It won't be a surprise to anyone following this blog if i say that i'm in love with Ghent in Belgium. The city is not only remarkably postcard pretty, it is also the first city in the world to have established an 'official' weekly vegetarian day. With the help of the veggie street map, i've been touring the veggie fries joints (in Belgium, potatoes are usually fried in lard.) However, what brings me to Ghent several times a year is neither tofu burgers nor the Gravensteen but its cultural life. This time i was in town to check out the Almost Cinema festival at the Vooruit art center.

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Organized in collaboration with Filmfestival Gent, Almost Cinema invites theatre makers, musicians, media artists, visual artists, architects -but not film makers- to show works that deal with cinematographic experience.

Don't expect video art and quiet screenings. The festivals is made of performances, concerts, debates and of an exhibition which takes place in and out of the Vooruit building.

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Full report will come soon-ish but as usually i'll procrastinate by singling out just one work i discovered at Almost Cinema.

Wim Janssen's Statics is a surface made of 43000 handmade "pixels" that look unremarkable as one enters the room. However, as soon as the visitor steps behind a rotating colour filter and watches the surface through it, it instantly turns into a tv screen covered with snow.

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Close-up of the screen

In this work Wim Janssen cuts polarization filter into small rectangles of one cm, in random orientations, like large pixels. These little squares are fixed between two large rectangular pieces of plexiglass.(...) In front of this screen stands a slowly rotating disc, also made of polarization filter. When the screen is seen through this disc, it changes into a half transparent field of video noise.

This phenomenon occurs because lightwaves, besides their frequency and amplitude, also have an orientation. Polarization filter let light pass in only one direction. When you look through a piece of this filter, it's perfectly transparent, just a bit darker than normal plexi or glass. When you look through the filter at an other piece of this material which is rotated 90°, the second piece becomes an opaque black surface, because the light passing through the first filter, can't pass through the second filter. Every other orientation gives a different degree of opacity.

You can get a better idea of the effect by watching the videos on the artist's website and on AVS report from the festival (fastforward to the end.)

Image on the homepage by Reinout Hiel.

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Previously: What is American Power?

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Stephen Shore, La Brea Ave. & Beverly Bvd., Los Angeles, California, 6/21/1975

1950, Robert Frank published the seminal book The Americans in the United States. The photos showed a country that his peers had mostly overlooked so far: workers in a Detroit assembly line, an exhausted waitress in Hollywood, an empty barbershop, transvestites in NYc, shabby corners of a department store, gas station, black passengers on a segregated trolley in New Orleans, onlookers at a movie premiere, etc. Images that we take for granted now, At the time, however, critiques were horrified by their style and subject.

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Robert Frank, Drugstore, Detroit, 1955. © Robert Frank, from The Americans. Detroit Institute of Arts

1975, the George Eastman House (Rochester, NY) opens the influential New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape. 8 young American photographers + Bernd and Hilla Becher presented their dispassionate appraisal of landscape, focusing on "eyesores" of the built environment such as industrial landscapes, suburban sprawl, cheap motels, trailer parks, parking lots.

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Robert Adams, Mobile Homes, Jefferson County, Colorado, 1973; George Eastman House collections; © Robert Adams, courtesy of Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, and Matthew Marks Gallery, New York

As New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape has been reprogrammed for an international tour, American Documents, a major exhibition at FotoMuseum in Antwerp, is offering a brief and efficient panorama of the documentary trends in the U.S. from the 1970 until now.

Extract from the press release:

The photographers point to a social issue that is still relevant nowadays. Rampant industrialization and urbanization fed by an excessive consumption drive left a profound mark on both the American landscape and American society during the second half of the previous century. At the same time, these developments formed the breeding-ground for a critical countermovement. A new photographic picture language developed that abruptly abandoned the idealizing views of previous generations and confronted the audience in a critical manner with key social and political issues. Thanks to its serial approach and clear formulation, this type of photography fit in perfectly with the then conceptual and minimalist trends in plastic arts.

Besides the historic works, two recent series have joined the exhibition: Homeland (2007-2009) by Larry Sultan, and What is American Power?">American Power by Mitch Epstein.

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Larry Sultan, Canal District San Rafael, 2006

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Larry Sultan, Antioch Creek, 2008. From the series : Homeland. © The Estate of Larry Sultan. Courtesy Gallery Thomas Zander, Cologne

Homeland addresses the issue of illegal immigration near the US border. The title is a reference to the US Department of Homeland Security.

Sultan hired Mexican day laborers whom he found waiting outside a strip mall to be picked up for hourly work. Sultan directed them to create vignettes that fuse his own memories of home life with an interpretation of their experiences as exiles. The result is a series of postcard photos of American suburbs charged with oddity, unease and hope.

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©Mike Mandel and Larry Sultan, Evidence

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©Mike Mandel and Larry Sultan, Evidence

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©Mike Mandel and Larry Sultan, Evidence

In the '70s photographers Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel spent 3 years sifting through the files and archives of over one hundred American government agencies, educational institutions, and corporations, such as the U.S. Department of the Interior, Stanford Research Institute, General Atomic Company, Jet Propulsion Laboratories, the various Police Department and the United States Department of the Interior. They were looking for original photographs that were made and used as evidence.

Mandel and Sultan assembled a sequence of 50 to 85 pictures (depending on the website where i found information about the project) out of the hundreds of thousands they had seen. Pictures that once served a functional purpose in the world, when stripped of their explanatory captions and sources and then exhibited in an art show, acquired a new dimension. The photos of the Evidence book and exhibition were not objective instruments anymore, they became expressive, puzzling, ambiguous artefacts from the mid-20th century. More images in Mike Mandel's flickr set.

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Stephen Shore, Presidio, Texas, February 21, 1975

Uncommon Places is the result of a series of cross-country trips that Stephen Shore made through American and Canadian towns and landscapes. The series pioneered the use of colour outside of advertising and fashion.

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© Lee Friedlander, Las Vegas, 2002, from the series: America by Car. Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco ; Gallery Thomas Zander, Cologne

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© Lee Friedlander, Pennsylvania, 2007, from the series: America by Car

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© Lee Friedlander, from the series: America by Car

More recently, Lee Friedlander drove across the US and, sitting in his rental car, documented the landscape and cityscape of his country. The method not only reflects how much the American landscape is framed by the US car culture, it also allows for surprising juxtapositions.

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Robert Adams, Denver, Colorado, 1983

For Our Lives and Our Children: Photographs Taken Near the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant, Robert Adams concealed his camera behind a grocery bag to snap portraits of families who lived near the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant outside Denver. The facility processed plutonium, a radioactive chemical element that ignites spontaneously in contact with moist air and caused many fires at the plant, threatening all those living in the area.

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Walker Evans, both images from the series Labour Anonymous, studies of pedestrians in Detroit, Michigan, commissioned by Fortune magazine, 1946

Adams' clandestine method of portraying anonymous figures is reminiscent of Walker Evans's work. For the 1930s series Subway Portrait, Evans kept his camera hidden under his coat and captured the person opposite unobserved. 15 years later, Evans stationed himself at a corner of a street, opposite a blind wall and shot anonymous figures as they were moving through space.

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©Judith Joy Ross, Annie Hasz, Easton, Pennsylvania, 2007. Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery New York ; Sabine Schmidt Gallery, Cologne

American Documents is on view until September 5, 2010 at FotoMuseum in Antwerp, Belgium.

Related: Objectivities: Photography from Düsseldorf.

Last week i was in Belgium with a long list of exhibitions to see but the Summer & sun-phobic that i am chickened out, hid in a cave and saw only a couple of them. One was in Antwerp, city of art and creativity but also major European harbour which makes it the idea place to show Allan Sekula's subtle and engaging commentary on flows of goods, globalization and conditions of the invisible workers in the maritime industry.

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Allan Sekula, Crew Portraits, from Ship of Fools, 1999-2010, courtesy Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica en Galerie Michel Rein, Paris

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View of the exhibition space

Titled Ship of Fools, the exhibition features the Global Mariner, a converted cargo ship that toured the world between 1998 and 2000, carrying an exhibition denouncing working conditions in the shipping industry and more particularly a practice called Flag of Convenience. This system allows a ship owner to register their vessel in a foreign (and often poor) country either to reduce operating costs or to evade international laws and regulations. Both, most of the time. The system is facing fierce criticisms because it allows shipowners to be legally anonymous and makes it difficult to prosecute in civil and criminal actions. Flag of convenience ships have sometimes been found engaging in arms smuggling, people trafficking, are frequently found offering substandard working conditions, and damaging the environment, primarily through illegal and unregulated fishing. Not to mention some of the most infamous oil spills in history.

In 2009, more than half of the world's merchant ships were registered under flags of convenience. Unfortunately, the system goes hand in hand with globalization. Today, some 90% of non-bulk cargo transits by sea inside containers.

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Allan Sekula, Crew Portraits, from Ship of Fools, 1999-2010, courtesy Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica en Galerie Michel Rein, Paris

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Allan Sekula, Crew Portraits, from Ship of Fools, 1999-2010, courtesy Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica en Galerie Michel Rein, Paris

In the video interview below, Sekula explains to Curator Grant Watson that although the maritime industry is a victim of the economic crisis, it is also responsible for two key maritime inventions that made globalization possible. Containers make it possible to move factories anywhere in the world in search of the cheapest labor, opening up new opportunities to globalize the production of goods. Flags of convenience globalized the labor market for seafaring. Containerization and flags of convenience set the machine in motion and we are now living with the consequences.


Allan Sekula, Ship of Fools. Interview by Grant Watson (M HKA)

Sekula traveled with the Global Mariner over intervals, followed their defense of workers' rights and portrayed the crew and its journey in a series of photos. Sekula's portraits of seafarers, dock workers, port cities and their industrial hinterland register the affects of globalisation on people's lives. By presenting this ensemble of work, the artist counters the myth that underpins neoliberal ideology of painless flows of goods and capital that constitute international trade.

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Allan Sekula, Ship of Fools exhibition view, 2010. Photo M HKA

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Allan Sekula, Docker's museum (version 1 for Antwerp and Santos), 1999-2010. Courtesy Allan Sekula, Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica en Galerie Michel Rein, Paris. Photo M HKA

Don't miss the PDF of Alla Sekula's essay Ship of Fools.

Ship of Fools is a cooperation between M HKA and the FotoMuseum. It is open until September 4 at the 4th floor of the FotoMuseum in Antwerp. Ship of Fools will then travel to Brazil where it will be part of the 29th São Paulo Biennial.

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Emmanuel Lagarrigue, I Never Dream Otherwise than Awake, 2006. Photo Marc Wathieu

update_3 | body sound, the third edition of a technological art biennial organized by the Liedts-Meesen Foundation, takes place at Zebrastraat place in Ghent. I saw it totally by chance. I was in town for the Electrified biennial and the ever lovely Eva De Groote from Vooruit suggested i'd drop by Zebrastraat. What were the odds of seeing two very good and strikingly different biennials in the space of two days in a city that counts less than 250 000 inhabitants? So slim i still haven't entirely recovered from the shock.

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Carsten Nicolai, Alva Noto, Infinity, 1997. Photo Marc Wathieu

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Ugo Rondinone, The Evening Passes Like any Other, 1998. Photo Marc Wathieu

Curated by Christine Van Assche, Media Arts Curator at the Centre Pompidou, update_3 presents a selection of sound art works from the French museum's Collection of New Media.

The sound exhibition ambitions to go beyond the auditory system and uses echoes, vibrations, timbres, resonances, waves to put the body of the visitor to the test. Through a scenography designed by Bureau des Mésarchitectures, 14 installations invite the public to explore different perceptions of sound through their interactions with the materials, their position when listening and the movement of their body within space.

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Didier Faustino, Erase Your Head / An Instrument for Blank Architecture, 2010. Image Marc Wathieu

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Didier Faustino, Erase Your Head / An Instrument for Blank Architecture, 2010. Image Marc Wathieu

All along the exhibition, visitors meet with micro-environments. One of the most impressive is Erase Your Head / An Instrument for Blank Architecture which evokes an empty theater occupied only by sound "helmets" perched on tripods and conceived by Didier Faustino as intimate devices for listening to works by Owada / Martin Creed, Mika Vainio and Mike Kelley / Scanner. When entering their head inside the padded helmet, visitors nullify their sense of sight and exacerbate the dimension of sound.

Equipped with a balancing system this type of tripod is generally used by a land surveyor to document landscapes and topographies. This work turns it into an instrument for the exploration of mental landscapes.

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Didier Faustino, Hand Architecture, 2009

The work is a variation of the irresistible Hand Architecture, an earlier work that transforms a megaphone into an intimate medium that whisper a message from one person to another one. The person captured by the device becomes visually and auraly isolated from its surroundings, its only reference being the voice of its interlocutor.

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Semiconductor (Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt), Brilliant Noise, 2006. Photo Marc Wathieu

To create Brilliant Noise, Semiconductor (aka Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt), went through hundreds of thousands of computer files to select some of the sun's most spectacular and unseen moments and compose a video animation on the oscillations of the star. Taken by orbiting satellites, the images reveal the energetic particles and solar wind as a rain of white noise.

Through a process of audio data processing, Semiconductor used images to control the fluctuations of sound. The sound varies, crackles, buzzes and falters according to the brightness of the image, highlighting the hidden forces at play upon the solar surface.

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Emmanuel Lagarrigue, I never Dream Otherwise than Awake, 2006. Photo Marc Wathieu

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Emmanuel Lagarrigue, I never Dream Otherwise than Awake, 2006

I never Dream otherwise than Awake is an 'environment' designed by Emmanuel Lagarrigue. The artist asked people to hum a song of their choice. He then cut the music into slots and reworked them, composing a melody for each one until they became almost unrecognizable. Sounds, melodies, music, are transmitted from small suspended loudspeakers, responding to one another, in a space that confuses the senses and gives the sensation of drowning in an aquarium. Video on the artist's website.

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Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, Schizoframes, 2003. Photo Marc Wathieu

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Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, Schizoframes, 2003

In Schizoframes, Céleste Boursier-Mougenot invites visitors to lounge on a big white sofa stuffed with loudspeakers and meditate in front of a wall of sonorous images, generated by the auditory frequencies in a 180 degree environment. The work explores the possibilities of feedback videos, allowing the sound to vibrate inside the body of the spectator, as well as in the surrounding space. The listener participates in a shared experience.

This way to download a PDF of the catalogue. More images: a photo set by Marc Wathieu. And a couple more pictures by me.

update_3 | body sound is on view until June 20 at Zebrastraat in Ghent, Belgium.

Previously: OrganOOn at Electrified.

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Lucas Murgida. Photo: Reinout Hiel for Vooruit. All rights reserved

It seems like ages ago that i dragged my photo camera and laptop at the biennial Electrified - Hacking Public Space in Ghent, Belgium. Yet, it was one of the most refreshing events i've visited this year. In a rather unusual move, Electrified brings together two contemporary art institutions which have different orientations: S.M.A.K. is a museum with a focus on visual art and Vooruit is an art center dedicated to media art, sound and performance art. At the core of the collaboration is a desire to expose the frictions but also the connecting threads that the two institutions might want to explore together.

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Ghent: City center

The theme of the biennial this year is Hacking Public Space. Sixteen artists, with strikingly different backgrounds, are showing new and existing work in the S.M.A.K. museum. More than half of them are also undertaking actions -or 'city hacks'- in the town. Many of these actions are unannounced, some of them even remain a surprise for the organizers until almost the last moment. The actions are video documented and gradually inserted into the exhibition space over the course of the biennial.

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Video documentation of the performances in the entry hall of Vooruit

For Electrified 02, public space has to be explored in its broadest sense, one that doesn't distinguish between real and virtual public space. In this context, the term 'hacking' refers to the guerrilla-like nature of some actions on the internet and at the same time to equally clandestine 'squatting' in the physical public space. Moreover, a Flashback section brings the biennial into a historical context by documenting the work of artists who pioneered actions in the public space in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Alessandro Ludovico, the famous editor of Neural magazine, has curated a Flashback section that presents online works which hack the internet territory. On June 2, Ludovico will give a lecture about the online works he selected for the biennial. Don't you dare miss it if you're in the neighbourhood!

Here's a small selection of interventions created by some of the artists invited to take part in Electrified 02:

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Pierre-Laurent Cassière, Autoportrait au schizophone, 2006

Pierre-Laurent Cassière 's contribution to Electrified 02 keeps on exploring the limits of human perception and sound pollution. In 2006, Cassière created the Schizophone, a simple (not tech required!) set of headphones that makes anyone who wears it doubt their perception of sounds in the environment. With no electronic applications, the two conical hearing aids are shaped so that the slightest shift in space (even just turning one's head) causes the wearer to experience a sense of disorientation. Video.

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Pierre-Laurent Cassière in Ghent. Image by Kurt Stockman

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Pierre-Laurent Cassière in Ghent. Image by Kurt Stockman

The Transphere (urban soundscape bending), a sound object which Cassière devised at last year at Summercamp Electrified, is a sophisticated evolution of the Schizophone. The Transphere, an instrument for 'urban soundscape bending, behaves like an electro-acoustic 'performance' in which the performer breaks into the normal arrangement of ambient sounds. The instrument consists of two parabolas, one in each hand, whereby one acts as a microphone and the other as a speaker. Schizophone is available for you to try at S.M.A.K. while Transphere is 'activated' by several unannounced actions in the city. With Trans-Sphere, an instrument for 'urban soundscape bending'.

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Lucas Murgida, Private(s). 2.0

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Lucas Murgida, Private(s). 2.0

Furniture-maker, lock specialist and artist Lucas Murgida added a mirror to 2 of the public/private male urinals in the city, giving passers-by a sneak peek of the joy of public urination as a unwitting man relieves himself. People assume they can encounter privacy in public places. Some men find it behind a tree, down an alley, or under a bridge. In parks people lay claim to a patch of earth by spreading a blanket on the ground. Phone booths and bathroom stalls have been especially installed in public space by cities to give citizens private moments. Murgida reverses the "unspoken social contract" that gives a person the right to create privacy in public space, reminding us that public/privacy is nothing but an illusion and a creation of society.

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Lucas Murgida. Photo: Reinout Hiel for Vooruit. All rights reserved

In another public intervention, Murgida dressed as an undertaker, then stripped down, donned a gas mask and buried homemade, child-size (but fortunately empty) coffins in a strip of green by the dock.

With his performance the artist grabbed passersby's sensitivity and emotion. People had no clue about what was going on, they didn't know why a man in underwear and gas mask was silently burring a child's coffin but the image could only linger in their mind long after they went back home.

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Ben Benaouisse. Image by Steven Thanghe

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Ben Benaouisse. Image source: Gentblog

Dancer, performer and visual artist Ben Benaouisse dressed as a homeless immigrant and perched himself on the roof of the public library and other buildings around the city. In his role of a 'roofless' (a homeless man on a roof) he addressed passersby and asked them to take a picture of him, capturing thus the view that Ghent inhabitants might have on tramps of immigrant origin. The portraits can only be collected by accident, when they pop up on blogs, on flickr or sometimes in newspapers.

Other artists participating to the biennial: Carlos Rodriguez-Mendez, Amilcar Packer, Simona Denicolai & Ivo Provoost collaboration Alec De Busscher, Dogma00, Javier Núñez Gasco, Messieurs Delmotte, Wilfredo Prieto, Miet Warlop, Helmut Smits, Christophe Bruno.

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Photo: Reinout Hiel for Vooruit. All rights reserved

Previously: Lucas Murgida's performance at the Conflux festival in 2008.

The biennale Electrified - Hacking Public Space is on view at Vooruit Art Center and S.M.A.K. in Ghent (BE) until June, 13, 2010.

Electrified - Hacking Public Space is a biennale organized by Vooruit and the S.M.A.K. in Ghent, Belgium. At the core of this collaboration is a desire to expose the friction but also the possible understandings that exist between two contemporary art institutions which have different orientations and emphasis: S.M.A.K. is a museum with a focus on visual art, whereas the Vooruit art center dedicates its programme to media art, sound and performance art.

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Roberta Gigante, OrganOOn. Photo: Reinout Hiel for Vooruit. All rights reserved

I'll be back with a fleshier report on my visit to the biennale. In the meantime, a few lines about Roberta Gigante's contribution to Electrified. I wasn't there on the day of the concert so my text relies heavily on information i found online.

For Electrified02, the young artist decided to 'hack' the harbour of Ghent with a sound installation that turned twelve rusty, gigantic metal pipes stored there into didgeridoo-like sound cylinders. The pipes lie next to one another, like separate organ pipes waiting to be brought together in one instrument. Each pipe was sealed off on one side and equipped with a amplifier and sub woofer. Each pipe has its own resonance frequency depending on its thickness, diameter and length. These twelve frequencies are measured and used as the basis for the in situ sound installation. The calculated base tones can be used as keynotes for further musical experiment.

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Roberta Gigante, OrganOOn. Photo: Reinout Hiel for Vooruit. All rights reserved

OrganOOn was a one day only organ concert that questions the classical organisation and setting in which concerts are held.

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Roberta Gigante, OrganOOn. Photo: Reinout Hiel for Vooruit. All rights reserved

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Roberta Gigante, OrganOOn. Photo: Reinout Hiel for Vooruit. All rights reserved


Video by Dries Verachtert

The biennale Electrified - Hacking Public Space is on view at Vooruit Art Center and S.M.A.K. in Ghent (BE) until June, 13, 2010.

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