The latest in a series of interviews with artists who have a significant body of work that makes use of or responds to network culture and digital technologies.
Christine Sun Kim, Game of Skill 2.0 (2015)
Your own physical presence seems integral to your work. Sometimes you are literally in the space, guiding people and forging an interaction—I think of Gesture Sign Art that I saw at Kunstlerhaus Bethanien in 2012, where you showed instructions on an iPad for viewers to manipulate transducers and piano wires in space to create vibrations together. At other times you leave objects in the space that show evidence of your actions, like the Speaker Drawings that manifested transducer vibrations on paper. Do you think of those projects in terms of action and evidence? Are they autonomous, or do they require you to activate them?
Some of my performances are about the process of building a platform and conducting participants to become my voice (Subjective Loudness in Tokyo, 2013) rather than leaving my traces afterwards. It seems as if my "voice" as an artist cannot be conveyed without all those people’s involvement. It’s almost a direct reflection of my everyday communication. I expand my voice through other voices.
The Speaker Drawings were my baby steps as a sound artist, and I don't do them anymore. They were very straightforward: sound to visual. I'm so into the conceptual aspect of sound that these drawings almost feel like decoration, almost empty... or just a vessel. I like getting messy, though.
Christine Sun Kim, Speaker Drawing (2012)
I met you while working for the Bard MFA program and was hired to be your note taker—I would transcribe all your studio visits with professors and afterwards you would read how the conversation had been translated through your interpreter from ASL [American Sign Language] to spoken English. I suddenly understood to what extent all communication is mediated artificially, and also confronted issues of accessibility for the first time. Do you think you're placed in an "educative" role by default in an art world where accessibility is so rarely part of the conversation?
Oh yes. I often tell my friends that I am an educator by default. Sometimes I enjoy that, sometimes not. Most art museum websites have videos and audio files that everyday people can easily watch/listen to, but I could safely say that 95% of them aren't accessible to everyone. So my art knowledge sometimes stops right there (apart from internet-ing or dialogue). If it weren't for the museum job I had at the Whitney, giving tours for deaf audiences, I wouldn't have had access to amazing documents such as research packets on special exhibitions, transcripts of curators’ walkthrough tours, and exhibition catalogs. What blows my mind is that the art world is full of people claiming that they're open minded about "differences" or "challenges" and call themselves innovative. But when it comes to requesting minor adjustments such as adding captions, they bite my head off—there’s so much discomfort in that space. I know accessibility can be such an ugly word—even I try to avoid it. "Universal design?" That can really water down other people's work, and mine. There needs to be much more space for us to experiment and try new ideas for making art inclusive. That would also push art/ideas much further with new questions.
Christine Sun Kim, Face Opera II (2013)
Audiences are often struck when watching an ASL interpreter by how much sign-based communication depends on facial expression. You commented on that with Face Opera (2013), in which you and a group of deaf participants used only your faces (and some typed messages on an iPad) to build a soundless operatic narrative, cutting out the role of the interpreter altogether. Was this also a work about how much is lost in translation, about how much work sometimes goes into communication for you?
The audience’s interpretations of my work largely depend on their understanding of my relationship with my interpreters. If you think the process involves transliteration (direct translation without considering its context, similar to Google Translate), then there's not much of a realization. The bottom line is that I'll never get the full information through an interpreter, but I have my own way of assessing what happened. For instance, at Bard, during a studio visit with a teacher, I would try to put everything together inside my head by watching my interpreter signing, seeing how my questions are being answered, figuring out how much I trusted my interpreter's interpretation, observing how the teacher behaved, reading your notes, reviewing the meeting with the interpreter to maximize my understanding, and taking in external details (i.e. gossip, ha ha). If the whole meeting had been conducted in full ASL (deaf teacher, deaf student), it would have been very straightforward—maybe less subjective. There is a lot of trust involved in my communication, as I constantly work with new interpreters, organizers, faculty members, and administrators. Sometimes it feels like dating my own voice; it's like being on a first date every day.
It seems that whenever I present my work as a "sound" piece, the audience is most likely to open their minds and look into their own subjectivities. A friend of mine mentioned that sometimes when you're supposed to "listen" to my work, the experience itself becomes the space for you to re-think your subjectivity. But sometimes I think musicians or sound artists have the privilege of being misunderstood, or not understood. In my case, I have a fear of not being understood, which means I get trapped in your subjectivity, not the other way around.
Christine Sun Kim, Subjective Loudness (performance installation at Sound Live Tokyo, 2013. Photo: Masahide Ando)
You've been a TED fellow and a guest artist at MIT Media Lab, and done all sorts of collaborations with science and tech. Not that there needs to be any separation between aspects of your life and work, but is there any difference in the way your work evolves and is received in those contexts versus the art world, which is often pretty hermetic? What emerged from TED and MIT, and how has it fed into what you create for art institutions?
My work has always been in between disciplines and categories. For a long time, I wanted to stay inside the "art world" (maybe for the sake of belonging or earning respect), but it seems that my work resonates with many non-art communities. When I first was awarded a fellowship from TED, I wasn't sure what to make of it because I thought it was corporate and didn’t want to be associated with it… But I went for it. That was an eye-opener for me because TED has a massive, powerful platform full of resources and people who are totally into new ideas, and I felt they really listened to what I had to say. The experience itself helped me realize that the model of being an artist in the art world doesn't fly with me. I had to step out of that community and explore new models for my art. With MIT, it’s too early to tell what will come of it, since it just started this year. So far no specific projects have come from either fellowship, though they do offer leverage, opportunities, networks, friends, and resources. I feel more hyperconnected than ever and it's scaring me a little.
In your installation Game of Skill 2.0 for the "Greater New York" installation at MoMA PS1, the audience is invited to drive a radio along a cable line, changing the sound of the voice coming from the radio according to their walking speed and direction. It seems like this work is geared more towards a hearing audience; do you feel the need to make your art accessible for all, despite the fact that the hearing world is not made entirely accessible for you?
I remember a time at Bard when I did a total sound piece and I felt conflicted about my work not being 100% accessible (as you said, I am an educator by default) and my co-chair, Marina Rosenfeld, said "Are you making art for yourself, or them?" She was right to ask. I started focusing on what interests me, and when there are deaf people in the audience, I always make time to explain to them my process and what my hopes are. As long as they learn about the concept in ASL, they will have the same experience as hearing people, just on a different level. I did a video of myself explaining Game of Skill 2.0 at MoMA PS1 except that it has no spoken English or captions. Hearing participants listen with their ears and deaf participants with their eyes.
I am amazed at how much feedback I've received from the show at PS1. I was there on the opening day with two interpreters, and I noticed that people with sensitive hearing could hear the voice coming from the radio very clearly (my text is about the future of NYC) and that people with less sensitive hearing found her voice less clear. It shows that everyone hears at various levels, like different small amounts of deafness. But they all need to learn how to walk and hold up a device in a particular way to hear full sentences; they function like human turntable needles. It takes practice. Also, it was funny to watch people getting very self-conscious about their new "listening" skill. They were saying, "Am I doing it right? Stop looking at me!”
For my solo show at Carroll Fletcher this fall, I'll show both Game of Skill 1.0, an earlier version originally shown at White Space in Beijing, and new drawings. The older devices used in the first Game of Skill have external speakers and two batteries instead of one. Both versions were built by electronic instrument designer Levy Lorenzo. And at Sound Live Tokyo also this fall, I will host a concert-like event with curator Tomoyuki Arai's help. We've invited musicians to contribute audio files of 20 decibels and below. The sounds are below your average hearing range, and they're full of beats that will be mostly transmitted through materials such as the walls and floor. Let’s hope no ears will bleed.
Christine Sun Kim, new drawings to be shown at Caroll Fletcher as part of the exhibition "Rustle Tustle"
Christine Sun Kim, new drawing to be shown at Caroll Fletcher as part of the exhibition "Rustle Tustle"
Location: Berlin, Germany
How/when did you begin working creatively with technology?
I've had a TTY (deaf phone, very '80s and '90s) and internet almost all my life. But when I got my first iPhone in 2011, it really changed the way I interact with non-signers and I started to incorporate it into performances. I never work with an interpreter during performances, mainly because I prefer to have direct connection with audiences and remind them that I do not have a sonic identity.
Where did you go to school? What did you study?
At Rochester Institute of Technology, a BS in Multi-Disciplinary Arts; an MFA in Studio Arts at the School of Visual Arts in New York and an MFA in Music/Sound at Bard College.
What do you do for a living or what occupations have you held previously?
I used to work as a digital archivist for W.W. Norton and Co., a publishing company, and as a freelance educator at the Whitney Museum.
What does your desktop or workspace look like? (Pics or screenshots please!)
Living room as temporary studio for three days before my next trip. I was never an artist with a permanent studio, but I hope that will change soon.
Desktop–I try to keep it clear, easier for me to navigate. I like studios and desktops that look almost empty because it helps me think clearly.
The Influencers: Former MI5 spy Annie Machon on why we live in a dystopia that even Orwell couldn’t have envisioned
I’d always wanted to go to the The Influencers festival. So i went. Last week. No, i’ve no idea what took me so long. Based in Barcelona, the event looks at some of the most radical, provocative and socially-engaged forms of media art through documentary screenings, workshops, performances and talks. I’ll come back with more details about the programme but today i just want to share the notes i took during Annie Machon’s keynote presentation on the evening of Thursday the 22nd of October.
Photo by The Influencers
There were LOTS of people in the audience
Annie Machon is an intelligence expert and author who worked for 6 years as an intelligence officer for MI5, the UK domestic counter-intelligence and security agency. Together with her ex-partner, David Shayler, she resigned in the late 1990s to blow the whistle on the spies’ incompetence and crimes.
In 2005, Machon published her first book, Spies, Lies and Whistleblowers: MI5, MI6 and the Shayler Affair in which she offers criticism of the intelligence agencies based on her observations of the two whilst in the employment of MI5.
Machon started off by saying that she had never been interested in becoming a spy. She applied to work for the Foreign Office but got a letter from the Ministry of Defense suggesting she might be interested in working with them. She went through 10 months of recruitment. They were looking for a new generation of counter-terrorism officers
One of Machon’s first work at MI5 consisted in investigating fellow citizens who might be involved in ‘subversion’. Spying on political activism had massively increased and reached ridiculous proportions. Machon gave the example of a schoolboy doing some homework about the communist party. He wrote a letter to the party asking for more information about their activities and his letter was intercepted. That’s how a schoolboy got a file at MI5.
Civil liberties activists, journalists, musicians, etc. had a file at MI5. So did many prominent politicians. When Labour won the elections in 1997, almost all senior members of the party -and that includes Tony Blair, Home Secretary Jack Straw- had a file because some of those ministers had been involved in left-wing politics in their youth.
Which means that the spies have secret information on people who are supposed to be their political bosses, and that makes for a preoccupying ‘tail wagging the dog’ situation.
But what Machon found most upsetting while she was working at MI5 was the discovery that the spies had lied to the government on several occasions about mistakes they had made. She said that many IRA bombing could have been avoided had MI5 agents been more competent. There were also some illegal phone taps against journalists and people wrongly sentenced to prison even though MI5 or MI6 had evidence that would have shown they were innocent.
She gave the example of two students wrongly accused of attacking the Israeli embassy in London in 1994. MI5 had documents to innocent them. But the agency refused to disclose the evidence because, under the secrecy laws, they didn’t have to. They said nothing and the young people were both sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Shayler also found evidence that MI6 had funded attempts by Islamic extremist terrorists to assassinate Gaddafi in 1996. The plot failed and Gaddafi survived.
This plot amounted to state-sponsored terrorism. The spying agencies broke the law and there was no way they could justify their scheme by claiming it was ‘public defense’.
Libyans step on a carpet featuring Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images
David Shayler and her tried raising their concerns from the inside but no one would listen. So they both resigned and set to tell what they knew to the media in the hope that the scandal would lead to reforms and greater accountability of the spying agencies.
However, upon entering MI5, both had signed Official Secrets Act which makes it illegal to say anything about their job. In brief, it’s a crime to report a crime and Shayler faced 6 years in prison for revealing the crimes of the agency.
The story about the spies’ crimes broke in 1997 and the couple had to flee the country, they wanted to stay free to have a chance to argue their case.
Annie with David Shayler outside the Old Bailey in 2002, at the start of his trial for breach of the Official Secrets Act. Photo: The Mirror
After a couple of years hiding and living in Europe, Shayler decided to go back to the UK. He wanted a day in court to explain why they had resigned and to talk about the crimes of the agencies. In the end, he was never allowed to say anything. But at the trial, the judge concluded that what Shayler had done was not motivated by greed and that no life had been put into danger following their revelations. Journalists were present in the room. Yet, the day after, all of them wrote the exact opposite of the judge’s conclusions.
There has never been any enquiry from the government into Shayler’s allegations.
Shayler and Machin separated but both found the post-whistleblowing life hard: your reputation is destroyed, you find it difficult to earn money, your social life is affected, etc. But her experience taught her 2 valuable lessons:
1. How easily the media can be controlled, especially in the UK. After Shayler’s conviction, they reported the exact opposite of what the judge had said.
There are two ways to manipulate a journalist.
First, there is the soft method. They invite the journalists in the ‘secret circle’, give them scoops that will give a boost to their career. In exchange, the journalists are invited to report back to MI5 or MI6 if ever they hear of anything that might embarrass the spy agencies.
Then, there is the hard way. MI5 has at its disposal a battery of laws that enable them to attack any uncooperative journalist.
For example, terrorism laws can be used against reporters to force them to expose their sources or to gag reports. There are also label laws to sue journalists. As a result, self-censorship mechanisms have taken place. Machon explained that senior journalists end up collaborating with senior military officials and spies to decide whether a piece of news can or cannot be made public. There is a term for that: the D-notice system. The Official Secrets Act can also be used to gag the media.
MI6 even has an “Information Operation” section to plant fake stories and control the way media break news.
2. The second important lesson was the importance of privacy. Shayler and Machon always assumed that their whole life was listened to. Which made it difficult to carry on a relationship. In the ’90s, surveillance was resource-intensive for spies. Now, post-Snowden, it’s not about targeting someone anymore, all of us should be living with a sense of being under surveillance. She noticed that there was a great deal of outrage about the NSA revelations in countries such as Germany or Brazil. But not so much in the UK. Machon even talked about UK spy agency GCHQ prostituting itself to NSA. An example of that is the Tempora operation which involves GCHQ tapping fibre-optic cables to collect global email messages, Facebook posts, internet histories and calls, and shares them with the NSA.
But what if you don’t do anything wrong?
Well, what you do online might still be watched without your consent or knowledge. She gave the example of how the Optic Nerve program collected Yahoo webcam images in bulk. 10% of the conversation taking place on these webcams were sexually very explicit. If you were one of the people who did sexy things in front of your webcam with your partner who lives in another country, you had done nothing wrong. Yet, you were still running the risk of being spied on.
And if you feel you are being watched you start to self-censor, you pay attention to the kind of culture you can access, your rein in your freedom of speech. It’s similar to what happened when people distrusted their own flat, even their family members because they were afraid of the STASI.
For Machon, if we don’t have privacy, we can’t have a functional democracy. In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stated that we have the right to privacy (see article 12.)
However, there are ways to fight back!
1. There is the democratic approach: concerned citizens should ask their representatives to act on their behalf, have laws put in place that would further protect privacy and achieve greater transparency and accountability from the spying agencies.
2. The guerrilla warfare way: wikileaks that protects their sources and keep the information online, encryption tools, Tor anonymity network, etc. Machon recommends going to a CryptoParty where you’ll be shown the basics of cryptography such as Tor, disk encryption and virtual private networks.
We are living a dystopia that even Orwell couldn’t have envisioned.
Image from the film Nineteen Eighty-Four, directed by Michael Radford and based on George Orwell’s novel of the same name. Seen here, members at the Two Minutes Hate, and a large screen featuring the face of Big Brother. Image via
3. The third way we can fight back is by looking into Code Red, an advocacy group on digital rights that Machon recently launched together with privacy activist Simon Davies. The advisory group of the project includes Jacob Appelbaum, crypto pioneer Whitfield Diffie, security guru Bruce Schneier and computer scientist and former NSA employee turned whistleblower William Binney, among many others.
Code Red aims to building bridges between communities of lawyers, whistleblowers, journalists, activists, etc. It will also create a clearing house for information in the anti-surveillance movement and will support whistleblowers and sources.
Home catastrophes, wandering mining hole and limbo embassy. (My) best of the Graduation Show Design Academy Eindhoven
A week or so ago, i was in Eindhoven for the Age of Wonderland festival and realized the city was in full Dutch Design Week swing. There was far far too much to see for someone like me who has only a mild interest in design. So i went for the blockbusters. One of them was the Graduation Show of the students from Design Academy Eindhoven. I’m sure most of you know the school already. Its mission is to form designers whose work reflect on the fast changes the world is going through, whether these changes are technological, societal, ethical or cultural. There were two floors filled with all kinds of armchairs, musical instruments and ‘concepts.’ Here’s my best of because the blogosphere loves a best of.
Right! So it turns out i forgot to take a photo of the installation when it was actually turned ON
The first stop is Echoes, by Quentin Péchon. The installation uses CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) tv sets from past decades to visualize sound. The translation of sound into light doesn’t happen through software programm wizardry, but by ‘hacking’ the hardware with an oscilloscope, turning the electric signal into light. The neon lamps blink on the drums, the piano plays with the light bulbs and the bass, guitar and keyboards each have their own television screen. “What you see comes closest to what the soundwave does,” says Quentin. ‘Echoes’ makes the soundtracks resonate in a light show that’s true to the rhythm.
Echoes is an elegant and mesmerizing light orchestra. Everything is electrical and in this everything digital culture, a return to electricity almost feels like magic.
Hannah Hiecke’s The Wandering Hole maps and documents Garzweiler II, a brown coal mining hole in Germany. The designer calls this open cast exploitation the ‘wandering’ hole because it eats up the German landscape at the speed of 2,3 cm per hour. Nothing can stop the machines’ steady march. Not even its disastrous ecological impact. Nor the people who protest because their villages find themselves on the way of the excavating machines and have to be relocated.
In Limbo Embassy ambassador. Photo by Alexander Popelier
There were quite a few projects dealing with immigration at the show. Some of them fairly perfunctory. I did like Manon van Hoeckel’s In Limbo Embassy very much though. It is a traveling embassy for and by asylum seekers ‘in limbo’: those who cannot stay in Europe but cannot go back to their own country either. The embassy functions as a neutral place where refugees and asylum seekers, acting as ambassadors, invite visitors to discuss about their situation.
Esserheem is a prison for repeat offenders in Veenhuizen. Jeroen Heeren looked at the way inmates spend their time and found out that many of them would love to learn an instrument. Existing DIY programs require lots of additional cables, devices and control systems. Either that, or the keys have been replaced by a touch screen, which doesn’t convey the feeling of playing a traditional instrument. Jeroen designed a keyboard that features both an innovative software on the inside and real keys on the outside. Easy to borrow at the prison library and ready for instant use without help from a pro. Prisoners can practice by themselves in their cell by playing along with the tunes of the ‘Edelhout’ band or even try solos. If it gets too difficult, they can always hit the Escape key. The project is called THE_”ALL_IN_ONE”_VEENHUIZEN_TIME_FLIES_KEYBOARD_TO_THE_RESCUE.
Talking Digital at the graduation exhibition Talking Digital at the graduation exhibition (i swear i wasn’t drunk when i took this shot)
Moritz Pitrowski-Rönitz looked at how older generations approach -or rather do not approach- digital technology. He met with a group of old ceramists who were puzzled by the way digital natives constantly use their phones. The designer used the traditional process of cyanotype photography to merge their craft with the photos produced by smartphone, adding tactile qualities to the digital information by printing it manually on three-dimensional ceramic objects. The machine to support this process allows the user to interact with it both digitally and manually.
Christine van Meegen‘s Curated Catastrophes service enables people to “regain control” of their home. Blending radical interior design, art intervention and happening, the process pushes the inhabitant out of the home-comfort-zone in order to break their paralyzation and reset the disharmony in the home. This inertia-breaking is initiated by playing the game Trojan House, which guides the player through tasks exploring spaces, experiencing them with different senses or from unusual perspectives. Impressions are recorded by the user into a personal logbook: a first step toward regaining control of one’s surroundings through deconstructing them and a basis for further cooperation with the studio. In the next steps of the relationship C.A.R.E. provides tailored instructions to implement an empathetic reconstruction of the interior. This is meant to alter our attitudes towards conflictual spaces, applying an approach similar to gardening: what is useless is cut out, what is helpful will be grown, and a healthy attitude toward failure, imperfection, and individual expression is achieved.
My photo album of the Dutch Design Week.
The work takes the shape of a matrix of 99 balloons that inflate individually to surround visitors in a physical, sonic, and visual experience. The piece inhales and exhales, expands and deflates, building up an almost claustrophobic experience that aims to echo the crises and dilemmas our society is going through.
And if you’re a child of the 80s, you might even guess that the title and use of balloons evoke “99 Luftballons”, Nena’s hit single that talked about innocent objects that provoke nuclear paranoia.
Nena, 99 Luftballons, 1984
NEUNUNDNEUNZIG (99) will be shown this week in Paris as part of the International Biennial of Digital Arts NEMO. The biennial is associated with SHAPE, a European platform for innovative music and audiovisual art that has such an impeccable and experimental taste for sound art that wmmna became one of their media partners. But back to Olaf and Martin! They spent the weekend inflating balloons and adjusting pipes but still managed to find some time to answer my questions:
Hi Martin and Olaf! How did you two start working together? How do your respective practices and interests complement each other?
Bender: We met some years ago during diverse festivals and one day Martin introduced me to some of his projects that I found interesting because they all had something subversive and weren’t that super seriously arty, but had rather something simple, an energy that reminded me of something I knew from rock music, a kind of non-conformist attitude. (projects: Nonument, Re:Museum, New Human.) But to be clear about our current collaboration, my part in it is that I added the sound to the 99 installation which had already been conceptualized by Martin before.
Baraga: When I work on open air intervention or indoor installation I am mostly interested in the space and the ambience of light and sound and how all this affects the space alone, and the visitor. So sound is very important – I’m interested in the sound of spaces and of objects- objects producing sounds, becoming some sort of instrument. Olaf is interested in physicality of sound, so I think these 2 things match.
It’s interesting that Olaf mentions the simple energy because I had the same feeling when I experienced his music- the kind of raw power, that I really wanted this piece to have in.
Beside that – the song NEUNUNDNEUNZIG (99) is about cold war- the east/west block, and we both come from different countries but from the same former eastern block.
The description of the piece states that the space is “shrinking and extending, thus creating a highly intensive, even claustrophobic psycho-physical and socio-spatial experience that mirrors the current conditions of our society.” Could you give us more details about the experience? What will visitors see and feel?
Bender: I wouldn’t say that the room is shrinking and extending, for me it’s more like breathing. From an abstract perspective, the setup of the balloons acts like an organism. The initial idea was that visitors enter this organism in the darkness and a part of the scenario should be this claustrophobic experience that you always encounter if you give up control to a complex mechanisms (airplane, army, elevator etc.).
Baraga: Exactly – you enter the grid that really functions as an organism- and it looks like an organism too. It looks like a set of cocoons of the future bodies to be born, all connected to their base- pneuma – mother. You are seated in total darkness and start to hear, feel the initial breathing part. The intensities that follow can bring up different reactions.
The grid and the organism are allegories of the system. And we do have organic connections with machines already, we’re being transformed slowly. And what happens when the machines get weird. Or just play their own game. It already happens on a daily basis. As for the breathing of pneumatics- Pneuma – the greek word for breath was very important in Judaism and Cristianity in religious context, meaning spirit or soul.
Do machines that breathe have soul?
How long does it take to get the full immersive experience?
It’s an intimate experience for 15 minutes with 15 other visitors. The current 99 composition actually lasts for 15 minutes, but it takes more time with the whole procedure to enter the room, to be seated, so in a way we can do maximum 2 shows per hour.
Why was it important for you to communicate a feeling of claustrophobia (as opposed to a light and entertaining experience?
Baraga: It is a reflection of the current state we’re in as humans, the technocratic environment that is becoming so sophisticated that it seems that no change is possible – it’s becoming almost suffocating. That is a very claustrophobic feeling i think.
In creating a total darkness, I’m interested in creating a zone environment where you don’t have a constant influx of information and distractions which you are always exposed to.
Bender: For me, a claustrophobic feeling is important as it is something that signalizes a human being that a certain system has a big potential for danger. I don’t see it in opposition to a light and entertaining experience, even positively acting systems can create this strange feeling if they become totalitarian.
Could you talk about the sound too? How does it evolve along with the kinetic experience?
Bender: The sound is split into three parts. the first part is a high-frequency, the second part a low-frequency theme and the third is more aggressive through mid-range frequencies that interact more and more with the pneumatics before everything collapses.
Baraga: I think the most interesting part of NEUNUNDNEUNZIG (99) is that apart from the fact that it is a constructed environment, it acts as an instrument.
You have the breathing part- the inhaling and exhaling sounds. Then you have the metal mechanical sounds of the valves- when they are opening on and off, that is very beautiful- at the end they get a kind of mechanical insect sound. Below that is the sound design that Olaf did – from almost inaudible high frequencies to very powerful drones with rich details.
What were/was the biggest challenge(s) you encountered while developing NEUNUNDNEUNZIG (99)?
Baraga: When I started working on this project the idea was to build something simpler than the previous big installations I did. You just pack the 99 baloons, the pipes and hop on a plane, right? But pneumatics are one of most complicated systems to use, because it is so non-exact, it is really hard to control. So the technical rider up is a very demanding one- it is almost impossible to get the same compressors in each country due to different standards.
It’s a very complicated sound set up too, because the experience totally changes depending on the space we enter. When we did the latest composition at MoTA Museum in Ljubljana, everything worked and when we arrived at the Galerie Fernand Leger we had to change so many parameters to have everything fit the room. So it’s definitely not a plug and play piece.
Bender: It’s still a work in progress and there are certain factors to be optimized. The physical power of the compressors, for example, is a problem, so the balloons are limited regarding speed and precision. From my musical perspective, I wished to have a more direct connection between the pneumatic and the acoustic system because they have the same physical base.
Apart from its title, has the piece anything else to do with Nena’s protest song?
Baraga: I would say Nena’s song is a starting point. The formal part- grid of 99 baloons comes from there- but in reverse sense, these balloons don’t bring hope, instead they act as a suffocating grip. The intensities of the blocks or the logic of polarization of the world are facts which seem so powerful you cannot escape them. But it is not just about the cold war, which seems so hot now. You could have a references to past, present or future torture rooms, to the drone strikes, to the NSA, etc.
What’s next for you Baraga and Bender? Any upcoming event, project, field of research?
Baraga: We discussed few things – a public space projects with architectural elements like containers and another project with socio realist monuments of Europe.
But for now we really want to develop the balloons into much simpler version too. The one where you control the technical set up and sound more easily in a more controlled environment. Where the spectator looks at the object from outside- not being a part of it- the traditional way seems interesting for this new piece in this moment.
Thanks Martin and Olaf!
Martin Bricelj & Olaf Bender are showing NEUNUNDNEUNZIG (99) at the Galerie Fernand Léger, in Ivry, Paris. The show opens tonight and will continue until the 29th. The event is part of the NEMO Biennale, the International Biennial of Digital Arts which runs until the 31st of January 2016.
All images courtesy of the artists.
EITHER WE INSPIRE OR WE EXPIRE (2015) by artist Liam Gillick and data journalist Nate Silver considers technological failure and its lack of visibility in a society obsessed with success.
Created as part of Rhizome'’s Seven on Seven conference, which convenes leading artists and technologists for high-level collaborations, this web-based project draws on a selection of words handpicked by Gillick and Silver—such as THE .COM FOR MOMS, ASSASSIN VAPORS, DRONE CON, and WRAPIPEDIA—from a database of inactive trademark applications.
Gillick and Silver embarked on the project by taking one of the questions commonly addressed using statistical analysis—How can we reduce risk?—and inverting it, asking instead: How can we guarantee risk? Applying this question to the creative process, Silver observed that our understanding of innovation suffers from "sample bias": we have a distorted perception of the success rate of new ideas because only the successful ones, or the ones that change the game or disrupt an industry, are discussed. Thus, failure in creative production and innovation represents a "dark corner" for statisticians.
The database of failed trademarks that Gillick and Silver used for the project lists 4.5 million companies whose ideas didn't quite play out. From this vast trove, they curated a selection of names, presenting them one after another in a web-based slideshow that puts a momentary spotlight on the traces of failure in creativity and innovation. The words appear in white on a black background, with each entry representing a set of aspirations: sometimes grandiose, sometimes humble, sometimes sad or funny, but always unrealized.
Image: Liam Gillick and Nate Silver presenting an early version of EITHER WE INSPIRE OR WE EXPIRE at Rhizome’s Seven on Seven conference at the New Museum, May 2015. Courtesy Madison McGaw / BFA
Major support for First Look is provided by the Neeson/Edlis Artist Commissions Fund. Additional support is provided by the New York State Council on the Arts and the Toby Devan Lewis Emerging Artists Exhibitions Fund.
I’ve just spent the past few days in Eindhoven to participate to the Age of Wonderland, a social innovation program set up by Dutch organization for development Hivos, platform for future thinking Baltan Laboratories and the Dutch Design Week. The programme of the Age of Wonderland looked at ‘Balancing Green and Fair Food’ through workshops, exhibition, tours, meals, discussions, artists presentations and seminars. I’ll come back to the artists’ participation in a later post. Today, i’ll just type down my notes from the Future Food Seminar which took place on Monday evening and gathered people with radically different backgrounds and insights to reflect on the re-invention of global strategies for the design of our future food system.
Mounira Al Solh, Now Eat My Script, 2014
Independent critic and curator Nat Muller curated Stirring the Pot of Story: Food, History, Memory, a show which was part of the The politics of Food programme at Delfina Foundation in London. The exhibition explored the relationships between power and the control of food. More precisely how issues of conflict (war, colonialism and other man-made tensions) affect food and cuisine and how they continue to influence the way we experience food.
We immediately associate war with food scarcity. In fact, many revolutions started because of food shortage. But war also drives innovation and technology. In war time, the military, the academia and the industry work at full force because food is a key tactic. Think of the grain silos bombed in Syria. Or at the opposite side of the spectrum, the Women Institute which was the largest voluntary women’s organization in Great Britain that was non-military during WWI. The institute was born out of the war effort and helped women share useful skills such as conserving food by jamming and canning.
One of the works Muller and the Delfina commissioned for the Politics of Food show looked at the iconography of Italian food cans of WWI. The invention of cans was credited to Napoleon who needed them to feed his troupes during his campaigns. Cans went through a production boost during WWII and Italian artist Leone Contini collected cans produced during that period to study their iconography. They show bucolic scenes, evoke Italian colonial endeavours and communicate patriotic slogans. They speak of comfort from home while sending nationalistic messages to the soldiers. These cans are historical objects that tell the story of lived experiences. For civilians and soldiers alike, it is often memories of loved food that keep people going. Food provides a sense of security in dire situation.
Leone Contini, can of anchovies from World War II
The next speaker was Marcel Beukeboom . As the Head Food & Nutrition Security, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Beukeboom is responsible for the development and implementation of Dutch policies for food and nutrition security.
He quoted MartÃn CaparrÃ³s who has said the hunger is the single most preventable problem of humankind. Yet, we still haven’t solved it.
The problem with food is not its quantity anymore. It’s its quality and distribution.
The 3 pillars to reduce hunger identified by the Dutch parliament are People, Planet and Profit. People because it is a collective effort. Planet because we need to keep the ecological footprint in mind. Profit because we need to raise the production of food. The problem is that we will deplete the Earth of its resources if we keep on consuming the way we do. In fact, that deadline will probably come sooner. In August, it was revealed that we had already used up 2015’s supply of Earth’s resources.
The Netherlands has to face 3 dilemmas:
1. The Meat dilemma. We know that the meat industry is a huge consumer of soil, water and resources that could be used for human consumption. But The Netherlands is also a very successful producer and exporter of meat. If the country were to stop producing meat altogether, this would have huge economical consequences for the industry and the citizens.
2. Urbanization. The number of small scale farmers is too high. The country needs to scale them up. The problem is that the farming community is getting older and older. Young people don’t want to follow in the footsteps of their parents and they leave the family farm to look for better jobs in cities.
3. Need for new forms of investments. 20 or 30 years ago, the government would just distribute money to countries facing food shortages. Nowadays, the scenario has changed. The government has less money to give away and needs to find partners and devise new ways to reach food objectives.
Slides from Koert van Mensvoort’s presentation
The third speaker to take the floor was Koert van Mensvoort. He is an artist, a philosopher, the founder of the Next Nature concept and the head of the Next Nature Lab at the Industrial Design Department of the Eindhoven University of Technology. He also happens to love meat but is also investigating new ways of producing and consuming meat. He is particularly interested in in vitro meat grown inside a petri dish.
Willem van Eelen. Photo via Next Nature
First lab-grown burger tried and tested in London
The first patent for the “industrial production of meat using cell culture methods” was actually filled by Dutch researcher and entrepreneur Willem van Eelen in 1999. And the first lab-grown burger was presented to the world in 2013 by another Dutch scientist, Prof Mark Post. The cost of the burger is however prohibitive. At the time it was estimated that it would cost 250.000 euros to make a burger with this method. As often with technology, you have to wait a number of years to get a return on investment.
In the meantime, van Mensvoort set out to explore the creative potential of in vitro meat in a cookbook. The In Vitro Meat Cookbook explores the new “food cultures” that lab-grown meat might give rise to. This book approaches lab-grown meat not just from a design and engineering perspective, but also from a societal and ethical one.
The cookbook envisions a future in which we could eat Dodo Nuggets, meat ice (“finally! An ice cream for the grown-up!” said van Mensvoort), meat fruit (fake meat products want to look like meat so why couldn’t meat look like something vegetal?), celebrity cubes made using cell samples from your favourite stars, meat oysters, See-through sashimi (without blood vessels, nerves or organs, in vitro meat could be manufactured to be nearly transparent), etc. And why not In Vitro Me! Imagine eating meat grown from cells harvested from your own body.
Unsurprisingly, van Mensvoort and his imagination won’t stop there. He is already inviting people to an invitro restaurant.
Dodo Nuggets from the In Vitro Meat Cookbook
Knitted Meat, from the In Vitro Meat Cookbook
See through sashimi, from the In Vitro Meat Cookbook
In Vitro Meat Cookbook
The next speaker was Mr Asaba Ruyonga, Mayor of Fort Portal, Uganda who talked about how his city is transforming to become a important destination for eco-tourism.
de Vries reminded us that when it comes to food, we need to leave aside the simple divisions we use to look at the world. Food is complex. It’s nature and culture, it’s agriculture and industry, etc.
Food is intrinsically linked to health. One billion people in the world go hungry while over 2 billion people suffer from obesity (and obesity is also a poverty problem.) Which means that 3 billion out of the 7 billion people who inhabit this planet are not adequately fed.
So here’s the first problem with food: we are producing food that makes us sick.
The second problem is sustainability. By 2050, there will be 9 billion people who need feeding and we are already running out of our resources.
The third problem is that the world food system is so complex that no one can claim to have control over it.
If you want a robust food system, you need to enhance its resilience. And for that, we need an interdisciplinary team because innovation is not only and not necessarily techno-driven. We need to come up with new business models. Take the supermarket for example. That’s an old model and it is certainly one that has proved to be adequate when it comes to distributing healthy food.
What we need now are ‘the heroes of the retreat’, the issue with the food system is not ‘growth’. In fact, we need to reduce both our meat production and our food consumption. So what we desperately need right now is to find a way to retreat in an orderly way and that’s probably less easy than to come up with innovation.
Laura Brothers, come and be real for us (Dec 25, 2007). Detail area of 803 x 840 digital image.
Artist Laura Brothers, whose work was included in the online exhibition "Brushes" (co-presented by Rhizome and the New Museum as part of First Look), is featured on the newest installment of Gene McHugh's podcast, Net Art Hell.
Brothers has been posting her images to a LiveJournal blog under the moniker out_4_pizza since 2007; in his podcast, McHugh tracks the visual progression of the images through the evolution of Brothers' style and content. He points to the use of cut-and-paste image appropriation in the earlier work: imagery drawn from 1980s television, imagery from the past 40 years of rock music album cover culture, and other imagery that Brothers refers to as "timestamped." Building on this exploration of temporality, McHugh adds that the LiveJournal platform is itself dated, which emphasizes the datedness of the image content. In addition, the chronological structure of the LiveJournal feed allows the viewer to understand how Brothers' practice unfolds over time. As artist Giovanna Olmos noted in the Brushes panel at the New Museum, scrolling is a new narrative form.
Brothers' newer work is still inspired by timestamped cultural imagery, but unlike the earlier clearly appropriated collages, it alludes to its sources in loose, gestural abstractions. This style can be seen in the recent posts Cake Walk Howl (posted, according to LiveJournal, at 24 September 2015 @ 03:42 pm) and Alfredo Frenzy (posted 10 September 2015 @ 04:40 pm), which have Brothers' signature pixelated texture, but refer more to expressive sketches and figure drawing than to specific timestamped cultural images.
What the viewer may come to understand in out_4_pizza is all of this is leading to a representation of its medium: an ongoing blog or image stream in which every image is always-already a ghost, always already in flux, becoming and falling away. It's a medium-specific, self-reflexive work, not just because its imagery is born digital and pops on the screen, which it does do, but also because it describes the overwhelming power time has over images displayed in streams on screens by again and again referring to image types from the just-past and now dated and doubling the sense of that by setting everything over the LiveJournal interface. out_4_pizza performs its being right now.
Brushes is on view here.
Laura Brothers, alfredo frenzy (Sept 10, 2015). Detail area of 940x700 pixel digital image.
Documentation of A Well Regulated Militia installation by Public Practice Studio at the Jacob Lawrence Gallery, University of Washington, September 22-October 17 2015. The piece visualizes Instagram posts of AR-15 rifles.
The Public Practice Studio is a socially-engaged design lab comprised of faculty, students, and alumni at the University of Washington’s Division of Design. Our mission is to bring research and design to bear on pressing issues of local, national, and global concern. We work with academic, industry, and community-based partners on such topics as human trafficking, urban development, and environmental sustainability.
Turbulence.org Commission: How to Look at Artist Networks by Angie Waller, with Jonathan Butterick:
How to Look at Artist Networks allows you to search 60,280 names in the Google Knowledge Graph to see if they are more closely connected to Marcel Duchamp or Pablo Picasso. Fame has muddied their differences, but not too long ago Duchamp and Picasso signified two distinct strains of artistic practice. Pointing to the two of them as the progenitors of all modern/post-modern art can introduce amusing, and hopefully enlightening, associations: for instance, you might find yourself contemplating the similarities between Sarah Palin’s and Duchamp’s practices.
Angie Waller investigates collective longings that endure society’s technological advances. Her work combines data mining techniques and analog materials. Her research series, “Unknown Unknowns” (titled after a Donald Rumsfeld tautology), uses databases of web search engine traffic to uncover questions that one may have never thought to ask oneself. Included in this series is an eponymous email newsletter, a growing volume of auto-generated romance novels entitled “Love Unknown,” and text-based works on paper. Angie received her B.F.A. from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and M.F.A. from the University of California, Los Angeles. Her work has exhibited in museums, festivals and galleries internationally.
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African Robots is a project by South African artist and researcher Ralph Borland to create interactive electronic street art. ‘Street art’ in this instance means art sold by people on the street, in South Africa and Zimbabwe – usually forms of handicraft using inexpensive materials like fencing and electrical wire, beads and waste wood, plastic and metal. The project focuses particularly on wire work, where artists make three dimensional forms from wire, using a cheap material to create complex results. Basic electronic components can with the necessary know-how also be used as cheap material for creating interactive sculptures.
For this presentation, Ralph Borland tells the story of the project to date, from buying cheap Chinese electronic toys in urban markets in Sao Paulo and hacking them into wire work toys for the Harare International Festival of the Arts in Zimbabwe, to designing custom electronics to activate the ideas of wire work artists on the streets of Cape Town. Ralph describes the ideas informing the project, which seeks to recover basic principles of mechanics and computing: from identifying topological ethnomathematics in the approach wire workers take to creating forms, to looking at the history of automotons - taking in figures such as Al Jazari, the 12th century Islamic inventor whose work is thought to have influenced Leonardo da Vinci.
This event was hosted by Professor Linda Doyle, Director of CONNECT / CTVR and Professor of Engineering and the Arts at Trinity College.
Peace! … I want you to know about new work. Your insight and any references you suggest I explore, are invaluable to my process of planning and actualization. Thank you in advance.
Krewe Coumbite is a sonic instrument of study in Black and Indigenous Diasporas ecology and vernacular rhythms documented from 1940s til current. The work focuses specifically on vernacular of cultural musings expressed in: noise, chants, stories, lullabies, narratives around naming, Cultural sayings/proverbs/recipes, and in working-class rituals such as public transit, migration, service work, and in community gatherings.
Startup support/funding for the work comes in partnership with Turbulence.org to create an interactive web portal. And with Harvestworks to research, document, and archive this idea of Black Sound. Some conceptual elements i am including are: GIS mapping, audiovisual gaming, algorithmic patterns, literary worldbuilding, sound remixing, and live performance.
My aim with this work is to produce a signature sound that carries the resonance of Black and Indigenous transcontinental movement and activism. Using the oral/aural algorithms of “passing it on” and “repetition is the mother of learning” as tools. I’m working with both original sound recordings, and stuff i’ve scavenged from the internet of sound produced from public marches, rallies, speeches, and viral videos. With remixing, I want this work to embody the cultural wisdoms of the Indigenous and Black Diasporas. Of particular interest to me are the articulations of Black and Brown working class individuals, community groups, and multi dialect/multi lingual freedom fighters.
Who should i talk with?
What archives(public & private) should i visit?
Are there historical and contemporary sonic nuances you feel must be included to contextualize th Black Sound and/or Cultural Wisdom?
Black is not a color. Black is an attitude – James Brown.
Worldbuilding is the process of constructing an imaginary world, sometimes associated with a whole fictional universe. The term “world building” appeared as early as 1965 in science fiction criticism, and is used in relation to science-fiction or fantasy stories and games. The resulting world may be called a constructed world. Developing an imaginary setting with coherent qualities such as a history, geography, and ecology is a key task for many science fiction or fantasy writers. Worldbuilding often involves the creation of maps, a backstory, and people for the world. Constructed worlds can enrich the backstory and history of fictional works, and it is not uncommon for authors to revise their constructed worlds while completing its associated work. Constructed worlds can be created for personal amusement and mental exercise, or for specific creative endeavors such as novels, video games, or role-playing games.
An informal definition for Algorithm could be “a set of rules that precisely defines a sequence of operations.”
Turbulence.org Commission: Killbox by Joseph DeLappe (US) and Malath Abbas, Tom deMajo and Albert Elwin (UK) [To "play" the game download the application to your desktop, and make sure your speakers are on.]
Killbox is an online interactive game that critically explores the nature of drone (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, or UAV) warfare, its complexities and consequences. It is an experience that explores the use of technology to transform and extend political and military power, and the abstraction of killing through virtualization.
Modern warfare technology disguises the lethal nature of weapons as they become surgical precision instruments producing ‘clean’ destruction within acceptable limits of “collateral damage.” – Jill Berke*
“Killbox” is the Military term used to describe an area on a grid map that a mission planner designates a target to be destroyed. Kill Box involves audiences in a fictionalized virtual environment based on documented drone strikes in Northern Pakistan (executed via satellite from as far away as Las Vegas, Nevada).
The disintegration of the warrior’s personality is at a very advanced stage. Looking up, he sees the digital display (opto-electronic or holographic) of the windscreen collimator; looking down, the radar screen, the onboard computer, the radio and the video screen, which enables him to follow the terrain with its four or five simultaneous targets; and to monitor his self-navigating Sidewinder missiles fitted with a camera of infra-red guidance system. Paul Virilio **
Killbox is a 2015 commission of New Radio and Performing Arts, Inc. for its Turbulence.org website. It was made possible with funds from the National Endowment for the Arts (USA). Additional funding has been provided by The Phoenix Theatre (Leicester, UK); and The Cutting Room (UK).
Joseph DeLappe is an artist/activist with a substantial body of work on the subject of geopolitics and drones and is considered a pioneer in the nascent field of computer games and art. He is a Professor in the Department of Art at the University of Nevada where he directs the Digital Media program. Joseph is lead artist on Kill Box UAV; dealing with concept/content development, theoretical and historical research into drone warfare and primary lead on installation, development of publicity materials and archiving surrounding the project. Working with electronic and new media since 1983, his work in online gaming performance and electromechanical installation have been shown throughout the United States and abroad. In 2006 he began dead-in-iraq, typing consecutively all the names of America’s military casualties from the war in Iraq into the America’s Army first person shooter online recruiting game. DeLappe also created and directs the crowdsourced memorial project, iraqimemorial.org.
Malath Abbas is an independent game designer, artist and producer working on experimental and meaningful games. Since co-founding the award winning studio Quartic Llama, Malath is establishing Scotland’s first game collective and co-working space in order to support a community of independent game makers. His current work includes Kill Box, an online game and interactive installation that critically explores the nature of drone warfare, its complexities and consequences.
Tom deMajo is a digital artist, electronic musician and sound designer, and lead designer for project drone. Tom is responsible for unifying the conceptual, experiential, visual and audio aspects of the project, driving the aesthetics and sound in the game. Tom’s work has covered film, animation, games, sound installations and music. He has toured globally as part of electronic music duo Warp Technique, and is a co-founder of Quartic Llama; independent games company. He was designer, sound designer, composer and artist on the award- winning game “other” made with Malath Abbas and in partnership with the National Theatre Scotland. He has collaborated extensively with artists, practitioners and institutions in Scotland and locally such as National Theatre Scotland, Museum of Scotland, Sink, and recently Hot Chocolate and Scottish Dance Theatre. Tom has been regularly invited to contribute to NEoN Digital Arts Festival, and is Artist in Residence at Fleet Collective in Dundee.
Albert Elwin is an artist and programmer, responsible for developing the underlying code for the PD, networking and implementation of all art objects into the project. Originally from New Zealand, Albert now lives and works in Scotland. He studied Computer Games Technology at the University of Abertay Dundee and his career began when he took part in Abertay’s 2012 Dare To Be Digital competition. Albert co-founded Space Budgie, an independent games studio in 2013 where he lead the development of Glitchspace, a visual programming game, well known for its aesthetic and game design. Albert was invited to talk about Glitchspace at various international game festivals, most notably the Game Developer Conference in San Francisco in 2014. For the last 6 months Albert has been working on a wide range of projects and collaborations; developing digital experiments for testing human depth perception at St. Andrews University, an audio/visual digital instrument based on Harmonographs.
* From “War on Words: How Language Obscures Violence”
** From “War and Cinema”
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