Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Small Change - The DIY Common : revealing the potential behind the actual

The DIY Common : revealing the potential behind the actual

The DIY Common is a project developed by public works in Cheetham Hill, North Manchester. The project injects new life, both natural and social, in Cheetham park (commonly known as Elizabeth Street Park).
Dye Garden
It adds to it a dye and herb garden, as well as a temporary café. The residents of the area can meet in the café and participate in a number of workshops around planting, cooking, foraging, making natural dyes… The products of these activities are served in the café.

Introducing shared ways of interacting both with the park and between the members of the community, the DIY Common opens up new possibilities for both. This joint effort between public works and residents aims to transform the park into a productive landscape, activating its potential as a natural resource. At the same time, exploring the possibilities of creating a new type of common, and in a real DIY spirit, the project seeks to democratize and engage people in the process of using the park and ultimately run the café on their own.

Temporary Cafe

Commissioned by Buddleia, an agency that was set up in 2010 by independent curator Kerenza McClarnan, aiming to develop a culture of ‘socially engaged art practice within North Manchester.

The temporary café structure is on view at AirSpace Gallery until the 7th of December. 

Sevie Tsampalla does a Q&A with Torange Khonsari from public works about the project.
ST: What made you choose this way of intervening in the park, i.e. creating a temporary café and a dye garden? How do you approach the local community and what kind of challenges are there in the process of working with people?

TK: I am really interested in finding out how one can over time establish commitment of long term engagement with communities. I believe this takes a very long time and for it to be successful you need to STAY in a place. For me the platform to establish such commitment over time is Hosting and hospitality. I like to host people to get involved in very basic activities and through the informal act of making or doing social relations form. What I enjoy with the park is that activities that have their basis on the land and what is produced by nature and land have been part of human history for thousands of years all around the world. E.g making dyes from flowers, cooking, willow weaving, making earth ware etc. This not only means that people can relate to it as it is familiar and has been part of human history but also every ethnicity can relate to it. Every part of the world have similar traditions when it comes to production that comes from the land but of course the techniques or aesthetics or particular food etc maybe different but in essence they are the same. 

ST: Your DIY café made me think of what Nabeel Hamdi says about design combined with emergence. I am paraphrasing: ‘A designed structure which leaves room for something to emerge’. In your case, the physical structure of the café and the community around the park or the strengthening of the existing community. Secondly, in the book Small Change, practice is often about acting spontaneously, improvising and building in small increments. Do you see an affinity with the way you work? How much room do you leave for spontaneous or improvised solutions? 

TK: Everything I do is spontaneous and improvised, as this is the only way you can deal with social projects. They never go as you plan them. It is not about what you as an artist expect; and that element of surprise is very strong and allows very innovative projects to develop. However, having said that, you have to have a clear program or project to which people can react to. I find engagement is never successful and becomes more dis-empowering, when you are too open or too flexible. It is good to have a structure/program and then allow people to subvert it or disrupt it. 

ST: What are the objectives for the DIY common in the near future? What kind of change do you want to see in the area? 

TK: DIY Common will continue for the next year or so and we see where it spills into and how it develops taking the ideas of productive landscape that can support community activities and social clubs. We at public works are mainly doing long term projects now. DIY common is part of my PHD and in partnership with Buddleia and Kerenza McClarnan we will push it as a project, I hope. It may move to other sites in Cheetham Hill, but the project will continue.

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