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Marcos P. Dias

Chapter 1 provides a participatory account of A Machine To See With, a performative art intervention in urban space by Blast Theory. This is used as a basis to reflect on how participation unfolds in performance art as it is assembled with everyday urban interactions. This account highlights the multiple modes of participation that emerge from the assemblage of artistic narrative, urban space and digital technologies. These modes are subject to technological failure and the many ways in which participants interpreted the artistic narrative of the performance. The importance of tracing relations between actants and analysing their agency is supported by Actor-Network Theory’s (ANT) argument about the difference between mediator actants (actively reconfiguring meaning) and intermediary actants (who simply transport meaning). This is followed by an account of Blast Theory, a renowned artist collective, and some of its most relevant digitally mediated performance art projects: Desert Rain, Can You See Me Now? and Uncle Roy All Around You. These projects illustrate common features across Blast Theory’s body of work, such as the ability to generate hybrid spaces, create playful and fictional interventions in urban space, employ ambiguous narratives and challenge participants to reflect on their ability to trust strangers in urban space.

in The machinic city
Abstract only
Media, performance and participation
Author:

The machinic city investigates the role of performance art to help us reflect on contemporary urban living, as human and machine agency become increasingly intermingled and digital media is overlaid onto the urban fabric. This is illustrated by several case studies on performance art interventions from artists such as Blast Theory, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer and Rimini Protokoll, which draw from a rich history of avant-garde art movements to create spaces for deliberation and reflection on urban life and to speculate on its future. As cities are increasingly controlled by autonomous processes mediated by technical machines, the performative potential of the aesthetic machine is analysed, as it assembles with media, Capitalist, human and urban machines. The aesthetic machine of performance art in urban space is analysed through its different – design, city and technology actants. This unveils the unpredictable nature and emerging potential of performance art as it unfolds in the machinic city, which consists of assemblages of efficient and not-so-efficient machines. The machinic city pays particular attention to participation, describing how digitally mediated performance art interventions in urban space foreground different modes of subjectivity emerging from human and machine hybrids. This highlights the importance of dissensus as a constitutive factor of urban life and as a means of countering machinist determinism in present and future conceptualisations of city life.

Marcos P. Dias

Chapter 5 opens with a discussion of the process of researching performance art in urban space and recording patterns of participation and the challenges faced by the researcher. Three modes of participation identified in A Machine To See With are discussed: play (game-like and immersive participation), exploration (reflective and emotional engagement) and critique (the desire to understand the mechanics of the narrative). These are illustrated by case studies on participants. Participatory failure and participant reconfiguration of the artistic narrative are discussed by referring to performance art projects from Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. This is followed by a critique of the concept of the emancipated spectator and the acknowledgement (based on Rancière’s argument) of the process of artistic narration and participant translation, where the latter might diverge significantly from the stated aims of the artist. This in turn highlights the importance of dissensus as a desirable outcome of both performance art projects (through multiple modes of machinic subjectivity) and everyday life in the contemporary city. This chapter concludes with a participatory account of Ciudades Paralelas, a series of performances that intervene in the functional spaces of the city and that demand active participation and reflection from participants.

in The machinic city
Marcos P. Dias

Chapter 2 provides a detailed breakdown of the different components of A Machine To See With, categorising them as design, technology and city actants. The design actants are related to the process of planning, designing and producing the performance. This includes the locative cinema commission for the performance and the detailed production of each design component, including the narrative, the adaptation of the project to the local ‘stage’ (the city of Brighton) and the testing and promotion of the event. The analysis of the technology actants in the performance includes the infrastructure network mediating the event (including two computer servers located in different countries); the programming of the interface; the state machine, a custom piece of software that can be adapted to respond to prompts from users and computational devices. The user’s mobile phone is also discussed as a technology actant and as the point of contact between the main interface and the participant. The analysis of the city actants includes urban furniture and a BMW car that was part of a key exchange in the performance (the partnering up of participants unknown to each other). This chapter ends with a description of how the fictional narrative of the performance was successful in drawing bystanders into the performance. This is illustrated through several accounts provided by participants.

in The machinic city
Abstract only
Marcos P. Dias

Chapter 3 reconceptualises the term ‘machine’ from a technical device to a device with abstract potential and multiple forms. Five main types of machines that are constitutive of both performance art (as a form of aesthetic machine) and urban life are analysed in this chapter: performative, media, Capitalist, human and urban machines. A particular emphasis is placed on the importance of assembling efficient with not-so-efficient machines, and on the potential of machine failure to trigger unexpected but meaningful events. The performative machine is discussed through existing theoretical frameworks of performance that foreground its potential for enabling improvisation and reflection. The media machine is conceptualised through the dominant power of media in contemporary society as the most important commodity. The Capitalist machine is described as a resilient actant that adapts and resists any attempts to criticise or confront it. The human-machine is described through the paradigm of the posthuman and its connection to the cybernetic machine. It is conceptualised as a hybrid where human beings and technological apparatus are assembled to produce new modes of subjectivity. The urban machine is defined through its double role as a stage for performance but also as a collective of actants. Following the analysis of these machines, a definition of machinic subjectivity is provide by referring to Guattari’s definition of the machine and his focus on the aesthetic machine as a means of eschewing the homogeneity of capitalist subjectivity.

in The machinic city
Urban platforms and metropolitan logistics

African cities and collaborative futures: Urban platforms and metropolitan logistics brings together scholars from across the globe to discuss the nature of African cities – the interactions of residents with infrastructure, energy, housing, safety and sustainability, seen through local narratives and theories. This groundbreaking collection, drawing on a variety of fields and extensive first-hand research, offers a fresh perspective on some of the most pressing issues confronting urban Africa in the twenty-first century. Each of the chapters, using case studies from Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, South Africa and Tanzania, explores how the rapid growth of African cities is reconfiguring the relationship between urban social life and its built forms. While the most visible transformations in cities today can be seen as infrastructural, these manifestations are cultural as well as material, reflecting the different ways in which the city is rationalised, economised and governed. How can we ‘see like a city’ in twenty-first-century Africa, understanding the urban present to shape its future? This is the central question posed throughout this volume, with a practical focus on how academics, local decision-makers and international practitioners can work together to achieve better outcomes.

Open Access (free)
Situating peripheries research in South Africa and Ethiopia
Paula Meth
,
Alison Todes
,
Sarah Charlton
,
Tatenda Mukwedeya
,
Jennifer Houghton
,
Tom Goodfellow
,
Metadel Sileshi Belihu
,
Zhengli Huang
,
Divine Mawuli Asafo
,
Sibongile Buthelezi
, and
Fikile Masikane

This chapter examines the operationalising of research focused on understanding how transformation in the spatial peripheries of South African cities and an Ethiopian city is shaped, governed and experienced. We discuss both intellectual and methodological challenges and insights of undertaking the research which has at its core a desire to understand the dynamics and drivers of change and the ‘lived experiences’ of residents living on the peripheries of cities, using a mixed qualitative methods approach. We reflect upon and propose conceptualisations concerning terms such as periphery, ‘drivers of change’ and what or whose lived experiences are captured or can be known. In doing so we point to preliminary findings and consider issues of comparability and differentials in data depth and coverage. The chapter concludes by highlighting the richness of researching the peripheries.

in African cities and collaborative futures
Open Access (free)
Learning from communities in informal settlements in Durban, South Africa
Maria Christina Georgiadou
and
Claudia Loggia

In South Africa, over half the population live in urban centres, with one in five households living in informal settlements. Such unplanned settlements form a major challenge in the urban landscape, exacerbating issues related to poverty, inadequate infrastructure, housing and poor living conditions. This chapter investigates various interpretations of self-help approaches, as the term is understood in different ways by informal dwellers, community organisations and external stakeholders, using experiences and lessons learned from good available practice in the Durban metropolitan area. Community participation through co-production strategies and participatory action research methods are used to understand the level of community empowerment and sense of local ownership. The concept of self-building is analysed in terms of identifying key success factors for supporting self-help activities by local government and community support organisations. The study also explores issues related to the project management of a community-led upgrading project, including the role of stakeholder management, procurement and project governance. Empirical data is gathered in the form of semi-structured interviews, observations and focus groups with community leaders, non-governmental organisations, municipal officers and industry practitioners. The research aims to build capacity in local communities seeking to improve their living conditions and assist local authorities in enhancing their planning mechanisms.

in African cities and collaborative futures
Inclusive urban energy transformations in spaces of urban inequality
Federico Caprotti
,
Jon Phillips
,
Saska Petrova
,
Stefan Bouzarovski
,
Stephen Essex
,
Jiska de Groot
,
Lucy Baker
,
Yachika Reddy
, and
Peta Wolpe

In this chapter, we discuss the key issue of how to envisage a just, fair and equitable energy transformation in the South African context. We argue that the move towards a new energy landscape cannot simply be described as a transition, but more accurately (in light of the need to involve multiple scales and actors, and to manage complex development outcomes) as a societal transformation. We also ask the key question of what a just and equitable transformation might look like in the context of South Africa in 2030. The chapter was co-written by scholars with multiple theoretical perspectives and backgrounds, and by practitioners at Sustainable Energy Africa, a Cape Town-based organisation centrally involved in promoting urban energy transformations that are both low carbon and equitable.

in African cities and collaborative futures
Open Access (free)
From an ‘infrastructural turn’ to the platform logics of logistics
Michael Keith
and
Andreza Aruska de Souza Santos

The conclusion of the volume considers ways in which the collection speaks to the future of urban studies globally as well as the particular challenges of African cities. It suggests that the chapters in the volume share a disposition that supports ‘translational research’ that advances urban studies from a concern with the powers of infrastructures of the city to a complementary but alternative focus on the architecture of the platform economies they configure and the logistics through which cities themselves manage to function in even the most challenging circumstances. While the introduction focused on the fashion in which different forms of disciplinary expertise and science ‘lands’ in the African city, the conclusion addresses the ways in which the work of the contributors to this volume speaks to forms of global governance and international city networks, claims made in the name of the Anthropocene understanding of the urban system at planetary scale, the dynamics of climate change and the contours of global political economy. The conclusion draws on the work of anthropologist Jane Guyer to highlight the need to combine a sense of the path dependencies of urban form (their legacies), the structures of scientific knowledges that make the workings of cities visible (their logics) and the forms of infrastructural combinations that lubricate their working (their logistics).

in African cities and collaborative futures