WHO IS LAND FOR?
N55 interviewed by Brett Bloom
Brett Bloom lives in Chicago and works with Temporary
The interview was conducted in 2002 and includes a comment by Dan S. Wang
and Sarah Van Orman, who included a piece of land in LAND the same year.
I want to take time to discuss the real world barriers that exist in realizing
projects like LAND. LAND is a project that could potentially spread until
all land is freed up and the project is no longer necessary - that seems
to be a logical, conceptual conclusion. I donít think this will happen
because of the massive power structures that stand in the way.
Who is LAND for? If LAND is contained within larger nation states that
are anti-immigration, paranoid about foreign nationals launching clandestine
attacks, limit the amount of time a foreign national can spend in the
country or are just not open societies, then how can LAND be available
to everyone? Isnít LAND incredibly vulnerable to the whims of nation states
that decide whether or not to tolerate LAND and access to LAND?
LAND is a way of effecting some real changes in a realistic way. To change
legislation or government is not realistic at the moment. However, if
legislation and governments were receptive to logic, they would have to
accept the following argument against ownership of land:
It is a habitual conception that ownership of land is acceptable. Most
societies are characterized by the convention of ownership. But if we
claim the ownership of land, we also say that we have more right to parts
of the surface of the earth than other persons have. We know that persons
should be treated as persons and therefore as having rights. If we say
here is a person who has rights, but this person has no right to stay
on the surface of the earth, it does not make sense. If one does not accept
that persons have the right to stay on the surface of the earth, it makes
no sense to talk about rights at all. If we try to defend ownership of
land using language in a rational way it goes wrong. The only way to defend
ownership is to use power and force. No persons have more right to land
than other persons, but concentrations of power use force to maintain
the illusion of ownership of land.
Here the focus is on what logic and language can teach us, and not on
what has been learned from different ideologies and political systems.
This makes it possible to reject ownership on an objective basis, meaning
on a basis that cannot be denied meaningfully.
When we talk about LAND as well as about ownership in general, some habitual
thinking is challenged. And that has an effect. Attention is directed
at something that is often overlooked. LAND represents a marked difference
from habitual thinking about property: ownership normally entitles people
to expel others from land, use of things, etc. By reducing things to being
property, one is creating the illusion of an absence of relations between
the thing and other persons, and between persons in relation to the thing.
Through LAND, these relations are made visible. Slowly, other forms of
behavior are taking place.
Of course one of the ways LAND functions is by making the existing constraints
visible. For example: transgressing national borders without permission.
These constraints exist not only on the practical level of immigration
and so on, but also in our thinking. The absence of the conventional rules
of ownership in LAND creates a general confusion. We no longer know exactly
what we are expected to do and what the limits are, and so we have to
start thinking for ourselves.
What is the difference between LAND and land-rights movements that forcefully
claim land for landless persons? Isnít LAND coming from a position of
privilege and wealth when we have to rely on the generosity of landowners
and people with the power of private property?
To pretend to step out of our western, privileged position would be hypocritical.
LAND is one attempt among many practices in the world that question and
undermine structures of power and ownership. Although most people in Europe
and the US are not in desperate need of land for food, we are in desperate
need of diversity and respect of the fundamental rights of persons and
in desperate need to minimize power concentration. The latter needs we
probably share with most land-right movements that seize land, like those
in Brazil, for example the Landless Workers Movement MST.LAND is one link
in a general attempt to live with as small concentrations of power as
possible. A relatively wealthy and privileged position provides a surplus
that isnít the worst starting point to try and change things. You donít
have to be desperately poor to be legitimate in your wish for changes.
The important thing is that one sees how basic needs and concentrations
of power are connected. And that one tries to change that, wherever one
It has been surprising to find out that many people in Europe and the
US of small income actually own land. Earlier, this distribution of land
to many small holders might have been a way of securing basic needs for
people, replacing former systems where a few wealthy persons owned large
estates. However the large estates still remain today, and the decisive
chunks of land, for example in cities, are not accessible to others than
very wealthy and powerful people. Capitalism has created new monopolies.
Those who participate in expanding LAND, use their ownership to guarantee
others access. This is not just private charity. It is a step in a longer
process and an experiment that involves taking some risks. The formal
owners for example risk trouble with their local authorities.
BB: What are the channels of distribution of the information about participating
in LAND? Who has access to this information and who is participating?
Is this just being presented in art contexts, journals, and the art world
or is there a conscious effort to spread information well beyond these
We try to take care that the information is done in ways that donít contradict
the contents of LAND. We do not seek out certain media, they approach
us. We distribute LAND information through manuals in public places, through
the website, exhibitions, and lectures, and the manuals are available
for passers-by on the LAND sites. It has also been distributed in newspapers.
Through word of mouth, and other ways, an increasing number of people
know about LAND. It has existed for little more than two years.
N55ís role so far has been to take care of the manual and website and
distribute the information that is submitted to us. If other people find
other ways of distributing the knowledge of LAND, this is fine. Weíd very
much like it to grow out of our control.
You refuse to create concentrations of power or ideological positions
with your work. I think that this confuses people. I think people expect
you to be solution providers (because of the way they are taught to perceive
work that seems to be like yours) - that you will give them answers to
all the worldís ills in the form of a new totalizing ideology. They look
for a purity of intention and for purity in how you live your lives. People
also have a strong reaction because they think that you are trying to
tell them how to live or to impose your ideas on them. Could you talk
some more about these and other habitual conceptions that people have
and how to work towards breaking them down so people can really see logical
relations and understand their importance?
It seems you describe two opposite types of reaction against us, or people
who propose changes of some kind. One is that we donít provide enough
solutions, and another is that we impose our solutions on others.
Confusing people for a second is not necessarily a bad thing. This makes
them leave the safe grounds of habitual conceptions, ideologies, etc.,
for a moment. Maybe they even start to think for themselves. We donít
try to impose any ideology on other persons. Or religion. We donít try
to impose any ideologies, whether political or religious, on other persons.
Ideologies or religions are not about respecting persons, personsí rights
or logical relations in general. Ideologies and religions are about using
power, even if they contradict what we know is right, to force ideas on
persons. Ideologies and religions can only exist because of power.
What we are talking about is what any person in the world shares already:
namely, the ability to use language, and respect logical relations and
facts, and hereby conditions for description. Everyone who can speak a
language shares this ability, although it is not always used. In our work
we try to take consequences of the things we know and the things we learn,
in our daily lives. And then we try to communicate these experiences to
other persons. If we cannot do this, we are not allowed to communicate
at all. Of course our practice is critical, and the consequence for other
persons that really understand what we are doing, might be that they would
like to change things in their lives. But this is called communication.
Itís not about imposing anything. If persons change their lives because
they get consciously aware of logical relations, itís fine with us. But
you cannot force other persons to understand. So we are quite confident
that we donít impose anything on other persons.
Maybe we should try to talk more thoroughly about what logical relations
means. Most discussions are dominated by different ideologies and subjective
opinions. We repeat habitual conceptions to each other. The question of
who is right often gets distorted into a question of who has the power.
But, there is a level at which things are not a matter of power games
or subjective opinions. At this level things are simply right or wrong.
This level is what can be described as logical relations, or conditions
for descriptions. It is what we use all the time when we speak, or when
we act in relation to our surroundings. In trying to formulate right sentences
or even sentences that deliberately distort reality any person demonstrates
an excellent knowledge of language and reality. Having this knowledge
is the same as knowing logical relations, without which, language breaks
down. With this knowledge, it is possible to say correct sentences about
what one has been eating today or about politics. And it is possible to
say whether an assertion is based on facts and logic or on subjective
opinions only. For example it is possible to find out whether the sentence:
"rights are something which is given to persons at certain times
and in certain political systems, and which do not exist in others",
is correct, simply by looking at what we mean by the word "rights".
If it isnít something persons have, then what is it? Can we talk of persons
without assuming that persons have rights, and still maintain our understanding
of what a person is? And further, if we by "rights" do not understand
a right to be on the surface of the earth, it makes no sense to talk of
rights at all.
There are of course many issues within this area that can be discussed
and where to some degree cultural differences play a role. The thing we
are concerned with here is a basic level of language, where language stops
working if we donít respect certain factors like "persons" and
"rights", and certain relations such as those between words
and that which the words are about. Other logical relations are relations
between persons and concrete situations, between persons and bodies, and
in geometry, between points and distances. Logic is necessary relations
between different factors, and factors are what exist by the force of
those relations. Formal logic is another example of logical relations.
And there are probably many which we do not know.
Experience tells us that concentrations of power do not always respect
the rights of persons. And sometimes a large concentration of power is
necessary to protect some personsí rights. The only thing we can conclude
from this is that persons ought to try to organize the smallest concentrations
of power possible. Still, this is decisive to our work. And although they
are on another level than that of logical consistency, our different things
and activities are important ways of proposing concrete changes. The manuals
convey information on how they were made and then itís up to other people
if they want to make use of the systems, get inspired, ignore them, laugh
at them, copy them or improve them. N55 experience could be seen as an
open source. You can learn from it or not learn from it. LAND seems to
be an instance where many people can connect. The contradictions of land
ownership are quite obvious to many. And LAND provides an opportunity
to make experiments with ownership without having to subscribe to an ideology.
About position: N 41° 47' 58", E 87° 36' 23"
by Dan S. Wang and Sarah Van Orman, Hyde Park, Chicago, July 2002.
The analysis summed up in the term "logical relations" presents
one way of proofing courses of action against falling into bureaucratic
modes of exercising power. That is to say, "logical relations"
offers a way of thinking about living and the exercises of power necessitated
by living that is free from the tendency to concentrate power. We find
N55's concept of logical relations compelling and significant, and wish
to contribute to the further development of this thought.
Because we already mostly agree with the theory, we believe the best way
to contribute is to help with the practical experimentation. We are in
a position to expand LAND, and want to catalyze it by adding a more experimental
element to what's already happening with the project. By "experimental"
we mean an intensively observed element. The goal is to discern the contradictions
and problems of LAND as the project is conducted in this particular situation.
Similarly, we also hope to identify the strengths of this project, the
promising elements, the unforeseen successes. In other words, we participate
in this project with the hope of taking the project to its limits at the
points where it is bounded, and beyond, at the points where it is not.
We hold title to a (comparatively) small parcel of land adjacent to our
condominium property. It is a narrow strip about 3.5 meters wide and 20
meters long. The first two years of ownership netted for Sarah (who has
taken charge of the reclamation) many hours of clearing scrub and stumps,
cleaning out trash, glass, and broken concrete. We now have enough space
for a garden and for parking our car. The problem is that other people
have occasionally parked their car there, too, without our knowledge or
agreement. Given not only our possessive impulses, but also the real record
of violent and unregulated anti-social activity in our immediate half-block
vicinity (a shooting, a mob action, a burglary, a home intrusion, an assault,
all in the last two years), we have been very protective against any unknown
users of this space. These situations have resulted in several personal
confrontations, one of which for reasons of escalation involved the police.
Our interest in expanding LAND stems from this situation of mutual encroachment
by strangers, we who acquired title to the parcel, and they who see opportunity
to use it without taking care of it (for example, littering and dumping
on the site has been a constant problem). Thus, perhaps contrary to past
expansions motivated by a wish to make available privately held space,
and possibly undermine the root culture that enables private property
as a whole, this particular expansion of LAND rests on a hyper-local fact
of excluding and controlling users. We therefore initiate this expansion
of LAND in order to heighten the contradiction between our values and
ideals, and the real and perceived demands of an actual situation. The
goal is to study this contradiction and move to resolve it productively,
so that a lesson may be learned and applied in similar situations elsewhere.
Position: N 41° 47' 58", E 87° 36' 23"
Dan S. Wang, December 2002.
It took a few days for us to notice the emptiness. And later, the scattered
nuts and bolts.
LAND is available for use. A beautiful 1 m high cairn supplied by N55
marks LAND. But not here, not anymore.
Our fault. We don't like tying things down unless we absolutely have to.
First our watering wand and then later our cooler were stolen from our
porch this past summer; they weren't exactly hidden, and we knew quite
well (from experience) the possibility that they would be taken. So, out
with the 20 year-old cooler inherited from my parents, and in with a better
performing, $14.95 cooler from Target. Call it a benefit of global overproduction.
We can afford to indulge in recreational petty theft, from the victim's
side of things. Hm, if we leave this... how long before it's nicked? The
molded plastic chairs are still there. It's entirely possible that somebody
liked the cairn so much that they just had to have it. But somehow we
find it more appealing that the physical
symbol binding this parcel of earth to the other parcels comprising LAND
met with a fate in keeping with the way space is frequently used around
live - as a zone for legally ambiguous scavenging: it's there, take it,
and use it to get something else.
LAND remains, but unmarked, uncoded, and mostly undifferentiated from
space surrounding it. No cairn on LAND, only a compost bin.
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