woensdag 28 maart 2012

Wonderfull scenes from Occupied America

My own ever expanding drivel on Occupy attempts to document its rise and development from the afar and inactive position of a stay-home psychogeographic enthusiast. Occupy is the most exciting development in anarchist inspired protest and civil disobedience in my lifetime and I feel the need to bear witness (as Ezra Pound would say), to record the excitement and interpret the various positions as if each camp represents a game of chess, each player earning points for human progress.

Occupy Wall Street took Zuccotti park on 17 September 2011, by December 2011 Verso published 'Occupy!: Scenes from Occupied America'; it also bears witness, but from up close. The book begins and continues with diary-like reports on the atmosphere of camp and marches, the deliberations during general assemblies, the internal strife between the drummer circle and the rest, the problems of camps not being truly representative of the 99%, the doubts and insecurities that slowly creep in, the mayhem of eviction and of course the logistical nightmare of the laundry. There are 28 authors beautifully edited with each new author adding a new perspective, historical essays on China town, labour unions and consensus decision making, some writers are celebrities like that Hegelian Harlequin (rousing) and Angela Davis (short but strong), unknown writers drop in narratives from other occupation sites. Oakland, Atlanta, Philadelphia each finding a way to deal with the problems generated by local historic and political circumstances. The book is consistently intelligent (there are only two contributions that I like less for being abstract) and well-paced, all the more remarkable for the immediacy of its subject and speed of its production. The design also gets top marks.

Perhaps Michael Sayeau is right when he writes in the Guardian that the picture of Occupy that emerges from this book is a little too educated, too well-argued and too clear to do justice to the more prevalent attitudes of confusion, anger and irrationality. Personally I'd like see the best qualities of Occupy be saved for next generations rather than the mediocre ones. Another criticism one could give about this book is that it is too busy conveying the excitement, adventure and, later, the daily sorrows of camping out that it fails to properly address it's goals, aims and experiences as a protest. Which is a way of saying that Occupy is just another middle class vehicle for personal growth. There may be a point and maybe not; if the citing of violence is the way the 'system' tries to discredit a protest movement, calling everybody who appears to be slightly better of then you 'middle class' is the surest way for protest movements to discredit each other.  

Surely this book, the first book, will be referenced for as long as Occupy will be studied. It focuses on the US only and in fact doesn't even suggest that it has gone world wide. I can only hope that in other countries and on other continents people will want to turn their bearing witness into books as lively and as well produced as this one. OWS is the mother ship of Occupy but the smallest camp you can think of in the obscurest part of country is just as important, and I want to read about it. 

The majority of the authors presented here are affiliated with the Nplusone magazine which published three issues of the Occupy Gazette, all available online, from which this book is compiled.

zondag 25 maart 2012

El Tono's Line and Surface

At least ten years ago I was asked to write the accompanying texts for a book that would document the work of a number of street artists. The book never materialized but through it I was introduced to the post-graffiti street art scene which at the time was at a period of incredible artistic ferment and which was also a very lively international scene with many artist collaborating. Fond memories of great parties! El Tono was one the people to be covered in the book. He is from France originally and was living in Barcelona at the time, I never got to meet him but his work was well known. Even between 30 other street artists his style (abstract tuning forks in bold lines and bright colours) immediately stood out, no easy thing. But, as these things go, the scene imploded under its own weight, but the people involved didn't stop. This is how it happened that Local boy W%D, who at the time was running the popular street art website Stickit is now using the name to run a small publishing firm and his latest release is 'Line and Surface', a nearly 100 page-long overview of a decade of El Tono. It is well documented, beautiful to look at, and it is amazing to see how El Tono's work has evolved from project to project. The best things for me: I wrote a tiny bit for the book, did get to meet El Tono and just got back from a great release party.


zaterdag 24 maart 2012

Occupy as psychogeographic urbanism [draft 5]

[Draft 5 is much longer and edited in many places, to make it a bit easier: # mostly unchanged, # changed, # new paragraph.]
“As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies.” - Declaration of the Occupation of New York City [1]

“It is like a little village. They have got a food tent, a welfare tent, a first aid tent, an information tent, a library tent and a university tent where they have their daily meetings. It is very well organised… They have organised there own portaloos but there is still a problem with street urination… The rainwater gullies have been blocked up with food waste.” – Assistant director of Street Scene on OccupyLSX [2]

“At night, with such a big crowd in it, the space had started to redefine itself a bit, and more by ambience than function. People arranged themselves in it more according to how they felt about it. There was an unanswerable question in the air, or so it seemed to me, about what forms of life are possible. In different parts of the Park people gravitated toward different answers.” - McKenzie Wark on Zucotti Park [3]
"The districts of this city could correspond to the whole spectrum of diverse feelings that one encounters by chance in everyday life." - Ivan Chtcheglov[4]
# Psychogeography has moved from revolution (say: Guy Debord) to nostalgia (say: Iain Sinclair) and I think I know why. The psychogeographers of the middle 20th century imagined the city as a collage of grandiose shape-shifting sectors that would be endlessly explored by its inhabitants. The city would be in permanent revolution, urbanism would by participatory, work would have be abolished and play would be the core activity of life. Sixty years later we find psychogeography evoking historic and fantasmagoric cities as part of the contemporary city through narrative pyrotechnics and the wilful paranoia of associative anecdote. Its politics is regressive rather than pro-active, its demands on reality humble. The psychogeographer rather than create alternative visions from scratch has gone searching for them in places that have so far escaped ‘development’. The psychogeographer of today walks, in various funny ways, reports it finds and little else [5] with the idea that keeping streets alive by using them non-functionally is politics enough. For some psychogeography has become a career. Where did the enthusiasm for town planning and architecture go? City planning has become suspect and socially responsible architects are without exception the ones who destroy the most in their wake. Beware of the demagogue who knows morality and justice on his or her side.  Architects are upmarket pimps hiding deprivation and slavery behind a smokescreen of perfumed pompadour and slick braggadocio. Nicholas Hawkmoor had style, Baron Haussmann at least was earnest and who do we have? A bunch of nameless 'partners' kissing some hand of some godfather in some back room. Psychogeography has become nostalgic because the present has so little to offer. The psychogeographer looks out over a tower block, a gigantic mall, a four-lane motorway and sighs (a psychogeographer is by definition someone without a driver’s licence). As it happens the psychogeographer is the only one left to sigh because the rest of the world is too busy talking into their mobile phones. Needless to say: psychogeographers are suspicious about mobile phones too…

# Sure, an interesting building sometimes gets built but nobody can still look at a modern building without seeing the invisible hand behind it: the cabal of investors, bankers, estate-agents, crooked politicians, construction firms, marketing firms, law-firms, extractive industries, all dodgy, all corrupt, all purely self-interested. Housing has ceased to be a basic human right and the simple wish to have a roof over your head means being forced to commit yourself to a pyramid scheme where the newcomers will always pay for the exorbitant riches of those who came first. A house is no longer a home but an investment, a city is no longer a society but a marketing ploy to be sold to its inhabitants. Of course you can download a ‘psychogeographic’, ‘Situationist-inspired’ augmented reality app that helps you to forget all this. They cost only 99 cents and will keep you just as stupid as you already are.

# Every city has its cryptoforests, places that are camouflaged by nature to hide the discontinued urban. Cryptoforests are places that are forested and wild but which will inevitable reveal humans at the heart of it. All forests are psychological actors and the cryptoforest is no exception, but the cryptoforest is not a 'real' forest, it's also city and all cities could improve by allowing themselves to cryptofy: to become cryptoforests, or, like a half-empty glass is also half-full, cryptocities. Cities that cater to the needs of tent-dwelling semi-nomadic foragers who dance the night away to celebrate the new grub season. The forager is the psychogeographic double[6].

# The eviction of the Occupy Wall Street camp from Zuccotti park on grounds of hygiene is akin to the arrest of Al Capone for tax evasion. And far away from Manhattan, in my sleepy Utrecht where nothing ever happens, the same gambit has been tried for the local camp. Conservative politicians objecting to the camp on the front door of the city council are citing the major disruption of tourists tripping over tent pegs as reason for eviction. Apart from offering a way to get rid of a camp on terms that might lead to awkward accusations of curtailing unarguable rights like the freedom of speech, political and judicial resistance to Occupy has a deeper reason: they need to protect the housing-investment pyramid scheme. It is probably safe to say that not a single one of the 2600+ Occupy groups the world has counted defined beforehand which of their goals should be met before they will voluntary abandon camp[7]. They exist indefinitely until society changes significantly and this is unlikely to happen soon. As Pete Wright has written: “Change happens through the imperative for change, not the request,“[8] and because the economic crisis is the best thing that ever happened to the established economic superpowers the imperative is not thereat all[9]. In the indeterminate process of occupation people will quickly learn that a house really is a luxury you can do without, that long exposure to winter cold (talking about Europeans winters here, not Canadian or Russian ones) makes you look a bit scary but is perfectly survivable. The criminalization of squatting and the eviction of Occupy camps are part of the same motive: you are not allowed to escape.

# The General Assembly model where "the process toward creative synthesis is really the essence of the thing" is such a fragile process that it will create a close-knitted community of trusted others or will fall apart[10]. The consensus model takes away endless talk from a professional class of politicians to the 'people' and everybody who has ever been involved in non-hierarchical decision making knows that a person with strong opinions but little facts and little self-criticism can turn any meeting into a race with the red queen of dreadful infinity and this alone provides an excellent reasons for socially cohesive subgroups to break off from the main camp and try their luck elsewhere.

# The internal organization of Occupy, the refusal to create leaders, the refusal to legitimize outside power and governance (even if only in theory), its indeterminate duration, its state of permanent crisis (read: the risk of eviction) can create a situation where tribal life-ways can be discovered and explored. Occupy starts a process that can turn a well functioning, socially cohesive camp into a self defined tribe (as much Hell Angel as Yanomami) that may feel the need to turn their back on society[11]. At least a few people have recognized from the start that this is the real substance of Occupy. Anthropologist and Occupy Wall Street co-organizer David Graeber has written:

"Zuccotti Park, and all subsequent encampments, became spaces of experiment with creating the institutions of a new society - not only democratic General Assemblies but kitchens, libraries, clinics, media centres and a host of other institutions, all operating on anarchist principles of mutual aid and self-organisation - a genuine attempt to create the institutions of a new society in the shell of the old.” [12] [13]
What he is really saying is: we don’t have concrete demands because we are not interested in changing the world, we are interested in finding a way to live where we can more fully ignore it. Occupy provides a meeting place and testing ground for would-be communards. The Scriptonite blog perhaps puts it best:

“To understand Occupy, you must get one thing. The Occupy Movement is as much about education and information sharing as it is about protest.  The purpose of the camps, are to act as villages.  They bring people together to share a space, food, ideas and build the personal relationships that galvanise a movement.  There is also a massive support structure behind that of social media, direct action and organisational capabilities able to manifest ideas generated on the camps, into realities in the outside world.” [14]
# Once village utilities are in place camps may want to look further for ways to severe more links to the outside world. Learning from experts on foraging, alternative sanitation, alternative energy, alternative medicine, etc, etc, to become fully prepared to move from Wall Street to Wild Street.

# There comes a moment for every Occupy camp that eviction is the best thing that can happen to it. In Utrecht, where the Greens are the biggest political party and likely to agree with Occupy demands, the camp is protected from eviction. But where does that leave you? The camp wilts under the stress of fluffy non-committing tolerance. I was genuinely surprised by the activity and the conversation that was generated at one of their first Saturday-afternoon festivals, but as camp continues people will probably just get used to it and once people get used to they will start to ask awkward questions like: what do you really want. And: does the 99% really exist outside of statistics and is it a statistic that is valid outside the US?

# The occupation of a square or a park may be a photogenic way to show that what’s happening on the news is also happening in the lives of millions of people, but there comes a time to declutter. A few weeks before its eviction the OWS Tumblr page mentioned the rumour that the police were telling homeless to move to Zuccotti park. True or not: the phenomena is recurrent, homeless people find Occupy camps congenial to their own needs but they will often fail to take notice of the rules. Occupy Amsterdam went as far as to negotiate a strategic half-eviction with the police that would evict the drunks, the homeless and the Slavic and leave the prudent and well-behaved true occupiers in their tents. The police as the mercenaries of a middle class tea-cup revolution. Occupy’s Empty Tent Syndrome may not be as bad as the media likes to make it appear but it’s certainly there: taking a bath, recharging your Iphone, phoning you mother, eating a take-away meal (with all that cold you can use the grease), catching an event of your favourite sport, those are things most people prefer to do at home and this is where the homeless and the vagrant win: they can afford to be there all day.

# A movement without leadership is controlled by an elite. There is no reason to invoke a Bourne Provocateur to explain it. A supposedly egalitarian social structure will always create informal leaders and these will have more power if the number of participants increases. I can’t explain the process as a law like a social psychologist can but I am sure it is true. Instead of clinging to willful naivety of 19th century anarchism why not borrow from tribal knowledge and install a chief. Someone from whom you demand feasts and impeccable generosity. Anthropology can offer many cases of social systems where the chief has to work twice as hard to acquire the goods for redistribution he needs to keep his people happy without ever gaining him any power other than the right to speak at the general assembly. I repeat: a leader has the right to speak, and the guarantee that no one will listen. Chiefdom is a way to keep the bossy ones from being boss by isolating them[15]. Start a meeting by calling for a volunteer to be the chairman and then send him or her away to clean the toilets. The Golden Bough starts with an overview of ancient ways to get rid of kings when their time is up; find inspiration there.

# There is a maxim that a culture in decline needs to look outside of itself to freshen up and Occupy is a good example. It has borrowed the idea of a tent camp from Tharir Square, the general assembly model from Quaker public worship (as the Spanish Indignadas claim) and it comes as no surprise that David Graeber, an anthropologist, has become the most visible representative of Occupy Wall Street and by affiliation of the world wide movement. Graeber's thesis advisor was Marshall Sahlins, whose 1966 essay 'The Original Affluent Society' is a foundational text in modern day hunter-gatherer studies (and often reprinted as a primitivist punk zine) pioneering the thought that foraging people are not backwards but free, egalitarian and happy[16]. Add Pierre Clastres' observation that most foraging societies are not relics from the stone age but forms of self-barbarization, a way to be flexible and permanently ready to escape from outside control and you begin to see the true vision of Occupy: the tent is not just a symbol of resistance, it's a promise of tactical lightness that is not defined by protest but by its incorporation of alternative sources of practical skill. Occupy doesn’t need politicians, it needs Eskimo’s, Aboriginals, Bushmen and other people with genuine commitment to their independence. Looked at like this the Occupy movement is not an anarchist movement but an anthropological experiment in  creating a situation in which different ways of being a political and social individual can be experienced. There is also a paradox: the only successful communities that could be called successfully anarchic came about by being ignored by the state, not by breaking away from it.

# Dutch newspapers extensively covered the story of 14 year old runway Kelly who disappeared from suburbia to Occupy Amsterdam where she fell in love with a 17 year old Czech nicknamed Pikachu, after Pokemon, how sweet. Together they travelled to Occupy Paris, were involved in a failed attempt to set up camp in Central Marseilles and planned to travel to Barcelona when her parent intercepted her and took her back home. A newspaper quoted her mother as saying: “She was driven by love and a bad time at school[17]”. It shows that Occupy provides a much needed setting for adventure. It also shows how Occupy has created a network of places for people to freely move in to, meet people, discuss the world, share the food, and, hopefully, offer to help prepare it too. This practical, welcoming, quality of occupy where a willingness to help pays out in comradely dividend is also addressed by the New Yorker in an article describing Ray Kachel’s move from unemployment in Seattle to the adventures of Occupy Wall Street. More than anything else the article stresses the open sociality of Occupy as one of its strongest assets:

“He tweeted regularly, and soon had more than thirteen hundred followers. Perhaps readers were drawn to the modesty and the objectivity of Kachel’s notes on the occupation. October 8th: “There are elements of communal living. it’s a really amazing experience tho totally out of my comfort level.” October 22nd: “It surprises me i have a guardian angel. it doesn’t surprise me he’s a soft-spoken, hard working Irish guy from the bronx.” October 23rd: “Dear mr. ferguson. i have lived in new york for over two weeks now. it does not smell of wee.” October 27th: “Keep seeing reference to ‘horrendous police abuse’ re: ows. I’ve been here 2+ weeks and have seen none and heard of little.” November 13th: “I lived in my old apartment in Seattle for nearly a decade and barely knew 2 other tenants. . . . i’ve lived in liberty square for just over a month and regularly talk with many of my neighbors and have made many new friends.[18]

# By March 2012 Occupy Utrecht had been dealing with street violence for a few months but this time one of the occupiers had retaliated a harasser by beating him on the head with a hammer. A statement was issued by Occupy condemning the action in the strongest terms without taking the only proper consequence. They should have pulled backwards from the boat in order to enter it, as Coleridge would say, and disbanding camp citing their unwavering commitment to non-violence. They didn’t, displaying a shocking lack of strategic insight while showing the unwavering stubbornness of the true believer, and everything that will happen from now on will be a deception. Incidentally: a while back a university teacher involved with Occupy Utrecht allowed himself to be interviewed by a newspaper and was quoted as saying that there are good bankers and bad bankers and that it is important to see the difference. I wonder how that stellar insight would go down at an OWS GA. It shows that not all camps are making the same choices when it comes to tactics, and that not all camps have strategies.

# “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.” It’s a 1845 Marx quote used by Occupy groups around the world. Marx had little patience with the well intentioned but doomed naivety of small groups trying to design a perfect society in the seclusion of a wilderness. If you want to improve society you must start by improving political structures. Occupy is unequivocally not seeking to change the political system from the inside out and this makes it, in the Marxian analysis, a utopist movement misunderstanding Marx’s slogan. Still: it is to better to quote Marx wrongly than to quote rightly from that great unwashed Hegelian harlequin: Slavoj Zizek.     

# “The dérive, a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiences. Dérives involve playful-constructive behaviour and awareness of psychogeographical effects, and are thus quite different from the classic notions of journey or stroll.[19]” Debord wrote this in 1956 and it has been quoted by psychogeographers every since as its defining statement. What it means is that the drift (usually taken as the same thing as psychogeography, though it wasn’t for Debord) is a political act that releases you, even if only temporarily, from all  forms of economic productivity and consumption. Sixty years later we take extensive leisure time for granted and the drift is evoked as a value free term for personal advancement by artists, app-developers and all other scum that wants to make it in the so-called creative industries. The drift is not a walk that is not from A to B, it’s a way of life that feeds into the psychogeographical restructuring of the city as a platform of political struggle. Creating a village on the footsteps of the stock-exchange is psychogeographic, reading Walter Benjamin in a Starbucks is not. 

# Tent city urbanism (and what comes after) is a far cry from the spectacular models of Constant's New Babylon or the magico-marxist rereading of the Hawksmoor churches and Canary Wharf. In that the psychogeography of the recent past has fallen for the spectacle of the 'legacy'. My first impression of the Occupy camp was that it was paltry, a dynamo of underwhelming sadness, a place of insignificant littleness, but I soon realized my initial response was a form of conditioning that must be exorcised with a pickaxe. I was looking for a hacienda, baroque optical illusions and empty spaces creating richly filled time and I saw..... battered tents against a grey building on a clouded day on a miserable Monday morning[20]. And it may well be that at least a few tents are permanently empty, but I like the idea of Potemkin tent village, a farcical pow-wow of bleeding ugliness at the heart of the city. Dubai is a travesty, a weed patch a place of wonder and discovery. The cryproforest is also battered and paltry, a cheap undefined green that is not a forest, not a garden, not even a park, but give it half a chance and it will take over everywhere where humans retreat. The urbanism of the future is the cryptoforestation of derelict properties, abandoned carparks and never developed building sites. In this respect the economic crisis is on our side. Occupy communities are working toward it from the other end, and when the cryptocity arrives they will find themselves fully prepared for it.

[December 2011 – March 2012]

- Image from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2053463/Occupy-London-90-tents-St-Pauls-protest-camp-left-overnight.html
The general assembly planning the occupation on Wall Street, 13 Augustus 2011.

[1] From October 2011, http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/10/01/1021956/-First-official-statement-from-Occupy-Wall-Street
[2] The problems of urbanism in a nutshell: http://www.ehn-online.com/news/article.aspx?id=6010
[3] http://www.thenewsignificance.com/2011/10/07/mckenzie-wark-zuccotti-park-a-psychogeography/
[4] Ivan Chtcheglov's Formula for a New Urbanism.1953; see: http://www.bopsecrets.or/SI/Chtcheglov.htm
[5] For an overview of contemporary psychogeography see the Psychogeographic Field Reports [2011]: http://cryptoforest.blogspot.com/p/psychogeographic-field-reports-zine.html
[6] See: Forage Psychogeography: http://cryptoforest.blogspot.com/p/what-is-forage-psychogeography-suppress.html
[7] "By October 9, Occupy protests had taken place or were ongoing in over 95 cities, across 82 countries, and over 600 communities in the United States. As of November 17 the Meetup page "Occupy Together" listed Occupy communities in 2,609 towns and cities worldwide." quoted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occupy_movement
[8] http://www.newstatesman.com/society/2012/03/protest-occupy-global-change
[9] Manuel Castells on the economic crisis in a TV interview:

This idea that this is not a crisis, but a trick, do you agree with that?  
Absolutely. On the trick part. It is a crisis, in economic terms, but the crisis in fact has been used to improve the power and the profits of the financial groups which are in fact the leading elite in our society. All major banks and financial institutions in the last year have reported extraordinary profits. But now the governments are in a fiscal crisis, the governments need the money, and the banks say: “Well, in order to be stable and not to go back into our trouble, we cannot lend it to you. And in fact, the only way we are going to lend something to someone if you start cutting wages, firing workers, curtailing social rights and eliminating the collective power of the unions.” In that sense, the trick part of this statement seems to be empirically supported. Because profits are hugely up, some of the Spanish banks have reported largest profits in history, in 2010. And at the same time, the condition has been created for an assault on the welfare state, social rights, labour union power, and in fact on all the institutions that were constructing people’s lives in terms of their basic needs. So I don't think it’s necessarily conspiracy of the capitalist class and organisation but ultimately it is being used in those terms. So in the perception of people this is obviously a trick.

[10] David Graeber: http://occupywallst.org/article/enacting-the-impossible/
[11] For a historic precedent see Gary Snyder, Why Tribe, 1969:
We use the term Tribe because it suggest the type of new society now emerging within the  industrial nations. In America of course the word has associations with the American Indians which we like . This new subculture is in fact more similar to that ancient and successful tribe, the European Gypsies-- a group without nation or territory which maintains its own values, its language and religion, no matter what country it may be in. The Tribe proposes a totally different style: based on community houses, villages and ashrams; tribe-run farms or workshops or companies; large open families; pilgrimages and wanderings from center to center. A synthesis of Gandhian "village anarchism" and I.W.W. syndicalism.
[12] David Graeber: Occupy Wall Street's anarchist roots, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2011/11/2011112872835904508.html
[13] This sounds like a distant echo from Buenaventura Durruti’s quote from 1936 that was quoted and re-quoted by a number of Occupy-related blogs

"We have always lived in slums and holes in the wall. We will know how to accommodate ourselves for a while. For you must not forget that we can also build. It is we who built these palaces and cities, here in Spain and America and everywhere. We, the workers. We can build others to take their place. And better ones. We are not in the least afraid of ruins. We are going to inherit the earth; there is not the slightest doubt about that. The bourgeoisie might blast and ruin its own world before it leaves the stage of history. We carry a new world here, in our hearts. That world is growing in this minute."

[14] http://www.scriptonitedaily.org/2012/02/voices-from-occupation-sleepless-night.html
[15] For a fascinating similar discussion from the early 1970ties read Jo Freeman’s ‘The Tyranny of Structurelessness’ and Cathy Levine’s response, ‘The Tyranny of Tyranny’.
[16] Sahlins ‘The Original Affluent Society’ also offers an aesthetic of forage psychogeography, http://www.primitivism.com/original-affluent.htm:

The construction of substantial houses likewise becomes absurd if they must soon be abandoned. Hence the hunter's very ascetic conceptions of material welfare: an interest only in minimal equipment, "if that; a valuation of smaller things over bigger; a disinterest in acquiring two or more of most goods; and the like. Ecological pressure assumes a rare form of concreteness when it has to be shouldered. If the gross product is trimmed down in comparison with other economies, it is not the hunter's productivity that is at fault, but his mobility.
[17] http://www.ad.nl/ad/nl/1012/Binnenland/article/detail/3074503/2011/12/13/Ouders-weggelopen-Kelly-gek-van-geluk.dhtml
[18] http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/12/05/111205fa_fact_packer?currentPage=all
[19] http://www.bopsecrets.org/SI/2.derive.htm
[20] Paraphrasing Ivan Chtcheglov's ‘Formula for a New Urbanism’.

Occupy WInschoten

woensdag 21 maart 2012

Disturbance and diversity in grass

Romanian field with 43 species in 0.1 square meter.

A reader with no name left a link to a news article on a study on comparative plant biodiversity between ecosystems. The paper claims to be looking at biodiversity world records but that is really not that interesting; rainforests are the biodiversity hotspots of the world, what is fascinating is that when the size of the area researched shrinks grasslands rise to the fore with a spectacular number of species crammed in a tiny space. Examples: a 49-square-meter patch of Czech grassland contained 131 plant species, a patch of Argentine grassland of 1 square meter contained 89 species,  0.1 square meter of Romanian grassland contained 43 species.
 Even more fascinating is the reason for this diversity: human disturbance, read: 10.000 years of mowing. Citing 'Plant species richness: the world records'
The co-existence of large numbers of species is also of theoretical importance as a challenge to the ‘Paradox of the Plankton’. The principle of Gause states that two species occupying the same niche cannot co-exist long term, so how do 942 plant species co-exist in 1 ha of tropical rain forest? Can there be 942 niches?

The difference in vegetation type at which record richnesses are known parallels the size of the plants – grass tillers vs rain forest trees – but may also reflect intrinsic differences in the community. The high-richness short grasslands are all subject to repeated disturbance – mowing, grazing or fire – and this leads to more symmetric competition, and hence slower competitive exclusion. The most common management of these grasslands has been by mowing, practiced regularly for many years. For one of these extraordinarily rich, semi-dry grasslands, that in the Czech part of the White Carpathians, which holds the record at five spatial scales, continuity as a managed grassland since Neolithic times has been suggested, giving thousands of years for the immigration and sorting of species and for evolution to occur. Tropical rain forests have a more stable environment, the disturbances being mainly occasional windthrow. Their richness has been explained in many ways, including continuous speciation in a ‘stable’ ecosystem and high energy input. Wright (2002) highlighted niche differentiation, pest pressure and lifehistory differences.

maandag 19 maart 2012

Digger psycholudology reclaims the street

The San Franscisco Diggers (earlier, more in the future) were the anti-hippie radicals working inside Haight-Ashbury. 'Manhood in the Age of Aquarius' is an excellent on-line resource by Tim Hodgdon on the history of the Diggers and in this book we find the following explanation for an event that combines motives from the future Reclaim the Street movement with play tactics from psychogeo inspired street art. 
The Diggers' first happening, on 31 October 1966, attempted to reclaim the street as free territory.

They announced the event in thousands of handbills distributed in advance. The key to deciphering the cryptic text was a direct quotation from McLuhan: "an informed public is its own worst enemy." As "public enemies," the Diggers intended to inform the public by offering it a new frame of reference: in the left-hand column of the handbill they rendered a likeness of a picture frame, "the Digger Square," through which the public could watch a "reality" quite different from that framed by a television screen—a medium that, contrary to Abraham Lincoln's aphorism, "FOOLS ALL OF THE PUBLIC ALL OF THE TIME." Thus, "The Public is Any Fool On The Street," and every fool knew that "PUBLIC STREETS CONVEY MACHINES—ONLY A FOOL WALKS IN TRAFFIC."

But the Diggers saw the state regulation of pedestrians as designed to maximize the flow of traffic for the benefit of commercial interests. To raise consciousness of how deeply those interests restricted individual freedom of movement for the benefit of the few, the Diggers invited the public to play "THE INTERSECTION GAME," which "Any number of fools can play." They drew a diagram, roughly the same size as the Digger Square, of various ways to cross an intersection on foot, and placed it in the right-hand column. They urged people to "BRING A SQUARE"—perhaps a frame, or perhaps a person—"TO DIG THE INTERSECTION GAME" at 5:30 PM, at the intersection of Haight and Masonic Streets.
On the appointed Monday evening, the Diggers set up their yellow, wooden Free Frame of Reference at the corner of Haight and Masonic. With two puppets borrowed from the Mime Troupe (each standing about eight feet high, and requiring the coordinated efforts of two skilled operators located inside), they warmed up a crowd of about five hundred with a skit, "Any Fool on the Street," in which the puppets passed repeatedly through the Frame while carrying on an absurd, boisterous argument about which side constituted the "inside." With the assembled throng now primed for participation, the Diggers proceeded to the next stage of their plan. They invited the assembled crowd to stroll the crosswalks, in disregard of traffic law, creating as many geometrical figures as possible. Traffic came to a standstill.

zondag 18 maart 2012

Street grass comes to Antartica [the DaDafication of Pristine landscapes]

Out of the underlying chaos, confusion and insecurity of the Weimar republic came the DaDaist sound poetry of pure expression and zero information. Is it really such a weird idea to think of the expected 40% flip of earth’s major ecosystems this century as a kind of Weimar nature where the best and the worst exist together and where the weeds and not the cultivars best represent the concerns of a generation??  

Or to paraphrase Peter Gay: in the age of the Anthropocene the weed is the outsider as insider.

maandag 12 maart 2012

Activities of the wild urban euro-woodlands

The Don of the fabulous Green Hermeticism blog pointed me to research on 'Wild urban woodlands' ages ago but only now have I managed to have a proper look. I think most of it deals with the controlled reforesting of abandoned landscapes (empty cities, decommissioned coal mines, etc). In a section on 'industrial fallow lands' as pedagogic challenges (the cryptoforest as a free school?) the following table is given. 

Dog walkers as an unrecognized class of urban explorers? 100 Lingerers? 152 Acts of adolescent activity (sex?)?? 33 Foraging acts (berries plus mushrooms)??? Seven arsonists???? One hunter, hunting for what????? & who can tell what somebody is up to?   

zaterdag 10 maart 2012

Foragers land use, with maps

Characterization of a foraging subsistence-settlement system (San).

Characterization of a collector subsistence-settlement system (eskimo).
An old Eskimo man was asked how he would summarize his life; he thought for a moment and said, "Willow smoke and dogs' tails: when we camp it's all willow smoke, and when we move all you see is dogs' tails wagging in front of you. Eskimo life is half of each."
The forage psychogeographer takes away two things from Lewis Binford's 'Willow Smoke and Dogs' Tails: Hunter-Archaeological Site Formation' (1980). Namely: a differentiation of  lifestyles between foragers (for example: the San) and collectors (for example: Eskimo) and the different land-uses associated with them.
In contrast to foragers, collectors are characterized by (1) the storage of food for at least part of the year and (2) logistically organized food-procurement parties. The latter situation has direct "site" implications in that special task groups may leave a residential location and establish a field camp or a station from which food-procurement operations may be planned and executed.

For foragers, I recognized two types of site, the residential base and the location. Collectors generate at least three additional types of sites by virtue of the logistical character of their procurement strategies. These I have designated the field camp, the station, and the cache. A field camp is a temporary operational center for a task group. It is where a task group sleeps, eats, and otherwise maintains itself while away from the residential base. Field camps may be expected to be further differentiated according to the nature of the target resources, so we may expect sheep hunting field camps, caribou-hunting field camps, fishing field camps, etc.

vrijdag 9 maart 2012

Eskimo Psychogeography III

From Authentic Alaska come these three fragments of Eskimo forage psychogeography (earlier, earlier + Eskimo cookbook). They clearly create a connection between the necessities of subsistence and the joys of exploration.
Berry picking: "My dad give us a choice: pick berries or stay home, clean up and have dinner made by the time the berry pickers got home. I always opted to go out for the day and pick berries... Of course we would never go berry picking if it was raining or if no breeze was keeping the bugs away."

Searching for mouse caches: "While the idea behind looking for nivi is to gather food, searching for them also is relaxing for the mind, body, and soul. It gets you away from home for a while to enjoy the last days of fall before winter comes."

Searching for sourdock: "But before you think you can cut sourdocks and cook them make sure to look for them on a nice, windy day while the sky is bright. While you enjoy the fresh air, walk slowly and gaze at the tundra. Observe if there are any six-inch to four-foot-high, red, cone- shaped flowers, indicating sourdock."

woensdag 7 maart 2012

Fuck Chernobyl [and all the other landscapes of the spectacle]

Picture source.
It is often falsely inferred that the cryptoforestry project must appreciate places like Chernobyl, the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, depopulated Detroit and a range of other examples of landscapes abandoned after some social or environmental catastrophe.

On the face of it the Chernobyl forest that has taken over the city after the 1986 meltdown is the prime example of a cryptoforest; it is certainly feral, in limbo and unappreciated. But it fails to match one all-important criteria: its not here! In fact: it is way over there -> -> -> untouchable and ghost-like, distant and toxic. What the reactionary retro-kitch of Boing-Boing or that charlatan futurist Bruce Sterling, to name two reliable sources for disaster place pornography, are doing when they share their latest find is take your mind away from the nature and politics of your place and fill it with some hyper-inflated other space that has as nothing to do with the realities of daily life. 

The implied message of the spectacle landscape of Chernobyl glorified as a retweetable URL is that your own landscape is less historic, less exciting and less worthwhile: Chernobyl is the opium of the urban explorational classes.

Every second you spend drooling over Chernobyl picture sets on Flickr is a second that could have been more purposefully used exploring your own city or neighbourhood. 

zondag 4 maart 2012

Weeding from outer space

What attracted me to the Tamarisk shrub between the clutters of a Google image seacrh for 'invasive species'  is the massiveness with which it fills up space. The picture in question comes from a 2006 NASA project explaining the use of satellite images to predict and prevent its spread in the West of the US. What? A plant that needs weeding from outer space? That's not a plant: that's a beast!

(It's another example of a plant introduced for ornamental reasons that escaped from the garden and became a blight on the landscape. One tamarisk plant can absorb 750 litres of water a day, that's 273.750 litres a year from already arid soils. It also deposits salts on top of the soil to make it even harder for other plants to grow near them.)