Tag Archives: European Capital of Culture 2012

The Performative Turn

In the world of art, as in literary studies or the social sciences, one has got used to successive turns* by which tendencies metamorphose into one another.

Over the last decades there were the linguistic turn, the cultural turn, and, of course, also the performative turn, by the likes of which the influence of performance over other artistic media was somehow extended and confirmed.

Now, apparently also architecture has its performative turn. The prevalence of diagram or program in recent design approaches to all things architectural, like once of the principle of autonomy or the spirit of place, now gives place to every possible aspect of the performative in architecture.

Beyond the activation of program’s abstractions, and behind such a turn lies, as it would be expected, one relevant paradigm shift. And here we may speak of a return of the user – not to say simply the return of the repressed – to the troubled horizon of current architectural concerns.

After the delusions of grandeur of the recent architectural self, the ever-cyclic return to the needs of the end-user of architecture now takes place by integrating use narratives into conceptual strategies of design, but also by introducing expressions of these concerns into the very shaping of built forms.

Didier Fiuza Faustino, Opus Incertum, 2008, shown at the 11th Venice Biennial.

Thus one discovers the very imprints of bodies blooming in recent projects – reconnecting architecture with traditions of performance art –, just as one recognizes the performatic aspects of participation and self-building as instrumental in reconnecting architecture’s profession of faith with local communities and broader urban audiences.

These and similar reflections are bound to kick off the discussion on the performative in architecture that will take place this Saturday at 3pm, at the newly open, Exyzt designed Curator’s Lab, within the Art & Architecture programme of the ongoing Guimarães European Capital of Culture.

The panel is also a crucial moment of the multi-stage event and urban intervention competition Performance Architecture, which I’m curating as a last remnant of my previous free-lance livelihood in Portugal.

While key-note speaker Isabel Carlos will present her views on Performance Art and its potencial re-enactings in the contemporary urban field,  jury members Didier Fiuza Faustino, Raumlabor, A77 and Office for Subversive Architecture will show their own takes and ideas on performative architecture and the city.

The talk promises insights into some potential futures and options of a wide-spreading mode of architectural practice – while also giving way to the announcement of the Performance Architecture competition winners, who will get to build their own proposals in the public space of Guimarães.

The Rise of Performance Architecture

In the last decade, ephemeral architecture practices of numerous architects and artists collectives have been developing as a critical answer to the results of growing mobility in the recent neo-liberal context, using various performative tactics for “activation” of the local potentialities for social change. The most interesting ephemeral architecture projects are fast-statement critical practices, collective actions towards the creation of temporary places for encounters in an ever-changing urban environment.
 But, because these actions have to be strongly connected to longer-term local actions, they must assume a transitory nature that calls for a social transformation, for a next step. This is very performative. And this is where the performative action becomes a radical social gesture that goes far beyond the production of an aesthetic object.

In TodaysArt Festival Brussels 

Sometimes one gets the funny idea that a certain trend is gathering memento. One thinks about it and presents the notion to a couple of friends. Given the opportunity, one writes an article about it. And then one organizes it as a proposal for a potential exhibition that will allow for further research.

With the notion of Performance Architecture most of these steps took place around 2006. My first article on it came out in a student archizine in 2007. The “exhibition” was first suggested to Mirko Zardini at the CCA, just before the 2008 finantial crash put an halt to all the institution’s external projects. And then it was again proposed to Laboral, and the Lisbon Architecture Triennale, and the Barbican. However, it seemed to be too soon* to all of them.

Finally, a few weeks ago I’ve signed the contract that signals the idea found its first partners at the Guimarães 2012 European Capital of Culture. As such an international competition is to be launched in October for five ephemeral interventions in the Portuguese “cradle city.” Look forward to it.

At the same time, events coincidentally started to pop-up across Europe suggesting that the unexpected relationship between Performance Art and Architecture is now something to watch for.

In fact, while Madrid-based Ariadna Cantis curated an event along similar lines in 2009, it seems that it is only this year that the notion is being more amply recognized and debated – when some of its noteworthy protagonists have reached already more than a decade of consistent urban interventions .

After the unexpected, yet historical and festive gathering of some relevant protagonists of this tendency at the disPlace conference, as organized by Dédalo magazine in Porto, new conference events around the theme will now take place in Den Hague and Brussels, at the TodaysArt Festival, and later this year again in Madrid, at the IV Encuentro Internacional El Arte Es Acción.

It might take a few years for certain tendencies to become clear. But when they do, they do. Or they will. Specially when they are coming from the streets. And this is not a bonfire of vanities. It is a matter of both emergency and urgency.