‘…consider how the arts and contemporary theory structure “the commons” anew: how the commons becomes both a goal and a trope in post-millennial art and cultural theory.’ (Amy J. Elias)
As this problem scenario is situated within the shared, collective and communal experience, my groups first discussion was around our own individual encounters with this idea as a physical space. Noticing and talking about shared ‘green’ spaces that are inclusive to all seemed, to me, the most important aspect of the commons. Living in West London (Harlesden) for two years was the first time I sought out spaces where I can walk with family, read, and relax; our main space for this was Harlesden Canalside, a space used by walkers, cyclists and narrow boats, which for two years was my garden. This felt like a luxury as many parks, playgrounds, and small open spaces were purely tarmac and locked a lot of the time due to antisocial behaviour. When visiting family and friends I can visibly see these natural spaces dwindling by housing developments and being fenced off, so I feel it was essential to look into this further. Other spaces we considered were underground bomb shelters in Beijing, art zones that have taken over former military spaces and communal gardens; all having one thing in common, being a former wasteland. The idea that people had this power to transform these spaces into ones that would be of more benefit to a community seemed powerful and we decided to look into this more within Edinburgh. We found a bike park called SKELF nearby to university and used space as a case study to look at how these parks are developed, used, maintained and seen by others. Going there on a cold rainy day meant there was no one using the bike course itself; this at first seemed like a wasted trip but it enabled us to dissect the space visually as we walked and ran around the course but also think about what happens, or could happen, within the park when it is not being ‘used’. As we witnessed, this park is still a way of getting from the city centre to Arthurs Seat so still had the usage of it being an accessible and needed space that is shared for a number of reasons. The thing that struck me most was the housing on one side of the park looked to have no gardens or open space, so this bike park could offer this outdoor space to people, especially young people. An aspect of the park we discussed thoroughly was the graffiti on the course itself and on the surrounding walls. I expected a lot more of this and was surprised by the difference between the tags on the course and the more abstract examples on the wall. This was an interesting talking point as my own encounters with different perspectives on graffiti have largely been negative so this contribution to the park could be seen as antisocial and ‘ruining’ of the space itself, perhaps a threat to the space being open access. This mode of sharing conveys an importance of community and how spaces like this can be transformed for a ‘good’ use and fits in well with the commons outlook of being a ‘goal’. It was interesting to read about the geology of the area and how particular places were created, maybe by accident or to be intended as a sharing space. ‘The Mound itself was formed from cartloads of earth dug from foundations for houses in the New Town, from 1783 onwards…and by 1830, 2 million loads- at no cost to the city’, how certain decisions can imprint on the landscape and change how areas of Edinburgh are used today. In relation to the bike park, we discussed how this amount of cement can impact of the environment below and how a social need to reclaim spaces fits into an environmental debate. From researching artists John Latham and Tony Cragg, I thought about the ‘shared’ necessity of building the city landscape, from the cultivation of materials, turning this into whole materials and this into a house, gallery or skate park that is continually reformed by changing social and community needs. How an un-layering of materials can impart histories and behaviours of former communities who have utilised that space and how the present will always become a fossil of itself. I thought about these ideas in relation to the commons while reading Art in Public: Politics, Economics, and a Democratic Culture; how artists situate themselves within society and can often be, or using artworks to, draw attention to social or political issues, or maybe even expected to? When looking at spaces like World Peace Garden or Holland Park Ecology Centre, it was impossible to come across examples that were void of artist participation, and within the transparent information of these subjects, artists are often their creators, patrons, or ability to be sustained. When looking at the future possibilities for the bike park we discussed the ‘issue’ with the off season and how this could be remedied. This consisted of artist participation in the space to bring a new audience to it and introducing nature enthusiasts to observe the space through scientific means to understand where we live better; all creating a common means of value through repurposing space, introducing participation and sharing this fun resource.