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Compared to other cities, Brussels has been “spared” from a centralized, large-scale process of neoliberal urban development, partly because of the involuntary obstruction caused by its complex constitution and identity. But today we seem to be heading for deep water. With other cities becoming saturated and the artistic scene in Brussels attracting large numbers of people and considerable attention, the city hall is searching for a way to put Brussels on the international map, mimicking other cities’ narratives, which are mainly based on tourism, comfort, and control. (How) can Brussels hold on to and use its elusive locality? This brings us to the swamp, the concrete and geological base upon which Brussel/Bruxelles (etymological origin: Broekzele—broek = “marsh” + zele = “thatching, settlement”) is built.

Can the swamp, both geographically and metaphorically, help us to analyze the political complexity and the ways in which this is becoming more and more repressed? Could we deploy our idea of the swamp as toxic and draining—an intensification of complexity, contingency, or liquidity—as a tool of resilience to obstruct centralized gentrification and neoliberal city developments? Can the swamp be used as a productive field of interpretation for imagining different heterotopic and symbiotic futures? Or are we, in fact, ourselves gentrifying and exploiting (the idea of) the swamp by appropriating and romanticizing it? During this informal swamp gathering, both lecturers and audience participated on a floor piece created by artist Naïmé Perrette to collectively sink into the underground and touch upon the different layers of the swamp.

Researcher and activist Rozalinda Borcila (US) joined via Skype to talk about her experiences and research in both Miami and Chicago on the capitalization of the swamp and the consequences this has for the indigenous population. Philosopher Kristupas Sabolius talked about the swamp as a milieu providing a framework for imagining alternative futures, as opposed to the utopian fantasies of islands, and focused on the wetlands of Venice. Finally, the gathering concentrated on the geographical history of the Brussels wetlands, as well as the present situation and its intertwinement with the political constitution, with contributions from artists and researchers, each representing a different angle, approach, and discipline.
Ingrid Vranken (FoAM), Sepideh Ardalani (Massia Officinale), and Mihaela Brebenel (Winchester School of Art) explored possible ways of relating to the swamp from feminist, postcolonial, and botanical perspectives. They shared a recipe for a potion that allows us to communicate with the spirit of the swamp. Its ingredients and cooking instructions guide us through the temporality of the swamp, its unmappable territory and the swamp’s ability to challenge binary thinking. Philosopher Thomas Decreus related the swamp to anarchist approaches. Kobe Mathys and Christophe Piette drew on the experience gained in their collective Zenne Garden in Anderlecht. Sofie Van Bruystegem of City Mine(d) provided insights into her project Eggevoort Friche, focusing both on collective water experiments at the foot of the European Parliament, which depicts the city’s political complexity and the hierarchy of governmental levels in a concrete manner, and on the difficulties the metaphor of the wetlands entails—also for artistic and activist practices. Finally, Fabio Vanin and Marco Ranzato (Latitude) addressed the revaluation and physical reconstitution of the water in Brussels. This debate often occurs in a romantic context based on the idea of making the water visible again as a tool for making the city more likeable and gentler. They addressed this issue from a social perspective: What would “showing the water” in the lower parts of Brussels entail in symbolic/social/political terms?
Guy Gypens (director Kaaitheater) hosted the gathering.


The video and essay Underlying are part of Rozalinda Borcilă’s experimental art research that explores the governance of climate change and rising sea levels in Miami. They are based on a seminar that coupled discursive pathways with field trips or “learning walks”—a situated, embodied, and relational modality—to consider how the financial logic of “climate resiliency” is connected with enduring histories of racialization and the ongoing process of inscribing settler colonial jurisdictions on native (wet)lands. The text describes some of the analytical and theoretical explorations that took place in the seminar, while the video offers a glimpse of the embodied part of the research by documenting a few group field trips charting a pathway from west to east, between the ocean and the hemmed-in wetlands—from the infrastructures of informational networks to hydraulic pumps against saltwater intrusion, sites of public “Indianness,” logistics zones, limestone mines, and prisons. In Underlying, Borcila will interweave the theoretical and embodied modalities to offer a glimpse of an emerging analytics.

underlying, a dérive-ative: sea rise and settler futurities is part of the ongoing interventions which take place from Oct 9 till Oct 13 2018 in the framework of the new local.

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