XIII: Designing Politics. Architectures of Deliberation and Decision-Making (Markus Miessen, David Mulder van der Vegt & Florian Malzacher

epresentation they also organize and influence very concretely how legislative bodies work. The 13th edition of The Art of Assembly looks at how architecture shapes decision-making – and at what alternatives there might be. David Mulder van der Vegt, who has researched the design of the parliament halls of all 193 member states of the United Nations, reflects on the correspondence between their layout and the type of democratic structure they represent; Markus Miessen proposes the concept of “crossbenching” as a practice of independent individuals acting without mandate, and without having to respond to a pre-supposed set of protocols or consensual arrangements. 

DAVID MULDER VAN DER VEGT ° The Architecture of Assembly

Parliament is the space where politics literally takes shape. Here, collective decisions take form in a specific setting that organizes relationships between political actors through architecture. The architecture of spaces of political congregation is not just an abstract expression of a political culture – it participates in politics. Since 2010, architecture office XML has explored the double-sided relationship between space and politics in a series of projects, ranging from art installations, and research, to an interior for a meeting hall of European government leaders in Brussels. In 2016, the office published the book PARLIAMENT, that documents and compares the plenary halls of the parliaments of all 193 United Nation member states. Looking closer at the settings of these deliberative spaces and exploring their tactile and symbolic meaning, also raises questions about the ability of political spaces to envelop collective-decision-making for the specific challenges of today. Parliaments seem to be merely expressions of the past that anchor the political status quo. What role can architecture play in rethinking our models of collectivity? Can the architecture of parliaments provoke another politics? Comparing settings between East and West, North and South, democratic and authoritarian regimes, allows looking at national assemblies as more than mere ornamental and symbolic representations of national values, taking them seriously as actors in the shaping of future times.

MARKUS MIESSEN ° Crossbenching

“Crossbenching” is a practice of individuals acting without mandate, a conceptual frame that he generated out of the necessity to come to terms with a critique regarding normative forms of participation. His work as an architect has interrogated everyday spaces for pluralist governance and the spatial choreographies of how to set a setting. Crossbenching, as a practice, acknowledges the critical importance of social gathering based on the performative, the choreographic, and space as its mobilizing agent: the potential to think the question of democratic becoming through the physical scale (and design) of assembly. By presenting friction as a productive variable, he emphasises the emancipatory potential of architecture and design as a tool to shape what he calls “Cultures of Assembly”, a democratic setting, which is highly choreographed, while dealing with questions of physical proximity and accountability generating productive friction between its oppositional bodies. In a Mouffian sense, this produces a space for choreographed agonistic debate. Here, architecture and design become an enabler: both in terms of how an audience may react to it, but also in terms of how a setting influences the way its members talk to each other, and the way in which they interact. This is not to be mistaken with a form of social engineering. But rather: the power of the object.

IX: Reassambling Institutions (Ahmed Al-Nawas, Nora Sternfeld, Sarah Waterfeld / Staub zu Glitzer & Florian Malzacher)

Can institutions be driving forces of change? Or are they doomed to be bastions of the status quo, capable of slow reforms at best? Arguments about institutions, instituting and institutionalizing are at the core of many progressive movements. But what would it actually mean to imagine institutions in a radical democratic way? How can we understand museums, theatres, galleries, festivals, biennales as assemblies – not only symbolically but by consequently re-negotiating their organizational structures? Curator Ahmed Al-Nawas, focusing in his work on collaborative, anti-racist and de-colonizing practices, takes a close look at the role of authorship and representation within collectives. Nora Sternfeld, art educator and curator, negotiates the possibilities for a radical-democratic museum, imagining a future that is more than the mere extension of the present. And Sarah Waterfeld, spokesperson of the collective Staub zu Glitzer (Dust to Glitter) that occupied 2017 Volksbühne in Berlin with its transmedia theatre production B6112, demands a fundamental rethinking of the way the iconic ‘people’s theatre’ is run.

AHMED AL-NAWAS ° Parallel economies of thinking together

the necessity to rethink the elitism and whiteness nurtured by the Finnish art field and the need to be independent but still engaged and the need to have spaces where failure is embraced as a counter normative actions. Often this led to the creation of what Okwui Enwezor calls ”parallel economies of artistic productions”, as opposed to “alternative spaces”. In such productions, collective knowledge-based practices are used as a strategy to both challenge and unify the field of art. 

The Chruch of Stop Shopping © Savitri D

IV: Choirs of Precarity & Power (Claudia Bosse, The Church of Stop Shopping, Alia Mossallam & Florian Malzacher)

Choirs are a very specific form of assembling – from representing “the people” in Greek tragedy via all kinds of religious choirs, political choirs, revolutionary choirs up to the legendary human mic at Occupy Wall Street and the iconic chants at Tahrir Square in 2011. Theatre director Claudia Bosse, art theorist Alia Mossallam, and the activists of The Church of Stop Shopping discuss the potential (and perhaps dangers), the tenderness, the precarity and the power of synchronised singing, chanting, shouting along concrete artistic and activistic practices in Cairo, New York and Vienna.

ALIA MOSSALLAM ° To Chant the Worlds Away. The Anatomy of the 2011 Revolution

‘unshaken’. It was one of the newer chants that were infused into us on the 25th of January 2011 – every time the police launched an offensive, and people started to run, someone would shout “Ithabt” as he or she stopped moving, and then several would shout it, and then tens and hundreds, until thousands would stop. I would close my ears and squeeze my eyes shut and let the thousands of voices shake through me, shake out the fear, and stabilise my resolve.

Julia Ramirez Blanco

II: Assemblies as Backbones of Social Movements (Oliver Ressler, Julia Ramírez-Blanco & Florian Malzacher)

The General Assembly has been at the core of many social movements during the last decade: A zone of gathering, of building community, of experimenting with the way democracy can function. A space not only for trying out but living a different kind of decision making. Art historian Julia Ramírez-Blanco (Barcelona) just finished a book on the Spanish 15M movement, Oliver Ressler (Vienna) is one of the main documentarists of worldwide social mobilizations since many years. In the second edition of Gesellschaftsspiele – The Art of Assembly they reflect the crucial role of collective decision making for developing political alternatives.

Oliver Ressler "Take the Square" (2012) Filmstill

OLIVER RESSLER ° Voices to Reckon with

Assemblies provide a crucial platform for direct decision-making in any attempt to make societies more inclusive and democratic, more just and less hierarchical than those existing today. For a long time now, assemblies have also played a central role in Oliver Ressler’s films and video installations. Together with Dario Azzellini, he produced a cycle of films on factories under workers’ control in Europe. Before that he filmed the Square and Occupy movements in Athens, Madrid and New York. His latest film shows a four-hour assembly in Madrid in October 2019, where delegates from various environmental groups gathered to prepare an act of civil disobedience to foster climate rebellion.

Julia Ramirez Blanco

JULIA RAMÍREZ-BLANCO ° Assembly as Performance. The Mass Assemblies of the 15M Movement

Assemblies are normally held on a scale that allows for direct discussion and participation. However, during the Spanish protest camps of the 15M movement in 2011, massive assemblies defied these notions by blowing up scale, and also challenged the idea of a more or less fixed group that thinks about issues with a certain continuity. These mass assemblies, in turn, emphasized the performativity and the rituality. Julia Ramírez-Blanco addresses the potential and contradictions of those mass assemblies and discusses the evolution of the format toward a more manageable form in the neighborhood assemblies.