It's the end of the year and yet again, i'm looking at a huge pile of books i've enjoyed but never found the time to review on the blog. So i'm going to file them here and you can think of this list as a christmas gift guide for the many smart and curious people in your life.
Publisher Verso writes: Propelled by years of chats and encounters with a multitude of hackers, including imprisoned activist Jeremy Hammond and the double agent who helped put him away, Hector Monsegur, Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy is filled with insights into the meaning of digital activism and little understood facets of culture in the Internet age, including the history of "trolling," the ethics and metaphysics of hacking, and the origins and manifold meanings of "the lulz."
Four years ago, i visited the wonderfully informative exhibition High Society: Mind-Altering Drugs in History and Culture at the Wellcome Collection in London. It only recently occurred to me that i could re-visit the show through its catalogue.
Publisher Thames & Hudson writes: Cultural historian Mike Jay paints vivid portraits of the roles that drugs play as medicines, religious sacraments, status symbols and trade goods. He traces the understanding of intoxicants from the classical world through the mind-bending self-experiments of early scientists to the present 'war on drugs', and reveals how the international trade in substances such as tobacco, tea and opium shaped the modern world.
Maker Dad. Lunch Box Guitars, Antigravity Jars, and 22 Other Incredibly Cool Father-Daughter DIY Projects, by author, illustrator, bOING bOING co-founder and chief of MAKE magazine Mark Frauenfelder (available on amazon USA and UK.)
Maker Dad is the first DIY book to use cutting-edge (and affordable) technology in appealing projects for fathers and daughters to do together. These crafts and gadgets are both rewarding to make and delightful to play with. What's more, Maker Dad teaches girls lifelong skills--like computer programming, musicality, and how to use basic hand tools--as well as how to be creative problem solvers.
My dad taught me how to build electronic circuits. Obviously, no dad could every be as wonderful as mine was but they can have a try by following Frauenfelder's super clear instructions and build all kinds of drawbots, crazy jewellery, retro arcade video game and kite video camera with their kids.
Publisher Thames & Hudson writes: The expedition of 1957/58, led by Vivian 'Bunny' Fuchs, was one of the 20th century's triumphs of exploration - a powerful expression of technological daring as much as a testament of sheer, bloody-minded human willpower. As a key member of the expedition, Everest veteran George Lowe was there to capture it all in photographs and on film
Awe-inspiring landscapes, candid portraits and action shots evoke the day-by-day moments as the expedition travelled across snow and ice, facing extraordinary challenges and dangers.
Typewriter Art: A Modern Anthology, by Barrie Tullett, a graphic designer and senior lecturer in graphic design at the Lincoln School of Art and Design, and cofounder of The Caseroom Press (available on amazon UK and USA.)
Publisher Laurence King writes: This beautiful book brings together some of the best examples by typewriter artists around the world. As well as key historical work from the Bauhaus, H. N. Werkman and the concrete poets, there is art by contemporary practitioners, both typewriter artists who use the keyboard as a 'palette' to create artworks, and artists/typographers using the form as a compositional device. The book will appeal to graphic designers, typographers, artists and illustrators, and anyone fascinated by predigital technology.
Views inside the book:
Publisher FRAME writes: After several print runs that have almost sold out, Frame has now updated the existing content and added 36 pages with completely new material to one of its best-sellers. (...) This edition contains 17 new material catalogue cards, including lithium, rare earth elements, photovoltaic cells, non-newtonian fluids, gallium, mercury, horn, diamond, nacre, precious stones, carbon and more. Ordered alphabetically and illustrated with photos, each of the cards holds a description of the material with its main properties, strengths and weaknesses, and possible uses.
And a few favorites among the ones i did review in 2014:
Publisher Laurence King writes: The real world is full of cameras; the virtual world is full of images. Where does all this photographic activity leave the artist-photographer? Post-Photography tries to answer that question by investigating the exciting new language of photographic image-making that is emerging in the digital age of anything-is-possible and everything-has-been-done-before.
Found imagery has become increasingly important in post-photographic practice, with the internet serving as a laboratory for a major kind of image-making experimentation. But artists also continue to create entirely original works using avant-garde techniques drawn from both the digital and analogue eras.
Post-Photography: The Artist with a Camera presents the works of artists who produce photographic works but aren't necessarily photographers and who use or reference images that already exist. There is, after all, plenty of material for artistic appropriation and reappropriation in our self-obsessed and all recording society: from selfies to CCTV footage, from google street view to prints found in bins.
Post-Photography is one of those beautiful classic coffee table books. Lots of images and concise paragraphs about each artist and photo series. However, Post-Photography is different from most coffee table books: the introductory essay is short but it is informative and pertinent. Not the usual "let's write something lackadaisical and call it content' (i learnt the word lackadaisical yesterday while reading the comments of a blog post about this very book. The word is so pretentious i had to use it too.) I've read and reviewed my fair share of books about photography and i think this is the first time i encounter a publication that focuses specifically on this phenomenon (or 'moment' as the author calls it) and articulates it so clearly and eloquently.
This book is split into five sections: Something Borrowed, Something New shows the artist in the guise of an editor and curator; Layers of Reality recognizes the distinctive outlook that camera has on reality; All the World Is Staged is made of images that document world constructed by the artists; Hand and Eye highlights the materiality of photography; and Post-Photojournalism -which, unsurprisingly, was the chapter that interested me the most- discusses how fabricating reality can be another, sometimes more powerful, way to document it.
Here's a few examples of the works presented in the book:
'Soviet Photo was the only photo magazine available to photography professionals and amateurs in the Soviet Union from 1926 to 1992. Like other publications of the time, it was an outlet for Communist propaganda. Roman Pyatkovka combined photographs from the magazine with his own works as a photographer making clandestine photos (mostly of naked ladies) in the 1970s and '80s. "When looking at these pictures today, we are able to reflect on the ideals and disappointments, censorship and creativity of that time," Pyatkovka writes.
When Google launched its satellite imagery service in 2005, some governments attempted to censor sites deemed vital to national security. Techniques of concealment and restriction vary from country to country: cloning, blurring, pixelization, and whitening out sites of interest. The Netherlands, for example, hid hundreds of significant sites including royal palaces, fuel depots and army barracks behind stylist multi-coloured polygons. Ironically, it made the censored sites even more conspicuous. The country has since adopted a less distinctive method of visual censorship.
The Anthropocene series are large kaleidoscope photomontages composited from thousands of satellite online images that show some of the world's most recognizable manmade structures and urban landscapes. This work reflects upon the complex structures that make up the centres of global capitalism, transforming the aerial landscapes of sites associated with industries such as oil, precious metals, consumer culture information and excess.
Each location alludes to specific environmental or social issues. The image above, for example, represemts the urban displacement caused by the Three Gorges Dam.
Jonathan's walmArt series shows "big box" stores around the world pixelated beyond recognition. Distorted as they are, the photos still read as consumer spaces.
Hisaji Hara are based on Balthus paintings.
In his Demonstrations series, Caleb Charland used everyday objects or materials he found in surplus and salvage yards to explore the laws of physics and make the perfect portrait of a scientific phenomenon.
By cutting, embroidering and using collage, Julie Cockburn adds a psychological and sometimes even surreal layer to the vintage photographs she found in garage sales, high school yearbook portraits, cinema headshots, family mementos and landscapes.
While working in Northern Uganda, Martina Bacigalupo stopped into a photo studio to get a few shots developed. There, she noticed a standard size portrait in which the face had been cut out. The owner of the studio explained that the missing part had been used for an ID photo. When customers needed an ID head shot, he would just make a standard size portrait print from which he would stamp out the ID portrait. Bacigalupo collected all the discarded headless prints she could from the cutting room floor and created a faceless but very moving portrayal of a society which has lived through violent conflicts over several decades.
Because many people don't own a suit but want to look smart in their photograph, the studio has one suit jacket anyone can borrow even though it might not be their size.
Inside the book:
Photo on the homepage: Nicole Belle, Untitled from Rev Sanchez, 2008.
There are three designated "holding" centres for immigrants in Canada but more than one third of detainees are incarcerated in rented beds in provincial prisons, some of them maximum security prisons where visits and support services are limited.
Artist and designer Tings Chak has combined her training in architectural design with her interests in human rights, migrant politics, and spatial justice in a graphic novel called Undocumented: The Architecture of Migrant Detention (Architecture Observer, 2014. Available on amazon USA and UK)
The 'undocumented' are not so much the human beings who are detained merely for being born somewhere else. The undocumented are the sites where they are detained. All information about these facilities is classified and access to them is extremely limited.
In her publication, Tings investigates the migrant detention centres in Canada -- "the fastest growing incarceration sector in an already booming prison construction industry," from the everyday acts of resistance inside the centers to the role that architectureplays in controlling and regulating migrant bodies.
The purpose of this investigation, she writes, is to make visible the sites and stories of detention, to bring them into conversations about our built environment, and to highlight migrant detention as an architectural problem.
Undocumented: The Architecture of Migrant Detention is a brave, shocking and incredibly revealing little book and because its relevance goes way beyond the frontiers of Canada (i'm looking at you Europe and Australia), i asked Tings to tell us more about her work:
Hi Tings! Why did you chose to use drawings and only drawings to investigate the architecture of migrant detention centres in Canada?
In architecture school, we spend a lot of time thinking about visual representation. Often times, architecture is as much about the representation as it is about the built. I am interested in the way using architectural visual language and tools of representation as a political practice - how can drawings reveal and spark a conversation about the invisibilized practices and spaces of detention?
Canada's prisons and detention centres are not privately owned/run, though there have been past attempts to privatize facilities and there are many lobbying efforts, including from U.S. private prison corporations. Many private parties, however, are contracted and paid millions of dollars to manage, operate, and provide services in immigration detention centres. As an example, the Toronto Immigration Holding Centre, the largest of Canada's three designated immigration detention centres, is managed by Corbel Management Corporation and security services are provided by G4S - the world's largest security firm which has been central to maintaining the apartheid state of Israel.
In terms of the life of migrants detained, up to one third of them are locked up in provincial prisons, often times in maximum security prisons. We consistently hear from detainees about the horrendous conditions, even worse than in general population, and the staff shortages that result in lockdowns for days on end. Also, being held in these prisons means that detainees often cannot call family members abroad, are too remote for in-person visits, and don't have access to the legal resources necessary to regularize their immigration status, which all exacerbate the isolation they face in detention.
How much restriction to information did you have to face while investigating spaces for mass detention and deportation? Apart from testimonies from migrants, which kind of evidence is your research based on?
Information about these spaces are highly restricted, access to them is nearly impossible for members of the public. The title of the book is an acknowledgement of how these spaces are purposefully invisibilized and any information about them is classified. Recognizing this, the book is an assemblage of bits and pieces that I gathered from various sources - testimonies from detainees, descriptions from legal counsel who have visited such spaces, research that others have done about specific aspects of detention like solitary confinement, legal recommendations, and design standards for prisons and detention centres.
Here are the links to key resources I based my work on (more can be found here):
These places are surprisingly banal. Unlike the dank, dark dungeons that popular depictions of prisons would have us believe, many of these facilities are familiar in the way that most institutional buildings are. This is something I wanted to highlighted in my drawings.
Another aspect has to do with the highly securitized nature of detention centres, which means that the building is compartmentalized according to discrete functions for processing, monitoring, interrogating, and containing detainees. It is impossible to understand the building as a whole, so as not to be challenged.
What are the architectural mechanisms used to control the experiences of the people detained there?
From the segregation units to the bullet resistant glazing, the sally port to the recessed lighting units, the surveillance systems to the bolted down stainless steel toilet/sink units, every architectural detail of a space is designed to manage and maintain control of incarcerated individuals.
What I was particularly fascinated by were the design guides specific to detention centres (in the U.S. context). These manuals provide a detailed analysis of minimum design standards, including occupancy capacities, material specifications, program adjacencies, etc. Often times, the definitions of the "minimum" or the "habitable" (according to legalistic definitions) are quantified in terms of square footage or cubic volume of air space. The architectural logic of these spaces, along with a lot of other architectures, is governed by the minimum standards, which seek to minimize risk and regulate human bodies.
Could architecture be used to welcome or at least ensure a less traumatic experience for migrants?
I believe that detentions and deportations are inherently violent and traumatizing. Incarcerating people on the basis of being born somewhere else is not something we can humanize through design. I've spoken to architecture students, professors, and practitioners over the course of creating this book, and it's clear that the vast majority of them believe that immigration detention is a "problem" that could be fixed with a better "solution." What is important to note is that often times the ambition of making a space more humane and more optimal distracts and deters us from questioning the prison industrial complex, and the complicity of architects within it.
Israeli architect Eyal Weizman speaks about this problem in his book "The Least of All Possible Evils: Humanitarian Violence from Arendt to Gaza" (2012).
The major impetus of this work is to challenge architects to engage in the very difficult ethical question: are there programs for which architects should not design? There are groups such as Architects, Designers, Planners for Social Responsibility in the U.S. that have been working for years to get architects to boycott prison design. I believe that architects should be intervening by pushing the discussion towards imagining and designing real alternatives to detention.
You are also an organizer with No One Is Illegal - Toronto. How much impact do your actions and protests have on the immigration system? Could you give some examples?
The work that No One Is Illegal - Toronto has impacts on various levels, which include shifting the public discourse and imagination around migration and borders, building our social movement through mobilization, and developing and sharing an intersectional political analysis, among other things. At the core of it, though, is the belief that the immigration system here (and in the U.S.) is not a "broken" one that we need to reform, but that it is functioning exactly as it is designed to. The system is built on the exploitation of precarious labour, exclusion of poor migrants from the global South, and ongoing displacement of Indigenous people on Turtle Island and across the globe.
That being said, there have been significant victories over the past 10 years. After decades of community organizing, Toronto declared itself a "Sanctuary City" in February, 2013, which means that residents regardless of immigration status can access city services without the threat of detention or deportation. It is still far from being a reality on the ground. Around the End Immigration Detention Campaign that began just over a year ago, there have been some important developments. Specifically, in June 2014, after our submission to the U.N., they released an opinion condemning Canada's practice of detaining migrants for immigration reasons, and for detaining them indefinitely. The work is ongoing, and people are still organizing courageous actions inside to protest their unjust detentions.
Imagine Architecture. Artistic Visions of the Urban Realm, by Lukas Feireiss and Robert Klanten.
Publisher Gestalten writes: Contemporary developments in the visual arts are often reflected in urban landscapes. Imagine Architecture explores the ways in which visual culture develops in public spaces and how it shapes those spaces. This book focuses on the fruitful exchange between visual culture and architecture and follows up on the themes introduced in our previous release Beyond Architecture. It compiles experimental projects and creative perspectives from the fields of illustration, painting, collage, sculpture, photography, installation, and design.
A young generation of creatives sees the urban landscape as the starting point for their work. When these illustrators, sculptors, or photographers engage with architecture, their art overrules conventional doctrines on the use of space. They use buildings as a medium for their ideas, breaking norms and triggering new tensions. Whether they make sculptures that are created within the context of a given structure or street art whose forms and colors impact its surrounding architecture, all of the featured projects interpret and reflect their spatial settings in compelling ways. In the process, these visionary concepts are playfully expanding the definition of architecture. Their creativity has the potential to breathe new life into public spaces and promote the evolution of our cities.
Imagine Architecture follows Gestalten magical recipe: a theme which will catch everyone's imagination, a straightforward introduction, a brief description of each work and lots of very big images. The formula works every time.
It's not my favourite book from Gestalten though. It's still a brilliant one but i opened it with the assumption that artists exploring architecture were always going to be far more thought-provoking than architects expressing the radical or outlandish ideas you'd expect from an artist. I looked back at architecture titles i've reviewed in the past (in particular the two i've just linked to) and realize that i was wrong, i shouldn't dismiss architects' creativity.
Now to what i like about the book: the title and content might be catchy but that doesn't reduce the Imagine Architecture to a catalogue of what was cool and trendy on design and art blogs these past couple of years. The editors have brought to light gems from exhibitions and portfolios that haven't reached the mainstream yet. Some of the works are deeply political. Others have no other ambition than be poetical. Some are paper models of an imaginary city that, like a real one, is ever growing, ever-evolving. Others are typographic experiments that attempt to dialogue with architecture. Some explore architecture through the introspective lens of the home. Others look at the arrogance of men who hope to control and dominate from the height of the towers they've built.
Right, i can see now that my arid review hasn't probably done justice to the book, let the images speak then:
Tom Sachs' The Island is a modified model of the radar tower of the USS Enterprise CVN-65, "The world's first and finest nuclear powered aircraft carrier." It's also one of my favourite works ever.
The Fog Factory is the model of the area around the train station in Nancy, France. Fog, which creeps over the streets, constitutes the architecture, an artificial copy of a meteorological phenomenon, mechanically produced but randomly distributed and imponderable.
Beth Dow looks at the American environments, and its penchant for fake antiquities. My pictures of faked antiquities are an attempt to evoke nostalgia for inaccurate history, to wrestle with ideas of authenticity, and to question the value we place on classical ideals.
Laurent Chehere looks for understated and overlooked examples of architecture in Paris. From caravans to circus tents to sex shops. He photographs them and then sends them high up in the air from his digital manipulation room.
Collapscapes are fictitious industrial spaces made of glass. Called Chemical Plant, Mine Shaft, Super Collider and Gas Depot, the objects look at industrial architecture and the contraction (or collapse) of industrial sites that follows increasingly mechanised production.
A synthetic cotton treehouse for children in the shape of a mushroom cloud.
Daryl Chen's New Socialist Village explores what the UK can learn about planning from the community living in the village of Caochangdi, an atypical 'new socialist village' outside of Beijing. In the space created by the Chinese government's evolving planning laws, the village's growth is driven by the instincts of local peasants and the bohemian opportunism of artists who have established a set of unstated rules governing urban form.
Jiang Pengyi creates Unregistered Cities, miniature abandoned cities. He then places them in the historic abandoned houses that Beijing's hunger for "excessive urbanization, redevelopment and demolition" has left to rot.
Views inside the book:
The Deadly Life of Logistics. Mapping Violence in Global Trade, by Deborah Cowen, an Associate Professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Toronto. Her work focuses on the politics of space and questions of citizenship.
Publisher University of Minnesota Press writes: A genealogy of logistics, tracing the link between markets and militaries, territory and government
Deborah Cowen traces the art and science of logistics over the past sixty years, from the battlefield to the boardroom and back again. Though the object of corporate and governmental logistical efforts is commodity supply, she demonstrates that they are deeply political--and, considered in the context of the long history of logistics, deeply indebted to the practice of war.
The image above encapsulates rather efficiently the intimate connections that link the military and the private businesses which transport 'seamlessly' all kinds of goods around the world. Basra Logistics City used to be called Camp Bucca and it used to be the largest U.S. military detention facility in occupied Iraq. In December 2010, the US handed the base to the government of Iraq, which, on the same day, gave Kufan Group of Iraq a license to turn the place into a 21st-century logistics hub for Iraq's port.
The Deadly Life of Logistics demonstrates how logistics is at the very heart of war and trade. Since WWII, businesses have been learning lessons from the infrastructures, strategies and technologies that armies have put in place to ensure that soldiers are fed and ammunition is available at the front. Logistics plays a key role in war. The greatest volume of material shipped from the UK to France during WW1, i read in the book, was oats and hay for the horses. Over time, private companies have not only learnt from the military, using logistics to reshape the geographies of capitalist production and distribution on global scale, they have also quickly started to support war efforts and are now providing housing and feeding to the soldiers stationed in Afghanistan. The author speaks of a militarization of the economy and a privatization of warfare.
The book offers a fascinating tour of the instruments and tactics of logistics: the palet, the container, the deregulation of the transport industry in the U.S. in the 1980s, the use of 'flags of convenience', etc. All of which provide huge benefits in time, space and capital. DHL delivers your parcel on time, new toys arrive in store before Christmas and everybody is happy. Except the workers who saw their wages, rights and the strength of their unions reduced. Their very safety is at risk as well. Port, transport and logistics are consistently ranked among the most dangerous industries by governments that monitor health and safety on the workplace.
The picture that the book offers is rather bleak. In the world of logistics, China imports its cheap labor model, the port of Dubai where the vast majority of the private workforce have no formal citizenship is heralded as a model for the U.S. port security, Somali pirates are presented as enemies of humanity while foreign companies illegally dump toxic substances in Somali waters and others deplete them of marine resources in total impunity, the flow of capital and commodities is a matter of species survival and human rights are a rather tiresome hindrance.
The Deadly Life of Logistics is a fascinating, informative and politically engaged book. I sometimes found that the constant abbreviations, quotes, references and repetitions got in the way of a fluid reading but otherwise it's a book i'd like to place in the hand of artists and activists. Of artists mostly because no one better than them can translate the impact and dangers of contemporary logistics into an arresting language understood by the broad public.
Ways of Looking: How to Experience Contemporary Art, by Ossian Ward, Head of Content at the Lisson Gallery and former chief art critic at Time Out London.
Publisher Laurence King writes: Art has changed. Familiar styles and movements that characterized art production prior to the twenty-first century have all vanished. Traditional artistic media no longer do what we expect of them.
This book provides a straightforward guide to understanding contemporary art based on the concept of the tabula rasa - a clean slate and a fresh mind. Ossian Ward presents a six-step program that gives readers new ways of looking at some of the most challenging art being produced today. Since artists increasingly work across traditional media and genres, Ward has developed an alternative classification system for contemporary practice such as 'Art as Entertainment', 'Art as Confrontation', 'Art as Joke' -- categories that help to make sense of otherwise obscure-seeming works. There are also 20 'Spotlight' features which guide readers through encounters with key works..
Contemporary art is not what it used to be. The old rules, classifications and movements don't apply anymore. Art can be anything, anywhere, it can even be anyone. You might pass by it on the street and never realize it. The author thus set up to guide us through art appreciation and consumption. Thankfully, Ward is a witty, straightforward and seasoned art critic who realizes that no one needs an encyclopedic knowledge of art history nor a master in art speak to enjoy art. In fact, Ward advises that you come with a fresh mind and a clean slate, calling for a tabula rasa approach where T.A.B.U.L.A. stands for:
Time: just hold on, don't turn your back yet. Stay there for a few minutes before deciding the work is not for you (that's one rule i should follow more often.)
Ward then suggests that we look at today's art through various lenses: entertainment, confrontation, event, message, joke, spectacle and meditation.
The theory is never overwhelming nor dogmatic. The author illustrates each point with a number of artworks which he dissects according to the T.A.B.U.L.A. perspective.
I loved this book. I'm tempted to offer a copy to my many friends who stare at me with a look of "poor loser, that art job must be so BO-RING" in their eyes. I never managed to explain them why what i do for a living makes me want to spring out of bed every morning but this book might be more convincing. But Ways of Looking will be of great help to me as well. I've always thought that i was good at feeling when a work is 'good' or 'bad' but i often struggle to form intelligible thoughts that would help me express what i find so interesting about a particular piece or exhibition.
I particularly liked the tone of the book. While the author sounds genuinely passionate about contemporary art, he doesn't seem to take it too seriously either. From what i could infer, he doesn't suffer sloppy, easy and pompous art. There certainly isn't any of that kind of art in his book.
Some of the works presented and analysed in the book:
This 7-metre-long version of a medieval bronze and steel cruciform sword is suspended in mid-air over the heads of visitors. Like the Sword of Damocles, this memento mori reminds us of the precariousness of all things.
Mohamed Bourouissa's photos look like evidences from a photo reportage about delinquency in French suburbs inhabited by Arab and African communities. Taken between 2005 and 2008, the photos directly echo the 2005 unrest in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois.
Each image has actually been carefully staged and choreographed to simulate the documentation of tensions and confrontations about to explode. Yet, the composition is so precise and elegant that the photos also evoke Romantic paintings.The series was named after the Boulevard Périphérique, the ring-road surrounding Paris that effectively ostracizes communities that live beyond this physical and metaphorical barrier.
The trilogy And Europe Will Be Stunned follows the activities of the Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland (JRMiP), a utopian political group that calls for the return of 3,300,000 Jews to Poland.
Views inside the book:
Vice interviewed the author about Ways of Looking.
Image on the homepage: Gregor Schneider, Man With Cock.