Last weekend was the Goldsmiths degree show at the Truman Brewery in London. There were quite a few interesting projects but the one that really stood out for its depth, coherence and reach is Tearlach Byford-Flockhart's The Social Mining Union (SUM.)
The BA Design project aims to reposition the role of the 'labour union' (and function of positive activism) within a globalized landscape of post-consumer society, examining the industrial mining industry and peripheral territories it is associated with.
Tearlach's adventures took him from scrapyard in south London to Glencore Xstrata's Annual General Meeting in Switzerland.
Metal scrapping, i learnt from my conversation with the designer is a a multi-million pound business. A documentary on Channel 4 revealed that the business of a yard owner in south London can turn over £7million a year while "scrappers", the men who scour the streets in the hope of turning trash into cash, can make up to £800 a day.
Trailer for documentary 'Getting Rich In The Recession - Scrappers'
Tearlach joined the scrappers and collected discarded objects from all over New Cross, a district in the London Borough of Lewisham. He also 'mined' websites like Gumtree and freecycle for discarded computers. He then sold his scrap in scrapyards and used the money to buy Glencore (a multinational commodity trading and mining company) shares. Being a shareholder, he somehow managed to infiltrate the annual general meeting of Glencore Xstrata last May when he took the opportunity of a Q&A session to suggest more positive economic, social and environmental impacts in the mining industry. His intervention might not have had much effect but imagine what would happen if whole communities of scrappers engaged in similar forms of activism!
The Social Mining Union project looks back at the Industrial Revolution when large-scale industries were centred around people and place. The paternalism of companies such as Cadbury's and Unilever ensured that communities flourished around places of work, sharing a common ground and an inherent sense of place. This affiliation between workers, industry and environment strengthened social and cultural values and cultivated prosperity at an individual level, and consequently this had a positive effect on the commercial output. The picture is obviously quite different in today's global context.
Extracts from my conversation with the designer:
Hi Tee! I'm very interested in your experience in scrapyards. Could you detail where you collected the scrap and how you turned it into money that you then used to buy some Glencore shares?
I collected old radiators, piping, cans which were often left in skips and on the side of the road. I then visited two different scrap yards - Sydenham scrap metals and Lewisham scrap metals ltd. When you arrive you weigh your van load for the cheaper scrap - iron and steel etc and then for the more valuable scrap such as copper you weigh it separately on smaller scales. Once the van has been weighed you then remove all the scrap and weigh it again working out how much scrap you had.
You then get payed by check, which I put strait into a bank account set up for the union - this then gets transferred into my Barclays stockbroker account where you can by any public companies shares, once bought you can request a proxy from to attend shareholders meetings and other events.
By the way, why did you chose Glencore rather than any other mining company? Any particular reason?
Glencore is the largest commodities and mining giant, from my research I was interested in the anonymity and secrecy they only recently become a public company so not many people know about their operations. I felt it was important to show some transparency and realised that whilst investigating them they were incredibly corrupt in a variety of ways.
One of the goals of your project is to question the role of the union and of activism nowadays. What is wrong with the way they function now?
Activism it seems still predominately relies on models such as protesting, embarrassment and sometimes aggression, these are important but outdated, as policing and government legislation has changed and evolved. The Battle of Orgreave is one of the signifiers to how policing was evolving to deal with large crowds with new techniques being used to control the people.
Unions have lost the strength they once held. Although in the past they did at times act like bullies, they have lost the sense of community connections and this is due to the combinations of small unions into larger ones. They are also stuck in a mentality that suits the past in terms of how they deal with gaining better paid employees based upon a time when striking had more of an impact.
During our conversation, you mentioned the industrial paternalism policy of Cadbury's and Unilever which 'facilitated social capital at a domestic level.' If i understood your project correctly, workers and unions would have to take matters into their own hands and recreate this social capital, instead of relying on corporate mining industries? Can you walk us through what you did once you owned some Glencore actions? And what you think could happen if other people did like you and the whole action was scaled up?
Once I bought the shares I was able to begin a dialogue with Glencore via emails, this enabled me to assess what was possible at the meeting I was planning to attend.
What I found from the meeting is that if we are to make a change within this centralised forum we need to one take matters into our own hands as management seem little concerned and two to speak through a collective voice, if we imagine The Social Mining Union with 1 million members each of these members holds a small amount of shares but collectively they hold a massive amount of shares then we collectively are a threat, as our voice is much louder than one. But I also think it is important to remember that this project is about access and navigation The Social Mining Union suggests a new way to engage with these global companies at a human level.
Thanks Tee Byford!
Now that I'm back from a series of trips, i might finally be able to catch up on the many conferences, festivals and exhibitions i've attended over the past few weeks. Starting with Piratbyrån and Friends, an exhibition at Furtherfield that presents screenings, installations and artworks by founding and more recent members of Piratbyrån (The Bureau for Piracy), keen to tell the story of the group on their own terms.
Piratbyrån was created in 2003 to support the free sharing of information, culture, and question intellectual property. In clear contrast with the 'values' of Antipiratbyrån, Hollywood's lobby group in Sweden. Until i saw this exhibition, i didn't realize how much contemporary culture owes to the trailblazing thinking and acting of Piratbyrån. Piratbyran is often reduced to file-sharing and The Pirate Bay. In reality, the group looked more broadly at the potential of copying in technical, artistic and philosophical contexts. As Geraldine Juarez wrote me "I don't know how whisteblowing would work today without someone knowing that you can copy files in a USB and send it to journalists. Leaking is fundamentaly file-sharing. Leaking an album or secret documents go through the same process of *copying*. And as the exhibition efficiently demonstrates, Piratbyrån is also about more egalitarian models of networked culture, about collaboration, about not being an artist but using art as a strategy to spread values.
In 2007 - after having kickstarted the Swedish debate over file-sharing, which by the time had become a major issue in the previous years national election and after having created The Pirate Bay as a side-project that became the world largest file-sharing system - the people from Piratbyrån had grown tired of the file-sharing debate and its endless repetitions of for-or-against, legal-or-illegal, payment-or-gratis. At the last day of April in a Walpurgis fire on the top of the highest mountain in Stockholm the masked members burned the remaining copies of a book on file-sharing they had published some years earlier and declared the debate dead. The video documentation of this ritual, set to the soundtrack of KLF's What Time is Love, found its way to the Indian Raqs Media Collective group who was just about to curate the next Manifesta biennial in Bolzano, Italy.
Piratbyrån closed in 2009 and the Furtherfield show tells the story of this group of friends through videos, a timeline, archive material and newly commissioned work by artists Geraldine Juarez and Evan Roth.
Quick and partial walk-though:
Appropriated police riot shields:
The seven open wireless routers of Evan Roth's Kopimi Totem are arranged in the iconic Kopimi pyramid. Visitors can connect to each of the routers and download archival media (text, images, video, etc) from the 10 year history of the Piratbyrån organization. Visitors can also upload their own files, thus contributing to the harmony of the data life cycle of copy (yin) and paste (yang).
From the dotcom bubble to the Embassy of Piracy at the Venice Biennale. Magnus Eriksson showed us snippets from the Piratbyrån archives.
Exhibition trailer: Piracy as Friendship @Furtherfield
More photos at Furtherfield and Paul Ros.
Mishka Henner has a solo show at the Carroll/Fletcher gallery right now. How come i never paid more attention to his work so far? Just like Edward Burtynsky, he looks at how industries shape landscapes. Like Trevor Paglen and Omer Fast, he is interested in (overt and covert) sites that the U.S. military deploys outside of its own borders. Just like Michael Wolf and Jon Rafman, he is a photographer using google mapping instruments instead of a camera. Yet, comparing his work to the one of some of the artists i admire the most is pointless. Henner is his own man slash artist. He uses contemporary technology to give a new twist on artistic appropriation and redefines the role of the photographer, the meaning of the photography medium and the representation of the landscape. Without ever using a photo camera.
The Black Diamond exhibition brings together four series of work, based on the collection and mediation of publicly available information sourced through the internet. Henner explains: 'I'm exploiting loopholes in the vast archives of data, imagery and information that are now accessible to us, connecting the dots to reveal things that surround us but which we rarely see or don't want to see.'
Feedlots are cattle-feeding operations used in factory farming to 'finish off' livestock. Almost all the beef consumed in the United States will have been finished on a feedlot where up to 100,000 steers at a time spend the last months of their lives gaining up to 4 pounds a day on a diet of corn, protein supplements, and antibiotics. Everything on these farms is calculated to maximise meat yield; from the mixture in cattle's feed to the size of run-off channels carrying the animal's waste into giant toxic lagoons.
In certain parts of the USA, natural features have long been supplanted by man-made marks and structures reflecting the complex infrastructural logic of oil exploration, extraction and distribution. The result is stunning. The prints look fake, painted over and heavily retouched. The exhibition essay compares the images to the work of abstract expressionists.
Fifty-One US Military Outposts presents overt and covert military outposts used by the United States in 51 countries across the world. Once again, the sites were gathered and located using data which exists in the public domain, including official US military and veterans' websites, news articles, and both leaked and official government documents and reports.
"The internet is full of loopholes and leaks," the artist said. "I remember one day Hilary Clinton had categorically stated: 'we have no US military presence in Honduras.' However, the next day I was on Panoramio and was looking around pictures from Honduras - sure enough there was a photograph of a native Honduran worker with his arm around a sergeant major from the US cavalry regiment. The Honduran had even written to all his mates talking about how happy was to have got a job on this US military base. So the internet is full of these really simple leaks that completely contradict statements made by very powerful organisations."
The prints are displayed on plinths filling the rear gallery space, allowing visitors to walk around and watch the images from above, as if we were satellites. Or drones.
The walls of the space downstairs are covered with Henner's ongoing Scam Baiters series. Scam baiters are internet vigilantes who pose as a potential victims in order to waste scammer's time and potentially expose their identity,. They respond to their email, pretend to go along with the scammer's demands in exchange for time-consuming requests supposed to ensure that the money transaction will be successful. Henner is showing cardboard signs that various scammers were asked to make as a result of email conversations, negotiation of fraudulent documents and bogus websites. One case involved an almost four-month long correspondence between Henner's associate, 'Condo Rice' and a trio of scammers spread across Libya and the United Arab Emirates. In one of his final message, the scam baiter asks the scammer for proof of identity. He asks for a photo containing a U.S. flag held on a stick, a sign with SKAMMERZ ISHU, and 'to be absolutely certain this is a genuine photograph", the scammer has to wear an Obama mask.
Sound recordings of the scammers singing popular songs permeate the space.
Henner is currently shortlisted for Consumption, the Fifth Prix Pictet Award. The exhibition of finalists will be on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London in May 2014, where Henner will show a selection of works from his "Oil Fields" and "Feedlots" series.
Please, don't miss Martin Creed: What's the point of it? at the Hayward Gallery if you're in London. It is visually stunning, very entertaining and it doesn't even require you to wriggle with your brain if you don't want to. In fact, i think this is contemporary art for people who can't suffer to see the words 'contemporary' and 'art' side by side. But don't quote me on this, i never tried to bring a contemporary art-hater to a retrospective of an artist who won the Turner Prize with Work No 227: The Lights Going On and Off, an installation in which the lights of an otherwise empty gallery were turned on and off every five seconds.
Also i am not entirely impartial when it comes to Martin Creed. I love his work. Whether it's the Sick Films in which people enter an empty white space and proceed to vomit on the floor, the mocking neon signs or the cactus plants neatly positioned by size. I LOVE his work.
What's the point of it? is a retrospective which aim wasn't to simply assemble most of Creed's most representative pieces, but to provide a multi-sensory experience. As the following two works will easily demonstrate...
The word MOTHERS almost literally hits you as you enter the gallery. You instinctively duck as the 6 gigantic neon letters slowly gyrate and dominate the whole room. It is fun and slightly menacing. I wonder how the Hayward wasn't served a loud "Health and Safety No No." Meanwhile, 39 metronomes lined up on the floor gently tick at various speeds.
The small glass room above is filled with some 7000 balloons. I'm claustrophobic. Even the title of the installation, Work No. 200. Half the air in a given space, made me hyperventilate.
The exhibition is also an optical party: the walls serve as a happy splashy backdrop for the works. Creed covered them with layers of paint, stripes of adhesive tape and even with rows over rows of small broccoli prints.
There were also videos from the Sick Film and Shit Film series. Work No. 660 shows a rather elegant and not entirely at ease young woman entering the frame and defecating in the middle of a white gallery.
I wish i could find online videos from the Sick Film series. I don't care much for the crap ones but the vomit series is mesmerizing. Some people throw up generously. Others struggle to do so and eventually give up. "Living," as the artist explains "is a matter of trying to come to terms with what comes out of you... That includes shit and sick and horrible feeling. The problem with horrible feelings is you can't paint them. But horrible vomit - you can film that."
Rise and fall of an erection on to the Hayward's terrace. Creed has distributed works outside of the usual gallery space: on the terrace, in the bathroom, in the lifts of both the Royal Festival Hall and of the Hayward Gallery.
So what's the point of this exhibition? I guess there are many answers to that question. For me, it's about getting lost in sensations, being surprised, feeling awe and disgust at the same time and having a very happy moment that lasted long after i exited the show.
Ah! Martin Creed! Even the man looks very cool.
Martin Creed: What's the point of it? is at the Hayward Gallery until Monday 5 May 2014.
Most people are fascinated by ruins. The appeal of the crumbling and the decaying is such that it has its own term in photography. It is called "ruin porn" and Detroit is one of its most celebrated subjects. Tate Britain currently has an exhibition about the mournful, thrilling, comic and perverse uses of ruins in art. It is called Ruin Lust. Not because Tate curators are prude and proper but because they are erudite, the title of the show, i read, comes from the 18th-century German architectural word Ruinenlust.
The exhibition begins with the eighteenth century's fascination for ruins among artists, writers, architects and travelers. Think J.M.W. Turner and John Constable. I can't summon much enthusiasm for paintings, etchings and sculptures of the past so i'm going to stop the romantic trip here, shamelessly skip the first parts of the exhibition and focus solely on contemporary works. Most of them photography.
Contemporary artists see ruins, not simply as scenes for aesthetic pleasure and remembrance of past glory, they also question their essence and even view them as as sites of rebirth and new opportunities.
Even if i deliberately only enjoyed a small part of Ruin Lust, i exited the show content and ready to enjoy any overlooked and crap-looking bit of urbanism London has to offer (before they become a real estate 'prime location'.)
Here is a hasty tour of the show. It represent only a very subjective and photography-heavy perspective of it:
Jane and Louise Wilson have long explored architectural spaces that evoke power and control. The artists started photographing decaying Nazi bunkers on France's Normandy Coast, after having read an article by J.G. Ballard on their place in modernist architecture. "We were intrigued by the World War II bunkers that were being drawn back into the water," Jane says. "It was like something from an ancient civilization, but darker."
The Russian Ending, by Tacita Dean, is a series of photogravures with etching inspired by postcards documenting disastrous events. The title of the series refers to a cinematographic practice of the early 20th Century when the last sequences of European movies exported to America and Russia were filmed twice. American audiences would watch the 'Happy End' while a 'Tragic End' was made for Russians.
Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin have photographed marks and drawings made on the walls of what seems to have become a tourist hotspot in the town of Sulaymaniyah in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq: the Red House. The building was originally the headquarters of Saddam's Ba'athist party. It was also a place of incarceration, torture and often death for many Kurds. Broomberg and Chanarin
The artists photographed the marks left by Kurdish prisoners. We cannot tell what marks were made when and in what order. History presents itself as a palimpsest. If you wish you can sense in these photographs echoes of Brassai's surrealist images of scratched grafitti from 1930s Paris or Aaron Siskind's photos from the 1950s of daubs and tears made in hommage to abstract expressionist painting. But the context is more pressing and more fraught. The traces recorded by these photographs may relate to past events in the history of the Red House but nothing is settled in Iraq yet. While the photographs are fixed forever, these may not be the last marks made on these walls - David Campany.
In 1984 and Beyond, Byrne re-enacts a discussion, published in Playboy in 1963, in which science fiction writers - including Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke - speculated about what the world might be like in 1984. Unsurprisingly, they were way off the mark.
Black-and-white photographs accompany the video work look like they came straight from the 1960s but if you look better you realize that they show objects, landscapes, cityscapes and scenes that might just as well belong to 1963, 1984 or now. They show the future that might have been, that probably never was but that still loiter in today's world.
Keith Arnatt's deadpan series A.O.N.B. (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) subverts the idea of what is picturesque and what deserves to get our attention by pointing the camera to the most prosaic man-made interventions in the landscape.
Five Sisters is a derelict land site in the Midlothian and West Lothian area which John Latham, during his artist's placement with the Scottish Development Office, recommended they be preserved as monuments. He also proposed that the 'bings' (huge heaps of coal waste) should be preserved as monuments. Latham's proposed to erect sculptures, in the form of books, on the summits of the 'bings'.
Instead of working like a photojournalist and look for dramatic scenes to document, Graham searched for subtle traces of political instability left in the landscape. Graham said: "It's a combination of landscape and conflict photography, using small seductive landscapes to reveal the details."
Savage photographed abandoned locations around North Kensington. In the 1970s, the area had very little in common with the chic neighbourhood it later became. He wrote:
These photos were taken on an old Pentax during January 1977: their purpose was to serve as an image bank for the second issue of the fanzine London's Outrage. The location was the square of North Kensington that lies between Holland Park Road, the Shepherd's Bush spur, Westbourne Park Road and the Harrow Road.
The bulk of the images come from the streets around Latimer Road and Lancaster Road: the district called Notting Dale. Here, as in other inner London areas like W9 (the Chippenham) and WC2 (Covent Garden), the tide of industry and humanity had temporarily receded. Slum housing stock had been demolished, but there was no reconstruction: squatting communities like Frestonia (based in Notting Dale's Freston Road) occupied the remaining buildings. Not yet the clichés of punk iconography, large tower blocks loomed like primitive monsters above the rubble and the corrugated iron. I was guided to this area after seeing the Clash and the Sex Pistols. I was very taken with the Clash, partly because their North Kensington manor was so close to mine. Songs like "How Can I Understand The Flies" and "London's Burning" reflected their environment with precision and passion. London was very poor in the late seventies. (via)
Rachel Whiteread's 1996 prints show tower blocks on three housing estates in east London at the moment of their demolition. The images were scanned from photographs and stages in each of these demolitions were documented in three photographs taken from the same view-point. A fourth photograph of each site from a different location records moments that preceded or followed the knocking down.
The Demolished photos record what Whiteread calls 'something that is going to be completely forgotten ... the detritus of our culture', creating a memorial to the past in the hope of generating something better for the future.
Tacita Dean's film Kodak explores the ruin of images and obsolescence of technology. The artist traveled to Chalon-sur-Saône (France) in 2006 to visit and film the final days of the production of the company's 16-mm film stock.
On the day of filming, the factory also ran a test through the system with brown paper, providing a rare opportunity to see the facilities fully illuminated, without the darkness needed to prevent exposure.
Please, don't let this post convince you that i don't like painting. Laura Oldfield Ford's look at brutalist estates and architecture's failed attempts to build an egalitarian society.
A visit of the exhibition Mind Maps: Stories from Psychology yesterday made me realize, once again, that i should be grateful to live here and now and not at a time when melancholia was treated with a 'healthy' dose of electric shocks and nerves were supplied with a 'vital energy' by wearing an electrical belt previously soaked in vinegar. This ancient cure looked like jolly good fun though.
Mind Maps explores how mental health conditions have been diagnosed and treated over the past 250 years. Divided into four episodes between 1780 and 2014, this exhibition looks at key breakthroughs in scientists' understanding of the mind and the tools and methods of treatment that have been developed, from Mesmerism to Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) bringing visitors up to date with the latest cutting edge research and its applications.
The small show is everything but dull and scholarly: controversial treatments such as electroconvulsive therapy and poisonous nerve 'tonics' are followed by pendulum measuring the speed of thoughts, Pavlov's experiments on conditional reflexes and by Freud and his couch.
Every single object in the exhibition comes with a fascinating and at times chilling story. The only criticism i'm ready to make about Mind Maps is that ongoing journey into the mysteries of the brain and the nervous system would benefit from a less dim and confined exhibition space.
Highlights from the exhibition:
The artefact i found most puzzling was the 'frog pistol' developed by German scientist Emil du Bois-Reymond to demontrate 'animal electricity' to his students.
A fresh frog leg was placed on the glass plate inside the tube, with the nerve ends connected to the keys on the top of the pistol grip. When these keys were depressed, a contact was made and the leg kicked back as it if had been electrified.
The small pistol instrument was of course inspired by the work of Luigi Galvani. In the 1780s, the Italian doctor discovered that sparks of electricity caused dead frogs' legs to twitch, leading him to propose that electrical energy was intrinsic to biological matter. Some of the instruments used by Galvani in his pioneering studies of nerve activity are presented in the exhibition, they haven't been displayed in public for more than a century.
The nerve/frog connection doesn't stop here. A dried frog inside a silk pouch is a testimony to the resilience of folk medicine in the 20th century, the essicated amphibian was carried around the neck 'to prevent fits and seizures.'
Let's keep on the macabre mood with this 17th century dissection table from Padua with all the nerves of (presumably) an executed criminal laid out on it to form a map of the nervous system on a varnished wooden panel.
Tiberius Cavallo, a leading European authority on medical electricity, designed this compact electrical generator and its accessories, including the 'medical bottle' that regulated the shocks it administered. Turning the glass cylinder built up a static electric charge in the metal collector on the side of the machine.
The patient stood inside the D'Arsonval cage while harmless high-frequency alternating current from the tesla coil on a desk pulsed around the metal framework, generating powerful electromagnetic fields inside the body. The treatment was claimed to stimulate metabolism, reduce obesity and eczema, and temporarily relieve nervous pains.
The cage was only one of the many devices that Dr J-A Rivière, "electrotherapist and pacifist", used in the 1890s. His Paris clinic specialized in 'physical' treatments involving water, air, heat, light, electricity and after 1895, the newly discovered X-rays. Patients were seated in electric chairs, flooded with electric light or plunged into electrified bathtubs.
Huxley's 'Ner-Vigor' was used between 1892-1943 for "strengthening the nerves." Like some other medical products of the period, it contains a very small measure of the strychnine poison.
The Nervone 'nerve nutrient' was launched in the 1920s as an alternative to harmful nerve tonics and was still being sold in the 1960s when it was replaced by new anti-anxiety and depression drugs such as Valium.
Nerve scientist and Nobel Prize winner Charles Sherrington was fascinated by the way cats kept their balance while negotiating obstacles at speed. This model was used to illustrate how the cat's eyes, whiskers, neck, legs and tail continued to work together even when the 'highest' portion of its brain had been removed.
The period that followed the Second World War saw the rise of several controversial treatments, including electro-convulsive therapy (where electricity is used to induce a brain seizure) and lobotomy.
The machine was designed to deliver just enough current to a gold electrode to make a peppercorn sized hole in the brain. This technique, also known as leucotomy, was a more precise form of lobotomy. It was used from the early 1960s to treat patients with uncontrollable anxiety.
Electroencephalography (EEG) remains an essential element of the psychology laboratory. It is frequently used in conjunction with brain scanning.
Batteries to stimulate nervous energy sometimes also featured religious symbols, because mental health needs all the help it can get, right?
Mind Maps: Stories from Psychology is free and runs at the Science Museum in London until 10 June.