There are three designated "holding" centres for immigrants in Canada but more than one third of detainees are incarcerated in rented beds in provincial prisons, some of them maximum security prisons where visits and support services are limited.
Artist and designer Tings Chak has combined her training in architectural design with her interests in human rights, migrant politics, and spatial justice in a graphic novel called Undocumented: The Architecture of Migrant Detention (Architecture Observer, 2014. Available on amazon USA and UK)
The 'undocumented' are not so much the human beings who are detained merely for being born somewhere else. The undocumented are the sites where they are detained. All information about these facilities is classified and access to them is extremely limited.
In her publication, Tings investigates the migrant detention centres in Canada -- "the fastest growing incarceration sector in an already booming prison construction industry," from the everyday acts of resistance inside the centers to the role that architectureplays in controlling and regulating migrant bodies.
The purpose of this investigation, she writes, is to make visible the sites and stories of detention, to bring them into conversations about our built environment, and to highlight migrant detention as an architectural problem.
Undocumented: The Architecture of Migrant Detention is a brave, shocking and incredibly revealing little book and because its relevance goes way beyond the frontiers of Canada (i'm looking at you Europe and Australia), i asked Tings to tell us more about her work:
Hi Tings! Why did you chose to use drawings and only drawings to investigate the architecture of migrant detention centres in Canada?
In architecture school, we spend a lot of time thinking about visual representation. Often times, architecture is as much about the representation as it is about the built. I am interested in the way using architectural visual language and tools of representation as a political practice - how can drawings reveal and spark a conversation about the invisibilized practices and spaces of detention?
Canada's prisons and detention centres are not privately owned/run, though there have been past attempts to privatize facilities and there are many lobbying efforts, including from U.S. private prison corporations. Many private parties, however, are contracted and paid millions of dollars to manage, operate, and provide services in immigration detention centres. As an example, the Toronto Immigration Holding Centre, the largest of Canada's three designated immigration detention centres, is managed by Corbel Management Corporation and security services are provided by G4S - the world's largest security firm which has been central to maintaining the apartheid state of Israel.
In terms of the life of migrants detained, up to one third of them are locked up in provincial prisons, often times in maximum security prisons. We consistently hear from detainees about the horrendous conditions, even worse than in general population, and the staff shortages that result in lockdowns for days on end. Also, being held in these prisons means that detainees often cannot call family members abroad, are too remote for in-person visits, and don't have access to the legal resources necessary to regularize their immigration status, which all exacerbate the isolation they face in detention.
How much restriction to information did you have to face while investigating spaces for mass detention and deportation? Apart from testimonies from migrants, which kind of evidence is your research based on?
Information about these spaces are highly restricted, access to them is nearly impossible for members of the public. The title of the book is an acknowledgement of how these spaces are purposefully invisibilized and any information about them is classified. Recognizing this, the book is an assemblage of bits and pieces that I gathered from various sources - testimonies from detainees, descriptions from legal counsel who have visited such spaces, research that others have done about specific aspects of detention like solitary confinement, legal recommendations, and design standards for prisons and detention centres.
Here are the links to key resources I based my work on (more can be found here):
These places are surprisingly banal. Unlike the dank, dark dungeons that popular depictions of prisons would have us believe, many of these facilities are familiar in the way that most institutional buildings are. This is something I wanted to highlighted in my drawings.
Another aspect has to do with the highly securitized nature of detention centres, which means that the building is compartmentalized according to discrete functions for processing, monitoring, interrogating, and containing detainees. It is impossible to understand the building as a whole, so as not to be challenged.
What are the architectural mechanisms used to control the experiences of the people detained there?
From the segregation units to the bullet resistant glazing, the sally port to the recessed lighting units, the surveillance systems to the bolted down stainless steel toilet/sink units, every architectural detail of a space is designed to manage and maintain control of incarcerated individuals.
What I was particularly fascinated by were the design guides specific to detention centres (in the U.S. context). These manuals provide a detailed analysis of minimum design standards, including occupancy capacities, material specifications, program adjacencies, etc. Often times, the definitions of the "minimum" or the "habitable" (according to legalistic definitions) are quantified in terms of square footage or cubic volume of air space. The architectural logic of these spaces, along with a lot of other architectures, is governed by the minimum standards, which seek to minimize risk and regulate human bodies.
Could architecture be used to welcome or at least ensure a less traumatic experience for migrants?
I believe that detentions and deportations are inherently violent and traumatizing. Incarcerating people on the basis of being born somewhere else is not something we can humanize through design. I've spoken to architecture students, professors, and practitioners over the course of creating this book, and it's clear that the vast majority of them believe that immigration detention is a "problem" that could be fixed with a better "solution." What is important to note is that often times the ambition of making a space more humane and more optimal distracts and deters us from questioning the prison industrial complex, and the complicity of architects within it.
Israeli architect Eyal Weizman speaks about this problem in his book "The Least of All Possible Evils: Humanitarian Violence from Arendt to Gaza" (2012).
The major impetus of this work is to challenge architects to engage in the very difficult ethical question: are there programs for which architects should not design? There are groups such as Architects, Designers, Planners for Social Responsibility in the U.S. that have been working for years to get architects to boycott prison design. I believe that architects should be intervening by pushing the discussion towards imagining and designing real alternatives to detention.
You are also an organizer with No One Is Illegal - Toronto. How much impact do your actions and protests have on the immigration system? Could you give some examples?
The work that No One Is Illegal - Toronto has impacts on various levels, which include shifting the public discourse and imagination around migration and borders, building our social movement through mobilization, and developing and sharing an intersectional political analysis, among other things. At the core of it, though, is the belief that the immigration system here (and in the U.S.) is not a "broken" one that we need to reform, but that it is functioning exactly as it is designed to. The system is built on the exploitation of precarious labour, exclusion of poor migrants from the global South, and ongoing displacement of Indigenous people on Turtle Island and across the globe.
That being said, there have been significant victories over the past 10 years. After decades of community organizing, Toronto declared itself a "Sanctuary City" in February, 2013, which means that residents regardless of immigration status can access city services without the threat of detention or deportation. It is still far from being a reality on the ground. Around the End Immigration Detention Campaign that began just over a year ago, there have been some important developments. Specifically, in June 2014, after our submission to the U.N., they released an opinion condemning Canada's practice of detaining migrants for immigration reasons, and for detaining them indefinitely. The work is ongoing, and people are still organizing courageous actions inside to protest their unjust detentions.
The WORK Gallery in London has recently opened a fascinating exhibition that looks at the role that photography has played in constructing the public image of atomic energy and 'the bomb'. I was expecting a dark and dramatic show but many of the images on the walls are alarmingly cheerful and wonderful.
The first group of works exhibited are the iconic images of the mushroom cloud. What i didn't suspect is that some of these explosions were accompanied by 'atomic tourism' (which has in no way disappeared, even though we might take contamination less recklessly these days.) Atmospheric nuclear testing in Nevada, for example, drew enthusiastic crowd of journalists and curious. They sat down wearing 'protective' eyewear and admired the explosions from vantage points which were sometimes perilously close to the blasts.
Those were times of faith in science and in particular in nuclear energy. As illustrated by Walt Disney/s 1957 tv episode Our Friend the Atom, the crowning of miss Atomic Bomb, families proudly posing into their fallout shelter, the futuristic architecture of nuclear power structures, as well as streets and venues that celebrate everything nuclear in Richland, a town located near the first full-scale plutonium production reactor.
The exhibition also shows the other side of the nuclear medal: scars on the bodies of civilians injured in Hiroshima, an elementary school built on grounds contaminated by nuclear waste, artistic works that use views of New York to visualize the scale of an atomic destruction, protests that bring to light overlooked issues of safety and security.
Most of the photos on display at WORK gallery come from the archive of art historian and curator John O'Brian. The show also accompanies the publication of his latest book: Camera Atomica.
I'd recommend checking them both. The exhibition and the book. The show is up until 20 December, it's not far away from King's Cross station, i think it would be rude to miss it if you're in town. The book is a gold mine of photos, historical facts, shocking anecdotes. It's also a demonstration of the strength of the image when it comes to shaping memories and imagination. I've mixed images seen in the gallery and photos found in the book in this quick post.
Camera Atomica: Photographing the Nuclear World, edited by writer and curator John O'Brian. Contributions by Hiromitsu Toyosaki, Julia Bryan-Wilson, Blake Fitzpatrick, Susan Schuppli, Iain Boal, Gene Ray, Douglas Coupland (available at Blackdog Publishing and on Amazon USA and UK)
And now for the many photos i promised you:
Check out After The Flash. Photography from the Atomic Archive at the WORK Gallery in London, until 20 December 2014.
Related posts: Anecdotal radiations, the stories surrounding nuclear armament and testing programs, La Cosa Radiactiva / The Radioactive Thing, Book review - Fallout Shelter. Designing for Civil Defense in the Cold War,
Photo on the homepage: Michael Light, 100 Suns: 099 Bravo, 2003.
Over the past two years, artist Daniela de Paulis has been working with radio astronomers, radio amateurs, neuroscientists and philosophers to develop Cogito, a research project that speculates on the creative and philosophical possibilities of exploring the cosmos by means of radio waves.
She presented the first chapter of her work at BIO 50, the 24th Biennial of Design that opened a few weeks ago in Ljubljana. Cogito was part of a group of projects that explore new ways for human to connect with and explore outer space.
On the opening day of the biennial, visitors were invited to put on a light Brain-Computer Interface headset. Their brain waves were then recorded as they walked and thought across the exhibition space. This collective performative thinking will later be converted into radio waves and transmitted as collective consciousness - and subconsciousness into space. The event will be streamed in real time as audio visual performance from the cabin of the Dwingeloo radio telescope in The Netherlands.
The title of the project obviously refers to the ongoing debate on mind-body-consciousness, and to Descartes' dualistic vision on the mind-body matter. And that's when it gets interesting:
Some scholars argue that the computer age contributed in reviving this debate thanks to the new prominent role of the technological mind. Also recent experiments in quantum physics seem to suggest extraordinary links between the matter of the mind and that of the cosmos, raising profound questions on the nature of consciousness and perception. Sending thoughts into outer space is a symbolic action for shifting our consciousness from the earth-centred perspective, to the cosmos-wide perspective, whilst questioning the mathematical notion of intelligence, as conceived by some relevant SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) researchers.
I contacted Daniela to talk about brain lab, radio telescopes for artistic experiments and 'interstellar transmissions as a tool for philosophical enquiry.'
For the BIO 50 exhibition, the brain waves of the visitors are recorded thanks to a brain lab connected to a computer. Could you describe the setting and technology used? What does this brain lab look like?
During the opening day of BIO 50 I have been recording the brain waves of the visitors thanks to a NeuroSky mobile headset which transmits live EEG data to a computer via Bluetooth, up to 10 metres distance. The EEG data are then saved as video recording. The actual set up of the piece is created to minimize its visual impact in the gallery space,
I wanted the piece to be practically invisible: the visitors walking across the space, or simply sitting or standing while 'thinking' are the real presence of the piece. Because the technical aspect of the piece is relatively simple, anybody owning an EEG device can email me the recording of his or her brainwaves over the duration of BIO 50, to be transmitted into space as part of the live performance. The actual art piece is in the aether more than at the gallery.
The brain waves will later be transmitted 'as collective consciousness - and subconsciousness - by the Dwingeloo radio telescope antenna'. So technology can also detect subconsciousness? Sorry for the dumb question but is that possible? Can it distinguish the conscious and subconscious waves?
The piece I am presenting as part of BIO 50 is the first step of a long term project. This time I am using a simple yet relatively accurate device which detects EEG frequencies, ranging from Beta (representing the most intense state of alertness), Alpha (state of relaxed alertness), Theta (state of inward thought, visualization and dreaming) and Delta (state of dreamless dream). Interestingly, all these brain waves are always present and intertwined in the electroencephalogram, our mind seems to continuously shift from one state to another, as if fluctuating from dream to reality, from consciousness to subconsciousness, rather than being fixed in a particular mode, according to the set of our actions. As part of the project development however I am also planning to transmit into space brain waves recorded in specific conditions, such as during sleep and even perhaps of animals.
I read that the Dwingeloo Radio Observatory was no longer in operation in an official capacity. What is it used for now?
The radio telescope was rescued by radio amateurs in 2005: they brought it back to working order and it is now used for HAM radio activities and educational programmes. In 2009 I became the first artist in residence at Dwingeloo and since then I have been developing a series of projects based on radio transmissions, often web streamed live from the cabin of the radio telescope. Together with the radio amateurs, we are now developing an international residency programme and hopefully Dwingeloo will become an art hub in the near future. Not many radio telescopes can be used for artistic experiments, especially transmissions, so this instrument is really unique. After a year long restoration, the dish has been officially reopened in April 2014.
I have been thinking about 'Cogito' for a couple of years already. In previous works I have been using radio waves to literally touch the surface of the Moon, receiving its reflected signals in form of visualized thoughts, in 'Cogito' I explore the possibility of travelling into space with the mind in greater depth. A few months ago Michio Kaku published an interesting book gathering the most futuristic theories in neuroscience, indeed we might be travelling into space by uploading our mind into laser beams in the far future. NASA is currently developing the technology for transmitting HD data into space by laser beam instead of radio waves, who knows how long it will take before we might be able to fully use our mind for experiencing space remotely.
How easy (or difficult) is it to convince neuroscientist, radio astronomers and philosophers to collaborate on your project? Cogito must be miles away from their everyday research and work...
Convincing the radio amateurs and radio astronomers I have been working with for the past five years was very easy. I made an official presentation of 'Cogito' at ASTRON, the Dutch research centre for radio astronomy, and realized that the idea of transmitting one's thoughts into space resonates with some of the radio astronomers' interest in SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). For the aspects of the project concerning neuroscience, I have been working with Prof. Ghebreab, his team and students at the University of Amsterdam. When we started collaborating last year, Prof Ghebreab was working on brain waves transmissions across the Internet, his interests seem to match my project and he appreciates the concept of 'global brain' emerging from 'Cogito'. The philosophers are undoubtedly offering interesting insights and are directly involved in my conceptual research as the project touches upon the unsolved debate on dualism of mind and body. The research method I use as an artist however doesn't always fit the philosophers' analytical framework, causing some misunderstanding, at times.
I often find space so remote from my daily life that it almost become abstract. What is it in space that you find so fascinating? Why should we be more aware of its existence and the possibilities it offers?
I have always been interested in space, in all its forms. Before starting my work at the Dwingeloo radio telescope, I was busy with a research on harbour cities and their spatial and commercial networks across the globe. I guess I am interested in global perspectives.
Outer space is becoming increasingly relevant in our culture and economy. Our bodily limitations when it comes to direct contact with outer space raise questions on how can we perceive it, since we are part of it, yet denied its direct experience. This is one of the topics that fascinates me the most about outer space. For me transmitting brain waves into space is a form of physical space travel, with our mind converted into electromagnetic waves that travel in space at the speed of light. It is also a symbolic action for shifting our awareness from the Earth-centred perspective to the Cosmos-wide perspective and looking at ourselves from a far away point of view, understanding the relativeness of our position in the vastness of space.
Cogito is part of your PhD research. Could you explain us what the PhD focuses on?
'Cogito' is the departing point of my PhD artistic research at the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. Since starting my exploration on interstellar transmissions as a tool for philosophical enquiry, I have been questioning how to envision outer space by using thought as intellectual experience of the unseen. As part of my artistic research I am also interested in the role of philosophy in understanding the impact of outer space on our cognition. I am especially interested in mind bending theories which seem to stand in between Philosophy of the Mind and Physics (such as the 'Orchestrated Objective Reduction', conceived by Dr. Stuart Hameroff and Sir Roger Penrose) and which challenge our long standing knowledge on who we are in relation to the universe. Science keeps expanding our knowledge of outer space, yet direct cognition is restricted to our native planet and its close proximity. How can philosophy bridge the gap between scientific research in outer space and our earthy cognition? And how will our cognition change, should we be able to expand our mental and bodily capabilities in outer space, thanks to technology and a deeper understanding of our mind?
The installation in Ljubljana is the first part of the project. What's next?
The 'Cogito' of the visitors recorded during the opening day in Ljubljana will be converted into radio waves and transmitted into space with a beacon transmission lasting a few hours, thus covering a large angle of the sky dome. The event will be streamed in real time as audio visual performance from the cabin of the Dwingeloo radio telescope. Date and time of the performance will be communicated on the BIO 50 social media and on my website.
It is expected that the project will be further developed in collaboration with the 'Overview Institute', a group of researchers engaged with the study of the 'Overview Effect' (the effect of seeing the Earth from outer space) on the cognitive state of astronauts who had the opportunity to witness the sight. A brain lab, a bit more sophisticated than the one used for BIO 50, will be permanently installed inside the cabin of the Dwingeloo radio telescope, and used by visitors who will be able to transmit their thoughts into outer space, while experiencing the immersive view of the Earth seen from space through a visual simulator.
All images courtesy of the artist.
What might sound like an ecological abomination is actually the start of a process that will create a new eco-system beneath the sea: an artificial reef. The sunken boat will provide a hard surface to which algae and invertebrates adhere, providing food for fish.
The artist bought the boat off eBay for 75 pounds. It was called Brioney Victoria and had been rotting for decade at a Canvey Island yard. He emptied it, added a concrete wheelhouse to make it look like a working boat and then stripped it of anything that could potentially be harmful.
Once ready, the small fishing vessel was towed out to sea. Faithfull set it alight, opened the seacocks, let water into the boat and dove off as it started sinking.
Five cameras were mounted on board to record the boat's descent and they are still monitoring its transformation, transmitting images via a dedicated website and relaying them to exhibitions. The first one is at Fabrica, a former chapel turned art gallery in Brighton. The show, which is part of the Brighton Photo Biennial, will later move to Calais and Caen.
In the Brighton gallery, a big overhead screen show the boat smoking and very slowly sinking beneath the waves. A series of monitors at ground level broadcast the images from the drowned boat.
Faithfull was interested in investigating how an ordinary object at the end of its existence is given a new, almost eternal life.
Like some of the artist's previous works, REEF documents the plight of a camera exposed to extreme elements or sent on a journey from which they might never come back. In 2003, for example, Faithfull sent a video camera attached to a weather balloon into the stratosphere.
Simon Faithfull Interview for REEF Project
Simon Faithfull will be giving a talk at Lighthouse on Tue 21 Oct 7- 8.15pm. And if you miss the evening, check out REEF at Fabrica in Brigton as part of the Brighton Photo Biennial. The show is open until 23 November 2014.
Also part of the Biennial: Amore e piombo: The Photography of extremes in 1970s Italy.
At first sight, there's something inherently funny in a headline that claims: Warning as alien mussels found near Heathrow airport. But it turns out that these molluscs not only sit on top of native mussels and smother them to death, they also threaten thousands of other native animals and habitats. If that were not enough, they are also accused of disrupting water supplies by blocking pipes and causing flooding.
These mussels are only one of the many invasive species that are identified by environmental departments as posing danger to biodiversity. These invasive plants and animals are often eradicated using drastic measures. Authorities can infect them with a virus, for example. Or they can use chemicals, hunting, fires, birth control, etc. These measures are expensive and they also create a dilemma for citizens who are caught between a desire to preserve the eco-system and a reluctance to kill animals.
Lisa Ma identified and fleshed out this dilemma in her work Invasive. The project brought her to Ghent in meat-loving Belgium. Ghent is often called the "Vegetarian Capital of Europe." In 2009, it became the first city in the world to adopt a weekly vegetarian day. Restaurants now offer at least one vegetarian menu item, every Thursdays (the city "vegetarian day") schools serve entirely vegetarian meals and maps listing the places selling fries fried in vegetable oil circulate (that might not seem extraordinary to you but as a Belgian i grew up eating fries cooked in beef fat.)
Ghent prides itself on being animal-friendly thus. Yet, Lisa soon discovered that the city is spending tax payers' money to kill thousands of invasive Canadian geese every year. The animals have taken advantage of the well-preserved ecology of the city and of the absence of competition or predators. The heavy birds constantly push the soil into Ghent's canals and literally blocking a city already below the sea level.
The city deals with 'the problem' by eradicating the Canada geese at great cost. The animals are round up, individually injected with poison and incinerated. People would also take eggs from the nests and throw them in the river. They make sure to keep one egg though. They shake it and put it back in the nest, so that goose parents would continue to nest the 'dud' egg all summer instead of starting a new batch.
Collaborating with cultural organisations Timelab, FoAM, Vooruit, the newly formed food council and a series of local experts, Lisa Ma suggested that the citizens of Ghent ate the invasive animals, rather than leave them for governments to poison at huge public costs.
Unsurprisingly, the idea spurred an intense debate in the media. But it also led to some pretty unusual experiences: volunteers jumping into rivers to fish out freshly thrown eggs, vegetarian chefs crying when they cooked their first gosling pie, making feather plucking machines from cement mixers, etc.
The Invasive project also attempted to tackle the notoriously invasive Japanese Knotweed. A local cake store used the plant (which tastes like rhubarb 'without the laxative effects') to bake cheesecakes. Invasive grew into a real movement that even launched the first ever food council in the city.
These last two paragraphs which sum up some of the lessons learnt in the process were written by Lisa:
The project also addressed a new shift in our believes and values. Vegetarianism used to be a form of activism, what now when it's become a status quo and no longer addressing the dilemma between our believes and our values?
There is no such thing as perfect solutions, even this story of eating invasive animals has its potential pitfalls. Equilibrium doesn't last forever, so activism must be iterative to reassess it's relevance to the dilemma. This project is a real-life case of how even the most aspirational of political communities have a need to further challenge a status quo, even when it had become the pride of their own city.
Image on the homepage: Edward Vercruysse.