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Headless-City-Graphic.jpg is a public wiki that invites the contribution of articles on themes of architecture and the built environment—specifically taking as its starting point the definition of architecture laid out by French writer Georges Bataille in his 1929 'Critical Dictionary' entry on the term.

Archiwik[1] was initiated by artist Mark Orange and launched in November 2016 as a contributing project at the Galway, Ireland-based arts festival TULCA. TULCA curator Daniel Jewesbury proposed the theme for the festival - The Headless City - as a loose framework for a wide range of projects and events that, "inform and shape our thinking about the city, through their ability to make us aware of certain problems and ongoing unresolved contradictions, by dramatising our unease about the city, or by generating that unease."[2]


First published in the journal Documents in 1929 as part of series of texts forming a conjectural Dictionnaire Critique (Critical Dictionary), Bataille's “Architecture” article stresses the capacity of architecture to exert both literal and metaphorical power. Writing primarily of the monumental public buildings of the French church and state, Bataille points out how architectural form itself can act as proxy for these institutions in ordering and prohibiting behavior. Architecture has the ability to manifest social hierarchy and political power, but can also affect and convey that power to those who walk in its shadow.

This definition of the architectural - as that which is ordered or ordering - extended, for Bataille, to any system, from the social to the psychological. In painting, it is evinced as classical composition and, in the most advanced painters working in the Paris of his day, Bataille saw a route out of the architectural injunction: by escaping form itself.

The influence of the article on architects and theoreticians has been far-reaching. Most notably, Denis Hollier's elaboration of Bataille's central thesis, in La Prise de la Concorde (1974; published in English as Against Architecture in 1989), has ensured an extended afterlife for the text. Hollier develops Bataille's premise by demonstrating the degree to which architectural terminology and its metaphors reach deeply into the construction of language itself, underpinning narratives of historical progress and much of the edifice of rational philosophy.

More recently, architect and writer Jill Stoner, in Toward A Minor Architecture, argues for the continued relevance of Bataille's text to the architectural and urban environment. Where, for Bataille (writing in Paris in the 1920's), the source of architectural authority was the church, the military and the judiciary, for Stoner, it is in the speculative redevelopment of our cities, and the corporate facades of the neoliberal economy that we can see the blank face of today's financial and political elites: "... here in full force (though in radically different form) are the architectures of power that Bataille so precisely described seventy years ago. They place the argument for alternate and subversive spatial strategies squarely at our door step".[3]


Documents 2, 1929, p.117 aims to explore and expand on some of these themes, from the central starting point of Bataille's article.

We invite artists, architects, writers, academics, and all interested parties, to contribute to the project. Articles can take as broad an approach to the central area of focus as contributors feel appropriate, from scholarly articles on the post-urban city, to investigations of the more lurid or bizarre side of architecture and the built environment. Possible categories might include: critical or literary texts central to the theme; minor architectures; architectural appropriations and misuses; haunted structures; architecture and crime; ruins and ancient architectures; the architect's body; gravity and entropy; unauthored structures; architectural excess.

The choice of a wiki as format underlines the collaborative intentions for the project and proposes, in a playful way, an encyclopedic scope analogous to Bataille's Dictionnaire Critique series, in which the "Architecture" article first appeared. Bataille flouted the ideals of comprehensiveness and scholarly objectivity associated with the dictionary, cutting across conventional hierarchies and categories with a fragmentary choice of entries ranging from Buster Keaton to spittle, factory chimneys to shellfish. Michael Richardson describes the Dictionnaire as “an edifice lacking architecture but emerging through the process of construction from the ground up”,[4] and it is in this spirit that we hope the Archiwik project will take shape. Archiwik will foreground wide-ranging and unexpected takes on its ostensible subject of architecture and the built environment, and remain committed to playing architecture, as 'first of the arts', against its opposite: the vertiginous, the contingent, the minor, the infirm - all that acts counter to the edification of grand designs.

  1. The name, based on the simple compound of architecture and wiki, is intentionally awkward. Wik is indebted to the juvenile Northern Irish term wick, for something that is below par, or a bit useless. It also recalls the phrase to 'get on someone's wick', to annoy or irritate them, which is itself derived from the cockney rhyming slang 'Hampton Wick' for 'prick'.
  2. Daniel Jewesbury, “The Headless City: Visions of Impossible Existence”, in TULCA 2016, exhibition catalogue.
  3. Jill Stoner, Toward A Minor Architecture (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2012)
  4. Michael Richardson, "Dictionary", in Undercover surrealism : Georges Bataille and Documents, (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2006), 92