Category Archives: elephant

Participation in Museums: Trinketizing the Audience.

Notes for Museum ‘debate’ in Liverpool on November 11.

There is much talk of participation and much effort to remodel foyers, and to an extent interiors, plus toilets, cafes, bookshops and websites, to enable easy access. Asked to be curmudgeon-esque, it seems clear to me that this participation-talk is pseudo-participation. Every participation seems the same, everything alike, repeated patterns, even colour schemes – so many pastels, and fluorescent red plastic chairs. Some of the chairs are little, for kids, or for breaking dad’s back.

How did it get to be that pseudo-participation rules? The dominant culture has no anxiety about having people walk past the exhibits, but do not let them touch you. File on by, stop perhaps for a second, for an hour, but only in a standardized way. Check the visit off on a list. Culture 101.

Nothing without regulation – aims and outcomes carefully calibrated on a planning form that no-one reads, inside a system dominated by the same malignant and parasitic bureaucracy that has overtaken health and education in the hyper-administration. The bureaucracy does not even administer anything today, just keeps the forms in circulation, and the school groups filing through the doors.

And it is this pseudo-routine that must be thoroughly tested. We must know our audience, using the very latest in dumbed-down questionnaires that even newspaper-selling leftist street-vendors would disavow except as props. This is not even market research – so long as the school groups keep on marching past in tight formation. Participation in the most bland formal sameness – Adorno pointed to a sexual lozenge at the heart of the culture industry, and for sure he also meant the museum as pseudo-education. Where everything should be clean. ‘Nothing should be moist’.

We are so far from education here except education as reinforced class privilege. Education is not a two-hour visit – give them 20 hours, even 20 weeks – and they must read in advance. Here cultural exposure is not instruction but packaged ‘culture’ – and education is not a social good, but ‘education’ as national programming. An articulated system for inculcating national ideology and the flat flat flat dissemination of British identity and imaginary pasts. Books in the bookshop on popular themes – tea, crockery, swords. The empty materials that can be rearranged for some groups to dominate others.

Because commodification is the new rule, just like the old one. Different levels according to price, knick-knacks or bespoke jewelry, a café and a bistro, a members room. The collection is sacrificed to the expansion of the foyer, the t-shirts and tote bags carry the branded museum like a picture on a mug. There is no room for the collection, but room aplenty for postcard reproductions. The collection is not a collection, not a research effort, not a scholarly project, but a beauty contest.


Three props – a toy wooden horse, my gilt-edged copy of Arabian Nights, and a carved wooden Ganesh idol.

Participation cannot be a Trojan Horse, smuggling the old kings of the elite cloister into the pockets of a population plundered and left to rue the day. Participation is not a flash mob.

Neither should we rest with the admirable storytelling device of Scheherazade from the epic One Thousand and One Nights. She tells stories every night – Sinbad, Ali Baba, Aladdin – to ward off the threat of the despotic ruler Shahryar, and through her stories eventually she turns him to good. But insofar as this leaves the storyteller as the one with power, and the king in place, the population remains a distant audience, titillated, but fundamentally untouched. Great stories they are, but the structure of interrogation remains, she could be telling her stories to the despotic king, or in Guantanamo today to the CIA interrogators, or the national press. What she needs to do is teach others to tell stories, and this also takes time – perhaps 1001 nights, sometimes more, different in each case and not a blanket solution. Democracy is not an occasionally vote.

What if it were Ganesh that ran the museum. Tasked with writing down the epic Mahabharata – 100 thousand verses – as it was told by the sage Vyasa, Ganesh’s pencil wears down and in order to keep transcribing he snaps off his tusk and dips it in ink to continue. He is the patron of all studious soles, dedicated to a popular scholarship, unending. He is not an occasional visitor on a joy ride.

What we need perhaps is the best of all three of these figures. Enticement into the museum, by horse if need be, then good stories that undo the games of dominant power, and a celebration of scholarship that is not just a two-hour visit, but a lifelong commitment. Museums might be this. With these patrons.


The Malignant Teaching Factory

[Meant to put this up ages ago, after finishing the second half, but that is going so slow this just needs to be tucked away here out of sight (! - some of the phrasings of sentences used on this blog already have been quoted back to me recently in forums that, well, were a surprise)]

In a period of little over thirty years, higher education has ventured quite some distance from the old collegiate hierarchical system of privilege, scholarship and esoteric research. It has transformed, by way of Government policy, market demand, commercial opportunity and participant compliance into something quite unrecognizable. A global education industry, intertwined with business and investment, productivity targets, enterprise and creative accounting. Transactional rather than vocational, career rather than idea, commission rather than mission, we have seen the exchange of the old gown for the negotiated compact and a bottom-dollar traffic in interested investigation (e.g., product trials). Speculative education has replaced the old and frankly moribund idea of speculation as such.

There is nothing redemptive in harking back to the old ways. But it is unseemly that the privatized educational system of today has turned teachers into vendors, students into shoppers, researchers into hired mercenaries and senior colleagues into grotesque parodies of corporate greed. Too often otherwise admirable scholars become shiny-suited administrators, hawking student numbers and research contracts around as if they were baubles of divine election and not merely the last dusty job-lots of a faded glory now peddled out at cut price – everything must go! – discount rates for a shop-soiled emporium of decay.

How did it happen that an aspiration for education for all turned so quickly into a market fluctuation? The privatizating and commercial imperative shaping curriculum and content was not born fully formed in the current period, but has been a long time coming. Indeed, the history of the classroom could be construed as a struggle over just this. From the early efforts of the Factory Inspectors – Leonard Horner – and the imperative to school the great unwashed, all the better to fit them to machines – through to the idea of education as a vast instrument for class mobility, widening participation and access to employment – itself a mixed fortune.

In capital, volume one, chapter ten, Marx narrates a class struggle that continually impinges upon the question of education, though fittingly, the site of the action is the factory. The Factory Acts, of 1933, 1844, 1847, 1850 etc., were in effect an effort of the factory owners lobby to mitigate, undermine and evade the constraints imposed by a concerned, if ill-informed, philanthropic tendency in parliament. The Factory Inspectors, such as Leonard Horner, reported upon the conditions in the factories where children worked, sometimes 12 and more hours per day, and it is instructive to consider the elaborate machinations employed by the factory owners to circumvent requirements that these children receive a modicum of schooling. Two hours per week in the first instance (1833 Factory Act). Among the quaint lobbying practices the owners extended to the inspectors as they made their way to inspect the factories were invitations to dinners, visits to country club and horse gymkhanas, the comfort of suitable lodgings, and suitable carriage to the said inspections, including eminently helpful factory guides and fulsome explanations of any anomalies and answers to questions (Horner, Diary).

It then should be noted with no little irony that in the university today, and indeed throughout the education system, the descendents of the Factory Inspectors are guided just as much by the care with which managers attend to questions of presentation, access and quality assurance in a new era of evaluation. Aside from the media event that is an OffStead visit, in effect a form-filling excursive, and the Quality unit of the Department of Business Innovation and Sport, with Universities governed under the same budget lines as commerce and the Olympics, we are not dealing with inspections as such, so much as reports and tabulations – drawn up according to the new guidance whereby Government turns education into a vast factory-like programme, with productivity gains and training regimes of course factored in, and with global reach.




Maybe it makes sense to reflect, in the quiet aftermath of a period of activity, in order to gear up again for more, necessarily thinking this never stops, that the to and fro alternation of theory and praxis is never only rhetorical.

The protest at Millbank in 2010 was both organised and a surprise because it exceeded an official NUS-declared ‘end’ of the rally. The surprise was the palpable shared and active demonstration of intent that contagiously and somewhat spontaneously led thousands of protesters to the same end. Even if the Police also wanted to make a point about the erosion of their conditions under austerity, and so stepped back so as to underline by that withdrawal, the significance of their potential service as protectors of Capital.

Subsequent arrests were not as significant as the events – a raid on the headquarters of the ruling class party offices of course gathered world-wide attention – but less than ideal was the lack of support given to those arrested, and that as a response to austerity and education policy changes underway, this was all rather late.

In the December 2010 rallies, a massive success of mobilization and catching the mood of the nation. Significant positive media reportage in the run up to the rallies, though this turned towards a search for sensational images and descending into farce as the tactics of Police kettle and the staged sacrifice of a Police Van on Whitehall, and perhaps the Prince Consort and his ride in Regent Street were simply front page ‘splash’ journalism. On the one hand protesters learnt that a passive response to kettling at the beginning of the kettle was a trap, on the other hand multiple separate actions – University for Strategic Optimism, Precarious Workers Brigade etc – and groups leaving the rally to roam central London provoking multiple encounters did symbolically threaten and frighten those in charge of the Capital.

In the context of Tunisia and Egypt and the so-called Arab Spring, the March 2011 trades union called rally was too long in coming, and followed a predicted route, also for too long. That the anarcho bloc followed a visibly different route and tactic was impressive, and the proliferation of multiple groups and actions, despite co-ordination problems and sometimes lack of leadership or direction, including a foolhardy self-kettling media grab high-end shopping trip (Fortnum and Masons), meant that enthusiasm and attention were high. Much of this energy then took organisational form and coincided with a resurgence of zine and samizdat publications, citizen journalism and blog posts, public meetings and the like. The anti-cuts groups and the plethora of other campaigns and issues – libraries, interns, pensions – indicated a visible left culture ascending.

August 2011 – the culmination of the proceding year and undoubtedly London’s response to the counter-revolutionary machinations in Egypt, Libya,  etc., and a co-ordination of concerns about policing, deaths in police custody (the death of Smiley Culture was also part of the story, as well as the immediate catalyst of the Tottenham uprising, the killing of Mark Duggan), bank bail-outs, austerity, youth unemployment, ruling class privilege, and the arid cultural alienation not mitigated by endless television talent shows and vacuous celebrity tittle-tattle. The media sensation of burning buses and police vehicles, followed by ‘opportunistic forms of aggressive late-night shopping, leading to a heavy-handed and last-ditch severe law and order crackdown, especially after the protests moved towards slightly more affluent suburbs on the third day, like Ealing, still requires discussion. Three days in August showed how fragile the bourgeois social compact was, and the clean-up broom teams in Clapham and the subsequent hand-writing of press pundits, as well as the excessively harsh sentencing of offenders for very minor crimes, have not eroded expectations that this fragile compact will crack again. Considerable effort by researchers (the Guardian/LSE) and institutional programmes, youth, social care, police liaison, council (inner city cleansing) and local government does not, with the evidence of a double-dip recession and ongoing austerity still in place, mitigate the expectation that things will kick of again soon.

Subsequent rallies saw the mobile kettle tactic keep apart the Occupy movement, the Sparks, and the Trades Union rally. An aggressive campaign of overpolicing and militarisation of London in the lead up to the Olympiss, means public dissent takes different forms. This builds upon the need for organisation and the effervescence of new political thinking and critical experiments, in the groups that formed around Arts Against Cuts, UfSO, Precarious/Carrot Workers collective, The Paper, Anonymous, The Indignatios, the flourishing zine and samizdat culture, and the significant inter-relation between the Occupy movement and critiques of its neglect of race in its 99% slogan. The efforts of astute protesters to plan in an alternative and longer frame – rejecting the lesser austerity of the Labour Party, the merely reactive anti-cuts tailism of the Trotskyite Left or the rejectionist grunge-fashion posturing of the Anarchists there is a renewed will to build a communist future for London, Britain or Europe. More than Occupy, more than Uncut, more than a defence of the now corporatized University, more than an anarchist t-shirt slogan, more than a newspaper-seller from hell, more than a conference on ideas or a guest-speaker series, more than the talking heads of Marx Reloaded, more than a moan about the precariousness of all wage labour, more than this rotten system and its corrupt leaders, its greedy pampered bankers, its degenerate and deviously biased newspaper magnates, its criminal tax-avoiding luxury-yacht, racehorse owning ‘captains’ of industry, its mining industry-funded pompous bastard monarchy, its endless dull spectacle of Beckham and Circuses, its broken, abject, pointless routine of surplus and the wrong sort of excess. Everyone agrees Another world must be built, and in the last years its architecture has been put in place – the political events of the last two years point the way.



The still slower work of reading to prepare and analysis is not to be dismissed as indulgence. There is no time for this now, the need to act is greater. Urgency, however, breeds contempt, half-cocked adventures that seem useful but end in recuperation, at best, reinforcing the repressive apparatus and defeat more often. A salutary reading of the Eighteenth Brumaire or Herr Vogt should temper any expectation that things were easy. If that were the case, by now word will have gotten round. It is no surprise that the ruling classes find organisation and mobilisation of their defences a matter of slow but deliberate decision. They have long practiced the forms at which their defence will proceed – from the manuals for counter insurgency – COIN – written to aid the military with ethnographic and sociological data, to the officer training schools that teach a total war against Islam scenario that entails the bombing of Mecca (May 10, 2012, Wired[1]). In the institutions that replicate the class hierarchy, through to the military budgets that approve tanks, warships, ground-to-air missiles and global weapons sales, the platitudes of humanitarian tolerance pale into comedy when we consider just how far Capital will go to defend the privilege of its best of all possible worlds.

It is important to take analysis and organisation together, asking what are the current conditions and what are the possibilities? What are the composition of class forces and their relations? What are the tactically vulnerable points at which the analysis of forces might open up potentials. An assessment of conditions is necessarily framed alongside questions of capacity – of what is, and what is needed.


Repressive state apparatus and global militarism

-       police power, terror war

-       security state, governmental/control society

-       global crisis, constant anxiety, volatility

Media Corral

-       infotainment as news, reality TV, celebrity, comedy, talent shows, sports

-       social network, capture of new media by corporates, privatisation

-       alternative low budget and low impact blogosphere, zine, samizdat Lefts


-       weapons industry, lords of death

-       mining, climate, sweatshops,

-       border control, labour flow management, ethnic cleansing

Privatised Institutions

-       education geared to national industry

-       health in the lab-coat pocket of Big Pharma

-       transport and communications infrastructure automatised, digitised.

The repressive Police power and terror anxiety maintained by constant station announcements, overt Police presence, anniversary security scares – another underpants bomb, May 2012 – requires channelling hostility to cuts and austerity measures to protect banks and capital. Focus upon salaries of executives and shareholder meetings as if these were forums of democracy. Those who don’t have shares vote by remote for Britain’s Got Talent. Meanwhile, deportations, institutional racism, general racism, anti-Muslim and reinforced blanched hierarchies of opportunity, despite, or even reinforced by, liberal sentimentality.

Media narrowcasting under threat by new platforms and possibilities engenders a massive effort to monetise and control, and corral, the social network, itself already at the start a military asset. The prospect of critical journalism undermined by the appearance of even-handed reportage. A focus on excessive bonuses or expenses obscures the inequity of any bonuses or expenses for millionaire entrepreneurs at all – the creation of a climate of unfocussed public disapproval carefully managed so as to avoid focus upon war, mining, pollution, class, race or violent crimes. In the universities, the pressure for academics, and by extension students, at least student activists, the SU and postgrads, to themselves become the malignant and parasitic managerial class is operative here. Becoming self-regulating means complicity in several modes. The university now demands managers to present as petty bourgeois shop keepers, marketing specious wares; or as entrepreneurial visionary explorers tasked with terra-firming new vistas of corporate training, consultancy and product placement; as public brand-uni sprukers of tele-genic ‘ideas’ and Verso-controversy coffee chat radical publishing… etc. Privatisation as a system wide strategy is not examined by the episodic and sectoral focus of both mainstream investigators – Offcom, Offstead etc are not the investigators we need, trades union sectoralism is insufficient. The malignancy here is an emergent but hollow expertise of those who are not just measurers – if all they did was bean-counting we might more readily discount their dodgy deals.

Creativity Elephant in the Room

So as to be able to post the photograph of the elephant (elephants are a subtheme of this blog, where others would have cats, though I also have cats – and other (political) animals… Elephants are political, cf India, from the Mahabharatha to contemporary Pandals and tourism).

Anyway, the point is to plug Mute and a James Heartfield review of Critique of Creativity:

Manifesto manifestation 28.4.2012 Clapham Common Bandstand

Freee’s Manifesto for a New Public will be at Clapham Common bandstand this Saturday (tomorrow 28.4.2012) at 2pm!

Print this, underline the bits you agree with, and join where you wish, and disagree where you must – for the collective (for example, that second last para about not pointing at the rich… I dunno. Got a big stick?)


Anyway, generalize this (not just ‘artists)…





The UnReality of Fiction or Banks

A Fictional Character in the Dock

Thomas no longer uses the surname Skade-Rasmussen Strøbech. Following a ruling in the High Court last year, the name belongs to a fictitious person acting in Peter Lund’s novels. This was what he tried to explain Danske Bank and the Copenhagen City Court yesterday.

Photo: Jakob Dall
Thomas claims that he is no longer Thomas Skade-Rasmussen Strøbech due to a High Court ruling
By Pauline Bendsen

30 March 2012

Keywords: Authors, publishing, identity, human rights

People: Peter Lund, Thomas Altheimer

Institutions: Danske Bank, Eastern High Court

It is really about 197,721 Danish Kroner. This is how much Thomas Skade-Rasmussen Strøbech owes Danske Bank. The bank wants a ruling in support of their claim. Thomas wants the District Court to acknowledge that he is no longer Thomas Skade-Rasmussen Strøbech and thus not the proper defendant. He just wants to be left alone.

In the small courtroom 3 in the District Court a handful of spectators are gathered to witness the main proceedings in the case. Danske Bank is represented by lawyer Saeed D. Khanlo. He is dressed in a suit with case documents neatly arranged in plastic folders laid out in front of him. Thomas Skade-Rasmussen Strøbech arrives a few minutes late – without a lawyer – and hurries to put his arsenal of annexes on the table: piles of transcripts, newspaper articles and novels by Peter Lund and Dostoyevsky. And a camera.

“Before we begin the proceedings, I will just ask you: “Are you filming with that camera? It is not allowed,” notes Judge Stine Andersen.

No more reality-based fiction is to be spun in the case of Thomas Skade-Rasmussen Strøbech.

A Defendant called Thomas

It all began when Peter Lund published the novel The Sovereign in 2008, which carried pictures and detailed information about Thomas Skade-Rasmussen Strøbech – without his consent. Thomas Skade-Rasmussen Strøbech took Peter Lund and his publisher Gyldendal to court. Thomas Skade-Rasmussen Strøbech lost the case in the High Court, and was subsequently beset by financial problems due to the sizeable legal fees.

Danske Bank’s attorney begins his presentation with the one fact that the adversaries seem to agree on: “We agree that the defendant is named Thomas. But from there it seems somewhat unclear what the defendant is actually asserting.”

The lawyer refers to email correspondence and conversations between the defendant and his bank adviser, and he uses the defendant’s identification to adduce that the “defendant is the proper person.”

Thomas uses a different kind of reasoning. He references last year’s High Court ruling, which found The Sovereign to be a fictional work.

“The copyright to Thomas Skade-Rasmussen Strøbech belongs to Gyldendal Ltd and Peter Lund. This is not just my absurd claim but a legal reality established by the High Court last year. Therefore I cannot answer for Thomas Skade-Rasmussen Strøbech’s actions.”

But the lawyer does not appreciate this interpretation of the High Court’s ruling.

“It’s regrettable if the defendant feels that he has been deprived of his identity. But I must emphasise that the High Court has never said that Thomas Skade-Rasmussen Strøbech no longer exists as a physical person.” He then goes on to address a question to Thomas:

“Now I would like to hear from you if you are able to remember anything from before the ruling in the High Court last March? Do you remember spending the money?”

“What I am trying to explain here is that I cannot speak for Thomas Skade-Rasmussen Strøbech,” he responded despairingly.


“Today, I am the man without qualities, and I say with Herman Melville’s Bartleby: ‘I prefer not to.’ In this context I prefer not to have to answer for another man’s deeds,” says Thomas, instead referring to Peter Lund and Gyldendal A/S as the proper defendants.

After the proceedings, Thomas describes what he learned after going through two court cases.

“What you realise is that the individual is so radically alone with his truth.”

Today’s hearing was a clash of cultures.

“I wasn’t sure whether to bring Bartleby into my final statement. Do you think the judge knows who Bartleby is? Well, now she has it in writing. There is always google…”

– What do you expect from the ruling on 27 April?

“I expect that justice will be done,” says Thomas and elaborates:

“This is a problem, which the court itself has created, and a problem only the court can resolve.”

- Do you intend to make art out of this case?

“Everything is art … I don’t really subscribe to distinctions between art and life.”

Translated from the Danish. Original on:


..ment Issue 01: Welfare Statement, O(nline)UT Now!

Friends and collaborators from …ment, new online journal on contemporary art, culture and politics, have released their first issue ‘Welfare Statement’. This first issue explores recent debates on the crisis of the welfare state and related issues. Contributors include Franco Bifo Berardi, Markus Miessen, Margit Mayer, DOXA, Patrick Coyle, The Public School, amongst others. Whilst the journal primarily operates online, a beautiful risograph print limited edition of 150, featuring a contribution fromElmgreen & Dragset, is available from various art bookshops in Berlin and shortly in London.
The London/Berlin based collective also announces a first event at the Chisenhale Gallery, London, on 16th April, co-organised with DOXA and the Amateurist Network. The event AMASS: Towards an Economy of the Commons, consists of an afternoon of round-table discussions and presentations on the notions of the commons. Participants and contributors include Anthony Iles (Mute) and the University for Strategic Optimism. Next issue is expected towards the end of the summer, and an event in Berlin is lined up in collaboration with Archive Books/Kabinett.

Baby Elephant V Crocodile v Bernard Stiegler

‘A grazing animal, for example, a stag (a forest herbivore …) is vigilant at the same time that it grazes, first with regard to he possible proximity of predators; it can, moreover, even while grazing and protecting itself, also protect its young, as well as its grazing mate, who is herself protecting her young’ (Stiegler 2009/2010:78).

- I am worried that Bernard has only found the bourgeois family reproduced in the Bambi forest scenario, but this is also an opportunity to note that the disturbing picture in The Guardian today of the baby elephant versus the crocodile had a moral narrative – the herd of elephants together made sufficient noise to fend off the croc. For once, perhaps despite itself, The Guardian offers up something noteworthy about popular resistance.

National Instruments

On the initiative of Moinak Biswas, Film Studies Jadavpur Uni, Kolkata, and with great input from Rosalind Morris, but initially inspired by the Preservation in Globalization workshop convened by Gayatri Spivak and Jorge Otero-Pailos, an interesting redevelopment seems possible. A disused factory site adjacent the Jadavpur campus was toured by our group in early December. A documentation of the site has begun by photographers invited by the Jadavpur Media Lab has generated some great pictures, see here. The site was left pretty much intact when the factory closed in 2003 – well worth  a look.

Now (see below) there is a plan to gut the site and turn it over to the engineering faculty. The site is huge – there is room for something alongside. Hence, the following draft international petition:

For continued innovation at the National Instruments site, Jadavpur.

The redevelopment of the National Instruments site offers a rare opportunity to look forward and back at the changing dynamic of industrial production. The extant materials, documents, personal effects, and machinery (lathes, punch card clocks, work desks) provide a physical record of workplace experience now passing. Jadavpur University, with its reputation, scholarship and global reach is well placed to facilitate an innovative approach that builds upon the proud history of NI and looks forward creatively to new developments.

A simple shroud should not be passed over this accumulated wealth of objects, and labour, from the past. The factory remains might be best preserved by the University in a working space that is devoted to tracking the transformations of industrial production and workplace experience in India. That a museum and art/technology laboratory has been proposed is supported by international scholars, a large number of whom have visited the site and/or noted the initial documentary work produced by Moinak Biswas and his team. We consider this an excellent, exciting and potentially rewarding possibility for joint work and international co-ordination. Scholars would seek international funds to locate research projects on labour history, urban development, new economy (service sector, technology, privatization) and co-research in joint ventures with Jadavpur scholars and students. A truly international project to unite workers of the world might be reanimated here.

The idea is that various people will sign this and it be put to the Jadavpur heads to consider the proposal, from Media Lab and Film Studies, to do something interesting with the site. Well, I think its interesting. I used to work in a similar factory as a grubby teenager. My dad spent a very large part of his life in one – Stanley, Nunawading, Melbourne, Australia. I have a touch of the heebie-jeebie’s looking at the machines, especially the drills where I had spent long low-paid days… (the picture I have used is from a post by Madhuban Mitra and Manus Bhattacharya – with thanks)


Giving some history of National Instruments, and of the original preservation project and future plans, Moinak writes:

The factory started off in 1830 under the name ‘mathematical instrument maker’, then became ‘mathematical instruments office’, both serving mainly the ‘survey of india’ instituted by the east india company. During ww1 it got seriously involved with the defense dept., became national instruments factory; was relocated to the premises you saw in 1957, renamed ‘national instruments limited’ (NIL) as a public sector unit under the union govt. the factory mainly made optical instruments for survey, measurement, photography, etc. and was popularly known for its national 35 camera. It fell into some crisis first in the 60’s, and then into a more serious one in the 80’s, got referred to the board of industrial and financial reconstruction (BIFR). Manufacture stopped in 2003. most workers accepted the voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) and left in march, 2003. 64 employees remained on campus and witnessed the ruination. In 2009, jadavpur university took over the property with the aim of building an extension campus for the engineering faculty.

the media lab of the dept of film studies at jadavpur undertook extensive photo documentation of the premises in june, 2009. we commissioned 10 young photographers and filmmakers to shoot for 4 months on the premises, covering everything possible. we have a bank of 20 thousand still images and 60 hours of video footage. a blog from the stills ( and a couple of films have been made. more projects will follow. we have shot interviews with many ex-employees. it’s now a substantial labour and industrual landscape archive.

but there should also be preservation of a different kind. the university has started renovating parts of the buildings, and will soon remove most of the equipment and files, etc. we were thinking of proposing the creation of a space, using one big room like the canteen you saw, which will preserve their products, some of the tools, machine parts, workers’ id papers, bills, service documents, policy documents, the punch card machines, etc, and at the same time be an active space for independent art practice, including independent film screenings, installations, etc. the major problem is to persuade the university to spare that space. it would pay more serious attention to an international community of artsits and intellectuals. but we should keep in mind what can be sustained and how far, given the public funded university framework in india, and given the fact that anything doing with art has first to prove its vialbility to the engineering faculty dominated.


This is great stuff – history and potential. But there are also things to debate. University take over of the fading industrial economy has a long track record (see here, here and  here). Is it really possible to tamper with such trajectories? Besides drafting the above call at Moinak’s request, I also offered my two pice worth of cynicism earlier in the discussion [note: I was a bit ill at the time]:

Moinak, your sentence on the the creation of a space that will both preserve the NI worker’s “products, some of the tools, machine parts, workers’ id papers, … punch card machines, etc, and at the same time be an active space for independent art practice” is a great start. But I wonder if the museum/archive route is too passive, and might not claim much in terms of physical space in the building (when it all should be kept in those terms – see Mao Mollona’s excellent film on industrial steel machinery in Sheffield, where a fully functioning workshop has been maintained 1890’s era machines in working, and profitable, order). I also wonder if, importantly, the preservation argument does enough in conceptual terms within the overall regeneration/transformation of the economy and the University – a discussion I imagine that must be going on, and needs new thinking.

I am acutely aware that here “anything doing with art has first to prove its viability to the engineering faculty dominated”, and wonder if the focus of what we present might be geared towards this. That said, I am stumped for where to look for initial funds, or clearly marked ‘preservation funds’. It is not my forte. However, ongoing funding could also be geared into the conception.

An Art/Laboratory would probably have pedagogical, research and creative components.

At issue is who inhabits the space, what it provides, and outcomes now and for the future.

Thus, neither a mortuary service for fading industry, nor a hollow art scene doing a ghost dance for dead capital (tried and tested, but too often turned into mere foyer or coffee shop – eg Tate Modern), the project has far greater inter- and intra- disciplinary purchase, and potential as for very wide participation. The former workers, the Jadavpur students, local residents, the city in general, and both national and international research teams across many areas can be drawn into the nexus of this site conceived as instrumental to the transition between older and newer economic modes. Research, teaching and creativity all have a role in transition.

A range of projects, both national and international – but many funded internationally – could locate in dedicated space within the project:

Possible internationally funded Research Projects for Instrument Lab

- changing infrastructure of economies, history and globalization, technology and colonialism, warfare and commerce, education and training history (see journal of the Confernce of Socialist Economists)

- class composition and worker’s inquiry, labour history, transition economies and the transformation of work, co-research with workers of older and newer economic production (this is a project I would like to pursue between Goldsmiths, Queen Mary Business School and Jadavpur – funded by Economic and Social Research Council UK perhaps, the Co-Research would involve workers paid as researchers in both discontinued production such as National Instruments, as well as in new industries in Kolkata such as creative economy, service sector, media and telecoms. They would be researching, documenting and theorizing their own conditions of work – aim initially at a three year project @ £500k for 4 paid researchers on site, plus money for collaborative work).

- precision capitalism, mathematical arts of production, skill, craft and body/machine knowledge: instrument hand and brain, cyborg labs then and now (Fuller/Harwood/MUTE or RAQS?).

- obsolescence and regenerative second life, industrial remains and urban renewal, science and fiction, creative revival as life force in cities (see P.Hall and M.Castells: Technopoles of the World).

- photographic imaging and war/industry convergence (as digital is to analog; globalization is [not] to industry)

- teaching exchange, especially in cultural studies of work, education, training, urban preservation and curating (possible Network Grants at £70k each)

These projects in various ways – there would be many others possible – would be conceived to locate researchers at Jadavpur, employed locally and internationally, and would work with local constituents and stakeholders (workers, researchers, students, local residents, support staff). Each would entail a pedagogical exchange function, as well as a display (installations, museum, art) aspect. The point is to keep this alive to change, the transformation of work, of class composition, or urban environs, and of the university itself (as universities move to project based work, and older models of disciplinary containment are supplemented).

Ahhh, now I have written all this down I think maybe its not strong enough yet to stave off the impending disposal of most of the workplace artefacts, beautiful machines (valuable machines) and other remains, but those remains are the resource and raw material of something potentially great in the future. Our labour can reanimate them – the sweat of our friends to whom we owe a debt (not just of mourning).

Sorry for the Derridisms – the flu drugs again kick in…

Shiva takes the Goldsmith Elephant’s head – to what purpose?

Now its getting really weird. Shiva has been at Goldsmiths!

And probably, a new Ganesh is in the area. Ganesh?

Yep, him with the elephant head. You know the story. Parvati is having her bath, Shiva has been tempted down off the mountain and he is keen to see her. Their son, who Shiva doesn’t recognise (he’s been away meditating – as one does), is guarding his mum’s door – but the overeagre Shiva storms in and lops off the boys head with his sword when he tries to prevent entry to the washrooms. Parvati is, to say the least, annoyed, and she insists Shiva repair the mess he’s made. The God, I guess in a bit of a hurry to get on with it, sends out an aide to find the first head that would serve as a replacement. Unfortunately, its a quiet day and the only creature that the aide can find is an elephant. Parvati is spitting chips unless the situation is put to rights, so Shiva agrees this elephant head will have to do. Hence, Ganesh, the elephant-headed god is (re)born [the prognosis for our elephant was of course not so good before this recent auspicious intervention, see here].

Ganesh is a useful god – he’s a patron saint of sorts for students. The reason being a great story – when Valmiki was telling the tale of the Mahabharata he said he’d only tell it once and only if there was a scribe who could take it all down in a sitting (its 100,000 verses or so, and can be twisted to all manner of ideological ends). For such a daunting task only the memory-enhanced son of Shiva could be considered for the job. But even he got into trouble when his pencil failed part way through. Not to worry, he broke off one of his tusks and carried on writing. Brilliant. And this dedication is maybe why there are campaigns to ban trade in ivory. [strangely, reported by the Jehovah's here]

You can read the rest of the story in many places, but to get a really good take on it, including the ways the Ganesh story has been used by the hindu right etc., check out comrade Raminder Kaur’s excellent book on the Ganapati festivals of Western India.

Elephant and Castle

Proudly displayed in the Elephant and Castle.
We have to more or less admit that there are not so many great things that serve here as trinket news stories, but alongside the fabulous bowling alley, the Argentinian steakhouse, cheap chinese, good pizza and every bus service you could possibly imagine rollicking around those bizarro traffic islands, E&C has it all on show. Just what our bookie bets on is unclear – peanut futures perhaps? But nevertheless, to tear it all down and start again is not the odds on favourite.
Clearly sunday is a slow news day.

Tragic – the Goldsmiths elephant is dead.

It is with sadness that I report the demise of the Goldsmiths Elephant. Tuskers generally have a hard time in New Cross these days, and alas, this one too has gone the way of many of our wonderous local wild life.

An elephant at Goldsmiths!

An elephant at goldsmiths!

Goldsmiths Wildlife

An elephant at goldsmiths!


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