WHY Rotterdam. May 10, 2004

The first episode of Civic TV took place in the attic the Poortgebouw in Rotterdam on November 22 from 11:00 until approximately 20:00. Given the location and the diversity of the 60 participants and visitors, Civic TV lived up to it's publicized claim to be a "high summit" which presented various approaches to understand, use & criticise the urban environment — a unique opportunity for those interested in alternative mental and spatial engineering to meet. But Civic TV is and was not intended to be an isolated congregation of intellectuals on a particular date and time. It is an ongoing critical reflection motivated by a desire to see more knowledge-sharing innbetween those addressing an urban environment which alienates them. As punctuations in the accepted notion of what is normal in urban life, a much needed and missing place needed to be created in Rotterdam where the knowledge, strategies and people could intersect and ideally create something new.

Rotterdam is going to hell. What can we do about it?

Months before November 22, an original concept text had emerged out of a great frustration with the lack of discussion around the tangible social-cultual and political crisis which was developing in the public spaces of Rotterdam (see WHY concept text). While Rotterdam had "quietly ... mutated into a Dutch and European case study city for increased control measures (in public space) and government strategies to manufacture consent amongst the citizens", open critical debates seemed remote (from A’dam to other countries) or isolated to the online forums such as Indymedia. Addressing such tactics as the problemzone decrees, legitimization of random police razzias and bodysearching and omnipresent security cameras and guards was and still is much lacking debate especially amongst the artistic and cultural professions.

In a primarily remote collaboration with Social Fiction from Utrecht, a broader concept text (see CIVIC TV concept text) and list of possible participants developed. The combined networks, contacts and knowledge of the both organizers proved a useful foundation by which to arrive at a great number of diverse participants meeting on one day (see Schedule). The long list of 15 participants was confirmed shortly before the given Saturday when 14 of the invited would meet. In the planning phase of Civic TV, it was a concern whether too many participants would limit the time and depth into which various ideas could be explored. Indeed, the sheer number of participants had the adverse effect of dictating the a certain "formal" scheduling into "presentations" which ultimately did not leave much time for discussion and blurred an overall understanding of a central idea or goal for the public (see Questionairre).

One intention of the Civic TV "summit" was to be ambiguous about the manner of "presentation" in an attempt to break with prescribed and expected standards of conferences and symposia. A short list of participants were able to reject the familiar Powerpoint presentation of recent work. Starting with Social Fiction's psychogeographic walk, the visitors explored the cartesian city plan of Kop van Zuid by following an defined algorythm of left and right turns (90 degrees). As a stark contrast, the visitors then entered into the labyrinthine interior of the Poortgebouw. The more adhoc and social arrangement of inviting second hand furniture under the monumental rafters should also have been instrumental in disrupting any sensation of a conventional conference.

The greatest contribution to the unconventional atmosphere was the surveillance installation by the Hondenkoekjesfabrik. "Outsiders by choice", the experimental noise and performance collective rejected the familiar attempt "to describe what they are doing" rather just did it. With a fantastic audio-visual infrastructure hub and a web of security cameras in various remote locations throughout the building, their performance not only provided a useful live overview and documentation of Civic TV but intervened in the presentation of other participants which occasionally broke with the available 15 minute time slots per person.

It is hard to imagine how the familiar "presenter-audience" relationship occurred in this environment but it did not take long until the second-hand sofas were dragged into this arrangement. Amongst the participants (and audience), there was a disproportionate number active or interested around the fields of architecture and info-cartography which did result in a greater number of Powerpoint presentations of projects as means of expression. Projected images of complex ideas and text, however interesting, could not be endured for such an extended period of time.

These types of presentations did however showcase imaginative experiments and projects in the public sphere, both physical and online or a combining the two, and fantastic visions of alternative urban realities. The projects varied in conditions under which they have been triggered, developed and realized — some sustained by cultural subsidies (i.e. De Ruimte), governmental commission (i.e. Olof van der Wal), client/private commissions (i.e. 2012 architecten) or an activistic background (i.e. Autonoom Centrum Amsterdam) — an interesting factor that we would have liked being explored more throughout the event.

Project documentation can be found on the respective websites of the participants (see Schedule).

In the weeks following the first episode of Civic TV, questionnairres were sent around to the various participants and audience on the maillist. These responses (see Questionnairres) are also useful in interpreting the public reception and reflection on the ideas presented.



Again, the intention of Civic TV is to arrange regular episodes where various knowledges and strategies can be exchanged in Rotterdam. The Poortgebouw was strategically selected as an ideal locational context for such an event. On one hand, the Poortgebouw is an active alternative cultural "freezone" and legalized squat in a rijksmonument which is threatened to be assimilated into the desired image of civic normality which is the masterplan of the Kop van Zuid. On the other hand, the do-it-yourself attitude within the Poortgebouw with regards to the motivation and capacity to organize activities enabled a more flexible, adaptible and affordable organisational structure of Civic TV. We would like to further dramatize the benefits and potentials of such alternative economies through locating future episodes of Civic TV at various (sub)cultural "freezones" and involving the unique characteristics of the place thematically.



The first episode of Civic TV was documented in a number of ways. Any internet search engine reveals that we have stolen the web presence from the extreme public broadcast channel in David Cronenberg's Videodrome and the concept text was translated by interested third parties into Dutch, Spanish and German. The email questionnairres were useful to provide some subjective reflection on the themes discussed. A majority of the presentations and discussions were also recorded onto minidisc. Visual documentation can be found on the WHY Rotterdam website ( and there also was some interesting live capturing on video. In an interview for "Open Issues #1" , a new zine by Steven Kucharski/Barich, background ideas and the intention of Civic TV were also discussed. (see "Open Issues")

The surveillance installation by the Hondenkoekjesfabrik also recorded and mixed live the source video from 4 cameras located throughout the Poortgebouw. In the 8 hours of video, the tape often shows simultaneously the images from all 4 cameras occasionally zooming into one screen. This technique has produced a surreal and often entertaining abstract documentary of Civic TV. From the group sitting around the presentation table to a strip-dancing in the dark room or from a camera disguised as a flower at a table to watching the cars and people passing and entering into the Poortgebouw, the juxtaposition of scenarios in the video captures the comedy of parallel happenings which otherwise would go unnoticed.



As the TENT Art-o-teek has the infrastructure to project videos on the windows, we imagine that these videotapes from Civic TV would make for an interesting story which would attract the curious passerby in the evening.

[Peter Blakeney~Christine Schoeffler]

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