Art Practices and the Housing Crisis Conference

 

A one day conference examining how contemporary art practices engage with the current housing crisis

18 November 2016

29 October 2016 - 15 January 2017, Promising Home @ People's History Museum

Time 10:00 – 16:00

Duration 6 hours

Cost In order to keep our events programme affordable to everyone, please make a donation

The Institute of Urban Dreaming (IUD) is hosting a one day conference examining how contemporary art practices engage with the current housing crisis.

The event will consist of a series of talks and round table discussions.  It aims to consider the encounter between art and housing in a critical, trans-disciplinary way.  It will consider housing and art practice before and beyond the current trend for socially engaged art.  It will also debate the ethics and politics of practices that relate to gentrification and displacement.

This conference is part of IUD’s public events programme to coincide with their exhibition Promising Home, on show at PHM until Sunday 15 January 2017.Arts Council England

The event has been funded by The Arts Council.

Suitable for adults and young people

Booking Requirements: Booking required via Eventbrite

  • Please note event attendees must arrive at least ten minutes before the start time of the event, otherwise their booked space will be given to someone on the reserve list
  • Please contact the museum as soon as possible if you wish to cancel your reservation so your place can be given to another visitor
  • Please note all donations are non refundable
  • For further information please contact the museum on 0161 838 9190 or email events@phm.org.uk

http://www.phm.org.uk/whatson/art-practices-the-housing-crisis-conference/

 

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Sacrifice and Survival

sacrifice_and_survival-olympic_presentation_london

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Ossuary for Glosses

 

leiris-glossaire-la_revolution_surrealiste-april-1925

By dissecting the words we like, without bothering about conforming either to their etymologies or to their accepted significations, we discover their most hidden qualities and the secret ramifications that are propagated through the whole language, channeled by associations of sounds, forms and ideas. Then language changes into an oracle, and there we have a thread (however slender it may be) to guide us through the Babel of our minds.

Michel Leiris, and Lydia Davis, ‘Glossary: My Glosses Ossuary’ (1925), Brisées = Broken Branches, San Francisco: North Point Press, 1989, pp.3-4.

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The commodity hides in stores, in warehouses – in inventory

What is a commodity? A concrete abstraction. An abstraction, certainly – but not an abstraction in spite of its status as a thing; an abstraction, on the contrary, on account of its status as a social ‘thing’, divorced, during its existence, from its materiality, from the use to which it is put, from productive activity, and from the needs that it satisfies. And concrete, just as certainly, by virtue of its practical power. The commodity is a social ‘being-there’, an ‘object’ irreducible to the philosophical concept of the Object. The commodity hides in stores, in warehouses- in inventory. Yet it has no mystery comparable to the mystery of nature. The enigma of the commodity is entirely social. It is the enigma of money and property, of specific needs and the demand-money-satisfaction cycle. The commodity asks for nothing better than to appear. And appear it does – visible/readable, in shop windows and on display racks. Self-exhibition is its forte. Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, p.340

Inventory_flyer-for_Vol2_No_3_1997.jpgInventory Journal flyer for Vol.2 No.3, 1997 (photo taken at Mayday Archives)

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Again Morning

again_morning_brutalit_of_man-foolish_wives

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Historical Time and Mechanical Time – WB

Historical time, however, differs from this mechanical time. It determines much more than the possibility of spatial changes of a specific magnitude and regularity – that is to say, like the hands of the clock – simultaneously with spatial changes of a complex nature. And without specifying what goes beyond this, what else determines historical time – in short, without defining how it differs from mechanical time – we may assert that the determining force cannot be grasped by, or wholly concentrated in, any empirical process. Rather a process that is perfect in historical terms is quite indeterminate empirically; it is in fact an idea.

Walter Benjamin, ‘Trauerspiel and Tragedy’, in Selected Writings Vol.1, 1913-26, pp.55-57, p.55.

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Neither Heroes Nor Villains

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A is for Architecture

Acephale-Note-p.646-OC_Vol.1

Man will escape his head as a convict escapes his prison

ARCHITECTURE

– Architecture is the expression of the true nature of societies , as physiognomy is the expres sion of the nature of individuals . However, this com­parison is applicable, above all, to the physiognomy of officials (prelates, magistrates, admirals) . In fact, only society’s ideal nature – that of authoritative command and prohibition – expresses itself in actual architectural constructions . Thus great monuments rise up like dams, opposing a logic of majesty and authority to all unquiet elements; it is in the form of cathedrals and palaces that Church and State speak to and impose silence upon the crowds . Indeed, monuments obviously inspire good social behaviour and often even genuine fear. The fall of the Bastille is symbolic of this state of things . This mass movement is difficult to explain otherwise than by popular hostility towards monuments which are their veritable masters .

For that matter, whenever we find architectural construction elsewhere than in monuments, whether it be in physiognomy, dress, music, or painting, we can infer a prevailing taste for human or divine authority. The large-scale compositions of certain painters express the will to constrain the spirit within an o fficial ideal. The disappearance of academic pictorial compo­sition, on the other hand, opens the path to the expression (and thereby the exaltation) of psychological processes distinctly at odds with social stability. This, in large part, explains the strong reaction elicited, for over half a century, by the progressive transformation of painting, hitherto characterised by a sort of concealed architectural skeleton.

It is clear, in any case, that mathematical order imposed upon s tone is really the culmi­nation of the evolution of earthly forms, whose direction is indicated within the biological
order by the passage from the simian to the human form, the latter already displaying all the elements of architecture. Man would seem to represent merely an intermediary stage within the morphological development between monkey and building.Forms have become increasingly static, increasingly dominant. From the very outset, in any case, the human and architectural orders make common cause, the latter being only the development of the former. Therefore an attack on architecture, whose monumental productions now truly
dominate the whole earth, grouping the servile multitudes under their shadow, imposing
admiration and wonder, order and constraint, is necessarily, as it were, an attack on man.
Currently, an entire earthly activity, and undoubtedly the mos t intellectually outstanding,
tends, through the denunciation of human dominance, in this direction. Hence, however
strange this may seem when a creature as elegant as the human being is involved, a path –
traced by the painters – opens up toward bestial monstrosity, as if there were no other way
of escaping the architectural straitjacket.

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Sire, I am from another country / Sire, je suis de l’ôtre pays

Someone recently wrote me from Europe: ‘I am sorry your country is falling apart’. The truth is it has been this way since I was born here. I grew up in the 1980s in East London, it was full of dog shit, nettles and ruins. In the short-medium term the recent acceleration in the production of ruins will likely slow. The dog shit has been mostly internalised already. My country is more accurately to be found to the right of the most eastern craters on this map. The map has lain about these parts for several decades and it is the conditions without which conform ever more closely to it, not the other way around.

Map_Home

The juxtaposition of successful industry and urban decay in the UK’s landscape is certainly not confined to the north of the country. A town like Reading, with some of the fastest growth in the country (Microsoft, US Robotics, Digital, British Gas, Prudential Assurance) offers, albeit to a lesser degree, exactly the same contrasts between corporate wealth and urban deprivation: the UK does not look anything like as wealthy as it really is. The dilapidated appearance of the visible landscape, especially the urban landscape, masks its prosperity. It has been argued that in eighteen years of Conservative government the UK has slipped in a ranking of the world’s most prosperous economies in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per head, but it is equally likely that the position has remained unchanged, and in any case this is a ranking among nations all of which are becoming increasingly wealthy. If the UK has slipped in this table, it has not slipped anything like as much as, say, Australia or Sweden, or even the Netherlands. The UK’s GDP is the fifth-largest in the world, after the United States, Japan, Germany and France. What has changed is the distribution of wealth.

In the UK, wealth is not confined to a Conservative nomenklatura, but the condition of, say, public transport or state-sector secondary schools indicates that the governing class does not have a great deal of use for them. People whose everyday experience is of decayed surroundings, pollution, cash-starved public services, job insecurity, part-time employment or freelancing tend to forget about the UK’s wealth. We have been inclined to think that we are living at a time of economic decline, to regret the loss of the visible manufacturing economy, and to lower our expectations. We dismiss the government’s claims that the UK is ‘the most successful enterprise economy in Europe’, but are more inclined to accept that there might be less money for schools and hospitals, if only because of the cost of financing mass unemployment.

There is something Orwellian about this effect of dilapidated everyday surroundings, especially when it is juxtaposed with the possibility of immediate virtual or imminent actual presence elsewhere, through telecommunications and cheap travel. Gradually, one comes to see dilapidation not only as an indication of poverty but also as damage inflicted by the increased centralisation of media and political control in the last two decades.

The juxtaposition of successful industry and urban decay in the UK’s landscape is certainly not confined to the north of the country. A town like Reading, with some of the fastest growth in the country (Microsoft, US Robotics, Digital, British Gas, Prudential Assurance) offers, albeit to a lesser degree, exactly the same contrasts between corporate wealth and urban deprivation: the UK does not look anything like as wealthy as it really is. The dilapidated appearance of the visible landscape, especially the urban landscape, masks its prosperity. It has been argued that in eighteen years of Conservative government the UK has slipped in a ranking of the world’s most prosperous economies in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per head, but it is equally likely that the position has remained unchanged, and in any case this is a ranking among nations all of which are becoming increasingly wealthy. If the UK has slipped in this table, it has not slipped anything like as much as, say, Australia or Sweden, or even the Netherlands. The UK’s GDP is the fifth-largest in the world, after the United States, Japan, Germany and France. What has changed is the distribution of wealth.

In the UK, wealth is not confined to a Conservative nomenklatura, but the condition of, say, public transport or state-sector secondary schools indicates that the governing class does not have a great deal of use for them. People whose everyday experience is of decayed surroundings, pollution, cash-starved public services, job insecurity, part-time employment or freelancing tend to forget about the UK’s wealth. We have been inclined to think that we are living at a time of economic decline, to regret the loss of the visible manufacturing economy, and to lower our expectations. We dismiss the government’s claims that the UK is ‘the most successful enterprise economy in Europe’, but are more inclined to accept that there might be less money for schools and hospitals, if only because of the cost of financing mass unemployment.

There is something Orwellian about this effect of dilapidated everyday surroundings, especially when it is juxtaposed with the possibility of immediate virtual or imminent actual presence elsewhere, through telecommunications and cheap travel. Gradually, one comes to see dilapidation not only as an indication of poverty but also as damage inflicted by the increased centralisation of media and political control in the last two decades.
In the rural landscape, meanwhile, the built structures, at least, are more obviously modern, but the atmosphere is disconcerting. The windowless sheds of the logistics industry, recent and continuing road construction, spiky mobile phone aerials, a proliferation of new fencing of various types, security guards, police helicopters and cameras, new prisons, agribusiness (BSE, genetic engineering, organophosphates, declining wildlife), UK and US military bases (microwaves, radioactivity), mysterious research and training centres, ‘independent’ schools, eerie commuter villages, rural poverty, and the country houses of rich and powerful men of unrestrained habits are visible features of a landscape in which the suggestion of cruelty is never very far away.

— Patrick Keiller, ‘Port Statistics’, from The View from the Train: Cities and Other Landscapes, Verso, 2013.

Returning after a trip to the so-called countryside, which on one day spent cycling smelled of burnt hair for an entire 20km stretch, I stumbled across an online version of a text from which the narration to the film Robinson in Space is formed. This is a favourite text of mine and seems to sum up the contradictory basis of the visible dilapidation in the UK in a way which I do not think has been bested. (updated 26 August, 2016)

pissaro-norwood

Still from Patrick Keiller, Norwood, (1983)

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A Tour of German Inflation*

 

Robert_Barker-panorama-history_barker_1787Panorama_of_Values

panorama_of_Europe

IMPERIAL PANORAMA
A Tour of German Inflation
By Walter Benjamin

1. In the stock of phraseology that lays bare the amalgam of stupidity and cowardice constituting the mode of life of the German bourgeois, the locution referring to impending catas­trophe-that “things can’t go on like this” -is particularly noteworthy. The helpless fixation on notions of security and property deriving from past decades keeps the average citizen from perceiving the quite remarkable stabilities of an entirely new kind that underlie the present situation. Because the rela­tive stabilization of the prewar years benefited him, he feels compelled to regard any state that dispossesses him as unstable. But stable conditions need by no means be pleasant conditions, and even before the war there were strata for whom stabilized conditions amounted to stabilized wretchedness. To decline is no less stable, no more surprising, than to rise. Only a view that acknowledges downfall as the sole reason for the present situa­tion can advance beyond enervating amazement at what is daily repeated, and perceive the phenomena of decline as stability itself and rescue alone as extraordinary, verging on the mar­vellous and incomprehensible. People in the national communi­ties of Central Europe live like the inhabitants of an encircled town whose provisions and gunpowder are running out and for whom deliverance is, by human reasoning, scarcely to be ex­pected-a case in which surrender, perhaps unconditional, should be most seriously considered. But the silent, invisible power that Central Europe feels opposing it does not negotiate. Nothing, therefore, remains but to direct the gaze, in the per­petual expectation of the final onslaught, on nothing except the extraordinary event in which alone salvation now lies. But this necessary state of intense and uncomplaining attention could, because we are in mysterious contact with the powers besieging us, really call forth a miracle. Conversely, the assumption that things cannot go on like this will one day find itself apprised of the fact that for the suffering of individuals as of communities there is only one limit beyond which things cannot go : annihila­tion.

2. A curious paradox : people have only the narrowest private interest in mind when they act, yet they are at the same time more than ever determined in their behaviour by the instincts of the mass. And more than ever mass instincts have become con­ fused and estranged from life. Whereas the obscure impulse of the animal-as innumerable anecdotes relate-detects, as dan­ger approaches, a way of escape that still seems invisible, this society, each of whose members cares only for his own abject well-being, falls victim, with animal insensibility but without the insensate intuition of animals, as a blind mass, to even the most obvious danger, and the diversity of individual goals is immaterial in face of the identity of the determining forces. Again and again it has been shown that society’s attachment to its familiar and long-since-forfeited life is so rigid as to nullify the genuinely human application of intellect, forethought, even in dire peril. So that in this society the picture of imbecility is complete : uncertainty, indeed perversion of vital instincts, and impotence, indeed decay of the intellect. This is the condition of the entire .German bourgeoisie.

3· All close relationships are lit up by an almost intolerable, piercing clarity in which they are scarcely able to survive. For on the one hand, money stands ruinously at the centre of every vital interest, but on the other, this is the very barrier before which almost all relationships halt; so, more and more, in the natural as in the moral sphere, unreflecting trust, calm, and health are disappearing.

4· Not without reason is it customary to speak of “naked” want. What is most damaging in the display of it, a practice started under the dictates of necessity and making visible only a
thousandth part of the hidden distress, is not the pity or the equally terrible awareness of his own impunity awakened in the onlooker, but his shame. It is impossible to remain in a large German city, where hunger forces the most wretched to live on the bank notes with which passers-by seek to cover an exposure that wounds them.

5. “Poverty disgraces no man.” Well and good. But they dis­grace the poor man. They do it, and then console him with the little adage. It is one of those that may once have held good but have long since degenerated. The case is no different with the brutal, “If a man does not work, neither shall he eat.” When there was work that fed a man, there was also poverty that did not disgrace him, if it arose from deformity or other misfortune. But this deprivation, into which millions are born and hundreds of thousands are dragged by impoverishment, does indeed dis­ grace. Filth and misery grow up around them like walls, the work of invisible hands. And just as a man can endure much in isolation, but feels justifiable shame when his wife sees him bear it or suffers it herself, so he may tolerate much as long as he is alone, and everything as long as he conceals it. But no one may ever make peace with poverty when it falls like a gigantic shadow upon his countrymen and his house. Then he must be alert to every humiliation done to him and so discipline himself that his suffering becomes no longer the downhill road of grief, but the rising path of revolt. But of this there is no hope so long as each blackest, most terrible stroke of fate, daily and even hourly discussed by the press, set forth in all its illusory causes and effects, helps no one uncover the dark powers that hold his life in thrall.

6. To the foreigner cursorily acquainted with the pattern of German life who has even briefly travelled about the country, its inhabitants seem no less bizarre than an exotic race. A witty Frenchman has said : “A German seldom understands himself. If he has once understood himself, he will not say so. If he says so, he will not make himself understood.” This comfortless dis­tance was increased by the war, but not merely through the real and legendary atrocities that Germans are reported to have committed. Rather, what completes the isolation of Germany in the eyes of other Europeans, what really engenders the atti­tude that they are dealing with Hottentots in the Germans (as it has been aptly put), is the violence, incomprehensible to out­siders and wholly imperceptible to those imprisoned by it, with which circumstances, squalor, and stupidity here subjugate people entirely to collective forces, as the lives of savages alone are subjected to tribal laws. The most European of all accom­plishments, that more or less discernible irony with which the life of the individual asserts the right to run its course indepen­dently of the community into which it is cast, has completely deserted the Germans.

7· The freedom of conversation is being lost. If it was earlier a matter of course in conversation to take interest in one’s partner, this is now replaced by inquiry into the price of his shoes or his umbrella. Irresistibly intruding on any convivial exchange is the theme of the conditions of life, of money. What this theme involves is not so much the concerns and sorrows of individuals, in which they might be able to help one another, as the overall picture. It is as if one were trapped in a theatre and had to follow the events on the stage whether one wanted to or not, had to make them again and again, willingly or unwillingly, the subject of one’s thought and speech.

8. Anyone who does not simply refuse to perceive decline will hasten to claim a special justification for his own continued presence, his activity and involvement in this chaos. As there are many insights into the general failure, so there are many exceptions for one’s own sphere of action, place of residence, and moment of time. A blind determination to save the prestige of personal existence, rather than, through an impartial disdain for its impotence and entanglement, at least to detach it from the background of universal delusion, is triumphing almost everywhere. That is why the air is so thick with life theories and world views, and why in this country they cut so presumptuous a figure, for almost always they finally serve to sanction some wholly trivial private situation. For just the same reason the air is so full of phantoms, mirages of a glorious cultural future break­ing upon us overnight in spite of all, for everyone is committed to the optical illusions of his isolated standpoint.

9. The people cooped up in this country no longer discern the contours of human personality. Every free man appears to them as an eccentric. Let us imagine the peaks of the High Alps silhouetted not against the sky but against folds of dark drapery. The mighty forms would show up only dimly. In just this way a heavy curtain shuts off Germany’s sky, and we no longer see the profiles of even the greatest men.

10. Warmth is ebbing from things. The objects of daily use gently but insistently repel us. Day by day, in overcoming the sum of secret resistances-not only the overt ones-that they put in our way, we have an immense labour to perform. We must compensate for their coldness with our warmth if they are not to freeze us to death, and handle their spines with infinite dexterity, if we are not to perish by bleeding. From our fellow men we should expect no succour. Bus conductors, officials, workmen,: salesmen-they all feel themselves to be the representatives of a refractory matter whose menace they take pains to demonstrate through their own surliness. And in the degeneration of things, with which, emulating human decay, they punish humanity, the country itself conspires. It gnaws at us like the things, and the German spring that never comes is only one of countless related phenomena of decomposing German nature. Here one lives as if the weight of the column of air supported by every­ one had suddenly, against all laws, become in these regions perceptible.

11 . Any human movement, whether it springs from an in­tellectual or even a natural impulse, is impeded in its unfolding by the boundless resistance of the outside world. Shortage of houses and the rising cost of travel are in the process of annihi­lating the elementary symbol of European freedom, which existed in certain forms even in the Middle Ages : freedom of domicile. And if medieval coercion bound men to natural associations, they are now chained together in unnatural com­munity. Few things will further the ominous spread of the cult of rambling as much as the strangulation of the freedom of residence, and never has freedom of movement stood in greater disproportion to the abundance of means of travel.

12. Just as all things, in a perpetual process of mingling and contamination, are losing their intrinsic character while am­biguity displaces authenticity, so is the city. Great cities-whose incomparably sustaining and reassuring power encloses those at work within them in the peace of a fortress and lifts from them, with the view of the horizon, awareness of the ever­ vigilant elemental forces-are seen to be breached at all points by the invading countryside. Not by the landscape, but by what in untrammelled nature is most bitter : ploughed land, highways, night sky that the veil of vibrant redness no longer conceals. The insecurity of even the busy areas puts the city dweller in the opaque and truly dreadful situation in which he must assimi­ late, along with isolated monstrosities from the open country, the abortions of urban architectonics.

1 3. Noble indifference to the spheres of wealth and poverty has quite forsaken manufactured things. Each stamps its owner, leaving him only the choice of appearing a starveling or a racketeer. For while even true luxury can be permeated by intellect and conviviality and so forgotten, the luxury goods swaggering before us now parade such brazen solidity that all the mind’s shafts break harmlessly on their surface.

14· The earliest customs of peoples seem to send us a warning that in accepting what we receive so abundantly from nature we should guard against a gesture of avarice. For we are able to make Mother Earth no gift of our own. It is therefore fitting to show respect in taking, by returning a part of all we receive before laying hands on our share. This respect is expressed in the ancient custom of the libation. Indeed, it is perhaps this im­memorial practice that has survived, transformed, in the pro­hibition on gathering forgotten ears of corn or fallen grapes, these reverting to the soil or to the ancestral dispensers of blessings. An Athenian custom forbade the picking up of crumbs at the table, since they belonged to the heroes. If society has so degenerated through necessity and greed that it can now receive the gifts of nature only rapaciously, that it snatches the fruit unripe from the trees in order to sell it most profitably, and is compelled to empty each dish in its determination to have enough, the earth will be impoverished and the land yield bad
harvests.

From: Walter Benjamin, One Way Street and Other Writings, pp.54-60

*A Tour Through German Inflation was Benjamin’s original title for the studies comprising One Way Street.

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