11 12 2006
Cultural intelligence and the Urban Multitudes
"World-Information City" and the Culture of Open Networks , by World-Information.Org
"World-Information City" was a one-week program of events and a publication addressing global issues of intellectual property and technology in conjunction with changing urban landscapes. The activities that took place in Bangalore in November, 2005 presented a rich spectrum of public relations including conference and workshops, outreach programs and public art, interventions and exhibits, screenings, performances and guided tours. "World-Information City" focusing on cultures of open networks in technology driven urban information societies, was the result of an extended process of global collaboration and rooted in the diversity of Bangalore's Information Society projects. Held during the UN's World Summit Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis at India's IT metropolis "World-Information City" constituted part of a larger project in the framework of the EU-India Cross Cultural Programme together with the, Waag Society, Sarai CSDS and the Institute for New Culture Technologies/t0 working together "Towards a Culture of Open Networks". The primary objective of the overall project was to build bridges of culture and communication in Europe and India, focusing on issues relating to the emergence of "Information Society"; a web of social, cultural, economic and political relationships giving primacy to the technologies of information. This collaboration emerged from a previous history of the three partners working together in an extensive dialogue on these very same areas of discourse and practice. Over some years and in the course of the project this developed into an extensive network of cooperation including the Alternative Law Forum (ALF) in Bangalore itself.
World-Information.Org, a model for a trans-national cultural intelligence agency staged its extensive exhibition and conference program in Vienna, Amsterdam, Belgrade, and Novi Sad and spawned activities in various European cities like London, Berlin, Geneva or Helsinki. "Towards a Culture of Open Networks" presented a unique chance to realize World-Information.Org operations beyond the geographic borders of Europe. "World-Information City" became a challenge to adapt concepts of cultural intelligence to a South-Asian practice and perspective and to map its processes into the context of Bangalore, the icon of IT outsourcing. However, the sharing and transmission of public knowledge is a prerequisite for a thriving, participatory society based on equality while valuing diversity all over the world. Similarly, and in addition to their ability to pool know-how to spearhead ICT research, cultural organizations and networked media arts offer models of alternative practice, and a unique contribution to ongoing debate about intellectual property rights and the knowledge commons on a global scale.
In introductory conferences like "Networks of Imagination" (June 2005, Vienna) researchers, practitioners and institutions from Asia and Europe working in the field of culture and knowledge economies, looked into the practice, strategies and interventions of agents in the information landscape and debated assessments regarding change and everyday life in information societies beyond Europe. Surveying emerging maps of social and cultural interaction, tracking the mindsets of property, the creation of scarcity in the information economy, and the processes of control materializing in global cities and converting information into intelligence. The “Vienna Document - "The Need to Know" of Information Societies” a digital cultural policy manifesto was formulated by the Open Cultures Working Group and again asserted that exploring alternative futures is linked to a living cultural and social practice based on networks of open exchange and dissemination. Nodes of semiotic democracy based on clusters of free information cultures provide trajectories for discovering different options in the shaping of information societies. Independent investigations into the urban grids of power that shape the social reorganization of cultures enrich the imagination towards a multiplication of choices in negotiating conditions of socio-cultural reality. Smart modes of networking are a prerequisite of being able to challenge the overwhelming noise of vested interests in order to get these voices heard. Ventures like World-Information.Org need to develop a broad spectrum of communication strategies designed to engage the imagination of potential target audiences. The existing resources need to be carefully adapted to realize an optimized approach to influence results appropriate to specific time based contexts and conditions. The identification and assessment of target groups and their accessibility provides the base for a multilevel operation plan with different communication layers.
The World-Information City Newspapers objective was to alert the general public, decision makers in politics and business, and multipliers in media and educational institutions about the dangers emanating from restrictive information regimes, about global intellectual property (IP) as well as the cultural and societal potentials of alternative information management regimes under the heading of an "information commons" or "knowledge commons". With a view to the World-Information.Org program, and its focus on the interrelationship between information regimes and urban environments, a majority of the contributions focused on urban issues. Inviting a group of outstanding authors to contribute non-specialist and to-the-point articles, care was taken to reflect key concerns with regard to IP/Commons and urban development as well as to ensure a balanced geographical perspective. In order to gain in-depth reach within each of the audience groups and geographical areas the publication was aimed at, the paper has been produced in three different editions: an international edition; a Bangalore edition, with additional specific contents and a German language version. With the principal target areas being the World-Information City events at Bangalore, the World Summit of the Information Society in Tunis and European and international readers a global dissemination strategy of 30,000 copies of the publication could be realized. As the main printed publication the paper played a key role in the World-Information City program as well as in the general activities of the Institute for New Culture Technologies and has served as a point of reference in the debates around the commons and IP also as an online resource.
From an early point in the World-Information City project artists and communication designers have been invited in open calls to join the process of developing key iconography for urban media interventions regarding IP and the city. World-Information City aimed to raise awareness on issues of the information society in the public sphere and to introduce these themes into the streets and urban environment of the city. A multitude of ideas and imagery emerged and have been displayed in various contexts while some works have been specifically realized for the streets of Bangalore, highly diverse media interventions located in different parts of the city. Along with billboards, posters, stickers and traditional Indian media forms like cut-outs, street-banners and wall paintings, branded rickshaws and mobile displays presented key messages in the city's streets, repeatedly prompting the local media and newspapers to pick up on this imagery and use it for their illustrations. The World-Information City campaign caught passers-by by surprise through its infiltration of the city's ad-dominated visual infosphere with billboards, posters and even flower arrangements, questioning the politics of IP in places usually dominated by unquestioned commercial imperatives.
The locations of the artists work and installations, stretched between three main points in the city, from some of the oldest quarters of town to some of the new upscale areas of the city. The dispersed show across different sites was designed to facilitate site-specific works, but also to allow for interaction with different publics. The experience, sights, sounds and smells along the way being part of the show, and simultaneously being informed and broadened by the media and art projects. A multitude of artistic practice represented a wide range of approaches to a technological communication culture and provided many layers of investigation into the infosphere. The diversity of artworks that contributed to World-Information City addressed conflicts surrounding the rise of the information economy, be it in the form of installations, objects, performances, or films accessible to the public at different points of bustling Bangalore. The many interventions which reappeared in the city in various formats, like Sebastian Lütgert's brightly colored "Good Questions" series of simple but clever inquiries, Ulrike Brückner's "Delinquents" billboard featuring a theme of the criminalization of sharing, Vasu Dixit's "Copycat" mural at the bus terminal, or Ashok Sukumaran “Electricity as Network” street installation at the oldest cinema of Bangalore, to name just a few, were entering into an imaginary dialog in public space.
Broadcasting in the electronic communication spectrum Shaina Anand's "WIC TV", after engineering the support of a commercial cable operator, went into operation in one of the city's neighborhoods and managed to get a hold of a prime slot on a local TV channel. Produced together with a highly spirited team it was receiving great interest from local audiences and quickly acquired a dedicated fan audience. In different locations art works like Christoph Schäfer's ironic reflections on global mediated culture were complemented by Ayisha Abraham's media archaeology and the screening of the international "Thought Thieves" video award for WSIS. Rajivan Ayyappan's radio soundscape installation "Air Around" meeting with Marko Peljhan's concepts of alternative communication technologies and alongside 0100101110101101.org's over-affirmative rendering of a fictional European Union movie campaign are examples of the breadth in artistic production. With the conference location in a public park next to a spacious bamboo groove, visitors could wander off of into a World-Infostructure show of a large number of graphic displays based on research by World-Information.Org. Numerous visualizations illustrate issues associated with the development of digital media and sophisticated technical instruments like the increasing use of biometric devices, themes linked to various aspects of information societies as well as topics relating to Bangalore.
Parallel to the World Summit in Tunis, the World-Information City conference with satellite events in Paris and Vienna brought together renowned European and South-Asian researchers on issues of information economies and Intellectual Property Regimes related to the social dynamic of emerging global information cities. Like all WIO conferences the event was open to non-specialist audiences and accessible to a larger audience via internet streaming. The two day conference, addressed social and political questions related to neo-medievalism and information feudalism, as well as semiotic democracy and the psychological and structural qualities of urban development reflected in urban zoning and the rise of city states. Emerging intellectual property regimes make knowledge and freely shared resources into private possessions of a few large corporations. This virtual land grab has new feudal figures dominating knowledge economies, reducing the promise of a new public domain and the digital commons to a faint possibility.
The talks looked into the question of how the city is affected by Information and Communication Technologies and the rise of electronic surveillance and control.
Mapping interrelations of global information landscapes and urban transformations, of immaterial regimes and social realities, it highlighted conflicts over the dominion on knowledge, the implications of new information regimes on knowledge and culture production and the zoning of the information city. Questioning the obsession over intellectual property rights and the new limitations imposed on digital information exchange, it explored arguments for the "Information Commons", a democratically regulated information space with public accountability. This requires a vibrant culture of "Open Source", based on a plurality of agents in the information landscape and the heterogeneity of collaborative cultural practices.
Beyond long term collaborators like Felix Stalder, co-editor of the WIC newspaper, or Eric Kluitenberg from WIO Amsterdam, or project partners like Lawrence Liang from ALF or the Sarai group itself, a range of stimulating speakers engaged in the dialog. "The globalized IT industry in India is an international island of privilege in a sea of local despair", said Indian writer and critic Arundathi Roy at the World-Information City conference concluding session. Speaking a short distance away from Bangalore's IT corridors, Roy stressed the parallels between the technologies of the colonial period, roads and railways, and the contemporary expansion of IT into the rural areas. Surveillance expert David Lyon views Bangalore call centers as the sites of "social sorting", the automatized hierarchization of social strata according to criteria of profit generation, as in database marketing. Clouded by rhetoric of service and privacy, political accountability is being eroded by invisible streams of data. However, as Bangalore-based feminist and historian Lata Mani pointed out, "The logic of capitalist globalization is not the only logic at play, a statement that finds an empirical grounding in Solly Benjamin's work on urban land conflicts, also presented at the conference. His accompanying guided tours 'Cities within Cities did give an intriguing inside view into urban and zoning and the transformation of cities. Even more layers of inquiry into the theory and practice of emancipatory knowledge work was provided by a range of accompanying workshops on the organization and economy of the commons, open source tools and programming as well as a range of media skills.
With this mix of locations, media and technologies, World-Information City was able to catch the attention of a vast audience even outside of the closed spaces of the conference, the various exhibition spaces, workshops and performances and to set a model for cross cultural intelligence cooperation and artistic interventions in the global infosphere.