"Contrapolis; or, Enclosures, Commons and Creativity in the Cities"
"Displacement of residents, whether they are gentrifying artists priced out of Soho or the poor and unemployed excluded from New York altogether, is no random by-product of gentrification but its structural condition. Decay, disinvestment, abandonment . . .prepare the way for profitable reinvestment . . . Like all the social relations that art supposedly transcends, housing is one of the historical circumstances of its existence". Rosalyn Deutsche, "Alternative Space"
"And howsoever oppositional we architects may be, as long as we fail to challenge basic elements of society, such as the concept of private property, nothing will improve. This is a great paradox for me". Achim Felz, "IKAS: An Experiment in Extra-Parliamentary Architectural Opposition"
Description of Event
A weekend of workshops, discussions, walks, presentations, installations and screenings that articulate approaches and experiences around the contentious nexus of culture and urban regeneration in Rotterdam, Amsterdam, London, Glasgow and Barcelona. The weekend will take place Wednesday and Thursday 26 and 27 March 2008.
Although the whole of Rotterdam will be the terrain of the two days' activities, the workshops will take place at the Poortgebouw near Erasmusbrug and the exhibition and public debate will take place at the Netherlands Architecture Institute. Artists, activists, scholars, architects, planners, designers and local people will be invited to contribute their ideas in separate workshops devoted to topics such as informal planning, the role of creativity in urban development policy, and the conditions for art-based intervention. A public discussion is also scheduled. The aim of the workshops is to develop perspectives including, but going beyond, the variously instrumentalised, palliative or autonomous roles for culture in urban transformation as framed in contemporary analyses. We will compare the urban development framework in each of the five cities by focusing on an overall tendency in neoliberal city planning to prioritize elite consumption, tourism, privatisation and micro-management of public space. In addition, we will look at the ways in which the promotion of 'culture' or 'creativity' slots into these agendas. Other topics will include: the prospects for 'counter-planning', 'planning from below' and struggles against the dispossession and eviction of marginalised communities in the regenerated European city. While all these phenomena are locally situated, they can be said to share certain features such as methods of organising autonomously and scepticism towards the market and private property as the engines of economic growth and social life in the city.
"Contrapolis" is intended as a platform for exchange of tactics, experiences and analysis.
The core question of the event would be "how is art, and cultural production more broadly, at once driving capitalist valorisation in the city and able to project forms of social relations that do not produce value for capital?"
Departing from the structure of an academic symposium, this event provides two days of informal but rigorously mapped interaction and exploration and will culminate with an evening of screenings and a public debate at the NAi which will build on the discussions of that weekend as well each participant's field of practice. Participants will be expected to participate in all the workshops and walks, although only the concluding session of public debate will be mandatory and actively promoted as open to the public.
The culture-led regeneration of European and American cities has been amply documented over the past two decades (Brenner and Theodore, 2002; Deutsche, 1996; Harvey, 1989, 2001; Castells, 1977; Zukin, 1987; Smith, 1996; Ley, 1996; Davis, 2002; Butler, 2003; BAVO, 2006, 2007; del Olmo, 2004, London Particular, 2002 – present). Also known as 'gentrification' or 'revitalisation', 'regeneration' is a more palatable term for policies designed to address urban contradictions frequently stemming from decades of under-investment and a flagging economy through the upgrading of facilities and housing provision that rely on an expanded tax base and private investment, with the result that low-income residents are displaced from their neighbourhoods and cut off from public services that have passed into profit-making ownership. Cities whose economies were formerly predicated on industry or manufacture look to heritage, tourism, flagship architectural developments and 'cultural quarters' to attract investment or mobilise local attributes in an era where capital flows and accumulation are becoming 'immaterial' (Castells, year; Negri and Hardt, year). Large metropolises increasingly view inner-city neighbourhoods with mixed- or low-income demographics living primarily in social housing as under-used resources which can be profitably turned around, frequently with the unwitting collaboration of local cultural producers, into edgy, and eventually homogenous, destinations for developers, global corporations and middle-to-upper income professional homebuyers. The 're-valorisation' by artists of unpromising urban outposts as a harbinger of gentrification is well-established as a development process. 'City branding', the Olympics and other examples of the 'experience economy' can also be considered in their relationship to the marketing of culture, new and abiding forms of accumulation and the capitalization of space.
However, given the role of a chronically under-specified 'culture' or 'creativity' in legitimating profit-driven redevelopment, it is also interesting to look at these signifiers as material practices with specific capacities for disclosing conflict and antagonism in the token consensus of 'regeneration'. 'Creativity' can also mean innovative ways of doing politics and appropriating the devices of 'planning' to ends which are neither predetermined nor in line with the prevailing reductive economistic logic. Rather than 'socially engaged art practice', how could artmaking participate in contesting the very scenarios it is more than often called upon to passively validate, and function as a mode of social doing that enacts an 'otherwise' to the current state of the situation, rather than modelling a 'public sphere' or utopia contingent on its non-realisation?
For this project, I am interested in deploying the following terms in the analysis of regeneration and its others in the contemporary European city:
-Commons -Enclosures – Antagonism – Culture
An expanded application of the Marxian concepts of 'enclosures' and 'antagonism', and recent historical and political analyses within the framework of the 'commons'. Enclosures can be defined as the disposession or privatisation of public resources, originally cited by Marx in his genealogy of early capitalism as 'primitive accumulation' proceeding through the English enclosures of common land, but which is increasingly used to describe contemporary and ongoing global processes of value extraction that apply to everything from public space to genetic material. The city as a locus of social, political, cultural and economic contestation over vital resources such as space and housing is at issue here.
Here I would like to flesh out a bit more the term, and the terms of reference, of 'the commons'. The commons seems to be a generative way to think a politics which is neither rooted exclusively in defensive, or 'litigational' parameters of struggle, such as campaigning around demands for protection from the market addressed to the state as a supposed guardian of the public good which only needs to be reminded of its responsibilities by sufficient public mobilisation and a rights-based or 'inclusion' agenda, once the slogan's of 'public good' have ceased to have any ideological purchase with it; nor a vague, and ultimately sectarian, oppositional politics that places its credence in adherence to a set of procols that are propagated as affirmative and all-inclusive, but all too often boil down to moralism, lifestyle and an politics of sentiment characterised by disgust with the 'normal' people who do not appear to perceive the injustices of capitalism in their everyday lives as the proponents of 'alter-globalism' might. Here the virtue of using 'the commons' as a category of analysis is that it is rooted both in history and in concrete social struggles, perhaps not always immediately diagnosable as political, in 'common practices' of use and appropriation that may be too microscopic to constitute resistance writ large, but also have the potential to spread, fuse and erupt with new potentialities of organisation (say, digital piracy in its social movement moments of challenging the iP regime) or a 'right to the city', in this context, which could imply a simple refusal to go away and cede valuable property, once held and accustomed to be used as a social good, to private interests – here, something like the movement of the shack dwellers in Durban in South Africa or the landless movement in Brazil could be considered – squatting as a tactic of appropriating the capitalist production of space, whether in rural or urban areas, as a marginal or mass phenomenon. Squatting can be talked about in this context as:
"the seizure by workers of housing-use withheld by the terms of capitalist exchange. And housing, obviously, is a necessary element of survival. In this sense squatting everywhere amounts to defensive struggle against capital's desperate tactic of non-reproduction of labour power: the dumping onto workers of 'responsibility' for survival-necessities no longer covered by the wage. Refusal of this 'responsibility', insistence on meeting needs at capital's expense, outside legal exchange if necessary, happens everywhere to varying degrees and in various ways. One of these is squatting, whether on the London or the Durban scale and level of political intensity.”
But we could also think about navigating within bounds of collective social provision embedded in the state, which becomes a 'commons' once its under threat of transfer into private hands or transformation into private wealth: for ex, when social housing tenants refuse to comply with government blackmail to transfer their homes to a private housing association or even a hypothetical scenario where a block is scheduled for demolition and the tenants refuse to leave until the authority takes action on their housing needs. An anti-capitalist 'community' is never presupposed but is practices that go against capitalist modes of valorisation are something that emerges from being embedded and subjugated by them, an always-latent potential of antagonism in the very fragmentation, complicity and passivity that characterises day after day, and that this potential is something that can also be thought of as a 'commons', a commons of the potential to think and act in concert with others, to defend something or to erode existing relationships simply by taking seriously the shaky premises on which they're constructed ('democracy', 'participation', 'growth) as 'common' goods. One day simply to preserve a way of life that is more or less tolerable from further degradation, the next 'we want it all', then a week later, maybe to subside, maybe to mutate. '
'Commons' is interesting because it resists valorisation and displacement by challenging the private property model as the gold standard of capitalist norms (ethical) and values (economic), which are commingled as to be virtually indistinguishable until its political implications becomes clear in the moment of struggle or refusal. A claim to what is 'common' signals the displacement of powerlessness by involvement and imagination, no matter how brief the window of its realisation, because it displaces 'society' from something administered at a distance to something collectively produced and re-produced by the people who constitute this abstraction. Also, 'commons' refers to a right that already exists, and must be defended (say, the residues of the welfare state) and must be taken or invented (autonomous organisation, self-sustaining economies that cannot, in every case, comply with what critics might call 'self-managed exploitation'); traditional models and new models which take up where traditional models no longer have purchase in drastically different social, historical and national circumstances. Thus, it avoids the pitfalls of pragmatism and self-perpetuating voluntarism alike, while retaining the antagonism to the actual that subsists in radical political thought and the concreteness of local struggles. In addition, it points out that there are always spaces of sociality and value production that are not fully integrated into capital which capital must integrate at all costs (this is where it coincides with Luxemburg's theses on 'primitive accumulation') because the logic of capital as self-valorising value is that it needs an outside which it cannot suffer to exist unless it is inscribed into its logic – this is how such spaces can be said to form a constant internal friction which regularly optimises and expands capital, even as it can rupture it at certain points and force it to re-compose at another level, depending on the balance of forces in a historical conjuncture or the level of antagonism emergent in the social field at a given time. In autonomist terms, antagonism is primary, not the power of capital, and this antagonism is juxtaposed to it, it is strictly internal and dialectical, at least in my reading – otherwise you have pure 'multitude' and parasitic 'capital', and the hologram of false consciousness again.
In terms of 'commons', the commons is the non-capitalised space which is contested, which cannot be allowed to remain non-capitalised for capital to remain a dominant mode of production, but which cannot be captured altogether for a minimum of free space that legitimates capital's reign, and it is also the space which must be expanded and expanded as a site of social conflict, whether as a traditional 'right' or a newly collective space and time. I'm here referring to time as well to give a nod to a related but not altogether topical preoccupation of mine, which is with art as the utopian commodity in Adorno's aesthetics, where it prefigures a time which is not the time of the commodity, while also, and maybe because of this, existing in the present time of heteronomy as the ultimate commodity, and of course the analysis can also touch on the role of productive subjectivity in Italian autonomist theory such as Negri once production has broken with the measure of time inscribed in the conventional law of value, and art can be another form of biopolitical production flowering freely in a meadow of radical and singular (non-capitalist) self-valorising value
I will here refer to a quote from Massimo de Angelis, a political theorist working in the current of autonomist Marxist thought, who has worked extensively on 'commons' as a practical political concept, and where he situates the discourse and praxis of 'commons' as a result of struggle against their enclosure – much like we can say 'class' only comes into existence in 'class struggle' and has no substantial existence outside this moment:
“Commons are forms of direct access to social wealth, access that is not mediated by competitive market relations. The fact that we can today pose the question of their actualisation, that they enter the imagery space of modern political discourse, is due to the fact that in last two decades we have witnessed and practiced numerous struggles against their opposite, neoliberal capitalist enclosures.
Commons acquire many forms, and they often emerge out of struggles against their negation. Thus, struggles against intellectual property rights opens up the questions of knowledge as commons. Struggles against privatization of water, education and health, opens the question of water, education and health as commons. Struggles against landlessness open up the question of common land. Struggles against environmental destruction open up the question of environmental commons. In a word, struggle against actual or threatened enclosures opens the question of commons. . . . “
He also makes an important point about how such struggles can be co-opted by governments who feel political pressure against 'enclosures' or 'privatisation', and introduce market mechanisms by the back door to ensure, not so much consent, as confusion:
“Between the struggle against enclosure and the positing of commons there is a political space in which co-optation that is the acknowledgment of struggles in order to subsume them into a new modality of capital accumulation can still take place. Examples of this are endless and our political discourse should be aware of this always-present danger. For example, governments’ practical solutions devised to deal with the struggles against the enclosures in health and education as well as their crises, instead of fully recognizing them as commons, deploy new forms of private participation in these sectors without formal privatization. This formally acknowledges public entitlements, but at the same time shapes the nature of their services in tune with the markets, by pitting nurses against nurses, teachers against teachers, and “service consumers” against “service deliverers”. “
and of course the famous old English rhyme:
So back to the event, and how the terms are being specified there. 'Antagonism' here denotes a set of practices that position themselves oppositionally to the dominant agendas of gentrification , but also generate or prefigure ways of organising social life that rupture or exceed the logics of enclosure and accommodation of enclosures. In this context, the symptomatic category of 'culture' will be deployed as the terrain where some of these practices may arise, as it is also the key legitimacy mechanism driving urban transformation across Europe to the material advantage of speculation, class cleansing and tourist-facing commodification of the local:
Most crucially, what kinds of social activity can 'culture' encompass in the production of commons when it comes to public space, housing and property in contemporary cities, if 'culture' has become such a strategic category? Is there still a symbolic valence to 'culture' that can advance, rather, than stymie, initiatives to collectively self-determine access to housing and public space, or is it unequivocally compromised by its association with the apologetics of contemporary urban planning?
"But this is not the same as saying that culture is ultimately a product of economic determination; instead it is employed in a complex relationship, partly determined by material conditions and partly the attempt to overcome determination." (Anthony Iles and Tom Roberts, "All Knees and Elbows of Susceptibility and Refusal", 2007)
The caesuras and contradictions operative in 'culture-driven' urban regeneration will provide a framework for exchange as well as the impetus to extend critical analysis and experiences of practical struggles exploiting these contradictions beyond their current discursive and practical parameters.
I would like to hold three workshops over the duration of the weekend, two on Saturday and one on Sunday.
The workshops will be open to all participants and the public. They will be framed on the basis of three questions, and moderated by the participant whose research area and practice is most congruent to the question (please see Appendix C for list of projected participants – all to be confirmed upon confirmation of venue).
Workshop 1 – Creative Dispossession
With state-supported finance capital as the dominant social actor in the contemporary urban fabric, 'creativity' and 'property' become interchangeable as rich sources of speculation. Although Negri and other post-autonomist theorists have put forward that 'real subsumption', or, the integration of life (emotion, sociability, imagination) into the production process heralds a 'loss of measure' that can be emancipatory, this is more frequently experienced as commodification and enclosure of resources that once had some horizon of personal and collective development beyond exchange value – in other words, the law of value persists, making more and more drastic stratifications between 'low-value' and 'self-valorising' subjects. If 'creativity' is the watchword of urban re-development in cities like Rotterdam, whose 'creativity' is desireable, and on what terms? It has often been noted that 'uneven development' is not just a byproduct, but a condition of capitalist exchange: if 'development' is structurally reliant on 'under-development' elsewhere, and sometimes next-door, can 'creative' approaches challenge or only patch up, the effects? Is it the 'creativity' mobilised by government, semi-government and private interests to eliminate 'unproductive' sectors of city life such as social housing and community spaces? Is 'creativity' only acceptable as a commodity, lest it become a channel to resist, recompose and reclaim a right to the city?
Workshop 2 – Informality and Ideology
Between a high-gloss urbanism beholden to the logic of the market on the one hand, and the endeavours to valorise low-impact and improvised solutions to housing shortages that can be called 'informal urbanism', a zone of indiscernibility comes into view. When architects and planners, frequently in the employ of NGOs, advise impoverished communities how to make the best, most sustainable use of their meager infrastructures, is this 'counter-planning' or reinforcement of the social organisation that destined them to self-managed squalor in the first place? Is it pragmatism or a resignation to a smaller and smaller portion for greater and greater numbers of people of the social wealth produced in cities? Is there a relationship between envisaging the slum inhabitant as a 'social enterpreneur' (cited in Mike Davis, 2005) and the reign of enterpreneuralism as ideology that seems to exponentially generate slum conditions? What is the fractious dialectic between self-exploitation and self-organisation, and what are the prospects for a politics of housing which is neither reliant on social gurantees that will not re-appear nor content to hand over the institutional terrain to unaccountable private interests?
Workshop 3 – Once Again, the Real Estate Show
The original "Real Estate Show" was organised by Co-Lab Projects in an occupied building on New York's Lower East Side in 1980. (http://www.lehman.cuny.edu/gallery/talkback/fmlippard.html). That project, as well as Martha Rosler's "If You Lived Here" in 1989, focused on gentrification and evictions, property, capital and the art market, community organising, and the role of artists in and about these processes. In 1997, Maria Eichhorn's contribution to the Skulptur Projects in Muenster saw her buying a plot of land with the exhibition money and giving it to a local community housing group. Nowadays, the art market and the property market rise and converge when it comes to the re-valorisation of 'blighted' inner-city and suburban neighbourhoods. Additionally, independent and publicly-subsidised art initiatives frequently come under pressure from a spectrum of policy and business actors to 'engage' with constituencies and address social contradictions that those same actors are busy exacerbating through redevelopment and privatisation. With the much-discussed limitations of 'socially engaged practice', how could artmaking participate in contesting the very scenarios it is more than often called upon to passively validate, and function as a mode of social doing that enacts an 'otherwise' to the current state of the situation? Is a homeopathic criticality for the 'progressive' institutions the last best hope for practices that resist the imperatives of social work?
Andreas Müller and Marjolijn Dijkman will devise an itinerary for Delfshaven; Krijn Christiaansen for Heijplaat and the Quarantine Village; Menno Janssen for Nieuwe Crooswijk.
A contextual reader will be issued in the month or two following the event. The Jan van Eyck Academie will be the publisher, although the NAi will be invited to collaborate. A follow-up event in Maastricht and Liege will culminate with a book launch, speculatively at the Nai/Maastricht.