Neukölln Playgrounds

By Andrea Knobloch








In Neukölln, a district within Berlin, one finds urban places of unimaginable diversity. Whether a village core, 'Blockrandbebauung' (building around housing blocks), ambitious housing experiments, large housing estates, settlements at the fringes of town: Everything is present here. They all have in common that they are regulated by a catalogue of statutes I 1 IStatutes for private use are for instance rules of the house, of private lanes and so on. Public statutes constitute for example the regulation of the use of pavements and roads, laws on construction, traffic regulations and so on. , which regulate limitations to access as well as usage. In other towns, one would fail to find such 'public' spaces, which exclude nobody and can be generously enlivened. Presuming that free access for everybody and an absence of usage limitations are preconditions when talking of 'public' space, then we have to admit that such spaces have never existed in any urban context. Towns establish themselves along general agreements regarding 'regular' usage of their open spaces in balance and productive interchange with 'irregular' usage. If one would try to assert an idealised model of a 'public' space - free of any limiting regulations - as a social praxis (by now deformed yet always in existence), one would ignore the fact that it is just this continuous de-regulation which would lead to a successive dismantling of experimentation spaces within the democratic society, in the sense that a reduction - or rather disregard - of compulsory law-giving and social/inter-human foundations would lead to this dismantling. An adventurous town deconstructs itself by preventing social adjustment between all urban activists, becoming the single activist within dominating power structures, and the intentional destruction of heterogeneity in favour of a smooth, economic gain of urban spaces is its tragic result. Being put continuously under mounting economic pressure, the town will be expanded within the framework of infra-structural and security considerations to become a homogenised, uni-functional space.

The picture of a generous 'public life' as a colourful facet of urban everyday life seems to represent only the imagination of the flaneur of the 19th and early 20th century: Romantic young men who could dare to overstep rules within the urban adventure ground - being a reflection of Bohemianism whilst at the same time being well anchored in civil society. The only 'public' space which was in those times open to women was the department store - always considering their integrity and being entirely the 'subject' of male possessiveness. I 2 IAt the end of the last century Rachel Bowlby writes in her history of the Parisian department store Bon Marché: "Department stores were in fact the first public places - not counting churches and cathedrals - which were considered 'respectable' enough to be visited by her (the bourgeois lady) without male company." (Bowlby, R. [1987]. Modes of Modern Shopping: Mallarme at the Bon Marche. In: N. Armstrong and L. Tennenhouse (Hrsg.). The Ideology of Conduct: Essays in Literature and the History of Sexuality. New York (2000), quoted from John Fiske: Lesarten des Populären. Turia + Kant, Wien 2000).



Before 'Okkupation'


The proposed title 'Okkupation' for the project under consideration I 3 IOKKUPATION was chosen as it characterises the project series in multiple ways: It implicates the thesis - which is the basis for this series - of a continuous 'alienation' of public space, which is more and more used by private economy and car traffic as well as artists (to play with) and the inhabitants of urban spaces (who take public space into possession according to their needs). Uwe Jonas and Birgit A. Schumacher (2003). In: OKKUPATION: Against the loss of public space, a conceptional draft and theoretical discussion. Berlin 2003 criticises in a provocative way the loss of 'public space' through 'privatisation'. It outlines on the one hand a hypothetical 'public' space, which co-produces its negative reflection, the 'private space. On the other hand, the term 'occupation' indicates a conflict over territory, a conflict in which the efforts of an 'occupation' by art necessarily have to be involved. Only if - within the framework of realisation - the 'private' interest of the partaking artists and curators in the execution of this art project can be claimed as a 'public' interest, would it be possible to avoid the - as to theme and title - automatism of territorial acquisition. Otherwise 'occupation' will become what it criticises: A strategy of privatisation. To avoid this self-inflicted trap of 'good' privatisation (realisation of the interests of urban inhabitants I 4 IHere it needs clarification as to which inhabitants can realise themselves with full rights in the urban space or who would have to be excluded. - such as artists) against 'bad' privatisation (over-regulation/commercialisation), an alternative model of thinking should be employed which would bring into the foreground the sociable, social forms of use of the urban space. The complaint about a continuous alienation I 5 I“What is (still) public within public space, when its alienation and its disappearance are complained about everywhere?" Uwe Jonas and Birgit A. Schumacher (2003) - as mentioned above - the public space projects an idealised dream about urban space that can be experienced. Its consequence is the claim to exclude all those forms of use which contradict this ideal picture. With this, the existing informal, private, private-economic regulations being implemented by local authorities - against the thesis for deregulation - should be added a further catalogue of claims which defines the 'public' of 'public space' from a cultural-critical perspective. The resulting definition of usage conform, and alienated forms of use defends the Fata Morgana of 'public' space - and possibly hinders a basic re-orientation or further thinking with regard to processes and forms of expression and social self-assertion and its places of action - the globalised cities.


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Everyday Theatre


The Viennese artist and city theorist Michael Zinganel understands the city mainly as a meeting point of experience and communication: "Life in the city is much more a constant changing of colours between diverse positions: From reading to social acting. But those parts of the city which may just represent a text for one person are, simultaneously, the living and working space of another, or solely the object of financial speculation for a third party. The strategies of the ones who plan the city, to govern or defend the value of their investment stand in opposition to the tactics of others to avoid any ambition to control them." I 6 IMichael Zinganel (2003). Real Crime. Architektur, Stadt und Verbrechen. Edition Selene, Vienna, page 79. . In order to pursue the question which has been raised here, as to the intermingling of usage of public spaces with the given situation as to ownership and dominion, I refer to a publication by Erving Goffman from 1959 I 7 IErving Goffman (2001) Wir spielen alle Theater. Die Selbstdarstellung im Alltag. Munich , which analyses self-projection in daily life. Out of a sociological perspective - which superimposes the organisational structure of a theatre performance upon social life within given spatial boundaries - basic trends of any given social structure are made descriptive and comparable, “be it of a domestic, industrial or commercial kind", I 8 ISame source, preface being made descriptive and comparable. Goffman comprises his model with the following words: "Within the boundaries of a social institution we will find a group of actors who cooperate in order to demonstrate a given situation in front of an audience. To this model belongs the closed group and the audience as well as the precondition of ethics, which should be maintained by rules of propriety and politeness. We often find a separation into a background - on which the demonstration of a role is being prepared - and a foreground, on which the performance is taking place. Access to certain parts is kept under control, in order to avoid the public from looking behind the scene and to hinder outsiders from seeing a performance not meant for them." I 9 ISame source, p. 217 . It takes a certain innocence to extend Goffman's idea from the 'social institutions' which had organised themselves within space-boundaries, and which he found in factories or tenements, to an entire district of a city. Tentatively, it may be permissible to take the Berlin district Neukölln, which is at the centre of our interest, as one of many divided stage settings with partly overlapping playgrounds. I 10 IThis comparison is by no means new. Henri Lefébre writes in "Die Revolution der Städte" (published 1970): "On the street, the stage of the immediate present, I am performer and spectator at the same time, sometimes even actor. Here is movement: The street is the melting pot which creates urban life and without which there would be nothing but division, wanted and frozen isolation." (Henri Lefébre) (2003). Die Revolution der Städte. Editor: Dresden Postplatz - Dresden). zu betrachten.


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Mise en Scéne


If one does not know a district it is difficult at first to keep apart the various places of activities. Imperceptibly one changes from one performance to the next. The means of expression may look alike on the surface, but many transport completely different contents and meanings. A gesture of exclusion can become a welcoming, a joke can become an insult. The mutually agreed-upon ethical basis of a certain praxis of performance, as quoted from Goffman, is only and exclusively valid in the city within which the separate ensembles are not subject to a space but constitute a loose social unit which extends into the city space. Overlapping, informal, socio-based structures of control have dissolved in favour of particular patterns of control within more or less limited areas of validity.

Stately and communal regulations, which are as such legalised democratically (and remain modifiable within the framework of democratic decision-making processes), are being received like all other claims at regulation that are present in the city. They will be accepted and obeyed according to the individual level of acceptance - or not at all I 11 IThe adherence to parking regulations or their being overstepped may possibly be connected not only to the presence and strength of threats of sanctioning by urban traffic wardens, but to a degree also to what sort of expressive content may be connected with it within the group: Offensive parking can be employed as demonstration of independence, coolness, superiority etc. The main difference - at least theoretically - is the shifting of applicability: Each (whether private person or communal/stately institution) can make reference to the regulating governing urban laws, and insist upon them being obeyed even by those who hold the esteem of their individual group higher than the rules, or those who just then perform a play which explicitly entails the breaking of a rule. I 12 IWhether democratically legitimised communal/stately regulations then be enforced vis-a-vis private structures of power with the same impetuosity towards private persons without a say would be a question of political hygiene. Many of the performances being practised in town are constantly repetitive and routinely overlooked. Others seem obvious and eye-catching and draw attention to themselves. Provocations are often consciously ignored in order not to draw out the whole thing. Others are not even noticed, because in order to address coincidental bystanders as an audience, it is to be made obvious that it is, in fact, a performance. At best, systems of sign and meaning come into operation which will be understood at the venue of acting. At the same time enough interest has to be provoked in order to divert the attention from other active parts/actors: all under the precondition that the performance is being staged for a public in the open. In the background of this model all ensembles can act in the open (whether the initial interest is of political, social, cultural or even commercial nature), and can be tested as to their usage or consumption of rural space. The question of whether the use of urban space is meaningful - with regard to the activation of an urban social praxis - is put into proportion as a distinction between 'public' and 'private' is inherent in questions of real estate ownership.

As an example, attention may be drawn to the shock some city planners and theoreticians endured in view of the popularity of shopping centres. The completely commercialised 'private' shopping mall seems to offer possibilities of use which are missing in publicly owned urban spaces. The hint of social pacification in shopping centres, secured by private disciplining organs, seems easy in view of the rigid usage regulations which exist in, for example, so-called 'public' green spaces. Rather, the question has to be put as to what extent self-determined forms of acquisition of space and its usage - even within the framework of regulations of conduct - are put to use which, however, will not be recognised as legal practice of the 'public' I 13 IAt this point, the importance of department stores as places of 'public life' for the bourgeois lady at the turn of the century may be stressed once more. According to Ferrier, nothing has changed in this regard, even until today. In 1987, he writes regarding the shopping centre: "In the shopping centre women have access to public space without the stigma or the dangers of the road." Quoted from John Fiske (2000) as mentioned above. . Just the combination of quality of sojourn and stage, together with the permanent presence of security personnel within the shopping centre challenge especially the juvenile to subversive acts of usage. So-called 'mall rats' undercut existing catalogues of statutes only by being present in the centre without consuming anything - and this as long as possible. This game of dodging measures of discipline is the main centre of interest. Though the shaping of 'public' (exterior) spaces in the city is aimed at the avoidance of prolonged sojourn and 'unwanted' usage, they are less suited for such practices because the presence of a formulated text of orders is, contrary to the shopping centre, rarely supported by the personal presence of the 'executive'. The provocation of security personnel is here enacted by an offensive overwriting of legal texts until it can no longer be read. Both examples show clearly that the discussion of 'public' space is of little meaning with regard to a division between private property and public ownership, so long as the question of options of usage is not discussed, a question which will develop essentially out of social competence and cultural education of the user in relation to their own state property.


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Tournee des Tournants


Art is mainly visible in connection with socio-educationally motivated content in the territory of Neukölln - besides a few representative 'show-pieces'. At the centre are problems of inter-human - or rather inner-cultural - communication and understanding. Outside of institutional exhibition sites are artistic interventions in the cityscape, which mark the centre of misunderstanding: Sites that are being claimed or played upon by several groups at the same time, without sufficient mediation between the staging practices. Initiators of partaking - neighbourhood-oriented - art projects within the urban open space of the district hope for an effect that may further communication. Art, or more precisely: The process of their mutual production on the spot and the event constructions deflected thereof, is given the role of mediator. Partaking persons are involved in a process, which should result - at least temporarily - in a synchronisation of the present event constructions (via the participants) and the herein involved ethical basis. Non-involved activists who are, however, anchored there will in the future find a changed stage setting there which they may integrate into their game or else identify it as an inadmissible alien act and annul it.

The project 'Okkupation' defines in a precise manner the level of expectation I 14 I"The artistic works will refer exactly to the phenomena of urban space and its alteration by social processes of transformation - this, however, with the playful toys of visual art. Especially that dimension, which is originally connected with the public space, should be submitted to a testing and visionary survey by the artists: The dichotomy of the public and the private." Uwe Jonas and Birgit A. Schumacher (2003), as mentioned above. , which will be measured by the commissioned artistic interventions. With the 'instruments of visual art', the 'public' space should undergo a testing and visionary examination which is fixed to its form and quality by a dichotomised condition of the 'public' and the 'private', which has been recognised as essential. As an ensemble, artists will, within the framework of a four-week guest performance, attempt a reassigning of a meta-topic into a real urban everyday situation. They will, to this end, use the performance practice 'art' which comes in two variations, and which are always available on the playing field: The representative open air sculpture (as a sign of stately/private might) and the social-cultural art project (as a sign of stately/private impotency).

Art projects are always addressed - in the present state of affairs - with the unvoiced expectation of an improvement of the present situation, effected by art. I 15 IArt as a promise to heal often signifies the reflection of art projects through local authorities in the 'third city' in which the public is not deemed capable of a knowledgeable reception, however, those dilapidated quarters could profit from a presumed social satisfaction by artistic devotion. The superiority of an exhibition project, supported by established conditions of dominion which are pre-supposed and expected [16] Exhibition projects within the 'public' city space, which hope for an 'official status', and also want to be 'received' within the art context, can only be executed with the support of local authorities which will - as more or less invisible power blocks - anyhow regulate its shaping and usage. Outer perspectives of 'art activists' who identify seismographic conflict zones and have at the ready recipes to overcome them I 16 IAusstellungsvorhaben im 'öffentlichen' Stadtraum, die einen 'offiziellen' Status anstreben und auch im Kunstkontext rezipiert werden wollen, lassen sich nur mit der Unterstützung lokaler Verwaltungsinstanzen durchführen, die als mehr oder weniger unsichtbare Machtapparate ohnehin Gestaltungs- und Nutzungsweisen des Stadtraums regulieren. explain already existing specific directions for use of public spaces and the executed theatrical staging of the everyday 'social' to be part of an urban problem scenario. The realisation of art's interest in carrying out an artistic project on 'public' terrain can be argued by criticising the ongoing privatisation of public space, if by so doing local hierarchical and educational spheres of interest are involved.


Artists could, however, first of all help to establish the theoretical figure of 'public' space in our world or rather in our cities - put it on the spot so that the social public sphere of the city could be questioned and discussed anew. The 'public' space would be, to begin with, a space of opportunity, a place for heterogenous discussions, which it is meant to maintain against homogenisation and the polarisation of social space. As political space for social self-assertion, it needs ambassadors who will gain widespread approval - a necessary and desirable option. In shape of a model of stagings in the city, the request to do some work on the 'public' space could possibly result in teamwork by mega-individualised metropolitans and



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