Cosmopolitical Experiments - engaging design students

A couple of years ago I was invited my argentinian designer and artist Martín Àvila to partipate as lecturer at their course on "Experiential Design" at Konstafack (art and design school/university in Stockholm). I then finally (!) had the chance of using the mind-and-body-tickling paper "Urban wild things: a cosmopolitical experiment". This is a paper from 2005 by cultural geographers Steve Hinchliffe, Matthew B Kearnes, Monica Degen and Sarah Whatmore. Read below how this inspired me, and how that took the students in some funny and amazing directions. 
In relation to for instance 'ecosystem services', which runs the risk of cementing 'nature' as a stock-flow model (as argued by Richard Norgaard in 2010), I find cosmopolitcal experiments as a much more open framework, less totalizing, and more willing to accomodate cultural diversity and difference.
Please read what the students did further down. And remember that they only had two days to work...
Hinchliffe, Steve; Kearnes, Matthew B.; Degen, Monica; & Whatmore, Sarah. (2005). Urban wild things: a cosmopolitical experiment. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 23, 643-658.

         November 8, 2009

Week 47 - Cosmopolitical Experiments

Cosmopolitical Experiments to Articulate Values
(of Urban Natures and Hybrids)

Urban spaces are more-than-human. Many are used to view cities as made up of streets, offices, buses, houses that designed for and made by humans, like women, men, children, rich, elderly, poor or what ever social category you like. During this first week of your course I will tell you about the city and the urban space by departing from them as more-than-human, as “living cities” consisting also of birds, bumblebees and other urban citizens that co-habit the city. This will be done from visiting various contested spaces in Stockholm and Cape Town which helps to illuminate (i.e. to talk about) the way by which certain active citizens, things, animals and plants are being mobilized and aligned so as to articulate (alternative) values of urban space, and to organize and stabilize (and distabilize) urban spaces in certain ways. From these concrete struggles over how to use urban spaces, and how to officially frame the values of them, we will learn how these practices of articulating values are meshed and entangled with the (weird) notion of cultural history and cultural identities. In parallell we will splice the above to make visible (i.e. to talk about) how the abilities and constraints of carrying out social practices of articulating (alternative) values seem to be spread uneqeally across urban space (some groups and areas seem to have it easier to protect “their” spaces than others). We will trace this political geography of cities to the existence of professionals, e.g. employed civil servants and researchers at universities, that are involved in producing an unequal distribution of useful things such as maps and scientific reports that translate a professionalize "cultural history" and "nature".

Through eclectically drawing on social movement theory, ANT (actor-network theory), and Systems Ecology (from natural sciences (!)), we will follow how the practice of articulating values in contemporary urban spaces, in times of climate change, biodiversity loss, and rapid urbanization, seems to draw (or lure) citizens and decision-makers to engage in cosmopolitical experiments, in forming new ontological rhizomes (networks) that translate non-humans into urban citizens and evoke novel notions of value.

We will make this start indoor at Konstfack and then later the same Monday move outdoor to one of the contested spaces, Årstafältet (The Årsta field). There we will meet a citizen mobilizing to realize a once promised landscape park and listen to her story. On Tuesday and Wednesday you will have time for your own (cosmopolitical) design experiments and then we meet on Thursday again. Then you will be given the possibility to translate and reflect on your experiment for the group. More information regarding the experiment will be given. However, it could be wise to already book video cameras, sound recorders and cameras (ask Martín Avila and Ramia Mazé).

Please read the literature before Monday (see below).

Week 47

Monday, November 16
ca. 9.30* – 12.00, Konstfack, room S3. Cosmopolitical experiments and some contemporary urban struggles: introduction (* We start after introduction to course).

12.00 – 13.15. Lunch and subway to Årsta torg. We will have lunch either at Konstfack or in Årsta (to be decided). There are some really nice lunch restaurants and cafées in Årsta! Possible times for taking the subway: 12.09-12:29, or 12:29-12:54, or 12:49-13:14.

13.30 – 15.00, Årsta torg (or close by). Meeting with Birgitta Adolfsson, active in Nätverket Årstafältet.

15.00 – 16.00. Reflection, discussion and preparation for design experiments.

Tuesday, November 17. 
Work with and carry-out experiments.

Wednesday, November 18. 
Work with and carry-out experiments.

Thursday, November 19
10.00 - 16.00, Konstfack, room S3.
Translation and reflection on experiments to the group.
More information to come on the nature (!) of experiments. We will explore what it did to you and with you, its (possibility) for durability in reaching, influencing, mobilzing others, its sensitivity and translation acts.

Get Årsta Attitude _ Årsta Market Design

For co-existing with others; no matter whom the others are: there is an attitude; no matter where there is. Our tasks were designing 'the attitude' and 'the place' in Årstafältet. Årsta has been an issue between the city developers and the nature preservers. Our design solution was focused on meeting the half point between two different opinions: Not only protecting the nature of Årstafältet but also making profits by opening Årsta eco market.

To enter to the Årsta market, all of feet on the grass of customers and sellers even the tables for the market should be covered by Årsta shoes which are mesh shoes packed with dried hays: It is the way to get Årsta attitude to protect the grass by being stepped and contaminated from bacteria. The mesh shoes and dried hays would be offered when they get through the entrance and the huts after paying the deposit. The deposit would be returned or devoted for charity purposes after the event.
Årsta market could be the bridge to connect Årsta torg and the Årsta field and would be helpful for Stockholm residences to articulate the value of Årstafältet.

NOVEMBER 22, 2009

Årsta field's ecosystem as an informative and emotional 3D graphs

By: Stina Wessman & Mahmoud Keshavarz
In this project we focused on displaying facts of all the human and non-humans inhabited on Årsta field without taking anybodies side in the conflict.

We saw a graph as suitable medium for displaying this information over time. Our artifact is therefore an informative three-dimensional graph that can be interacted with. On one side you see how all human and non-humans have changed over the years in relation to each other (static). On the other side, you have the emotional graph that can be influenced by you who visit the park (variable).
When some new species comes around as for example many new buildings, the graph will change dramatically. In this way, you can see the history of the place. We imagine that the graphs are placed in the middle of Årsta field.

NOVEMBER 22, 2009

A story of being Windswept

(or A story of acknowledging different)
by Nina & Vijai

Tarkovsky film Stalker was starting point for performance under the name
A story of being Windswept.

Plot Summary of Stalker:

Near a gray and unnamed city is the Zone, an alien place guarded by barbed wire and soldiers.
Over his wife’s numerous objections, a man rises in the dead of night: he’s a stalker, one of a handful who have the mental gifts (and who risk imprisonment) to lead people into the Zone to the Room, a place where one’s secret hopes come true. That night, he takes two people into
the Zone: a popular writer who is burned out, cynical and questioning his genius; and a quiet
scientist more concerned about his knapsack than the journey. In the deserted Zone, the approach to the Room must be indirect. 

As they draw near, the rules seem to change and the stalker faces a crisis...

An interesting point to take notice is that at the end of film nether the writer nor the scientist were able to go inside the room, they were both afraid of their own secret hopes.

People seem to be afraid of their own thoughts and wishes; this is what Årsta is presently, a zone where you are left with your hands inside your pockets and mind wandering in an empty space. Being a windswempt.

If society cannot accept having places like Årstafallet, then we need to give and make alternative affordance visible to the field by illustrating and giving people something to district themselves of themselves. Compromise, in order to perserve some of the serenity and space which we lack in today's urban cities.

A story of being Windswept was presented as a site specivic/interactive performance which led us to a set of questions:
What are alternative values (power of wind, rain, different view…)?
Can alternative value become an actor?
What happens if power of nature becomes an actor?
Does purpose determinate value?
How to sensitize people to a different?
Can uncertainty (of nature) become a value?

The park as narrator. Narrative illustrations of scenarios for Årstafallet.
1. Wind as an actor. Using power of wind in order to get new value/affordance.
2. View spots. Views directed by spots of different height all around Årstafallet.
3. The park as narrator. Årsta as a place where trees talk, such as in fairytales. Årstafallet will take you along a tour instructing you and asking questions that would possibly make you change your thoughts about it. Along the way the visitor will leave traces, artifacts that would confirm the presence and activity of this field. The field at present has only but a few of traces of activities. So we propose to develop activities that leave traces and serves as a poetic petition.

NOVEMBER 22, 2009

order a mystic field

Mystic field is an eye-opener. This cocktail wishes to form a discourse about the function and state of Årsta field, by introducing it into Stockholm's restaurants and bars. Mystic Field's main ingredient, Årsta Brännvin (spirit), originates from Lady Årsta's recipe created during the 18th century. Hopefully, this drink will engage more people within Stockholm to make judgements and decisions on how to use Årsta field.

Posted by