The work of photographer and filmmaker Jan Dirk van der Burg shows trails: narrow and unpaved paths created by being walked or ridden over again and again. They follow the organic movements of people who move through the world on foot or by bicycle. In this way, they call into question the sharply and clearly delineated spaces created on the drawing board by infrastructure and city planners. Here, trails represent resistance, small gestures of civil disobedience. They protest against this will to order and design, which blankets everything and yet makes no sense in daily life. They appear wherever the planners of the still car friendly world did not reckon with people who have a mind of their own.
Larissa Fassler builds and draws space. Yet nothing here is cleaned up or ordered according to scale. In the large-format drawings of cities, she shows us what we experience when we walk over traffic islands, through underpasses, and passages, or into the entrances of buildings. The artist overlays the built space with appropriations. She observes and walks through the space over and over again, collecting and mapping what she finds. This is also the case with her work Kotti (revisited). The many fragments layered on top of each other tell stories of a complex space that proudly says: »I am city. I am neither easy to understand nor easy to plan. I will defend myself if you seek to question my existence.« The big colorful picture calls for planning to take care of and work with lived space instead of against it. Because where is this city going to go if it has to leave here?
Critical Mass for Freedom and Movement
Every last Friday of the month, cyclists meet in both large and small cities to take to the streets in convoy and as sheer mass. The principle of this gathering uses a rule of the road traffic regulations according to which a group of at least twelve cyclists is considered a vehicle and can, therefore, pass through a traffic light that turns red. Those who cycle in front decide where to go. The cyclists want to draw attention to the fact that even today, the car-friendly city from the last century is still a reality in many places. Thus, Critical Mass is a peaceful and solidary protest against the hegemony of motorized traffic in urban planning worldwide.
In the works of Matthias Wermke and Mischa Leinkauf, everyday situations, practices, and regulations are playfully, almost incidentally, questioned. The swing, which appeared at various locations in Berlin and then moved on again, hung from street signs, scaffolding, and structural elements. It continuously appropriated small parts of the surrounding commercialized and privatized city, making them its own. For just a moment, however brief, a new (public) space came into being—where there previously was none. By occupying squares, niches, sites, and objects that normally serve other functions, it reconquered the city gently and quietly, but no less emphatically. Thus, the mobile swing can be read as a warning. Because if public space disappeared completely, will everyone who wants to swing have to bring their own swing with them?
The City as a Skate Park
Skateboarding is a performative critique of the constructed world, some say. This still relatively young sport, whose main settings were and are urban non-places, develops new understandings and other interpretations of space. This world—whether gigantic infrastructures, sidewalks, empty swimming pools, enormous house-lined streets, tunnels, or other concrete deserts of the modern age—is revealed by photographer and skater Rubén Dario Kleimeer in his images. Kleimeer unlocks multi-layered meanings of space through the navigation and appropriation of built structures. In doing so, he is not looking for answers or solutions to urban planning or social problems. Instead, he invites us to search with him, ride with him, and then think together—from unfamiliar perspectives—about what the city of the future could look like, what it could be, and how it could be navigated.
A Somewhat Different Ministry of Space
Even if Ministry of Space sounds quite official, it is not a state-run ministry. Concealed behind the name is a small group of activists committed to social justice. Thus, the group fights for a city that benefits all those who live there. They fight against corrupt practices, the misappropriation of public money, and—as they argue—abuses of power by political players. In this way, the activists monitor, analyze, and critically comment upon large-scale urban development projects by transnational corporations and the privatization of public assets. They scrutinize the construction of luxury residential properties or shopping centers. Through their work, the group thus supports a broad protest culture that demands civil society inclusion in urban policy events.
River Landscapes in the City
The film Swim City shows us how vital rivers are for the well-being of the entire urban population. Whether in the Danube baths in Vienna, the botanical gardens of Tbilisi, or the rivers in Basel and Zurich—everywhere people are jumping into the water on warm and even cold days. In other cities, too, where rivers are only just being rediscovered as open spaces, initiatives are being formed to raise awareness of the value of water in the city. This, however, goes far beyond the mere popularizing of swimming. They are also movements that fight for public access to water against the background of increasing privatization of river banks. They make it clear that rivers must be taken seriously as important arteries in larger ecological structures.