Diary entry by Merve Bedir: October 2023


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Merve Bedir was invited for a research residency at Gemene Grond, to help develop a strategy for the public arts commissions in the Merwede housing project. During this time she will write diary entries.

I have been working on a plan of approach since June 2023, and there will be more intensive work on the ground starting March 2024. I was tasked with doing research on commons and commoning. Such a grand concept and narrative finds different frames in different sites. “uncommon river” was a biennale where I worked with Maritsa river, a river that holds a threshold between two sides of the city of Plovdiv, but also a border of Fortress Europe, amongst Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey. The idea was to challenge the borders and polarities created between urban/built vs natural environment, European vs non-European, and try to think of the river space beyond human. I presented this work in Landscape Architecture Frontiers journal, and Asia Art Archive. Later, co-founding Center for Spatial Justice in Istanbul, our concerns were around inhabitants, resources, and planetary commons, and co-founding Kitchen Workshop in Gaziantep, was about migration and social commons.

Working with the notions of commons and commoning in the context of a new housing project in Merwede, Utrecht, amidst a housing crisis in the Netherlands, I wanted to depart from my own search for a home and a house to live in, here. I approach the notion of commons between the social and the planetary. I suggest that in this case commoning starts with identifying/naming our shared issues and desires, -related to home, shelter, affordable housing, in Merwede, and Utrecht. In addition, I ask how to common the process of situating and framing the public arts commissions in Merwede. I work on site, and in connection to the neighbourhoods in/around Merwede, in collaboration with inhabitants, artists, researchers, producers, and doers. What are the questions to be asked in this process and what consequences should be expected? What are the critical perspectives to be developed? What are the elements of public art to rethink and redefine, when the idea of culture is devoid from its meaning?

I focus on ownership, land use, labour, conviviality, cycles and circularity, and materiality of the built environment as the themes of research. Looking for the ingredients and recipes towards an equal and just way of producing the city, my proposal involves research, collective production, temporary and permanent artistic interventions related to the axes that run from East to West and connect the different districts that surround Merwede, such as Kanaleneiland, Transwijk en Rivierenbuurt.

In continuation to my previous work and initial conversations in Merwede since Summer 2023, I brought up the following as the guiding questions for the residency:

Question of Ownership: Who owns the city?

Financialisation of urbanisation: What happens to the city in an economy of derivatives and debt?

Question of Planetary Commons: Resources and Extraction

Where do construction/building materials come from? Logics and natures of cycles and circularity (greens, blues, browns, grays in the urban)

Question of Commons

Between ownership, home, land, life, and culture, what is it that we want to common?

Question of Authorship: Who owns and cares for the public artwork?

Does the public exist? What are the new meanings of public? What / who is the public artwork for? Who owns it? Who takes care of it?

The relationship between the city and the city-zen has been changing from active inhabitants towards users and consumers. One of the wildest versions of this is in Turkey, an ongoing process since 2010, where the people and the land is evacuated from its livelihood, forests and water reserves are dried out, developers destroy the empty buildings they recently completed to be able to get more loans from the banks for new construction, and millions of apartments remain empty while affordable housing is still a major issue. In order to document the background to this transformation, I produced a documentary film, Agorahobia, for the Netherlands Architecture Institute. Living and working in Shenzhen/Hong Kong between 2015 and 2021, I researched another example: In Hong Kong, the plan was/is to build an island for new housing. I gave a presentation about this case, Housing Condition in Casino Urbanism, for the “Get Real!” program, curated by Anna Bitkina and Maria Veits.

Urbanisation moves towards finance and real estate, mediated by large loans. In the cities of derivatives, real estate’s understandings of property and investment is built into the new buildings’ foundations, they become, -if not have already become, the only way forward. The result is that the affordable/ accessible housing problem is not resolved, while precarity and evictions continue, as well as the disenfranchisement of people from the land, their environments, cities, and futures. Resource efficiency, sustainability, and extraction in relation to the construction industry remain as issues of new construction and urban sprawl.

On the other hand, cities have always been the grounds of collective existence and imagination, desiring and struggling for equitable and just forms of life. They afford the networks of support and solidarity that are necessary to envision and work towards those alternative lives. The futures of cities need to be planned, designed, produced in common. Mutual aid and educational structures run along new land use and housing models. What could be the other scenarios for the city? and what is actually possible, today?

While alternative modes of development have always been present, architects, designers, artists work with the belief that social engagement will inherently bring betterment to people, or at least beyond their clients/ commissioners. Many initiatives of alternative urbanisms do not immediately take the form of building, but architecture often serves as both their starting points and end goals. Whereas the intentions towards a just city can really make use of architecture’s tools and knowledge, figuring out what it means are not yet known, fully.

In the last three decades, alternative imaginaries for cities are compressed and diminished. Meanwhile, the strongest and most intimate catalyzing processes remain in those of relations with neighbours, friends, fellow city-zens, civic infrastructures, and more. Support structures to create, inhabit, and share worlds that don’t deny vulnerability, but rather embrace it as another component of our daily life might be those that also allow to create -and become part of, communities that will change, care, and hold accountable. In this context, could an idea be to wander, to listen, and to see what it is that we have in common?

If I loop this last question back to the beginning, the next point seems to be around asking about the embodied meanings of ‘public artwork’. What is public today, as the meaning of public evacuated / replaced with consumer and user? What and who is public artwork for then? What could be its translations? What should be its motivations? Who should take care of it? How should it be commissioned and authored? What kind of processes are needed to design other forms of authorship that embrace the complexities that I summarized above?

The process I devised and the program I put together for this residency aim to collect the information and experience to rethink and respond to the questions above, and come up with commissioning processes towards new imaginations of the public, and articulated conceptualizations of commons.

Principles of the process:

Open and curated programs on the use of public space
Everyone who lives in/around Merwede to contribute.


Inhabitants in/around Merwede
NGOs, Collectives, Foundations, Institutions, Residents who are invested in Utrecht.
Artists, producers, makers, doers
Former research and future research
A co-authored process


How can an artwork be collectively owned? What does it tell us about owning one’s own home, one’s own space, the city square, …


From Inside to outside: Material

The day I visited Merwede District for the first time, I was walking around and witnessed a moment of an artifact from Roman times to be found during the excavations in preparation for construction. The second place I visited was Mobach ceramics factory from 1914, still active in the district. Other existing former industrial buildings are used by different creatives, artists, and community actors, which have material connection to place. I also observe the preparations for construction, work machines, trucks, coming in and out, water, earth, rocks, …

From Outside to inside: Community

When I visit the other districts around Merwede, inhabitants have different lives, gathering spaces, workspaces, leisure places, parks, community centers, libraries, … and so on. But they don’t relate much to Merwede. The major road in the east, and the canal on the west separate Merwede and make a different world of it. Those in Merwede know little about the outside, and the other way around, the other districts are not interested/ do not know much of who lives and what happens there.

The question of method sits at this intersection, commoning as method dwells in weaving the inside to the outside, the outside to the inside, and continue.