Stuart Sinclair: Shadow Life

June 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

Shadow Life played at the Silent City Symposium in May 2010.
A fish love story
Music: Jude Greenaway (Scanone)


Paid Not Played: A Performance

June 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

X Presents… Paid not Played from X Presents… on Vimeo.

Fed up of working unpaid in the name of love? Then we invite you to join The Paid not Played Choir.

The Paid not Played Choir brings together cultural workers in a stand against the practice of free labour within the arts sector. We welcome you to join the choir in creating, rehearsing and performing a piece of protest music to be staged across London (tbc).

Peter Kennard – At Earth, Raven’s Row London

May 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

(Image from At Earth)

On Sunday Peter Kennard’s At Earth opened at Raven’s Row, London. Silent City will be checking out the exhibition on Wednesday and throughly recommend that you do before the exhibition closes on May 22nd.

Voting Reform: An interview with Amisha Ghadiali

May 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

This article first appeared on Amelia’s Magazine

Yes to Fairer Votes Vice-Chair Amisha Ghadiali wearing Ada Zanditon. Illustration by Sam Parr

On May 5th 2011, the United Kingdom will be asked – in the first referendum since 1975 – to vote on the following question:

At present, the UK uses the ‘first past the post’ system to elect MPs to the House of Commons. Should the ‘alternative vote’ system be used instead?

The referendum on the Alternative Vote is the first time in our lifetimes that the citizens of the UK have been able to have a say in how we elect MP’s to the House of Commons.

Currently, this historical moment to discuss voting reform – amongst a broader analysis on the current state of Britain’s democracy – is being lost amidst (speculated) Coalition tensions and fear mongering on the cost of moving from FPTP to AV. Whilst to some, AV may be “a miserable little compromise” that fails to push voting reform far enough, by voting Yes! on the 5th May we, the citizens of the UK, can register our disquiet with the current system (FPTP) and enable the discussion on voting reform to stay at the forefront of the political agenda.

To find out more about what the Alternative Vote is compared to the current system of “First Past The Post” Amelia’s Magazine interviewed one of the Yes Campaign’s Vice-Chair’s: Jewellery Designer, Ethical Fashion Campaigner and Founder of Think Act VoteAmisha Ghadiali.

Photography by Anna Gordon

What is a referendum?

A referendum is when we are asked to vote, not in an election, but on a single issue. Many of us would like to see more of these on a variety of issues. However they are not that common, the last UK-wide referendum was in 1975 asking the question “Do you think the UK should stay in the European Community (Common Market)?”

What is the Alternative Vote?

The Alternative Vote is a voting system, it means that instead of putting one X on our ballot paper, we rank our candidates in order of preference. You can rank all the candidates, or just one, it’s totally up to you. What this means is that if there are three candidates that you would be happy to represent you, you can communicate this. Or if your first choice is a smaller party, that under the current system would have little chance to getting in, you can vote for them, but also somebody from one of the main parties, without having to vote tactically.

 The person who wins the seats needs to have the majority of the vote, so what they do is count the votes. If nobody has 50% of the vote, they eliminate the candidate that comes last, and add their second preferences to the remaining candidates. This repeats until somebody has over 50% of the vote. It means that no votes are wasted.

What are the benefits to AV compared to FPTP?

The current system FPTP means that who ever gets the most votes wins. This sounds fair but what it means in reality is that 2 out of 3 MPs in our parliament have less then 50% of the vote. This means that most of us are represented by people most of us voted against.

The Alternative Vote will mean that MPs will have to be voted for by the majority in their constituency, and so will have to work harder to make sure that they are listening to all of their constituents and representing all of their views, rather then pandering to their core voter support which many of them do.

How are the ‘winners’ in FPTP Elections often opposed to by the majority of voters?

Because the candidate who gets the most votes wins, it doesn’t matter how much of the vote they got. For example some have as little as 32% of the vote in their constituency, meaning that over two thirds of their consistency didn’t vote for them.

Why are you voting Yes to AV?

I think that the Alternative Vote will make our democracy more honest, make all of our votes count, make our MPs have to work harder to gain wider support in their constituencies, make our MPs more accountable to us and make our experience of voting simpler. We will still have our one local MP, but will have more of a say on who that is.

The way that we vote is how we take part in our democracy, and so having more of a say in this part of the process is vital to making ours a fairer politics.

I believe that voting yes in this referendum is the most important vote that we have ever been asked to cast.

AV – A Historical Perspective

Why do you believe this is the most important vote we have ever been asked to cast?

I have taken part in two general elections where I know that my vote didn’t make any difference to the result. Although voting in both general and local elections is an important part of our citizenship, this is us voting on the future of our democracy. It’s the first referendum that I have ever taken part in. It’s not about party politics and politicians but about how we take part in politics and have our views represented. What could be more important than that? After all they do work for us.

What is your role within the Yes campaign?

I am a Vice-Chair of the campaign. When I thought about it over Christmas, I realised how passionately I felt about this referendum, and contacted the campaign asking if I could help. They invited me to be a Vice-Chair along with other supporters including Eddie Izzard, Martin Bell and Greg Dyke. It means that we campaign and speak out about the issues to the media and at events, and as I have discovered in the pub too!

Yes to AV illustration by Mike Harman

 What are your thoughts on how both the Yes to AV and No to AV campaigns have been run?

To be honest, I have found the whole debate in the media really depressing. The focal point often is about how it is going to affect the politicians, but this is not about them, it’s about us and our experience voting. It’s about our future, not about the present.

Of course, I am a supporter of the Yes Campaign, but feel that I would have been deeply disappointed in the No Campaign tactics even if I supported FPTP. Their campaign messages are built on actual lies, and I can’t believe that people are spending millions of pounds spreading lies, rather then on creating an honest open debate about the two systems. There has been so much ‘mud slinging’ which I find shocking, because I thought our politics was better than that.

Their three arguments are that it is expensive, it will give extremist parties (ie the BNP) more power and that it is too complicated for us to understand. None of these things are actually true. They have said it will cost £250 million which is the cost of the referendum whatever the result and the cost of counting machines that we are not getting. They have said that it will encourage the BNP, when the BNP are supporting a No vote, as they know the current system works better for them. And the idea that it is too complicated is frankly insulting. We can all count to three!

The Yes campaign has had to respond to a lot of the allegations that have been made, using time when we would have preferred to talk about relevant issues. I am really enjoying the energy of the Yes campaign, it has brought together a group of passionate, committed people from a variety of backgrounds. The local groups that have been running phone banks and doing local actions are really energetic and inspiring. 

Photography by Anna Gordon

 Why do you think the Conservatives, headed by David Cameron are campaigning against AV, though Cameron himself won the party leadership through AV?

It’s baffling isn’t it. I find it shocking that he is saying that AV is a bad system when it gave him his job. If the Conservative Party leadership deserves AV, then so should we. It is a system that is used a lot in Westminster, not just for leadership contests but also other votes such as how MPs join select committees. I think it is because this change breaks down the tribalism of the Conservatives vs Labour Party, which has served the conservative party well. I thought Cameron was more progressive, but seeing him campaign on this, my personal view is that Cameron doesn’t actually want us to have more say, he is happy with the system as it is, as it works for him.

Will AV tackle the culture of tactical voting and ‘safe seats’? Thus uprooting the current system of members of parliament being parachuted intp safe constituencies?

Yes it will. There is a website called Voter Power, where you can find out what your vote is worth with AV compared to FPTP. From their analysis AV will reduce the number of very safe seats by 60, and increase the number of very marginal seats by 44. So this will make a big difference.

Safe seats are definitely a problem in our current system, as is the fact that political parties openly target the marginal seats only. In the last election the votes of only 1.6% of the electorate in 111 of these marginal seats decided the result. This is something that we have to change.

There will be no need for tactical voting. You can vote with your real preferences, and don’t have to think about voting ‘against’ people.

Why do you think the number of people who vote at each General Election is falling? What needs to change within our political system that will encourage people to use their vote?

I think that there are many reasons why voting turnout is falling, a lack of trust in politicians, declining numbers of political party membership, the number of safe seats held by MPs, feeling that votes don’t count, as just a few. I think that people need to feel more connected to politics, and feel that their voice is really heard through voting. I think the Alternative Vote will help solve these issues. It will not solve all the ills of politics in this country, but it is a small change we can and should make for the better.

Photography by Anna Gordon

In the media there have been mutterings on both the reduction of the number of MP’s and the redrawing of constituency boundaries, what effect will this decision have on politics and what is it relation to the referendum on the alternative vote?

So it has nothing to do with the referendum. This happened earlier in the year, it was part of the same bill that the referendum was on when it went through parliament, and was not something that we had a say on. This has happened, and will take effect at the next general election. There are going to be 50 less MPs which means that some of the current boundaries will be re-drawn and made bigger. The idea is that it keeps the cost of politics down.  It has been quite controversial as they are dividing some traditional boundaries and local areas. At the same time Cameron has appointed 117 new peers in the House of Lords since last May, which is actually putting the cost of politics up despite cutting the number of MPs.

Any website or article recommendations for those interested in finding out more about the referendum?

Electoral Reform
Yes to Fairer Votes

Elegance Rebellion

If you get the X Factor you’ll get AV – Johann Hari

You can join the campaign on Facebook and Twitter too!

A Review of Silent City’s A Symposium on Climate Change by Max McCormick

April 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

This review first appeared on Amelia’s Magazine.

An exhibition that addressed the issue of climate change with a particular focus on its impact on the Third World: A reaction against exhibitions such as ‘Earth: Art of a Changing World’ hosted by the RA which tend to present a classless vision of ecological justice made in the West, prioritising the needs of the developed nations over all others.

The central premise of Silent City, the group comprised of artists Emily Whitebread, Cara Nahaul and Sally Mumby-Croft, whose first exhibition has just opened in Brick Lane, is intriguing. Their starting point was a reaction against what they perceived as the standard Climate Change exhibition. Cara explained the original thinking behind the group:

“We went to the RA’s ‘Earth: Art of a Changing World’, and we were completely disappointed. There were one or two standout pieces, for example Lemn Sissay’s performance video ‘What If?’, but on the whole it was a very shallow, one-dimensional show. It didn’t provoke us at all. We found the bright red neon globes and concrete flowers both obvious and pious. The worst thing though, was that it seemed almost entirely from a Western perspective. We’re the ones who caused this mess with our industrialisation, but the Global South is paying the highest price. Bangladesh will be submerged by our actions, but at that show countries that are actually directly affected by climate change didn’t even get a look in.”

They founded Silent City the next day. Their objective was to redress this balance by putting on exhibitions that would seek to present the full implications of Climate Change – especially what it would do to those nearer the equator.

I went along to Brick Lane to see if their exhibition could match her admirable words, and I was suitably impressed. A group show of around 20 artists of various backgrounds whose work all deals with the environment have joined the three founding artists, and the result is a pleasing mix between professionally polished ideas and the kind of activist idealism that was missing from Earth: Art of a Changing World.

The work, in various mediums from painting and film to dead insects, was of a very high standard. Highlights included Tutte Newall’s beautiful but disturbing paintings of monochrome animals who stand in pools of their own colour, Jools Johnson’s fascinating installations of dystopian cityscapes fashioned out of screws and random computer components, and Claire Robert’s presentation of dead bees, a commentary on the emergence of colony collapse disorder, which threatens bees worldwide, and therefore a third of the world’s food supply.

Works such as the documentary Drowning By Carbon, by Hazuan Hashim and Phil Maxwell, which featured Bangladeshi children planting the trees that they hoped would one day save them from the looming climate catastrophe, ensured that the original promise that the exhibition would deal with the Global South was kept.

But perhaps the best thing about Silent City was that it managed to put forward a view of Climate Change that was not obvious, in spite of the fact that as a topic it has been talked to death from every angle. Featured documentary Mauerpark, for example, focused on the proposed development of the famous Berlin park. At first glance, this seems more a social than an environmental issue, but after watching the film its relevance to the Climate debate became clear: At its heart the film was about the choice between the short term pursuit of growth and a space that was for everyone, whose benefits could appear more intangible and immeasurable. It became easy to view Mauerpark as microcosm of the natural world itself.

This outlook on Climate Change that seemed fresh and different, coupled with art that was as well thought out and made, as it was thought-provoking, made Silent City a big success. In fact it was so successful that the closing night film screening was such a scrum that people were camping out on the stairs, able to hear but not see the films. Silent City was apparently just the first of a planned series of exhibitions. It looks like next time they might have to rent out a bigger space.

The Great BP – Sponsored the Tate Modern Sleep in, film by You and I films

April 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

Next Wednesday sees the anniversary of the BP Oil Spill. In their continuing campaign against BP’s sponsorship of UK’s art galleries, Raising Tide and Art not Oil descended upon the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall last Sunday for the the Tate Modern Sleep in.

This information comes from You and I Films:

Tony Cottee of Rising Tide said: “Sponsorship of galleries such as Tate is
one of the most important ways BP tries to buy the public’s acceptance and
make people forget about disasters such as the Gulf of Mexico spill. We
are here to make sure they don’t get away with it, and to warn Tate that
their own reputation is at risk through their association with such a
damaged and damaging company.”

Eradicating Ecocide: Book Review

April 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

A few weeks ago Silent City reviewed Polly Higgin’s incredible book Eradicating Ecocide for Amelia’s Magazine. This morning we are republishing the review in full on the Silent City Blog.

Book Jacket for Eradicating Ecocide,

What is Ecocide?
Has the formation of laws and legislation had unforeseen and possibly disastrous consequences?
Has the protection of the environment been abandoned by the law?
What can we do?

These are the questions Eradicating Ecocide, a new book by Polly Higgins sets out to answer.

Polly Higgins is a Barrister, a Human Right’s Lawyer and author of Eradicating Ecocide. On her blog The Lazy Environmentalist Higgins defines Ecocide as the “damage, destruction to or loss of ecosystems, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been severely diminished.

Published in 2010 by Shepeard-Walwyn, Eradicating Ecocide, is a carefully considered polemic on the consequences of leaving environmental concerns at the sidelines, (the destruction of the rainforest, tar sands, Oil, Global Warming) in favour of infinite growth and unregulated capitalism. Higgins believes that the “law as it currently stands is not fit for purpose. It rarely protects the wider earth community interests of both people and planet. Instead, all too often it is the interests of the very the few that are protected, of those with ownership. This causes great injustice at both micro and macro level.” In short, Eradicating Ecocide is a call to arms, an appeal to the protection of the environment in the face of wanton and needless destruction.

Humanity is at a Crossroads by Abi Daker

Eradicating Ecocide opens with a contemporary reminder about the consequences of runaway ecocide and unregulated industry; the 2010 BP Oil Spill in the Mexican Gulf. Higgins’ arguement implies that as it stands both law making and the planet are being held to ransom by profit-driven corporations.

For Higgins the environment is all too often neglected in favour of short term profit, pointing out that part of the problem lies with “Governments, driven by the obsessive pursuit of economic gain, often undervalue subsequent ecological losses that can arise out of profit making activity… Myopic financial policy takes preeminence over longer term damage and destruction, by keeping the focus firmly on the short-term, problems mouth for others to address at some indeterminate later date.” Not only do we need to fight big business, we need to take the challenge to our own blindfolded Governments.

In her calm and through exploration of the unforeseen consequences of law making,
 Eradicating Ecocide takes us through the convoluted changes in law and the pivotal court cases that lead to the development (in law) of corporations being held to account for damages made to the environment as “fictional persons” The example Higgins cites is the Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad trial of 1886, where for “the first time that the word ‘person’ in the fourteenth Amendment was presumed to include corporations.” See Eradicating Ecocide for further details on the outcome of this pre-trial statement.

Illustration by Gabriel Ayala

Eradicating Ecocide also focuses on the development of ‘compromise laws’ by big business and the law courts in order to pacify pollution concerns. The subsequently formed ‘compromise legislation’ merely side steps environmental responsibility whilst failing to provide any real deterrence against the destruction of the planet. The biggest failure in compromise recently was at Cop 15 in Copenhagen. Desperate to end the conference with some form of good news, politicians’ delivered the “The Copenhagen Accord“. As this document is not legally binding, nothing within this treaty has yet to be implemented in local or worldwide politics, as of yet there is no binding successor to equally compromised Kyoto Protocol.

For myself, Eradicating Ecocide highlights that the problem with placing profit over all else is that monetary worth becomes the barometer against which all ‘worth’ is measured. Subsequently the earth and its ‘resources’ become a mere asset. Once the earth is seen as an asset, it ceases to be alive and once it ‘dies’ it becomes easier for the bio habitat to be seen as singular commodities (a trend which began with the Industrial Revolution). Subsequently we, the citizens of the planet, must fight to save the planet as a living organisim in its entirety, not solely the sections we personally inhabit.

The Destruction of the Tar Sands by Gareth A Hopkins

A brave book, Eradicating Ecocide takes the stance that by allowing the “commercial exploration and destruction of resources” to take “precedence over the obligation of the sacred trust”, corporations have become the colonisers of the 21st Century. Within the UN framework, the concept behind the sacred trust is to ask for “community interests to be placed over private and corporate decisions.” (p.57)

Eradicating Ecocide is an inspiring, informative read and an incredible history lesson on the role of law (so often seemingly abstract from our lives) in shaping our society, our business and the way we view the earth. Personally, the book is incredible for its demand that we use that which is already present within the UN – The development of International Criminal Law in the wake of World War Two and the concept of Trusteeship– to implement these necessary changes. Because the framework for Crimes against Peace already exists, Ecocide could be included without the need to create any new organisations.

The book’s brilliance is that it functions as a template for what both citizen and state can do to protect the environment. Eradicating Ecocide contains useful advice on how we, citizens of the world can implement change. For example, by joining existing climate change networks or starting your own, we can apply pressure on Governments to recognizing Ecocide as a breach against peace. We have the power of the multiple and the power of the streets on our side. With an ever-increasing population, we need to accept the earths resources’ are finite and move away from a market driven economy.

Illustration by Gabriel Ayala

For an update on the Climate Change debate in the wake of Cop 15, I recommend reading Higgins’ account of Cancun (Cop 16) and her summery of the RED++ deal; “The commercialisation of forests into the hands of the corporate sector to make money out of supposedly saving forests.”

A brilliant book and one that needs to be read, especially in the light of the recent news that oil companies plan to resume deep sea drilling.

If middle England can stand up against the Coalition’s plans to sell 15% of British Forests, we can ALL stand up against a destruction on a far wider scale -the loss of “the Earth’s lungs”- too.

For further information please visit the book’s website: This is Ecocide’s.