Beyond the Gallery Walls. Learning from neighbourhood activism in Hökarängen
Rodrigo Albornoz, Nefeli Makrynikola, Meryem Saadi, Molly Sjögren
Konsthall C is an art space located in a former community laundry in Hökarängen, south of Stockholm. When it opened in 2004, it was presented as a “public work of art” and a “project of urban renewal”. The main objective is to “work for a democratic society based on values of diversity, equality and solidarity both in its organisation and in the content of its programmes”. The Konsthall has always been closely connected to the local community, mainly through its links to the City Council (’Stadsdelrådet’), which has been working for the physical and social improvement of the area since 2002. The City Council is a co-operative volunteer initiative which represents local organisations and institutions. Konsthall C has changed throughout the sixteen years of its existence, and so has Hökarängen. The area has seen many transformations, going from being a peripheral run-down area into a place of accelerating gentrification and densification. During these processes, Konsthall C has worked in different ways to uphold its connection to the neighbourhood.
Most recently, in the fall of 2019, Konsthall C received critique from the artistic community, bringing before them their own internal issues of race and gender politics. The critique put the institution’s own ideals and objectives into question, and challenged Konsthall C into self-reflection and a rethinking of its role as an artwork, institution and a public space in the community. New decolonial ways of thinking and existing needed to be developed, ones that sought to “deliberate on the identity (responsibility and purpose) of Konsthall C, to explore new futures for a cultural institution which stands at the disjuncture of communal and private”. Taking into account the institution’s structure, employment, archives, economy and relationships, this process was initiated together with the former researcher-in-residence Mansi Kashatria. One example of this is found in how Konsthall C has re-evaluated their process of electing and forming the board. This is in a way a continuation of the decolonial artistic programme of 2017, developed by artistic director of the time, Corina Orea.
Collective action and resistance is deeply rooted in Hökarängen, manifested for example in the many newspaper articles and other artefacts in the Hökarängen archive, deposited at Konsthall C. In the archive, you can read about the citizens of the area protesting against the closing of Örby Library, against rent increases and pollution from toxic waste from the nearby power plant, as well as the mobilisation of citizens to clean up the lake Magelungen. In the last couple of years, the resistance of the community has been focused mainly on the rapid gentrification and privatisation of housing areas, and the commercialisation of public space. How can we understand this widespread commitment to social issues by the citizens of Hökarängen, in relation to other acts of collective resistance in Swedish history?
These recent neighbourhood protests in Hökarängen made us think about the challenges and difficulties inherent to the process of doing decoloniality on site. Researching and analysing the recent socio-political movement found in the Hökarängen archive at Konsthall C, our further engagement aims to explore local resistance against privatisation and gentrification. Through our contact with Konsthall C, it became clear that the space extended beyond its physical limits to include the local community. Over the years, they have hosted different types of artistic programmes dealing with the role of the citizens and the living situation in Hökarängen, for example Bomassan, in 2018 (a one-year public research exercise that explored questions around city planning, local democracy, social art practices), and annual art projects that include all 6-year-olds in Farsta.
By looking at Konsthall C and the acts of collective resistance found in the Hökarängen archive, and investigating how to take collective action in the neighbourhood, we seek to understand the relationship that exists between Konsthall C and the community, using the playground of Fagerlidsparken as a methodological bridge for our work. The playground, which lies next to Konsthall C, has for more than sixty years been visited by parents and kids from all over Hökarängen. It was also, until five years ago, the site of a pre-school, hosted in the wooden cabins surrounding the playground. After a decision by Farsta municipality to demolish the buildings, the city council and the local community decided to take action and save the playground by taking it under their care. We consider the playground to be an extension of the art gallery and a public site of collective resistance. This collective urgency of caring and supporting a public place, as well as its potential relation to Konsthall C, made us acknowledge Fagerlidsparken as a key site of knowledge production.