Remembering Riots – An Archive of Suburban Dissent
“Thinking a Monument to Sub/Urban Riots” was a project that we started at the Academy Schloss Solitude in 2016 as a series of exhibitions, talks and workshops. We investigated the question of how to commemorate one of the seemingly least consensual political phenomenon in our societies, which has intensified in the last 50 years: the (sub)urban riots. On the one hand, in terms of political thought, even radical thought, it seems that the urban riot is always related to irrational violence and as a consequence, becomes a failure to concretize in a set of demands that would be “universalisable”. On the other hand, we asked if we want to rethink this “failure” in terms of another contested phenomenon: monument/commemoration. What memorial form can urban dissent assume? How to make visible the symptomatic absence of any permanent/productive thinking and form of memory about urban riots? Not only that there are no clear and direct monuments or memorial practices of urban riots, but in fact they are present/represented indirectly by the ‘monuments’ of those who defeated the riots: for example, in the form of a new police station and weaponized architecture after the riots. But perhaps there is a need to also point to those forms most absent, which are actually the forms enacted by the rioters themselves, their self-organisations, even if only grasping the short-term suspension of borders between “us and them”, between the urban periphery and centre. What is then the most distinct modality of riots? What can the monument to riot be/do? One of the goals of this on-going project is now to contribute, edit and collect various materials, practices, pamphlets, even a call to a monument for (sub)urban riots.
For the new online platform of Pages magazine we intend to bring together an interpretative archive of urban dissent: an archive that documents the failure to remember the riot, that interprets the absence of a productive memory and analysis, and the antagonizing presence of substitutive ‘monuments’ by the state.
Archive of suburban dissent
Susan Buck-Morss has long practiced mobilization of past emancipatory and invisible resources for present use; while being active in retrieving past material she called for specific re-appropriation of the archive, which entails both de-nationalization and de-privatization of the archive, and we could add, its de-colonization: training eyes and ears for the development of an emancipatory mode of reception that can uncover fragments of urban dissent, which has an extremely precarious and fragmented appearance. Urban riots violently disrupt the urban fabric and life, however they can be seen also as intensification of the everyday situation in the urban segregated areas. The riotous eruption is almost always followed by an exceptionally violent confrontation between police/state and rioters, which strengthens the side of the state through moralisation/criminalisation of rioters. This results in a media spectacle, which neglects the core causes of riots and lacks analysis regarding the radical modality of riots attacking the sacred core of social order and consensus.
This archive is not interested in a comprehensive assembling of material of all History of riots, but to collect and select those riots that address the structural inequalities beyond the ethnical identifications, and thus contribute to making visible mechanisms and logistics of urban exclusion, political domination and (non)exploitation. The intensified crisis of global capitalism with crisis of political representation of different political forms –such as party, trade union, even movement– indicate an increasing occurrence of urban riots. With every new riot we encounter, there comes also a reminder of past and future riots. In their interiority and modality riots know no private and national border, they rather dissolve the attachment to (private, but also state) property and the belonging to one ethnical/political/ideological signifier (great nation) by violent dissolution. In other words, riots seem to attack the sacred core and consensus of the liberal-capitalist state: private property, respect of order, and monopoly of physical violence. In this respect, riots and their memory, should become resistant but vital subjects-practices for Buck-Morss’ call of a denationalized-deprivatised-decolonised archive.
The archive of sub-urban riots will embody, gather and retrieve, but most of all re-interpret objects, documents and activities of the past and present riots, rioters, and the emerging future riots. Thus, an item/entry of the archive can be a living archive, testimony of rioters and their families, a poem, a film, or sounds and noises that are related to the riots. Sharing a more ambitious call for social transformation, the archive of urban dissent does not pretend to make a change or stand in place of the voice of the oppressed. What it shall do is to archive the riot as a political phenomenon with certain political patterns and conditions, and counter the idea of “irrational, singular eruption”, “criminal” instances, “unarticulated masses”. Its purpose is an ongoing research that potentially triggers solidarities among the marginalised/subaltern in different places.