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'.
'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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Nina Fischer & Maroan El Sani
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?
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.
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.
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'.
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.
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.
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!)
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:
Green Platform runs until July 19, 2009 at Strozzina in Florence.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I've never had any interest in football (that's soccer for you, American friendz.) Never ever. I come from a country that never won any championship (and if they ever did, i still don't care), i find men in shorts a rather pathetic affair and i just don't get sport on tv anyway. There's been only one exception to the rule until last week and it was Eric Cantona.
Check out his famous kung fu kick and seagull morale, especially the seagull:
But to be honest with you, i had never heard of him until he started doing commercials on tv.
And hop! Another one. Isn't he wonderful?
They don't do men like this anymore, do they?
Last week my interest in football woke up. I went to the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven (NL) to see Zidane, A 21st Century Portrait. Most of you have probably seen the film. It's out in DVD and was touring film theatres and art museums a couple of years ago. I only saw it last week and i doubt i'll get to see anything better in a long time. It might sound cheesy but just watching the trailer brings tears in my eyes:
Artists Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno had 17 cameras follow Zinédine Zidane on 23 April 2005, during a match between Spanish clubs Real Madrid and Villarreal in Madrid. Gordon and Parreno made a montage of all these recordings, forming a 90-minute long video portrait of Zidane. In the installation, they show this compilation alongside the full length broadcast of the game.
If you're anywhere in the area of Eindhoven, you know where to spend one hour and a half of your precious time.