The so called utopia of CIVIC

The so called utopia of CIVIC

CIVIC at Basel Academy of Art and Design FHNW

January 18, 2024
The so called utopia of CIVIC
Review 2023 by CIVIC at Basel Academy of Art and Design FHNW
CIVIC at Basel Academy of Art and Design FHNW
Freilager-Platz 1
CH-4142 Basel

Two years have passed since CIVIC at Basel Academy of Art and Design FHNW was inaugurated, situated in a new urban area at Dreispitz, next to the Freilager tram stop, with a neon sign above the door. Aimed at becoming more than a former foyer, it gradually turned into a social infrastructure—our center, where everybody can join.

The book The so-called Utopia of the Center Beaubourg, an artistic interpretation by the Swiss artist Luca Frei, reminds me in some aspects of the story of CIVIC. The Center Beaubourg flirts with the institution, its formats and structures, as we know it. In the book the Centre Pompidou is built as the first multi-cultural center in the former working class area of Beaubourg. That part is reality. Alongside a large underground space for culture extends down underneath the building. It is not validated by institutional standards but proposed by the people that use the space for work and creation. That part is fiction.

What strikes me is that the space under the Centre Pompidou was not solemnly dedicated to representation, but to “a house of only creators, without a fixed definition of culture.” The people who stayed and returned to it believed in motorbiking, physics, or sleeping as a form of culture as much as playing a brass instrument painting or working with clay. The most ordinary activities were considered as creative as any artistic creation. Characterized by not reinforcing an existing system that defines what “good” or “bad” quality is, this alternative space enabled a system for people to have courage to dare. Down there people all greeted each other and everyone appreciated a welcoming smile or a sign of recognition. Instead of always being on the other side complaining that institutions should change, the Beaubourg offered change for those who wanted to use it. What the book makes clear is that “we are desperately obsessed with changing structures, with breaking molds, but we don’t want to understand that it is necessary that we crush our rigidity first”. A place with a lack of structure has its flaws, it can be messy, but it is sincere and welcoming. People come to dedicate themselves to their own cultural production and to take their own responsibility for it. 

And that’s also our story…down here, in the ground floor of the seven story high-rise building of the Basel Academy of Art and Design FHNW, CIVIC isn’t aiming for austerity in the form of a white cube space. CIVIC is not pretending to define the functions of this space, as it’s often done in many spaces for learning, resting, sleeping or dancing. Rather it is defined by activities and fantasies, and various modes of expression. It proposes a culture that strives for participation, contribution and exchange. Here people live the idea of conviviality, interact creatively and autonomously with each other and enjoy the infrastructures of their environment to satisfy their own needs. 

In Beaubourg there is a sign in the entry area that reads: “The starting point of every search for a new culture is to leave it in the hands of the interested”. At CIVIC The motto “CIVIC is what you make of it” was defined by all the people at the first meeting two years ago. It turned into reality: students, researchers, employees and also the public—initiated or joined interventions, readings, discussions, performances, workshops, exhibitions and gatherings. They organised markets, bookshops, fashion shows, counseling sessions, money-free exchange, concerts and sleepovers. At CIVIC everyone is free to do so, or not to. 

Text by Matylda Krzykowski, “so-called” Artistic Lead of CIVIC.

All quotes: Frei, Luca: The so-called Utopia of the center beaubourg: an interpretation, Book Works London, Casco, Office for Art, Design and Theory, Utrecht, 2007.

*Images above: (1) Enter under the neon sign: CIVIC at high-rise building of Basel Academy of Art and Design FHNW, Basel/Münchenstein, Dreispitz, Tram-Stop: Freilager. (2) CIVIC Billboard—an anonymous competition to design a motif of an outdoor mega poster with the theme “How do we want to be in touch?”—first winner: Linus Weber. (3) Day Dance 3—with DJ El_vira initiated by CIVIC, HEK House of Electronic Arts Basel and the student body of HGK Basel. (4) Sugar & Spice (but not) Everything Nice—a cozy QueerFeminist gathering by Gabriela Aquije, Jana Arndt and Melanie Schwarz. (5) WIR-R-MARKT performance. (6) Next Generation 2023—A kiosk for writing letters by students Lena Rollwage and Sara Thut. (7) Tender Reading Training with Sascha Rijkeboer—a programme exploring the body in literature by Ariane Koch and Laura Läupi in collaboration with CoCreate, Nicolaj van der Meulen. (8) An exhibition translating social issues and individual concerns into moving posters by students Selina Baud, Larissa Haenggli, Noah Hertzog, Kateryna Isaikova, Sinja Küttel, Jill Limacher, Fabian Maloku, Marc Müller, Sweesan Paskaran, Alina Prokopchuk, Robin Steiner, Andri Stoisser, Jael Sulger. Lecturer Dirk Koy. (9) The Sleepover—a spatial experiment, a model of togetherness by a group of students: Johanna Baum, Gabriela Bertin, Ambre Bork, Andrea Glanzmann, Patrick Heegewald, Luca Häfeli, Jasmine Jetzer, Arbion Hamdiu, Lisanna Keller, Marina Klein-Hietpas, Judy Kessba, Leandra Fischer, Agnes Leclaire, Kateryna Levina, Vera Junz, Laura Nick, Basil Mayer, Selva Meyer, Robin Steiner, Lea Schenker, Sofiia Shymanska, Nadine Studer, Alexia Thomas, Luana Umeh, Max Umeh. Special Thanks to Radiohr!, Graphic Design by Judy Kessba, Lea Schenker. (10) WIR-R-MARKET concerts, rehearsal of student Isabelle Jossi.

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January 18, 2024

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