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.
Because he is interested in the ethics and dilemmas of eating meat, John O'Shea is looking into schemes to achieve a more compassionate meat consumption. Since 2008, the artist has been working on Meat Licence Proposal. Under the law proposal, citizens willing to buy or consume a certain type of meat would need to obtain a licence to do so first. And the only way to acquire the licence is to slaughter the animal yourself.
If you happen to be in The Netherlands right now, head to Stroom in The Hague where O'Shea is showing two works related to The Meat Licence Proposal as part of the Food Forward, an exhibition presenting scenarios for the future of our food based on the work of artists and designers.
The first work in the show features the responses recorded on the streets of Manchester to The Meat Licence Proposal. The audio fragments are presented within a bespoke technological interface (developed in collaboration with artist and developer Tom Schofield) which makes connections between the recordings and actual written legal documents which support but also sometimes contradict claims that people made in response to the proposal for a new law.
The second piece is Black Market Pudding, a real and ethically conscious food product of a new type. The project involves making the traditional blood sausage but this time using blood from a living pig. Black Market Pudding is also supported by a business plan that would ensure a fair deal for farmer, animal and consumer.
O'Shea is currently working within the Clinical Engineering department of the University of Liverpool in collaboration with Prof. John Hunt on Pigs Bladder Football , a football ball grown from living cells, for Abandon Normal Devices Festival as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad.
Plenty of reasons to be willing to interview John, then!
Hi John! You have been working on the Meat Licence Proposal since 2008. After 4 years developing and presenting the proposal, do you think you're getting closer to seeing it accepted?
I can positively say that, following several consultations, dinners and public meetings, I think that many of the ethical and legal challenges for implementing a law like the one being proposed have been fleshed out.
The Meat Licence Proposal is a much more developed discourse than when it began as a web dialogue in 2008. Since then, there seems also to have been a steady increase of alternative ideas around meat consumption and production entering the mainstream consciousness in the UK, particularly through television programmes focusing on the origins of meat products and celebrity chefs advocating nose to tail approaches and so on, so I think that the cultural environment is more ripe than ever for this kind of law to work.
However, despite any small successes The Meat Licence Proposal may have had in terms of consciousness raising around apparent discrepancies between the products and processes in our food supply, I really don't think that we are any closer to making the proposed meat licensing law an actuality for the UK. I think that I would have to take responsibility for this lack of progress in terms of actually getting the law accepted, which has mostly been down to a failure on my part to properly understand how our laws are made within our democratic society.
Fortunately, through research with Newcastle University (and the Law School there) I have begun to get a more proper understanding of the actual way in which food producers, supermarkets and other large corporations actually relate to the legal and democratic process of lawmaking around food. As I understand it now, the way things really work is pretty much the opposite to what one might expect: where The Meat Licence Proposal has started from a position of principle (people who are comfortable eating meat should be comfortable with killing animals) and attempted to extrapolate a policy from there, our actual laws and regulations around food, rather than being pro-actively constructed based upon an existing value system, are in fact developed quite subversively, in reaction to particular products and trends which emerge and are successful within the free market.
How have ordinary meat-eaters but also lawmakers and politicians reacted to the proposal so far? How much support/opposition has the proposal encountered?
One of the pieces on show within the Food Forward exhibition (entitled "The Meat Licence Proposal, 2012") features a whole series of short audio pieces which are recordings of people on a Manchester High Street giving their opinion and gut-reaction to the law as it is proposed. These views vary wildly but most people seem very apprehensive about the idea that they would have to get involved with animal slaughter in order to consume meat. There is a great deal of skepticism too about how a proposed meat licencing law could work in practice; however, these logistical questions are for the most part already dealt within existing parts of UK and European law and this is what the work attempts to demonstrate, through literally using a video projector to "shed light" on over a hundred different legal statutes.
My practice is, of course, as an artist, and, to begin with I wanted to wait until the proposal had reached a reasonable level of development before approaching "professionals" and "specialists" in government and law. My justification for this quite oblique strategy is that, having been subject to innumerable laws for my whole life, I thought it would be interesting to have a go myself, on my own terms. More recently, I have been in contact with legal scholars at Newcastle University Law School and for them, The Meat Licence Proposal presents and intriguing case, since it does not operate in a way which we might expect laws to behave - it is an object of curiosity.
A few years ago I also had a brief conversation with a high ranking UK government minister about the proposal and their view was, regardless of his own opinion on it, any law which might be seen as unpopular in the short-term presents a difficult case for government (hence the very long consultation period before the inevitable implementation of UK wide bans on smoking in public places.)
What was the inspiration for the proposal?
The Meat Licence Proposal in itself is not a particularly original idea - I had discussed this kind of thing many years previous with friends and it crops up sporadically on internet forums, at dinner parties and down the pub. I think the element which distinguishes this work is my decision to actively work towards making the idea for a law which would control meat into a legal reality. That strategy didn't come from a moment of "inspiration", as such, but like most of my work, actually emerged from a much more sustained period of anxiety around a blatant contradiction (at the time I ate meat pretty much every day, but had never killed an animal) and also the claustrophobic legal infrastructure which appeared to me to be impenetrable. I just wanted to get involved in these two parts of my daily experience and, to begin with, an activist approach seemed most appropriate.
If the proposal is enacted as law one day, how would it be put into effect? Would there be specially designed slaughter houses that anyone can enter to kill a pig and get a license? Would the killing be made following a special ritual? Using special weapons or tools? How would the law affect the distribution of meat?
These questions are very important, and I think that the suggestions you have made are probably not far off the mark. Discussions around the actual logistics of making a workable meat licencing law are still very much at the centre of this public research and development. To take the points you have made specifically: In my opinion slaughterhouses would not require very significant physical changes in how they work - instead changes would be needed at the level of policy.
At the moment you or I would typically not be permitted to enter the majority of slaughterhouses in the UK, even to see what is happening, since these are private enterprises. The right of entry is one of the first things which would have to change and I would see this as being in a similar realm to laws enabling citizens to enter courts of law and witness legal process. I think we should have similar guarantees of transparency around hidden processes in society since, at the end of the day, we are the consumer of these products and should be allowed to witness how they are made if we choose. Regarding taking part in the act of slaughter - again, there are various systems in place which allow subtle, often religious, variations on how the slaughter takes place and I think much could be drawn from existing regulation of special allowances around these methods. An illustrator, Chris Rodenhurst, with whom I have worked on several elements of how the proposal has been presented to date, produced a lovely set of sketches to suggest potential new tools for citizen slaughter. Like anything else, once this engagement with killing is happening on a national scale it will be in the hands of designers and marketers to determine exact specifications for new kinds of execution devices.
When i read about your proposal, i thought 'great! the emotional stress of killing an animal might put people off meat' but recalling the sad story of Marcus the sheep, i'm not so sure anymore about how much people can be moved by animals.
In your opinion, how would the law affect the way people see animals and consume meat?
Yes, I remember this Marcus the sheep story being all over the media at the time; for the "animal loving" (and mostly meat eating) British public it seemed to pose a kind of conundrum i.e: "Why has the killing of this particular animal caused such outcry?" I think the answer lies in part with the peculiar cultural and emotional distinctions made, across the world, between animals kept as "pets" and animals kept to be slaughtered for food. I think, even more important, in this case, is the act of giving the animal a (human) name which demands an identification at the level of the individual animal which would not be usual in the context of slaughter, where animals are numbered. "We are going to butcher Marcus..."
The aim of The Meat Licence Proposal is to facilitate a more coherent engagement with both animals and meat. Those people wishing to eat meat would obtain their licence by actively taking part in the slaughter of an individual animal (which would correspond to the type of meat which they would like to eat.) I think that there is a strong likelihood that some people may be put off, but this it important to keep in mind that this is certainly not a pro-vegetarian law and, surprising as it may seem, some people may find that they actually enjoy killing.
Can you tell us about the Black Market Pudding that you're showing at Stroom in The Hague? Will it really be manufactured using blood from a living pig? The description on Stroom's page says "In purchasing and consuming Black Market Pudding we are keeping the animal from slaughter - no animals are harmed!" How would this ensure that the animals won't suffer?
Black Market Pudding is my own culinary invention. It is a subtle variation on the traditional black pudding which is a blood sausage dish of the UK and Ireland made using congealed pigs blood, oats and different herbs and spices. I have devised my own special recipe for what I call Black Market Pudding where, crucially, the key ingredient (pigs blood) is obtained without any animals being slaughtered; this is the unique selling point: No animals are harmed.
I worked with Stroom over several months prior to the Food Forward show to establish a supply-chain in the Netherlands in order to obtain blood from living pigs in a way which is legal, humane and safe. For the show I made several Black Market Puddings in the kitchen at the gallery, using blood from the living pigs and these are presented within a refrigerated deli-counter as "real" proof-of-concept products. An important aspect of this work is that it is not speculative or representational in a way which might be expected within a future oriented show: Black Market Pudding is already "real".
Of course the true reality for Black Market Pudding would be for this delicacy to be for sale on the open market and this is an aim about which I have spoken at length with Karen Vershooren (curator of Food Forward). Over the course of this year I will be attempting to set up a legitimate production and sales operation for Black Market Pudding within Europe and I have made a simple website where people can register their interest. The challenges in bringing Black Market Pudding to market would be quite great I think, especially within the UK (where I am based) because it is difficult to work with animal blood in the food chain since the BSE crisis (where dried pigs blood found within animal feeds was seen to be a contributing factor). If the product were to be sold, it would be necessary that it be subjected to all of the regulations which would face any food innovation for human consumption and perhaps in this instance (where the process is different to the normal order - the animal is not killed) perhaps new laws would have to be developed for this.
I hope that Black Market Pudding can be seen as a continuation of consumer trends towards food products which contain not only their intrinsic value as foodstuffs and sources of energy but also a kind of additional ethical value which is quite difficult to quantify. If we think about the "fair trade" and "free range" labels, people are paying extra to opt out of a system which they believe to be exploitative; with Black Market Pudding I am proposing a similar business model. The name "Black Market" hints at the fact that this product operates outside of the normal order of things and the idea would be that the Black Market Puddings are sold at such a premium that, not only are you buying a delicious product, but also you are buying the animal out of the regular supply chain and ensuring it will not be slaughtered. This business model presents a fair deal for the producer (who is compensated) the animal (which gets to keep its life) and the consumer (who has this unparalleled piece of mind).
There is I suppose one caveat with Black Market Pudding and that is, by going outside of the regular carnivorous foodchain, where humans, as flesh-eaters, would consider themselves to be at the very top - here we are taking blood from an animal which is alive and so our own position in the hierarchy changes - as animals consuming the blood of another living animal we are explicitly "parasites" and so the real question for the market is whether people would be comfortable with that designation.
What are the MLP next steps?
At the very beginning of January 2012 I made a statement on the front page of The Meat Licence Proposal website explaining that there would be a change of strategy. Over the last several years I have focused my energies on a democratic approach, engaging directly with processes of law-making and suggesting that a new law could (and should) be developed in a public and transparent way, by citizens themselves, in a similar way to open-source development models which operate within software culture.
These kinds of initiatives can continue I think but it is my view now that the overall approach needs to be much more market-oriented and, once Black Market Pudding is established, I will be looking to identify more products and strategies which can close the gap between product and process (especially in meat production).
I'll leave you now with an anonymous quote from one of the participants of a 2010 consultation exercize:
"Ultimately, The Meat Licence Proposal must engage and identify with the values of 'the market' where production (killing animals) is about making money, and consumption (eating meat) is about getting what we want."
Check out The Meat Licence Proposal at the Food Forward exhibition, Stroom, The Hague, NL. The show is curated by Karen Verschooren and remains open through April 1, 2012.
Related story: Solo exhibition of Adel Abdessemed postponed.
One of the reasons why i go through the trouble of taking one bus and two trains in order to get to Z33 in Hasselt is that the Contemporary Art Center regularly identifies and confronts phenomena, ideas and flows that characterize or affect contemporary culture. Their new exhibition, Architecture of Fear, examines how feelings of fear pervade our daily life.
The show explores how fear has moved from being an immediate emotional strategy for survival, the result of a personal experience, to becoming a constant, more abstract, low level feeling that paves the way for new infrastructures based on security, prevention and 'risk-managemen't. Without ever judging nor pointing the finger, Architecture of Fear asks visitors to put their anxieties into a broader perspective. Are threats of terrorism, viral diseases, pollution and financial crisis entirely unbiased and valid? Have some of them been surreptitiously fashioned by politicians and the media? Are CCTVs in the metro making me feel more secure or in danger, for example?
As Frank Furedi, author of Politics of Fear: Beyond Left and Right, explained in an article for Spiked, "The prominent role of fear today merely indicates that it serves as a framework through which we interpret a variety of experiences."
Architecture of Fear has invited international artists and designers to investigate how fear as a mental construction can be built up through language and images. I've already mentioned the work of Charlotte Lybeer and Jill Magid. I'll come back with an interview with Trevor Paglen soon-ish. In the meantime, here's a quick walk through some of the works in the exhibition.
In Museum of Nature, photographer Ilkka Halso articulates his fear of a world where nature will be confined to museums, private amusements parks and performance spaces. The buildings will not only allow the inhabitants of the Earth to see what forests, lakes and rivers look like, they will also protects these last fragments of flora from threats of pollution and from actions of man himself.
The works shown by Laurent Grasso in the exhibition are equally compelling and sinister but they are also more complex and allude to conspiracy theories and ambiguous military researches. The title of Grasso's video 1619 refers to the year when Galileo Galilei first used the term "aurora borealis" in his writings.
Nikola Tesla looked into the aurora borealis almost three centuries after the Italian scientist but he was more interested in its capacity to reflect electromagnetic waves. Inspired by Tesla's research, the American military set up the "High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program" or HAARP, a research program specialized in the application of high frequencies to the "aurora borealis" in Alaska. HAARP is studying the transmission of electricity in the uppermost portion of the atmosphere. But because of its military funding and the fears associated with electromagnetism, HAARP is surrounded by controversy. Its forest of antennas have been accused of beaming electromagnetic waves that are extremely hazardous to human health, of disrupting climate, of having all sorts of influence on human behaviour and of being weapons able to disrupt communications over large portions of the planet.
Grasso's video artificially reproduces the color vibrations of this luminous phenomena in an environment where one can discern a geodesic sphere.
Visitors of the exhibition will find a model of that very sphere in the adjacent room. Bathed in pink light, the sculpture leads to more worrying stories, conspiracy theories and mystery.
The geodesic sphere, directly inspired by Buckminster Fuller's model, refers to the shape of the receiving stations of the Echelon network, an ambitious listening programme created in in 1947 and operated on behalf of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, UK, and the US. ECHELON was reportedly created to monitor communications between the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc. Since the end of the Cold War, it is believed to search for terrorist plots, drug dealers' plans, and political and diplomatic intelligence. Some even claim that ECHELON is also used for large-scale commercial theft, international economic espionage and invasion of privacy.
Rather than researching, explaining or interpreting what lies exactly behind military uses of natural phenomena and global surveillance systems, the works by Laurent Grasso open up even more speculations, conjectures and ambiguities.
Tsang Kin-Wah's The Second Seal refers to the Seven Seals of the Apocalypse. In the video installation, words that seem to be made of fire descend slowly from the ceiling and snake down the walls of the gallery space. Written by the artist, the text talks of war, violence, evil, vengeance, power, death. The words attempt to articulate the complexities of our society with its many doom scenarios, its dilemmas and anxieties.
Designer Susanna Hertrich's Risk charts bring us back with our feet firmly on the ground. The posters confront a series of risks (terrorist attacks, plane crash, car accident, cancer, etc) as they are perceived by the public with the actual hazard they represent.
The charts are accompanied by the Alertness Enhancing Device and other Prostheses for Instincts that aim to awaken human beings' long lost natural instinct for the real dangers of life, as opposed to the above-mentioned perceived risks that often cause a public outrage.
Through electronic simulation, some prostheses are able to create physical and mental sensations (goose bumps, shivers down the spine, hair standing up on your neck) similar to the ones we experience in instinctive fear responses.
Global Anxiety Monitor, by De Geuzen, investigates reasons for paranoia as well but brings them into a different perspective. The work looks for anxiety buzzwords on Google image and shows side by side the results obtained in several languages. Sometimes the google image angle on pollution, torture, recession, future or unemployment coincide in all the languages investigated, sometimes they are at odds with each other and reveal cultural biases and local tensions.
More details about Architecture of Fear in the mini catalogue available online for free:
Architecture of Fear remains open at Z33 in Hasselt, Belgium through December 31, 2011. Entrance is free.
A few weeks ago i received a 'Bloggers' View Invitation' to visit Power of Making, an exhibition set up by The Crafts Council, one of my favourite organizations in UK, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. To make it even more enticing, the email explained that The first 10 bloggers to arrive will receive a free copy of the Power of Making book. Now i had never received an invitation that openly segregated bloggers from journalists but since it offered a tour with the curator and the possibility to meet some of the artists/designers, i chose not to ask myself too many questions. I wasn't in town on the day of the tour so i asked Nelly Ben Hayoun (a talented Creative Director & Experience Designer whose show Glitch Fiction has just open in Paris) to visit the exhibition for me.
Now I'm going to shut up here and let Nelly tell you what she thought about the Power of Making show:
Power of Making is currently showing at the V&A until 2nd January 2012. The exhibition, curated by Daniel Charny "aims to show how the act of making in its various forms, from human expression to practical problem solving, is shared by all. We hope the exhibition will inspire people and cause them to thoughtfully consider the role of making in their life, in society in commerce and in education."
Emphasis is put on explaining the various making processes ranging from carving to clicking to checkering to locksmithing or wickerworking, to the public.
We navigate over an organized series of cabinets into a grey room finding ourselves in front of life-size crochet bear, lion-shaped Ghanaian coffin, wooden bicycles, glass noses, etc.
The exhibition is inspired by the Power of Ten, Charles and Ray Eames' film depicting the relative scale of the universe, which is to say according to Daniel Charny that "we should look into the knowledge (the bigger picture) as much as the maker's skill (detail)."
Daniel Charny wants to speak to 'people's curiosity, to change our perception of craft and present us with the contemporary motivation behind making.' Therefore, makers in the exhibition are not seen through their discipline but through their actual making. "Making can do" the curator told us, so there is no differentiation between professional and amateurs and no mention of the in-between maker community "the Pro-ams". What is key to Daniel is to present us with a state of imagination at this point in time.
While the exhibition reflects the technicality of making, it barely considers the context of it.
The challenge in presenting the 'making culture' resides in the understanding of the context in which the maker make: its community, its peers, its communications tools. Makers do have power and impact and like spiders they have developed ingenious ways in which they can act as a group in order to "hack the post-industrial milieu" as explained by Bruce Sterling. This is not a clean process and it is not always as well defined as the Power of Making exhibition would let you believe. It is, as Sterling calls it, a real "culture of the mashup".
It is a choice made by Daniel Charny not to show the profession of the makers, the piece must stand out by itself , it is about the making of it and not really about the maker....
Another point i'd like to raise is that one of the differences between a professional maker and a pro-am or amateur is that the amateur 'makes' during his leisure time. Pro-ams have changed dramatically the consumer framework. Nowadays, we now not only speak about leisure as a time where the "modern man" can relax but we actually speak of a real economy. Leisure produces specific products and services. Passionate makers enjoy "leisure activities".
Once again, this issue seems to be a curatorial challenge, how do you represent the time of making in an exhibition?
Another qualm for me is that although the exhibition does present us with the technicality behind the making, it doesn't give us a view on the process of it. When looking at David Mach's King silver Gorilla Sculpture I would like to see how these coat hangers have been put together, I would like to feel the pain, the mess or clean aspect of making such a work.
Funnily enough, before arriving to the "Power of Making" exhibition, I was reading about Bourdieu and his The forms of Capital. Bourdieu is one of the first French academics to have proclaimed the power and the creativity of the popular culture in the 80's. Under the name of "counter-cultures" Bourdieu studied the variety of outsider practice. He differentiated three kinds of capital that the individual experiences in his life, "economic capital", "social capital" which is based on the network, relationship, membership we are enable to create. And then "cultural capital" which is about the knowledge, skills, education that you have and that can give you higher status. Indeed cultural capital is what makes the difference between an amateur-maker and a usual consumer, by making the amateur is increasing his cultural capital.
How to make? When? And what is the learning process? These are three aspects I would have liked to see being explored in the exhibition.
I expected to see the making of the future revolution, the power and the people behind it! What I saw was the craft and technicality of it. But I guess this is the way to do it, first think through the tools and then get the Bastille!?
To conclude, i'd say that Power of Making is a highly recommended exhibition on the techniques behind making. And good job Daniel! You got me going on the topic!
The Power of Making is currently showing at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London until 2nd January 2012. Admission free.
The book under review this week is Open Design Now: Why Design Cannot Remain Exclusive, edited by Bas van Abel (Creative Director of Waag Society), Roel Klaassen (Programme Manager at Premsela, Dutch Platform for Design and Fashion), Lucas Evers (Head of Programme Culture at Waag Society and member of Creative Commons Netherlands) and Peter Troxler (independent researcher and concept developer.) You can find it on amazon USA or UK.
BIS publishers writes: In design(ing) there is a revolution ongoing that is triggered by an emerging networked community that is sharing digital information about physical products and the ubiquitous availability of production tools and facilities. It transforms design into an open discipline, in which designs are shared and innovation of a large diversity of products is a collaborative and world spanning process.
Open Design Now covers these issues:
You might remember that I've already said a few words about Open Design Now in early June when it was launched at DMY International Design Festival Berlin. I hadn't read the book at the time. I have now.
The book is divided into three main sections. The first one is made of some 210 pages of essays by practitioners and thinkers such as John Thackara, Dick Rijken from STEIM and professor at The Hague University, Bre Pettis of the MakerBot fame, Renny Ramakers from Droog Design, Tommi Laitio from Demos Helsinki. The section of essays is followed by a stimulating list of case studies that range from the Fifty Dollar Leg Prosthesis to Fritzing and the RepRap digital fabrication system. The last part is the 'visual index' made of examples over examples of inspirational works and ideas: guerrilla gardening, bamboo bikes, hacker strategies, recycling initiatives, manifestos, grassroots inventions, etc.
The authors of the book announce right from the start that they won't try and reduce open design to a definition. What they do instead is provide a clear snapshot of the state of open source design in all its guises. Van Abel, Evers, Klaassen and Troxler did also a great job at editing a book that provides a solid framework for discussion as well as plenty of opportunities to reflect and ponder on the opportunities and challenges offered by open source values on the whole spectrum of creativity, from chair marketing to robot making.
In their essays, the contributors explore with more depth many of the issues that the design community might prefer to ignore right now: shifts in the distribution and production process, 'loss' of control, adjustments of intellectual property rights, reassessment of old hierarchies, access to knowledge, definition of 'design literacy', impact of new technologies and tools, the hybridization of the designer's role, the designer-client relationship is under (re)evalution... And most crucially for some, the business potential of open source creativity.
Joris Laarman's point of view is one of the highlights of the book. The designer (and one of the initiators of Make-Me.com) raises thought-provoking questions about the 'mediocracy of the middle classes' that dominates the current mass production design, about why true modernists wanted open source design 100 years ago, how the power could get out of the grasp of multinationals and back into the hands of craftspeople whose know-how and talent had been rendered irrelevant by industrialization, why creative commons licensing shouldn't prevent you from making profit, etc.
Another great input is Mushon Zer-Aviv's essay "Learning by Doing", a very personal and often humourous account of the strategies he deployed in his efforts to teach open design in art and design schools.
Finally, and mostly because it gives me the opportunity to highlight the breadth of the book, i'd like to single out Open Design for Government, an essay in which Bert Mulder calls for applying some of the tools, frameworks and values of open design to governmental institutions in order to open up policy making to citizens.
Before i close this post, i should mention the very brave and befitting publication model. BIS publishers is making the content of the book gradually available on the Open Design Now website. Right now, 15% of the content can be read online.
Views inside the book:
Image on the homepage: ÖLKE BÖLKE by Remy&Veenhuizen. Photo: Leo Veger.