Wrap-up of 15 February discussion. Links to further explorations.

On Friday 15 February at 4.30 pm, Matters of Concern discussion group assembled at circa 51°31’19”N 0°09’18”W with an open skype connection to circa 40°38’00”N 73°57’00”W.

The discussion, due to its complexity (and because we did not record it, which we will the next time) cannot be transposed in entirety. The part in which we discussed organisational issues is not covered here, and the post about these details will follow in due time. In the other part of the meeting, in which our trans-continental link with Melissa unfortunately did not work well any more, a series of links to theories and practices emerged, and this is a memo about these vectors of thinking. They provide us with a variety of possible topics to expand on in our future meetings. 

Steve kicked off the meeting with an exposition of his reading of Nick Papadimitrou’s latest book Scarp (here an interesting review Steve suggested). From here, a series of links emerged. Nina thought of Reyner Banham and, particularly, his attention to materials. As a usefulfirst approach to his research interests she proposed a documentary film in which he traverses and comments on Angeleno ecologies, a film programmatically titled Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles. Inspired by Steve’s description of deep topography, which is Papadimitrou’s method of on-site investigation, I thought about Geoff Manaugh and his BLDBLOG. As the blog’s sub-title recites, it is about ‘architectural conjecture’, ‘urban speculation’, and ‘landscape futures’. Manaugh may not respect the standards of academic inquiry, but his method of combining various sources and cross-referencing them to create possible or plausible narratives is not very much dissimilar to ‘forensic architecture’, another interesting concept Steve mentioned.

It may also be interesting to explore possible connections, or at least draw comparisons, between Papadimitrou’s topographical approach and the methods employed by Office of Experiments and The Center for Land Use and Interpretation. Similarly to the work of Manaugh, these workgroups are engaged with the creation of archives of deep knowledge about landscape, focusing especially on sites and stories that are for some reasons less available to a wider public. Both of groups organise guided walks and bus tours to sites of interest. I find this way of disseminating knowledge compelling and to be explored further. A good wrap-up on recent tendencies in (mostly on-foot) exploration of landscapes, focusing especially on the oft neglected parts of built environment, that is infrastructure, is provided by Shannon Mattern in her online article Infrastructural Tourism. Connected with this ‘exploration’ thread, Steve suggests that we should not forget another urban explorer by profession – Patrick Keiller. His film essays about London might be a good programme for one of the upcoming sessions?

By way of Steve mentioning the linkage of deep topography to Situationists’ under-the-skin dérives of Paris, I’ve recalled a photographic essay by Bruno Latour, evocatively titled Invisible Paris (1998), available in abridged and interactive form on his web-site. As seen from these examples, ‘dark’ and ‘invisible’ places seem to bear peculiar fascination. But, more than spurred by adventure or discovery, these researches might be motivated by a perception that power structures in our post-(post)-modernist built environments are all but visible and transparent. This, in my view, is a genuine matter of concern, which most directly interests many fields, of which not least the visual cultures and visual arts.

Whilst discussing Nina’s research subject, that is broadly said video installations and their object-like quality, she explained that she was researching Object-oriented ontology (OOO). If someone shall be interested in the topic, as a good entry point into the debate Nina suggests Graham Harman’s The Quadruple Object (2011. Winchester, UK; Washington, D.C.: Zero Books). Or, if you prefer listening, there is a series of interventions of major Object-Oriented philosophers, including Harman and Ian Bogost, on the web-site of the event held at Georgia Tech in 2010. This is another too inviting subject for further discussion, especially if we take into consideration that OOO keeps spilling over its frames into other material philosophies and analysis of the day.

In connection with this article about ‘relational aesthetics’, which contains references to Nicholas Bourriaud coinage of the term, and Claire Bishop’s critique of it, Nina added a fundamental third party, that is Liam Gillick with his text Contingent Factors: A Response to Claire Bishop’s “Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics”. Reading through this debate is no doubt of highest interest still today, some years later, as relational aesthetics continuesto be a common strategy in visual arts through the 2010s as well. But, in what shapes and forms, and how did it change over the last ten years, is a question open to discussion.

And, to wrap everything up, during Steve’s post-meeting researches about material semiotics, another concept that came forth during the meeting, Latour’s name re-materialised. Therefore, starting with us innocuously appropriating one of Latour’s key concepts as the name of the discussion group, it seems that this thinker may as well be a behind-the-scenes running fil rouge of our meetings. So, here is Steve’s finding: John Law’s Actor Network Theory and Material Semiotics. Maybe we have the first text to cover in our next meeting.

Mirko Nikolić

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