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Zofia Rydet, the old lady who wanted to photograph the inside of every single house in Poland

Thu, 11/26/2015 - 08:24

Zofia Rydet was 67 years old when she set herself the herculean task of photographing the inside of every single house in Poland. From 1978 until her death in 1997, she would frantically travel by bus or foot over the country, have people sit in their interior, straight in front of her, and shoot them using a wide-angle lens and flash.

As if the self-assigned task of portraying individuals and families at home in Poland wasn’t formidable enough, Rydet also added numerous sub-categories of photos to the series. Some focused on tv sets inside the home, others on kitchen windows seen from the inside, photos and objects celebrating Pope John Paul II, women on doorsteps, disappearing professions, etc. Rydet gave a title to her obsessive catalogue of people and objects, she called it Sociological Record.

The artist was interested in the ties that connected people with objects and architecture, as well as the way individual aesthetic preferences, political and religious views manifested themselves through the arrangement of private space. “The house … is a reflection of the society, civilisation, and culture, from which it originates, there are no two similar people or two similar houses,” Rydet used to say.

When Rydet died in 1997, the series counted some 16,000 negatives, most of them had never been printed. As a result, only a modest portion of her work has been exhibited. The Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw has developed these negatives, made a selection of them and exhibited the photos in what is probably the most popular show in town at the moment. Zofia Rydet. Record, 1978-1990 not only presents works never seen before, it also follows Rydet’s own ideas and suggestions on how to set up an exhibition of her works.

The curators of the show, Sebastian Cichocki and Karol Hordziej, dropped the first half of the title of the series because they believed that the work pertains less to the scientific study of social behavior or society and more the tradition of intuitive artistic atlases and catalogues.

What i found most fascinating in this exhibition is that it’s both always the same and always different It’s row after row of Polish interiors (or of women on doorsteps) but it never feels too repetitive nor trivial. Not let’s give the floor to the images…

Zofia Rydet photographs Stanisa Solocha. Photo Maciej Plewiński / Forum

View of the exhibition space

Pre-Record, 1956-1977

Tadeusz Rydet, Zofia Rydet during one of her outdoor trips 1978-1990

Zofia Rydet: Record 1978–1990 was curated by Sebastian Cichocki and Karol Hordziej. The show remains open at the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw until 10 January, 2016.

Categories: New Media News

Drones with Desires. A machine with inbuilt human memories

Mon, 11/23/2015 - 08:27

Drones With Desires, 2015. Image courtesy of Agi Haines

Agi Haines seems to be anesthetized to the most visceral and crude guises of the future human body. She designed hybrid organs custom-designed to overcome specific illnesses and made realistic sculptures of babies distorted to respond to threats of global warming or increase a child’s prospects to become an athlete, etc. On the one hand, Agi is unquestionably one of the most fearless and interesting creators of her generation. On the other, her works are so raw and challenging I can only look at the homepage of her website through my fingers.

Her latest project, Drones with Desires, is one of the winning works of this year’s edition of the Bio Art & Design Award. The international competition invites young artists and designers to collaborate with renowned Dutch science centers in order to develop thought-provoking art and design projects that engage directly with life sciences.

True to form, the drone she worked on doesn’t look like your usual sleek and mechanical machine. It’s a blob.

For this work, Agi Haines’ brain was scanned and the visual anatomy of the connections in her brain were translated into an artificial neural network. This network will be used to control the motion of a drone by running sensory inputs through this network to form decisions regarding movement. Over time, the drone will learn on its own, fashioning behaviours and preferences unique to its experience but anchored in the architecture of the artist’s brain connections. As the drone learns, its results may shed light on how this process happens in the human brain.

The focus of ‘Drones with desires’ is to breathe life into mechanical devices through altering their material substance. With an increased efficiency of modelling the brain for artificial intelligence or the introduction of mechanics within biomedical sciences, where are the boundaries of humanness in a world full of integrated and invasive technologies? How might we respond to a machine that characterizes human behaviors through a reconstructed sensory nervous system? This project will explore the thin line between natural and artifice, by creating a machine with inbuilt human memories.

The work was developed in collaboration with Marcel de Jeu and Jos van der Geest, Erasmus University Medical Centre, and Jack Mckay Fletcher, Christos Melidis and Vaibhav Tyagi, CogNovo Plymouth.

Drones with Desires will premiere this Friday at MU in Eindhoven. It will be part of Body of Matter which will present 10 artists and designers whose work challenges our ideas about the body. In the meantime, i got to talk with the designer:

Drones With Desires, 2015. Image courtesy of Agi Haines

Hi Agi! To start off the project, a diffusion tensor MRI scan was taken of your brain and the information was translated into an artificial neural network based on the visual anatomy of the connections in your brain. Could you explain us how this worked?

Is this some basic and banal process? Are there other contexts when this kind of translation is made?

This was a fascinating and arduous process, after taking an MRI with Marcel de Jeu and Jos van der Geest at Erasmus MC the data was translated from the scan through looking at the connections between different areas in the brain, measuring the strength of these connections and translating this information to weight strength within an artificial neural network.

Its conception was the result of collaborative input from various researchers, and in fact this process is unique. It was designed by a neuroscientist Vaibhav Tyagi and computational neuroscientist Jack Mckay Fletcher specifically for this project and its interpretation into a machine was performed by roboticist Christos Melidis. It not only tells us a lot about how we generate models of the brain but may also potentially inform scientific testing tools.

Drones With Desires, 2015. Image courtesy of Agi Haines

Drones With Desires, 2015. Image courtesy of Agi Haines

You have a computer replication of your brain?!??! That sounds very Ray Kurzweil. How does it feel to be able to see a replication of your brain? And, based on your own research for the project, what do you think of his statements that within 15 years technology will allow human brains to be connected directly to the internet?

Although a replication of my brain it is still only a simulacrum and not actually my brain itself, yet even though I am distanced from it there is still something quite unnerving about seeing how technology can learn directly in relation to the human brain and how this may play a part in artificial intelligence

I believe that we are already hybrid creatures made of varying parts, some naturally produced and some artificial. And perhaps there may eventually come a time in which we can be directly connected to the Internet but its introduction may be so gradual that it seems no different to having a gold tooth.

Drones With Desires, 2015. Image courtesy of Agi Haines

Did you learn something about the functioning of your brain by watching its replica?

Yes but perhaps more about brain function in general rather than mine specifically; in fact I was concerned we might find something abnormal about my brain function. I particularly learnt a lot regarding brain modeling, its benefits and drawbacks, purposes and problems.

With what kind of drone are you working? Could any type of drone work?

Yes technically any machine could be controlled using the network but we have produced our own drone. It is more replicative of the sensory nervous system and looks like a floating mass of tissue with wings. We wanted to imagine how such a machine might be utilized within society. If a machine could replicate your decision-making processes as well as your flesh could it become a secondary version of you? And if so what would it be used for? Medical testing? Geographical safety mapping?

The reason why we chose a drone as the machine to translate the data into was not only to probe a popular technology known for being representative of thought and action but also the fact the brain is afloat plays on the ethereal quality of thought processes.

How hand-on you were with the scientific processes? Did you delegate all the scientific manipulations to the scientists or did you manage to engage directly in the development of the work?

My attempt to engage as much as possible with these scientific processes mainly surfaced through working out new ways to integrate ideas, theories and practices from amalgamating what at first seemed like dichotomous fields. Some aspects of the work, for example the coding itself, was an extremely complex language to learn within this short time. Yet luckily all collaborators gave me extremely valuable lessons within their respective fields regarding electronics, anatomical neuroscience, computing and modeling which I have had to research and physically interact with in order to produce the final piece, as well as to comprehend significant crossovers that informed all the decisions regarding the visuals and behaviors of the drone.

So you had the idea for the project and you had your brain scanned. Where else did you apply your knowledge and particular expertise as a designer?

Beyond the obvious physical production of manufacturing, building and painting objects and generating, producing and editing film, this large collaboration consisted of a significant amount of both practical and managerial parts. My main focus was to use my role as a designer to highlight valuable questions concerning the scientific processes and research questions surrounding the topic of brain modeling, and offer space for reflection regarding the implications of such research, which in turn can have potential impact to a public as well as professional audience.

Drones With Desires, 2015. Image courtesy of Agi Haines

Drones With Desires, 2015. Image courtesy of Agi Haines

Which challenges have you encountered while developing the project?

Overall this has been an intensely challenging project, particularly concerning the research and planning involved, perhaps the main challenge was marrying the artistic concept and scientific theory with the logistics of keeping an object afloat for a long period of time has been a big challenge.

What will the work look like when you show it at MU?

The drone will be moving freely within a darkened space and the public will be able to walk around and alongside it, altering its behavior and in turn learning processes as it moves. Video will also be shown of how the scan images lead to the production of connections, the data it is receiving and how this could potentially alter plasticity in the brain structure.

Thanks Agi!

Drones with Desires is part of Body of Matter. Body based bio art & design which opens at MU in Eindhoven on 27 November. The show will be running until 7 February 2016. Also part of the exhibition: The Art of Deception by Isaac Monté.

Categories: New Media News

Obfuscation. A User’s Guide for Privacy and Protest

Fri, 11/20/2015 - 11:12

Obfuscation. A User’s Guide for Privacy and Protest, by Assistant Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University Finn Brunton and Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication and Computer Science at NYU and developer of TrackMeNot Helen Nissenbaum.

(available on amazon USA and UK)

Publisher MIT Press writes: With Obfuscation, Finn Brunton and Helen Nissenbaum mean to start a revolution. They are calling us not to the barricades but to our computers, offering us ways to fight today’s pervasive digital surveillance—the collection of our data by governments, corporations, advertisers, and hackers. To the toolkit of privacy protecting techniques and projects, they propose adding obfuscation: the deliberate use of ambiguous, confusing, or misleading information to interfere with surveillance and data collection projects. Brunton and Nissenbaum provide tools and a rationale for evasion, noncompliance, refusal, even sabotage—especially for average users, those of us not in a position to opt out or exert control over data about ourselves. Obfuscation will teach users to push back, software developers to keep their user data safe, and policy makers to gather data without misusing it.

Every day, we produce gigantic volumes of data and that data stays around indefinitely even when we’ve move on. We might want to keep personal data as private as possible but that often means opting out from many forms of credit and insurance, social media, efficient search engines, cheaper prices at the shop, etc. It’s perfectly doable of course but it can often be inconvenient and/or expensive.

So Nissenbaum and Brunton see in obfuscation the means to mitigate or even defeat digital surveillance and they provide us with a brief description of it:

Obfuscation is the deliberate addition of ambiguous, confusing, or misleading information to interfere with surveillance and data collection.

The authors also call obfuscation the ‘weapon of the weak’ because this method and strategy of resistance is available to everyone in their everyday life. You don’t need to be rich nor tech-savvy to disobey, waste time, protest and confound.

So now we know what obfuscation is, we might want to understand how it works. At this point, the authors provide the reader with a series of historical and contemporary cases that illustrate various obfuscation techniques. Some of them can immediately be applied to your daily life (speaking in a deliberately vague language, using false tells in poker or swapping loyalty cards with other people to interfere with the analysis of shopping patterns.) Others not so much but all are inspiring. Here’s a quick selection of obfuscating actions:

Radar Jamming. Image via Steve Blank

Chaff is a radar countermeasure in which aircraft or other targets spread a cloud of small pieces of aluminium, metallized glass fibre or plastic, which either appears as a cluster of primary targets on radar screens or swamps the screen with multiple returns. The method was used during WWII to jam the German military radars. All the operator would see was noise, rather than airplanes.

Twitterbots can fill the conversation on a channel with noise, by using the same # as protesters for example and rendering it unusable.

– “Babble tapes” are digital files played in the background of a conversation in order to defeat audio surveillance.

AdNauseam clicks on every ad on an online page, creating the impression that someone is interested in everything. The plugin confuses the system and thus protects people from surveillance and online tracking.

Bayesian Flooding, an idea of Kevin Ludlow, consists in overwhelming Facebook with too much information (most of it false) in order to confuse the advertisers trying to profile the user and the algorithmic machines that are trying to make predictions about his/her interests.

Spartacus film (Dir. Stanley Kubrick) excerpt featuring the “I’m Spartacus” clip, a classic obfuscation moment

The other half of the book attempts to help us understand obfuscation, its role, purposes, limits and possible impact. The authors also spend a few pages exploring whether and when obfuscation is justified and compatible with the political values of society.

Obfuscation: A User’s Guide for Privacy and Protest is an important and straight to the point book that reminds us that, ultimately, we’re up against intimidating asymmetries of power and knowledge. Stronger actors -whether they are corporations, governmental bodies or influential people- have better tools at their disposal if they want to hide something. What we have is obfuscation. It might require time, money, efforts, attention but it gives us some leverage as well as some measures of resistance and dignity.

The book offers 98 pages of dense, informative and never tedious text. I’m glad a publisher as respected and as widely distributed as MIT Press chose to print it.

Categories: New Media News

Sheriff Software: the games that allow you to play traffic cop for real

Thu, 11/19/2015 - 09:08

Over the past few years, artist Dries Depoorter has been exploring issues of privacy in ways that are at times thought-provoking and at times almost comical (often both.) He started by looking into his own privacy, either through a program that was taking and sharing online one screenshot a day of his computer screen at a random time or through a website that used Google Streetview to disclose in real time the artist’s exact location and direction.

His recent works explore how other people are willing to surrender their privacy for the sake of entertainment, safety or just the prospect of a one night stand. One of the outcomes of this approach is the recently released and muchdiscussed Tinder In which puts side by side and to often surprising outcomes the profile pictures that an individual selects to represent himself or herself on two platforms that are at opposite ends of the social spectrum: LinkedIn & Tinder.

Installation view of Sheriff Software (JayWalking) at the DocLab: Seamless Reality exhibition, part of IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam. Photo credit: Nichon Glerum for IDFA DoLab

Installation view of Sheriff Software (JayWalking) at the DocLab: Seamless Reality exhibition, part of IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam. Photo credit: Nichon Glerum for IDFA DoLab

Depoorter’s new investigation into privacy will premiere this week at the DocLab: Seamless Reality exhibition in Amsterdam (more practical info below.) The set of works, grouped under the name Sheriff Software, invites people to not just be the object of the attentions of the CCTV cameras that relentlessly gaze upon us but also to use them, turn the scrutiny back at the police and even play traffic cop.

The first piece in the series is JayWalking, a software that scans traffic lights at intersections in different countries, check whether the light is red or green and spots anyone braving the red light and jaywalking. Visitors of DocLab are given the opportunity to witness any infraction and decide whether or not to send to the police a screenshot that proves the transgression. The consequence of the decision of the public is made even more tangible by a counter at the bottom of the screen that shows how much the fines are for the offense in the country where it’s being committed.

Will we report the unsuspecting jaywalker? Will we click on the button that can send a screenshot of the violation to the nearest police station?

Are we going to empathize with our fellow pedestrians? Or are we going to point the finger and divulge their minor crimes? I doubt that people at DocLab will be willing to snitch on jaywalkers when there is a group of people around. But how different would it be if they were alone at the moment of taking the decision? JayWalking reminded me of an experiment that took place in 2006 when Shoreditch residents were given access to live CCTV footage of their neighbourhood on their own tv sets. People were invited to tune in the “community safety channel” and report any suspicious behaviour by text to the local police. Apparently, local CCTV cameras attracted viewing figures with an “equivalent reach of prime time, week-day broadcast programming”.

Then of course, there’s the no so minor detail of face recognition systems. I guess the JayWalking screenshots will only be showing the blurry silhouette of the offender. But what will happen if one day/when surveillance cameras are equipped with automated facial recognition technology?

While Jaywalking enables people to spy on other people, the second work in the Sheriff Software series lets people watch the watchers. Called Seattle Crime Cams, the piece relies on the Seattle Area Traffic and Cameras system which monitors city traffic.

Seattle not only shares the live stream of its CCTV network, it also share the dispatch from the Seattle Police Department radio. Depoorter’s Seattle Crime Cams will connect police calls with the live stream of the nearest webcam. The public will be able to witness incoming calls that report a traffic incident or a robbery and see how long it takes for the police to arrive at the scene.

Seattle Crime Cams turns us into ultimate long-distance disaster tourists, virtually present at the scene of the crime in Seattle. In this city, which is filled to the brim with traffic cameras, the police make the calls they receive available online. Using the latest calls, the closest live webcams are constantly zooming in on the very latest violations.

Installation view of Sheriff Software (Seattle Crime Cams) at the DocLab: Seamless Reality exhibition, part of IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam. Photo credit: Nichon Glerum for IDFA DoLab

Installation view of Sheriff Software (Seattle Crime Cams) at the DocLab: Seamless Reality exhibition. Photo credit: Nichon Glerum for IDFA DoLab

Installation view of Sheriff Software (Seattle Crime Cams) at the DocLab: Seamless Reality exhibition, part of IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam. Photo credit: Nichon Glerum for IDFA DoLab

Sheriff Software is premiered at IDFA DocLab, a ridiculously interesting program of screenings, performances, talks, exhibition and other events that explore the future of documentary storytelling. Think augmented reality, artificial intelligence, live cinema and interactive experiments. The installation is part of the DocLab: Seamless Reality exhibition (19-29 November) and will be also be one of the highlights of DocLab Live: The Art of Artificial Intelligence (23 November.) The program is organized by IDFA (the International Documentary Festival in Amsterdam) and the Flemish Arts Centre De Brakke Grond.

DocLab: Seamless Reality exhibition, part of IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam. Photo credit: Nichon Glerum for IDFA DoLab

Categories: New Media News

Can organs be objects of design?

Mon, 11/16/2015 - 14:51

Designer Isaac Monté has been pushing ideas of beauty and deception to their most ‘visceral’ limits using decellularization, a process which consists of removing all of the cells from an organ leaving only the extracellular matrix (the framework between the cells) intact.

In collaboration with scientist Toby Kiers from the VU University Amsterdam, the designer used a pig heart as if it were a material that can be tattooed, embroidered, covered in fur and otherwise transformed. The work aims to explore how far a ghost organ can be manipulated for its creative potential, but it also questions whether biological interventions and aesthetic manipulation can be used as tools for the transformation of inner beauty. The ghost organs in this case work as a metaphor for regenerated artificial life. The discarded dead hearts will not function as canonical organs, but rather as a representation of how far science can manipulate the human body.

The Art of Deception. Photo by Monica Monté

The Art of Deception. Photo by Monica Monté

The work is called The Art of Deception and it is part of Body of Matter which will open next week at MU in Eindhoven. The exhibition will give visitors an opportunity to discover 10 artists and designers whose work challenges our ideas about the body. The show will also premiere the three winning projects of this year’s edition of the Bio Art & Design Award. The international competition invites young artists and designers to collaborate with renowned Dutch science centers in order to develop thought-provoking –and sometimes downright provocative– art and design projects that engage directly with life sciences. Monté’s The Art of Deception is one of the winning entries of the competition. I saw a preview of his work at the Van Abbemuseum a few weeks ago and i’m gutted that i won’t be in Eindhoven to see how the project has evolved in the meantime. Fortunately, Isaac has found some time to chat with me and answer my many questions about his work:

The Art of Deception. Photo by Monica Monté

Hi Isaac! As a designer, what made you want to look into decellularization?

The project started actually because I was triggered by the huge amount of food and more specifically meat, that is being thrown away in supermarkets, before it is even being sold. I am not a vegetarian and it is not my aim to turn people into vegetarians, but I find it a shame that food is being thrown away because it expires before it is being sold. Like this the animal was raised and slaughtered for no reason.

So I looked into a method to transform expired meat into a new raw material.
I figured out there was a technique called decellularization, which was being used for organ transplantation, to clean the organ from cells, DNA and all content.
What is left is extra cellular matrix, mainly collagen. This expired meat turned transparent white and I made a collection of vessels and lighting objects out of it.

Later on I decided to continue with this technique and apply it to the heart, the human’s most vital organ.

The Art of Deception. Work in progress photo by Isaac Monté

The Art of Deception. Work in progress photo by Isaac Monté

The Art of Deception. Work in progress photo by Isaac Monté

The Art of Deception. Work in progress photo by Isaac Monté

I do write regularly about art &biotech project but i was actually quite shocked when i read that you tattooed on a decellularized pig’s heart. So how much do you expect people to be scandalized by the project? Is the reaction of the viewer important?

Some people call me a design activist. I am not sure whether I like that or not and if I should be a designer or an artist. But they refer to what I am doing in my work. I am always triggered by a social or an ecological problem. A problem that we are not aware of (anymore) Something that became part of our daily life.

For example pets/animals that are being killed in traffic or cigarette waste in the streets.
Therefore I use design as a medium to create awareness for these kind of issues or even behavior change. It is never my intention to shock and the work itself is not condemnatory, but it makes the spectator think and form its personal opinion.

I the past I made birdhouses out of used cigarette filters, as a reaction against the huge amount of filters that are lying around in the streets. They pollute water and birds eat them and therefore die. On the other hand, birds use these cigarette ends in their nests because the nicotine keeps leeches and other parasites away.

Further on I also made a collection of masks out of fur from roadkill. As a reaction against the fact that a pet or animal which we consider to be so worthy and so beautiful, turns into a piece of waste the moment it is killed in traffic. And of course the whole fuzz that is going on in the fur industry. There is just free fur lying around in the streets.

With this project, The Art of Deception, I am researching how far we can go as designers. What is ethically allowed and what is not.
The idea is to challenge science by re-inventing a biomedical technique. Does the ghost organ represent a blank canvas to designers? Can organs be objects of design? Will humans be able to manipulate organs for aesthestic purposes?

The heart is the crystal cage where inner beauty is supposedly kept, the safe-deposit box of emotions and generally accepted as deep and meaningful.
Ultimately our aim is to explore ghost organs as a metaphor for regenerated, artificial life. The discarded dead hearts will not function as canonical organs, but rather as a representation of how far science can manipulate the human body.

Our project asks: how can science transform the raw, grotesque and hidden inside into a new manipulated unseen beauty? Is this inner beauty the last remaining frontier free of deception? Can inner beauty be designed?

A more beautiful heart does not improve its functionality or the survival or success rate of its owner. But it will introduce beauty in the organ we most closely associate with life itself – like introducing beauty, even if unseen, in our “source” of life. Further on it creates the possibility of customizing one’s own heart. The aesthetic transformation from grotesque to beautiful will only be visible in the in-between moments, when the heart is not yet implanted – and therefore not functional. It seems as if beauty and function cannot be enjoyed simultaneously.

The Art of Deception. Photo by Monica Monté

The Art of Deception. Photo by Monica Monté

The Art of Deception. Photo by Monica Monté

The Art of Deception. Photo by Monica Monté

Apart from tattooing, what else will you do to these organs?

We present a collection of 21 decellularized hearts, molded and manipulated in several iterations to explore the organ’s aestheticization. Such alterations suggest deception, a behavior found across countless species to trick others to obtain survival or reproductive advantage.
We embroidered a heart with UV-sensitive yarn, we tattooed a heart, we injected the vessels with resin and dissolved the heart itself (so only the vessels remain), we managed to let the heart glow and the closer the spectator comes the brighter it glows, we managed to shrink a heart to 1 cm, we have a heart with hair growing out of it, we contracted a heart out of the yarn which is being used for surgery, we 3D printed a new aorta (square shaped) with biological tissue, we make a heart breath like a lung, we gave it ‘fur’ like a beast, we laser engraved it with the logo’s of haute couture brands (fashion victim), we made a heart of stone with golden vessels (like a piece of jewelry), we plastinated a heart, we repopulated a heart with iron filings which are constantly moving around and protecting the heart (armored heart), ….

One of the questions that your project asks is how far can science be allowed to manipulate the human body? Did you manage to elaborate an answer to that?

It is speculative, provocative design in which we don’t present answers. It is actually the project itself asking the question to the audience or the spectator how science and design are allowed to manipulate the body. The project does not give any answers but it aims to create awareness around this issue

How about designers? Do / should they have a say in the way science manipulates the human body?

I think it could be very interesting for scientists to cooperate with designers.
As we are more and more designing our own bodies and manipulating our body, we are becoming humanoids I believe there a great opportunities for collaborations.
Science is ‘designing’ the human body, so why not working together with designers

How hands-on were you with the scientific processes? Did you delegate all the scientific manipulations to the scientists or did you manage to engage directly with the development of the work?

For the Bio Art and Design Awards I was linked to Professor Toby Kiers of the VU (Free University) Amsterdam, she was my partner in crime for this project. Apart from that we managed to set up active cooperations with Dr. Renée van Amerongen of Swammerdam Institute of Life Sciences, Dr. Monique Verstegen of Erasmus Medical Center Rotterdam, Dr. Yvonne Steinvoort of Erasmus Medical Center Rotterdam, Dr. Jos Malda of the University Medical Center Utrecht, Professor Paul van der Valk of Free University Amsterdam.

I was always very eager to work together. I did not want them to do the work for me. We always did things together or I did it myself. Of course I do not have the scientific knowledge, that is why we set up those cooperations, but they were not just executing my ideas, we worked as a team.

Which challenges have you encountered while developing the project?

Technical challenges such as the decellularization process.
The project was a lot about running experiments.

The most challenging to me was to develop the concept for each of the 21 hearts and to set up collaborations to make it possible to execute these concepts.

View of the work at the Van Abbemuseum. Photo courtesy of Isaac Monté

I saw your work at the Van Abbemuseum, it was part of the show Thing Nothing. How different will the piece be when you show it at MU?

I will show a collection of 21 pieces. All of them will be presented in glass vessels (as in the Van Abbe.) They will be categorized in 3 different themes and therefore presented on 3 long tables. The first category deals with interaction, the second are medical interventions and the 3rd one we consider to be ‘personalized.

Thanks Isaac!

Check out Isaac’s work at Body of Matter. Body based bio art & design which opens at MU in Eindhoven on 27 November. The show will be running until 7 February 2016.

Categories: New Media News

Slaughtered caimans, threatened orangutans and other tragedies at the World Press Photo exhibition

Sat, 11/14/2015 - 09:54

A few days ago i popped by the The World Press Photo exhibition at the Royal Festival Hall in London. It’s a show i always look forward to visiting. The quality of the prints is often ridiculously low but the photos that win the photojournalism competition give me some time to reflect on the stories that made the news over these past few months but also to discovered under-discussed cultural or political issues.

Just like every single years, half of the winners are from Italy, Palestinians are being killed en masses in front of our very eyes, and manifestations of the anthropocene makes for powerful and dramatic photos. One of the winning photos was about animal cruelty. I’m a bit of a wimp and cried for a whole morning when i saw it. Obviously, i couldn’t add it to this post but do have a look (First prize in the Nature section), it’s a great one.

And because I love lazy and image-heavy posts, here is a quick overview of some of the most stunning awarded images, with a copy/paste of the explanation text found on the website of the exhibition:

Lu Guang, Development and Pollution. Due to the vast presence of coal mines, meadows are left devastated and no sheep or cattle can survive in Holingol City, China. In order to preserve the image of the city, the local government installed 120 sculptures of sheep and cattle on the meadow

Most factories in Hainan Industrial Park of Wuhai City in Inner Mongolia are high-energy consuming and high-pollution producing. China is now the world’s second-largest economy. Its economic development has consumed lots of energy and generated plenty of pollution. A habit of directly discharging unprocessed industrial sewage, exhaust gas and waste material has led to pollution of farmlands, grasslands and drinking water as well as the ocean and the air. Over the past 10 years, factories have been moved from the country’s east to its central and western parts, thus greatly expanding the polluted area and increasing the severity of the the situation. Although the environmental protection administration has shut down many small enterprises with serious pollution emission, some still continue to discharge contaminants illegally. Some have adopted covert operations, such as releasing the smoke and gas waste at night.

Sandra Hoyn, Indonesia’s Last Orangutans

Angelo, a 14-year-old male orangutan, lies waiting for medical examination, in the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program (SOCP) care center in North Sumatra, Indonesia. He was found with air-gun pellets embedded in his body, in a palm-oil plantation.

Globally, the demand for palm oil is growing rapidly, and Indonesia is a market leader. The loss of their rainforest habitat, largely to make way for palm plantations, has brought orangutans almost to extinction in Indonesia.

Paolo Marchetti, Cold Blood Colombia.Freshly slaughtered caimans lie in what workers call ‘the hall of sacrifice’, at a Caiman farm in northern Colombia

Paolo Marchetti, Cold Blood Colombia. One of two weekly meals for 250 adult caiman lies beside their tank, at a farm in northern Colombia. The animals are fed a mix of minced cattle offal with up to 20 percent caiman meat.

Production of the skin of Colombian caimans, prized for its durability and quality, has soared since the 1990s. These days, most skins are obtained from farmed animals and farmers are legally obliged to return a number of caiman to the wild to replenish natural stocks.

Anand Varma, Mindsuckers. When a male sheep crab (Loxorhynchus grandis) is infected by Heterosaccus californicus, a parasitic barnacle, it stops developing fighting claws, and its abdomen widens, providing a womb for the barnacle to fill with its brood pouch. Nurtured by the crab, the eggs hatch. Thousands of baby barnacles disperse to infect anew

Anand Varma, Mindsuckers. When spores of an Ophiocordyceps fungus land on an Amazonian ant, they penetrate its exoskeleton and enter its brain, compelling the host to leave its normal habitat on the forest floor and scale a nearby tree. Filled with the fungus, the dying ant fastens itself to a leaf or another surface. Fungal stalks burst from the ant’s husk and scatter spores onto ants below, to begin the process again

Many parasites not only feed off their hosts, but appear to manipulate the host’s behavior in a way that is advantageous to the parasite’s life cycle. Recent research indicates that this influence occurs at a genetic level—certain parasite genes seem to be able to take control of the host’s brain. Research has shown that in some cases a single parasite gene is responsible for altering the host’s behavior, though in most instances it is thought that the phenomenon is brought about by a combination of genes.

Jérôme Sessini, Crime Without Punishment. The body of a passenger lies still strapped in a seat, in a wheat field, in eastern Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur at a height of 33,000 feet (10,058 meters), crashed into the countryside in eastern Ukraine, in rebel-held territory near the Russian border, on 17 July. All 298 people on board were killed. Wreckage was scattered over a radius of some two kilometers, near the villages of Rozsypne, Pelahiivka and Grabove. Evidence began to emerge that MH17 had been brought down by a missile.

Arash Khamooshi, Act of Forgiveness. Prison authorities bring Balal to the scaffold

Although exact figures are not known, Iran is thought to execute more people than any country in the world, apart from China. Hangings are frequently held in public, and sometimes a murder victim’s family may participate in the punishment by pushing the chair from under a condemned prisoner.

On 15 April, a young man identified only as Balal was due to be hanged for stabbing a friend, Abdollah Hosseinzadeh, to death during a street brawl. Hosseinzadeh’s mother was present at the hanging, but at the last minute, instead of pushing the chair, she slapped Balal’s face in an act of symbolic forgiveness. Such an act puts a stop to the execution, though the victim’s family does not have a say in any subsequent jail sentence.

Liu Song, Accused

A woman suspected of being a sex worker is held for questioning, at a police station in Chongqing, southwest China.

Local residents had complained about sex-workers’ cards and leaflets being pushed under their doors. Prostitution is illegal in China.

Sergey Ponomarev, Gaza Conflict

Palestinians fleeing fighting in their neighborhood, arrive at a shelter in Khan Yunis. After weeks of rising tension following the killing of three Israeli teenagers, Israel launched a major offensive against Hamas in Gaza. Hamas had fired rockets into Israel on 7 July, after a series of Israeli air strikes in which several Hamas members had been killed. On 8 July, Israel launched Operation Protective Edge, aimed at stopping the rocket attacks, and destroying Hamas capabilities, in particular the smuggling tunnels that had been built between Gaza and Egypt.

The offensive lasted seven weeks, during which more than 2,100 people were killed in Gaza, 69 percent of which, according to the UN, were civilians. In Israel, six civilians and 67 soldiers were killed. Amnesty International published a report that criticized Israel’s ‘grossly disproportionate’ responses, but suggested violations of international law on both sides.

Gianfranco Tripodo, Bosa, Bosa, Bosa! A migrant hides from the Guardia Civil in Melilla, an enclave of Spanish territory in North Africa

Three six-meter-high fences separate Melilla from Morocco, yet for decades people seeking a better life in Europe have attempted to scale the fences and reach Spanish soil. Some 6,000 such crossings were reported in Melilla and its sister enclave, Ceuta, in 2014. Very few migrants are granted political asylum; those who are not are taken to the mainland and handed an order to leave, but most cannot be deported as Spain does not have relevant treaties with their countries of origin.

Sofia Valiente, Miracle Village. Rose is the only female offender in the Miracle Village community, but says the stigma of being a sex offender no longer bothers her, and that the men look to her as a sister

Miracle Village, on the southeast corner of Lake Okeechobee in South Florida, in the midst of sugarcane fields and five miles from the nearest town, houses a community of 100 sex offenders. It was set up by an evangelical pastor, Dick Witherow, as a sanctuary for people he terms ‘modern-day lepers’—subject to lifelong restrictions on their movements, which often leave them few options of where to live. Residents of Miracle Village include people sentenced for offences such as the possession of child pornography, and a man who at the age of 18 had sex with his 16-year-old girlfriend. Many are tagged with ankle monitors, must obey a nighttime curfew, and cannot own a laptop or mobile phone.

Tomas van Houtryve, Blue Sky Days. People exercising in central Philadelphia. Drone operators may consider such ‘signature behaviors’ as evidence of the existence of a training camp

Since 2002, the US has used unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, or drones) to collect intelligence and carry out airstrikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. The attacks have resulted in a large number of fatalities, including hundreds of civilians.

The photographer bought a small drone, fitted it with a camera, and flew it in the US over the sorts of gatherings that have become habitual targets for airstrikes abroad—weddings, funerals, groups of people praying or exercising. He also used it to photograph settings in which drones are used to less lethal effect, such as oil fields, prisons, and the US-Mexico border.

Ronghui Chen, Christmas Factory

Wei works in a factory in Yiwu, eastern China, coating polystyrene snowflakes with red powder. He wears a Christmas hat to protect his hair, and goes through at least six face masks a day.

According to the Chinese government press agency, 600 factories in Yiwu produce around 60 percent of the world’s Christmas decorations. The factories are staffed largely by migrant laborers, who work 12-hour days for between 270 and 400 euros a month. Wei, who comes from rural Guizhou, 1,500 kilometers away, is not entirely sure what Christmas is, but thinks that it is a foreigners’ form of Chinese New Year.

Pete Muller, Ebola in Sierra Leone

The Kabia family mourns as the body of their one-day-old baby is removed by a member of a safe burial team, outside their home in the Hill Cut neighborhood of Freetown. While the baby was not a confirmed Ebola case, the government of Sierra Leone had mandated that all deaths in heavily Ebola-affected districts be treated as potential Ebola cases and buried in accordance with strict safety procedures.

The first cases of a new outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in Sierra Leone were reported in May. There is no cure for Ebola, and the fatality rate can be as high as 90 percent. The virus causes high fever, vomiting, and diarrhea, as well as internal and external bleeding. It is highly contagious, being passed on by sweat, blood and other bodily fluids. By the end of the year, 2,758 people had died of Ebola in Sierra Leone. The disease also ravaged neighboring Guinea and Liberia, with 7,880 deaths reported across the three countries overall in 2014.

Check out the World Press Photo exhibition at the Royal Festival Hall in London until 29 November 2015.

For an overview of all the winners visit the 2015 Contest image gallery. World Press Photo 15 exhibition tour.

Categories: New Media News

Merge Simpson, Spongebool and Matthew Plummer-Fernandez are in Berlin

Wed, 11/11/2015 - 13:50

Matthew Plummer-Fernandez, Gogogogogoku, 2015

Matthew Plummer-Fernandez is probably one of the most interesting artists slash designers of the moment. When he’s not developing art critic bots that do as good a job as any art pro at inventing meaning out of abstract forms, he is looking for the presence of algorithms in culture, submitting the most copyright-protected characters of pop culture to elegant digital glitches, or writing an encryption software application that scrambles 3D objects and allows authorized users to repair them with a key.

Demonstrating once again its impeccable taste, NOME Project -a gallery which is working with artists interested in the intersection between art, politics, and technology- has recently invited Plummer-Fernandez to show his latest series of sculptures and prints in Berlin.

The four sculptures are derived from 3D models of popular cartoon characters that the artist found online and remixed in order to obtain a new version of these pop icons: Every Mickey, Merge Simpson, Gogogogogoku, and Spongebool are new forms of the popular cartoon characters.

The prints are generated by converting the 3D model into an image file, a process which also serves to conceal the original source. The 3D model’s geometry is mapped onto a color range, resulting in a colorful flat surface that represents the character. By creating different forms from the same code, Matthew Plummer-Fernandez questions the inner nature of an object, disputing the relationship between a genotype and a phenotype.

Hard Copy, Plummer-Fernandez solo show, opened a few days ago and i caught up with the artist to talk about his new works:

Matthew Plummer-Fernandez, Merge Simpson, 2015

Matthew Plummer-Fernandez, Every Mickey, 2015

Hi Matthew! You’re showing five new sculptures at the NOME project gallery. Can you tell us about these works?

These new 3D prints are derivatives of four popular cartoon characters, Goku, SpongeBob, Marge Simpson and Mickey Mouse. They are made from 3D models found online for those characters. I’m using them as a means to explore what lies beyond the fan art created by followers of mainstream culture, what arcane icons can be created out of the language of popular icons once that loyalty is abandoned and the fidelity to the original is superseded by an irrational desire to create and worship something else.

The Mickey piece is called Every Mickey, it is every single model of mickey I could find conjoined as one, which makes it look a bit like the Hindu goddess Durga because of its many arms.

Goku became Gogogogogoku, a looping segment of goku in a fight pose, that seems to be endlessly fighting with itself, which I believe is about the folly of self-perpetuating conflict.

And so on.

Matthew Plummer-Fernandez, SpongeBool, 2015

How different are they from the MPF sculptures we all know and like?

In previous sculptures I started with 3D scans, which used to be integral to my concept, but now I don’t really see the point of 3D scanning, what is more interesting is the proliferation of 3D models you can now find online, I find it fascinating, this cornucopia of shared folk art and design that is way beyond what I have at hand to 3D scan. It also taps into material cultures that are native to computers – the Marge model for instance is from a Simpsons game, which makes it look very different from a Marge toy.

I’m also using for the first time Boolean operations – the adding and subtracting of parts from each other. All the pieces have either some other model overlapped or subtracted from it.

The other new thing for me is the production process – printing the objects in white nylon and then having them airbrushed. This way I can work on a slighter larger scale as the nylon machine is bigger. Airbrushing was fun, a little too hands-on for my liking, but we did achieve some interesting effects with it. The physical production is usually irrelevant to the piece anyway; it is simply a means to make them physical and still faithful in appearance to the digital counterpart.

Matthew Plummer-Fernandez, Gogogogogoku.png (Ditone archival pigment print), 2015

You’ve been 3D printing sculptures for a few years now. Do you see an evolution in the way you approach the original objects and modify them? Conceptually or aesthetically?

I think before I was content with simply considering the process interesting, and having the subject matter of the piece entangled in that process – whether the process became a copyright circumvention strategy, or a comment on Google automation. Now that I’m more familiar with the processes and find them very simple to execute, I’m looking more closely at the final piece and asking myself if its more than just a 3D model that has undergone some interesting modifications, does the end result arrive at something interesting in itself? For that reason I now usually have a rough sketch of what I want to arrive at and work towards it, before my modelling was usually improvised and generative, arriving at the unexpected. I think both approaches are valid and I’m striving for a balance of the two.

The aesthetics are always evolving. I used to have triangular facets visible on my pieces, now I’m into quadrilateral meshes, and mixed resolutions. I think about aesthetics a lot, I’m not a purely formal kind of artist, but I love pushing aesthetics. There are some artist peers really pushing aesthetics – Adam Ferriss and Mitch Posada.

I would really like to see an artist or designer take one of your sculptures and submit it to a similar copy/modify/print exercise that characterises some of your works. Has it already happened? Would you welcome the gesture?

I would love that, I have some files on Thingiverse, but I’ve only had others print replicas of them, which is not very exciting. I should start a remix club with my peers. I’m starting collaboration next week with JODI and I can’t wait to see how they will stretch my practice.

Your work seems to indicate a certain fondness for imperfections. What makes imperfection and glitches fascinating? Are some glitches or imperfections more interesting than others? and why?

That’s an interesting question I often ask myself. I think on one hand it simply evolved out of my inability to do things neatly, at one point I simply decided to just embrace my error-prone approach and push it further. I also use it as a way of staying out of the trap of being techno-determinist. When everyone wanted the perfect 3D print to showcase the technology, I ventured in the other direction to highlight the grain inherent in the process.

Lately though I’ve been thinking more and more about what are the visual semantics of imperfections, especially applied to popular culture. I think it suggests a fracture in the clean image of pop, and perhaps that represents a breakdown in the wider socio-economic system, which seems like the right aesthetic for the times.

I’m afraid of fetishizing digital glitch aesthetics as they quickly become meaningless when used profusely and without context. I stay away from certain tropes like data-bending and pixel sorting. I think with 3D forms I need to find my own language of errors, which is not hard to find, almost any modelling tool command used naïvely can lead to some sort of mistake.

If Novice Art Blogger were to review this show, what do you think the bot would have to say about it?

I would love to find out but sadly Novice Art Blogger’s AI engine has been taken offline. I want to substitute it but I’m afraid it wouldn’t have the same voice. An upgrade to another AI would feel like an imposter had taken NABs place. Robots aren’t easily replaced after all.

With some of your work you are already ‘outsourcing’ some of the creative process to software. What will prevent creative people from becoming obsolete one day and having their job taken over by robots?

Creative work is infinitely varied; there will always be practitioners that adopt less automated approaches, like craftspeople that prefer hand tools to power tools. Obsolescence is optional. Also the practitioner that does embrace automation still has to create the rules and strategies that those automatons execute, so it’s more like moving your creativity into a meta-practice.

Thanks Matthew!

Hard Copy, Matthew Plummer-Fernandez‘s solo show is at the NOME project gallery until the 23rd of December 2015.

And just because this must be my favourite sculpture EVER, i’m going to close this post with:

Matthew Plummer-Fernandez, sekuMoi Mecy, 2012

Categories: New Media News

Age of Wonderland – Balancing Green and Fair Food

Mon, 11/09/2015 - 05:22

If you wanted to explore new, intelligent avenues to think about food this year, you might have rushed to Milan to visit the world expo. The event, which proposed to explore the theme ‘feeding the planet, energy for life,’ turned out to be some kind of extravagant food Olympics. I didn’t go. Reports from disgruntled visitors and less than laudatory newspaper reviews made me keep my distances. Rumors started before the opening of the event when environmentalist protesters took to the streets to accuse the expo of being little more than a capitalist symbol of mass waste. After the event opened, the press kept on writing about cost overruns, corruption scandals, underpaid workers, ostentatious architecture, etc. To add insult to injury, bastions of health and food disinformation such as McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Ferrero planted their pavilions right in the middle of the expo.

I could go on and on. I’d rather dedicate my energy to a review of Age of Wonderland, a festival 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’, interrogating the sustainability of our food systems, looking at how they interconnect with the environment and searching for alternatives to feed communities. Basically doing the job that the Expo Milan was supposed to do but with less fanfare and more sense.

Sari Dennise. Photocredits: Sas Schilten, via Hivos

Photo Sas Schilten for Baltan Laboratories

Toi Dinner Hack with Symbat Satybaldieva. Photo Sas Schilten for Baltan Laboratories

The strength of Age of Wonderland was its format. Instead of setting up the kind of show where artworks are shipped from abroad, unpacked, exhibited, repacked and sent back, the event took the form of a social innovation program. Six creatives from Kyrgyzstan, Indonesia, Mexico and Tanzania were invited to spend several weeks in Eindhoven to develop innovative projects and discuss their ideas with Dutch artists and companies. The broader public had then a full week to visit the show and join the conversation during workshops, tours, meals, artists presentations and seminars.

The result of these experiments are not artworks that denounce, shock and speculate on our globalized food systems but quiet and interdisciplinary projects that have the potential to have tangible impact on the life of communities. Each of these projects propose a direct solution to a peculiar issue related to food, in particular soil, water, rice, compost, resilience, plastic and abundance. Some will be developed locally only, others will hopefully inspire other communities and be adopted elsewhere in the world.

Arie Syarifuddin, Claynialism. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer for Baltan Laboratories

Arie Syarifuddin, Claynialism. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer for Baltan Laboratories

Arie Syarifuddin was inviting visitors to taste the clay cookies he had made. Made of eggs, sugar, clay and water, the tiny biscuits were actually very good.

Arie Syarifuddin, Claynialism

One of the most charming and astute projects for me was the one of Arie Syarifuddin, from the Jatiwangi Art Factory in the city of Jatiwangi in West Java, Indonesia. His project Claynialism aimed to use the humble and readily available clay found in the soil of his home town to realize nutritious and delicious food products.

Together with designer Lonny van Ryswick and artist Masha Ru, Arie experimented with various types of edible clay and classified them according to their taste and material qualities. The goal was to explore clay as both a cooking ingredient and a material that can be used to make objects that can be eaten instead of being discarded. They made tea cup. You can pour liquid inside it and when you’re done, you simply eat the clay cup.

The project also aimed to give the clay some dignity. By making us eat something we associate with dirt, the artist invites us to (re)connect with our soils.

Ahadi Katera, Guavay. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer for Baltan Laboratories

Ahadi Katera, Guavay. Photocredits: Sas Schilten

Ahadi Katera found out that in various neighbourhoods of the city where he is living, Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), 40% of the waste from households and food markets consists of organic waste. And because recycling is not yet fully implemented in the country, most of this organic waste ends up on landfill. Meanwhile, a few kilometres away, farmers need additives and nutrients to prepare the soil and grow new crops. The young engineer turned this abundance of waste into a social enterprise that collects organic waste and makes fertilizer through a process that combines fermentation and composting.

During his visit in the Netherlands, he started to research how organic waste could also be used in the fabrication of products as diverse as dishwashing liquid and organic leather bags.

Yoyo Yogasmana. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer for Baltan Laboratories

Yoyo Yogasmana. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer for Baltan Laboratories

Yoyo Yogasmana. Photocredits: Sas Schilten

The star of the festival was without doubt Yoyo Yogasmana, an artist but also a personal advisor to the king and queen of the Ciptagelar Kasepuhan community who lives in the Western Java Mountain.

In Yoyo’s community, rice is venerated for its power to give life. In fact, rice is so sacred, it has its own ceremonies, is cultivated and harvested only by hand and can never be sold. So each day, at lunch time, Yoyo cooked for visitors a rice meal so delicious and filling a word should be invented to describe that type of rice. He also presented in details his community’s ancestral and ecologically sound traditions in food production and consumption.

Achmad Fadillah. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer for Baltan Laboratories

Achmad Fadillah, 1:4 scale 3d printed mockups of the bottles. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer for Baltan Laboratories

Achmad Fadillah. Photo Sas Schilten for Baltan Laboratories

I was surprised by the text that introduced Achmad Fadillah‘s work. It said that:

In Indonesia, the water sources are commercially owned by Nestlé and Danone. People have no clean tap drink water available and drinking water can only be bought in bottles. In this region alone, plastic bottles of water are bought every year. Most are not recycled and are contributing to the growing pollution of soil and water.

The designer developed a prototype of connectable and reusable water bottle that can be used as a toy or a construction element like a brick. By stacking and connecting together the bottle-bricks, you could build sturdy pieces of furniture or even bridges or refugee dwellings.

Sari Dennise. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer for Baltan Laboratories

Sari Dennise. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer for Baltan Laboratories

Designer and social activist Sari Dennise, from the Cráter Invertido collective, is looking for ways to help Chinamperos (Farmers in the southern part of Mexico City) sell and distribute their agricultural production in a fairest-local way. She used her stay in The Netherlands to research food distribution systems that offer “alternatives” to the supermarket and could thus reduce the consumption chain and benefit local communities of producers and consumers more directly: community supported agriculture, food networks, independent local shops, etc.

Symbat Satybaldieva. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer for Baltan Laboratories

Symbat Satybaldieva, Fermented drinks from Kyrgyzstan

Symbat Satybaldieva presenting her (very potent) fermented drinks from Kyrgyzstan

Symbat Satybaldieva, kurut, dried yogurt balls from Kyrgyzstan

Symbat Satybaldieva explored how Toi, a traditional dinner feast for hundreds of people who eat in abundance on occasions of weddings and funerals. This cultural tradition regularly drives people into ruin in low-income countries such as Uzbekistan, Kirgizia and Tajikistan. In her study of this cultural practice, she looked for new ways to celebrate and create ‘abundance’ without generating waste and excess in the process.

Age of Wonderland was curated by Arne Hendriks and organized by collaborative platform for future thinking Baltan Laboratories, together with Hivos, an international organisation that collaborates with innovative businesses, citizen organisations to look for new solutions to persistent global issues.

Next year’s edition of Age of Wonderland will be looking at the politics of big data and privacy.

Also part of Age of Wonderland: From knitted meat to obsolete supermarket. Rethinking our food system.

Categories: New Media News

Book review: Visual Impact. Creative Dissent in the 21st Century

Mon, 11/02/2015 - 10:09

Visual Impact. Creative Dissent in the 21st Century, by Liz McQuiston.

Available on amazon UK and USA

Publisher Phaidon writes: An accessible and richly illustrated exploration of how art and design have driven major social and political change in the 21st century. Features the work of over 200 artists, from the famous such as Ai Weiwei and Shepard Fairey, to the anonymous influencers working through social media. Richly illustrated with over 400 images, this is a visual guide to the most influential and highly politicised imagery of the digital age.

Explores themes and issues such as popular uprisings (the Arab Spring, the London Riots) social activism (marriage equality), and environmental crises (Hurricane Katrina), as well as the recent Je Suis Charlie protests Global in outlook, it features exciting work from emerging economies such as Brazil, Russia, China and the Middle East, as well as the US and Europe.

Blue Noses: Kids from our block (2), 2004

15 years of popular dissent in images!

Author Liz McQuiston practices and teaches graphic design. She has written several books that explore the intersection of design and politics: Graphic Agitation: Social and Political Graphics Since the Sixties, Graphic Agitation 2: Social and Political Graphics in the Digital Age, Suffragettes to She-Devils: Women’s Liberation and Beyond, etc. She not only knows her stuff, she also has impeccable taste. Her exploration of visual protest since 9/11 isn’t constricted by boundaries nor hierarchies. Online interventions rub shoulders with good old posters, murals with performances, court sketches with design objects. The people who rebel, resist and visually express their opposition are famous artists such as Kara Walker, Banksy and Ai Weiwei. More often than not, however, they are anonymous or operate behind pseudonyms.

The book opens on a brief overview of the visual legacy of the 1990s, a period characterized by cyberactivism and protests against the first Gulf War. But also by a rise in the use of technology by everyday people in need of new loudspeakers to get their voices heard. It’s in that paragraph that i learnt that in the late 1980s, French magazine Actuel collaborated with 16 other magazines to launch the “Fax for Freedom” campaign. They published a list of fax numbers of Chinese institutions and urged their readers to bombard them with faxes to cause chaos. In the UK, The Face magazine accompanied the campaign with the headline: “You have the technology to change history”. Fax activism! Who would have thought?

Stelios Faitakis, Socrates Drinks the Conium (détail), Installation view at Destroy Athens, 1st Athens Biennale, 2007

After this short excursion in the 1990s, each chapter tackles a different theme or geographical area:
Chapter one is all about the Arab Spring as well as the political and anti-austerity protests that followed in the rest of the world. From Los Indignados in Spain to Occupy Wall Street. From Occupy London to Russia activists calling for the respect of human rights and openly questioning the reelection of Putin.
Chapter 2 looks at the objections to the wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq and more generally at the War on Terror.
Chapter 3 explores divided countries, mostly Israel/Palestine and North/South Korea. But also cultural divisions such as the ones that cause heavy debates around the issue of the veil for women, the legalization of same sex marriage, feminism, etc. I particularly admired the diplomatic way McQuiston handled these controversial themes.
Chapter 4 is all about environmental disasters, both natural and man-made.

This book is intelligent, invigorating and often hilarious. It reminds us that (we) people are not only creative and resourceful, they are also brave enough to brandish their disapproval. The protests might not always the desired effect. But as Emiliano said Prefiero morir de pie que vivir de rodillas (I’d rather die on my feet, than live on my knees.)

Here are some of the works i discovered in the book. Some with comments. Others are perfectly happy without:

Alshaab Alsori Aref Tarekh, The Syrian People Knows Its Way: Going out to demonstrate, 2012

The United Unknown, You Have a Dream, 2013

Grayson Perry, Vote Alan Measles for God, 2007

Dorothy, No Globe for Earth Hour

Paulo Ito‘s mural reflects on the money lavished on the World Cup while so many people in Brazil are hungry

Bob and Roberta Smith, Interview with David Nott by Eddie Mair

Bob and Roberta Smith painted the full transcript of a radio interview of Dr David Nott in which he shared his traumatic experience working as a surgeon in war torn Syria.

Excerpts from the interview include: “It was like a bloodbath… You’d quickly operate on a patient… and you’d basically be squelching around with blood on the floor. And after every time there’d be a man come in with a big brush, like in an abattoir, it was like that.”

Blu, giant child blowing at a group of soldiers who crumble away into a pile of dollar bills. Part of Santa’s Ghetto, 2007. Photo Tristan Manco

In 2007, Banksy took his annual underground art show to the West Bank and invited artists to create new works for the 8 metre high wall that surrounds the city of Bethlehem and separates Palestinian families from illegal Israeli settlements.

Parastou Forouhar, Signs, 2004

Parastou Forouhar’s simple and elegant symbols denounce the marginalization of women in the Middle East.

Princess Hijab. Photo Kai Jünemann

Sarah Maple, I Love Orgasms. Photo via art threat

Logomyway.com, Selection from the BP Logo Design Contest

Richard Misrach, Swamp and Pipeline, Geismar, Louisiana, 1998. From Petrochemical America, photographs by Richard Misrach, Ecological Atlas by Kate Orff (Aperture, 2012)

Richard Misrach, Sugar Cane and Refinery, Mississippi River Corridor, Louisiana, 1998. From Petrochemical America, photographs by Richard Misrach, Ecological Atlas by Kate Orff (Aperture, 2012)

Richard Misrach, Holy Rosary Cemetery and Dow Chemical Corporation, Taft, Louisiana, 1998. From Petrochemical America

In 1998, Richard Misrach was commissioned to produce a body of work on the theme of “Picturing the South” series. Misrach decided to focus on “Cancer Alley,” the Mississippi corridor that stretches between New Orleans and Baton Rouge and that is bordered by industrial plants that produce a quarter of America’s petrochemicals.

Over a decade later, Misrach returned to Cancer Alley to shoot. This time however, he collaborated with landscape architect Kate Orff whose “Ecological Atlas” of drawings and maps further visualizes the historical, economic, and ecological factors that affect the region.

My David Cameron

Views inside the book:

Categories: New Media News

Mexican Lucha Libre Wrestling: Family Portraits

Fri, 10/30/2015 - 12:22

Lourdes Grobet, Vilano dentist

I was going to post this story next month but i just realized that the show closes this weekend already. If you are in Barcelona at the moment, DON’T MISS IT!

So, yes, the show! It’s called Mexican Lucha Libre Wrestling: Family Portraits and it’s at CCCB (the Barcelona Contemporary Culture Centre) until 1 November 2015.

The photos are as stunning as the individuals they portray. They are by Lourdes Grobet, an artist who has spent the past 30 years exploring the world of Mexican lucha libre. She followed the luchadores on the ring and, as they got to know each other better, she also portrayed them at home, with their family.

The exhibition features a previously unpublished series of over forty large-format photographs complemented by the screening of material from the artist’s extensive photographic collection on the theme. There are also daily screenings of films from the 1960s and 1970s featuring El Santo.

CCCB made a video interview with the artist where she explains that Mexican lucha libre isn’t about violence. It’s about the choreography of two bodies that collide. She also looked into the history of lucha libre. While other forms of wrestling around the world are descendants of Greco-Roman wrestling, Mexican lucha libre has its roots in pre-Columbian civilizations:

CCCB interviews Lourdes Grobet for the exhibition ‘Lucha libre: Family portraits. Photographs by Lourdes Grobet’

Lourdes Grobet, Blue Demon

Lourdes Grobet, Astro Boy

This one isn’t part of the show at CCCB but i liked it so much…

La Briosa and her son, 1984

Lourdes Grobet, Vilano

Dr X and his daughter

Lourdes Grobet, Untitled, ca. 1982

Lourdes Grobet, Canek y el Solar, Arena México (Canek and el Solar, Arena México), ca. 1983

Lourdes Grobet, Solar parado

Lourdes Grobet, Fray Tormenta

Views from the exhibition space:

I leave you with a thrilling scene from Santo el enmascarado de plata y Blue Demon contra los monstruos:

Categories: New Media News

The Influencers: Former MI5 spy Annie Machon on why we live in a dystopia that even Orwell couldn’t have envisioned

Thu, 10/29/2015 - 14:04

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.

Categories: New Media News

Home catastrophes, wandering mining hole and limbo embassy. (My) best of the Graduation Show Design Academy Eindhoven

Wed, 10/28/2015 - 10:09

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, The Wandering Hole
Hannah Hiecke, The Wandering Hole. The map shows the situation in June 2015

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.

Categories: New Media News

NEUNUNDNEUNZIG (99) balloons of claustrophobia

Mon, 10/26/2015 - 11:38

Martin Bricelj Baraga and Olaf Bender, NEUNUNDNEUNZIG (99)

NEUNUNDNEUNZIG (99) is a kinetic sound sculpture by Martin Bricelj Baraga and Olaf Bender (raster-noton).

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?

Bender: My first association with 99 was not so much connected to Nena’s protest phase, it was more connected to something military or science-fiction scenarios like in 1984 or Fahrenheit 451.

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.

Categories: New Media News

From knitted meat to obsolete supermarket. Rethinking our food system

Wed, 10/21/2015 - 05:14

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 Martín Caparrós 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.

The final words of the events were those of Prof. dr. ir. Gerard de Vries who is the Former Head of project group WRR report “Towards a Food Policy” , he is also an Advisory member of the WRR.

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.

The Age of Wonderland programme continues until Sunday 25 October. Check out what’s happening in the coming days.

Categories: New Media News

Urban bee activism

Thu, 10/15/2015 - 05:31

Living 3D printers. Bees at work in the Brussels Urban Bee Lab

A third of the food we eat depends on pollinators -especially bees- for a successful harvest. Which means that the decline of bees and other pollinating insects observed in most industrialized countries is threatening to compromise biodiversity and agricultural yields.

Media artist and beekeeper Annemarie Maes is the founding director of the Brussels Urban Bee Lab and one of the co-founders of the artist collective OKNO. She has been monitoring and working with urban bee colonies since 2009, not only to develop novel art works but also to better understand the connections between city honeybees and urban ecosystems, to raise awareness among citizens about the plight of the pollinating bees and to call for ecological activism.

Maes was in Riga last week to talk about her work at the Renewable Futures conference which was part of the RIXC’s new art and science festival.

The Urban Artfarm consists of an edible forest garden, an apiary and a vegetable garden run by a local community. The project is self sufficient in terms of rainwater and solar energy for powering the sensors. Photo: Annemie Maes

Her bees can be found on the Urban Farm that she built on the rooftop of a parking lot in the historical center of Brussels.

The farm functions as an open-air laboratory where artists and urban gardeners experiment with strategies for sustainable living in the city and investigates questions such as: How does a rooftop ecosystem deal with energy, water, soil and green technology? How do plants and city honeybees interact with this artificial ecosystem and more generally with the urban environment?

One of Maes’ bee projects is The Sound Beehive experiment which literally listens to the sound made by the bees in order to monitor the development of the beehives and examine their relationships with their environment.

As bio indicators, honeybees provide us with a constant stream of information on the environment (urban, countryside) on which they forage (activity, pollen, nectar). Diseases like colony collapse disorder and environmental problems like the use of pesticides could be analysed in a different way by monitoring and analysing the daily activity (audio, video) of several bee colonies over multiple years.

Two of her beehives are equipped with non-intrusive, off the shelf-technology (microphones, temperature and humidity sensors, IR cameras, etc.) that monitors bee interactions with their immediate environment as well as the activity inside the beehives. The huge amount of data is streamed online, collected and them analyzed in collaboration with scientists from the Brussels Free University who use pattern recognition programs in order to identify relationships between the biotope and the behaviors and health of the colony.

The Sound Beehive, detail. Photo via ALOTOF

Streaming set up of the sound beehives, with the Raspberry camera and computer. Photo via ALOTOF

A piezo microphone mounted on a frame. The bees build wax around it. Photo via ALOTOF

Everything is set up from an artistic point of view which means, as Maes explained with a smile, ‘very little money, lots of DIY and affordable technology (arduino, Rapsberry Pi, etc) and lots of learning through trials and errors.’

The monitoring doesn’t stop there. Maes and her team also collect the pollen that the bees bring back, they magnify the images of the pollen, identify from which plants they come and build up a database which enables them to determine the geographical locations of the plants the bees visited and to draw ‘green corridors’ through the city, helping the insects to expand their foraging fields.

The pollen the bees bring back from their foraging flights are analyzed with the Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM). Above a Cucurbita pepa pollen grain (zucchini) magnified 1150x. Photo: Annemie Maes

Another of Maes’ experimental bee projects is The Transparent Beehive, a living sculpture built like a book. The design was inspired by Swiss entomologist Francis Huber‘s Leaf Hive (1789) which featured a fully movable frame hive that enabled the scientist to study the evolution of a bee colony. Each page consists of a wooden frame where bees can build honeycomb structures.

Just like the Sound Beehive, the Transparent Beehive is equipped with microphones, sensors cameras that monitor the colony’s buzz, the growth of the wax structures, the activity of bees as well as various microclimate data. The sensors also make it possible to monitor the beehive from a distance and unobtrusively. In consequence, the hives do not need to be opened and the bees activity remains undisturbed.

Transparent Beehive (the laboratory), 2012

Transformative Ecologies at Mons-2015: audio installations with beehive recordings. Photo Annemie Maes

Much of AnneMarie Maes’ work is presented and explained in detail in the book Ignorance, A Laboratory On The Open Fields.

Photos of the book by MER. Paper Kunsthalle

The aim of the European project ALOTOF A Laboratory on the Open Field was to make ecological media art in a natural environment instead of the more traditional (but artificial) setting of a gallery or museum space. The publication documents the work of artists who made artworks that range from site specific sound installations to wooden bike mobiles, ephemeral outdoor restaurants, machines that would make hunted animals run away and nomadic workshop.

Categories: New Media News

The Venice Biennale reports. Part 2: Abu Bakarr Mansaray’s UFO and other futuristic flying machines

Tue, 10/06/2015 - 04:18

One of the artists whose work impressed me the most at the Arsenale exhibition of the Venice Art Biennale is Abu Bakarr Mansaray. An autodidact from Sierra Leone, the artist has always been equally curious about practical science, engineering, toy manufacturing and traditional African crafts. He applies this knowledge to drawing futuristic worlds inhabited by flying machines piloted by skeletons, tanks that look like dinosaurs, dangerous computer virus, ‘Hell Extinguisher’, aliens and other ‘sinister projects.’ All the machines and scenes of mayhem are annotated with great details about the functioning of his formidable creations.

Abu-Bakarr Mansaray, A Nuclear Mosquito From Hell

Terrific Poisonous and Hostile, 2011

The most dangerous and destructive object

Sufisticated Hell Lizard, 2011

Beyond Creation, 2004

Kaitiri Watini

Kaitiri Watini (detail)

Return of the Xynomoph, 2013

The Chamber of the Unknown, 2012

One of the African Black Magic. The Witch Plane

Abu Bakarr Mansaray, Appajax, 2000

Nuclear Telephone Discovered in Hell (detail)

Nuclear Telephone Discovered in Hell (detail)



DPG Universal

More photos.

Check out Abu Bakarr Mansaray’s drawings at All the World’s Futures, the 56th International Art Exhibition in Venice. The shows remain open until Sunday, 22nd of November 2015 at the Giardini and the Arsenale venues.

Previously: The Venice Biennale reports. Part 1: Angels, giant lizards and a Trojan horse.

Categories: New Media News

The Venice Biennale reports. Part 3: Protests and modern slavery at the Arsenale

Tue, 10/06/2015 - 04:12

Xu Bing, The Phoenix, 2015. Photo by Alessandra Chemollo / la Biennale di Venezia

The Venice Art Biennale is 120 years old and i can’t believe they’ve waited that long to give the reins of the event to an African curator. It was high time and bloody welcome.

Okwui Enwezor explained in his curatorial statement:

How can the current disquiet of our time be properly grasped, made comprehensible, examined, and articulated? Over the course of the last two centuries the radical changes – from industrial to post-industrial modernity; technological to digital modernity; mass migration to mass mobility, environmental disasters and genocidal conflicts, chaos and promise – have made fascinating subject matter for artists, writers, filmmakers, performers, composers, musicians, etc.

The 56th Biennale is thus set against the backdrop of economic, ecological and humanitarian crises. Any kind of art or design event has to pretend that they care for the state of the world these days (unless they are the Frieze art fair of course) but somehow this edition of the biennale demonstrates far more energy, determination and spirit in tackling the sufferings of our world than many much younger and openly socially-engaged events i’ve attended recently. It has both political gravitas and lightness of language. Humour and vigour. It even has music and graphic design.

A bit of a user’s manual wouldn’t have gone amiss though. You find yourself navigating a sea of works, they are accompanied by a title and the name of the author. Nothing else. In some cases you know the work, in others the piece is pretty self-explanatory but far too often you look at something that might or might not appeal to you and you’ve no idea what it represents and comments on.

But let’s get to the works, shall we? First stop of the Biennale was, as always for me, the Arsenale, the city’s former shipyards and armories:

GLUKLYA/ Natalia Pershina-Yakimanskaya, Clothes for the demonstration against false election of Vladimir Putin, 2011-2015. Photo by Alessandra Chemollo / la Biennale di Venezia

GLUKLYA/ Natalia Pershina-Yakimanskaya, Clothes for the demonstration against false election of Vladimir Putin, 2011-2015. Photo by Alessandra Chemollo / la Biennale di Venezia

GLUKLYA Natalia Pershina-Yakimanskaya, Clothes for the demonstration against false election of Vladimir Putin, 2011-2015

Natalia Pershina-Yakimanskaya lined up against the Arsenale’s brick wall dozens protest “signs” designed as clothing to represent different groups who are under or misrepresented in the political climate of Russia. The clothes are imaginary but they do reference the 2011 Russian protests.

Chandra McCormick, Farming at the Louisiana State Penitentiery at Angola, 2004

Keith Calhoun & Chandra McCormick, from the series Slavery, The Prison Industrial Complex. Photo by Alessandra Chemollo / la Biennale di Venezia

Keith Calhoun & Chandra McCormick have been documenting Angola, the largest maximum-security prison in the United States, since the 1980s. Angola is located in Louisiana, the state that tops the country’s list of states by incarceration rate. Angola’s nickname is The Farm because inmates work in plantations under the supervision of guards on horseback.

Taryn Simon, Paperwork and the Will of Capital: An Account of Flora As Witness, 2015

Taryn Simon, Paperwork, and the Will of Capital, 2015. Photo by Alessandra Chemollo / la Biennale di Venezia

Taryn Simon, Paperwork, and the Will of Capital, 2015. Photo by Alessandra Chemollo / la Biennale di Venezia

Taryn Simon looked at archive photos documenting agreements, contracts, treaties, and decrees signed by powerful men. Most of the photos showed floral arrangements in the background. The signings involved the 44 countries present at the Bretton Woods conference of 1944. This conference led to the establishment of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Simon worked with a botanist to identify the flowers that marked each signing. Over 4,000 plant specimens were imported to Simon’s studio from the world’s largest flower auction, in Aalsmeer, The Netherlands. Everyday millions of flowers are shipped there from all over the world and are then distributed to the world’s flower shops. These flowers symbolise globalisation. Simon recreated the bouquets from each signing and photographed them against background and foreground colours informed by the colour schemes in the historical records of the original ceremonies.

The installations showed Simon’s usual care and precision but it has far less bite or sense than her previous works. It looked pretty and you can draw parallels between the dried up flowers and the disintegration of any desire to regulate the financial order if you’re so inclined but i couldn’t see the point, to be honest.

Karo Akpokiere, Zwischen Lagos und Berlin, 2015

Karo Akpokiere, Zwischen Lagos und Berlin. Photo by Karo Akpokiere

Karo Akpokiere’s drawings are inspired by his experiences of living in Lagos and Berlin.

Maja Bajevic, Arts, Crafts and Facts, 2015

Maja Bajevic, The Unbelievable Lightness of Being, 2015. Photo by Alessandra Chemollo / la Biennale di Venezia

Maja Bajevic’s Arts, Crafts and Facts is a series of rugs and pieces of fabrics in which traditional Bosnian embroidery reproduces the fluctuations of the Stock Market indexes around the world, turning intangible financial data into tangible needle work.

Mykola Ridnyi, Blind Spot

Mykola Ridnyi, Blind Spot. Installation views at the 56th Venice biennale for contemporary art, 2015. Photo: Alessandra Chemollo / la Biennale di Venezia

I’m going to simply copy/paste the text of the artist:
According to the assumptions of ophthalmology, there is a blank area called the blind spot , there is a blank area called the blind spot in our eyeshot, between right and left eye. Accordingly to this phenomenon, we are unable to fully see what is happening around us. We construct the missing image of reality and try to fill the blind spot, relying our knowledge, memory or compelling influence of information. Usually we are not aware of this constant construction of reality. Exception of the rule is the disease, when the blind spot is perceptible and becomes genuine darkness absorbing the reality. Everything may start from small, a gradually expanding black dot or like a tapering tunnel which consequently devours vision as long as everything is obscured. When it spreads about the society, inability or limitations in the vision become the mechanism of human self-defense that brings about unsolicited blindness against escalating violence. There is also another form of blindness – one imposed by the machine of war propaganda which produces a binary vision of reality and creates “us” and “them”, “brothers” and “enemies”, “citizens” and “aliens”. Those divisions do not have any reasonable basis in reality. As we move into the future, it seems that we are destined to ‘repeat the mistakes of history’ because we refuse to see our past. Tragic events will be engulfed by fading light and our memory will keep only chosen heroes, leaving behind unsung victims. Victims are always omitted, and the price of human life becomes devaluated, while sides of the conflict remain engaged in defending their rightwards. In the „Blind spot” series, photographs taken from a number of reports about the war on the East of Ukraine are interlinked with the phenomenon of gradually going blind and a resulting narrowed field of vision: the imagery is almost completely obscured by black ink.

More photos. No comments:

Lavar Munroe, To Protect and Serve, 2012

Newell Harry, Untitled (Objects + Anagrams for R.U. & R.U., Part II, 2015

Terry Adkins. Photo by Alessandra Chemollo / la Biennale di Venezia

Terry Adkins, Muffled Drums (from Darkwater), 2003

Terry Adkins, The Last Trumpet, 1995

Monica Bonvicini, Latent Combustion, 2015

Monica Bonvicini, Latent Combustion, 2015. Photo by Alessandra Chemollo / la Biennale di Venezia

Monica Bonvicini, Latent Combustion, 2015. Photo by Alessandra Chemollo / la Biennale di Venezia

Pino Pascali, Cannone Semovente (Gun), 1965

Carsten Holler & Mans Mansson, Fara Fara, 2014. Photo by Alessandra Chemollo / la Biennale di Venezia

Xu Bing, The Phoenix, 2015. Photo by Alessandra Chemollo / la Biennale di Venezia

Qui Zhijie, Jingling Chronicle Theater Project, 2010-2015. Photo by Isabella Balena / la Biennale di Venezia

Bits of untitled, unintentional art in and around the arsenale:

All of the World’s Futures – The main exhibition of the 56th Venice Art Biennale was curated by Okwui Enwezor. The biennale remains open until 22 November 2015.
More photos? This way!

Categories: New Media News