Author Archive

October 4, 2011

PS1 Art Books

by andrewjbowe

From September 30th through October 2nd, PS1 sponsored the Annual New York Art Book Fair. There were a wide range of books and material at the fair.

Items ranging from handmade philosophical transcripts, appropriated journals,  hand sewn paper, to artist books developed the fair as a rich and multi versatile location for the study and creation of books.

At the Fair, I happened upon a philosophical DIY table, a young DIY artist had developed philosophical journals by appropriating the cover of historical philosophy and writing his own stories inside. Somewhat of a traversal of the idea of appropriating language, this time, instead the author appropriated the author’s name instead of the content.

www.labibliothequefantastique.net

The majority of the tables at the Fair were book stores wishing to get exposure and selling specialized types of art content based books and journals.

The fall of the bookstore and the rise of e-commerce has put a lot of pressure on graphic designers, publishers, and artists to find new ways to get exposure and their craft into the publics hands.

One way that these books were often marketed was by displaying expensive material directly next to free material and hoping that people would become engaged enough by the aesthetic  that they would purchase some of the material.

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September 27, 2011

Language(s) and Intercambio de Communidad

by andrewjbowe

Andrew Jay Bowe

Within a contemporary framework, John Bell has appropriated many of Boal’s techniques for his Bread and Puppet Parades. Bell communicates a similar form of extensive version of language within his assessment of theater, ‘For three and a half decades the Bread and Puppet Theater has been communicating in the language of puppets, masks and images; sharing (with hundreds of volunteer performers who have worked with the theater around the world) a particular dialect of that language…” (Bell 272). Bell’s project, a public theater using puppets to display a spectacle of political and social issues that dissent from the modern entertainment industry and capitalism, is directly influenced by the transformative process through which images-language can ignite forms of agency and action. To subvert stabilizing notions of language, both the concrete location of education as a physical space and mental-grammatical space, using a moving parade of image-phrases is to ask for a participation and excitement that is a tactile use of language.

 

Though, there are numerous other examples of organizations that have attempted to center their attention on transforming the immediate situation of language and language access. While Friere and Boal operate at a macro-dialogic location of shifting the entire structure that produces consciousness, many community organized non-profit organizations have operated at a micro-level in order to offer the skill of language for immediate utility. Organizations such as “Intercambio de Comunidades”—a growing organization out of Boulder, Colorado, which seeks to “help immigrants achieve greater self-sufficiency and confidence” through English education courses as well as citizenship workshops –look to rearrange the access of marginalized people to a variety of forms of social capital. The organization, develops by asking volunteers to sit and have conversations with immigrants who have a scales of English proficiency, the framework is non-traditional in the sense that most of what is communicated is a meta-conversation on language where the English-education volunteer and the Immigrant teach one another about themselves and about their languages by speaking about language.

The focus of this organization on English education courses highlights the practical need not only for the transformation of the oppressed consciousness, but also the need for an immediate form of assistance in the process of seeking the skill of language. While the technique of many community organized literacy organizations does not at first seem to allow for a consciousness of ones oppressive position, these organizations help to undo the oppressed/oppressor dichotomy by bringing folks together from a variety of backgrounds and asking that they interact together and teach one another. It is in this sense that language might not plainly be imagined as a form of interaction that expresses thought, but language as a relation that happens in-between the changing notions of self and other.

http://www.intercambioweb.org/

September 20, 2011

New Media and Boal

by andrewjbowe

In Augusto Boal’s ‘revolutionary‘ text, “The Poetics of the Oppressed: Experiments with the People’s Theater in Peru” he explores strategies for literacy that extend beyond a linear pattern of language acquisition. This strategy entails: a multilingual consciousness, the use of non-traditional mediums for language acquisition and language consciousness (photography), as well as the exploration of organizing communities organically around language education and interactive theater.

Most specifically though Boal develops his framework and case study for the research of theater as a location that ignites a revolutionary shift away from the construction of the spectator/actor dichotomy. Moving past the passive location of sterility that the audience has become entranced within takes four key transformational steps: (1) knowing the body, (2) making the body expressive, (3) envisioning theater as language, (4) and imagining the theater as discourse.

Rather than outline the entirety of Boal’s argument, I would like to suggest a few ways in which Boal’s praxis of the theater and the camera might be updated in a modern media environment:

(1) The camera as the extension of the body (McLuhan): Knowing the ‘body’ (physical or a priori self) in a contemporary media environment is actually to know the objects with which an individual communicates their own existence. A camera as the extension of the eye, a theater as the extension of the body, the tripod as the extension of the arms.

It is in this sense that media literacy is to situate oneself in the contemporary media environment. To know to what extent a camera may shape or reshape the self or the society is to re-interact with language.

Media literacy, which is the multimodal use of language, is to reshape language or to add to language – languages. The more effective the body becomes in engaging all of its elements (totality of media spaces) the more sufficient the actor becomes in performing and transforming the spaces in which they interact.

(2) Using New Media to make the body expressive:  Once the extensions of the body are envisioned as elements of the body, rather than separate forms, one can take action in reshaping the forms of action that are possible.

One might begin to see the ‘affects’ of new technology (Deleuze) as forms of expression- the body might act to further transform the body or the range of total media spaces with which the body interacts.

(3) Envisioning media spaces as language: As Boal suggests, this language is moving and present and it is being shaped by those who are acting and building its momentum. To know language is not generally to grapple the structure, but to take part in the transformation that language produces.

For a multi-modal form of media, i.e. video or interactive social media technology, one might begin to see these spaces not plainly as entertainment (as marketed), but rather as devises that transform ones relationship to others.

(4) Discourse: In imagining the discourse of the contemporary media environment one must also look at ways in which the media produces, as medium, social organizational patterns without direct appeal to discourse. Discourse is medium, content, and their relationship to one another is another form of discourse.

In recognition of these forms of new relationships, one progressive media company (DarkMatters.dk – Danish), brought interactive new media workshops to children’s music communities in Kabul to help sprout new forms of media interaction (and agency). Communities that had formerly expressed music without engaging the multimodality of media expression were now being exposed to the extensive capacity of music to reach mass audiences and to enhance audience participation:

September 13, 2011

Labor and DIY

by andrewjbowe

Questions Considered: What are the important ontological questions of ‘DIY’ culture(s)? What does it mean to be DIY? Or more practically >>how<< is DIY culture a recognizable movement, organization, or disorganization of people or of creations? Does DIY entail some attachment to labor or autonomous creativity? Retrospectively, what are the questions that might help us to narrow the terrain of DIY? Questions of being in the sense of DIY might consider not only the history of DIY culture or DIY action, but must look at the negative definitions (what isn’t DIY, what ought not DIY be).

What isn’t DIY culture? As Derrida writes in his letter to Professor Izutsu,”The question would be therefore what deconstruction is not, or rather ought not to be” (Derrida 1983), to build a constructive definition of DIY risks limitations to a moving process, to define is to engage in an act of normativity. Though, to say that DIY is in movement does not give reason to completely ignore any constructive questions of engaging in DIY process. The difficulties of construction, especially in definition, ought not suffice to prevent action in the process of describing the world or engaging with the world. Here, I would argue, from Hannah Arendt, that there is an important distinction between action (praxis) and fabrication (poiesis) that helps to build DIY as a dialectical process. To resist (collectively or personally) is to define oneself against another. This means that to ‘Do it Yourself’ doesn’t necessitate any sort of isolation or fragmentation from other subjects, but rather a resistance to a fabricated or determined structure (which one or a few are defining their actions against). It is in this sense that DIY culture is not a commodified or decaying reference point, nor is it rooted into the structure that it seeks to resist. DIY is routed within resistance, and routed away from determined fabrication and certain bureaucracies.

What is Labor? As Marx defines Labor Power, “By labour-power or capacity for labour is to be understood the aggregate of those mental and physical capabilities existing in a human being, which [s]he exercises whenever [s]he produces a use-value of any description” (http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch06.htm), DIY has a sort of attachment to a mental and physical activity which produces some autonomous connection with the world. Within the context of labor, (though, I do think there are problems with limiting DIY to laborious pursuits), DIY might intend to re-appropriate labor-power to maximize personal autonomy, or agency in the act of reconstructing new standards (flexible) of living. This definition can change in the acts of production that are outside of the bounds of use-value (which is more complicating).

The Worker’s Cooperative, DIY? I would argue that according to many of the above standards of ‘seeing’ DIY or engaging with DIY, the worker’s cooperative and even many forms of Trade Labor Unions fall within the bounds of DIY culture. A Worker’s Cooperative can be described as a location where the manager is considered a worker, and the workers own shares and participate in the majority of company decisions, democratic action and resistance has developed the cooperative into what it is today. I think it is essential to look at the history of the labor movement, as it has operated as a sort of resistant or dialectical movement away from the stabilizing force of fabricated bureaucracies throughout history.

Historically the Worker’s Cooperative has been founded in a series of Principles (the Rochdale Principles 1844):
1. Voluntary and Open Membership
2. Non-Discrimination
3. Democratic Participation
4. Engage in Service and Social Duty
5. There ought to be a fair proportion of trade and surplus
6. Not credit based, only cash trading.
7. Continual education of membership

These principles come with the history of the worker as being defined negatively against ownership and with that has come the abuse of the worker as a passive subject within the workplace, and hence maltreatment and resistance.

One example of a contemporary worker’s cooperation, one of the largest in the UK, is SUMA Wholefoods:

Ah, the magic ‘C’ word.  We don’t really like to blow our own trumpet here at Suma, but we do like to think that being a workers’ cooperative is one of the fundamental keys to our success.

So what’s it all about?  Unlike most UK companies, Suma operates a truly democratic system of management that isn’t bound by the conventional notions of hierarchy that often hinder progress and stand in the way of fairness.  While we do use an elected Management Committee to implement decisions and business plans, the decisions themselves are made at regular General Meetings with the consent of every cooperative member – there’s no chief executive, no managing director and no company chairman.  In practice, this means that our day-to-day work is carried out by self-managing teams of employees who are all paid the same wage, and who all enjoy an equal voice and an equal stake in the success of the business.

Another key feature of our structure and working practice is multi-skilling.  At Suma we encourage members to get involved in more than one area of business, so individuals will always perform more than one role within the cooperative.  This helps to broaden our skills base and give every member an invaluable insight into the bigger picture.  It also helps us to play to each member’s various different strengths while enabling us to think ‘outside the box’ when it comes to creativity and problem solving.  And as for job satisfaction and staff morale – just ask yourself when was the last time you heard someone complain that their job involved too much variety?  It is the spice of life, after all.

This all sounds great, but does it work?  In a word, yes.  Here in the UK we’re often sceptical about workers’ cooperatives, but that’s largely because of our more conventional business culture and the fact that the vast majority of UK companies are purely profit-driven.  Workers’ cooperatives are far more common in many advanced European countries and developing world economies.  Of course it’s not all plain sailing, but if you look at Suma’s growth over its 30-year history, we think you’ll agree that we must be doing something right.

While Suma Wholefoods does not define itself negatively. One can pull from the values of the company a sort of resistance toward traditional business structure. The cooperative, being in flux as a democratic entity, entails the option of resistance. This is what I would argue makes large organizations, such as worker’s cooperatives and many trade labor unions DIY.

Check out Worker’s Coop’s in New York:

http://www.nycworker.coop/

September 13, 2011

Bio: Andrew Jay Bowe

by andrewjbowe

I am a second year M.A. Media Studies student, focusing my studies on urban media and mass culture. Many of my influences come from the movement politics of the 1960s, the intersection of theory and action, and using digital resources to organize people.

I received my B.A. from the University of Colorado-Boulder in Humanities with an emphasis in Philosophy and Film.