We Make Money Not Art

Syndicate content
Updated: 1 min 28 sec ago

Show Us the Money. Portrait of financial impunity

Mon, 08/22/2016 - 11:49


Carlos Spottorno, Wealth Management

If there’s one art space in Belgium that never disappoints it’s FOMU, Antwerp’s photo museum. One of their current exhibitions draws an often startling portrait of the 1% and of the complex infrastructure that shields them from scrutiny.

Show Us The Money takes you on a journey to the world’s off-shore tax havens and corporate financial nerve centres. FOMU provides a glimpse of the structures that impact on all of us but which are themselves practically invisible. Three projects use very different artistic strategies to expose this global issue.

Take the train, plane, tram but don’t miss this exhibition. It’s extremely informative without ever feeling didactic. It’s entertaining without any trace of superficiality. And it provides an intelligent and fascinating way of answering all the questions you might have about offshore secrecy but were ashamed to ask.


Daniel Mayrit, You Haven’t Seen Their Faces

If you can’t make it to Antwerp before October, here are a few words and tons of photos from Show Us the Money:

Press articles about tax havens are often illustrated with images of anonymous beaches covered in white sand and coconut trees. With The Heavens, Paolo Woods and Gabriele Galimberti lift the lid on these furtive jurisdictions, their idiosyncrasies, players and apparatus. The photographic investigation features the usual suspects: the Cayman Islands, Singapore, the City of London, Luxembourg, etc. But it also brought my attention to a country i had never associated with Panama Papers, opacity and dubious cash flows: The Netherlands which, the photographers write, “is one of the biggest enablers of aggressive corporate tax avoidance and has built a booming industry around promoting and selling Dutch tax services to global companies.”

Selection of images. Captions by the artists:


An employee of “Jetpack Cayman” demonstrates this new watersport, now available on the island. A 2000cc motor pumps water up through the Jetpack, propelling the client out of the sea (359 USD for a 30-minute session). Mike Thalasinos, the owner of the company, remarks, “The Jetpack is zero gravity, the Cayman are zero taxes, we are in the right place!” Grand Cayman


Kandra Powery, 25, and her three children, Kayla, 9, Kaleb, 8, and Janae, 2. The Caymans, a thriving offshore financial center, is the fourth-richest country in the Americas (GDP per capita) but has real pockets of poverty. 55% of the labor force is composed of non-nationals occupying both low-paying jobs in the service sector and high-end jobs in the finance industry. Grand Cayman


Tony Reynard (on the right) and Christian Pauli, in one of the high-security vaults of the Singapore Freeport. Mr. Reynard is the Chairman of the Singapore Freeport and Mr. Pauli is the General Manger of Fine Art Logistics NLC, which in addition to Singapore, also has vaults in Geneva, Monaco and Luxembourg. The Singapore Freeport, which was designed, engineered and financed by a Swiss team of businessmen, is one of the world’s premier maximum-security vaults, where billions of dollars in art, gold and cash are stashed. Located just off the runway of Singapore’s airport, the Freeport is a fiscal no-man’s land where individuals as well as companies can confidentially collect valuables out of reach of the taxman. Singapore


The Cayman Islands are the fifth-largest financial center in the world, with twice as many companies based there as there are citizens. Many of these companies have a post office box but no office. Grand Cayman


Bicycle parking lot in Zuid, a growing financial center on the edge of the city of Amsterdam where thousands of empty mailbox companies used to avoid tax are located. The Netherlands is one of the biggest enablers of aggressive corporate tax avoidance and has built a booming industry around promoting and selling Dutch tax services to global companies. The Netherlands.


A man floats in the 57th-floor swimming pool of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, with the skyline of “Central,” the Singapore financial district, behind him. Singapore


Phil Davis, 46, is Vice President and General Manager of Dell for Asia Pacific and Japan. He has been living in Singapore for over 5 years. According to Bloomberg, Dell has based a substantial part of its operations in Singapore for purposes of tax optimization. Singapore


Nicole from the Philippines, works for a Singaporean family as a maid. On her day off, she prostitutes herself. Just like hundreds of other Filipinas, she is earning extra money to send back home. She is photographed in a hotel room where she brings her clients. The government in Singapore has recently passed a law that will require employers to give their “Foreign Domestic Workers” a minimum wage and one day off a week. Although the legislation passed, polls in Singapore have shown that a majority of the population was against it. Singapore


One hour south of Luanda lies the 18-hole Mangais championship golf course, host to PGA tournaments. Mercer, a leading financial analysis firm, ranks Luanda as the most expensive city in the world. This is despite the fact that two-thirds of Angola’s population lives on less than $2 a day and 150,000 children die before the age of 5 each year, from causes linked to poverty. Over 98% of Angola’s exports come from oil or diamonds. Researchers James Boyce and Léonce Ndikumana showed that Angola suffered $80 billion in capital flight from 1970-2008, with most of the money ending up in tax havens. Angola.


Richard J. Geisenberger (standing) is Delaware’s Chief Deputy Secretary of State. He is photographed in the Wilmington State Building, overseeing one of the more than 5000 incorporations that take place daily in Delaware. It takes a few minutes, no questions asked, to incorporate a company, and the state office stays open until midnight Monday through Thursday. More than 50% of all U.S. publicly traded companies and 63% of the Fortune 500 are incorporated in Delaware. Delaware

Galimberti and Woods judiciously registered their own company, The Heavens, in one of those tax havens: Delaware. In exchange of a small fee and zero question asked, “The Heavens” company is now based in the same office as Apple, Bank of America, Coca-Cola, Google, and countless other multinational corporations, money launderers and businesses who’d rather avoid accountability.


Carlos Spottorno, Wealth Management

I’ve been following the work of Carlos Sottorno ever since i discovered PIGS, a satirical portray of “Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain through the eyes of the economists.” Wealth Management takes a similarly critical look at society and attempts to give a face to the world of tax evasion, obscene wealth and governments subordinate-to-master relationship with banks.

The project is a book that pretends to be the brochure of a fake bank called WTF bank. Spottorno traveled to San Marino, Luxembourg, Switzerland and London and looked for the stereotypes and cliches associated with the world of finance. The result is a series of images that blend truth and fiction.


Carlos Spottorno, Wealth Management


Carlos Spottorno, Wealth Management

Sottorno explains in an interview with Canvas:

This kind of imagery that looks like a noir movie – sometimes, not always but in many cases- comes of course from cinema but many look like corporate images: polo players, tailor-made shoes, airport, etc. These are the corporate images you would find in the brochure of a private bank and this is something i’ve been studying in actual brochures or websites of private banks where they often use black and white thinking it is more elegant and classy. This is how they perceive it. And i’ve been studying how these banks communicate their services to us in a very polite way, with beautiful and clean language, both written and visual. But basically what they are saying is “We will help you not to pay taxes.” That’s the baseline. Anything you read ends up there. And the images are related to that: “Enjoy life in an expensive way dont’ worry about anything. We are here to protect you, we have lawyers, we are inside the institutions that will protect your money. Don’t worry about that!”


Carlos Spottorno, Wealth Management


Carlos Spottorno, Wealth Management


Carlos Spottorno, Wealth Management


Carlos Spottorno, Wealth Management

The series that made the strongest impact on my imagination was You Haven’t Seen Their Faces, by Daniel Mayrit. The artist manipulated portrays of the most powerful men and women in the City of London to make them looks as if they were grainy images taken by surveillance cameras and annotated by the police. Brought down to the level of petty thieves and drug dealing suspects, the politicians, bankers and other schemers are assimilated to criminals involved in the 2008 financial crisis but who nvertheless keep on walking the streets in all impunity.


Daniel Mayrit, You Haven’t Seen Their Faces


Daniel Mayrit, You Haven’t Seen Their Faces


Daniel Mayrit, You Haven’t Seen Their Faces


Daniel Mayrit, You Haven’t Seen Their Faces

A few snapshots of the exhibition:

Show Us the Money was curated by Rein Deslé. The exhibition remains open at FOMU, the Photography Museum in Antwerp until 09 October 2016.
There’s an excellent tour of the show with audio interviews of Carlos Sottorno and David Mayrit as well as lots of images on Canvas. The text is in dutch.

Categories: New Media News

AJNHAJTCLUB, a celebration of migrant workers

Fri, 08/19/2016 - 11:14


Bernd Oppl, Crooked Building, 2015


Evelyn Bencicova & Adam Csoka Keller, ASYMPTOTE

AJNHAJTCLUB, an exhibition at frei_raum Q21 in Vienna, celebrates the men and women who came from Yugoslavia (now Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina) to work in Austria.

50 years ago, on 4 April 1966, the two countries signed a contract that regulated the legal and voluntary migration of labor towards Austria, and created the Gastarbeiter (guestworker) phenomenon. Austria needed unskilled workers to support the surge of industrialization and Yugoslavia benefited from the money that workers sent to their families back home.

One of the articles of the agreement stipulated that the newcomers had the right to keep and develop their own cultural identity into workers social clubs. The clubs offered immigrants a way to connect to their roots as much as it kept them away from the street.

That’s from these clubs that the slightly baffling name of the show comes from. AJNHAJTCLUB means oneness or unity club in english. The German word for it is “EINHEIT CLUB” and AJNHAJTCLUB is the phonetic transcription of the word. Because many newcomers to Austria could not speak German this type of spelling was often used to simplify verbal communication between cultures. One of the artists in the show, Goran Novaković aka Goxilla, actually set up a class room in the space upstairs so that visitors can learn to pronounce correctly a look-a-like-language that they can not actually speak.

AJNHAJTCLUB is a contemporary “club” that “aims to unite these migrants’ past and present narratives using contemporary artistic practice and research, providing a look back to inform the future. Although more familiar from black and white imagery, the guestworker phenomenon is still alive. The exhibition shows this phenomenon in full color, complete with animated 3D avatars, modern folklore, interactive performances and contemporary interventions.”

It is tempting to see parallels between the focus of the exhibition and the current refugee situation in Europe. The context is quite different though. While Gastarbeiter came as a result of an agreement between two countries, the people who arrive in Europe today have been forced to leave their home because of the consequence of wars and other global developments.

AJNHAJTCLUB is a brave, timely and intelligent show that celebrates immigration and the economic and cultural contribution it can bring to a host country (i only wish that Trump, Brexiters and their likes across the world would visit it.) AJNHAJTCLUB could have been an exhibition full of gravity, nostalgia and anxiety. And indeed it sometimes features moments as serious as the times we are living but it is mostly a show full of humour, lightness and self-irony.

A quick walk through some of the works exhibited:


Milan Mijalkovic, Arbeiter mit Vorschlaghammer (Worker with Sledgehammer), 2015. From the series Arbeiter

Milan Mijalkovic‘s large format photograph Worker with Sledgehammer portrays a worker on a trash bin in the middle of a construction site. The heroic posture and the bin used as a pedestal celebrate anonymous migrant workers who, every day, physically erect buildings throughout the country.

Milan Mijalkovic, The Monument of the Working Man

The bitter-sweet Monument of the Working Man was one of my favourite works in the show.

The video shows balloons that are seemingly blown up automatically by a machine hidden inside the beige pedestal. But the balloons are actually inflated by a man who barely fits inside the box. The artist found the worker in front of a store where workmen gather and offer illicit labor. A Romanian bricklayer agreed to do it, demanding 1 Euro per balloon.

The deflated balloons on the floor are a sign that the party is over. In this work, the artist adopts the role of the brutal employer, reminding us of the reality, where this kind of
exploitation is carried out on a daily basis. Using people to operate the machines in closed boxes is cheaper than using a reliable machine-operated system
.


Addie Wagenknecht, Optimization of Parenthood, Part 2. Photo: Bernd Oppl

Addie Wagenknecht’s Optimization of Parenting is a robot arm that gently rocks the cradle whenever the baby cries and the mother is at work. The work pays homage to the women who left their home to work in Austria back in the 1960’s. Some of them had to leave their children with the grandparents. The installation also alludes to the fact that in these time of growing automation when many jobs can be done by machines, the roles and tasks of guestworkers are changing.


Bogomir Doringer in collaboration with Nature History Museum Vienna, Curated by Nature, 2016. Photo: Max Kropitz


Bogomir Doringer in collaboration with Nature History Museum Vienna, Curated by Nature. Opening of the exhibition. Photo Foto: eSeL – Joanna Pianka for Q21

Because migrants are often compared to migrant birds, Bogomir Doringer, an artist but also the curator of the exhibition, asked experts from the nearby Natural History Museum to select a series of birds whose narrative could be compared to the one of the guest workers.

Some of the birds in the showcase go back each year to the place they come from. Others stay in the new territory and become part of its ecosystem. Either because they find better living conditions or because their original habitat has changed for the worse. Some of these birds are called “invasive species.”

Interestingly, one of the birds selected is the Eurasian Collared Dove. The species came from Asia via the Balkans to Vienna and is now regarded as a typical Viennese bird.


Evelyn Bencicova & Adam Csoka Keller, ASYMPTOTE


Evelyn Bencicova & Adam Csoka Keller, ASYMPTOTE

In the elegant and almost clinical images produced by Evelyn Bencicova and Adam Csoka Keller, anonymous models pose next to buildings from the socialist period of Slovakia. Their forms seem to merge into the powerful architecture, suggesting that bodies function as pillars for institutional constructions and for an ideology that raised much hope but eventually failed. The work also suggests that to a young generation often described as ‘individualist’, the aesthetic of collective participation must have a very seductive, if abstract, appeal…


Opening of the exhibition. Photo Foto: eSeL – Joanna Pianka for Q21


Krsto Papićs, The Special Trains (film still), 1971


Krsto Papićs, The Special Trains (film still), 1971


Krsto Papićs, The Special Trains, 1971

Krsto Papićs’ The Special Trains is an extremely moving documentary.

It shows how the men who had volunteered to emigrate to Austria or Germany are transported by “special trains.” They are accompanied by a guide who ensures that they will arrive at their final destination quietly and cause as little disorder as possible. Prior to their trip, the workers are submitted to medical inspections to make sure that they will be strong and healthy enough to get a worker permit.

The film maker interviewed a group of these Yugoslavian guestworkers on the train. Many of them had to leave their family behind and most are a bit dispirited, wondering if they had made the right choice, realizing how hard it will be not to see their children, fearing that they will be regarded as second class citizens, lamenting the fact that they will feel uncomfortable in a country they know so little of. The film follows their arrival at Munich main station, where they are led to a basement. From this point on, they are no longer called by their names but by numbers.


Bernd Oppl, Crooked Building, 2015

Bernd Oppl distorted sculpture of a social housing block in Vienna highlights the inherent instability of such spaces. The Crooked Building also reminds visitors that while the guestworkers actually built the structures, they received quite late (compared to other countries) the right to get access to social housing.


Nikola Knezevic, V for Vienna (cropped window), 2016. Photo: Joanna Pianka


Nikola Knezevic. Installation view frei_raum Q21 exhibition space. Photo: Q21


Nikola Knezevic, The Placeholders (three oil paintings), 2016

Nikola Knežević‘s tryptich was another stand-out for me.

V for Vienna (cropped window) is a trophy to a guestworker employed in an aluminum factory in Vienna. Part of his job involved making each of the aluminum windows and doors for the Hilton Hotel in Vienna. The worker feels proud each time he now walks by the hotel.

The Placeholders are Mondrian-style paintings that allude to the presence of the phenomenon of guestworkers on the largest contemporary archive in the world: the Internet. Knezevic did an image search for the word Gastarbeiter and encountered mostly black and white images. Before the images appear on the screen, they are represented by placeholder filled with the dominant colour of each image. The placeholders that emerged while googling Gastarbeiter were sent to an oil painting company in China, where they were turned into abstract paintings and shipped back to Vienna. Everything was commissioned, executed and paid from a distance. The workforce is no longer required to be mobile as it was in the 1960s.


Nikola Knezevic, Not Yet Titled, 2016

The final work in the series, Not Yet Titled, brings side by side an ORF documentary from the 1970s about guestworkers and the opening sequence of Orson Welles’ film F for Fake (1974.) Both films use the same editing technique, the former to depict guestworkers, and the latter to introduce a professional art forger.

In each case, the camera follows a young woman in miniskirt walking in the street while male passersby (unaware that they are being filmed) stop on their track and openly stare at her. The woman in the ORF report is presented as an objectified and slightly threatened victim, while the one in Welles’ movie (who in real life was a Croatian woman living in Vienna), as a powerful temptress who directs men’s desire. The voice over of the ORF film even deplores that the guestworkers came with very few women.

The juxtaposition shows how similar images can be manipulated and given a different interpretation depending on the message that has to be communicated.


Olga Dimitrijevic. Photo Joanna Pianka for Q21

Olga Dimitrijević set up a “celebratory karaoke bar,” where visitors are invited to perform songs based on the lives and favourite songs of ex-Yugoslav women who live and work in Vienna.


Marta Popivoda, Yugoslavia, How Ideology Moved our Collective Body (still from the film), 2013

Marta Popivoda, Yugoslavia, How Ideology Moved our Collective Body (trailer), 2013


Marta Popivoda, Yugoslavia, How Ideology Moved our Collective Body (still from the film), 2013

In the center of the exhibition is a monumental projection of Marta Popivoda’s film study on “Yugoslavia: How Ideology Moved Our Collective Body (2013)”. The film uses archive footage to draw a personal perspective on the history of socialist Yugoslavia and its tragic end. The footage focuses on state performances (such as May Day parades and Youth Day celebrations) and on counter-demonstrations (student and civic demonstrations in the ‘90s, and the so-called Bulldozer Revolution which overthrew Slobodan Milošević in 2000.) Ultimately, the archive images demonstrate how ideology has the power to shape performances of crowds of people operating as one, but it also exposes the power of the same crowds to destroy the ideology.

More images from the exhibition:


Marko Lulic, für ein Denkmal für Migration in Perusic. Photo: Joanna Pianka


Josip Novosel, U Can Sit With Us. Photo: Bernd Oppl


Leyla Cardenas, Overlaying. Photo: Bernd Oppl


Claudia Maté, Untitled


Opening of the exhibition. Photo Foto: eSeL – Joanna Pianka for Q21


Opening of the exhibition. Photo Foto: eSeL – Joanna Pianka for Q21


Opening of the exhibition. Photo Foto: eSeL – Joanna Pianka for Q21

If you speak german, then well done you! You can enjoy this interview that Vice did with curator and artist Bogomir Doringer. Otherwise, i’d recommend the lively audio guide tour with the curator.

AJNHAJTCLUB was curated by Bogomir Doringer. The show remains open at the frei_raum Q21 exhibition space, MuseumsQuartier in Vienna until 4 September 2016.

Categories: New Media News

Bodily Matters: Human Biomatter in Art (part 5. Working with HeLa cells, microflora and other biomedical material)

Wed, 08/17/2016 - 11:17

Previous episodes of Bodily Matters: Human Biomatter in Art: Part 1. The blood session; Part 2. At the morgue; Part 3: On expendable body parts and Part 4. On skin and hair.

Part five (and i can’t believe how slow i am) of the notes i took during Bodily Matters: Human Biomatter in Art. Materials / Aesthetics / Ethics, a symposium that took place a month ago at University College London. The outstanding event explored how artists use the human body not merely as the subject of their works, but also as their substance.

Session 5. The Extended Body: Biomedicine, Micromatter & the Transhuman was the most eclectic and unpredictable one. It investigated issues as diverse as the use of forensic methodologies in art, the presence of human cells outside of the body and the possible role of bacteria in creativity.


Mat Collishaw, Bullet Hole, 1988


Marc Quinn, Self, 1991

In his paper titled The Northern Way to Medical Display: The clinical methodology of Glaswegian artists in the 1990s and Christine Borland’s skeleton-works, Dr. Diego Mantoan (Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, Department of Philosophy & Cultural Heritage) looked at the different attitudes towards the use of clinical materials in the UK artworld in the 1990s.

The 1990s London art scene dominated by young British artists and their provocative approach to the use of human biomatter has long caused scholars to neglect the presence in the United Kingdom of different ways to treat the display of human remains or medical samples in art. Works such as Marc Quinn’s Self (1991), having the author’s own blood in a plaster cast, or Mat Collishaw’s framed images for Freeze (1988), adopting blown-up autopsy stills, appear rather centred on the public effect they would cause, once the viewer is aware of the material used.

During the YBA years, the only real art counterpart to London was Glasgow, in particular the artists who studied at the Environmental Art Department set up by David Harding at Glagow School of Art. Douglas Gordon and Christine Borland were among the first graduates from the course. Their approach to the use of human biomatter and clinical display was radically different from what Londoners were doing. For David Hardling, “the Context is half the work” and the ethos was reflected in the way Glasgow graduates treated biomatter. The Northerns not only engaged with the medical history and the tradition of clinical display but they also followed scientific protocols when dealing with the use of body parts in artworks.

Douglas Gordon, 24 Hour Psycho (extract), 1993

Douglas Gordon became known in the 1993 with 24 Hour Psycho which as its title clearly indicates is a slowed-down version of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film hallmark movie. The work can be seen as autopsy of a hallmark movie.


Douglas Gordon, Trigger Finger, 1996

After that work, Gordon spent 3 years researching found footage, especially medical footage from the 20th century. He wanted to breathe new life into them, to put non artist material into a context that would make it artistic, playing with ways of showing the material (fast forward, slow down, blow up the images, etc.) and giving it new aesthetic quality. He went to the archives of the Wellcome Trust and came back with 4 series of works that use clinical footage related to traumatic consequence of World War II, especially psychological disorders such as schizophrenia.

One of them was Head, a video installation showing a head which displayed signs of life right after it had been severed. The work echoes a scientific experiment done in 1905 by Dr Gabriel Beaurieux. The French doctor witnessed that the severed head of a guillotined murderer called Henri Languille remained responsive for some time after being separated from the body.

The eyelids and lips of the guillotined man worked in irregularly rhythmic contractions for about five or six seconds. [After several seconds], the spasmodic movements ceased… It was then that I called in a strong, sharp voice: “Languille!” I saw the eyelids slowly lift up, without any spasmodic contractions – I insist advisedly on this peculiarity – but with an even movement, quite distinct and normal, such as happens in everyday life, with people awakened or torn from their thoughts. Full text in guillotine.dk.

However, Gordon realized that the images of his video were too powerful and that he had to draw a line:

“I showed Head only once, in Uppsala; I showed it never again, because i was too shocked by the images. I think it worked, but it was very hard.” Douglas Gordon, interview by Hans Haase, 1999.

Maybe that’s why i couldn’t find any image of the work online.


Christine Borland, After a True Story: Giant & Fairy Tales, 1997. Photo Glasgow Museums


The skeleton of the 7.5 feet (230 cm) tall Byrne displayed at the Royal College of Surgeons of England in London (middle of this image.) Photo: Paul Dean (StoneColdCrazy) via wikipedia

Another artist from the Glasgow school who engaged by bodily matters was Christine Borland. The artist used clinical material (in particular human bones, skulls and skeletons) and clinical methodologies in her exploration of how to display forensic science and medicine topics.

The first project featuring biomatters was After a True Story: Giant & Fairy Tales.
The installation features two skeletons. One belonged to ‘Irish giant’ Charles Byrne, the other to “Sicilian Fairy” or “Sicilian Dwarf” Caroline Crachami. Clay casts of the original skeletons, kept at the Royal College of Surgeons, were used to leave traces in dust upon glass shelves. The skeletons were then removed and light is shone through the shelves represent the human bodies in their absence

Their individual stories of the people and the exploitation of their bodies (both while living and after their death) is detailed in the book, The Harmsworth Encyclopaedia, which lies open as part of the installation.

The piece reflects Borland’s interest in how scientists work with human remains in a way that can disregard the individuals’ identities and personal values.


Christine Borland, From Life, 1994. Photo: David Allen/Christine Borland/Simon Starling


Christine Borland, From Life, 1994. Photo: David Allen/Christine Borland/Simon Starling

Another of Borland’s works, From Life, consisted in a forensic reconstruction of a missing woman. She set out to purchase a skeleton (a task far more difficult than expected) and asked a crime scientist specialized in osteology to help her uncover the identity of the skeleton. Based on the forensic reconstitution, the artist made a bronze cast of the head. Her rebuilding of the missing woman aimed at giving a personality and identity back to the anonymous remains.

With that work, Borland also realized that she had reached a point where she went too far and she stopped working so intimately with body matters.


Christine Borland, Family Conservation Piece, 1998. Photo: The Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, University of Glasgow

The heads of Family Conservation Piece were cast from skulls found in the Anatomy Department of the University of Glasgow. They are made from fine bone china and decorated with colours and motifs that recall eighteenth century style porcelain. The work was originally made for an exhibition in Liverpool and the use of bone china pointed to the city’s history as a producer of china but it was also meant to evoke its role in the Slave Trade.

The works of Borland and Gordon are typical of the almost scientific method of the Glasgow school. What the artists also have in common is that at some point during their engagement with medical material they became aware that they might have gone too far. They were ready to take a step back in order to preserve the dignity of the individuals behind the often anonymous bodily remains.


Henrietta Lacks, circa 1945–1951. Photo via nbc

In her paper HeLa: Speculative Identity – On the ‘Survival’ of Henrietta Lacks in Art, Maria Tittel, PhD candidate (Universität Konstanz, Literature Arts Media), looked at two artworks that work with the DNA material of Henrietta Lacks.

Tittel writes in her abstract: Those artworks pose urgent ethical questions concerning the relation between artistic work and scientific research. Which aesthetical and ethical aspects are touched in both fields, respectivley, while using human biomatter as material for (art) work and what are the differences?

Medical researchers use “immortal” cells to study how cells work and how diseases can spread and be treated. These laboratory-grown human cells can grow indefinitely, be frozen for decades and shared among scientists for experiments. The first immortal human cell line was created in 1951 using a tissue sample taken from a young black woman with cervical cancer. Called HeLa cells, the cells were the first ones that could be cultivated outside the body. They quickly became invaluable to medical research and are at the origin of many scientific landmarks, including cloning, gene mapping, developing the polio vaccine and in vitro fertilization.

The donor remained a mystery for decades. HeLa are actually the initial letters of the donor’s name, Henrietta Lacks. Because the cells from her tumor were taken without the knowledge or consent of either the woman or her family, the HeLa cells raise a number of issues related to ethics in biotechnology and to the rights of Afro Americans (who in the early 1950s were different from the rights of white Americans.)


Aleksandra Domanović, HeLa on Zhora’s coat, 2015. Photo: Achim Hatzius


Aleksandra Domanović, HeLa on Zhora’s coat, 2015 (Detail.) Poto: Achim Hatzius

The first work discussed by Tittel was HeLa on Zhora by Aleksandra Domanović. The raincoats are covered in patterns that seem to be abstract but are actually based on medical images of HeLa cells. As for Zhora, she was a replicant in Blade Runner who searched for immortality but died on her way to find it.

The work explore the blurring boundaries between life (the immortal ones of the cells) and death, between the body and the self.


Christine Borland, HeLa, 2001. Photo: Medical Humanities

The other work explored in the presentation was Christine Borland’s HeLa installation which features a Petri dish put under a microscope. The live images of the HeLa cells quickly multiplying in the petri dish are relayed to a screen.

While in a biomedical research lab in Dundee, Borland became interested in the HeLa cells and realised that many of the researchers didn’t know anything about the origin of the material they were using in their work.

Similarly, the text that accompanies the installation is not very specific. The visitor is left wondering what the title “HeLa” stands for, where the cells come from, what the medical image is about. With this piece, Borland seems to be emphasizing the aesthetic aspect of medical imaging that often doesn’t take into account the background of the cell culture used.


Katy Connor, Untitled_Force (Laser engraved porcelain tiles), 2011

In her ‘Untitled_Force’: Becoming Nylon through 3D Print paper, Katy Connor, PhD candidate & visual artist (Bournemouth University, Centre for Experimental Media Research) presented Untitled_Force, a series of digital print and sculptures based on Atomic Force Microscope scans of her own blood.

Despite its microscopic scale, images from this process visually reference satellite photographs of the Earth’s surface, becoming body, landscape, and media simultaneously. Highly magnified, the data is also given form through a series of additive processes; layer upon layer of sintered nylon, these disarticulated fragments lending material shape to these intimate interactions, these entanglements between body and machine.


Bacterial War Games, Incubation Day 2. Photo: Simon Park

In The Extended Self: visualizing the human bacterial symbiont, microbiologist Dr. Simon (University of Surrey, Department of Microbial Sciences) took us on a tour of his adventures in microbiology and art (they are also documented on his blog exploringtheinvisible.)

Park wrote in his abstract: Whilst often ignored, our bacterial aspect (the microbiome), containing 100 trillion normally invisible cells, and 2 million microbial genes, dwarfs our eukaryotic genetics, biochemistry, and physiology. Moreover, many recent studies have begun to reveal the huge impact of the microbiome in terms of our health, its ability to modulate our own behavior and moods, and even its influence on our ability to learn. This paper will explore my practice in terms of the various processes and artworks that I have developed/made in order to reveal this usually hidden but vital aspect of self. These projects range from simple microvideos capturing the movement and activity of my own microflora, to a method for directly projecting the microbiome into the macroscopic world, and finally to a series of unique and autogenic self portraits that result directly from the activity of my microbiome.

First Park quickly defined a few key terms for us:

The microbiome is the aggregate of microorganisms that reside on or inside the body.
The human microbiome is the genomes of the microbiota (microbiomal genes outnumber our human genes by 1 to 100.)
The holobiont is the host plus all its microbial symbionts, including transient and resident members.

In 2000, the microbiologist got infected by a bacteria and was treated with heavy antibiotics. His microbiome was destroyed in the process. He says that he lost at least half of what was once him. A full microbiome eventually returned but it was not the same as the original one. This new microbiota changed Park forever, both physically and mentally.

Park now suffers from illnesses he never had before. Even his mood changed. Bacteria in the gut can influence the production and delivery of neuroactive substances such as serotonin. Mice that are born in germ free environment, for example, have 60% less serotonin.

Simon Park and Heather Barnett, Cellfies: cellular self portraits

Park then decided to look at what he had lost and started collaborating with artist Heather Barnett to develop a series of art & science projects. In one of them, Cellfies, they used a powerful (DIC) microscope to make selfies of themselves at a cellular lever. The microscope reveals nucleated human epithelial cells, bacteria from the microbiome, and cells from the human immune system.

In other works, they used bacterias as inks, as if they were living paints that move around and interact with each other. Each bacteria have their own characteristics. Some are quiet, others move aggressively. The pieces that the scientist and the artist developed together make visible the complexity of the microbiome: it is dynamic, changes everyday and it seemed natural to Park that it could play a role in art.

Park commented the following slide by saying that we have an internal galaxy inside our bodies. The number of stars in a galaxy can be compared to the number of cells in a colony. The images are similar but one was produced using a macroscope, the other was made with a microscope:


Simon Park, “A reflection on scale. Hubble Deep Field View of distant galaxies/my own microbiota (bacteria that live in/on me.)” Image: Simon Park

Photo on the homepage: Christine Borland, English Family China, 1998. Photo: imageobbjecttext.

Categories: New Media News

Andres Serrano. Uncensored photographs

Fri, 08/12/2016 - 11:34

A few weeks ago i took advantage of a long morning in Brussels to visit Andres Serrano. Uncensored photographs at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts.

Uncensored photographs | Andres Serrano

I’ve always liked the work of Serrano. A lot. It’s outrageous, in your face and enjoyably iconoclastic. Portraits of the Ku Klux Klan leaders, close-up of Trump trying his best to look ‘deep’, plastic crucifix immersed into urine, bondage scenes, decaying corpses at the morgue… Shit. His images would be merely anecdotic if they were not also carefully shot, framed, lit and composed.

The exhibition at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts made me realize that until now i had paid the wrong kind of attention to his work. Blinded by the scandalous aura of the images, i had overlooked the compassionate look at society, the deep concern for humanity that a closer inspection reveals. With his portraits of imperfect individuals, Serrano doesn’t judge, he draws a portrait of our deeply flawed society.


Andress Serrano, Killed by Four Great Danes, 1992. From the series The Morgue


Andres Serrano, Blood and Semen V

In an attempt to explain why they chose to present works that caused controversy, criticism and physical attacks, the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium wrote:

To show Serrano means to assert our basic values. Against barbarism and intolerance. Against obscurantism and inhumanity.

I wasn’t expecting to like this retrospective so much. Even the audioguide was not boring. Cunningly, the curator asked Serrano to talk directly about his photos. So that’s all you hear in the audioguide: the voice of the photographer telling you about his experiences, how he met the people he worked with, the challenges he encountered, the motivations behind the images. I could have listened to him for hours.

If you can’t make it to Brussels before the show closes (soon! on 21 August!) then check out this very small selection of the works on show. Most of the little texts underneath are quotes taken from Serrano’s descriptions of his work.


Andres Serrano, Klanswoman Grand Klaliff II, 1990


Andres Serrano, Klansmen (Knight Hawk Of Georgia of The Invisible Empire IV) 1990 © Andres Serrano, Courtesy Galerie Nathalie Obadia Paris/Brussels, THE KLAN SERIES

“The fact that i’m not white made it a bigger challenge, as well as the scandal of Piss Christ made me a natural enemy of the Klan. It was a challenge for them to agree to be photographer by somebody who embodied everything the Klan was against. It was difficult and risky too. Some people saw it as a provocation. Perhaps, but these photographs are first of all a confrontation, the desire to look them in the eye and represent them, because i regard the Klan as the outsider and I am an outsider myself. Aside from our antagonism, this similarity interested me.”


Andres Serrano, Hacked to Death II, 1992. From the series The Morgue

“The Morgue is a place built up around the human body, which is always present. Each photograph works as a portrait, all the stronger because of its singularity. First thing is that I wanted to protect the identity of the people. That’s why they are masked. Using close-up and focusing on details gives their individual qualities more expression. As well as the human being still present, these details symbolize death, sometimes horrible and violent barbaric, sometimes cunning and peaceful.”

Hacked to Death, from the Morgue series, is the portrait of a man killed by his wife. Even though he was stabbed twenty-three times, I was struck by the strong presence of this model, as encapsulated by this wide-open eye staring at the viewer. I felt a sort of threat similar to that of the guns in Objects of Desire. We look at the photograph but it stares back at us. It erects something against us and confronts us. This is an important aspect of my work.”


Andres Serrano, Infection Pneumonia, 1992. From the series The Morgue

“For me, the body of the model in Infectious Pneumonia is like classical painting. That’s how it appeared to me. I never touched any of the bodies I photographed in the mortuary. The sense of drapery and the timelessness of form striving for ideal perfection find singular resolution through connection, as the title indicates, to death 26 through illness, an internal process that attacked the body itself. The classical ideal is asserted and destroyed by its own built-in obsolescence. Its end is inside it.”


Andres Serrano, Rat Poison Suicide II, 1992. From the series The Morgue

Talking about Rat Poison Suicide: “In this photograph, the initial perception from a distance presents a sort of eroticism through the lighting, the velvety material and the sensuality of the skin. But it’s a dead body. The eye doesn’t realize this at first and the image tells us something different from what it is. What the title tells us with the objectivity of the cause of death. Sometimes painful, as in the case of these children, who seem to be asleep and who died of pneumonia or meningitis.”


Andres Serrano, Colt D.A. 45, 1992, from the series Objects of Desire

“The title of this series comes from the Buñuel film That Obscure Object of Desire (1977). I’m a big fan of his work. Having to work in New Orleans, I focused on the weapons that circulate there freely and everything a hand gun can mean as a psychic substitute. There I met gun collectors − men, never women − who treat these weapons like works of art, who respect them, admire them and covet them. The guns I photographed were all loaded. The desire was also a threat. I like the idea of looking death in the eye, of facing danger.”


Andres Serrano, Piss Christ, 1987 © Andres Serrano, Courtesy Galerie Nathalie Obadia Paris/Brussels, IMMERSIONS SERIES

“As a Catholic, i was brought up in the love of Christ, where divinity and humanity, ideal and sacrifice, purity and poverty are mixed. And so it seemed natural to me to immerse a crucifix in urine and call it Piss Christ. This photograph isn’t sacrilegious or blasphemous for me.

Crucifixion is a terrible torture, an act of cruelty that is always present. This small object that is so familiar to us, that we pray and touch with love, do we still see the horror it represents. My Piss Christ is a Christian work, a devotional work in the most traditional sense.”


Andres Serrano, Black Supper, 1990

“Taken in 1990, Black Supper is the last of the Immersions. I had arrived at the end of a road and I hesitated over this subject. Unlike the other Immersions, I used water. Bubbles formed accidentally, making it hard to see the subject. They give the polyptych this unreal, fairytale effect. These five photographs are not one image cut up but five different, separate shots that can form a bigger whole.”


Andres Serrano, Roberts & Luca vandalized


The History of Sex. View of the exhibition space in Brussels

A room separated by heavy black curtains from the main galleries shows works form the series History of Sex. Some of them had been vandalized in 2007 in Lund (Sweden) by a group of masked neo-Nazi. The attack was part of a campaign to protest against decadence and “degenerate art”, a term used by the Nazi regime in the 1930 to condemn virtually all modern art.


Andres Serrano, Fool’s Mask IV,Hever Castle, England (from the series Torture), 2015


Andres Serrano, XXVI-1, 2015. © Andres Serrano, Courtesy Galerie Nathalie Obadia Paris/Brussels, Torture series

“When I did the Torture series, my latest, I had a very strange feeling because I had to act as the torturer and at the same time empathise with the victim. Again, there is the duality: suffering and violence, sacrifice and inhumanity, the torturer and the tortured. The objects all are real and authentic, used to inflict cruelty through history. I found them all over Europe and they remind us of what human beings can do to other human beings. In a sense it is like the other side of Piss Christ, the side of violence and cruelty. With regard to the subjects, some bear direct testimony and others are actors taking part in a tableau vivant.”


Andres Serrano, Kevin Hannaway. From the series ‘The Hooded Men’

Part of a series of photos showing 4 hooded men. Behind the hoods are real members of the IRA (Irish Republican Army) arrested by the British police in the 1970s and held in isolation, hooded all the time. The ordeal lasted years for some of them. Serrano met 4 of these men and asked if he could photograph them in the hoods. Now old, they agreed because the hoods have become an inseparable part of their martyrdom despite the years.


Andres Serrano, Ahmed Osoble, 2015. From the Denizens of Brussels series

The Royal Museums of Fine Arts sent Serrano in the streets of Brussels and he came back with Denizens of Brussels, a very moving series portraying people living and sleeping in the streets of the capital.

Andres Serrano, Denizens of Brussels


Andres Serrano, The Other Christ, 2001


Andres Serrano, Lucas Suarez, Homeless, 2002. From the series America


Andres Serrano, Cross

Andres Serrano. Uncensored photographs is at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium in Brussels until 21 August 2016.

Categories: New Media News

Book review – Japanese Tattoos: History * Culture * Design

Wed, 08/10/2016 - 11:41

Japanese Tattoos: History * Culture * Design, by editor Brian Ashcraft and tattoo artist Hori Benny.

On amazon USA and UK.

Tuttle Publishing writes: Japanese Tattoos is an insider’s look at the world of Japanese irezumi (tattoos).

Japanese Tattoos explains the imagery featured in Japanese tattoos so that readers can avoid getting ink they don’t understand or, worse, that they’ll regret. This photo-heavy book will also trace the history of Japanese tattooing, putting the iconography and kanji symbols in their proper context so readers will be better informed as to what they mean and have a deeper understanding of irezumi. Tattoos featured will range from traditional tebori (hand-poked) and kanji tattoos to anime-inspired and modern works—as well as everything in between. For the first time, Japanese tattooing will be put together in a visually attractive, informative, and authoritative way.


Dr. Masaichi Fukushi and His Collection of Body Art. Photo via imgur

You encounter all kinds of fascinating characters in the Japanese Tattoos book. Tattoo artists who explain how they mastered or re-invented their craft. Men who travel across the world to get a ‘full body suit’ by a famous tattoo virtuoso in Tokyo. The most unusual individual i discovered through the pages was Dr. Masaichi Fukushi, a Japanese scientist who in the early 20th century built up an impressive collection of irezumi taken from donated bodies. Fukushi would remove the tattooed skin off of the corpses (with the consent of the original wearer) and keep them stretched in a glass case. The collection counts over 100 skinned items, many of which are full body suits. They are on display at the Medical Pathology Museum at Tokyo University. Unfortunately, the exhibition is not open to the public.


Image Brian Ashcraft via Stripes

Instead of being yet another publication about all things weird, pop and outrageous in Japan, this book pays homage to the culture, history and symbolic content of irezumi. It explains the most popular motifs and monsters, the tools used, the rules, the different types of ‘body suits’, etc.

There are many difference between western tattoo culture and the Japanese one. We favour a little skull on the shoulder, a rose on the back, or maybe both on the hip. The Japanese don’t shun the ‘full body suit’ and they actually prefer cherry blossoms and octopuses. We show off tattoos. They don’t. Tattoos are personal, private and still associated with the yakuza look. In fact, you could be banned from pools and hot springs if you sport a tattoo and any sign of it peeking out of your jacket could prevent you from getting a job or a loan at the bank.

One of the authors’ confessed objectives is to help foreigners get a deeper understanding of Japanese tattoos and avoid embarrassing mistakes when asking for a kanji tattoo. The case of the humiliating Asian characters tattoo is fairly well-documented online but the book also teaches you that even if you stick to objects, flowers and animals, symbolism is not always universal and the poorly informed might still not get what they were hoping for if they arrive ill-prepared to the tattoo studio.


Image Brian Ashcraft via Stripes


Tattooed Male; attributed to Felice Beato, 1867-1968. Photo ehive


Photo Kotaku


Photo via Kotaku

I really enjoyed this book. I have no tattoo and no intention of ever getting one but i liked the clear and engaging writing style of the authors, the bits and pieces of insider knowledge such as ‘how to tell a Japanese dragon from a Chinese one’, the presence of women tattoo artists and of course the amazing photos of men clad in inked Monk Daruma, Koi fish and Lucky Cats.

Views inside the book:

Hop! A last image of Dr. Masaichi Fukushi:


Dr. Masaichi Fukushi and His Collection of Body Art. Photo via imgur

This way for more tattoos: Tattooists, tattooed and Bodily Matters: Human Biomatter in Art (part 4. On skin and hair).

Categories: New Media News

Bodily Matters: Human Biomatter in Art (part 4. On skin and hair)

Mon, 08/08/2016 - 10:48

Previous episodes of Bodily Matters: Human Biomatter in Art: Part 1. The blood session; Part 2. At the morgue and Part 3: On expendable body parts.


::vtol::, reading my body


Bharti Parmar, Shag (detail), 2012

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

Session 4. Liminal Matters: Self-portraiture, Body Surface & Memory was one of the most fascinating sessions for me. Full of weirdness and wisdom. It started with a 19th century sculptor who made a life-like statue of himself complete with his own hair and teeth, proceeded with a set of artists who work with tattoo and the latest technology and ended up with artworks, socks and other artifacts made of human hair.


Hananuma Masakichi, the artist and his statue. Or vice versa. Photo via Oddity Central

Ana Dosen (PhD candidate (Singidunum University, Faculty of Media & Communication)’s talk Reverse Pygmalion: Hananuma Masakichi’s True ‘Ruin’ looked at a Japanese sculptor who in the late 19th century made a life size statue of himself. Learning he had tuberculosis, Hananuma Masakichi decided he had to make an hyper realistic self-portrait that his girlfriend could love after his death. The statue was made of over 2000 pieces of wood seamlessly assembled using wooden pegs, joints and glue. It was lacquered and painted the same colour as the artist’s own flesh and to make it even more life-like, Masakichi is said to have pulled his own hair, fingernails, toenails and teeth and incorporated them into the artwork. He actually posed next to the sculpture and had people guess which one was the original and which one was the replica.

He died 10 years later, aged 63.

Dosen wanted to analyse the statue in the context of Jacques Derrida’s belief that any self-portrait is always a departure from the original. The artist is either looking at himself or at his canvas and can thus only draw or paint from memory. If an image is always a departure from the referent, especially apparent in self-portrait’s impossibility of emanating the experience of self observing, how selected biological materials of the artist, integrated in the work of art, contribute to “reality” of phantasm? Does human biomatter decrease the temporal distances of ruin in self-portraiture?


Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro of Osaka University in Japan and his own robot double. Image via Wired

Interestingly, someone in the audience drew parallels between Hananuma and Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro who made a robot copy of himself and who undergoes plastic surgery so that he can keep on looking like his robot.

In Killing the Zombie: The Transformation of Contemporary Abstraction through the Translation of the Tattooed Body, Karly Etz, PhD candidate (Penn State University, Art History Department) explored the work of three artists (Alison Bennett, Dmitry Morozov, and Amanda Wachob) who use technology to explore skin as a surface to create art, revive abstract art and challenge the usual dynamics of the art market.

Through their art objects, these artists recognize the importance of the human body as a site of socio-cultural critique and resistance, and utilize that space as a springboard for their commentary, not only on the status of the contemporary art object but also on the place of the human body in an ever-expanding, technological world.

Etz pointed that these artists’ works are highly innovative, they are not the first to use skin as a site of social commentary:


Santiago Sierra, 160 cm Line Tattooed on 4 People El Gallo Arte Contemporáneo, Salamanca, Spain, 2000. Photo Tate

In 2000, Santiago Sierra paid four heroin addict prostitutes the price of a shot of heroin to give their consent to have their back tattooed with a line. The performance not only illuminates the desperation of these women, it also shows the ability of tattoo to highlight the power dynamics at the heart of capitalism.


Mary Coble, Blood Script, 2008

In 2008, Mary Coble had a tattooist write down on her skin (but without ink) all the hate speech she had been exposed to. The beautiful calligraphy shows the pain inflicted by the hurtful words but it also enables the artist to take ownership of the insults.

Now the artworks at the core of Etz’s talk are Shifting Skin, Reading My Body and Skin Data.

Alison Bennett, Shifting Skin, Deakin University Art Gallery, 2013

Shifting Skin explores the blurring boundaries between material and virtual via the skin. Images of human tattooed skin were captured by moving a flatbed scanner directly over the body. When gallery visitors view the work through an app on a mobile screen, the body that had been flattened gets its third dimension back.

The experience merges the virtual and the physical, the embodied and the digital. The viewer must be physically in front of the print and move before it in order to trace the contours of the 3D virtual object.


::vtol::, reading my body


::vtol::, reading my body


::vtol::, reading my body

In his work Reading My Body, artist Dmitry Morozov turned his tattooed arm into a sound controller. The tattoo can be replicated on other bodies but it is incomplete without the accompanying machine. What makes the work interesting is that the artist has created a new kind of abstract work that will evolve as he ages, as his skin wrinkles and thus produces a kind of soundtrack for his own body disintegration and for the gradual obsolescence of the technology he is using.

This artefact combines human body and robotic system into a single entity producing an adaptive system that benefits mutually from each other producing a new creative hybrid.


Amanda Wachob, Skin Data. Photo via Motherboard


Amanda Wachob, Skin Data. Photo via Motherboard


Above: the mapped data from each of Wachob’s tattoo designs. Below: the tattoo design. Image: New Museum, via Motherboard


Amanda Wachob, Skin Data. Photo via The Wild Magazine

Tattoo artist Amanda Wachob collaborated with neuroscientist Maxwell Bertolero to collect and analyze data produced by her tattoo equipment while she is tattooing a subject. The machine (which is otherwise employed in medical context to record brain activity) recorded the time and voltage spent to ink each participant to the project. The information was then translated into colourful motifs.

The three works create an intimate connection between technology and the body, they also provide abstract art with a social dimension that was missing in the last decades.


Bharti Parmar, Shag, 2012


Chiengora socks. Photo via Ecouterre

Ploca-cosmos; hair, entanglement and the universe, the talk by artist & independent scholar Dr. Bharti Parmar investigated artworks and research projects in which human hair features as a central trope.

The title of the talk stems from a book written in 1792 by London hairdresser James Stewart. A neologism combining plocos (hair in greek) and cosmos (universe), ‘plocacosmos’ encapsulates how worlds are reflected in metaphors about hair: bigwig, hair’s breadth, barnet fair, high brow/low brow, etc.

In Victorian times, wearing or crafting jewellery made of or with the hair of a loved one wasn’t anything strange. But nowadays, the idea of using human hair as a fashion, art or design material repels us. Not only because of its association with the horrors of the Holocaust but also because our relationship to ‘dead’ body parts has changed over time. However, Parmar spent 9 months hand-knotting a large shagpile carpet made of human hair using traditional wigmaking techniques. The work is deeply upsetting because of the way it attracts and repels equally.

Categories: New Media News

The butterfly mobile lab of Stefan Cools

Thu, 08/04/2016 - 08:30


Image courtesy of the artist

While visiting an ex soldier training area in Maastricht turned into workshops for designers, swanky bar, park, playground with swings and vintage gas pumps, i met an artist observing butterflies, noting his findings into notebooks and pulling out all sorts of instruments from a bike that doubled as a cart, laboratory and small educational space.

Stefan Cools explores human relationships to other living species: other humans, animals and even plants. Over the past few years, his research has focused entirely on butterflies with a body of artistic, scientific and education works called the “Butterfly House of Stefan Cools.’ He observes the life of the colourful insect, uses as pigment the red fluid that butterflies eject after they leave the chrysalis and travels around the world to work with cultural institutions and schools. Cools has also recently teamed up with the Science program at Maastricht University, to investigate with both scientific rigour and a creative perspective the transformation process of butterflies.


Image courtesy of the artist


Image courtesy of the artist


Image courtesy of the artist

I didn’t have the time to interview him properly while in was Maastricht so i caught up with him over emails:

Hi Stefan! Could you tell us something about your research into butterflies?

My artistic research examines the transformation process of the butterfly: specifically meconium, a substance butterflies secrete after leaving the chrysalis. Not much is known about meconium, except that it contains a lot of hormones and faeces.

The meconium of thistle butterflies (Vanessa cardui), a butterfly species I often study, is red in colour. The research aims to distinguish different meconium colours of various butterfly species. This results in a pallet of colours for use as pigment. Recently I discovered a second colour: ochre from the Silver Y moth (Autographa gamma).

I came for the first time in contact with the art world during a long stay in Australia. I was doing research to some tropical plants in Queensland that live in symbiosis with animals. While we were doing field research in the tropical rainforest we came across some bowers of different types of the bowerbirds. The complex bowers of these birds, decorated with flowers, shells and other small decorations and their strange courtship behaviour were fascinating myself so much that I started to do research to the bowerbirds. The bowers that these birds build are complex architectural master pieces where they work on for weeks. After the “buildings” are finished they start decorating them. During the courtship the female is choosing the male to mate with on the bower they have build and decorated so they must have as I believe, some sense of beauty. Speaking about this with some biologist; they didn’t agree with me about this and in their believe I was more seeing it from the human perspective instead of the natural perspective. I was projecting my own ideas on the birds they were saying. And from that moment I saw the value of my way of looking into nature. The freedom of interpreting my own thoughts on the topic of research. On the same moment when I was doing the research on the bowerbirds I came in contact with a curator of the art museum in Cairns, The Cairns Regional Gallery. As a regular visitor of musea and galleries we have spoken a lot about art, aboriginal art and the relation of aboriginal art with nature. The curator was working on a new exhibition about nature and art and she invited me to join the show with the results of the research I was doing to the bowerbirds.


Image courtesy of the artist

The freedom as artist gives me the freedom during my research to think on a different way than biologists do. You called me a biologist but I haven’t any paper for that, so I don’t call myself a biologist. I understand because I present my work like biologist do that sometimes it’s not very clear for people if I’m an artist, biologist or scientist. I feel myself more like an artist with a background as botanist. And the knowledge as botanist I can use in my research I do nowadays.

For the project’s scientific development, I recently teamed up with Maastricht University, who are going to make scientific studies on the transformation process of butterflies using my artistic perspective as their starting point. The questions like:

‘What is the compositon of the meconium?’ How can you manipulate this (food, temperature etc.)? What other uses are there? ‘Why is the colour of the meconium colourfast and doesn’t oxydize?’ ‘What other colours are there?’ Can you manipulate the colour?

We don’t know yet what could come out of these studies but I can believe that there will be lots of interest for example on the outcome of the question why the meconium of butterflies is colourfast instead of the colour of most natural liquids that oxydize.


Image courtesy of the artist


Image courtesy of the artist


Image courtesy of the artist

What is the Vlindermobiel? How do you use it? and what is it made of?

The Vlindermobiel is a project that I had for a long while in my mind. And now after a very successful crowdfunding campaign we have realised the Vlindermobiel.

I often do fieldwork and I always have to take a lot of tools with me. I was having the problem that I couldn’t take all the tools with me that I wanted and that was frustrating me. At the same time, I was working on an idea for an educational project with children. But I wanted to do a project not only on a school but also on a festival or a museum or in nature too. So the idea of the Vlindermobiel was born.

The Vlindermobiel is a mobile that just like a butterfly can transform in different shapes. It can be a butterfly cage for living butterflies to study, it can transform into a laboratorium and the Vlindermobiel can transform into another shape for education. In the educational project, children can learn about butterflies and their transformation process.

So it depends where the Vlindermobiel is travelling too, how he is packed and in what kind of shape it will transform in.


Image courtesy of the artist


Image courtesy of the artist


Image courtesy of the artist


Image courtesy of the artist

Could you tell us something about the work you created for the Verbeke Foundation?
There is a short description online but it is not super clear.
http://www.verbekefoundation.com/en/all-artists/stefan-cools-nl-o1981/ is it a permanent piece or a temporary installation?

Geert Verbeke has seen my work two years ago during an exhibition at RAM Foundation in Rotterdam. Verbeke invited me to the Verbeke Foundation and asked me if I was interested to join the summer exhibition with my research. There I have build in one of the greenhouses my installation that is now on permanent view. The Verbeke Foundation has given me the possibility to do my research for the coming years at the foundation. In fact it’s an installation with nectar plants and host plants for the butterflies and a laboratory. The outcomes of the research together with new pieces that I make are added to the installation. So the installation is growing and transforming every year.


Image courtesy of the artist


Image courtesy of the artist

I think you’ve traveled to many countries for your research. Could you tell us about the differences your encountered from country to country regarding the butterflies?

I think that the big difference is the season of the butterflies. In the Netherlands because of the cold winters some butterflies stay in the Netherlands as butterfly, some butterflies overwinter as cocoon and some immigrate to a warmer climate. So we have have two peak moments that we see lots of butterflies. That’s in spring and end summer beginning of the autumn. Next year I’ll do research in Australia in the tropics of Queensland. In the tropics there are not much differences in winter and summer so there are during the whole year butterflies. That means that instead of one or two and sometimes three generations of butterflies in Europe, there will be probably more generations born in Australia in one year. That will be very interesting to see because that means that the climate in the tropics is very good for the butterflies and the time of transformation from egg to butterfly will be faster than in Europe. I can imagine that this can have consequences of the colours of the meconium of the tropical butterflies.

I believe that wonder is one of the most important things in live. I wonder every day while working in and with nature. That’s the basic that I need for my art, without wonder I can’t work. It can be found in the simple things of life. And that is something I want to show to the public with my educational projects. I believe that wonder is something that makes you feel more connected to everything you are surrounded with, I think that this is something we are loosing nowadays if we are not learning again how to wonder.

When i met you in Maastricht, i asked you if climate change was having any negative impact on the butterfly population but you seemed to say that it was actually good for them. Could you tell us more about it? How are the new condition benefiting (or not) the butterflies? How do you explain it?

That’s not completely true, at the moment climate change is negative for the butterflies. Like the last winter was so warm that some of the butterflies were coming out of their cocoon too early because they where thinking seen the temperature that it was spring. But on that moment so early in the year the butterflies can not find any nectar plants to feed from. Because those were not yet in blossom.

But what I meant to say is that what we see is negative doesn’t need to be negative for the butterflies. Butterflies are very good at adapting to new conditions. I think the monoculture is something more to worry about. That is what we want to tell to the people with the Butterfly Gardens we are creating. Plants that we see as weeds in the garden and parks are very important for butterflies. Most of the host plants where the caterpillars eat from are weeds. Without those weeds the butterflies will disappear.


Image courtesy of the artist


Image courtesy of the artist

Any upcoming research, project, event you could share with us?

I’m heading to Australia again next year. This time I will be working at the laboratory of The Butterfly sanctuary in Kuranda for 2 weeks. And after that at Tanks Arts Centre / Botanical Gardens in Cairns for 3 weeks. These residencies are part of my long term project. During this period I will perform research on the tropical butterflies that can be found in Cairns and surroundings. The results of these projects will be presented at The Verbeke Foundation in Fall 2017.

After the research period in Australia I’ll go in June 2017 to do a Residency at the Van Gogh Huis in Zundert (NL). During a month I will research the butterflies Vincent could have seen during his childhood in Zundert. I will make a reconstruction of the garden of his parental house.

Thanks Stefan!

The Tapijnkazerne area which i visited during the Week of New Maastricht:

Categories: New Media News

Bodily Matters: Human Biomatter in Art (part 3: On expendable body parts)

Mon, 08/01/2016 - 09:26

Previously: Bodily Matters: Human Biomatter in Art (part 1. The blood session).
Bodily Matters: Human Biomatter in Art (part 2. At the morgue).

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


Dr. Laini Burton speaking at Bodily Matters


Bioengineering, 3D cell printing. Photo: Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, via Gizmodo

The third and last session of the day was titled ‘Second Skins.’ I’ve searched everywhere, even inside the laundry bag, but it seems that i’ve lost the notes i was taking during the second part of that session. So all i’m left with is what i scribbled while listening to Dr. Laini Burton (Griffith University, Queensland College of Art.)

Her talk Printed flesh, fashioned bodies investigated how we fashion our bodies and speculated on the many shapes that the human form might adopt in the future with the help of science, technology and engineering. By doing so, Burton is hoping to prompt a conversation about how we value body. She wrote in her abstract of the talk:

Contextualized through a discursive range of examples spanning across art, design and popular culture, this paper will reflect on some of the ethical implications that arise when considering biofabricated flesh as a medium. In particular, it will consider whether the examples enacted in cultural production will transcend the imagination to become adopted within mainstream culture in the future. In doing so, it will ask the question: Will such a development embolden us to redesign our bodies, where we no longer need to commit to one ‘look’ or ‘style’ but can embody a range of features in a fashioning of the flesh?

3D printing technology is particularly promising in the medical field. It can be used to create noses, ears, lips and other facial parts that trauma patients have lost or that have been damaged. It is particularly useful in Australia where skin cancer is rife.


The 3-D printed parts feature realistic skin color. Photo: Fripp Design via Wired

Because they are made of bio-compatible materials, the 3D printed parts have to be replaced regularly, every 6 to 12 months approx. But the original file can be saved and easily reprinted on demand. Burton sees this as data and flesh grafted together.

The leap in 3D printing capabilities means that one day we might see the technology as a panacea for all physiological problems but we might also start considering living matters as being expendable, as being something that we can swap, recompose and replace easily. Applied outside of the medical field, 3d printing could become an important asset in cosmetic surgeries. Cosmetic fanatics wouldn’t have to commit to one look, to one style.


Artist Stelarc and his third ear. Photo AFP via The Independent

Burton suggests looking into art and designs as disciplines that stir technological processes into the broader cultural debate.

Early proponents of the recomposed, unstable and reproducible flesh are obviously Stelarc and Orlan. Both are pioneers in the way they invite us to reconsider the relationship between the body and the technologies we use to transform it. Stelarc believes that the way we consider the body is obsolete:

“It is no longer meaningful to see the body as a site for the psyche or the social, but rather as a structure to be monitored and modified,” he wrote. “The body not as a subject but as an object – not as an object of desire but as an object for designing.”


Henry Damon, left, has altered his face to look like Red Skull. Photograph: Getty

In certain subcultures, transforming the body is a form of self-expression. An extreme case of this is Henry Damon who cut off his nose, had subdermal implants in his forehead and tattooed his face red to look like Marvel villain Red Skull.

We could also add the examples of the Human Barbie and the Human Ken Doll.

With the arrival of 3D printing prosthesis using bio-compatible material, we might see more and more of these extreme body modifications reaching the mainstream. What could once only be imagined is now only a matter of time. In the future, designer flesh could be a fixture of beauty and fashion.

Burton also noted that when she is talking about modification, she’s not considering elective amputation which is often the result of Body Integrity Identity Disorder called apotemnophilia.


Aimee Mullins in Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle

Hyper sophisticated and customizable prosthetic body parts could give rise to prosthetic envy. Athlete and model Aimée Mullins has inspired many artists and designers. She appeared in Matthew Barney’s Cremaster 3 as six different characters. She owns a wardrobe of different sets of lower legs (including the wooden ones made for her by Alexander McQueen) that she picks up according to her mood. The famous “Cheetah” carbon-fibre sprinting legs (still worn by athletes nowadays) were designed for her in 1995.

Viktoria Modesta, Prototype

Viktoria Modesta, “the world’s first amputee pop artist”, also chose to embrace alterity. An article about the artist in The Guardian explains that her prosthetics are made by the Alternative Limb Project. Company founder Sophie de Oliveira Barata says about her clients: “They appear to hold themselves more proudly. I think this is a combination of how it feels to wear the piece itself and the fact that they have been so involved in the process. Generally, when [my] clients wear their prosthetic limbs, they receive positive attention, as it breaks down barriers. Rather than pity, people view them with curiosity, and in many cases have even shown signs of genuine envy, all of which is empowering for the wearer. Some clients reserve their alternative limbs for special occasions, and in those moments they can explore an alter ego. Others see it as part of their day-to-day identity.”

These two cases, as well as the high performances achieved by athletes wearing prosthetic legs point to a future where prosthetic limbs will been seen as having more advantages than the ones made of flesh. They don’t tear, they don’t fatigue, they never get weak. In this future, limbs will not just be repaired, they will improve us. And make us think that the natural us are ‘disabled.’

3D printed body parts and other prosthetics allow for more creative construction of the body, for an altered topography of our own flesh. So maybe in the future the natural body will not be enough and there will be a huge market for human enhancement.


Nicky Ashwell with her anatomically accurate new hand. Photo: Laura Lean/PA, via The Guardian

And with that will come techno fetishists who are too fascinated by new technologies to take into account the daily reality of wearing prosthetic parts. Patients who have received bionic limbs, such as Nigel Ackland and Nicky Ashwell talk of the excitement of being able to enjoy all their limbs again but also of the real physical pain wearing them produces.


WhiteFeather Hunter, Crafting Biotextiles

The other talks of the day were:
Touch and Trace: Ethical methodologies for encountering Körper skin in critically reflective design practice by Dr. Tarryn Handcock (RMIT University, School of Fashion and Textiles.) She talked about The Anatomy Museum and The Dust Project, two works which look at dust and in particular dust made of human skin as a context for designing and wearing artefacts of dress, which is underpinned by the conceptual framework of a skin that wears.

In The witch in the lab coat: Conjuring flesh into mesh, artist WhiteFeather Hunter presented the works she developed during three years of laboratory-based residencies focusing on tissue culture. This work, situated within the framework of Feminist Materialism, analyzes the “craft” practice of tissue engineering as a form of haptic epistemology—that is, an embodied enactment/mimicry/redesign through creative and scientific means of the inherent haptic intelligence of the body and its biological systems of growth, repair and regeneration.

Categories: New Media News

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

Thu, 07/21/2016 - 10:51

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Teresa Margolles, Aire. Photo Strozzina

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

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


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


Teresa Margolles, Bandera (Flag), 2009

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


The Vrolik Musuem; Amsterdam. Photo via Morbid Anatomy

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

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

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

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

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

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


Damien Hirst, With Dead Head, 1991

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

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


Anthony Noel-Kelly, Guilded Man, 1997

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

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


Damien Hirst, For the Love of God, 2007

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Categories: New Media News

Extra Fantômes. The real, the fake, the uncertain

Mon, 07/18/2016 - 11:07

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


onformative, Google Faces, 2013

onformative, Google Faces – Google Earth Flight Animation

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

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


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

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

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

Semiconductor, Magnetic Movie, 2007

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


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

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

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


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


Adam Harvey, Stealth Wear


Adam Harvey, Stealth Wear

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


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

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

Heather Dewey-Hagborg, Invisible

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


Catalogue Extra Fantômes


Catalogue Extra Fantômes

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

More images from the exhibition:


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


Mathieu Schmitt, Oui Ja, 2013


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


Malte Martin, Spectres, 2014


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


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

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

Categories: New Media News

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

Thu, 07/14/2016 - 11:22


Croix Gagnon and Frank Schott, Project 12:31

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

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

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

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


Angela Strassheim, Evidence No. 2, 2009


Angela Strassheim, Evidence No. 13, 2009


Angela Strassheim, Evidence (pitchfork), 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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


Angela Strassheim, Evidence No. 8, 2009

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


Marc Quinn, Self 2006, 2006

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

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

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

Source Data for Photography/12:31

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

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

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


Croix Gagnon and Frank Schott, Project 12:31


Croix Gagnon and Frank Schott, Project 12:31

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

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


Zane Cerpina, Body Fluids

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

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

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

Categories: New Media News

Oscillations. Or the grace of unpredictability

Mon, 07/11/2016 - 10:45


Joris Strijbos, Axon, 2016. Photo by Bresadola+Freese/drama-berlin.de for NOME Gallery

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

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

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


Joris Strijbos, Homeostase, 2016. Photo by Bresadola+Freese/drama-berlin.de for NOME Gallery


Opening | Oscillations by Joris Strijbos. Photo by Bresadola+Freese/drama-berlin.de for NOME Gallery

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

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

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

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

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


Joris Strijbos, Homeostase, 2016. Photo by Bresadola+Freese/drama-berlin.de for NOME Gallery


Joris Strijbos, Homeostase, 2016. Photo by Bresadola+Freese/drama-berlin.de for NOME Gallery

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

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


Joris Strijbos, Homeostase


Joris Strijbos, Homeostase


Joris Strijbos, Homeostase, 2016. Photo by Bresadola+Freese/drama-berlin.de for NOME Gallery

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

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


Joris Strijbos, Axon, 2016. Photo by Bresadola+Freese/drama-berlin.de for NOME Gallery


Joris Strijbos, Axon, 2016. Photo by Bresadola+Freese/drama-berlin.de for NOME Gallery


Joris Strijbos, Axon, 2016. Photo by Bresadola+Freese/drama-berlin.de for NOME Gallery

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

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


Opening | Oscillations by Joris Strijbos. Photo by Bresadola+Freese/drama-berlin.de for NOME Gallery


Opening | Oscillations by Joris Strijbos. Photo by Bresadola+Freese/drama-berlin.de for NOME Gallery

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

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

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

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

Thanks Joris!


Opening | Oscillations by Joris Strijbos. Photo by Bresadola+Freese/drama-berlin.de for NOME Gallery

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

Categories: New Media News

Entertainment for times of suspicion and uncertainty

Wed, 07/06/2016 - 03:37


Calum Bowden, Calls of Duty, 2016


Calum Bowden, Calls of Duty, 2016


Calum Bowden, Calls of Duty (trailer), 2016

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

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


Calum Bowden, Oxygen of Terror, 2016


Calum Bowden, Oxygen of Terror, 2016

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

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

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

I had a quick chat with the young graduate:

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

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

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

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


Calum Bowden, Calls of Duty, 2016


Calum Bowden, Calls of Duty, 2016

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

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

Here are some of the different contributions people have made:

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


Calum Bowden, Calls of Duty, 2016


Calum Bowden, Calls of Duty, 2016

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

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

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


Calum Bowden, Oxygen of Terror, 2016


Calum Bowden, Oxygen of Terror, 2016

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

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

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

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

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


Calum Bowden, Oxygen of Terror, 2016


Calum Bowden, Oxygen of Terror, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


Installation view at the RCA Graduation show

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks Calum!

All images courtesy of Calum Bowden.

Categories: New Media News

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

Mon, 07/04/2016 - 10:55


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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Janez Janša, Janez Janša and Janez Janša, Trust


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


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

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

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

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


Nigerian National Identity Smart Card. Photo: MasterCard


Nigerian National Identity Smart Card. Photo: MasterCard

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

Thank you Janez Janša, Janez Janša and Janez Janša!

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

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

Categories: New Media News

RAVE. Rave and Its Influence on Art and Culture

Wed, 06/29/2016 - 12:41

RAVE. Rave and Its Influence on Art and Culture, edited by art curator Nav Haq.

It’s on amazon UK and USA.

black dog publishing writes: Rave: Rave and Its Influence on Art and Culture is one of the first publications to critically engage with the historical rave movement of the 1980s and 1990s as it relates to contemporary art and visual culture.

Following the death of industrial Europe, rave emerged as Europe’s last big youth movement. This book considers the social, political and economic conditions that led to the advent of rave as a ‘counterculture’ across Europe, as well as its aesthetics, ideologies and influence on contemporary art and beyond. Combining specially commissioned texts, interviews and factual material, the book represents a broad range of artistic practices, including the work of Jeremy Deller, Rineke Dijkstra, and Daniel Pflumm, amongst many others.

In addition to artistic contributions, the book features texts by Mark Fisher and Nav Haq, as well as interviews with Walter van Beirendonck, the famous Belgian fashion designer; and Renaat Vandepapeliere and Sabine Maes, who run the legendary R&S Records.


Andreas Gursky, May Day III, 1998

Of course i was going to love this book. It features great artworks and insightful essays, it’s beautifully designed, but it also explores a cultural phenomenon i actually experienced back when i was wearing crazy fluorescent bomber jackets and unflattering combat trousers. (And there goes my pretension to write an objective review…)

Rave, that underground cultural phenomenon from the ‘80s and ‘90s, might feel incredibly distant and dated. Yet, as the publication demonstrates, much of what made and shaped the movement find echoes in today’s post 2008 crash society.


Erik Plenge Jakobsen, Everything is Wrong, 1996

First of all, rave provided an escape for those who felt lost in front of the decline of industrialism, the rise of neoliberalism and the erosion of state welfare, it gave them a sense of togetherness, of belonging to an open culture, of eluding formal structures of control.

Then of course there’s the key role played by technology. Rave music explored emerging and existing technologies, at a time when instruments became more affordable, more portable and easier to master without the need of a traditional music education. Technology also gave way to new sounds, new beats, new cut&paste and samplings and even new experiments in subverting historical sonic weapon technology in order to bring people together. Last but not least, the period saw the birth of the internet.

Unfortunately, raves were also the object of police crackdown and governmental attempts to criminalise them (making them even more appealing to young people obviously.) The Mariani Law in France, for example, linked raves to terrorism. Curator and book editor Nav Haq writes that the rave movement was not a political one. Instead, it was politicised through its criminalization by the state.


A Glossary of Rave, as illustrated by graphic designer Jelle Maréchal

As the editor of the book notes, rave remains a fairly under-explored youth movement (it’s been less dissected in studies, exhibitions and literature than punk, for example.) It is both familiar and a bit foreign. The chapter titled “Glossary of Rave” illustrates this point quite easily when it brings together words i wasn’t expecting to find gathered in the same chapter. Some are mainstream today, others are a bit forgotten, all have left marks on contemporary culture: Kraftwerk, Gabber, Haçienda, Belgian Hoover, KLF, Accelerationism, Relational Aethetics, Sonic Weapons, Sonic Weapons, Wolfgang Tillmans, etc.

It probably doesn’t matter whether you raved or whether your mum and dad fell in love and conceived you after yet another rave party, you’re bound to find RAVE. Rave and Its Influence on Art and Culture surprising, informative and highly entertaining.

Quick look at some of the works i discovered in the publication:

Irene de Andrés, FESTIVAL CLUB. Where Nothing Happens, 2013

Festival Club was an unsuccessful big entertainment complex with two stages in Ibiza. After it officially closed, the site was used for clandestine raves in the 80s and early 90s. In 2013, Irene de Andrés went back to Festival Club, found only weeds and rumble and invited one of the most famous DJs of Ibiza’s 1980s nightlife to perform a set of balearic and house with only the decaying structure as his audience.


Cory Arcangel, The AUDMCRS Underground Dance Music Collection of Recorded Sound, 2011-12

From 2011 to 2012, Cory Arcangel’s studio archived almost 900 trance LPs that had been purchased from a 1990s trance DJ. Visitors can listen to the LPS in The AUDMCRS Underground Dance Music Collection of Recorded Sound and read through a booklet containing all relevant data (format, size, speed, generation, etc.) about each record. The project underlines the personal obsession often involved with collecting, as well as Arcangel’s own interest in preserving a cultural history that relates to his work and life. “It is said that the music we hear as teenagers is, and will always be, the most important music for the rest of our lives. For me, this music is techno – the cheap, voiceless, machine-age disco that became popular in the clubs of Chicago in the late 1980s and from there quickly spread throughout the globe” (Arcangel, 2011).


Jeremy Deller, Acid Brass, 1997. Band members warming up on the South Bank, London

The Williams Fairey Band, Acid Brass – What Time Is Love


Jeremy Deller, The History of the World, 1997 (image)

“I drew this diagram about the social, political and musical connections between house music and brass bands – it shows a thought process in action,’ said Jeremy Deller. “It was also about Britain and British history in the twentieth century and how the country had changed from being industrial to post-industrial. It was the visual justification for Acid Brass. Without this diagram, the musical project Acid Brass would not have a conceptual backbone.”

Denicolai & Provoost, Nothing, 2005

In 2005, Denicolai & Provoost arranged for police vehicles, fire engines and ambulances to drive around the SMAK museum in Ghent, all siren blasting. The artists were inside the museum, organizing a rave party ‘providing the sense of an illicit event whilst surrounded by the sound of the authorities.’


Mark Leckey, Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore, 1999


Matt Stokes, MASS, Exhibition View at De Hallen, Haarlem, 2011, Photo Gert van Rooij, M HKA Archive

MASS is a sound system that grows in size thanks to donations of speakers and other components from the public. The work is reconfigured differently whenever it is exhibited, acting as a sculptural metaphor for the people brought together in congregation.


Walter Van Beirendonck, Hard Beat collection, 1989-1990 (Exhibition view.) Photo M HKA

Walter Van Beirendonck‘s Hard Beat collection from Autumn/Winter 1989 took inspiration from the Belgian new beat phenomenon and made use of innovative industrial fabrics from the worlds of sport and safety, such as reflective material. Some of the designs in the collection incorporate the Sony Walkman, the 80s symbol of mobile music.

RAVE. Rave and Its Influence on Art and Culture is the catalogue of ENERGY FLASH. The Rave Movement, an exhibition on view at M HKA in Antwerp until 25 September 2016.
Also in the show: Brown Sound Kit. ‘Toilet humour for gallery space’.

I’ve been shouting my love for Walter Van Beirendonck before: Walter Van Beirendonck: Dream the world awake, The Art of Fashion: Installing Allusions (Part 2).

Categories: New Media News

Sounds from bridges, ventilation systems and other industrial spaces. An interview with Jonas Gruska

Mon, 06/27/2016 - 11:21


Jonáš Gruska, Vzduchotechnika


Jonáš Gruska. Photo by Gabriela Zigova

When Jonáš Gruska is not busy giving workshops on urban sonification, creating his own recording instruments, rehearsing with orchestras, making electromagnetic fields audible, producing compositions for an unused metallic door, or organizing a solar-powered (experimental) music festival called ZVUK, you’ll find him under bridges, inside bridges, in ventilation systems or near oil refineries exploring the surprising psychoacoustic properties of spaces and materials we might otherwise ignore.

If all these activities and achievements were not enough, the artist has also set up LOM, a music label for East/Central European experimental art and music.


Prototype instrument developed by the artist. Photo by Jonáš Gruska

Gruska was born in Czechoslovakia, he studied at the Institute of Sonology in The Hague and at the Music Academy in Kraków. This year, he is one of the super talented artists supported by SHAPE, a European platform that aims to promote innovative musicians and interdisciplinary artists with an interest in sound. I caught up with the sound prodigy over email a few days ago:

Hi Jonas! Your bio page says that one of your main focus are chaotic rhythms. These two terms are not often put together. Could you tell us what you mean by chaotic rhythms and also give some examples of it?

We’re surrounded by rhythms all the time – banging of the rain on the metallic roof, repetitive dripping of liquids in the fridge mechanism or just simple footsteps of a person in the apartment above. None of these rhythms can be defined in the terms of classic tempo notation, but we still sometimes feel their groove and they can strike our imagination or musical taste/ pattern recognition in interesting ways. The unpredictability is chaos, yet the time separated serie of “clicks” is a rhythm.


Site Specific Resonances V.

Site Specific Resonances V., a site-specific sound installation located in an abandoned post office building in Vienna, used a ventilation system as if it were a speaker. Could you describe us how you manage to ‘extract’ so many different sounds from something that looks as ‘boring’ and simple as a ventilation system?

Metallic constructions are fascinating to me because they resonate a lot, in many interesting ways. It is usually the weak points of the construction which moan and squeal the most. I love finding and exploiting these imperfections – I compose for them on the spot, treating them as very special instruments. Usually it is enough to play pure, simple sine wave through the system at very exact frequency and the whole thing starts to rattle and click, resonate. Basic input, beautifully complex output.

Jonáš Gruska, Kolokoly, 2013. Performance for bells at Kamenné square, Bratislava, Slovakia

You’ve created several works for specific places and each of them seems to either highlight or even modify the atmosphere of the places you engaged with. How do you select these places?

These places usually select me. I am being invited to create works and so far I have been very lucky and always found a way to interact with the site. I carry my custom “sound installation suitcase” assembled over last few years and it allows me to be very flexible with what I create.
Generally I believe it is next to impossible to make sound installations without caring about the site, since there is no standard of a sonic “white wall gallery”. I personally cannot imagine creating a installation which is not site-specific.


Inside a bridge in Bradislava. Photo by Angakok Thoth

And are there any dream locations you’d like to get access to in order to create new sound installations/recordings?

Recently I’ve been blessed with a permit to record inside one of the old soviet bridges in Bratislava, Slovakia. The recordings will be part of my “bridge” album which I am assembling.
One of my dreams is to record various slovak caves, but it is quite hard to get there alone and in silence (since every little noise gets drastically amplified, it is quite difficult to achieve good recording conditions in nonsolitary groups).


Vzduchotechnika. Photo by Jonas Gruska

Jonáš Gruska, Vzduchotechnika (teaser)

I like “Vzduchotechnika” a lot. The series of field recordings was taken from publicly inaccessible ventilation system machinery. How did you get access to it? Does the history of the place translates into the recordings?

At the time I was preparing a site-specific performance using the outer part of the ventilation – huge tubes at the side of the building, similar to the ones next to Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. The facilitators of the whole thing pointed out that the “innards” might be just as interesting… So I packed my recording gear and spent several hours surrounded by huge ventilation machinery. At the first glance it sounded quite dull, but upon closer examination I discovered that the place is full of small rhythms, squeals and squeaks. And I really love those. I wouldn’t say there is anything more behind it – it is just a collection of very cute and peculiar sounds, from a seemingly boring place.

I’m also curious about the sound recordings and the way you work with them. How do you decide how/when you need to modify the existing sound and when you need to keep them raw?

Generally most of my public field recording works are 90 to 100% raw, I rarely do any heavy equalization or compression. I generally try to record only when I am really happy with the sound already on the spot and don’t think about postprocessing. Obviously, it involves a lot of trying and listening, and usually takes a lot of time.

Something i noticed is that you seem to select places that are also visually interesting. Is this deliberate? Is the visual component of a space an important element of each work?

It is mostly accidental… I was lucky. My primary focus is sound.


Testing a prototype device. Photo by Acidmilk

You also make your own music instruments and microphones. Why did you feel there was a need to develop more instruments and microphones? What do they enable you to achieve that you wouldn’t be able to achieve with already existing instruments?

In the beginning it was mostly about limited resources. I was working on a budget, yet had a nerdy desire to do recordings with as little noise as possible and high fidelity. So I looked into DIY solutions for field recordists, and realized it can be actually quite interesting.

Since I was able to make affordable, good sounding mics, I was also less afraid to experiment. Like when I found a hole in the ground, I wasn’t afraid to drop my mic in it, even though I had no idea what sort of environement will it be confronted with.
Having a replacable mic helps a lot when you feel like trying new things. I even did a short piece where the mic is hidden in a croissant and it is being “uncovered” by pigeons – I would be quite scared to do that with expensive microphone.

Jonáš Gruska, Holuby, 2015. How it sounds to be eaten when you are a bread roll

Secondly, the market is surprisingly still quite limited when it comes to the field recording I am after. And the same goes for instruments, none of the available solutions didn’t really satisfy me or match my style of work. For my musical performances, I program my own synthesizers in languages such as Supercollider or Max, because there is nothing ready-made I could use. It is a lot of work, but liberating. And somewhat more satisfying.


Rúry, 2014. Photo by Jonas Gruska

Jonáš Gruska, Rúry, 2014

Rúry seemed to draw in a crowd of fascinated and curious passersby. Could you tell us about the reaction of the public to this piece and to your site-specific work in general?

Rúry is actually piece from the other side of Vzduchotechnika – the tubes are the other end of the ventillation machinery I was recording.

Generally the audience is full of people which know what they are up for, or at least they can guess. People are generally perplexed by the new context created… sometimes annoyed as well. The other day I did a live performance in a trolleybus in Bratislava. It consisted of me carrying a huge speakers on my back and doing live sonification of the trolleybus electromagnetic fields. The sounds were quite intense and there were moments when I confronted unsuspicious audience – some of the people were shocked, some were laughing, some were complaining but generally people loved it. It just broke their usual perception of the vehicle and how a sound performance can be done. And I love breaking stereotypes and creating new, challenging situations.

Do you feel that people understand and appreciate sound art as much as visual art?

I think it is slowly coming there. There is a slight overlap with the people appreciating visual art, but generally it seems like a completely different world.
I quite like the raise of ASMR art on youtube. It isn’t exactly good art (in my opinion), but bring a lot of focus on sound, time and sound quality. It feels refreshing.

I don’t know much about the contemporary art scene in Slovakia unfortunately. Are there artists and musicians whose work you’d recommend us to look at? Whether they work with computers and electronics like you or not.

I would recommend checking labels such as Exitab and Proto sites. Some interesting stuff going on there, slightly less experimental then the label I am involved with, LOM (which is obviously also worth checking out!). My most favorite Slovak band is probably Amen Tma, which is an incredible psychedelic polyrhythmic techno.

Any upcoming project, field of research or event you could share with us?

Currently I am on a residency in Czech Republic, recording sounds of contemporary village. With all the noise pollution there is. Later this year I will be finishing a field recording album of the Bratislava’s bridges and my music album “Spevy”. In the meantime probably developing some new electromagnetic devices… Lot of plans!

Thanks Jonas!

Check out this other interview with a SHAPE artist: Tanks, drones, rockets and other sound machines. An interview with Nik Nowak.

Categories: New Media News

Brown Sound Kit. ‘Toilet humour for gallery space’

Fri, 06/24/2016 - 11:27

Because we could all do with a bit of humour today, even if it’s of the Benny Hill kind…


Martin Kersels, Brown Sound Kit, 1994. Courtesy of the Artist and Galerie Georges-Philippe and Nathalie Vallois

While preparing a review of black dog publishing‘s book RAVE. Rave and Its Influence on Art and Culture, i encountered this sound art piece which, as the catalogue states, brings ‘some toilet humour to the gallery space.’

Martin Kersels’s sculpture Brown Sound Kit is a piece of sound equipment that emits low frequency infrasound waves, which causes those in its path to release the contents of their bowels—or more colloquially, to “shit themselves”. This kind of sound cannon has its roots in sonic weapons first developed by the Nazis for the purposes of crowd control, and purportedly also by the French authorities during the Paris riots of 1968. Utilising a speaker, an amplifier, an equaliser and an oscillator, all contained with a mobile yellow case, Brown Sound Kit works reflexively of the fact that experiments in weapons technology were also important in the development of sound systems for music.

There seems to be some doubt about how efficient the firing of brown notes can be. In any case, the final sentence in the description of the work will reassure any visitor of an exhibition featuring the work: Brown Sound Kit is presented unplugged within exhibitions. I think Brown Sound Kit is actually part of the show Energy Flash. The Rave Movement at M HKA – Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp. It closes on 25 September. I’ll definitely pop by before that.

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

Categories: New Media News

Art, mathematics and a spider crab at the D’Arcy Thompson Zoology Museum

Thu, 06/23/2016 - 11:10


Dalziel + Scullion, Primates (detail)

While in Dundee (Scotland), i got a chance to visit The D’Arcy Thompson Zoology Museum, in the company of Matthew Jarron, Curator of Museum Services at the University of Dundee.

The museum was founded in the late 19th century but was demolished in the 1950s. Parts of its spectacular collection was then sent to other museums, parts of it was lost and although the museum is now showing only a fraction of what it used to archive, it’s still a fantastic place to discover.

The collection was assembled by polymath D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson (1860 – 1948.) He acquired specimens from around the world and used them to teach biology.

D’Arcy was a fascinating character. He studied biology, mathematics but also classics. He took up the first Chair of Biology at the University of Dundee, was a pioneer of mathematical biology (more about that in a bit), had a keen interest in art and was also one of the first scientists who pressed his government to protect endangered animal species. After a trip to the Arctic in 1896-97, he recommended protection for the seal populations (decimated by the fur industry) and also brought attention to other species at risk, including whales and the sea otter.

He is mostly known for his book On Growth and Form which pioneered a new science called bio-mathematics or mathematical biology, proposing that the growth and form of living organisms are subject to fundamental laws of physics and mathematics.


Page 754 and an inserted page from D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson’s personal copy of On Growth and Form. Image via Echoes from the Vault

The book raised controversy for several reasons. One of them is the chapter Theory of Transformations which appeared to contradict the Darwinian theory of evolution. In reality, the chapter wasn’t a refutation of Darwin’s ideas, it merely pointed out that there were some limitations to Darwin’s tendency to explain everything by natural selection. While his predecessor believed in a slow, gradual evolution, D’Arcy argued that one species could be transformed into another through sudden, mathematical processes.

Interestingly, a number of scientists supported D’Arcy’s views: biologists Julian Huxley and C. H. Waddington but also everyone’s favourite: Alan Turing. D’Arcy’s ideas had an impact on other scientific disciplines: mathematics, anthropology, geography, forensics, cybernetics and artificial intelligence. Besides, his writings about the mathematical beauty of nature went on to influence artists and architects such as Henry Moore, Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier.

The current museum of zoology was open to the public in 2008. In spite of the loss of a large part of its collection, the museum remains a wonderful place to visit. For the historical, zoological specimens of course but also for a number of artefacts that are interesting from an artistic point of view. The teaching charts and models for example:


Teaching chart showing the anatomy and external characteristics of the Common Frog. From a series created by Dr Paul Pfurtscheller, 1902-1926


Models of animals and human hearts

But what makes the museum unique is that it’s not just biology students who use the collection, artists are also invited to come and respond to the specimens on view. The museum has acquired a number of artworks that draw on D’Arcy’s work and thanks to a grant from the Art Fund, they have been able to commission new works and organize residencies for artists.

And that’s it for my intro. I’m now going to leave you with lots of images and a few comments:


Chimpanzee received in 1886


American iguana


Matthew Jarron, Curator of Museum Services at the University of Dundee with the Emperor Penguin. Photo Dundee University Museum

The Emperor Penguin specimen first appeared on a photograph taken at the D’Arcy Thompson Zoology Museum in the early 1900s. The bird disappeared after the demolition of the museum in the 1950s and turned up in the ‘70s, when it accompanied students of the Dundee University Biology Society to bars and parties. He then went awol for 3 decades, until it was discovered in The McManus: Dundee’s Art Gallery and Museum collection in April 2014. The dusty creature was restored and returned to its former glory.

It is very likely that the specimen was taken by members of the Dundee Antarctic expedition of 1892/3. Which makes it one of the oldest emperor penguins in the world.


Sean Dooley, Huia (extinct) at the D’Arcy Thompson Zoology Museum

The Huia was a species of wattle bird found in New Zealand. The male and the female had differently shaped bills. Working together to feed on wood-burrowing larvae, the male would chisel the bark from trees, while the female removed exposed grubs with her long, curved beak. The arrival of European settlers led to the loss of habitat, the introduction of new predators and the mass killing of the birds in 1901 when their feathers sparked a fashion craze on the old continent. The last officially recorded Huia was seen in 1907.


Sean Dooley, Pesquet’s Parrot (Vulnerable) at the D’Arcy Thompson Zoology Museum


King Penguin brought back from the Antarctic by Ernest Shackleton after his 1907-9 expedition

The museum presents a fair number of rather distressing bird heads:


Albatros Head


Herring Gull. Larus argentatus

One of the artworks displayed alongside the historical items pays homage to extinct animals:


Rachel Nesbitt, Steller’s Sea Cow, part of a series of soft toys (Dead and Gone)


Japanese Spider Crab (Macrocheira kaempferi)

For more background about D’Arcy, the museum and its collection, check out this video of a lecture that Matthew Jarron, Curator of Museum Services at the University, gave at the Slade School of Fine Arts.

Matthew Jarron – Slade Contemporary Art Lecture Series 2013/14

The Zoology Museum is open to the public on Friday afternoons during the Summer vacation as well as occasional open days such as Easter and Doors Open Day. Open by appointment at other times.

Both the Zoology Museum and LifeSpace (a collaboration between the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design and researchers from the School of Life Sciences) make Dundee an interesting place to check out for anyone interested in the connections between art and science.
More images in my Dundee album and on D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson’s facebook page.
Previously: Open source estrogens and other hormonal tales at LifeSpace.

Categories: New Media News

Grayson Perry. Flying penises, rude vases and teddy bears

Mon, 06/20/2016 - 11:17


Grayson Perry, Motorbike


Grayson Perry (together with the architect firm FAT), A House for Essex. Photo: Jack Hobhouse. Via we heart

Earlier this month, during the Week of New Maastricht, i visited the exhibition Grayson Perry. Hold Your Beliefs Lightly at the Bonnefantenmuseum. I liked it very VERY much. Not just for the works on show but also for the atmosphere.

There were ladies of a certain age taking photos of a ceramic penis with their mobile phone. There were families discussing life inside a kind of Taj Mahal built for a mythical woman called Julie Cope. There were academic types trying their best to intellectualize the omnipresence of a teddy bear called Alan Measles in Perry’s work. And then there were people who resented being towed through rooms of pots, flamboyant tapestries, extravagant frocks, intricate maps, and un-PC sculptures created by ‘an Essex transvestite potter’ (that’s actually the way the artist ironically defines himself.)


Grayson Perry, Tomb Guardian, 2011

Perry is a cross dresser, a Turner Prize winner, a “conceptual artist who works as a craftsman” but he is also an artist who deserves so much more than easy generalization.

He can be a bit rude but he’s never vulgar. He observes and satirizes British society, its classes, tastes and rituals but he does so with kindness. His vases look traditional but as you go nearer, you realize that they bear crude images and cheap tabloid headlines. He does tapestries and pots, has a flamboyant alter-ego called Claire but he’s never twee, i doubt any woman would object to his own take on feminity. He’s just in a category of his own. Not least for his very inclusive way of communicating contemporary art.

There is so much more to say about Perry and about each of his small and major artworks but i’m sure you all know his work very well already. I’m just going to leave you with some images of the works exhibited in Maastricht and soon in Aarhus where the exhibition is traveling:


The High Priestess Cape (detail), 2007


Grayson Perry wearing The High Priestess Cape


Grayson Perry, The Adoration of the Cage Fighters, 2012. From The Vanity of Small Differences


Grayson Perry, The Upper Class at Bay, 2012. From The Vanity of Small Differences

Grayson Perry, The Vanity of Small Differences


Grayson Perry, Hold Your Beliefs Lightly, 2011. Collection the artist


Grayson Perry, Map of Nowhere, 2008


Grayson Perry, Motorbike (detail.) Image by the vintagent


Grayson Perry (together with the architect firm FAT), A House for Essex

Grayson Perry (together with the architect firm FAT), A House for Essex


Grayson Perry (together with the architect firm FAT), A House for Essex. Photo: Jack Hobhouse. Via we heart


Grayson Perry as Julie Cope outside A House For Essex


Grayson Perry, The Walthamstow Tapestry, 2009


Grayson Perry, Assembling a Motorcycle from Memory, 2004


Grayson Perry, Wise Alan, 2007


Grayson Perry, Flight From Masculinity, 2005


Grayson Perry, Land Rovers, 2005


Grayson Perry, Angel of the South, 2005


Grayson Perry – Hold Your Beliefs Lightly. View of the exhibition rooms at the Bonnefantenmuseum Maastricht


Grayson Perry – Hold Your Beliefs Lightly. View of the exhibition rooms at the Bonnefantenmuseum Maastricht


Grayson Perry, Claire at Tate Gallery, 1999. Photo Rob Weiss. Courtesy GP & Victoria Miro, London

The solo show at the Bonnefantenmuseum is closed but it has already moved to the ARoS Museum in Aarhus and will open this Friday 25 June.

Still on view in Maastricht: The Next Big Thing is Not a Thing.

Categories: New Media News

The Politics of Design. A (Not So) Global Manual for Visual Communication

Fri, 06/17/2016 - 12:17

The Politics of Design. A (Not So) Global Manual for Visual Communication, by Ruben Pater.

BIS Publishers write: Many designs that appear in today’s society will circulate and encounter audiences of many different cultures and languages. With communication comes responsibility; are designers aware of the meaning and impact of their work? An image or symbol that is acceptable in one culture can be offensive or even harmful in the next. A typeface or colour in a design might appear to be neutral, but its meaning is always culturally dependent. If designers learn to be aware of global cultural contexts, we can avoid stereotyping and help improve mutual understanding between people.

Politics of Design is a collection of visual examples from around the world. Using ideas from anthropology and sociology, it creates surprising and educational insight in contemporary visual communication. The examples relate to the daily practice of both online and offline visual communication: typography, images, colour, symbols, and information.

Politics of Design shows the importance of visual literacy when communicating beyond borders and cultures. It explores the cultural meaning behind the symbols, maps, photography, typography, and colours that are used every day. It is a practical guide for design and communication professionals and students to create more effective and responsible visual communication.


Lena Söderberg, the playmate who became the standard for online imaging tools


One of the sport teams that appropriate the Native American image for their mascot

I can’t remember the last time i had such an entertaining, witty and informative publication to review.

The Politics of Design is a compact little book packed with little-known anecdotes, historical facts, pieces of advice and lessons learnt from real and often embarrassing communication design experiences.

The author (and the many contributors invited to share their wisdom and insights) draws attention to issues that should be obvious but are too often overlooked by designers: the ethnic stereotypes that should have died decades ago, the graphics that misinform, the cultural appropriations that ransack marginalized communities, the icons that pigeonhole groups of people (not all disabled people are in a wheelchair, not all parents in need of changing their baby’s nappy are women), the domain names that required more careful scrutiny (www.therapistfinder.com, www.budget.co.ck or www.kidsexchange.com), the technologies that betray cultural bias and assumptions (a worrying fact in our age of surveillance and data gathering), etc.

Nothing, not even a colour or a typeface, is as neutral and as innocent as we’d like to believe. And even their meaning, once identified, may change over time and across cultures. In fact, pretty much everything, even time, can be politicized. Two years ago, the clock on the facade of the Bolivia congress in La Paz was de-colonized and altered to turn anti-clockwise.

The author of the book is Ruben Pater (you already know how much i admire his work if you’ve read the interview i had with him last year: Drones, pirates, everyday racism. An interview with graphic designer Ruben Pater.) He is a designer, a researcher from Amsterdam and as ‘Untold Stories’ he works on projects between journalism and graphic design and creates visual narratives about complex political issues.

The Politics of Design should be put into the hands of everyone working in communication design. And also probably in the hands of everyone else since none of us can elude the work of designers.

Random examples of what you can discover inside the book:


New Humanitarian Daily Ration and Old Humanitarian Daily Ration (image)

In 2001, the United States dropped emergency food parcels over Afghanistan. However, from a distance it was tricky to distinguish them from unexploded cluster bombs. The bags had the exact same yellow hue as the bombs.The U.S. government soon changed the colour of the food parcels to pink.


Yazan Khalili, Colour Correction – Camp Series, 2007 – 2010

Yazan Khalili added colour to photos of Al-Amari Refugee camp, located inside/beside/outside Ramallah city as a symbolic act to fill the loss -like a child filling a coloring book- and produce the possibility of hope. Here I’m attempting to appropriate an urban landscape that reminds us of the tragedy -of their existence and our disappearance- in order to subvert memory into a desired future.


Ryan Hunter and Taige Jensen, Coloring For Grown-Ups: The Adult Activity Book, 2012-2015

Ryan Hunter and Taige Jensen’s coloring book “Coloring For Grown-Ups: The Adult Activity Book” shows the potentially subversive power of colours.


The original version of the 2010 Ikea catalogue and the censored version circulated in Saudi Arabia

Digital manipulation makes it easy to create diversity, rejuvenate politicians, wipe out political opponents, and of course fix women’s unsightly bits (whether they are deemed too flat, too fat, too wobbly, too spotty, too wrinkly, too sexy or not sexy enough.) Unless you prefer to erase women entirely! In 2010, the IKEA catalogue for Saudi Arabia airbrushed women out of pictures. The company later apologised.


Unknown Ammassalik, Inuit, Carved wooden coastal charts carried in their kayaks by Greenland Inuit. Courtesy of the Greenland National Museum & Archives

The most used map, the Mercator was drawn in 1569 and showing all the prejudices that pertain to its age, the one of colonialism and Euro-centrism: Africa and South America look far too small, Australia is even smaller than Greenland, Europe appears larger than it really is.


A map of Crimea on google.com

Even contemporary maps should be approached with caution. Because it obeys to local laws, Google map shows differences in borders according to the country you’re accessing the map from. Visitors to the Ukrainian google.com.ua, will find a map of Crimea displaying unmarked border with Russia and a clear internal boundary with the rest of Ukraine. On the other hand, Russian visitors to Google will find the area marked as a separate country from wider Ukraine. Everywhere else, Google uses its legend for disputed borders between mainland Ukraine and Crimea.


Taylor Swift Chinese clothing line with ‘TS’ and the date ‘1989’ was interpreted by the Chinese as a political reference to the Tiananmen Square massacre

Previously: Drones, pirates, everyday racism. An interview with graphic designer Ruben Pater.
Image on the homepage: Censorship In the Republic. How foreign media are filtered in Iran.

Categories: New Media News