Metelkova is an area in the centre of Ljubljana that was originally a military barracks, then was squatted in the early 90s when the Yugoslav army pulled out after Slovenia declared independence, and is now full of social centres, workshops and gig venues. (And a hostel where I stayed overnight before crossing the border to Klagenfurt for work).
The most famous area like this is Christiania in Copenhagen. I was very disappointed with Christiania when I visited last year. I liked some of the buildings there, but the central market area was sleazy and tacky and there was an aggressive atmosphere, and the place it most honestly reminded me of was the red light district in Amsterdam. Maybe its glory days were in the 60s and 70s when it was founded.
Metelkova is a different proposition. It had a friendly and relaxed attitude, and I never felt any qualms about wandering round by myself, an atmosphere probably helped by the fact that the city government takes a generally positive attitude to its existence. They still don’t pay any rent, but no-one seems to care. It was clean and pleasant- people seemed to respect the communal space.
I’ve split the article up into four sections- my criticisms of radical spaces and scenes I’ve known, of the fashion industry, and of the current commercial craft revival, and then at the end explaining the ways I think doing textile crafts can be radical. In writing the article, I was specifically thinking of crafts such as sewing and knitting, both because they are things I do, and also because they are stereotypically done by women and often dismissed as silly and frivolous, but a lot of the points can apply to any handicraft. As well as dealing with the topic of crafts, it’s really more of a kind of wander round my thoughts about “radical”. The section on crafts is actually the shortest, but I’ve used it as the overall framing device. I’ll probably manage to piss off both the cliquey punx and the craft blogger people with this, but never mind.
To make myself clearer, I’m specifically defining “radical” here as freeing people from the oppressions and inequalities of mainstream capitalist society. It’s no good claiming a place, group, behaviour or people are “radical” if they just continue the racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist or classist (and every other bad -ist) structures of the rest of society. It’s also no good calling something “anarchist” or “non-hierarchical” if there’s just a different unspoken hierarchy at play (that no-one is allowed to talk about).
The incredibly depressing political climate of the last few years, with its lurch to the extreme right and increased support for oppression and exploitation makes genuine radical spaces more important than ever, but also means that it’s important to not treat the whole thing as a silly status or fashion game.
Today is the UK election, and while I dearly hope we get rid of the Tories and all their terrible policies tomorrow, I also have something exciting to announce.
For quite a while now, I’ve been part of the DIY Space for London co-op, working to open a non-profit, co-operatively run accessible music, art and general creativity & activism venue in London along the lines of Wharf Chambers in Leeds. Operating in London has raised its own unique challenges. Most projects of this nature in other places can find a building and have trouble raising the money. We had the opposite problem- we had an incredible amount of goodwill, and people kept giving us money, but we had trouble spending it. London is in the middle of an uncontrollable property boom, and we had immense trouble finding anywhere suitable. Places went immediately, had residential neighbours or plans to build flats in unsuitable places that would immediately result in noise complaints, had legal issues or wanted ridiculously huge deposits.
A little while ago we found a large industrial unit in SE London, just off the Old Kent Road (the cheapest Monopoly square in the UK edition). It’s ideal, being in an affordable area that isn’t in the middle of nowhere, having no residential neighbours, and being essentially a blank slate for us to do as we like with. The co-op have sat on the news until today though, because we had to wait until all the bureaucracy and legal aspects were handled, and we had the keys. Today we got the keys, so DIY Space for London is going to become a reality this summer. The blank slate aspect though means that we will need a lot of help with fitting it out before opening up. If you’re in London and want to help out, see the post on the website here for more details.
(crowd at Brighton Zinefest 2010)
For 3 years I was part of the group that ran the Brighton Zinefest. We started just with the idea it would be fun to have a zine event in Brighton and managed to build a successful and fun event. Sadly we don’t run it any more because some of the original organisers live in Brighton any more, the others were too busy, and nobody new appeared to take over, and so it just wasn’t practical to hold another.