This festival opens at the calculated geographical center of all of this year’s applicants for the Project Space Festival – a place given the title The Center of Minimum Distance. This blog, which shares the same name, opens with an attempt to address the question of the peripheral.
The project space in Berlin appears to be bound up with the idea of the periphery – both symbolically and geographically. As a simple illustration of this, in her study Die Berliner Projekträume: ein Standort, French art sociologist Séverine Marguin has mapped the locations of Berlin’s independent art spaces from 1970 to the present day. Sliding the time bar across the 90s, as post-Cold War Berlin itself becomes less and less a periphery and more a center of today’s (somewhat) reunited Europe, you can see the blue pindrops on the map dramatically moving further out from the city’s center and towards its edges.
According to the urbanist AbdulMaliq Simone, the periphery is always in excess of the center – and at the same time, constitutive of the center. Without the periphery, there is no center; without the center, there is no periphery. And so: “the periphery never then offers anything of substance of its own; its own status as supplement never directly contributes to a transformation of the normative.” (“At the Frontier of the Urban Periphery”, Sarai Reader, 2007, s. 462). A wasteland, for example, is an in-between-space whose ownership is uncertain, where plants grow wild, concrete crumbles, and humans might linger without necessarily being asked what they are up to. Only in the undefined space of a wasteland is such a situation possible. And yet, of course, the flipside of this lack of definition is that the wasteland becomes a temporary thing, an empty placeholder to be developed by (centralized) processes of urban land valorization. Both wastelands and project spaces are often understood to be remnants of the wild Berlin of artists, bohemians and rebels – an image that, today, also sells itself to tourists, investors and newcomers better than any marketing campaign could.
The project space is also often defined in opposition to – and therefore through the terms of – a pre-existing normative reality: “non-institutional”, “non-commercial”, and perhaps “non-hierarchical”. This “negative” mode of definition, which charts a periphery that constantly skirts the danger of being swallowed up by the center, is reflected in how recent discussions around the definition of the project space in Berlin have played out.
Yet instead of asking “what is the project space?” – because it is clear that in reality there are as many very solid answers to this question as there are project spaces themselves – maybe it makes sense to think, also, about why we are asking ourselves this question.