Publisher The University of Chicago Press Books writes: There is nowhere else in the world quite like Chungking Mansions, a dilapidated seventeen-story commercial and residential structure in the heart of Hong Kong's tourist district. A remarkably motley group of people call the building home; Pakistani phone stall operators, Chinese guesthouse workers, Nepalese heroin addicts, Indonesian sex workers, and traders and asylum seekers from all over Asia and Africa live and work there--even backpacking tourists rent rooms. In short, it is possibly the most globalized spot on the planet.
But as Ghetto at the Center of the World shows us, a trip to Chungking Mansions reveals a far less glamorous side of globalization. A world away from the gleaming headquarters of multinational corporations, Chungking Mansions is emblematic of the way globalization actually works for most of the world's people.
Gordon Mathews's compendium of riveting stories enthralls and instructs in equal measure, making Ghetto at the Center of the World not just a fascinating tour of a singular place but also a peek into the future of life on our shrinking planet.
Chungking Mansions inspired Wong Kar Wai's Chunking Express movie. It is also where my literary idol of the moment, Harry Hole, is found smoking opium at the beginning of The Leopard. Chungking Mansions is a derelict 17 storeys high building located in one of the busiest areas of Hong Kong. It offers dirt cheap accommodation for tourists and traders, shops selling clothes, souvenirs or small electronics (copies and originals), curry restaurants, foreign exchange offices and other services. Mathews calls it "an island of otherness in Hong Kong." A place that Chinese people find to seedy to enter, where the lingua franca is english and an informal gathering place for ethnic minorities in Hong Kong, particularly South Asians and Africans in search of a better (or rather richer) life.
The book gives a perspective on globalization i had never heard about before. Not only because it talks about globalization from an anthropologist's point of view but also because it focuses on what Matthews calls "low-end globalisation" of which Chungking Mansions is a central node. The protagonists of low-end globalisation are relatively small fry compared to the corporations we usually associate with the word 'globalization.' They are traders coming from Sub-Sahara African countries who carry in their suitcases the goods they buy from Chinese manufacturers (the author calculated that a trader can fit 250 to 300 mobile phone within an airline baggage allowance), hoping to make a big profit from it back in their home country, once they have paid the necessary taxes and bribes at customs. Or they are young people from Kidderpore in Kolkota who land in Hong Kong because the ticket fare to the city is cheaper than any other destination where they could find work. They arrive with sari and basmati rice in their suitcase, stay on extended tourist visa, work for pitiful wages in a curry house and go back home with clothes to sell in their neighbourhood. In Hong Kong, these traders and illegal workers struggle to buy a Cup Noodle at the nearest 7-Eleven. Back in their home country, they are regarded as successful members of the middle-class or upper-class.
In "low-end globalisation", people still use cash and favour face-to-face business.
Whether they are traders, shop owners, asylum seekers, prostitutes, or temporary workers, these people end up in Chungking Mansions because it offers cheap accommodation, because it is located in a city-state that doesn't have strict visa rules and because Hong Kong is a gateway towards Southern China where mobile phones and textiles are manufactured at low prices.
Matthews explores the building through its history and location, the groups of people living there, the goods that pass through it, the laws that govern (with much laxity) the transactions taking place in the building. The final chapter speculates on the future of Chungking Mansions.
Matthews's passion for Chungking Mansions and the people that inhabit it is contagious. I read the book from cover to cover over the weekend. His writing is clear, entertaining, and it never verges on the intimidatingly academic. The personal stories collected from the traders, shopkeepers, asylum-seekers and other people who pass through the building make the book even more engaging.
"They [superstitions] give us a feeling of control over uncertainty and so it might be predicted that the current feeling of instability in the world would create an increase in superstition," said Prof. Richard Wiseman in 2003, just before launching his 'UK Superstition Survey'. The research demonstrated that levels of superstition in the UK were surprisingly high, even among people with a scientific background (full details in the PDF.)
In this time of crisis and confusion, are we going to resort more than ever to superstition and irrationality in order to get back an illusion of control? The project that Shing-Tat Chung was showing at the work in progress show of Design Interactions, explores a world in which beliefs and rituals emerge from the seemingly harmless private sphere to infect larger and more complex public systems. In times of uncertainty will the population demand an alternative logic to be implemented? This project imagines a stock market in which superstitions abound, producing uncanny algorithms and illogical bankers attired in green suit and Feng-Shui briefcases.
Questions to the designer:
I found surprising that your project associate people working in the Stock Exchange with superstition. I thought they were the only people who had control these days. What triggered this interest in 'illogical bankers'?
We're at our most superstitious in times of uncertainty, as we are hardwired to gain control of a situation by recognising patterns, even if they ignore current rationale. When I started researching superstition, I started to concentrate on looking at contextualising my project in scenarios that would best suit my project. This drew me to the stock market and thus bankers. Due to the high levels of instability and vast amounts of money at risk, it seemed the ideal economy to play out my project.
The stock market is in essence a breeding ground for superstition. We have this view that trading is done the rational way, almost emotionless, and then there is this whole other part that is hidden in the private sphere of the banker or trader, such as being buried in their lucky trading jacket or large hedge funds using financial astrology as a source of advice.
One of my favourite researched rituals is a 'reputable' trader who establishes his starting trading position based on the nipple direction of the Sun's page 3 model (up or down). Whilst these facts may be fun and whimsical, what really interests me is when these irrational beliefs start to emerge and become implicated into more cemented systems. For example, 70% of the largest lift supplier's orders, request that the number 13 is removed. So in question, how far will it go, and how far do we demand such beliefs to be implemented? What I want to do is extract these irrationalness and redesign a system which is governed by alternative beliefs. One in which all these beliefs that exist on a private level emerge to infect larger systems. In effect creating this parallel stock market.
With the economic and financial systems collapsing, will we seek an alternative logic? One in which will give us illogical bankers.
Do you think people would trust them more (or at least see them in a more favourable light) if they knew that bankers' decisions are influenced by superstition and illogical elements?
Maybe we would see them as more human and as a result vulnerable. However I think it says a lot more about us in general. The stock market is just another structure among many in which decisions are much more influenced by superstition. The same with extreme fishing, or even sports. That's why a lot of sports stars or even politicians deploy more superstitions than average.
In the early 20th Century, the anthropologist Bronisław Malinowski noted that islanders in the pacific who fished in 'safe zones' carried out their jobs with a high level of rational expertise. However the fisherman who ventured off beyond the coral reef displayed many superstitious rituals and ceremonies to invoke magical powers for safety and protection. So it would seem reasonable that bankers would use more irrationalities. What I want to see is what happens when they solely use illogical elements.
Can you talk to us about the Power of 8 suit? Why the number 8? And what do you mean by "The suit provides the owner with the comfort that even the process of the making of the suit has accommodated relevant superstitions'?
The idea was to begin to question what, why and how the stock market is run. What bankers and traders wear, the colours, the organisation. My first objective was to imagine what it may look like visually, would all the bankers wear green because green represents a rise in the market. However, I wanted to take this a bit further, so working with a pattern cutter, we came up with a pattern that had all its dimensions tailored towards a multiple of the number 8 (cm). Whilst it may look like a regular suit, the cuffs are in fact a bit wider than normal, the sleeves stretch out a bit more than usual.
Why I used the number 8? Well 8 is a lucky number in Asia. (Translates as sudden fortune and prosperity). A number 8 plate in Hong Kong sold for around half a million pounds, where as the Beijing Olympics started on 8.2008 on the eighth hour, eighth minute and eighth second. Part of the project is not only to critique certain collective beliefs but also to see how far we demand them to become implanted and that's where the comment comes in. To what extent do we take our beliefs. Do we require that the current logic in manufacturing is replaced with alternative ones? So if all the measurements of products had to abide to the number 8, what would our reality shape to look like?
If I was rich and superstitious and someone came up with the proposal to convert the all my belongings to be tailored towards 8, I would probably go for it.
One of the experiments of Superstitious Thoughts involves an Uncanny Algorithm. What is this algorithm about? And what do people invest in when they invest in this Uncanny Algorithm?
The Uncanny Algorithm is a trading algorithm. One that is currently in stage 1, which is the call for investment and the creation of the actual algorithm. The algorithm will use a trading platform and buy and sell shares with the investors money. However, rather than using current rationale, the algorithm will use superstition as its principle logic. The rules or logic will be governed by collective beliefs such as the fear of the number 13. Buying and selling on a collection of numerological rules (that don't clash). Whilst it will acknowledge collective superstitions, it will also generate its own. Hopefully it will recognise hidden patterns whilst it is trading. So upon a successful trade it will seek for hidden 'charms'. Speculating a bit here, but if I could link this pattern recognition with, for example, the BBC sports webpage, it could potentially start to develop superstitions that are related to the performance, of say, Manchester United. It will then use this to govern how it trades. Or much more simply, if it made a successful trade at a certain time, it may consider the numbers in this time lucky and start computing these as the logic to trading.
So what will happen is that the algorithm will happily trade shares for one year, after this period, the result, whether it has lost or won money will be returned to the investor.
During the trading year, I hope to release quarterlies (reports) and AGMs where investors can attempt to raise trading performance supernaturally. At this very moment, £686 had been invested.
Essentially, what people are investing in is superstition. The experiment, rather than a tool to make money, is more about moving people into the thought space that an algorithm could operate with a very humane way of working and to also act as a live social experiment. As an experiment, that is why I am accepting investments as low as two pounds.
How do you feng-shui a briefcase?
I like the term 'to feng-shui'. Maybe I'll use that more. What I was trying to be careful with, was not to embody the briefcase with, all aspects of superstitions, but to sub divide beliefs into more manageable slices. Feng-Shui has a lot of rules to abide to. So I didn't want to use them all in one go (my project would be over in a flash). In this case, I wanted to take the iconic 'hole in a structure' that channels through chi. It still amazes me when I see those buildings in Asia that have huge holes in the middle of their architecture. Incidentally Feng-Shui is used a lot in businesses, I wonder how you could Feng-Shui a business plan.
Maybe I should go to a specialist and ask to Feng-Shui my thesis.
Did working on this project make you more superstitious than ever?
I would say I am on the half way line. I am pretty rationale, however I like to entertain myself with superstitions. But by working on this project, and unearthing all these wonderful superstitions out there and its effect on systems, it hasn't made me more of a believer, but it has definitely made me admire them more.
Although now that my superstition knowledge has quadrupled and that I now know of more beliefs and rituals, maybe they will slowly or subconsciously affect me.
In fact, I recently found out the time I was born which was 8.18pm. Combine this with 8th Nov 1986 and I am starting to feel pretty lucky.
'The Intel - Cyprus Merger' showed how the world's first merger of a country and a corporation might be possible, and advantageous for both parties. Moreover through the execution of due diligence, stakeholder engagement and communication, how such a merger could be enacted responsibly, and in the best interests of both, or how at least it might appear so.
At first sight, Zoe Papadopoulou''s new project is challenging and absurd, but dig deeper and you'll see how thought provoking it is. This is especially true, in the light of impending economic bailout measures being forced upon Greece, and how the Greek government has indeed found itself looking to corporations to buy assets from the State.
Merger was born in February 2008, in response to a brief at the Royal College of Art on 'The Future of Money' sponsored by Intel's People and Practices Research Group. Zoe reappraised the project for the ongoing Paris Design Week.
Merger, is told through a video in which a fictional character, Anna Rodgers, the director of overseas acquisitions at Mackenzie M&A, presents an overview of how and why the Merger came to be to other interested parties. She also describes how the merged corporation and country have generated economic and democratic benefits to both parties and turned around the fortunes of a nation. The project allows the viewer to ask why Intel might see an opportunity in Cyprus - a small island-state, with strong historic links to Greece, but with a separate economy.
Cyprus decided to take advantage of the EU precedent created by UK's Olympic and Paralympic Act in 2006, which made the words "London 2012" and "2012" protected trademarks, along with the name of the official LOCOG website, and "various derivatives". The Olympics were created in Greece, so Cyprus starts to protect the revenue made from products and services borne out of the inventions of the ancient Greeks.
That's where Intel, which built their revenue in no small part through protecting the Intellectual Property of their developments, intervenes. In this scenario, Intel would bring their expertise and lawyers, and look at every single aspect of modern life (from architecture to urban planning, from language to technological inventions) that borrow from Greek inventions, and claim a bounty from each. In so doing they create a sustained income stream that sees the Cypriots be the exemplar of economic growth, at odds with the fortunes of the rest of Europe.
By highlighting the ease with which the UK Government and the International Olympic Association use their power to protect something that originated in Greece, this project asks, with Intel's might, if the Island of Cyprus could challenge and regain their past glory and wealth.
Not content with protecting revenue, Merger also aims to revisit and update one of the Greek's most widely-adopted inventions - democracy.
Merger highlights the current lack of trust in politicians and in Governments too slow to tackle adequately the significant challenges that countries and their populations face. Surely this lack of responsiveness would not be tolerated in the corporate world. The lady in the video explains that Cypriots didn't want a Prime Minister or a President. They wanted a CEO, a businessman that would run the country like a successful company. I bet the Italians who now have a 'successful businessman' as their head of State would beg Cyprus to be very cautious about their choice.
Merger proposes a Real Time Democracy model that allows Cypriots to track how their Government is doing 24/7 - on a collection of metrics including the share price of Intel - which they now all, each, own a share in. One man, one vote becomes 'one man, one share.'
In the three years since Merger, this project proposed that the Cypriots and Intel have built the world's biggest monument to commemorate their union. The Antikytheran Monument, in the centre of the capital city Nicosia, recognises another Greek invention - the Antikythera Mechanism; the world's first computer designed between 150 and 100 BC to calculate astronomical positions.
This also reveals why Intel has gone to all the effort of merging with a country, that they could buy piece by piece if they had chosen to. In this brave new world, Intel owns the rights to all computers - their entire supply chain and competitors.
With this project, Zoe Papadopoulou questioned, via the power Intel and Cyprus yield as a result, what might be the implications of a "merger" of a corporation and a state. She also invites the public to question if this one day might be possible, or if by stealth it was an inevitable part of our futures.
Finally, the future of this project will be to curate an exhibition based on the evolution of this new national entity that further explores the changes it is likely to undertake in the next 20, 30 or 50 years. This will not only be considered from a design perspective but also a philosophical one with the help of Greek Cultural theorist and essayist Elia Ntaousani.
I've just had a long long day so please don't hold it against me if i take no more than two minutes to copy paste a plea that could help save Dutch new media art institutions. As you might know already, new media art institutions in The Netherlands are threatened with a 100% cut in their structural governmental funding. I believe that Mediamatic is right when they write that "The loss of funding will not only destroy the Dutch infrastructure, but will disrupt the international New Media Arts network as well." These institutions have been generous not only with Dutch media artists but also with artists from all over the world, offering them residencies, inviting them to give talks, to head workshops, to participate to exhibitions and perform in their space.
When the budget cuts for arts and culture are accepted by Parliament on Monday June 27th, all New Media Art institutions in The Netherlands will lose their funding. Institutional support for New Media culture will come to a grinding halt. From 2013 onwards there will be no development platform for New Media Art in The Netherlands. Please help us prevent this from happening by signing the petition. If you have a mailing list or a website, please spread the petition and this information. The loss of funding will not only destroy the Dutch infrastructure, but will disrupt the international New Media Arts network as well.
Sustaining the Dutch infrastructure for New Media Art requires a mere 1% of the national arts budget. Help us prevent this destruction and retain support for New Media Art.
Mediamatic also created infographics that puts arts spending in proportion to lots of other costs in dutch society...
Image on the homepage: Marnix de Nijs, Run Motherfucker Run, 2001-2004.
A couple of weeks ago, while i was visiting him at the School of Design and Crafts at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, Otto von Busch told me about an extraordinary experiment that architect Armin Blasbichler had carried out with 21 of his architecture students at the University of Innsbruck. I didn't get much details, except that Blasbichler's students had been assigned to pick up a bank in the city, study it, identify its Achilles' heel and plan a bank robbery.
The best way to know more about the project was to interview the mastermind behind it...
If i understood the project well, you ran a seminar at the University of Innsbruck where 21 architecture students, the famous "Blasbichlers Twentyone", were given the assignment to study the plans of the bank, spot their weaknesses and then take advantage of them to make a bank robbery in which however, they could not steal money. Is that so? Could you give us a few more details about the project?
The project is the result of a semester-long design research course at the Institute of Design/ Studio1 at the University of Innsbruck. The course was conceived as a laboratory to investigate in the continuing marginalization of the role of the architect, the sheer new mass of young architects produced by Universities trying to find a stand, the potentials of role play and last but not least the bold attempt to run an academic course as a profit oriented business model. For the motivation of a young aspiring architect I would put it a little more dramatic:
"...Yo, we gotta take the power back! Bam! Here's the plan." (Rage Against the Machine,
At first glance the attempt to plan a bank robbery might sound like a post-adolescent prank. But it's not, of course. Such a project claims most of the core competences of an architect. i.e. research and value the site (if of necessity), find out weak/strong aspects, think, imagine, anticipate, sense and develop a concept, sketch, think, design, rethink, reimagine etc., prepare action plan documentation, plan the time schedule, the costs. And well, in this case also an escape plan was asked.
I suspect that you didn't warn the banks about the performance. Wasn't the
The single banks where not advised or involved in the project simply because I wanted to provide an authentic general framework. At some point in the research phase some students came up to me, worried about the fact that they are going to do something illegal. However, the University's legal department approved the project with some formal and privacy restrictions. Any time you put to the test your own imagination of things with the prevailing parameters of the real, things become potentially illegal. Architecture is always illegal.
The results were presented within the context of an exhibition in an art gallery in Innsbruck. That was the moment where bank representatives and safety officers came to see the poster size "emergency plans", for the first time. There was a mixed feeling of incredulity about the feasibility of the plans and at the same time a sense of appreciation for the inventiveness of the authors. Though tailored for specific banks branches in specific locations within specific conditions all plans showed a general validity. As a thank-offering for their involuntary participation to the project they all received a copy of the emergency plans for free, as it wasn't intended as a blackmailing event. But the key question for me was: is this immaterial architecture, the information provided by unsolicited architects, is architecture itself of any monetary value? To my surprise most of the banks appreciated the outcomes and gave a financial contribution. With that money we were able to finance the exhibition, material expenses and partly the expenses for the publication of the book. All in all a leveled risk capital venture.
What did the students steal by the way? Do you have some examples of what they brought back from their break-ins? Any anecdotes about some of the most original/spectacular/curious robberies? Did they get to keep anything in the end?
The students didn't steal anything. Their task was not to steal but to examine and exploit the weak points for their purposes to provide feasible emergency plans. The objectives ranged from assets like time, space, image, future clients, electric power, etc. up to the one student, who celebrates with unbelievable virtuosity the theft of the typical chained ball pen on the counter, an icon of worthlessness and petty-minded communication strategies. In any case, cash money assets were of a subordinate interest. You can find all instructions plans in the publication "Blasbichlers Twentyone".
I'm particularly interested in the result from these performances and researches. A series of plans and a book. i saw a few examples over here but could not see the details. Could you describe the sort of graphics and plans that the students created?
You are talking about number 14 and number 17. These two students have been adopting business models and principles which are written into the genetic code of the banking sector, namely "make money" and "time is money".
Number 17 was, according to the bank officials, the most alarming one as it is achievable with no particular effort. Basically the student steals time. She shows how one can jam a banks activity up to a halt and at the same time bring along consistent losses of money. The effect of this apparently trivial approach is startling and I can't go to enlarge it at this point. Check the book for the "source code"...
One would expect architecture students to build banks, not to rob them. What did the students learn in this process of masterminding bank robberies?
Architecture is much more than designing a building, it's about the making of the imagination. In this sense architecture is more related to the arts and the financial sector than one might think. Banking and architecture are of a kin.
Nowadays i suspect that people have very little sympathy left for banks. Was there any political or ethical reason why you decided to target banks?
You can't do without banks in prevailing global societies. Banks are not the enemy; rather they have become the fortresses of desires, the keeper of dreams, hardly accessible and locked-off from the public, although propagating transparency. From this point of view banks are a rewarding topic of research, also for architects. Banks constitute an almost invisible net of power structures. To examine these structures is to bring to light something which has been buried and set out of balance. Unfolding a system is not a crime, it rather adjusts the attention.
The approach of the Twentyone is comparable with the attitude of hackers. Without the commitment of hackers today you would not be able to send an email without somebody reading along, you would not be able to make a secure online purchase or bank online. No Firefox, no Open Office, no Linux - just to name a few - would be available. Hackers usually are related to an information technology security context. Why not set their working method to other topics and disciplines - "hitchhacking"?
In this sense the Twentyone are a non-institutionalized, slightly profit oriented breed of security "hitchhackers". A 21-architect resides in anyone of us and when you team up with your hidden alter-ego you make 42. According to Douglas Adams, with 42 then you can answer the ultimate questions of life, the universe and everything.
Thank you Armin!
Blasbichlers Twentyone - the book
Princeton University Press writes: Art today is defined by its relationship to money as never before. Prices of living artists' works have been driven to unprecedented heights, conventional boundaries within the art world have collapsed, and artists now think ever more strategically about how to advance their careers. Artists no longer simply make art, but package, sell, and brand it.
Noah Horowitz exposes the inner workings of the contemporary art market, explaining how this unique economy came to be, how it works, and where it's headed. He takes a unique look at the globalization of the art world and the changing face of the business, offering the clearest analysis yet of how investors speculate in the market and how emerging art forms such as video and installation have been drawn into the commercial sphere.
By carefully examining these developments against the backdrop of the deflation of the contemporary art bubble in 2008, Art of the Deal is a must-read book that demystifies collecting and investing in today's art market.
Money and art. What's not to like? Most of the works i write about on the blog have very little to do with art speculation, auction houses and investments funds but that doesn't mean that i'm not curious about the myths and mysteries of the art market. I've read a few books on the subject over the past few years. Sarah Thornton's Seven Days in the Art Worldwas widely praised in art magazines but the author's palpable apprehension of causing any discomfort to the very world she belongs to was a bit off-putting. Don Thompson's The 2 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Artis far more candid and fearless. Its purpose, i think, was to be a kind of Freakonomics of the art world. The book sometimes went for the spectacular and the obvious but it was entertaining, informative, unconceited and a nice introduction to the subject. Ben Lewis' DVD The Great Contemporary Art Bubble DVD(trailer this way!)wasn't afraid to ruffle a few feathers and to use sensationalism as an excuse to engage viewers into though-provoking reflections.
Art of the Deal is in a class of its own. Like Seven Days in the Art World, it was written by an insider. Noah Horowitz is a member of the faculty of the Sotheby's Institute of Art in New York and the Director of the VIP Art Fair - the first-ever exclusively online art fair. Horowitz, however, doesn't confuse respect for the art world with blatant kowtowing. He even manages to be critical without falling into the cynical trap.
The merits of the book do not stop there.
It opens where every recent book about the contemporary art market starts: Damien Hirst and an auction that has its own wikipedia entry. But it then ventures into territories left untouched by other authors of similar essays. Instead of talking Murakami paintings and Koons sculptures, Horowitz approaches more 'immaterial' genres which, despite their popularity in art galleries and biennales, tend to get far less attention from collectors and auction houses: video and 'experiential art' (performances, installations, action art... any art form that focuses on experience and social interaction.)
I learnt something at almost every single page of the book: the way videos and their ancillary goods drive the art market, how Barney financed the Cremaster Cycle, issues of content ownership, the rise of the collector's box, the 'experientialization' of the global art world, the difference between prestige buying and investment in art for financial return, what collectors acquire exactly when they purchase a "constructed situation" by Tino Sehgal, an artist who doesn't create tangible works, doesn't issue press releases, refuses to throw opening parties and doesn't allow photo documentation of his work.
Horowitz doesn't generalize, nor does he simplify facts. His conclusions are prudent and well-balanced. He bring economics and art together like no one has done before (as much as i can tell.) Perhaps more importantly, the author doesn't live in an hermetically closed contemporary art bubble. He has read Geert Lovink, he (briefly) takes into account artists who -whether by choice or fate- do not sell their works, drives parallels with the commercial music and film industry, doesn't throw daggers at ubuweb and even sees youtube and other online video platforms as 'providing new opportunities and challenges for future developments of exhibiting and collecting standards.;
Art of the Deal is dense, impeccably researched, its language is clear, its insider stories come fast and numerous.
Horowitz doesn't touch upon the delicate issue of the market for new media art but my next review might have more about the subject.