Image Conflict

Letter by Javier Arbona


Dear Iker,

In a previous conversation we had over Twitter, I mentioned something about turning in an image from the Demilit stash. Oh well. I think the image isn’t going to come out for this issue after all, unless you find an (unlikely!) wiki-leak. It’s a funny story, if I could remember how it goes. We tend to work in this way, full of doubts and second-guesses. Emails fly, and our excitement grows, until someone brings in questions. Conflict brews under the surface. What would an image accomplish in this case? What are we trying to convey, or are we only aiming to get chuckles and little brain sparks for a second? And so the circle goes, round and round.

I hesitate to call this kind of discussing and testing “research,” as has become all too common in art and architecture circles of late (once again). That’s not to say that we don’t have to turn to research at times, but to adopt such Floridian logics of the creative city economy would be to duplicate existing forms of conflict, and destructive forms of competition we see in the world: class conflict, knowledge conflict, data conflict, spatial conflict, urban conflict and more.

But I feel like I owe you a better explanation, because the issue on Conflict comes at such a crucial time. When we started Demilit a little over a year ago(!), to write a proposal for the Toward a Just Metropolis Conference at UC Berkeley, we had a very different idea, I suppose, about what we would be doing. Bryan Finoki has a post about it on Subtopia, for the curious. Conflict for us was, back then, a social and spatial product, one could say; a kind of permanent shock doctrine that the “war on terror” has spread into all corners of space and life. And organizing a panel was logical at the time.

But as Demilit has evolved over the past year, it has become more and more important for us to go outside and walk. We flirted with the idea of walking as a way of doing the original Berkeley panel itself, but then (surprise!) changed our minds. Conflict is inherently spatial. It has histories of built violence and symbolic violence in the landscape. It is perpetrated in such subtle ways, at times, that a spatial practice of exploring, listening, recording, and so on, not only becomes useful…It becomes a calling. Also, as we know, “conflict,” in its most polite and intellectual ways, is one of the most central devices of architecture-making. Without the debates there would be no such thing as a “modern” architecture. But if this is true, architecture’s most cherished ways of working are often those that are put in a sort of no-fly zone. The untouchable practices of the discipline are not open to question. (How would firms thrive if not by having a ready pool of predictable talent?) I’m of the opinion, and not to speak for my collaborators who may think differently, that it is now the time to identify the places in the architecture discipline where conflict is held back under a tense accord. Sometimes deleting the image is what architecture needs a bit of.

Javier Arbona


Javier Arbona is a PhD candidate in geography at UC Berkeley with a background in architecture and urbanism. His work looks at the politics and ideas of land use, spatial practices, design and visual culture, experimental landscapes, social movements, mappings, social theory, digital culture, and ephemera. | @javierest

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