Pillaging of space

Leading up to our Speak Easy art project as part of the Festival of Live Art this Sunday at the Footscray Community Arts Centre, sociocreative trust members Melissa Delaney and Beck Pope spent some time in conversation on gentrification, which will be one of the provocations at Speak Easy.

Here is some of that conversation:

MD:  I’ve been thinking this weekend about the complexities of ‘gentrification’ and researching what it means. What are some of your own experiences with gentrification? 

BP: I agree, it is a complex subject. For me, it feels very clunky and contradictory to think about because it is inevitable that I will be or have been involved in gentrification in some way. But I do believe to be able to think about gentrification is a privilege unto itself. I would say I am at the lower end of the middle-class spectrum and I grew up with hard-working, working class parents. My experience of gentrification to date is less about physical displacement and more about the process of and access to opportunities: trying to rid myself of the constant striving to get ahead; to land a break; to be free of struggle.

I have never forgotten about an article I read in a local newspaper a few years ago about the Atherton Gardens Commission housing in Fitzroy. Once again, the Government at the time was floating the idea of demolishing them and building expensive apartments. I remember one man who was interviewed for the article who was in a white collar profession questioned why those people [in the commission flats] were allowed views of the city skyline and he couldn’t have access to them [yet]. I found the sentiment of his question crass and very symbolic. I thought to myself why can’t those people have access to city views? Why 

don’t they deserve it? Why does money and status determine the view you have from your window? Imagine if it was determined by your moral compass.

BP: It bothers me that gentrification seems to be void of any morality and seems to promote monoculture. The things that enrich [my] life: diversity, culture, creativity, conversation seem to die when gentrification sets in or do you think that it is just the initial phase of gentrification and those elements come back to life after a while?

MD: I think my problem with the idea of ‘gentrification’ is around that traditional corporate pillaging of space with little disregard to impact other than the big win which is all around monetary value. I am challenged by the idea that one person has more value over another simply because of where they are placed in the social strata. Who gets to make the decisions and have a voice and traverse society as they please? This challenges me.

BP: Sorry to state the obvious but gentrification is very much a man made concept. The premise of re-investing in a so called run-down area meant there was de-investment in that same area to begin with, what are your thoughts on this?

MD: There are some really lovely developments coming out of Detroit and Chicago, Austin and other parts of decaying America. This could be considered ‘gentrification’ in that it is taking derelict neighbourhoods and bringing them back to humanity through engagement with art, craft, urban greening initiatives. This is very much a grass roots level thing though and I think this is where the successes lie. There is something noble about it, about individuals taking something that has been discarded by the masses and bringing fresh life into it. More out of necessity but creating a flow on effect.

MD:  Another idea around this theme is around ‘personal gentrification’. Things like the wellness movement and how lots of people in the west steeped in privilege gentrify themselves. Around this idea of self-improvement, that there are things wrong with them that need to be upgraded. the fine tuning of their psyches and physical selves and how this matches the external environment and what we see around us and be seen as. Is this something you are conscious of also? and what are some of your thoughts around this?

BP:  I am intrigued by this notion of ‘personal gentrification’, is it a real thing? Going back to the question I raised earlier about morals, it seems ironic that the above two words put together seem to put the morality back into gentrification, suddenly the individual has some onus again. This concept to me sounds hardcore but if anchored by consciousness, personal wellness and spirituality it could assist people to make more ethical and informed decisions. Yes, I would say I am conscious of this want to self-gentrify and i wonder what non-western cultures would call this process.

After reflecting on gentrification on its own, when I put personal in front of the word I immediately imagine myself as a building, I think this is a very powerful metaphor to use when approaching the topic of gentrification. Questioning how we would go about self-renewal could be a template on how we approach the idea of gentrification which impact so many more lives, communities, culture and the commitment to a place.

MD: Place is something important to me. you know, that sense of belonging and home. It’s so many different locations and physical sites. That the more i delve into meditation and yoga it becomes an internalised thing. What do you see as your sense of place in the world? 

BP: I’m not much of a consumer of things but I think your home place, work place and the places you visit all create this vision of your place in the world. Anything outside of this generally doesn’t matter unless you want to be in a different place. But I think you hit the nail on the head when you talk about place can become an internalised thing. The ultimate place for me is always within. I try to create an inner place that looks and feels a certain way, something along the lines of a perfect oasis. I want to experience the kind of living that I can imagine only spiritual leaders must experience. To find a place within where you can go for total peace and quiet and unshackle yourself from the physical realm must be sublime.

The beauty about having an inner place of retreat means you are constantly exploring and discovering. To have a beautiful home and be surrounded by beautiful objects or nature is an important extension of your inner world.

BP: I think there is a common thread running through our conversation that is to own one’s own personal and spiritual capacity to transcend some really big topics. The state of the environment and my role in it is one such topic. Most of the time, I feel so overwhelmed about how disconnected I am from nature and no matter how hard i try to help the situation most of my activities and products I consume can be traced but to some environmental devastation. Do you feel overwhelmed and if yes, how do you deal?

Words by Melissa Delaney and Beck Pope, image by Beck.