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Thomson & Craighead, stills from October, two-channel installation, 2012. Commissioned by Photoworks © Thomson & Craighead

To be honest, i'd take any excuse to hop on a train and go to Brighton. Two Saturdays ago, it was sunny, i needed a break from the Frieze art fair and the 5th edition of the Brighton Photo Biennial had the kind of theme that makes me buy a train/plane/bus ticket, Agents of Change: Photography and the Politics of Space.

BPB12 explores how space is constructed, controlled and contested, how photography is implicated in these processes, and the tensions and possibilities this dialogue involves. This year's Biennial provides a critical space to think about relationships between the political occupation of physical sites and the production and dissemination of images.

Agents of Change is a theme that belongs to the moments of economic and political uncertainty we are experiencing today. The exhibitions are at times dark and disturbing but they also demonstrate the role that photography can play in servicing a cause, an agenda, a belief. Whether it is the one of a corporation advertising its products, of a government attempting to enforce new measures or the one of grassroot activists struggling to give another view of a contentious or under-discussed issue.

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Omer Fast, 5000 Feet is the Best, still by Yonn Thomas, 2011. Courtesy of the artist, Arratia, Beer, Berlin, and gb agency, Paris, © Omer Fast

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Omer Fast, 5000 Feet is the Best, still by Yonn Thomas, 2011. Courtesy of the artist, Arratia, Beer, Berlin, and gb agency, Paris, © Omer Fast

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Omer Fast, 5000 Feet is the Best, still by Yonn Thomas, 2011. Courtesy of the artist, Arratia, Beer, Berlin, and gb agency, Paris, © Omer Fast

The most compelling work in the biennial for me was Omer Fast's video about drone surveillance and warfare.

The film is based on two meetings with the operator of a Predator drone sensor. The operator had been based in the desert outside of Las Vegas for 6 years while he was working for the U.S. military. The artist met him in Vegas where he was looking for a job as a casino security guard.

But Fast's film is not a documentary with news footage and testimonies from real protagonists of the events. Instead, the stories are told by an actor cast as the drone operator. His narration is moving, informative and sometimes even humorous.

The operator is sitting in a nondescript hotel room. He unenthusiastically recalls his missions in Afghanistan and Pakistan, unsure that the audience will ever understand what he went through. The soldier never set foot in the countries where the unmanned plane he piloted fired at civilians and militia from the optimum height of 5000 feet.

At times, the ex-soldier seems to ramble, using unrelated stories as metaphors. The most striking of the anecdotes he recalls is the one of an American family that takes the road for 'a long drive' (see the video below.) To leave town, they have to go through security checkpoints and present documents to the "occupying forces," which are depicted as Asians. It's a complete reversal of the situation in which Americans get to see how much a war in their own turf would affect daily life. Except that the U.S. is at war too but for most citizens, only from a distance. The drone operator never leaves the material comfort of his own country to fight in foreign countries, most of the American population never gets bombed or fired at by drones.


Omer Fast, 5,000 Feet is the Best

The dark world of the U.S. military goes far beyond the drones and bombings as Geographies of Seeing, the show on view at The Lighthouse, convincingly demonstrates. But I'm going to try to keep this one short because i seem to be unable to let a month pass without writing about the work of artist and geographer Trevor Paglen.

The exhibition is focused on two series of photos that document the secret activities of the U.S. military and intelligence agencies. The first one is The Other Night Sky which tracks and documents classified American satellites in Earth orbit. With the help of a network of amateur "satellite observers" and of a specially designed software model able to describe the orbital motion of classified spacecraft, Paglen calculated the position and timing of overhead reconnaissance satellite transits. He then photographed their passage using telescopes and large-format cameras.

The second body of work shown at The Lighthouse is Limit Telephotography. For this series, Paglen used high powered telescopes to picture the "black" sites, a series of secret locations operated by the CIA. Often outside of U.S. territory and legal jurisdiction, these locations do not officially exist, they range from American torture camps in Afghanistan to front companies running airlines whose purpose is to covertly move suspects around.

Well, that wasn't so short but i do have to confess that i merely copy/pasted texts i wrote about Paglen's work a few months ago.

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Trevor Paglen, They Watch the Moon, 2010, C-print © Trevor Paglen, Courtesy of Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne and Altman Siegel Gallery, San Francisco

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KEYHOLE 12-3 (IMPROVED CRYSTAL) Optical Reconnaissance Satellite Near Scorpio (USA 129), 2007. Courtesy of Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne, and Altman Siegel Gallery, San Francisco, © Trevor Paglen

A couple of years ago, Edmund Clark traveled to Guantanamo to document three experiences of home: the home of the American community at the naval base; the camp complex where the detainees have been held; and the homes where former detainees, never charged with any crime, find themselves trying to rebuild lives.

With the body of work presented at the Biennial, Clark pursues further his interest in structures of control and incarceration. In December 2011, the photographer was the first artist to be granted access to a house in which a person suspected of terrorist related activity had been placed under what the UK calls 'a Control Order.'

The 2005 Prevention of Terrorism Act granted the Home Office the power to relocate any controlled person to a house in an alien town or city and impose restrictions and conditions, similar to house-arrest. So far, 48 people have been made subject to a Control Order.

Clark could not reveal the identity of the controlled person nor the location of their house. He also had to pre-register all digital equipment and to accept restrictions on how the equipment could be used. All his photos were then screened by the Home Office and the controlled person's lawyers.

The series is still a work in progress and i wish i could be in England on Thursday, 1 November 2012 because the photographer will be discussing his work at The Lighthouse.

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Edmund Clark, Control Order House, 2011. © Edmund Clark

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Edmund Clark, Control Order House, 2011. © Edmund Clark

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Edmund Clark, Control Order House (view of the exhibition space)

The images screened on Thomson & Craighead's October installation are brutally shocking. Maybe because even when the videos were shot at the other end of the world, they echo the social and economic inequalities we are experiencing in Europe (or wherever you're living right now.) The film installation creates a portray of the Occupy protests by drawing on amateur footage that the activists uploaded on YouTube. Below the video screen is a luminous compass that points to the locations where the videos were originally filmed, adding the precise distance of the location of the footage from the viewers. The piece examines the relationship between geographical space and the Internet: the role online organisation plays in shaping offline activism.

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Thomson & Craighead, October (view of the exhibition at Space @ Create)

The exhibition of photographer, journalist, researcher and political activist John "Hoppy" Hopkins also document peace marches, protests and underground movements from the inside but this time in and around London in the 1960s. Some 50 years are separating the Occupy videos from Hopkins' photos but both show the power of the image when it comes to telling the activists' side of a news story.

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John 'Hoppy' Hopkins, Speakers' Corner, 1964. © John 'Hoppy' Hopkins

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John 'Hoppy' Hopkins, Homeless March St Paul's

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John 'Hoppy' Hopkins, A CND protest in West Ruislip

There's so much more to say about this biennial. There are many other exhibitions i don't have the space to mention here. And talks, tours, workshops. I'll close my superficial review of the biennial with random photos of the shows and of the city.

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The Argus Archives, Anti-nuclear protestors block the road by lying down, holding up traffic until police were able to remove them, London Road, 1982. ©The Argus

I forgot to mention Whose Streets?, an outdoor show located on one of the city's public square that looks at the archive of local newspaper The Argus, to extract images that depict Brighton as a contested political space for protest. From the late 70s to the present.

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The Argus Archives. Exhibition in the streets of Brighton

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The Argus Archives, The far-right National Front march through Brighton. The party's membership had decreased significantly by the early 1980s. Castle Square, 1981. ©The Argus

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Jason Larkin, 'Untitled #2', Cairo Divided, 2011, © Jason Larkin

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Theo Simpson, from Four Versions of Three Routes by Preston is my Paris, 2012. © Theo Simpson

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The 2012 Brighton Photo Biennial is curated by Photoworks Head of Programme, Celia Davies and Programme Curator, Ben Burbridge. Brighton Photo Biennial is free and it is up all over the city of Brighton until 4 November 2012.

Previously: Exhibition tip - Omer Fast at the Netherlands Media Art Institute,
Architecture of Fear - a conversation with Trevor Paglen
and Guantanamo: If the Light Goes Out by Edmund Clark.

Sponsored by:





Some artists comment on real estate, some real estate developers are interested in art but i doubt that many people can be both artists and real estate developers. Actually i only know of one: Theaster Gates. He is an urban planner, a visual artist, a musician, a curator and an activist.

Gates is as interested in urban regeneration as much as he is passionate about creating communities in deprived areas of Chicago. He renovated a two-storey house and turned it into an archive and library, used a former candy store as an event and performance space, has recently persuaded the city of Chicago not to demolish an abandoned bank and is now planning to convert the building into a cultural hub and library. If you're intrigued by his work, and find yourself in London right now, you're in luck because Gates has a spectacular solo show at White Cube Bermondsey right now.

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Theaster Gates, My Labor is My Protest, 2012. Photo: Ben Westoby, Courtesy White Cube

And by spectacular i mean fire trucks hanging on the ceiling and an entire library of books about black American culture.

The books are part of the collection of John H. Johnson, the founder of Ebony and Jet, two magazines for the African-American market. You can pick up books ("Black Mathematicians and their Works", "Negroes and Jobs", "14 Africans vs. one American", etc.), browse, read, flip through them but you can not take any picture. Not even of the book shelves. No one could tell me why. Anyway, i spent more time than i intended inside the temporary library. I missed the first weeks of the show when gallery visitors were also offered make-up sessions.

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Theaster Gates, Installation photograph (South Gallery I, White Cube Bermondsey), 2012. Photo: Ben Westoby, Courtesy White Cube

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On Black Foundations (detail), 2012

Now back to the fire trucks. The first one is outside, in front of the gallery. It is beautiful and incongruous like a giant American toy and is soiled by big spots of tar on its otherwise bright yellow bodywork.

A video inside the space documents the almost ritualistic performance when the artist, accompanied by the music of his band 'The Black Monks of Mississippi', used a mop to dab hot tar and mark the fire truck. Apparently, the gesture was inspired by Gates' father who tarred roofs for a living as an alternative form of protest during the 1968 Chicago riots.

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Theaster Gates, Raising Goliath, 2012. Photo: Ben Westoby, Courtesy White Cube

Another truck is part of the show: Raising Goliath. The red 1967 Ford 850 is suspended with theatrical pulleys from the ceiling of the gallery. Gates counterbalanced the vehicle with a stack of fire department hoses and leather bound issues of African American magazines, all neatly housed inside a metal frame. Gates describes the work as a way to 'hoist the history of the Civil Rights out of view, making it both weightless and invisible...' and to highlight 'the way things change and remain the same'.

There are many symbols and metaphors in the exhibitions. Some are a bit superficial (the paintings covered in tar and matted roofing paper to represent black skin and afro hair are not very subtle), others run deep into the Civil Rights Movement and black culture. The decommissioned fire hoses, for example, allude to the use of fire hoses to disperse people campaigning for African-American Civil Rights in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963.

The gallery is also screening the 15 minute commercial The Secret of Selling the Negro Market. Made in 1954 by Johnson Publishing Company, the film attempted to encourage advertisers to promote their products and services in the African American media.

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Well, that's a show i'd recommend you to see if you're in town for a few after Frieze day. Tomorrow i'm going to try the Multiplied art fair. I'm hoping that one will be almost affordable.

Theaster Gates, My Labor Is My Protest is open through 11 November 2012 at White Cube Bermondsey in London.

If you think that the ongoing edition of the Manifesta biennale is not enough to lure you to the Limburg region of Belgium, how about an exhibition about the work of 30 artists who are looking for gaps in the ruling systems and structures?

Mind the System, Find the Gap is this year's Summer exhibition at Z33 and the concept of the show has been applied literally to the Z33 space. The artworks occupy every space available: they are in the usual exhibition spaces of course but also in the garden, in the reception area, and inside the little Beguinage houses.

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Atelier Van Lieshout, Autocraat (part of Insect Farm), 2012. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Ahmet Ögüt, Strategic Diagram for Non-hierarchical Participatory Radical Democracy, 2011. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

Our society is governed by all sorts of systems and structures. No system, however, whether political, judicial, economical, socio-cultural or spatial, can comprise life in its entirety. Every system has loopholes, leaks and ambiguities.

The exhibition is uplifting and timely. In these moments of social inequality, austerity, cuts in culture budgets, low social mobility, loss of privacy, recession, it is reassuring to discover that the systems that govern our existences have flaws and spaces that we can infiltrate. Even if this form of resistance is often more symbolic than truly power-challenging.

Some of the participating artists merely reveal and document these gaps while others go further and demonstrate how to take advantage of them. The artworks are organized according to themes: political systems, spatial systems and socio-cultural systems with of course much overlap since many of the artworks confront several systems at the same time.

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Pablo Valbuena, Re-Flex [Z33], 2012. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

The clearest and probably most amusing introduction to the show has to be Matthieu Laurette's project. For 8 years, the artist ate, shaved, dressed and showered for free thanks to Moneyback Products, a method of shopping that pushed to the extreme the marketing system of the major food corporations which offer their product with a "Satisfied or your money back" or "Money back on first purchase" label. Similarly, Laurette's home was always equipped with brand new electrical goods which he sent back before the end of the guarantee - to replace them with brand new ones.

The strategy requires to be extremely well organised. Because most manufacturers ask you to send back a separate till receipts before they will refund items, you need to pay separately for each product.

Moneyback Products was an art project but also a life style that leaked beyond the walls of art galleries. Laurette became indeed a celebrity in the French media, he was invited to popular talk shows and his project appeared on the cover of mainstream magazines.

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The freebie king, Daily record (UK)(detail), Friday December 8 2000. © Matthieu Laurette

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Matthieu Laurette, Mobile Information Stand For Moneyback Products, 1999. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

In Identity4You, Heath Bunting creates off-the-shelf new legal identities built up from a portfolio of unique legal relationships. The work - a continuation of Identity Bureau and the Status Project - draws on the fact that as a human being one can have several legal identities. These identities are constructed through a network of registrations: loyalty cards, bank accounts, phone cards, bills, government correspondence and other person related data. The vaster the network, the stronger the legal identity. Identity4You demonstrates that an identity depends mainly upon administrative systems, rather than personality or even a physical body.

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Heath Bunting, Identity4you, 2012. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

The animation film What Shall We Do Next is presented as an "archive of gestures to come". The gestures refer to the patents for the invention of new devices taken out from the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office) from 2006 to 2011. The functioning of upcoming tablets, smartphones, laptops, game consoles, medical instruments and other devices involves gestures that are defined and copyrighted even though the interface does not yet exist. In the video, the artist appropriates the gestures and separates them from their utilitarian function, letting them float in the air and follow a choreographic abstraction.

The work not only explores how technology shapes our behaviour but also questions the privatization of something as basic as a human gesture.

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Julien Prévieux, What Shall We Do Next?, 2006-2011. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

For her performance Bag Lady, Pilvi Takala spent one week in a shopping mall in Berlin, carrying a lot of cash in a transparent plastic bag. As soon as they spotted the content of her bag, sales personnel, security staff, shop owners as well as fellow customers, looked uncomfortable and unsure how to react. Although she behaved like a normal customer, Takala was both a security threat and a subject of protection. This slight intervention sheds controversial light on the fragility of the social order, where private property in the form of money or product is such a holy cow, that it is under constant intuitive public control.

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Pivli Takala, Bag Lady, 2006-2008

We're getting used to read about architectural works that engages with the cracks in urban space. But we tend to forget that they come from a long tradition of 'gap exploration.'

In 1973 and 1974, Gordon Matta-Clark purchased, at New York City auctions, fifteen leftover and unwanted properties. Because these properties were too small or too oddly shaped, they were unusable or inaccessible for development. He got each of them for a few dollars.

Matta-Clark documented these urban voids with an archive of deeds, maps, photographs of every inch of his lands, tax receipts, videotapes and other documents. Unfortunately, Matta-Clark died before he could fully realise his plans, and ownership of the properties reverted to the city (the taxes to pay were too expensive.)

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Reality Properties: Fake Estates, Little Alley Block 2497, Lot 42, 1974

Dutch architect Anne Holtrop based the design of the Trail House not on gaps but on unofficial use of land. The building structure follows Elephant Paths, the shortcuts that people adopt and trace when they go through meadows, parks or city squares. Over time, the tracing of the Elephant Paths appears on the ground which reinforced the informal route. The architect simply shaped a house to further recognize its existence. Z33 shows the model and Bas Princen's always impeccable photos.

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Anne Holtrop, Trail House, 2009. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Anne Holtrop, Trail House, 2009. Photo: Bas Princen

Tadashi Kawamata's Tokyo Project - New Housing Plan explores the possibility to squeeze the home of city dwellers into the overlooked spaces of the Japanese capital: between the fences of construction sites, behind vending machines or even billboards.

Kawamata actually build the houses, each of which was occupied on rotation over a one-week period by the artist and his associates. The inside of the guerrilla houses was surprisingly comfortable with wall-to-wall carpeting, heaters and CD players powered by electricity lifted from external sources such as the vending machines.

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Tadashi Kawamata, Tokyo Project : New Housing Plan, Tokyo, December , 1998, © ANZAÏ

I probably don't understand fully what makes KALENDER a work that looks for 'gaps in the system' but i'm glad i discovered it at Z33.

Between 3 January 2009 and 2 January 2010, Benjamin Verdonck performed more than 150 actions in Antwerp. These actions related to traditional public holidays, the cycle of the seasons, geopolitical shifts and life as it is.

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Benjamin Verdonck, Kalender, 2009-2010. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Benjamin Verdonck, Kalender, 2009-2010. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

I particularly like the procession of oversized toilet sanitizer, lighter, mobile phone and soda can.


Benjamin Verdonck, Kalender, Processie der dingen (Procession of Things), 2009

Also in the show:

In 'Based on a Grid', Esther Stocker creates a spatial system from a series of black painted wooden blocks in the entrance hall of the Z33 exhibition building. The visitor is drawn into the installation, as it were, and is challenged by the system, the grid that is there but not immediately visible. For Stocker, the system is implied as much by its gaps as it is by its contours. But do we want to look for the system or are we happy to loose ourselves in the chaos of scattered elements drifting apart?

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Esther Stocker, Based on a Grid, 2012. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Minouk Lim, International Calling Frequency, 2011. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

Founded in 1998, Mejor Vida Corp. (Better Life Corporation) is a political and art organization that attempts to level social inequalities by injecting guerrilla art operations into capitalist structures. Mejor Vida Corp. provides free products and services such as international student ID cards, subway tickets for the Mexico City network, recommendation letters, fake barcode stickers to reduce the prices on goods sold by supermarket chains, etc.

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Minerva Cuevas, Mejor Vida Corp. (Better Life Corporation), 1998-. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Minerva Cuevas, Mejor Vida Corp. (Better Life Corporation), 1998-. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Minerva Cuevas, Mejor Vida Corp. (Better Life Corporation), 1998-. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Dora García, The Inadequate, 2012. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Dora García, The Inadequate, 2012. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Dora García, The Inadequate, 2012. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Agency, Verzameling / Assembly, 2012 (Commissioned for Mind the System, Find the Gap). Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Carey Young, Obsidian Contract, 2010. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Stephanie Syjuco, Free Texts, 2012. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Leandro Erlich, Window and Ladder Too Late For Help, 2008. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

Z33 has youtubed a series of introductions to the show as well as some interviews with artists participating to it. I'd recommend the one with Benjamin Verdonck because his accent is so lovely.
Z33's flickr set. My questionable flickr set.

Mind the System, Find the Gap is a free exhibition and it is open at Z33 in Hasselt until 30 September 2012.

Previously: Mind the System, Find the Sukima (gap).

Identity Bureau, transferable synthetic British natural person.

A few months ago, i interviewed Léopold Lambert about Weaponized Architecture, an architectural project and research that explores the power of architecture as a political weapon. The concept is illustrated by historical precedents, interviews and essays but it is also exemplified by a very precise situation: the impact of the Isreali occupation on the Palestinian built environment, in particular in the West Bank.

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At the time of our conversation, Léopold was about to turn his research into a book. The publication is finally out (both in paperback and as an expanded mobile book) and its title is Weaponized Architecture: The Impossibility of Innocence.

It's a lovely book and one that constantly surprises the reader by the depth of the research, the thought-provoking facts and ideas brought to light, by the photos, the maps and by the graphic novel that closes the book.

I'm not going to review it. Instead, i'll take the fact that it recently landed inside my -always grateful- letterbox as an excuse to talk to Ethel Baraona Pohl and César Reyes Nájera who are both architects, bloggers and heads of dpr-Barcelona, the publishing house for Weaponized Architecture.

dpr-barcelona specializes in architecture and design books. Each of their publication is the result of a creative exchange between publisher, author or designer and the collaboration of academic experts that make most complete the overview about each project. Showing a clear innovative way to bring the contents to the public, our projects transcend the boundaries between time and space from conventional publications, approaching to those which are probably the titles of architecture in the future.

What i most admire in dpr-barcelona is that the publishing house is never afraid to question architecture, expand debates nor take risks with the way their books are presented and enjoyed.

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I'm copy pasting below some extracts from my online conversation with Ethel and César, it took place just before the book was out, hence the use of the future tense:

What i most admire about dpr-Barcelona is that you don't seem to avoid politically challenging subjects. For example, when you chose to publish Situation Room, Weaponized Architecture, Un Atlas de Cartografías Radicales (the Spanish edition of An Atlas of Radical Cartography.) How do you select the books you are publishing and in some cases even translating? Do you pick up just what interest you as architects at a particular moment or do look for 'gaps' in the market?

We prefer to refer to them as gaps in the thinking. As architects we have been mostly educated through images more than ideas. Our task attempts to revert this situation by the contents we share and by the way we spread them. Coincidentally most of key issues we're facing now as civilization deals with political and economical challenging subjects. Under this scenario architects, liberated from their aesthetics constrains, could genuinely learn and collaborate with socially useful projects and ideas. We build our editorial task in that direction.

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Situation Room, by Pablo de Soto and hackitectura

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Un Atlas de Cartografías Radicales by Lize Mogel & Alexis Bhagat

Why did you chose to publish Léopold Lambert's thesis for example? How did you come across his research?

Our relation started as most of the connections done in the "network": We noticed and follow Leopold's work since he was editing the blog Boiteaoutils. We found quite interesting mostly all of the issues he deals at the blog and finally we got in touch in 2009 to publish his project Kili No Nara in our blog. From there our connection was going beyond the blogroll, so when we published Lost in the Line, we realized that it was part of a bigger project: Weaponized Architecture.

While exploring the research done by Léopold, we realized that it was a job worth spreading to a different level. Placing its research and proposal in the West Bank, Lambert expands politically the field of architecture narratives, integrating design as a weapon within the scene of the Palestinian struggle. Here we see an act of architectural disobedience, a way to resist an establishment using architecture as a weapon with all its political implications.

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How did you turn a thesis into a book? Does this involve a lot of editing, reformulating, reformating? Or did you manage to stick as closely as possible to the original text?

Even its origin is a thesis, when you go into the research and the structure proposed by Léopold, then you realize that naming it "a thesis" is just a formalism. Lambert shows in this work a clear intention of going further and works on the subject as an author committed to the subject studied. That is a sort of implication that goes beyond the limits of Academia.

So, our intervention as publishers has been minimum given that both the contents and the complete layout has been done by the author. We have done minor format adaptation for printing purposes and our main task was focused in supplementing with a publishing strategy aimed to expand the message as wider as possible by means of mobile-book version and the addition of Augmented Reality experience to some contents of the printed version facilitating multi-platform interaction to make more powerful [if possible] Léopold's commitment.

The book will have a free expanded-mobile version, which means that almost all the contents, but adapted to the logic of mobile devices (enhancing immediacy, brevity, and simplicity) will be published for free under a CC license expanding the content of the physical book. The interaction with Augmented Reality will be part of this mobile-book.

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The book includes interviews with blogger Bryan Finoki and with Palestinian lawyer, novelist and political activist Raja Shehadeh and will be published both in paperback and as an expanded mobile book, with Augmented Reality [AR] interaction, so the content itself will be expanded through mobile devices.

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Léopold Lambert's "Lost in the Line" visual essay, part of the book WEAPONIZED ARCHITECTURE: The Impossibility of Innocence

Related entries: Book review: Atlas of the Conflict. Israel-Palestine, Open City: Designing Coexistence - Part 2, Refuge, Decolonizing Architecture - Scenarios for the transformation of Israeli settlements and Welcome to Hebron.

Alternative and Activist New Media, by Leah Lievrouw.

Available on Amazon USAand UK.

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Publisher Politi writes: Alternative and Activist New Media provides a rich and accessible overview of the ways in which activists, artists, and citizen groups around the world use new media and information technologies to gain visibility and voice, present alternative or marginal views, share their own DIY information systems and content, and otherwise resist, talk back to, or confront dominant media culture. Today, a lively and contentious cycle of capture, cooptation, and subversion of information, content, and system design marks the relationship between the mainstream 'center' and the interactive, participatory 'edges' of media culture.

Five principal forms of alternative and activist new media projects are introduced, including the characteristics that make them different from more conventional media forms and content. The book traces the historical roots of these projects in alternative media, social movements, and activist art, including analyses of key case studies and links to relevant electronic resources. Alternative and Activist New Media will be a useful addition to any course on new media and society, and essential for readers interested in new media activism.


®TMark, The Barbie Liberation Organization, 1993

I might have covered many books and exhibitions that demonstrate how artists use technology to protest, campaign, challenge institutions, or express social and political concerns but i still had to review a book that studied alternative and activist new media from an 'Information Studies' or purely social point of view. This one was written by a professor in the Department of Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles and it has the (rare) merit of including contemporary art practices in its field of investigation.

Leah Lievrouw looks at what she calls the five basic genres of contemporary alternative and activist new media: Culture Jamming (think of the Billboard Liberation Front or ®TMark), Alternative Computing (hacking), Participatory Journalism (e.g. Indymedia, blogs), Mediated Mobilization (the Arab Spring) and Commons Knowledge (Wikipedia). She goes from defining elementary concepts (such as "what makes new media 'new'") to detailing recent theories and observations in a seamless and impeccable way.

She describes Alternative and Activist New Media, traces back their antecedents, weights their strengths and weaknesses in, pits them against their mainstream/institutionalized equivalent, analyzes their rise from fringe to (almost) mainstream, sums up the debates surrounding this 'new media ecology', and illustrates each 'genre' with a case study.

Alternative and Activist New Media is a book for students. Of media, new media, communication, sociology, media art. This is also a book for people like you and me. People who've been using wikipedia for years, who blog, who know about The Yes Men's "identity correction" performances. People who are familiar with the language and concepts of Alternative and Activist New Media. But does that mean that our insight doesn't need more structure and a solid historical background?

Elvis, my young Staffie, was a equally enthusiastic about the book (or maybe equally unimpressed by the design of its cover) ....

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Image on the homepage: The Yes Men's golden skeleton.

Living as Form - Socially Engaged Art from 1991-2011, edited by Nato Thompson, with essays by Claire Bishop, Maria Lind, Teddy Cruz, Carol Becker, Brian Holmes and Shannon Jackson.

(available on amazon USA and UK.)

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Publisher The MIT Press says: Over the past twenty years, an abundance of art forms have emerged that use aesthetics to affect social dynamics. These works are often produced by collectives or come out of a community context; they emphasize participation, dialogue, and action, and appear in situations ranging from theater to activism to urban planning to visual art to health care. Engaged with the texture of living, these art works often blur the line between art and life. This book offers the first global portrait of a complex and exciting mode of cultural production--one that has virtually redefined contemporary art practice.

Living as Form grew out of a major exhibition at Creative Time in New York City. Like the exhibition, the book is a landmark survey of more than 100 projects selected by a thirty-person curatorial advisory team; each project is documented by a selection of color images. The artists include the Danish collective Superflex, who empower communities to challenge corporate interest; Turner Prize nominee Jeremy Deller, creator of socially and politically charged performance works; Women on Waves, who provide abortion services and information to women in regions where the procedure is illegal; and Santiágo Cirugeda, an architect who builds temporary structures to solve housing problems.

Living as Form contains commissioned essays from noted critics and theorists who look at this phenomenon from a global perspective and broaden the range of what constitutes this form.

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Voina

I've reviewed a few books about socially-engaged art in the past: Art & Agenda - Political Art and Activism, a monography of Krzysztof Wodiczko's works, Goodbye to London - Radical Art and Politics in the Seventies, Experimental Geography: Radical Approaches to Landscape, Cartography, and Urbanism, An Atlas of Radical Cartography, and Art & Activism in the Age of Globalization which is probably my favourite. Living as Form demonstrates that i still had a lot to discover on the subject.

The projects selected for Living as Form are often explicitly local, long term and community-based which sets them apart from many 'activist' projects that sound more like media coups than real, thoughtful attempts to improve a social issues. Many of the works documented in the book are probably not well-known (unless you've visited the exhibition that took place last year in New York) and i actually couldn't always find good photos to illustrate some of the interventions i found most compelling. Unsurprisingly, some of these socially-engaged projects come from the usual suspects: Europe and North America. Many however, were born in Africa, Latin America, Asia and were selected by international curators (I wonder if anyone was covering the Middle East?)

The projects might not be the most spectacular you've heard about. Maybe because the varnish of subversion has faded over the years, or maybe because the artists didn't necessarily go for the shock tactic, the loud nor the dramatic but their works serve a precise need, competently and with humility.

The book contains some 150 pages describing projects or outlining the career of artists involved in socially engaged practices such as Voina, The Bureau of Piracy (Piratbyrån) or Neue Slowenische Kunst.

Nato Thompson explains in his introductory essay that the reason why the starting point for book is the year 1991 is that he wanted to cover the period that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall. The event opened the gates to a new neoliberal order which gave a huge boost to the private sector and debilitated the role of public and State functions in protecting and supporting citizens. Given the state of politics in Europe right now, the relevance and importance of the projects described in the book isn't likely to dwindle any time soon.

Just a few works from Living as Form:

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A few years ago, Minerva Cuevas set up web-based nonprofit corporation that distributes for free products and services. Mejor Vida Corp provides anyone who might need them with a recommendation letter, a Mexico City subway ticket, a self stamped envelope, a student ID card or cheaper barcode stickers for fruit and vegetables.

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Finishing School with Christy Thomas, The Patriot Library, 2003. Lucky Tackle, Oakland, CA. Photo Finishing School

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Finishing School with Christy Thomas, The Patriot Library, 2003. Lucky Tackle, Oakland, CA. Photo Finishing School

The Patriot Library, by Finishing School, is a nomadic library that provides users access to books, periodicals, and other media that may be considered "dangerous" by the US Federal government once the Patriot Act took affect after September 11, 2001. Believing that the pursuit of knowledge is not dangerous in itself, the Library makes publications that range from Aviation Training to Bomb Making, Chemistry to Tourist Information available to the public without questioning the motivation of the individual user.

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Image from the documentary film Up the Ridge

Thousand Kites is a USA-wide project uses performance, video, online strategies, radio and low-cost media tools to work toward prison reform through grassroots power.

The project emerged in 1998, when Nick Szuberla, host of a rural Appalachian region's hip-hop radio program, began to receive letters from inmates recently transferred into two local SuperMax prisons. The letters described racism and human rights violations, and Szuberla responded first by playing a game of chess with the prisoners over the air and through the mail. Thousand Kites soon became more ambitious and branched into a series of national and local campaigns, artistic projects, and dedicated radio programs.

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Ai Weiwei, Fairytale, 2007

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Ai Weiwei, Fairytale, 2007

In 2007, Ai Weiwei invited 1001 Chinese, from farmers to factory workers, from students to minority people, to travel to Kassel and visit the Documenta exhibition as audience. The people he selected were "those who are not able to travel overseas under normal conditions, or those to whom traveling overseas has a very important meaning." Once in Kassel they were hosted in a temporary hostel and visited the area. The guests were both tourists and subjects of art. 1,001 antique chairs were placed throughout the exhibition to represent the visitors.

Image on the homepage from the project Women on Waves.

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