A Home of One s Own


Virginia Woolf used to recommend that every woman who writes should have “a room of her own.”  I write a lot, and I’ve lived in palaces and in squats.  But, to tell the truth, I’ve never lived in any place that felt entirely like my own home. We all struggle to feel happy and comfortably sheltered, but when are we ever entirely safe and protected in this changing world?

Sometimes we can lose an entire homeland, like my ex-Yugoslavia, or we might suddenly gain a home.  I inherited my parents’apartment, and there I was with a place well-suited to elderly people from another generation.  Baffling, nerve wrecking, heartbreaking! I had to clean the place of dead appliances, get rid of outdated personal rubble, empty the closets and attics of supposedly precious “stuff” that nobody needed or remembered.

Even in historic Italy, which is covered with UNESCO World Heritage centers, there is no storage big enough to keep history alive.  Qualities like “personal” or “public” make no difference to the passage of time. Entropy requires no maintenance.

It’s painful when you choose to modernize, and having modernity forced on you is worse.  As their heiress I did my best with my parents’ heritage, but the sorrow made me reckless.  Burdened with emotion, I threw away things that should have been kept, by impulse or mistake.

Once it was done, I felt free. But who needs to be absolutely free?  Free of what, free of life itself? An absolute and useless freedom is a philosophical starting point, but I can’t actually live inside a point, even as a seasoned world travel-writer who does well with a suitcase.   A hotel room has often been my “room of my own,” and when it comes to gazing into the clouded future, this can be advantageous.  Every era invents some  basic new ways of meeting the evergreen human need for a home.

What would my own home look like if I started from scratch?  What if I put aside the material culture of the past, and tried to use my own frank ideas to meet my own genuine needs?  The banks would help me buy property, but only if they themselves can profit by transacting in real estate.  The cities, provinces and nations all have rules and regulations about housing.

Who can help me to think and act about housing in a fresh way?   My allies have to be other people who share my modern situation. I’m a woman who wants a home, yet I’m also a global nomad who lives and works on the Internet.  I still need plumbing, electricity and heat, but it’s the flows of wireless information that seem to get always faster and more complicated.

I’m also the native of a city — Belgrade — where the economy and state collapsed in warfare in my lifetime.  The citizens had to hack and re-make their material world: cars without petrol, faucets without water, flats without heating and shops without food. I even learned how to fix a glass light bulb, since, when the filaments broke, there were no new ones to buy! The knack for survival is a source of enlightenment sometimes.

It’s my own interest in re-making and hacking that made me a fan of Arduino.  When I first saw an Arduino, it was in the electronic art scene.  As a big Internet user involved in video, films and music, I had strong interests in new media art.  With Arduino, though, Internet art was suddenly re-appearing as installations, devices, working objects I could pick up and touch.

Arduino appealed to my Belgrade can-do instincts,  just as Arduino appeals to Indian and Chinese  design and device hackers.  There’s so much to learn and do — interactive arts, digital crafts, three-d printing, you can even make music with Arduino (I did).  Open source luxury!

As a traveller with tech-art interests, I have seen a lot of “fab labs.”  The Torino Fab Lab — a cradle of Arduino — appeals to me because it looks like Italian civilization, and not like some cold, grimy garage.  Most Fab Labs are cold grimy garages (because that’s what open-source hackers can afford), and at first the same went for the Turinese one, which is situated inside a derelict car-factory warehouse.

That was before the people appeared in the Fablab, the intelligent brave geeks and geekettes, the best of the future Italy. Of course they had problems, but these were the problems that I myself actually shared.  It’s the approach they have that is new:  open source, transparent: shareable.

I learned all these categories. Even programming doesn’t bother me — I don’t think I’ll write a lot of code myself, but I’ve seen Arduino programs done by small kids.

Yes, it’s about the future, home life, and women.   All women: travelers, housewives or artists…  mothers or grandmothers.  Home electronics may be in the mansions of the rich but they’ll also be in every suburb and every favela — wherever a woman carries a phone in her purse, the electronic home will also be there.

For the first time I realized that I need to participate.   I need to be an activist about my own house and home.  I can’t wait around for it to be sold to me for a bank loan, or distributed by some government apparatus.  I will think about every detail/item in my daily life, even if I need to make it with my own hands and a three d printer.  The household items sold to us women through mall stores or an Amazon are not there for our female benefit.  Why should a well-equipped new kitchen cost 30,000 euros?  Do we live there or are we just commercially exploited there?

I remember when my grandma first saw an electric vacuum cleaner. She didn’t need feminist training to exclaim from her heart: Wow! I can grow old without fear of dirt!

That’s why my Roomba robot is the first inhabitant of CasaJasmina.  I know this device is not perfect — it’s not even “smart” or “intelligent.”  It’s a set of algorithms connected to motors with actuators.  I know that because that’s what Arduino is — it’s an actuator that connects algorithms to motors.

So the branding doesn’t impress me, and neither does the plastic shell.  I’m impressed because it helps the health of me and my family.  A device that moves on its own,  collecting all the dirt of a polluted city. It even protects us from the natural pollen of spring allergies.  I told the other feminists from my surrounding: now we women can grow old with household robots! We’ll keep out dignity and independence, we’ll give our adult children a break, we’ll defend ourselves from our careless governments!

The Roomba is not high-tech — it works because it’s ten years old!  It works in the way that all domestic appliance companies used to work, before the Crisis.  The Roomba  is not open source, it’s certainly not cheap, it is only partially hackable, and it was designed and made for the rich early-adopter, never for the old and poor…  It’s American technology because that’s what American technology looks like when it comes out of the labs of MIT and goes through the warehouses of Amazon.  Is that the way the Turinese really want to live?  No.  And neither do I!

In Italy we need to intervene creatively, and not wait around passively for some kind of future fantascienza dystopia. CasaJasmina is not a science fiction utopia or dystopia, it is a home for a woman with a family and pets and houseplants, who is not afraid of technologies but who also wants her grandma’s cutlery in the drawers, a woman who wants real books, real art, some real, slow, genuine food and something comfortable to sleep on. Something also pretty!

Open source luxury!  Lusso open-source.  A life of civilized refinement, that’s what Torino has that Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon offer to nobody.  No Google Googles, no Facebook spies, no NSA, no spies and lies about clouds that store our data in order to sell us as their products.  Is that a kind of future home life that’s worth having?  Well, why not try?  What else are we doing, the brave geeks and geekettes?  If we don’t know what we really want, we’ll just be sold whatever we are told to buy.

We will try and fail, and fail and try again. Small steps, big discoveries and a lot of fun and pleasure, I hope.

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In guerra andrai/ To War You Go

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/109840605″>In Guerra andrai/ To War You Go</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user690045″>Jasmina Tesanovic</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Now you are here
Then off you go
To war you go
But I don’t know why

Now you are here
Our last kiss my only bliss
Don’t you cry amore mio
I won’t cry it s not an addio
Our love will never die

The red roses you gave me
I keep close to my heart
I am already missing
Your loving heart

Choo-choo train is hissing
Waiting for us to part
I am already missing
Your loving heart

I know you will come back
Because i am your true love
Our love will never die

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DokuFest: Prizren 2014

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Casa Jasmina

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/108624568″>Bruce Sterling : Casa Jasmina</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user690045″>Jasmina Tesanovic</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

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Big White Face: Hacking War Songs

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/108423375″>Big White Face</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user690045″>Jasmina Tesanovic</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

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Maker Faire Rome: CasaJasmina


photos by Bruce Sterling

Last year, Maker Faire Roma was a Roman colossus, and this year, the second edition, Maker Faire was American in scale, meaning colossal but normally so.   It had the look and feel of  SXSW Interactive in Austin, when legions of thousands of geeks invade a city with their gadgets, ideas, energy.

But Austin is smaller than Rome and much, much younger.  Rome is a  wonder of the world haunted by lost golden ages;  a clamorous glamour and a can-do imperial spirit echoes among the old ruins of chipped marble and flat red brick, currently abandoned to cats, rats and tourists.

The crowd of Maker Faire attendees — 90,000 they say, which is enough to populate a “bolgia” of some Dante circle of hell — was loud, demanding and of all ages and nationalities.  Security, police, participants and organizers themselves struggled to patch the event when the crowds burst its seams.

This year the Makers were more business oriented and also more politically conscious.  The hobbyist tinkers of DIY “do it yourself” are taking on a more Italian and sociable  “do it ourselves” DIO solidarity.   The first day ten thousand high school students from all over Italy dutifully trampled in to see the show, which was markedly national in character.  The “Make in Italy” movement is firmly linking itself to the half-forgotten legacy of Italian electronics, when Ettore Sotsass designed for Olivetti and brainy designers like Munari and Castiglione wrought wonders with their radical re-thinks of simple materials.

Italian Makers are even getting something of an Italian Maker look, of baggy start-up Tshirts, orange pants and spotless well-kept athletic shoes, while solemn purple-haired geek women ponder gleaming and beeping electronic costumes.

As a world export power, the trinity of Italian design is clothing, furniture and food — and that is why Maker Faire is leading the world toward the likes of 3d printed spaghetti.  Rather than the standard Milanese design wares created to please wealthy Russians, Japanese and Arabs, Maker innovation is  “jugaad Italian style.”  It’s open-source Italy as an electronic India — everything is scrounged and make-do, nobody has a budget or a lawyer, and everybody knows everybody.    Despite this, or maybe because of it, the Camera del commercio and various ministers for industry were standing by.  If the Makers themselves can’t cash in on all this ingenuity, somebody else will.

The Maker world is a seductive world because there is no real barrier to joining in.  As a network activist with a fondness for electronic arts I’ve always been an Arduino fan.   I  was already involved with the Arduinisti  working on a project for Arduino home automation, but thrilled at Maker Faire when Massimo Banzi as a true cavaliere  suddenly named this project after me:  from now on, it’s  “Casa Jasmina.”  “Casa Jasmina” is not a very high-tech name for an Internet-of-Things experiment,  but it is a name for a home and women are still the home queens who often fear technology: plus nobody else seems to be using the #CasaJasmina Twitter hashtag. Sometimes dreams come true, and so do dream houses!

The Italian Maker scene is determined to enter electronic home automation.  They can’t sit still while Google Android and Apple HomeKit invade the world of “Domus” and “Casabella,” and the logical response to that challenge, from an Italian point of view, is not just “open source” but “open source luxury.”

“Lusso Open Source” is a strange combination of words for someone who knows Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation, but I have met Richard Stallman, and Richard Stallman is from MIT, he is not an Italian guy.  It’s also strange and even sad to realize that beautiful Italy, which is wounded and even oppressed with German, British and American ideologies of “crisis,” has to struggle to survive by being “luxurious.”  But an advanced and civilized quality of life is what Italy makes and sells.  Open Source is one of the most ragged and rugged things happening in the world today.

Something important is happening in the Italian Maker scene that is similar to the Italian response to McDonald’s fast food chains.  The industrial logic and intercontinental scale of McDonald’s looked unstoppable, on paper.  The same goes for Google, Apple and Facebook now.

The “Slow Food Movement” even took its own English name from the threat of American fast food.  Slow Food has never been so widely spread as McDonald’s, but Slow Food looks quite modern and progressive nowadays while McDonald’s seems old-fashioned.  Even MacDonald’s nowadays is making “healthy meals”!

The real secret of Slow Foods is not that it’s a grocery but a curated chain of food production — people will pay much more for food in the store because of the Slow Foods “good, clean and fair” political stamp of approval.  The Slow Food empire even makes a lot of money selling cookbooks to masses of people who want  to be   slow cooks.  The Maker Movement also has huge crowds of fans who love open technology and sincerely want to understand it, but would  pay somebody else to do the actual hard work.

That’s why there will soon be an all-connected bed and breakfast apartment in a a giant half-abandoned FIAT plant in Turin, which is called “Casa Jasmina.”  For traditional Italian crafts people, who I respect very much, this may seem like a threatening prospect.  With good reason, too, because now in the year 2014, anybody with eyes in their head can see that the Internet does to everybody whatever it does to musicians.However designers will be invited as guests to share their craft and opinion in that free space.

I happen to be a musician myself, and there will be quite a lot of music in “Casa Jasmina.”  An electronic home obviously needs an electronic soundtrack, songs produced with Arduino and that is going to be one of my personal problems in future.  Obviously I could steal and pirate a torrent of thundering music through a Bluetooth Jambox in “Casa Jasmina,” but would that be “good, clean and fair?”  It’s been quite a while — since 1973, actually — since there was a truly new “new Italian domestic landscape.” When a woman moves house she can also change some bad habits.

It is presumptuous to claim to know the future. but also irresponsible to behave as if the future is not already here.  Not only are we part of the future — we are excluded from it and forced to turn to “jugaad.”  The “Crisis” is not a “crisis” at all, it’s a global fait accompli where the 1 per centers who have seized all the wealth ignore solution to “the crisis” because they themselves are the crisis.  A white plague is turning Italy into a museum of unaffordable monuments, where tourists abound, but children can’t be born and raised and the elderly can’t be sheltered.

“Casa Jasmina” will not  be “my” home:  young Italian people cannot find steady jobs,  so banks don’t give them house  mortgages.  They live in shareable Internet housing.   What is a modern home?  When we want a roof to protect us, what are the real threats?   What is made affordable, and unaffordable, and why, and for whom?  What is politically and ecologically proper.  Who are our allies and partners, what unseen friends do we have?

In the Maker scene people don’t just debate like us writers do; they really do things.  Enough with the talk; I went to Maker Faire Roma 2014, and now, come what may, I want to try things out.

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Women Who Loot

Chapter from My Life Withut Me

October 5th, 2000, a historical day for Serbia. Where was I? The invisible? I was on BBC, CNN, local TV etc… All day, every hour, with the subtitle: citizens looting the Serbian parliament.
Yes, that was My life with me in it, alive and kicking. That day, when the Serbian people in the streets of Belgrade toppled Milosevic, I was in those streets together with a million people. The streets and squares in Belgrade were not big enough to support a popular revolution of that size. Knowing that too well, the people had to cling together in dense crowds, just as they clung when three Belgrade generations lived in a single small flat. Like people jammed into a rusty Belgrade tram. Like people huddled in a queue for oil, for pensions, for everything the war had denied us.
I stood glued to other people in front of the Serbian parliament, October 5th 2000, daring not to move or speak, because if I jostle or yell, the others will, and the vast million headed beast may get angry, and explode, or implode.

We all feared the beast we had become part of, the beast we had made after years of silence and suffering. This King Kong organism was slowly moving towards the center of government, and my position was slowly getting closer to the bolted doors of the politically gated clique that had looted our lives.
The first row of people approached the steps of the parliament, as in the Eisenstein film “Battleship Potemkin.” Individuals peeled from the million headed beast. As a bold and dashing political adventuress, I was safe in the second line

Then I realized that the first line no longer existed. There I stood, holding hands with my best friend, so as not to split and be shoved apart. We are meandering in front of the evil building, which falling under the attack of protesters turned rioters. Glass is shattered, furniture flung out out the windows, flags torn down and new flags hoisted, screams and tear gas…but the Bastille is falling…

Suddenly, flames and smoke…the police become firemen, revolutionaries become looters, journalists become historians… As we pick our way through the burned overturned cars and smoldering furniture, world media is filming us. Jasmina appears on the screen that night as a Belgrade scavenger and looter.

My father sees me on the TV: he is happy I am there. He does not care if I am the good guy or the bad guy, he cares for the winning side. I am winning there alright, he’d better stick to me, he thinks.

His nation is still burning, and I am saving what can be saved out of the flames. Forty years ago, his generation did the same thing to the predecessors of the communists. He was one of them; he always claims he never looted or killed anybody, and that he earned everything through civil service to the new government. I believed him. But I know that there were no borders between civil servants and the revolutionary Communists. Their system was set up to assure the total power of a party vanguard. And he was one of them, the rebels turned the privileged, who did their best to nail the casino wheel of history into place
Of course I was not a looter, the CNN camera makes all rebels into looters by definition. But my historical battle was that of yet another Balkan looting raid, against one’ s own parents and history. Not one Balkan war was ever won with clean hands. We all had to scavenge to clear the dirty backyards of our parents; every Balkan woman is a rubble woman. Today the revolutionaries, tomorrow the derelicts. A turbulent graveyard of other people’s empires and religions, where every firm foundation is a polyglot and multiethnic mass of rubble.

My mother died in time to preserve her illusions. She died eleven months before my revolution, and did not want any of my rhetoric. Her firm allegiance to her ideals, to her big utopian realm of social freedom, was never lost to her, and was warm in her heart until her last days. On her deathbed she offered us speeches of justice instead of departing kisses. She died with a light and free heart, asking for lemon cake. My mother was a looted soul.

Crossing through the gates, the invisible borderlines; Pier Pasolini wrote about prostitutes, going through the front-lines of war safe and happy, because as women, they were considered loot, trade-goods, by both sides. The camp-followers never bothered with causes or allegiances; for them it was just Rosa and Maria versus the armies of anonymous clients.
Whenever you trespass, and you escape apprehension and punishment, there, you are invisible.
Better sometimes to become visible, and face the punishment.
My daughter as a small child used to plead for attention:
– Please Mom , tell me it is all my fault and that I am guilty!
– It is all your fault, honey, and you are indeed guilty. But before you, it was me. And before me there was your grandma, and then before her Mom, great-grandma Zivana, and then her sick Mom with asthma in a wheelchair… and then I don’t remember those women anymore, but that is how it works.
Women, always doing something they should not have done. Grandma Zivka for example, dressed as a true lady, telling her husband she was meeting a lady friend for coffee, then sneaking to a military parade where she hoped to catch one glance of the awesome Tito.… The nowhere man, the self made leader, the self-named rebel who fooled his enemies with his parallel lives. Rumours flew that there were many Titos, all living and ruling under that name.

Well, my grandma Zivana didn’t read much… but oh, those big shining tanks that seemed never to have fired a shell. Those fine young men dressed so neatly in ironed uniforms. We women love uniforms, men say… but I think women like men in uniforms, as opposed to men in the raw. Just as women love women in cosmetics and gowns, as opposed to raw women, like themselves.
So dear old Zivana would stand well behind in the front row, jumping to peek over the shoulders of the taller guys and girls before her, with her handbag banging them. Until they lost patience, and so did she, and she elbow her way to the front of the crowd and once…

Just once she even crossed the great parade to the center of the road, where she could see the vehicles better, by crouching on her knees and her forearms, under the tires and treads. She emerged scratched and dirty, but with her dainty handkerchief and a little perfume, she restored herself. Zivana’s transgressions were those of a woman who never fought for political rights. Instead, she just performed them.

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