On Dimensions of Citizenship

Introduction by Niall Atkinson, Ann Lui, and Mimi Zeiger to a Special Exhibit and dedicated set of Essays: “We begin by defining citizenship as a cluster of rights, responsibilities, and attachments, and by positing their link to the built environment. Of course architectural examples of this affiliation—formal articulations of inclusion and exclusion—can seem limited and rote. The US-Mexico border wall (“The Wall,” to use common parlance) dominates the cultural imagination. As an architecture of estrangement, especially when expressed as monolithic prototypes staked in the San Diego-Tijuana landscape, the border wall privileges the rhetorical security of nationhood above all other definitions of citizenship—over the individuals, ecologies, economies, and communities in the region. And yet, as political theorist Wendy Brown points out, The Wall, like its many counterparts globally, is inherently fraught as both a physical infrastructure and a nationalist myth, ultimately racked by its own contradictions and paradoxes.

Calling border walls across the world “an ad hoc global landscape of flows and barriers,” Brown writes of the paradoxes that riddle any effort to distinguish the nation as a singular, cohesive form: “[O]ne irony of late modern walling is that a structure taken to mark and enforce an inside/outside distinction—a boundary between ‘us’ and ‘them’ and between friend and enemy—appears precisely the opposite when grasped as part of a complex of eroding lines between the police and the military, subject and patria, vigilante and state, law and lawlessness.”1 While 2018 is a moment when ideologies are most vociferously cast in binary rhetoric, the lived experience of citizenship today is rhizomic, overlapping, and distributed. A person may belong and feel rights and responsibilities to a neighborhood, a voting district, remain a part of an immigrant diaspora even after moving away from their home country, or find affiliation on an online platform. In 2017, Blizzard Entertainment, the maker of World of Warcraft, reported a user community of 46 million people across their international server network. Thus, today it is increasingly possible to simultaneously occupy multiple spaces of citizenship independent from the delineation of a formal boundary.

Conflict often makes visible emergent spaces of citizenship, as highlighted by recent acts both legislative and grassroots. Gendered bathrooms act as renewed sites of civil rights debate. Airports illustrate the thresholds of national control enacted by the recent Muslim bans. Such clashes uncover old scar tissue, violent histories and geographies of spaces. The advance of the Keystone XL pipeline across South Dakota, for example, brought the fight for indigenous sovereignty to the fore.

If citizenship itself designates a kind of border and the networks that traverse and ultimately elude such borders, then what kind of architecture might Dimensions of Citizenship offer in lieu of The Wall? What designed object, building, or space might speak to the heart of what and how it means to belong today? The participants in the United States Pavilion offer several of the clear and vital alternatives deemed so necessary by Samuel R. Delany: The Cobblestone. The Space Station. The Watershed.

Dimensions of Citizenship argues that citizenship is indissociable from the built environment, which is exactly why that relationship can be the source for generating or supporting new forms of belonging. These new forms may be more mutable and ephemeral, but no less meaningful and even, perhaps, ultimately more equitable. Through commissioned projects, and through film, video artworks, and responsive texts, Dimensions of Citizenship exhibits the ways that architects, landscape architects, designers, artists, and writers explore the changing form of citizenship: the different dimensions it can assume (legal, social, emotional) and the different dimensions (both actual and virtual) in which citizenship takes place. The works are valuably enigmatic, wide-ranging, even elusive in their interpretations, which is what contemporary conditions seem to demand. More often than not, the spaces of citizenship under investigation here are marked by histories of inequality and the violence imposed on people, non-human actors, ecologies. Our exhibition features spaces and individuals that aim to manifest the democratic ideals of inclusion against the grain of broader systems: new forms of “sharing economy” platforms, the legacies of the Underground Railroad, tenuous cross-national alliances at the border region, or the seemingly Sisyphean task of buttressing coastline topologies against the rising tides….(More)”.