Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Critical Outer Spatial Practice?

"Whitey on the Moon"

On Gil Scott-Heron's "Whitey on the Moon" / Seneca Doane @ Daily Kos

My sense is that if most people know any reference to the music of Gil Scott-Heron ("GSH") nowadays, it would likely be the title of his arch, sardonic proto-rap single "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," from the 1974 compilation album of that name. For many of us who grew up in the mid-1970s, this GSH album was the Richard Pryor concert of music -- the rebellious and pugnacious and smart as hell spirit of Malcolm X in 40 or so minutes. It was a common fixture in the record collections of the hosts of parties I attended then, and one that, when I was hosting, a guest was likely to pull out to play.

This song contained not only proto-rap, but some of the most beautiful and haunting songs you could ever want to hear, such as "Lady Day" and "Pieces of a Man." But the one that prompts this diary, on the 40th anniversary of the landing of Apollo 11, is "Whitey on the Moon," because I can't think of the events of that day without thinking of that song and the challenge that it offers.

Continue reading...

"Whitey On the Moon" Lyrics by Gil Scott Heron

Stuff White People Do: Extend the White Conquest of the Earth Into Outer Space

Read "Outer Space and Inner Cities: African American Responses to NASA" in Lynn Spigel's Welcome to the Dreamhouse.

Read Lynn Spigel's "White Flight" in The Revolution Wasn't Televised.

Outer Spatial?

Project M.A.S.A

M.A.S.A. Mission Statement

To establish an awareness of outerspace as an integral part of the Chicano(a) ModernMythos/Reality/Iconography.

The Purpose of the MeChicano Alliance of Space Artists is revealing the presence of:

* Chicana(o) Issues
* Chicana(o) Culture
* World issues as related to Chicana(o)s in a modern global society

...through the use of modern outer space or cosmic iconography.

Space Ghost / Laurie Jo Reynolds / Video Data Bank

Space Ghost compares the experiences of astronauts and prisoners, using popular depictions of space travel to illustrate the physical and existential aspects of incarceration: sensory deprivation, the perception of time as chaotic and indistinguishable, the displacement of losing face-to-face contact, and the sense of existing in a different but parallel universe with family and loved-ones.

Physical comparisons such as the close living quarters, the intensity of the immediate environment, and sensory deprivation soon give way to psychological ones: the isolation, the changing sense of time, and the experience of earth as distant, inaccessible and desirable. The analogy extends to media representations that hold astronauts and prisoners in an inverse relationship: the super citizen vs. the super-predator. Astronauts, ceaselessly publicized, are frozen in time and memory whereas prisoners, anonymous and ignored, age without being remembered.

The end of the video introduces the notion of the "phantom zone" taken from Superman to describe incarceration as an in between space, a no man's land or a warehouse. A letter from an inmate explains how the space/time continuum can become reconfigured in prison: The time really goes by fast here. You can do years in prison and it seems like no time at all. That's because you don't remember any of the time you did. And that's because there's nothing to remember.

Astronauts and Prisoners Unite in 'Space Ghost' / Eight Forty-Eight on Chicago Public Radio

Trevor Paglen's The Other Night Sky

“The Other Night Sky” is a project to track and photograph classified American satellites in Earth orbit, a total of 189 covert spacecraft. To develop the body of work, I was assisted by observational data produced by an international network of amateur “satellite observers.” To translate the observational data into a useable form, I spent almost two years working with a team of computer scientists and engineers at the Eyebeam Center for Art + Technology to develop a software model to describe the orbital motion of classified spacecraft.

With these tools, I am able to calculate the position and timing of overhead reconnaissance satellite transits and photograph them with telescopes and large-format cameras using a computer-guided mechanical mount. The resultant skyscapes are marked by trails of sunlight reflected from the hulls of obscure spacecraft hurtling through the night.

In developing this project, I have been primarily inspired by the methods of early astronomers like Kepler and Galileo, who documented previously-unseen moons of Jupiter in the early 17th Century. Like contemporary reconnaissance satellites, Jupiter’s moons weren’t supposed to “exist,” but were nonetheless there. With this series, I want to ask what it means to see the traces of “secret moons” in the contemporary night sky.

The Other Night Sky at the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive

Download the exhibition brochure (PDF)

Artist Trevor Paglen has his eye on satellites / San Francisco Chronicle

Photographer Documents Secret Satellites — All 189 of Them / WIRED


Space is the Place / iCI - Independent Curators International

space tag @ Danger Room

Friday, June 12, 2009

End Torture in Illinois

Illinois Torture Publicized with Ecological Art: Chicago and Milwaukee artists boost Tamms Year Ten message with mud stencils

On Saturday, June 6th in Chicago, local artists partnered with the Tamms Year Ten coalition to protest state-sanctioned torture at the supermax prison in Southern Illinois. And they did it with mud.

Artists from Chicago and Milwaukee engaged in a non-destructive type of public messaging called “mud-stenciling.” More than 30 volunteers stenciled their message “End Torture in Illinois” in the afternoon on walls and sidewalks around the city offering fact-sheets about TAMMS supermax prison to curious pedestrians. The teams hit spots such as Navy Pier, The Chicago Art Institute, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Jane Adams Hull House, Hyde Park Art Center, the Logan Square skate park, the Chicago Zoo, DePaul University, as well as sidewalks, underpass walls, and numerous other locations....

Read full press release

Mud stencil video by Gretchen Hasse.

Eye Exam: Mud Slinging / Lori Waxman / Newcity Art

Dirt, water, whisk, sponge, bucket, box cutter, tar paper—these are not your typical artist’s materials. Mix the water and dirt in the bucket, lay the cut-out paper against a cement surface, and sponge on the mud, however, and the result is a handsome work of environmentally friendly graffiti.

Street artists often work with stencils, using them to shape spray-painted statements. But a chemical medium dispensed through an aerosol container reeks of toxicity, so Milwaukee-based Jesse Graves, intent on finding a more compatible way to apply his environmentally and politically conscious messages, evolved an alternate means of tagging: mud. The technique is nothing short of ingenious. Simple, cheap, graphically effective and not necessarily illegal, mud stencils, if protected from the elements, can last up to ten years; or, like all dirt, they can be washed off with water. Consistency is key, however, to achieving a bold visual with sharp edges: the mud mixture must be carefully controlled so that it achieves a viscosity akin to peanut butter or feces.

Yes, feces—like the feces sometimes smeared by inmates at Tamms prison on the walls of their cells. Cells where they are held in permanent solitary confinement, bereft of all human contact, for up to twenty-three hours a day, with breaks only for showers and individual exercise. It’s a supermax jail in Southern Illinois originally designed for the short-term punishment of violent inmates from other facilities, but one-third of whose occupants have now been locked up in extreme isolation for over a decade, with no clearly defined standards for transfer in or out. Widely believed to cause permanent physiological and psychological damage, these conditions contravene the Geneva Convention, two United Nations treaties and various other international human-rights accords. Conditions which have led inmates not only to paint their walls with shit in desperate attempts for attention, but also to mutilate themselves, to attempt suicide, and to require—for one in every ten men at Tamms—regular doses of psychotropic medication. All this for up to $90,000 a year per inmate, three to four times the cost of incarceration at other prisons in Illinois.

What any of this has to do with mud stenciling was revealed this past Saturday as some thirty artists and other activists took to the streets of Chicago armed with six-by-nine-foot cutouts, informational flyers and the resolve to help end torture in Illinois. That was the message they broadcast in mud—END TORTURE IN ILLINOIS—bordered with a broken line in the shape of the state, topped with a star for Tamms, the regional capital of cruel and unusual punishment. They hit locations across the city, from the Art Institute and the Board of Trade to the Logan Square Skate Park, Senator Rickey Hendon’s West Side office, the Lincoln Park Green City Market, the University of Illinois quad, the DePaul Student Center and various sidewalks, boarded-up buildings and underpasses in between.

The campaign was the latest tactical art action by Tamms Year Ten, and one of its most vivid and accessible yet. A coalition of more than seventy groups throughout Illinois, from mental-health alliances to human-rights advocacies and faith-based committees, Tamms Year Ten was founded last year on the occasion of the prison’s tenth anniversary with the goal of urging the governor of Illinois and the Illinois Department of Corrections to either close or convert the prison, following national trends; to establish transparency and standards at the facility; and at the very least to follow the original legislative intent for the supermax, which was only meant for short-term use.

Tamms Year Ten has also worked with Illinois lawmakers to introduce HB2633, which includes provisions for instituting accountability at the prison and prohibiting mentally ill prisoners from being moved there in the first place. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Julie Hamos with twenty-seven co-sponsors, seems like the least the state can do in the face of the grotesque human-rights violations it has been committing for the past decade in the name of law and order. Identical confinement at Guantanamo Bay, whose closure has been ordered by President Obama, has been determined by the Pentagon to be too isolating for prisoner safety. But, according to an editorial that appeared in the Tribune just a few weeks ago, it’s good enough for Illinois residents. Chicago’s newspaper of record fears that the situation at other prisons could get uglier if the IDOC loses its freedom to keep inmates locked up at Tamms indefinitely, despite studies that indicate supermax incarceration increases recidivism and that Tamms has done nothing to reduce violence in other state prisons. Never mind the international consensus that prolonged isolation equals torture—as the Tribune put it, the “worst of the worst” end up there. Read: who cares.

Who cares, indeed? With bold public rallies, calls to lawmakers, intelligent press, ever more studies and reports, meetings with legislators and IDOC officials, and some smart art activism, hopefully a whole lot more people. Mud washes off in the rain—years of being cut off from any social contact, being locked up and treated worse than any animal, doesn’t.

Link to full article by Lori Waxman at Newcity Art

Misc. Resources

See the Just Seeds blog for complete details of mud-stenciling.

Mud stencils (Jesse Graves)

Tamms Year Ten

Human Rights Watch public statement about Tamms

Amnesty International public statement about Tamms

New Yorker article about Tamms supermax ("Hellhole" by Atul Gawande)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

There Goes The Neighbourhood

There Goes the Neighbourhood is an exhibition, residency, discussion and publishing project for May 2009. The central element of this project will be an exploration of the politics of urban space, with a focus on Redfern, Sydney. The project will examine the complex life of cities and how the phenomenon of gentrification is altering the relationship between democracy and demography around the world. While urban change itself is not always a bad thing, gentrification often happens at an accelerated rate, out pricing the lower income and marginalized communities from the neighbourhood and dislocating them from their existing connections to urban space. The project brings together artists from Australia and around the world whose work addresses these issues.

White man got no dreaming, Michael Rakowitz (2008)

The Politics of Urban Space...

What exactly is the mode of existence of social relationships?... The study of space offers an answer according to which the social relations of production have a social existence to the extent that they have a spatial existence; they project themselves into a space, becoming inscribed there, and in the process producing that space itself
– Henri Lefebvre.

There Goes the Neighbourhood is the ironic chorus to the 1992 Body Count song which lamented the invasion of the once poor (and Black) into the neighbourhood of the rich (and white). But an alternative destruction of “The Neighbourhood” can happen when the poor get pushed out of their local community as part of the process of gentrification. This issue is particularly relevant for the suburb of Redfern, an inner city suburb of Sydney which has been home for a large working class and Indigenous community, and which is undergoing a process of rapid development and change.

The Block, Redfern, has been described as the "Black Heart" of Australia and occupies a unique place within Sydney's urban landscape as a centre for the Indigenous community. It was the site for the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, and has been the gathering point for many protests and community events. Just minutes from the second busiest train station in Sydney are the open camp fires and communal use of public space of the community on The Block. The Aboriginal Housing Company has had a long standing dream, just recently given the green light by the government to build The Pemulwuy Project; a new community housing project and cultural centre for Redfern's Aboriginal community. Redfern is also home to a number other non-Indigenous community housing projects such as the Department of Housing buildings (known as the "Suicide Towers") which the government is trying to redevelop. The suburb was once a strong working class neighbourhood and was the starting point for the 1917 general strike for a shorter working week: but in the 1980s the rail yards were closed down and transformed into a new cultural centre (where one of the exhibition venues Performance Space is based). Redfern grabbed headlines in 2004 when riots erupted when the police killed a 17 year old Aboriginal boy after chasing him in police cars as he rode his push-bike home. In that same year the Redfern-Waterloo Authority was established - a special government committee to oversee the rapid development and gentrification of the area. Redfern thus involves a complex, contested and controversial overlapping of uses of urban space.

There Goes the Neighbourhood is an exhibition, residency, discussion and publishing project for May 2009. The central element of this project will be an exploration of the politics of urban space. It will explore the complex life of cities and how the phenomenon of gentrification is altering the relationship between democracy and demography around the world. While urban change itself is not always a bad thing, gentrification often happens at an accelerated rate, out pricing the lower income and marginalized communities from the neighbourhood and dislocating them from their existing connections to urban space.

As Henri Lefebvre reminds us “the social relations of production have a social existence to the extent that they have a spatial existence; they project themselves into a space, becoming inscribed there, and in the process producing that space itself”. The tussle over space is always one over the social relationships which are generated within the logic of place: revolving around people occupying, owning, seizing, developing, losing or transforming this space.

The project will bring together a smallish group of artists who have worked in various artistic projects which have explored the relationship between community and space and invite them to develop these issues further in the contested local environment of Redfern.

There Goes The Neighbourhood: Redfern and the Politics of Urban Space

To download a PDF of the book click here

There Goes the Neighborhood begins with a close study of Redfern before expanding into international examples to provide a detailed exploration of how the phenomenon of gentrification is altering the relationship between democracy and demography around the world. This book has been published in tandem with an exhibition of the same name and many of the contributions come from participating artists in the exhibition: Brenda L. Croft (Australia), 16beaver (USA), Daniel Boyd (Australia), Temporary Services (USA), Jakob Jakobsen (Denmark), Lisa Kelly (Australia), SquatSpace (Australia), Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro (Germany/Australia), Evil Brothers (Australia), You Are Here (Australia), Michael Rakowitz (USA), Miklos Erhardt and Little Warsaw (Hungary), Bijari (Brazil) and Democracia (Spain). The book also includes contributions from key thinkers about the complex life of cities such as the Situationists, Mike Davis, Brian Holmes, Gary Foley and Elizabeth Farrelly.

There Goes The Neighbourhood is edited by Keg de Souza and Zanny Begg from You Are Here, a Sydney based art collective which focuses on social and spatial mapping.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Discover Kauai

Surfers vs. the Superferry / Jerry Mander & Koohan Paik / The Nation

We don't ordinarily seek inspirational models of grassroots uprisings--especially against global corporate-military boondoggles--from surfer beaches on luscious tropical islands. So it surprises colleagues on the left when we tell them they might check out some surprising events on the small "outer" islands in Hawaii that may have an impact on grand US aspirations for military domination of the Pacific basin. Few mainlanders have heard about it, but Hawaii is up in arms.

It all started in 2001 as a purportedly modest "local" effort to offer inter-island ferry service to "help local people more easily visit their relatives on other islands, and carry their farm produce to market." Most locals liked the idea but soon found that this ferry, the gigantic Hawaii Superferry, was an environmental nightmare. It uses far more fuel (in total and per person) than big planes. It races at high speed (40-45 miles per hour) through zones teeming with endangered humpback whales, dolphins and rare sea turtles. It could transport dangerous invasive species to pristine islands. And it carries hundreds of cars to tiny places already choking on traffic.


Coup de Superferry
/ The Hawaii Independent

A Boatload of Trouble / Against the Grain

The Superferry is not some benign way of connecting the Hawaiian islands. According to Koohan Paik and Jerry Mander, the massive boat is closely connected to US military plans for a new Pacific fleet. It also endangers whales and other wildlife. Paik was part of momentous protests in Kauai that rebuffed the Superferry.

The Superferry Chronicles: Hawaii’s Uprising Against Militarism, Commercialism, and the Desecration of the Earth / Jerry Mander & Koohan Paik

Hawai'i Superferry News at DMZ Hawai'i / Aloha 'Aina

An Interview with Koohan Paik and Jerry Mander / Akaku: Maui Community Television

The SuperFerry Chronicles I of V

A Video Challenge to Green Shoppers / Dot Earth

The New Geography

The New Geography: A Roundtable

By Jeffrey Kastner, Tom McCarthy, Nato Thompson, and Eyal Weizman

bookforum.com / Apr-May 2009

The present epoch will perhaps be above all the epoch of space. We are in the epoch of simultaneity: we are in the epoch of juxtaposition, the epoch of the near and far, of the side-by-side, of the dispersed. We are at a moment, I believe, when our experience of the world is less that of a long life developing through time than that of a network that connects points and intersects with its own skein.

—Michel Foucault, “Of Other Spaces,” 1967

The practice of geography is by its nature a ticklish, paradoxical enterprise. It is at once the study of objects and of subjects, of things and of behaviors, of the world around us as a phenomenon producing human activity and produced by it. A realization of the generative potential in such dichotomies—between the material and the symbolic, between places as conceived and places as experienced, between spatial and temporal models of existential understanding—has long influenced the academic discipline of geography. And in today’s world, where the familiar order of things seems increasingly contingent and fluid, destabilized by political and military turmoil, economic upheaval, and rapid technological development, a similar impulse among artists, writers, architects, and other cultural producers to interrogate and reimagine conventional notions of the physical and social landscape we inhabit grows only more vivid.

Each of the participants in this roundtable has developed innovative and unique practices that engage questions of space. Tom McCarthy’s role, since 2000, as a conceptual provocateur in the “semi-fictitious avant-garde network” known as the International Necronautical Society (INS) finds literary expression in his first novel, Remainder (2007), in which an unnamed protagonist, almost killed by a piece of high-tech debris that falls from the sky, awakens from a coma with his worldview permanently altered. Obsessed with finding a sense of heightened authenticity in the world around him, he’s driven to replay, to literally reenact, certain resonant moments that challenge his (and the reader’s) notions of space and time, as well as the kinds of activities—mundane and exceptional—that necessarily take place in both constructs. Nato Thompson’s work as a curator and writer has consistently examined the potential of social space as an arena for the artistic production of meaning. He persistently probes the idea, as he’s written, that, “ultimately, all phenomena resolve themselves in space. Cultural and material production are not simply abstract ideas, but are forces that shape who and what we are, and they do so in places we can walk to, intervene in, and tour.” Architect and theorist Eyal Weizman, meanwhile, has long focused his scholarship on the relationship between architecture and planning and the intractable social, political, and military conflicts between Palestinians and Israelis. Weizman is the author of Hollow Land (2007), which, he writes, “looks at the ways in which the different forms of Israeli rule inscribed themselves in space, analyzing the geographical, territorial, urban and architectural conceptions and the interrelated practices that form and sustain them.”

The four of us, two in London and two in New York, held a conversation within the spatially indeterminate surroundings of the Internet over the course of a week early last February from which the following transcript is taken.

—Jeffrey Kastner


Sunday, March 08, 2009

Experimental Geography: From Cultural Production to the Production of Space

Experimental Geography: From Cultural Production to the Production of Space / Trevor Paglen / The Brooklyn Rail

When most people think about geography, they think about maps. Lots of maps. Maps with state capitals and national territories, maps showing mountains and rivers, forests and lakes, or maps showing population distributions and migration patterns. And indeed, that isn’t a wholly inaccurate idea of what the field is all about. It is true that modern geography and mapmaking were once inseparable.

Renaissance geographers like Henricus Martellus Germanus and Pedro Reinel, having rediscovered Greek texts on geography (most importantly Ptolemy’s Geography), put the ancient knowledge to work in the service of the Spanish and Portuguese empires. Martellus’s maps from the late 15th Century updated the old Greek cartographic projections to include Marco Polo’s explorations of the East as well as Portuguese forays along the African coast. Reinel’s portolan maps are some of the oldest modern nautical charts. Cartography, it turned out, was an indispensable tool for imperial expansion: if new territories were to be controlled, they had to be mapped. Within a few decades, royal cartographers filled in blank spots on old maps. In 1500, Juan de la Cosa, who accompanied Columbus on three voyages as captain of the Santa Maria, produced the Mappa Mundi, the first known map to depict the New World. Geography was such an important instrument of Portuguese and Spanish colonialism that early modern maps were some of these empires’ greatest secrets. Anyone caught leaking a map to a foreign power could be punished by death.

In our own time, another cartographic renaissance is taking place. In popular culture, free software applications like Google Earth and MapQuest have become almost indispensable parts of our everyday lives: we use online mapping applications to get directions to unfamiliar addresses and to virtually “explore” the globe with the aid of publicly available satellite imagery. Consumer-available global positioning systems (GPS) have made latitude and longitude coordinates a part of the cultural vernacular. In the arts, legions of cultural producers have been exercising the power to map. Gallery and museum exhibitions are dedicated to every variety of creative cartography; “locative media” has emerged as a form of techno-site-specificity; in the antiquities market, old maps have come to command historically unprecedented prices at auction. Academia, too, has been seized by the new powers of mapmaking: geographical information systems (GIS) have become a new lingua franca for collecting, collating, and representing data in fields as diverse as archaeology, biology, climatology, demography, epidemiology, and all the way to zoology. In many people’s minds, a newfound interest in geography has seized popular culture, the arts, and the academy. But does the proliferation of mapping technologies and practices really point to a new geographic cultural a priori? Not necessarily. Although geography and cartography have common intellectual and practical ancestors, and are often located within the same departments at universities, they can suggest very different ways of seeing and understanding the world.

Contemporary geography has little more than a cursory relationship to all varieties of cartography. In fact, most critical geographers have a healthy skepticism for the “God’s-Eye” vantage points implicit in much cartographic practice. As useful as maps can be, they can only provide very rough guides to what constitutes a particular space.

Geography is a curiously and powerfully transdisciplinary discipline. In any given geography department, one is likely to find people studying everything from the pre-Holocene atmospheric chemistry of northern Greenland to the effects of sovereign wealth funds on Hong Kong real estate markets, and from methyl chloride emissions in coastal salt marshes to the racial politics of nineteenth-century California labor movements. In the postwar United States, university officials routinely equated the discipline’s lack of systematic methodological and discursive norms with a lack of seriousness and rigor, a perception that led to numerous departments being closed for lack of institutional support. The end of geography at Harvard was typical of what happened to the field: university officials shut down its geography department in 1948, as CUNY geographer Neil Smith tells it, after being flummoxed by their “inability to extract a clear definition of the subject, to grasp the substance of geography, or to determine its boundaries with other disciplines.” The academic brass “saw the field as hopelessly amorphous.” But this “hopeless amorphousness” is, in fact, the discipline’s greatest strength.

No matter how diverse and transdisciplinary the field of geography may seem, and indeed is, a couple of axioms nevertheless unify the vast majority of contemporary geographers’ work. These axioms hold as true for the “hard science” in university laboratories as for human geographers studying the unpredictable workings of culture and society. Geography’s major theoretical underpinnings come from two related ideas: materialism and the production of space.

In the philosophical tradition, materialism is the simple idea that the world is made out of “stuff,” and that moreover, the world is only made out of “stuff.” All phenomena, then, from atmospheric dynamics to Jackson Pollock paintings, arise out of the interactions of material in the world. In the western tradition, philosophical materialism goes back to ancient Greek philosophers like Democritus, Anaxagoras, and Epicurus, whose conceptions of reality differed sharply from Plato’s metaphysics. Later philosophers like Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, Ludwig Feuerbach, and Karl Marx would develop materialist philosophies in contradistinction to Cartesian dualism and German idealism. Methodologically, materialism suggests an empirical (although not necessarily positivistic) approach to understanding the world. In the contemporary intellectual climate, a materialist approach takes relationality for granted, but an analytic approach that insists on “stuff” can be a powerful way of circumventing or tempering the quasi-solipsistic tendencies found in some strains of vulgar poststructuralism.

Geography’s second overarching axiom has to do with what we generally call “the production of space.” Although the idea of the “production of space” is usually attributed to the geographer-philosopher Henri Lefebvre, whose 1974 book La Production de l’Espace introduced the term to large numbers of people, the ideas animating Lefebvre’s work have a much longer history.Like materialism, the production of space is a relatively easy, even obvious, idea, but it has profoundimplications. In a nutshell, the production of space says that humans create the world around them and that humans are, in turn, created by the world around them. In other words, the human condition is characterized by a feedback loop between human activity and our material surroundings. In this view, space is not a container for human activities to take place within, but is actively “produced” through human activity. The spaces humans produce, in turn, set powerful constraints upon subsequent activity.

To illustrate this idea, we can take the university where I’m presently writing this text. At first blush, the university might seem like little more than a collection of buildings: libraries, laboratories, and classrooms with distinct locations in space. That’s what the university looks like on a map or on Google Earth. But this is an exceptionally partial view of the institution. The university is not an inert thing: it doesn’t “happen” until students arrive to attend classes, professors lock themselves away to do research, administrative staff pays the bills and registers the students, state legislators appropriate money for campus operations, and maintenance crews keep the institution’s physical infrastructure from falling apart. The university, then, cannot be separated from the people who go about “producing” the institution day after day. But the university also sculpts human activity: the university’s physical and bureaucratic structure creates conditions under which students attend lectures, read books, write papers, participate in discussions, and get grades. Human activity produces the university, but human activities are, in turn, shaped by the university. In these feedback loops, we see production of space at work.

Fine. But what does all of this have to do with art? What does this have to do with “cultural production?”



Media Studies: Experimental Geography Reading List

Place Matters / Against the Grain

Experimental Geography: Radical Approaches to Landscape, Cartography, and Urbanism / Nato Thompson and Independent Curators International

International Geographic: Interview with Nato Thompson / Art21 Blog

Monday, January 12, 2009

The City From Below

The City From Below
March 27th-29th, 2009


This special national issue of the Indypendent Reader (Spring/Summer 2009 Issue 12) comes out of the Baltimore conference.

The city has emerged in recent years as an indispensable concept for many of the struggles for social justice we are all engaged in - it's a place where theory meets practice, where the neighborhood organizes against global capitalism, where unequal divisions based on race and class can be mapped out block by block and contested, where the micropolitics of gender and sexual orientation are subject to metropolitan rearticulation, where every corner is a potential site of resistance and every vacant lot a commons to be reclaimed, and, most importantly, a place where all our diverse struggles and strategies have a chance of coming together into something greater. In cities everywhere, new social movements are coming into being, hidden histories and herstories are being uncovered, and unanticipated futures are being imagined and built - but so much of this knowledge remains, so to speak, at street-level. We need a space to gather and share our stories, our ideas and analysis, a space to come together and rethink the city from below.

To that end, a group of activists and organizers, including Red Emma's, the Indypendent Reader, campbaltimore, and the Campaign for a Better Baltimore are calling for a conference called The City From Below, to take place in Baltimore during the weekend of March 27th-29th, 2009 at 2640, a grassroots community center and events venue.

Our intention to focus on the city first and foremost stems from our own organizing experience, and a recognition that the city is very often the terrain on which we fight, and which we should be fighting for. To take a particularly salient example from Baltimore, it is increasingly the case that labor struggles, especially in the service sector, need to confront not just unfair employers, but structurally disastrous municipal development policies. While the financial crisis plays out in the national news and in the spectacle of legislative action, it is at the level of the urban community where foreclosures can be directly challenged and the right to a non-capitalist relation to housing can be fought for. Our right to an autonomous culture, to our freedom to dissent, to public spaces and to public education all hinge increasingly on our relation to the cities in which we live and to the people and forces in control of them. And our cities offer some truly inspiring and creative examples of resistance - from the community garden to the neighborhood assembly.

We are committed in organizing this conference to a horizontal framework of participation, one which allows us to concretely engage with and support ongoing social justice struggles. What we envision is a conference which isn't just about academics and other researchers talking to each other and at a passive audience, but one where some of the most inspiring campaigns and projects on the frontlines of the fight for the right to the city (community anti-gentrification groups, transit rights activists, tenant unions, alternative development advocates, sex worker's rights advocates, prison reform groups) will not just be represented, but will concretely benefit from the alliances they build and the knowledge they gain by attending.

At the same time, we also want to productively engage those within the academic system, as well as artists, journalists, and other researchers. It is a mistake to think that people who spend their lives working on urban geography and sociology, in urban planning, or on the history of cities have nothing to offer to our struggles. At the same time, we recognize that too often the way in which academics engage activists, if they do so at all, is to talk at them. We are envisioning something much different, closer to the notion of "accompaniment". We want academics and activists to talk to each other, to listen to each other, and to offer what they each are best able to. Concretely, we're hoping to facilitate this kind of dynamic by planning as much of the conference as possible as panels involving both scholars and organizers.


* Gentrification/uneven development
* Policing and incarceration
* Tenants rights/housing as a right
* Public transit
* Urban worker's rights
* Foreclosures/financial crisis
* Public education
* Slots/casinos/regressive taxation
* Cultural gentrification
* Underground economies
* Reclaiming public space
* The right to the city
* Squatting/Contesting Property Rights
* Urban sustainability


Please share with us your proposal for workshops or presentations. We hope to host 15-25 sessions with a mixture of formats and welcome proposals from groups and individuals. The conference is geared towards discussion and participation. People are welcome to bring papers and other resources with them, but this conference is not oriented to the presentation of papers. There will be 50 and 110 minute sessions. We welcome self-organized workshops but will also work to incorporate individual proposals into panels with others. In your proposal please indicate how your proposal relates to the themes of the conference, expected participants, organizing partners and session format (training, panel, open discussion, video, etc.) and how long the session will be. We are especially interested in proposals which combine critique of the urban environment with discussions of new strategies for its reclamation.

Please get proposals to us no later than the 30th of January, but preferably before January 1st.

Please send proposals to: cityfrombelow -at- redemmas.org

Email is preferred, but you can also send a proposal to:

City from Below
c/o Red Emma's
800 St Paul St.
Baltimore MD 21202


Red Emma's Bookstore Coffeehouse

Baltimore's Indypendent Reader / Past Issues

Baltimore Independent Media Center

East Baltimore: A Conversation between David Harvey & Marisela Gomez

Baltimore Free Store

Democracy in America / Town Hall Meetings (Baltimore)

Listening, Collaboration, Solidarity (PDF) / Critical Planning / Scott Berzofsky, Christopher Gladora, David Sloan, and Nicholas Wisniewski

Investigating the Creation of the Ghetto and the Prison Industrial Complex / Contemporary Museum / May 14-August 27, 2006

Reappropriate the Imagination! / Cindy Milstein / Realizing the Impossible: Art against Authority, edited by Josh MacPhee and Erik Reuland (AK Press, 2007)

Collective Perspective: A Progressive Local Art Exhibition Births A Progressive Local Publication / Baltimore City Paper