Dorita Hannah


Exposition: Interruption as Dissenting Gesture (08/08/2015) by Sepideh Karami
Dorita Hannah 05/02/2016 at 12:25

This article’s embrace of dissent as a research gesture is fitting for the issue’s theme, particularly as it relates to the ‘dissident researcher’ and a formulation of ‘architecting’ as both constructing and destructing. The resulting Al Croquis on escape-artist/architect, ‘Lieutenant Fontaine’, standing in for the ‘starchitects‘ conventionally featured in the prestigious architecture magazine El Croquis, is an excellent responsive and interruptive gesture based on the author’s formulae around “amateurfiction and misperformance”. She exposes the conservatism inherent to a publication named as the ‘sketch’, which, far from rough imprecision, focuses primarily on the homogeneity of architectural masterpieces by male architectural heroes who tend to produce in Euro-Western Countries (with the exception of Japan, Chile and India). The author also investigates the literal dissenting gesture through embodied actions of the protagonist, Lieutenant Fontaine (inspired by the story of André Devigny), presented through stills from Robert Bresson’s 1956 film, A Man Escaped.


The exposition is of particular import, not only to artistic research within the visual arts, but in regards to its potential in architectural discourse that tends to serve power. The author not only exposes this aspect as inherent to the discipline of architecture, but also links a lack of speaking-to-power to those within the academy itself, where academic researchers have become disciplined and therefore perceived to lack agency and foreclose on any potential for true activism. The exposition is also highly relevant in a post-Snowden milieu where interrupters to the status quo are ignored or vilified on local and global levels. While claiming that dissidence is at the very heart of artistic research may be an extreme (and potentially totalizing) statement, it is suitably provocative, allowing us to question how easily researching artists can submit to institutional regulations and exigencies. The actual application of the dissident gesture to a ‘faux’ publication of Al Croquis (countering El Croquis), which is placed in the library, is effective and performative: establishing a dissenting ‘humble object’ within the Library proper(ty).


Artistic practice in this research project serves to expose architectural practice as that which generally concedes to the status quo. This is well argued and applied to a semi-fictional character that challenges the architectural hero with another hero. Through the visuals and documented procedure this project therefore offers a rebellious strategy with a publication that builds on the story of escape through objects performing against prison architecture, which is placed in a library. The interruptive publication, in revealing micro-gestures of the escape-artist as architect, ultimately undermines not only prison architecture but the space of the library itself and the discourses it contains: thereby exposing discursive absence in the process.


I suspect that this project will be well received by interdisciplinary practitioners and those operating in the visual, performing and spatial arts. While it takes the position of dissenting artist it utilizes theoretically rich design strategies to expose conservatism in architectural practice and publication and therefore architecture as discourse. The notion of ‘architecting’, with potential links to Derrida’s ‘spacing’, can therefore be applied back into the varying art forms. This is valuable in how it articulates artistic research for architecture as a creative field.


The exposition illuminates the relationship between artistic practice and research by exposing recalcitrant and interruptive action – physical and discursive – as productive and critical to keeping the academic disciplines interdisciplinary, fluid and discursive. This is achieved through a series of steps taken by the artistic researcher who moves from theoretical underpinnings to the selection of an historic prison site with its own history, including the interruptive changes performed by the Lieutenant protagonist and his cinematically represented story, which is completed by attempts to publish the subversive ‘architecting’ that is rejected by the status quo, resulting in an-other publication placed in the library.


The reader is clearly and effectively led through the project with its multiple facets and processes. It may be an idea to include the performative hand gestures, taken from Bresson’s film, on each page in order to clarify and tease out these critical manoeuvres while also acting as an integrating common thread throughout. The stills from the Bresson movie as examplars of dissenting architectural tactics are not entirely easy to read and could be made clearer through formatting and layout.


This is a very exciting and entirely appropriate response to the RUUKKU call themed on Research Gestures. By focusing on artistic fields as disciplines, and therefore disciplinary, it establishes a clear thesis that calls for interruptive gestures to un-discipline and question established conventions, especially in relation to architecture and its discourse. Although Lieutenant Fontaine provides an effective protagonist, countering the starchitect through mundane moves against architecture with ‘humble objects’, he remains a singular heroic male figure. However, the researcher’s overall thesis suggests that sole authorship and patriarchal hegemony can also be called to account.


Dorita Hannah