We Make Money Not Art

Syndicate content
Updated: 2 min 53 sec ago

cellF, the world’s first neural synthesiser

Mon, 05/02/2016 - 09:37

Front View of cellF (neurons are located in the top black box, in the incubator)

Guy Ben-Ary has spent 4 years collaborating with scientists and other artists to develop a musical instrument controlled by a neural network bio-engineered from his own skin cells.

The “brain” of cellF is a biological neural network that started its life on the artist’s arm. Skin cells taken with a biopsy were converted into neural stem cells using Induced Pluripotent Stem cell technology. These neural stem cells were then fully differentiated into neural networks over a Multi-Electrode Array dish.

Frozen vials with neural stem cells sent back to the University of Western Australia

Illustration showing how cellF works

The neural network is now able to play live sessions with human musicians by controlling custom-built synthesizers. The music of the human performer is fed to the neurons as stimulation, and the neurons respond by controlling the analogue synthesizers. Both the human musician and Ben-Ary’s extended brain are thus fully interacting with each other to create improvised sound pieces.

With this work, Ben-Ary continues his investigation into the ethical dilemmas and the future possibilities that bio-technologies can present for our society. CellF addresses my ‘interest in problematising new bio-technologies and contextualizing them within an artistic framework’, he writes. It started with a new materialist question underpinned by the belief that artistic practice can act as a vector for thought: What is the potential for artworks using biological and robotic technologies to evoke responses in regards to shifting perceptions surrounding understandings of “life” and the materiality of the human body?

cellF premiered on October 2015 in Perth, performing a live set with percussionist Darren Moore.

Research has demonstrated that music enhances brain activity. Music lessons, for example, were shown to strengthen certain parts of children’s brain. Ben-Ary and his collaborators will be working with other musicians and musical ensembles to explore how different musical styles might influence cellF’s functional plasticity or ability to play. In the long term, these artistic experiments might help us understand how coherence and plasticity in neural circuits can be induced by rhythmic (and perhaps frequency) dependent inputs, with potential benefits.

Multi Electrode Array (MEA) dishes ‘with bits of’ Ben-Ary in the incubator

cellF performing with Darren Moore

cellF. Video Documentation

The artist kindly accepted to talk to me about absurd scenarios, music and bio-engineered brains:

Hi Guy! First, i was wondering if you can expand on the interaction between the musician Darren Moore and your cells. How responsive are they to each other? How much does the performer feel in control of the music? Or how much does he feel that he is actually collaborating with another entity to create some music?

To me the Human / Non-human communication or interaction is at the heart of the project. A feedback loop that allows their behavior (or in terms of music – their playing) to be influenced from each other.

We created a framework whereas the human musician is communicating directly with the neural networks (or my external brain) and to do that we used a stimulation module titled “FriGate”. This module was developed by Nathan Thompson for one of his own projects but then when we looked for creative solutions that would allow us to send the human music to the neural network as stimulations Nathan and Andrew Fitch realized that with a bit of tweaking we can use it.

FriGate Module is embedded into the cellF synthesizer panel and helped us create a Jam Session Scenario similar to Jazz musicians that improvise on stage.

The Frigate accepts any audio signal (from Human Musicians) and can be tuned to extract audio information dependent on its frequency. This information is directly related to the live musician’s playing style and then can be sent as stimulations to the neurons.

One musician can have multiple FriGates thus multiple controlled stimulations into the neurons on the MEA. Likewise multiple musicians could have one Frigate each and have fine control over when their associated electrode in the MEA sends a stimulation pulse into the neural network. This takes into account also the spatial organization of the neurons over the MEA electrodes.

What we found interesting with this is that we give the human musician a way to really communicate with the neurons via the MEA. They can decide when they send the queue to the neurons – in a similar way that 2 human musician will play and communicate with visual as well as audible queues between them – especially if they improvise.

CellF performing with Darren Moore

Darren is an experimental drummer that spent most of his career playing in improvised settings. He is used to face the unknown when he is playing. But playing with cellF was a new experience for him. When the performance ended he said that it was an incredible experiences. It posed the challenges that improvised musicians usually face but more than that he was aware that it is my neurons that were jamming with him. There was a clear sense in the performance space that the neurons were responsive to the stimulations that Darren chose to send them. On the other hand it was clear that Darren’s playing is considerate of the sound that was produced by the neurons.
These are 2 (of many) examples to that:

Video of the first cellF performance

In the video above, a 4.5 minutes video clip of the performance (Please listen with earphones or good stereo set):

0:15 – 1:00 – It is very easy to hear how the neurons respond to the stimulations that are sent via the symbol.
1:14 – 2:00 – In this part the module that was used with the Synth was one that accumulated Action Potential or neural activity. The more Darren played on the symbols the more stimulations were generated – the more active the neurons were. This was sonified by a module that increased the pitch once the activity increased.

After the performance Darren said that he didn’t feel that he was playing solo. It felt different than playing with a programmed machine. He could sense emergence or responsiveness. But there was also the surreal idea of jamming with a neural network… My neural network. Darren and I are very good friends. We met in 2003 when we shared a house in Perth. We share a very similar musical taste and we used to spend hours listening and talking about music. I always wanted to play with him but … alas … I can’t play. When I conceived the idea of cellF I called him and asked him if he wants to play with me. He was respectfully dismissive until I told him what I’m planning to do. The gig in Perth felt as if Darren and I (well my external brain) Jammed and improvised together and it was great! (My neurons are living my dream ☺).

Biopsy taken from Guy Ben-Ary’s arm

Ben-Ary’s fibroblasts in tissue culture

Ben-Ary working in the lab

Ben-Ary’s pluripotent stem cells

I was also surprised to read that you had shipped the cells to Barcelona. Why didn’t you prepare all the work in Australia? And also what are the challenges of shipping little vials containing human cells?

The scientist that I worked with in Barcelona is Mike Edel. Mike is a Stem Cell Scientist and an expert in iPSc technology (cell reprogramming). I met Mike in 2009 when he visited the school of Anatomy, Physiology and Human Biology (where SymbioticA is located). During his visit he gave a talk about his research and it was then that I became familiar with this technology. I approached him after and told him about my ideas (that culminated in 2 projects – In-Potentia and cellF). He was very supportive and we agreed to stay in touch.

When I received the fellowship to developed cellF I decided to do the cell reprogramming part in Barcelona in his lab. I wanted to have the time and the space to interact with Mike and learn from him the iPSc technique. It is quite an enriching experience, for me, to work in different labs and with different scientists. Furthermore, a residency away from home allows the artist, usually, to invest 100% of his/her time in the work. To focus on art. The chemistry between Mike and myself, our conversations and the actual work we did together in the lab was instrumental for the success of cellF.

Characterization of the stem cells

Ben-Ary’s neurons differentiating on a Multi Electrode Array (MEA)

You described the scientific process behind your works as being some kind of biological alchemy and that’s certainly the way it looks to the public i think (at least it does to me). So i can see the enchantment and poetry of having skin cells turned into brain cells and then perform with a musician in front of an audience. But apart from the challenge of creating something totally magical and unexplored before, why did you want to create this work? What were the motivations behind all these efforts?

Indeed my fascination with the “Biological Alchemy” or the transformation of bodies was one of the drivers to the project. I also really like the way you referred to it as “…creating something magical and unexplored before…”

The piece was conceived in 2012 when I was awarded a Creative Australia Fellowship from Australia Council for the Arts to create a new project. I proposed to develop a biological self-portrait, entitled cellF.

cellF started with the ‘new materialist’ question, underpinned by the belief that artistic practice can act as a vector for thought, that has informed all my past projects: What is the potential for artworks using biological and/or robotic technologies to evoke responses in regards to shifting perceptions surrounding understandings of life, death, sentiency, and the materiality of the human body?

However, for the first time in my career, I was also inspired by an ultimately narcissistic desire to re-embody myself. cellF is a progression of the past fifteen years of my research conducted through various projects involving the process of developing robotic bodies whose aesthetics and function are informed by the specificity of each bio-engineered ‘brain’ (Projects such as MEART, Silent Barrage and In-Potentia) and I think that it’s just poetic that it is also my self-portrait. It also continues my interest in problematizing bio-technologies and contextualizing them within an artistic framework via the staging of absurd scenarios.

Essentially, the brain/body entities I have been involved in creating over the last 15 years, have all emerged out of a desire to scramble habitual categories of thought – active versus passive, inert versus animate, political versus ontological, causality versus spontaneity, human versus non-human, forcing the viewer of those entities to think materially as well as ethically about our anthropocentric take on the world. Positioned at the intersection of art, science and society, I have spent many years ‘messing around’ with biological and cybernetic technologies as a means to examine processes involved in the transformation of bodies or living biological material in order to re-evaluate our understanding of “life”, sentiency, and the human body.

Most importantly, the staging of absurd scenarios has been an attempt to critically question and examine how we interact, develop and maintain meaningful connections in a world where we are constantly barraged by information, technologies and idealisations.

In a radio interview, you explain that you used to dream to be a rock star. Did you feel closer to realising your dream after the performance? Because I had the feeling that you act more as a conductor of an orchestra during the performance.

The rock star narrative emerged when I was facing the questions – what sort of self Portrait would I come up with? I spent a lot of time considering the aesthetic of cellF; namely, what was the most compatible kind of robotic body I could give myself? When thinking about what kind of body to design for myself, the idea of working within a humanist anthropocentric paradigm bored me. So whilst I desired a body that worked in synergy with my external brain, including a real time feedback loop the decision to create a sound-producing body was ultimately based on a long-standing passion for music, combined with my naïve childhood dream of being a rock star.
I don’t think that I will ever feel that I am a rock star because… I’m not. But I did have a strange feeling when bits of me were on stage with Darren playing. That was quite an incredible feeling.

Back view of cellF

You are also planning to do other cellF performances with other musicians and in other cities if i understood correctly. So what’s in store for cellF?

We were invited to present cellF and exhibit its development as part of an exhibition titled The Patient in Sydney. Curated by Bec Dean, the exhibition is a major event of contemporary biological and medical arts. It draws focus on new collaborations between scientists and artists and explores the ways in which artists are addressing powerful human experiences in the fields of health, biological sciences and medicine enhancing the discourse on the representation of disease, institutionalized care, personal agency and what it is to be human.

We plan three performances that will take place in the Cell Block Theater in Sydney. Each of these performances will differ from the other
– A duet for piano and cellF. Internationally acclaimed pianist Chris Abrahams (from “the Necks”) –
– A classical duo with cellF. Classically trained, new music innovator, percussionist Claire Edwardes has agreed to team up with one of her colleagues from Ensemble Offspring and improvise with cellF
– Experimental trio with cellF. Clayton Thomas (Double Base), Jon Rose (Violin), Darren Moore (drums). Three of the most exciting voices in the national experimental music scene.

The rationale behind having three performances is based, as well as aesthetics and diversity, on a fundamental question that is at the heart of cellF – Will different musical styles, approaches or ensembles influence cellF‘s functional plasticity or its ability to play in a different way ?

These musicians are some of my favorite Australian experimental artist so having my external brain play with them is definitely realizing a dream. We are currently negotiating performances abroad and I hope that some of these opportunities will eventuate.

Thank you Guy!

CellF is the result of a 4 year research in collaboration with designer and new media artist Nathan Thompson, electrical engineer and synthesiser builder Dr. Andrew Fitch, musician Dr. Darren Moore, Stem cell scientist Dr. Michael Edel, neuro-scientist Dr. Stuart Hodgetts, neuro-engineer Dr. Douglas Bakkum.

See this other interview with Guy Ben-Ary about In-Potentia, from foreskin cells to ‘biological brain’.

Categories: New Media News

Order+Noise, a tug of war for motors, strings and rubber bands

Fri, 04/29/2016 - 11:40

Ralf Baecker, Order+Noise (Interface I), 2016. Photo by Bresadola+Freese/drama-berlin.de for NOME

Ralf Baecker, Order+Noise (Interface I), 2016. Photo by Bresadola+Freese/drama-berlin.de for NOME

I’ve been fascinated by the work of Ralf Baecker ever since i discovered it back in 2009. The way his projects disclose the inner logic and dynamics of machines speaks to the über geek. But you don’t need to be versed in the subtleties of technology to be touched by his installations. Their grace and deceptive simplicity, the way they never quite seem to reveal themselves completely appeal to the aesthete and the amateur of fine craft and enigma.

Order+Noise (Interface I), his latest installation currently on view at the NOME gallery in Berlin, is made of motors, strings and elastic bands set in motion by the random signals of Geiger-Müller tubes which pick up the natural ambient radiation of the earth and add an element of chance to the system.

Motors gently hum and pull coloured strings in opposite directions, like in a tug of war. The patterns designed by the network of threads and rubber bands lay bare the struggles, negotiations and fluctuations of the system.

Here, what underlines the aesthetic experience is the materiality by which action produces knowledge, transforming data space into real space. As observers take in the rules, operations and parameters of the work, they gain insight into their perception. The installation’s mechanical workings and network of strings allow us to explore the poetic potential of technology via its materiality, so that Interface I sits on the boundary between an imaginary field and an epistemological condition.

Ralf Baecker, Teaser: Order+Noise (Interface I)

By isolating and zooming in on the abstract mechanisms and systems that are at the core of digital media and information technology, the work of Baecker reveals their otherwise unsuspected rhythms and noises.

I had a Q&A with the artist right before the opening of his show in Berlin:

Hi Ralf! Order+Noise (Interface I) brings our attention to the ambient radiation of the earth. Why were you interested in exploring a geological phenomenon?

The ambient radiation of the earth is only a minor aspect of this work. In case of Interface I it is one way of feeding a system with entropy (chance) and an external rhythm, caused by the unpredictable radioactive decay of elements. I used these kind of “geological” detectors already in previous works, like Irrational Computing (2011) and Mirage (2014), where I measured the magnetic flux of the earth with a magnetometer. What I’m focusing on is the contrast of clean digital machinery and its operations and the crudeness of the geological minerals they are made of. The social and political issues that are connected to the mining of rare earth materials in many countries do not apply to silicon because it is made from quartz sand, which exists in large amounts on earth. With Irrational Computing I was investigating this material layer of contemporary technologies. I build crude digital elements from semi-conducting minerals, like galena, silicon carbide, etc, in its raw form directly taken from the crust of the earth.

Beside this material stack I am interested in the mathematical foundations of these technologies. A closer look reveals a fully closed deterministic system, that is the result of separating mathematics from the world and our experience of it, in order to create a pure formal system. And these are the systems that reach very deep in our daily lives now. Sure, the devices can produce some kind of pseudo randomness, emergent behaviour and we interact with them, but always in the framework of this strict formal system and their protocols.

I don’t think that the machines become more like us, it is more likely that we adapt to the languages of the machines, to become computable. Over the years I tried different approaches to investigates the logic of the internal structures of these systems on one side, and to break them up with more intuitive models on the other side.

In interface these random impulses are used to stimulate two mechanical systems that interact with each other through a network of strings and elastic bands. So the noise acts like a catalyst. From complexity theory we know the principle of self-organisation or “Order from Noise”. Whereby spontaneous order can arise by random fluctuations, like the flocking of birds or in an economy.

Ralf Baecker, Order+Noise (Interface I), 2016. Photo by Bresadola+Freese/drama-berlin.de for NOME

Ralf Baecker, Order+Noise (Interface I), 2016. Photo by Bresadola+Freese/drama-berlin.de for NOME

Ralf Baecker, Order+Noise (Interface I), 2016. Photo by Bresadola+Freese/drama-berlin.de for NOME

The installation explores the interaction between on the one hand, ambient radiation of the earth and on the other one, a set of motors, strings and elastic bands deployed in the gallery. Did you conceive the work as a metaphor about the way natural elements and our man-made industrial world influence each other?

Maybe you allow me to write a few words about metaphors. I’m struggling with the term. I never explicitly have a metaphor in mind, except maybe in Mirage, because my machines are based on symbolic interactions. Sure I don’t avoid hinting to analogies to other systems in other scales. But digital processes are per se not bound to any medium, silicon is just the most efficient and economic one. But every digital circuit can be translated into any medium, like water, air pressure, mechanics etc. I translate and enlarge these processes into other materials in order to allow a spectator to perceive them on an affective level.

Although many of your artworks deal with revealing the materiality of hidden structures and phenomena, there is also something inherently poetical and mysterious about them. At least, that’s the way i see them. What guides the aesthetics and design of your installations?

The aesthetics is always a result of a long experimental process. Usually it starts with a thought experiment that I strip down to a set of minimal components. For Interface I was trying to imagine the tiny and rapid interactions and transactions of a communication between two separate structures. How do they meet in one point and develop a language and get entangled it some kind of dialog. I tried different mechanical approaches, e.g. a push-based system, that turned out yo be too rough and tended to damage itself. There is always a gap between my imagination of a process, its physicality and its actual performance. I usually need a lot of iterations to find a good representation of my initial thought or even adapt my concept to the physical conditions. I started with this method a couple of years ago with Rechnender Raum (2007), I felt a little lost in working only in software, where I already tried to strip the aesthetics down to the minimum in order to offer a sight at the internal/raw aesthetics of these processes before they appear on a screen. But this did not work out for me me because, I still had the feeling that my practice is encapsulated in the logic of these strictly formal machines.

One thing that I have learned is that, making these processes transparent and open does not help to understand them but makes them even more opaque and mysterious. I became very much interested in “magical thinking” in contrast to a chronological “cause and effect” thinking. This thinking blends pretty good with contemporary complexity theory and “system thinking” where one “effect” can not be traced back to a single “cause”.

If we go back to the roots of such machines we will find metaphysical or ideological machines, like the ones of Ramon Llull ones, that are not tools but epistemological instruments.

Another important point, is that I don’t follow the usual separation between process and output. In most of my machines display and process are one, the display is where the process happens and at the same time it is indicating it. Similar to a combustion process, where a fuel and oxygen react with each other and produce an continuous flickering.

Portrait of Ramon Llull

Ralf Baecker, Order+Noise (Interface I), 2016. Photo by Bresadola+Freese/drama-berlin.de for NOME

The research and experiments necessary to the development of the exhibition were carried out within the framework of your research project Time of Non-Reality at the Graduate School of the University of the Arts Berlin. Could you tell us more about this research? And what is this idea of ‘non reality’?

For me the research project at the Graduate School of the UDK in Berlin is a very subjective/artistic genealogy of the digital and technological images. It acts as framework for me to speculate and to experiment. I’m interested in the fundamental concepts, mechanisms and ideas of the digital and the relations to the signs they produce at the other end (e.g. screen).

I stumbled about a quote by Norbert Wiener, in a transcriptions of one of the famous Macy Conferences: “Every digital device is really an analogical device which distinguishes region of attraction rather than by a direct measurement. In other words, a certain time of non-reality pushed far enough will make any device digital.”

“Time of non-reality” could also be understood as the time an electronically charged electronic component (e.g. transistor), or any bistable element, needs to switch from 0 (0 volts) to 1 (5 volts). Ideally, in our logic, there is nothing in between. But when implemented it into the physical, we have these transitions that appear millions of times per second in a contemporary digital device. The internal state of the machines, and what it represents (e.g. an image, a text or a sound), breaks down for a couple of nanoseconds, just to re-establish in the next stable state. The machines are build to blank these transitions, in order to prevent glitches or even a crash. But I’m using this idea to speculate about possible images in between.

As I tried to described earlier these machines are the result of separating mathematics from any empirical evidence, that took place in the early 20th century. The simple axiom “1+1=2” allows us to forget about the apples that we once counted to realise. But these formal systems are now interacting with the world, they produce reality. So my research also explores the gap between an ideal formalized immaterial system and its re-implementation in the world.

Ralf Baeker, Mirage, 2014. Installation view at Asian Culture Center Gwuangju, for ACT Festival. Photo via Creative Applications

Ralf Baeker, Mirage, 2014. Installation view at Asian Culture Center Gwuangju, for ACT Festival

I was very impressed by Mirage when i saw it at the ACT Festival in Gwangju. I was fascinated by the way the piece is anchored in sophisticated algorithms and Artificial Intelligence but at the same time it speculates about machines that fall asleep and dream. Do you think we should be afraid of machines’ dreams? Doesn’t that make them to freakingly similar to us?

No, I don’t think we have to be afraid. There is still a very big difference between us and artificial intelligence. Most artificial intelligence algorithms are made for one single purpose, they are not universal and their aims and goals are defined by us. What freaks us out is the unpredictability of such systems that arise if their complexity increases. I think this is what we are witnessing right now. We are in the paradox situation that, on one side we are totally excited about the benefits of these technologies and on the other side they evoke a strange feeling of unease. Another kind of sublime, a technological sublime, if we have the enormous world spanning infrastructures in mind they running on.

And because we can’t control our own dreams and hallucinates, i suspect we can’t control the dreams of the machines either. Was it something you experienced while observing Mirage in action? Did the projection and ‘behaviour’ of Mirage surprise you? Did they bring anything unexpected?

The “dreams” or “hallucinations” of the machines are the result of what they have “seen” before. In unsupervised neural networks these “sleep” cycles are used to consolidate the previously learned. They are actually “internal” images, that were not intended to be displayed. Probably everybody knows the images of google’s deep dream. They always include these little puppies, snails or frogs, because these images were part of the training data set. Analogous I can only dream images or things, that I have seen or have imagined before. If a two year old child has never seen or been told about a fox it can not dream it. But the interesting thing is what develops over time, the narration, how our brain constantly tries to make sense of the images that appear and involve them into a plot. Mirage produces plots. It was not trained with static images, it was trained just with a constantly changing one dimensional signal that represents the changes of the magnetic flux of the earth. For earlier experiments, I trained my system with simple sine waves. After a couple of cycles, it was able to recreate sine wave like signals with variations. Mirage recombines the previous sampled data and weaves a new chronology. These idea of machines that create space on time applies to most of my works as well as for Interface.

Thanks Ralf!

Ralf Baecker, Order+Noise (Interface I), 2015. Photo by Photo by Bresadola+Freese/drama-berlin.de

More photos!

Order+Noise (Interface I) is on view at NOME, Berlin from 23 April until 18 June 2016.

Ralf Baecker is also having a solo show at Kassler Kunstverein, from 13 May until 3 July 2016.

Categories: New Media News

Confessions of a Data Broker and other tales of a quantified society

Thu, 04/28/2016 - 12:21

The White Room, Opening of Nervous Systems. Photo: © Laura Fiorio/HKW

!Mediengruppe Bitnik, Reconstruction of Julian Assange’s study room at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Opening of Nervous Systems. Photo: © Laura Fiorio/HKW

While in Berlin for the Anthropocene Campus, i visited the one show you shouldn’t miss if you happen to be in town this week and next: Nervous Systems. Quantified Life and the Social Question.

The exhibition smartly enrolled artists, media historians and writers to chart the history and current rise of data-technologies and the world they bring about, exploring and exposing our quantified society and the processes of self-quantification. The food for thought that this show provide is overwhelming. Almost as much as this (partial) review of it!

Nervous Systems was co-curated by Anselm Franke and by Stephanie Hankey and Marek Tuszynski from the Tactical Technology Collective but because pretty much every single artwork and historical artifact in that deserves to be mentioned, i thought it would be better for everyone’s patience and sanity if i focused on one segment of the exhibition only.

The White Room, Opening of Nervous Systems. Photo: © Laura Fiorio/HKW

I picked up the one called The White Room, for the very arbitrary reason that it was curated by Tactical Technology Collective whose brilliant twitter feed i’ve been stalking for months. The other strength of The White Room is its combatant, encouraging and engaged attitude towards rampant quantification, loss of autonomy and demise of privacy. It gives visitors the means to understand their data and devices but it also provides them with the tools necessary to gain more control over their digital life.

The White Room opens up the black box of our daily technological environment, brings to light the links between Silicon Valley’s most successful start-ups and the military-industrial complex, and even uncover the Big Brother that hides behind the benevolent masks of some philanthropic initiatives.

Perhaps the best introduction to The White Room is actually this video that sums a research that Tactical Technology Collective has made into information brokering services:

Tactical Technology Collective, Confessions of a Data Broker

Inspired by David Ogilvy’s book Confessions of an Advertising Man, Confessions of a Data Broker presents results from interviews with and research into data brokers in Europe, North America and Asia, providing insights into how the industry works, who is buying/selling data and what it means for users.

What is worrying is that data brokering is not only unreliable and invasive of your privacy, it is also opaque. It is indeed often very difficult for individuals to find out what data a broker holds on them, how they used it and how long they store it.

James Bridle, Citizen Ex

Citizen Ex is a browser plugin that makes us better understand data gathering. Once installed on your computer, Citizen Ex shows where the websites you are visiting are located geographically. Over time, Citizen Ex builds a user’s algorithmic citizenship based on your browsing habits.

Whether or not you download Bridle’s software, you already have an algorithmic citizenship. Every time you click on a link, every time you visit a website, you leave traces behind. Companies collect this data in order to deliver content and ads better targeted to each individual. But that’s not all! Data gathering is also used for credit rating, insurance, ID verification, health care and fraud detection. And of course, government surveillance agencies like the NSA and GCHQ monitor your data to decide whether to spy on you.

Intelligence Community Watch puts data gathering into the hands of the citizens. ICWatch has mined LinkedIn for résumés posted by people who state that they have worked for the NSA or Intelligence community or for related contractors and programs. ICWatch then compiled these findings into a searchable database of the US intelligence community. Transparency Toolkit, who developed it, say the aim of the site is to “watch the watchers” and better understand surveillance programmes and any human rights abuses associated with them.

Aram Bartholl, Forgot you Password, 2013

In 2012, LinkedIn.com got hacked and passwords for nearly 6.5 million user accounts were stolen. A few months later parts of the decrypted password list appeared on the Internet. Aram Bartholl printed 8 books that list the 4.7 million passwords leaked in alphabetical order. The work reminds us that the safety of our data can never be guaranteed.

Some of the artistic projects selected in the show are using everyday objects and tech devices to demonstrate that the “I have nothing to hide” dismissal of surveillance is unwise now that we are part of a quantified society: Ai Weiwei and Jacob Appelbaum’s stuffed panda (see SAMIZDATA: Evidence of Conspiracy. Talking secrets and pandas with Jacob Appelbaum), Sascha Pohflepp’s Button camera, Danja Vasiliev and Julian Oliver’s sneaky Newstweek… And Un Fitbits:

Tega Brain and Surya Mattu, Unfit Bits

Tega Brain and Surya Mattu, Un Fitbits. GIf via bionymous

Un Fitbits enables you to obfuscate your data traces by generating fake data, while giving you the ability to control and understand your real data. All you have to do is clip the Fitbit bracelet to a metronome, dog, drill, bicycle or pendulum and they’ll get fit and active for you.

The artists were interested in FitBit after noticing that insurance companies were giving away Fitbit to their customers. Wearing the device and walking a certain number steps would earn customers discounts. How do companies benefit from your healthy lifestyle? Can your data be considered ‘yours’ if it can be used against you?

The White Room also presented a series of projects that are decidedly at the most dystopian end of the quantification spectrum:

Sesame Credit. Photo via The Independent

Sesame Credit is a credit-rating system that scores Chinese citizens based on both online and offline data: their spending behaviour, habits, minor traffic violations, fiscal and government information, interests and affiliations. A high score will result in a better chance to find a job, get a date, rent a car without paying a deposit and be deemed ‘trustworthy‘ by the government. The project was approved by the Chinese government as a pilot for a future nationwide database, an individual citizen ‘social credit-rating’ system, planned for nationwide rollout by 2020.

Some projects were labelled “Big Mama” by the curators. Dressed up as care, initiatives such as eye-scanning for refugee aid and facial recognition to monitor attendances in churches look more like Big Mama (“It’s for your own good”) than Big Brother.

Jordan: Iris Scanning Program In Action

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has introduced an iris-scanning technology to verify the identity of Syrian refugees in Jordan. The pilot program allow refugees to withdraw their benefits from ATM machines but also to buy groceries through looking into an iris scanner.

The project is implemented by tech company Iris Guard which sells the same iris-scanning technology for border control, prisons and national ID. Iris Guard has 3 advisory board members: the CEO of a global merchant bank, the former hear of MI6 and the former Homeland Security Advisor to the President of the US.

Electronic databases of personal information raise privacy but also security concerns. Databases are being hacked all the time, and that’s a huge threat to privacy and security. Hacked biometric data is particularly problematic, because unlike credit cards or even social security numbers, the data cannot be modified.

Churchix compares CCTV camera footage of people to a database of congregants of the church. Photo Face-Six via

Churchix is a facial recognition-based ‘event-attendance tracking’ software designed to help churches easily identify members of their congregation, and record their attendance at church and church-related events. Churchix identifies individuals in ‘probe’ photos or videos and then matches them with previously uploaded reference photos. Face-Six, the company behind it uses similar software for products used in casinos, airports, shopping malls and at border control posts. Churches in Indonesia, the US, Portugal, Africa and India have already adopted the system.

The Google Empire (information graphic / wood and acrylic.) Photo La Loma

A table exposed the presence of marketing departments, Washington D.C. expats, lobbyists and Wall Street analysts behind the sleek facade of some of Silicon Valley’s most successful startups. Think of how Google went from the friendly search engine to Alphabet, the owner and developer of self-driving cars, DNA databases, AI and robotics. What used to be a bunch of bespectacled geeks is now a group of powerful companies who have accumulated vast amounts of power, knowledge, and wealth.

The Fertility Chip (simulation / laser cut and engraving.) Photo La Loma

In 2012, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave a grant of 11,316,324 US dollars to MicroCHIPS Biotech to develop a contraceptive chip that can be embedded in a woman’s body for up to 16 years. The technology would enable a remove control of a woman’s hormones, activating her ability to either conceive, or prevent fertilization.

MicroCHIPS hopes to introduce the product in 2018. Note that the technology is intended for women and girls in poorer countries.

Inside Palantir offices. Credit Peter DaSilva for The New York Times

The Shire (model of a office room of the Palantir). Photo La Loma

Data-analysis company Palantir Technologies might keep a lower public profile than Airbnb and Uber but it is one of the Silicon Valleys most powerful start-ups. It has contracts with government groups, including the CIA, NSA, the FBI, the Marine Corps and the Air Force. We know that its software processes huge amounts of disparate data to elaborate predictions and conclusions, enabling fraud detection, data security, consumer behavior study, rapid health care delivery, etc. Rumour has it that it was them who provided the data-analysis skills that located Bin Laden. But little else is known publicly about Palantir.

The exhibition reproduced a model of Palantir’s head office, the Shire, based on photographs for a 2014 New York Times article. The world map is based on the strategy board game Risk: The Game of Global Domination.

Patches that can be purchased online, along with t-shirts, calendars and coffee mugs from the apparel store off Lockheed Martin, America’s largest contractor, making fighter planes, cluster bombs, combat ships and designing nuclear weapons. It is also the largest private intelligence contractor in the world, working in the past on surveillance programs for the Pentagon, CIA, NSA and making biometric identification systems for the FBI

The White Room, Opening of Nervous Systems. Photo: © Laura Fiorio/HKW

The White Room, Opening of Nervous Systems. Photo: © Laura Fiorio/HKW

On Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays, workshops, demos and discussions help visitors understand the devices and interfaces we use every day. White Room workers are also on hand to help visitors navigate an alternative “App Center” that offers tools to regain control over their data and their tech gadgets.

More views of the exhibition Nervous Systems:

Opening of Nervous Systems. Photo: © Laura Fiorio/HKW

Opening of Nervous Systems. Photo: © Laura Fiorio/HKW

Nervous Systems. Quantified Life and the Social Question was co-curated by Stephanie Hankey and Marek Tuszynski from the Tactical Technology Collective and Anselm Franke. The show is at Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin until 9 May 2016.

Related stories: Obfuscation. A User’s Guide for Privacy and Protest, Sheriff Software: the games that allow you to play traffic cop for real, The Influencers: Former MI5 spy Annie Machon on why we live in a dystopia that even Orwell couldn’t have envisioned, SAMIZDATA: Evidence of Conspiracy. Talking secrets and pandas with Jacob Appelbaum.

Categories: New Media News

Book Review: Out of Now. The Lifeworks of Tehching Hsieh

Mon, 04/25/2016 - 10:55

Out of Now. The Lifeworks of Tehching Hsieh (updated edition), by Tehching Hsieh and Adrian Heathfield.

Available on amazon UK and USA.

Publisher MIT Press writes: In the vibrant downtown Manhattan art scene of the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Taiwanese-American artist Tehching Hsieh made a series of extraordinary performance art works. Between September 1978 and July 1986, Hsieh realized five separate one-year-long performance pieces in which he conformed to simple but highly restrictive rules throughout each entire year.

Through the course of these lifeworks, Hsieh moved from a year of solitary confinement in a sealed cell to a year in which he punched a worker’s time clock in his studio every hour on the hour to a year spent living without shelter in Manhattan to a year in which he was tied by an eight-foot rope to the artist Linda Montano and finally to a year of total abstention from all art activities and influences. In 1986 Hsieh announced that he would spend the next thirteen years making art but not showing it publicly. When this “final” lifework—an immense act of self-affirmation and self-erasure—came to a close at the turn of the millennium, he tersely and enigmatically said that during this time he had simply kept himself alive.

After years of near-invisibility, Hsieh collaborated with the British writer and curator Adrian Heathfield to create this meticulous and visually arresting documentary record of the complete body of Tehching Hsieh’s performance projects from 1978 to 1999. This milestone volume is now available again, in a paperback edition featuring the full text and all the illustrations in the hardcover, with an updated list of Hsieh’s exhibitions.

One Year Performance, 1978-1979

There are artworks that keep on haunting me and make me wonder “would i ever have the guts/strength/courage to do the same?” Michael Landy destroying all his possessions is a good example of that. And then there’s Tehching Hsieh. He’s the legend who to wanted to make the process of thinking about art an artwork in its own right. He did so by setting himself some simple but almost inhumanely restrictive rules that he followed, religiously, for one year. He first sat in a cell with no communication for a year. He then punched a time clock every hour on the hour for a year. He lived on the street for a year. He tied himself to a fellow artist for a year. For his last performance, he avoided engaging in any art practice. Again, for a full year.

Tehching Hsieh, One Year Performance n. 2, Time Clock Piece, 1980-81

The works took place from 1978 to 1986 in New York, a period in which he had to navigate between the growing attention from the public for his work and the necessity to remain under the radar because he was an illegal immigrant from Taiwan. If his year long performances were not radical enough, Tehching Hsieh also announced in 1986 that he would spend the next 13 years making art without showing it publicly. In the art world, this kind of crazy gesture is akin to suicide. In 1999, when he finally emerged from his voluntary cultural exile, all he said was that in that period he had ‘kept himself alive.’

Out of Now is a new and slightly updated edition of a book that’s been out of stock for the past few years. The book collects the visual documentation of the artist’s performances. The photos, maps, artist statements, etc. As well as white pages for the 13 years of artistic silence.

The introduction to the documentation consists in a series of short essays by writer and curator Adrian Heathfield who places Hsieh’s practice into the cultural context of its time while demonstrating how different it is from the ideas and concepts of that same period.

My favourite part of Out of Now is the long interview Adrian Heathfield did with Tehching Hsieh. The conversation is both deep and charming, hopping from topics as diverse as Hsieh’s mother opinion about his work to the various ways in which each piece consumed his life.

The final part of the book compiles texts written by famous and anonymous people who express the impact that Hsieh’s work had on them. There’s Tim Etchells, Santiago Sierra or Marina Abramovic writing about their admiration for his work but there’s also an unsigned letter from someone who thinks that Hsieh’s work brings ‘shame and discredit to the Chinese people”.

Out of Now documents a series of artworks but somehow manages to keep their author shrouded in mystery. Hsieh is interviewed, his work is analyzed, put into images and commented. The more you read, the less you understand the man who has pushed his emotional, physical and psychological endurance to such extreme limits. That’s probably the best homage that a book could pay to a man who is so often described as being a ‘cult figure’ in the art world.

One Year Performance, 1978-1979

Statement for One Year Performance, 1978-1979

Tehching Hsieh, One Year Performance, 1978-1979. Copyright Tehching Hsieh

Tehching Hsieh, One Year Performance, 1978-79

For “Cage Piece”, Hsieh constructed a cell inside a loft in TriBeCa. The rules of his solitary confinement were listed in a curt manifesto: “I shall NOT converse, read, write, listen to the radio or watch television until I unseal myself on September 29, 1979.” Every day, a friend would bring him food and take out his waste.

Tehching Hsieh, One Year Performance n. 2, Time Clock Piece, 1980-81 (still from video)

Tehching Hsieh, One Year Performance, 1980-81

Tehching Hsieh, One Year Performance, 1980-81

For the “Time Piece,” the artist essentially denied himself sleep in order to punch a time clock every hour on the hour, twenty four hours a day, for one year. He apparently had to attach multiple alarm clocks to amplifiers to penetrate his foggy brain. Every time he punched the clock a movie camera would take a single movie picture shot of him.

One Year Performance, Outdoor Piece, 1981–1982

One Year Performance, Outdoor Piece, 1981–1982

One Year Performance, Outdoor Piece, 1981–1982

In his third performance piece, Hsieh spent one year living in the street, not entering buildings or shelter of any sort. He walked around New York City with a backpack and a sleeping bag and charted his wanderings on maps.

Tehching Hsieh, One Year Performance, 1983-1984

Tehching Hsieh, One Year Performance, 1983-1984

Tehching Hsieh, One Year Performance, 1983-1984

For his next performance, he tied himself to artist Linda Montano with an 8 foot long rope. While the rope obliged them to do everything together, but any intentional bodily contact was forbidden.

Categories: New Media News

Hortum Machina, B, the garden that rolls across the city

Wed, 04/20/2016 - 08:24

Hortum Machina, B on Hampstead Road in London. Photo by William Victor Camilleri

Passersby reactions to Hortum Machina, B. Photo by William Victor Camilleri

Although they don’t have what we call ‘nervous systems’, plants are actually smart and sentient. They can be electro-chemically stimulated by (and thus react to) the surrounding light, temperature, humidity, pollution and vibration. That is why William Victor Camilleri and Danilo Sampaio, from the Interactive Architecture Lab at the Bartlett School of Architecture (UCL) believe that plants could potentially have a say in the behaviour of our buildings, infrastructure and public spaces.

Their prototype Hortum machina, B (Garden machine, Bucky) is a large geodesic sphere that moves around the city according to the plants’ whims and physiological needs.

The mobile ecosystem has a robotic core wrapped in twelve garden modules. Whenever the lowermost plants require more sunlight, they ‘vote’ to have the sphere gently roll over. If it becomes too hot for the majority of them, they will steer the structure towards the shade.

The structure uses harmlessly inserted electrodes to measure the plant’s physical responses to the variation in their immediate environment and networks the plants together.

Inspired by Buckminster Fuller’s Operating Manual For Spaceship Earth, this cybernetic life-form is part of reEarth, a broader research project that explores new forms of bio-cooperative interaction between people and nature, within the built environment.

In the current context of driverless cars, and many other forms of intelligent robotics beginning to co-habit our built environment, Hortum machina, B is a speculative urban cyber-gardener, moving around the city repopulating native species by discovering suitable micro-climates. The mobilsation of the plants’ agency acts as a provocation, drawing attention to their very “livingness” and our shared goal on Spaceship Earth – to find and build better places to live and thrive. It critiques the all too often Cartesian notion of intelligence in robotics, equally existing in “smart cities” and “smart buildings”. Thus, the structure’s animacy is not simulation by robotics, but rather amplification through robotics.

Interactive Architecture Lab, Hortum machina, B

Interactive Architecture Lab, The making of Hortum Machina B

Obviously, i had a lot of questions about Hortum machina, B so i contacted the architects and asked to tell me more about their research:

Hi William and Danilo! What were the biggest challenges you encountered while developing this work?

WILLIAM VICTOR: It began by entering the strange and complicated world of plant electrophysiology. The literature is predominantly scientific with only a few artists actually merging it to design or architecture. We’re very grateful to World Wilder Lab and Ivan Henriques for their support with their planEt open source hardware. Although the science goes back to Darwin, it is still quite experimental and disputed.

Thus, reading accurate real-time measurements was already a challenge. For the purpose of the project, the measurements had to be deciphered for distinct plant physiologies and moreover differentiated for diverse environmental conditions.

DANILO: The three metre tall robotic structure was full of challenges. Once the garden modules were loaded with soil and plants it was quite heavy and we had to modify the mechanism to shift its centre of gravity enough to roll around.

Hortum Machina B in St James Gardens, London. Photo by William Victor Camilleri

What guided the choice of plants? Is it only the fact that some of them are native British species or are some plants more reactive than others? Or could any plant do?

WILLIAM VICTOR: All plant species are reactive and measurable, although some are harder to measure than others. But the reason for our choice of plants was essentially to stay true to the local context. Hortum machina, B was built with the UK in mind, and hence it is equipped with native British plants. In Greater London in particular, it owes to architecture, that gardens and some parks are confined to specific boundaries and these are mostly inhabited and dominated by non-native plants. As they often tend to be invasive, non-native communities spread while many of the native plants become increasingly threatened. Hortum machina, B thus became an extension to a British park, a vessel with native plants in the urban London.

Hortum Machina, B. Drawing of the geodesic sphere section

Hortum Machina, B. Drawing of the actuator and half-core section

Hortum Machina, B. A narrative

I’ve also been wondering about the speed of Hortum machina, B movements. What influences it? Is it moving maniacally when there’s a lot of sun and falls asleep when night is coming? Are there other factors than light that guides the speed and direction of its movements?

WILLIAM VICTOR: Light is the key stimulus of the prototype’s feedback loop because it is quite easy to measure a plant response to it. The system observes a significant change in the electrophysiological state of the plants, analyses the external daylight conditions through multiple sensors and the sphere reacts accordingly. The circumstances range significantly. Prompted by the plants, if the sensors note a considerable amount of light, the sphere rotates to accommodate other gardens, if it’s an overcast sky, it will look for new spots of sun, and if they note an all-round darkness, then it stops its movements for the day. We can actually measure a lot of different types of stimulus. A change in lighting causes a linear transition in measurement, as opposed to wounding, where you see a sudden rise and drop. The two modes notify two separate outputs, either rolling, or the sudden extension and retraction of the gardens to notify distress.

DANILO: In terms of movement – you’d never call the movement maniacal. Its always quite slow. To make one step, the sphere takes around 30 seconds to shift its center of gravity enough to roll. Once the step is complete, the sphere needs to determine its base position, close up and then if it wishes to move again start pushing out the garden modules to change its balance again.

Photo by William Victor Camilleri

Hortum Machina, B on Hampstead Road in London. Photo by William Victor Camilleri

Have you tried using it in public space as the photos suggest? What were the reactions of passersby? And perhaps more interestingly, did the behaviour of reEarth surprise you in any way? Were there unexpected moments, behaviours and moves?

WILLIAM VICTOR: The presence of a gigantic 3-metre sphere full of plants on the streets of London left people in awe, us included. Although seemingly an imposing mechanical structure, passersby still wanted to touch the plants and climb onto the geodesic sphere. Others opted to go for the instinctive selfie, but undoubtedly, the most common question was: What is it? The valuable question and complex answer led us to give the prototype its pseudo-botanical name: Hortum machina, B (Garden machine, Bucky). As regards to its behaviour, we were quite bemused to see our prototype taking its first steps but probably, most unexpected moments came from undecided plants that would roll the sphere back and forth a couple of times.

Hortum Machina, B in London. Photo by William Victor Camilleri

Hortum Machina, B in London. Photo by William Victor Camilleri

Do you consider reEarth as being essentially an experimental ‘arty’ project? Or do you see some concrete scientific or other applications to reEarth?

WILLIAM VICTOR: Our hero Buckminster Fuller was able to be an artist, designer, engineer, philosopher and scientist all at the same time so rather than claiming it as one thing or the other we’ll leave that in the eye of the beholder. We’ve tried to be quite thorough with the testing and then a little more playful with the application. We didn’t want this to be a purely speculative-communication project. We actually were interested in how these technologies could change the behaviour of the built environment – which is really a central question of the Interactive Architecture Lab. Rather than simulation of nature by robotics, the prototype’s animacy suggests amplification of nature through robotics.

What’s next for reEarth? And for you?

WILLIAM VICTOR: Hortum machina, B is only the first prototype of the research. The reEarth project has much more to offer on an architectural scale. As a project, new ideas are already in place for a possible next iteration. It’s intriguing to imagine distinct versions of the species actualised in several countries around the world, building a library of evolving data and behaviour in their diverse habitats.

DANILO: I’d like to investigate the applicability of its technologies on building envelopes for example. The Interactive Architecture Lab is looking a lot at how buildings could respond and change in real time according to inhabitants needs, leveraging global comfort efficiency, preserving natural resources and enhancing individual’s’ behaviour and well-being.

Thanks Victor and Danilo!

Categories: New Media News

Relics of the Cold War

Tue, 04/19/2016 - 05:42

Bunker in the Baltic Sea, near the former Soviet naval base of Liepāja, Latvia, 2002. © Martin Roemers

West Germany, Lorch, Former depot of the Bundeswehr in a fallout shelter, Lorch 2008. © Martin Roemers

Gynecologist’s chair in a deserted Soviet Army hospital, Juterbog, East Germany, 2007. © Martin Roemers

Military barracks, atomic-bomb shelters, air force bases, storage spaces for nuclear weapons, army graveyards, abandoned training grounds, underground tunnels, decaying control centers, rusty tanks, fallen statues and other dilapidated monuments. Dutch photographer Martin Roemers spent 10 years traveling on both sides of the former Iron Curtain to document the architectural and structural remains of the Cold War. The quest for relics of a war that lasted 40 years but never turned into an armed conflict brought him to Russia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Ukraine, Latvia and Lithuania but also to Great Britain, the Netherlands and Belgium, and of course to both parts of the once-divided Germany.

Some of the images the photographer took all over the continent are currently on view at the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin.

Roemers grew up during the Cold War, a time when the Soviets and the Americans had missiles that could reach and obliterate their target anywhere in the world within 30 seconds. He wanted to document the remnants of the crisis that served as a background to his youth. With the photos, Roemers also wanted to create a kind of memorial to the war. After a real war, a commemoration culture develops, he told DW. The veterans and victims have their ceremonies and monuments are built. But the Cold War never became a real war, at least not in Europe, so there are not many physical reminders, let alone a commemoration culture.

Radioroom of the Dutch civil defense organization in a nuclear shelter, Grouw, The Netherlands. 2001. © Martin Roemers

Former listening post of the USA army from the Cold War. West Berlin, Germany, 2008. © Martin Roemers

The exhibition underlines that the Cold War was both a confrontation between two systems and a system in itself: one that has left remains of army bases, bunkers and other infrastructures that look fairly similar on both sides of the Iron Curtain. They built the same defense structures out of the same fears, he added.

As Bernd Greiner, Director of the Berlin Center for Cold War Studies, there is an important element we tend forget when we talk of the Cold War in Europe or the USA: the same period saw ‘hot wars’ raging other parts of the world (in Korea, Vietnam, etc.) and the US and the Soviets as well as their respective allies intervened in these conflicts and left traces that still linger: environmental pollution, economic damages, health problems suffered by local populations, landmines, etc.

Germany East, Altes Lager Mural of a Soviet Soyuz (left) and an American Apollo spacecraft in the former pilot school of a Soviet air force base. The Russian-American Apollo-Soyuz Test was the first joint flight of the U.S. and Soviet space programs in 1975. The project was seen as a symbol of the policy of detente between the two superpowers. © Martin Roemers

West Germany, Marienthal. Former nuclear bunker for the west German government. The German bundeskanzler and his ministers would be transferred to this bunker in case of a nuclear war. © Martin Roemers

Underground bunker of the NVA (the East German Peoples Army), Wollenberg, East Germany, 2005. © Martin Roemers

Bunkers offered a sense of security in the face of total annihilation. Underground shelters were built all over Europe for the political elite, the military and part of the civilian population but the reality was that they were not suitable for people to live there for long periods of time.

Old Russian army truck in Yeremino, Russia. © Martin Roemers

Former submarine base ‘Object 825 GPOe’ of the Soviet Navy in the Balaklava Bay at the Black Sea. It was a service and repairing station for submarines and an ammunition storage. Sevastopol, Crimea, Ukraine. 2005. © Martin Roemers

East Germany, Altes Lager. Mural depicting the siege over Nazi Germany, in a Soviet school for aircraft technicians, Altes Lager, East Germany, 1997 © Martin Roemers

East Germany, Lieberose, Ammunition parts left behind on a former Soviet army training area, Lieberose, 1998. © Martin Roemers

Poland, Borne Sulinowo, Grave in a cemetery for Russian soldiers, Borne Sulinowo 2005. © Martin Roemers

East Germany, Altengrabow, Tank which was used as a target on former Soviet army training area. The terrain is still used by the German army, 2004. © Martin Roemers

When you look at these photos now, they serve as a reminder of how things used to be in the Cold War, Roemers told DW. But you can also imagine how things could be again in the political climate of today. That’s the important thing about showing them now.

Two video interviews are shown in the exhibition space. In the first one, Martin Roemers talks about the motivations and adventures behind the photo series. In the other one, Bernd Greiner, Director of the Berlin Center for Cold War Studies, provides historical information about the Cold War era.

Interview with Martin Roemers about the exhibition Relics of the Cold War

Interview with historian Prof. Dr. Bernd Greiner about the Cold War

View of the exhibition at the Deutsches Historisches Museum. Copyright © Martin Roemers

Relics of the Cold War is at the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin until 14 August 2016.

Categories: New Media News

Pictoplasma focus: Julian Glander

Mon, 04/18/2016 - 08:26

Like all Pictoplasma guests, Julian Glander creates little fellows. His have been dipped in cotton candy and other similarly sugary substances. They live a merry life, star in comic strips, music videos, short films, adverts and illustrations but they particularly shine when they get to frolic in GIFs!

Julian Glander, GIF portrait

Glander also made a video game. It’s called Lovely Weather We’re Having and is probably the typical gamer’s worst nightmare: it has no goal and involves a lot of weather data.

Julian Glander will participate to the Pictoplasma conference in May. There’s little chance i can make it this year. As a consolation prize, i get to interview some of the conference speakers. It’s not quite as fun as being in Berlin for the festival but it still allows me to get to know some really talented artists:

Animated looping valentine buddies for Nickelodeon on-air department. AD: Stef Shank

Hi Julian! You work a lot with GIFs. I’m like 99% of this planet, i love GIFs but i can’t explain why. Since you work with them closer maybe you’ve developed your how rational explanation about the appeal of GIFs. What do you think make GIFs so irresistible? Why do you like working with them so much?

They’re so tiny and compact — like one little morsel of animation. Just one bite. I think they’ve taken off recently because they’re so easy to digest — you can basically read a GIF instantly, and if you like it you can let yourself be hypnotized by it for as long as you want. I like working on GIFs because it’s a manageable format to convey a single composition and concept. Some animators think of GIFs as short movies but for me, they’re more like illustrations that have just ever so slightly been brought to life.

Lovely Weather We’re Having

Lovely Weather We’re Having

Lovely Weather We’re Having, the video game you developed together with Eugene Burden is ‘goal-free’ and about the local weather.
Why did you want to make a goal free game?

As a working adult, I’m pounded down relentlessly by goals, challenges, and time limits, so when I’m thinking about what media I want to consume, that’s not really something I’m looking for. For me, the best video game experiences are when I go a bit “off the track” of the game — driving around aimlessly with the radio on in Grand Theft Auto, walking through the tall grass in Zelda and hearing it swish-swish against you, that kinda thing. I still think Lovely Weather We’re Having is a “challenging” game, but not in the traditional way– more that it challenges you to stop and reflect for a bit.

Also, weather is either this extremely boring topic people resort to when they’ve ran out of things to say or the source of heated debate about climate change. So why has the weather such an important role in your game?

That’s one opinion! For what it’s worth, I think weather is incredible, and borderline magical. What makes it an interesting premise for a game, IMO, is the commonality and bigness of it. Weather conditions run all of our lives and we’re totally at the mercy of the environment.

NASA, GIFs based on responses from Tumblr’s Answer Time with Astronaut Scott Kelly. Production Strategist: Margaux Olverd

You live in Pittsburg, right? I’ve only been there once for a week and i loved it. It’s one of the two only cities in the USA where i could move. Could you tell us about the visual art scene in the city? Which local artists or designers would you recommend us to have a look at? And does the city inspire your work in any way?

Ahh, Pittsburgh! Actually I moved away last week after living there for two years. I’m back in New York, for some reason. But the ‘Burgh is a great city for artists because the rent is cheap, and there is a really neat (if comparatively small) local art squad. Some of my favorite inspiring Pittsburgh creative folks are Xtina Lee, Dan Allende, Paolo Pedercini, and Mr Rogers (RIP!)

Any advice you could give to young illustrators / students who would like to have a fulfilling career as an illustrator/’art person’?

Embrace new technology. Embrace the brand new things that your professors and mentors say are “just trends”. It’s the best way to find a niche for yourself.

Please Look At Me, a weekly comic strip on Vice.com. Editor’d by Nick Gazin

Promotional GIF for Jamie XX’s hit song GOOD TIMES ft Yung Thug + Popcaan. Via XL records

Night Time, A comic spread for issue 14 of Faesthetic magazine

What are you going to present at Pictoplasma?

SECRETS! That’s the key word on my brain as I put together my talk. I’m going to be showing off some process secrets and behind-the-scenes methods that I don’t usually share, as well as some “business” secrets and pitch work that hasn’t seen the light of day. So basically, by the end of the talk you’ll have everything you need to become Julian Glander and steal my life. It’s gonna be must-see stuff!

Thanks Julian!

Catch up with Julian Glander at the 12th Pictoplasma Conference & Festival on 4 – 8 MAY 2016 in Berlin.

Categories: New Media News

e-waste, porn, ecology & warfare. An interview with Dani Ploeger

Wed, 04/13/2016 - 11:57

Firing a Kalashnikov assault rifle. Photo by Maja Dubowska

Dani Ploeger studied music in various conservatories across Europe, performed as a trombonist with symphony orchestras in Stuttgart and Berlin, taught music and performance in Ramallah, Palestine, completed a PhD on sound, performance and media theory at the University of Sussex, lectured in various universities in the UK and is currently a Research Fellow at The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. But the reason why i’m interviewing Ploeger is that in his current life, he is a visual artist, a cultural theorist, and the leader of Bodies of Planned Obsolescence: Digital performance and the global politics of electronic waste, an art & science research project that explores the material aspects of electronic devices from their ecological, social, technological and ethical perspective.

I discovered his work last year at the Renewable Futures conference in Riga. He talked about his research on electronic waste, showed us a video of a performance for mobile phone that starred an erection and participated to the Transformative Ecologies exhibition with the video documentation of a performance that involved having electronic waste sewn onto his abdomen. Ploeger has since been learning how to use fire arms in order to be able to shoot at an iPad with an AK47, and travelled to dump sites in Nigeria to collect electronic waste originating from Europe.

At first sight, it might seem difficult to reconciliate topics as diverse as the ones enumerated above. But Ploeger is an artist who looks at the broad picture, who realizes that e-waste, sexuality, ecology or violence are all valid points of entries into the study of the many paradoxes, complexities and entanglements of our consumer culture and its impacts on the planet.

Dani Ploeger, Recycled Coil, 2014

Hi Dani! I found the video of your work Recycled Coil really difficult to watch. For the performances, you asked a body piercer to sew an old cathode ray television coil into your abdomen. I thought it was a violent way to treat your body, especially because you were not doing it for aesthetic purposes and also because you used something we regard as trash. 
Did you want to get a visceral reaction from people? And what were you trying to achieve with the performance?

With Recycled Coil I wanted to create a counterpoint to the commonplace image of the hi-tech, powerful cyborg, which still dominates popular culture (think of Robocop, the Terminator, and – more recently – Ava in Ex Machina). Instead of extending my body with state-of-the-art new technologies in order to make it more durable or enhance its functionality, I implanted old, discarded parts to perform one of the most simple things one can do with electricity: generate a magnetic field by sending a current through a coil. The magnetic field was so weak that whilst it could be detected with a sensitive magnetometer it was not suitable for any ‘useful’ purpose.

I see the cultural hegemony of the hi-tech cyborg, with its slick and clean surfaces, as part of what I call the ‘symbolic order of technological progress’. Through advertising, news media and popular culture, everyday digital technologies are propagated in relation to ideas of progress, and immaterial forms of communication. The materiality and eventual becoming-waste of the devices, as well as the fleshiness of the bodies it interacts with, tends to be backgrounded in these visions.

I like to see Recycled Coil as a technological extension of my body that draws attention to its vulnerability, and to the materiality of technological devices as objects that remain in the world long after they have lost their aura of newness. In this context, evoking a sense of the abject and focusing on the bloodiness of the operation was deliberate.

Dani Ploeger, Recycled Coil, 2014

Dani Ploeger, Recycled Coil. Installation view at the Transformative Ecologies exhibition in Riga. Image courtesy of RIXC

I’ve also been wondering about the place that porn takes in your work. Some of your works, such as Ascending Performance, can be enjoyed both as artworks in their own rights and as sex entertainment. Is this a strategy to engage with non-traditional art audiences?  Maybe i’m a bit naive but don’t you think it’s a bit risky? Because art audiences might take you less seriously? 

I’m not very worried about being taken serious by ‘art audiences’, but if I was, I think my worries would be focused elsewhere. Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons and many others have also made work that can be enjoyed as sex entertainment (e.g. Warhol’s Blow Job and Koons’ Made in Heaven) and I don’t think they have been taken less seriously as artists for that reason. However, I have never seen smartphone apps, body piercing, and electronic waste featured in Artforum International or other ‘serious’ art magazines…

Recycled Coil was conceived as a response to popular ideas about technologized bodies. Similarly, ASCENDING PERFORMANCE tries to uproot some widespread attitudes to bodies and nakedness in digital culture. Whatever the intentions and original representational framework of bodies you put online, you can be sure that they will be sexualised. This becomes clear when you read the comment feeds of Youtube clips, or look at the profiles and interests of people who ‘like’ art videos featuring naked bodies on Vimeo. With ASCENDING PERFORMANCE I wanted to make an artwork that acknowledges this by deliberately sexualizing the representation of my body, and distributing it through a porn platform, whilst at the same time complicating its straightforward appropriation as sexual entertainment.

Dani Ploeger, Ascending Performance (Trailer)

I simultaneously advertised the work in Artforum International (in November 2013) and on pornhub.com to promote it as both art and porn (the decision to advertise in Artforum rather than another art magazine was conceived as an homage to Lynda Benglis’ famous 1974 advertisement with double-sided dildo in the same publication). The app itself also refers to both artistic and pornographic frameworks: Just like in ‘porn-proper’ you get to see a hard dick. However, in contrast to the HD and POV (point-of-view) immediacy of most mainstream porn, the mediation of my body is emphasized in this app; the video is a grainy, digitized Super 8 film. Similarly, the toned texture of my body is heightened with bodybuilder tan and glaze to suggest a typical porn star body, but this is then ‘artified’ through the film’s rather distantiated perspective, the sepia-like colours, and the absence of a money shot (i.e. there is process but no conclusion).

Advertisement for ASCENDING PERFORMANCE in Artforum International. Photo: Courtesy of DEFIBRILLATOR GALLERY, Chicago, IL

Advertisement for ASCENDING PERFORMANCE on pornhub.com. Photo: Courtesy of DEFIBRILLATOR GALLERY, Chicago, IL

Bodies of Planned Obsolescence: Digital performance and the global politics of electronic waste is a network of artists, scientists and theorists looking for ways to engage with the material aspects of electronic devices.  And how did the work of artists support the one of scientists? And vice-versa?

The central idea of Bodies of Planned Obsolescence was to re-materialize the participants’ experience of electronic devices, which tend to be promoted in relation to notions of immateriality (e.g. ‘the cloud’) and everlasting newness in Western consumer society. We tried to achieve this by means of hands-on workshops where the participants actively took part in electronic waste recycling work in countries that import substantial amounts of used technology from Europe (Nigeria) and North-America (China via Hong Kong). After these workshops we exchanged experiences and ideas and took this as a starting point for new work in our respective disciplines (digital art, cultural studies, science).

The collaboration with experts on the subject matter from the realm of science and cultural studies enabled the artists participating in the project to develop their work in an environment with a diverse range of in-depth, detailed knowledge.

On the other hand, the artistic perspective of the projects’ methodology meant that we could conduct the workshops with a blue-sky approach, without clearly defining hypotheses prior to the activities. Also, we could engage in activities that involved the deliberate exposure of the participants’ bodies to a certain degree of risk (especially the informal recycling methods practiced in Lagos involved some health hazards). For the scientists in the group, but also for some of the cultural theorists, this would have been a highly unlikely approach if they had worked within their own disciplines. Whereas blue-sky experimentation and negotiating exposure to physical risk is a common aspect in many performance art practices (an extreme example is Chris Burden’s Shoot (1971) where he asked a friend to shoot him in the arm), the avoidance of any risk is a priority in most institutional science research.

Could you tell us about the workshops in Lagos and China? What have you and the other participants discovered there? What can points of views and approaches in these countries teach Europeans?

In Lagos, we visited a dump-site connected to Alaba Market in the western outskirts of the city. We asked a group of workers if they would give us an induction into the work they do. Subsequently, we worked alongside them in the dismantling of computers and other electronic devices for two days. We extracted copper and aluminium from motherboards and adapters, removed scrap iron from televisions and I tried to take apart refrigerator pumps (which turned out to be much harder than it looked).

Project participants Jelili Atiku and Dani Ploeger at a dump at Alaba Market in Lagos, Nigeria. Photo by Peter Dammann / Agentur Focus

In Hong Kong, we worked at one of the main e-waste recycling factories in the outskirts of the new territories, close to the Chinese mainland border. In this formalized industrial environment we attended an induction in health and safety protocols and subsequently worked in the factory where we used pneumatic tools to dismantle laptops, monitors and desktop computers, and sorted all parts to prepare them for dispatch to mainland China for further processing. There are more detailed accounts of the workshops in Lagos and Hong Hong on the project blog.

Project participant Shu Lea Cheang at Vannex International Ltd. recycling plant, Hong Kong. Photo by Peter Dammann / Agentur Focus

During the workshops I became interested in the ways in which ‘dead’ electronics act on the body. Rather than the common perception of waste as passive matter that is moved and manipulated by human actions, the waste environment itself also acts on the bodies that navigate it. In contrast to some of the work I had made before this project, which had focused on identifying, collecting and assembling various kinds of e-waste (e.g. the installation Back to Sender (2013-14) in collaboration with Jelili Atiku), in the aftermath of the Lagos visit I made a piece that documents a wound that started to occur on my arm after working on the dump-site for two days (Hi-Tech Wound (2015)).

Hi-Tech Wound, 2015, duratrans print

One of the participating scientists, Kehinde Olubanjo, experienced the omnipresence of dust at the recycling sites and considered its apparent contents of waste particles. He is now planning a research project where samples of dust, rather than the e-waste artefacts themselves, are analysed to assess environmental hazards.

A more general dimension that we became aware of were the thriving electronics repair activities that surrounded the recycling work in Lagos. Repair workers from the adjacent market areas would frequently visit the dump to buy parts harvested from the e-waste. This active repair culture, which is generally characterized by a high degree of inventiveness and improvisation, is found in various African countries and could be a positive example for the technology-throw-away attitude that is prevalent in the West.

This thought formed the starting point for an event I am organizing at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London on 15 April. The event will include a presentation of digital artwork that deals with electronics, waste and longevity, and I will travel to Nairobi, Kenya, where I will set up a live video connection with the museum to interact with a repair community there. This will be the setting for a repair workshop where visitors are invited to bring their own broken devices and receive guidance in basic repair skills.

Do you think that the planned obsolescence issues is entirely in the hands of the manufacturers? Or can citizens and cultural institutions engage effectively with the issue? 

I consider rapid product obsolescence inherent in the logic of capitalist consumer culture. Consequently, an effective solution to the issue would involve change on a much bigger scale. Initiatives that engage directly with waste prevention and recycling are useful to temper short-term effects, but as long as we maintain a culture based on economic growth through ever increasing consumption rates, initiatives to increase recycling and extend product lifetime cannot be considered more than a patching strategy. The V&A event I just told you about is based on a direct engagement approach, but through the artistic element, as well as the choice of topics that will be discussed via the video-stream, it will also take this as an opportunity to tease out broader, meta-perspectives on the issue.

I believe that what we should engage with – regardless of whether we’re artists or not – is exposing the contradictions of the ideology of consumer capitalism, and facilitate its collapse once the time is right. I am aware that in these days of ideological fatalism, this may sound like a fantasy project. And admittedly, I enjoy consumer culture too much myself to live up to such revolutionary zeal. However, I think that this is why my work always has a somewhat silly dimension as well.

While ambiguously indulging in consumerist practices and simultaneously undermining its glamorous promises, I hope it shows that consumer culture is in the end just a stupid circus event that destroys people and the world. Hopefully a future generation will have the strength and decisiveness to do away with it. And with me.

Do you find signs that consumers, manufacturers and governments in Europe (or the US, Australia, etc.) are taking steps into engaging more responsibly with planned obsolescence and with e-waste in general? Or is it still an issue that is swiftly swept under the carpet?

There seems to be a somewhat increased awareness due to the media coverage around the subject in the past couple of years, and there are some really good initiatives to encourage people to repair their broken devices. The Restart Project in London, who participate in the V&A event mentioned earlier, are a great example of this. Likewise, there are some positive manufacturing developments in terms of modular devices, such as the Fairphone, which are easier to repair and allow for specific parts to be exchanged.

However positive, these are relatively small scale initiatives though, which I think are unlikely to challenge the prevalence in mass culture of fast obsoleting disposable technologies. Again, in my opinion a solution to the electronic (and other) waste issue is unlikely to be achieved in isolation from a much more fundamental change in the organization of society.

Dani Ploeger, ASSAULT (iPad/AK47) official trailer, 2016

Any upcoming work, event, field of research you’d like to share with us? 

The work we just talked about deals with techno-consumerism in relation to waste and sex. At the moment I am also looking at experiences of violent conflict in media culture, which I see in connection to these other two dimensions. Over the past two months I have been working on a new work with iPads. I fired a Kalashnikov at a functioning iPad somewhere in Poland and made a high frame-rate video recording of the bullet hitting the screen. This video material will form the basis for a new app, which will be released in May. The app will repeatedly play the video and sound recording of the destruction of the screen, after which the recording is played backwards in slow-motion. Thus, the iPad will show an endless process of its own destruction and apparent regeneration. Ironically, I am now generating e-waste, the process and artefacts of which are subsequently rehabilitated as an artwork…

Shot iPad. Photo by Maja Dubowska

Over the past decades, warfare in Western nations has increasingly become understood as a clean and hidden affair. On one hand, Western ‘Shock and Awe‘ operations appear to be precisely controlled by computer game-like technologies, such as drones and guided precision missiles. On the other, terrorist attacks on Western societies have mainly evolved around hiding Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in inconspicuous places and are thus hardly considered as proper warfare strategies. As a result, in the West, an apparent division has been established between ‘our’ world of organized consumer space – albeit under threat of occasional improvised violent disturbance – and ‘their’ world of persistent ‘dirty’ ground warfare, which takes place in underdeveloped territories far away from Europe and North-America.

In recent terror attacks in Belgium and France, a shift has taken place though. The iconic image of the battlefield soldier has re-emerged in perceptions of the everyday in Europe: terrorists and security forces in military attire and armed with automatic weapons appear to increasingly populate experiences and imaginations of public space. Instead of improvised bombs, the Kalashnikov rifle is now becoming the iconic weapon of terrorism. In Assault, I’m trying to bring these conflicting ideas of ‘clean’ consumerism and ‘dirty’ battlefield warfare to a material collision.

Thanks Dani!

The public workshop Digital Futures: Dreaming Zero-Waste: The art of fixing electronics in Europe and Africa will take place at the Learning Centre Seminar Room 3, Victoria and Albert Museum in London this Friday 15 April 2015.

Categories: New Media News

MENACE 2, an artificial intelligence made of wooden drawers and coloured beads

Tue, 04/12/2016 - 12:09

Julien Prévieux, MENACE 2 (Machine Educable Noughts and Crosses Engine), 2010. Image Jousse Entreprise

In 1961, Donald Michie, a British WWII code breaker and a researcher in artificial intelligence, developed MENACE (the Machine Educable Noughts And Crosses Engine), one of the first programs capable of learning to play and win a game of Noughts and Crosses (or Tic-Tac-Toe if you’re American.) The work emerged from his wartime discussions with Alan Turing about whether or not computers could be programmed to learn from experience.

Since he had no computers at his disposal at the time, he created a device built out of matchboxes and glass beads to simulate a learning algorithm.

A few years ago, Julien Prévieux (who’s imho one of the most interesting artists of the moment) recreated the machine under the form of a beautiful wooden piece of furniture. MENACE 2 (Machine Educable Noughts and Crosses Engine) can be played right now at Kunsthalle Wien where it is part of The Promise of Total Automation, an exhibition that explores machines and their potential to elevate or enslave us (i reviewed it last week.)

Julien Prévieux, MENACE 2 (Machine Educable Noughts and Crosses Engine), 2010. Image Jousse Entreprise

Here’s how MENACE works:

There are 304 little wooden drawers (or matchboxes in the original version created by Michie.) Each of them represents a unique board position that the player can encounter during a game. Each drawer is filled with coloured beads that represent a different move in that board state. The quantity of a colour indicated the “certainty” that playing the corresponding move would lead to a win.

Menace “learns” to win the game by playing repeatedly against the human player, honing its strategy until its opponent is only able to draw or lose against it. The trial and error learning process involves being “punished” for losing and “rewarded” for drawing or winning. This type of machine learning is called reinforcement learning.

Menace always plays first.

1st move, Menace’s turn: The operator opens the top left matchbox/drawer that displays the empty board, opens it and takes out a random bead. The color of that bead determines the space that Menace will mark with a cross or a nough. The player marks the move on the grid and puts the beard on a specially-designed little container added in front of the drawer to remember Menace’s move.

2nd move, the human player places his or her counter on the grid.

3rd move, Menace’s turn: the player identifies the drawer that displays the current board layout, opens it and takes out a random bead. Once again, the color of that bead determines the space that Menace will mark with a cross or a nough. The process is identical to the 1st move.

4th move, player’s turn: The human player places the counter in the spot that will prevent Menace from getting three in a row.

The operator/player keeps on playing until the end.

When Menace loses, the beads on the drawers are put aside, in a bag. This will decrease the probability of Menace making those moves in those states again. If it was a draw, an extra bead of the colour played is added inside each relevant matchbox/drawer. And if Menace wins, three extra beads of the same colour are added, making it more likely that it will makes those moves again next time.

Julien Prévieux, MENACE 2 (Machine Educable Noughts and Crosses Engine), 2010. Image Jousse Entreprise

This wooden version of artificial intelligence is crafty, unassuming and stylish but its low-tech appearance might make us forget about the fears and doubts we might have when we think about artificial intelligence. AI is no longer a topic of science fiction novels, it is a field of research that’s evolving rapidly and is seen by some as threatening to take over our jobs and govern our daily lives.

The Promise of Total Automation was curated by Anne Faucheret. The exhibition is open until 29 May at Kunsthalle Wien in Vienna. Don’t miss it if you’re in the area.

Also in the exhibition: Prototype II (after US patent no 6545444 B2) or the quest for free energy. For my review of the show, press play.

Categories: New Media News

Book review: The New Curator

Mon, 04/11/2016 - 11:37

The New Curator, by Natasha Hoare, Coline Milliard, Rafal Niemojewski, Ben Borthwick and Jonathan Watkins.

On amazon USA and UK.

Publisher Laurence King writes: How many times have you heard the term ‘curate’ in the past few years? But what exactly does it mean? Curating has been a key concept both in and outside the art world in the past few years, with the remit of what a curator does having changed and expanded with each new exhibition or biennale. With an emphasis on the ‘now’ and the most recent exhibitions, this book examines the variety and richness of curating practices today, from public commissions by Art Angel to experimental projects such as the ‘Ghetto Biennale’ in Haiti or the Rhizome digital archive.

Each highly illustrated case study is structured around an interview with the curator responsible for the show. The text both tells the story of the show’s making and fills in background information about the curator’s work.

Francis Alÿs’ Seven Walks, 27 September 2005 – 20 November 2005. Photo Artangel

Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, The Rice Field, 2000-ongoing. Photo: Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial

This one’s the good surprise of the month. I thought i should read the book for my own personal information, to stay in touch with the distant and daunting world of contemporary world and its glamorous actors. I expected pomposity, dense vocabulary and an otherwise fairly uneventful read. The book turned out to be a gem. It’s a collection of interviews with curators whose ballsy experiments are on par with the work of some of today’s most intrepid artists.

There’s a total of 26 interviews. One of them with Broomberg and Chanarin. Broomberg and Chanarin! Yes please!

I was surprised to read that the role of the curator is a fairly new one. The discipline emerged in its current form in the 1960 only and the first academic curatorial studies programmes were established in the early 1990s. In the meantime, the profession has evolved very fast. The ‘old curator’ was and is still the keeper of the museum or art collection. The new model of curator is often independent from museums, lives on temporary contracts, is expected to have many talents and functions, and is flying from one place to another in order to work on the production, dissemination and contextualization of art works and events. As the editors write, “while artists push boundaries, curators make ways for them to exist into the world.”

The New Curator offers a snapshot of the places and spaces occupied and disrupted by curators today. The interviews are lively and approach questions that go from how to challenge the sterility of the art fair format to how much curators get involved into the conceptual development of a new commission or how difficult it is to find funding for large-scale projects.

The curatorial practice is divided into four chapters: Beyond the White Cube, Rethinking the Biennale Model, Towards a Radical Institution and Transcending Boundaries. The chapters tend to overlap and confuse each other but that’s probably because many of the curators featured in the book are busy shaking up the art experience on so many fronts.

Mike Kelley, Mobile Homestead, Detroit, USA, 24 September 2010 – ongoing. Photo Artangel

Michael Landy, Break Down, Oxford Street, London, 10 February 2001 – 24 February 2001. Photo Artangel

The first group of curators illustrates the desire to break away from the constraints of the white cube space. Their efforts allow art to invigorate a rural region struggling with depopulation (Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale), turn ridiculously ambitious ideas into large scale experiments (Artangel) or interlace international exhibition with cheese making, gardening and anything that characterize everyday local life in a National Park (Grizedale Arts in the Lake District, England.)

A second group of curators attempts to give new meanings, formats and value to the much maligned and much inflated model of the art biennial. Two of the examples seemed particularly radical to me. The first one is the Ghetto Biennale, founded by Leah Gordon. The event takes place in the slums of Port-au-Prince in Haiti and challenges artists to create works using the kind of poverty materials found in the ghetto.

Charles Freger, Légion étrangère, 5. Alias: Installation views Bunkier Sztuki, Krakow PhotoMonth 2011

The second example is the edition of the Kraków Photomonth guest curated by Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin. Their exhibition, Alias, presented new works by artists working under alternative identities created for them by commissioned writers:

Twenty-three writers (of fiction, fact and medical history) were commissioned each to create a text describing an invented persona, which was then assigned to a visual artist to inhabit. The work that accompanies these texts is the result of each individual artist’s residency in their fictitious character.

90% of the artists didn’t really get on board and made their work literally. Which probably came as no surprise to Broomberg and Chanarin who had framed the exhibition as an experiment set up to fail.

The third group of curators aims at establishing new, radical institutions that illuminate contemporary political situations and attempt to address bigger audience without sacrificing the depth and complexity of the art discourse.

The stand out experiment was undoubtedly the project Picasso in Palestine conceived by artist Khaled Hourani and curator Charles Esche:

Picasso in Palestine, 2011, installation view. Photo credit: Khaled Jarar

On the road to Ramallah, June 2011: ‘Picasso in Palestine’ exhibition advertised on a roadside hoarding. Photograph by Charles Esche

In 2011, Picasso’s Buste de Femme (1943), one of the most iconic works from the collection of the Van Abbemuseum, traveled from Eindhoven to the International Art Academy Palestine in Ramallah. An important part of the project consisted in documenting all the experiences involved in the preparation, insurance, shipping and display of the painting in the Palestinian city.

The experiment involved far more than just the shipping and hanging of a painting. Because of the occupation and limitations on Palestinian sovereignty, the loan from one museum to another suddenly took on a political, diplomatic and military character. It involved insuring a masterpiece against Israeli incursions into the West Bank city, clearing passages through checkpoints, facing difficult road conditions, dealing with a constantly shifting political situation, convincing Israeli officials to help so that the journey went smoothly, etc. The project demonstrated how art institutions can use their power and prestige to infiltrate a war zone.

The last type of curatorial practice looks at how curators are ‘transcending boundaries’ and opening new possibilities for art itself.

Charles Campbell, Actor Boy: Fractal Engagement. Part of ‘En Mas’: Carnival and Performance Art of the Caribbean curated by Claire Tancons in 2014

The two interviews i found most interesting involved Claire Tancons explaining how her art practice explores the political aesthetics of carnival, processions, civic rituals and other popular movements and Michael Connor commenting on how he and Dragan Espenschied are giving a historical perspective to Rhizome‘s net art collection.

Inside the book:

Categories: New Media News

Bits, Pieces and blooming plastic

Thu, 04/07/2016 - 09:33

Nils Völker, Bits and Pieces, 2016. At NOME Gallery. Photo by Bresadola+Freese/drama-berlin.de

Nils Völker, Bits and Pieces, 2016. At NOME Gallery. Photo by Bresadola+Freese/drama-berlin.de

Plastic is everywhere: it’s used to 3D print pretty much anything, it wraps our food and books, invades our oceans, is ingested by animals, and because there’s some karma in the world after all, it travels up the food chain and we end up consuming it too. Once in a while however, comes an artwork that gives the much-maligned material some nobility by reminding us of its inherent beauty and pliability.

Bits and Pieces, a work on view for a few more days at the NOME gallery in Berlin, consists of a single sculpture made out of 108 motorized spheres that open and close in orchestrated rhythms. The structure evokes blooming flowers, children toys, or swarms of insects that float above your head and seem to be instilled with a life of their own.

Nils Völker, Bits and Pieces, 2016

Nils Völker, Bits and Pieces, 2016. At NOME Gallery. Photo by Bresadola+Freese/drama-berlin.de

The artist behind this multicoloured magic trick is Nils Völker. I recently caught up with him over emails:

Hi Nils! You’re showing a new installation at the NOME Project gallery. Could you tell us about it?

It consists mainly out of very colorful toy balls, so-called Hoberman Spheres. These balls are hanging in different heights in the middle of the space and constantly open and close in a controlled rhythm. So it looks like a large wave flowing through the space and it appears pretty dynamic although each of the toy balls remains in place and just opens and closes at the right time.

From what i see on the NOME page there won’t be any inflatable. I love inflatables. Please don’t say you got bored of inflatables…
But apart from that, how different is the piece from your other works?

No, you’re right, since a while it’s actually the first work which doesn’t inflate anything. But don’t worry I will surely continue to experiment in this area and create new installations made from inflating/deflating cushions. It’s pretty surprising how many variations in shape and material you can realize. For the last one at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum for example I used an extraordinary type of blue-white plastic canvas which I haven’t seen before in my life but you see it really everywhere in the streets in Taiwan.

Nils Völker, Twelve, 2016

I think on the first sight the new installation is of course quite different from my previous ones. But it is also made out of many more or less everyday objects, each doing the exact same thing and the programming leads to a surprisingly dynamic and organic movement through the space. Similar to my previous works is maybe that when you look at one of those objects isolated it’s pretty ordinary but if you have many of them synchronized it gets pretty fascinating and mesmerizing.

Nils Völker, Bits and Pieces, 2016. At NOME Gallery. Photo by Bresadola+Freese/drama-berlin.de

Nils Völker, Bits and Pieces, 2016. At NOME Gallery. Photo by Bresadola+Freese/drama-berlin.de

Nils Völker, Bits and Pieces, 2016. At NOME Gallery. Photo by Bresadola+Freese/drama-berlin.de

I’d also be interested to hear about the material you use. You’ve worked with garbage bags, lego parts and now plastic objects. Why this interest for the ordinary materials? Are you never tempted to work with super fancy parts and materials?

Surprisingly not much. I think Luca Barbeni, the director of the gallery, saw as well the opportunities in the early prototype I made a while ago and from that point he gave me a huge leap of faith and we both focused merely on realizing the best possible setup for his gallery space.

I’m not really sure why exactly I’m attracted by this kind of materials. Maybe it’s because they are boring on the first sight and usually overlooked by most people. But if you have a closer look at a simple garbage bag for example it is surprising how the material crumples and makes this sizzling noise. I also like when people still can somehow understand what is going on and how it works. It might make it even more compelling when you use such ordinary things. From fancy, unknown materials you’d rather expect fancy and unknown behavior.

And similarly, would you say that the technology you use to create your installation is ‘ordinary’ as well? Or do you think you need to use sophisticated software, tools and systems to give some nobility to humble materials?

Well, I think this is mainly a question of the perspective. To some people it looks pretty much like rocket science and a few years ago I actually thought the same when I saw things like that. But in the end I’m only using knowledge you can gain from the internet and with a few years of tinkering. And with every new project I still learn a lot of new things about the hard- and software and keep on improving my skills.

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

There is a very nice upcoming exhibition at La Gaité Lyrique in Paris called Extra Fantômes which opens on the 7th of April. And besides I’m looking forward to catch up on some ideas and prototypes which I paused working on during the past weeks.

Thanks Nils!

Bits and Pieces is at the NOME Project gallery until 15 april 2016.

Categories: New Media News

The Promise of Total Automation

Tue, 04/05/2016 - 10:58

Installation view The Promise of Total Automation. Image Kunsthalle Wien

Cécile B. Evans, How happy a Thing Can Be, 2014. Image Kunsthalle Wien

The word ‘automation’ is appearing in places that would have seemed unlikely to most people less than a decade ago: journalism, art, design or law. Robots and algorithms are being increasingly convincing at doing things just like humans. And sometimes even better than humans.

The Promise of Total Automation, an exhibition recently opened at Kunsthalle Wien in Vienna, looks at our troubled relationship with machines. Technical devices that were originally designed to serve and assist us and are now getting smarter and harder to control and comprehend. Does their growing autonomy mean that the machines will one day overpower us? Or will they remain our subservient little helpers, our gateway to greater knowledge and sovereignty?

The “promise of total automation” was the battle cry of Fordism. What we nowadays call “technology” is an already co-opted version of it, being instrumentalised for production, communication, control and body-enhancements, that is for a colonisation and rationalisation of space, time and minds. Still technology cannot be reduced to it. In the exhibition, automation, improvisation and sense of wonder are not opposed but sustain each other. The artistic positions consider technology as complex as it is, animated at the same time by rational and irrational dynamics.

The Promise of Total Automation is an intelligent, inquisitive and engrossing exhibition. Its investigation into the tensions and dilemmas of human/machines relationship explore themes that go from artificial intelligence to industrial aesthetics, from bio-politics to theories of conspiracy, from e-waste to resistance to innovation, from archaeology of digital communication to utopias that won’t die.

The show is dense in information and invitations to ponder so don’t forget to pick up one of the free information booklet at the entrance of the show. You’re going to need it!

A not-so-quick walk around the show:

James Benning, Stemple Pass, 2012

James Benning‘s film Stemple Pass is made of four static shots, each from the same angle and each 30 minutes long, showing a cabin in the middle of a forest in spring, fall, winter and summer. The modest building is a replica of the hideout of anti-technology terrorist Ted Kaczynski. The soundtrack alternates between the ambient sound of the forest and Benning reading from the Unabomber’s journals, encrypted documents and manifesto.

Kaczynski’s texts hover between his love for nature and his intention to destroy and murder. Between his daily life in the woods and his fears that technology is going to turn into an instrument that enables the powerful elite to take control over society. What is shocking is not so much the violence of his words because you expect them. It’s when he gets it right that you get upset. When he expresses his distrust of the merciless rise of technology, his doubts regarding the promises of innovation and it somehow makes sense to you.

Konrad Klapheck, Der Chef, 1965. Photo: © Museum Kunstpalast – ARTOTHEK

Konrad Klapheck’s paintings ‘portray’ devices that were becoming mainstream in 1960s households: vacuum cleaner, typewriters, sewing machines, telephones, etc. In his works, the objects are abstracted from any context, glorified and personified. In the typewriter series, he even assigns roles to the objects. They are Herrscher (ruler), Diktator, Gesetzgeber (lawgiver) or Chef (boss.) These titles allude to the important role that the instruments have taken in administrative and economic systems.

Tyler Coburn, Sabots, 2016, courtesy of the artist, photo: David Avazzadeh

This unassuming small pair of 3D-printed clogs alludes to the workers struggles of the Industrial Revolution. The title of the piece, Sabots, means clogs in french. The word sabotage allegedly comes from it. The story says that when French farmers left the countryside to come and work in factories they kept on wearing their peasant clogs. These shoes were not suited for factory works and as a consequence, the word ‘saboter’ came to mean ‘to work clumsily or incompetently’ or ‘to make a mess of things.’ Another apocryphal story says that disgruntled workers blamed the clogs when they damaged or tampered machinery. Another version saw the workers throwing their clogs at the machine to destroy it.

In the early 20th century, labor unions such as the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) advocated withdrawal of efficiency as a means of self-defense against unfair working conditions. They called it sabotage.

Tyler Coburn, Waste Management, 2013-15

Tyler Coburn contributed another work to the show. Waste Management looks like a pair of natural stones but the rocks are actually made out of electronic waste, more precisely the glass from old computer monitors and fiber powder from printed circuit boards that were mixed with epoxy and then molded in an electronic recycling factory in Taiwan. The country is not only a leader in the export of electronics, but also in the development of e-waste processing technologies that turn electronic trash into architectural bricks, gold potassium cyanide, precious metals—and even artworks such as these rocks. Coburn bought them there as a ready made. They evoke the Chinese scholar’s rocks. By the early Song dynasty (960–1279), the Chinese started collecting small ornamental rocks, especially the rocks that had been sculpted naturally by processes of erosion.
Coburn’s rocks are thus artificial objects that crave an aesthetic value that can only come from natural objects.

Accompanying these objects is a printed broadsheet which narrates the circulation and transformation of a CRT monitor into the stone artworks. The story follows from the “it-narrative” or novel of circulation, a sub-genre of 18th Century literature, in which currencies and commodities narrated their circulation within a then-emerging global economy.

Osborne & Felsenstein, Personal Computer Osborne 1a and Monitor NEC, 1981, Loan Vienna Technical Museum, photo: David Avazzadeh

Adam Osborne and Lee Felsenstein, Personal Computer Osborne 1a, 1981, Courtesy Technisches Museum, Wien

Several artifacts ground the exhibition into the technological and cultural history of automation: A mechanical Jacquard loom, often regarded as a key step in the history of computing hardware because of the way it used punched cards to control operations. A mysterious-looking arithmometer, the first digital mechanical calculator reliable enough to be used at the office to automate mathematical calculations. A Morse code telegraph, the first invention to effectively exploit electromagnetism for long-distance communication and thus a pioneer of digital communication. A cybernetic model from 1956 (see further below) and the first ‘portable’ computer.

Released in 1981 by Osborne Computer Corporation, the Osborne 1 was the first commercially successful portable microcomputer. It weighed 10.7 kg (23.5 lb), cost $1,795 USD, had a tiny screen (5-inch/13 cm) and no battery.

At the peak of demand, Osborne was shipping over 10,000 units a month. However, Osborne Computer Corporation shot itself in the foot when they prematurely announced the release of their next generation models. The news put a stop to the sales of the current unit, contributing to throwing the company into bankruptcy. This has comes to be known as the Osborne effect.

Kybernetisches Modell Eier: Die Maus im Labyrinth (Cybernetics Model Eier: The Mouse in the Maze), 1956. Image Kunsthalle Wien

Around 1960, scientists started to build cybernetic machines in order to study artificial intelligence. One of these machines was a maze-solving mouse built by Claude E. Shannon to study the labyrinthian path that a call made using telephone switching systems should take to reach its destination. The device contained a maze that could be arranged to create various paths. The system followed the idea of Ariadne’s thread, the mouse marking each field with the path information, like the Greek mythological figure did when she helped Theseus find his way out of the Minotaur’s labyrinth. Richard Eier later re-built the maze-solving mouse and improved Shannon’s method by replacing the thread with two two-bits memory units.

Régis Mayot, JEANNE & CIE, 2015. Image Kunsthalle Wien

In 2011, the CIAV (the international center for studio glass in Meisenthal, France) invited Régis Mayot to work in their studios. The designer decided to explore the moulds themselves, rather than the objects that were produced using them. By a process of sand moulding, the designer revealed the mechanical beauty of some of these historical tools, producing prints of a selection of moulds that were then blown by craftsmen in glass.

Jeanne et Cie (named after one of the moulds chosen by the designer) highlights how the aesthetics of objects are the result of the industrial instruments and processes that enter into their manufacturing.

Bureau d’études, ME, 2013, © Léonore Bonaccini and Xavier Fourt

Bureau d’Etudes, Electromagnetic Propaganda, 2010

The exhibition also presented a selection of Bureau d´Études‘ intricate and compelling cartographies that visualize covert connections between actors and interests in contemporary political, social and economic systems. Because knowledge is power, the maps are meant as instruments that can be used as part of social movements. The ones displayed at Kunsthalle Wien included the maps of Electro-Magnetic Propaganda, Government of the Agro-Industrial System and the 8th Sphere.

Mark Leckey, Pearl Vision, 2012

I fell in love with Mark Leckey‘s video. So much that i’ll have to dedicate another post to his work. One day.

David Jourdan, Untitled, 2016, © David Jourdan

David Jourdan’s poster alludes to an ad in which newspaper Der Standard announced that its digital format was ‘almost as good as paper.’

More images from the exhibition:

Magali Reus, Leaves, 2015

Thomas Bayrle, Kleiner koreanischer Wiper

Juan Downey, Nostalgic Item, 1967, Estate of Joan Downey courtesy of Marilys B. Downey, photo: David Avazzadeh

Judith Fegerl, still, 2013, © Judith Fegerl, Courtesy Galerie Hubert Winter, Wien

Wesley Meuris, Biotechnology & Genetic Engineering, 2014. Image Kunsthalle Wien

Installation view The Promise of Total Automation. Image Kunsthalle Wien

Installation view. Image Kunsthalle Wien

Installation view. Image Kunsthalle Wien

More images on my flickr album.

Also in the exhibition: Prototype II (after US patent no 6545444 B2) or the quest for free energy.

The Promise of Total Automation was curated by Anne Faucheret. The exhibition is open until 29 May at Kunsthalle Wien in Vienna. Don’t miss it if you’re in the area.

Categories: New Media News

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

Mon, 04/04/2016 - 09:20

The Barbican in London has recently opened Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers, an exhibition exploring the way international photographers have been portraying the UK since the 1930s. The show was curated by Martin Parr. I’m quite the Parr fan so i raced there, expecting cheerfulness throughout the galleries. And I was certainly much entertained during my visit but i never expected to be moved to tears by one of the photo series.

Raymond Depardon, Glasgow, Scotland, 1980. © Raymond Depardon / Magnum Photos

Raymond Depardon, Glasgow, Scotland, 1980. © Raymond Depardon / Magnum Photos

In 1980, the Sunday Times Magazine asked Raymond Depardon to go and photograph Glasgow. Depardon was a French war photographer who had just returned from civil war-torn Beirut. Yet he wasn’t ready for the scenes of poverty and desolation he found in Thatcher-era Glasgow. Rows of tall, dark council flats. Drunk men on wobbly legs. Broken windows. Raw poverty. Rain and so much grey skies. But also smiling guys, children playing and stylish mums. Still, his images was deemed too upsetting and Sunday Times Magazine never published them.

I knew that Glasgow used to have a bad reputation but to me, it’s the city of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, of lovely accents, contemporary art and the UK capital veganism. A tour of the city in the early 1980s shocked me beyond words.

Raymond Depardon, Glasgow, Scotland, 1980. © Raymond Depardon / Magnum Photos

Raymond Depardon, Glasgow, Scotland, 1980. © Raymond Depardon / Magnum Photos

Raymond Depardon, Glasgow, Scotland, 1980. © Raymond Depardon / Magnum Photos

Raymond Depardon, Glasgow, Scotland, 1980. © Raymond Depardon / Magnum Photos

Raymond Depardon, Glasgow, Scotland, 1980. © Raymond Depardon / Magnum Photos

Raymond Depardon, Glasgow, Scotland, 1980. © Raymond Depardon / Magnum Photos

Raymond Depardon, Glasgow, Scotland, 1980. © Raymond Depardon / Magnum Photos

Raymond Depardon, Glasgow, Scotland, 1980. © Raymond Depardon / Magnum Photos

Raymond Depardon, Glasgow, Scotland, 1980. © Raymond Depardon / Magnum Photos

Raymond Depardon, Glasgow, Scotland, 1980. © Raymond Depardon / Magnum Photos

Raymond Depardon, Glasgow, Scotland, 1980. © Raymond Depardon / Magnum Photos

Raymond Depardon, Glasgow, Scotland, 1980. © Raymond Depardon / Magnum Photos

Raymond Depardon, Glasgow, Scotland, 1980. © Raymond Depardon / Magnum Photos

Raymond Depardon, Glasgow, Scotland, 1980. © Raymond Depardon / Magnum Photos

Raymond Depardon, Glasgow, Scotland, 1980. © Raymond Depardon / Magnum Photos

Raymond Depardon, Glasgow, Scotland, 1980. © Raymond Depardon / Magnum Photos

Raymond Depardon, Glasgow, Scotland, 1980. © Raymond Depardon / Magnum Photos

Raymond Depardon, Glasgow, Scotland, 1980. © Raymond Depardon / Magnum Photos

Raymond Depardon, Glasgow, Scotland, 1980. © Raymond Depardon / Magnum Photos

Raymond Depardon, Glasgow, Scotland, 1980. © Raymond Depardon / Magnum Photos

Raymond Depardon, Glasgow, Scotland, 1980. © Raymond Depardon / Magnum Photos

Raymond Depardon, Glasgow, Scotland, 1980. © Raymond Depardon / Magnum Photos

Raymond Depardon, Glasgow, Scotland, 1980. © Raymond Depardon / Magnum Photos

More images online. Or in the freshly published book Glasgow, Raymond Depardon, préface William Boyd (amazon USA and UK.)

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

Categories: New Media News

Destructables, DIY for protest and creative dissent

Tue, 03/29/2016 - 08:56

GMO Food Warning Labels

I’ve just started working on a new talk i’ll be giving in the coming days at the Art Activism Easter School. The theme is the dissemination of artistic/activist practices. During my research, i discovered a brilliant resource for DIY projects of protest and creative dissent. It’s called Destructables and it was started by one of my heroes: Packard Jennings. He of the Anarchist Action Figure and outrageous Business Reply pamphlets.

Destructables is a website packed with recipes for protest, subversion, hijacking and disruption. The target are superstores, banks, police, corporate villains, etc. Some of these DIY instructions might come in handy nowadays. They go from The Center for Tactical Magic‘s guide to hold up a bank to Jennings’ Chemical Bananas sticker that denounce the use of carcinogenic pesticides by banana companies, to a guide to stealing from your employer (if your employer happens to be a bank), to a booklet in which the Billboard Liberation Front (BLF) shows you how to ‘improve’ billboards, to Lucas Murgida‘s tutorial of how to drill open a standard door lock, to Copwatch‘s downloadable pamphlets to discourage/attempt to stop police brutality and harassment.’ And lots more.

Packard Jennings, Bible Stickers

My favourite DIY are the Bible Stickers that you can download and give to your friends with the instruction to stick them to the inside jacket of the Bible you will find in your hotel room. The sticker reads: “This Bible contains material on creationism. Creationism is a parable, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material was written by normal men almost two thousand years ago and should be approached with an open mind and critically considered.”

Packard Jennings, Pocket Survival Guide

Packard Jennings, Walgreens Local Business Coupon

The Freedom Fighter’s Manual, 1983

Destructables also features historical documents such as a US military instructional booklet to explain how to load and drop a propaganda bomb (World War II), an ‘How to Surrender’ US propaganda leaflet (Gulf War, 1991), The Freedom Fighter’s Manual dropped by the CIA over Nicaragua in 1983 to invite citizens to cause civil disorder, an Egyptian Guide to Revolution (with translation) designed to arm Egyptian protestors with practical advice (1991), the PDF of the Demonstrations chapter from Abbie Hoffman‘s 1971 Steal This Book, etc.

Categories: New Media News

Global Activism: Art and Conflict in the 21st Century

Fri, 03/25/2016 - 13:15

Global Activism: Art and Conflict in the 21st Century, edited by Peter Weibel.

It’s on amazon USA and UK.

Publisher MIT Press writes: Today political protest often takes the form of spontaneous, noninstitutional, mass action. Mass protests during the Arab Spring showed that established systems of power—in that case, the reciprocal support among Arab dictators and Western democracies—can be interrupted, at least for a short moment in history. These new activist movements often use online media to spread their message. Mass demonstrations from Tahrir Square in Cairo to Taksim Square in Istanbul show the power of networked communication to fuel “performative democracy”—at the center of which stands the global citizen. Art is emerging as a public space in which the individual can claim the promises of constitutional and state democracy. Activism may be the first new art form of the twenty-first century.

global aCtIVISm (the capitalized letters form the Latin word civis, emphasizing the power of citizens) describes and documents politically inspired art—global art practices that draw attention to grievances and demand the transformation of existing conditions through actions, demonstrations, and performances in public space. Essays by leading thinkers—including Noam Chomsky, Antonio Negri, Peter Sloterdijk, and Slavoj Žižek—consider the emerging role of the citizen in the new performative democracy. The essays are followed by images of art objects, illustrations, documents, and other material (first shown in an exhibition at ZKM Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe) as well as case studies by artists and activists.

Arnold Fuad, Pro Mubarak Demonstration, Abdel Monem Ryad Street, Cairo, Egypt, January 01, 2011

Black Mask, Wall Street protest against capitalism, New York, 1967. Photo

I’m surprised i’m even writing this but Global Activism: Art and Conflict in the 21st Century has brought back my faith in the perceptivity of the art world. I feel like i’ve been reading books and visiting exhibition about art and activism almost every week over these past few years. It reminds me a bit of 2008 when suddenly most art institutions were organizing exhibitions and conferences about ecology while printing magnificent catalogues and shipping installations, artists and critics at huge (ecological) costs. Nowadays it’s activism, artivism and hacktivism everywhere you look. There is a lot of genuinely intelligent and meaningful ‘artivism’ works. But there are even more works that fall into the -consciously or not- opportunistic trap. If you’re an artist or even a designer then you want to produce some ‘socially-engaged’ works. It is hip, comfortably subversive and almost bound to earn you all kinds of accolades: a mention at art festivals, the attention of journalists and bloggers (myself included) and the approval of your peers. It doesn’t matter whether or not anyone outside of the art institutions actually gets to experience your work or whether it efficiently challenges any of the issues you’re trying to raise. You’re preaching to your own choir and that’s the good enough for the art world.

Global Activism breaks the mold of art’s self-complacency and pretend solicitude for the miseries of the world. The publication not only looks at creative interventions that have had a real impact on consciences, media and political status quo, it also gives equal credits to the ‘man on the street’ and to the artist for the way they challenge established power systems and express their dissatisfaction with the way governments handle immigration, climate change, corruption, growing social inequality, access to health care and other ongoing issues.

Another outstanding quality of the book is the way it brings together and without any hierarchy the usual art suspects (The Yes Men, Pussy Riot, The Surveillance Camera Players, Adbusters or Oliver Ressler, for example), the big NGOs (Amnesty International or Greenpeace) but also actors who are not so well-known internationally such as Ed Hall and his magnificent protest banners as well as many artists and citizen initiatives from Russia, Ukraine and the Middle East. The African continent remains, as often, under represented though.

Partizaning: a Partizaning activist paints a guerrilla crossing. Photo: Didier Courbot

The book alternates between essays by the likes of Bruno Latour and Peter Sloterdijk and presentation of interventions, performances and online resources created by citizens and artists who are disenchanted with democracy and its enslavement to capitalism. Here’s a quick tour of some of the examples of global activism encountered in the book:

From the chapter Activism and the Citizen which explores the state of the res publica and new forms of participative democracy:

Marc Silver and Gael García Bernal, Who Is Dayani Cristal? (full documentary over here)

Who Is Dayani Cristal? tells the story of a migrant who found himself in the deadly stretch of desert known as “the corridor of death” and shows how one life becomes testimony to the tragic results of the U.S. war on immigration.

Nadir Bouhmouch, Trailer for the film 475 When Marriage Becomes Punishment (this way for the full documentary on vimeo)

Let’s Do It! World, cleanup in Colombia, 2014

Born in Estonia in 2008, Let’s Do It! World is a global civic movement that invites people to map and then clean up illegal waste in their own neighbourhood, region or country.

One page from Transparency International’s Anti-corruption kit for young activists

From chapter 2 which investigates the blurring between the Public and Private Sphere and how individuals are now eager to articulate their global interests and concerns:

!Mediengruppe Bitnik, UBS Lies, Zurich, 2009

!Mediengruppe Bitnik, UBS Lies, London, 2010

UBS Lies is !Mediengruppe Bitnik’s re-enactment of Police Lies, a 1971 work in which Peter Weibel protested the abuses of state power by holding a sign bearing the word “lügt” [lie(s)] under the illuminated ‘Polizei’ sign of a police station.

An investment banker who happened to walk by accepted to participate to !Mediengruppe Bitnik’s shooting. The work, which quietly commented on the financial crisis, didn’t amuse the bank. Its legal department had the image removed from a public billboard in 2010. In the case of further use or publication of the image UBS threatened to sue for libel.

From chapter 3, How to Do Activism which examines creative forms of protests and non-violent resistance:

Partizaning: creating bike lanes in the city (via culture 360)

Partizaning aims to demonstrate citizens that they can improve their own urban environment without the need of any official help from planners or authorities. They paint zebra crossings, road signs, and cycle routes where pedestrians need them, develop and diffuse widely games about urban tactics and install benches or mailboxes for citizens to post their suggestions about how to make their neighbourhood more pleasant.

From Tactical, Social, and Global Media, the chapter focusing on the role of communication technology and social networks in protests:

The Electronic Disturbance Theater 2.0/b.a.n.g. lab, Transborder Immigrant Tool, 2007

Developed in 1998, The Transborder Immigrant Tool used mobile phones to provide emergency personal navigation and help for immigrants attempting to cross the Mexico-U.S. border by guiding them water sites established by activists.

UK Uncut. Photo via A Level Politics

UK Uncut is a network of United Kingdom-based protest groups established in October 2010 to oppose tax avoidance and austerity measures, in particular the drastic cuts to public services.

From chapter 5 which addresses ‘Artivism’, the use of artistic means to intervene in socially relevant processes:

Renzo Martens, Episode 3. Enjoy Poverty

A few years ago, Renzo Martens went to the Democratic Republic of Congo to launch a two-year project that examined the exploitation of one of Africa’s major exports: images of poverty, violence and suffering. The artist traveled with a blue neon billboard that read ENJOY POVERTY and worked with Congolese photographers, teaching them how to sell images of suffering to Western media and aid agencies.

Ahmad Sherif (aka Aalam Wassef), Egyptian Postcard 1-Brutality in Egypt/Mubarak

Starting in 2006, Aalam Wassef used various pseudonyms to post on youtube short clips critical of the Mubarak regime. I liked another of his actions a lot: back in 2007, the artist bought advertising space from Google and asked other Egyptians for their suggestions on what to say to the then-president of the country. Each Thursday, whenever someone searched for words such as “Mubarak,” “Egypt” or “Nile cruise,” a message to Egyptian ruler would appear in the advertising space on the right side of the screen. One of the messages relayed to Mubarak read: “You have wasted our lives and our future. Things are going downhill in Egypt because of you.”

GMB Akash, Angels in Hell, 2002-2012

GMB Akash spent 10 years documenting child labor in Bangladesh and neighbouring countries in his photo series Angels in Hell. A proportion of the proceeds from the related book and exhibitions is dedicated to tracing the children he had portrayed many years ago and support them to set up their own small businesses.

The Floating Lab Collective, Scream at the Economy

The Floating Lab Collective explore the frontiers of individual agency and collective empowerment. FLC’s artists explore issues involving housing, the environment, migration, labor and urban mobility.

Itamar Rose and Yossi Atia, Wash Checkpoint

Image on the homepage: Floating Lab Collective, Scream at the Economy, Washington DC.

Related stories: Interview with the Center for Creative Activism, Now is always a good time to protest, Survival Kit Festival in Umeå, Politika. Art, social justice and activism and Graphic design for social change.
Related book reviews: Obfuscation. A User’s Guide for Privacy and Protest, Art & Activism in the Age of Globalization and Visual Impact. Creative Dissent in the 21st Century, A People’s Art History of the United States. 250 Years of Activist Art and Artists Working in Social Justice Movements.

Categories: New Media News

Pictoplasma focus: Mr Bingo, rude postcards and dirty queens

Thu, 03/24/2016 - 12:34

Hate Mail

Dirty Queen, via Erotic Review

Hair Portraits

I suspect that Mr Bingo is not as odious as he’d like us to think. And even if he were, i’ll forever admire his typically English touch of diplomacy:

Does Mr Bingo work for free?

In 2011, Mr Bingo started mailing insulting postcards to total strangers. All you had to do was ask and pay 50 pounds for the service. Probably because his hand-drawn messages had more foolishness than bile, people queued to be mocked and abused. The press loved the idea too and Mr Bingo soon ran a spectacularly successful Kickstarter campaign to fund a Hate Mail book. If you live under a rock (like i do occasionally, nothing wrong with that), you might have missed the Hate Mail brouhaha but encountered his work in austere newspapers, dandy magazines, or on cans of beer, restaurant walls and skateboards.

Mr Bingo and his acerbic wit will participate to the Pictoplasma conference in May. I’d really like to go this year but if i can’t, i’ll have a series of upcoming interviews with the conference speakers to console me. Here’s the first one:

Hello Mr Bingo! I’m sure you’ve been interviewed thousands of times about it, but i’d like to talk about Hate Mail. The Hate Mail works are witty and funny but but did anyone ever get seriously hurt or angry about any of it?

Yes, you’re right, I’m bored of being asked about it.
As far as I know, nobody has been hurt or angry about any of my Hate Mail, but then if they are, we’ll probably never know.

When Hate Mail is available for sale, it comes with clear guidelines which say that I have no responsibility for any sad or suicidal feelings and it really is all your fault. Once you stipulate that upfront, unless they really are thick as fuck, people are too embarrassed to admit that they’re offended. Generally though, people who buy my stuff aren’t thick as fuck, because they understand the subversive/comical nature of the project.

Was it ever a possibility that worried you?

No. I’m not a total cunt by the way, I have 4 personal ‘rules’ for topics which are out of bounds for me. These are race, sexuality, disability and Religion. I care morally/ethically about the first three, the religion one is in there through absolute fear.

Hate Mail

Hate Mail

Hate Mail

Hate Mail

Are you still responding to Hate Mail requests? Or have you had enough of spreading horrors?

Yeah, I’ve stopped doing hate Mail.

Oldie made this video in support of Mr Bingo’s Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for Hate Mail

And if you had to Hate Mail yourself? What would it look like?

Well there’s so many things I hate about myself, looks, personality, mental problems, anxiety, loneliness, a terrible lover, it would be hard to choose one.
I find it’s always better to choose one thing and keep it simple and hard hitting rather than a diluted mixture of things.

Illustration for the Washington Post

Interactive iPad illustration with movable parts for Project Magazine

You also work for newspapers and do some illustrations related to politics and politicians. Do you manage to keep your own political views to yourself? Or does any of your opinions transpire in your drawings?

I actually stopped doing commercial work now, but yes I’ve done a few illustrations for ‘clever’ publications.

Sadly, I live in my own little bubble and have no idea what’s going on in news, current affairs and politics and as a result, I’m not even able to formulate opinions on politics. The only opinions that come out in my drawings are observations on modern life I suppose, kind of observational comedy.

I wish I did know about politics and had views and angles because I reckon I could make some killer work in that field!

Mr Bingo’s illustrations for ‘Show Dogs: The Road to Crufts’. Directed by James Newton

I love dogs (well, staffies mostly) and i always dreamt of going to the Crufts show. It looks too serious not to be hilarious. Could you tell us about Show Dogs? How did you get to make that film?

I was lucky enough to meet a bloke in a pub who was the director of Show Dogs and he asked me if I was interested in doing some type and animated bits for the film.
There’s a lot of different reasons for doing jobs but with that one, it was one of those “I just wanna be part of this, it’s a fucking documentary about people who show dogs” reasons.

Any advice you could give to young illustrators / students who would like to have a fulfilling career as an illustrator?

The most successful people in this industry aren’t necessarily the most talented ones, they’re just the ones who actually bother to do stuff.

What are you going to present at Pictoplasma?

I’m going to talk about how to get the public to fund your stupid ideas.

Thanks Mr Bingo!

Illustration for the Camden Town Brewery


Illustration for Foxtel

Illustration for Tiny Acts of Rebellion

Catch up with Mr Bingo at the 12th Pictoplasma Conference & Festival on 4 – 8 MAY 2016 in Berlin.

Categories: New Media News

Prototype II (after US patent no 6545444 B2) or the quest for free energy

Tue, 03/22/2016 - 11:33

Nick Laessing Prototype II (after US patent no 6545444 B2 by John Bedini), Talk Radio with John Bedini (excerpts from 1980s radio show Open Mind), 2009

Nick Laessing Prototype II (after US patent no 6545444 B2 by John Bedini), Talk Radio with John Bedini (excerpts from 1980s radio show Open Mind), 2009

A few years ago, artist Nick Laessing stumbled upon a book in a second-hand bookshop. Titled The Search of Free Energy, the publication introduced him to the world of people who are searching for alternatives to fossil fuel as a source of energy.

The artist went on to meet and interview some of the scientists, inventors, self-taught engineers and amateurs who are looking for ways to produce free energy. What fascinates Laessing are the utopian ideals that inspire these ‘fringe’ scientists but also the subculture surrounding overlooked inventions and the intrinsic sculptural qualities of some of the prototypes developed by these communities of inventors.

To explore with more depths the work of these enthusiasts, the artist started making his own copies of the machines. He is showing one of these devices at the moment in the exhibition The Promise of Total Automation at Kunsthalle Wien. It’s a brilliant, thrilling show and i’ll get back with a more detailed review of it in the coming days.

The ‘free energy’ generator exhibited in Vienna was modeled on a patent filed by an American inventor called John Bedini for a motor that is supposed to be able to recharge its own batteries and run continuously. The batteries also supply energy to an old reel to reel player that plays an interview that Bedini gave to the US talk radio show Open Mind in the 1980s.

Nick Laessing, Prototype II (after US patent no 6545444 B2 by John Bedini), Talk Radio with John Bedini (excerpts from 1980s radio show Open Mind), 2009

Nick Laessing, Prototype II (after US patent no 6545444 B2 by John Bedini), Talk Radio with John Bedini (excerpts from 1980s radio show Open Mind), 2009

Nick Laessing, Prototype II (after US patent no 6545444 B2 by John Bedini), Talk Radio with John Bedini (excerpts from 1980s radio show Open Mind), 2009

Bedini believes that anyone can make the machine at home, all you need is a magnet, some copper coils and an old nail, Laessing explained in an interview with Cluster. But, while it may appear a simple, old-fashioned apparatus you can assemble in the backyard, the truth is that the physics behind the machine is very complex and not conventional at all. I’ve spoken to electrical engineers at various shows who are unable to grasp it; it is created from a completely different view on electricity, different to how we understand it.

Ultimately, i think that what Prototype II (after US patent no 6545444 B2 by John Bedini) demonstrates best is that art is a space where it is possible to expand and explore fringe science, all its idealistic promises and equivocal achievements in a way that would not be regarded as valid in a conventional science context.

The Promise of Total Automation remains open at Kunsthalle Wien until 29 May 2016.

Categories: New Media News

A curious outsiders view into the world of science

Mon, 03/21/2016 - 10:55

Daniel Stier, Institut für Angewandte Trainingswissenschaft, Universität Leipzig (Institute for Applied Training Sciences, University of Leipzig, Germany). From the series ‘Ways of Knowing 1’

Daniel Stier, Leibniz-Institut für Arbeitsforschung an der TU Dortmund, (Leibniz Research Centre for Working Environment and Human Factors, Technical University of Dortmund, Germany. From the series ‘Ways of Knowing 1’

I’ve decided, after so many years of shunning any paper mag that isn’t called Neural or The Funambulist, that it was time i subscribed to a periodical again. Because few things make me happier than photography, I ended up choosing The British Journal of Photography. The latest issue is dedicated to “Weird Science”. Of course i was going to find stories in there that i’d need to share with you.

The most spectacular photo series in the magazine is Ways of Knowing in which photographer Daniel Stier documented the oddest science experiments he encountered during his four year long tour of science labs across Europe and the U.S.A.

I first thought that the series was entirely made up. The scientific contraptions look very unscientific. The men wear Martin Margiela-style headgear, their fabrications are as rough and DIY as anything you’ll see at a speculative design work in progress show and they also seem a bit random-but-with-their-own-twisted-logic as if they had been assembled by Thorsten Brinkmann. Turns out i was wrong, these images show genuine scientific experiments. The photographer never explains what they are about exactly, leaving the viewer imagine and speculate.

Daniel Stier, From the series Ways of Knowing 2

“I want to show the similarities between artistic and scientific work,” Stier told The Independent. “We are both swallowed by the same motivation and obsession. It’s a sort of loop of trial and error without a clear outcome.”

The artist believes that the reason why we are so surprised by the hasty duct tape aesthetics is that we are used to seeing a clinical portrayal of science labs: “You see all the stainless steel and white lab coats in magazines such as National Geographic, but that’s just not the reality. These labs look so dated because they have no money. They kind of make do with what they can get their hands on; things are taped up and falling apart, and they use stuff they find in their garages.”

Daniel Stier, Fakultät für Elektrotechnik und Informationstechnik, Ruhr-Universität Bochum (Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology, Ruhr University Bochum, Germany. From the series ‘Ways of Knowing 1’

Daniel Stier, Sensory Motor Neuroscience Centre, University of Birmingham, UK. From the series ‘Ways of Knowing 1’

Daniel Stier, Chair, Institute of Ergonomics, Technical University of Munich. From the series ‘Ways of Knowing 1’

Daniel Stier, Laboratory for Vestibular Neurophysiology, Johns Hopkins University Philadelphia. From the series ‘Ways of Knowing 1’

Daniel Stier, Psychologisches Institut, Universität Zürich (Department of Psychology, University of Zurich, Switzerland. From the series ‘Ways of Knowing 1’

Daniel Stier, Centre of Neurology and Hertie-Institute for Clinical Brain Research, University of Tübingen, Germany. From the series ‘Ways of Knowing 1’

Daniel Stier, From the series Ways of Knowing 2

Daniel Stier, From the series Ways of Knowing 2

The photos have been published by YES Editions in the book Ways of Knowing.

Categories: New Media News

Negative Publicity: Artefacts of Extraordinary Rendition

Tue, 03/15/2016 - 11:59

Negative Publicity: Artefacts of Extraordinary Rendition, by photographer Edmund Clark and counterterrorism investigator Crofton Black. With essay by Eyal Weizman.

Available on amazon UK and USA.

Publisher Aperture/Magnum Foundation writes: British photographer Edmund Clark and counterterrorism investigator Crofton Black have assembled photographs and documents that confront the nature of contemporary warfare and the invisible mechanisms of state control. From George W. Bush’s 2001 declaration of the “war on terror” until 2008, an unknown number of people disappeared into a network of secret prisons organized by the CIA-transfers without legal process known as extraordinary renditions. No public records were kept as detainees were shuttled all over the globe. Some were eventually sent to Guantánamo Bay or released without charge, while others remain unaccounted for. The paper trail assembled in this volume shows these activities via the weak points of business accountability: invoices, documents of incorporation and billing reconciliations produced by the small-town American businesses enlisted in detainee transportation.

Edmund Clark, A room formerly used for interrogations in the Libyan intelligence service facility at Tajoura, Tripoli, from Negative Publicity: Artefacts of Extraordinary Rendition (Aperture/Magnum Foundation, 2016)

After Sept. 11, 2001, the CIA launched a program of extraordinary rendition to handle terrorism suspects. In the name of the ‘global war on terror,’ some 136 individuals were secretly abducted, transferred from one country to another, imprisoned, questioned using the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques”, and sometimes killed without any legal oversight, charge nor trial.
Some died during the incarceration. Some were innocent of whatever the CIA accused them of. Some were released without any explanation. Some remain unidentified.

No one was informed of what happened to these people. They were simply made to disappear. The U.S.A. sponsored the whole programme but 54 countries are known to have been complicit in this illegal program and many private companies are known to have provided some logistic support and benefited from the program.

The CIA’s extraordinary rendition program is officially over. But we still need a coherent, approachable and visually appealing narrative of the human right crimes associated with the program. Negative Publicity is probably the closest you might get to it.

Edmund Clark, Richmor Aviation’s office at Columbia County Airport, New York, from Negative Publicity: Artefacts of Extraordinary Rendition (Aperture/Magnum Foundation, 2016)

Edmund Clark, Cross-examination of Mahlon Richards. Richmor Aviation, Inc. vs Sportsflight 9 Air, Inc., 2 July 2009, from Negative Publicity: Artefacts of Extraordinary Rendition (Aperture/Magnum Foundation, 2016)

Photographer Edmund Clark spent 4 years spent hunting for sites of extraordinary rendition and photographing any location associated with the programme. None of the photo printed in the book shows any clear evidence of torture, kidnapping or any other human right abuse. There is nothing spectacular to witness here, just mundane places such as the entrance to a Libyan intelligence service detention facility, the corridors connecting cells to interrogation rooms, anonymous streets or the bedroom of the son of a man formerly imprisoned in a CIA black site. Clark calls the making of these photographs “an act of testimony.”

However, the images start to bear a chilling significance when coupled with the paper trail and extracts of interview patiently compiled by Crofton Black, an investigative journalist whose research focuses on extraordinary rendition and black site cases. Over the course of his inquiry, Black has amassed incriminating documents that range from satellite maps to landing records, from border guard patrol logs to testimonies of people tortured in CIA ‘black sites’, from invoices to CIA documents released after freedom of information act litigation by the American Civil Liberties Union. He managed to give them meaning by organizing them into engrossing episodes that give a glimpse of the building and unraveling of the extraordinary rendition network.

Here’s a few images from the book:

Edmund Clark, Abu Salim prison, Libya, from Negative Publicity: Artefacts of Extraordinary Rendition. Photo Aperture/Magnum Foundation, 2016

One of the CIA’s captives, a training camp facilitator known as Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, was rendered to Egypt and then held in the CIA’s own prison network for several years before being transferred back to Libya in 2006. Information extracted from him was to prove crucial in the Bush administration’s argument for the invasion of Iraq. This information was suspected at the time, and later established, to have been fabricated under duress. Ibn al-Shaykh was eventually located in Gaddafi’s Abu Salim prison by Human Rights Watch in May 2009. He died a few days later in mysterious circumstances.

Edmund Clark, CIA Inspector General, Special Review: Counterterrorism Detention and Interrogation Activities (September 2001–October 2003), dated 7 May 2004. Declassified in redacted form in August 2009, from Negative Publicity: Artefacts of Extraordinary Rendition (Aperture/Magnum Foundation, 2016)

Edmund Clark, Site in north-east Kabul, believed to have been the location of the Salt Pit, now obscured by new factories and compounds, from Negative Publicity: Artefacts of Extraordinary Rendition (Aperture/Magnum Foundation, 2016)

The Salt Pit is the name commonly given to an isolated clandestine CIA black site prison and interrogation center in Afghanistan. A U.S. senate’s report on the programme described how detainees at this facility ‘were kept in complete darkness and constantly shackled in isolated cells with loud noise or music and only a bucket to use for human waste’. The site opened in 2002 and closed 2 years later, when it was replaced by a purpose-built facility intended to offer ‘heating/air conditioning, conventional plumbing, appropriate lighting, shower and laundry facilities’.

Edmund Clark, The building at Antaviliai, erected on the site of the paddock of the former riding school, from Negative Publicity: Artefacts of Extraordinary Rendition (Aperture/Magnum Foundation, 2016)

The CIA prison facility in Antaviliai, a small village 20km north of Vilnius, Lithuania, was surrounded by lakes and woods. Its construction was shrouded in secrecy. It was the last secret detention site the CIA used in Europe.

Edmund Clark, Room 11, Skopski Merak hotel, Skopje, Macedonia, from Negative Publicity: Artefacts of Extraordinary Rendition (Aperture/Magnum Foundation, 2016)

Khalid El-Masri was a German and Lebanese citizen who was mistakenly abducted by the Macedonian police in 2003, and handed over to the CIA. He was held at a black site and routinely interrogated, violently beaten, sodomized, and subjected to other forms of degrading treatment and torture. A year and a half later, the CIA finally admitted his arrest was a mistake. He was then flown, blindfolded and earmuffed to Albania, where he was dumped on the side of the road without explanation.

Inside the book:

Previously: Brighton Photo Biennial – Agents of Change: Photography and the Politics of Space, Book review – Guantanamo: If the Light Goes Out, Architecture of Fear – a conversation with Trevor Paglen, The Glomar Response. James Bridle solo show in Berlin explores torture, surveillance, imperialism and immigration, Discussing democracy, torture and secret services with Jill Magid, Book Review – Blank Spots on the Map: The Dark Geography of the Pentagon’s Secret World, Guantanamo museum and other tales of extraordinary rendition at Helga de Alvear gallery in Madrid.

Categories: New Media News

Different Ways to Infinity and other artefacts of science fiction

Mon, 03/14/2016 - 11:23

Different Ways to Infinity

Different Ways to Infinity

Félix Luque Sánchez is one of those rare artists who quietly follows his own creative inquiry and vision, seemingly oblivious to trends and conventions. That’s probably what makes his work so singular and timeless.

Luque Sánchez uses matter and technology to seduce, puzzle and inspire viewers. His art installations, which double as science fiction works, materialize scientific concepts and theories that might seem arcane to most people: artificial intelligence, chaos theory, infinity.

I’ve discovered one of his latest artworks a couple of month ago at the KIKK festival in Namur (Belgium.) As usual, his pieces pulled me in because of their enigmatic elegance and sobriety but they also left me with more questions than i had bargained for.

Different Ways to Infinity, the work exhibited at the festival, is staged as a collection of instruments from an imaginary scientific laboratory.

First, two big, inverted pendulums attempt to fight gravity and achieve perfect balance. The system emulates human behaviors in order to reach an equilibrium that seems to elude them.

Another element of the installation is a synthesizer based on Chua’s circuit, one of the first physical demonstrations of chaos existence and of its behaviour. Each time chaos is reached, butterfly-like shapes known as Lorentz attractors appear on the oscilloscopes connected to the synthesizer.

Different Ways to Infinity

Different Ways to Infinity

The work also features large digital prints and 3D animations. Generated by software simulating experiments in computational fluid dynamics, they visulize the chaotic elements that can be found in nature.

Finally, ten rhombic dodecahedrons express complex reactive behaviours through light and can be combined together in potentially infinite geometrical arrangements.

Different Ways to Infinity

Different Ways to Infinity

Different Ways to Infinity

I caught up with the artist over emails to talk about complexity, abstraction and personal landscapes:

Hi Félix! I saw Different Ways to Infinity at the KIKK festival in Namur and found the work thought-provoking but it is also visually seducing. Do you think it is possible for a viewer to engage with the pieces without caring much about infinity and any scientific concept explored in the work?

Well that was pretty much the challenge, to make a series of artworks that explores the metaphysical aspects of science through a perceptual approach.

I wanted to generate a fiction where scientific theories are not presented for the knowledge they produce, but as human memories and therefor materialized in artifacts.
This process generates, I hope, a perceptual experience where scientific experiments meet a non recognized collective memory, abstraction and contemplation.

Different Ways to Infinity

Different Ways to Infinity

There seem to be an element of science fiction throughout your work. What is it about SciFi that interests you? Is it the speculation on the future? The way it engages with issues that surround science and ‘progress’? Or are you more inspired by some specific works from literature and cinema?

The speculation of the future is essential to question our relationship to science and technology, which are under the dogma of progress.

For me SF is a perfect artistic frame to work with technology. They have always coexisted in a very close relationship, influencing each other frequently.

What can a conceptual approach to science, like yours, bring to the way people understand science?

I see science as a way to comprehend or perceive the complexity of the world, instead of an objective knowledge to apply to the economic and useful world of humans. An artistic approach to science should bring the vision of the complexity and the non-tangible. The idea of science as an exploration tool, rather than a production tool.

Nihil Ex Nihilo

Nihil Ex Nihilo

Nihil Ex Nihilo

How do you think your work has evolved since it started meeting with success (back in 2009 with The Discovery if i remember correctly)?

I think that my working process is still quite basic in a way. I just look into ways of translating the real into a fictional dimension: Chapter I plays with the narrative codes of popular SF. Nihil Ex Nihilo takes an actual communication technology (Network & emails) and projects it to a SF far-near future. D.W.I brings real science to a fictional and perceptive level. Memory Lane uses scanning technology to digitalize our environment, creating a new way of visualizing matter and creating memories.

Memory Lane

Memory Lane

Memory Lane

Your latest work, Memory Lane was developed together with Iñigo Bilbao. It pays homage to places in Asturias which have shaped your ‘childhood and youth memories.’ What has the process to work on Memory Lane brought to the way you engage with these locations and the memories linked to it? Has it had any effect? Enabled you to see it under another light for example? Or discover elements you didn’t suspect?

Memory Lane is our tribute to our childhood and adolescence in Asturias. I emigrated to Belgium when I was a kid. When I go back it’s for holidays and we always meet. It’s a time for us where we have no worries and plenty of time to explore the land and the sea. I feel I have a deeper relationship to the land there than anywhere else.

We wanted to approach these personal landscapes with a set of technological tools, a kind of techno-safari. We focus on capturing its complexity by pushing the scanning technology to its maximum. We wanted the machine to expresses her-self; we chose the most chaotic and complex textures that have always amazed us from these lands.

We are very happy with the result. The machine has generated a cinematography that is unique. You can’t get more data of a landscape, but at the same time is not a human vision, it’s a machine vision. And as such is difficult for humans to recognize the locations, even for locals.

What i like about the work (apart from the fact that it engages with an area of Spain that i like so much) is that it doesn’t play with the ‘vintage’ aspect of memories. It doesn’t feel nostalgic and stuck in the past. Since most of us don’t have any childhood memories linked to Asturias, what do you think we can get from this work?

The aesthetics of the work are in great part due to the technology we used.
We rent a 3D laser scanner that is mainly used in topography. One scan have a range up to 330m. We combine several scans per scene. The result is 3D environments as a point cloud representation (The machine scans up to 976.000 points per second). It means that the geometries, the shapes, are recreated by millions of points distributed in the space. The subsequent images are extremely neutral, they have no basic attributes, light is not captured, nor color or depth of field.
But because of these lacks, they are unique; they have their own atmosphere, a representation of reality without sentiments. It’s the vision of a machine.

We think that this is why the specific locations becomes fictional and in a way universal.

Memory Lane

Could you talk about the installation setting? What is the rock, the structure that holds it, the screens all around? Why did you decide to show the piece like this way? Pau Waelder wrote a beautiful text about it (as he always does!) but i was hoping you could somehow condense it a bit?

Yes, Pau wrote a great text about the work. Basically the installation set-up is made out of a machine (custom-made cnc), that moves in space a fake rock in levitation. This replica is made from a precise 3D scan of a rock from a beach from Asturias. The idea was to displace it from its real location to an exhibition space and to make a fictional character out of it.
In the back of the machine diptych HD video display shows a 20 minutes film made from 3d animations of the landscapes we scanned. Basically coast sites we are connected to and the forest in the back of Iñigo’s house.

You are going to have a solo show at iMAL in April i think. Do you already know what we can expect to see there?

The exhibition will be about Memory Lane. It will show the main installation I just described with additional artworks like digital prints, 3D printed sculptures and a light sculpture. All connected with the landscapes we scanned and presence during our journeys in Asturias last year.

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

Memory Lane will also been shown in Paris in March at La Villette during the first edition of the 100% festival.

And the next project we are working on is another collaboration with Iñigo and is related to cars.

Thanks Felix!

Memory Lane, opens at iMal, Brussels on 20 April and will run until 22 May 2016.

Previously: Nihil Ex Nihilo and Chapter 1, the Discovery.

Categories: New Media News