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Because sometimes all you need is BATS

Mon, 09/26/2016 - 12:08

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, Bat Opera, 2013

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, Bat Opera, 2005

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, who used to be called Spartacus Chetwynd, was born Alalia Chetwynd. That’s a lovely name of course but it doesn’t have the same punchy resonance as the one of a gladiator who lead a major revolt against the Romans or of the coolest, most brilliant R&B singer that ever was. Whatever her reasons to re-baptize herself so dramatically, she certainly has the spunk and knack to pull it off.

Chetwynd is known for her droll and brash performances. She enrolls amateurs, makes everyone dance, sing and wear hand-made outfits so demented you’re wondering if she didn’t intern at Martin Margiela a decade or two ago: fur sprouting everywhere, most unflattering volumes and wonky lengths. In her riots you meet pop culture and high brow references. Michael
 Jackson’s Thriller and the Canterbury Tales. Rabelais and Star Wars villains. But also super ugly creatures, giant turtles, merry cats. It’s a bit like the Bacchanalia but with more clothes on. Or what passes for clothes in Chetwynd’s world.

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, The Cell Group (Episode Two), Bergen Assembly 2016 Performance documentation, St Jørgen’s Shelter, Bergen, NorwayPhoto: Thor Brødreskift

The artist was invited by Rhea Dall and Kristine Siegel from PRAXES to participate to the Bergen Assembly triennial with a programme made of an exhibition archive of some of her most eccentric performance costumes and props, workshops, performances and other gatherings bearing titles such as Iron Age Pasta Necklace Workshop and it’s not bald spot it’s a solar panel for a sex machine (Episode Three).

There’s a lot of the frenzy described above at the various Bergen Assembly events featuring Chetwynd’s works but there’s also a small exhibition of decidedly odd but ultimately charming bat portraits in the lobby of the City Hall of Bergen. I had never heard of that series before but i immediately wanted the little mammals to be part of my blog.

Quietly lined up against the rock and concrete wall, the Bat Opera paintings show the little creatures in all shapes, sizes and settings. Bat faces, bats in groups, bats high in the sky, bats spreading wings, bats that look tragic, defiant, deep.

The series has followed Chetwynd through a personal archeology of painting techniques and styles. Cute and horrendous, corny and ferocious, the Bat Opera paintings are tangentially linked to an eponymous live performance by Chetwynd, which, in turn, took inspiration from the opulent glam rock performer Meat Loaf’s epic album Bat Out of Hell—a churning amalgam of beauty and beast that utterly fascinates the artist.

Meet the bats:

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, Bat Opera, 2014

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, Bat Opera, 2008

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, Bat Opera, 2014

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, Bat Opera, 2014

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, …ARE U BATS? Installation photo, Bergen Assembly 2016. Photo: Kobie Nel/Bergen Assembly

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, …ARE U BATS? Installation photo, Bergen Assembly 2016. Photo: Kobie Nel/Bergen Assembly

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, Bat Opera, 2014

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, Bat Opera, 2013

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, Bat Opera, 2014

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, Bat Opera, 2013

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, Bat Opera, 2006

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, Bat Opera, 2003

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, ARE YOU BATS? (PRAXES), Installation Shot, Bergen Assembly 2016. Bergen City Hall, Bergen. Photo: Thor Brødreskif

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, ARE YOU BATS? (PRAXES), Installation Shot, Bergen Assembly 2016. Bergen City Hall, Bergen. Photo: Thor Brødreskif

This is my last story about the exciting and eclectic Bergen Assembly. Before i close this series, I need to salute Tim Schmitt and Anne Büttner from HORT did all the graphic design of the Bergen Assembly. I kept admiring their work throughout my stay in the Norwegian city. Just a couple images:

… Are u Bats? is in the lobby of the City Hall of Bergen until 9 December 2016.

Also part of the Bergen Assembly triennial: Infinite Ear. On the practices of un- or para-hearing and Within: Instruments that challenge the way we understand hearing. The End of Oil, the end of the world as we knew it.

Categories: New Media News

Pixelache 2016: The Science of Empathy

Fri, 09/23/2016 - 05:06

The Pixelache Festival opened last night in Helsinki. It is, as usual, full of good surprises and inspiring shenanigans. The theme this year is:

The whole program is dedicated to exploring how empathy can be extended to the whole ecosystem, not just to other human beings. I’ll write a proper report later but today i really wanted to publish my notes from Katri Saarikivi‘s talk at the opening evening of the festival.

This month i’ve been writing about gloomy topic such as the drones that kill, robots that might take the power over us, oil industry that exploits its workforce, off-shore tax havens that enable the 1% to enjoy full impunity, etc. I thought i should also make space for stories that puts the human genre in a more positive light.

Katri Saarikivi at Pixelache

Saarikivi is a cognitive neuroscientist and the leader of NEMO – Natural Emotionality in Digital Interaction at the University of Helsinki. The group is looking for new ways to digitalize and transmit empathy in the digital realm. Her quick introduction to The Science of Empathy was brilliant and uplifting.

Saarikivi explained that empathy is important. It’s what makes us connect to other people’s emotions. Empathy is also an essential survival skill for humans. It’s what makes us come together and collaborate. It also makes collective intelligence possible. Compared to big beasts like bears and tigers, humans are small and weak so we needed to cooperate in order to be able to overcome them. That’s what has enabled humanity to survive and flourish over time.

Even if we don’t have to face big beasts nowadays, we still benefit from empathy. It is our route to great achievements. We wouldn’t have managed to put Rovers on Mars without it (whether sending vehicles onto distant planets is the most interesting thing we can do is another story.)

In fact, a report titled Evidence for a Collective Intelligence Factor in the Performance of Human Groups showed that collective intelligence was best when it came to finding solutions to problems. According to the researchers, The key to high performance lay not in the content of a team’s discussion but in the manner in which it was communicating. Collective intelligence is at its most efficient when the following factors appear during the discussions:
– short speeches, no monologues,
– responsiveness towards others,
– everyone gets a turn to speak.
– empathy (the reading the mind in the eyes test)

Even Google data analysts agree. After years of intensive research on how to produce a more productive team, the tech giant discovered that the key to good team work was being nice.

In the future, the importance of empathy might become even more apparent. People will have to focus on tasks in which they are better than the ‘robots’. Tasks that can’t be automated and require ‘softer skills.’ Some of these tasks are the ones that involve learning and creativity; flexible, contextual thinking; empathy, etc.

Empathy, according to Saarikivi, is the ultimate human quality.

In neuroscience, empathy is divided into 3 levels: Thoughts, Actions and Emotions.

Thoughts: empathy helps you understand how other people think, it enables you to put yourself into someone else’s shoes. We are all mentalists!
Emotions: other people’s emotions are contagious. We feel sad when we see someone cry and feel happier when we see another person smile.
Actions: Mechanisms in our brain makes it rewarding to be altruistic.

Saarikivi explained that if you remove self-control from humans, they become overly generous towards other humans. It seems that we are inherently altruistic, that sharing and being generous is part of our brain default state.

What Saarikivi’s research group is trying to understand is how these mechanism works so that they can create more opportunities for empathy.

But neuroscience realizes that it might not be enough to understand what happens in the brain of one person. That’s where the two-brain perspective comes in. Two-brain neuroscience measures the activity of two brains at the same time and looks at the connections.

Researchers found that “cognition materializes in interpersonal space“:
– Rhythmic activity of brains synchronizes during interaction,
– The greater the extent of neural coupling between a speaker and a listener, the better the understanding.

Things that increase empathy:
Reading literary fiction,
Playing rock band together,
Moving together in synchrony: bouncing, clapping, rocking in rocking chair.

One of society’s current challenges is that empathy is not communicated efficiently online. The internet was conceived as a tool for empathy but as we know, that’s not what is happening. We need to improve ‘virtual empathy’. It appears that when we go online we are less empathetic than when we are face to face. Why? Saarikivi believes that the tools we use are not built to take human empathy into consideration.

Kids Read Mean Tweets

When a person’s feeling don’t reach you, this person can’t touch you. That’s how you end up with trolls.

She concluded that we need more interfaces for empathy, whether they are digital or not. We need them now because society is facing problems of global magnitude that we won’t be able to solve without empathy.

The Pixelache Festival takes place from September 22nd to 25th in Helsinki.

Categories: New Media News

Book review: Artificial Intelligence. What Everyone Needs to Know

Tue, 09/20/2016 - 12:36

Artificial Intelligence. What Everyone Needs to Know, by computer scientist, researcher and futurist Jerry Kaplan

On amazon USA and UK.

Publisher Oxford University Press writes: The emergence of systems capable of independent reasoning and action raises serious questions about just whose interests they are permitted to serve, and what limits our society should place on their creation and use. Deep ethical questions that have bedeviled philosophers for ages will suddenly arrive on the steps of our courthouses. Can a machine be held accountable for its actions? Should intelligent systems enjoy independent rights and responsibilities, or are they simple property? Who should be held responsible when a self-driving car kills a pedestrian? Can your personal robot hold your place in line, or be compelled to testify against you? If it turns out to be possible to upload your mind into a machine, is that still you?

Sometimes i realize that i need a new perspective on technology. My main sources of information about science or technology are art exhibitions, social media channels run by activists and books by social scientists or philosophers. I decided to expand my horizons and check out what an engineer has to say about technology. In particular artificial intelligence.

I thought a book like Artificial Intelligence. What Everyone Needs to Know wouldn’t overwhelm me with nerdiness. The volume is part of an Oxford University Press series that aims to offer compact and balanced monographs on complex issues in a Q&A format.

In his intro to the book, computer scientist and futurist Kaplan promises to give nontech readers an overview of the key issues and arguments about the main social, ethical, legal and economic issues raised by Artificial Intelligence.

The experience didn’t start too well for me… The first part is remarkably techy for a book that promises not to scare off the amateur. It’s not difficult to follow at all but i was there for the ethics, the critics and the possible pitfalls of AI! I soldiered on nonetheless, read about the intellectual history of AI, the history of machine learning, the various types of AI (actually that part was very interesting, it gives grounding and clarity to the whole field), etc.

JPL’s RoboSimian exits its vehicle following a brief drive through a slalom course at the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals. Photo: J. Krohn/ JPL-Caltech

Things picked up for me at chapter 4, the one that studies the philosophy of AI and how it poses a series of challenges to philosophy or religious doctrines which often orbit around human uniqueness and our place in universe. Whereas the first few chapters explained terms such as computer vision, speech recognition, natural language processing, the pages in chapter 4 invite readers to reconsider and refine their understanding of intelligence, free will, consciousness and what it means to be ‘alive.’ Automated methods are slowly nibbling at the list of abilities previously considered the sole province of humans. Think of chess, for example. Pre-Deep Blue, being a master of chess was regarded as the epitome of being intelligent and human. Then in 1996, Garry Kasparov was defeated by a computer and we had to find new benchmarks to define human intelligence.

The following chapters kept on getting more and more relevant to my interests as they explored the impact that AI will have -or already has- on law, on human labor, on social equity (although the disruptive effects of AI are not inevitable, it is quite likely that income inequality will get worse) and it ends by looking at the possible future impacts of artificial intelligence.

The questions Kaplan explores are fascinating. I sometimes wished he would have added more details and depth to several of the issues he presents but i guess the particular format of the book made it difficult for him to be too lengthy. Here are some of the questions he answers (and sometimes admits we don’t have quite yet the framework to answer them with certainty):

Should people bear full responsibility for their intelligent agents (if your autonomous car hits someone)? Should an AI system be permitted to own property? Could an AI system commit a crime (answer is yes) and can it be held accountable for it? Can a computer ‘feel’? Which professions are under threat of being automated in the near future? Will i be able to upload myself into a computer? How can we minimise future risks posed by the machines? What will be the impact of AI on social equity? What are the benefits and the risks of making computers that act like people? Who’s going to benefit from this tech revolution? Are there alternatives to our current labor-based economy?

Artificial Intelligence. What Everyone Needs to Know is not a book i would normally pick up but i’m glad i did. There is much hype and fear around robots and artificial intelligence and it’s difficult to get a clear view of what lays ahead of us. Much of the public perception of AI is shaped by Hollywood, sensationalist headlines, and videos of robots interacting flawlessly with a trained demonstrator. The reality, as Kaplan demonstrates in this book, is a bit more complicated:

IEEE Spectrum, A compilation of robots falling down on Day 1 of the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals, 2015

Categories: New Media News

Within: Instruments that challenge the way we understand hearing

Fri, 09/16/2016 - 12:01

Tarek Atoui / WITHIN II. Performance, Bergen Assembly 2016. Sentralbadet, Bergen. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

Tarek Atoui/ Sonic Therapy Sessions, Deep Listening with Pauline Oliveros and Ione.Documentation shot, Bergen Assembly 2016. Sentralbadet, Bergen. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

Tarek Atoui / WITHIN II. Performance, Bergen Assembly 2016. Sentralbadet, Bergen. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

Tarek Atoui / WITHIN II. Performance, Bergen Assembly 2016. Sentralbadet, Bergen. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

A few days ago, i started writing about Tarek Atoui‘s artistic proposal for Bergen Assembly, a triennial currently taking place all over Bergen, Norway. The sound artist filled an abandoned swimming pool with new music instruments, historical objects, ideas, noises and sounds that challenge how both deaf and hearing people experience sound. Atoui delegated part of the exhibition to Council, a curatorial practice interested in connecting art with science and social engagement. The French duo came up with Infinite Ear, a show that looks into practices and artifacts which involve other senses in the hearing experience. I blogged about it last week so today is going to be about WITHIN, the research project about hearing diversities that Atoui started back in 2012 at the Sharjah Art Foundation in the UAE.

Atoui inhabited the largest, deepest (and obviously dried up) swimming basin with a series of sound instruments that he developed in collaboration with the local deaf communities, with other sound artists and with academics from various disciplines.

By working together on the instruments, which appeal to both the hearing and deaf public, the aim is to convey to visitors from the perspective of deaf people how instruments and the sounds produced by them are perceived by the deaf community and how the instruments can be played in these circumstances.

Atoui’s research project was as much about developing music instruments for people who cannot hear as it was about learning from the deaf and expanding our understanding of auditory perceptions. Is the hearing experience confined to the ear? Can sound be tactile? Can it emerge from visual stimuli? Can gestuality convey some of the sound experience? How can the eyes, the hands, the whole body even participate in the experience of sound?

Tarek Atoui / WITHIN II. Performance, Bergen Assembly 2016. Sentralbadet, Bergen. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

Tarek Atoui / WITHIN II. Performance, Bergen Assembly 2016. Sentralbadet, Bergen. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

Unfortunately, you cannot play with Tarek Atoui’s instruments. But you can experience the sensations, vibrations and the impact on your body and the architecture of the building that they produce during the regular public rehearsals, performances and concerts that take place this month in Bergen (full list of events over here.) If you are hearing-impaired however, you might be able to have a go at them.

Here’s a presentation of some of the instruments:

Tarek Atoui / WITHIN II. Performance, Bergen Assembly 2016. Sentralbadet, Bergen. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

Tarek Atoui / WITHIN II. Performance, Bergen Assembly 2016. Sentralbadet, Bergen. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

The True Laptop Quartet is a set of four tactile instruments that use metallic found objects, transducer speakers and old microphones to create feedback sounds. The objects are placed onto the lap of the performer who feels the sound in his/her hands or body through the vibrations of metal.

Tarek Atoui / WITHIN II. Performance, Bergen Assembly 2016. Sentralbadet, Bergen. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

The T1 is a MIDI keyboard. The sounds it produces can be heard in a tactile way. This controller easily connects to any type of musical software to play and process sounds the player chooses. It can also be used as a speaker that allows to perceive up to 5 sounds in the fingers and the palm of the hand.

Tarek Atoui / WITHIN II. Performance, Bergen Assembly 2016. Sentralbadet, Bergen. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

Tarek Atoui / WITHIN II. Performance, Bergen Assembly 2016. Sentralbadet, Bergen. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

The Sub-ink, developed by Julia Alsarraf, is a set of four units with a single subwoofer each on which the performer sits in contact with the sound. By touching a drawing the musician previously prepares using conductive ink, he or she plays a basic synthesizer in rhythmic or melodic ways. The Sub-Ink is a modular instrument that can be used to control other device such as computers and synthesizers, and to connect and synchronize musicians with different hearing abilities.

Tarek Atoui / WITHIN II. Performance, Bergen Assembly 2016. Sentralbadet, Bergen. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

33 Soft Cells is a touch sampler made out of 33 touch sensitive textile panels, each with a distinctive texture or pattern. The instrument can be connected to different computer software and types of sound, and playing it relies on the sense of touch.

Tarek Atoui / WITHIN II. Performance, Bergen Assembly 2016. Sentralbadet, Bergen. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

The 0.9 is a networked group of nine Meyer subwoofers speakers encased by 3 platforms on which performers stand. It has a gestural interface inspired by sign language and is similar to a Theremin. Through specific hands and finger movements, the player produces ultra-low-frequency sounds that are physically felt, perhaps even before they are heard. The instrument allows to play with resonance frequencies of the space where it’s being performed. The space and its architecture therefore become conductors of sound, and the audience can perceive the instrument through them.

Tarek Atoui / WITHIN II. Performance, Bergen Assembly 2016. Sentralbadet, Bergen. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

Tarek Atoui / WITHIN II. Performance, Bergen Assembly 2016. Sentralbadet, Bergen. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

Tarek Atoui / WITHIN II. Performance, Bergen Assembly 2016. Sentralbadet, Bergen. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

4 Iterations on Drums, is a set of percussion tables that focus on conducting sound through solid materials such as metal and wood rather than air. The sound produced is felt in the hands of the player before reaching the ears. Initially imagined by Thierry Madiot, the design of these tables was enhanced by students at the Nordahl Grieg high-school in Bergen.

More images, this time in b&w:

Tarek Atoui, Deaf Session, Sentralbadet. Documentation Shot, Bergen Assembly 2016 Photo: Thor Brødreskift

Tarek Atoui, Deaf Session, Sentralbadet. Documentation Shot, Bergen Assembly 2016 Photo: Thor Brødreskift

Tarek Atoui, Deaf Session, Sentralbadet. Documentation Shot, Bergen Assembly 2016 Photo: Thor Brødreskift

Tarek Atoui, Deaf Session, Sentralbadet. Documentation Shot, Bergen Assembly 2016 Photo: Thor Brødreskift

Tarek Atoui, Deaf Session, Sentralbadet. Documentation Shot, Bergen Assembly 2016 Photo: Thor Brødreskift

Tarek Atoui / WITHIN I, Sentralbadet. Performance, Bergen Assembly 2016 Photo: Thor Brødreskift

Tarek Atoui / WITHIN I, Sentralbadet. Performance, Bergen Assembly 2016 Photo: Thor Brødreskift

Tarek Atoui / WITHIN I, Sentralbadet. Performance, Bergen Assembly 2016 Photo: Thor Brødreskift

Tarek Atoui / WITHIN I, Sentralbadet. Performance, Bergen Assembly 2016 Photo: Thor Brødreskift

Tarek Atoui’s contribution to the Bergen Assembly remains open to visitors until 1 October 2016. Performances, workshops, open rehearsals of WITHIN are scheduled to take place in the coming days: On the 21st, 23rd, 25th and 30th of September.
The rest of the Bergen Assembly triennial continues in various venues around Bergen, Norway until 9 December, 2016.

Previously: Infinite Ear. On the practices of un- or para-hearing.
Also part of the Bergen Assembly: Bergen Assembly: The End of Oil, the end of the world as we knew it.

Categories: New Media News

Book review: Drone. Remote Control Warfare

Wed, 09/14/2016 - 11:18

Drone. Remote Control Warfare, by anthropologist Hugh Gusterson.

It’s on amazon USA and UK.

Publisher MIT Press writes: Advocates say that drones are more precise than conventional bombers, allowing warfare with minimal civilian deaths while keeping American pilots out of harm’s way. Critics say that drones are cowardly and that they often kill innocent civilians while terrorizing entire villages on the ground. In this book, Hugh Gusterson explores the significance of drone warfare from multiple perspectives, drawing on accounts by drone operators, victims of drone attacks, anti-drone activists, human rights activists, international lawyers, journalists, military thinkers, and academic experts.

Gusterson examines the way drone warfare has created commuter warriors and redefined the space of the battlefield. He looks at the paradoxical mix of closeness and distance involved in remote killing: is it easier than killing someone on the physical battlefield if you have to watch onscreen? He suggests a new way of understanding the debate over civilian casualties of drone attacks. He maps “ethical slippage” over time in the Obama administration’s targeting practices. And he contrasts Obama administration officials’ legal justification of drone attacks with arguments by international lawyers and NGOs.

U.S. soldiers fly an RQ-7B Shadow unmanned aerial vehicle at Hurlburt Field, Fla., from inside their ground control station, 2011. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Andy M. Kin/Released

The aftermath of a drone strike in Yemen (photo)

Drone. Remote Control Warfare is a compact book that efficiently wraps up and reviews the most urgent topics explored in other books about drones (for example, A Theory of the Drone and Sudden Justice: America’s Secret Drone Wars.) In particular: the condition of a warfare that is so asymmetric it almost becomes unilateral; the psychological suffering of people who live under the constant threat of a drone attack but also the new forms of PTSD developed by drone operators who find it difficult to compartmentalize battlefield and domestic life; the strategies insurgents adopt to fight back (using couriers to communicate, taking advantage of urban topography to make it harder to be tracked, hacking drones); the globalization of the battlefield and the break from international rules that govern war zones and treatment of the people suspected of terrorism; the undermining of local cultural and religious practices; the many civilian casualties and the myth of the ‘surgically precise’ strike; the loosening of the interpretation of what constitutes a terrorist threat; the moral framing of the strikes (or rather the lack thereof); the crashes, lethal errors and other glitches associated with operating drones; the slow chain of command and diffused responsibility behind a drone strike, etc.

A man walks past a graffiti, denouncing strikes by U.S. drones in Yemen, painted on a wall in Sanaa November 13, 2014. Photo: Khaled Abdullah/REUTERS

The book also brings new perspective on drone warfare.

Gusterson believes that the danger of drones doesn’t lie in the technology itself but in the way it is currently used. As he writes:

A drone is a socio-technical ensemble, not just a machine, and the same drone will be deployed to different effects in different cultural and organizational contexts.

In his view, the United States have little chance to achieve their national security objectives if they keep on using drones as neo-colonial weapons (i.e. similarly to how British and French colonial soldiers used powerful fire arms against spear-carrying Africans) that anger local populations, demonstrate no trace of moral superiority and further militarizes relationship between ‘us’ and the Muslim world.

U.S. airmen prepare an RQ-4A Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle aircraft for takeoff, 2010. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Eric Harris/Released

The author believes than it would make far more sense to police the use of drones than to attempt to ban the technology altogether. Such carefully controlled deployment of drones won’t be implemented without a strong pressure from the public and that’s where there is still a lot of work to do.

Drones have been deployed in the ‘war on terror’ for 15 years already. Yet, the American public knows relatively little about the violence spread in their name in faraway countries.

What makes drones so attractive to the US government is that they don’t involve the return of American body bags from the battlefront. The public doesn’t see casualties and therefore doesn’t question the legitimacy of drone warfare. Few congressmen will then challenge the use of drones and the threshold for military action can be lowered.

The author suggests that what is needed is some kind of new Guantanamo to rally against. If the American public realizes that drones are blackening the international reputation of the U.S. and actually make little contribution to the safety of the country, they might ask their representatives to surround the use of these new weapons with strict ethical regulations and greater transparency.

Red White and Blue Drone woven in Pakistan featuring Reaper drones, 2014. Photo: War Rug

As usual, the book focuses on drone warfare from the USA. I would be interested to read a similar book that also explores into more details the way Israel (a pioneering exporter, developer and proponent of drone violence) uses drones on its own and on neighbouring territories.

More drone books: Book review: A Theory of the Drone, Sudden Justice: America’s Secret Drone Wars.
And even more drone stories: Eyes from a distance. Personal encounters with military drones, A screaming comes across the sky. Drones, mass surveillance and invisible wars, A dystopian performance for drones, The Grey Zone. On the (il)legitimacy of targeted killing by drones, Tracking Drones, Reporting Lives, KGB, CIA black sites and drone performance. This must be an exhibition by Suzanne Treister, Under the Shadow of the Drone, etc.

Categories: New Media News

Infinite Ear. On the practices of un- or para-hearing

Thu, 09/08/2016 - 11:37

As hinted on Tuesday, i’m just back from the opening of Bergen Assembly, a triennial that boldly attempts to challenge and reformulate the good old biennial (or triennial) model.

The event is articulated around three radically different artistic propositions. The one that got all my undivided, unrelenting attention was Tarek Atoui‘s. The sound artist filled an abandoned swimming pool with new instruments, historical artefacts, performances, social moments, ideas and of course sounds that challenge our understanding of the sound experience. He transformed the whole space to engage both the deaf and the hearing people.

Tarek Atoui & Council, WITHIN/ Infinite Ear. Production Shot, Bergen Assembly 2016 Sentralbadet, Bergen. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

Tarek Atoui / Infinite Ear. Installation shot, Bergen Assembly 2016. Sentralbadet, Bergen. Photo: Thor Brødreskif

Atoui worked with the local deaf communities and with other sound artists to develop the whole project but he also collaborated with Grégory Castéra and Sandra Terdjman from Council, a curating platform that invites artists to reconsider the way we understand social issues. Everywhere i looked in the exhibition curated by Atoui, there was something i wanted to write about. So i’m going to take it quietly and explore the exhibition over two episodes. This one will be about Council’s contribution to the show. The next one will examine the instruments that Atoui developed together with the deaf community of Bergen.

Tarek Atoui / Infinite Ear. Installation shot, Bergen Assembly 2016. Sentralbadet, Bergen. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

For Infinite Ear, their contribution to the show, Council explored what hearing means when it is not confined to the ear, when it involves the other senses and even the whole body. They set up a programme of videos, discussions and performances that will take place throughout the month in Bergen.

Infinite Ear considers practices of un- or para-hearing entities, both biological and technical, that exceed, extend or modulate the modern conception of hearing. These investigations offer new insights into the traditional separation of the senses, and their boundaries, by revealing specific articulations within sensory ecosystems that imbricate more than the five senses.

But Council also curated a small exhibition that starts in the White Cat café, a bar that overlooks the swimming pool. You can sit down and browse a list of sound recordings that make audible a series of phenomena that are otherwise imperceptible to the human ear. Waiters will not only play the sound of your choice in the space but also serve you a drink to enjoy with it. Not any type of drink but one especially selected by a ‘jukebox sommelier’ to play nicely with the sounds.

Tarek Atoui / Infinite Ear. Installation shot, Bergen Assembly 2016. Sentralbadet, Bergen. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

Tarek Atoui / Infinite Ear. Installation shot, Bergen Assembly 2016. Sentralbadet, Bergen. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

The whole sound list is over here. Without the sound though so i’ve looked online and spotted some of the most interesting to share with you:

Scientists at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory managed to convert gravitational waves (minute distortions of spacetime predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relativity) sent out from two massive colliding black holes into sound waves. Through converting wave patterns into sound, gravitational wave astronomy, an emerging branch of observational astronomy, is now listening to the universe and expanding our understanding of space.

LIGO Lab Caltech: MIT, The Sound of Two Black Holes Colliding

Jacob Kirkegaard captured the empty and snowy landscape in Fukushima:

Jacob Kirkegaard, Stigma # 1, 2016

Now this one is a bit of a ridiculous story. The Tsar Bell is the largest confirmed bell ever cast at over 200 tons. Because of a mishap in its casting, it never produced any sound and broke in 1732, before it was even struck. It has been on display in the Kremlin ever since. A team of UC Berkeley, Stanford, and U Michigan researchers replicated electronically the sound emitted by the bell.

Chris Chafe and Greg Niemeyer, The Tsar Bell, 10 April 2016

Also worth mentioning: Carl Michael von Hausswolff used emission spectroscopy, “a technique that examines the wavelengths of photons emitted by atoms or molecules,” to make audible the wavelengths emitted by minerals in a gold mine near Medellin. Thomas Tilly used an ultrasonic detector that shifts the ultrasounds emitted by bats to a hearing range, and captured the sounds of the bats’ sonar and their system of echolocation. And finally, the bullroarer. This one is a Stone Age sound instrument used in rituals but also for communicating over great distances. Examples of bullroarers were found in Europe, Asia, the Indian sub-continent, Africa, the Americas, and Australia. A 5000-year-old one was found in Norway in 1991. Here’s what a bullroarer sounds like.

Thierry Madiot and guests, Sound Massage. Installation shot, Bergen Assembly 2016. Sentralbadet, Bergen. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

Thierry Madiot and guests, Sound Massage. Installation shot, Bergen Assembly 2016. Sentralbadet, Bergen. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

Also part of the Infinite Ear programme is a series of Sound Massage sessions performed by artist Thierry Madiot and people he trained to recreate them. Almost inaudible sounds are produced using vibration and non-aural techniques. They seem to reverberate inside your whole body and can be perceived by both deaf and hearing audiences.

Tarek Atoui / Infinite Ear. Installation shot, Bergen Assembly 2016. Sentralbadet, Bergen. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

Tarek Atoui / Infinite Ear. Installation shot, Bergen Assembly 2016. Sentralbadet, Bergen. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

Next, Council and Atoui have collected a series of objects, texts and images that they distributed along the café and on the floor of the smallest (and empty) swimming pool. Some were sourced from the Norwegian Deaf Museum, others from the Natural History Museum in Bergen and other institutions.

You discover a lot of curious stories about hearing in this collection. For example, there is the ear drum of a blue whale. It turns out that the blue whale is not only one of the loudest animals on this planet, it also has eardrum that have remained unchanged for thousands of years, making it useful to study the hearing system of dinosaurs.

I also liked this photo of the alarm cushion that illustrate how some deaf people wake up in the morning. When it’s time to get up, a mechanism will push the cushion placed over the bed head and it will fall over the face of the person sleeping:

Bespoke Alarm Clock (cushion) from the Norwegian Deaf Museum

The objects also include glass prosthesis by Baudouin Oosterlynck:

Baudouin Oosterlynck, Aquaphone Cornemuse (not exhibited but i couldn’t find good images of the works on show)

Tarek Atoui / Infinite Ear. Installation shot, Bergen Assembly 2016. Sentralbadet, Bergen. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

A fog horn from MS INNVIK, a car ferry turned theatre and world-music concert venue in Oslo. Foghorns are instruments used to make a loud, deep sound as a warning to ships when the weather is foggy.

Tarek Atoui / Infinite Ear. Installation shot, Bergen Assembly 2016. Sentralbadet, Bergen. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

A few wooden balls used in the past in theatre to recreate the sounds of a thunderstorm.

Thunder Clap Balls (theater prop), University Museum of Bergen. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

A series of 236 wooden sculptures made in the early 1970s by Douwe Jan Bakker. They can be placed between the lips, like speech balloons in a comic strip, and provide an alternative visual communication system to express yourself without using words.

Douwe Jan Bakker, Pronounceable Boxes, 1973-1974. Tarek Atoui / Infinite Ear. Installation shot, Bergen Assembly 2016. Sentralbadet, Bergen. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

Back at the White Cat café, you can borrow a copy of the The Hearing Voices newspaper dedicated to the phenomenon of people who hear voices. Apparently, up to one in 20 people hears voices regularly and up to 40 per cent of the population will hear voices at some point in their lives. Some believe it is a special gift. Others cannot cope with the voices in their heads and develop mental illnesses. The phenomenon is not well understood and social movement have formed to challenge narrow understandings of voice-hearing.

Artist Dora García set up temporary Hearing Voices Cafés in various cities to enable voice-hearers and other people to meet and discuss the experience and hopefully destigmatize it.

Dora Garcia, The Hearing Voices Café, 2014-ongoing

The list of objects in the collection is online and well worth a careful read.

Tarek Atoui / Infinite Ear. Installation shot, Bergen Assembly 2016. Sentralbadet, Bergen. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

Tarek Atoui / Infinite Ear. Installation shot, Bergen Assembly 2016. Sentralbadet, Bergen. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

Tarek Atoui / Infinite Ear. Installation shot, Bergen Assembly 2016. Sentralbadet, Bergen. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

The Bergen Assembly takes place in various venues around Bergen, Norway until 9 December, 2016.

Also part of the Bergen Assembly: Bergen Assembly: The End of Oil, the end of the world as we knew it.

Categories: New Media News

Bergen Assembly: The End of Oil, the end of the world as we knew it

Tue, 09/06/2016 - 12:06

A few months ago, i watched the geopolitical thriller TV series Occupied. The show starts shortly after a hurricane, provoked by effects of climate change, has ravaged Norway. During the following elections, the key promise of the national Green Party is that all fossil fuel production will be cut off. They win the elections and the new Prime Minister initiates the process of replacing oil energy with a thorium-based nuclear one. The EU is desperate to have access to Norwegian oils again and asks Russia to ‘gently’ invade the country. The Russian comply and take the power until oil and gas production is restored. At least that was the plan…

Occupied (trailer)

Well, non-fiction Norway doesn’t seem to have any similar strategy to turn its back on fossil fuel. In fact, the country has recently opened up the Arctic to oil companies so that they can start drilling. All in the name of ’employment, growth and value creation in Norway.’

One of the exhibitions at the intrepid and gripping Bergen Assembly, an art triennial that just opened in the small Norwegian city where rain falls lavishly and tourists embark on fjord cruises, explores how the global decline in oil prices and rising unemployment is hitting the country with the notoriously generous welfare system.

Curated by Mao Mollona, The End of Oil explores possible scenarios associated with the decline of the oil-based economy in Norway. With the prosperity of the oil-boom years likely coming to come an end and society finding itself on the brink of an infrastructural change, these scenarios relate to questions about our relationship with nature in a wider sense.

The End of Oil comprises two artists’ films. The first one is a short animation video by Phil Collins. It’s called Delete Beach and stars a schoolgirl who joins an anti-capitalist resistance group that gets high on fossil fuel energy. It’s as brilliant as you can expect but the second film is the one i found most moving….

Massimiliano Mollona and Anne Marthe Dyvi, Oilers, Still from the video

Oilers, directed by artist Anne Marthe Dyvi together with anthropologist and curator Mao Mollona, is a short documentary that follows the construction of a Norwegian off-shore oil platform over the course of the year 2015.

What i found extraordinary about the video was that it charts the construction of the super large oil platform from the workers’ point of view. Which certainly contrasts with the kind of images you usually see of the construction of offshore oil platforms:

The production platform for the Edvard Grieg field

I don’t know how i was imagining the construction of an oil rig but i was certainly surprised to read that huge bits and pieces of offshore platforms are built across the world and then pulled out in the ocean to be assembled together.

But back to the Oilers video. The images show life in the Norwegian offshore yard of Kvaerner Stord. There’s the side you expect to see: the beige rooms where the workers relax and meet, the canteen where they eat, the security measure they need to follow, the huge scale they work on, etc. The images are splendid, the tools and tech are impressive and waltz in front of your eyes in silence. But the film also gives the workers a voice. Unedited images show workers protesting against the prospect of losing their job, labour unions leaders swearing to dubitative workers that ‘there is not sunset in oil’ and negotiating the cuts to make in order to win the next building contract, bands singing at hot dog parties that celebrate the completion of the finished platform, etc.

Oilers (a bad photo i took during the screening)

Oilers (a bad photo i took during the screening)

The backdrop of Oilers is a dramatic one:

The price of oil has dropped to around $30 a barrel last winter and at roughly $44 today, it is still far off from the $115 paid in June 2014. The plunge in the price of the barrel reveals the full extent of the Norwegian economy’s unhealthy dependency on oil and gas. According to newspapers, the energy industry accounts for 15% of Norway’s economy, more than half of its exports and 80% of the state’s income.

To make up for the oil crash, companies strive to reduce cost and increase productivity (at the expenses of the workers’ wages and living standards obviously.) Unemployment is rising. In 2015 about 30.000 jobs in the oil industry disappeared in Norway.

End of Oil. Installation View, Bergen Assembly 2016. Hagerupsgården, Bergen. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

End of Oil. Installation View, Bergen Assembly 2016. Hagerupsgården, Bergen. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

The snippets of discussions and dissent overheard in the film tell the story of a country that had it too good for too long and that is forced to ‘envision a future without the certainties of the past.’ The situation in Norway is certainly striking but it find echoes pretty much everywhere else in Europe where social democracy is at bay.

The project The End of Oil wants to create a conceptual bridge between the visible infrastructures of oil and the invisible and sensuous structures of feeling, including fears and hopes for the future and memories of how Norway was in the 1970s before the oil arrived.

Oilers is a splendid short documentary that shows the human side of the oil crisis. You root for the workers and hope they’ll get a job building another platform (they won’t, their employers didn’t get the contract in the end) but you know it would be wrong. This industry needs to disappear and this is going to hurt.

End of Oil. Installation View, Bergen Assembly 2016. Hagerupsgården, Bergen. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

End of Oil. Installation View, Bergen Assembly 2016. Hagerupsgården, Bergen. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

Bergen Assembly 2016. Bergen Gamle Hovedbrannstasjon (entrance of the ex fire station where you can see the film), Bergen. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

The Bergen Assembly takes place in various venues around Bergen, Norway until 9 December, 2016.

Categories: New Media News

Béton: The history of a concrete-clad utopia

Fri, 09/02/2016 - 08:33

Werner Feiersinger, Untitled (Corviale), 2015

Long reviled, brutalism seems to be everyone’s favourite architectural style at the moment. The nostalgia for the late modernist architecture manifests itself through stunning coffee table books, brutalism appreciation society and plenty of campaigns to save some of its masterpieces.

If the rude charms and resolute geometries of brutalism have been somewhat rehabilitated, its utopian ambitions have not. Buildings made of the cement and stone amalgam still carry with them the stigma of the egalitarian commitments and social advances they promised but spectacularly failed to deliver.

Ron Terada, Concrete Language, 2006/2016

Instead of enriching people’s lives with carefully proportioned dwellings and safe green space for socializing, the structures ghettoised the poor and betrayed their top-down (if well-meaning) designs.

Béton, an exhibition that opened a few months ago at Kunsthalle Wien, is entirely dedicated to brutalism. Its title alludes to the etymology of the architectural movement: béton brut, which can be translated into ‘exposed concrete.’

The show doesn’t intend to debate on the merits and shortcomings of concrete and its uses in building and engineering. Instead, it invites us to revisit the radical ideas and social utopia that these working-class housing and public buildings attempted to embody .

Aiming to change society, brutalist architecture virtually gave shape to utopia. Today, many of the buildings built at the time are threatened with demolition; they are considered to have failed their purpose. In light of a modernism stained by dystopia, contemporary art once again carve out its original ideas, its euphoria, but also its failure. Not out of a nostalgic longing but for the sake of remembering that architecture was once more than enclosed space, and concrete was not merely a building material but was historically and ideologically charged.

While i was in town to visit AJNHAJTCLUB at Q21, i crossed the square of the MuseumsQuartier and spent a couple of hours walking through the Béton exhibition…

Liam Gillick, Pain in a building, 1999

The UK has its fair share of brutalist estates and buildings that didn’t live up to the democratizing aspirations of their architects and planners. Thamesmead in Greater London is a good example of what happens when commendable utopia has to contend with economic realities. Conceived in the 1960s as the town of the future, Thamesmead promised to combine city life with the joys of the countryside: green spaces, a nature reserve and an artificial lake. However, the experiment quickly turned sour. Plans to build a shopping center around a marina, a train station and other amenities had to be scrapped because of financial difficulties. Criminality rose quickly and in the late ’70s, the neighbourhood was used as a sink estate by the councils around.

Stanley Kubrick filmed some of the key scenes of his 1971 film A Clockwork Orange in Thamesmead. The town served as the setting for a dystopic London ruled by anarchy and violence.

Thomas Demand, Public Housing, 2003

Public Housing, by Thomas Demand, demonstrates that not all good intentions end up in embarrassment and disappointment.

Before taking the photos, Thomas Demand builds by hand paper and cardboard models based on pictures. The original image for “Public Housing” is printed on the pink $10 banknote from Singapore. The housing estate is typical of the low-cost, high-rise housing blocks built in 1965 when Singapore gained its independence from Malaysia and decided to address the poor living conditions and housing issues. By 1965 the percentage of the local population living in public housing rose from 9% in 1959 to 23%. Roughly 80% of Singaporeans now live in flats built by the Housing and Development Board of Singapore, a city-state usually associated with finance rather than with policies that protect the underprivileged.

Monica Bonvicini, Add Elegance to your Poverty, 1990/2016. Opening of the exhibition. Photo: Joanna Pianka (eSeL.at) for Kunsthalle Wien Museumsquartier

Monica Bonvicini‘s “Add Elegance to your Poverty” questions cynical approaches to real problems. Sprayed on a wall in Berlin, the sentence is a direct reference to an advertising claim which is often used to sell real estate in California: “Add Elegance to Your Property”. It also echoes the famous “Arm, aber sexy” (poor but sexy) coined by Berlin’s former mayor Klaus Wowereit in an attempt to gloss over the city’s budget deficits.

Miki Kratsman, Abu Dis 2003, 2003. Photo: Chelouche gallery

Israel’s self-defence law requires the installation of shelters in all buildings, including private houses. It also regulates the upkeep of bunkers in homes and factories. After the First Gulf War, steel concrete with access to the individual flats within a building were also added, providing thus easy access to a space of safety in case of chemical weapon attacks by neighbouring countries. Miki Kratsman’s photos show how these safe rooms are integrated into the urban landscape, outsiders would find it difficult to identify these shelters as structures created for situations of violence.

The intentionally unsensational view of these extremely politically and socially charged elements of the urban landscape alludes to the omnipresence of this conflict, precisely because of the incidental nature of Kratsman’s approach.

Kratsman also documented frontier posts along the Road 443. Although the road partly leads through Palestinian territory, it is only accessible to Israeli. In 2002, Israel prohibited Palestinians from using the road, by vehicle or on foot, for whatever purpose, including transport of goods or for medical emergencies.

I couldn’t find photos of either series online so i’ve picked up another one to illustrate his work.

Ingrid Martens, Africa Shafted, 2012

Ingrid Martens, Africa Shafted (trailer), 2012

Ingrid Martens, Africa Shafted (trailer), 2012

Ingrid Martens spent 5 years filming people who live in Ponte Tower, ‘the tallest and grandest urban slum in the world’. Conceived as a luxury residential complex for white people living in Johannesburg in the 1970s, the brutalist tower is built around a hollow inner core that provides light thanks to the windows that encircle the inner and outer exterior.

In the 1990s, the area surrounding the 54-storey building started to be associated with gang crimes. Most of the white privileged families moved to supposedly safer suburbs and the owners of the building left it to decay. Soon, South Africans of colour, as well as immigrants from neighbouring countries, moved in. The residential block grew to become densely populated, and acquired the reputation of being a ghetto. Today, after renovation and tightened security, the situation at Ponte is considered to have greatly improved.

Africa Shafted is a fascinating documentary that takes us on a ride up and down one of the lifts of the building. Documentary maker Ingrid Martens has the residents talk to the camera but most importantly talk to each other. They discuss the bad reputation of the building, the joy of living in an apartment that overlooks the whole city, the political and economic reasons why some of them had to leave their own country, the prejudices they encounter in their adopted country, etc.

The multitude of voices on African issues portrays a metaphor of Ponte as “Little Africa”, providing perspectives that not only cover the problems and dreams of prosperity of the continent, but poignant as well as provocative opinions on contemporary life.

Werner Feiersinger, Untitled (Morandi), 2010

Opening of the exhibition. Photo: Joanna Pianka (eSeL.at) for Kunsthalle Wien Museumsquartier

Werner Feiersinger, Untitled (Fregene), 2015

Werner Feiersinger, Untitled (Musmeci), 2015

Werner Feiersinger’s series of shots of Italian buildings from the 1950s to the 1970s reminds us of the power and audacity of the architectural applications of futurism. Even left to decay, these example of post-war architecture demonstrate that sometimes the past can be more radical than the present.

Dante Bini’s concrete domes, which were constructed with the help of moored balloons, are juxtaposed with shots from the ten-storey housing complex Corviale on the outskirts of Rome, and Vittorio Giorgini’s expressive concrete summer house in Baratti. The designs of these structures of the 1960s and 1970s reflect the emphatic commitment to a cosmopolitan society. This undeniably experimental architecture is defined by vitality and lightness, and bears testimony to the economic and cultural upswing in a time characterised by the belief that the future could be shaped with architectonic means.

Tercerunquinto, Gráfica reportes de condición, 2010–2016. Installation view: Béton, Kunsthalle Wien 2016, Photo: Stephan Wyckoff

Tercerunquinto, M-19 (Gráfica reportes de condición), 2010

Tercerunquinto‘s photo series Gráfica reportes de condición is a collection of so-called status quo reports (reportes de condición). The Mexican artist collective commissioned a specialist on restoration and structural preservation, and a group of students, to produce reports on the condition of graffiti throughout the city of Bogotá and in particular the ones that protest against social inequality and governmental misdeeds: “no more state terror”, “Neither your, nor my government”, “When hunger is the rule, rebellion is a right”, “Don’t vote – there is no space for our dreams in your ballot boxes.”

The slogans were then printed onto photographs of Bogotá in which the degree of social discontent is generally reflected in the urban landscape.

As in many countries, the public sphere is the billboard for those who wish to mobilise like-minded people or to express their dissatisfaction with existing circumstances. Like ethnologists of everyday life, Tercerunquinto commission inventories in order to study the interrelationship between society and urbanity.

Jumana Manna, Government Quarter Study, 2014; Mark Boyle, Secretions: Blood, Sweat, Piss and Tears, 1978. Installation view: Béton, Kunsthalle Wien 2016, Photo: Stephan Wyckoff

Jumana Manna’s sculptures are full size replicas of three concrete pillars found at the entrance of the Høyblokka (“H-Block”), a brutalist building located in Regjeringskvartalet, the government quarter in Oslo. Built in 1958, in a period of Post War optimism and aspirations of the Nordic model of the Welfare State, the building was partly destroyed in 2011 in the Norway attacks orchestrated by right-wing extremist Anders Breivik.

Following the bombing, the decision whether to preserve or demolish the Høyblokka and a building in the same quarter is at the center of an emotionally intense national debate.

Tobias Zielony, Le Vele di Scampia, 2010

Tobias Zielony, Le Vele di Scampia, 2010

Le Vele di Scampia is the popular name of a Brutalist housing complex in Naples made famous by the movie Gomorrah which used some of the district as its backdrop. Designed between 1962 and 1975 in brutalist style, the gigantic building complex was supposed to provide families with functional facilities for life in a residential community but it has long been controlled by the Mafia. With over 50% unemployment, the area has a very high crime rate and is considered to be one of Europe’s biggest drug dealing venues.

In Tobias Zielony‘s part social documentation part artistic experiment images, night shots of the architecture are interrupted by portraits of young people.

More images from the exhibition:

David Maljkovic, Missing Colours, 2010

Opening of the exhibition. Photo: Joanna Pianka (eSeL.at) for Kunsthalle Wien Museumsquartier

Opening of the exhibition. Photo: Joanna Pianka (eSeL.at) for Kunsthalle Wien Museumsquartier

Olaf Metzel, Treppenhaus Fridericianum, 1987. Opening of the exhibition. Photo: Joanna Pianka (eSeL.at) for Kunsthalle Wien Museumsquartier

Olaf Metzel, Treppenhaus Fridericianum, 1987. Opening of the exhibition. Photo: Joanna Pianka (eSeL.at) for Kunsthalle Wien Museumsquartier

Tom Burr, Brutalist Bulletin Board, 2001

Hubert Kiecol, Zeile, 1981. Opening of the exhibition. Photo: Joanna Pianka (eSeL.at) for Kunsthalle Wien Museumsquartier

Hubert Kiecol, Zeile, 1981. Installation view: Béton, Kunsthalle Wien 2016, Photo: Stephan Wyckoff

Installation view: Béton, Kunsthalle Wien 2016, Photo: Stephan Wyckoff

Installation view: Béton, Kunsthalle Wien 2016, Photo: Stephan Wyckoff

Andreas Bunte, Still from O.T. (Kirchen), 2012

Kasper Akhøj, 999, 2015

Béton, curated by Nicolaus Schafhausen and Vanessa Joan Müller, is at Kunsthalle Wien until 16 October 2016. The exhibition guide is available for download in PDF format.

Every Saturday, urbanist Eugene Quinn invites locals and tourists to Vienna ugly, a guided tours of Vienna’s most unattractive squares .

Related stories: Utopia London, Brutal and Beautiful: Saving the Twentieth Century, Balkanology, New Architecture and Urban Phenomena in South Eastern Europe.

Categories: New Media News

The Woodpecker: Could fake birds save our forests?

Tue, 08/30/2016 - 11:49

Rihards Vitols, Woodpecker, 2016. Image courtesy of the artist

Rihards Vitols, Woodpecker, 2016. Image courtesy of the artist

In his ongoing research, artist Rihards Vitols is exploring the possibility to replace some of the bird species with artificial ones. Should bird populations decline drastically in the near future, could fake birds replace them and contribute to keeping the natural balance of a forest intact? The question might sound a bit fanciful at first but it is inspired by scientific papers about insect-eating plants, the extinction of birds species and the impact their disappearance would have on our forests.

Rihards Vitols, Woodpecker, 2016

In 1987, scientists William J. Mattson and Robert A. Haack suggested in their paper The Role of Drought in Outbreaks of Plant-eating Insects that insects can hear the sound emissions produced by trees and based on this sound determine whether or not a tree has any use for them. Trees emit sound when water is traveling from the ground and up to the branches. Periods of drought result in less sound emission and promote outbreaks of plant-eating fungi and insects, especially bark beetles and leaf feeders.

According to another, more recent, research by the World Wide Fund, birds population will severely decrease in the near future. As a consequence, insect populations will thrive and the most voracious plant-eating ones will slowly eat away our forests which in turn will result in a sharp drop in the production of fresh air on the planet.

First preparatory sketch of the Woodpecker. Image courtesy of the artist

The system that controls the behavior of the bird. Image courtesy of the artist

Inspired by these two papers, Vitols started to wonder if it would be possible to replace some of the bird species with artificial ones that would scare away the plant-eating insects before they have started to take residency in a tree.

A few months ago, the artist installed 30 custom-made woodpeckers in a forest near Dusseldorf. Every week, he visited the forest, documented the ‘health’ of the artificial woodpeckers and observed how the inhabitants of the forest interacted with them.

It seems that one of his Woodpeckers might have been attacked by a squirrel but apart from a violent storm that took a couple of Woodpeckers down, nothing else disturbed the presence of the wooden birds.

More details and images about the experiment:

Rihards Vitols, Woodpecker (all 30 woodpeckers in a case built for transportation), 2016. Image courtesy of the artist

Day 1: All the Woodpeckers have just been hung in forest. Image courtesy of the artist

After one week: two of the Woodpeckers are damaged…

One of them was found laying on the ground. The artist suggested that it might have been attacked by an angry squirrel…

The other one was found hanging

“While I was taking it down it was still trying to hit the tree,” explains the artist. “That was emotional moment. It felt like I am holding half dead bird in my hands. And under the solar panel I found a snail that was hiding from the rain or sun.”

Week 2: Most of Vitols’ birds are still up and working after a storm. The grey squares show the ones that didn’t survive the bad weather conditions

Week 4: Woodpecker at the end of the experiment. Image courtesy of the artist

Taking down the woodpeckers: The ones which where not working (there was not a lot of sun for almost a week so the batteries did not charged properly) where being used by spiders, earwigs, moths and other insects as housing. Those who where still working were empty from insects which suggests that when working the devices do indeed keep the insects away.
Image courtesy of the artist

Following the suggestion of the entomologist, the artist took a small sample of the bark before he hung the woodpeckers on the tree (on the left handside.) He repeated the operation when he took the birds down (on the right handside). Image courtesy of the artist

Woodpecker is still a work in progress. Vitols will be analyzing the data collected in collaboration with a medical institution in Riga.

In September he will be traveling to the LabVerde residency in Brazil Amazon rain forest where he will further explore tree sound emissions (with the help of some new recording tools) and insect behaviour but under a very different climate.

On his return in Europe, the artist plans to build a second generation of artificial birds. They will be stronger and be monitored 24/7.

Woodpecker is currently part of the RAM (Random Access Memories) exhibition at the RIXC Gallery in Riga. RAM showcases the work of Trihars (aka Rihards Vitols, Peters Riekstins and Kristaps Biters), an artist collective interested in the interconnections between computer and environment. The show closes on 4 September 2016.

Rihards Vitols, Woodpecker, 2016. Exhibition view at RIXC Gallery in Riga. Image courtesy of the artist

Rihards Vitols, Woodpecker, 2016. Exhibition opening at RIXC Gallery in Riga. Photo: Kristine Madjare for RIXC

Rihards Vitols, Woodpecker, 2016. Exhibition opening at RIXC Gallery in Riga. Photo: Kristine Madjare for RIXC

Also by Rihards Vitols: akA, the ‘cloud farming’ solution.

Categories: New Media News

ENERGY FLASH. The Rave Movement

Fri, 08/26/2016 - 12:09

Walter Van Beirendonck, Hard Beat collection, 1989-1990. Opening of the exhibition. Photo: Bram Goots for MUHKA

While i was in Antwerp a couple of weeks ago to visit Show Us the Money at the Photo Museum (i reviewed it on Monday in case you’ve missed the story), i checked out ENERGY FLASH. The Rave Movement, a M HKA exhibition which brilliantly puts the dance party culture of the 1990s into a neat museum package.

I had already loved the catalogue of the exhibition RAVE. Rave and Its Influence on Art and Culture and i was curious to see how the show compared to the publication. It was magnificent and invigorating. I stayed there for hours and i will probably run and see any show that curator Nav Haq organizes in the future.

I thought that a review of the exhibition might sound too much like a tiresome revival of my review of the catalogue RAVE. Rave and Its Influence on Art and Culture. So instead of my usual super lengthy art reports, i’ll just fill this post with lots of images from the show. Some are mine (the ones that lack any proper credit.) Most of the others are photos from M HKA, they show the preparation of the exhibition, the opening and the final installation views. There might be a couple of comments here and there because i just can’t shut up:

I’m not sure it had anything to do with the show but there was this giant potato frie raving right in front of the museum. Because we’re in Belgium, that’s why!

Piece of the dancefloor from The Haçienda

M HKA had the super smart idea to hand out little booklets titled A Glossary of Rave. The publication guided the visitor through some of the key places, phenomena, style and characteristics of the rave culture: Bocaccio Life (a nightclub in a small Belgian town), Copyright and how music publishing industries tried to crack down on the use of sampling, Acid House, New Beat, New Order, Relational Aesthetics, etc. The terms were also embodied by objects scattered around the show. The first one i spotted in the exhibition rooms was this piece of the dancefloor from The Haçienda, a famous nightclub in Manchester.

Walter Van Beirendonck, Hard Beat collection, 1989-1990. Preparation of the ENERGY FLASH exhibition. Photo M HKA

Walter Van Beirendonck, Hard Beat collection, 1989-1990.

Walter Van Beirendonck, Hard Beat collection, 1989-1990.

K Foundation, Abandon All Art Now, published in Guardian weekend, 31 July 1993

The K Foundation was an art foundation set up by Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty from famous Dance/Techno band The KLF. Between 1993 and 1995, they spent the money they had earned from the music industry by a series of actions that subverted the art world. Their most famous performance consisted in burning a million pounds in cash.

News article warning readers about the evils of ecstasy. Exhibition view at M HKA

Matt Stokes, Real Arcadia, 2003-ongoing. Exhibition view at M HKA

Matt Stokes, Real Arcadia, 2003-ongoing. Exhibition view at M HKA

Real Arcadia documents a series of illegal “cave raves” that took place in a rural region of North West England during the late 1980s and early 1990s. The installation includes a clip from a local television news reporting on the wrongful deeds of the young party goers.

Opening of the exhibition. Photo: Bram Goots for M HKA

Daniel Pflumm, Elektro, 1992. Exhibition view at M HKA

Daniel Pflumm, an artist, musician and club promoter, founded the legendary Elektro club in Berlin. He re-contextualizes corporate logos and reduces them to graphic images that no longer fulfill their original marketing function.

Matt Stokes, MASS. Exhibition view at M HKA

Jeremy Deller, Acid Brass, 1997. Photo Jeremy Deller

I’ll never get tired of this:

Acid Brass, What Time Is Love. Performance by the Williams Fairey Band at James Lavelle’s Meltdown

A few euros to get another fabric bag to add to my collection of totes designed by Jeremy Deller. RESULT!

Jeremy Deller, The History of the World, 1997. Preparation of the ENERGY FLASH exhibition. Photo M HKA

Henrik Plenge Jakobsen, Everything is Wrong, 1996. Preparation of the ENERGY FLASH exhibition. Photo M HKA

Energy Flash: The Rave Movement, Installation View. Photo M HKA

Rineke Dijkstra. Energy Flash: The Rave Movement. Installation View. Photo: M HKA

Rineke Dijkstra, Buzz Club / Mysteryworld, 1997. Photo: Paul Koenen

Rineke Dijkstra, Buzz Club / Mysteryworld, 1997 (via)

In 1997, Rineke Dijkstra made a series of one-minute videos in two night clubs, one in Liverpool, the other in Zaandam, The Netherlands. She asked clubbers to perform as they wished in front of the camera. Most of them dance and either look embarrassed or like they are trying not to look embarrassed.

I found the videos very moving. At first, i laughed out loud then i felt some sympathy and tenderness towards them. Teenagers! So awkward, so sweet!

Dan Halter, Untitled (Zimbabwean Queen of Rave), 2005, Courtesy the artist

Dan Halter, Untitled (Zimbabwean Queen of Rave), 2005

Rozalla’s hit single “Everybody’s Free (To Feel Good)” was released in 1991. Dan Halter writes: It was amazing to have a Zimbabwean song topping the international music charts. This was at the height of the rave scene and Rozalla became known as ‘The Queen of Rave’. This was also at a time when protests in South Africa were boiling over. In Untitled (Zimbabwean Queen of Rave) I combine some of these elements and also later events such as my experience of attending large public raves in Europe and later in Zimbabwe. The video expresses a personal reality and also the cultural gap between white and black that I was experiencing. These were two fundamentally different scenarios, yet each was guided by crowd psychology and longing for a different reality.

Henrik Plenge Jakobsen, Terminator, 1997. Opening of the exhibition. Photo: Bram Goots for M HKA

Energy Flash: The Rave Movement, Installation View. Photo M HKA

Denicolai & Provoost, Nothing, 2005

Mark Leckey, Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore, 1999, Courtesy the artist and Cabinet, London

Mark Leckey, Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore, 1999

Jacques André, James Brown is Dead (ARTERS* No.148), 2016

Energy Flash: The Rave Movement, Installation View. Photo M HKA

More fries and people queuing at a frietkot

ENERGY FLASH. The Rave Movement remains open at the M HKA in Antwerp until 25 September 2016. The show was curated by Nav Haq, Senior Curator at M HKA. And if you can’t make it to Antwerp, there’s always the catalogue of the exhibition: RAVE. Rave and Its Influence on Art and Culture. ArtTube has a short video of the opening of the exhibition with an interview of the curator.

Categories: New Media News

Book review: World of Malls. Architectures of Consumption

Thu, 08/25/2016 - 10:08

World of Malls. Architectures of Consumption, edited by Andres Lepik and Vera Simone Bader.

Available on amazon UK and USA.

Publisher Hatje Cantz writes: The catalogue World of Malls is devoted to a type of building that was invented in the United States just less than sixty years ago and quickly spread throughout the world. Due to urban planning’s increasing orientation toward the automobile, the mall became a substitute for lost urbanity. Yet what direction is the development of the shopping mall taking today? On the one hand, there continue to be spectacular new openings in America, Asia, the United Arab Emirates, and Europe. At the same time, however, many malls are empty, and some are being converted and repurposed. There is hardly any other building typology that is being discussed as controversially: does the shopping mall mean the death of the city, or does it stimulate its revitalization? In their essays, urban planners, economists, and architectural historians such as Anette Baldauf, Bob Bruegmann, Dietrich Erben, Richard Longstreth, Alain Thierstein, June Williamson, and Sophie Wolfrum examine the transformation processes of the shopping mall from the twentieth to the twenty-first century.

Architects Grazioli and Muthesius, Schloss-Arkaden, in Braunschweig, 2005-07. Photo: Thomas Meyer

Cumbernauld, Britain’s first shopping centre and the world’s first multi-level covered town centre. Photo: Dag Nilsen, via Glasgow Architecture

Shopping malls are reviled as much as they are flourishing. Marc Augé calls them non-places, Rem Koolhaas says they are junk spaces. No one with a bit of taste and civic ideals would openly admit their admiration for these perfectly air-conditioned theaters of consumption. They often offer little more than a self-contained micro cosmos where any behaviour, any living being that doesn’t serve a commercial purpose is banned. No photo, no skating, no begging, no jogging, no access outside of opening times, etc. And if that were not enough, shopping malls are also accused of robbing city centers of life and businesses. Or of turning them into bland clones filled with the exact same mass-produced garbage you can also buy in suburban malls.

World of Malls is the catalogue of an exhibition of the same name that is currently open at the Architekturmuseum in Munich. Both explore this type of architecture under its economic, political, psychological and sociological guises. The various essays are interspersed with texts and photos that examine some of the most iconic, controversial, inventive or failed experiments in the 60 year-long, yet understudied, history of shopping malls.

I liked this book so much i almost want to drop my computer right now and go to a shopping center just to look at it with new eyes. World of Malls is full of brutalist sublime, of insightful observations about the way we live and consume today but best of all, it is also full of fascinating stories…

El Helicoide, 1955-60, Caracas, Venezuela

Like the one of the ambitious “El Helicoide de la Roca Tarpeya,” in Caracas, Venezuela. It was planned as a drive-in mall for rich people. The concrete architecture is spectacular, the plans involved a roof cupola by Buckminster Fuller and even Salvador Dali thought it would be an ideal venue for his work. However, construction stopped a year before its completion in 1960 because of the political instability and the economic and legal complications that come with the flight of a dictator, the arrival of a military regime and then democratic election of a president. The building was abandoned for over 20 years, then squatted by some 10,000 people who were evacuated in the 1980s when the intelligence agencies moved in. The police has been using it for 15 years, it also serves as a prison. The rest of the structure is left to rot.

The Proyecto Helicoide organization is currently trying to save the building.

And then there are malls that evoke personal stories.

The Jerde Partnership, Horton Plaza, 1982-85, San Diego, USA. Photo: The Jerde Partnership

I’ll never forget the day i walked by chance into the Westfield Horton Plaza in San Diego. Never in my life had i seen anything so demented and garish. The shopping space is distributed along 5 mismatched levels, the facades are vividly painted and the inspiration for this aberration was old European towns. It was designed as “experience architecture.” While malls are usually conceived to keep shoppers’ eyes onto the goods, this space became an attraction in itself. It’s been so successful that it actually lured people back into downtown San Diego.

Joseph Wong Design Associates, New South China Mall, 2001-2005. Photo via Strange Abandoned Places

Joseph Wong Design Associates, New South China Mall, 2001-2005. Photo: UOL

The book also reminds us that there are malls that get revived and revamped and others that slowly die.

When it opened in 2005, New South China Mall in Guangdong Province was the largest shopping center in the world. Built like a small town, the space can accommodate 2,350 stores and it doubles as a theme park with a replica Arc de Triomphe, a giant Egyptian sphinx, canals with gondolas, a Teletubbies Edutainment Center, a mini Golden Gate, etc.

In spite of the lavish and outlandish architecture, many of the stores are empty and footfall is scant.

Rolling Acres Mall, built 1975 – closed 2008, Ohio, USA. Photo: Seph Lawless

Through economic decline and changing shopping habits, the number of “dead malls” has strongly increased in the last decade. Akron’s Rolling Acres Mall was the largest one in Ohio when it opened in 1975. It closed in 2008. Photojournalist Seph Lawless documented the space after vandals shot out the mall’s glass skylights.

Southdale Center, 1954-56, Edina/Minneapolis, USA. Photo: Gruen and Associates

The first shopping mall opened in Minnesota in 1956. Designed by Victor Gruen, Southdale Center was meant to challenge the “car-centric” America that was rising in the 1950s.

The architect gave his name to the Gruen Effect, the moment when a dazzling shop displays compels you to buy something you had never intended to purchase.

More places and images i discovered in the book:

Foster + Partners, Aldar Central Market, Abu Dhabi, 2011. Photo © Nigel Young, Foster + Partners

Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, Las Arenas Shopping Center Barcelona, 2011. Photo: WAF via e-architect

Main-Taunus-Zentrum, 1964 in Sulzbach, Germany. Photo: ECE Projektmanagement GmbH

The Main-Taunus-Zentrum, located on the outskirts of Frankfurt, was the first German shopping center to be built in the style of the American mall.

CentrO, Rhode Kellermann Wawrowsky, 1994-96, Oberhausen. Photo: Thomas Meyer

Emre Arolat Architects, Zorlu Center, 2007-2013, Istanbul, Turkey. Photo: Thomas Meyer

The Zorlu Center houses green rooftops as well as the largest performing arts center in Istanbul.

Aristide Boucicault, Au Bon Marche, opened 1887

Aristide Boucicault, Au Bon Marche, opened 1887. Grand staircase, Archives Moisant-Savey. Photo: Albert Chevojon, circa 1900

The exhibition World of Malls. Architectures of Consumption is at the Architekturmuseum der TU München, Pinakothek der Moderne until 22 October 2016.

Categories: New Media News

Show Us the Money. Portrait of financial impunity

Mon, 08/22/2016 - 11:49

Carlos Spottorno, Wealth Management

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

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

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

Daniel Mayrit, You Haven’t Seen Their Faces

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

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

Selection of images. Captions by the artists:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carlos Spottorno, Wealth Management

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

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

Carlos Spottorno, Wealth Management

Carlos Spottorno, Wealth Management

Sottorno explains in an interview with Canvas:

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

Carlos Spottorno, Wealth Management

Carlos Spottorno, Wealth Management

Carlos Spottorno, Wealth Management

Carlos Spottorno, Wealth Management

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

Daniel Mayrit, You Haven’t Seen Their Faces

Daniel Mayrit, You Haven’t Seen Their Faces

Daniel Mayrit, You Haven’t Seen Their Faces

Daniel Mayrit, You Haven’t Seen Their Faces

A few snapshots of the exhibition:

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

Categories: New Media News

AJNHAJTCLUB, a celebration of migrant workers

Fri, 08/19/2016 - 11:14

Bernd Oppl, Crooked Building, 2015

Evelyn Bencicova & Adam Csoka Keller, ASYMPTOTE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A quick walk through some of the works exhibited:

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

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

Milan Mijalkovic, The Monument of the Working Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evelyn Bencicova & Adam Csoka Keller, ASYMPTOTE

Evelyn Bencicova & Adam Csoka Keller, ASYMPTOTE

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

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

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

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

Krsto Papićs, The Special Trains, 1971

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

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

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

Bernd Oppl, Crooked Building, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nikola Knezevic, Not Yet Titled, 2016

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

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

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

Olga Dimitrijevic. Photo Joanna Pianka for Q21

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

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

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

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

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

More images from the exhibition:

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

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

Leyla Cardenas, Overlaying. Photo: Bernd Oppl

Claudia Maté, Untitled

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: New Media News

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

Wed, 08/17/2016 - 11:17

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

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

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

Mat Collishaw, Bullet Hole, 1988

Marc Quinn, Self, 1991

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

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

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

Douglas Gordon, 24 Hour Psycho (extract), 1993

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

Douglas Gordon, Trigger Finger, 1996

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henrietta Lacks, circa 1945–1951. Photo via nbc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christine Borland, HeLa, 2001. Photo: Medical Humanities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Park quickly defined a few key terms for us:

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

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

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

Simon Park and Heather Barnett, Cellfies: cellular self portraits

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: New Media News

Andres Serrano. Uncensored photographs

Fri, 08/12/2016 - 11:34

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

Uncensored photographs | Andres Serrano

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

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

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

Andres Serrano, Blood and Semen V

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

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

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

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

Andres Serrano, Klanswoman Grand Klaliff II, 1990

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andres Serrano, Black Supper, 1990

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

Andres Serrano, Roberts & Luca vandalized

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andres Serrano, Denizens of Brussels

Andres Serrano, The Other Christ, 2001

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

Andres Serrano, Cross

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

Categories: New Media News

Book review – Japanese Tattoos: History * Culture * Design

Wed, 08/10/2016 - 11:41

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

On amazon USA and UK.

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

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

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

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

Image Brian Ashcraft via Stripes

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

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

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

Image Brian Ashcraft via Stripes

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

Photo Kotaku

Photo via Kotaku

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

Views inside the book:

Hop! A last image of Dr. Masaichi Fukushi:

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

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

Categories: New Media News

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

Mon, 08/08/2016 - 10:48

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

::vtol::, reading my body

Bharti Parmar, Shag (detail), 2012

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

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

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

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

He died 10 years later, aged 63.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mary Coble, Blood Script, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

::vtol::, reading my body

::vtol::, reading my body

::vtol::, reading my body

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

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

Amanda Wachob, Skin Data. Photo via Motherboard

Amanda Wachob, Skin Data. Photo via Motherboard

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

Amanda Wachob, Skin Data. Photo via The Wild Magazine

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

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

Bharti Parmar, Shag, 2012

Chiengora socks. Photo via Ecouterre

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

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

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

Categories: New Media News

The butterfly mobile lab of Stefan Cools

Thu, 08/04/2016 - 08:30

Image courtesy of the artist

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

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

Image courtesy of the artist

Image courtesy of the artist

Image courtesy of the artist

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of the artist

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of the artist

Image courtesy of the artist

Image courtesy of the artist

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of the artist

Image courtesy of the artist

Image courtesy of the artist

Image courtesy of the artist

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

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

Image courtesy of the artist

Image courtesy of the artist

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of the artist

Image courtesy of the artist

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

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

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

Thanks Stefan!

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

Categories: New Media News

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

Mon, 08/01/2016 - 09:26

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

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

Dr. Laini Burton speaking at Bodily Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aimee Mullins in Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle

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

Viktoria Modesta, Prototype

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

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

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

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

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

WhiteFeather Hunter, Crafting Biotextiles

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

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

Categories: New Media News

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

Thu, 07/21/2016 - 10:51

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teresa Margolles, Aire. Photo Strozzina

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

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

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

Teresa Margolles, Bandera (Flag), 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Vrolik Musuem; Amsterdam. Photo via Morbid Anatomy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Damien Hirst, With Dead Head, 1991

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

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

Anthony Noel-Kelly, Guilded Man, 1997

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

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

Damien Hirst, For the Love of God, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: New Media News