On Site Stories
This text is a brief chronological collection of single happenings during the Take 1 experience “Zweite Haut “(16-hour site inspection on the grounds of the Hotel Wilhelmsburg in the second skin), each leading to a general topic or mindset, that followed us through the project. Thematical doors were opened that were not closed after this one night (even though the particular task itself was fulfilled), but entered, again and again, showing off coherences and digging deeper into the projects theoretical and practical approach. Those repetitive moments are not shown here, and you will find them in the magazine by yourself.
The site group’s planning decisions in the first place
On Wednesday 20121017, when Take 1 was given to us as a first task, a group to inspect the site and find suitable spots to fulfil the functions of a hotel – sleeping, cooking, sanitary, entertainment – was formed by five people who gathered by interest. We went out to get an idea of the site, which only one of us knew before, for the majority it was the first time at UdN. The existing infrastructure played a leading role in the decision-making about what spots are suitable.
A strict separation of the common spot and the sleeping area was resolved due to several infrastructural circumstances. The front area of the UdN facing the street Rotenhäuser Damm was planned as the shared space. Relevant for that decision was the fact that for instance the ground was paved and the sheds could have been used as handy structures for the attachment of tarps, shelter or storage. Also, the visibility of this area for the sur- rounding neighbours was a threat that was important to us, since a first interaction with the target group of our project was desired. As we were awaiting a night with gathering, cooking and music, the best spot for sleeping were in our consideration on the wooden terrace facing the park Rotenhäuser Feld on the western side of the building. Set in some distance to the shared space, to ensure a calmer auditive surrounding for sleeping. As materials for building up the scenes pallets were found, as well as tarps and some wood in general.
These thoughts on the setting of the scene for staying overnight can be claimed as a kind of “planning pragmatism “. We fell back on making decisions due to reasons that occurred to be practical, without taking into consideration, that the occurring organizational structure and therefore knowledge and creativity of a group of people who are strangers for each other, is a parameter that could and definitely would influence these plans.
On Friday 20121019 afterwards, when the site group was meeting again intending to start building facilities, the decision was made to skip the plans that were made beforehand. At this point in time a particular “trust in improvisation“ came up first as a reliable point of the organization – yet to be proved. We did not see improvisation as a method at this time; it just happened non-reflectively. It is important to mention here, that we did not decide a starting point for improvisation in the meaning of “just doing things for the sake of just doing things”, but were aware of the skills we had, and knew that we could rely on them.
The quote by the student Felix is pointing out our mindset pretty good. Therefore it has to be said that the word “Improvisationstalent “(talent in improvisation) that he used as a phrase in his notes is a word that opens up a discussion. Can somebody have a skill in improvisation? Is not everything we use or apply in terms of improvisation a reference to previously acquired knowledge?
In our case of building up the night setting, improvisation turned out as resorting to knowledge and experience we already had combined in heterarchical interaction and performance within the group, gathering new knowledge out of this and applying it directly to the field.
The actual organization of space
On Saturday 20121020, the day of the overnight stay, the group caring about the food was the first to arrive. They just occupied the wooden terrace towards the park, using existing facilities for implementing the small camping stove, thinking about food preparation. One after another, the other students came by, gathering around the area where the kitchen group was working. One can say that this happened due to social and practical reasons.
As mentioned before, groups were formed on Wednesday, who respectively had to fulfil and take care of specific tasks. The evening started with the groups working on their several topics. By and by, the given group structure started to fade, and we organized along situations. The organization of students became generated situational. Along what we liked to do, or could do well, or if someone was just at a specific place at one time, new groups formed during the setup, split and formed again. This description is pointing out how the organization of our project group along smaller groups did not stay in this linear scheme, but formed by performance, organized improvisational and interactional.
“Organizing is not thought of as being produced in a linear, sequenced manner but constructed through relational praxis (improvisation) in iterative interaction and interactive performance.” 1
All facilities were placed nearby each other. Kitchen and the entertainment area were set up around the wooden terrace. The sleeping spot was set on the northern side of the UdN building, around the corner from the kitchen and bar area. This is also where the topic of safety came up.
Placing the sleeping spot nearby ensures a mutuality of social control. The luggage the students brought was placed between those two areas of construction, framed from three sides and visible all the time. What played a significant role in the organization of space here was the fact that to some goods we only had limited access, or they were just available in a small quantity. Thus we needed to share them. This is were the actions of a collective or group in case of scarce resources is shown. Through interaction and communication, we had to ponder what is more needed where. Torches, for instance, were only brought by three students. It was getting dark outside, and the sleeping installations buildup required a certain amount of flexible lights. So the torches were mostly in the hands of the people working in that area – the kitchen relied on one big spotlight.
Building the sleeping spot
The pallets we used for building the base for the sleeping area were just found on the grounds of the UdN, spotted already on Wednesday. One other thing remaining from this (planning) phase (besides the idea of having the beds on a level a bit above the ground, due to warmth and wetness reasons) was the concept to level the pallets with cardboard, which would also provide a softer base. This is where the actual first real harvesting of material took place, which would be one major topic during the whole project later on. Julian, who owns a car, drove by a board shop in the city having plenty of new cardboard laying in front of their window. He just stopped and asked the owners kindly to give some of those to our project; they affirmed that Julian collected it and brought it to UdN the other day. The additional material, like ropes, pallets, tarps, were all found on the grounds of the UdN or were possessions of students.
Protection from weather and looks was ensured by tarps that were tied to existing hooks on the UdN building and trees on the opposite side with the help of ropes, that we also found on the UdN’s grounds. By that, the relation to a classical tent became apparent, so we relied on forms of design we all knew, influenced mainly by the lack of material and the knowledge that a construction like that would work out as a comfortable, temporary shelter. It is an image of quality and spatial habit that every one of us has in mind from childhood when building caves in the living room out of chairs and blankets. So at this point, there was no need to convey the idea of the construction – this changed of course later on.
The built-up of the kitchen table
The tasks that had to be fulfilled in the kitchen were mainly preparing and cooking food; which led to a need for tables or workspace. An existing bench was used as the table for the camping stove, but a big enough desktop to cut the vegetables and in general prepare, everything was missing. What remained in my head was the answer one gave to another student, when she searched for a desktop or something comparable: “Just go and build another table!” And then she did so. This is were urgency as a topic shows up. If there is an urgent need for something, a quick solution has to be found – it also links to improvisation.
What came out was an easy built-in-15-minutes-construction out of three pallets and one piece of wood. This one was used not only to prepare but also to serve food afterwards. Again this improvised piece demonstrates an approach of “just doing it “and trying to see any possibility of space by reusing material that was originally made to fulfil different needs. Concerning this table, there was no aspiration of it lasting for longer than one day. It was just built as a temporary structure.
The shower story
To fulfill the functions of a hotel, a shower was also built. It was made just to try it out, constructed later that night, built with remaining material from the kitchen's construction and the sleeping spot. It worked using the most straightforward mechanism one could think of, using a tree and the grounds as the main facility and a watering can and one rope as the actual shower.
When the shower was finished, the limited access to and the amount of material became important. The watering can be needed more in the kitchen because it was the only thing to carry and pour water with. So in this case, urgency and the limited access to material led to decision making – for one, against another.
The setting up of the bar
The bar, in the beginning, did only exist as a plan: we wanted to have a proper, well-sorted bar. To fulfil that, the rule for everybody was to bring one bottle of alcohol on Saturday. A plan or communicated idea concerning the form of the bar was not existing at the time. When the food group went out to buy groceries, they went to Atilim Market in the neighbourhood of the UdN. Many vegetables and fruits were gifted to them by the owner and – for transportation – a shopping cart. That shopping cart was reused as the bar. We found some sticks of wood that were all cut to the same size and put them through the grid of the cart as a kind of shelf for bottles. We placed it where we had good access to it, near the wooden terrace where the kitchen was and filled it with the different bottles.
What was conspicuous here was that nearly everybody of the group wanted to contribute to the bar's look. After it was set up, people started to contribute: candles were put, flowers and leaves from the park and even some bric-a-brac people brought. It shows our hands-on DIY mentality. In the end, the bar looked like a cheesy, fussy atar. Here, a mindset among the group showed up, which was observable over the project's whole timespan: the urgent will to contribute. Without that mindset, plenty of operations during the project's process would never have been possible, because, with that, we generally set frames to our actions, if any.
The question about sanitary facilities was not addressed in advance, on Saturday it came up again due to just pragmatic reasons. It was one of the most discussed topics on Wednesday during the first meeting. People were terrified of letting go the access to water and toilets they were used to. Planned was that everybody should bring one roll of toilet paper. This would have been too much, even for a group of 20 people. So single persons agreed on bringing toilet paper for the whole group. Here the overall question of how to deal with shared goods is shown vividly.
On Saturday, the need for a toilet-facility became a reality. Sarah, who ran a camping site in Berlin for several seasons, took over this task. With a minimum on material, she realized a toilet structure nearby in the park Rotenhäuser Feld. They were consisting of just the grounds, two trees with one having a bag with fresh toilet paper and the other one having a pocket for the used. Hedges built visual protection, and so did the darkness. To find the way candles were lit up, guiding from the UdN to the toilet.
With this example of problem-solving, one can see how the expertise and commitment of one person can make a huge plus for the whole group. This topic could be watched repetitively throughout the whole project – by bringing in one's knowledge also in a practical and pragmatic way, the whole group benefits in practical and knowledge-gaining ways.
gathering and waiting for food, eating
When everything was prepared for the evening, the sleeping spot was set up and the food cooking, the group gathered around the kitchen on the wooden terrace. The atmosphere was pleasant that evening, it consisted of an interplay of several things, touching our senses in different ways. The light atmosphere did its bit to the whole setting: the candles we set up and the one spotlight making warm light, created a nice, warm atmosphere.
Also, non-visible things that were perceivable just auditive were crucial in creating that certain ambience, like the music we played on a small piano and a rattle, the boiling curry in the pot, the talking in the otherwise calm surrounding. Also, the weather was pretty warm for October. We did not freeze, and it was like a mild summer night. Some students who cared about the food were also walking around like busy bees – and people fo always feel comfy when they know their work is done and others have to do something still while they are chilling.
We relied on the experiences made that evening concerning creating an atmosphere when curating the Wednesdays dinners later on in the project. The interplay of things, touching all senses became a vital state we tried to reach there regularly.
- Dell, Christopher, 2011: Replay City Improvisation als Urbane Praxis. Berlin: Jovis Verlag. ↩