Diann Bauer, 1972–2022
23 May 2022

It was with great sorrow that we heard the news that our friend and Urbanomic collaborator Diann Bauer passed away on 9 May 2022. Even for those of us who knew that Diann had been battling cancer for two years, her sudden absence comes as a tremendous shock.

I vividly remember walking into a rare solo show (she deserved more) of Diann’s work. No ‘art objects’ on display, but instead the white walls had been transformed into a disciplined multi-layered riot of rhetorical exhortations, seductive political slogans, and vehement calls to action, starkly monochrome or animated by slivers, shreds, splashes, clouds, and rays of vivid poster colour. In this eye-popping controlled typographical explosion, political rhetoric and graphical force catalysed one another, producing signs that no longer signified anything but the abstract force of political speech, inorganic splinters of violence floating adrift from any specific partisan position. I was struck by the articulation of directness and abstraction, verbal and graphic form, manual craft and self-effacement, all in the service of a combined and undecidable architecture / painting / drawing / sculpture / text that overpowered the viewer.

Later, in conversations with Diann, what I remember most is a poignant amalgam of resolute interrogation and tentative uncertainty, along with a one-hundred-percent commitment to finding a way to employ her talents that would make a difference. True to this characteristic mix of doubt and probity, Diann never stopped asking herself what she was doing and why, reconfiguring the relation between visual art, conceptual work, and communication, and experimenting with new techniques and media, ranging from her extraordinary talent at drawing (about which she was ridiculously modest) to painting, digital work, and video, as well as writing and speaking with great passion.

Diann’s continued questioning of her role as an artist was no doubt connected to the fact that she saw a great source of hope in science, engineering, and technology; she continually asked what role art could play not as a separate and autonomous discipline, least of all one concerned narrowly with ‘aesthetics’, but as part of a collaborative programme for transformation. In this sense at least, she was most certainly an accelerationist, and as a part of the loose conglomerate of thinkers whose conversations led to the publication of #Accelerate, the suite of drawings she contributed brought a valuable line of visual thinking to the collection, their meticulous hand-drawn superpositions giving the book a visual identity pleasingly far-removed from the digitally-intensive cliches that might have been expected.

Diann enjoyed the contingencies of collaboration, and in recent years was a key presence in several important collective projects. She was part of the Laboria Cuboniks collective which, in 2015, published the Xenofeminist Manifesto, and she continued to speak publicly on the ramifications of the manifesto along with fellow members of the XF collective. More recently she participated in the interdisciplinary group AST (the Alliance of the Southern Triangle), with whom she developed multiple lines of research on urbanism and climate change and a striking series of visual pieces in which the AST ‘protocols’ are embodied and communicated.

Diann was working on a PhD at the University of Westminster, part of which involved a comparative articulation of scientific and psychological conceptions of time. In conversations with her, I couldn’t help but see this puzzling between the cosmic and psychic scales of existence as reflective of an ultimate ambition: to think and to work in terms of a realism fully appreciative of the bracing achievements of the scientific image of the world, but conjoined with a humanitarian and progressive politics.

This no doubt was also related to the fact that, above all, Diann was mum to a daughter whose brilliance is a testament to her influence, gentle guidance and orientation, enthusiasm, and care. I remember talking with Diann about the joy, the learning, and the labour of being a parent, and where this stands in relation to the sacrifices demanded by intellectual and cultural work. Again, she wanted to think these two parts of her life together, not separately or in conflict with one another. One couldn’t but be aware of the thought and love she put into managing this balance, of her pride in each one of her daughter’s achievements, and of the delight she took in being surprised, challenged, and inspired by Rosa. Her respect for the importance of kids’ stuff is evident enough in her public sculpture Icarus Meet Apollo, in which the trademark geometrical forms and sloganistic fragments, transposed from the gallery, now provide an armature for play and physical exploration—all the self-serious universalisations, clamour and imprecations of political speech subordinated to the clambering of small bodies to whose improvisations the future must ultimately be entrusted.

These few personal memories, impressions, and reflections are based on the limited time I got to spend with Diann, mostly during teaching stints in London when she and her husband Suhail were kind enough to offer me a couch for the night. The last time I communicated with Diann, we looked forward to the next time we would have dinner, commentate on Newsnight together over a glass of wine, chat about life and work (an endless cycle of fervour, exasperated eyerolling, laughter, and questions with no real answers, but whose sharing mattered a great deal)…and of course finally find the time to properly talk about Time.

On the occasions I spoke with her during her illness, Diann seemed unbowed, full of quiet determination to face whatever came her way, to do what she could—to continue to pursue her life and work with the same sense of responsibility, purpose, and openness to new forms, new ideas, and new experiments.

Undoubtedly the work and the ideas that Diann left us will go on to inspire others to question, think, make, and participate in the future.

Robin Mackay