CARGO BIKES AS AN ARTISTIC MEDIUM. How do we start to build a better world? By N55
N55 is a platform for artistic collaboration. N55 works with art as a part of everyday life. Since the start in 1996, N55's projects have received widespread acclaim both in professional circles and among a broad public. N55's notion of art is grounded in a perception of art as a part of daily life, with the artist as a generalist who can orient her/himself towards any field of knowledge. N55 is first and foremost concerned with relations between ethics and aesthetics, and hereby politics. By reformulating certain features of our daily life and surroundings, it is possible to create meaningful situations and social surplus. Art is not restricted to certain methods, techniques and theories, but must take all possible media into consideration, and by means of a general approach, be concerned with fundamental conditions of existence.
The practice of N55 is interdisciplinary, multifaceted and include basic philosophical work on language and art, development of a range of functional things, sculptures and installations, collaboration and dialogue with researchers, activists, artists and others, and research on social, scientific, artistic and political issues. The work is shown locally and at international art exhibitions and all systems and manuals are available on the Internet (www.n55.dk) and in publications. Most of N55 works are Open Source provided under the rules of Creative Commons. Other persons can copy or build upon the work. Thereby the traditional distinction between artist and audience is blurred and intellectual ownership is rejected to some extent. All along N55 have sought an independent position in relation to art markets and maintained a critical and constructivist position. N55 wish to demonstrate that art as a way of living and acting can be of considerable relevance for other areas of society, and raise attention about basic relations between art and politics, aesthetics and ethics.
Since 2011 N55 (currently Ion Sørvin and Till Wolfer) has been working on a project called XYZ CARGO, designing and producing cargo bikes. We wanted to launch a local project in Copenhagen based on a manageable size medium that could be financed by ourselves and by the revenue from selling simple products. We decided to use bicycles as a way of addressing aesthetic, ethical, social and environmental issues as well as a way of working in a very direct way with public space and urban planning. It was also a goal to develop an alternative small business based on principles of fair production. Meaning that we try to produce in an environmentally and socially sustainable way. (In our opinion environmental sustainability cannot exist without social sustainability.)
The strategy has turned out to be an efficient one: Bikes are shipped all over Europe and we can develop new prototypes and customise bikes at an unprecedented speed. Because of the use of modular CAD-design, CNC technology and of a principle of self-imposed restricted revenue, we can easily compete with bicycles produced in low-income areas around the world. Our bikes cost the same or are cheaper than other Danish cargo bikes (all of them produced in low income countries like Taiwan or China.)
The XYZ CARGO project has now grown to become a healthy small alternative business that can sustain our lives economically. We are producing high-end extremely durable cargo bikes from materials that will last. Our bikes can easily be repaired by anybody and if needed, they can be reused either as parts for other bikes or recycled as materials at low energy costs.
We now also have a second XYZ FACTORY in Hamburg, Germany established by collaborator and co-founder of XYZ CARGO, Till Wolfer. We offer people two ways of getting a XYZ CARGO bike: Either they build the model they want at one of our workshops with assistance from us or they get one fully assembled. We are offering the blueprints for one of our models for free but we do not facilitate the copying of the commercial models. All models are released under a Creative Commons license that prohibits commercial use. We have been able to start up the business without any help or influence from banks or similar by simply selling bikes and reinvesting in the project.
We are predicting that people will become as conscious about the things we use in our everyday life as we have become about organic food and animal welfare. It will not be socially acceptable in the long run to buy stuff that has been produced in a way that exploits people and/or the environment.
So why should artist, architects or other designers in general be concerned with something as prosaic as cargo bikes?
RECLAIM THE CITIES
We find ourselves in a situation where large concentrations of power . determines the layout and use of our urban environments in most places in the world. Most architects, urban planners, designers, artists etc. are more than willing to work for these concentrations of power despite the fact that these concentrations of power do not necessarily respect the rights of persons .
It has been important to us to develop some tools that allow us to continue our work independently in public space. People lost fundamental democratic influence in the planning of our cities long time ago. So we need to reclaim our cities. Step by step. The XYZ CARGO project should be seen in this context.
This is something we have been working with since we started up as a collective, living illegally in business apartments, trying to "rebuild the city from within", growing our own food indoor etc. After years of experimenting with alternative housing, trying to squeeze in living units floating on water, suspended in the air, open air collective housing, underwater houses and even walking houses, it became clear that we had to find a way to overcome the barriers of the "white cube", institutional art and architecture as such and create an instrument that could take our project further. The XYZ CARGO bikes has now become a way of communicating and experimenting as well as a way of building and supplying very practical machines that people use in their everyday life.
The fact that we see people using our cargo bikes from anything to starting a small street-based business to transporting their kids, building temporary parks using the PARKCYCLE SWARM and the fact that every time people choose one of our bikes they decide not to use a car, makes us think that we are making at least a small difference. Knowing that we are just insignificant creatures trying to make an effort, but hoping that others will make similar efforts. A new bike called ROOMCYCLES is on its way and will enable small mobile living units or workspaces to inhabit the city.
We suggest that we find a different approach to architecture, urban planning, design and art than serving the interests of large concentrations of power and hereby take into consideration what is right and wrong. Intelligent urban design would require the design of systems that adjust themselves to the persons who live in them and to their needs. Unlike a top-down master plan, such systems gradually dissolve themselves as the inhabitants take over and transform their city according to their needs and desires. Based on collaboration, cooperation and diversity, intelligently built cities acknowledge that we are social beings needing space for being different. It is possible to let the growth of the city be framed by simple rules, which allows people to freely develop their own environments and systems. This will lead to inclusive relations across ideologies, religions, income levels, nationalities etc. N55 propose a critical approach to city design by daring to give the inhabitants real and meaningful influence on the form and function of their city, and by using friendly technologies, which allows our urban environment to exist in symbiosis with our planet rather than as a parasite. One of the prevailing means used by concentrations of power to control our urban environments is based on the idea of ownership of land . We ought to abolish the concept of ownership of land and learn to share land in new ways.
A potential revolutionary change of our urban environments lies simply in distributing power.
The emissions of harmful particles from the 15 largest container vessels in the world, equals the total emissions of harmful particles from all the worlds cars. Shipping goods from Asia to Europe and from Asia to the US is a major part of this problem. Shipping is all about volume. The more we can produce locally the better. Shipping raw materials takes up way less space. We ought to find ways of distributing the necessary raw materials for local production in a fair way on a global scale.
The XYZ CARGO project addresses this problem by producing and assembling as much as possible locally. We also address the problem that production gets outsourced to low-income countries. We have defined a fair and decent fee for ourselves per hour and our prices are based on this. We pay taxes in Europe and hereby support our societies, public schools, healthcare etc. We are trying to define a reasonable level of the use of technology that leaves space for us humans to exist. AI or artificial intelligence is a serious threat to us not just as individual persons, but also to our society and to our species. Automation can be helpful and spare us from a lot of harmful work. But it is important to understand that there is a risk that we move from a situation where machines are the extension of our bodies and nervous system to us being reduced to being steps in the evolution of AI based machines. Systems like IBM´s Doctor Watson already proved that machines have the potential to outmatch human doctors etc. One of the problems of advanced technology is also that it will be possible for concentrations of power to control production and resources in a way we have never seen before. Distributed production ensures a more democratic layout of society. We must control technology. Not the other way around. Technology should not just be understood by the smartest of us but should be something that most of us can relate to not just as consumers, but also as producers and developers. Smart technology is a technology that is environmentally sustainable, durable, easy to understand and repair and available for as many people as possible. XYZ CARGO tries to meet these requirements.
Large concentrations of power have taken over the means of production and control the design of things, needed by persons in their everyday life. By deliberately lowering the quality, things are produced to last only for a short while. This is not only to diminish production costs and hereby increase the profits, but also to make sure that consumers buy new things and hereby secure the continued production. Large concentrations of power aim not only to make a profit on producing the same things over and over again, but also to grow bigger and increase their power. To produce more and more. Regardless of the needs of persons. Regardless of the consequences for the environment. Regardless of the misuse of the natural resources. Economic growth is considered to be the only way to progress not only by large corporations, but also by states. Even by democratic states. This system is apparently supported and promoted by all politicians, regardless of their ideological background. It is considered to be a fact that we cannot improve our society without economic growth. This results in expanding corporations and repeated production of the same things over and over again. This is stupid, but nonetheless the basis of all economical policies at present times. To keep the costs low and to maximise profits, things are produced in the lowest income areas in the world without any considerations for persons, natural resources or the pollution of the environment. By "outsourcing" production we also support some of the most repressive undemocratic countries like China and their potential future dominans.
Large non-democratic concentrations of power control our economic system.
The wealth of the eight richest people in the world now (2018) equals that of the poorest half of the world's population. This is utterly perverted and must be unacceptable to any person. The idea that persons and companies have a god given right to make as much profit as possible and be as wealthy as they can must be abandoned. It is simply wrong. It is probably the single most harmful concept that threatens our societies and the whole planet as such.
We suggest that we make systems that will allow us to share resources, food. energy, healthcare, knowledge etc. in a fair and just way.
We suggest that we use our democracies to limit how much wealth a company or a person is allowed to accumulate. Concentrations of power are nourished by the illusion that competition is better than collaboration. It is necessary to collaborate and share means of production if we want to organise ourselves in as small concentrations of power as possible.
We must learn how to share.
With the XYZ CARGO we try to find new and more just ways of exchanging goods and services. New ways to understand business. To develop the aesthetics of business behaviour and business as such. Not based on trying to make the largest profit or to do away with competitors, but trying to create a platform for exchange in a symbiotic way and in a sustainable way, socially as well as environmentally. Business as a peaceful way of collaborating instead of a form of warfare. We deliberately limit the revenue and participate in all aspect of the processes instead of handing over the less attractive forms of work to others. We only want to run the business at a defined size and try to develop alternative ways of distributing the concept. We focus on the production of things that are useful to society and not just on making a profit. We know that this is not going to save the world alone, but we hope that others will be inspired by our thoughts and experiments.
Concentrations of power
Concentrations of power do not always respect the rights of persons. If one denies this fact one gets: concentrations of power always respect the rights of persons. This does not correspond with our experiences. Concentrations of power characterise our society. Concentrations of power force persons to concentrate on participating in competition and power games, in order to create a social position for themselves. Concurrently with the concentrations of power dominating our conscious mind and being decisive to our situations, the significance of our fellow humans diminishes. And our own significance becomes the significance we have for concentrations of power, the growth of concentrations of power, and the conflicts of concentrations of power. It is clear that persons should be consciously aware of the rights of persons and therefore must seek to organise the smallest concentrations of power possible.
Persons and logic
A person can be described in an infinite number of ways. None of these descriptions can be completely adequate. We therefore cannot describe precisely what a person is. Whichever way we describe a person, we do however have the possibility to point out necessary relations between persons and other factors. We have to respect these relations and factors in order not to contradict ourselves and in order to be able to talk about persons in a meaningful way. One necessary relation is the logical relation between persons and bodies. It makes no sense to refer to a person without referring to a body. If we for example say: here we have a person, but he or she does not have a body, it does not make sense. Furthermore, there are necessary relations between persons and the rights of persons. Persons should be treated as persons and therefore as having rights. If we deny this assertion it goes wrong: here is a person, but this person should not be treated as a person, or: here is a person, who should be treated as a person, but not as having rights. Therefore we can only talk about persons in a way that makes sense if we know that persons have rights.
Logical relations are the most basic and most overlooked phenomenon we know. Nothing of which we can talk rationally can exist, can be identified or referred to, except through its logical relations to other things. Logic is necessary relations between different factors, and factors are what exist by the force of those relations. The decisive thing about logical relations is that they can not be reasoned. Nevertheless, they do constitute conditions necessary for any description, because they can not be denied without rejecting the factors of the relations. Persons are, for example, totally different from their bodies. Persons can go for a walk and they can make decisions. Bodies can not do that. Nevertheless, we can not refer to persons without referring to their bodies. If we say: here we have a person, but he or she unfortunately is lacking a body, it does not make sense. Persons are totally different from the concrete situations they are in. Nevertheless, we can not refer to persons without referring to the situations they are in. If we say: here we have a person, but this person has never been in a concrete situation, it does not make sense. Language is totally different from reality. Nevertheless, we have to perceive language as something that can be used to talk about reality. If we say: here we have a language, but this language can not be used to talk about reality, it does not make sense. Logical relations have decisive significance. The absence of logical relations would mean that nothing could be of decisive significance: as long as one does not contradict oneself nor is inconsistent with facts, any point of view may be as good as the next, one can say and mean anything. Logical relations are conditions for talking rationally together. The part of the world we can talk rationally about, can thus be defined as the part we can talk about using logical relations. But we do not have any reason to assume that the world is identical with what we can talk rationally about. Logic is something more basic than language. Logical relations are what makes language a language and what assigns meaning to words. Therefore, it is impossible to learn a language, without learning to respect logical relations. But as we grow up and learn to master language, logical relations are not present on a conscious level. If we are conscious of logical relations, it is possible for us to decide whether something is right or wrong and not to allow ourselves to be ruled by for example habitual conceptions and subjective opinions.
Ownership of land
It is a habitual conception that ownership of land is acceptable. Most societies are characterised by the convention of ownership. But if we claim the ownership of land, we also say that we have more right to parts of the surface of the earth, than other persons have. We know that persons should be treated as persons and therefore as having rights. If we say here is a person who has rights, but this person has no right to stay on the surface of the earth, it does not make sense. If one does not accept that persons have the right to stay on the surface of the earth, it makes no sense to talk about rights at all. If we try to defend ownership of land using language in a rational way it goes wrong. The only way of defending this ownership is by the use of power and force. No persons have more right to land than other persons, but concentrations of power use force to maintain the illusion of ownership of land.
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