Monday, 7 April 2008


After a full 3-day program, the last workshop had a bit of slow start, perhaps due to the national strike that fell on the same day. Motivated in response to rising food-prices and lacking government response, the most glaring effect of the strike was the prominence of groups of soldiers at every street-corner.

Inside the CiC however, were no soldiers but hacktivist workshop participants further exploring the various uses of the open source-based Dyne:bolic operating system. After having been introduced to the image-editing program 'Gimp' the day before, this morning was spent fooling around with a fractal-image creator, word-editor, and others. Another interesting activity proved to be the browsing of Jaromil's hard-disk for new music. Finally, the group gathered around to watch, and perhaps learn from, Jaromil's attempts to encode one of the participant's videos (which after some a series of trials and errors succeeded).

With nightfall, the organisers of the project were released from their active-role as participants, most of them active in the Cairene arts-scene, now showed the audience some of their work. Singer and actress Lana Mushtaq showed both a short first film made by herself recently, as well as a movie she played a part in, 'From Within' (Minhum Feehum), directed by Maggie Morgan. Photograper Rana El-Nemr showed some of her work on Egyptian coloured balconies, while Malek Helmy talked about her inclusion in an earlier project by CiC, 'tales around the pavement', as well as some other work.

While all great things must come to an end, at least the end to 'Below the Sealevel' was celebrated with a worthy bang. In an informal meet&greet (& eat) the participants of the workshop, attendants of the lectures, program organisers and myself winded down from a succesful and packed 4 days of visual arts themed and open-source activities. Below are some pictorial accounts of the night, before it started getting too festive for camera-exposure. Next time in Amsterdam!

On Video-Art

In the saturday evening lecture Joke Ballintijn explained the nature of her daily work; as a staff member in the collection and distribution department of the Netherlands Media Art Institute in Amsterdam. Talking about the field of video-art from the point of the view of the distributor, as well as the artist, Joke discussed the different platforms that are available for video-artists to showcase their work, dependent on the visibility or exclusivity the artists wants to give the work. While a limited edition piece sold to a select few collectors will ensure a secure income for the artist due to a higher cost-price, it will keep the piece isolated from the general public. Loaning a piece out to an institute like the Netherlands Media Art institute, on the other hand, results in a greater visibility, as well as the ability for the artist to retain all rights to the work.

As for the selection of video-art by the distributor, Joke mentioned a few points taken into consideration by a distributor, besides subjective opinion of a work. The first was that the artist should work in an artistic context, as opposed to the commercial video-world. The work should be suitable for a presentation in a museum or the gallery-circuit. Additionally, an original technique or style is highly appreciated. On top of these, a distributor will also consider whether a particular artist and artwork will add the collection as a whole; for instance, a lack of Egyptian video-art might make such a piece more interesting.

The evening was rounded off with a screening of a selection of video-pieces from the Institute's collection; ranging from short scripted films on a seemingly Utopian future to rhythmically re-edited politician's speeches.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Day 3 - The Workshop gets Tech.

After spending two days talking about the philosophical, political, economical and possibly even ethical elements of free software; the third morning of the workshop took a turn for the more applied side of things, or, how to reboot your computer from a Live-CD. This step enables you to make use of the most user-friendly method of a linux-based operating system, as it doesn't require any installation but simply works of the CD. As this step consumed quite some time, here follows a bullet-point description.
  1. Turn on PC. Insert the CD you want to boot from.
  2. Press restart.
  3. While Windows, or Mac, or whatelse is restarting, is shown in the black window shortly before logging on, press whatever key (usually F12, F2, or delete) takes you to the Setup menu.
  4. While in the set-up menu, find the option that allows you to change the priority order of booting-- instead of going straight to Harddrive, you will want your PC to try booting from a CD/DVD first. This way, if there is no bootable CD inserted, on start-up your PC will go straight to the regular operating system, while with a CD inside it will take you to the other one.
  5. Continue the reboot!
If all goes well, this is what you'll end up with.

The next hour was spent looking into the possibilities of setting up your own WiFi connection, by building an antenna (for examples of how to do this, google 'wifi antenna build' and find out about the multiple uses of a pringles can). More websites of information that were mentioned include the Linux Documentation Project, as well as a website geared towards making the Linux circles accesible in Arabic.

Going on with the Linux in Arabic, half way through-out the workshop we were joined by an active member (of the open source community) in Cairo; Alaa. He graciously spent some of his time to introduce the class to the local GNU/Linux network, thereby giving participants the
possibility to continue in the field after the finish of the workshop, as well as talking about some other things ... the content of which I couldn't confidently report to you here, due to my merely budding knowledge of Egyptian Arabic. Nevertheless, for the locally interested, I urge you to check out both websites mentioned above (which are in English as well as Arabic).


Returning to the everyday use that can be made of free software, the remainder of the workshop was spent playing around with the different applications of GIMP, a photoshop-style software tool, differing most significantly in that the first can be downloaded for free (as is the case with all free software) online, while the other comes at a costly price.

'Film and Architecture' Lecture and Screening by Jeroen Kooijmans

Friday evening Dutch artist Jeroen Kooijmans presented numerous examples of the works he has made over the years, as well as introducing to the audience the project he is working on momentarily, 'The Fish Pond Song'. The artistic-fields mentioned in the lecture title didn't quite reflect the nature of Kooijmans work; while generally using moving images in a 3-dimensional set-up somehow, the startling new effects he has created with this in his works definitely surpass the familiar notions of 'film' and 'architecture'.

Originally a painter, Kooijmans' first experimentation with moving imagery resulted in his 1994 work 'Work', intended to visually capture the mindset of a workaholic, as well as playing with themes of circularity and repetition.

From then on, subsequent creations both extended and transformed the ways in which moving images can be shown within a moving image itself, such as in the 1997 video 'Train Dance', in which the sun is used as a projector to depict a person on a moving train, with the earth as a screen.

Other works that were shown this evening include 'Floating Gardens' (2001) - a project which originally started out as a fantasy of combining high-rise building with land, but was almost realised during an architecture competition- and 'Fata Morgana (2006) - a short movie showing a regular idyllic Dutch landscape, suddenly brightened in its center, during which the church towers quite unnoticeably transform into minarets.

The end of the lecture was spent introducing the audience to Kooijmans' latest work, 'The Fish Pond Song', a work which has only just been realised, combining both the thematic explorations of prior works (utopia) and new themes (danger), with a physical transformation of the screens (in this case house-like structures) upon which this video is projected. The evening was rounded of with a well appreciated screening of 'New York is eating me & The Cactus Dance', a film that originally started out as a project about moustaches, but after being disrupted by the events of 9/11 changed into an identity-search.

Freedom of Creation Workshop - Part II

The Video-Library

The morning after the night before, the workshop continued on with its explanation of the use(fullness) of free software and the open source/linux movement. Jaromil especially emphasised the importance of privacy on the web, as he showed in a few seconds how full (real-life) adresses can be obtained from (virtual) IP-adresses. Additionally, the many hubs that lie on a user's path to the internet are vulnerable spots that can be compromised, and may result in your communication being obtained or obstructed. To stress the importance of keeping your data safe, Jaromil mentioned a few cases in which insecure data of influential people had been sold to third parties to be used, without their consent. The participants, including myself, were then shown the ways to ensure optimal privacy, against these type of actions, in the Dyne:bolic Operating Server, primarily by 'nesting'.

The rest of the workshop soon spun into a political Q&A on the economy in which open source operates. Participants were slightly confused when they were told they were welcome to sell their free Dyne:Bolic CDs to friends and families, without having to give the creators a share of the profits. Nevertheless, Jaromil ensured us that while copy-right as such isn't relevant in the open source movement, as everyone is free to create, use and distribute sofware, creators still get credited for their adaptions.

Motivated by the liberatory and ideological motivations underlying free software-creation, the group collectively expressed its desire to put the workshop into practice somehow during the national strike that will take place this Sunday. To be continued..

Friday, 4 April 2008

Day 1 - 'Wonderwall - Live Visuals' Lecture & screening by Annet Dekker

Half a screen/The location of the lecture

Following the workshop, we were led up to the roof for a screening and informal lecture by Annet Dekker on VJ Culture. Interspersed with many visually stimulating clips by various VJ-artists, whose projection on a slightly loose screen positioned on top of the bare roof gave a fitting 'grindy' feel to the topic presented, the speaker introduce the audience to the various forms of VJ-ing (the more commercial club-dj versus the performance-art style VJ), the differences between VJ culture in its heydays in the 70s and recent manifestations (originally being part of a youth-movement, it was an artform imbued with ideological messages, which has lessened with the years, to its current status of portraying images as such). As the starry and increasingly chilly Cairene night set in, we were shown as a finale the full video-clip 'Global Groove' of one of the first VJ's, video-artist Nam June-Paik, whose techniques are still being employed today. Watch the first few minutes of this amazing video below:

[Disclaimer: some short lo-fi videos were made this evening of the other video-clips, but unfortunately they were lost in electronic-translation...]

For more works, come by CiC's Video-Library to view both the full half an hour of 'Global Groove' and the other video-clips that were shown!

Day 1 - Starting out with the Workshop

With the start of the workshop, 'Below the Sealevel' was officially kicked off. Facilitated by Jaromil, rastafari artist/programmer/activist, the four day workshop will introduce its, pre-dominantly female, pre-dominantly from the art-scene, participants to the applications and philosophy of 'Freedom of Creation', or, creating and using free software.

Jaromil in action

The first workshop proved to be an introduction to the reasoning underlying the open-source movement, besides its technological transparency. Jaromil explained how software could be likened, really, to a set of orders for communication. As communication structures our everyday life, it would make sense that the way this is created and used, should be as accessible and public as possible, and not just in the hands of commercial stake-holders. A prime-example of this kind of reasoning put into practice is, a community of young hackers, or, digital artisans, creating and sharing free software and ideas. Some of the software applications that been developed here for instance, are Hasciicam; an application enabling more primitive PCs to show live video on the web (for a more detailed and technologically correct explanation, check out this tool yourself!). Other examples of the software that have been created by the community at dyne include MuSE, a radio-making application, and FreeJ, a tool to make and create video-interface.

The workshop & participants, in the dark.

Many more open-source applications and creators were mentioned, as everyone enthusiastically dove into the topic at hand. The websites that were mentioned, and may be of use to anyone else interested in free software and the linux-community, are mentioned in a list below:

  • : the original movement behind free software, started in 1984
  • : aforementioned community, providing free software amongst others
  • : a much needed website offering manuals to the many free software tools created, making it accesible to the less technically literate amongst us