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snafu on Mon, 29 Sep 2003 19:31:25 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> N5M4


Next5Minutes4
An International Festival of Tactical Media
September 11 - 14, 2003, Amsterdam
a report by Snafu - 09/27/2003
http://bbs.thing.net


As the curtain fell on the conclusive meeting of Next5Minutes4 - 
<http://www.n5m.org> - the feeling was widespread that tactical media (tm) 
are in the midst of fording a swift river. It is hard to say what tm will 
find on the other bank of the river because riding the currents of these 
precarious times already seems quite an engaging exercise. By definition, 
tactical media are unstable, in permanent crisis, malleable, and adaptable 
to mutating circumstances. Nevertheless, the previous edition of the 
festival which gave birth to tm and followed its early steps was held more 
than four years ago when two major global events were still to occur: 9-11 
and the outbreak of the Seattle movement. Between these two, the collapse 
of the new economy undermined not only a business model but also a way of 
building sustainable networks and techno-social infrastructures.

As a start - symbolically coinciding with the second anniversary of 9-11 - 
N5M dealt with this deeply changed panorama by giving voice to "Witnesses 
and Testimonies" from the hot spots of the Middle East. NGOs like Rawa, the 
Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (http://www.rawa.org) and 
groups like Big Noise Films, Voices in the Wilderness and Witness expose to 
the public eye what mainstream media tends to forget, and train local 
practitioners to make their own media.

The festival began with a synthesis of the three key concepts that inspired 
it: the reappearance of The Public; the struggle to appropriate tactics and 
languages; and the deployment of these struggles in "deep local" contexts 
-- issues that suggest a drive to "return to the real" and a shrinking of 
the space dedicated to aesthetic research over technological. In short, 
reflection on tm focused mainly on how to exchange and deliver information 
effectively in times of extensive privatization and restrictive regulation 
of the public sphere.

It was no accident that the only playground addressed nationally was the 
Italian one. In a state characterized by an incredible concentration of 
media and political power (media mogul Silvio Berlusconi being the Prime 
Minister), in the last two years the birth and growth of a rhizome of 
community television stations connected to social movements represents a 
case study and laboratory for the international community. These 
"telestreets" (the name given to the microstations like Orfeo TV, Candida, 
and Urban TV), cover a range of a few hundred square meters in 
neighborhoods in cities like Rome and Bologna by exploiting the shadow 
cones of other stations and exchanging their productions through a national 
video database (see http://www.ngvision.org). Based entirely on volunteer 
labor, these entities have to face the endemic scarcity of financial 
resources and the complete privatization of the airwaves by bigger players.

The Airwaves belong to the People and now the People want them back

The "Laboratory Italy" found a non-explicit relationship with the panel 
"Radio Space: Wireless in Your Psyche." Starting with reflections on the 
experience of "Klubradio", the Berliner Pit Schultz recalled that "being 
successful with streaming media means gaining more audience, but this 
increases the consumption of bandwidth and results in linear growth of the 
transmission costs." If this model was still viable in the days of the 
dotcom mania, it now looks completely outdated. This is why, Schultz said, 
"The long waves of radio always return while the peaks of other media go up 
and down at a faster pace." Once again the airwaves will become the real 
battleground for reaching end users while the internet is seen more as an 
infrastructure to exchange content remotely.

This battleground was also invoked by Arun Metha, President of the Society 
for Telecommunications Empowerment, an NGO committed to the diffusion of 
low-cost technology in the poorest and most remote areas of India. Metha 
presented a project organized with the women of an Indian village to build 
a low power community FM radio transmitter. The power of the homemade 
transmitter was so low (15 milliwatts) that under Indian law it did not 
require any authorization. Nevertheless, the government sent the village a 
cease-and-desist injunction. Metha replied that "Since the same power is 
used for cordless microphones, is the government to be considered breaking 
the law any time it holds a conference? And should all karaoke bars in the 
country also be banned?"

This story touches on an issue central to many of the conference's panels 
and workshops: true deregulation in favor of public, non-exclusive use of 
the airwaves. This notion of a "digital commons" is also embraced by Eric 
Kluitenberg, one of the N5M organizers. As the Dutch critic writes in the 
festival's Readme text: "The commons refers to a resource, to common land, 
to common means of production, knowledge, or information that are shared 
amongst a more or less well-defined community ... the rules of how these 
common resources are shared, and amongst whom, are not necessarily fixed in 
intransmutable rules." The commons differs from the concept of public 
domain by implying a strong principle of responsibility among the community 
that uses it; also, "it evolves over time." On the other hand, the latter 
"implies a passive, open space that can be shared by anyone and everyone." 
A typical incarnation of the "digital commons" concept is fm.thing.net, a 
network of mini-fm transmitters/receivers built in Manhattan by New 
Zealander Adam Hyde with the support of The Thing.

Another stirring example of the tactical use of the neutrality of the 
public domain was the work of Rebecca Gomperts of Women on Waves, an 
organization that employs boats to reach countries where abortion is 
illegal or heavily restricted (such as Ireland or Poland). They distribute 
emergency abortion pills and even invite women in need on board to have 
abortions in international waters. Gomperts spoke on a panel dedicated to 
"Contestational Science" that featured brilliant speakers such as Eugene 
Thacker, Irina Aristarkhova, Claire Pentecost, Michael Dorsey, and David 
Barr, who offered a general overview of life sciences such as 
bioinformatics, tissue production/flow, GM food biopiracy, and HIV 
treatment. Unfortunately they didn't delve into the system's weak points 
and possible tactics to exploit them.

The Diagrams of Power

If the exploitation of interstices is part of the genetic code of tactical 
media, the festival also proposed a more strategic overview with the panel 
"Tactical Cartography, Diagrams of Power: Visualizing for the Public Eye," 
dedicated to different techniques of mapper. Brian Holmes, collaborator on 
the French magazine Multitudes and member of the Bureau des Etudes, a group 
of researchers based in Strasbourg and Paris, explained that the focus of 
the Bureau's work is "to suggest a new way of reading a power that remains 
largely invisible but that moves very quickly and easily through national 
borders."

Mapping the geography of a power that is opaque due to networks of 
communication is the function of the latest map developed by the Bureau 
(Info-space, Info-war, Governing by Networks), and presented for the first 
time at the Next5Minutes. The map divides the power into different spheres 
(financial groups, the internet's regulatory bodies, surveillance networks, 
IT giants), and links them. Different kinds of power are identified as 
different logos or pictograms, and from the dense web of interest groups 
emerge isolated key figures that demonstrate, Holmes said, "that behind the 
theory of the anonymous techno-structure there are actual people and 
families." A cogent critique of this form of representing power structures 
came from Ted Byfield, who observed that "these maps are indeed diagrams. 
Since these powers do not deploy themselves on a geographic territory, the 
diagrams should be articulated as processes in order to include the 
dimension of time and not in symmetric patterns that project a holistic 
image of the world not far from that of imperial cartographers of the 
eighteenth century."

In order to bypass these limits, the Bureau is working on an online map 
generator, based on open source technology, that will allow users to submit 
updates and propose changes to the overall structure 
(http://www.universite-tangente.fr.st). Also open source, by code or by 
attitude, are also the software and collaborative environments conceived 
for the development of tm in the "Tactical Media Tool Builders' Fair," from 
the community storytelling software presented by Graham Harwood to the 
text-filtering weblog Discordia.us; from the antisocial WiFi Hogger by 
Jonah Brucker-Cohen (a device that allows individuals to gain control over 
a public access wireless network) to "Yo Mango" tactics on how to market 
shoplifting in malls.

Another aspect of the festival was its performative side, well represented 
by groups like the Viennese "State of Sabotage" (a version of the NSK's 
"State in Time") and "NoEscape" who turned the Saturday night party at 
Paradiso into a "100% safe" claustrophobic box. An eyescan and the taking 
of fingerprints were only a prelude to the assignment to each visitor of a 
"bodycard" that allowed them access to only certain areas of the building, 
while rules of behavior like "if you leave your luggage it will be 
destroyed immediately" set the right mood for relaxation and entertainment.

A final note regards the decline in the number of participants in 
comparison to the last gathering, balanced by an increase in the level of 
participation; a paradox that reflects the ultimate short-circuit between 
actors and spectators, but also a lesser hybridization of formal 
experimentations with culture jamming tactics. It was as if the 
multiplication of global conflicts had reduced the space for simulation, 
leaving to tm the role of interfacing and articulating the "digital 
multitudes." An ambitious task, its capacity to affect social dynamics and 
collective imagination will be verified during the mobilization organized 
in and around the United Nations World Summit on Information Society 
(Geneva, December 10-12 2003), and initiated by a general call 
<http://www.geneva03.org/> as elaborated at the N5M.

Thanks to Arturo di Corinto for contributing material.

Candida http://candida.thing.net

Women On Waves http://www.womenonwaves.org/index_eng.html

State of Sabotage http://www.sabotage.at/sos/

WiFi Hogger by Jonah Brucker-Cohen http://www.coin-operated.com/projects
Rawa (Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan) http://www.rawa.org

Big Noise Films http://www.bignoisefilms.com

Voices in the Wilderness http://www.nonviolence.org/vitw

Witness http://www.witness.org

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