Urban wastelands are at the centre of conflicts about geographical, cultural, social and political hegemonies. Wastelands are commonly seen as being of value only in terms of their potential for development. Against the current backdrop of global economic slowdown, austerity measures and environmental instability, we reassess established notions of ‘value’, bringing to light the multiple approaches local communities take to utilise these ruptures in privatised cityscapes. Wasteland sites are one of the few remaining examples of ‘commons’ in the urban landscape: sites that, through temporary neglect by local authorities, are used as playgrounds, gardens, hideouts and even homes.
Wasteland Twinning Network is Co-Directed by Matthias Einhoff, Will Foster, Lars Hayer and Alex Head. We (Foster and Head) are also active members of the network; researching an urban wasteland site adjacent to their studio building in Kreuzberg Berlin. WTN hijacks the concept of ‘City Twinning’ and applies it to urban wastelands in order to generate a transdisciplinary network for parallel research and action. By subverting the City Twinning concept that aims to parade a city’s more predictable cultural assets and shifting the focus to wastelands, new questions of value and function are raised. Wasteland Twinning Network highlights urban wastelands as spaces continually recreated by a complex web of social, natural, economic, and technological worlds.
Since its inauguration in 2010 the Wasteland Twinning Network has grown to profile urban wasteland sites in 14 cities with project partners in Europe, Asia, USA and Australia. WTN offers the potential for cultural comparison to take place on a local and international scale creating cultural, economic and ecological comparisons. The increasing complexity of what Wasteland Twinning Network has become over the past few years can be perhaps better honed by looking at the three words that constitute its title: wasteland, twinning, network. These three words are to be seen as a starting point for those joining the Network to tease out further inquiry.
wasteland (noun) |weɪs(t)land| |-lənd|
an unused area of land that has become barren or overgrown. a bleak, unattractive, and unused or neglected urban or industrial area:
the restoration of industrial wasteland | figurative
the mid 70s are now seen as something of a cultural wasteland.
(Oxford English Dictionary, 2007)
Defining the term ‘wasteland’ is of course problematic in that the term ‘unused’ indicates a degree of absence and suggests inactivity. Though what constitutes inactivity in the eyes of officialdom is often different from the informal use that occurs in these spaces. Attempting to define unused urban terrain is therefore complex and polemical, and is often influenced by personal associations and projections. Terms such as wasteland, derelict land, vacant land and unoccupied land, like the spaces themselves, defy location and categorisation. In the conceptualisation of the WTN we have found it necessary to create our own parameters within this definition of ‘wasteland’. In order to allow for the development of coherent and comparative dialogue the forms of wasteland we are interested in do not extend to the conceptual wasteland in your shoe, T.S Eliot’s Wasteland or Tony Hawk Pro Skaters Wasteland. WTN is explicitly dealing with urban space. This distinction does not eliminate other associations entirely but gives the project a focus that reflects the nature of spaces that we and our project partners are working with: environments located within large urban centres and which exist in some kind of interim mid-development stasis, and yet show forms of inhabitation and temporary use.
City Twinning is a well-practiced approach to city partnerships introduced in the 1920s to promote cultural, commercial and economic handshakes. The practice was developed as an expression of solidarity between partnering cities following the First World War and which experienced a revival for this reason after World War Two. The late 1980’s saw a further boom when funding became available for City Twinning from the European Union which co-ordinates Twinning relationships through the European Municipalities and Regions. Who takes part in this civic handshake, the terms of these partnerships and which aspects of the city are represented are central questions within the Wasteland Twinning project.
WTN appropriates a concept that aims to parade a city’s more predictable cultural assets and shifts the focus to urban wasteland sites and in turn the citizens that inhabit them.
This is an attempt to celebrate wastelands as part of the cycle of land use and as urban space in their own right. It is our intention that this act of formalised solidarity between land and people exists beyond a simple gesture to provide practical platforms for cross-cultural exchange.
‘Promoting the idea of wasteland is obviously a tricky idea politically, since wasteland is a symbol of the withdrawal of the public authorities – withdrawal, not abandonment.’
Gilles Clément, 2008
We understand however that the very idea of promoting and celebrating wastelands is conflicted and have become increasingly aware of cultural capital, and the ecology of gentrification and our role within this process. One of many potential ramifications of our intervention in wasteland sites is that our actions create the kind of attention that can be used as cultural capital for investment/ development projects with a conflicting and very real agenda. Very real in the sense that they have a capacity to own, transform and develop urban spaces. This notion that we are ‘feeding the hand that bites us’ elicits different responses within the network; A network which spans the fields of social science, activism, urban geography, the arts and ecology and thus embodying a diversity of agendas. For example, the stance of the Berlin collective is that we lay emphasis on non-permanent intervention, approaches to ad hoc conservation and sensitivity to the many ecologies at play within the wasteland.
Over the past two years Wasteland Twinning Network has invited individuals, collectives and organisations to participate in research and dialogue. Practitioners in the arts and soft sciences, urban geography and cultural theory have located and researched wastelands in the cities they are based. The network is a facility in which those involved can have their own autonomy and pace. The website http://wasteland-twinning.net functions as a catalyst for the networks activities, providing a space for collaborative research approaches, critique and experimentation. The website is designed with the capacity for publishing, archiving and communicating and is intended as resource for those within the network and visitors to the website. Although as clear as our intentions are we have we have often referred to the coordination of the project as ‘networking the un-networkable’; since it’s beginning three of the wasteland sites profiled within the network have been transformed and developed upon.
In the manner of the comparative facility made available on the website the following three wasteland sites describe some of the patterns and disparities between locations within the network.
The Island, Nottingham, UK. This 137,000 sqm wasteland site is located in inner city Nottingham, England is researched by the Wasteland Twinning Nottingham Collective which currently consisting of artists Rebecca Beinart, Matthew Trivett and writer and theorist David Bell. The collective are engaged in a programme of research, experimentation and public events that focus on the sites ecology, users and history. The Island has remained undeveloped for over 20 years during which it has simultaneously become a vessel for ambitious (but unrealised) architectural plans and an unintentional piece of ‘common ground’, used by local communities. The site is a piece of open ground used by dog-walkers, joggers, artists, commuters, drug users, rough sleepers, and local residents. Development plans until today includes a World Trade Centre, an inner city port and a shopping complex. One such unrealised project saw developers erect a large digital clock counting down to a building project that would never take place. During the site’s industrial history the pharmaceutical company Boots owned the laboratory, the same laboratory in which Aspirin was invented. Later, when developers sought to neutralise toxins within the soil a reservoir of ominous white liquid was found beneath the earth. The area was quarantined and deemed unsafe, until it was discovered that the liquid was toothpaste.
Ledok Timoho, Yogyakarta, Indonesia. This 1000 sqm site is being researched by the Bon Suwung [at] the KUNCI Cultural Studies Centre, comprised of artists and researchers who are collaboratively exploring wastelands in the city of Yogyakarta.
The name of this wasteland can be freely translated as niche or nook. Ledok Timoho is situated between Gajah Wong river and Timoho Street, approaching the eastern border of the Yogyakarta. The area is occupied by approximately 30 semi-permanent homes that house over 50 families. Until now, local neighbourhood authorities have refused to give formal recognition to the inhabitants’ status due to the disputed status of the land itself. From the authorities perspective the land remains uninhabited. As a result the people living at Ledok Timoho are denied of administrative access including health and social welfare assistance from the government. Together with local inhabitants and stakeholders Bon Suwung functions as a platform for discussion and action. Accounting for everyday practices in and around wastelands that are still absent from formal narratives. Their work, which includes detailing accounts of regulation and functionality and the history of property conflicts, can be charted and posited as a critique of the cultural politics of urban development.
Köpi Brache, Berlin, Germany. This wasteland is researched by ourselves (Will Foster and Alex Head). Berlin has witnessed shifting borders at geographic, political, social and cultural levels. Transitional regimes, the destruction of war, the division and reunification of the city, new legislative frameworks, and the shift from heavy industry to the post-industrial era have all shaped Berlin and kept it in flux. The city acquired a specific urban character that has generally been marked by a lack of finance, plenty of undefined space and high levels of improvisation. This has often led to unusual planning processes and a diverse range of informal activity, giving Berlin a reputation as an experimental city. The Köpi Brache wasteland is situated in Kreuzberg between Köpenicker Straße and the Spree river. This 1000 sqm space is boxed-in between a decaying, semi-demolished Ice Factory and a redeveloped site. It is owned by Hochtief, the 7th largest development company in the world. During the past four years the Köpi site has been in a state of developmental limbo. We need not be prophets to predict that the land will one day become an extension of the controversial ‘Media spree’ project that has reshaped a long tract of the city’s riverfronts through systematic property development beginning in the 1990’s and rapidly expanding over the past 10 years. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mediaspree) The wasteland is primarily frequented by a young community comprising of local residents and tourists using the site for a variety of activities. Of particular interest is the sites identity as a raw or radical aspect of the city; the hunt for ‚authentic’ Berlin dereliction. As such the wasteland is increasingly attractive to young groups practicing what has been described as ‘disaster tourism’.
In summary these examples demonstrate the sheer complexity of relations that are mediated by the wasteland situation. They can be seen to embody the latent legal, architectural and recreational ambitions of those who use and dwell within these spaces. Wastelands offer a model to understand the manner in which these ambitions come into conflict with private and governmental planning and that extend into the broader fabric of urban society. As intended from the beginning the network embodies a range of focuses through its diversity of practitioners. One cluster of interest between that has emerged is human ecology, in particular inhabitation and temporary use. This focus contrasts groups of graffiti artists in Berlin with commuters in Nottingham to an occupying community in Yogyakarta. Rather than a single identifiable ‘community’, we believe the users of these wasteland sites are diverse, non-homogeneous and often marginalised.
Wasteland Twinning Ceremonies
The Wasteland Twinning Ceremonies represent a pivotal moment within the project
and serve to communicate the process of forming a twinning agreement as a whole. Throughout 2012 several Wasteland Twinning Network partnerships have been formed. As part of this process Wasteland Twinning Ceremonies have taken place on wasteland sites around the globe, to then be later re-staged in Berlin during the Wasteland Twinning Network Forum.
In August The Island, Nottingham, UK began developing an agreement to twin with Ledok Tomoho, Yogyakarta, Indonesia. On Sunday 2nd September at Midday researchers in Nottingham and Yogyakarta created a parallel psychogeographic route through both wasteland sites, tracing the layout of Ledok Timoho onto The Island site that was also retraced back onto Ledok Timoho.
In light of proposed and actual development projects threatening the existence of two other wasteland sites, a twinning agreement between Corner of Riley and St Albion, Sydney, Australia and Tanah Lapang, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia lead to the creation of the Yellow Raincoat Ritual in June. Devised in Sydney by Lena Obergfell in collaboration with Funaki Latai Taumoepeau, the ritual was then developed with Saubin Yap in Kuala Lumpur. Each of these parallel ceremonies was adapted into a singular event enacted by representatives of both parties for the Forum in Berlin.
In addition the Forum hosted the Agreement Not to Twin between The Köpi Brache, Berlin and Het Stenen Hooft, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Extracts from the opening statement delivered by Alex Head, Chairperson on Behalf of the Wasteland Twinning Network:
“…the Network understands that there is an increasing trend in the un-twinning of Sister Cities or Twin Towns. This situation is not helped by instances of novelty twinning agreements such as the Scottish village named Dull becoming twinned with a U.S. town named Boring in 2012… While city twinning continues to provide a meaningful indicator of a city’s symbolic partnering with another, we are beginning to see a certain reassessment of official city twinning arrangements in the world-view of some societies We see no reason to enter an official relationship over something so fluid as water and so fleeting as an urban wasteland. Twinning would merely be a symbol with little significance.”
In retrospect of the twinning ceremonies we see a transition in our understanding of how twinning partnerships can be further realised beyond the Internet. We now have real world examples. Further still with protocols, procedures and documents akin to the ‘Council of European Municipalities and Regions Twinning Association’ we are looking towards further twinning partnerships while reassessing our authority as a sudo-bureaucratic organisation.
The Wasteland Twinning Network Forum at the ZK/U – Centre for Art and Urbanism in Moabit, Berlin brought together the international project partners of the network from Europe, Asia, USA and Australia. We also invited parallel practitioners with backgrounds in project facilitation in the urban environment, curatorial practices, urban geography, activism, and art.
A plethora of presentations were delivered at the forum; the Urban Geographer Matthew Gandy who has worked extensively on environmental history, urban infrastructure and visual culture in a variety of countries including France, Germany, Nigeria, India, the UK and the USA. We also had a presentation from Klaus Overmeyer, initiator of the research project Urban Catalyst. Between 2001-2003 11 partners investigated the potentials of temporary use for the revitalization urban residual areas in five European metropolises.
Within the network there was significant parallel presentation between Nottingham, UK and Yogyakarta, Indonesia that focused on inhabitation and the responsibilities attached to working within the wasteland sites.
We have been interested in the way that interdisciplinarity can challenge distinctions between disciplines but also between experts and non-experts. For example the philosopher Jacques Rancière speaks about interdisciplinarity as having the potential to dismantle fixed hierarchies of knowledge:
“…It is not only a matter of going besides the disciplines but of breaking them. My problem has always been to escape the division between disciplines, because what interests me is the question of the distribution of territories, which is always a way of deciding who is qualified to speak about what.”
– ‚Aesthetic Separation, Aesthetic Community: Scenes from the Aesthetic Regimes of Art’, delivered in 2006.
This idea of division, of a kind of conflict, is highly relevant to an investigation of spaces that are defined by disagreements about value, terminology and ownership. The Forum represented a unique opportunity to share not only sociological and academic research but also highly specialised local experiences of wasteland spaces, how they emerge and how they are exploited within the urban landscape. One of the ways we achieved this was through commissioning an analysis table that would facilitate the generation of collective knowledge within the context of the event as a whole.
The Anxious Prop Collective were invited to develop a live space titled Objective Dialogues, that would bring pairs of impromptu analysts together to examine debris submitted for analysis from seven of the wasteland sites profiled within the forum. The table was equipped with a 3D scanner and three analysis stations offering digital scales, measuring devices and an illuminated magnifying glass, and stood directly adjacent to a display cabinet from which objects could be observed and selected for investigation. Pairs of investigators would be guided through the process by a facilitator who would begin by creating a 3D scan of the object. This scan would then emerge as a printed colour image from beneath the table in the form of an A4 frame divided into object image and ID, names of the investigators, object specifications and analysis notes. In addition to the more objective analysis tools, pairs often came up with imagined narratives to describe the existence of the object on the wasteland. Typically the analysis process concluded by recording a short synopsis of the information generated by the two persons, after which the facilitator would display the analysis sheet next to the specific object within the cabinet allowing for others to read and reinterpret the data.
The ambition for this collaboration is to produce a ‘users manual’ for the Objective Dialogues table in 2013.
Artist Impressions 2012 – 2013
The Artist Impressions project has been developed by Wasteland Twinning Nottingham and the Berlin collective to be realised in The Island, Nottingham, Het Stenen Hooft, Amsterdam & The Kopi Brache, Berlin in 2013.
Artist Impressions is a mass-participation public art project that focuses on unrealised development plans for wasteland sites in the above cities. The project will collaborate with communities around these sites to stage re-creations of the architectural visualisations for the wasteland sites development. The project has emerged from the Nottingham Collective’s exploration into the gaps between the imagined futures for The Island wasteland site there which has had a number of master plans that have never been realised had over the last 20 years including a plan to build a world trade centre, a supermarket complex and a harbour (though the site was once surrounded by water, hence the name The Island, it now lies in the midst if a developed inner city environment). It is this exploration of a discord between the projected ambitions for the site and it’s reality that runs through the research and concept of this project.
At this pivotal stage WTN anticipates a deeper understanding of the function and potential of the project in the years to come. Our goal is to attentively extend the reach and breadth of the network. In doing so we aim expand the transdisciplinarity of the network as a means to further interact with different stakeholders and site users bound together by this vague terrain.
Will Foster, Alex Head, Winter 2012
On the basis of the presentation at ECOLOGIES conference at Muzeum Sztuki in Lodz, Full programme: http://ekologiemiejskie.msl.org.pl/wydarzenia/ecologies-programme-of-the-conference
Will Foster (UK) is an artist and independent curator currently based in Berlin. Foster’s practice is a hybrid of site-specific research and conceptual play. His projects have taken form as temporary and mobile structures and the curation of multifunctional social spaces and events in both urban and rural environments. Foster founded and co-curated Cabin Exchange (2002–06). In 2010 he realised Subject To Change Without Notice, a collaborative project with Guyan Porter investigating the phenomena of small print, which was shown at the Centre for Contemporary Arts, Intermedia, as part of Glasgow International 2010 and at Akbank, Istanbul. www.willfoster.co.uk
Alex Head (UK) is an artist and educator currently based in Berlin. He is interested in creating non-hierarchical networks of artists, researchers and citizens. His practice facilitates meetings between artists and non-artists within the communities and micro- communities that populate his working environment, specifically within Glasgow, London, Lanzarote and Berlin. As an artist and educator he is interested in group problem-solving and alternative areas of art production. Head organised a series of projects that became embedded within the local community of Finsbury Park, London, including the Well Oiled Festival (2010) and the Parakeet Parade (2011). www.alexhead.com