META exists at the crossroads of art and science and of culture and nature. Tracing the uncommon threads between common topics, META presents its readers with views into the abyss of visual information and with experiments in associative reading. META invites you to browse according to taste.
You may ask, â€œwhat?â€ An archive, a Wunderkammer, a magazine guided by methods of research, collection, preservation, reprint and the linking of topics at their META level.
You may then ask, â€œwhy?â€ To play with information in all its astatic glory. META refrains from attempts at categorization, taking a gamble on dynamic navigation! META eschews the linear in favor of surprise. Each visit starts with a random welcome and ends with an even more random exit.
TIMOTHY J. ATTANUCCI (1979) was born in Boston, Massachusetts and studies German literature at Princeton and the Humboldt University, Berlin. For META, he contributes his musings on the irony mark in No Irony.
DAVID BETH (1974) is a writer and esoteric explorer, and the sovereign Grand Master of the Ordo Templi Orientis Antiqua. Learn more about his Gnostic involvement in XI. ARS DE REXâ€”Sexual Magic, the Art of the King, where he is interviewed by Ailen Roc.
SUMMER BRENNER is an accomplished writer of poetry and fiction, based in Berkeley, California. Her writing has extended beyond the borders of print into performative and musical realms, and she is also involved with literacy and community projects targeted at youths. For META, she reads from her critically acclaimed novel and discusses her motivation for the project in Driving I-5.
OLAF BREUNING (1970) is a Swiss artist, living in New York and working in photography, video, sculpture, installation and drawing. For METAâ€™s mini interview series, he shares some of his favorite things in accompaniment to a selection of photographic works. See Mini Breuning.
Illustrations by William Buchina
WILLIAM BUCHINA (1978) is an illustrator with a penchant for portraits of political tyrants. In addition, he is a graphic designer and creator of illustrated guides to English grammar. Some of his work is viewable here. He currently lives and works in New York. See his work in The Body of the Event.
DAVE BUNNELL (1952) lives in the small gold-rush era town of Angels Camp, California. This professional spelunker and photographer worked on an Imax film about caves, somewhere beneath Mexico. META interviewed him for Far Beyond Stalactites and Stalagmites.
PETRA CORONATO is probably the only author in the world who didnâ€™t only read Alexanderplatz, but also swept it. She is the owner of tongue tongue Hong Kong, a company founded in 1993 with dependences in Berlin, Vienna and Zurich, which recycles fiction profitably and unpunished to this day. In 2006, she commenced the ongoing photography project The Poetry of Document.
Writer Jeffrey Croteau is the Manager of the Library and Archives at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library in Massachusetts. Read another of his articles on American Masonic groups, ''Brotherly Deception'' published in Cabinet Magazine here. For META he co-authors a discussion on ritual and fraternity for the article Daughters of Job.
MICHELE DANTINIâ€™s (1966) work is characterized by its handling of trans-cultural practices and their socio-environmental implications. A widely translated essayist and performative lecturer, he holds a position as Professor of Contemporary Art History at the UniversitÃ del Piemonte Orientale, Italy. See Chronicles of Deaths Foretold.
PAULINE DOUTRELUINGNE (1982) lived in Beijing for four years, where she co-organized the 2006 Borderline Moving Images Festival. She lives in Berlin and curates projects that bridge European and Asian art. For META, she interviewed Chen Wei in Archeology of the Future.
GEN DOY is Lecturer at De Montfort University. She is the author of Picturing The Self, Drapery and Black Visual Culture. For META, Doy discusses the sensual politics of photography in the works of Claude Cahun.
Ferrante Denise Palma
DENISE PALMA FERRANTE (1975) is a multi-disciplined artist living and working in Berlin. She is also a self-declared anti-religionist. See Timkat 2009.
ADAM FOXWELL is an American audio engineer who has worked internationally, consulting on acoustical room design, sound isolation and mechanical noise control. For META, he presents a study on noise exposure in On the Hunt for Silence in Dubai.
JACQUE FRESCO (1916) is an industrial designer and social engineer, author, lecturer, inventor and Futurist. Based in Venus, Florida, he is developing the practice of Socio-Cyber-Neering. Read the META interview Back to the Futureâ€”The Venus Project.
Dr. BRUNO GLASER is Assistant Professor at the Institute of Soil Science and Soil Geography at the University of Bayreuth. For over several years he has been conducting Amazonian dark earth research from a soil science perspective including soil fertility, sustainability, and archaeology aspects. See Terra Preta .
MARA GOLDWYN (1976) calls herself an artist but does not show anywhere and would never actually introduce herself as such. She has an existential allergy to genres, categories and identity constructs. See Showing the Opposite Side of the Death Machine.
LINDA MAI GREEN (1987) is a photographer and curator based in Berlin. She also co-runs curatorial collectiveÂ Una Tittel.Â For META article A Bridge and Not a Goal, she interviewed artist Serena Porrati.
Artist CAI GUO-QIANG (1957) was born in Chinaâ€™s Fujian Province. While living in Japan between 1986 and 1995 he began to experiment with gunpowder as a medium, gaining international attention. He has gone on to exhibit world wide and to produce large scale pyrotechnic art works. See On Explosions.
Sculptor PATRICK HILL (1972) has exhibited widely in the US and internationally as an important representative of the contemporary Los Angeles art scene. David Kordansky Gallery provided META with images of Hillâ€™s work for Patrick Hillâ€”Sculpture, Associated.
ASDF Makes founder DAVID HORVITZ (1983) is a man of many ideas. One could say this American artistâ€™s medium is the Internet, though it may be more accurate to say that he works in interactive projects. See ASDFâ€”Read On.
RUA MINX is Donna Huanca (1980), an artist who deals with clothing as shelter, transportable homes for nomads and cultural and genetic traces. Her various projects have received a range of support, from the Dallas Museum of Art to StÃ¤delschule, Frankfurt; from the Incehon Womenâ€™s Biennale Korea to British Vogue. She launched METAâ€™s downloadable artist piece series with Mask Maker.
Artist PIETER HUGO (1976) has spent his whole life in Cape Town, South Africa, though travelled extensively pursuing his characteristic brand of documentary photography. A 2002-3 residency at the Beneton Group Communication Research Center, Fabrica, also led to work with Colors magazine. In 2006 he was awarded first prize in the World Press Photo competitionâ€™s Portraits section. Welcome to Nollywood explores a recent project carried out with the Nigerian film industry.
Idnert B. Zlatan
ZLATAN B. IDNERT is an audio engineer who has worked in the fields of modelling for outdoor noise propagation, building acoustics and ground borne vibrations. He has widely consulted on acoustical engineering projects. See On the Hunt for Silence in Dubai.
JAN KEMPENAERS (1968) is an artist and documentary photographer based in Antwerp. He creates mute images of semi urban-places. Regardless of geographical context, his photographs speak powerfully to the post industrial condition and of the technologized human subject. See Spomenik, the Monuments of Former Yugoslavia.
TAO LIN (1983) is an American poet, novelist and short story writer. He is the author of Shoplifting from American Apparel, Eeeee Eee Eeee, and Bed, as well as two poetry collections, you are a little bit happier than I am, and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Linâ€™s second novel, Richard Yates, was published in September 2010.
See Tao Linâ€™s Crossword Puzzle.
TAMMY LU is a Canadian artist who makes drawings and artistsâ€™ books. She is the cover artist for the New Metaphysics philosophy series published by Open Humanities Press. See more of her work here. For META she did the drawings for METAphorism.
DAVID MAISELâ€™s (1961) photographs chronicle the complex relationships between natural systems and human intervention. His work is included in many permanent collections, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Maisel lives and works in the area of San Francisco. See Blooming Souls.
Alison Malone is a photographer and educator who uses both audio and visual documentation to explore subcultures that are overlooked and often misunderstood in American society. View additional work here. For META her photographic series of the same name inspired the article Daughters of Job.
SERGEY MAXIMISHIN (1964) photographed for the Soviet Military Force Group on Cuba from 1985 to 1987. A learned physicist, he worked in the scientific and technical expertise laboratory in the Hermitage Museum and has gone on to become an award winning press photographer.
See The Dostoevsky of Photography.
CONNIE MENDOZA (1971) is a media artist, working between Berlin and Barcelona. Fata Morgana and Other Optical Phenomena discusses her film, in which Mendoza travels back to her birthplace to trace the complex relationships of her childhood to Chilean history and space travel, thereby producing images that mediate the perception of time as a highly subjective matter.
Apostolos Mitsios (1979) is a Greek psychologist, working as a systemic psychotherapist by day and as a freelance writer, preferably, by night. A former contributing editor at online design magazine yatzer.com, he is currently collaborating with the Projective Fairy Tale Test Society in Greece as well as various magazines all over the world. For META article, Death of a Performance, he interviewed artist Esther Ferrer about her intervention at the Cemetery of Art of Morille, Spain.
RACHAEL MORRISON (1981) is an artist, curator, and a librarian at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She is the creator of an art work and a documentary film about the blind telephone hacker Joybubbles, as she describes in 718-362-9578.
TIMOTHY MORTON (1968) is a philosopher and ecologist, and a teaching professor at Rice University. He also is one of the leading figures in the philosophical movement of Speculative Realism. For META he penned some pithy aphorism on the paradigm shift in metaphysics. See METAphorism.
Architect WILLEM JAN NEUTELINGS (1959) has taught at the Berlage Institute in Rotterdam and Harvard University. His firm, Neutelings Riedijk Architects, is located in Rotterdam. He wrote Spomenik, the Monuments of Former Yugoslavia on Jan Kempenaerâ€™s photo-documentation.
Nikolaj Nielsen is a Brussels-based journalist. For META, Nielsen considers the provocative film "Enjoy Poverty Please" by Dutch artist Renzo Martens in regards to the The Lucrative Business of Chaos and Aid. For more of Nielsen's writing, visit his website.
Andreas Ã–nnerfors (1971) is Associate Professor in the History of Sciences and Ideas based in Lund, Sweden. He has written extensively on organized fraternal sociability in Europe in the context of civil society, cryptology and conspiracy theories. In 2007 he re-enacted a female masonic ritual, contributed to the deciphering project of the copiale-manuscript and commented on the Oslo terrorist Breivik's imaginary world of knighthood in counter-jihadism. Watch a 2012 lecture on "Perceptions of Freemasonry from the 18th century to the Internet" here. For META he co-authors a discussion on ritual and fraternity for the article Daughters of Job.
Yoshua OkÃ³n was born in Mexico City in 1970 where he currently lives. In his often absurd and provocative art, OkÃ³n stages partially scripted scenes using non-actors whose own identities and histories make up the true, underlying story. See Octopus. OkÃ³n founded the artist-run space La PanaderÃa in 1994 and the artist-run space and school SOMA in 2009, both in Mexico City.
LISE PATT is the founder of the Institute of Cultural Inquiry, a peripatetic visual think tank currently headquartered in Los Angeles, CA. Over the years she has treated â€˜collaborationâ€™ as an artist medium, in the development of a non-profit organization that embraces â€˜collective camouflageâ€™ in their ongoing projects. See Inquiry into the Institute of Cultural Inquiry.
KONRAD PETROVSZKY (1977) is a historian specializing in the intellectual history of Southeastern Europe. He wrote a PhD thesis on early modern historiography in Ottoman Europe at the Free University, Berlin. He talks Romania and reenactment in The Body of the Event.
Italian artist SERENA PORRATI (1981) is now currently enrolled in the inaugural year of the MA in Art and Science Program at Central St. Martins in London. She lets META in on her Nietzsche in Turin archive for Linda Greenâ€™s article, A Bridge and Not a Goal.
SUSANNE QUEHENBERGER is a Cultural Studies student at the Humboldt University in Berlin. Her focus is climate change, specifically its potential to bring about societal restructuring and the role of art in this scenario. Since 2007, she has worked as an urban gardening activist. For META, she shares her thoughts on geoengineering in Artificial Skies.
Haitian-born, DC-raised MAX RAMEAU is a pan-African theorist, organizer and founder of the group, Take Back the Land. He has worked on issues ranging from economic development to ex-felons. He discusses the US housing crisis in Desperate Times, Desperate Measures.
MILO RAU (1977) is a journalist, essayist, historian, playwright, translator, teacher, film-maker, blogger, reenactor and director of IIPM (International Institute of Political Murder, or Institute for Theoretic and Artistic Reenactments). See The Body of the Event.
AILEN ROC studied various esoteric fields such as ceremonial Magick, Sexual Magick, Tantra, Astrology, Tarot, the Quaballah and different astral-levels along with Psychology. She is currently working on her own tarot deck and a book combining certain occult fields with elements of psychology. See XI. ARS DE REXâ€”Sexual Magic, the Art of the King.
ALAN SHAPIRO (1956) is a key contributor to the fields of idea philosophy, software engineering and social choreography. At 15, he began studying at MIT and has more recently published a book on Star Trek and given talks at the Transmediale and Ars Electronica festivals. In an interview with META, he explains why â€œBeing against work as it is constituted today is fundamental.â€ See A New Computer Science is Underway.
SITU STUDIO was founded in 2005 while its partners were studying architecture at The Cooper Union. Operating at the intersection of architecture and a variety of other disciplines, Situ Studioâ€™s work has been enriched by close collaborations with geologists, writers, engineers, biologists, activists and artists. See Out of Control.
GARY SMALL, M.D., is the Director of the UCLA Memory and Aging Research Center at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. He is the author of iBrain Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind. See This is Your Brain on Technology.
COSETTE THOMPSON is a French-American human rights consultant and freelance writer based in Arizona, USA, where she directed Amnesty International for many years. Her current interests focus on the contribution of artistic expression to the field of human rights and on the protection of threatened languages. See Sentenced to Read.
van Haarlem Dr. Michiel P.
DR. MICHIEL VAN HAARLEM (1964) is the Managing Director of the LOFAR Foundation in the Netherlands, a part of the ASTRON Institute. The astronomer discusses the next generation of telescopes in METAâ€™s Harmony of the Spheres.
Vanden Eynde Maarten
Belgian-born MAARTEN VANDEN EYNDE (1977) lives and works between Rotterdam, Brussels and Saint Mihiel. His projects span all art media, focussing on topics of ecology, archeology, biology and zoology. In 2006 he founded Enough Room for Space for â€œthe creation of physical, virtual and mental space for cultural initiatives by initiating and coordinating events and residence/research projects worldwide.â€ He enlightens META on plastic in Plastic Reef.
Swedish photographer ULRIKA WALMARK (1970) traveled across North America, Israel, Palestine, Iran, India and South Africa from 2003 to 2007, collecting portraits for her project The person behind the person. She now lives in Berlin.
Artist CHEN WEI (1980) works in Beijing and Hangzhou, incorporating influential objects and happenings from his past into the realities of modern China. He is represented by the Platform China Contemporary Art Institute in Beijing. See Archeology of the Future.
V.i.S.d.P. Rachel de Joode
Eberswalderstrasse 32, 10437 Berlin, Germany
0049 (0) 17662109849
All materials on META magazine are made available for noncommercial and educational use only. All rights belong to the author(s). Links to third-party websites are provided only as a convenience to you.
The inclusion of any link to third-party website does
not imply META magazineâ€™s endorsement or sponsorship of
that third-party website. META disclaims any liability for links to and from the Site. The input of contact data takes place voluntarily. The use of published contact details for marketing purposes is prohibited.
|This is Your Brain on Technology|
|Daughters of Job|
|Death of a Performance|
|Out of Control: Experiments in Participation|
|Terra Pretaâ€”Amazonian Earth|
|A New Computer Science is Underway|
|Claude Cahunâ€”A Sensual Politics of Photography|
|The Clothing of Nature|
|On the Hunt for Silence in Dubai|
|Far Beyond Stalactites and Stalagmites|
|The Body of the Event|
|Sentenced to Read|
|Spomenik, the Monuments of Former Yugoslavia|
|XI. ARS DE REXâ€”Sexual Magic, the Art of the King|
|Tao Linâ€™s Crossword Puzzle|
|The Art of Showing Art|
|Photography and the Invisible|
|Patrick Hillâ€”Sculpture, Associated|
|Showing the Opposite Side of the Death Machine|
|Desperate Times, Desperate Measures|
|A Bridge and Not a Goal|
|This is Your Brain on Technology|
|The Poetry of Document|
|Stories of Life and Love in Todayâ€™s Actual Arctic|
|Fata Morgana and Other Optical Phenomena|
|The Nine Lives of Kaufhaus Jonass|
|The Harmony of the Spheres|
|Back to the Futureâ€”The Venus Project|
|Inquiry into the Institute of Cultural Inquiry|
|The Lucrative Business of Chaos and Aid|
|Welcome to Nollywood|
|Chronicle of Deaths Foretold|
|The Dostoevsky of Photography|
|Archeology of the Future|
By Nikolaj Nielsen
In a destitute village somewhere deep in the Congolese forest, Dutch artist Renzo Martens unlatches two metal boxes and removes several large neon lights. His motions are deliberate, slow and choreographed. As he assembles the lights onto a wooden frame the villagers, dressed in tattered clothes, gather around curious. The sound of a generator breaks natureâ€™s choir. Night has settled and the villagers begin to dance and sing. Renzo stares impassive. Above them in the cool glow of blue and red neon is written in English â€˜Enjoy Poverty Please.â€™
Enjoy Poverty Please
It is a message that runs through Renzoâ€™s 90-minute film, Episode III, filmed over two years in the Congo and completed in 2008. â€˜Enjoy poverty pleaseâ€™ is the phrase that takes the antipodal spectator of this work into a wide moral chasmâ€”a chasm where Renzo demands the audience to question the morality behind white smiling aid workers snapping photos of the suffering, of western photojournalists snapping photos of the dead, of a UNICEF representative attempting to explain away all the logos slapped onto the blue and white tarpaulin meant to protect the displaced from sun and rain.
Pouring from this moral chasm is the extraordinary wealth of poverty. It is also a place where predominately white aid workers are either unwilling or unable to confront a harrowing question: could humanitarian aid possibly perpetuate the cycle of war and misery? Could poverty possibly be just another commodity, traded, bought and sold like gold, coltan or diamonds on the international market?
Consider this. The Congoâ€™s combined annual profit from gold, coltan and diamonds in 2008 was less than the foreign donated aid revenue generated the same year from those huddled, shivering and trembling with fear, beneath a UNICEF tarpaulin. At the bottom of this moral chasm are the destitute, where they have always been, and where they slave away at pittance pay for impossible jobs, denied access to education and basic rights. At the top looking down are the wealthy government officials, humanitarian relief organizations, and a Western public whose conscious is loosely dressed with morality, human rights, and justice but whose demands for inexpensive products condemns the working poor to utter poverty.
Poverty as a Product
Episode III opens with a scene of a wiry man chopping away with a machete at thick jungle bush throughout a field that literally stretches beyond the horizon. He is meant to clear it. It is an atrocious task that pays him a pitiful 50 cents for three days of work. â€œWe are suffering,â€ he says as he points to all the brush. â€œWhat can I do?â€ he adds and continues to hack away in frustration. He works for Groupe Blattner Elwyn, a European-run consortium of palm oil and coffee plantations, that Renzo later revisits in his film.
â€œIt is the poor who should benefit from poverty,â€ Renzo said in an interview with TV2Africa in May, 2010. â€œThe film is a portrait of power relationship,â€ he explained, adding that poverty is a commercial enterprise in what Richard Dawden, Director of the Royal African Society in London, likens to an â€œaid agency supermarket.â€ The problem, according to Renzo, is the spoils of poverty are flowing in the wrong direction. Certain corporations and multi-nationals exploit the poor. Few would argue against that. The poor in the Congo represent cheap labour in an environment that lacks decent working standards and labor rights. The end-result is cheaper produce on the world market. Again, few would argue against that.
But Renzo goes further. His film argues that humanitarian relief agencies and government officials also exploit the poverty of refugees and internally displaced persons. The business model for these organizations and individuals is based on poverty and conflict. Without conflict, without poverty, some of these people and organizations would be without jobs and so it is in their interest, acknowledged or not, to guarantee the cycle. It is a heterodox argument that discloses bold truths.
Renzo wants to usurp the status quo and reverse the power relation. His cynical perspective is meant to encourage the poor to brand, package and market their own misery like products on a supermarket shelf. They should be the ones taking photos of emaciated babies. The logos on the tarpaulin should belong to them. They should be the ones selling compassion to distant populations whose perceptions of Africa have been distorted and reduced down to the crude terms of corruption, disease, war and backwardness.
It is an intriguing promulgation that he could have pursued even further. But he doesnâ€™t, for instance, fully challenge humanitarian relief workers on the premise of his film. He doesnâ€™t directly challenge the white photojournalists either, who document and bear witness to events unfolding in the darkest hours of humanity. Instead, Renzo takes the viewer through a handful of scenarios that depict power relations between the haves and the have-nots. He shows the suffering of the working poor at a palm oil and coffee plantation. He follows white Italian photojournalists from AFP as they take photos of rotting corpses and then explain the marketing rationale behind their work. He convinces local Congolese photographers to emulate their white colleagues and snap photos of starving children instead of weddings and celebrations. He runs into a MSF caravan that is inexplicably leaving a region populated by malnourished children. He traverses, by canoe and by foot, through the Congo with his neon sign â€˜Enjoy poverty please.â€™
Yet his attempts to empower the poor to â€˜ownâ€™ their misery fail to make a significant impactâ€“except maybe on several incredulous audience members of his film. And perhaps rightfully so. Renzo, in a benign fashion, is guilty of the very act he condemns. He too is basing his work as an artist on the poverty of others. He too enters the lives of the desperate until he is satisfied with his scene, his shot, and his moment. The wisp of encounters he leaves behind will not fade the misery of the poor. They will remain where he had found them and when he returns to Europe, he can place his work in an art gallery and have intellectuals attempt to decipher Freudian references to id, ego, and superego. If anything, lingering memories of distraught black faces may instead haunt his consciousness. Still, he has the courage to admit his entitlements vis-Ã -vis poverty. Near the end of the film he confesses that he, too, is capable of vanity. But unlike the journalists and the humanitarian relief workers, Renzoâ€™s work does not portend righteousness or make claims to do good. It simply reveals.
Renzoâ€™s stoic behavior in face of extreme poverty and his detached but poignant questioning of the injustice stand in stark contrast to the normal media blitz and marketing campaigns that play on the conscience and emotions of its carefully targeted audience: us.
Renzo, however, does disclose certain uncomfortable truths. He insightfully depicts the casual relation between poverty, media, and humanitarian aid. It is an apotropaic relation that Dutch journalist Linda Polman argues in her book, Crisis Caravan, essentially undermines viable long-term solutions to war. A relation that feeds into what Susan D. Moeller, Director of the International Center for Media and the Public Agenda, describes as the unacknowledged consequence of peripheral journalism and humanitarian aid marketing machines on the general public. Another starving baby. Another famine. Another war. No context. No depth. No understanding. But plenty of compassion fatigue.
In 1984, BBC journalist Michael Buerk opened the worldâ€™s eyes to skeletal Ethiopian children dying en masse. Live Aid was launched, over USD 100 million was raised and donated, and six years later the same famine in the same place was repeated. But the picture of the starving baby could no longer provoke the same outrage it did in 1984. The connection between stimulation and an emotive response, or what Walter Benjamin described as the â€˜auraâ€™ of an image, had been severed. Aid agencies were aghast. An apathetic public does not pressure donors and governments to fill the aid agency coffer. Something unspeakable, much more insidious and horrible would need to happen to shock the public into emptying their wallets.
Then came Rwanda. By the time genocide had been pronounced, 20% of its population had been hacked to death. The â€˜refugeesâ€™ poured into the city of Goma where a camp erected by aid agencies fed and nursed back to health between 10 000 to 20 000 Hutu extremists and murderers who then returned to Rwanda to finish off the job (Polman). The around 250 NGOs and international aid agencies in Goma kept silent with one exceptionâ€“the French branch of MÃ©decins sans Frontiers left Goma in disgust in 1994. â€œFar from contributing to a solution, aid only perpetuates the situation in Goma,â€ wrote France MSF in a newsletter addressed to their donors (Polman).
Supporting Despots and Killers
When Renzo made this film in 2008, the Congo had received nearly USD 2 billion in aid. In 2010, according to the Global Humanitarian Assistance Report, institutional donor aid peaked at USD 16.7 billionâ€“the highest level ever recorded. NGOs received 17.3 percent of institutional humanitarian aid. Private funding added another USD 4 billion. MSF received USD 1.1 billion last year in private donations alone, more than the UKâ€™s entire 2010 aid budget. Yet the misery continues.
â€œThe humanitarian aid system is broken,â€ said John Forsyth, CEO of Save the Children earlier this year, adding that â€œhumanitarian aid does not produce any long term benefit. It is easier for an organization to prove it had dealt with an emergency rather averted one,â€ he said adding that only two of the top 20 recipients of international humanitarian aid have moved out of the emergency phase in the past five years. In some cases, humanitarian aid is used for political ends and by host governments to coerce its citizens.
â€œTo whom belongs poverty?â€ Renzo asks a handful of Congolese men in the film. They are gathered beneath a straw gazebo in an impoverished village. They listen intently. He then writes on a white board, â€œIf we can sell it, it is important to know who the boss is.â€ Below the phrase he then writes, â€œPoverty brings money, riches. Poverty is a resource.â€ The resulting humanitarian not only brings riches, it is also a tool used to coerce and manipulate opposition.
A joint undercover investigation by BBCâ€™s Newsnight and the bureau of investigative journalism at Londonâ€™s City University published this August found Ethiopiaâ€™s government using foreign aid-funded "capacity-building" programs â€˜to indoctrinate schoolchildren, intimidate teachers and purge the civil service of people with independent political views.â€™ Their investigation confirmed an extensive 2010 Human Rights Watch report, â€œEthiopia: Donor Aid Supports Repressionâ€ that shows how donor-supported resources and aid is used as a tool to consolidate the power of the ruling Ethiopian Peopleâ€™s Revolutionary Democratic Front. Ethiopia is one of the worldâ€™s top recipients of humanitarian aid. The EU has so far given the region over EUR 200 million in aid with further funding promised.
Celebrated English nurse Florence Nightingale, writes Linda Polman in Crisis Caravan, opposed humanitarian aid and relief right from the start. When in 1863, Swiss philanthropist Henry Dunant launched the worldâ€™s first-ever international volunteer humanitarian relief organization, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Nightingale made her views known to the public.
Dunant had convinced governments that reducing the number of cripples on the battlefield would ease their burden on the state. It was economically justifiable and it teased the imaginations of many people with noble and good intentions. Nobody should have to suffer, argued Dunant. Good or bad, everyone should have the right to proper medical attention. Indeed, around the same time Dunant was making his case, the great American educator Horace Mann said â€œUntil you have done something for humanity you should be ashamed to die.â€ These were powerful words. But at that time, war was mostly fought among and between professional soldiers. Nightingale reasoned that the very nature of war and conflict would change via relief organizations and pro-active volunteers doing their personal part for humanity. And it frightened her. â€œBy easing the burden on war, war ministries would make waging war more attractive,â€ argued Nightingale (Polman).
Today, wars suck in the civilian population who too often shoulder the onslaught. In its annual report, â€˜People Under Threat,â€™ the Minority Rights Group International says the number of civilian killed in conflicts has reached unprecedented levels. Less than 5 percent of World War I victims were civilians. The United Nations estimates 90 percent of those killed today are civilians of whom the vast majority is women, children and the elderly.
If the bullets donâ€™t kill them, then ensuing disease, lack of water and famine will. And if that doesnâ€™t work then the refugee camps, like Goma that nursed an army of Interahamwe back to health to continue their slaughter of Tutsis in neighboring Rwanda, will. No questions asked because neutrality and impartiality is sacrosanct to humanitarian relief organizations.
Dunantâ€™s ICRC used impartiality and neutrality as arguments to not notify the world of the atrocities being committed by Nazis throughout its death camps. It was later revealed that the ICRC had been aware of these camps by as early as 1942. They knew about the ovens, the forced labor and death by starvation and torture. But they chose to remain impartial and neutral. FranÃ§ois Bugnion, the ICRCâ€™s Director for International Law and Cooperation within the Movement, describes that moment in ICRC as a badge of shame.
â€œThese actions are not negligible, since every life saved is priceless, but they cannot obscure the fact that, overall, the ICRCâ€™s efforts were a failure,â€ he says. â€œYet the failure was, above all, that of the ICRCâ€™s inabilityâ€”or unwillingnessâ€”to fully recognize the extent of the tragedy that was unfolding, and to confront it by reversing its priorities and taking the risks that the situation demandedâ€.
The same neutrality and impartiality that prevented the ICRC to inform early on what was happening in the concentration camps was also used by humanitarian agencies and NGOs in Goma to justify healing, feeding and funding the Hutu militia. As the Interahamwe marched into the open arms of the awaiting humanitarian relief organizations, they carried with them the spoils of war, bloodied machetes, axes and Kalashnikovs. The Hutu government in Goma even levied a â€˜war taxâ€™ on all aid agencies and used the money to fund its ragtag army.
By the time the Tutsi army finally torched the camp to the ground, aid agencies had erected 2,324 bars, 450 restaurants, 590 shops, 60 hair salons, 50 pharmacies, 30 tailors, 25 butcher shops, 5 blacksmiths, 3 cinemas, 2 hotels and a slaughterhouse in Goma alone (Polman). The aid agencies provided the Interahamwe with entertainment, jobs, health and the infrastructure that turned the camp into a thriving town. And we, the West, provided the aid agencies with millions upon millions of USD to run the camp. In the meantime, Tutsi and moderate Hutus received nothingâ€”except the futile efforts of General RomÃ©e Dallane, commander of the tiny UN force in Kigali to protect what he could. â€œEven as millions in humanitarian aid was flown into Goma we could not get a few thousand dollars to help Kigali,â€ said Dallane (Polman).
Renzoâ€™s Trail of Errors
There is a scene in Episode III that shows Renzo walking down a long narrow trail. In front and behind him are workers of Groupe Blattner Elwyn. The scene continues at the workerâ€™s quarters where the man who had been hacking away at the forest brush for pittance pay presents Renzo his family. Their living conditions are deplorable. In a pot of boiling water, his wife stirs in a bundle of leaves. His son gnaws away at the raw meat of a small rodent, peeling back the fur to reveal the red flesh.
His daughter, her knees pulled close to her chest, sits silent in complete darkness. â€œShe doesnâ€™t sleep,â€ says her father who has been toiling away the plantation for the past ten years. She is seriously ill with visible ichorescent infections on her face, feet and buttocks. â€œThey are actually worse off than those who have no jobs,â€ a village doctor who makes regular visits tells Renzo. â€œMost of the plantation worker children are malnourished,â€ he adds.
Later on in the film, Renzo visits the family a second time and offers them a feast. He serves them large chucks of beef and a bowl of vegetables. The little girl finds the strength to eat the meat and for a brief moment she smiles. Her father stands next to her and thanks Renzo as if he had been some kind of savior. Renzo looks at him and says they should all appreciate their poverty and find happiness in it. Poverty is their lot and so long as we the West desire to feed our vanities, erect institutions and relief agencies to brand our moral shibboleths to the world, and demand inexpensive products, the poor shall remain shackled to the bottom of the chasm.
Just before the family ends their meal, we see Renzo sewing a logo of the European Commission onto the tattered shirt of the ailing little girl. The father, perplexed, eats the last piece of meat.
SITU STUDIO is a reserach, design and fabrication firm based in Brooklyn. Their space-altering, site-specific architectural installation reOrder augurated the Great Hall project in the Brooklyn Museum. For reOrder and other projects, see Situâ€™s website.
Go there now