Wastelands Around the World Unite! Cities' Forgotten Spaces Become Artists' Canvases Wasteland Twinning Turns Forgotten Spaces Into Artists' Canvases

Posted by Lauren Kirchner

Walk along the tram tracks that cut through Hammarby Stöstad, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Stockholm, and you’ll pass modern condos and old factories, the architectural signposts of a neighborhood in transition. More eye-catching is the dense overgrowth of trees and bushes that sprouts out of the blacktop—a forgotten oasis within an abandoned parking lot.

The overlooked spot, and the contrast with its surroundings, made it perfect for the Stockholm outpost of Wasteland Twinning. A collective of artists and researchers throughout Europe and Asia, Wasteland Twinning is a project started by Berlin artists Will Foster, Lars Hayer, and Matthias Einhoff to explore forgotten spaces in cities across the world. They take the idea of “city twinning” or “sister cities”—typically a ploy by politicians to encourage commercial agreements—and bring it to the more unorthodox context of urban wastelands.

The Wasteland Twinning network now includes 11 sites in cities from England to Indonesia and lives online as a repository of information about and artistic responses to the spaces. Participants can share field notes, impressions, and documents explaining the land use history or development plans for each site.

On the project’s blog, one wasteland explorer uploaded before-and-after pictures of the Sydney site, where rainwater turned an excavation area into an accidental lake. The lake housed a family of ducks until the water was drained as the construction project proceeded. (The author assured readers that a wildlife group had moved the birds to safety in a post titled “The Ducks are OK.”). Another participant chronicled a religious festival that took place at a riverside site in Guwahati, India that can never be developed because the tides make it unusable during half of each year. And in Nottingham, England, an urban forager documented the process of making juice out of edible berries.

Over beers at a bar in Stockholm’s Sodermalm neighborhood, project cofounder Hayer says he is most interested in spaces that are “right in the middle of another context, where you don’t find any reason for this space to be; spaces that don’t have any specific purpose.” Foster agrees: “These spaces kind of defy definition.”

Both are quick to clarify that their project is not meant to “reclaim” or “redefine” the spaces. Unlike, say, guerilla gardeners, the goal of the Wasteland Twinning explorers is simply to learn about these spaces while they can. As for the Stockholm site, its location within a quickly changing waterfront neighborhood means it won’t last long in the midst of all the growth. “It’s a temporary space, it’s not there for very long, but it’s part of the cycle of land use, and that’s what makes it so interesting,” Foster says. “And I don’t think any kind of intervention that we’ll do is going to change that.”

Foster and Hayer say they hope to see the network grow to include even more cities across the globe. “I think at some point this will get to the point that it will be, if not self-sustaining, quite organic in how people get involved in it,” Foster says. He adds that he’s interested in exploring California as a potential spot for the United States’ first Wasteland Twinning site. First stop: Los Angeles, which, fittingly, is sister city to both Bangalore and Berlin.

Photos by Lauren Kirchner