"Disappointed Hopes for a Successful Idea: A Critical Self-reflection on the Aspirations, Accomplishments and Obstructions of an Empowering Community Project" in Hands on Urbanism 1850-2012: The Right to Green
Elke Krasny (ed.)
As an artistic group, we felt that our contribution to the project The Cook, the Farmer, his Wife and their Neighbour1 had to come to an end in 2009. We wanted to end our involvement and transfer control to participating community members, i.e. allow them to take over the community garden and kitchen, and to further develop them in accordance with their own ideas and plans for the future. In fact, the two-year project – which took place in the west of Amsterdam in an iconic, post-war, residential area called the Western Garden Cities – seemed to have a definite potential to continue on without us. The Far West housing association, which had supplied the space for the kitchen and the garden, and the local city council agreed to carry on with the project together – with the help of the inhabitants – and to eventually find ways to expand it.
By the end of 2011, however, The Cook, the Farmer, his Wife and their Neighbour had ceased to exist, due to some mistakes on our side, but the project nevertheless had a definite impact on the local community. It affected our way of working, to be sure, and inhabitants continue to engage with urban agriculture by joining other initiatives in the same area.
Looking back at this collective experience and its outcome, I feel the need to carefully re- examine its pros and cons. Since the project is no longer in existence, I would like to re-think my critical view by referring to a text I wrote in 2009 (here below in italic) in which I passionately describe the processes we went through.2 I will interject my comments (in regular text) into the text at points, in order to dissect and instill a crystallized view of the project, which needs to be reconsidered and confronted with current expectations and new understandings.
The Invisible Change
We acted as an instrument for residents, enabling them to occupy, re-inhabit, and re-appropriate two spaces that had previously been inaccessible to the inhabitants of the Neighbourhood of Geuzenveld en Slotermeer in the New West (Nieuw-West) district of Amsterdam. We served as a tool for the spatial and social changes that were embodied by the community that formed around the garden and the kitchen.
When we – as Wilde Westen, a collective of architects, designers, cultural producers, and artists – started thinking of a project in the New West of Amsterdam, the so-called “Western Garden Cities”, we were following up on a 6-month research project we carried out in 2008 on the theme Bedrijventuin (the Entrepreneurial Garden City). We were asked by a coalition of public authorities, private investors, and the Chamber of Commerce of Amsterdam to find new opportunities for quite narrowly defined economic and structural growth in an area in decline. To the coalition’s surprise, we produced instead a vision that intertwined the cultural, social, economic, and spatial development of the area, involving local inhabitants as the main resource for a sustainable transformation of the Neighbourhood. During our presentation, we challenged those who had commissioned the project with a methodology based on a long-term process of re-appropriation, redefinition of community spaces, and empowerment. This methodology should employ, we believed, the participation of local residents - mainly low-income inhabitants - and the deregulation of the use of public spaces in order to foster spontaneous initiatives, to give space to innovative ideas, and to encourage a sense of belonging amongst the inhabitants. In a second stage, we reasoned, this immaterial and relational approach should be translated into more physical interventions, in accordance with the new-formed “character” of the place. Our proposal was rejected. Despite the rejection, we wanted to further develop our methodo- logy as a collective, which sees its role as a mediator between residents and the interests of big housing corporations in a process of putting down roots. We decided to build our project by relying on our skills as emerging, single professionals and bringing our collective knowledge and convictions together. Unfortunately, we no longer had partners; we had only a handful of visionary ideas and a methodology that we would be experimenting with for the first time. Coincidentally, at the end of 2008, Marjetica Potrč – an artist who was invited by the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam to do a site-specific project in the New West of Amsterdam – joined forces with us. Together, we conceived and realized The Cook, the Farmer, his Wife and their Neighbour: a community garden and a community kitchen in the Geuzenveld en Slotermeer Neighbourhood in the New West of Amsterdam. We initiated a process of re-appropriation and empowerment in one of the biggest redevelopment areas in Europe. A community of more than 30 families united around the garden and the kitchen, while a committee of eight members took care of the two spaces, proudly committed to keeping the garden and the kitchen open at specific times, and planned daily gardening and cooking activities, workshops, and a cultural program for the Neighbourhood.
The success of the project was due in part to the collaboration with the most important contemporary art institution of in town: the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, which understood and cooperated with our approach. The fact that such an influential institution and a renowned artist were involved in the project opened up various opportunities and smoothed the way for us to achieve our goals. It helped that an empty storefront was donated to us as an open meeting point for the Neighbourhood, as well as that we were able to turn a fenced-off garden plot into a vegetable garden utilized by residents on a daily basis. These spaces allowed a renewed sense of self for the Neighbourhood to develop and grow. We are also aware that these accomplishments are not yet a conquest but rather a concession negotiated with Far West (the local cluster of housing corporations and owner of the area), which was of course very pleased to host and use “art” for the accomplishment of redevelopment and gentrification plans.
In the name of “art”, in fact, we had a direct line of communication with Far West, the local city council, and other influential cultural and social organizations. However, this inevitably and immediately put us in a fragile position. We were at a crucial crossroads for our project. We could simply develop a depoliticized art project about urban green, with the obvious consequence of being instrumentalized, or we could adopt a different type of engagement, one which views cooking and cultivating as rituals for taking root and thus resisting the forced nomadism of a continuous cycle of eviction and relocation. We chose to work behind the scenes to create a space where the community could settle in. We made ourselves invisible and encouraged local inhabitants to become the protagonists in a process of change. However, our invisibility didn’t spare us our fragile position, which put at risk the development of the next step.3
In 2011, the housing associations, which were part of Far West (Rochdale, De Key, and Stadgenoot), decided to dissolve their partnership in reaction to the global financial crisis. Rochdale assumed immediate control of the spaces occupied by the community kitchen and community garden, for which the housing association was directly and legally responsible. Rochdale had no desire to continue the project with the inhabitants and did not share their future plans. It considered them “scum” and “social waste”, and consequently unreliable or incapable of bringing the project to fruition.
At the moment we are facing the opposition of a housing corporation that is not only arrogant but also not pleased by our empowerment process, and the conclusion of the involvement of the Stedelijk Museum.4
Moreover, the withdrawal of the Stedelijk Museum in September of 2009 created an imbalance between the local city council, Rochdale, and us. They criticized us for our invisibility in the area, while we considered our position as “invisible” mediators important in starting a collective process and empowering a group of inhabitants, and overlooked our reassuring presence while developing the project. Rochdale annulled the previous agreement between Far West and the inhabitants; it claimed ownership of The Cook, the Farmer, his Wife and their Neighbour; it evicted the committee of inhabitants and, together with the local city council, appointed a new family as coordinators of the garden and the kitchen. The committee of inhabitants asked us to intervene on their behalf, as Rochdale refused to speak with them. We tried to negotiate their role in the project but were unsuccessful.
In all likelihood, the only way to counteract this situation and for the project to survive is to take a clear stance and to think beyond the project itself. The Cook, the Farmer, his Wife and their Neighbour no longer needs our discrete mediation; it is alive and can grow by itself.5
In my opinion, we committed two mistakes that compromised the transition from an artistic process to a genuine collective ownership of community space. On the one hand, we should have withdrawn more gradually to ensure that the committee of inhabitants become the only interlocutor for Far West. On the other hand, we didn’t encourage the committee enough to formally create a legal body. It would have strengthened their position in front of the city council and enhanced the possibility of negotiating the spaces with the owner, especially in those cases where power shifted – Far West versus Rochdale, for example.
We can be more effective in the Neighbourhood by operating on a larger scale. We have to extend our vision of re-appropriation and of strengthening the character of the Neighbourhood to the entire Lodewijk van Deyssel Street. In the plan of Far West, the street is going to be demolished and renewed in the upcoming years.6
At the end of 2009, when the future of The Cook, the Farmer, his Wife and their Neighbour was about to be handed over to the inhabitants, Tim van Ruiten, the head manager of Far West, disclosed to us the renewal plans for Lodewijk van Deyssel Street, where the project was located. It confirmed that the community kitchen would be retained, as well as the flats around the garden. A similar strategy would be applied to every building on the same side of the street, whereas entire blocks of buildings would be demolished on the opposite side. According to van Ruiten, the whole area would become more urban – meaning that most of the green would be paved. He was, by the way, positive about the project as a whole and intrigued by the network of residents and organizations gathering around it. We proposed to him that The Cook, the Farmer, his Wife and their Neighbour be expanded and that green areas on the whole street be used and re-inhabited. We were confident that the knowledge accumulated during the development of the project could be shared and disseminated by the inhabitants involved in the community kitchen and garden, and could be developed further by other residents experimenting with different forms of cohabitation. Van Ruiten admitted that neither Far West nor the local city council were familiar with the concept of urban farming and using urban green spaces and he expressed an interest in learning more about it.
As of today, Far West no longer exists and redevelopment plans for Lodewijk van Deyssel Street sit in limbo. According to Christel Baeten – civil servant for the City of Amsterdam, Department of Urban and Social Development – the municipality and the housing associations are facing a crisis and the real possibility of a failure to continue the process of renovation that started in 1995. No real plan for the future is clear at the moment.
The project clearly proved that inhabitants care about their Neighbourhood, that they can develop – over time – a sense of appropriation and that they have the right to formulate their livelihoods according to their own cultural expectations. They deserve a chance to decide where and how they want to live.7
After the eviction of community members from the kitchen and the garden, I started wondering whether there is a way to safeguard what these inhabitants deserve so much. Who is the interlocutor that can guarantee their rights to access space in the city and to make use of it according to their cultural expectations? Maybe the city, the body that, especially in New West Amsterdam, handed over the land and the public space to housing associations? Or the housing associations themselves that look only at their private interests?
According to Art Klandermans, municipal civil servant of the Department of Housing and City Renewal, despite the city of Amsterdam’s ambition of to go green and be climate neutral by 2015, there is currently no city policy that encourages residents to use green spaces or wasteland areas. Most of the public space in New West Amsterdam is green land. It is owned by the city and rented for periods of one hundred years to housing associations, which then declare it belongs to them. They have the obligation to take care of public spaces that hold next to no value for them. In the 1990s, many of the green lots were fenced off and converted into “look- only gardens” – like our garden now – for in their view, such lots represent a source of continual maintenance costs and are potentially dangerous.
Furthermore, says Klandermans, there is a high degree of wasteland in New West Amsterdam because housing associations demolished large tracts in recent years, but due to the financial crisis they don’t have the resources required to rebuild. Moreover, the lines of land ownership are particularly blurred; it is difficult to distinguish between wasteland owned by the city and that which is owned by housing associations. For the moment, the wasteland areas remain empty and unused, while the city and the housing associations ponder what to do with it.
If the use of public land is clearly no longer an acknowledged right, because private organizations are entitled to fence off green lots that should be accessible to residents and can, by acting unilaterally, suddenly deny the use of a garden and a kitchen that for two years were inhabited and transformed into lively community spaces, is it not time to scrap the idea of publicness and to start working on alternative and collective ways of building the spatial and social environment we want? Do these events not impel us to consider the need to radicalize the use of space? And instead of talking about new forms of cohabitation, is it not crucial to now look for new forms of co-ownership?
Lucia Babina, 2012
See more information about the publication and the exhibition at Az W.
1 The project was realized from 2008 to 2010 by the Wilde Westen collective (Lucia Babina, Reinder Bakker, Hester van Dijk, Sylvain Hartenberg, Merijn Oudenampsen, Eva Pfannes, Henriette Waal), together with Marjetica Potrč and in collaboration with the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.
2 Lucia Babina, Der unsichtbare Wandel/The invisble change, in: Angela Heide, Elke Krasny (eds.), Aufbruch in die Nähe Wien Lerchenfelder Strasse. Other Places Vienna Lerchenfelder Street. Mikrogeschichten zwischen Lokalidentitäten und Gobalisierung. Micro-histories between local identities and globalization. Mit 12 Essays zu sozialen Kunstpraxen, kritischer Stadtplanung und Straßenprojekten in Amsterdam, Bremen, Hamburg, Köln, Wien und Zagreb. With 12 essays on socially engaged art practices, critical urban planning and street projects in Amsterdam, Bremen, Hamburg, Cologne, Vienna and Zagreb, Vienna (turia + kant) 2010, p. 188 - 197.
3 op.cit. p. 194 f.
4 op. cit. p. 196.
5 op. cit. p 196.
6 op. cit. p. 197.
7 op. cit. p. 197.
The Cook, the Farmer, his Wife and their Neighbour
Wilde Westen (Lucia Babina/iStrike.ultd, Reinder Bakker/Overtreders W, Hester van Dijk/Overtreders W, Sylvain Hartenberg/Ooze, Merijn Oudenampsen, Eva Pfannes/Ooze, Henriette Waal) and Marjetica Potrč
The project is a community garden and community kitchen in the Nieuw-West district of Amsterdam. A previously unused site at Lodewijk van Deysselstraat 61 becomes a community kitchen.
The vegetable garden is located behind the kitchen in a former fenced-off ‘look only garden’ (kijkgroen). The garden and the kitchen create bonds within the neighbourhood and become a catalyst for transforming not only the public space but also the community itself.
The project is an example of ‘redirective practice’, with people from various disciplines and backgrounds working together to find new ways to build a shared community. The Nieuw-West district was designed in 1930s as a Dutch garden city.
Today, however, it faces the problem of widespread unemployment and difficulties in integrating new arrivals. At the same time, Nieuw-West is one of the largest residential redevelopment areas in the European Union.
The project The Cook, the Farmer, his Wife and their Neighbour is a case study for redesigning the modernist neighbourhood from below and redefining rural and urban coexistence.
Description step by step of the process which led to the realization of the community garden and the community kitchen and to the involvement of the local community of residents
Text by Lucia Babina
Images by Ooze
Choice of Location
In 2008 Wilde Westen were commissioned by a coalition of public authorities, private investors and the Chamber of Commerce of Amsterdam to carry out 6 months of research on the theme of Bedrijventuin (the Entrepreneurial Garden City). The purpose was to find new opportunities for the economic and structural growth of an area in decline: New West Amsterdam. The outcome of this research was the formation of a strategy that diverted from the expectations of the coalition and instead interwove the cultural, social, economic and spatial development of the area by involving local inhabitants as the main resource for sustainable transformation. This strategy did not satisfy the coalition as such, but Wilde Westen was convinced by it, and chose to implement it through the launch of a pilot project.
Soon after the research was completed, Wilde Westen met with Marjetica Potrč – who had in the meantime been asked by the Stedelijk Museum of Amsterdam to realise a site-specific project in New West Amsterdam - and together they decided to collaborate on a participatory project about cooking and farming. Marjetica spent December 2008 in New West Amsterdam conducting investigations; at the end of which she and Wilde Westen set about looking for a starting point for the project. With the help of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, who had agreed to work with Wilde Westen as well, they found two possible options: a store front in Slotervaart owned by the housing corporation Eigen Haard; and a shop in Geuzenved and Slotermeer owned by the housing corporation Far West. The first option was a far bigger space and was better situated but was not directly connected to a green area; the second option had the disadvantage of being a small, dark and damp butcher’s shop, abandoned for almost 10 years, but with a communal garden (kijk groen) at the rear of the building which was perfect for a community vegetable plot. A unanimous choice was made in favour of this former halal butchery. The Cook, the Farmer, his Wife and the Neighbour settled down in Lodewijk van Deysselstraat 61.
The shop in Lodewijk van Deysslestraat consisted of a ground floor space of 30 m2. When we entered it for the first time the side and rear windows were boarded up, walls were rotten and covered with tiles, the hydraulic system was broken and the mezzanine was inaccessible. It needed a refurbishment from top to bottom. By contrast the garden behind was well maintained but felt very desolate. It was fenced off as a kijk-groen type. Although a communal garden for which local residents pay a monthly maintenance fee, it was closed to them; no one had the keys apart from the housing corporation and garden keeper, Rochdale. In New West Amsterdam there is a lot of vacant space and a big percentage of it is occupied by greenery, but this greenery is just space, it is not public, not available, not inhabited. This evident void - spread throughout the district and tangibly represented by a shop deliberately kept empty for 10 years and a deserted garden - inspired us to fill it with our dream of making space for the local community, of creating a place for everybody to use and to appropriate. So we set about designing a collective cooking and farming hub together with local residents.
Contacting the Neighbourhood
During her stay in Amsterdam in December 2008, Marjetica Potrč was introduced to many people from Niew West Amsterdam by her assistant Dasha van Amsterdam (Koers Nieuw West). She met cultural and social organizations active in the district, she got to know about artists and initiatives, she corresponded with officials of Amsterdam City Hall and with various experts about the relationship between nature and the urban habitat and about the green future of the city as a whole. Wilde Westen, benefiting from the information and knowledge provided by Marjetica Potrč, was also focused on a campaign about cooking and farming in Lodewijk van Deysselstraat 61 that could involve local residents and would suggest possible different uses of the fenced-off garden and former shop. They visited many local residents; they stayed for coffee or tea and a piece of cake. The idea of a possible change was also spread through flyers, by using the front window of the shop, by contacting social organizations in the area and by asking the housing corporations Far West (owner) and Rochdale (who maintain the garden) to contact the residents around the communal garden through an official letter.
After the basic refurbishment was complete, Marjetica Potrč and Wilde Westen worked on the physical transformation of the former butchers by setting up a four-day workshop to turn the space into an efficient and comfortable kitchen. By assembling big wooden poles they created a cooking island with dishwasher, fridge, four camping cooking fires and a counter with two sinks. The dining island was composed of a long table, benches and a ladder giving access to the storage/mezzanine. The workshop also presented an opportunity to get in touch with the neighbours who came looking for information about the space and to help out. A second round of physical interventions took place right before the project opened; the soil in the garden needed sampling and this was executed by the artist Wapke Feenstra, invited to contribute to the project with research about the culture of farming. The Praktijkschool helped out by preparing the garden, and in accordance with our idea of dividing the plot into 1.5 x 1.5 pixels, planted Tagetes to design the grid. Grass tiles replaced some of the concrete tiles around the kitchen building, forming a small path which led up to the threshold of the garden. The front window of the kitchen got a makeover in the form of the new logo of The Cook, the Farmer, his Wife and their Neighbour covering the former sign of the butcher’s shop. Combining the old sign with the new logo spoke of the desire to preserve the history of the place, whilst reinventing a different use for it in the present time.
The kitchen and the garden officially opened with a housewarming party on April 18th, 2009. Guests of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam mixed with locals who’d been invited to the event via posters, flyers and personal invitations, spread around the neighbourhood. Everyone was invited to participate in initiatives organised especially for the occasion: writing their names on tags to paste on the front window in order to illustrate the project’s far-reaching network; children asked to plant an apple tree in front of the kitchen door as a symbol of fertility and a metaphor for a project in progress; tours conducted of the garden which explained the ideas behind the grid and ways to use pixels to design vegetable gardens; brainstorming with Wapke Feenstra about the art of cultivating and the use of the garden; booking one or more pixels of garden to care for and cultivate; entertainment with food produced by local and independent initiative Dora’s Kitchen and music by Rag2Riches. The Stedelijk Museum curator Leontine Coelewij, Marjetica Potrč and Wilde Westen, and the councillor of art and culture of the Stadsdeel Geuzenveld en Slotermeer, Tys de Ruijter, stepped up to the podium to announce the launch of the project.
After the opening 22 families from more than 7 ethnic groups got their own vegetable gardens and The Cook, the Farmer his Wife and their Neighbour got its gardener: Roy. They immediately started preparing the soil and seeding as it was already late in the season. They planted all sorts of vegetables according to their cooking habits and tastes. At that time the garden was open three days a week and the kitchen four days a week to local inhabitants and visitors from the city centre and elsewhere who had come to see the project or to participate in workshops organised by Wilde Westen. These workshops functioned as a powerful tool to encourage local inhabitants in particular to take the initiative and develop new ideas in the garden and the kitchen. The range of workshops varied from multicultural cooking (Dora’s Kitchen, Taji the Chef workshops), permaculture practice (Free State SWOMP workshop), theatre and improvisation for kids (Marina Breton workshop), designing with recycled material (LDSP workshop), to stalking and producing urban food (Wietske Maas workshop). The opening of these two spaces had been a great achievement: local inhabitants enjoyed meeting up with their neighbours in a pleasant and protected environment. They started sharing ideas on cooking and farming; a new community had started to form.
By the summer of 2009 many people were happily gathering and sharing in the garden and in the kitchen. The need had arisen for a clearer and better organisation of this newly formed community partly to ensure it ran smoothly, but also because the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam was due to withdraw its financial and logistic support (5 September 2009). Marjetica Potrč and Wilde Westen encouraged those participating local inhabitants to create a ‘dwellers committee’. They discussed together what the committee could do: they made democratic decisions about the management of the garden and the kitchen, about the organisation of activities, about opening times, and about their relationship with the owner - the housing corporation Far West. So the committee was formed in August 2009 and was composed of 8 members: Aisha, Costa, Eptisam, Gerda, José, Latifa, Mostapha (on behalf of the kids) and Roy.
In consultation with local inhabitants, the committee decided to organise a party to celebrate the harvest. Unlike the opening party in which the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam had a great role, the harvest party was devised entirely by residents in collaboration with Marjetica Potrč and Wilde Westen. They applied to the Stadsdeel Geuzenveld en Slotermeer for funding and planned to set up a fair to showcase the products of the cultivated garden and the various outcomes of the garden and kitchen initiatives. The fair was also meant to propose possible future initiatives, and to create a cosy ambience in one of the few bucolic places in New West Amsterdam. During the fair, the kitchen produced Surinam, Moroccan, Iranian and Dutch food round the clock and immediately outside you could find booths distributing candies, lemonade and delicious cous-cous. In the garden you could meet Wietske Maas and learn how to prepare and smoke fish from the Sloterplas lake. Costa and Aisha gave lessons on preserving vegetables from the garden. Ouardia presented a workshop on henna hand tattooing. Further entertainment was provided especially for kids in the form of a gigantic inflatable cow - but also for all tastes, a yoga class with Ria van Leeuwen, a Bollywood and belly-dancing performance, a vegetable lottery, a small exhibition of the outcomes of the various workshops realised and a DJ set managed by children.
The Cook, the Farmer, his Wife and their Neighbour has developed and grown out of the enthusiastic participation and active contribution of more than 100 people who embraced farming and cooking as a way of sharing knowledge and tradition at a time when demolition and redevelopment are causing many to feel uprooted. It proved beyond a doubt that inhabitants care about their neighbourhood and that by appropriating these two spaces they have developed a sense of belonging to this part of the district. This has also brought security to Lodewijk van Deysselstraat and added real value to the neighbourhood. The project no longer needs our mediation; it can now live and progress by itself. We will be more effective in the neighbourhood if we are able to operate on a larger scale; we have to move on, and to strengthen the character of the place by extending our vision of re-appropriation to the entire street of Lodewijk van Deysselstraat and to the neighborhood Geuzenveld en Slotermeer beyond. To ensure the sustainable redevelopment of the area, the active participation of its inhabitants is not only important but also fundamental.
Here below a photo of the The Cook, the Farmer, his Wife and their Neighbour garden, taken by Rufus de Vries in October 2010. Since 2009 a committee of 8 inhabitants run the garden and the kitchen, involving more than 100 people in the area.
For more information about the The Cook, the Farmer, his Wife and their Neighbour project, see the weblog.
"The Invisible Change" in Other Places. Vienna Lerchenfelder Street
Heide and Krasny (eds.)
When we – as Wilde Westen, a collective of architects, designers, cultural producers and artists – started thinking of a project in the New West of Amsterdam, the so-called ‘Western Garden Cities’, we were following up a 6-months research we carried out in 2008 on the theme Bedrijventuin (the Entrepreneurial Garden City). We were asked by a coalition of public authorities, private investors and the Chamber of Commerce of Amsterdam, to find new opportunities for quite narrowly defined economical and structural growth of an area in decline. To the coalition's surprise, we produced instead a research which intertwines the cultural, social, economical and spatial development of the area, involving local inhabitants as the main resource for a sustainable transformation of the neighborhood. During our research presentation we challenged our commissioners with a methodology based on a long-term process of re-appropriation, of redefinition of community spaces and of empowerment. This methodology should imply the participation of local residents - mainly low-income dwellers - and the deregulation of the use of the public space in order to foster spontaneous initiatives, to give space to innovative ideas, to encourage a sense of belonging amongst the inhabitants. In a second stage this immaterial and relational approach should be translated into more physical interventions, according to the new formed ‘character’ of the place. Our proposal was of course rejected.
Nevertheless, despite the refusal, we wanted to further develop our methodology as a collective, which sees its role as a mediator between the residents - in a process of putting down roots - and the big interests of the housing corporations. We decided to build our project relying on our skills, as emerging single professionals bringing our various knowledge and convictions together. But we no longer had partners, we only had a bunch of visionary ideas and a methodology that needed to be experimented with for the first time. At this very moment, at the end of 2008 Marjetica Potrč, an artist who was invited by the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam to do a site-specific project in the New West of Amsterdam, joined forces with us. Together, we conceived and realized The Cook, the Farmer, his Wife and their Neighbour: a community garden and a community kitchen in the neighborhood Geuzenveld en Slotermeer in the New West of Amsterdam. We initiated a process of re-appropriation and empowerment in one of the biggest redevelopment areas in Europe. A community of more than thirty families gathered around the garden and the kitchen, while a committee of 8 members is currently taking care of the spaces, is proudly committed in keeping the garden and the kitchen open in specific times, and is planning daily gardening and cooking activities, workshops and a cultural program for the neighborhood.
The success of the project was partly due to the collaboration with the most important institution of contemporary art in town: the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam which understood and complied with our approach. The fact that such an influent institution and a renowned artist were involved in the project, opened up opportunities and smoothed the way to the achievement of our goals. It helped to have granted an empty storefront as an open meeting point for the neighborhood, as well as to turn a fenced off garden-plot into a vegetable garden used on a daily basis by residents – as spaces where to start building a renewed sense of self for the neighborhood. We are also aware that these attainments are not yet a conquest but a concession negotiated with Far West (the local cluster of housing corporations, owner of the area), which would of course be very pleased to host and use “art” for the accomplishment of redevelopment and gentrification plans. In the name of “art”, in fact, we had a direct line of communication with Far West, the local city council and other influential cultural and social organizations, but this put us inevitably and immediately in a fragile position. We were at a crucial crossroads for our practice. We could simply develop a depoliticized art project about urban green, with the obvious consequences of being instrumentalized, or we could decide for a different engagement which considers cooking and cultivating as rituals for taking roots, as forms of resistance against forced nomadism (as a continuous cycle of evictions and relocations). We chose to work behind the scenes and to create space where the community could settle down. We made ourselves invisible and encouraged local inhabitants to become protagonists of a process of change. Our invisibility didn’t save us from our fragile position though, which is even putting at stake the development of a next step. At the moment we are facing the arrogant opposition of the housing corporation, that is not pleased by our empowerment process, and the conclusion of the involvement of the Stedelijk Museum.
Probably, the only way to counteract this situation, and for the project to survive, is to take a clear stance and to think beyond the project itself. The Cook, the Farmer, is Wife and their Neighbour doesn’t need us and our discrete mediation anymore, it lives and can grow by itself. We can be more effective in the neighborhood if we are able to operate on a larger scale. We have to move on and to extend our vision – of re-appropriation and of strengthening of the character of the place – to the entire street Lodewijk van Deysselstraat, that, in the plans of Far West, is going to be demolished in the next few years. The project clearly proved that inhabitants care about their neighborhood, that they can develop through time a sense of appropriation and that they have the rights to construct their livelyhood according to their own cultural expectation. They deserve a chance to decide where and how they want to live.
Lucia Babina, 2010
See more information about Lerchenfelderstrasse project by Elke Krasny.
Lucia Babina and Zoe Gray (eds.)
Fucking Good Art.
(Special edition of Fucking Good Art magazine in collaboration with DIARTgonale magazine in Cameroon)
Editorial – Writing about Talking About!
Rotterdam, March 2010
What happens when we make time to talk with our peers from another country, from another continent, from another cultural context altogether? For the project Talking About!, we invited six artists and cultural practitioners from Douala (Cameroon) to travel to Rotterdam in September 2009 to gain an overview of the Dutch contemporary art scene. Part workshop, part tour, Talking About! was primarily a peer-to-peer exchange, a sequence of conversations between our Cameroonian guests and their Dutch counterparts. From the outset, we were determined that we would not predetermine the topic of conversation nor did we want to specify the outcomes of this two-week trip.
Our model for this open-ended approach was an earlier project in which we had both been involved, one as co-organizer, the other as guest. In 2007 the Rotterdam-based iStrike foundation and the organisation doual’art from Douala worked together on the event SUD – Salon Urbain de Douala, a week-long festival that took place across the city, comprising a series of performances and the inauguration of many works in public space.(1) iStrike and doual’art invited a group of Dutch-based artists and curators to attend.(2) Beyond meeting members of the local art scene, there were no defined prior expectations of us, no requirements to produce something as a direct result of the trip. Within this open framework and rather improvised atmosphere, many connections were made between the Dutch visitors and their Cameroonian homologues, connections based on personal affinity, chance, timing.
One of the people we met there, Achille Atina Tah, a young cultural mediator then working for doual’art, mentioned one evening that he would be keen to see how institutions functioned in the Netherlands. This started a chain of extended conversations – with other arts professionals both here and there, with funding bodies, with artists, with embassies, with visa agencies – which lasted almost two years. The conclusion of those conversations was Talking About! The first week comprised a hectic schedule of visits to art institutions and cultural funding bodies.(3) Interspersed amongst these visits were several public or semi-public events, which enabled us to broaden the conversation to include additional interlocutors.(4) For the second week, each of our guests worked together with a host, a carefully chosen artist, collective or institution who had been ‘match-made’ with our guests. Achille Atina Tah worked with me [Zoë Gray] at Witte de With; Ruth Belinga with Annie Fletcher and Charles Esche at the Van Abbemuseum; Goddy Leye and Hervé Youmbi with Kim Bouvy & Elian Somers at Het Wilde Weten, with David Maroto (Duende), and me [Lucia Babina] of iStrike; Lionel Manga with Emiliano Gandolfi & Alexander Vollebregt at TU Delft; and Achillekà Komguem worked with Rob Hamelijnck & Nienke Terpsma at Fucking Good Art.(5)
This last pairing was made as Achillekà is the founding editor of the magazine DiARTgonale and was looking for ways to develop his publication in new directions. One idea that emerged from this pairing was to create a magazine that combines the formats and readerships of the two publications. The outcome is the magazine you hold in your hands. This issue of Fucking Good Art – of which we are proud to be the guest editors – is designed to be inserted inside DiARTgonale. The format is adapted to fit the size of its Cameroonian sister publication, yet it retains its signature pink paper and design. The same articles that appear here in English will appear in French in DiARTgonale, with certain differences due to the differences between our editorial decisions and those of DiARTgonale’s editor.
Within the pages of Fucking Good Art – Writing About! you will find the transcript of an artwork by Libia Castro & Ólafur Ólafsson, a story of one young Cameroonian’s attempt to cross the Sahara desert and make it to the promised land of Fortress Europe. As a counterpoint, artist Goddy Leye – in conversation with Emiliano Gandolfi – narrates his European training and how he decided to invest his career in a life-long project in the district of Bonendale in Douala. Goddy Leye and his frequent collaborator Ruth Afane Belinga each present a short text ruminating upon ideas encountered during Talking About!, in relation respectively to art and gentrification, and to the professional practice of curating. Achille Atina also explores certain ideas that came to light in Rotterdam, in his examination of public art and what it could mean in a Cameroonian context. Rob Hamelijnck and Nienke Terpsma present the transcript of their harbour tour with Achillekà Komguem and Lionel Manga. Musing together about art’s possible functions in such a massive, industrial context, their conversation ranges from the situation in Rotterdam to that in Douala. Annette Schemmel meditates upon retellings of history in the light of the 50th anniversary of Cameroonian independence, whilst Lionel Manga and Alexander Vollebregt explore what it might mean to take things to the ‘next level’.
We hope that the texts presented here in this special issue of Fucking Good Art give you a sense of the collective adventure we have experienced to date. We also hope that they form the springboard for further adventures and conversations, between the participants of Talking About!, the contributors to Writing About! and also amongst those of you whom we are yet to meet.
1 The festival Salon Urbain de Douala was part of the program SUD 2007 which was realized by iStrike and doual’art and included also the project Ars&Urbis International Workshop (Douala 2007), the publication Douala in Translation (episode publishers, Rotterdam 2007), and WideSUD (2008). For further information see iStrike wiki website.
2 The group consisted of Patricia Pulles (Sonsbeek 2008), Edith Rijnja (Rijksakademie), Esther Vossen (at that time De Appel), Alexander Vollebregt (TU Delft), Libia Casto & Ólafur Ólafsson - together with the authors.
3 We visited the Premsela Foundation, Platform 21, SMART Project Space, De Appel, De Bazel, Prins Claus Fonds, Das Arts, If I Can’t Dance I Don’t Want To Be Part Of Your Revolution (all Amsterdam); De Paviljoens (Almere); Casco and BAK (Utrecht); Stroom (The Hague); Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, NAi, Nederlands Fotomuseum and Witte de With (all Rotterdam).
4 The guests presented their work at Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten. The discussion I Am Public: Art and Social Change in Douala was held at Witte de With. There was a discussion session at Enough Room for Space and a drinks reception hosted by Fucking Good Art. A night of films selected by the guests was shown at WORM, titled Cameraroon! Het Wilde Weten hosted a debate about the role of local artist collectives in a global context, titled The Glocal Artist Collective. Finally, Club Attent presented Lions club international, a night of funk fusion with DJ Nemawashi in attendance.
5 Full biographies of all the guests and hosts can be found together with the detailed programme of Talking About! on the weblog.
Lucia Babina and Zoë Gray
See more about the publication here.
Douala in Translation - A view of the city and its creative transformative potentials
Marilyn Douala Bell and Lucia Babina editors
design by Louis Lüthi
Awarded as one of The 33 Best Dutch Book Designs 2007/ De Best Verzorgde Boeken 2007. The book has been selected among 465 publications released in 2007. It will be displayed in the Stedelijk Museum CS in Amsterdam together with the other 32 awarded books and the exhibition will travel around for a year.
Douala, the economic and cultural capital of Cameroon, is one of the most important cities in Central Africa. Informal settlements, micro-economies and spontaneous use of the public space have a primary role in the formation of its urban identity. This fast growing city is the context in which doual’art, a research centre of urban practices, has been operating for more than 16 years. Since 1991 the co-founders, Marilyn Douala Bell and Didier Schaub have fostered cultural projects and commissioned site-specific art interventions, using art and culture to develop collective processes of urban change.
The publication brings together cross-disciplinary analyses of Douala that seek to go beyond predictable and prejudicial views about African towns. Douala becomes a thrilling case study in which artistic practices engage and affect the cityscape.
With contributions by Lucia Babina, Edgar Cleijne, Marilyn Douala Bell, Emiliano Gandolfi, Christian Hanussek, Salifou Lindou, Dominique Malaquais, Lionel Manga, Nsame Mbongo, Zayd Minty, Giulia Paoletti, Iolanda Pensa, Didier Schaub, AbdouMaliq Simone, Kamiel Verschuren, Alexander Vollebregt, Silvia Viganò and Hervé Yamguen.
Go to the iStrike website