polis: a collective blog about cities worldwide

DiverCity: An Interview With Ana Betancour

by Rebecka Gordan

For those spending Saturday in Gothenburg, Sweden, the seminar Urban Cultures: On Art, Architecture, Social Movements, and Everyday Life is taking place at the Gothenburg City Museum on May 28th.

The lineup includes Stockholm architect and artist Tor Lindstrand with his group Economy, Argentinian photographer Oriana Elicabe of Rebel Voices, London-based design practice Post Works, and Spanish artist-activist collective Enmedio.

The program is part of a project called DiverCity, founded by architect, professor, and artist Ana Betancour. We interviewed Ana recently about her work.

One of the aims of DiverCity is to deepen contemporary discourse on sustainability. In your mind, what is currently missing?

It predominantly focuses on technical and physical aspects of urban development. Thus, sustainability becomes a way of sustaining a contemporary way of living — and sustainable strategies a way of optimizing energy, consumption, etc.

There is an urgent need to address and expand the debate on urban ecology, to focus on issues of cultural and social representation — what kind of everyday life do we imagine and for whom are we creating a sustainable urban future? Who makes these choices and where and how do they operate?

Your work is international in scope, including a fascinating study of residential segregation and exclusion in Mexico. Have you noticed any similar situations in Sweden and Gothenburg?

Raising issues of exclusion and segregation requires a closer examination and understanding of the structures of power that create and reinforce these conditions, whether in Latin America, Africa, Asia, or Europe.

The intention in this is to find ways to begin to understand and translate cultural differences in urban development, involving local processes and space for negotiation. What are the modes of working, and what is the role artistic and spatial practices can have in social, environmental, and political change? How can we develop strategies for a social and ecological urban development process? How can we develop a city of diversity?

The seminar on Saturday will focus on art in relation to public space and architecture. What new developments do you foresee in this field? Can art be a viable approach to changing cities?

"Art in the Public Space," "Art as Intervention," "Art and its Context," and "Art and Social Critique" refer to rethinking the conventional role of the spectator as a passive receiver and consumer. They suggest a shift in the creative process and new tendencies in artistic practice, where the focus is not the work of art or the object, but the tools, strategies, and modes of working.

Networks of art activism, collaborative art projects, and direct acts of civil disobedience also suggest a notable shift in the role of the artist. Here the creative processes and artworks are defined as part of networks, and these networks are, by extension, political subjects.

These artistic practices involve the social and cultural production of space, and the role of artistic production in creating a framework for spatial negotiations. The artist/architect becomes a cultural producer and a node within local and global social networks, helping to generate public debate.

What can we expect from the seminar?

We have invited various artists from Barcelona, London, and Hamburg to present their ways of working, with the aim of catalyzing public debate on the role of art and architecture in social change.

The seminar presents a series of artistic groups, forms of creative dissent, and collaborative art projects at the intersection of public art and new social movements. These projects are developed in response to processes of homogenization, gentrification, and privatization.

Exploring these practices — the tools, strategies, modes of working — might lead to alternative strategies and frameworks for action, drawing upon the notion of culture as a resource to be mobilized for social justice.

Ana Betancour teaches at the A + URL Architecture + Urban Research Laboratory at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm and at the Chalmers School of Architecture in Gothenburg. She is also a partner at the architectural practice U+A Agency. 

Credits: Photo of V de vivienda, a demonstration for affordable housing in Barcelona, from Oriana Eliçabe. Photo of Ana Betancour from Ana Betancour.