Public policy and the behaviors directed by it can be interpreted like any part of visual culture. Flows of traffic, acceptable standards in public square and parks, particular codes of consumer behavior all function as a kind of performance art correlative to billboards, signage, public sculpture and architectural delimitation.
Take, for instance, open container laws. In Chicago, a closed container containing a consumable substance such as alcohol is acceptable in public ways. The same substance, once its container has been opened, is considered an infraction of acceptable public behavior, unless contained within some larger boundary (such as a bar or festival). This policy engenders a kind of streamlined and physically locatable character to Chicago's alcohol consumptive behaviors. While this keeps alcohol out of certain space it also creates a kind of focused intensity of alcohol-enabled relationships. This is an interesting contrast from a different regional open container policy such as in New Orleans, where the free roam of open containers engenders ostentatious and diffuse alcohol-enabled relationships.
Between these two examples of how open-container laws construct cultural space lies a strange an arbitrary opportunity for hybridity. Not entirely a law (more a folk-law such as the “dibs” parking system in winter snow), but widely accepted as a tolerable standard of behavior is the brown bag rule. One can wrap their open-container in a brown bag, and then consume it in public space. Although the paper wrap itself remains as a visual indicator of possible impropriety, those who utilize the brown bag have a modest opportunity of agency in the open-container system.
This project considers altering the the conditions of social space, and the human behavior therein, by re-figuring the brown bag rule, while altering it spatially and structurally. If the visual attention of the brown bag in public engenders neither the radical comradery of New Orleans or the intensified drinking relationships of Chicago, perhaps an inversion of what is contained can provide an atomized unit of both. By containing not the beverage, but a small social situation itself within a brown bag, hybrid, radical, and ephemeral social spaces could be engendered through use of very modest materials.
The autonomy bag is simply a large portable brown paper bag, designed for two. It transposes the restriction of open containers, and the momentary agency allowed by the brown bag rule, to human scale. Instead of alcohol, you are the controlled substance; the open container. The bag, of course, contains its participant, but as a mobile technology offers the user an ephemeral agency on when and where containment takes place.
The bag is now available and open to the public for use. It is currently available only in the Chicago area, and was designed with the open container laws in Chicago in mind. In this its inaugural phase, it is specifically meant to serve Chicagoans who are interested in excercising momentary and experimental autonomy on public space where certain behaviors enabled by the bag might not normally occur. Drinking alcohol inside the bag is only one option. Anyone who wants to use the bag for a week may find and exercise their own activities that the bag engenders. Participants are encouraged to document and share their experience using the bag, but this is not mandatory. I am currently distributing the bag in three ways. First, anyone in Chicago may request to use it for a week by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. This notice of its availability is accessible from autonomybag.blogspot.com. Second, I am making direct offers/solicitations of the bag to particular individuals who I think might be able to productively use the bag in interesting ways. Third, I plan on bringing the bags to public space through direct engagement. That is to say, going to a particular socially charged event and offering the bags to whoever might want to use them.
Or, you can also make your own at home.
How to make your own Autonomy Bag
48 inch roll of brown craft paper.
Steps toward assembly:
Roll out brown paper and measure off 138 inches in length. Cut that piece off at a nice perpendicular.
Using your friendship with gravity, fold the length of that piece into even thirds. Make both of the creases fold in the same direction.
Fold each outer third into halves. Once again, make sure the crease direction is following the same direction as the earlier folds.
Make a perpendicular fold at 14 inches off one of the short sides. Fold in the same direction as the other folds.
Turn your focus on the second and fifth sections of sixths, counting from the length-wise side. Let say you are standing at the long edge, and the other long side with the perpendicular fold is opposite you. For each, you want to mark a point which is at the center of both columns, and one half the column's width below the perpendicular fold.
Draw lines from those spots, which intersect with the corners of the perpendicular folds and run all the way to the edge of the paper.
Now we can begin using these creases to form the paper into a bag-like cube. It is helpful to do this with the short perpedicular fold flush against the floor and with the long edge sides standing up. It is most helpful to have a trusted bag-folding companion hold these sides up for you while you fold.
At this point you should have a pre-folded rectangle of brown paper that resembles this reference sheet. The next step is folding which is a little tricker to conceptualize so in this reference images key folding lines are highlighted. Red lines fold toward the interior of the cube and blue lines fold toward the exterior.
Now turn the first side of the bag into a right angle. The diagonal fold (or blue line) will fold under the large flap of leftover length from the perpendicular fold. Fold it down nice. The fold creates a diagonal from the corner you just created. Tape this corner in place wherever seems most helpful.
If you are having trouble conceptualizing how the corner fold works here is a demonstration of the one corner fold in miniature for reference.
Continue to fold the bag sides at right angles. Allow the diagonal folds (again, represented by the blue lines in the reference image) to slip under the bag and keep taping to keep your form.
Once you have folded all four corners, bring the two seams together and tape them in place. During this whold holding and taping process you'll probably want someone holding the edges up for you.
Carefully hop in the bag with the rubber cement. Begin cementing all of the creases on the interior. Hold it there for a bit to let it dry.
Now we have the form. Flip it upside-down and prop it up on some high standing object that fits in it. I used two bar-stools.
Spread rubber cement on any exterior creases necessary to add extra strength. Allow the cement to dry.
Fold top of the bag down to one side. This naturally collapses the bag and creates creases on the short ends.
Now bring the flattened bag to a well ventilated area. Lay it flat on a surface and arrange the stencils on the front of the bag to say "autonomy bag."
There you have it. You and possibly a partner may now experience a makeshift and momentary structure of autonomy in otherwise interpellated constructions of social space.
If you like you may fold the flattened bag into thirds and easily stash and port the bag inside a standard CVS trash bag.
Construction method also available on instructables.