Deadline for articles: November 30 2016
The 15th edition of the Venice Architecture Biennale, which opened on 28th March under the curatorial direction of 2016 Pritzker Prize winner Alejandro Aravena, is organized around the theme “Reporting from the Front”. As the title suggests, the exhibition proposes an expanded perspective on the challenges posed to architecture as a process and practice dealing with the social, cultural, political and economic dimensions. The exhibition couples retrospective and prospective projects that testify to the ambivalent condition of architecture, regarded both as a luxury commodity - a blueprint of capitalist spectacle - and as a process committed to improve living conditions through built environment. Following the nature of Aravena’s own work, this year’s biennale engages with both pragmatism and functionalism in architectural projects and probes into its space for action and agency. We take this ambivalence and dialectics, which build on the different challenges that accompany capitalist and post-capitalist societies, to explore the dynamics of contemporary luxury. We wish to investigate how desire, exclusivity and accumulation intersect with agency, participation and transgression over historical, cultural and economic notions of luxury.
Such ambivalences are particularly expressive in the art world (Bishop, 2006; Thompson, 2012; Dobson and McGlynn, 2013). Whilst recognized for its critical potential, contemporary art has nevertheless been acknowledged as a commodity deeply entangled with modern global finance, where sky-rocketing prices are often commensurate to criticality. A pressing example of thus dynamics is the coalescence of art, architecture and oil culture in the Persian Gulf, where luxury projects have been met with strong opposition and creative activism (Harrebye, 2016). The recent campaign coordinated by the GULF Labor Coalition testifies to such committed engagement, with the group, together with other organizations, putting up several actions of protest against the abusive treatment of migrant workers building the monumental outposts of iconic Western cultural and academic institutions in the luxurious city of Abu Dhabi (Gulf Labor 2014).
The monumentality of these projects indeed recaptures some of the early attributes of luxury as a product of modern consumer culture. In fact, contemporary luxury still relates to a fascination with “conspicuous consumption” (Veblen, 1899), excess, indulgence and distinction (Bourdieu, 1984), pairing with a logic of indifference towards the abusive use of natural resources as well as towards poverty, social inequality and segregation. This dynamics became quite visible recently, when Chanel premiered its new collection in Havana, staging a semi-private elite fashion show. Inspired by essentialist traces of Cuban (pre)revolutionary culture , the show celebrated a brand of glamorous capitalism in a city once considered a model of socialist utopia, now opening up to capitalist imagination. Chanel’s luxury display in a city where economic disadvantage is widespread was heavily criticized, following the rise of a critique of luxury stemming both from theoretical discourse (Cloutier, 2015; Tseëlon, 2014) and popular culture, as is the case with Edward Zwick’s Blood Diamond (2006), Martin Scorcese’s The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) and Psy K-pop hit “Gangnam Style” (2012).
If a sense of exquisiteness, uniqueness and surplus-enjoyment (iek, 2016) remains attached to contemporary luxury goods consumption, global trends have however incited the democratization of luxury and desire (Featherstone, 2014) thereby fostering the growing visibility of contrasting categories such as counterfeit luxury (Jiang and Cova, 2012) and ethical and sustainable luxury (Gardetti and Torres, 2013; Balsiger, 2016). Another feature of contemporary luxury concerns the shift from “material and sensory luxuries to immaterial luxuries” (Featherstone, 2014: 49). As Featherstone contends, the immaterial content of luxury has an embedded nostalgia, for the “fascination with the power of luxuries can also summon up the longing for the ‘impoverished,’ simple life, an immaterial world whose values are of an entirely different order to those of the market” (Featherstone, 2014: 49), such as silence, security, privacy, spirituality and time. However, incorporeal luxury is also gaining importance as a result of concerns over the harmful impact of contemporary disasters. In fact, in countries where pollution is a severe problem, as is the case with China and India, air is indeed becoming the new luxury, with bottled “fresh mountain” air from Western countries, costing around thirty to fifty times more than a bottle of local mineral water.
At a time when luxury has become such a contentious subject, this issue wishes to debate luxury as a symptom of capitalist and post-capitalist conditions, and as a potentially transgressive currency. We invite authors to submit original research articles that might address but are not limited to the following topics:
- The cultural history of luxury
- Luxury, lust, desire and things
- Luxury and the financialization of art
- Luxury and extractive economies
- Participatory Luxury
- Luxury and the visibility of poverty, austerity, exploitation and precariousness
- Luxury, gender and embodiment
- Luxury, ethics and sustainability
- Gentrification, the luxury city and displacement
- Gated spaces, exclusivity and urban utopias/phobias
- Immaterial and incorporeal luxuries
- Luxury, value, taste and the new rich
- Global desires and counterfeit luxury
- The critique of luxury in literature, media and the arts.
We look forward to receiving full articles of no more than 7000 words (not including bibliography) by November 30 at the following address: email@example.com. We welcome inquiries throughout the entire period of submissions.
Diffractions welcomes articles written in English, Portuguese and Spanish. Please follow the journal’s house style and submission guidelines at http://www.diffractions.net/submission-guidelines
Diffractions also accepts book reviews that may not be related to the issue’s topic. If you wish to write a book review, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.