Urban Action* / Gil Mualem Doron
“When we returned through the St. Honoré street, we encountered a outstanding example of Parisian street activity, which can make use of anything. Workers had laid water pipes in the street and were repairing the pavement as a result of which a semi-closed area had come about in the center of the street, protected and covered by stones. Right on this spot street vendors immediately put up shop and some five or six sold pencils, notebooks, cutlery, lamp shades, garters, decorated collars as well as all kinds of cheap trinkets. A second hand salesman even set up a franchise on the sidewalk, displaying decorated ware such as cups, saucers and mugs and so the stores in the street did vibrant business instead of suffering from the repair work. The Parisians, simply out of need, are masters in adapting to reality“. A. Star (1857) as quoted in “The Arcades Project” , W. Benjamin, 421:1999
Another location and times, another street under repair, May 2010. Yehuda HaYamit street in Jaffa has been blocked. Barriers have been placed alongside the pavements, cutting off the road, which has become a no-man’s land. For a moment mythical “sand dunes”, from which Tel Aviv arose, moved and covered this part of Jaffa. Archeologists were called in, to dig and record, then re-covered, whilst not informing the neighbors if they had been able to connect the myths’ slivers, nor if they had been able to locate Yonah’s sandals. After them arrived yet other workers, in order to lay new sewers.
I go downstairs from my apartment and through the staircase window, above the sand dunes, a sign declares “HOMELAND – Sold”.
I look down; the street is full of people, families and children. Neighbors stand on the balconies and gaze just like me. On the temporary fence alongside the streets tens of professional and amateur artists have hung works. Most of the artists are inhabitants of the street. Opposite Café Dina, the design shops and even the containers, trespassed beyond their territory and placed tables, laden with delicacies made by the street’s cooks, alongside the pavement. In two corners, where the street is wider, creative workshops for children take place, part of whom actually prefer to climb and slide as well as build sand castles in the street which has become one big sandbox. In between the sand castles oriental dancers start to perform and after them an intimate rock concert takes place.
I lift my eyes from the ground and the “HOMELAND” sign floats above, like a black & yellow radioactive cloud. This sign and many others like it, have sprouted over the last several months on many of the balconies in the neighborhood. Brooding like vultures or eagles waiting for their prey. I return to the flat and remember the rug I found a few days ago in the attic.
A carpet is an interesting object. On the one hand it is the place for a pleasant meeting over a cup of Turkish coffee and baklava. On the other hand, it is a precise, demarcated and well defined domain. The rug is a copy of a garden, which in itself is a copy of Eden. Different from the street, it is an invitation-demanding territory. It is a space from which one can be evicted. But the carpet from my attic stopped functioning as territory a long time ago. Echoing olden times, it looks as if it used to belong to a previous tenant, forced out by the rising rental rates or even before that, to a family who lived here until May 1948 and who left it behind…
I wash the rug with boiling water and detergent and when it is clean I copy the HOMELAND sign and create a cut-out of the word “HOME”. I go downstairs, while greeting my neighbors standing around on the pavement and enter the no-man’s land in between the barriers. The music show stops. I climb on top of one of the dunes and from my bag I unpack hundreds of colorful stick-lights, which I plant in the sand hill. Blooming of the desert, made of paving bits and pieces, archeological remnants and mines. Within seconds a group of children occupy the hill and pick the glowing plastic flowers.
While the children are occupied by their happy undertakings, I place the HOMELAND carpet on another hill.
It’s still wet from the laundry.
I immerse the letters “HOME” in turpentine,
And I set them ablaze.
When the “HOME” has completely burned out and only black ashes are left, I shake the carpet and hang it. Through the HOME-shaped holes, the fence can be seen.
The “On the Fence” happening started in 2010 and has become a tradition and the installations “HOMELAND” (2010), “ASHOL” (2011) and “Strike” (2012) are examples of (art but not just that) a practice known as “Urban Action” or “Urban Intervention”. The ways, methods and tactics of urban actions are different and as manifold almost as the urban interventions themselves. We are not talking about a trend of unified esthetic characteristics but about a way of intervening in the sphere. The historical sources of urban intervention can be found in performance art and installations in the second half of the twentieth century, as well as in the criticism of rationalist architecture and the modernist activities of avant-garde architecture, which came forth out of this criticism during the nineteen seventies. There is no doubt urban interventions have played an important role in the Relational Aesthetics trend, as defined during the nineties by the curator Nicolas Bourriaud, an aesthetic establishing configurations of new relationships in which the dichotomy between the artist, the work of art, and the viewers is completely blurred. The curator Nato Thompson points out, that many urban interventions also receive inspiration from political protest strategies and some of them from survivalist tactics of the most weakened communities in the urban space.
All these sources define the urban intervention as a transgressive activity – an act violating borders: the museum walls, the boundaries of “planned” use of the public space, the borders between the tools and methods of art, the frontiers of the “community” and the boundaries between the artist and the public, between art and daily life. And yet, it is not a revolutionary activity, as in a border trespassing act, because the substructure of the act is always found inside the existing situation. It is not a utopian activity, as it doesn’t put forward a homogeneous and conflict free situation.
In the most concrete yet symbolic way The “On the Fence” event was a realization of these abstract concepts. By turning the two-dimensional boundary – the fence – into a exhibition and meeting space and organizing the event without the permission of the Tel Aviv municipality as well as by investigating and activating the no-man’s land, which by definition is a transgressive area, as well as the temporary character of the activity and the consciousness of its fleeting nature as a generator, all of these defined the “On the Fence” event as an urban intervention per excellence. May there be many more.The text is a part of the article “Beyond the Lines, on the Characteristics of Urban Intervention”, which was published in the catalogue of the Architecture Bat Yam Biennale and is partly based on the epilogue I wrote for the book “Urban Intervention” (see: “Urbanccion” 07/09, Ana Mendez d’Andez (ed.) LA, Casa Encendida/Creative Commons 2010. The text is from “On the Fence” street exhibition catalogue: http://www.scribd.com/doc/58794573/On-the-Fence-Cat?secret_password=30160ik2dgma6ja116g