In the backyards
by Clarissa Lütz
How do people use their backyards? Is it private or public? Can I hang out in other people’s yards? Go on an experimental, explorative walk through the backyards of your neighborhood!
An explorative walk through semi-private spaces of the Dresden Neustadt (and elsewhere)
From my kitchen window in Dresden's Neustadt district, I could look down into the backyard of our house. From this perspective, I experienced various "waves" of a global pandemic when we shouldn’t meet people indoors, when leisure activities, meeting places, and social contacts were limited. During this time, backyards provided a place of contact in a time that felt somewhat private, at least to some degree. I celebrated parties in my yard at a distance, I met up with my friends, and people participated in the lives of neighbors and visitors - at least from a distance.
With this artistic research project, I want to investigate this shift in the use of urban backyards. How do we use these spaces? How can we appropriate them, make ourselves at home in them? Has Covid changed anything about the way we use our backyards?
One aspect that I found particularly interesting when investigating this topic, was the idea of being a guest in other people’s backyards.
The starting point for these reflections was the story of two teenagers that took place in my backyard. The two teens, a couple, just showed up in our yard one day, sometimes occupying a bench, sometimes a waste table, sometimes a wall, sometimes they had drinks with them and just sitting there, quiet and together, cuddling with each other. I was watching them from my kitchen window a few times a week and it seemed like they moved into our backyard. I know they didn't live in the adjacent houses, because I had never seen them there before. It seemed like they were looking for a little private space to spend time with each other outside, since so many other alternative or indoor spaces were not accessible in times of the pandemic.
The story wouldn't let go of me, I thought it was weird to just walk into other people’s backyard and hang out, but at the same time I was curious to find out if I would go on a journey myself to explore these spaces. So I started to write short stories from memories and events that took place in backyards. I took walks through other people's backyards and explored the neighborhood from that perspective. And I placed guest books in several yards, wrapped in pink rain covers, with which I hoped to pick up others’ stories, approaches, thoughts about these places from people I didn't know, but who were also spending time there. Unfortunately, when I was able to return to the yards and the guest books only after a two-week Covid quarantine, all my distributed books had disappeared, and I was left with only two blurry photographs of entries a friend had sent me in the meantime.
After this ‘failed’ experiment, I developed a different approach. I wanted to concentrate more on the aspect of being a guest in other people’s backyards and to a certain degree reenacting the method of the appropriation of space that the two teens practiced in my yard. To do so, I wrote a booklet, a guide for an exploratory walk through one's own neighborhood and a journey of discovery through one's own and others' backyards. The work unfolds only in its doing as it concentrates on one's own individual spatial experiences. The booklet works as a game and a companion on your own journey through the neighborhood. Whenever you reach the next backyard, or a different place that is described, you are allowed to flip to the next page. This way, step by step, the booklet is guiding you while you are on your own walk. On the one hand, various short stories have found their way into this walk, which are linked to my own personal experiences with backyards, and on the other hand, instructions for action and exercises in perception, which open up unusual perspectives on these places.
I use the means of walking, wandering, sauntering to break through habitual patterns of movement and to make one's own surroundings comprehensible in a new way.
If you would like to go on a walk through the backyards of your neighborhood as well, you can download the pdf of the booklet here: shorturl.at/hinMU. Please make sure to print it out before your walk (as a brochure on A4 paper, so you can just fold it in the middle and get a booklet).
You can do the walk in any urban environment with houses that have accessible backyards. Since I reflect my own experiences and relations with the backyard during 2020 and 2021 and I have lived in Dresden at the time, I include a map of the Dresden Neustadt in the booklet (you can also find a map via the link). You can print it on A4 and try to use it, even if you are doing your walk in a different area or city.
Have fun with your walk!
If you like, you could leave me a note or some feedback at the following address, thank you! firstname.lastname@example.org
Clarissa Lütz (born 1994) studied Cultural and Arts Education and Management (Kulturarbeit) at the University of Applied Science Potsdam and is currently studying for a Master’s degree in European Media Studies at the University of Potsdam. She worked for various huge and small exhibition projects at the Deutsches Hygiene-Museum Dresden, the Humboldt Labor and on a freelance basis in the field of cultural education and curation at the intersection between the Arts and Science.