Elvira Dyangani Ose Radical Citizenship
“Would you say awareness is enough?” – Elvira Dyangani Ose
Radical Citizenship is a project conceived by The Showroom. Its original programme for 2020 had been set to include exhibitions, performances and workshops engaging with socio-political, theoretical, and artistic processes for the reinvention of agency and self-governance within the given environment of our contemporary cities.
A Curatorial Conversation
Hosted by Elvira Dyangani Ose, director of The Showroom in conversation with architect and cultural theorist Blanca Pujals, curator Lily Hall, and development manager and lawyer Raúl Muñoz de la Vega. Introduced by Katherine Finerty, curator and communications manager.
This was an online, recorded conversation held on 1 December 2020 revolving around The Showroom’s realised and yet-to-be realised programme.
The Showroom And Radical Citizenship
“What does it mean to be a citizen of the world and what does it mean to have alliances with people far away from us?” – Elvira Dyangani Ose
In the Neighbourhood
“The question is quite urgent […] when we first went into lockdown, what were the possibilities of connecting from a distance and how would that continue?” – Lily Hall
Collectivity and the Individual
“There is something bigger, which is… how radical can a cultural institution be?” – Raúl Muñoz de la Vega
Politics and Dynamics of the City
“How can we make a lasting impact on the city fabric?” – Elvira Dyangani Ose
Is Awareness Enough?
“I wonder how one sustains affection, caring for, what can be provided through a structure long term?” – Elvira Dyangani Ose
The Body and the City
“What does it mean for certain bodies to be in the city, and still carrying a sense of displacement; a sense of a certain spectatorship about their “abjectness”?” – Elvira Dyangani Ose
Context and Intent
Originating from a sustained dialogue with historian Vijay Prashad, director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, and Jan Goossens, artistic director of the Festival de Marseille, Marseille, and Dream City, Festival d’Arts Dans La Citè, in Tunisia, this project considered as starting point a continuance and disruption of philosopher Henri Lefebvre’s notion of differential space. One of Lefebvre’s most activist statements, the notion of differential suggests that a city dwellers’ urbanness is the only and necessary condition for change. Lefebvre believes that there is a need to reform, to appropriate space, and to consume it in a different fashion. Urban space — with its class mingling, its dualities and alterations — provides the philosopher of Everyday Life an arena in which citizens, and their desire for change, are capable of subverting homogeneous powers to their own purposes.
Towards Radical Citizenship
Lefebvre explores the potential possibilities for communities to subvert official power and to create a space — a social space — that impacts the physical space of the city, according to their desires. That claim, he proposes, “manifests itself as a superior form of rights: right to freedom, to individualization in socialization, to habitat and to inhabit. The right to the oeuvre, to participation and appropriation (clearly distinct from the right to property), are implied in the right to the city.” (Henri Lefebvre: Le Droit à la Ville, L’Homme et la Société 6 (1968), pp. 29-35.)
Lefebvre perceives that the city — to him, the Paris of the May 1968 demonstrations — has, in essence, lost its identity. As a subject he sees it to be falling apart: no longer lived, no longer understood practically. In order to grasp that loss and pursue other means of approaching the subject, Lefebvre proposes a new analytical science of the city, which includes concepts and theories that can only move forward with urban reality in the making, with the praxis, or social practice, of urban society. A science that approaches the fragmentary aspects of other sciences, from myriad perspectives, to explore a new “virtual subject”. He demands a new humanism, one that would necessarily be required to move beyond the individual decisions of technocrats and include, instead, the voice of the collective within a new formulation of the city — a matter that he explores in depth in his seminal work The Production of Space (La Production de l’Espace, 1974). Moreover, the project also suggested an unequivocal limitation to Lefebvre’s expectations — perhaps due to the contingencies of his time, incapable of recognising that certain aspects and tendencies of Modernities could be discovered beyond his understanding of city dwelling. History has proven Lefebvre’s theories wrong in that regard.
Radical Citizenship.The Showroom Summit aimed to invite a prominent group of community leaders, cultural agents, and producers. Their work and trajectories formulate an agency beyond the limits of canonical criticism, to engage with socio-political, theoretical, artistic and cultural processes for the reinvention of agency and selfgovernance within the given environment of our contemporary cities. They embody the “new virtual subject” claimed by Lefebvre and will take the definition further into a futuristic imaginary.
A constellation of conversations have been initiated throughout 2018-2021 with artists, artist collectives, curators, writers, economists and political thinkers. Over this time an intersectional, sympoetic programme has been mapped out; with new dialogues developed in the light of the present moment and others building fresh chapters upon long-term, embedded trajectories of transnational curatorial practice. The current flowing through each of these conversations across continents has been the core intent to gather together new artistic, cultural, socio-political and theoretical approaches to enacting a politics of care, addressing agency and governance beyond normative frameworks.
From within the UK’s second national lockdown, we write this text in the wake of a window of opportunity to re-open our building for one month in October. This followed almost 200 days of closure since mid-March 2020, and as a small, collaborative team we have dispersed, individually working from home. And yet whilst the Showroom’s doors have now necessarily, temporarily shut once more, this time has been fundamental towards a process of productive, rigorous reflection, thinking through our institutional response to the ‘new normal' conditions; and, in solidarity with so many others, enabling us to reconsider priorities towards our curatorial and artistic programming strategies in relation to the changing landscape we inhabit.
New, experimental strands of our programme have migrated online, and in this context we ask what cultural conditions, support structures and modes of hospitality we are able to nurture, now and for the future? With this in mind, the notion of Radical Citizenship via intangible communities comes to the fore, framing our continued response to the urgencies of local and transnational collaboration; addressing the complexities surrounding a politics of care, whilst offering tools and proposing possibilities towards conceiving and collectively enacting alternatives to the status quo.
The Realised and the yet-to-be Realised
Recetas Urbanas, Usted Está Aquí (2018), installation view, MUSAC Museo de arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León | © Recetas Urbanas and MUSAC
Recetas Urbanas, Affection as Subversive Architecture – Unauthorised Entry Permitted, exhibition poster, The Showroom (2020) | © Courtesy of The Showroom and Recetas Urbanas The first major commission to come to fruition in the context of the Radical Citizenship: The Showroom Summit has been a year-long collaboration with the Spanish architecture studio Recetas Urbanas. Affection as Subversive Architecture aimed to explore the possibilities of creating alternative architectural and educational spaces through participatory construction methods and active citizenship. By destabilising assumptions around public structures and their legislative frameworks, the project proposed architectural strategies for potential use by schools, community centres and higher educational platforms to prioritise engagement with nature and building sustainable communities.
Originally, during March and April 2020 The Showroom was planning to act as a laboratory where members of Recetas Urbanas, architect and cultural theorist Blanca Pujals and other collaborators would share their research through a series of workshops and facilitated self-construction sessions and dialogues with local residents and London-based collectives.
In Autumn 2019, Recetas Urbanas began working with a group of parents hoping to create a shared communal space as part of a forest school in Biggin Wood, an area of oak woodland in Croydon, South London. Expanding on this research, The Showroom was planned to become a dynamic communal learning environment; a multi-purpose space combining the forms and functions of a living archive of Recetas Urbanas’ previous projects, a social forum and a working studio.
However, following the initial lockdown due to COVID-19 in March, the space remained closed for over six months and re-opened on 30 September 2020 with a second iteration of Affection as Subversive Architecture – Unauthorised Entry Permitted, adapted in relation to conditions arising due to the pandemic, and convened in collaboration with Blanca Pujals. The project has invited individuals, local groups and researchers to engage with an archive of “urban recipes” produced by Recetas Urbanas in a trajectory spanning more than twenty years.
Central to this project have been several core questions: “How public are public spaces?”, and furthermore, “What are the possibilities of subverting public space, its use and adaptation, when that public space is a building?”
As such, Affection as Subversive Architecture – Unauthorised Entry Permitted has aimed to open up collective thinking around modes of spatial organisation, and the formation of new social relationships within and beyond public cultural institutions.
Recetas Urbanas, Affection as Subversive Architecture – Unauthorised Entry Permitted, installation view, The Showroom, (2020) | © Courtesy of The Showroom and Recetas Urbanas The project existed as an archival display at The Showroom ground floor gallery space, which includes documentary videos narrating Recetas Urbanas’ former projects and a selection of printed material available to read on-site. A series of discursive, participatory workshops were also due to take place online in small groups over the winter months of 2020-2021.
Throughout October-December, together with Blanca Pujals, those who live and work in the Church Street ward were invited to join a series of discussion groups focused on experiences since the outbreak of COVID-19, in particular thinking about the spaces we inhabit daily, and new spatial needs that have arisen due to the crisis. These conversations aimed to draw upon the ways in which Recetas Urbanas have worked to build new infrastructures with collectives and community groups across Spain, and with local groups in urban contexts internationally. These workshops could not materialise due to
the impacts of COVID-19, but methodologies were carried forward into a new commission with Westminster City Council to map the cultural life of the neighbourhood in 2021.
Contextualising and framing the archival content in the gallery space, wall paintings of architect Santiago Cirugeda’s characteristic personal monthly schedules – from January and February 2020 – chart the lead-up to the first iteration of the project in London. These scaled-up reproductions of Cirugeda’s idiosyncratic notebooks represent the timeframes and fluctuations of his studio’s international practice in relation to conversations with a transnational network of collaborators, showing how these intersect and take shape amidst the flow of daily life between public, private, cultural and social spheres.
Recetas Urbanas, Affection as Subversive Architecture – Unauthorised Entry Permitted, installation view, The Showroom (2020) | © Courtesy of The Showroom and Recetas Urbanas The reopening of the project in September 2020 was marked by a new section of Cirugeda’s diary from March to April, inviting audiences to reflect on the gaps that have opened up and the transformations of our daily lives since the arrival of the pandemic. For Cirugeda, Tipp-Ex strips overlay formerly concrete plans, and movement across global geographies is restricted, his diary shows “third week of confinement”. Despite this, communication continues towards enabling localised conversations, such as those that were planned to take place in the Church Street neighbourhood.
Learning Points from Recetas Urbanas’ Archival Display
Overcoming identity politics
Inviting people from all walks of life to build together, regardless of their origin, affiliation or legal status, Recetas Urbanas’ architectural processes succeed in overcoming identity politics. Contrary to what happens in professionalised building processes, they gather participants through open calls making their construction sites become a space where everyone is enabled to interact outside of a socially imposed identitarian frame. In that sense people come together irrespective of race, class, sexual identity and orientation, physical capability or age, allowing the possibility for alternative social configurations, and to furthermore generate new subjectivities.
Taking part in Recetas Urbanas’ projects allows participants to find themselves in a position they have never been before: that of intervening in public spaces through the means of a horizontal assembly. Collective decision-making is a fundamental part of their practice and by doing so their projects rethink public space, bypassing the hegemonic, normative approach of public administrations as each decision is informed by a myriad of perspectives from a grassroots level. In this sense, their methodology aligns with the work of theorists or practitioners who, by signalling the strategies and mechanisms of normalisation behind the design of public space, aim to debunk the binary systems of validation and exclusion that so often shape our urban environments.
Habitar el Gesto in Cuba, 2019-2020
Around the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020, and whilst Affection as Subversive Architecture was being conceived with us at The Showroom in London, Recetas Urbanas developed Habitar el Gesto in La Habana, Cuba. This project has involved renovating the house of the late poet Dulce Maria Loynaz. This old mansion has been occupied by different families over recent decades, and due to the gradual deterioration of the structure, it was at risk of being demolished and redeveloped by public authorities. Together with current inhabitants, neighbours, students, and a host of other interested practitioners, a renovation process with Recetas Urbanas has started. The site will be transformed into a residency and cultural centre, with a programme that is collectively conceived, discussed and implemented during the construction process. For this project, a special scaffolding structure with a width of up to five metres in some parts was installed to encourage exchange and interaction during the building process. This is a gesture that exemplifies how all that takes place during one of Recetas Urbanas’ construction processes is as important – if not more – as the final architectural product.
Experimental pedagogy: Dos Hermanas, Seville
Regardless, if it is the construction of a conviviality classroom in a school with the families of the students in Dos Hermanas, Seville, a community centre with neighbours, inmates and students in the outskirts of Madrid or an amphitheatre in a public square with a large number of international volunteers in Basel, Switzerland, each of Recetas Urbanas’ projects responds to multiple queries: legal, political, administrative, or social. Discussion and resolution, involving all participants, is an inherent element of each project. Through their open-source practice, Recetas Urbanas provide participants not only with new building skills but also with administrative, legal and political tools advocating for their active citizenship in an ongoing exercise of experimental pedagogy.
Discursive Workshops at The Showroom, 2021 onwards
Creating a forum for urgent issues at stake in The Showroom’s neighbourhood – and elsewhere, our forthcoming discussions and workshops at The Showroom, within and beyond the framework of Recetas Urbanas’ project, aim to explore possibilities for generating communal learning environments, sharing research via small-scale gatherings in person or online. Questions will address how we can work within the on-going crisis to establish new frameworks for collaboration and make use of our public spaces aiming to further understand and think through resolutions to the spatial needs that have arisen due to current conditions since lockdown. In this way, our programme considers the social to be a part of the cultural realm, questioning how cultural spaces can facilitate exchange and collaboration.
Ultimately, Affection as Subversive Architecture – Unauthorised Entry Permitted has sought to reconfigure our understanding of social spaces and the ethics of care, whilst facilitating new forms of self-governance and alternative pedagogies, creating the possibility for citizens to participate in the construction of the public sphere. Moreover, it has aimed to create a circular economy whereby the ethos of collective learning creates self-empowered communities. This poetic gesture of radical collectivity aims to challenge our understanding of the ways in which cultural institutions such as The Showroom are conceived.
Front cover for the book Tools for Conviviality, written by Ivan Illich, edited by Ruth Nanda Anshen, published by Harper & Row, 1973 | © Harper & Row
There Is No Alternative
At the core of our thinking towards Radical Citizenship has been a praxis of experimental pedagogy, via the lived experience of enacting new, alternative ways of thinking and working in deeply engaged, situated, collaborative and contextually sensitive ways. This connects our long-term work with both Recetas Urbanas and with artist Navine G. Khan-Dossos. Notions of conviviality surrounding Recetas Urbanas’ practice intersect with Ivan Illich’s groundbreaking text Tools for Conviviality, which became a research reference in the development of participatory workshops with Khan-Dossos throughout summer 2019.
Navine G. Khan-Dossos, There is No Alternative, Panel discussion: Wellbeing and Freedom of Expression in a Prevent Culture with Professor Lisa Downing, Dr Shazad Amin, Dr Jonathan Hurlow and Professor Basia Spalek, The Showroom (July 2019) | © Navine G. Khan-Dossos, The Showroom and Dan Weill Photography The second, current project due to be realised in the framework of Radical Citizenship is There Is No Alternative, a publication that builds upon the eponymous exhibition that took place at The Showroom, London between 5 June–17 July 2019 – the first solo commission in the UK by artist Navine G. Khan-Dossos. This publication, co-published by The Showroom and Chateau International, takes as a starting point Khan-Dossos’ ongoing research into the complex context of the UK government’s development of pre-crime and surveillance policies, in particular Prevent, questioning the politics of representation and the positioning of care that the strategies around those policies generate.
Navine G. Khan-Dossos, TINA, Digital Edition, April 2021. Published by The Showroom and Chateau International. Design: Mark Hurrell. Reflexive Editorial Process open from 1 April – 30 May 2021 | © Navine G. Khan-Dossos Between April-May 2021, whilst an Independent Review of Prevent is carried out within UK Government, the first digital edition of this publication is being circulated online. In the context of Radical Citizenship, this acts as a tool towards soliciting public feedback, a “reflexive editorial” process, extending the participatory praxis embedded in the project beyond the walls of our building and enabling new perspectives to be incorporated within the final published book, which is scheduled for August 2021. The new publication and digital editorial platform is being delivered and edited in partnership with Chateau International.
Navine G. Khan-Dossos, TINA, Digital Edition, April 2021. Published by The Showroom and Chateau International. Design: Mark Hurrell. Reflexive Editorial Process open from 1 April – 30 May 2021 | © Navine G. Khan-Dossos
Navine G. Khan-Dossos, TINA, Digital Edition, April 2021. Published by The Showroom and Chateau International. Design: Mark Hurrell. Reflexive Editorial Process open from 1 April – 30 May 2021 | © Navine G. Khan-Dossos Navine G. Khan-Dossos, There Is No Alternative, archive installation view (detail), The Showroom, 2019. | Photo: © Dan Weill Texts in the book will include a foreword by Elvira Dyangani Ose, director of The Showroom, together with a new essay by curator Lily Hall positioning TINA - There Is No Alternative in relation to the specificity of The Showroom’s programme framed by Radical Citizenship and the politics of care. Dr Rob Faure Walker introduces a history of Prevent whilst situating the discursive conditions that have enabled the UK counter-terrorism strategy to focus on “radicalisation” and “extremism”. A contextualising essay by Khan-Dossos traces the roots of her research towards the exhibition and this book in relation to her long-term critical engagement with the “War on Terror” and visual language used to represent Prevent across the UK.
Alexander Massouras frames Khan-Dossos’ practice through an art historical lens with a particular focus on TINA, via Rosalind Kraus’ analysis of the grid whilst considering the visuality of Prevent in a lineage of shields that links through to the crusades, interrogating the visual cultural histories of this contested policy.
Navine G. Khan-Dossos, There Is No Alternative, installation view (detail), The Showroom (2019) | Photo: © Dan Weill Full-colour images of the exhibition at The Showroom document its development as a process of live feedback between Khan-Dossos’ incrementally layered wall paintings – which filled the gallery’s main walls from floor to ceiling as well as a series of modular, movable wall panels – in relation to the Prevent research archive and integral public programme of workshops, talks and panel discussions.
Also included are selected excerpts from documents on Prevent originally presented at The Showroom. This growing research archive gives a historical overview of Prevent and has been gathered by Khan-Dossos in dialogue with The Showroom curatorial team, plus a network of long-term collaborators affected by the policy and developing critical responses nationwide.
Three in-depth dialogues explore intersectional solidarity between those impacted by Prevent, from the visual arts and museology to education, technology, public health and the environmental movement, whilst responding to the Independent Review (2019-2021). Thus, the publication is as much about what might be possible for the future as it is about what has already come to pass: an urgent requirement for all communities affected by Prevent across the UK.
Navine G. Khan-Dossos, There Is No Alternative, audience Q&A following a panel discussion at The Showroom, Wellbeing and Freedom of Expression in a Prevent Culture, 17 July 2019, organised by Professor Lisa Downing in collaboration with The Showroom, with Shazad Amin, Dr Jonathan Hurlow, and Professor Basia Spalek. | Photo: © Dan Weill Dr Sadia Habib, author of Learning and Teaching British Values: Policies and Perspectives on British Identities, reflects with Hassan Vawda, who is currently developing a collaborative doctorate between Tate and Goldsmiths, on the resonances of TINA through Paulo Freire's critical pedagogy or praxis and the transformative potential of arts practitioners, educators and institutions to challenge inequalities.
Rachel Coldicutt discusses the social impact of new and emerging technologies in relation to surveillance capitalism and nascent conditions surrounding Covid-19 with Dr Tarek Younis, critical clinical psychologist and lecturer in Psychology at Middlesex University.
Shezana Hafiz and Azfar Shafi from advocacy organisation CAGE discuss solidarity between grassroots movements resisting Prevent in relation to climate justice with Extinction Rebellion strategist William Skeaping.
Fundamentally, in the context of Radical Citizenship this edited volume invites citizens, researchers, and stakeholders in the UK Government’s Prevent strategy and community relations to engage in new dialogues around Prevent in the context of contemporary art practice and alternative pedagogies in Britain today. It critically considers current Government strategies seeking to protect civil society, and questions the future of such policies in relation to big data and algorithmic analysis. These considerations are explored through the fields of contemporary art practice and exhibitionmaking – some of the last spaces that remain un-surveilled, and thus able to host such discussions and suggest new, tangible outcomes and radical imaginaries.
The participation of Recetas Urbanas at The Showroom has been further supported beyond the Goethe-Institut Echoes of the South Atlantic by Acción Cultural Española (AC/E) through a mobility grant as part of the Programme for the Internationalisation of Spanish Culture (PICE). The project is also supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, and by The Chelsea Arts Club Trust.
Navine G. Khan-Dossos There Is No Alternative was also further supported through the Navine G. Khan-Dossos Supporters Circle and using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.