How can "Silent Activism" as an artistic strategy address citizens and city administration to encourage socially committed urban planning?

Barbara Holub

Spätestens seit 2015 Planning Unplanned erschien, ist Barbara Holub Teil unseres Arbeitsalltags, denn das Buch ist für uns Denk- und Argumentationsstütze, Inspiration und Impulssetzung. In ihrem neuen Buch Silent Activism/Stiller Aktivismus bespricht Holub ihre Kunstpraxis. Seit 30 Jahren verknüpft sie urbane Entwicklungen, gesellschaftliche Fragestellungen und künstlerische Interventionen.

For information on WE PARAPOM! see:

What I propose is a non-linear collection of thoughts that could be explored/ discussed to be developed as new methods, based on and revisiting the artistic strategies I outlined in the publication “Planning Unplanned” – as an open process for exploring the potential of “urban curating” as a socially engaged method for urban planning and imagining a more just society.

Since I published “Planning Unplanned”, we have experienced such unexpected major new conditions (as consequences of the pandemic, of the war in Ukraine, but also of other impacts like “The New Silk Road”), whose consequences we cannot yet grasp in their full dimensions. Predictions have become even more difficult. But that does not mean that we cannot develop and position visions. The following collection of thoughts refers specifically to WE PARAPOM! (the project I am curating for the European Capital of Culture Chemnitz 2025), but it should also serve as a reference for discussing other specific urban, social, and cultural contexts. There are no “general solutions”, even though the issues are prevalent everywhere; I am suspicious of “best practice” examples since the possibilities most often depend on the acting people. 

What is „Silent Activism“?
I consider Silent Activism as an artistic method aiming at activating the hidden potentials of participants (citizens, administration, stakeholders, etc.) as parallel (non-pronounced) layers to an art project/     artistic-urban intervention. Rather than calling for activism (in the art projects) or addressing “pedagogical” or “educational ” issues in a direct way, “Silent Activism” operates by creating performative situations for dialogic action with the aim of questioning norms and crossing boundaries: boundaries of felt helplessness, of not knowing, of insecurity; for opening up a realm for engaging in artistic practices and understanding, how they can contribute to our complex societal challenges of today. 

Silent Activism counteracts the general quest for "participation“ expressed by city governments, which oftentimes calls for addressing the participants on a very simple level of "community engagement" rather than taking them seriously. I am convinced that we must not reduce people's engagement to what seems to be "acceptable” to them, but we should address them on the highest level for discussing questions in their full complexity, with all contradictions. For that we have to develop the artistic means (like exaggeration, the absurd, repetition, etc.) according to the specific context, to open up a space for new personal experiences – for encouraging, them to experience possibilities for taking action. This experience might happen on a personal level, maybe sometime in the future – not to be traced or measured. Again, this should not be considered an "educational tool“, but should happen on an artistic level. 

  1. Das Fest/ The Feast – (> WE PARAPOM!)
    as a proposition for counteracting: 


    -the belief in economic growth
    -stepping out of routine
    -a constellation of contradictory interests, and parallel layers: between „fundraising“/ search for financing the „unwanted“ (arts and culture- as financially not serving directly economic growth; yet using it for attracting „creative industry“) and we/ the artists, as „entourage“ coming into play, when help is needed.

    -a complex constellation

    -a situation for counteracting governing pragmatics
    -an undesirable approach, since it cannot be calculated
    -making space for unplanned encounters(these cannot be produced on zoom-meetings)

    -a plea for the break/ a pause
for interruptions
for the invisible
    -for hidden qualities

  2. Protest, parade, procession: as a feast, not only as a fight for...

    -„2041“ (– a new novel by an artist colleague – in the making): how would we imagine our lives in 2041?

    -Europe does not exist anymore in its dimension as we know it and still adhere to it

    -(we, in our bubble, are already the minority)

    -creating new models of living together
    -after the pandemic

    -we are confronted with completely irrational behaviour of individuals

    -nothing is calculable anymore
    -prices of materials rising – completely out of control
    -contradiction of lack of human resources and refugees not being allowed to work
    -lack of the social
    -demand/ quest for re-installing the social (by theoreticians, reconsidering socialism – which is still feared in the „Neuen Bundesländern“, based on their past experience of „Realsozialismus)

  3. Non-linear strategies

    -a plea for deviation as method

    -a plea for imagination, against control

    -against hierarchical structures

    -a plea for collaboration
for transgressing personal interests
    -for counteracting the often-felt helplessness

  4. The artist: demanding and positioning

    -the absurd
    -exaggerating as a method
    -for re-envigorating (self)confidence

    -for activating the individual (by protest – and the feast, and protest as feast)
    -for common and shared interests
    -for communality
for conviviality

  5. WE PARAPOM! as a constellation of „urban curating“

    Based on the process of developing WE PARAPOM! as a project engaged in vital issues like climate change, migration, working conditions, questioning norms, etc., for inviting citizens and administration to take action, for stepping out of their routine and assuming responsibility for the future of their city, it would be great to discuss strategies how to act beyond the context of this former industrial city which has been „left behind“ after the re-unification. 

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