Given my notoriously campy taste in music, you will be relieved to know that i'm going to carefully avoid reviewing the music side of Barcelona's International Festival of Advanced Music and Multimedia Art. What's left then? Fashion, a bit of advertising and the SonarMàtica exhibition.
Sonar's participants' fashion sense was tamer than i expected this year. Hop! Hop! Let's move on to the festival's advertising campaign which have, so far, shown an unconstrained taste for shocking, surprising and amazing. Taxidermied animals, Smiley, people with pee stains on their pants, creatures of worrying genetic heritage, notorious fraudsters and even Maradona have starred in Sonar's posters and promotional videos. Have a look at the photo set of Sonar's most provocative ad campaigns and at the video that the festival created back in 2001. That year, broadcasters refused to air the original video but didn't object to this ridiculously censored version.
This time, the Sónar image is on the safe side but it is nevertheless striking. The heroes of the posters and video are cute majorettes from the world of dreams, who have lost their bearings in the land of the living as a result of calls from a fiendish telephone booth. Follow their 14 minute long adventures:
SonarMàtica is actually what usually brings me to Sonar. The title of the exhibition this year was Mecànics. It aimed to give a platform to some of the driving forces behind nowadays' artistic and mostly DIY creation: mostly centres of production based in Barcelona (with notable exceptions such as MediaLab Prado in Madrid) which were given the opportunity to showcase ongoing projects and postgraduate projects but also to organize workshops, tours and open rehearsals.
Mecànics is the third and final exhibition in the SonarMàtica XIXth Century trilogy, a research project drawing comparisons between the nineteenth century and the twenty-first century. Unlike the two previous exhibitions, Et Voilà!, which highlighted the relationship between magic and technology, and Future Past Cinema, which looked at the recovery of pre-film formats in contemporary, Mecànics had a fairly diluted identity/ The reason for that lays probably in the fact that the exhibition was showcasing the best of what Barcelona makes in art production center rather than exploring with brilliance and cohesion a defined theme. The result is rolllercoaster that leads you from gems to strikingly weak pieces.
I caught myself thinking i shouldn't have bothered. This edition of SonarMàtica had decided to write off SonarCinema, Digital à La Carte and also the artists talks and debates i had enjoyed so much last time i was there (unless, damn! i've missed it). A few projects i've (re)discovered in the exhibition made it worth the trip though:
The Sounds of Science (los sonidos de la ciencia), developed by Jay Barros during MediaLab Prado's Interactivos?'09: Garage Science workshop, uses off the shelf and mostly recycled equipment to create audio visual remixes of sounds and images captured from the urban micro-environment, to "lay-down" some beats and frequencies that serves as a musical score for a visual display of what exists beyond the realm of our everyday vision. At the heart of the project is a home-made microscope designed with a CCD sensor from a camera and the lens from a CD player. Image processing programs analyze various samples from protozoa gathered in urban environments and turn them into algorithms which provide the basis for visual and sound composition.
L'Orquestra dels Luthiers Drapaires (the Luthiers Drapaires Orchestra) is made of spectacular robotic instruments that have been created out of technological waste found on rubbish dumps and in the street. Telenoika has decorticated the waste and enhanced it with a little help from circuit prototyping and acoustic research.
"Luthiers Drapaires" is proof that the waste we generate provides enough raw material to build sophisticated devices. Besides, the growing amount of tools and information available online provide everyone with the possibility to access the knowledge needed to turn rubbish into artworks.
For Sónar, the orchestra was composed of a percussion set made of electromagnetic pistons; a theremin made from two radios; an adapted television which works as an oscilloscope; a guitar made of string, a crate of wine and the engines from a hair removal machine; and a set of automated tubular bells.
Yuri Suzuki brought some much-needed poetry to the exhibition. He displayed some of his charming Physical Value of Sound pieces but also a 2004 piece called Jelly Fish Theremin. The movement of a fish in a horizontal bowl controls the sound, air- conditioning, the visual image and lighting.
Small gold fish were swimming inside the instrument at Sonar but the original work used a jellyfish: I used jellyfish as the control center, since jellyfish are made up of 98% water, and I thought that the will of the water would be reflected in the movement of the jellyfish, if only a little. If we were able to create a space controlled by jellyfish, wouldn't it be the ultimate place of relaxation?
And if you understand japanese...
Image on the homepage courtesy Yuri Suzuki.
While in Barcelona for the LOOP festival, i had the wonderful opportunity to attend a talk by Harun Farocki, an independent filmmaker who has spent the past decades investigating the relationship between technology and our representation and understanding of the world. I only got to discover his work at Documenta XII where 12 screens were showing in real time different views of the 2006 World Cup final (France - Italy), some were surveillance camera footage, some focused on isolated players, others overlaid the game with graphic and statistical analysis of ball direction and player speed. Titled Deep Screen, the installation provided an excellent case of 'too information kills information.'
Harun Farocki's presentation in Barcelona focused on two of his short experimental documentaries which, each in its own way, explore the status of new technical images.
I Thought I Was Seeing Convicts (video extract) is a two-screen installation. On the first screen are images from the maximum- security prison in Corcoran, California. A surveillance camera shows a concrete yard where the prisoners are allowed to spend half an hour a day. The camera suddenly zooms in on a fight between two prisoners. Those not involved lay flat on the ground, arms over their heads. They know that fires rubber bullets are coming if the convicts ignore the warning calls. If the fight continues, the guard shoots real bullets. The pictures are silent. The camera and the gun are right next to each other. This video also emphasizes the social relationship between the one who fires and the one who films, between the one with force and the one who takes shots. After that, it takes nine minutes before the convict is taken away on a stretcher. Farocki explained that in the course of 10 years, guns went off 2000 times in the prison. Hundreds of inmates were wounded, a few dozen heavily injured, five were shot dead.
The second screen displays found sequences, images generated by computers that track shoppers as they move through the aisle of the supermarket.
Unlike the prison sub-genre that the cinema industry produces, the images that surveillance camera churn out are excruciating to watch. There's no artificial condensation of time nor space that even the cheapest tv show can create, no close-up, no director trick that would shorten time, no possibility to re-install the camera, sometimes the images have such a low definition they are hard to read. What these images have however is a high level of authenticity, of believability.
Farocki pointed us to Prison Focus, a Californian organization which, in virtue of the Freedom of Information Act, makes prison surveillance images public.
Check also this interview of Farocki about I Thought I was Seeing Convicts.
The second film, Farocki discussed was Immersion (2009). He recently attended a workshop where films war veterans undergoing therapy for their Posttraumatic Stress Disorder at the Institute for Creative Technologies, a research centre that develops and uses virtual reality and games to recruit and train the soldiers, but also to treat them. The traumatized soldier has to done a head mounted display and immerse himself into the first person shooter game while a psychotherapist coax them into re-living the most traumatizing moments of their war experience.
What interested the film maker was the fact that if in the past an image was a direct reference, today it is in competition with images generated by computer science. The computer image have now acquired a higher status of believability because scientists have worked together to tune it and make it as close to the reality as possible. These sophisticated models are now competing with 'the real thing.'
Video art is best screened inside isolated dark rooms. Seats are more than welcome, especially if you have to watch tens of videos in a row. LOOP art fair understands the importance of the comfort factor better than most biennales, museums or even film theatres. The fair took place inside the snug rooms of the Hotel Catalonia Ramblas (great breakfast buffet, über-shitty wifi) right in the center of Barcelona during 3 afternoons. Videos were displayed on big screens inside bedrooms and some galleries added a smaller screen in the bathroom to show another piece. So here we were all cosying into armchairs, spreading over beds, taking notes in the dark and chatting in the corridors of the hotel.
Here's a few works i noticed:
Specta Gallery brought two animations by Lars Arrhenius. One of them is The Big Store. A collaboration with Johannes Müntzing, The Big Store is set in the Stockholm department store where Swedish minister of foreign affairs Anna Lindh was assassinated in 2003. Arrhenius/Müntzing have set their focus on the minutes before the murder, as any other day at the store, except that customers, shop keepers, and other protagonists appear as if their body had passed through an x-ray machines. People wander quietly inside what is probably many people's nightmare: a long walk inside a shopping mall emptied of the only elements that makes it remotely appealing: its goods.
Max Estrella Galería de Arte selected the work of Daniel Canogar to represent his gallery. Now Canogar's didn't come with artworks that could be described strictly as videos and that's what made the gallery's bedroom all the more interesting.
One of the pieces on show, Jackpot, a collaged panel formed by broken fragments of slot machines. A projection back-lights the panel with Las Vegas-type flashing lights. The piece looks at our fascination with media screens, the extolling of money as the new religion of late capitalism, and indirectly alludes to the financial system as a game, whose current troubles highlight the inherent dangers of being seduced by its glimmering light. 'Screen' is the key word where LOOP and Jackpot intersect. The video installation is indeed the result of the artist's quest for new ways to break the traditional frames of the screen.
The bedroom of the gallery Filomena Soares was the magical one. I sat there for almost 40 minutes to watch in loop a video that lasts only a few minutes while people around me kept whispering words such as "fantastic" and "magnificent". "O Percurso" (El Camino), a video by Vasco Araújo, attempts to encapsulate three key elements that define gipsy culture: inheritance, nomadism and oral tradition. The video shows the journey through the inhospitable landscape of Andalusia of a man and his son, they just left a land behind them and are looking for a new one. While walking, the son wonders when they are going to arrive and his father tells him again and again that no land is theirs, just like the wind isn't, that what matters is never to stop. What matters is freedom.
Susi Jirkuff is interested in media perceptions and relations between reality and fictions, stories and images. Her videoanimations are playing with different TV genres. By remixing viewer assumptions they reveal the manipulation by the media. The espaivisor - Visor Gallery in Valencia, Spain, brought two of her videoanimations to the fair.
The works on show explored the paradox of pop music: on the one hand it's a product made to be a commercial success, no matter its quality. On the other, it's a expression for intense emotions.
The artist explained: I'm interested in the gap between the media presentation and the message that is received by the consumer. In pop music this gap is deep: on the one hand a settled product consisting of a constructed personality, visual perfection and music, on the other hand an often young recipient who is very much emotional involved in his own life and uses this product to express himself. Emotions are transferred into feelings, a sentimental consumable print of psychic experiences. We more and more learn to act and stage aside an authentic emotional expression believing that we are very authentic.
Braverman Gallery was screening an arresting video by Gilad Ratman. The 588 Project started when the artist discovered on you tube videos showing men immerging themselves completely inside thick mud, breathing only through plastic tubes. Ratman went to see those mud immersion enthusiasts and documented them as they are swallowed up by the mud. Watching the video only makes you feel claustrophobic.
Because of the huge amount of art events i attend each year i sometimes have the feeling that i'm slowly mithridatizing myself against the pleasures of art. I'm glad events like this reminded me why i got into art blogging in the first place. See you next year at LOOP, ok?
My favourite moment at the LOOP festival lasted exactly 47 minutes. I was sitting on the cold floor of one of Barcelona's most extraordinary landmarks, drinking orange juice and watching DOLLS, a video by Annika Larsson (extracts).
DOLLS explores forms of control or the codes and expressions of power, submission and violence. Five men are evolving in an almost blank space, performing excruciatingly banal tasks or just waiting to be served. The men don't seem to have any further meaning or purpose than to their fulfill routine tasks: pouring coffee in a cup or going from point A to point B in order to serve a piece of white bread with butter on a small white plate. These actions are so pedestrian, measured and dull, one would expect robots rather than human to perform them. But what will happen when we all have robots at home that perform menial tasks for us? Won't we find it desirable and exotic after some time to prepare coffee ourselves once in a while?
As the five men are evolving inside the highly abstract space, they obey rules that escape us, they crush objects in close-up with crampon mountain shoes, glide over the floor on their ice skates and their eyes never ever betray emotion.
The careful framing, cold colours, close-ups, slow-motions and Sean McBride's music further contribute to the derealizing effect.
The three-part video takes place in an uncomfortably closed space, a location that would evoke a contemporary art "white cube" would it not be for the coloured markings and geometrical symbols carefully placed on the walls and ground. Is it a playground that could come straight out of a scene from Mon Oncle? Is it a video game set? Both? Or is it rather a Suprematism painting stirred into motion? The signs on the floor and walls are actually similar to the ones used to teach humanoid robots how to find their way and execute some tasks in a given space.
DOLLS was screened inside the Mies van der Rohe Pavilion and I can't imagine a more suitable place than the pavilion to show Larsson's video. They have the same geometrical architecture and coldish beauty.
I was surprised to discover that Annika Larsson is generously making some of her work available online. As far as i could have observed, not many video artists are ready to share their work on youtube or vimeo. I had the opportunity to meet the video artist in Barcelona and asked why she didn't restrict her video screening to the strict perimeters of a brick and mortar art gallery. She told me that first of all, watching a video on a laptop screen at home is a very different experience than the one that would see you dress up, go to an art gallery and experience in a space that the gallery has dedicated to it, with the sound played at the right intensity and quality.
Larsson isn't afraid that the online distribution would enable other people to take undue inspiration in her work, "being an artist has always been about copying and stealing anyway," she explained.
She even shot PIRATE, a short film using images taken during a demonstration by the Swedish anti-copyright movement (Piratbyrån and the Swedish Pirate Party) in Stockholm. I'm going to bow goodbye and leave you with the film:
As i mentioned yesterday, the LOOP video art festival and fair that closed a few days ago in Barcelona has been the good surprise of this Spring. To be honest, i arrived expecting intense boredom to fall over my head. Video art to me evoked mostly those long days at the Venice art biennale where i'm usually too tired to stand through a long string of videos that last at least 30 minutes each. Sure, the LOOP fair presented a couple of videos that didn't make me want to check whether they would last more than 20 seconds but my experience of the whole festival was generally a very enthusiastic one.
The festival part of LOOP was distributed throughout the city center, in museums, cultural centres and other venues. Meaning that i could shop, see a video, shop, get lost in the small streets, see another video, have a drink, see a video or just have an aimless walk. No video overdose in sight. I didn't find the time to see everything but over the next few days, i'll blog some of the pieces i particularly enjoyed in the festival:
For his video series, War Tourist, Emanuel Licha traveled to five cities which have recently been through a war, deep crisis, natural catastrophe or which are known to be dangerous. There, he pretends to be curious tourist, hires a professional guide and asks him to organize a guided tour of the worst destruction or the most dangerous zones of the city.
The videos brings into full view our voyeuristic attraction to human misery. The guide organizes a tour of his client's phantasmed city, inventing an idealized version of reality, thus not reality itself. It would be easy to pretend that none of us, politically correct, smart and sophisticated people, could risk to be regarded as a war tourist. Yet, the videos are so fascinating that one realizes that it's hard to be immune to the fascination for suffering, ruins, destruction and desolation. War Tourist is therefore a deeply disturbing series. Not only does it contains heart-breaking details about the tragedy that the cities have been through, it also reveals a voyeuristic side we'd rather pretend we never had.
In every city the guide speaks in a perfectly clear English. Yet, his speech is subtitled in English, keeping thus a safe distance from all that torment and devastation.
War Tourist in Sarajevo visits post-war Sarajevo's ruins; War Tourist in New Orleans goes on tour of the region devastated by Hurricane Katrina; War Tourist in the Suburbs of Paris brings the visitor to Clichy-sous-Bois, a suburb of Paris where riots took place in 2005; War Tourist in Auschwitz is set in the famous death camp and War Tourist in Chernobyl visits the area devastated after the explosion of the nuclear power plant.
Just back from LOOP video art festival and fair in Barcelona. The event is for video art lovers only. So what was a video art sceptic like me doing there? Well, i was busy becoming a convert. I'll come back with the why and how in a lengthier post. In the meantime, here's an example of an artwork i discovered (and unsurprisingly liked) at LOOP.
The fair had invited dozens of galleries from all over the world but only a few of them were brave enough to stray from the strictest limits of what video art is or should be. One of them is Virgil de Voldere Gallery (New York) who brought Brody Condon's video game modifications to Barcelona.
Two of the pieces shown by the gallery belong to a series of re-interpretations of Late Medieval Northern European religious paintings as games that play themselves, just like Condon did with some of his previous works. Most notably my absolute favourite Karma Physics< Elvis.
Brody modified a first person shooter game and exchanged the violent animations with dreamy, otherworldly and elegant scenes. The characters in his artworks seem to be suspended, they are waiting for the player to tell them what to do. Except that there is no way any player can take control of them. There's just a computer and the screening of the scene. No joystick enables visitors to free the characters' gestures from their limbo.
DefaultPropeties(); is a free interpretation of the baptism scene from the Triptych of Jean des Trompes by Gerard David from 1505. This "self-playing" game depicts a man with a horrible skin disease apparently lost in prayer in a Northern European medieval landscape. Right behind him is a man with a flaming sword in his right hand. One doesn't know the intention of the man with a weapon: is he going to harm the other man or perform some sort of knighting? Meanwhile the sky is filling with a swirling extra-dimensional portal from which is emerging a astral being of unknown but seemingly royal nature.
Four nude figures inhabit the second "self-playing" game, Resurrection (after Bouts). A man in the back with red tights and a head of animated hard edged abstraction seems to have a really bad trip, he reels from side to side in a trance; an eerily pale angel slowly performs a yoga tree pose over and over again while two other men idle sit quietly by the fire. Once again the surrounding light has the typical luminosity of medieval paintings. This time, the sun hovers between sunset and sunrise. Resurrection (after Bouts) is inspired by the Resurrection scene by Dirk Bouts from 1455. All the figures from the original paintings are clearly recognizable. Only Christ is represented as the campfire.