Category Archives: culture jamming

Vegetable smuggling, grimmy goods and other retail sabotages. An interview with Louise Ashcroft

In January 2017, artist Louise Ashcroft invited herself to be an artist in residency at Westfield Shopping Centre. That’s the mega mall in Stratford, East London. Its retail area is as big as 30 football pitches (says wikipedia), it has famous chains of fast fashion & fast food, screens budget-bloated blockbusters, rents kiddy cars and boasts some seriously boring ‘public’ artworks. Because there’s nothing remotely boring, mass manufactured nor glittery about her work (and also because she is quietly plotting the demise of capitalism), Ashcroft spent her time there undercover, pretending she was only looking for a bit of shopping fun.

The artist will present the result of her stealth research this week at arebyte in Hackney Wick, a five-minute walk from Westfield. Some of the works she developed at the shopping mall include a transposition of words from slogan fashion T-shirts on traditional narrow boat signs, offers to exchange ‘happy’ meals toys with more ‘soulful’ artist-designed toys, seditious retail therapy sessions, bookable tours of Westfield where she will guide participants through playful (pseudo)psychoanalytical activities, ‘mallopoly’ cards that invite shoppers to use the mall and its contents as a material, etc. Oh! and, since the Westfield area is the home of grime she also compiled words from Argos shopping catalogues into a cut-up text and grime artist Maxsta recorded it as a track.

This is not Ashcroft’s first incursion into the magical world of retail poisoning. She regularly smuggles unfamiliar-looking African vegetables into supermarkets and then throws the store in disarray when she attempts to buy them (Vegetable, 2003-17.) Two years ago, she spent time on another unsanctioned residency at Stratford Centre, a 1970s shopping precinct right in front of the flashy Westfield mall. She analyzed the centre’s marketing philosophy of “taking something negative about yourself and owning it” in the first hilarious TEDx talk i’ve ever seen:

Louise Ashcroft, Shopping and subversion at TEDxHackneyWomen

Ashcroft‘s solo show I’d Rather Be Shopping opens this Friday at Arebyte gallery as part of the gallery’s 2017 programme, Control. I asked her to take us through her research inside the best air-conditioned workshop an artist could hope for:

Louise Ashcroft, Stratford Works Trailer

Hi Louise! You had a residency at the Stratford center a couple of years ago. If i understood correctly, you simply invited yourself. It wasn’t an official one. Did the same happen this time in Westfield Center?

Yes, I invited myself to hang around the Stratford centre for some weeks. I’d noticed that it’s a space of resistance- people who can’t or don’t want to opt into the big capitalism of the Westfield mall hang out here, sell things, buy things; and the conventions of modern marketing are repeatedly broken.

It offers an alternative version of capitalism in which street traders, local characters and loiterers coexist with chain stores in a way that Westfield wouldn’t allow. The Stratford Centre is anarchic compared with Westfield – it shows its imperfections, has nothing to hide, whereas its megamall neighbour tightly controls the shopper’s experience so that we only see a partial view of the system and its wider social impact.

Westfield also has peculiar marketing strategies, but their bizarre qualities come from their efforts to conceal darker truths. For example, the biodiversity themed playground, the empty bee nesting boxes fitted into benches in the outdoor ‘street’ area, the plague of slogans featured on all the fashion at the moment- much of which features activist style slogans like ‘we are the future’ or ‘more bikes less cars’ or ‘feminist’. Despite the fact that these items themselves are the causes of ecological issues and problematic body politics. Other fashion slogans are more pessimistic, as though referring resignedly to the impending planetary destruction that consumerism has brought about: ‘I sold my soul’, ‘the end is nigh’, ‘nothing changes’. etc. Some of the t-shirts voice the angry isolation of a relationships based on likes and swipes: ‘whatever I’ll just date myself’, ‘like is the new love’, ‘why you so obsessed with me?’ I’m quite fixated on the t-shirts, they’re like our cultural stream of consciousness. Many express a sort of depressed helplessness: ‘too lazy to be crazy’, or ‘stay in bed’; whilst many celebrate neoliberal ambition and endless self-improvement: ‘no days off’, ‘run’, ‘I want it all’.

I found it hilarious that all the designers seemed to have taken a holiday and set up some sort of algorithm that prints hashtag phrases onto the cheapest plain t-shirts and sells them like hot cakes. It’s like wearable social media, a walking Facebook wall. I figured that these phrases were the key to the subconscious of society at this point in time, and I wanted to analyse this types of phrases that were being selected.

There so much more though. The Mallopoly game I’ve made (which will be given away free to all visitors to the show and people in Westfield) is a self-led series of activities to carry out in the centre, using the products and architecture as materials/props for challenges which each relate to an aspect of the shopping centre’s socio economic DNA. I think encouraging people to behave in different ways there is better than describing what I think is going on. I hope it’s not too didactic, as the tasks all relate to problems like seed rights, pollution, plastic and commodities trading. The tasks are very playful but there’s something quite futile about them too, in the face of these big issues. I want to simultaneously make the players feel liberated from the hegemony of the space but also powerless because the rebellious tasks (mainly involving role play, mime, sensory experiments, disguise, drawing, sound) are all quite benign and impotent really. A lot of my work is hedonistic yet melancholy, maybe that’s what Westfield is like too.


Mallopoly card


Mallopoly card

Also i was wondering how you behaved during this residency. Did you pretend to be a shopper like anyone else? Did your activities stand out in any way?

I had to pretend I was a shopper so I didn’t get in trouble, particularly when filming or watching people. YouTube vloggers have been banned from Westfield because many were playing pranks. There are a lot of security guards and I was stopped several times and asked if I needed help (or basically asked why I was behaving differently by loitering or photographing). I often get mistaken for staff in some shops, particularly sports shops, if I was wearing casual clothing. I’d originally hoped to find ways of working in the shops as part of the residency but it was difficult to even have conversations with shop assistants – it’s very much about efficiency in a modern shopping centre (not like the social space shops were when I was growing up in the north of England – my mum would spend hours chatting to shop assistants).

Louise Ashcroft, Unicorns of Westfield, 2017

Like many shopping centres, Westfield Stratford is a very loud place, especially visually. A fairly short amount of time in a shopping mall leaves me quite depressed. Since you spent so much time there, i was wondering if the experience affected your senses and mental well-being in any way?

I felt really lonely there. I remember once eating a packed lunch in the food court and really wanting to start a conversation with an old lady who also looked lonely but there was something about the place that made me nervous to do that – I felt like I’d come across as suspicious (I should have just gone for it). I listened to a lot of teenage conversations in the food hall- chat about social media interrupted by bleeps of social media. It’s definitely a social space if you’re with your group but it’s not the kind of place where people chat to passersby like they do in the Stratford centre. I talked to a middle aged woman for a while, because she was doing market research and I thought I could turn it into a more interesting conversation, but she had targets to meet and was really just interested in following the script that was popping up on her iPad questionnaire. I suppose people expect that if you try to talk to them in this space then you’re motivated by a financial transaction in some way. The first couple of months I found it really hard to be there, but now I feel I could do with much more time. I think the ‘retail therapy’ and performances I’m doing with individuals and groups of audiences will be the point when all of the research comes together in a way that feels really dynamic and impactful.

I’m a believer in the power of confusion, and when a group behaves unusually it provokes those involved and their witnesses to question what’s going on, and to question the whole environment they might have taken for granted.

I’m interested in the research you did with UCL students at The Institute for Global Prosperity to develop a “Deviant Planning Committee”. Are you going to publish online the inventory of deviations you compiled with them? Can you give us examples of some of these deviations?

Having spent so long in the mall, I invited these students, who were from various disciplines (mostly non arts subjects) and were on a summer school, to take my place for a day and hunt for opportunities for deviation within the Olympic park. They weren’t focusing so much on the shopping centre, rather its wider context. Many of the students found it very difficult, and a lot of what came back was ideas for business opportunities or ways of making the place more pleasant. Some of the responses were more critical though, and asked questions, for example about the value of the natural resources such as water and land, about the ways the security staff operate and how they might be used differently, or the names of the streets, or how busy the body is encouraged to be in this space of consuming and exerting energy.

There is a lot of humour in your work. Far more than in capitalism, the theme you’re exploring in many of your works. How do these two relate? How can humour be a useful instrument in subverting capitalism?

I get the same dopamine hit from the punchline of a joke as I do when a concept clicks into place in a conceptual artwork or theoretical text. Comedy is philosophy at its most efficient, with all the excess cut off. Jokes often happen when contrasting ideas come together and connect as part of the same thought, creating a chemical reaction which shifts their original status. If applied to our surroundings I think this is a powerful recipe for challenging the status quo, so I collage together what’s around me to make comic situations which unfold in public. Subverting ordinary situations is inherently funny- it’s what clowns have done for centuries, often literally reversing ordinary behaviour. Humour lets the viewer in because it’s pleasurable to laugh and because it shows that the artist is aware she is not special (a lot of art puts itself on a pedestal and I think this alienates people). It’s my failure to overthrow capitalism and the absurdity of my attempts to do so that make it funny.

There is also a level of naivety which helps me to get away with public actions in the first place. Beauty or technical excellence traditionally provide entry points for the viewer’s contemplation, but these are often focusing on impressing the viewer. My work is ordinary, it’s made with low value materials, it doesn’t require expertise, it often goes wrong and yet it reports back on these inadequacies with glee, a bit like how the Stratford Centre owns its weaknesses.

During these shopping mall residencies you’ve learnt a lot about marketing. I’m wondering if you’re not tempted to apply any of that in your art practice. Not so much in terms of content but as an instrument to advance your career, sell your work, turn you into a formidably marketable artist?

Marketable work tends to be work that has been completed and that it is possible to collect. I wrote a dissertation on wildness and ways of resisting being captured by the market. I only enjoy making work if I feel like it’s somehow transgressive, when it starts to feel like ‘work work’ I’m not interested any more. Wildness is an important part of the DNA of my practice. It’s what allows me to retain exteriority to the systems I analyse. Outsider status is fundamental to that. Even if I’m making objects they are always part of performative gestures and it’s not about finished objects but the effect they have in the moment. The traditionally painted signs featuring t-shirt slogans which I’m making for this show will all be given to the local boating community after the show. In an ideal world I’d have just painted directly into their boats. I love the idea of switching the fashion slogans and boat names.

You worked with grime artist Maxsta on a record inspired by your work at Westfield. How did the collaboration come about and what made you chose the Argos catalogue as a source for the lyrics? Is there a video of the track?

A lot of the pieces I’ve made for this show are collage-like, in that they take aspects of contrasting cultures and combine them. Like jokes do. I found out that this area is the home of grime music and i became interested in the anger in this working class genre and the way it rejects the blingy consumerism of commercial rap. Of all the catalogues in the mall, the Argos catalogue was most bountiful with evocative words I could cherry pick and bring together to make abstract lyrics. I approached a local grime station Don City Radio and they recommended someone but he didn’t get around to it and I couldn’t get through to him on the phone so I did some research and found a more experimental rapper then sent him a twitter message. He got the track to me within a couple of days and it is fantastic. He’s up for working on more collaborative stuff because the way I bring words together seems to work well with his phenomenal vocal abilities. It’s an exercise in appropriation really, but everyone’s appropriating everyone else, speaking through one another’s voices (the Argos copywriters, me, Maxsta). For me, the track reveals that what shops are really selling you are words and images – the materiality of most of the products is often generic (cotton, wheat, plastic, wood, metal…). The society of the spectacle and all that. Me and Maxsta are a pair of spectacles! Words are so rich and yet they’re all free and you can make them anywhere, anytime- that’s liberating. I’m a big believer in the power of parody, and mimicry, like the woman I heard on the radio yesterday doing Shakespeare in an Eastenders accent. By shifting the voice of something you reveal it for what it is.

What will the retail therapy sessions with Louise Ashcroft be like?

The retail therapy sessions will involve me and strangers (1-3 per session) completing a series of tasks in different shops and talking about the products we encounter, as devices for understanding our own lives and futures. We will begin with some exercises from Mallopoly the Westfield themed card game I’ve made which involves challenges like finding a product from as many countries as possible, making a noise track on our phones, dressing up as 18th century farmers in the fitting rooms, miming a coffee break, applying botanical classifications to the architectural decorations. All kinds of experiments, each of which relates to a problem with capitalism such as seed patents, waste or inequality.

Louise Ashcroft, Bread Suit, 2010

The bio on your website starts with the words “Recognising the power of small acts of resistance”. What can these small acts achieve?

Maybe just to remind us all to question everything and to see past the surface of things, deconstruct our presumptions about the world around us and reconstruct it more knowingly and more actively. An accumulation of small actions is the only way to change the world without becoming a replacement dictator. That’s why I hope my work isn’t preachy or didactic, I think empathising with one another’s weaknesses (mine especially) is crucial to making change happen.

And on top of your bio text, there’s “Nobody likes an activist.” But i feel that everyone wants to be an activist these days. Or at least pose as one. What’s not to like in an activist?

Once my dad said this so I wrote it down. I think he meant that people think activists believe that they’re better than everyone else. I wanted to remind myself that it’s ok not to be liked and that activism isn’t easy, even when it’s this small. If you’re going against the flow then that saps your energy, so reminding myself if that helps me keep going. I’m naturally stubborn and contrary, so the idea of going against the flow appeals. It’s not just for the sake of it either- as artists we have the duty to voice ignored, invisible or repressed truths. Our senses are heightened, we’ve trained for this – like sniffer dogs it’s our job to alert people to unnoticed things and then let them respond to that however they feel.

Thanks Louise!

Louise Ashcroft solo show I’d Rather Be Shopping opens at Arebyte gallery in Hackney Wick on 25th August 2017.

Culture Jamming. Activism and the Art of Cultural Resistance

Culture Jamming. Activism and the Art of Cultural Resistance, edited by Associate Professor of Communication Studies Marilyn DeLaure and author Moritz Fink. With a foreword by cultural critic Mark Dery.

Find it on amazon USA and UK.

Publisher NYU Press writes: A collaboration of political activism and participatory culture seeking to upend consumer capitalism, including interviews with The Yes Men, The Guerrilla Girls, among others.

Coined in the 1980s, “culture jamming” refers to an array of tactics deployed by activists to critique, subvert, and otherwise “jam” the workings of consumer culture. Ranging from media hoaxes and advertising parodies to flash mobs and street art, these actions seek to interrupt the flow of dominant, capitalistic messages that permeate our daily lives. Employed by Occupy Wall Street protesters and the Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot alike, culture jamming scrambles the signal, injects the unexpected, and spurs audiences to think critically and challenge the status quo.

The essays, interviews, and creative work assembled in this unique volume explore the shifting contours of culture jamming by plumbing its history, mapping its transformations, testing its force, and assessing its efficacy. Revealing how culture jamming is at once playful and politically transgressive, this accessible collection explores the degree to which culture jamming has fulfilled its revolutionary aims. Featuring original essays from prominent media scholars discussing Banksy and Shepard Fairey, foundational texts such as Mark Dery’s culture jamming manifesto, and artwork by and interviews with noteworthy culture jammers including the Guerrilla Girls, The Yes Men, and Reverend Billy, Culture Jamming makes a crucial contribution to our understanding of creative resistance and participatory culture.


Reverend Billy, BP Exorcism of BP at Tate Modern in London, 2011. Photo: Sophie Molins, via art.350


Alan Abel‘s hoax The Society for Indecency to Naked Animals, 1958–1963

This collection of key texts about culture jamming takes as its starting point Mark Dery’s 1993 seminal pamphlet Culture Jamming: Hacking, Slashing, and Sniping in the Empire of Signs in which the author portrayed, analyzed and popularized the guerrilla movement that disrupted or subverted mass media culture.

The other contributors of the book then take over and examine how culture jamming has evolved and morphed into a practice that is still anchored into 1990s tactics and ideals but has to deal with a whole new set of tools, challenges and conditions. The most conspicuous of these changes being that television has lost much of its power while the internet has emerged and demonstrated time and time again how it can be harnessed by citizens to spread messages far and wide and at fairly low costs.

The greatest strength of the book is the way many of the authors critically dissect and examine some of the strategies deployed by culture jammers. What triggered their actions, what worked but also what unexpectedly failed. Particularly insightful was Anna Baranchuk’s analysis of Pussy Riot’s “punk prayer” and how the performance further polarized the Russian public instead of inspiring them to resist the authoritative power of Putin state. Andrew Boyd from Billionaires for Bush also shared some insightful remarks on how the network protesting the corporate elite had to accept at some point that it was difficult to mobilize Americans against the super wealthy when nearly 40 percent of Americans are actually identifying with the richest 1 percent, in some form or another.


Michelle Obama’s campaign #BringBackOurGirls to raise awareness of schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram hijacked by twitter users protesting Obama’s drone strikes with the hashtag #BringBackYourDrones and #WeCantBringBackOurDead. Image via Al Arabiya

The book contains cases studies of and interview with icons of culture jamming such as The Guerrilla Girls, Banksy and The Yes Men. But it also looks at groups and figures that you don’t immediately associate with the movement: The Simpsons sitcom that brings corporate satire to a massive audience, the Harry Potter Alliance that orchestrated a 4 year long compaign to force Warner Brothers to use only Fair Trade chocolate in their Potter-branded sweets and the many people who use hashtags, memes and other internet devices to raise awareness of issues that remain under discussed in mainstream media.

RTMark, Barbie Liberation Organization

In conclusion:
It seems that each week sees the release of a new paper publication about creativity and activism. I’ve read and reviewed (or sometimes avoided to waste everyone’s time with a review) several of these publications.

Culture Jamming. Activism and the Art of Cultural Resistance is an excellent reference book for anyone interested in disrupting the information flow. It doesn’t drown the reader into heavy theory, favors texts written by people who have been directly involved under one guise or another into cultural jamming and because it consists of a collection of interviews and essays, you can dip in and out of it and read the texts depending on your whim of the moment.

A few notes of warning though: it is very U.S.-centric. Most of the contributors are Americans, most of the examples given and situations analyzed are American. That’s not a bad thing of course, plenty of lessons to learn from the U.S. but i thought you should know about the geographic focal point. Also there’s no image. It’s frustrating. Not just because i revel in seeing the cheerful face of Reverend Billy popping up in books but also because a large part of culture jamming practice relies on visual culture.

Photo on the homepage: Reverend Billy leads mass exorcism in Tate Modern Turbine Hall over ‘taint’ of BP sponsorship.

Destructables, DIY for protest and creative dissent

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GMO Food Warning Labels

I’ve just started working on a new talk i’ll be giving in the coming days at the Art Activism Easter School. The theme is the dissemination of artistic/activist practices. During my research, i discovered a brilliant resource for DIY projects of protest and creative dissent. It’s called Destructables and it was started by one of my heroes: Packard Jennings. He of the Anarchist Action Figure and outrageous Business Reply pamphlets.

Destructables is a website packed with recipes for protest, subversion, hijacking and disruption. The target are superstores, banks, police, corporate villains, etc. Some of these DIY instructions might come in handy nowadays. They go from The Center for Tactical Magic‘s guide to hold up a bank to Jennings’ Chemical Bananas sticker that denounce the use of carcinogenic pesticides by banana companies, to a guide to stealing from your employer (if your employer happens to be a bank), to a booklet in which the Billboard Liberation Front (BLF) shows you how to ‘improve’ billboards, to Lucas Murgida‘s tutorial of how to drill open a standard door lock, to Copwatch‘s downloadable pamphlets to discourage/attempt to stop police brutality and harassment.’ And lots more.

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Packard Jennings, Bible Stickers

My favourite DIY are the Bible Stickers that you can download and give to your friends with the instruction to stick them to the inside jacket of the Bible you will find in your hotel room. The sticker reads: “This Bible contains material on creationism. Creationism is a parable, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material was written by normal men almost two thousand years ago and should be approached with an open mind and critically considered.”

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Packard Jennings, Pocket Survival Guide

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Packard Jennings, Walgreens Local Business Coupon

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The Freedom Fighter’s Manual, 1983

Destructables also features historical documents such as a US military instructional booklet to explain how to load and drop a propaganda bomb (World War II), an ‘How to Surrender’ US propaganda leaflet (Gulf War, 1991), The Freedom Fighter’s Manual dropped by the CIA over Nicaragua in 1983 to invite citizens to cause civil disorder, an Egyptian Guide to Revolution (with translation) designed to arm Egyptian protestors with practical advice (1991), the PDF of the Demonstrations chapter from Abbie Hoffman‘s 1971 Steal This Book, etc.

The Pirate Book, ‘cultural content outside the boundaries of local economies, politics, or laws’

The Pirate Book, A compilation of stories about sharing, distributing, and experiencing cultural content outside the boundaries of local economies, politics, or laws. By Nicolas Maigret and Maria Roszkowska.

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Despite being the nation that ostensibly spearheads the war on piracy, the United States was at its inception a “pirate nation” given its refusal to observe the rights of foreign authors. In the absence of international copyright treaties, the first American governments actively encouraged the piracy of the classics of British literature in order to promote literacy. The grievances of authors such as Charles Dickens fell upon deaf ears, that is until American literature itself came into its own and authors such
as Mark Twain convinced the government to reinforce copyright legislation.

The paragraph above is copy/pasted from the book. It is symptomatic of a publication that informs, challenges any bias and assumptions you might have about piracy and does so with wit and intelligence. It also shows the spirit of The Pirate Book, a work more concerned with contemporary cultural practices around the world than with the legal subtleties of copyright infringement.

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Sonidero in Mexico City

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Music distribution from mobile phone to mobile phone in West Africa

The pirate book is an impeccably curated collection of essays and photos by artists, researchers, militants and bootleggers who share their experiences and anecdotes of piracy and anti-piracy practices through history and across cultures.

The first part of the book, the Historical Perspective, brings side by side key moments of the history of piracy with their contemporary counterpart. I’m not going to list them all (you can quickly check them for yourself as the book is both print on demand and free download) but here is just one example:

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Above: Pirate Bus in Regent’s Park, during the General Strike, 1926
In London, independent bus operators appeared in the mid of 19th century, following the tourism boom that accompanied the Great Exhibition of 1851. Their vehicles were soon popularly termed
“pirate” buses

The contemporary correspondent of the London buses are the Google private shuttle buses, viewed as symptoms of the ruthless gentrification of San Francisco driven by the tech sector. Activists also denounced the unpaid use of public bus stops by private companies, which leads to delays and traffic congestion.

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TV detector van, UK, 1963

Another entertaining chapter lists the strategies that cultural industries have adopted in their fight against piracy: educational flyers, hologram stickers, game alterations, false TV signal detectors (vehicles equipped with very conspicuous antenna that were supposed to be able to detect which households had not paid their TV licence), torrent poisoning, etc. I’m quite fond of the rather baroque way the publishers of the game Leisure Suit Larry Goes Looking for Love (in Several Wrong Places) adopted to protect the copies from piracy:

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Leisure Suit Larry Goes Looking for Love (in Several Wrong Places), 1988

In order to be able to launch the game, players were required to posses a physical copy of the instruction manual. When the game started up, it presented the player with a photo of a random woman. The player had then to look through the physical instruction manual, match her image with a telephone number and input it into the game.

I found the last part of the book particularly compelling. It counts a series of essays that explore local practices of piracy in Brazil, Cuba, Mexico, China, India, and Mali and other countries where piracy is the only affordable way for many people to access culture, entertainment and education. The stories i was less familiar with came from Mexico City and from a city in India called Malegaon:

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El Paquete hard drive, a pouch that protects the disc and a USB cable

Cuba’s isolation by the US embargo made audio-visual piracy vital not only for citizens but also for the government itself who needed content for its official television channels as well as books and academic publications for universities. Most Cubans don’t have access to internet and when they do it is neither fast nor safe from governmental scrutiny. But what they do have is El Paquete Semanal, a terabyte of music, movies, soap operas, mobile phone apps and even a classifieds section similar to Craigslist. Every week, unidentified curators compile a selection of content which subscribers upload on a hard drive that can be plugged directly into a TV.

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Supermen of Malegaon, the documentary, 2008

In India, the city of Malegaon has built a parallel cinema industry that creates spoof movies of Bollywood blockbusters. These cheaply shot and edited films echo their own local context and rely on an infrastructure enabled by media piracy and the proliferation of video rentals.

The final chapter, written from Ernesto Van Der Sar founder of TorrentFreak.com, argues through an analysis of music and film sales that the music industry is doing better than ever before but systematically blames piracy as soon as a new film or record doesn’t sell well.

That’s it! A quick and very incomplete overview of The Pirate Book. I’d recommend that book to anyone who can’t make up their mind about piracy, to your mother who thinks pirates are a bunch of ruffians who prevent Celine Dion from making a living, and to anyone who’s simply interested in contemporary popular culture and in non-western perspectives on DIY and inventiveness.

Views inside the book:

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The book is an extension of Maigret’s installation and performance The Pirate Cinema, A Cinematic Collage Generated by P2P Users which uncovers in real time the hidden activity and the geography of peer-to-peer file sharing but also the aesthetic dimension of P2P architectures.
As befits the theme of the book, the authors invite readers to copy the texts of this book and do with them as he/she pleases.

The Pirate Book was published by Aksioma – Institute for Contemporary Art, Ljubljana Co-published by Pavillon Vendôme Art Center, Clichy.
Produced by Aksioma, Pavillon Vendôme, Kunsthal Aarhus and Abandon Normal Devices.

Facta – Gambiologia magazine #3. Hacker poetics

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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!

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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.

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Inside Facta #3

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Inside Facta #3

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.
By the way, Brett Scott's book Heretic's Guide to Global Finance: Hacking the Future of Money is still up for download.

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.

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Inside Facta #3

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Inside Facta #3

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Inside Facta #3. Fernando Rabelo, HQML. Algoritmo Cotidiano

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Nicolas Larmessin, Habit d'orlogeur, circa 1700 (image)

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Houdini (image)

This way to buy a paper copy.

Previouslyy: Gambiologia, the Brazilian art and science of kludging and Magazines: Facta (the Gambiologia magazine), Neural and Aksioma brochures.