How does listening act as collective spatial practice?

Lara Stöhlmacher (fem_arc)

fem_arc hat aus unserer Perspektive die Praxis des Urbanen Kuratierens mit definiert. Sie leben kritische Raumpraxis. Sie ordnen das Zuhören der Architektur zu. Sie unterstützen nicht binäre Jugendliche dabei, ihre Stadt selbst zu denken. Sie ordnen den Begriff der Gerechtigkeit der Architektur zu (fast ein Paradox). Sie geben Workshops als Architekt*innen. Ihre Arbeit ist scharf und präzise. Wir wollen ihnen zuhören.

‘I remember that, for a long time you just use half of your body… because the other side you have to kind of hold from this offense. In everyday life, we just go through so many awful places. And yet we can accept this. Because this is how it is. It's just so ridiculous, though, why we don't think about what’s wrong. Why we learned to ignore it.’

Against the dominance of the visual in architecture, our collective has been experimenting for some time with non-visual representations of spaces, especially with formats for active listening. In performative audiowalks, we try to engage audiences in non-habitual enactments and the uncovering of previously unnoticed functions of spaces through listening and moving. For almost three years now, we have been collecting stories about emancipatory spatial practices told by artists, activists and architects in European cities that we gradually integrated into audiowalks. What the interlocutors have in common is that they invite participants of the resulting audiowalk performances to experience strategies for creating more equitable spaces based on lived experiences. And yet, despite having performed many iterations of the same walk, my language and senses are still inept at grasping the full scope of both the embodied and the collective aspect of this practice.

What I believe I know: Although the audiowalk puts focus on listening, developing awareness of our own bodies in space is not achieved by the mere means of listening alone. In fact, it seems to happen – quite effortlessly – on the occasion of collective seeing, listening, and doing. It is precisely this immersive and embodied access to others’ experiences, views, and recollections that makes a difference. It is the interruption, amplification, articulation, and dismissal of our own habitual performances when these are exposed to otherness.

And yet, if our movements in space are ephemeral, how can we keep the realisations, feelings, and other ways of being that we experience through these movements from fading away? And, if it is seemingly challenging enough to perceive and describe our own world of experience in detail, how can we even claim to develop collective tools to open ourselves to the experiences of others - which might be entirely unknown to us? And, when we talk about the collective, who is still missing from that?

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