IN BETWEEN THE WALLS. FROM DEFENCE INFRASTRUCTURES TO NEWCOMERS’ ARRIVAL INFRASTRUCTURES

Construction site for the maintenance of the walls and creation of green space, funding EU. Source: the authors.

Label against the demolition of wall houses. Source: the authors (1999)

Graffiti in Ano Poli. Source: the author 2021

Wall houses in Ano Poli. Source: the authors.

by Charalampos Tsavdaroglou & by Zachos Valiantzas

October has just arrived and we have arranged a visit to a housing squat in Thessaloniki’s Ano Poli (upper town). A conversation with the dwellers of the squat will help us build trust and make contacts with more newcomers to the city. Our minds are filled with questions. Which are the material, social and political aspects of Arrival Infrastructures (A.I.)? What is the relationship between A.I., local and global history and the migrants’ everyday life? Our meeting is at 13:00 with a friend from Maghreb. We get in the car and park on Eptapyrgiou Street in a green space – under construction – next to the city walls.

These walls are the fortification which used to divide the palace area (Genti Koule) from the rest of the city. Almost 12 metres high now, the walls were initially built as a defensive infrastructure during the Roman and Byzantium era (4 th century) and various repairs and exapansions happened in the following years of the Ottoman Empire. The area around the walls was mainly inhabited by Muslim citizens until Thessaloniki city was occupied by the Greek army in 1912. After the Greek-Turkish war and more specifically as a result of the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, 670,000 Greek citizens of Muslim religion moved from Greece to Turkey while 1,6 million Ottoman citizens of Christian religion moved from Asia Minor and Eastern Thrace the other way around to Greece. About 200,000 Christians settled in Thessaloniki and several of them in the so-called ‘interchangeable buildings’, the residences built by Muslims who relocated to Turkey. Therefore, the area of Ano Poli was the place of arrival for the newcomers from Turkey, whose presence in turn attracted more refugees, relatives and friends of them, to settle or build makeshift accommodation – shacks – on the unstructured plots of the area around the walls.

One of the most distinctive characteristics of this new type of dwelling are the so-called “castroplikta” houses – wall houses, i.e small houses that are adjacent to or include parts of the Byzantine walls. However, only a small number of these “castroplikta” still stand today. In 1997, Thessaloniki was named the European Capital of Culture, which motivated a plan to demolish about 900 abandoned and inhabited wall houses in order to create a green zone  along the walls. The demolition program envisages the preservation of only 16 buildings, not as residential areas but as cultural and historical monuments of the refugees. We have witnessed local resistance to this demolition plan appearing in the public spaces of Ano Poli since our first visits in the fall of 1999. On one of our first visits to Ano Poli, this resistance took the form of a sign posted on a centrally located building next to the central Portara (a large door in the Byzantine walls) This sign used the same aesthetics, font and logo of the European Capital of Culture in order to attract the eyes of tourists. However, on second glance it turned the logo from a boat to a bulldozer and the message written in 6 languages stated “CULTURAL CAPITAL FUNDING IS TO BE USED TO DESTROY THIS HISTORICAL PART OF THE CITY”. Today, unfortunately, the sign is gone. While the demolition was considerably delayed, it eventually started to be implemented after 2010.

Having parked the car in this particular area of the demolished “castroplikta” houses, we head down to Osios David old church, where we arranged to meet our friend from Maghreb. During our way through the tiny cobblestone paths of Ano Poli, we see a slogan written on a wall: “immigrants welcome, tourists go home”. While we are looking at the slogan, some actual tourists pass by.

The slogan indicates the ongoing controversy over the right to Ano Poli. Similar slogans appear in the streets of the neighbourhood and call for an awareness about two interrelated issues: the increasing touristification and Airbnb-fication of the neighborhood on the one hand and the question of migrants’ and refugees’ housing on the other. There are dozens of similar slogans all over the neighborhood (in English and sometimes in Arabic) and, according to our discussion with local residents, the writers are often local residents – anarchists, leftists and migrants. Since 2016, after the closure of the Balkan Corridor, Ano Poli area has hosted several migrant newcomers, either as guests in solidarity residences, in apartments provided under UNHCR housing programs, or by occupying abandoned buildings such as the “castroplikta houses”. At the same time quite intense gentrification processes are taking place in the area. Searching the airdna database of Airbnb platform we found about 250 available apartments and rooms in Ano Poli. Small hostels have also begun to appear.

 1 According to our observations, in the area of Ano Poli there are several squats, housing projects and social centers. Our perception is that the slogans’ campaign (immigrants welcome/tourists go home) enriches and extends the discussion of similar campaigns across Europe beyond anti-airbnb sentiments and the touristification of cities or of specific neighborhoods. Indeed, the campaign in Ano Poli is not just a complaint against touristification but it proposes that the neighbourhood could be a welcoming place for – refugees and migrants – whose predecessors did built the area decades ago.

We meet our friend and he leads us to his housing squat. We realize that his house is one of the remaining “castroplikta” (wall houses) that is adjacent to the walls towards the side of Genti Koule.

There are two beds in the house and no electricity. Church candles are used for lighting, gas stoves for heating, and the interior is decorated with many teddy bears. Our friend welcomes us with a smile and a hug. We climb a makeshift staircase up to a small terrace where a sheet offers shading and a freshly-washed carpet has just been spread to dry. Our friend pours us vanilla-flavored tea with caramel and our conversation begins.

During our conversation we reflect upon the function of walls and how they typically signify a defence infrastructure in Europe, the US and other countries to prevent the entry of immigrants. We talk about fortress-Europe raising fences. Here, however, these old walls may allow us to think differently. Here, these walls reverse the above function and importance. Indeed, thinking with Stavros Stavrides’ ideas about common space as threshold space, these walls have become in some way threshold infrastructure: a shelter but also an entrance to the city for those who do not have papers.

As we continue our research in Ano Poli, together with residents, we will further explore this notion of threshold infrastructure and how it connects practices and narratives on urban commoning with the arrival infrastructures framework. 1 Airdna “tracks the performance data of 10M Airbnb & Vrbo vacation rentals. It offers short-term rental data analysis on Airbnb occupancy rates, pricing and investment research, and more” (airdna.co)

1 Airdna “tracks the performance data of 10M Airbnb & Vrbo vacation rentals. It offers short-term rental data analysis on Airbnb occupancy rates, pricing and investment research, and more” (airdna.co)

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MANUFACTURING INSECURITY TO GOVERN MODES OF ARRIVAL

Lydd Airport is a permanent base for search-and-rescue helicopters in the south-east of England.

A local Kent newspaper covers Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s speech at Lydd Airport. He is pictured
in the article alongside Natalie Elphicke, Conservative MP for Dover.

THE UK’S PROPOSED MIGRATION AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT PARTNERSHIP

by Tamlyn Monson

Recently, the first steps were taken in implementing a bizarre new plan for processing arrivals across the English Channel. Announced on 14 April 2022, the ‘Migration and Economic Development Partnership’ (MEDP) was described by the Conservative government as an ‘innovative’ approach likely to become a ‘new international standard’ in dealing with asylum. The UNHCR, in contrast, has called it an ‘egregious breach of international law and refugee law and human rights law.’ It involves distinguishing between asylum claims on the basis of the claimant’s mode of arrival, and excluding from the asylum process anyone arriving outside ‘safe and legal routes.’

Since the ‘safe and legal routes’ currently in existence relate only to resettlement of refugees already living in safe third countries, their families, and various discretionary visa schemes (Home Office, 3 December 2021), the announcement expressed an intention to severely erode or eliminate the system of in-country asylum claims. From detail that has since emerged, in-country claimants will henceforth be affected by their connection to or stay in a third safe country, and considered for removal to that country or alternatively to Rwanda, a ‘safe third country’ with which the UK has signed an agreement. The most obvious targets of this new approach are arrivals across the English Channel, whose departures from the French coast give them an inevitable ‘connection’ to a third safe country.

On the day of the surreal announcement, Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave a speech at Lydd Airport, an air base to Her Majesty’s Coastguard located along the Kent coast in South East England. In it, he made a case for the MEDP policy, and the controversial Nationality and Borders Bill which underpins it (which passed into law two weeks later, on 28 April 2022). His rhetoric reminded me of Achille Mbembe’s observation that the ‘security state thrives on a state of insecurity, which it participates in fomenting and to which it claims to be the solution (Mbembe, Necropolitics, p.54). In this reflection from ReROOT’s UK field site, I share some thoughts on how the discursive choices in this speech conjured a state of insecurity, justifying and giving a ‘common-sense’ quality to the government’s decision to treat arrivals across the channel, and men in particular, as disposable and less deserving of rights.

 

Conjuring threats to life, law and governance

Boris Johnson’s speech at Lydd – which serves as an airbase for Her Majesty’s Coastguard – focused on ‘action to tackle illegal migration’ (Johnson, 14/04/2022). Johnson linked this action to the efforts of the Nationality and Borders Bill, for the first time, to “distinguish between people coming here legally and illegally” and to make that distinction material to claims and status.

What is clear from Johnson’s speech is how the invention of this distinction between ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ arrival, allows the majority of asylum seekers to be named as ‘illegal immigrants’. Once this is accomplished, their arrival can be considered a crime and a threat to law and order, which the state can then claim to solve using the instruments of national security rather than of hospitality and humanitarianism.

The speech demonstrates the power of this legal/illegal distinction to mark as criminal the everyday and internationally recognised act of arriving in a territory with the intention to claim asylum. It speaks of in-country asylum claims as ‘a parallel illegal system’, of people arriving on boats or trucks as entering or arriving ‘illegally’, as having chosen ‘illegal options’ which constitute ‘abuse of our legal system.’ This despite the 1951 Refugee Convention stating that Contracting States ‘shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who… enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.’

Apart from 13 references to illegality, the speech emphasises the association of irregular migration with other criminal themes, such as ‘people smugglers’ (mentioned 8 times), ‘gangs’ (mentioned 7 times) and ‘abuse of the vulnerable’. The speech emphasises the ’vile‘, ‘appalling’, ‘ruthless’ and ‘brutal’ nature of these activities. It uses hyperbole to equate them with a ‘sweeping tide’ that might bring the ‘80 million displaced people in the world’ to the UK’s doorstep, expecting ‘the British taxpayer to write a blank cheque to cover the costs.’ The substantial costs of housing asylum seekers (£5million a day) are also cited, implying irregular asylum seekers are responsible for this financial burden, while contributing issues in housing and immigration policy and practice are overlooked.

Finally, the speech utilises multiple references to death and suffering: ‘desperate and innocent people… taken to their deaths in unseaworthy boats’, ‘drowning in unseaworthy boats’, ‘losing their lives at sea’, ‘suffocating in refrigerated lorries’, in such a way as to justify the Government’s approach, present it as ethically necessary and argue for it to be implemented with speed and urgency: it is imperative, it seems, to ‘stop these boats now, not lose thousands more lives.’

In this way, in-country asylum claims are presented as virtually inseparable from crime, deviance and death, leading to the extraordinary revelation that the Government’s solution to ‘taking back control of illegal immigration’ is ‘a long-term plan for asylum.’

 

Defining a New Trope for Disposable Life?  

Having described the ‘innocent people’ who are ‘taken to their deaths in unseaworthy boats,’ it is a major leap to explain how these supposedly ‘innocent’ people become criminals undeserving of the chance to make an asylum claim if they are fortunate enough to reach British shores. It is as if they can only maintain their innocence if they die; if they live, they become lawbreakers abusing the UK’s asylum system, who (to prevent the deaths of other innocents) must be disposed of through deportation or removal to a third safe country.

To prevent the whole edifice of this ‘innovative’ new system from collapsing on this point, a new type of disposable human is produced. It is ‘men under 40’ that the Prime Minister’s speech appears to construct as the scapegoat for all the ills of uncontrolled immigration. In a dubiously evidenced statement, the Prime Minister claimed at Lydd that ‘around seven out of ten of those arriving in small boats last year were men under 40, paying people smugglers to queue jump and taking up our capacity to help genuine women and child refugees.’

This sweeping statement appears as a rhetorical device intended to draw a distinction between illegitimate, ‘queue-jumping’ male asylum seekers, and ‘genuine’ women and children claimants. As there are no publicly available statistics on asylum seekers’ method of entry, the veracity of this statement is difficult to judge in terms of the sex and age distribution of arrivals by boat, let alone the percentage of such arrivals that are ‘genuine’.

The statements immediately following this one go on to paint male claimants under 40 as illegitimate beneficiaries of the UK asylum system. Johnson asserts that they ‘should’ have claimed asylum in other countries and that their failure to do so is the cause of ‘rank unfairness’ in the asylum system. Coming from the Prime Minister, the claim that legitimate asylum seekers must be ‘DIRECTLY fleeing imminent peril’ statement sounds authoritative, but it contradicts legal precedent (see judgement of Lord Simon Brown in Adimi or for more on legal duties of non-penalisation, see this blog by Costello and McDonnell, 2021).

While ‘men under 40’ are only singled out once in the speech, it appears that here for the first time they are being produced as a distinct, unwanted and illegitimate group. Having defined ‘men under 40’ as those who ‘jump the queue’ and are not ‘genuine refugees’, the Prime Minister goes on to state that under the Government’s plans, ‘those who try to jump the queue, or abuse our system, will find no automatic path to settlement in our country, but rather be swiftly and humanely removed to a safe third country or their country of origin.’ And indeed, from news reports emerging with detail of the MEDP from anonymous official sources, the public has also heard that the plan would involve a pilot which would remove ‘single men’ to Rwanda and make them ineligible for refugee status in the UK (Lee & Faulker, BBC News, 18/04/2022), drawing critical commentary even from former Prime Minister and one-time Home Secretary Theresa May. In this combination of discursive and policy choices, it appears it is single men who come to occupy the position of ‘those who abuse our system.’

Having been produced as a disposable and undeserving category, is it really possible that single men arriving by irregular routes are to become the object of experimentation by policymakers, treated as a lower form of life that can be relegated to a place outside the terms of both domestic and international law? Certainly, theorists have argued that acts of exceptionalism are the very origin of sovereignty. In that sense, perhaps this is not so surprising. And the Nationality and Borders Bill has been controversial exactly for its intention to create a two-tier system that treats some asylum seekers as less equal than others (see blog by David Cantor, Eric Fripp, Hugo Storey and Mark Symes, and the Law Society’s submission to the UN’s universal periodic review of the UK). But even so, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.’ It does not allow men, single or otherwise, to be denied rights given to others. The UK’s Equality Act makes it unlawful to discriminate ‘against any person’ on the basis of their sex or marital status. To treat ‘single male’ asylum seekers differently from others would be to perform two prohibited acts at the same time.

When challenged about the criteria for removal in the weeks since the announcement, the Home Secretary refused to share specifics, arguing that to do so would provide ‘loopholes’ for smugglers to exploit. The recently published Equality Impact Assessment similarly avoids divulging specific criteria, insisting that decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis. Without transparency, there is little reassurance that in reality this policy will treat asylum seekers equally, particularly given the bias against men under 40 expressed in the Prime Minister’s Lydd speech.

The Home Office has since notified the first group of migrants of the intention to remove them to Rwanda under the MEDP. While the Government has claimed that this will save lives and reduce ‘human misery,’ over 160 organisations signed a letter calling it ‘shamefully cruel’ and likely to cause ‘immense suffering.’ Mbembe’s words are apt again in closing:

What, then, is this “borderization,” if not the process by which world powers permanently transform certain spaces into impassable places for certain classes of populations? What is it about, if not the conscious multiplication of spaces of loss and mourning, where the lives of a multitude of people judged to be undesirable come to be shattered? (Mbembe, ibid, p.97)

 
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A HYBRID MEETING IS ALWAYS POSSIBLE

Discussing future fieldwork in the Paou monastery.  On Wednesday evening, technology was finally ‘under control’ and Marhabo, seated amidst an online and on-site audience could discuss her fieldwork in Istanbul in a relaxed hybrid setting 

Unequal internet bandwidth in Europe. At the Paou monastery in Greece, average bandwidth was 14Mbps (down) and 1,3 Mbps (upload), which is not far from the regional average: in the village of Argalasti (where Paou is located), the bandwidth is on average 17,8mbps (down) and 2,2 Mbps (up) (Internet Speed in Europe (europeandatajournalism.eu))

Always use a headset to call in. Headsets filter out background noise and room echo.

Always carry a USB-stick to connect the material stored on the proverbial Fujitsu.

by Bruno Meeus

A few years ago, it was a quite revolutionary thing to ask the organisers of an academic meeting if you could give your presentation from a distance because of – for example – ecological, family or budgetary reasons. And it was even more difficult to ask a question or to expect to be really included in the discussion from a distance. The threshold to opt for an online rather than an on-site intervention now seems to have lowered because of Covid-19. Unfortunately, we are not there yet. For a fetishism is currently beginning to develop with far too much focus on razor-sharp images, high Wi-Fi speeds, dynamic cameras and what have you. A fetishism that leads to regular responses similar to: ‘no, a hybrid meeting is not possible’ and the piling up of ICT expenditures: ‘video conferencing cameras’ start at 1,000 euros, for the set-up of special hybrid conference rooms you do not get by on 5,000 to 10,000 euros. In what follows, I will first point out four important consequences of the exaggerated focus on ‘heavy equipment’ and then offer 10 tips for working with cheap and light equipment, as part of the general argument: ‘a hybrid meeting is always possible’. The tips are based on the experience of organising the first hybrid H2020 ReROOT meeting that took place between 11 and 18 September 2021 from the monastery of Paou in Greece. It is good to know that the technical preparations for this meeting had already been underway for a few weeks in order to avoid my own so-called technostress during the meeting, a form of stress I had been suffering from a lot during the past lockdown periods!  

 

Why to avoid investing in expensive equipment

Images displace sound

The most logical effect of image fetishism: we forget the enormous importance of sound! There are now endless streamings, digital and hybrid meetings where the image is of high quality – where considerable investments have been made in the cameras – but where the central speaker is too far from the microphone, where someone’s laptop generates a continuous whistling sound throughout the meeting, where screaming feedback loops make you fear for permanent hearing damage, where the line of the microphone in the room is not linked to the softphone (Zoom, Teams, etc.) so that only the room can hear the speaker, etc.  Of course there is the fact that you can quickly check whether you are ‘in the picture’, but that it is a lot harder to know whether something ‘sounds good’. Nevertheless, small adjustments – as I will indicate below – can make a world of difference. In Paou, where the image regularly slowed down or faded out, and where presentations kept ‘hanging’, it soon became clear that the meeting stood or fell with the quality of the sound.  

Heavy equipment creates exclusions 

Heavy equipment requires heavy equipment. Expensive cameras are useless in cases of lower Wi-Fi flows. It creates an unequal geography of well-connected places on the one hand, with all the necessary equipment in place for a ‘professional’ meeting and poorly-connected ‘amateuristic’ or ‘underdeveloped’ places where ‘a hybrid meeting is not possible’. This focus on images, on high flows, on well-equipped ICT rooms, means that a lot of participatory fieldwork in randomly Wi-Fi-ed meeting places seems impossible from the start. It reminds a bit of the image of the ‘business consultancy city’ Ash Amin is talking about in Telescopic Urbanism and the Poor: a networked but inward-looking exclusive urban world, the access to which is extended to ‘well-Wi-Fied’ homes, conference rooms, planes, fast trains etc.. On top of that there is the enormous amount of energy this heavy ICT-equipment requires. 

 

Heavy equipment backgrounds maintenance work  

Expensive and complicated technology means that, as a researcher, you soon think that the management of such a miracle belongs to the world of specialised logistic support, think: the technician in a dustcoat. That is a pity at a time when the divisive gendering, classing and racialisation of ‘thinking labour’ and ‘manual labour’ are increasingly under pressure. The work of the technician is unnoticed, unimportant, almost inexistent, when the meeting is going well1. The (job of the) technician only comes into the picture when something doesn’t work, or even worse, the technostress is then unloaded on the technician. The technician is then blamed for the failure of the meeting (instead of blaming the exaggerated expectations with regard to Wi-Fi and stability!)  

Heavy equipment does not do your work 

Expensive technology does not prevent voices from outside the room from being less ‘powerful’ in the conversation. An inclusive dialogue is not achieved by technology alone, but through the active shaping of equal speech positions using the technology at hand. Creating such an inclusive online/on-site platform for a conversation can only happen by actively monitoring whether all ‘stakeholders’ in the meeting are ‘on board’, both inside and outside the room, whether everyone can make themselves understood without being threatened and whether everyone can be heard. This requires a great deal of collective work that technology will not do for you – but which it can help you to do if you can manipulate it yourself. 

 

10 tips based on the experiences in Paou

Tip 1: Use a headset to call in 

Always speak through a headset (which can be simple earphones) when you are participating on-line in a hybrid meeting. A headset filters out a lot of background noise to begin with. Indeed, also in Paou, the sound of digital construction workers drilling through a wall somewhere else in Europe entertained the meeting for a while. And there is another advantage. Headsets cancel what is sometimes called ‘room’: the echo of your voice in the room where you are sitting. Even in a quiet room, speak into a headset rather than against the microphone of your laptop to project your voice more precise and direct. And that is important for the speakerphone we used in Paou (more about that in a moment). The speakerphone cancels echo, but does this best when the voice is well defined (and when you do not have an echo or ‘room’ of the room at home). 

 

Tip 2: Use a speakerphone in the room and turn off all other sound! 

The speakerphone is the miracle to bring every hybrid meeting to a good end very easily. In Paou, we used the cheapest speakerphone from Jabra which we connected to Teams via a laptop. All sending and receiving of images was organized via other laptops or phones. In such a setup we could ensure that there was at least a stable sound source during times when connectivity would fall under 1 Mbps. Talk to your ICT department and get yourself a cheap but decent speakerphone that you can plug into your laptop. With it, you can turn any meeting into a hybrid meeting where up to 25 people in the room – that was the situation in Paou – can participate. It is crucial that everyone else in the room who is logged into your Teams, Zoom or Skype meeting is fully muted. The best way is to mute via the hardware of the laptop: find the buttons on the keyboard to mute your speaker and microphone. 

Tip 3: Chair with control over sound 

Combine the role of chair with sound control, you can respond much faster to problems this way. Or divide the tasks in such a way that the chair and the person in control of the sound have constant visual contact in the room. When it is clear to everyone that you are in control of sound, you can immediately ask someone to speak louder or softer or to use a headset but also temper someone continuously dominating the discussion. In Paou, participants started coaching each other after a while. As chair in control of sound, you can open the microphone of someone who has been waiting a long time with a raised ‘old hand’ from a distance while listening to people convivially conversing in the room.   

Tip 4: Designate avatars and always activate the chat 

People from outside the room can designate someone in the room as an ‘avatar’, but you can also search for avatars yourself and attribute them in the room. In Paou, a number of people in the room got into the habit of keeping an eye on the ‘hands’ of the digital participants and signaling when someone from the digitals wanted to intervene. Of course, you can also encourage the people in the room to make parallel contact with those outside the room via Whatsapp or Signal or similar. The softphone’s chat function is essential for communicating with people outside the room: they can use it to launch their question, and as a chair you can give them guidelines without disrupting the discussion in the room. Moreover, the chat is the last resort if the sound fails. So make sure that the chat is always activated and in some way visible. 

Tip 5: Avoid polycentric discussions at all times 

It is almost inevitable that polycentric discussions will arise in larger groups. But avoid these conversations taking over, as this is completely unbearable for people outside the room, and certainly avoid these conversations being held next to or above the speakerphone. Again, messaging via Whatsapp and Signal are an elegant way of organising polycentric discussion in the room without disturbing the sound. Moderating is therefore very often pointing out to people that they are making it impossible for others to understand the conversation, and occasionally encouraging people to speak a little louder. Related to this: stimulate the people with the loudest voices to move a little further away from the speakerphone. This also applies to metaphorically loud (or dominant) voices.  

Tip 6: Find a workhorse for streaming images 

Although the start of my argument might suggest otherwise, I would like to emphasise that images are of course important. Capturing, sending and projecting images does, however, require a stable computer, especially when you are concatenating sessions of 2.5 hours in a row, as in Paou, where continuous streaming was organized between 9:00AM and 6:30PM. It quickly became clear that an everyday laptop could not handle that. Fortunately, there is always a geek around with a Mac and/or other robust computer and when you point out the exceptional ‘workhorse’ capacities of this computer to the owner, then it should not be a problem to let the images run through that computer. In Paou, that meant that a relatively old Macbook provided continuous projection from Wednesday onwards and the built-in laptop camera captured the audience. If you want more diverse viewpoints on the room, an external webcam – or a linked smartphone via the app EpocCam, for example – instantly expands the possibilities for visualising the room (but take 8 and 9 into account). 

Tip 7: Make sure you have connectors for HDMI and VGA 

Imagine a situation where people want to show a presentation from their own laptop. In Paou, we had two options, each time starting from the situation that you’re presenting with a shared screen in Teams (or Zoom or whatever). Either you present from Teams and someone else in the room projects your shared screen on the wall through Teams. In Paou, this option regularly failed so that nobody – neither the people in the room, nor the people at a distance – could see the presentation. What did work: connecting your own laptop through the projector in the room, logging into Teams, and giving the presentation for the room – directly to the projector in the room – and for the people at a distance with your screen shared in Teams. However, this also regularly ran into problems. Many laptops only have a port for HDMI or one for VGA or none at all. It is worth the effort to bring a few intermediate connectors to an event like this. But there is another solution. 

 

Tip 8: USB connects the proverbial Fujitsu 

While there is always someone with a Mac, there is also always someone with the proverbial Fujitsu, in this particular case a Fujitsu with a worn-out keyboard and taped CD-ROM port. In such a case of man-machine entwinement, a golden rule applies: USB is the master connector. Don’t try Wetransfer, Bluetooth or Airdrop or logging into Teams, but go straight for the USB stick. 

Tip 9: Use cables when possible 

You can connect the speakerphone to your phone or laptop with Bluetooth. This can be useful when, for example, you are filming with your smartphone and connecting to Teams, allowing you to capture the sound 6 metres away without having to worry about cables. In Paou, this turned out to be an excellent solution for streaming a workshop that took place around a long row of tables. But in most cases, it pays to be simple: with a minimal investment in an active USB cable, you can connect your devices 10 metres further without having to worry about the battery of your phone or speakerphone, or about disturbance of the Bluetooth connection as a result of interference of nearby refrigerators, microwaves, Wi-Fi routers and others. 

 

Tip 10: Broadcast the presentation where the connection is most stable 

And to end nicely on 10 tips: we discovered a final trick on day 5. When the Wi-Fi connection in the room is not that stable, ask someone else at a distance, with a stable Wi-Fi connection, to load the PowerPoint into Teams and present from there. It turned out to be piece of cake for the Dortmund team to give a duo presentation with someone on-site in Paou and someone on-line in Dortmund. 

Extra: some statistics 

At the Paou monastery, average bandwidth was 14mbps (down) and 1,3 mbps (upload), which is not far from the regional average: in the village of Argalasti (where Paou is located), the bandwidth is on average 17,8mbps (down) and 2,2 Mbps (up) (Internet Speed in Europe (europeandatajournalism.eu)) 

Here is a handy overview of bandwidth requirements for different forms of hybrid meetings (from sound to razor sharp images) 

Microsoft Teams bandwidth requirements and other FAQs (2021) (checkmybroadbandspeed.online) 

 
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BROTHERS EXALT THEE TO FREEDOM

Flyer installation Zaandam – photo made by author

Broeders verheft u ter vrijheid – foto van website Dries Verhoeven, copyright Willem Popelier

 

 

THE FUTURE OF HUMAN LABOUR

By Carolien Lubberhuizen

The old ammunition factory on the Hemburgterrein in Zaandam forms the perfect theater for the mysterious and dystopian art installation by Dries Verhoeven. From 1896 until 2003 people produced weapons, artillery and munition for the Dutch army. With this history still in the atmosphere, the sound of an old ceremonious song, coming from the speaker of a white van, leads you to the entrance of the former factory. Walking through a cheerless and dark hallway, we find a glass room in which labourers sing Brothers, exalt thee to freedom! on loop. Behind the glass room, blinking robot arms move pallets, work that used to be done manually. After thirty minutes the alarm goes, the singers get 5 minutes to stretch their legs. Then it starts all over. Hours on end.  

Dries Verhoeven wants the visitors to think about the purpose of working bodies in the contemporary world. Farmers replace Dutch workers with labourers from Central and Eastern Europe. At the same time, companies use algorithms, robots and other AI to get the largest profit margin. After all, computers work even harder than labour migrants.  

Agriculture is also one of those sectors where machines take over parts of manual labour and people have to do the thankless tasks that cannot (yet) be done by robots. What does this mean for the thousands of seasonal labourers that come each year to work in the greenhouses of the Netherlands, or in the orchards in Belgium? Do their labour circumstances change? And how do labour migrants themselves feel about this? Do seasonal labourers change their plans for the future and start looking for other places or sectors to work and make three times the amount money they can make in their home country? This year I will try to answer these questions (and many more) by doing research in the Westland area (NL) and the Haspengouw region (BE). Dries Verhoeven and the eight Bulgarian performers who sang this labour anthem for hours and days on end without understanding the lyrics, give some preliminary food for thought.  

 
 

De oude kogelfabriek op het Hemburgterrein in Zaandam vormt het perfecte theater voor de mysterieuze en dystopische installatie van Dries Verhoeven. Van 1895 tot 2003 werkten mensen hier aan de productie van vuurwapens, artillerie en munitie voor het Nederlandse leger. Met deze geschiedenis nog steeds voelbaar en zichtbaar op het terrein, leidt het geluid van plechtig gezang, afkomstig uit de luidspreker van een wit busje, je naar de ingang van de voormalige fabriek. Na een kale, donkere gang treffen we een glazen kamer waar werknemers achtereenvolgens Broeders, verheft u ter vrijheid! zingen. Op de achtergrond verplaatsen piepende robotarmen pallets, werk dat vroeger met de hand werd gedaan. Na dertig minuten gaat de zoemer af, krijgen de zangers 5 minuten pauze. Daarna begint het weer opnieuw. Uren achter elkaar.    

Dries Verhoeven laat de bezoekers hiermee nadenken welk nut onze werkende lichamen tegenwoordig hebben. Tuinders vervangen Nederlandse werknemers met arbeiders uit Centraal en Oost Europa. Tegelijkertijd zoeken bedrijven met algoritmes, robots en andere AI die 24/7 werken naar de grootst mogelijke winstmarges. Computers werken immers nog harder dan arbeidsmigranten.  

Ook in de landbouw nemen machines delen van het handwerk over en mensen hebben de ondankbare taak om klusjes over te nemen die (nog) niet door apparaten kunnen worden uitgevoerd. Wat betekent dat voor de duizenden seizoensarbeiders die ieder jaar naar de kassen in Nederland komen, en de fruitboomgaarden in België? Veranderen hun werkomstandigheden? En wat vinden arbeidsmigranten daar eigenlijk zelf van? Veranderen seizoensarbeiders hun toekomstplannen en zoeken zij andere plekken of sectoren om hard te werken en drie keer zoveel geld te verdienen als in hun herkomstland? Aankomend jaar probeer ik die (en nog veel meer) vragen te beantwoorden door onderzoek te doen in het Nederlandse Westland en het Belgische Haspengouw. Dries Verhoeven en de acht Bulgaarse performers die dit arbeidslied urenlang zongen zonder de tekst te begrijpen bieden alvast stof tot nadenken.  

Wanneer het geluid van de bewegende machines niet de oorverdovende overhand heeft, komt het meerstemmige socialistische strijdlied als een geluidsmuur op je af. Kijkend in de ogen, ietwat ongemakkelijk, van een van de ‘arbeiders’ in de ogen, hoor je dat het inderdaad een meerstemmig lied is. Het verhaal van seizoensarbeid is alleen te begrijpen door te luisteren naar individuele stemmen en de verhalen die zij vertellen.  

De ‘levende’ voorstellingen zijn helaas al voorbij, maar de ‘making of’ tentoonstelling is nog tot 15 augustus te bezoeken in West Den Haag.  

 
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