The Libidinal Circuits Conference offers its participants the chance to look at cities and at urban life as forms of organisms, or organic structures, in which our desires, fears and creative energies culminate in often unconscious, unforeseeable and uncontrollable ways. As the third annual conference of the International Association for the Study of the Culture of Cities (IASCC), and in collaboration with FACT, CAVA (Centre for Architecture and the Visual Arts), and the University of Liverpool’s School of the Arts (SOTA), the conference invites both academics and art practitioners to open up debates about and around the disruptive power of the arts within the libidinal circuits of the city.


Given the title of the conference, one wonders: What are ‘libidinal circuits’? What exactly does this title refer to? The official conference website offers respective dictionary entries for clarification: libidinal meaning instinctual psychic energy or sex drive; and circuit referring to something circular or peripheral. So far so good. Yet, how can a city have a libido? Surely this conference is not about discussing the sexual adventures of Carrie Bradshaw and her friends from Sex and the City?


In an attempt to make sense of the notion of an ‘urban libido’ and of ‘libidinal circuits’ within a city, a closer look at the cinema screen may nevertheless be helpful. Think of Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) in Taxi Driver, attempting to rid New York City of its excessive, abusive, sexual systems in a climactic moment of violent outburst. Or, think of the main character Thomas (David Hemmings) in Blow Up who, through his photography, not only finds himself amidst swinging London’s revelries but who also seems to lose his mind over witnessing a murder which apparently left no traces. Or, think of the epic film Metropolis, directed by Fritz Lang, in which the erotic dance of the goddess Hel drives the city’s male upper class into a frenzy of sexual lust, while the masses attempt a revolution. In all cases the urban environment is a stage for ‘abnormal’, ‘ecstatic’ and ‘erratic’ behaviour, for decay and crime, but also for utopian visions, new inventions, artistic endeavors and uprisings.


The urban landscape as a den of inequity, anxiety and violence, as well as a generator of creativity, economic power and the power for social change, is not just a common theme in the cinematic genre, but also widely spread amongst other artistic disciplines and within theory and philosophy. In his book Libidinal Economy, the French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard, for example, compared the flow of capital within cities with erotic fluids which function as lubricates of a libidinal economy of capitalism. The erotically charged terminology aside, what Lyotard seems to refer to is the existence of circuits and networks which are fueled by desires, fears and hierarchies created through capitalism and, in many ways, cities can be seen as accumulations of entangled networks layered on top of each other, irrevocably intertwined (e.g. street networks, digital networks, social networks, economical networks, etc). These networks and systems create intersections and junctions which not only offer themselves for further connections but which also represent open invitations for disconnections, disruptions and anarchism. Yet, who or what does the connecting or the disrupting? And, what drives the act of connecting or disconnecting, in the first place?


Artists and the creative industries play a key role here. It is undeniably true that our concepts of  ‘the city’ and ‘the urban’ are constantly under evaluation and reevaluation. New theories about the individuals living in city spaces and the structures of these spaces are produced each second. We can be conscious or unconscious about the networks of the city we live in but in the end we are all equally affected by the ways in which, for example, advertising, business, food and pornography shape our social interactions. However, artists and cultural institutions, arguably more than political organizations, can evoke new developments and create events that break or challenge these circuits. Artistic practice then again shapes the way in which we think, philosophize and theorize about cities and citizens.


By bringing artists and researchers together the Libidinal Circuits Conference aims at opening up discussions that will generate new insights into the links and fractures caused by art and artists within urban life. As a cultural partner of this interdisciplinary conference, FACT will provide the venue for artworks, art installations and exhibitions, reflecting the themes of the event, during the time of the conference.


Find more information here.