Goldsmiths Center for Contemporary Art: A Reverse Design Brief

Working with Bahar Noorizadeh, Rose Lejeune and Tom Clark, our group devised a workshop to position and explore Goldsmiths Center for Contemporary Art (CCA) as an example of an infrastructural object — that is, a result and realization of a complex set of related and interlocking intentions, conditions and stakeholders. 

This allowed us to do two things. First, to collectively discuss some of the specific strands that made a gallery possible — university policy, the process of selecting and hiring its staff, and the perspectives of the architects — as fields in themselves, and as paths towards the realisation of a university gallery. Second, this offered the context in which to imagine these factors as a whole, as they were combined into an actual space, and as we might re-imagine its construction.

Through a ‘reverse design brief’ workshop, we proposed to work backwards from the CCA as an existing object, to speculate on its potential founding aims. We proposed this method to explore its structural and methodological generalities and particularities, to see if these might be used towards different ends.  Drawing on Mark Fisher (2016), we described this as a ‘weird,’ live action role-play (LARP). By doing so, our intention was to open an “egress between this world and others” (p.19) – a speculative past, of what the gallery might have become given a different set of conditions. By (re-)enacting alternative histories we devised a process of speculation to problematise and to re-imagine that which already exists. The first aim being to understand and unpick the means and interests being served by the gallery. And second, to turn and ‘adjust the dials’ on the baked-in assumptions and decisions concretised in the gallery and its infrastructure. For example, we asked, who wasn’t present at this, or that meeting, and whose interests weren’t accounted for? By retelling the past our aim was to generate alternative, parallel ‘versions’ of the gallery.

Concretely, the workshop explored the CCA around three themes: economic, cultural, and pedagogical. The room was arranged into three corresponding scenarios to create an architecture in which to role play one of three meetings: a policy planning meeting, a lecture by the architects and a selection panel for the galleries’ prospective director. Each scenario was accompanied by examples of publicly-available documents and artefacts surrounding the gallery. During  the workshop participants were asked to ‘invite’, define the interests of, and speculatively ‘play’ new potential stakeholders that were not initially present. At the end of the workshop the newly assembled group diagrammatised what these emerging, often contradictory interests might be, and proposed a set of demands that their new group would make on the gallery.

This write-up was also written in collaboration with Bahar Noorizadeh, Rose Lejeune and Tom Clark. Photos by: Romeo Gongora