On Sunday September 14, i had the great pleasure to host a panel on Cartography of Protest and Social Changes with 3 artists and activists i admire a lot: Brooke Singer, John Emerson and Lize Mogel. I usually avoid writing about the events i'm so closely involved in, either because i don't have the opportunity to take notes or because there's some video of it about to broadcast the ridiculousness of my accent on the world wide web.
It all started a few months ago when i found about, read and fell in love with a book: An Atlas of Radical Cartography. An Atlas is in fact a collection of 10 maps and 10 essays about social issues from globalization to garbage; surveillance to extraordinary rendition; statelessness to visibility; deportation to migration.
When Christina Ray, the director of Conflux, asked me if i'd like to host a panel i said i'd like to moderate one inspired by An Atlas. Lize Mogel is one of the editors of the book (together with Alexis Bhagat ), Brooke Singer and John Emerson contributed to the volume with maps. Just like the book, the panel was an attempt to demonstrate that maps have the potential to bring about social changes. I am not going to write down everything that was say, i'll just share with you tiny bits from the presentations:
Lize's presentation focused on the maps of An Atlas, you can find information about them online but her intro contained some fascinating facts. Here's just one of them:
One of the world's most famous maps can be seen on the flag of the United Nations.
The first version was drawn in 1946 by someone from the US department and had North America at the center of the emblem. The design was changed after some complains from other countries. But one question remained: how do you design a map of the world that has to be fair and display equality between the nations? There is always something on the top, something in the middle (and thus the center of the attention), even being on the left side is not innocent as our eyes are used to read from left to right, the right is also meaningful as advertisers have discovered that the eyes always seem to fall on that side of an image. The solution adopted represents an azimuthal equidistant projection centered on the North Pole. But that area which one would believe is blank and neutral is in fact a space for debate: the area is owned by Denmark, Canada, Russia, Norway and the US and it's unclear how it should be divided up exactly.
An Atlas of Radical Cartography exhibition opens on September 23 at the Global Education Center, UNC campus. Upcoming venues for the exhibition include New Jersey (October), New York City, Utrecht (2009), etc.
John Emerson has a very impressive portfolio and a blog i'd recommend anyone to subscribe to. He often collaborates with grass-root, independent, non-profit associations dealing with human rights, from California Coalition for Women Prisoners, to the Office of The Tibetan Government in Exile, or Injection Drug Use, Syringe Exchange Programs and AIDS in California. His belief is that maps can be useful tools that visualize power and are able to create social change, influence opinions and alter relationships between powers. By making abstraction visible, maps help us navigate through complex concepts.
One of the projects he highlighted are the compelling and revealing maps of Gold Trade in the Democratic Republic of Congo he created for the Human Rights Watch report The Curse of Gold. The gold trade is fueling conflicts and atrocities for the last 20 years in northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The maps makes clearer the relationship between gold concessions, paramilitary groups in the country and gold companies from all over the world.
The art crowd will probably have heard about a project he developed together with Trevor Paglen.
Paglen's project 'CIA Rendition Flights 2001-2006' explores the practice of extraordinary rendition. Emerson designed the map that visualizes the movements of aircraft owned or operated by known CIA front companies in order to reveal the relationships that have been forged between the United States and other countries in the name of the 'war on terror.'
Back in 2006, Paglen and Emerson installed a huge billboard displaying the map of the rendition flights on 6150 Wilshire Boulevard, in Los Angeles. The billboard, part of the The Clockshop Billboard Series. The reaction of the drivers passing by was not an unanimous feeling of revolt in front of the CIA activities, some felt proud and satisfied to see that the government was doing a good job.
Another great project Emerson discussed is the NYC Guide to War Profiteers. First published in March 2003, the map located precisely government and military agencies, weapon makers, corporations, media benefiting from the war, etc. The map was available at progressive bookstores around town, and was distributed at organizing meetings for various protest events. It also listed a series of like-minded websites. You can find a scan of the hard copy online.
Brooke Singer discussed briefly her contribution to An Atlas: the Map of U.S. Oil Fix as well as her fantastic project Superfund365, a website that chronicles 365 of the worst Superfund sites where Americans live at risk of exposure to toxins.
In her introduction about map, Singer reminded the audience of a few relevant facts:
- mapping is more about representation than truthfulness,
She showed also two thought-provoking maps that illustrate this idea of maps as representation: McArthur Universal Corrective Map of the World, designed in the '70s by an Australian man who was upset by the idea that he came from the "bottom of the world". The second one is Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion map, the first world projection to show the continents on a flat surface without visible distortion. The map highlights the fact that the earth is essentially one big island over one ocean.
Sunday at Conflux, the art and technology festival for the creative exploration of urban public space, was hot in every sense including (unfortunately for Summer-phobics like me) in the meteorological one.
Given both the temperature and his own intrepidness, all my admiration went to Lucas Murgida. Last year, the artist was teaching Conflux participants the handy and delicate art of lock-picking. For this edition of the festival, he built a beautiful wooden cabinet, left it on a sidewalk and hid inside it. Mugida stayed in this torridness, for hours and with just a bottle of water, not revealing himself until a passerby would bring the cabinet to their home.
The name of the performance is 9/10 because Murgida wanted to check what would become of the often-quoted phrase, 'Possession is 9/10 of the law' when private property is placed in a public space. As he wrote: A person is not sure how to look at the object at first, but will usually fall back on the golden rule of U.S. culture (finders keepers, losers weepers) and claim it to be theirs. I am hoping to subvert the "finder's" personal space by claiming it to be my own public space.
Saturday wasn't much of an adventure. The cabinet was left in the street, people appeared to be tempted but they left it where it was. Now Sunday was more eventful, the artist and the cabinet got rolled into the storage room of a restaurant. As he had drilled a hole in the cabinet, Lucas was able to take pictures and get an idea of what was going on. The plan was to slip out unnoticed and leave the cabinet to its new owner.
Get the details.
Jenny Chowdhury was braving the mellowing heat in her 802.11 Apparel - Wifi Jacket. Part of a line of clothing that reflects wifi strength detected in the wearer's immediate environment, the jacket literally "bring to light" a portion of the invisible radio waves by illuminating five stripes in accordance with the wifi signal strength.
The basic stripes of LEDs are integrated into a flower motif. This design choice associate our natural environment (the flower pattern) with the synthetic one (technology.)
More wearable devices were displayed all along the festival: CO2RSET which monitors air quality and tightens or loosens on the body in response to the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere; the Back-to-Back Massager vest which rows of electric massagers are pointed outward in order to massage others; Compli-mum, a kind of armor for women that plays movies and changes its own shape by separating or gathering parts of its construction through the use of microcontroller and a motorized skeleton structure and a very fetching Helmet Piece which i'm inconsolable to have missed.
Another work i missed because i was so busy passing the microphone to the public for a Q&A of the panel i curated for Conflux (more about that soon-ish), is The Light Mobs which showed participants how to use a simple little mirror (the pocket Lightcoder) and sunlight to transmit information.
The project had a very praiseworthy goal: to bring attention to our blind faith in digital technology as a medium of communication, using a simple analog "device": the pocket Lightcoder.
I finally did a Botanicalls tour in which plants guide you by telephone in the area surrounding Conflux HQ. Each tree or plant, speaks in their own "Botanicalls" voice, based on their botanical habits and characteristics. It all started with the arrogant Rose and her ridiculous French accent (i'm allowed to write that cuz i gave her my voice) and ended with heart-breaking cries for help coming from the kitchen of a vegetarian restaurant.
I had almost decided to be disappointed with Conflux, the art and tech festival for the creative exploration of urban public space. They had left arty Brooklyn for sleek Soho, Manhattan. You know that old whig who preaches that you should stick to the good old habit no matter what? That was me. But 5 minutes into the festival convinced me that the event is as good as ever. Just different. I did miss the Brooklyn location, it works better for free explorations of the urban grid and also for performances in the street. Plus there was no possibility to do a BBQ in the street which used to be a great and pretty relevant way to wrap up the festival. Ha! And the police had to come and take down a swing which was entertaining passersby. However, the quality of the projects performed and shown at Conflux was amazing. I'll brush over the two first days of the festival as i was still in Seoul trying unsuccessfully to overcome jetlag.
I arrived at Conflux HQ (the neat, elegant but a bit stiff Center for Architecture) to see a performance by the Apparatus for Orchestral Knitting. Laure Drogoul had invited everyone to knit and become a part of a musical knitting orchestra, based on an instrument that amplifies the sound of their knitting, mixed it and played it back live.
You're given an armband with a mounted camera and pedometer. Off you go walking outside to create your own short experimental animation. The pedometer acts as a trigger for the camera and an image of whatever is above you is taken every time a step is made. Nothing to do, just walk and the device does the rest.
Once you're back from wherever your steps led you to, the images are transferred from the camera's memory into a program that create a frame-by-frame animation and an accompanying soundtrack. When the program completes the animation, you get your DVD.
Bingxia Yu had installed inside the gallery a display offering Ugly New York postcards: the unsightly spaces are sometimes located right next to favorite tourists' spots, the back of Time Square under construction, the down under of Brooklyn Bridge, the recovering Lower Manhattan in progress, etc. The project also involves a range of keychains, magnets and other tourist souvenirs which will soon be available for sale online.
As the artist wrote: We believe that ugly spaces - ugly in a sense that they will never make a perfect postcard are more valuable for city experiences.
Silence in urban spaces is never really devoid of the echo of receding sirens, crowd mumblings, door buzzings and other noises. 7 Urban Silences invites visitors to done headphones and mix the relative silences recorded by artists and musicians in cities as different as Paris and Dakar.
To be continued...
The artist walked around the Conflux area with his Vertical Bed in a suitcase, found himself a nice spot, anchored his prostheses above subway vents or other rigid contact points and stayed there sleeping in an upright position for 40 minute intervals several times in a day.
Concealed harnesses ensure that Jamie didn't fall over. He also wore noise canceling headphones and double-mirrored sunglasses, padded with little cusions to keep his eyelid closed. In case of bad weather, an umbrella clips in the infrastructure for shelter.
The project is designed for the visual performance of an alternate way of occupying urban space, born partly out of fantasies of minimal need and elegant futurism, and partly out of fears of the dehumanization of space. Occupants will absorb the vertical structure of urban architecture into their bodies. The vertical sleeper is in a constant state of readiness, never succumbing to collapse. Homelessness is most often marked by the forbidden act of lying down on the sidewalk, an act that the vertical bed circumvents.