Urban procedural rhetorics — transcript of my TWAB 2008 talk

This is a tran­script of my pre­sen­ta­tion at The Web and Beyond 2008: Mobil­i­ty in Ams­ter­dam on 22 May. Since the major­i­ty of pay­ing atten­dees were local I pre­sent­ed in Dutch. How­ev­er, Eng­lish appears to be the lin­gua fran­ca of the inter­net, so here I offer a trans­la­tion. I have uploaded the slides to SlideShare and hope to be able to share a video record­ing of the whole thing soon.

Update: I have uploaded a video of the pre­sen­ta­tion to Vimeo. Many thanks to Almar van der Krogt for record­ing this.

In 1966 a num­ber of mem­bers of Pro­vo took to the streets of Ams­ter­dam car­ry­ing blank ban­ners. Pro­vo was a non­vi­o­lent anar­chist move­ment. They pri­mar­i­ly occu­pied them­selves with pro­vok­ing the author­i­ties in a “ludic” man­ner. Noth­ing was writ­ten on their ban­ners because the may­or of Ams­ter­dam had banned the slo­gans “free­dom of speech”, “democ­ra­cy” and “right to demon­strate”. Regard­less, the mem­bers were arrest­ed by police, show­ing that the author­i­ties did not respect their right to demon­strate.1

Good after­noon every­one, my name is Kars Alfrink, I’m a free­lance inter­ac­tion design­er. Today I’d like to talk about play in pub­lic space. I believe that with the arrival of ubiq­ui­tous com­put­ing in the city new forms of play will be made pos­si­ble. The tech­nolo­gies we shape will be used for play wether we want to or not. As William Gib­son writes in Burn­ing Chrome:

…the street finds its own uses for things”

For exam­ple: Skate­board­ing as we now know it — with its empha­sis on aer­i­al acro­bat­ics — start­ed in emp­ty pools like this one. That was done with­out per­mis­sion, of course…

Only lat­er half-pipes, ramps, verts (which by the way is derived from ‘ver­ti­cal’) and skateparks arrived — areas where skate­board­ing is tol­er­at­ed. Skate­board­ing would not be what it is today with­out those first few emp­ty pools.2

Con­tin­ue read­ing Urban pro­ce­dur­al rhetorics — tran­script of my TWAB 2008 talk

  1. The web­site of Gram­schap con­tains a chronol­o­gy of the Pro­vo move­ment in Dutch. []
  2. For a vivid account of the emer­gence of the ver­ti­cal style of skate­board­ing see the doc­u­men­tary film Dog­town and Z-Boys. []

Blank banners — see me speak at TWAB 2008

Provo protesting with blank banner

In 1966 Pro­vo took to the streets of Ams­ter­dam with blank protest ban­ners.1 The use of rous­ing slo­gans had been out­lawed by the city’s may­or. The ‘pro­test­ers’ were arrest­ed. Pro­vo achieved their goal of mak­ing the author­i­ties look sil­ly by play­ing at protest­ing.

They took exist­ing rules and decid­ed to play with­in them, to see how far they could push the lim­its of those rules. They were not allowed to use actu­al slo­gans, so they decid­ed to use unwrit­ten ban­ners. They made use of the ambigu­ous nature of play: They were protest­ing, but at the same time not protest­ing. There were no for­bid­den slo­gans on their ban­ners, but at the same time, the slo­gans were ever so present through their absence.

The police were not will­ing to take on Provo’s ludic atti­tude. They refused to step into their mag­ic cir­cle and play at oppos­ing them. In stead they broke the rules, arrest­ed them for real, and by doing so, lost—at least in the public’s eye.

This example—and hope­ful­ly a few others—I will dis­cuss at The Web and Beyond 2008: Mobil­i­ty. In 20 min­utes or so, I hope to inspire design­ers to think about what the near future’s blank ban­ners could be. My ses­sion is titled ‘Mobile com­po­nents for play­ful cul­tur­al resis­tance’ (an unwieldy title in des­per­ate need of improve­ment) and will prob­a­bly be in Dutch.

The con­fer­ence is organ­ised by Chi Ned­er­land and will take place May 22 in the beau­ti­ful Beurs van Berlage in Ams­ter­dam. Keynote speak­ers include Ben Cer­ve­ny, Jyri Engeström and Adam Green­field. It looks like this will be a very spe­cial con­fer­ence indeed.

Image source: Gram­schap.

  1. Pro­vo was a Dutch coun­ter­cul­ture move­ment in the mid-1960s that focused on pro­vok­ing vio­lent respons­es from author­i­ties using non-vio­lent bait. Read more about them at Wikipedia. []