My sincere apologies for this belated (but enthusiastic) report from the AND Festival, a festival of new cinema, digital culture and art that takes place annually in Liverpool or Manchester with an extended regional programme.
Finally! An art & tech festival that makes sense. A festival that resonates with the media art expert and the casual passerby alike. An event that values art above in-your-face tech prowess. It was my first visit to an AND festival. I found it witty, surprising, often thought-provoking and enlightening.
Exhibitions, performances, open air cinema and workshops were free and distributed all over the city. My first stop was for the CUBE which was showing two works dealing with biotechnology. Pigs Bladder Football by John O'Shea and Reproductive Futures by Zoe Papadopoulou.
Pigs Bladder Football looks back at the time when football balls were made from pig bladders but instead of using an existing organ, the project tissue engineered small balls from animal cells harvested from abattoir waste. The artist was showing a video, a DIY incubator case as well as prototype of bladder muscle cell growing on 3D-printed polymer scaffold.
Zoe's exhibition was charting the history of assisted reproductive technology, putting the spotlight on landmarks such as the first premature baby wards in the US which used to be part of freak shows, the first test-tube baby, the first orphan who had more than 2 genetic parents, artificial wombs and the possibility to be the 'ultimate solo parent' one day. Reproductive Futures particularly explores one of the many cultural implications of these breakthrough: how are we going to explain children how babies are made? And will the techniques themselves have the potential to fundamentally change the way we perceive parenthood and reproduction?
I'll talk about these two works in more details in the future. Zoe is going to have a show of the final project this Fall in London and an interview with John O'Shea and Professor John Hunt is coming up next month on my art&science radio series for Resonance FM.
The AND festival had also given caravans to artists (London Fieldworks, Hellicar & Lewis, The Center for Genomic Gastronomy, Bureau A, Julian Oliver and Designers Republic) for them to customize, turn into micro art spaces and form a Mobile Republic.
Julian Oliver is perhaps the artist that made the most congruous use of the caravan with a work of "dislocative media." Boarder Bumping highlights the fact that as we traverse borders our cellular devices hop from network to network across neighbouring territories, often before or after we ourselves have arrived. These moments, of our device operating in one territory whilst our body continues in another, can be seen to produce a new and contradictory terrain for action. A free custom-made app on your phone checks for discrepancies between location data and mobile phone towers, thus between where you actually are and where your network says you are. The Border Bumping server then redraws accordingly the map of the national borders you are crossing.
One of the most stunning works i saw at the festival was a duo of videos by Jan Peter Hammer: The Anarchist Banker and Monarchs and Men. They were part of What have I done to (de)serve this? at Blankspace. The show presented works that reflect on the current global financial crisis and explore alternative economic systems.
The protagonist of Pessoa's story was inspired by Artur Alves dos Reis, a fraudster who mounted a scam so big, it shook the credibility of the Portuguese currency, the Escudo. The repercussions on the economy and politics of the country were considerable: the escudo lost much of its credibility and so did the Portuguese government. The crisis enabled the military coup d'état of the 28th of May 1926 and eventually brought the dictatorship of Salazar who stayed in power until 1968.
In Hammer's film, the dialogue between Pessoa's protagonists has been adapted to reflect upon the financial practices of neo-liberalism and the current credit crunch. It is set as a tv talk show in which a banker with a ruthless logic is interviewed in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.
The other film, Monarchs and Men, is a sequel of The Anarchist Banker. The same banker is back on screen with a similar panegyric of 'rational egoism' and individualism. This time the scenario is based on an imaginary conversation between Leon Tolstoy and John Davidson Rockefeller, published in 1913 by Maximilian Harden. Hammer sets the scene at the opening of an art exhibition at a gallery supported by the banker.
The films are brilliantly frustrating. The banker is the star of both. Anyone watching it will detest his brutal point of view and be irritated by the way he invariably defeats any argument opposed to his dogma. But it is also impossible not to admire his eloquence, firm beliefs and unflappable logic. Besides, the media usually show us capitalists attempting to defend their practice. There's no apology nor hypocrisy here, just merciless, unadulterated mindset.
The theme of the Blue Crystal Ball exhibition at the Holden Gallery should have repelled me. Well actually it did repel me but i tried not to let my prejudices stop me. The show presented film and video works that explore the ideals and values of the Olympic movement.
The videos were very different from each other and very good. Without any exception. But i've already exhausted my quota of video reviews that aren't accompanied by any extract online for the day so you'll just have to take my word for it alas!
And i'll close with men briefs. Because i couldn't find any reason not to end on this happy note.
The most unusual objects are lost on the London tube: breast implants, human skulls, false teeth and braces, a jar of bull sperm, stuffed puffer fish, etc. And every year, a surprisingly high number of artworks are left on the underground trains. Charlotte Jarvis recently lost an apple 'contaminated' with synthetic DNA encoding for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The artist contacted Transport for London but they never found it. If ever you've picked up and eaten it, there's no need to be worried, the fruit is neither harmful to your health nor illegal.
The apple was part of Blighted by Kenning, a bioart piece Jarvis developed in close collaboration with The Netherlands Proteomics Centre (NPC), a research center located in Utrecht that studies proteome, the 'set of proteins expressed by a genome, cell, tissue or organism'.
"We bio-engineered a bacteria so that its DNA encodes for the The Universal Declaration of Human Rights," Charlotte explains. "We then extracted the DNA and sprayed it onto the surface of the apples."
Some of the fruits were then sent to genomics laboratories around the world for participating scientists to sequence the DNA, find the message hidden within and send back a translation.
The apples are currently exhibited in a former dairy converted into an art space called The Big Shed in Suffolk. The gallery is now filled with a small orchard but only one of the apples hanging on the one of the trees has been 'contaminated'. The show also includes a billboard visualising The Declaration of Human Rights expressed as a protein, films of the NPC scientists talking about their work and eating the fruit, the documents that institutes have sent to the artist and the NPC after sequencing the apples but one of the most fascinating part is the wall covered with a wall of correspondence detailing the process of making the project.
Charlotte uploaded some of the letters online. The exchange might be of interest to artists, curators, reporters wanting to work with life sciences: the legal restrictions in developing or simply exhibiting 'bioart' works, the misunderstanding and challenges encountered from the very moment the project was first articulated, etc.
Video interview with some of the NPC researchers:
12m by 3m billboard showing visualisations of The Declaration of Human Rights expressed as a protein:
One the opening night, Charlotte Jarvis ate one of the 'forbidden fruits':
The exhibition Blighted by Kenning, curated by Clemency Cooke, runs until the 26th of August at The Big Shed in Stanny House Farm, High Street, Iken, Suffolk. The project will be exhibited at various locations in the Netherlands later this year.
As announced previously, i've started a programme about art and science for ResonanceFM. The third episode is broadcast today Monday 4 June at 16.30 (GMT.) There will be a repeat on Thursday at 22.30. You can catch it online if you don't live in London. And of course we will have podcasts (still waiting for them.)
Howard Boland is in the studio today. The artist and mathematician co-founded C-LAB, an interdisciplinary art platform that explores the meaning and idiosyncrasies of the organic and the synthetic life.
7 years ago, I interviewed them about cacti that grow human hair and interstellar plant species. The radio programme catches up with their current interests, mostly magnetic nanoparticles and bacteria that might or might not smell like bananas.
You might remember that over 8 months ago i spent 7 days in Pittsburgh for a A/S/T Book Sprint. Together with curator Andrea Grover, art and science writer and pop star Claire L. Evans and architect and designer Pablo Garcia, i spent a whole week locked inside the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University discussing and writing about the intersection of art/science/technology with explorations into maker culture, hacking, artist research, distributed creativity, and technological and speculative design.
Andrea also had the bright idea to involve graphic designers Jessica Young, and Luke Bulman from Thumb in the whole production process. Each evening we would gather around their computer screens and watch how these two talented designers had given shape to our ideas and texts.
The book is finally out! It's called New Art/Science Affinities and you can either buy it on Lulu or download the PDF for free.
Don't expect to read the ultimate compendium of all things art and science (it was written in only 7 days by 4 people after all), it would be more appropriate to see it as a subjective snapshot of what the art&science community is up to right now (or rather 8 months ago). What i can say with certainty is that the book is the result of one of the most exciting moments of my blogger life. So thank you Andrea for inviting us to book sprint, to Golan Levin for hosting us at the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, to Astria Suparak from the Miller Gallery for her continuous support. And a huge thank you to all the artists we've contacted at the very last moment with an urgent request to send us photos or to talk with us on skype.
Views inside the book:
I was planning to post this interview next week but because Ivan Henriques's action plant is yet another brilliant work on show at ArtBots Gent this weekend, i thought it would be silly to wait and not promote the event with a timely post.
Ivan Henriques worked with professor Bert van Duijn (Biology University and Hortus Botanicus in Leiden) on a research into the "action potential" of the Mimosa Pudica. The result of their collaboration is Jurema Action Plant, a machine which interfaces a sensitive plant (Mimosa Pudica), enabling it to enjoy technologies similar to the ones humans use. The project also explores new ways of communication and co-relation between machines, humans, and other living organism.
Plants don't have nerves, wires nor cables but much like humans, animals and machines, they have an electrical signal traveling inside their cells. The plant is fitted with electrodes and placed on a robotic structure. A signal amplifier reads the differences in the electromagnetic field around the plant to determine when it is being touched. Any variation triggers movement of the robotic structure by means of a custom-made circuit board. Touching any part of the plant is enough to make it move away from the person touching it. One of the most common names given to that plant after all is 'touch-me-not.'
If the plants can fell the touch and this signal travels inside the plant and be can be measured in any part, does it means that plants have memory, consciousness?
Imagine if we could communicate with plants and work together. Is it possible to reshape and redefine our tools to be coherent with the environment? Would we keep on destroying the few existent plants/animals and forests?
Hi Ivan! How did you get the idea and why did you want to build this plant-machine and give some power to the plants?
The main idea of empowering the plant comes from a range of work that I am developing called Oritur (Oritur is also the title of the book which is a compilation of texts from myself and invited artists and researchers from different countries - it will be published soon by Verbeke Foundation).
Jurema Action Plant (JAP) is a hacked wheelchair and an electronic board of communication with the Mimosa -- acting as an interface of communication between the bio-machine and us. In order to realize this work I thought about three aspects: biodiversity, plant intelligence and machine intelligence. 1) Creating a new kind of specimen, an assemblage of a plant and a machine -- a hybrid; 2) A simple movement of a finger towards the plant leaves makes it move away after the touch; 3) The plant triggers the hacked machine via the electronic board of communication into movement. While developing this work at the Summer Residency at V2_ Institute for the Unstable Media in Rotterdam/NL, it raised some questions:
Are the mechanics found in some plants species an intelligence? Do plants feel? How do they respond to the environment? Are plants considered in a lower level than us because they don't move and communicate in the same timescale as ours? My position in Jurema Action Plant is to explore plant behavior, research this intelligence to find possibilities for direct interaction and create a work which makes people think about our future.
You're going to spend several months at the Verbeke Foundation for a residency. What are you going to work on there?
At the moment I am rebuilding a piece called Three Seconds which will be part of Verbeke's collection. It is composed of a closed circuit where a video camera, which faces and captures images from a rectangular aquarium containing a live Goldfish, the image is transmitted to a monitor, which has the same proportions of the aquarium and also faces it. Between the camera and the monitor there is an apparatus, which gives a three second delay to the live image. In this way the fish, which as we know has a three second memory-span, can see its recent past, which it would otherwise not be able to reach.
I am very exited to start the residency at Verbeke foundation (which will complete two weeks October 11th) and I have several ideas which are in a cloud of concepts such as architecture, recycle, interaction, biology, evolution, utopia, movement, kinetics and living organisms.
You worked with professor Bert van Duijn from the Biology University and the Hortus Botanicus, in Leiden, to develop the action plant. How was the collaboration going? Do you find it easy as an artist to communicate with a scientist? Do you use the same language, for example? Do you have to adjust to each other's way of working and thinking about nature?
While researching about plants mechanics, physiology and biodynamics, I had the opportunity to meet professor Bert van Duijn who uses a technique called action potential to measure electrical signals that travels inside the plant for agricultural purposes. Through professor van Duijn I met the organization from Hortus Botanicus Leiden which opened their doors to my research about this specific plant and helped me seed the Mimosas. We had to adjust our vocabulary and tools all the time and the whole team had different perspectives and goals when working with nature.
Can you also tell us something about the rhythm of the plant? Sometimes it rests, it doesn't react as fast as the machines we are used to (from toaster to robot)... Do you think humans are ready to accept and respect this 'slowness' of the machine?
Much like humans, animals and machines, plants have an electrical signal traveling inside them, but they do not have nerves like humans and animals; nor wires and cables like machines. Plants are completely independent and can exist without humans, but humans and animals need plants to survive. They are also moving, to extend their territory, but on a very different timescale to ours. Jurema Action Plant has its own time, it is an equalization of ourselves, machines and plants. In my opinion we have to re-think about the machines we develop and the concept of bio-sensors. There are plenty of machines in the world and we keep on making them. Do you know where these electronic components comes from, how they are made and in which conditions? Why not re-use? The machines we create are coherent within themselves but I think that our machines could be much more coherent to the environment. JAP is a prototype of machines for our future, where we can communicate with all the specimens at the same level to achieve a common evolution. Even if we have signs of a catastrophe in the next future due to global warming, war, deforestation, population growth and a very strong economical difference from place to place, I believe in a good future. The problem is not the technological development, but who is in charge of researches, innovations and changes.
What are you doing when you're not working on Jurema Action Plant?
I have some projects going on and I'm preparing new ones, making drawings, graphics, researching about kinetic architectures and motors that run with very low voltage and current. I am also preparing the third edition of EME - Estúdio Móvel Experimental (first edition 2009 and second in 2010), a mobile residency in Rio de Janeiro that works as a platform for artists and researchers to explore and create public artworks/workshops in the natural and urban environment in Rio.
This year's ArtBots is organised by timelab Gent, in cooperation with ArtBots US, Ugent and Foam. It's open only over the upcoming weekend in Ghent, Belgium.
If you miss ArtBots, Jurema Action Plant is also exhibited at the Verbeke Foundation and it will travel to Leiden in October for the Scheltema festival.
I don't review documentaries very often but 1. i should and 2. this one is about Joe David, a pioneer in the field of art and biotechnology. And so much more.
Trailer for HEAVEN + EARTH + JOE DAVIS, a film by Peter Sasowsky:
Short Synopsis: Thirty years ago, a peg-legged motorcycle mechanic walked into the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at MIT. They had not returned his calls. The police were summoned. Forty-five minutes later he walked out with an academic appointment. Since then Joe Davis has sent vaginal contractions into space to communicate with aliens, encoded poetry into DNA, and designed a sculpture to save the world.
It's a great life for a man driven by imagination - except when it's not. No one pays him. He is evicted from apartments and labs. His uncompromising approach to art and life collides with the world's banal requirements. This is a story of self-discovery, sacrifice and the complexity of human endeavor, of the price of art and the ecstatic joy of discovery.
HEAVEN + EARTH + JOE DAVIS is a 90 minute wonder: the movie manages to capture the chaos (or at least a significant part of it) inside the head of Joe Davis. Clearly, the film Director is like most of us, he is puzzled by half of what Davis says or does but that doesn't prevent him from appreciating and communicating the wit and depth of the MIT researcher, artist, thinkerer and scientist.
The first moments of the film might be unsettling if you've never heart of Davis or of the field of bioart but the movie fills you in bit by bit and the charisma of the man will do the rest. On the other hand, you can still expect a hell of a ride even if you've studied the work and thoughts of Davies. One minute, the artist goes on a 'trash night' in Cambridge next, he explains you how to insert messages into bacteria or how to distinguish the sound that a paramecia make from the sound that a stentor emits. After that he will marvel at ferns or cover a pretty Norwegian woman in honey for a performance that will transport sound on lightwaves and then remind you that astronauts are flushing toilets in outer space and that the matter is circling the Earth as you're reading these lines. We see him washing dishes in a bar like others do yoga, fight for a space to store his work, fight to get funding, fight to find a language that other people might understand.
The most disheartening moments depict the resistances he meets in the art world and the science world alike. Because if there's one man who can teach something to the many 'art and science' conferences organized all over the world these days, it's Davis. He is an artist as much as a scientist and he cannot really dissociate between the two like our culture does. The film shows how he moves back and forth between departments at MIT. He belongs to the biology, the art or the architecture departments but he doesn't quite fit in any of them.
The images alternate between snapshots of Davis life, archives documenting some of his most memorable works and family movies that show Davis as a kid and capture the faith that the '50s had in the power of science and technology.
The film has its lengths and repetitions but it illustrates quite convincingly Davis's belief that "The things that are the most sensible turn out to be most absurd and the things that are the most absurd turn out to make most sense."
If you're in London, don't miss the screening of HEAVEN + EARTH + JOE DAVIS on October 1 and 2. The film is an official selection of the 2011 Raindance Film Festival, and is one of 5 films nominated for the jury award of Best Documentary.
Follow the facebook page of the film for news about screenings and related events.
P.s. Thanks Tamar for telling me about the film!