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Blood Oil. Tyrants, Violence, and the Rules That Run the World by Leif Wenar, Chair of Ethics at King's College London.

On amazon USA and UK.

Publisher Oxford University Press writes: Throughout the world, resource-rich countries are plagued by tyranny, violence, and corruption. With precious few exceptions, the political elites in such nations control natural resources, which are often the primary--and sometimes the only--source of wealth generation, and do not need to rely on popular support to maintain their rule. Their wealth comes from selling the resource overseas, which in turn gives them the income they need to buy off the military, the police, and the business sector. Oppressive, corrupt autocracies are the all-too-frequent result, and such regimes have been the source of many--perhaps most--US foreign policy headaches over the last fifty years. Yet despite their pariah-like status, these regimes continue to exist and even prosper-especially oil-powered regimes. For all of the criticism directed at resource-rich autocracies by Western critics, Western consumers remain reliant on them for the materials that fuel their cars and comprise their computers.

The book is fascinating exploration of the curse of natural resources, aka the paradox of plenty, experienced by countries and regions which have an abundance of natural resources (especially raw materials like petroleum, metals and gems) but tend to have less economic growth and worse development outcomes than countries with fewer natural resources.

As its title suggests, the book focuses on oil and explains how many oil states either do not grow richer (Gabon, Irak, Angola, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, etc.) or else go insanely whealthy without their population significantly benefiting from it socially and economically (Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, etc.)

The first part of the book is engrossing, the author lists governments' mismanagement of resources, abuses of power, extensive corruption and quotes a series of astonishing statistics such as the one that indicates that oil states are 50% more likely to be ruled by authoritarian government and twice as likely to experience civil war as non-oil states.

The second part highlights our complicity with the petrocrats. Not just at governmental levels but also at consumer level. Every time we buy gasoline, clothes, perfumes, vitamin, water magazines, tablets, toothpaste, corn flakes, we send money to dictators.

Making parallels with the Atlantic slave trade -which end once seemed unimaginable, Wenar believes that social justice can be implemented by adopting of a set of foreign policy measures such as an internationally signed Clean Trade Act.

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Poetics and Politics of Data, edited by Sabine Himmelsbach and Claudia Mareis.

Publisher Merian Verlag writes: ‹Poetics and Politics of Data› reflects life in a world increasingly controlled by data and presents artistic positions that aim to make continuous streams of data visible - whether using Internet-based installations or graphic data visualizations. The participating artists question the relevance and place of the individual in a technologically connected society in which every day, each of us generates a nearly incomprehensible amount of data: Our every move on the Internet leaves behind a digital trace. In critical essays, Orit Halpern, Sabine Himmelsbach, Lev Manovich, Claudia Mareis, Ramón Reichert and Roberto Simanowski explore the phenomena of ‹Big Data› and ‹Data Mining› and pose critical questions about the ambivalence of life in a «datified» world.

Written in both English and German, this book is the catalogue of an exhibition at Haus der elektronischen Künste about data. Not just big data staged to look stylish. Or data to decypher and make sense of the world. But data that controls, watches over, and generates fortunes out of our desires to 'share.' Or as Evgeny Morozov said more eloquently while talking about the commodification of personal data it's possible to capture and monetize every moment we spend awake (and, it seems, also asleep).

Participating works are explained in depth (none of that 'let's just copy/paste the text from the artist's website' laziness) and the essays commissioned give insightful information about data in contexts that go from health monitoring to the prevalence of data collecting over theory, to cloud computing, to Edward Snowden. Right now, i can't think of any other book that pinpoints in such a wide-ranging and critical way the topic of politics and data. This is a solid publication that goes beyond its simple role of being an art catalogue.

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After the Agreement. Contemporary Photography in Northern Ireland, edited by Sarah Tuck.

On amazon UK and USA.

Publisher Black Dog Publishing writes: After the Agreement is an exploration and critical analysis of contemporary photography in Belfast after the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, and its relationship to a duty of memory, and ideas of justice and betrayal.

The book draws on a series of practitioner-led talks by the photographers John Duncan, Mary McIntyre, Malcolm Craig Gilbert, Paul Seawright, Kai Olaf Hesse and David Farrell, providing a discursive space that is part academy, part community activism and part cultural practice. These were intended to enable an exploration of contemporary photography in analytical proximity to what is going on currently across a range of disciplines: urbanism and the regeneration of the city, curatorial practices, the arts academy, community activism and photographic practice. Through placing contemporary photography in dialogue with other disciplines and the contested histories of the city, the series explored the centrality and complexity of meaning as an intersection of the social, political and aesthetic.

The Good Friday Agreement , signed in 1998, brought to an end the 30 years of sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland known as 'The Troubles'. You don't need to be a history enthusiast to enjoy the book. It relies on the words of photographers rather than on critics or historians' essays. The conversations (which involved the photographers but also researchers and experts in various disciplines) reproduced in the pages are thus beautifully subjective and illuminating. I can't think of a more engrossing and intelligent background for the photos. Here's a couple i discovered while reading the book:

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Mary McIntyre, The Underpass I, 2003

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David Farrell, Oristown, 2000 from Innocent Landscapes

In his series Sectarian Murder, Paul Seawright photographed the locations where sectarian murders took place the 1970's. The perspective of each image is the one of a victim laying on the floor, allowing viewers to put themselves in the victim's place. Most of the images are fairly mundane until you read the brief texts that accompany them, they are taken from newspaper reports at the time and document the murders of civilians, killed for their religion.

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Paul Seawright, Sectarian Murder

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Paul Seawright, Sectarian Murder

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Paul Seawright, Sectarian Murder

Seawright returned to Belfast during the early stages of the ceasefire to document local defensive architecture on the edges of housing projects.

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Paul Seawright, Cage, Belfast

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Uncommon Grounds. New Media and Critical Practices in North Africa and the Middle East, edited by Anthony Downey.

On amazon USA and UK.

Ibraaz Publishing and I.B. Tauris write: In this groundbreaking book, a range of internationally renowned and emerging academics, writers, artists, curators, activists and filmmakers critically reflect on the ways in which visual culture has appropriated and developed new media across North Africa and the Middle East. Examining the opportunities presented by the real-time generation of new, relatively unregulated content online, Uncommon Grounds evaluates the prominent role that new media has come to play in artistic practices - and social movements - in the Arab world today. Analysing alternative forms of creating, broadcasting, publishing, distributing and consuming digital images, this book also enquires into a broader global concern: does new media offer a 'democratization' of - and a productive engagement with - visual culture, or merely capitalize upon the effect of immediacy at the expense of depth?

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Cardboard Khomeini, a photoshop meme based on an Iranian state ceremony that used a cardboard effigy of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to celebrate his 1979 return to Tehran

Books about new media art don't usually venture beyond the borders of Europe and the U.S.A. Some might be brave enough to attempt excursions to Japan, Korea, or Australia but other parts of the world remain mostly uncharted and unrecalled. That's why i welcomed Uncommon Grounds with open arms.

The book is nor a mere presentation of new media art in North Africa and the Middle East, of who made this or that installation and exhibited where. Instead, new media is placed into a broader, more social context. One made of citizens reporting, protesting, reappropriating images, offering counter-narratives to governmental media, exploring the role of the war on terror in entertainment, etc. And doing the kind of things media artist do so well: subverting, glitching, or offering counter-narratives to governmental media.

The essays in the book leave space for a few artists' inserts that focus on particular works by artists i already knew about (Wafaa Bilal, Tarzan and Arab) and by talents i was yet to discover (Sarah Abu Abdallah, Fayçal Baghriche, Rahib Mroué, Ganzeer, etc.)

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Ganzeer working in Cairo. Photo: TMK1 Studios (via)


Sarah Abu Abdallah, Saudi Automobile

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The Ghost Army of World War II. How One Top-Secret Unit Deceived the Enemy with Inflatable Tanks, Sound Effects, and Other Audacious Fakery , by documentary filmmaker and author Rick Beyer and illustrator Elizabeth Sayles.

It's on amazon USA and UK.

Publisher Princeton Architectural Press writes: In the summer of 1944, a handpicked group of young GIs that included such future luminaries as Bill Blass, Ellsworth Kelly, Arthur Singer, Victor Dowd, Art Kane, and Jack Masey landed in France to conduct a secret mission. Armed with truckloads of inflatable tanks, a massive collection of sound-effects records, and more than a few tricks up their sleeves, their job was to create a traveling road show of deception on the battlefields of Europe, with the German Army as their audience. From Normandy to the Rhine, the 1,100 men of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, known as the Ghost Army, conjured up phony convoys, phantom divisions, and make-believe headquarters to fool the enemy about the strength and location of American units. Between missions the artists filled their duffel bags with drawings and paintings and dragged them across Europe. Every move they made was top secret and their story was hushed up for decades after the war's end.

If you read pretty much any blog, you've heard of the Ghost Army, a tactical deception unit composed of actors, artists, and sound experts whose mission involved devising inflatable tanks and airplanes, trucks blasting off sounds of armored and infantry units, fake radio transmissions and other tricks to mislead the German Army.

This is the ultimate and most complete book about a unit which existence was long kept a secret. It's one of those impressively heavy coffee table book. Lots of images, impeccable graphic design. However, i felt that the content, though great, was sometimesa bit 'diluted' as it was less about the art of tricking the enemy and more about the individual artists and their experience of war.

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Dummy M4 Sherman tank, part of the 'Ghost Army' Photo: BARCROFT

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Speakers mounted on Army jeeps broadcast phony troop movements. Credit: Rick Beyer/Ghost Army

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The 500-pound speakers played a collection of sound effects carefully designed to fool enemy troops. Credit: Rick Beyer/Ghost Army

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Aerial photograph of 23rd Headquarters Special Troops' dummies lined up in the Anrath-Dulken area as part of Operation Viersen in March of 1945. Note the fake tank tracks that have been scored in the fields

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Inflated rubber airplane


Diagram for inflating M4 dummy tank

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Ghost army operations map

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Photo iii (in case you thought these were my arms)

No Patent Pending, self-made performative media, edited by Matteo Marangoni.

On amazon UK.

Publisher iii writes: How to convey ephemeral, performative practices based around unique and inventive media within the fixed and standardized format of a book?

This publication by iii presents itself as a large pack of cards that the reader is invited to explore. The cards are shuffled at random, forcing intruders to reverse engineer its sorting algorithm. Each individual copy of the book was manually assembled following a procedural score composed by Lars Kynde and performed by iii.

Contributions range from theoretical essays to poetic exercises with text and image reflecting a wide range of practices seeking radically subjective approaches to media in performance. DIY media technologies, avant-garde music rituals, artistic-scientific hybrids, idiosyncratic new instruments, speculative business approaches, phenomenological investigations, open-source and feminist perspectives on digital culture are all present here as part of a cut-up treatise on media less traveled.

To explore 'self-made performative media' (me neither), the book adopts the artist-run platform iii's approach of designing and constructing a medium from the ground up. As far as i can judge, the content of the book is excellent, eclectic, smart and full of surprises.

I'm not sure about the idea of playing with the format of the book. Actually, no, i'm quite sure i find it irritating. The pages are not bound together. They are rigid sheets of paper that you first have to mix, swap, collect and rearrange. It's supposed to be a 'playful challenge.' I've no patience. Jose Luis Espejo Díaz, who's clearly a more open-minded and tolerant reader than i am, enjoyed the exercise and reviewed the book for the excellent Mediateletipos. Do check his own review of the publication.

Sponsored by:





The Gulf. High Culture/Hard Labor, edited by Andrew Ross for Gulf Labor. With a foreword by Sarah Leah Whitson from Human Rights Watch.

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Publisher OR Books writes: On Saadiyat Island, just off the coast of Abu Dhabi, branches of iconic cultural institutions, including the Louvre, the Guggenheim, the British Museum and New York University, are taking shape to the designs of starchitects such as Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel, Zaha Hadid, and Norman Foster. In this way, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) seeks to burnish its reputation as a sophisticated destination for wealthy visitors and residents.

Beneath the glossy veneer of the Saadiyat real estate plan, however, lies a tawdry reality. Those laboring on the construction sites are migrant workers who arrive from poor countries heavily indebted as a result of recruitment and transit fees. Once in the UAE the sponsoring employer takes their passports, houses them in sub-standard labor camps, pays much less than they were promised, and enforces a punishing work regimen. If they protest publicly, they risk arrest, beatings, and deportation.

For five years, the Gulf Labor Coalition, a cosmopolitan group of artists and writers, has been pressuring Saadiyat's Western cultural brands to ensure worker protections. Gulf Labor has coordinated a boycott of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and pioneered innovative direct action that has involved several spectacular museum occupations. As part of a year-long initiative, an array of artists, writers, and activists submitted a work, a text, or an action.

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Workers at an NYU Abu Dhabi construction site. Sergey Ponomarev / New York Times. Via Jacobin mag

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Hans Haacke, Saadiyat Island, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, 2011. More images from the series on Ibraaz

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Photo: Mussafah camp, home to New York University Abu Dhabi workers, courtesy Gulf Labor. Via art info

Some 15 million migrant workers, mostly from South Asia, form the vast majority of the labor force in most Gulf states. In the UAE and Qatar, 90 percent of the work force and the population are migrant workers (both white collar and blue collar.) No matter how many years they have lived and worked there, or even if they were born there, these people have no voting, representation, or association rights. Thousands of them are currently working on construction sites to create Saadiyat Island ("Island of Happiness"), a £17bn cultural hub in Abu Dhabi that will soon host the new premises of international cultural institutions such as New York University, the Louvre and the Guggenheim.

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Gregory Sholette, Saadiyat Island

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Hans Haacke, Saadiyat Island, Museum Construction Site, 2011. More images from the series on Ibraaz


Better quality video at The Guardian

The men constructing the architectural 'icons' designed by the likes of Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel, Zaha Hadid (aka the It's not my duty as an architect to look at it lady) and Tadao Ando, are trapped there since their passports have been confiscated, they receive lower than expected wages, are confined to substandard housing, are submitted to 10pm curfew, poor food as well as segregation in the official labour camp, etc.

Because of the notoriously low wages they receive, migrant labourers often have to work for years before they manage to pay off the debt they contracted to cover the recruitment and travel fees to the UAE. This recruitment debt is central to the system. No one would labor under such conditions unless they had to pay it off.

If they protest against the poor living/working conditions or unpaid wages, the workers get punished or deported.

And anyone who speaks in their favour isn't welcome in the country...

The editor of the book, Andrew Ross, is a professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University, and a social activist. Earlier this year, he wanted to do some research on labor issues at Abu Dhabi, where a campus of his university is located but he was informed at JFK Airport that he could not enter the country. Similar rebukes awaited other members of the Gulf Labor Coalition. Artist Ashok Sukumaran was denied a visa to travel to the UAE. Walid Raad was turned back at the Dubai airport.

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Migrant workers, in their tiny apartment in Abu Dhabi, earn as little as $272 a month while building a campus for New York University. Credit Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

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Laborers nap on pieces of empty cardboard boxes during their midday break at the Dragon Mart Phase 2 construction site in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Photo AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili (The Associated Press), via ABQJournal

The artist group Gulf Labor Coalition has spent the past few years investigating and denouncing migrant worker abuse. But while the UAE and other Gulf governments can largely ignore the group's calls, the European and American cultural institutions who will be present on Saadiyat Island need to protect their 'brand' and the values they stand for. As Paula Chakravartty and Nitasha Dhillon write in their essay for the book: it remains urgent to continue to use our leverage as artists and scholars to hold US and European museums and universities accountable in their home countries for the abuses against human dignity of workers thousands of miles away.

The Gulf. High Culture/Hard Labor charters Gulf Labor's fight in a series of texts written by members of the coalition.

Some of the authors explore Western institutions complicity in migrant worker abuse on Saadiyat, other analyse the place of construction workers in the building process, report on visits and interviews with deported workers, look at the artists who have engaged in direct political action, draw lessons from examples of art and activism in the global stage, document performances organised inside the Guggenheim Museum in New York by G.U.L.F. (Global Ultra Luxury Faction, a 'Gulf Labor spinoff devoted to direct action' Global Ultra Luxury Faction, etc.

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Guggenheim petro-dollars rain down, March 2014. Image Hyperallergic

The Gulf. High Culture/Hard Labor is lively, opinionated and eye-opening book. It is an important publication because of the realities it reveals and investigates. But it does more than that. The essays it contains can be read as a series of lessons for anyone, journalists, artists or activists, who want to take a stand, protest and challenge every complicit element leading to a situation of abuse and injustice.

Because things might be slow to change but that doesn't mean protesting is useless. As Sarah Leah Whitson notes in the foreword:

The efforts of Gulf Labor have prevented these world-class institutions from sweeping their complicity in the exploitation of migrant workers under Abu Dhabi's desert sands.

Most significantly, these efforts have produced concrete results, with the private institutions and businesses involved in Saadiyat Island agreeing to a minimum set of commitments to protect worker rights, including the right to change jobs, an end to passport confiscation, and the refunding of recruiting fees.

And the campaign has even led the UAE grudgingly to adopt some legislative reforms, including electronic payment of wages, changes to the sponsorship system that allow workers to switch jobs under limited circumstances, and greater supervision of work conditions by a vastly expanded pool of government inspectors.

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Migrant workers from Bangladesh in the apartment in Abu Dhabi that they share. The labor force on N.Y.U.'s new campus numbered 6,000 at its peak. Credit Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

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Shift labourers on Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi. ©Samer Muscati, 2011. Via Blouin art info

By the way, Hyperallergic is doing a great job at keeping up with Gulf Labor latest actions.

Past Futures. Science Fiction, Space Travel, and Postwar Art of the Americas, edited by curator Sarah J. Montross.

(available on amazon USA and UK.)

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Publisher MIT Press writes: From the 1940s to the 1970s, visionary artists from across the Americas reimagined themes from science fiction and space travel. They mapped extraterrestrial terrain, created dystopian scenarios amid fears of nuclear annihilation, and ingeniously deployed scientific and technological subjects and motifs. This book offers a sumptuously illustrated exploration of how artists from the United States and Latin America visualized the future. Inspired variously by the "golden age" of science fiction, the Cold War, the space race, and the counterculture, these artists expressed both optimism and pessimism about humanity's prospects.

Past Futures showcases work by more than a dozen artists, including the biomorphic cosmic spaces and hybrid alien-totemic figures painted by the Chilean artist Roberto Matta (1911-2002); the utopian Hydrospatial City envisioned by Argentine Gyula Kosice (1924-); and Incidents of Mirror-Travel in the Yucatan, in which Robert Smithson (1938-1973) layered tropes of time travel atop Mayan ruins. The artists respond to science fiction in film and literature and the media coverage of the space race; link myths of Europeans' first encounters with the New World to contemporary space exploration; and project futures both idealized and dystopian.

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Poster for the film 'Conquistador de la luna (Conqueror of the moon), Mexico, 1960

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Henrique Alvim Corrêa, illustration for H G Wells "La guerre des mondes", 1906

Once in a while, i like a good catalogue. Especially when they educate me about a topic i know little about: retro futurism in the Americas. Past Futures. Science Fiction, Space Travel, and Postwar Art of the Americas is the catalogue of an exhibition of the same name at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. The book explains in 4 essays and many many images how artists of the period that goes from 1940s to 1970s imagined the future.

The context is exciting enough: it's the time of the Cold War, of the growing popularity of the science fiction genre, of a faith in the power of science to transform society and the human condition. Artists were more than ever stimulated to imagine what the future would be like.

Times were full of hope but they weren't, however, all naivety and science worship. First, people were afraid of nuclear extermination. And believe it or not, they were also already worried about government surveillance. Or about the disruption that technology would bring to the social fabric. And, for some artists from Latin America, space control evoked unpleasant memories of a colonial past.

The first essay, by curator Sarah J. Montross, explores the impact that space travel and science fiction had across the Americas and also the tensions between the promises of the present and a rich cultural past.

Miguel Angel Fernandez Delgado looks at Latin America's long tradition of studying the cosmos (which dates back to the Mayas, the Incas and the Aztec) and presents the work of artists whose work is related to astronomic phenomena and utopian ideals.

Rodrigo Alonso's essay on the influence of science fiction over art in Argentine in the 1960s shows how much artists also had to contend with a political atmosphere that oscillated between a transition into democracy and surges of repression and censorship.

Rory O'Dea explored the influence that science fiction had on the work of land artist Robert Smithson.

Unsurprisingly, i was more interested in reading about art from Latin America and discovering how they questioned the nature of progress. I found some real gems in the book, works by artists involved in scientific inquiries, building robots, walking through a desert that evokes a lunar terrain, or expressing a critical ambivalence towards technology. Too bad i couldn't find images for some of these works online. I managed to dig up a few though:

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Enrique Castro-Cid, Anthropomorphicals I and II. 1964 (image via cyberneticzoo)

Enrique Castro-Cid's automata lack any human shell but reproduce our bodily functions.

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Gyula Kosice, La ciudad hidroespacial (The Hydrospatial City), 1946-72

Tired of the housing models proposed by Bauhaus, Le Corbusier and functional architecture, Gyula Kosice plexiglass maquettes and drawing of dwellings 5000 feet above the surface of the earth. The Hydrospatial City, which finds some echoes in the cloud cities of Tomas Saraceno, responds to fear of ecological degradation and overpopulation.

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Peter Hutchinson, Paricutin Project, 1971

In 1970, Peter Hutchinson climbed the Paricutin volcano in Mexico. Upon reaching the summit, he spread 450 pounds of bread along its rim. After 6 days of high humidity and intense heat at the crater's edge, the bread began to sprout spores of luminous orange mould. Life grew in a place thought as lifeless.

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Luis Fernando Benedit, Laberinto para hormigas A, 1974

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Luis Fernando Benedit, Hábitat para caracoles, 1970

Luis Fernando Benedit built dwellings for snails, ants and other tiny creatures in order to observe the behavioral conditioning in an artificial, enclosed environment.

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Luis Fernando Benedit, Biotrón, 1970

The artist participated to the Venice Biennale 1970 with an installation that included a beehive with live bees, and a garden of artificial flowers that supplied nectar.

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SEFT-1, Los Ferronautas

SEFT-1 is resolutely contemporary but the curators of Past Futures found some resonances of Past Futures in Ivan Puig and Andrés Padilla Domene's half car half spaceship hybrid called SEFT-1 (the Sonda de Exploración Ferroviaria Tripulada, in english Manned Railway Exploration Probe.) The artists traveled along the ruins of the Mexican passenger railway system, which was left to rot after privatization in the 1990s, and investigated the remains of what they consider a misuse of common resources and therefore a political issue.

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Rufino Tamayo, Terror Cosmico, 1954

This post might suggest that the book is all about early forms of media art in the Americas. It's not. Plenty of paintings in there as well.

5a1oDQ9XvrJL.jpgPhotography Visionaries, by Mary Warner Marien.

Available on amazon UK and USA

Publisher Laurence King writes: Photography Visionaries is an inspiring guide to 75 of the most influential photographers from around 1900 to the present. Entertainingly written by an expert on photography, it provides fascinating insight into the lives and careers of men and women working in a medium which perhaps more than any other in the visual arts has been deeply affected by technological change.

The entries are arranged chronologically, instilling in the reader an understanding of what marks each photographer as a visionary. Each entry is less about providing a full biography of the person and more about creating a sense of excitement regarding their work and the lasting impact that it has had on photography.

With the aid of an arresting selection of photographs, some well-known and others less so, this book offers a unique and engaging perspective on the development of photography through some of its most inventive practitioners.

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Weegee, Charles Sodokoll and Arthur Webber use their top hats to hide their faces, 1942

"A good photograph is like a good hound dog, dumb, but eloquent." Eugène Atget.

Mary Warner Marien knows where to find a quote or anecdote that says more about a photographer's life, career and ethos than a long biography. She found something witty or striking to say about each of the 75 photographic visionaries she selected for the book. Those visionaries are people who experiment, expand the scope and significance of photography and are inspiring to their peers. They work in any field: portraiture, advertising, photo reportage, documentary, fashion or conceptualism.

Each of them gets one page of bio and three pages of images with a timeline charting the most salient moments of their career. There is always also a portrait of the photographers. I thought i didn't care much for artists' portraits until i realized i had never seen a photo of Bernhard and Hilla Becher before. Or one of Cindy Sherman being no one else but Cindy Sherman.

Obviously not everyone is going to be happy with the author's selection. And i'm going to agree with the English reviewers who deplore the absence of Martin Parr. Another reviewer mentioned Hiroshi Sugimoto. Indeed! He should be there as well. I'm going to add Broomberg and Chanarin to the list. What i like in the author's selection, however, is that women and non-Caucasian people do not feature only as subjects. I don't know if there was a conscious effort to include women photographers, black photographers, Chinese photographers, etc. But it feels just that the white male monopoly is somewhat under assault.

Warner Marien is also the author of Photography. A Cultural History, perhaps the most informative, interesting and intelligent photo book i've ever read about photo. Photography Visionaries is very different (i probably shouldn't compare one with the other anyway): it's snappier, shorter and less elaborate. But it's written with the passion and verve that characterizes her style.

And now for some images and (fairly random) comments

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August Sander, Die Boxer, Paul Roderstein, Hein Hesse, 1928

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August Sander, National Socialist, Head of Department of Culture 1938, printed 1990

August Sander's major project, People of the 20th Century, attempted to give an overview of the most archetypal figures of contemporary society, categorizing his subjects by profession or social class. His photos represent types (The Woodcutter, The Farmer, The Sculptress, The Bricklayer, The Bohemian, The Bank Official, etc.), not individuals.

Although there was nothing progressive about this model of society, the Nazis disapproved of Sander's work. In 1936 they confiscated the publisher's copies of Face of our Time (a selection of portraits from his series People of the 20th Century); the printing plates were destroyed and the book was officially banned.

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Liu Zheng, From the series The Chinese, Two Miners, Datong, Shanxi Province, 1996

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Liu Zheng, Convicts Fetching Water, Baoding, Hebei Province, from The Chinese series, 1995

Inspired by Sander's work, Liu Zheng traveled throughout China to portray archetypal Chinese characters from every social stratum: homeless children, transvestite performers, provincial drug traffickers, coal miners, Buddhist monks, prison inmates, Taoist priests, waxwork figures in historical museums, and the dead and dying. The images of The Chinese series depict a country caught between tradition and unprecedented economic upheavals.

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Imogen Cunningham, Irene "Bobby" Libarry, 1976

When she was herself in her early nineties, Imogen Cunningham started working on After 90, a series that portrayed the elderly. One of them was Irene "Bobbie" Libarry who used to be a circus attraction and was living in a nursing home at the time of the photography.

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Edward Weston, Excusado, 1925

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John Heartfield, Und sie bewegt sich doch! (And Yet It Moves!), 1943

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John Heartfield, Self-Portrait with Berlin President of Police, 1929

John Heartfield was one of the first artists to use photomontage, manipulating photographs to satirize the brutality of the Nazi regime.

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Lisette Model, Woman with veil, San Fransisco, 1949

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Lisette Model, Divorcee, Reno, 1949

Lisette Mode never formally studied photography but took it up in the 1930s while living in Paris. Her images are early examples of "street photography," a style which developed after the invention of the hand-held camera, which made impromptu shots possible.

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Walker Evan, Workers Loading Neon "Damaged" Sign into Truck, West Eleventh Street, New York City, 1928-1930

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Margaret Bourke-White, At the Time of the Louisville Flood, 1937

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Henri Cartier-Bresson, Gestapo Informer, Dessau, Germany, April 1945

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Gordon Parks, Colored Entrance, Mobile, Alabama, 1956

Yes, the photo above just made me realize how black and white the book is.

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Nacho López, Hands with cigarettes under cell door, Lecumberri Penitentiary, Mexico City, from the series Prisión de sueños, 1950

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Nacho López, La Venus se va de juerga, 1953

López orchestrated situations in public space and document passersby reactions. In the series "La Venus se va de juerga", for example, a man travels through the crowd carrying a blond mannequin.

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Santu Mofokeng, Democracy is forever, Pimville, 2004

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Eugène Atget, Avenue des Gobelins, 1927

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Frances Benjamin Johnston, Stairway of the Treasurer's Residence: Students at Work from the Hampton, c. 1900

Works of Game. On the Aesthetics of Games and Art, by John Sharp, Associate Professor of Games and Learning at Parsons.

Find it on amazon USA and UK.

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Publisher MIT Press writes: Games and art have intersected at least since the early twentieth century, as can be seen in the Surrealists' use of Exquisite Corpse and other games, Duchamp's obsession with Chess, and Fluxus event scores and boxes--to name just a few examples. Over the past fifteen years, the synthesis of art and games has clouded for both artists and gamemakers. Contemporary art has drawn on the tool set of videogames, but has not considered them a cultural form with its own conceptual, formal, and experiential affordances. For their part, game developers and players focus on the innate properties of games and the experiences they provide, giving little attention to what it means to create and evaluate fine art. In Works of Game, John Sharp bridges this gap, offering a formal aesthetics of games that encompasses the commonalities and the differences between games and art.


Myfanwy Ashmore, Super Mario Trilogy

Works of Game is part of MIT Press' Playful Thinking, a series of compact, short, sharp volumes on game-related topics that should interest pretty much everyone, from academics to industry professionals to members of the general public. I've only got this one book from the series but i can confirm that it counts some 115 pages only (excluding the notes which, by the way, are surprisingly amusing to read) and that it analyses its subject in depth while remaining extremely readable to art experts and curious players alike.

In the book, John Sharp attempts to explore the way game makers and artists conceptualize and create game-based artworks. He identifies three connected community of practice:

Game artists appropriate the tools of the video game industry to create art.
Meanwhile, the artists who produce artgames see games as a medium for artistic expression and experiential understanding that enable them to delve into territories traditionally explored through poetry, painting, literature or film.
And finally, there are the creators who produce artists games and use games are a vehicle for questioning, critiquing and exploring unexpected potentials. The main characteristic of their work is that their concept and interactivity speak to both the contemporary art and the game communities.

Sharp illustrates the three practices with examples and brings them in parallel with key moments or players of the history of art. It is one of those rare books in which Donkey Kong finds itself in the company of Marcel Duchamp, Dune and Raby, Nicolas Bourriaud and Sol Lewitt.

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Julian Oliver, ioq3aPaint, 2010

A clear example of Game Art is when Julian Oliver exploits a bug in the Quake 3 game engine to 'paint' abstract images and videos. The result is a wok of art that stand on its own but that might not necessarily appeal to a gaming community who expects interaction.

A great artgame would be Castle Doctrine, a massively-multiplayer game set in the early 1990s. Each player has two missions: protect their home and break inside other players' houses and steal money from their vaults. It's not pleasant, you can lose everything and commit suicide, be mauled by a guard dog, or be killed by the traps your neighbour has installed to protect their belongings.

In creating this paranoid game, Jason Rohrer was influenced by his childhood fear of his house being robbed, shootings that made the headlines, and his own political views regarding gun rights and home invasions. Castle Doctrine demonstrates that a game can be autobiographic, like a painting or a poem.

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Brenda Romero, Train, 2009

In her The Mechanic is the Message series, Brenda Romero uses games as a medium for exploring human tragedy.

The series is composed of six separate non-digital games that experiment with the traditional notions of games and the way they can extend human experience and create emotions not traditionally associated with games.

One of them is Train, a board game where players have to transport as many yellow game pieces from one end of the game board to the other. But the winner discovers the name of their destination only once they've reached it. All of them are concentration camps. The player can then choose to stop playing or attempt to sabotage the game by intentionally trying to draw derail cards.

Another game, Síochán leat (aka "The Irish Game") re-creates Oliver Cromwell's mid-17th century invasion of Ireland. As the English army advances, the Irish people (game pieces) are displaced onto other squares of the board until the figures representing Irish people can barely squeeze into increasingly crowded areas. Two players manipulate the Irish pieces. When there isn't enough free spaces left, the Irish people will have to fight one another in order to stay alive, for example by sending some of the Irish people to one side of the board where they will wait to shipped to Barbados to serve as slaves.

All the games in the series put the player in the very embarrassing position of playing an active part into a human atrocity. The rules of the game are not published anywhere, you discover them as you play.

Now artists' games have the best of both world. They satisfy the art community because of their critical and conceptual rigor and they entertain the gamers with their level of interactivity and their representation of real phenomena experiences.

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Mary Flanagan, [giantJoystick], 2006

An example of artists' game is Mary Flanagan's [giantJoystick] which critically engages with the design, play and cultural place of games. In the installation, you have to handle an oversize Atari VCS joystick to play classic games designed for one player. However, you need the help of another player in order to successfully manipulate it. The idea is thus very simple. However, questions soon arise in the mind of the player: How do you collaborate on a game that was designed for one player only? How does the playing activity change once you're in a museum rather than alone in your living room? etc.

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Molleindustria, The Best Amendment

Molleindustria's The Best Amendment, a game that pushed the pro-gun rhetoric to its most absurd limits, is as ludic as it is socially-engaged and as such, it appeals to both the game community and the art crowd. It particularly challenges Wayne LaPierre's argument, made in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, that "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

In the concluding pages, Sharp states that the artgames movement is more or less on its last leg and that game art is relegated to the 'marginalized world of media art.' He does however make a great case for artists' games, explaining why they deserve to get the attention of galleries and museums, what is their place in culture and also why we should develop a new literacy to better appreciate (and create) them.

Now who might enjoy this book? That's a no-brainer!

Works of Game is a book for people who love contemporary art and read Jonathan Jones' art column on The Guardian (i like Jones' writing but his good sense seems to evaporate as soon as any form of technology is involved.)

It is also a book i'd recommend for gamers, for the media art crowd and anyone else who want to further reflect on art's contribution to games. And vice-versa.

0i9tacti267.jpgTactical Urbanism. Short-term Action for Long-term Change, by Mike Lydon and Anthony Garcia. Foreword by Andres Duany.

(amazon USA and UK.)

Publisher Island Press writes: Short-term, community-based projects--from pop-up parks to open streets initiatives--have become a powerful and adaptable new tool of urban activists, planners, and policy-makers seeking to drive lasting improvements in their cities and beyond. These quick, often low-cost, and creative projects are the essence of the Tactical Urbanism movement. Whether creating vibrant plazas seemingly overnight or re-imagining parking spaces as neighborhood gathering places, they offer a way to gain public and government support for investing in permanent projects, inspiring residents and civic leaders to experience and shape urban spaces in a new way.

Tactical Urbanism, written by Mike Lydon and Anthony Garcia, two founders of the movement, promises to be the foundational guide for urban transformation. The authors begin with an in-depth history of the Tactical Urbanism movement and its place among other social, political, and urban planning trends. A detailed set of case studies, from guerilla wayfinding signs in Raleigh, to pavement transformed into parks in San Francisco, to a street art campaign leading to a new streetcar line in El Paso, demonstrate the breadth and scalability of tactical urbanism interventions. Finally, the book provides a detailed toolkit for conceiving, planning, and carrying out projects, including how to adapt them based on local needs and challenges.

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Didier Fiuza Faustino, Double Happiness, Urban reanimation device, 2009. Shenzhen-Hong Kong Bi-City Biennial of Urbanism and Architecture

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Stereotank, Little Free Library

Tactical Urbanism is a grass-root approach to urbanism. Tactical Urbanism is what happens when citizens, frustrated with the hurdles of civic administration, take the future of their neighbourhood into their own hands before someone else, someone with a political mandate, someone who doesn't actually have to live there, does it for them. Tactical Urbanism is a method for transforming 'an orderly but dumb system into one that's more chaotic but smart.'

The authors of the book, Mike Lydon and Anthony Garcia, believe that the city is the perfect laboratory for testing out dreams and ideas. They show us how to experiment with, reclaim, redesign or reprogram vacant lots, empty storefronts, overly wide streets, local markets, highway underpasses, surface parking lots and other underused public spaces.

Garcia and Lydon have been documenting and applying Tactical Urbanism practices for the past 4 years. That's not a very long period of time but they have learnt a lot in that period. More importantly, they've learnt mostly by doing: they released Tactical Urbanism guides, organised salons and also worked alongside citizens, government officials, advocacy groups and developers on a series of projects.

The authors also admit that they haven't invented everything. The second chapter of their book looks at moments in history that have paved the way for Tactical Urbanism. The journey starts much earlier than i had expected, with the Neolithic settlement of Khoirokoitia in Cyprus, one of the first citizen led planning process in history. Garcia and Lydon then explore and explain how the Roman castra (temporary roman military camps with easily navigable gridded streets) literally set the first stones for European cities to settle and develop. How in the late 1960s, people in Delft started to strategically place trees, bollards or bike racks in order to slow down traffic and give the street back to the community. How parents in the city of Bristol appropriated legislation designed for street parties to close street to cars so that their children can play safely. The initiatives in both England and The Netherlands ended up being officially condoned by their national governments.

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Aloha crosswalk in Honolulu. Photo Katrina Valcourt

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Bonnie Ora Sherk, Portable Parks II, 1970. Mission and Van Ness, San Francisco.

The following chapters contain many more U.S.-based examples and lessons. They also analyze the reasons for the current resurgence of Tactical Urbanism (growing disconnection between citizens and decision-makers, people moving back to the city, the current recession, the rise of the internet.) At this point, however, i was starting to lose interest in the book. Apart from the historical section, it was firmly grounded onto the U.S. soil. Nothing wrong with that, i just expected the book to either make me travel all over the world or apply to a reality i feel closer to (i should probably mention that some of Street Plans publications focus on other parts of the globe.) I was also a bit annoyed with the constant talk of 'empowering' citizens. But then the word 'empowering' has that nails-scratching-on-chalkboard effect on me. I just can't help it. If I did carry on reading, it's because the experiences shared in the book are indeed very uplifting, each story is written in a clear and engaging language and then there's that chapter 5....

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Yoga in Times Square. Photo

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Walk [Your City]. Photo

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Tactical Urbanism. Design Thinking diagram

Chapter 5 is a gem. It is a very detailed and informative toolkit for aspiring Tactical Urbanists. The pages explain how to use online tools (such as Neighborland, Mindmixer, etc.) to widen engagement, how to identity your project partners, fund the project, apply for a permit (or not as it appears that sometimes applying for special event is enough if you want to test drive an intervention in public space and get the ball rolling), where to find the materials to make it happen, how to build a prototype, measure its impact and learn from the results, etc. There's even a cheat sheet with important guiding questions.

But as the authors make clear, Tactical Urbanism is not an off the shelf solution or a check list, it's a process that should also allow for frequent adjustments. It's also decidedly small-scale, short-term and low-cost (and often surprisingly low-tech) but it should also serve a larger purpose.

The concluding chapter is mostly preptalk, an admonition to go out, use this book and take action in your own community.

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