In October I began working with visiting researcher Gabriel Wulff on a mapping exercise at AgroCité, the urban farming cell of R-Urban, just as the bulldozers were making their presence felt on the strip of land next door. Gabriel is a PhD student and lecturer in Sustainable Design at the University of Brighton, carrying out a comparative analysis of AgroCité and Prinzessinnengarten, a popular garden, café and workshop space in Berlin. His research methodology involves making participatory maps with the users and facilitators of both spaces, inquiring into the conditions, possibilities and realities of their evolution as sites of commoning and collective cultural production.
Here in Paris it’s also an opportunity to produce a visualisation of the garden that speaks to the experience of residents and users in a way that the smartly designed graphics used (to great effect) by AAA in international art-architecture circles cannot. The posters pinned up on Agrocité’s plywood walls show intricate 3D diagrams of systems and activities that formed part of the project’s conception but may not yet have been actualised the present life of the space. Gabriel and I set out to work with members of the association who use and manage this place to generate another kind of picture of what goes on there for different individuals, particularly what kinds of value are generated, imported, disseminated and circulated through it.We began by hand-drawing a template map of the site, including the teaching parcels used by schoolchildren, the individual garden plots, the greenhouse, the collective farm, the compost school, the building, the kitchen, the apiary, the meeting space and the chicken coop. Next we held a series of conversations with specific people, talking through how they might interpret ‘value’ in this context, where it lay for them, and how moved into, out of and through the space. Drawing together as we went, by the end of each session we had a template covered in scrawls, notes and arrows tracing territories of belonging, sharing, anxiety and collective doing.
Our plan was to later follow these up with a larger collective mapping workshop, but as it turned out macro-political events intervened. The Paris terrorist attacks of November 13 threw many of the city’s everyday processes out of whack, and the final weeks of 2015 fell away in fragmenting schedules and demands, amid the buzz of mass protest against the COP21 climate talks. Gabriel’s PhD research continues full steam ahead however; you can read some of his excellent work on ‘collective counter cartography’ here. Looking forward to seeing the finished thesis one day soon!