Friend, Adrian orcid iconORCID: 0000-0001-7176-767X and Golchehr, Saba (2016) Mediations. In: Mediations International Conference, 21-22 November 2016, Royal College of Art.

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Over the last decade the notion of citizen participation has (re)gained momentum, both in the realm of national and local politics – partly driven by advances in digital technologies, such as civic platforms – as well as outside the institutional domain. Several art and design practitioners have embraced this participatory turn, aiming to empower citizens to reclaim agency in the public realm. At the same time, various (conceptual) models of participatory democracy have been explored through numerous political theories.1 There are, however, very few theories that mediate between such conceptual models and actual participatory art and/or design practices in a meaningful and rigorous way [i].

The TRADERS2 project, and the MEDIATIONS conference as an extension of it, aims to operate within this ambiguous territory. TRADERS focuses on enabling an exchange of experiences and knowledge in the field of participation in art and design. Working collectively and individually through workshops, performances, exhibitions and publications, six early-career researchers have explored different approaches including intervention, mapping, data mining, play, dialogue and curating. While these six research projects vary in their thematic approach and deploy different art and design-based research methods, they all contribute to a collective deconstruction and problematisation of the notion of citizen participation in art and design, particularly within the context of public space.

Operating within this context means dealing with discrepancies between a multiplicity of forces (political, economical, environmental, legal, etc.), concerns (social justice, privatisation, digitalisation, etc.) and actors (citizens, policy makers,
urban planners, etc.). Artists and designers who aim to empower citizens in often ‘agonistic’ spaces [ii] need to mediate between various aspirations in order to help bring about desired social and/or political change. Such mediation can take shape in many ways: through mediating between different stakeholders, between the client and the public, between different publics, between top-down and bottom-up, between theory and practice, between ideas and action, between imaginaries and reality, and so on.

In this conference we explore six possible approaches to mediation for artists and
designers that aim for civic empowerment:
- Data Mining – data-driven methods to mediate between the top-down and bottom-up to promote citizen empowerment in the ‘Data City’;
- Intervention –a method to mediate between ephemeral actions and long-term effects on civic participation in public space;
- Play –mediating between realities and imaginaries of children and adults in their experience of, and participation in, public space;
- Modelling in Dialogue –mediating between different actors and voices by modelling multivocality within participatory processes;
- Multiple Performative Mapping –performative and participatory mapping as a method to mediate power configurations in the digital-physical urban landscape;
- Curating - exploring if and how the curatorial negotiates and mediates between knowledge boundaries in art and design.
During this conference we interrogate the means, modes and/or practices artists and designers can employ to mediate between multiple actors with diverse agencies. How can they use their own agency to empower citizens to bring about desired social or political change? And how can artists and designers ‘make a difference’ [iii] within existing/established distributions of power? These questions, and more, are explored through different paper, exhibition, keynote and reflection sessions, examining ‘matters of concern’ [iv] in art and design practices by analysing material, e.g. artefacts, as well as immaterial components, e.g. relationality, positionality, etc., of real-life participatory projects. We aim to scrutinise the ethical implications – such as artists’ and designers’ accountability – that are inherent to participatory processes, yet often remain underexplored by researchers and practitioners when working with, or in the service of, the public. The conference therefore explores how artists and designers can become critically aware of their agency in the pursuit of empowering publics in decision-making for, and co-creation of, public space(s).

1 Some examples include deliberative democracy, associative democracy and agonistic pluralism (resp.
Habermas, J., 1996. Between Facts and Norms. Cambridge: Polity Press; Hirst, P., 1994. Associative
Democracy: New Forms of Economic and Social Governance. Cambridge: Polity Press; Mouffe, C., 2000.
‘For an Agonistic Model of Democracy’ in (ed) Martin, J., 2013. Hegemony, Radical Democracy and the
Political, Oxon: Routledge)

2 TRADERS - short for ‘Training Art and Design Researchers for Participation in Public Space’ - is an EU
FP7 Marie Curie Multi-ITN funded project (

[i] Krivý, M. and Kaminer, M., 2013. The Participatory Turn in Urbanism. Footprint, Issue 13, Vol. 7(2).
Autumn 2013. pp.1-6.
[ii] Mouffe, C., 2000. Deliberative Democracy or Agonistic Pluralism. Political Science Series 72, C. Neuhold
(Ed.). Vienna: Department of Political Science, Institute for Advanced Studies (IHS).
[iii] Giddens, A., 1984. The Constitution of Society: Outline of the Theory of Structuration. Berkeley,
California: University of California Press. P.14.
[iv] Latour, B., 2004. Why has critique run out of steam? Critical Inquiry, 30, Winter 2004.

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