Category Archives: violence

Shoot the Women First

“Shoot the women first!”, a German official is reported to have advised in the 1980s when members of GSG-9, Germany’s elite anti-terror squad found themselves in front of a large group of people suspected of being terrorists. Eileen MacDonald used the order as the title of the study of female terrorists she wrote in 1991. Navine G. Khan-Dossos, in turn, borrows it for an exhibition that looks at the theme of female targets.

Navine G. Khan-Dossos at Z33 House for Contemporary Art. Photo: Kristof Vrancken Photography and Research

Navine G. Khan-Dossos painted in pink one of the walls at the entrance of Z33 House for Contemporary Art. Photo:

For Shoot the Women First, her solo exhibition at Z33 in Hasselt, the artist recreated a shooting range. Paintings in soft colours are hanging on the wall and from the ceiling. The first ones you encounter carry symbols similar to the type of targets used in Discretionary Command training. During those police and military trainings, shooters receive a chain of commands which require them to shoot at triangles, circles and squares of various colours in a certain order.

As you walk through the exhibition space, the reference to a body become less abstract and you soon recognize human shapes on the paintings. The exhibition is choreographed so that your body comes in close proximity of the targets, making the experience feel somewhat ominous and almost visceral.

Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Pink Discretionary Command, 2018 at Z33 House for Contemporary Art. Photo: Kristof Vrancken Photography and Research

Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Pink Discretionary Command, 2018 at Z33 House for Contemporary Art. Photo: Kristof Vrancken Photography and Research

Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Pink Discretionary Command, 2018 at Z33 House for Contemporary Art. Photo: Kristof Vrancken Photography and Research

All the works in the series feature the colour pink. Not any type of pink but the particular shade of pink used to paint the doorways of brothels in the Metaxourgeio neighbourhood of Athens.

The area was the theater of police brutality against women in 2012 when a group of drug-users were arrested and forced to undergo HIV tests. It was assumed that the women were prostitutes. They were imprisoned on charges of grievous bodily harm for transmitting the virus through sex work. Most of these women had never worked as prostitutes and were not even aware they were HIV-positive. The violence towards them didn’t end there. The police published their mug-shots and personal data on their website and the images spread from there to major TV channels and other media. Eventually the charges were dropped, but some of these women struggled to recover from this experience of incarceration and public shaming.

Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Grey Discretionary Command, 2018 at Z33 House for Contemporary Art. Photo: Kristof Vrancken Photography and Research

Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Grey Discretionary Command, 2018 at Z33 House for Contemporary Art. Photo: Kristof Vrancken Photography and Research

Being diagnosed with HIV meant that, for the authorities, the body of these women epitomized deviance and bio-terrorism. They were both a danger and a target, both victims of society and perpetrators of sexual disorder. The colour pink in the paintings is thus not one that evokes innocence and romanticism but violence, violation of privacy and HIV criminalization.

Khan-Dossos managed to give a presence to these women without ever using the humiliating mugshots that had been shared online and in the Greek mainstream media.

Shoot the Women First demonstrates that it is possible to use abstract forms to convey a poignant narrative, to talk about violence without using explicit images. Perhaps, that’s the smartest way to do it now that images of violence are so commonplace online that we barely register them.

The work doesn’t address only the fate of these women but also the one of other marginalized bodies. The pink triangles in some paintings allude to the rise of AIDS activism, and in particular ACT UP’s SILENCE = DEATH posters. The work also refers to the militarization of the US police and their use of lethal weapons against civilians. And in general, the harassment of women worldwide which, as recent stories like the Ligue du LOL in France and the Spanish far-right parties pushing back against gender equality indicate, shows no sign of abating. Not even in 21st Century EU.

While writing this review, i also couldn’t stop thinking about 19 year old Shamima Begum. In 2015, she was an English schoolgirl who left her family to join the so-called Islamic State. We don’t know whether she committed crimes while in Syria. The United Kingdom has nevertheless decided to revoke her citizenship and the young woman now sits in a Syrian refugee camp with her newborn son. A few days ago, a shooting range in north-west England has made headlines for using a photo of her face as a target, following “a large number of requests from customers.”

Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Bulk Targets 1-100, 2018. Opening at Z33 House for Contemporary Art. Photo: Kristof Vrancken Photography and Research

Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Bulk Targets 1-100, 2018. At Z33 House for Contemporary Art. Photo: Kristof Vrancken Photography and Research

One room features heaps of gouaches on cardboard, ‘Bulk Targets 1-100’. The shape and number also refer to the target models for training. The vast number of these works on a humble material suggests their throw-away use, the sheer banality of violence. On the other hand, they also hint at the possibility that we can make them ours and train as an army that would fight against the demonization of vulnerable people.

The exhibition also features one of Khan-Dossos’ motifs: a standard forensic ruler that runs the walls of the exhibition rooms and transforms the gallery into a crime scene. Crime investigators use forensic rulers to facilitate photographic documentation of evidence at crime scenes. Its title, Below the Belt, evokes not only the unfair and slightly cowardly practices that often accompanies gender politics but also the physical and metaphorical site of domestic violence and control.

Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Silent Latitude (detail) and Below the Belt (detail), 2018 at Z33 House for Contemporary Art. Photo: Kristof Vrancken Photography and Research

Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Silent Latitude, 2018 at Z33 House for Contemporary Art. Photo: Kristof Vrancken Photography and Research

Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Silent Latitude, 2018. Opening at Z33 House for Contemporary Art. Photo: Kristof Vrancken Photography and Research

Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Silent Latitude (detail), 2018 at Z33 House for Contemporary Art. Photo: Kristof Vrancken Photography and Research

The last work Khan-Dossos is showing in Hasselt is Silent Latitude. This new commission is part of the other exhibition you can visit now at Z33: Dissidence – Quilting Against. Silent Latitude is a quilt designed together with the members of the Greek Trans Support Association in Athens and embroidered with the help of MIA-H Fashion Incubator for Accessories in Hasselt. This “community-made textile” evokes the value of collective labour as a healing and bonding activity, referring to the Beguines, laywomen from the urban middle class who lived together in domestic spaces (such as the ones that house Z33 exhibition spaces), supporting themselves with their labor, outside of male control and without submitting to monastic rule.

Ending the show with the quilt lifts up the spirits. The work points to a more hopeful humanity, one that relies on solidarity to create, defy and resist.

Navine G. Khan-Dossos – Shoot the Women First was curated by Silvia Franceschini. Dissidence – Quilting Against was curated by Ronald Clays. Both exhibitions remain open until 26 May at Z33 – House for contemporary art in Hasselt, Belgium.

Photos of the opening ‘Shoot the Women First’ & ‘Dissidence’.
India Doyle did a fascinating interview with Navine G. Khan-Dossos for Twin back when the artist was showing the first iteration of Shoot the Women first at The Breeder gallery in Athens. Also worth your time: Ruins – Chronicle of an HIV witch-hunt, a documentary directed by Zoe Mavroudi about the women victims of HIV criminalization in Athens.

Previously: Painting on and painting off ISIS propaganda.

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

Design and Violence. Part 2: violence where you wouldn’t expect it

Previously: Design and Violence. Part 1: ambiguous violence.

DESIGN AND VIOLENCE at Science Gallery Dublin (trailer)

Violence, in particular, permeates everything around us, as one of the central organising principles of human affairs. One of the definitions of a modern state is that it reserves the right to violence for itself, while excluding it from others it terms dissidents or criminals, wrote Ralph Borland in an essay about DESIGN AND VIOLENCE, the exhibition he co-curated for the Science Gallery Dublin.

DESIGN AND VIOLENCE, a collaboration between the MOMA in New York and the Dublin space, displays objects and systems that are imbued with violence. Sometimes this violence is deliberate, other times it is the unfortunate and unintended consequence of a particular idea or design. Some of these objects and systems have been part of our society for far too long. Others have emerged only recently. What these pieces have in common is that they demonstrates that violence is everywhere around us and design has a role to play in it. It can fight violence but it can also normalize it, hide it from our consciousness and even heighten its brutality.

There are dozens of artifacts in the show. The ones that i found most powerful shouldn’t actually concern me at all. I’m simply not the target.

Thembinkosi Goniwe, Dignities, 2000

I was particularly moved by South African artist Thembinkosi Goniwe’s diptych Dignities which shows a portrait of the artist alongside his professor of painting. Both men sport a ‘flesh-coloured’ plaster on their cheeks. While the white man’s epidermal misfortune passes unnoticed, the skin of the black artist seems to be partly erased by the plaster, as if was an error that had to be amended.

The unassuming plaster speaks about ordinary violence, the one that caters for some but discriminates and disregards others, the one that hides prejudice and racial inequality in plain sight.

Compound Security Systems, Mosquito, 2005. At Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

I was equally taken aback by the infamous Mosquito. This ‘anti-loitering device’ emits an unpleasantly high-pitched sound that only young people can hear, as adults’ capacity to hear high frequencies deteriorates with age. I remember reading about it a while ago and thinking it was amusing. Not so much now. The young (and brilliant) guide who gave me a tour of the show told me how present the sound is in his every day life. Because i’ve long been immune to it, i can, unlike him and countless others whose sole crime is to be young, walk around the city without ever being harassed by high-pitch intolerance.

The manufacturers of the Mosquito promote it as follows: “Every day we receive calls from people wanting to buy a Mosquito Anti-loitering Device. People like you who are fed up with groups of kids damaging their property, hanging around in rowdy groups, smoking and drinking, playing music and generally preventing you from enjoying your home or business… The Mosquito device is the only product on the market that has the teeth to bite back at these kids”.

In 2009, the Children’s Rights Alliance issued a note that stated: The Children’s Rights Alliance, as a coalition of over 90 NGOs working with and for children in Ireland, wants to firmly raise its voice against the continued use of the Mosquito Teen Deterrent, which not only violates the fundamental rights of children and young people but also fosters negative stereotypes towards them.

The Repeal Project, Repeal Jumper, 2016. At Science Gallery Dublin

I might not be black nor a teenager but hey! i’m a woman and gender-bias is still very much alive in design (if you think design is just design and is devoid of any cultural, gender, racial or other prejudice, check out the excellent book The Politics of Design. A (Not So) Global Manual for Visual Communication by Ruben Pater.) Many objects and practices reveal the need for women to defer to a ‘higher’ (usually male) authority in order to know what to do with their body. How to cover/uncover it, for example. Or what the limits and standards of their reproductive rights are.

A black jumper bearing the word ‘REPEAL’ is presented in the gallery next to a book opened on the page of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of Ireland. The text states that abortion is illegal in the country. The juxtaposition of the jumper and the book makes the enigmatic word on the garment clearer: what needs to be repealed is the ban on abortion. The Repeal Project, set up by activist Anna Cosgrave, aims to ‘give a voice to a hidden problem’ and help raise money for the Abortion Rights Campaign. Lucky you if you managed to get one of these jumpers because they tend to sell out VERY quickly in the country.

International gathering in Dublin outside the Department of the Taoiseach in 2015, with suitcases to signify women obliged to travel to the UK for a safe and legal abortion. Pictured is Maureen Gombakomba. Photo: Nick Bradshaw

Nearby a simple black suitcase emblematizes the Irish women who have to travel abroad to have access to abortion care. Every day, up to 12 of them pack their bags and take the plane or the boat to have access to the procedure.

Carlotta Werner and Johanna Sunder-Plassmann, Hacked Protest Objects. At Science Gallery Dublin

Protests in Hamburg. Image Daniel Müller

Carlotta Werner and Johanna Sunder-Plassmann, Hacked Protest Objects. At Science Gallery Dublin

The suitcase is part of a group of mundane objects that have been re-appropriated by protesters around the world and given an extra layer of meaning in the process.

The cleaning sprays are actually filled with milk or other liquids that soothe the effect of teargas on the eyes. During the Hamburg demonstrations, the humble toilet brush came to symbolize public anger after a video was shot that showed police in riot gear confiscating the bathroom utensil from a man who had been stopped in the street.

Patrick Clair, Stuxnet: Anatomy of a Computer Virus, 2011

A group of works reminded me that violent design can be impalpable and devious.

Patrick Clair’s motion infographic Stuxnet: Anatomy of a Computer Virus visualizes in a fast and efficient fashion the inner workings and impact of Stuxnet, a malware that changed global military strategy in the 21st century. This malicious computer worm delivered via a USB drive was designed to disrupt programming instructions that control assembly lines and industrial plants. Regarded as the first weapon made entirely from code, Stuxnet has been linked to a policy of covert warfare against Iran’s nuclear armament that might have been led by the U.S. and Israel.

Julian Oliver, Solitary Confinement, 2013. At Science Gallery Dublin

Julian Oliver, Solitary Confinement, 2013. At Science Gallery Dublin

Julian Oliver’s Solitary Confinement exposes the tangible and physical dimension of cyberwarfare but also our supine ignorance that none of us is immune to its attacks. His “non-interactive installation” shows a computer quarantined within a glass vitrine that has been deliberately infected with the Stuxnet Virus. It sits in a vitrine, powered on, with one end of a red ethernet network cable that is connected to the gallery network laying unplugged near the port on the PC.

The vitrine cover is screwed down and the cable cannot be accessed.

Here the visible state of disconnection evokes both a volatile, techno-poltiical tension and an aura of anxiety; Stuxnet, one of the world’s most dangerous works of software, needs only a connection to the Internet to continue its destructive quest.

Kevin & Jennifer McCoy, Every Anvil, 2002. At Science Gallery Dublin

Kevin & Jennifer McCoy, Every Anvil, 2002. At Science Gallery Dublin

Finally, the first thing that the words ‘design’ and ‘violence’ evoke might not be some good old Warner Bros. cartoons but it wouldn’t be Science Gallery Dublin if there wasn’t a bit of humour and levity among all the informative and thought-provoking artifacts. Artists Kevin & Jennifer McCoy were showing a collection of video CDs bearing titles such as “every beg and plead”, “every hitting on head”, “every post-traumatic condition”, “every pounding”, “every spitting”, “every scream and yell”, “every flattened character”, “every anvil,” etc. The material for each CD was taken from one hundred episodes of Looney Tunes cartoons. Each scene found in the animated movie displaying a particular form violence or physical extremity was assigned to an individual CD. When you start watching the snippets of cartoons, it all seems quite comical (and also a bit passé.) After a few moments however, when you’ve seen one character after another being squashed by an anvil, you end up feeling that the American comedy reveled in viciousness and all the kids around the world grew thinking this was funny.

More images, videos and things i liked in the DESIGN AND VIOLENCE exhibition. They didn’t quite fit to the theme of this post but i couldn’t resist sharing them:

Flechettes. At Science Gallery Dublin

Darts from a flechette shell embedded in a wall in Gaza, 2009. Photograph: Ben Curtis/AP, via The Guardian

Small metal darts, known as flechettes, have been used in various forms since World War I. They are effective at penetrating dense vegetation and targeting infantry. Their use is controversial because their lack of precision means that they can maim and kill children, women and soldiers without discrimination. Which doesn’t prevent Israel to use them in Palestine and Lebanon.

They actually also bear a striking similarity to the nail bombs often used by terrorists.

The Propeller Group, AK-47 vs M16, 2015. At Science Gallery Dublin

The Propeller Group, AK-47 vs M16, 2015. At Science Gallery Dublin

The Propeller Group, AK-47 vs M16, 2015. At Science Gallery Dublin

AK-47 vs M16: two assault riffles fired at each other inside a block of ballistic gelatin.

Mikhail Kalashnikov, AK-47, 1947. At Science Gallery Dublin

The icon of violent design! High school students in Russia are required to take classes in military education. To pass the course students have to be able to take apart and reassemble a Kalashnikov rifle in a few seconds.

Factory Furniture, Camden Bench, 2012. At Science Gallery Dublin

Ruben Pater, Drone Survival Guide. At Science Gallery Dublin

DESIGN AND VIOLENCE: Conversation with the curators Paola Antonelli, Ralph Borland, Jamer Hunt and Lynn Scarff

Agence France-Presse, White Torture. At Science Gallery Dublin

Elaine Hoey, The Weight of Water, 2016. At Science Gallery Dublin

Forensic Architecture, Bomb Cloud Atlas, 2016. At Science Gallery Dublin

Forensic Architecture, Bomb Cloud Atlas, 2016. At Science Gallery Dublin

View of the exhibition space at Science Gallery Dublin

The show is based on an online curatorial experiment originally hosted by the MOMA in New York and led by Paola Antonelli and Jamer Hunt. The Dublin team, namely Ralph Borland, Lynn Scarff and Ian Brunswick, adapted it to the gallery space by picking dozens of artifacts from the original online collection and adding new artifacts to it.

DESIGN AND VIOLENCE remains open at Science Gallery Dublin until 22 January 2017.

Previously: Design and Violence. Part 1: ambiguous violence.

Design and Violence. Part 1: ambiguous violence

Gregory Green, Untitled (2 Remote-Controlled Gas Bombs), 2005. At Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

Zip Gun, at Science Gallery Dublin

Sako, Green Bullets at Science Gallery Dublin

One of the things i’ve learnt from the Design and Violence exhibition at Science Gallery in Dublin is that violence can be found almost everywhere. It can be as sophisticated as the result of genetic manipulation, or as simple as a sweatshirt with a few letters printed on it. It can be ordered online for a couple of euros or it can be a lavishly designed work of architecture. It can be recognizable by everyone or it can be so subtle and elusive that it remains undetected by most people.

DESIGN AND VIOLENCE, a show that explores the pervasiveness of violence in society, started as an online experiment at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and is now taking a life of its own at Science Gallery Dublin. The exhibition explores the collision of design and violence through dozens of artworks, props, artifacts and videos. I spent a whole afternoon there and came back the day after to spend more time with the few works i had not properly examined on my first visit. Every single piece exhibited has a fascinating story to tell and can also act as the catalyst for an intense discussion (both the fantastic guide at the Science Gallery and i were intellectually exhausted after my tour of the show!)

I’ll start my review of DESIGN AND VIOLENCE with a post dedicated to works that kept my brain busy long after i had left Dublin. What they all have in common is that their design and violence are ambiguous. They start with what looks like a laudable impulse, only in the most ruthless context possible: rice that feeds hungry populations but pollutes the environment with pesticides, a brutal weapon that causes pain but not so much pain that it will kill, animal welfare in slaughterhouses, and other oxymoron.

Sako, Green Bullets at Science Gallery Dublin

Perhaps the artifacts that illustrates the point with the most simplicity and clarity are the environmentally-friendly bullets. A Finnish firearm manufacturer uses copper instead of lead to ensure that the bullets will kill you but without contaminating the food chain or water supply. Is this cynical or praiseworthy?

Temple Grandin, Serpentine Ramp, 1974. At Science Gallery Dublin

Temple Grandin, Serpentine Ramp, 1974. At Science Gallery Dublin

Temple Grandin, Design of Curved Cattle Corrals, Yards, Races, and Chutes

Then the example of design i can’t make up my mind about is the one that guarantees that animals are killed as humanely as possible before they are turned into fast food products. Whatever humanely means in this context…

Temple Grandin is an animal rights activist and a scientist. She is opposed to violence against animals but believes that since people are not going to stop eating meat any time soon, they might as well ensure that animals suffer as little as possible. Having observed and studied animal behaviour, Grandin corrected the design of slaughterhouses to ensure that cattle don’t panic and make the slaughter business even more awful.

Her designs include a serpentine ramp that leads cows into the stunning chute. Its serpentine shape is based on cattle’s natural circling behaviour and tendency to want to go back where they came from. It also prevents the animals from being stressed by the sight of workers up ahead.

Is Grandin’s design ‘humane’ or is it complicit in the mass murder of animals? Is she championing animal welfare reform in the cattle industry from the inside out or is she giving the industry and the meat eaters an excuse to continue killing pigs, cows, chicken and sheep without much concerns for the rights of non human animals?

Rice Today Vol.5 No.4 page 38 Breeding history.part of the image collection of the  International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).
International Rice Reasearch Insitute, IR8. IR8 pictured next to its parents, “Peta,” a tall, vigorous variety from Indonesia, and the Taiwanese dwarf variety “DGWG.” 2009. Image IRRI

First produced in 1966 by the International Rice Research Institute, the IR8, or ‘miracle rice’, was genetically modified to increase its yield and respond to the food crisis. However, its cultivation necessitates the use of high amounts of nitrogen fertilizers, pesticides, and intensive irrigation. The social and ecological effects of the Green Revolution of the first half of the 20th century are high and their extent has yet to be fully grasped.

Defense Distributed, Liberator, 2013. At Science Gallery Dublin

The Liberator is not the most efficient weapon but that might not even be the point. What this 3D-printed gun really excels at is forcing people to question the dazzling promises of technology. 3D printing used to be this democratizing technology that would enable us to innovate and manufacture easily, cheaply, from the comfort of our own home. And 3D printing is still a wonderfully liberating technology. But it is also one that comes with more plastic, more harmful air emissions, more patents that stifle independent innovation, etc. As well as print as you want weapons.

Invoking civil liberties -in particular the right to free speech- and challenging our acceptance of information censorship, Defense Distributed created a polymer .380 caliber gun 3D printed in 16 pieces, now known as ‘The Liberator.’ The weapon’s files were made available online so that anyone with access to a 3D printer could fabricate a firearm. Or twelve. Although government authorities in the United States (a country that certainly doesn’t need more guns) shut down its distribution almost immediately, the code for the Liberator has already been downloaded more than 100,000 times.

One of the reasons put forward for banning The Liberator (or rather the computer code behind its fabrication) is that it doesn’t set off a metal detector. “Security checkpoints, background checks, and gun regulations will do little good if criminals can print plastic firearms at home and bring those firearms through metal detectors with no one the wiser.”

Defense Distributed is currently involved in a court case arguing for the code’s distribution as an example of free speech.

Michael Madsen, Halden Prison (designed by Erik Møllet and HLM Architects), Halden, Norway

Michael Madsen, Halden Prison (designed by Erik Møllet and HLM Architects), Halden, Norway

Michael Madsen, Halden Prison (extract of the film), Halden, Norway

There’s no life sentence in Norway, the longest period of time a convict can spend in prison is 21 years. It is thus in the interest of the country that the prison system focuses on rehabilitation and ensures that an inmate goes back in the community as a better person. The strategy seems to pay as, nationwide, Norway has one of the lowest recidivism rates in Europe, just 20% after two years, compared with around 50% in England.

Regarded as the most humane prison in the world, Halden Prison is a maximum-security prison located in the middle of a forest in the South of Norway. There are no bars on the windows and prisoners are not locked up during the day. They have individual cells with tv and a private bathroom.

During the day, inmates work or study and are encouraged to have a hobby, whether it’s knitting, playing football, being in a band or cooking pasta. Guards don’t carry weapons and are incited to eat meals, play sport and otherwise interact with the prisoners as often as possible to create a sense of community. The prison even has an art budget.

There is also a wooden house with garden for prisoners to host their families overnight.

Nevertheless, it is still a prison where men are deprived of their liberty.

Jack Kevorkian, Thanatron, at Science Gallery Dublin

Jack Kevorkian, Thanatron, at Science Gallery Dublin

The Thanatron (‘death machine’ in Greek) was devised by medical pathologist Jack Kevorkian, to help terminally ill people end their lives peacefully.

The system is constructed out of household tools, toy parts and other bits and pieces easy to find in supermarkets and online.

The first step of Thanatron is an intravenous drip of saline solution. Then the patient presses press a button that releases a dose of an anesthetic called thiopental with a 60-second timer. The patient then slips into a deep coma, at which point the Thanatron injects a lethal dose of potassium chloride, a solution used in Belgium and the Netherlands for the purpose of euthanasia as well as in 34 states of the U.S. for lethal injection procedures. The drug stops the heart so that the patient dies of a heart attack while asleep.


The final piece of design which purpose i find questionable is the Taser. Employed by employed by the police and private security firms, the weapon fires two small dart-like electrodes connected by wires to the main unit, which deliver high-voltage shocks to incapacitate a person. They cause brutal, extreme pain and their use have caused serious injuries and death. They are even fired at children and elderly people. While causing less harm may seem like wholly a good thing, these types of weapons have the potential to institute a more insidious form of social control, by reducing the public outrage and resistance provoked by the use of weapons that more easily maim and kill.

(To be continued…)

Design and Violence is a co-production by the MoMA in New York and Science Gallery Dublin. The show remains open until 22 January 2017.

Policing the Planet: Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter

Policing the Planet: Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter, edited by Jordan T. Camp and Christina Heatherton.

On amazon USA and UK.


Publisher Verso writes: Combining firsthand accounts from activists with the research of scholars and reflections from artists, Policing the Planet traces the global spread of the broken-windows policing strategy, first established in New York City under Police Commissioner William Bratton. It’s a doctrine that has vastly broadened police power the world over—to deadly effect.

With contributions from #BlackLivesMatter cofounder Patrisse Cullors, Ferguson activist and Law Professor Justin Hansford, Director of New York–based Communities United for Police Reform Joo-Hyun Kang, poet Martín Espada, and journalist Anjali Kamat, as well as articles from leading scholars Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Robin D. G. Kelley, Naomi Murakawa, Vijay Prashad, and more, Policing the Planet describes ongoing struggles from New York to Baltimore to Los Angeles, London, San Juan, San Salvador, and beyond.

A SWAT robot, a remote-controlled small tank-like vehicle with a shield for officers, is demonstrated for the media in Sanford, Maine on Thursday, April 18, 2013. Howe & Howe Technologies, a Waterboro, Maine company, says their device keeps SWAT teams and other first responders safe in standoffs and while confronting armed suspects. Police now typically use hand-held shields when storming a building. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
A SWAT robot, a remote-controlled small tank-like vehicle with a shield for officers, is demonstrated for the media in Sanford, Maine on April 18, 2013. AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty via Business Insider

The backdrop of Policing the Planet is the Ferguson protests, the Black Lives Matter movement and the way police around the world -but mostly in the U.S.– are killing civilians. However the book is less about premature loss of life by the hands of law enforcement and more about the way that some people, vulnerable because of their poverty and/or the colour of their skin, are monitored and marginalized throughout their entire life. It’s also about how police, prison and other forms of state violence are seen as the only way to deal with people who are homeless or suffering from mental illness or drug addiction.

In a nutshell, what the authors of the book want to challenge is routine policing, not just the ‘exceptional abuses’ of policing.

It seems that everything started with the best intentions back in the 1990s when the “community-minded” broken windows theory was adopted by the police. It was an easy and logical idea: nipping any form of anti social behaviour in the bud would naturally curb down urban disorder and vandalism in neighbourhoods.

Unfortunately, the broken windows policing often led to increased militarization of the police, school-to-prison pipeline, residential segregation, mass incarceration, mass surveillance and mass criminalization of the black working class, of Native Americans and more generally of poor people.

The authors of the book are social movement organizers, scholar-activists, journalists and artists. Together, they challenge the role and legitimacy of the police, reflect on alternatives to the most aggressive forms of policing and denounce the over-funding of the police force to the detriment of the social security net, job creation, rent control programs, basic public services like health care and transportation, etc.

Each of the essay or interview in the book explores a different case study: ‘anti-Indianism’ in New Mexico, influence of Israeli policing structures on the LAPD, New York city’s strategy to rely more on invasive policing than on mass incarceration, LA Skid Row as a testing ground for police practices that will be exported to the world, links between criminalization of poverty and real estate speculation, state violence and gentrification in El Salvador, etc.

Broken store windows remain as members of the Anne Arundel County Police guard the intersection of North Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue, Wednesday, April 29, 2015, in Baltimore. Schools reopened across the city and tensions seemed to ease Wednesday after Baltimore made it through the first night of its curfew without the widespread violence many had feared. People in Baltimore have been angry over the police-custody death of Freddie Gray.  (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Broken store windows remain as members of the Anne Arundel County Police guard the intersection of North Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue, on April 29, 2015, in Baltimore. Patrick Semansky—AP, via Time

Advocacy groups are calling for a reduction in the use of police officers in schools. Photo: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images, via The AP

Policing the Planet is a powerful book. I often found it hard to believe what i was reading. Surely people cannot face that much discrimination just because they are poor, black or Muslim? Surely, the police is here to protect us? But my incredulity can be explained by the fact that i’m white, living in a nice, quiet area of a mid-sized city and spending a lot of time with Harry Hole, D.I. John Rebus or Sergeant Logan McRae. Some of my friend back home are Arabs, Latinos or otherwise not very Belgian-looking and they often told me how they are routinely stopped, searched and threatened by the police under the most flimsy pretexts.

And don’t go thinking that Policing the Planet is ‘just’ about police in the U.S. because, as we all know, the American model often ends up being exported to other countries.

I’d recommend Policing the Planet to pretty much everyone. I learnt a lot from this book. Others (less naive and ignorant than i am), will appreciate the importance of exchanging these stories, experiences and lessons learnt.

Police officers try to disperse a crowd Monday in Ferguson, Missouri. Via Business Insider

FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 11: Police force protestors from the business district into nearby neighborhoods on August 11, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets as residents and their supporters protested the shooting by police of an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown who was killed Saturday in this suburban St. Louis community. Yesterday 32 arrests were made after protests turned into rioting and looting in Ferguson.   Scott Olson/Getty Images/AFP
Police wearing riot gear walk toward a man with his hands raised in Ferguson, Missouri. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images/AFP, via the Tico Times

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