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Tuur Van Balen and Revital Cohen are having a double exhibition show at the Z33 art center in Hasselt, Belgium. Presenting both finished and 'in progress' research projects, the exhibition titled, The Unnatural Animal, explores progress in bioscience and biotechnology but also their impact on our norms and values.

You might remember some of Revital's previous projects such as The Phantom Recorder and Life Support - Could animals be transformed into medical devices?. Hopefully i'll manage to catch up with her before the Z33 show closes.

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Unnatural Animal exhibition - photo by Kristof Vrancken - Z33

In the meantime, this post is going to focus on Tuur Van Balen's most recent work, Cook Me - Black Bile, which saw him cook with his own blood with the help of leeches. Have a look at the video and see if you can stomach more details about the project:

If you understand dutch, head to Cobra, their video crew followed the designer during his experiment. Smakelijk eten!

Cook Me - Black Bile proposes to make synthetic biology and the new interactions it can trigger within our body part and parcel of a recipe for controlling the feeling of melancholy.

As Tuur explained to me, "by 'programming' the DNA of the yeast used in the recipe, the yeast becomes a biosensor. So when it is used to marinade the leech, it can measure a variety of hormones and chemicals in your blood that relate to your mood. On top of that, the yeast can be programmed to also bio-synthesize serotonergic agents (chemicals that alter the levels of serotonine) according to what it senses."

The advantage this bespoke yeast has oven pills prescribed by doctors to alter levels of serotonin, is that the drugs offer similar amount and composition of chemicals for every individual. Synthetic biology, on the other hand, allows to tailor this (emotional) experience for a specific person at a specific time.

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Now back to the recipe. An instrument specially designed by Tuur allows the leech to feed on the forearm and is then used to cook a blood mousse. The parasite's body reacts with the marinade and with the laughing gas to make the blood mousse.

The blood mousse is accompanied by oyster mushrooms, a redcurrant sauce and blood sorrel.

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The recipe is inspired by Hippocrates' Four Humours theory that sees the body as an entity comprised of four basic substances: yellow bile, blood, phlegm and black bile. This theory inspired bloodletting, a medical practice aimed at restoring both physical and mental health by bringing these bodily fluids back into balance. Each substance is linked to a specific temperament, black bile (gr. melan chole), the fictional of these four fluids, evokes the humour of melancholy.

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Unnatural Animal exhibition - photo by Kristof Vrancken - Z33

Cook Me - Black Bile examines the space between ancient beliefs and future unknowns, between nonsense and science, the kitchen and the pharmacy.

The new video of the Pigeon d'Or project is also screened at the show:

Alter Nature: The Unnatural Animal is part of Alter Nature, an overarching project by Z33, the Hasselt Fashion Museum and CIAP in collaboration with the MAD-faculty, the University of Hasselt, the Flemish Institute for Biotechnology (VIB), KULeuven University and bioSCENTer. Alter Nature: The Unnatural Animal is running until 1 May 2011, at Z33 - house for contemporary art in Hasselt, Belgium.

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Tuur van Balen and Revital Cohen in the exhibition The Unnatural Animal Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

Also part of Alter Nature: It's My Island, Alter Nature: We Can, The flying tree.

Related: Cat Fancy Club..

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You might remember that a few weeks ago, i was in Ghent, Belgium, for Almost Cinema. The festival was not only featuring artworks, concerts and performances which subverted, reinvented or repositioned the ordinary cinema experience, it also dedicated a whole day to a symposium where artists and theorists interrogated the ambiguous relationships between documentary film and reality.

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Omer Fast, still from Spielberg's List, 2003, double-channel video

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Katerina Gregos's presentation

To what extent can a reel of film capture reality--if this is possible at all--and when can we say that it calls a new reality into being? Do not most films oscillate between 'document' and 'argument'; that is, between representing, rewriting and creating reality? Moreover, what strategies do artists use to document our daily lives? Is the detour through alienation and animation perhaps the proper way to make an outright and truthful work? Do new developments in technological media provide new opportunities for documentary artists? Finally, how do these artistic experiments and their problems represent the culture we live in?

The Documentary Real was probably the most satisfying conference i attended this year. I had planned to write down my notes from some of my favourite talks when Robrecht Vanderbeeken from KASK (the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent) informed me that the videos of the symposium were online. I'll particularly recommend the talk of Curator Katerina Gregos who gave a fascinating overview of what she calls 'the Elastic Documentary", artist Jasper Rigole showed us the charming videos he makes using movies he found on flea markets, researcher and curator Edwin Carels shared some fascinating insights about animation and Duncan Speakman explained how mobile media can help shape new documentary practices.

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Duncan Speakman, SubtleMob 'As if it where the last time' in Ghent on October 21, 2010. Image credit: Reinout Hiel

The Documentary Real was an initiative of Robrecht Vanderbeeken, KASK (Faculty of Fine Arts, University College Ghent) in collaboration with Vooruit and Filmfestival Ghent with the support of VAF Flanders Image.
Image on the homepage: Duncan Speakman, SubtleMob 'As if it where the last time' in Ghent on October 21, 2010. Credit: Reinout Hiel.

Previously: 'Statics' at the Almost Cinema festival in Ghent

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Photo credit: Reinout Hiel

As i mentioned yesterday, i'm just back from Ghent where i visited Almost Cinema. Each year, the festival demonstrates that the cinema experience doesn't have to stop at films, that it can be conveyed through performances, concerts and art installations. Curated by Eva de Groote, the exibition was particularly noteworthy.

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Photo credit: Reinout Hiel

Most of the show took place in the stunning Vooruit building. Built between 1911 and 1914 by the Ghent labor movement, the building is named after the socialist cooperative aimed at protecting workers against the instability of capitalism. It was the place where workers would go to dance, drink and enjoy culture at low rates. Today Vooruit dedicates its concert hall, theater hall, ballrooms and other spaces to progressive arts.

To see the installations part of Almost Cinema, visitors had to follow a red thread along corridors, stairs and passages.

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Almost Cinema made me discover the work of the young and talented Bram Vreven. His piece Spin unfolds over two spaces separated by a wall.

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In the first room, a row of 9 screens display spirals spinning at varying speeds.

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Photo credit: Reinout Hiel

It's only as you enter the second room that you understand that what looked like an animated movie is in fact the real time video of a mechanical ballet of 9 small white balls.

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Photo credit: Reinout Hiel

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Photo credit: Reinout Hiel

Circles and dots are drawn on the balls which rotate around an x-and y-axis. Above them hang as many cameras.

As critic Pieter Van Bogaert observed, Spin is reminiscent of Anémic Cinéma but while the 2D images of the Dada surrealist are endowed with new depth, Spin's 3D balls appear to flatten down dramatically in the process.


Marcel Duchamp, Anemic Cinema, 1926

Zimoun -whose delightfully simple sound installations never fail to charm- has filled a room of Vooruit with 186 prepared dc-motors, cardboard boxes, a sound installation emanating from heaps of cardboard boxes. Each box is hit by a tiny engine, which produces all sorts of sounds and vibrations. Each of the boxes constitutes a small brick in a complex sound structure.

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Photo credit: Reinout Hiel

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Almost Cinema spread its wings outside of the Vooruit building as well.
Pablo Valbuena created a custom-made light sculpture on the back of the Offices of the Ghent University Rector, next to Vooruit's rear façade.

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Photo credit: Reinout Hiel

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Photo credit: Reinout Hiel

On a nearby square, passersby were invited to try on Ief Spincemaille's Reversed Blinking. This kind of photo camera wraps around your head and looks like a bulky pair of glasses. Except that they leave you in the dark. Only when the shutter (two tiny flaps at the front) opens and closes, can you see the world in a flash. The shutter (which the user can control) moves so fast that nothing has time to move. Everything where you point your gaze at, becomes like a photograph.

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Photo credit: Reinout Hiel

Reversed Blinking is part of a series of works, where I'm trying to add video and photographical effects to our natural way of seeing. Where virtual reality goggles are trying to make us believe that the IMAGES we see are REAL, Reversed Blinking does the opposite. They manipulate vision such that the REAL environment around us looks utterly unreal, as it was a photograph or an IMAGE. Doing this, it shows us a frightening character of our by images dominated society. The world has become an image, an the image became real.

To be continued...

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Reinout Hiel has some wonderful images on flickr.

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.

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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