The ROG factory as an urban surplus: What value is produced?

The continuation of our research finds us trying to shed light on how ROG Factory is used for the development of different kinds of value, how this value is tied to the plans of the Municipality of Ljubljana (MOL) about the building, and how the proposed ideas about ROG can lead to its redistribution for different uses from a potential new pool of users. In order to understand the current status of the proposed plans, it is useful to think of ROG factory as an “urban surplus” (Harvey, 2008) that has been initially occupied based on the right to use and redistribute the surplus created from the abandonment of the building. The diminishing value of the ROG area, combined with the initial occupiers’ opposition against privatisation and increasing shrinkage of available public space in Ljubljana, were contributing factors to the creation of temporary cultural, social, political and spatial value in this space (Kurnik and Beznec, 2008). However, what was always deemed as a temporary occupation became a permanent and autonomous endeavour focusing on more solid and continuous value production from numerous users, such as the Skatepark, the concert hall, and the various political and social groups around ROG. Whereas some of the previously very active user communities have now left ROG (which will be discussed in a following post), there is still value produced, albeit arguably to a lesser extent due to the reorganisation of the core inside ROG.

However, even when ROG was massively active (particularly during the summer of 2016 and the demolition attempt), it was probably quite hard to justify the burning question of what value is produced. In a country that has only recently been introduced to wider circuits of capital and just started to operate under the mantra of “urban regeneration” and “revitalisation” under neoliberalism, the production of any kind of surplus value that is deemed abstract, unjustified and unrealised through the realm of exchange processes of consumption is a hard concept to grasp (Soya, 1980). From our discussions with users of ROG and urban practitioners, this appears to be a contributing factor to the reluctance of the public to accept ROG as an area where alternative culture thrives and important social and political work is undertaken. In the case of visual arts production in ROG, Tomsich (2017) highlights the difficulty to frame and contextualise the surplus value from such activities in a squat, partly due to the ephemerality and temporality of art projects, and partly from the artists’ own reluctance to engage in further political commitment, and therefore a more open approach. He points out that the frequency and indeed political importance of the value of art production was mostly realised during the main conflicts between the users and MOL, particularly in the summer of 2016, where a series of alliances and exchanges between different studios and groups happened. The norm in ROG though is that the surplus value of the visual arts activity becomes internalised within the space and is realised only by a few people who work in ROG, despite the recognition of the factory as an arts and culture hub.

Even the most-used space in ROG, the skatepark, which is frequently visited by people of all ages, fails to showcase effectively how the use of these facilities delivers important social value via sports activities. Indeed, it seems like the skaters are already operating as if they are “with their one foot out at the door”, a statement to their non-involvement in the political conflict and to their passivity in terms of further defending their space should another eviction attempt occurs. In this regard, the production of surplus value in the most active space in ROG is also left unrealised outside the skating community. A similar sentiment about the loss of value and the failure to externalise it to the wider public can be assumed for most of the spaces in ROG, as the necessity to remain anonymous and operate in the margins due to fear of another lawsuit or eviction attempt prioritises survival first to the detriment of surplus value production.

Interestingly enough though, the question of value in this under-developed part of Ljubljana is one that even MOL does not seem to have an answer to. Since MOL bought the ROG building, there have between numerous attempts to deliver a technocratic project that would revitalise and gentrify the area. The initial idea of commercialisation of the ROG area has been attacked numerous times by the majority of the public in Ljubljana, and paved the way for a different endeavour that steered away from private investment and the public-private partnership approach to the creation of the ROG Center, which would focus the renovation attempts to the main building and would house the creative/cultural industries. Apparently this is now again not the case, and the focus of the future ROG Center activity has shifted to production of sustainable materials, 3D printing, and other practices that resemble more the initial use of the space, as the bulk of creative and cultural activity is meant to be housed in Cukrarna, a soon to be renovated facility just 400 metres from ROG.

In a rationalised way, the development of a new ROG centre could indeed point to a reorganisation of the urban space in a way that would allow its new value functions to be realised and enjoyed as part of a collective process of production and consumption practices by a wider audience. However, this uncertainty regarding what uses, and by whom, will be delivered in the building in the future bring the institutional side in a precarious position as well, which is also notable by the lack of a concrete plan after all these years. It remains to be seen whose groups’ approach towards the externalisation of surplus value can have a bigger impact in the status of ROG factory, with the caveat that immaterial production might have reached its peak in ROG, and maybe it is time for a shift into other material uses that can more easily bring out the surplus (but also diminishing) value of the area.

REFERENCES

Harvey D (2008) The right to the city. New Left Review 53: 23–40

Kurnik A & Beznec B (2008) Rog: Struggle in the city, available at: http://eipcp.net/transversal/0508/kurnikbeznec/en/print.html

Soya E (1980) The socio-spatial dialectic. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 70(2): 207-225

Tomsich F (2017) ROG is a symptom: Notes on the history of art production in Autonomous Factory ROG. Časopis za Kritiko Znanosti 45(270): 91-104.

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