New Media News

How trees talk to each other | Suzanne Simard

TED - Fri, 07/22/2016 - 11:11
"A forest is much more than what you see," says ecologist Suzanne Simard. Her 30 years of research in Canadian forests have led to an astounding discovery -- trees talk, often and over vast distances. Learn more about the harmonious yet complicated social lives of trees and prepare to see the natural world with new eyes.
Categories: New Media News

Baby diapers inspired this new way to study the brain | Ed Boyden

TED - Thu, 07/21/2016 - 11:14
Neuroengineer Ed Boyden wants to know how the tiny biomolecules in our brains generate emotions, thoughts and feelings -- and he wants to find the molecular changes that lead to disorders like epilepsy and Alzheimer's. Rather than magnify these invisible structures with a microscope, he wondered: What if we physically enlarge them and make them easier to see? Learn how the same polymers used to make baby diapers swell could be a key to better understanding our brains.
Categories: New Media News

Bodily Matters: Human Biomatter in Art (part 2. At the morgue)

We Make Money Not Art - Thu, 07/21/2016 - 10:51

Previously: Bodily Matters: Human Biomatter in Art (part 1. The blood session).

Part two of the notes i took during Bodily Matters: Human Biomatter in Art. Materials / Aesthetics / Ethics, a symposium that took place a couple of weeks ago at University College London. The impeccably curated event explored how artists use the human body not merely as the subject of their works, but also as their substance.

The second session of the opening day of the symposium was titled Blood & Bone: Post-mortem Afterlives, Trauma & Ethics. And it involved many uncomfortable trips to the autopsy room. Rough notes taken during the presentation of the papers:

Autorretratos en la morgue (Self portraits in the morgue) (1998), photographic series, by Teresa Margolles and SEMEFO. Courtesy of Galería Labor, Mexico City, Mexico. Image via Cranium Corporation

In his paper Abstract Materialities: The Anonymous Corpse in the Work of Teresa Margolles, Edward Bacal (University of Toronto, Department of Art) explored the work of one of Mexico’s most famous contemporary artists.

“Margolles aims to open new perceptions of death and new experiences of loss within a public sphere where such relations to anonyomous bodies are typically foreclosed,” Bacal wrote in his abstract. “Meanwhile, by putting viewers in uneasy proximity to mortality, bodily abjection, and violence, Margolles illustrates how the body’s materiality (and equally, the materialization of the body) is contingent upon the bio- and thanato-political management of life and death, vis-a-vis the conditions by which bodies enter, and become legible in, the social realm.”

Margolles is not only an artist, she also has a diploma in forensic medicine and works at a morgue in Mexico City. Many of the bodies she sees there are victims of violence, drug abuse or more generally of social exclusion. The corpses often come to her unidentified and thus unclaimed.

Her works make theses anonymous dead bodies almost palpable, yet invisible. Several strategies ensure their physical presence in the exhibition space:

Teresa Margolles, Aire. Photo Strozzina

In the installation En el aire (In the Air) soap bubbles float around the room and burst onto the walls. The water in the soap bubbles was the one used to clean dead bodies before autopsy at a morgue in Mexico City.

Aire is a variation on the same theme, except that this time the morgue water is in the air humidifying system.

Teresa Margolles, ¿De qué otra cosa podríamos hablar? (Cleaning), 2009

Teresa Margolles, Bandera (Flag), 2009

Margolles represented her country at the 2009 edition of the Venice Art Biennale. Titled ¿De qué otra cosa podríamos hablar? (What Else Could We Talk About?), the pavilion used blood, shattered glass and other items collected at the scene of murders in Mexico. One of the works in the pavilion consisted in cleaning the floors with a mixture of water and blood from murdered people. Meanwhile, a grubby-looking flag was hanging on the façade of the palazzo. It had been impregnated with blood collected from executions on the north border of Mexico.

What makes these works particularly upsetting is that they place the viewers in uncomfortable proximity to an ‘abjection’ that can’t be located nor identified with precision. The human body is rescued from oblivion and its presence is pervasive but only as an abstract sensation.

Théodore Géricault, Le radeau de la Méduse, 1818–1819

Bacal drew parallels between Margolles’ work and two 19th century painters who used abject body parts as symbols for barbarism, corruption and the collapse of the state.

Théodore Géricault, for example, visited the Paris morgue in preparation to the painting of The Raft of the Medusa, as one can see in his studies with limbs and raw flesh. His work was an an icon of Romanticism but also a critique of ultra-royalism and of the decline of the governing class integrity. Around the same time but in Spain, Goya’s work was depicting political violence and corruption in his country.

People visiting the morgue in Paris to view the cadavers. A crowd gathers to view the grisly sight of the bodies, including a mother and her young son, 1829?. Photo Wellcome

But while the Paris morgue that Géricault visited was then a site of mass entertainment, Margolles’s work does the opposite: it brings the morgue to the public.

Margolles’ works call for a recognition of the dead. In particular, the anonymous victims of violence who can’t be identified but deserve to be mourned. Their sad fate is the result of a series of socio-political conditions: poverty, state violence, gang activity, militarized war on drugs, etc. Ultimately, her works reminds us that to be a political subject means to be the subject of violence, whether it’s gun violence or guillotine.

The Vrolik Musuem; Amsterdam. Photo via Morbid Anatomy

Dr. Gemma Angel (UCL Institute of Advanced Studies) was the organizer of the whole symposium. Her paper Art Imitating Death Imitating Art. Contemporary Art and the Medical Museum: Ethics, Conflict & Controversy explored the changes in perception and practices when dealing with human remains.

Whilst anatomical dissection and artistic practice have gone hand-in-hand for centuries, contemporary relationships between medical institutions and artists seeking to access their collections, such as Hirst and Anthony Noel Kelly, have been marked by conflict, controversy and a disjuncture between professional medical codes of ethics, and artistic intentions.

Both Hirst’s With Dead Head and Noel-Kelly’s Guilded Man raised ethical questions about access, ownership, treatment, display and visibility of human body parts in both the medical museum and in art practice.

The great sensibility towards the use of human remains in the UK can in part be explained by the scandal of the retention of hearts and organs from hundreds of children in Liverpool hospitals. The organs had been stripped without permission from babies who died at the hospital between 1988-1996. As a consequence of the scandal, new laws were passed that detailed how human material can be donated and displayed. Museums such as the Wellcome Collection or medical and pathological museums need to have a licence to exhibit human materials. However, collections of human remains often belong to universities where they are mostly used for teaching. Since not all universities have a public display license, access to the collections is usually restricted to the research community and medical students.

When public visits of the collections are allowed, visitors might or might not take photos of the human remains on show. It is a grey area that often depends on the decision of the museum staff. The Royal College of Surgeons has a strict no photo policy. Whereas at University College London, visitors can take photos and do what they want with the images.

Museums produce their own guidelines on how remains should be handled. But what happens when artists challenge this medical regime of what can or cannot be seen in medical collections?

Damien Hirst, With Dead Head, 1991

In 1981, Damien Hirst was 16 and on an art school visit at the Leeds Anatomy School. Usually surgeons and medical staff cover the head of the body that they are observing and dissecting. However, a severed head had been left on a table and Hirst asked a friend to take a quick photo. The artist later explained that although he was smiling, he was actually terrified. 10 years later, the image was exhibited as art at the Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin in Paris. It was also shown in Warsaw. The photos didn’t attract much comments in either of these cities. But an exhibition of that same photo in the UK sparked a debate about the appropriateness of displaying it. The man had not given his consent to be photographed so the shot was seen as a betrayal of trust. Besides, the image could potentially cause distress to his family. The face was not identified but it was still recognizable by anyone who had known him.

What made the conversation around the photo even more complex was that Hirst was little more than a child at the time and his photo was the result of a spontaneous act.

Anthony Noel-Kelly, Guilded Man, 1997

Another artist who notoriously worked with human remains without asking for consent was Anthony-Noel Kelly. In the 1990s, the artist smuggled anatomical specimens from the Royal College of Surgeons in London to his studio where he used them to make gilded plaster casts (which made the original useless for teaching.)

He was sentenced to nine months imprisonment in 1998, and the case raised issues of the ethics of art and the legal status of body parts used for medical research. Besides, his conviction for theft overturned hundreds of years of legal precedent that had ruled that a corpse was not property and couldn’t therefore be owned or stolen.

Damien Hirst, For the Love of God, 2007

Gemma Angel also noted that in his much discussed For the Love of God, Hist not only used diamonds and platinum but also human teeth.

In her paper The Phoenix effect; body art arising from the ashes, clinician & independent scholar Linda Miller investigated the production of glass works from human ashes. A now well-accepted example of this practice is the ‘cremains’ in the U.S. where people give the ashes of their loved ones to glass artists who turn them into memorials to keep at home.

The whole topic of cremation was incredibly interesting. For example, I was very surprised to learn that many cremation remains are not collected and funeral directors are not required to follow any standard regulation regarding the handling and dispersion of the ashes. Another interesting point raised by Miller is that cremation is not eco-friendly at all. Not only does it produce considerable amount of greenhouse gas emissions, cremation is also responsible for 16% of the UK’s mercury pollution (via dental fillings.) In the Lake District, the scattering of ashes of pets and relatives is now so widespread that the Lake District National Park Authority is asking people to respect the landscape and not abandon the box or urn in nature.

Jorge Otero-Pailos, The Ethics of Dust. Installation in Westminster hall, London. Photography: Houses of Parliament

Miller also noted the significance of the process of converting “dirty” ash into “sanitized” glass: this could be a symptom of society’s attitude to death. While the Victorians had an unambiguous relation to death and surrounded themselves with memento mori composed of human tissues, contemporary society prefers to observe a certain distance from death, the memento mori is still present but it takes the form of elegant glass objects.

A work such as Jorge Otero-Pailos‘s The Ethics of Dust (the latest piece in this series can currently be seen at Westminster Hall) similarly questions the low value we assign to dust.

Previously: Bodily Matters: Human Biomatter in Art (part 1. The blood session).

Categories: New Media News

How the Panama Papers journalists broke the biggest leak in history | Gerard Ryle

TED - Wed, 07/20/2016 - 11:19
Gerard Ryle led the international team that divulged the Panama Papers, the 11.5 million leaked documents from 40 years of activity of the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca that have offered an unprecedented glimpse into the scope and methods of the secretive world of offshore finance. Hear the story behind the biggest collaborative journalism project in history.
Categories: New Media News

A project of peace, painted across 50 buildings | eL Seed

TED - Tue, 07/19/2016 - 11:07
eL Seed fuses Arabic calligraphy with graffiti to paint colorful, swirling messages of hope and peace on buildings from Tunisia to Paris. The artist and TED Fellow shares the story of his most ambitious project yet: a mural painted across 50 buildings in Manshiyat Naser, a district of Cairo, Egypt, that can only be fully seen from a nearby mountain.
Categories: New Media News

Extra Fantômes. The real, the fake, the uncertain

We Make Money Not Art - Mon, 07/18/2016 - 11:07

While in Paris a few weeks ago, i visited Extra Fantômes. The real, the fake, the uncertain, an exhibition at La Gaîté Lyrique that explores the interweaving of the technological and the uncanny.

Extra Fantômes. View of the exhibition space at Gaîté Lyrique. Photo: © Vinciane Verguethen/voyez-vous

Karolina Sobecka, All the Universe is Full of the Lives of Perfect Creatures. Exhibition view at Gaîté Lyrique. Photo: © Vinciane Verguethen/voyez-vous

Nils Völker, Seventeen, 2016. Extra Fantômes, exhibition view. Photo © vinciane verguethen/voyez-vous

I thought it would be a light and amusing way to fill a rainy afternoon. And amusing it certainly was. At least at the start of the exhibition, when you find yourself plunged inside dark spaces and Lynch-inspired red room dedicated to the occult. There is a Oui Ja table, a mirror haunted by animals, a phone that puts you in contact with ghosts, a clique of translucent cushions that breathe over your heads. But the exhibition goes way beyond the mystical and the supernatural…

In a world where scientific rationalism rules, interest is on the rise for alternative forms of relating to the world and to others.

The exponential development of technology is paradoxically a time there is a surge in attention and demand for magical, unexplained and mythological phenomena.

After the first two rooms of fun and phantasms, the ride gets darker and the paranormal gets worryingly normal. The specters, spirits and impersonators become pervasive, intrusive, you can ignore them if you so wish but you can’t hide from them. They are made of the data we generate. They are our disembodied doppelgängers, our digital shadow and they relentlessly shed information about our opinions, routines, sexual preferences and working habits. Unsurprisingly, these last few rooms were the ones where i spent the longest time.

Extra Fantômes. View of the exhibition space at Gaîté Lyrique. Photo: © Vinciane Verguethen/voyez-vous

The first one presents itself like a Control Room that enables the visitors to discover the immaterial energies and invisible forces that inhabit the same spaces as us. These forces are not esoteric anymore. They are real, they are the ones that inevitably accompany our technology-mediated existence.

onformative, Google Faces, 2013

onformative, Google Faces – Google Earth Flight Animation

Google Faces was my favourite piece in the room because of the way it ties up the uncanny atmosphere of the previous rooms with the reality of the current technological world.

Google Faces tirelessly travels through Google Maps’s satellite images and uses a face detection algorithm to detect portraits hidden in the topography of our planet. The images would look nothing like faces were it not for pareidolia, a psychological phenomenon wherein the mind perceives a familiar pattern of a face, animal, object, message or other where none actually exists. “Unprejudiced” technology meets human subjectivity.

Tobias Zimmer and David Ebner, Database, 2014. Exhibition view at Gaîté Lyrique. Photo: © Vinciane Verguethen/voyez-vous

The cameras of the Database installation record the faces of visitors as they enter the room, a recognition algorithm analyzes them and the resulting data is sent to a printer, which automatically prints the little portraits along with data about the time of the visitor’s passage in the gallery. The process is super fast. Every hour though, the intrusive work acknowledges the right to privacy by blending all the faces into a composite portrait and displaying it on the installation’s website, while all other digital records are deleted. As for the ridiculously voluminous prints, they get shredded.

Database publicly documents the nuts and bolts of facial recognition—which governments and large corporations keep behind closed doors—and also refuses to catalog or monetize the information accumulation, in stark contrast with other entities that collect big data.

Semiconductor, Magnetic Movie, 2007

In Semiconductor’s Magnetic Movie, physicists from NASA’s Space Sciences Laboratory at UC Berkeley describe their experiments about magnetic fields while images visualize this invisible phenomenon in the form of hectic, ever-changing geometries.

Extra Fantômes. Exhibition view at Gaîté Lyrique. Photo: © Vinciane Verguethen/voyez-vous

The last room in the exhibition bears the inauspicious title of ‘the Bunker.’ There’s nothing oppressive about it though. The space is filled with ideas and strategies deployed by artists to fight back against data collecting, machine scrutiny and other forms of control. They make us disappear and even turn us into ghosts in the eyes of the machines.

There’s a very straightforward way to make yourself untraceable. Head over to the website of LessEMF and get a maternity camisole, sleeping bag or poncho that will protect you from electro-magnetic fields. My personal choice would be this fetching upper body shield which might come in handy next time i fancy a bit of jousting.

Extra Fantômes. Exhibition view at Gaîté Lyrique. Photo: © Vinciane Verguethen/voyez-vous

Adam Harvey, Stealth Wear

Adam Harvey, Stealth Wear

Adam Harvey designed a range of fashionable thermal evasion garments that protect their wearer from the eyes of the drones and other heat sensing machines.

Extra Fantômes. Exhibition view at Gaîté Lyrique. Photo: © Vinciane Verguethen/voyez-vous

The artist and researcher is also famous for CV Dazzle, a sly make up and hair fashion technique that covers the face with bold patterns. By breaking apart the expected features targeted by computer vision algorithms, CV Dazzle makes you immune to CCTV scrutiny.

Heather Dewey-Hagborg, Invisible

Finally, Heather Dewey-Hagborg has been exploring the next frontier in surveillance: biological surveillance. Her Invisible kit ensure your genetic privacy by obliterating any DNA trace you leave behind.

Catalogue Extra Fantômes

Catalogue Extra Fantômes

The catalogue of the exhibition is published by Gaîté Éditions and Lienart. It contains plenty of great essays by the like of James Bridle, Finn Brunton, Vinciane Despret, Marie Lechner, Elliot Woods (Kimchi and Chips), Mushon Zer-Aviv, etc. Only available in french, i’m afraid.

More images from the exhibition:

Karolina Sobecka, All the Universe is Full of the Lives of Perfect Creatures. Exhibition view at Gaîté Lyrique. Photo: © Vinciane Verguethen/voyez-vous

Mathieu Schmitt, Oui Ja, 2013

Mathieu Schmitt, Oui Ja, 2013. Exhibition view at Gaîté Lyrique. Photo: © Vinciane Verguethen/voyez-vous

Malte Martin, Spectres, 2014

Exhibition view at Gaîté Lyrique. Photo: © Vinciane Verguethen/voyez-vous

Extra Fantômes. Exhibition view at Gaîté Lyrique. Photo: © Vinciane Verguethen/voyez-vous

Extra Fantômes. The real, the fake, the uncertain was curated by Daily tous les jours. The show remains open at Gaîté Lyrique in Paris until July 17th 2016.

Categories: New Media News

A forgotten Space Age technology could change how we grow food | Lisa Dyson

TED - Mon, 07/18/2016 - 11:06
We're heading for a world population of 10 billion people -- but what will we all eat? Lisa Dyson rediscovered an idea developed by NASA in the 1960s for deep-space travel, and it could be a key to reinventing how we grow food.
Categories: New Media News

My love letter to cosplay | Adam Savage

TED - Fri, 07/15/2016 - 11:07
Adam Savage makes things and builds experiments, and he uses costumes to add humor, color and clarity to the stories he tells. Tracing his lifelong love of costumes -- from a childhood space helmet made of an ice cream tub to a No-Face costume he wore to Comic-Con -- Savage explores the world of cosplay and the meaning it creates for its community. "We're connecting with something important inside of us," he says. "The costumes are how we reveal ourselves to each other."
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Bodily Matters: Human Biomatter in Art (part 1. The blood session)

We Make Money Not Art - Thu, 07/14/2016 - 11:22

Croix Gagnon and Frank Schott, Project 12:31

Semen, cell cultures, urine, feaces, tears, blood, hair, skin– the human body has been used not merely as the subject of art works, but also as their substance.
Last week, the Institute of Advanced Studies at University College London held a symposium that explored the use of “biomaterial” in modern and contemporary art practices.

Human bodily materials are frequently invested with highly symbolic cultural power and complex visceral and emotional entanglements, thus the use of human biomatter as art medium opens up an intriguing cultural space to reflect critically upon the relationships between materiality, aesthetics, affective response, ethics and the production of cultural meaning.

Bodily Matters: Human Biomatter in Art. Materials / Aesthetics / Ethics was a remarkably interesting and enlightening symposium. Almost every speaker was reading their paper which would normally make me want to pack my bag and sneak out of the room but the content of the papers was so fascinating that i stayed glued to my chair. What surprised me the most over the course of the sessions is that the art discussed was actually good. There was none of that sciart malarkey. These were works with artistic/aesthetical/critical value, rather than works which sole claim to substance is that they dally with scientific innovations.

My notebook is now full of scribblings and I’ll try and blog whatever is decipherable in the coming days. Taking it chronologically. Today, my notes will be covering the first morning. The session was called What Remains: Traces, Transitionary & Fluid Matters and revolved around a lot of blood, crimes and corpses.

Angela Strassheim, Evidence No. 2, 2009

Angela Strassheim, Evidence No. 13, 2009

Angela Strassheim, Evidence (pitchfork), 2009

Dr Elinor Cleghorn (University of Oxford, Ruskin School of Art) kicked off the day by presenting Light remains: Alchemical affect in Angela Strassheim’s ‘Evidence’.

Artist Angela Strassheim used to be a forensic and biomedical photographer but later studied for an MFA in photography at Yale University. In 2008 and 2009, she visited homes where familial homicides had occurred. There was nothing left to see in the rooms where the crimes had taken place. The spaces had been scrubbed clean, some of the walls had been repainted and new families had moved into the houses.

Strassheim often found it difficult to access the spaces where the murders had taken place. She visited some 140 homes but only 18 families allowed her to take photos. Once granted permission to access the room of the murder, the artist used techniques usually reserved for police forensics to unveil the hidden residues of violent murder. The “Blue Star” solution she uses contains luminol, a chemical that reveals residual DNA protein at crime scenes, as it reacts with the iron in haemoglobin.

In order to obtain the images of the rooms, Strassheim closed doors and curtains to keep light to a minimum and then shot long exposures of between 10 minutes and an hour.

In the photos, blood that is otherwise invisible to unaided human perception appears as bright flecks and splatters. The images almost haptically reactivate the physical memory of an act of violence and revive the biomaterial traces left behind by the deceased.

None of the image is accompanied with a text that details what happened in these rooms. However, the title of the photos showing the outside of the houses lists the murder weapons used while the images of the rooms suggest a whole narrative embedded in stillness.

Angela Strassheim, Evidence No. 8, 2009

Cleghorn told us a few words about the story behind Evidence 8. This is one of the very few houses where the family had remained after the murder of a teenage girl by her step-father. The mother had cleaned the room. The luminol shows the blood spillage but it also records the bleach and thus the attempts to hide the crime.

Bust of San Gennaro, 1304-1305. Photo via Napoli x quartiere

Liquefaction of San Gennaro’s blood. Photo via Napoli fanpage

In her paper Blood Heads. From San Gennaro to Marc Quinn, Dr. Jeanette Kohl (University of California, Riverside, Department of Art History) brought side by side ‘portrait and anti-portrait’, blood relic from the Middle Ages and contemporary artworks.

Medieval reliquaries are not only containers partaking in the spiritual power of the holy body materials they hold. They also use biomaterials. Examples include the tongue of Saint Anthony displayed in a gold reliquary in Padua or the bust reliquary of Saint Fina in San Gimignano, an object covered with leather to evoke the skin of the 13th century girl.

Kohl’s talk focused on the silver bust reliquary of Saint Januarius (or San Gennaro) in Naples. The sculpture contains the head of the martyr decapitated in the 4th century AD. Two glass vials kept separately from the head contains his blood.

Three times a year, a religious ceremony brings the head in close proximity with the blood vials, while the public prays for the miraculous liquefaction of the blood. It is said that the blood ‘recognizes’ the relic and becomes liquid again. However, if the blood remains coagulated, it is seen as a bad omen for the city. The catholic church doesn’t allow scientist analysis but a couple of theories attempt to explain the ‘miracle.’

This kind of reliquary displays the presence of the immaterial divine into material objects. The biomaterials kept in reliquaries also stand for the dead person. They constitute a portrait that fills in the gap left after the disappearance of the human body.

Marc Quinn, Self 2006, 2006

Paradoxically, the pars-pro-toto of body part reliquaries implies the indivisible nature of the individual represented, an idea also reflected in Marc Quinn’s Selfs (Blood Heads) series. The frozen sculptures of Quinn’s head are made from 9 litres of the artist’s own blood. The artist makes a new version of Self every five years, each of which documents his own physical deterioration.

Quinn’s self-portraits stands against the traditions of blood and bone reliquaries as well as secular bust portraits. His portrays are brutally material, they are made of blood that is uncontained by skin or other protective layer. The portrays are made of biomaterial matter but they coexist with the person they are portraying.

Interestingly, one of Kohl’s final remarks was that Quinn’s blood heads suggest the vampirism of the art word that ‘sucks blood and life’ out of artists.

Source Data for Photography/12:31

On the 5th of August 1993, at 12.31 precisely, 38-year-old Texas murderer Joseph Paul Jernigan was executed by lethal injection. Before his death, he had agreed to donate his body for scientific research or medical use. Little did he know that his cadaver would be frozen, sectioned and photographed for the Visible Human Project, an effort to create an anatomically detailed data set of cross-sectional photographs of the human body, in order to facilitate anatomy visualization applications.

Jernigan was a tall man. His corpse was sliced into 1,871 milimeter-thick segments and photographed by scientists.

In her talk A Wisp of Sensation, A Slice of Life, Dr. Maria Hynes (Australian National University, School of Sociology) examined Project 12:31, a ‘reanimation’ by artists Croix Gagnon and Frank Schott of the corpse through the scientific images made in the early 1990s.

Croix Gagnon and Frank Schott, Project 12:31

Croix Gagnon and Frank Schott, Project 12:31

Each image was created by combining night photography and long-exposure photographs of the segments of the corpse on a laptop screen. The stop-motion animation of the sliced body was played fullscreen on a computer, which was moved around while being photographed in a dark environment. The resulting ‘light paintings’ show a contorted, translucent corpse that seems to glide through landscapes and evoke Francis Bacon’s works.

Hynes writes in her abstract: The images of the Visible Human Project and Project 1231, I suggest, provide different perspectives on what should be read, not as a moral claim, but as a fact about the nature of bodies; namely, that bodies are irreducible to brute matter, but also to representation and figuration, because they are the site of spiritual repetitions and the differential distribution of rhythms. Drawing parallels with Francis Bacon’s paintings, in which flesh is violently deformed by the forces that traverse it and escape from it, I suggest that the ‘immobile’ body of stasis, or even death, merely amplifies the incorporeal forces that make bodies the site of events. What these events might be is a problem that, thankfully, is never solvable by scientific knowledge, though I argue that experiments at the nexus of science and art might open up productive ways of envisaging their potentials.

Zane Cerpina, Body Fluids

Zane Cerpina, visual artist (PNEK, Production Network for Electronic Art) presented her performative art project Body Fluids. The work consists of a collection of jewelry objects made from frozen human bodily liquids, such as menstrual blood, semen and breast milk. The first performance in Cerpina’s series, “Woman’s Red”, saw performers wear necklaces and earrings made out of their menstrual blood frozen into diamond shapes.

The work explores how the human body breaks boundaries over the course of the day by urinating, sweating, salivating, crying, menstruating, ejaculating, etc. Our bodies are mostly made of fluids. Yet, body fluids are seen as repulsive and artists who use body fluids in their work are often called transgressive: Andres Serrano’s Semen and Blood photos, Franko B’s I Miss You performance, Kira O’Reilly‘s Wet Cup performance, etc.

“These works have a tendency to produce extreme reactions from the audience,” the artist writes in her abstract. “Yet these reactions stem more from culturally conditioned aversions more than a somaesthetic approach. In somaesthetics body fluids carry a much higher embodied value.”

Categories: New Media News

How to grow a forest in your backyard | Shubhendu Sharma

TED - Thu, 07/14/2016 - 10:42
Forests don't have to be far-flung nature reserves, isolated from human life. Instead, we can grow them right where we are -- even in cities. Eco-entrepreneur and TED Fellow Shubhendu Sharma grows ultra-dense, biodiverse mini-forests of native species in urban areas by engineering soil, microbes and biomass to kickstart natural growth processes. Follow along as he describes how to grow a 100-year-old forest in just 10 years, and learn how you can get in on this tiny jungle party.
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Nature is everywhere -- we just need to learn to see it | Emma Marris

TED - Wed, 07/13/2016 - 11:00
How do you define "nature?" If we define it as that which is untouched by humans, then we won't have any left, says environmental writer Emma Marris. She urges us to consider a new definition of nature -- one that includes not only pristine wilderness but also the untended patches of plants growing in urban spaces -- and encourages us to bring our children out to touch and tinker with it, so that one day they might love and protect it.
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What will be the next big scientific breakthrough? | Eric Haseltine

TED - Tue, 07/12/2016 - 11:05
Throughout history, speculation has spurred beautiful, revolutionary science -- opening our eyes to entirely new universes. "I'm not talking about science that takes baby steps," says Eric Haseltine. "I'm talking about science that takes enormous leaps." In this talk, Haseltine passionately takes us to the edges of intellectual pursuit with two ideas -- one that's already made history, and the other that's digging into one of humanity's biggest questions with admirable ambition (and a healthy dose of skepticism from many).
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3 lessons on success from an Arab businesswoman | Leila Hoteit

TED - Mon, 07/11/2016 - 11:00
Professional Arab women juggle more responsibilities than their male counterparts, and they face more cultural rigidity than Western women. What can their success teach us about tenacity, competition, priorities and progress? Tracing her career as an engineer, advocate and mother in Abu Dhabi, Leila Hoteit shares three lessons for thriving in the modern world.
Categories: New Media News

Oscillations. Or the grace of unpredictability

We Make Money Not Art - Mon, 07/11/2016 - 10:45

Joris Strijbos, Axon, 2016. Photo by Bresadola+Freese/ for NOME Gallery

Joris Strijbos‘s kinetic light sculptures are elegant, ingenious and almost minimalist. Under the deceivingly simple appearance of the works, lay systems that delve into the laws of cybernetics, play with the architecture of the space, mimic biological systems and surprise their creator with their intrinsic unpredictability.

The artist is currently showing two of his latest works in a solo show at the NOME gallery in Berlin. The first of them, Homeostase, is made of group of luminous elements that communicate with each other and devise a generative choreography based on principles found in cellular automaton and swarm intelligence. The second installation, called Axon, consists of a trio of rotating arms that explore the idea of machine synesthesia and generate their own audiovisual composition.

The two installations are composed of a series of identical elements, connected in a network and exchanging information between one another through electric signals. The collective behavior of the actuators and sensors create unpredictable patterns, as though a system of living organisms with their own variable program. A moving scene emerges, where the borders between a ‘natural’ order of things and the mechanical constructions of humans are tested.

Joris Strijbos, Homeostase, 2016. Photo by Bresadola+Freese/ for NOME Gallery

Opening | Oscillations by Joris Strijbos. Photo by Bresadola+Freese/ for NOME Gallery

Strijbos is part of Macular collective, a group of artists interested in art, science, technology, and perception (do have a look at their website when you have a moment, there’s tons of talent in there) and is also an 2015 alumnus of SHAPE, a platform for innovative music and audiovisual art from Europe. I caught up with the artist right before its solo show opened in Berlin:

Hi Joris! Some of your work is inspired by early cybernetics. Why do you think it is important and relevant today to pay closer attention to early cybernetics? What can the cybernetics approach teach us about machines, living systems, intelligence, etc?

For me early cybernetics is mostly an inspiration. I like the idea that complexity can emerge from simple rule-sets and feedback loops. The fluctuating outcome of these kind of systems make me think of social interaction processes within groups of living organisms.

The works you are showing at NOME start from a set of parameters that you established and then they take a life of their own. Has this element of unpredictability ever surprised you? Do the installations sometimes behave in ways you wouldn’t have expected for example?

They definitely behave in ways that I could not have predicted, especially in the beginning of programming the installations. I start with some very simple feedback loops and see what kind of behaviour the installation performs. From there on the programming becomes more of an interaction between me and the machine. I try to provoke a certain interesting and emergent behaviour in which there is a balance between unpredictable complexity and the opportunity for the spectator to “read” the rules of the system.

Joris Strijbos, Homeostase, 2016. Photo by Bresadola+Freese/ for NOME Gallery

Joris Strijbos, Homeostase, 2016. Photo by Bresadola+Freese/ for NOME Gallery

Do you think that it is important for the visitors of the exhibition to understand the functioning of the works in order to enjoy them?

I don’t think it is necessary to have a deeper understanding of the background of these works. They are primarily build as multi sensorial installations that can be experienced in it’s abstract form. They are kinetic light works that perform a choreography which can be seen as some sort of visual music. This can be experienced without knowledge of the idea to work with artificial living systems. What I like is that by observing the works someone can detect the rules behind the actions that take place in the installation.

Joris Strijbos, Homeostase

Joris Strijbos, Homeostase

Joris Strijbos, Homeostase, 2016. Photo by Bresadola+Freese/ for NOME Gallery

I was looking at the spectacular images of Hemeostase on your website and it seems that each time you exhibited the work, it inhabited the space very differently. How are you planning to install Homeostase at NOME? How will it adapt to the gallery?

Indeed the work was first realised as a modular system that could adapt to every space. It was mainly installed as a horizontal field, either above or in front of the viewer. For NOME I made a new version of the work that gives the spectator more of a topview. The units are placed in a vertical grid which gives a good view of the interactions between the different rotating arms in the system.

Joris Strijbos, Axon, 2016. Photo by Bresadola+Freese/ for NOME Gallery

Joris Strijbos, Axon, 2016. Photo by Bresadola+Freese/ for NOME Gallery

Joris Strijbos, Axon, 2016. Photo by Bresadola+Freese/ for NOME Gallery

Axon seems to be a new work. Could you take a moment to tell us how it works and what you wanted to achieve/show with it?

Axon came forth out of the idea of machine synaestetics. I was reading in John Johnston‘s book, The Allure of Machinic Life where he writes about new forms of nascent life that emerge trough technical interactions within human-constructed environments. At the same time I was doing some research on neural networks and synesthesia. This made me think of how synesthesia could work inside a machine. And so the base for the work comes from the idea to cross sensors and actuators in a robotic community. Technically the work consists of three identical rotating arms, which have a speaker, a sensor and a light attached to it. In the work motion, sound and light are connected in a very direct way and form components for a generative audiovisual composition.

Opening | Oscillations by Joris Strijbos. Photo by Bresadola+Freese/ for NOME Gallery

Opening | Oscillations by Joris Strijbos. Photo by Bresadola+Freese/ for NOME Gallery

Both Axon and Homeostase “comprise a robotic community of identical elements, connected in a network and exchanging information between one another through electric signals.” Does the presence of visitor influence in anyway the installations? Or is it some kind of an internal dialogue between the elements?

In both the works there is communication trough light. This means that the units in the works can detect the amount of lumen around them. In theory a visitor could influence the system, but my aim is more on an interaction between the different units in the system instead of one with the audience.

Any upcoming projects, exhibition or research you could share with us?

At the moment I am busy with the Macular collective to set up a lab concentrating on a combination of land art and new media art. It is mainly focused on using green energy sources for kinetic light and sound installations. Furthermore I am working with artist Nicky Assmann on a project focusing on the moiré effect. We are making kinetic sculptures that play with the visual perception of complex grids. There are some exhibitions planned with new works from the project towards the end of the summer.

Thanks Joris!

Opening | Oscillations by Joris Strijbos. Photo by Bresadola+Freese/ for NOME Gallery

Oscillations by Joris Strijbos opens at NOME Project gallery in Berlin until 30 July 2016.

Categories: New Media News

When we design for disability, we all benefit | Elise Roy

TED - Fri, 07/08/2016 - 10:23
"I believe that losing my hearing was one of the greatest gifts I've ever received," says Elise Roy. As a disability rights lawyer and design thinker, she knows that being Deaf gives her a unique way of experiencing and reframing the world -- a perspective that could solve some of our largest problems. As she says: "When we design for disability first, you often stumble upon solutions that are better than those when we design for the norm."
Categories: New Media News

Why I keep speaking up, even when people mock my accent | Safwat Saleem

TED - Thu, 07/07/2016 - 11:21
Artist Safwat Saleem grew up with a stutter -- but as an independent animator, he decided to do his own voiceovers to give life to his characters. When YouTube commenters started mocking his Pakistani accent, it crushed him, and his voice began to leave his work. Hear how this TED Fellow reclaimed his voice and confidence in this charming, thoughtful talk.
Categories: New Media News

Why Brexit happened -- and what to do next | Alexander Betts

TED - Wed, 07/06/2016 - 11:26
We are embarrassingly unaware of how divided our societies are, and Brexit grew out of a deep, unexamined divide between those that fear globalization and those that embrace it, says social scientist Alexander Betts. How do we now address that fear as well as growing disillusionment with the political establishment, while refusing to give in to xenophobia and nationalism? Join Betts as he discusses four post-Brexit steps toward a more inclusive world.
Categories: New Media News

Entertainment for times of suspicion and uncertainty

We Make Money Not Art - Wed, 07/06/2016 - 03:37

Calum Bowden, Calls of Duty, 2016

Calum Bowden, Calls of Duty, 2016

Calum Bowden, Calls of Duty (trailer), 2016

There’s a long tradition of artistic infiltration into the first-person shooter game Counter-Strike. Classical examples include Anne-Marie Schleiner, Joan Leandre and Brody Condon with Velvet Strike, Eva and Franco Mattes with Freedom.

Design Interactions graduate Calum Bowden gave a more choral twist on the practice when he invited young people from the Active Change Foundation (a youth centre and leadership organisation in Walthamstow, East London) to engage in a group performance inside the famous war game. Together, they hijacked its voice channels and opened up a series of discussions with unsuspecting players who might not hold the same views as them. Participants staged their own interventions over a series of workshops. While playing, some of them started reading famous texts, others sang anti-war songs, or read ‘inspirational quotes’ by Albert Einstein or Coco Chanel. The reactions from the other players ranged from hostility to friendliness. The most open players even joined the live experiment by sharing their own messages.

Calum Bowden, Oxygen of Terror, 2016

Calum Bowden, Oxygen of Terror, 2016

Bowden recently presented the result of these intrusions into Counter-Strike at the RCA Graduation Show in London. But the designer also showed another work which uses a radically different entertainment channel to touch upon questions of radicalisation, spying and UK government role in spreading a climate of suspicion.

Oxygen of Terror is a short musical film that tells the story of a boy wrongly accused of being an extremist by his teacher in a London academy. Now i wish i could remain neutral here but i absolutely DETEST musicals. For every possible reason you can imagine. But what makes this one interesting is that Bowden subverts the genre to denounce how teachers and other people working in education are now used by the UK government as gatekeepers whose role involves spotting extremist ideas and identifying children at risk of being drawn into terrorism.

Oxygen of Terror shines the spotlight on the thin veil of liberalism too common in today’s society. The Western liberal ideology fails to even acknowledge the existence of the illiberal domestic and foreign policies it relies on.

I had a quick chat with the young graduate:

Hi Calum! If i understood correctly Calls of Duty started with a series of workshops and performances at a youth centre in Walthamstow in London? Why did you chose that particular youth center and what were you hoping to achieve there?

To date Calls of Duty has taken three different forms. I began by singing a version of the satirical Vietnam war protest song I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin-To-Die-Rag by Country Joe and the Fish that I adapted for the War on Terror, into the games Call of Duty and Counter Strike. The song was first adapted for the Gulf War in 1991 by The Passion Killers.

Then I organised a group occupation, inspired by a project I took part in at the Wysing Arts Centre called A Feminist Chorus by the artist Lucy Reynolds. Her project is about the communal voices of feminist history, and I found the format interesting because it’s not a polished performance, but more like a rehearsal, and participants are invited to bring whatever they like to the events. Each becomes the author of their own performance and a chorus is created as we all read or sing out at the same time and the individual blends into the group. For this first Calls of Duty event I invited a small group of people from a range of backgrounds – a lawyer, a teacher, an academic, a local council member, a scientist, a writer, two activists, and a journalist. Lucy Reynolds took part and gave an introduction to her project, and I invited Zahra Qadir, Social Media Officer at the Active Change Foundation (ACF). I had seen Zahra and ACF’s work in and around social media, in particular the viral #NotInMyName campaign which uses twitter to take a stand against islamophobia.

ACF is a youth centre and leadership organisation in Walthamstow that provides anyone from the area somewhere to go and hang out after school – play video games and ping pong – and then ACF starts discussions about the issues they face and works to counter messages of hatred. I wanted to learn about Zahra’s work and collaborate with ACF because of the ways they subvert the uses of social media without shying away from them. In April 2016 a performance was devised with ACF, part of the Rich Mix Cultural Foundation’s Radical Ideas series, which saw 10 teenagers stage interventions in the game Counter Strike. Over three workshop we discussed our favourite games, game genres, structures, themes, and graphics. I was interested to learn that, while they had played them, none of the people I met liked war games or first person shooters. Too boring and simple. Those on ACF’s Young Leader’s Programme develop individual campaigns which play out on twitter, youtube, instagram and snapchat, and we talked about their work. Together we played Counter Strike, and began intervening in the game ahead of the event at Rich Mix.

Calum Bowden, Calls of Duty, 2016

Calum Bowden, Calls of Duty, 2016

Could you tell us about some of the interventions? What did participants chose to read or sing? What kind of conversations were they hoping to start?

The tone of the interventions varies a lot. I thought it was important to have a sense of humour since we are essentially trolling, but some players really liked the more serious readings. One player was scheming to start a poetry expansion pack that they could sell to other players. It was interesting to see the differences between the first event where I had to give everyone a crash introduction to playing video games, and the event with AFC were everyone was able to intervene in a different way because of familiarity with the game, and ways of speaking while playing.

Here are some of the different contributions people have made:

Which Side Are You On’ from the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp
30 of the Most Inspirational Quotes of All Time
‘Time’ by Ibrahim Issifu (biggie)
The Burning of Paper Instead of Children’ by Adrienne Rich
Gimme Shelter’ by Patti Smith

Calum Bowden, Calls of Duty, 2016

Calum Bowden, Calls of Duty, 2016

​Sushi Lulu, 13 Minutes of Gender Based Sexual Harassment on CSGO

And of course i’m very curious about the response of the other players? From what i’ve seen in Sushi Lulu’s video, I’d expect them to have little sense of humour…

I think the random players are key participants as so much depends on them. There are usually 400,000 – 500,000 people on Counter Strike at any moment. The reactions we get are really varied. The most common response is a bit of swearing and joking. When I’m singing people will often start singing something back to me, choosing their own song, echoing my words, or just making loud noises to block me out. I’ve found that while the texts are a good starting point, people quickly go off book, responding to the reactions they get and having discussions with the players. There’s a feature in the game where players can vote each other out. More often than I expected, people vote for us to stay in the game. One of the best reactions was when someone was reciting a song, and this player turned out to be a Grime artist and started sharing some of his verses with them.

Calum Bowden, Oxygen of Terror, 2016

Calum Bowden, Oxygen of Terror, 2016

Now about Oxygen of Terror. I hope you won’t feel offended but i need to tell you that i absolutely loathe musicals. I just don’t get the charm. First, (and this is probably because i’m not a native english speaker), i don’t understand most of the words they sing in musicals. Then i find it a bit baroque and old-fashioned. I do like your project a lot though. Anyway, while i can see the interest of contrasting the genre and the theme of terrorism, i’m wondering what other reason(s) you might have had to use the musical genre for this project?

Not offended at all! It’s this strangeness, divisiveness and absurdity that I think make musicals interesting as a framework for criticism. It’s a highly ideological genre, which I first saw in John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera (1728), an anti-opera that satirized the popular and elitist Italian opera of his time for the exact same over the top baroque qualities you talk about. Gay’s musical became the inspiration for Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera (1928), which at its best is a critique of different ways the working classes were controlled in the early 20th century. Song and humor are used to depict a muddy morality where good and bad are entangled. Brecht opposed naturalism and wanted to emotionally distance audiences thinking it would motivate a critical perspective on the construction of reality so that it might be changed. Characters erupting into song added to this distancing.

Golden age Hollywood musicals, produced in the 1930’s through 1950’s, were politically conservative, glamorising traditional family values, sexism, and racism. This was during the era of Joseph Mccarthy (1950-1957) whose witch hunt for communists bares frightening similarities to the contemporary witch hunt for ‘islamic extremists’. This was also the era of the Motion Picture Production Code (1930-1968) that banned interracial sex relationships on screen.

Musicals such as Show Boat (1951), An American In Paris (1951) or Ziegfeld Follies (1945) illustrate a vision of white utopia. In the ‘Color of Entertainment’, Richard Dyer argues that Hollywood musicals depict a reality where eruptions of song and dance break the confines of life, but that emancipation is offered only to white people: “Blackness is contained in the musical, ghettoised, stereotyped, and ‘only entertainment’… the antithesis of the entertainment offered by the musical…Where musicals most disturbingly create a vision of race is where they say that it is only the privilege of whites to be able to do this, and what that says about the white dream of being in the world.”

In Oxygen of Terror, the musical form is used to examine implications of UK government policy on terrorism and extremism with a lightness of touch, to subvert this implicit conservatism.

Calum Bowden, Oxygen of Terror, 2016

Calum Bowden, Oxygen of Terror, 2016

Also could you explain me the title? Why ‘oxygen’? (maybe it’s explained in one of the songs but as i mentioned above, i really struggle to understand the words, not in your musical in particular, all musicals are difficult to understand for me)

The title ‘Oxygen of Terror’ is about questioning what are understood to be the causes of terrorism, and is adapted from a 1985 speech in which Margaret Thatcher blamed the problem of terrorism on media. Ever since there has been international terrorism, Western governments have worked hard to find ways to avoid blaming themselves. Today the British and American governments blame terrorism on ideology.

Thatcher gave her speech in the context of the Irish Republican Army, and instead of acknowledging the direct role British imperialism and the military played in fueling terrorism, she blamed the news: “The hijacker and the terrorist thrive on publicity: without it, their activities and their influence are sharply curtailed…we must try to find ways to starve the terrorist and the hijacker of the oxygen of publicity…” Thatcher put this into policy with the British Broadcasting Ban (1988-1994) which saw the voices of those seen by the government to be associated with ‘terrorist’ political parties (Sinn Fein and Gerry Adams) banned from being broadcast on TV. In an absurd twist, BBC journalists found a way of skirting the law by dubbing the interviews with voices of actors.

Thatcher’s broadcasting ban didn’t wipe out the IRA. What it did was further remove Sinn Fein and their legitimate political arguments from the British democratic process. Rather than simply media or ideology breeds terrorism, the tightly controlled mediation of Sinn Fein had the opposite effect of what Thatcher claimed, obscuring their political aims and highlighting their acts of violence. In dehumanising the terrorist other – the Irish republican – there could be no empathy with them, their acts of violence completely irrational and without cause, rather than the expression of an intense political suffocation that the broadcasting ban only intensified.

Thatcher failed to understand that terrorists cannot be starved of publicity because terrorism doesn’t breathe. There is no oxygen of terror, only suffocation. David Cameron’s current campaign against ‘extremism’ focuses on ‘poisonous’ ideologies. Both Thatcher and Cameron avoid blaming terrorism on the British government, failing to acknowledge the interplay between the violent history of British foreign policy, coercive and racist domestic policies such as the Terrorism acts of 2000, 2006 and the Prevent duty, and conflicts between State and non-state actors.

In the project description you say “The Western liberal ideology fails to even acknowledge the existence of the illiberal domestic and foreign policies it relies on.” Could you expand on that?

In my film, Mr Lambourn tells Aquil’s mother Riham, “We need the power to ban extremist organisations that promote hatred and draw people into extremism.” This is the illiberalism implicit in liberalism, and comes out of David Cameron’s Counter-Extremism Strategy (Oct 2015). There’s this belief that free speech – the pillar of ‘British values’ – is valid only up to a point, and that the government has the right to set limits on our freedoms. The UK’s legal codes confuse and create suspicion, amping up fear of the invisible to legitimise racism and racial profiling. Arun Kundnani explains in his book The Muslims Are Coming (2014) how UK terrorism legislation uses coercion to regulate muslim identity.

In the aftermath of Brexit, we have already seen a frightening increase in hate crime and racial abuse. But since 2000, UK terrorism legislation has codified xenophobia and islamophobia, and the Conservative government’s campaign for ‘British Values’ is the most recent example. In the 1984-esque area of pre-crime, the Terrorism Acts of 2000 and 2006 make things like writing poems, downloading PDFs, and posting tweets illegal. Law enforcement agencies are left to determine what exactly makes something ‘terrorist’, and rely on racist Post-911 stereotypes of Al Qaeda and ISIS. As a result, many people have been wrongly accused of terrorism for nothing more than their skin colour, taken through lengthy court proceedings to prove their innocence.

Calum Bowden, Oxygen of Terror (making of), 2016

Calum Bowden, Oxygen of Terror (making of), 2016

Why did you want to tell this story of a young guy wrongly accused of being an extremist?

We as a society claim to be fighting ‘terrorism’ but all the laws and policies do the exact opposite. In July 2015 the Prevent duty became British law, which is a duty on all schools and other social service frontliners to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism. The Prevent duty has carried suspicion and fear into schools – which should be the safest of public spaces – putting children under constant surveillance, making them highly aware of whatever Britishness is supposed to be and how they might not satisfy the criteria, and terrifying them of looking like whatever a ‘terrorist’ might look like. Prevent also puts unnecessary pressure on teachers – many young, inexperienced, and from completely different backgrounds than those of their students – turning teachers into government spies and distracting them from actually teaching. In March 2016 the Nation Union of Teachers took a stand against Prevent, rejecting the scheme because of how it causes ‘suspicion in the classroom and confusion in the staff room’. On the other side, ISIS has developed sophisticated propaganda techniques that brand terrorism as something extremely appealing, drawing on the exact same feelings of difference and alienation that the terrorism acts and the Prevent duty continue to amplify.

Do you think that the work has less power/validity because after all, you are a blond English guy, thus not the typical person who’d be suspected to be a terrorist?

I think it definitely has a different validity (Also I was born and grew up in the United States but hold British citizenship). Storytelling is always political – from whose voice, from what perspective, sedimenting what kind of worldview. The stories we choose to tell create realities. For me it’s important to develop an understanding of the society I’m a part of and the privileges I’m given. While we claim to value tolerance, society becomes even more stratified by class and race. Today we are less likely than ever before to encounter people or information we don’t already agree with.

Oxygen of Terror highlights the implications of liberalism and how superficial it is. After the murder of Joe Cox, few initially called the middle-aged white man who attacked her a terrorist, as if his political intentions weren’t clearly heard as he yelled ‘Britain First’ before killing her. After the deadliest mass shooting in US history at the Orlando gay club Pulse, many hid the homophobic nature of the hate-crime behind stereotypes about terrorism and islamic extremism. The issues surrounding what we call terrorism make visible the violence needed to maintain our sense of order and stability. As Nina Power writes, for someone who doesn’t see the violence needed to maintain the Western world order, and its racist and coercive domestic and foreign policies, terrorism seems irrational and random. Terrorism is like a glitch that forces us to confront the mass violence that has replaced legitimate political power in the West. A localised sense of stability, the sense of privilege, denies the disintegration of the whole. Terrorism brings that disintegration to the surface.

Installation view at the RCA Graduation show

Both works you were presenting at the RCA Show deal with violence in one form or another. What else binds them together?

In her essay On Violence, Hannah Arendt argues that the opposite of violence isn’t non-violence, but power, understood as the human ability to act in concert. She says that while violence can destroy power – which are simply social bonds and relationship – it is incapable of creating it.

Calls of Duty and Oxygen of Terror both work to form short circuits that critique relationships between violence and power, and between ideology and action. Both projects work to explore what this kind of power might look like today, the strength of the voice, and ways that power is created in both positive and negative ways: ACF’s community centre, youth leadership programmes, and social media campaigns; Lucy Reynolds’ A Feminist Chorus; or the Hollywood musical that denies black people the freedom to break the confines of life.

What’s next for you? Any upcoming event, field of research, exhibition?

On Thursday 7 July 2016 I will be running Calls of Duty at V2_Institute for the Unstable Media, Rotterdam, The Netherlands, part of their event Test_Lab: The Graduation Edition.

Thanks Calum!

All images courtesy of Calum Bowden.

Categories: New Media News

How Syria's architecture laid the foundation for brutal war | Marwa Al-Sabouni

TED - Tue, 07/05/2016 - 11:15
What caused the war in Syria? Oppression, drought and religious differences all played key roles, but Marwa Al-Sabouni suggests another reason: architecture. Speaking to us over the Internet from Homs, where for the last six years she has watched the war tear her city apart, Al-Sabouni suggests that Syria's architecture divided its once tolerant and multicultural society into single-identity enclaves defined by class and religion. The country's future now depends on how it chooses to rebuild.
Categories: New Media News

Self portraits for bank cards investigate money circulation, art ownership and identity

We Make Money Not Art - Mon, 07/04/2016 - 10:55

Janez Janša, Janez Janša and Janez Janša, All About You (detail), 2016. Photo: Katra Petriček

Janez Janša, Janez Janša and Janez Janša, All About You (stop motion video), 2016

Since 2012, the three Slovenian artists Janez Janša, Janez Janša and Janez Janša have been exploring concepts related art, identity and finance and how these 3 spheres can connect -quite intimately and literally- on a very mundane piece of plastic most of us carry in our pocket: the credit card. At the time, their ideas might have looked quite far-fetched and speculative. Printing their artworks on credit cards, for example. Or signing with their names the credit cards of other people. In 2013 however, scenarios that the artists were foreseeing seemed to materialize when the United Bank for Africa launched the “All About U” Debit MasterCard, a personalized debit card which can be customized to their customers’ whim. Mastercard and the Nigerian government pushed the experiment even further by introducing the MasterCard-branded National Identity Smart Card, an ID card that comes with electronic payment capability, demographic data as well as biometric data.

anez Janša, Janez Janša, Janez Janša, Troika (installation detail), 2013

Janez Janša, Janez Janša and Janez Janša, Signatures on Maestro / Triptych / part of CREDITS series

Last year, the Janez Janša collective decided to take advantage of the personalized card service offered by their own bank in Slovenia. Each of the artist magnified the image of his ID card, and divided it into a hundred parts of equal sizes. After that, they individually applied for a new personalized Visa®, Maestro® and MasterCard® every week in the hope that each of them would gradually be able to compose a self portrait made of one hundred customized bank cards.

Janez Janša, Janez Janša and Janez Janša, All About You (exhibition view), 2016. Photo: Andrej Peunik

Janez Janša, Janez Janša and Janez Janša, All About You (exhibition view), 2016. Photo: Andrej Peunik

The result is a triptych of puzzles. Two of them incomplete, the blanks corresponding to decisions by bank employees to reject the design for a particular card that one of the artists had sent. Each request for a new bank card was indeed subjected to the approval of bank employees who could accept or deny the image on the basis of the bank’s image guidelines: no word in foreign language, no state symbol, no olympic sign, etc. Each time an image was rejected, the artist attempted to establish a dialogue with the bank, asking the employees to reconsider their decision. Sometimes the artists managed to make them changed their mind. Sometimes they didn’t.

This turned the production into a time-based relational performance where the relation between the artist and the producer coincided with the relation between the bank’s customer and his bank.

The triptych All About You raises issues related to art: new forms of ready-made in the age of mass customization, delegation of the manufacturing of art to others (while Koons, Hirst and Murakami have a team of artists/artisans to paint and sculpt for them, Janez Janša used their bank as some kind of printing facility), etc. The work also deals with money circulation, ownership, identification and citizenship, data collection by private entities, etc. In fact, there is so much to say about the work that i thought it would be better to let the artists say it themselves. So i interviewed them:

Janez Janša, Janez Janša and Janez Janša, All About You, 2016. Photo: Katra Petriček/Aksioma

Janez Janša, Janez Janša and Janez Janša, All About You, 2016

Hi Janez Janša, Janez Janša and Janez Janša! The three of you applied for a new personalized Visa®, Maestro® and MasterCard® every week. How did you convince the bank to print a new card for you each time? Did you say it was an art work? Pretend you had lost the previous one and they had to send a new card again? Didn’t that annoy them?

JJ: There was no need to convince them to produce new cards for us over and over again since the personalized card service is an option offered by our bank. And we are bank’s customers… Nevertheless every single request was subjected to the scrutiny of bank’s employees who could decide to accept or deny the submitted image in accordance with the service’s guidelines.

JJ: We have never staged the loss of a bank card to obtain another. We used their online platform to submit the new image and then waited for their approval. Upon receiving a positive answer we proceeded with the order of another card and then comfortably waited at home for the delivery. Easy.

JJ: In fact banks often promote this service with slogan like “Find an artist in yourself and create unique card from your couch”. And that’s exactly what we did.

JJ: But we never told them it was about an artwork. You don’t necessarily need to tell your printing service about the nature of your print.

JJ: Afterwards all the pieces of the mosaic are also valid Bank Cards and that’s exactly how they understood them: in the way they are used to see them and to deal with them.

Janez Janša, Janez Janša and Janez Janša, All About You, making of, 2016

Janez Janša, Janez Janša and Janez Janša, All About You (detail), 2016. Photo: Katra Petriček/Aksioma

But maybe the bank saw your work as a great opportunity to advertise their services? Because it gives them visibility and because they play such a direct and material part of the performance. Was it ever a concern for you that your gesture would somehow be used by the bank to their own advantage?

JJ: I doubt the bank saw in our work an opportunity to advertise their services as this would imply they understood it was an artistic time-based relational performance. There should have been someone at their end capable of having a comprehensive supervision over the whole process, throughout 16 months, the time we spent on it. Instead, as we know, there were several bank’s employees scrutinizing our requests over time and I don’t believe they ever met all together around a table to compare and share all the “mosaic tiles” collected by each one of them to ultimately compose the puzzle and understand what was going on. And if they did, that might have been an excellent diversion to ease the boredom and predictability of a desk job.

JJ: By the way, if they saw that opportunity then they never really took advantage of it. It reminds me of the situation with Janez Janša, the controversial politician we took the name of back in 2007. He could have easily turned our gesture at his advantage but he never did it. If someone embarrasses you by being too supportive, too affirmative, a possible way to deal with it is to love that person back as vehemently as possible and see what happens. Instead the politician decided to go confrontational and play the “character assassination” card.

JJ: The risk of your work being used by corporations, politicians, etc. is something you have to be ready to take if you operate beyond the safe area of the cultural context.

JJ: Our work, especially the name change, has been often criticized in terms of making promotion both for politician Janša and for ourselves. But in fact the more we gained visibility, and supposedly promoted the politician, the less welcomed we were by him, his party and his people. Of course, MasterCard® is not Janez Janša but the risk is there and we consciously embrace it.

Janez Janša, Janez Janša and Janez Janša, All About You. Signing

Did each of you go through the same, individual and repeated process of asking for a card over and over again? Did your experiences and personal relationships with the bank employees differ?

JJ: Many people see us as a “collective” but mostly of the time, in the work we do together, we are “forced” to operate individually due to the nature of the work itself. For All About You each of us acted independently. After all we did the same for our “common” name change, for the affiliations to the conservative party SDS lead by Janez Janša, and for many other things we did in the past. It wasn’t possible to do otherwise. One cannot apply for a collective name change; neither can he order a personalized bank card on behalf of others.

JJ: We had personal email exchange with several bank employees, especially when a submitted image was rejected. We always asked what the reason for their negative answer was. Most of the time they referred to the bank’s image guidelines published online saying that the submitted image didn’t comply with it.

JJ: We always asked them to point out exactly what article of that document our image didn’t comply with and most of the time we got a precise answer. In their image guidelines, it is stated that the design chosen to create a personalized card must not contain (or refer to):
• Insulting and provocative images, graphics and other materials with religious, racist, hateful, violent or political messages in all forms;
Here our name appearing on the ID card has been understood as a “political” content. We then asked them where they see the difference between the name of the account holder and the very same name printed on the card as personalized design. They never answered that question.
• Photos, images or graphics, state or national symbols;
Our ID cards obviously contain state and national symbols. The graphic in itself is the graphic of a state document.
• Texts in a foreign language or foreign characters;
A Slovenian ID card is bilingual therefore English words (including the word “SEX” used there instead of “gender”) appear on it.

Sometimes at the end of the mail exchange bank’s employees changed their mind and granted us the permission to use the image previously rejected. But that didn’t happen very often. A more effective strategy proved to be applying again and again with the rejected image hoping the request will be received and processed by another, less loyal, or simply more inattentive, employee.

Janez Janša, Janez Janša and Janez Janša, Trust

Janez Janša, Janez Janša and Janez Janša, Mt Triglav on Mt Triglav

Another of your work, Trust, similarly deals with credit cards. These two projects unashamedly blur art with money with identity…

JJ: What All About You and Trust have in common is the medium (personalized bank cards) and the “producer” of the artifact (our bank). But they are essentially two very different projects.

In Trust we invited people to approach their banks and to request a personalized card using the image of our action Mt Triglav on Mt Triglav. Then all three of us signed their cards in the signature strip in the reverse side of the card with a permanent black marker providing each “partner in crime” with the Certificate of Authenticity for that newly generated pocket-size artwork by Janez Janša, Janez Janša and Janez Janša.

JJ: To twist the situation a bit more we subsequently paired participants two by two in random fashion and then asked them to perform an ultimate gesture of trust: to switch cards among themselves and live that way for at least a week. To our big surprise all of them accepted the challenge. Some of them even felt the need to provide the other with his/her card’s PIN code.

Nigerian National Identity Smart Card. Photo: MasterCard

Nigerian National Identity Smart Card. Photo: MasterCard

Why do you feel that this is an issue worth exploring at the moment?

JJ: We have always been interested in identity-related issues, in the relation subject-state, subject-corporation and corporation-state. All About You covers all of these relations commenting on how identity is constructued nowadays. The spark went off in May 2013 while reading the news about the Nigerian National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) announcing the rollout of the National Identity Smart Card, a new multipurpose MasterCard-branded identification document that includes, among many other features, MasterCard’s prepaid payment technology. The enrollment process involved the recording of an individual’s demographic data and biometric data, which would provide the basis for a “National Identity Database.”

JJ: It’s very important to question techniques and technologies for gathering data, to understand the way they are used and by whom. What’s actually happening in many African countries is that private banks and corporations are offering governments to cover costs for the realization of centralized biometric population registers. To see that happening soon in Europe or at the global level it doesn’t seem to me a farfetched scenario.

JJ: BTW, have you noticed the form, the size and the material of ID cards nowadays are often identical to those of bank cards? States are adapting to formats introduced by corporations…

Janez Janša, Janez Janša and Janez Janša, All About You, 2016

How are you going to exhibit All About You? Is this going to be only a display of the cards or is there also some documentation of the whole process with videos, photos, etc?

JJ: All About You will be displayed as a framed triptych without any additional explanation of sort. We have documented and archived the whole production process including all the emails we exchanged with bank’s employees especially regarding images that have been rejected by them. We don’t think this kind of material can really add something relevant to the project. On the contrary, the risk would be to make it too didactic.

JJ: While explaining the piece to friends and fellow artists we often noticed they couldn’t really get that we got hundreds of personalized cards from our Bank over several months and that we used them to compose the blow-up image of our 3 ID cards. That’s why we decided to produce a short stop-motion video clip. But this video is not the piece in itself. It’s only a dissemination tool and as such it won’t be displayed in the exhibition.

Will you be inviting employees from the Nova Ljubljanska Banka to the opening of the show?

JJ: Yes, we will invite them. Without them All About You would never be done…

Thank you Janez Janša, Janez Janša and Janez Janša!

Janez Janša, Janez Janša, Janez Janša: All About You is exhibited until 8 July at the Kulturni center Tobačna 001 in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Previously: My Name Is Janez Janša.
Related story: Biometric Capitalism.

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