When we in the West, or in the industrialized, technologized countries, congratulate ourselves on having an infrastructure— functioning institutions, systems of classification and categorization, archives and traditions and professional training for these, funding and educational pathways, excellence criteria, impartial juries, and properly air conditioned auditoria with good acoustics, etc.—we forget the degree to which these have become protocols that bind and confine us in their demand to be conserved or in their demand to be resisted.
Following philosopher Michel Feher, and his thinking about the impact of NGOs as modes of counter-governmental organization, the shift from consumers to stakeholders has significantly altered our understanding of infrastructures. This shift sees the move from properly functioning structures that serve to support something already agreed upon, to the recognition of ever-greater numbers of those who have a stake in what they contribute to or benefit from. By this we mean an “infrastructure-in-the-making” rather than one that enables something else taking place. Much of the more activist-oriented work within the art field has taken the form of re-occupying infrastructure: using the pre-existing spaces and technologies, budgets and support staffs, and recognized audiences in order to do something quite different.
We think of infrastructure as enabling, we think that it is an advantageous set of circumstances through which we might redress the wrongs of the world, to redress the balance of power within a post-slavery, postcolonial, post-communist world of endless war. This redress is always a binding of representation enfolded within the structures of a seemingly dignifying infrastructure. We see this across a broad spectrum whether this be an inclusion of a discussion of slavery in the protocols of the UN (“World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance,” Durban, 2001) or the inclusion of a neglected and invisible artistic tradition such as art from the Arab world into the schedule of an august western institution such as the Museum of Modern Art (Without Boundary: Seventeen Ways of Looking, New York, 2006). But whatever the position, there is a sense that the incorporation of this work into the ultimate infrastructure—political, cultural, or technocratic—that ignored its very existence for so long, is a benchmark, a contested one, but definitely a benchmark of a seeming change in attitudes.
Given the investment in what it means to be included in or in possession of infrastructure, we need to think it far beyond the original Keynesian model of basic physical and organizational structures needed for the operation of a society or an enterprise, and towards the recognition that it has come to stand in for a set of prized values that continuously celebrate the achievements of the West.
Infrastructure is developed for FORMER WEST: Documents, Constellations, Prospects by free thought, a loose collaborative platform for research, pedagogy, and production based in London. This series of lectures and workshops encompasses theoretical formulations of infrastructure stemming from art theory, management studies, urbanism, economic models, and practice-driven investigations dealing with institutions, archives, industries, and urban spaces and patterns. In addition, we include the initial explorations—artistic projects-in-process developed together with students of Learning Place—of several artists who begin to develop new pathways of understanding of infrastructure.