The Symposium Leaving Traces: Living Politics in the City convened by Flavia Marcello and Carmen Popescu brought together speakers from eleven countries to discuss how politics is expressed in public space. We looked at the different ways public spaces is used both officially and unofficially from Burkina Faso to Bangladesh and Brazil, from San Francisco to Sydney and Spittelberg. Flavia Marcello began by framing the them of the conference and presenting examples of how unofficial political discourses in Australia has moved from graffiti to posters in Sydnye and Melbourne. The papers were grouped into four main themes: Public Space, The Politicised Polis, Appropriating the City and Art as a Political Tool.
Hélène Janniere from the University of Rennes 2 chaired the session on Public Space. Alexandra Biehler looked at emptiness versus void in the informal creation of public space in Burkina Faso’s capital Ougadougou and compared it to similar contestations closer to home in Marseilles. Sahjabin Kabir and Papon Dev gave us an insight into the contentious political history of Bangladesh and offered an analysis of Dhaka’s spaces of protest to ask why they are there and what role design can play. Nuno Grancho kept the discussion on the subcontinent by looking at the Portuguese colonial town of Diu. He presented religious ritual as a spatial and urban event, insisting on the intersections between Catholics, Hindus and Muslims and their sharing of same spaces. Maja Babić took us to Skopje, Macedonia, examining the major changes induced by the Skopje 2014 Project that focussed on the city’s public spaces through a number of monuments and institutional buildings with a strong nationalist and geopolitical message.
Different perspectives of memory, nostalgia and gentrification sprang up in the session on the Politicised Polis chaired by Lionel Prigent from the University of Western Brittany, Brest. Barbara Rief Vernay told the story of Vienna’s Spittelberg quarter and how it was saved from the bulldozer by its local residents. This led to a process of gentrification that paradoxically displaced the original inhabitants. Pavel Kunysz told a similar story from Liege, its finality being however opposite, as the inhabitants of the Bavière district succeeded to save an endangered hospital through the everyday cultures and sub-cultures of everyday people. Tracey Bowen also addressed gentrification in Clarion Alley, San Diego and San Francisco’s Mission district where Tech professionals from Google and Facebook have brought about 12,000 no fault evictions. Tracey brought home the point that the marginalised voices expressed protest murals and street art become even more marginalised when they are considered for their aesthetic and creative over the political value.
The first day closed with a round table chaired by Ian Woodcock that brought the convenors and other members of scientific committee Marion Hohlfeldt and Frederic Sotinel to discuss whether there are any rules about breaking rules bringing up questions of play, law-making, biopolitics and the notion that rule is not a rule until someone breaks it.
The second day kicked off with a session on Appropriating the City with presentations on the different ways public space is appropriated in London, Mestre (Venice) and São Paulo chaired by Marion Hohlfedlt. Francesca Romana dell’Aglio began by presenting an innovating theory on sharing public space in the wake of the 1666 fire and then moved on to talk about the paradox behind the proliferation of privately owned public space in today’s London, a city with very few shareable spaces. She was followed by the team of Claudia Faraone and Giovanna Muzzi, architects who are conducting action research with the local residents in Mestre to make a crime-ridden neighbourhood with many empty shops liveable once more by claiming their right to the city through daily spatial practice. Daniel Talesnik closed the session with his initial explorations of the Avenida Paulista and how the spaces under and next to it main buildings acts as foci for left and right wing groups during times of poetical protest in the street.
We then followed with a session on Art as a Political Tool chaired by Flavia Marcello. Colleen Kron began with a presentation on the appropriation of themes from Classical antiquity in street art and how that both shows a liquid continuity between past and present and illustrates a tension between an elitist form of knowledge and a populist form of expression. Catherine Grout delved deeply into the concept of traces and how they are left in the built environment through a bodily relationship as expressed in performance art. Dimitri Szuter continued with a more practical application of performativity as a tool for launching creative dynamics on the part of architects and urban practitioners.
Carmen Popescu provided a comprehensive wrap-up, including among the key terms of the symposium that of transgression. She thus addressed the inextricable connection between space and political (in)equalities analysing, at the same time, the meaning of qualified space and bounded space. At the end, she opened the debate with the participants, by inviting each of them to indicate the reason for their responding the call for papers. The overall answer, which was supposed to draw their common drives together, also revealed that the symposium offered an arena to discuss things that didn’t quite fit into their home discipline. All the participants are looking forward to getting together again in Melbourne in 2019