In 2017 I started the long term project Concrete Aesthetics: From Universial Rights to Financial Post-Democracy inroled in a pratical PhD at the university of Copenhagen, The Danish Royale Art Academy and MIT (Art, Culture and Techonology (ACT), School of Architecture and Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology).
Concrete is the most widely used building material in the world. Its production is negatively linked to climate change, and its aesthetic to financial speculation and the inequality of what Colin Crouch has termed the ‘post-democratic’ era.
Once the concrete aesthetic once spoke the language of progress, universal rights and a better society. Today, that disrupted political aesthetic demands cultural analysis, just as much as the carbon footprint and techno-fossils of concrete demand scientific attention. What does the aesthetic of concrete mean in a globalised world that regularly teeters at the edge of financial crisis and invites a certain environmental one?
The goal of this project is to analyse the historical movement from the Modern era of universal rights and democracy, toward a new era dominated by the global circulation of finance, and the effect that has on aesthetic language and meaning. This will be explored by examining the contrast between the history of concrete within art and cultural practice in the immediate post World War Two era in Europe and the aesthetic and ideological meaning of concrete in today’s globalised economy. That race for economic resources will partly be mapped in the zones of the ‘Global Commons’ - zones outside the borders of national states, such as the ‘High Sea and Deep Sea Bed’. Those areas are deeply affected by the ‘resource wars’, especially over the sand used for concrete production. What does such extraction mean for economics, political life and, crucially, the environment?
The project is theoretical and practical. The theoretical aspect of the research will focus on the social and ideological beliefs that dominated each era to build a picture of how the cultural meaning of concrete has changed. The histories that differentiate one place, or site of action, from another are crucial. The democratic context that once gave Modernist concrete it’s meaning in Scandinavia contrasts sharply with the post-democratic environment of today’s Special Economic Zones. The practical part of this research will employ research-orientated creative practice to explore the potential of art and architectural interventions to generate new, materially embodied, understandings of these developments.