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

Fri, 05/20/2016 - 10:52


Booster 2.13, 2013. Courtesy Hubertus von Hohenlohe


Es Kommt Nicht Immer Eine Grille Geflogen, 2015. Installation view: Alexander Levy

Es Kommt Nicht Immer Eine Grille Geflogen, 2015

This week, i’m interviewing an artist, curator and musician who builds formidable and robust military tanks, drones, rockets and other weapon-looking instruments. Nik Nowak‘s riotous and dangerous toys for big boys investigate how military technologies can invade our everyday life. They pump out powerful sound, spy on your private conversations, turn electromagnetic waves from cell phones and tablets into audible phenomena, and explore how sound can take control over crowds and public space.

One of Nowak’s recent mobile sound sculptures, Echo, uses small tank drones that detect human presence and roll toward it. One of the drones snoops on visitors’ conversations and uses a parametric speaker to send the words directly back to them. Meanwhile, the second vehicle further invades people’s privacy by amplifying these sounds through large speakers.

Nik Nowak is one of the artists represented by SHAPE, a platform for innovative music and audiovisual art from Europe. I got in touch with Nik while he was working on a series of events and on a new album with his band SCHOCKGLATZE. Despite his busy schedule, the artist still found a moment to answer my questions:


Portrait of Nik Nowak. Photo: Benjamin Kahlmeyer

Hi Nik! By their aspect and the technologies involved (drones or tanks for example), some of your work evoke military weapons. And because of that i think they might also evoke experiments in sonic warfare. So what is the place or influence of warfare in your work, if there’s any?

I grew up in the 80s in Mainz, a town in west Germany in the Rhein-Main region which was heavily occupied by American military. In Mainz for example was the largest American tank factory based outside of the USA. It was the end/post cold war time and the beginning of the first Iraq war. Nuclear weapons were based between Mainz and Frankfurt and tanks were shipped from Mainz to the desert of Saudi Arabia and brought back there after their missions leaving the desert sand on the streets in front of our schools and kindergartens.

At the time, the generation of my parents was actively involved in peace and anti nuclear energy movements. It felt like a climate of development into a more ecological and peaceful future although the industry showed a different face. We see the results today. War zones spread over the planet and we face the climate change. The impression of the controversy of the civil ideological movements and the reality of politics and industry left a mark that can be found all over my work. With the American occupation, Hip Hop music brought by the GIs and American radio stations had a big influence on me as a child and youth. Further on music became a medium which allowed me more freedom and space for considering my identity than anything else

But your piece do not just look martial or threatening, there’s also something very playful about them. They often look like big toys for boys and also i read that club culture was a big influence on your work. So how important is this playful element, this desire to maybe entertain with your seducing machines?

My sound system machines today fulfill a function which only club culture could give me in my youth and early adult years. I could say i grew up between speaker stacks. The club functioned as a black box, a temporary autonomous zone in which it was possible to disappear and calibrate oneself without the normative rules of society and state. Even though the objects i build are art pieces they also have the potential and the functionality of a sound system. They are not just exhibition pieces. I use them in the Studio and on the street to make music and to create interactions with the environment. It’s not entertainment though, it’s a practice i love and need and which can be clashing or be shared with others.

You seem to experiment a lot with frequencies and volumes. Is it only for the ears or do you want to stimulate the body and other senses of the audience in other ways?

Sound can be used in many ways to create an musical experience. My understanding of Music goes further than melody and rhythm. Its loudness, psychoacoustics, noise, silence and time.

I read online that the starting point of your work with sound was a gun shot near your right ear that prevents you from hearing high frequencies. Could you briefly explain that? You don’t hear high frequencies from one ear but the other hears them fine? And how does this trauma translate into your practice?

Yes, my right ear can’t hear above 7 or 8 Khz which is slightly above human speech. In daily life it’s hardly recognizable because the left ear takes over the work for the right ear in the missing frequencies. Although if the surrounding soundscape is too noisy this doesn’t work well any more and can become very tiring. Also when i close my left ear, everything sounds quite muddy on the right side and high tones, like the sound of crickets for example, are completely missing.

By recognizing that my hearing is not normal i started to become more interested in the limitation of the human perception in general and focused on frequency spectrums that are not in the focus of our perception and more a subtle side effect although with a massive influence on our psychology and body functions.

When i started to produce electronic music i recognized that i’m very much focused on low frequency ranges and high tones. The middle range were usually voice and melody are set did t interest me to much.


Echo. Installation view Berlinische Galerie

Berlinische Galerie: Nik Nowak, Echo. GASAG Art Prize 2014

Echo looks like a more political work. Because of the drones and also because of the way they occupy the space and seemed to intrude on the privacy of the gallery visitors. Could you comment on that? What were you trying to communicate with this work?

Echo is mainly about the change of privacy and publicity in the age of digital globalization. I was fascinated by the fact that through social networks and forums of all kind everybody can have world wide publicity any time anywhere. Before the internet that has been depending on mass media. On the other hand privacy is something that has never been more threatened than it is these days. The Echo installation played with issues of monitoring and self monitoring. One drone plays a directional echo back to the visitor the other amplifies the sounds of the visitors through a sound system in the exhibition hall. Both drones are autonomous systems and interact with the visitor.

Till and Nik Nowak, Souvenirs, 2007

Could you explain how the sculptural form of your works relate to the sound they produce? For example, do you start with an idea about the kind of sound experience you want to create and the sculpture emerges from that? Or is it the other way round?

Mostly it starts with an Idea, with a vision or a question wich leads to a concept for a self experiment. the Machines are mostly tools for a experimental setup wich is suppose to formulate something i can t describe in a another way. Everything happens very intuitively.


Panzer, 2011

Nik Nowak vs. Ultramoodem live @ CTM 2012. Video: Schockglatze

How did you actually built Panzer? Because to me, it looks like there’s an old farm tractor hidden under that armor…

Yes, Panzer is a Japanese mini dumper which i’ve bought on eBay. I’ve cut everything off i didn’t needed and built the sound system onto the leftover of the original track vehicle. I did every thing by my self and needed 3 years to get it done. I like working on my own which makes everything slow. Therefore i can work out things perfectly how i mean them without too much explanation upfront.

You’ve been working as an artist for over 10 years if i understood correctly. So how has your practice evolved since you started?

It’s still the same and always different.


Rakete, 2010


Rakete, 2010

An upcoming exhibition, research, project you could share with us?

After i realized the second Panzerparade in Berlin with Ikonika and Scratcha DVA last week as a march against weapon exportation into crises areas.

I’m back in the studio working on a new Sound Panzer Sound System. Beside that my band Schockglatze is releasing an EP titled Warlord with e-label Throughmyspeakers.

We present the project at Music Tech Fest live on the 27th at Funkhaus Ost.

Thanks Nik!

Categories: New Media News

Persona. Or how objects become human

Wed, 05/18/2016 - 10:29


Wang Zi Won, Mechanical Avalokitesvara, 2015


Ghost Hunter suitcase and alphabet for ouija, 1926-1940 Surnatéum, Bruxelles. Photo Claude Germain


Kenji Yanobe, Sweet Harmonizer II , 1995

The Musée du Quai Branly in Paris is probably one of the few places in the world where you can see post-apocalyptic outfits, ghost hunter instruments, divination robots, Nigerian monoliths bearing minimal human features, Mezcala anthropomorphic figurines, the egg of a titanosaurus, Japanese Bunraku puppets and other historical or contemporary artifacts in the same exhibition.

Persona. Strangely Human lines up over 200 objects and videos to probe how ancient and contemporary cultures infuse life and persona into things.

Many objects have a status more similar to that of a person or a creature than that of a simple object. Works of art – Western or non-Western, popular or contemporary –, or high-tech products – robots, machines, etc. – are regularly endowed, in their use, with unexpected capacities for action, which render them almost people. Like a child devoted to its cuddly toy or someone who curses their computer or mobile accusing it of being incompetent or stubborn. Like the shaman who calls on the spirits through a statuette resembling the gods.

The backdrop of the exhibition is of course the ongoing debates regarding transhumanism, artificial intelligence and the increasingly blurry borders that separate humans from machines. But what makes the exhibition of the Musée du Quai Branly original and different from the shows i usually cover is that its approach is mostly anthropological. The curators are anthropologist Emmanuel Grimaud, ethnologist Anne-Christine Taylor-Descola, anthropologist Denis Vidal and art historian Thierry Dufrêne. Together they gather artifacts from all over the world to explore questions such as: How does the inanimate become animate? How do people establish an unusual or intimate relationship with objects?

Persona, Étrangement humain (trailer)

The exhibition investigates the human in the non-human through 4 different paths.

The first one looks at ‘unidentified presences’, the ones that we think we can detect in a vague shape, or an unexpected sound. It seems that, as humans, we are ‘wired’ to anthropomorphise, to identify life where there is objectively only a bunch of abstract shapes.

In 1944, psychologists Fritz Heider and Marianne Simmel showed to subjects a short animation of independently moving geometric shapes. They found that most people couldn’t help but attribute intentional movements, personalities and goal-directed interactions to the shapes. The attribution takes place in the absence of common social cues like body language, facial expressions or speech. The experiment shows how humans have a spontaneous tendency to attribute feelings and thoughts to barely anthropomorphic shapes.


Fritz Heider & Marianne Simmel, Experimental study of apparent behavior, 1944

In 2008, the BBC re-created a controversial sensory deprivation experiment. Six people were taken to a nuclear bunker and left alone for 48 hours. Three subjects were left alone in dark, sound-proofed rooms, while the other three are given goggles and foam cuffs, while white noise is piped into their ears. The volunteers suffered anxiety, extreme emotions, paranoia and significant deterioration in their mental functioning. They also hallucinated and thought they could see or hear thousands of empty oyster shells, a snake, zebras, tiny cars, the room taking off, mosquitoes, fighter planes buzzing around.


BBC, 48 Hours of Total Isolation (The volunteers begin to hallucinate)

Meanwhile in Thailand, people adopt Kuman Thong, or “Gold Baby.” The little household effigy contains the spirit of a mythical child. Its owner has to care for it as if it were a real child, show it affection and talk to it every day. A bit like you would do with a tamagotchi.


Kuman Thong

A second section of the show explores the persons that you might want to ‘detect’ and communicate with: the ghosts, the spirits, the apparitions, etc.

I wasn’t expecting to find Thomas Edison there. At the end of his life, the famous inventor was said to have been working on a device for communicating with the dead. The “spirit phone” or telephone to the Dead would have enabled paranormal researchers to work ‘in a strictly scientific way.’

The idea for the device came through a correspondence between Edison and Sir William Crookes. The British inventor claimed to have captured images of spirits on photographs. These images allegedly encouraged Edison. The machine never saw the light of the day. Hence the skepticism that surrounds it.


Image via unreal facts


William Crookes, Photos with Katie King

The divination apparatus below appears to have been developed in response to sudden changes in Pende culture, in particular the arrival of colonialists in the region. These changes in society fueled demands for new tools that might afford insight into unfamiliar experiences.

During consultation, the diviner would lay the instrument on his knees with the head facing up while names of individuals suspected of crimes were recited. The galukoji‘s head would spring upward when the culprit’s name was uttered.


Galukoji, Divinatory instrument, Pende region, Congo, 1920 – 1950. Photo Claude Germain


Divination statue (Kafigeledio), Ivory Coast, XIX-early XXTH century. These effigies oracle were manipulated by members of secret societies to detect who was lying


Spirit hand Martinka and Memento mori ring, late XIX and XVIIth century

Used during the cohoba ritual, the tool was used to help the participant vomit before the ceremony and thus helped them purify their body. The participant would then inhale a potent hallucinogen, putting them in a trance that facilitates contact with supernatural beings.


Vomit-inducing spatula, Martinique, circa 1200 – 1492. Photo Patrick Gries

The third chapter in the exhibition studied what robotics professor Masahiro Mori called the Uncanny Valley, the thin line that is crossed by things that appear so human that they end up repelling us. Instead of trying to replicate exactly the human appearance, Mori actually suggested that designers explore zoomorphism or draw inspiration from other art forms (Bunraku theatre, religious statuary, etc.) to produce effects of empathy, attachment and even hypnosis.

This section features Vanuatu marionnettes, prosthesis, mommies that all evoke the human form and seem to both attract and repel the viewer.

Human skull covered with human hair, animal teeth and tinted animal skin. The death raises here a feeling of “uncanny strangeness”.


Anthropomorphic crest, Cross River (Africa.) Photo Thierry Olivier, Michel Urtado


Mummy, undated parched head of Mundurucu Indian, Brazil

Jean Dupuy’s dust sculpture comes to life as soon as it is connected to the heart beats of the visitors. The dust is actually an extremely low-density red pigment called Lithol Rubin that has the ability to remain suspended in air for long periods.


Jean Dupuy, Cone Pyramid (Heart beats dust), 1968 (photo)


Performance of the piece at the exhibition Für Augen un Ohren, Akademie der Künst, Berlin, 1980 (photo)

Automata of the gods are displayed during religious feasts today in India. The figures are used to capture attention, tell myths or accompany rituals. Their slow and hypnotic gestures put people in a state that prepares to devotion.


Matsya automaton, avatar of the god Vishnu. Conception Ankush Bhaikar for “Persona. Strangely Human.” Photo Emmanuel Grimaud


Vanuatu marionnette. Photo Gautier Deblonde © musée du quai Branly

The final part of the exhibition, “Show Home”, invites you to enter a dwelling and meet the interfaces, devices and robots that might one day be part of our family. How shall we cohabit with them?

Some of the pieces on show are the ones you expect to see there: robots, life-like love dolls but you will also discover a collection of phallic amulets and anthropomorphic spoons.

Stan Wannet‘s electro-mechanical installation features a pair of baboons playing a classic gambling trick. The work is a direct reference to both Wolfgang Von Kempelen’s Chess Playing Turk and Hieronymus Bosch’s painting The Conjurer ‘in an attempt to blur the artificial borders between our rational, polite and slightly ambitions selves on the one hand and the more primal, greedy and curious us on the other.’


Stan Wannet, Civilized Aspirations in Art, Monkeys and small time Entrepreneurs

Divinatory robots such as the one below were popular in Mumbai in the 1990s. They were made using discarded Japanese toys. From the sanskrit Bhavishya (“destiny, future”), the robot is an interface to divination, it predicts the future in 3 languages in exchange of a few coins.


Bhaishyavani, Robot de divination, End of XXth century. Photo Claude Germain

The little sculptures below are made using kitchen tools. They are designed as “real incarnations of gods.” They assist users in their everyday lives, but they can also turn against them.


Two Haitian sculptures from the nineteenth century representing the Ogou loa. Photo Claude Germain


Danny Van Ryswyk, Strange Days Have Found Us


Danny Van Ryswyk, Return of the Venusian, 2015

Some of the images i took during my visit of the exhibition are on flickr.

Persona. Strangely Human remains open at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris until 13 November 2016.

Categories: New Media News

Eulogy for the weeds. An interview with Ellie Irons

Wed, 05/11/2016 - 13:46


Field work in a research meadow at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic, Colorado, photo credit Dan Phiffer

Ellie Irons is one of those rare artists whose work opens your eyes to what is just under your nose but remains unnoticed. Some artists bring the spotlight on data collecting, others on corruption, corporate malpractice, or land grabbing. Ellie forces us to consider the value of the wild and often reviled urban ecology that sprouts all around us. She uses galleries to provide asylum to wild and invasive plant species, extracts the pigments from local weeds to paint their map-like portraits, photographs the vigorous life growing inside vacant lots, and is actively collecting the seeds of the most humble but robust plants that mirror population flux in globalized cities.

Irons’s practice is charming because it inspires a new form of romanticism that has the potential to give informal urban green spaces the respect they are due. But it is also a crucial and thought-provoking work that reminds us that the anthropocene is far more than everyone’s favourite buzzword, or a calamity striking people living at the other side of the world. It is a sword of Damocles that sooner or later will force us to make difficult choices and reevaluate our relationship with nature.

Ellie Irons studied art and environmental science in Los Angeles, she is now a multidisciplinary artist and an adjunct professor at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. When she is not busy teaching, doing workshops or preparing exhibitions, she still finds some time to answer my many questions:


The Sanctuary for Weedy Species, 2015, part of Rail Curatorial’s Social Ecologies exhibition in Industry City, curated by Greg Lindquist. Photo credit Ellie Irons

Hi Ellie! You made a Sanctuary for Weedy Species and allowed them grow undisturbed. How do these plants behave when left to thrive? Did you monitor their growth and had to intervene at some point because some were overtaking others?

Yes, that’s right. My Sanctuary for Weedy Species is an ongoing project that got its start as part of the exhibition Social Ecologies. For that show, curator Greg Lindquist offered me the opportunity to “activate” a gallery floor covered with soil (the project has now moved on to the Emergent Ecologies exhibition at Kilory Metal in Fort Greene, Brooklyn).

I decided to base my approach to this opportunity on my interest in spontaneous urban plants (often described as weeds). I gathered more than 200 young wild plants from the edges of construction sites and street tree pits in my then-neighborhood of Bushwick, Brooklyn. I selected plants from places that I knew would soon be “cleaned up” or paved over. I transported these young plants to the gallery and embedded them in the soil covering the gallery floor, where they lived for the next 2.5 months.

Growing tough, weedy plants in a controlled gallery setting is not quite as easy as it might sound. For one thing, plants growing outside have allies that are hard to replicate in a clean, isolated indoor space. Outdoors, predators like lace wings and ladybugs devour herbivorous insects, and regular rainstorms and fluctuations in temperature also help hold their populations in check. In the warm, consistent gallery space, aphids and other plant-hungry insects flourished.

I was lucky to have a very conscientious gallery attendant who took on the role of aphid predator, regularly spraying the plants with neem oil and washing them with water and other organic, insect-deterring solutions. Otherwise the various plants played fairly nicely together, except for a few allelopathic plants (like ailanthus and honey locust) which killed off everything in their vicinity and took over their respective patches. But I didn’t do any “weeding” other than weeding out some of the hungry aphids!


Feral Landscape Typologies. The rise, fall and rise of a lot at the corner of Irving Avenue and Cooper Avenue from May-October 2015. Photo by the artist

I’m fascinated by the ‘invasive species’ discussions. Your work makes a lot of sense to me but i’m wondering how scientists might react to your ideas about invasive species. Have you discussed with some of them? Is the scientific community agreeing on the necessity to eradicate all invasive species because they will lead to environmental damage? Or is there a lot of dilemmas and debates there as well?

The scientific community, as I’m familiar with it, seems to be of many minds when it comes to weedy species. I ask specialists like biologists, ecologists, foresters, and botanists about these issues whenever I get the chance! I’ve found that some don’t even like the term invasive, preferring a to describe species as native or non-native, and only “invasive” in certain, very specific contexts. I like this approach because it gets at the fact that a particular plant can be highly aggressive in a degraded ecosystem in which it has just arrived, but play a perfectly normal, beneficial role in another context.

Some of the plants and creatures we describe as invasive in certain parts of the United States are actually endangered in their home ranges, which may be under threat from sea level rise, unpredictable climate fluctuations, or more direct human impacts like urban development or agriculture. Should we deny these species a niche in a new place when the place they called home has become untenable?

I think the question deserves another look, rather than a knee jerk “no” response. That knee jerk “no” is something I do sometimes encounter when I talk with scientists about these issues. There seems to be a lot of concern around loosening the binary between native and non-native and saying “maybe some non-native plants are ok”. Some seem to feel that thinking this way sends us off down a slippery slope that will lead the devaluing of historic ecosystems, making restoration even more difficult than it already is. My views on this are still evolving, but taking into account the range of perspectives I’ve encountered over the years, I tend to fall on the side of life. The toxic and/or resource intensive methods used to eradicate invasive plants, at least in urban spaces where greenery is often scare, could better be spent in other ways. Especially given the fact that these plants, whether native or not, are still providing basic, valuable ecosystem services like soil stabilization and creation, air quality improvement, habitat for non-human animals, and even health benefits (mental and physical!) for us humans.


The Next Epoch Seed Library at William Paterson University as part of the exhibition Living Together: Nurturing Nature in the Built Environment. Photo credit Anne Percoco


The Next Epoch Seed Library at William Paterson University as part of the exhibition Living Together: Nurturing Nature in the Built Environment. Photo credit Anne Percoco


The Next Epoch Seed Library at William Paterson University as part of the exhibition Living Together: Nurturing Nature in the Built Environment. Photo credit Anne Percoco


Anne Percoco gathering seeds for NESL in a traffic median on Grand Concourse in the Bronx. Photo credit Ellie Irons


Screen shot of the NESL website

I was really charmed by your Next Epoch Seed Library and the way it gives nobility to weeds. Could you tell us what you’re trying to achieve with this work?
How big is the library? Do you accept plants from outside NYC?

The Next Epoch Seed Library (NESL) is one of my newest projects, initiated about a year ago with my collaborator, Anne Percoco, and a range of other artists who have contributed seeds and other ephemera. NESL focuses on collecting, storing and sharing seeds from plants that tend to live in close association with dense human populations or in areas heavily impacted by human activity.

Growing where others can’t or won’t, the species held in our seed library are those best adapted to live in the long shadow humans throw on the landscape. They supply important ecosystem services to humans and nonhumans alike, improving habitat in areas where legacy ecosystems have been disrupted through development and industry. Too often the plants living in these environments are the very plants cities and private landowners pour resources and herbicides into eradicating, “cleaning up” a “messy” life form in favor of the neat and the dead. Recasting these weedy species as companion plants for Anthropocene age, we use NESL as a vehicle for softening the edges of limiting binaries like native/non-native and nature/culture.

Through presentations, workshops, seed-swaps and exhibitions, we encourage viewers and participants to engage with their local habitat and reflect on their own role in the adaptation and success of these plants.

We’re still working out our policies around spreading species that are not yet introduced to a particular location. So far we’ve collected and exchanged only locally, although we do have an open invitation for interested parties to send seeds to us from anywhere. Personally I think I would only be comfortable offering those seeds back out to a community living in an ecosystem where the seeds in question are already naturalized. Certainly we’ll hold any species of seed in our library, but certain species might go in a reserve section temporarily, or only be offered back to people in certain regions. The project is very site-specific, in that we make a special, hyper-local collection of seeds for each location where the project is displayed. We need to do a thorough tally, but at the moment I think we have at least fifty species represented in the library, for a total of maybe 5,000 seeds, although that is always in flux as visitors take out and deposit seeds.


Stills from Flight Lines (Butterflies, Bank of the East River, Gothic, Colorado, 6/23/15, 10:50 am), 2015, created during an residency at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (with Dan Phiffer)


Screen shot of Flight Lines as commissioned by turbulence.org, Ellie Irons and Dan Phiffer, 2015


Screen shot of Flight Lines as commissioned by turbulence.org, Ellie Irons and Dan Phiffer, 2015

Together with Dan Phiffer, you developed Flight Lines, a computer vision project that monitors the sky ecology of the Anthropocene. What have you learnt from these observations?
Where are the cameras located? Why did you chose these locations rather than others?

Flight Lines has taught us that there is a lot be learned about the ecology of the spot you are standing in by looking at the patterns in the sky above. It started when I was lying on my back in my parents’ yard in Northern California, watching dragonflies wheel overhead. They were making these amazing looping lines, and I starting trying to sketch their curves and arcs. I wasn’t satisfied, so took a quick video, then played the video back on my computer, tracing the movement of a single dragonfly frame by frame. I loved the line that emerged, but it was a tedious process. Dan saw me doing it, and realized that some automation might be in line. Soon he’d come up with a Processing script that allowed us to feed video in and get out a frame by frame drawing of what the camera saw passing through the frame.

Since then we’ve deployed Flight Lines in a variety of settings, from the abundant skies of the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Colorado to the rooftops of Brooklyn. The “sky signature” of each location is unique, reflecting the activity on the ground. Highly urbanized landscapes are full of lines made by machines piloted by humans, of bit of drifting trash, and of synanthropes like starlings and pigeons. They can be very striking to look at, but are generally more geometric and ordered, and less abundant (although the pigeon fanciers of Brooklyn tip the scales in terms of abundance at certain hours). Landscapes less heavily dominated by human activity often have a higher diversity of lines and shapes, more of them organic. In very remote places at certain times (like the Rockies in early summer) our algorithm couldn’t cope with the abundance of flying creatures- after five minutes the whole screen turned to gray, so Dan developed a new version that cycles through the spectrum and can convey that level of abundance more effectively.

Our newest iteration of the project is a light-weight, raspberry-pi based version that lives on the roofs of New York City and feeds footage into a website commissioned by turbulence.org. This project, which is also part of Jamaica Flux currently, allows us to crowdsource the processing of our footage. Visitors to the site watch a chunk of sky for ten minutes, generating a series of still frames that give us a sense of what transpired in a particular chunk of time. Currently we have cameras in Central Park at the Arsenal Gallery in Manhattan, at the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning in Jamaica Queens, and on the roof of Flux Factory in Queens, although we need to do some maintenance on them! Our camera locations are chosen by where we can get a good view of the sky and (if possible!) an internet connection. We’re interested in just about any chunk of sky we can get our camera pointed at!


The Sanctuary for Weedy Species in progress, December 2015, Photo credit Dyani Sabin


The Sanctuary for Weedy Species, 2015, part of Rail Curatorial’s Social Ecologies exhibition in Industry City, curated by Greg Lindquist. Photo credit Ellie Irons


The Sanctuary for Weedy Species, 2015, part of Rail Curatorial’s Social Ecologies exhibition in Industry City, curated by Greg Lindquist. Photo credit Ellie Irons

A German botanist once told me that there was more biodiversity in his city than in the surrounding countryside. Mostly because rural environment is more controlled by agriculture, use of pesticides, etc. whereas in cities, we don’t really pay much attention to what grows and what doesn’t. Is this something you’ve observed in New York as well?

Interesting concept! I’ve heard something along those lines as well. Theoretical ecologist Sasha Wright is someone I’ve worked with on urban ecology issues, and she described to me how combinations of introduced and native species living together in cities can actually produce higher levels of biodiversity than existed before species introductions. She did acknowledge that these more diverse assemblages of species might be repeated more frequently across the world, which gets at the trend of global homogenization. But biodiverse areas, as I understand it, are much more resilient to difficult conditions than less diverse ones, so given the current challenges, especially for urban dwelling species, it seems that having more types of species is desirable, and since they are already here, we might as well work with what we’ve got.


Herbarium of the Feral Landscape Lobby Brooklyn, NY (FLL)

Reading about your work, i realised that the main strengths of the plants you are studying is their resilience, the way they overcome difficult situations and are able to adapt to various environments. Which of course made me think of the ecological crises we are facing. So what could we, humans, learn from observing these plants?

I think I got at some of this in my answers above, but I do have a little more to say. I certainly admire the resilience of weeds, and their ability to thrive even when we ignore or actively attack them. In a poetic sense, they can be a stand in for many kinds of overlooked and under-appreciated life forms, spaces and places. But I’m not sure that metaphor needs to be extended to encompass humans- it already fits us perfectly! We are also weedy (if you like term, invasive) organisms. Just like the weedy plant species of the world, we are able to disperse widely, live in dense populations, and dominate the landscape at the expense of other species. I guess one metaphor I might like to extend is the one of context: not all humans are equally responsible for the ecological crises we find ourselves in; just like its dangerous to universalize and call all green, spontaneously growing organisms weedy invaders, it’s problematic not to address context, history, and social forces when assigning blame and providing care in the face of the climate crises.


Feral Typologies. Triangular corner lot: Broadway at Dekalb Ave., August 2015 and November 2015


Sandwiched lot: 1291 Dekalb Avenue, May 2015 and August 2015


Feral Typologies. Corner lot: Suydam St. and Central Avenue, May 2015 and July 2015

What could we do with the wild spaces that still exist in urban environments? I think we all agree they shouldn’t be left in the hands of real estate speculators. So should we let them grow wild and in peace? Turn them into community gardens? Or something in between?

All of the above! I think its great for communities to invest in a piece of land and garden it. In this context my beloved weedy species might get pulled out early in the season (and hopefully eaten- so many are edible!) to make way for cultivated crops. But I would love to think there is also room for wild, unplanned landscapes to exist in the midst of the city. I have a little (as yet largely unrealized) project called the Feral Landscape Lobby that advocates for the existence of wild spaces in the city. The logic behind this is that many cities, certainly my corner of Brooklyn, don’t have the resources to manage and maintain large amounts of constructed greenspace. As stated on the project website, the FLL is involved in “Recasting vacant city lots and other undesigned open land as transitory zones for rewilding, emphasizing that these spaces are already functioning ecologically. If properly valued, preserved and stewarded, these ubiquitous “informal greenspaces” can provide a refuge and foothold for nonhuman life while also benefiting local human populations, both ecologically and culturally.” The ultimate goal of the FLL is to create a permanent wild urban park, but for now it mostly consists of temporary interventions, publications and workshops.

I’m trying to be a bit less Euro-centric. It’s difficult because i live in Europe so i tend to be in contact with European artists and organisations. So whose work would you recommend that my readers and i check out in America? Who are the artists doing inspiring works about or with nature?

Oh there are so many, functioning in so many different ways. On one end I love speculative institutions like The Center for Postnatural History, operating out of Pittsburg, or Karolina Sobecka’s in-progress Cloud Services. I also really relate to concrete interventions like Mary Mattingly’s upcoming Swale, and Juanli Carrion’s Outer Seed Shadow. And I so admire the work of artist-activists like Not An Alternative, with their The Natural History Museum, and Brandon Ballengée‘s art and research-based work with endangered amphibians. Finally, being originally from the west coast of the U.S. myself, I’ve long followed the work of California-based artists and organizations like Amy Balkin, Amy Franceschini, Andrea Zittel, the Museum of Jurassic Technology, and The Center for Land Use Interpretation.


An Atlas of Endangered Surfaces, Photo Grid, 2015, digital print, in collaboration with Christopher Kennedy for Chance Ecologies

Any upcoming shows, projects, fields of research you could share with us?

Sure- there are some exciting things on the horizon. The Next Epoch Seed Library is programming an event called “On Weediness: Dance, Movement, Vegetative Life”. Scheduled for May 15th, the event will include a range of movement specialists and artists who use weediness and plant life to explore connections between people, place and nonhuman life (including Corinne Cappelletti and Eva Perrotta, Andrea Haenggi, Christopher Kennedy and Lucia Monge). The event is taking place as part of Emergent Ecologies, a sprawling show in an empty metal ceiling factory with more than eighty artists involved. I helped curate a handful of them, alongside lead curators Eben Kirksey and Lissette Olivares and a swarm of others! I also just opened a two person show that features my ongoing work with plant pigments. Titled Chroma Botanica, it pairs me with Linda Stillman, another artist who uses plant pigments in her work. That show will be up through June 14th at a very enjoyable location: the Arsenal Gallery in Central Park. We’ll be giving tours and demos of our pigment-making processes on May 17th and 24th. Otherwise I’m looking forward to getting out into some wild landscapes this summer, urban and otherwise!

Thanks Ellie!

Categories: New Media News

Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers

Mon, 05/09/2016 - 09:50


Bruce Gilden, Factory in the Midlands, from the series The Black Country, 2014


Evelyn Hofer, Crossing Guard, London, 1962

A man lost in his thoughts in the London underground, a family barely smiling in London’s East End slums, a dog being pampered in a pet salon, an elderly couple standing proudly in their candy shop, children peeking through the window in the Outer Hebrides, the underdogs and the landed gentry, the bankers and the lollipop lady. They are all a bit Strange and Familiar, an exhibition curated by street photographer and society satirist Martin Parr. Some people love his work, others not so much. Not intellectual enough for some. Or maybe too popular. I don’t know, I’m a fan.

Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers is about people but also about key events in the history of the United Kingdom. The 23 photographers selected for the show will take you time traveling through the rise of British corporate culture, the industrial decline in Glasgow, the roadblocks in Northern Ireland under the Troubles, the Swinging Sixties, the anti-War movement, etc.

I’m sure you’ve read about the show here and there but mostly everywhere already. Still, just to make me and my blog happy, i thought i’d whip up a fast, image-heavy but not too wordy overview of the show:


Sergio Larrain, Baker Street underground station, London, 1958-1959. © Sergio Larrain / Magnum Photos

Bruce Gilden’s uncomfortably close-up portraits portraits of the working class in the Black Country and Middlesex are cropped so tightly and lit so unforgivingly that you are confronted with warts, wrinkles, pimples, rogue hair on women’s chin and caked on makeup.

“The basis of this project is to show people who are left behind,” Gilden told Slate. “A lot of these people are invisible and people don’t want to look at them and if you don’t look at them how can you help them? When you pay attention to those who are usually ignored, it makes their day. That’s not why I do it. I’m not claiming to be a humanitarian; I’m a photographer. I always photograph what’s interesting to me and it has always been people who are underdogs because I see myself as an underdog.”


Bruce Gilden, Debbie, West Bromwich, from the series The Black Country, 2014


Bruce Gilden, James, Wolverhampton, 2013

In 1968, Akihiko Okamura moved to Dublin to chronicle the conflict in Northern Ireland. His photos show an everyday life made of barricades, military check points, demonstrations, bombed out streets, but also tea parties with buntings.


Akihiko Okamura, A street with houses destroyed in the clashes, Northern Ireland, c1968


Akihiko Okamura, Troops of the Royal Ulster Constabulary enter the Catholic neighbourhood called Bogside in the Battle of the Bogside.Belfast, Northern Ireland ca. 1969 Derry/Londonderry, Northern Ireland August, 1969

Jim Dow started photographing British shop windows and interiors in the early 1980s. Many of these family-run businesses have now been replaced by big chains and suburban shopping malls.


Jim Dow, Interior, Fishmonger shop, Norwood, London, England, 1985


Jim Dow, Interior, Cole’s Jubilee Sweet Shop, Leyton, London, England, 1981


Evelyn Hofer, Bus conductress and postman, London, 1977


Evelyn Hofer, Man on Station Vehicle, St Pancras, London, 1962

Edith Tudor-Hart studied at the Bauhaus, was an anti-fascist activist and a spy for the Soviet Union while living in England. She used photography as an instrument to awaken social consciences. Her photos show poverty, unemployment, slum housing and child welfare in London, south Wales and the industrial North East. Photos such as the dog grooming salon below talk about inequality and society’s displaced priorities.


Edith Tudor-Hart, Poodle Parlour, London


Edith Tudor-Hart, Ultraviolet light treatment for children with rickets in a south London hospital (circa 1935)


Edith Tudor-Hart, A child stares into a Whitechapel bakery window (circa 1935)

I have absolutely no interest in football (i only make an exception for anything related to Eric Cantona, his sardines, monobrow, movies and poetry) but Hans van der Meer‘s photos of amateur teams playing in small town fields are striking images i kept in my head long after my visit to the Barbican. I could not understand what made them so special until i read that his photos attempted to return to the old tradition of photography in which a wide view of the action often resulted in elements of the locality being present in the image. Up until the 1950s, there was no close-up of actions in newspapers but mostly zoomed-out views with graphic lines that indicated the movement of the ball to the goal.


Hans van der Meer, Warley, England, 2004


Hans van der Meer, Inerleithen, Scotland, 2001


Hans van der Meer, Mytholmroyd, 30–10–2004 Calder 76 res – Pellon United: 4–3, Halifax & District Association Invitation Cup. Amateurvoetbal. From the series: European Fields


Bruce Davidson, Wales, 1965. © Bruce Davidson / Magnum Photos


Bruce Davidson, Man holding a curry sign © Bruce Davidson / Magnum Photos


Bruce Davidson, Couple having tea on the beach, Hastings, 1960


Robert Frank, London, 1951. Photo Danziger Gallery


Cas Oorthuys, Oxford, 1962

Views of the exhibition space:


Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers. Installation View at the Barbican Art Gallery. © Tristan Fewings/Getty Images


Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers. Installation View at the Barbican Art Gallery. © Tristan Fewings/Getty Images


Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers. Installation View at the Barbican Art Gallery. © Tristan Fewings/Getty Images


Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers. Installation View at the Barbican Art Gallery. © Tristan Fewings/Getty Images


Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers. Installation View at the Barbican Art Gallery. © Tristan Fewings/Getty Images


Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers. Installation View at the Barbican Art Gallery. © Tristan Fewings/Getty Images


Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers. Installation View at the Barbican Art Gallery. © Tristan Fewings/Getty Images


Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers. Installation View at the Barbican Art Gallery. © Tristan Fewings/Getty Images

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

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

Categories: New Media News

Art in the Making. Artists and their Materials from the Studio to Crowdsourcing

Fri, 05/06/2016 - 12:18

Art in the Making. Artists and their Materials from the Studio to Crowdsourcing, by Glenn Adamson, Director of the Museum of Arts and Design (New York), and Julia Bryan-Wilson, Associate Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art at the University of California, Berkeley.

On amazon USA or UK.

Publisher Thames & Hudson writes: From painting to digital technologies to crowdsourcing, over the last few decades the means of making artworks have become more extraordinary and diverse. Yet we rarely consider the implications of how art is made.

In this wide-ranging exploration of methods and media in art since the 1950s Glenn Adamson and Julia Bryan-Wilson take the reader behind the scenes of the studio, the factory, and other sites where art is created. They show how the materials and processes used by artists are vital to considerations of authorship, and to understanding the economic and social contexts from which art emerges.

‘Art in the Making’ focuses on the intersection of thinking and making through chapters focusing on a particular process: painting, woodworking, building, performing, tooling up, cashing in, fabricating, digitizing and crowdsourcing. Discussions of broader themes are woven together with detailed examples and visuals, revealing the logic involved in the choice of techniques and materials.


Rebecca Horn, Handschuhfinger (Finger Gloves), 1972-2000

I wouldn’t say that ‘Art in the Making’ is a guide to understanding contemporary art but it can help you get there. It certainly helped me appreciate a series of contemporary works i had so far dismissed as being superficial, purely formal or dated. The book gives context and depth to artworks by examining the matter of their production and the ideas, ideologies and choices behind it. This focus on the techniques, tools, crafts and materials is apparently quite uncommon in contemporary art, at least in the way it is critiqued, presented and debated today. Quite the opposite of what usually happens with new media art where techno sophistication and materials have precedence over concepts. End of bitchy parenthesis.

This survey of how art is made starts in the 1950s, focuses mostly on artists from the USA and the UK but is otherwise full of very good surprises, unusual suspects and unexpected perspectives. One moment, Frida Kahlo is painting in bed. Next, Aaron Koblin is asking workers on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to draw him a sheep. I find these juxtapositions illuminating and thought-provoking. The authors draw parallels between Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing and coding, for example. Or trace back the origins of crowdsourcing to grassroot organizing.

There are 8 chapters in the book:
Chapter 1 is about painting and innovative uses of pigments. Two great examples would be Olaf Breuning arranging smoke bombs into grids which he then ignites and photographs as the vibrant pigments evaporate with the smoke. And Niki de Saint Phalle literally shooting on paintings.


Olaf Breuning, Smoke Bombs 2, 2011

Chapter 2 is woodworking. It explores how artists subvert expectations about wood (taking apart the unseen wooden structure at the back of paintings, for example.)

Chapter 3 is about buildings and architectural craft in general. Think Theaster Gates creating multipurpose community center out of abandoned buildings, and marketable artworks out of materials salvaged from derelict sites. Or Rachel Whiteread using concrete to give substance to negative spaces.

Chapter 4 is about performance. As engrossing and interesting as the chapter was, it didn’t reconcile me with the work of Marina Abramović.


Shigeko Kubota, Vagina Painting, 1965

Chapter 5 looks at artists who create or modify tools. The authors note that although the history of art is closely linked to the history of technology, an innovative tool doesn’t have to be a sophisticated one. They illustrate the idea with Shigeko Kubota who attached a paintbrush to her underwear for her vagina paintings. The chapter on tools is a splendid one, it argues that making new tools is potentially a political act, it’s about expressing dissatisfaction with the status quo.

Chapter 6, called Cashing In, explores the relationship between art and value. There’s some great examples of artists subverting the market and the economy but somehow, i’m only going to mention good old Damien Hirst and For the Love of God, a work that suggests that society might be going back to ancient conception of art, as “a brute expression of wealth and power.”

Chapter 7 focuses on fabrication and on artists delegating the production of their works to highly qualified craftsmen, industrial machines and even whole factories. A century after Duchamp, the public still feels cheated if the artist is not the maker. Yet, there’s nothing new in this practice. Renaissance painters orchestrated the work of anonymous little hands to create large scale paintings for example.

Chapter 8 is all about digitalization and how the digital is finally understood by the art world as not being immaterial. I do love Cory Arcangel but i wish that authors of book of contemporary art would venture beyond Super Mario Clouds when they address digital practices.

Chapter 9 took me by surprise. It’s about crowdsourcing, a practice that was called grassroot organizing existed before the internet gave it a hip name.

Here’s a quick succession of works that the book made me discover or see under a new light:


Niki de Saint Phalle shooting on her Autel, 1962 (photo via The Red List)

Niki de Saint Phalle broke out into the male-dominated art world of the 1960s with her series of Tirs (Shooting Paintings). She fitted plastic bags filled with paint behind paintings and sculptures. The bags would burst when she or other participant shot at the works.


Yves Klein, Propositions monochromes (1’02) May 10 – 25, 1957

International Klein Blue collaborated with a Parisian art paint supplier to develop a deep blue hue.


Doris Salcedo, 1550 Chairs Stacked between Two City Buildings, Istanbul, 2003

Doris Salcedo’s staked chairs conjure people who have been displaced, in particular faceless migrants who underpin the working of the global economy.


Santiago Sierra, Cube of 100 cm on each side moved 700 cm, 2002

Santiago Sierra‘s ‘3 Cubes of 100cm on each side moved 700cm’ was performance for a public art institution in Switzerland. Six illegal Albanian refugees without work permits were hired to move, at great physical pain, three large cement cubes from one wall of the gallery to the opposing one.

“Persons are objects of the State and of Capital and are employed as such”, said Sierra. In this work, as in many other of his performances, the artist (who has often been criticized for replicating rather than critiquing inequalities regarding power) uses human beings as if they were any other material.


Zhang Huan, 12 Square Meters, 1994

On a hot Summer day of 1994, Zhang Huan sat in the most unhygienic public restroom he could find in Beijing. His skin was covered with fish oil and honey. Swarms of flies quickly came crawling on his body. His face remained impassible during this 40-minute performance.
Rumour has it that the performance was a tribute to Ai Weiwei’s father Ai Qing, who was made to clean filthy public toilets when he fell out of favour.


Liz Cohen, Bodywork Welder, 2005

Cohen gained fame with Bodywork, a project for which she apprenticed under car technicians to transform an East German 1987 Trabant car into a 1973 Chevrolet El Camino. Cohen submitted her own body to a similar transformation. She worked with a personal trainer and dieted to turn herself into a bikini model for car shows.


Guillermo Gómez-Peña, The Loneliness of the Immigrant, 1979/2011

Talking about his performance The Loneliness of the Immigrant, Guillermo Gómez-Peña said: I decide to spend 24 hours in a public elevator wrapped in batik fabric and rope, a metaphor for a painful birth in a new country, a new identity as “the Chicano,” and a new language, intercultural performance. The response of the people who shared the elevator with him was part of the performance. People kicked him as he laid passive, others ignored or interrogated. A dog urinated on him. Eventually the building’s security guards threw him in a garbage can.

rent-a-negro.com was a satirical web-art-performance created in 2003 by damali ayo. The site offered the possibility rent a black person for their personal entertainment or to advance their business or social reputation. rent-a-negro.com received over 400,000 hits per day in its first month, and attracted much media attention but also so many threats and unpleasant emails that in the end, the artist thought it would be safer to turn the potential performance into a conceptual artwork. The site remained online until 2012.

She wrote a guide of the same title though!


Tim Hawkinson, Signature Chair, 1993

A machine that signs ‘Tim Hawkinson’ onto a roll of paper, chops it off, and throws it onto an ever growing pile. The work was inspired by the autopen that executives used to employ on payday for issuing checks. The piece suggests that art has become synonymous with an artist’s signature to then be repeated endlessly.


Fred Wilson, Metalwork 1793-1880, from ‘Mining the Museum‘, 1992-1993. Image via omgyrak

Fred Wilson’s exhibition project “Mining the Museum” presented Maryland Historical Society’s collection in a new, critical but also often satirical light that excavated American racial history in Maryland.

The installation “Metalwork 1793–1880” brought side by side ornate silver pitchers, flacons, and teacups with a pair of iron slave shackles, highlighting the link between the two kinds of metal works: The production of the one was made possible by the subjugation enforced by the other.


Ai Weiwei, Kui Hua Zi (Sunflower Seeds), 2010


Some of the 1,600 highly skilled craftspeople from Jingdezhen hired to create and paint porcelain sunflower seeds. Image via Khan Academy

Ai Weiwei’s 100 million porcelain sunflower seeds covered the floor of Tate Modern in 2010. Each of the seeds had been handcrafted by skilled artisans from Jingdezhen. The work commented on the porcelain tradition in Jingdzhen, as well as on the cheap, fast and anonymous labor that is behind the hard-won and harshly criticised place of China in global economy. Sunflower Seeds also asks us to consider how our consumption of foreign-made goods affects the lives of others across the globe.


Milinda Hernandez drafting Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing 797, 2014

In 1968, LeWitt began to conceive guidelines or simple diagrams for his works drawn on walls. Executed by other people on walls that were most often slated for destruction, the series favours the creative idea that generates a work of art rather than its material existence.


Thomas Ruff, Nudes FJ 23, 2000

Nowadays, the first encounter that people have with contemporary art takes the form of low res thumbnails on google images. Thomas Ruff’s jpegs are monumental but start as such tiny thumbnails. The artist then enlarges them to a gigantic scale, which exaggerates the pixel patterns until they become geometric displays of color.


Cat Mazza, Stitch for Senate, 2007-2008

With Stitch for Senate, Cat Mazza asked knitters to hand knit helmet liners for every United States Senator. The work used the tradition of political organizing within knitting circles as a space for discussion, skill sharing and protest in the lead up to the 2008 senate elections. Every senator received their own helmet liner, mailed on President Obama’s Inaguration. A message accompanied the garment, asking for the return of US troupes from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Categories: New Media News

Pictoplasma focus: Jim Avignon

Thu, 05/05/2016 - 11:21


Jim Avignon, Nachtwache


Jim Avignon, Den Zähnen das Schicksai Zeigen, 2014

Jim Avignon is an illustrator, painter, performer and conceptual artist. His work is witty, pop, cheerful and at times also thoughtful and deep. He works fast, very fast and he has no time for the rules, rhythms and logic of a traditional art career. He delights in using cheap and found materials, laughs at the totally wrong information that circulates about him online and keeps his art affordable and intelligible to everyone.

When he is not painting murals in Latin America, creating coloring books for children living in refugee camps or stealing Berlin’s iconic and kitschy buddy bears, Avignon turns himself into “neoangin”, a performer of electronic music that doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously either.


Plates, part of the Black Market Black Market at ReTramp Gallery

Jim Avignon, his magnificent plates, infinite humour and droll little characters are participating to the Pictoplasma festival this week. He also has a solo show titled Black Market at ReTramp Gallery (be quick because it’s open till Sunday only!)

The artist is as warm and amusing as his little creatures, i’m happy Pictoplasma gave me an excuse to get in touch with him a few weeks ago:

Hi Jim! I saw a video in which you explained that you created a second identity for yourself and called him ‘Neoangin.’ Which relationship do you have with this musical alter-ego? How different is he from yourself? And have you started actually becoming Neoangin after so many years living with him?

He is some kind of weirdo jump and run cartoon character version of me, i am more the nice guy in the background but he doesn’t mind standing on stage being the crazy one, uplifting even in hopeless situations. In a neoangin show there is a high chance that things get out of control in a funny way, and then i need to be neoangin to turn it into something exciting.

neoangin, Party for 1

Neoangin aka. Jim Avignon, I know you from

What about Jim Avignon? Is he a character too?

He is the main guy in my character portfolio and was there from the beginning, long time before i invented neoangin. In school i was always the smallest and youngest in my class and a rather insecure and easy to confuse one. After i finished school i knew by heart that i needed to become somebody else. No wonder Why Can’t I Be You by The Cure was my favorite song at that time. I found out moving to another city and having a new name helped a lot in inventing a new persona.


Jim Avignon, Hypnotist

You’re inspired by daily life. What are the issues and stories that inspire you nowadays?

I am crazy about input (politics, gossip, internet, music, watching people in the subway, hearing strangers talk) and make up my mind to find hidden connections between all this stuff. i mash up all this input and sometimes some interesting images come up. I am interested in how people deal and struggle with the complexity and speed of modern life and i try to find and invent icons and characters that express that dilemma.

You’re known for subverting the rules of the contemporary art market. But are there rules you do follow when it comes to contemporary art but also, more generally, when it comes to creating?

There are no rules apart from the one to be nice to those who are weaker than yourself. I decide by intuition and heart. I don’t believe in perfection and the one big career master plan, in fact i believe in learning by doing and making mistakes is important and sometimes beautiful when it comes to creativity.

I do believe that everything is political: how you plan your career, to whom you sell your painting, how you share your time work/family, the ways you produce and sell.


Jim Avignon, Mural in Athens


Jim Avignon, Cover of the coloring book for children

I read on your website that your new year resolution for 2016 is to do no exhibitions at all this year. That sounds very brave. So how are you spending the year? Publishing books? Doing more street interventions?

Well, that was one nice idea to have a year off, i imagined myself reading up that big pile of books i had bought in the previous years, going to the movies, doing a couple of holidays with my family and sitting in bars with friends and having drinks, but i am afraid i am the guy who can’t relax.

The first thing i did this year was to start to work with kids in refugee camps and then decided to release a coloring in book for them by myself. Now i am in Greece painting a big wall and i just received an invitation to Taiwan to paint life at the art fair. And of course when Pictoplasma asked me to do an exhibition for the festival i didn’t say “Sorry guys, i am having my year off!”

What are you going to present at Pictoplasma?

So far, i have only decided on the title which will be Black Market. In my mind i see some out of control interior design and a giant rocking chair moving mysteriously. I also have this interactive installation called The Perfect Match i did in the last year that tells you who you really are that would fit there in a nice way. I see board games and characters painted on old plates that i just bought in a thrift store and of course there will be some stuff for sale as well at obscure black market prices – and there will be a secret pre-opening party on Tuesday with a friend of mine DJing in a robot costume. If you are already in Berlin then, please come!

Thanks Jim!


Jim Avignon, Binary Hulahoop with Kathi Kaeppel exhibition at Galerie Crystal Ball in Berlin, 2014


Jim Avignon, Guatemala, Guatemala. Photo via Brooklyn street art

Catch up with Jim Avignon today, tomorrow and over the weekend at the 12th Pictoplasma Conference & Festival in Berlin.
Jim Avignon’s exhibition Black Market is open at ReTramp Gallery in Berlin until May 8, from 12 AM to 8 PM.

See also: Pictoplasma focus: Julian Glander and Pictoplasma focus: Mr Bingo, rude postcards and dirty queens.

Categories: New Media News

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