Archive for the ‘New Media’ Category

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!

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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

After the occupation of Complexo do Alemão in November 2010 – until then considered one of the “most dangerous” favelas of Rio – there is an increased interest from actors (public, private and non-profit) outside of the community. Especially digital technologies play an important role in this process. Community residents have recognised the interest from the media, large companies and the state in reporting about the local reality and doing “social work”. The favela has become pop.

For the group of adolescents Descolando Ideias and Voz da Comunidade, and some other community residents active on Twitter, the Internet connects their community, to which the media until the occupation had very limited access, with the outside world. They want to communicate an alternative image, different than the usual image of violence, criminality and poverty. At the same time, they try to link to several (big) actors from outside (particularly Globo, Coca Cola, Santander (a private bank), AfroReggae (a NGO/social business)) to disseminate their information. Simultaneously, they try to establish partnerships with those companies, in order to get subsidies or donations.

Another initiative – by Rene Silva, the guy who got famous after reporting via Twitter about the invasion in November 2010 – is the recently launched portal A Voz das Comunidades (The Communities’ Voice). The portal reports about events, issues and actualities in several communities. In this way, the voice of the communities is connected, producing content autonomously. The residents of several communities produce content which is edited by Rene and his team (Gabriela and Renato, both collaborators of Rene’s journal Voz da Comunidade).

Today more than ever is the time for companies to invest in the favelas, areas that are now accessible and provide an enormous potential in terms of consumption. More than the public sector, big companies lie in wait to sponsor social/cultural projects. The group Descolando Ideias has already won a prize during an event sponsored by Santander, and are now moving into the direction of using this interest in order to guarantee the inclusion/entrance of these companies in the community through publicity, simultaneously informing the community residents about the services, products and opportunities (jobs) these companies offer.

Thus, they use big companies to survive and to be able to make a living, and simultaneously they try to achieve social change. For instance, they produced an item on excessive amounts of garbage and the week after the municipality cleaned that particular area. Furthermore, after a couple of critical posts at the portal on abandoned playgrounds and holes in the streets authorities came to have a look. In this way, their communication articulates actors and events inside the community with the outside world.

I observe how they try to maintain an “own” identity, representing the community, but at the same time the desire to be “included”, to establish links with actors outside of the favela. On the one hand they tend to communicate a “community identity”, through for instance the portal. Changing the image of the favela, bringing to the forth the positive side. However, whether positive or negative, the idea of the favela as separated from the rest of society is in this way reinforced. On the other hand, their links with big companies, the public sector, the media and NGOs in a way tear down this imaginary wall that used to divide two societies. In this way, these actors “ideologically” enter the community, while simultaneously this group of community residents tries to go beyond the boundaries of their community. That is, through linking to other actors (@Santander_br, @Cocacola, @sergiocabralrj) they claim a space to make their voice heard and they virtually expand their territory (the favela).

It’s interesting how new digital technologies change the way in which community residents have a voice. The Internet certainly offers possibilities for Descolando Ideias and Voz da Comunidade, a tool they didn’t have before. Also, the “pacification” has definitely played a role, as the media has pointed their eyes on the favela, and thus discovered these adolescents. Complicated, however, is the fact that the majority of the residents in Complexo do Alemão (still) uses Orkut and MSN, which excludes them from participation in this “debate” and limits the community’s access to this information. That is, Descolando Ideias and Voz da Comunidade report on local – everyday – events focused on an audience outside of the favela, and simultaneously (especially Descolando Ideias) on the distribution of useful information inside the community. For instance: A new filial of private bank Bradesco has been inaugurated in Grota, one of the communities of the Complexo. This is necessary, as many residents aren’t aware of this and still go to other, more distant, neighbourhoods to pay their bills. But unfortunately, few residents access Twitter, Facebook and the group’s blog and therefore miss this information. A very amusing idea by one of the girls of Descolando Ideias is to take the streets with their laptops and create Facebook and Twitter accounts for anyone who passes by, thus increasing the inclusion of these residents in their activities. Besides the fact that people don’t know about these channels of information, this kind of community media is also devalued by the residents. The mass media (TV, Radio) still have a much bigger influence than new media. Yesterday in a discussion about the work of Voz da Comunidade and the portal someone mentioned that some residents prefer to send their stories to the mass media (f.i. Globo) than to the platform, thinking that the latter won’t have any effect. They also commented about some cases in which people don’t know Rene in person, but through a reportage on TV. This is an interesting – though not ideal – way in which the information distributed by these adolescents through the Internet returns to the residents of their community.

I see a very important role for these communicators, as something that is seriously lacking in the community is information. There isn’t any channel of information that informs the community about issues such as the replacement of the army by the UPP, the inauguration of the cable car, the opening of a new bank, which are all events that affect the residents in their everyday life. I think it’s a crime to keep people ill-informed about events that have profound impact on their lives (such as for instance the replacement of the army by the UPP (peace police)!), not to mention the fact that they usually don’t have a voice in the decision-making processes regarding such events/issues. The other day a functionary of the State Secretary of Human Rights came to inform the residents about their rights. She read out loud the rights listed in the UN declaration of Human Rights to the audience, but it struck me that she forgot to mention the Right to Information, which is seriously violated in the community. For now, however, Twitter and Facebook might not be the most adequate ways to disseminate information inside the community, and simultaneously, residents often don’t want to exchange Globo and its novelas for community media. Descolando Ideias and Voz da Comunidade, on the other hand, contribute to a different image of Complexo do Alemão, which in relation to an earlier post on the negative image of the favela, is very important.

Video of the Feria Free Book Intervention

Posted: May 13, 2011 by Fei An in Culture, New Media

Below you find the video I edited of our intervention at the Bogota Book fair.

Hacking the Bogota Book Fair from Fei An Tjan on Vimeo.

With much thanks to Camilo from Cartografías Sonoras and Andres.

Hacking the Bogota Book Fair

Posted: May 12, 2011 by Fei An in Culture, New Media, South America
Tags: , , ,

Today I got a little sidetracked from my project in the sense that it wasn’t necessarily linked to my project at Antena Mutante. In no case was it useless though as I spent the day with my newly made friends Camilo Cantor, from Cartografías Sonoras and Andres Melendez at the “Feria del Libro” (Bookfair).

I knew that especially Camilo was up to something, though I wasn’t quite sure what it was yet; something with tiles and hacking the Bogota book fair, but the how or what remained in the dark. So driven by curiosity, I met both Camilo and Andres at 3 o’clock this afternoon in Andres’ living room. As soon as I arrived I was put to work and unexpectedly, I spend my whole afternoon Photoshopping a QR code (picture). Now for those who wonder what that is, the term only became clear to me as well while doing my ‘homework’. Apparently, for the less media savvy under us, there exists a technique to transform all text into a matrix bar code, called Quick Response code (QR) and which can be generated through the Kaywa Reader website amongst others. Once you take a picture of this code with your smart phone (or a special barcode reader), it will automatically convert the code into text, for example a PDF file. And that was exactly what it was, a PDF file of “Free Culture” by Lawrence Lessig, as well as “Free Software, Free Society” by Richard Stallman. Shortly said, both authors criticize the new way of making law which is often influenced by the large corporations that care more about their profits than about the free exchange of ideas.

Now why choose the bookfair as there are already so many books available? That was exactly it, all the books “available” were for sale and in that respect they were not really available to many people. That afternoon, Camilo told me many of the college kids were forced to visit the bookfair as a school trip, all nice, but probably none of them would have the money to actually buy a book. It was all about copyright and therefore the Book fair was the perfect place to do a small intervention such as this one. Camilo wanted to promote the idea of shared and free culture and as a real Dutch, I was thrilled by the idea of ‘free’.

From 3 o’clock in the afternoon until 7 o’clock in the evening we spent time designing, printing, cutting and sticking paper on tile, then tile on wall in order to complete our mission. Once we entered the fair, we’d have to make sure there were no cameras or security people watching us, as we would probably be kicked out of the fair immediately again. But all went smooth and we managed to stick four tiles on the walls of the toilet, near a waiting bench and on some random pass through walls until we were out of the glue of which we were dependent for our action.

But how effective is such an action really? I couldn’t find concrete numbers of Smartphone users in Bogota, but considering that in the whole month that I was here I saw only a handful of people actually using a Smartphone, I figured it couldn’t be that many.  The problem according to Camilo was rather that people that do have a Smartphone in Colombia often do not know how to use it. They still use it to call, text and surf the Internet, but do not know how to profit from it to the fullest. So the aim of the interaction was, apart from the fact that people could download the books for free, to maybe create some awareness as well about the possibilities of smartphones. And just in case, we added the link to download the book as well. Another thing that might be interesting is to automatically generate some sort of tagcloud from all the people that would actually use the QR code in order to retrieve the book, or create a platform where people can leave messages, so you can see the effect of your action. but I guess that will remain a challenge for the next intervention.

Amsterdam, interested?

Labour day is celebrated big in Colombia, with a capital B. Only in Bogota, 25.000 people hit the street to protest against the government of seated president Juan Manuel Santos Calderón. From students to taxi drivers and even neo-Nazis, we saw them all pass the streets’ catwalk. Antena Mutante had planned an urban intervention on Plaza de las Nieves, one of the squares of Bogota, together with SurdelCielo, an initiative of young rappers.Graffiti artist and protesters at 1 de Mayo

"Heroes exist in Colombia, they don't use weapons."

The idea was as follows: At 8 AM, we would all gather on the square to set up the installation, DJ turntables, waterproof tent (it rains a lot), and of course, the computer and cameras. The performance would be filmed by 2 cameras and then be transmitted live over the Internet. The day before, I went with the Antenas to one of the syndicates on the square to borrow their Internet connection. Other than in the Netherlands, WiFi is not yet available on every corner of the street. The location of the intervention was therefore dependent on the accessibility to Internet. Talking to Jimmy earlier, he told me that all their events were dependent of this fact, and some agreement with either an organization or friend was needed in advance in order to transmit.

It occurred to me that tactical media, at least in Colombia is restricted to technical possibilities available. Especially when interventions are politically charged, you can imagine that not all organizations are happy to offering their services. And while setting up the installation, the laptop happened not take the Internet signal very well, which prevented the MC’s to rap online. To make matters worse, the computer crashed which made transmission completely impossible. 1 hour later, Jimmy returned with another computer and the transmission was successful for the rest of the day, but I realized then how fragile such interventions are and how one little error can mess up a lot. Media activists will always be restricted and limited to the possibilities that technology brings along and they will always be somehow dependent on neo-liberalist practices. Be it not for the hardware itself, then it will be Internet access, cable companies, etc.

Antena Mutante could therefore be seen as some sort of social lab, trying to explore the network that makes up ‘the social’. Regarding the intervention, the planned effect was accomplished as over 300 people had watched the website. And for those who think 300 is not that much, numbers in this case is not what it’s about. Even if it were only 2 people that would have paid attention, that means that the mission had succeeded. Of course, the more the better, but the idea is to explore the network, to interrupt, to turn heads and maybe even to shock. And the reactions were overall positive, people passed, applauded, watched and continued their own struggle. That’s what an intervention’s about, and an intervention it was…

I added a small impression of one of the tensest moments of that day. Most of the time it wasn’t as bad, but in waves people got aggressive with the police. I ate a good amount of tear gas, but in the end, it was worth the experience. In the video, note also the music, where Rastro kept singing only a few metres away from the violence.

Bogota – 1 de Mayo – Antena Mutante and Sur del Cielo from Fei An Tjan on Vimeo.

On April 26th BBC News reports on Google’s agreement to amend its maps of Rio de Janeiro after complaints by media conglomerate Globo.

“Favelas, sprawling shanty towns which are home to tens of thousands of people, are a defining feature of Rio. But the Globo newspaper said their labelling on the map and the absence of wealthier districts and tourist sites gave a bad impression of the city.”

First, this is a very typical complaint made by Globo. In Brazil, the media – and particularly Globo – play a determining role in the dissemination of an exclusionary discourse framing favela life as inferior, dangerous, criminal, and in this case, irrelevant even to be on the map.

Illustrative is the comment of a resident of the neighbourhood Humaitá (South Zone of the city) quoted: “The maps turn Rio into a favela. […] Anyone who doesn’t know the city would be frightened.” When I showed the article to a friend, a resident of Complexo do Alemão, he was shocked by the prejudging content. If favela life wouldn’t be framed in the way it has been – a frightening place – over the past decades, the problem wouldn’t be the prominence of those communities on the map. Moreover, the argument is a little overdone, as the favelas that have been mapped are very incomplete. What has been mapped are the main streets of the community, but the majority of the alleys and stairs in which the majority of the houses are located remain unmapped. Concluding, there’s still a lot to be mapped, particularly when looking at the favelas.

At the same time, the article shows the concern of the people with tourism and the image of the city, fueled by events such as the World Cup and the Olympic Games that will take place in Rio in the next couple of years, attracting plenty of tourists. In the preparation of the city for those events, the favelas are a complex issue to deal with. The large scale pacification projects by the state and federal government are implemented in a number of favelas that are located in the most touristy areas of the city in order to improve security in these areas. The pacification of these favelas leads to a love-hate relationship with these communities, as they become centre-stage and a true tourist hotspot, attracting many tourists and artists that want to take a look inside these communities.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about this phenomenon, which I called favela fever; emerging now that those “barbaric, violent and dangerous” areas are being “pacified”. Foreign as well as Brazilian tourists are curious to take a look inside these communities, which they only know from the news (Globo) and movies such as Cidade de Deus and Tropa de Elite. Whereas they used to be framed as inaccessible for the middle and upper classes – and tourists! The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs seriously discourages tourists to enter favelas – today a new image is emerging. The situation in the pacified favelas is tranquilo. The myriad of opportunities these areas offer, in terms of new markets and for social projects, are recognized by companies, NGOs and artists settling in these neighbourhoods.

The main question, now, is who is going to benefit from this favela fever. The residents of Complexo do Alemão, where I am currently conducting my research, are wary of these interests. At the one hand they could benefit their community, as tourists come and visit, spend money in their shops and restaurants and hire local guides to show them around. Also, it could lead to some interesting cultural exchanges, through which local residents and people from outside of the community can exchange experiences and learn from each other. Their main fear, however, are competing actors from outside, which basically ignore the community’s potential to establish local tourism and instead will exploit the area for their own benefit. Unfortunately, the latter often already have a better infrastructure, a lot of contacts, links with the media, and thus are much more likely in succeeding than the local initiatives. As such, new potentials such as tourism fail to break with the logic of the exclusionary discourse, maintaining the sharp boundaries dividing favela life and “civilized life”, and to a certain extent, “incapable people” and “capable people” to set up such projects. For instance, there’s one NGO that is currently organizing trips for (Brazilian) tourists, showing the cable car, recently constructed squares, banks, etc. I joined a conversation in which a lady of the NGO consulted my friend who lives in Complexo do Alemão, about how to get permission from the army, and about how to organize this event in the community. When my friend asked her how this would benefit the community, she responded that the NGO could eventually, when they would have generated some money from the tours, they could be training community residents as guides. What the lady didn’t (want to) realize is that among the many residents of the community there surely are plenty of people that would be better guides than any professional, not needing any training at all. People who know best how the community can benefit from tourism, people who know the most beautiful, awful and interesting stories about their community, people who know about the local reality.

Rio is a divided city, but physical boundaries are dissolving as the state, the market and the third sector increasingly enter these areas. Mapping the city reflects this complexity, and the fight over those divided territories. But what about the ideological boundaries? Discrimination, prejudices? When mapping the favela what will be mapped? And who will decide that? What would Globo say to Google when the favelas become actual tourist attractions, creating a positive image of the city? Google streetview, for instance, could easily show the world the projects such as the immense cable car and its prominent stations, the plenty of neat squares, the ATMs, banks, and the outdoor gym, and the cinema that are built in Complexo do Alemão.

Cinema in Complexo do Alemão

Cable car station Complexo do AlemaoOne of the 5 cable car stations in Complexo do Alemão (Bruno Itan)

For now, however, Globo rather than Google is taking account for the promotion of these projects. I don’t know what is right, because in any case – Google maps/streetview, Globo or tourism – there’s a very complex society hidden behind these construction works. In a very simplified version, that complexity is mirrored by the idea that favelas don’t deserve too much space on the map.