It's hard to believe that we are back for more than three weeks from Tel Aviv, where we participated in Open Code Versus Military Culture? Aspects in Israel Digital Culture. It feels both close and very far away.
Open Code Versus Military Culture? was initiated by digital artist Tsila Hassine, asking pertinent questions about the relationships among technology, politics, culture and art. These questions are obviously ultra relevant in the light of the political situation in the Middle East and even more pressing in Israel where technological culture is largely shaped by defence industries and commercial software corporations.
The conference and work session gave us the opportunity to sense the
connections between military, culture and commerce in the Israeli
context. It happened through the voices and gestures of the very people
involved in the decision making, each having different interests.
Two-day conference: Open Code Versus Military Culture?
The morning sessions came as a bit of a shock, especially for those of us who had just arrived in Israel. A retired brigadier spoke about the importance of 'Thinking out of the box' in response to security threats, and an entrepreneur explained how the civilian market could profit from military research and innovation in a nice way. Their understanding of the dynamics of technological development had a lot in common: both the military and the entrepreneur impose the emergency of a 'time to market' to developers, thinking in an abstract world. Through this phraseology, the cost of human life, in the case of the military, is understood in terms of commodity and the presence of a product delivered timely on the market, for the industrial, as a military operation. Logically then, the computer industry in Israel would sell security-related services, benefiting from the reputation of its army. And due to a constant assimilation of war and marketing, as a response to immediate threat, the Israeli industry would lack time and investment to create infrastructure. As the military culture is one of secrecy, no wonder that it doesn't provide a fertile ground for open source development. As a contrast, a second entrepreneur representing the RedHat-Israel company came to present their open source model for the computer industry. This capitalist with a friendly face celebrated the rebirth of centralized mainframes through the buzzword of cloud-computing, arguing this was the first true innovation driven by F/LOSS. The first question mark was expressed in a presentation about Tsofen, an organisation trying to open up the labour market of the Israeli High Tech Industry for qualified Arab IT engineers living in Israel.
By the time the second session Critical Perspectives on the Uses and Discourses of Digital Technology and the Military had started, entrepreneurs and military representatives unfortunately had already left the premises. Dr. Eyal Weizman (flown back to London right after his lecture before any questions could be asked) held a stunning talk on the issue of proportionality, presenting the design of the separation wall on the West Bank as a form of collaborative design. "Our algorithmic society has become irrevocably obsessed with calculating and reducing the evil it has itself perpetrated" ((Talk partially overlapped with this text: http://www.allvoices.com/s/event-6743881/aHR0cDovL3d3dy5vcGVuZGVtb2NyYWN5Lm5ldC9leWFsLXdlaXptYW4vbWF0ZXJpYWwtcHJvcG9ydGlvbmFsaXR5LXBhdWwtaGlyc3QtbWVtb3JpYWwtbGVjdHVyZS0yMDEw))
Sheizaf Rafaeli from Haifa University toured us through Digital Culture in Israel and showed that it is at the same time vibrant, diverse and dispersed. The reality of the World Wide Web in fact allows very different communities to exist in parallel, without being connected at all. The presentation by Eran Sachs was both impressing and moving, as he related his experience in military service (where he was taught signal theory and analysis by ear as part of his service with the IDF Electronic Intelligence unit) to his art sound projects, connecting both with his ad hoc slogan "want + can → will": about driving habits of israeli roads; an art sound project in the evacuated buildings of Hebron where he produced sound to visualize space by throwing stones on walls; a precise, humorous and detailed explanation about what the convolution of waves means; to a sudden final, beautiful and vibrant assembly of some of these parts in a call for convolution as a civilian strategy of smooth but strong counter-power to current politics. After that, the Minister of Improvement of Government Services talked to us about the new government website for a while until he finally was called away to appear on tv. The day ended with an exposé from Professor Langdon Winner about how Open Source might in the end be the only hope for saving democracy in The United States.
The second day of the conference was devoted to cultural practice. The first panel was called Cultural and Artistic Approaches to Code Practices and as you might have guessed, this was the panel we were in. Matthew Fuller started off with Executing Software Studies, and the need to look at software as a culture. For the OSP presentation we had decided to speak through very concrete and detailed examples about the ways F/LOSS tools help unimagine practice. We were trying to be sincere but it also felt rather futile. Ayelet Karmon and Yair Reshef gave an informative overview of various projects applying code-practices to physical objects and the session was concluded by Mushon Zer-Aviv ((based on ideas discussed here: http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2010/09/01/the-case-for-open-source-design-can-design-by-committee-work)), a graphic designer based in Tel Aviv. He ended his talk Towards Open Source Design with the statement that "[T]he substantial parts of design that still cannot be easily quantified or assessed on shared rational ground should be managed through trust and leadership. A resilient community of practice must be able to develop design leadership whose work and guidance is respected and appreciated even without the convenient meter of coding meritocracy.", an idea we tried to challenge at the dinner table (with not much success yet, but we might have another chance at an upcoming LGM). The last sessions were devoted to data visualization. It started with a short presentation of openknesset.org, a group of activists monitoring the Israeli Parliament. In the same vein, Roberto Therón stated that data visualization is a tool to foster change. Interestingly, his practice of data viz is related to collective methodologies as the ones developed in collaboration with Media Lab Prado that welcome open contributions, modifications of the project through a dialogue with the participants; the production of data visualisation is the occasion for an exchange within emerging communities of researchers ranging from academics, hackers, activists and artists. Ted Byfield impressed with a sharp analysis that ended with a call for politically oriented graphs ((some of it can be found here: http://streamingculture.parsons.edu/parsons-the-new-school-for-design-050710-0516pm/)). Vinca Kruk from Metahaven Design Collective did an attempt to unravel the Eden Abergill case, but unfortunately only managed to scratch the surface of the complicated context in which these images continue to appear.
Worksession: Territorial Practice
The two day OSP-workshop Territorial Practice took place in Holon, a suburb south of Tel Aviv. As we hoped, working collectively with maps proved to be a productive interface to speak with participants on different levels.
[caption id="attachment_5407" align="alignnone" width="400" caption="Francis Alys, The Green Line. “Sometimes Doing Something Poetic Can Become Political, and Sometimes Doing Something Political Can Become Poetic”"][/caption]
We discussed perspective, delieniation, territory and cartography as a subjective process. We consequently tried to construct the map of the Holon neighbourhood through observation and notetaking on the ground and than combined our observations into multi-layered collective images.
We were happy to have a chance to work for two days with Nira, a retired urban and regional planner who used to work for the government in Jerusalem; with Orna, a photographer, architect and activist living with her daughter in Jaffa and with Sva, a multidisciplinary artist whose activities range from dance to practical philosophy.
[caption id="attachment_5414" align="alignnone" width="400" caption="Orna gave us a selection of her beautiful textile-mounted maps of the area, now de-classified but in use by British military in the 1910-20's"][/caption]
The second day, a group of interaction design students from Shenkar School of Art and Design joined. They energetically updated the OpenStreetMap data on the Holon area and stated that 'they will never look at maps the same way again'.
The Open Street Map project and the wonderful Walking Papers project ((http://walking-papers.org/)) proved to be interesting tools for dialog. They provided us with a provisional and fragile basis for a conversation between participants, but also helped understand better our own approaches/practices/sensibilities vis-a-vis questions of mapping.
Examples discussed in the workshop
Francis Alÿs, The Green Line:
Peter Westenberg, Op, van, -se: http://westenberg.constantvzw.org/?p=57
The Towards project: http://www.towards.be
Text: Cartography as a common good http://www.towards.be/site/spip.php?article367
List of Free, Libre Open Source cartographic resources: http://www.stormy-weather.be/wiki/index.php/MappingRessources
Animation of 2008 commits to Openstreetmap: http://vimeo.com/2598878
Jaffa, Autobiography of a City: http://www.jaffaproject.org/
Map Compare, comparing openstreetmap to Google Maps: http://tools.geofabrik.de/mc/
Ben Fry, All streets: http://benfry.com/allstreets/
Esther Ferrer, Walking is the way: http://www.arteleku.net/estherferrer
The relation of territory to maps: http://www.wordiq.com/definition/Map-territory_relation
OpenStreetMap of our small area in Holon after edition by us, the Hebrew version of streetnames were added by Talkat.