April 10, 2012

Social movement: stage and street

This workshop group focused conversation through a series of video clips on social movement. The first clip was from William H. Whyte’s ‘The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces’. What was striking was a graph that showed that interactions within squares almost always take place near the perimeter – and never the center – of the square. After a clip from Stefano Savona’s documentary Tahrir: Liberation Square (2011), the discussion was mostly of two strands. The first was about the rhythms present in the Egyptian chants. We talked about how a culture of poetry perhaps lends itself toward this form of communication and display within the square. There was much talk about the relatively simple chants that come out of the Occupy Movement in the U.S., and it was also mentioned that – being a much more visual culture – Americans have a similar level of display in the signs they use. The second strand of thought was about how the square occupations take place in locations like Tahrir Square and Zuccotti Park, which are spaces that were not designed for such displays. In fact, perhaps because the spaces were not designed for such events, it may make them more appealing for these gatherings.

Another video of one our fellow’s interventions, Bill Forsythe’s City of Abstracts, led to contrasting opinions of the intervention in Germany and the meaning of the participation. From one perspective, the fluid mirrors of the piece showed individuals infatuated with their own reflections in public. Another perspective saw the displays of fluid participant movement as motivated by the video effect and felt that the participation was a performance of sorts for the others in public. This led to a deeper conversation about silly and/or overly sincere social movement – both of which can undermine a cause – and their difficult relationship with design. In fact, the struggle between spontaneous performance and choreographed, pre-meditated performance was strong throughout the night’s conversation.

The last clip we watched was part of a dance choreographed by our fellow, Siobhan Davies, which focused on walking. This video brought us back to the most basic form of public movement, as seen in the Whyte video, but married it with the choreographed form of dance. The conversation on designing for occupation or other social interventions continued here with more focus beginning on the questions about designing a public space. The same questions were framed as prescription versus design that is made to be incomplete until the actors complete it – though very likely in a way that cannot be known in advance. The idea that a space must be designed ready for its own destruction became stronger.