In 2009 writer and filmmaker Arnold van Bruggen and photographer Rob Hornstra embarked on the Sochi Project, a five year enterprise to map out the area of and around Sochi (Krasnodar Krai, Russia), a small city on the Black Sea that will host the 2014 Winter Olympics. The duo will document the changes the city undergoes while it is getting ready for the Olympics.

The choice of this location is surprising, to say the least. This subtropical coastal area has exceptionally mild winters by Russian standards (average 11 °C (52 °F) during the day and 4 °C (39 °F) at night in the period from December to March). Besides, it lacks any kind of facilities and infrastructure to host the event.

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Abkhazian refugees living on the fields where the skating stadions will be built. Image credit: Rob Hornstra

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Old cemetery around which the skating facilities will be built. Photo credit: Rob Hornstra

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Photo credit: Rob Hornstra

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Sochi Centre. Photo credit: Rob Hornstra

The choice is not just surprising it is also extremely controversial. Greenpeace Russia is particularly worried about the environmental impact of the construction work inside a national park. To top it all, the Games are going to take place in Russia's most unstable region. A few hundred kilometres away are the breakaway republics Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan. And just a few kilometres away is Abkhazia.

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Image, copyright Rob Hornstra, The Sochi Project, designed in association with Kummer & Herrman

An exhibition titled Mutations III, currently on view at the Berlinische Galerie, shows one of the first chapters of The Sochi Project And in particular a newspaper-cum-exhibition presenting life in Krasny Vostok. The village is barely 200 kilometres away from Sochi, but it appears to still have one foot in the 19th century, still partially without gas and electricity.

A village like so many in Russia. Where the population is dwindling; where industry and activity are disappearing; where a handful of people are attempting to prevent the decline; where Moscow's politics trickle through slowly; where every day is a struggle to keep the village hanging on. Only when you are familiar with this kind of village, we believe, can you get to know this region better.

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Krasny Vostok, RUSSIA, 2010 - 'In the past every part of the animal was used,' says Aibasov, the occasional butcher. 'We don't do that any more.' Image credit: Rob Hornstra

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Krasny Vostok, RUSSIA, 2010 - The dog is thrown the entrails of a slaughtered sheep. Image credit: Rob Hornstra

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Krasny Vostok, RUSSIA, 2009 - Everything in the school still looks neat and tidy, as if you have travelled back in time to the Soviet Union. The village's war history is displayed in the corridors on the second floor. The walls of the German classroom are lavishly painted. Image credit: Rob Hornstra

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Krasny Vostok, RUSSIA, 2010 - Sometimes the children are allowed to organise a disco. The oldest then stand on the stage, and the boldest ask the prettiest girls to dance. What follows is an exhausting whirlwind in which the two spin around each other but never touch. The man swaggers, the woman seduces. Image credit: Rob Hornstra

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Krasny Vostok, RUSSIA, 2010 - In the evening, the older boys drive around together or wash their Zhigulis in the river. The ones who do not yet have a car hang around in the town hall's playground. Girls generally all stay inside. Image credit: Rob Hornstra

The series about Krasny Vostok is called On the Other Side of the Mountain, you can view more photos online.

Because Hornsta and van Bruggen believe that the Games themselves, and all the area surrounding Sochi deserve a sustained and in-depth coverage, the pair request donations from the public for the crowdfunding of a project whose scale is impossible for the mass media. They call it slow journalism. Please support their project by donating.

Photo on the homepage: Matsesta, RUSSIA, 2009 - Dima has burns on his legs. He is being treated with sulfide-chloride-sodium water in the healing complex of the Matsesta spa. Image credit: Rob Hornstra

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Landed in Berlin yesterday, almost lost the will to live when i understood that the cold wind which welcomed me with a slap in the face would be my companion for the rest of the week and started running around the city to find solace in art galleries. While i'm trying to put a simulacra of order in the photos and paper press materials i collected, here's a one-photo peak at what i've seen today:

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Cyrill Lachauer, Trickster, 2011

The work is part of the exhibition Without a Trace, on view at the Jette Rudolph gallery until February 19, 2011.

Talk to you soon...

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Berliner Luft by Benjamin Tafel and Dennis Orel (available on Amazon UK and USA.)

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Publisher Hatje Cantz Verlag writes: Cavalry captain and riding games, Coziness Colony, Mariendorf trotting professionals, Zehlendorf glazes, boarding in Eden House, Erich Mielke's house plant, hurdy-gurdy man and curry sausages on Alex, Neverland in Plänterwald, prêt-à-porter in Wedding, Dad's old basement party room, Clärchen's Knallhaus, massages with happy end, Kreuzberg bunker beans, Leydicke's bitter orange schnaps, fetish in Spandau, Paradox Ball at Cafe Keese, Kreuzberg nights, KaDeWe and caviar. All of these new and unusual motifs-and more-in the idiosyncratic language of photographers Benjamin Tafel (*1977) and Dennis Orel (*1978), with authentic commentary and observations on location all around the capital of Germany.

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Haus des Berliner Verlags

Nothing makes me happier than a new stack of books for review landing on my doorstep:

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I think we've established by now that everyone loves Berlin. Berliner Luft will make you love it even more.

Although the book is first and foremost a photography book, whispers, snippets of conversations between tourists, anecdotes, scenes, accompany the images and capture the spirit of the city better than any guide could ever do.

In East Berlin, prisoners on their way to the detention center of the Ministry for State Security were secretly transported on a delivery truck marked with the words "fresh fish." The shadow of East Berlin is everywhere, even in potted plants.

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PanAm Lounge

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Potsdamer Platz

The book presents people and places, architecture, moods, clichés and secrets. Berliner Luft skips the hipsters, fancy fashion showrooms and international art galleries. The focus is rather on the decadent, peerless Berlin that smells of curry sausages, dances the discofox in the afternoon, hears the muezzin call from the tarmac of Tempelhof airport (R.I.P.), and parties in bleak former power stations.

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Club Avalon

I'm quite amazed at the number of fetish clubs that the authors have visited btw. Should you wish to drop by any of them, Tafel and Orel provide the precise address of each bar, abandoned radar station, Russian delicatessen, Imbiss, S&M joint, or park they have photographed.

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Views inside the book

The book reminds us also that campy kingdom lurks behind every corner. Just 3 words to sustain my point "Old Town Texas"!

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Airport Tempelhof

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Tiergarten

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Stuttgarter Platz

GaMe!, a group exhibition you can check out until March 24 at the [DAM] gallery in Berlin, presents positions by six international artists on the subject of computer games and electronic toys.

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Todd Deutsch, a.k.a. KillerJ00, 2005

The show is rather small but it covers a surprisingly large spectrum of game art practices. More importantly, GaMe! is one of those rare exhibitions about game art which favours the artistic approach over the more accessible attractions of playfulness and interactivity.

You'll understand immediately my point when i tell you that one of the games on show is all about mania, melancholia, and the creative process. The unassuming 8-bit graphics and very straightforward gameplay of Jason Rohrer's Gravitation offers a striking contrast to the poignant challenge that the player has to face: find the right balance -if there's one- between family life and creative achievement.

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Jason Rohrer, Gravitation, 2008, computer game

In order to get the stars (your own projects to develop) from the sky, you have to play ball with your kid to expand your view of a screen (aka the outside world) which is mostly dark at the beginning of the game. The higher you can jump, the more you get to discover the screen/outside world. The music closely adapts to your choices. Becoming either more cheerful as your vision of the world expands or colder as it shrinks back to black. As destructoid explains: Grabbing a star causes it to fall back to your home area (home life), where it becomes a difficult-to-move stone with a timer on it. Pushing a star stone into a fireplace earns you the amount of points still remaining on the stone (the quality of an idea deteriorates over time). Getting more than one star at once causes the star stones to build up, separating you from your son, whom you ironically need to play with in order to get more stars. Ultimately, the game shows that pursuing creative exploits both requires and alienates the people you love. Conversely, dedicating all your attention to your child means that your creative fervor will burn out. The morale of the story hurts but the work -which btw is autobiographical- was a great discovery for me.

Gravitation is available as a free download.

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Mark Essen, The Thrill of Combat, 2009, computer game

The Thrill of Combat, by Mark Essen, is much more fast-paced but not less atypical.

The player (or players) controls organ hunters aboard a helicopter with the goal to harvest a number of hearts, lungs, livers, kidneys, pancreata, and intestines. The organs don't just lie around for you. You have to kill their owner first from the helicopter. When you've massacred enough people, you jump in parachute and start to open the corpses and remove the organs you need to complete your list of vital body parts. While keeping tabs on the helicopter. The Thrill of Combat is heartless, cynical, and submersed into a seducing block-coloured urban landscape.

I was more familiar with the work of the other artists invited to participate to the show:
Joan Leandre is showing the film In the name of Kernel Series - Lonely Record Sessions, Tale of Tales presents the eerie and incredibly alluring game The Graveyard, Todd Deutsch's Gamers ignore you superbly while France Cadet brought her wild robotic hunting trophies, the rocking Gaude Mihi and a series of serigraphs detailing her 'genetically-modified' robots.

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France Cadet, Panthera Pardus, series Hunting Trophies, 2008

GaMe! is open until March 24 at the [DAM] gallery in Berlin.

Another game art exhibition currently open is Playlist - Playing Games, Music, Art at Laboral in Gijón, Spain.

Related entries: France Cadet solo show at the gallery numeriscausa in Paris; Homo Ludens Ludens - A conversation with curator Daphne Dragona; Book: Trigger Happy for free, etc.

Here's something for your eyes to munch on if you're Berlin bound this month:

Armin Linke's Future Archaeologies photographs explore how some contemporary places and building structures can be regarded as 'archaeologies of the future', modern artefacts subject to slow-fading decay. This snapshot of a progress that never took the road it was supposed to follow triggers the question: 'How long will it be before our own idea of modernity gets stranded in a dead end?'

An exhibition particularly interesting to visit in the light of last week's Transmediale conference whose theme was "Futurity Now".

To visit the gallery you have to climb up the first floor, the stairs have that pleasant and old fashioned smell of wax and spicy perfume for gentlemen. Open the door to the luminous white gallery and meet...

a display of tired stuffed apes at the Zoological Museum in Florence,

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Museum of Zoology and Natural History, La Specola, Firenze, Italy, 2008

the interior of the MIR space-station simulator in Moscow,

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Star City ZPK, MIR Simulator, Moscow, Russia, 1998

a modernist monument in Kosturnica, Macedonia,

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Kosturnica, Monument to Local Victims in WWII, Prilep, Macedonia, 2009

a bedsheet acting as a cinema screen in a village somewhere in China,

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Cinema Screen, Guiyu China, 2005

the illegal Israeli settlement Har Homa in the West Bank,

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Homat Shmuel - Har Homa Settlement Bethlehem, West Bank, 2007

"These are real Science Fiction scenarios, constructed man-made utopias, hurling their absurdities at the viewer," says the press release for the show. The most literal example comes from the Shrine of the Book, a wing of The Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Built in the '50s, its dome looks like the ideal set for science fiction movies.

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Frederick Kiesler, Armand Bartos, Israel Museum, The Shrine of the Book, Jerusalem, Israel, 2008

Linke's photographs poetically document globalization effects and complex interrelations of the idea of modernity with inherent structures of violence and colonialism.

The gallery also screens a video in 3D. Nuclear Voyage travels inside inactive nuclear power stations and waste sites. The slow and ordinary gestures that the last people working there perform are at odds with the James Bond-like world of wonder that nuclear used to embody.

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Nuclear Voyage, 2008, 3D film, blue-ray disc, sound: Renato Rinaldi, 10:22 min, Ed.: 1/5 + 2AP (film still)

The choice of filming and screening using 3-D technology nails the idea even further. The 3D aesthetics and the god-awful glasses one has to wear to follow the movie offer an ironic comment on the renewed hype regarding spatial viewing of images (i just read that LG predicts that 30 million people will buy 3-D TV sets by 2012), the spectacle of which had already been celebrated as photography's great promise in the 19th century with the advent of stereoscopy.

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Nuclear Voyage, 2008

Future Archaeologies runs at the at Klosterfelde Gallery in Berlin until March 6, 2010.

A show you don't want to miss if you're in Berlin before the end of April. Just make sure you avoid weekend afternoons or it's Long Queue party for you!

At first glance Walton Ford's animal watercolour paintings look like harmless illustrations made by French and British colonial-era illustrators. Until you look closer and realize how cruel the world depicted is.

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Walton Ford, An Encounter with Du Chaillu, 2009. © Walton Ford

A beautiful panther has escaped from the zoo and villagers are trying to kill it, an Orangutan is serenely strangling a parrot, a gorilla commits suicide using the gun of a hunter it has just killed, a (now extinct) elephant bird of Madagascar stands distressingly on one leg as the other is impeded by the rope that a hunter has tied around its body and beak. It's animal kingdom at its fiercest. You almost wish you didn't have to witness any of those scenes but then the images are so beautiful, you proceed to the next one.

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Walton Ford, Madagascar, 2002. Courtesy of Paul Kasmin Gallery

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Walton Ford, Chingado, 1998. © Walton Ford, Courtesy Paul Kasmin Gallery

The lions, birds, wolves, primates and other 'wildlife' animals never come on their own. They are accompanied by symbols, allusions and clues alluding to texts from colonial literature, folktales, travel guides or even classics from American literature. In Ford's watercolours, natural history meets political commentary in an erudite and visually spectacular way. The images satirize colonialism, politics, slavery, natural science, and man's impact on nature.


Walton Ford, The Sensorium, 2003. © Walton Ford

"There is so much science and popular interest regarding animals - like the Animal Planet shows and field research," Ford told The Local. "But that's of no interest to me. I don't care how gorillas behave in nature, but how people could come up with something like King Kong - how they could develop that kind of fear and terror, and we could come to accept him as an icon of nature."

Ford's images are accompanied by a brief text which sometimes reveal the meaning or story behind the painting and sometimes only deepens its mystery. Example:


Walton Ford, Thurneysser's Demon, 2008. Courtesy the artist and Paul Kasmin Gallery

Thurneysser presented also to Basel, his native city, a large elk, which had been given to him by Prince Radziwil; but the good Baselers looed upon the strange animal as a most dangerous demon, and a pious old woman finally rid the town of the dreaded beast by feeding it with an apple stuck full of broken needles. The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals by E.P. Evans, 1906.

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Walton Ford, Scipio and the Bear, 2007. Courtesy the artist and Paul Kasmin Gallery

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Walton Ford, Royal Menagerie at the Tower of London - 3 December 1830, 2009. © Walton Ford

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Walton Ford, Baba - B.G., 1997. © Walton Ford, Courtesy Paul Kasmin Gallery

Ford is fairly popular and well-known in the United States but less so in Europe. Walton Ford - Bestiarium which opened recently at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin is his first solo exhibition in Europe.

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All my pictures.

Whitehot Magazine has an interview with Walton Ford. Video portrait of the artist.

Walton Ford - Bestiarium runs until April 24, 2010 at the Nationalgalerie im Hamburger Bahnhof - Museum für Gegenwart, Berlin.

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