Statement for Continental Drift (2008)
How can our artistic, activist and research-based practices respond to the overwhelming urgency of the present moment?
We are now living in a period of unprecedented economic, ecological and geopolitical crisis: By 2050 the world’s population is expected to peak at 10 billion (the current population is 6.6 billion). For the first time in history, the majority of people on the planet will live in cities. Three quarters of all future world population growth will take place in the emerging megacities of the global South, where there is virtually no planning or infrastructure in place to accommodate these new residents or provide them with services.
Consider the prospect of a “planet of slums” in relation to the recent warnings of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which claim that unless we significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions (80% by 2050) and therefore largely free ourselves of carbon emitting technologies, the planet will be unable to avoid some of the worst consequences of global warming, including sea levels rising enough to submerge island nations, the elimination of one-quarter or more of the world’s species, widespread famine in places like Africa and more intense hurricanes.
The potential danger of these circumstances is escalated by the violent divisions and enforced inequalities of what Naomi Klein has recently termed “disaster apartheid.” As Klein suggests, the situations we witness in post-Katrina New Orleans, the West Bank or US-occupied Iraq are not exceptions to the norm, but rather present themselves as windows into a near-future terminal condition of neoliberal globalization. A world in which spatial politics have been reduced to Green Zones of privilege and security, Red Zones of poverty and war and the militarized borders that keep them apart.
Can we shift scales of analysis and recognize the impact of neoliberal policies and uneven geographical development within our own cities? How are local struggles for affordable housing, environmental justice and the “right to the city” related to the larger concerns described above? How can experiments and interventions at the local level contribute to a global movement of resistance to neoliberalism and the invention of alternatives?
Over the last year we have been working on an ongoing site-specific project in East Baltimore called Participation Park, which is based on converting a vacant lot into an urban farm and social space. We are squatting the land and collaborating with residents to produce a space that responds to our collective needs and desires. We are interested in generating a process of small-scale urban planning which is participatory and dialogical. During the first season we produced a variety of vegetables which were distributed for free within the neighborhood. The project has been informed by Felix Guattari's concept of "ecosophy," discussed in his short book, The Three Ecologies, published in 1989. In it, Guattari argues that in order to respond to the challenges we face today we must develop a new ethico-political articulation that integrates the three ecological registers—the environment, social relations and human subjectivity. Our project is a modest attempt to put this concept into practice.