This is an excerpt from our publication Can Art Aid in Resolving Conflicts?: 100 Perspectives, authored by Noam Lemelshtrich Latar, Ornat Lev-er and Jerry Wind. In it, over 100 leading and emerging architects, artists, curators, choreographers, composers, and directors of art institutions around the globe explore the potentially constructive role of the arts in conflict resolution. Below, architect and educator Theodore Spyropoulos responds to the titlar question. Spyropoulous is director of the Architectural Association’s world-renowned Design Research Lab (AADRL) in London and founder of the experimental architecture and design practice Minimaforms. As we face the COVID-19 crisis head on, Spyropoulos' perspective serves as important food for thought.

'Yes, I believe that art and design can play a vital role in constructing a framework of understanding in times of distress. Art can humanize conflict and offer challenging and complex views on the subject itself. This potential is very powerful, as it goes against the reactionary tendencies of today’s media. The art and design that I am speaking of engage these complexities and represent a voice that may have otherwise remained unheard. Art can serve as a testimony to conflict, and communicate its implications across a host of mediums and audiences.

Art and design offer an opportunity to construct new forms of communication that are shared and collective

Understanding necessitates a willingness to engage. Understanding is fundamental. Conflicting views are at times beyond disagreement, and involve a crisis in communication. It is our belief that art and design offer an opportunity to construct new forms of communication that are shared and collective. The work that I develop with my brother Stephen works towards examining participatory constructs in order to engage and make things accessible. Regardless of whether we are working on interfaces, instruments, robots, or architecture, at the heart of our work is an approach that is human-centric. For us, a very important conceptual drive is engaging people through participation. Although we may not foreground technology, we believe that it plays a critical role in making our work accessible.

Header: Theodore Spyropoulos, Minimaforms, in collaboration with the artist Krzysztof Wodiczko, Vehicle (War Veterans), 2006-2010 | Above: Theodore Spyropoulos, Minimaforms Brunel Gateway, 2007

As we live in ever-evolving information-rich environments, the question is not why, but how we can actively participate

‘If science fiction has become fact, today we have to move beyond representation and the fixed and finite tendencies that declare what things should be and work towards what they can be. Within these evolving territories, new models must necessarily conceptualize our ever-evolving present and the uncertain world within which we operate. The once comfortable and understood orthodoxies in thinking have proven limited in their capacity to engage and address our contemporary condition. Today, the intersections of information, life, and matter display complexities that suggest the possibility of a deeper synthesis. As we live in ever-evolving information-rich environments, the question is not why, but how we can actively participate.’ [Quoted from Spyropoulos’ Behavioural Complexity: Constructing Frameworks for Human-Machine Ecologies, Architectural Design]

In the work of Minimaforms, you can see this sensibility find form through various mediums and approaches. In works like Memory Cloud, the aim was to hybridize the oldest form of visual communication, smoke signals, with SMS texting, creating a space as an interface animating the built environment through conversation. Memory Cloud Detroit constructed an environment that provided the general public in Detroit with an opportunity to engage in a dialogue with the city. Each individual’s expression was part of a continuous collective story about the city. This narrative, which was written by participants over the duration of the project, transformed the steps of the Detroit Institute of Arts into a dynamic space for communication. archived and documented the performance, while allowing participants to continue evolving the collective diary as a voice that speaks of Detroit’s past, present, and future. Other projects, such as our collaboration with Krzysztof Wodicziko on the War Veterans Vehicle, examined the issue of trauma and used design to communicate and enable conversation. Design enabled a form of expression beyond language.

Design does not have a finite definition — it is an environment for intellectual and spatial interrogation

All of our work is conceptually driven, asking through art and design about better ways to engage the complexity of our world. Art and design are our mode of inquiry and way of asking more informed questions about how to operate and how to challenge and redefine conventions. Progress is about enabling the practices of art, architecture and design to evolve, to actively participate in ongoing issues. Design does not have a finite definition — it is an environment for intellectual and spatial interrogation. We have to situate and contextualize our ability to define, communicate, and provide accessibility. Design, in all forms of creative practice, has to be dynamic and evolving, and to deal with ways of addressing time, latency and uncertainty.

We believe in participatory and enabling models of design that allow people the opportunity to actively influence and shape their environment. We want our environments to evolve with life-like attributes that engage the everyday and stimulate our interactions with each other. We believe that design should account for uncertainty and the unknown, and develop an approach that will allow for adaptation and evolution. Our work is time-based and scenario-driven. To do this, we employ a working methodology that explores generative forms of practice with social and material agency. All is interaction.'

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