Category: Guerrilla Translation on Guerrilla Translation
Guanyem Barcelona: Homage to (a viable?) Utopia
We are living in an exceptional time that demands brave, creative initiatives. If we are able to imagine a different city, we will have the power to transform it.”
“There was a belief in the revolution and the future, a feeling of having suddenly emerged into an era of equality and freedom. Human beings were trying to behave as human beings and not as cogs in the capitalist machine.” This is how George Orwell described the city of Barcelona during the anarchist revolution of 1936 in his classic Homage to Catalonia. A short-lived dream that was soon to be crushed by Franco’s fascist regime.
Almost 80 years later, the City Hall of Barcelona sells a very different dream to the world. An over-developed, highly commercialized Barcelona that has become a theme park for tourists, who blissfully wander the streets of the charming metropolis, unaware of the harsh difficulties many of its citizens are actually going through. The clash between those two Barcelonas is becoming increasingly intolerable, as seen in the recent struggles over the eviction of self-organized community squat/centers such as Can Vies, among others.
However, that spirit Orwell once sensed in Barcelona never really died. The Spanish revolutionaries of today may not be fighting fascism with weapons, but they are fighting neoliberalism with real democracy. That’s what the 15-M movement is all about, a movement that is now evolving into various efforts to take people’s assemblies from the streets to the political institutions. At a national level, the most relevant are Movimiento por la Democracia, Partido X and Podemos, whose front man Pablo Iglesias was chosen by the Confederal Group of the United Left (GUE) as a candidate for the Presidency of the European Parliament, no less! Catalonia also has its own bottom-up political organizations, such as Procés Constituent (with its charismatic leader, Teresa Forcades) and CUP, which already has three representatives in the Catalan Parliament.
And now comes a new call for a democratic revolution from Barcelona itself, by way of a platform named Guanyem Barcelona [Let’s Win Barcelona], launched by a group of the city’s intellectuals, cultural workers and activists. Among the latter is Ada Colau, who is well known in Spain as the spokeswoman for PAH, a countrywide movement that aids victims of home evictions by banks. Even though Guanyem Barcelona’s aim is to win the next municipal elections, set for May 2015, it is not a political party as such. Rather, it’s an invitation to existing social movements and political organizations as well as regular citizens to converge around four fundamental objectives:
1. To guarantee basic rights and a decent life for all.
2. To foster an economy that prioritizes social and environmental justice.
3. To democratize institutions and allow people to decide what kind of city they want to live in.
4. To meet an ethical commitment towards citizens.
Here is our English translation of the inspiring Let’s Win Barcelona manifesto (also shown on the Guanyem Barcelona website):
We are living in a time of deep changes. Taking advantage of the economic crisis, the financial powers have launched an open offensive against the social rights and conquests of the majority of the population. However, the longing for real democracy is becoming stronger and stronger in the streets, in town squares, online and also in the ballot boxes.
Over the past few years, numerous citizen movements and initiatives have denounced the scam we are being subjected to and have demonstrated the inability of old-school politics to respond to people’s needs. But these initiatives have often come up against the arrogance of the elites, who feel immune, who won’t correct their mistakes, and who now want to impose a second Transición so that nothing changes.
We cannot afford another institutional blockade from above that leaves us without a future. We need to strengthen, more than ever, the social fabric and the spaces for citizens to self-organize. But the time has also come to take back the institutions and put them to work for the majority and the common well-being.
In order to prove that we can do things differently, we need to proceed step by step. And the first step is to begin with that which is closest to us: the municipal sphere, our city, our neighbourhoods.
Barcelona is a decisive place to promote this much-needed democratic rebellion. First of all, because it already has an associative and activist network that is capable of carrying out ambitious projects for change. And secondly, because a democratic rebellion in Barcelona would not just be a merely local phenomenon. It would connect with many other related grassroots efforts to break away from the current political and financial system. In Catalonia, in Spain as a whole, and in Europe.
Because we believe in the right to choose, we want to choose, here and now, what the Barcelona we need and yearn for should look like.
We want a city that fosters the honesty of those who govern it and prevents a mafia-like collusion between politics and money. We must end the accumulation of political positions, limit salaries and terms, advance transparent agendas, and establish efficient mechanisms to control public officials. We want a new ethical contract between citizens and representatives.
We need to find a way to stop and reverse the insulting inequalities that have developed in recent years. We want a city without home evictions or malnutrition, where people aren’t condemned to live in darkness or to put up with abusive increases in the price of public transport. Access to housing, education, healthcare and a basic income should be guaranteed rights for all, not privileges that only a few can afford.
We want a genuine metropolitan democracy, which obligates political representatives to lead while obeying. A decentralized democracy with direct elections of each district’s councilmen and -women, with social oversight of its budgets, where citizens help to make joint, legitimated decisions through proposals and binding referendums.
We need a Barcelona that is welcoming but also willing to stand up to powerful lobbies from the financial, real estate and tourism sectors. We need institutions that promote a social economy and the creation of sustainable jobs. Public contracts must meet social justice and environmental criteria.
We do not want a city that sells its urban heritage to the highest bidder. We want institutions that recover the democratic control over its water supply, that implement fiscal measures and city planning that put an end to land speculation and promote environmentally sustainable energy and transport policies.
Many of these initiatives are supported, and have been for some time, by social, neighbourhood and union movements as well as by various political organizations. But we won’t be able to carry them out without the involvement of broad sectors of society.
Rescuing democracy from the powers that have kidnapped it is a difficult and ambitious, yet thrilling, challenge. It requires creating new tools for social coordination and political intervention, where organized citizens and those who are beginning to mobilize can meet. Both people who have been fighting for some time and those who feel cheated but are longing to become excited about a common project.
That is why we are launching this civic platform. To build a joint candidacy that represents the majority, with the aim to win. A candidacy that inspires enthusiasm, that is present in neighbourhoods, at workplaces, in the cultural community, and that allows us to transform institutions to serve the people.
We don’t want a coalition or a mere combination of political parties. We want to stay away from the old party logic and build new realms that, while respecting each organization’s identity, transcend the arithmetic sum of the parts involved. We believe that our city meets the necessary conditions to make it possible.
There is no magic formula to solve the difficulties we will come up against on the way. We will have to ask questions as we move forward, and we shouldn’t be afraid to do so. Our most successful experiences show us that, if we organize around specific objectives and practices, we can reach goals that may have seemed impossible.
Despite the harshness of the financial crisis, a historic opportunity has cracked open, which we cannot and will not fail to seize. We are living in an exceptional time that demands brave, creative initiatives. If we are able to imagine a different city, we will have the power to transform it.
We invite you to discuss this together on June 26th. For us, for those who tried before us and for those who are yet to come. It’s time to prove that it is possible to build a different city. It’s time to win Barcelona.
The much anticipated June 26th meeting was in fact a resounding success. About 2000 people of all ages and walks of life attended, overflowing both the main hall and the overflow area with hope and enthusiasm. Representatives of the above-mentioned social movements and political parties were also present. And not just those from Catalonia. Even top members of Podemos travelled from Madrid to Barcelona for the occasion, a sign that this initiative may well encourage other Spanish towns and cities to follow a similar path for their own upcoming local elections .
One of the most applauded lines in Ada Colau’s empowering speech was her vision of converting Barcelona’s beautiful concert hall El Palau de la Música (a symbol of modernist architecture that has, sadly, become a symbol of the “mafia-like collusion between politics and money” as well) into a people’s self-organized cultural center. An image reminiscent of when the Barcelona Ritz Hotel restaurant was converted into a communal dining room back in Orwell’s day (see minute 5 of this video).
The term Orwellian has become synonymous with the totalitarian, centralized government the author envisioned in his later novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. But Orwell not only had nightmares. He had dreams, dreams of “equality and freedom”. Don’t we all?
Note:  Since this article was written, several Spanish cities have already started their own “let’s win” initiatives, including Ganemos Madrid, Ganemos Sevilla, Ganemos Málaga, Ganemos Valladolid, Ganemos Las Palmas, Ganemos Almería, and Ganemos Toledo.
Original article and translation by Arianne Sved – Guerrilla Translation!
Images: Linocut (inspired by Gaudí sculptures on the roof of La Pedrera, Barcelona) by Michael Paragon. Photo by an anonymous member of Guanyem.
This translation has also been published in Occupy.com
Financial Crisis Or Monetary Crisis?
Spanish economist, author and complementary currency activist Susana Martín Belmonte exposes the false assumption that has led to a fundamentally misguided diagnosis of the current financial crisis; the false assumption being that money needs to exist before it can be lent, when exactly the opposite is true. After years of research into the global monetary system, Martín Belmonte concluded that what is needed is a healthy, alternative monetary and financial system that favours the real economy rather than the speculative economy. In this piece, she lists several proposals to that end, including her own, which she calls “R-economy,” a monetary system based on nominative digital money created free of interest.
The real challenge is monetary reform; creating a monetary and financial system that, beyond being a liquidity stopgap in the current situation, transcends the circumstantial to become structural.”
For the past five years, all we have been talking about is the financial crisis, its causes and its potential solutions. One of the issues that has become clear is that the financial crisis was triggered by the irresponsible manner in which financial institutions lent money during the period of 2001 to 2007. This applies to both the investor’s profile and the purpose of the investment, which was mostly real estate speculation.
All we need to do is look back at the predictions made by those who foresaw the 2008 crisis. They all warned us about the danger of the large debt bubble that was being created. Among them, economists such as Steve Keen, Nouriel Roubini and Dan Baker, experts from Spain’s central bank, or the environmentalist Ramón Fernández Durán, to name just a few.
It has also been proven that, with the exception of a few countries like Greece, this huge debt bubble was mostly made up of private debt. Such is the case of Spain, the United States, Ireland and the United Kingdom. Therefore, the crux of the matter lies in the criteria used to assign private credit, why they are wrong and how they could be improved.
When we think about debt, we mentally visualize a saver depositing his or her money in a bank and an investor borrowing money from a bank. This is where the misunderstanding begins. We assume that money being lent already exists, but that assumption is wrong.
Most people don’t know how money is created. This fact is nonetheless eluded, as if it were a minor detail. So when discussing the way money of unknown origin is lent, it is assumed that money already exists, because logic dictates that you can’t borrow something inexistent.
Money Exists Because It Is Lent
However, reality is often counterintuitive. Money is not lent because it exists, but rather it exists because it is lent. Most of the money in circulation today is created through loans made by the banking system. Lending is how nearly all money is created: bank money. The financial system is part of the monetary system, which is why the monetary system is so important. But the essential issue of how money is lent is not questioned, because starting from this false assumption (banks lend money that already exists) it is easy to accept all the justifications regarding how loan assignment works, which are just as false: savings have to be transferred to investments, a bank’s role is to act as an intermediary between savings and investments, savers must be paid interest in order to incentivize them to lend their money… All these ideas, which are not based on reality, are still used as the fundamental reasoning in diagnosing and proposing solutions to the financial problem. It is no wonder that the resulting proposals are not solving anything.
To illustrate in more detail how wrong overall public opinion is regarding the way the credit system works, we will mention, for example, Jaromir Benes and Michael Kumhof, two economists from the International Monetary Fund who have, independently, written an article called The Chicago Plan revisited, in which they propose a new monetary system. In their article they detail how the current system works, and we quote:
“In the current ﬁnancial system […] changes of a nation’s broad monetary aggregates depend almost entirely on changes in banks’ willingness to create deposits. But bank deposits can only be created (or destroyed) through the creation (or destruction) of bank loans.”
“The key function of banks in modern economies […] is not their largely incidental function as ﬁnancial intermediaries between depositors and borrowers, but rather their central function as creators and destroyers of money.”
“The often-heard prescription that in order to generate adequate levels of investment the economy ﬁrst needs to generate sufficient savings is fundamentally mistaken. Because the credit system will generate the saving along with the investment [when lending money].”
Solving and preventing financial crises requires applying alternative criteria to money lending (creating). Such new criteria are much easier to conceive if we do away with the false principles mentioned above and consider the real possibilities available, which are much broader than they may seem. Those possibilities are already being specified in proposals to reform the monetary system such as the one we have just alluded to.
The proposal I put forth is called R-economy. It is a monetary system using nominative digital money (account entries that are accessed through telematic means), which is created free of interest in order to nourish the production economy, allowing us to build a non-speculative real economy. This proposal is explained in detail in my book Nada está perdido. Un sistema monetario y financiero alternativo y sano (Icaria, 2011) [Nothing is lost: An alternative, healthy monetary and financial system].
Other initiatives propose monetary reform via the creation of parallel or complementary currencies. In 2012, Thomas Mayer, former chief economist of Deutsche Bank, proposed creating a parallel monetary system to solve the problems affecting peripheral countries in the European Union. His proposal for Greece, specifically, is a parallel currency called GEURO, which is explained on page 65 of this document published by the BVMW (German small and medium-sized business association).
Several economists, including Thomas Mayer, have signed a declaration in which they defend the creation of parallel or complementary currencies as the solution to problems facing troubled economies in the euro zone. But this trend is not just the result of monetary problems in the euro zone. Alternative currencies have traditionally provided a solution in times of monetary scarcity. In Switzerland, there is a currency called Wir, which has been operating since 1934, when a group of Swiss business owners launched it as a way to fight the Great Depression. Today it is used by over 60,000 local small and medium-sized businesses. There are studies that attribute the stability of the Swiss production economy to this currency.
Brazil’s central bank decided to support the creation of complementary currencies, after realizing the beneficial effects of a social currency created by an association in the region of Fortaleza, later named Banco Palmas. The city of Bristol in the UK has also launched a parallel currency called the Bristol Pound. The mayor of Bristol opted for receiving 100% of his salary in this currency.
Besides this mostly social trend, whose purpose is to find monetary solutions in the context of a recession, there are also other innovative monetary solutions that deserve a separate category. Most notable are the so-called cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, which is created by decrypting computer codes. They are P2P currencies with the ability to escape government control, in which the social component is reduced to the acceptance of being a part of the community that uses them. More information in this article.
And we must not forget corporate currencies, which predominantly pursue profit for the companies that create them. Amazon has created the Amazon Coin for the consumption of applications and services related to the Kindle Fire. Facebook and the Second Life virtual environment also issued their own currencies in the past. Air miles and loyalty schemes that enable customers to earn exchangeable points for products, as a result of consuming a series of products or services of a particular brand, are also parallel monetary systems, and this trend is growing.
In spite of the fact that lack of liquidity is currently the prime reason for using alternative currencies, the real challenge is not just to fill the liquidity gap the real economy is suffering from at the moment. During the run on Argentinian banks, known as el corralito, the country generated numerous exchange schemes with complementary accounting units. Few of them have survived, unfortunately, and the formula for assigning credit continues to be the same in most of the world. This formula has proven to be the cause of the Great Recession we find ourselves in. The real challenge is monetary reform: creating a monetary and financial system that, beyond acting as a liquidity stopgap in the current situation, transcends the circumstantial to become structural, by establishing a different way of assigning credit, a different way of creating money that does not cause financial crises, recessions or any other problems that today’s monetary system generates, which I have not described in this article.
Article translated by Arianne Sved and Susa Oñate – Guerrilla Translation!
Original Spanish article published in Alternativas Económicas
DIWO Co-op: Do it With Others, and make a co-op while you’re at it
DIWO Co-op is a worker-owned co-op located in Madrid, Spain. They’re a sister-co-op to Guerrilla Translation, and they’ve continually delighted us with their friendship, advice – and, hey, some kickass Guerrilla Translation badges like the ones featured above! We wanted to return the favour, so we’ve been translating and copy editing the static content on their English site.
Recently, they were featured on the Spanish TV program, “La Aventura del Saber“. This program forms part of a larger project, “La aventura de aprender“, which analyses the ways in which communities learn from each other and give back to the Commons.
The following video will be both familiar and inspirational to anyone who has ever been involved in a cooperative enterprise. In the interview, our beloved DIWOIDS Mamen Martín and Rosana Fernández talk about cooperativism and different forms of collaboration in contrast to individualism, and the differences between traditional enterprises and co-ops. Don’t miss Mamen’s tale about the financial advisor that urged them *not* to become a co-op because “they’d lose control of their company”, and their reaction.
The DIWOIDS misspoke twice during the interview, resulting in two small boo-boos. The original 15 M march was in 2011, not 2012; they also flubbed a point at the end while talking about the role of the coop’s general assembly. Those errors have been miraculously healed in our subtitle track! Amazing! All in the interest of clarity and accuracy. After the vid, we’ve included some of the info from their website.
Hit the “close captions” button at the bottom right to active our English subtitles for this vid.
We have some exciting plans coming up with DIWO for this fall, namely the launch of DIWOShop, in collaboration with Freepress Coop, where we’ll be providing free translation and promotion services to a selection of ethical and environmentally-oriented enterprises. Watch for that! But don’t worry, we’ll keep you informed.
The following is extracted from DIWO’s website:
diwo coop is a worker owned co-op specializing in custom button/badge production and other kinds of merchandise for distribution. The co-op is made up of people with various professional backgrounds. We formed our project to help promote communications by and for groups, organizations and companies working for the common good and aimed at building more ethical and sustainable societies. We created diwo coop in 2012, building on and including our previous project, platypusLab, because we’re convinced that collaboration is the best way forward from the current situation of widespread precariousness.
platypusLab, specializing in badge/button production and distribution of customized merchandise since 2008, became part of diwo coop in 2012. We distribute within the EEC all of the following, among other items:
– Custom button badges
– Custom and neutral lanyards and accreditation holders
– Event security wristbands
– Textile screen printing
– Custom coffee or beer mugs
The Madrid P2P Commune
Here’s our translation of Bernardo Gutiérrez’s love letter to his home city, a place that’s still surprisingly alive and vibrant in the midst of the austerity meltdown affecting southern Europe.
Amidst the nebulous boomerang of history, the 20s live on as a red postcard of a burlesque cabaret in Dadaist Berlin. The 40s bring back an echo of immigrant tango dancers in the suburbs of Buenos Aires. The 80s’ vinyl soundtrack is filled with screaming punks from #post-industrial London. And the 2010s will be remembered for its occupied squares, vibrant streets and political-cultural creativity. It will be symbolised by Madrid. In a few years’ time, some will recall the tumultuous political situation, the police brutality or the unemployment, but the image that will go down in history is a vigorous, intensely social city with an open, cross-cutting, oblique, politicized public space connected to the world. The 2010s will be synonymous with a city that was self-governed by its citizens, driven by a gust of social innovation and unparalleled dynamism. The postcard, scattered with raised hands, will read: La Comuna de Madrid.
Madrid’s Commune—more spread out, diverse and cosmopolitan than the Paris Commune of 1871—will be remembered as the birthplace of communication-action, action-thought, thought-prototype. Madrid as effervescence in the streets and on the web. Madrid as a territorial collective imagination and breeding ground for techno-political projects, processes and actions. Madrid as a glocal people’s lab that looks to the world while including it at the same time. But it’s not all assemblies, actions and protests at the Madrid Commune. This city, whose network weaves across the whole of Spain, is also hatching a body of theory around these new practices. A bastard, remixed, promiscuous theory. A practice theory. “The commons has become an area of exchange, where the traditional commons meet free culture,” says researcher Adolfo Estalella, contextualizing his text in Madrid. And herein lies a little secret.
Since the late 90s, the Madrid free culture movement has become intertwined with social movements at squat centres such as El Laboratorio. While Berlin squatters remain rooted in punk aesthetics and conventional anti-fascism, the thirty-odd squat social centres in Madrid (Centros Sociales Ocupados) are creating a new horizontal, aggregate, online world. A new world imbued with hacker ethics that distorts the frontiers between off- and on-line, blurring the borders between countries and nation states.
These social centres are different. They are extensions of the occupied squares of spring 2011. Centres that merge the notions of inside and outside. Centres whose actions reach every urban space. Sure, Madrid had never had so many squat social centres, but the quantity isn’t what makes this new era in the city unique. What does La Comuna de Madrid taste like? What does it sound like? What does it smell like?
On the one hand, some of these venues transcend the definition of a squat social centre. They are more than that. They’re something different. The most paradigmatic example is La Tabacalera, an old factory handed over by the government to social movements in the multicultural neighbourhood of Lavapiés. La Tabacalera, which defines itself as a self-managed social centre, is a space that would fit into the partner state theory developed by Michel Bauwens, founder of the P2P Foundation. The Esta es una plaza [This is a square] process, a self-managed park supported by a collective blog, has also had the consent of public authorities for many years. The partner state puts the governance of its spaces at society’s disposal. A networked, peer-to-peer, person-to-person society that self-organizes outside official institutions, but without rejecting them. This is what is happening at the Madrid Commune.
On the other hand, the spirit of the 15-M movement is creating a new kaleidoscope that is erasing the conventional squat from our collective imagination. From Patio Maravillas to La Morada in the neighbourhood of Chamberí, or the socio-cultural, liberated, self-governed centre El Eko in the area of Carabanchel, Madrid’s new social spaces are aggregate, diverse, plural, hybrid. And they don’t revolve around the old epicentre of “anti-system” antagonism. They are inventing and prototyping new worlds without having to frontally destroy today’s world. They build things, connections, processes, without antagonism. And the participation is much more intergenerational than it used to be some years ago. Madrid’s so-called Yayoflautas—the elderly of the 15-M movement—rehearse theatre plays at La Tabacalera, for example. The relation to technology has become far more intense as well.
In all these spaces, we see glimpses of the new world written in jargon and acronyms. An interesting text by Vivero de Iniciativas Ciudadanas [Breeding Ground for Citizens’ Initiatives] in Madrid uses terms like DIY (Do it Yourself), CO-, #, WIKI, MIDDLE-OUT, PRO-, P2P, DIWO (Do it with Others), SLOW-, CROWD-, DIT, @, OPEN, NET- or BOTTOM-UP to describe the new realm that is emerging in the city. Jargon and acronyms are commonly used in digital culture in an attempt to define horizontal, cross-cutting, networked, collaborative practices. So, what does the Madrid (P2P) Commune taste, sound and smell like?
An imperfect definition of a P2P (peer-to-peer) city would go something like this: a city whose nodes (streets, squares, parks) can be interconnected without passing through the centre. Person2Person. Square2Square. Park2Park. At the Madrid P2P Commune, the nodes/neighbourhoods have been reconnected using a logic distinct from that of city centre vs. outskirts. One of the great innovations of the Madrid P2P Commune lies in its open-air spaces. The 15-M movement’s early TomaLosBarrios initiative, which moved the Puerta del Sol encampment to neighbourhood assemblies, strengthened the already existing Comuna.
Ever since the late 90s, the skin-shedding has been gradual. All the 15-M movement has done is multiply and speed up the process. The Madrid P2P Commune began to take shape with the urban recycling/redefining of Basurama, ZooHaus, Left Hand Rotation or Boa Mistura. And with Zuloarks’s free license, low cost, temporary process-furniture such as the superbench or #Savethedinosaur. And with urban interventions by Todo por la Praxis, with their guide to Self-governed Urban Voids and their physical hacks such as the Guerrilla Bank. And with neighbourhood fabric regenerations by Paisaje Transversal. And with post-it galleries on walls and bus stops by La Galería de Magdalena.
The 15-M movement—the unavoidably common screensaver—invigorates the squares with political thought and action. A hundred political assemblies are held at Madrid’s P2P Commune today. The street, according to Adolfo Estalella, is not just the place where politics is exercised but also the political method itself. Henry Lefebvre’s “right to the city” is reborn day after day in Madrid, constantly mutating and recycling itself in the streets and online.
The above mentioned project Esta es una plaza paved the way to the hybrid city (digital networks + physical spaces). The Twittómetro, which took Acampada Sol assemblies from Puerta del Sol to the Internet, or the real time map of #Voces25S, created that digitalogical, physital, cybrid watercolour painting. Madrid’s P2P Commune is a city made of atoms and bytes, both virtual and analogical. Madrhybrid, as in a profusion of citizens’ streamings on PeopleWitness (a project born in Barcelona), or people wandering the city streets as they communicate with WhatsApp groups in real time, or a ThinkCommons.org session, where a virtual gathering of people from around the world is screened at a physical location.
The living city dreamt up by American Jane Jacobs, an icon of the humanization of urban planning, inhabits the hybrid P2P Commune of Madrid or the hashtag-action #BarriosDespiertos [awoken neighbourhoods], or initiatives such as El paseo de Jane [Jane’s walk], an urban walk-movement aimed at weaving together human networks in neighbourhoods. Madrid’s P2P Commune is a lively, bastard, interracial, profound, poetic, sexy postcard. University professors occupy the public space with 500 classrooms in just one day, including streaming and online coverage. And strangers meet in parks, squares or blogs at Desayunos ciudadanos [the people’s breakfasts].
So, what does Madrid’s P2P Commune taste-sound-smell like? Like the social life at El Campo de Cebada, recently granted the Golden Nica award by Ars Electrónica in the ‘digital communities’ category, El Campo de Cebada is an outdoor space, transversely and horizontally governed by its neighbours, where permaculture, beta architecture and free culture blend with an inspiring intergenerational-racial-cultural coexistence. At Madrid’s P2P Commune, the question isn’t so much what to do but how to do it. That’s why the city-world is devoted to the new concept of how-toism: the crux of the matter lies in the transversal, inclusive, interdisciplinary, heterogeneous processes and methodologies used.
Madrid’s P2P Commune is copyleft (free to copy). Its squares are copyleft. Anybody can sit down and talk, film it, share it with the world. Film your square. Copy it. Upload it to the MediaTeletipos cloud. The self is reborn in the we. Much to the annoyance of fanatical neoliberal individualism, this P2P Commune is DIWO: a Do it With Others, collaborative city. Fundación Robo isn’t a person. There are no leaders, no faces. It’s just us. The songs are collective. They are tranferable. In DIWO Madrid, the classic Bici crítica—a collective bike ride with no particular destination—transmutes into the Plano de Calles Tranquilas [map of quiet streets] or into a bar and co-working space called La Bicicleta, which began as a crowdfunding project. You can’t do it alone. You can with friends.
In the Madrid of the 80s narrated by singer-songwriter Joaquín Sabina, “the sun was a butane gas heater” and there were “syringes in the lavatory”. Unemployment. Junkies. Beer-drinking rock. At the Madrid Commune, there is unemployment, but the trans-, the co-, the inter-, the plural take precedence. So does the RAM Culture, a new cultural paradigm based on exchange and relationships rather than accumulation. Do it with others. Share books at Bookcamping.cc. Exchange your time at the NOCKIN bank. Share an Internet connection with your neighbour at WIFIS.org. Drink free knowledge at the Traficantes de Sueños bookshop/publisher. Lose yourself on a hacker sightseeing tour at the Loginmadrid project, where each local person functions as a password that allows the visitor to explore different neighbourhoods. Madrid’s P2P Commune tastes-smells-sounds like serendipity, random encounters, open culture, cross-over innovations.
In the early 90s, Madrid was still that “sea of tar, domain of the state” that the heavy metal band Barón Rojo ranted about. A #PostMetropolis divided into a centre filled with institutions and a working-class periphery emotionally disconnected from the heart of the city. Today, Madrid’s P2P Commune is a maze of interconnected public spaces that grows and mutates on the margins of governments and institutions. It shares ideas, it co-creates. It doesn’t rely on the Establishment, but doesn’t antagonize it either.
The city is simply reborn without asking for permission to occupy its inert or vacant spaces. At the San Fernando market in Lavapiés, for example, books are sold by the kilo at La Casqueria and vegetables coexist with free software. The city reconfigures itself crosswise, cross-border, asymmetrically. At open seminars such as Hack the Academy Studio, where academia tears down its walls and allows citizens to participate. At La Mesa Ciudadana [The Citizens’ Table], experts, amateurs, architects, artists, multidisciplinary networkers and city hall technicians get together to cook-think.
Madrid’s P2P Commune is the birthplace of the concept Extitución [Extitution]. If institutions are organizational systems based on an inside-outside framework, extitutions are designed as areas where a multitude of agents can spontaneously assemble. Liquid, flexible, inclusive, itinerant, post-it extitutions. Extitutions such as Intermediae, forged with free software and transversal participation, which sometimes holds its meetings-debates at the Matadero, but also at various other urban locations. Extitutions such as MediaLab Prado, which offers its body to communities, cooks open science, yawns multiple prototypes, transforms citizens into sensors (see Data Citizen Driven City) or its façade into a shared, recoverable, playable screen.
Spanish poet Antonio Machado once described Madrid as the breakwater of every Spain. In the 2010s, Madrid is a revamped breakwater of every square, continent, language and network. Toma la plaza. Take the square. Nationality is irrelevant. La Comuna’s area of debate is the world. Within the hyperlocal there is a global beat. People protect immigrants from the police. In common spaces—whether it’s La Tabacalera, El Campo de Cebada or MediaLab Prado—multiculturalism is the rule. And a growing galaxy of intercultural projects based in the city, such as Lab Latino, Inteligencias Colectivas, Red Trans Ibérica or Curator’s Network, connect affect networks throughout the planet by developing projects in other countries.
If this ungovernable city of layers—multicultural puzzle; national, micro-macro-cry—were governed by bright politicians, they would have already turned such effervescence into the “Madrid brand”. Madrid would be reliving La Movida all over again, a cooler Movida than that of Almodóvar. Or a Movida 2.0, designed to attract tourists, which would end up watering down the initiatives.
All the better if nobody takes over the narrative. Let it be a volcanic co-creation with no name. An almost invisible, choral, subterranean river. Let Madrid’s P2P Commune be a soft, yet constant, breeze; let it be rhizome; an ocean where glocal affect navigates amidst the macroeconomic storm. Let La Comuna P2P de Madrid be at least barely understood a few decades from now. Let it go down in history as the first stone, the prototype that—square by square, word by word, concept by concept—gradually replaced the old world without anyone even noticing.
Article translated by Arianne Sved, edited by Susa Oñate – Guerrilla Translation!
This translation has also been republished on:
GUERRILLA TRANSLATION – 2014 OUISHARE AWARD WINNERS
OuishareFest was a blast, we really did have a great time. My overall impression is that both polarities present – i.e., venture capital-funded, “P2P in the front / shareholders in the back” platforms, and real commons-oriented P2P initiatives – have grown stronger, yet aren’t confrontational. It was good to be able to criticize the former in a constructive way and be listened to respectfully, quite glad about that!
And, the big news from our point of view – WE DONE DID IT!
Out of some 130 or so nominees, Guerrilla Translation won, along with our friends in Common Libraries, Symba and two other very interesting projects.
Speaking of “we” – that includes you. Thank you so much to everyone who voted for us, promoted us and supported us.
Special mention to the Open Value Network, who were also nominated. As we’re part of the OVN, we feel that they’ve also been awarded through us.
The picture up top there, of me on stage, is by Sharon Ede, and it may be the part of the speech where I raised the subject of “…Competition in the Age of Communities = Not so good”, mentioning that we use Loomio, participate in the OVN, work very closely with Goteo…the list goes on.
I also felt there was a big difference between our project and other initiatives with a lot of venture capital behind them. I think that one of the conditions was that you couldn’t have been funded by more than 1 million € to enter the awards. Hah! Our funding so far has been bananas (thanks!), sweat equity and lots of passion. These are, of course, personal observations and, overall, I’m overjoyed.
It was a great 3 days and the conversations (and hugs) have been unforgettable. Special thanks to Dalma Berkovics for organising everything and taking care such good care of us.
Thanks also to the entire P2P Foundation extreme-Funk-dancing posse (here’s a small taster of that!), and, above all, the love of my life AM for being the grooviest co-conspirator (and kickass video editor, the video pitch was her work).
Now, about that Spiderman incident…
Article by Stacco Troncoso – Guerrilla Translation!
Guerrilla Translation Interview for Ouishare Fest 2014
Originally published on the Ouishare Fest 2014 Blog
Please go to the Ouishare voting area and support us there. NOTE – all you need to do is enter your email address and a “capcha” code – there’s no weird registration process (so it’s easy and non-creepy). And, if you’re among the community of people who plan to be at Ouishare Fest in Paris, you’ll see us there.
Guerrilla Translation is proud to be among the nominees for the 2014 Ouishare Awards. If you’re not already familiar, Ouishare is an organization that, in their own words, “is a think and do-tank with the mission to empower citizens, public institutions and companies to create a collaborative economy: an economy based on sharing, collaboration and openness, relying on horizontal networks and communities.” The following short interview was originally published on the Ouishare Fest 2014 Blog, and we hope it helps explain more about our project and long-term vision.
What got you started with your initiative?
We all belong to at least one community. The intersections between our communities make the world seem a little smaller every day. But the lack of a shared language is still a major barrier between people and communities who would otherwise share ideas and collaborate on common solutions to widespread problems.
Guerrilla Translation was born of a love of sharing. The world of information has changed with the Internet – we share access to a tremendous and ever-increasing information stream. And everything else seems to be changing rapidly, too – in our economies, food and energy industries, and political systems, just to name a few. In order to be an active part of these changes, we have to operate in community.
Guerrilla Translation is building bridges between cultures, starting with Spanish and English. We select written and video pieces with a focus on constructive change and long-range analysis, translate them, and share them. We’re connecting authors with new audiences, and people with new ideas, shared through technology but created in a very personal, artisanal way. We feel strongly that translation is best handled not by software, but instead, by committed and passionate translators working together to achieve the highest level of professional quality in our work.
What are your hopes for the rest of 2014?
For the rest of 2014, we’re committed to growing our model through team building, and plan to expand our services and form a cooperative. We work closely with the P2P Foundation and will continue our efforts with them in developing an innovative publishing model within the commons-oriented sphere. Our own webpage is also about to undergo major changes in design, including a more reader-friendly interface making the material in each language easier to find.
Finally, we’re very proud to be included in the Ouishare competition among friends and associates from our own communities, and feel that if we all stand to benefit from the opportunity to share what we’re doing, and learn from each other, we all win.
When hackers and farmers join forces
P2P Foundation founder Michel Bauwens suggested this short piece for translation: an interview with Philippe Langlois, in which he discusses the world of hackerspaces and the physical application of the open-source, collaborative mentality, applied to practical problem-solving in rural settings.
Originally published in Transrural Initiatives – a collaborative magazine on the rural world – and republished in Bastamag – an independent media site that focuses on social and environmental issues – the realities this interview explores are a good example of what we can accomplish when we work together – and how much fun we can have in the process!
As artists, engineers, researchers, hackers and farmers we all asked ourselves how digital technologies could be merged with nature, heritage and agriculture. Our urban hackerspaces, including their philosophy and practices, can be seamlessly transposed onto rural areas.”
They open up areas struck by digital exclusion. They develop autonomous Internet networks in mountainous areas, install organic solar panels and let local Internet radio emerge. They can even transform abandoned water troughs into eco-jacuzzis. “Hackerspaces,” user-friendly spaces where technological tools are crafted, are spreading throughout the rural environment. Interview with Philippe Langlois, one of the founding members of the first French hackerspace.
Could you define what hackerspaces are?
Philippe Langlois: A hackerspace is a physical, autonomous place where people gather around tech-related projects. We often hear about “the evil computer pirates” in the media, but hackerspaces have nothing to do with any of that: we’re simply people who reclaim technology in a cheerful, independent and creative way. The goal is to create tools that can be reappropriated and replicated by everyone, freely distributed, and which can be modified and improved upon.
Hackerspaces originated in Germany in the 1990s, but didn’t truly develop until 2005. Since then, more than 500 have appeared throughout the world, bringing together nearly 40,000 people. These are people who originally came from the world of open source and free software 1 and transposed their methods onto the physical world, while making their technological know-how accessible.
What kind of projects do you work on? How do they fit into your broader relationship with technology?
There are projects dealing with energy self-sufficiency, collaborative mapping and digital art, as well as local plastic recycling or even site cleanup. Our relationship with technology revolves around several ideas, the first of which is to enjoy the positive process of creation. The second one is the belief that what we create shouldn’t only benefit a restricted group of people, but rather the whole of society. Finally, we don’t want to embark on overly conceptual projects: we are, above all, about doing things. The ethics that can be found in hackerspaces are based on practice, tinkering, the right to be wrong, and an all-encompassing, non-dogmatic approach.
How did hackerspaces end up in rural areas?
First of all, because it’s hard to maintain such places in the city: it’s expensive, and one needs big and stable spaces to create in. In 2010, there were some one-off events in hackerspaces (see below) like Péone in the Alpes-Maritimes, for instance. The goal, among others, was to find out whether we could create a 100% autonomous space out of nothing, in a totally natural setting. Several of these ephemeral rural gatherings ended up leading to the creation of permanent sites – “hackerlands”. There are dozens of them in France, such as the Vallé à Conques project (in Cher) or ZAP1 in Allier.
As artists, engineers, researchers, hackers and farmers we all asked ourselves how digital technologies could be merged with nature, heritage and agriculture. Our urban hackerspaces, including their philosophy and practices, can be seamlessly transposed onto rural areas. We realized that many people living in the countryside either already fiddle with digital technology, or came from that culture in the first place.
How do these hackerspaces integrate on a local level? What can they contribute to rural areas?
Rural towns often suffer abuses motivated by engineering consultancies and large corporations’ financial interests. Certain hackerlands arise as an alternative to these structures, turning into local, non-profit consultants of sorts. They meet some of the rural area’s needs – particularly digital de-isolation – by creating independent Internet networks that work in mountainous or isolated areas, setting up local, democratic servers, regional Internet radios, etc. Many of these hackerlands work on agricultural or energetic practices. They’re open spaces, where one is welcomed with no prejudice, in the spirit of working together. Some of them create reproducible, self-building modules, organic solar panels, automated greenhouses. Even jacuzzis from abandoned water troughs! Sometimes there are more temporary initiatives like experiments in agroforestry, for which sensors are built that analyse fungal activity around trees. In short, we could define these places as open, local research labs.
“A Pado loup,” an ephemeral hackerspace amidst the mountains.
Mathilde Leriche: “We want to encourage people to take action, to do things that make them more self-sufficient…A Pado Loup’s main goal was the development and democratisation of technological know-how in a rural setting”, explains Ursula Gastfall, one of the organisers of this self-managed festival, which took place for the first time from the 12th to the 22nd of August 2012, in Breuil (Alpes-Maritimes). At more than 1,500 metres above sea level, around a hundred people from various origins (Spain, Brittany, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Canada…) gathered to set up this rural, ephemeral hackerspace, after a call for proposals was broadcasted by the urban hackerspace “/tmp/lab/” in Vitry-sur-Seine (in the department of Val-de-Marne).
In the hamlet of Pado, near the village of Beuil, festival-goers swapped and discussed amidst artistic performances and workshops on electronics and experimental ecology, inspirited by the “Do It Yourself” culture. On the event’s program: building wind turbines, solar ovens and 3D printers, making free software and doing research on fermentation, as well as concerts and lighting and analog photography laboratories…all of this, right in the heart of the Alpine mountains.
“If we take a look at the etymology of the word ‘hacker’, it refers to hacking wood”, comments Ursula Gastfall. “Being self-sufficient means looking for practical solutions that meet our needs in a specific context”. In Pado, there is no water or electricity. Festival-goers put together a rain-water collection system that filtered the water before consumption, and set up solar panels – wired to batteries – to supply the electricity to the electronic equipment used for the event. “I hope that A Pado Loup will have offspring”, wishes Ursula Gastfall, “and that others will be motivated to organize events on different kinds of terrains, a challenge that will bring out the creativity and inventiveness in everyone involved”.
1. Open source designates a software development practice whereby the basic code is accessible (but not necessarily free) and therefore transformable. The free software movement promotes principles such as free access to information, mutualisation or keeping things free (of charge).↩
Articles translated by Travis Shearer and edited by Jane Loes Lipton – Guerrilla Translation!
Proposals collected by Mickaël Correia – Transrural Initiatives
This translation has also been published in:
Towards a Material Commons/ Michel Bauwens Dmytri Kleiner John Restakis
#GlobalP2P, The Wind that Shook the Net/ Bernardo Gutiérrez
Vote for Guerrilla Translation in the 2014 OuiShare Awards
Guerrilla Translation is proud to be among the nominees for the 2014 Ouishare Awards. If you’re not already familiar, Ouishare is an organization that, in their own words, “is a think and do-tank with the mission to empower citizens, public institutions and companies to create a collaborative economy: an economy based on sharing, collaboration and openness, relying on horizontal networks and communities.”
A large part of why we were motivated to throw our hat into the ring is the feedback we’ve received from you – our readers, contributors, authors, translators and colleagues. Over time, some of you have played more than one of those roles in relation to us; some have played all of them. And that’s what excites us so much. We really do feel that we’ve gained a sense of community with this project, one that we only hope to develop further, with your help.
We had only a few days to put together a short (1 minute) video describing our project for the awards judging – and for attracting votes from readers like you. Those of you who’ve been here to read our posts before are likely familiar enough with our project, but we’d still ask you to do us a favor if you would like to help us have a chance at a final prize at Ouishare. First, please freely re-post our video pitch, and second, please go to the Ouishare voting area and support us there. NOTE – we’re excited to tell you that all you need to do is enter your email address and a “capcha” code – there’s no weird registration process (so it’s easy and non-creepy). And, if you’re among the community of people who plan to be at Ouishare Fest in Paris, you’ll see us there.
Again: please vote for us on the Ouishare Awards 2014 site. Voting is open from April 21st until May 4th. Your support gives us a chance at a prize which offers us a week of mentoring and workshops, again in Paris, which we imagine would be a great boost of inspiration and connection for us.
One more thing. We encourage you to vote for others as well if you want. There are five categories, and five ultimate winners from among the combination of all of those (see the Nominees page). This competition is among friends and associates from our own communities, including Goteo, Loomio, Huertos Compartidos, The Open Value Network, and unMonastery. We feel that if we all stand to benefit from the opportunity to share what we’re doing, and learn from each other, we all win.
- Video editing by Jane Loes Lipton
- Music: “Sparkly Eyes” by …mmm
- GT Logo by Surfero Satánico
Prehispanic 2.0 – Latin America’s P2P Roots
This short piece, written by Bernardo Gutiérrez, defines and describes a number of traditional terms and practices, originating in Latin America’s indigenous cultures, which find their mirrors in the modern P2P and commons lexicon. This piece originally appeared on Yorukubu.
The native peoples anticipated the much-touted sharing economy by a few centuries. While the current global crisis pushes capitalism towards an irreversible mutation, our vision of a post-capitalist future is remarkably similar to the pre-capitalist origins of indigenous America.”
The sharing economy is on the rise. Crowdsourcing (the externalization of process to multitudes working online) is on the lips of every guru. Crowdfunding, or collective financing, is making its mark in areas like culture. The P2P Society, as presented by respected figures like Yochai Benkler and Michel Bauwens, is more horizontal and participatory, goes beyond strictly economic returns, and may be the light at the tunnel of oppressive, dark capitalism.
The commons, the common good and common resources are all the rage; co-working is no longer a passing fad, but a real thing. Of course, there are those who’ll only give credit to these new practices/realities when they’re recommended by a Silicon Valley icon, and only if they’re accompanied by an English name.
Here’s the paradox: Words like “the commons” already exist in Spanish, and have existed since Antonio Nebrija published the first Spanish dictionary in 1492. And, surprise: If we look at Pre-Columbian American traditions, we can see that the indigenous people were already practicing forms of crowdfunding, crowdsourcing and other 2.0-era participatory dynamics. The arrival of African peoples, with their strong collective traditions, also turned America (particularly Latin America) into a spectacular commons-based territory. Pre-capitalist America was as cool and chic and 2.0 as it gets, right? And it still is. The native peoples anticipated the much-touted sharing economy by a few centuries. While the current global crisis pushes capitalism towards an irreversible mutation, our vision of a post-capitalist future is remarkably similar to the pre-capitalist origins of indigenous America.
A warning to skeptics: I’ve cooked up a quick overview of some of the terms and collaborative practices of Latin America’s indigenous communities. Anyone can remix this or complete the list as they like; without a doubt, it’s just an approximation.
Tequio: Tequio is a very popular type of work for collective benefit in the Zapotec culture. Community members contribute materials or labor to carry out construction work for the community. This could take the form of a school, a well, or a road. An individual can never be the sole beneficiary of tequio. It has a touch of crowdsourcing, a little crowdfunding and a lot of commons built into it. Tequio is still practiced in some Mexican States. In the State of Oaxaca, tequio is protected by state law. There are other terms for similar practices such as “gozona”, or, “a mano vuelta” (changed hands) labor.
Potlach: Indigenous tribes in the Pacific Northwest carried out an exchange ritual that is, in practice, identical to the peer-to-peer file sharing of the Digital Age. Potlach, as used by the Haida, Tlingit, Tsimshian, Salish, Nuu-chah-nulth, and Kwakiutl peoples was P2P through and through. Potlatch isn’t exactly barter. The communities distributed food (principally seal meat and salmon) and wealth to other tribes that hadn’t had a plentiful season. Here’s an important detail: some European colonizers became remarkably rich thanks to potlatching. The same as those superstar artists who, according to some studies, benefit from file sharing amongst users, even though some insist on calling it piracy.
Guelaguetza: The guelaguetza tradition, from the Mexican State of Oaxaca, can be described as cross between a potlatch and a tequio. The term describes “a reciprocal exchange of goods and services”. Its practice is woven from the reciprocal relations that tie people together. It’s the starting point for family and even village and territory-wide cooperative networks. The guelaguetza also evolved to a syncretic sort of celebration held in the town of Oaxaca.
Minga: Minga is a Quechua term defining an ancestral mechanism for collective work that’s very common in Ecuador and the north of Perú. The common objective is always more important than any individual benefit. Collaboration trumps competition. In effect, it’s 100% reminiscent of crowdsourcing or a commons-based economy. It’s no coincidence that Cultura Senda, a collective for the promotion of networked cultures, has held workshops in Quito called “Open Minga”. Minga, according to Cultura Senda’s own description, “implies the challenge of overcoming selfishness, narcissism, mistrust, prejudice and jealousy; the misfortunes that regularly allay collective work and social mobilization.” In fact, “it implies learning to listen and to comply, while making proposals”.
Ayni: Ayni is a term with a meaning that’s closely related to minga. It describes a system of work and family reciprocity among members of the ayllu (a community working on collective land). It is commonly exemplified in the sharing of tasks such as agriculture, shepherding, cooking or house construction. The tradition is still alive, not only in many peasant communities, but among the mestizo populations of Ecuador, Bolivia and Chile. Any Time Bank or hours exchange system, such as those of the Spanish 15M movement, could, in essence, be described as an ayni.
Mutirão: This is originally a Tupi term used in Brazil to describe collective mobilizations based on non-remunerated mutual help. Wikipedia’s Brazilian Portuguese definition for mutirão is very telling: “An expression originally used in field work for the civil construction of community houses where everyone is a beneficiary and offers mutual help through a rotating, non-hierarchical system”. It’s often used to describe collective, unpaid actions such as park, street and school maintenance. There are plenty of words that also describe this sort of communal action: muxirão, muxirã, muxirom, muquirão, putirão, putirom, putirum, pixurum, ponxirão, punxirão and puxirum.
Córima: The Rarámuri people of Mexico’s Chihuahua mountains use the word “córima” to describe an act of solidarity with someone who’s having trouble. Not offering córima to someone who needs help is considered both a breach of an obligation and an offense. The definition could also describe “the practice of the common good”. It’s not really related to charity, as the Rarámuri are as far removed from Catholic morality as you can get. The utmost authority overseeing all village decisions is a community assembly, much like what we’ve seen in the 15M movement, Occupy Wall Street and Mexico’s #YoSoy32.
Maloka: Maloca (or maloka in Portuguese) is an indigenous communal house found in the indigenous Amazon region of Colombia and Brazil. These are cohabited by different families. They share their workspace, like any modern co-working space. Property is collective, as in Europe’s squatter communities. They live, in effect, by and for the commons. At night, the maloca becomes a knowledge center where stories, myths and legends are told. The tents present at Tahir Square in Cairo, in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol or in Zuccoti Park, New York during Occupy, are the modern techno-digital versions of the Amazon’s collective houses.
Article translated by Jane Loes Lipton and Stacco Troncoso – Guerrilla Translation!
Images by Ministério da Cultura Brasil under Creative Commons license
This translation has also been published in:
In this short piece, Leonidas Martín (of Colectivo Enmedio, among other things) talks about the paradoxically subliminal yet strong social control imposed by state-directed urban design and re-design, the possibly surprising causes and effects of that control, and some heartfelt speculation on art’s role in recovering the nature and purpose of our cities. If you like this piece, you’ll love 12 Inspired Actions to Outsmart Repressive Situations and Laws, co-written by Leonidas Martín and Amador Fernández-Savater. This piece originally appeared on the Enmedio blog.
Since the day it first opened, the windows of my neighborhood gym have been a gathering point for neighbors. They’re right at street level, and they’re big. Lots of us had sat on their deep windowsills for many years, most of all the Pakistanis who live in the surrounding area. Note that I said, “had sat”, because ever since Barcelona’s City Hall installed some giant metal plates, no one sits there anymore. The gatherings and chit-chats are over. “Keep it moving!”
Saying “metal plates” might make you think of something like those iron gates which restrict access to someplace, or the spools of barbed wire you often see along the borders. They’re nothing like that. The metal plates they’ve installed at my gym are lovely. They’re designed by a young architect, one of the many young architects that work for City Hall, and they’re perfectly integrated with the structure of the building. The window glass, the ledges and the plates complement each other like parts of a Franz Joseph Haydn symphony. In fact, I’m sure that if anyone passed by there today – anyone who didn’t already know what these windows had been, and what they were used for – they wouldn’t notice anything strange. And that’s what’s so interesting.
It’s a given that movement within city spaces has never been free; architecture and urban design have always directed it. But unlike the fences, bars, and walls that once were used to restrict and channel our mobility, this contemporary urban furniture is all but invisible. Before, regulating the behavior of bodies in space and directing what to do and how to do it required very visible elements. Today, however, it seems that this kind of indoctrination calls for something altogether different – going unnoticed, or only minimally. And with hardly a change to the landscape, it serves its repressive purpose – or does it one better.
It isn’t always like this; there are still places where these urban elements controlling bodies in space are crystal clear. You only need to have a look at the southern border of Europe to get the idea. In Ceuta, for example, the walls and the barbed wire aren’t hidden under any pretense whatsoever; in fact, it’s just the opposite. In these places, the urban elements are clearly visible. They have to be. Their effectiveness depends in large part upon their visibility. An undocumented immigrant who wants to enter Europe must plainly see the material obstacles he’ll run up against, the things blocking his entrance. Presumably, one would think twice after seeing things like that.
But this piece of mine isn’t set in any of those locations. What I’m talking about here is other places, where the immigrants who already crossed those borders end up. I’m referring to those cities where they come to seek their fortune: particularly, those cities which profit from advertising themselves almost like commercial brands. Cities like Barcelona, Paris or London. In these places, the devices dictating behavior go virtually unnoticed. They’re integrated into the visual matrix of the city itself, hardly perceptible, serving to uphold the aesthetic values and morals associated with that city, while hiding their primary function – directing the mobility of the people.
The plates installed outside the windows of my gym are far from the only example of this kind of urban installation designed to prevent unwanted situations and social behaviors. The city-brands are full of these elements; low hedges and bushes, strategically located to prevent people from making themselves at home in public places; magnificent wrought iron fences blocking access to restricted areas; exquisite spikes preventing people from laying down where they shouldn’t; geometric forms in noble materials placed in corners to dissuade people from getting cozy where they oughtn’t…endless urban designs which, as in the E.A. Poe story “The Purloined Letter”, are right in front of everyone, yet pass unnoticed. We come across these things a thousand times, but we never see them, or, at least, we never see their true, hidden purpose.
At first glance, these elements could seem irrelevant, just little urban bits not worth considering. But as I see it, these fragments represent – although slyly – the spirit of the economic and political model which created them: the spirit of the market. A spirit which sets everything in motion (people, cities, countries, works of art…) under the criteria of the one and only law: extract the most profit possible from any human activity. This spirit is everywhere; it affects us all and all that surrounds us. The immigrants themselves, as mentioned earlier, were driven here by this spirit. It’s what set them in motion, the power that has pushed them over the walls, dodging barbed wire. “Motion” here doesn’t imply freedom, far from it. All movement prompted by the spirit of the market must always be conducted and occur under the law it imposes. Otherwise, this mobility could deviate, resulting in a non-consumer-economy objective – and that’s a risk the market can’t take. In this sense, the metal plates at my gym, or other similar urban elements, are the grease which helps to run the indoctrination imposed by the spirit of the market.
The behavior of the citizens, as with the identity of a city, is not something to be taken for granted. Instead, it’s one’s own actions, and the changes these acts make to the social fabric, are what create behavior. These actions and behaviors could be, a priori, infinite. To limit them, to make them respond to a certain spirit, takes a lot of creativity. Right here is where the role of an artist comes into play – or has this not always been the artist’s task, to bring a touch of common sense to something that has neither pre-existing logic nor order (as Oscar Wilde said, “…to teach Nature her proper place”)? It comes as no surprise, then, that it’s the artists, the architects, and the designers who are in charge of translating into form (urban furniture, in this case) the one commercial law and its objectives. They do it because it’s what they know how to do, it’s how they make their money. But they also do it because they’re more concerned with form, with those aspects that lie at the heart of art itself, than with the end-uses derived from their work. And they do it for one more reason.
In the world we live in, each of us goes it alone in society. No intermediaries. A stranger among strangers. This emboldens a “me” full of pride, ready to believe he’s almighty. But it also encourages a “me” ready to fall at the feet of any effigy that crosses his path. A “me” ready to take on the world, but beaten by fear and loneliness. So this young architect designs the metal plates which later get installed by City Hall in the windows of my gym, because he feels lost in some incomprehensible hieroglyphs. This young architect looks at life as characters in Kafka’s novels do. He knows not who decides things, nor to whom he may turn in search of justice or help. For him, to live is to be dragged along by a mysterious force whose sheer power and great size reveals his own utter helplessness. This is the starting point from where our young architect designs the metal plates which serve to prevent immigrants from gathering in the street.
Each time I go for a swim at the gym, I wonder – what would it be like, an art that could break this damned aesthetic statute that prevents gathering? An art open to a dynamic concept of life, where our surroundings are created in direct relation to constantly changing behaviors? What would it be like, an art that stood up to established forms of behavior, and able to adapt to new ways of life, ones we’ve been seeking for a long time? And what about a form of urban design which, instead of concealing repression, organized our shared world? Because this, and nothing else, is a city: the organization of our shared world.
Article translated by Jane Loes Lipton and Stacco Troncoso – Guerrilla Translation!