Pitching up and getting in the way

For my first intervention, I’ve decided to take up space and put myself in spaces that are more public and, frankly, annoying. I’ve been reading a lot on land ownership, space and the commons lately, so ‘common’ areas are my target: giving me a chance to be where other people are, to chat about common spaces, and to provoke reactions to there suddenly being something imposed in them.

I remembered an essay I read about 10 years ago by the philosopher G.A. Cohen called Why Not Socialism? In it he looks to a camping trip as an ideal breeding ground for ideas on living in socially-transformative ways; as a scenario in which dialogue is more open; ownership of things and spaces are shared.

I wasn’t and still am not entirely convinced by the thesis as a means to the ends Cohen was looking for, but I like a lot of the ideas (and camping), and it did make me think of a way I could intervene. I removed all the furniture from the postgraduate kitchen space on the top floor of the building, replaced it with camp chairs, a pile of firewood, a washing line, cooking pots for the leaky roof, and set up a tent. Quotes from the book are pinned to the outside, and inside there are blankets, maps, books, pens and paper. I made some wooden signposts to put around the building to guide people to the ‘Common Ground Campsite’ (a phrase I have borrowed from my work with the Woodcraft Folk). The MA students now cannot avoid it, but hopefully will also use it for whatever they want. I’ve begun to put up sheets of paper with prompts and questions hanging with the socks on the washing line as a way to start thinking through some things I hope to develop.

The campsite can be moved to another part of the building easily at any point or just disappear completely – a risk that all common spaces face. Does an imposition like this privatise the space and make it inaccessible even while it proclaims to be a way of facilitating discussion and belonging? Have I altered the access rights to the kitchen as a useful, functioning part of the top floor? Am I making a point about the precarity and fragility of the commons? Will anyone talk to the guy sat in a makeshift campsite looking a bit to eager to ask them questions? I have a lot of things to work out.