It Is Not a Fiction

‘It Is Not a Fiction’ is an ongoing participatory project I have started in Manoeuvre (social creative work vzw) with women who migrated to Belgium with whom I worked simultaneously on a piece of patchwork for six months. The group members were asked to bring their personal photos to the piece of patchwork which was an engagement of personal photos and their handy craft skills in an artistic representation. There has been no border made for this patchwork, therefore, it is expected to be extended in different cities and countries by adding migrated and refuges’ personal photos on an extending piece of patchwork. The photos are from their personal lives both in their homeland and the country they have migrated to including both their private and public lives. It re-images the images based on their archived memories (personal photos) by applying their “handicraft” skill as an artistic medium to share their stories from different periods of their lives. In this project, ethnography is used as a process of transformation (by using personal photos combined with embroidery), giving a voice to people living in Diaspora. In this regard, I will address the questions of, How can social limitation, boundary or security make migrated women build up more distant or closer relation with the new community (to feel at home)? What are the positions and potential roles of an artist in participatory work with people? What is the role of the participants in the ‘participatory art’ of exchange and collaboration: do they have agency or co-share power with the artist (see Clifford and Markus 1986, Foster 1995)?

To do this project I learned the patchwork from two quilt maker which I transfer to the participant as well. This patchwork is called Log Cabin which influenced by first generation of house architecture. It must have provided an emotional shelter as well as a center for the family life, a touch of civilization in the wilderness and a place to call home. The log cabin offered warmth and security in an inhospitable environment. The stripes in patchwork represent the logs and the resourcefulness of the pioneer in meeting his needs with what materials were available to its maker. The center square symbolizes the heart of the home (which I replace the photos of participants instead of it). Each color in the center convey a certain meaning for instance a red center represent chimney, the source of warmth and sustenance or a yellow  center symbolizing lantern placed in the window to guide the men folk safely home or to welcome the weary traveler. The warmth and light of chimney or lantern were central to security and a sense of home. Appropriately, the central square provides the base upon which the Log Cabin block is built. Strips or ‘logs’ of the same width, but gradually increasing length, surround the chimney block in concentric rings. The logs on two sides of the block are light in color; on the other side, the logs are dark.

The final touch of the project was embroidery on photos to emphasize a free intervention of participants on the result. The heart of the patchwork (the photos), together with the patchwork  margins are a  metaphorical gesture to bridge the indoors and outdoors, between migrant cultural background and receiving culture. The starting point of the project, its process, results and experience, are the subject of reflection.

‘It Is Not a Fiction’ is a vehicle that bridges the private and the public scene, traditional views on ‘craft’ and contemporary views on ’art’.  At the same time its aim is, giving people and minority groups the ability to express themselves and make them more visibility in a bigger society. Through this project people with different backgrounds, races and nationalities are brought together. By showing their personal albums they share their feelings about time, space and environment. Sharing images and knowledge blurs the boundary between their private and public lives.


Contatto is a new culinary culture that advocates a change in the current culture of food, challenging the existing one, which neglects essential sensorial experiences.

How many times we hear or read around us: ‘do not touch’. We would never say do not look or do not hear: so why do we think we can divorce ourselves from this one essential sense? Touch is a direct tool for knowledge. And tactile sensations cannot be expressed by words: we can understand them just by feeling and experiencing them on our skin.

Contatto provides a new approach to the materiality of food, proposing new ways for food preparation and consumption. Aiming to get to the essence of the human-food relationship in its most genuine level, Contatto removes unnecessary mediating components’: the objects that create a distance between the body and food such as cutlery, plates and some preparation tools. Instead, preparation and consumption focus on the hand, extending taste to the realm of touch. Using the hand as a surface where food is placed, the ‘touches’ (the way the courses are called in the Contatto culture) are built on this surface of our body, generating new gestures, etiquettes and a new vocabulary, challenging existing ones.

The action of serving becomes an intimate gesture between the ‘toucher’ (who is serving) and the ‘taster’ (who is eating), an asking-giving ritual.

During the Contatto eating experience the ingredients are placed on your hand by my hand. While the ingredients are moving from my hand to yours, you are being touched.

The toucher positions the ingredients directly on the taster’s skin, in a choreographed series of gestures, moving from the hand of one taster to the others. Even if not touching each other, the tasters are getting closer to each other: the toucher is guiding them in the same movement, they are part of the same choreography. Touching them one after the other is also creating a bond between them, feeling the same tactile sensations and emotions on the skin. The taster becomes an active participant of the process of preparing, serving and eating, reducing the distance that is a characteristic in a traditional western restaurant.

Contatto asks to push the boundaries of our comfort zone.

Removing the ‘barrier’ between the materiality of food and our body created usually by plates and cutlery, Contatto brings another layers of involvement in relation to food, our body, emotions and senses.

It is not just an eating experience, it involves an intimate rediscovery of senses and tactility, becoming a sensorial celebration of food and the action of eating. And those intense emotions will permeate and stay longer on skin than the ingredients do. I truly hope in a future you will be touched by Contatto.


Future of the High Street

‘Re-imagine’ potential uses of vacant spaces on the high street

As a result of global economic downturn, out of town and online shopping, and rising rents in London, the face of the high street is changing. Across England the rate of shop vacancies stood at 13.3 per cent at the end of 2014 [1]. These vacancies create a downward spiral for the local retail sectors as shop closures reduce footfall. Both sides of the political spectrum recognise this change as important due to its social and economical value, however, too often financial gain is placed above social value.

Where the GLA (Greater London Authority) is promoting culture as important to the high street, as it ‘could increase house prices by up to 30 per cent’ [2], communities are losing control of their own high street. There is an opportunity to challenge this situation by re-imagining the potential uses of these vacant spaces on the local high street. What can replace the social glue that high streets have provided for communities in the past?

Future of the High Street is not another pop-up shop. Based on pure social curiosity, the project looks at a more inclusive alternative to the redevelopment of the high street. During six weeks residency as part of a regeneration programme in Romford, a space has been created that could have multiple uses and house several local businesses on an hourly basis. The project challenges the notions of time and value, while testing systems of sharing in today’s economy. By participating in the project, the local community has been invited to experience the alternatives uses.



Parkeology: In Dust We Trust

Parkeology is a public art and webtv series directed by Kate Clark that excavates sites, stories and senses from urban parks. Featuring Balboa Park, in San Diego, California, Season I hosted five events exploring popular and obscure locations exposing the secret lives of artifacts, closeted LGBT histories, nudist colony remnants, and reimagined organ pavilions. True to our motto, “In Dust We Trust”, each project began by sifting through boxes, snooping in basements, and following up on another kind of dirt: gossip. Over time, these fragments grew into collaborative events and their respective scripts, scores, costumes, objects, and media. Parkeology partners with institutions and people to host time-based events chronicled by Channel Parkeology, directed by Ren Ebel, a webtv series, and ParkCast, a podcast series directed by Parker Bray.

Like many developing cities, San Diego’s algorithm of urban growth continues to accelerate. What only 167 years ago was both indigenous harvest territory and Mexican grazing land is now 1,400 acres of curated megafauna, miniature train systems, and freezers of artifacts. Along with whetting utopian tourist appetites, Balboa Park is also ground zero for many violences, social experiments, and struggles.

From an artists’ perspective, we think about this history of land use as a form of mark making. And no mark making is neutral. If you are a subject that somehow falls outside of this spectrum of normative design- there is a higher chance your physical imprint will have less staying power. Instead of hunting for clues that point to habitualized activity, we highlight and foster moments of experimentation, rupture, and even dischord- not as a historic recovery project- but to pose alternative ways of imagining how we treat the commons we have inherited and are producing. As parkeologists, our job is to create frameworks for people to relate to familiar spaces as if they are strange again. We scratch below the stucco, put our ear to it, and try to feel it from new angles.

There is much more to say, and hopefully the conversations continue!

Below is a brief description of each project, along with the corresponding Channel Parkeology episode links. To learn more, visit:

All Parkeology programming is free, with support from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Project for Public Spaces, the San Diego Foundation, the California Arts Council, and The San Diego Art Institute.

I. Untracked: Beneath the Scenes at the SDMRM

For it’s inaugural event, Parkeology featured one of the most democratic spaces in San Diego: the San Diego Model Railroad Museum. Intimate tours were lead by an elected guide of the four model railroad clubs. Visitors experienced how each individually organized club builds and operates their landscapes and railways under a unique order of esthetics, scale, and culture.

Channel parkeology

II. Facing Artifacts: Casting and Collecting Profiles at the San Diego Museum of Man

In 1915, Museum of Man archivists worked with the Smithsonian to acquire life casts of members of Native American tribes, as well as many other racial “types.” These casts were exhibited to the public for the Panama California Exposition as an illustration of the progress of man. Parkeology revisited these difficult origins of physical anthropology, a science that is still in practice today. For one day, a life casting station was headquartered in the museum rotunda. Participants sat for 30 minutes with a lead Parkeologist and had their features transformed into a museum artifact.

Channel parkeology

III. Queen’s Circle: Cruising Oral Histories of Balboa Park

In collaboration with Lambda LGBT Archives edited sound interviews from those who participated in, surveilled, or managed gay cruising culture in Balboa Park became the fodder for an evening of storytelling. These recorded tales were played in parked cars in a popular cruising location: the “Fruit Loop.”

Channel parkeology

ParkCast Story

IV. The Naked Truth: The Rise and Fall of America’s Only Public Nudist Colony in Four Acts

For the 1935-36 California-Pacific International Exposition at Balboa Park, anyone could pay their 75 cents and spend as long as they wished watching up close fellow human beings hang out stark naked. Historians believe this was the only nudist park open to the casual public. Cultural journalist Welton Jones tracked down the elusive details of Zoro Garden and fashioned them into a day long pageant that came as close as possible to the “truth.”

Channel parkeology 

V. Organ for the Senses: Feeling, Seeing & Sounding the Spreckels Pipe Organ

Organ for the Senses was an experimental music concert that features newly commissioned electro-acoustic works for the organ. Each composition explored new ways to not only hear, but to feel and see the vibrations of the Spreckels Organ. Regional and nationally renowned contemporary musicians created works for the world’s largest outdoor pipe organ. Many compositions featured electronic elements, exploring how the organ functions as a massive analogue synthesizer. During the concert, live projected visualizations allowed visitors to “see” the sound- by live projecting a seismograph registering the physical vibrations of the audio.

Channel Parkeology episode forthcoming

From “Legacy in the Pocket” to the “Transmitted Legacy”

The rag doll project was created as a part of the installation for the fieldwork : Slow Design : Body/ Clothing/ Memory in the International Contemporary Art Triennial , PortIzmir3 ( 2014). The installation entitled “Legacy in the Pocket” was a collection of co-created dolls by communities of women, together with the designer-author [1]. As a participatory design project, it involved the production of rag dolls, which can be made and dressed by the user. Thus , the project presents a paradigm for reducing the gap between design and crafts , arts and design, and beholder and the artist. The author/ designer has been inspired by a tale in the book “Women Who Run with the Wolves” by Clarissa D.Estes, which reminds the reader how important it is to trust her own “wild woman”, and to ensure that the now almost forgotten “female wisdom” is passed on to future generations, in order to preserve all the properties in her essence as her “legacy”, and thus to ensure her own survival. The doll, then, has come to represent a code to be collectively shared and identified with, to create an interface between personal memories and collective memory, and between the private and public space.

The participatory process is then continued with different groups of children and young people between the ages 7 to 16, in order to explore the “ Transmitted Legacy” within the frame of intergenerational equity. With the supervision of the designer , through a series of workshops, children and teenagers could dress the dolls following their imagination in few hours . The workshops are organized in a way the participants can dress-up , thus identify the dolls after listening a tale from the book Woman Who Run with the Dolls. As the dolls are composed of a single piece of fabric and shaped up with a few stitches, they can also be reproduced by using the pattern . However different than the other rag dolls they represent a very neutral graphical character which the maker can freely identify them by making clothes, hair and features of their face . A kind of dress –up play is designed like 3d version of cut-out paper fashion dolls, through which the maker/ user / player could reflect her/ his personal memories and narratives on the doll with just a surface . For children and youngsters dolls refer to a paradigmatic play which is not merely meant to describe the rules of the play, describing how they have to play with a particular toy as merely passive consumer , but rather , they become a medium which players can personalize for themselves. Especially children who become the makers and the players at the same time , can associate the dolls by themselves and they can see the dolls to reflect the adult world around them . ( Collins in Wolfendale and Kennett 2011, 153)

Within the doll dress-up workshops , children and teenagers could practice two kind of plays ; Firstly to spend some time having fun by using their hand skills , becoming a maker and a creator of a character . Secondly; manipulating and personifying this character in a way they want to see and reflect in a paradigmatic role playing model. Within the exhibition the author/ designer intends to present a visual archive of the project’s public outcome , and an artistic installation of collection of the dolls that are created by the participants[2].

[1] The visual documentation of the installation entitled “Legacy in the Pocket” in PortIzmir 3 is attached to the application

[2] Workshop process of proposed exhibition “Transmitted Legacy” is attached to the application

Mother Tongues – making sure migrants aren’t lost in translation

Mother Tongues is a proposal for an open source network of digital phrasebook addressing migrant communities lack of language skills.

Started as an implementation of phrasebooks being distributed in refugee camps to facilitate communication in the absence of interpreters, it aims to become a service supporting migrants’ settlement in European cities.

In times of migration crisis, it aims to facilitate communication in emergency situations as much as fostering social inclusion while accomplishing daily life tasks. It also empowers individuals to contribute to the social good of their local community, by using cheap tech, off-the-shelf components and relying on a non-commercial, open source infrastructure.

The network consists of a series of digital devices streaming translations as digital content – written text, audio recordings, icons – broadcasted by media wi-fi servers scattered around the city and readable through any laptop or mobile device. Basic unit of the project is in fact a “tongue”: an open source single board computer (Raspberry pi) connected to a SD card, a wi-fi dongle and a USB charger. The SD memory contains the content being broadcasted and users can access it by just connecting to an open wi-fi, without need for Internet or apps.

Tongues can be placed in specific locations where migrants are required to interact with locals, without an interpreter, using specific vocabulary. Asking for directions at a train station, enquiring about their rights with a lawyer, describing their symptoms to a doctor. The interface displayed on a smartphone connected to any “tongue wifi” allows to browse existing translations and add new ones. Tailoring the service to the needs of the community using it.

Just Do It! Creative Strategies of Survival

JUST DO IT! Creative Strategies of Survival brings focus to local small scale businesses in Johannesburg and highlights the challenges and chances that they face through artistic interventions. Collaboratively with emerging South African artists the project engages with Spaza Shops in the township of Alexandra in order to learn more about this small scale entrepreneurship. Investigating daily activities, marketing strategies, social interaction and alternative business models the artists developed creative interventions that were presented in a month-long exhibition in and around the participating Spaza Shops. All projects were realized collaboratively with Spaza Shop owners, customers, employees and families. During the one month exhibition period, creative skills workshops with the local community were conducted by the participating artists.

In Johannesburg people show an enormous creative potential to invent their every-day life. One invention is the Spaza shop that is unique to South Africa. These shops grew as a result of sprawling townships under apartheid that made travel to formal shopping places more difficult or expensive. Spaza shops function as local convenience stores that initially were predominantly in the townships but nowadays are spread all over the country. There are about 100,000 Spaza shops in South Africa today with a collective annual revenue of approximately US$1 billion. Spaza shops are typically family-run businesses that are part of the house, or are kiosks in front of a private home, and are constructed out of any material available.

Spazas are not simply suppliers of goods, but take on the role of social spaces where the family gathers during working hours (often 24/7) and friends and neighbors stop by to have a chat and a cigarette. There is a growing awareness of the importance of the Spaza retailer as a marketing channel among manufacturers and producers. Coca-Cola and SABMiller (South African Brewery) are some of the very few companies doing deliveries to Spaza shops.

One of the main problems experienced by Spaza owners is increased competition with too many shops operating in too small an area. Limited financing is also a problem. Another threat Spaza shops are facing presently are the shopping malls that are being built in the townships. Supermarket chains offer cheaper products and therefore present a huge competition to the Spazas. More and more Spaza shops are closing down which not only means a lack of income for many families, but further a loss of community gathering spaces and the disappearance of a culture particular to South African townships.

The idea for the exhibition Just do it! stems from a fascination with the ingenuity that one sees in all aspects of daily life in Johannesburg, and a desire to further investigate how creativity informs the operations of these stores. Spaza shops themselves are small artworks and it is the personal stories of the people running these businesses, as well as their efforts, that deserve to be showcased.

In our globalized economy it is easy to take the individual in the complex network of trade, goods, and labor for granted. What does it actually mean to be a Spaza shop owner? Where do the goods come from? How do shop owners deal with competition? How many people need to survive off the small income generated? What are the social and economic networks in the local as well as in the global arena? And what can we learn from them?

With these questions in mind, the exhibition is designed in the township of Alexandra in close participation with Spaza shop owners and users. Working in Alex is challenging, delicate, and necessary at the same time. The township is located in the north of Johannesburg right next to the city’s financial district—Sandton—one of the most upper class neighborhoods and the country’s connection to the global economy. People from Alex commute to Sandton to work as waiters, cleaning ladies, or other service-related jobs. Alex is a semi-formal township and it is very unlikely that the normal Jo-burger would visit the township.

Breaking the boundaries between these two neighborhoods and their inhabitants while expanding those of formal exhibition spaces like galleries and museums, the exhibition took place within the parameters of Spaza shops in Alex. Visitors to Just do it! were asked to interact with the reality of the space and the site-specific interventions. Unlike the re-produced reality of a gallery space, the visitor had to engage with the Spaza’s community: the shop owners, family members, and customers.

The concept for JUST DO IT! Creative Strategies of Survival was developed by Katharina Rohde and was winner of the apexart New York Franchise Program 2011 that further funded the realization of the project in early 2012.

An Exhibition curated by Katharina Rohde. 
Featuring works by artists: Buhlebezwe Siwani, Keabetswe Mokwena & Reatile Mokwena, Claire Rousell and Sipho Charles Gwala.

Reconstituting ‘dwelling’ for the landless

The forest, lakes and wetlands that lie across the Great Lakes of Eastern Congo, Northern Rwanda and Southern Uganda are the dwelling space for tens of thousands of hunter-gatherer communities, yet many of these spaces have been reclaimed and appropriated by the state as sites of natural resources. Such resources are exploited through economic ‘development’ programs promoting industries of tourism, extraction and energy over the physical and spiritual well being of hunter-gatherers. As hunter-gather ancestral lands are re-territorialized, livelihoods, cultural and social relations are often dissolved; today these communities have some of the worst socio-economic conditions across East Africa.

Displaced hunter-gather communities often re-build transit shelters close to the edges of former lands, permitting intermittent access to resources albeit illegitimately. Shelters are built in a manner familiar to these communities – seemingly temporary and from freely sourced materials of clay, grass and wood. These dwellings are often targeted by the state (as ‘primitive’) and destroyed, with communities today forced to live and re-integrate via government approved ‘modern’ dwellings, yet without equal rights to land (to farm), employment and education.

This project is the first part of a long-term research question to explore the notion of ‘dwelling’ from the hunter-gatherer perspective, towards challenging definitions of what ‘development’, as a mutation of modernity, can mean and often does. This research hopes to destabilize and disempower such broad, totalizing definitions that drive practices of ‘development’ and to redefine and reconstitute these terms in a manner in which non-western communities concerns are heard.

This project works with displaced hunter-gather communities and human rights groups between Rwanda and Uganda.

The first part of this research (the reconstituting) takes the basis of what is called ‘participatory rural appraisal’; a group action where sites of value in the surrounding area are recalled through memory, mapped and discussed. The map in this case takes the form of a large-scale 3d model of communities’ former ancestral lands made on site from parts constructed and transported from the UK.

This mobile model as map has been designed, fabricated and reduced to fit within the weight and dimension restrictions of airplane luggage (i.e. within a suitcase under 20kg); in negative form of molds so that it can be re-made and repeated by the community; and in a module and technology that is familiar and affordable to local communities -the scale of a local brick, made from clay and water.

The activity of mapping cultural values begins to question state claims to common landscapes of forests, lakes and wetlands as economic resources, whilst giving light to former hunter-gatherer practices, beliefs and resources that could drive new activities and forms for a multi-scalar landscape to settlement design strategy. In addition this cultural mapping connects and overlaps with on-going international land-advocacy projects for hunter-gatherers that make legal claims to land lost as a consequence of modernization and ‘development’.

The design and acting out of this event is part of a broader critique of how ’development’ processes prioritize western over non-western knowledge that can have the sum-effect of rendering community participants as passive observers, bringing discussion to how power and knowledge relate to structural inequality.

Over a 10 day period this model was re-made onsite and mapped by a small displaced community in Rwanda.

250 Miles Crossing Philadelphia

Visual artists Esther Polak and Ivar van Bekkum lived 7 months in Philadelphia. New to the city, they invited inhabitants, both human and non-human, to explain their city through movement. Wandering by themselves, the protagonists recorded their trajectories, sounds and private readings of the streets, allowing the artists, and visitors of the website with them, to access their experiences only afterwards.

An innovative cartographic approach introduces a landscape of satellite images where one can travel along with the protagonists, while balancing between voyeurism and empathy. The meditative experience questions our contemporary techno-society, where eavesdropping and social connectivity coexist.

The artists developed a unique recording method and visualisation: Traditional film arises from a sound recording synchronised with 24 photos per second. Within “250 Miles Crossing Philadelphia” the synchronisation happens between a sound recording and a GPS track. (one location per second) A wearable-technology bag “The Beagle” was developed to perform the recordings. A special software plugin was developed to realise the synchronisation and to decide on the camera movements and camera positioning in the public/private 3D world of Google Earth.


As a way to open up the activities of FabLab Genk to other groups of people than the traditional makers, the ‘Fanlab’ project was set up as a collaboration between Fablab Genk (, screen-printing workplace KOPIJ ( and the local football supporters group Drughi Genk. The project aimed at generating new ideas and creating tools that facilitate the actions of the football supporters as fans. As a reaction to a recent ban on banners in the football stadium of K.R.C. Genk, the participants created an open and activist toolkit for football supporters – and protesters alike – to intervene and communicate messages in public space.

At the start, it became clear that all participants (being five members of the supporters group, two members of KOPIJ and two members of Fablab Genk) had different backgrounds and expertise. Since most of the participants were not familiar with Fablab Genk, screen-printing techniques or making banners, this project started with exchanging knowledge about each others’ skills and expertise. Starting from their own skills and expertises provided people with some comfort in the uncertain activity they were going to engage in. The supporters group explained their working method for creating tifos (very large banners that often cover a whole tribune) and bandinieri (small banners or flags that can be raised by one person). For practical reasons, Fanlab concentrated on creating bandinieri. The method they used for creating these banners is very time-consuming since the design and text is painted by hand, leading up to 12 hours of work invested in one single bandinieri. Furthermore, creating multiple bandinieri is always challenging since there is no automated way of copying the design of a banner (thus reproducing one design onto multiple banners).

By combining the knowledge and expertise of the involved participants, different tools were created to simplify the rather manual creation process of the banners (and allow for their reproduction). The toolkit consisted of a batch of wooden alphabet stencils and a stencil of the supporters group’s logo, both created in Fablab Genk. The format of creating the tools was deliberately kept open and informal. This placed all actors on a ‘horizontal level’: the laymen (the supporters group) were considered as experts, equal to the design team. However, this also entailed a number of uncertainties: due to the open format of the intervention it was unclear for all participants what would be negotiated between them and what the outcome would be. Because of the engagement of participants in (preparing and participating in) the project and then using the toolkit for personal interventions in football stadia, the ownership over the tools grew. This feeling of ownership was also extended in time by sharing the toolkit publicly. 

The actions that took place in the project grew organically from the working methods each of the partners used on a daily basis. Exchanging knowledge and skills quite radically changed the hierarchical order within the supporters group. It allowed for making the different takes on the uncertain issue at hand – the ability to creatively express oneself in public space – tangible. Prior to the project there were two members of the supporters group (with graphical skills) who were in charge of designing the banners. After the working methods merged into the toolkit, other members became more strongly involved as graphical skills were no longer needed. The role of the more graphically skilled participants did not become superfluous, since the toolkit consisted of a limited set of elements with a specific graphical style. To design and create additional typographic and visual elements for the banners, the members of the supporters with graphic skills returned several times to Fablab Genk.