The lecture and workshop Conflict Space takes place at the International Symposium on Electronic Art ISEA 2022 “Possibilities – Heritage and Futures” at the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona.
The workshop “Conflict Space”, which deals with the re-signification of a very contentious Franco monument, is part of the ‘Deep Space’ research on the politics of memory and heritage in the digital age.
Revealing the potential hidden in the intersection of art, technology and memory studies, the project lifts the veil on the poignant historical meanings of the monument and examines its possible future.
The workshop addresses the interconnected dimensions of hybrid heritage and of inclusive memory-making as well as dealing with controversial monuments in the Digital Age.
Franco’s monument to the Fallen of the Spanish Civil War near Madrid, built between 1940 and 1959 partly through the forced labour of political prisoners, contains more than 33,000 remains from both sides of the conflict, which were removed from mass graves all over the country. Official information on site does not convey this difficult history; traces of the prisoners of war barracks and mass graves are not visible to visitors in any way.
Presenting its history on site with the help of an AR application would transform the Valle des los Caídos into a tangible testimony to Francoism, break its totalitarian narrative, convert it into a polyphonic memorial, supporting its transformation – and be an example of the demise of controversial monuments in the Digital Age.
‘Augmenting’ physical memory spaces into polyphonic spaces is a major challenge. The project is therefore a case study for reinterpreting and transforming historically charged and contentious physical memory sites with digital tools. Given the wave of iconoclastic actions against monuments glorifying a contested, exploitative and unaddressed history, there is an acute need for the development of inclusive tools and methodologies to engage with the evidence of the contested past and its unaddressed wounds.
Digital tools are very relevant for the re-signification of large physical memory sites – both in the scale of a landscape (such as at Valle des Caídos) and on an urban scale. The project opens up possibilities for a comprehensive reinterpretation of larger areas (e.g. from a postcolonial perspective).
The workshop Conflict Space develops concepts for prototypes for an AR/VR app that contextualises and supports the resignification of the contentious Francoist monument Valle de los Caídos.
Such an AR/VR application would be of high importance to the Valle de los Caídos resignification process. It could also foster and enrich the resignification of other contested memorial sites on an international level and be relevant to the discourse on inclusive spaces of memory, and the need for inclusive heritage and memory/-making processes.
The workshop also addresses the theme of reconciliation and the related processes from re-signification to reconciliation.
How can creative methods and digital tools support meaningful, inclusive, and future-proof reconciliation processes? What does it take for dialog and processes conducive to peace to take place and for reconciliation to unfold through time, from one generation to the next?
Another theme that the workshop deals with concerns the notion of non-hierarchical co-creation of testimony, envisioning digital, decentralized, participatory archives. Such (an-)archives would allow digital information to overlay the physical dimension, attributing a completely different meaning to the latter.
Overlaying the physical dimension with an interactive digital layer allows to challenge hierarchies of autocratic meaning-making, corroding their stone-carved narratives. Next to dealing with historical controversies, this approach enables dealing with heritage and memory currently being created – not unlike the role that smartphones can play in current conflicts, when they’re deployed in real-time testimonies.
Lastly, the workshop explores the questions and challenges related to approaches on how to deal with the sheer amount and scale of fake news, myths and conspiracies that populate the digital landscape, and whether this should interrogate our notions and hopes of achieving realism and drawing evidence from complex social systems.
Ultimately, it is a question of how to do deal with phenomena occurring in a networked digital space. The very fact that the content shared – as well as out digital identities and presence – on digital social networks inherently reverberate and amplify through ripples and echoes, with unanticipated and often far-reaching effects challenges the ethics and practices of moderating and framing what’s being typed, recorded, and shared.
ISEA, International Symposium on Electronic Art, is one of the most important annual events worldwide dedicated to the crossroads where art, design, science, technology, and society meet.
Possibles not only open up an unfinished world of futures before us, but also presents and pasts behind us.
The Possible is openness and movement, a horizon of change that unfolds and organizes the world.
The Possible started with the polis, the city, and is political by definition.
The Possible has nothing to do with the unreal, the impossible, or the fictitious, but rather with the unfinished real in front of us.
The Possible shapes our reality, and that is precisely why it is a political problem in itself. From “everything is possible” to “be realistic and ask for the impossible”, from an “infinitude of possible worlds” to “this is not possible and cannot be done”.
Sometimes we are trapped in a world of pre-designed Possibles – “this is it” – where it seems that nothing could have been left out, there are no alternatives. Sometimes it is living an illusion of freedom in an impossible world where the critical just disappears. How to open towards contingency, not only to the becoming but also its uncertainty?
How to draw new Possibles to come, and not just confirming those that are there waiting to be confirmed, experienced and thought, as Possibles that can be brought to existence in our worldview? How to move from the impossible, the fable or the utopia to directly bite into our reality?
The Possible is inscribed within the arts, design, sciences and technologies that surround us now and those yet to come.
We see these Possibles behind climate change and global warming, behind robotics and biotechnologies, inside algorithms, artificial intelligence and data science, in between quantic worlds trying to get a grasp of what matter is, up there above our heads in outer space and the multiverse.