Saturday, March 18, 2006

Means & Ends / Form & Function

Excerpts from a recent presentation at the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers in Chicago. The presentation was part of a panel ("The Performative and the Political") organized by Allan Pred and Derek Gregory....

As we speak, Dennis Banks is leading a group of runners across the country. Sacred Run 2006 commenced on San Francisco’s Alcatraz Island at sunrise on February 11th and will arrive in Washington D.C. on Earth Day, April 22nd. The runners are carrying a message of peace, opposition to the war in Iraq, and support for those most affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Today they are near Perkins, Oklahoma....

As we speak, a fat man is walking across the country to, as he says, "lose weight and regain my life." Steve Vaught began walking from his home in Oceanside, California on April 10th 2005 and expects to arrive in New York City sometime this summer. Today he is near Dayton, Ohio....

In two days, on the seventy-sixth anniversary of "The Salt March," Fernando Suarez Del Solar will begin walking from Tijuana, Mexico to the Mission District of San Francisco. The 241-mile "March for Peace" – traveling by way of Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base and the Cesar Chavez burial site in La Paz, California – aims to ensure that the Latino voice of opposition to the War in Iraq is heard loud and clear across the Americas. Fernando is the father of Jesus, one of the first Latinos to die in Iraq when he accidentally stepped on an illegal US cluster bomb on March 27th 2003, seven days after the start of the invasion....

I offer this as a way of situating my comments within a larger and more politicized context and also to foreground questions of relevance – questions of the sort that have recently been asked, in a geographical context, by Don Mitchell and Lynn Staeheli in their essay "The Complex Politics of Relevance in Geography," and also by Ruth Wilson Gilmore and Derek Gregory in their contributions to "The Role of Geography in Public Debate."

Today, I’d like to talk about two projects - a symposium and an art exhibition - which I helped organize this past year while a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Both projects deal in part with walking – the potential and the limitations of walking as a way of constructing and contesting place. Before describing these projects in greater detail, I want to further position this presentation within the context of critical methodologies. That is to say, I want to talk specifically about how these projects were designed – about how our design choices were, in turn, informed by questions of relevance. In short, a consideration of how form relates to function, and how means relate to ends....

Last September 11th a group of researchers, activists and media-artists gathered in Moscow for a conference, "Capturing the Moving Mind," organized by a group affiliated with the online journal Ephemera: Theory and Politics in Organization. The stated purpose of the conference was to explore the new logics of economics, the war against terror and cooperative modes of creation and resistance. 50 participants spent the next ten days traveling trough 9 time zones, from Moscow to Beijing aboard the Trans-Siberian train. Materials generated en route – discussions, interviews, texts and films – were distributed in real-time via the Internet. The "Trans-Siberian Radio Project," a low power FM radio station, a mobile lab for on-air experimentation, featured music and ideas created collaboratively by passengers on the train and accessible to everyone along the train’s path. One of the organizers, Natilee Harren, said: "The spirit of the conference is to cross fixed boundaries and to create an environment that is open to the contaminating influences of the communities through which the train will pass. In fact, the point of having the conference on a train is to escape any restrictions relating to a particular time or place."

"Capturing the Moving Mind" may be an extreme example, and it’s not an unproblematic one, but it does effectively raise questions about methodology. This mobile conference can be counter-posed with other, slightly more orthodox gatherings such as "CICIVCentre: Reclaiming the Right to Performance," a week-long symposium in London in April 2003 that explored the relationship between contemporary performance, civic dialogue and political intervention. Another good example is "Points of Contact - Performance, Places and Pasts," organized by the Centre for Performance Research in Wales in September 1998. This four-day event, which included two full-day field-trips, brought together Welsh performance practitioners whose work is concerned with notions of place and identity with other international artists and scholars from a variety of disciplines. In fact, there are numerous examples of this sort of methodological experimentation – the most innovative of which often lack institutional affiliation....

A recent online discussion facilitated by the Institute for Distributed Creativity – an international group that focuses on collaboration in media art, technology, and theory with an emphasis on social contexts – has likewise pursued questions about the design and format of conferences and festivals. Discussion participants engaged in a nuanced critique of, what they referred to as, "panelism" – the traditional format of conferences that are structured around panels, 20-minute time-slots, and the keynote address. The critique did not suggest that traditional formats are inherently unproductive – that they must be abandoned – but rather that they need to be more self-reflexive and open to experimentation and alternative structures….

Implicit in this critique is recognition of the relationship between form and function and a call for greater accountability between the two. It builds on ideas that Walter Benjamin identified in his essay "The Author as Producer" – his insistence that we, as producers, concern ourselves equally with means and ends:

"An author who has carefully thought about the conditions of production today... will never be concerned with the products alone, but always, at the same time, with the means of production. In other words, his products must possess an organizing function besides and before their character as finished works."

I’m very interested in how these questions about relevance inform subsequent decisions about the "organizing function" and how this discourse can potentially lead to a more strategic and critical methodology within a variety of different contexts – one that is more responsible to the means of production in which it operates.

With this in mind, we organized the symposium (Walking as Knowing as Making) and the exhibition (Urban/Rural/Wild) as a means to investigate place as both a concept and a material reality – to facilitate an accessible yet critical reading of the landscape, and to engage in a simultaneous decoding and recoding of space. Both events employed a variety of different interpretive strategies to activate specific aspects of our local history and politics and to interrogate our formulations of place in general. In other words, we sought to articulate a provisional assessment of place that would be consistent with W.J.T Mitchell’s assertion that "[a]n account of landscape has to trace the process by which landscape effaces its own readability and naturalizes itself.”

How do we know a place? How do we facilitate a conversation about place? These two questions were central in the development of the symposium and the exhibition. Beyond simply facilitating a dialogue – or presuming to start one where none previously existed – both projects attempted to tap into fragments of existing dialogue and to reveal the potential for cross-pollination and collaboration. Furthermore, both projects attempted to move beyond dialogue and to directly engage in acts of critical spatial practice - a term coined by the architectural historian Jane Rendell to describe the point of convergence between critical theory and spatial practice....

Tinkering with format aside, in the end, a symposium is still just a symposium; an exhibition still just an exhibition. As theorized, walking and place are still relatively abstract and not much is immediately at stake. These forms of cultural production must not be confused with the sort of "on the ground" organizing work that possesses true political efficacy. Certainly these efforts can be a part of that ongoing struggle. But they can’t be a substitute, at least not an effective one. It’s our responsibility as organizers and producers to connect with communities and individuals who will continue doing the "real work" long after the exhibition comes down and the symposium ends. Or better yet we can do some of that work ourselves....

Related stuff:

A growing collection of links about various conferences & festivals that have given serious thought to questions of design, format, and methodology....

Tactics without Tears / Trevor Paglen & Aaron Gach

DATA browser 02: Engineering Culture

Interrupt Symposia

interrupt / artists in socially engaged practice

The ABC's of Conferencing. Experiment, Play, Reflect / Trebor Scholz & Geert Lovink

Trans-Siberia and Back Again: Capturing the Moving Mind / Darryl Lorenzo Wellington

The Trans-Siberian journey "Capturing the Moving Mind/Management and Movement in the Age of Permanently Temporary War" brought together 40 selected artists, activists, mathematicians, economists, sociologists and musicians on a ten-day train ride from Moscow to Novosibirsk (the largest city in Siberia) to Beijing. The project was an experiment in cohabitating in a spatially altered "moving" environment, passing from West to East across a magnificent landscape as the group discussed the state of our violently temporal world. Among the 40 artists aboard the trans-Siberian train were Gwylène Gallimard and Jean-Marie Mauclet, two community-based artists living in Charleston, S.C. They brought with them their current project, called "The Future Is on the Table," which is based in communities all around the world. They were interviewed about the journey for this article.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A Mis-Guide to Anywhere

4 Mis-Guided Tours

Performance: Sat 08 Apr 2006

Wrights & Sites and Tony Weaver mark the launch of their new book, A Mis-Guide To Anywhere, by leading four walking tours within the environs of the ICA.

A utopian project for the recasting of a bitter world by disrupted walking, A Mis-Guide to Anywhere is a travel document for your destinationless journeys.

Unlike ordinary guided tours, these walks will be disrupted by the practice of mytho-geography, which places the fictional, fanciful, fragile and personal on equal terms with ‘factual’, municipal history.

Each 90 minute walk can accommodate ten people, and will start and finish in the foyer of the ICA.

12.30pm - The Problem of Shopping

Rearrange the dreams on sale by reading stories in window displays, sight-seeing shop assistants, shopping for a fictional ‘you’ or exploring shopping nostalgia.

12.45pm - Out of Place

A walk of coincidences, derived from overlaying a map of Paris onto London. What’s where the Eiffel Tower should be? Where can we stop for un Ricard?

1pm - Scales

In a park or open city space: walk the dimensions of a paving stone; walk the dimensions of your home; walk the dimensions of your body.

1.15pm - Masses

A drift in search of spaces where the trivial becomes monumental and the monumental becomes cake decoration. A chance to give homage to the trinkets and fondle butchers in bronze.

We have been three years in making the new book, including walks in Shanghai, rural Zambia, Copenhagen, Barcelona, Manchester, Paris, the island of Herm... Mindful of at least a few of the ironies, impossibilities, contradictions and perils present in its title, A Mis-Guide To Anywhere provides a number of provocations for reader-walkers to make their own exploratory journeys in whatever environment they choose: metropolis, home town, countryside, holiday destination...anywhere. Anywhere you can walk slowly down the street without being shot at by Western contractors. Anywhere you can fall asleep on your feet. Anywhere you can reorganise buildings without permission. Anywhere the movie you always wanted to see is playing. When we published An Exeter Mis-Guide three years ago we were very surprised that it attracted a readership well beyond the bounds of the city - it's now studied in numerous theatre, fine art, geography and sociology departments in universities around the world. The fact that a guidebook designed for use in a small provincial English city could be used in cities like Bangalore, Melbourne and Washington inspired the making of A Mis-Guide To Anywhere.

About Mis-Guides

Mis-Guides are like no other guides you have ever used before. Rather than telling you where to go and what to see, a Mis-Guide gives you the ways to see your city or environment that no one else has found yet. A Mis-Guide is both a forged passport to your 'other' city and a new way of travelling a very familiar one. An essential part of the toolkit of any 21st Century survivor.

A Mis-Guide often takes the form of a guide book or a map. It suggests a series of walks and points of observation and contemplation within a particular town, city or landscape. Unlike an ordinary guide book, it is guided by the practice of mytho-geography, which places the fictional, fanciful, fragile and personal on equal terms with 'factual', municipal history. Author and walker become partners in ascribing significance to place. These types of Mis-Guides are produced by Exeter-based, site-specific artists Wrights & Sites, working with visual artist Tony Weaver.

Wrights & Sites is a group of artist-researchers with a special relationship to place.... The core members of W&S (Stephen Hodge, Simon Persighetti, Phil Smith and Cathy Turner) explore and celebrate site in many forms (domestic, landscape, public and forbidden) through site-specific performance, 'drifts', mythogeographic mapping, Mis-Guided Tours and published Mis-Guides. Wrights & Sites was formed in 1997.


SITE-SPECIFIC: The Quay Thing Documented

Out of Place: The Politics of Site-Specific Performance in Contested Space (a performance presentation)

Mis-Guiding the City Walker

A Manifesto for a New Walking Culture: 'dealing with the city'

Dread, Route and Time: An Autobiographical Walking of Everything Else

A Short History of the Future of Walking

Sunday, March 05, 2006


Dignity Village / Village Building Convergence

On December 16th of the year 2000, a group of eight homeless men and women pitched five tents on public land and Camp Dignity, later to become Dignity Village, was born. We came out of the doorways of Portland's streets, out from under the bridges, from under the bushes of public parks, we came openly with nothing and no longer a need to hide as Portland's inhumane and Draconian camping ban had just been overturned on two constitutional grounds. We came armed with a vision of a better future for ourselves and for all of Portland, a vision of a green, sustainable urban village where we can live in peace and improve not only the condition of our own lives but the quality of life in Portland in general. We came in from the cold of a December day and we refuse to go back to the way things were....

The Village Building Convergence is part of The City Repair Project Placemaking Program, fulfilling City Repair’s mission to educate, inspire and activate local communities and develop our city and bioregion as a network of interconnected Village Centers. As villagers, we seek to combine our highest knowledge and understanding of history, contemporary conditions, social, ecological and technological innovations and our respect for future generations.

VBC is a statement of our combined dedication to create the world in which we want to be living. At its root, VBC is about actively building our community, and realizing the strength and beauty of our power when we work and play together. By building a physical and social village infrastructure we are realizing our common visions for a lively and sustainable urban community. The Village Center is the place where we come together, feel nurtured and share our hopes and dreams.

The Village Building Convergence 2006 (VBC6) is a 10-day event from May 19th – 28th, 2006 in which neighborhoods activate to build shared public places that they have envisioned, designed, funded, and will maintain for themselves. Projects are created as a way for neighborhoods to craft physical places that express their local relationships, culture, and facilitate gathering and communication. All projects are built through collaboration, community conversations and commitment of a neighborhood to strengthen itself. Projects are founded on developing strong local relationships, social capital and equity, placemaking and ecological design, and supporting our local economy.

City Repair / Intersection Repair

The City Repair Project is group of citizen activists creating public gathering places and helping others to creatively transform the places where they live.

With a mostly volunteer staff and the help of hundreds of volunteer citizen activists, our many projects:
  • educate people about why most American neighborhoods are socially isolating and culturally inactive, and how we can transform them from the grassroots,
  • inspire people to both understand themselves as part of a larger community and fulfill their own creative potential, and
  • activate people to be part of the communities around them, as well as part of the decision-making that shapes the future of their communities.
A neighbor presents a proposal at the Division Street placemaking workshop, July 2001 at the Red and Black Cafe. City Repair was formed in Portland, Oregon in 1996 by citizen activists who wanted a more community-oriented and ecologically sustainable society. Born out of a successful grassroots neighborhood initiative that converted a residential street intersection into a neighborhood public square, City Repair began its work with the idea that localization (of culture, of economy, of decision-making) is a necessary foundation of sustainability. By reclaiming urban spaces to create community-oriented places, we plant the seeds for greater neighborhood communication, empower our communities and nurture our local culture.

Intersection Repair is the citizen-led conversion of an urban street interesection into public square.

Streets are usually the only public space we have in our neighborhoods. But most all of them have been designed with a single purpose in mind: moving cars around.

With an Intersection Repair, that public space is reclaimed for the whole community. The intersection of pathways becomes a place for people to come together. The space becomes a Place - a public square.

The Mad Housers

Mad Housers Inc. is an Atlanta-based non-profit corporation engaged in charitable work, research and education. Our charter outlines our goals and purposes:
  • To provide shelter for homeless individuals and families regardless of race, creed, national origin, gender, religion, or age.
  • To develop low income housing for people in need of housing.
  • To help people develop the skills and knowledge for constructing and rehabilitating housing and shelter.
  • To increase the quantity and to improve the quality of housing in the world.
  • To act, if necessary as an advocate for the homeless, to ensure that their moral and civil rights are protected.
The Mad Housers believe that if a person has a secure space from which to operate, they are much more capable of finding the resources to help themselves.

Learning Group

Learning Group is comprised of Rikke Luther (DK) and Cecilia Wendt (S), co-founders of the Scandinavian former group N55, Julio Castro (MEX), co-founder of Tercerunquinto, and Brett Bloom (US), co-founder of Temporary Services. The different backgrounds are the basis for expanding the language we built up through sharing and mixing.

Learning Group pays attention to the local conditions it finds in the place where it chooses to work. In the past years Learning Group has mainly worked with resource materials and economies related to the specific situations where work has been carried out. Economic, environmental, labor, property rights, and many other issues are investigated in tandem to produce a variety of perspectives amongst ourselves and others. Learning Group engages in discussions of how knowledge is distributed and produced.


“Unhoused” gathers visual evidence of populations in Atlanta, Chicago, Kyoto, Osaka, and Monterrey (MX), enduring very local variations of a global housing crisis. This evidence is part of our ongoing research for a book on the work of inspiring groups and organizations that bring visibility and innovative approaches to successfully address unhousing issues, pumping new energy into the struggles to articulate and confront complex housing problems.

Unhousing describes both the process by which people are displaced and the kinds of situations and structures generated in response to this displacement. Unhousing is manifested in very local and culturally specific ways. In Japan, the tidy shacks that populate Osaka’s largest park look different from the sprawling favelas of Sao Paolo, or the vast squatted areas that increase the population of Mexico City at alarming rates. Encampments in Los Angeles are tolerated in an inverse relationship to the tiny cardboard shacks in Chicago, which are obliterated almost as quickly as they are built. While each local situation is different, the underlying causes are increasingly interrelated as corporate globalization extends its reach, impacting housing markets around the world in direct and indirect ways. Unhousing is not specific to cities. Rural areas have their own sets of unique concerns. This exhibition is a way to start looking at these unique situations together, to see their commonality through their differences.


MICRO DWELLINGS is a system for making low cost dwellings of variable sizes for any number of persons.It consists of movable housing modules that can form different configurations on land, on water and under water. The system allows for a diversity of materials as well as changes and adaptations.

The MICRO DWELLINGS are modular, can be scaled up and down, and expand and grow together with other systems into small communities. The MICRO DWELLINGS can be built onto rooftops of existing buildings or be suspended from a bridge or a wall. The modules can be mounted on wheels to become mobile or be connected to form floating constructions. As is the case with the version shown in this manual, they can also be made as watertight, amphibian houses that can be completely submerged or partly elevated to the water surface.

Most functions will be built into walls, and furniture, household equipment etc. will be provided by movable elements that change functions during the day. Supply modules can be mounted on the outside of the main modules.

The MICRO DWELLINGS are able to reflect changes in life, e.g. people moving in and out, the arrival of children, etc, as it is easy to add to the construction in stages. If people want to live together they can simply let their dwellings grow together, likewise, it is easy to separate modules and move them if desirable. The MICRO DWELLINGS in themselves do not define a social constellation, but only provide the basic equipment so that persons can configure their own social setting. The present version of the system is made of cheap steel plates and can be constructed by anybody who knows how to weld.


This archive of Mobile Structures is intended to serve as a resource for people that currently use Mobile Structures, that are interested in developing new mobile structures, and that are interested in the ideas that inform these practices. Mobile Structures are incredibly diverse in function and design. They exist for innumerable reasons, from military applications to basic entertainment purposes. This site attempts to present the vast array of individuals, organizations, and corporations that are using or marketing mobile structures to provide services, present ideas, and perform outreach.

It becomes easy to find commonalities of design in structures that are utterly unrelated in intent when looking at all varieties of mobile structures rather than just those designed for a specific purpose. One can start to see relationships between a mobile memorial and a mobile movie theater, or a library bookmobile and a mobile pet adoption center. One can start to think about what a mobile gym and a mobile dentist office might have in common. In researching mobile structures, it slowly becomes evident that every stationary institution seems to have its mobile equivalent - either as an extension of that institution or as a separate portable equivalent. Some museums have mobile traveling versions of their collection, while other museums lack a fixed location existing entirely in modified trucks.

Many of these structures exist to fulfill either a desire or a need to perform outreach, present ideas, or create convenience where easy accessibility is lacking. A library bookmobile brings books to people in rural areas that lack easy access to libraries. A mobile medical unit brings surgery to people that lack hospitals. A shared interest in mobility unites the most diverse practices. One can imagine bringing all of these mobile practitioners together and finding that they would have a lot to talk about with one another.

This archive attempts to break down some distinctions between practices in order to highlight the variety of mobile structures that are available. Bringing these disparate structures together suggests how one might develop even more interesting hybrid structures. Could one develop a mobile gym and movie theater where you could watch a film while riding an exercise bike? Could a mobile pet adoption service and dentist office co-exist, where a specialist that is trained as both a dentist and a veterinarian could alternately assist people and animals from the same modified trailer? This archive shows endless permutations of similar structures. How many times has a similar truck been adapted to suit very different functions?

A lot of people don't own their own houses or businesses, but many people own cars and bicycles. Even more people own luggage carts. Anyone can own or borrow a push cart or an abandoned shopping cart. Anything you can take with you or move from one location to the next to present ideas or perform a service qualifies as a mobile structure. While some of these resources are highly elaborate, other designs are incredibly modest. A Mobile Structure can be as large as an 18 Wheeler and as small as your coat pocket. Mobile Structures provide people with a means of bringing their work to others and expanding the audiences for their ideas.


Manufactured Home (1996)
10' x 32' x 8'
plastic sheathing, twigs, plastic twine, cable ties, plywood, cinder blocks, lights, video

This piece is made primarily from sheet plastic salvaged from manufactured home deliveries and natural materials. It has been installed several times with available materials and site-specific concepts. Viewers experience the work from inside and out.

SIMPARCH is an artist collaborative group organized and maintained by Matt Lynch and Steven Badgett. Since 1996, SIMPARCH has been creating large-scale interactive artworks that examine building practices and site specificity. The ethos of SIMPARCH has been to create an armature for social interaction through experimentation with materials and design.

Michael Rakowitz / paraSITE


paraSITE proposes the appropriation of the exterior ventilation systems on existing architecture as a means for providing temporary shelter for homeless people.


The paraSITE units in their idle state exist as small, collapsible packages with handles for transport by hand or on one's back. In employing this device, the user must locate the outtake ducts of a building's HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning) system.


The intake tube of the collapsed structure is then attached to the vent. The warm air leaving the building simultaneously inflates and heats the double membrane structure.


Raw culture. Real nature. Rough around the edges. Ecoshack is an offsite facility and design lab where inventors, designers, packagers and sellers of tomorrow's products and services can connect, ideate, prototype and hang out. Founded in 2004 by LA-based designer / strategist Stephanie Smith, Ecoshack's goal is to bring a little more fringe mentality to mainstream culture and commerce. Stay green.


Saturday, March 04, 2006


The Guantanamobile Project is an attempt to both inform and collect public opinion. We believe it is vitally important to help the American public understand the legal, political and territorial issues surrounding the Guantanamo detentions. But we also feel it is necessary, at this historical moment, to survey, record and archive the national and international response to the administration's actions, the Supreme Court decision, and the continued role the "fortified American toehold" of Guantanamo continues to play in international conflicts. It is our feeling that, in effect, the Guantanamo situation represents the genie unleashed from the bottle. Even if the Bush administration eventually tries to minimize the presence of Guantanamo by rendering detainees elsewhere, the ripple effects of the administration's sweeping claims to extrajudicial authority have already extended across the United States and around the world.

The Guantanamobile Project has three primary components - a website which serves as an information and survey database and networking center; and a mobile "Guantanamobile" that will circulate information, perform field research, and hold nightly projection events; and an documentary about the practice of wartime detentions at Guantanamo Bay.

The Guantanamobile Project / Lisa Lynch & Elena Razlogova

Editors' Introduction

In July and August 2004, The Guantanamobile Project hit the road, taking a shrink-wrapped, tech-laden van into the streets and parking lots of several Southern and Midwestern cities. The van created a mobile, roaming public sphere aimed at engaging reflection and dialogue about U.S. detention practices at Guantanamo. The Project was motivated by its creators’ observation that U.S. citizens seemed largely unconcerned with what was happening on a remote military base beyond the borders of the nation, so it also provided factual and analytical information about the U.S. legal system and the detention center itself. The results of their experiments with this technologically-mediated, D.Y.I. public realm form one thread of the Vectors’ project presented here.

This publication brings together material from the road trip and its interviews, from extensive research, from the film produced for the road trip, and from the website for the larger project, underscoring the mutability and transformative potential of digital documents. Working across multiple platforms – both digital and physical – and drawing from an ever-expanding database of resource materials to create civically-engaged products, the Guantanamobile Project underscores the intermedial quality of 21st-century life. The use of audio and video in the piece published here sets the stage for the user’s deeper engagement with a host of moral, legal, and political topics. It also reminds us that mobility is not equally available to everyone.

Like others pieces in this issue, The Guantanamobile Project also blurs the line between ‘scholarship proper’ and public discourse, encouraging an expansion of the scholarly concerns of legal and cultural studies to a broader audience. Given the circulation possibilities of digital publication and the increasing marginalization of the humanities within the university, it is crucial to understand such public sphere activity as scholarly activity rather than as something scholars might do ‘in addition’ to their research. Such a perspective informs the ongoing push within the academy toward a new type of public humanities that can connect the work of various scholars to issues of public relevance and import.

Vectors Journal of Culture and Technology in a Dynamic Vernacular
MOBILITY / Issue 2 / Fall 2005

Eyeballing the Naval Station Guantanamo Bay

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Holler to the Hood / Appalshop

H2H Mission Statement

Holler to the Hood is a multi-media human rights project designed to foster collaboration and communication between urban and rural communities. The project was initiated by Appalshop artists in response to the growing prison boom in the economically distressed central Appalachian coalfields. We believe in the power of art to speak boldly for human rights and positive social change in our communities.

Holler History

Holler was started in 1999 by artists Nick Szuberla and Amelia Kirby in response to concerns about the rising number of prisons being built in central Appalachia, and the cultural tensions created when a large number of urban prisoners, the majority of whom are people of color, were transferred into this predominantly white, rural area. Holler to the Hood artists and grassroots partners believe that the placement of prisons in rural areas is an opportunity for building alliances between urban and rural communities.

Holler is a project of Appalshop, a rural arts and cultural center founded in 1969 in Whitesburg, Kentucky. Appalshop’s purpose has been to work with mountain communities as they create solutions to their own problems, use media and performing arts as a means to create positive social change, explore diversity and cultural respect through local identity, and participate in regional, national and global dialogue toward these ends. Appalshop is based on the principle that local people can control their images and that media-based cultural and political expression can empower communities to fight for social and economic change.


Holler to the Hood Documentary

Holler to the Hood is a one-hour television documentary produced by Nick Szuberla and Amelia Kirby. In 1999 Szuberla and Kirby were volunteer DJ’s for the Appalachian region’s only hip-hop radio program in Whitesburg, KY when they received hundreds of letters from inmates transferred into nearby Wallens Ridge, the region’s newest prison built to prop up the shrinking coal economy. The letters described human rights violations and racial tension between staff and inmates. Filming began that year and, though the lens of Wallens Ridge State Prison, the program offers viewers an in-depth look at the United States prison industry and the social impact of moving hundreds of thousands of inner-city minority offenders to distant rural outposts. The film explores competing political agendas that align government policy with human rights violations, and political expediencies that bring communities into racial and cultural conflict with tragic consequences. Connections exist, in both practice and ideology, between human rights violations in Abu Ghraib and physical and sexual abuse recorded in American prisons.

Calls from Home / A radio broadcast for prisoners and their families

Calls From Home is an effort to educate the public about the criminal justice system. Community radio stations, prisoner family groups, and artists are working with Holler to bring the voices of prisoners’ family members to the airwaves on stations across the country.


In an effort to explore the intersections between rural and urban cultures, Holler to the Hood brought together Dirk Powell, a traditional Appalachian musician, and DanjaMowf, a hip-hop rapper and producer, to collaborate on combining the two types of music. Grounded in the distinct hip-hop and Appalachian cultural traditions in which the artists are immersed, the music seeks to explore, compare, and articulate the struggles and issues of contemporary rural and urban communities that have been juxtaposed through the political maneuvering of the American justice system.

Thousand Kites

Utilizing audio, video, live performance, and digital mediums, Appalshop’s Holler to the Hood (H2H) project has created a local and national web community around prison issues. In the past five years, thousands of kites – in prisoner slang to fly a kite is to send a message – have flown between H2H and prisoners—including raps, songs, and poems performed over toll-free phone lines hooked to H2H’s weekly radio and web broadcast. Hundreds of letters, essays, and pieces of prisoner art have been posted on H2H’s website. The Thousand Kites project relies on this web network, and innovative use of the digital medium itself, to create a series of live community-based performances.

Performance creation will begin with the prisoners in two Appalachian super-maximum prisons cited in 2001 by Human Rights Watch for physical abuse, racial intimidation, and sexual humiliation – and, importantly, with these prisoners’ home communities. Working virtually with prisoners and in-person with families of prisoners, the H2H and Roadside ensembles will use their combined expertise to jump-start script development; the theater’s community story-circle methodology, will be mirrored in digital space by H2H to allow for prisoner and prisoner network participation. This creation process will produce a script that can be adapted to the culturally specific, local content of each presenting community. Family photo albums and prison art will be important design elements in each of the local productions.

The 15-30 live performances will premiere simultaneously in December 2006 in prisons, churches and community centers in prison communities, co-produced by members of the national prison network of activists and prison family organizations associated with H2H. These performances will be broadcast on 100 radio stations located near prisons—from Sing-Sing to Red Onion to Angola—which are also part of H2H’s network. After the premieres, the script will be available for public use free of charge through H2H’s website. H2H and Roadside conceive of their artistic work in cycles of planning, creation, and assessment within 10 year time frames, thus what is learned from this effort will become the basis for the next cycle of their prison work.

Weekly Radio Program

What if artists and activists in central Appalachia ran a weekly hip-hop radio program in response to the burgeoning prison population? What if the show brought urban and rural communities together? We answer these questions together every Monday night with Holler to the Hood's weekly radio show. Listen Mondays from 8-11pm on WMMT 88.7. To send your shout-outs, poems, prayers and songs over the airwaves call 606-633-1208 or email:

Appalshop is a multi-disciplinary arts and education center in the heart of Appalachia producing original films, video, theater, music and spoken-word recordings, radio, photography, multimedia, and books.

Misc Prison Resources

Southern Illinois Prisons
Federal Bureau of Prisons / Facilities
Illinois Department of Corrections / Correctional Facilities
"The Color and Geography of Prison Growth in Illinois" / Paul Street (.pdf)
"Starve the Racist Prison Beast" / Paul Street
"Race, Place, and the Perils of Prisonomics" / Paul Street
"The Political Consequences Of Racist Felony Disenfranchisement" / Paul Street
The Chicago Reporter / "Census dollars bring bounty to prison towns"
Prisoners of the Census / Illinois
Illinois Labor Market Review / "Prisons and Southern Illinois"
Illinois Labor Market Review / "Throughout Southern Illinois: Mines Move Out as Prisons Move In"
Illinois Issues / "Hard Time"
SIUC Perspectives / "Scrutinizing the Supermax"
Critical Resistance
Prison Sucks: Research on the Prison Industrial Complex
National Institute of Corrections / Illinois
2004 Illinois Statistical Abstract / Crime and Law Enforcement
The Next American City / "A SORRY EXCUSE FOR A DECENT LIVING: How Rural Illinois Has Staked its Revival on Prison Growth"
Newtopia Magazine / "The Vice Lords of the Replacement Economies: How the Drug War and the Prison-Industrial Complex connect in a vicious cycle of violence, vice, and profit"
American Indian Prisoners
California Prison Focus
Newtopia Magazine / "A Less Fashionable War"
Drug War Facts
AlterNet / Drug Reporter
"Drugs and Disparity: The Racial Impact of Illinois' Practice of Transferring Young Drug Offenders to Adult Court"
The Corrections Documentary Project / Corrections: A Documentary Film
Prison Maps
The Real Cost of Prisons PROJECT / WEBLOG
Recording Carceral Landscapes / "From Military Industrial Complex to Prison Industrial Complex" / Prof. Ruth Wilson Gilmore in conversation with Trevor Paglen
De:constructing Recidivism
U.S. Department of Justice / Bureau of Justice Statistics / Prison Statistics