This article will be quite different than all the others on my blog, I first wrote it for uni so it’ll be more from an historical point of view than a tourist one. However, I truly loved doing it and as it’s travel and art related, I figured it would be interesting to share it all with you guys, if you like to know more about the history of these places! So, The Alternative Movements includes social movements gravitating around squats and ecologist and pacifist movements. They have in common to privilege non-violent forms of action of civil disobedience as part of a citizen approach and a self-management culture.
It can be seen that these social movements are often led by individuals who are dissatisfied with nowadays society, and so they voluntarily set themselves aside from this consumer society in order to create their own community dictated by norms corresponding to their values. They seek their fulfilment in deliberately simpler and more natural ways of life, which is why, at the beginning, they usually chose to settle far from the cities.
So it started especially in the USA, where the first communities “back to nature” were founded. The renewed interest in pagan animist cults (which is the belief in a spirit or vital force that animates human beings, objects but also natural elements) influenced the movement a lot. So basically, they were looking for a new spirituality.
The atypical functioning of alternative communities allows the massive development of art of any kind… I want to talk about two amazing places that I’ve been to during my travels and that have literally blown my mind away: Freetown Christiania in Copenhagen & 59 Rivoli in Paris.
Have you ever been to Freetown Christiania in Copenhagen? Or heard of it? It’s a commune that has self-proclaimed itself free. So, according to them, they does not belong to Denmark or even to the European Union. When you leave the district there is even a “You’re now entering the EU” sign, so it’s really an intentionally self-managed community. The idea is really that each individual has to participate in the proper functioning of the community.
It was created by Viktor Essmann in September 1971 with a group of squatters, unemployed and hippies. There have been quite a few alternative communities in Europe but it is one of the few libertarian communities that is still active in Northern Europe. It is more and more visited by tourists, but not as much as other neighbourhoods such as Camden (my actual favourite place on earth! Check out my video to see what it looks like) but it remains a neighbourhood that still lives in a certain simplicity and poverty ; about 1000 people are still living there all year, they have their own money, cultural activities, sports, bars,… like a normal city but according to its own rules. Art represents a big part of the essence of the district, literally all the buildings are painted; Well, the photos below speak for themselves.
Christiania created its own flag, with three yellow dots on an orange background representing the points of the three “i” of Christiania. They have a particular interest in Oriental practices, yoga, and all kinds of substances capable of producing altered states of consciousness, which is why the history of the community has often been agitated. The sale of cannabis has often been controversial because it is still practiced outdoors. The police and the government repeatedly threatened to destroy the neighbourhood if the trade continued, so hard drugs have thus been formally prohibited (they were threatening the survival of the community anyways) but the sale of cannabis is still tolerated by the police in the “Pusher Street” only.
Christiania has only 9 laws that prohibit weapons, violence, cars, bullet-proof vests, the sale of fireworks and theft, because there is no private property in fact, all houses belong to the community.
59 Rivoli is another cultural alternative. They wanted to allow a more democratic access to the creation, both for artists often removed from the system and who could find there a way to exist in front of the audience, and also for the public that accesses free living art (by “living art”, I mean not only the art separated from their means of production, as in museums).
This squat was born in 1999 thanks to 3 men who have invested the walls of a building abandoned by the French State. Their mission, which attracted a dozen other artists, was to rehabilitate the place found in state of dump. The purpose of this operation was threefold: resuscitate an uncultivated place, allow artists to create, to have a place to live and to exhibit, and the last but not the least : prove the merits of an alternative cultural policy.
They have almost been expelled several times, but the phenomenon “squart” (contraction of squat and art) has been highly publicized which has forced the government and the Minister of Culture to look at it differently. With 40,000 visitors in one year, the squat became the 3rd most visited Center of Contemporary Art in Paris.
Since then, the goal of this cosmopolitan place has not changed, it allows the visitor to follow the process of creation, have the opportunity to meet the artist, or even to see him paint live and to find himself in the place where the work itself was created, so all this creates a real closeness between contemporary art and the audience.
And you, do you know any alternative place that have blown your mind away ?