More than just a showcase of cultural and artistic initiatives that aim at a tangible impact on changing urban life, A Life in Common (made with Juan Esteban Sandoval at Cittedellarte / Fondazione Pistoletto) has been a months-long investigation into the motives and capacities of actors that have brought about such change in principle fields like citizenship, housing or politics. An investigation that has developed into a dense exchange with seven of them, like the Van Abbemuseum (Eindhoven), Stroom Den Haag (The Hague), MACAO (Milano), AAA (Paris), but also hacktivist-democracy pioneers like Smári McCarthy and The Citizens Foundation (Reykjavík). How do we read their – at times remarkably far-reaching – engagement?


In less than five years time, since the 2008 economic crisis took effect, European societies have been part of a creeping but dramatic change, which has started showing a lasting effect on the socio-economic realities, and the future ambitions within these societies. Although many times it has been mentioned that the world will look different after this crisis, it remains unclear to which respect exactly. Nevertheless, an urge to act has been taken up by a growing number of cultural organizations and initiatives. Not much spoken of, it is a new responsibility assumed.

A Life in Common looks at seven of such positions through projects or initiatives that have had a tangible impact on key aspects of urban life, and examines some of the breath-taking, daring or sometimes just provokingly pragmatic ways in which art and culture can re-define our city, in terms of how we live (housing), how we produce (economy), the resources we have at hand (food, energy, water…), the new civitas (citizens, migration), and the politics of the city (collective decision making) among others. We have started a dialogue with them that often quickly touched upon what could be seen as existential issues at the base of their being and working.

Featured are Be(com)ing Dutch (Van Abbe Museum, Eindhoven), Pravo na Grad (Right to the City, Zagreb), Haagse Havens (STROOM Den Haag, The Hague), Macao (Milan), Row Houses Community Development Corporation (Houston), R-Urban (AAA, Paris) and The Shadow City (Smári McCarthy & The Citizens Foundation, Reykjavík). Each of them is show in a specific environment, with a large-scale billboard unveiling the position they take, while additional information gives access to the specific project or an action that makes this position perceivable. All of it is made with materials reclaimed from more than 10 years of exhibitions at Cittadellarte – a stock that now has been brought to new life.

In the exhibition, the Hub takes a special position. The Hub, first of all, is the meeting space around which the symposium of A Life in Common is taking place. The Hub carries two recent examples of Cittadellarte’s involvement in setting the urban agenda: the urban biennial Evento 2011 in Bordeaux, and Cittadellarte’s third year in line involvement in re-imagining Sanremo’s dilapidated and socially complex historic core La Pigna. The Hub also contains one remarkable architectural element: pieces of the WikiHouse, an open source construction set, recognizable as the carefully crafted wooden frames in the Hub’s structure. Here one of the WikiHouse prototypes has been taken – and taken apart, to support the Hub’s structure.

A Life in Common does not just highlight the motives and potential of this commitment, but also looks at some of the questions that go hand in hand with this: are we witnessing here a short-term patching of the inconsistencies of our societies, or are we looking at a long-term redefinition of what art and cultural operators are involved with and equally, how far can their capacity in this respect reach?

  • [team ] STEALTH.unlimited (Ana Džokić and Marc Neelen) and Juan Esteban Sandoval, with assistance of Elisabetta Rattalino
  • [timeline ] January – September 2012, exhibition 5 October 2012 – 01 January 2013
  • [background ] A Life in Common has been initiated on invitation of Cittadellarte / Fondazione Pistoletto as part of a year-long exchange around the future positioning of this center for socially responsible artistic activities.