Four concepts and two hypothesis regarding participation
From the experience of the authors, this books pretends to offer a battery of key concepts regarding participation in current times: It pretends to raise questions about some intuitions around the validity and usefulness of the matter of participation of concepts such as Logic of abundance, Cooperation, Precariousness, and the Work in the fields. . From the current importance that cooperation holds, and using precariousness as a tool, with logic of abundance always on mind, we can nourish it to produce and manage collective luxuries that we can enjoy in order to have lifes that are worth to live. It means going over some of the limits of these processes, and presenting some challenges that participation finds during its expansion stage, so it can increase its impact and importance: the text raises some questions about collective production, the superation of the logic of traditional participation, the creation of a self-managing strong and powerful, far from the fetichism of self-management, etc.
Thinking about the conception of art of Isidoro Valcárcel Medina, and from the concrete approach to art and participative o collaborative architecture that Basurama has been developing, the text raises questions about current collective art works, from cultural production to political imagination, besides the management or the urban space All those phenomena are participative processes that need an ethic and an aesthetic, that cannot be designed beforehand, but only can be built with each particular situation in mind, with flexible and obedient leaderships, developing caring competences, trust, overflow and collective intelligence.
key words: Self management. Participation. Art. Architecture. Collective luxuries. Cooperation. Abundance.
Four concepts, two hypothesis and some intutitions about participation in current times1
Abundance – Cooperation – Precariousness and Work in the fields
(or fetichism, auto-explotation and consumerism).
We live in times of abundance2. Never has existed so much prosperity in so many fields and in other places, and rarely in history has been so poorly distributed. The crysis that we are going through in Europe is not only just an economic one. It is mainly a financial crysis that comes from the huge increase of inequality that the elites have achieved to establish after the crash of the property bubble3, once this marks the end of the last exhausted engine of economic growth that worked in the Western world. Scarcity is just an estrategry created as an excuse and an extraction mechanism of our communal wealth, and it has been growing exponentionally in recent times.
The current crysis, is also a crysis of misrepresentation (no, we are not represented. No. Not at all). It is a crysis that appears as a result of the conflict between scarcity and the logic of abundance, that gets worse with the urgency and imposition of cooperation as contraposition to competence.
In Spain, since the arrival of the 15-M movement, the earthquake that is ending the political and social regimen in place since Franco´s death, in 1978, one can decry in social media, and literally, be supported by hundreds of people to open the door of a finished, but empty building block, or to achieve the transfer of an industrial space that could not be transfered to the citizens despite 30 years of pressure from the community. What´s more, even if they are not by your side, or they don´t think like you, you know that many others are by their places, thinking about their specific problems, thinking and working with you.
That political abundance is the same that Chile enjoys when secondary education students protest at their schools. ¿Who would have thought that there are thousands of middle school kids ready to stay enclosed with their classmates to try to change the more than imperfect Chilean democracy?4These movements can occur in any place, at any moment, as long as we nourish abundance through cooperation.
How to achieve that this abundance does not stays in a collection of anecdotes, but rrather becomes an archipelago that multiplies from of its specific practice? [Participating could mean nourish the abundance]
“Colaborative” could be a more fashionable synonim that we also like a lot, but in this case we are not thinking in any concrete economic system . We talk of “cooperation” in the sense of the activity opposed to “competición”.
In contrast to to other power systems, architecture is organized in contests that are “públic, “legal”, “igualitarian”, more or less “transparent”. Those contests make the studios to compete against each other, to fight for winning, to prevail over the others. We take for granted that they will win based on logical, objetive and provable reasons, and that will make them to standd out and shine. However, we know that that is not possible, because the world of architecture is doubly plentiful; On one side architecture is a very special relationship between humans and nature, and which feeds from every of the proposal presented to a contest. How could we encourage cooperations in architecture instead of competitions? On the other hand, architecture builds the city, that has to be one and only for all its habitants. There are cities that are incredibly segregated, but even in thema city is one entity composed by their parts. How can we build cooperative cities and regions to subsittute the famous interregional competition?
Eric Hobsbawn used to afirm that the biggest luxury ever enjoyed by humanity was London´s tube, before any vatican or oriental palace. In fact, it is easy to see that this kilometric laberynth of tunnels and trains that come and go punctually withouth crashing is a project that can only be dreamed, developed, built and maintained by a whole society. It is a collective luxury, such public health care and education systems, the extra times and retributions for those in caring jobs or the access to good qualilty food.
[To participate could mean to create with others]
At the other end there is the individual luxuries, based on individualism. According to the recipe of contemporary developmentism, we now include in the poorly named as “middle class” to those that due to THEIR work and THEIR effort, can access to the consume of private goods, small luxuries that do not apport anything to the rest. Can be BMW with a large stroke in Germany, or an air conditioner in Argentina. Consume organizes life in the opposite way done by cooperation.
How can we keep creating real economic based on cooperation?
We live in precarious times and spaces. It has been like this since forever, since we were able to have our own economy. European precariety since the 90s: With its lack of stable jobs, and the eternal south american precariety, with its thousand of non-planed houses and neighborhoods. Closing the gaps, we share a very similar lack of employemt, of stability, and of possiblity of proyection. Without any doubt, we get by well in this paradigm because is the one we have, the one we have learned. But we can only work from precariety as a way to cooperate to produce abundance. We should not celebrate it as if it were a success, or surrender to it as the only one possible solutions, because that will end up in autoexplotation, that might be even worse than the explotation from the master. From the paradigm of precariety, we want to suggest innovative solutions, of lower cost, to suggest new standars. These solutions are only interesting if they are happy, offer improvements for everyone, defeat the waste and the corruption related to extracosts, especially if they achieve to reduce the huge inquealities that surge from the design as a luxury, and architecture as an added value for a segregated area.
In Basurama we have been trying to increase the budget, to derie high percentages to pay the peole instead of spending them in materials, planes, renting, steering wheels and cocktails. However, more than ten years later, this situation has become institutionalized in a way of production that is the opposite because produces less for more: more productions than ever are done, but all of we are constantly “doing miracles”: from publishing a fotocopied fanzine to developing a public art festival that goes on for several months, everything seems to be a miracle. But miracles do not exist. They are countless explotations of more and more peole, for a longer time.
Precariety can lower even more the red line of “cheap”, while the expensive doesn´t stop going up. Hence, inequality grows in both opposite ways.
In Basurama we have been trying to learn from informality. We have tried to apply it to our needs and other´s needs that we have worked with, so all of us can enjoy this collective wisdom. We thought, as heroes in our way in the times of celebrity architects, that we could change EVERYTHING by suggesting precarious, manual, human or informal standards, that could become collective luxuries. However, we are more and more precarious while the rich get more and more rich. How can we build -or recover- among all the collective luxuries those that all of us should have access in these era of abundance and wealth? Could take care of them be an interesting way to build lifes that are worth to live?
[Participation could mean maintenance and care]
Working on the fields:
From Basurama we suggest to work on the fields in which we want to cooperate. In that sense, when we speak of selfmanagement we speak of wanting and being able to manage those necessary to have lifes that are worth to live. Because of that, we cannot work from “the discipline of art” or “the discipline of architecture”, that are, like the rest, quite self-referential, autistic and inward looking. To be able to cooperate we need to be able to wok on the specific fields where life takes place: basketball, gardening, public policies, electricity, the environment or education, and countless more, in every one of them, but always with them and not from “us” to “them”. We do not make things for people. We make things with people and we give what we know. Because people are already doing their own things. And they do it better than us. But all of us know to do a lot of things, almost all of them. [Participation is management]/[Participation is finding solutions].
Besides allowing us to find solutions or to manage, our technical knowledge (the ones that all of us have in this era of self-traning: technology, informatic, cooking, structure, laws, woodwork…) should not block option to create, to DELIRIO, and less of them all, to overflow. This last one only can exist when we get lost and start to push, to walk together to new places that none of us knew that existed, and which we cannot reach if we walk separately.
For overflow to be operative, and knowing it is essential to reach new places, we have to work with the specific fied, and to be aware of the responsability of the leadership: A flexible leadership, obedient and capable to create trust, that can circulate without dissappearing and that doesn´t impose more that what is able to be responsible of. Maybe that “leadership” can only have as a synonym one “stetic”, adapted to each case. [Participation is suggestion]
In Basurama we have organized many times leisure activitites, absurd or delirious. We hold the opinion that all of them are necessary to survive, specially when they are innecesary of antieconomic. From our position and possibilities, we feel the need to suggest all those that we are not obligued so we can extend the reality of what is possible. How can we extend the possible while finding a solution for the urgent? How can we increase what is desirable from managing what is necessary?
With the help of the public? The public cannot participate.
In terms of abundane, art is almost infinite. It would be much more than abundant, because is not about making things, rather is a way to make things, like are love or dance. Due to that, it can reproduce in and to all humans. If any person is an artist, then any person of the public, could be “the creator” in the artwork that invites them to participate. If we take the on point definition of Isidoro Valcárcel Medina of what arti is, that says that “art is any act that is conscious and responsible”, then we would have to suggest that “participants”, rather than changing or defining the work in which they are participating, in order to participate in it as artists, should be aware of their acts.. If we keep considering Isidoro´s definition, then art should be a path to knowledge. To that definition, we add the fact that must be the path to an individual knowledge that we are able to shar with others. /As such, art is not a media of communication, so it needs the “public” to exist. Due to that, the participants in an artwork cannot be “the public” of it, rather its creators.
On their side, such in the parabole of the blind and the elefphant5, when we do a communal artwork, with participation, overflown, the number of meanings of the artwork increases: there are not only the ones that each of us can freely interpret -freedom as synonym of responsibilty-, also there are the ones that each of us can find in the meaning given by others, creating an exponential growth of combinations. In a commercial artwork or in a too controlled participation, the meaning is only one: the one that we want to tell the public [Paticipating could mean to create; or to have freedom and consciousness to act]
As always we pay attention to the classical paradox that the biggest recent Spanish artwork is @acampadasol, we take the risk to get stuck due to the impossibility of suggesting anything similar. Without any doubt is a phenomena that can only take place with a lot of overflown and collective intelligence, that are phenomeas that stop existing in case they are previously designed, but we can learn from what was going on there and is still going in many of their replies. In terms of abundance, inside it is allowed and encouraged the possibility to create a pot that is huge and inmeasurably rich, which nobody can steal or control. A huge amount of small lights posting what they want, a huge amount of posters made by hand stuck to a wall. In conscience terms, like in a popular celebration, all the participants are or can be infinitely aware that what and how it is happening, and responsible of how can and should take part on it: organizative systems appear and disappear as long as they are useful and effective, and are constantly overflown. In freedom terms, we know that millions of people saw different meanings, proved by the fact that three years later we keep on discussing what really happened there.
Is participation selfmanagement?
Selfmanagement is a term that dominates our times, as the last paradigm of the desirable participation. If in the past it was one of most desirable icons of anarchism and libertarism, today it is part of many discourses, very diverse and with different political orientations. As we said before, we want to find solutions, to suggest and create. Contrary, the most sterile project of participation is to dedicate everyone´s time to manage bad ideas or personal projects, or managing misery or some sad passions. Contributing to the ego and the work of an artist through a participative work (I do not want to think in any of Basurama´s works) in this case ends up being a very simple and explicative example of the DESPROPÓSITO, but is not less useful or steril than dedicate your life to manage the cities or the policies as if it were unpleasant meeting of neighbors .6
The same things happens with the public, the participant and the consumer:
In the public self-managed spaces that keeps on growing in Spain since 2009-2017, a lot of informal things take place everyday, “urban” things (reading, kissing, skipping school, taking the dog outside, sunbathing…). People that enjoy the oasis of freedom that they give. These situations are constantly interfering with organized activities by some organizers that use it, and also enjoy it. Activities that have a timing, rules, rights and obligations. Those activities are also attended by the public, in fact they tend to get many people to participate -a permanent cycle of cinema or graffity, a free university, a group of people that get together on Mondays to sing, a cooperative basketball tournament or one of the many urban orchards of the city and thousands of sporadic stuff-. An assembly of (self)managemt organizes the daily life, always about to get owned by that daily life, still is eager to experiment, suggest, and go ahead with the managemnt, content, legislation, uses and customs of the modern public space of Madrid. At least of THAT public space, that is still part of THE public space of our cities.
All of them, as well as any person that lives in Madrid, constitute each of those public space, and THE public space, always in a different way of how the people of the adjacent buildings constitute it.
[Recognizing those different kinds of relationships, responsabilitiese, affection and attachment could mean participation].
However, in any of those ways to relate with those spaces, there are some people that take this space as a place of which they can consume from. A service that is always free and lawless that can be exploited in a very advantageous way. If they decide to consume it, that starts a logic opposite to the one that is able to build. [Consume is not participation]. Exploring that way, the one that we have been talking about during these text, between responsability/care/leisure, could a new kind of participation that is not lmited to giving/burn-out/power/control.
Self produced materials:
- “Cuidadano”, entry of Enciclomierda (Shit dictionary). Published in the blog of La Ciudad Viva (The Living City). October 2013. http://www.laciudadviva.org/blogs/?p=19492
- Rus: Espacio público y basura en América Latina (Rus: Public space and trash in Latin America). 2008- 2010. Ed. Delirio. Salamanca, 2011. Digital edition in: http://basurama.org/rus
- 6000km: Lanscapes after the battle. Self-edited. Madrid, 2011. Version to be downloaded in: http://6000km.org
- Full answers to the cuestionary for the Discussion Paper of the 6th GLOBAL SUMMIT of Arts and Culture. Santiago de Chile, 2014. http://basurama.org/novedad/respuestas–completas–a–cuestionario–para–el–discussion–paper–de–la-6a–cumbre–mundial–de–las–artes–y–la–cultura
- Colectivo 15 Muebles: Manifiesto Mobiliarista (Declaration for the furniture):http://www.15muebles.org/15muebles/about/
- Del Olmo, Carolina. ¿Dónde está mi tribu?. Clave Intelectual. Madrid, 2013.
- Jacobs, Jane. Vida y Muerte de las grandes ciudades americanas (Life and Death of the big urban American areas). Capitán Swing, Madrid 2011.
- La compañía de las indias (India Company). Indianopedia: article “lógica de la abundancia” “logic of abundance”.http://lasindias.com/indianopedia/logica–de–la–abundancia
- Negri, A. y Hardt, M. Commonwealth. Akal, Madrid 2011.
- Revista crisis #3 Todo Legal. Feb-mar 2011. Buenos Aires
- Revista crisis #5 Los modales del modelo. Jun-jul-2011. Buenos Aires
- Rodríguez, E. y López. I. La crisis que viene. Traficantes de Sueños, Madrid 2011.
- Valcárcel Medina, Isidoro. La Ley del Arte. Ed. Sala Parpalló, Valencia 2010.
- Virno, Paolo. Ambivalencia de la multitud. Tinta Limón, Buenos Aires 2012.
- Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo. Antropologías caníbales. Katz. Buenos Aires, 2011.
1 This text is partially based on a conference offered in Galería 0047 of Oslo in April 2014, for which Antipodes Café prepared the images. The conference took place in the event “OAF Pop- Up: Young Spanish architects”. Link to the video of Basurama´s intervention: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vhpw9Fdz4ss
3 Recommended book “La crisis que viene”, of Emmanuel Rodríguez e Isidro lópez.
4 Recommended film from Cecilia Barriga. “3 instantes, un grito”. Released in 2014.