Roots in a Fast Place: Creative Practices in the Public Domain, by Katie Bachler and Allison Danielle Behrstock*

The artist and architect Marjetica Potrč has developed her creative practice around "on-site projects" which support social justice and involve collaboration with communities. Her projects bring forward local knowledge, the starting point of a process of empowering a community by responding to pressing issues. By employing participatory strategies and horizontal structures of working and exchanging, Potrč sees her work not only belonging to the legacy of social sculpture, but related to the collective production of what she calls "relational objects". The projects are long term and Potrč works together with various cultural and social actors such as municipalities, art institutions, activists, artists and scientists to locate issues of importance. Potrč researches and employs various participatory models of engagement, knowledge sharing and citizen action in what she calls "redirective practice". The idea affirms that change begins in a community, that bottom-up initiatives, when viewed together, create a critical mass that is truly effective on a global scale. Her role as artist is one of a social catalyst, an instigator of new social dynamics in a community, a facilitator for the many voices.
Marjetica Potrč's understanding of art as a tool for social change has informed her on-site projects, where she aims to come up with a "relational object", together with local citizens, for the developing project. One of the basic questions that she is posing through her projects is: "How do we live together?" A relational object helps to answer this question, as it becomes a catalyst for social interaction, something to bring people into a shared space, filling a social need. The garden functions as a relational object, in the case of her current project, La Semeuse at Les Laboratoires d'Aubervilliers, as well as in her initiative The Cook, The Farmer, His Wife and Their Neighbor (2009), a community garden and kitchen in the Nieuw-West district of Amsterdam, created in collaboration with the collective Wilde Westen and commissioned as a satellite project by the Stedelijk Museum. The Nieuw-Weste and Aubervilliers are similar in their immigrant populations and the imminent threats of gentrification. 
The Nieuw-Weste is a neighborhood of social housing built after World War II, modernist architecture with unusable green spaces. New half-completed glass structures with glass balconies stand next to peeling Gerrit Reitveld apartment buildings. The project’s garden and small kitchen pull the farm into the city, the past into the present, as capitalism makes its way into a neighborhood in danger of losing its traditions.
The relational object of the garden is a real space; a meeting point for human relationships to emerge in both La Semeuse and The Cook. Gardens become metaphors of extensive growth and breaking down of social categories through an organic mingling of diverse cultures. In Amsterdam, "both the garden and the community kitchen create bonds within the community‒residents give the kitchen half of their produce from the garden‒and become a catalyst for transforming not only the public space but also the community itself"¹. Potrč spent six months living in the Nieuw-West before the project began, slowly building relationships and connections; interacting with the housing development corporation as well as a non-profit organization supporting Muslim women; all of these groups came to play a part in the structure of the garden and kitchen.
The garden, as a relational object, is based on an idea of scaffolding from the outside, providing a trellis for social relations to reveal themselves. There is strength in people, in diverse publics coming together, sharing knowledge and creating food. It is a space of new traditions, of remembering, of building roots in a neighborhood threatened by historical and cultural erasure.
Visitors from the museum would ask "but is this art?" Potrč and her collaborators clearly saw the object, only it wasn’t an "object sculpture": it was a relational object. It puts into question our modes of production and our expectations of viewing an object. Instead we are faced with an experience, a rupture of the passive viewer, and artwork, of the museum space. The work, the relational object requires participation and activation, which would not have been possible without the residents. Potrč describes herself as an artist-mediator and art as "a medium of expression where the individual and culture come together"². Roy, a Surinamese man with a love of open space, became the paid garden manager. Muslim women sat in the community kitchen in the afternoons, offering coffee, cookies and conversation. The garden became a place for people to imagine their individual stories; Potrč provided the conceptual and physical framework of the garden, and the residents related through this and made it their own. The residents took over managing the project after the period with the Stedelijk museum ended; its signification changed from art project to community run garden.
Potrč’s work fits in with a re-emerging movement of artists supporting the importance of nature and agriculture in the urban landscape. This idea of socially engaged art began in the 1970s, alongside the encouragement of the Whole Earth Catalog and hippy movement. Artist Bonnie Ora Sherk planted community gardens and tended animals under a freeway in San Francisco, called Crossroads Community (The Farm) (1974-1980). Sherk describes her work as a wholly integrated system, "an embodied ideology in microcosm, either of an existing situation or of one orchestrated