February 6th, 2015

london recruits: the secret war against apartheid

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For the past half a year, Katharine Round, Gilbert Sinnott and I have been making an experiential documentary on the secret war on apartheid inspired by and involving the London Recruits – a gang of young Londoners recruited in the 60s and 70s to carry out clandestine solidarity missions in apartheid South Africa.

From re-creating and detonating a bucket bomb to re-printing original leaflets using the same paper stock and the same machines, we took archaeological documentary to its limits.

Commissioned by the V&A for its Disobedient Objects exhibition, it saw the birth our new film company, Disobedient Films. Focused on experiential and interactive storytelling for the digital age, we’d like to announce that we’re open for business. If you’re curious as to what we’re on about, just think of every film you’ve ever watched…now think of every film you’ve ever wanted to experience. That’s what we’re aiming for.  But with a bit more politics and a bit more art.

Any questions, send them on to leah@disobedientfilms.com and katharine@disobedientfilms.com.

You can watch the London Recruits film here – but just don’t try to do it on a mobile device: http://londonrecruits.vam.ac.uk

Look forward to hearing from you soon.

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New interactive film released to highlight the secret missions carried out by Londoners against the apartheid regime in South Africa

http://londonrecruits.vam.ac.uk/

Following on from the successful Disobedient Objects exhibition, the V&A has worked with the Disobedient Film Company to release an experiential documentary film called London Recruits: the Secret War Against Apartheid.

1960s and 1970s apartheid South Africa saw anti-apartheid leaders like Nelson Mandela jailed or killed for their resistance to a racist regime. African National Congress activists such as Ronnie Kasrils were exiled abroad – often to London. These exiles recruited young men and women from university and activist circles to carry out secret missions in South Africa. These clandestine efforts included everything from mailing letters to smuggling arms to detonating leaflet bombs in areas black South Africans would congregate after work.

Featuring interviews with those who took part in the anti-apartheid campaigns, from the printers of the leaflets to the people who set off the leaflet bombs, this immersive and interactive film takes viewers across multiple parallel narratives. Browser pop-ups echo leaflets released in leaflet bombs and dedicated viewers are rewarded with a number of hidden stories, picture and poster galleries and photomontages from artist Peter Kennard. Viewers can either watch all of the narratives, or select a particular strand. Any chosen route takes the viewer to a leaflet maker to write their own message and share it with friends and other viewers.

Kati Price, Head of Digital Media, said: “With this commission we wanted to explore how digital media can tell multiple narratives, allowing viewers to understand the incredible story of the London Recruits from different perspectives. The result is a rich fusion of documentary and interactive storytelling where the format helps convey the secretive, surprising nature of the Recruits’ work.”

Taking their name from the exhibition, directors Leah Borromeo and Katharine Round and interactive director Gilbert Sinnott wanted to challenge a viewer’s engagement with history. Of the film they said: “The London Recruits pushed themselves to change the world by protesting in ways a straightforward A-to-B narrative could never do justice to. We needed to find a way to not only share their stories but to engage the viewer to taking action in their own lives – to give them the inspiration and the tools to help their own campaigns. The experiential film is active, other forms are passive. And social change has never come about by being passive.”

The filmmakers created a bespoke ‘back-end’ for the film, as well as carrying out finely executed re-enactments and re-creations articles in it. From finding the man who printed the original flyers to re-creating those flyers on the same paper stock and on the same model of letterpress machine to meticulously making and detonating leaflet bombs themselves, the Disobedient Film Company sought to be as true to the London Recruits’ original stories as they could. The process of creating the film is documented on the Disobedient Film Company’s facebook page.

Disobedient Objects ran at the V&A until 1 February 2015. It was first exhibition to explore objects of art and design from around the world that have been created by grassroots social movements as tools of social change. From Chilean folk art textiles that document political violence to a graffiti-writing robot, defaced currency to giant inflatable cobblestones thrown at demonstrations in Barcelona, to a political video game about the making of mobile phones, Disobedient Objects demonstrated how political activism drives a wealth of design ingenuity. The exhibition presented objects mostly produced by non-professional makers, collectively and with limited resources as effective responses to complex situations.

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February 13th, 2015

artists announce a cultural boycott of Israel

Protesters wave a Palestinian flag and flowers during a sit-in protest against Israel's military action in Gaza, on the Mediterranean coast at Rawshe rock in Beirut

Along with more than 600 other fellow artists, we are announcing today that we will not engage in business-as-usual cultural relations with Israel. We will accept neither professional invitations to Israel, nor funding, from any institutions linked to its government. Since the summer war on Gaza, Palestinians have enjoyed no respite from Israel’s unrelenting attack on their land, their livelihood, their right to political existence. “2014,” says the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, was “one of the cruellest and deadliest in the history of the occupation.” The Palestinian catastrophe goes on.

Israel’s wars are fought on the cultural front too. Its army targets Palestinian cultural institutions for attack, and prevents the free movement of cultural workers. Its own theatre companies perform to settler audiences on the West Bank – and those same companies tour the globe as cultural diplomats, in support of “Brand Israel”. During South African apartheid, musicians announced they weren’t going to “play Sun City”. Now we are saying, in Tel Aviv, Netanya, Ashkelon or Ariel, we won’t play music, accept awards, attend exhibitions, festivals or conferences, run masterclasses or workshops, until Israel respects international law and ends its colonial oppression of the Palestinians. To see the full list of supporters, go to artistsforpalestine.org.uk.
Khalid Abdalla, Riz Ahmed, Peter Ahrends, Hanan Al-Shaykh, Will Alsop, Richard Ashcroft, John Berger, Bidisha, Nicholas Blincoe, Leah Borrromeo, Haim Bresheeth, Victoria Brittain, Niall Buggy, Tam Dean Burn, Jonathan Burrows, David Calder, Anna Carteret, Taghrid Choucair-Vizoso, Ian Christie, Caryl Churchill, Sacha Craddock, Liam Cunningham, Selma Dabbagh, Colin Darke, April De Angelis, Andy de la Tour, Ivor Dembina, Shane Dempsey, Elaine Di Campo, Patrick Driver, Earl Okin, Sally El Hosaini, Brian Eno, Gareth Evans, Annie Firbank, James Floyd, Aminatta Forna, Jane Frere, Kadija George, Bob Giles, Mel Gooding, Tony Graham, Omar Robert Hamilton, Jeremy Hardy, Mike Hodges, James Holcombe, Rachel Holmes, Adrian Hornsby, Rose Issa, Ann Jungman, John Keane, Brigid Keenan, Hannah Khalil, Shahid Khan, Peter Kosminsky, Hari Kunzru, Paul Laverty, Alisa Lebow, Mike Leigh, Tom Leonard, Sonja Linden, Phyllida Lloyd, Ken Loach, Liz Lochhead, David Mabb, Sabrina Mahfouz, Miriam Margolyes, Kika Markham, Simon McBurney, Sarah McDade, Jimmy McGovern, Pauline Melville, Roger Michell, China Miéville, Russell Mills, Laura Mulvey, Jonathan Munby, Courttia Newland, Lizzie Nunnery, Rebecca O’Brien, Treasa O’Brien, Andrew O’Hagan, Jeremy Page, Timothy Pottier, Michael Radford, Maha Rahwanji, Ravinder Randhawa, Siobhan Redmond, Lynne Reid Banks, Ian Rickson, Leon Rosselson, Kareem Samara, Leila Sansour, Alexei Sayle, Seni Seneviratne, Kamila Shamsie, Anna Sherbany, Eyal Sivan, Gillian Slovo, John Smith, Max Stafford-Clark, Maggie Steed, Sarah Streatfeild, Mitra Tabrizian, Mark Thomas, Cat Villiers, Roger Waters, Esther Wilson, Penny Woolcock, Susan Wooldridge, Emily Young, Andrea Luka Zimmerman

 

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Original letter published in The Guardian, 13 February 2015.

February 1st, 2015

The rubber in your rubbers: the condom company making sexy time sustainable

 

You should be able to buy a condom that doesn’t require chopping down native jungles, or paying its workers less than the living wage to produce it.

A gang of German entrepreneurs has started what it calls the world’s first ethical and sustainable condom company. Einhorn, a brand decorated with unicorns and a schoolboy sense of irony, launched its crowd-fund appeal at the beginning of February. Within 48 hours it had reached its minimum target of €50,000 (£37,142). Clearly someone has sex on the brain.

With packaging not dissimilar to a packets of crisps, the condoms will be available in two sizes: 54mm and 56mm. They are transparent in colour and are wider at the top “for more feeling”. You can buy them in “weekly” or “yearly” bags (seven pieces or 52 pieces) on the crowdfunding site.

Waldemar Zeiler, reformed capitalist and co-founder of Einhorn, confesses he and his co-entrepreneurs knew very little about condoms – apart from as users.

“We had no clue what we were doing,” he says. “But we worked together with a university in Germany [who are] experts on sustainable rubber production. We’ll go to Malaysia with German scientists and go through our plantations. Then we’ll test the soil and stay over there analysing stuff and make things better. This includes making sure the minimum wage is paid to workers and knowing what’s in the condoms.

“Right now, we’re 10% sustainable. Our goal is to have an 80-90% sustainable product in five years. Every time we improve, we’ll put it online and you can see what has changed. Even if people say something isn’t possible, we’ll aim for the best-case scenario and if we don’t make our target, we’ll get close and say so. But we won’t go round saying it’s 100% Fairtrade or whatever … this is all bullshit and people need to realise that.”

Einhorn is not the first company aiming to make condoms more sustainable, of course. It’s the latest in a crop of eco-condom companies to spring up recently, along with Sustain, L Condom, French Letter and more.

The Einhorn team is tackling the online condom market with the arrogance of youth. Its declared commercial target is the 25-35 year-old generation Y and the brand is named after that memetic internet beast, the unicorn.

Zeiler says: “Everyone has a connection to sex but condoms are still being sold as medical products. The guys in charge of selling these don’t know who’s using them. They’re all like 65 and I don’t think they have sex anymore.

“We got sick of complaining about ugly, unsustainable, non-environmentally conscious exploited products, so we decided to make a better one ourselves and make it really sexy, cool. If you want to do sustainable things, you have to compete with regular products that people want to buy because it’s cool, not because they’re trying to be good.”

Perhaps what the Einhorn crew are really selling is a business model founded on open-source information and transparency. Condoms, it seems, are the product they choose to sell, but the way they deal with the market could be transferable to any product.

The entrepreneurs have started a scheme called the Entrepreneur’s Pledge based on the philanthropists’ equivalent, the Giving Pledge. They’re asking “serious entrepreneurs” and “kick ass CEOs” to fund at least one social business and give 50% of the profits to a good cause, as they are. Zeiler argues that charity giving isn’t an efficient way to spend money and suggests that a social business dollar has more impact. “If our business grows, the more revenue we make. And the more we can give back.”

Condoms aren’t a large market. In Germany, where Einhorn is based, the market is worth €100m (£74.1m). Globally, it’s projected to reach £3.6bn this year. Condoms are a product, not an industry. But the margins are like Coca-Cola’s. From costing a few cents to produce, the condoms can be sold for between 60 cents to €2 a piece.

“The fact we’re selling condoms doesn’t really matter,” Zeiler says. “It’s a product and proof of concept for what we are doing. We bring a standard product to an online market, brand it properly, go through its value chain and make everything in that chain as sustainable as we can and then publish all the information about our product online – even the bad stuff because somebody out there will know how to make it better.

“We’re starting with condoms because the market isn’t large. We could achieve dominance easily and we won’t be threatened by big online players. But we also want to encourage people to work on products with no alternative. Like hairdryers. I’m looking for a sustainable hairdryer. Can’t find one.”

Supply chain geekery can stretch to all the products we have around the home – knowing where things come from isn’t exclusive to food or fashion. Why shouldn’t consumers know whether or not the rubber in their rubbers has come from a plantation that’s chopped down native jungles, or that’s paid its workers less than the living wage to produce it? Exploitation and a bad ethical footprint are hardly the stuff of hard-ons.

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This article was first published in The Guardian, 11 February 2015.

December 1st, 2014

#JournalsimIsNotACrime

In addition to delivering on the edit for our upcoming film on resistance to South Africa’s apartheid state for the V&A and greasing the wheels of other upcoming commissions, I’m working pro bono for the campaign to free three journalist colleagues locked up in an Egyptian jail for doing their jobs.

29 December sees the anniversary of the arrests of Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed. Students and other journalists have also since been arrested – some in absentia.
I need you and everyone else you know concerned about a free press and free expression to help us out. I’m specifically looking for someone who knows their way around Illustrator or Photoshop to help me work on a few images. There’s tonnes. And time is tight.

I also need your social networks – real and virtual – to work on direct actions to take to ensure this stays on the public and political agenda. Wherever you are and whatever you do, you have influence. You have power. Please use it.

#FreeAJStaff #JournalismIsNotACrime

journalism is not a crime

November 12th, 2014

Update on The Cotton Film: Dirty White Gold

Dear contributors, supporters, fans, lovely people:

One of the most common questions an independent filmmaker is asked is “when is it going to be ready?”
Like most artists, our secret, silent-voice answers aren’t usually very polite. They revolve around “when it’s ready.”

The biggest setback for any indy [like a real indy, not one backed up with channel money or corporate funding], is the £££. Funding is generated from an amalgamation of grants, crowdfunding, begging, exploitations of certain financial loopholes, bake sales and more begging.

To those who’ve contributed to an independent film – thank you. Yes, your tenner has made a difference because a few other people gave tenners and that meant we could buy hard drives to store all the material. A few more gave a bit more and we could pay our directors of photography and hire kit.

Payment…. It’s important. And oftentimes the people on a film who don’t get paid until the film is out are the ones making it [the producers, the directors].

Costs…. To make a feature film, it costs hundreds of thousands. At least. You’ll often hear of directors who’ve made films for minuscule amounts of money. They’re rare (and most often the people helping to make them haven’t been paid, so it’s not a sustainable model). Quality, efficiency and equipment costs money.

So…this is a long-winded way of saying thanks for your support, thanks for your future support and please bear with us while we try to raise the tens of thousands to properly pay for an editor to help finish the film and then go on another fundraising drive to raise the money to help distribute and market the film.

If you want to help out, click “donate” here or get in touch about our SEIS scheme: http://thecottonfilm.com

© Peter Kennard

© Peter Kennard

November 11th, 2014

causing trouble on teh internetz

Cause and effect. Duke Street. Edinburgh.

The pub downstairs is called “The Marksman”.

After posting this on Twitter, a bit of a Twitstorm happened and Primesight, owners of the billboard spaces, apologised and said they’d take them down:

http://edinburgh.stv.tv/articles/299264-primesight-insensitive-billboards-on-duke-street-in-leith-removed/

DUKE ST BILLBOARD 2

September 18th, 2014

Politika: Art and the Affairs of the City

Peter Kennard, myself and a bunch of other troublemakers are delighted to feature in this group show in the heart of Manchester’s former industrial hub of Ancoats.

Organised by the rabble rousers at Upper Space it features workshops, talks and events which not only engage local communities but do that thing that anything creative ought to do – make the world an ultimately nicer place.

It’s on from 19 September – 01 October. Head down. Eyes up.

Politika_page_banner_1000_x_500

 

September 16th, 2014

Berlin duo launch a supermarket with no packaging

Gemüse_Anne Schönharting

It works like this. You bring your own containers and have those weighed. Berlin-based supermarket Original Unverpackt labels your containers. You shop. When you get to the till, the weight of your containers is subtracted and you pay for the net weight of your groceries. The label is designed to survive a few washings so you can come back and skip the weighing process for a while.

Founders Sara Wolf and Milena Glimbovski say there’s a rising demand for products and services that deal with sustainability and that people demand alternatives to the “lavish” handling of our resources.

“Here, the customer only takes what they need,” says Wolf and Glimbovski ahead of the launch of their Berlin-Kreuzberg shop. “We’d like to offer an alternative way of shopping – one where we offer everything you need but you won’t find hundreds of different types of body lotion or olive oil.”

Original Unverpackt isn’t a new idea. Austin, Texas, has In.Gredients and Catherine Conway founded London-based Unpackaged – first in Islington in 2007 before it moved to Hackney in 2012. It closed the following year after the original business model changed to include a restaurant and a bar. All three are independent shops exploring the psychology of food and consumption.

“If you are trying to counter the modern way of ready-to-assemble food, then you have an uphill climb,” says Conway. Food in this extreme, where a ready-made curry in a plastic box gets zapped into something you stick in your face, has been divested of any of its pleasurable aspects and is treated as fuel. “It’s nothing to do with the products you have on offer, it’s more to do with the psychology of marketing and being sold the idea of time saving ways of eating.”

In 2011, the UK produced nearly 11m tonnes of packaging waste. Yet companies still sell packaged, pre-peeled bananas.

Food waste campaigner Tristram Stuart, says supermarkets have cottoned onto the ‘ethical consumer’. “The food and packaging industry has undergone a strategic rebranding campaign [and now] argues that you can reduce food waste by how it’s packaged. So you get pots of cubed-up mango instead of an actual mango. We then buy supermarket branded reusable shopping bags which we hang in our hallways which turn our homes into billboards for these places. It’s a distraction from the real issue which is turning nature into cash to satisfy unnecessary consumer desires.”

Image converted using ifftoany

There is an argument that opening unpackaged stores in neighbourhoods with a high proportion of upwardly mobile hipsters out-prices the poorer, local communities. Original Unverpackt says it “would like to offer this new way of shopping to a broad range of customers” including those on small budgets, but admit that their Berlin-Kreuzberg shop sits next to a vegan burger restaurant and ‘alternative’ environments can’t help but be tainted by middle-class privilege.

“The original idea for Unpackaged was to make organic food cheaper for people on low incomes if we removed the packaging,” says Conway. “I didn’t have the buying power to drop my prices. Yet when I price checked something like organic oats, I found that a supermarket would charge more than I did.” What Conway was trying to do, she says, “was to see if we could set up a social franchise model that catered to a local community, local tastes and local incomes”.

Brighton-based social enterprise hiSbe offers an unpackaged section within a more conventional supermarket. Emphasis is on locally-sourced products and its business model includes pricing transparency – so you know how much of your pound goes towards the supplier, staff wages and so on. They want to make ethical and sustainable shopping the norm.

Ultimately the issue isn’t how sustainable or ethical your purchase is, but whether you should be buying it at all. “We continue to exploit resources and extend our agricultural development into the world’s last remaining forests displacing both indigenous populations and natural habitats so we can have strawberries in December,” says Stuart. “Is it possible to make the kind of societal changes to make us live in symbiosis with all the world’s creatures? Yes, but at the moment there are no significant global trends that point in that direction.”

Selling unpackaged groceries is a progressive concept borne out of the bulk buying trends of the 1980s, but it is only part of a solution towards less industrialised consumption. It’s one of the myriad of options pushed out to people as alternative ways of buying. We’re getting better with managing waste – nearly 70% of the UK’s waste is recovered or recycled compared to 27% in 1998. But it is a drop in the ocean when you consider the vast quantities disposed of by China, Russia and the United States.

An unfortunate side effect with every sustainable or ethical business is that regardless of the altruism behind each recycled, upcycled, unpackaged or renewable product is that sustainability ultimately means the sustainability of profit, not planet.

August 27th, 2014

Posters of Protest

A piece I presented for Tariq Ali’s new show on TeleSUR English about posters of protest and some inspiring activists campaigning against the School of the Americas.

 

July 25th, 2014

Disobedient Objects

 This is happening. 26 July 2014 – 01 February 2015. See if you can spot our naughty little paws in the exhibition (clue: billboards).

It’s a “Look mum, we’re in the V&A” moment.

We’re also making an interactive film on the London Recruits as the Disobedient Film Company which is out this autumn.

Follow us on @disobedientf.

Bucket Pamphlet Bomb