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Why I bring theater to the military | Adam Driver / Jesse Perez / Matt Johnson

TED - 4 hours 51 min ago
Before he fought in the galactic battle between the dark side and the light in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Adam Driver was a United States Marine with 1/1 Weapons Company. In this disarming talk, he narrates the story of how he became a Marine, discusses the complex transition from soldier to citizen and tells us about Arts in the Armed Forces, a nonprofit that brings theater to military. "Self-expression is just as valuable a tool as a rifle on your shoulder," Driver says. Followed by a spirited performance of Marco Ramirez's "I am not Batman" by Jesse J. Perez and Matt Johnson. (Adult language)
Categories: New Media News

How barbershops can keep men healthy | Joseph Ravenell

TED - Thu, 05/26/2016 - 11:06
The barbershop can be a safe haven for black men, a place for honest conversation and trust -- and, as physician Joseph Ravenell suggests, a good place to bring up tough topics about health. He's turning the barbershop into a place to talk about medical problems that statistically affect black men more often and more seriously, like high blood pressure. It's a new approach to problem solving with broad applications. "What is your barbershop?" he asks. "Where is that place for you where people affected by a unique problem can meet a unique solution?"
Categories: New Media News

Drawings that show the beauty and fragility of Earth | Zaria Forman

TED - Wed, 05/25/2016 - 11:00
Zaria Forman's large-scale compositions of melting glaciers, icebergs floating in glassy water and waves cresting with foam explore moments of transition, turbulence and tranquility. Join her as she discusses the meditative process of artistic creation and the motivation behind her work. "My drawings celebrate the beauty of what we all stand to lose," she says. "I hope they can serve as records of sublime landscapes in flux."
Categories: New Media News

Your words may predict your future mental health | Mariano Sigman

TED - Tue, 05/24/2016 - 11:10
Can the way you speak and write today predict your future mental state, even the onset of psychosis? In this fascinating talk, neuroscientist Mariano Sigman reflects on ancient Greece and the origins of introspection to investigate how our words hint at our inner lives and details a word-mapping algorithm that could predict the development of schizophrenia. "We may be seeing in the future a very different form of mental health," Sigman says, "based on objective, quantitative and automated analysis of the words we write, of the words we say."
Categories: New Media News

The beauty of being a misfit | Lidia Yuknavitch

TED - Mon, 05/23/2016 - 10:58
To those who feel like they don't belong: there is beauty in being a misfit. Author Lidia Yuknavitch shares her own wayward journey in an intimate recollection of patchwork stories about loss, shame and the slow process of self-acceptance. "Even at the moment of your failure, you are beautiful," she says. "You don't know it yet, but you have the ability to reinvent yourself endlessly. That's your beauty."
Categories: New Media News

How free is our freedom of the press? | Trevor Timm

TED - Fri, 05/20/2016 - 11:24
In the US, the press has a right to publish secret information the public needs to know, protected by the First Amendment. Government surveillance has made it increasingly more dangerous for whistleblowers, the source of virtually every important story about national security since 9/11, to share information. In this concise, informative talk, Freedom of the Press Foundation co-founder and TED Fellow Trevor Timm traces the recent history of government action against individuals who expose crime and injustice and advocates for technology that can help them do it safely and anonymously.
Categories: New Media News

Tanks, drones, rockets and other sound machines. An interview with Nik Nowak

We Make Money Not Art - Fri, 05/20/2016 - 10:52


Booster 2.13, 2013. Courtesy Hubertus von Hohenlohe


Es Kommt Nicht Immer Eine Grille Geflogen, 2015. Installation view: Alexander Levy

Es Kommt Nicht Immer Eine Grille Geflogen, 2015

This week, i’m interviewing an artist, curator and musician who builds formidable and robust military tanks, drones, rockets and other weapon-looking instruments. Nik Nowak‘s riotous and dangerous toys for big boys investigate how military technologies can invade our everyday life. They pump out powerful sound, spy on your private conversations, turn electromagnetic waves from cell phones and tablets into audible phenomena, and explore how sound can take control over crowds and public space.

One of Nowak’s recent mobile sound sculptures, Echo, uses small tank drones that detect human presence and roll toward it. One of the drones snoops on visitors’ conversations and uses a parametric speaker to send the words directly back to them. Meanwhile, the second vehicle further invades people’s privacy by amplifying these sounds through large speakers.

Nik Nowak is one of the artists represented by SHAPE, a platform for innovative music and audiovisual art from Europe. I got in touch with Nik while he was working on a series of events and on a new album with his band SCHOCKGLATZE. Despite his busy schedule, the artist still found a moment to answer my questions:


Portrait of Nik Nowak. Photo: Benjamin Kahlmeyer

Hi Nik! By their aspect and the technologies involved (drones or tanks for example), some of your work evoke military weapons. And because of that i think they might also evoke experiments in sonic warfare. So what is the place or influence of warfare in your work, if there’s any?

I grew up in the 80s in Mainz, a town in west Germany in the Rhein-Main region which was heavily occupied by American military. In Mainz for example was the largest American tank factory based outside of the USA. It was the end/post cold war time and the beginning of the first Iraq war. Nuclear weapons were based between Mainz and Frankfurt and tanks were shipped from Mainz to the desert of Saudi Arabia and brought back there after their missions leaving the desert sand on the streets in front of our schools and kindergartens.

At the time, the generation of my parents was actively involved in peace and anti nuclear energy movements. It felt like a climate of development into a more ecological and peaceful future although the industry showed a different face. We see the results today. War zones spread over the planet and we face the climate change. The impression of the controversy of the civil ideological movements and the reality of politics and industry left a mark that can be found all over my work. With the American occupation, Hip Hop music brought by the GIs and American radio stations had a big influence on me as a child and youth. Further on music became a medium which allowed me more freedom and space for considering my identity than anything else

But your piece do not just look martial or threatening, there’s also something very playful about them. They often look like big toys for boys and also i read that club culture was a big influence on your work. So how important is this playful element, this desire to maybe entertain with your seducing machines?

My sound system machines today fulfill a function which only club culture could give me in my youth and early adult years. I could say i grew up between speaker stacks. The club functioned as a black box, a temporary autonomous zone in which it was possible to disappear and calibrate oneself without the normative rules of society and state. Even though the objects i build are art pieces they also have the potential and the functionality of a sound system. They are not just exhibition pieces. I use them in the Studio and on the street to make music and to create interactions with the environment. It’s not entertainment though, it’s a practice i love and need and which can be clashing or be shared with others.

You seem to experiment a lot with frequencies and volumes. Is it only for the ears or do you want to stimulate the body and other senses of the audience in other ways?

Sound can be used in many ways to create an musical experience. My understanding of Music goes further than melody and rhythm. Its loudness, psychoacoustics, noise, silence and time.

I read online that the starting point of your work with sound was a gun shot near your right ear that prevents you from hearing high frequencies. Could you briefly explain that? You don’t hear high frequencies from one ear but the other hears them fine? And how does this trauma translate into your practice?

Yes, my right ear can’t hear above 7 or 8 Khz which is slightly above human speech. In daily life it’s hardly recognizable because the left ear takes over the work for the right ear in the missing frequencies. Although if the surrounding soundscape is too noisy this doesn’t work well any more and can become very tiring. Also when i close my left ear, everything sounds quite muddy on the right side and high tones, like the sound of crickets for example, are completely missing.

By recognizing that my hearing is not normal i started to become more interested in the limitation of the human perception in general and focused on frequency spectrums that are not in the focus of our perception and more a subtle side effect although with a massive influence on our psychology and body functions.

When i started to produce electronic music i recognized that i’m very much focused on low frequency ranges and high tones. The middle range were usually voice and melody are set did t interest me to much.


Echo. Installation view Berlinische Galerie

Berlinische Galerie: Nik Nowak, Echo. GASAG Art Prize 2014

Echo looks like a more political work. Because of the drones and also because of the way they occupy the space and seemed to intrude on the privacy of the gallery visitors. Could you comment on that? What were you trying to communicate with this work?

Echo is mainly about the change of privacy and publicity in the age of digital globalization. I was fascinated by the fact that through social networks and forums of all kind everybody can have world wide publicity any time anywhere. Before the internet that has been depending on mass media. On the other hand privacy is something that has never been more threatened than it is these days. The Echo installation played with issues of monitoring and self monitoring. One drone plays a directional echo back to the visitor the other amplifies the sounds of the visitors through a sound system in the exhibition hall. Both drones are autonomous systems and interact with the visitor.

Till and Nik Nowak, Souvenirs, 2007

Could you explain how the sculptural form of your works relate to the sound they produce? For example, do you start with an idea about the kind of sound experience you want to create and the sculpture emerges from that? Or is it the other way round?

Mostly it starts with an Idea, with a vision or a question wich leads to a concept for a self experiment. the Machines are mostly tools for a experimental setup wich is suppose to formulate something i can t describe in a another way. Everything happens very intuitively.


Panzer, 2011

Nik Nowak vs. Ultramoodem live @ CTM 2012. Video: Schockglatze

How did you actually built Panzer? Because to me, it looks like there’s an old farm tractor hidden under that armor…

Yes, Panzer is a Japanese mini dumper which i’ve bought on eBay. I’ve cut everything off i didn’t needed and built the sound system onto the leftover of the original track vehicle. I did every thing by my self and needed 3 years to get it done. I like working on my own which makes everything slow. Therefore i can work out things perfectly how i mean them without too much explanation upfront.

You’ve been working as an artist for over 10 years if i understood correctly. So how has your practice evolved since you started?

It’s still the same and always different.


Rakete, 2010


Rakete, 2010

An upcoming exhibition, research, project you could share with us?

After i realized the second Panzerparade in Berlin with Ikonika and Scratcha DVA last week as a march against weapon exportation into crises areas.

I’m back in the studio working on a new Sound Panzer Sound System. Beside that my band Schockglatze is releasing an EP titled Warlord with e-label Throughmyspeakers.

We present the project at Music Tech Fest live on the 27th at Funkhaus Ost.

Thanks Nik!

Categories: New Media News

The laws that sex workers really want | Toni Mac

TED - Thu, 05/19/2016 - 11:09
Everyone has an opinion about how to legislate sex work (whether to legalize it, ban it or even tax it) ... but what do workers themselves think would work best? Activist Toni Mac explains four legal models that are being used around the world and shows us the model that she believes will work best to keep sex workers safe and offer greater self-determination. "If you care about gender equality or poverty or migration or public health, then sex worker rights matter to you," she says. "Make space for us in your movements." (Adult themes)
Categories: New Media News

Persona. Or how objects become human

We Make Money Not Art - Wed, 05/18/2016 - 10:29


Wang Zi Won, Mechanical Avalokitesvara, 2015


Ghost Hunter suitcase and alphabet for ouija, 1926-1940 Surnatéum, Bruxelles. Photo Claude Germain


Kenji Yanobe, Sweet Harmonizer II , 1995

The Musée du Quai Branly in Paris is probably one of the few places in the world where you can see post-apocalyptic outfits, ghost hunter instruments, divination robots, Nigerian monoliths bearing minimal human features, Mezcala anthropomorphic figurines, the egg of a titanosaurus, Japanese Bunraku puppets and other historical or contemporary artifacts in the same exhibition.

Persona. Strangely Human lines up over 200 objects and videos to probe how ancient and contemporary cultures infuse life and persona into things.

Many objects have a status more similar to that of a person or a creature than that of a simple object. Works of art – Western or non-Western, popular or contemporary –, or high-tech products – robots, machines, etc. – are regularly endowed, in their use, with unexpected capacities for action, which render them almost people. Like a child devoted to its cuddly toy or someone who curses their computer or mobile accusing it of being incompetent or stubborn. Like the shaman who calls on the spirits through a statuette resembling the gods.

The backdrop of the exhibition is of course the ongoing debates regarding transhumanism, artificial intelligence and the increasingly blurry borders that separate humans from machines. But what makes the exhibition of the Musée du Quai Branly original and different from the shows i usually cover is that its approach is mostly anthropological. The curators are anthropologist Emmanuel Grimaud, ethnologist Anne-Christine Taylor-Descola, anthropologist Denis Vidal and art historian Thierry Dufrêne. Together they gather artifacts from all over the world to explore questions such as: How does the inanimate become animate? How do people establish an unusual or intimate relationship with objects?

Persona, Étrangement humain (trailer)

The exhibition investigates the human in the non-human through 4 different paths.

The first one looks at ‘unidentified presences’, the ones that we think we can detect in a vague shape, or an unexpected sound. It seems that, as humans, we are ‘wired’ to anthropomorphise, to identify life where there is objectively only a bunch of abstract shapes.

In 1944, psychologists Fritz Heider and Marianne Simmel showed to subjects a short animation of independently moving geometric shapes. They found that most people couldn’t help but attribute intentional movements, personalities and goal-directed interactions to the shapes. The attribution takes place in the absence of common social cues like body language, facial expressions or speech. The experiment shows how humans have a spontaneous tendency to attribute feelings and thoughts to barely anthropomorphic shapes.


Fritz Heider & Marianne Simmel, Experimental study of apparent behavior, 1944

In 2008, the BBC re-created a controversial sensory deprivation experiment. Six people were taken to a nuclear bunker and left alone for 48 hours. Three subjects were left alone in dark, sound-proofed rooms, while the other three are given goggles and foam cuffs, while white noise is piped into their ears. The volunteers suffered anxiety, extreme emotions, paranoia and significant deterioration in their mental functioning. They also hallucinated and thought they could see or hear thousands of empty oyster shells, a snake, zebras, tiny cars, the room taking off, mosquitoes, fighter planes buzzing around.


BBC, 48 Hours of Total Isolation (The volunteers begin to hallucinate)

Meanwhile in Thailand, people adopt Kuman Thong, or “Gold Baby.” The little household effigy contains the spirit of a mythical child. Its owner has to care for it as if it were a real child, show it affection and talk to it every day. A bit like you would do with a tamagotchi.


Kuman Thong

A second section of the show explores the persons that you might want to ‘detect’ and communicate with: the ghosts, the spirits, the apparitions, etc.

I wasn’t expecting to find Thomas Edison there. At the end of his life, the famous inventor was said to have been working on a device for communicating with the dead. The “spirit phone” or telephone to the Dead would have enabled paranormal researchers to work ‘in a strictly scientific way.’

The idea for the device came through a correspondence between Edison and Sir William Crookes. The British inventor claimed to have captured images of spirits on photographs. These images allegedly encouraged Edison. The machine never saw the light of the day. Hence the skepticism that surrounds it.


Image via unreal facts


William Crookes, Photos with Katie King

The divination apparatus below appears to have been developed in response to sudden changes in Pende culture, in particular the arrival of colonialists in the region. These changes in society fueled demands for new tools that might afford insight into unfamiliar experiences.

During consultation, the diviner would lay the instrument on his knees with the head facing up while names of individuals suspected of crimes were recited. The galukoji‘s head would spring upward when the culprit’s name was uttered.


Galukoji, Divinatory instrument, Pende region, Congo, 1920 – 1950. Photo Claude Germain


Divination statue (Kafigeledio), Ivory Coast, XIX-early XXTH century. These effigies oracle were manipulated by members of secret societies to detect who was lying


Spirit hand Martinka and Memento mori ring, late XIX and XVIIth century

Used during the cohoba ritual, the tool was used to help the participant vomit before the ceremony and thus helped them purify their body. The participant would then inhale a potent hallucinogen, putting them in a trance that facilitates contact with supernatural beings.


Vomit-inducing spatula, Martinique, circa 1200 – 1492. Photo Patrick Gries

The third chapter in the exhibition studied what robotics professor Masahiro Mori called the Uncanny Valley, the thin line that is crossed by things that appear so human that they end up repelling us. Instead of trying to replicate exactly the human appearance, Mori actually suggested that designers explore zoomorphism or draw inspiration from other art forms (Bunraku theatre, religious statuary, etc.) to produce effects of empathy, attachment and even hypnosis.

This section features Vanuatu marionnettes, prosthesis, mommies that all evoke the human form and seem to both attract and repel the viewer.

Human skull covered with human hair, animal teeth and tinted animal skin. The death raises here a feeling of “uncanny strangeness”.


Anthropomorphic crest, Cross River (Africa.) Photo Thierry Olivier, Michel Urtado


Mummy, undated parched head of Mundurucu Indian, Brazil

Jean Dupuy’s dust sculpture comes to life as soon as it is connected to the heart beats of the visitors. The dust is actually an extremely low-density red pigment called Lithol Rubin that has the ability to remain suspended in air for long periods.


Jean Dupuy, Cone Pyramid (Heart beats dust), 1968 (photo)


Performance of the piece at the exhibition Für Augen un Ohren, Akademie der Künst, Berlin, 1980 (photo)

Automata of the gods are displayed during religious feasts today in India. The figures are used to capture attention, tell myths or accompany rituals. Their slow and hypnotic gestures put people in a state that prepares to devotion.


Matsya automaton, avatar of the god Vishnu. Conception Ankush Bhaikar for “Persona. Strangely Human.” Photo Emmanuel Grimaud


Vanuatu marionnette. Photo Gautier Deblonde © musée du quai Branly

The final part of the exhibition, “Show Home”, invites you to enter a dwelling and meet the interfaces, devices and robots that might one day be part of our family. How shall we cohabit with them?

Some of the pieces on show are the ones you expect to see there: robots, life-like love dolls but you will also discover a collection of phallic amulets and anthropomorphic spoons.

Stan Wannet‘s electro-mechanical installation features a pair of baboons playing a classic gambling trick. The work is a direct reference to both Wolfgang Von Kempelen’s Chess Playing Turk and Hieronymus Bosch’s painting The Conjurer ‘in an attempt to blur the artificial borders between our rational, polite and slightly ambitions selves on the one hand and the more primal, greedy and curious us on the other.’


Stan Wannet, Civilized Aspirations in Art, Monkeys and small time Entrepreneurs

Divinatory robots such as the one below were popular in Mumbai in the 1990s. They were made using discarded Japanese toys. From the sanskrit Bhavishya (“destiny, future”), the robot is an interface to divination, it predicts the future in 3 languages in exchange of a few coins.


Bhaishyavani, Robot de divination, End of XXth century. Photo Claude Germain

The little sculptures below are made using kitchen tools. They are designed as “real incarnations of gods.” They assist users in their everyday lives, but they can also turn against them.


Two Haitian sculptures from the nineteenth century representing the Ogou loa. Photo Claude Germain


Danny Van Ryswyk, Strange Days Have Found Us


Danny Van Ryswyk, Return of the Venusian, 2015

Some of the images i took during my visit of the exhibition are on flickr.

Persona. Strangely Human remains open at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris until 13 November 2016.

Categories: New Media News

Our lonely society makes it hard to come home from war | Sebastian Junger

TED - Wed, 05/18/2016 - 10:22
Sebastian Junger has seen war up close, and he knows the impact that battlefield trauma has on soldiers. But he suggests there's another major cause of pain for veterans when they come home: the experience of leaving the tribal closeness of the military and returning to an alienating and bitterly divided modern society. "Sometimes, we ask ourselves if we can save the vets," Junger says. "I think the real question is if we can save ourselves." (This talk comes from the PBS special "TED Talks: War & Peace," which premieres Monday, May 30 at 9 p.m. EST.)
Categories: New Media News

Good news in the fight against pancreatic cancer | Laura Indolfi

TED - Tue, 05/17/2016 - 10:46
Anyone who has lost a loved one to pancreatic cancer knows the devastating speed with which it can affect an otherwise healthy person. TED Fellow and biomedical entrepreneur Laura Indolfi is developing a revolutionary way to treat this complex and lethal disease: a drug delivery device that acts as a cage at the site of a tumor, preventing it from spreading and delivering medicine only where it's needed. "We are hoping that one day we can make pancreatic cancer a curable disease," she says.
Categories: New Media News

This scientist can hack your dreams | Moran Cerf

TED - Mon, 05/16/2016 - 10:48
What if we could peek inside our brains and see our dreams -- or even shape them? Studying memory-specific brain cells, neuroscientist (and ex-hacker) Moran Cerf found that our sleeping brains retain some of the content we encounter when we're awake and that our dreams can influence our waking actions. Where could this lead us? "Neuroscientists are now giving us a new tool to control our dreams," Cerf says, "a new canvas that flickers to life when we fall asleep."
Categories: New Media News

Can you really tell if a kid is lying? | Kang Lee

TED - Fri, 05/13/2016 - 10:29
Are children poor liars? Do you think you can easily detect their lies? Developmental researcher Kang Lee studies what happens physiologically to children when they lie. They do it a lot, starting as young as two years old, and they're actually really good at it. Lee explains why we should celebrate when kids start to lie and presents new lie-detection technology that could someday reveal our hidden emotions.
Categories: New Media News

This tiny particle could roam your body to find tumors | Sangeeta Bhatia

TED - Thu, 05/12/2016 - 11:05
What if we could find cancerous tumors years before they can harm us -- without expensive screening facilities or even steady electricity? Physician, bioengineer and entrepreneur Sangeeta Bhatia leads a multidisciplinary lab that searches for novel ways to understand, diagnose and treat human disease. Her target: the two-thirds of deaths due to cancer that she says are fully preventable. With remarkable clarity, she breaks down complex nanoparticle science and shares her dream for a radical new cancer test that could save millions of lives.
Categories: New Media News

Eulogy for the weeds. An interview with Ellie Irons

We Make Money Not Art - Wed, 05/11/2016 - 13:46


Field work in a research meadow at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic, Colorado, photo credit Dan Phiffer

Ellie Irons is one of those rare artists whose work opens your eyes to what is just under your nose but remains unnoticed. Some artists bring the spotlight on data collecting, others on corruption, corporate malpractice, or land grabbing. Ellie forces us to consider the value of the wild and often reviled urban ecology that sprouts all around us. She uses galleries to provide asylum to wild and invasive plant species, extracts the pigments from local weeds to paint their map-like portraits, photographs the vigorous life growing inside vacant lots, and is actively collecting the seeds of the most humble but robust plants that mirror population flux in globalized cities.

Irons’s practice is charming because it inspires a new form of romanticism that has the potential to give informal urban green spaces the respect they are due. But it is also a crucial and thought-provoking work that reminds us that the anthropocene is far more than everyone’s favourite buzzword, or a calamity striking people living at the other side of the world. It is a sword of Damocles that sooner or later will force us to make difficult choices and reevaluate our relationship with nature.

Ellie Irons studied art and environmental science in Los Angeles, she is now a multidisciplinary artist and an adjunct professor at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. When she is not busy teaching, doing workshops or preparing exhibitions, she still finds some time to answer my many questions:


The Sanctuary for Weedy Species, 2015, part of Rail Curatorial’s Social Ecologies exhibition in Industry City, curated by Greg Lindquist. Photo credit Ellie Irons

Hi Ellie! You made a Sanctuary for Weedy Species and allowed them grow undisturbed. How do these plants behave when left to thrive? Did you monitor their growth and had to intervene at some point because some were overtaking others?

Yes, that’s right. My Sanctuary for Weedy Species is an ongoing project that got its start as part of the exhibition Social Ecologies. For that show, curator Greg Lindquist offered me the opportunity to “activate” a gallery floor covered with soil (the project has now moved on to the Emergent Ecologies exhibition at Kilory Metal in Fort Greene, Brooklyn).

I decided to base my approach to this opportunity on my interest in spontaneous urban plants (often described as weeds). I gathered more than 200 young wild plants from the edges of construction sites and street tree pits in my then-neighborhood of Bushwick, Brooklyn. I selected plants from places that I knew would soon be “cleaned up” or paved over. I transported these young plants to the gallery and embedded them in the soil covering the gallery floor, where they lived for the next 2.5 months.

Growing tough, weedy plants in a controlled gallery setting is not quite as easy as it might sound. For one thing, plants growing outside have allies that are hard to replicate in a clean, isolated indoor space. Outdoors, predators like lace wings and ladybugs devour herbivorous insects, and regular rainstorms and fluctuations in temperature also help hold their populations in check. In the warm, consistent gallery space, aphids and other plant-hungry insects flourished.

I was lucky to have a very conscientious gallery attendant who took on the role of aphid predator, regularly spraying the plants with neem oil and washing them with water and other organic, insect-deterring solutions. Otherwise the various plants played fairly nicely together, except for a few allelopathic plants (like ailanthus and honey locust) which killed off everything in their vicinity and took over their respective patches. But I didn’t do any “weeding” other than weeding out some of the hungry aphids!


Feral Landscape Typologies. The rise, fall and rise of a lot at the corner of Irving Avenue and Cooper Avenue from May-October 2015. Photo by the artist

I’m fascinated by the ‘invasive species’ discussions. Your work makes a lot of sense to me but i’m wondering how scientists might react to your ideas about invasive species. Have you discussed with some of them? Is the scientific community agreeing on the necessity to eradicate all invasive species because they will lead to environmental damage? Or is there a lot of dilemmas and debates there as well?

The scientific community, as I’m familiar with it, seems to be of many minds when it comes to weedy species. I ask specialists like biologists, ecologists, foresters, and botanists about these issues whenever I get the chance! I’ve found that some don’t even like the term invasive, preferring a to describe species as native or non-native, and only “invasive” in certain, very specific contexts. I like this approach because it gets at the fact that a particular plant can be highly aggressive in a degraded ecosystem in which it has just arrived, but play a perfectly normal, beneficial role in another context.

Some of the plants and creatures we describe as invasive in certain parts of the United States are actually endangered in their home ranges, which may be under threat from sea level rise, unpredictable climate fluctuations, or more direct human impacts like urban development or agriculture. Should we deny these species a niche in a new place when the place they called home has become untenable?

I think the question deserves another look, rather than a knee jerk “no” response. That knee jerk “no” is something I do sometimes encounter when I talk with scientists about these issues. There seems to be a lot of concern around loosening the binary between native and non-native and saying “maybe some non-native plants are ok”. Some seem to feel that thinking this way sends us off down a slippery slope that will lead the devaluing of historic ecosystems, making restoration even more difficult than it already is. My views on this are still evolving, but taking into account the range of perspectives I’ve encountered over the years, I tend to fall on the side of life. The toxic and/or resource intensive methods used to eradicate invasive plants, at least in urban spaces where greenery is often scare, could better be spent in other ways. Especially given the fact that these plants, whether native or not, are still providing basic, valuable ecosystem services like soil stabilization and creation, air quality improvement, habitat for non-human animals, and even health benefits (mental and physical!) for us humans.


The Next Epoch Seed Library at William Paterson University as part of the exhibition Living Together: Nurturing Nature in the Built Environment. Photo credit Anne Percoco


The Next Epoch Seed Library at William Paterson University as part of the exhibition Living Together: Nurturing Nature in the Built Environment. Photo credit Anne Percoco


The Next Epoch Seed Library at William Paterson University as part of the exhibition Living Together: Nurturing Nature in the Built Environment. Photo credit Anne Percoco


Anne Percoco gathering seeds for NESL in a traffic median on Grand Concourse in the Bronx. Photo credit Ellie Irons


Screen shot of the NESL website

I was really charmed by your Next Epoch Seed Library and the way it gives nobility to weeds. Could you tell us what you’re trying to achieve with this work?
How big is the library? Do you accept plants from outside NYC?

The Next Epoch Seed Library (NESL) is one of my newest projects, initiated about a year ago with my collaborator, Anne Percoco, and a range of other artists who have contributed seeds and other ephemera. NESL focuses on collecting, storing and sharing seeds from plants that tend to live in close association with dense human populations or in areas heavily impacted by human activity.

Growing where others can’t or won’t, the species held in our seed library are those best adapted to live in the long shadow humans throw on the landscape. They supply important ecosystem services to humans and nonhumans alike, improving habitat in areas where legacy ecosystems have been disrupted through development and industry. Too often the plants living in these environments are the very plants cities and private landowners pour resources and herbicides into eradicating, “cleaning up” a “messy” life form in favor of the neat and the dead. Recasting these weedy species as companion plants for Anthropocene age, we use NESL as a vehicle for softening the edges of limiting binaries like native/non-native and nature/culture.

Through presentations, workshops, seed-swaps and exhibitions, we encourage viewers and participants to engage with their local habitat and reflect on their own role in the adaptation and success of these plants.

We’re still working out our policies around spreading species that are not yet introduced to a particular location. So far we’ve collected and exchanged only locally, although we do have an open invitation for interested parties to send seeds to us from anywhere. Personally I think I would only be comfortable offering those seeds back out to a community living in an ecosystem where the seeds in question are already naturalized. Certainly we’ll hold any species of seed in our library, but certain species might go in a reserve section temporarily, or only be offered back to people in certain regions. The project is very site-specific, in that we make a special, hyper-local collection of seeds for each location where the project is displayed. We need to do a thorough tally, but at the moment I think we have at least fifty species represented in the library, for a total of maybe 5,000 seeds, although that is always in flux as visitors take out and deposit seeds.


Stills from Flight Lines (Butterflies, Bank of the East River, Gothic, Colorado, 6/23/15, 10:50 am), 2015, created during an residency at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (with Dan Phiffer)


Screen shot of Flight Lines as commissioned by turbulence.org, Ellie Irons and Dan Phiffer, 2015


Screen shot of Flight Lines as commissioned by turbulence.org, Ellie Irons and Dan Phiffer, 2015

Together with Dan Phiffer, you developed Flight Lines, a computer vision project that monitors the sky ecology of the Anthropocene. What have you learnt from these observations?
Where are the cameras located? Why did you chose these locations rather than others?

Flight Lines has taught us that there is a lot be learned about the ecology of the spot you are standing in by looking at the patterns in the sky above. It started when I was lying on my back in my parents’ yard in Northern California, watching dragonflies wheel overhead. They were making these amazing looping lines, and I starting trying to sketch their curves and arcs. I wasn’t satisfied, so took a quick video, then played the video back on my computer, tracing the movement of a single dragonfly frame by frame. I loved the line that emerged, but it was a tedious process. Dan saw me doing it, and realized that some automation might be in line. Soon he’d come up with a Processing script that allowed us to feed video in and get out a frame by frame drawing of what the camera saw passing through the frame.

Since then we’ve deployed Flight Lines in a variety of settings, from the abundant skies of the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Colorado to the rooftops of Brooklyn. The “sky signature” of each location is unique, reflecting the activity on the ground. Highly urbanized landscapes are full of lines made by machines piloted by humans, of bit of drifting trash, and of synanthropes like starlings and pigeons. They can be very striking to look at, but are generally more geometric and ordered, and less abundant (although the pigeon fanciers of Brooklyn tip the scales in terms of abundance at certain hours). Landscapes less heavily dominated by human activity often have a higher diversity of lines and shapes, more of them organic. In very remote places at certain times (like the Rockies in early summer) our algorithm couldn’t cope with the abundance of flying creatures- after five minutes the whole screen turned to gray, so Dan developed a new version that cycles through the spectrum and can convey that level of abundance more effectively.

Our newest iteration of the project is a light-weight, raspberry-pi based version that lives on the roofs of New York City and feeds footage into a website commissioned by turbulence.org. This project, which is also part of Jamaica Flux currently, allows us to crowdsource the processing of our footage. Visitors to the site watch a chunk of sky for ten minutes, generating a series of still frames that give us a sense of what transpired in a particular chunk of time. Currently we have cameras in Central Park at the Arsenal Gallery in Manhattan, at the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning in Jamaica Queens, and on the roof of Flux Factory in Queens, although we need to do some maintenance on them! Our camera locations are chosen by where we can get a good view of the sky and (if possible!) an internet connection. We’re interested in just about any chunk of sky we can get our camera pointed at!


The Sanctuary for Weedy Species in progress, December 2015, Photo credit Dyani Sabin


The Sanctuary for Weedy Species, 2015, part of Rail Curatorial’s Social Ecologies exhibition in Industry City, curated by Greg Lindquist. Photo credit Ellie Irons


The Sanctuary for Weedy Species, 2015, part of Rail Curatorial’s Social Ecologies exhibition in Industry City, curated by Greg Lindquist. Photo credit Ellie Irons

A German botanist once told me that there was more biodiversity in his city than in the surrounding countryside. Mostly because rural environment is more controlled by agriculture, use of pesticides, etc. whereas in cities, we don’t really pay much attention to what grows and what doesn’t. Is this something you’ve observed in New York as well?

Interesting concept! I’ve heard something along those lines as well. Theoretical ecologist Sasha Wright is someone I’ve worked with on urban ecology issues, and she described to me how combinations of introduced and native species living together in cities can actually produce higher levels of biodiversity than existed before species introductions. She did acknowledge that these more diverse assemblages of species might be repeated more frequently across the world, which gets at the trend of global homogenization. But biodiverse areas, as I understand it, are much more resilient to difficult conditions than less diverse ones, so given the current challenges, especially for urban dwelling species, it seems that having more types of species is desirable, and since they are already here, we might as well work with what we’ve got.


Herbarium of the Feral Landscape Lobby Brooklyn, NY (FLL)

Reading about your work, i realised that the main strengths of the plants you are studying is their resilience, the way they overcome difficult situations and are able to adapt to various environments. Which of course made me think of the ecological crises we are facing. So what could we, humans, learn from observing these plants?

I think I got at some of this in my answers above, but I do have a little more to say. I certainly admire the resilience of weeds, and their ability to thrive even when we ignore or actively attack them. In a poetic sense, they can be a stand in for many kinds of overlooked and under-appreciated life forms, spaces and places. But I’m not sure that metaphor needs to be extended to encompass humans- it already fits us perfectly! We are also weedy (if you like term, invasive) organisms. Just like the weedy plant species of the world, we are able to disperse widely, live in dense populations, and dominate the landscape at the expense of other species. I guess one metaphor I might like to extend is the one of context: not all humans are equally responsible for the ecological crises we find ourselves in; just like its dangerous to universalize and call all green, spontaneously growing organisms weedy invaders, it’s problematic not to address context, history, and social forces when assigning blame and providing care in the face of the climate crises.


Feral Typologies. Triangular corner lot: Broadway at Dekalb Ave., August 2015 and November 2015


Sandwiched lot: 1291 Dekalb Avenue, May 2015 and August 2015


Feral Typologies. Corner lot: Suydam St. and Central Avenue, May 2015 and July 2015

What could we do with the wild spaces that still exist in urban environments? I think we all agree they shouldn’t be left in the hands of real estate speculators. So should we let them grow wild and in peace? Turn them into community gardens? Or something in between?

All of the above! I think its great for communities to invest in a piece of land and garden it. In this context my beloved weedy species might get pulled out early in the season (and hopefully eaten- so many are edible!) to make way for cultivated crops. But I would love to think there is also room for wild, unplanned landscapes to exist in the midst of the city. I have a little (as yet largely unrealized) project called the Feral Landscape Lobby that advocates for the existence of wild spaces in the city. The logic behind this is that many cities, certainly my corner of Brooklyn, don’t have the resources to manage and maintain large amounts of constructed greenspace. As stated on the project website, the FLL is involved in “Recasting vacant city lots and other undesigned open land as transitory zones for rewilding, emphasizing that these spaces are already functioning ecologically. If properly valued, preserved and stewarded, these ubiquitous “informal greenspaces” can provide a refuge and foothold for nonhuman life while also benefiting local human populations, both ecologically and culturally.” The ultimate goal of the FLL is to create a permanent wild urban park, but for now it mostly consists of temporary interventions, publications and workshops.

I’m trying to be a bit less Euro-centric. It’s difficult because i live in Europe so i tend to be in contact with European artists and organisations. So whose work would you recommend that my readers and i check out in America? Who are the artists doing inspiring works about or with nature?

Oh there are so many, functioning in so many different ways. On one end I love speculative institutions like The Center for Postnatural History, operating out of Pittsburg, or Karolina Sobecka’s in-progress Cloud Services. I also really relate to concrete interventions like Mary Mattingly’s upcoming Swale, and Juanli Carrion’s Outer Seed Shadow. And I so admire the work of artist-activists like Not An Alternative, with their The Natural History Museum, and Brandon Ballengée‘s art and research-based work with endangered amphibians. Finally, being originally from the west coast of the U.S. myself, I’ve long followed the work of California-based artists and organizations like Amy Balkin, Amy Franceschini, Andrea Zittel, the Museum of Jurassic Technology, and The Center for Land Use Interpretation.


An Atlas of Endangered Surfaces, Photo Grid, 2015, digital print, in collaboration with Christopher Kennedy for Chance Ecologies

Any upcoming shows, projects, fields of research you could share with us?

Sure- there are some exciting things on the horizon. The Next Epoch Seed Library is programming an event called “On Weediness: Dance, Movement, Vegetative Life”. Scheduled for May 15th, the event will include a range of movement specialists and artists who use weediness and plant life to explore connections between people, place and nonhuman life (including Corinne Cappelletti and Eva Perrotta, Andrea Haenggi, Christopher Kennedy and Lucia Monge). The event is taking place as part of Emergent Ecologies, a sprawling show in an empty metal ceiling factory with more than eighty artists involved. I helped curate a handful of them, alongside lead curators Eben Kirksey and Lissette Olivares and a swarm of others! I also just opened a two person show that features my ongoing work with plant pigments. Titled Chroma Botanica, it pairs me with Linda Stillman, another artist who uses plant pigments in her work. That show will be up through June 14th at a very enjoyable location: the Arsenal Gallery in Central Park. We’ll be giving tours and demos of our pigment-making processes on May 17th and 24th. Otherwise I’m looking forward to getting out into some wild landscapes this summer, urban and otherwise!

Thanks Ellie!

Categories: New Media News

An artist's unflinching look at racial violence | Sanford Biggers

TED - Wed, 05/11/2016 - 10:44
Conceptual artist and TED Fellow Sanford Biggers uses painting, sculpture, video and performance to spark challenging conversations about the history and trauma of black America. Join him as he details two compelling works and shares the motivation behind his art. "Only through more thoughtful dialogue about history and race can we evolve as individuals and society," Biggers says.
Categories: New Media News

This is your brain on communication | Uri Hasson

TED - Tue, 05/10/2016 - 11:05
Neuroscientist Uri Hasson researches the basis of human communication, and experiments from his lab reveal that even across different languages, our brains show similar activity, or become "aligned," when we hear the same idea or story. This amazing neural mechanism allows us to transmit brain patterns, sharing memories and knowledge. "We can communicate because we have a common code that presents meaning," Hasson says.
Categories: New Media News

Gene editing can now change an entire species -- forever | Jennifer Kahn

TED - Mon, 05/09/2016 - 10:52
CRISPR gene drives allow scientists to change sequences of DNA and guarantee that the resulting edited genetic trait is inherited by future generations, opening up the possibility of altering entire species forever. More than anything, the technology has led to questions: How will this new power affect humanity? What are we going to use it to change? Are we gods now? Join journalist Jennifer Kahn as she ponders these questions and shares a potentially powerful application of gene drives: the development of disease-resistant mosquitoes that could knock out malaria and Zika.
Categories: New Media News

Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers

We Make Money Not Art - Mon, 05/09/2016 - 09:50


Bruce Gilden, Factory in the Midlands, from the series The Black Country, 2014


Evelyn Hofer, Crossing Guard, London, 1962

A man lost in his thoughts in the London underground, a family barely smiling in London’s East End slums, a dog being pampered in a pet salon, an elderly couple standing proudly in their candy shop, children peeking through the window in the Outer Hebrides, the underdogs and the landed gentry, the bankers and the lollipop lady. They are all a bit Strange and Familiar, an exhibition curated by street photographer and society satirist Martin Parr. Some people love his work, others not so much. Not intellectual enough for some. Or maybe too popular. I don’t know, I’m a fan.

Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers is about people but also about key events in the history of the United Kingdom. The 23 photographers selected for the show will take you time traveling through the rise of British corporate culture, the industrial decline in Glasgow, the roadblocks in Northern Ireland under the Troubles, the Swinging Sixties, the anti-War movement, etc.

I’m sure you’ve read about the show here and there but mostly everywhere already. Still, just to make me and my blog happy, i thought i’d whip up a fast, image-heavy but not too wordy overview of the show:


Sergio Larrain, Baker Street underground station, London, 1958-1959. © Sergio Larrain / Magnum Photos

Bruce Gilden’s uncomfortably close-up portraits portraits of the working class in the Black Country and Middlesex are cropped so tightly and lit so unforgivingly that you are confronted with warts, wrinkles, pimples, rogue hair on women’s chin and caked on makeup.

“The basis of this project is to show people who are left behind,” Gilden told Slate. “A lot of these people are invisible and people don’t want to look at them and if you don’t look at them how can you help them? When you pay attention to those who are usually ignored, it makes their day. That’s not why I do it. I’m not claiming to be a humanitarian; I’m a photographer. I always photograph what’s interesting to me and it has always been people who are underdogs because I see myself as an underdog.”


Bruce Gilden, Debbie, West Bromwich, from the series The Black Country, 2014


Bruce Gilden, James, Wolverhampton, 2013

In 1968, Akihiko Okamura moved to Dublin to chronicle the conflict in Northern Ireland. His photos show an everyday life made of barricades, military check points, demonstrations, bombed out streets, but also tea parties with buntings.


Akihiko Okamura, A street with houses destroyed in the clashes, Northern Ireland, c1968


Akihiko Okamura, Troops of the Royal Ulster Constabulary enter the Catholic neighbourhood called Bogside in the Battle of the Bogside.Belfast, Northern Ireland ca. 1969 Derry/Londonderry, Northern Ireland August, 1969

Jim Dow started photographing British shop windows and interiors in the early 1980s. Many of these family-run businesses have now been replaced by big chains and suburban shopping malls.


Jim Dow, Interior, Fishmonger shop, Norwood, London, England, 1985


Jim Dow, Interior, Cole’s Jubilee Sweet Shop, Leyton, London, England, 1981


Evelyn Hofer, Bus conductress and postman, London, 1977


Evelyn Hofer, Man on Station Vehicle, St Pancras, London, 1962

Edith Tudor-Hart studied at the Bauhaus, was an anti-fascist activist and a spy for the Soviet Union while living in England. She used photography as an instrument to awaken social consciences. Her photos show poverty, unemployment, slum housing and child welfare in London, south Wales and the industrial North East. Photos such as the dog grooming salon below talk about inequality and society’s displaced priorities.


Edith Tudor-Hart, Poodle Parlour, London


Edith Tudor-Hart, Ultraviolet light treatment for children with rickets in a south London hospital (circa 1935)


Edith Tudor-Hart, A child stares into a Whitechapel bakery window (circa 1935)

I have absolutely no interest in football (i only make an exception for anything related to Eric Cantona, his sardines, monobrow, movies and poetry) but Hans van der Meer‘s photos of amateur teams playing in small town fields are striking images i kept in my head long after my visit to the Barbican. I could not understand what made them so special until i read that his photos attempted to return to the old tradition of photography in which a wide view of the action often resulted in elements of the locality being present in the image. Up until the 1950s, there was no close-up of actions in newspapers but mostly zoomed-out views with graphic lines that indicated the movement of the ball to the goal.


Hans van der Meer, Warley, England, 2004


Hans van der Meer, Inerleithen, Scotland, 2001


Hans van der Meer, Mytholmroyd, 30–10–2004 Calder 76 res – Pellon United: 4–3, Halifax & District Association Invitation Cup. Amateurvoetbal. From the series: European Fields


Bruce Davidson, Wales, 1965. © Bruce Davidson / Magnum Photos


Bruce Davidson, Man holding a curry sign © Bruce Davidson / Magnum Photos


Bruce Davidson, Couple having tea on the beach, Hastings, 1960


Robert Frank, London, 1951. Photo Danziger Gallery


Cas Oorthuys, Oxford, 1962

Views of the exhibition space:


Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers. Installation View at the Barbican Art Gallery. © Tristan Fewings/Getty Images


Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers. Installation View at the Barbican Art Gallery. © Tristan Fewings/Getty Images


Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers. Installation View at the Barbican Art Gallery. © Tristan Fewings/Getty Images


Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers. Installation View at the Barbican Art Gallery. © Tristan Fewings/Getty Images


Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers. Installation View at the Barbican Art Gallery. © Tristan Fewings/Getty Images


Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers. Installation View at the Barbican Art Gallery. © Tristan Fewings/Getty Images


Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers. Installation View at the Barbican Art Gallery. © Tristan Fewings/Getty Images


Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers. Installation View at the Barbican Art Gallery. © Tristan Fewings/Getty Images

Previously: Gloom and broken windows. A time travel to Thatcher-era Glasgow .

Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers, curated by Martin Parr, is at the Barbican Art Gallery in London until 19 June 2016.

Categories: New Media News

Art in the Making. Artists and their Materials from the Studio to Crowdsourcing

We Make Money Not Art - Fri, 05/06/2016 - 12:18

Art in the Making. Artists and their Materials from the Studio to Crowdsourcing, by Glenn Adamson, Director of the Museum of Arts and Design (New York), and Julia Bryan-Wilson, Associate Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art at the University of California, Berkeley.

On amazon USA or UK.

Publisher Thames & Hudson writes: From painting to digital technologies to crowdsourcing, over the last few decades the means of making artworks have become more extraordinary and diverse. Yet we rarely consider the implications of how art is made.

In this wide-ranging exploration of methods and media in art since the 1950s Glenn Adamson and Julia Bryan-Wilson take the reader behind the scenes of the studio, the factory, and other sites where art is created. They show how the materials and processes used by artists are vital to considerations of authorship, and to understanding the economic and social contexts from which art emerges.

‘Art in the Making’ focuses on the intersection of thinking and making through chapters focusing on a particular process: painting, woodworking, building, performing, tooling up, cashing in, fabricating, digitizing and crowdsourcing. Discussions of broader themes are woven together with detailed examples and visuals, revealing the logic involved in the choice of techniques and materials.


Rebecca Horn, Handschuhfinger (Finger Gloves), 1972-2000

I wouldn’t say that ‘Art in the Making’ is a guide to understanding contemporary art but it can help you get there. It certainly helped me appreciate a series of contemporary works i had so far dismissed as being superficial, purely formal or dated. The book gives context and depth to artworks by examining the matter of their production and the ideas, ideologies and choices behind it. This focus on the techniques, tools, crafts and materials is apparently quite uncommon in contemporary art, at least in the way it is critiqued, presented and debated today. Quite the opposite of what usually happens with new media art where techno sophistication and materials have precedence over concepts. End of bitchy parenthesis.

This survey of how art is made starts in the 1950s, focuses mostly on artists from the USA and the UK but is otherwise full of very good surprises, unusual suspects and unexpected perspectives. One moment, Frida Kahlo is painting in bed. Next, Aaron Koblin is asking workers on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to draw him a sheep. I find these juxtapositions illuminating and thought-provoking. The authors draw parallels between Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing and coding, for example. Or trace back the origins of crowdsourcing to grassroot organizing.

There are 8 chapters in the book:
Chapter 1 is about painting and innovative uses of pigments. Two great examples would be Olaf Breuning arranging smoke bombs into grids which he then ignites and photographs as the vibrant pigments evaporate with the smoke. And Niki de Saint Phalle literally shooting on paintings.


Olaf Breuning, Smoke Bombs 2, 2011

Chapter 2 is woodworking. It explores how artists subvert expectations about wood (taking apart the unseen wooden structure at the back of paintings, for example.)

Chapter 3 is about buildings and architectural craft in general. Think Theaster Gates creating multipurpose community center out of abandoned buildings, and marketable artworks out of materials salvaged from derelict sites. Or Rachel Whiteread using concrete to give substance to negative spaces.

Chapter 4 is about performance. As engrossing and interesting as the chapter was, it didn’t reconcile me with the work of Marina Abramović.


Shigeko Kubota, Vagina Painting, 1965

Chapter 5 looks at artists who create or modify tools. The authors note that although the history of art is closely linked to the history of technology, an innovative tool doesn’t have to be a sophisticated one. They illustrate the idea with Shigeko Kubota who attached a paintbrush to her underwear for her vagina paintings. The chapter on tools is a splendid one, it argues that making new tools is potentially a political act, it’s about expressing dissatisfaction with the status quo.

Chapter 6, called Cashing In, explores the relationship between art and value. There’s some great examples of artists subverting the market and the economy but somehow, i’m only going to mention good old Damien Hirst and For the Love of God, a work that suggests that society might be going back to ancient conception of art, as “a brute expression of wealth and power.”

Chapter 7 focuses on fabrication and on artists delegating the production of their works to highly qualified craftsmen, industrial machines and even whole factories. A century after Duchamp, the public still feels cheated if the artist is not the maker. Yet, there’s nothing new in this practice. Renaissance painters orchestrated the work of anonymous little hands to create large scale paintings for example.

Chapter 8 is all about digitalization and how the digital is finally understood by the art world as not being immaterial. I do love Cory Arcangel but i wish that authors of book of contemporary art would venture beyond Super Mario Clouds when they address digital practices.

Chapter 9 took me by surprise. It’s about crowdsourcing, a practice that was called grassroot organizing existed before the internet gave it a hip name.

Here’s a quick succession of works that the book made me discover or see under a new light:


Niki de Saint Phalle shooting on her Autel, 1962 (photo via The Red List)

Niki de Saint Phalle broke out into the male-dominated art world of the 1960s with her series of Tirs (Shooting Paintings). She fitted plastic bags filled with paint behind paintings and sculptures. The bags would burst when she or other participant shot at the works.


Yves Klein, Propositions monochromes (1’02) May 10 – 25, 1957

International Klein Blue collaborated with a Parisian art paint supplier to develop a deep blue hue.


Doris Salcedo, 1550 Chairs Stacked between Two City Buildings, Istanbul, 2003

Doris Salcedo’s staked chairs conjure people who have been displaced, in particular faceless migrants who underpin the working of the global economy.


Santiago Sierra, Cube of 100 cm on each side moved 700 cm, 2002

Santiago Sierra‘s ‘3 Cubes of 100cm on each side moved 700cm’ was performance for a public art institution in Switzerland. Six illegal Albanian refugees without work permits were hired to move, at great physical pain, three large cement cubes from one wall of the gallery to the opposing one.

“Persons are objects of the State and of Capital and are employed as such”, said Sierra. In this work, as in many other of his performances, the artist (who has often been criticized for replicating rather than critiquing inequalities regarding power) uses human beings as if they were any other material.


Zhang Huan, 12 Square Meters, 1994

On a hot Summer day of 1994, Zhang Huan sat in the most unhygienic public restroom he could find in Beijing. His skin was covered with fish oil and honey. Swarms of flies quickly came crawling on his body. His face remained impassible during this 40-minute performance.
Rumour has it that the performance was a tribute to Ai Weiwei’s father Ai Qing, who was made to clean filthy public toilets when he fell out of favour.


Liz Cohen, Bodywork Welder, 2005

Cohen gained fame with Bodywork, a project for which she apprenticed under car technicians to transform an East German 1987 Trabant car into a 1973 Chevrolet El Camino. Cohen submitted her own body to a similar transformation. She worked with a personal trainer and dieted to turn herself into a bikini model for car shows.


Guillermo Gómez-Peña, The Loneliness of the Immigrant, 1979/2011

Talking about his performance The Loneliness of the Immigrant, Guillermo Gómez-Peña said: I decide to spend 24 hours in a public elevator wrapped in batik fabric and rope, a metaphor for a painful birth in a new country, a new identity as “the Chicano,” and a new language, intercultural performance. The response of the people who shared the elevator with him was part of the performance. People kicked him as he laid passive, others ignored or interrogated. A dog urinated on him. Eventually the building’s security guards threw him in a garbage can.

rent-a-negro.com was a satirical web-art-performance created in 2003 by damali ayo. The site offered the possibility rent a black person for their personal entertainment or to advance their business or social reputation. rent-a-negro.com received over 400,000 hits per day in its first month, and attracted much media attention but also so many threats and unpleasant emails that in the end, the artist thought it would be safer to turn the potential performance into a conceptual artwork. The site remained online until 2012.

She wrote a guide of the same title though!


Tim Hawkinson, Signature Chair, 1993

A machine that signs ‘Tim Hawkinson’ onto a roll of paper, chops it off, and throws it onto an ever growing pile. The work was inspired by the autopen that executives used to employ on payday for issuing checks. The piece suggests that art has become synonymous with an artist’s signature to then be repeated endlessly.


Fred Wilson, Metalwork 1793-1880, from ‘Mining the Museum‘, 1992-1993. Image via omgyrak

Fred Wilson’s exhibition project “Mining the Museum” presented Maryland Historical Society’s collection in a new, critical but also often satirical light that excavated American racial history in Maryland.

The installation “Metalwork 1793–1880” brought side by side ornate silver pitchers, flacons, and teacups with a pair of iron slave shackles, highlighting the link between the two kinds of metal works: The production of the one was made possible by the subjugation enforced by the other.


Ai Weiwei, Kui Hua Zi (Sunflower Seeds), 2010


Some of the 1,600 highly skilled craftspeople from Jingdezhen hired to create and paint porcelain sunflower seeds. Image via Khan Academy

Ai Weiwei’s 100 million porcelain sunflower seeds covered the floor of Tate Modern in 2010. Each of the seeds had been handcrafted by skilled artisans from Jingdezhen. The work commented on the porcelain tradition in Jingdzhen, as well as on the cheap, fast and anonymous labor that is behind the hard-won and harshly criticised place of China in global economy. Sunflower Seeds also asks us to consider how our consumption of foreign-made goods affects the lives of others across the globe.


Milinda Hernandez drafting Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing 797, 2014

In 1968, LeWitt began to conceive guidelines or simple diagrams for his works drawn on walls. Executed by other people on walls that were most often slated for destruction, the series favours the creative idea that generates a work of art rather than its material existence.


Thomas Ruff, Nudes FJ 23, 2000

Nowadays, the first encounter that people have with contemporary art takes the form of low res thumbnails on google images. Thomas Ruff’s jpegs are monumental but start as such tiny thumbnails. The artist then enlarges them to a gigantic scale, which exaggerates the pixel patterns until they become geometric displays of color.


Cat Mazza, Stitch for Senate, 2007-2008

With Stitch for Senate, Cat Mazza asked knitters to hand knit helmet liners for every United States Senator. The work used the tradition of political organizing within knitting circles as a space for discussion, skill sharing and protest in the lead up to the 2008 senate elections. Every senator received their own helmet liner, mailed on President Obama’s Inaguration. A message accompanied the garment, asking for the return of US troupes from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Categories: New Media News
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