Blue: The Architecture of Peacekeeping Missions The Dutch submission to the 15th edition of the Venice Architecture Biennale

The zeitgeist appears to be shifting again. Whereas for the last three years Dutch cultural policy has focused on the Creative Industries, now – shortly before the arrival of a new policy period – we increasingly encounter the term ‘urgent social issues’ as the guiding principle for cultural policy. Interestingly enough, this coincides with a classic plea for a free space for culture and experimentation. ‘Creative Industries’, ‘Urgent Issues’ and ‘Free Space’ are the new trinity against which the legitimacy of cultural institutions and the (subsidized) public space of the cultural infrastructure must be demonstrated.

At first sight this confluence of terms would seem to lead to an inevitable stalemate: how can the cultural infrastructure simultaneously have an experimental, economic and social orientation? Which motif dominates –when who or what – is still capable of evaluating the eventual outcome of this stack of ambitions in terms of good or bad, failed or successful? Nevertheless, this club sandwich of goals is the only, truly dominant reality for cultural policy. While the ambitions of the past – free, autonomous, experimental – still reverberate, the keywords of yesteryear – NL  Inc., technology, innovation – together with most recent aspirations – social, urgent – have fused to form a new rhetoric. Is this the result of market dominance, or a signal of the demise of politics? Is this a case of pure pragmatism propagated decades ago as ‘dirty realism’? Or is this the fluid face of the here and now, arising from the implosion of all the systems the Dutch state once constructed: economic, cultural, spatial planning and social?

Within the endless pile of realities and ambitions, Malkit Shoshan’s research into peacekeeping missions as a catalyst for local development can be seen as a logical outcome of this particular state of affairs. Her research was developed in partnership with the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was supported by a fellowship at Het Nieuwe Instituut. As an activist, theorist and architect, she attempts not so much to demolish the walls between disciplines, ministries and ideologies, but rather to explore the paradoxical space of new cultural infrastructure as an experimental, economic and social zone. In this space, she encounters new strengths, new limitations and a new rhetoric that goes far beyond earlier conventions in terms of either left- or right-wing politics or engagement versus pragmatism.

In response to the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, Slavoj Žižek recently referred to Frederic Jameson, who propagates the global militarization of our society as a form of emancipation. Žižek: “Democratically motivated grassroots movements are seemingly doomed to failure, so perhaps it’s best to break global capitalism’s vicious cycle through ‘militarization’, which means suspending the power of self-regulating economies. Perhaps the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe provides an opportunity to test this option.”

Shoshan’s readiness to see the peacekeeping missions as a catalyst for local development is not a first step towards Žižek’s and Jameson’s militarization as emancipation, but it is certainly an exploration of a world that cannot be understood in terms of oppositions. Beyond good and bad, she attempts both; reporting from the front to open up a new public realm: Blue.

Guus Beumer

Het Nieuwe Instituut