Patio 29 is a section of Santiago’s General Cemetery where political dissidents and supporters of Salvador Allende were buried anonymously in mass graves. To this day, not all of the people have been identified correctly; many families are still not sure what happened to their loved ones during that era.
Documentary photographer Jon Lowenstein and his brother Jeff Kelly Lowenstein, a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Diego Portales, are currently in Chile in the run-up to the country’s 2013 presidential election. Together they are documenting how the nation’s people are faring during this historic period 40 years after the coup overthrowing President Salvador Allende by General Augusto Pinochet. Jon’s images are currently being streamed on the New Yorker magazine’s Instagram feed, and the brothers have just posted the first in a series of three articles on the New Yorker’s Photo Booth blog. Below, find an introduction to the work by the Lowensteins, and more sample images from this powerful body of work in progress.
“Forty years after the coup headed by Gen. Augusto Pinochet, Chile remains a wounded, divided nation where the past lives in the present. The nation’s enduring rifts are visible in the glaring contrast between the entrenched poverty in Santiago’s shantytowns and the country’s elite, who enriched themselves during the dictatorship.
History is alive in the homes of people like Ana Gonzalez, a woman whose husband, two of her sons and pregnant daughter-in-law were disappeared during the dictatorship.
And it’s a force in the November presidential election featuring Michelle Bachelet and Evelyn Matthei. The daughters of Air Force Generals played together as children, but their lives were changed permanently by the coup. Matthei’s father Fernando joined the junta. Bachelet’s father Alberto remained loyal to Salvador Allende and the constitution, paying for that decision with his life.
Yet there are also glimmerings of Chile’s coming to terms with its bloody past. Among the most important: this September 11 saw an unprecedented outpouring of memory-related activity.”
Located in Santiago, Villa Grimaldi is considered the most important and infamous of DINA’s (Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional, the Chilean secret police) many places that were used for the detention, interrogation and torture of political prisoners during Gen. Augusto’s Pinochet’s dictatorship. The former social club was open from 1974 to 1978. About 4,500 detainees were brought to Villa Grimaldi during these years, at least 240 of whom were “disappeared” or killed by DINA. Rebuilt from survivors’ memories, the site is dedicated to preserving the memory of those tortured, interrogated and killed by Pinochet’s henchmen.
AFEP (Agrupacion de Familiares de Ejecutados Politicos – Group of Family Members of the Politically Executed) is a support group for family members of people who were executed during the Pinochet dictatorship. Group members call for truth and justice for the perpetrators and help each other to deal with the effects of the trauma.
Percussionist and composer Susie Ibarra is creating virtual sanctuaries for real cities. Working in collaboration with local artists, historians, architects, city planners and musicians, Ibarra and her partner Roberto Rodriguez — who together form Electric Kulintang — have created a musical pilgrimage that takes the public on a sound walk through 12 sites in Lower Manhattan, each featuring an original composition. But more than that, the locations offer respite — they are an invitation to contemplate the special qualities of the built environment.
It’s a music mobile app sound walk — an interactive dialogue, with music and technology as the medium. It’s about bringing sanctuaries of sounds to these historical sites, and partly about bringing the sounds of the natural world back into the built environment. Roberto and I had been talking about the possibility of doing a mobile app sound walk with Andrew Horwitz, an arts promoter, writer for Culturebot and the former programs director of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. We were asking if we could do a technology piece based around walking within communities in Lower Manhattan.
As the idea took shape, we started looking at sites: the African Burial Ground, the American Indian Museum, Titanic Memorial Park, the New York Stock Exchange, Castle Clinton, Peter Minuit Plaza (where Manhattan was first purchased), Teardrop Park and Battery Park Labyrinth — memorials that were built after 9/11 — and Pier 15. We asked ourselves, “What are the cultural stories of each of these places? What is the energy? And what can we offer both city dwellers and tourists?”
Other cities are interested as well. Pittsburgh is commissioning it. Troy, New York, is interested. We have been talking to Sydney, and we are thinking about taking it to Mumbai and Delhi. I’ve also just talked to a visual artist in Taipei. It’s fascinating, because there’s so much history in each city, combined with contemporary forces.
I’m thinking about bringing Digital Sanctuaries to the Visayas, in the Philippines, which recently suffered a big earthquake. My brother and sister-in-law were in Bohol the day it happened. Luckily, they are okay. Electric Kulintang has worked with the beautiful Loboc Children’s Choir in Bohol. Fortunately, the earthquake happened on a holiday when many places were closed, but the choir lost its church — a UNESCO World Heritage Site — and its community and rehearsal spaces. I’m thinking about what kind of sanctuaries would be needed there. How might we help them rebuild?
What makes Digital Sanctuaries interactive?
Digital Sanctuaries offers the audience a virtual experience at each site. The music streams from each location base, and when someone enters the space, they can listen to the music and read about the site’s history. There is also a four-channel mixer page where they can make their own remix, share, and post responses.
Those who cannot visit the Digital Sanctuaries sites in person can visit the website. We’ll have short samples of the compositions on SoundCloud for each place, and information about the work and collaboration. It will also link to Electric Kulintang’s album Song of the Bird King.
Tell us about your concept of sanctuary.
It’s a very intense place, Lower Manhattan. Have you walked down there? The Financial District can really be very intense. We wanted to provide the people who live and/or work in this environment with a place of respite. We considered who might engage with such a sanctuary. It might be people who live there or work there, or just people who are visiting.
The poster for Digital Sanctuaries.
So do you think the idea of sanctuary will change from city to city?
Yes. Each city will be different historically and culturally. I think that even between Mumbai and Delhi, the sounds we create will be radically different.
What was the process of putting Digital Sanctuaries together?
In the development stage, we work with the collaborating partners — those who are hosting the piece or commissioning it — to listen to what the voice of the city is, and then we do research on which sites resonate best with that. And then, what are the stories of these sites? All this informs the composition. We’re finding that creating these digital sanctuaries of music involves a remapping of cities constructed by histories, and numerous dialogues with the people who live in each place. History and present culture both weigh into the creation of the pieces, and along with stories of indigenous people and immigrants, there’s the natural history of each site.
Roberto and I composed compositions for 12 sites. He composed some, I composed some, and then as a duo, Electric Kulintang, we co-compose. Roberto does some pre-programming with electronics. We invite guest artists for each composition to perform and record in the studio. He and I also perform and record various electronic and acoustic percussion.
All of the artists for Digital Sanctuaries, New York City, are from or live in the area. For example, African Burial Ground features Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa reciting a poem he wrote for the site, Guinean master artist Famoro Diaobate performing on balafon and vocals, and the Young People’s Chorus of NYC singing.
Our collaborating visual artists are also New York City residents. Long-time collaborator Makoto Fujimura is a former resident of Lower Manhattan and is a visionary in supporting and preserving cultural practices. Our interaction designer Shankari Murali, originally from Mumbai, has a well-developed understanding of how to integrate music, art and design for a city. Together, we developed the mobile app. These will be re-adapted for each city.
Do you think that over time, the compositions themselves will change and evolve?
Yes, I like to think so. Cities’ geographic location, natural history, current residents and those who preceded us have all combined to create cultures unique to each place. Music is one of these amazing gifts that ebbs and flows and rises out of these pockets. Culture has defined music, and music has defined culture. And one of the things that interested me in creating Digital Sanctuaries was the potential and possibilities for collaboration. I like the idea of digital public art, a web that can grow and move — something people can build and add onto.
If you happen to be in New York, join one of the inaugural hosted walks happening every day until Sunday, November 10. Meet at noon and 2pm for the Red Walk, at the African Burial Ground, 290 Broadway, New York, 10007. Meet at noon and 2pm for the Green Walk, at South Cove Park, 50 Battery Place, (Between 1st and 3rd Pl), New York, 10280. Meet at noon and 2pm for the Blue Walk, at the India House, 1 Hanover Square, New York, 10004.
Several years ago, TED Fellow Jen Brea was diagnosed with a little know, little understood disease commonly referred to as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis). Today, she’s embarked on a mission to bring this disease to light, share its challenges, and ask you to help her raise awareness for both those that suffer from the debilitating affects of CFS and doctors that frequently misdiagnose it.
Unexpectedly, and In just 3 days, her Kickstarter campaign raised the $50,000 she was asking for. Now Jen has set her sights higher, aiming to make Kickstarter history by having more backers than any documentary film ever, and in doing so, she hopes to fully fund the making of her CFS film, Canary in a Coal Mine.
Artist Sharmistha Ray has spent her life moving between India, the Middle East and the United States, discovering, layer by layer, her own sense of self, sexual identity and artistic vision in contrast or harmony with each new environment. Now, as her latest exhibition Reflections + Transformations is set to open at the Aicon Gallery in New York City on October 24, she tells the TED Blog about how her journey has unfolded so far, taking her from figurative art to abstraction and back to vibrant colors and lush, sensual textures that celebrate and reclaim the female body.
You have quite a complicated background. When people ask where you are from, what do you say?
It’s complicated because I’m an artist. People want to know where you’re from as a way of understanding your deepest creative impulses. I started to define myself as diasporic because the many migrations in my life played a very big role in terms of defining who I was, as well as my outlook on life and my artistic practice. I was born a British citizen in Calcutta, but spent my growing-up years in the Middle East and then migrated to the United States with my family later on. I didn’t stop there; a residual nostalgia beckoned me towards India, and after exploring Kolkata for a few months in 2006, I moved to Mumbai and made it my home.
Growing up gay in a traditional Indian family in an Islamic society in Kuwait also created its own displacement. I experienced oppression very early on within my family and society. My sexuality, which started to emerge in my early teens, was a terrifying realization for me. I lived in mortal fear of anyone knowing my dark secret. But ironically, the fear also bore my love for art. It was through art that I was finally able to find my own voice.
Even though I spend most of my time in Mumbai now, I can’t attribute any one of my multiple social, linguistic, cultural, queer, ethnic and geographic ties as the singular source of imagination. It’s really the grazing together of all these identities that has created a messy hybrid form, with many points of location. I am even starting to recast the term “diaspora,” as it feels limited to a binary of homeland and not-homeland. Once the migrant has moved back to the homeland, does he or she continue to be “of the diaspora?” I’m gravitating towards a new term I encountered in reading Gyan Prakash’s excellent historical account of Mumbai in his book Mumbai Fables. He revisits the notion of cosmopolitanism throughout the book, and it struck me that to be “cosmopolitan” strips the subject of a desired location or need to belong. To be “cosmopolitan” essentially means “being in the world.”
Nude #6, 2013
What prompted your decision to move to India?
I was curious — and curiosity is probably the starting point for deep infatuations. I had schooled in Kolkata for close to two years during the Gulf War in Kuwait, where my family lived at the time. Becoming a refugee and living in forced exile with my family formed, at a young age, a confusing network of associations between stability and belonging. As I matured as a thinker, the idea of India took shape as a sort of dreamland, a place of possibilities. I wanted to live without the burdens of identity politics for a while and investigate a more poetic entry point into the question of “being.” Of course, I’m not saying that identity politics is exclusive of poetics, but my work had become riddled with an anxious rhetoric caught between the binaries of “self” and the “other.” I wanted to find a different way of locating myself in a milieu that accepted me first as “Indian.” Interestingly, in India I found myself thrust into other negotiations — with gender and sexuality in particular — which took me many years to untangle. And despite my initial longing to connect to an Indian identity, I am as much an outlier there as I was in America, as I am anywhere else!
You mention gender and sexuality. When did you start exploring these themes in your work?
I started in the last year of high school. Although I lived in a conservative Islamic society in the Middle East, I became emboldened in my final year of art studies and decided to take the plunge. But as I had to be careful, the work is very subtle. In those early works, some of which are lost now, the narratives center around myself and a female agent, but there’s always this physical and psychological distance between the two figures in the frame. It mirrored my life at the time, and the feeling of disconnect from my family and society.
When former accountant Sanga Moses ran into his sister on a far-from-home road carrying firewood on what was supposed to be a school day, his life changed. He knew that Uganda’s rapidly disappearing forests had big implications for the environment, but he hadn’t recognized the day-to-day effect it was having on the lives of his family and village. Now, with his company Eco-fuel Africa, Moses helps farmers transform agricultural waste into cooking fuel, and also sponsors tree-planting projects. Here, he tells the TED Blog about fast-changing ecological conditions in Uganda, and how he hopes to help restore the country’s forests as quickly as possible.
You started out as an accountant, and now you are an environmental entrepreneur. What was the moment that changed the course of your life?
I used to work for one of the biggest banks here in Uganda, and that meant that I was away from my home village. One day, I decided to go check on my mother and little sister. This was a Wednesday — and I ran into my sister on her way carrying wood. She saw me and started crying. She said, “I’m supposed to be in school today. But mother told me to go out and get the wood, and I do this at least twice a week.”
Seeing her didn’t surprise me at first, because I also carried wood as a kid. At first I didn’t get what was wrong. [When she started crying], I thought that maybe my mother was sick or something terribly wrong had happened at home. I helped her put the wood down, and we sat for a few minutes and I asked her, “What is the problem? Why are you crying?” She told me, “It’s about the wood. I’m supposed to be in school today. [But] my mom told me to skip school to go out and get the wood. ” I told her I would talk to our mother, and bring her back to a school in the city where I worked so she wouldn’t have to fetch wood.
But when I spoke to my mother, she said, “No, you can’t do that. She’s the only girl I have, I’m an old woman, I can’t survive without her. If you take her, I’ll be dead.” I went back to the city, but this conversation haunted me. I couldn’t really live my life anymore. I was constantly thinking about my sister, at the verge of losing the only opportunity she had to a better life — that is, education. And as a child who grew up in a rural area, my own life was transformed by education.
I wasn’t sure what to do. All I knew was how to be an accountant and work in a financial institution. But one night, I asked myself, “If I don’t don’t do something, who will? I am just complaining about what I can’t do, and my sister can’t go to school because she has to fetch wood.”
The press machine forms briquettes of biochar fuel. Photo: Eco-fuel Africa
But wait, why had this become a problem when you’d fetched wood as a child yourself?
When I was growing up, we had a forest close by. It no longer exists now. I used to graze cows as a kid and we would graze in forests — have a lot of fun, play hide and seek. But kids these days don’t have that luxury. It’s all empty land — you can see virtually 50 kilometers away because it’s all empty.
The problem is that once people deplete the few forests remaining, they must venture further to find wood. At first, I thought I was just blowing my sister’s dilemma out of proportion, but it became clear that she is not alone. There are so many people — so many kids like her who can’t go to school because there are no trees left in the villages. At my office, where I had access to the internet, I did some research. I found that Uganda has already lost 70% of its forests. According to UN statistics, Uganda will have no forests left by the year 2052 if nothing is done to curb the current rate of deforestation. In a few years’ time, Uganda will have to import wood. But we’re talking about people who live on less than two dollars a day. If we imported wood, would they be able to afford it? And if they can’t afford cooking fuel, how will they survive?
So what you noticed was a connection between changes in the environment and a threat to your community’s way of life.
Yes. It’s actually about the entire ecosystem. When I was younger and we had forest, we were semi-nomads — a cattle-keeping community that traveled with cows. It was easy to take care of them, because seasons were stable, rains were predictable, we had water. In the last ten years, things have changed for the worse. Now droughts are becoming persistent. Actually, as I speak to you now, my family is relocating our cows to a distant area because there’s no water left in the village — also a problem of deforestation. Even in national parks, animals are dying, and the population of buffalo is getting lower, and people encroach looking for water. People are competing for the little that is remaining. And in mountainous areas where all the trees have been cut down, the hills are so dry they develop cracks. When it rains, landslides cover people’s houses and it floods — people are dying because of this. It’s not the world that I grew up in.
Stage and television actor and writer Esther Chae is not afraid of adventure, having climbed the Indian Himalayas, Mt Kilimanjaro and Machu Picchu, among other epic journeys. Here, she shares with the Fellows blog an unusual teaching experience that took her into an altogether different context for her craft, and changed her perspective on the importance of film, acting, and art. Chae recently closed a performance of Extraordinary Chambers, in which she portrayed a survivor of the Khmer Rouge, in San Diego, and is currently developing her one-woman show, So the Arrow Flies – about an alleged North Korean spy interrogated by the FBI – as a feature film.
A few years ago, TED Fellow Kyra Gaunt asked me to write about my experience teaching in Abuja, Nigera, to include in her e-book, “The Audacity of Humanity.” I’d like to share it here on the TED Fellows Blog since it is one of the rare moments my limits both as an explorer and actor (acting teacher in this case) were tested at the same time. There is a strong correlation between the two: both require one to stay vigilantly present in the moment, to be open to unexpected challenges and to persist through that uncomfortable place of extreme vulnerability. That compound effect was intense.
How on earth did I end up here in Africa…?
That’s what I was thinking as a howling sandstorm ravaged Abuja, Nigeria. With bandanas covering our faces and sunglasses protecting our eyes, we stepped outside the classrooms. We looked like a group of bandits about to rob a bank, not fancy artists sent to teach filmmaking. As my students were rehearsing their assigned scenes, I suddenly felt like Coolio, singing in my head how kids in the hood had been spending most their lives living in the Gang-sta’sParadise. I felt like I was in some intense music video and I needed to rap my way through it.
In the spring of 2010, I was part of a group of American teachers who were “planed over” to help build Nigeria’s first official film academy. I was hired to teach Acting for Film. Somehow I missed the memo that I was going to be playing Michelle Pfeiffer’s tough character in the Nollywood (Nigeria’s version of Hollywood) edition of Dangerous Minds, teaching “gangster rebels.” Craft service and make up were certainly not on this set, though.
The makeshift film school was located in an abandoned governmental structure, and the water stopped and electricity went out every day (but not at the same time). This was a stress factor for this gal who was trained (and tortured) under her über-fastidious Korean mom. I could see Mom tsk-tsking, shaking her head at me. “Now look at where your horse traveling spirit has brought you to. And this place, so dirty!”
In the first few days following our arrival, one of the African-American teachers, who was overwhelmed to be “back” in Africa for the first time, broke down in class. He was so excited about and focused on teaching his students, he did not even notice those sandstorms. He lost his voice and then got a sinus infection from the dust. I had to take over his class on top of my already five-class load that first week.
The production assistants were not doing so well, either. Not only were they younger and less experienced working in developing countries, but they did not have the benefit or gratification of working with the students. They didn’t get to see the students’ lightbulbs turn on and creativity flow, like we teachers did. Instead, the PAs had the harsh task of managing the expensive film equipment, which started fraying in the heat and dust, to over 200 confused students who were completely new to film production and constantly fought over time slots and camera equipment. Their duties were stressful, and it started to take a toll. I would see mounds and mounds of hard liquor bottles and cigarette packs outside their hotel room doors.
I knew Nigeria was one of the most recently volatile regions in Africa. Before going there, I had spoken with friends familiar with the area who thought tough Esther could handle it. Okay. I’ve trekked the Himalayan mountains in India, bamboo rafted across Thailand’s rivers, and even survived tiptoeing across the frozen Neva River in Russia in the dead of winter. I could do it. I’m going to Nigeria! But when I first arrived there, I felt I’d made a huge mistake.
When our group of fifteen-some teachers from Los Angeles and New York landed, we were greeted by an equal number of uniformed guards all armed with AK-47s. They shuffled us into the vans that were waiting to take us to the the crumbling “five-star” hotel. This was not customary, but the US-affiliated film academy insisted that we – and the expensive equipment – be guarded for safety. I think I would have felt safer without the guns. The guns stayed with us the entire time we were there.
Met and escorted by armed guards.
But later, I understood why. Ten days after our team of U.S. instructors had arrived, more than 500 civilians, mostly children and women, were killed at a church in the nearby city of Jos. It was surreal to watch the CNN news in the hotel lounge, knowing the brutal massacre had happened only 160 miles away from where I was standing. It was the latest in a sickening cycle of retaliation due to differing political and religious beliefs and ethnic backgrounds, all which were too complex for me, the foreign teacher, to decipher…
One of the screenwriting students mentioned that the Nigerian press reported that the US Film Academy teachers were there to rehabilitate the rebels of the Niger Delta region. The Niger Delta region is the southeastern area between Lagos and Cameroon, home to nine Nigerian tribes whose land contains vast reserves of oil. The area had become a scene of horrific bloodshed and violence as the conflict between disenfranchised populations, oil conglomerates, and the government played out. Apparently, many of our students, who were former rebels from that region, were fully funded by the Niger Delta government to come to this Film Academy for “rehabilitation.”
Well, that was helpful information. No wonder some of the students looked so completely lost and confused! The students all had stories of how they’d found themselves at the film academy: cousins who’d applied on their behalf, church pastors who’d reached out, radio advertisements they’d heard while driving. Those students wanted to learn filmmaking. But the other students from the Niger Delta region had been granted scholarships to go to Abuja and had no idea what they were doing or what they were in for. These students were “rebels” indeed. I would like to imagine they were the ones who had the opportunity to actually defy violence and conflict in their region, the ones who’d traveled from far and further afar to Abuja to learn filmmaking, acting, editing and animation. They were eager 20-somethings desperate for a creative outlet to spread their war-weary wings and fly. Hopefully we teachers could help them arm themselves with art and the power of storytelling. Their pens had to be mightier than the sword. They were now rebels without machetes or guns but with pens, scripts and acting in hand. I had to show up for them, however fatigued, uncomfortable and confused I was.
The sandstorm eventually subsided. The AC started working again, and we picked up where we’d left off. As I walked around the classroom checking in with my students, I heard the song beats of “Gangsta’s Paradise” in my head again. I smiled as my “rebel students” rehearsed their scenes, hoping to fulfill my role as the inspirational teacher that they’d never forget. I hoped many of them would become the Nouvelle Vague of Nigerian cinema, if not civic leaders who questioned their current political and social circumstances through the arts and storytelling. It was in that moment that I figured out the how and why I ended up in Africa. I was there as both a teacher in front of the class and a student of this particular life experience.
David Lang wants to make investigating the mysteries of the ocean accessible to anyone curious and adventurous enough to dive deep. Here, the co-founder of OpenROV — a community of citizen ocean explorers and creators of low-cost underwater robots — recounts his blistering journey from office job to fledgling maker to inventor of a robot that could revolutionize ocean exploration, education and research. And, he tells us about his newly launched book, Zero to Maker, a how-to guide for makers everywhere.
You started out on the OpenROV adventure after you lost a desk job. How did you make the leap from that to creating open source underwater robots?
Just over two years ago, I was working for this startup, writing emails, basically. When it went under, I decided to move to San Francisco because I was dating a woman up here at the time. But I also really wanted to start making stuff. I had met a carpenter, and I thought, “You can’t take carpentry away from this guy. You can’t fire him from this. It’s a skill, and it’s real.” I wanted something like that in my life.
So my goal was simple: making things. I started taking these woodshop classes and welding, and then I got into 3D printing, laser cutting.
During that time I met my friend Eric Stackpole, who wanted to build this underwater robot so that he could explore the Hall City Cave, an underwater limestone cave in the mountains of Northern California, where we’d heard rumors of treasure. I was like ‘whoa, that is so cool! Let me just tag along.’ I helped him put up a website, OpenROV, where we explained that it was going to be an open-source underwater robot, and that we needed help building it – because we didn’t know what we were doing.
We started getting great feedback and contributions from people all over the world, and we still do. It’s in the DNA of our project — the fact that this is something we’re all building together.
Did you find treasure in the cave?
No. But actually, we went back there recently, with Men’s Journal and Range Rover, to film this commercial, with a film crew and everything. It’s like a three-minute documentary. It should be out soon. I’m looking forward to seeing it.
What sorts of people were sending you information?
It’s really diverse. Some are professional ocean engineers. But a lot of them are software developers or electrical engineers who just wanted to start dabbling in underwater robots. We have a group with diverse talents. And even brand-new makers, like me, have been making contributions.
Version 2.5 — the latest iteration of OpenROV.
Why do you think people have been so enthusiastic about contributing to this idea? Do you think this represents a new consciousness of some kind?
It harks back to Clay Shirky’s idea of cognitive surplus, right? People don’t want to go home and watch TV anymore — they want to continue to use their brains and be engaged in things. I think everyone is attracted to the project not just because of the robot, but because of this sense of adventure. I think that the cave story is equally important to what we’re doing as the actual, physical robot is.
If you think about it, it’s pretty amazing that two guys in their garage can build robots and go explore underwater caves. I mean, this is a different era of exploration, when anybody can do this stuff. It doesn’t take a research grant to go out and be curious, and have pretty amazing adventures. I think it’s really exciting for everyone to consider all the potential. It’s just flat-out cool!
So essentially, you took all the information people were offering, and then you went to a maker space and cobbled it together?
Yeah! We did our first hundred OpenROVs at a TechShop. Now we have this lab in Berkeley, California, where we’re making these robots. We have a test tank, tools, everything we need.
There’ve been underwater robots in the past, obviously. So why is OpenROV a breakthrough? Is it the low cost and total accessibility?
Yes, that’s the goal. We want to make a scientifically capable robot for less than a thousand dollars. We still have a lot of room for improvement and evolution, but the rate of improvement is now really impressive. The big innovation, though, is the community. It’s not just about one low-cost robot — it’s the fact that we have this growing community of citizen ocean explorers.
What is the effect of violence on a life’s narrative? TED Fellow and photojournalist Jon Lowenstein has lived in the South Side of Chicago for about a decade — first working as a teacher, photographer and community liaison at an elementary school and subsequently engaging with his African American neighbors to document life in this rapidly changing part of the city. This short film,A Violent Thread, created for the New Yorker magazine, is part of his long-term, multi-pronged work documenting the transformation of Chicago. Lowenstein began this work with a project called “Chicago in the Year 2000,” an effort by more than 200 photographers to capture the city during that pivotal year. (The project was funded by the late Gary Comer, who founded Lands’ End and grew up in the neighborhood.) Lowenstein has since continued that exploration. He is now working on a book of still photos and South Side oral histories, of which this film is an offshoot.
“I titled the film A Violent Thread because the reality is that the violence is not just about supergangs, as it’s often portrayed,” says Lowenstein. “Gangs are definitely caught up in it, but violence cuts across generations. Even if it’s a young person that’s killed, that person has a cousin, a brother, a mother, a grandmother. What I found as I’ve talked to people — and I’ve done about 50 or 60 [interviews] for the book so far — I didn’t even ask about violence, but many would start talking about moments of violence in their life nonetheless. One guy in the film, a former student of mine, was talking about the domestic abuse from his stepfather. Another woman I know in the neighborhood had been harassed by kids in the neighborhood right down the street from me, and she ended up shooting one because they were throwing bricks at her and harassing her for more than a year. So this is just a little piece of trying to meld these different stories about the intergenerational impact of violence. I wanted to bring it back to the really personal stories of how violence has an impact on people.”
Lowenstein works extensively with diaspora communities focusing on issues of dislocation, social violence and the direct impact of political, economic and social policy on individuals in our society. He is particularly interested in how social violence manifests itself and how people deal with the emotional and psychological trauma. His long-term projects also cover such topics as Mexican and Central American migration to the United States and the use of inhaled nitric oxide in the treatment of children with malaria. He is a co-founder and member of NOOR, a photographic collective and foundation specializing in long-term documentary photography of contemporary issues.
With little but locally sourced recycled materials, innovator Alex Odundo invented two low-cost machines to help process fibers from drought-tolerant sisal, boosting the economy of his susbsistence farming community. Now he’s ready to give other local innovators the opportunity to make their own ideas real, while taking his own inventions to the next level. He’s just launched an Indiegogo campaign to help establish the Victoria Innovation Center in Kisumu, Kenya. Here, he tells us all about it.
What is the innovation center, and who will it serve?
I’m running this campaign to to raise funds for the purchase of tools and machines for the Victoria Innovation Center in Kisumu, Kenya. I am establishing this makerspace to help innovators, engineers and designers who have good ideas to walk in and be offered the tools to do their work, and test and produce products. It will also be a place to educate, innovate, and develop manufacturing skills. The hope is to increase empowerment, income and quality of life.
When completed, the space will be equipped with modern tools to make the gears, screws, bolts, sheet metal, and so on to help make durable and productive machines efficiently. Our inspiration is the TechShop in the US, and this will be one of the first-ever machine shops in Kenya.
Tell us more about the community this will serve.
The innovation center is aimed at serving the Kisumu county, Siaya County, Homa-Bay, Migori, Makueni and Kitui. These counties lie within semi-arid areas, where farmers experience inadequate rainfall throughout the year, subjecting small-scale farmers to poverty due to crop failure. Because sisal grows everywhere, is perennial and drought resistant and its fibers have a ready worldwide market, we encourage and teach farmers who live in semiarid lands to plant sisal as an alternative sustainable cash crop. We also teach them to use our sisal-processing machines to process the plants for the valuable fiber.
In addition to serving as an innovation hub, how will the innovation center enhance your sisal work, specifically?
The center will act as a production space for our sisal processing machines. Currently, we use low-tech recycled scrap to produce our machines and borrow middle tech for complicated parts, but this is making it impossible for us to meet market demand and produce cheap and efficient machines for our people. We hope to solve this when we get funding for proper production technology.
How has your life and work changed since you began your TED Fellowship in 2012?
Through TED I met a friend who has changed my life through fund donation, paying for me to train at TechShop in San Francisco. I have since been connected to several individuals and shared ideas that have changed my way of life.
To contribute to this project, please visit the Indiegogo campaign page here.
Composer, multi-instrumentalist, visual artist, filmmaker – it seems there’s nothing Usman Riaz can’t do. He has recently publicly released a short film, Ruckus, named for a track from his album Circus in the Sky. But Ruckus is more than just a music video; it evokes and invites viewers into a particular mysterious time and space, while telling a story. We asked him to tell us about the film and what moves him to make so many different kinds of art.
Tell us about Ruckus. How did it come about? What gave you the idea?
Ruckus is something I have always wanted to do. The inspiration behind the piece was the musical STOMP. I have watched that show live more times than I can remember and always wanted to make something similar to that. They use normal objects to make beautiful polyrhythmic, percussive music. I always wanted to play harmonica over something like that, so I figured I could make my own stomp!
Can you give us a hint of the plotline?
The film revolves around a street urchin and his companion as they steal from an unsuspecting lady while she makes her way out of an abandoned train station. The result is nothing short of chaotic as the “ruckus” caused by these two thieves begins to affect everyone around them. I wanted to pay homage to Charlie Chaplin and Robin Hood with the pacing and characters. The tone of the film is open to interpretation.
Who are the actors/dancers in the film? What is the setting? It’s very atmospheric…
Along with directing the film, I also did the art direction for it, I knew exactly what kind of aesthetic I wanted. I knew the film would be black-and-white so I searched for locations what would look atmospheric and textured. I wanted it to also look ambiguous in its setting, it could be any era, really. I cast the actors myself. I auditioned stage actors because I knew their expressions would be a vital component to the film since it has no dialogue. They also needed to have a good sense of rhythm to actually look like they could be performing the piece. I had a lot of fun torturing them with the costumes and makeup, getting them to look as dirty as possible.
Is this the world premiere of the film on the internet? I understand it has been screened at various film festivals and SXSW this year?
I had uploaded it to YouTube prior to this, but chose to promote it through Vimeo because unfortunately YouTube has been banned in Pakistan (which I feel is completely ridiculous!) ,and Vimeo is a great way to share it universally with everyone. I am very grateful that the response to the film has been very positive.
You are an instrumentalist and a visual artist – what drives you to make short films as well?
I have always loved telling stories, and I feel that these shorts films are an amalgamation of everything it is that I do. It allows me to encompass music through the score, art in the art direction and aesthetic and finally storytelling through the visuals and characters.
Music, art and film are all like brushes and paint for an artist. Only when you combine all of them can you create a painting.
Do you have any other projects – film or otherwise – for us to look forward to?
I have recently completed my second musical short film entitled ‘The Waves’ that I have submitted to various film festivals. This film is based on a piano composition I wrote about the ocean and is about two marooned soldiers out at sea. Its a much darker piece of music and that reflects in the film.