IMAG-E-NATION the political & philosophical arts initiative blog

(re)imagining the political and philosophical in the 21st century

The Political & Philosophical Arts Initiative is interested in the ways in which people interact with and compose political and philosophical ideas and actions through the various, diverse media of technology and the arts. Participants in PAI seek to explore the ways in which poetry, literature, music, photography, performance and other creative arts interleave with the political and philosophical life, either as vehicles for criticism, elaboration, theorization, intervention or activism.
The Imag-e-nation blog is a forum for interested parties to share stories, images or other contributions. Contributors range from students and faculty to artists and musicians to professional and casual commentators. Pieces can be short opinions, re-postings of appropriate materials, or original compositions. In addition, the PAI at LUC will make a selection of relevant or provocative news items each week for (re)publication here.


This International Women's Day, all roads lead to...

...GEMAK (Paviljoensgracht 20-24, 2512 BP, The Hague).

For an oraculous afternoon on Sunday 8 March 2015, come by between 15:00 - 17:00.

ORACLE awaits...


The mundane, the defensive, and the punishing: the beauty and politics of architecture

Discussions of design as politics abound--from academic and intellectual engagement at schools of architecture and urban design to policy debates in city halls and professional guilds, there is increasing attention on how our built environment, by shaping space, plays a crucial role in the way we live and interact with each other, in our experience of physical and mental freedom and control, and in the making and sustaining of peoples and cultures.  Here is a collection of recent perspectives on the creative potential and ethical concerns of design for politics from various unexpected angles.

"Walk On" by Zalewski Architecture

Drawing from Ray Bradbury's 1960 letter to writer and architectural historian Esther McCoy, in which the science fiction writer praised the aesthetics of boredom, arguing that "boredom plays a great role in the revising of current architectural forms, it always has", Mimi Zeiger attempts a defense of boredom to give pause to the creative impulse in some contemporary architects to spectacularise, which, ultimately, only makes spectacles mundane.  Read her "object lesson for designers caught on the hamster wheel of producing interestingness" here.

Window spikes along London's Fleet Street

Defensive and hostile architecture and design to deter loitering and to push homelessness out of sight continue to cause consternation.  According to Alex Andreou, these measures do not "even achieve its basic goals of making us feel safer.  There is no way of locking others out that doesn't also lock us in."  Read about how such hostility in our urban environment breeds isolation and ugliness here

A view from the dome of Kingston Penitentiary by Geoffrey James

Moving on to more conventional but no less controversial forms of discipline and rehabilitation, Kingston Penitentiary, one of Canada's former maximum security prisons, was artfully captured by Geoffrey James before it closed in 2013 and reopened for public tours and projects by the likes of Habitat for Humanity.  The photographer "felt it had to photographed as a living institution before it closed"; his visual journey into its architecture of darkness, in which he "didn't find a lot of redemption", is featured here.  

Meanwhile, the American Institute of Architects refuses to take a stance on commissions to design solitary confinement cells and death chambers.  Read about this particular tension between professional freedom and ethical responsibility here.

"Spacial" by Matt Emmett

Finally, to rescue the forgotten from the forbidden, Matt Emmett took a series of magnificently serene photographs during his urban explorations of abandoned architecture across Northern Europe.  These industrial remnants, ex-military installations, schools, and prisons are more captivating to the photographer than official world heritage sites because the contrast between present form and historical function triggers aesthetic imagination in grand, palpable silence.  Read about his project here and see it in full here.


Seizing beautiful moments: Come tag with us on Friday 20 February!

Janne Willems is truly a trailblazer.  Equipped with some thousands of blank postcards and coloured pens, she set off on a world tour in 2013, aiming to collect 1000 illustrations of beautiful moments per continent from people she would meet on the street, in cafés, on trains, and various public spaces.  After travelling from as north as Tornio in Finland and as south as Invercargill in New Zealand, in a diagonal geographical trajectory from Europe, through the Middle East and Southeast Asia, to Australasia, Janne returned to The Netherlands in November 2014 in time to share her preliminary findings with a rapt audience at TEDxGroningen.  She now needs your help!

With thousands of drawings from different countries and diverse cultures of recent moments that made people smile, Janne is now starting to sort, analyse, and process these images to compile, ultimately, a book about intercultural understandings of happiness--its meanings, its representations, and its interpretations.  Working with a cultural anthropologist and a group of programmers, she is devising visual tagging software in preparation for content analysis and data tagging over the weekend of 20 - 22 February.

In collaboration with the Political Arts Initiative and Leiden University's i4C, Janne's data weekend will kick off at i4C's Future Friday on 20 February at 17:00 in the Living Lab in the Centre for Innovation in The Hague.  Janne will speak about her project Seize Your Moments and we will get down to some tagging that evening until the building closes at 20:00.  This crowdsourcing moment needs you, especially those of you who want a friendly and participatory space to pause, think about what you have just enjoyed, and live in the moment.  Bring your own laptop, and get ready for some Friday fun!

Shoot Janne a quick e-mail now to express your interest and she will keep you updated in the days to come.  Also feel free to wander through her journey abroad, browse the collected images, and read her blog before the data weekend via her project website.  Janne, i4C, and PAI looking forward to creating more beautiful moments with you on 20 February! 

Photo credit: Arjan Kremer @ TEDxGroningen 20 November 2014


Architecture and politics: Public Values and Revolutionary Traces

The spatial disciplines have long grappled with politics and the social imaginary.  According to Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza Vieira, architects do not invent anything but rather transform reality; Dutch architect Michiel Riedijk more recently likens spatial design to the orchestration of the imagination.  The two events below afford those of us in The Netherlands a chance to see for ourselves.

The Design as Politics research group of TU Delft's Faculty of Architecture is hosting a half-day conference on public values in the built environment on Friday 13 February, with presentations from academics, practitioners, and policy-makers from public and private sectors alike.  As urban spaces worldwide become increasingly and rapidly owned by private and often foreign investors, what are the implications for public access, public planning, and public design?  Register for this free interdisciplinary discussion about the future of public goods and the concept of the public here

"Buildings can be read as political texts and that is what I try to do", says multi-disciplinary artist  Ângela Ferreira, whose current exhibition at Stroom Den Haag spatially and conceptually bridges two urban development projects--Schilderswijk in The Hague and Bairro da Bouça in Porto--by comparing the revolutionary conditions under which the Dutch and the Portuguese experimented with collective creativity over thirty years ago.  Architecture, whether as concrete structures or common ground for participation in social issues or political protest, can enable fresh readings of current legacies and historical realities as well as offer fresh opportunities for future interaction.  Catch this exhibition before 15 March 2015.

Art and autonomy: The Theory of Freedom and The New Fordist Manifesto

Bjørn Melhus kicks off 2015 in his signature style with "The Theory of Freedom":

a cinema project anchoring a tripartite parallel presentation organised by West Den Haag, Art Rotterdam, and International Film Festival Rotterdam.  The film's world premiere took place in late January in Kunsthal Rotterdam (until 1 March), followed by an installation of Melhus's video works themed on the politics of fear in West Den Haag (until 28 February) and a debate about artistic autonomy on 6 February.

That Melhus's latest film should tackle--head-on, with his characteristic archetypal personifications coiffed with precision--issues of identity, media, and mass culture in a hyper-hypocritical neo-liberal context of global economic and ideological interdependence should not come as a surprise: this media artist's persistent commentary on U.S. American culture, punctuated with dark humour and his impeccable sense for visual rhythm, zeroes in on Ayn Rand's straw philosophy of objectivism this time for a capitalist romp from the gated communities of Istanbul to a highly institutionalised morgue, complete with competitive sports in an outdoor jungle of a gym and a finger-snapping corpse-band, resurrected by each punishing crack of Rand's world-wielding whip.      

The transcript of the three-channel video installation is rich with references of socio-economic and political dicta:

[FREEDOM] I dreamed a dream.
[RANDI] A: reality - B: context - C: responsibility - and D: effort. The free market! Teach them: the theory of freedom!
[CHORUS] Wealth is the product of man's capacity to think.
[INDEPENDENCE] Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy.
[GUARD] The power of freedom. The power of independence. And...the power of faith.
and richer still when juxtaposed with the sharp, stylised images moving over a triptych of screens, at times synchronised and continuous, other times jarring and disjunctive.  As Melhus as Freedom and Melhus as Independence converse with each other across Melhus as Randi to a back-up chorus of Melhus as zombies, the delight of parsing an allegorical multi-narrative intermingles with a creeping unease: where am I supposed to look, how do I catch all the details, what if I miss something...or everything?  Arrested by indecision and frozen by choice, won't we find answers in the accumulation of private property and direction in pragmatic egocentrism?  The graduated pacing of the film controls the gaze and constricts the vast projection space, and so Melhus's critique of Randian individualism and his illustration of Foucauldian governmentality are laid bare and made palpable.

The possibility of autonomy, then, must move beyond classical and neo-liberal ideals of self-fashioning and self-determination, towards an interpersonal, perceptually plural, and socially resonant relationship between subjects, where that between the artist and the audience may be a promising starting point for further exploration.  

Approaching autonomy from another but equally aesthetically and intellectually compelling angle is the long-awaited summary exhibition of The New Fordist Manifesto, which opened in Stroom Den Haag at the start of 2015, featuring highlights from the choreographic, musical, and visual experiments during the residency of a collective of composers, visual artists, and performance artists who applied the principles of mass production, industrialisation, and mechanised creation to acting, dancing, painting, and music-making at The Hague's GEMAK in 2013.

Enjoy the full report:

and don't miss this spectacular and witty set of Fordist and Taylorist provocations until 1 March, no doubt to be continued as we ponder the meaning of creative processes and the value of artistic labour as we enter the second half of the second decade of the 21st century.



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