Common Grounds: Story / Heritage
6 March 2020

At the core of any commoning practice is a shared resource. Land is often considered to be the most explicit or tangible example. Across the world you can find commons – expressed in different languages – that operate on the basis of collective management, cultivation, and maintenance of land. In the practice of such commons, shared experiences and stories are key to their survival.

Common Grounds is a two-fold exhibition program taking place over the Spring and Autumn seasons in 2020 that commits to specific places as exemplary sites of commoning. From two grounded locations – a space at Lange Nieuwstraat 7 and Terwijde Farmhouse in Leidsche Rijn –, Casco Art Institute explores questions of heritage, environment, relations, resources, and future to cultivate a tangible, living commons. These commons can be understood as common grounds for collective use, artistic exploration, and experiments into existing and new forms of living and working together.

The first iteration entitled Common Grounds: Story / Heritage is presented by Casco Art Institute and FOTODOK, who have been sharing the Lange Nieuwstraat 7 address since 2014. Both institutions inhabit a building overlooking the Abraham Dolehof, a hidden oasis in the Utrecht Museum Quarter whose ground is extended below to the old canal. We share this site with other conscious and unconscious commoners of the Abraham Dolehof, including small businesses, artists in their studio, residential neighbors, a 165-year-old platanus tree and perhaps the ghosts from the time before we came here.

We ask now; who are the future commoners? This exhibition program is an open invitation to join us at Casco and FOTODOK in experiencing the whole building and its surroundings and contribute to a story made out of many stories informed by historical research, relationships, imagination, and sense of the place. We would also love for you to share your interest and vision in the cohabitation of this site by visiting and contributing to the exhibition and the public program.

The exhibition grows with several chapters joined by various contributors and storytellers. Chapter 1 focuses on the history of the building and courtyard as inspired by the architecture, city archive, and past commissioned works relating to its past. Chapter 2 evokes memories from current and past inhabitants of Abraham Dolehof to stitch together stories to understand the character and relationship of this place. Chapters 3 and 4 see current and future users of the building to consider what might be its future use.

The 2020 Autumn exhibition program will continue with Common Grounds: Song / Value (from 12 September to 15 November 2020), extending to Leidsche Rijn as another site for commoning.

Over Common Grounds: Story / Heritage

De kern van elke commons praktijk is een gedeelde bron. Land wordt vaak gezien als een expliciet en tastbaar voorbeeld hiervan. Over heel de wereld vind je commons – uitgedrukt in verschillende talen – die opereren op basis van collectief beheer, cultivatie en onderhoud van een stuk land. De fundering voor deze commons praktijken zijn gedeelde ervaringen en verhalen.

Common Grounds is een tentoonstellingsprogramma dat plaatsvindt in twee delen in het voorjaar en het najaar van 2020. Het programma wijdt zich aan specifieke plaatsen als voorbeelden van commons. Vanuit twee gegronde locaties – een ruimte aan de Lange Nieuwstraat 7 en boerderij Terwijde in Leidsche Rijn – onderzoekt Casco Art Institute vragen rondom erfgoed, omgevingen, relaties, bronnen en toekomsten om zo tastbare, levendige commons te cultiveren. Deze commons kunnen gezien worden als common grounds voor collectief gebruik, artistiek onderzoek naar en experimenten met bestaande
en nieuwe vormen van samenleven en werken.

De eerste iteratie, Common Grounds: Story / Heritage wordt gepresenteerd door Casco Art Institute en FOTODOK. Deze organisaties delen sinds 2014 een pand aan de Lange Nieuwstraat 7 dat uitkijkt over het Abraham Dolehof, een verstopte oase van rust in het Utrechtse Museumkwartier dat zich ondergronds uitstrekt tot aan het oude kanaal. We delen deze plek met andere bewuste en onbewuste commoners van het Abraham Dolehof, waaronder kleine bedrijven, kunstenaars in hun studio's, buren, een 165 jaar oude plataan en misschien zelfs de geesten van de bewoners van voor onze tijd.

We vragen nu; wie zijn de toekomstige commoners? Dit tentoonstellingsprogramma is een open uitnodiging om je aan te sluiten bij Casco Art Institute en FOTODOK en samen met ons het hele gebouw en de omgeving te ervaren om zo bij te dragen aan een verhaal bestaande uit vele verhalen gebaseerd op historisch onderzoek, relaties, verbeelding en gevoelens. We horen ook graag jouw visie op de mogelijkheden tot samenleven op deze plek door ons te bezoeken en bij te dragen aan het publieke programma van de tentoonstelling.

Het tentoonstellingsprogramma groeit met verschillende hoofdstukken met kunstenaars die langzaam de ruimte transformeren, vergezeld door verschillende deelnemers en verhalenvertellers. Hoofdstuk 1 legt zich toe op de geschiedenis van het gebouw en de binnenplaats, geïnspireerd door de architectuur, het stadsarchief en in opdracht gemaakt werk over het verleden. Hoofdstuk 2 roept herinneringen op van huidige en voormalige inwoners van het Abraham Dolehof, het weeft verhalen in elkaar om het karakter en de relaties op deze plek te ontaarden. In hoofdstuk 3 en 4 zien we de huidige en toekomstige gebruikers van het gebouw, en vragen we ons af wat de toekomst ons kan brengen.

Het najaarsprogramma 2020 zet Common Grounds voort met Song / Value (gepresenteerd van 12 september tot 15 november 2020) en reikt uit naar Leidsche Rijn als een andere plek voor commoning.


Chapter 3: How Heavy is Time?
June 2020

A new performance by Kanitha Tith marks the beginning of Chapter three, How Heavy is Time? This chapter engages more actively in tools and resources for considering the future use of our building as a site for commoning. As many ask what the structures of art institutions can provide during the pandemic, we take Casco as a case study to focus on the kinds of stories, tools, and proposals that can help us imagine the future of this place of cohabitation and co-management. On our are.na platform, different groups from our ecosystem shares ideas and experiences which we can learn from.

Current resident at Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten in Amsterdam and part of the Anti-Archive film collective in Cambodia, Kanitha Tith’s artistic practice consists of everyday handmade works. She coils and weaves bundles of thin metal wire until they are shaped into a sculpture, following no predetermined design. In a newly conceived performance, Kanitha interweaves this daily artistic practice with the breathing scale of the old tree, another mark of the time, offering a space of sensing and reflecting on the exceptional period of time under the global pandemic. The filming of the performance, in collaboration with filmmaker Davy Chou, is part of the work itself as it will capture the moment, not only through its documentation of reality but by suggesting a narrative and therefore a mise-en-scène.

In solidarity with Black Lives Matter, the current stream of information and resource sharing, and the protest that happened on Friday, 5 June in Utrecht, we did not livestream Kanitha Tith's performance How heavy is time? that was scheduled on Friday, 5 June, 17:00. The performance filmed by Davy Chou instead will be available on our accounts. In place of the livestream and with support from Tith, we dedicated our account to sharing resources and information with regards to the protest in Utrecht (on Friday, 5 June, 18:30 - 20:30 at Jaarbeursplein) the Black Lives Matter movement internationally and specifically in the context of the Netherlands, as well as amplify voices of Black artists and makers.

The performance still took place in the Abraham Dolehof courtyard, as Kanitha’s practice and this performance offers up a space to sense and reflect on the heaviness of time.


Chapter 4: Abraham’s Maze
July 2020

For the final chapter of Common Grounds: Story / Heritage we turn to reflect upon the story itself with a newly commissioned text by Laura Herman and Maarten Mertens.

The preliminary narrative chosen to accompany us on this journey focused on the site of Lange Nieuwstraat 7 (and the historical Abraham Dolehof) and its imaginative possibilities as a site for commoning. Who are the hidden commoners of this place, past, present and in the future, and what could we learn from their stories? Over the course of several chapters since March, perspectives from a wide variety of storytellers gathered to contribute to this emerging sense of place. Each stage of the story also featured artists and writers as main characters (Bart Luneburg, Jumana Emil Abboud, Kanitha Tith, Laura Herman and Maarten Mertens) whose newly commissioned works foregrounded notions of inheritance, storytelling, time, and relationships to place.

Of course, no story would be complete without obstacles or conflict. Soon after the opening of the exhibition Chapter 1: This Creaking Floor and All the Ceilings Below with Bart Lunenburg and co-presented with our neighbours FOTODOK, we were forced to close the physical spaces due to the far-reaching impacts of Covid-19. Continuing with the program online, we turned to the interactive archival platform are.na to provide safekeeping for our collected stories. Here Chapter 2: The irresistible shade of the vine highlighted how stories not only help preserve a sense of (and actual) place but can also save lives through sharing and bearing witness to them. With this in mind, Chapter 3: “How heavy is time?” sought to let go of desires for a linear narrative, opening up the main story and setting to the complexities of the present, which continue to be both urgent and ongoing. We looked to what stories, tools and resources could help gather commons-based approaches for interpreting and facing the challenges of the present. During this time, the global pandemic gave way to a rupture of enormous awareness and structural change, following the recent popular uprisings against police-violence in the United States, The Netherlands, and abroad, and the surge of support for the movement for Black lives internationally. We learned that mutual aid, collective support and strategic planning, artworks and written word, must accompany us through the long haul of this movement.

If, at this point, by way of a kind of afterword, we reflect upon this process and the “quality of our narrative,” we might find that desires to tell a common and common-ing story of this place revealed gaps and uncertainty, relationships that were “uncommon” too, and some characters that were present don’t show up in the plot. The nonlinear reality of time and “inheritance” as it relates to our understandings of place and what you are given, revealed the importance of submitting ourselves to inevitable changes in the narrative. At the start of the year, before Common Grounds: Story / Heritage, we read Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower in our celebrated ReadingRoom, organized with Terra Critica. This beloved work of science fiction taught us that “All that you touch. You Change. All that you Change Changes you. The only lasting truth is Change. God is Change.”

As we arrive at the last chapter of our adaptive exhibition program, we return to the courtyard of our shared space in Utrecht. At the Abraham Dolehof we hear from a final character in the story, a voice previously hidden. Abraham’s Doolhof (Abraham’s Maze) by curator and writer Laura Herman and writer and dramatist Maarten Mertens is a story delivered in the form of a dialogue between the Dolehof, the courtyard, and a clever wanderer, who helps the Dolehof discover a sense of its self. The courtyard is not only an (un)common ground, but also a maze in which different realities collide.