A definition of politics in a physical form
in the frame of the project Spatiu Expandat_ ZONA GRI, curator: Judit Balko and Cristina Bogdan, Bucharest, 2016.
A materialized definition of the political
Streets glowing in the late afternoon sun. Mothers pushing prams. People on their way to the corner shop. Teens on roller-blades. Passing fragments of mundane conversations. Everything so peaceful and familiar and safe.
After 1989, when citizens were offered the possibility to buy at affordable prices the state-allocated apartments in which they lived, residents’ associations became owners’ associations. The ground on which the building is located belongs to the association, but the spaces surrounding the building are public property, cared for by the owners’ association. These are spaces of uncertainty, a tense meeting point between property, caring tending, indifference, belonging and exclusion.
The garden next to the block of flats is a common good in the same danger of being neglected or appropriated, of remaining an empty field for the wind to swirl around bottles and plastic bags or of being turned into a fenced-in private garden, domesticated into disciplined rows, cleaned of everything that is chaotic, free, mixed and potential. A public space perennially threatened by indifference and neglect as a premise for a privatization pruned of any possibility.
It’s not just the gardens that get locked between apartment buildings. What owners dump can also be arrested by collective proprietal management and “civilization” – which, in this case, is the reverse of racism and exclusion. The homeless depend on their access to “the buckets”, as they call the garbage bins. When you “clean’ around your apartment building, when you secure the bins in locked metal structures, what is it that you actually want to clean up, to eliminate from the public space? Citizens’ or municipal management of public spaces becomes a disguise for a tendency to push marginals into even more poverty and despair. Esthetics and civilization as fuel to exclusion.
People out and about in the crispy dusk of the summer evening, breathing in the fresh air, taking out their kids and dogs, or simply chilling and chatting with their neighbors on the benches just outside their block of flats. How many of their conversations are, directly or indirectly, related to exclusion, injustice, racism? How much benevolence and conviviality is woven in the loom of this summer evening, of this city – and how much exclusion, albeit perhaps unawares?
The garden of a block of flats is a materialized definition of the political. It’s about how we choose to live together in a space which belongs to each and all of us. It’s about being with people who are like us, as well as people who are different from us. It’s about the responsibilities we take on, from the smallest practical aspects to those decisions that confer a place its ideological identity. How you negotiate with neighbors who do not get involved at all or get involved too much, conferring public space a symbolic or, at the opposite pole, a most palpably material significance.
To make and tend to a garden by your block, on a ground that is everyone’s and no-one’s, which may be right outside your window, or a plot shared with the next-door block of flats, which you do not consider all yours even though you have invested in it, which you think of as a place where you spend time with your neighbors or something you take care of out of sheer love for gardening or because you enjoy the joy and admiration in the eyes of those passing by.
How do you invest in this space of all without fear that your efforts will be in vain, that your work will be destroyed, certain that your gestures will bear fruit, that they will be multiplied and transformed, that they will blossom in new forms, in other people and other places. How do you preserve this trust against all disappointments, how do you replant its seed over and over again? The hope and trust that you can do something alongside the others, for the others, the joy of seeing that a rose has bloomed or that a tomato has ripened does not have to be rooted in an owner’s pride. The confidence that you can feel affection, pleasure, attachment and belonging to the streets of your city, to the spaces between apartment buildings, to the dusky light that makes people’s faces glow – without locking it all in a ‘space of privilege.’
The hope that the light at the end of the season and of the day carries the promise of a new morning.
Translation from Romanian: Roxana Marin