Join Us Later at 11:00 For More

So in a couple of short hours, or probably less, last week I've managed to get my work that I'm doing for the Spomenik project on no less than ten Slovenian news outlets, thanks in large part to the brave and media-savvy work of our partners at the Study Centre for National Reconciliation. I've never been on the news and considering that there were a load of people in the room at the commission for the 2nd Anniversary of the Opening of the Huda Jama Mass Grave (in Slovenian but Google Translate does okay for English) have been quite a bit, it was a weird experience. Granted, as of yet, I haven't managed to kick up as much dust as Jože Dežman or anything, but I think that there might be something to this media thing.

Quick breakdown of the situation: Slovenia became independent from Yugoslavia in 1991 at which point most of the former Communist Party decided to rebrand as Social Democrats. They still more or less run things in a lot of scary ways like back in the day and don't like people like us making light of the crimes of their predecessors.

To keep in line with the uncannily recurring theme of 'realness' (without any direct reference to Mob Deep mind you) however a pain in the ass things like this might be, you have to get in touch with the world somehow, and no matter what anybody tells you Twitter, Facebook, etc. aren't the way to get to a lot of real people. Things as unsexy as broadcast television and radio are.

The thing that keeps on creeping up with my work on this massive beast of a project is that a lot of it is about being real. Whether ditching all the iPhone malarkey and sticking with just regular phones or being on the news in a country that SXSW or Facebook probably don't care about, we're trying to design for real people with real problems. On top of that, most of our demographic is literally quickly dying off.

The thing is, is that the best thing we could do is make a big documentary and get it on TV and have kids watch it in schools. This however isn't really our brief with the project as it is supposed to be a pervasive monument and be on technology that is 'everywhere' including out in the woods where these mass graves are. So the realness comes into play I imagine into how exactly you chuck this technology at people. You make it simple and you try to make it relevant, and you try to make it partially for kids who's history book has the big massive hole in it and taking them out in the woods and asking them difficult questions in the classroom and also partially teach them that life is very real, often times very cruel and very messy, but the best way to deal with reality is head on.

Spomenik: for Students

If you're among the few and exclusive who aren't related to me, follow this site and can read Slovenian, here's some links: "Danes mineva dve leti od vstopa v Hudo Jamo" "Štrovs: V Sloveniji od 600 prikritih grobišč ni niti eno urejeno kot vojno pokopališče žrtev komunizma" "Mednarodni simpozij: "Huda Jama je primer genocida iz leta 1945" "Dežman o Hudi Jami: Ne bo več mogoče tiščati glave v pesek" "Dežman: Huda jama - obup titofilnega dela slovenske družbe" "Odgovorni hočejo zločine pomesti pod preprogo" "Huda jama je primer genocida iz leta 1945"

Learning How to Talk About Pizza in Kigali

IMG_0349 There are many things I never knew about Rwanda and could have guessed and many others that I could never in a million years guess. One of them is that I've had some of the best pizza I've ever had there. While it sounds incredibly trite, especially considering the extremely heavy and sensitive nature of the work we're doing there, it is a pretty good example of the country.

Like having amazing pizza in Rwanda, its nothing like you think its going to be. For one, I'm still amazed, and practically driven to tears by how astonishingly brave and progressive of a people they are. I don't use these words lightly. Progressive not in the quasi-leftists armchair activist sense, but progressive in the we're officially forgiving a million murderers and want to reintegrate them back into our businesses, neighbourhoods and lives sense. This you would never expect from the Rwanda of the popular imagination. It was very clean, driving was pretty normal and safe and I couldn't have felt more at home. This coming from a blonde haired, blue-eyed white guy who was basically an alien there. It was extremely 'nice' and people treated me even nicer I thought. Nice is deliberate, nice is quiet, and nice usually is about following the rules, not about doing what's right.

Genocide is never a singular or random operation. Genocide, mass murder, crimes against humanity, whatever you want to call it, requires extremely tight organisation and lots of people not asking questions. Whether it be the completely incompetent and impotent UN waiting and sitting on its hands while watching the butchery from the sidelines, or the rest of the world that also sat by as not only one genocide in Rwanda but another concurrent one in Bosnia at the same time, we were just as compliant as the people who were just following orders no matter how inhuman they may be.

Genocide requires loads of compliance. Loads of people not saying anything, and this is an extremely hard thing to start thinking about designing against, as we have to design against something, not for. To start thinking about designing for speaking up and making things known should theoretically be fairly easy, but first you know how to let people speak up.

How to Speak About Genocide

Through countless interviews, many with survivors, we've only managed to brush the surface of things, but started to notice things like the issue of compliance and social structure, and the vocabulary. This was especially fascinating in terms of how things were spoken about and something we've had to learn really quick. People use the words perpetrator, denier, minimiser [1. One who doesn't directly deny the genocide but who minimises its scope, impact or totality], survivor and returnee. There's an agreed vocabulary, and one that the government has a lot of hand in putting in place. This is was not only an issue of social sensitivity, but one of how we have to work. We're going to have to work within these parameters: ethnicity isn't mentioned and the future and prevention are always spoken of.

To be asked personally by a survivor coming to a mass grave of 250,000 to leave flowers to his murdered family to "do something...do anything...to make this not happen again," is basically what our brief is in a lot of ways.

This was the biggest surprise for me. There wasn't so much talk actually about even justice, never about revenge, but of prevention. To be asked personally by a survivor coming to a mass grave of 250,000 to leave flowers to his murdered family to "do something...do anything...to make this not happen again," is basically what our brief is in a lot of ways.  This is also what I mean by progressive. Dealing with history as best you can and moving things forward today, and working "towards a brighter future" as you often hear in Rwanda. Hopefully we can help them do this.


The Last Thing I Ever Thought I Would Need as a Designer Would be Vaccinations and Anti-malarial Tablets.


View Larger Map So tomorrow is a ludicrously early start to Kigali, Rwanda via Brussels for research work for the Pervasive Monuments project. What started as Spomenik, now has taken on a paralell project looking at public memorialisation and technology in education in post-genocide Rwanda. On top of having been vaccinated for everything from Yellow Fever to Malaria I've been reading We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch, which is nothing less than mind-blowing. If you ever think that you've had it rough, read this book. Being a self-styled semi-expert on the Balkan and ex-Yugoslavia, I thought I might have known a thing or two about people and the politics that divide them. That is until I started reading this.

Rwanda is a fascinating and, from what I hear, a now once again lovely place trying to get back on its feet in amazing ways, from a self-styled Singapore of Africa urbanisation scheme to becoming one of the biggest data centres of Africa. Its going to be amazing seeing how they've dealt with what is probably the most brutal genocide of the 20th century [1. A reported 800,000 people were summarily massacred in a mere 100 days] to working on memorialising this and trying to throw themselves into the 21st century at breakneck speed at the same time.