Informal Architectures – Part 1: Introduction

Introduction and welcome: Sara Raza, Anthony Kiendl

Anthony Kiendl, director of the Informal Architectures research project, will outline the project and how it relates to this symposium, which involves numerous other artists, writers whose works and narratives exploring not only the built environment, but an economy of consumption and modernity.

Informal Architectures – Part 2: Monuments and Ruin

Panel 1: Monuments and Ruin
Chair: Andrea Phillips
Presenters: Arni Haroldsson, Paul Antick, Joel McKim

For centuries western architecture was founded upon tenets of beauty, solidity and utility. The Tower of Babel is an archetypal icon in literature and art (think of Peter Breughel the Elder’s painting of 1563) that relates the story of an architectural failure underpinned by social experience. It is an iconographic representation of the intersection between architecture, failure and social thought, arguably haunting the history of western consciousness. In contemporary culture, the Ground Zero memorial project (the proposal process, the designs themselves, the site’s relationship to the surroundings) taps into a highly charged current of emotion and memory, but then seeks to manage that affective excess. The contemporary monument, and the 9/11 memorial in particular, is potentially a site of risk and encounter, but also very much a site of control. This panel will address how other examples of monuments (whether planned, architectural or ad hoc) function in the built environment and popular imaginary. This panel will address the interplay of intentionality, context, and public discourse in determining how sites of historical, emotional or political resonance function. Particular interest is given to the notion of architecture serving ideological ends and, by extension, as a means of reading or gauging the rise and ebb of historical change as pertains to the ‘just past’ of modernism. This panel will pose questions as to how various moments of the past are re-reflected in a time of mass tourism, consumption and waste.

Informal Architectures – Part 3: Spatial Imaginaries

Panel 2: Spatial Imaginaries Chair: Anthony Kiendl, presenters: Luanne Martineau, David Hoffos, Eleanor Bond

It is now generally acknowledged that contemporary art practice precipitates transformations in the environment, both materially and in our perceptions of it. There are direct links between culture and public spaces as sites of social communication. Consequently, it can be said that this inter-disciplinary practice makes an active contribution to the ways in which the significance of the built environment can be interrogated and researched. Artists’ conceptions of space play a prominent role in the history of western art and architecture including unsettling visions of utopias, dystopias and otherwise alternative spaces. This panel will present a sample of three diverse artistic practices that reflect alternative readings of the built environment. What is the role of the imagination in changing public space?

Informal Architectures – Part 4: Environment and Nomadism

Panel 3: Environment and nomadism
Chair: Shumon Basar
Presenters: Candice Hopkins, Sara Raza, Aoife Mac Namara
Informal architecture discussion: Jimmie Durham

Today’s international community is confronted with the urgent questions of development, competition and survival, while the collective forces of globalisation, explosive expansion of urban spaces, war and famine have ushered in a period of unprecedented deconstruction and re-organisation of social fabrics at an ever-increasing rate of speed. Our assumptions about the ease of international travel and porousness of cultural boundaries potentially de-sensitise us to profound cultural shifts that now grip many parts of the globe. Ecological factors and ‘nature’ are also culturally constructed. What can contemporary art, architecture and curatorial practice tell us about globalization, environment and migration? Furthermore, how are such issues framed in a gallery and museum context and reflected in contemporary curatorial practice? Renowned interdisciplinary artist Jimmie Durham has created a series of works that explore architecture and monuments, especially in a European context. Richard Hill has summarised, ‘In Europe, Durham’s art and writing has focused primarily on a critique of monumental architecture, revealing the extent to which the built environment dictates our experience and links particular notions of history and nationalism with associations of permanence, weight and stability. Durham’s main strategy has been to take his use of the pathetic fallacy to its limit, projecting a variety of forms of agency onto architecture’s most inanimate, stable and monumental material: stone.’ Durham’s acerbic critiques of Western culture make him one of the most compelling thinkers and writers in contemporary culture.

Anthony Kiendl, director of the Informal Architectures research project, will outline the project and how it relates to this symposium, which involves numerous other artists, writers whose works and narratives exploring not only the built environment, but an economy of consumption and modernity.

Through three panel discussions, followed by a presentation by artist Jimmie Durham, we explore artist-lead research in the built environment in contemporary consumer societies. In this symposium acclaimed artists, curators and writers from Canada, the US and Europe explore relationships between architecture, public space and time. Through cultural theory and artists’ interpretations of space, Informal architectures will address issues relating to monumentality, ruin, nomadic culture and environment in the current political climate.

The symposium endeavours to examine how characterisations of space may be defined as variously social, philosophical, political, and poetic. Informal architectures explores the dissolution of boundaries (disciplinary, performative, artistic), and looks at how notions of contingency, nomadism, fiction, the hypothetical, and the historical inform our understanding of spatial culture. Informal architectures encompasses multiple reflections upon modernism and monumentality and that which is, intentionally or not, formless, lacking, imperfect, temporary, unbuilt, or weak. George Bataille’s conception of spatial destruction, and perspective on anti-architectural matter such as spittle, resonate in the gestures of contemporary artists and architects.

This symposium is preceded by a lecture by artist Dan Graham on 15 February 2007 at Tate Modern. Graham produces artworks and theoretical texts that investigate cultural ideologies and systems. His interests range from suburbia and public architecture to punk music and popular culture. Graham’s lecture is followed by a question-and-answer session, chaired by Anthony Kiendl, Director of Plug In ICA, Canada and Leverhulme Visiting Research Fellow at the School of Arts, Middlesex University.

In collaboration with Plug In ICA, Canada House, Department of Foreign Affairs Canada, The Banff Centre and Middlesex University.

With support from the AHRC.