The Joy in the Struggle Or Claiming Back Urban Catalyst Spaces
by Danilo Correale
In this contemporary moment of protest and urban militancy, THE GAME, a three-sided football match, proposes a move towards trialectic relations
In his book The Production of Space, Henri Lefebvre defines space as a series of relationships rather than as a ‘thing’ that can be defined in absolute terms. This series of relationships comes from three different areas that simultaneously and consecutively inform one another symmetrically, which Lefebvre talks about in terms of material space, representations of space and spaces of representation. Today, these three spaces are more often thought of as perceived, conceived and lived spaces, or alongside Edward Soja’s terminology: firstspace, secondspace and thirdspace.
To understand Soja’s notion of thirdspace, it is necessary to mention the hybridisation of factors that allow the perception of these ‘extraspaces’. It is in these spaces that “subjectivity and objectivity, abstract and concrete, the real and the imagined, the knowable and the unimaginable, consciousness and the unconscious, mind and body, the disciplined and the transdisciplinary, everyday life and unending history” come together.1 But these are only some of the many ways to understand our reality beyond the usual binary structure of dialectics. Our everyday life experiences are governed, in fact, by frontal relationships. These range from the lesser exciting aspect of being: as consumers (seller and buyer) to the politics (the concept of agnostic formation) to the psycho-sexual drama of the fuckers and the fucked (this last tak- en also in financial terms). Therefore, expanding the environment that surrounds us through the notion of space as made by con- stant interaction – more than merely to the one-to-one relation- ships that we perceive – could be a very hard task. An interesting tool to read these semantic couplings is the embroidered work on ‘trialectics’ by the Danish situationist Asger Jorn, The notion provided radically different equations whereby three ‘domains’ exist in a dialectical relationship with each other, often never resolved, but which spark a flux of endless creative ideas that could then be combined in further trialectics. In this, there’s always a player, a referee and a spectator negotiating in a physical space.2
Due to the extreme complexity of such a theoretical approach and the permanent feature of Situationist theory being applied to the context of ordinary life, the trialectics discourse found a fairly good metaphorical translation in the popular game of football (as it is clearly paradigmatic of the frontal relationship of ‘us’ and ‘them’). Here the game becomes, according to the above described tri-logic, a three-sided affair. It is through the understanding of the relationship between the Situationist movement and Jorn’s trialectic that it is possible to return to Soja’s spatial theory. It emphasises the idea of a non-binary structure, freed by dialectical axioms. This makes possible a change in the way we imagine living in the city as a space and, moreover, to live, perceive and conceive it not only as someone who produces and consumes.
And it’s from this point that the five-month long project THE GAME began, with research and workshops that ended in a three- sided football match held in the Municipal Stadium of Colle Val d’Elsa (Siena, Italy) on 8 December, 2013. On the football pitch, three teams (Gladiatori – Real Cristal – Esuberanti 301) were created specifically for the occasion from the workers of three main factories in the area, all experiencing a deep economic crisis, redundancy and lack of union organisation. The pitch, specifically designed for the occasion, had a hexagonal shape. The rules of the game (according to the Situationist’s suggestion and further developments that happened during the weeks of workshops with the participating workers) stressed non-aggression and non- competitiveness.
Three-sided football is a game of skill, persuasion and psycho- geography. It’s not easy at all to play in a pitch where your eyes perceive two distinct spots to aim at. Unlike two-sided football, no team keeps a record of the number of goals they score; however, they do keep a tally of the goals they concede, and the winner is determined as the team that concedes the least goals. The trialectic appropriation of this technique dissolves a homoerotic/homophobic bipolarity, given that the nature of the trialectic generally implies co-operation with a third team. Meanwhile, the defense counterbalances the disadvantage of facing two teams, by trying to split the temporary alliance against them. This is achieved through exhortation, body language and an ability to manoeuvre the ball and players into such a position that one opposing team will realise that its interests are better served by breaking off the attack and allying themselves with the defending team. A team may also well find itself split between two alliances. Such a situation exposes them to the possibility of their enemies uniting, making maximum use of this confusion. Three-sided football is, to some extent, an easy exercise to prove our ability to strategically interact with the context that surrounds us, over-riding the performative role we typically play in the metropolis.
THE GAME, December 8, 2013, Colle Val d’elsa, Siena, Italy
The stadium where the match takes place, the king of catalyst urban spaces, is (apparently) needed as a construction in every urban agglomeration and most of the time is regarded as an essential step for a town or a suburb to become a ‘city’. This history of the stadium and its necessity is ancient and primal and it is loved and hated, and sometimes snubbed, by intellectuals. Stadiums are not much different to shopping malls, highways and other urban mega-structures: symbolic agents of the capitalistic assault on the urban context. Sports events have, in fact, recently played host to many struggles. From Occupy London to the ongoing protest against the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and Istanbul’s riots staged at Gezi Park (where the protest against the nth mega project has teamed up with many different discourses), these are interesting terrains upon which to analyse the status and the demands of protests.
São Paulo, Istanbul, London and other cities are places where radical groups are not only building new discussion platforms but also testing the formation of a new style of militancy, working mostly with and through networks and tactical media, thus connecting different practices of struggle. Is it therefore key to look at these spaces/events as a chapter in the same story of struggle, since it is the very style of militancy that is changing. To connect these practices and make the claims effective, we must first claim back the pleasure of exulting, of rejoicing (and I am talking of a Spinoza kind of joy). It is also through the language of popular sport, music and comedy that it is still possible to stake a claim that – no matter where, when, or how, and whether we are protected by mates or not – the only thing that matters is to fill these catalyst spaces with the gleam of a never-ending utopia.
New York, January 2014
THE GAME was entirely produced by the Fondazione Ermanno Casoli in the framework of the IIV Prize Ermanno Casoli.
1. Edward Soja, Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1996, pp. 55–56.
2. Asger Jorn, Natural Order and Other Texts /Naturens OrdenandVærdi og økonomi,Scandinavian Institute of Comparative Vandalism, 1962.