Institutions by Artists (Vol. 1)
Reprint of Architectural Space as Agent with M. Miessen & K. Cupers in Fillip Editions – Folio Series
Markus Miessen: The Winter School, which is now in its third year of programming, attempts to set up and offer a non-profit space that accommodates an opposition. An opposition not in the sense of necessarily being “against” something, but rather a space that is based on the notion of both political, institutional, and structural autonomy, which is deliberately introduced from the outside, yet embeds itself within the actors, realities, and questions of local and regional practices. The notion of dewaniya, as we have discussed it during the Winter School, could be read and interpreted both as a spatial phenomenon as well as a process. The Winter School—in the way it is set up, situated, and structured—was meant to allow for a decentred perspective on politics through a reunderstanding of everyday communal practices. In describing the school as an autonomous space, one could arguably compare it to the dewaniya: a “protected space,” a congregation site, and a lobbying device for political thought. Patricia, in one of your seminars you explored the conception and understanding of what it means to set up a problematic as opposed to an understanding of the subject or object of investigation as problem. Could you please elaborate on this concept and structure of the problematic?
Patricia Reed: Firstly, I would just like to say that I will refer to dewaniya without a definite article in my contributions to this multilogue. The removal of the article treats dewaniya as a process rather than a thing. What became clear during our time in Kuwait was the ambiguity surrounding the definition of dewaniya, so it seems only apt to respond to this question by apprehending dewaniya not as a static entity but as something quite malleable, in fact. So in this sense dewaniya is always becoming. What I meant by introducing this more or less philosophical term of the “problematic” was not to suggest that we identify a problem of dewaniya per se, but rather that we form a particular approach or angle on the complex issues embroiled within the notion of dewaniya itself. The basic maxim behind this discussion of establishing our individual problematics is to say that an interesting or relevant spatial intervention is wholly dependent on setting up an equally complex and novel problematic. So, for example, when we take up this term of “protected space,” coined by Marianne Tétreault, in regards to the private/public dialectic at work within the spatial condition of dewaniya, we may possibly start to approach spatial problematics by further asking: From whom is dewaniya protected? Who is protected through dewaniya? How does dewaniya establish boundaries of inclusion/exclusion within the nomos of the everyday?
Kenny Cupers: I think these are very good questions to begin unpacking the spatial agency of the dewaniya. For me, the notion of the “problematic” is less philosophical than simply analytical—i.e., it is about asking the right questions. The right questions here are the ones that open up the “black box” of the dewaniya. I think our position of outsider—which, as Markus has mentioned, shapes the politics of the Winter School—is crucial in this respect. The fact that the Winter School’s participants are either women or non-Kuwaiti, or both, undoubtedly shapes much of our questions—and the debates to which they have given rise. As a gathering of Kuwaiti men, the dewaniya is certainly a highly gendered practice. Its mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion are ambiguous, to say the least, in that the regime of hospitality in the dewaniya generates both an explicit openness and an implicit closure. As outsiders, our approach to the dewaniya is shaped to a large extent by an imaginary rather than everyday experience. This situation I think reflects the nature of the dewaniya as a phenomenon in Kuwaiti society at large. As Mohammed Al-Ghanim, one of the invited public speakers and an officer in the national parliament, has suggested, the dewaniya structures Kuwaiti society not just as a concrete social practice, but perhaps even more importantly, as an imaginary. The dewaniya has given rise to political contestation at key moments in Kuwaiti history and as such has entered collective memory as a place of national success—regardless of whether many of these instances constituted actual political successes or rather failures.
M.Miessen, K. Cupers, P. Reed, "Architectural Space as Agent", in Institutions by Artists Vol. 1, eds. Jeff Khonsary & Kristina Lee Podesva. (Vancouver: Fillip Editions) 2012. p. 111-128.