My research takes place in the shadows of public space; in spaces which are palpable yet invisible, social but disjointed at the same time. A space where ephemeral transformations takes place. It investigates how — and if — invisible interventions can be disseminated to provide a widening of an emotional space, an other awareness of possible acts and possible environments that surround us at all times. There are similarities with phenomenological research methodology; describing a lived experience of a phenomenon and allowing the method of analysis to follow the nature of the data itself and thus the possibility of theory-independent data. Mapping invisibility is a ghostly and elusive undertaking, in terms of tracking down and verifying underground activities. Not least because, as I’ve experienced it, these activists methodically wishes to remain below radar.
The circulation of my research contains a paradox within, it is not primarily intended to be exclusive or coded, as in the case of this article or with the promotion of the concepts of invisibility and of the ‘undercommons.’ At the same time I’m performing actions in public space with the core intention of producing unanticipated temporal shifts in the way we imagine and attach ourselves to the city. The paradox lies within the dichotomies of public/private, sharing/protecting, visibility/invisibility. It appears as a deadlock position; by publicly contributing to the sharing, shaping and creating of the democratic city you will be supporting it with value, which in turn will stand exposed to the hegemony of commodification. Contrary; by addressing but the few, as within an undercommons, the undertaking becomes exclusive and is likely to only be for the benefit of a chosen few.
“The risk for movements organizations to become co-opted or partially integrated into a neoliberal urban model has only become more acute in the most recent phase of urban development. (…) The new ‘creative city’ policies make use of (sub)cultural milieus in their branding strategies and harness them as location-specific assets in the intensifying interurban competition. Clubs, buildings, open spaces, and other ‘bio-topes’ that have been furbished and spiffed up by squatting anarchists or temporarily used and made interesting by precarious artists are sought after in urban branding strategies, frequently yielding good bargains and advantages for activists who initially were struggling in the name and for the rights of marginalized groups beyond themselves. (…) neoliberal urban policies have proven particularly successful in hijacking rebellious claims and action repertoires, and in integrating those into market-based creative concepts designed to enhance the competitive value of locational assets.”
This unavoidably expands into a number of ethical issues; concerning confidentiality, exclusivity, anonymity, and matters of social sustainability. In my own interventional practice as well as in my work of tracking and following european urban underground collectives, working with e.g. unauthorized tunneling, cartography, infiltration, obstruction, defacement, subcultural programming, (an-)archiving and informal distribution of knowledge.
“Questions of the commons, we must conclude, are contradictory and therefore always contested. Behind these contestations lie conflicting social and political interests. (…) At the end of it all, the analyst is often left with a simple decision: Whose side are you on, whose common interests do you seek to protect, and by what means?”
End of the Line
In the early spring of 2003 a trilogy of transgressive spatial interventions were initiated at the Copenhagen Central Station — all performed in close collaboration with my working partner E.B.Itso. With the first work we set up a secret apartment beneath the waiting hall. As the space was discovered during a big renovation of the station in 2007, the chief inspector was interviewed on danish television. State workmanlike he politely informed the public that this kind of intervention would definitely not be possible to be reproduced in the future, with the new security measures that had gotten installed. Something we understood as a challenge and accepted.
During one year we worked two hours a night, in the gap of the working shifts of the maintenance employees, using their clothing to render our endeavor invisible. With this second intervention we were able to reclaim our residency with a new space; equipped with a DIY elevator, two beds and running water. To this day still not discovered.
With the third and final work we removed a small track-sided shack with the intention to bring it as far up north as the tracks led us. Escaping from the city was triggered by a spiraling experience of exclusion, homogenization and standardization of city life. As it was decided that DSB (the Danish State Railways) was about to privatize large parts of its’ structures, including a big chunk of the train yard adjacent to the Copenhagen Central Station, we had not only reason but also possibility to perform our experiment. As train traffic was redirected we suddenly had the tracks leading away from the city for ourselves, prior to the pending machinery of urban redevelopment. We lifted the shack onto a bricolaged wooden cart and pushed it as far as we could, away from the city. After having rebuilt the interior space we just had to wait for an opportunity to continue our journey.