Lab | Log

Spurse at the Lab: Adventures in the Interspecies Commons

Editor’s Note: The research and design collaborative spurse formed an ongoing and imaginative presence at the BMW Guggenheim Lab New York. We asked frequent spurse participant Gil Lopez to take a look back at highlights of the collaborative’s many sessions. Here is Gil’s report:

Participants at last fall’s BMW Guggenheim Lab covered a lot of ground. With nearly 190 events, including lectures, documentaries, workshops, and meditation sessions, the Lab was a cornucopia of ideas and inspiration. Throughout it all, the collective known as spurse provided an entangling element that brought Lab participants together for LiveFeeds twice each week. This amounted to a mind-blowing 22 sessions that one regular described as “life changing.” These LiveFeeds consisted of interactive FeedBack workshops at the Lab each Wednesday and FieldWork events on Fridays, often conducted elsewhere in the city. I attended nearly all of these spurse events, but the FieldWork we conducted in Hunts Point, at Zuccotti Park, and in the area immediately surrounding the lab resonate with me the most.

"Fieldwork 2: Co-opting Place," Hunts Point, August 12, 2011

Early in the 11-week series we ventured to Hunts Point, Bronx. The details were left vague in order to keep participants from formulating preconceived notions, and this allowed us to experience the place in unexpected ways. Even still, some attendees expected a tour of the area’s produce cooperative, fish market, or one of the many other facilities that make up the largest industrialized food processing, packaging, and distribution center in the world. Despite being in the middle of all this, we were instead given the mission of foraging for wild edibles along an adjacent set of railroad tracks. As we foraged we realized that we were participating in an interspecies commons along with the plants and soil ecology. The expedition allowed us to progressively rethink our food system and land uses, which led to the epiphany that the act of eating can be a revolutionary act.

"Fieldwork 7: Migrations and Immigrations—Mapping Movements and Power," September 16, 2011

Another FieldWork session led participants on a scavenger hunt of sorts around the Lower East Side. We broke into teams and discovered items that are not native to the neighborhood, including honeybees, starlings, Japanese knotweed and E. coli. This exercise framed a discussion about migration and power in a way that led to uncommon interpretations of these issues. The tactic worked, and the deep, rich discussion amongst the hodgepodge of strangers in attendance that day was something amazing.

One of the final FieldWork assignments involved a trip to Zuccotti Park, where the Occupy Wall Street movement was just taking root. We interviewed Occupiers and gently introduced the “Eight Principles for Managing a Commons” posited by Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom, which we had discussed two days earlier at the Lab during the FeedBack session. I found this FieldWork to be profound for three reasons: first, I felt that spurse had devised an action that enriched the movement in a positive and compelling manner. Second, in many ways, spurse’s LiveFeeds had been cultivating similar ideas within the BMW Guggenheim Lab. The thing that seemed the most prophetic was that the subversive discussion spurse had introduced around the topic of the commons began in week one of the Lab, a full month and a half before the Occupation of Zuccotti Park, so this FieldWork seemed to bring the discussion from the realm of thought to that of reality.

  • Erik Baard

    Very cool and I’m glad you introduced Olstrom’s work! It’s clear that her insights weren’t fully adopted but the irony of having “Tragedy of the Commons” played out as street theater before Wall Streeters is too cruel to dwell on too much.