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Infrastructural thinking

During the fellowship at Het Nieuwe Instituut, Resolve proposed analysing how institutional spaces can be read and intervened in through a series of methods collected under the terms ‘folding’ and ‘unfolding’, borrowed from the study of topology. Through these methods, Akil and Seth aim to understand how existing spaces and relationships can be used, apprehended and appropriated in order for them to be rearranged and become infrastructural. The members of the collective understand an infrastructure space as the relational nature of institutions to become distributive with their resources rather than conservative and to allow for different communities of care to flourish.

At a time when many public institutions and cultural institutions are starting to question their own reach and access to certain groups of people and individuals in society, Resolve proposes the institutions themselves practice differently rather than continue to push often homogenous answers as to how the institution can encourage people and communities to engage with them. Resolve stresses the potential for institutions in reversing this question and instead imagines what a different form of institutional engagement with communities might actually look like, and how they might learn from distributive infrastructures of provision within this shift of relationship forming.

For an audience, participant, (local) community, and institutional collaborator or worker, this might manifest in possibilities for building reciprocal, non-extractive, long-term, caring relationships with people who hold similar interests and values. In an attempt to move away from dominant, prevailing interpretations of institutional relationships often based on the values, needs and therefore protection of conservative behaviours and practices of the institution (as depicted in the diagram above). 

“Such behaviours often tend to result in conflicts manifesting between sets of relations who may hold similar ideals but end up being posed against each other nevertheless, as a result of institutional protocols or managerial structures,” says Seth. Resolve's proposition therefore asks for a radical yet personal and personalised change in what we understand to be an institutional relationship; from one often marked by homogeneity, forms of dehumanisation and verticality to one allowing for care, support and resource distribution.

Folding and unfolding infrastructures

Within normative galleries or art institutions, collaborators, patrons, finances and contracts hold a specific type of conservative, aggregated relationship to the location the institution situates itself in and is engaged with. Yet through Resolve’s aforementioned methods of ‘folding’ and ‘unfolding’ the collective gives a more speculative look into how these normative relationships can be ‘folded’ or radically rearranged into a number of different relationships without ‘tearing’ social spaces or tearing down the museum in its entirety. “We look at institutional spaces as associate-historic and connected spaces, rather than individual architectures,” Akil explains. During such a rearrangement of relationships, parts of the previous normative relationship may eventually be abolished altogether. 

In order to investigate the folding and unfolding of Het Nieuwe Instituut’s infrastructure Resolve developed a series of digital conversational spaces: 8-bit Bitsy games called The Fold. This web-based tool was developed under the impossibility of being physically present at Het Nieuwe Instituut, due to the Covid-19 lockdown and travel restrictions. While conversing with different individuals, ducks or archival records in 8-bit versions of several spaces at Het Nieuwe Instituut, Akil and Seth digitally reveal the fusion of the institution between the Nederlands Architectuurinstituut (NAi), Premsela (Institute for Design and Fashion) and Virtueel Platform (Knowledge Institute for E-Culture) on 1 January 2013. Resolve approaches this ‘fold’ of the institution not only as a managerial or bureaucratic decision, but also put at the forefront of the non-linear experiences, narratives and personal histories of a number of employees of those three institutions still working at Het Nieuwe Instituut today, while also including animals from Het Nieuwe Instituut’s pond and archival records into the conversation. Resolve flattens the architectural space of the ‘physical’ institution in the game, in order to talk about, understand and learn from the rearranged social spaces of the three institutions in the period of Het Nieuwe Instituut’s fusion.

In the following months and over summer these conversations will be layered with other experiences of current employees through digital and physical workshops and small-scale sessions with the collective. Consequently, other existing or possible folds might become apparent in the social infrastructure of the museum. Resolve is already turning various methods, findings and learnings from conversations on the existing folds at Het Nieuwe Instituut into practice for other museums in the United Kingdom and Europe, for example in the relationship between Victoria & Albert (V&A) East Museum and young people from East London. Through a variety of collaborations, Resolve’s infrastructural and collective thinking will continue to fold and unfold institutions while provoking a revaluation of institutional practice and proposing alternative modes of operating within conversational spaces and social infrastructures.

Quotes in this text have been taken from a longer interview conversation between Resolve Collective and Delany Boutkan and have been edited from spoken language to written word, in dialogue with Akil Scafe-Smith and Seth Scafe-Smith. The link to the Fold game will be published in Ardeth 07 and on this page soon after.

Read the interview with the members of collective O grupo Inteiro, the other 2020-2021 fellows, here

Delany Boutkan, Marten Kuijpers, Klaas Kuitenbrouwer, Setareh Noorani
Alex Walker