Documents... Régine Debatty
I have decided to retreat into my usual role of observer and call in the help of three activists I admire immensely: an “architecture dissident”, a fashion renegade and an engineer, all of whom explore socio-technical changes through design and art.
Santiago Cirugeda, Otto von Busch and Natalie Jeremijenko are all talented and resourceful creators. They don’t preach, they don’t judge, they set themselves the mission to provide us with the tools to take our fate into our own hands. But there is also beauty and elegance in what they create.
Because his home town would not authorise him to build a playground, Seville-based architect Cirugeda obtained a dumpster permit and installed a playground that looked like a dumpster. He also built and occupied a rooftop crane that passers-by believed was there only to move building materials. On YouTube there is a video in which the architect uses Playmobil toys to demonstrate how to build a temporary flat on your rooftop. The solutions he proposes are cheap, fast and accessible to everyone. The key ingredient is to find out the gaps in administrative structure and official procedures, to intervene where the law falls short. Cirugeda’s team can even provide free (or at least for a few beers) consulting in legal and technical issues.
Cirugeda has often been labelled a guerilla architect, a subversive artist, an urban hacker. Yet his process required that he also became an expert in law. What I believe is that if only he’d give a damn he would be one of those starchitects who grace the cover of glossy magazines.
Von Busch is an artist, a critical fashion theorist and an haute couture heretic who lives between Sweden and Turkey. His work takes a critical and political stance on design and in particular on the fashion system and its networks. By organising workshops and distributing free booklets, he demonstrates in a very approachable way how to critically hack and reform the operating system of modernity and the industrial modes of production.
New York-based artist and engineer Jeremijenko builds bridges between the technical worlds and the art world like no one else. She is an artist but also an engineer. Her background includes studies in biochemistry, physics, neuroscience and precision engineering. She releases robotic dogs in public parks to sniff the area for traces of contamination, she lets loose remote-controlled robotic geese and she plants genetically identical trees to make us reflect on the impact that techno-social change has on the world we live in.
2007 has seen the rise to super buzzdom of words such as “organic”, “sustainable”, “green”, “eco-conscious”. Even taking the “right step”, such as turning off the tap while brushing our teeth, doesn’t make us feel useful enough. It makes us feel impatient. How can we know with more certainty what works? That’s how Jeremijenko came up with her new project: a health clinic for the environment. Impatient people would come with their environmental concerns and leave with prescriptions and advice.
Here is a list of books, blogs and websites for anyone who would like to find out more.
An Atlas of Radical Cartography
Ten maps and ten essays about social issues from globalisation to garbage; surveillance to extraordinary rendition; statelessness to visibility; deportation to migration.
Edited by Lize Mogel and Alexis Bhagat
Published by the Journal of Aesthetics & Protest Press
The Interventionists: A Users’ Manual for the Creative
Disruption of Everyday Life
Catalogue of an exhibition that took place in 2004 at the MASS MoCA. An evergreen.
Edited by Nato Thompson and Gregory Sholette
Published by MIT Press
Superfund 365: A Site-a-Day
Daily presentations of toxic sites active in the US Government’s Superfund programme. Superfund 365 features archive images, video interviews with people involved with or affected by the contaminated area, and the possibility for anyone living near the site to contribute to the database.
Knitting as a form of anti-sweatshop protest.
If you thought that psychogeography couldn’t be relevant and fun.
The Yes Men
Culture jamming at its best.
An eclectic and inspiring compendium of the most innovative solutions, ideas and inventions emerging today for building a sustainable future. The best of them are collected in a book, Worldchanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century.
worldchanging.com and worldchanging.com/book
Eyeteeth: A Journal of Incisive Ideas
Taking a participatory role in the transformation of our natural and urban environment.
The blog I’d want on a desert island.
Doors of Perception mailing list
Every month a selection of short texts about social innovation and design.
image Jens Klevje
OTTO VON BUSCH
SelfPassage is a brand for fashion hacking, a way to save garments from dying in the backs of wardrobes. But this simple act of recycling includes the possibility of altering the logic of fashion, expanding it from a system of monetary-based exclusivity.
Fashion hacking aims to change the world of fashion in small and beautiful steps by hands-on exploration and experimentation, from the domestic sewing machine upwards. It is a collective process in which a community can share methods of reverse-engineering, revealing fashion’s code through DIY interventions. It’s a low-scale tactic of turning fashion from a phenomenon of dictations and anxiety into a collective experience of empowerment. The sewing machine is an instrument for liberation and skills are a path to freedom!
The methods are put together to make a Recyclopedia, a series of fashion cookbooks. They are based on reversing the pret-a-porter belief. As such these cookbooks offer inspirational methods, not instructions. Similarly we can look at Ikea manuals for assembling furniture. If you follow the process exactly, you will get the bookshelf you saw in the shop. Without a good toolbox it will be hard for you to change this process and, for example, turn the bookshelf into a table. You are just a continuation of their factory, an unpaid assembly worker.
But with the cookbook it’s different. For every dish I make, I reclaim a small portion of the kitchen. Instead of using the readymade sauces, which are in a way very democratic, I learn how to make one. When I woke up this morning I didn’t know there was a small Thai chef inside me, but it came out during lunch as I learnt to make a Tom Kha soup. And next time I will improvise a little as I cook it. The SelfPassage methods are all cookbooks, hoping to show other ways to relate to and operate with fashion – not a new catwalk collection or a radical T-shirt brand, but hopefully a collection of hands-on methods to aid our journeys through the outskirts of fashion.
HOW TO HACK YOUR WARDROBE
Take an old suit jacket that you like. The sleeves could be a little too short. Find a matching sweater.
1. Unstitch the inner cuff seam of the lining in the jacket sleeves.
2. Cut off about 15cm of the sweater sleeves.
3. Turn the sweater sleeve inside out and drag it over the jacket sleeve. Fit the edge of the cut sweater sleeve in-between the jacket sleeve and the lining. Stitch together the jacket sleeve again. (This can be tricky, if it is too hard to reach the seam with the sewing machine then unstitch the sleeve seam of the sweater for reaching and then sew it together again.)
4. Unstitch the front piece of the sweater, along sides, shoulders and neck…
5. … to make a piece that looks like this.
6. Cut the front piece in two. Take the two wide ends and sew them together with a wide zig-zag seam into one long stitched scarf-like piece.
7. Unstitch the inner lining of the jacket front, begin at the mid-neck and go down along the sides to the buttons somewhere – as long as the stitched “scarf”.
8. Insert the “scarf” between the outer fabric and the lining (improvise!) and sew a large zig-zag with a straight seam along the joint.
Wear it, feel warm, feel smart – ready to fight any fashionista.
Back in 1998, when Santiago Cirugeda was still a student of architecture, he was living on the first floor of a house in Calle Divina Pastora in downtown Seville. Most of the buildings in that area are protected – they cannot be demolished nor can any modification alter their original characteristics. At some point he decided that he’d need to augment his private space for a couple of months. The space was there, on the street or just above it, and he grabbed it. With the blessing of the city. The first step was to ask the Urban Planning Office for a permit to install scaffolding and a working space. He told them that the paint on the walls needed to be refreshed. ¡Y ya está! He got the permission, paid the fee requested and was allowed to build his own private refuge, a parasite structure attached to the outside of the house. The result was a light and reversible structure. He and his friends had access to it from the street or from inside the house. And just as the permit was about to expire, they dismounted the scaffolding and the temporary living space without leaving any trace behind.
The story didn’t stop there. Cirugeda does not just build a space, he also informs the press of his little tricks. His interventions are not meant for his sole benefit, nor does he mean to fool with the rules for the sake of it. They act as tangible and clear demonstrations that citizens can create a temporary private or community space of their own and with whatever materials, style and size they decide. The key is to spot the loopholes in the law.
HOW TO MAKE AN URBAN RESERVE USING SCAFFOLDING
1. Apply for a minor alteration licence from the local Urban Planning office (or the equivalent) to paint the facade of the building you want to enlarge or to which you want to attach a structure.
2. Ask a friend or a family member who is an architect (there are plenty of those around) to sign the scaffolding project. When it comes to talking about their wages, a few beers will do.
3. Once you have paid for the licence for a minor alteration (some €18) and the local authority’s permit for the project (some €24), you can actually apply for the licence to install the scaffolding.
4. Design your own urban reserve using your favorite materials and styles.
5. Once you have the licence (approximately one month afterwards), install the scaffolding together with the urban reserve.
One of Natalie Jeremijenko’s latest endeavours is Ooz. Ooz is zoo backwards, and it has no cages. The project addresses a new urban phenomenon: formerly wild animals are migrating to our cities. Natalie’s project proposes to rethink our relationship with them.
Together with Debra Solomon from culiblog.org, Natalie devised a dinner for Geese and People. The food acts as bait for inter-species social contact. It is delicious for both the birds and the humans, and reminds us that we all rely on the same resources and ecosystems.
HOW TO MAKE SALAD CARPACCIO FOR GEESE AND PEOPLE
You will need baker’s parchment and a collection of nice green ingredients:
Leaves of a Chinese cabbage
Leaves of Swiss chard
Sprouts (nut sprouts should be avoided)
Leaves of wild spinach
Black sesame seeds
Umeboshi plum vinegar (or balsamic vinegar)
Olive or sesame oil
Coriander, basil, salt
1. Wash the leaves thoroughly. Remove the fibrous parts of the wild spinach and select the heaviest leaves. Blanch those in water as quickly as possible to ensure that their green remains bright. Then put them in a drainer and pour some cold water over them.
2. Arrange the leaves on a piece of baker’s parchment, starting with the heaviest ones and keeping the light ones at the top. Put another piece of parchment over them and mash with your hands. Then take a rolling pin and GENTLY bang it flat.
3. Turn it all upside down and very slowly peel away the piece of parchment. Carefully turn it over again and remove the other piece of parchment.
4. Now sprinkle the vinegar, oil, sesame seeds and some salt over it in an unorganised way.