The Activist Object

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The wave of political uprising in recent years has made visible the inventiveness and creativity that characterizes contemporary social movements and political activism. Digital infrastructures, mundane technologies, ad-hoc architectures, and new modes of narrating and documenting are refurnishing the political practices of activists and citizens. We know that politics is not only made of discourse, on the contrary, it is made of objects and infrastructures that we should take into careful consideration. We want to draw inspiration from this insight to approach the material culture of political activism. Specifically we intend to explore the precarious condition of the improvised design of activist objects and the implication of practices of documenting and curating political materials.

Curating the Activist Object aims to approach the political life of objects drawing on theoretical approaches to politicised objects more broadly conceived. We want to explore the entanglement of practices of design, documentation and curation, as they are framed and tested by academics, curators, activists and artists. We ask in which contexts and through which dynamics these objects are designed and forged? Is the circulation of documentation what transforms an otherwise mundane object into an activist one? Is the documentation (the creation and circulation of photos, videos, websites) an activist practice in itself? Is it possible to curate and exhibit objects without disarming their distinctive political capacity?

This website is an archive that we think as an experimental site from which to explore the documentation of activist objects. In the next 6th and 7th of July of 2014 we will organized a two day workshop around this topic in the May Day Rooms in London (More information here). It continues a previous meeting held at the Victorian & Albert Museum in September 2013 [More information on the history LINK]. If you are interested we invite you to activate your imagination in the exercise of documenting activist objects and send us a proposal.

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Materiality of a workshop

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Invitation Letter 1

As part of the workshop on ‘Curating the Activist Object’ we wanted to engage the materiality of documentation from the start so we send a written invitation with the details of how we were planning this event. We asked presenters in the first workshop to send us back a short text/provocation concerning the object that they presented at the Victoria & Albert Museum in September 2013, including images, video, and/or text.

Invitation Letter 2

Curating Activist Object, a two day workshop

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6 -7 July 2014
May Day Rooms (Map), 88 Fleet Street, London EC4Y 1DH

The wave of political uprising in recent years has made visible the inventiveness and creativity that characterizes contemporary social movements and political activism. Digital infrastructures, mundane technologies, ad-hoc architectures, and new modes of narrating and documenting are refurnishing the political practices of activists and citizens. We know that politics is not only made of discourse, on the contrary, it is made of objects and infrastructures that we should take into careful consideration. We want to draw inspiration from this insight to approach the material culture of political activism. Specifically we intend to explore the precarious condition of the improvised design of activist objects and the implication of practices of documenting and curating political materials.

In this workshop we want to approach the social life of activist objects drawing on theoretical approaches to politicised objects more broadly conceived. We want to explore the entanglement of practices of design, documentation and curation, as they are framed and tested by academics, curators, activists and artists. We ask in which contexts and through which dynamics these objects are designed and forged? Is the circulation of documentation what transforms an otherwise mundane object into an activist one? Is the documentation (the creation and circulation of photos, videos, websites) an activist practice in itself? Is it possible to curate and exhibit objects without disarming their distinctive political capacity?

This initiative will be organized around a workshop and a website that will create an archive as an experimental site from which to explore the documentation of activist objects. It continues a previous meeting held at the Victorian & Albert Museum in September 2013. We invite participants in the workshop to explore the work of documenting what they consider an activist object. The document could be a photo or a collection of images, a text, a video, or a recording of a story. We invite you to activate your imagination in the exercise of documenting activist objects.

More information: ‘Curating the Activist Object’ 

On curating activist objects

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A video tutorial of the Occupy movement explaining how to record a demonstration, a website of Gezzy Park in Turkey posting sketches that show in detail the precarious architectural constructions in the square, or a collection of placards of the Spanish indignados kept in an squatted building later evicted by the police… the uprising of new social movements all around the world since 2010 has made visible the material effort that has refurnished the city with new political forms. It is known that in the analysis of politics we not only should take into consideration the materiality of politics but that material things are political objects too. Social movements are characterized by particular repertories of practices and modes of organization that imprint their political forms. We assume that their material culture has a particular political condition too; the infrastructures and objects mobilized by social movement have a distinctive political condition that we want to explore through the notion of ‘activist object’.

Digital infrastructures have produced intense changes in the forms of organization of social movements, but they have made visible their materiality too. Tutorials, photos, videos, websites, digital archives… account for the everyday activity in social movements and preserve their history in digital repositories, archives and collections. The intensification of documenting and archiving practices is especially evident in the case of the Occupy movement which documented its own existence on the Internet since its beginning. We think that these gestures reveal the reflexive stance of social movements towards the preservation of their own history and material culture and gives expression to the extension of the archive in our society. Documenting and archiving are however only two of a set of practices that are mobilized in the preservation of material culture among activists. Collecting placards, leaflets; documenting ephemeral interventions in photos and videos, building and curating websites and digital archives are part of this effort. It seems that these practices are usually located in sites chosen very carefully and that the circulation of these objects to mainstream institutional sites is full of difficulties; in this situation the activist object reveals the tension between the modes of publicity deployed by social movements and those of more conventional institutions like museums or public archives.

We want to approach activist objects through the entanglement of practices that social movements mobilize in the preservation and care of their material culture; exploring the processes of collecting, documenting, archiving and curating activist objects, both inside and outside the movements. What is the relation between the activist condition of certain objects and the practices that take care of their preservation? Is the circulation of documentation what activates an otherwise mundane object into an activist one? Is the documentation of certain practices (photos, videos, websites…) an activist practice in itself? Which kind of political relationality is enacted by activist objects in their circulation? How to curate and exhibit objects without disarming their distinctive political capacity? What kind of transformation takes place when an activist object becomes part of a museum collection? Might it be possible to collect, document and preserve such objects without deactivating their political potential?