Karachi Tram

The Karachi Tram, in Melbourne, was hilarious fun – especially all those people who got on during a monsoon-style downpour and were stunned (ecstatic, bemused, one even annoyed) to find chai and samosas served up, loud beats, dancing and a film crew all rattling along the tramjatra route (there was a Calcutta tram sometime back and a book version called Tramjatra).

W-11 tram is about… (the short trip version)

an art of journeys
travelling the Melbourne City Circle tram route
4.30 – 9.30pm Fridays during summer 2006/07
free entry…no bookings…all welcome

W-11 TRAM is a collaborative art project exploring dialogue, performance and hospitality through providing conditions for the experience of journeys. With its sides bearing the words in Urdu and English: ‘piyar zindagi hai / love is life’, the W-11 TRAM creates a dynamic and mobile public space with a disarmingly warm atmosphere. The project, involving collaboration with Pakistani vehicle decorators, was one of the most celebrated offerings of the cultural festival of the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games.

read more….

Sadly, I cannot say when the next tram trip trips out. In the meantime seek out the film Malcolm for your W11 fix.

Tram Connies Zindabad! (Thansk Mick, Peter, Rohan).

Click me crazy Lygon Street Limbo

I’ve been wondering a lot about how new media works. Partly this the consequence of trends in the Centre at Goldsmiths, where our recent hires have set a blistering pace in buzz, concepts, light and heat… academia more interesting than the material it examines for once [I went to ZKM and was more interested in the museum having a Pacman game than any of the history of ‘new’ media – I still think television is new. Before then the world was black and white, right?].

Anyway, the internet and blogging are topics I normally steer wide away. But a discussion with Ulki in Kolkata has renewed old interests in how writing and style is formed, conformed and malformed. Ulki – wonderfully sharp graduate of Jadavpur – presently works for a web portal that gives instructions on how to write articles – say on cats – in a way that generates the most hits from search engines and catapults said article to the top spot on google etc. Of course the game is all about guessing what people might enter as search parameters. That this shapes writing is going to shape writing… In an article on cats one should ensure mention of all of the following: Cheshire cats, Siamese cats, cat’s cradle, sick cat, Fatcats, Felix, Topcat and kittens, and so on. More no doubt, but you get the idea. In an article on Foucault and Order you would expect camels, flies, water-pitchers and all of the above. On Marx’s 18th Brumaire I guess Napoleon, organ-grinders and peasantry… and so on.
So how pleased was I to get from the wonderful Ceridwen a gift copy of the News Limited (evil media empire inc) publication “Style: the essential guide for journalists and professional writers”. This is an amazing volume, which tells all the dos and don’ts of contemporary ideological mass management… Conveniently, it is very instructive on how to address people in a text. For example, in the section on the honorific ‘Mr, Mrs, Ms’, we are advised that this is used for all people except “sportsmen/women, artists, actors, authors, musicians, convicted criminals, journalists and the long dead” (p 45). I so agree that we should list journalists in between criminals and the deceased. Certainly separated by at least three words from actual authors since journos would all sell their siblings for a story…
So the News Limited Style book does not give the current code for optimal hit webpage verbiage, but its glossary of acceptable language could readily be adapted I think. I will devour it and you watch as my language transforms, the hit count rises, the readership dumbs down, and all will be well with the world. Inshallah.

Cross reference to a little more on writing here. And a diametrical street tramtracking of projects other than writing here.

Thanks Ceridwen, in membrance of the Lygon Street blackout, March

Sex Work Writing

Recently, discussions of sex work have been made interesting by activists, and made more urgent by bullshit immigration policies mixed with rabid liberal stupidities, sensationalism, cliche. So, I was reading this book – Bedanabala. Her Life. Her Times by Mahasweta Devi, translated by Sunandini Banerjee (Seagull Books) and was reminded that I need to link with stuff that matters – see below…

Devi writes:

“All I’ve done is speak of them, the whores of times past. But is that all? Not sought my roots therein? No matter the luxury that smothers me today, my mother lived in a brothel, adopted and reared by the woman who owned it, who owned her, and others like her.
And what of me? My life? To tell of my life I will have to tell of those women, recount their lives from the age of Uttar Veda to the present day. Women whose stories will never be told completely; ‘If the sky were a sheet of paper/ If every blade of grass on earth were a pen/ If the seven seas were awash with ink/ if all of that were used up even then/ It would not be enough for their history to be written.'”

Somehow this passage grabs me. Taunts and enchants – to write with such fervor. Fabulous. Let us learn again from such wordings.

And Devi reminds me that a friend called Alex has a friend who also recently started something that deserves a closer look: I quote again:

“Nik found a Anarchist Federation newsletter which had as its front page an article about ‘trafficking’, that was just pathetic and wrong. As some of you will know mainstream media articles concerning ‘sex slaves’ appear in the press in London about once a week. The trend for the ‘left’ is to take up the radical feminist / abolitionist position and recently George Galloway (respect party) has been talking about cleaning up the east end and shutting down strip clubs.
As well the usual raids are still occurring in brothels and many sex workers have been deported. …on many fronts it feels like we are not winning in the debate — not from a migrants rights perspective and less still from a sex worker perspective. There are many things that can be done — and many of them we are already doing.

So what to do when the all seems a little lost? — start a debate ;) We are hoping to conduct this discussion in a space (libcom) that is supposed to be more radical than many other spaces that are available at the moment – but we will have to see — nothing like sex work to bring out people’s politics about gender and sexuality. Nik has posted a short text on libcom — and i thought it would be useful to send the link out to people”.

So folks – Click here to see Nik’s post.

I wrote earlier on Mahasweta Devi here. And on walking the streets here and on writing here

Memory Games Spectacle: Bread&Circuses

The trick of today is media induced loss of short term memory. The relentlessly insipid everydayness of the news means that patterns of ideology are overlooked, dismissed as coincidence or conspiracy. The day after Lord Levy is arrested and the prime minister asked to ‘help the police with their inquiries’ the next day’s headlines report a new terrorist threat. How often such ‘breakthroughs’ in the war on terror come after 6 months of investigation should be plotted against otherwise embarrassing headlines that the government would rather bury. That the media overlooks such coincidence is certainly unremarkable. What was the name of the Labour Party press officer whose memo declared on September 11, 2001 that the day would be a good one for the release of any bad news?

This is not a specialty of only the British press. My friend and head of film studies at Jadavpur University, Abhijit Roy, was arguing for an analysis of media events as spectacular but soon forgotten sensations. I am broadly in agreement with this, especially when considering the electoral prospects of, say, the CPM after Nandigram (or New Labour after Blair). Having moved quickly when forced to recognize the need, Buddhadev Battarcharjee has probably started to learn that the complexity of events look less convoluted from a distance of months or a year or two. Come the next polls who will remember details beyond the 14 figure of those killed by police (even as the number of dead is higher, the first given figure is lodged in minds) and that Buddha acted swiftly to diffuse the conflict? An understanding, and deft manipulation, of something like a spectacular sensations theory of media is just what a contemporary Machiavelli would offer as counsel for a leader today.

Did such counsel come via the figure of Mandelson for Blair? The comparison does not scan because the Italian was more interesting, but flattery also will help line one’s nest with favours, so no surprise. The spectacular is more often than not left unspecified, which is very useful: being open to dexterous turnings, twistings, convolutings makes content serve whoever masters its massage.

Hmmm, forgot what I was trying to say… mumble mumble… the spectacular is not smooth space either… and its images are fleeting … the first pic is of some hand prints on a wall on Rafi Kidwai Ahmed Road – I guess the old code would have to have noted they recall other hand prints commemorating immolations, sati etc., – but these were done by kids on the day of the bandh; the second pic is a snap of the TV news on Nandigram; the third is of a bus ticket collector in traffic a couple of days after the bandh – business as usual. I did not get a pic of the burnt out bus, but I add this to an emergent bus theme, also pictured here.

Nandigram and Cricket

Sorry to say that some cricket metaphors might be abused below – its time to resurrect the old colonial games-shames…

Sports latest: West Bengal lal-rounder Buddhadeb Battarcharjee was implored to recognise that CPM was in serious strife over the ‘firings’ in Nandigram mid week. This became acute when former chief minister Jyoti Basu said on friday what the other Left Front coalition partners had wanted to say, but thus far just sledged from the sidelines. Basu, a tail-ender that wags, declared: ‘comrade, get your act together or lose’. Subcontinental news reportage favours ‘alacrity’ as a watchword, and Buddhadeb thereby was said to have agreed to change line and length so as to consult with the partners (RSP – formed in the thirties, and Forward Block) and, I guess more importantly, he conceded that the Nandigram villagers would not be asked to give up their land. If this means the CPM’s economic program and its plan to attract greater FDI is stumped, what it means for the Indonesian investor in the proposed SEZ is now unclear, but there was one funny comment about the investor – ‘who is this Saleem chap anyhow, can he bat?’ – the company is called Salim PLC, but I also do not know their form or record – so will have to look it up in Wisdens [right, enough, its time to put a stop to all this cricket spin malarkey…].

So it comes to pass that the situation at Nandigram is resolved. Or ‘perhaps’ resolved – since there were a number of other measures in the package, such as bridges, roads, infrastructure projects. Whatever may be the case, the day of the Bandh (the entire city was shut down to protest the firings) looks more and more like a multifaceted coup. Though there is a slight danger of relying on standard visitor observations and cliché, for me it is somewhat personal and maybe oblique observations that stick in the mind. The streets were free of traffic, the air seemed so much cleaner, the city sounded so different, and I walked around for hours amidst middle-of-the-road cricket matches, with stumps made of bricks, old tyres, boxes etc. That this could happen while in the Caribbean, the Indian team floundered in the Cricket World Cup, comprehensively beaten by Bangladesh. So its interesting that street cricket thrives so well in the Bandh. Kolkata’s traffic most days forces the kids onto the already crowded pavements, on this day they took over the open spaces (only the intersections had vehicles – parked cop jeepneys and the occasional press car – nothing else moved, or if it did, it was burned – as happened to two buses in the south of the city.

Of course cricket is not incidental to politics in India (see Ashis Nandy’s book The Tao of Cricket, second only to Beyond a Boundary by CLR James as text on cricket and colonialism). So, Buddhadeb, is there a message for you here? Should the CPM go for the hype and rhetoric of shining India, FDI, capital investment, slick flyovers, and the consequent decline of Kolkata as one of the most pedestrian-friendly cities I have ever seen, or does the evident resilience of cricket as popular/vernacular expressive form suggest that there is something wrong with the plans for the Great Lunge Forward toward Neo-Liberal Capital implied in the SEZ development projects. I don’t know what answers the Left Front coalition can come up with, or if they have any, or if the Maoists in Nandigram and elsewhere can take their struggles to a level beyond the Not-In-My-Rice-Patch NIMBY-level… and of course cricket does not dissolve the gross inequalities of wealth in India, or even halt – rather it occludes – the increasing polarization of rich and poor, but I would like to think, on this day of the bandh, the flourishing of popular vernacular cricket can be a symptomatic marker of the score, what people do on strike days maybe suggests a diagnostic: the elite players fluffed it, the people went out and played…

More Nandigram discussion, rumours, global chat, horror scenes: here.

Terror as a State action. Contextualized ESRC Reprise/Response from an Unusually Quiet City

On that Terror Research Initiative from the ESRC. I just wrote in support of those Goldsmiths anthros that are preparing a critical response from across the college. I thought I would share my text since its a way to update on what I am doing here/preoccupied with just now. Earlier news and views about the research call, and some comments from other folks, is here.

Why do this? I think it is important to make ESRC recognise that their version of research and how people [they are only interested in Muslims] get ‘radicalized’ is so viciously simplistic that its dangerous, mercenary, and wholly ignorant of just how complicated events can be ‘in the round’ [not that I found much round here yet, still]. So, here is my letter to the College movers and shakers, followed by some contextual notes on current ‘research’ environs:

Hi from Kolkata

I certainly support a response from Goldsmiths that censures the ESRC et al for making research difficult in this way – its not just about risk, but reputation and political affiliation. In this part of the world, and in my research in Kolkata, the status of the researcher, their associations, affiliations etc, are a matter of intense scrutiny. Reputation and credibility are crucial.

And its already come up – as I work in an environment that is, to understate it, very tense at the minute. A total strike today, since the CPM State Govt set the police upon villagers who did not agree it was a good idea to raze their huts to make way for a Special Economic Zone. At least 14, but maybe 50, dead on wednesday, unknown number yesterday… In a symmetry response it seems, ‘Naxals’ killed 55 security personnel in Chhattisgarh. In this environment, moving anywhere near this action means being called to account. As a researcher from a University in England I can pass where, were I a journalist, things might not go so smoothly. This would change I expect when researchers are rebranded by the ESRC as security operatives in the war on terror…


I guess some further explanation might be in order. Not sure I can make things all that clear – still seeking. Though, I should point out that I am not trying to get to Chhattisgarh – that was just a piece in the news today that ran alongside the CPM firings – but I did look to travel to check out Nandigram – but no chance. Some background will suggest anyway that staying in Kolkata is sensible: here the CPM (Communist Party of India Marxist) is the ruling state power and has been – since elected – the ruling partner in the Left Front Government of Bengal for about 30 years. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is the present Chief Minister – I once handed out how to vote flyers for him (for about 20 minutes – that was 92 I think, a little left tourist-exotica-mongering really. I did not get to meet him, but his Party cadre were enthusiastic). Now, in search of foreign investment, CPM want to set up a special economic zone in Nandigram,where an Indonesian group called Salim PLC will develop the zone, It is said to impact upon many thousands of local people who lived, until now, in this agricultural region (its across the harbour from Haldia – a place I visited in 1988 – pretty ‘underdeveloped’ I’d say, rice fields, ponds, fisheries). Over the past two days CPM have been ‘reclaiming’ the villages where ‘Maoists’ were arming the peasantry. Seems strange that a ‘communist’ government called in the police on a Maoist opposition. Chaos… The fluctuation in the numbers of dead has been strange too, no-one can agree on a figure and it seems surreal. The dead and injured were mostly female peasantry defending their villages from ‘development’. Yaay Government, yaay Capital!. In the city, Mamanta Banerjee, a kind of opportunist from the Triminool Congress, inflamed the situation somewhat, trying to score points, joining the Maoists in the call for the Bandh… perhaps threatening another hunger strike… Setting off to Nandigram, she was blocked by CPM activists. BJP making noises. The BJP, Triminool and Maoists v CPM seems like an unholy array of forces. Police insisting the Maoists fired on them first. Some say 50 dead. It is hard to get a clear idea of what is really going on, and the city is shut down.

Art in the Right Place?

This piece was written by Roh and published in the journal Left Curve Number 29, pages 120-121, 2005

Art in the Right Place?

Rosie Wright

‘The conquest of the earth, which mostly means taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea – something you can set up and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to’

– Joseph Conrad Heart of Darkness 1973:10

At fifteen feet high, anti-contagious and civilizing in pure white classical marble, pregnant British woman Alison Lapper, who has no arms and shortened legs due to a congenital disorder called phocomelia, will sit in pristine wholeness on the fourth plinth in the north-west corner of Trafalgar Square in London, from spring 2005 until the summer of 2006. Surrounded by commanding military heroes, excluding a replica of British football hero David Beckham and a stone cow, the fourth plinth has remained empty since 1841 when it was built by the architect of Trafalgar Square, Sir Charles Barry. Originally meant to display an equestrian statue but left empty due to insufficient funds, this year London Mayor Ken Livingston assigned ‘The Fourth Plinth Project’ as part of his ‘Culture Strategy’ for London. In March, a panel of specialist advisors recommended there be one temporary work of art that would be on the plinth for fifteen months; the public could “vote” but these would not be classified as votes and only the specialists could make the final choices. Chosen from a group of six leading national and international contemporary artists, which included Chris Burden, Sokari Douglas Camp, Stefan Gec and Sarah Lucas, British artist Marc Quinn’s sculpture “Alison Lapper Pregnant” was chosen by the Fourth Plinth Commissionary group in March 2004, to be replaced by Thomas Schütte’s pro-pigeon “Hotel for the Birds” in 2006.

Despite the Chair of the London regional council of Arts Council England, Lady Hollik, advocating that ‘London is not a museum piece…the historic and the contemporary sit side by side, distinct in their diversity yet combining to produce a fresh landscape’ it appears that it is easy to get sentimental where, within the language that celebrates difference, stereotypes can re-blossom and imitation allows us to be closed to learning. With the placing of Lapper in a public city space whose dominant historical text is that of heroism, some of us are slipping into a different kind of present response than one of “Travulgar Square” British tabloid press disgust at bad taste, political-correctness-gone-mad shock art. Instead we slide into another historically established order: one of sentimentality and high-flying well-brought-up morality. Facing the heroic Lord Nelson in wholeness and beauty, Lapper is our ultimate modern conquer – ‘I pay taxes, I am a single mother…’ – whose sculpture acts, according to Lapper, as a ‘tribute to femininity, disability and motherhood.’ She is a steadfastly self–affirmed, a self-sufficient individual and, to Quinn, represents the contemporary heroine. He says of his series of limbless sculptures:

‘Even if they refer to the sculpture of the past, they seem to me to be about the future, which is about difference and diversity. They’re celebrations of difference and of the triumph of the human spirit. Hero’s are people who conquer themselves and go on to lead full lives.’

Reverenced and idealized, Lapper’s life career becomes the thread of the story in a work of fiction. She exists within the same museum narrative of revenge, punishment, reward and retribution that we use to understand Lord Nelson’s Imperialist History and the colonization of the contagious savage other who is overcome by the civilizing hero; celebration and acceptance only exists for difference that can become triumph by way of such a heroic individual. Quinn winning this public art competition has, it seems, helped Lapper to become the embodiment of a hegemonic Imperial British history; of a way of thinking that fetishises the story of the eye – Nelson, in the battle of Copenhagen, knowing that there was no time to flee, put his blind eye to his telescope and saying, ‘I don’t see the signal’, and so continued to fight and crushed the Danish fleet – that signifies bravery and a patriotic love of country that excludes different perspectives and voices beyond the heroic.

In commenting on Bataille’s Story of the Eye (1928), Roland Barthes writes:

‘its story is that of migration, the cycle of the avatars it passes through, far removed from its original being, down the path of a particular imagination that distorts but never drops it.’ (2001:119)

The eye for Barthes acts as an endless metaphor, a chain without a beginning that has no hierarchy of meaning. Open and out of reach of interpretation, there is no place for a secret reference behind the signifier. Douglas Camp’s sculpture No-o-war-r No-o-war-r aims to ‘depict ordinary people as heroes’; as complex and conflicted beings, full of doubt, hesitation, anger and conviction, Douglas Camp describes them as akin to Rodin’s sculpture of all six of The Burghers of Calais. The equal status of her protesters acknowledges the context of Trafalgar Square as a historical place of continuing protest and the assertion of rights by ordinary people. By refusing to stamp identities and form distinctions in diversity, her sculpture does not contribute to the process of creating totalizing modern molds. The Fourth Plinth Project advisors turned a blind eye to the millions who demonstrated in Trafalgar Square against the war in Iraq in 2003 and who have demonstrated there throughout its history, crushing alternative perspectives and upholding the Victory of neo-colonial thought. Simultaneously, the myopic board co-ordinate their own self-affirmation through a sense of social duty and have thus prevented Londoners the right to explore public spaces such as Trafalgar Square and learn an unexpected education.

In a world that is maintained by inequality, historic love is belief in an idea of science, knowledge and ethics to which you can sacrifice yourself. Within the archive of such a love, the perception of disease at the heart of modern living must be controlled and purified in order to free us from imagined threat and continuous conflict. The Fourth Plinth Project, goes on Lady Hollik, ‘at its heart aims to encourage Londoners to engage with the arts and with their environment in new ways.’ In many ways I would have to disagree. Marc Quinn’s sculpture offers only one history, one perspective, one hero. Instead of ‘producing fresh landscapes’, this sculpture acts to maintain the stench of diseased old ones.