The Laboratory of Common Interest was a year-long work in Limerick city, produced with individuals and groups of people including artists, activists, community organisers, women's groups, academics, students, trade unionists and small businesses. It began as a series of dialogues and events working towards an experimental, public event space that ran from 15th – 27th April 2019. The public event coincided with the centenary of the Limerick Soviet, a takeover of the city centre in 1919 by workers protesting the colonial occupation of the city by British forces, as well as the conditions of labour under capitalism. The Soviet lasted for 12 days, which was the length of the public phase of the Laboratory.
The Laboratory drew critical attention to a gap between what we sense and how we make sense of it, focusing on the challenge to understand 'the "we" and the "world" that is amongst us' (Marina Garcés, 2009: 207). It did this by experimenting with ideas of the common, drawing on practices and concepts developing as part of the social movement of the Commons. The Commons is a transformative, world-making project that modifies the field of experience at all scales, from political-legal systems down to micro-practices of commoning. The social movement of the Commons rejects extractivism and enclosure. It asserts the relational basis of our lived reality, challenging individualism and the destructive logics of private property. Those destructive logics are so profoundly engrained in the social fabric, and by extension in the self, that the logic of the Commons amounts even to a reworking of the self.
The Commons is an action concept; commons come into being through practices of 'commoning' at micro- and macro-scales. Even modest commoning initiatives are ‘experiments in self-provisioning and the seeds of an alternative mode of production in the making’ (Silvia Federici, 2019: 88). Social processes are concrete and material; the act of commoning ‘matters’, that is to say it takes form as a matter of common interest in a real way.
The Laboratory of Common Interest was a 'real-time composition', an assemblage of disparate elements and actions, including discussions, workshops, printmaking events, visual presentations, mapping actions, a temporary 'currency', peer exchange sessions, screenings, a pamphlet library, a sourdough-kneading session, an interlocutor's station, actions in public space, a Chai tea-ceremony and political board games. The common themes were alternative economies, modes of commoning and the politics of bodies, inspired by the centenary of the Limerick Soviet. All actions were proposed by and/or produced with groups of people who participated in other Free*Space activities between 2015 and 2018. The public event space was hosted by FabLab Limerick.
The video captures a flickering camera obscura, an inadvertent projection of the outside street onto the participants of a collective design workshop by The Living Commons group. This moment, when one reality opened onto another, was like a fold in the social fabric of the work, one of many, where 'the “we” and the “world” that is amongst us’ (Marina Garcés, 2009: 207) became visible as a kind of polyvalent hybridity.
This work was an element of the longer research project Free*Space, undertaken as part of a PhD at GradCam, TU Dublin, 2015 - 2021, funded by the Fiosraigh Scholarship programme. Supervised by Dr Glenn Loughran and Prof. Noel Fitzpatrick at GradCam (2018 - 2020), and by Dr. Anthony Haughey and Dr. Alan Grossman at SEPR (2015 - 2017).
Federici, S., 2019, Re-Enchanting the World: Feminism and the Politics of the Commons, PM Press.
Garcés, M., 2009, To Embody Critique, Some Theses. Some Examples in Raunig, G. and Ray, G. (eds), 2009, Art and Contemporary Critical Practice: Reinventing Institutional Critique, Mayfly Books, pp 203 – 210.