Re: [-empyre-] Critical Spatial Practice

I'll have to wait to respond to the morning's posts until after a busy teaching day here - but I had one quick thought here for Brett -

The "Critical" is the part of "Critical Spatial Practice" that I have the most questions about as well. Catherine's line is indeed on point with my experience, even outside of architecture.

Thinking in response to this thread so far, I wonder if "criticality" in this case best functions as a way to allow for the sorts of "productive" processes you describe Brett, but without binding production to a disciplined set of actions or ends. I'm thinking here too of the instrument vs instrumentality idea introduced by Sally Jane and Saul.

I'll have a look at those projects later -



On Sep 10, 2007, at 3:21 AM, Brett Stalbaum wrote:

Hi Kevin,

I too have been surprised the focus on questions of reception, as well as well as a persistent assumption that spatial representation can function in a socially compelling or politically productive way. My use of "spatial representation" could index here all of the various modalities of artistic representation in space that have been discussed so far: kinesthetic activity and sound in PED ("Here the 'user' is asked to perform an unwitting political/utopian action riding conscicuous bikes?" - Johannes Birringer), or interactive installation as in "trans-border: primitive man @edge of virtual forest / hyaku-take", or public installation and performance in "Chrysalis Bridge", or Millie Chen's interest in sound in public space. My questioning of the inherent possibilities in anyone's "critical spatial practice" circulates around the "critical" part more than the "spatial practice" part - in other words I question the assumption that art can significantly instantiate questions in the mind of the "user" that are politically transformative and thus progressive. (I don't deny some influence - see "significantly" above...)

I take my question to be a gross summary of the strong critiques presented here by Birringer, ("For the digital to affect and transform us politically, what could it do?"), or as Catherine Ingraham just said in another post, criticality "remains the word most used in describing studio teaching in architecture but is less and less influential as a idea or methodology." So my question finally is, why criticality at all? What can it do for us that we couldn't do much better by *productive* political practices - things that do something useful instead of trying to "message" the public? (And, for Birringer, I do in fact think that there are things that digital media can do... but I will not be in a position to discuss that possibility until present research is complete...)

But, in the spirit of good examples... off the top of my head... I met Raquel Rennó in Sao Paulo recently and we had a long talk about this... she is working in Spain and turned me onto the following projects that are actually helping immigrants negotiate borders - Technological Observatory of the Straits ( and LavapiesWireless ( Of course, activities such as these are by necessity experimental and ultimately tactical (and yes, maybe not entailed in the self- referencing and delusionally forward oriented whirligig of the artworld that Saul Ostrow so well described...), but could these potentially be thought of models that should not replace, but rather taken as the primary nexus of practice over memes like "critical cartography" or "Critical Spatial Practice"?

Finally, although getting ahead of the discussion I see a lot of what I think I am trying to support here my colleague Teddy Cruz's work, but we will hear from him later... so maybe to revisit at that time.

Kevin Hamilton wrote:


/// Broad Questions
These are some questions I keep coming back to in my engagement with the topic:
1) I've been surprised to see the thread so far focussed so much on questions of reception. As such, it's also been largely a discussion of Art, with some (to me) familiar assumptions about Art's capacity for fostering at least personal transformation, if not social change. How might we talk about examples of CSP without resorting to avant-garde models in which enlightened cultural producers educate, influence or enhance through "secular spiritualism" (phrase from Chris' posts) or perceptual/ethical superiority?
2) How can we understand and influence the material, social and political specificities of temporary or habitual perceptual practices without instrumentalizing sensation in the service of aesthetic affect or political effect? Can we talk about particular sensoria as more or less free or rich outside of an ends-oriented approach?
3) What about Art has been, or continues to be, useful to "Critical Spatial Practitioners"?


Brett Stalbaum, Lecturer, LSOE
Coordinator, Interdisciplinary Computing and the Arts Major (ICAM)
Department of Visual Arts
9500 GILMAN DR. # 0084
La Jolla CA 92093-0084
empyre forum

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