Common(s)Lab

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About

At the end of 2017—together with Katharina Moebus—we co-initiated common(s)Lab, a neighbourhood project and infrastructure located in the >top transdisciplinary project space, a 5-minute stroll from Tempelhoffer Feld in Schillerkiez-Neukölln. It was conceived as a collectively (re)produced, evolving, and emancipatory space for exploring and fostering commoning practices, situated and transformative knowledge-making, urban explorations and critical spatial practice; in search of more collective, convivial, and caring ways of thinking, being, and doing together in the city. The impetus for the project follows that the common(s), however contested, offer a promising imaginary for that which we collectively produce, sustain, and repair—both material and immaterial—through sharing and negotiation.

Through this praxis, we embrace transversal methods and creative approaches as we strive to situate collective and transformative learning and knowledge-making closer to everyday life, subjective experience, and local habitats. The activities and formats implemented through common(s)Lab aim to foreground immersion in everyday experience and “indisciplinary” (Rancière 2008) sites of concern, or sites of care; transversally moving across affective experiences and knowledge-domains in a manner that alters their configurations altogether, towards the “thinking and practice of emancipation” (Rancière 2008). Our formats thus far have included reading groups, book presentations, Do-It-Together (DIT) workshops, skill-sharing, foraging, cooking activities, psychogeographic neighbourhood walks, urban interventions, baby-friendly film screenings, and a seasonal ‘gifting’ market.

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Formats and Methods

Reading Groups and Book Presentations

Throughout the past years, one of our most enduring and regular formats has been (a diverse array of) reading groups that embody non-formal, transformative pedagogies for collectively curated extra-institutional and life-long learning. Reflecting on the modes and meanings of collective pedagogy, Pelin Tan (2019) states: “It is the destruction of the hierarchy of the dualist structure between teacher and student as well as between teaching and learning,” moreover, it is “self-teaching, learning by acting together, rejecting the gap between theory and practice, deconstructing concepts of education that are sustained by the institution and turning them upside down, and preserving traditional knowledge of earth and nature”.  Resonating with this formulation, we have experimented with different methods to co-create spaces and times of non-hegemonic knowledge-finding, making, and weaving: the textual explorations and interventions have given impetus to, and reflected on, our practical activities. Over time we began to collectively formulate simple structures and tools, or “enabling constraints” (Massumi 2008), to provide a framework that could foster an inviting and comfortable environment for collaborative learning practices (See Common(s)Lab Zine, p. 12).

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DIT (Do-It-Together Building Workshops)

The DIT (Do-It-Together) building workshops are organised in collaboration with carpenter and designer Veiko Liis who is a fellow member of the >top project space and association. The workshops gravitate, firstly, around the disruption of passive, mono-directional imparting of knowledge and, secondly, around the facilitation of commoning processes by enabling access to shared materials, tools, skills, and knowledge. The workshops begin with a collective walk around the neighbourhood scavenging for, and salvaging, waste wood and other materials. This circumvents the inevitable dumping of bulky materials and waste, found throughout the streets of Berlin, in landfills; and, as such, the components utilised in the building processes are very rarely virgin materials. This minimises the concomitant fear as an amateur working with materials and, rather than creating something ex nihilo, the material itself becomes a catalyst in both the design and making process

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Baby Doc: Baby-Friendly Documentary Screenings

During the first year of our activities with Common(s)Lab, Katharina had welcomed her second child into the world. In response to her subjective, and shared, need/desire for child-friendly learning spaces and times that are accessible to caregivers—following the maxim, the personal is political—we began hosting late-morning political-documentary screenings on a monthly basis. These were oriented towards parents, babysitters, and other attachment figures looking after young ones, 0-12 months of age.

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Soil and Ecology Workshops

The soil and ecology workshops, titled Der Boden unter unseren Füßen (The Ground Beneath our Feet), were organised in collaboration with artist and fellow >top member Juan Pablo Diaz alongside a neighbouring cultural initiative, Trial&Error, who were facilitating a participatory neighbourhood project, #schk, in Schillerkiez. The workshops sought to pursue an expanded engagement with social reproduction and care—drawing from the margins our non-human others to acknowledge the interdependence of our lifeworlds. Here, Joan Tronto’s (1993, p. 103) pithy definition of care serves us well: “Everything we do to maintain, continue, and repair ‘our world’ so that we can live in it as well as possible. That world includes our bodies, ourselves, and our environment, all that we seek to interweave in a complex, life sustaining web”.

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Schenkmarkt | Gifting Market

Playing with a not so uncommon occurrence—free- or gift-boxes and free- or swap-shops—the Schenkmarkt, or gifting market, takes place several times a year. Attempting to move beyond exchange logics—whether mediated by money or bartering equivalence—in both our imaginaries and practice, people are invited to bring clothes that they no longer need, use, or want and similarly they are encouraged to take home whichever items they may need or desire. This is based on a principle of indirect (and non-equivalent) reciprocity; relying on the mutual consideration of participants’ needs and desires as they give, take, and negotiate amongst themselves. Working with an (un)familiar format—akin to a flea market yet absent clear exchange rules and money—can be (intentionally and productively) disorienting; engendering questions and conversations while subverting the ‘shopping’ experience to foster generosity and hospitality (Moebus 2021, forthcoming). 

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Schule des Postkapitalismus | School of Postcapitalism

The School of Postcapitalism grew out of the earlier formats—in particular, the Capitalist Realism Reading Group—and a desire to create an ongoing collective classroom rooted in, and more closely connecting, both theory and practice. The classroom was anchored to the premise that increasing numbers of people are becoming disillusioned with the current way we organise our societies due to deepening financial crises, proliferating inequalities, profuse mental health issues, and dramatic loss of biodiversity and species. However, the neoliberal order of late capitalism has infiltrated all spheres of our lives, impeding routes towards different forms of consciousness and action, and stifling our ability to imagine beyond “capitalist realism” (Fisher 2009). Taking up—in chorus with Mark Fisher—Frederic Jameson’s famous adage, “It has become easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism”, we drew on feminist consciousness-raising practices and critical pedagogy to begin unmasking the conditions (re)producing the status quo, to dismantle what is taken as fact in order to invoke different values and imaginaries, finding the moments of refusal and the seeds that can and do germinate post-capitalist ways of thinking, being and doing.

Images: CC BA-SA Common(s)Lab

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