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Join us for the Interference Closing Reception!

4–5PM: Techno Dumpster Dive Techniques and Demonstration

A discussion and demonstration of dumpster diving techniques by a representative from freegans.org, with an assignment for those present to go out into the streets to collect “abandoned technology” over the upcoming weeks for future Eyebeam workshops such as the Holiday Hackshop (December 1) and the Free Media workshop (February 16). This will be followed by performance/demonstration of the Edible Excess Machine.

5–7PM: Demo, Discussion and Drinks

Join us for drinks and demonstrations of Yury Gitman’s Magicbike, and the Grafitti Research Lab’s Mobile Broadcast Unit with L.A.S.E.R. Tag, which we will take out onto West 21st Street.

Today Ars Electronica announced the winners of the Prix Ars and the New York Times Special Edition won an Award of Distinction in the Hybrid Arts category. Steve Lambert will be accepting the award at the Ars Electronica Festival in September as a member of Because We Want It: a coalition of artists, activist groups, and everyday citizens who contributed to the project.

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About Prix Ars:

Since 1987, the Prix Ars Electronica has served as an interdisciplinary platform for everyone who uses the computer as a universal medium for implementing and designing their creative projects at the interface of art, technology and society.

The Prix Ars Electronica, the Ars Electronica Festival, the Ars Electronica Center – Museum of the Future and the Ars Electronica Futurelab are the four divisions that comprise the Ars Electronica Linz GmbH, whose specific orientation and long-term continuity make it a unique platform for digital art and media culture.

The competition is organized by the Ars Electronica Linz GmbH and ORF’s Upper Austria Regional Studio in collaboration with the OK Center for Contemporary Art and the Brucknerhaus Linz, and the prizes are awarded during the Ars Electronica Festival each year. The Prix Ars Electronica is one of the most important awards for creativity and pioneering spirit in the field of digital media.

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Eyebeam launches an exciting new quarterly series with a special one-night-only performance of Brother Islands (Places to Lose People), an “expanded documentary” about quarantine and its machinery, as seen through the sights and sounds of two East River islands.

The night’s performances inaugurate MIXER, Eyebeam’s new series dedicated to showcasing leading performing artists in the fields of live video and audio. In addition to live performance by video artists, musicians, VJs and DJs, each MIXER event presents new interactive work by Eyebeam artists that encourages audience participation and creative play. Hybrid in format, and Eyebeam in spirit – collaborative, spontaneous and a little off-the-wall – MIXER electrifies Eyebeam’s Chelsea warehouse for a Saturday night quite unlike any other.

Each MIXER is organized around a theme; the inaugural Eyebeam MIXER event tackles the theme of “place.” The participating performers explore location in relationship to history, memory, and representation within a format that could be described as “expanded documentary”. Incorporating audio and video field recordings with live digital manipulation, the performers utilize technological tools as both a recorder and processor of information.

Half a century since its abandonment, North Brother Island, a forgotten corner of the South Bronx, fades from New York City's map as its bleak buildings succumb to nature. Ward’s Island, in neighboring Manhattan, houses New York's homeless and mentally ill in a dozen immense buildings clustered under the Triborough Bridge.

Brother Islands combines theatre, audio, video and stereoscopic photography to paint a haunting picture of these ill-fated places.

The performance is followed by a live audiovisual set with music by The Jesse Stiles 3000 and video by Vade and Bill Etra, one of the developers of the Rutt/Etra video synthesizer in the early 1970s, whose unique visual effects remain popular to this day.

Co-directed by Eyebeam’s 2007 Education Lab Fellow Benton-C Bainbridge and designer Minou Maguna, Brother Islands incorporates the photography of Matthew Schlanger, music of Ross Goldstein and performance of Ryder Cooley and Dan Winckler, who play ghosts from the island’s past.

The use of Ward’s Island’s as a resting ground for the marginalized traces back through the turn of the century, when it contained the world’s largest psychiatric hospital. As the location of one of the world’s highest capacity sewage treatment centers, the island remains a terminal for the city’s refuse.

North Brother Island’s history is similarly bleak. Notorious as a harsh quarantine and locus of misfortunate legends like Typhoid Mary and the General Slocum ferry disaster, after decades of failed schemes to repurpose the land have gone fruitless, North Brother has literally gone to the birds. Off-limit to visitors, the island is now a vital resting place for herons, egrets and other migrants.

In November 2006 Bainbridge and Schlanger gained special permission to join a team from the NYC Parks Department team to travel to and photograph North Brother, which led to the creation of Brother Islands.

Brother Islands begins at 8pm, followed by The Jesse Stiles 3000, Vade and Bill Etra performing from 9-10pm. Tickets are $10 and may be purchased in advance. Seating is limited.

MIXER is curated and produced by Paul Amitai, Eyebeam program manager.

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Eyebeam, in participation with The Tank, is excited to host this four-day music and multimedia event, featuring 40 musicians and visualists from around the world.

Workshops and concerts will focus on the artistic exploration of primitive video games, home computer technology, and will showcase a fascinating cross-section of the chiptune musical aesthetic and related low-bit visual art.

For tickets and schedule information visit:

http://www.blipfestival.org/

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Just in time for the holiday gift-giving season, Eyebeam will transform into a high-tech version of the North Pole, with a day of artist-led workshops and DIY activities for people of all ages. The fourth annual Holiday Hackshop will feature toy hacking, heirloom vegetable planting and seed preservation; workshops about alternative energy generation; plus a few of the old favorites.

Self-portrait snowglobes, anyone?

Workshop Schedule:

Title: “Automata”
Artist: Mouna Andraos
Materials: $10
Times: 1.30PM, 4PM
Length: 2 hours

Sign up: 10 people per workshop (open to all ages, recommended that those eight years and younger are accompanied by an adult).
Task: Create a small physical animation, powered by a hand crank—a riff off traditional automata making, but with cardboard, as opposed to wood.

 

Title: “Heirloom seed planting and packaging”
Artist: Leah Gauthier
Materials: $5
Times: 1PM, 2PM, 3PM, 4PM, 5PM
Length: 30 minutes

Sign up: Five people per session (open to all ages).
Task: Design, hand decorate, and fill packets with of heirloom seeds for distribution far and wide. The group will also learn to plant seeds and think of different urban environments (such as pots on sunny fire escapes!) to plant.

 

Title: “LED Popsicle Stick Photo Frames”
Artist: Randy Sarafan
Materials: $10
Times: 1.30PM, 4PM
Length: 2 hours

Sign up: 12 people (open to all ages, but children under 12 years must be accompanied by an adult).
Task: Create a truly special photo frame for you and/or your loved ones, with this brighter twist on the popsicle stick frame.

 

Title: “Make Your Own Wearable Photoshop Clothing”
Artist: Jeff Crouse
Materials: $20
Times: 1.30PM, 4PM
Length: 2 hours

Sign up: Eight people (open to all ages, but children under eight years, must be accompanied by an adult).
Task: Eyebeam's new large-format printer is primed and ready for you to create your own fun-infused fashion. You will be provided with ready-made templates, but the rest is up to you. Gather images from the net, take pictures with our digital cameras, and put it all together in Photoshop to create a design. Creative support will be in abundance to help with ideas, such as mapping Youtube stills onto a jacket, or your favorite chair onto a pair of pants. Printing will take approximately 10 to 15 minutes once the design is done.

 

Title: “Forays Into the Future: Snow globes”
Artist: Jerry Juarez
Materials: $10
Times: 1.30PM, 4PM
Length: 2 hours

Sign up: 10 people (open to all ages, but children under 12 years must be accompanied by an adult).
Task: We know the future aims to be green, but please join Forays to reproduce the present inside a snowdome. Create a polluted city, an island of multi-color trash, melting polar scenes, or the remains of your imaginary city. Participants can laser-cut ready-made files of cities, trees and other images, and then hack $2 bicycle safety lights to add spotlighting to the bleakness contained within the domes.

 

Title: “TV-B-Gone”
Artist: Limor Fried
Materials: $20
Times: 1.30PM, 4PM
Length: 2 hours

Sign up: 10 people (open to all ages, but children under 12 years must be accompanied by an adult).
Task: Tired of all those LCD TVs everywhere? Want a break from advertisements while you're trying to eat? Want to zap screens from across the street? Then TV-B-Gone is what you need! This ultra high-powered version of the popular TV-B-Gone is fun to make and even more fun to use. Just point and click to turn any TV off!

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In a 40 minute journey through space and time, Grisha Coleman's performance installation, echo::system—The Desert, immerses audiences and performers in a completely synthetic environment comprised of audio and visual media, digital movement analysis, robotics and live performance.

This setting recreates a desert ecosystem simultaneously made up of the virtual and real, exposing how one affects the other.

Creator/choreographer: Grisha Coleman.

For more information on the performance visit: http://www.echo-system.org/

Part of the Beyond Light Bulbs Series

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To close the FEEDBACK preview exhibition, the Open Source Sustainability Critique on Saturday January 26, from 4–6PM invites you to bring your own projects up for review with Eyebeam alumni artists. Ten projects will be selected for critique from an open call of projects.

How to submit a project for consideration:

Send a brief (2–3 sentence) description of the work, plus any URLs that show the project and/or documentation. The content of your project or the materials used to make your project should address issues or concepts related to sustainability.

To submit a project for consideration, please email Liz Slagus, Director of Education and Public Programming: liz AT eyebeam DOT org

The deadline for submission is Tuesday, January 22 at 6PM.

The Open Source Sustainability Critique is a sustainable review of projects lead by artists participating in the upcoming exhibition, FEEDBACK (March 13 – April 19).

Confirmed artists/critics are: Michael Mandiberg, Jennifer Broutin, and Carmen Trudell. The critique will be the closing event for the FEEDBACK preview exhibition, currently on display at Eyebeam.

The participating artists/critics will kick off the event by providing insights into their own process of developing sustainable-focused projects. A reception will follow, during which time the critics will go around to each of the projects to discuss the work with the artists. The public is welcome to sit in on these sessions. Following the individual critique sessions, three artists will be randomly selected to present their projects to the public.

Getting to know your city

May 29, 2008 by infochicago

Getting to know your city
and the social movements that call it home

by Daniel Tucker

Published in In the Middle of a Whirlwind Edited by Team Colors and Published by the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest

Introduction

This text will outline a methodology for researching local social movements as a means to analyze their history, effectiveness, and strategic ability to participate or intervene in politics. I will use insights gained from AREA Chicago – a publication that has compiled an print/online archive based on interviews with over 100 Chicago activists, cultural producers and organizers, to offer up a proposal for a broad-based pan-leftist approach that can help avoid classic sectarianism while still asking challenging questions and producing forward moving analysis.

In the following paragraphs, I outline a method of ‘movement mapping’ that is very long-term and locally situated. Much of what you will read is situated in a particular project. That project will be explored as a possibly reproducible model. First, I explain a method for critical examination of place and context. Then, I explain an approach to under-standing the work and ideas of the currently existing left in your place or context. I conclude with some more general observations and recommendations, which should be relevant regardless of your interest in reproducing this kind of project. Finally, after the essay there is a small glossary to help understand some of the vocabulary in this piece. The text should be relevant to anyone hoping to strategically contribute to the development of a robust and critically reflexive left.

Getting to know your city

The cities we live in are always expanding, contracting and changing. People who think about these things have compared cities to living organisms (living, breathing), microcosms (reflecting and reproducing the world in which they exist), and parasites (sucking the resources of the region on their periphery), as well as to independent nations (having their own rules and identities distinct from the world around them). Others view cities simply as markets (where people are merely buyers and sellers) and command-and-control centers (where networks of people, wealth and resources are organized and manipulated from a safe and distanced vantage-point). These metaphors are frameworks for understanding what cities are, why they exist, how they work and where they are going.

AREA Chicago is a magazine and events series based in Chicago. One approach we have used to examine the city is a ‘conceptual limiting’ strategy, which is borrowed from literary traditions – if you limit and focus the framework to a specific area or topic, then you can more fully explore that area and navigate complex ideas through that lens. Some people might try to explore contemporary capitalism through the lens of culture (such as soccer), or commodities (such as tea), or possibly though a particular movement (such as socialism). The books in the cultural criticism or sociology section of many bookstores are overflowing with such analytical projects. In our work, a place – Chicago – is the lens through which we view the complexities of an increasingly mobile and always violent capitalism.

Soon after we started the AREA Chicago project in 2005, there was a feature article in the Economist magazine hailing Chicago as a “post-industrial success story.” The article read:
This is a city buzzing with life, humming with prosperity, sparkling with new buildings, new sculptures, new parks, and generally exuding vitality. The Loop, the central area defined by a ring of overhead railway tracks, has not gone the way of so many other big cities’ business districts—soulless by day and deserted at night. It bustles with shoppers as well as office workers. Students live there. So, increasingly, do gays, young couples and older ones whose children have grown up and fled the nest. Farther north, and south, old warehouses and factories have become home to artists, professionals and trendy young families. Not far to the east locals and tourists alike throng Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile, a stretch of shops as swanky as any to be found on Fifth Avenue in New York or Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Chicago is undoubtedly back.

Back, that is, from what many feared would be the scrap heap. In 1980, when The Economist last published a survey of Chicago, it found a city whose “facade of downtown prosperity” masked a creaking political machine, the erosion of its economic base and some of the most serious racial problems in America…”2

This declaration was curious as it conflicted significantly with our experiences and observations. One question that informed the development of AREA as an activist research project was a slight re-framing: “Is Chicago a post-industrial success story?”
It is difficult to assess the validity of “success stories” in our contemporary cities. In an era of place-marketing and of cities competing with cities for everything – from tourists, to Olympic games, to corporate re-locations – seeing through the public relations haze of what constitutes success can be tricky. In an era of urban real-estate “renewals” amidst housing bubble bursts, wading through the public relations muck of simultaneous mortgage crisis and neighborhood Renaissance can make ‘success’ seem like an abstraction.

In order to provide critical perspectives of our city’s success narrative, AREA printed numerous articles dealing with the flip side of Chicago’s supposed success.
From AREA #1:
The new world order [very loaded term] is coming to roost in Chicago with a vengeance. Increasingly the city is defined by Neoliberalism, the global policies of transnational capital that make the market and individual self-interest primary in every sphere of economic and social life. On every side we see the elimination of the public interest and public control-from privatization (and corporatization) of parks (Millennium Park), schools (Renaissance 2010), and bus shelters to the elimination of public housing. Corporate and financial capital in collaboration with the Daley administration are reconstructing the city to serve their interests. Their agenda grows out of changing relations between cities and the global economy and the emergence of gentrification as a pivotal force in urban economies.3

From AREA #2:
One day I decided I wanted to eat something healthy and I thought greens would be perfect because they were healthy for cleaning negative particles out of my body. So I started on a horrible journey from one store to the next, about eight stores to be exact. I went from California and Jackson past Pulaski and Madison. I was getting very angry. I couldn_t understand why there weren_t any fresh vegetables in these stores. Was it because it was a predominantly Black area, or was it because the community didn’t care enough to demand that the stores supply the essential goods they needed? I couldn_t believe it.4

From AREA #4
After a four-year, $7 million investigation, special prosecutors have released their findings into police torture in Chicago, and the results are familiar. Once again, former Commander Jon Burge and the white police officers under him—who, in the words of the Chicago Tribune, “for two decades coerced dozens of confessions with fists, kicks, radiator burns, guns to the mouth, bags over the head and electric shock to the genitals”—are walking away scot-free for their crimes.5

From AREA #6:
I have lived in Chicago since 1979. My family was a part of the exodus that followed the steel plant closings in Buffalo, and we arrived here when I was seven. I grew up in Logan Square and have spent most of my life on the Near Northwest Side. There have been two major sea changes in the landscape of Chicago since my childhood, which parallels the era of the deepest deprivation and disinvestment in the history of the city. One is the rise of the Latino community, in numbers, in community development, in aspiration, creativity, and political power. The second is the gutting of the inner city and its replacement with an amnesiac, upscale consumer paradise for outsiders with money. What has changed the least in Chicago is this state of control by a cohort of elite gangsters known as The Machine, who are desperately trying to buy out the first change and raking in buckets of cash over the second. I hate how we betray the best of our histories and our communities, which I love to death.6

While cities are not the end all/be all of contemporary capitalism, they are strategic places to focus our energies because of the dense accumulation of contradictions within them. As Nik Theodore recently stated in AREA#6:
…cities (including their suburban peripheries) have become increasingly important geographical targets and institutional laboratories for a variety of neoliberal policy experiments, from place-marketing and local boosterism, enterprise zones, tax abatements, urban development corporations, and public-private partnerships to workfare policies, property redevelopment schemes, new strategies of social control, policing and surveillance and a host of other institutional modifications within the local state apparatus. The overarching goal of such experiments is to mobilize city space as an arena both for market-oriented economic growth and for elite consumption practices.

Indeed, we must understand this function of cities in the more diffuse and international manifestations of uneven development and capitalist exploitation. Cities are home to nearly half of the world’s population, and our existence in them plays a significant role in their reproduction. How we direct that basic existence is the topic of another exploration.

Getting to know the Left in your city

Once the context is thoroughly understood, or at least underway, it is time to get to know the social actors and engaged citizens – the subjects of the city. There are many kinds of practices that could be considered, or consider themselves, to be social movements that operate in a progressive left tradition. There are many strands, many stripes, many projects and many approaches. The deeper you look, the more fragmented it will appear. It can be difficult to map them out or get an image of what these dedicated people and organizations are doing and where they are going. Yet, such a map is essential for any strategic effort. This map, and the process of making it, can give one the understanding of the full spectrum of actors, and enable the mapmakers to assess the most effective sites for intervention and/or engagement.

This may seem a bit abstract, so I will provide an illustration for this point. Imagine a field and think about a political or social question, wherever it is you are reading this from. Think about the variety of social and political actors that share similar goals. Then think about the ‘group of groups’ that share related goals. The pool gets bigger. Maybe the labor union in town has one tactic they use to work towards that goal. Perhaps there are some non-profits that do some combination of reform and community organizing around that goal. There are politicians working on the inside to try and get to that place too, and being influenced and pushed along the way by these other actors. These are the obvious characters in this story. Then there are self-organized groups, there are artists making culture that directly addresses the issue at hand, there are teachers who integrate the questions into their classroom work, and there are community groups that work with a model of popular education to try to understand how this issue is playing out in their hyper-local context. You could probably take this further and find more folks and organizations occupying a place on the field.

Developing the capacity to assess the spectrum of interrelated practices that are attempting to achieve similar goals through the use of different tactics and methodologies is an essential first step towards a variety of strategic and long-term goals. First, it helps in building strategic alliances that bring visibility to the issue. These alliances also maximize the limited resources available to do the work (avoiding redundancy). Secondly, it assists in identifying weak points where unity and collaboration across many different groups may be difficult, or where the movement is most susceptible to external-disruption. Thirdly, it helps to interpret the potential for currently existing groups to achieve their stated end goals. Finally, it provides a vantage point for beginning a complex and critical capacity for evaluating the efficacy of different ideas, actions and forms of organization.
It is a first step, though it is not the solution to resolving historical disputes, economic differences or cultural tensions. It is also not an argument for an abstract multitude. Rather, it is an argument for an honest assessment of the actually existing left and the ideas and actions it produces.

Our methodology is quite simple: What is a pressing or challenging question in the city? What are people doing or not doing about it? Once that is identified, then a call for participation is circulated and people from local networks associated with art, research, education and activism formulate a response. That response is edited and designed and printed, then circulated back out to the networks from which it came. What we are still working on – and what we are always challenged by – is how to create a feedback mechanism that allows the final publication and events to serve as a starting point for larger strategic efforts.

We’ve asked the following question in our publications:

  • What kind of infrastructure of services and resources do we need when our welfare state is in disrepair and being increasingly privatized? (AREA #1)
  • What kind of food policy can we create to make sure that people of the city are healthy enough to pursue organization? (AREA #2)
  • What are the things we mean and want when we say ‘we’? What are critical approaches to the commonplace political concept of solidarity? (AREA #3)
  • In contexts where more and more Chicagoans are entrapped in the expanding industry of mass incarceration, how can meaningful, visionary and practical changes to the criminal justice system occur? (AREA #4)
  • What is the role of education and pedagogy in strengthening social movements? (AREA #5)
  • How do experimental policies turn the city into a social and economic laboratory? (AREA #6)
  • What kinds of logics and strategies do contemporary social movements inherit from their predecessors, especially the New Left and Counter-Culture Left of the late 1960s/early 1970s? (AREA #7)

Through this approach of asking questions about the city, how it works and where it is going, we have been able to learn a great deal. Through this research soliciting the reflections of our city’s activists and organizers, AREA Chicago has pieced together a map of the local left. While it is incomplete and always evolving, we can better understand where local groups and initiatives are situated and where they might be going. This is important because these social and political actors are what we have to work with. The left in its current composition is going to provide the basis and history for future forms of thought and social organization.

Composition

We are flailing in these times. There is no compass and no rhyme or reason for what we do – its like shooting in the wind. Anxiety explodes as we wonder if we are being effective or getting anything done. This should not be the case. There is much to do and much to think about. There is much to be angry about and much to be excited about.
We live in a historical moment when two things happen regularly enough that we should be learning from them. The first of these is that our resistance is commodified: it is depoliticized, packaged and sold back to us. Sometimes we don’t even know that it happens – its not always as simple as seeing a political graphic show up in an advertisement. The second of these is that we are encouraged to work locally and marginally while often starting our own organizations to accomplish massive tasks. Solidarity has become an agreement of “You do your thing and I’ll do mine and if we write our names on each others fliers then we are bound.” This is ineffective. We are too weak and too marginal to constantly be starting our own splinter groups and initiatives without a strategic assessment of our role in the broader left, and the commodification of resistance.
There are a handful of sweeping generalizations upon which I am going to base my understanding of the current composition of left and progressive social and political work in the United States. In order to get a generalized image of this complicated mess, it is absolutely necessary for me to step back and consider these major factors.

To understand the contemporary U.S. left, one must consider two state-sponsored power-plays:

  • The state disruption and counter-intelligence campaigns that decimated left organizations: The two periods most relevant to our time are the 1950s era red-scare, which were followed by the spying, assassination, imprisonment and sabotage campaigns begun in the 1960s and lasted well into the 1980s; these were directed mostly at various New Left and anti-imperialist organizations. There are histories of state counter-intelligence and “red-baiting” that precede this and that have followed since, but these two periods effectively destroyed much of the organizational infrastructure of the Left in the US. There are other political and economic events to consider in order to fully grasp the fate of these organizations, but it is my belief that acknowledging the Cold War strategy of smashing internal leftist projects within the U.S. over the last 60 years is key to having a clear understanding of where we are now.
  • The gradual dissolution of state sponsored welfare programs that had stabilized economic growth in the U.S. following the great Depression (with significant growth occurring directly following the second world war): The neoliberal restructuring of the priorities and policies of the state has meant that many of the gains won by previous generations of progressive social movements and reformers were swept away. Additionally, on a more basic level, this represented the gutting of welfare infrastructure to the extent that the State didn’t do anything for most of its citizens. In turn, the people who cared about the livelihood of their neighbors – people who in previous generations might have been a part of leftist labor unions or political parties – had to pick up the pieces. This means that agencies, groups, NGOs, collectives, websites, magazines – the potential organizational infrastructure of a left social movement – started doing the work that was previously paid for and, even if only partially, implemented by the State. The movements became service providers because that is what people needed.

One must also consider contemporary organizing tendencies that, combined with the aforementioned state disruptions, contribute to our collective marginalization:

  • Heavy reliance on rhetoric over strategy. Think “solidarity” in all its incarnations and interpretations.
  • Mistaking subculture for politics and relying on codes, symbols and aesthetics associated with culture with a clear in/out crowd. This easily reduces movements to niche markets, ideal for targeted marketing.
  • Considering social-networking to be solidarity. As a result of being strapped for resources, we “organize” via commodified forms of social networking such as online media platforms like Friendster, Myspace and Facebook. This “narrowcasting” is more affordable, but if we really care about the ideas we are engaging in, then we can find a way to saturate the visual landscape with our messages. This will provide points of entry for those who are compelled by the ideas but outside of the narrowcast distribution systems.

Three Crisis Case Studies

The time and place in which AREA Chicago is being initiated is a state of disrepair for left and progressive organizations and politics. Surveying a local left at this moment has allowed for several insights into challenges facing us. As well, we see people trying to propose solutions to the challenges facing progressive and leftist efforts.

  • Case Study 1: Communications

In my neighborhood in Chicago, there is a new initiative to revive a community bulletin board that has been underused and in disrepair. This initiative involves an email list and a Blog. Regular working meetings occur to manage the revitalization efforts. While I am excited to have a new outlet for my propaganda, the initiative has inspired in me many questions about social organization in my neighborhood and city, as well as communications issues facing social movements. There is so little evidence of any kind of critical visual culture on the streets, storefronts, and bulletin boards of my city. This absence is a shame and makes it difficult to assess the quality and quantity of cultural and political efforts by merely looking around. Further, this very noticeable absence contrasts starkly with the flood of emails I receive daily for concerts, benefit parties, Marxist reading groups, community forums and block parties. This absence also significantly contrasts with my experience in other places and other historical moments when the culture of a place was apparent: splattered on its walls, stapled on its phone poles, stuffed under doors and car windshield wipers.

This absence is the result of a variety of factors – most significantly the policing and sterilization of public space, as well as competition with the low-cost alternative communication outlets online. The effort to revitalize a single bulletin board in the third largest city in the U.S. requires a substantial organizational effort. Yet, this work is invaluable as a basic communication tool in the everyday life of an urban neighborhood with over 60,000 residents.

The above initiative and its context point to a crisis of communications. Regardless of the fact that your home may or may not be faced with this exact situation, the communications crisis of public space versus virtual space is having a dramatic impact on the quality of our organizations. When was the last time you did a mass distribution campaign about a current political challenge or important public event? If we care as deeply as we say we do about the politics and ideas we commit our lives to, then why shouldn’t we commit energy to disseminating those ideas in a broad manner?

  • Case Study 2: Infrastructure

There is a project that has attempted to operate as an infrastructure for other organizations to take advantage of – to support the growth and development of a larger community. This was a “speakers bureau” of local activist intellectuals and journalists. The effort emerged in response to a perceived demand for speakers on a variety of topics as well as, a perceived lack of access to or representation of the potential speakers who specialized in those same topics living in this very city. The concept was simple: if we list and promote these individuals and their specifically relevant expertise then people will more easily be able to put together interesting and high quality events.

Although this initiative failed due to poor publicity and lack of community support, the concept and intention were admirable. The goal of creating an infrastructure for the circulation of ideas and people was necessary in order to strengthen the analytical capacity of local social movements, and to develop leadership figures within those movements. Additionally, within a context of scarce resources, it made sense to celebrate and utilize local thinkers in lieu of recruiting speakers from outside the city.

Still, a problem arose that reflects a limitation often faced by infrastructure initiatives: If you create a platform for resource-sharing amongst local organizations or a project that is intended to help develop the intellectual and critical capacity of local social movements, what do you do if they cannot or will not bite? In other words, if you build an infrastructure to improve aspects of local social movements, will they come? This limitation occurs for two primary reasons. First, there is the challenge that people don’t want to change or evolve. This happens because they have limited capacity or because they are bound to their routines and methods and cannot break from them. The second reason people may not be responsive to infrastructure projects is that the ideas or intentions are not clearly communicated or are not trusted.

There are many entrepreneurial activists out there with ideas that will “make the left better.” However, if people do not understand or know about your initiative then they cannot really be considered to have passed the opportunity up – they simply didn’t get the message. Or, if the work to build relationships with the relevant practitioners was not performed, then they cannot be faulted for never engaging – they simply aren’t willing to take a chance on an unproven scheme that may or may not float.

Regardless of whether or not you would engage with a speakers bureau, the concept of building infrastructures to support, grow and catalyze leftist culture and politics is essential if we are to move from the margins and have a significant impact on electoral politics, fair distribution of resources, or the wide circulation and availability of critical thought.

  • Case Study 3: Fear of Ideology

I would like to focus on an organizational initiative happening in Chicago that was founded to respond to the fact that “the left is dead.” This effort started as a reading group and has gradually morphed into an organizing project that attempts to make critical interventions in events and organizations that are somehow symptomatic of what they see as part of this tradition. They take on a polemical style that is akin to the Spartacist League or even, perhaps, the filibusters of a political meeting. This assertion of the need for a radical rethinking of what the left is and where it is going takes the form of antagonism towards the actually existing left of today. While the ideas are quite profound, they become lost or obscured due to a perceived antagonism against current political and cultural practices.

The terrain that we currently operate on has a deficit of relevant ideological programs. Such programs might identify how we activate forms of political and social organization that can potentially dismantle competitive and oppressive social organization. Generally speaking, there is a severely underdeveloped capacity for combining an analysis of power and capital with a strategy for overcoming it. Attempts at overarching ideological approaches are often shot-down or dismissed without thorough consideration.

Admittedly, most proposals for drastic or revolutionary social re-organization that I have encountered during my short life span seem like impossibilities, as well as often undesirable from my perspective. Yet the disparity between a highly organized network of powerful institutions working in concert to advance right-wing neoconservative and neoliberal ideology and a completely weak and fragmented left is cause for concern. There was a time before a so-called left existed and there is no reason to think that we couldn’t return to some new version of that in the future.

So what is it that scares so many of us about groups that articulate and advance revolutionary ideologies about how the world could work differently? Why is it that when they do come around, they have such poor delivery? Regardless of your specific experience or proximity to radical left wing thinking, this may be of concern to you because of how dire this historical moment is and how visions of a future you might want are lacking. There is something about that feeling of flailing – of knowing things must change but not having the capacity or the level of organization to do anything about it. That feeling is not going to go away unless we take a measured and careful approach to identifying an ideology, culture and politics that can reflect this moment, learn from the past and reach for a better and more livable future.

Conclusion

In this text I’ve attempted to overview some considerations relevant to those interested in playing a strategic role in contemporary social movements (particularly in U.S. cities). I’ve tried to use my experience in one local project to ground my reflections in a place and a practice. Because this larger Whirlwind publication project is being widely circulated amongst participants in a diverse array of local and international leftist tendencies, I’ve taken the occasion to invite readers to collaborate. If the text or methods outlined above resonate with your concerns and interest, please feel free to get in touch. Also, please get in touch if you would like to develop a locally situated research project about the social movements in your situated context.

Developing an AREA project in your home is importantly different from independent media projects that articulate their goals as being alternatives to corporate monopolized “news.” By taking on this kind of project and approach, you are committing to examining the conditions of your context and the various ways that left and progressive social actors respond to and shape that place.

If there were a functional network of various local research projects then we could compare and contrast local initiatives in order to have an analysis of what we share and how to coordinate our efforts. In this historical moment of a weak left, we must carefully assess and learn from one another. We can use this time to deepen our understanding of our history and our resources, and to find alignment in our movements towards an overcoming of capitalism and the deformed social life it produces.

Authors Final Notes:

You will note that this text does not offer a distinct ideological platform for what should be done with cities and their social movements. This is obviously a bigger and more essential question, but is not the task that was taken on while writing this text. To discuss that political project in more depth, please contact me via miscprojects.com

Did this text resonate with you and your interests? Would you like to develop a publication that will research your city and its social movements? Well AREA is expanding and looking for other cities to collaborate with. At this point a few other AREA project are in the works in other cities on the Coasts of the US. Please let us know if you would like to develop an AREA in your home and we can provide resources like website templates, editorial content for your issues and a healthy support network to help you develop the project in a locally specific and beneficial manner. Contact areachicago@gmail.com

Thanks to my collaborators at AREA Chicago and all our contributors. Thanks also to the folks that attended the workshop that served as the basis for this text at “Finding Our Roots: Anarchist Organizing in the Midwest” this last April 2008.

Please see www.areachicago.org for more information.

Footnotes:

  1. The database can be found at: http://areachicago.org/p/authors/
  2. The Economist, March 16, 2006
  3. Pauline Lipman, “Who’s City is it Anyways?” Online at: http://www.learningsite.info/NeoTrashing.pdf
  4. Nancy Thomas, “Looking For Greens.” Online at: http://www.areachicago.org/p/issues/issue-2/looking-for-greens
  5. Julien Ball, “The $7 Million Whitewash.” Online at: http://www.areachicago.org/p/issues/issue-4/seven-million-dollar-whitewash
  6. Jesse Mumm, City Wide Interview about What Has Changed and What Has Stayed The Same. AREA #6

Glossary of Selected Terms:

Neoliberal: A project of radical institutional transformation. This term refers to a unique period in Capitalism in which some economic elite of some countries have encouraged a free-market fundamentalism that is unprecedented since before the Great Depression. This fundamentalist ideology has promoted a reversal of much of the regulation that has protected local and national economies from foreign competition, in addition to much of the social and political gains of social movements (including organized labor). Much of this transformation occurs through the privatization of industries and services previously monopolized by the State, and many of the social programs associated with Welfare. This period is also marked by the opening up of new markets in sectors of life previously untapped for profit-making potential – including those basic services provided by the state, as well as the growing importance of industries like culture, health, environmentalism, and education (to name a few). Neoliberalism is considered to have grown out of the University of Chicago Economics Department, promoted by its ideologues such as Friedrich von Hayek and Milton Friedman. The concepts grow out of a “liberal” tradition, dating back to the theorists of early capitalism in the late 1800s, who were compelled by pure concepts of freedom. For the liberal, “freedom” was the ideal. For the neoliberal, the “free market” undisturbed by any State intervention is ideal. What must be constantly kept in mind is that the ideal is far from the truth, and current so-called neoliberal policies require massive State intervention – only this time around it is exclusively on behalf of economic elite with no attempt to promote policies of economic redistribution, equal opportunity or civic participation.
State retrenchment: This phenomenon could be correlated to “down-sizing” or lay-offs by an employer, but in this case it is happening to the state. Republicans after the Nixon-era have often promised “smaller government and fewer taxes” and in the policies of deregulation and privatization promoted by Reagan, Bush (both of em), and Clinton – we can see retrenchment happening. This means the roles historically associated with the state are no longer what we can expect – their services are being outsourced and in some cases, off-shored. Still, the myth of “small government” is that it is actually small. In the experience of the US, we have merely seen resources taken from the programs of the welfare State and transferred into military – everyday working people are no longer the recipients of subsidies because now nothing can be spared in the subsidies provided to corporations and their economic-elite leadership.

“the local”: From ecology to public space to gentrification – activists have turned their attention to the local scale, often citing the ability to witness faster results and/or an intimidation with larger regions or national spaces. This “localism” is not inherently naive or ignorant of the necessity of a structural and international analysis. It could be seen to be a reaction to the crisis of the left following the dissolution of any coherent or powerful organization or as a pragmatic response to the limitations of international solidarity and Internet activism.

Welfare State: This term generically refers to any instance in which the State provides or subsidizes resources for its citizens. However the term has a diverse and locally specific meaning – with different examples and histories taking root all over the world. In the context of the US, it generally refers to the social programs developed after the great depression produced hunger and malnutrition as well as homelessness and other examples of extreme poverty. These programs developed and grew significantly after Roosevelt’s “New Deal” program which created national infrastructure for these programs and further following the second world war – they grew to encompass public housing, public education and many other basic services. By the 1990s these national programs were rolled back and put in the hands of the individual state governments, or dismantled federally nearly all together. Some critics (because they are anti-communist) consider any “Social expenditure” to be Socialist, while other critics (because they are Anarchists or radical Socialists) consider it to be the means of controlling working class dissent through marginal subsidization of middle-class lifestyles. Regardless, we no longer have much of one in the US.

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Come on Beamers, improve upon this device, I dare you.

bkrpr — The Book Ripper project

February 10th, 2009

The Bkrpr (Book Ripper) project is going to do for printed text what CD ripping software did for recorded music: liberate it from its physical medium so that it can be treated like any other digital data.

That’s not good news for the print publishing industry…

Night of the Living Dead Business Model

…but it’s great news for readers.

You cannot put the genie back in the bottle.

A History of The Real Estate Industry - Orange Markings Video

May 2nd, 2009

A video we found associating “orange markings” with the real estate industry. Unfortunately the video does not document the markings that the narrator refers to. However we thought it valuable to post this video as a reference to one of the popular stories that circulate regarding the origin of the real estate industry.