OPEN LETTER ABOUT HAMBURG, GERMANY

April 20, 2010 § Leave a comment

Dear Andrea Knobloch, dear “ Academy of another city/Akademie einer anderen Stadt” art platform,

After our visit to Hamburg, it took more time than we expected to give you an answer about accepting your invitation or not.

Not only because it was difficult to decide, after some discussions among the group, but also because we had to think about how we could answer to your kind proposal to work in the Elbe Island, inviting museo aero solar to take part to an art event (“Aussicht auf Veränderungen/Looking for Changes ­ Art across Hamburg”) organized by your group, founded for and financed by IBA-International Building Exhibition, that is the first step for a huge urban project going to reshape the whole Island and its image.

We decided to write you this letter, which we don’t consider as a private message, but as a possibly helpful statement for those who are in the same situation: being (considered) a cultural producer, or working in the so-called “creative” field, and as such being invited to produce art inside an urban development process.

We met only one time, and three members of the museo group (the same that are writing you this letter) visited the Elbe Island for two days, in order to take a look to the place and understand if it was possible to work there. After spending one day with your group – and we really appreciated your openness to discuss several aspects of the situation – we also did our best to go over the “first impression” about the place, collecting information and talking to a good number of people, walking around almost every neighborhood and corner of the Elbe Island, from Veddel to Wilhelmsburg to Kirchdorf.

We discovered that the situation of the Elbe Island was much different from the one you described to us, often using the rhetorical approach that looks at the urban present condition in terms of “development”, “connecting the isolated people of the far-away neighborhoods to the city-centre” and so on in the direction of “helping the poor”.

So, who are “the poor” here? The inhabitants of the island, many of them against the IBA projects because they think this is going to slowly kick them out of the place, or maybe even worse, to let them stay while imposing a new “creative lifestyle” for them?

Who are “the poor”– the artists and curators called to promote with optimistic enthusiasm and cultural events this “growth of the city”, providing images similar to the ones in the IBA brochures, or melancholic reflections on the island’s “old times” while the “creative district” is arriving? Or maybe IBA is “the poor”, who needs all these advertising, posters, promotional campaigns, art events, pictures of smiling people appearing everywhere saying IBA is good, the Elbe Island will be good? Why all these efforts?

Why are we so pushed to be optimistic?

We don’t live on the Elbe Island and we are not from Hamburg. We can’t tell anybody how the island should be, what has to be built, what has to be changed there.

But IBA projects are an enormous effort made to convince middle-class, creative people from the city-centre that the Island would be a good place to move soon.

If even the organizers of this art event are telling us that IBA is not taking care so much of the imminent gentrification process, why should we support all this?

We are refusing a lot of money, but why was this money here for us? To convince us that this was a good opportunity, despite the situation? To have pictures of a “big multicultural artwork” which documents that IBA is with the people and life is easy if you say yes?

We don’t think that the artist’s approach should be driven by “hope” and “optimism” when they are clearly two other words for “irresponsibility”. We refuse. We say no, thank you. And we suggest to the other invited artists to think about this possibility.

If we should come back to the Elbe Island, it will be when there will be no artists needed to create and/or sell an “atmosphere”. We believe the artists are simply not a good thing for the island right now, because all they could do would be exploited by IBA.

We are not particularly interested in promoting the ill relationship between art and gentrification (these are the basics that no one should never forget), but simply to assume that working with art in these contexts should be defined as one of the final stages of the subsumption of art to the field of capitalist urban marketing, where the object of exchange is no more the art piece but the artist itself, who is the new “promoter” for any kind of real estate operation.

We found a very interesting manifesto recently written about what’s going on in Hamburg, called “Not in our name. Marke Hamburg!”. This text became a petition, signed by thousands of people, and in it you can read lines like the following:

We don’t want to “position” local neighbourhoods as “colourful, brash, eclectic” parts of town, nor will we think of Hamburg in terms of “water, cosmopolitanism, internationality,” or any other “success modules of the brand Hamburg” that you chose to concoct.

Look at Wilhelmsburg, Neue Große Bergstraße and Hafencity: artists are expected to follow the funding money and interim-use opportunities like donkeys after carrots – into development areas that need life injecting into them, or investors or new, more solvent residents. You obviously consider it a matter of course that cultural resources should be siphoned “directly into urban development”, “to boost the city’s image”. Culture should be an ornament for turbo-gentrification. St. Pauli and Schanzenviertel are shining examples of what this means: former working class districts become “trendy areas” and, in no time at all, exclusive residential areas with adjoining party and shopping neighbourhoods, where food and clothing chains like H&M milk the amusement-hungry hordes.”

There could not be a more unequivocal definition of the role that “creativity” is supposed to play: namely of profit centre for the “growing city”. […]And we don’t want to increase their value now. We don’t want to discuss “how we want to live” in urban development workshops. As far as we are concerned, everything we do in this city has to do with open spaces, alternative ideas, utopias, with undermining the logic of exploitation and location. We say: A city is not a brand. A city is not a corporation. A city is a community. We ask the social question which, in cities today, is also about a battle for territory. This is about taking over and defending places that make life worth living in this city, which don’t belong to the target group of the “growing city”. We claim our right to the city – together with all the residents of Hamburg who refuse to be a location factor.

We found this document very clear about the situation in which we have been called to take part. And the fact that the “Infoladen” on the Fährstraße in Wilhelmsburg was kicked out by “SAGA” is just a further symptom of the situation.

But is “utopia” the only viable and acceptable way of considering work and life out of the capitalist rules? Can we stop thinking about peoples’ involvement from the category of participation, that even in the “alternative way” means: pushing people to collaborate with us, because we like to have a “community” around our art project, giving it the aura of consensus?

Is it possible that one day  “good-willing” artists could turn into self-organized groups of non-producers, instead of unconscious producers of culture, market value and gentrification?

museo aero solar April, 20th 2010

aerosolar@gmail.com

To read and sign the petition “Not in Our Name”:

nionhh@gmx.de

http://www.buback.de/nion/

http://www.signandsight.com/features/1961.html

More information about:

http://gentrificationblog.wordpress.com/2010/04/15/hamburg-kundigungsgrund-aufwertungskritik/

http://www.mitwisser.net/system/

http://www.iba-hamburg.de/en/00_start/start.php

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