INTRODUCTION / SPACE LTD & the NEOgate MASTER REGENERATION PLAN
For the project NEOutopia, we have adopted various pseudonyms and aliases as a means to express, or perform, our understanding of theory in a distinct and experimental way. These identities have included a journalist, a development company, a graphic designer, a marketing strategist, a writer for the Economist, a community activist group, a creative writer, a documentary film maker and an academic professor. For NEOutopia, two of the central aliases – the ficticious development company Space Ltd and the grassroots activist group, the NEOGATE JUST COMMUNITY - are distinct from other elements of the archive, because they have been directly inspired by the literature and activities of an actual organisation, and an actual development company.
After outlining the aims, objectives and visions of both of these groups, the concluding parts of this short presentation will reflect upon the creative process and overarching conceptual framework which inspired us to get away from ourselves and produce a project which performs rather than regurgitates some of the theories and ideas that have inspired us.
As seen in the archive, Space Ltd’s vision for NEOgate - ‘a dynamic, mixed-use development purposely built to satisfy the social and cultural longings of London’s ‘Bohemian Bourgeoisie’ (‘Bobos’)’ - is accompanied by a copy of a development proposal by the company Lend Lease completed in January of the previous year.
A comparison of these respective documents promptly reveals Space Ltd’s blatant plagiarism of Lend Lease’s plans to regenerate an ‘Opportunity Area’ in London’s Elephant & Castle (E&C). By appropriating the content, layout and phraseology of this bureaucratic document, Space Ltd’s faceless ‘property solution providers’ operate in a grey area between invention and intervention.
Unlike Lend Lease’s proposal, Space Ltd’s vision for NEOgate is outlined in a deliberately self-contradictory document which propounds a vision for the area, whilst simultaneously revealing the problems of urban regeneration and the production of space.
Fearlessly splicing the original document with paraphrased quotations from Henri Lefebvre’s seminal text The Production of Space (first published in 1974), the company’s ersatz proposal undercuts the often platitudinous, rhetoric of regeneration by creating a plan which both sells and unsells the development they are trying to promote.
In line with Lefebvre’s holistic line of thought, Space Ltd’s aim is to simultaneously expose the illusion of transparency – a process which encourages ‘a view of space as innocent, as free of traps or secret places’– and the inner contradicitions and antagonisms of space.[i]
Accordingly, the ‘NEOgate Master Regeneration Plan’ is permeated with subtly satirical sentences such as, ‘NEOgate is not a space of solely plastic qualities to be apprehended solely through looking. Rather, its properties will create ‘spatial textures’[ii] which ‘involve levels, layers and sedimentations of perception, representation and spatial practice.’[iii]
In Lefebvre’s reading, space is not a transparent container of objects or entities; it is ‘a (social) product’ produced by, and consisting of social relations.[iv] Space thus produced also ‘serves as a tool of thought and action…a means of control, and hence of domination, of power…’[v]
As the author explains, “The production of space is carried out with the state’s intervention, and the state naturally acts in accordance with the aims of capital, yet this production seems to answer solely to the rational requirements of communication between the various parts of society, as to those of a growth consistent with the interests of all ‘users’. What actually happens is that a vicious circle is set in train which for all its circularity is an invasive force serving dominant economic interests.
Lefebvre goes on to say that, ‘Strategic space makes it possible simultaneously to force worrisome groups, the workers among others, out towards the periphery; to make available spaces near the centres scarcer, so increasing their value; to organize the centre as locus of decision, wealth, power and information; and to find allies for the hegemonic class within the middle strata and within the ‘elite’…’ The space of this social practice becomes a space that sorts – a space that classifies in the service of a class.’
By appropriating this specific quotation, yet replacing the word class with the words ‘Creative Class’, Space Ltd envisage a highly dystopic, and highly gentrified community which excludes as much as it includes certain types of people.
As explained in my introduction, NEOgate has been specifically designed to accommodate the interests, desires and aspirations of London’s Bohemian Bourgeoisie ( or ‘Bobo’ community). As such, the company’s proposal proclaims that, through peoples’ interaction with the ‘neo-utopian’ landscape of NEOgate, fashion conscious, culturally informed and aesthetically aware individuals will be offered the opportunity to become part of London’s new ‘enlightened elite’.
In Space Ltd’s vision, Bobos are a well-educated, liberal, free-spirited and salubrious social group which will undoubtedly benefit from living, relaxing and contemplating in a development which incorporates signs of status, signs of happiness and signs of ‘lifestyle’[vi].
To Space Ltd, ‘Bobos’ are busy, hard working people who enjoy organic produce, spiritually uplifting activities, community involvement and general cultural enlightenment. They enjoy convening in communal spaces such as outdoor cafes and social sculpture gardens (allotments) where they can interact with people who are as creative, conscientious and free-thinking as themselves. Interested in entrepreneurship and creative industries such as marketing, PR and the ‘artworld’, they are the human epitome of today’s interactive, information society.
‘Corporate’, ‘cultural’, ‘cosmopolitan’ – these are the buzzwords of the Bobo community. Combining the rebellious characteristics of the bohemian beatnik with the refined tastes and socially conscious sensibilities of London’s liberally minded bourgeoisie, 'Bobos' are a NEOestablishment of their own making. As the NEOgate Master Regeneration Plan explains, NEOgate aims to consolidate the success and social standing of this burgeoning social group by producing a space where they can enjoy both creative fulfillment and quality living. In turn, NEOgate aims to become a space of social practice that sorts – a space that classifies in the service of a ‘Creative Class’.[vii]
NEOGATE JUST COMMUNITY GROUP
Unsurprisingly, in this fictional neo-utopian world; Space Ltd’s vision induces many potential problems for residents living in the so-called ‘Opportunity Area’. In turn, the NEOGATE JUST COMMUNITY group provides a voice for community members who have been affected or displaced by the processes of urban regeneration.
NEOGATE JUST COMMUNITY has been directly inspired by the writings and activities of an actual organisation, the Elephant Amenity Network. The network is a coalition of local groups and people, including Council tenants, leaseholders, shopkeepers or market traders who wish to preserve local open spaces and parks in the area. For our purposes, we have focused on the Elephant Amenity Network’s reactions to the proposed demolition and redevelopment of Tim Tinker’s Heygate Estate (completed in 1974).
In recent years, the estate has become a site which has intrigued and inspired many artists, writers, film-makers and creative practioners. In turn, an interesting compaison between Lend Lease and Space Ltd’s propositions for urban renewal lies in their vision for this Estate. Whilst Lend Lease propose (and in reality will oversee) the demolition of the estate, Space Ltd plan to preserve the Heygate, and transform it into ‘a symbolic site of social and cultural interaction.’[viii]
Transmogrified into a ‘Creative Incident Opportunity Area’ the ‘NEOgate Ruin’ is promoted as a fetished, architectural object in a ‘neo-utopian’ landscape. In Space Ltd’s vision, the NEOgate Ruin will constitute an nexus, or anchor in the company’s textural, spatial web.
NEOgate will incorporate a variety of cultural and monumental spaces which will offer each member of the society an image of that membership, an image of his or her own social visage. It will thus constitute a collective mirror more faithful than any personal one.[ix] As outlined in the company Master plan, the space will thus effect a ‘consensus’, and this in the strongest sense of the term, rendering the space both practical and concrete;[x] a space in which members can achieve a sense of belonging through their interaction with monumental spaces such as the site of the former Heygate Estate.
In response to the company’s ambitious, speculative objectives, members of the NEOGATE JUST COMMUNITY proclaim that,
“We, the communities and traders of the NEOgate area, are being excluded from the multi-billion-pound regeneration being led by the Council. The redevelopment of the core area is subjected to a private deal with Space Ltd, who is drawing up the masterplan for the area. No information on the masterplan and none of its details have been given to us since the first Development Framework. Meanwhile, the Council is building “Early Housing” developments on our much needed open, green and play areas, as well as removing our local amenity shops, garages, residents’ parking spaces and other community facilities. More then three quarters of the homes in this new development will not be for ex-residents, despite this being an explicit rationale for their inclusion in the NEOgate Plan, but for private sale. We believe that the regeneration process must be fair, just, and socially inclusive, and must provide for affordable housing and a better quality of life for all current and future residents of the area.”
The problem, it seems, is that the utopian aspirations of Space Ltd serve to exclude and undermine the diversity of the pre-existing community. Directed instead towards ‘Bobos’ and members of the ‘Creative Class’, the ‘right to the city’ emerges as an idea too often dismissed by profit orientated technocrats and capitalist ideologues.
As seen in Introduction hand-out, there is a particular paragraph in The Production of Space, which vaguely encapsulates the fundamental premise of our project. Lefebvre suggests that, One of the deepest conflicts immanent to space is that space as actually ‘experienced’ prohibits the expression of conflicts. For conflicts to be voiced, they must first be perceived, and this without subscribing to representations of space as generally conceived. Our project (in contrast) creates a space that can never be ‘actually experienced’ and is hence able to properly articulate the contradictions, antagonisms and problems of space for both developers and users.
With this idea in mind, I would like to conclude this presentation by discussing some of the ways that NEOutopia creates a theoretical arena where, to quote John Rajchman in the essay ‘The Lightness of Theory’, ‘there is a chance for the movement of something not already ‘represented’ in our relations with ourselves and one another.
As the archive reveals, Space Ltd and the NEOGATE JUST COMMUNITY are but two groups, or actors, in a cast of ficticious, and strangely anonymous characters. With the benefit of hindsight, it has become increasingly clear to us that this, these fabricated guises – whilst often inspired by real people, real companies, or real organisations – were a means to produce a project which performed. This significant, yet somewhat silent aspect of NEOutopia is something I feel has been sidelined or overshadowed by the gregarious egos of our adopted creative personas.
In retrospect, it seems that our self conscious assertions of performativity or our tentative nods towards theatricality and performance, were less a means to create a theory per se, than to create a theoretically grounded project which expressed our understanding, and enjoyment of theory, in a unique and unconventional way. Looking back, we can see that there was an implicit, yet rarely discussed aim to produce a project which didn’t merely regurgitate or rearrange the words of the writers that inspired us.
In a 1993 Artforum article, John Rajchman explains why projects like ours; projects which play or experiment with theory, are not merely an alternative or antidote to essays or academic texts – they constitute ‘a point where the ‘real’ and the imagination of other possibilities are linked to one another.’ In the article, the author solicts a call for theory to ‘again become light and experimental’, a call for an ‘art of indefinite description’ where we allow time for those events that complicate and multiply our relation to the past, whilst connecting it to the forces of what is yet to come... So, before passing onto Katherine, who will touch upon some of the spatio-temporal aspects of the project, I will conclude this presentation with an excerpt from this text, which I hope will elucidate what we have attempted to do;
“Time has come to reinvent theory. It is sometimes thought that theory falls to us prefabricated from the heavens, like a set of abstract edicts, whereas in fact it too is fabricated, invented here on earth, as new questions arise to displace habitual ways of thinking. Too long have we been content to live off theory that has already been made elsewhere by others, adopting its enunciatory positions, assuming the roles in its drama, rather than creating new ones for ourselves. Thus we have grown immobile and wearied, and can no longer distinguish our theory from journalism or “informed” middlebrow conversation. Without questions and drama, we have become heavy with too much uncreative theory, and to move again we must disburden ourselves of its weight. We need the lightness of new beginnings. We need to create for ourselves the room and the time to ask again “What is theory”?
What would it mean then, he says, for theory to again become light and experimental? In the first place, we can afford to introduce a little uncertainty, a little lightness about ourselves or our “identities”. We need to rescue the question of subjectivity from banal biography, from therapeutic narrative, and from predefined positions, and rediscover the “innocence” of not knowing what we might yet become. We must again attain that point where to think is to get away from out “selves” and become “strangers to ourselves”, where we have to “invent ourselves” just because we do not know who we are, since our origins and aims are too various, too complicated, too disunified. For it is then that there is a chance for the movement of something not already “represented” in our relations with ourselves and one another.
[i] Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, (first published 1974), Blackwell Publishing, USA, UK, Australia, 1991., p28
[ii] ibid., p225
[iii] ibid., p226
[iv] ibid., p26
[vi] ibid. p339 'Admittedly the architect, the promoter or even the occupier can compensate for the shortcomings of a given location by introducing signs: signs of status, signs of happiness, signs of 'lifestyle', and so on.'
[vii] ibid. p 375 'The space of this social practice becomes a space that sorts – a space that classifies in the service of a class.'
[viii] ‘NEOgate Master Regeneration Plan’, p11
[ix] ibid., p220 'Monumental space offered each member of a society an image of that membership, an image of his or her social visage. It thus constituted a collective mirror more faithful than any personal one.'
[x] ibid., 'The monument thus effected a 'consensus', and this in the strongest sense of the term, rendering it practical and concrete.'