matthew fuller on Mon, 27 Mar 2000 16:14:33 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

[Nettime-bold] The Container update: interview with mervin Jarman

mervin Jarman ( is an artist and organiser with an
eye for infrastructure.  He is currently back in London for a couple of
weeks having completed the first stages of The Container project.  A
thorough and ambitious mobile media lab being put together to begin getting
both town and country Jamaicans online. The full inventive weight that is
going to be released by this project looks set to be phenomenal.  This
interview was carried out via a series of email exchanges in mid-March.

Matthew Fuller: The Container is now in Palmers Cross Jamaica and being
readied for conversion. How are you going to change a forty-foot shipping
container into a mobile media laboratory? What is the thing going to look
like - at least in your mind's  eye?

mervin Jarman: Conversion will require an insulation layer  made up of
compacted foam forthe inside. This is to reduce the heat  accumulation and
is the first layer on the inside. Then we will, with the use  of thin
ply-board, produce a smooth painted surface for the interior wall. Of
course the unit will be wired fo rboth telephone and electricity to IEEE
standard. In terms of infrastructure there will be a partition at the far
end  of the container to house a small administration office taking up
about 8ft sq. I am also seeing a tea counter for our expected English
visitors who  can't go through the day without their cups of tea. And of
course any other snacks available in the container. This will then give way
to the remaining  length of the container:28sq ft. to be dedicated to
workstations and  storage/shelve space in which the general running of the
container will be  conducted. Entry will remain at the rear where the doors
swing open outwardly  and 3-4 bay windows will be installed down one side
to offer as much natural lighting as possible. the interior should end up
looking like a well-maintained corporate office, that is the look of it.
The feeling will be another thing. Externally, the unit must be very
attractively decorated so that people will take a curious interest in its
presence, it should be eye-catching and also informative in its
visualisation. An overall comment would  be a well decorated bandwagon that
will let people know that the Container is in town.

MF: You have arranged for five co-workers on The Container  to teach
themselves up using some of the first few Macs that have been  shipped over
so that they can go on to teach others. What is the general level of
familiarity with computers in Jamaica? - and beyond straightforward desktop
use, in what sort of ways is the internet entering different parts of
Jamaican society?

mJ:  Tricky! Let me answer this back to front: in the areas that the
container will be targeting the few persons who I have met who have
actually used a computer only got as far as creating  a word document or to
fill in a spreadsheet as it relates to their job. The internet doesn't even
start to come into it as (thanks to the local telephone company) most
people believe that they need a separate telephone line to get  connected -
an expensive commodity.The level of familiarity is virtually non-existent.
These people are not part of the 5%ters having access who may be found in
some communities. It is sad, as those who know the little that they know
see this as an advantage and as a means of separating themselves from those
who do not know. A kind of hierarchical structure with knowledge prejudice
dominant. Given,(thanks to the mis-information given to the Container
before departure), the amount of  time lost in getting the Container
through Customs and off the Wharf a number of goals were not achieved.
It was my intention to find and train up a team of people who would in turn
be able to start to introduce the ideas of working with computers to the
greater community whilst the container was being converted. They would then
effectively be the source of local contact for the project. What transpired
was that within the two weeks that I had remaining in Jamaica  because of a
previously agreed engagement in LA @ the California Arts Institute, I
proceeded to conduct 5, 1 to 1 crash courses with the five community
workers who had volunteered to work with the project.
For the  project to get maximum community awareness in its limited state I
also did a  two days workshop with children from the Palmers Cross Primary
and Junior High  School. This of course was immediately translated to the
parents and so I was  receiving a number of inquiries on how they could get
involved in the  programme.

MF: What are the most pressing needs for The Container at the moment? What
are you planning to do or to get hold of next in order to  take things to
the next stage?

mJ:  As you know, when The Container left London for the first time we only
had a few redundant computers donated to the project. I guess people never
took me serious enough and didn't actually think I was going to do it. So
many people on the onset was like 'Yes we will help. We will do this and
that.' But when it  really came down to it, most of them chickened out. So
right now I am  re-launching the appeal for donation of computer hardware,
software  and accessories.
The container will be converted on my return to Jamaica in April - the
Minister of Commerce and Technology - Phillip Paulwell  has assured me that
his ministry will be supporting the project and I have  also met with Mrs
Joshiah from the Jamaica's branch of UNESCO who have indicated their
interest to work with us.
The most important thing to me now is to source the container with the
necessary equipment that will initiate  the earliest start to the project
and this is easiest achieved if the mongrel population chips in with us on
this drive to collect and deliver as much of  thesupplies needed for the
container as possible (see Essentials under about the container )

MF: If you are getting help from the Jamaican Ministry of Technology and
UNESCO - why do you need people in Europe  and the States with access to
money or equipment to support the Container?

mJ:  Where the Gov. and UNESCO may very well be  able to support
transportation and maintenance for the Container it is doubtful  that they
would be able to give all that we need, after all it is written "god  help
those who help themselves" neither or but!!! In other words the initial
capital to get the kit together must be raised by us or by people who
support  the project.

MF: At the moment the world is experiencing a serious  change. Capitalism
is re-inventing itself into a purer form and becoming global  on a far
greater scale than previously. Money-power is becoming centralised and more
rapid and intense in the way it moves, with a greater number of financial
transactions of larger amounts made by institutions of increasingly densely
concentrated control. This has been matched with the move towards
centralisation  of decision-making on a political and economic basis and
combined with a global  decentralisation of production. Where do different
social formations in Jamaica  sit in relation to these processes? How can
the Container, as itself something  of a bent vector of globalisation,
learn from the everyday practices of the  communities it is involved with
to turn the situation to advantage?

mJ: Jamaica, both politically and socially, is  not ready nor are they
aware of the implications of the tremendous tidal wave of infrastructural
change and the  decentralising effects as you put it. without wanting to
sound obnoxious, if  they did they would not be hastening to be major
consumers of the technology instead there would be a serious drive as to
how to become major producers of this technology.  As is commonly known
around the world Jamaica is one of the largest selling commodity producers.
Anywhere you go you just have to look at the  shelves in the major
superstores for 'Made in Jamaica' - though ordinary  Jamaicans living
abroad can hardly afford to buy a tin of Ackee.  It then stands to
reasoning that we should be hastening to identify our niche within this
emerging technology as in every economy is necessary to succeed. When you
look  at the social dichotomy of Jamaica and the multi-levels of talents
and  acquired/applied skills base it would be indeed interesting to see the
kind of  products that could come out of the island at the moment those 5%
are happy to  just consume the stuff that's been rammed down their throats
- and don't get me  wrong because inside Jamaica we have guys that could
run circles around any of  Microsoft geeks but unfortunately they are mute.
The Container in Jamaica is a virgin thing - it's totally  new - and the
targeted group of people that the Container will primarily be resourcing
are equally virgins to the technology that the Container will host. I  am
quite excited at the possibilities that will be created as a result of this
combination also giving the variety of participants from the international
forum  that will be applying their services and skills to the Container. I
believe that the work coming out of the Container is going to be of
exceptionally high quality and that the relevance as diverse as it will be
tremendously in the  favour of the collaborative energies that had gone
into producing  it.

MF: At the moment, most software is built by an increasingly  small number
of companies for an increasing number of people doing a wider range  of
things yet defined by an increasingly narrow cultural, technical and social
understanding of what digital technology is or might be. You've mentioned
office software so far - what are the other types of software commonly in
use in Jamaica - particularly at a street level (ie music) and in what way
do you think, if the possibility were there, the people who the Container
is involved  with might actually inflect or change the culture of software?

mJ:  the infusion of software into Jamaica's street culture is virtually
non-existent. It therefore doesn't offer any opportunity for the eventual
end  user/consumer to question its emergence and implications. As it
happens  technology and software in Jamaica is a 'take it or leave it'
situation. It is  ironic when you look at the reverse here in the UK or
even in the wider  technologically developed or assumed tech.developed
countries - as this debate is  being carried by the likes of Mongrel and
other such organisations/critical  technology advocates. Myself being
affiliated with the mongrel crew have  indeed seen fit to question the
levels under which we have to consume the  technology. Living in the UK
does not make me exceptional, it's just that  intermedience of the
technology and in this case software and its delivery has a  far greater
responsibility to its consumers.  This allows for critical debates and
deconstruction. Without programmes like the Container, global communities
like  Jamaica and others would never be in a position to offer up
questions.  Check it in the past. When we offer up real revolutionaries
they have all been  jailed. Marcus, Peter, and look what they did to the
Legacy of Bob.  That's why I think the Container is such an incredible and
revolutionary project  because it allows street-level emergence into what
would be an other wise  unchallenged consortium of global culturalisation
and then where would we be?
What would happen to our dynamics as it relates to production, be that in
the  Music, Art and Craft, in the way we conduct businesses, and develop
our own  customised software to satisfy our specifics? It sounds as if I'm
going on.  But  this is something I feel very strongly about.  No system
should impose its will  and/or cultural identity on another, the only way
for software and technology to  be truly dynamic is to decentralise the
decision making process open up the  formats to customisation on a more
trans-culture and gender context.

MF:  I think the Container is going to be very much about finding real
answers to all these problems.  Where do you expect to be in six months
time?  What do you expect to be going on in the Container?

mJ: Somewhere in Jamaica on a beach. In six months the container will have
expected to complete a number of workshops with various communities and
with support from a number of international artist, this will be
demonstrative of the potentials of the Container. In six months time, I
assume  most if not all the necessary sponsorship and collaborators would
have identified themselves so that the Container can be galvanised as part
of Jamaica's street culture. Also this is round about when the first major
link up via the Container and the UK is expected..... but on that I'll
simply say 'watch this space' for  breaking news about that!

MF: mervin, thanks.

mJ: No thank you for taking the time out, and tracking us down.

MF:  For those reading this interview who want to make something happen,
here's that list of items needed to get the Container up and running....

Essential  List

List of equipment for use in the Container unit:

VSat  Connection1 Server
14 Computers Mac& PC1
A2 Colour Printer1
A4 Laser Printer1
A3 Colour Scanner
Video System
Audio System
1  Data Projector
2 CD Re/Writer
Word Processing Software
PC/MacDesk Top  Publishing Software
PC/MacMultimedia Software
PC/MacWeb Publishing  Software
PC/MacDatabase Software
PC/MacAnti-Virus Software
PC/MacOther Software

List of supplies for converting the  Container
unit:3 Double Glazed Bay Windows Hard Plastic
1 Double  Glazed Double Door Hard Plastic
180 ft Compressed Foam
40 X 8 ft of Hard  Wearing Carpet
Disability Access - Portable Lift
2 Air Conditioning  Units
4 Standing/Hanging Fans
30 running ft of Desk Top
20 Chairs
2  Petrol 110 - 240 Electric Generator
Electrical Distribution Box, Fittings and Accessories
3 double tube Florescent Lamps
8 Gallons of Interior and  Exterior Metal Paint
2 Drinking Fountain X 10 Bottles
2 Kettles
1  Coffee Percolator
Security Alarm System

and any thing else you can off that will be of use to us

Nettime-bold mailing list