In the summer of 2012 Vague research studios
initiated the project ”Vague Terrain – Vague Tissue”, in which the concept of
vagueness is explored through an artistic process. The concept of vagueness is inhabiting a
potential, that is to say a possibility for the unexpected to happen or to be
created. In the project of “Vague Terrain - Vague Tissue” VRS would like to
exemplify and concretize this potential through a long-term exploration of a
vague space. This is a translation of an article about the project published at
the blog “This Must Be The Place” the autumn of 2013. It was published in
Swedish and here you can read it in English.
In the city, especially in peripheral project areas there are spaces characterized
by the ephemeral as they are scheduled to be built upon in the future, so called
“vague spaces”. Vague Space or “Terrain Vague” is a conception coined by the architect
Ignasi de Sola- Morales. These places usually have a life-cycle of a few years,
sometimes longer. For city planners, politicians and landowners these spaces
are archived as potential future building prospects. But for those people who
are using these spaces and who passes by they are part of their everyday life. Vague
spaces have a character of the city's "subconscious" and are frequently
used as dumping sites by both residents and the city, the dumping could be
consisting of various materials like gravel, old clothes, trash and shoveled
snow. These places are invisible not only geographically but also
linguistically as they are not mentioned or named and usually only heard of as
problem areas. The sites are partially hidden but also populated by dog owners,
moped riders, alcoholics, kids and joggers. "Our" vague place was
found in Västra Frölunda and VRS then made their workplace and studio as a one
year project and commitment. In this case the location of the vague space will
be developed with housing in autumn 2014 and will thus disappear as a common
and public space. The new buildings are part of a project called “Äppelträdgården”
(the apple orchard) and has three stages. The first phase is already built, the
second built in the autumn of 2013 and the last phase will be building on the
actual site of the vague space making it disappear.
THE ROUND RING – public yesterday, semi-public tomorrow.
The shopping mall Frölunda Torg and the houses around it was planned in the late fifties and was built in the early sixties and by that the area was converted from a pure rural area to the urban space it is today. Also mentioned in the early plans and how patios were linked to the rental apartments. For example, in the plans from 1959 it is said that it must be scheduled to be at least 12 square feet of play area per average-sized apartment. Through the community center Frölunda Kulturhus we have made contact with some people who have lived in the area for a longer time and they could tell their story about the place. One story told about the vague space is that it had trees planted all around the circular shaped green area which is visible from the early flight photo. The space is drained and has a manhole in the center, the ground is immersed and therefore sheltered and the trees around the meadow creates a shaded circle. Who designed this place is a mystery since the early plans only reveal the space as a regular square ball field.
In the sixties the place was used as a playground and parents were resting in the shade and had joint oversight of the children playing on the lawn. The place has since been named by the people using it, it´s called THE ROUND RING. In the seventies the place changed character and became a sort of backside of Frölunda High School where young people hung out. Today THE ROUND RING has developed into a vague place, "in between ", a margin that can be completed and interpreted by many. When reading the old city plan and comparing it to the new plan from 2008 the linguistic change is striking. The Town Plan of 1959 highlights and describes a "public place" with different characters and there are areas that can only be used for "general purpose". The "general" can be linked to "common" to older expressions that describes something that is common. The new plans of the area describes the open slots that will be left between the new buildings with the words "the contiguous garden rooms stands for the semi-public space. There are common areas for play and recreation ". This way of writing is revealing a new desire different from earlier public spaces and commons, here the plan reveals ideas of semi-private spaces and semi-public spaces and the argumentation for this new structure in urban planning is to provide and enhance security.
In order to explore the space Vague Research Studios started the process by installing a “textile text” that would interact with the site's unclear identity but not eliminate the vague or "tidy up" the character of "subconscious" public space. VRS was aiming towards a form and content of the intervention that integrates with the site at several levels; materially, socially, geographically and sustainable in the sense that the interventions organization and degradation becomes part of the site's story. In addition to formative and documentary processes, we have worked through informal meetings, these were constantly occurring since we physically were spending time in the place. The collaboration that developed out the most from the process of informal meetings was with Frölundaskolan (school) and with a group of children 7-10 years who during the year we have met several times. They worked with us as co-researchers exploring the vague space together with us. The school children were already using THE ROUND RING as some sort of playground and after they found us as we were making our textile intervention the collaboration started. As co-researcher the schoolchildren was given a material from us and to a certain extent we formalized the explorations and discussions of vague places and public spaces. The school children brought a frenetic energy and occupied the space with ease and self-confidence.
Creation vs order
The development of the informal meetings with the school kids was quite straight forward but what was more difficult to develop was the meetings that took place wordlessly. We had a few conversations with the alcoholics who populate the area a few times, instead we observed each other's presence on hold. They as a group noticed us and we noticed them but there was not many crossings of our paths even if we occupied the same space. It is only now at the end as we have come to actually meet and had conversations, probably has both the way we look at them and they at us changed, but it has taken time. Those who use the area to sit outside and drink beer together has already built up its own structure with places where they congregate.
The entire area around the vague space is and has been a construction site in the past year and the recently completed recreation area Positivparken (Positive park) with new play areas for different ages, fitness equipment, bowling greens, football and volleyball courts and dog parks is a process that we have noted and documented. In the late sixties Frölunda was known for a large play ground where the kids could build whatever they wanted from real wooden materials. The playground is no longer there, during the seventies the space shifted and became a hangout for young people who drank “mellanöl” and was demolished. “Mellanöl” is a pilsner beer which was sold in shops and not in the regulated shops of Systembolaget in Sweden between the years 1965-1977. The idea of the playground as a place where you build and create, agree well with other ideas and artistic examples from the late sixties. One can compare the “lumberyard” playground in Frölunda with artist Palle Nielsen's major exhibition “The Model – A Model for a Qualitative Society” at Moderna Museet of 1968. This an example of art which includes strong visions of the society. It is described that the kids were swimming in paint at the Museum of Modern Art and the kids’ hands-on creativity was seen as a slow but steady road to freedom and an active community.The Model – A Model for a Qualitative Society
Today's playground for the young children in Postivparken in Frölunda stands in sharp contrast to the playground at the Moderna Museet. Here everything is ready, things can only be chosen and used, not amend, build or re-build. Vague is that which is not complete, where there is a potential for an addition. The not-yet-ready is not something alien to us in an everyday life setting but is often perceived as something negative. The not finished requires both tolerance and forbearance with the undefined, all boxes cannot be ticked and everything cannot have a box with a label on. Layout and design traditions has a dark side, an idea of an ultimate finality which promise to include all dreams and desires. Design is after all not necessarily the ultimate place for dreams and visions, especially not if the designs are pre-determined by someone else. It feels as if the tolerance around our commons and public spaces decreases. It is also a story about socio economical class, where and in which context things are done, for example if you own a piece of land and maybe have your own patio drinking a glass of wine together with your friends, or if you take the freedom of doing the same action on a city-owned (our common) ground. Coming back to the vague place THE ROUND RING, an ultimate public place and a vague space whose identity is unclear and therefore fragile. But even so, this is an excellent place for resting, secrets and explorative sketching. Vagueness make up a space where the division between the useful and the useless is becoming blurred and not distinguishable and this gray area and margin allows and enables me to add something, if only myself.