Monday, December 27, 2010

Figland Housing

Figland Housing
Drawing by Sarcoptiform, 2010

Focus on Hunger: Interview with Vandana Shiva

Everything about world hunger is unfair. The fact that there are nearly 1 billion people starving in the world right now speaks to the vast amounts of injustice that our global system is built on. That 1 out of 6 human beings goes to bed hungry every night while there is more than enough food to feed everyone generously, seems to me the very definition of unfair. When I began my first exploration of world hunger last May, the endless stream of inequality and injustice was enough to make me want to scream. But out of all of the rage inducing facts and statistics, the one that haunts me the most, that makes me lose sleep at night, that I still find hard to believe, is that the people who grow the world’s food, our farmers, are some of the most likely to experience hunger.

In our world, farmer means woman. 80% of the developing world’s food supply, and 60% of the world’s food in total, is grown by women’s hands. Women plant, nurture, and harvest the food we all need to survive, yet they own less than 1% of all farmland, and are generally the last to eat. 70% of those suffering from chronic poverty and hunger are women and girls. They feed us, and while we eat they starve. The industrialization of our food system has led us to a place where we are now so removed from the food we eat that most of us barely know what’s in it, let alone where it came from or who grew it. What kind of life did she live? Was she well fed, able to enjoy the literal fruits of her labor? Or was she drowning in debt, a slave to the chemical and agricultural companies that have quickly devoured our world? Was she able to protect her land and grow her food in the way her mother and grandmothers did for centuries before her? Or has she been forced to pollute her land and her body with the genetically engineered seeds that promise so much, while yielding so very, very little? How much do we know about our food and the people who grow it? Why are they always the last to eat?

In India, 75% of people make their living by farming, and 60% of those farmers are women. These women plow the fields and raise our food, and yet their harvest is being stolen. In 1994, the completion of the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO) legitimized corporate growth based on harvests stolen from nature and people. The WTO’s agricultural agreements and ‘free’ trade policies allow transnational corporations that do not grow the food or work the land to make super profits off of the small farmers and their back breaking labor. The WTO’s Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights Agreement made seed-saving and seed-sharing a criminal act, disrupting millennia old traditions practiced in agricultural communities throughout the world. Corporations are now allowed to monopolize the right to a seed, the basic building block of our food security, by claiming it as their exclusive private property. The Agreement on Agriculture legalized the dumping of genetically engineered foods on countries, and criminalized actions taken to protect the biological and cultural diversity on which indigenous food systems are based.

Under World Bank and International Monetary Fund structural adjustment mandated reforms, India was forced to radically alter the way food had been grown in the country for centuries. Flashy advertising campaigns assaulted the country and images of gods, goddesses, and saints were used to sell new, hybrid seeds directly to small farmers, even as their land was being devalued, redrawn, and sold out from under them. Once the farmers began to purchase these new corporately ‘owned’ seeds they discovered they were highly vulnerable to pests, fungi, and weeds. Encouraged by their government and the corporations, the farmers bought the necessary corporate owned pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides on credit, comforted with the knowledge that these new seeds would produce yields so large they could repay their debts and have money to spare. Unfortunately, the new seeds were a dismal, drastic failure and crops failed throughout the country. Farmers were left with barren fields, polluted waterways, sky high debts, and empty bellies. Since 1997 200,000 Indian farmers have killed themselves, many by drinking the toxic pesticides that were supposed to save their crops. This cycle of debt and loss and more debt and more loss has been termed the ‘suicide economy’ and has created millions of chronically hungry and debt enslaved people throughout India.

Not only does this suicide economy lead to debt and impoverishment created hunger, it also destroys a region’s ancient biodiversity by creating huge swathes of lifeless monocrops in its place. The promises of ‘life science’ corporations like Monsanto are that they will feed the world through their genetically engineered seeds and the resulting higher crop yields. However, the opposite has been true. They have, in fact, created hunger on an unimaginable scale. Whatever higher yields they have been able to display are offset by the fact that they require massively higher inputs. Traditional farming practices have always been highly productive as they utilize a close looped cycle of animal integrated perennial and annual polycultures. When resource use is taken into account, the ‘advancements’ of the Green Revolution is obviously counterproductive and grossly inefficient. More and more land is needed to create adequate harvests under the new methods, along with more water, more money, more time, more effort, all of it for slightly more food, and far more hunger.

“However, this phenomenon of the stolen harvest is not unique to India. It is being experienced in every society, as small farms and small farmers are pushed to extinction, as monocultures replace biodiverse crops, as farming is transformed from the production of nourishing and diverse foods into the creation of markets for genetically engineered seeds, herbicides, and pesticides. As farmers are transformed from producers into consumers of corporate-patented agricultural products, as markets are destroyed locally and nationally but expanded globally, the myth of ‘free-trade’ and the global economy becomes a means for the rich to rob the poor of their right to food and even their right to life.” Vandana Shiva, Stolen Harvest

It was in this environment, to fight these wrongs, that world renowned global south activist, physicist, and eco-feminist Vandana Shiva created Navdanya. Founded in 1984, Navdanya is providing an alternative to the modern global food system by promoting biodiversity conservation, farmer’s rights, and organic farming methods, with an emphasis on seed saving. Navdanya means nine crops, in reference to the nine crops that represent India’s collective source of food security, and it is this self-sufficient food security that it hopes to preserve. Over the past 26 years, Navdanya has created an ever expanding alternative to the culture of death and debt pushed by the transnational corporations. Dedicated to the preservation of nature and the people’s right to knowledge, water, and food, Navdanya promotes global peace and justice through the conservation, renewal, and rejuvenation of the gifts of biodiversity. Navdanya has helped to create 54 community seed banks throughout India with the intent to rescue and conserve crops that are being pushed to extinction by monoculture farming practices. 3,000 varieties of native rice, 12 genera of cereals and millets, 16 genera of legumes, and 50 genera of vegetables have so far been saved due to their efforts. More than 500,000 farmers have been trained in organic and sustainable farming methods and more than 50 international courses have been offered on biodiversity, food, biopiracy, water, globalization, business ethics and more. Navdanya focuses on empowering local farmers to resist patents on seeds, and struggles to keep India free from GMO crops by recognizing humanity’s inherent right to food, water, and seed sovereignty.

One of Navdanya’s specific goals is to empower women and to keep food security in their hands through a network of women’s producer groups (Mahila Anna Swaraj). Navdanya views women as the caretakers of biodiversity, the providers of food security, and the conservationists of the cultural diversity of food traditions. By keeping women’s food knowledge and expertise alive they hope to guarantee food security for generations to come. Navdanya’s gender program, Diverse Women for Diversity, works on a local, national, and international level as a global campaign for women to resist monoculture monopolies and celebrate food security and biodiversity. Leaders in the food justice movement around the world recognize that it is women who hold the key to fighting the global hunger crisis, and it is this topic that I wanted to focus on in my interview with Dr. Vandana Shiva.

Burge: In 1998, India was forced to open up its seed and farming sector to global corporations like Cargill, Monsanto, and Syngenta by the World Bank’s structural adjustment policies. Can you explain how it is not natural disasters like drought and famine that cause the majority of hunger, but man-made economic policies like these? Why must a resistance to globalization form such a necessary part of food security and bio-diversity?

Shiva: The main causes for hunger are industrial agriculture and globalised trade in food. Industrial agriculture creates hunger both by destroying the natural capital for producing food and locking farmers into debt because of its high cost of production. Globalised trade creates hunger by diverting fertile land for exports, promoting dumping and unleashing speculative forces. In industrial agriculture and globalisation also contribute 40% to green house gas emissions that are leading to climate change which in turn is destroying agriculture and food security. The rules of globalisation both in the structural adjustment programmes of the world bank and the free trade rules of WTO promote industrialisation and trade liberalisation. Resisting such corporate globalisation is necessary for food security and biodiversity.

Burge: Since 1997, 200,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide after being forced into inescapable debt by pesticide and seed companies, in what has been termed a ‘suicide economy’. Do you think this kind of unending debt is a political tool consciously designed to keep the people powerless and desperate, or is it simply an unintended tragic consequence of misguided economic policies?

Shiva: The corporations and governments that are designing high costs agriculture systems to maximise corporate profits are simultaneously designing the debt trap for small farmers. This debt trap is what is leading to farmers suicides. Pushing small farmers to extinction is very much part of the corporate design of industrial farmer. It is not merely an unintended consequence. As a US agriculture policy person said: “farmers must be squeezed of the land like the last bit of toothpaste is squeezed out of the toothpaste tube”.

Burge: What do you say to critics who claim that with the global population nearing 7 billion people we need industrial agriculture and genetically modified foods to feed everyone?

Shiva: Industrial agriculture actually reduces nutrition per acre since it destroys the biodiversity which maximises nutrition per acre. Industrial agriculture is artificially projected as being productive through the monoculture of the mind and a focus on the monoculture yield of handful of globally traded commodities. That is why hunger and malnutrition has grown in direct proportion to the spread of industrial agriculture. As far as genetic engineering is concerned, it is a not a yield increasing technology. It has only put Bt. toxin genes into plant or genes for resisting toxic herbicide. This has increased the yield of toxins not of food. The Union of Concerned Scientist report “Failure to Yield” and Navdanya’s reports “Seeds of Suicide” and “Biodiversity Based Productivity : A New Paradigm for Food Security” have the data that shows that genetic engineering has not contributed to increase in production.

Burge: Women grow the majority of the world’s food and 60% of India’s farmers are women. Women also make up 70% of the world’s chronically hungry people. Why is it that women, the people who grow the majority of the world’s food, are the last to eat?

Shiva: Just as farmers who grow the food are the largest number of hungry people in the world, women who produce and process food constitute the majority of malnourished people. The denial of food to the producers of food is a result of the injustice built into industrial food systems and social discrimination.

Burge: Navdanya calls itself a ‘women centered movement’, holds female heritage learning and preservation classes known as Grandmothers’ University, and has a gender program, Diverse Women for Diversity, that is a global campaign of women advocating for bio-diversity and food security. Could you tell us why it was so important for Navdanya to focus on the empowerment of women? Why do you consider the partnership of ecology and feminism to be a partnership of liberation?

Shiva: The dominant model of agriculture has come out of capitalist patriarchy and is based on war. These wars begin as wars in the mind, become wars against the earth, and result in wars against our body. Women need to lead the movement for a non-violent food system because they have not been part of the war economy. Grandmothers hold the heritage of non-violent knowledge which protects the earth and our health.

Burge: In your book Stolen Harvest you describe a ‘hijacking of the global food supply’, as corporations that do not grow the food or work the land reap the obscene profits of the farmers’ labor. When people are kept so poor they can barely feed themselves, and the multinational corporations are unimaginably powerful and wealthy, how can the common people find the resources to stand up to this injustice?

Shiva: Since each of us eats everyday food can become the site of a revolution for justice. If we say no to GM foods, if we commit ourselves to eating organic, we build another food system which is controlled by people and not by giant corporations.

Burge: In describing the implementation of ‘free-trade’ policies upon an unwilling population, you have said that the moment the will of the people is ignored it becomes a dictatorship. In light of the unfathomable levels of violence being perpetrated against an almost powerless population (and at a time when an agricultural company like Monsanto hires the services of the private army Blackwater), why do you and Navdanya remain committed to a non-violent resistance strategy?

Shiva: We in Navdanya stay committed to non-violent resistance strategy because it has more power and more resilience.

Burge: The women you work with through Navdanya’s various programs and Diverse Women for Diversity often have their lives profoundly changed when they are given the tools and resources for self-empowerment. Can you tell us of an instance when you saw a woman, a family, or a community transformed?

Shiva: Twenty years ago, a women called Bija came to me to find work as domestic help. Bija means the seed and I asked her if she would help me in Seed Saving and she immediately agreed. For two decades Bija has worked as Navdanya seed keeper. She holds classes for scientists on the conservation of biodiversity, she received the Slow Food Biodiversity Award on behalf of Navdanya in Porto Portugal in 2001. The potential Bija achieved is the potential in every peasant woman and it is this potential Navdanya seeks to unleash.

Burge: What kind of future is envisioned by the women of Diverse Women for Diversity? How will a world premised on food security, bio-diversity, and sustainability look?

Shiva: The future envisioned by Diverse Women for Diversity is a future in which every species and every person has space to evolve to their highest potential, live in mutuality with each other and create a world of peace, justice, and sustainability.

Burge: How can we in developed Western nations stand in solidarity with the women in India and throughout the world who are facing chronic hunger and poverty, and assist them in their struggle?

Shiva: There are three ways in which you can support our work. You can support our programs by making donations to Navdanya. You can attend our courses at Bija Vidyapeeth – The School of the Seed and visit our programs on seed saving and organic farming as solutions to hunger. You can spread the principles on which our work is based.

“Women were, really, in my view, the ones who domesticated plants, created agriculture. And as long as women were controlling agriculture, agriculture produced real food. Agriculture was based on [women's learned and passed on] knowledge. A Women’s centered agriculture never created scarcity. As long as women controlled the food system you did not have a billion people going without food and you didn’t have 2 billion going obese and w/diabetes. This is the magic of patriarchy having taken over the food system. Earlier, patriarchy left food to women, modern patriarchy wants to control food . . . women’s knowledge has been removed from agriculture . . .we can only have a secure food culture if women come back into agriculture.” Vandana Shiva

Text by Natasha Burge
Written on October 12, 2010

Friday, December 17, 2010

Dekinnoka 5, Robot Professional Wrestling, the 3rd fight, single match S...

Dekinnoka 5, Robot Professional Wrestling, the 3rd fight, single match Saga vs Garoo

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Pionen – White mountain, Architecture of WikiLeaks

The project takes place in a former 1200 square meter anti-atomic shelter.
An amazing location 30 meters down under the granite rocks of the Vita Berg Park
in Stockholm. The client is Wikileaks and the rock shelter hosts server halls and offices.

Architects: Albert France-Lanord Architects
Location:Stockholm, Sweden
Construction: Albert France-Lanord Architects
Construction Area: 1,200 sqm
Project year: 2008
Photographs: Ake E:son Lindman

Monday, December 6, 2010

Capitalism and the Aesthetics of Knowledge in the 21st century

Capitalism and the Aesthetics of Knowledge in the 21st century:
Uses of the Social Document in Contemporary Visual Art

Renzo Martens, Episode III - Enjoy Poverty, 2008, film still

A series of four screenings and seminars led by Angela Dimitrakaki, art historian and writer (University of Edinburgh, UK)

Wednesday 8 December
Ursula Biemann, Black Sea Files, 2005, 43'
Courtesy of the artist

Thursday 9 December
Johan Grimonprez, Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y, 1997, 68'
Courtesy of The Dakis Joannou Collection, Athens

Friday 10 December
Renzo Martens, Episode III: Enjoy Poverty, 2008, 88'
Courtesy of Wilkinson Gallery, London

Saturday 11 December
Allan Sekula, The Lottery of the Sea, 2006, 179' (3 hours)
Courtesy of Galerie Michel Rein, Paris

Allan Sekula, The Lottery of the Sea, 2006, film still

De Chirico Lecture Room, Athens School of Fine Arts (ASFA)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

I imagine it Otherwise

Savvas Christodoulides, I imagine it Otherwise
Table base, bath towels, glass, plastic pot
200 x 130 x 126 cm

Omikron Gallery, 27 November - 31 December 2010
Nicosia, Cyprus

Revolution by Design

It’s a funny place, Cuba. It’s very, very Soviet. You can’t ask the wrong questions, you can’t talk to people about politics. That’s a big faux pas in Cuba. If you say to anyone, “What do you think of the revolution,” they’ll all say, “Oh, it’s great, it’s been fantastic, it’s been really interesting, who wouldn’t want a revolution,” that sort of thing. And then you hear from other people there’s this thing called the CDR, the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution. It’s basically a spy on every block, a woman or a man who lives in a small apartment who has been awarded the title of CDR representative for that block. And it’s his or her job to snitch if you’re up to no good. So I was at Alfredo Rostgaard’s house and I said, “Are you a supporter of the revolution?” and he smiled and said, “Yeah, I love the revolution,” and that was that.

I met him a few years before he died, and I have to say he was a bit of a crazy old man. I’d asked the taxi driver — I had a taxi driver who seemed to know things, he was like my fixer — “Can you take me somewhere where I can buy Cuban posters?” Because there are no shops in Cuba; you just have to ask around. “Yeah, yeah,” he said, “I can take you somewhere.” So we bang on this door and it opens and there’s Alfredo Rostgaard. I was like, “Oh my God, I recognize this guy from photos, it’s Alfredo Rostgaard.” And he’s one of these sort of smiley, mischievous, cheeky old men who you just knew had been a bit of trouble in the past, good-looking, sort of a bit of a flirt. He told me a joke. He said in Spanish, “You know, I don’t speak English. But I do know a joke in English.” And he told me a joke — I don’t remember it, unfortunately, something about a small boy at school asking his teacher something about sex. He was a very amusing old geezer.

After I bought some posters and we chatted for a while in our broken Spanish and English, I said, “Shall we go for a drink?” So we went to the local bar and got really drunk. And the next day the guy who had taken me over there phoned me and said, “You didn’t take Alfredo out for a drink, did you? Oh God, he’s not supposed to be drinking.” So he was someone who I would describe as antiestablishment. Very antiestablishment. And antiestablishment in a funny way. I would say that if he was the art director of Tricontinental for all those years, he would be constantly trying to get away with stuff that he thought was a little bit wacky and slightly not quite what his bosses wanted from him. You know what I mean?

— Charles Moseley, proprietor,

One of the oddest chapters in the annals of the Cold War was its proxy war by magazine, and the oddest Cold War magazine was undoubtedly Tricontinental. Based in Havana and art-directed by legendary poster designer Alfredo Rostgaard, Tricontinental was the official publication of OSPAAAL, one of the many revolutionary acronyms liberated by Fidel’s triumph in 1959. OSPAAAL stood for Organization in Solidarity with the Peoples of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, and its magazine was available in each of the New World’s great colonial languages: English, French, and Spanish. Some issues were even available in Arabic and Italian.

The magazine did its share of party-line thumping: inspiring tales of 100 percent literacy rates and vaulting social and technological progress, with occasional missives from communist luminaries like North Korea’s Kim Il-sung. But the bulk of Tricontinental’s editorial content was aimed at Third World militants, practicing or potential, for whom it served as bulletin board, guidebook, and lifestyle magazine.

self-criticisms of counterrevolutionary coup plotters in Guinea, describing the exact make and model of the Mercedes they accepted from the imperialists in exchange for betraying the intractable destiny of the people. There were unreadably long lists of tiny victories by innumerable guerrilla organizations: trucks full of ammunition or wheat or concentrated fruit juice liberated from the imperialists; city squares and government buildings gloriously defaced by revolutionary slogans; hopelessly obscure silos, checkpoints, bridges, pipelines, roads, radio towers, and police stations, exploding forgettably in the subtropical night. There were first-person accounts of police corruption and genuinely tender evocations of fallen comrades. In March 1970, a special issue presented the full text of Brazilian Marxist Carlos Marighella’s Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla, a pragmatic and hair-raisingly detailed program for revolution in the cities of the industrialized world. (The chapter on “The Bank Assault as Popular Mission” detailed “important innovations in the tactics of assaulting banks,” including “the shooting of tires of cars to prevent pursuit, locking people in the bank bathroom, forcing someone to open the safe or the strong box, and using disguises.”)

What made all of this truly strange, however, was Tricontinental’s design. Compared to dismally drab Soviet attempts at cultural propaganda — or the comically guileless efforts of the Chinese — the Cubans had something uncontrivable going for them: it looked like they were having fun. Tricontinental resembled an underground zine from San Francisco more than an information vehicle for Third World liberation, and that juxtaposition had an effect comparable to that moment in Godard’s Sympathy for the Devil when a gang of black nationalists in a municipal junkyard read from a stilted manifesto while necking with white women in abandoned cars. Tricontinental’s covers were deliriously poppy, with bright, eyecatching graphics, making it just the sort of thing Marighella’s urban guerrillas should never be seen carrying in public.

At the height of its fame, the magazine boasted more than 30,000 subscribers in some eighty-seven countries. Most issues featured a poster insert demonstrating Cuban solidarity with one or another righteous global political struggle. Those posters found their way to college dorm rooms and kiosks across the globe, with young people from Berkeley to Beirut lining up to join OSPAAAL’s solidarity-of-themonth club.

The spare, colorful style of the OSPAAAL poster — like those of the ICAIC (Cuban Film Institute) and a number of other revolutionary cultural ministries — became the unofficial design language of graphic agitation the world over. That language was largely dictated by necessity; the posters, like the earliest covers of the magazine, were printed by hand on a silkscreen press. The inside of the magazine displayed a similar economy. In a technique Rostgaard called “Origami,” a single photo could be used to accompany any number of pages of text. Over the course of a six-page article, an image of Haitian dictator Papa Doc Duvalier appeared, only to be torn into four neat pieces and tossed into a garbage can.

But it was the introduction of four-color printing for the front and inside covers that occasioned Tricontinental’s signature graphic development, the “Cartel Maqueta,” or model poster. Cartel Maqueta is an allegorical and highly composed style of photography in which objects and people are graphically arranged to tell a story or illustrate an idea. (A similar style was popular in record album art of the late 1960s and is currently enjoying something of a revival.) What made Tricontinental’s photography unique was that it operated under the same constraints that had led to Origami. The third dimension was attacked with characteristic gusto, using an idiom Rostgaard called “the anti-ad” — similar to the Situationist strategy of détournement, in which the modes and methods of the spectacle are used against it. In Tricontinental’s case, this meant ironically adopting the language of capitalist publicity to further revolutionary ideals. But photography carried its own problems, particularly in regard to costs.

The solution developed by the Cubans that proved so elusive to the propagandists of the rest of the Red world was a sense of humor. The photographic medium occasioned a sort of self-conscious humor to lighten the hand of ideological imperative and steer the ridiculous toward the satirical. Hence an image meant to evoke solidarity with Palestine features a Palestinian youth (an unshaved and fatigued Cuban with a sheet wrapped around his head) with his foot planted on the head of an Israeli soldier (a mannequin head wearing an army helmet bearing a freshly painted Star of David), buried up to his neck in the sand of the desert he had stolen (a white sand beach — the whole scene was shot from a ladder to keep the sparkling blue Caribbean out of the frame).

In another singularly hilarious image, this one meant to expose the contradictions of American domestic priorities, an astronaut (a man in a white cotton one-piece, with a futuristic-looking pilot’s helmet) reaches for the moon (a cardboard crescent wrapped in tinfoil) while standing on the backs of three rather confused-looking black children (three confused-looking black children).

Although their quality varies considerably, all the images in Tricontinental succeed in giving concrete expression to a means of production that was itself political, analogous to guerrilla warfare — making the most of limited technology and/or arms by dint of manpower, charisma, and ingenuity. This ethos of finding opportunity in necessity also defined the American counterculture and the peace movement, which also shared the Cuban affection for the silkscreen, and for radical politics (up to a point).

While the young Cuban artists at OSPAAAL were ambivalent about the aesthetic influence of their enormous neighbor to the north — Rostgaard was purportedly bemused to learn from an American magazine that he was practicing “pop art.” But the remarkable thing is that their publication never looked as if it were co-opting trippy Yanqui graphics and far-out motifs to repurpose them for the party line. On the contrary, in the pages of Tricontinental, communist revolution through armed struggle emerged as the farthest-out trip of all.

It’s worth remembering that the magazine took its name from the Tricontinental Congress of January 1966, a convocation of revolutionary states and organizations at the Chaplin Theatre in Havana, chaired by Castro. If you spend enough time reading neoconservative Web sites, you will eventually find the contention that the congress was the primal scene of late-twentieth-century terrorism, as Soviet agents and their Cuban henchlings began cultivating a network of operatives who would go on to sow decades of terror across the globe, culminating in 9/11. That’s quite a stretch, even if the attendees at the conference did, in fact, include a seventeen-year-old named Illich Ramirez Sanchez, later known for his “work” with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine as Carlos the Jackal.

In 1975 Alfredo Rostgaard left the magazine to work for UNIAC, the Union of Cuban Artists. But the magazine continued to be published, even as the prospects for the inevitable triumph of the revolution came to seem more and more remote. Tricontinental only stopped printing around the turn of the 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when Cuba literally ran out of ink. Whatever one thinks of the Cuban revolution and its contradictions and failures, Tricontinental’s demise seems like the noblest conclusion that any magazine could aspire to. This one included.

Text by Babak Radboy
Source:Bidoun Magazine 22, 2010

Friday, December 3, 2010

I Love the White Middle Class

Anton Kannemeyer, I Love the White Middle Class . . . , 2008, acrylic on canvas, 47 x 47”.

It’s time to stand up for courage and conviction

There has been considerable discussion in recent years about the lack of public engagement in civic and political life. But this discussion suffers from the fact that it’s conducted from the perspective of a political elite that is itself socially isolated. This elite therefore has a perception of the public as an object with which one engages. That itself tells me straightaway that when we use the word ‘public’, we’re almost invariably not talking about the public in the way that it’s been historically understood.

In many respects, the public has become a project, a project of inclusion. New Labour loved having these projects. So every museum would start saying ‘we’re showing fine art, but we’re also spending millions of pounds on including the public’. The moment the public becomes a project that you seek to include artificially, it acquires a fantasy-like character. Hence, virtually everything we say about public engagement – counting the numbers, checking whether the voter turnout has gone up by two per cent since last time and so on – all represent this kind of fantasy of trying to create a link that really isn’t there. Just because you vote at a particular time, just because you come to a meeting, this does not involve or imply the reality of a public.

Historically, a public referred to a group of people with an idea of themselves as distinct and independent, as having something in common, and a sense that it had some power and influence. So therefore the idea of empowering the public is a contradiction in terms: power is gained, not granted. When you ‘empower’ people, you’re not empowering them, you’re enfeebling them.

Today, it seems that almost every form of public engagement – of public relations – is a kind of impression management. People make a lot of money out of it, but it really doesn’t bear upon everyday life. I think the problem is a cultural one and that’s the domain we should be addressing.

The cultural problem that we have today is something that Machiavelli identified over 500 years ago. He grasped that the strength of a body politic is determined by the extent to which it was infused by public spirit. As far as Machiavelli was concerned, a real public spirit accounted for the strength of the Roman Empire – the Roman republic specifically – and also the incredible things that were going on in Florence, Sienna and so on during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. And Machiavelli made the point that public spirit presupposes a set of virtues, forms of behaviour that you expect people to have as part and parcel of everyday life. These virtues would include devotion, courage, patriotic conviction, risk-taking and so on. (That all this seems so terribly old-fashioned now is part of the problem.)

I would argue that almost every single virtue that makes for public spirit is stigmatised by our society. Having recently been listening to people’s recollections at the inquiry into the 7/7 bombings about what happened that terrible day in London in 2005, what really struck me was that you had stories of people wanting to do things for the hurt and injured but who were being told by fire officers that for health and safety reasons they could not go anywhere near these people.

Just imagine: here are all these people, they’re trying to help others, they’re trying to do the right thing, but to do so they have to adhere to a very clear process. All these processes, all these procedures, serve to displace public interaction. They make public virtue dependent on adhering to different codes of conduct.

This displacement of public virtue happens in all sorts of ways. Just this morning, for instance, I heard yet another plea for volunteering – I almost felt like throwing up, I’ve heard it so many times. Now call me old-fashioned, but when I was young you volunteered because you believed in something. You wanted to help people; you wanted, for instance, to give blood. You didn’t do volunteering because it looked good on your CV. So, while volunteering certainly has a virtuous potential, it has been turned into a process that you adhere to much in the way that you clock on to a job.

An example of this stigmatisation of virtue relates to something I feel strongly about, namely, devotion and care. During the course of writing a book a few years ago called Therapy Culture, I noticed that aspects of devotion and care had become increasingly stigmatised, often being expressed and defined as a marker of a disease. In fact, any manifestation of love, friendship, loyalty or altruism was potentially labelled as a form of addictive behaviour. Altruistic behaviour – which hardly seems a bad thing – is actually diagnosed as compulsive helping. According to this definition, compulsive helpers disregard their own needs and feelings and focus on helping another person. That kind of sums up our current situation with regards to public virtue: in a different era, in a different society, this so-called disease would be seen as a positive thing.

Rhetorically, responsibility and loyalty are still upheld as public virtues, of course. But in practice these are undermined, time and time again. Something happened to me recently that made me think about this in a way that I hadn’t before. Last year, my mother died. While she was in hospital, I used to go to visit her all the time. And the very first time I went to visit her, I introduced myself to the nurse: ‘I’m Frank Furedi, I’m Clara’s son.’ The woman looked up at me and said, ‘You mean you’re her “carer”’. ‘No, her son’, I responded. But she was insistent: ‘No, you are her carer.’

It was very interesting that she used the word carer. This kind of terminology displaces the idea that there’s some kind of spontaneous and informal relationship with a bureaucratic typology. It reminds me of the way in which very elementary forms of compassion, of human interaction, have been pretty much blocked out altogether.

For that reason, the public can never have the virtues we want the public to have because we’ve done such a brilliant job at undermining those virtues. It is worth recalling that Machiavelli and other humanists feared the professionalisation of public duty. If you look at their writings, time and again they point to the danger of their city states relying on mercenaries instead of the services provided by citizens. From their perspective, the employment of mercenaries absolved the people from taking responsibility for the future of their community and served as instruments of the corrosion of public duty. That’s more or less what the bureaucratisation of public life has achieved today. It leads to a world where even family responsibility can become outsourced to ‘carers’. In such circumstances the public can’t do anything until a bureaucrat ticks the right box.

So we need a change in cultural attitudes towards the public.

When I was in Australia this summer during the election, the prime minister, Julia Gillard – who I don’t particularly like, but who has her strengths – decided that she would set up a citizens’ assembly to discuss climate change. ‘Why not?’, I thought, ‘this is a good thing’. After all, it affects the citizens, so why shouldn’t they get to discuss it?

But climate change experts opposed to the idea were saying ‘these are citizens, they are not experts on climate change’. The environmentalists were even worse. They were saying, ‘we don’t want citizens because ordinary folk are selfish, they only care about guzzling gas, they want to have big carbon footprints. So we want a proper committee of experts.’ And in the end, when the assembly was set up, Gillard had basically got rid of the idea of an assembly of normal people and had stuffed it with the experts instead.

In a press release she explained that instead of a committee of people, we have a group of experts who have a greater understanding of the challenge of climate change. ‘While the commission will set up a website’, she continued, ‘there are no plans for a major advertising campaign’. The committee concluded that the proposal for a citizens’ assembly should not be implemented and that there would be other ways of harnessing public dialogue and engagement in the science of climate change and engagement in questioning the price of carbon.

This illustrates how the language of public engagement, public dialogue, public inclusion are self-consciously used as a means to push people away. And I don’t blame Gillard or any other politician. I think politicians are in a very difficult situation. It’s not their fault.

What I do have a problem with is the fact we don’t recognise that ordinary people have been silenced, that we’ve forced people to censor themselves in terms of what they actually believe and what they think. And most importantly, instead of culturally validating people’s active, positive side – all the good things about human beings – what we’ve done is subjugate them to the most boring, flattened out form of bureaucratic rule. As long as that’s the case, any form of public engagement will simply be a caricature of itself.

Text by Frank Furedi

Part of a series of articles based on talks given at the Battle of Ideas festival, which took place on 30 and 31 October at the Royal College of Art in London. Here, Frank Furedi argues that whilst there is an obsession with ‘public engagement’ today, the very virtues necessary for a public spirit - risk-taking, devotion, courage - are stigmatised

First published by spiked, 10 November 2010

Ανθρώπινη μανία κατακόρυφης γλυπτικής


Η πλατφόρμα είναι δεμένη κάπου στον ανοιχτό ωκεανό όπου και απαγορεύονται οι δημόσιες προβολές DVD στις ομάδες εργατών. Η συνολική δομή της πλατφόρμας ζυγίζει χιλιάδες τόνους. Η πρόσδεσή της στο βυθό της θάλασσας γίνεται με πύργους από ατσάλι και αλυσιδωτές γέφυρες ύψους δύο χιλιάδες μέτρων. Η θέση της είναι σταθερή και βρίσκεται σε κατακόρυφη αντιστοιχία με πλούσιο υποθαλάσσιο κοίτασμα πετρελαίου. Το αντίβαρο της πλατφόρμας που την δένει στην τελική της θέση γίνεται με τόνους τσιμέντου και χαλικιού. Στο έρμα, κοινώς «σαβούρα», συνήθως εσωκλείονται και οι δεξαμενές αποθήκευσης του ανεπεξέργαστου πετρελαίου που αντλείται. Απόληξη της υποθαλάσσιας κατασκευής στην επιφάνεια του νερού είναι μια τεχνητή νησίδα τσιμέντου, η ίδια η πλατφόρμα. Το σχήμα της νησίδας διαγράφει ένα δεκαεξάκτινο αστέρι με μορφοποιημένα άκρα κυματοθραύστη. Πάνω στη νησίδα υψώνονται κυκλικά πυλώνες που στηρίζουν τα καταστρώματα εργασίας. Οι ομάδες εργατών δουλεύουν από το ύψος των καταστρωμάτων με απόκριση στο κατακόρυφο βάθος του εντοπισμένου κοιτάσματος. Αιωρούμενοι βραχίονες με προσαρμοσμένα μέλη γεωτρυπάνων εφαρμόζονται στα στόμια αγωγών. Οι αγωγοί διασχίζουν όλο το βάθος μέχρι το κοίτασμα, και η στήριξή τους έχει γίνει με τη βοήθεια αλυσιδωτών υποστυλωμάτων μέχρι το βυθό. Η διάνοιξη του ορύγματος γίνεται με περιστροφική γεώτρηση. Χρησιμοποιείται γεωτρύπανο που φέρει κεφαλή οδοντωτών τροχών με αδαμάντινες προσμείξεις. Αφού το τρυπάνι κουμπώσει στο στόμιο, πρέπει να βυθιστεί σταδιακά μέσα στον αγωγό μέχρι το τελικό βάθος. Οι χειριστές εφαρμόζουν κυλινδρικά πρόσθετα στελέχη στην ουρά της κεφαλής για να την επιμηκύνουν. Στόχος είναι η διάνοιξη φρεατίου που καταλήγει στο κοίτασμα. Στη διάτρηση αρχικά αφαιρούνται κομμάτια υποθαλάσσιου εδάφους με σχήμα αντίστοιχο του τρυπανιού. Τα «καρότα» από λάσπη διαλύονται μέσα στο νερό και το τρυπάνι εκτρέπεται σταδιακά παρασύροντας μαζί του στο κοίτασμα τον αγωγό άντλησης. Η κεφαλή τότε ανασύρεται κι επιστρέφει στην επιφάνεια διαμέσω του αγωγού. Διαβιβάζονται στη συνέχεια, από παράπλευρες οπές των αγωγών, αέρια υπό πίεση που θα περιορίσουν τον αυθόρμητο πίδακα του πετρελαίου σε μετριασμένη ανάβλυση και τελικώς στην άντληση του ακατέργαστου πετρελαίου.

Επιβεβαιώνω. Το θαλασσινό αλάτι καίει τα πάντα στο πέρασμά του. Διεισδύει καταστρέφοντας ολοσχερώς ιστούς και όργανα και κυρίως τον εγκέφαλο. Επιβεβαιώνω επίσης ότι αυτό είναι κάτι συνηθισμένο.1

Η τσιμεντένια νησίδα φωσφορίζει κίτρινη σαν σανίδα σωτηρίας που εκπέμπει κάλεσμα για να την αρπάξει ο χαμένος χρυσοθήρας. Αυτό το ακραίο μοντέλο απομονωμένης εντατικής ανθρώπινης δραστηριότητας μπορεί να σου στρέψει το πρόσωπο στο σκληρά και βαθιά κρυμμένο πετρέλαιο κάτω από τον πάτο του ωκεανού. Στη χαρά σου μέσα θα ανέβεις με σάλτο επάνω της σαν έποικος μόλις σε ρυμουλκήσουν. Το χτισμένο πηγάδι άντλησης που επιπλέει πάνω στο νερό και σηκώνει τους γερανούς του, για να τραβήξει ανθρώπους και βαρέλια, θα προεκτείνει αμέσως τα πόδια σου συμπαγή τούβλα μέχρι το βυθό. Εσύ θα κοιτάξεις ψηλά τον πύργο που σηκώνεται στον ουρανό και με τα μάτια θα ακολουθήσεις, μέσα στο βάθος του ορίζοντα, το ελικόπτερο που μεταφέρει βάρδιες εργατών από τη στεριά στην πλατφόρμα, να επιστρέφει πίσω στην ξηρά. Έμπορος, θαλασσοπόρος και γεωγράφος. Ο Πυθέας ο Μασσαλιώτης τον 4ο αιώνα π.Χ. ξεκίνησε μέσω στεριάς και έπλευσε βόρεια προς τη Βρετανία, και στη συνέχεια βορειότερα προς την Ισλανδία, ψηλά στον ήλιο του μεσονυχτίου. Διαγώνια απέναντι από τη Νέα Γη του Καναδά, σε νοητή γραμμή από το μέσο της Ιρλανδίας, βρίσκεται το κοίτασμα πετρελαίου της Hibernia. Εκεί επάνω εδράζεται η σύγχρονη επαρχία του υποθαλάσσιου βόμβου που σταδιακά μεταμφιέζει τα τσιμέντα της σε φυσικό ύφαλο και θαλάσσιο βιότοπο για ψάρια και μικροοργανισμούς.

1. Enki Bilal ANIMAL’Z, Casterman 2009. [↩]

κειμ. Αναστασία Δούκα, Kaput.09