Florian Rivière: Cities as Playgrounds
If cities are meant to be for people, then they need to be un-choreographed – spaces for play, and for free expression.
Florian Rivière, Strasbourg's 'Urban Hacktivist' re-organizes the city for activity and fun. His interventions are about reclaiming and transforming public spaces for citizens to enjoy, relax, and play. These instantaneous interventions reuse objects found in the street and create human aspects to the city. His nickname takes its cue from computer hackers that reprogram functionality: an urban hacktivist reprograms the city to make it more 'user friendly.'
We interviewed Florian to answer questions about what motivates his 'hacktivism'.
When and how did you start creating your urban interventions?
I started my own projects in 2011 after four years of actions and studies about urban space with the collective Démocratie Créative, which I founded in 2008 in Strasbourg, France. Pushed by a strong need to intervene in an environment that did not agree with me, I first conceived projects of collective action and civic appropriation of public space (festivals, flash-mobs, wild interventions etc). Then in 2011, I started producing my first serious interventions.
Where does the idea of hacking come from and how does it apply to a city?
I draw my inspirations from many movements: the Situationists (the drift theory in particular), design and architecture, DIY, Counterculture, autonomous communities, land art, artivism...
The idea of urban hacktivism is born by a desire to act in the natural environment where more than half the people of the world live: the city. A space which doesn't correspond to the real needs of its inhabitants because it's sanitized, ultra secure, uniform, designed by techno-bureaucrats to facilitate consumption, work and move fast. We forget the essential because public spaces is a living space of meeting, exchange, fun, rest, freedom, free ... I think citizens need to reclaim their space and be involved in it – and not just be spectators or users.
There are no formal rules to hack public space. I think we should try to act for the collective good. Freely share ideas and have fun, this is the most important. Of course, it does not mean to believe in the land of Care Bears, there are sometimes aggressive actions in order to denounce some things, we must keep a subversive spirit.
For my part, I particularly like to tackle urban standards and to give them a new functionality, a software that people can reuse; getting lost in unknown areas and showing them to other people; assembling various items found on the street for their revival ...
Do you work only in Strasbourg, France or in other cities too? And do these cities support/recognize your interventions?
In the beginning I created my interventions in Strasbourg, where I also worked with the collective Démocratie Créative with Strasbourg' services on a fun signage project to promote the pleasure of walking into town.
In early 2012, I decided to become a nomad and to travel and work in several European cities (Berlin, London, Dublin, Paris, Vienna, Warsaw ...) to experience new urban contexts and for more interventions and meetings.
I often meet people at every stage of my journey, sometimes I am invited in festivals, and sometimes I just look for the unexpected. The cities that I visit do not recognize my work especially because I do it for nothing. My projects are very spontaneous and realized according to the context, so I can not really predict in advance what I'll do. But in Dublin I will participate in Hack the City festival by the Science Gallery. And for this project they work with Dublin city, so if they selected me it's probably because they support my works.
What is the general reaction to your interventions?
Because I do not degrade and because I try to improve the city, daily reactions are often positive. There are of course always some people who need everything to be normal and they sometimes try to stop my work. In this case I try to discuss it, and at worst I start later.
Why is hacking the city important? Why do you think people are increasingly involved in DIY urbanism in their cities?
Hacking the city is important because it is a fight against uniformization, a fight against the commodification of public space, a fight against the techno-bureaucratic control, a fight for freedom. And it's precisely because our enemies occupy more and more of our living spaces that more and more people get involved in reclaiming the city. It's a natural balance, like yin and yang.
Which has been your favorite intervention so far?
My favorite project so far is the carousel advertising. The video is wonderful because parents voluntarily placed their children in shopping carts. It was great and awful at the same time to see these children enter into the carousel of consumption.
Do you ever work to repair or restore portions of the city?
I made such actions with the collective Démocratie Créative from 2008 to 2012. For example, I organized the Perffusion festival in Strasbourg in September 2011, which aimed to revitalize an entire neighborhood with the participation of fifty people (facilities, paintings, installations, workshops, concerts, debates etc. ) I also tried to restore a small abandoned parking in the center of Strasbourg with the help of some residents—without permission, just to show that autonomous and spontaneous citizen action is possible. Unfortunately, the action was stopped by the city because a building project was to be completed some months later. I tried to explain the purpose of our action to the district deputy, but they do not accept what they do not control. And it was precisely the objective of the project—build a city without the control and slowness of government.
Do you ever collaborate with other artists, activists or communities? You seem to try to promote fun / play / human-ness in the city - a more realistic impression of what people want, like trapping pigeons, using machines as beer can openers, and the desire to play. Do you think you represent your own ideals or more of what people want ? Is it that the city now makes us inactive and is boring and routinized ?
When I managed the Démocratie Créative projects I collaborated with a lot of artists, collectives or communities. I don't, however, work personally with others on major projects. I work spontaneously, so it's mostly my personality and my ideals which emerge in my projects. I do things because I want to, it's just on impulse. Then I share my ideas freely because I would like others to reuse them. I also try to keep some of the hacker ethic because it's sometimes more interesting to work with constraints. If there is a lot of fun, pleasure and humanity in my projects it is because I succeed to keep my child's mind. I am a very active, and I just can not stand passivity is growing increasingly in cities. And unfortunately the only activity proposed to escape from urban boredom is consumption. So I try to find alternative ways of actions and escape.
What are some of the guidelines / priorities or aims of your work – are you trying to turn cities into play grounds or want people to have more fun or just reuse objects or have fun yourself?
The purpose of my job is to find a maximum of urban tactics to enable all to reclaim the streets with fun and live freely and free. That's why there are many games in my projects because I think it's the most natural way to appropriate a space with personal fulfillment. In the same way I always reuse objects that I find on the street because they are accessible to all, and available for free.
Do you usually create interventions yourself as a statement or do your works try to involve other communities or people too? Or do you hack the city because it feels like something is missing?
I want to participate in improving our living conditions, our development; my actions are a personal pleasure but also an attempt to get people involved in the construction of their living space. What is missing is initiatives taken. People are often afraid. Sometimes when I submit my plans to some people they tell me "you do not have the right to do that" or "you might have problems with the police." I did not know playing and improving the environment was a crime! What's missing is mainly the awareness of our freedom of action.
You seem to try to reclaim the streets and make them more fun for people – do you find that people actually use your interventions or are they just fun ideas?
A bit of both. I try to implement the projects as simply as possible for everyone to reproduce them. That's my goal, but I can't really check if people do. I think the most important thing is mainly to show the possibilities offered by the street, then everyone can find their own tactics to live better in their own way.
What do you think about strategic DIYism or tactical urbanism to promote long term change through short term actions – do you think these strategies are really useful? Do you think your interventions are a part of this?
I think I'm completely part of this practice. It is a way of building the city which spreads more and more, thanks to its simplicity, low cost and originality. It's still an urban fight today, but this practice should be integrated more into the everyday life of big cities in a few years.
Are your interventions you more about the idea and performance or the statement of what the intervention makes fun of or promotes?
I am especially interested in the ideas, but not performance. The fun is a part of my personality.
Do you see these urban interventions as change-making or awareness raising, or are you just doing it for the humor / art of it. Basically - is this socially oriented / activist or just fun?
The most important thing for me is that everyone be active in and with their environment, no matter how. I am also increasingly attracted by activist projects, such as the advertising carousel, and small institutional attacks: the jump rope at McDonald's, games cups for the opening of exhibition, and the 'Don't pay, Play' project—as new forms of activism.
I love the active living and urban wild games projects. They seem really relevant because I think people really need to interact more with their cities and especially actively moving about them. Our lives have become way too sedentary and boring. Maybe we need adult playgrounds?
I see the city as a big playground where people should discover or create their own facilities to enjoy themselves. Everything is possible. Just try to manipulate the city, like dough. A playground for adults is the city and its possibilities. We don't need to create a specific space like the skate-park for example. The city is our playground and everyone has to freely enjoy themselves in their own way.