Zero Hours

For a workshop on future London, five individuals — Arup, Social Life, Re.Work, Commonplace, Tim Maughan and Nesta—created 10 Future Londoners for the year 2023. This is a short fictional piece describing the working day of 19 year old Nicki, a zero hours retail contractor.


0714, Wanstead

Nicki is awake even before her mum calls her from the other side of the door. She’s sat up in bed, crackly FM radio ebbing from tiny supermarket grade speakers, her fingers flicking across her charity shop grade tablet’s touchscreen. She’s close to shutting down two auctions when a third pushes itself across her screen with its familiar white and green branded arrogance. Starbucks. Oxford Circus. 4 hour shift from 1415.

She sighs, dismisses it. She’s not even sure why she still keeps that notification running. Starbucks, the holy fucking grail. But she can’t go there, can’t even try, without that elusive Barista badge.

Which is why she’s been betting like mad on this Pret a Manger auction, dropping her hourly down to near pointless levels. It says it’s in back of house food prep, but she’s seen the forum stories, the other z-contractors who always say take any job where they serve coffee, just in case. That’s how I did it, they say, forced my way in, all bright faces and make up and flirting and ‘this coffee machine looks AMAZING how does it work?’ and then pow, Barista badge.

But Nicki doesn’t work like that. She’s not one of those girls, she doesn’t feel comfortable playing it that way. She just likes to keep her head down and get the work done, get out, get home.

Her tablet pings once, flashes a notif, pings again and flashes a second. Two auctions won. Both lower than she’d like, both lower than the national minimum, but it’s a start. It’s a reason to get out of bed. Her mum shouts her again, she hollers back. Before she gets up though she’s got the CopWatch wiki open in front of her, checking her route. London Transport Police drone spotted at Mile End, actual cops doing spot checks at Bank. Fuck it. She’s gonna have to change her route — she’s not put credit on her legit Oyster card for time, and she’s only reasonably sure the three hacked ones in her wallet will get her through to Zone 1 from right out here in the forgotten sprawl of Zone 4. Even if they do, re-routing round these checks are going to put an extra half hour on her trip.

She’s out of bed, pulling on clothes, before her mum calls her for a third time.


0920, Oxford Circus tube station

As she reaches the exit barrier at Oxford Circus there’s some kerfuffle on the other side, cursing and shouting, and as the crowd gets out of the way she can see what’s going on; security theatre breaking its own fourth wall as two cops wrestle with a guy and get him to the floor, gloved hands pulling back his hood to reveal the shock of his warped face, mutated beyond machine recognition into a disturbed alien mask. Nicki has seen it before, but it still surprises her that people would go to those ends, pumping their face full of QVC home botox injections just to fool the cameras. Misuse can lead to dangerous long term side effects, the EULAs warn. Plus they just look fucking painful. Apparently the swelling goes down after a while, but the stretch marks remain — plus if that’s the only way you can do business inside Zones 1 & 2 then you need to start jacking your cheeks and forehead up with that shit all over again.

Nicki’s in the barrier gate now, people crowding behind her, eager to get out or crane a look at the guy that’s pinned to the floor. She glances back. No retreat. She steps forward and pops her wallet on the reader, hoping the right card is out of the RFID blocking envelope. She holds her breath. The gate bleeps dully, the barriers swing open, and she’s stepping out, head down, pink hoody up, past the sprawled, screaming guy with the face made of balloons.


1235, Pret A Manger, Oxford Street

Two hour shift down and she’s not even seen a coffee machine, let alone some hipster barista she can flutter eyelashes at. She’s been stuck in a cold backroom sticking vacuum packed, pre-sliced organic cheddar into authentic French artisan baguettes she pulls out of a box from a bakery in Croydon.

Her phone chimes in her pocket, vibrates against her hip. Shift over. She peels and drops plastic gloves into the bin and heads out to the main counter, is surprised by the sudden mass of bodies — it had been dead when she got here, but the early lunch crowd is in now. There’s the fucking coffee machine, steamy and hot and out of touch. She contemplates hanging around to see if she can grab the barista’s attention, but it’s getting too busy in here for that sort of shit, plus she needs to clock off and go, get to the next job.

She finds the manager, he’d been all gruff and short with her when she turned up, but he seems more chilled now, friendlier — despite the fact the shop is getting busier. Maybe that’s why. He smiles and winks at Nicki, and she pulls out her aging Blackberry and scans the the QRcode he shows her on his tablet.

Another chime, cash register sounds kerching, kerching, kerching

Shift completed!

£12.64 received.

Achievement unlocked!

Sandwich Stuffer Pro badge!


1330, outside Starbucks, Oxford Street

Nicki sits soaking up skyscraper focussed rays, eating self made ham sandwiches out of tin foil wrappings, leeching wifi from Starbucks. Somewhere overhead rotors buzz, and she catches a glimpse of one of those Dabbawallah.net tiffin drones straining against it’s own payload as it vanishes behind cliffs of steel and glass, delivering Indian food to penthoused analysts in those tall, metallic tins that swing like bombs from its underside.

She glances back down at her Blackberry, checks CopWatch again. More random stops on the Central line. Safer to walk. Lunchtime over.


1415, Boots the Chemists, Holborn

Boots is busy, a steady flow of post lunch shoppers. Occasionally one of them stops and asks her or one of the two other zed-contractors she’s stacking shelves with for directions to some product they don’t even recognize the name of. She smiles politely, tries to explain she’s zero hours, and offers to find someone to help them. Invariably the customers just tut and twirl on their heels, walking away from her mid sentence. The two other girls she’s working with keep their heads down, don’t even bother to look up. Maybe it’s the best strategy.

The work is fiddly, annoyingly so. Usually shelf stacking is pretty straightforward — but this time they’re all on lipsticks and each one needs to be slotted into the correct little plastic hole on the display depending on colour and shade. Get it wrong and the shelf knows, and buzzes the app on her phone. She guesses it’s probably telling someone else too, building stats on her, trails of data ranking her for efficiency.

She watches the other girls, both about her age. Similar clothes, with the oversized Boots t-shirts they were given over the top. She wonders how much they are getting paid — all the auctions are secret. Did they undercut her or the other way around?

As she gazes at them the one nearest her, the one with the tight, straight black bob of hair, slips two of the lipsticks into a silver envelope and then into her jeans pocket. She recognizes the envelope, it’s made of the same material she keeps her Oyster cards in when she doesn’t want them to be scanned. RFID blocking. She pretends she hasn’t seen anything, turns back to the shelf and the lipsticks and the endless stupid holes.


1845, Boots the Chemists, Holborn

Nicki and the other two zed-contractors are in the manager’s office, waiting for her to get off a call. It’s nice in here, Nicki thinks. Warm and quiet. There’s chairs and one of those old desktop computers with the big displays. Nicki wonders what it’s like to have a job where you get to sit down all day.

The manager gets off the phone, and near silently walks over to them, showing them each her tablet so they can scan the QRcode. Nicki is last, before her the girl with the bobbed hair and light fingers. Chimes and kerchings. Nicki glances a look at the surface of the girl’s two-seasons-ago iPhone, catches perfectly rendered text on its OLED screen.

Shift completed!

£19.84 received.

Nicki feels a rush of jealousy, anger. The girl is getting paid more than her. It’s pence, but.

The manger reaches Nicki, presents her with the QRcode. She scans it. Chimes and kerchings.

Shift completed!

£19.24 received.

Achievement unlocked!

Shelf Stacker Pro Level 2 badge!

The manger thanks them all, and the three girls shuffle out of her office, Nicki at the back. Something stops her before she makes it through the doorframe though, a cold grip of rage and injustice. She turns back to face the manager, who looks at her over the rims of her Samsung branded spex.

-Yes?

Nicki looks at her, at the floor. Rage tinged with shame.

-That girl, with the black hair. She took some lipsticks. Put them in an RFID bag.

-I see.

The manager touches the side of her spex, talks to an unseen security guard. She thanks Nicki and taps her clipboard-tablet, gives her another QRcode to scan.

Chimes and kerchings.

Achievement unlocked!

Shop-cop Pro badge!

£5.20 bonus received!


2127, Wanstead

Nicki lies on her bed, surrounded by books from what’s left of Wanstead’s library. Dali, Gaudi, Piccaso, Bosch, Warhol, Giraud. Her sketchbooks sprawl open around her, pencil scribbled designs sprawling across multiple pages; figures and textures, architectures and crowds, trees and towers.

Nicki is on her tablet, transferring credit from the RetailWarriors app to her PayPal account. She checks the total. £3,467. Still not enough to cover the first term of graphic design at the Wanstead Community Academy.

Maybe next year.

She slides the books off her bed onto the floor, sets the alarm for 0645, and slips under the sheets. She’ll have to wake up early again, before even her mum calls her.

Next Story — Jodorowsky’s ‘Dune’: the most important science fiction movie never made
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Jodorowsky’s ‘Dune’: the most important science fiction movie never made

Before ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Alien,’ a failed project would change Hollywood forever


Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel Dune — a galaxy spanning tale of power, religion, and aristocratic family rivalries that served as an analogy for everything from middle east oil-politics and the environment to feminism and ‘60s drug culture — was a book that undeniably changed science fiction literature forever. It seemed fitting then that in 1975 the experimental Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky would set out to adapt the book into a movie that would change cinema forever. Although the movie would never be finished, and not even a single frame of film would ever be shot, a new documentary — Jodorowsky’s Dune — argues that he did in fact succeed.


Through an effective mix of interviews and animated sequences that bring to life concept art and storyboards, Jodorowsky’s Dune tells the story of how the director travelled the world bringing together visionary artists — that he refers to as ‘his warriors’ to realise his psychedelic, world changing vision. First amongst these, and perhaps most vital, was the famous French comic book artist Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud — who sadly passed away in 2012, and as such is conspicuous by his absence. It’s to the film’s credit that although we never hear a single word from him, and see him only briefly in a couple of still photos, that it always feels like Moebius is close, with subtle, deft animations of his storyboards guiding us through the movie, and his distinctive character sketches and costume designs introducing us to its players. As Jodorowsky describes him, he was his ‘camera’, who through over 3,000 storyboard images and an unparalleled eye for cinematography gave the movie a true sense of structure, scale, and fluidity.


Next up to join the team was Dan O’Bannon, at the time a practically unknown visual effects designer and struggling screenwriter, whose only major work had been not just doing the effects for, but also starring in, John Carpenter’s ultra-low budget space comedy Dark Star. O’Bannon is also sadly deceased, passing away in 2009, but here he lives on through recorded audio and filmed interviews with his widow.


“For me, Dune will be the coming of a god. I wanted to make something sacred, free, with new perspective. Open the mind!”
“In that time, I say, if I need to cut my arms in order to make that picture, I will cut my arms. I was even ready to die doing that.” — Alejandro Jodorowsky

Although Moebius’ design talent gave the movie an overall identity and backbone, Jodorowsky wanted to broaden out the visual style, hitting upon the idea of having separate artists for each individual planet. As part of this he recruited the Swiss artist HR Giger, whose grotesque biomechanical, airbrushed nightmares would shape the buildings and landscapes of the home-world of the central villain, Baron Harkonen, alongside the accomplished British science fiction artist Chris Foss, whose psychedelic space ship and robot designs had graced the covers of novels from such luminaries as Isaac Asimov and E. E. “Doc” Smith.


The result of bringing this team of warriors together was the ‘Dune book’, a huge, brick-like volume combining Moebius’ storyboards, Jodorowsky’s screenplay, and a vast array of costume, prop, character, and set designs. Pioneering an approach that is now the default method for pitching large budget science fiction and fantasy projects, this book — a visual representation of how Jodorowsky’s vision would be committed to celluloid — was sent to every major movie studio in Hollywood.


Unfortunately, as impressive as this combined effort undeniably seemed, Hollywood wouldn’t bite. Not only was the project arguably too big and too revolutionary for the time, but Jodorowsky was seen as too much of a risk for Hollywood, too experimental and uncompromising, and the studios balked at his plans for the movie to be nine to twelve hours long. Furious and heartbroken, the director returned to Paris empty-handed, his vision destroyed. It’s here that the documentary is at its most moving, as Jodorowsky — still as animated, passionate, and righteous at 85 years old as he ever was — rails at Hollywood’s eternal glorification of budget and formula over artistic endeavour.

It is also here that Jodorowsky’s Dune argues that that the director’s vision truly began to change Hollywood forever.


After the production collapsed, a distraught Dan O’Bannon returned to the US, his dreams in tatters. Close to giving up filmmaking, he decided to take one more stab and set about writing screenplay called Star Beast, and managed to sell it to 20th Century Fox. They — somewhat understandably — weren’t too keen on the title though, and changed it. They also found a young — and hitherto unknown — British director to shoot it. It was 1978 and Ridley Scott’s Alien had just been greenlit.

O’Bannon, on board as both writer and effects consultant, went about recruiting friends he had made during the aborted Dune production. Giger was brought in to create the iconic and terrifying creature designs, and Chris Foss to design the exteriors of the spaceship Nostromo. Without his involvement, Jodorowsky’s band of warriors had been assembled again, to create one of the most iconic and influential science fiction movies of all time.


But even before Alien, Jodoworsky’s Dune argues that the aforementioned ‘Dune book’ — now of course in the hands of every major studio — was having an impact on Hollywood, and in a fascinating sequence it shows direct comparisons between Moebius’ sketches and iconic sequences from everything from Star Wars and Flash Gordon to Contact and Prometheus. Jodoworsky himself would go on to have a vibrant and influential — if fiercely independent and Hollywood avoiding — filmmaking career, as well as collaborating again with Moebius on the highly influential Incal comics, again drawing on their own work on Dune.


As a piece of documentary filmmaking, a nugget of movie history, and a fascinating glimpse into how Hollywood operates Jodorowsky’s Dune is a triumph, never once failing to captivate and hold the audience’s attention. It’s also essential viewing for any fan of Moebius’ work, and is a fitting tribute to his legacy as one of science fiction’s great unsung, but most important, visionaries. But above all it is a celebration of passion, vision, and artistic endeavour, and an important reminder of how cinema can both shape and capture our imagination.


Jodorowsky’s Dune opens in New York and Los Angeles on 21st March, with further cities to follow.

Next Story — Graffiti: 40 Years of Hacking New York City
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Graffiti: 40 Years of Hacking New York City

“’City as Canvas’ is a reminder that this is, in a very literal sense, criminal artwork”


The title of The Museum of New York City’s latest street art retrospective — City as Canvas — seems little more than a clever name at first glance; a literal description of an art form that takes the very fabric of urban spaces — the brick and concrete of walls, the steel and plastic of subway cars — as its medium of choice. But in fact, the title is loaded with political and aesthetic connotations, and is in itself a bold statement about the legitimacy of an art form that has had a long, fraught, and troubled relationship with the city that spawned it.


City as Canvas publicly presents, for the first time, seminal works from the collection of artist Martin Wong, a stalwart advocate for NYC graffiti art from its earliest days through to his tragic, premature death in 1999. Following his HIV/AIDS diagnosis in 1994, Wong donated his unique collection to East Harlem’s Museum of New York City — and unique it certainly is; not just because it captures a snapshot of a globally influential artistic movement as it first emerged, but also in its physical form and nature. Comprised of fifty five sketchbooks — from luminaries such as Keith Haring — and over 300 more conventional canvas-based works, there’s also a substantial selection of photographs, not just of the works but of the artists themselves, often in the process of creating or posing with their finished pieces in captivatingly candid and dangerously indicting ways, making the exhibit as much a visual history of NYC in one of its most vibrant and turbulent periods as it is an art show.

And if the photographs were not enough to remind you that graffiti’s true home is on the streets, then Wong’s collection brings New York City itself into the museum, with a smattering of tagged subway signs and painted train panels scattered amongst the more conventional pieces. It’s a thrill to see these parts of the city itself ripped from the their surroundings and mounted on the walls of a gallery, not only intensifying the feeling of substantial, tangible history but also giving the show an air of the edgy, illicit authenticity that was such a vital element of early street art; a reminder that this is, in a very literal sense, criminal artwork. As an admirer of this work for decades — but from a transatlantic distance until now — it’s a thrill matched only by standing in the show’s press preview surrounded by some of the artists themselves; mythical, whispered names such as Lee, Daze, Lady Pink, and FUTURA 2000 given physical, human form.


My own interest in graffiti dates back to my first teenage introduction to hip-hop culture in the mid-1980s, when the first images of New York subway art started to make their way over the pond in magazines and, much rarer, snippets of TV alongside those first rare glimpses of block parties, scratch DJs, rappers, and breakdancers. Apart from their raw visceral energy, both hip hop music and graffiti struck me as intensely science-fictional. Both are about the appropriation of technology to create something new — hip-hop taking samplers and turntables to generate new sounds they weren’t designed to make, and graf taking car repair paint and the very architecture of cities to create new visual spaces and canvases. They are, perhaps, the most literal expression of William Gibson’s famous cyberpunk-defining phrase ‘the street finds its own use for things’.


Gibson’s early works, and those of his many lesser imitators, would herald the hacker as the rebellious hero of the future; a trope that would immeasurably shape everything from political activism to venture capitalism in the decades to follow. Perhaps the stereotypical image of the hacker as lone digital warrior, skulking over keyboards in screen-glare lit rooms seems very far removed from the image of the spray can welding, shadow dwelling, trespassing graffiti writer, but the two subcultures share a startlingly similar set of goals, values, and approaches: both look to subvert existing infrastructures and systems, both value one-upmanship and bragging rights, and neither can resist the illegal thrill of breaking-and-entering — whether physical or virtual — even when the risk of being caught may well lead to ruthless, draconian punishment. Both graffiti artists and hackers share an aesthetic obsession with the future — something apparent in the work of artist Leonard McGurr, better known as FUTURA 2000. His career started in 1970 alongside his best friend Marc Edmunds (AKA ALI), but it was cut short when an explosion caused by spray cans coming into contact with a live subway third rail left Edmunds with severe burns. It was enough to make FUTURA abandon art for a few years and do a stint in the navy — however, his return to NYC in 1979 heralded a dramatic comeback, marked by his — then groundbreaking — decision to reject the focus on words and artist names in favour of pure abstraction.

“I was like ‘you know what? Forget the name.’” he explains, “It was about understanding that [there was more than] hitting a wall and the gratification of seeing my name, that was all it was about, the initial thrill of like ‘oh shit, look at my name!’… I didn’t know what I was talking about, but in a sense my career is somewhat prophetic in that I’m Futura, along with that I gotta be a certain way, my work has to look a certain way, it’s gotta be futuristic, it’s gotta be new, it can’t be some bullshit or something… My big breakthrough was 1980, when I painted a train… a whole car with no lettering, just colors. And that was really how I, you know, sort of understood who I was going to be in this game. I gotta do different shit. And to this day I think I’m still kind of that guy.”


Even before cyberpunk, the city has long been one of the defining settings of science fiction for those who dare to look beyond the standard tropes of spaceships and alien worlds. Science fiction frequently views the city as a machine, with those of us who live within it variably as components, parasites, or even unwilling prisoners. Graffiti becomes one of the most visceral, immediate statements of rebellion for us urban inmates; a bold, organic riot of colour against our drab, sterile prison. It also, as Jeremiah McNichols argues, blurs the artificial lines between street and gallery, between the public and the establishment:


“Graffiti art gets its rare power not only from its confrontational stance towards virtually any viewer who respects the “fourth wall” of the public stage that graffiti writers willfully disassemble, but from its occupancy of a peripheral position with respect to the society it criticizes. This space is open to any visual artist who chooses to present their work in public, without permission, in a way that engages the work with its surroundings, and the two groups are beginning to borrow heavily from each other. Graffiti artists are exploring the fertile ground of targeted messages with immediate and iconic impact, and visual artists are taking to the streets to communicate with the public beyond the sanctioned space of the gallery walls. This social frame of protest allows artists to produce works that express strong aesthetic values without fearing that their works’ aesthetics will be divorced from their underlying message. Their presence in our common, cluttered world rather than the blank slate of an art gallery repudiates our inclination to segregate aesthetics from the world it distills.”


It is perhaps this refusal of graffiti to be restricted to traditional settings that is partly responsible for so much of the early negativity it faces; its positioning as nothing more than mindless vandalism from the city authorities, the New York Police Department, and the Metropolitan Transit Authority is understandable, but as a selection of quotes displayed at the entrance of City as Canvas illustrate, the movement faced considerable hostility from New York’s somewhat elitist art establishment.


The people who graffiti ought to be shot at dawn — Kathleen Westin, Junior Council Co-chair, Museum of Modern Art, 1980

Trains are saturated with garbage. If this is art, then to hell with art! — MTA official, 1981

I like graffiti — Andy Warhol, 1980

That Andy Warhol, that stylish philistine, has said “I love graffiti” is almost enough to hate it — Paul Theroux, New York Magazine, 1982


Despite the nod from Warhol, who often gleefully celebrated his own outsider status, the knee-jerk reaction from NYC’s hip, chattering classes seems especially surprising in the face of how graffiti — or ‘street art’, as it has been commonly renamed — has been accepted and exalted by the contemporary art world. Much of this is, of course, in response to the work of UK stencil prankster-turned-global brand Banksy, whose playful agitprop wall work became so instantly recognisable and digestible that anonymous-mystique celebrity status and million dollar art sales inevitably followed. Unquestionably, Banksy’s political work jacked in to the network zeitgeist somewhere along the line, offering scathing Occupy and Anonymous style sneers devoid of ideology or demands; armchair protests where everyone can go home to their middle class parents or snitch on their hacker comrades when the FBI comes knocking at the door — an urban rebellion that rejected the risk-taking criminality and unashamed blue collar bravado of NYC’s early writers in favour of irony, detached commentary, and aloof subtlety. It’s a gentrification of graffiti into street art in many ways — perhaps best illustrated in Banksy’s hometown of Bristol, where after three decades of pursuing graf writers, the city’s authorities have recognised the art form’s potential as a tourist attraction, and actively support three annual street art festivals while the city’s artists decorate shop and museum interiors, create corporate murals, and contribute to community art schemes.


In some ways the hacker metaphor is useful again here — just as some gifted young digital vandals graduate into lucrative careers as legitimate security consultants and coders, many artists who cut their teeth writing on walls move into graphic design, corporate pieces, and gallery shows; City as Canvas exhibitor Daze was commissioned to do a mural for the Star Ferry terminal in Hong Kong; FUTURA 2000 designed clothes for Nike, Supreme, and Levi’s; and Sandra Fabara — best known as Lady Pink, one of the few women participating in the subway train scene in the 1980s — lectures on art in NYC area colleges. “I like Banksy,” she tells me. “I like what he’s done, what he stands for and… where he’s brought us. The legitimacy. There’s towns and villages and places where they’re like, “alright! cool!” and that is priceless, what he has done. I know other people have problems with Banksy and all of that, but I think it’s all good… and the amount of money that he’s commanding? It rubs off on us all. We sell our paintings in the five and six figures.”


But if New York’s art establishment was slow to accept graffiti as a legitimate form of expression, the city’s police department is still stubborn in its refusal to do so. Its Citywide Vandals Task Force — known just as the ‘Vandal Squad’ to graf writers — was a notoriously hard hitting unit that struck fear into the hearts of artists in the 1980s. Still operating today, with just as much ferocity and with a long memory that still holds grudges from thirty years ago, Fabara tells me that despite not having broken the law “in a couple of decades’, her house was raided and her property seized just last May. “The Vandal Squad actually came into my house, the SWAT team truck outside, my neighbors coming out to look, I’m like “oh ho ho”. So I’m not under arrest, I’ve not been charged, but they still took all my stuff, my computers, my published books out of my book case, a hundred books, as well as all my photos, my everything, so all my life’s work walked out the door. My computers, which meant my jobs, my contacts, my contracts, sales, opportunities, travel, everything walked out the door. I couldn’t reach anyone, I couldn’t… they basically fucked me.”

“This is what the police do. They oppress artists. So yes, we’re accepted here [at the gallery], but nevertheless, if any of us idiots have the nerve to organize an event, do a public function, or in any way show that you are prospering and profiting from that, then they’ll get the police — they’ll raid your house and they’ll get your stuff and do fishing — try to find some kind of crimes or something something. I don’t doubt the vandal squad will be here tomorrow night. I mean it’s the public opening… they’ve picked people up at their own gallery openings. They’ll pick people up. They’ll say, ‘oh we have a photo of some wall… that we’re not so sure if it was legal. And you come with us.’ They’re at gallery openings! So yes, they’re going to be out here like vultures. Circling, circling.”


Again, this draconian approach to busting perceived offenders in their homes and at public gatherings is familiar to anyone who has been aware of how law enforcement agencies across the globe crack down on teenage hackers, as is their rhetoric. “The officers assigned to the Vandals Task Force possess a passion for their work that is matched only by the commitment of the Department to ensure that we are relentless in our efforts to battle graffiti” proclaims the Vandal Squad’s website, before going on to explain how they’re embracing new technology in their fight against underground art, in the form of a tag logging database; “the data bank allows officers from across the City to contribute to the effort. Offenders arrested for graffiti are brought to the attention of the Task Force and their arrest information is entered along with a mug shot and a photo of the damage caused. But an arrest is not required for the data bank to be utilized. A complaint made regarding graffiti is forwarded to the Citywide Vandals Task Force; that information is entered as well. This vigilance allows officers to match a number of identical “tags” to compile stronger cases against the offenders, to hold them responsible when they are eventually arrested.” This is the language and rhetoric of the smart city, the idea of rationalising and controlling urban environments through surveillance, digital monitoring, big data, and centralised management — and in many ways it opens another avenue for the graffiti artist as hacker; a new urban system to rebel against, to combat, to subvert and outwit.

While graffiti transforms from public art in municipal spaces to street art in private collections, our cities are increasingly becoming privatised, gentrified, and corporate controlled spaces, designed to rationalise citizen behaviour, to track our movement, and monetise our expression. Perhaps it is time to return to the original canvas, and to remind us just how rebellious writing on walls can really be. Graffiti might be moving to the walls of galleries and museums, but the battle for the streets of New York is far from over.


City as Canvas: Graffiti Art from the Martin Wong Collection runs at the Museum of the City of New Work through August 24, 2014.

You can read Paintwork, Tim Maughan’s short story on the future of graffiti as protest, over at tor.com

Image credits:

Detail from Untitled by Futura 2000, 1985, acrylic on canvas, 27x20.” Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York. Growing media attention paid to “street art” led to interest from commercial galleries and collectors. As a result, by 1980, several gallery impresarios convinced young artists like FUTURA 2000 to produce works on canvas.

Howard the Duck by Lee Quiñones, 1988, oil on canvas, 58x88.” Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York. A vivid oil painting of the artist’s massive handball court mural, created 10 years earlier and since destroyed, at Corlears Junior High School on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

Graffiti Kids, photograph by Jon Naar, 1973. © Jon Naar — Photographer Jon Naar documented New York’s graffiti art movement in 1970s and ’80s including artists, such as the pictured kids, posing with their work.

Special thanks to The Museum of The City of New York and all artists involved.

Next Story — With Augmented Reality you’ll always know when no REALLY means yes
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With Augmented Reality you’ll always know when no REALLY means yes

Here at Infinity AR we’ve got one mission: to get you laid. 


Update, 18 June 2014: This satirical design fiction piece was originally published on December 19 2013 in response to a concept video by Infinity AR. The original showed their augmented technology being used, in somewhat creepy ways, to pick up women using various techniques such as voice analysis and stalking social media. In April 2014, perhaps in response to this post, Infinity pulled the original video and replaced it with a version where the questionable elements had been edited out. However, the internet never forgets — and embedded below is a newly discovered copy of the original video.

For too long augmented reality has been little more than a buzzword — a tech demo looking for a killer app beyond the drudgery of realtime traffic, stock, and weather updates. Sure, we understand that as a successful man knowing how long you’ve got to get to your meeting, how your portfolio is doing, and whether there’ll be fresh powder on the slopes this weekend is important to you — but we also understand you seek excitement in your life. For years we thought we could give you this in the form of one of AR’s best applications: gaming. But even gaming seems passé these days.

Until we realised one thing.

Sex is the ultimate game, and women are your greatest opponents.

It’s time to level the playing field.

Meet The Game, your ultimate digital wingman:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X8z5TozXsSs

With Infinity’s The Game app, you’re never flying solo. Stay on top of your game with these innovative features:

Survey the field before playing it — whether it’s a bar, a club, the workplace or even just out on the street, sometimes the number of potential opportunities can be bewildering. Save precious time by surveying the scene and having every possible target laid out in front of you — our floating AR tags don’t just highlight where they are and give basic personal data, but also include projected compatibility and success percentages. Never waste time again chasing those time-wasting teases.

Size up your opponent — being prepared is the secret to success, but getting the full low-down on a potential target can take even the most skilled obsessive weeks of digital trawling. Not any more — our patented search and analysis algorithms will scan Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and more to give you the exact inside knowledge you need — and it’s not just limited to birth signs; in seconds you can know her favourite food or band, as well as essential information such as her credit rating or employment history. And with the new addition of Pinterest search, you can be safe in the knowledge that you’re at least feigning the right kind of interest.

Stay one step ahead — keep tabs on your potentials with our geo-tagging functions; with The Game not just effortlessly tracking her social space, but also tapping into Google’s fleet of aerial drones, you can tell precisely where she is at any time. Surprise her on a shopping trip, at her place of work, or even in that dark alley on her walk home. Plus relax with the added knowledge of always knowing whether she’s really where she says she is.

Compare notes — no man is an island. With a subscription to The Game Pro service users gain instant access to Bronet, and compare notes with thousands of other users. Want to know all that personal information that she doesn’t put out on the networks, but that her ex’s had exclusive access to? Whether it’s her annoying habits, her deepest insecurities, her turn ons or whether to just give her a wide birth in the first place, Bronet has your back.

Stay on target — conversation lagging? Is she dominating it too much? Can you remember how long it’s been since you mentioned you drive a Porsche? Well The Game does, and it always knows when to jump in and give you a little push in the right direction. From opening lines to closing the deal, being tongue-tied is a thing of the past.

Weakness analysis — having trouble finding chinks in her armour? Our powerful face and body analysis software will scan your target and compare her attributes to a constantly updated top ten of celebrity hotties, identifying areas where she likely feels inadequate. Make her feel a million dollars instead by complimenting her in the ways she’s desperate to hear.

Know when no REALLY means yes — our patented voice analysis software lets you know what she’s really thinking. Is she impressed? Is she humouring you? Is she lying? Break through her toughest defences and confirm what you both know she’s really saying.

Save for later — with The Game constantly recording and uploading to our cloud based Wank Bank server, you can play back encounters later for both analysis and entertainment, all without having to ask her or worry her pretty little head. And The Game Pro subscribers can upload content to Bronet for the whole community to share.

Plausible deniability — don’t worry if things don’t work out quite as planned. Full control over your Wank bank content means you can not only erase recordings instantly, but replace them with heavily edited or on-the-fly generated experiences to make your reality the most plausible. Plus rest assured that (at the time of writing) no Wank Bank content is admissible in court.

It’s not you, it’s me — is she getting too clingy? Time to move on? The Game has access to thousands of exit strategies, all customisable in realtime to fit your ex-target’s profile. Awkwardly bumped into a previous conquest in the street or at the bar? Then get out quick when The Game fakes you a call from your boss, your dying mother or even that wife you forget to mention.

The Game from Infinity AR. Because we got your back, bro.

Next Story — Manufacturing Outrage For Profit in 10 Easy Steps
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Manufacturing Outrage For Profit in 10 Easy Steps

  1. Miley Cyrus is a 20 year old American female actress and popstar. She rose to prominence by appearing in the children’s TV show Hannah Montana on The Disney Channel, and by initially marketing herself as a family friendly alternative to more raunchy pop acts.
  2. Robin Thicke is a 36 year old American male popstar. While having considerable success as a songwriter for a wide range of popular acts for over a decade, until 2013 his solo career had failed to make any significant impact.
  3. Beats Electronics is a producer of consumer audio products. It was founded by rapper and hip-hop producer Andre “Dr. Dre” Young and Interscope-Geffen-A&M Records chairman Jimmy Iovine. Their most successful product line to date was the ‘Beats By Dre’ series of headphones, which drew upon Dre’s often controversial reputation as the producer of Eminem and the founder of the influential gangsta rap outfit Niggaz Wit Attitudes to give the line an air of edgy/urban cool.
  4. In January 2013 Beats Electronics released the Beats Pill, a personal speaker system designed for use with smart phones and personal music players.
  5. In June 2013 Miley Cyrus released the single “We Can’t Stop”. Its accompanying video created controversy by showing the usually family friendly Cyrus being sexually provocative whilst apparently under the influence of drugs and singing about ‘molly’ — an American slang term for the popular street drug Ecstacy. Ecstacy is normally distributed and consumed in pill form.
  6. The video for “We Can’t Stop” features prominent product placement for the Beats Pill.
  7. In March 2013 Robin Thicke released the single “Blurred Lines”. Its accompanying video created controversy by featuring the star cavorting with topless models wearing skin coloured underwear to give the impression they are naked, whilst Thicke sings lyrics that appear to present him as a sexual predator.
  8. The video for “Blurred Lines” features prominent product placement for the Beats Pill.
  9. On August 25th Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke appeared together on stage at the Video Music Awards to perform “Blurred Lines.” It seemed to be an unusual pairing, as the only real connection between the two seems to be the sponsorship by Beats Electronics. Seen by over 10 million TV and internet viewers, the performance created considerable commentary and outrage due to Cyrus’ highly sexual and provocative performance. For nearly 48 hours after the performance it dominated discussion on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, placing higher in trending topics charts than the suspected use of chemical weapons in Syria and the continuing controversy over US government monitoring of Internet communication.
  10. Less than 24 hours after the performance, Beats Electronics released a TV commercial/Internet viral showing two CGI anthropomorphic Beats Pills discussing the performance and featuring clips of both the Thicke and Cyrus videos.

Note: You may be wondering why, as a science fiction writer, I would have any interest in this topic. My story Limited Edition argues that most celebrity entertainment exists primarily to create interest and outrage in order to sell consumer products, and that this is the dominant driving force behind cultural production in early 21st century networked global society.

A bit like how I just slipped a plug for my writing into this article.

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