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School of Architecture Hosts Public Space Conference for EU TRADERS Project

As one of six international partners of the EU project 'Training Art and Design Researchers for Participation in Public Space' (TRADERS), the RCA’s School of Architecture will host the project’s consolidating event on 21–22 November 2016. After three years of multidisciplinary research and a wide range of international events, TRADERS will draw to a close in a cross-disciplinary conference entitled ‘Mediations: Art & Design Agency and Participation in Public Space’ that offers a collective deconstruction and problematisation of the notion of citizen participation in art and design, within the context of public space.

TRADERS is an EU FP7 Marie Curie Multi-ITN funded project that focuses on enabling an exchange of experiences and knowledge in the field of participation in art and design. Different art and design-based research methods including intervention, mapping, data mining, play, dialogue and curating have been explored by six early-career researchers, working collectively and individually through workshops, performances, exhibitions and publications. Projects range from Michael Kaethler’s Knowledge and the Curatorial, based at KU Leuven, Belgium, to Annelies Vaneycken’s Designing for Children's Empowerment at the University of Gothenburg. 

At the RCA, Saba Golchehr has been researching Designing Democracy In The Data City, exploring how designers can find new agency by critically adopting data-driven approaches aimed at citizen empowerment in the design and development of the built environment. Based in the School of Architecture, Saba’s research is supervised by RCA Senior Tutor Adrian Friend, as well as Professor Susannah Hagan from the University of Westminster. 

Conference organiser Golchehr explains, ‘during the conference we will address the relevancy of cross-disciplinary platforms, such as TRADERS, for enabling exchange between practice and research. Furthermore, with this conference we aim to trigger a critical awareness amongst an art and design audience regarding their role and agency in participatory projects.’

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, economical, 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 top­down and bottom-up models, between theory and practice, ideas and action. During the forthcoming conference, the means, modes and practices used by artists and designers to mediate between multiple actors and diverse agencies will be questioned. 

One of the key TRADERS project aims is 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 will therefore explore 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 (Konstfack University College of Arts Crafts and Design), Jane Rendell (The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL), Susannah Hagan (University of Westminster) and Usman Haque (Umbrellium) will explore 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.

Lead scientist for the TRADERS project and conference organiser Adrian Friend points out that, ‘public space has now become a valuable lens whereby art and design education is made visible as well as a valuable pedagogic tool to develop critical awareness and promote creative behaviour’. Friend highlights the connection between this conference and the 1968 ‘Movement for Re-Thinking Art and Design Education (MORADE)’, held in London’s Roundhouse, where contributors tackled the recurrent theme of the relationship of Art to Society. 

Friend continues that it was then ‘agreed that a primary function of art education is the extension of understanding of the role or roles – actual and potential – of the artist designer and that a world which does not know ‘what art is about’ will neither be able to use it rightly nor concede it is a proper status. This is as relevant today as it was 50 years ago, making the TRADERS conference an important reaffirming voice for the relevance and future of art and design education sustained through and by research methods’.

Dean of the RCA School of Architecture, Dr Adrian Lahoud, has similarly emphasised the relevance of the 2016 ‘Mediations’ conference, stating, ‘This event will explore important and timely themes around concepts of public space, citizenship and access to political power. Themes that are of interest to anyone with a stake in the built environment.’

According to Golchehr, TRADERS aims to bridge the gap between art and design practice and research by providing a space to trade knowledge, ideas and opinions on participatory art and design through several project outputs, such as an online discussion forum TRADERStalk, a final exhibition (Spring 2017), a book publication and a special journal issue in CoDesign (Autumn 2017). 

At the November conference, there will also be different modes of delivery. As well as traditional paper presentations, there will be an interactive exhibition session, where a co-curatorial approach will be employed to rethink theory through art and design practices. The workshop aims to unpack the notion of agency and expand its definitional contours by rooting it in practice and exploring it collectively through conceptual mapping.

The organisers hope that the notions and ideas emerging from the discussions will plant seeds for further explorations and will support a continuing development of more international and transdisciplinary research projects within the art and design disciplines.  

Read more about research and activities carried out by the EU TRADERS project
Conference registration closes Friday 4 November 2016
Click here to view the conference programme

Conference Dates
Monday 21 – Tuesday 22 November 2016 

Conference Location
Royal College of Art, Kensington Gore, London SW7 2EU