Urban interventions are a direct and urgent response to the ever-increasing politicization of the contemporary urban landscape, inter/dis-rupting the fabric of order, boredom and monotony that has come to characterize everyday life in the city. While they can take an infinite number of forms, most kinds of urban intervention generally share a number of common criteria: firstly, interventions are public, making use of civic spaces in the city; secondly, interventions are performative, encouraging the adoption of identities and modes of being that are different from the everyday; thirdly, interventions are participatory, actively problematizing the role of the passive spectator; fourthly, interventions are political, consciously drawing attention to social, political and economic issues within the city; and finally, interventions are playful, illustrating how acts of protest and political critique can be accomplished without violence or the traditionally sombre tone that characterizes most formal demonstrations.

Interventions seek to interrupt, critique, and call attention to the political aspects of everyday urban life that have been naturalized and taken for granted, from the destruction and disappearance of public space to the acute sense of social alienation that pervades the city. In whatever specific form they become manifest—from a Reclaim the Streets action organized by a large collective to independent acts of guerrilla street theatre—interventions seek to make invisible aspects of the city and urban life visible again, if only for the (finite, temporary) duration of the intervention itself. The contemporary processes of globalization and hyper-capitalist urban redevelopment are responsible for blurring, obscuring, and rendering invisible some of the most important and contested political dimensions of urban life; through public, performative, participatory, political, playful acts of urban intervention, different constellations of artists and activists working in the city consciously attempt to bring the politics of urban life back into the realm of (“public”) visibility.

As the contemporary cityscape becomes increasingly characterized by capitalist social relations mediated by postmodern permutations of the spectacle and monitored/regulated by the repressive regime of ubiquitous panoptical surveillance, there is an ever more urgent, critical need for creative, playful interventions that construct and present alternate ways of seeing, imagining and engaging with the city. By inter/dis-rupting and intentionally intervening in the everyday order of contemporary urban life, interventions are responsible for constructing new and creative models for what Guy Debord called the “conscious alteration of everyday life,” actively seeking to create moments of autonomy and sites of resistance, however fleeting, fragmentary, transitory or ephemeral. As a response to privatization, militarization, sanitization, and other imposed practices of hypercapitalist urban redevelopment, urban interventions provide instances in and through which to creatively re-imagine—and thereby re-construct and re-inhabit—the city.

- Christopher Smith

Visible City: Project + Archive is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of CanadaCanada Research Chairs, York Research, Ontario Innovation Trust, and the Canada Foundation for Innovation. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.