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Artists take on real estate speculation and the housing crisis in new seminar

Visiting Artist Marie-Sophie Banville talks about her course [Anti] Speculation – Excess and the City and the Office of Rules and Norms
January 9, 2020
By Amelia Wong-Mersereau

Design by Marie-Sophie Bainville Design by Marie-Sophie Bainville.

The Office of Rules and Norms, a transdisciplinary research studio recently launched within the Faculty of Fine Arts, is offering a new course called [Anti] Speculation-Excess and the City this winter term.

Art, rules and norms intersect in this experimental seminar where two dozen students will engage as artists with the culture of real estate speculation and the housing crisis. Visiting Artist Marie-Sophie Banville will lead the seminar and help students unpack the complex system of regulations that produces unaffordable cities and leads to social problems of disaplacement, precariousness and homelessness. Banville holds a BA from McGill in Political Science and Gender Studies, and an MA in Urban Planning from UdeM.

She was pleased to discuss this seminar and her relationship with the Office of Rules and Norms.

Marie-Sophie Bainville  Photo credit: Yann Chevalier Visiting artist Marie-Sophie Bainville will lead the seminar PERC 498: [Anti] Speculation-Excess and the City Photo credit: Yann Chevalier

How did this course come about and how did you get involved with the Office of Rules and Norms?

I wanted to come up with new housing solutions beyond social housing. In the last three years, I became involved in a project called Vivacité to come up with new types of non-speculative housing, perpetually affordable homeownership. I looked at the back end of the housing crisis. I began to understand the mechanisms that make it so hard to build affordable housing and I understood more concretely the way the system is structured.

Through that work I became more interested in the fundamental reasons why cities are so unaffordable, which brought me to meet Jonathan Lapalme of the Office of Rules and Norms (ORN). ORN is based on the idea that rules and norms form the deep architectures of our societies, but they’re elusive and hard to grasp. Can we as artists engage with the deep architecture of those systems, make them more visible, and reflect upon them in a more critical way?

These shared ideas led Jonathan to ask me if I’d like to do this seminar.

I’ve always found working with artists to be a fascinating relationship because I have a deep belief that artists can go to the edges of the public debate and consciousness. They’re allowed to explore ideas that are uncomfortable. Sometimes my perspective helps them deepen their work. It’s very stimulating and creative and I would say an essential type of exchange for me.

What exactly do you mean by speculation and anti-speculation?

For me, speculation and speculative housing is about the way we took land and what we built on it (houses, shops, etc.), and how we turned them into a financial product and an investment vehicle. We do that more and more rapidly. The whole system revolves around extracting private value from land and from housing units, so that these can become increasingly liquid investment vehicles and nothing more than that. This is the logic of speculation.

Anti-speculation is anything that tries to take land, housing and anything built on land, and bring it back closer to the way we use it. Not as exchange value, but it’s value as a place where we live, where we meet, love, work, the fundamental things about human life and the way we connect together and with other species.

This is the big distinction between speculative and non-speculative housing.

We need to take a hard look at the way we use land right now. We use it as a mechanism to store value. The tools we have so far only allow us to have an individual and private capture of that value. Before we can undo the notion of private property, maybe we can think of mechanisms to better redistribute the value that is stored in land. There’s a new generation of digital tools and debates around these issues that makes me think we have something there!

What can students expect from the seminar?

I am working on crafting questions which I honestly don’t have the answers to. This class is about going together into unchartered territories and for students to feel that, as artists, they are bringing a perspective to these subjects that is absolutely crucial to the debate.

These are the five systems I want to explore with students: private property, residential capitalism, fiscal urbanism, a speculative building model, and foreign investment. I am really looking forward to this class because I have intuitions about how we can make these systems visible and interact with them in an effective manner but it’s really open. How do we get people to understand the deep roots of private property?

How can we find points of entry to get past this kind of oppositional view on gentrification of us versus them?

Would you say this course takes a decolonial perspective?

Yes, absolutely. In the past months, as I worked more and more with Indigenous thinkers and communities, something big opened for me. I think that coming to terms with speculation is a form of deep reconciliation, but I’m no expert in that. This is a new idea for me and I look forward to this class to further engage with that concept in a humble way, since I do not have the answers. We are in this situation right now because our relationship to land is fundamentally broken. We need to reweave and rebuild new types of relationships to land, and Indigenous perspectives can lead the way in terms of how we do that.

It is a very difficult conversation to have. People who already own homes might think, “it was already so difficult to get here in the first place, I don’t want anything to change!” And I get it. This is where artists are so relevant. They can bring new ways of relating to the earth, to each other, and they can get into the fabric of those systems and engage with all the fears and anxieties that are embedded in there.

[Anti] Speculation-Excess and the City [PERC 498] is open to all Concordia students. Interested students have until January 20 to register and limited spaces are still available. Email for more information.

To find out more about the Office of Rules and Norms, sign up to its mailing list: Email


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