Re-visiones #6

Guest Researches

FOCUS: Adelita Husni-Bey. White Paper: On Land, Law and the Imaginary1

Pablo Martínez (

Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona

In recent years the question of territory and the way in which the system of private property dominates and articulates social relations has generated very different conflicts all around the planet. Speculative interests have come to enjoy greater priority than the need for shelter, sustenance and community. Concepts such as “exchange value” and “use value” appear to be stripped of meaning in the context of the neoliberal governance of the world. Has become imperative to establish a grammar of the commons, placing life—in its many forms—at the center. As Silvia Federici recently reminded us: “The neoliberal attempt to subordinate every form of life and knowledge to the logic of the market has heightened our awareness of living in a world in which we no longer have access to seas, trees, animals and our fellow human beings except through the cash nexus... forms of social cooperation are constantly being produced in areas where none previously existed, for example the Internet.”2 The old concept of the commons has become central in constructing new relations, grounded in a new kind of materialism—saturated with new feminist practice and ecological language—that now moves beyond the limits of anarchist and socialist traditions to articulate alternatives that might resist the dispossession inherent in the process of capitalist accumulation.

Questions such as the right to the city and to housing, which have been present in much of the political experience of the last decade, have been essential in Adelita Husni-Bey’s work. Her practice takes the form of processes over time: she invites different actors to link their work in ways that move beyond the typical rules of collaboration.  The methodologies of collaboration she applies arise from traditions as varied as Augosto Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed to feminist practices from the 1970s, from exploring language in order to undermine the existing legal order to embodying conflicts in order to challenge dominant political representations.

Since 2014 Adelita Husni-Bey has carried out various projects in Cairo, Utrecht and several cities in the Spanish State (Mostoles, Madrid and Barcelona) engaging the problem of housing and territory in the framework of a project called White Paper: On Land, Law and the Imaginary. One of the key parts of the project consists in creating a European Convention on the Use of Space, which she has been working on in both the Netherlands and the Spanish State. The Convention is a quasi-legal text developed between March and May of 2015 in the Netherlands with the support of Casco-Office for Art, Design and Theory in Utrecht, as a response to the change in the Dutch law applied to squatting, that now classifies the activity as criminal under the country’s Penal Code. The Convention responds not only to this specific problem, but also casts a broader light on the use of space and the lack of affordable housing, the scarcity of resources for those without documentation and the increasing cost of rent. The Convention considers space a “good” which should not be privatized nor be left unused for speculative purposes, and identifies the situations in which squatters should be protected. As a text, the Convention is an example of legislation from below. In the central text of Focus, presented here, Adelita Husni-Bey describes the process of writing the Convention in the Netherlands as well as the efforts to activate a similar writing effort in the Spanish State, and how this process generates new imaginaries. This is described in The Gleaners and I, a conversation between Husni-Bey and Emilio Santiago Muiño and Ana Méndez de Andes, in which they relate the whole complex process through which laws are written and established.  It is a long road from popular demand to the moment a law finally comes into effect: elections to choose the Parliament, writing up the bill in Congress, the formal presentation of the bill, its approval by the Senate... what imaginaries of the normative are capable of producing these long procedures? In the specific case of housing, a recent example comes to mind: the Popular Legislative Initiative taken to Congress by the Platform of People Affected by Mortgages (PAH), which had 1,402,854 signatures of support but was not accepted by Congress as a bill. Thinking about who makes laws, whose interests their actions defend, and how this has taken shape, and then responding to the inquiry by writing a text is more than a mere poetic gesture: it might become a valid tool for political imagining and empowerment. Between June and September of 2016 in various independent social spaces and squatted social centers in Madrid, Móstoles and Barcelona public meetings were held to write up the Spanish version of the text, paying special attention to the historical genealogy of housing issues in Spain and the consequent legislation. These meetings brought together artists, activists, lawyers and various actors in social movements.

[1] This title comes from the artists exhibit in the CA2M in December 2016, which brought together part of her work from Móstoles, Madrid and Barcelona from the spring and fall of the same year.

[2] Federici, Silvia: Feminism and the Politics of the Common in an Era of Primitive Accumulation, Revolution Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction and the Feminist Struggle. PM Press/Common Notions/Autonomedia. 2012. pp 138-139. <>

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Re-visiones - ISSN 2143-0040
HAR2013-43016-P I+D Visualidades críticas, reescritura de las narrativas a través de las imágenes