Formula 01: An Amateur Is A Lover. A Lover Is An Idiot.

By definition, artistic research is not a discipline but indiscipline. It is based on composing connections, or in Rolf Hughes’ words, “productive interplay between differing” – here, I add opposing – “ways of thinking”.10 According to Hito Steyerl, the problem with disciplinary approaches is that:


[…] it normalizes, generalizes and regulates; it rehearses a set of responses, and in this case, trains people to function in an environment of symbolic labor, permanent design and streamlined creativity.11


Unlike disciplinary approaches, as an unrehearsed activity artistic research relies greatly on contingency. Paradoxically however, it can play well through the mechanisms of discipline: as Steyerl further suggests, there is always a potential or an ‘immobilized’ conflict within a discipline; the conflict is exactly what the discipline tries to restrain in order to retain its territorial power, and the very act of oppression implies this as a result. I propose that the suppressed elements of conflict could become the elements of dissensus, mobilized through artistic research and practice. How, and by whom, could this be undertaken?

For Edward Said, amateurism is one way to mobilize that conflict. A profession and its related discipline reinforce one another. An amateur, on the other hand, undermines a profession and its adjoining discipline. Advocating amateurism in lieu of professionalism, Said says:


[…] I shall call amateurism, the desire to be moved not by profit or reward but by love for an unquenchable interest in the larger picture, in making connections across lines and barriers, in refusing to be tied down to a specialty, in caring for ideas and values despite the restrictions of a profession.12


A dissident can thus be understood as an amateur, driven – as is apparent in its etymology –by love rather than by the rules of a profession. Additionally, an amateur performs through the character of an idiot as defined by Gilles Deleuze: the regular person, uneducated, untrained in philosophy, and related to the plane of immanence. In her paper ‘I would prefer not to: How Bartleby’s Formula Troubles Collective Design Practices’, Hélène Frichot situates the idiot in the institutional arrangements, describing her/him as follows:


The idiot disrupts power relations where they pertain to knowledge, as well as the institutional arrangements through which permission is granted pertaining to who is allowed to know what and how much, and therefore who is qualified to speak.13


A professional remains loyal to discipline and in turn receives instructions for ‘speaking the right language, citing the right authorities, holding down the right territory’.14 On the contrary, the amateur by nature questions the disciplinary norms and limits. S/he calls for the transvaluation of values by neglecting self-evident values. In this way, amateurism not only questions the mechanisms at work, but also constructs new territories of action by doing things differently. An amateur tries to liberate her/himself from ‘being employed’15 by power. By dissenting against the terms and conditions of employment, the amateur maps those disciplined-out elements and attempts to understand why they are outside and what would happen if they were brought back in.


We need to dissent. It would appear that politics of dissensus is the sine qua non for change in the world today. Nonetheless, consensus as a mode of government is an institutionalized gesture of democracy in the so-called civilized world. Consensus is the agreement upon ‘one unique reality’1 despite the acknowledgement of differences in people’s values and aspirations. That ‘unique reality’ apparently becomes the measure of judgment, values, actions, interventions and construction of the politics of exclusion and inclusion in different contexts. Universities and institutions of knowledge production are not exceptions within this global scope, but paradoxically, they are in a serious crisis: Where the norms should be contested, they have succumbed to the common pitfall of conformism – to academic consensus if you like, or ‘professionalism’, to borrow Edward Said’s term.2 Within this discussion, it is essential to look at institutions for art and architecture research and education through the lens of the politics of dissensus. After all, art should dissent; it should ‘introduce dissensus by hollowing out’3 that ‘unique reality’.

The journey in this paper, then, bypasses the question of dissensus, using artistic practice or artistic research not as a walking stick but as an axe to break through the uncompromising walls of institutions. It cuts through the problems of eradication of politics of dissent in the mistaken belief in institutional loyalty, and thereby investigates the potential of dissensus as a methodology in the field of artistic research and practicing it as dissident research.



When art is a dissensual activity, introducing it to academic research can transform artistic research into a dissensual machine that questions the whole conformist logic of institutions today. As an artefact, the Al Croquis micro-project was the result of theoretical discussions, negotiations, dialogues and fiction. It is an attempt to map out institutional possibilities and impossibilities and thereby reveal any permeability of the impossible walls of institutions as a dissensual act. It is a way to experiment with the idea of not fitting, and to utilize publication as a tool to get engaged and interrupt various dominant institutions; i.e. the discipline of architecture, the mainstream publications and academia and its established evaluation systems. It is not merely criticism, but also the construction of different dissenting apparatuses that bring with them various tools, methods, references and discourses. In other words, by applying fictional methods, the project introduces a ‘real’ that is distinct from the existing one.

Tactics of interruption as methods of engaging with the institution are about transvaluing the values to which we constantly conform. They aim to change our understanding of loyalty to institutions and to put criticality above loyalty. Practicing artistic research as dissident research not only brings along artistic research as a dissenting machine, but also introduces its own strategies of evaluation. Conventional academic values are an inappropriate gauge for a project concerned with not fitting. Relevant questions for evaluation might instead be: How much can a project transgress from the norms and self-evident values? How much does it transvalue the conventional setups in research? How does it contribute to a discipline to set free its embedded conflict? And last but not least, how can every dissident research project dissent and question itself or supply the tools of dissensus to liberate its own restricted elements?





Formula 02: Fiction Is Real

Political and artistic fictions introduce dissensus by hollowing out 'the real’ and multiplying it in a polemical way. The practice of fiction undoes, and then re-articulates, connections between signs and images, images and times, and signs and spaces, framing a given sense of reality, a given ‘commonsense’. It is a practice that invents new trajectories between what can be seen, what can be said and what can be done.16


Amateurness is highly performative. It is a fictional occupation, occupying a fictitious role. In the words of Jacques Rancière, fiction is to ‘visualize an encounter of incompatibilities’. It always has one foot in reality, and its close connection with reality is what makes it an effective tool for change. Fiction does not create an imaginary world in contrast to the ‘real’ world, but as Rancière says, ‘it involves the reframing of the ‘real’, or the framing of dissensus’.17 He explains that the configurations of what is presented as real are in fact ‘a matter of construction, a matter of fiction’, and what is imposed on us as “real” is in fact the constructed fiction of the police order. If we consider a discipline or a profession as ‘real’, amateurism through fictional approaches can interrupt it and its dominant discourses. Fiction is in line with the core concept of artistic research that is rooted in re-connecting ‘different ways of thinking’ and introducing an alternative ’real’. It is by means of fiction that one can assign different subjectivities to onself that differ from and surpass the terms of employment.

Formula 03: Disloyalty or Misperformance

Radical pedagogical experiments in architecture education in the second half of the 20th century can be read as historical examples of dissenting against the institutions. The experiments were highly successful in questioning established and institutional values in architecture education, and they produced new modes of practices still at work today. In those experiments, tools and methods from other creative practices were employed to enrich architecture discourse and to change its evaluation criteria. In their own time, the experiments were a powerful movement in line with social movements and revolutionary struggles. As part of the first wave of institutional critique,  architecture – as well other creative and cultural practices – attacked institutions ‘aesthetically, politically and theoretically’.18 However, everything gave way to the second wave of institutional critique in the 1980s, and in the words of Simon Sheikh, critique itself became part of the institution. In the third and current wave of institutional critique, the institution is not something to be destroyed, but to be propagated by curators and directors by ‘modification and solidification’.


Where does a dissident researcher stand in relation to the discussion of institutions? As institutions generally work toward the politics of consensus, they resist changes coming from dissensual approaches. This might be better explained by what Peter de Graeve refers to as the ‘relative failure’ in the relationship between art and art institutions: The latter resists change, and the former is unable to bring about any changes, although we all endeavor to contribute to the culture of ‘high performance’.19 “We work hard,” he says, and ‘we’ refers to the institution itself, while he defines ‘work’ as a ‘narrow game of forming and reforming’ the institution;20 a loyalty to an institutional consensus that is at odds with what art as a dissensual activity should do. Jacques Rancière considers the work of art as strategies aimed at changing the given frames through which the visible and invisible are configured. The intention is not to swap the places of visible and invisible, but to create heterogeneous apparatuses where the encounter of visible and invisible produces new meanings or transvalues the ‘self-evidence of the visible’.21 If we agree on this definition of how art works, then art should rescue itself from the ‘narrow game of forming and reforming’ institutions.


Situating a dissident in the realm of artistic research, one can contribute to breaking the frames in which the ‘we’ and the ‘work’ are defined. A dissident radically contests the way in which subjects are governed.22 In this regard, I do not argue for strategies of withdrawal that are in favor of autonomy. Criticizing the strategies of withdrawal, Chantal Mouffe advocates ‘a strategy of engagement with institutions’.23 Along Mouffe’s strategy of engagement, I would prefer to argue for tactics of interruption;24 that is, when ‘we’ becomes the dissident and ‘work’ becomes misperformance.  Using tactics over strategies refers to Michel de Certeau’s distinction between the two terms. For de Certeau, strategies are always from a powerful position, “as a calculus of force relationships when a subject of will and power can be isolated from an environment”, while tactics suggest the opposite activities “victories of the weak over the strong” as de Certeau states. In this way, tactic refers to ”clever tricks”, ”knowing how to get away with things”, ”joyful discoveries, poetic as well as warlike”.25 In this sense loyalty is not defined in conformism but in criticality and artistically interrogating and interrupting what is expected from the researcher as necessary and essential to go places. Loyalty is defined in misperformance when the performance of conformism and consensus is at work. And misperformance is of tactical characteristics: ”knowing how to get away with things”. 


(…) instead of doing what one is supposed to do one can ask why one does it, who benefits from it, how can it reconnect with a personal project and original thoughts.26








1. Rancière, J. 2011.  Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics. London: Continuum. p. 144

2.  Scalmer, S. 2007. Edward Said and the sociology of intellectuals. In Ganguly, D. & Curthoys, N., ed. 2007. Edward Said: The Legacy of a Public Intellectual. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press. p. 41 

3. Rancière, J. 2011.  Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics. London: Continuum. p.149

4. Stoner, J. 2012. Toward A Minor Architecture. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press. p.28

5. Ibid. p. 01 

6. Genet, J. 1964. The Thief’s Journal. New York: Grone Press. p. 22

7. Leach, N. 1999. Architecture and Revolution: Contemporary perspectives on Central and Eastern Europe. London: Routledge. p. 118

8. These are excerpts from a real email exchange with the editors of El Croquis journal.

9. Azar, M. 2014. Schizo-notes on artistic research as universe and conflict. Transart Institute 2015-02-20

10. Hughes, R. 2014.  Exposition. In: Schwab, M. & Borgdorff, H., ed. 2014. The Exposition of Artistic Research: Publishing Art in Academia. Leiden: Leiden University Press. p.55

11. Steyerl, H. 2010. Aesthetics of Resistance? Artistic Research as Discipline and Conflict. eipcp. 2015-01-20

12. Said, E. 1996. Representations of the Intellectual. New York: Vintage Books. p. 76

13. Frichot, H. 2010. I would prefer not to: How Bartleby’s Formula Troubles Collective Design Practices, Alternative Practice in Design: The Collective, Conference, Geoplaced Knowledges, Design Research Institute, RMIT University, Melbourne Australia. 

14.  Said, E. 1996. Representations of the Intellectual. New York: Vinatge Books. p. 77

15. Ibid. p. 80

16. Rancière, J. 2011. Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics. London: Continuum. p. 149

17. Ibid. p. 141 

18. Sheikh, S. 2006. Notes on Institutional Critique. eipcp. 2015-03-14

19. Verwoert, J. 2011. Tell Me What You Want, What You Really, Really Want. Berlin: Sternberg Press. p. 59

20. de Graeve, P. 2013 Art School Performances (Could the Artist Please Be Present?). In: Lind, T. ed., Artistic Research Then and Now: 2004-13. Yearbook of AR&D 2013 Swedish Research Council. Stockholm: Vetenskapsrådet , p.153

21. Rancière, J. 2011. Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics. London: Continuum. p. 141

22. Weizman, I., ed. 2014. Architecture and The Paradox of Dissidence. London: Routledge. p. 04

23. Mouffe. Ch. 2015. Artistic Strategies in Politics and Political Strategies in Art. In: Malzacher, F. Truth Is Concrete: A Handbook for Artistic Strategies in Real Politics. Berlin: Sternberg Press. p.67

24. Michel de Certeau distinguishes tactics from strategies by appointing the latter to a ‘proper place’ and the former to ‘time’. He explains: ‘I call a “tactic”,(...) a calculus which cannot count on a “proper” (a spatial or institutional localization), nor thus on a borderline distinguishing the other as a visible totality. The place of a tactic belongs to the other. A tactic insinuates itself into the other’s place, fragmentarily, without taking it over in its entirety, without being able to keep it at a distance. It has at its disposal no base where it can capitalize on its advantages, prepare its expansions, and secure independence with respect to circumstances. The “proper” is a victory of space over time. On the contrary, because it does not have a place, a tactic depends on time –it is always on the watch for opportunities that must be seized “on the wing.” Whatever it wins, it does not keep. It must constantly manipulate events in order to turn them into “opportunities”. The weak must continually turn to their own ends forces alien to them. This is achieved in the propitious moments when they are able to combine heterogeneous elements(...); the intellectual synthesis of these given elements takes the form, however, not of a discourse, but of the decision itself, the act and manner in which the opportunity is “seized”.’ 

25. de Certeau, M.1988. The Practice of Everyday Life. Trans: Rendall, S. University of California Press. p. xix

26. Said, E. 1996. Representations of the Intellectual. New York: Vinatge Books. p. 82-83

27. Defining what art does in his Dissensus, Rancière states: “Doing art means displacing art’s borders, just as doing politics means displacing the borders of what is acknowledged as the political.”

28. Rancière, J. 2011. Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics. London: Continuum. p. 149






Destruction and construction of the door. 

Two days later, surprisingly, I received an answer from the editor, Fernando Márquez:


Dear Sepideh Karami,


Thank you for your kind offer, however your proposal does not fit in our editorial line, focused on the publication of monographs on specific authors.



Receiving instructions from the neighbor to open the handcuffs

I really delighted in the successful failure of my request, as it didn’t fit in their editorial line. At the same time, I might have had a chance to fail in my success as my proposed architect was ironically a very ‘specific author’. I wrote back to the editor:

I put down the pen and climb the stool to glance out of the window to the prison courtyard, where Fontaine had received the first tools to execute his architecture. The courtyard is deserted...

Back at my desk, I flip through a couple of back issues of the architecture journal El Croquis. El Croquis, or ‘the sketch’, could have been a place for experimental and minor forms of architecture practices, as its name suggests:  ‘a rough or unfinished version of any creative work’. Instead, it has turned out to be one of the most prestigious architectural magazines and a showcase for starchitects to display their triumph over the architectural discipline. Flipping through the magazines piled on the floor, I cannot manage to convince myself that the work of even one single featured architect has anything to do with Fontaine’s architecting.


Cut, in hands of a prisoner is a death-and-life gamble to break free; a patient dialogue with the material prison; a negotiation, a research that engages imagination; applies deep listening, touching, observing and looking at surrounding objects. It requires a long investigation on the active elements of an institution called prison. The prisoner imagines the relations between spaces and between spaces and people. She adds layers and layers of observation to her imagination. She listens constantly. Doors, windows or any opening that debilitates the perfection of the containment beckons her to the world outside, to freedom. She eavesdrops for words of hollow, longs for discovering the hidden ones in the walls and roof and floor. ‘Escape modes include tapping, scratching, reading, writing, gazing, and pacing’.4 Thus tapping becomes her words of greeting the material around her, and cutting becomes the dialogue and the ultimate language of freedom: a whispering language.

Place 02:






The library is small. It is a hub connected to the main university library. It is colored with columns of sunlight passing through the colorful glasses.  I enter with a copy of my Al Croquis book on Fontaine. I look at the row of El Croquis journals in a lower shelf and return the issue I had borrowed months ago. I had used the issue as a template to copy and to produce my own issue on Lieutenant Fontaine. Lenita Berggren – a librarian at Umeå Art Campus – flips through the first, self-published issue of Al Croquis. I explain the project much in the same way I did when I wrote to El Croquis’ editors. I ask if it would be possible to include it in the library’s collection, not only displaying on the shelf next to the El Croquis journals but also listing it in the library database and allowing it to be found by the search engine. She writes me the next morning:





Fontaine's tactics of interrupting architecture start from developing a relationship with his neighbors and people around. Risk and trust play an important role. 

Formulae + Prison

Fontaine’s fictitious occupation as an architect and the description of his work through architectural discourse questions who an architect is and what is considered part of the work of architecture. It displaces the borders of what is acknowledged as part of the architectural discipline and architectural work.27 In this way, a work of architecture becomes destructive, or it constructs another logic within a discipline (here the prison) by creating different ways of moving along the spaces and thereby modifying the sequences, appointing different roles to material agents, and producing new subjectivities by making new objects. When the prisoner escapes, the architecture she has created by means of her escape reveals the gaps and weak points in a highly disciplined structure. Even in the event of failure, those weak points (points of ‘conflict’) are exposed. This fictional take on architectural work pushes architecture as a discipline to a state of collapse and thereby hints at what architecture cannot do, introducing an architecture that ‘accepts’ its ‘insufficiency’.28

A Humble Object that facilitates his escape plan, and becomes one of the main tools for executing his interrupting architecture

Making a tool to cut through the prison, to construct a section, to break free.

Section(ing) of Montluc Prison










‘However what I proposed was exactly about a specific author. To be more specific I have chosen the main character from Robert Bresson’s movie ‘A Man Escaped’, who is a prisoner trying to escape. I have compared his escape plan and its execution to the work of architecture. Fontaine who is the escapee, in this way, becomes the architect of a prison, which he has destructed and escaped from.

     So my idea is to produce an issue that rethinks who the architect could be and what kind of making and unmaking of space can be counted as architecture. Fontaine is based on a real character in real life, but also the representative of all those who question the dominant structures by creating a minor structure within the major, toward the project of emancipation.

     This proposal would not fit in your editorial line, and the idea is exactly about not being "fit to" as a special issue. In this issue even the advert pages are designed to advertise imaginary tools for such architecture.’

With the introduction of artistic research to conventional academic research, where experimental methodologies are at work and motivated, the project of resistance has proved difficult. Nor is the question of what doesn’t fit easy to answer. For an academic researcher to go places, s/he must perform according to the established criteria and value systems instituted over a long history of scientific research. In this sense, when artistic research is legitimized within academia, certain criteria and value systems have also taken shape along the way, offering a formal freedom to researchers or artists. Yet the main criticism of artistic research concerns the tension that exists between ‘academic value’ and ‘artistic value’. In her ‘Schizo-Notes on Artistic Research as Universe and Conflict’, Mitra Azar describes it as follows:


(…) on the one hand, the need for a format or a protocol with its own set of rules and epistemic implications to be adopted to prove the academic value of the work; on the other, the bold standing of an artwork or a body of works as pure singularity, indeed as something which somehow self-defines its own set of laws and artistic values.9


However, the area of tension between ‘academic values’ and ‘artistic values’ is precisely where artistic research becomes interesting. What if, instead of taking artistic research as a restraint for artistic practices, making it to a dissenting machine to criticize institutional conformity, it is a dissenting machine that questions the disciplines, the institutional structures and ‘academic values’ through artistic approaches? Instead of trying to adapt artistic research to conventional scientific research methods, we can turn it itself to the project of not fitting, accordingly creating opposing or dissenting forces of evaluation.


Once the prisoner thinks of an escape plan, suddenly the world becomes paradoxically open and tight to her; she feels more imprisoned as she discovers the possibility of the impossible. This paradoxical perception of the world makes the act of cutting the only way of continuation with life. Her active life shrinks into the periods of cutting; the rest becomes the unbearable waiting.

As a PhD candidate at Umeå School of Architecture,

                                                                            I wrote: 


Dear Sepideh,

I have talked to a colleague and it’s no problem to add your book to our catalog. We don’t need any ISBN number. Would you like the book to be possible to borrow? Or, do you want it to only to be read in the Library? We can catalogue the book as soon as possible. Let us know when it suits you and what date you want to have a lecture in the Library.

Site-plan of Montluc Prison










Dear El Croquis Editors,8


As part of my PhD project, which is about Interrupting Architecture and Dissident Devices, I have a critical/fictional approach to starchitects by introducing non-architects who create, modify, destruct or occupy the existing dominant structures through their dissident acts; hence an architectural investigation of their 'material work’. This I believe can expand the architectural discussion and its social and political application through dissident acts and resultantly include other silent agents in architecture discourse. 

To do so, I have a proposal of producing a complete issue on: A Dissident as architect, and interrupting architecture that leads to emancipation. That I suggest can fit into your series on architects. Firstly I would like to ask you about its possibility, and if you think it is possible I can send you a more detailed proposal.

“Interrupting Architecture is an important architectural practice that can not only rescue architecture from its inevitable complicity with dominant power7 but also introduce new methods and tools to making or unmaking spaces and extend architecture beyond its established discipline. As a method, interrupting architecture has emancipation at its core. In other words, it emerges through the questioning of an institution and breaking free from its disciplines,”

                                                                        I write.



While I did not receive an answer, I started to ponder the idea of not fitting that could be one of the main characteristics of a dissident researcher and her artistic research. Not fitting into, in fact, is a phrase that paradoxically, hints at restricting the frame of a discipline.


The grand narratives have occupied the referencing systems in academic production. This involves a vast theoretical and political discussion of colonial knowledge, western domination, media politics etc. that has materialized in libraries. The Al Croquis micro-project is an experiment that ultimately questions and interrupts mainstream and dominant references in practices of architecture. What happens when an architecture student flips through the issue of a magazine that has hijacked the form of a mainstream magazine, and reads about a fictional take on a work of architecture – a work that strives to broaden the scope of what architecting could be and do? The result is more than the interruption of bookshelves; it also builds up an alternative reference that can question skills and knowledge in architectural design.

Fontaine was imprisoned in Montluc during the Nazi occupation of France. He was a natural-born escapee, checking the loose elements of the system to find a way out. He believed in architecture that was ‘beyond aesthetic pursuit of making buildings’ and ‘committ(ed) his practice to a politics of selectively taking them apart’.5 To undertake his task of architecting, he made use of what was at hand or what accidentally arrived in his cell. His language with the surrounding objects was cutting: he either transformed the objects into devices for cutting or objects to be cut. When he arrived in his cell, he soon identified the door as the starting point for the execution of his plan. He commenced to remove door planks by means of a spoon. His tools of action were thus what Jean Genet called ‘humble objects’,6 artifacts that are generally not associated with mischief in the prison everyday, which allowed him to work stealthily. His work was a simultaneous act of destructing and constructing; he constantly concealed what he had destructed until the very last moment. He was mapping, drawing, measuring, negotiating and documenting his failures and successes. He drew details of his plan’s execution, and when he left, he left the details behind for other prisoners to use as a manual for escape.

The existing building was re-designed and renovated by the French architect Lieutenant Fontaine in 1943; the renovation liberated it from its oppressive discipline. The original Montluc Prison building was built in 1921 as a military prison, and it was later used by the Gestapo as an escape-proof prison. Yet Fontaine – as one of the many unknown dissident architects of Interrupting Architecture School – transformed it into a totally different structure. Rigorous investigation, material construction and social interaction resulted in a representative example of critical architecture that radically questioned and reconfigured the structure of a notoriously rigid institution when Fontaine executed his own escape plan. Montluc Prison never became a prison again afterward.



Place 01:

Montluc Prison – Prison as Discipline


The dark nights have grown longer than the frosty pink days, and the nights’ colonization of days has let the shadow cast by the building extend over the small artificial hill a hundred meters in the distance. In exchange, a streak of light has stretched along the floor and wall, indicating an opening in the continuity of the building’s material architecture. I have placed my desk in the middle of the room and my chair in line with the streak of light, which passes through the door where a plank is missing, then flows into the corridor beyond it and pours down to the central void of the building.


                                          I write: