Radiator 2009

What is left in a space between the surveillance cameras? How do we build a place we’ve never been to? How do we remember the thriving community that lies beneath the tarmac?  How do we keep an eye on those that would keep an eye on us?

Niklas Goldbach - BIRDS (left)
Image: Niklas Goldbach - BIRDS (left)


We live in uncertain times. Last year, 20 years of neoliberalism was turned on its head as the world watched and investment bank after investment bank begged for bailouts from public funds. Something previously denied miners, hospital workers and schools from London to Bolivia under the insistence of an ideology that implied a drowning man be left to learn to swim.

This ideology is faith pushed as fact but its influence has been felt across the world to devastating effect, a crusade fuelled by rich and powerful nations more alarming and insidious than any religious struggle. Not only has it led to a widening of the gap between the haves and the have nothings but it has been changing the way that national government does business, that local government does business and consequently what influence we the citizen have over the places we live.

When we are small we are vulnerable. When we are small but many we have the power to resist and force change. The power lies in the movement of people pulling in the same direction. A power sought but not often wielded. Spending power, the power to go against type, the power to topple a leader. The internet has been claiming a similar potency since its inception, but only recently have corporations caught on as how to harness it – web 2.0, the hegemony of Google, Facebook, My Space, Flikr – places where people are gathering in their millions.

Nation states fear the gathering of crowds in large numbers. They smell riot and revolution. So what happens when 100 people gather in a café to check their email? What happens when 50 of these stop simply checking their webmail and start running their business from their laptop, sat in this café? And then this happens every day, for 8 hours a day, for as many weeks as that café stays open in the year? It’s a revolution.

It’s also a new way of doing business. It’s about bottom up, it’s about no cables, big batteries and efficient microprocessors. It’s light on its feet and its overheads are devastatingly low. It’s a new way of using the city. Gone are traditional ways of proportioning the city, obsolete become expensive city-centre-hot-desking facilities. If we can pick up the channel, we can act, speak and then really talk - not in hushed whispers but confident voices. The voices of change.

Forget the corporations, lower the rents, displace the industrial sector with the creative industries and let the city breathe through the maze of invisible digital pathways that perforate the glass, concrete and steel. It's an idea that some see as catching.

The world's population of urban lifers is expanding, yet the most dramatic expansion isn't happening in the cities we associate with the economic conditions to benefit them. It is the world’s poorest cities that are growing into giant slum megapolises as people flee deep poverty in the countryside. Yet look around Europe and the US and you will see that a global unitary design has created a lookalike template for the modern city based around the post industrial powerhouse of the economy; conspicuous consumption. The divisive nature of this economics means that we have not been welcome in the city centres unless we were there to feed this industry. If our business engages in some other economy other than fiscal - an exchange of ideas rather than currency - we will find it hard for our activity to flourish. If we want to trade culture or politics we better look elsewhere to do our business because the space has already been let out to a Christmas market, fun fair, media blitz or mobile phone company. Our public spaces are offered to us for one reason – to pour money into the coffers of a consumer industry dominated by a few big players. If these big players fail, it is reasonable to deduce that so will our city centres and in this economic climate this looks ever more probable.

Artists have long been aware of an urban Verfremdungseffekt, the classical distancing effect sought by playwright Bertolt Brecht to produce an actor objective to that they were deeply involved in. Baudelaire's flâneur, the original window shopper, was a detached observer of the urban surroundings of the mid 19th Century. Through participation came understanding yet detachment allowed critique. We are all familiar with the sentiment – we shop ironically, we are aware but consumed, we don’t think of ourselves as one of the masses but some things do just have mass appeal. Brands have become philosophies and our lives, lifestyles.

Enter Radiator.

We too are living in the Wireless City. We are aware that today's public space will not look the same as tomorrow's. We realise that infrastructure is a scarce resource and often it is controlled by powerful systems that favour the powerful. We know the trickle down effect won't happen unless we break the dam that's holding the water back.

We believe that artists have something different to say about the use of networked urban space. So. we have opened up a space in the busy city to place them side by side with experts whose judgments are sought in changing the cityscape.

Maybe this isn't what you expect from an arts festival. Think again. Artists are part of the cognoscenti too, pushing at the boundaries of the new spaces opening up in our cities through new technologies.

In this fourth Radiator Festival, you will see artists who are hacking the city – discovering new exploits in the social fabric of the system. Much of their work mirrors the checks and controls the average urban dweller faces every day - capturing data, monitoring systems, compiling databases, writing new architectures in spaces that lie between the here and now and the all-too-soon-to-be-upon-us. However, this accumulatory work has many different faces. It's performative or painterly or musical or conceptual. It's about releasing our fear by removing our ignorance. It's about the significance of ourselves and the imprint we leave as we move through a space. It’s about echoes of humanity sounding through concrete, glass and steel.

In the end, it's a reminder to all of us that it is people that make the city. Architects, urban planners, law enforcement agencies, corporations all play their part in determining how we behave ourselves but, without the people, a city is just an overgrown cement garden in waiting.
Miles Chalcraft