We learn that Assemble’s Amica Dall has sent a pre-recorded video; a conversation between herself and Assemble co-founder Giles Smith.
A quote flashes on the screen:
“The city is man’s most consistent and his most successful attempt to remake the world he lives in. But if the city is the world man has created, it is the world in which he is henceforth condemned to live. Thus indirectly, without a clear sense of the nature of his task, in making the city man has made himself.”
- David Harvey quoting Richard Parks, The Right to the City, New Left Review, 2014.
During the next 20 minutes, the declarion of subjectivity arouses itself in two locations dressed as vignettes of public space in London; first in Granary Square and second in Glamis Adventure playground. The segments intersperse between plays of atmospheric long shots, and closeups of nothing in particular, accompanied by disembodied and meandering musings on public spaces by two underprepared and badly read subjects in themselves (I presume they are poorly read as they keep reminding us of all the great books they can quote).
The conversation is hard to follow, not because of its rigour, but because of its lack of articulation. Quotes include:
“I think its beautiful but its also ugly” — in reference to a playground
“our control of water is kind of like another thing”
“it does something interesting, it makes the environment constantly change”
“the way we talk about flexibility it is quite often a refusal to make a decision, and quite often the refusal of someone else to make a decision” — a tautology (note: employing a tautology is generally considered to be a fault of style)
Language issues aside, organising the ‘now’ as the subject in the documentation of place (and withholding view of the speakers) could have yielded a productive discovery. Indeed, whilst most speakers so far have recounted projects and explained their practices, arguably to the point of limiting opportunities for meaningful discourse on the conference themes, Assemble tried something different. The choice of the playground promoted a desire to engage directly with the notion of ‘play’, reflected further in the choice to use children within the footage: the subject was formed in play — as a community. Despite this, the bloated informality of the discussion that did occur reduced any constitutive revelation.
As an essay film enthusiast myself (‘Letters to Max’ anyone?), Assemble’s attempt to join an increasing trend of replicating ‘informal’ conversations around staged happenings of critical discourses was misguided, mishandled and misanthropic. It represented the very worst type of interaction that exists between architecture and art, where functional compliance is replaced by airy solipsism disguised as wisdom. In association to this, the failure to properly consider the limitations of the event, the venue, and most importantly, the execution* of the presented ‘discussion’ can only leave one to question the intended purpose for such a take. #assembleunassembled
How Now Is Soon can confirm that audience members struck up multiple conversations during its screening to accelerate the now.*
*The audience audibly whimpered at the increasing count of the word ‘like’ and phrase ‘we’ve discussed this before’. Wind-noise also muffled Amica’s microphone at a critical juncture.