The public’s notion of Urban Practice is visually influenced by images of newly accessible and often fantastical-looking spaces that promise novel forms of collective experience. These spaces of action, produced by artistic means, can be understood as installations, a term that generally refers in art history to the hybrid artistic practices prevalent since the 1960s that combine aspects of a focus on events and ongoing processes while also being place- and time-specific. In historical terms, the focus shifted from the production of individual artworks to contemplation of the conditionality of one’s own actions. Alongside this shift came an emerging notion of engaginge with artistic practice into social processes. Moreover, artistic activity was ascribed a potential for impactful social efficacy, in the sense of creating and changing social reality.
The practice of making installations always includes the liberating potential for assuming artistic control and for self-empowerment. At the same time, this action sometimes takes place at the borders of what is permissible or even beyond. Installation establishes a space outside conventional order and thus simultaneously opens a window onto the demands set by this very system of order itself. Revealing the processes of social negotiation not only leads to a critical questioning of one’s own values but also sharpens one’s awareness of the conditions established by the social context. One also sees this in the decision-making structure of many Urban Practice initiatives, which are often organized at a grassroots level or operated within a principle of consensus agreement. With reference to Nowotny and Raunig, this link between social critique and self-reflection can be understood as the fundamental potential of Urban Practice, which develops from the interplay of political practices, social movements, and artistic skills.
In addition to safeguarding specific physical spaces, the structural stabilization of Urban Practice is important in no small part because there are hardly any resources available for documenting or reflecting on the practice of installation in the perpetual treadmill that generates temporary projects, which places us at constant risk of losing practical knowledge. This also places new demands on the task of preserving the heritage of Urban Practice.
Dr Anna Schäffler conducts practical and theoretical research on the preservation of art and cultural assets at the intersection of art history, conservation, and curation. In order to experiment with new formats for this, she co-founded CoCooN, an urban laboratory of the Initiative Urban Practice.