Adrian Blackwell is an artist and urban and architectural designer, whose work focuses on the spaces and forces of uneven development produced through processes of Postfordist urbanization.
Since 1996 his art projects have altered existing spaces to encourage common uses. Public Water Closet (1998) and How to Open a Car Like a Book (1999) open private enclosures to the city. Recent works such as Light Net (2004), Car Pool (2005) and Model for a Public Space (2000, 2006) produce new locations for collective action and public discourse.
In parallel to these propositions Blackwell has engaged in critical descriptive work. Evicted May 1, 2000 (9 Hanna Avenue) uses pinhole photographs to illustrate the transformative potential of artist’s studio spaces. Detroit’s Underdevelopment: Separation, Divesture, Erasure, Encampment (2005) uses three maps to excavate the social and political forces that underdeveloped Detroit in the second half of the 20th Century. Factory = Territory (2005) uses drawings, maps and pinhole panoramas to document the dormitory factory territory along the eastern edge of China’s Pearl River Delta.
These projects have been exhibited across Canada at artist run centers and public institutions including Mercer Union, The New Gallery, The Hamilton Art Gallery, The Power Plant and the Mackenzie Art Gallery, at the University of Michigan and at the 2005 Shenzhen Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture.
In 2005 Blackwell co-edited Unboxed: Engagements in Social Space, with Jen Budney and is co-curating the exhibition and publication Detours: Oblique Approaches to Urbanization in China with Pei Zhao. Since 1997 he has taught architecture and urban design at the University of Toronto, initiating the school’s China Global Architecture program in 2004. In 2003 he was a visiting professor at Chongqing University and was the 2004-05 Muschenheim Fellow at the University of Michigan’s College of Architecture and Urban Planning.
Unboxed: Engagements in Social Space / Edited by Jen Budney and Adrian Blackwell
DETOURS // TACTICAL APPROACHES TO URBANIZATION IN CHINA
Curated by Adrian Blackwell & Pei Zhao
Eric Arthur Gallery (University of Toronto) & The Power Plant
October 23, 2006 - March 10, 2007
Detours Symposium: November 4, 2006
Detours: tactical approaches to urbanization in China, focuses on projects by Chinese architects that critically engage urban development in China today. Each approaches this shifting context from a tactical perspective that begins from a close reading of the given social and material situation, setting it apart from strategic initiatives that respond directly to the abstract demands of foreign and local capital or state ideology.
Since the early 1980’s China has been transformed in unprecedented ways: incredible economic growth has created a new middle class, cities have been physically reconstructed, culture has been opened to capitalist markets and industrial workers have been demoted from privileged citizens to precarious migrants. This urban revolution has brought with it many contradictions. Cities and towns have been quickly produced for immediate effect, projecting the image of a quickly modernizing society, while deep divisions between urban and rural spaces and citizens remain unchanged.
This exhibition presents ten tactical propositions for the production of urban space in the context of this transformation. Each project resists tendencies toward contextual erasure and stylistic appropriation commonplace within Chinese architectural design. Faced with these reductive strategies, these projects follow a set of detours in order to negotiate China’s complex histories, spaces, cultures, and social realities.
While these practices have been developed in response to specific circumstances within Chinese society, they also offer strong experiments and models for architects working elsewhere in the world within the traditions of the urban project, rural studio, ecological urbanism and urban acupuncture. To highlight these new possibilities, the exhibition will be accompanied by a book of projects and texts by each participant to be published by Timezone 8 in Beijing, and a symposium on alternative approaches to urbanization in China, at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design.
James Stirling Memorial Lectures on the City Competition
Special recognition: Adrian Blackwell, Department of Architecture, Landscape, and Design, University of Toronto, for Territorializing Flexible Landscapes of Production, which compares post-Fordist industrial urbanism in declining Detroit with the booming industrial cities of the Pearl River Delta in China;
The gentrification of gentrification and other strategies of Toronto’s creative class (PDF) / By Adrian Blackwell
"...Finally, The Toronto School of Creativity & Inquiry is an autonomous working group, organizing public forums and exhibitions. It has focused on the precarity of work in contemporary flexible economies, food security, the privatization of the university, contemporary transformative tactics and mapping globalization. This organization, working from both an academic and aesthetic perspective, often in collaboration with the Toronto Free Gallery in the east end, works to politicize aesthetics through an experiment in public discourse, at a moment when the city as a whole is privatizing public and counter-public spheres through processes of gentrification."
"Through creative city rhetoric artists are being empowered to consider their effects on the transformation of the city. In order to fight the class-defined displacement and polarization that is the result of gentrification, artists have to find models of solidarity with urban communities outside their own solipsistic enclaves. In that choice they define the character of their practice and participate in forming the city around them. This means not arguing for the rights of artists alone, or for a creative city as an end in itself, but rather understanding that it is precisely the city’s complexity in terms of class, race and culture that provides the foundation for those possibilities of substantive artistic experimentation and creativity that do exist."
Poverty of Planning: Tent City, City Hall and Toronto’s New Official Plan / By Adrian Blackwell and Kanishka Goonewardena
"... Toronto doesn’t need a plan driven by corporate interests, developers and taxpayers. It does need a set of planning strategies produced by diverse communities already struggling against economic, cultural and ecological injustice that will open up spaces for people to imagine, transform and enjoy their city. This struggle for justice in the city is also one to reclaim the promise of planning for the very people whose fundamental right to the city is violated in the new official plan."
The gentrification of Toronto's downtown has displaced low-income residents. New immigrants, often precariously employed, are warehoused in high-density structures within low-density suburbs. City land is rezoned for optimum profit extraction rather than for livability. The costs of using public transit are rising as new programs of surveillance carefully monitor the smog-saturated city.
This neoliberal agenda remains contested by urban social movements committed to the building of a new commons: street protests, squats, community gardens, housing co-ops, public-space interventions, regularization campaigns.
Toronto's territory is entangled in divergent forces of neoliberal enclosure and public commons. Animating this play of forces is a triad of actors: capitalists, governments, and multitudes. At stake in their balance of power is access to affordable places to live, sources of healthy food, a secure income, mobility, pleasurable forms of life.
* How is capital capturing urban territories? Which spaces are currently under threat of enclosure?
* What possibilities exist for the state to protect existing public spaces or initiate new ones, when its role has increasingly become the policing of space?
* What capacities do we have for escaping existing enclosures, in the name of constructing new urban commons?
Entangled Territories Readings
Toronto School of Creativity & Inquiry
TSCI designs education events inquiring into the new enclosures: enclosures on time, space, creativity, thought, ecology, love... We seek to understand how these enclosures work. But combating against cynicism, we also inquire into creative pathways within, against, and beyond the enclosures: pathways of thinking, collaboration, organization, experimentation...
Manifestations of Soft Revolution
Here be Dragons: Cartography of Globalization
Public Acts 1-29
Public Acts 1-29 is a pragmatic field, a network of lines of flight for the experiences and experiments of 29 artists, activists and researchers situated along the Trans-Canada Highway. Together, we are engaging in an assemblage of acts that carry the potential to proliferate, to resonate, to emerge; practices, tactics, and situations such as public discussion forums, tactical media, counter-cartographies, public interventions, free dance lessons, haircuts, how-to-guides and propositions, deliveries, endurance performances, creative disturbances, space invasions, sonic liberations, carpools, wanderings, meals, reading groups, swims, parking lot parties, love affairs, letter exchanges, virtual roundtables, telephone calls, roadtrips, blog conversations...
We are a group of urban planners, architects and activists who work with diverse communities of Toronto struggling against economic, cultural, and ecological injustice to open spaces for people to imagine, transform, and enjoy the city.
* To collaboratively promote social and environmental justice by planning for affordable housing, food, public transportation, public space and accessible education and recreation for all residents and workers of the city.
* To democratize planning practice to foster greater participation and control over the creation and maintenance of the city.
* To build an organization that is committed to radically democratic and socially just practices within its own operation, in its partnerships and collaborations, and in the city.