The Radical Discipline

First published: Caliper 03, Power Edition, June 2018

Our curiosity in what is radical is lodged in the contemporary account of global shifts of significance; that health care, learning, social conventions, productivity and leisure are mutating in front of our eyes. With these transformations comes the urgency to foster not only opposite trends but to make what has been idle, effective. What is radical is what is necessary, the generation of more concepts to combat the diminishing amount of energy available to individuals.

Historically the Queer has been ensconced in a radical resistance – to all space, all language and all movements of power – it has a virtuosity that is unavowable. To identify something or someone as Queer is always a contingent identification, which means the mechanisms through which it emerges are only ever improvisations.  Improvisation is always with whatever you have at hand. It’s never fit for purpose. This constant demand to perform suggests that the Queer maintains a disciplinarity of its own, a domain of incessant improvisations. Any examination of the thresholds – spatial, social, culture and economic – that constitutes an account of  Queer production inside and outside of the quiddity of this domain flirts with this contingency.

What then is implied when creative disciplines are asked to account for the Queer? How can we progress existing discussions without coining new frugalities such as Queer Architecture, Queer Arts or Queer Music? What does the suggestion of a distinct Queer disciplinarity mean for how others might then practice? And how do we do this without binding ourselves to the paralysing insistence of an equitable life and behaviour?

The context for these questions within the profession of Architecture (Big A), the creative field I operate in, is not one of two possibilities, presence or no presence. The desire to animate matter, and the content and meaning that lie behind it, makes architecture a critical and tangible domain to move concepts into the world. The brilliance of the profession is not solving problems, and despite what could be suggested, architects cannot be blamed wholesale for the insolvency of capital that burdens the majority, the marginal and the marginalised. I do not deny that the material qualities of the city, of its building and its streets influences persons who identify as LGBTQIA etal. But any belief that such things as the immediacy of safety will perform a Queer domain is emblematic of the misdirected potency of improvisation: this thinking is what is feasible and not desirous.  Instead I believe that the inertia of matter is tied not to Queerness, but to a benevolence that is fundamental to the discipline. Architecture is what can set us adrift. It makes accessible an eidetic charge.

If Queerness can be put into practice, composed entirely of improvisation, then any conceptual instruments of its production must also elucidate its domain. The rhetoric of space over which the architectural discipline has a pseudo-dominion is a menacing impulse for many. I have instead sought other ways of manifesting a Queer disciplinarity within my role as a full-time architectural educator at RMIT. This is a personal project but one that reaches towards the practice of architecture. It is a practice defined through the explicit aleatory alignment of things, the negotiation of scales that approximate at once the molecular, the mesopotanic and the muscular, iterative enquiry as an extended negotiation of the archaeological and finally the appropriation of any and everything that can account for our gluttonous joy and unimaginable hope. There is a malevolence in the indeterminable quality of these propositions and a conscious refusal to braid them with a polity of identification. They recoil from pathways to their realisation as architecture, in part because they are put forward only to emancipate and sustain a condition of being – improvisation –  that suggests a Queer life. The profession may find the fate of a life (and a few students of architecture) a particular misplaced prowess, but in the design studio Queerness isn’t in question, the capacity of the profession to minister to it is.

As an example, the winning architectural proposal for the Victorian Pride Centre will not be the most remarkable case of this because it is novel. And there is no suggestion that the programs and by virtue the services they provide somehow inexplicitly achieve an allegiance with the Queer that I have positioned above, or that it should. Certainly the fiscally suggestive and diminished grace of the competition infrastructure it has been procured through remains problematic at almost every level of the discipline, let alone the project.  The winning design is not impoverished formally: it presents a muscular elegance for a building of this programmatic density and required scale and budget.  There has been no assertion from the project architects Grant Amon (Grant Amon Architects), James Beardsley & Steve Whitford (Brearley Architects + Urbanists) that they consciously set out to make visible an architecture that was ‘Queer’ or ‘queered’ or any of this sort. A building will not make the existence of LGBTQIA people irrefutable.  The fact that the building is being used to drive wider social and economic growth for the commercially struggling area of Fitzroy Street does not compound the agenda of the Centre or its architectural potential: its not unspeakable that any new infrastructure could make a considered contribution to the experience and lives of others.

Whether, as I gleamed from the architects presentation at ‘Process’ an informal monthly architecture and design event at Loop Bar in the Melbourne CBD, that ‘abstract machines’ and ‘conceptual tubes’ linked with the indefinite quality of ‘St Kildaness’ and the insistent deference  to the ‘clients’ is a compelling elixir to encapsulate a diaspora of LGBTQIA expectations will call for a quasi-extravagant conceptual contortion, the genesis of unyielding improvisations.

But is this not the radical venture that we should perceive, explore and devoutly develop? The practice of architecture transfigured by the radiance and awe of Queer life. The grace-deprived made graceful.

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