The Victoria and Albert Museum in London has recently opened an exhibition that "examines the powerful role of objects in movements for social change." It is called Disobedient Objects. That's the kind of title that chic and cheerful designers would use to describe how their work is 'subversive' but, thankfully, this is probably the most un-designy show the V&A has ever organised (except for the whole communication and setting which was orchestrated by the studio of Jonathan Barnbrook.) Disobedient Objects is not one of those fashionable activist art exhibitions either. This is a show about activism with a capital A, a show inhabited by artefacts that had never graced the venerable rooms of a museum or art gallery until now.
Many of the items exhibited are often mundane objects that were either given a new purpose or modified in haste in answer to an emergency situation. As modest as they might seem, these artifacts show the resourcefulness and ingenuity of people. They testify of their courage as well. Confronted with the sophisticated (except maybe in London where our good Mayor favours cut-price water cannons that are being phased out in Germany amid concerns about their safety) and potentially harmful equipment used by security forces, these artefacts look almost pitiful. But that doesn't make them less efficient.
Disobedient Objects focuses on the period from the late 1970s to now, a time that has brought new technologies and political challenges. The items displayed range from the very rudimentary to the sophisticated, from a slingshot made from a Palestinian child's shoe to mobile phone-powered drones for filming demonstrations or the police, from textiles sewn by women to communicate the atrocities they have experienced under the Pinochet regime in Chile, in particular the 'disappearance of their children to a robot that spray paint slogans on the pavement.
I entered the show ready to sneer at V&A's grand attempts to glamourize popular protests and turn evidences of genuine and at times violent dissent into food for cool hunters. My fighting mood quickly vanished. Disobedient Objects is a show that invites visitors to get out and raise their heads, to be inspired and fight for their rights. And that's what matters to me.
As the curators wrote: "Peaceful disobedience only works when protesters have cultural visibility and the government acknowledges their right to protest. Without this, struggles for freedom can sometimes take other forms."
Here's a very small overview of the stories you can discover in this ridiculously crammed with visitors but invigorating exhibition:
As usual, I bow (me saco el sombrero?) to Spanish wittiness. No one does protests as eloquently and astutely as they do these days. TAF! and Enmedio worked with Plataforma de Artefactos por la Hipoteca (a platform for mortgage debt victims) against dehumanizing media representations of people affected by Spain's mortgage crisis. The group pasted portraits of evicted homeowners on the facades of banks responsible, showing evicted people, not statistics.
The inflatable cobblestones were rolled across the streets in Berlin and Barcelona to confuse police and generate sympathetic media attention.
When many people run the program FloodNet (1998) together, they can target and overload websites. The Java applet was created in response to the massacre of 45 peaceful supporters of the Zapatistas in Mexico. Ten thousand protestors disturbed the website of the Mexican presidency and the Pentagon. FloodNet has since been adopted by many groups and movements.
The first Bike Bloc was part of the mass civil disobedience organised during the 2009 Climate Summit in Copenhagen. Moving in swarms, bikes helped protesters breach the summit's security cordon and hold an alternative People's Assembly. The leading bike carried a sound system and pirate radio antennae. It broadcasted via other bikes around it with independent speakers, each on a separate channel. The sound could jump between bikes inside the crowd, and change in tone to respond to different situations.
The banner was made for the 2009 Climate Camp at Blackheath, London. It identified capitalism as the source of climate chaos and as an ongoing crisis of inequality and injustice.
One of the banners hanging over the exhibition space was designed and hand-stitched by Ed Hall (whose name appears in almost every single post i've written about Jeremy Deller's work.) Hall has been making banners used by union groups for over 30 years. This one was used in a protest march in support of the NHS in Manchester in 2013. It features the Thatcher quote 'Still the enemy within', which is surrounded by iconography referencing the miners' strike, poll tax rebellion and welfare cuts.
Andy Dao and Ivan Cash circulated dollar bills stamped with fact-based infographics that communicate the widening economic disparity in the U.S.A. The designs were also released on the Internet enabling anyone to participate.
The artists/advertising experts were commissioned by the museum to design stamps about the UK's wealth disparity on the £5 note: in 2011, 1% of the UK population earned £922,433 while 90% earned £12,933. Any visitor can use the stamp to make their money a bit more riotous.
There is a long, long tradition of bank notes used for protest. The show also reminded that in 1990, a Burmese currency designer very subtly painted the face of Aung San Suu Kyi onto a new note after she had been democratically elected then placed under house arrest by the military junta. The designer softened the features of Gen. Aung San (the father of Aung San Suu Kyi) so that his face resembles the one of his daughter. People could thus hold up their bank notes to the light and see a hidden portrait of the opposition leader.
In 2013, the Turkish government used record amounts of tear gas against people protesting against the redevelopment of the Gezi Park in Istanbul. Protesters devised their own makeshift gas mask using plastic bottle, surgical face mask, foam and rubber bands.
Greek protesters adopted an equally cunning strategy. People resisting government austerity discovered that a solution of antacid and water sprayed onto the face offered relief from the burn of tear gas. However, it left a white residue that market protesters out.
The protest shields painted to look like books were first made in Italy, in November 2010. Students were protesting against the drastic cuts to the public university system. The oversize books were held up at the front of demonstrations so that when the police hit the students with sticks, it looked as if they were attacking literature.
Students in London produced their own book shields after they saw videos of the actions online. The tactic quickly spread to other parts of the world.
A couple of artworks did sneak into the exhibition. I guess that the Graffiti Writer doesn't need any introduction....
The gallery also featured Molleindustria's Phone Story, a free game app that players win by forcing children to mine coltan in the Congo, preventing worker protest-suicide in China, managing rabid consumers in the West and disposing of electronic waste unsafely in Pakistan. The game was banned from Apple's iTunes store four days after its release.
The Guerrilla Girls was formed in 1985 to protest against the ridiculously low number of works by female artists in the most prestigious galleries and museums of New York. Their fight is as relevant as ever today (and not just in NYc obviously.)
More images from the show:
The museum has PDF guides to DIY some of the objects exhibited.
Disobedient Objects was curated by Gavin Grindon and Catherine Flood. The show is at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, until 1 February 2015.
A few months ago, Ben White gave a wonderfully eloquent lecture at Amnesty International in London. The event celebrated the new edition of the journalist's book, Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner's Guide (published by Pluto and available on amazon USA and UK.)
The lecture was in March and the reason why i blog about it today is that while children (125 so far) and other innocent civilians are being terrorized and murdered right now in Gaza, people are still accused of anti-semitism simply because they believe that the basic human rights of the Palestinians should be respected. I fear there is still a lot of disinformation and misunderstanding about what is happening in Israel/Palestine. I would certainly never claim that i understand precisely the situation but i do think that Ben White's book and his talks are well documented, engaging and worth a few minutes of your time.
Sadly, there is no video of the evening but some of Ben White's videos are on youtube. Here's one of them:
White starts his lecture by explaining the relevance of the word 'apartheid' in the Israeli context. Apartheid does not apply solely to South Africa. Nowadays, apartheid is outlawed and defined in international law independently of the country where it takes place. In 2012, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination itself has used the term to condemn Israeli policies. Numerous international, Israeli NGOs, Palestinian NOGs and human rights observers have done the same.
The author goes on by giving a series of examples of ethnocratic Israeli policies that have been affecting Palestinians for over 6 decades, both inside what people call "Israel proper" and in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
White also exposes clearly that the main problem for Palestinians is not just the occupation but the issue of their forced expulsion in 1948. One day after the date Israel has chosen to celebrate its independence is Nakba Day for Palestinians, the day they were expelled from their home, the day their land was confiscated, the day they were forbidden to come back home.
I'm going to close this post with a photo by Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin. The image is part of a series that depicts forests planted by the Israeli to cover and erase the very existence of former Palestinian villages that were evacuated and destroyed at various times since 1948. Each razed village has since been planted with stands of pine trees that gradually colonize the reclaimed lands and obscure their histories of devastation.
Forensic Oceanography is a research project started in 2011 by Lorenzo Pezzani and Charles Heller to investigate the militarised border regime in the Mediterranean Sea, and document the violence perpetrated against migrants attempting to cross the liquid border.
The sea, and in particular the Mediterranean, is a space of escape for thousands of people who leave the African continent in hope of a safer life in Europe. It is also a space of control and thus a political space. Much of what happens on the surface of that liquid political space takes place far away from the public gaze and often remains unaccounted for. However, the sea is closely surveilled, information about what happens and what sails through it is being generated, analyzed and recorded.
Forensic Oceanography looks at the sea as a witness to interrogate and cross-examine, re-purposing data and technologies initially produced as evidence of illegal migration and turning it into evidence of a crime of non assistance.
Lorenzo Pezzani was at The Lighthouse in Brighton a few weeks ago to talk about Forensic Oceanography and more particularly about the case of 72 migrants who had been left to die while they were attempting to flee Libya and reach the Italian shores during the Libyan conflict of 2011.
The Mediterranean is a fairly crowded sea and Western military forces were made aware of the refugees' distress shortly after the dinghy's departure when the captain lost control of the boat and called for help. The Italian coast guards received the appeal and relayed it, along with the position of the boat, to the NATO coordination centre and to military vessels present in the area. The distress calls were repeated every 4 hours for 10 days. But no-one came to their assistance. The dinghy was seen by an airplane, military helicopters, two fishing vessels and a large military vessel, which ignored their distress signals. After 15 days adrift, the boat washed up on the Libyan coast with only 11 survivors on board, two of whom died shortly afterwards. FO call the case, the 'left-to-die boat'.
Here's Liquid Traces, a short film which sums up the case.
And the video of Pezzani's presentation at The Lighthouse. It was a great evening. He talked about how a journey at sea is fast for goods and for privileged passengers but excruciatingly slow for the unwanted, about the dilemma of producing evidence to account for violence while trying not to be complicit with governments, about FO new project to make and distribute to migrants leaflets containing legal information about their rights, etc.
The date of the Scottish Independence Referendum is near. On 18 September 2014, people will be able to say whether or not they want Scotland to be an independent country.
A New Scottish Enlightenment, Mohammed J. Ali's Design Interactions graduation project, goes back to 1979 (the year of the Scottish devolution referendum which invited citizens to vote in support for a devolved deliberative assembly) to imagine what could have happened if the Scottish Independence Referendum had actually taken place 35 years ago and people had voted in favour of it.
Ali's counterfactual speculation proposes that the positive outcome for the referendum leads to the creation of the New Scottish Government. Scotland is a place known for its inventiveness and the independence invigorates the nation's creative spirit. A key policy of the government is to help citizen achieve personal energy independence, paving the way for a future liberated from the reliance of fossil fuels. The measure sees the prototyping of DIY energy generating machines, the re-purposing of abandoned coal mines, and even the discovery of the first self-sustaining fusion reaction. Furthermore, the success of the energy policy leads to the creation of alternative economic paradigms where different forms of exchange and economy are created based on distribution and sharing of energy.
The work A New Scottish Enlightenment describe the outcomes of some of the key pieces of legislation either on an individual, community or global level.
A few questions to Mohammed J. Ali:
Hi Mohammed! The events you chart make our own present look extremely backwards. Why is your project located in counterfactual speculation rather than directly in an unspecified future?
One of the reasons I wanted to examine a counterfactual Scotland, was because on 18th September this year, there is a referendum for independence. There was a similar referendum in 1979 for a devolved government. Then, despite a Yes result of almost 52%, Scotland didn't eventually become independent. An addition to the Scotland Act 1978 stipulated that 40% of the entire voting public had to vote in favour. If that had actually happened, Scotland could have become an independent country. It's a bit more complicated, with a bit more politics than this but it all adds a layer of reality which would have been lost if I'd positioned it in another time/place.
In a twist to the real events, I propose Scotland actually becomes independent in 1979. We can then begin to imagine what might have happened given what we know has happened since then. An alternative Scotland is a way of perhaps holding a mirror to what could potentially happen after September 18th this year. The world might suddenly start to become a very different place.
I also wanted to look at what might happen to a modern, developed country which becomes independent, a unique event in modern times. The legislative, social and economic models of its former political partner/leader are replaced by those more sympathetic to the ideals of the new state. Scotland has historically been socialist, certainly left leaning; the map often turning red (the colour of the Labour Party) during general elections.
Perhaps one of the reasons why our current reality might look backwards in comparison to that in the counterfactual is because I imagined a country emboldened by independence and willing to try more extraordinary measures to bring individual independence to its people. I wanted to take advantage of the boom in research into alternative energy technologies which was happening during the seventies and early eighties resulting from an over-dependence on oil, coal and gas reserves mainly held by a minority of overseas nations.
The reality is that in the eighties, global research funding into renewable energy technologies was cut, as a result of the steady drop in the price of oil and its increased availability. I wanted to conceive a progressive nation where there was a realisation that energy was always a key component in humanity's evolution and that the current sources of energy were simply a staging post in the progress towards the next (hopefully better) one.
The Acts of Parliament of the New Scottish Government were simply tools to enable this to happen - think of Jimmy Carters National Energy Act 1978 and the later Energy Policy Acts in the US. The Legislative Acts in the speculation "A New Scottish Enlightenment" have some basis in the real world, from where they could be drafted into the speculation.
Important technological events such as the introduction of Napster in the late 90s meant that I could draw on peer-to-peer file sharing as a means of creating an analogue in New Scotland where surplus energy could be transmitted across a conjoined energy and information network.
The key was the creation of a country with the potential to be a blank canvas onto which I could paint a picture describing potential futures. In this respect Scotland was the perfect example. We don't know its future, but we can examine its past and describe the potentials of what might have been.
Energy is a highly lucrative business. Why would a state (and the corporations that are closely linked to any government) have any interest in leaving it into the hands of the people?
The UK energy production and distribution sector were centrally controlled until the privatisation of the electricity and gas markets from the mid-80s. Historical precedents suggest that this new state could also have created a nationalised oil infrastructure similar to Iran's in 1951, which happened despite fierce British opposition, or Iraq's in 1972 to name but two. However, New Scotland continues to receive revenue in the form of taxation from oil production which it accumulates into a Sovereign Wealth Fund. This is used to ultimately make the people of New Scotland independent, in energy terms, through the creation of their personal energy infrastructures.
In your scenario, the New Scottish Government's first act is to create a sovereign wealth fund with the proceeds of North Sea Oil. What is this fund exactly?
Sovereign Wealth Funds are often the accumulated capital received from the tax receipts of oil production. They are usually invested in a portfolio of real or financial assets to enable them to grow. New Scotland as a result of independence would inherit the oil reserves within its national coastal boundary. It follows a Norwegian model by creating a fund to enable future projects or to be used in times of need.
The New Scottish Government decides to begin investment in energy infrastructures from 1985, which coincides with the period in which actual receipts from oil revenues were at their greatest.
Could you explain the various 'inventions' you were showing at the RCA exhibition?
The first 'invention' is the creation of a home workshop inventor. Its basis is the Salter Duck developed in the 70s and early 80s by the scientist, Stephen Salter, at Edinburgh University. It takes the form of an energy harvesting wave machine. The picture shows the inventor in his workshop, working on the device. He received funding through the Public Energy Act 1985 from the Sovereign Wealth Fund. This Act was a means of creating the start of a personal energy infrastructure for the people of New Scotland. In our contemporary real world we see this more and more: the installation of solar panels, geothermal heat pumps and windmills. The Act was also a way for creative invention to take place following the repeal of energy intellectual property rights the year before.
By the year 2000, the New Scottish Government wants to halt conventional nuclear energy production. It also launches the "Third Millennium Prize". This is analogous to the Longitude Prize of the Eighteenth Century, where the government of the day tried to resolve one of the crucial impediments to progress of the time, the ability to travel across the oceans safely and directly. I also had in mind John F Kennedy's address at Rice University in Houston, Texas where he spoke passionately to the American people about the need to succeed in sending the first men to the moon. These were projects of national importance or pride.
In New Scotland, there is decreasing dependence on nuclear energy following the implementation of other energy creation/transformation methods. However, much of the rest of the world still needs access to substantial, sustainable and uninterrupted energy sources.
The 'fusion reactor' is the culmination of research started in 2000, when New Scotland becomes the global hub for fusion research. This is backed by the Sovereign Wealth Fund, of course, enabling the research to flourish. Ultimately, as is often the case, a serendipitous scientific discovery creates a breakthrough illustrated by the fusion reactor pictured. In this instance research is encouraged by a hothouse environment not unlike Silicon Valley, but where intellectual property is no longer a barrier.
Government funded mega projects are not new. We've had many countries collaborate on a number of different fusion projects, and the European Space Agency, the ISS, CERN, NASA are all centrally funded by combined or single governments.
In 1992, people realized that they could use the existing mine works, abandoned in the 60s, to generate geothermal heat in order to heat the town and provide the resources required to create new industry. How would that work? How can an abandoned mine provide energy?
I wanted to look at different scales, from the personal (Public Energy Act 1985), to the global (Third Millennium Prize 2000). The Community Energy Act 1992 made possible the implementation of intermediate sized, community wide energy infrastructures. What could happen if communities with a shared past, interest or skills were encouraged to work together?
Lochgelly is a former mining town in Fife, in Eastern Scotland. When coal mining stopped in the 60s, the town and its citizens were largely forgotten. Overlooked and existing infrastructures were important. How could we repurpose what we had already created? I wanted to explore the use of geothermal heat within the old infrastructure of the coal mines.
Geothermal heat pumps work on the same principle as our refrigerators, but in reverse. They take advantage of the constant temperature of the earth from 6m to over 100m below the surface. Cold water is pumped down and returned to the surface to have the geothermal heat extracted. Geothermal power can is an excellent source of hot water, which could in turn open the town to the possibilities of different types of industry. Food processing or the hotel trade for example both require huge amounts of hot water which the mines could produce in abundance. The possibility for extracting energy from other infrastructures also exists. True geothermal energy could be extracted from abandoned oil wells which regularly bore several kilometres through the earth. Perhaps disused fishing fleets could be retrofitted with wave energy devices allowing them to become floating electricity generators.
This element was also examining the relationship we have to energy in another way. We are so used to having electricity come to us from distant power stations, why not create infrastructures where people go to the sources of energy. It then opens a new set of questions: are cities abandoned and the countryside re-inhabited? Collaborations with architects and vehicle designers come to mind.
I was very surprised by the Energy Intellectual Property Rights Act 1985 which would remove intellectual property rights for energy technologies. This is obviously very seducing but i don't see many signs nowadays of intellectual property rights being lifted. Why would it have been different in 1985?
You're quite right. This is a surprising step for a fledgling country. I didn't want to make this project a whole series of spectacular implausible revolutionary actions. That would have made the counterfactual story lose any element of believability, but this is bold move with perhaps just enough basis in fact to push the scenario forward.
The formation of free and open software pioneer, Richard Stallman's real life GNU Project in 1983 is a development that bleeds into the timeline of the New Scottish Government. They realise that independence from corporate control can encourage the development of technologies much faster than when they're chained to copyrights and patents. Open collaboration is the key.
The background was the concept of a shared human destiny found within alternative publications such as The Whole Earth Catalog or Mother Earth News. Stores such as Real Foods in Broughton Street in Edinburgh, were established in the mid-70s and promoted open, environmentally sustainable living which go hand-in-hand with the beliefs of organisations like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth.
Many believe that ideas are the property of humanity and they belong in the public realm, Sir John Sulston versus Craig Venter on DNA sequencing and exploitation, for example. Even Plato and Aristotle held differing views on the nature of property and ownership. A government whose major concern is the development of sustainable energy and energy independence would be more likely to also see the benefit of a greater distribution of knowledge. The New Scottish Government realise the importance of this wider, generational thinking and pushed through the implementation of this Act.
I had planned to have the Energy Intellectual Property Rights Act occur much later in the timeline, to reflect a wider public debate, but as it's so critical to the development and ethos of sharing, it had to happen as soon as possible after the creation of New Scotland.
Today, intellectual property rights are contingent on the creation of profit and the promotion of capitalism. This means keys technologies can be tied up for years making further developments take even longer.
Are you planning to push the project any further?
The next step is to take the project to V2 Test_Lab in Rotterdam. It has also been picked as a finalist in the RCA Sustain Awards during London Design Festival 2014, which coincides with Scotland's' Independence Referendum on September 18th.
I'd like to expand on the economic concerns, the creation of sharing economies within an energy and information peer-to-peer distribution structure and the energy currencies it creates. What happens to conventional economics when rather than trying to store the energy you've created, which is difficult at the best of times, you give it away? A different system of values start to play out. Economy changes from our obsession with the accumulation of resources, to one where we share. How do corporations function after 2021 when the Watt starts becoming an established global currency?
The expansion of the timeline is important too, but without making it didactic; there needs to be room for interpretation and discussion. I'd like to leave the prospects of Torness nuclear power station or the different relationship between a wealthy New Scotland and perhaps a weaker less influential England, up to the imagination of other peoples. Would the remains of the Union start adopting the measures pioneered north of the border? All sorts of other questions remain to be explored. How is the new nation affected by migration or by new or old alliances?
Much of this work allies with Frederic Jameson's paraphrasing of Slavoj Zizek, "It's easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism". This project is really about provoking thinking, about how we can foster alternative political systems which have a truly long term, globally inclusive philosophy. How do we create less damaging economic environments which fit better within our ecosystem, and how to give more exposure to one of the fundamental relationships that makes us human: energy, economics and politics?
Jennifer Lyn Morone has turned herself into a corporation and collection of marketable goods and services. Everything she is biologically and intellectually, everything she does, learns or creates has the potential to be turned into profits. Jennifer Lyn Morone™ Inc is a graduation project in Design Interactions but as Jennifer underlines, this is not a speculative project.
JLM Inc is a new business established to determine the value of an individual. The corporation derives value from three sources and legally protects and bestows rights upon the total output of Jennifer Lyn Morone:
1. Past experiences and present capabilities. These are offered as biological, physical and mental services such as genes, labour, creativity, blood, sweat and tears.
JLM Inc is not only an audacious long term performance, it is also an thought-provoking exploration into personal data exploitation by corporations and governments. The projects is an extreme form of capitalism which might ironically enable an individual to regain some ownership of and power over their own data. Jennifer Lyn Morone Inc is obviously a very personal venture but the designer is also beta testing on herself an app, the Database of ME or DOME, that will ensure that your identity and data can be collected and stored for you and only you.
A few questions (amongst the dozens i wanted to ask) to Jennifer:
Hi Jennifer! I obviously laughed when i read the sentence 'This is not a Speculative Project' in the gallery. So you really managed to become an Incorporated Person? How did you do that? Is this a standard, banal process?
It's nice to know that the sign worked as it was intended. I feel that there's a limit to the impact that speculative work can have as it can't be directly compared to a current reality. This was my way of addressing the audience just to make it clear that the project is real and actively negotiating several problems that we are faced with today and that need to be addressed.
So, yes, I really have become an Incorporated Person. The process has not been standard or banal at all but that's probably because I am not in business school setting up a business to sell something. Rather, I was on a critical design course reappropriating capitalist and corporate strategy to make being a person a business.
In November 2013 I starting looking into the details to incorporate, which seemed deceptively simple: choose the business name; decide what kind legal entity you want your business to be (I became a C-corporation); figure out where to incorporate (I did it in Delaware); find a registered agent; fill out some forms; and then pay. All of this, however, required a significant amount of research for me to even understand what the legal and financial implications of my decisions would be. For example: what being a C-corp versus an S-corp entails, how valuation of companies works, what are the benefits to incorporating in Delaware compared to other States, how shares work and how the price per share is determined (which I find completely illogical).
I used the research, combined it with my intention and fused it into a business plan where I had to define what my mission is, what I stand for, and what my vision is and how I plan to achieve these by being the business (person) I will be. Repurposing the corporate mentality even further required me to stop thinking like an individual about what I want and need but what other people want and what can I offer to meet their needs. This helped me to determine my services.
What I found interesting is that it is quite common for people to incorporate before they even know what they want to do. They can do this because, in Delaware where the majority of major corporations are located, all you need to state in the articles is that "The purpose of the corporation is to engage in any lawful activity for which corporations may be organized under the General Corporation Law of Delaware". This is also the common way of describing what the company will do so as not to limit the ways in which it can make money.
Now that I have incorporated myself, I have legally created another person with my name in the eyes of the law. In the USA my corporate self now has not only the same but even more rights and benefits than I do as an individual. My corporate self takes on any responsibility and I am not liable for its actions or debt, only my initial investments. This is why we see companies able to go bankrupt, get bailouts or get away with ruthlessness without anyone being charged or responsible for what happens.
As the founder of my corporation I turn over my skills, capital, possessions and intellectual property to it and these become its assets and increase its value. My identity (name, appearance and IP addresses) become the brand and are trademarked; my mental abilities (knowledge) as processes and strategies; my physical abilities as equipment; my biological functions as products, my data is the corporations property and the shares are my potential. These all become assets that I can now capitalise on. My debt is turned into the corporations liability, which actually increases the company's value if it were to be sold.
By issuing shares I can raise capital, based purely on my potential success. In exchange the shareholder has partial ownership of my corporation. I wanted to do this to expose that shares in no way reflect the true value of a company, only its perceived value based on popularity and that stock markets are pure gambling.
As the founder I can set the price of the shares extremely low, the usual amount advised in 10,000,000 shares at $0.001 or $0.0001 per share, I opted for the latter. After that I applied for a tax number (EIN), which takes about an hour to receive. Then you have to set up a bank account after which you can buy your shares, usually at least a third of the shares, and reserve about 10-15% for stock equity to pay for any services needed. Then you look at what the corporation's assets are, what's your inventory, and include the work that has gone in so far and put a number to it. A valuation has to be done to then determine what the new price per share will be and this can be done by someone who is an experienced investor or a venture capitalist, but they basically just take that number that you have got and multiply it by 10 and then divide that by the number of shares.
How do you put value on things such as Education RCA and Live and work in Germany? And why is living and working in Germany proportionally more valuable than living and working in France?
Those prices actually have no reflection of how valuable the experiences have been. What the numbers represent are of what my life has cost so far divided up into periods of time based and how much I either earned or what was paid for me to live and learn. These become my base values, the initial investment, on top of which I can begin adding the intangible (knowledge, personality, skills which are very hard to put a price on) I gained from these experiences and tangible assets (possessions/inventory, both internally - i.e. blood and externally - i.e. computer) that I acquired or continually produce. This gives me a starting point to know what my production costs are so I can determine an honest price for my services.
The cost of my education, how much I received after my father passed and how much I earned in France and Germany (to answer your question: France was significantly less since I worked for an ex-partner and didn't receive a salary but also didn't pay rent) I knew already. What I didn't know and never thought to ask before was how much I cost my parents, purely financially, from conception to the age of 18. I asked my mother and she came back to me with this number with inflation figured in. I've since set aside shares for her.
It is an interesting perspective to now have. Often we think about what we don't have or aren't receiving. By calculating how much money has gone into my existence as input I then took a look at what my output has been, what I've actually done with that, and I wasn't terribly impressed. In capitalism individuals are meant to consume as much input as possible, while corporations can't survive unless their output is both useful and greater than their input, which needs to be relevant and not wasteful of time or money.
Could you explain us the purpose of the DOME app? How does it insure that your own information remains your property?
The philosopher John Locke stated that a person's natural and inalienable rights are "life, liberty, and property": that "everyone is entitled to live once they are created", that "everyone is entitled to do anything they want to so long as it doesn't conflict with the first right" and that "everyone is entitled to own all they create or gain so long as it doesn't conflict with the first two rights". Today, I believe that the data a person creates should be considered their property: it has a monetary value in the economic system that our lives are structured around. So I see data as a resource that people create and that is currently being exploited.
Governments were created to protect people and their rights but as we are living in a time of crony capitalism, where economic success is dependent on close relationships between business people and government officials, I think it will be a long time before any policy or solutions will be established. Instead what we are seeing are efforts made to better track and monitor our actions to get a clearer picture of how to better target our consumptive behaviour. This is what I consider data slavery.
Right now, as a hyper-connected network society, each person creates a trail of data that is being used and profited on mostly for advertising purposes. People are now referred to as consumers and statistics and government and Industry pay substantial sums for our information.
So as a form of protest and in an effort to revolt against this, I am using subversive tactics to reclaim what I feel should be a person's rights by incorporating my identity and creating DOME (Database of Me) as a way to take ownership and control of my property. Now that I am a corporation any data that I create that is linked to my name, IP address and appearance is copyrighted or trademarked and therefore subject to litigation if used without my permission...think of how Getty gets the rights to images and if you use it without their permission or having paid you get a fine. So any photo I take, any email I write, any call, text, web search, cctv footage of me that is stored on someone else's, company's or government's sever does not have the right to be there or to be used, sold, leased or traded.
DOME's function, in its simplest form, is an app that acts as a firewall between you and other servers. You use all of the same services, apps and interfaces you do today but you also have your own server and the app operates quietly in the background of any device you use, making two copies of the data you transmit. One hard copy goes to your database, the other is encrypted and goes to its intended destination but can't be used beyond that. In DOME's complete form it is a customisable app that still does what the simpler form does but with its own applications so that a person can communicate, share photos, socialise, navigate, search for information, and record external sensors such as biosignals. So people would need to have their own server or a data locker on a shared server and download the app on their computers and phones.
For the purpose of this project all of my personal data collected with DOME is being displayed on the tracking page. This is to show and make a clear distinction that there are real lives behind the data, which is something that I think is critically missed in this data discussion. Right now there is only a portion of my information compared to what will eventually be there. It will being streamed in real-time to mimic how the NSA, GCHQ, Google, and others view our information now and it is public because I want to draw attention to how exposed we currently are.
I am also using it to measure my "operations" to monitor and track productivity and efficiency in the same way that corporations normally do. Spy software and keyloggers are becoming very commonplace mostly used by companies on their employees, jealous partners to their loved ones and parents to their children.
Currently, I am the first and only beta tester. I am using myself as the case study to capture as much data about myself as possible, store it all in one place to see how much a person can actually generate, and then correlate it to see which combinations are valuable.
Given the growing market for information if people have ownership and control of their data they should be the ones compensated for it, not other companies. So beyond any success with DOME I have the intention to build a Platform, or try to work with others who are heading in this direction as well, as a cooperative Data Broker. People would use DOME and have an overview of their information as a data portfolio from which they could choose, if they want, to send as packaged data sets to the Platform as an investment for a known purpose. The Platform would then combine different people's information, as this increases the value of the data, and then sell it to the approved markets. Those that contribute their information would then get a return on their investment. This is not necessarily the best solution, it is only a fairer alternative to the system that is in place now.
Do you think that an individual has more to lose or more to gain from this extension of capitalism to their own person? Because on the one hand, they regain some power. On the other hand, the idea seems a bit perverse.
What I am doing is quite outside the realm of ordinary behaviour but we are made to behave in what I consider quite a perverse way because of the economic system in place. Which I am in awe of as it is not really what I would have expected after millennia of evolution.
But here we are and it is obvious that Capitalism works best for Capitalists. So, I am experimenting, with myself as the subject, to push the limits to the extreme to provoke change. The way in which I am doing it is merely reflecting how things are and where they seem to be heading. Systems and governments have been adjusted and overthrown before, the problem with this one is that it works too well for the ones running it but not well enough for the rest...and the disparity is growing wider.
Theoretically, I think a person would have more to gain as a corporation as long as capitalism is in place. In practice you might have to ask me that in a year, five or even 10 years time. People change, adapt, and continue to learn throughout their lives which is much more sustainable and scalable than the way companies operate. Together we are very diverse and alone unique because of the experiences we go through which create our most valuable asset, our individual perspectives. We all have assets and potential, but for many only a small percentage is even used and rarely for one's own benefit. If my friends and family became corporations I know exactly who I would use and for what and I know who I would invest in, not only because of what they can do but because of who they are.
If people were to write a business plan like I did they would most likely benefit in some way and definitely gain a greater perspective. But unless they take on the legal and financial implications like I have they won't truly change the way they live and how they engage with others. Technically speaking, all becoming a corporation really comes down to is looking at what you do and what you want to do and applying the same terminology, strategy and framework that corporations use to make money. I think that there will always be perversion as long we need to gain or earn money, or some form of currency, to meet our basic needs.
Could you describe to us the kind of services you are offering for free or those you are offering in exchange of money?
It really depends on who is asking and what they are asking for and is also affected by supply and demand. My services are categorised under mental, physical or biological, under which are combinations of features such as problem solving, compassion, strength, coordination, heat, and bodily functions. So when I offer something for free it's because I produce it anyway and have no use for it myself and there is no demand, so it's waste. If there starts to be a demand then it's no longer waste but a byproduct which I can sell. If there's something that is going to require depleting a resource, which would be measured by time, money and energy spent, in order to do it; such as consoling a friend and trying to help him through his problems for a few hours, then it will either be an exchange or invoiced. For example if this friend who often asks to meet to talk about his relationship problems is also there for me when I need consoling or help then it's an exchange. But if he is never there for me when I need it, then I would send him an invoice.
Another example compared to how we are used to working now would be if a firm or company wants me for some mental services, say creativity and knowledge, then it would be similar to acquiring a consultant, but I would calculate my price based on what the knowledge cost to produce (education and experience) and calculate in my overhead costs, what I lost in time and energy against what I may have gained in value such as enjoyment or if I learned something new. If I there was value I gained I would deduct that from the price.
Oh! i just saw you're offering free urine! Is it ironic or would the urine be of any use to the buyer?
It's both! There's irony in the whole project, I've just dealt with it very pragmatically. We are bound to our bodies, some ways it's an extension of our mind, in other ways it operates without us even having to think about it, in either case you are in it for as long as you live, or as long as it keeps up. It is 100% yours but there are external factors such as laws and taboos that condition you to use your bodies and the valuable things they do in very specific and deemed acceptable ways. Companies on the other hand don't work this way. As I described above in how a waste might turn into a profitable byproduct, it depends on supply and demand.
So if you look at the body as equipment with quite mechanical operations, it produces things like urine systematically. As I am just starting I don't have any customers. So I am copying how businesses give free promotions to attract potential buyers. In my research I came across people that were looking to buy urine for drug tests. There is also the potential to sell to labs of companies that are developing bio-fuel cells to power phones. Who knows who else might want it.
As there's a pretty steady supply, which can be increased to an extent, if there started to be a demand that was more than I could supply then I could increase the price. If the demand is equal to the supply then I would price it based on what I saw people would pay and keep it competitive to bottled synthetic urine, yes there is such a thing. I could also increase my profit margin by only drinking tap water.
So, there's irony on several levels: to illustrate the exploitative aspect of capitalism on resources and what this looks like at the extreme level of and by the individual; the ways in which we are conditioned to use our bodies and what we are 'allowed' to do with them; and the fact that you can potentially sell anything as long as there's a willing buyer.
There is also another level of sincerity, in that the more manual your work is the less you are paid. When times are really tough, women in particular have had to resort to selling their bodies for money, with sex, pulling teeth, hair. I saw many people online looking to sell their kidney to help a friend in financial need. I also went to start a clinical drug trial and found that there are many healthy and educated young people who are now doing this for additional income. In face of an increasingly specialised workforce and automation of manual jobs people have to be resourceful and will have to look at what they have and what they can offer to live from.
Do you have a marketing plan that will ensure that people are eager to get those services and that you will make a profit rapidly?
I do have a marketing strategy as it was part of the business plan. My initial customers or users of my services will be everyone I engage with and know now. For example, if you wanted to interview me after the launch you would have to go through my website, check my calendar and block my time with the type service you want. You can then check my progress with the tracking page to make sure I'm doing what you asked of me. It would probably be an exchange as you are promoting me and helping me reach a wider audience, which would increase the value of me as a company and therefore effect my share price, creating profit for the shareholders.
My website will be monetised on the use and tracking page with banner ads to click on displaying things I own and want to sell, services I'm promoting and other people's services. That will be similar to the way Google AdSense works with affiliate marketing but instead of products and companies it will be with people I know are looking for work or have just done something that's available to the public, such as an exhibition or a book.
I plan to create some revenue also from endorsements to promote events I might attend, clothes I might wear, restaurants I might eat at and products I might use. This is to reflect how celebrities and athletes are used to influence the public and how product placement only happens when it has been paid to be seen. However, as normal people, we actually buy things and become walking billboards if logos or the brand's identity are obvious.
Finally, there is the profitable but time consuming endeavor of pursuing intellectual property infringements. The profit of this will depend on whether my lawyer will charge me fees or if he will take a percentage from cases won.
In the video you present yourself dressed as a businessman. Why not highlight the fact that you're a woman?
This project takes its stance in criticism to the capitalist system of which I can not think of a more iconic image than the man's business suit. When you see a man in a business suit you know his job is to make money. I wanted to highlight that I am reappropriating the Capitalist's role and strategy by embodying this uniform. There is a very schizophrenic nature to this project and through it I must play many different roles and not all of them will fit. The clips in the back are used to represent this and indicate that I am making this role fit me and not the other way around.
I think that it is still obvious in the video that I am a woman. If I had accentuated this fact by dressing up in a female business outfit or a sexy dress then I still would still be playing a role. Actually, over the course of this project so far the fact that I am a woman has already come in the way a few times and with people I considered friends. One wanted to help with contextualising the philosophical nature of the project. Our communications became muddy because he developed feelings, which was uncomfortable to say the least. Then he became greedy after speaking with people about the project and aggressively stated that he deserved a large proportion of shares. And finally, he was dishonest about how he used money I gave him to set up the my server. The second set-back, which was directly because I am a woman, was with a friend that I pitched to as a potential investor, since he's squandering lots of money to build a spaceship so he can go to the moon in a few years. At first he was very interested, up until the point that he realised I was not going to sleep with him.
It looks to me like the project has just begun and you are going to learn and experience a lot in the coming months. Or will JML Inc disappear beyond the graduation show?
Yes, this project has just begun and there is so much work still to be done before launching. Over the summer I will be at Innovation RCA's launchpad where I will have a business mentor and work more on the marketing plan. I will also be holding a crowdfunding campaign for DOME and will soon do a friends and family round of shareholders for JLM Inc.
I am looking forward to many aspects of the project such as exposing the loopholes that big corporations use to their benefit and challenging norms that we are conditioned to. I have already learned many things and gained a greater understanding of our economic system, which brings a clarity to why our society and culture are as they are.
This project has the potential to go on indefinitely as I am using my life as the subject. And just as life goes, it's hard to say what the outcome will be.
Film: director- Ilona Gaynor
It's that time of the year again! The merry days of the Design Interactions graduation show. The final projects are as different from each other as possible and the first work in my short series of RCA posts deals with what The Guardian calls the serious business of creating a happier world. Happiness, it turns out, is no longer just the desire of the individual, but of governments and legislative bodies. In 2011, the UN Resolution 65/309 encouraged member states to measure happiness and countries are now ranked according to the happiness of their citizens. Which 3 years later, sounds as weird as ever.
In her scenario, not only is the happiness of a UK town closely monitored and assessed but active measures are also taken to almost enforce happiness upon its inhabitants.
That town is Blackburn which the Office for National Statistics declared in 2013 to be one of the least happy cities in the UK.
As you can see in the video below, men in suit convene in a London office and draw up a series of measures to turn a miserable and distant town into a cheerful one. People get tax discount if they wear yellow and skip gaily down the streets, etc. Even the name of the place is changed from Blackburn to Yellowburn.
Smile, The Fiction Has Already Begun (video)
Although as individuals we may each wish to be happy, when our emotions become an indicator of government 'success', where might this attempted control over our emotions end, and at what price? This project aims to question the motivations behind this global legislative trend of focusing on happiness, which in its essence is immeasurable.
Does the government want me to feel happy, or are there other, greater, unspoken reasons for their focus on my emotions? This project aims to raise a discussion about these intentions by speculating about a future city, Yellowburn, in the north of England.
A few questions to the designer:
Hi Zoë! The focus of your project is the city of Blackburn which was declared one of the unhappiest places in the UK. Do you know how this level of unhappiness was measured?
Happiness is no longer just the desire of the individual, but of governments and legislative bodies; countries are ranked according to the happiness of their citizens and happiness is starting to be positioned as a better measure of 'success' than GDP.
As to how Blackburn was classed as one of the least happy places: the ONS (Office of National statistics) conduct an annual survey, including four questions which create what is commonly referred to as The Happiness Index. The questions are:
- How happy did you feel yesterday?
When I was working on this project the data showed that Blackburn, Newport, Stoke-on-Trent and Inner London were among the least happy places in the UK, but the lists of the happiest and unhappiest places often change when new data is announced.
Why did you select Blackburn rather than any other unhappy places?
In this speculative project, Blackburn felt like the kind of place that the Government would select for the trial run of these new happiness proposals. It's up north, it's not too large nor too small, and it's in need of regeneration. Also, although economically Blackburn is now struggling, it was one of the first industrialised towns in the world, and so it seemed apt that it should be the first place to have these happiness proposals implemented and lead the UK into a new, happier, era.
The Investor Document explores the profit potential of happiness. Could you elaborate on that and also tell us if there is any existing political or scientific research on that topic? Is the level of people's happiness already valued as an economical asset?
The research shows that happier people are more agreeable, more healthy and more productive. Therefore, happier people are more beneficial to the economy, as they cost less in policing and healthcare, and create more profit for companies.
Having interviewed Dawn Snape, head of the department at the ONS which carries out the Happiness Index, she admits that they do not know, when asking people about happiness, what it is that they are really measuring, and that the results vary according to who asks the questions, whether the questions are asked in person or over the phone, and so on. Yet, countries are being ranked on this data, UN resolutions have been passed which encourage the measuring of happiness, and happiness is being positioned as a measure of 'national success'. However, with happiness being in its essence immeasurable, for legislative trends to be based on such an immeasurable factor seems to me to be absurd. I would question therefore the motivations for this global focus on happiness - is it just that our politicians want us all to feel happy and good, or is it that they want us to be more agreeable, more easily controlled and more profitable? This project aims to raise a discussion about these intentions.
In my research for the project I met with lawyers to try to determine whether a legal definition of happiness could be created, and therefore whether we could be more precise as to what was being measured - it was in this meeting that I was introduced to the term 'mere puff', which is basically that you can say something which is not believable and therefore you can say it without being held to it. Mere puff is what allows advertisers to make claims like 'open happiness' (coke) which is obviously nonsense. In my project politicians are also able to make certain claims about happiness which are absurd (which i see happening in current politics too!)
In your scenario, people are taxed for wearing black, sent to therapy when they look too gloomy, etc. Why are the measures taken to ensure that the population of Yellowburn is happy so authoritarian?
In this speculative project, in order to climb up the Happiness rankings, the UK Government targets one of its least happy cities, Blackburn, and bans NonHappiness in public places by implementing a number of proposals (one of which is changing its name from Blackburn to Yellowburn as black is the colour of insecurity and fear, whereas yellow is the colour of happy, sun and fun).
The proposals for Yellowburn were all based on research but I wanted to balance fact and fiction and so chose proposals which best worked to highlight the absurdity of measuring something as vague and changing as happiness. In order to measure something one needs to know what one is measuring. It is for this reason that in this speculative future, happiness is defined quite neatly and peoples behaviour can therefore be analysed as to whether it fits the new definition of Happiness. In this way the data gathered can show the UK to be happier, and thus push the UK up the global happiness rankings.
Other proposals include FRCCTV (Facial recognition CCTV) which tracks the happiness of residents by their smile and body language and rewards 'happy' residents with tax credits, and punishes nonhappy residents with tax penalties and escorting them off to the Y-Districts for various therapies. Another proposal was the tail-wagging cat, which becomes a symbol of Yellowburn. Most people feel happy when they see a dog wagging its tail; the thinking of politicians was therefore that cats should also be trained to wag their tails, so that we would feel happy when we see them wag their tails too.
Let's talk about that therapy. Any citizen who doesn't adopt a happy behaviour is escorted to the Y-District. What happens there?
These Y-Districts would have a range of therapies including CBT, NLP and Psychotherapy. People would also be coached on how to smile better and have body language training to appear happier. There is a cost to the resident for attending the Y-Districts, but attendance is not optional. This cost serves as another deterrent for a resident to exhibit any NonHappiness in public places.
When i talked to you during the press view, you seemed to doubt the sagacity of positioning happiness 'as a better measure of a nations success than GDP.' Why so?
The pursuit of happiness is accepted as a good thing almost without question. This project aims to be the question, one which I think is very much needed to be more audible in our minds. The pursuit for happiness has been raging for centuries despite the fact that we each experience the reality of emotions as rising and passing away. Yet today, scientific research into methods to rid us of unwanted emotions is attracting financial resources from around the globe and the possibility of removing unwanted feelings is fast becoming a reality; this project aims to help people pause, think and feel what the costs of such advancements might be.
I feel that positioning happiness as a measure of success of a country, although it sounds great and lovely at first glance, is ultimately rather dangerous. Once our emotions are important to the government in terms of their world standing and respect from other nations, these emotions are then rife for manipulation and control. We already live in a society where happiness is the 'correct' way to be, where happiness is encouraged, where brands sell to us promising us happiness, where anxiety is treated with drugs, where transhumanists dream of a future where we won't have to feel any negative emotions. For me, happiness is just one emotion, and other emotions should be equally as respected. I wish we would place more value on emotions such as melancholy, as for me they have always been present in my life and I think they need to be listened to more, rather than swept under the carpet or otherwise disregarded.
I should point out that this speculative project is aimed to create debate around the consequences of ranking nations according to happiness, rather than be seen as a reality of a future.
Has anyone from Blackburn reacted to your project, either while you were there filming or later on?
I am very grateful to the residents of Blackburn who I met: they were all extremely friendly and very kind and patient while the filming was going on. Each film is a 3.5 minute continuous steadicam shot - doing rehearsals and then take after take through the back alleys and wasteland of Blackburn with the steadicam rig certainly attracted attention from local residents and a reporter from the local paper came down to find out what we were doing.
Although the data shows the residents of Blackburn as being amongst the least happy in the country, this was not my experience, which perhaps further highlights the difficulty of measuring happiness and adds to the debate as to what it is that we are really measuring.
Could you also remind me of the golf tournament in Newport story? and its impact on the happiness of the town?
Perhaps ironically, the ONS is based in Newport, which is one of the least happy places in the UK alongside Blackburn. So when I visited Newport I interviewed residents about their (lack of) Happiness. Time and time again I was told the story of how, when the owner of Celtic Manor (a golf course just outside Newport) wanted to bring the Ryder cup there, he lobbied to turn the town into a city. This new city status brought with it increased council rates and business taxes, which people could not afford. Coupled with a large retail park opening up outside the town, the town centre saw a decline in business and many of the residents attributed the unhappiness of the people of Newport to this event - one man wanting the Ryder Cup to come to his golf course.
Is the UK government taking measures at the moment to make the nation happier?
David Cameron introduced the measuring of Happiness, and government departments now consider happiness when making decisions. Recent data showed the UK to be in 22nd place in terms of happiness, but just this morning (19-june-14) new data shows that the UK is now ranked in 11th place - a jump of 11 places. I find these statistics fascinating and absurd in equal measure.
Are you planning to push the project any further?
This was the final project of my MA at RCA, and I will continue to work on design projects in this subject area.
You can check out the works at RCA Show 2014 until 29 June.