I don't know why i didn't visit Suzanne Treister 's solo show at Annely Juda in London as soon as it opened. I guess i've been lazy and since the lazy is always rewarded, the show has been extended till 22 January, giving me another chance to see it.
In pure Treister fashion, In The Name Of Art and other recent works unwraps the extremely dense networks that tie together secret detention facilities run by the CIA, government control, mass surveillance technologies, military intelligence and counter-intelligence, drone operations that kill and drone operations that entertain the gallery-going crowd. You want to dismiss it as conspiracy theories but Snowden, Wikileaks, and human rights reports urge you to pay attention. At the risk of making you uncomfortable.
Much of Treister's recent work maps ways that human intelligence and military intelligence currently interact and work on each other. She explores how in a world increasingly determined by pervasive technologies and the demands of the military and security arms of government and state, new relations between the observer and the observed have been established and new subjectivities formed.
The work The Drone that Filmed the Opening of its own Exhibition did exactly what its title says. Treister brought a drone at the opening to film the exhibition and its visitors, highlighting the expanding role of UAVs in both military and civil life. The catalogue-newspaper accompanying the exhibition reminds us that the performance is far from being purely entertaining and anecdotic as military drones have killed between 3,500 and 5,000 people (and not all of them were 'combatants' as we know) since 2002.
Camouflage was probably the work that intrigued me the most. Treister sourced documents related to the U.S. Department of Defense's GIG and the NSA's PRISM surveillance programmes. Both programmes are for use in times of war, in crisis and in peace. Treister further obstructed the content of leaked graphics from internal power-point presentations about PRISM by painting patterns over them.
The abstract black shapes of CIA Black Sites are supposed to silhouette secret CIA interrogation centres. The drawings directly reference Malevich's Suprematism compositions to evoke the CIA's support of abstract art in the 1950s while the title of the work alludes to the secret prisons where terrorism suspects are held, interrogated and kept out of the view of the public and the law.
The KGB works in the ART FOR OLIGARCHS series (a series which also includes a stunning STASI Wallpaper that recall the ubiquity of pre-digital surveillance and which i was silly enough not to photograph) points to the overlap between people who were powerful in the security agencies of the USSR and the new turbo-capitalist powerbrokers and the Post-Soviet oligarchy that the Western contemporary art market has become so dependent on.
In each orchis militaris flower, the sepals and side petals are gathered together to form a pointed "helmet" (whence it gets its name). By this point you will probably see evil and machination everywhere, so please do let your imagination run wild.
emeyefive looks at the life of Stella Rimington, the first head of the British Intelligence agency MI5 whose name was made known to the general public. The name of the director of the agency had so far been regarded as a state secret but an investigative campaign by the New Statesman and The Independent newspaper published photos of her, forcing MI5 to roll out on a new programme of transparency.
Suzanne Treister, In The Name Of Art and other recent works is open until 22 January 2014 at Annely Juda Fine Art in London. DON'T MISS IT!
Previous post about Treister's work: HEXEN.
The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on ResonanceFM, London's favourite radio art station, is aired tomorrow Wednesday afternoon at 4pm.
My guests in the studio will be Carmen Salas and Estela Oliva, the founders of Alpha-ville, a London-based organisation with a mission to connect people working in the fields of art, technology, design and digital culture. Alpha-ville has been busy since 2009 organising events, commissioning new works and curating programmes for arts and cultural organisations, festivals, promoters, events and agencies.
During the show we will be talking about what it takes to be a digital curator and producer today, and we will also discuss EXCHANGE, Alpha-ville's upcoming conference which will bring together some of the most talented digital artists and designers but also the community of Londoners working at the crossroads of art, technology, design and digital culture. That's going to be on January 17th and last time i checked there were still a few places available.
The radio show will be aired this Wednesday 8 January at 16:00, London time. Early risers can catch the repeat next Tuesday at 6.30 am. If you don't live in London, you can listen to the online stream or wait till we upload the episodes on soundcloud one day.
Photo on the homepage: 24 Sep - Hearn Street Emptyset 077.
Brutal and Beautiful: Saving the Twentieth Century was a very small but enlightening exhibition that celebrated post-war listed architecture in England. I went to see the show one day before it closed so, for once, i have a good excuse for the ridiculously late review. It took place at the Quadriga Gallery, on the second floor of Wellington Arch right in the middle of Hyde Park Corner. I don't think i had ever been to Hyde Park Corner before.
Brutal and Beautiful, thus. The images below speak for themselves and I won't need to comment much on the adjective 'beautiful', even if, for many people, their aesthetic qualities are somewhat debatable. But brutal, in this context, requires a few lines of explanation. It comes from the term New Brutalism coined by architects Alison and Peter Smithson in 1953 to define a style that used the béton brut (raw concrete) as much as it used light and innovative materials. The term probably contributed to the unpopularity of the style but in fact, what the Smithsons had in mind was not concrete aggressively poured all over the country but 'honesty of expression and of natural materials.' This is therefore not a show about brutalism even though the style has a strong presence in the gallery.
The exhibition presents brutal and beautiful cathedrals, libraries private houses, landscapes, war memorials, schools and industrial buildings. They were built between 1945 and the 1980s, in times of austerity and boldness. Each of them has been listed which means that they may not be demolished, extended, or altered without special permission from the local planning authority. Buildings and landscapes can be considered for designation once they are 30 years old. Younger structures can be protected when they are under severe threat or are considered outstanding, that's how the Lloyd's building became the youngest listed edifice. And ultimately, the exhibition invites us to rethink what makes a historic building:
Now the Royal Festival Hall and Coventry Cathedral are popularly admired but at the time post-war listings were fiercely debated and the future Tate Modern was rejected. Brutal & Beautiful looks at our love/hate relationship with England's recent architectural past and asks 'what is worth saving?'
It's fascinating to see how buildings that have been much maligned are now seen as iconic. Think of the Trellick Tower --and the smaller but equally arresting Balfron Tower-- by Ernö Goldfinger, an architect as famous for his arresting council blocks as he is for his unpleasant character so much so that, as you probably know already, Ian Fleming named one of James Bond's villains after him.
The Barbi! The upswept balconies, i read in the gallery, reduce wind resistance.
That said, all's not rosy and cheerful in the world of Brutalism. The Heygate Estate, in Elephant & Castle, provided the gloomy setting for violent scenes in the Luther tv series until its demolition started and John Madin's Birmingham Central Library will be teared down in 2014. But, hey, at least the the Preston Bus Station is doing ok.
And i'm going to leave you here with some brutal and not so brutal archi porn:
The photographs in the exhibition were by James O. Davies. They will appear in a forthcoming book, Space, Hope and Brutalism: English Architecture 1945-1975 which will be published next year by Yale University Press. I'll definitely get my hands on that one.
Related: Utopia London.
Brutal and Beautiful: Saving the Twentieth Century is thus closed. The next exhibition to open at the Quadriga Gallery, however, seems to be equally interesting: Almost Lost: London's Buildings Loved and Loathed. It will run from 4 December to 2 February 2014.
I used to go to the Imperial War Museum in London just to watch the hanging planes, the V2, the tanks, etc. The place is under renovation right now and i stopped paying attention to their programme (the war machines are wrapped up somewhere.) Big mistake! A few weeks ago, they've opened Donovan Wylie: Vision as Power, a show that explores the impact of military architecture on the landscape.
Vision as Power brings together five projects from radically different parts of the world but that are interconnected through the surveillance apparatus. Donovan Wylie grew up in Belfast during the Troubles and living under military surveillance has had an undeniable impact on his work.
Built in 1976 to house terrorist prisoners, the Maze prison segregated men according to their political beliefs and membership of paramilitary organizations.
Wylie started working on the series in 2002, just as the prison had closed under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and the last inmates had been transferred to other prisons.
Wylie then extended his research to the British Watchtowers, the surveillance architecture built at the height of the Troubles, when South Armagh was one of the most heavily militarised areas of Northern Ireland. The British army built a network of watchtowers and observation posts in order to control cross-border smuggling and paramilitary attacks but also to maintain an intimidating presence.
As part of the Northern Ireland Peace Process, the watchtowers were dismantled between 2005 and 2007. As Whyle documented their presence in the surrounding countryside, British troops were deploying to Afghanistan, taking with them elements of the Northern Ireland watchtowers.
The Maze informed the watchtowers, and the watchtowers informed the Afghanistan work. I wanted to show this evolution, the photographer explained in an interview for the British Journal of Photography. When I was making the pictures of the watchtowers, they were coming down [being dismantled] and many of the soldiers working on them were going to Afghanistan. Elements of the structures were being taken to Afghanistan. Modern warfare is very transient, it is built to move, but basically it's the same idea regardless of nationality or politics or whatever - take the high ground and use vision as a method of strength and protection. Ultimately what I think is fascinating is how we use landscape as a tool of war.
Another series shown at the IWM explores American defensive structures in Baghdad, Iraq. The Green Zone was the international administrative zone of central Baghdad, controlled by the Coalition forces during the Second Iraq War. Wylie saw similarities in the way people were contained in the Green Zone and how they were imprisoned in the Maze.
Wylie's series Arctic closes the exhibition. The white and extreme environment is home to cyber radar stations unmanned and operated electronically to detect any presence seeking out lucrative natural resources along Canada's Arctic frontier made more fragile by global warming and the new routes though the Northwest Passage it enabled. Once again, the only analogy is with dystopian sci-fi. To Wylie, they are a striking example of surveillance attempting to deter future conflict.
Ultimately, the exhibition reminds us that surveillance is not confined to the spaces of military conflict. Surveillance is the default characteristic of our society, as the revelations about the extent of mass online surveillance have recently demosntrated.
Donovan Wylie: Vision as Power is at the Imperial War Museum in London until 21 April 2014.
There is a lot to say, dislike (portraits of perma-tanned, bejeweled ladies) and like (all the rest) about u s e r u n f r i e n d l y, UBERMORGEN solo exhibition at Carroll/Fletcher.
Whether it's a painting, an installation or a website, everything in u s e r u n f r i e n d l y comes with an uncomfortable background. Take Perpetrator: the photo of a young man shouting in an abandoned train station. The print is part of a series of photo and video works inspired by the life of Guantanamo Bay military guard. His name is Chris Arendt and he is, we read, an offspring from a white trash meth family. Arendt registered for the army at 17 and was sent to Guantanamo Bay two years later to serve as prison guard in Camp Delta. He saw and did things he could never forget and never forgive.
In 2008, Chris stayed at the UBERMORGEN house for two months. They didn't realize that things could go wrong...
The exhibition keeps this level of tension and mental provocation throughout the rooms, relentlessly encouraging visitors to think about censorship, mass surveillance, torture, democracy, e-commerce, etc. The kind of issues that can't be more contemporary, yet, are hardly ever brushed upon in other contemporary art exhibitions (or fairs, i'm looking at you Frieze!)
Some of the works in the exhibition explicitly invite visitors to participate. Superenhanced (A Parallel Universe) recreates the instruments and conditions of an interrogation facility complete with handcuffs, a hood and shackles. You can either play the part of the prisoner or of the interrogator who's guided in their task by a helpful interrogation software run on the tablet at their disposal. I didn't chain myself to the chair, thank you but i did love the way the installation makes use of the elegant concrete architecture of the gallery. You have to almost crawl through a very low passage in order to access the interrogation room. It has no ceiling so anyone in the upper level can monitor what you're doing down in that space.
u s e r u n f r i e n d l y shows new works but also some of UBERMORGEN's 'classics'. Such as [V]ote-Auction, one of my favourite projects EVAR! In 2000, UBERMORGEN posed as 'Eastern European business people" who gave American voters the opportunity to sell their vote in the election campaigns opposing Al Gore an George W. Bush. "Bringing capitalism and democracy closer together" was the tagline of the enterprise.
Mayhem ensued! The project gained enormous media attention, the legal system started an investigation in 14 States. And so did the FBI, the CIA and other organizations. In total the project generated 2 500 news features. The works was also at the origin of the Internet Domain Legislation by ICANN, the governing body of the Internet. Quite impressive for an intrusion into mass media that required only cheap and low-tech instruments. Ubermorgen calls this type of action "actionism" and "media-hacking."
In China, there are over 2000 online-gaming workshops employing young people called Gold Farmers to play MMORPG games. The farmers acquire ("farm") items of value within a game, usually by carrying out in-game actions repeatedly to maximize gains, sometimes by using a program such as a bot or automatic clicker.
They sell the in-game gold coins and other virtual goods they've harvested to players and/or farming organizations and get "real" money in return. Players from around the world then use the golden coins to buy better armor, magic spells and other equipments to climb to higher levels or create more powerful characters. Many other workers, however, intensely dislike the Gold Farmers because they disrupt the rules of the game.
UBERMORGEN's Belgrade series depicts WoW screenshots of hardcore, underground Western gamers fighting Chinese Gold Farmers to stem the trade. The images were taken during a game session at a large arcade in Belgrade. A first series of Chinese Gold was actually documenting the other side of the East vs. West battle by photographing the Chinese gaming workshops.
"This work is one of the results of our meeting with Snowden. We're in receipt of an encrypted data package that circulates as Dark Data inside ethernet cables organised by four 'Beagle Bones'. Any manipulation will result in the immediate deletion of all files." Hans Bernhard
The 'amnesiac' netbooks run TOR privacy software and are wiped clean every reboot. 'The Fridge' (the body) is filled with energy drinks. The CCTV cameras stream and record all government and non government activity inside the gallery.
The installation is actually a working space where any visitor can sit down and use the computers. There's even Club-Mate in the mini-fridge. What else could you want?
All the works in the show deserve a few comments and explanations (except obviously the above-mentioned perma-tanned bejeweled ladies) but I'm going to close this hasty and very partial review with the row of wifi routers that Aram Bartholl hung at the entrance of the gallery. The artist selected a series of UBERMORGEN online works and assigned each of them to a single router which is not connected to the Internet. To see a specific artwork, visitors have to connect to each network individually through their own smart-phones, tablets or laptops.
OFFLINE ART is a new and very pertinent way of showing internet based art within a typical white cube. Simply hanging monitors on the wall doesn't capture the works' native environment. Accessing them via a smartphone or tablet provides a more authentic experience.
u s e r u n f r i e n d l y is at the Carroll/Fletcher gallery until 16 November 2013.
The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on ResonanceFM, London's favourite radio art station, is aired this Wednesday afternoon at 4pm.
My guests will be designers and artists Michiko Nitta & Michael Burton.
Michael works on the edge of speculative design, arts, and as a researcher. His works investigate the choices we face in our evolution as a species and in redesigning life itself. Meanwhile, Michiko's interests are in the relationship between nature and humans, often taking extreme vantage on how humans can change their perception to live symbiotically with nature.
You might have heard of Michiko and Michael's work already. Last year, they were at the Victoria and Albert Museum with a performance that showed how opera singers with powerful lung capacity might produce food in a future world where algae have become the world's dominant food source. And in Spring they were at the Watermans cultural center to explore the possibility of a city that would be isolated from the wider environment and where food, energy, and even medicine, are derived from human origin and man-made biological systems. Obviously, you're in for a weird ride with two charming people...
The radio show will be aired this Wednesday 6 November at 16:00, London time. Early risers can catch the repeat next Tuesday at 6.30 am. If you don't live in London, you can listen to the online stream or wait till we upload the episodes on soundcloud.