ARTICLES | Insituactionists Manifesto: Five steps for an Architectural Insurrection

François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters’s comic book La Fièvre d’Urbicande

Insituactionists Manifesto: Five steps for an Architectural Insurrection

Step I From Initiation to Instigation

The passive and rather predictable status quo which defines the profession of architecture today is calling for a new set of principles. There is a need for emancipation. So, how can we instruct and liberate architecture, architects, and concepts of authorship in architectural design?

An idea,

visualise a juxtaposition between the following two readings: Jacques Ranciere ‘s “The Emancipation of the Spectator” and François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters’s comic book “La Fièvre d’Urbicande”.

In the first, the author argues that the position of the spectator in contemporary cultural theory is reliant on the theatrical idea of “the spectacle”, a concept the author employs to describe any performance that puts “bodies in action before an assembled audience”. For Ranciere, the masses, exposed to what Guy Debord in 1967 called “the society of the spectacle”, are usually understood as passive. Here, Ranciere’s principal theoretical argument is consequently, poets, playwrights, and theatre directors have tried to convert the inert spectator into a committed aesthete and the spectacle into a political presentation. Ranciere’s alternative perspective on the effort to emancipate the spectator questions the attempt to traverse the abyss that divides activity from passivity by asking “if it is not precisely the desire to abolish the distance that creates it”.

Step II From Instigation to Critique

In this phase, one should engage with a ‘genuine critique of critique’, that instead of working from a standpoint of attacking its logic, should propose an approach that aims to uncouple two logics; ‘the emancipatory logic of capacity’ and ‘the critical logic of collective inveiglement’. Meaning, an engagement through the image’s critical tensions between social content and architectural form. What is suggested is a reorganisation of the everyday that neither proposes the existence of ‘a reality concealed behind apparatuses,’ nor ‘a single regime of presentation and interpretation’ but rather a rational that aims to open every situation ‘from the inside’.
In order to do so, and beyond an analysis of the critical tradition as it is operative in architecture, sociopolitics, art and theory, we should consider a network of presuppositions that formulates the architect/activist relationship, and opening up a number of key concerns to be reiterated throughout the proposal, which includes the negative connotations of propaganda and, the architect’s role as either passive or active.
to provide a comprehensive interpretation of activism as a medium to critique cities and architecture within the theoretical framework of Jacques Ranciere’s ideas translated to the emancipation of the architect and the consequence of a methodological unitary urbanism, borrowed from Schuiten, for our understanding of architecture, cities and urban space.
to investigate the literary and visual meaning of the term ‘propaganda’ by exploring architectural narrative through an ‘anarchic lens’, and the significance in works associated with activism, such as: the clash between conventional setting (traditional practice) and ‘utopian’ narrative (Archigram, Superstudio, Archizoom, Paper architects,…); anarchy in literature, art and design (Lettrist International, Situationist International, Dada,…); propaganda in architecture (Nazi, China, USSR,…); literature and film; activism and architecture.
Establishing the connection between Guy Debord’s ‘society of spectacle’ and the new millennium’s spectacle of social media display, exchange and consumption of imagery goods along with all media platforms such as blogs, facebook, instagram, pinterest, etc.

Step III From Critique to Insurgency | back and forth

Architectural insurgency through propaganda – the central premise of this stage is to investigate notions of community and separation. The common thread weaves between the social media bond that arises in the separateness of architectural work and the social community, in which the bond transferred, is ‘spectacle’.

Architectural propaganda, here, is defined as the deliberate, systematic attempt to shape perception, manipulate cognition and direct behaviours to achieve a response that furthers the designed intent of the emancipated architect.

The insituactionist is an online manifesto to instigate rebellious design collaboration at an interdisciplinary level. With a role as important in the verbalisation of architecture as that of its design, the ‘insituactionist’ either produce a new space or gives an existing one new meanings and uses contrary to established behaviour. In so, the architect’s action is tied together through a common sensory ‘fabric’ that arises from a shared distribution of the spectacle – defining the way of being together.

The paradoxical position of being apart-together thus seems to find an apparent resolution in a common community of ‘actionism’ and in equating the individuality of architecture with the commonality and multiplicity of everyday social media.

Altogether, the role of architectural propaganda is woven through a debate on Theatrical (exaggeration), Symbolic (illustration), and Didactic (information) emancipation by placing the architect in the place of a paradox at the heart of today’s ‘society of spectacle’. Essentially, one can examine interfaces between propaganda, urban environments, and designers, and to use this as a basis for an online cross-disciplinary database serving as a platform for display, exchange and consumption of radical insitu-actionism.

Step IV From Activism to Scrutiny

In this section one should look at what propaganda images are, do, and their effects – asking what makes an image of propaganda intolerable, amusing or insensitive by examining this in relation to the appropriateness of shocking demonstrations of ‘realities’, such as, the imagery consumption that portrays cities ravished by wars and poverty, the taboo of sex and nudity, or criminal and terrorist events.

This discourse is primarily concerned with the acceptability of the image and the nature of the image’s anxiety itself – as an experience of pain, indignation or noir-delight – and how these are brought into the designer’s mode of action. The anxiety dissociation of the image arises, then, as a distinction of a shift that takes place from ‘the intolerable in the image to the intolerable of the image.’

What comes to the fore is a matter of how, first, we witness images and reality and, secondly, how the architect is brought into the sensible realm through the authority of the image which commands or obligates a certain connection with society. A critique of images ‘counter-poses the authority of the voice that alternatively renders one silent and makes one speak,’ not simply by the duplicity of a representation but by a ‘complex set of relations between the visible and the invisible, the visible and speech, the said and the unsaid’.

The images of propaganda are not to be held up as truths but fictions, yet fictions that do not pose the problem of fictionality but the common-sense to which they hold a voice of authority. However, the woven nature of the image constructed in a common sensible space nevertheless remains uncertain because its effect as a politics of aesthetics maintains an antagonistic resistance to anticipation. By that I mean, how images might obtain a political dimension and change the possibilities for our landscape of the gaze, but only if meaning and effect are not anticipated.

‘The Architects’ Riddle” by Bea Martin, 2007

Step V From Scrutiny to Forethought

This final section contemplates the idea of a ‘fullness of thoughts’. An intrusion of the judicious upon some ‘certain passivity’, bringing about the indeterminacy of the gap between active and passive, sustained throughout the proposal. The perspective of the pensive un-thought thought thus begins by problematizing the gap between the architectural propaganda as a depiction of a thing and the architectural propaganda as an ‘artistic operation’.

In a move toward a sort of resolution, it is proposed a change of regimes: from a representative regime that expresses image as a compliment, a story, or action made into a composition, toward the aesthetic regime of ‘presence’ – a final curatorial presentation.

Through this assemblage, it is revealed that ideologies aren’t ideas people have about society, but rather their foundational components. Ideology is part of our being and our actions.

“The anarchistic ideal thus becomes a standard by which to judge our society, an ever present reminder to guard against over-organization and regimentation” – Žižek

The altruistic action is not an end but the extension of the end: it extends the action that has come to a halt, hence positioning every conclusion in suspense. This disruption of contemplativeness takes place between narration and expression, in the relationship between two operations determined by the architect, and on the other, the ‘insituactionist’ who acts to fix the relationship and impart a certain reality.

The resistance of the image is therefore ultimately testified to in the resistance of thought, both of the one who creates it and the one who seeks to identify it. Coming full circle, back to the emancipation of the architect, the fashioning of knowledge but also the fashioning of new connections and possibilities through active design.


Extra notes | Insituactionist contributes to the field of architectural theory, visual arts, social media, and psychology by intersecting design, criticism and activism as key a ‘creative driver’ in the advancement of innovative spatial design processes.
Could architectural propaganda be thought of as a process of mediation between control and anarchy, and as a practice of enabling visual languages whilst counterbalancing the everyday production of the built environment? Insituactionist emerges latterly as an assemblage devised across thematic pamphlets.
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