Cleaning Up for Germantown City Hall

Preparations are well underway at the Germantown Town Hall for the opening of Germantown City Hall, our collaboration with Jacob Wick and Information Department which is part of the 2013 Hidden City Festival. Last week, we had help from some amazing volunteers and Hidden City staff to begin cleaning the space and moving in donated furniture. As we begin to inhabit the space, the power and possibility suggested by the building becomes more and more clear.

From May 23 – June 30, the Germantown Town Hall building will reopen as Germantown City Hall, a multipurpose public space offering a performance and meeting area, a reading room/lending library, an office/copy center, and workshop room. Residents of Germantown will have free access to City Hall and are invited to schedule meetings, performances, and events in the building. It is our hope that the City Hall become, first and foremost, a civic space in which dialogues amongst and between the citizens of Germantown may occur. To get involved, find out more, or share leads, please contact or call us at 575-446-3676.

Personal Structures of Support (Part 3)


When I move through Philadelphia, much of what I observe and experience is filtered through the ideas expounded by the philosopher and social critic Ivan Illich. The connecting thread throughout his work is rather straightforward: Our industrial-scaled institutions and tools have overpowered us to such a totalizing degree that we are no longer able to disentangle ourselves from their colonizing effects. That is, schools and universities, governments and public agencies, and corporations of all kinds have greatly diminished our individual and collective capacity to provide for ourselves and each other.

Another way to understand Illich is to describe a spectrum of connectedness to ourselves, each other, and the world. At one end of this spectrum is a set of relationships with the world that is convivial—amicable, human-scaled, life-supporting, present. At the other end is the impersonal and alienating mechanism of industrialization that amounts to a profound dehumanization. In Philadelphia, I see ample evidence of lives being lived at either end of this spectrum and at many points in between. On the side of conviviality are cooperative preschools, neighborhood food coops, time banks, and community gardens, while on the side of industrialization are coroporatized charter schools, welfare offices, fast “food” chain restaurants, and acres of vacant, fallow land cordoned off by the city. Illich invites us to combat the alienating forces of industrialization by reclaiming our capacity to support each other through meaningful interchange, to rely less on the dominant institutions of contemporary society, and to lean more on each other.

This is a tall order to fill. His challenge is impossibly audacious. I suspect that, for many of us, we have never thought very deliberately about the kinds of support structures we do have or might need to live more fully with our communities.

In the Think Tank that has yet to be named, one of our primary research interests is in exploring the structures of support that people create and maintain in order to live a life. By asking people about their support structures, we hope to learn how to build more resilient and robust support structures in the future. In part, I see this work as answering Illich’s call. His oeuvre charts a trajectory away from industrial institutions and values toward the deschooling (de-institutionalization) of society, the creation of tools that support conviviality, and the reclaiming of values grounded in more communal ways of life. The trajectory of our research on the structures of support aligns precisely with these goals.

At a basic level, examining the structures of support begins with this question: How is it that some get by so well, while others barely get by, or not at all? There is a political debate regarding this question that is rehearsed ad infinitum. Those on the left will push for more government social services and assistance (the state controlled social safety net), which necessitates the increasing institutionalization and bureaucratization of most aspects of life in the name of efficiency. On the right lies the counterargument that less government oversight and the selling off of public entities, services, and infrastructure to the private sector will somehow generate a just society (this coupled with the moralizing myth of bootstrapping and personal responsibility). It should be noted that whether public or private in nature, the sheer scale of the resulting public agencies, non-profit organizations, or multinational corporations is such that they all further the industrialization of daily life. This is a gross oversimplification, which should not be taken as flippant, because politics have very palpable consequences at the level of the neighborhood and the individual. But, in returning to the question posed at the outset of this paragraph, I believe that our attention and energy must be focused on understanding how individual citizens can live communally in our streets and blocks.

With my partner (Think Tank collaborator, Meredith Warner) and two children, I live in a neighborhood called Germantown, which happens to be one of the oldest settlements in Philadelphia. Today, quaintly restored colonial buildings—George Washington’s summer home is here, Thomas Jefferson slept over there, the first abolitionists met just around the corner—are interspersed throughout a large and diverse urban district that runs the gamut in terms of racial, economic, and class constituencies. There is an omnipresent yet guarded historical quality to the neighborhood, locked away with few exceptions behind placards recounting the long past events that impart to it the official textbook history. Like most of Philadelphia, Germantown is “block to block”, which is a way we talk about the unevenness of the city with respect to degrees of safety, disinvestment, and abandonment as they materialize, often drastically, from one block to the next.

We’ve lived here for nearly three years, and there is still so much we do not know about this place. We do not know the extent of its outer edges, its urban nooks, its quiet side streets, its vacant lots and abandoned buildings. We do, however, know our block, and those blocks surrounding ours. We know the various paths we routinely walk during the course of our regular and rhythmic movements within the neighborhood. These include: to and from the train station, to and from the library, to and from the drugstore, to and from the park, to and from the community garden. We walk often in the evenings with our kids, in a final push to drain their endless energy. We walk “the loop”, as it is known to us, and we anticipate the things that we’ll meet along the way—the houses of people we know, the long wall the kids walk on, the empty parking lot they run screaming circles in, the front porch with the old, tired cats, the cactus in the sidewalk where more than once they’ve caught stickers in their tiny fingers. Some evenings, our loop is detoured by a stroll along the “secret alley”, so called because it is an overgrown, infrequently travelled street that runs along the backside of large urban residential lots filled with formative old houses topped by rusty weathervanes and patchworks of slate and asphalt roofs.

Less frequently, we venture further outside of this radius—a range established by the maximum capacity of little legs with limited patience—to explore unfamiliar territory, much of it dotted by the string of colonial-era historic sites and houses that partly give Germantown its distinct character: Wyck, Grumblethorpe, Germantown Friends, Johnson House and others. But this is a living city, and so along the way we find the spaces that give a place texture: commercial corridors, neat brick rowhouses, grand stone twins, churches of all denominations and sizes, ancient graveyards, well-used and disused parks, faded storefronts, crumbling warehouses, vacant lots. This is a living neighborhood, a working neighborhood, a struggling neighborhood filled with people doing all of the things that people do: waiting for buses, waving hellos to friends and neighbors, buying lottery tickets and newspapers at the kiosks, smoking, idling on corners, visiting libraries, worshipping in churches, sleeping on park benches, hustling passersby, waiting in lines, drinking coffee, yelling and laughing, getting by and not getting by.

So, how is that some get by so well, while others barely get by, or not at all?

The leaders and policymakers of cities will commission and then point to countless metrics in order to understand the relative health of a city, of a neighborhood, of a block: median home price and median income, percentages of the population on public assistance or incarcerated, statistics on who has or has not completed various levels of schooling, number of abandoned properties or parks per capita, number of reported incidents of violence or abuse. In referring to these metrics on a daily basis, we have given them control over the narrative we construct about our city, and that narrative is frequently one of violence, poverty, and trauma. It is the narrative of all the things we lack and all the ways we are broken. This quantitative data is useful, perhaps, in the way that symptoms can help a patient begin a conversation with her doctor about what ails her. In cities, with more sophisticated data and analysis, the symptoms may be interpreted in such a way that the stories they tell are nuanced and insightful. Yet, symptoms, as indicators of root causes, are often dislocated in time and space from their causal origins (as if any such moments could be identified at all). Symptoms, in the form of charts and graphs or even dynamic data visualizations, need to be contextualized with the stories told by those who live in between the data points, who live in the streets and on the blocks in relation to those next to them who tell stories as well.

I believe that we must daylight the underlying structures of support in our communities and build bridges within these structures where the connections are failing or absent. For a city like Philadelphia and a neighborhood like Germantown, this means mapping, person by person and block by block, the individual networks of support along with the resources that exist within these networks. It requires identifying those who are resource-rich and creating links between them and those who are resource-poor, in effect creating a commons of generosity and exchange.

My partner and I are keenly aware of our reliance on those around us for support, and that we and our children would not have the life we live—and might not get by—without their generosity. Reciprocally, we try to be deliberate in how we support others, and how we model that for our kids. The way in which we build and sustain a network of support among our family, friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens radiates outward, emanating from the daily choices we make in our lives. Increasingly, I am striving to design an intentional life for myself and my family, one that acknowledges the interconnectedness of our every action with the world and that countermands the false apart-ness we are made to feel toward ourselves, each other, and our environment. The multitude of answers to the question of how we get by is of common interest to all of us. In sharing our individual support structures we take the first step toward building from the ground up a communal network of resources which leverages peer to peer, family to family, and neighborhood to neighborhood connections.

We’ll be developing a more locally-grown response to structures of support this summer as part of  Germantown City Hall, a collaboration with Jacob Wick and Information Department for the 2013 Hidden City Festival.

A Tool for Conversation

We extend our warmest thanks to the small group of Germantown residents who willingly joined us in an experimental conversation using our project In a state far from equilibrium as a conversational tool. We learned so much from each distinct voice and have yet to really think about how we’d like to reflect the conversation back to the world.

The highlight for me personally was experiencing an intergenerational conversation like this—open, honest, and challenging. I am thinking more about how we might bring generations together so we can all learn from the vast knowledge of those who have lived here for a lifetime.


Photos courtesy of Vrouyr Joubanian

Opening Space for Participation

Support can be indirect. It doesn’t necessarily come from giving, but from opening up. It’s the difference between giving advice and listening. When we advise, we colonize. When we listen, we are simply with others. We allow them the space to process on their own or as a group, in a way that makes sense to them. It creates a space—an opening for agency, for engagement, for authenticity.

I was reminded of this a few weeks ago while interviewing a good friend as part of our Structures of Support project (SoS). He is willing to engage very fully in conversation as long as the environment supports and welcomes it—as long as the space is open. In many ways, I think most people are eager for space to participate—if only we might learn how to make room for them.

This weekend, Jeremy and I are hosting a conversation at Flying Kite where we hope to create space for a frank conversation about our neighborhood of Germantown. We’ll be using our project In a state far from equilibrium as a grounding object for the dialogue—asking participants to use the model of urban succession as a lens for thinking about our neighborhood. We’d like to explore how Germantown has changed over time and identify forces and assets in our community so we might better understand what is really at stake as this place shifts and transforms.

We may speculate about what might come of the relationships that form through this work, or the projects it might spin off. But we really can’t know what, if anything, will come of it. We can only open the space and invite others in to share what they know.


Personal Structures of Support: Pt. 2


My friend Chaplain Jeff and I have talked a lot about the Think Tank’s Structures of Support project. He works at a social services agency in Philly called The Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission. They provide support to those who, in many cases, have non-existent or weak networks. The support they offers varies but is often in the form of housing, food, spiritual support, or friendship.

For Chaplain Jeff and I, discussions of support often lead back to the physical environment. What is it about our landscape that has contributed to weak support structures? Or is it nostalgia that tricks us into believing that there was ever a time when kids were safely “free-ranged,” or when people asked their neighbors for a cup of flour, or when we knew just who to call when our car needed a jump.

I have long been convinced that the built world is at least one contributor to our ailing civil society. We traverse the landscape trapped safely in the bubble of our cars, only to be left vulnerable on the side of the highway when our tire goes flat. We search our cell phone for a person to call. But more likely, we remedy the anemic nature of our contact list by enrolling in (and paying for) a roadside assistance service—one of many “services” designed to do what our families, friends and neighbors used to do: help us in times of need.

I interviewed Chaplain Jeff a few weeks ago, and he shared some great insights into how the built environment has drastically affected the way he engages his neighbors. He draws out the differences between the town and the planned community by sharing stories about growing up in Lawrenceville, New Jersey and then moving to a planned community as an adult. Have a listen! (3 minutes)


Personal Structures of Support: Pt. 1

Katie & Her sister

As the Think Tank continues our exploration of support structures, we found ourselves discussing our own entry points into the project. Why are we so keenly interested in the development, maintenance, and furthering of robust support structures?

For myself, I am always interested in the stories we tell. How do we represent ourselves to others through personal narrative, and how does this narrative relate to what other people see. In graduate school, I became aware of some people’s attempt to distance themselves from the financial and emotional support they had received as children and young adults. Why is it a bad thing that your parents were able to send you to college? Why must you have done it all alone? For me, it seems tied to the myth of bootstrapping that is so pervasive in our national founding mythology. Can’t we break that cycle?

I feel very lucky to have been raised in a loving and supportive environment. I went to great schools, and my parents supported me through my undergraduate education. They continue to support me when I ask for help and when they can. And they are proud of the success I have had as a result of their support. They know, and I know, that I was given opportunities growing up on the far north side of Chicago that others were not–due to race, class, and other factors too numerous to name. Why can’t we (the royal we) acknowledge that inequity and work to change it?

Identifying our support structures and owning up to them is the first step in strengthening these networks and support structures for others.


Structures of Support – We need your help!


No one makes it through life entirely on her own. Holding up each of us is a structure of support that helps us maintain and nourish our quality of life. Some people have a robust, healthy support structure — so healthy that they are almost unaware of it. Others’ support structures are weak, unhealthy, even non-existent, and that lack of support often puts them at risk.

We want to develop a clearer understanding of how our support structures are created and maintained, and how we might then work to build more resilient and robust support structures in the future. We also want to break the mythology of bootstrapping that is so prevalent today and so embedded in the dominant narrative of our culture. In pursuing these questions, we need your help.

Based on our recent research and thinking, we have developed a survey which explores support structures — both personal and institutional. As the first step in a multi-phase project, this survey will provide us a baseline of data and stories. We imagine this information laying the groundwork for future workshops, visualizations, and conversations that probe our structures of support. In the survey we ask questions in four categories: Self Support, Space & Place, Others in your Life, and Quality of Life. Help us by taking fifteen minutes to share your story. All responses are voluntary and will be kept confidential.

To complete the Structures of Support survey, please follow this link.

What makes the Think Tank the Think Tank?

There are a million ways to narrate the past, and the Think Tank, like most collective ventures has a complex and varied history. As we explore the possible futures of our work we grapple with these two questions:

What makes the Think Tank the Think Tank?
What is the Think Tank now?

Looking to the past is rarely a way to plan for the future, but we hope these questions and subsequent conversations provide context and a location from which to depart.

Listen here for our responses:

What makes the Think Tank the Think Tank?


What is the Think Tank now?

We Are The Think Tank that has yet to be named

Over the last year, we have spent a considerable amount of time mining our history and discussing the possible futures of our collaboration. This website redesign and a reinvigorated practice are the results of that exploration. We are excited to begin working on new projects that continue to investigate complex sociopolitical issues through research, conversations, and actions.

This new website is also a nod to our past. The Think Tank began in 2006, and though our concerns have remained somewhat constant, the working structure and membership of the Think Tank has varied over our 6+ years. With this redesign we have removed the directorship titles, allowing visibility of our past collaborators in a way that we hope honors the challenging and enlightening perspectives they brought to our practice.

We can’t wait to share our developing projects with you. Take a look around. Join our mailing list. We hope you’ll be in touch.

Critical Spatial Practice (a view from Philadelphia)

In October of 2007 Jeremy Beaudry and Meredith Warner wrote the following report in order to interrogate the notion of critical spatial practice as it pertains to Philadelphia and the work of the Think Tank that has yet to be named, as well as other activist work being done in the city.

Many thanks to Markus [Miessen] and Teddy [Cruz] for their incisive posts (see this and this), for shifting this month’s conversation into more solid territory. In particular, we’ve found Teddy’s [Cruz] language to be incredibly productive in thinking about our practices as artists and activists. We’d like to contribute some very concrete examples of “critical spatial practice” which have everything to with everyday, sustained practices of citizen-activists/-artists working against violent instantiations of spatial politics on several fronts via a broad range of tactics. And this work is critical because 1) it is absolutely vital in how we make the world we want to live in and 2) it questions, challenges, negates the status quo. Also, appreciating Teddy’s work (and other’s on this list, no doubt) with border politics and the tenuous status of migratory peoples, we don’t mean to privilege “citizen” here in terms of any legal standing, but rather use it to describe invested, engaged residents of the demos, however that body comes together in common, structured spaces — er, cities.

Let’s get local, shall we? The complexities of Philadelphia’s dysfunction and pathology is a history too lengthy to relate here. It is structural, cultural, institutional, and it permeates the highest offices of civic government down to the families on our block. This pathology is chiefly characterized by a patronage style of governance whereby a small (like, really small) oligarchy of elected officials, union bosses, and heads of quasi-governmental development corporations summarily implement their own agendas to the complete exclusion of any meaningful public participation. (For example, witness the Penn’s Landing Corporation which owns a large chunk of Philly’s central riverfront property. It’s funded by taxpayers, yet decides in its secret board meetings how public land is to be developed.) The polis is repeatedly divided and pitted against itself in competition for the favors of this powerful elite. Consensus is systematically undercut, or falsely represented. There is also a strong sense of identification between Philadelphians as victims with their victimizers, resulting in an unhealthy deference to authority. Agency is an attribute unfamiliar to many of our fellow citizens. Repeatedly we see those in the citizenry who have power or the capacity to build power fail to use it or recognize it.

In the last few years, the problems inherent in the political climate just described have really come to a head around issues of large-scale urban land development, particularly along Philadelphia’s central Delaware Riverfront, which contains immense parcels of post-industrial land that has sat vacant for the previous 2-3 decades. It’s the familiar story of the post-industrial city re-branding itself as the new mecca of the leisure / creative class and all the expected accoutrements: condo towers, grand destination tourist attractions, instrumentalized arts and culture entertaiments, quaint beautification, escalated gentrification… it’s the neoliberal city and it’s magnificent! It goes without saying that this is all to the enrichment of the aforementioned cabal and to the exclusion of most Philadelphians. The disenfranchisement of citizens from any legitimate process that might ennoble self-determination has recently been exemplified by Pennsylvania’s recent foray into legalized, state-sanctioned (and subsidized) gambling on a scale and speed that is really unprecedented (eg. two 5,000 machine slots parlor casinos planned for the riverfront adjacent to residential neighborhoods). The fix has been in all along — from the passage of the gambling legislation in the middle of the night on July 4th weekend in 2004 to repeated state supreme court decisions that uphold gambling interests to the cozy alliances between elected officials, casino developers, and so-called regulators who stand to make billions.

What a gift we’ve been given! (And we’re only being partly facetious.) This casino clusterfuck has in fact mobilized hundreds across the city and served as a first trial by fire for many who had maybe not been paying attention nor ever considered themselves as activists. What started as small clusters of neighbors self-organizing in living rooms and barrooms in their respective communities to oppose this unsanctioned development on the riverfront evolved into city-wide networks of community activists and also expanded to embrace other development-related issues like eminent domain, gentrification and displacement, zoning code reform, accessible public lands, environmental protections and remediation, and open and transparent governance. The reckless process that ushered in these planned casinos is symptomatic of Philadelphia’s (and Pennsylvania’s) deep structural corruption. And more than that: it is symptomatic of the fractures that follow from neoliberal policies that our civic institutions have normalized.

It is this structural corruption, these egregious acts that together we meet head-on. And there is no doubt in our mind, or in the minds on our collaborators, that this is a battle. As Markus describes, “In war, enemy and adversary usually hold territory, which they can gain or lose, while each has a spokesman or authority that can govern, submit or collapse.” This is certainly the space we find ourselves operating in. We bind ourselves to this language of war because the acts taken by the state to determine our future are, by their nature, violent. It is structural violence, implemented by the state, to slowly strip the rights of the people to participate freely in a decision-making process about their environment and futures.

Returning to Kevin’s [Hamilton] question: “But are the military metaphors for our response really necessary, and how do they function here?” Yes, they are necessary — because of the very violent nature of conflict itself. War is conflict, and through conflict within the context of participation, change occurs. Ultimately Markus [Miessen] specifically clarifies what participation looks like by referring to it as “conflictual participation,” which is more descriptive of the kind of participation that we have experienced as activists in Philadelphia, and that we believe produces change. Linking these words “conflict” and “participation” seems obvious to us because without conflict, particiaption is rendered impotent. To quote Markus [Miessen] again, “When humans assemble, spatial conflicts arise.” In our experience, the absence of conflict within the forum of participation is a warning that participation is not actually occurring at all. Red flags go up!

When we insert ourselves into a space of conflict, we often think about thick and thin experiences of participation, or even the very notion of participatory democracy (thinking here of how that is defined in the Port Huron Statement). In our experience, thick participation occurs within smaller, more organically formed settings that have yet to coalesce into institutions. In these settings, there is usually no funding, no major backer, no particular political support — not to mention, these organizations are usually run by an all volunteer force that is very localized. Any romantic notion of cooperation (collaboration that happens with ease) is quickly dispelled by the level of conflict within the group. Thick participation is much like “conflictual participation”: it is mired in conflict; it is a slow, dirty trek through a thick slough with boots on that keep getting stuck. Although compromises and resolutions are part of the process, we have yet to see thick participation within a particular conflict come to a definitive end; it is either just that slow, or we have not been around long enough to experience it. What we are more inclined to believe is, rather, that thick participation does not end. It is a continual process that may require considerable entrenchment and longevity.

Conversely, settings for thin participation are organized by large, powerful institutions like cities, universities, large non-profits, and mainstream media outlets. These forums are generally marked by narrowly framed problems, convoluted processes for citizen involvement, pre-established controls which to limit the outcome of the participation, and the careful crafting of outcomes that ultimately benefits the institutions. Conveniently for you, busy Citizen, you need only show up on the appointed time, where we will feed you pizza and let you pick between choice A and choice B. Neither will you really find acceptable, but that is the price you pay for convenience! Thin participation is fast; your involvement in it is scant and has a defined end after which the institution “takes the reigns” so you can get back to your busy life. Thin participation is simply the veil of participatory democracy, a way for institutions to create forums for public input that ultimately legitimize projects whose outcomes have already been determined. In our experience in Philadelphia with organizing and advocating for citizen input and control in the development of the riverfront and in our neighborhoods, those in power that would do as they please rely in large part on tacit consent of citizens. (Well, to over simplify, democratic governments in general rely on tacit consent.) That is why thin participation is so insidious: via sham processes of participation, tacit consent is codified and reinscribed as explicit consent, the collective will of the people.

Our concern here is to develop some workable understanding of “critical spatial practice” from a purposefully contextualized perspective. Significantly, as we engaged in activist work, our work as artists changed too. The walls we had maintained around the citadel of Art were useless, even harmful, certainly false, and only enabling a scenario that Christiane accurately bemoans: “One could easily consider that the role of the artist has now melded with that of the court jester in our privatized realms.” (Stallabrass’ “Art Incorporated” has been helpful to us in this regard as well.) So a handful of us who are artists and had cut our teeth together “in the trenches” of this activist work in Philly formed a collaborative group called the Think Tank that has yet to be named because we understand firsthand the experience of “conflictual participation” that is essential to participatory democracy and working for change. But we also believe (selfishly?) that the language(s) of art has the power to open up spaces for meaningful discourse, critical consciousness, (dare I say it?) redemption, and perhaps even Kevin’s [Hamilton] “ethics of plenitude.”

The Think Tank formed around the recognition of a single phenomenon that we see present in each of the organizations or institutions we work in as activists: the presence of the “neutral” voice. The neutral voice is the voice of one who assumes some position of power in a group (usually the “benign” mediator/facilitator), but refuses to lead, or acknowledge his power. The neutral voice plays both sides of the field as it suits his own purpose, which is to remain a central figure in the process. The neutral voice often impedes upon any progress that might be made because the neutral voice avoids conflict. But the neutral voice is never neutral; he promotes his agenda through a series of indiscernible nudges rather than through outright leadership. In the participatory processes we are involved with this neutral voice is omnipresent.

This epidemic of neutrality informed the way in which the Think Tank organized itself. Each member (a word we use cautiously, though have no replacement for) self-appoints his own distinct Directorship. A Director’s title exposes biases, revealing the Director’s position in the context of an investigation. So we immediately declared our own respective agendas and made it a prerequisite of participation that any other self-appointed Directors do so as well.

One of the forms we created was the Publicly Held Private Meeting (PHPM). These are performative and collaborative site-specific interventions, and a format that we have used frequently in our investigations of contemporary urban issues in Philadelphia. Living, working, and organizing in Philadelphia, we rely on an intimate knowledge of the city in order to initiate and faciliate these dialogical projects. This knowledge is often gained over time through research, observation, and by virtue of simply sharing and negotiating space with others.

In these investigations we are also careful to implicate ourselves as artists, if necessary. For example: the current Directors all live in or around a gentrifying neighborhood in Philadelphia called Fishtown. In addition to the claimed “organic” process whereby artists are “pioneers” in the process of gentrification, there is also a formal mandate by the City of Philadelphia to transform the neighborhood of Fishtown into an “arts corridor.” So whether we came here because it was affordable, or because there were other artists we knew here, does not matter. We are implicated in the process, and it is certain that our presence will be used by the city to further its project (here we are back at the neoliberal city). So the investigation that occurs during a PHPM is understood through the exposure of each Director’s agenda via their title, but also through the implication of our presence in this neighborhood as both newcomers and artists. Teddy [Cruz] writes, “Since when are we all not implicated in the power structure?” The Directors understand this question and use self-exposure as an attempt not to diffuse power but to acknowledge and make visible the power and privilege we each wield and benefit from.

As activists, Teddy’s [Cruz] conception of “critical proximity” describes our point of entry into situations and institutions where we engage directly with “conflictual participation,” where we challenge power head on, where we expose the “power inscribed on the territory.” But this notion of “critical proximity” is also employed in our art practice, via our Directorships, to dissect the structure of power and the ways in which institutions manage space and populations. By examining spatial issues in a PHPM, at the site of contention, via a model of self-exposure, we hope to generate constructive dialogue that might bring to light new forms of action. But we also hope that our physical occupation of a site, and our engagements with those on or near the site, might create a spatial and psychic tear that exposes the very structures that orchestrate spatial injustice. Occupying the space in between our art and activist practices, we have found these onsite conversations, the PHPM, instrumental in reciprocally illuminating the strengths and weaknesses of each practice taken on its own. Perhaps, ultimately, art and activist practices need not be fully integrated, but exist, too, in “critical proximity” to one another so that we might create “counter procedures that can generate new models of possibility.”


Jeremy Beaudry and Meredith Warner

The above post was written as a contribution to a “critical spatial practices” discussion
thread on the -empyre- listserv in September 2007. The text was later edited and appended with a postscript for inclusion in the catalogue for “…in a most dangerous manner”, an exhibition curated for SPACES by Sarah Ross and Steven Lam in early 2010. This edited version can be downloaded here.