Women’s Tribunal Sarajevo 2015

two texts, before and after


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Internet of Women Things@CasaJasmina

10984151_10153059429047819_7555158626882704347_nDoes anything feminine ever exist as such? A history of invisibility cannot guarantee material results.

We know they existed historically, these creative women who worked with along with male artists and designers, but they rarely had their names attached to their work.  They were a special caste, the mothers sisters wives of famous, rich and publicly visible creative men.

Sometimes we dare to say about design:  now, this is a feminine touch. But what is a “feminine touch,” who can give it, who can do it, how do we even know we’ve seen it?  It is hard to see a “woman’s touch” in design, or art, or science, and even a lifelong feminist can take design entirely for granted, and drive the car without ever looking under the hood.

We do not want to be trapped in essentialism and mainstream biological determinism, so can an “Internet of Women Things” even exist?  Why not try it and find out?  It’s no use getting stuck in theoretical and philosophical issues for a system of things that has never existed before, or that nobody has yet defined, or that is defined, but badly.

So, we decided to ask women designers, women programmers, women artists, women who are interested  in collaborating with Casa Jasmina, what they would like to do there, as women.  What are their ideas, their clues?

I don’t claim to personify all women, or gay men or gay women for that matter, but I do find that when I interact with Internet-of-Things stuff, in Casa Jasmina especially, I have a  distinct  point of view, different than most male colleagues.  I don’t experiment and tinker for its own sake, in fact I am rather demanding.  I have enough demands for a small manifesto.

I demand purpose from the designed IoT object: does it really substitute in some better way for existent models, things we already have in the world?

I demand a friendly, if not beautiful, appearance.

I demand it as open source, meaning also fair in price  and clean in its origins and destinations.

I demand to be allowed a personal approach to my objects. My things, which share my space in the world, have meaning for me.  They create an emotional relationship through their shapes, their colors, the memories they inspire.

Once I put, or find, an object into its proper place,  I never want to move it:  once it is placed just right, it feels radically connected, rooted by habit to the earth.  I do know that connected objects on a network can be freer than before, that they can roam around logistically like wireless birds or random toddlers.   But I sense that things in a home can and should have an ideal place, a pedestal, a limelight, a pondered and considered quality which suits me, and those who use the space with me.   I don’t want things torn from their source in the life of the home, the core of their universe.

No users but people, no geeks but persons: and the ideal categories of our homely concern should be the elderly and children.  That first category, we ourselves are all becoming someday.  The elderly need help in our world, where youth is becoming rare and care is hard to buy.  The second category are the young in the home, the innocents entering our polluted planet with its wreck of an old economic system.  What experiences will children have in an Internet-of-Things home?

I notice, among the women with whom I talked about these things, that the goal that matters to them is the redesign of life, not the re-design of things.  Nowadays the word “design” can stand for all sorts of things, from the design of crime to design of stardom. Designers are the stars of the present uncertain societies where old categories of work have ceased to exist: we are ill-unemployed, endlessly reinventing our jobs and our means of survival, and our struggles seem mostly invisible, except for the lucky few. The stars!

Maybe it’s for the best, maybe we are all like women today, in our obscure struggles.  When I think of how, by chance, I somehow became a designer of my Casa Jasmina habitat, it’s like a Cinderella fairy tale.

In Serbia, my native country, we went though international sanctions.   The Balkan wars changed daily life drastically for women, because war and sanctions deprived us of goods, of high technology, and also of men who were drafted or in hiding.

A long, sad tale, but we women had to get by somehow, in a completely unknown alien and hard situation for most of us, spoiled city girls used to urban convenience, women had never dreamed that a modern city of  three million like Belgrade could become a war zone.   Bitter war was our grandmother’s story, and besides, these new economic wars didn’t resemble the old black and white conflicts, with clear allies and enemies, swift life and death. We felt that we were our own worst enemies, and life ground on day by day as a slow death.

We had to reinvent our daily life so as to feed the children, care for the elderly, to heat the blacked-out homes which became like caves after every sunset.  But I learned about those Maker-style design issues, and now I know about them. I learned not just to change the bulb but fix a broken fuse. I learned that the soap powder for washing machines is mostly useful for polluting rivers, that we take too many medicines too carelessly, that we waste household water and we overheat our homes.  I learned that children need affection more than they need cash. I learned that old people do not need to rest but to be useful and needed in their own way.

I learned that culture is not only from books but about writing down your own experience. In short, I learned how to hack my disordered life. And of course I lived on the Internet, my virtual life was my best guarantee of my physical life.

This is how I became an eventual fan of the Internet of Things, of all connected design. I don’t yet know how to make it happen, but I do know how it has to look.

As Donna Haraway used to say, “Women gather around affinities not identities,” and that’s how imagine an “Internet of Women Things.”   Elective affinities.

So, welcome, women, to Casa Jasmina: welcome to Casa Jasmina as your safe place for thinking different, for thinking from scratch, from wherever you are and think you wanna go, from Cinderella’s cinder ashes to the palace of Nefertiti.  We will fail and fail, often and well. But we will get somewhere: after all this historical period is a   transition to nowhere, so better have fun while traveling!

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11017230_10153082927592819_5173236106017125399_n 11178232_10153082944852819_7953790855468419862_nThe people who hit the streets, on the first of May in Italy, wanted to celebrate the day of labor in the major cities. Also, to express their worries about the lack of work and the unemployment (which is now 43 percent among young people). Their credo: more work for everybody, less work per person.

Early in the morning, the traditional May Day demonstration hour for the Turin working class, dark rumor was spreading: Milan is going to go wild, riots just like Baltimore.  A mother confessed: My daughter crept out early this morning to protest against the EXPO in Milan, and I am so worried. Not that I approve of the Expo, but  those protests nowadays run out of control. Yet somebody has to protest.  I used to do it  myself.  It’s her turn now.

Renzi, the youngest premiere in the world, invited the whole world to Milan’s EXPO.  Renzi said that Italy had decided to embrace the world. Italy is showing some signs of the willpower to be reborn on a different basis.  The 2008 crisis is not an aberrant nightmare anymore, but the starting point for new ideas and new people.   The EXPO however, was off to a balky start, with unfinished works, much corruption, and hasty last-minute efforts.

Whistleblowers presented us with an EXPOLEAKS site, very convincing. This is Italy after all, and very few things can possibly be transparent and clean, even with good intentions and good-faith efforts. Corruption and economic mafias are the way of life, the habits hardest to change.

When the Black Bloc broke into the peaceful No Expo demo, hell broke loose.  They were mostly Italian anarchists, along with hooligans from France and Spain who slipped past the border police with the ease of riotous football fans.  Beppe Grillo, the leader of the M5S movement, seized the opportunity to opine that the cops should be fired. However, the trouble could certainly have been worse.

In downtown Milan, some shops were smashed, banks were trashed and cars were burned. Nobody died, though there were injuries and arrests.  This was classic domestic Italian political violence.  Nobody but Italians is at all upset about Milan staging a big world exposition.  The clandestinis and the Moslem terror are not the Expo issue.

Of course one likes to think that an expensive celebration would unify Italy, but the Expo is a scattered operatic spectacle instead, with Andrea Botticelli, the blind singer, entertaining huge crowds in the Piazza del Duomo, while a few streets away at the La Scala opera house the cops and the Black Bloc rampaged in deafening noise.

With that said, the next day the Milanese spontaneously cleaned up their city’s riot mess, and life went on, more or less. They even had a big demo in support of their mayor and the city.

In the Turin May Day demonstrations, all the demonstrators seemed to have found or invented ingenious badges, T-shirts, slogans, or insignia, probably to distinguish themselves from the crowds of pious, shabby rural Catholics who have shown up to adore the Shroud of Turin.  The May Day parade in Turin was quite a show, with beautiful  royal squares and boulevards covered with dignified walking bands, with elegant flag bearers and majorettes in Prada-like gear, politicized puppies, even acrobats. The wary police also sported exotic insignia, with specialized antiterrorist troops, the Alpini mountain battalions, even civilian volunteers in emergency orange gear.

Turin finds it rather difficult to riot when the city plays host to the pious faithful: the miracle-seekers, desperate souls, youthful catechism classes fresh off the church bus, people on crutches, the sick and the stricken, the people in wheelchairs… Even the Pope is scheduled to show up. He’s rather popular.  No one wants to upset Francis.

Of course a certain “No Expo” sentiment is also present in Torino — it embarrasses the Left that the medieval Shroud of Turin is presented to the gullible masses, a commercialized fake, a literal relic.   But Faith is as blind as Love, and scolding a Shroud true-believer is like telling him his girlfriend is ugly: it just won’t help anything, so why be rude.  This is Italy, after all.

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SXSW 2015

11065926_10152959546547819_6603014137128877462_nThis year, at my jubilee tenth SXSW attendance, I was focusing much more on the people than on the events.  It’s because of that feeling of missing everything once you have the badge and the madness starts rolling.

People queue for hours, in weird roundabouts.  How do they manage to understand the geography of the Austin streets and theaters?    Sometimes I had to ask people in lines the name of the event they were about to attend, or even the name of the theater.    The crowds knew much better than the paper programs, in tiny print,  written by  volunteer  staffers with too many tasks on their hands.

While sharing moments of vicinity with strangers, we talked over the event, the program, the organization…and the dozens of thousands of musical interactive and film tourists, lovers, performers.  I was all of that and one of them.

I enthusiastically watched the  SXSW keynote of Paola Antonelli, the Italian American design curator of the New York Museum of Modern Art.   Paola Antonelli told the geeks what is new under the  sun, confronting the new movers and shakers of a different world, with a very Italian-style passionate speech, but with American precision and pragmatism.

I also hugely enjoyed Koert van Mensvoort’s  lecture about Next Nature, and how the borders between natural and designed by man are rapidly eluding our imagination. The Dutch futurist visionary talk was an artsy prank and performance,  I don’t know which, but I was buying every word of this  extremely urban and scientifically oriented presentation.   Beware what future you wish for, you may get what you want!

Again following the crowds, I hoped to find an Arab princess lecturing about women’s rights, but instead found myself at a different keynote entirely, a transgendered, transhumane , post-human and post scientific and postreason rant that the crowds hugely appreciated and that made me shiver.  I was gullible enough to believe that this transgender star was in fact an Arab princess, a supposition that stretched my imagination even more than the substance of the speech.

However, after about ten minutes, when Ray Kurzweil was mentioned as the guru of this speaker,  I realized that I was witnessing a mystical new wave of religion plus technology plus hacker scientism… a wacky combo that no Arab princess would ever care to deliver. Since every woman is a princess, myself included, I left the hall wondering at the enthusiasm of the SXSW interactive crowds and distrusting their judgment as never before.

Instead I chose to meandered into rooms where only few were attending.   I was gratified with  a extremely serious, almost academic, lecture about 3D printed fashion by Dutch designer Pauline van Dongen, which was by the way beautiful.  I was ready-to-wear anything she created, in a wave of enthusiasm I rarely experience with fashion brands.

I saw a great MIT panel, also for an exclusive few, about biohacking.   It’s a shame huge crowds weren’t there to understand how hard it is to something like that, and what an ethical mess biohacking can be.

Nelly Ben Hayoun’s science documentary, “Disaster Playground,” had its movie premiere.  It’s about asteroids possibly striking the earth,  and cheerfully tackles the huge political problems that would be posed by any genuine planetary disaster.   Nobody in charge to battle real asteroids; all we can do is answer one another’s red phones and discuss the technical prospect of somehow saving humanity.

Then came a documentary about Ross Ulbricht and his Bitcoin drug empire, the  “Silk Road.”   As usual, the documentaries at SXSW much outwit the normal American fare of horror films and thrillers:    zombies, comic-book heroes, and extremely complicated paranoid thrillers which completely lack political awareness and exist only to frighten the audience and make them feel stupid.

Bewildered by film and high technology, I started clubbing, and that was the best part of the event.  Live bands were all over town, one after another, one better than another, off and on stage of SXSW:  never mind, nobody was perfect, but they were all awesome.  Especially after a good “Mexican martini” with tequila and olives, which ought to be the ultimate bonding material for all the splintered music tribes of blues, punk, country, rock and electronica.

I didn’t manage to cram myself inside the packed venue for Gary Clark Jr,  a kid from Austin who has become the blues rock critic’s darling. My friends knew his father: and many years ago, Gary’s father had told them, watch out for my son, he will be big some day.   And he was good: singing like Jimi Hendrix, a psychedelic blues very elaborate and intellectual, but emotional and  honest!

I was content to stand outside the barred gates of the club together with many young bluesers who some day will be big too, because they mean to keep Austin weird so the blues can never die…   The police and bouncers were all over the huge crowds this year, herding the crowds like cattle, while the Uber and Lyft drivers, notwithstanding their  controversies all over the world, however managed to get us through the blockaded roads.

As we fought traffic, I remembered the prophesy of Google expert Astro Teller, lecturing us on how high-tech robot cars will be outsmarting the ever-more-sloppy human drivers. The social and political conflicts between man and machines — nothing new there!  Dr Strangelove could be anybody nowadays; he doesn’t need a nuclear arsenal, just a billion dollars and a startup garage.

Love it or not, SXSW is no longer about computers.  No, it’s all about mobiles now, handheld, wireless devices, with scarcely a laptop in sight.    If they can’t meet their needs with a mobile app, it scarcely seems to be a human need at all.

Last  but not least, I sang and danced as usual at the annual EFF Austin party thanks to Jon Lebkowsky: whistle blowers were blowing their brave news,   bourbon was freely flowing through our veins,  what can a woman want more from  SXSW !

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Free download of my book Matrimony in English

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CasaJasmina work in progress

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Transmediale 2015, Berlin

Transmediale 2015

Transmediale is an ideal event for taking the moral temperature of the alternative Internet crowd. This year: feverish.

The theme was certainly well chosen: “Capture All”, meaning everything instrumented, everything streaming data under surveillance. The total act of monitoring, the gesamkunstwerk of Big Data: but for who, why, how?

The resilient Berliners have now gotten over the first existential shock of NSA Snowden revelations. They know pretty well where they stand now. The intelligence services are simply in command of the government; no amount of mere political embarrassment is going to pry the spies loose from the switching centers: the spooks are too useful to the politicians, so they’re going to cast aside the pretense of the rule of law and simply brazen it out, Putin-style.

Everybody who matters now knows that Snowden told the truth, and nobody bothers to deny the reality, but the activists of electronic civil liberty are in for a long battle as a sidelined dissident group.

That’s why an outlaw activist like Peter Sunde is now smiled upon by the Berlin artists’ crowd. Sunde just came out of prison. He is not an artist but a well-practiced pirate, a Swedish ideologue who was using national boundaries to hack intellectual property national regulations. The powers-that-be had to invent some method to punish him and arrest him for freeing all those Hollywood movies, and, with much effort, they did. So Sunde and his two Pirate Bay colleagues have all been in prison under some rather far-fetched legal charges.

By inviting Sunde to deliver the opening speech, the Transmediale is showing its awareness that modern net.art can also involve jail time nowadays. Net art is of some hairy consequence now: it’s no longer merely the usual viral and transgressive publicity stunt, followed by empty threats of lawsuits from some offended party, far away. No: the repression has reached new levels, because so much more is at stake.

The intelligence service have learned to hack the democratic order, and of course that activity is just as formally illegal as Peter Sunde’s pirate antics, but so what: it is all “just Internet!” Capture all the hot data you can get your hands on; of course others don’t approve, but they’re neck-deep in it, too, and just as crooked as you are.

Meanwhile, downstairs in the Transmediale basement exposition space, most of the artworks were fantasies of somehow escaping the alarming new reality. For example: elaborate masks that can frustrate compute facial recognition. What is the point of this? It’ s like wearing an “Anonymous” mask in a street rally: it simply focusses the attention of the police, who will promptly arrest you for the act of wearing a mask.

Oriana Persico and Salvatore Iaconesi contributed one of their parodies: “Stakhanov the Big Data God.” This mystic oracle, busily spying on Transmediale guests by combing through their social media profiles, spat out some rather typical prophecies of doom through an old fashioned line printer.

The twilight struggle among our planet’s many booming cyber war spy agencies was recast as a contemporary multiplayer computer game. The NSA and its national rivals and civilian contractors slyly struggled to capture the world, Napoleon style.

Probably the most effective installation at Transmediale was also the simplest: Timo Arnall’s slow motion videos of contemporary data switching centers. These colossal big data barns simply sit humming on the modern landscape, without one human being in sight, structures antiseptic and colossal in scale, fully algorithmic. No comment is made, or is necessary: we’ve built ourselves a giant fait accompli.

As time goes on, Transmediale seems more about presentations and workshops, and less about actual art, or the work of art. The early days of net art, when every art-hacker on the planet seemed to be thriving on the Internet’s abstract, universal, level playing field, have been replaced by the modern situation of distinct social cults and viral clusters of interest. Rather than universal access and universal human rights to broadband, it’s now about underground access, such as the “offline network” activists, who build devices carefully divorced from the Internet’s spooks and property-cops. Plug in a small gray box with some wireless, and presto! fifty thousand art and theory books as text files, fully searchable! Nobody but you and your dearest friends ever needs to know about that.

The new “smart city activists” badly want Big Data, but only as a regional competitive advantage for their own towns. Having your town run “on the Internet” is now perceived as a genuine threat to well-being — you’ll surely get disrupted by the likes of Uber, or bullied by ruthless outlaw hackers, if there is in fact any real difference between the bullies of Uber and hackerdom.

The Maker scene has grown bored and unhappy with anything strictly digital: they want alternative artifacts, gonzo products, functional machines. Perhaps the strangest group are the “quantified self” zealots. These people have zero interest in limitless cyberspace, and a fanatical hypochondriac interest in mapping the interiors of their own bodies.

There was another important virus circling Transmediale this year: good old-fashioned influenza. A Berlin mob of four thousand people tramped through the snow and slush for the opening ceremony. It was a very impressive turnout, with everyone chattering, cheek-kissing and pressing the flesh while sharing wine straight from the neck of wine bottles. The instant result was a high-fever flu virus that ran rampaging through the attendees, as international and borderless as the crowd itself. We survived the bone-aching flu, and we’ll be back for more, but next time we’ll take the viral and the social a lot more seriously.

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