Experimental Eating, edited by Thomas Howells. With introductory essay by Zach Denfeld, Cathrine Kramer and Emma Conley from The Center for Genomic Gastronomy.

Available on amazon UK and US.

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(Image via @allieartbooks)

Black Dog Publishing writes: Experimental Eating is the first international survey of contemporary experimental and experiential food-based creative practices across art, design, catering, science and theatre. Deliciously detailed and good enough to eat, this book combines luscious images with text that questions the assumptions behind how we make, eat and perceive food.

Experimental Eating demonstrates how current creative collaborations are pushing the boundaries of how we understand, experience and relate to food and the rituals of dining. The book encompasses unusual and cutting-edge foods, radical dining events, "kitchen laboratory" experiments, food sculptures and other documentation of the transient moments that make up this field of experimentation.

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Paul McCarthy, Chocolate version of Santa with Tree. Photo: Svetlana Bachevanova via Paris Photo

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Center for Genomic Gastronomy, Smog Tasting

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Center for Genomic Gastronomy, Vegan Ortolan

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Erwin Wurm, Self-Portrait of Cucumbers, 2008

Experimental Eating is a merry and fascinating survey of artworks that bring the political, the unusual or the technological into the ritual of food consumption. From the moment the ingredients are planted or bred to the moments they are combined into dishes, consumed or discarded.

The book comes at a good time. A time when cooking shows pullulate on tv screens while concerns are raised about the ethics (or rather lack thereof) of our food production.

The artists whose work is featured in the book remind us that a meal is far more than the insertion of edible material into our mouth. It is the result of farming practices, cultural standards, biological manipulations, technological innovations, international trade law and often also ethical choices. Some of the artists and designers working with food speculate on the impact that tissue engineering will have on our plates, others create a permanent fast food joint that offers cuisine from countries the United States is currently in conflict with, others uncover and denounce aspects of our food systems we might not be aware of, etc. What these practitioners have in common is that they use food as a vehicle to get our full attention and spark conversations over broader themes. Preferably outside of the contrived environment of museums and galleries.

Experimental Eating closes on a series of art&food related reprint. They are masterfully chosen. There's Romy Golan's Anti-Pasta which informed me someone once had the idea of founding PIPA, the International Association Against Pasta; there's an introduction to The Starving Artists' Cookbook; and there's The Culinary Triangle, Claude Lévi-Strauss essay on the semantic field of cooking meat.

There might be other publications on the topic but Experimental Eating is the first one that falls into my hands and it is an entertaining, thought-provoking and thrilling one.

Some of the many artworks i discovered in the book:

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Van Brummelen & De Haan, Monument of Sugar, Argos Brussels, 2007

Following the discovery that European sugar costs far less when sold outside of Europe, Van Brummelen & De Haan embarked on an investigation of the European subsidised sugar trade. They bought European surplus sugar in Nigeria and then shipped it back home. To elude the European trade barrier for sugar imports they transformed the sugar into a monument. The import application was thus filled under the Uniform Commercial Code Law 9703, which applies to all monuments and original artworks regardless of the material in which they are produced. In the end, however, they had to contend with more tariff barriers then they succeeded in avoiding and the sugar proved more expensive than at home.

The sugar sculpture is accompanied by a film essay which charts the artists' research into the sugar trade.

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Condiment Junkie, Bittersweet Symphony, 2014

Condiment Junkie experimented with modifying the perception of taste, making it bitter or sweeter, using sound only.

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Waag Society, The Other Dinner. Photo Chloé Rutzerveld, 2013

The Other Dinner investigated the meat culture of the past, present and future. One of the chapters of the event looked at the parts of the pig, cow, chicken or sheep that are usually disdained and used only for export or animal feed.

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Michael Rakowitz, Enemy Kitchen. Photo: Smart Museum of Art

Collaborating with his Iraqi-Jewish mother, Michael Rakowitz compiles Baghdadi recipes and teaches them to different audiences. He also serves the food in a ice cream truck with the help American veterans of the Iraq War. Preparing and consuming the food gives the artist and the public a chance to approach the topic of Iraq in a more open, less CNN-report way.


Bompas & Parr, Cooking with Lava, 2014. Video by Robert Wysocki

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Harry Parr of Bompas and Parr gets volcanic on 10-ounce rib-eye steaks and ears of corn. Photo Bompas and Parr

Bompas & Parr collaborated with Professor Robert Wysocki , an artist who works with artificial volcanoes and streams of man-made lava, for artistic and scientific purposes. The artistic duo harnessed his expertise and bronze furnace to cook meat and fish.

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Henry Hargreaves, Deep Fried Gadgets

The title says it all. This is also one of the most stomach-churning works i've ever read about.

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Klaus Pichler, Strawberries, One Third - a project on food waste
Place of production: San Giovanni Lupatoto, Verona, Italy
Cultivation method: Foil green house * Time of harvest: June - October
Transporting distance: 741 km * Means of transportation: Truck
Carbon footprint (total) per kg: 0,35 kg * Water requirement (total) per kg: 348 l
Price: 7,96 € / kg

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Klaus Pichler, Tomatoes, One Third - a project on food waste
Place of production: Albenga, Italy
Cultivation method: Foil green house * Time of harvest: All- season
Transporting distance: 1.035 km * Means of transportation: Truck
Carbon footprint (total) per kg: 0,31 kg * Water requirement (total) per kg: 215 l
Price: 0,89 € / kg

According to a UN study one third of the world's food goes to waste (mostly in the industrialized nations of the global north) while 925 million people around the world are threatened by starvation. Klaus Pichler's series 'One Third' explores the connection between individual wastage of food and globalized food production. Over a period of nine months, the photographer used his apartment bathroom as a storage space for rotting food items. He then arranged the abominable result of the fermentation into elaborate still lifes and accompanied the images with texts that take an in depth look at the food production and distribution.

Related stories: Prison Gourmet, Data Cuisine, food as data expression, The Meat Licence Proposal, interview with John O'Shea, Super Meal, Cobalt 60 Sauce, a barbecue sauce made from 'supermarket mutants', Cook Me - Black Bile, Conflict Kitchen, Herbologies/Foraging Networks at Pixelache Helsinki, Interview with Kultivator, an experimental cooperation of organic farming and visual art practice, Temporary photoElectric Digestopians (Fusing Cooking and Solar Tech with Design), The Spice Trade Expedition - In pursuit of artificial flavoring, Book Review - Cooking Science: Condensed Matter, etc.

Sponsored by:





Techno-Ecologies II. Acoustic Space #12, edited by Rasa Smite, Armin Medosch and Raitis Smits.

(available on amazon USA or by ordering directly from RIXC via e-mail: rixc @ rixc.lv.)

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Publishers RIXC Center for New Media Culture and MPLab, Art Research Lab of Liepaja University write: Techno-ecological perspectives have become now one of the key directions in contemporary discourses and are part of a larger paradigm shift from new media to post-media art. A range of practices which were once subsumed under terms such as media art, digital art, art and technology or art and science, have experienced such growth and diversification that no single term can work as as a label any more. Traditionally separated domains are brought together to become contextual seedbeds for ideas and practices that aim to overcome the crisis of the present and to invent new avenues for future developments.

This is the 2nd volume in the Acoustic Space series that continues to build a 'techno-ecological' perspective whereby new artistic practices are discussed that combine ecological, social, scientific and artistic inquiries. Edited and published in the context of the exhibition Fields, it makes a perspective its own that sees art as a catalyst for change and transformations.

This 300+ page publication is a collection of papers by artists, curators and academics. The texts are mapping contemporary practices in art & technology but they also had the specific function of providing a framework to the Fields exhibition that took place in Riga last Summer. The show investigated the place of contemporary art practices in society and the role artists can take not just as generators of new aesthetics but also as catalysts of active involvement in social, scientific, and technological transformations. The publication is as deep and as wide-ranging as the Riga show was. Its content also echoes many of the current conversations that makes media art such an exciting field to follow: DIY culture vs 'black box' technology, digital archiving, continued influence of early locative art, funding models for the digital culture, reconciliation between sciences and humanities, etc.

Here's a far from exhaustive list of essays i've enjoyed reading:

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Graham Harwood and Matsuko Yokokoji, Coal Fired Computers, 2010. Photo by Marc Wathieu

In Slow Media Art - Seeing through Speed in Critiques of Modernity, Kevin Hamilton and Katja Kwastek applied the ideas of the slow food to Media Art. The slow media art works they presented share a 'deep engagement with sensation, duration, and speed.' I like the concept because it proves media art detractors that there is more to media art than the quest for innovation and sparkly spectacle. The examples of the genre selected by the authors of the paper include YoHa's magnificent coal-fired computers and Esther Polak's Milk Project.

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Kuai Shen Auson, 0h!m1gas

In Stridulation Amplified: An Artistic Research of the Bioacoustic Phenomena of Leaf-cutter Ants Using the Turntable, artist Kuai Shen Auson shares what he learnt from 5 years working on and exhibiting 0h!m1gas , an installation that harnesses the relentless activity of an ant colony into a DJ scratching performance.

In Ars Bioarctica. Five Years of Art & Science Work by the Finnish Society of Bioart at Kilpisjärvi Biological Station, Erich Berger and Laura Beloff draw lessons from their five years of experience organizing art&science collaborations in sub-Arctic environment

Michel Bauwens's essay Evolving Towards a Partner State in an Ethical Economy looks at the free software industry and defends the idea that society can learn something from the politics of this value creation model and that of a 'P2P' state might emerge from these social practices.

In Contestation and the Sustainability of the Digital Commons, Eric Kluitenberg reflects on the outcomes of the Economies of the Commons, a series of conferences that focused on how sustainable models could be identified for creating and maintaining public online media culture and knowledge resources. The final part of his paper charts various revenue models that can sustain commons based initiatives in the digital domain.

I learned about the existence of anticartographism in Gavin MacDonald's text Moving Bodies and the Map: Relational and Absolute Conceptions of Space in GPS-based Art in which he walks us through the short history of the use of GPS as an artistic medium.


Bug Music: David Rothenberg's Insect Choir

In Bird, Whale, Bug: The Reasons for an Interspecies Music, composer David Rothenberg tells about his experience of working with bird song neuroscientists, playing music with animals and even bugs and his findings about how a musical approach might lead to better understanding and respect for 'natural' sounds.

About the FIELDS exhibition: FIELDS, positive visions for the future, Ghostradio, the device that produces real random numbers, Sketches for an Earth Computer, POLSPRUNG (POLE SHIFT) - Devastating Experimental Set-ups, On the interplay between a snail and an algorithm.

Image on the homepage: a performance by Cécile Babiole at the FIELDS exhibition.

Come Together. The Rise of Cooperative Art and Design, by writer, artist and cultural historian Francesco Spampinato

(available on amazon USA and UK.)

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Publisher Princeton Architectural Press writes: The past twenty years have seen a new generation of artists working together in small groups and large collectives to explore new avenues of art, design, performance, and commerce. In Come Together, author and visual artist Francesco Spampinato assembles an international roster of forty of today's most exciting and influential collectives, from design studios like Project Projects and political performance artists The Yes Men to flash mob provocateurs Improv Everywhere and the multimedia artists Assume Vivid Astro Focus. Alongside visual portfolios of their best work are in-depth interviews addressing each group's unique motivations, processes, and objectives. What emerges is a shared desire to turn viewers into producers and to use commercial mass-media strategies to challenge prevailing social, political, and cultural power structures. Come Together is an essential resource and inspiration for students, art lovers, and anyone interested in the cutting edge of visual culture.

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Ivan's Dogs, We Provide The Smiles, 2006

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ruangrupa, Poster for the OK. International Video Festival

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PSJM, Capitalismo 1712-2010, R.I.P

Come Together offers a collection of interviews with dozens of art collectives that work with society, rather than as mere observers of society. The groups selected use graphic design, fashion, performances or publications to question economic structures, brands, mass media, the police and other state institutions. Their strategies and objectives might differ but what brings many of them together is the way they leave a space for the public to take an active role in their actions.

Each collective is given its own chapter in the book. They are introduced by a brief data sheet that includes key words summing up their activities, a list of the members (when known) and a reference to a publication that focuses on their work. But the main content is an interview with the collective. Each of these groups are asked the same questions. They range from "why work collaboratively?" to "Does your engagement with one another translates into an engagement with the public? How so?"

Since i love discovering artists with a political agenda, i'm pretty happy with my copy of Come Together and i can only applaud the fact that the author has looked beyond the usual U.S. and the European Union and included groups from Jakarta, Tokyo, Buenos Aires in his selection. I did however wonder whether an artistic duo that works mostly in a gallery context has indeed its place in the book (i won't give names, unless you ask politely.)

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The Space Hijackers comment on the absurdity of the legalese of the Olympics (image via buzzfeed)

The brilliant Space Hijackers define themselves as "an international band of anarchitects who battle to save our streets, towns and cities from the evils of urban planners, architects, multinationals and other hoodlums".

The group's many activities aims to underline and fight peacefully the destructive influence that corporations have in society. Some of their interventions have included being anointed the "Official Protesters Of The London 2012 Olympic Games", rolling out a guerrilla benching operation (restoring public benches that had been removed and bolting them to the ground), and inviting coffee drinkers and others to use games in order to protest against Starbucks, this "neo liberal global capitalist thug".

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Billboard Bustcards

SH made billboard-sized versions of the bustcard flyers they were already handing out at demonstrations, to inform protestors of their legal rights, in the event that should they be arrested or stopped and searched.

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Superflex, Copyshop

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Superflex, Copyshop

Superflex makes 'Tools', proposals that invite people to participate in and communicate the development of experimental models that alter the economic production conditions. These tools are developed for people to use, replicate and modify.

Their Copyshop worked as both a shop that sold products challenging intellectual property and as an information forum that investigate the phenomena of copying. The goods on sale were modified originals, improved copies, political anti-brands - or a Supercopy as the new original.

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Center for Tactical Magic, The Tactical Ice Cream Unit, 2005

The Center for Tactical Magic is another favourite of mine. The group aims to engage communities into political thinking and acts of positive social transformation.

Their Tactical Ice Cream Unit is designed to operate and look like a police force's mobile command center. On board are high-tech devices (including a video surveillance system, acoustic amplifiers, GPS, satellite internet, emergency gas masks, and a media transmission studio capable of disseminating live audio/video) and ice cream. It not only monitors police action at a demonstration but can also offer protection to protesters.The TICU operators also hand out free cones along with receive printed information developed by local progressive groups.

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Friends With You Parade, Art Basel, 2006. Photo: Joel Mangrum

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Friends With You Parade, Art Basel, 2006 (photo via flavorwire)

And now for something completely different...

FriendsWithYou make plush and wood toys, immersive (and often inflatable) art installations, sculpture and painting, playgrounds, and performance pieces that entertain the public.

FriendsWithYou opened the 2006 edition of Art Basel Miami with a Skywalkers parade staring balloons, ranging from 5 to 60 feet, to celebrate the solar system's "formal acceptance into the universe."

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Improv Everywhere, the NYC No Pants Subway Ride, 2012. MOREimages: Andrzej Liguz

Improv Everywhere is at the origin of numerous pranks. The most famous of them is probably the No Pants Subway Ride. The first one took place on the NYc subway in 2002 with seven participants. The movement has since spread to countries around the world and is now a cultural phenomenon.


Paper Rad, P-UNIT-1 !!PART ONE!!


Beginning of the Paper Rad - Trash Talking DVD

Paper Rad makes comics, zines, video art, net art, MIDI files, paintings, installations, and music. Its style is called "Dogman 99", a direct reference to Danish filmmaking movement Dogme 95. Paper Rad's rules are: "No Wacom tablet, no scanning, pure RGB colors only, only fake tweening, and as many alpha tricks as possible".

Paper Rad often recycles or appropriates sounds and images from all kinds of sources: old cartoons, commercials, late-night television, video games, etc.


Made in L.A. 2012- Welcome to Slanguage Studio

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Custom Sneaker and Shoe Workshop, 2009

Founded by Karla Diaz and Mario Ybarra, Jr. in 2002, Slanguage uses art education and exhibition to discuss meaning and value of contemporary art in the community of in Wilmington, a harbor area of Los Angeles where they both grew up. Before it closed, Slanguage Studio had grown into a gallery, a site for workshops and events open to the local community, as well as an artist residency.

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Zulf (brunette), 2014. Courtesy Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Berlin

Slavs and Tatars has the best name ever and explores a shared sphere of influence between Slavs, Caucasians and Central Asians.

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.

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Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy. The Many Faces of Anonymous by cultural anthropologist Gabriella Coleman (available on amazon UK and USA.)

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."

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High Society: Mind-Altering Drugs in History and Culture, by Mike Jay (also on Amazon UK and USA.)

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.


Mike Jay's talk at Breaking Convention, October Gallery, London, Tuesday, 31st January, 2012

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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.

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The Crossing of Antarctica. Original Photographs from the Epic Journey that Fulfilled Shackleton's Dream, by George Lowe and Huw Lewis-Jones (on amazon USA and UK.)

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.

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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.

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Ruth Broadbent, String Wrapped (Typewriter), 2012-13

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Eduard Ovčáček, Hlava ('Head'), 1966

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Franciszka Themerson and Stefan Themerson, Semantic Divertissements, 1962

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Jo Mansfield, Nothing, 2008

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Dirk Krecker, I´m not a Pirate I´m a fisherman, 2011

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Dirk Kreckers, Blood Pain & Violence, 2010


Interview with typewriter artist Dirk Krecker

Views inside the book:

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Materiology: The Creative Industry Guide to Materials and Technologies, by Daniel Kula and Elodie Ternaux (available on amazon USA and UK.)

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.

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And a few favorites among the ones i did review in 2014:

Post-Photography: The Artist with a Camera, by Robert Shore, arts journalist and editor of quarterly Elephant (on amazon USA and UK.)

Art and the Internet, edited by Phoebe Stubbs, with contributions from Joanne McNeill, Domenico Quaranta and Nick Lambert (on amazon UK and USA.)

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 (on Amazon USA and UK.)

Radical Cities: Across Latin America in Search of a New Architecture by Justin McGuirk (on amazon USA and UK.)

Photography: A Cultural History (Fourth Edition) by Mary Warner Marien (on Amazon USA and UK.)

Post-Photography: The Artist with a Camera, by Robert Shore, arts journalist and editor of quarterly Elephant.

Available on amazon USA and UK.

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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.

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Roman Pyatkova, Soviet Photo

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:

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Roman Pyatkova, Soviet Photo

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Roman Pyatkova, Soviet Photo

'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.

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Mishka Henner, (Paleis Noordeinde, Den Haag) Dutch Landscapes, 2011

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Mishka Henner, (Staphorst Ammunition Depot) Dutch Landscapes, 2011

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.

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David Thomas Smith, Three Gorges Dam. Sandouping, Yiling, Hubei, People's Republic of China, 2010-11. From Anthropocene

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.

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Jonathan Lewis, Lidl. From the WalmArt series

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.

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Hisaji Hara, A Study of 'The Salon', 2009

Hisaji Hara are based on Balthus paintings.
(wondering why i added this series as i so dislike Balthus' work.)

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Scarlett Hooft Graafland, Flash

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Caleb Charland, Demonstration with Hair Dryer and Aluminum Foil, 2006. From the series Demonstrations

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Caleb Charland, Atomic model, 2008. From the series Demonstrations

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.

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Julie Cockburn, Tantrum

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Julie Cockburn, Funster, Hero, 2012

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.

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Martina Bucigalupo, Gulu Real Art Studio, 2011-12

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:

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Photo on the homepage: Nicole Belle, Untitled from Rev Sanchez, 2008.

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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.

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Excerpts from Undocumented: The Architecture of Migrant Detention

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No One Is Illegal Toronto's annual May Day march for status for all in 2010. Photo credit: Glenn MacIntosh

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?

I don't know much about the prison industry in Canada. Is it a private one like in the U.S.A? And if yes, how does this influence the life of migrants detained there?

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.

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Excerpts from Undocumented: The Architecture of Migrant Detention

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Excerpts from Undocumented: The Architecture of Migrant Detention

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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):
- Testimonies from detainees: Audio Statements by End Immigration Detention Network
- Solitary confinement: "Alone Inside" (2013), CBC Ideas radio documentary by Brett Story
- Legal recommendations: "Water, Sanitation, Hygiene and Habitat in Prisons" (2005), International Committee of the Red Cross
- Design standards: "Contract Detention Facility Design Standards for Immigration and Customs Enforcement" (2007), U.S. Department of Homeland Security
- Detention Statistics: "Canada Detention Profile" (2012), Global Detention Project

From an architectural perspective, what are the main characteristics of these centers?

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.

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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.

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End Immigration Detention Rally at Lindsay Jail

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.

Thanks Tings!

Follow her on undocumented and twitter.

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