Archive for October, 2011

map:m()b, our recent initiative  in which we work with smartphones, stories, cartographies and youngsters, is now working with the young residents of the neighbourhood Gibraltar/Bos en Lommer in Amsterdam West on a documentary about the community.

It’s a project  executed by Kultureel Jongeren Centrum and Fei An, Esther and me are helping these kids to create their own film. Working with them is challenging, that is what everyone warns us for. But for now, most challenging was recruiting participants.

Even though there were over 15 subscriptions yesterday, during the first class, only one girl showed up. While Fei An and I went for a walk through the nearby streets for a last-minute recruitment,  a boy, curious, came by the cultural centre asking what we were doing. He decided to join.

They were 13 (the girl) and 11 (the boy). The two were easy to handle. Shy, but curious, and very excited when we the first exercise was taking different  shots of Esther. Wide, middle, close up, etc. They learned fast so we asked them to make their first short film: interviewing the other as a way of introduction. They prepared questions like: What is your favorite dish? Where do you come from? What is your (school/education) advice? What is your dream? For the first assignment each question and answer should be filmed from another angle.

The boy started interviewing the girl. He was very creative on the different angles. Hilarious were his “Ok, good”, “Ok, perfect, bye” and “aight” after the girl answered his questions but still recording, as if he was speaking to her on the phone. After that the girl interviewed him. But then hormones came into play as a number of other kids wanted to participate too. Among those was one girl who was clearly in love/hate with the 11 year old boy, and the other way around. Concentration and attention was almost gone as the two started to fight and tease each other (I hate him! I hate her!). But just in time the cameras got their attention again. Not to interview, but to impress each other by rapping popular songs they played on their blackberries. The (commissioner’s) objective of the documentary is to make a film on their view on the neighborhood (envisioning interviews with adult residents on actual or historical topics, and the like), their view on what is nice or important in their neighborhood is different: the 11 year old boy’s girlfriends, for instance. Although I think it’s a great topic, I’m not sure what others think about that.

Fei An and I couldn’t help comparing these kids with Brazilian or Colombian youth. In our experiences they are the sweetest and most interested kids you can imagine. The kids we have worked with don’t  mind watching lectures of an hour, they do what you ask, they take your advice, and they return after the first class. Also, Fei An and I felt that the kids we have worked with over there are much more mature at several points, especially in relation to social issues, perhaps because they have experienced more difficulties in life than the Dutch kids. The kids here, especially when a bit older (15-16), are really hard to reach. Are they sick of the ‘social’ and ‘free’ projects in their neighborhoods compared to other courses that are paid, and thus, ‘better’? Or are Latin American kids less spoiled, raised to respect and obey teachers? We can’t yet make clear statements about differences and similarities, but these are our first observations.

Hopefully they return next week. Perhaps not because they like the idea of a documentary so much, but at least because their secret lovers are participating as well. One thing is sure: we already love them!

The ‘pacification’ of the favela Complexo do Alemã0 in Rio de Janeiro has caused many changes in the everyday lives of the residents. A territory that used to be occupied by drugs gangs is now being (re-)taken by the Brazilian state through the occupation by the army, in order to increase security in these areas, as part of a larger pacificiation project in the run to the World Cup and the Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro (2014/2016).  The presence of the army not only means the replacement of a local power and the eviction of the drugs gangs, but also the imposition of the state’s laws and rules, the entrance of the market (criminalization of informality) and an increasing attention by NGOs and cultural/social projects. The favela becomes increasingly popular as a potential market for private companies as well as for reporters, researchers and the implementation of social projects. In other words; the favela is ‘hot’ and opening up.

During march and july 2011 I lived in Complexo do Alemão and conducted an ethnographic study on locality in a territory that is subject to radical changes. Download thesis

Librepensante/Free thinker

Posted: October 10, 2011 by Fei An in Uncategorized

Touching Colombian ground again after my thesis felt like coming home again. The air, the people, the vendors, everything felt, sounded and tasted familiar. And of course, the good thing about coming back is to see old friends again. After a few days of acclimatizing I felt like I had never left.
And soon enough also I rolled into the familiar field of activists and artists again. On this Wednesday, contemporary artist and designer Hamilton Mestizo invited me to a conference in the Javeriana University. I got to know Hamilton during my thesis as a friend of a friend where he already told me about the project “Librepensante” several times, but it was only after this conference that I really understood what he was doing. Librepensante was a small collective aiming to establish a network between ‘things’: human and non-human, digital and non-digital. As we entered a little late to the meeting, Hamilton was already explaining about some of the projects they had done earlier. Although many of the projects were very technical in its execution and a little too far- fetched to understand for a non-technician , most of them had a strong conceptual idea behind it as well.
The first example was a doll that would run on solar energy. The task for kids was to take care of it and reply to the demands of the doll. Thinking about Tamagotchi a little bit, I guess you could consider this the organic, child labour free and environment friendly version.

Another project that I liked very much was related to urban gardening, the growing of plants and flowers in urban settings with a touch of technology to it. For those who are familiar with the city of Bogota, know that air pollution is very prominent in most of the busy areas of the cities. Therefore, the group Librepensante thought of a way to purify the air. Walking around with a cart of herbs and CO2 consuming plants, one of the participants of the project would walk around in town breathing in the only bit of fresh air available in its surroundings (see picture). The other aim of the project was to explore alternative uses of ordinary products and utensils. Fruit, connected to electrodes was used to generate energy and a Playstation joystick used as a bike bell.

This new way of “product hacking” made me realize something about the society we live in. Do we actually know the things we are using? Or have we just become passive and uncritical consumers? If a lemon can create the same effect as a battery, what more is my smartphone capable of that I have no idea of?