The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on ResonanceFM, is aired tonight.
My guest at Resonance today is Austin Houldsworth, a young designer with whom we are going to discuss money, its physical disappearance and the financial crimes that could be committed within a completely electronic marketplace.
As you might remember from a post i wrote a couple of weeks ago about his project Crime Pays, Austin's research explores the near future possibility of living in an entirely cashless society. Today, card transactions are on the rise and it is also forecast that at some point over the next few years, mobiles will have overtaken cards to pay for goods and services. But it's not just banks who want you to go cashless, governments also want to see the end of coins and bills because a cashless society is easier to trace and control and they see cash as the currency of the black economy. Now the value of the black economy varies from country to country. In Italy, for example, the black economy is thought to be 27pc of GDP and to fight its expansion, the previous government has decided that any transaction of over 1000 euros has to be handled by card exclusively. Similarly, Spain has recently banned the use of cash in transactions of 2,500 euros or more. And the movement is spreading... Although the black market might be less widespread in the UK, the government is still spending 20 to 40 billion per year combating organised crime.
So we're going to talk more in depth about Crime Pays but also spend some time on a competition Austin is curating at the moment. The Future of Money Design Award has a pretty appetizing theme this year: artists and designers were invited to design a crime for the age of electronic transactions.
Last week, i went to RCA's research biennial. It was called Disruption, lasted a few days only and you shouldn't be too sad if you missed it. Many of the works lacked any kind of description or explanation so i wasn't really able to assess their quality. That said, a few pieces made it worth the trip to the College. First of all, the gigantic banner 'The Market Will Save Us' by Bill Balaskas hanging on the facade of RCA's Kensington building. The work is a comment on the impact of funding cuts on the cultural sector and the subsequent dependency on corporate sponsorship. Curbing artistic expression, and having to think about 'what you do and what you say' is effectively a form censorship, Balaskas explained.
The other work that saved the show for me was Austin Houldsworth's Crime Pays. The work explores one of your bank's most cherished dream: an entirely cashless society. Phone and card transactions might be on the rise right now but paper and coins will be difficult to replace. People are afraid of safety, fraud, breaches in privacy (electronic payments track and detail all our transactions and therefore define an outline of who we are as individuals. Even readers of the Daily Fail know that.) But the reason why governments would also like to see the end of cash is that it is the currency of the black economy which is estimated to have a total worldwide value of 1.82 trillion dollars. In Italy, for example, the black economy is thought to be 27pc of GDP. Although it is much lower in the UK, the government spends 20 to 40 billion per year combating organised crime and the black market in the UK is estimated to total 60 billion.
Austin managed to convince one of the organisers of a conference at the British Computer Society to present the fictional monetary system as if it were a real scheme. Dave Birch, director of Consult Hyperion played the part of Dr. Don Rogers.
The Crime Pays system is a completely electronic payment system, in which all financial transactions are open. Only paying for the privilege of privacy will ensure a transaction is hidden from public view. Which means that anyone has the opportunity to chose whether they want to make a transaction anonymously or openly. By default your spending will be open and all transactions will be tracked by your bank as they are now. If you'd rather keep the spending secret, then a small fee will be levied and it will go to the government, but you can decide to which budget (health, education, etc.) the money will be assigned to. Even if the tax is has high as 20% of the transaction, the amount will still be fairly low considering the costs already incurred by the government and taxpayer.
Is privacy within our finances a matter of personal liberty or simply the harbourer of criminality?
Hi Austin! Have you thought about what criminals would try and do to avoid paying for privacy?
Did someone tell the audience at the end of Dr. Don Rogers presentation that it was all a fake? Did they think that the scenario was plausible?
Also i was wondering who would control the scheme? Mostly the banks or the government?
Under Black Carpets, Ilona Gaynor's new project, works with police reconstructions, cinematic culture and with 'Forensic Aesthetics' to design the perfect bank robbery. And i don't know how she did it but she managed to get the FBI New York Dept of Justice and the LAPD Archival Department on board as advisors to her study.
Some legal, political and cultural fields have recently seen a shift from human testimony to material forensics. DNA samples, 3D scans, nano-technology, electro-magnetic microscopes, satellite surveillance and other scientific methods or instruments have started to play a key role in police investigations, political decisions and court room deliberations. Retinal scans, biological remains, landscape topographies and other forensic materials communicate to the judicial system. Just like human witnesses, they come with their own rhetoric of persuasion. Eyal Weizman called it Forensic Aesthetics.
Under Black Carpets is at this stage an early study that will be part of a larger project currently under development. Under Black Carpets presents a meticulous deconstruction of several bank heists simultaneously occurring in downtown Los Angeles, focusing specifically on 5 different banks that centre One Wilshire. The work presents itself as site-specific forensic study. A spatial tool accompanied by a kit of parts, presented as a dense numerical index. Each artifact is individually numbered, assuming the role of the protagonist within the collection and pin-points its own whereabouts on a grid of vertical and horizontal geographical coordinates. The viewer is invited to examine and cross-reference this collection, allowing ones own constructed interpretation of the event as it unfolds from muiltiple, distorted perspectives.
At this point, i needed to pause in my lecture of the description of the project and asked her to tell us more about Under Black Carpets:
Your project is developed in collaboration with the FBI New York Dept of Justice and the LAPD Archival Department. How easy is it to work with them? Who are you working with, i'm not asking for names necessarily, but i'd like to get an idea of the type of person these Department would delegate to work with an artist. Are they scientists working in forensics? Members of their press team?
Firstly, I normally approach my research from a great distance to the subject, but I felt with this particular project, it wasn't going to be quite as effective without actually engaging with the scenarios I wanted to explore.
I wanted to get into the mind-set of what it takes to become a Police officer or 'Cop', so I spent a lot of time at the LAPD Police Academy, watching Police engage in intense training: learning how to drive cars in chase simulations, fire guns and partake in classes reciting American Law and its policies. But furthermore, I spent a lot of time in the Police canteen listening to everyday conversations, which led to me buying a copy of So you want to be a cop: what it takes to serve by Scott Butler and Police bible Pocket Partner by Evers, Miller, Glover and Glover - which is global emergency management manual, carried by United States police officers of all ranks and members of the US government. These books describe in detail precise procedures and policies, coupled with a philosophical mindset of what it takes to serve. I mention this, because it's the dialogue I had within the academy which led to working relationship with the justice department.
I spent sometime with detectives and ex Special Agents in the Bureau's Bank Robbery/Kidnapping/Extortion Dept in New York City, which was actually more of a connection made with my previous work. I attended various meetings and demonstrations with scientists, but not really with biochemists like you would expect in archetypal representations of forensic science, but more with spatial experts and computational homicide scientists. People who examine areas like post-impact ballistics, vessel trajectories and object reassembly.
To put their interest in the project into context If you read any book on heists or homicide published in last 10 years like Where the Money Is: True Tales from the Bank Robbery Capital of the World by Gordon Dillo and William J. Rehder, you will find that every book you come across will have been written by retired FBI agents or an ex-detectives who had worked on the cases cited in the book. The texts are framed (accidentally or not) as a form of nostalgia, not necessarily for documentation or research purposes, but for pleasure. Whilst reading you could even imagine them holding a cup of black filter coffee with a gun lying next to them on their bedside table, they are so personal.
Interestingly enough, they are mostly anecdotal. There are very little facts or figures cited, but more focused on memories and one-liners. As such they are delightful people and splendidly macabre.
I'm curious about the title of the project: why "Under Black Carpets"? It makes me think of something sinister that has to be hidden...
The title is sinister. It refers to the act and image of stealing. In old cartoons such as Tom and Jerry, Tom the cat would enter the room and slip underneath the carpets, as to sneak upon the mouse (Jerry) in doing this, displaying a huge moving bulge (often cat shaped) that would continually hit furniture and objects in the room because he couldn't see where he was going - alerting Jerry the mouse as to his whereabouts, rendering the espionage futile, but hilarious. Law enforcement bodies are often portrayed in crime cinema as clumsy, often with plans turning sour, foiled by seemingly petty rules and orders given by superiors by act of protocol. The protagonist hero is often a rogue cop who dismisses the rules and catches the criminal. The black carpet; refers to the archetypal colours found in banks, federal buildings and financer's offices. It's also meant to indicate a spatial aspect to the project.
Your project deals with the aesthetic dimension of forensics, a science said to have taken over 'the era of the witness' in legal systems. How much faith do you have in forensics now that you've studied it from up close (well, at least closer than most of us)? Is this science as indefectible as tv series would like us to believe?
Forensic science has blurred a previously held distinction: between evidence, when the law speaks of objects, and that of the witness, referring to subjects, forensics has become something in-between. TV dramas such as CSI in the US and Silent Witness in the UK, really are as accurately based on reality as entertainment would permit- they exist in a world of simulations, computer based conjecture and biologically stained rags in test tubes. Forensics however isn't strictly lab based nor does it always deal with bio-chemistry as I've mentioned previously, that's very much not the case, that plays a significantly small role. And it also very much depends on the nature of the crime and where the crime happened. US crime tends to be more exaggerated and extreme, due to the very nature or culture in which people live, especially in Los Angeles. The crime cases publicized, tend to be lot more spectacular then crimes committed in Britain, of course that's stating the obvious, however I honestly believe that it's related to the cinematic culture, of which we just simply don't have the ability, or want to record and transmit news cinematically. Of course why would we?
Michael Mann's film Heat (1995) was a film shot in downtown LA, with the most notably 'realistic' loud gunplay scene in cinematic history to date. It's cold, blunt and incredibly violent. But what's interesting about that scene is that it became the basis and inspiration for a very real event that happened in LA a few years later, an event dubbed The North Hollywood Shootout I watched repeatedly the news footage from the North Hollywood Shootout and Heat and found that in comparison after repeatedly viewing it intensely, I decided that actually Mann's Heat was far more realistic.
I don't believe anything is infallible, people by nature are cunning and will always find a way to subvert and distort the truth. Even scientific evidence takes form, as rhetoric by the very nature in which is it presented, monopolized or industrialized. I'm not saying that forensic science is inaccurate but it's the way in which we construct or curate the evidence is what makes it key. There have been many miscarriages of justice, with many serious crimes going unsolved. A juridical verdict is a legal argument. The end is not normally the 'truth' of 'what happened', but one of convincing conjecture, which makes it's dimension beautifully fascinating and deadly.
With such a shift on the emphasis of forensics referring back to taking over the 'the era of the witness', I think has left the Police putting too much faith in forensic science, particularly in that of biology, so much so that they have begun to ignore human instinct and intuition, because the definition of truth and reality has never been so unclear.
But then again maybe I'm simply too much of a purist fan of film noir and crime literature.
Could you also explain the part played by 'forensic aesthetics' in your project?
'Forensic Aesthetics' a term coined by Dr Eyal Weizman at the Department of Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths University. It was an idea that was originally used in an architectural context and was called Forensic Architecture. The idea of using objects to form an argument, as a narration in the absence of actuary evidence is now being openly discussed at various law schools in the US as a mode of future legal practice, which is very exciting! The term is very much at the heart of this project or at least in the research. My project comes into play whereby, I would like to use this theory and expand on the research as a platform to initiate 'it' as a mode of design, by giving it form and materiality. Weizman talks about it the broad context of human rights, of course those are important, but my angle is for pleasure, aesthetic speculation and fantasy. Imagine an architectural model - a designed space accompanied by designed artifacts being wheeled into a courtroom and brought up for questioning almost to fulfill the role of the 'witness' as evidence. Design can become something to examine, question and decipher through legal channels.
It's very interesting to me to relentlessly construct narratives from traces that were left over from a traumatic or chaotic event, even if you are stitching together empty spaces that seem impossible and too abstract. The documentation of everyday detail in the construction of archives of clues and cases creates a great pool for crafting hybrid fictions and competing perceptions - a world of secret lives, lies and stories.
Under Black Carpets presents a meticulous deconstruction of several bank heists simultaneously occurring in downtown Los Angeles, focusing specifically on 5 different banks that centre One Wilshire. What are these banks?
The banks are: Bank of America, Mellon Bank, City National Bank, US Bank and Wells Fargo. These were chosen because of their geographic proximity to One Wilshire and precise distance from the LAPD headquarters in downtown LA. The narrative proceeds, a false plane collision with the 30th floor of One Wilshire, as a ruse. One Wilshire is an infamous centralized carrier hotel. It provides half of the worlds connection to the internet; currently it connects: China, Korea, the USA, east Russia and parts of Europe, directing anything toward One Wilshire would attract much attention. The surrounding street block formation would centralize Police, harboring them in one place due to the precise vertical heights of the buildings and the dense geography of those particular blocks. The visual transparency from the ground is also extremely limited. The architecture is positioned in such a way, that staging particular events or moments could be hidden from view behind protruding floors, light refractions from the mirrored glass and thick palm tree heads. Some of the streets are also impossible for helicopters to circulate and enter, however every flat rooftop has its own helipad by state law in that area.
What will be the purpose of the deconstruction? To design the perfect bank robbery?
Yes. Exactly that. My intention is design the perfect heist. A counter measure to anticipated police reactions based on this research. But not presented as projection like a pre-planned, straight-up plot, but one told through hindsight. Using aesthetics and material form to frame the narrative as an investigation, an archive of evidence for the purpose of constructing, a legal argument.
Finally, what shape does the project take: the project page has models but do you also plan to add 3D renderings? video? essays?
This project is simply a study - a deconstruction for the purpose of seeing something from a birds-eye view (not literally) but a plot device to experiment with. This first part was completed whilst I was the summer research resident at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. The final project will take the form of artifacts, large scale engineered mechanical devices, architectural physical studies, speculative tools and materials. There will be films - my aim is to shoot Police reconstructions of what they assumed to have happened. There's a lot to do!
A book or research will also accompany the project, a series of essays and collated documents curated and co-written by Geoff Manaugh (BLDGBLOG) and myself.
The final work will go into an exhibition on display next year at the Lisbon Architecture Triennale, it will be showing in an unused bank vault comprising of 6 rooms in September 2013.
When i interviewed Tom Keene in the studios of Resonance FM a couple of months ago, he told me approximately 44 seconds before the end of the programme that he was working on a speech recognition algorithm that searches radio waves for conversations about money.
The work, called Uncertain Substance, investigates the Viterbi algorithm which was devised by Andrew Viterbi in 1966 as an error-correction scheme for noisy digital communication. Its use has since been extended to many digital technologies: speech recognition, satellite, DNA analysis, video encryption, deep space, wireless communications systems, etc. Physical manifestations of this algorithm exists as microchips installed in mobile devices, enabling communications networks to permeate every conceivable space, blurring distinction between home, work and social environments.
Tom's interest in the algorithm isn't purely motivated by a passion for programming, his project is also looking into the social effect of its application and implementation:
Used to identify patterns and trends of human behaviour, the Viterbi plays a role in automated systems that interpret, record and report on human activity. These systems increasingly make economic decisions, govern response to crime, disaster, health and manage the everyday flow of cities. The Viterbi operates at a deep social level as it constructs new sets of social relations and radically shapes the development of our cities.
Uncertain Substance: The Viterbi Algorithm was shown recently at Forking Bits, the graduation show of the MA Interactive Media: Critical Theory and Practice at Goldsmiths in London. I was out of town that week, so i decided to make yet another interview with Tom:
Hi Tom! You developed speech recognition algorithm that searches radio waves for conversations about money. How does the research of the search manifest itself? What happens? Did you test the system? Where and what were the results?
I tested two versions of the system, one as an installation in an old porters office in Goldsmiths University, the other as a mobile version built into a shopping trolley which I tested at Moving Forrest at Chelsea College of Art. The porters office version displayed two very dull looking computers one of which was a speech recognition server (SRS) built around the open source project CMUsphinx, and the other was a software defined radio server (SDRS) which was built around a hacked £10 USB TV tuner. The SRS listened to the audio output of the SDRS and if it detected speech then it would stay on that radio station in the hope that it would find a keyword from a list (Money, Credit, Debt, Thousand, Billion, Trillion etc), if it didn't find any words within 20 seconds, then it would trigger the SDRS to find another station where it would begin the process again.
The porters office added its own narrative which I discovered while cleaning it out and getting rid of years of grime and dumped objects - it recorded a pretty depressing history - there were old letters of redundancy, a broken pair of spectacles, betting slips, a small screen marked "payroll". I incorporated these elements in the space as a subtle way of illustrating the entanglement of algorithms into everyday lives and other media systems, where algorithmic reporting and profiling informs and influences our decision making processes, event though these outputs haven't necessarily been planned or programmed, the technology is then exerting its own power and its that mechanism that I want to understand.
Can the person monitoring the algorithm actually understand the conversation?
If by that you mean, did the system do a good job of translation? No - it's terrible at translating radio! Speech recognition is a very tricky thing to do well and this sort of system is much better suited to recognising a few keywords spoken by a voice it has been specifically trained to listen to. Though in this instance I wasn't particularly fussed about the quality of the speech recognition, I really enjoyed (along with the audience) watching the weird sentences that were being produced as the result of a mathematical model.
What I really wanted to achieve was for the audience to engage with the operations of the algorithm, the decisions it made and how it entangles itself with other media and social systems. To achieve this I attempted to display its inner workings as much as possible.
The SDRS displayed the radio frequency it was tuning into and you could hear the audio as it shifted between pure noise, music or speech. On a second screen the SRS displayed a rolling log of; transcribed audio, found keywords, how long it had been listening for and feedback that indicated if it was bored or couldn't understand the conversation. A point of sale receipt printer generated a physical paper trail as it printed any texts about money as and when they were found. I also managed to rig up a CCTV screen that displayed the current radio frequency/time, which also broadcast (through an on-board speaker) "found money" which it spoke in a digital voice whenever a money conversation had been found. So this relatively simple set-up incorporated multiple media systems of: Radio, Paper, CCTV, Work life, Finance, Computer networks - each touched by the Viterbi algorithm in some way.
Wasn't the public upset by the idea that an algorithm was looking for their financial conversations?
Not at all! More amusement than anything else. The most common question was - is it going to make you rich? Which gave me an opportunity to talk about the wider issues of the project and the fact that it can be very difficult to understand the the effects of the Viterbi algorithm as it cannot be separated from complex layers of social (human and technical) layers in which it is embedded. This project has been been about building a series of contraptions as a means to reveal the effect and influence of the Viterbi, the speech recognition project has been just one of those exercises, others have included its use in Mobile technologies, and its path finding capabilities.
If i understood correctly the description of your project, many crucial governmental and economic decisions depends on the algorithm's interpretation of human activity. One would expect an algorithm to be reliable and rational so surely, we should be reassured that our fate is in such capable 'hands', right?
Just to be clear, I'm not saying that the Viterbi is used by Government and that's a worrying thing - I'm not attempting to make a value judgement here - there are many examples of algorithms being used for governmental and non governmental decision making process which have both positive and negative effect. I am just attempting to illustrate the social effect of an algorithm used in a mutlitude of systems, where the power of those systems is not held by any single political party or economic system, but is dissipated and exerted by the system itself. That power exerted by these systems have the potential to influence city planning decisions, or discipline people's behaviours at a micro level in their day to day lives, where social effect doesn't occur because it has been programmed that way, or that government investment has created an infrastructure that facilitates greater control of he population, but rather new social phenomena is produced in a messy, unstructured chaotic way outside of human control. In terms of these algorithms being rational, then at the level of mathematics and science they are, but at the level of their actual real world social effect, then they are most certainly not.
Thank you Tom!
If there's one student show that never disappoints, it's the Bartlett Summer Show. There are models over drawings over installations over plans over rendering. Over the floor, the walls and the ceilings. Year after year, that show is consistently eye-pleasing and inspiring. The exhibition is now closed but i caught up with one of the new graduates, Theodore Games Petrohilos to talk about Air Futures. The speculative project investigates the trade of Air Rights (TDRs - Transferable development Rights) which, in real estate, refer to the empty space above a property. Generally speaking, owning or renting land or a building gives one the right to use and develop the air rights.
What would happen if the regulation of air rights was given free rein, if air became a commodity that could be bought and sold? How would the trade physically manifest itself? Can we imagine that one day an Air Bank will open in the heart of Manhattan?
The Air Futures project speculates on the apparition and spread of a system that would manipulate, buy and sell air. The work explores both the legality and physicality of the air above New York.
Here's the result of the Q&A session with the architect:
Hi Theo! Air Futures is a speculative project but it is anchored in elements of reality as well.
Yes, the fact that this project emerged from existing realities is what made it so exciting to work on. Air Futures is the speculative evolution of the air rights trade in New York, where volumes of 'air' are bought and sold to facilitate complex development manoeuvres over the city's grid. The trade in TDR's (Transferable Development Rights) works on the basis that the owners of a plot in the city should be able to fully exploit that plot, as an extruded volume up until the full height of the city's zoning limits. So if the existing building on that New York plot doesn't reach the full height of this invisible zoning limit, then the owner of the plot can sell the leftovers! This is what my project deals in - the leftover developable volumes of space above the city's urban landscape, and the further ramifications, and processes that arise from giving this air value.
How and why would the trading of air appear?
At the moment, the air rights trade allows the transfer of these developable volumes under strict rules. For example, you sell the space above your building, and the new owner can build his new building over your plot or bend over it. This happened in 1962 with the Pan Am (now Metlife) Building, the first foray into air rights, where the largest office building at the time was constructed over the historic Grand Central Terminal. The air rights volume can also be transferred to another area, across the road or over strict movements in the grid, to develop elsewhere, and to allow development beyond the set zoning limit. This action of maximising a plot's value without destroying the existing structure has proven to be a valuable tool for the ever-densified city: selling air rights to gain the full 'value' of a plot without physically touching the existing building itself.
The value of these air volumes have the potential to be enormous, for example, in 2005 Christ Church on Park Ave and 60th sold its air rights to developers building on the same block for $30 million. The value of that air volume was based on a speculative idea of what could be developed with it. What fascinated me, was that people where, and are paying millions of dollars for 'air', that is 'air' as a legal entity - a potential future developable volume that could reap even more gains if moved elsewhere, and perhaps joined with other volumes of air. Whole skyscrapers can be built from air rights accumulated from the same block, but now there is real talk of the expansion of the system - air is going public.
Government officials and speculators alike are looking into the creation of an 'air bank', where air rights can be accumulated and divided just like shares. Air rights will also be able to be transferred from one district to another, so the playing field will be larger, as will the potential profits. Brokers and traders will be brought in to facilitate these movements for new investors, who are betting on the potential of these air stocks to perform for them. The New York air rights trade is currently to do with relatively micro- transactions, with values closely associated with both the donor and receiving sites - as a development tool it appears to be manageable. As an investment tool, air becomes subject to the same systems that got us into our current financial mess, it becomes totally detached from reality and fully enters the maniacal world of speculation. We now see air as a commodity and this is where the Air Futures Company comes in.
What 'air' are we talking about? It's not simply oxygen, right?
Well the term 'air' defines a legal volume with invisible boundaries, it's a completely intangible commodity, its values are based on speculative futures. As the air trade becomes more detached from the actualities of the development of a city and sways more to the fluctuations of a financial market - for the system to pertain to be sustainable it must try and find a solidity of value. In my thesis for this project; 'The Architecture of Mania' I explored how constructions around other intangible commodities create this tangible notion of value - these, like the Air Futures trade, I define as 'manias' that are subject to the crazed emotions of crowds and instinctual reactions to environments. In my research, I saw how important it is to give architectural physicality to these 'commodities' in order to excite a value in the mania as a whole.
Starting from Marx's assertions about commodity fetishism (that eventually led to revolutions!) arising from a detachment from physical production, I needed to define the physicality of this air being traded - give it a more solid value and gain the trust of investors already sick of intangible sub prime mortgages etc.
This is the same need as the Air Futures system, they need to separate their commodity from the everyday air of New York to be shown to asserting some sort of control over it. As the air above New York becomes bought, and traded through the Air Futures Company they erect red boxes to define their ownership of those volumes and presence in the city. These frames act as signifiers to excite potential investors in the city and define the intangible air. The Air Futures headquarters on Wall Street confronts investors with controlled flows/gusts that create certain boundaries and thresholds in the building. These ritual paths and thresholds come from my research into the grand museums of art like the Altes Museum, and Louvre etc - places that have to create value in ART: another commodity with intangible values.
How does the project reflect current commercial practices?
The use of manipulated oxygen levels around the building are used to excite traders and investors alike into euphoric states. I used these to highlight the addictive and unstable nature of high-risk investing and aggressive speculation we see today. I tried to reflect that in the crazed eyes of the fat cats that inhabit my spaces and illustrations for the project.
With the Air Futures system I aimed to create a scenario that evolved what I see as the mania of speculation. The project is very much based on existing practices, albeit with a critical eye. I tried to reflect little reasonable ventures that accumulated to make a quite unsettling proposition. Its like the traders of todays financial markets saying "its okay to take this little risk", without thinking of the ultimate impact on the rest of the world, and everything, all the livelihoods staked against their little actions.
Could you walk us through how the trading would take place? Who buys the air? How is it distributed?
The whole Air Futures building is arranged into hierarchies that reflect the attitudes of the system. The Air Futures Building raises itself above the street on a new city datum, which serves to separate the traded and valued air, from the everyday air of the city. The concrete ritual paths into the building, serve to create a feeling of entering another realm, where this valued air resides, and is controlled by the commercial system. Investors are then led up through the regulator spaces of the system, who check both the legality of trades and monitor the purity of claimed air - the system has to be seen to be under control after all. There are then the Air Club sections of the building, where people come to literally get high on air - the commodity - and then trade on the city set out below them. Then there is the Trading Floor, where crowds of euphoric Air Futures traders shout and hustle to inflate stock values, in a sort of gladiatorial performance. They watch trading fluctuations on ionised air barometers on the ceiling that glow with each change in the market. The systems played out in the building are intentionally dense, to echo the alchemic nature of their speculations. The traders are after all turning air into gold.
Could this kind of trade spread to London and other European cities?
Of course! With cities around the world getting more intense, with populations growing in space hungry metropolises, people are always looking upward. I treated air in this project as the last commodity to go public, and it has the ability to reap infinite revenues. In London for instance, cash strapped local governments or historic buildings would be able to sell of their air rights to sell to designated 'high zones' in the city or other cities in the EU for that matter, pretty much like a carbon credit system, but for development. Its all ridiculous of course but possible. I've tried to play the devil's advocate with this project and say "what if it goes this far?"
How would 'normal' people be affected by this trade?
On the physical side of things, if all the air in a city becomes privately owned and that ownership is asserted, it's possible that new types of responsibilities could arise. These could be to do with possible threats to that air above the city and its purity. These subjects were tackled for instance in New York's Times Square after September 11th, where studies were undertaken to assess the possibility of building owners fortifying the public realm from possible terrorist attacks on the air breathed.
The city would see development take place above the standard city datum. This traded air, with highly inflated values would end up inaccessible to the general public, they would end up priced out of the market, and a new 'oppulent datum' would arise.
The Air Futures story is pretty dystopic, but of course it's speculation.
All images courtesy Theo Games Petrohilos.
Related story: Airspace Activism.
In order of appearance: Joseph Popper proposes to send one person on a journey into deep space from where they will never return, Neil Usher designed a robot that finds human faces in the clouds, Shing Tat Chung looks at what would happen if traders and estate agents gave free reign to superstition and Tobias Revell talks about the timeline that charts the history of power up to the early 22nd century and how that 24/7 banking ship fits into the picture.
The radio show is broadcast tomorrow Monday 2nd July at 16.30 (GMT.) There will be a repeat on Thursday at 22.30. You can catch it online if you don't live in London. And of course we have podcasts (i just need to find a good place for them on the blog.)
I hope you like it!