The Department of Space
and Land Reclamation
Essay from the catalog (2001)

 
 

Wecome to DSLR

Thank you for joining the Department of Space and Land Reclamation. The weekend campaign of April 27, 28, and 29th is designed to reclaim all the space, land and visual culture of Chicago back to the people who work for it, live in it and create it. Reclamation projects, those that actively trespass with the intent to resist, are taking place across the city and throughout the weekend. Whether they are spilling out of the sewers, taking the parks, invading the steps of City Hall, scrambling up trees or cramming the sidewalks, these projects are actively engaging everyday life. A huge array of measures are being taken to infuse Chicago with the passion that a socially conscious movement demands. We invite you to take part in them.

The DSLR hub is a space for developing a radical community. It is here that we hope participants will be able to plot actions, meet others interested in reclamation, attend inspirational discussions and glean hints of more socially charged modes of existence. Check out the schedule, talk with other participants and use the hub as a base of operations as you traverse the course of reclamation. This campaign runs all weekend and we want to use every hour. We invite everyone to drop by, stick around and get active.

The theme of this exhibition came out of discussions where we, a small collective of responsible citizens, recognized a pattern among a diverse range of art and activist practices. As the movement to resist capital and control grows to global proportions, artists/activists/radical citizens have once again found common ground. The umbrella term, reclamation, seems to encompass the wide array tactics in use. Whether this is through squatting, guerilla gardens, pirate radio, graffiti, hacking, billboard manipulation or performative public interventions, these practices all resist the encroachment of top down centralized control and private capital. Projects of reclamation situate the producer at a critical intersection of power. It is at this nexus that we intend to position the DSLR campaign. Important in this goal will be the connecting of people with disparate practices and backgrounds. We hope to reveal connections and energize people on the robust range of strategies that are possible. These practices all resist the manipulative city.

The Manipulative City

"The spatial practice of a society is revealed through the deciphering of its space." -Henri Lefebvre "plan of the Present Work" and "Social Space" from the Production of Space (1974)

Global capital has reached such a point that both the physical and intellectual landscape have been completely purchased. To exist today means to tread on the property of others. The city has increasingly become a space completely built around consumerism. The freedom of expression has come to mean the freedom to advertise. Advertisements on billboards, advertisements on public buses and trains, advertisements on benches, advertisements on clothes, advertisements on radio, advertisements on television, advertisements on menus. Like a minefield of manipulative codes, urban space has been designed to maneuver us from one point of sale to the next. Racist and classist anti-loitering and anti-gang laws have been instituted across the country as increasingly individuals and cultures are illegalized to protect rising property values.

The search for greater market returns and the increased role of the "global city" in the information age has resulted in an explosion of the phenomena known as gentrification. Gentrification reveals itself in the relocation of entire lower income communities out of the now coveted inner city. Generally, artists move into a low-income area paving the way for a steady stream of "young urban professionals." Some forms of resistance to this process include community groups lobbying to retain rent controls, squatters refusing to leave their homes when they are evicted and somewhere in the North of Chicago, a glorious vandal has been spraypainting "Yuppies go home" on the doors of new condos. (Currently a $5000 reward is being circulated for her head).

Not only are we on borrowed land, we are also on borrowed ideas. The increased litigation over intellectual property rights has made simply the expression of ideas a nest of law suits and corporate intimidation. Whether this is in the form of patented genetically modified corn to patented AIDS medication to Mickey Mouse, the land of ideas has been fully purchased and commodified as well. Additionally, the entertainment industry has quickly moved in and absorbed every point of radical culture, with raves, Punk, skateboarding, and Hip-Hop rapidly dismantled into salable pieces. Selling out culture is just another example of the manner in which the creative products of culture are quickly alienated and sold back to their producers.

Escaping the Catch 22 of Political Art

In order to develop a stronger foundation, some myths about social action must be quickly put to rest. There is a familiar rhetorical trap that occurs around the subject of political art. Artists who's work is too imaginative, reckless, wild, and beautifully useless are accused of being complicit within the structure of the status quo. Their own imagination ends up at war with the demands of their social conscience. On the flipside, artists whose work is straightforward and political are generally accused of being too didactic and lacking critical complexity. Their critic's arguments tend to quickly show themselves as protectors of the art world and capitalist status quo. In the end, it appears to be a lose/lose situation and as such, it has turned off many an artist to the demands of being political.

What is to be done? Anything looked at in and of itself will eventually resolve itself in failure. One object/practice/person/idea can not encompass all the elements which comprise a socially conscious revolutionary movement. Quite clearly, the modernist conception of art as a separate aspect from daily life fails miserably and contemporary art has yet to take this lesson to heart. In isolation all things stand alone and are mute. It is through the rich diverse fabric of collective action that private expression gains meaning.

In the DSLR campaign, a motley assemblage of activists/artists/citizens have come together to launch a robust revolutionary movement. Artists whose work may appear fanciful or hermetic in isolation now gain the strength of participating in a radical community. It is through the commitment to a larger cohesive resistance that our individual actions take shape. Once peered through this larger lens, new practices can come into focus.

The DSLR campaign will only last for this weekend, but we do not want the energy generated to dissipate. We encourage everyone to join in on the May Day events this Tuesday and to attend our follow-up discussion and showing of the DSLR video documentary on June 9th at the Stockyard Institute 4741 S. Damen Avenue. We are quite serious in the belief that projects of reclamation both connect us in a struggle for social justice and also provide a blue print for more dynamic modes of existence. DSLR hopes these actions will help foster a community in Chicago that is readily equipped to articulate the problems here and to move forward on collaborative, creative interventions for the future. We believe our compass is pointing in the right direction. Take to the streets. Take back what is ours. Overthrow the systems of capital and control!

 

The cover of the catalog.
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The map of the projects throughout Chicago.
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Original call for submissions
via email (2001)

 
 

Join the Department of Space and Land Reclamation
Proposal Deadline is March 1st, 2001


This is an open call to all individuals and groups that are concerned about the lack of say we have in the development of where we live, work, or play. Join the Department of Space and Land Reclamation (DSLR) for a weekend campaign of art, discussions, and networking. Creating a hub, or laboratory, of interconnected events and projects, the DSLR explicitly desires the reclamation of all space, land, visuals and culture back into the hands of the people who create it, work it and live in it. The DSLR is interested in bringing together people for the explicit task of aesthetically taking back our lives. The movement against globalization, as well as growing grassroots empowerment and direct action campaigns at home, has provided some areas in which we see the possibility of radically changing our daily lives. But our movements are still frail and timid. We must boldly push our dreams into the doorways, parking spaces, apartment complexes, chain-link fences, brick walls and lobbies of the city we aim to take back. Reclaiming space is exciting, invigorating, life affirming, and quite against the grain. Some examples include, but are not limited to; squatted gardens where space becomes a place to grow carrots and get to know the neighbors, school kids and muralists painting public testaments to the diversity and strength of Chicago communities, graffiti artists who lay claim to 3 am city walls with messages of hope, billboard manipulators who alter and jam the tedious messages of the overbearing system of consumption, jail breakers who rightfully escape their spatial deprivations, street performers shock passer-bys by acting out the dreams we all have for freedom.

DSLR is not interested in just ART!

DSLR is interested in people taking back their lives with a wide range of approaches and methods. We want to work with, encourage, and be encouraged by people from all walks of life who are interested in reclaiming the streets and buildings of Chicago. Please put in a proposal!

Entries will be selected by the following criteria (proposals should have one or a few of these points in mind):


1. Specifically geared towards reclaiming space in Chicago (we will try to assist, but proposals need to work out their own arrangements for space appropriation).

2. To provide "free" materials to distribute from the DSLR hub into our fine metropolis (this could include stickers, posters, stencils, how-to manuals, incendiary tracts, etc...)

3. Collaborative proposals. We are especially interested in joining up various artists and other reclaimers to cooperate on projects. These groupings can use the DSLR laboratory to generate their projects over the weekend.

4. Provide inspirational documentation of space reclamation projects previously done in Chicago and elsewhere.

Out of this campaign DSLR also hopes to generate a strong critique of both artists' subservience to the status quo as well as capitalism's stunting of the growth of a liberatory aesthetics. We anticipate more networking between various space and land reclamation organizations. We want to make demands on both art movements and political movements that a new and autonomous and critical aesthetic be supported and encouraged both through discussion and action. Some results of this could include creating space in radical and community-based publications for art and discussion, the development of non-capitalist networks to help create and display autonomous art and other cultural projects, and political groups making art and culture integral to their campaigns. Great things are bound to happen if we successfully take back what is rightfully ours!

Please mail proposals to: J. MacPhee/DSLR POBox 476971 Chicago, IL 60647

The DSLR Laboratory will be set up over the weekend previous to May Day, April 27, 28, and 29th. If you can come to Chicago we will try to find places for people to stay. If you have any questions at all, please email to: spaceandland@hotmail.com.

 
Call for entries poster 1 .
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Call for entries poster 2.
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