Community Media/Spaces for Diverse Publics

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Addressing Public Space – Conversation 1

The question of ownership

Francesca: Public space is everybody’s space, but this might create a vacancy in terms of direct ownership, the kind of ownership that is associated with responsibility and “being in charge”

How can this potential vacuum be addressed?

Can creative practices trigger a collective sense of ownership that goes beyond the private? If so, how?

Deepak: The public is a complicated public. And in the context of a post colonial “public” what we call praja and junta transitions, and now the citizen-national rhetoric, it gets layered with many notions of legal, illegal, permissible, non permissible. There is a deep relationship to policing and understanding this. Public space thus emerges more from a deep un-collective psyche. Also, different publics and counterpublics find their own space/s. So complicated stuff this.

The vaccum, the one we complain about, as artists or activists, who do not see middle class acting and activating come to the conclusion that this is a vaccum. The vaccum is a chasm, it is being created increasingly by the media, but actually, what exists is fragmented, perhaps rudimentary and sometimes degenerating space. So, a larger or a smaller study is necessary before we arrive at the state of pubic spaces, it is increasingly important to take stock and to assess the need of the hour and not over exaggerate the need or the lack.

Creativity itself is deeply intertwined with the process of morals, sexuality and practices of spirit, and the unision of community-individual-collective-self balance in expression. The more one expresses, openly, and is acknowledged, psycho-cultural mores shift. So on a deeper level, is this private-public conflict more about our bodies, about colonial shame and the subsequent need to break free manifesting in many different ways? I think the body is the key. The way it exists in space, in the public sphere, and the cultural ability to cope and dialogue with the changing body- performance allows for this.

Ram: this reminds me of the paper ‘tragedy of the commons’ which simplisitcally put, assumes that in absence of direct ownership, there is no responsibility. I would be interested in different modes of responsibility, and how do we measure people being responsible, or being in charge.

The second response is that i doubt if public space is perceived as an undifferentiated continuum. There are consistent state, economic and cultural “things” which get in the way. For example, a public space like a park in jayanagar, will be different from another public park in say, mg road. The jayanagar one will be more private, or more for the residents of that specific ward, where as the mg road, has no residents around it, so it becomes a park of the city.

However this point doesn’t necessarily change the essence of your question. It just reduces the scale of the question.

If there is a vacuum, i propose that we fill it by having creative practices which involve collective participation. These practices can also have dialogues which talk specifically about how spaces are socially produced, and how we can produce and maintain this space by consistently using it

Creative practices by themselves may or may not trigger a sense of ownership, especially beyond the private. It depends on the specific creative practice. It also depends on whether the practice also triggers dialogue, whether it is participatory and so on. The question is why should there be ownership? People will not feel unless they see a benefit in it. Will it get them money, fame, get them seats in elections etc. The other way, is to show space as something threatened, and unless something is done, that space is lost. But then this hasn’t worked too well in the past. This is the standard activity response

Carla and Roberto: Ownership/Property/Authority: the question of responsibility is tied up to a principle of legality that cannot be associated to the simple domination of an imposed public law. In this sense, organization as a dynamic quality can lead to change. Self-organization as auto-subversion.

Public vs Private: Bangalore by night

Monica: Perhaps we can try to understand ideas of ownership in relation to public space outside of the language of property rights. How can we inculcate a different sense of “owning” not as exclusion but as inclusion, and as a matter of relational proximity eg: I own this pen. vs My friend is my own. Can we attempt to base our ideas of right to public space borrowing from traditions where a claim towards something or someone may lie more in the domain of one’s relation to the person or object or space than as a claim of possession? Can we look at an ownership based on proximity or closeness that is marked by a relationship of care?

And since proximity is at play here, we can use the idea of distance/ signature etc to open out ways in which the public can own. For example: Namma Metro (Our Metro) uses this affective language of owning as do many other instances of public works. Of course what remains problematic is: who is this expansive “Namma” composed of.

Ekta: When we say it is everybody’s space, and when we talk of ownership, it also comes with a certain amount of responsibility. We expect to have ownership, but are not necessarily interested in taking charge or responsibility of utilising, maintaining, making it resourceful, accessible. So if we the public are happy to let the “representative” take leadership, charge and responsibility, who in this case would be the state, we turn complacent if things don’t work out, or crib and complain. When we say ownership, I am not sure if the public really wants to share ownership with the state. It is one things to have the ‘right’ to this ownership, but what does it really mean to just have the right? Do we want to channelise our rights or do we just want to have(own) rights? For power? Rights creates an illusion of possession, control. So I am wondering if everybody was to be in charge, what does it mean – chaos, struggle for authority, democracy and equal representation.

There has to be a level of participation and (equal)representation of people using a given public space, to feel ownership towards it. The feeling of ownership leads to a responsibility that leads to expression, action, innovation.

The relationship between public and public space needs to be re-examined. Who constitutes for the public? If the state represents the public, which kind of public does it include and exclude? Could there be vested interests in representing a kind of public? The priorities of the state clearly reveal that aspiring middle class are an important category and the state has a huge stake in catering to the needs of this class, in terms of economy and capital. For eg, the roads have to be widened, so that public and private transportation can ‘conveniently’ move and we can avoid traffic jams. The state will choose to evict street vendors, at the cost of their livelihoods and homes, and will replace it with sanitised wide roads for people who deserve better mobility in the city. Clearly public space doesn’t belong to them.

About people wanting to be in charge is the next question? It has a direct correlation with political power which is a rat race. Unless something does not directly affect you, you don’t want to take the responsibility. Responsibility is for granted; one doesn’t have to be responsible, cos there is always someone else to do the job for you. It is paid off through your status, class, tax and lifestyle. Transfer of power and responsibility is a tricky situation for people in power, since not everyone wants to be caught vulnerable, and clean the drains when they overflow. There has to be someone else responsible for that and only power allows this to happen. Stunted growth is not going to be addressed or projected, some in charge is ensuring that.

Dialogue between ward officers and the residents, between the local government officers and the general public – a space which accommodates public consent, but it is critical to think of which public. For the middle class the trees are important, for the working class, trees are less important than livelihood. Parks and clean environment are needed for recreation, healthy growing up, but when someone has no access to water and roofs, their needs would be differ. Cross-class dialogues and exchange is the need of the hour. We are growing into a fragmented society, isolating ourselves, unwilling to look beyond our thresholds. We don’t have a sense of our neighbours and neighbourhoods and we are unwilling to look at the larger picture. Hence we become complacent with the state, and if it doesn’t represent our concerns, we crib. There has to be way where the state, its public representing all its classes are patient enough to sit down and discuss civic issues. Now this is too idealistic, but is possible if we work with smaller groups and start thematic dialogues on sanitation, water, electricity etc.

Lack of awareness of government schemes, public meetings have to be made accessible. The public is conspicuously absent from these ‘efforts’ made by the state. If people are motivated to attend these meetings then dialogues can be more democratic. Wall paitings, graffiti, sms should be used to circulate messages.

Possibly, through thinking of suitable ways where people can respond before decisions are taken by the state, organised/systematic representation of civic concerns, and through informal spaces of interaction between and amidst different class, occupational groups.

Performances and installations provoke dialogue and also open space for possibilities. Much information is deliberately censored and made inaccessible, art can bridge this gap and can retell stories in different forms. Without preaching or being didactic, the potential of creative practise can act as a catalyst and a platform to share exchanges between different class groups and encourage them independently or collectively improve/create dialogues with the state.

The fantasy of the State

Francesca: What is the role of the State in shaping the public sphere?

Its absence, the desire for its presence, the denial of its importance - can this multifaceted dimension of longing be understood in erotic terms? Are we creating a fetish of the State?

Deepak: I think it is important to understand the feudal-caste based-democratic mishmash that the State emerges from. And the aesthetic of the State- corruption as aesthetic indication of some deeper cultural-social malaise that isn’t problematic but indicative.

Ram: the state shapes public sphere physically, through statues, wall paintings, fences, etc

Through regulation - how many people can assemble at which places? Use of loudspeakers (noise regulation), who can enter parks at what time, what is considered obscene etc

Through control of press - moral discourse, gender discourse, etc

According to me, our relationship to the state is always in a state of flux, always ranging from the extremes of eros and logos. The state of eros is in terms of desire for its presence and logos in defined in various ways we try and analyze its presence (even though we are intimately connected in creating it) or paying for its services, or resisting it.

Carla and Roberto: The State: capitalistic states leads to isolation of the singular. Self-organization leads to the autonomy of the plural. (See the notion of mutinous democracy/autonomy).

Monica: The State always acts under mandates with some reference to the `public’ in debates about censorship, development (public order, public morality, public good and public property) etc. Here are some questions that come to my mind each time I hear the word “public” in the state’s justification of banning a movie or building a flyover:

How does the state imagine this public? Is it homogenous? Docile? In need of discipline and protection?

But as an Indian woman the question that is perhaps most important for me is: Am I part of this public?

The greatest presumption of the public is in the moment of declaration of power by the constitution. e.g 'we the people' of india do hereby give unto ourselves.” How do we give unto ourselves something? How is our consent to being a part of this public presumed? This is especially the case when in most instances we never have a say about what the public is despite being the public.

Derrida writes of the fiction of the social contract and of the constitution as being a problem of the 'absence of the people and the presence of the signature'. The public (we the people) has been defined in its absence, it’s signature has been forged. Are women part of the Indian state’s imagination of the public at all when our access to public space is conditional to say the least.

The state is often imagined as an invisible figure of authority that makes us obey under threat of some illusory punishment, perhaps like a strict parent or the God of the Old Testament. But I find myself wondering about the content of the state's fantasy. Does the state fantasize about a docile body collective? Do competing claims on the Public eg cinema as a technology of mobilization of the public, threaten this fantasy of the state? Can we see disruptive / political art as an engagement with the erotics of our relationship with the state?

Ekta: So far, it has been more hegemonic than democratic protecting the interests of a few. The state has been taken forward several initiatives that has a self-motivated interests for eg. The beautification drive on the walls of Bangalore which consciously represent nationalist symbols of Indian heritage, yhe represent visual far removed from day-today reality.. perhaps also to erase the mess around in the city, painting of animals, plants, birds which again symbolise a kind of external reality to the city in which different people in habit. They are shaping a way to forget, a way to adapt to the changes that are being imposed. Investment in the public space is engineered to meet with the needs and demand of private corporations – parking spaces, wide roads, less traffic etc.. hence the metro, road widening campaigning, eviction of ‘illegal’ inhabitants.. There is also a new way of feeding into public funds where the private corporations fund public money.. and this partnership inherently determine the agendas of private companies as well.. and that is what shapes public space. The influx of a IT professionals in the city has led to inflation on various levels - real estate, price of vegetables, public land being sold to private entrepreneurs etc. Investors look at this boom as an opportunity to develop new businesses which has taken over residential localities and converted them into commercial hubs. The residents of these locatioes have moved away.

Interesting the symbol of Bangalore for me is perpectual construction work. Cables are perpectually being dug up by telecommunication agencies, the metro, the flyovers and roads and repair work is an endless expedition, local markets and street vendors are slowly disappearing and supermarkets are mushrooming at a great pace. The city seems to be in a moment of flux, forever.

The metro again was implemented without public consent, though there were tenders being floated and notifications being announced on and off.. the civil society has been trying to interpret and organise themselves towards a collective response and usually its too late. Trees are already cut before we start the protest. Efforts from the public seem futile, the state seems to impatient and in a hurry to take these decision.

The irony is how they invade into public parks and yet paint ever green trees on the wall. The parties in power realise that they have to capitalise on the current economy but still retain the traditionality and heritage of the state.

Greed, hunger, envy and lust for public money, property, facilities, power is evident in the transformation of the city. What it was and what it is becoming. The eroticism between the state and its people lies in the process of homogenising and creating new demands, tempting its people to be swayed by its interests. Not sure about the fetish of the state, there is sufficient dissent to prove that. This dissent cannot be ignored, since it is the voice of the exploited, neglected and oppressed, where the state is in denial of these occurrences. There seems to be a feeling of hopelessness and resistance that are cyclical that shake us out of this fetish, which is only an illusion, an assumption.

Mutinous Democracy

Francesca: Can reclaiming the right to public space be understood as a subversive activity against the omnipresent corporate control over our lives? Can it be understood as a form of mutiny? As a struggle beyond revolution to rebuild democracy? Can this process be conceived beyond activism?

Deepak: What is beyond activism? And what is rebuilding democracy? What is the nature of our democracy? And its connections to freedom of “speech and expression”? I feel that Indian activists and social scientists fail to take into account the uniqueness of contemporary political expression, the political selves that exist and what we need is a revaluation, a retelling of our political story- perhaps that means dialog with current anthropological politics, sociogists, philosophers, politicians, police, artists, and the middle classes.

It is important to ask. How do we democratise our expression and others’ around us? And what do we employ while we do this? Yes, it certainly needs to be beyond rebuilding democracy. But it also probably has nothing to do with democracy at times, it might have more to do with building sense of community and exchange- cross class exchange…

Ram: the right to public space is not mutinous in a general sense. The lower classes have demonstrated mutinously in the past. The middle class is divided on this. The middle class activists have protested mutinously, but other people in the middle class have opted for corporate control. Yet others have also acted mutinously to fight for rights of private space.

However even with protests, action has been routed through democratic means. There has not been too much subversion, at least in bangalore. Not that i know of.

Monica: Perhaps the reclaiming of the right to public space can be imagined as a mutiny not just against corporate control but also as a questioning of the how the State manages and regulates the access to public places. Can this reclaiming question forms of patriarchy that allow men an almost unlimited access to public space while women negotiate the streets reluctantly (with fear)? Can we address the right of women to be able to loiter, 'without intent', in a public space?

Perhaps critical art practice emerges as another way of engaging with ideas of access, boundaries, regulation, monitoring, infringements etc.

Ekta: I think reclamation of public spaces to be a struggle beyond revolution to rebuild democracy.. There will be subversion and there will be activism but in the long run, we cannot avoid the state beyond a point and we will have to work with the state. It would be naïve to demonise the state, we should in fact find ways and means to work with the state and local governments, to provide new models of cooperation, access, urbanisation. So far, we have complained and cribbed that the state is a barrier and hurdle.. it’s time we take a disadvantage and convert it to an advantage, and use our fundamental rights as citizens to coalesce with the state to avoid confrontation and loss of stake as citizens. It is the hardest route to practise democracy in such a multi-layered society as ours, but if it is possible to negotiate and facilitate dialogues between ourselves the state need not become ‘the other’ who we have to fight against.

Conviviality and Generosity

Francesca: The dimension of the public requires an attitude of openness and sharing, which seems to be opposed by the individualistic trends of liberalism and globalisation. Can creative practices promote such an attitude? Can they be the space to re-learn the importance and value of sharing and co-habitation? Can the reclaiming of the generosity of public dimension become the trigger to enhance deeper and wider social transformations?

Deepak: Generosity- this is something, we as a culture really, really need to clarify. Do we need to be generous? With what? Where has the emphasis of generosity been placed? Is it connected to being religious, is it connected with being “family oriented”, is it considered to be a part of the traditional world and also a symbolic world of charity, and is it thus connected to identity we want to craft and preserve? Is it about inconvenient hospitality, is it a relationship that has turned into a psychological projection? Are we then willing to look deeper at what is emerging? and if these connections are changing…

I think that a cross class engagement, small and big needs to happen outside the context of the economic, trade and the sociality of transactions- we have tried this at maraa, but we are also incapable of fully doing justice to this. We need cross class partners from communities who will work with is on this.

Ram: practices could trigger attitudes of openness and sharing, but always within same social groups , not cross class. This barrier we haven’t been able to transcend. But i would like to believe that it is possible through intelligently designed creative practices. But this is extremely ambitious. Adding another layer of social transformation would be too ambitious in my view

Carla and Roberto: Education: creative practices as learning processes.

Ekta: There have been limited imaginations to gauge the potential of conviviality and generosity. This has in any case, been a part of our culture, but is also perceived on a very superficial level. With the growing desire of having “more” of everything across class, it seems unimaginable. But creative practises alone will not suffice this intention, it will have to be coupled with conversations where people can realise/see the benefits of sharing. If it is imposed it will turn out to be scam and people will cash in on this opportunity and see what is in it for them. These concepts and notions have to be guided, provoked and gradually fed in.. if it doesn’t inconvenience any one in the process if should surely work. Carpooling has had limited impact in the city, and I feel so, since it is not made accessible to many others. There is a culture of laziness and being laid back specifically to Bangalore.. things have to be offered in a platter, maps have to be drawn, things have to be organised.. And participation and self-contribution will follow. I would say instead of re-learn, I would say re-new, re-imagine, create.. It may take new forms of exchange which can come from people – since it will be imagined in new context, with different expectations. However, generosity can also be perceived as patronising where one knows more than the other, and giving can also become a privilege.. The notion of generosity has to be carefully articulated, who is giving to whom, and what are the forms of sharing? What are the forms of giving? Why allows you to be generous, why are you generous? Does everyone get or want a share of the pie? I would say, it is one of the contributing factors to enhance deeper social transformation.. it has to be coupled with interaction with the politics of the state, investors in the state, different class etc.. It has to be a long process where it translates from theory to ethical practise, maintaining mutual respect for people involved in the sharing process.

Locality, Neighbourhood and Belonging

Francesca: The attachment to the place and the re-enactment of local traditions constructs the city as a composition of different localities and multiple loyalties. Can creative practices address such a conundrum? Can they trigger the commitment to multiple and diverse belongings? Can they create a platform where locality is not a synonym of particularism and multiplicity does not erase individuality?

How can cultural interventions be deployed in forms that do not trigger gentrification or promote marketable authenticity?

Deepak: Hmmm. Tricky. In this secular-right wing conflicts that we see, where cultural contexts are being usurped by dogma and larger manipulative agendas, we really need to understand who has a right to cultural space/s how can they assert themselves, and how can this be preserved and performed

Ram: the re-enactment of local traditions is already happening at ward level. However they are invisible in the press, and invisible to the upper middle class onwards, except as spectacle or nuisance. So creative practices are merely disguises which present these re-enactments. We can avoid gentrification and marketable authenticity by keeping these practices localised, and not scaling it up.

Monica: I feel that my response to the question of ownership can form the basis of my response to this question of locality and belonging. If we speak of our relationship with public spaces in terms of proximity we can use the idea of distance/ signature etc to open out new ways in which the public can own. For example: Namma Metro (Our Metro) uses this affective language of owning as do many other instances of public works. Of course what remains problematic is: who is this expansive “Namma” composed of?”

Maybe we can look at new ways of belonging? We can look at the culture of “chai addas” that bring the sphere of intimacy, belonging and conversation out of the private and into the public in an inclusive manner. We can also look at subverting formats like “symposiums” and turning them into public forums of discussions, debate or celebration that are inclusive

Ekta: Absoultely, the local neighbourhood jathres/processions of course evokes a sense of community to belong to specific traditions, rituals, practices. In my opinion they already contribute to diverse belongings at least in spirit. While the streets are used for processions, there is a distance between people dancing on the street, people standing on balconies, people standing at the sidewalks and this distance is interesting at the same time, revealing of the differences in our society. Are they accepted difference, perhaps they are? The dancers are celebrating their performance, the audience encourages by watching it, so they too are part of the performance. This diversity is evident in many avatars – class, clothing, caste, religion, gender .. this will exist.. and there many not be a perfect symphony between these diversities, but there exists already a culture of acceptance, which needs to be recognised and applied in other areas of generosity, representation etc.

It can be done in a homogenised situation, where there are common interests across the classes and castes. For eg., in Chennai there is a folk music festival that is religious but also entertainment before the harvest festival where the whole city comes to the street – public spaces are used for performances and speactacles that are brought together from rural, semi-urban and urban parts of Chennai. This is partly funded by the govt., local artists and public. In Bangalore there is a danger of a cultural intervention to turn into a regional interventional in order to protect the identity of local culture, language and heritage. Bangalore has so far accommodated outsiders less aggressively compared to other states and this complicates it further. Either there is a strong forms of dissent towards outsiders, or there are no isolated groups who organise events within their circle. It will be hard to culturally please the diversity of this city.. unless it accommodates everyone. The recent phenomenon is when Reliance organises a launch of the fancy showroom on a main road in Bangalore and invite folk groups from Karnataka to perform at the gates. It is detrimental for the form since it is out of context, to the public who go back with mixed interpretations due to their inability to communicate and the folk group’s inability to translate their performance. Interaction is usually absent and hence both the public and the group is exoticized.

The Sustainability of Creative Practices

Francesca: The question of time – artistic and cultural projects often interact (interfere?) with neighbourhoods and communities for limited amount of time. What sort of impact can they really have? What kind of understanding of the place can cultural practitioner develop in a limited time? What are the “results” of short term interventions, can they really make a change or is just a different and more subtle for of exploitation?

Deepak: I think maraa has really not evaluated its intent and impact with theatre jam because, ekta and I also perhaps see things differently. Also, though maraa was committed to the process, and we have gone ahead doing a lot of these activities, somewhere, the priorities as to what theatre jam was and intended to do, might have shifted.

For anything to be sustainable, not in the NGO sense but more so from a point of view of the activity sticking on- and being absorbed into a cultural pulse, that really should decide sustainability of the activity.

Ram: the impact is there merely because these temporary interventions are triggers. Images settle down in the mind, and at a later point in time, are dormant until the appropriate situations awaken these images and then they are recontextualised for something else. Of course this doesn’t mean that some interventions cannot also be exploitative. It depends on how much research is done, what is the intention of the intervention, and to an extent, how sensitively is it done?

Monica: Can we articulate the ethics of socially engaged art/cultural practice? Is it possible to think of collaborative/socially engaged practices beyond their ameliorative results?

Ekta: Artistic and cultural projects in public space have already demonstrated a positive trigger for this process to begin.. impacts can be identified as – cross class dialogues, participation, expression for need for such interventions, platforms for new possibilities and multiple imaginations of terms like local, identity, city etc. to coexist. Formats of participatory work using art and media, where expression includes voices, opinions and ideas from the people inhabiting the place, and also picking from local semiotics and contextualising work and facilitating dialogue post and during intervention can be developed. Results can be measured through impact but also through a suddenness of a spectacle, if it spread across a given amount of time consistently it stays in the mind of public memory and can provoke dialogues if not change. If time spent prior to practice is adequate to gauge the spirit of the community it can lead to small victories.. but with passing crowds and peoples it is hard to evaluate success.. If done sensitively, it is easily accepted and even if it is not inclusive and if people cannot relate to it, there is curiousity and accommodation for such activities. When people adapt to the ‘state’ of affairs, people can adapt to tangents, more easily if not intensely. The sporadic nature of these activities lead to a fuzzyness which is necessary to take work forward, the city is familiar with uncanny modes of expression.. how it gets deepened, depends on the process and time spent on the initiative..

Further inputs

Carla and Roberto: Rubbish heaps and religious iconographies: divine interventions (religion and modernity)

Monica: I feel I still need conceptual clarity on what we speak about when we speak about the Public:

a. The public can be a spatial naming (Public space, Public parks, Public places)

b. It can be a statement about ownership (Public Property, Public goods,)

c. It can be a political language (Public interest, Public policy)

All three are mediated by claims upon publicness, which are normally associated with the monopoly that the state has over these claims

I feel it would be useful to get a lexicon of how the idea of the Public is invoked by us.

Kaya: Personally I am interested in rather abstract forms of discourse: Out of your questions I like these words the most: desire, denial of importance, fetish, mutiny, generosity, re-enactment, multiple loyalties.

I would like to (/can only) address this huge topic of “public space” from the position that I naturally inherit: the tragicomical figure of the global flâneur, who when thinking about urban fabrics finds himself in between airport waiting halls, Google maps, Berlin’s subways, Bangalore’s Auto Rikshaws, his own displaced narratives and subconscious desires, and the constant facebook status updates connecting all these.

Therefore I would be interested in working with my/our own desires or the various forms of subliminal desire that give form to a city and discuss / work on access points for entering this realm.

I am sending you all a proposal Reloading Images had conceived for a project in Amsterdam, which was to happen in 2009, which got cancelled due to the financial crisis. I had put much thought and effort into it and still think it could have been a beautiful project (please just don't read the last paragraph with all the questions, it's way over the top)

Maybe this can deal as an inspiration or just helps showing you where I am coming from. In brief, the project proposed to set up a system of “secretaries” who would set up their temporary “offices” in existing structures. We wanted to superimpose our own conceptions of an imaginary city onto a seemingly fixed system of urban usage. Turning Malls into places of worship, using mosques as places for commerce or making brothels into archives. While this still remained rather abstract and was left open to be filled by the respective secretaries, I would be interested to approach the subject in more tangible ways in the Bangalore context.

To use a central question from that concept: How can we make use of these complex and unconscious connections between history, language, and urbanity that are produced through the stories, fantasies and circumstances of its fictional and real inhabitants, living side by side?

Having in mind a long term/2 step project for 2011/12, hopefully funded by Goethe, I could imagine a non-public workshop that starts with these rather abstract questions in the first phase, and then comes up with practical implementations, that would be realized in the second phase, involving the public.

In general I would love to contribute as an expert of non-expertise in everything. I can not talk about structural concerns of sustainability, underprivileged communities or gentrification, but about the imaginary, the potential, the subliminal.

Conversation 19 November 2010

Looking through the responses to the first set of questions, the positions were quite different but presented several common points.

Heterogeneity and Multi-Layered

The first issue that clearly came up across the board is the necessity to tackle the non homogenous and multi-layered nature of public space. The question of what/who is the public, who is the “we” that is addressed when the notion of the public is referred to by the state becomes crucial. In this respect, the questions of gender and the complexity of inter-class relationship need to be given a central role. This leads to the consideration that public space as a definition is inadequate to encompass the multiplicity of users, phenomena and interaction that are under scrutiny. The idea is thus to start working around the concept of spaces for diverse publics, which seems more suitable to embrace this variety.


Another common concern is the question of legality, that comes into play in various different forms – in terms of imposed norms and mores, in terms of access, in terms of what we are allowed to do or not. This is important to consider in relation to both the exclusionary nature of rules and the potential limits-restrictions to our interventions. During the discussion in became clear that the distinction between legal and illegal is not clear cut, but rather fluid and in constant transformation and it often depends on who are the actors involved. This fluidity, rather than the polarity between legal and illegal, could be a point for further discussion. This discussion also lead to address the problem of safety (especially for women) and to point at the complicated and unresolved relations between communities and the police. This is not an easy subject but it is a rather important social issue that further projects and discussion should take in consideration.

Strategies for Dialogues

There is the necessity to find new strategies to create multiple dialogues – among classes, between community and the police, between different professional/social circles. These new strategies could lead to a re-elaboration of the relationship with the state that still allow discussion and criticality, but go beyond protests and antagonisms but still that so far have not proven successful. The notion of generosity underwent a serious critique as it is an overloaded term that can be mistaken for the “good intentions NGO’s mentality” or can carry undesired religious undertones . If such a concept is to be carried further would need a sharper secular connotation – one suggestion was that it could be address through practice rather than through a theoretical discussion. The idea of generosity is directly linked to the question of conviviality and to the role that food can play as a trigger for social interactions. Chai addas are good examples of a space where multiple discussions and interactions take place in an informal setting. Food became the central point of the discussion – its political dimension, and its potential symbolic and emblematic value in relation of broader social discussions. The disappearance of street food from Bangalore is an example of the deep transformation that the city is undergoing as well as of the type of city the authorities want it to become. Focusing on such a dimension could allow us to address the constant erosion of urban spaces for diverse publics and would lead to a possible mapping of the disappearing city. Working on food would also allow to address the notion of the gift and the potlatch thus questioning the liberal model of growth and accumulation. Chai addas can become the core of the research in different ways – as already existing spaces which are symbolic of the vitality and complexity of the public dimension; they can be mapped and valued in their local specificity as well as understood as catalysts of exchanges between different parts of the city; they can become a potential platform for creative practices and trigger of dialogues; they can provide the possibility of disconnecting the idea of a world class city from the corporate mode.