"Garden of Commons" 2011

Nis Römer

Wood, colour, plants, earth, about three meters length, four meters width and 0.7 meters depth

The sculpture by artist Nis Rømer consists of four “gardens“, which refer to common areas in and around Bremen. The “gardens“ belong to the community, they are allowed to grow freely and are tended by several people who agreed to cultivate them. That way the artwork works as a metaphor for the public space that needs nourishment to function.

The sculpture directly refers to “The tragedy of commons”, an influential article written by ecologist Garret Hardin and first published in the journal Science in 1968. “The "tragedy of the commons” is based on the idea that individuals do not necessarily take an interest in preserving public resources, such as water, air or land, but instead act independently and use the resources for their personal benefit. Examples include the overgrazing of common farmland or the overfishing of the seas. Adding one more car can benefit one personally, but it causes damage to the atmosphere.

The artwork by Nis Rømer raises the question of how public resources can be used without overuse them.

Nis Rømer developed „The Garden of Commons“ in the course of the exhibition „redesigning nature“ at the Städtische Galerie Bremen.

Following texts are attached to the artwork:

Text 1:

Elinor Ostrom was the first, and to date, the only woman to win the 2009 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. She drew attention to certain principles that must at all costs be taken into account if common property is to be successfully administered by user organizations.

1. Clearly defined group boundaries and effective exclusion of external non-entitled parties.

2. Rules regarding the use and misuse of common resources that are adapted to the local conditions.

3. Those who are affected by the rules can participate in the decision making process.

4. Effective monitoring of members’ behaviour, carried out by community members.

5. Mechanisms of conflict resolution that are cheap and of easy access.

6. A dense social network, rules, a responsible use and multi-tiered mechanisms for conflict resolution are necessarily needed.

Text 2:

Despite the fact that privatization raises concerns regarding the social equity, as not everyone receives the same share of the total community production, the privatization of land and local resources can have a positive impact on the use and conservation of those resources. On the other hand, some common areas such as the seas or the atmosphere are not easy to privatize. A situation in which everything is private might perhaps lead to a loss of the resource caused by under-use. Private or state ownerships might obtain poorer results than a local management by the users of the commons themselves.


Text 3:

The “tragedy of the commons” is a dilemma arising from the situation in which multiple individuals act in their own interest. Those individuals will ultimately deplete a shared limited resource, even when it is clear that it is not in anyone’s long-term interest for this to happen. Ecologist Garret Hardin describes this behaviour as tragic, as it follows predictably from the individual actions of the resource’s users.

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