Posts Tagged ‘bogota’

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?

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It became once more clear to me that protesting here is a lively business. This friday, there was another intervention on the streets of Bogota organized by the students of several universities to remember Nydia Erika Bautista. Latter was part of a student organization called M19 in he 80´s, which at that time was still known as guerilla insurgent movement. During that period, many people have disappeared without judicial orders, under which Nydia Erika Bautista who was tortured, raped and eventually murdered.

The 3rd, 4th, and 5th of may, students from several universities gathered to remember the cruel actions of the state and protest against more impunity. Antena Mutante was there as well to support the students technically and audiovisually. As well did I see many of the people that I met during other interventions, such as Diego, from Desarme and Esteban, whom I met through Antena Mutante and is involved in working with political prisoners in Bogota. More and more do I see how this small group of like minded people appeal to each other to make these interventions reality. Erik and Diego made provided for the speakers, Ali the laptop and cables for music and everyone else that was there helped carrying, connecting and transmitting untill every passant tuned his or her head.

In the next video, the students ´reclaim´ the streets with music and humor which drew a lot of attention from the bystanders. Police was present, but did not interfere and all the actions were allowed to the extent that it did not completely disturb the traffic. I doubt whether such action would be permitted in Holland, but time of mass protest and activism often just seems far away. People complain, but don´t do much about it and there remains a mentality of: ¨someone else will fix it¨. In that respect we can learn from whatever happens here, the creativity of the protests and the way people still believe in change.

Escratche Street Intervention from Fei An Tjan on Vimeo.

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.

A week has gone by since I’ve been in Bogota, and I can’t use another word than chaos. Everything is chaos, the house I lived in the past few days, the weather, the streets and above all, the traffic! I forgot again how zebras never work in South America and that cyclists never get priority over honking cars. On top of that, Bogota built the Transmilenio which was supposed to be a new, better and improved network of buses, but what in reality turns out too be yet another disaster. And then, suddenly, there was silence.

On Carrera 7, one of the bigger streets that runs through the city, where you normally can’t even see the other side of the street due to cars and smog, you could suddenly hear the birds whistling (those who didn’t die from co2). A student organization was the reason of the silence and ‘reclaim the streets’ was the first thing that went through my head.

I couldn’t help it, but if you’re 24/7 behind your laptop, there’s little other to think of than: ‘thesis, thesis, thesis’. The students were protesting against the privatization of the universities, which would make education even less affordable and the gap between poor and rich even bigger. To me, it seemed interesting that they were allowed to protest on such an important way through the city while the demonstration was relatively small. Although the main idea of the students was maybe not to oppose capitalism and the car as its main mode of transportation, it indirectly added to this debate. After reading both Soja and Sassen I started thinking of how to frame this manifestation spatially, where the students would ”take the control over the production of our lived spaces.” Even though they might not reach the effect to stop the privatization of the university, the effects of this couple hours intervention of the street, at least to me and I bet to many drivers with me, was tangible.

I am starting to get the concept of the Antena Mutante more and more, in a city of control as big as Bogota, it is the little things that matter. And maybe all the localities can eventually indeed form a more global multiplicity. Viva la Resistencia!

Sources:

Saskia Sassen. “Local Actors in Global Politics.” Current Sociology, July 2004, Vol. 52(4): 649–670 SAGE Publications London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi

Edward Soja. Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-imagined Places. (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1996.