Projet de recherche, financement RCDAV 2017–2019
Haute école d’art et de design – Genève

Global Warning: Communicating on Human Rights

Global Warning is a research project that precedes Viral Design. The latter builds on some of its issues, since it focused upon working on communications relative to human rights on an international scale.

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In 2012, the Global Warning research project raised questions regarding human rights, health and the environment. Its objective was to understand the new needs of communication on a global level of institutions and NGOs, taking into account such things as cultural diversity, contexts, media and the necessity of being able to reach a growing number of people. In terms of communication, it was a matter of meeting a new challenge: how does one combine messages based on “universal” values (the right to health care, integrity, respect for human life, equality) with local particularities, or within the context of a crisis? To this end, our team focused upon the representation of the Rom community in our societies, notably in the Geneva area. Obviously, the Rom are ostracized in European society. Any information or action concerning them pushes this group into social exclusion and withdrawal and is based upon disinformation grounded for the most part on rumors and a series of clichés and stereotypes that have no bearing on their actual history.

A virtual currency to counter discrimination against the rom

Within the scope of Global Warning, the research team examined discrimination against the Rom throughout Europe. They then went on to create a virtual currency, rrom, in order to enable the Rom to circulate their socio-cultural values through the means of six virtual banknotes.

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This research project, conducted in partnership with the association Chemins de Traverse, enabled our team to create a new type of communication, where members of the Rom community became actors through a process of exchange and discussion. The communication tool we proposed to them was to place “Romi” banknotes at their disposal.

         Romis combine the graphics of Swiss banknotes and euros. They were printed on paper that resembled the paper used for currency in order to reinforce the illusion. Rom communities face discrimination throughout Europe, and Switzerland is no exception. Their way of life, their cultural and social values are little known and are subject to a great deal of ignorance and prejudice. The values represented on the romis include craftsmanship, agriculture, traveling, culture, family and social solidarity. The front of the note features portraits of men and women of the Geneva Rom community, created based upon the photographs of Eric Rosset and Francesco Gattoni. On the website, a rate of exchange calculates the exchange value of the Romi as a currency. The rate evolves based upon a symbolic algorithm that averages out the positive and negative publications about the Rom on the Internet. An article about their culture is evaluated positively, one regarding an incident of discrimination is valued negatively. Of course this is a somewhat cynical approach, deriding both the way that money is evaluated in financial markets, but also satirizing the evaluation systems founded on algorithms. The question of the evaluation of a given piece of content, its selection through an opaque combination of algorithms is a recurring issue on the Net and in social networks.

 

IMAGES Hand To Hand to the sea

The banknotes, presented to the Geneva Rom community, have circulated autonomously, apart from current technological tools. Another form of virality.

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The creation of this currency predates the issues raised in the project Viral Design: Methodologies for Socially Conscious Buzz, to wit the relationship between images, their circulation and social issues. Certainly, banknotes are used above all for economic purposes, but they also represent their country of origin. They are emblematic of a culture and these images circulate beyond national borders. Thus, they are, so to speak, the first viral images. One of the aims of the Transnational Rrom Bank project was to provide the Rom community with a tool. A communication tool that would enable them to share their values. At the same time, these banknotes become a symbol for their social and economic marginalization. Consequently, the research team presented the Rom community in Geneva with wads of banknotes without exercising the least control over their distribution. The Geneva association Mesemron, a partner of the project, attests to having found notes among the Roms as far as Saintes Maries de la Mer in France. This indicates that a distribution network was created beyond our interaction. The images circulated, without Facebook, mobile phone or any other digital device… From hand to hand, all the way to the sea.

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Distribution of Rromi banknotes in Geneva at a performance by a Rom orchestra.
7 June, 2012