WHO IS LAND FOR?

N55 interviewed by Brett Bloom



Brett Bloom lives in Chicago and works with Temporary Services (www.temporaryservices.org)
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.


Brett Bloom:
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?

N55:
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.

BB:
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?

N55:
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 lives.
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 constraints?

N55:
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.
BB:
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?

N55:
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 where we
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 the
space surrounding it. No cairn on LAND, only a compost bin.


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