On Wednesday, the Saatchi Gallery will open Red Never Follows. The exhibition features 20 contemporary artists and celebrates the 20th anniversary of HUGO. In fashion speak, the show has been called a 'pop-up exhibition'.
Judging from the programme, Red Never Follows should make for a very entertaining Summer distraction (whether you're interested in fashion and aftershave or not): inflatable architecture, virtual painting using visitors body movements, pulsating kinetic sculpture, floor to ceiling ultra violet-light installation, robot and a bit of street art thrown in for good measure.
I was commissioned an editorial for the exhibition website and I was in jolly company. Filip Visnjic from Creative Applications wrote about Breeding Innovation, Julia Kagansky from the Creators Project was assigned Creativity and Lifestyle, Peter Kirn from Create Digital Music wrote about the discipline blur, Verena Dauerer from Design Journalists produced a text about global trends & innovation. That said, i didn't win the lottery with the theme i was given: Brands as creative enablers. But i do like a challenge, the result of which i was asked to copy/paste here:
From alcoholic genius Orson Welles celebrating the virtues of Paul Masson chablis on TV commercials to rapper Nicki Minaj designing a line of lipsticks for MAC Cosmetics, the idea that brands are champions of creativity can be taken in its most literal guise. It's a case of elementary mathematics, of iconic figures adding their aesthetics and/or charisma to the surface of a brand. When the temporary alliance is successful, both parties are happy, the product acquires edge and visibility, profiles are raised, everyone takes their share of the profit.
Over the years, however, several collaborations have demonstrated that the brand/creator coalition can enter into a more mutually fruitful dialogue. And in these instances, the mathematical operation generates a result far greater than the sum of its parts.
Various scenarios can emerge at different stages of a creative career. Brands can intervene early, at educational levels, partnering up for example with interaction design departments to investigate the future of money, mobility or health care. The goal is not to come up with the next killer app or gadget but to help both the brand and the student sharpen their discourse, focus and outlook at upcoming potential areas of investigation. At the other end of the spectrum are brands that team up with a creator, or group of creators who have already gained recognition (albeit sometimes a fairly marginal one.) The company will commission them to devise a new intervention, a performance or an artefact. Creators might then have free rein, either exploring further a direction they were already working on or taking the commission as a challenge and opportunity to experiment with even bolder ideas. The results can definitely be arresting. The most absurdly endearing example I've ever seen dates back to 2007 when a British style magazine asked Miltos Manetas to come up with a website that expressed the huge debt felt by artists towards Andy Warhol. The outcome is a seemingly never-ending animation of cute creatures literally saying a million thank you's to the pop art guru. More recently, Yuri Suzuki drove around London in a taxi equipped with a microphone that recorded ambient noise such as traffic, police sirens, pneumatic drills, etc. while specially designed software analyzed the frequencies of the rather unpleasant urban sound, and used them to compose and play music in real time. All in the name of a new headphone release that would not have generated such a buzz among design and music aficionados.
As the examples above demonstrate, the dialogue between the commissioning company and the creative individual(s) doesn't necessarily involve any direct commercial application. Sometimes, it is not even about long-term brand building. Instead, we are talking about two partners reveling in the freedom to experiment, take risks and surprise.
I won't conclude that one model of collaboration should be abolished at the benefit of the other. I am perfectly happy with the idea that both types of alliances coexist. The one that involves little more than Shepard Fairey slapping his OBEY Giant character onto a pack of Trusto Cereal. And the partnership that requires both parties to challenge themselves, throw their own boundaries through the window and look for new forms of expression. Whether we're talking about graphic design at breakfast or remastered urban cacophony, all directions deserve to be explored. If anything for a practical reason: long gone are the days when the artist had to be this romantic figure who starved in the name of pure beauty. Nowadays, creators need to pay their rent too and as long as they don't feel like they are losing their soul and credibility in the deal, they can use the collaboration as a platform to gain wide exposure and opportunities for professional and artistic development.
But the other reason is that most people don't feel the need nor desire to enter art galleries, theater halls and museums and that is fair enough. Art, design, music and other creative disciplines are never as powerful as when they exit the air-conditioned safety of institutional and commercial white cubes and go directly to the public. That's precisely where brands have an opportunity to step in and play a more nurturing role to young creativity. Because, for better or for worse, brands are everywhere we look, walk, eat and socialize.
I've never met anyone who said that our cities and sheer human existence were in dire need of more branding. We could, however, all do with a little more creativity and imagination in our life.
On 12 July, the Arts Calalyst organised one last evening of discussions in its Clerkenwell Road HQ.
The Language of Cetaceans brought together two men who share a passion for whales. One is environmental scientist and marine biologist Mark Peter Simmonds who investigates and raises awareness about an issue that is far away from our sights: the threats to the life of marine mammals caused by the increasing emissions of loud noise under water. The other is artist and inventor Ariel Guzik who has spent the last ten years looking for a way of communicating with cetaceans.
The evening started with Nicola Triscott, Director of the Arts Catalyst, showing us the Field Guide To UK Marine Mammals. I had no idea there were whales, dolphins, seals and sharks sharks on the coast of the UK!
We might think that oceans are silent but they are filled with noises and animal conversations. First of all, marine mammals, fish, and a few invertebrates depend on sound to locate food, identify mates, navigate, coordinate as a group, avoid predators, send and receive alert of danger as well as transmit other types of information. It's very dark deep in the ocean so hearing is the sense they rely the most on.
Nowadays, however, whales and other mammals cannot hear with each other because of all the man-made noise intruding on their habitat.
Some of these sounds are so loud, they are driving the animals away from areas important to their survival, and in some cases injuring or even causing their deaths. The intense sound pulses of mid-frequency military sonars, for example, have been linked to several mass whale strandings. But it's not just the military that is to blame. The fossil fuel industry is firing loud air guns fusillades to detect oil buried under the seafloor, undersea construction operations drive piles into the seafloor and blast holes with explosives. Add to the picture, the dramatic growth in shipping traffic that generates a constant noise.
Whales are particularly vulnerable because they communicate over vast distances in the same frequencies that ship propellers and engines generate. The whales are not only unable to communicate with each other but they also panic when the noise gets too loud. When they are hit by a blast, the creatures flee, abandon their habitat and with that the source of their alimentation.
NGO Ocean Care has launched the Silent Ocean campaign. Have a look at their video, it explains the issue with more clarity and details.
And here's the video of Mark Peter Simmonds's talk:
Ariel Guzik then presented his attempts at creating instruments that would mediate the communication between cetaceans and humans. One of his latest instruments is currently shown in the Mexican Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.
The devices that the artist developed over the course of his career go from Laúd Plasmaht which uses the electric variations of Mexican cactuses to make a concert for plants to Nereida, an underwater capsule that doubles as a musical instrument to establish contact with cetaceans.
Here's Ariel Guzik's talk. It is not as fast-paced and entertaining as the one by Mark Peter Simmonds but Guzik is one of those 'crazy' visionary artists whose work involves biology, physics, music and a deep respect for the environment. His work, i'm sure, will fascinate you:
The rest of Ariel Guzik's talk is over here!
Only a few days left to see Glitch Moment/ums at Furtherfield Gallery in Finsbury Park! The show is about glitches or those malfunctions, bugs or sudden disruptions to the normal running of machine hardware and computer networks.
From a video tutorial on how to make your own glitched visuals to screen captures of glitches weaved in black and green, the exhibition shows various approaches by artists hacking familiar hardware and their devices which include mobile phones, and kindles. They disrupt both the softwares and the digital artefacts produced by these softwares, whether it be in the form of video, sound and woven glitch textiles.
It's a stimulating show for anyone who is already interested in glitch culture. And it's an eye-opening experience for those who have only vaguely heard of the artistic approach to tech errors. I'm somewhere in the middle. I'd never pass for a glitch expert but over the past few years, i've encountered a few artworks that make a creative use of accidents or create them on purpose.
Glitch Moment/ums was curated by Rosa Menkman and Furtherfield. One can't dream of a more competent curatorial team: Rosa is the editor of The Glitch Moment(um) book (which i can't recommend enough) and the organizer of the GLI.TC/H festival. Among their many activities, Furtherfield are running one of the most approachable and though-provoking galleries dedicated to practices in art and technology i've ever visited.
Because i still have much to learn about everything tech & glitch, i contacted visualist, theorist and curator Rosa Menkman and asked her a few questions about the show and about glitch culture in general:
What does moment/ums - the title of the exhibition - refer to?
The title of the exhibition 'Glitch Moment/ums' references 'the Glitch Moment(um)' book I released in 2011. In this book I describe how my first encounter with a piece of glitch art came hand in hand with a feeling of shock. What had once been a first person shooter was now a broken, pixelated vortex of confusion (Jodi, Untitled Game, 2006). I was lost and in awe, trying to come to terms with an experience that seemed unforgivable. But finally, these ruins of expected functionality revealed a new opportunity, a spark of creative energy that showed that something new had taken shape. I felt questions emerge; what is this utterance, and how was it created? Is this perhaps ...a glitched video environment? But once I had named the glitch, the momentum -the glitch- was gone ...and in front of my eyes suddenly a new form had emerged.*
These days I try to understand glitches as a manifold of moment/ums, having their meaning depend on time, discourse and context from which they are perceived. First, the glitch is a break from an expected flow within a (digital) system. Here, it is perceived as an absence of (expected) functionality and often experienced as an uncanny, threatening loss of control. This moment itself then can become a catalyst, with a certain momentum - a power that forces knowledge about actual and presumed media flow, onto the viewer. What was voided of meaning, becomes interpreted and gains new meaning.
But as I wrote in the (Glitch) Art Genealogies catalogue: [the meanings of] these glitches are constantly subject to revision: their language systems emerge, their meanings shift, idioms ossify and standardize into a fashion or genre.
The glitch thus heralds a transformative power - a potential to modulate or productively damage the norms of (techno-)culture. To study glitch is to engage a study of the succeeding turns and changes of failure and functionality, revolutions and ossification. A concept represented in Antonio Roberts work 'What is Revolution?'.
How come something that used to be regarded as a problem has been elevated to a phenomenon that is exhibited online and in art galleries?
I feel that many people have lost the ability to formulate questions - this generation has become good at researching and finding answers or creating new datasets: In university, in the library, or on google ('the internet') we are conditioned to find and formulate answers. However, I feel there is a general inability for conceptualizing new questions. Maybe this is because we don't understand things well enough to be able to formulate the questions we have or because we have been conditioned to see things in a certain way, making it difficult to shift our perspective.
Personally I think that one of the most important roles of art is to create problems that provoke curiosity - the impulse to investigate the limits of what we know and to ask questions. I understand glitch studies as a field investigating dis-functionality that can be co-opted into a desired functionality.
And because glitch art is so seducing, i've also been wondering whether or not it has already been translated into a more mainstream commercial world?
The concept that a glitch can be designed or distributed through standardized glitch software, seems at first maybe a-typical, but has in fact become a more and more common tendency and even important tradition in recent glitch art. More and more 'new' glitch art is being modeled after authentic glitches inherent within older media, perpetuating a shift from destabilizing breaks within technology or information-based processes towards a generic and associative display of more or less 'retro' effects.
Besides this, mainstream media have a tendency to leach onto any emerging aesthetic and try and capitalize on it.
The biggest loser Australia in which glitches are used as transitions between spy cams that film 'illegal' activities of one of the contestants.
The MTV video music awards using glitches to make the sponsors (-Verizon-) look cool.
I actually created a youtube channel in which to collect glitches found in popular culture and media. It's a very loose collection of snippets of advertisements, movies, videogames and television that use glitch effects for different purposes. I think these forms of glitch are examples of the growing vocabulary of media materialities in which different glitch effects gain meaning beyond their original technological /root. Some day I actually would like to write a dictionary of glitch effects.
What's next for GLI.TC/H? Are you planning other exhibitions, publications or events?
GLI.TC/H is the title of a festival I co-facilitate with Nick Briz and Jon Satrom, which has been running for three years now. GLI.TC/H concepts and ideals are based on the free and open sharing of inspirations and theoretical and technological knowledge and maybe even more so on creative community building (DIT = Do It Together), poking and pushing. The GLI.TC/H happenings aim to bring like-error-minded bug collectors together IRL, to engage and share work/ideas/concerns and to foster collaborations.
So whats next? First off... we might be losing our domain in the near future due to "a personal dispute" based over the .tc extension (which is associated with the Caicos Islands). This is why the name of the GLI.TC/H festival might change to GLI.TX or maybe GLI.FK...
Besides this we are working on a GLI.TC/H 2112 READER[ROR} - a publication associated with last year's festival.
* A slightly re-written paragraph from: Menkman, Rosa. Tipping Point of Failure. Exhibition Catalogue. November 2010.
More photos in Furtherfield's Glitch Moment/ums flickr set.
Keep Your Timber Limber (Works on Paper) explores how artists since the 1940s to the present day have used drawing to address ideas critical and current to their time, ranging from the politics of gender and sexuality, to feminist issues, war and censorship.
As the title implies, there's nothing sheepish nor restrained in this show. It displays male superheroes ready to spring into action while wearing restrictive feminine outfits, muscular cavemen ogling one another and men of religion ejaculating on themselves. The appropriate opening for the exhibition is thus Fucked by Numbers, a 8 metre long graffiti of a penis firing a US flag. Numbers being scribbled around the phallus to details the statistics of the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. How many died, how many refugees, how many dollars spent, how many US army veteran suicides, etc.
Judith Bernstein's work is a contemporary version of an image she first made in 1967, to protest the war in Vietnam.
In case the Brits feel left out by the artist's disapproval, the Union Jack-Off Flag, with the words 'Jack-off on US policy in Vietnam' awaits the visitor on the other side of the wall.
If Bernstein's drawings bring the spotlight on male urges to display power and to destroy, Cary Kwok's work looks at male vulnerability at the moment of orgasm.
I was amazed by Kwok's blue biro drawings. But i can't remember having ever been so felt so embarrassed when watching some artworks.
The drawings of Touko Laaksonen, aka Tom of Finland, played an important role in popularizing gay culture. His depictions of homosexual encounters are jolly, humorous and carefree and that's precisely what made them revolutionary. Before him, homosexuals were represented as sad, pervert, dirty and clandestine men. Tom of Finland clad them into police or sailor uniforms, leather outfits and lumberjack attires -that would later be seen on the member of the disco group Village People- and let them frolic in woods and changing rooms.
In an interview with Charlie Porter, Curator Sarah McCrory says that Marlene McCarty has been looking at women who work with primates and their relationships that have broken beyond ethical and moral boundaries. Women who have been looking after apes and let them sleep in their marital bed, either as if they were children or in different ways. She's looking at confusion within sexual roles.
"My hominid images are all also based on true-life narratives of intense relationships between humans and apes", the artist further explained. "I'm interested in the idea of hybridization (a term used in the study of evolution to indicate those gray areas where one 'species' interbred with another). The process of evolution has been cleaned up for our basically Calvinist/Puritan Western thinking. We uphold very clear distinctions of various species (especially our own) as they've developed from one another, but what doesn't really get talked about is that sometimes one species would begin to appear alongside another and there was most probably interspecies breeding. (Example: Homo neanderthalensis more than likely bred with Homo sapiens, although most schoolbooks would simply present them as one following the other.)"
Keep Your Timber Limber might well be one of my favourite shows in town this Summer. I will however agree with the ever grumpy Adrien Searle when he writes that some of the artists don't quite fit into the show. The fashion illustration of Antonio Lopez seemed a bit meek in the exhibition context and i couldn't quite see the point of adding one drawing by George Grosz that shows over-fed members of the bourgeoisie followed around by skinny figures.
The Life in the United Kingdom test is a computer-based test which must be passed by would-be British citizens to qualify for indefinite leave to remain in Britain or to naturalise as a citizen. It consists of a series questions covering topics such as British society, government, everyday life and employment. The test has received criticisms for its inaccuracies and for being so difficult that most native-born citizens wouldn't be able to pass it successfully. Some have even compared it to a bad pub quiz.
Kristina Cranfield, a MA (RCA) Design Interactions graduate, had to pass the test a couple of years ago. The experience inspired Manufactured Britishness, a graduation project that looks at the future of citizenship in Britain.
In Kristina's scenario, prospective citizens might one day be submitted not only to tests that require them to memorize dates and facts but they would also have to go through physical tests. In a further stage, all citizens, no matter where they were born, would have to prove their 'Britishness' by passing the test too.
Ultimately, the project asks the questions: At what point does one 'become' British? What are the criteria and who makes the final decision?
Kristina illustrated the new test with a series of props and with a film that depicts a fictional system where immigrants must undergo physical assessments to demonstrate their worth as prospective British citizens. Post-industrial locations have been turned into training zones where immigrants go through pre-learned and repetitive tasks in order to pass the new test of citizenship. They sing Messiah by Handel, show appreciation for Newton, and demonstrate a calm demeanour when dealing with social accidents and emergencies - all strictly aligned with Britain's customs, culture, and values. Are they British now?
The film is visually stunning and the ideas behind it are provocative but, rather worryingly, not totally implausible. In any case, i asked Kristina to tell us more about Manufactured Britishness.
The project was inspired by your own experience with the Life in the UK test. You passed the test successfully a couple of years ago. Why did you decide to stretch the test to new extremes: physical assessment, citizenship that can be penalized or even revoked, and even a test that has to be passed by all citizens?
By designing this extended regime, the project highlights and criticises the government's absurdist inventions contrived for acquiring citizenship, where testing goes contrary to common sense, and where Britishness becomes manufactured, scripted and measurable.
The test continues to get harder than when I passed it three years ago. The notion of revoking, penalising and extending the test to all citizens aims to question the fictitious idea of citizenship in the first place. Suggesting new and contentious citizenship rules provokes the attention of existing British citizens, to internalise the problem, enabling one to understand their ideologies and attitudes to immigration, subjectively. Who is a citizen and what makes or defines one?
Apart from the existence of this test are there other trends, ideas and issues in contemporary Britain that guided some of the directions that the project is taking?
My project cuts through a number of social and political issues in Britain. I'm fascinated by British post-industrial landscapes, for example, which I have visited and researched over the last few years pretty extensively. It's very sad to see these places, like muted industrial ghosts spread around the country, for sale.
I wanted to question the future of these disused locations that have ceased bringing any value to society or the economy since the end of Britain's industrial era. In my project, these zones host new detention facilities for immigrants, in a new plan for Britain to generate mass profits.
This is a dark vision, but by forecasting such undesirable possibilities, we are forced to contemplate brighter alternatives. It also attaches a warning sign to the policies we make today, and how they might evolve in the future.
The Life in the UK test has attracted much criticism in the press. Do you want to talk about your own feeling and experience of it? Do you think that the test fulfilled its role? Do you feel more British now that you've passed it?
Becoming a citizen is an exceedingly bureaucratic and painstaking experience, which is unbelievable when we live in such a globalised world were we are all in constant motion, no matter what our origin or destination.
I certainly do not feel more British after passing the test. I'm dubious whether a first generation immigrant can ever be compelled to feel that way. I think the test is more of a political tool designed to curb immigrant naturalization and to maintain the status quo attached to the whole idea of citizenship. I see this as a grossly inhumane notion and ask what's the limit - today we have detention centres tomorrow these could be akin to concentration camps.
Could you describe the scene we see in the film and in the stills of the project? The tests that candidates to citizenship have to pass?
The film features three training zones where immigrants engage in pre-learned and repetitive tasks, which are largely based on questions from both editions* of the Life in the UK test.
The scene outside the factory is designed to enforce patriotism for British culture and traditions, which immigrants must embrace and exaggerate. Surrounded by a line of imposing chimneys, they are being tested on singing Messiah by Handel and correctly flying the Union Jack. In the scene with red apples, immigrants are dropping and picking up apples to show their knowledge and appreciation of Newton, thus becoming a vehicle for national aspiration.
The scenes from the white quarry are cruel and take the concept of monitoring behaviours and reactions to the extreme. Clothed in clinically white uniforms, immigrants must uphold a pleasant and calm demeanour during social accidents and emergencies. They blend into their sterile environment, becoming part of a lifeless, dry landscape. Hot tea is being poured slowly over the immigrant, can he remain polite?
The scene with an emergency situation is based on a real question from the Life in the UK test. According to the test, the correct behaviour during emergencies is first to establish the name and address of the injured person and then to call an ambulance.
The blue zone tests immigrants on being neighbourly. Don't make noise; do not wear heels upstairs, wear soft slippers; identify weeds that can damage your garden; stay tidy etc.
For every action, there is a set protocol for what to do and how to live, supposedly like a Brit.
In my film, I wanted to create an inescapable feeling of torment when going through the processes of becoming a citizen. It's like giving evidence from the witness stand at trial, where you are put on the spot, with a pair of eyes intensely fixated on you, there is no escape and no dark corners to hide.
So, to create this vision through film, the aesthetical choices were very carefully considered at each stage. The colours, lighting, locations, characters and props were all cautiously selected to communicate the pointless 'official' scheme of the future.
The films of Roy Andersson, and in particular Songs from the Second Floor, especially inspired the final cinematographic decisions in Manufactured Britishness.
Could you explain one of the sentences in the description of the work: "In this future, we see immigrants as an exploitable material, a living currency, compelled to sustain national identity in order to maximise capitalistic agendas."? Where is capitalism in this new, extended set of Life in the UK tests?
I see British traditions and culture as having already very much exploited by commercial agendas. Sadly, almost everything in Britain seems to be assigned a price tag. Manufactured Britishness takes this perception to new extremes, extending this trend to every aspect of the nation. All aspect of Britishness, including behaviour, activities and manners will start having a pure commercial value that will then influence people's everyday lives. And this is to some extent already happening. It predicts a Britain where national identity is forcefully upheld by immigrants, in a new sort of slavery, so that it can stay a perfect and prosperous society, a spectacle to the entire world.
The project is quite provocative and I suspect that a few people might have been offended by it. What was the reactions of the visitors of the show? Both British and immigrants?
The piece was created to confront the audience with a politically contentious issues, which has seen my work met with varied reaction, and sometimes the odd raised eyebrow. On the whole, however, my audiences were exceptionally receptive to the film and I have received a great deal of interest in seeing the film extended into a full feature. I also would like to use this project as a forum for policy-orientated ideas and initiations, to challenge aspects of citizenship and its possible course in the future.
*The 2nd and 3rd editions of The Life in the UK tests. The 3rd edition was published in April 2013, it is the most updated version.
The project that Owen Wells developed and exhibited at the Design Interactions graduation show this year looks at the Arctic, a region that global changes has transformed into the new El Dorado.
It is feared that Arctic summer sea ice is melting at a rate faster than predicted, and could be ice free as early as 2015. The loss of sea ice and innovations in exploitation technologies are making the Arctic region more easily accessible. And more easily exploitable. The Arctic is indeed home to the world's largest untapped gas reserves and an estimated 13% of the world's remaining oil as well as vast mineral deposits are thought to lie beneath the ocean floor. The resources expose the Arctic to corporate greed and to potential geopolitical tension caused by unresolved sovereignty claims.
Well's research project, Who Owns The Arctic, identifies the weakest territorial points and the legal loops in the status of the Arctic sea region to devise four subversive ways to overcome the legislation and shake the system that protects the Arctic.
Through an examination of the weaknesses of systems subversion can be seen as a form of critique - a deceitful narration of legitimate practices. With the help of several members of my own family who offered specific expertise, I have planned 4 subversive financial enterprises for the arctic. Each seeks to exploit the unique infrastructure, ecology, and legal ambiguity of the region to provide devious financial rewards. The project takes the form of scenes, maps and equipment. Through their planning, these schemes identify and expose the legitimate systems set to exploit the Arctic.
The first scheme is called The Mineral Rush. Under the guise of a normal fishing routine on the west coast of Svalbard, Russian men feed Beluga whales with by-catch stuffed with lithium. Whales soon start to show the early signs of lithium toxicity and after 5 days, suffer seizures, organ failure, and eventually die. When the mammals are washed onto the west coast of Svalbard, experts conclude that the metal in their bodies indicates the presence of vast deposits of lithium off the Svalbard coast. These rumors ultimately trickling through to the 39 signatory states of the Svalbard treaty, countries who retain the right to undertake commercial activities on the island without discrimination.
In the second scheme, The Fishing Dispute, Russian crab boats travel to the northern tip of the Bering sea. Once the ships have entered the Alaskan king crab fisheries, 20 icosahedron crab pots are deployed and the vessels return to waters within the Russian exclusive economic zone. 2 days later, they come back to tow the catch north, 1,600 km underwater. The pots are released in the Beaufort sea where fishing rights are still claimed by both America and Canada. After 5 days the cotton netting surrounding the pots dissolves, freeing the crabs. An anonymous press leak reporting catches of King crab far beyond their normal range is later sent to newspapers in both Barrow, Alaska, and Toktoyaktuk Harbor, Canada. The resulting scramble for the prized crab meat will greatly increase the opportunity for confrontation between Canadian and American fishermen, driven by confusion over fishing rights.
A third scheme involves an oil spill caused by devices placed on top of icebergs that travel from the northern tip of Greenland into to North Atlantic. On this journey they float past Hans Island and onto the oil fields of Baffin bay and the Labrador sea where, if spotted, they are usually towed a safe distance from the pipelines and oil rigs. But in this scenario the remotely activated devices would shake the iceberg apart. Still large enough to sink a ship or damage a rig, the smaller chunks of ice would not be detected by radar nor by the naked eye. The icebergs would thus float quietly onwards to the oil fields.
The last scenario involves a man working for the Keystone Pipeline, a pipeline system that transports oil sands bitumen from Canada and the northern United States "primarily to refineries in the Gulf Coast" of Texas. The man's job is to operate a pig launching station. He makes extra money by smuggling goods across borders on board of a "pig", a devices used to clean and survey the pipeline.
More details about each scheme can be found in this PDF.
Hi Owen! You asked members of your family to help you create 4 subversive financial enterprises for the Arctic. What are their areas of expertise? And why did you decide to work with members of your family? To show that anyone can do it?
Finding the true direction of the project was quite a painful process. After lots of research and deliberation looking for what I was interested in it dawned on me that specific friends and members of my immediate family had a really unique but highly specialised set of skills that I could hypothetically corrupt. I don't want to give too much away about them because I respect their anonymity, but the main area of expertise I was able to draw upon centered around aspects of the shipping industry. It was through this advice that I was made aware of the Arctic as an environment where climate change is in the process of rendering the region potentially prone to corporate profiteering and political tension. In the latter stages of the project I also had advice on finance, and icebergs.
The dialogue around the amount of sensitive information readily available on the internet is pretty visible, particularly at the moment. While there is undoubtedly a huge amount of inspiration for potential deviants on the internet (The UN website offers information on how to set up shipping front companies if you're willing to sit through some very dry videos) the opportunity to "physically" construct this kind of network, around the dinner table so to speak, was far too enticing. The implication that anyone can do it is defiantly a big part of the spirit of the project.
The texts describing the four enterprises in the show looked as if they were merely the start of a thriller. Why did you give just set the scene and didn't go further in the description of the scenario?
I planned each of the four parts of the project pretty meticulously. I scouted locations, used google maps to plan how far and for long different actions would take. I produced inventories for different sections of the trips, found out how and where I get important pieces of equipment, and how many people were involved at any one time. Rather than display these as maps I decided to condense them into introductory texts. The scale of the schemes was far larger than anything I had dealt with before and so the texts gave me a way of contextualising them within the voice of individual characters. While specific locations might not be instantly recognisable I trust that the region is visible enough to begin to imagine what each of the schemes is suggesting.
In a way the schemes themselves serve as introductions - a way of describing the complexity of problems that climate change provokes beyond the environmental effects that everyone is aware of by now. There is room for them to be presented in more detail and I hope to develop the project beyond its current incarnation. Perhaps I might hold one of the arctic states to ransom in order to fund it.
Several objects were exhibited in the show. Can you explain the one linked to the oil spill? How would it work exactly? Which technology does it use? And could you confirm how it would eventually trigger an oil spill? Would it be through an encounter similar to the one that sank the Titanic?
Of the four objects in the show that one is by far the most speculative in terms of how well it would work in the field. Icebergs are such an ominous symbols of danger that I had to include them, but they are notoriously difficult to destroy. The mechanisms through which they are created make them incredibly tough - there are reports of dropping bombs on them and only making a dent.
The device that I exhibited was an amalgamation of a helmholtz resonator and an autodialing device. The autodialing device would cycle through frequencies until it found the resonance frequency of the ice, similar to the way autodialling machines could theoretically crack a safe. The frequency would then resonate though the Helmhotlz resonator into fracture lines that are formed when icebergs calve from the face of a glacier and fall into the sea. The resonance effect would eventually cause the iceberg to break itself apart through vibration, forming smaller but potentially far more dangerous chunks of ice. In practice it is difficult to predict the effect this would have on an iceberg because it is dependent on structure not dampening the effects of resonance. I couldn't confidently tell you if it would work in the field, but the object serves a narrative purpose so plausibility won out.
The weakness lies not in the icebergs themselves but in the system through which they are found and tracked. There are daily iceberg reports available through the International Ice Patrol (an entity whose existence was brought about by the sinking of the Titanic). Their main tool for finding Icebergs is Side looking Airborne Radar (SLAR), so if an object can evade radar (which smaller chunks of ice smoothed by the erosion of ocean are good at) then effectively it remains invisible to the system. Part of the current research on icebergs is about developing a way of towing them from collision courses with oil rigs. The actions of the individuals in the oil spill scenario are intended to make the icebergs invisible to radar by turning larger ones into fragments, flooding an oil rich area with ice that cannot be detected and hopefully (in this instance) won't be spotted in time to be towed from a collision course.
I'm afraid i didn't understand very well the Mineral Rush scenario, the one with the Beluga whales poisoned by lithium. The start is crystal clear but it's the consequences of the perceived presence of lithium off the Svalbard coast that isn't so easy to understand. How are the 39 signatory states of the Svalbard treaty supposed to react to the lithium deposit?
The Archipelago officially became part of Norway under the terms of the Svalbard treaty. This treaty also states that the signatory countries (whose exact numbers fluctuate depending on what you're reading) have equal rights to exploit mineral deposits in Svalbard. This scheme relies on the stock market to spread a rumor that there is a potentially valuable mineral wealth that has been made visible through its effects on the local food chain. Money could be made through buying land and the selling it once its value has risen due to the potential for prospecting. Alternatively the rumor could be used to engineer demand for legitimate infrastructure.
This one is by far the most complex of all the schemes and admittedly would benefit from a far more in depth demonstration of how it could function.
Finally, i was interested in knowing about antecedents for this exploitation of the weaknesses behind the laws and rules that protect the Arctic region. Did you come across similarly devious tricks from fishermen, speculators, businessmen or others?
Around Australia there are lots of reports of people smuggling operations exploiting a part of maritime law that states that you must always help a boat in distress. If the authorities intercept them on route then they will feign distress and by maritime law have to be towed to the nearest port rather than turned around. This only seems to delay the inevitable rather than allowing them to achieve their goal.
As I previously mentioned you can find out from the UN website a process that allows you to set up what amounts to a collection of front companies through a relatively cheap corporate web. This is a practice that is legitimate, pretty common in shipping, and is openly advertised. You have nominee directors and have physical shares that can be handed to people rather than existing digitally, so the real owner can remain anonymous. To see how this system worked at a very basic level, I got a quote to incorporate a company in the Marshall Islands on behalf of 5 Norwegian businessmen I pretended to represent; it was a very convenient service.
In the open ocean laws and rules become a little abstract because the high seas are still the high seas - Jurisdiction becomes incredibly complex and in some places redundant. There are international waters where ships come under the jurisdiction of the state under whose flag they sail, but if that state has no interest in bringing them to justice then law becomes unenforceable. Piracy proliferates in these areas. It's completely anarchic in places, and forms a big part of international shipping discourse. Once the Arctic sea ice melts more thoroughly then ships will be able to pass through sea routes in the Arctic and avoid piracy areas, as well as save huge sums of money on fuel. This is why the Arctic is about to become so important to shipping.
If you want a good example of corruption at sea then have a look at the Salem case from 1980. It is too long to explain here but it involves government officials, a criminal sea captain and scuttling a supertanker during the South African oil embargo.
As for the Arctic I haven't heard anything specifically about exploiting the law in the region. That doesn't mean that there isn't anything, but it still won't be really accessible on a large scale for a number of years, so for now any underhand behavior is still hidden. At a governmental level the consensus appears to be to promote good relations between the Arctic states and protect the environment. This is fantastic, but the Arctic is a long way from prying eyes, so as a theatre of deviance (both "legitimate" and "illegitimate") it will surely become a very attractive prospect, if not already.
If I may I would like to say thank you to Alexa Pollmann, Hyung-ok Park, Lana Z Porter, Mohammed Ali, Shing Tat Chung and the family and friends without whom this project would not have been possible.
All images courtesy Owen Wells.