Today we're much more accustomed to this kind of storytelling device, most recently in J.J. Adams' Star Trek in which the two Spocks even make fun of the notion of the temporal paradox which is one of the motifs of the original Back to the Future.
However, outside of science fiction narratives, audiences still appear to be having a hard time with speculation about different pasts and futures. Or maybe it is not like that at all. Theoretical physics is obviously very invested in the notion of multiple universes and remarkably the financial industry as well, as speculation and insurance are trades which are purely about the future. And there is speculative design, most visibly represented by Dunne & Raby and Design Interactions at the RCA in London, which in turn is linked to scenario techniques that stem from the Cold War and places like RAND Corporation.
Chan goes a step further and in the text that accompanies the exhibition suggests that the whole Western world has seemingly been infected by this notion of a non-linear destiny which can, or must be shaped. Famously, in his metaphysical reasoning for war, Donald Rumsfeld has been the most recent one to "expose a world in which science fiction and reality collide to bewildering effect" when he was going on about known unknowns: "There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know"
The show Back to the Future explores the role of art in this conundrum. It is a selection of artistic time machines which, each in very different ways, are attempting to "allow time, history and causality to be continually renewed". A few favorites:
The first thing to see is a huge, colorful painting by Michel Kunze titled Morgen which, by referring to the tradition of the Mandala hints at the representation of time as an almost endless circle of reincarnations. A much more worldly take on the subject is Ignacio Uriarte's 60 seconds, a circle of sixty classic Casio watches which are all linked by their wristbands.
At the day of the opening, the watches were set to exactly the same time, albeit being each one second faster than the watch before and slower than the next one respectively. One can step inside the installation and be inside one minute, so to speak, and it is also reminiscent of time-zones and their artificial nature. Since the Casios have their characteristic hourly beep-beep switched on, the piece becomes a sound-sculpture each hour, with the minute literally moving around the person who is in the center. However, over the time-span of the exhibition the deliberate asynchronicity between the watches had already deteriorated to the point where I initially perceived it as randomness, exposing the fact that an artifact we regard as fairly precise actually is not.
Jeremy Shaw showed a video piece which focuses exactly on the initially mentioned visual culture of science fiction. His This Transition Will Never End #2 is an edit of a great number of time and space travel sequences from movies over the decades. It's an endless jump which effortlessly reveals the visual language around something that does not exist yet has arrived at its place in popular imagination.
Oliver Laric's piece Versions, of which you can watch different versions, stands conceptually at the center of the topic of the show as Carson was explaining. It looks at recent examples of popular memes and how the idea of authorship and the notion of the original is being obliterated before our eyes. What used to be news, evidence or entertainment is all becoming parts of a complex network of interconnections between senders and recipients of information.
On the example of an image, like Iran's infamous photoshopped missiles, Versions talks about in the beginning, gets created and manipulated, then distributed. However, this only triggers another burst of anonymously authored image manipulation in which many additional versions are being created and also distributed. But, and this is the interesting part, what comes closest to the old notion of the real image will often be determined by the fact which one shows up on top on Google, mainly linked to its popularity. And this, to make it even more complex will also change over time. Welcome to the visual world of Rumsfeldian logic where known knowns are in fact long gone.
Cyprien Gaillard's Belief in the Age of Disbelief is a series of 17th Century Dutch landscape etchings in which modernist buildings have been inserted to form an uncannily, almost romantic whole. The architecture, which was once the subject of idealistic visions of the future by the likes of Le Corbusier, has obviously undergone great changes in the way it has been perceived in the past, with a recent wave of appreciation for buildings such as Trellick Tower in London. Nature one could argue, is undergoing the same shifts in perception, although on a much longer time frame, rendering the combination of both quite peculiar as they could be pictures from a utopian future as well as reclaimed ruins from an age gone by.
A favorite was Warren Neidlich's The Battle of Chicamauga, which belongs to his five-part alternate history series (1986-2001) American History Reinvented. The exhibited piece consists of a number of faded historical aerial photographs of the battle of the same name that took place 1863 in the state of Georgia during the American civil war. The little thing that does not make sense, however, is the fact that at the time there were no airplanes, because the first manned flight had only taken place on December 17th 1903.
In truth, the photographs were taken from a rented plane during a present-day reenactment of the battle, something that according to Neidlich is a favorite past-time for many Americans. He had the photo developed and then went back to the reenactment in order to have the modern prints reproduced as tintypes, the state-of-the-art technology at the time which has become very rare today. The "webs of contradictions" in this and other pieces from the series ask the question of what the past would have been like "if the news media of today, with all their intrusive glitz and certitude, had been around when some of the most important events in American history took place" hinting at that all history has always been technological mediated.
I can always trust C/O Berlin to enliven a dull Sunday. I didn't look at the programme, i simply paid the entrance fee and entered a retrospective of wowe 's portraits. After a mere 5 minutes, i caught myself reading the captions instead of watching the photographies. All was not lost though. The more modest 'studio' section of C/O Berlin hosts a fascinating Jerry Berndt . Insight . Night Photographs.
Dimly lit barrooms, shop windows long after the last client has gone, prostitutes teasing passersby and back alleys. These are moments and places that might sound darker than the night itself but the photographer managed to imbue sins and despair with some tenderness.
Among the works on show in the exhibitions are photos from the Combat Zone series (1967-1970) that portray Boston's red light district. Berndt worked there on assignment for Harvard Medical School's "Laboratory of Community Psychiartry" to document hookers, their pimps and more generally the conflict between African Americans and whites.
Another series, Barroom, brought Berndt back to his childhood. "I grew up in my father's bar room in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I learned to read by putting empty beer bottles into the right boxes..." The b&w series shows bar rooms and strip clubs in the USA of the 60s and 70s.
Finally Nite Works is almost devoid of human beings. The protagonists are shopping strips, back streets, movie theaters, sidewalks when all activity has disappeared and only artificial light and shop window mannequins set the nocturnal mood.
Until 15.02.09 at C/O Berlin
Notes from the Re-Imagining Asia exhibition at The House of World Cultures in Berlin. The exhibition and other events, curated by Wu Hung and Shaheen Merali, examine how contemporary artists around the world re-invent the image we might have of Asia and the way in which the post-colonial production of knowledge is challenging Euro-centric concepts of art.
Asian art has reached a point where it is almost too hot to handle. New museums and art biennials are popping up all over the continent, the price paid to get a piece of Chinese art are going through the roof and Indian paintings and installations are exhibited all over Europe. Asian art is now so hype that one might think that another exhibition will just kill the enthusiasm. Well, this one won't. The works on show have not been selected for the artists' origins but for their focus on Asia as a space for the imagination. There are Chinese, Indian, Thai and Japanese artists but they are joined by Mexican, Germans and American artists.
As you enter the foyer of the House of World Cultures, you meet with Song Dong's installation Waste Not. It is nothing else but his parents' wooden house, which fell victim to urban planning in China. He reconstructed the house together with its entire inventory, a collection of utensils of all kinds accumulated by the artist's mother over a period of 50 years and offering a picture of 50 years of material culture in China. It is hard to imagine how several tv sets, so many kitchen utensils, books, old shoes, toys, buckets, plastic bags, ballpoint pens, cupboards, etc could fit into the tiny dwelling.
Song Dong grew up in Beijing. His mother taught him how to make the most of few resources, recycling, re-allocating and saving utensils for future use. The socialist motto was: 'Waste not'. The shabby borough he lived in has been cleared away for the Olympics a few years ago, but the government neglected to replace the old houses, so there is now an empty area.
On it Song Dong would like to build another wooden house in the traditional style as a call for the preservation of old Beijing.
Besides offering visitors a picture of Beijing life, the installation has relieved his mother of the dead weight of half a century and has done so without making her feel that her hoarding was futile. In fact she fulfilled the role of an artist herself by preparing the show. And each of her mundane and utilitarian objects has been elevated to the status of artwork.
The work presents an "archive of the Chinese Revolution" in 3 parts: Mao and the Revolution, Heroes and the Masses, People's Pictorial Archive. By presenting side by side unaltered photographies from original negatives and the images as they appeared in the media at the time, the installation shows how deliberate distortion of images became an essential mechanism of photo production, a way to satisfy a yearning for an idealized image and a propaganda tool. Long before the arrival of computer and photoshop. The methods used in the editing of these images involve mainly painting: a wrinkle between Mao's eyebrows vanishes, superfluous figures in the background are erased. (more images of Zhang Dali.)
And in no particular order:
The Bohdi Obfuscatus (Space Baby) by Michael Joo embodies perfectly the tensions and harmonies between novelty and tradition. In an homage to Nam June Paik, Joo borrowed a Korean Buddha from a local shrine and encased it in a halo of surveillance cameras, Fiber-optic lights cast projections onto flat TV screens while mirrors, mounted on poles that surround the sculpture, reflect images from the video displays, the Buddha sculpture and visitors as they walk around the installation.
Ujino Muneteru was in the house two. I only got to see the Ozone - So installation, a wooden temple turned into a tank and adorned with waste material, such as electric appliances, plush toys, bits of carpet, building materials and books collected around Tokyo by volunteers.
There was also the video of a musical performance Muneteru gave in Berlin. He played with blenders, hair dryers, parts of bicycles, used vinyl discs, turntables, not only was it fascinating to see him handle all this junk but it also sounded surprisingly good.
Shi Jinsong's razor-sharp line of baby products include a militarized Carriage, a sadistic Cradle and a predatory Walker. Na Zha Baby Boutique (Na Zha is a child warrior deity in Chinese mythology) tries to lure "shoppers" using stainless steel "products" which evoke both luxury and danger.
Bharti Kher's bindi-on-fiberglass elephant. The bindi in India is traditionally a mark of pigment applied to the forehead of men and women and is associated with the Hindu symbol of the 'third eye'. When worn by women in red, the bindi symbolises marriage. In recent times it has become a decorative item, worn by unmarried girls and women of other religions.
Bharti Kher covered her sculpture of a dying elephant in white bindi. The elephant is often regarded in Asia as a symbol of dignity, intelligence and strength. Kher marries the elephant and the bindi to contemplate the effects of popular culture, mass media and consumerism on the culture of India.
During the Middle Age and Renaissance tapestries had a role similar to the one wallpapers have today. You would not use them as carpet and just throw them on the floor, no no no, you would hang them on the walls to decorate the room, insulate the walls of your castle during winter, and delight your guests. Kings and noblemen would roll up and transport tapestries from one residence to another.
Margret Eicher has revamped the old tradition of the gobelins tapestry (which dates back to the 15th century but keeps receiving some attention from contemporary artists) except that instead of hand-embroidered tapestries, sewed by skilled craftsmen/craftswomen, the tapestries are refined industrial products, woven by a computer.
Scenes depicted in the Gobelins were usually inspired from famous paintings or religious art. Eicher remained truthful to this inspiration and uses the pillars of modern days religion and visual culture -TV series, video game and luxury- to set the scene of her tapestries.
The three large-format tapestries exhibited until May 17 at the [DAM] gallery in Berlin, show different aspects of femininity. Desperate Housewives Bree, Gabrielle, Suzan, Linette and Edie hold freshly-baked cookies and show their best profile, on another tapestry high-heeled ladies wrapped and coiffed in fur defiantly look at you and on the third one young couples frolic under the bored gaze of Lara Croft.
Eicher's digitally woven collages compile pictures with a political background with sexy D&G style advertisement found in the pages of glossy fashion magazines to realize astute portraits of our times.
Previously at [DAM]Berlin : A conversation about exhibiting and selling digital fine art and Generator x - Beyond the Screen.
Digital technologies like rapid prototyping, laser cutting and CNC milling enable digital artists, designers and architects to step out of the screen and produce atoms from bits, eliminating many of the limitations of industrial production processes. The technologies are becoming increasingly accessible, pointing to a future where mass customization and manufacturing-on-demand may finally offer alternatives to mass production.
When i went to the opening of the show i was lucky enough to be able to ask the designers and artists a few questions in order to understand what was before my eyes. However, the pieces are beautiful enough to make the trip to Tucholskystrasse worth your time. Besides, people in the gallery will be happy to answer your questions.
Imho this is probably the best show in town right now. Demonstration in 3 steps:
A Week in the life is a 3D visualisation of telecommunications data made of cardboard. The data sculpture represents Andreas Nicolas Fischer's movement around his home city, Berlin, and the communications he made with his mobile phone in one week.
The aim of the project is to draw attention to the German telecommunications data retention act (Vorratsdatenspeicherung) and the breach of privacy it constitutes. The law requires the telecommunications providers to store the connection data of all customers for 6 months and to make it available to law enforcement agencies upon request.
What can be read from the sculpture is Andreas' position in the city through the cell sites he used. The density of the cell sites reflects the speed and frequency of his movement within the city. The more often he visited a place, the more cell sites were added to the map.
To get the information for the data set, the designer wrote a software for his mobile phone which recorded all the coordinates of the antennae, which he then converted to latitude and longitude. The data collected was parsed with a processing sketch and transformed into a 3d model.
"I then took the model in rhino and contoured it into horizontal and vertical 2d layers, explains Andreas. 'Then i set the intersections and cleaned the vectors in illustrator. After that i cut the individual parts with the lasercutter. The assembly took me about a day (even though having labeled each part individually beforehand). After that i added two coats of white model paint. "
Based on the Aperiodic series, one of their earlier experimentations, Aperiodic_vertebrae
They were assembled by hand over what must have been a very long afternoon...
Foldable fractal, a work by David Dessens. I discovered more of his work during the talk he gave last month at a symposium organized by Marius Watz.
The show is running at the DAM Gallery Berlin until March 8.
The Generator X - Beyond the Screen event i mentioned earlier involved a series of talks by artists, architects and designers. I went to the second evening of public presentations, liked everything i saw and heard but i'll just focus on a few projects mentioned by Aram Bartholl (here's his website but it's his blog that gets my vote) because 1. i had missed all his other talks so far and 2. haha! i've lost the notes i took during the other talks.
Sascha posted a write-up of a talk Aram gave almost a year ago about the way his work looks for connections between the virtual world and the physical one so i'll just take the story from here and focus on the artist's latest projects.
Chat, presented at ars electronica, the 24th Chaos Communication Congress and more recently at Club Transmediale is a mobile performance that allows 2 participants to send each other text messages, like in World of Warcraft or Second Life. As soon as they've been entered, the texts appear in comic-strip-like balloons above the speaker's head.
In 3D worlds, chatting contrasts with chat "rooms" as the online form of conversation has been re-endowed with a spatial dimension: the typed-in message appears in a dialogue bubble above the avatar's head and follows their proxy on its way through the virtual world. Other players within a certain range can read these messages and, in turn, can type an answer on their own bubble. Chat translates this form of conversation into the physical, public sphere.
Aram reminded how much is about money in Second Life and how this might explain its success. In the vitual island, you can make money out of data thanks to the digital right managements embedded into the game.
For the Second City project that ars electronica commissioned him last Summer, Aram invited other artists and turned a part of a deserted shopping street into an exhibition space that was focusing on physical representations of the virtual world.
One of the projects developed in Marienstrassen allowed passersby to walk in a "shopping panel" and buy a Trabi or any other good for their avatar and get a laser cut plastic token in the shape of the object purchased as a receipt
Another project part of Second City was Export to World. Created by Linda Kostowski and Sascha Pohflepp, the workshop commented ironically on the design and production of merchandise in virtual worlds. Their shop offered custom-made or purchased virtual objects. Shoppers would enter and buy the object of their choice at a price determined daily by the current Linden dollar/euro exchange rate. Instead of seeing the good suddenly appearing in their inventory, purchasers would receive a 2D paper representation of it which they could manually cut and shape into a 3D model of that object. The final results are paper representations of digital representations of real objects, including all the flaws that copying entails.
The Bubbagum machine was particularly impressive as this real photography seemed to have been photoshop'd. It wasn't, that's the real effect of a paper virtual bubble gum machine. Not sure i'm expressing myself very clearly here...
Anyway, Aram ended his presentation with this slide of a project he is working on: WoW weapons which he plans to carry around the city. Just the thought of such a performance taking place somewhere in Curry Wurst Paradise makes me say once again that this city is the best place on earth.