Infrastructures are sustaining, enabling, supportive and connective phenomena. They are not theoretical, but are 'defined by use and movement’ (Berlant, 2016: 393). What Berlant describes as ‘world-sustaining’ infrastructures, necessary to maintain communities of solidarity, are increasingly neglected or actively dismantled as part of the neoliberal, extractivist project. The collapse of infrastructure presents an opportunity to develop other infrastructures rather than repair those that were probably set up to reproduce inequality in the first place. As such, Berlant argues, infrastructures ‘provide a pedagogy of unlearning while living with the malfunctioning world, vulnerable confidence, and the rolling ordinary’ (ibid.: 397).
The infrastructures for The Laboratory of Common Interest consisted of: i) conceptual infrastructures, to support and to connect different aesthetic actions and to experiment with matters of the common(s); ii) relational infrastructures, formed through a network of personal, professional and institutional relationships and a series of public events; iii) material infrastructures, in the form of an event-space in the city centre, choreographic objects, diagrammatic surfaces and various tools; iv) economic infrastructures made up of research funding, gift economies, and unpaid labour (this is a selective list). The work of The Laboratory of Common Interest involved putting those infrastructures into dialogue; using them as framing/unframing devices to direct attention to forms of sense and sense-making; iii) finding ways to observe and communicate the poetics emerging through the work; and iv) stepping back to allow the connective tissue of different events to take on their own life.
The Laboratory of Common Interest was an engagement with the ecosystem of the Commons; according to Berlant, the commons is ‘an idea about infrastructure’ (ibid.: 396). To mediate ‘the lifeworld of structure’ (ibid.: 393) in capitalist conditions, the Commons requires the production of new infrastructures. Work is being done at a macro-level by organisations to develop legal, financial and organisational infrastructures for the Commons. Infrastructure is also a micro-level undertaking. Susan Leigh Star, an ethnographer of infrastructure, argues that infrastructure is ‘a fundamentally relational concept’ (1999: 308). The practice of collectively creating infrastructure is prefigurative and a process of collective meaning-making that is also aesthetic.
The infrastructures for The Laboratory of Common Interest were designed to prioritise collective and embodied forms of sense-making over specific objects or discourses, and to emphasise the haptic rather than the optical. They. They included a set of choreographic objects, which included 6 free-standing, double-sided backboards; one hexagonal backboard table that could also stand vertically as an object in the space; a small hexagonal blackboard table with a shelf of specially commissioned pamphlets; a clear-topped display table; a wall-based paper scroll that captured each day’s actions (which later formed the basis of an audio score); and a wall-based diary, an assemblage of materials and traces from each of the 13 days. These objects were arranged in the space prior to each event as tools and mechanisms of action, interaction and intra-action. In many cases the objects moved around in the space to accommodate changing aspects of an event. The purpose of these choreographic objects was to make manifest a potency, to invite a collective materialisation of the coproduction that unfolded each day.
Berlant, L., 2016, The commons: Infrastructures for troubling times, in Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 2016, Vol. 34(3) 393–419.
Star, S.L., 1999, The ethnography of infrastructure, in American Behavioral Scientist 43: 377–391.