This research started as a collaborative project together with cultural theorist and political scientist Gal Kirn at the Akademie Schloss Solitude in 2015/2016. “Thinking a Monument to Sub/Urban Riots” began as a series of exhibitions, talks and workshops. We investigated the question of how to commemorate one of the seemingly least consensual political phenomena in our societies, which has intensified in the last 50 years: the (sub)urban riots. On the one hand, in terms of political thought, even radical thought, there is a dominant narrative rendering riots as irrational, violent acts seemingly failing to formulate demands that would be “universalisable”. On the other hand, sociological research, radical philosophy, political analysis show: demands are there - they are just so big, so layered, so fundamental that we fail, even refuse, to see them. The demands point to deeper crises of capitalism, racial violence, and urban restructuring that have convulsed us into “an age of riots” (Joshua Clover). Riots show the cracks within seemingly peaceful societies, they show, for a short time, the injustices for so many that are usually invisible within larger society. Riot is the "language of the unheard" (Martin Luther King, Jr.). In this context the question "What if we think a monument to the sub/urban riot?" is naturally controversial and points to the deeply racist, violent, hegemonial structures of memorial culture, of spaces of memory and visibility.
Spatiality of Violence
There are no monuments to sub/urban riots, but there are memorial practices: each new riot remembers previous riots and anticipates future ones. And there are spaces in which the "invisible", the "unheard", suddenly become visible for all: the spaces in which riots occur. The project led us to further research these spaces. We found that architecture and urbanism both produce riots and are produced by them. The impact of neoliberal restructuring (austerity politics, shrinking state power) and neoliberal urbanism in specific on the contestations and conflicts across the world is an emerging topic in architectural and urban discourse. Researchers attest a geographical expansion – from Baltimore to Cairo, from Istanbul to London – and an increased intensity, speaking of “urban rage” (Mustafa Dikec) and suggesting this expression of rage is most manifest in cities where inequalities have been widening. Exclusions from decent housing, pleasant neighbourhoods, good schools, jobs, social positions slowly develop into unarticulated grievances that are geographically defined. As a response, urban resistance movements range from the Right to the City movement all the way to violent uprisings (Margit Mayer).
Riots from Above
The spatiality of violence - and the community networks that constitute themselves as a response - constitute a context within which riots can no longer be understood as "riots" but uprisings, revolts, resistance movements. Within this context, something else emerges as the actual riot: Departing from the most prominent liberal critique of “riots” as being merely acts of violence, vandalism and looting, destroying communities and public as well as private property, one might wonder, if then public policies and programmes like the National Program for Urban Renovation (PNRU) in France, that planned the demolition of 250.000 housing units 2004 and 2011, the similarly destructive Estate Regeneration Programme in the UK, the systematic privatisation of public property in the 2000s like in Germany, or the demolition of Public Housing in the US starting as early as in the 1970s, cannot be seen as the “real” riots - as the Riots from Above. Acts of violence (suppression and displacement of people), vandalism (demolition of housing estates, social and physical infrastructures) and looting (privatising public property, dispossession of tenants) are manifold in these programmes and come as no surprise when we look at the modes of production of housing and space in capitalism.
Exhibition: Thinking a Monument to (Sub)Urban Riots, with Gal Kirn
Online Project: Archive of Sub/Urban Dissent, with Gal Kirn
Book: Nights of the Dispossessed: Riots Unbound, with Natasha Ginwala and Gal Kirn