Watching Puerta del Sol

On Protest Space and its Temporal Conflicts


June 28, 2017essay,

With Alberto Gómez Saiz, Rodrigo Delso and Javier Argota (JARD) developed the online platform Open Urban Television (OUT), which monitors ongoings in key protest sites in Madrid, live-streaming them 24 / 7 via CCTV cameras. In this essay, the project is a prism through which JARD discusses public space as a Hybrid Space-Time, where multiple forms of affect are generated simultaneously. One case study concerns Puerta del Sol, occupied by Spain’s 15M movement in 2011. Since then, it has become increasingly popular for both civic and military events. JARD identifies a feedback loop between urban and affect, emphasizing time as the key factor in our relationship to public space now. This essay is a contribution to the interdisciplinary research project Technology / Affect / Space (T / A / S).

Lately I have been having trouble sleeping and thinking. I believe it all started during a roundtable conversation at Matadero Madrid: Centro de Creación Contemporánea. The event was called Hypermad1 and organized by Master in Architectural Communication (MACA)2 students as part of a discussion series about the homeless. We sat down and the moderator began the debate by asking what in any other circumstances, would have been an ordinary question: ‘In which public spaces of the city do you spend more time?’ That is, it would have been a normal question for someone who wasn't addicted to urban streaming webcams 24 / 7.

Let me explain myself: I and two other colleagues (an engineer and an architect) started a project called Open Urban Television (OUT).3 It consists of placing webcams that stream 24 / 7 in the most important and iconic protest spaces of Madrid. This project takes the form of an online platform that can be accessed by any citizen at any time so they might watch what goes on in their public spaces.

Allow me to return to the breakdown episode I refer to above, triggered by the moderator’s question. The moment it was asked my mind went completely blank as I realized that the most important public space in my daily life was Puerta del Sol.4 It’s a hyper-touristic square that I was watching – and still continue to watch – steadily through a digital screen like a voyeur Hikikomori (a pulling inward, being confined, referring to reclusive adolescents or adults who withdraw from social life) even though I almost never went there.

While listening to other speakers, I tried to process this epiphany. Then, suddenly, the moderator dropped a second question: ‘So, how much time do you spend in them?’ This only made my condition worse. Quantity. I didn’t know. I usually leave the streaming channel open on both my computer and smartphone so now and then I can see what is going on. I can spend several hours watching demonstrations. Furthermore, I commonly save the recorded film and play the footage at conferences, seminars or run it through an algorithm that evaluates the ambient sound and crowd.

But the interrogation continued: ‘What do you do during that time?’ Eat popcorn, talk to my girlfriend or prepare dinner. ‘Are you comfortable doing that?’ Of course, I am usually wearing my pyjamas at these times. ‘What are the elements that make you more comfortable and which ones hinder you?’ I like the songs in animal rights protests and, sometimes, the Internet connection is a problem. ‘How could these elements be improved?’

… et cetera.

This daily encounter with a rather normal interrogative line of questioning produced a blockage in me in terms of understanding the relation between protest, technology, affect and public space.5 The following article is, somehow, the result of that now obvious epiphany. It is connected to the research undertaken before, but, mostly, it relates to what came after: more than 2.678 hours of recorded video, 1.097 hours of staring at the computer screen, 4 cycles monitoring the cameras uninterrupted for 24 hours, 19.876 clicks on the 6 different cameras, 416 hours spent on finding locations and installing the cameras, a daily routine of connecting to the online platform at least 9 times during 365 days (1 January 2016 – 1 January 2017) at 9:00–12:00–14:00–17:00–18:00–19:00–20:00–21:00–23:00, 3.955 euros spent between the servers, website, domain, routers and cameras, 83 shutdowns of the streaming cameras for different reasons, 1.224.567.900 bytes of sound registered and more than 1200 daily users forming a total of 475.998 unique viewers.

This essay collects some videos captured by our streaming-activist platform OUT in Puerta del Sol. The documentation has triggered reflections, lines of text or various problematics. It is also inspired by Georges Perec’s Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris (2014)6 about affect space, exploring its relation to contemporary protest space-times. For, ‘I would say that there is good reason to study the dynamics of disobedience, the spark behind all knowledge.’7

Some audio-visual fragments collected during 2016

After spending 1.097 hours watching the same frame, the same limit and frontier, after running all kinds of visual algorithms, the power of the visual realm starts to collapse and calls into question Augustus' famous words: ‘I found Rome built of clay and I leave it to you in marble.’8 He wants us, his subordinates, to look at the space of the city and succumb to his power, so impressed are we by the newfound urban aesthetic.9 The critique around the visual and its inability to convey the urban is nothing new: thinkers such as Roland Barthes, Henri Lefebvre, Thomas Keenan, Henri Bergson or John Berger have already elaborated complex examples of the toxic consequences of looking at cities only in terms of their liminal surfaces.

As theorist Eric Kluitenberg points out, most of the criticism around hybrid environments, such as our case study, are associated with their visual aspect: what can be seen by the eyes and understood as a visual product. One of the most striking examples is the architecture of Urbino’s Città ideale by Piero della Francesca where there exists a ‘visual articulation of daily life suggesting that everything, social and public, is completely controllable and constructible.’10

Saturday night at Puerta del Sol, 23:56, 11 March 2016

The optic grasps the first layer. The darker answers, the ones we aim for, are revealed as we move further into the depths of our research. When we show our faces to the abysm, we are closer to the invisible. We then look into the chthonic – from the Greek χθόνιος, khthonios (kʰtʰónios), ‘in, under, or beneath the earth’ – environment. The underworld, the netherworld, the abyssal, the total depth, recalls both abundance and tomb. We look for the profusion of information and facts that lie just below our eyes. If we had to choose a god to follow us into battle, it would be Eris – as the representation of strife and discord. In dissent we find what we are looking for.

We want to challenge the ocular disaffected view of the constructed habitat, using chthodology to find the ‘more invisible processes which are rearranging the public space and imposing different utilization logics.’11 We search for the unseen, shapeless, indistinct and formless things that happen within the city. These can reveal the agency of architecture in our urban life, in order to develop a ‘geography of what happens’12 in contemporary protest spaces. After watching 1.907 hours of the same space, one entity stands out and is the furthest from the visual range than any other: temporality. It hollows out everything around it, but instead of emptying the city, it makes urban potentiality endurable and renderable. It is the ‘most influential navigation system’13: time, tempo, timing, rhythm, pace.

What Lies Below Our Eyes: Dunyā

New Year’s Eve celebration in Puerta del Sol, 23:59, 31 December 2015

Time is not only the measure of seconds, minutes or years, it also provides the episteme where contemporary architecture and urbanism are structured. Time is the twenty-first century’s life-blood, pulsing through the arteries of a city that is itself a hybrid body constructed from concrete matter and ghostly flows. We no longer operate in one single time zone, nor measure time in minutes.

Space is outpaced by time as ‘dimensions are no longer whole, they are broken up. Space is fractured too. Nothing remains whole as space.’14 Traffic algorithms now operate faster than our ability to comprehend them; we can connect in real time to our beloved ones despite distance. At this critical moment time finally reveals itself as the ‘mysterious entity’ for the technological man,15 even if it had been there throughout history as the ephemeral world: the (in)famous dunyā.

Dunyā refers to the temporal world and its earthly issues, in contrast to the world of gods, eternity and the hereafter, where the concerns of the people are ‘just temporary’. It is the period between birth and death. In Islam, dunyā is a test; success and failure lead to paradise and hell, respectively (Quran 57:20). Under an eternal view of life, the defeat is in getting attached to this temporal existence and its trappings.

We propose the opposite, to welcome dunyā, to radically embrace temporality, avoid the major deities that inhabit Olympus and try to understand the earthly world. We want to understand the urban dimension of our lives through time, as the anima of cities, flowing below the threshold of detectability while structuring the logics of affect, technology and protest.

Space Still Maters: Genius Loci

Memorial to war victims in Syria versus the Christmas tree, 2016

Despite the importance of timing, space is an inevitable actor in any social interaction and practice; the interplay between them happens in public space or is reliant upon servers in some far-off ocean. Not every spatial dynamic is apparent, superficial and visible. As novelist Janet Fitch writes, ‘the body changed over time, becoming a gallery of scars, a canvas of experience, a testament to life and one’s capacity to endure it’16; temporality is the main actor but we still need a body that can be acted upon. ‘It might be said that certain ideological conflicts which underlie the controversies of our day take place between the pious descendants of time and tenacious inhabitants of space.’17

Space as a seat of memory and therefore potential memorial site is important to societal development. As Maecenas advises Augustus: ‘Make this capital beautiful, spare no expense in doing so, and enhance its magnificence … to implant respect for us in our allies and to strike terror into our enemies.’18 The Cartesian environment plays a crucial role in protest space. During the Indignados movement, 15M, developed at our case study of Puerta del Sol, activist groups organized mainly around digital networks such as Anonymous, #DemocraciRealYA or #nolesvotes. They joined up with those that were more ‘analogue’ in being on the ground, such as Juventud sin Futuro or ATTAC. In the end, this connection resulted in a movement defined by remaining physically in public space: they settled in a camp for 28 days named Acampada Sol. ‘Movements born from the virtual space look for geographical spaces where to territorialize, the same way as movements from a local origin look for alliances and support in the cyberspace.’19

Marcha por el Cambio (March for Change) by political party Podemos, 13:03, 31 January 2016

The dismantling of the Sol camp is also important in understanding the power of space. Its motto was ‘take the neighbourhoods’ and the movement quickly abandoned its original downtown location, in order to spread to the outskirts. They went to the suburbs, the periphery, where urbanism executes its power potential fully. While Sol is in the centre of Madrid, and of Spain – the km 0 – it has less than thirty permanent inhabitants. It is easy to become the representational hub of various identities and social classes due to the lack thereof. When the movement returned to assembly organization in other neighbourhoods in Madrid, social class took centre stage in showing up urbanism’s segregation of people due to economic income or type of work: districts are organized based on salary, amount of public services and transport options. The characteristic inter-class quality of the 15M almost disappeared when it was decentralized in leaving Sol. The space in the city centre was somehow a core of entanglement and real exchange of opinions among diverse citizens.

Not every spatial dynamic is visible as there are hidden consequences for spatial worldling. ‘Places, although seemingly permanent because of their physical structures like buildings, streets, and the like, are actually quite fluid because they are constantly being reiterated, reinforced or reinterpreted.’20 Only a complex vision of both the spatial and the temporal domain can bring real knowledge to the urban environment or, as David Harvey points out, the necessity to think ‘spatio-temporal alternatives.’21

Affect as Conflict: Desires and Dissent in the City22

Parachutists landing in Puerta del Sol during Spain’s Armed Forces Day, 11:00, 28 May 2016

Once a year a parachutist wrapped in the ‘rojigualda’ flag lands in Sol for the national celebration of being Spanish. The army becomes visible, marching with varying divisions of the military on display. No members of civil society are included in the ceremony, yet the claim is that it represents all Spanish people. ‘How does the national symbolic, with its flags and bromides, turn history into “symbolic event” in a way that protects the (affective) fantasy of the nation as a powerful anchor?’23

Always particular and contextual, edifices and public spaces are loaded with affect. Only when we understand the important role of time and process in the affective dynamics of cities,24 are we able to grasp a more complex explanation of the role of affect in protest spaces today. The national day is one of several events that try to incorporate desire and passions in public space, in an effort to be ‘deployed politically (mainly but not only by the rich and powerful) to political ends: what might have been painted as aesthetic is increasingly instrumental.’25

Soldiers marching in formation during the Armed Forces Day, 10:37, 28 May 2016

The military march used to take place alongside the biggest arterial road in Madrid, Paseo de la Castellana, but in the last few years is centred in Sol. Our research showed that before the 15M, less than 8% of demonstrations took or wanted to take place in Sol. Today, more than 28% of protests are located at Sol demonstrating that the ‘utter ubiquity of affect as a vital element of cities, its shading of almost every urban activity with different hues.’26 Affect is not only a key element of cities, but also the urban environment plays a central role in its formation. Both context – urban – and affect conform to a feedback system where bodies and their surroundings continuously interact.

The system of affect happens as ‘an encounter between manifold beings, and the outcome of each encounter depends upon what forms of composition these beings are able to enter into’27 linked to their intensity, duration, mediation or rhythm. The affective dynamic is always in motion, shaping an always instantaneous and present relation that influences not only the perception of the city but also the political, economic or urbanistic decisions taken upon it.

Affect as Motion: Chronoaffect

Demonstration in favour of the III Spanish Republic, 18:36, 14 April 2015

Advanced agencies clearly understand ‘emotion as motion both literally and figurally,’28 being an always mutant entity in which the use of time could shape it in one way or another. Sometimes the speed and depth of change are graspable and in other cases, perhaps, we are ‘late for consciousness.’29

‘The idea of positionality begins by subtracting movement from the picture. This catches the body in cultural freeze-frame … When positioning of any kind comes a determining first, movement comes a problematic second.’30 Technicians, architects, politicians and urbanists use stillness and/or staticness to assess cities and affect. They disregard time to avoid the ‘understanding of the world as an ongoing process in continual transformation.’31 The introduction of the affective approach in the urban realm has come in through a crack in the motionlessness traditional view over architecture. The edifice-as-object is thereby transformed into an edifice-as-process, whose methodology is centred on the innovative introduction of time into the equation.

Lefebvre points out that real change can only be accomplished once the spaces of domination are transformed into recovered spaces for citizenship.32 If this is true, it is in using the temporal potential of affect that it is being performed.

You Can Feel It: Control in Public Space

Police trying to evacuate the protesters of Marchas por la Dignidad (Dignity protest), 12:03, 22 March 2014

Big protests in recent years have been characterized by barriers, barricades, fences, et cetera. The protestors’ architectonic elements prevent police from entering a temporarily free space for demonstration. The relationship to the Temporary Autonomous Zones of anarchist Hakim Bey is important here, as they make a claim for ‘the creation of temporary spaces that elude formal structures of control.’33

A few years back, the Regional Government of Madrid made some attempts to design a specific space for protest outside the city centre to limit traffic impact and increase mobility. This was a perverse strategy. Not only because of its view of the city as an urban environment where the only goal of public space is to provide an infrastructure to travel from home to work,34 but also because ‘whether publicly or privately owned, spaces cannot be designed for protest, they are taken for protest.’35

Baton charges during Marchas por la Dignidad, 11:58, 22 March 2014

Sol has several features that point to why it is the most disputed territory in Madrid: it is the most diverse space in the city – everyone passes through it; it has no clear inhabitants; it is the centre of the country’s road system; and it holds the most intense iconic charge with many historical events. Social indetermination together with the potential for affect explains the fight to control and colonize it.

Sol is what critic Charles Jencks calls, a ‘heteropolis’, which designates the radical plural city – and its spaces – where diverse ethnic groups, economic powers, and institutions with different goals and ways of living coexist, but, without mixing with each other.36 Police and money secure and prevent the undesirable outcomes of this relation: ‘fear and violence are such an intrinsic part of the quotidian life of cities that they are inscribed in the urban and architectonic planning.’37 These control strategies of fear and violence are only performed spatially in emergency cases, as there are more effective deterrence tactics in order to keep things ‘calm’.

You Wouldn’t Notice a Thing: CCTVism

Flag recognition algorithm used during a protest in Open Urban Television

Authorities steadily monitor Sol for sudden, unauthorized and unexpected fluctuations in the usual rhythm of public space. As sociologist Amparo Lasén acknowledges, authorities ‘cannot let every instant inspire the next one’ so they try to predict what would happen and tend to reduce the rhythm of Sol because ‘rhythm is the conjunction of repetition and difference, of resumption and variation’38; divergence, contrast, deviation, variance and fluctuation should be avoided.

In the case of Madrid there are officially 32,200 authorizations issued by regional government to establish CCTV networks that focus on public space. Each of these files represents an undefined number of cameras. In the case of Metro Madrid, there are 8,677 devices working 24/7. Once again, in the name of security for all citizens, specific agents develop and control an infrastructure capable of having a total vision of the city in which the ‘same technologies of freedom that make democracy possible are also the technologies of control that enable fascism.’39

Computer access to the streaming cameras of Open Urban Television

There are more than 200 CCTVs in Sol – 200 different versions of this public space. Only two of these cameras are not for surveillance. Sol users are left with two options: suppress any aberrant behaviour that can carry an economic fine, or use the surveillance to their advantage as ‘the street, the square and urban public spaces are no longer simply spaces for the embodied encounter with the “unknown other”; they have been transformed into media platforms themselves.’40

Ultimately, CCTV is a controlling system more complex than the spatial one that preceded it. It raises the question, as Kafka reflects in writing on the partial construction of the Great Wall of China: ‘what kind of defence can offer a discontinuous wall?’41 The control system used in contemporary public spaces is not related to the opposition to physical entrance – only restricted in ‘emergency’ situations – but to the tabulation and legislation of possible actions that could happen in the space. So, instead of using a wall that separates and forbids entrance to Sol, what happens is that hundreds of eyes watch you.

Under the Threshold of Detectability: Real-time Politics

Real-time analysis of Puerta del Sol that calculates movement, density and sound

Years ago, most pedestrians in Sol would stop in the square and even pause to do paperwork. Now, we move through interconnected digital networks, synchronized and instant events that no longer carry information linearly but interactively mutate and connect whenever and wherever. The new chronopolitics is, as well, a politic of the weight of the data where, in Sol, it is sometimes restricted due to the use of frequency inhibitors that shut down all radio signals.42

Remote spatial reality comes through the screen and supersedes the geographical horizon, stripping what unites us all: time. ‘Time has become during the last decades what natural resources were to preceding epochs. Constantly measured and priced, this vital raw material continues to spur the growth of economies built on a foundation of terabytes and gigabits per second.’43

People recording the Real Madrid´s 11th Champions League Celebration with their smartphones, 21:03, 29 May 2016

The increasing despatialization of some functions linked to public space transform the relation between the ancient places of meeting and its inhabitants: ‘when time became a structured entity, was formed as space; time was incarnated in the spaces of information flows.’44

Real-time technology instituted a state of simultaneity where we can no longer clearly distinguish between what is and isn’t infrastructure. Is a smartphone less infrastructure than a road? In Sol, real-time was used as a weapon through social networks. Bringing together and coordinating people through hashtags such as #spanishrevolution, #democraciarealya, #nonosvamos, #15M, #juntaelectoralfacts or #notenemosmiedo – to carry food and beverages, to inform on the meetings, public assemblies, technical needs or to move from one place to another to fend off the baton charges. This showed the decline in the city’s spatial importance and the rise in use of real-timed tools by activists to inaugurate the most radical and alternative practice of temporal urbanity: synchronizing both flows of people and protest, using speed to challenge the status quo and displaying both unprecedented precision and accuracy in their development.

Real-time logic and its radical simultaneity has imposed itself on other temporalities such as the historical, natural or geological. It imposes an infra-ordinary sovereignty where we no longer know what government or violence will look like, how injustice functions and is delivered, how control will be imposed, how daily life will be controlled or how built environments will react to it.

Pace, Speed, Velocity in the City: Slowmovements

Broadcast stage during the anniversary of the 15M movement, 20:34, 15 May 2016

On 15 May 2016, the fifth anniversary of the 15M, several demonstrations were programmed for Sol. When protesters arrived they found a huge rectangular stage in the middle of the square installed on authorization of the lefitist government of Madrid. The setting was prepared for live broadcast on the private channel La Sexta where commentators discuss the development and evolution of the Indignados movement in real time, in the centre of the protest while they protest. This situation supported the argument towards the growing importance of affective narration and temporality within urban environments: ‘to become symbolic doesn’t mean to become “merely academic”, but rather to become explicitly saturated by fantasy.’45

Anniversaries, commemorations and one-year celebrations are temporal nodes that try to tie certain narratives to a specific space. These moments of arrhytmia, as vacations or festivities, are what Eugenio D’Ors called ‘baroque institutions’ as they make discipline viable. It is in these controlled, regulated and legislated space-times, where ‘the law and order of labour reaches its plenitude of value.’46 On those specific dates and during certain hours ‘special’ activities are allowed and never under other terms. In this sense, the most important feature of protests is that they ‘have to be temporary with transient and limited duration, in order to not affect the rights of others such as the right to free movement of other citizens’ (Art. 19, Spanish Constitution).

This was basically 15M’s reflection; they decided to establish a camp in the plaza, a city within a city, in order to subvert the ephemeral condition that the authorities placed on them. This was one reason the authorities were extremely nervous. The camp organizers acknowledged that physically remaining in the public space was in itself a great symbol of resistance. They had no date for dismantling the camp and the only response they delivered when asked to leave Sol was the catchphrase: ‘vamos despacio porque vamos lejos (we are going slowly because we are going far away).’

‘Afinsa’ and ‘Forum Filatélico’ protest, 14:06, 3 June 2016

Moreover, ‘rhythm is in its origin the rhythm of the feet’47 and the decision to stay still is one of the most important resistance measures, disconnecting from the status quo logic of desired fluidity in public space. In this sense permanence, using duration against the space of movement, of transport – for some time – not only ‘sent a visual message … but also temporarily reconstructed city streets from places for transportation into places of protest … (Re)constructing the meaning of place, even in temporary ways, can be a tactical act of resistance along with the tactics we traditionally associate with protest.’48

Protest Like an Affective Multi-mob: Rhythmopolitics

Animalist Defence protest with choreography, 16:44, 4 October 2016

Looking at the images of big protests in Sol confronts its spectacular visual nature with the amorphous and overcrowding aspect of the mob. We will now forget about its visual composition, the masses, and look at its most notable chthonic flow: rhythm. As for protest, ‘in the beginning there was rhythm’ (The Slits, 1980 split single).

Despite the event of the 15M camp, every other protest that has happened in Sol is not defined by permanence but by liquidity, temporality and rhythm. Thinking rhythmically means not tying individuals and groups to one static and closed state of being but understanding that it is a moving/changing entity that has the power of working in simultaneous levels and conditions. ‘Everything is connected to something; nothing is connected to everything.’49 It adds temporality and simultaneity.

This view allows us to understand the connection or disconnection of every participant to the general affect of the action and, also, the diverse intensities of affect during one protest and in different locations of the demonstration.

Say there are a number of bodies indexed to the same cut, primed to the same cue, shocked in concert. What happens is a collective event. It’s distributed across those bodies. Since each body will carry a different set of tendencies and capacities, there is no guarantee that they will act in unison even if they are cued in concert. However different their eventual actions, all will have unfolded from the same suspense. They will have been attuned – differentially – to the same interruptive commotion. … There is no sameness of affect. There is affective difference in the same event – a collective individuation.50

The heterogeneity and multiplicity of ways to connect and disconnect are enormous and only sometimes, ‘individual consciences vibrate in unison’51 and the resonance is maximum. Bodies in protest play this corporal symphony where the rhythm is based on a repulsion-attraction feedback that alternates ‘the loss of multitude and solitude, in the dialectics of self-us.’52

Gay Pride celebration, 01:03, 2 June 2016

Protests are a rhythmical process of ‘mutual turning-in’53 such as playing a theatrical piece, dancing together, playing in a sports team or fornicating where the rhythm of the protesters can be thought in a kind of ‘choreographic’ form of leadership54 in which the participants experiment with the ‘me’ and ‘you’ as ‘us’ at specific times.

‘They have rhythms, valences, moods, sensations, tempos and lifespans.’55 Atmosphere, as habitat, influences the systems of togetherness in which architecture becomes part of the rhythms by resonating, bouncing, disappearing or absorbing the affectivities of people and things. Protesting in Sol, for the progressive movements, has a special rhythm since the 15M, as ‘its becoming-event remains open. That’s in the nature of all events: they become dormant but remain resources in potential.’56

To Be Heard and Sound: Aurality

Protest in favour of Syrian Refugees, 19:21, 11 March 2016

Rhythmic processes feed on constantly and uninterruptedly from their surrounding sound reality. The importance of the aural medium during any protest is crucial as the rhythmic element is, mostly, supported by the affective drive of sound. Sound can either amplify or kill a certain tempo, independently of the content of its lyrics. Sound resonates further than its linguistic meaning, it vibrates together or against affect to eliminate or potentiate certain tempos. Sound matter is the rhythmic temporal substance par excellence.

We should not be surprised that some of the most effective ‘security’ measures to impede protest or juvenile gatherings have been the use of sound as a weapon. The examples are vast, ranging from the psychoacoustic correction used by the US Army and the sonic bombs in the Gaza Strip, to the sound repellents that emit high frequencies only heard by teenagers that impede their gathering in commercial malls.57 As Goodman explains ‘sound can be deployed to produce discomfort, express a threat, or create an ambience of fear or dread – to produce a bad vibe.’58

Workers of Coca-Cola protest, 12:28, 26 November 2015

Most of the protest sounds act as ‘rhythmic dischargers’59 as repetitive and obsessed sounds in order to power the communicational action as well as synchronize different members. Aurality, together with its synchronization, is another device used to transform public space and create an out-of-the-ordinary momentum of communion: something external to quotidian life in which participants are part of something larger.

Sonic actions resonate in the public space to reach us and colonize the urban environment where the protest is taking place and, at the same time, it is a form of affective attachment between anonymous citizens. Sometimes, public space is used as a resonance box, a pure musical instrument that is used as a megaphone to channel the affective impulses of participants. It hits the façades of different architectures and gives back a certain quality of sound. ‘Like art, urbanism can either repress modes of being or reveal new sensory possibilities that instigate novel forms of political subjectivity – which can be defined as the awareness of one’s own (and others’) political position and of how existing relationships might be changed in the future.’60

What You Are and Allowed to Do: Nomosphericity

Clearing Puerta del Sol in order to control the crowd capacity for a celebration

The coercive power of architecture is constantly visible, visually detectable and conflictive. But if we look to the chthonic system that regulates its process of becoming a human habitat, we can find interesting implications for protest spaces. The way in which an architecture appears and is used in the urban environment is riddled with legislations and definitions. ‘Who gets to establish authoritative thick definitions of people’s needs is itself a political stake.’61

The legislative control of urban affects is even incorporated in the Spanish Constitution that guarantees the right of demonstration and expression only on the grounds of the ‘existence of a group of people, with a political demand, occupying public space for a transitional duration of time with lawfulness to come to an end and developed in one particular venue’ (Art. 21.2 Spanish Constitution) and any other is disregarded.

Nike event in Puerta del Sol, 22:57, 27 September 2015

The ‘law’ dictates every possibility of using built architectures: how someone should behave at what times. ‘On the map of the city, we can most acutely observe that governance is not a question of imposing law on people, but of regulating things so that individual conduct situates itself within a determined frame of possible actions.’62 Protests legislation clearly shows that the temporal character of (public) space is an important arena of politics and power.

Legislation tries to tabulate the way in which people use the city; it sets a perimeter for possible actions during a certain period of time. It implies a simulation of all the possible behaviours and defines a prototype of citizen that will conduct itself under these conditions. There is no room for spontaneity and personal timing does not even exist. Individual time is completely persecuted within cities; there is no room for personal desires or rarities, peculiarities and eccentricities. This is the reason the biggest urban ‘others’ are the ones that do not work or shop; the less you work and buy, the more you are not welcomed in public space.

Temporal Conclusions: Simultaneolitics or the City within a City

24 hour cycle over 7 different days in Puerta del Sol

‘Although each of us knows that on Earth all the seasons of the year, all climates, and all hours of the day and night exist together at every moment, we generally do not think about it.’63

We might argue that it is in a Hybrid Space64 that the superposition of diverse, distinct and conflictive spatial realities come together to form a unified concept of space. Well, it is actually a Hybrid ‘Space-Time’ as its temporal dimension is the key element in understanding its most defining aspect: simultaneity.

After 1.097 hours of Sol, we wanted to describe many of the hidden layers that lie behind what we see, those obscure and chthonic, to argue for defending and demonstrating the necessity of writing more complex narratives about the city – an argument capable of taking into account the intricate temporality of that city, its simultaneity: ‘different spatial logics are superimposed in any “lived” space’65 both at the same time and throughout time.

Broadcast stage in the middle of ‘Rajoy No’ protest, 20:15, 29 October 2016

Simultaneity has always been an important part of cities. But it has only been rendered unavoidable since the introduction of the so-called ‘second layers’ that blurred the limits and dichotomies that directed, controlled and governed the design of cities. The temporal complexity of Sol exposes why space is an empty notion if understood as something static in time – today a protest could occur against child labour exploitation by fashion companies and next there could be a sponsored event by the same enterprises – but, also, if it does not acknowledge the different tempos that are at work simultaneously. Some protesters might participate in demonstrations against animal cruelty while using Tinder to find a date for later.

Sol is a fundamental urban environment because it is the most iconic place for demonstrations, protests, parades, tourism or consumerism – the spatial incarnation of the powerful and the poor simultaneously, the magnificence and the misery, the quotidian and the extraordinary. Sol is a diverse public space where controversy and multiple versions of the quotidian coexist while the spectacular and the unusual happen. Today, new strangers are not those who live far away but those who live literally in another time. ‘Society first separates the subject from their own time.’66 Only through the lens of simultaneity, embracing contradiction, is the whole complexity of protest spaces graspable.

Greenpeace protest to save the Artic, 12:23, 23 November 2016

Demonstrations and protests are crucial elements to diagnose the health of a city since ‘the principle of political interlocution is thus disagreement.’67 Superposition implies controversy. Consensus is not the only answer. We neglect the participatory vision of a city of total concord and propose an urbanity with a real simultaneolitics where diversities can coexist and be expressed in a nonviolent way.

Looking back to this sort of diary, we realize there is an immense array of things left unwritten, blurred meanings, conflicts – chthonic creatures that remain obscure. However, we like to think of this article as one of those ‘big enough histories, able to account for a lot, but not for everything – and without guarantees of political virtue.’68 We cannot end without referring to one of the visible but most unseen and, therefore, important chthonic flows: the often silenced workers who clean up after our protests, celebrations and daily activities.

Cleaning machines and workers doing their jobs at Puerta del Sol, 04:11, 13 January 2016

1. See www.facebook.com.

2. For the university programme see maca.aq.upm.es.

3. See www.openurbantelevision.com.

4. To follow the online thread of the conversation, without participation of either Javier or Rodrigo see decide.madrid.es.

5. We acknowledge that there is an ongoing debate around the meaning and significance of public space, but as it is not the intent of this article to engage in this debate, we will take Manuel Delgado ́s definition as ‘the differentiated space-time for gathering, that registers a general and steady exchange of information and is supported by mobility’. Manuel Delgado, ‘El Espacio Público como Ideología,' Urban Doc. 1 (2016): 57–65.

6. See Georges Perec, Tentativa de agotamiento de un lugar parisino (Barcelona: Gustavo Gili, 2014).

7. See Gaston Bachelard, Fragments of a Poetics of Fire (Dallas: Dallas Institute Publications, 1990).

8. See Cassius Dio, The Roman History: The Reign of Augustus (London: Penguin, 1987).

9. Some theorists have suggested that this claim was only a metaphor for the strength of the empire. Even if this was true, the Romans perfectly mastered the power of edifices, architecture and art as representational apparatuses. As Maecenas advises Augustus: ‘Make this capital beautiful, spare no expense in doing so, and enhance its magnificence with festivals of every kind. It is right for us who rule over so many peoples to excel all others in every field of endeavour, and even display of this kind tends to implant respect for us in our allies and to strike terror into our enemies.’ Ibid.

10. Eric Kluitenberg, ‘The Network of Waves. Living and Acting in a Hybrid Space,’ Open!, 1 November 2006, www.onlineopen.org.

11. Ibid.

12. See Nigel Thrift, Nonrepresentational Theory: Space, Politics, Affect (New York: Routledge, 2007).

13. Joes Koppers and Susann Lekås, ‘Optionaltime,’ Museum Del Paviljoens, 23 March 2002, www.depaviljoens.nl.

14. See John Armitage, Paul Virilio: From Modernism to Hypermodernism and Beyond (London: Sage Publications, 2000).

15. See Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects (London: Penguin, 1967).

16. See Janet Fitch, Paint It Black (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2006).

17. See Michel Foucault, ‘Of Other Spaces,’ Diacritics 16, no. 1 (1986).

18. See Dio.

19. See Ibán Díaz Parra and José Candón Mena, ‘Espacio Geográfico y Ciberespacio en el Movimiento 15M,’ Scripta Nova. Revista Electrónica de Geografía y Ciencias Sociales 18, no. 470 (March 2014).

20. See Danielle Endres and Samantha Senda-Cook, ‘Location Matters: The Rethoric of Place in Protest,’ Quaterly Journal of Speech 97, no. 3 (2011): 257–282.

21. See David Harvey, Spaces of Hope (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000).

22. It is not the purpose of this article to establish a strict debate around the difference between affect and emotion only differentiating, in an abstract way, the level and velocity of each – affect as something more primitive, abstract and not yet conscious while emotion as more formed, visible and describable – as ‘drawing an excessively strong distinction between affect and emotion, is paradoxically to perpetuate the illusion that those words are referred, without any problem, to determined states of the reality’. See Monica Greco and Paul Stenner, Emotions: A Social Science Reader (London: Routledge, 2008).

23. Lauren Berlant and Jordan Greenwald, ‘Affect in the End of Times. A Conversation with Lauren Berlant,’ Critical Humanities and Social Sciences 20, no. 2 (2012): 71–89.

24. See Andrew Abbott, Time Matters: On Theory and Method (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001).

25. Nigel Thrift, ‘Intensities of Feeling: towards a Spatial Politics of Affect,’ Geografiska Annaler 86B, no. 1 (2004): 58.

26. Ibid., 57.

27. Ibid.

28. See Bruno Latour, ‘Gabriel Tarde and the Question of the Social,’ in Patrick Joyce, The Social in Question: New Bearings in History and the Social Sciences (London: Routledge, 2002), 117–132.

29. See Antonio Damasio, The Feeling of What Happens (London: Vintage, 1999).

30. See Brian Massumi, Parables for the Virtual. Movement, Affect, Sensation (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002).

31. See Brian Massumi, Politics of Affect (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2015).

32. Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space (London: Blackwell, 1991).

33. See Hakim Bey, TAZ: Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism (New York: Autonomedia, 1985).

34. For a complex critique of this see www.parsejournal.com.

35. Ana Medina, ‘Temporal ad-hoc dissident architecture in the state of exception,’ Hipotesis 4 (2016): 5–15.

36. Charles Jencks, Heteropolis: Los Angeles, the Riots and the Strange Beauty of Hetero-architecture (London: Academy Editions, 1993).

37. See María-Ángeles Durán, La ciudad compartida. Conocimiento, afecto y uso (Santiago: Ediciones SUR, 2008).

38. See Amparo Lasén Díaz, A contratiempo. Un estudio de las temporalidades juveniles (Madrid: Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas, 2000).

39. Eric Kluitenberg and Howard Rheingold, ‘Mindful Disconnection: Counter powering the Panopticon from the Inside,’ Open!, 1 November 2006, www.onlineopen.org.

40. Eric Kluitenberg, ‘Affect Space: Witnessing the Movement(s) of the Squares,’ Open!, 10 March 2015, www.onlineopen.org.

41. See Franz Kafka, La muralla China (Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 1999).

42. Paul Virilio, Speed and Politics (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), [1977] 2006).

43. ‘A Matter of Time,’ Scientific American, 2006.

44. Manuel Castells, ‘La sociedad de la información,’ El Pais, 25 February 1995, 50–52.

45. Berlant and Greenwald, ibid.

46. Lasén, ibid.

47. Elías Canetti, Masa y Poder (Barcelona: Muchnik, 1977).

48. Endres and Senda-Cook, ibid.

49. Donna Haraway, ‘Tentacular Thinking: Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene,’ e-flux journal 75 (September 2016), www.e-flux.com.

50. See Massumi, Politics of Affect.

51. Émile Durkheim, De la division du travail social (Paris: PUF, 1986).

52. Lasén, ibid.

53. Alfred Schültz, ‘Making Music Together: A Study in Social Relationships,’ in Collected Papers, Volume 2: Studies in Social Theory (Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1964), 159–178.

54. Paolo Gerbaudo, Tweets and the Streets: Social Media and Contemporary Activism (London and New York: Pluto Books, 2012).

55. Kathleen Stewart, ‘Atmospheric attunements,’ Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 29: 445–453.

56. Berlant and Greenwald, ibid.

57. See www.youtube.com.

58. See Steve Goodman, Sonic Warfare. Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009).

59. Georges Lapassade, Essai sur la transe (París: Jean-Pierre Delarge, 1976).

60. Manuel Rios, ‘Emplacing Democratic Design,’ in Beyond Zuccotti Park: freedom of assembly and the occupation of public space, ed. Ron Shiffman, Rick Bell, Lance Jay Brown and Lynne Elizabeth (Oakland: New Village Press, 2012), 133–140.

61. See Nancy Fraser, Unruly Practices: Power, Discourse and Gender in Contemporary Social Theory (Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press, 1989).

62. Paula Z. Segal, ‘Room to grow something,’ in Beyond Zuccotti Park, 156–169.

63. See Stanislaw Lem, Provocación. Un minuto Humano (Madrid: Funambulista, 1984).

64. Elizabeth Sikiaridi and Frans Vogelaar, ‘Soft Urbanism. Neighbours Network City (NNC) in the Ruhr Region,’ Open!, 1 November 2006, www.onlineopen.org.

65. Kluitenberg, ‘Affect Space.’

66. See Guy Debord, La societé du spectacle (Paris: Gallimard, 1992).

67. See Jacques Rancière, Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics (London: Continuum IPG, 2007).

68. See James Clifford, Returns: Becoming Indigenous in the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013).

Javier Argota and Rodrigo Delso are the founders of JARD. JARD researches, experiments and develops projects to implement the ongoing parametrizations of reality within the built environment and its architectures from a critical point of view. They ask: 'How do big data, augmented realities, real-time technologies or its own sociopolitical conditions shape the citizen's everyday life?' JARD is an architectonic physical-digital office that works an average of 13 hours, 23 minutes and 54 seconds daily in a discontinuous space-time without adjusting to official vacation periods and on a mutant velocity depending on the context conditions of every project. JARD compromises an ever-mutant network of people with diverse profiles such as sociologists, engineers, architects, artists, philosophers, academics or bloggers. Javier and / or Rodrigo, who are involved in each of these projects, are architects, both of whom graduated from the Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura de Madrid (2014 and 2012 respectively). They currently work as researchers and professors at the same university and complemented their training with further work at Goldsmiths University (London, 2015), Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburg, 2016) and the Illinois Institute of Technology (Chicago, 2008). Javier researches data visualization, interactive media and new technologies applied to urban planning and architecture within the Hypermedia Research Group at the Polytechnic University of Madrid. Rodrigo is a chronopath, who specializes in critical-theoretical research on the digital dimension of cities, and is currently developing his PhD titled 'ChronoPolis', recently awarded in the national competition Arquímedes (2014) for young Spanish researchers. They also founded the innovative pedagogical platform 100×10, the Master in Advanced Infographics and the Master in Architectural Communication at the Polytechnic University of Madrid.

Technology / Affect / Space
Image: Mind Design

Technology / Affect / Space (T / A / S) is a conceptual and interdisciplinary research project into the interaction between technology, affect and public space initiated by Open! together with media theorist Eric Kluitenberg. It can be considered as a continuation and actualization of the Hybrid Space issue of the Open! print cahier in 2006 on the mobilization of public space facilitated – and even initiated – by wireless media. In Hybrid Space we noted that publicness has become ‘a complex of concrete and virtual qualities, of static and mobile domains, of public and private spheres, of global and local interests’ and asked how a critical position could be possible in a hybrid space that is characterized by invisible information technology. Since then Web 2.0 and wireless media have only developed further; social networks such as Facebook and Twitter came into being and mobile media devices are now ubiquitous. T / A / S takes into account the ultimate implications of this for the public sphere in exploring the dynamics, aesthetics, design and politics of an emergent techno-sensuous spatial order that we refer to as ‘Affect Space’. There have been three exploratory public events so far on this topic in 2016: Amsterdam (with De Balie and LAPS); Rotterdam (with the New Institute); and Boston (with ACT, the MIT Program in art, culture and technology). A series of articles will be released on Open! in the coming months. What follows is a brief introduction to the underlying subject matter and key questions of T / A / S.

The emergent techno-sensuous spatial order of Affect Space is characterized by three constitutive elements: the massive presence of self-produced media forms, the context of (occupied) urban public spaces and the deep permeation of affective intensity in these media forms and urban spaces. While not ‘invented’ by anyone, the complex dynamics of the interaction among these three elements became clearly visible in the extraordinary series of popular protest gatherings in public space that have dominated world news from early 2011 onwards. In each case the local context and ‘underlying issues’ were remarkably diverse (Tunis, Caïro, Madrid, Barcelona, Athens, New York, São Paulo, Haren, Kiev, Hong Kong, Ferguson, Paris...), the pattern of simultaneous mobilization in the media and physical space was incredibly consistent – as was the ephemeral dissolution of these same acts.

This striking pattern of sudden collective mobilization and dissolution in public space is not limited to these protest gatherings, and cannot be explained exclusively by the aide of technology in their coming into being. Nor can it be reduced to the contested political, ideological and economic issues at stake. The diversity of context, incitement and participants is simply too great to hold accountable for the recurrence of this pattern.

The above point is perhaps illustrated tellingly in an early example of this pattern, with the ‘Project X’ party riot in the suburban town of Haren, the Netherlands in mid-2012.1 A Facebook invite to a local girl’s sixteenth birthday party (accidentally posted ‘public’) was picked up and transformed into a Project X party meme. It went viral, generating enormous traffic and (mass media) attention. In reaction to the seemingly immanent public order disturbance local authorities organized a massive police response. On the designated date numerous police officers and a large crowd of Project X Haren participants clashed over a party that never existed, leading to the devastation of the city centre’s public space and widespread damage to private properties. A national investigation produced a thorough report.2 Most intriguing was the media analysis by researchers at Utrecht University. They concluded that the crowd build-up was incited almost exclusively via social media channels. Mass media exposure had a negligible influence. While the mobilization pattern was virtually identical to the large protest gatherings we’ve become familiar with since 2011, any kind of underlying contested social or political issue was completely absent. So how do we account for these remarkable phenomena?

In an essay by the co-author of this editorial Eric Kluitenberg titled ‘Affect Space’, the contours of a model are suggested, building on three constitutive elements:

  1. A technological component: The Internet, but in particular the widespread use of mobile and wireless media perform a crucial function to mobilize large groups of people around ever-changing ‘issues at stake’.
  2. An affective component: A recurrent characteristic is the affective intensity generated and exchanged in these mobilization processes. Reasoned arguments seem to play much less of a role than affective images, suggestive slogans (‘We are the 99%!’ / ‘Je (ne) suis (pas) Charlie’) and vague but insistent associations with things that are felt as highly desirable (the mystique of a Project X party in (sleepy) Haren, whose meaning no one fully grasps, and whose existence is subject to question – in this case with no party taking place at all).
  3. A spatial component: Particularly the affective intensity generated in the mobilization process cannot be shared effectively in disembodied online interactions on the Internet and via apps. This lack stimulates the desire for physical encounter, which can only happen in a physical spatial context paradigmatically in (urban) public space.

The use of mobile and wireless media changes the nature of public space dramatically. Ever- tighter feedback loops of the physical and the mediated are generated, turning streets and squares into media channels and platforms in near real-time. As wireless networks speed up, the speed of these feedback loops is only intensified (Wi-fi, 3G, 4G, et cetera). The physical and mediated feedback loop precipitates affect-related forms of communication and exchange. In these dense environments, messages, images and impulses with the strongest affective effect – not the most well thought-through argument, delicately composed visuals or eloquent exposé – are the most apt for dissemination.

The main questions T / A / S pushes to the forefront and explores through public research meetings and essay assignments are:

  • How does the complex but highly recognizable interaction between technology, affect and physical space influence use, design and behaviour in public space?
  • What is the significance of this development for political processes, particularly when the relation between content and affective slogans and images becomes extremely ambiguous?
  • Which new forms of manipulation and control emerge, in the media space and in public space – in short in the public domain?
  • How can effects that undermine rather than support an open democratic social order be counteracted?
  • What role do artists, designers, architects and urbanists have in these processes? And what is the role that they wish to assume?

There is a rich repository of engagements with the implicit and explicit orderings of public spaces, ranging from psychogeographic procedures developed by the Situationists, to critical theories and practices in architectural and urban design, information architecture, and geo-locative arts and design, as well as within social movements, community arts, and media theory and activism. The aim of T / A / S is to bring protagonists in these different fields into conversation on the emergent techno-sensuous spatial order of Affect Space. Please continue to visit us as the essay series puts forth contributions by media scholar, artist and activist Alessandra Renzi, artist- researcher Sher Doruff, architectonic office JARD (Javier Argota and Rodrigo Delso), media theorist Nishant Shah, artist-designer Christian Nold, Eric Kluitenberg and artists PolakVanBekkum (Esther Polak and Ivan van Bekkum).