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matthew fuller: Mervin Jarman - The Container

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Date: Mon, 21 Jun 1999 20:19:25 +0100
From: matthew fuller <>
Subject: Mervin Jarman - The Container

Mervin Jarman is co-ordinator of the Container project, an operation to
take a mobile media centre to street-level Jamaica.  The Container is
represented at:  Mervin is also
part of the Mongrel collective, based in London.

MF:  Can you let us know what the Container project is?  I mean in simple,
Straightforward terms, like for a start - what is the actual physical
make-up of the project?  What's the technology?

MJ:  The Container is an effort to take creative computer technology to
ghetto people and deep rural communities in the Caribbean.
	The physical thing is made up of a shipping container on wheels
converted into a mobile workstation/access unit.  Transportable by truck,
it'll be equipped with some 14 workstations and a server networked with
local area network access and remote Internet connection.

MF:  Now we know what it is physically, what is going to happen to all this
kit? What's it going to get hooked up with?  Where are you going to take
the Container?  Can you give us a picture of the kind of situations, the
kind of streets, the kind of people you see getting involved with it?

MJ:  The Container will make its maiden voyage into the Caribbean where its
first port of entry will be Jamaica.  We are then hoping to move into
Trinidad, St. Lucia, Monserrat, St. Vincent and a number of other Islands
over a 5-year period.  This of course is subject to negotiations that the
Container project will be pursuing.

As far as the people goes... We are aiming to engage people effected by
various divides - be that political or social .  It is true to say that a
vast majority of the Island's underprivileged won't deliberately stay in
that scenario if given a choice, and this is absolutely what this is about.
It's about giving people incentives to feel good about themselves without
being patronised.

Most of the people that will gain access to the Container are no different
to you and I except that they have no significant reasons to interact with
computers, as it is not presented to them in a meaningful way.  This is to
say in a way that it becomes relevant to their every day activities as
determined by them.

Our main target group is therefore going to be some hardcore bad
boys/girls.  People from a non-digital low-educational background who have
not been working with other types of artform. Thus never had the time or
incentive to investigate what computer technology can or can't do for them
in a constructive and creative manner.

MF:  What is going to happen in the Container?  Describe the scene.  What
might be going on on a typical day?  What is its relationship to say
different music scenes in Jamaica?  - and at the same time you're going to
be pulling in digital art stuff from all over?  It sounds like a crazy mix.

MJ: Crazy and mix-up it will be indeed - thing is as a youth growing up in
Jamaica we had a kind of figure head in folklorist Mrs. Louise
Bennet-Cobally affectionately Miss Lou - now Miss Lou always say fe her
Auntie Rochi used to say 'tun yuh hand and meck fashion' which is the
mentality responsible for Jamaica's creativity and dynamic energies. So yes
indeed the Container shall see a very interesting explosion of creative
flair, I can't give you any specifics but I can guarantee a dynamo of
exciting activities.

The technology will emphasise interactive digital media plus some basic
life skills thus the technology is about resourcing humans with
communicative skills and tools.

My hope is to get more ghetto people to develop an appetite for using
computers productively and if I can pass on the little that I have come to
know to at least one person then I would be grateful.

MF:  Why is it important for you personally to do this?

MJ:  This is as significant to me now as football was in my early
development. As a socially recreational activity football kept me out of
many mischief and strife. It also expanded my social group taking me into
places that would otherwise be inaccessible to the likes of me. The same is
true for computer technology - especially interactive media where now I am
celebrating in circles that's usually the domain of the reserved.  Whilst
there most people see me as unique, exotic, all kind of shit.

Not to say I don't appreciate all the attention, but there is something
inside that keeps reminding me that this is only happening because I got a
chance and this chance was the privilege to work with some brilliant
computer artists and technicians at a time when I had no knowledge or
experience with computers.  This also came about because, before that,
Artec's programme at the time allowed me to investigate my own resolves
based around topics that mattered to me.

So in a sense this is what I would like to achieve through the Container
project: a lot more "socially acceptable" outcasts or outsiders.  People
who have a hell of a lot more to contribute to society than the misery that
gets strapped to us.

MF:  So, what kind of effect do you see the project having for other people?

MJ:  Hopefully, in terms of the non-computer-educated participants, it will
stimulate them into using computers as a tool to enhance their craft.  For
the learned digital artists and others that will participate in the project
that this experience helps to rejuvenate their creative genes and influence
them in a more communal outreaching approach to their work if this is not
already the case.

MF:  How is the Container being put together in terms of sourcing finances,
material, computers, satellite time and all the many other things that you
need to get the thing done?

MJ:  This again is another milestone in the dynamism of the media that I
now have the privilege to work in and the kind of people that I get to work
with or meet as a result of my work.  It is largely based on their good
sense and generosity, where people have given time to help to administrate,
donate equipment, and just to share ideas or contact details of people who
they think might be able to help out.

So most of the efforts so far have been from donations of some sort or
another.  However, we are still hopeful that we will be able to attract
some kind of sponsorship from business or anyone else. The container and
the shipping costs have been donated by JP Fruit Distributors, and various
amount of time and effort by a group of people already too numerous to
mention in this interview.

For all the other things, we are still seeking sponsorship commitments from
companies or other kinds of organisation that will be offered advertising
profile as a result of their participation.

MF:  What kind of kit do you need?

MJ:  Along with the kit for use in the actual container we are asking
people, companies, organisations etc. to donate material.  A basic unit
should be a PC with 166Mhz Pentium processor, 32MB memory and 15" monitor
capable of 800 x 600 pixels - 16 bit colour.  Or a Performa Mac / Power Mac
with similar capabilities with a baseline modem speed of 28.8kbps
connectability. These computers along with peripherals like printers and
scanners will be given to community groups that have participated in the
Container project on its tours.   These will provide connection to the
Container project team and the World Wide Web and allow the community to
continue to push things after the Container has left a site.  If anyone has
anything like this, or access to resources we'd love to hear from them!

We are also advocating for sponsored connection for public access and are
focussing on both local and international telecommunications companies to
assist us in this quest. Satellite time, or other ways of connecting to the
net, is going to be important.

MF: What should people do if they can support the Container with resources?

MJ: Get in contact with me immediately >><< or any one
you know that is affiliated with the project.

MF:  What is the situation with regard to the net in Jamaica?  Any good
initiatives worth checking out?  Are there any organisations or groups of
people that you will specifically be collaborating with?

MJ: In Jamaica there is a number of interesting developments taking place
around the media however many of these take a kind of corporate approach to
their initiative and that is primarily because these users/developers are
from uptown so that's what is accepted by their peers. But by any means
type Jamaica in any search engine and you will be bombarded with a catalyst
of interesting sites.

MF:  This is a very informal model of going about getting it done. It's a
different way of going about things than most people would try in say, the
UK and the rest of Europe where you'd get jumped on by x-amount of
bureaucracy before things could get moving.  On first hearing, the idea of
just getting on and doing something this major sounds almost unfeasible.
Jamaica any different?

MJ: When we start talking bureaucracy, in Jamaica it's no different from
anywhere in the world.  The thing is Jamaicans operate as a world power and
so what would seem normal time span for as huge a land space as the Europe
or even the US seem like eternity to the average man in the street and we
are not known for our patience.  My old lady used to say 'always take the
bull by the horn' - so when you see the need to do certain things you just
have to go out and do it.