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Christoph Wachter & Mathias Jud, Can You Hear Me, 2014. Antenna pointing at the Embassy of the U.S.

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Christoph Wachter & Mathias Jud, Can You Hear Me, 2014. Pariser Platz

Berlin-based artists Christoph Wachter & Mathias Jud have installed WLAN / WiFi mesh network with can antennas on the roofs of the Academy of Arts and the Swiss Embassy, both located in the heart of "NSA's Secret Spy Hub" in the city. The network is at the disposal of passersby who would like to communicate anonymously and even send messages to operatives of the NSA and GCHQ intelligence who might lurk inside the nearby British Embassy and Embassy of the United States.

The installation is a direct reference to Edward Snowden's revelations that the U.S.' NSA, the UK's GCHQ and other key partners were operating a network of electronic spy posts hidden within the fabric of diplomatic buildings around the world.

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Christoph Wachter & Mathias Jud, Can You Hear Me, 2014

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Christoph Wachter & Mathias Jud, Can You Hear Me, 2014

Wachter and Jud's DIY can antennas don't hide themselves. They stand in plain sight between the camouflaged US and British listening posts and their network stretches over the administrative district of Berlin.

At the point at which the interception of Angela Merkel's cell phone occurred, the open network of anonymous communication options now unfolds as a legal and legitimate response to rigid restrictions on our freedoms and hidden, secret surveillance.

Messages can be sent to the intelligence agencies on the frequencies that are intercepted by the NSA and GCHQ. These personal messages include activist and political contributions, ironic disclosure of embarrassing intimacy, and calls for resistance. Many appeals are aimed directly at the surveillance operatives asking them to switch sides and become whistleblowers.

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Christoph Wachter & Mathias Jud, Can You Hear Me, 2014. Antenna, Reichstag Gate

Mathias Jud was kind enough to answer my questions about the installation:

Hi Mathias! How did you get the authorizations to install the antennas? By the way, did you ask for authorisations?

Short:
Yes, all the antennas are authorised! They wouldn't be up there for more than 5 minutes otherwise.

The whole region is under special protection as it is next to the Parliament and the German Federal Chancellery. Surveillance, Police and Security are omnipresent. During our build up of the antenna tower a special Police helicopter with a pivoting surveillance cam was circling above us.

Long answer:
As we are both Swiss, we have been asked about a year ago by the Swiss embassy to present our work at the embassy. The Swiss embassy in Berlin is located right next to the German Federal Chancellery. Most probably they had something like a slide show in mind. However, we gratefully accepted the invitation and presented the concept of "Can you hear me?" to the embassy.

We also asked the Academy of Arts that is located next to the US embassy at the Brandenburg Gate. (The Academy of Arts is not an university, but an international 'master' academy of artists that was funded by a former Prussian king, and an art museum and collection.) Klaus Staeck, the President of the Academy and himself an active political graphic designer was very fond of the idea and promoted it together with Birgit Hein, the chief of the section Visual Arts.

In the last year we spent a lot of time discussing this project to be able to realise it. It is completely legal, and has the approval of the Swiss ambassador, the Swiss foreign office. The members of the Academy of the Arts discussed this project in their annual meeting and voted in favour of it. The German Federal Chancellery has been informed by the Swiss embassy.

Although our constitutional rights are restricted in the non-protest zone in the government district, there is no restriction of digital communication. With our qaul.net network that is the technological basis of the "Can you hear me?" installation we can experience a completely user-based network without any service provider as gate keeper and regulatory force in the network.

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Christoph Wachter & Mathias Jud, Can You Hear Me, 2014

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Christoph Wachter & Mathias Jud, Can You Hear Me, 2014

You organize guided tours. What do you show people exactly?

Guided tours are a possibility to discuss the project with us and to experience the special rules in the government district and the restricted zones in front of the embassies. We experience together the mesh network, and the area. We show how we built the antennas, discuss the network, the artwork and the philosophy behind it.

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Heat maps show how activity in the US embassy's spying nest significantly reduced from 24 October (top picture) to 25 October, after it emerged that the US bugged Chancellor Merkel's phone (ARD Panorama, via The Independent)

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The GCHQ 'nest' on the top of the UK's Berlin embassy (Buggedplanet.info, via The Independent)

You also encourage people to send messages to operatives of the NSA and GCHQ intelligence, is that correct? how do you know how to reach them?

There is a special veneered wall at the US embassy, clearly discovered by infrared cameras where, according to the Snowden files, the listening post of the NSA is located. The GCHQ has a white radome where, according to the Snowden files, the listening post of the British is located.

Our antenna-tower on the roof of the Academy of the Arts is right in the middle of these listening posts and has a clear connection to them.

All messages in the WIFI mesh network are sent unencrypted to all participants in the network.

Thanks Mathias!

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Christoph Wachter & Mathias Jud, Can You Hear Me, 2014. Antennas at Swiss Embassy

See also: Julian Oliver and Daniil Vasiliev's PRISM: The Beacon Frame. Speculative NSA Network Surveillance Equipment which was swiftly censored.)

Sponsored by:





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Eizo Ishikawa and Tamon Sawangdee, CRAF, 2014

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Examples of different themed projectiles

Third (and last) project from the graduation show of The interactive Architecture Lab, a Bartlett School of Architecture research group and Masters Programme headed by Ruairi Glynn, Christopher Leung and William Bondin...

With CRAF, Eizo Ishikawa and Tamon Sawangdee looked at how machines can be deployed to organize spectacles and engage people into performances and new forms of social protests. CRAF turns into paper planes messages of protests that people exchange on social media. Comments and reactions sent to @aerocraf are printed on paper, folded into little projectiles and thrown over passersby by a 6 meter high paper plane-folding machine.

Quick discussion with Tamon Sawangdee:

Hi Tamon! Why did you call the work CRAF? Is it an acronym?

CRAF has many meanings for our project. It came from our first paper plane folding machine project, which was called "AEROCRAFT". We chose the word "CRAFT" to signify its folding activity and transportation ability. After we have been working on our project for a while, we develop ourselves and our machines into an agency that is called CRAF. Having our ideas rooted from people protesting and looking for ways to express their ideas or feelings, we created CRAF to be the agent that works with people and can act for them. It is an acronym from Cultural Restoration and Acting Facilities.

You tested CRAF on Gordon Square. Can you tell us about the experience? How did people react?

The experience from testing CRAF in Gordon Square was really amazing. We have been working on it for a long time and it was the first time that we got to see it fully equipped and elevated up to 6 metres in the park. The weather was nice and sunny on that day so we got a lot of audience from the people who came in to have lunch, as well as, the ones who were just passing by. Some would come to talk to us about how it worked and what it was, while, most of the people sat around and waited to see the performance. One of the noticeable reaction that we got was the group of people who sat down and asked each other "What is that?" pointing to our machine. People were talking about our project and they were surprised about it being in the center of what was usually very quiet park. We were satisfied about the test in Gordon Square because a lot people showed a lot of interest. It was nice to see people enjoying what we were doing.

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Eizo Ishikawa and Tamon Sawangdee, CRAF, 2014

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Eizo Ishikawa and Tamon Sawangdee, CRAF, 2014

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Eizo Ishikawa and Tamon Sawangdee, CRAF, 2014

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Example of Print Out Invitations to be folded by the machine

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Is there any reason why you selected the colours red white and blue for the ribbons hanging from the machine?

Our theme for CRAF was #FLYFORPEACE, it is a civilian service. Our concerns, are about the political, socio-economical and cultural sustainability aspect of the community. We chose the colour red, white and blue for our prototype because we wanted to give it an appearance of stability, freedom, with a touch of revolution and justice. We wanted our machine to be amicable but not too whimsical, though, at the same time representing the topics of the conversations that we were trying to create. At that time, our machine was representing the Scottish Independence Referendum, if our machine was to perform to represent another message, the colours of the ribbons could change to match that theme.

How does it work? How does the paper get fold into airplanes?

If you tweet to the machines twitter account @aerocraf. The printer would print the message onto the paper plane. When the paper comes out of the printer, it gets fed into the paper plane folding machine, that's when the folding starts to happen. There are 3 steps of folding. The paper travels through the machine by the use of rollers controlled by motors, chains and sprockets. The machine folds the paper in to a plane by folding the tip of the paper plane first, and then the side wings, the centre of the plane gets fold half until it comes out of the machine. Then, it is ready to launch!

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View from CRAF looking down over the park

And does the machine send the planes in random directions?

The machine can rotate 180 degrees. The rotational movement can vary depending on the site and installation strategies. The print outs and the instructions of how to use the machine comes out in random directions when there are many people. We want the paper planes to be received by the citizens, so, ideally it would have a behavior that looks for people and decide its projectile direction.

What was the biggest challenge you encountered while developing the work?

One of the biggest challenge while developing the work was how to get people to realise that the paper planes that we were flying was containing a message. In order for our project to work smoothly, we needed to get people from the public to work with us. We had a lot of trouble trying to get people to behave accordingly to how we expected, which was to pick up our papers and investigate them and respond our paper planes. Different people in different places would react differently, we had to do many experiments to find our way of delivering the paper airplanes, its flying ability, and what it looks like and how the messages communicate to the people. We also had to design our installation strategy and opening performance to grab the interest from the crowd.

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Paper Plane Manufacturing Line Embedded into Aluminium Folded Plane Structure

The text of the catalogue says "CRAF can be a network of communication platforms along the city by having machine carriers traveling along the existing bike routes of London." Could you explain how that would work?

CRAF was created to be a communication platform that was initially inspired from the contemporary social crisis and the expressions of dissent happening around our world. We wanted it to be able to serve as a novel communication tactic that people can use to express themselves freely about their ideologies or simply talk to each other via the aid of social media in the hope that it would create a stronger and more culturally sustainable community.

When we were developing CRAF, we were looking for strategies to disseminate our messages and get people involved with the performances. We studied street performances and theatrical machines. We got inspired by how they were able to attract or engage people into live events. Because of that, the idea of using bicycles as a mode for transporting our machines came to our minds -- however, we were not limited to just bicycles but tend to see CRAF working rather more of something like a vehicle or a machine integrated within a vehicle. Our machines were designed to be able to travel around and interact with people or get people to interact with each other along its path. In that sense, we think that CRAF can be developed into a system of multiple machines that can be moved or carried around the city.

Making use of social media and the rapid spread of its content via the internet and social networks, we wanted CRAF to become an agency that can be installed into different nodes like the public spaces of London. The communication network coming out from CRAF is imagined to work similar to that of online social network from social media. Instead of only having people interacting in the online space, we wanted to bring people from the online communities out to enjoy the physical environment. When CRAF physicalised online messages into public space, we can have a real human to human interaction. In a way, CRAF is meant to encourage physical social networks happening from the systems machines traveling and sending out messages around its routes.

What is next for CRAF? Are you planning other performances?

At the moment we haven't been planning any performances.

Eizo is back in Japan and I am now in Thailand. We are both doing different things.
Maybe it can be adapted into something suitable for Bangkok or Tokyo. We'll see.

Thanks Tamon!

Also from the same Bartlett course: The Eye Catcher and Furl: Soft Pneumatic Pavilion.

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Sabine Keric and Yvonne Bayer, Urban Camouflage

I'm just back from a few days at accès)s(, the festival of digital culture in Pau. It was packed with good ideas and i'll definitely blog more about it next week (or the one after considering that i still have to publish reports of events i attended in September!) but right now i need to decypher the grubby notes i took during the talk that artist and researcher Benjamin Gaulon gave on Sunday. It was a fun one and should provide you with some inspiration for your Christmas shopping chores.

The focus of his presentation was Retail poisoning , a term directly inspired by the strategies of torrent poisoning used by the entertainment industry to hack into p2p networks.

Retail poisoning is a disruption of consumerism that injects critical actions into the market. The methods of attacks are similar to those used by anti-piracy organisations to prevent file sharing of copyrighted content.

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Benjamin Gaulon at the festival accès)s(

Gaulon gave lots of examples for each strategy and you can see all of them on the video of his talk. I've selected only a couple of them for these notes:

1. Decoy insertion (or content pollution) is a method by which corrupted versions of a particular file are inserted into the network.

Examples:

Cildo Meireles modified Coca-Cola glass bottles. When empty they look ordinary, but political statements printed on the glass in white are revealed as the bottles are filled with the brown liquid. They range from 'Yankees Go Home' to instructions on how to make a Molotov cocktail. The empty bottles with the messages were then recycled back into the Coca-Cola distribution system.

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Cildo Miereles, Insertions into Ideological Circuits: Coca-Cola Project 1970. © Cildo Meireles

The Barbie Liberation Organization swapped the voice boxes on hundreds of talking G.I. Joes and Barbie dolls. The BLO then returned the toys to the shelves of stores, an action they refer to as shopgiving.


Barbie Liberation Organization, 1993

John Osorio-Buck buys stuffed animals in thrift stores and then dissects and reassembles them to make new creatures. The new animals are then placed back onto the shelves of the thrift store.

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John Osorio-Buck, Catch and Release

Provoked by the offer of a pedometer with the Go Active! Happy Meal at McDonald's, the Meat Helmet by SWAMP Meat Helmet is an exercise machine that forces you to chew until you have consumed the amount of calories contained in your fast food meal.


SWAMP, Meat Helmet

For Urban Camouflage, Sabine Keric and Yvonne Bayer wore Ghillie-style camouflage suits to mimic common goods bought in supermarkets.


Sabine Keric and Yvonne Bayer, Urban Camouflage #4

Antoine Lejolivet and Paul Souviron of Encastrable take self-assigned 'residencies' in DIY and gardening stores where they build temporary sculptures

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Encastrable, Résidence 11

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Encastrable, Résidence 10

Benjamin Gaulon went to Apple stores, downloaded the Corrupt.desktop app and installed it on the computers to glitch the desktop image of the monitors.


Corrupt.desktop [Apple Store Chicago] @gli.tc/h festival

2. Index poisoning makes search difficult for users of the p2p network.

Examples:

Banksy doctored 500 copies of Paris Hilton's debut album in 42 record shops across the UK, filling it with his own remixes and changing her portraits in an action that questions the vapidity and idiocy of celebrity culture.


Banksy, The Punking of Paris Hilton, 2006

Dumb Starbucks is "a parody about the power of corporate branding" as well as an exploration of the concept of parody law. According to Nathan Fielder, the law "allows you to use trademarks and copyrighted material as long as you're making fun of them."


Nathan Fielder, Dumb Starbucks, 2014

3. Spoofing: companies that disrupt p2p file sharing on behalf of content providers build their own software in order to launch attacks.

Examples:

Without asking for the store permission, Bad Beuys Entertainment shot a 'sictom' inside the IKEA showroom.


Sictom épisode 2_Bad Beuys Entertainment

Re-code.com, a collaboration between Conglomco and The Carbon Defense League, is a barcode database and web-based application that enables customers to "name their own price for the products they want to buy."

Re-code.com on CNN

A Mannequin Mob entered the 5th Avenue Gap in Manhattan dressed in white spandex Morphsuits and posed as mannequins. Gap security called 911. The police handcuffed many performers, but eventually allowed them to leave the store.


Improv' Everywhere, The Mannequin Mob

In July 2009, IOCOSE and friends offered the Søkkømb guillotine kit to the customers of IKEA.


IOCOSE and friends, Søkkømb, IKEA, Barcelona

4. Interdiction prevents distributors from serving users and thus slows P2P file sharing.

Examples:

The Buy Nothing Day launched by adbusters in 1992 as an international day of protest against consumerism.

Reverend Billy and his Church of Stop Shopping.
Just ask yourself: What would Jesus buy?


Reverend Billy's Church of Stop Shopping performs a credit card exorcism

Artist The Vacuum Cleaner and accomplices invade supermarkets and proceed to walk around the aisle pushing empty shopping trolleys.


The Vacuum Cleaner, Whirl-Mart Ritual Resistance

Evan Roth, Available Online for Free stickers:

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5. Eclipse attack (aka routing-table poisoning) targets requesting peers directly by taking over a peer's routing table so that they are unable to communicate with any other peer except the attacker.

Examples:

GWEI (a system that uses google ads to eventually buy the whole company) and Amazon Noir (an automatic algorithm allowing you to download a whole book from amazon ). Two of my favourite projects ever. Both by UBERMORGEN.COM, Alessandro Ludovico and Paolo Cirio

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Amazon Noir

Darius Kazemi made a bot that randomly buys items for him on Amazon. Similarly, the Random Darknet Shopper, by Mediengruppe Bitnik, is an automated online shopping bot which uses a budget of $100 in Bitcoins per week to randomly buy an item on Darknet.

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Mediengruppe Bitnik, Random Darknet Shopper, 2014

Photographer Alexis Jemus multiplied himself in an IKEA in Montreal, creating an eerie army of Jemuses inside the Street View virtualization of the store.

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Alexis Jemus, 2014

Far more examples in the tumblr archive. Don't hesitate to contact Benjamin if you know of any practice of retail poisoning that hasn't been mentioned on the tumblr yet.

The accès)s( conference is over but you can still visit the exhibition Disnovation at Le Bel Ordinaire until 6 December 2014.

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There are three designated "holding" centres for immigrants in Canada but more than one third of detainees are incarcerated in rented beds in provincial prisons, some of them maximum security prisons where visits and support services are limited.

Artist and designer Tings Chak has combined her training in architectural design with her interests in human rights, migrant politics, and spatial justice in a graphic novel called Undocumented: The Architecture of Migrant Detention (Architecture Observer, 2014. Available on amazon USA and UK)

The 'undocumented' are not so much the human beings who are detained merely for being born somewhere else. The undocumented are the sites where they are detained. All information about these facilities is classified and access to them is extremely limited.

In her publication, Tings investigates the migrant detention centres in Canada -- "the fastest growing incarceration sector in an already booming prison construction industry," from the everyday acts of resistance inside the centers to the role that architectureplays in controlling and regulating migrant bodies.

The purpose of this investigation, she writes, is to make visible the sites and stories of detention, to bring them into conversations about our built environment, and to highlight migrant detention as an architectural problem.

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Excerpts from Undocumented: The Architecture of Migrant Detention

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No One Is Illegal Toronto's annual May Day march for status for all in 2010. Photo credit: Glenn MacIntosh

Undocumented: The Architecture of Migrant Detention is a brave, shocking and incredibly revealing little book and because its relevance goes way beyond the frontiers of Canada (i'm looking at you Europe and Australia), i asked Tings to tell us more about her work:

Hi Tings! Why did you chose to use drawings and only drawings to investigate the architecture of migrant detention centres in Canada?

In architecture school, we spend a lot of time thinking about visual representation. Often times, architecture is as much about the representation as it is about the built. I am interested in the way using architectural visual language and tools of representation as a political practice - how can drawings reveal and spark a conversation about the invisibilized practices and spaces of detention?

I don't know much about the prison industry in Canada. Is it a private one like in the U.S.A? And if yes, how does this influence the life of migrants detained there?

Canada's prisons and detention centres are not privately owned/run, though there have been past attempts to privatize facilities and there are many lobbying efforts, including from U.S. private prison corporations. Many private parties, however, are contracted and paid millions of dollars to manage, operate, and provide services in immigration detention centres. As an example, the Toronto Immigration Holding Centre, the largest of Canada's three designated immigration detention centres, is managed by Corbel Management Corporation and security services are provided by G4S - the world's largest security firm which has been central to maintaining the apartheid state of Israel.

In terms of the life of migrants detained, up to one third of them are locked up in provincial prisons, often times in maximum security prisons. We consistently hear from detainees about the horrendous conditions, even worse than in general population, and the staff shortages that result in lockdowns for days on end. Also, being held in these prisons means that detainees often cannot call family members abroad, are too remote for in-person visits, and don't have access to the legal resources necessary to regularize their immigration status, which all exacerbate the isolation they face in detention.

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Excerpts from Undocumented: The Architecture of Migrant Detention

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Excerpts from Undocumented: The Architecture of Migrant Detention

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Photo

How much restriction to information did you have to face while investigating spaces for mass detention and deportation? Apart from testimonies from migrants, which kind of evidence is your research based on?

Information about these spaces are highly restricted, access to them is nearly impossible for members of the public. The title of the book is an acknowledgement of how these spaces are purposefully invisibilized and any information about them is classified. Recognizing this, the book is an assemblage of bits and pieces that I gathered from various sources - testimonies from detainees, descriptions from legal counsel who have visited such spaces, research that others have done about specific aspects of detention like solitary confinement, legal recommendations, and design standards for prisons and detention centres.

Here are the links to key resources I based my work on (more can be found here):
- Testimonies from detainees: Audio Statements by End Immigration Detention Network
- Solitary confinement: "Alone Inside" (2013), CBC Ideas radio documentary by Brett Story
- Legal recommendations: "Water, Sanitation, Hygiene and Habitat in Prisons" (2005), International Committee of the Red Cross
- Design standards: "Contract Detention Facility Design Standards for Immigration and Customs Enforcement" (2007), U.S. Department of Homeland Security
- Detention Statistics: "Canada Detention Profile" (2012), Global Detention Project

From an architectural perspective, what are the main characteristics of these centers?

These places are surprisingly banal. Unlike the dank, dark dungeons that popular depictions of prisons would have us believe, many of these facilities are familiar in the way that most institutional buildings are. This is something I wanted to highlighted in my drawings.

Another aspect has to do with the highly securitized nature of detention centres, which means that the building is compartmentalized according to discrete functions for processing, monitoring, interrogating, and containing detainees. It is impossible to understand the building as a whole, so as not to be challenged.

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What are the architectural mechanisms used to control the experiences of the people detained there?

From the segregation units to the bullet resistant glazing, the sally port to the recessed lighting units, the surveillance systems to the bolted down stainless steel toilet/sink units, every architectural detail of a space is designed to manage and maintain control of incarcerated individuals.

What I was particularly fascinated by were the design guides specific to detention centres (in the U.S. context). These manuals provide a detailed analysis of minimum design standards, including occupancy capacities, material specifications, program adjacencies, etc. Often times, the definitions of the "minimum" or the "habitable" (according to legalistic definitions) are quantified in terms of square footage or cubic volume of air space. The architectural logic of these spaces, along with a lot of other architectures, is governed by the minimum standards, which seek to minimize risk and regulate human bodies.

Could architecture be used to welcome or at least ensure a less traumatic experience for migrants?

I believe that detentions and deportations are inherently violent and traumatizing. Incarcerating people on the basis of being born somewhere else is not something we can humanize through design. I've spoken to architecture students, professors, and practitioners over the course of creating this book, and it's clear that the vast majority of them believe that immigration detention is a "problem" that could be fixed with a better "solution." What is important to note is that often times the ambition of making a space more humane and more optimal distracts and deters us from questioning the prison industrial complex, and the complicity of architects within it.

Israeli architect Eyal Weizman speaks about this problem in his book "The Least of All Possible Evils: Humanitarian Violence from Arendt to Gaza" (2012).

The major impetus of this work is to challenge architects to engage in the very difficult ethical question: are there programs for which architects should not design? There are groups such as Architects, Designers, Planners for Social Responsibility in the U.S. that have been working for years to get architects to boycott prison design. I believe that architects should be intervening by pushing the discussion towards imagining and designing real alternatives to detention.

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End Immigration Detention Rally at Lindsay Jail

You are also an organizer with No One Is Illegal - Toronto. How much impact do your actions and protests have on the immigration system? Could you give some examples?

The work that No One Is Illegal - Toronto has impacts on various levels, which include shifting the public discourse and imagination around migration and borders, building our social movement through mobilization, and developing and sharing an intersectional political analysis, among other things. At the core of it, though, is the belief that the immigration system here (and in the U.S.) is not a "broken" one that we need to reform, but that it is functioning exactly as it is designed to. The system is built on the exploitation of precarious labour, exclusion of poor migrants from the global South, and ongoing displacement of Indigenous people on Turtle Island and across the globe.

That being said, there have been significant victories over the past 10 years. After decades of community organizing, Toronto declared itself a "Sanctuary City" in February, 2013, which means that residents regardless of immigration status can access city services without the threat of detention or deportation. It is still far from being a reality on the ground. Around the End Immigration Detention Campaign that began just over a year ago, there have been some important developments. Specifically, in June 2014, after our submission to the U.N., they released an opinion condemning Canada's practice of detaining migrants for immigration reasons, and for detaining them indefinitely. The work is ongoing, and people are still organizing courageous actions inside to protest their unjust detentions.

Thanks Tings!

Follow her on undocumented and twitter.


Invasive. What if your tax money was used to kill animals?

At first sight, there's something inherently funny in a headline that claims: Warning as alien mussels found near Heathrow airport. But it turns out that these molluscs not only sit on top of native mussels and smother them to death, they also threaten thousands of other native animals and habitats. If that were not enough, they are also accused of disrupting water supplies by blocking pipes and causing flooding.

These mussels are only one of the many invasive species that are identified by environmental departments as posing danger to biodiversity. These invasive plants and animals are often eradicated using drastic measures. Authorities can infect them with a virus, for example. Or they can use chemicals, hunting, fires, birth control, etc. These measures are expensive and they also create a dilemma for citizens who are caught between a desire to preserve the eco-system and a reluctance to kill animals.

Lisa Ma identified and fleshed out this dilemma in her work Invasive. The project brought her to Ghent in meat-loving Belgium. Ghent is often called the "Vegetarian Capital of Europe." In 2009, it became the first city in the world to adopt a weekly vegetarian day. Restaurants now offer at least one vegetarian menu item, every Thursdays (the city "vegetarian day") schools serve entirely vegetarian meals and maps listing the places selling fries fried in vegetable oil circulate (that might not seem extraordinary to you but as a Belgian i grew up eating fries cooked in beef fat.)

Ghent prides itself on being animal-friendly thus. Yet, Lisa soon discovered that the city is spending tax payers' money to kill thousands of invasive Canadian geese every year. The animals have taken advantage of the well-preserved ecology of the city and of the absence of competition or predators. The heavy birds constantly push the soil into Ghent's canals and literally blocking a city already below the sea level.

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Rounding up geese. Photo courtesy of Karel Van Moer - Rato

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Collecting Canadian geese eggs. Photo by Lisa Ma

The city deals with 'the problem' by eradicating the Canada geese at great cost. The animals are round up, individually injected with poison and incinerated. People would also take eggs from the nests and throw them in the river. They make sure to keep one egg though. They shake it and put it back in the nest, so that goose parents would continue to nest the 'dud' egg all summer instead of starting a new batch.

Collaborating with cultural organisations Timelab, FoAM, Vooruit, the newly formed food council and a series of local experts, Lisa Ma suggested that the citizens of Ghent ate the invasive animals, rather than leave them for governments to poison at huge public costs.

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Serving mayor Daniël Termont a plate of Canadian goose. Image by Tom Callemin

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Canadian Geese paté. Photograph © Fred Debrock

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Photo by Tom Callemin

Unsurprisingly, the idea spurred an intense debate in the media. But it also led to some pretty unusual experiences: volunteers jumping into rivers to fish out freshly thrown eggs, vegetarian chefs crying when they cooked their first gosling pie, making feather plucking machines from cement mixers, etc.

The Invasive project also attempted to tackle the notoriously invasive Japanese Knotweed. A local cake store used the plant (which tastes like rhubarb 'without the laxative effects') to bake cheesecakes. Invasive grew into a real movement that even launched the first ever food council in the city.

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'Weed-pick' the invasive Japanese knotweed. Photograph © Fred Debrock

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Cake made using Japanese knotweed paste. Photograph © Fred Debrock

These last two paragraphs which sum up some of the lessons learnt in the process were written by Lisa:

The project also addressed a new shift in our believes and values. Vegetarianism used to be a form of activism, what now when it's become a status quo and no longer addressing the dilemma between our believes and our values?

There is no such thing as perfect solutions, even this story of eating invasive animals has its potential pitfalls. Equilibrium doesn't last forever, so activism must be iterative to reassess it's relevance to the dilemma. This project is a real-life case of how even the most aspirational of political communities have a need to further challenge a status quo, even when it had become the pride of their own city.

Image on the homepage: Edward Vercruysse.

I've known for a while that Manchester is far cooler than London. The Northern Quarter, the art festivals (FutureEverything, Abandon Normal Devices), affordable vegan places, genuine love of alternative culture, etc. Even its National Football Museum has a pretty decent art programme. I can now add a new entry to the list: Ancoats.

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Shift//Delete, Suspect Package at Politika. Photo Upper Space

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Politika Crypto Party. Photo Upper Space

I had never heard of Ancoats before i went to the Politika event a few days ago. Ancoats is a few minutes (well, rather 20 minutes) walk from the Northern Quarter. The area has been called "the world's first industrial suburb" and nowadays its canals and former mills and glass factories are being turned into spaces for artists and, inevitably, fancy lofts for moneyed office gents and ladies.

Upper Space, a group of 'insurgent arts activists' which engage with social and environmental justice issues, took up the renovated engine room of a former cotton mill in Ancoats to organize a series of exhibition, workshops, screenings, talks and public interventions. Each of the selected works and discussions invited citizens of Greater Manchester to reflect on possible alternative and resistance to consumerism and the disempowerment that it represents. The events explored themes related to the Ancoats community, social network structures used for activism, people's relationship to capitalism, sustainability in urban context, and campaigning effectively for social change.

I wish i could have spent more time at Politika's workshops and other events but i did have a good look around the exhibition and i'd say that the selection of works was really REALLY good. Most of the installations, videos and objects documented actions that were brave, witty and happened in the public space.

Here's a far too short selection:

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Robin Hood Minor Asset Management Cooperative representatives at the launch of Politika. Photo Upper Space

Robin Hood Minor Asset Management Cooperative (RHMAM) is an asset management cooperative whose mission is to bend the financialization of economy into the advantage of precarious workers. RHMAM developed what they called a Parasite Algorithm that hooks to the brains of the financial elite at Wall Street and puts their knowledge to work for the cooperative. Profits are then shared with "Robin Hood Projects," including "grants for creative work, no interest loans, or anything else," to be determined by the members of the cooperative. I'm going to investigate that one further because it sounds brilliant. But no need to wait for my follow-up post, just sign up and become a member!

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Francisco Tapas (aka Papas Fritas), Ash coins at Politika. Photo Upper Space

In May of 2014, Francisco Tapia - aka 'Papas Fritas', burned $500 million of student loans contracts from the Universidad del Mar, and freed students from their debt. The private, run-for-profit university is a notorious money laundering society for various real estate companies. The Chilean artist and activist sneaked into a vault at the university, removed tuition records and then burned the documents, rendering it nearly impossible for the Universidad del Mar to call in its debt. He later exhibited the ashes inside a camper van as an art show.

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Steve Lambert, Capitalism Works for Me. Politika. Photo Upper Space


Intervention at Labour Party Conference, Manchester 2014

As part of Politika, Upper Space collaborated with Steve Lambert and drove the artist's gigantic Capitalism sign on a truck tour to the Labour party conference in Manchester on September 21st. We wanted to engage citizens of Manchester by taking the elephant out of the room, and down to the conference to generate discussion, debate and conversations about our relationships with the 'C' word - Capitalism.

The little truck trip was a great idea because if there's one place where this work belongs it's outside of an art gallery.


Shift//Delete, Act of Parliament

Shift//Delete's Act of Parliament projection is as silly as it is spot on. He turned the Gherkin, the iconic building of London's financial district, into the world's biggest penis. And the bankers into wankers.

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Chim Pom, Red Card, 2011

One of the members of Chim Pom worked undercover at the Fukushima nuclear plant and photographed himself dressed wearing a radiation protection suit and holding up a red card in front of the destroyed plant.

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Exhibition view (the engine room) of Politika. Photo Upper Space

Why don't we ever see anything like that in London? Why the apathy (please, feel free to contradict me, you'd actually do me a favour)? It's not as if capitalism doesn't give us enough reasons to cry over here, right?

Politika was the starting point of a 4 year community-led project and it is part of a broader reflection involving local residents about the issues that include the loss identity (and place) of the traditionally working class, regeneration policies in the area, the community relationship to wider socio-political ideologies, etc. I'm definitely looking forward to Upper Space's upcoming moves.

More images from Politika:

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Politika. Photo Upper Space

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Politika launch. Photo Upper Space

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Politika launch. Photo Upper Space

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Chim Pom at Politika. Photo Upper Space

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Urban Foraging for Politika. Photo Upper Space

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Workshop outside for Politika. Photo Upper Space

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Politika workshop. Photo Upper Space

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Politika workshop. Photo Upper Space

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Check out also Politika: Art & Local Power In Manchester, UK on Important Cool.

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