magda and łukasz, „mała kultura współczesna”: What were your reactions – as artists and as local residents – to the events of the Euro 2008 held in your hometown in Switzerland?
carmen and doma, !mediengruppe bitnik: „Public Viewing Zone”, „City Dressing”, „Walk of Fans”, „Commercial Display”, „Hospitality Zone”, „Host City”, „Hoogan” (Hooligan Database). Our first contact with Euro 2008 was with a series of neologisms, introduced to describe the side effects of a large football event on a cityscape. It seemed that new words were required to describe what was going to happen to our hometown. And of course this need for new words also evoked – in people’s minds – an exceptional situation, an unprecedented mega-event.
We quickly realised that this framing of the Euro 2008 as a near-state of emergency also allowed for the transfromation of the cityscape and the introduction of preventative and security measures which were inconceivable without the prior evocation of a state of emergency. Just one of many examples. About 6 months before the Euro 2008, authorities had it made known that surveillance drones were being tested during the UEFA Cup game between FC Zurich and FC Toulouse. The test intended to have the drones (unmanned flying objects with cameras) monitor the crowds for irregular behaviour and give the police forces information on arising conflicts. The creation of such a highly grotesque situation began to interest us: On the one hand the European Football Championships are intended to be a mass event. On the other hand the mass gathering of people is treated as a potentially criminal situation. And the rhetorics around all this conveyed the impression that we were preparing for war. For the Swiss Army, which (among other tasks) operated the drones, the Euro 2008 became the largest assignment since the second world war.
Our artistic interest was aroused by the security measures and technologies that were being implemented by way of the Euro 2008. It became clearly visible that the new security technologies were aimed at mass surveillance seemingly justified by having the potential to prevent illegal acts. Drones, surveillance cameras, GPS and Data mining were used to monitor entire spaces (real, virtual, public, in stadiums, outside of stadiums). This was and is a new type of surveillance under a new logic: The old criminal policy was to monitor persons and groups under concrete suspicions. Today, instead of assuming most people to be innocent the criminal policy is going towards suspecting anyone, anytime of being potentially dangerous. This change of perspective on society demands a shift towards „intelligent“ surveillance technologies that can mass monitor whole urban environments and detect „unwanted“ behaviour – thus preventing illegal acts before they happen.
In co-operation with the Kunsthaus in Zurich we started to organise the first surveillance camera dérives. Using modified video signal receivers and video recording devices we walked through the city in search of surveillance camera signals. Our devices enabled participants of these dérives to capture and see the usually invisible image staken by surveillance cameras, thus giving them an inside view of the surveillance landscape within a city. The tools provided access to „surveillance from above“ in public space by displaying the images live at the location where they are emitted.
mkw: What were the most crucial changes in the public sphere that occured before or during the Euro games?
!mb: In respect to Switzerland, this surely was the «national law for the protection of homeland security», nicknamed «hooligan law» and passed a year before Euro 08 through a national vote. In connection with sports events, the law allowed state authorities to restrain access to predefined areas („Rayons” in German) of a city to a person, to restrain freedom of departure of a person, to force someone to report to local authorities (during games for example) and to take them into police custody for 24 hours. All these actions could be enforced on a person without this person having committed an offence and without the officials having to indicate a reason. All procedures in connection with the law were recorded in a centralised database called «Hoogan». This law was temporarily enacted for the Euro 2008 and expired on the 31.12.2009. Nearly all of the 26 Swiss federal cantons had adopted their own «Hooligan Law» by the End of 2009, so, actually the law has stayed effective in most areas of Switzerland until today. The law today is not only used against hooligans, but much more often against persons living on the margins of society. And against any persons hanging around in public space, kids skate boarding etc. This past autumn it was used against the occupy movement, expelling them from inner city areas and preventing demonstrations.
mkw: Did people come up with any „tactics”, which helped them cope with and take over the events?
!mb: It was hard to get reliable information about the exact proceedings around Euro 2008 at an early stage. Additionally, much of the media reports around the event were very heated. Most of the talks centured around an unrealistic fear of hooligans.
There were a number of more or less spontaneous „civil disobedience” projects that targeted a number of small issues which people were unhappy about. As an example, three restaurants which were located in one of the public viewing zones along the Rhine in Basel refused to stop selling local beer during the Euro 2008. Because they were located within the designated public viewing zone they were obliged (through contracts between the city and UEFA) to only sell beer from the Euro 2008 sponsor Carlsberg. After months of discussions, talks of 2.5 meter fences and much media attention, the three restaurants were eventually seperated from the public viewing zone by a 1.4 meter fence. Thus still allowing for their guests to see the screens on which the games were shown.
In Zurich, artist, activists and other members of the loose network of people engaged in alternative off-culture staged a 3-day games event at a derilinct stadium in Zurich. The games were called „Brotäktschen”, bread activities, a name taken from the much quoted „carrot and stick-approach” (which in German is called „Zuckerbrot und Peitsche” – sugarbread and whip). The derilinct stadium was occupied and used as a site for games, concerts and other cultural events a few days after the closing of the Euro 2008 (when most of the police and military forces who had worked over-time for the Euro were on holiday).
mkw: What are the aims of the project that you are planning to carry out during the Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine?
!mb: We have been researching into a possible usage of the Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine as a testing field for the INDECT project. Leaders of the INDECT project have recently denied rumors that they were planning to test INDECT during Euro 2012.
INDECT stands for „Intelligent information system supporting observation, searching and detection for security of citizens in urban environment” and is performed by several European Universities and private partners. It is funded by the European Union. The project aims to automatically detect criminal threats through processing of large volumes of surveillance camera streams. The principal of operation of the project is detecting threats and identifying source of threats without monitoring and searching for particular citizens but through monitoring movement, online communication, number plates etc. Always on the look-out for irregular behaviour.
Part of the testing of IDECT is being undertaken at universities. The parking lot of some buildings of the Jagiellonian University in Kraków are used for example to test number plate recognition software. Although INDECT may not be actively tested during Euro 2012, parts of the software, the intelligence etc. gathered through the ongoing research will be in use. We would like to make this visible and also show some of the consequences of surveillance systems aimed at prevention and thus having to install intelligent monitoring systems which cope with extensive blanket coverage.
mkw: What would your advice be for the local residents of host towns of the Euro 2012?
!mb: Maybe just that we find it important to try and appropriate the mega Event 2012 back from branding experts and make it culturally ones own. The many „alternative”, diverse and small viewings, parties and gatherings during Euro 2008, organised by clubs, football fans and activists made it a good event. Actively engaging with the event, trying to actively shape and configure it, also probably lessened the negative consequences and made the Euro more enjoyable.
!Mediengruppe Bitnik is an artists group based in Zurich, Switzerland. Their artistic practice focusses on medial systems, mediatized realities and live media feeds which they manipulate and reproduce to give the viewer a novel and refined understanding of their mechanisms. In doing so, Bitnik aims to reveal functionalities and operational methods that allow other uses and extend the utilities of these systems. Bitnik was founded in 2003.