Last week, i was in Berlin for the talks and screenings organized by the Disruption Network Lab, a platform of events and research focused on art, hacktivism and disruption. DNL opened its program with Eyes from a Distance. On Drone-Systems and their Strategies, a conference that explored the politics and the regime of power beyond drone-systems. A couple of the talks have already been uploaded online. They will all be there eventually and in the meantime i'm going to dutifully post my notes from the conference.
Starting with the brilliant panel of the first evening. The Grey Zone. On the (il)legitimacy of targeted killing by drones, moderated by journalist Laura Lucchini, explored drone strikes under the perspectives of an investigative journalist, a criminal law researcher, an activist and a blogger/journalist who lives in Gaza under the constant surveillance of the Israeli drones (more about her in a later post but go ahead if you're curious...)
The grey zone is of course the dangerous, blurry area where drone attacks operate. The practice of targeted killing by drones raises many questions: "How many civilians have been killed as collateral damage during these strikes?" "And even if we're talking about militants, how can the killings be justified when there has been judicial supervision? "If these drones can reach their targets anywhere, then how is the battlefield defined?" "87 countries (and counting) are now equipped with military drones, which they use mostly for surveillance. Only 3 countries use drones for targeted killings: the U.S., Israel and the UK. Where will this stop?" "And if these targeted killings are illegal, why does Europe keep silent?"
The first panelist was John Goetz, an American investigative journalist and author based in Berlin. He wrote, together with Christian Fuchs, the book Geheimer Krieg (Secret War) which reveals how the war on terror is secretly conducted from covert U.S. bases in Germany.
Goetz's presentation attempted to reconstruct one day of a drone attack in Somalia and as the narrative unfolded, we got to hear about Germany's involvement into these military operations, the way the U.S. gather intelligence in foreign territories and how innocents end up being caught in the line, if not directly targeted due to inaccurate information.
As he explained at the conference (and as an article in The Intercept further confirmed), drone strikes wouldn't be possible without the support of Germany. The Germans might not launch the attacks themselves but they provide intelligence and they coordinate the strikes that target suspected terrorists in Africa and the Middle East, but that also kill civilians.
The U.S. drone war in Africa is controlled from U.S. bases in Germany, namely Ramstein and Stuttgart. Germany is also responsible for gathering human intelligence. There are many Somali immigrants and asylum seekers in Germany and as they arrive, they are asked about streets, shops, location of members of Al-Shabaab, etc. Any information that could be used by the "War on Terror" is immediately relayed to U.S. intelligence officers.
The second speaker was Chantal Meloni, a criminal lawyer and the author of Is there a Court for Gaza? A Test Bench for International Justice, a book about the crimes perpetrated during the Operation Cast Lead against the Gaza Strip.
Meloni put the issue of targeted killing by drones into a legal framework.
Since 2004, up to 5,500 people have been killed by drone strikes in Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan. These are countries the U.S. is not officially at war with.
Killing has supplanted capture as the centerpiece of the U.S. counter terrorism strategy. Opposition to drone killing is growing but it is not as effective as the opposition to torture was. A reason for that might be that the legal framework for drone strikes is more complex.
Drone strikes have escalated under the Obama administration and they are characterized by a lack of transparency: states don't disclose who has been killed, why and who are the collateral casualties. Obama doesn't disclose the identity of the people on the kill list. There is no public presentation of evidence, nor any judicial oversight. The level of opacity is actually ridiculous. The little information we have is provided by media reports, leaks or testimonies.
An analysis by the human rights organization Reprieve found that US operators targeting 41 men have killed an estimated 1,147 people. So who are the 1,106 individuals? We don't know, most of them remain unnamed. What is sure is that the collateral damage shows that drones are not as 'surgically precise' as the U.S. claims.
Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown professor and former Pentagon official under President Obama, sums up the situation: "Right now we have the executive branch making a claim that it has the right to kill anyone, anywhere on Earth, at any time, for secret reasons based on secret evidence, in a secret process undertaken by unidentified officials."
We associate the start of the drone attacks with the U.S. and their post-9/11 counter-terrorist strategy but the military use of drones started long before that, in Israel, a country that has the longest track record for targeted killing (aka "targeted prevention") of Palestinians. Targeted killings can be defined as the state-sponsored practice of eliminating enemies outside the territory.
Nowadays, most of the drones sold around the world are used for surveillance purposes but it has been forecast that in 10 years every country will have armed drones.
60% of the world export of drones come from Israel. Israeli manufacturer Elbit is producing the best selling model: the Hermes drone which was used in the latest attacks on Gaza. 37% of the killings that occurred during the attacks on Gaza can be attributed to drones.
One can see the appeal of drones for governments and policy makers: they are relatively cheap, they are claimed to be 'surgically precise', they make it easy to kill without any risk and they allow the army to reach their target in areas that would otherwise be difficult to reach. But do their use comply with the martial law?
Targeted killings are generally unlawful under international laws.
The laws under war time are more permissible regarding the use of lethal forces. However, the right to use armed force is not unlimited. Civilians, for example, need to be protected from direct attacks.
States have thus expanded the concept of war on the battlefield as to include situations that should in fact be regulated by law enforcement agencies. The 'war on terror' is a total war for which no end nor boundaries is conceived. The number of enemies is infinite too. Governments justify the use of lethal forces by claiming that this is 'anticipatory self-defense' but, under the laws applicable under war time, the self-defense argument allows killing only when all other solutions, such as capture, have been exhausted. Most targeted killings outside the battlefield constitute thus premeditated deprivations of life, violations of the right to life.
When killings cannot be justified they constitute war crimes and other states have the duty to investigate and not leave dormant this huge accountability vacuum.
Tactical Technology Collective, Unseen War (Exposing the Invisible)
The final speaker was Marek Tuszynski, the co-founder of Tactical Tech, an organization 'dedicated to the use of information in activism.'
Tuszynski's talk focused on a series of short documentaries called Exposing the Invisible. The films look at the investigative work of journalists, artists, reporters, activists and technologists who explore publicly accessible data in order counter mainstream reports and go further than traditional journalistic investigations. One of the documentaries, Unseen War examines the physical, moral and political invisibility of US drone strikes in Pakistan.
He argued that counter powers should build their own intelligence practice.
The operations in Pakistan might be located far away but they concern us because
But there's no reason to be passive, we need to protect ourselves because surveillance doesn't require machines flying above our heads, we are already providing a vast quantity of valuable indormation when we use social media and that data can be used to analyse our digital behaviour. To protect yourself from intrusion to privacy, check out Tactical Tech's Security in-a-Box website.
Image on the homepage cnet.
It's that time of the year again. The winning images of the Sony World Photography Awards have been revealed. It's the eight edition of the competition and, as usual, the Italians made a killing and take a large portion of the awards, there is a fair deal of suffering, at least one of the awards goes to an image featuring Palestinians being bullied by soldiers with sophisticated weapons (this year however, the photos are joyful), and it is always strange to look at the photos and realize that the main events of the year before have almost already been erased from consciences.
I've received the press images this morning, selected the ones i found most striking, made my community proud and copy/pasted the description and then i hit publish:
In the summer of 2014 Monrovia, Liberia became the epicenter of the West African Ebola epidemic, the worst in history. Although previous rural outbreaks were more easily contained, once the virus began spreading in Monrovia's dense urban environment, the results were described by Medecins Sans Frontieres as "catastrophic". With a tradition of burial rites that include the washing of the dead bodies of loved ones, Liberians became infected at alarming rates. Only a decade after a long civil war, Liberia's fragile health system was unable to cope, international agencies were slow to react, and the country struggled.
Molotov Cocktails have been the weapon of choice for the EuroMaidan protestors in Kiev. Using fire to their advantage, the protestors were able to defend their barricades, extend their lines and fortify their positions. In order to set fire to tanks, armoured vehicles, buses, and tires in opposition to local cops, Kievís protestors used thousand and thousands of Molotov Cocktails, inspiring and mobilizing people throughout the city to collect as many bottles as possible.
It is usual to see scenes like this because people spend all day along at the beach and all the usual activities, like playing, eating, sleepping, etc., are done outdoors. All kind of people are seen, and it is a pleasure to contemplate at the same time so much of humanity enjoying and relaxing under the sun.
35% of Mongolians are living a nomadic life and depend on their land for survival. This is increasingly difficult due to serious changes: 25% of the Mongolian land has turned into desert in the past 30 years. Potentially 75% of the territory is at risk of desertification. These environmental changes directly threaten the Mongolian nomadic way of life, which has been passed from generation to generation. This project attempts at recreating the museum diorama with actual people and their livestock in a real place where decertifying is taking place. It is based on an imagined image that these people try to go into museum diorama for survival in the future. This is accomplished with printed images on a billboard placed in conjunction with the actual landscape horizon.
Discotheques, the symbol of 80s and 90s hedonism, were fake marble temples adorned with Greek statues made of gypsum, futuristic spaces of gigantic size, large enough to contain the dreams of success, money, fun of thousands people. And then the dreams are gone, people disappeared and nightclubs became abandoned wreck, cement was laid on large empty squares, places inhabited by echo and melancholy. The grass is growing in the crack, the Discobolus is hiding under a porch, priggish Venus lurks behind the bars. The Paradise Discotheque, contemporary monuments of our civilization, are waiting to be burned to the ground, and in this expectation made of vacuum, only the memory of a former glory remains.
These fire lines I have drawn indicate where the front of the rapidly disappearing Lewis Glacier was at various times in the recent past; the years are given in the titles. In the distance, a harvest moon lights the poor, doomed glacier remnant; the gap between the fire and the ice represents the relentless melting. Relying on old maps and modern GPS surveys I have rendered a stratified history of the glacier's retreat. Mount Kenya is the eroded stump of a long-dead, mega-volcano. Photographically, I hope to re-awaken its angry, magma heart. My fire is made from petroleum. My pictures contain no evidence that this glacier's retreat is due to man-made warming (glaciers can retreat when the don't get sufficient snow, or if the cloud cover thins, for example,) but it is nonetheless my belief that humans burning hydrocarbons are substantially to blame.
The Palestinian Circus School was established in 2006. In 2011 it moved into its own premises in Birzeit near Ramallah. Around 150 young people participate in regular circus classes which accommodate different age groups and ability levels. The school's policy affirms that no student will ever be turned away if they cannot pay the tuition fees. Gender equality is considered an intrinsic aspect of the circus school's structure and practice. Weekly workshops are held in refugee camps and cities across the West Bank for people unable to attend the school in Birzeit. The school has implemented performance tours in various European countries. Exchange programs have been established with European circuses to host qualified trainers and performers in Palestine. The Palestinian Circus School fuses contemporary culture with Palestinian storytelling and identity. The first production, Circus Behind the Wall, explored Palestinian separation from family, land and water by Israel's Wall.
These pictures were taken in June-July near the city of Luhansk (Luhanskaya village). I arrived there half an hour after Ukrainian army airstrikes. Buildings were destroyed and blazed, some locals were dead, while others were escaping in fear. In 2014 the conflict between rebels and the government army in Ukraine led the country into full-scale hostilities. The local residents of the strategically located city of Luhansk were left without water and electricity for three months over the summer, while constant gunfire could be heard above their heads.
According to the Federal Migration Service, more than 800 thousand Ukrainian citizens had to be relocated as a result of the conflict.
In a Flemish village, surrounded by nature, Laura and Maurice live together with their daughter Eva. In the garden, Eva plays with her dog or meets with her classmates. Friends and family come along and fill the house with activity. But when Eva is at school, Maurice and Laura shoot what most people prefer to keep to themselves. The porn they make is not populated by Barbies or muscled superheroes. Ordinary women play with men who are also dad or neighbour. A humanity that not only exists in the porn they make, but also emerge behind the scenes and in their family life. In recent years, Laura has built strong bonds with a number of like-minded people: every one of them confident women who have consciously chosen this lifestyle and only depend on themselves with respect to their work. On a regular basis, they go to erotic fairs, rendez-vous evenings or an erotic nightclub: to make money or to have fun - or both.
Romania joined the European Union in 2007, the whole prison system went through major revamp and the biggest reform was to introduce the right to private visits. This means that a prisoner who is married or in a relationship has the right to receive, every three months, a two-hour private visit which takes place in a separate room inside the prison compound. Plus, if a prisoner gets married in detention he or she can spend 48 hours with the spouse in the special room and is allowed visits once a month in the first year of marriage. I started photographing the private rooms in 2008 and I have now photographed the private rooms inside all Romanian penitentiaries (35 penitentiaries).
Bolivia is proud of being the Latin American country with the highest the number of actively working women. Bolivian women no longer are the subject for the ìweaker sexî prejudice, they are rather associated with the outstanding physical stamina, the inclination to struggle and the great brute strength. Then must not be surprising the fact that, in the poorest neighbourhood of La Paz (4000 mt), a bunch of female farmers from the countryside get together every Sunday in the ring for a public fight. Wearing the traditional cholitas (the term originally refers to the ìindigenous mixed raceî people) clothes and bowlers, Bolivian Valkyries deal with even more demanding fights once they get off the ring, raising their children all by themselves and working between the fields and the urban street markets.
I started visiting different hair salons to capture the moment where we let other people get intimately close and shape the way the world sees us. When I meet ordinary people, I'm intrigued by the fact that they have so many fascinating stories and interesting personalities. Meeting strangers and getting to hear a chunk of their lives really gets me. In this case the stories were found at the local hairdresser. The project is not yet finished - there is still so much to discover in Copenhagenís smaller hair salons.
Lidos were perhaps at their most popular between the wars when people took their holidays here in England. Many of them were built in the 1930s or earlier and were naturally located on the English south coast, which was a favoured holiday destination for those living in London and the home counties. However there were many that were built in towns and cities to cope with the demand that once was and many of these remain. However, when the affordability of overseas holidays started to emerge in the 1960s many of these lidos fell into decline and have never recovered. Some have survived and have benefited from investment and so have taken on a new lease of life as popularity has started increasing again. Most have been left to decay or lost under modern developments, such as Ramsgate's once booming pool which is now under a car park.
In Iraq, life expectancy is 67. Minutes from Glasgow city centre, in Calton, it is 54. I looked at this community and the day-to-day lives of its inhabitants. My intention was to juxtapose Glasgow with the vastly different setting of Kensington and Chelsea in London. Being from Glasgow and familiar with the landscape, I am moved by what I perceive to be missing chunks of life and the bleakness of those shortened lives lived in the Calton compared to those lived in Kensington and Chelsea. The difference in fortunes is not only apparent in mortality but in the cut of their suits and coats, the accessories they carry, the way the women apply their make-up, even their expressions tell a tale, confident and haughty vs downtrodden and malnourished.
I walked along with enormous macaque troop on Sulawesi tens of hours and learned many about their behavior. At one moment the troop rested all around me, babies played each other while adults checked surrounding if it is safe enough. I noticed there is one male in dark shades nearby.
Image on the homepage: © Marcin Klocek, Poland, Sport, Shortlist, Professional Commpetition, 2015 Sony World Photography Awards.
Last year, the Unknown Fields Division, a nomadic design studio that explores peripheral landscapes, industrial ecologies and precarious wilderness, travelled to Asia to follow the path of the symbol of globalization: the massive container ship. The group came back with amazing stories, images, videos and with a set of radioactive Ming vases made from the toxic waste of our electronic gadgets.
Along their journey, Unknown Fields investigated Rare earth element, a set of seventeen chemical elements which are all metals that are often found together in geologic deposits. What makes REE important to our times is that they are used for computer memory, rechargeable batteries, night-vision goggles, precision-guided weapons, phones, energy-efficient lighting, solar panels, and many other electronics and green technologies.
China is the number one consumer of rare earths, they use it mainly in the manufacture of electronics products for domestic use as well as export. Since the 1990s, China is also one of the world's main producer of rare earths. A large proportion of the country's rare earth production is located in the west of Inner Mongolia where the Bayan Obo Mining District oversees the largest deposits of rare earth metals yet found.
The giant industrial complex is one of the most polluted regions on the planet. It processes 100 thousand tons of rare earth concentrate per year using the sulphuric acid-roasting method and for every ton of rare earth concentrate produced 10,000 cubic metres of waste gas, 75 cubic metres of acid-washing waste water, and one ton of radioactive residues are generated.
To accompany the film that documents their adventures, Unknown Fields Division crafted a set of three ceramic Ming vases, using mud extracted from one of Bayan Obo's gigantic radioactive tailing ponds. The toxic sludge, which contains acids, heavy metals, carcinogens and radioactive material, was transported it to London where it was tested for radioactivity. After that, the mud was given to sculptor Kevin Callaghan who turned it into elegant vases which silhouette evokes the Ming dynasty porcelain Tongping Vases. Once a family global superpower, the Ming dynasty presided over an international network of connections, trade and diplomacy that stretched across Asia to Africa, the Middle East and Europe, built on the trade of commodities such as imperial porcelain.
Each object is made from the amount of toxic waste created in the production of three items of technology - a smartphone, a featherweight laptop and the cell of a smart car battery. Besides, the vases are sized in relation to the amount of waste created in the production of each item.
The three Rare Earthernware vases embody the contemporary global supply network but also the long-lasting impact that our thirst for technological goods has on the environment. They will soon be shown at the What is Luxury exhibition in London:
These three vessels are artifacts of a contemporary global supply network that weaves matter and displaces earth across the planet. They are presented as objects of desire, but their elevated radiation levels and toxicity make them objects we would not want to possess and in this case the museum vitrine serves to protect us from the exhibit on display rather than the other way round. They are the undesirable consequences of our material desires.
Rare Earthenware is a work by Kate Davies and Liam Young of The Unknown Fields Division in partnership with the Architectural Association. Photography by Toby Smith. Ceramics by Kevin Callaghan and the London Sculpture workshop.
I've just spent a long weekend in Berlin to attend the Drones event organized by the Disruption Network Lab. The talks, panels and screening were engaging, informative and quite mind-blowing. I'll be back with a report as soon as i've managed to give some intelligible form to whatever i scribbled on my notepad.
Since the event was taking place at Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien, i got a chance to see one of the exhibitions running at the space this month: Boys and their Toys. Zur Omnipräsenz von Krieg und Waffen - auch in der Kunst... (which, according to my ultra rudimentary knowledge of German might mean something like Boys and their Toys. On the omnipresence of war and weapons - also in the art....) As the photos i took will easily demonstrate this is a very entertaining show with some moments of gravity.
The photo groupie that i am was particularly interested by Julian Röder's series World of Warfare. Thrilling copy/paste action follows...
In February 2011, while popular protests were rising in the Arab world, the young photographer traveled to Abu Dhabi for the International Defense Exhibition and Conference. 50,000 military officers and arms dealers attended the fair. Some represent dictators. Others are mortal enemies: India, meet Pakistan. But here they meet and mingle, shopping for missile systems, assault rifles, and attack helicopters.
On a sunny morning, combat helicopters flew in attack formation over Abu Dhabi. Tanks rumbled through the streets, and commando teams launched assaults on barbed-wired encampments. But this display of military might wasn't designed to start or suppress a rebellion. It was a sales pitch.
The copters, the tanks, the troops--all were part of a carefully choreographed spectacle designed to impress 50,000 military officers, arms dealers, and government representatives from 150 nations. It was the start of the biennial International Defence Exhibition and Conference, or IDEX, the Middle East's largest arms fair. There were media presentations to be seen, VIPs to schmooze, and plenty of speculation about the ongoing Arab spring. One could see a wide range of weapons and riot-gear that are not suitable for the battlefield but for street fights against the own revolting population. But mostly there were guns. Lots of guns.
Boys and their Toys. Zur Omnipräsenz von Krieg und Waffen - auch in der Kunst... is at Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien until 26 April 2015.
The third edition of the magazine Facta - Revista de Gambiologia is out. As usual, the texts are in Portuguese and English and the content is brilliant.
Facta is an experimental publication orchestrated by Fred Paulino and the Gambiologia group. The first issue of Facta addressed the 'science of Apocalypse', the next one looked at people who accumulate, collect and re-purpose. This issue is all about the hacker culture, poetics and ethics in all their guises and deeds.
I'm waiting from my paper copy to arrive from Belo Horizonte but in the meantime i had a quick look at the online edition of the magazine. It's already available on ISSUU. As are Gambiologia's previous publications. Hurray!
So what's inside? Things you don't expect and things you expected, only approached from a new angle.
Some of the articles explore hacking very directly. With a history of society's perception of hacker. Up to today and what Brett Scott calls 'the gentrification of hacking' (meaning that pretty much anyone likes to call themselves a hacker, especially people busy making money in Silicon Valley.)
Or with a portrait of/homage to Aaron Swartz, the hacktivist and computer programmer who believed that knowledge should be available to all. His Guerilla Open Access Manifesto is also featured in the magazine.
I also liked the little tour of hackerspaces around the world: Bogohack in Bogota, Hacker Space Palestine in Gaza, Ihub in Nairobi, Raul Hacker Club in Salvador Brazil, Xinchejian in Shanghai, MadLab in Manchester, etc.
I discovered the existence of Kids Hack Day in Facta. KHD, which ethos is summed up in School is dead, learning is not, is a one-day hackathon in which children are invited to open up everyday objects and rebuild, re-purpose, reinvent them. The experiment started in Stockholm and rapidly spread to other cities.
However, many of the articles put hacking into a broader context. Dispelling any misconceptions we might still have about hacking/hackers, looking at how the hacker ethic can be applied to all areas of life and calling for hacker culture that would focus more on social and ecological processes, rather than just technology.
Brett Scott wrote Hacking the future of money. Setting up a financial hackspace in which he explains why he is setting up The London School of Financial Arts, a space where creative minds apply the hacker philosophy to the financial system.
Maria Ptqk has a witty article about reality hacking that goes from Yes Men's stunts to patterns of open sources technologies.
There's also an essay about Steganography. The Art of Writing Hidden Posts. Steganography is the art of hiding message into message, image or objects. So it is a bit like cryptography. Only sneakier because you will probably never know there is a crypted message somewhere in front of you. Unless you look for it. Apparently, it's one of Al Qaeda's preferred mode of communication.
There's an essay on Houdini, 'Sense deprogrammer and supernatural debunker' who was also working as a spy for US and UK secret services.
And i learnt about MSST, Movimento dos Sem Satélite (Movement of Peoples without Satelites.)
Of course, Facta also contains some great little tutorials. One shows how to resurrect and transform a burnt out bulb (a project by Thomas LEDison). Another explains how to make homemade hydrogen to inflate balloons.
We need more mags like Facta. It's critical, smart and passionate. And it's made by doers who are not afraid to dip their toes into theory, history and the social dimensions of technology.
This way to buy a paper copy.