Posts Tagged 'community practice'

Collectivism after modernism

Martijn van Berkum, Rotterdam – – This cover could completely go without a book. My first thought at seeing the picture on the book Collectivism after modernism, a collection of essays that “explore the ways in which collectives function within cultural norms, social conventions and corporate or state-sanctioned art”, reads the back.


Needless to say, to a certain degree this weblog is a collective practice as well, and how I’d love to be with our members on that arrow-shaped boat. Even more when I read that the essays explore collectivism in social, cultural and political contexts. They are set in New York after 1975, the Cuban national crisis in the eighties, the sixties in Japan and in the last decade in Senegal. Not to mention the introduction which ambitiously plays out collectivism against the backdrop of the cold war in which collaborative practice is identified as suspicious communist activities and individualism is hailed as the prodigal practice of Western capitalists artists. Hmmm, this begins to look like a tasty menu.

Unfortunately, promising as it may sound, it seems like the authors forgot to add salt, pepper and a nice sauce. Very few manage to really give proper analysis of the relation between collectives and the contexts and surroundings in which they operate, on how they carry out political action, provide discursive places and alternatives and, most important for me, what kinds of strategies and methodologies they have developed.

To enable transformation on a social, cultural or political level, as the introduction promises, collective practices need to be translated to an operational level. How else can you be an actor in such societal fields? Only Okwui Enwezor manages to translate theory into practice in his text The Production of Social Space as Artwork: Protocols of Community in the Work of Le Groupe Amos and Huit Facettes.

It is a rich and intelligent text that combines insights from social studies, post-colonialism, community practice and collectivism to describe the political and cultural situation in Senegal. Situated in this complex framework he describes the practice and methodologies his case-studies Le Groupe Amos and Huit Facettes have developed. It is a theoretically complex and layered story combined with a very insightful, hands-on description of subversive collective practices. In all honesty: one the best texts I’ve read.

Therefore, my advice is to borrow the book, make a big coloured photo copy enlargement of the cover and put it on your wall. Photocopy Enwezors essay and lock yourself in the room with the poster and read it to last word! Inspiration guaranteed!

Blake Stimson and Gregory Sholette (editors), Collectivism after Modernism: The art of Social Imagination after 1945, University of Minnesota Press, Minnesota, 2007
ISBN-13: 978-0-8166-4462-9
Authors: Jelena Stojanovic, Reiko Tomii, Chris Gilbert, Jesse Drew, Rachel Weiss, Ruben Gallo, Alan W. Moore, Okwui Enwezor, Irina Aristarkhova, Brian Holmes.

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How to move a city

Martijn van Berkum, Rotterdam – – To whom it concerns: Icsid (International Council of Societies of Industrial Design) is organizing in partnership with the Swedish Industrial Design Foundation (SVID) and the community of Gellivare, the City move interdesign workshop dealing with the relocation and moving of people and societies.

The workshop will take place in the Northern part of Sweden and concerns the fact that heavy mining is threatening small cities to sink away. The workshop will deal with sustainability, urban planning issues, but also aims at exploring community practices. There’s an open call for architects, urban planners, artists, designers etc; application period closes the 31st of July.

Underneath a beautiful video of the moving of the Swedish mining town of Malmberget:

Epitaph for Paul Cseplö

Po Hagström, Stockholm – About a village that didn’t recognize the value of art, and about the artist who painted anyway.

A dear friend of mine, artist Paul Cseplö, died May 12 after many years of leukemia.

When I was a child, Paul was the only artist in the small village where I grew up. He came to this northern part of Sweden with his family as a child, escaping the war in Hungary. Soon he began to paint this changing landscape and continued to do so for the rest of his life.

In our village art could be nice, but it was never considered valuable, and the artist himself was regarded as a queer fellow. Paul was told that posters were cheaper, so why buy paintings? This didn’t stop him though, he trusted in art as a force in itself and he knew what it could do. He proved to be right.
Despite people’s low esteem of art and strong opinions about his paintings, they still wanted his services. So when the old school was rebuilt to a hostel, Paul painted all the walls with scenes from nature – for free. And when they built a new dance floor, Paul painted its background. Not that he wouldn’t have appreciated something in return, and not necessarily monetary, but it always turned out to have been for free. And he kept painting for free for 30 years. Few places in this village are without the signature of Paul. Art is everywhere, in homes and the pizzeria, in offices and in boathouses, on trailers and in the old people’s home.
Did the village deserve this? I don’t think so. But Paul made a choice and he painted, and he made sure that art would be present everywhere.

According to Paul nothing really disappears, but this world still is a duller place now that he went off to wherever.

Theory: a threat or an opportunity?

This week two students walked out of my class at the art academy in Rotterdam; they disagreed with my connecting situationism and skateboarding. After the coffee break they unsubscribed at the administration office, stating provocatively that they ‘couldn’t learn anything in my class’.

What happened? Were they right? I recognized an old conflict that runs through the academy, and that runs through the art world. I had invaded their territory, attempted to conquer it by theorising their world and challenging their autonomy. Skating has nothing to do with theory and therefore theorising it must be rejected. And why would they be wrong? All subcultures are by definition threatened by dissolving into commercialism and mainstream, by institutionalising through theory. They thrive on their exclusiveness, their homogeneous and alternative identity, their codes and rules. Therefore, if not well protected, they are threatened by extinction.

That’s one reading of this dispute, a proper one and I don’t disagree with my two former students in this regard – though a good discussion might have solved it in another way. Nevertheless, I want to look at this issue from another point of view.

Regarding the discussion we had, I merely wanted to point out that skating is an innovative movement, a group of people challenging the city as it was conceived by its architects. When the philosopher Gilles Deleuze wrote his key work The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, he was embraced by surfers who recognized his ‘living in the fold’ as their ‘surfing in the wave’, the fold of nature. Similar to my connection between skating and situationism it’s a clear example of the crossover. For the surfers the ideas of Deleuze enhanced their experience in ‘the tube’, rather than taking it down.

The crossover between theory and practice should be similar to the crossover in music styles, or the crossover between hip hop music, graffiti and break-dance, or the crossover between philosophy and surfing mentioned above. It leads to differentiation and by opening up one expression for the other, crossover becomes a tool for innovation and empowerment. Instead of an antagonistic relation in which theory colonizes territories, I’d rather see it as a collaboration aiming at opening up new territories.

Jeanne van Heeswijk – De strip

This can be witnessed strongly in the way urban counter cultures, such as skating, created an anarchistic model of living in the city and inspired all kinds of alternative expressions. It can traced back to the trend of galleries squatting abandoned buildings, artists acting out interventions in public space, rather than making commissioned works, temporary appropriation of abandoned patches of land for leisure activities, community practice in art and architecture, which develops alternative strategies for the redevelopment of neighbourhoods, political stencil art, recycling of buildings, places and materials, etc.

It’s just one line of thought with regards to a benevolent exchange between theory and practice, but I think work needs to be done to close the gap!

Suzanne Lacy – The roof is on fire

Our Neighbour Cyclop – A One-eyed Beauty

Trial and Error, Stockholm – In a deserted parking lot beneath a dumpsite in the Southern suburbs of Stockholm one does not expect to find much. But here a group of hard working enthusiasts have built a culture house called Cyklopen (The Cyclop).

In the part of Stockholm where we live, called South of the South, there aren’t many cultural institutions, except a couple of small libraries. So when a group of people offered to build a new cultural center the local politicians surprisingly said: ”No, we have enough culture here”.

Fortunately this was overruled at higher level and the culture house has now been built by those running the initiative, some of which architectur at the Stockholm University, and the result is this: Two containers upon each other on each side support a simple wood construction. Together with large windows and a drawbridge this is practical, low price and cool. Inside a big beautiful space opens up with stairs on both sides up to a second floor.

After the grand opening in September the house is now to be filled with activities, focusing on culture and politics. They discribe Cyklopen as ”an autonomous space, built on the principles of DIY and self organizing.”

Welcome our new neighbour Cyklopen!

Read more on their website/blog (in Eng and Swe) >>
And here is how it all started >>


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