace should be used to help in the fight for better living conditions in the real world, not provide a cheap substitute.

  6. The readings this week pose some very interesting ideas concerning public space and the social life of cities. Bourriand’s essay focuses on the role of artwork in contemporary society, and emphasizes a growing trend toward interactive and temporal artwork that directly engages the viewer (or in many cases, the user) that often proposes either a cynical or hopeful view of the world to come. Hou’s article speaks about a growing trend involving everyday urbanism in the city, in which citizens perform small-scale, yet meaningful interventions that subvert the rigid codes and rules governing public actions and public spaces, and create a more user-driven model of inhabiting the city. In both of these articles, the emphasis is on the user, and on social interactions within the public realm.

    I believe that this new trend toward a more social and proactive citizen can be linked to the legacy of modernism and the isolation that it has caused in the contemporary world. Beginning with the advent of the automobile and suburbia, the everyday, random interactions that occurred in the public sphere began to disappear, as urban sprawl and single-family homes set up both physical and psychological barriers between us and our neighbours. The answer to this physical isolation from one another is to surround ourselves with stuff – objects that reconnect us to the world that we have become distant from. Automobiles make up for the larger distances between home and work; telephones compensate for the impossibility of physical interactions; televisions stream videos and news that update us of global and local events, while providing entertainment directly to our private living rooms. More recently, digital technology has attempted to reconnect people by transferring the random, everyday interactions from the street into cyberspace in the form of social media, dating websites, online gaming, open forums, and the like. The boom of social networking that has evolved over the past decade speaks to the needs of the people to be connected to one another. Yet this new form of interaction, while connecting us virtually to friends, family, and strangers, only serves to further isolate us from our physical immediacy. It is a commonly known fact that today, it is completely possible to be in constant contact with hundreds of friends, yet still be a very lonely person.

    The growing movement in guerilla urbanism and user interaction is a response against the isolation of our modern cities. It is an attempt to re-engage ourselves with our environment and our fellow citizens, and to subvert the increasing control of private corporations over urban spaces. This attitude is apparent in the world-wide protests that have occurred over the past few years, ranging in resistance against tyrannical governments, private development of public spaces, tuition prices, and the disparity of wealth distribution, to name a few. In a shrewd act of “détournement” reminiscent of the Situationists, the urban and artistic interventions described in this week’s readings offer an opportunity for citizens to think differently and to take action. It is an empowerment that allows the everyday human to reclaim their place in the city. But the most important aspect of these interventions is that they offer the public an image – a snapshot, or a fleeting glimpse – of a better reality, a new possibility that alters the viewer’s perception. The strength in guerilla urbanism lies in its “leading by example” attitude – when people experience a space in a way that they never thought possible, it inspires an opportunity for them to rethink their city, and to imagine the possibilities of what it could be. The role of digital media in the documentation and distribution of these images allows for these urbanistic ideas to be further spread and perpetuated at a global level, encouraging the movement at a larger scale. The power to change is thus made clear to the average citizen.

    Slowly, the citizen is attempting to take back what is rightfully theirs. The increase in temporary, grassroots architecture and urbanism can attest to the growing awareness of our isolation within the city, and the need to reconnect to both our urban spaces and our fellow human beings. In this respect, the interactive and user-driven installation seems to be the promising future of contemporary urbanism.

  7. In his article Relational Aesthetic, Nicolas Bourriaud suggests that, as artist/designer/urban planners/architects, we need to address the failure of the modernist project of global emancipation. We also need to face the idea that given and absolute principles will free us from inequalities and establish a global sense of democracy.
    As Jeffrey Hou hints in (Not)your everyday public space, maybe emancipation of disadvantaged portions of the population and minorities relies more on an acknowledgment of their situation and of our world as it is.
    With that being said , we are now confronted to the need to define our practice as something more process-based and behavioural than solely ideological.
    Understanding a work of art or a design intervention as something that brings people together and relate them to each other and to the issue depicted is a powerful way to see how we could make things better.
    This brings me to this week guest lecturer Katherine Clark from MUF art/architecture. The firm describe itself as a collaborative practice of art and architecture committed to public realm projects. For them, a building is less of an object and more of a scenario enabling different and sometime unpredictable set of events and interactions. The ambition behind the design has more to do with a social/spatial context and decisions should be based on what is actually happening on a site rather than on some projected idealised future for it. In other words, by looking at the space we could be able to see its social potentials to allowing the population to “claim it back”. By acknowledging the real needs of the “people” of a place, designers could be able to enable them to shape it to their need and own aspiration.
    It was reported to me that at some point over the lunchtime discussion Katherine Clark mention the incomfort of many clients and consulted group with the ideas of a project as a catalyst of “uncertain potentials” rather than of finished fixed object. Every project should be different and not reproducible. If a project is seen as a trigger of social interactions and specific spatial reclamation, it seems hard to think that it could take exactly the same form everywhere. It is even more difficult to imagine it has dependable of a certain formality. For that, the work of MUF art/architecture offer design and architectural project that are no longer prisoner of their form and that leave behind most notions of objectification. That being said, for many of us letting go of the ability to project the work in the future and predict its appearance and impacts is harder than we think. For that, the work of collaborative like MUF is even more important and relies still in a really large part in educating both their clients and the broader design community in other ways to engage space ownership and social spatiality. To us students, it forces us to think about who we are really serving when doing a project. Are we only responsible to respond to the need of our client solely? But who is the real client? It is the user or the person financing the project? Or do we have any social responsibility to engage and serve with the people that will actually live and use the space that we are designing?
    As we could see during this week lecture, every situation involves a complexity of actors and it is possible to serve both individual needs (person paying for the project) and broader social and cultural ones.

  8. Hou in “(Not) Your Everyday Public Space” examines the alternative re-making of public space by various kinds of appropriations, which challenges to the standard definitions of public. In its most traditional sense, public spaces have been the arenas of civic life for citizens and communities. However, production of public space, as an inevitable outcome of power relationships, led us to question the “publicity” of space. Hou argues that the identity of public space, both as an expression of political power and a subject of political control, might lead to exclusions of specific groups since urban functions and embodied meanings become limited.

    Even though, “publicity” of space has been challenged by private enterprises under the umbrella of “form follows capitalism”, miscellaneous actions and forms of occupation have the potential to re-publicize the space. What Bourriard explains in “Relational Aesthetics” also supports this idea in terms of utilizing the artwork as an agent to reconstruct the space. Both of the authors, in their own way, suggest abandoning the preconceived idea of the “traditional” and “learn to inhabit the world in a better way”.

    It is obvious that public space is both a production of social relations and an agent to product social relations. Considering that, it is significant to underline the Bourriard’s point that “art is the specific place that produces sociability” with respect to alternative production of space. The case that Hou mentions, “Pigs on Parade” is good example from this point of view. It was not only a social and artistic manifestation but also an attempt challenging the regulations of public space by locating an artwork on a sidewalk.

    Considering the transformation of contemporary societies via chains of activities, expressions and relationships, I personally find the cases that Hou demonstrated very inspiring in terms of introducing new possibilities for the production of public space. Especially, the utilization of new technologies in telecommunication and media, which encouraged and enabled alternative occupations by providing the communication network among people, is a point to emphasize. Recent protests in Turkey and Brazil also show how the effective use of internet contributed to the active occupation of space. It is fair to state that, this is an indirect contribution to spatial occupation; however in its own way utilization of cyber-space is a means of defying existing norms, which pave the way for further possibilities to activate space.

    As Mitchell states, it is through the actions and purposeful occupation of space that it becomes public. So if we have the power to have claims on public space and give it an embodied meaning in many ways, in order to become a more just and democratic society, why not?

  9. At first glance, Bourriaud’s and Hou’s texts seemed complimentary to each other. From my first and foremost understanding of the subjects that were brought up in the respective texts, it seemed to me that Bourriaud’s iterated the notion of art as manifesto, or art as a proclamation of political, social or economical opinion, compared to Hou’s which particularly articulated the idea of physical space – more specifically public space – as being democratic, “an arena of citizen discourse and association.” Furthermore, this complementarity was accentuated by this latent idea that the latter regarded space as container for art, as a gallery, and the former considered art itself as an act of manifesting, in a larger public context, and reflecting marginalized public opinion. The art gallery moved to the streets and public spaces, and the art reoriented itself from ownership driven production to a shared and communal aimed production; from pure representation to manifestation and appropriation.

    At first, this idea might sound benumb, but I believe – along with many other people – that it is incredibly modern, or of our day. This particular ‘new’ form of art is often experienced and exposed in the complex public realm, whereas ‘older’ art forms were, and still are, experienced in enclosed spaces where encounters and connections are reduced and controlled, therefore potentially less rich and deprived of true exchange. Art, once a luxury (and still is the case for most art today), was mostly experience by the wealthy. Nowadays, it tries to remove these contextual boundaries and, to some extent, transcend them in the most adverse way: for art to be first and foremost for the people and the bettering of conditions. Thus, this transition does indeed signify a great deal of change in our contemporary society. And this potential of change furthermore promotes creativity and the creation of new original art. It is in a perpetual circular motion that will only increase in significance over time if the pace is kept.

    Considering the public realm for a moment – since we are potential builders of these realms – a passage in Hou’s text promptly upset me: the “privatization of public space” where “developers are generously rewarded for providing spaces with limited public use.” Although not so surprising, it was nonetheless shocking to be reminded of such aberrations impacting the lives of everyone, but with us blindly and hardly noticing anything. This made me think: if new public spaces are ultimately privately owned, what is the public realm of the 21st century? The answer, I figured, quickly came to mind: media. “An arena of citizen discourse and association”, like I previously referred to. A place “open to all.” Although highly contradictory since an excess of media and technology tends to equate to seclusion and social exile. Moreover, these new artistic tendencies that criticize media or utilize media relate to Bourriaud’s “relational art.” Perhaps, even, it is a specificity of the wideness of new media and technology; an art inspired by the outreach of globalized media, “an art taking its theoretical horizon the realm of human interactions and its social context.” In this case, social context being globalized media. To continue, “the contemporary artwork’s form is spreading out from its material form: it is a linking element, a principle of dynamic agglutination…” To me, this idea is evident. Art becomes a media in the new public realm: an economical, social, political, contextual discourse of opinions and ideas. As much as relational art links people together, media engenders the same effects. In fact, publicized relational art through media more often than not helps at transcending the original art through an even greater public linking and participation, such as spontaneous public occupations of space or publicized media attention given to street art with specific political or social discourses; a true “spreading out from its material form” as well as a “linking element” between people. For once, we can see art, media, technology, the digital world – formerly thought of negatively in reason of subsequent individualization – as a bonding agent between people for the future public realm. In the end, we might be witnessing a reduction of true physical public space, but there is a war waging on through the new digital public territory to regain, once again, the people’s control over physical public space, to reclaim spatial justice through mediatized art and digital battles.

  10. Manu Sharma

    In the article ‘Insurgent public space’, the author focuses on the vision of how the public spaces and urban areas are used and defined. How they can change the environment of the city itself. The guerrilla spaces are no longer limited to the usual public spaces rather than they express the unconventional spatial and public relations in the changing cites. Jeffery Hou defines the insurgent places as ‘a location of possibilities, alterations and pleasant confronts’, which reveals the possibilities behind this secondary way of making place. For designing these spaces inputs from the residents are required than just the unique vision of architect. Hou defines the public spaces as a public park in American cites. But according to me fusion of public spaces signifies to the design processes and how different functions with a city like residents, architects and organizations can work collaboratively to shape a public space. Bourriaud’s article ‘Relational aesthetic’ focus on the role of modernism in influencing the way we relate to public spaces in todays world. It also explores connection of the artwork with the social spaces, within which it was created. He thinks the art is changing in a sort of web in itself without an independent presence and should be connect to the environment around it.

    The social and cultural space in which the art inhabits nowadays is so different from the earlier times with new rules of understandings. Modernity had a logical view of a perfect life, engineered by the technological developments of industrial revolution, contemporary society now has uncontrolled search for a more realistic way. I think because of the inherited history of our ancestor’s, we attempt to improve our situations rather than to reengineer the world we live in. The art today we explore is the realm as it is and focuses on the cultural states of constant change. I think now the lost art of human interaction is being found again after and digital interfaces between the people. I think relational aesthetics projects alters the traditional physical and public space of the art gallery and the artist studios. The goals of relational art is to generate a social condition in which the experience of the viewers from the environment becomes the art, so often artists create a physical space which could be used for social events.

    Sometimes it feels like architects when dealing with public spaces feel like struggling with more complicated challenge. I think we should design the public spaces by keeping the ideas of freedom in mind for the unprepared urban moments to take place. I think the question that comes out in these articles is the boundaries of modern practices, like in the field of architecture. I think the point about designing of spaces have been raised in many of our readings that, some public places are designed for events but still they do not function as a space for social interaction without the events. What role can architects and designers play in that situation?

  11. Andrew Brown:

    “The human essence is the set of social relations.” (Marx)

    The point of departure for both Relational Aesthetics (Bourriand) and Insurgent Public Space (Hou), is a change happening our culture. The setting for this change is the city, where most human beings live today and where a public space of encounter is crucial both culturally and politically for a diverse population. This change in modern cities is nomadic and fleeting and so defies the idea that Architecture is permanent and static. In Relational Aesthetics, Bourriand makes the case that modern life is defined by the encounters and relations between people in cities. In Insurgent Public Space, Hou describes the public’s reaction to the sterilizing of the space of encounter in the formally designed city.

    These two pieces challenge a traditional understanding of Architecture and of the city in several ways and suggest that the role of the Architect is changing. Traditionally, Architecture is usually thought of as having a long life span. The spaces of the city are thought of in terms of their specific functions. One plot of land is a park, another belongs to an office tower. These elements typically have clear borders and certain behaviours are accepted in each. Hou questions whether the official public space of most cities is fully open and inclusive. He points to a number of emerging behaviours, such as pop-up gardens in abandoned lots or illegal night markets on city streets, which exemplify the public’s defiance of restrictions imposed by official public space. These are examples of unanticipated and often subversive uses of the space of the city to create new, truly public spaces.

    The public’s behaviour results from the desire to, “inhabit the world in a better way instead of trying to construct it based on a preconceived idea.”(Bourriand, 13) People are responding to an absence of truly public space and taking matters into their own hands. That citizens are having to carve out their own public space, often illegally, speaks to a failure of city-making. On the other hand, this grass-roots response is very optimistic in its clear defiance of the idea that contemporary public space is dead. It suggests that public space is a human need which will adapt to changing conditions and inevitably resurface.

    If this sort of informal, insurgent Architecture is a reflection of the condition of the modern city, the role of the Architect in contributing to public space today is brought into question. How do Architects respond to the way citizens are shaping cities themselves? If the Architect’s training affords an ability to see potential in behaviour which might otherwise be considered unwanted, is the role of the Architect to advocate for allowing positive but unintended uses? Finally, does the involvement of Architects in guerrilla urbanism destroy the spontaneity and subversive nature of the project?

  12. Interventions and guerilla urbanism are artworks in the contemporary sense defined by Bourriaud in Relational Aesthetics. Bourriaud explains that art has always been a research on relations; relations between humanity and god(s) until the 16th century, then, with the Renaissance, relations between humanity and the world surrounding it. Today, relations between human beings are inspiring the artistic world. Art is not made to last anymore, to be a memory of people or things that used to be, as it was until recently. Today, art is immaterial; it is made of the relations or interactions provoked by an object, a concept or a process. In Relational Aesthetics, two types of contemporary artworks are defined: “moments of sociability” and “objects producing sociability”.

    The notion of performance is also really important: art takes place at a particular time, in a particular place, and is aimed to a particular audience. After that, the only trace left is the preparation, the process that has created the artwork.

    I think that today, groundwork is as important as the artwork itself. What is analyzed is not the product, the materiality anymore, but the concept behind it. The idea is the art, the object or the performance is just one of the many forms that could express the idea.

    Guerilla urbanism tests this hypothesis. Its forms and manifestations are multiple, as Hou demonstrates it in his article in Insurgent Public Space. It can be anonymous and intriguing as Fremont’s pig, it can be communal, colorful and appealing as the street corners in Oregon (City Repair), it can be lively and punctual as flash-mobs, it can spread around the world like the Park(ing) Day invented by Rebar, etc. However, all these performances have some basic ideas in common: they are aimed to encourage social contacts, and re-appropriate public spaces.

    Public spaces today are highly codified, defined by their functional properties and the activities they host. The systems of circulation are a good example: every single mode of transportation has its own paths, and you are not supposed to walk on the road, to drive on the bike path or to park on the sidewalk. Gathering places, urban furniture, green areas are designed to accommodate certain uses and prevent others (benches equipped with armrests or with a curved seat to prevent homeless people from sleeping on them are an illustration of specific design codifying the activities in public spaces). Not to mention that urban spaces today are a patchwork of public spaces, semi-private spaces and private spaces opened to the public, with a specific status restricting the users’ freedom.

    Urban interventions usually raise people’s awareness about these issues by creating surprising or incongruous effects, by using space for a different purpose than the one it has been conceived for, by encouraging people to react and interact with the installations. For me, guerilla urbanism is a way to make people be conscious of the space surrounding them, and showing them that they can be involved in its improvement.

  13. In the book “Insurgent Public Space”, Jeffrey Hou describes the loss of spontaneity, freedom, and creativity associated with public space. This loss he argues is due to an increased trend where cities privatize and regulate public space for either government/corporate profit or for exaggerated post 9/11 public “safety” concerns. The resultant “public” space become a bland, imposing, and restrictive environment that is less about occupation and expression and more about order and control. Therefore, many believe that the true nature of public space as an informal gathering place for expression without inhibition has been lost. In fact, Michael Sorkin, a well-regarded and distinguished American architectural critic and author stated that these changes mark “the end of pubic space” completely.

    Though the effectiveness of the traditional public space (the square, the plaza, the piazza) as a social, political, cultural tool of free expression may be deteriorating, Jeffrey Hou maintains that new, non-traditional spaces have been informally developed to fill this void. Spaces like alleyways, urban gardens, brown sites, and reclaimed abandoned land have the potential to engage the city at a political, social and cultural level. Though perhaps not as large as traditional public spaces (the city square), these “hybrid” public spaces are less regulated, more easily occupied, and quickly transformable, allowing the public to attach new meanings, relationships, and identities without the fear of immediate repercussion and dismissal.

    One example of “hybrid” public space in Jeffery Hou’s book that I found particularly interesting was his description of the back alleyway and how in China it has evolved from a simple back road into a rich informal public realm that is largely independent from government regulation and influence. I find this example interesting as it presents the alleyway as a catalyst for effective social engagement and free creative expression. In this light, the common stigma of the alleyway as a gloomy, inhospitable and crime-ridden space is largely removed. Though illegal activities do naturally occur in these places, alleyways arguably contain the most spontaneous, creative, and beautiful artistic expression in the city. In addition to graffiti, alleyways contain urban gardens, informal park spaces, restaurants, cafe’s, dance clubs, bars, playgrounds, and so on. In Montreal alone, there are over 280 miles of alleyways hidden away behind tightly packed houses and storefronts which contain some of the best urban artwork and expression in the city. In addition, over 100 of theses alleys have been reclaimed and converted into urban gardens for both local residents and passerby’s.

    Due to their informal and largely unregulated qualities, “hybrid” spaces such as the alleyway are arguably the last outposts of “true” public space. As the freedoms associated with traditional plazas and squares are slowly assimilated, these places can be considered perhaps one of the most important democratic urban zones in our cities today.

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