The Investigative Institute of Informality (iii) is a transnational initiative researching the various manifestations, structures, and perceptions of informality. Informality, as defined by iii, is comprised of the socio-economic activities and relationships that operate outside of the regulation and protection of legally recognized institutions. This social para-space contains both countless grass-roots innovations and a systemic, infrastructural void which drives informal operators to generate new means of survival. The iii aims to examine these tensions, commonalities, and contradictions that form the symbiotic relationship between the formal and the informal spheres.
Currently, designated research fellows of the iii from the Escuela de Artes y Letras, The University of Antioquia, Syracuse University, Ohio State University and George Mason University are creating a series of tools and actions to visualize and map the constructions of the informal in Bogota, Colombia:
a.) Mobile Memories: Colombia possesses a long history of informal street vendors utilizing mobile carts to survive. The street-cart connotes opportunity and mobility, both physical and economic. The iii re-adapted this mechanism in collaboration with a cart-builder to create a mobile platform for dialogue, actions and interventions in the public space.
b.) How much will you give for Colombia? The iii commissioned a wood-worker to recreate a chaza, a display system that informal vendors carry strapped to the body. This device will be used to perform an action in which a research fellow will encourage the public to buy candles shaped in the form of Colombia. Customers will be asked to negotiate the perceived worth of the nation through an exchange of stories, dreams, objects, or other forms of memory. The resulting data will be used to construct a measure of Colombia as seen through the lens of lived experiences.
c.) An Informal Symphony: Researchers of the iii logged a day’s worth of the informal vending activity in a public market in Bogota. The information was transcribed into a musical score that will be performed by the Philharmonic Orchestra of Bogota in a public market.
d.) The Re-Declaration of Rights: Outside of the courthouse in Bogota, informal vendors sell several books containing copies of the legal rights of Colombian citizens. The iii is collaborating with a vendor to recite select articles from the Colombian Constitution pertaining to democracy and equality in the central plaza for governmental institutions of Bogota. Additionally, the iii will collaborate with minority groups to create new texts and rights for the Colombian constitution. These will be compiled and then performed in the central plaza.
e.) The Store of Confiscated Goods: As informal vendors operate in the legal gray area outside of the governmental infrastructure, they do not enjoy the same legal security or protections as legitimate businesses. As a result, informal vendors are vulnerable to extortions from both municipal authorities and robberies by common thieves because there is no system for recording or compensating for their losses. The iii will collaborate with artists and vendors to visualize and archive the memories of confiscated and stolen goods through a series of conversations and drawings.