Ministry of Space – Carmen Lozano

[alt: FAST FOOD VS. HOME MADE GAZPACHO (or taking it easier and sharing among each other)] Carmen Lozano Bright @carmenlozano

Madrid, September 2016

It’s been a summer of very long afternoons between Zemos98’s invitation to Seville in late June and today that the routine seems to strike back. We started this season with reflections and learnings which seem precious in this rapidly changing and constantly shifting times we are witnessing. When living together feels more like contemplating common timelines scrolling down in front of our eyes, it turns urgent to come back to sitting together around a tablecloth, set the plates and dishes ready and share a meal together. I’m going to explain why.

When receiving the invitation by Zemos98 to attend an encounter in Seville entitled “Culture, city and the commons” I first had mixed feelings. As a speeded, frenetic and skeptical person I thought to put in a balance my expectations. Will it be interesting? Will I find new projects or rather a gathering of what you always read about these days? The commons? But, wait, why again the commons? Uhm… Right after that initial thunderbolt of suspicious thoughts, a more down to earth vision came in stead: slow down, girl – I thought. Zemos98 has always done an intensive and valuable research on which collectives and what movements are leaving a meaningful print in the fields of culture, activism and arts. And so it was the case. Under the umbrella of the ‘Realise and Resist’ program, this call for gathering made me hold horses and, particularly, resist the speed.

Immediately after receiving the program I was already confronted with my prejudices about banalizing the word “commons”. In recent years, there has been a hype around calling the “commons” as the solution to every problem societies, economies and politics are witnessing in our times. “Did I hear rampant neoliberalism? Here you have the commons!”, “Crisis on democratic practices and participation in society? The commons!”, Enclosure of knowledge and popular, traditional culture? The commons! “Are you talking about broken societies? Check out the commons!”. Seriously, have you ever tried repeating a word so many times it ends up empty of its significance? Thats how a hype operates over concepts. And that’s how I feel these days when reading about commoning, participation, etc. There’s a great ground of theories and practices telling us that, when uniting, managing resources and taking decisions together, people are stronger we become stronger. But an over exploitation of the discourse can also play against it and make it seem empty of content. Thinking on this made me revisit Silke Helfrich’s article in Patterns of Commoningi where she states: “After all, at times it seems more difficult to “do commons” that to “imagine commons”. Yet the more (often and intensively) we ponder this question of how to do common, the more often our thinking departs from conventional schools thought (…), and enters uncharted territory”.

Right. Seville was for three days our “uncharted territory”. We found ourselves among people coming from Serbia, Slovenia, Greece, Poland, Italy, Great Britain… and from different towns in Spain whose similarities were greater that any of their differences.

Besides coming from backgrounds of different textures – the academy, various arts fields, activism(s), health care, urban planning and participation – a shared aim of struggling for a society in which every one fits freely and in dignity was the real common link among us.

The objective of the encounter was clear to us: sharing situated experiences on civic action and citizen participation, focusing in four particular cases and, through them, facilitating links among involved agents. As if we were cross-pollinating ideas, needs, worries, affection, fears and solutions, we sat around a table and met representatives form each case study. I had the pleasure meeting Iva Čukić, an activist and architect, from Ministry of Space, a collective based in Belgrade which has been struggling for the right to the city locally in the last 5 years. Through arts, temporarily interventions in public space, squatting, community building and public actions, they have contributed rising awareness on how companies and international investment in town are transforming the city, promoting a heavy mobilization of neighbors form their traditional spaces and, finally, mining the social fabric of the city by giving priority to great business and companies.

It took us a couple of days away from screens and computers, sitting around a table and listening to each other to understand the trajectory of Ministry of Space and their current challenge. Again, speaking about time: slowing down and letting us talk was key to deepen in the case Iva walked us through. We learnt about the struggle her city is living these days and the campaign ‘Don’t dr(own) Belgrade’. In short, their objective is putting an end to the degradation and plunder of Belgrade on behalf of megalomaniacal urban and architectural projects, primarily the “Belgrade Waterfront”. This is a project by Eagle Hills, a company based in Abu Dhabi which claims being “experts in urbanization and renewal”. The company is in process of tearing down what’s left from the past and build a modern, touristic appealing, mall-like waterfront across the Danube.

From listening to their case, we could all feel our experiences reflected. International encounters like these are an important compass when dayli basis fights and disappointments regarding local politics feel pessimistic. From ‘Don’r dr(own) Belgrade’ we learnt that motivations to participate are only appealing when the struggle is situated, locally hooked to common bonds and it’s affecting feelings. That a certain struggle can be appealing to people who aren’t a suspicious target when there’s passion in it. And that the desires for preserving common values can be contagious.

We also learnt about the threats the movement is facing today: mobilizing people across time, fighting with the sustainability of the collective and making the fight visible not only at the peaks – a protest gathering 50.000 attendees, being featured in the media – but also during low key moments.

“Traditional fetichism on democracy and Europe is trembling…”, someone said when siting in a circle in the closing assembly of the encounter, “and the paradox is that the brightest movements and communities are arising from this crisis”. In the middle of the rise of nationalisms, fascisms, fear for the other, fragmentation of nations and an unprecedented control on or bodies, movements and relations, we are constantly confronted with the most epical images, the most dramatic experiences and the always fast and astonishing news. But, what produces a movement? What are the sparkles that make a fire start dazzle? And what are the conditions to preserve it bright?

In a world of information we digest like if it were fast food and culture as frozen yoghurt, we some times need someone to show us the recipe for a home made gazpacho. It was what we experienced in Seville.

‘Culture, the city and the commons’ was just a three day privilege moment to meet people and share inspirations, but also an encounter to corroborate our challenges. But across this summer, some other meetings of a similar nature like the ‘Shifting baselines’ European Alternatives campus in Berlin, the Green Academy in Vis, Croacia, or the Peer Value conference en Amsterdam have happened. And yet, some others to come in the future, like the Idea Camp 2017 in Madrid. I feel them relevant to mention. The most connected we stay, the stronger our commoning will be.

i – Helfrich, Silke. 2015. “How We Can Bring About a Language of Commoning.” in Bollier D. and Helfrich, S. editors. Patterns of Commoning. The Commons Strategies Book.