‘The Grand Domestic Revolution—User’s Manual’ (GDR) investigates the domestic space and its (changing) use through a variety of methods and disciplines, traversing the fields of art, design, architecture, urban planning, activism and theory. A number of artists and other practitioners contribute to this endeavour. Residents from 2009-2011 include Sepake Angiama, Paul Elliman, and Doris Denekamp who utilized neighbourhood and online research to create prototypes and interventions around the theme of (Green) Cooperativsm. Wietske Maas and Travis Meinolf experimented with Home Production; while 'interor' infrastuctural interventions for the furniture, library and hallways were created by ifau & Jesko Fezer, Mirjam Thomann and Graziela Kunsch. Current themes and residents from February–October 2011 include Kyohei Sakaguchi and Kateřina Šedá who will each investigate forms of usership in architectures; home and housing rights with Maria Pask and Nazima Kadir; the question of invisible and domestic labour taken up by Werker Magazine; Agency will continue its deliberations on copyright issues of domestic THINGS (gardens and textiles); and keywords in relations to food service work will be workshopped with Xu Tan. Parallel to this, the Read-in activity continues. Initiated by artist Annette Krauss and theatre maker, Read-in is an open reading group inhabiting a different neighbour’s home for every session.



The GDR library constitutes the backbone of our ongoing ‘living research’ and thus grows over time. The library offers points of engagement with the project and consists of different research materials such as books, articles, images and DVDs (artist’s video, films) that are available for viewing when visiting the apartment. The first installment was done by the GDR team and was later adapted by Sao Paulo-based artist Graziela Kunsch who suggested that the GDR team create thematic selections.



'The Grand Domestic Revolution-User's Manual' is a long-term project developed as Casco’s contribution to 'Utrecht Manifest: Biennial for Social Design'. The project deals with the evolutionary and collaborative process of “living” research in the contemporary domestic and private sphere – particularly in relation to the spatial imagining (or the built environment). It aims at re-articulating while exercising the notions of the social, the public and, eventually, the commons.




Since August 2010, the GDR team have undertaken research in order to connect with the local neighbourhood on questions relating to peoples’ social conditions and material environments. Questionnaires, interviews, and conversations are the methods used to explore the themes and problems addressed in GDR, such as self-organised governance, co-operative living, and spatial organisation in and from the domestic sphere.


(transcription in process)
Interview with Joop
Conducted by Chris and Maiko
Rooie Rat, Oudegracht 65, Utrecht
(7 September 2010)

Rooie Rat window

Introduction required for this page

Maiko: We were wondering if you could tell us a little bit about how the Rooie Rat started and how it operates today in general?

Joop: Rooie Rat started in 1972, in the cellar of the (Utrecht) town hall. There were some people, left-wing people, anarchists, communists, leftists in general, who wanted to spread the word and had contact with left-wing publishers.

So they brought the books to Utrecht in a big suitcase and they went to the demonstrations and all kinds of left-wing activities in the 70s. From there, the success of their project grew. After some years, I think in 1977, they went by boat from that town hall through the canal to this place (Rooie Rat), and at the time I think there were 20-30 people helping here. In the beginning the shop, it was much smaller, but success was all right, in the 70s. In the 80s, there was a downturn in the left-wing activity, but the shop did manage to continue.

In the 90s, 1995, I was a customer, but then I began to work here as a volunteer, and after some years I got a wage (to this day), and in that time there was little change in the shop, but eventually it became bigger—as you can see the second hand department was installed. Year after year, we noticed that books on philosophy sold much better than literature, or any other subject. So nowadays we have 7 book shelves for it, and we are trying to coordinate political thinking and philosophical thinking. Not always political philosophy, but they have something to do with each other. So we are looking for a kind of fusion of political ideas about the state, subject and individual liberty and how that debate is going on in philosophy. So we are looking at Deleuze, Derrida, Sloterdijk, all the famous left-wing—left not in a direct sense, but indirectly—thinkers. We have their writing in the shop at this moment. So we are trying to help people, of course myself as well, to think about the connection between philosophy and political science. And of course political struggle, because you have to create the ideas, new ideas or you have to look at the history to make yourself sure about what makes the left and what makes the right. So, if you look at the shelves, you will see right-wing thinkers like Schmitt, Strauss... Schmitt was a nasty man, but he had intelligent ideas, because he criticized the left as well as the liberal vision, that’s what left is talking about, what is liberalism, whats good about liberal thinking, and whats bad about it. That's the discussion that is going on.

So I'll try to explain to you the formula of this shop—it is kind of about intellectual and political activity. That's the movement within the shop, because we have Marxism, and anarchism and anti-fascism... We have the old shelves, they are still in the shop, but there’s something new in place of it—the thing I told you right now—that’s the formula of the shop, that’s why people are coming here. They are mostly political activists, squatters, but also professors in science, theology, political science, because Utrecht in an university city. I told you about the history, about the things that didn't change, and what has changed—that's the philosophical aspect of the shop, I mean in connection with political science, with political activity.

C: So do you find that this is also a place that people meet for discussions? Because we were also connected to a lot of people through you as well.

M: Like a kind of social network...

J: Social network... Because you meet people, we do not only sell books. People here recognize each other and will talk about the news, or anything they want to talk about. So you can sit at the table and customers have meetings with each other, sitting at the table... [Raoul, a colleague of Joop enters]...

So its not just a place to sell the books, its a meeting point. And we go outside and we have book stands—mostly the topic Wilders—or, some kind of debate and we are there. We are not a normal shop like Selexyz. Because we are a Stichting. It's not commercial, its a foundation. We have no profit, everything we earn stays within the shop. We buy computers and we can pay some salaries, for a book-keeper, for me, for Ineke, Laurens. We have a lot of volunteers, students mostly.

M: Was it not always stichting? Or did it become that.

J: No, its always been a stichting. The name is Stichting Red Book.

M: I wondered, because when I hear the word non-profit or foundation, usually its connected to government support from the very beginning...

J: It's independent. We don't get any money from the state.

M: I guess it's different. It's a vocabulary difference, the definition. Because when I think stichting...

J: No, we don't call it profit. Every book we sell, there is some margin that stays in the shop. I should tell you that in the years before there was a lot of money that came into the shop so we had to pay the taxes. Then, the state said, "hey, you are earning too much, I want my tax!" But nowadays, there's less profit. So the state says, "all right, I understand."

C: Does that make it more interesting for the shop to not make so much money?

J: You could say that.

M: More time for conversations!

When you mentioned the shift to more philosophy, it reminded me of our visit this Sunday to a 2.Dh5 (Dutch activist festival) meeting. There were some people there who have a squatted bar or some kind of social centre in Hengelo. They were complaining that the number of people going to these places has diminished. There’s four squats now, where there used to be 15. So there's diminished activities, diminished actions, and they said it feels like people are coming to it for practical purposes only, and not thinking of how it relates to a sort of philosophy of life, to broader struggles, and how it connects to others. So the festival is thinking about the next theme which will be looking beyond the idea of DIY, and it seems like this turn to philosophy is maybe coming from the similar motivation connected through theory and the idea of theory to moving together with action.

J: Because every practical thing, practical motivation to squat, every practical thing is theoretically maybe not yet known, but there's a connection between doing and thinking. Maybe thinking about tomorrow is not thinking about the future, its not strategic. But the idea is... You know Gramsci, he's a Marxist and he was talking about for instance, common sense. And common sense has a critical kernel because its rational, its not always irrational. The rational kernel in common sense has to be operated, it has to be located. You have to make people who have located it unconsciously in their actions, conscious of it.

C: So that becomes theory...

J: That becomes theory. So we are always a bit teachers to each other. Living is learning, that's the idea in the shop, but its also the idea of people in Hengelo, and in Tilbrug in a few months (at 2.Dh5). We want to teach each other. We want to make our ideas more fundamental, more sure about what we are thinking and doing.

C: There was also a brief discussion about this crisis in the left, or that radicals don't know what to do or they don't have specific project. Maybe that also relates to this search into theory, to see how people connect to each other...

J: The ideas are connecting... I think the left wing is waiting for a story to connect the ideas. That’s nowadays, not only in Holland, but everywhere in Europe, and maybe in United States as well. The left is more defensive. They should be offensive, not shouting, but be honest, you must be confident with your ideas... Not dogmatically though. When people ask me "Are you left?" I say, "yes, I'm left" and I have a story that tells me I'm left.

And you don't have to be ashamed of yourself telling this. That's what I find, what you can hear and what you can read in the newspaper and on television, that seems to be that people are ashamed to call themselves left or right. It's very strange.


M: Is there a kitchen here?

J: No, we can make coffee and tea, and microwave. But that’s not a kitchen.

M: But in a way this kind of things are interesting to see in the store, that’s also opened to the customers too, because its partly social space, and its kind of the in between spaces public and private, and intimacy and formality that has a lot of potential, or is enacting its potential for the idea of the commons, something where we're not quite sure what the boundaries are. And what this space suppose to mean, or we can create it together. As opposed to very formal urban planning or architecture that’s made to program the activities rather than the other way around.

J: You can say that it's a shop and I could say its a public space. For instance there are left wing people and also right wing people are coming to see what left wing people are reading. So we have both here. Sometimes a volunteer (from the left wing) is helping a man from the right wing. I mean, extreme right wing.

A half year ago, they were debating, I was sitting there, and I had an eye on them, but they stayed calm. They were just having a debate. This is the kind of democracy here, public democracy.

Everybody can enter this shop, even right wing people. I talk to them as well and I try to be kind to them, and try to hear what they are thinking about. So there is a discussion going on in the shop, and it makes—I think what used to be called more than hundred years ago—a 'Vrij plaats,' a free place where you can lay down, you can sleep as well, you can talk and sit down. This is the place to be.

It's not a bookstore, it is more than a bookstore. Because reading is a fantasy, longing for this debating that happens in the shop. So I should say its a public space.

C: So nobody actually owns Rooie Rat. It's kind of like a self-instituted place.

J: No, its horizontal, everybody is equal, but as you know, I'm working here for a long time, so I have to teach volunteers lots of things.

But in a fundamental way we are equal. Everybody can say I like this, I don't like that to decide. We have our meetings that’s next week, we all come together around this table and we'll discuss what to do with the problems of the economic crisis, so our shop one month it's alright and one month its down, we have to try to solve the problem.

C: What would you say is a main ambition of the shop, considering the crisis?

Rooie Rat window

J: Main ambition is to cooperate with all kinds of left wing activities. I mean when you say that theory is nothing because you have to practice, and you say practice is nothing because you have to think about it... You have to use two wings. People are trying to coordinate these two wings, they can find the several books in the shop to educate themselves, and to talk to other people. I think our shop is a part of that movement. It has been 40 years, this way of functioning, that will continue into the future especially, because I think the left wing debate will be very politicized much more than it has been. You can hear it, you can see it.

Our window is beaten and spit on, its been maybe 2 years. I have to clean it every week. People are angry, that's all right with me, because I know what anger is. But you have to be modest in your anger, you have to think about it. So as a left wing book shop, we want to have them think about how to intellectualize their anger. So we can discuss it. I guess that’s the function of the shop.

M: I never thought about the way could be also an interpersonal resource. There's a kind of civility, feeling or atmosphere, respectful and calm.  

J: We are opponents, not an enemies. That’s the form. We have opponents, that's all right, but that's not an enemy of me, because he didn't harm me.

C: I'm curious about the crisis of books, also because we are from Toronto, there’s no more left wing bookshops anymore.

J: No? in Toronto.

M: Maybe underground.

C: There used to be a couple, and there were also kind of alternative bookstores that weren't necessarily political, they had good selections, now those are gone.    

J: And when were they...

M: Last year, 3 closed down last year.

J: Because of the crisis or political...?

C: I think because of the crisis, and maybe

J: Oh yeah.

J: I think a formula of this shop is that we have several kinds of income: That's selling books of course, new books, but also second hand books. And second hand books nowadays we have a buying stock, we get them for free. Or I make my prices low enough that they sell more easily, and we earn very much this way.

We are also doing some office work for lawyers. That's also income for the shop.

C: How did doing that kind of work start?

J: That started in the 80s. You had a collective of lawyers, left wing lawyers, mostly. And they had subscriptions, because they wanted to help their clients. The shop went on to administrate. Because there were two parties, publishers and lawyers, and were between them. All the things the lawyers wanted from the clients they asked us, and we asked clients, and we would send things to the lawyers. That was 3 corner thing, there we were earning. And that's the third income of the shop. The fourth is going outside, go to have a book stand.

Mostly when I do it, it's like, selling books in a day. You have to think about what book, what is the subject they are talking about, that books, we will take. So that are four important income. You have diversity in your income, not one.

We also have income not only the lawyers, but also libraries, and hospitals, health care offices. Within that thing of subscriptions and administration, we have several parties. If one goes wrong, the other goes ok. You have to diversify your income. So that's the formula of this shop, diversity.

M: The final question we usually ask is what is an urgent need or gap that you see or problem that has to be addressed, or what you would like to, and what do you think in your imagination could be a tool or model or something that could potentially help?

I can give you a couple of examples, so we met with the midwives association, and when I asked them that would be that we need to design a very special kind of chair to help women when they are giving birth, when they are feeding, and when they are old after taking care of the children. And so they would imagine that how that could look or what kind of feel, and if its portable or not. And Freek, from STIL yesterday, he sent us a conceptual tool this idea that’s a quote from Frank Zappa, that "a mind is like a parachute, it only works when it’s open."

J: Heel goed! Very nice.

M: So for him, it would address the most urgent need of open-mindedness. If that could be cultivated, so much more could be done. So we wanted to ask you if you could identify some kind of problem that you feel that needs to be addressed and imagine something for how that could be...

J: This kind of question makes you... kind of "undressed." Maybe I should think about this question, because I like this question, and I want to have some time.

M: If you could see the apartment space that we have, if you could see some kind of need or use for it in your life and work, for example, the library could be something, maybe if you wanted to see what we have, we are interested to see how the space could be a resource for different groups in the city. I'm just curious if you had any initial ideas from what you know about it, how you could maybe use it or what you think it could useful for in terms of your community and your work?

J: You mean, Casco...

M: Some people mentioned, because its kind of between private and public space, it could be good for workshops, so you don't have to spend money to use the space, but also too private is too isolated, could direct it to real life more.

J: Do people know that they can rent the space?

M: We are trying to get more people to know, but we also want to bring it to the full potential, because its a unique one. We wanted to see feedback from other people if it's possible.

J: Would I like to visit your place, that's what you're asking?

M: Yeah, basically.

J: Yeah, I'd like to. We can make an appointment.

C: It's just nice to show people and show you the space, that you know that it's available, because a part of the project is also we want to identify with people who are doing similar left wing stuff.

It's kind of like what you are doing here, people are coming and meeting and talking and discussing and debating. Maybe something happens.

J: So I'll suggest to the people who are working here, volunteers, everybody is gonna come visit to you.

C: Maybe we can make a tour.

M: Do you have questions for us?

J: No, only that I think about your question.

M: Imagining a tool...

C: It doesn't have to be an object, it could be a plan...

J: I think it would be a plan or concept, not an object. I think if you talk with De Verandereing, you will find a more practical connection with your project—it's what they've been doing for 30 years.

C: It's exciting that there's so much activity in Utrecht.

J: Yeah, still. Because of De Verandering? Because they are organizing and legalizing squatted houses and practically, everyday things.

Since August 2010, the GDR team have undertaken research in order to connect with the local neighbourhood on questions relating to peoples’ social conditions and material environments. Questionnaires, interviews and conversations are the methods used to explore the themes and problems addressed in GDR, such as self-organised governance, cooperative living and spatial organisation in and from the domestic sphere.


Cup of tea no. #4 Floris Brekelmans, city ecologist

Perhaps cute cartoon rabbits are not so innocent after all.

Unlikely supply of 'morphine' on Nijntje square.

Well, we almost had a cup of tea if it weren’t for the sudden idea to cycle through inner city public spaces of Utrecht past some of the most wicked plant substances unbeknownst to the untrained passer-by.

Floris Brekelmans is urban ecologist and knows the vegetative and animal life of the city like the back of his hand. His research has focused on, but not limited to bats, grasshoppers, dragonflies, and the terrestrial ecology of the city and beyond. Floris lives in the neighbourhood. He stopped by the Grand Domestic Revolution and almost as soon as he had we got on our bicycles with Floris leading the way to show some of the special plant species that do well in Utrecht.

Nijntje Pleintje, down the street from GDR

We sniffed plants that smelled intensely of honey (yellow honey clover) to plants that smell on first whiff like coca-cola to the less appreciable smell of old goat-socks (sorry, I’ve forgotten their names already); to the opium poppies growing abundantly on Nijntje plein (the Dick Bruna Rabbit) and a prolific belladonna plant growing in an alleyway. Floris tells many things about the intelligence and spontaneous life of plants, the way plants cleverly manage to spread themselves beyond the borders of a cultivated garden or dropped from above in a fertile package of bird poo.

Somniferum sap (latex)

Floris will share some of his expertise on a medicinal plant tour of the Bemuurde weerd neighbourhood next Saturday 3 July. More will be posted about times and details of tour very soon.

Atropa belladonna flower. The highly toxic plant said to have been mixed with opium by witches to induce (visions of) flight

26 June 2010, 09.43 — posted by Wietske