A new year is just around the corner and it’s time to give you a taster of what we’re cooking up at the Centre de Cultura Contemporània, what the various programming teams are working on, and the themes and the protagonists of our debates, films, audiovisual screenings, exhibitions and festivals for 2017.
We can look forward to a new season of activities organized around a central idea running through the entire programme: reflection on change. Get out your diaries and take note!
Debates about change in the present
We start the year with a major debate about Europe, a continent undergoing one of the most critical moments in its political history, with a humanitarian crisis surrounding refugees and the rise of authoritarianisms and xenophobia.
Debates and humanistic and philosophical reflection about the present will continue throughout the year with cycles of talks about the idea of revolution and its strength today, about the role of Russia in the world in the centenary of the October Revolution, about suicide (leading cause of non-natural death among young people in Catalonia) and about privacy at a time when technology permeates all spheres of our lives.
Climate change from the viewpoint of culture
The third culture, a line of programming that brings together art, science and design, will be very present in debates like “Technology, sovereignty and globalization”, a series of talks directed by Evgeny Morozov. Composer Brian Eno is one of the first speakers to be confirmed.
Critical reflection on climate change and the destruction of the planet is one of the big themes of the year, which we’ll be addressing in After the End of the World. Curated by José Luis de Vicente, this exhibition will present multidisciplinary projects and viewpoints, allowing us to form a fairly realistic view of what our lives and the world will be like in the not too distant future (the year 2050). This year’s edition of the International Cultural Innovation Award is open to cultural ideas that offer imaginative, effective solutions to climate change. The winning project will form part of the exhibition After the End of the World.
2017, a literary year at the CCCB
Amplified literature: Kosmopolis is back for year nine of the amplified literature festival. Under the heading “When Everything Changes”, this literary festival presents a five-day programme bringing together established authors and new talents to address some of the principal challenges facing culture and literature in the broadest sense. John Banville, Kim Stanley Robinson, Jean Echenoz, Sophie Divry, Orna Donath, Pierre Lemaitre, Jo Nesbø, Marta Sanz and Alicia Kopf are some of the names of Kosmopolis 2017.
A few days before Kosmopolis kicks off, we’ll be opening the exhibition Photobook Phenomenon, about the relation between photography and paper publications with a deluxe group of curators: Gerry Badger, Horacio Fernández, Ryuichi Kaneko, Erik Kessels, Irene de Mendoza, Moritz Neumüller, Martin Parr, Markus Schaden and Frederic Lezmi.
The month of May sees the arrival of the sixth edition of Primera Persona, another of the CCCB’s in-house festivals in which literature, music and autobiographical narrative take the stage.
Women have a lot to say
“Good girls go to heaven—bad girls go everywhere.” This phrase, attributed to the actress Mae West, provides the inspiration for Gandules, the al fresco film programme that takes place in August. With the title “Wild and Indomitable Women of the Cinema”, we’ll be showing films that remind us of female characters who have inundated the cinema screen throughout history. María Castejón Leorza, a film critic on the team of Pikara Magazin, will be the curator of the cycle.
The Kosmopolis festival will also be looking at literature written by women as one of the central themes of this year’s edition.
15 years of experimental cinema
In 2018, Xcèntric, the CCCB’s cinema, turns 15. Xcèntric opens an anniversary season with a programme of Val del Omar premieres and a concert by El Niño de Elche. It’ll also have a new website and a book about essential filmmakers in experimental cinema.
The CCCB continues its collaboration with established festivals like L’Alternativa, DOCSBarcelona, Miniput and the International Women’s Film Festival, as well as younger proposals like D’A and the Serielizados Fest.
Soy Cámara’s YouTube channel will continue to experiment with the genre of the video essay centring on current affairs and themes included in the CCCB’s programme. A new feature this year is a programme of live presentations, kicking off with the screening of Hypernormalisation, the latest documentary by Adam Curtis.
British geographer and social theorist David Harvey, a special guest at the opening of L’Alternativa independent film festival, visited the CCCB to explain the relationship between modern capitalism and the political impact of Donald Trump’s election win
After over forty years spent teaching Marx’s Capital – now also from his YouTube channel – Harvey’s view on the free market system reveals itself as clear, organised and categorical. We interviewed him to find out more about what his assessment is of the latest political changes.
Why Donald Trump?
For David Harvey, the question should be turned around: Why didn’t Hillary Clinton win? The fact that anyone can read in the media that “Clinton went to talk for Goldman Sachs and received 270,000 dollars for one speech” gave a lot of fuel to Trump’s arguments. On the basis that voters in the big cities – such as New York – are more inclined to vote Democrat, it was in rural areas and among the most vulnerable social classes where the American magnate’s discourse made the deepest impression.
According to Harvey, on a popular level, typical people talking in bars, it was felt that Hillary Clinton was not the kind of person who was going to work for them. The determining idea that led to Trump’s electoral victory was that “he made his own money”, which furthermore embodies the old ideal of the American dream. Meanwhile, Clinton was viewed as a person who, favoured by her position of power, was in politics purely to make a lot of money.
The economic boom
Capitalism has always been about growth. According to this British professor, the growth rate of societies with a free market economic system, since it always follows an exponential curve, can reach an inflection point. A point where the curve can no longer hold out. Harvey uses China as an example of the country that has grown most significantly and that has also kept global capitalism stable since 2008, thanks to a massive urbanisation programme
In fact, between the years 2011 and 2013, China consumed 45% more cement than the United States consumed in the whole of the 20th century. So, what will Trump do? “Nobody knows exactly what he’s going to do, but what I can guarantee is that he’ll try to create a boom in the US economy through urbanisation programmes, just like China did. He has to provide answers to all the people on low wages who voted for him”, comments Harvey.
Transition to a zero growth economy
The consequences of this urbanisation process, if it really does happen, may be very different. But the key, according to this geographer, is that we are going to move towards a new inflection point in the economy. “The growth will have to stop, inevitably. And copying the Chinese model, apart from the consequences it may have for the environment and socio-political contexts, creates political fighting and all the social tensions that we are seeing today”.
“There are very good reasons to be anti-capitalist right now”, Harvey affirms. The situation that a new mass urbanisation process could lead us to should make us think about what we will do when that inflection point arrives. “We have to say to people explicitly that we need to manage this transition to a zero growth economy and it must be done in a way that is socially equitable”.
So now what?
Leaving aside the racist solutions offered by the Trump side, we still find other alternatives. Harvey points out that in the United States what might happen, for example, is that the political faction led by Bernie Sanders, who lost to Hillary Clinton in the primaries, may become dominant inside the Democratic Party. “This may lead to solutions in terms of building something that truly responds to the problems of growth”.
In the United Kingdom, something similar is happening with Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Here is the case of a politician with little support among Labour MPs, but tremendous support from the mass party. This antagonism within the party itself has grown very quickly, along with new memberships to enable people to vote for him in internal processes.
Meanwhile, in relation to Barcelona and similar cities, Harvey observes certain movements with a popular base that, on a municipal level, are making the effort to change the nature of the urbanisation process and the effects of mass tourism. In this sense, these movements are becoming a response to one of the great challenges of the current time: “building cities to live in, as opposed to cities to invest in”.
The lecture by David Harvey at CCCB is available here.
Interview with David Bravo, architect and CCCB collaborator
What are the most worrying housing and urban development problems at worldwide scale? Do governments, businesses and institutions agree as to how to tackle them? Do cities have similar problems and conflicts? Habitat III, the third international conference on Housing and Sustainable Development, took place in Quito in October 2016. The UN holds this summit every 20 years to define what it calls the “New Urban Agenda”, the roadmap that states and organizations should follow as regards urban planning or development.
The architect David Bravo, a collaborator of the Centre de Cultura Contemporània in projects such as the European Prize for Urban Public Space or the exhibition Piso Piloto, of which he was co-curator, attended the summit on behalf of the CCCB. Carlota Broggi, head of the CCCB’s touring exhibitions, interviews David Bravo about his experience at Habitat III.
The need to understand housing as a right, to democratize cities and distance them from the interests of big business, gentrification or the acritical discourse surrounding so-called smart cities are common themes that concern Barcelona and Quito, and which David comments on in this interview.
- What was the point of the CCCB’s presence in Quito?
- Habitat III, the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, brought together in Quito activists, thinkers and governors from all over the planet to establish the guidelines for the New Urban Agenda. The importance of this meeting is reflected in the fact that it only takes place once every 20 years. The CCCB’s presence highlighted its reflection on the urban phenomenon, which has been a part of the institution’s DNA since it was created. The CCCB has always taken an across-the-board view of the city and strived to combine such diverse disciplines as philosophy, literature, politics and urban planning. This promiscuity was particularly appropriate in the context of Quito, where voices from very differing geographical and disciplinary backgrounds made themselves heard.
- How has the debate generated at Habitat III changed your view of architecture and urban design as tools to regenerate the city?
More than changing my view, it confirmed my belief that architecture and urban planning are double-edged swords. They can serve the abuse of power by contributing to spatial injustice, property speculation, corruption in planning, public debt, wasting energy or concentrating wealth in the hands of the few. But they are also vital instruments for democracy.
Rather than regeneration, we need to talk about the democratization of the city. Too often, we are victims of a dazzling neophilia that leads us to assume that all regeneration is positive. But this is not always the case; regeneration often means breaking up a social and urban fabric, damaging its values, and excluding or casting out its disadvantaged inhabitants. So we have to politicize our judgment of urban transformation, which is never a purely technical or aesthetic question. Democratizing transformations are those that improve the life in common of those who share the city today—justice—and the survival of those who will inherit it tomorrow—sustainability—. If these two conditions are not met, we are not building democracy.
“We have to politicize our judgment of urban transformation”
- The summit invited mayors from around the world, as well as heads of management and governability. Is there a consensus that views housing as a basic need and a collective phenomenon, like public space?
- No, by no means. There is a big polarization between those who see housing as an asset and prioritize the right to ownership and those who see housing above all as a basic right and a means to democratize the city. This polarization manifests itself in various ways. The Thematic meetings held previously in various cities to prepare the Quito summit—Barcelona held one in April—produced official declarations full of alerts as to “spatial injustice” and defending the “right to the city”, concepts that were also very much present in Quito, both at the summit’s networking events and the alternative forums held alongside it. However, some UN member states reject the use of these concepts. So much so that the summit’s final declaration, as political scientist Joan Subirats remarked, is full of commercial concepts such as “smart city” while avoiding the word “democracy” and making just one, very indirect, reference to the “right to the city”.
- The need to invest in smart cities was incorporated into the housing and urban design debate some years ago now. What does this concept really mean, and how did it feature in Quito?
- My main objection to the smart city current is that it places the means before the ends. You might say that it contradicts the Machiavellian thesis that “the end justifies the means”, defending instead that “the means justifies the end”, an equally mistaken statement. The smart city often presents solutions to irrelevant or non-existing problems, while avoiding solutions to the two principal problems rife in all cities: injustice and foolishness. To give one example, we don’t need sensors that allow us to find a parking space more quickly; what we do need is to produce cities that can once again function without such an unjust and unsustainable invader as the private vehicle, be it electric or self-driving.
The smart city views the urban phenomenon from the viewpoint of highly depoliticized, acritical technophilia even as it forgets—or conceals—that any urban transformation has political causes and effects—politics comes from polis, which means city! And it does this in collusion with big global corporations of doubtful reputation, like Cisco Systems or Telefónica, which concentrate great wealth in the hands of the few. Recently there has also been talk of “smart citizens”, which seems like a bit of an attempt to give a facelift to an initiative that originally overlooked the people. They is no denying that new technologies can be very useful in improving transparency, participation, collaborative coproduction or the democratic management of cities. But we have to remember that technology is just an instrument that can equally be used to serve democracy or the abuse of power.
“The smart city offers solutions to irrelevant or non-existing problems, while avoiding solutions to the two principal problems rife in all cities: injustice and foolishness”
- As a representative of the CCCB, what contribution to the general debate were you able to make at the round tables organized at Habitat III?
Most particularly, the lessons learned from the European Prize for Urban Public Space—organized since 2000 by the CCCB along with another six institutions in Frankfurt, Helsinki, Ljubljana, London, Paris and Vienna—and the reflections offered by the exhibition Piso Piloto, organized jointly by the CCCB and the Museo de Antioquia in Medellin, which explores a host of solutions that have proven their viability for implementing the right to housing and the right to the city.
- Do you think these reflections evolved during the work sessions in Quito?
- The reflections underlying Piso Piloto evolved, because they showed that, beyond the immediate context of the exhibition—the cities of Barcelona and Medellin—they are just as relevant in other settings, such as Equatorial or Mexican cities. Quito and Mexico City are also concerned about phenomena such as gentrification, the lack of social housing or the proliferation of large private developments that impoverish the urban fabric and isolate their residents in closed communities. Ultimately, we see that the right to housing and the right to the city are universal and cannot be taken apart from each other. I’d go so far as to say that in an increasingly urbanized world, these rights are the bedrock of the rest of our human rights.
- If Piso Piloto argues that “the city of the future is already built”, why do you think it is useful to discuss the challenges of urbanization in the 21st century?
- When we say that “the city of the future is already built”, we don’t mean that there’s nothing left to be done, or propose that things should be left as they are. What we want is to get past the development paradigm of the 20th century, based on unlimited growth. Past the utopian logic of modern urbanism that prefers the clean slate or the new build to grappling with the complexity of a pre-existing place. Past compulsively extending urban land with mono-functional, low-density new builds. Past an outdated, highly unjust and unsustainable model that’s responsible for urban sprawl, spatial segregation, pollutant emissions, energy waste and territorial depredation.
And this is not nostalgia; it’s a really contemporary way of thinking to defend the pre-modern model of the mixed compact city, made up of small row properties, with corridor-streets that encourage local commerce, a mix of uses and social classes, pedestrian movement and the possibility of good, efficient public transport. This model is far more appropriate for dealing with the economic, ecological and political challenges of the immediate future.
- Ideally, what is the best Urban Agenda for the coming years?
- As I see it, the Urban Agenda should be a firm commitment to inundate cities with democratic radicalism. And I don’t mean playing to the gallery; it has to take the form of specific, verifiable measures. Any urban transformation has to democratize the city in four principal directions:
1. Looking downwards, there’s the principle of redistribution that conveys wealth and opportunities to the base of the social pyramid. We have to democratize access to basic resources and important places, combat growing inequalities and understand that social cohesion is a necessary condition for the good functioning of any city.
2. Looking forwards, we have sustainability, which improves the legacy we leave for coming generations. We have to stop putting them in the red, stop squandering the energy resources that they will need or damaging the environment in which they will live. Promoting sensible ways of designing the city is the most effective way of combatting climate change.
3. Looking back, there is the value of memory, which draws the best lessons from the past so that each generation can progress from the best starting point. We have to fill in the gaps available in compact fabrics, activate the things we have inherited from the past with new uses and meanings that preserve their heritage values. Reform, recycle, reuse and re-inhabit what is built rather than destroying, replacing or building anew.
4. Looking up, there’s the idea of participation—bottom-up—, that allows us to combat technocracy, populism, cronyism and abuse of power. We have to use pedagogy, transparency and accountability to transform the indifferent and the selfish into responsible, rigorous, aware citizens who are involved and empowered.
New Yorker journalist William Finnegan offered some keys for understanding the Republican candidate’s success.
How can it be that one of the least prepared, most sexist, racist and xenophobic men on the planet is candidate to occupy the post with most responsibility and power in global politics? That’s the question many of us are asking ourselves after seeing or reading the umpteenth news report on the latest gaffes of Republican politician Donald Trump. It’s also the question that New Yorker journalist William Finnegan attempted to answer at the lecture he gave at the CCCB “Journalism and the Future of Democracy”.
Donald Trump is viewed by many analysts as a freak; a strange phenomenon in the politics of the United States. Instead of placing the focus on his grotesque and rude character, William Finnegan talked about the media and the political context that has helped Trump reach the gates of the White House. Whether he wins the elections or loses, this journalist considers that there are two main phenomena that have turned American politics upside down and that are keys to understanding Trump’s electoral rise:
- The power exercised by the entire network of right-wing media (radio, TV, websites) from the orbit of the Fox television network. Media that have broken away from the model where news must be based on facts and truths, substituting these with opinion and entertainment. At the heart of this tangled web is Donald Trump, television reality king and expert. Finnegan explained how many Americans are living in a news bubble and only listen, read, or see on their Facebook walls “news” items that coincide with their way of seeing and understanding the world.
- The loss of support and electoral bases that has been suffered by the Democratic Party both in the south and the north of the country. De-industrialisation has left many white American low and middle class workers unemployed, and the discourse of fear and anger against immigrants promoted by Trump fits in well with their mood. “They are looking for someone who will speak for them, a saviour,” says Finnegan. And Donald Trump is their man.
In this video (9 minutes) we have summarised the main interventions by William Finnegan from the lecture that he offered at the CCCB.
The video of the entire lecture (1 h 30 min) is also available in the original version (English) or with simultaneous translation into Catalan. In this video, as well as the complete intervention by the American author, you can also hear the questions from the audience plus writer Albert Forns’ introduction of William Finnegan. In addition to being a journalist and a writer, Finnegan is a surfer, and he won the Pulitzer 2016 Prize for Best Biography or Autobiography for a book about surfing.