Non-Action #5 & 6 (revitalizing the “third place”)

Non-action #5 and 6, as part of res(is)ting / repos comme résistance

July 18 & 24, 2021
Marina Commodore,
333 Boul Lévesque E., Laval, QC

I recently read Ray Oldenburg’s The Great Good Place. A deeply flawed text (i.e.: incredibly dated, and narrowly framed white, middle-class, patriarchal, American POV), it nonetheless puts forth a few important nuggets. Acknowledging its problematic set of assumptions, I do not want to wax effusive over this book (I honestly had a hard time getting through to the end) but I do mention it here because of its premise that, even if very skewed, challenges our late-capitalist, individualistic, fast-paced, consumer- (and car-) oriented culture.

The central argument of this book is that every community, and citizen within it, benefits from the social interactions that come from those gathering spots (cafés, pubs, bookstores) where people can come together in informal assembly. Naming this phenomenon the “third place” (whereby home is the first and work the second), the third place is a “core setting,” a space of public gathering within spontaneous and unstructured time that is away and outside from home and work. The author contends that such places are open to everyone and contribute to the cultivation of democratic life, healthy communities, and the happiness of those residing therein. With the advent of the suburb in a post-WWII context, tightly zoned areas that eliminated amenities within walking distance also gradually eliminated the third places that would have previously been at the centre of many people’s everyday lives.

Again, I need to disclaim: this is a predominantly heteronormative, white, Euro/American-centric, and generally sexist perspective (that barely discusses, for example, where women – never mind anyone from LGBTQ2+ or BIPOC communities – fit into this experience), but I can’t introduce the third place without providing some context of its origins. As such my goal here is to appropriate this notion and breathe another kind of life into it, because I think there is cause to consider how a third place and its insertion into the everyday as a point, location, time, and condition for pause, relaxation, recuperation, and rest holds something of value to this ongoing project around “doing nothing.”

Let’s call it “intentional misappropriation.”

Intentionally misappropriating Oldenburg’s third place, I am particularly wondering how the materialization of these informal gathering situations I’ve proposed (initially through DARE-DARE, then at McGill University, and now through the project in Laval) could themselves constitute a kind of third place, even if, in Oldenburg’s definition, such places are generally stable, permanent (neighbourhood) sites and a staple of the built environment; a bar or pub, as opposed to a shifting outdoor location. And how in his version, it is always the same people who show up, versus the more spontaneous arrival of whoever happens to be free and interested on that day (of my non-actions).

I am here reminded of Hakim Bey’s conception of the T.A.Z. (temporary autonomous zone), the anarchist version of (and answer – or antidote? – to) Oldenburg’s third place; where empty lots and abandoned, disused buildings become the sites of spontaneous (and temporary) squatting and play, a coming together outside of established (permanent) sites in order to co-create a zone of fleeting freedom (from controlling forces of law and government). While the T.A.Z.’s manifestation would have more likely been in the form of the large-scale raves that populate the late 1980’s to mid 1990’s imagination, its ideological premise (as I understand it) would be to encourage those infiltrating acts into otherwise increasingly privatized “public” spaces that counter the suppressive codification of public behaviour – and prescribed use of these spaces (skateboarding being another example).

Inadvertently on our last two days, we ended up in a private parking lot not realizing we were trespassing. When I had done the initial location scouting, the Marina Commodore had been closed since the early pandemic lockdown. Being attracted to the “terrain vague” quality of this site, and its proximity to the water, it hadn’t occurred to me that there could be an issue with our potential (very small-scale) occupation.

But trespassing we were and this unexpectedly “politicized” our presence. The owner/manage of the bar (one giant parking lot away from our truck-tucked-in-the-corner presence) came over to make it clear we were on her territory. We somehow managed to square away a deal on our first visit (convincing her that we weren’t selling anything therefore not competing with her business), which seemed to allay concerns. But when we showed up again the following week somehow the previous conversation disappeared from memory and now we were really treading dicey terrain. We were told (actually, yelled at) to get out.

I had a dilemma. I didn’t want to leave. I wasn’t intending to raise ire, or do anything illegal but I also realized I had become very quickly attached to this space. I felt defiant in my “need” to be there and reluctant to acquiesce. I felt like this “outdoor living room” (as LF, a participant from the previous week had gloriously termed it) had revealed its magic – even in its slightly askew transitional state – and I wanted to quietly live-it-up here again.

So this interjection, at once offering a liminal moment in both space and time, also created a tension. It raised several questions: What does it mean to peacefully intervene on someone else’s property? How (and why) are we made to feel criminalized by an artful act of negligible disobedience? Why were we so unwelcome here? And finally, the most tension-inducing of all, would this have possibly played out differently if I wasn’t a White middle-aged woman?  How much did I actually “get away with,” not realizing that I was?

…Once I had decided we were staying everyone who arrived that day was on board with me. After the initial altercation the bar manager was so busy inside that she didn’t have the time to come back out and boot us off. Or call the cops. It all worked out fine. But, I can’t be naïve in neglecting to acknowledge that it could have worked out quite differently.

…These are questions that Oldenburg isn’t asking in his text. But, as I now also understand even better, I am not quite broaching these considerations as much as I could either.

The “third place” has a tremendous amount of potential but its potentiality lies not only in the declaration, and activation, of these sites – whether they be fleeting in time and transitional space, or in physically grounded locations – rather it is in their capacity for engendering such moments of rest, pause, and rejuvenation as available to everyone. Something Oldenberg claims his third spaces accomplish but I’m not convinced of this either.

Intentionally misappropriating Oldenburg’s third place, I wonder how I can propose a fresh take on his flawed and limited discourse. And how I may also challenge my own.

With thanks to Jean-Philippe Luckhurst-Cartier and Alexis Bellavance for the photos, to FL for driving Villa, and SC, KF, SW, PD, LF, GD, AB, ks, ALL, DM, MJ, and JP for sharing this space of conviviality.

Author: Victoria Stanton

Montreal-based performance artist, writer, and educator Victoria Stanton explores live action, human interaction, video, film, photography, and drawing.

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