Ironic Infrastructures: Roadsides and the Aesthetics of Laughter
(University of Basel)
Paper short abstract:
Taking up the panel's call to study infrastructures as "aesthetic networks", I aim at depicting Eastern Congo's roads as a socio-political, economic and artistic mosaic of potentialities by having a closer look on practices of humour.
Paper long abstract:
As infrastructures are the constitutive fabric of both cities (and non-cities), they enable exchanges of knowledge, resources, practices, and people. Zooming into questions of urban infrastructure in DR Congo, where state administration has retreated from much of the public domain, allows for studying the intimate relation between the politics and aesthetics of infrastructures. Goma, the provincial capital of the North Kivu province has not only been shaped by protracted violent conflict but also by the eruption of a volcano in 2002. These man-made and natural events made roads in the lived experience of Goma's population "objects of both fascination and terror" (Masquelier 2002). From temporary roadblocks to military parades through the city, from popular protest to flight, they offer a useful starting point for the exploration of current and locally specific socio-political conditions of inclusion and exclusion while being related to infrastructural governance at the same time. There is a lot of everyday talk about the state of "art" of Goma's roadsides. In my talk I want to illustrate one particular artistic formation that is humour. As a social commentary and critique it stipulates processes of political reflection about the visible and invisible dimensions of the urban context. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in Goma since 2008 and by the concrete example of one local comedian, I highlight different forms of using the road artistically which, I argue, generate a mosaic of potentialities of contesting urban government, providing amusement and raising economic opportunities for the comedian himself.
The art of infrastructure