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Six different ways of working on commons

28.05.2015 by Charlie Tims

Julio Albarrán (cc)

The Reclaim the Commons/Caring for the City Hackcamp took place on the 16th, 17th and 18th of April 2015 at the Seville Art Centre. It bought together 75 journalists, artists, organisers and campaigners from across Europe to explore the idea of commons - and the act of reclaiming them/it.

There are a number of different ways of thinking about the Commons. The Commons is both a technical way of defining resources shared, accessed and governed by a community and also an expression of a spirit - a hope for a better shared life, from which a better democracy can grow.

ZEMOS98, of course is a media festival and one that adds to the visual culture by subverting and appropriating and breaking it apart - media hacks and communication approaches were a big part of these three days. Reclaim the Commons was both a camp exploring the Commons, and a hack directly aiming to create a space for the commons in the popular imagination.

The Hackcamp was organised into three thematic areas: first, #campaign4thecommons - the act of advocating for the commons to those in power; second, #openvideo4thecommons the act of creating a media commons; third, #caring4thecommons - creating resources which help people learn about and look after the commons. These three areas were organised into six different tables of activity - two per topic.


The first table brought together activists from the UK, Turkey, Poland and Spain who are involved in claiming a right to the city and are trying to build a commons of one form or another. They campaign against shopping malls, compulsory purchase orders and evictions & for community gardens, tenants rights and mixed public spaces.

They were tasked with making a tutorial which could help other campaigners like themselves. It wasn’t always straightforward - campaigning is a very specific act which differs from one country to another, from one district to the next. They found it hard to find a way of amalgamating their experiences without reducing them to a series of bland platitudes about ‘knowing your audience’, ‘understand what you are trying to change’ and so on. Nonetheless, the group created a basic plan for an app in the style of a help hotline sharing experiences and so on. Users of the app could dial 1 for advice about expectations, 4 for suggestions about tools and 2 for information about reach.

The second table worked with a threatened social centre in Seville called La Carpa which hosts concerts, art exhibitions and performances in a large tent on the edge of the city. La Carpa needs to find a new home and are hoping that the local government will grant them permission to use a new space on the derelict site of the 1992 Expo. The group conceived, designed and executed an action on the 18th of april complete with stickers, dancing and 100 helium filled balloons.


The third table were tasked with designing a video archive for the commons. They wrote a series of «commandments» for it and considered the needs of different user groups - VJs, researchers, journalists, film-makers - and drew up a series of tools that could meet them. The more straightforward of these suggestions - included a fast forward button, a way of viewing videos on a historic timeline and ways to view videos with subtitles - were tacked up on the last day of the camp.

The fourth group were tasked with creating an application which could tell a story using material from the media collection. They created a way of exploring the collection by navigating an 3D rendering of a city - moving through the city’s districts revealed videos which related to attempts to reclaim different parts of the city - the houses, the factories and the public spaces. The group also designed a dashboard which extracted sound from videos making it possible to «conduct» a «symphony» of the city revealing different thoughts, emotions and feelings in a soundscape.


The starting point for the fifth group was Elizabeth Magie’s original idea for the board game Monopoly - which she intended to be a cautionary lesson about the pitfalls of freewheeling, laissez-faire capitalism. The board game designed by the group - Commonspoly - could be downloaded, printed out and placed over a monopoly board. This overlay created an agora space in the middle of the board, the aim of the game being to bring resources into common ownership, away from the private sector. With each round more property passed into the private sector making the game a collaborative race against time.

The final group designed a fanzine for the Commons. It was called Regame los Commons which broadly translates as «nourish the commons». The zine was predominantly visual with words used sparingly. It could be cut to pieces and distributed around the city, in effect making it a tool for reclaiming the commons. It featured cut out beer mats, lost and found posters, a sticker for identifying an empty building and a mini fanzine which could be folded with advice for its distribution in interstitial spaces.

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