As one of the six international partners of the TRADERS, the RCA’s School of Architecture hosted our project’s closing conference on the 21–22 November 2016. After three years of multidisciplinary research and a wide range of international events such as Autumn Schools, training weeks and exhibitions, we aimed to open the project up to a wider audience in a cross-disciplinary conference entitled ‘Mediations - Art & Design Agency and Participation in Public Space’.
The theme of ‘Mediations’ for the project’s closing conference relates to the activities of artists and designers working in the context of public space. Here they must deal with discrepancies between a multiplicity of forces, concerns and ‘actors’: forces can be political, economic, environmental or legal; concerns relate to areas like social justice, privatisation and digitisation, and the actors are the citizens, policy makers, or urban planners. Artists and designers who aim to empower citizens need to mediate between various aspirations in order to help bring about desired social and political change. Mediations take shape between different stakeholders and situations, from client to public, within top-down and bottom-up models, between theory and practice, ideas and action. During the conference, the means, modes and practices used by artists and designers to mediate between multiple actors and diverse agencies were questioned.
One of the key conference aims was to scrutinise the ethical implications, such as artists’ and designers’ accountability, that are inherent to participatory processes yet often remain underexplored by practitioners when working with, or in service of, the public. The conference therefore explored how artists and designers can become critically aware of their agency in the pursuit of empowering publics in decision-making and co-creation in relation to public space(s). The keynote speakers Ramia Mazé (Department of Design, Aalto University), Jane Rendell (The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL), Susannah Hagan (University of Westminster) and Usman Haque (Umbrellium) explored how different participatory approaches can reconfigure existing power relations in art and design processes, looking at issues of gender, changing attitudes towards the design and production of public spaces over the last decades, and how new technologies can promote greater citizen participation in the design, use and sustainability of public space.
In order to facilitate dialogue amongst our conference participants on the paper presentations, exhibited projects and keynote sessions, we designed a ‘Wall of Proceedings’. This installation allowed participants to assemble their own proceedings, using keywords to arrange the content.
So, rather than offering participants a completed publication of the conference proceedings, we invited them to assemble their own personal publication. The wall also contained the session introductions, keynote abstracts and a selection of keywords to help categorise the content. We informed the participants that there was no strict order, rigid hierarchy or right/wrong way of assembling their publication, and that, in fact, we invited them to look for (new) connections and associations between the items, both emerging from the conference sessions and discussions as well as following their own logic and intuition. With this installation, we hoped the curation process would help participants create a personalised collection of work, to revisit during and after the conference, and to use as a tool for mediating, sharing and deliberating emerging concepts with fellow participants and peers. Next to these printed proceedings we also published a complete digital publication of the conference proceedings on the TRADERS website (www.tr-aders.eu/conference/proceedings/).