Category Archives: politics

Sonic Agency. Sound and Emergent Forms of Resistance

Sonic Agency. Sound and Emergent Forms of Resistance, by Brandon LaBelle.

Available on amazon USA and UK.

Publisher MIT Press writes: In a world dominated by the visual, could contemporary resistances be auditory? This timely and important book from Goldsmiths Press highlights sound’s invisible, disruptive, and affective qualities and asks whether the unseen nature of sound can support a political transformation. In Sonic Agency, Brandon LaBelle sets out to engage contemporary social and political crises by way of sonic thought and imagination. He divides sound’s functions into four figures of resistance—the invisible, the overheard, the itinerant, and the weak—and argues for their role in creating alternative “unlikely publics” in which to foster mutuality and dissent. He highlights existing sonic cultures and social initiatives that utilize or deploy sound and listening to address conflict, and points to their work as models for a wider movement. He considers issues of disappearance and hidden culture, nonviolence and noise, creole poetics, and networked life, aiming to unsettle traditional notions of the “space of appearance” as the condition for political action and survival.

During the Haitian Revolution, as the French soldiers sent by Bonaparte to reconquer the territory approached by boat, they could hear that Haitian slaves were singing a melody. They soon recognised it: La Marseillaise, the French revolutionary song, the patriotic call to fight against tyranny and foreign invasion. By making the famous anthem to freedom theirs, the Haitians defined themselves as citizens, not slaves. The French soldiers were confused, they realized they were the abhorred foreign oppressors of their own patriotic song.

The story ends well for the Haitians. The French army did attack them but the uprising led to the founding of a slave-free state that was ruled by non-whites and former captives. The Marseillaise sung by the people oppressed by the French was my favourite anecdote in Brandon LaBelle’s book. Each of the stories he conveys in Sonic Agency illustrates the agentive potentiality of sound, its power to exceed arenas of visibility, to interrupt the dominant order and support social and political struggles.

LaBelle identifies 4 mode of sonic agency, each with its own potential tactics and ways of building alternative frameworks of sociality:
– The invisible looks at how the unseen quality of sound might be mobilized as a basis for emancipatory practices.
– Anchored in the urban context, the overheard stems from interruptions and disruptions that encourage unplanned social encounters.
– The itinerant is dedicated to those who have lost their home either because of eviction or forced migration and who have, as a consequence lost their rights to the city. With the itinerant, lies another potential for acts of interference, estrangement and eventually maybe also a new appreciation of diversity (sonic or not).
– The Weak teaches us how to use fragility as a position of strength. It consists of passive resistance, peace prayers, hunger strikes, silent vigils, candle-lit marches, etc.

I must confess that Sonic Agency was not the book i was expecting. I was awaiting activist practices that use sound in a louder, more straightforward way. I was expecting more stories like the one of the Haitian rebels, more creative ways of getting your voice heard, more practical and easy to replicate examples of subverting the visible and leaving your mark in the public sphere.

Once i had absorbed the surprise of opening a book that wasn’t as obvious as i might have wanted, i ended up enjoying the journey. It’s a very theory-heavy journey but at least you’re in excellent company as LaBelle calls upon the expertise of Aimé Césaire, McLuhan, Bifo Berardi, Richard Sennett, Villém Flusser, Rastafarian culture, Edouard Glissant, Hannah Arendt, AbdouMaliq Simone and other thinkers to articulate how a sonic agency can support speech and action in a contemporary world dominated by forces intent on stifling them.

If you’re interested in what sound can do, this time with the most unpleasant ends in mind, i’d highly recommend another MIT Press book: Sonic Warfare. Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear by Steve Goodman.

Image on the homepage: Protesters taunt a line of military police during an anti-Vietnam War protest outside the Pentagon in 1967 (Bettmann/Getty Images), via Timeline.

Get Up, Stand Up! Changing the world with posters

If ever you’re in Brussels this summer, don’t miss Get Up, Stand Up – Changing The World With Posters (1968 – 1973) at the MIMA museum. I had never been to the MIMA before. Mostly because i’m lazy and crossing the canal seemed like a Herculean task when i’m in town with only a few hours and a long list of exhibitions to see. Well, that was a stupid excuse! MIMA is a wonderful place to visit. The art space is committed “to a culture that breaks down barriers and reaches out to a broad audience, reflecting the world of today and paving the way for the world of tomorrow.” That’s what most cultural centers claim to do these days but rare are those that fulfill these promises as convincingly as MIMA does. Not only did i see people from all ages and cultural background when i spent a few hours there but each of the visitors seemed to be genuinely excited about the exhibition.

John Sposato, Power to the penis, 1970

MIMA’s programme is relentlessly surprising and attractive. Previous shows have looked at creative vandalism, invasive installations, comic book aesthetic, etc. Anything labelled ‘subcultural’, anything with humour, bite and a resonance with the contemporary finds a home in this ex-Belle-Vue brewery. There’s a reason why MIMA stands for ‘Millennium Iconoclast Museum of Art’.

The MIMA museum along the canal. Photos by MIMA

Lambert Studios, War is good business: invest your son, c. 1969

View of the exhibition space. Photos by MIMA

The current exhibition, Get Up, Stand Up, is dedicated to protest posters created between 1968 and 1973. These were six years of civil unrest where people demonstrated against war, racial discrimination, dictatorship, patriarchy, violence towards the environment, etc. Protestors had a powerful and new ally in their fights: screen printing (or serigraphy). The technique was fast, cheap and simple to learn.

The posters that used to be instruments of protest and antagonism have now become objects of aesthetic interest. In spite of that and in spite of being half a century old, the images and slogans have lost nothing of their strength, nor sadly of their relevance. Today we have hashtags and other social media tools but we’re still yearning for equality, freedom and justice.

The 400 posters from 30 countries have been selected by Michaël Lellouche, a film maker and a writer who, over the past few years, has collected more than 1600 posters printed during those 6 eventful years.

Here’s a pick of some of the posters exhibited. You can see more of them on MIMA’s website, i’m also copy/pasting their descriptions (with minor changes and added links):

Anonymous, Break the Dull Steak Habit, also known as “Cattle Queen”, 1968

On the 7th of September 1968 in Atlantic City, a few hours before the election of Miss America, a hundred activists from the New York Radical Women binned various attributes of female submission: mops, false eyelashes, hair curlers, bras or issues of Playboy. They brandished placards in the effigy of historical heroines of feminism such as Lucy Stone or Sojourner Truth and this poster showing the degrading way beauty pageants turned women into little more than prime cuts of meat in “cattle markets”.

Guerrilla Girls, If you’re raped, you might as well “relax and enjoy it,” because no one will believe you, 1992

Free the Panthers

In January 1969, three attempted explosions failed in New York, targeting in particular two police precincts. On the 2nd of April, 21 people were arrested, all members of the Black Panther Party. They were charged with attempted bombing and conspiracy, and their bail was set at 100,000 dollars each. One of those arrested, Afeni Shakur, 24 (pregnant with the future musician Tupac Shakur), decided to defend herself without a lawyer during the eight-month trial. Her remarkable pleadings would mark public opinion. Due to a lack of evidence, all were acquitted in May 1971.

Emory Douglas, Untitled (On the Bones of the Oppressors), 1969

Emory Douglas became the resident artist of the Black Panther Party in the late 1960s. Appointed Minister of Culture, he created most of the posters and illustrations of the official weekly “The Black Panther”.

Anonymous, Bobby Seale Kidnappé

In August 1968, Bobby Seale, the co-founder of the Black Panther Party, was accused of conspiracy and incitement to riot. At the so-called Chicago Seven trial, having asked to defend himself, he was tied up and gagged in full court before being prosecuted in a separate trial.

Anonymous, Move on Over or We’ll Move on Over You, circa 1967

Anonymous, Indian power, 1971

On the 27th of February 1973, 200 Oglala Sioux Indians and members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) took over the small town of Wounded Knee, Pine Ridge Reserve, South Dakota. They were protesting against the alleged corrupt management of tribal leader Richard Wilson and the United States government’s failure to fulfill treaties with Native American people. Wounded Knee was chosen for its symbolic significance – it was the site of the massacre of more than 200 Indian civilians by the US military in 1890.

Marlon Brando, who was due to receive an Oscar for The Godfather, had his acceptance speech read out by Sacheen Littlefeather, an apache activist and the president of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee. Brando boycotted the ceremony in protest of Hollywood’s portrayal of Native Americans and to draw attention to the standoff at Wounded Knee. His gesture relaunched media attention on Wounded Knee.

Anonymous, Train Now

In the middle of the U.S. presidential campaign, marked in the spring of 1968 by the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, this poster proved to be a hard-hitting and provocative one. The Vietnam War looked set to require more young soldiers. But who is shooting whom?

Anonymous, And Babies?

In October 1969, the Art Workers Coalition (AWC) was commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art of New York to create a poster denouncing the war in Vietnam. The AWC decided to use a photograph taken by the army photographer Ronald L. Haeberle after the My Lai Massacre. They then superimposed on the image the confession that Private Paul Meadlo made during an interview when he admitted that yes, babies were killed.

The MoMA refused to distribute the poster, deemed to be too shocking. The AWC printed 50,000 copies and during a blitz operation at the MoMA, on the 26th of December 1969, activists brandished it in front of Picasso’s Guernica, on loan by Spain. The symbol was unmistakeable: the Americans had joined the Nazis in their barbarism.

Yoko Ono and John Lennon, The War Is Over!, 1969

On the 15th of December 1969 New Yorkers discovered in giant letters on Times Square the information: “The war is over!” The small print tempered the good news. In this poster, John Lennon and Yoko Ono incite civil disobedience, encouraging people to be active rather than passive. Translated into several languages, the campaign was displayed in 11 cities around the world.

Dutch poster, by the anarchist environmentalist movement Provo

George Maciunas, U.S.A. Surpasses All the Genocide Records, c.1966

The American flag was also to come under the fire of foreign countries and American artists. George Maciunas, founder of the Fluxus Artistic Movement, created a flag denouncing the mass killings perpetrated by the United States. Thousands of copies of the poster went on to be sold with a leaflet listing the most morbid statistics.

Atelier Populaire, La Lutte Continue, 1968

Atelier populaire, La police s’affiche aux Beaux-Arts, 1968

Last poster of the famous Atelier populaire, in response to the police raid in the premises of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts on the 27th of June 1968.

That’s All Folks!

Views of the exhibition space (all photos by MIMA):

Julio Le Parc, Frappez les gradés, 1971

Get Up, Stand Up – Changing The World With Posters (1968 – 1973) is at MIMA in Brussels until 30 September 2018.

Beautiful Rising. Creative Resistance from the Global South

Beautiful Rising. Creative Resistance from the Global South, edited by Juman Abujbara, Andrew Boyd, Dave Mitchell, and Marcel Taminato.

It’s on amazon UK and USA.

Publisher OR books writes: In the struggle for freedom and justice, organizers and activists have often turned to art, creativity, and humor. In this follow-up to the bestselling Beautiful Trouble: A Toolbox for Revolution, Beautiful Rising showcases some of the most innovative tactics used in struggles against autocracy and austerity across the Global South.

Based on face-to-face jam sessions held in Yangon, Amman, Harare, Dhaka, Kampala and Oaxaca, Beautiful Rising includes stories of the Ugandan organizers who smuggled two yellow-painted pigs into parliament to protest corruption; the Burmese students’ 360-mile long march against undemocratic and overly centralized education reforms; the Lebanese “honk at parliament” campaign against politicians who had clung to power long after their term had expired; and much more.

Now, in one remarkable book, you can find the collective wisdom of more than a hundred grassroots organizers from five continents. It’s everything you need for a DIY uprising of your own.

Zapatista Caravan, Chiapas and Mexico City, Mexico, 1994-1996

I keep on reviewing books about art and activism. The topic is all the rage right now. Unfortunately, many of the publications, discussions and events on the subject tend to stay at the surface of things, going for the spectacularly ‘subversive’, the in your face and the provocative. There are real gems here and there though. Beautiful Rising is one of them.

Beautiful Rising is not a ‘coffee table’ object. It’s a manual, a toolkit for citizens who dream of grassroots movements that are effective, creative and compelling.

As for the Global South, it “is not a place. It’s a way of talking about a diverse set of struggles: the uprising of the planet’s people against neoliberal policies, at least, and against the capitalist system, at most.”

The projects described and analyzed in the book come from Asia, Africa and Latin America. But they should inspire the rest of the world too. Wherever we live, we all have to contend with the hysterical aftermaths of the latest U.S. presidential elections, the rise of intolerance, the deepening of social inequalities, the destruction of our environment as well as various systems of repression and discrimination. Although some countries and people have it far worse than others, of course.

Banksy, Sorry, the lifestyle you ordered is out of stock in London, December 2011. Photo via creating clever

The authors of Beautiful Rising have identified five types of tools for social change that should be mixed and matches, customized and combined according to every specific context:

Stories: accounts of significant actions and campaigns, with an analysis of what worked, what didn’t and why.
Tactics: the various types of creative actions and the potential risks they entail.
Principles: the sets of rules to follow and/or adapt in order to design successful actions and campaigns. Because there’s method and methodology even in disobedience.
Theories: the section zooms out on concepts that provide a foundation context and help us understand how the world works.
Methodologies: the practical bit with strategic frameworks and hands-on exercises to help assess your own situation and tailor a campaign.

Beautiful Rising is an energizing ode to civil disobedience. The stories of creative popular struggles might not all have a happy ending (many do though!) but they demonstrate that citizens have determination, imagination and humour, even in the face of brutal intimidation. As for the lessons to be found throughout the book, they build a picture of a South that needs solidarity not aid (or “NGO-ization” as the authors call it.) There’s a lot we can learn by listening to one another.

Here are some of my favourite stories from the Beautiful Rising toolkit:

BoxGirls Kenya, at Kariobangi Community Center. Photo: Adam Daver

After Kenya’s post-election violence in 2008, when many young women were sexually abused and traumatized, the organization Boxgirls Kenya used boxing to provide young women with an antidote to the shaming, stigma and fear that followed the brutality they had experienced. The sport is used as an entry point to discuss difficult topics related to sexuality and to violence against women.

The office also support girls with counseling, sanitary towels and, for those who can’t afford food, the opportunity to participate in a small feeding program.

The Vula Connection

Infographic showing the African National Congress (ANC) communication network during apartheid. Infographic: Ariel Acevedo | CC BY-NC-SA

At the height of the anti-apartheid struggle, South African freedom fighters and hackers created an encrypted communication network that connected the leadership in exile with operatives in South Africa.

Traffic mimes in Bogota. Photo

Faced with a corrupt traffic police force as well as chaos and deaths on the roads, Bogota mayor, mathematician and philosophy professor Antanas Mockus fired 3,200 traffic cops and offered them the option to be retrained and hired back as mimes. 420 accepted the offer. They dramatized road maneuvers and mocked reckless drivers using only white gloves, expressive gestures and face paint. Traffic fatalities drop by over 50 percent.

The Ugandan women who strip to defend their land, Apaa village, Uganda, 2015. Photo

Female elders in northern Uganda invoked powerful cultural taboos by removing their clothes in front of two government ministers who were attempting to evict people in Apaa Village by force, grab their land and sell it to a South African investor who was planning to use the territory for elite sports game hunting.
To block the ministerial convoy, the community put up a roadblock and local women stripped naked in front of government ministers, soldiers and policemen. The move invoked a powerful cultural curse in Uganda where it provokes deep shame to see a woman the age of one’s mother naked.

Israeli activists were arrested for holding “Welcome to Palestine” signs at Ben Gurion airport. Photo: ActiveStills, via electronic intifada

Israeli authorities can deny tourists the right to visit Palestine if they state their intention to do so at the border. To protest Israel’s border policies, activists launched Welcome to Palestine, a campaign during which hundreds of international solidarity activists staged a “fly-in” at Ben Gurion airport demanding to visit Palestine.

In 2011, the first year of the action, more than 300 people from different nationalities took part. After arriving at the airport, activists peacefully unfurled “Welcome to Palestine” banners. Israeli police ripped down the signs and arrested activists. In 2012, following a “diplomatic” campaign by the Israeli government most of the 400 people worldwide who were set to fly to Palestine were denied boarding at their departure country.

The local and international media coverage exposed the Israeli regime of discrimination and repression.

Sofia Ashraf, Kodaikanal Won’t

In 2015, South Indian rapper Sofia Ashraf and Vettiver Collective turned Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” song into a protest against Unilever’s mercury poisoning at its thermometer factory in Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu. The environmental crisis has affected the health of workers and is still polluting local soil and groundwater. Ashraf’s video went viral, giving 15 years of local campaign the international media coverage it needed. Intensified campaigning and a boycott of Unilever products forced the company to do the previously unthinkable: compensate Kodaikanal workers.

Sign in memory of the Black Panther Traffic Light’s effort to protect school children against traffic incident. Photo: Eric Fischer

Tired of waiting for a traffic light to be installed near a historically “black” public school in Oakland, armed members of the Black Panther Party escorted children across the street before and after school until authorities finally intervened and installed a traffic light on 1 August 1967.

Alexandre Orion, Ossario, 2006

The walls of the Max Feffer tunnel in Sao Paulo were covered with grime and soot from engine exhaust. Thinking he couldn’t be arrested for cleaning a public space, Alexandre Orion selectively cleaned parts of the walls through reverse graffiti. Local authorities had no choice but to clean all the walls in the tunnel, which had been Orion’s plan all along.

Freedom Summer activists sing before leaving training sessions at Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio, for Mississippi in June 1964. Photo: Ted Polumbaum Collection/Newseum, via

Photo on the homepage: Adam Daver, via Positive Magazine.

Using art to build bridges between people living in prison and people outside

Anastasia Artameva is the artist behind Prison Space, an ongoing project that investigates how art can be deployed to establish empathy and communication between incarcerated people and the public outside the prison. Arlene Tucker is the designer and artist behind Translation is Dialogue which looks at how translation processes can be harnessed to make art. As for Sonny “Elinkautinen” Black (Sonny Nyman), he is a musician based in Helsinki. After a few years behind bars, he decided to use his experience and talent to work with young people in the streets of Helsinki and through correction institutions all over Finland, making music and encouraging them to follow their dreams.

Image from a performance and workshop at Cultura Fest in November 2017 in Helsinki. Photo by Anastasia Artemeva

Together, they collaborate on projects that connect people who would otherwise have very little opportunity to meet, share experiences and debate about questions as diverse as social justice and the challenges of mutual understanding. One of these projects is Let It Out, a series of art exchanges for young people affected by imprisonment in Finland and in Russia. The three artists organize workshops and other events where the young people are invited to use art, music, poetry and other creative practices to work together, connect as individuals or simply let their imagination run wild.

Image from a performance and workshop at Cultura Fest in November 2017 in Helsinki. Photo by Svetlana Mikhailova Ostonen

Image from a performance and workshop at Cultura Fest in November 2017 in Helsinki. Photo by Svetlana Mikhailova Ostonen

You (Anastasia, Henkka and Arlene) seem to have very different backgrounds. So how did the three of you meet and decide to ally on the Prison Outside project? How do you complement each other on this project?

Arlene: Anastasia and I met years ago in Helsinki, as we were both exhibiting in a group show. This was back in 2014. I think Anastasia took the lead and contacted me about making art with children. Our projects always have seemed to run parallel and intersect with each other’s, either thematically or spatially. I was preparing for an installation at Performanssifiesta and suggested that Anastasia show her work there. That was the first time I heard about her prison project. Who knew years later that Translation is Dialogue (TID) would find itself snuggling with Prison Outside.

Anastasia: I met Henkka in a peer support center for released prisoners in Helsinki. He used to come there to play pool on his lunch break from studying to become a social care worker, while serving the last six months of his prison sentence. In Finland, in most cases, the last six months of a prison sentence are completed in an “open prison” – an institution with less strict rules. I visited this center Redis for many months as an artist researcher, setting up informal art workshops.

Our creative practices are very different, and I also feel that at the moment we have taken on quite different roles. I am perhaps more of an organiser in this project, and Arlene has been developing and will be teaching the workshops to both young people and their mentors. While both Arlene and I are artists, and will curate the visual aspect of the Let It Out exchange project, Henkka will produce the music. He has been working with correctional institutions and directly with youth on the street for some time now. His experience in composing and teaching music is an integral part of the project.

Arlene: I think what also makes us work well as a group is how passionate each one of us are about using art practice as a means of self expression. This probably stems from our own experiences on how art has touched us personally! Survival skills! Also, I can just plainly say that I always get loads of energy when talking about the project with Anastasia and Henkka!

Image from a performance and workshop at Cultura Fest in November 2017 in Helsinki. Photo by Anastasia Artemeva

Image from a performance and workshop at Cultura Fest in November 2017 in Helsinki. Photo by Anastasia Artemeva

How and why did you decide to explore the world of prison in connection with artistic practices? Did you have particular affinities with the issue of incarceration (if the question isn’t too personal)?

Anastasia: A few years ago, my close friend was sentenced for a very serious crime, which came as a big shock for me. This made me question my understanding of badness and goodness, and I feel that prison is a phenomenon by which as a society we draw a line between the bad and the good.

Henkka: I have been in state care since I was 2 years old, back and forth between over 20 different institutions. When I was 13 I started to write and perform music, and music saved my life. I had to go to prison for two and a half years when I was eighteen. And when I was released, that nine months was the first time in my life when I was free. And now I have served my life sentence, which was 13 years and 2 months. In total, I am now 34 years old, and I have spent over 15 years in prison and overall 32 years in institutions. Many people have told me that I have no chance, but it’s not true. I made it. I have been building my life, studying, and I want to inspire young people to get off the street and begin to follow their dreams.

Arlene: We all have our own story and personal relationship with justice and making mistakes. When I was 13 I became very involved with Amnesty International, which I have to thank my big sister for introducing me to. I remember at my school there was an Amnesty International club where we would all stay after class and write letters to various governments letting them know that we were on to what they are doing. That was when I first started learning about human rights on an activist level.

Art workshops in Redis, an open space for ex-convicts in Helsinki, managed by Kriminaalihuollon tukisäätiö, a Finnish non-govermental non-profit organisation supporting convicts, ex-prisoners, and their families. Photo: Prison Space

Invisible Neighbours, with Annika Niskanen, Helsinki Prison and Esitystaiteen Keskus performance art center. Photo: Prison Space

Your project “Let It Out” connects (or will connect) young people affected by imprisonment in Russia and in Finland. They are invited to exchange artworks, lyrics, and short videos, produced during workshops with artists and musicians. Their exchange will be facilitated using rap composition and translating techniques. Now i can guess the importance of music in this project, maybe as a language of resistance, social gathering and open expression. I’m curious about the role that the translating techniques will play in Let It Out. Is it just a matter of translating from one language to another or is there something more to it?

Arlene: Happy you asked about that! Since you mention it… TID uses the framework of intersemiotic translation as a means to understand what happens in the communication and creative process between different mediums all carrying their own system of codes. Let’s see how the groups take to it, but what I hope to integrate into these workshops in the prisons is to experiment with different translation techniques as a means to guide their creative process. This could help articulate what they would like to say, but also what is being communicated.

Now i’d like to have a look at the locations: Russia and Finland. I know very little about incarceration there. I do know that Scandinavian prisons are praised for the relative quality of life they offer to prisoners and guards. As for Russian penitentiary system, it doesn’t have a very good reputation. But then all i know about it comes from wikipedia, Pussy Riot and those books about Russian Prison Tattoos. Do you think my rough summaries of prison conditions in both countries need to be refined and nuanced?

Anastasia: Yes, penitentiary systems are different in Russia and in Finland, each with its own challenges. However, for me, this project is not about looking at these systems as such, but rather at the support structures that exist for incarcerated people and ex-convicts in these countries. I am also interested in the way society relates to ex-convicts, the stigma people live with once they leave prison. I feel also that the international community has this idea of Russian prisons as places of some kind of horror show, or a gangster movie.

As much as the conditions are, for sure, challenging, I encourage us all to look closer and see individuals, men, women and children, people for whom this is an everyday environment, in which they live and create. We are not here to showcase these systems, but rather encourage people to communicate and see the people beyond these systems.

Henkka: In Finland there are different types of prisons, some stricter than others, and then in Russia it is even stricter again. In our work we are trying to and find ways to create a connection between people in and beyond these institutions. Having an “insider” experience creates trust and makes it easier to communicate and understand the people behind bars.

Let It Out workshop. Photo by Svetlana Mikhailova Ostonen

Apart from the fact that Anastasia was born in Russia but currently lives in Finland, are there other reasons why you wanted to work with these two countries in particular? How easy or difficult is it to work with countries that have such different penitentiary “cultures”?

Anastasia: Russia and Finland are neighbouring countries, yet with very different prison systems, and different cultural relationships with incarceration. Both contexts have their own challenges. It is hard to navigate between institutions, particularly within such a stigmatised issue, but that is what makes our project unique. In my experience, cross-border public dialogue about prisoner support and rehabilitation is very limited. These issues seem to be at most only discussed within the very close circle of prison service professionals or academic research. I want to open it to the larger public, to find ways for solidarity and understanding.

What do you hope to achieve with Prison Space? Who do you think might be affected by it? And what do you think participants will take from the project?

Anastasia: Prison Space the website is designed for the general public. I also hope that it will act as a resource for creative practitioners, social workers and volunteers to share experiences and techniques for working with people affected by imprisonment. My dream is to open up a dialogue and challenge the stigma attached to incarcerated people and ex-convicts. With Let It Out project, in particular, I hope young people will investigate their experience of life when their freedom is restricted, express themselves, and share their creative processes with each other and with a wider public. I want them to know that there are others who have perhaps made decisions that have lead to incarceration, that no matter what country and circumstances you are in, your voice is valuable and you are not alone.

Henkka: I want the people who participate in Let It Out (the art exchange project designed for youth in Russia and Finland) to notice and value their talent and to have more self-confidence in expressing themselves. It is important for me that we do this project not for ourselves but for others. I believe that young people begin to understand the possibility of pursuing a career in creative profession even from one session. Young people I meet on the streets of Finland often have no plans or dreams for the future. Music and art workshops can affect their whole life, and can be a first step in becoming a professional musician or artist. Even if this only happens to one person, then we have achieved more than we could have hoped for. Myself I grew up in an environment where there are no big dreams, and I want to create a space where, by working hard, you can dream big, apply your talent, and achieve your dream.

Arlene: Following similar dreams and hopes with the project as Anastasia and Henkka, I hope that this exchange can also show how much one’s voice is a source of inspiration for somebody else. TID started as creating a space to show the translation process and how we are in constant translation. The contributed artworks are an inspiration and source for more points of self expression. Without the participants and without the artworks, we would just wallow in stillness, but they create movement and excitement within themselves and with others.

Why do you think art is a good medium to establish bridges and communication between the inside and the outside of prisons? Rather than activism for example? Or do you regard the project as form of activism?

Arlene: Making art gives me freedom and space to explore, make mistakes, and experiment. If I could share that with others and they would feel the same, great! If not, at least they tried something new.

Anastasia: For me personally this project is not about representing the community of incarcerated people, neither is it a fight, but rather a gentle, long-term journey to bring together folks of different walks of life. I enjoy art-making as a way reach out and learn new possibilities for communication, and this is what I hope will happen in this project. I am incredibly lucky to be able to do this as part of my artistic work.

Henkka: No, I don’t view this project as activism. An important aspect I’d like to mention is the therapeutic experience that art provides for people in incarceration.

Taryn Simon, Ronald Jones, 2002. Scene of arrest, South Side, Chicago, Illinois. Served 8 years of a Death sentence

Taryn Simon, Calvin Washington, 2002. C&E Motel, Room No. 24, Waco, Texas. Where an informant claimed to have heard Washington confess. Wrongfully accused- Served 13 years of a Life sentence for Murder

Edgar Evans. Photo by Suzy Gorman, courtesy of Prison Performing Arts. Photo via This American Life

Do you know of other artistic projects that have had some impact on the life of the people affected by incarceration?

Arlene: That’s a bit of a tricky question because how can we measure impact? I’m a huge fan of talk radio and especially for the show, This American Life. I had heard this one episode, where “Over the course of six months, reporter and This American Life contributor Jack Hitt followed a group of inmates at a high-security prison as they rehearsed and staged a production of the last act—Act V—of Hamlet” (2002). What the inmates say about their theatrical work is amazing. What Prison Performing Arts does is build empathy, forgiveness, and awareness with the actors.

Another art project that has been very thought provoking for me is Taryn Simon’s photographic series The Innocents (2002), which “documents the stories of individuals who served time in prison for violent crimes they did not commit.” I was very much affected by this project because it made me think about not just the judiciary system, but I was feeling torn because I couldn’t imagine what these people must be going through. Being back in that place they were wrongfully committed.

What’s next for the project? Where is it going to lead you in the coming months?

Anastasia: In November 2018 we will have an exhibition of artworks by people affected by imprisonment, and a symposium on the subject of art in prison.

Arlene: I am excited for that and also am looking forward to making art and music with young artists in Finland and in Russia!

Thanks Anastasia, Arlene and Henkka!

Related stories: Inside Private Prisons. An American Dilemma in the Age of Mass Incarceration, Prison Gourmet and YOUprison, Some thoughts on the limitation of space and freedom.

Transnationalisms – Bodies, Borders, and Technology. Part 1. The exhibition

Jeremy Hutchison, Movables, 2017. Exhibition view of Transnationalisms – Bodies, Borders, and Technology at Aksioma Project Space. Photo: Miha Fras / Aksioma

National borders are being increasingly challenged under the pressure of mass movement of peoples, digital maneuvers and other technology-enabled disruptions, climate disorder, progressive policies or global economics. This new reality brings about tensions and anxieties but also new ways to consider questions of geography, politics and national identity.

Transnationalisms, an exhibition and symposium curated by James Bridle at Aksioma in Ljubljana, investigates the various conditions in which national frameworks are transcended and transgressed today.

While the nation state is not about to disappear, it is already pierced and entangled with other, radically different forms. Alternative models and protocols of citizenship, identity and nationhood are being prototyped and distributed online and through new technologies. Transnationalisms examines the ways in which these new forms are brought into the physical world and used to disrupt and enfold existing systems. It does not assume the passing of old regimes, but proclaims the inevitability of new ones, and strives to make them legible, comprehensible, and accessible.

Transnationalism is a poignant and challenging theme to explore in 21st century “Fortress Europe”. Yet, as the artists featured in the exhibition demonstrate, it is also a topic that calls for creative sabotage and digital trespassing.

Here’s a quick overview of the show:

Daniela Ortiz, Jus Sanguinis, 2016

Daniela Ortiz, Jus Sanguinis (Collage of Peruvian passport and medical book illustration), 2016

Jus soli, the “right of the soil, is the right of anyone born in the territory of a state to nationality or citizenship. Jus soli is the predominant rule in the Americas, but it is rare elsewhere. European countries, for example, do not grant citizenship based on unconditional jus soli. Instead, most of them grant citizenship at birth based upon the principle of Jus sanguinis, meaning ‘the right of the blood’. The main way children can thus acquire citizenship is thus through the blood of at least one of their parents and not by birthplace.

Daniela Ortiz is an artist of Peruvian descent. In 2016, she had been living in Spain for 9 years when she found herself pregnant. She knew her residency permit would expire before the birth and that her baby would inherit her nationality and legal status. During a performance that year, Ortiz received a blood transfusion from a Spanish citizen, directly challenging the nationalist regime of citizenship which would classify her child as an immigrant and automatically submit him or her to the violence of Immigration laws.

Raphael Fabre, CNI, 2017

Raphael Fabre, CNI, 2017

Last year, Raphael Fabre presented a request for a new French ID card. All of his papers were deemed to be legal and authentic. The ID card was issued. What makes his ID card uncommon is that the photo the artist had submitted to his local government was created on a computer, from a 3D model, using several pieces of software and special effects techniques developed for movies and video games. The official document is thus featuring a citizen which is practically virtual and fictional.

The work reflects the increased importance that digital technology takes in mediating our relationship with forms of authority.

CNI reminded me a bit of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s series Portraits for which he photographed Madame Tussaud’s wax replicas of iconic historical and political figures. Just like in the case of Fabre, the setting was meticulously staged and the result adhered strictly to the rules of the portrait genres. In both cases, however, the hyperrealistic images add an extra manufactured layer to the representation of an individual.

Julian Oliver, Border Bumping, 2012-2014

Julian Oliver, Border Bumping, 2012-2014. Exhibition view of Transnationalisms – Bodies, Borders, and Technology at Aksioma Project Space. Photo: Janez Janša / Aksioma

You might have noticed, when traveling in Europe, that your mobile phone operator sometimes notifies you that you’ve entered a new country minutes before or after you have actually crossed the national border. Your phone is in one place, your body in another. When active, Julian Oliver’s Border Bumping phone app collected mobile phone tower and location data to map the ways in which the electromagnetic spectrum defies the integrity of national borders.

Folder group, Italian Limes, 2016

Folder group, Italian Limes at the Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova in Ljubljana. Photo: Miha Fras / Aksioma

Folder group, Italian Limes at the Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova in Ljubljana. Photo: Janez Janša / Aksioma

Folder group, Italian Limes at the Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova in Ljubljana. Photo: Janez Janša / Aksioma

Folder group, Italian Limes at the Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova in Ljubljana. Photo: Janez Janša / Aksioma

Italy set its borders as we know them today in 1861 when the country became officially united. Global warming, however, have recently caused these borders to shift. The rise in the average temperature have resulted in the slow melting of the Alpine glaciers that marked out the frontier between Italy and its neighbours. Rather than deciding on a precise redrawing of its national frontiers, the Italian government made the interesting decision of defining its Alpine borders as ‘movable’. They can shift depending on the location of the watershed and how it is affected by ice melt.

The project Italian Limes (limes is the latin word for ‘border’ or ‘boundary’) monitors the fluctuations of a section of the Alpine border in real time. A couple of years ago, the team installed a series of solar-powered devices on the melting ice sheet at the foot of Mt. Similaun, on the Austrian-Italian border. The measurement units tracked the change in the tridimensional geometry of the glacier.

The GPS sensors are linked by satellite to the pantograph in the exhibition space. The instrument graphically reproduce, hour by hour, the shift in the border prompted by the glacier’s movement and shrinkage on a local map. The shift in natural border and by extension the reality of climate disruption become visible to all.

More works and images from the exhibition:

Jonas Staal, New Unions – Map, First draft, 2016. Exhibition view of Transnationalisms – Bodies, Borders, and Technology at Aksioma Project Space. Photo: Miha Fras / Aksioma

Jonas Staal, New Unions – Map, First draft, 2016. Exhibition view of Transnationalisms – Bodies, Borders, and Technology at Aksioma Project Space. Photo: Janez Janša / Aksioma

Jonas Staal’s New Unions maps the emergence of social movements and new political parties which are creating progressive models of political assembly and decision making in Europe while proposing new forms of transdemocratic practices. These political experiments transcend the boundaries of nation states, just like corporations do but with more ethical and humanistic values.

Jeremy Hutchison, Movables, 2017

Jeremy Hutchison’s work was triggered by a photo showing the inside of a car, the headrests torn open to reveal a person hiding inside each seat. The photo, taken by police at a border point somewhere in the Balkans, testifies to a reality where human bodies attempt to disguise themselves as inanimate objects, simply to acquire the same freedom of movement as consumer goods.

They Are Here, We Help Each Other Grow, 2017

Thiru Seelan, a Tamil refugee who arrived in the UK in 2010 following detention in Sri Lanka during which he was tortured for his political affiliations, dances on an East London rooftop. His movements are recorded by a heat sensitive camera more conventionally often used to monitor borders and crossing points, where bodies are identified through their thermal signature.

Exhibition view of Transnationalisms – Bodies, Borders, and Technology at Aksioma Project Space. Photo: Miha Fras / Aksioma

Exhibition view of Transnationalisms – Bodies, Borders, and Technology at Aksioma Project Space. Photo: Miha Fras / Aksioma

Transnationalisms – Bodies, Borders, and Technology, curated by James Bridle, remains open at Aksioma Project Space in Ljubljana and at the Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova until 25 May 2018.

This program is realized in the framework of State Machines, a joint project by Aksioma (SI), Drugo more (HR), Furtherfield (UK), Institute of Network Cultures (NL) and NeMe (CY).

Related story: The System of Systems: technology and bureaucracy in the asylum seeking process in Europe.

State of suspension: the “relentless, never-ending struggle to adapt”

A few weeks ago, while in Paris for the always excellent refrag (more about that one as soon as life is back to blissful indolence), i discovered Le Bal and its ongoing En Suspens/In Between exhibition.

Darek Fortas, Changing Room VI, 2012

The show explores how individuals and groups of people find themselves trapped in a state of uncertainty and precariousness due to bureaucracy, politics and other circumstances they have no control over. Frozen in a state of suspension, these people have lost their political visibility and with it, their place in the world.

The state of suspension is often likened to being paralysed or stunned, but it is actually a constant, relentless, never-ending struggle to adapt. The threat comes into focus. Time seems to be running out. It is a struggle not to break free from temporality but to enter it.

The exhibition is engrossing, moving and intellectually stimulating. It drags you out of your comfort zone by communicating a sense of unease that deepens as you realize that at some point, you too might end up being locked in limbo. Maybe climate change will drive us to become refugees too. Maybe it’s automation that will dehumanize us. Or maybe it’s some yet unidentified sword of Damocles that will reveal the flaws in modernity’s promises and prevent us from moving forward.

Henk Wildschut, Calais, Eritrean church, July 2015

Henk Wildschut, Ville de Calais, Partie Sud, 2016

Henk Wildschut, Ville de Calais, March 2016

Henk Wildschut, Ville de Calais, December 2016

Photo: LE BAL / Matthieu Samadet

The migrant is one of the most poignant victims of this state of suspension. Henk Wildschut followed the growth, bulldozing and resolute rebirth of the jungle of Calais since 2005. His series documents how refugees transform the landscape. With shacks and clothes drying between trees. But also with structures that speak of a semi-permanent situation: shops, sites of worship, bakeries, libraries, schools, garden, etc. Everything was razed in October 2016, before rising up again, albeit in an impoverished form and with far less attention from the media.

The photographer wrote:

That dignity was expressed in all manner of ways; the neatly folded clothes, the sleeping bags and blanket hung out, the way the surroundings were kept clean and waste disposed of. In the layout of their huts and the creation of small gardens, the inhabitants expressed their personality and individuality. I was moved by this need for security and homeliness. I wanted to use my photography to show how people retain their humanity in an inhuman situation. They symbolise the resilience of the individual.

Hiwa K, View From Above (still from the video), 2017

Hiwa K, View From Above (still from the video), 2017

Photo: LE BAL / Matthieu Samadet

View From Above was the most moving work in the exhibition (at least for me.) The video looks at refugee screening processes and reveals how following their logic to its most absurd extremes might help someone gain asylum.

During the interview necessary to get refugee status, an official checks to see whether you really come from an unsafe zone. He or she asks about small details about the city you claim to come from and compares your answers to a map.

View from Above shows a model of a destroyed city centre and tells the story of M, who undergoes interrogation to gain asylum. Before going for the interview, M spent weeks with people from a town in the unsafe zone. He has never been to that place but has drawn a map of it based on the conversations he had with people who came from there. He studied the names of all the streets, the schools, the major and minor buildings, etc.

When M finally had his interrogation interview, the official questioned him about the town and compared his answers to a map. M’s answers demonstrated knowledge of the town as it was seen from above. It took twenty minutes for M to be granted refugee status. Meanwhile, thousands of people who were actually from that town and other places in the unsafe zone waited as long as ten to fifteen years for the same thing, because their answers only demonstrated knowledge of their towns from the ground. The work thus reveals the gaps that separate administrative practices and genuine human experience.

Luc Delahaye, Eyal Checkpoint, 2016

Palestinian going to work in Israel are submitted to this situation of stanby literally, daily and physically when they are forced to go through repeated and mechanical control devices on their way out of the West Bank. Photographer Luc Delahaye tied up a phone to the entrance gantry of one of the checkpoints. The Palestinians, subjected to a system of distrust and humiliation, appear dehumanized and weary.

Debi Cornwall, Welcome to Camp America : Inside Guantánamo Bay, from the series Beyond Gitmo. Hamza, Tunisian (Slovakia 2015) Held: 12 years, 11 months, 19 days. Cleared: June 12, 2009. Released: November 20, 2014. Charges: Never filed

Debi Cornwall, Welcome to Camp America : Inside Guantánamo Bay, from the series Beyond Gitmo. Murat, Turkish German (Germany) Refugee Counselor Held: 4 years, 7 months, 22 days. Released: August 24, 2006. Charges: never filed

Photo: LE BAL / Matthieu Samadet

Beyond Gitmo give us a glimpse of the life and state of mind of men who have been released after having spent years incarcerated as alleged terrorists at the Guantanamo Bay. Reviled as the “worst of the worst,” many of these men have actually never been trialed and charged. Some have been released home. Others were displaced to foreign countries. The military prohibits photographing faces at Guantánamo Bay. Debi Cornwall replicates this “no faces” rule in the free world; their bodies may be free, but Guantánamo will always mark them.

Mélanie Pavy, Go get lost, 2017

Mélanie Pavy’s film follows a robot sent to investigate and clean up the Fukushima nuclear power plant. After a few hours under the water, the robot eventually explodes. Just before the screen gets black the spectator catches a glimpses of the carcasses of its predecessors. Even machines eventually succumb to man-made disasters.

The cold and sad images suggest the difficulty of recording in film the end of human civilization.

Stéphane Degoutin and Gwenola Wagon, Le monde comme entrepôt de livraison, 2017

Stéphane Degoutin and Gwenola Wagon’s fascinating video Le monde comme entrepôt de livraison also suggests the end of mankind. Except this time, it is one orchestrated by delivery companies that have replaced men with machines that tirelessly move items around inside gigantic warehouses. There is no place for men in this architecture made for mechanics and algorithms that carry and relocate physical items as if they were just sets of data.

Sebastian Stumpf, Puddles (video still), 2013

Photo: LE BAL / Matthieu Samadet

Short presentation of the exhibition En Suspens/In Between by Diane Dufour

In Between/En Suspens is at LE BAL in Paris until May 13.

Handbook of Tyranny: a guide to everyday cruelties

Handbook of Tyranny, by Theo Deutinger, an architect, writer, lecturer, illustrator and designer of socio-cultural maps.

On amazon UK and USA.

Publisher Lars Müller writes: Handbook of Tyranny portrays the routine cruelties of the twenty-first century through a series of detailed non-fictional graphic illustrations. None of these cruelties represent extraordinary violence – they reflect day-to-day implementation of laws and regulations around the globe.

Every page of the book questions our current world of walls and fences, police tactics and prison cells, crowd control and refugee camps. The dry and factual style of storytelling through technical drawings is the graphic equivalent to bureaucratic rigidity born of laws and regulations. The level of detail depicted in the illustrations of the book mirror the repressive efforts taken by authorities around the globe.

The twenty-first century shows a general striving for an ever more regulated and protective society. Yet the scale of authoritarian intervention and their stealth design adds to the growing difficulty of linking cause and effect. Handbook of Tyranny gives a profound insight into the relationship between political power, territoriality and systematic cruelties.

Animals slaughtered per second worldwide and slaughterhouse floor plan

Animals slaughtered per second worldwide

The Handbook of Tyranny‘s infographics and texts bring to light the nonhuman entities that restrict, govern and guide our daily existence. They lay bare a vast ecosystem of coercion that is (often insidiously) interwoven into the fabric of cities, of society, of every day life.

Some of these ‘small cruelties’ are engineering innovations, others are small design tweaks. Some are massive and overwhelming, others are subtle, their unpleasantness concealed behind a veneer of propriety, comfort or security. Some affect the existence of only a limited part of humanity (the refugees or the prisoners, for example), others target each and everyone of us as we walk around the neighbourhood, go on holiday or look for a place to sit in the park.

Bunker Buster

Prison cells

We might resent some of these objects and strategies of control but that doesn’t mean that will will automatically condemn them. At least not if we are told that they have been designed to ensure our safety and protect us from undesirable behaviour.

Handbook of Tyranny is a sharp, enlightening and beautifully designed book. It told me about anti-injecting blue light, urine deflectors that ‘pee back‘ at you and bunker busters that delay their explosion until after they have penetrated layers of earth or concrete. It also made me think about the responsibility for the authoritarian features of modern life: they do not reside entirely into the hands of ‘the powers that be’ but also in the ones of architects, designers, engineers and, to a certain extent, the rest of us.

Theo Deutinger & Lars Müller Publishers present Handbook of Tyranny at Pakhuis de Zwijger

Refugee Camps

Crowd Control

Crowd Control

Walls & Fences

Related story: Book review – Unpleasant Design and Design and Violence. Part 2: violence where you wouldn’t expect it.

Janez Janša, Janez Janša and Janez Janša explore the “collateral effects” and damages of name change

Janez Janša® at +MSUM. Photo: Dejan Habicht / Moderna galerija

In 2007, three artists officially changed their names and adopted the one of Janez Janša, a very powerful, right-wing and generally unpleasant political figure regularly embroiled in accusations of corruption and authoritarianism.

The administrative procedure not only turned their lives into a perpetual performance but it also altered their private, civil and artistic lives in ways they had not always foreseen. Ten years later, an anthological exhibition titled
Janez Janša® at the +MSUM – Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova in Ljubljana explores some of the most meaningful “collateral effects” of the move.

What’s in a name? How does it relate to ownership, legal status, self-perception and self-representation, profiling, surveillance, copyright and commodification of language, and related topics that define the contemporary condition? What’s an artwork and what are the boundaries that define it in relation to life, institutions and companies?

The trio has always affirmed that the name change was only a matter of personal choice but this didn’t prevent their gesture to be interpreted and misread in many ways. Especially among political commentators who saw it as either a brazen act of political affiliation or protest. And as the soberly-titled article “Culture according to leftists: provocateurs abuse Janez Janša’s name, and political godfathers finance it all with taxpayers’ money” suggests, a full decade may have passed but the controversy surrounding the work of the three Janez Janša hasn’t abated (the other thing to note from the article is that artists receive “millions” of euros for setting up a show in Slovenia. If i were an artist i’d be looking into moving there myself.)

However, the very long-term impact of the name change indicates that its significance extends far beyond any direct reference to the Slovene politician. It not only brings about a shift of perspective on the mechanisms of power but it also demonstrates how a name can be used as an interface that unlocks a series of questions related to the conventions and ambiguities associated with identity, the limits (or lack thereof) of the fictionalization of life, the confluence of mass-consumption and customization, etc.

350 Janez Janša Bottles, 2017. Janez Janša® exhibition at +MSUM. Photo: Dejan Habicht / Moderna galerija

Installation view of Janez Janša® exhibition at +MSUM. Photo: Dejan Habicht / Moderna galerija

My name is Janez Jansa (trailer)

The last time i laughed so much while visiting an exhibition was… never, i think. I always knew i’d enjoy the show but i wasn’t expecting the exhibition to hit me so deeply and keep me pondering on identity, politics and the mechanisms of art institutions weeks after i’d visited the museum.

There are dozens of works in the show. Each of them explores a different status of names in the cultural, political and social spheres. I’m going to briefly introduce some of my favourite works below (you can find others in stories i’ve written in the past: My Name Is Janez Janša and Self-portraits for bank cards investigate money circulation, art ownership and identity.)

Let’s start with a bit of romance, shall we?

Janez Janša, Janez Janša, Janez Janša, Wedding, Ljubljana, 11 August 2007. From left: Janez Janša, best man, Marcela Okretič, bride, Janez Janša, bridegroom, Janez Janša, best man and Branko Franc Grošl, Marriage Registrar, Municipality of Ljubljana. Photo: Nada Žgank/Memento

Janez Janša®, Marcela in Janez: Poroka, 2017. Installation view at +MSUM. Photo: Dejan Habicht / Moderna galerija

Janez Janša, Janez Janša, Janez Janša, Wedding, Ljubljana, 11 August 2007

On August 11, 2007, Janez Janša and Marcela Okretič got married. Janez Janša was the best man of the bride and Janez Janša the best man of the groom. The guests, unaware of the artists’ name change, learned of it during the ceremony directly from the marriage registrar at the municipality of Ljubljana.

Janez Janša®, I Love Germany, at +MSUM. Photo: Miha Fras / Aksioma

Most of Janez Janša’s works make me grin then mull over. Especially I Love Germany.

“I Love” t-shirts are the most mainstream items of clothing anyone could wear… Unless it says “I Love Germany”. The word Germany is a loaded one. The county being, rightly or not, associated with European leadership, influence and prosperity.

I Love Germany, shows how even abused significants such as the “I Love” trend may take an unsuspected, powerful meaning when juxtaposed and remixed with other significants, and how a similarly abused gesture (the tourist portrait) can become a strong political gesture.

An I Love Germany t-shirt becomes a powerful medium for political commentary when worn in front the Greek parliament in Athens. Or while posing next to a Royal Guard in London for a GIF titled “Brexit”.

Janez Janša® at +MSUM. Photo: Dejan Habicht / Moderna galerija

An important aspect of the work investigates the documents that emanate from identity: signatures, passports, ID cards, credit and debit cards, etc. The 2008 Name Readymade exhibition showcased the artists identity cards, passports, bank cards and other documents that bear their names. These artifacts operate both as valid legal documents and works of art, rising the question of what comes first in terms of value and significance: the cultural object or the administrative document? These objects belong to the state, not the artists. On the one hand, they are passports which can’t be sold on the art market as long as they are valid legal documents. And once they have expired, the same documents must be destroyed or returned.

Janez Janša® at +MSUM. Photo: Dejan Habicht / Moderna galerija

The perceptual power of a name runs far deeper than i had expected (although given the name of my blog i should have seen it coming!) A name is such a vital part of the way you are perceived that it can determine the success of your job application or whether potential dates will swipe left or right on Tinder. I recently read that white people named Washington complained about the discrimination they face on the phone because other U.S. citizens immediately assume they are black (sorry i can’t find the link to the article anymore!)

One of the videos in the show explore the emotions that the artists’ parents went through upon hearing that their son had changed their names. One dad seemed to wave it away as yet another shenanigan from his mischievous arty child. Another understood it as a public gesture of rejection. That’s when i realized the toll that a simple administrative procedure like this can take on friends and families. Maybe that’s why the parents selected the most embarrassing photos of their kids to illustrate the video?

Life Span, 2017. Janez Janša® at +MSUM. Photo: Dejan Habicht / Moderna galerija

Life Span, 2017. Janez Janša® at +MSUM. Photo: Dejan Habicht / Moderna galerija

Life Span, 2017. Janez Janša® at +MSUM. Photo: Dejan Habicht / Moderna galerija

A troublesome byproduct of Janez Janša, Janez Janša and Janez Janša’s name changes is how they will be remembered. Which name will be inscribed on their tombstones? Does their artistic career start when they graduated from art school or when they adopted the new name? Are Emil Hrvatin, Davide Grassi, Žiga Kariž legally and artistically dead?

Three tombstones, placed on the lawn in front of the museum, look at how online database of Slovene art Pojmovnik slovenske umetnosti has processed their existence. When referring to their original name, the website indicates that each of the artists died in 2007. But there is only one entry for Janez Janša and it is devoid of date of birth or death, making them ageless and eternal.

Janez Janša®, 2017. Graphic designer: Luka Umek

The exhibition premieres the latest episode in the Janez Janša, Janez Janša, Janez Janša adventures: the registration of the Janez Janša name as a trademark for the next ten years. With this trademark, the artists “promote the commodification of their own names and their value by colonizing the area of trade, and name it as a property that you can legally protect.”

Janez Janša® at +MSUM. Photo: Miha Fras / Aksioma

All of the above is tinged with a certain irony when you learn that the legal name of Janez Janša (the politician) is actually Ivan Janša. Apparently, Janez is seen as ‘more’ Slovenian than Ivan in the country. As one of the 3 Janez Janša artists explained in an interview with Marc James Léger: In his case, he appears with different names in two institutional situations. In political life he always appears with the name Janez Janša, but in legal affairs, and he goes very often to the courts, for various reasons, now because of corruption charges, and appears with his legal name, Ivan Janša.

More images from the show:

Janez Janša® at +MSUM. Photo: Dejan Habicht / Moderna galerija

Janez Janša® at +MSUM. Photo: Dejan Habicht / Moderna galerija

Janez Janša® at +MSUM. Photo: Dejan Habicht / Moderna galerija

Janez Janša® at +MSUM. Photo: Dejan Habicht / Moderna galerija

Janez Janša® at +MSUM. Photo: Dejan Habicht / Moderna galerija

Janez Janša® at +MSUM. Photo: Dejan Habicht / Moderna galerija

Janez Janša® at +MSUM. Photo: Dejan Habicht / Moderna galerija

Janez Janša® was co-produced by Moderna galerija (MG+MSUM) and Aksioma – Institute for Contemporary Art and curated by art critic and independent curator Domenico Quaranta. The exhibition is at +MSUM – Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova in Ljubljana until 18 February 2018.

Janez Janša® is part of State Machines – Art, Work, and Identity in an Age of Planetary-Scale Computation, a project that investigates the new relationships between states, citizens and the stateless made possible by emerging technologies, focussing on how such technologies impact identity and citizenship, digital labour and finance.

Previously: My Name Is Janez Janša and Self-portraits for bank cards investigate money circulation, art ownership and identity.

RAF. No Evidence / Kein Beweis: From criminal to artistic investigation

RAF. No Evidence / Kein Beweis, by photographer Arwed Messmer.

On amazon US and UK.

Publisher Hatje Cantz writes: Numerous accounts of the RAF and the German Autumn in 1977 have been chronicled over the past forty years, from journalistic, historical, literary, cinematic, and artistic perspectives. Arwed Messmer begins with the various photographs made by police photographers at the time—pictures of demonstrators, crime scene images, and mug shots. He poses the question of how this past search for criminological evidence can be employed artistically. His narrative strikes an arc from the beginnings of the movement to the multiple eruptions of violence in 1977, the abduction and murder of Hanns-Martin Schleyer, and the suicides of Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin, and Jan-Carl Raspe in Stammheim Prison. Messmer’s work therefore also has an ethical dimension: which photographs can be shown, how can they be shown, and why do we want to see them? This investigation touches a key point in the debate on images that are on the one hand historical documents, and on the other hand embodiments of their own aesthetic with powerful potential for an empathetic examination of history.

Arwed Messmer, Stammheim #12 1977/2016 Zelle 720 (Ensslin). Using a negative from the State Archives of Ludwigsburg

Andreas Baader am Rathaus Berlin-Schönberg/Martin-Luther Str., 9. August 1967. © Arwed Messmer using a negative of the Berlin Police Historical Collection

The “Deutscher Herbst” (German Autumn) has just turned 40. During forty-four days in the autumn of 1977 Germany was gripped in a terrorist crisis.

It began on 5 September 1977, when the Red Army Faction kidnapped Hanns-Martin Schleyer, the President of the Federation of German Industries. With his Nazi background and powerful position in the economy, Schleyer represented everything the kidnappers abhorred. They offered to free him in exchange for the release of 11 leaders of its group who were then incarcerated in specially constructed super-prison at Stammheim, near Stuttgart.

The German government refused and for the 44 days of Schleyer’s captivity, the country lived in a state of emergency.

On 13 October, Palestinian terrorists, who supported the activities of the RAF, hijacked a Lufthansa plane with 87 people on board. They wanted the release of the RAF prisoners too. Five days later, a special task force stormed the plane and freed the passengers. One hearing the news, the RAF prisoners in Stuttgart-Stammheim committed suicide. One day later, the body of Schleyer was found in the trunk of a car. Even today, it is not known who shot him. Nor if the deaths in the prison cells were indeed suicides or, as some claimed, extrajudicial killings undertaken by the German government.

RAF. No Evidence / Kein Beweis (inside the book.) Photo by Arwed Messmer

RAF. No Evidence / Kein Beweis (inside the book.) Photo by Arwed Messmer

The RAF group would only officially dissolve in 1998 but its origins can be traced back to the student protest movement in West Germany in the late 1960s when many young people felt alienated from older generations because of the legacy of Nazism and a suspicion of authoritarian structures in society.

Arwed Messmer, Home Office # 07 1977/2016 Interior Cell 716 (Raspe) (Detail.) © Arwed Messmer using a negative of the State Archives-Ludwigsburg

Photo archaeologist and photographer Arwed Messmer spent several years in state archives looking for utilitarian and unstaged images taken by police photographers spanning the era between the peak of student protests in 1967 and the autumn of 1977. The photos were taken for surveillance or documentation purposes at rallies, crime scenes and reenactments.

Most of these images of Messmer’s RAF. No Evidence / Kein Beweis series have never been published before. He appropriated them for his own artistic purposes, believing that they call for ‘a second look’ that could potentially build up a new image of the era between the peak of student protests in 1967 and the autumn of 1977.

As we all know, the way a photo is read changes with the passing years. This holds particularly true when it comes to images linked to politics and ideologies. The images commissioned by the state were once part of criminal investigations and have now lost their primary function as evidence. Nevertheless, they can still offer new types of insight decades after the events.

The images below will illustrate the point:

Benno Ohnesorg, 1967. Photo via

Arwed Messmer, Benno Ohnesorg, 1967/2017. Taken by a police photographer using a negative from the Berlin Police Historical Collection

On 2 June 1967, Benno Ohnesorg, a German university student, was killed by a policeman in West Berlin while he was protesting the state visit of the Shah of Iran. The photos of the dying 26-year-old belongs to Germany’s collective memory. The iconic press photograph, taken at the scene, shows a distressed young woman cradling the head of the dying man lying on the asphalt.

Ohnesorg’s death triggered student protests across West Germany and helped fuel sympathies for the RAF.

Messmer uncovered a photo of the same scene but taken from another perspective by a police officer. Instead of the intimate last moments in the arms of a young woman, you can see that the poor man died in front of the flashes of press cameras.

The press photographer and the newspaper editors chose an image that would trigger emotion in the viewer, a photo that sums up the event and the suffering. The police photo demonstrates how the visual representation of the crime was constructed. But what the police image also shows is that journalists had to be included in the pictures. They were suspects too, they were potential sympathizers of the protests.

RAF. No Evidence / Kein Beweis (inside the book.) Photo by Arwed Messmer

To be honest, i wasn’t expecting to like this book as much as i did. My enthusiasm for the book comes from historical curiosity (I knew fairly little about the RAF so i had to catch up on far left protests of the 1960s and 70s) and from a genuine interest in discovering more about how, at the time, the police worked and distrusted. But i think what moved me the most was to realize how little has changed, how terrorists and police alike can use, distort and exploit images to suit their own ends.

RAF. No Evidence / Kein Beweis combines 2 books: one containing all the photos and a booklet with the commented captions of the images as well as a series essays that explain the artistic, theoretical and historical contexts of the work.

RAF. No Evidence / Kein Beweis (inside the book.) Photo by Arwed Messmer

RAF. No Evidence / Kein Beweis (inside the book.) Photo by Arwed Messmer

RAF. No Evidence / Kein Beweis (inside the book.) Photo by Arwed Messmer

RAF. No Evidence / Kein Beweis (inside the book.) Photo by Arwed Messmer

Uberworked and Underpaid: How Workers Are Disrupting the Digital Economy

Uberworked and Underpaid: How Workers Are Disrupting the Digital Economy, by Trebor Scholz, a scholar-activist and Associate Professor of Culture and Media at The New School in New York City.

It’s on amazon USA and UK.

Publisher Polity writes: This book is about the rise of digital labor. Companies like Uber and Amazon Mechanical Turk promise autonomy, choice, and flexibility. One of network culture’s toughest critics, Trebor Scholz, chronicles the work of workers in the “sharing economy,” and the free labor on sites like Facebook, to take these myths apart. In this rich, accessible, and provocative book, Scholz exposes the uncaring reality of contingent digital work, which is thriving at the expense of employment and worker rights. The book is meant to inspire readers to join the growing number of worker-owned “platform cooperatives,” rethink unions, and build a better future of work. A call to action, loud and clear, Uberworked and Underpaid shows that it is time to stop wage theft and “crowd fleecing,” rethink wealth distribution, and address the urgent question of how digital labor should be regulated and how workers from Berlin, Barcelona, Seattle, and São Paulo can act in solidarity to defend their rights.

Uber drivers protest their working conditions outside the company’s Santa Monica, California office last June. Lucy Nicholson / Reuters, via Jacobin

Uberworked and Underpaid looks at how digital labor, sold to us as an opportunity to live a flexible, fulfilling, independent life of ‘micro-entrepreneurs’, often camouflages a reality characterized by the slow disappearance of fair labor practices and an increase in economic inequalities.

CrowdFlower’s Lukas Biewald summed the situation up quite adequately back in 2010 when he said: “Before the Internet, it would be really difficult to find someone, sit them down for ten minutes and get them to work for you, and then fire them after those ten minutes. But with technology, you can actually find them, pay them the tiny amount of money, and then get rid of them when you don’t need them anymore.”

The victims of these new engines of exploitation are working for the usual suspects: Uber, TaskRabbit, Amazon Mechanical Turk, etc. However, the book also includes into this festival of precarity the many individuals whose work often remains uncompensated or underpaid: the interns, bloggers and journalists (to which i’m going to add most people involved in the art world) who are asked to work ‘for exposure’, Amazon’s book reviewers, anyone who has to solve one of Google’s reCAPTCHA, the fiction fans, the gamers, the DuoLingo users who engage in crowdsourced language translation, etc.

In a chapter about The myth of Immateriality, Scholz even goes as far as to include the millions of forgotten individuals whose very physical efforts fire off the digital realm: the cobalt and coltan miners in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the assembly line workers in Foxconn factories or the cooks and cleaners working at the facebook headquarters.

Deliveroo riders protest over payment changes in front of the delivery firm’s head office in London in 2016. Photo via BBC

Scholz documents and analyzes with great clarity and vigor how platform capitalists are exploiting the overabundance of vulnerable workers and how internet has become an efficient enabler of unethical work practices. However, his sharp critique of the so-called “sharing economy” soon leaves space for an in-depth inquiry into realistic models and ideas that could lead to a fairer digital economy. He particularly lays his hopes in Platform Cooperativism (some of them already exist: Loconomics in San Francisco, Fairmondo in Germany, etc.), explores the promises of Universal Basic Income, looks at existing unions, guilds and design interventions and drafts 10 principles for decent labor platforms.

Alex Rivera, Sleep Dealer, a 2008 film about getting all the cheap migrant works without the workers

Uberworked and Underpaid is a very informative and eloquent call for democratic and ethical labor practices. It sheds light on fairly depressing realities but comes up with encouraging and attainable alternatives.

Another reason why i found this book invaluable is that, unlike many publications about economy and society, this one frequently includes works of art, design, cinema and literature into its discourse.

I have only two minor criticisms. The first one is that i would have liked to read about citizens’ reluctance to relinquish cheap services. Many Londoners, for example, seem to prefer low-cost taxis to security and fair working arrangements. Similarly, when Foodora riders protested against the ridiculously low compensations they were receiving from the delivery company, the local population remained fairly unconcerned. I fear that we all bear our share of responsibility in what Scholz calls “crowd fleecing.”

The second commentary is that the book is, unsurprisingly, very U.S.-centered. However, the models and politics explored in Uberworked and Underpaid have already spread across continents so i believe that European readers will find the book extremely helpful and pertinent too.

If ever you’re in New York, you might be interested in the event The People’s Disruption: Platform Co-ops for Global Challenges convened by Trebor Scholz, Camille Kerr, Nathan Schneider and Palak Shah on 10 and 11 November at The New School, NYC.

Photo on the homepage: still from Alex Rivera‘s Sleep Dealer, via LatinoBuzz.