Urban Camping – Erlangen 06.08

Photo: Kaspar (Tent 3)

We introduced three camping sites and one mushroom field to the city of Erlangen, occupying the disused spaces found beneath stairwells and one public space whose intended function as an outdoor chess board was no longer evident.

Participants were given a map and one of two special ‚camping kits’ to take on their journey. These were filled with a variety of camping accessories such as a stove, a guide to wild mushrooms, a pack of cards, a bird whistle, a notepad or a raincoat. Other members of the public experienced the installation as an unexpected intervention.

Although the project had once again functioned very differently than we had originally planned, there were still elements of the process that we considered a success, or of particular interest.

I am increasingly enjoying the thought of this project as more of a political intervention, with negotiations and rhetoric taking place during the planning stages of a festival, between the organising team and the official bodies that are able to give permission for such an event. Despite gaining the required permission we still found an official notice at one of the locations, asking us to remove the tent at the next possible opportunity, and were asked to add a sign at another location to make it clearer that this was ‘art’.

I liked the difficulties we faced trying to install the tents within an essentially unsuitable environment, having to use bricks and building debris as tent pegs, working with saws and electric screwdrivers, or tying the tent off to an abandoned bicycle or drainage system. Putting the tents up in these locations almost became a performance in itself. We wondered if it would have been better for participants to put the tents up for themselves, struggling with this quintessential part of the (traditional) camping experience.

Once the tents were installed I enjoyed the voyeuristic view of the city, sitting inside the tent and watching life go by, like being hidden inside a bird watching hut, with the majority of passer-bys seeming to ignore our presence.

Our original intention had been to use custom made or deconstructed tents that would slot between two adjacent urban structures, bridging, framing or upstaging the architecture. Our attempt to do this in Erlangen went wrong, albeit in a quite touching and lovable kind of way (a few pictures survive to tell this story). In the end we decided that our attempts to shape the tents came across a little construed and forced, and we decided to leave the tents as they were. The tents were nestled, as opposed to slotted, into the space, and I missed this sculptural play between the built environment and the temporary structures we were introducing to the space.

During our site visit for the festival we had already discovered that this is not the sort of city that offers many unused alcoves found nestled or hanging between buildings. To install the tents as we had originally intended, you would probably need to find the appropriate locations before proposing the idea, and need a budget to construct the tents properly.

Given our degree of disappointment with the installations we were surprised at how people actually enjoyed ‘going camping’. It was often experienced as a playful break from routine or stress, or as a childlike game that may or may not have brought back childhood memories. One group added marshmallows to our camping kits, others were disappointed when the soup ran out and others told us how they had spent hours at the site playing cards or reading a book.

We heard of various moments of interaction, including the offers of coffee from a local cafe to weary campers, of pedestrians joining participants, of one couple sleeping overnight in the tent and of people expecting the campers to ‘perform’ a reading from the book we included in the kits.

One of the camping sites, opposite a busy nightclub, was unfortunately and unbeknown to us, the unofficial public toilet in Erlangen. I was surprised that it took until the final Saturday night of the festival before somebody tried to destroy the tent. Judging from the amount of cigarette butts found inside the tent, orderly stubbed out on one of our stone ‘tent pegs’, they must have spent quite a few hours here. I don’t know if the tent was pissed on before or after this particular visit.

One of my favourite moments of coincidence was the construction of a temporary waterfall at one of the sites, a camping site that happened to include ‘waterfall’ as one of its amenities (originally due to the nearby fountain).

Given that most of our participants seemed to be members of the festival team, artists or members of the jury, we were asked how local people had responded to the tents. Given that we tried to avoid any intrusive documentation this is hard to answer. What I saw as I patrolled past the camping sites each morning somehow reflected the positioning of the ARENA Festival for many local people in Erlangen.

Exclamation – unzip – peek in – giggle and go

Most of the comments I overheard assumed that the tents belonged to a homeless person. Despite half-hoping that one of the tents might become inhabited during the week, I think homeless people probably find better places to sleep in Erlangen.

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