matthew fuller on Mon, 27 Mar 2000 17:36:44 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> 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

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

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