on the Alternative Realities of Freespaces
Text for the Paper House Zine at Taiwan Biennial Oct. 2004
So you want
a few personal lines about freespaces in
Rotterdam? Well, it is not the first time we find ourselves writing
about this topic. In addition to our own interest in the theme,
a lot of writing, editting and publishing work is necessary in the
current battle for the future existence of our group within the
walls of a very special building, the Poortgebouw.
Often its pretty dry explanations as opposed to our more colorful
fantasies and imaginations.
But if there
is an extraordinary quality of these freespaces which we have discovered
and want to pass on, it is this: the opportunity to directly affect
the development of the concept and strategies for the place where
you live and work. Not many people ever have to or even see the
need to do that in their whole life. In our homelands of Austria
and Canada (where squatting buildings is simply not a realistic
long-term accomodation option), one is conditioned not to question
the nature of the available living and working spaces and how they
should be used. After 3 years in Rotterdam, we now must ask afresh
What the hell is really happening behind the facades
of all those houses in a city?
is more expected from artists to question consensus reality than
with others especially when your basic survival strategies
are involved or even an integral aspect of your work. In our case,
it is fair to say that without places like the Poortgebouw we would
not be able to exist in the Netherlands: when your permit of stay
and a rent contract are dependent on an evidence of sufficient
and regular monthly income, it is a clear reminder that the
right of a roof over your head can only be granted through money.
operate differently. But this doesnt mean that they can just
be used without any exchange or return. They are definitely not
just for free. Instead of an anonymous monthly bank
transfer, the investment is a lot of time, energy and responsibility
to keep the space running. And since every space has
a different story, there are no standard blue prints of one approved
system to rely on. The freespace inhabitants/users must constantly
adapt to the current (often unstable) situation, invent new tactics
to survive, diagnose where their weak and strong sides are, and
often they have to argue bitterly amongst each other. In our opinion,
this is precious social and political thinking and action. These
are the real engines of a living democracy.
get us wrong: fights about dirty dishes and filthy toilets are just
as much a part of this as organizing a demonstration in front of
city hall. And one can be as demanding as the other...
represented in the Papierenhuis
project have very different reasons of why they came into existence
or why they vanished. Be it because artists needed affordable atelier
spaces or activists protested against shortage of social housing
or the unsuspecting average couple fell in an unexpected
gap of the social-political system. But there is a connecting
thread: the need to create mental and physical room within our apparently
irreversibly allocated living space. On a planet where all space
has been divided up and claimed somebodys property, freespaces
occupy the blindspots in a monolithic power structure which
regulates and prescribes our co-existence.
the notion that cities emerge and are desirable basically because
of the advantages of shared infrastructures, work and knowledge.
But at the same time, it seems that they prosper and grow through
almost exactly the opposite forces: inclusion, anonymity, separation.
Communal exchange and awareness are in practice more rural characteristics
that often are with more or less success imposed on
the urban population. In Rotterdam, for example, there are countless
governmental to artistic interventions designed to stimulate social
cohesion and exchange. In our so-called knowledge economy
trade (read: profit) seems to be the only remaining key to access
and open structures (social, academic, scientific, cultural, political...).
We experienced that these self-organized places (be it through squatting
or any other method of civil empowerment) provide and exercise an
alternative economy in a city. Contact, culture and experience/knowledge
are naturally transfered as opposed to top-down concepts
throughout very different layers of society.
We hope that
presentations such as the Papierenhuis can help to open the minds
of all users of the city to experience space and housing as an alive
flexible entity which is subject to change for everyone. Otherwise,
we are afraid that cities are nothing more than a static assemblage
of building blocks whose usage forms are predefined on the drawing
board and then blindly executed by their inhabitants.