Speaking to Support Structures: RESOLVE Collective
The actions that hold ‘community’ are far more delicate than the word we lean on.
Members of the interdisciplinary design collective RESOLVE consider how they work to realise just and equitable visions of change.
Support Structures for Support Structures is a fellowship which nurtures London-based artists and collectives working with spatial, social and community practices. Initiated with Sumayya Vally – architect of the Serpentine Pavilion 2021 – the programme offers financial support and mentorship, and forms a supportive network of peers.
For this series, we asked each of the fellows in the 2021 Support Structures cohort to reflect on their work in the context of community. The members of RESOLVE Collective combine architecture, engineering, technology, and art to address social challenges. They have delivered numerous projects, workshops, publications, and talks across the UK and Europe, and their work often aims to provide platforms where new knowledge and ideas can be produced.
Tell us about yourselves and your practice.
We began by working with networks of practitioners who we still collaborate with today. Our idea of using design to ‘platform’ began with celebrating the work of peers in our local area. This extended to a range of places, from Birmingham to Berlin, allowing us to ‘read’ and learn from other cities, and to bring people together in otherwise unforeseen, unpermitted, or undesigned ways.
An integral part of our process is designing with and for young people and under-represented groups. Here, ‘design’ carries more than aesthetic value, encompasses both physical and systemic intervention, and is a mechanism for political and socio-economic change. The onus is for us to continuously and critically develop ways to practice ‘infrastructurally’: working in ways that radically decentralise resource; creating spaces in which access is a verb, not a noun; and upholding dissipative practices. These are performative, responsive, and redistributive modes of operation that cause leaks and loopholes in organisational structures, in which communities of care and networks of maintenance can flourish.
Why is collective work important?
Our practice owes a considerable amount to ‘the collective’. We work with and learn from many collaborators. It’s important for us to acknowledge the messiness of any collaborative relationship and notice the moments where it becomes porous: leaking into and drawing from people we practice around and those who practice around them. This means our project shout-outs often read like Homer’s Catalogue of Ships or the credits on a DJ Khaled album, but when practicing collectively, it’s important for us to not only put respek on names but to put names to the social production of our habitats.
Spatial collective practices – in which multiple practices and people can mobilise and organise in a plenum – are important to us. We understand the plenum as a space and moment that doesn’t place you, but that catalyses an ability to place yourself amongst others. Our projects – from community visioning strategies in Northolt to art installations in Sheffield – are a result of collective practice in that they are both ways and products of coming together.
Finally, though collectivist approaches to design can be beautiful, they are also difficult and fraught with challenges: from the problem of fairly remunerating labour in the creative industries to the work required to address socio-economic, gendered and racial divisions in any socially-responsible practice, to difficulties discerning institutional validity that many of us navigate. We have to face the fact that often, this means we are almost or not quite fulfilling our dream of truly practicing collectively. In some instances, we’ve found that the only way to be faithful to the ideals of collective practice is to not engage in it.
How do you define community?
In our field, ‘community’ is often used and abused to exhaustion. Perhaps because of the English-language fetish for treating words like museum artefacts – to be inspected, coddled, incarcerated – the word ‘community’ has become a sort of currency used to suggest a project’s apparent public value. It is a word that we, and many other practitioners, rely upon to communicate to institutions, funders and local authorities how deeply invaluable local peoples’ actual needs and desires are in shaping spaces.
The actions that hold ‘community’ are far more delicate than the word we lean on. Behind the taglines, bids, Instagram posts, and exhibition speak, we exist in worlds where community is never one resolute state of togetherness. Community-focused design has more to do with actively deconstructing unitary notions of ‘community’ than with constructing objects or products that serve these assumptions. We often find stark differences between ‘communities of geography’ and ‘communities of interest’. The former exist in (and sometimes think of themselves as belonging to) some definition of an area, while the latter exists over cross-sections, or even deep lacerations, in geography. Between these camps are paradoxes true to experience, such as neighbourhoods that are made prominent by locals who are not residents and invisible boundaries that create multiple realities out of one, seemingly discrete ‘community’.