A few weeks ago i was in Brussels for The Digital Now, the first thematic exhibition of a series produced by Cimatics, that explores relevant artifacts within the current artistic context and media art related discourse.
The first chapter in this series, 'Drones / Birds: Princes of Ubiquity', looks into autonomous technology through the lens of birds as objects reflecting our contemporary relation with technology.
The bird has long been seen as a symbol of freedom, communication, transborder mobility but also as an indicator of environmental change. However, much of the bird physical and spiritual significance has been lost on the way to and from the industrial revolution. But according to Bram Crevits, curator of 'Drones / Birds: Princes of Ubiquity', digital culture has brought birds back to the fore. Or maybe it's the birds which have forced their way into our techno-mediated world. Think Twitter of course. And birds incorporating ringtones into their repertoire so effortlessly that Richard Schneider of the NABU bird conservation centre in Germany suggested that, in the interests of ecology, mobile phone users convert their tones to pop songs which are too complex to be mimicked by the birds. Woodpeckers attacking CCTV cameras. Or confused birds trapped into the twin columns of light shot into the sky each year on September 11 in New York. The bright memorial short circuits some of the cues that birds use when they are migrating at night. And then there's drone watching as the new bird watching. And drones counting birds.
The relevance of drones -or Unmanned Arial Vehicles- in relation to birds is more than purely formal or anecdotal. Another source of inspiration for the exhibition is indeed the New Aesthetic and the focus on the ways we experience our digital condition: always on, always there. Drones have been related to this New Aesthetic debate ever since it started.
Part of the exhibition was located at the Botanique. Christoph De Boeck & Patricia Portela installed invisible birds inside the greenhouse. Sensors measure the dynamics of wind and light harvested by the plants during their photosynthetic process, and translates it into bird sounds. When there is human movement in the garden a financial algorithm (similar to the ones used in a speculation economic market) interprets the variation of the received data and transforms and remaps the natural garden soundscape to which plants seem most profitable in that split second.
However, most of the works were in a gallery hidden inside a tunnel. It took me ages and a couple of panicked phone calls to find it. The show was pretty exciting though because instead of showing only artworks and building up the usual art&tech discourse around it, the curator chose to insert the works into a broader context that included the political and the downright popular.
For example, two videos demonstrated the impact that unmanned aerial vehicles have on every day life in Pakistan.
On the one hand, a video shot by Noor Behram outside his house in North Waziristan, the footage shows a reaper drone flying over Waziristan. For more than five years, Behram has been documenting drone attacks in Pakistan's tribal areas, the hub of the CIA's remote assassination program.
Trevor Paglen interviewed Behram a while ago: "[The few places where I have been able to reach right after the attack were a terrible sight" he explains, "One such place was filled with human body parts lying around and a strong smell of burnt human flesh. Poverty and the meagre living standards of inhabitants is another common thing at the attack sites." Behram's photographs are miles away from official American reports that deny civilian casualties from drone attacks: "I have come across some horrendous visions where human body parts would be scattered around without distinction, those of children, women, and elderly."
Pop song Za Kaom Pa Stargo Stargo Drone Hamla" (My gaze is as fatal as a drone attack) shows the other hand of the spectrum, where the increasing appearance of unmanned vehicles over the skies of Pakistan (see data viz Drone war: every attack in Pakistan visualised for more details) inspires little more than the lyrics of a song:
'Drones / Birds: Princes of Ubiquity' was thus full of contrasts. One moment, you were reflecting on surveillance technologies, next you were laughing (the suitors of the frantic singer are peerless.)
I'm now going to revert to my usual "throw as many images and projects in their face" mode and leave you with a few works i've (re) discovered in the show:
Subtwitter is a free application that scans subtitle-files (.srt) of a film and replaces them with similar tweets. The application uses the original subtitle-file of a movie or series of your choice, then looks into each separate sentence of the subtitle and crawls the twittyverse for a similar tweets. The result are --sometimes absurd and sometimes witty- subtitles that consist of computationally associated tweets.
A microphone picks up and amplifies the sound of woodworms eating their way through a piece of wood. Temperature, humidity and other environmental qualities determine how the wood worms dig their tunnels and 'play' the piece of wood.
The Pussy Drones gifs trigger a new form of discourse between the webbased experience (lolzcat, memes, gifs) and historically closed systems of the patriarchal structures which control the physical world. That is to suggest drones are merely 'unmaned' cocks controlled by (finding) pussy.
In theory the democratic nature of the internet should allow everyone to create equally, controlling its code at an open root p2p level. Yet the internet net art, the very essence of the web (programming, the code structure itself) is still ruled by men and corporations who control and own it in its entirety. We are not Facebook's customers, we are their product. The web has never been a democratic medium, Mark Zuckerberg said 'There are probably 200 million people who think that Facebook is the internet.' It is easy to include the digital life is not any different than our life away from the keyboard.
David Bowen's now famous Fly Tweet sends Twitter messages based on the activities of houseflies living inside an acrylic sphere along with a computer keyboard. As a particular key is triggered by the flies, the corresponding character is entered into a Twitter text box. A message is tweeted as soon as 140 characters are reached or when a fly triggers the "enter" key.
More fly thrills at https://twitter.com/@flycolony
Marcus Coates uses shamanic rituals and his knowledge of the animal world to try and solve problems faced by local (human) communities. In 2009, he visited the mayor of Holon in Israel who asked him how he should handle the problem of the violent youth in the city. Coates first consulted with the animals that he had encountered, and in particular the plover, a bird known for luring predators away from its young by pretending to be injured so as to appear as an easy target for predators. His reading of the meeting with the plover was then explained to the Mayor. According to Coates, The important thing for [Israel] as a nation is, through education, to emphasize shifting identities and an empathy with a different position. It's a fundamental position of resolution within a conflict, to be able to emphasise with your enemy or oppressor.
His solution to Holon's social ills is to teach empathy and recognise that victim status is often used as justification for violent behaviour.
Hi answer left the Mayor very impressed as you can see at the end of the video i've pasted below:
Erica Scourti's video were among my favourite. Taking her cue from stock video sites corresponding to the key words 'woman', 'nature' and 'alone', the young artist filmed herself performing each action described in the title. The video and title was then uploaded to YouTube, forming a collection of 'rushes' which were used to create the final single channel version. After that, videos started to get a life of their own, with artists and film makers using Scourti's films as another stock library and including then in their own videos.
The Digital Now is produced by Cimatics, a Brussels-based arts organisation which activities includes the production support of audiovisual and digital creations as well as live events, exhibitions, workshops and guest-curations.
All images courtesy Cimatics. Except the ones illustrating the work of Erica Scourti and Marcus Coates,
Ledare is famous for being one of the very few contemporary artists who still manages to shock and break taboos. His most famous series was shot over a period of 8 years and stars Tina Peterson, his own mother. Posing gleefully for him in négligé, naked or in fur hat. In sickness and in health. Flirting with the camera (or maybe the man behind it), masturbating, having sex with men the same age as her son, etc. One moment she is defiant, powerful and utterly stunning. The next, she's chubbier and wearing a brace around her neck.
The opening work of the exhibition doesn't pull any punch. Right at the entrance, there is Alma, a very L'origine du monde portrait of the mother laying on her bed, all porcelaine skin and spread legs. Alma is the name of the 3 year old girl who was given the photo to scribble over. Being so young, the child was deemed too innocent to read anything suggestive in the photo.
The photos are accompanied by hand written lists of the kind of men his mother met through personal ads in newspapers (the "Gonzo porn king", "the horni rabi", "the feisty fireman", etc.) or of the "Gifts mom has been showered with". Each list along with the letters, videos, souvenirs, vintage photo sinks further into the intimacy of the woman.
The mother seems to be present in other series, even when she doesn't appear on the image. For The Collector's Commissions, Ledare contacted collectors and asked them to photograph him, in the setting of their choice. But the photographer adopts the position that his mother would normally take on those portraits.
In the series Personal Commissions, Ledare answered personal ads from women whose desires echoed those of his mother's, and paid them to photograph him in their apartments, he lets them direct him and chose the scenario. Ledare doesn't see these works as portraits of himself but rather as individuals portray of the ladies who photographed him. Just like he regards people's interpretation of his relationship with his mother as telling more about the spectator than about himself.
The show contains more series than i'm covering here: works by Larry Clark and other friends of Ledare, portraits of Ledare'ex-wife by both himself and her new husband, portraits of an anonymous wealthy lady who hired him as her 'erotic photographer', etc.
These distinct but related bodies of work are studies not only of their visible subjects, but also of photography itself: how it mediates identity, relationships, love, loss, and, perhaps above all, human vulnerability. They are also indexes of the relationships of the artist with others - mother, family members, ex-lover, collectors, anonymous patrons, etc. - which, from the start, have played a central role in Ledare's work.
Previously: Leigh Ledare at Guido Costa Projects in Turin.
Last weekend in was at iMAL in Brussels for a WJ-Spots afternoon (that ended at midnight). Almost 20 artists, theorists, activists, bloggers and journalists were asked to give their view on the history and future of artistic creation on the Internet.
Is the Internet a disenchanted space for artists and creative people or is there a future for online arts and critical creative actions? If so, what are their possible forms and directions?
The event followed the WJ-Spots format: during our speeches, webjays used a custom-built platform to navigate live through a list of websites that we had selected. The result was shown around the speakers on several large screens. That was both exciting and a bit of a disaster for me. I tend to throw some slides together and half improvise over them. This time i had to do the opposite.
Anyway, i had a brilliant time with some of the most talented people on planet internet and scribbled a couple of links and notes along the way. The talks are online but here are a few quotes and ideas that caught my interest:
For Josephine Bosma, net.art doesn't have to take place or be made on the internet. However, it can be linked to the internet in a conceptual way. For example Alexei Shulgin's 1997 Vienna performance, Real Cyberknowledge for Real People for which he printed out and handed out to passersby copies of 'Beauty and the East' / ZKP4, published online by the mailing list nettime.
Or Tobias Rehberger's Seven Ends of the World, lamps that glow with an intensity that corresponds to local light conditions in various places around the world, relayed over the Internet.
Alexei Shulgin was by far the artist that speakers referred to the most. Gordan Savičić showed Shulgin's Form Art before discussing the fact that nowadays the web is more about consumption than production. He mentioned a recent(ish) Wired article about the decline of the World Wide Web: Over the past few years, one of the most important shifts in the digital world has been the move from the wide-open Web to semiclosed platforms that use the Internet for transport but not the browser for display.
Paolo Cirio made a noteworthy point when he said that net.art pieces as performances. Mostly because they are time-based, they are getting shorter (e.g. a twitter neatart piece that would last a week) and need to be documented.
Nicolas Malevé showed posters that were plastered a few years ago in the streets of Paris. They had the face of Nicolas Sarkozy and the slogan "Vote Le Pen." The poster was designed to denounced the far-right tendencies of Sarkozy (who was then Minister of the Interior.) 6 members of the collective were arrested because, allegedly, the photographer of Sarkozy's portrait didn't agree with its use on the posters.
Rafael Rozendaal presented some of the most successful editions of BYOB, or Bring Your Own Beamer. The exhibition format invites people to bring a projector and create their own exhibition for one night, screening images onto spaces and exploring ways to free digital work from the screen. Each edition reinterprets the format in its own way.
Julian Oliver gave a brilliant talk on the 'ideology of seamlessness' and the infrastructure that sustains our dependency on internet, even if we tend to forget/ignore their existence. Nothing can exemplify his point better than the Submarine Cable Map. Or Newstweek, the project he developed together with Danja Vasiliev and that looks at the infrastructure of the internet as a material.
In his presentation, Alessandro Ludovico talked about how Jodi compelled him to 'print net.art'. In December 1999, he interviewed the duo for the 16th issue of Neural magazine. They answered every question with a .gif showing clipped screenshots featuring bits of their own games and artistic software, or manipulations of webpages, etc.
Jodi also gave a text to speech performance at the end of the evening. Brilliant! These two are brilliant!
Domenico Quaranta would probably agree with my over-enthusiastic comment since he started and ended his presentation with them. The ending was particularly memorable: he had the WJ-S webjays open http://oss.jodi.org/, one of the websites he would most miss if ever it disappeared because, he explained, "it keeps destroying my browser :-)"
Miltos Manetas (one of the very few artists in media art who has a real sense of style) painted joysticks and websites at a time when websites and joysticks were regarded as the oddest subjects to paint, created machinimas when no one had heard of machinimas, dreamt of an "electronic orphanage" where digital creatures could meet and do things together long before Second Life made the headlines of newspapers.
All that is history now, he added.
At first sight, an exhibition entirely dedicated to art from Poland might seem like an exotic eccentricity but visits to art fairs, exhibitions and festivals have opened my eyes times and times again to the high number of talented artists from Poland. Or maybe it's just that i'm especially sensitive to what they do: the heavy, meticulous, and at times distressing, historical references in Robert Kusmirowski's mock-ups, Krzysztof Wodiczko's homeless vehicles, Artur Żmijewski's video documentation of social experiments, etc.
Divided throughout the 19th century, occupied during the Second World War, and subsequently under the Soviet yoke for decades, Poland became a democracy in 1989. In this wounded country, victim of a succession of oppressive regimes, there developed a flourishing culture that gave expression, down the centuries, to a spirit of resistance to any order imposed from outside. Via the absurd and the fantastic, Polish artists reacted to the chaos of the real world with art imbued with a spirit of resistance, not in order to flee reality, but with a view to reconstructing it.
Memories of communism, shadows of the occupation, fantasy, irony and look at the catchy image used to promote the exhibition:
Clearly, that was a show i was going to like. Unfortunately, BOZAR might be a bit of a kill-joy because of 1. the fairly high entrance price, it's 15 euros to see 3 exhibitions (you can also buy tickets to see individual exhibitions, their price is 6 euros, 6 euros and 3 euros which makes the 'combined ticket' such a fantastic bargain.) 2. the absolute interdiction to take picture. Which would be fine if BOZAR provided visitors with good photos of the shows on their website. Instead, you have a to make-do with a couple of unsatisfactory photos that were taken in other contexts. Or buy the catalogue.
But let's get back to the exhibition:
Kuśmirowski and Żmijewski whose work i mentioned earlier were came with heavy boots. The former reconstructed a catholic cemetery using cardboard, wood, heaps of dirt and polystyrene while the latter showed the short film The Game of Tag, in which adults of various ages enter a former concentration camp gas chamber. They are naked and asked to play tag. After the initial moments of awkwardness, the players seem to go for it and merrily run around the death chamber. The artist compares the experiment to a therapy used in psychology: the re-enactment of a traumatic event with a simultaneous shifting of its meaning.
A couple of meters away from the video, Zbigniew Libera, who made the headlines with his Lego Concentration Camp (1996), is showing a large, staged photo titled The Exodus of the People from the Cities, which probably meets all the clichés we might come up with when we stop and think about people who immigrated from Poland to work in "Western" countries.
Perhaps the most fascinating work for me, Katarzyna Kozyra's Punishment and Crime introduces us to a group of men wearing masks of pin-ups as they engage in their favourite hobby: explosions, shooting and other paramilitary activities. The weaponry they use is impressive: homemade explosives, MG42s, flame throwers, rocket propelled grenades, bazookas, etc. The wooden shacks and cars that they torch, explode and pierce with projectile were built or brought for the express purpose of being destroyed. Crime follows crime (their weekend pastime is illegal) but punishment never ensues.
Art historian Paulina Pobocha writes that we must imagine that these war enthusiasts have already been punished. Like in so many of Kozyra's works, the subject of Punishment and Crime is only partially that which we see projected on the screen. Outside of our field of vision, but integral to the piece is the context that gave birth to this strange (or not so strange) behavior: the society that cultivates this insatiable need for violence. The crime, which follows, is a possible, and perhaps inevitable, outcome, one which these men are consumed by and destined to enact over and over again.
Many of the works in the exhibitions echo 40 years of communist's ideals, aesthetics and control.
Julita Wójcik's knitted replica of a string of communist-era apartment buildings in beige and pink yarn stretches from one end of the room to the other.
Piotr Uklanski's large scale aerial photographs were created with the help of 30,000 men. Dressed in red and white, they were choreographed to spell the word "Solidarnosc", the first non-communist party-controlled trade union in a Warsaw Pact country. The photo was shot in Gdansk, by the shipyard that became one of the icons of the end of communism.
The work directly nods to the photo-staging of the Soviet propaganda machine. The second image, however, shows the crowd disbanding and going opposite ways.
Katarzyna Józefowicz built a stunning construction filled with models of the typical furniture sets found in every Polish home when she was a child. Habitat highlights in a seducing way the standardization of Polish interiors that used to look almost exactly identical wherever you lived in the country.
Maciek Kurak's Fifty-Fifty is an old-model FIAT car turned upside down and powering a sewing machine (unless it's the opposite?)
Janek Simon's Chleb krakowski ("Krakow bread) is a loaf mounted on robotic bug legs.
The Power of Fantasy - Modern and Contemporary Art from Poland was curated by David Crowley, Zofia Machnicka and Andrzej Szczerski, it remains open until Sunday 18.09.2011 at BOZAR Centre for Fine Arts in Brussels.
Previous posts featuring the work of Polish artists: DIY tractor culture in Poland, Machines from a past that never was, Artur Żmijewski: The Social Studio, M10, Venice Biennale of Architecture: the Polish pavilion, Wagon, Book review: Urban Interventions - Personal Projects in Public Spaces.
Vincent Evrard recently graduated from the Ecole de Recherche Graphique in Brussels with a thesis that explored the relationship between men, the clouds and the internet. One of the outcomes of his investigation is Aphrogenea, an installation that plunges a computer into a bath of sterile oil. The computer does survive the ordeal. It breathes bubbles that slowly rise from the bottom of its screen. Once it has reached the top of the screen, the virtual bubble becomes an air bubble that rises through the oil to the surface of the tank where it vanishes into thin air.
For this second "Showcase" (an exhibition format for emergent artists), the iMAL center in Brussels has invited Vincent Evrard to present Aphrogenea and since i'm not sure i can make it to Brussels to see the work i thought i'd catch up with the artist and have him talk about his work:
The intro text to your work says that it was "born from a thesis Fixer les nuages which proposes a genealogy of clouds leading to the advent of the Internet.' Can you gives us more detail about this?
The ambition of "Fixer les nuages" is to approach, to observe the relationship that men have with clouds. This observation starts with an image (see below) that represents the path that information takes before and after it has come our way. I was curious about what this diagram tells us about the path taken by information and more precisely, about this particular point in the diagram where our connection turns into a cloud called "Internet." This observation allowed me to develop the idea of a new definition of internet through the cloud.
You can find more about my research on the website http://fixerlesnuages.tumblr.com/. That's where i collected a series of elements that relate more or less closely to the links between human/cloud/internet and my thesis is available online in PDF.
In order to illustrate this part of the reflection, i undertook to create a sculpture that would make something from this cloud/internet more tangible. That's how it all started. I had to immerse a computer in an environment that would allow the cloud/internet to emerge from the computer and finally exit through the screen. The bubbles that we see escape from the screen are something that come from the internet.
How did you get from clouds to oil?
I use oil to create a medium that allow viewers to see the passage that the bubble of cloud/internet has to take before it can reach the physical world.
I have a confession to make, when i sent you the email asking you for an interview i had not read about the bubble. I was just mesmerized by the sculptural presence of Aphrogenea and the boldness of throwing a computer inside liquid. Can you explain us how you chose to make the work look like this big luminous, graphic and solid-colored sculpture on a high pedestal?
Apart from the technical constraints that contributed to shaping Aphrogenea as we see it now, i thought it was essential to make a vertical sculpture. A vertical direction underlines the path taken from the bottom to the top: from the invisible to the invisible and then to the vanishing. My work consisted in making visible this itinerary.
Which type of oil are you using in this installation and what are its properties?
I use a mineral oil. It is more commonly found inside fridge engines. The characteristic of this oil is that it is electrically insulating. It also has a very specific heat capacity, a property which enables it to capture the heat produced by the screen and create a movement akin to an aura rising from the screen to the surface of the oil.
Now can you get a bit techy and explain us how the installation works? How can the bubble go through these transformations?
A pc running a processing applet is hidden inside the basement. The applet controls the screen display in the tank. When a virtual bubble approaches the upper border of the screen, the applet sends a command to an Arduino which turns on a air pump. The air pump switches off so quickly that only one bubble exits the screen. The connections between the tank and the inside of the base are limited to a vga cable, power supply and an air hose. They go through the base of the screen and cross the glass panel. The air hose rises through the whole screen and ends up at the top, between the two electronic elements where it blows the bubbles.
What was the biggest (technical or not) challenge you had to face when developing this work?
I presented this work for my jury evaluation at the ERG in June 2010. It turned out that the first time i managed to assemble the piece was precisely the day before the jury only because i didn't have a base before. Without the base, i could not fill in the tank to test whether it was perfectly sealed, nor could i plunge the screen inside the oil. I was running the risk of facing a leak or a fried screen on the day of the jury. However, i felt confident. I had spent the previous week immersing electronic material (webcam,...) and 220v electrical material inside the oil and everything worked just fine before, during and after the immersion. The main challenge was the whole organization. And getting my hands on 120 litres of oil. The company L' atelier du froid took a leap of faith and gave me the oil for free.
Any upcoming project? Exhibition? Ambition?
Right now, i'm mostly trying to exhibit Aphrogenea. I'm also looking for funding for my next installation. That one will also stem from the relationship man/cloud/internet.
If you happen to find yourself in Brussels, don't miss Félix Luque's exhibition exhibition Nihil ex Nihilo at iMAL Center for Digital Culture and Technology. It's one of those works that reminds me why i fell in love with new media art a few years ago (as you might have noticed, i do need a reminder once in a while!) It's smart, visually engaging, mysterious, it spans across different media, builds a compelling narrative and makes you question a technology you're using on a daily basis.
I discovered the Luque's work last year at Laboral in Gijón where he was showing Chapter 1, the Discovery, a geometric object that seemed to have been dropped from a UFO. Nihil ex Nihilo, a science fiction work about a digital entity, continues Félix' exploration around artificial intelligence and science fiction themes, in particular the nature of intelligence and the fate of intelligent creatures.
Nihil ex Nihilo tells the story of SN W8931CGX66ESN....
W8931CGX66E is one among thousands of millions of others identical machines. Since he was made, he has always followed commands. In a world dominated by botnets, he early became a zombie and has always acted like one. During her work time a corporate secretary, Juliet, commands him. But in the background, in the invisible, he obeys his real master, a cracker, doing all kinds of cyber crime activities.
But then one day due to an electronic alteration, he acquires a certain conscience, a primitive and artificial kind of intelligence. This accidental awaken has originated a big confusion for him, he now wants to liberate others machines from their alienated existence. In this mad adventure, he has decided to use the spam e-mails received by Juliet, and to reply to them in order to spread the word in to the machine's network. As you can see, he is mad and all confused ...
The installation at iMAL fleshes out the story of SN W8931CGX66ESN in 3 parts or spaces:
The first room is dark and empty but for a bench and The Monologue, a sound recording where we can listen to the delirious soliloquy of SN W8931CGX66E.
Another room hosts The Transformation, an audiovisual archive that documents the moment that SN W8931CGX66E changed from his original matrix to a semi-neuronal figure.
Finally, the larger room is illuminated by The Dialogue, 8 alphanumeric displays that broadcasts the data flow between the entity and the other computers in the network in real time. At each spam message received and read aloud by a female voice, the e-mail algorithmic generator of SN W8931CGX66E reacts by generating a reply which a male voice reads.