You are hereWashington Post: In McPherson Square, Occupy D.C. creates a vibrant brand of urbanism

Washington Post: In McPherson Square, Occupy D.C. creates a vibrant brand of urbanism

-By Philip Kennicott

November 9, 2011- To passersby, it is a jumble of tents and blue tarps, the iconic symbol of the displaced, the temporary, the makeshift. Set against the orderly but dull architectural backdrop of McPherson Square, the Occupy D.C. encampment is a low-slung and seemingly haphazard arrangement. But it has made this sleepy public space, used mainly by office workers and a few residents of nearby luxury condominiums, one of the busiest public squares in Washington. To use the argot of urbanism, the protesters who installed themselves at McPherson Square on Oct. 1 (and another group that has occupied Freedom Plaza a few blocks away) have done what so many planners, designers and architects strive for but fail to achieve: They have “activated” the urban core.

Whether the Occupy movement, which has taken over parks in cities across the country, fizzles or grows, whether it has resonance and can translate its message into concrete change, are political questions. But looked at solely as an aesthetic and cultural phenomenon, it has deep roots in ideas with established pedigrees in the world of art and architecture. Its anti-consumerist ethos, its impatience with the media and its love of theatrical intervention in city life make it a direct heir of the Situationists, a radical European avant-garde collective begun in the late 1950s with ideas that remain influential

It might also be considered a living exercise in do-it-yourself (or DIY) urbanism, a trendy movement that strives to engage ordinary people in a hands-on approach to shaping and claiming public space.

And it seems a perfect fit with an exhibition, “The Interventionists,” which opened at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in 2004. The show surveyed artists and activist groups that sought to “disrupt daily life” in creative ways, challenging the control and design of urban space. It included guerrilla groups such as the Biotic Baking Brigade — famous for throwing a pie at Bill Gates — which “believes that under neoliberalism, we can all throw a pie in the face of economic fascism,” and the video work of artist Alex Villar, who films people occupying urban space in odd and unconventional ways.



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