Hasselt is a small Belgian city so clean and quiet i wouldn't want to be stuck there for more than 4 hours. Yet i've visited it again and again these past couple of years. They have one of the most interesting art centers in this part of Europe. Located in a former beguinage, Arts centre Z33 explores the fringes between contemporary plastic arts and design by creating exhibition projects that draw attention to social developments and scientific phenomena.

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The current exhibition, Work Now, wishes to reflect upon the concept and meaning of 'work' in today's society. Whether we live in a time of crisis or economic growth, work does not only take most of our available time, it often takes an important role in the way we define our sense of identity. The (art)works in 'Work Now' throw light, or simply invite to reflect, on issues such as flexibility, mobility, motivation, significance, and the work-life balance.

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View of the exhibitions space. Photo: Kristof Vrancken for Z33

The exhibition features many names you've probably heard about before in these pages and elsewhere. There's Santiago Sierra, Aaron Koblin, Molleindustria, Dan Perjovschi, Artur Zmijewski, Marti Guixe, Hella Jongerius, Atelier Van Lieshout, etc. But i also discovered exciting artists.

Well, one at least. The work of Helmut Stallaerts only made it worth the trip to Hasselt.

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Helmut Stallaerts, Pan- optic, 2007

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Helmut Stallaerts, Pan- optic, 2007 (detail of the installation)

In Hasselt, Helmut Stallaerts was showing the Prophecy triptych as well as a stunning Pan-Optic installation with a complex and intriguing imagery. The Pan-Optic features scenes inhabited by tiny figurines that look like the ones architects use on their models to show the scale of a building. Except that in Stallaerts' construction, the figurines have been given a detailed face and clothing that give them a personality. The scenes they are involved in seem easy to identify: a working office, a stiff business meeting, an encounter in the woods, etc. Except that something in the atmosphere keeps them aloof and mysterious. The models are also portrayed in close-up on the twenty-eight b&w photos that do nothing to clear the plot for visitors.

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Santiago Sierra, The Anarchists, 2006 (video still)

Santiago Sierra's video The Anarchists questioned the relationship between motivation and work. The artist invited eight young militant anarchists to face a blank wall and listen to the traditional Christmas mass celebrated by the Pope on December 25th, 2006, wearing a black capirote. The pointy hat was used during the Spanish inquisition, where the condemned person would be forced to wear one and be put under public humiliation. The anarchists were each paid 100 euro.

The artist's work has often explored in a subversive way issues dealing with capitalism, the structure of labour market, and exploitation. The Anarchists is one of many artworks that saw Sierra pay people to do pretty absurd things. For 160 CM Line Tattooed on 4 People (2000), he gave a syringe of heroin to four drug-addicted prostitutes who accepted to have a line tattooed on their backs in exchange. A few months later, he artist paid 10 Cubans $20 each to masturbate in front of his camera. In 2004, he hired ten Iraqi immigrants, aligned them in an art gallery and sprayed on their backs with polyurethane then waited for it to harden. There's more to be scandalized about in this TateShots video:

The demand for mobility and worker's flexibility is a general parameter that has come to characterize the organisation of labour since the middle of the seventies. The parameter has started to be come under severe pressure since the onset of the current crisis. Whether the crisis is severe enough to initiate a re-evaluation of this model remains yet to be seen. What is certain is that when this occurs, and another model presents itself, the effects will also be felt at the level of work organisation.

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In The Sheep Market, Aaron Koblin plays with and investigates the Amazon.com's Mechanical Turk, a crowdsourcing service that enables computer programs to harness the brain of people who have nothing better to do in order to perform tasks which computers are unable to do. Taking its cue from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's book The Little Prince, Koblin offered 2 dollar cents to any web user in exchange of the drawing of a sheep facing to the left. The result is mesmerizing: 10, 000 sheep, each different from the other. The sheep drawers were pretty upset when the artist told them he was going to sell the drawings.

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Aaron Koblin, The Sheep Market. Photo: Kristof Vrancken

Performing tasks through 'Mechanical Turk' no longer implies a (job) function, but only the execution of isolated tasks; tasks which are difficult for a computer but simple enough for a broad audience. Technology-assisted flexibility turned upside down.

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Theo Deutinger, World at Work. Photo: Kristof Vrancken

World At Work by Theo Deutinger (a pretty interesting architect and info graphic designer) is a worldclock that represent worldwide working patterns. Because our day/night rhythm is based on the natural course of the Earth, the central elements of the clock are the orbit and rotation of our planet. The clock shows the times on which different parts of the world population are working, sleeping or enjoying leisure time. By taking the working day from nine to five as the point of departure, the clock reveals the unbalanced division of labor between the various time zones on our planet. At the least busy time only 2% of the world's population is at work, while at the busiest time a staggering 80% toil away. While most of the world population is sleeping, the Americas are at work. When they go home from work, the workforce of Asia wakes up and heads to their jobs. When Europe and Africa join later, 3/4 of the world population are busy earning a living.

The work takes the form of a website and an installation that enable visitor to manipulate the world clock by means of a control panel.

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Julien Prévieux, Lettres de non-motivation, ongoing

Julien Prévieux's ongoing series of Lettres de non-motivation /Uncovering Letters make me laugh out loud. Prévieux responded to authentic job openings in the newspaper by submitting a cover letter in which he explains in great length why he has no interest in the vacant position. Pretending the offers were meant for him, he writes the company he is not interested in the ridiculously low wages they offer, derides the appalling layout of the job ad, warns them he has no intention to be polite to clients or tell them his best asset is his skate-boarding skills. There's a translation of one of his letters over here. Amusingly, Human Resources employees either send them the usual polite answer ("despite your evident competence, we are sorry to blablabla") or take Prévieux letter seriously and send him an answer that betrays how offended they are by Prévieux' sincerity. The job offer, the 'uncovering' letter and the reply are shown as a triptych. Behind the facetious character of each letter, one can read a real and acute critique of business recruitment procedures and more generally, the way some corporations and other employers take advantage of the context of general underemployment in France.

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Nancy Davenport, Workers (leaving the factory), 2007 (video stills), image courtesy of Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery

I made a picture set but Z33 has a much better images.
Work Now, an exhibition curated by Karen Verschooren, is on view until September 27 at Z33 in Hasselt, Belgium.

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In his book Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, Friedrich Kittler draws parallels between the introduction of a new media and spiritism. The Morse alphabet was quickly adopted in seances of spiritism to converse with the deceased. On some photographic plates one could sometimes discern the face of a ghosts. In 1893, Edison described the 10 uses he imagined for the phonogram and one of them was to record 'the last words of dying persons'.

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Agnès Geoffray, Night #6, 2005

'Awake Are Only the Spirits' - On Ghosts and Their Media, an exhibition currently open at HMKV (Hartware MedienKunstVerein) in Dortmund, explores the presence of the supernatural, the manifestations of spirits, and (trans)communication with the beyond facilitated by technical media.

Curated by Inke Arns and Thibaut de Ruyter, the show aims to tell a 'ghost story' that explores the question of why, for all our enlightenment, irrational capabilities are regularly ascribed to the new media and technologies of a given time - for instance, the ability to act as a channel for messages from the beyond. The projects exhibited question the existence of ghosts, they explore the integration of new media and technologies in spiritualist contexts, make visible or perceptible the invisible and trace the political implications as well as the aesthetics of such contemporary transcommunication phenomena.

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Exhibition view, PHOENIX Halle Dortmund, 2009, Martin Howse, The White Visitation, Workshop, 2009

The selection of works is exceptional. It might sometimes seem that i'm disillusioned with media art and indeed i'm not finding much pleasure anymore in works and exhibitions that are more the result of techno-fetishism than of a meaningful and far-reaching reflection on technology. 'Awake Are Only the Spirits' has everything that makes me enthusiastic about media. The exhibition manages to be intelligent, spectacular (starting with walls painted in a mystic purple hue) and engaging in spite of what would look at first sights as a rather puzzling focus. 'Awake Are Only the Spirits' doesn't just introduce you to some exciting artworks, it also makes you question your beliefs and your perception of the world.

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Friedrich Jürgenson (image)

One of the starting points of the exhibition at HMKV is the audiotape archive of Friedrich Jürgenson who discovered in 1959 the Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVP), electronically captured sounds that resemble speech, but are not the result of intentional voice recordings. In the 1950s, the painter, film producer and archaeologist found traces of extra voices on tapes with which he was trying to record birdsongs. He believed the voices were coming "from the other side." Over the years, Jürgensen made thousands of recordings of the voices of the dead, from his family to Vincent van Gogh and even Himmler's masseur.

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Exhibition view, PHOENIX Halle Dortmund, 2009, Friedrich Jürgenson, Audioscopic Research Archive, 1959-1987, courtesy ZKM | Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie, Karlsruhe

Jürgenson died in 1987 but the hundreds of tapes he recorded have been preserved, archived at the ZKM in Karlsruhe and are now part of the exhibition 'Awake Are Only the Spirits'. The other archive in the show is the one of an anonymous Aachen-based researcher who recorded images of deceased persons he believed were appearing on a running tv set.

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Klaus Schreiber (image)

In the early '80s deceased relatives of Klaus Schreiber informed him via EVP: 'We're on television, too'. Thanks to much efforts, money and time, Schreiber developed a method based on video feedback for distilling relatively clear images of his loved ones -including his two deceased wives- from the infinite expanses of bleary reflections. The Archive of an Anonymous Ghost-Seer curated by Hans W. Koch and presented at HMKV bears witness to this process.

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Exhibition view, PHOENIX Halle Dortmund, 2009, Joep van Liefland, Donald Judd Faces of Death, Installation, 2008, courtesy of the artist

Donald Judd Faces of Death, by Joep van Liefland, responds directly to Schreiber's findings on Instrumental Transcommunication (ITC). A large silkscreen poster displaying the blown-up image of a scrambled TV screen evokes the untuned screens where Schreiber used to see faces. Watch it as much as you want, no face ever turns up on Van Liefland's installation. Not even on the video that is also part of the work. The installation also features an object made out of empty and glossy video cassette boxes, is an ironic take on Abstract Minimalism and Pop Art.

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Jason and Lucas Ajemian, Out of Nowhere/From Beyond

For some time, it was even rumoured that Black Sabbath's song-Into The Void contained secret Satanic messages if played backwards. Jason and Lucas Ajemian transcribed the music and text of the track to create a new version, a project called Out of Nowhere/From Beyond. In the new version, the track is played backwards by a ten-piece orchestra with Jason Ajemian as the conductor and his brother singing phonetically in reverse.

Video of the artists discussing the idea and preparation behind From Beyond:

The performance was documented on video, but you can also get your hands on an audio recording pressed into 10-inch vinyl record. HMKV is also exhibiting the score printed on plexiglass as well as an original Black Sabbath cover splashed with Yves Klein blue as a reference to Klein's work with voids.

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International Necronautical Societ, Black Box Transmitter

The International Necronautical Society (INS), a pseudobureaucratic organization founded in London in 1999, aims to examine radio in all its (necro-)poetical and also political aspects.

Black Box is comprised of a series of texts compiled by the author Tom McCarthy from local Dortmund radio shows, newspapers, and weather reports. These were transcribed and recorded onto a black box, from which the text lines are transmitted twenty-four hours a day via ultra-short wave (USW) which can be received in the vicinity of the PHOENIX Halle.

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Aura Research, Honecker's Office, Berlin, 1997

Nina Fischer & Maroan El Sani
Aura Research brings back to the spotlight the Kirlian photography, a high-frequency photography named after Semyon Kirlian and his wife who discovered in the '30s that if an object on a photographic plate is connected to a source of high voltage, small corona discharges (created by the strong electric field at the edges of the object) create a bright luminous aurae on the photographic plate.

Fischer and El Sani took pictures of abandoned rooms which had been maintained throughout time. The site is represented from two viewpoints: colour photography shows the visible, whereas high-frequency photography depicts phenomena that usually remain invisible to the human eye. The photos refer to a 19th century belief that psychological activity generated discharges which could be recorded later. Could former occupants of the room really have left something there?

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Image by Bengt

Kathrin Günter has invented a number of so-called 'intraocular light eye cameras', portable devices consisting of a Polaroid camera back mounted on a small black box which is strapped over the user's head. Günter's Polaroids are thus produced by the light emanating from the sitter's eyes. The resulting picture is influenced by the interferences that occur during the 'transmission' process of the image from the retina to the instant photographic paper. Visitors are invited to wear the camera and record the images that have accumulated in their eyes.

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Kathrin Günter, The Clearing

The exhibition continues until 18 October 2009 at Hartware Medienkunstverein Phoenix Halle, Dortmund, Germany. It is accompanied by a series of film screenings, lectures and workshops. Check out the HMKV website for more details. More images on flickr, Derwesten and HMKV.

Related: Spy Numbers at the Palais de Tokyo, an exhibition inspired by the shortwave radio stations that broadcast artificially generated voices mysteriously reading streams of numbers, words, letters, tunes or Morse code.

I discovered the Art Safari tv series last year. One of the episode was shown in a retrospective of Wim Delvoye's Cloaca Machines at the Casino de Luxembourg. I saw the Murakami episode in a Madrid gallery a few month after. The episodes are fast and witty. Filmmaker Ben Lewis sets to meet some of the most discussed contemporary artists and challenge their work with the kind of provoking questions you can expect from someone who recently penned an article titled Who Put the Con on Contemporary Art? He confronts them with his harmless pair of glasses, soft elocution and the air of a well-meaning student. Lewis has uploaded snippets of the BBC Four series on You Tube but i just discovered that dearest UbuWeb has the full version of a couple of episodes. That doesn't seem to make Lewis weep with happiness but it made me want to buy his DVDs.

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Art Safari goes for flashy, controversial names: Maurizio Cattelan, Takashi Murakami, Matthew Barney, Santiago Sierra, Sophie Calle, Gregor Schneider and Wim Delvoye.

My favourite in the series is Art Safari - Relational Art: Is It An Ism? (2004). Lewis takes a copy of Nicolas Bourriaud's Relational Aesthetics on the road, meet some of the artists of the Relational Art 'movement' (Philippe Parreno, Carsten Hoeller, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Michael Elmgreen & Ingar Dragset) and asks them how they feel about Relational Art and whether this is the new 'ism'.

Ubu also hosts Art Safari: Matthew Barney (2005) which focuses on the Cremaster Cycle and i guess you won't need my introduction on this one.

In the episode dedicated to Takashi Murakami - Toying with Art (Part 1, 2 and 3), Lewis keeps asking critics, curators and collectors what are their theories about Murakami. Is it as superficial as it looks? He doesn't seem much convinced by their savant answers.

Oi! Bonus!

There's also a programme on photographer Andreas Gursky and what it means to live in (or create) a Gursky World.

Image on the homepage: Matthew Barney, The Cremaster Cycle, 1994-2002.

0acartguideeu.jpgContemporary Europe: Art Guide to Europe (amazon USA and UK)

Publisher Hatje Cantz says: Contemporary Europe Art Guide (...) offers the reader a concise, up-to-date- and insightful presentation of European museums, art institutions, galleries, art fairs, biennials, and works of art in public space. It focuses on giving both the knowledgeable insider and the casual novice a brief and easy-to-use synopsis of European art highlights that are musts on the itinerary of anyone interested in contemporary art.

The Guide was written by Mark Gordon, an art professional living in Berlin and Amsterdam where he manages art projects and writes about contemporary art and architecture.

As its title says, Contemporary Europe Art Guide is a guide, not an essay about contemporary art in Europe. There's a drastically short introduction to the book and a series of chapters that review each European country one by one and in alphabetical order. "Europe" is defined as the territory bordered by the Atlantic Ocean (W), the Mediterranean Sea (S), the Turkish Stae (SE) and the Russian State (E), not the European Union.

Half a page describes the situation of contemporary art in a given country. That's a bit of a laconic analysis but a surprisingly accurate one, at least for the dozen of European countries whose art situation i believe i know fairly well. For example (and i'm going to be even more concise than the author of the book here) Italy dedicates so much resources to preservation and restoration that relatively little is left for contemporary art + art institutions are quite often located outside main cities. Or: Arts in Belgium are dominated by the Flemish region but Brussels is raising its head. Meanwhile Wallonia still hasn't acknowledged that we've entered the 21st century a while ago (this last comment comes from me, not from the book!)

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After this brief description of a country's art credentials, comes one page, 40 pages (that's art-savvy Germany of course) or sometimes zero page that list, city by city, the country's non-profit art institutions. No independent art dealer then. As far as i can judge, the list does a remarkable job, apart from a few art spaces that i'm sure will be there in the next edition of the guide. The art institutions are listed in a very succinct way: there's their name, addresses (online and physical one) plus a description of the center focus and activities.

The volume ends with some pretty convenient chapters such as calendars of museums and galleries open days, bienniales and other special exhibitions, prizes, lists of art magazines, art schools and, oh joy!, contemporary art bookstores.

Whether you travel through a country you think you know fairly well or whether you venture into a city where you've never been, the guide is a useful companion. Not the kind of companion that is going to entertain you in the plane and hold your luggage while you take the stairs to get out of the metro. It's just an efficient, polite, handy book. You won't want to take it in the suitcase but you'll be glad to have it around while you're home preparing your trip. I wish i had it already the first time i went to Porto, Krakow and other cities whose airport i don't know by heart already.

I'm off to spend hours on a train to Florence to see Green Platform at the Strozzina cultural center. I'll write something more verbose when i'm back but i'm so slow writer exhibitions are dismounted long before i blog about them. So here. A quick appetizer of an exhibition that takes an interdisciplinary look at environment, ecology and sustainability:

Katie Holten's Excavated Tree created especially for the show.

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Katie Holten, Excavated Tree, 2009. Courtesy the artist. Photo Credit: CCCS, Firenze; Valentina Muscedra

Green Platform runs until July 19, 2009 at Strozzina in Florence.

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One year after the Brussels' exhibition Holy Fire. Art of the Digital Age, Yves Bernard from iMAL and Domenico Quaranta curate a show that, once again, puts a magnifying lens on new media art pieces that have found a place on the contemporary art market.

Titled KIOSK. Artifacts of a Post-Digital Age, their exhibition was one of the highlights of STRP, an art & tech festival which closed last Monday in Eindhoven (NL).

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Golan Levin with Greg Baltus, Opto-Isolator, 2007 (image malicy)

Just like Holy Fire paid an homage to Bruce Sterling's 1996 sci-fi novel, KIOSK alludes to Kiosk, a more recent novel about a Serbian wounded veteran who runs a kiosk where he sells the products of 'the fabricator', a rapid prototyping machine that creates cult objects for a niche of consumers. The title of the show plays therefore with the "collectible" nature of the artworks exhibited. Most of the pieces deserve a write-up but i selected only a few of them. Starting with works that playfully drive viewers back and forth through the digital and the analog worlds.

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Jim Campbell, Home Movies 300-1, 2006-2008 (image malicy)

Jim Campbell is one of those rare artists whose works are at ease with both the media art crowd and those who've never heard of its existence. Case in point with Home Movie. This curtain of 300 LEDs transforms film footage into an abstract and blurry pixilated imagery that is turned away from the viewer, toward the wall. Yet, because of its ability to interpret abstract data and "fill in" the gaps in the information needed to complete an idea, the brain of visitors reconstructs a moving image.

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Driessens & Verstappen, Breed 1.2, 2007

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Driessens & Verstappen, Breed 1.2, 2007 (image malicy)

Erwin Driessens and Maria Verstappen's sculptures provide another engaging take on the theme of the transition from digital to analog. A computer program uses artificial evolution to grow very detailed bronze sculptures that represent virtual mathematical models. The purpose of each growth is to generate by cell division from a single cell a detailed form that can be materialised. On the basis of selection and mutation a code is gradually developed that best fulfills this "fitness" criterion and thus yields a workable form. The virtual designs become tangible artefacts through 3D printing techniques.

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Sakurako Shimizu, Waveform Series, 2007 - 2008

Sakurako Shimizu must be the only jewelry maker who makes accessories that would delight both the girls and their geekiest boyfriends. Her creations laser-cuts digital icons into jewels. The 1981 ATARI Ring is a man's ring featuring a precise cast of the original Atari computer chip out of 18 karat gold; the Waveform Series is the laser-cut shapes of the waveform of the sound in sound editing software environment. The sounds are human sound such as yawn, atchoum, giggle, wow, and the sound of church bell.

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Siebren Versteeg, Dynamic Ribbon Device, 2003

Siebren Versteeg's software art taps into online data streams and news feeds and visualizes them in the style of corporate brands that pervade information. Dynamic Ribbon Device transforms the real time world news feed from press agency AP news into Coke's white typography that slowly passes through a red plasma screen covered by the same droplets you'd find on a can of soda fresh from the fridge.

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Marius Watz, Grid Distortion, 2008 (image malicy)

Grid Distortion, by Marius Watz, is a series of laser cut plywoods showing orderly grids that have been gradually distorted until the lines cracked and bent. Under pressure, the two dimensions become three, the lattice looking like bubbles as they emerge towards the viewer.

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Mark Napier, Sacred Code (Old Testament), 2003

Mark Napier has created algorithms that read The Old Testament as if it were a stream of zeroes and ones. The artwork, called Sacred Code, literally translates the stream of bits into motion: two calligraphic marks, one black and one white, chase one another in a seemingly endless dance on screen, leaving behind faint trails. In the process, a binary world is represented as a cloud of shifting shades of gray. The work is presented on a wood podium as if it were only waiting for a priest to come and read out loud the digital Bible to the congregation.

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Björn Schülke, Supersonic #2, 2008

Somewhat different from the other pieces, Björn Schülke Supersonic #2 looks like a mysterious navel from outer-space and indeed emits the kind of low frequency sounds often associated with '50s science-fiction movies. The dark glossy object houses a theremin which responds to the proximity of a viewer, emitting a range of bass frequency notes.

Da video:

More images over here and on Malicy flickr set.

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