A while ago, over a period of a few months, I happened to come across a whole set of activities which are quite different from the normal day to day of society. It’s difficult to describe what they have in common, so I’ll tell you about them first, and try to explain it after.
- Urban Exploring
Spelunking is historically done in natural caves, but those all seem a bit prissy and green to these modern city people. Instead they break into ruined hospitals, brave university steam tunnels, explore abandoned sea forts and numerous other places.
Most have a law abiding ethic – trespass is the only crime they commit. Instead they look after the places that they go. Learn about them and document their history. Take only photos, leave only footprints. People all over the world self-organise and do this. Slightly illegal, slightly dangerous, but fun, new, real.
- Space Hijackers
These “anarchitects” came to fame in 1999 with their Circle Line Party. It looked like an ordinary tube train, but between each station 150 normal looking commuters suddenly burst into life – sound systems, disco lights, refreshments and dancing – only to go quiet again at the next stop.
They’re organised, with a secret mailing list and forum, and I like to imagine there’s an artist’s studio where they hang out somewhere in East London to hatch plots and build radio-jamming two piece suits. There’s a new Singapore branch, trying not to let the wait until 2010 for the Singapore Circle Line to be built hold them back from other projects.
Not sure exactly what they do yet? See if you can learn to Spot the Hijackers.
These guys have arbitarily picked some random points on the earth (those with exact integral longitude and latitude) and are collaboratively visiting all of them, taking photos facing north, south, east and west. Scroll round the huge worldwide map for the results.
This may seem a bit fluffy after urban spelunking and space hijacking, but rest assured if you pick the right points you can fall out with border guards and have to work out a way to enter a military base (they were only allowed to photograph facing north-east).
Confluencing reminds us that here are lots of spaces in the world in between the tourist attractions, and our normal daily routine.
- Guerilla Gardening
So, what you do is you enter somebody else’s property without their permission, and plant seeds. Maybe put daffodils in an unloved corner owned by the electricity company, or turn a dis-used lot into an allotment for the year. For bonus points come back again and again to water and prune your plants, or to defend them against slugs and to eat your harvest.
This is great, because although it is illegal, it is indisputably good. It subverts property rights (by questioning your right to own land you do not tend) and makes the world prettier at the same time. So much so, that this year it’s gained enough mass media coverage to be in danger of stopping being hip. But heck, if it takes Richard and Judy to get advertising account planners to illegally water lavender in their hundreds, then I’m all for it.
So what’s the interesting link between all of those? Here are some things they have in common.
- They’re all (at least partly or potentially) illegal, and yet they’re reasonable things to do. They’re in those edge spaces where the law has grabbed too much territory, where things which are fun and good and life affirming aren’t allowed.
- They can be done by anyone, without a big central organisation. Sure, you have to be able to afford to buy the compost or the GPS device, but that’s about it.
- There’s no commercial gain involved, no consuming of goods or services.
- They reclaim space as public space. More and more of our land and world is controlled and limited. Property rights work and make sense, giving us private space. But excessive control of shared spaces impoverishes us all.
What other things can you think of that are like these four? (Answer in the comments below)