9th International AHRA Conference
Architecture and the Paradox of Dissidence
15–17 November 2012

Synopsis

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This conference aims to reflect on the relevance of the concept of dissidence for architectural practice today. Although dissidence has been primarily associated with architectural practices in the Eastern Bloc at the end of the Cold War period, contemporary architectural and other aesthetic practices have in recent years developed a host of new methodologies and techniques for articulating their distance from and critique of dominant political and financial structures. Architecture and the Paradox of Dissidence asks how we can conceive of the contemporary political problems and paradoxes of architecture in relation to their precedents? Devoid of the agency of action, Cold War dissidents articulated their positions in drawings of fantasy-like paper architecture, while contemporary forms of architectural practice seem to gravitate towards activism and direct-action in the world. The political issues – from interventions in charged areas worldwide to research in conflict zones and areas undergoing transformations – currently stimulate a field of abundant invention in contemporary architecture. Both, Cold War dissidents and contemporary activists encounter problems and paradoxes and must navigate complex political force fields within which possible complicities are inherent risks.

New forms of critical practice, and political and spatial dissent are manifold, appearing in stark contrast to contemporary architectural practice in which professional courage seems to have been translated into structural “virtuosity” of surfaces. This conference seeks to map out and expand on the methodologies of architectural action and reinvigorate the concept of dissent within the architectural/spatial field of the possible. A more historical thread that runs through the programme will seek to weave the genealogy of political/spatial practices from the Cold War dissidents of the Soviet Bloc to the activists of South American favelas.

Dissidents in the former communist countries used a specific set of codes to question the ideological doctrine of the state party. Architects who were otherwise employed in state run architectural collectives, or as staff in architecture schools met to produce writings, private lectures, secret installations and architectural articulations of allegories and legends – activities that challenged the ’stifling’ standardized language of Soviet architecture. Many of these ‘paper architects’ questioned the relationship between art, architecture and politics, but also, and significantly so, the ideological, and thus also ethical function of various forms of ‘creative practices’. The political melt-down of the Soviet Bloc reconfigured this complex field of political codes, architectural gestures and references. The withdrawal of the architect from large ideological concepts regarding social utopias mirrored that fragmentation and dissemination of (neo)liberal market structures. Large ideological battles were replaced with a multiplicity of local, or issue-specific conflicts within which forms of activism have been integrated. Dissent against large integrated and complex networks is no longer possible. All that is left is to navigate the complex fields of forces in a reflective and innovative manner. But can the assemblage of gestures and techniques of past struggles and ‘dilemmas’ of working in politically suppressive regimes help to inform those of today?

The conference thus seeks to attract contemporary spatial practitioners, architects, urbanists, journalists, activists, filmmakers and curators, asking them to reflect upon contemporary forms and conditions of dissent and their potential problems and inevitable paradoxes. It welcomes, too, the reflections of architects and architectural historian upon previous articulations of political dissent through architectural practice.

Venue

15th- 17th November 2012
Faculty of Architecture and Spatial Design
London Metropolitan University
40-44 Holloway Road, London N7 8JL

Contact and information

Ines Weizman
info@dissidence.org.uk
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