Squatting and Resistance against Demolition

                          Willie Bester: Forced Remova,, image on: www.ezakwantu.com


Squatting means: Occupying an abandoned building or building which shall be removed. Usually the squatters do not own the area of land or building - therefore in most countries squatting is illegal.

In some cases the occupation is of political nature, but sometimes the squatters simply want to "use" a building, that means: work or live there (usually with the intention of a long-term use). In the Berlin, Germany, a neologism developed, which shows this ambition. "Instandbesetzen". The term combines the words "Instandsetzen" (renovate) and besetzen (occupy). In some cases, squatting is just a way of fighting precarity, in other cases the squatters want to protect a building, because they see its emotional and cultural value, sometimes it is "a reaction to an economic crisis of young people, who so far have only experienced prosperity" (Mak 2000) and some other squatters simply want to have a (cheap) place where they can work (especially artists) and design the place as an antithesis to capitalist structures (sometimes this intention is combinded with a political, anarchist attitude). Definitions, interpretations and reasons vary.

Dutch scientist Hans Pruijt distinguishes five configurations:

1. Deprivation based squatting
2. Squatting as an alternative housing strategy
3. Entrepreneurial squatting
4. Conservational squatting
5. Political squatting

Pruijt also mentions "tourist" squatting, a typical Dutch system, which began in the 1970s, when tourists wanted to spend a summer in Amsterdam (where the housing situation is difficult), and therefore occupy a building.
He writes: "They take little responsibility for neither the building nor the neighborhood. Local squatters are uncomfortable with this, one of the reasons being that it undermines the viability of squatting in general. In the early 1970s, squatters in the Nieuwmarktbuurt protested by putting up posters telling that the neighborhood was not a campsite."

The Dutch squatting movement has its origin in the 1960s: The Netherlands was suffering a housing shortage while many properties stood empty. The reason herefore was that owners intentionally did not sell or let a house by means of driving the market prices upwards.

Squatting is almost a tradition in the Netherlands. However, in October 2010 a new law was introduced and squatting became illegal. The new law provoked a series of protests and riots (similar to the anti-squatting bill demonstrations in the UK in 2012).

Visual aspects of Squatting

Squatters want to be seen, especially when their actions are politically motivated or when their occupation is supposed to be a protest (of course, invisible and silent protests are hardly never effective). 

A method to create visibility and a recall value is a catchy logo. The squatting sign consists of an n-shaped arrow in a circle. The arrowhead points upwards. Some sources claim that the sign might have its origines in the Dutch squatter scene in the 1970s. However, today the sign is used all over the world. Usually as graffitis on the walls of an occupied building and on posters, flyers and banners.
It resembles the famous anarchist sign with an A in a circle. Presumably this similarity is no coincidence. 

Object Orange

Object Orange is an art project in Detroit, Michigan. The group paints dilapidated buildings orange. The movement started its work under the name "Detroit. Demolition. Disneyland". The alliteration is no conincidence. The artists noticed that a great number of buildings in the city were marked with the letter "D". "D" stands for demolition and marks those houses which are supposed to be demolished.
According to an interview with the artists (on NPR) they chose the color "tiggerific orange" (from the Disney paint catalog), because it is similar to traffic cones, safety wests worn by hunters and roadworkers.
(Image on:  http://www.thedetroiter.com/nov05/disneydemolition.php )
The reference to safety signs seems to be an important fact for understanding the artists' motivation: making aware.

The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD)

The ICAHD describes itself as a peace organization, which wishes to end Israel's occupation over the Palestinians.

The demolition of houses in Jerusalem (as well as in the West Bank region and the Gaza Strip region) is an example of systematic house demolitions, which - in contrast to many other demolitions in the world - do not primary serve financial purposes, but are of a political nature. Of course, this is a controversial tactic. Human rights organizations and the United Nations criticize the ongoing demolitions of Palestinian homes as violating international law, and contend that Israeli governments actually use demolitions to collectively punish Palestinians and to seize property for the expansion of Israeli settlements. The ICAHD wants to protest against this tactic. Besides analysing the situation, organising information campaigns and collect donations, the ICAHD organises other projects, which have a more artistical character. 
Members of ICAHD offer guided tours through the areas or they physicalle block bulldozers sent to demolish homes. They also mobilise residents to rebuild houses. This might be an ineffective strategy, but at the same time it is an effective, visible act of resistance.

Occupy Museum

A very peculiar occupation is the Occupy-Museum-Movement (OM), founded in 2011. It is an action group within the Occupy-Wall-Street-Movement (OWS). The OM is an "ongoing protest that calls out economic injustice in institutions of art and culture" and seeks to re-occupy art. Noah Fisher, Booklyn-based artist and founder of the OM, says that he saw "a direct connection between the corruption of high finance and the corruption of 'high culture.' For example, MoMA shares board members with Sotheby’s auction house, where the value of art is synonymous with speculation." (http://www.noahfischer.org). The group organised a protest march to the MoMA and later to the New Museum and participated in the 7th Berlin Biennial in Berlin, Germany.

Museums have the power to built artists' careers and present themselves as independent and culturally important, but at the same time, museum are an important part of the neoliberal system and are depended from these capitalist structures. Many of the "1%" are part of the Supervisory Board in museums. The social prestige of these positions seems to be a positive thing, but at the same time it is a questionable fact. They do have a strong influence on the art market. Do the rich, in the end, determine how culture shall look like? The OM believes that real culture does have to have a critical distance to these power structures in order to develop to be independent and free.

Art Villages and Nail Houses in China

Forced demolitions have long been one of China’s most volatile issues, but have become a common story in the country. Land is expropriated to build real-estate developments, and often former residents are left empty-handed.
In the People's Republic of China, during most of the Communist era, private ownership of real property was abolished. The government could determine who should control property.It was not until 2007, when the People's Republic of China passed its first modern private property law. This new bill prohibits land-taking, except when it is in the interest of the public. Obviously, this formulation is more than vague. Are shopping malls of public interest? Most decision seem to be more than arbitrary.
Image:  http://www.metro.co.uk/news/43975-china-struggle-house-is-demolished 
However, there have been several cases of resistance during the last years. A couple from Chongqing (in the South West of China) became famous due to their resistance. They refused to make way for a new mall. Developers cut their power and water and in the end their house stood isolated in the middle of a hugh (10 meter deep) pit and became one of the first so-called nail-houses. The owners broke into the construction site, reoccupied it, and flew a Chinese flag on top. The owners turned down an offer of 3.5 million yuan (US$453,000), but eventually settled with the developers in 2007.
Another extreme example of resistance took place in 2012 in Zhaotong, a small city in China's remote Yunnan province. A depaired woman distraught about the planned demolition, set off a bomb during a meeting with local officials. 

One of the most crucial topics in Chinese contemporary art scene is the uncertain future of its art villages. 
Questionable mass evictions and demolitions began in November 2009 in the art zones of Beijing’s northeastern Chaoyang district. More than 10 art zones in Chaoyang district have received eviction notices from property developers, which would displace at least 1000 artists.
In December, artists in Beijing’s 008 Art Zone and Zhengyang Creative Art Zone were given one month to vacate their studios before demolition. There has been massive (artistical) protest. Artists organised performances and other actions.
008 Arts District demolition
Bleeding wall of artist Liu Yi's studio, 008 Art Zone
Image: http://places.designobserver.com/feature/caochangdi-and-the-demolition-of-beijing-art-villages/33678/
In the course of the protest, artist Wu Yuren, was incarcerated and had to face a trial and up to three years in prison. On questionable charges, he was freed after 10 months. 
In January 2010 the whole district was bulldozed as planned.

In her essay "Art Village: A Year in Caochangdi", An Xiao Mina describes the demolition of the area of Caochangdi, an area on the outskirts of Beijing. (  ). The so-called "art village" became famous since the well-known artist Ai Weiwei had moved to the district. An Xiao Mina writes about RongRong and his wife inri, founders of the Three Shadows Photography Centre. When they received the message about the prospective demolition, they were planning the first annual PhotoSpring art festival. Together with an artist and a curator they decided to use the festival as a platform. They held a forum and organised an online petition.
"In preparation for PhotoSpring, the artists had created a map of village galleries, which they could now use to highlight the district’s economic and cultural development and make a case for survival. This was a strategic move. Historically, the Chinese Communist Party has placed a high value on creative fields." (An Xiao Mina). 
In May 2011 the residents received an official notice that the village would not be demolished.
(An Xiao Mina's article appeared in Places Journal).