• Meredith Degyanski Occupation! 

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    Posted: 2 June 2020

    Occupation does not only refer to the usage of physical space. It means using space for protest or as an instrument for activism and change on a personal and societal level. One might also say “I am occupied”, which either refers to an activity like work and leisure or can also mean being occupied by thinking about something. No matter if we talk about physical space, headspace or availability, we are constantly the occupier and the occupied, consciously and unconsciously.

    We have been calling out to individuals from a range of backgrounds to confront Baltan Laboratories with their occupation. On a regular basis, occupants approach Baltan community manager to negotiate for the use of space, but also network and knowledge. What can Baltan, as a cross-disciplinary research space, gain in exchange for what it offers?

    By now, the initiative Occupy Baltan has grown into an organic word-of-mouth community, where we explore and challenge each other to discuss and organise ideas based on current occupations.

    In the coming weeks, we will introduce you our occupants. This time you get to know Meredith Degyanski and the Survival Club, who even though they can't be in Eindhoven physically, know very well how to occupy.

    In May 2019, Survival Club got together as part of an artist residency with an artist-run organization called Platform based in Vasa, Finland. I (Meredith) was visiting from the USA and met Viktor, Zarah, and Daniel at Föregångarna (FG) which is a place in Vasa that helps young adults like ourselves get “our feet back on the ground”.
    We got together originally to think about all the “shitty things” happening in the world.

    Shitty things like how our cell phones are killing insects and even the people who are mining for the minerals to make them; how children are being separated from their parents and locked in cages at the U.S./Mexico border; how people work jobs to make money but forget why they are working jobs then feel tired and stressed out and have little time to spend with the ones they love or to think outside of that prescribed reality; how the ice is melting in Greenland while other lands overheat; how people are getting addicted to pharmaceutical drugs because they feel like they need to escape daily life because daily life feels like too much; how cars ruin the environment and so do airplanes; how black and brown bodies get killed by people in power across the world all the time; how people are scared of each other and any other species that is not like them; how we all feel like we are losing any sense of hope or possibility when we are constantly hearing the most recent gloom and doom. And it is always recent. We feel isolated and like our society is becoming even more and more individualized, and that individualism is being presented as a good thing, as a freedom, yet we know now more than ever, that being alone is not freedom.

    But beyond all the shitty things, a big part of what we were actually doing was trying to figure out how to survive all this shit. We were trying to think of possibilities and new/other ways of being as survival strategies in their own right. We wanted to figure it out if we could do stuff differently to maybe stop the shitty things or allow them to change course. To get us started, we took our lead from a group of artists (the Situationists) who started dériving around Paris in the 1960s in search of ways of being in urban landscapes that were outside of the patterns of everyday life forced on us by industrial capitalism. It was a movement criticizing the distinction between work and leisure, arguing that if you allowed yourself to dérive in and through space, you could consider new possibilities for how to engage with the everyday.

    We would meet up with little to no plans, and just let our bodies move through space together. No one really led, and no one really followed. We called it “drifting”. We understood that people have and do wander around a lot in life, and think maybe it only exists as a radical act and practice when you are performing it in societies already obsessed with work, efficiency, and productivity. By allowing ourselves to drift, we had time to question all those shitty things and imagine alternatives to them. We walked barefoot around town and by the water trying to get our bodies more firmly connected. Some of us even walked into government offices without shoes on, leaving us wondering if those white-collar workers inside those offices wished they could also put their feet directly on the ground, in the grass, in the sand, on the rocks, in the soil. Is that what getting “our feet back on the ground” actually meant?

    In the beginning we thought about making something tangible, something big. And we did make a small zine with tips on how to survive in Vasa today. But I think the most interesting thing we made was something that we couldn’t have planned from the start at all. We made an embodied practice, a way of being, a lifestyle for living, being, breathing together in and through space. A way of slowing down together. In the Global North especially, the individual is made to fend for themself, to compete, to win, to hoard, to figure it out alone. We ended up practicing what it meant to move like an interconnected unit, to listen to each other without needing to say much. It was an attempt at recommunalizing our modern world. It was huge.

    And so here we are now, Occupying Baltan. We had planned to do this in person - that we would embody the physical practice of being in community with one another building off of last summer - where we could be led by our senses to touch, taste, feel, breath, laugh, sculpt, throw, drift, sneeze, move, lay, meditate, share. But as you all know, COVID-19 has brought all of these shitty things to a head - to a conjuncture - where those in the “modern” worlds of the Global North can no longer ignore the overlapping crises we have all been living in for hundreds of years. It is here now. It is forcing us all to slow down and unfortunately, to be mostly alone.

    Now Survival Club is becoming something else which is ok because it was created to bend and stretch. We are very far from each other and trying to connect. What was so beautiful about Survival Club in person was that there was never any real plan in place. We knew all along that “we would do something”, we just never knew what the something was that we would do until we finished doing it.

    What does it mean to do something? Do you have to go somewhere specific? Produce something you can hold? Make big goals and plans for later? What happens when we don’t do anything or don’t know what we are going to do? Might someone or something change your vision of where you might go and lead you somewhere else? Might more possibilities arise if you allow your imagination to remain open to whatever is happening in that moment and unfolding into the next moment? Might we see ourselves in worlds outside of those dictated for us by capitalist modernity if we start in a place of not knowing where we are going?

    We are meeting on Fridays at https://meet.jit.si/survivalclub at 15:00 Eindhoven time.

    So far we don’t ever have an agenda, we just say our names and then see where the conversation takes us. We drift. We talk about growing food, or not eating food for a year. We talk about redesigning cell phones for an alternative modern world where none of us are addicted to them. We talk about knocking on our neighbors doors (a radical act in today’s world?). We talk about how the words for emotions can over-dictate our feelings when we really may be describing something else. We talk about lucid dreaming to curb nightmares, bathtubs in gardens, seed bombing, how cool it is to take walks outside, and the stark “white” aesthetics and practices of institutions.

    We never know where we are going. But we always know we will do something. For now, will you join us on our jitsi drifts so we can see where we go together?


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