The Unfinished Project of Fall Semester
Fall Semester is an independent initiative for public discussion on contemporary society and culture, aiming to test what can be achieved in the sped-up production of discourse, what can happen when new material is introduced into local discourse– a bomb-drop of new data. Fall Semester’s first iteration, held on October 9-10, 2014 in Miami’s Design District, focused on four themes: The Urban Real; Architectural Weather; Plasticity of the City; and The Urban Unreal and featured a phenomenal range of speakers such as Jan Verwoert, Benjamin Bratton and Michael Hardt, among many others.
Here, a number of the organizers of Fall Semester consider the initiative’s place in Miami’s physical and intellectual environment in the weeks following the first public lectures.
I think of the Fall Semester (FS) as an incomplete rather than as the unfinished project, therefore I would like to think about where it may go rather than where it has been. For a period of two days we witnessed “thought put to work”. In the end Fall Semester’s true potential as something more than a platform for discussion came to be realized. Due to its organizational structure where all presenters partake in the Q&A session at the end of the day, FS generated a different form of interaction among the speakers. Because of the diverse nature of the territory of this exchange, FS speakers in the end found it necessary to reconsider, re-write, and re-think their contributions even minutes before their lecturing. As such distant positions were brought together generating a common internal logic by which each participant could consider another’s positions. In this manner FS has put contributors “to work” rather than simply presenting them. This marks the difference of FS from the logic of the consumer culture whereby intellectual property is presented as just another arrangement of commodity. For me, the true power and future of the FS lies in its model of interaction, which eliminates bubble territories and/or formation of celebrities by neither supporting nor eliminating enclosed individual spaces but opening it up.
Fall Semester was conceived in a city of multiple exchanges. Its location made it subject to become a land for testing and speculation. Therefore it is interesting to think in a structure in which those thoughts could be at stake. The idea of putting together a wide range of sixteen professionals from different fields gave FS the opportunity to see their thoughts challenged by one another in the format of the forums executed at the end of each day; and just as the city is built for, data transfer, data processing, and new data navigated our minds for a while, and in itself is a good room for potential.
As a revisionist project, Fall Semester attempted to become a grounded model of interactivity, removing the idea of spectacle, elitism, or inaccessible knowledge to its consumers, allowing itself to improvisation as well. It was also free-of-charge, providing commissioned essays on pdf available for free download, and even opened itself for live-stream to a wider audience.
From the ways through which the ecologically and socially relevant solutions of the South should contest the technocratic predominance of the North; Specific architectural strategies for mitigating urban heat island effect; The changing material terrain of urban struggle today; How can any place be designed as dissent-full in the age of soft power; New architectures for how we divide up the world into sovereign spaces; Zombies as extrapolations of embodied urban power; to Where have all the leaders gone?, Fall Semester -I think- tested questions/reflections to its consumers as part of a global community.
For me Fall Semester wasn’t a reaction against a lack of discourse in Miami: in fact it was a sign that there is enough here to warrant an increased form which brings outside voices who are communicating around the world and makes them accessible locally. This isn’t to discount the quality of local discourse but supplement it and expose the outside to the voices inside Miami. There is also great value to bringing together people whose writing is defining our time under one roof to question one another and leave exposed to something new.
There’s a particular idea of what Miami is: parties, the beach, real estate, and Cubans. It is all those things, but it’s also a world hub, a massive important/export hub, a cultural producer, an experimental place for infrastructure, and a city which is resilient in its desire to maintain a distinct identity as a bridge between North and South America. Fall Semester introduced Miami as a place where discourse is not only alive but engaging in global topics.
Without the direct oversight of anyone outside of the organizers (a group of artists with no substantial institutional ties) we were able to operate on our own terms, forgoing the pomp and spectacle often surrounding visiting lecturers, and focus on speaking critically and honestly and opening an exchange of ideas. This first iteration made waves and I believe has opened minds to the idea that this can happen in Miami. The question I hear now isn’t “How are you doing this?” but “When’s the next one?”
Fall Semester is a project that began as a need. We wanted to bring people that we were interested in, meet them, hear them speak, and have them engage in a particular location and context. Miami today at its core is not so much a collage of cultures but of information. In Fall Semester we have re-organized a set of information that we, a small group of artists, use to navigate our work. The way this information operates within us, is not linear or curated, but chaotic and pieced together. I feel that narrowing and personalizing some of this information in the setting of a forum opens the door for the content to be re-formed; for example interlacing Jan Verwoert who sees the present as memories of the past with Benjamin Bratton who reads the present based on the immediate future. Colliding different voices within a framework of an experimental project in a city that is constantly being referred to as a “testing ground”.
In a city that averages only six feet in elevation, Miami one might argue, is shallow. However, precariously it sits situated at the edge of a short past, an undifferentiated present and a speculative future. Its physicality is mitigated by the western pressures of a calculating and opportunistic urbanism versus an eastern foreboding sea rising and punctuated by the occasional hurricane. Thus, Miami is comprised of a layered connectivity – one that oscillates between things. We’re in constant negotiation. Exchanges, both organic and inorganic, do not yield a singular moment of clarity or meaning, but rather movements that exert compressions and tensions. Miami is the twenty first-century. Its indices are as much spatial as they are referential. Therefore Fall Semester’s first iteration boldly went where we should go – through.
It’s too soon to tell what the qualitative or quantitative effects of the dialogue will be. But the dialogues themselves were just that. Both extensive and intensive in their form(at), the folding of the viewpoints produced affects themselves. These are not yet empirically measurable as to become opinions, solutions, answers or ‘direction.’ They still reside in the murkiness of what we are now dealing with at the edge(s) of twenty-first century urbanism. Perhaps that is what Fall Semester lays claim to at this juncture – not just what are we dealing with but at what frequency and where? How are we as both individuals and collective bodies navigating and negotiating these landscapes? And what tools do we now require?
A group of artists organized to create an event in Miami. They invited intellectuals and writers in different fields from all over the world to contribute to a structured, yet open discourse for two days. To our delight and much surprise many said yes, which I speculate was largely due to their sheer curiosity that an event like this was actually taking place in Miami- a city that is often thought of as an intellectual wasteland. Fall Semester very much reflects the essence of this city- a DIY forum of ideas that negotiates its future day by day. Fall Semester, like the city itself, is simultaneously growing while processing its own identity.
That Fall Semester, this October, might inhere a rupture across the borders of institutionalized pavement is already a great option. The pressure to quantify the action, and don’t let it perform to its process, and intuition may take away the initial intention. Not everything can be planned improvisation is an important intellectual capacity. Perhaps, we might arrive one day at a different kind of industrial society which could be the “ the improvising society” according to Yona Friedman. Fall Semester leaves behind invisible but traceable marks in the Magic City, where the real and the imaginary become indiscernible. Meanwhile, Miami is the desire port, and delightful place that becomes umbilical flat as you walk. Many things are happening while you are in and out of the loop. It is too fantastic, it is too binomial, and it is too expeditious.
The city silence takes whatever is there to perform duties logically inscribed in its landscape a lonely cultural landscape for a city that is been built with imagination and little planning and that can mean an emotional process. In this ongoing process everybody is participating not only the architect, nature made sink holes, a pun-pun river and underground swamp, it is not about joy, richness or beauty only. Dive in and fly away. Serpentine rounds and a breech of some of that, forms the situational sporadic place. Assuming that, there is a great bar of soap in the midst of paradise.
Fall Semester moves side to side stretching the net, semi-soft and circulating to unknown parameters, yet this is a pure rejection of its own character. Michael Hardt’s closing dissertation “Where have all the leaders gone?” detonates the unfinished project for Fall Semester.