It's summer break time. There will be little or no activity on this blog until mid August.
(image taken from the stunning 300 Miles High collection)
It's summer break time. There will be little or no activity on this blog until mid August.
(image taken from the stunning 300 Miles High collection)
It must have been in the mid-eighties when I got turned away from a women’s group meeting on nuclear disarmament for being male. Strange humiliation for a kid that was growing up on principles of equality, of respect of diversity, of not wanting to carry out his National Service in Italy (which – incidentally - I managed to keep out of). The first encounter with fundamentalist intransigence dressed in radical garb.
The first of many: beyond the so-called left and right, beyond self-defined progressive and conservative identities, the discovery of parasitic patches of mono-directional thought that seek to kill off all other expressions kept and keeps occurring, sometimes in the unlikeliest places.
To counterbalance the negativity of these encounters, I’ve cultivated a widespread interest in the heretics that have always contaminated schools of thought with diverse perspectives: from the Movement of the Free Spirit in the Middle Ages to feminist pornstars.
Within this last group comes Ovidie. Following the likes of Annie Sprinkle and Nina Hartley, this French porn actress and film-maker published “Porno Manifesto” last year (and recently in the Italian translation I’ve just read).
The book is pamphlet-like in style, offering an insider’s view of the European porn industry from a pro-sex activist perspective; the history of such activism traced through case studies; a critique of a current porn production that has sought to align with mass market and showbiz rules, losing whatever subversive powers it may have had. Trends in commodification that affect the ‘body&soul’ of all workers, regardless of field or profession:
“Sex workers do not sell their ‘soul’, nor their bodies, but a service, just like anybody else that carries out a paid activity. All those that are paid in exchange of a service of whatever nature are reducing their body to goods. All workers commodify their bodies.”
Most interesting, perhaps, is her take on the downfall into consumer status. In a section entitled “Women’s liberation or female consumer liberation” she writes:
“In brief, these women fought for the right to become citizens, workers, consumers, which were perceived as a liberation. For these feminists, in fact, the main enemy was man. Therefore they considered the obtainment of equality with men in certain fields as a step towards freedom. Not for a moment did they maybe dream that man could himself be submitted? Isn’t this form of behaviour similar to that of children that see only direct authority, their school teacher, without even imagining for a second that a Ministry of Education exists?”
The Twentieth Century was a key moment in the history of Human Liberation. Many paths were opened up for the Many. Many are the pitfalls. Like walking out of a closet and into a wallet. These days our humanity is endangered by the reduction of self to mere consumer entity. Questions of slavery and independence remain valid. Away from the economics, is it the essence of life to bloom?
"Mohalla in Hindi and Urdu means neighbourhood. Sarai’s Cybermohalla project takes on the meaning of the word mohalla, its sense of alleys and corners, its sense of relatedness and concreteness, as a means for talking about one’s ‘place’ in the city, and in cyberspace.
The present selection of writings is culled from the diaries maintained by young people working at the Compughar in the LNJP basti, Delhi. A working-class settlement constantly threatened by dislocation, the basti is in the heart of the city though invisible to Delhi’s many millions. Compughar, started in May 2001, is a small media lab running on free software and low-cost media equipment. It is a collaborative effort between Sarai and Ankur, an NGO experimenting for the last two decades with alternatives in education.
The young people (mainly young women) who come to the Compughar are between the ages of 15 and 20. Most of them are school irregulars and dropouts. Their writings can be seen as a database of narrative, comment, observation, wordplay and reflection. To us this selection evokes a sense of the everyday that gestures towards an intricate social ecology. We invite you to enjoy and engage with this specific mode of writing the city."
Yesterday it came. Like the best nigerian scam spam. In bcc from a friend at work, an invite to the First Roman Flash Mob to be held later today. From Manhattan just over a month ago, Flash-mobbing has started to spread across the globe. As viral as a smile.
There seems to be something both healthy and positive in this new practice. But what exactly is happening here? Is a flash mob a form of post-political protest? performance art? urban theatre? a critique of consumerism and the cult of productivity through nonsensical activity? surreal fun? none of the above?
Whatever the motives, the undercurrents, I relish the introduction of elements of play to the organisation of daily living. Shame I am 581 kilometres from Via del Corso.
Next time will be nearer.
Speed kills (even if prescribed by a doctor).
Saw Secretary last night. Winner of last year's Sundance festival, the film is smart, funny and seriously sexy. In these days of widespread brain-dead movie production, quite a feat. And definitely a spanking treat. A love story for our times.
"It might look like a tropical paradise, but underneath the sparkling blue waves something truly grim is happening in the Caribbean. Four-fifths of the coral on Caribbean reefs has disappeared in the past 25 years in a phenomenal saga of destruction, British-based researchers reveal today.
Human actions are almost certainly responsible for most of it. And the size of the loss, the first to be accurately quantified over a very wide area anywhere, has astonished even scientists who have been studying the global decline of coral.
Coral reefs are thought of as "the rainforests of the sea" because of their richness in wildlife, and the figure is equivalent in marine terms to saying that 80 per cent of the Amazon rainforest has disappeared."
Words that dance across the solitude of personal ads.
Quintessentially 20th Century, utterly urban, neon signage is a seducer full of promise and bright life. Which is why I was fascinated to stumble across Laura Domela's photo exploration of a neon graveyard in the Nevada desert. Domela isolates the transformative power of beauty implict in these objects which endures and survives their demise. Keen attention to form and composition traces the essence of this process:
"The Neon Boneyard is a 3-acre lot filled with non-restored historic signage from the city of Las Vegas. For Las Vegas, these signs embody the character and personality of the city. Once flashy, bright, beacons of celebrity, designed to lure and entice, they now fade and peel under the desert sun, stacked in a locked, dirt-floored lot. Although these signs were carefully and deliberately designed and crafted, I set out to capture in my photographs the unintentional evolution of that design...the chance arrangement of unrelated signs, how the paint has weathered, the way the neon tubes and bulbs have twisted and broken over the years or been replaced with non-identical matches. The contradictions inherent in the Boneyard are the same kinds of contradictions I try to capture in all of my work."
A reporter covering the border beat in Arizona moblogs his daily encounters: confiscated drugs, roadblocks, police dogs. Meanwhile in borderland San Diego a club worker visually chronicles grainy naughty nights.
Cops, aliens, hacks, partygoers and dancers. From those desperately seeking dreams of opportunity to those looking to purchase prepackaged wild times. Different worlds, same objective: make a living, perhaps have some fun.
"Today, the most intensely targeted demographic is the baby - the future consumer. Before an average American child is twenty months old, he can recognize the McDonald’s logo and many other branded icons. Nearly everything a toddler encounters - from Band-Aids to underpants - features the trademarked characters of Disney or other marketing empires. Although this target market may not be in a position to exercise its preferences for many years, it pays for marketers to imprint their brands early. General Motors bought a two-page ad in Sports Illustrated for Kids for its Chevy Venture minivan. Their brand manager rationalized that the eight-to-fourteen-year-old demographic consists of “back-seat consumers” (Leonhardt, 1997)."
(image found at American Samizdat)
"The success of interactive SMS voting in TV shows such as Popstars, Pop Idol and Big Brother has been watched closely by the political classes. For the last couple of years, the UK government has been running a series of pilots in interactive voting – via email and text-message – during local authority by-elections."
I remember back in 2000, during the first UK edition of Big Brother, comparing the numbers of those partaking in the TV show voting process against those registered during some form of election (local? European? I have no idea, no trace remains in my riddled memory). What I do recall is the bitter irony of witnessing a much-higher "turnout" for Big Brother than for small-minded politicians. It was another sign of the decay affecting what is known as democracy. Another red flag signalling the failure of a system that was (and is) no longer delivering on its promises.
Which is why I do not see email or SMS voting as a cure to the ever-dwindling numbers of "active" participants in the democratic system of western countries. Somehow, the act of changing tools or toys will not automatically inject new life, new hope, new faith in a game many can no longer be bothered to play. In fact, on the following page, I found support to this train of thought:
"Results of trials conducted during the May 2002 local elections fail to provide conclusive evidence in favour of e-voting. Despite participant feedback suggesting that they found e-voting ‘easy, convenient and quick’, an evaluation carried out by the Electoral Commission concluded that technology-based pilots appeared to have ‘no significant impact’ on turnout.’"
But I do see the introduction of "reality" TV formats to the world of politics as a way of rekindling interest. Instead of the political classes monitoring the success of interactive voting on such shows, we - the multitudes - should watch politicians closely.
During election times, for example, all candidates could be enclosed together in a Big Brother style home. Denied all forms of communication/contact with their spin-doctors, PR merchants, stylists and hair-dressers. Provided with a limited budget for food and drink to judge their basic management skills. Given task to rate their knowledge of current affairs, their problem-solving abilities, their emotive intelligence. Unable to escape the cameras on a 24/7 basis. Forced to interact with one another... the foundations are all there for great TV (or terminal boredom?), and could help us grow much closer to our potential representatives. Or simply establish our dislike early and kick them out before they actually gain office.
Once elected, TV coverage could continue under a different format, maybe something like the Osbournes. Just imagine tuning in to MTV and seeing Tony and Cheri and the kids (and all their counterparts across the globe) shopping, eating, arguing: Welcome to the OsBlairs.
Or perhaps we should simply turn our TVs off and get down to the business of rethinking democracy.
Back in 2001, as the dot.com bubble was bursting in hyper-motion, I had started writing a piece for Armin Medosch, the London editor of Telepolis, investigating the cult of Funky business. The piece was to be divided and published in three sections, containing a mix of personal recollections, a critique of the Funky Business book itself, and some musings: like the fact that Funk used to mean being depressed, or how the minister of the economy in nazi germany was a certain Herr Funk!
The article only made it to the first instalment - I was too busy raving to my own funky eBusiness tracks - and never got published. Having come across it on an old data CD I thought I'd post it here, both for its "near-historical" feel and for some aspects still pertinent in 2003. Enjoy (warning long):
The Unbearable Hi-Finess of Funky Business (Episode 1)
Back in the dying days of the Twentieth Century, I found myself in India. Not in any mystical or metaphysical sense mind you. There were no visits to ashrams or experiences of satori involved. I was no Dharma bum, I was not lost. The reality was more mundane. I was in India for work, researching an article for some report that was going to be published by a global brand. It was one of those classic and cloned examples of corporate double-talk; something about the environment. Behind the stated PR mission however, one thing was for certain: it was going to be funky.
Funky was the key word. As much was repeatedly stated at the editorial meeting a few days earlier. The meeting had been the one chance for the different, geographically-dispersed players on the project to meet in real life, away from the website, the forums and emails that made up the daily work environment. It was staged somewhere in Western Europe, in one of those countries that make up the G7.
The building we met in was light and breezy. As sparkling as the chrome found on the products the corporation's name was tied to (cars and other forms of transportation). Warhol prints on the white walls added a splash of pop to the environment. Young graphic designers sipped on fizzy drinks and illustrated how cool the page layout was going to be. As the integrated colours of typeface and design flashed in front of us, as the mock-ups and the templates were digitally projected onto a cinema-size screen, as carefully studied hues of green and pink and diverse fonts fought for visual domination, the director of communications evangelised on how corporate reports could no longer afford to remain bland affairs of black type on white pages. This one in particular, with the environment as its subject, could not remain relegated to a few company desks, unread. The good news and the good will were messages that needed to be spread. The young and the environmentally-prone needed to be captured. And what better way, than by applying some jazzy design. "We need to achieve school penetration", he said, eyes glistening. As the day progressed, the corporate suits - dressed in faux-beatnik black jumpers desperately seeking some kind of karmic connection to Ginsberg and Kerouac - continued to walk around as if in meditation, quietly chanting that one word mantra: funky.
A few time zones removed from the pop art and a week later, I found myself heading south down the congested streets of Bombay city in the back of a black cab. Long and thin and gripping to the west coast of the Indian sub-continent, the city was absurdly reminiscent of Los Angeles - maybe only because the driver kept pointing out where the Bollywood stars lived and enormous film billboards were everywhere; or maybe for a darker reason, for that feeling of the edge.
Evening was approaching. As we drove into view of Bombay's downtown and its scrawny assortment of skyscrapers, my host proudly exclaimed: "Ah look! Very, very hi-fi", as he said each time we saw a mainframe, an internet café or anything that reeked of technological advancement. Very hi-fi. The phrase made me smile and made me think of the seventies, of music systems embedded in wood. Then I thought of the use I made of the word "cyber" and it made me cringe. All these words we use to subscribe to modernity, despite any post-modern rant. How obsolete and how apt. After all, isn't one of the main features of technology its inbuilt obsolescence? Very hi-fi indeed.
Night fell over Bombay. Its vitality, its confusion, its armies of mendicants, its legions of films stars, its merchants, its computer networks were all paused. The bright lights weaved webs of seduction, setting personalised intranets of desire in motion. An advertising-riddled stream-of-consciousness took me back to that history lesson at school, when all the teachers assumed airs of superiority in telling how those first Europeans to the Americas managed to swap beads for gold. It was only coloured glass, the teachers would laugh. And yet those beads must have appeared so funky, so full of promise. Five hundred years on, had anything changed? What about the love affairs between geeks and their gadgets? What about the fashion junkies looking for their label fix? What about all those middle-aged, middle-class men across western suburbia religiously washing and shining up their cars on the prescribed day of rest, while swelling the ranks of corporate conquistadors the rest of the week?
The factory I had visited earlier in the week, had immaculate lawns. Armed private guards imitating soldiers kept it oblivious to the chaos that cavorted outside its perimeter fence. A germ-free engineering plant in which the cult of efficiency and an alleged social conscience paraded across mission statements. It was totally de-territorialized and existing in an unreality of its own making. I kept expecting the workers to break into a Hindi remix of "We are the world". The whole place had that nowhere feel that can be found everywhere these days - in all the shopping malls and hotel chains and satellite TV channels. I even got to plant a tree, but there was no camera crew around to make the event real. Was this what the funky logic was all about? Substituting murky depth and fuzzy substance for glossy veneers? What was all this saying, hiding and shouting at the same time?
The taxi pulled up. Across the road, someone was bedding down for the night. Soon, the city would resemble an immense open-air dormitory. Street after neighbourhood of bodies, packs of children and entire families laying in rows like equations. The body mathematic. Snatches of statistics heard earlier in the day in dusty, time-lagged government offices drifted back with the heat outside. Cold numbers about population, pollution, poverty chased after me. Two street kids ran across the street, with smiles as sharp as their hunger, nearly naked and totally unbranded. I saw the director of communications - sweating in his charcoal grey suit - chasing after them. And then the vision was gone.
I’m a Bollywood Bodhisattva seeking syncretic synergies and eclectic enlightenment embedded in the multi-screens of our times.
Wandering through the lost alleyways of a mind littered with cultural artifacts, songs on repeat and ever-changing favourite films, feelings, eros and thanatos, people caught in passing, on underground lines and overland trains, walking and sometimes buses. Flavours of chaos and confusion. Route-planners conceived in anguish and poetry.
I've blogged about Underground Diaries before, and I return to it today. Started in August 2001 the diaries now form a tight-packed trilogy which explore the city (of London), the brittle confines between fiction and confession, the anxious communities of commuters, the self reflected in media and the self drowned in emotion, dreams that explode.
Matt Grey is a metaphysical "man under train" who miraculously escapes, but not unharmed. In a spit, this is powerful writing.
In-flight magazines often come across as the publishing equivalent of non-places. Devoid of a specific identity and lacking a recognisable voice, these publications tend to be the editorial equivalent of suburban shopping malls in small-town USA. Paper real-estate we visually stroll through as we fasten our seatbelts waiting for take-off. Like shopping centres, some are more upclass than others, offering brand names in the shape of bylines by well-known writers and logos expressed through glossy page layout, but at the end of the day the format does not change, while the offer remains that of a hypermarket: hopefully something for everyone.
So it was interesting to read that Virgin Atlantic has introduced both a new magazine to its Upper Class, and a new concept:
"Carlos, by contrast, rewrites the flight manual. The modest quarterly (measuring 170 x 240 mm) looks like one of those slim Muji notebooks with a brown card cover. For bourgeois bohemians, as Brooks has noted, roughness signifies authenticity and virtue. In an image world that delivers photographs of hallucinatory brightness and intensity at every turn, luxury is conveyed by the absence of photos. (Rem Koolhaas made a similar point when he said that in a shopping culture, ‘Luxury is not shopping’.) The only photographs in Carlos come in an eight-page Paul Smith insert by Aboud Sodano, which looks more like an art project than advertising, as the designers probably planned."
So not only a new format, but also a specific target group: the Bobo. But following the dot.com bust, the fracas of feel-good capitalism, are there still Bobos flying first class? Aren't many on the railway road to becoming good ol' Hobos?
Whatever the case, there's always a market segment ready to play the alpha male role: has the golden hour of the metrosexual arrived?
It's probably because I'm skipping lunch today, but I just couldn't resist posting a link to this photoblog I just came across: a perfectly obsessive symbol of Italy's love affair with the ubiquitous pasta dish.
"The number of Internet users in China doubles nearly every six months and the number of Chinese websites every year. But this dizzying expansion of cyberspace is matched by government efforts to control, censor and repress it with harsh laws, jailing cyber-dissidents, blocking access to websites, spying on discussion forums and shutting down cybercafés.
In Vietnam, the Internet is not very widespread but is nevertheless firmly under the control of the ruling Communist Party, which seems to be faithfully copying neighbouring China by arresting cyber-dissidents, barring access to sites deemed politically or culturally "incorrect" and monitoring private e-mail.
Going online in Cuba is very restricted and closely watched by the government. Official permission is required and the necessary equipment, including the most modern, is rationed and can only be bought in special state-run shops, again only with special permission.
In Tunisia, the government says it favours rapid and democratic growth of the Internet. But in practice, state security police keep it under very tight control. Sites are censored, e-mail intercepted, cybercafés monitored and users arrested and arbitrarily imprisoned. One cyber-dissident, Zouhair Yahyaoui, was arrested in 2002 and sent to jail for two years.
In mid-June this year, more than 50 Internet users were in prison around the world, three quarters of them in China.
The Internet is the bane of all dictatorial regimes, but even in democracies such as the United States, Britain and France, new anti-terrorism laws have tightened government control of it and undermined the principle of protecting journalistic sources."
Three p.m. just the other day: Heatwave mashing up Milan. Sidewalk is smouldering soft. Like walking in a dream. The streets are empty except for a couple of north Africans crouching in the shade, probably closing their eyes and feeling back home. Mind melting. A photoshop layer of sweat flattens my image of self. Thoughts slipping out of focus. Blur more. I stop motionless. The sun fierce and unforgiving. In front of me, from a street sign, a face shouts at me: what are you doing here?
Pushing the boundaries of an ancient craft into pop culture art, comes "Gas, Cash or Glass" (picked up via dr.menlo), an exhibition of outlaw glass by north west (USA) artists. From stripper stilettos to harem vases there's alot of irony and colour at play. In particular, the work by Kelly and Nanda Soderberg provides a brilliant re-use of traditional tattoo themes which exploit the kitsch factor of hearts, daggers and anchors to their symbolic full - imagine Pierre et Gilles chasing bikers through murano.