tale of the mobiators

and the emergence of the mobiation project

Oct 16, 2014 · 17 min read

/ part 1 / the years before BamBam

Once upon a weary time, there was a sturdy, wild-eyed Flemish boy in a small but peculiarly active Flemish village. He harboured the a feeling of a proverbial big fish in a small and belittling pond. Making, drawing, creating, banging, dancing his way about the villages had been enough till now. But his short marriage was over, his life was in flux and he held innocently onto a childhood vision of a house that emerges from a red suitcase, wherever you may wish it to be… it was time for something more.

Up north, there sat a maiden, feeling more and more like a fish out of water in a city that no longer held her sway. Should she not just move to Africa or, better still, get a van and go chillax with antiquated European alternatives and the rising tide of eco-village plebs. Her lifelong desire to be “an architect” was in any case a clear misinterpretation. While in general at peace with this, she needed to do some re-interpreting, re-setting, and being a sociable beast, would rather have some partner in crime, preferably of the male variety, sexual preferences being what they were.

For whatever reason, they had both ticked Benelux in the online profile, and the matchmakers deemed it so that she ought to really get in touch with the red-suitcase-vision-carrying boy.

She called herself an an-architect, a deconstructive conceit perhaps, but it helped her set herself apart from the norms of an industry that she so much did not want to embrace. The red-suitcase-vision-carrying boy was, at first glimpses, perhaps a co-conspirator in the quest to de-mangle herself from the woes and throws of the System, someone with whom to dream, provoke and build their own creative reality.

He jumped on a motorbike, arrived at her door, an hour before the allotted time. In those days she still drank, gin and tonic the steady tipple on her breath, and her first words at the door, “You’re early – I don’t usually wear black”; Billy, her melancholic black and white dog cranked his head from behind her black-clad legs – red-suitcase-vision-carrying boy was relieved that this was no small dog. He had an intense and abiding dislike of small dogs and, more so, by association, their human caretakers. But as it was, they merged paths.

Not without its stumbles and follies, its messy misconstrusions and open old wounds, but they found a way to toughen up and were in it for the long haul, it seemed. Together they would create their own world and encourage others to come along for the ride, is what they thought. Together they could plot bombings, develop a virus, release the animals from the zoo’s. Together they would sing and shout about the neo-revolution of bedazzled natural ways, appropriate technology and neo-primitive, post-retro-futurism.

“It’s so futuristic, it’s almost retro”.

Her wholefood veganism reigned. His incessant work ethic set the pace. Her anti-breeding stance was convincing and held fort. They embraced the dogs. They set to work on designing the appropriate mobile living contraption for the lifestyle they were complotting… that alone took years and tears, riddled with faltering-outs and stubborn sit-ins, and battered ideas and battered ways of working. In retrospect there was a faith that dragged them onwards, a faith that they would find their track. In retro- and current-spect, one could argue that the process was the track; that without the struggle, the pain, the ditching of the alcoholic binges, his mule-like maintenance that she would come up with a design while she felt incapable, inadequate and un-impressing…

And then one day, while on different large landmasses, she held up a sketch to the video-cam and the red-suitcase-vision-carrying boy yelped in childlike glee. That subsequent 3D model that she sent was the basis of the next stage of the journey –the building of a rough sketch into what was to become their nest, their home, their hub, their cave, and their podium — the mobi-01.

She gave up on the African escapist ventures and they set to work stripping a shipping container, salvaging materials from the wantonly wasteful décor-builders and two years later, they were looking for a way to test its raincoat and found themselves in the midst of a festival.

Despite some initial fumblings and mumblings about the project, there was no real clear definition of the intent. In some ways, this would always remain so – it developed organically from the reactions and interactions at each location that was offered. A framework, a mentality had emerged from the duo, to be sure. The concocted term “mobiation” was not without its layered intent, an embedding of their lifestyles and needs into a greater construction. Setting up a foundation under which to run the project was as much about giving the project, whatever it was to become, credence and body to the outside world, as it was about removing it from their hands alone – opening their lives to be managed by an external body, an external check, albeit sleeping steering committee – it worked a mental construct. This was in fact a crucial step, as it fixed one of the most important aspects of the journey – that it was about them and what they do, their performances, as it were, in the varying contexts.

In this way, the story was to become less personal to them, and yet highly intimate to the spectators, the audience, those with whom they interacted.

The debut showcasing was the festival, four weekends in a row, where they organised workshops, talks, films showings and music and theatre gigs; all manifestations of the themes they were developing: low-impact ling, raw food, veganism, open-source, DIY creative living, recycling, upcycling and grassroots community development. With each guest, the story progressed, was embellished, was further worked out, to the extent that by the next location, as a live exhibit in an exhibition entitle ‘Urban Outsiders’. At this stage, the Mobiators were living full-time in the mobi-01. the kitchenette of their camper van, a flight-case1 in itself, was replaced with a more sturdy gas stand; and a stove, complete with small oven built around the chimney, came into being. Winter was approaching.

As part of the exhibition programme, they hosted an “art-dinner”, a themed soiree around the dinner table, structured conversations on chosen topic with deliberately designed guests. The theme was transient urban developments. Despite being avid foodies themselves and therefore always willing to feed good wholesome organic vegan food to those that happen to venture into their open-nest round feeding times, the food for the dinner that evening was prepared by the rather good restaurant that lay next to them – the fact that they used wild foods [mushrooms, herbs] and local organic ingredients where possible, counteracted the fact that it was not a vegan establishment, although for that evening, the food served was cruelty free, and remarkably tasty.

Neither mobiator would call themselves militant, when it came to veganism, yet, but they were definitely vocal about it when asked. Her story was already 17 years in the making, with years of vegetarianism before that. She had been there at the beginning of the anti-GMO actions, the mushrooming of local organic farming initiatives, and had in fact set up a locally-sourced organic food co-op in Amsterdam, the management of which was still was the brunt of much of her attention and time. His was more about dabbling in vegetarian in his activist late teenage barefoot and dreads period, and then more recently, since he had teamed up with her, his awareness of the value of food and the destructive and entirely uncompassionate practices of the bio-industry as a whole, had increased multiple fold. When his mother was diagnosed with cancer, he spent weeks trying to convert her very conservative Flemish-working class diet to something more healing and sound, to no avail. He managed to improve her stools and intestine function, but the cancers had taken hold.

The experience, coupled with his own generally improved condition was enough to keep him on the vegan path, more or less. She had little in fact to do with it, respecting, as one does, the fact that while she can advise, she cannot impose. His lapses were chocolate, homemade mayonnaise and the occasional ice-cream.

Mobiation, has at its root, a survivalists outlook – living out-with the establishments programme, minimising interaction with the common day monetary systems and making it on your own, be that as an individual, a small household, or as part of a greater community – intending this within an urban nomadic set-up, is extreme to say the least, but the Mobiators were never really driven by a search for convenience or ease of living. In fact, they never made it easy for themselves, and acknowledged this openly as a tactic to stave off any possible inclination to be sucked into a life of laziness.

Wild food foraging in the urban parks and greenways was part of mobiated food system, as was the food co-op, as was the growing of herbs, the cultivation of mushrooms, the making of tempeh, miso, kim-chi, pickles, the brewing of kombucha, gingerbeer and baking breads, sourdough, soda and unleavened. It was safe to say that food, the making, the eating and the discussion/debate was core to their relationship. Given that the globalised food system accounts for such a large percentage of oil consumption, social inequalities and environmental injustices, and given that low-impact and conscious living tries to address one’s own role in these distorted truths, it is not surprising that the Mobiators are radical foodies. This is not to say that they don’t have their vices.

Ah, vices. To understand more about their relationship with vices, and indeed the birth of the idea of mobiation, let’s back track here a bit to the period before they occupied the mobi-01 and took it on the road — for that move was a game-changer in itself, and allowed for a purge of many habits and sordid behaviours. Another great game-changer, was when she quit alcohol, for good.

Her Irish blood had lavished on her, as many of her country-folk, a taste for the liquor. As gregarious and charming and entertaining as that was for those in her company, it became, in retrospect, an increasingly cowardly escapism, and in fact, putting the blackouts, the mal-absorption of vitamins and the post-binge downs, she had begun to notice that with the first drops, she transformed — more aggressive or more emotional and most scarringly, argument-seeking with him.

Nine months into their relationship, he moved his gear2 into the space she had in a large shared building with workshops, ateliers, living spaces, shared bathrooms, kitchens and a café downstairs, open once a week with food and music, in the tradition of old squats in Amsterdam. The community, café and the food-co-op that functioned from the house, offered more than enough social contact for the couple, that there really was rarely a pressing need to go outside, other than sheer fresh air and walking with the dogs.3 As such, there was always alcohol in the house and it was consumed at a hearty rate. The Flemish generally also have a love of drinking as a national pastime and it was all very well for quite a while, despite the occasional leglessness, outbursts and hoo-hahs. The habit however, began to corrode their relationship, or at least, from her perspective. She felt that she was destroying something unreasonably. They fought, he would leave for a while, they’d come back together, he would be frustrated by her lack of action, she would wish the evening inwards so that it was socially acceptable to have a glass in hand.

To cut the story short, after 18months of self-imposed restrictions of various terms, and having reached a shame-faced low of kicking him in his sleep and then driving under the influence, something she had always abhorred and despised, she decided to quit for good. The obstinacy and determination that had fuelled her teenage years had re-surfaced just for that moment, and it felt good. It was a veritable beginning of a renewed interest in health, in emotional development, in straight-edge culture and social norms. By proxy, though again, as in the veganism, she never requested it, he drank less and felt a similar improvement.

It’s not that she would ever say that she was an alcoholic, but she did feel she escaped a possible full-blown addiction. Removing the alcohol factor, removed her emotional and psychological release. Weed, while bridging the gap somewhat, was not the same – drink had been her drug of choice, culturally determined and programmed. The first year saw a series of confrontations with herself, forced as she was to deal with angers, frustrations, impatiences. He was no easy character, that she had known4. With less of the drink-fuelled illogical arguments blurring the issue, she could focus more on how to solve and work through their roughnesses. it perhaps sounds grandiose to say so, but she felt, in her growing insightfulness and patience with him, she could help him manage his own grievances, even those that, from his perspective, were her problems.

It was an intriguing period of growth and self-discovery, at least as regards character. She remained the unfocussed, lazy so-and-so that continued to annoy him from time to time5, but was now imbued with a much more relaxed, understanding and, dare one say, wise head. She had often wanted to pursue meditation and inward-looking practices. Some days it felt that she had created her own practice, achieving similar results, without the head-shaving.6

In any case, it’s a highly recommended path of action for anyone – removing habits and addictions.

Not that she would attribute the development of the project to that move, but it was undeniably a game changer, if indeed a slow one. The ideas of mobiation had always been there, from their first lengthy emails, their sketches and shared visions: the self-reliance, ingenious and low-tech solutions, manual over automatic, steam/diesel-punk inspired levers and details, recycling, DIY and interestingly, creating a framework for constant changes. Their aesthetic must yet merge, but there was a faith that this would come to pass, and christ knows that faith was needed at times.

Even after that skype-broadcasted sketch and the pursuing model was their game plan, there were many issues to be quibbled over; polyester vs beeswax, a very polarised discussion; discuss and sketch or just get on with making – another set of poles, this time, encompassing the way in which they communicate about everything, not just the angle of the plank or steel element in hand. It was a turbulent and hard-going two years, from sketch to festival, the first location. And the mobi-01 was by no means finished. In fact, as it happened, it was never finished.

Mobiation was not just about living in the mobi-01, although that was the platform to hand and that was the visible manifestation. It was as much about the dialogue with the context, the impulse of grassroots self-determinism and free-thinking and the injection of creative energy at each location. it was about the ‘doing it for ourselves’ at a time when banks were crashing, governments were losing favour, regimes were being overthrown, the climate change deniers were losing hold, the collaborative economy, the shared economy, the open sourcing and 3D printing worlds were emerging from the heavy subcultures.

The mobi-01 as platform, alongside the willow-hut making, the veggie-patch encouraging, the conflict resolutions, the workshops, the festival programmes and all those great and hands-on and necessary wonderful actions, it was the mobi-01 as platform for debate about the current socio-economic and political white elephants and, more importantly, the indications of solutions – this was its power. It was a temporary autonomous zone, a place where the only pressure was to engage, to consume ideas and perhaps a cup of tea, or bowl of soup…

In each conversation, by very nature of the Mobiators themselves, wanting to educate, provoke, trigger and encourage, the smallish talk was a mere prelude to the more serious stuff. She got a handle on processing the less, interesting, or interested, shall we say, customers. Within the first seconds of interaction, watching their face, their reactions, listening to their angle of approach, she could determine whether or not this was something to pursue or process through.

It was a field-study, of sorts. Of what, it’s not yet clear. One of the original design considerations was that it should provoke passers-by to question what it is – not be outrageous, but strange and un-placeable enough to warrant a question, uncategorisable, like themselves, and their own image – a hacked melody of sub-cultures, elements of the anarcho-punk, the wholefood hippie, the hi-tech greenies, veganism, doomsdaypreppers, anti-establishmentarianism and so forth. What is being studied is multi-fold and ranging from off-grid urban living, spatial-minimalism, the possibility of nomadic anti-consumerism, the viability of socially-engaged nomadism, the reactions of the temporary neighbours, the essence and ingredients of the feeling of home [in the context of temporary locations7], the triggering of the fantasy of the public on the possibilities of self-build, organic functionalism and so forth.

The notion of occupying a [semi]public spot amidst a neighbourhood of folk and in return for the location, animating that space/locality/community in some way that increases their moment towards a post-hydrocarbon, post-capitalist and more just societal make-up, is a significant part of the project and its motivation. It is a highly reciprocated relationship, however – the Mobiators need the attention and criticism of the external public as much as they may be needed as a catalyst in the locality itself. The publicity, dialogue and performance aspect should not be underestimated, providing input and something against which to react.

While he was avidly aware of his penchant for performance [band frontman, playing the foolhardy MC at small festivals and gigs – place a microphone in his hand, and his persona transmogrifies into a fame-hugger, doped by the lights, the eyes, the laughter, the sense of the power wielded by those with the rhetoric to enthuse the masses… Having tasted that power,

Questioning the validity of what they are doing and at the same time, noting the power that the authenticity of that questioning, that doubt, lends to the project. What was, is, the project? Their life on display; their choices made transparent. It was a daily delve into existentialist thought – “why are we doing this?”, being the most re-iterated queries…

The most honest answer, is that it is and was their way of dealing with the world around them… it was their reaction.

The mobiation project
is a reaction to all this
There are many things to criticise,
so many things to dis
Its a constructive reworking
of this social reality
and it saves me shooting all of you
in another bloody calamity”8

As they state in presentations to interested bodies, “While we say and seem to be uncategorisable, I can think of a few boxes to put us in:

We are educated landless MIGRANT WORKERS, working for our board. We are neo-punk-gypsies that eat organic-vegan-food and play electronic music. We’re post-nationalists. But, we are firstly mobiators, vegans, builders, designers, makers…and the question of where we come from or where we live, is inconsequential. We are visionaries, rooted in reality.

Or, you could see us as stubborn, indecisive and non-committal workaholic control-freaks with too many ideas and desires to carry out in our own lives, so we are forced to seek ways to inflict them on others.”


1 Ah, yes flight-cases. When she met him, he had already gathered steam in his fixation with flight cases. for years, he had fronted a band, and worked often in sound and lighting, rigging, surrounded then by the esteemed and rugged flight-case-culture. In his wonderfully twisted creative manner then, while others would admire the culture for what it is, he developed a persistent desire to build everything into flight cases. The fact that after his marriage dissolved and he left the house and child, his wandering bed and life opened him up to the need for mobility – hence the re-awakening of the red-suitcase-carrying tale, his own private narrative baggage. She never succeeded to tame the flight case fixation and admitted to rather liking the aesthetic in any case.

2 And by gear, we mean, flightcases, of course

3 Though barely featured till now, dogs were very much a shared love – first there was Billy, her long term; a lovable autistic and lightly depressed simpleton. When he moved in, they adopted a rebellious and demanding herder pup, Bo. Billy didn’t take much to her and was probably quietly relieved when she jumped out of the bakfiets and collided cleanly with a car 9 months later. After a respectable period, a Billy-lookalike was spotted and Boom joined the family at 9 months old. While she shared Billy’s coat, she was a much more active, alert, loving being. She pulled the bakfiets with so much energy glee and delirium, that they called her the external engine. Billy and Boom were there at the beginning of the mobi-01. She managed to somewhat fulfil her promise to Billy therefore that she would take him out of the city and give him a more peaceful life. Whether or not Billy either cared or appreciated this is debatable – they used to compare him to Marvin the Android, of ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’. Marvin was a melancholic android.

4 Not sayin’ that he drove her to the drink, or anythin’, cause she was already a far way gone when they met, but it may have prolonged their relationship in the beginning, stubborn as she was that she was going to stay with this mule. But once the drinking became destructive, it seems logical now, that it were to be factored out, and let the new phase please begin.

5 His thing was that he believed them to be of greatness – they should be out there telling people, singing, performing, making food, earning loads of money, changing the world and so forth; a waste of talent if one does not put it to some use. “we could be famous doing this” was his chant. She would smile, or laugh, or cajole, depending on what state of mind he was in…she would gauge how light-hearted or dismissive she could be. Evidently, she didn’t harbour the same urge for fame, although, as she learned in the course of the early years, she did very much enjoy the attention and spotlighting.

6 This is no loose comment. “Food, shelter and hair”

7 Rootedness to an idea, concept and philosophy, a way of life, rather than an actual place. This is postnationalism at a very stripped and basic level. Physically, above and beyond the obvious shelter issues of keeping dry, the ability to sleep and cook are primary, with the stove and books on the shelf as a very close secondary and necessary element. Psychologically, the feeling of being in a worthwhile place, somewhere where one can have effect, influence or play out the role of the mobiator is not insignificant and is more noteworthy for its absence than presence.

8 From “The Mobiation Song”, their first lyrical adventure. 
They’re some of you out there
that should never really breed
s’bout intelligence distribution
and all those mouths to feed
the bellies, minds, ‘n’ hands
that only learn to take ‘n’ grab
rather micro n’ organic,
than from a corporate lab!
The mobiation project
is a reaction to all this
There are many things to criticise,
so many things to dis
It’s a constructive reworking
of this social reality
and it saves me shooting all of you
in another bloody calamity
Let’s think about food, water, shelter in society
where does is all come from?
And is it really all about me?
The mobiators, we are working towards
wanting only what we need;
Forget the need to want;
Fuck inglorious greed.
We stomp and we chomp
our way to self-reliant bliss
Make some pedal power
and cook with gas from piss
it’s simple and it’s primitive
it’s appropriate technology
No, we’ are not some gypsy luddites,
for us there is no category
no pig has died, no cow has mourned
no bio-industrial shit
we say that beast-free roaming
is the greatest that there is
we make our own, we bake our own
no additives, no stress
No corporate control on our lives
And ideally, we would be money-less!
Come join us, as we are working towards
wanting only what we need;
Forget the need to want;
Fuck inglorious greed.

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