I'm drowning in really good books this year. Unsurprisingly, half of them are photography books. And because i'm short on time and these publications deserve a review, i'm going to take the lazy road: a sweeping and speedy overview of 5 of my favourite photo books of the moment. In one post.
Here we go...
The Earth is a living organism. Our escalating energy demands are interfering with the carbon and nitrogen cycles and altered the metabolic balance of the planet. Authored by two photographers and a scientist, the book uses images and essays to investigate the landscape in relationship to sources & sites of energy, energy extraction, energy use and climate control.
Gina Glover's work exploits atmospheric weather and ambient lighting conditions to draw attention to such energetic places and artefacts as coalfields in the Arctic, nuclear installations in France and hydraulic fracturing sites in the USA; Jessica Rayner observes how theories of the sun have varied according to the symbolic or scientific precepts of the day, drawing comparison between manufacturing, properties of the sun and changing theories of energy; and Geof Rayner constructs an accompanying textual narrative which shows how the energy transition has profound evolutionary consequences, not only for external nature, but how we see and interpret the landscape.
Next is Some Things are Quieter than Other by a young Polish photographer called Jacek Fota.
Fota made several trips to the U.S.A. between 2012 and 2013, consciously avoiding the mega cities and landscapes we are already too familiar with. Instead, he turned his lens to the 'peripheries of civilisation' and condensed his personal experience of the big country into a small travel diary.
His photos show the U.S. but on a less grandiloquent, less cliché and more mundane angle than we might be used to. His images look effortless, they are both dream-like and very real, very down to earth.
Over a year ago, i saw Donovan Wylie: Vision as Power at the Imperial Warm Museum in London. The photo exhibition brought together five geographical locations that are interconnected through the apparatus of military surveillance.
Steidl has collected into one slipcase three of these photo series. British Watchtowers (2007) studies the surveillance architecture built at the height of The Troubles. The network of watchtowers and observation posts was erected by the British army to control cross-border smuggling and paramilitary attacks but also to maintain an intimidating presence. The watchtowers were dismantled between 2005 and 2007, as part of the Northern Ireland Peace Process. As Whyle documented their final days in the countryside, British troops were deploying to Afghanistan, taking with them elements of these Northern Ireland watchtowers.
The second book, Outposts (2011), charts NATO observation posts in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. Built on natural promontories, the outposts offer a fascinating parallel with the British Watchtower, as both networks ensured oppression and control in the name of a "war" against terrorists.
The last book in the set, North Warning System looks at a radar station that is surveying a less clearly defined threat. The extreme environment of the Canadian Arctic is home to cyber radar stations unmanned and operated electronically to detect any presence seeking out lucrative natural resources along Canada's Arctic frontier made more fragile by global warming and the new routes though the Northwest Passage it enabled.
Happy Famous Artists beat me to the review.
The term "PIGS" was coined by the financial press as a shorthand for Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain . Never doubting the suitability of reducing over 100 million people to a bunch of clichés, the neoconservatives and the mainstream media quickly adopted the acronym.
Photographer Carlos Spottorno attempted to portrays "Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain through the eyes of the economists". The parody starts right with the design of the Pigs: the book cover is modeled on the front page of The Economist, and even the back page of the publication features a fake advertisement for WTF Bank.
Spottorno's photographs show European countries squeezed between a glorious past and far less glamorous contemporary realities.
I'll always have time for war photography. And since i enjoyed the exhibition Conflict, Time, Photography so much, i had to get my greedy hands on the catalogue of the show. The show (and thus the catalogue as well) looks at over 150 years of conflict around the world, since the invention of photography. Instead of organizing the photos according to themes, geographical area or chronology, the curator orchestrated them according to the length of time that elapsed between the conflict and the moment the photographs were taken. The result is fascinating. You start with images taken almost straight after a disaster occurred and as you proceed, the duration between image and event grows into days, weeks, months, years and decades. One of the last series was shot almost 100 years after the start of WWI. Chloe Dewe Mathews photographed some of the exact spots where British, French and Belgian soldiers were executed for cowardice and desertion between 1914 and 1918.
I'd definitely recommend the book if you can't make it on time to see the show.
Publisher Black Dog writes: Staging Disorder brings together work that considers the contemporary representation of the real in relation to photography, architecture and modern conflict.
The concept of 'staging disorder' looks not to how photographers have staged disordered reality themselves, but rather to how these artists have recognised and responded to a phenomenon of staging that already exists in the world.
Military simulations of rooms, houses, planes, streets and whole fake towns in different parts of the globe provoke a series of questions concerning the nature of truth as it manifests itself in current photographic practice.
Everything in this book is fake: fabricated streets that barely look real, sculptures of airplanes that look like cheap overblown toys, American soldiers who pretend to be the enemy and paint anti-US slogans on the walls, etc.
The photos presented in the book are astonishing and often spectacular but they also make us reflect on a society that fears and feeds on threats and catastrophe. Staging Disorder also invites us to consider the role of photography, a medium which relation to truth is routinely being questioned, when it comes to documenting a reality that is fabricated.
In military lingo, killing with direct contact is called a "personal kill." Beate Geissler and Oliver Sann visited a place in Bavaria (Germany) where American soldiers are trained to do so. The settings are not the usual battlegrounds. They are mundane, civilian spaces where, increasingly MOUT (Military Operations on Urban Terrain) are taking place.
An-My Lêtraveled to a Marine base called 29 Palms, in the California desert. This where soldiers train before being deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. The series show the American soldiers both rehearsing their own roles and playing the parts of their adversaries.
Public Order is a series of photos of the Metropolitan Police Public Order Training Centre, a simulated urban environment where officers rehearse responses to football riots, protests, acts of terrorism and other acts of civic unrest.
The fabricated training locations look a bit like the fake backdrops used to shoot Western movies. The largest of these, Denton, is a huge network of fake streets and cinder-block facades, with all of the hallmarks of a midsize British working-class city, including a football stadium, a nightclub, and a Tube station.
Pickering's images demonstrate better than any newspaper article the omnipresent anxiety and fear of terrorism that pervade our society. "My work explores the idea of imagined threat and response, and looks at fear and planning for the unexpected, merging fact and fiction, fantasy and reality," she states.
In military context, Red Land-Blue Land are terms that define a site divided into the territories of friend (blue) and enemy (red.) The military training ground of Senne in Germany is one such site. Claudio Hils documented a ghost town that looks normal until you start to identify cartridge cases, overgrown graves, human-shaped targets, wooden backdrops that represent streets, etc.
At the time of the work, an estimated 25,000 private military personnel were stationed in Iraq, collectively forming the second-largest fighting force in the country after the US Army. Mostly funded by US tax dollars, these armed security services handle tasks that include training local forces, surveillance, fighting but also 'clearing' domestic houses in war zones such as Iraq or Afghanistan. The mercenaries aren't trained in US boot camps but in places like the one located in a vacant area of Arkansas and depicted in Christopher Stewart's photographic series Kill House.
The Chicago series documents a fake Arab town built in the middle of the Negev desert by the Israeli Defense Force for urban combat training. "Everything that happened happened here first, in rehearsal," write Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin. All wars led and to be led by Israel in the future get a test run in the streets of Chicago, where the only traces of human beings are photographs of Arab militia used for target practice. Chicago comprises different settings that reflect the terrains where the IDF might have to strike: a fake refugee camp, a fake downtown neighbourhood, a fake rural village, a dense market area, etc.
Staging Disorder is also an exhibition currently open in the galleries of the London College of Communication. The show runs until Thursday 12 March.
Printing Things. Visions and Essentials for 3D Printing, edited by Dries Verbruggen and Claire Warnier.
Publisher Gestalten writes: 3D printers will soon be found in more and more workshops, offices, and homes. With them, we will be able to print out small pieces of furniture, prototypes, replacement parts, and even a new toothbrush on-site at any time. Consequently, new production methods and business models are developing--along with a new visual language of multidimensional formal explorations. Today, 3D objects and complex forms can already be printed out that were previously impossible to achieve with traditional methods.
Printing Things is an inspirational and understandable exploration of the creative potential of 3D printing. The book not only introduces outstanding projects, key experts, and the newest technologies, but it also delves into the complex topics that these paradigm-shifting technologies bring up, such as how to handle copyrights and seamless manufacturing.
I've no idea why i waited so long to get my hands on Printing Things. Visions and Essentials for 3D Printing but i've just finished reading it and it is brilliant. Which shouldn't surprise anyone who knows the work of the authors of the book. Dries Verbruggen and Claire Warnier are Unfold, a duo of designers who have worked, experimented and provoked debates with their 3D printing experiments.
In 2011 already, the duo walked around the Salone del Mobile in Milan with their mobile Kiosk, making 3D scans of the new objects presented at the fair. They then started to appropriate, sample, remix, improve, up/downscale or copy new objects 3d-printed on the spot.
And because the members of Unfold believe that 'there can be no revolution without disruption', i'd say that it was a brilliant idea to let them edit a book that sums up and illustrates the opportunities and challenges offered by 3D technology.
Printing Things starts with a few pages that explain very clearly and briefly what 3D printing is and how it works. Then come a series of essays that explore issues such as the empowerment that the technology gives to people and the responsibility that comes with it, the right to copy and create derivative content, the way 3D printing affects the figure and role of the designer, the decentralization of production, the peculiar aesthetic characteristics of the technology, the compatibility with craftsmanship, etc.
After these first 50 pages of reflections and ideas, you get almost 200 pages of pure Gestalten paper entertainment: photos and short texts that highlight the best of what artists, designers, architects, and even experts in prosthetics are 3D creating today.
The boyfriend has been a 3D printing maniac for a couple of year. My involvement with the technology is much more distant but we both really enjoyed reading this book. I particularly appreciated the way the 'case studies' and the introductory texts cleverly balance the down to earth practicalities of 3D printing and the near future scenarios the technology might give rise to.
I'm going to leave you with some of the projects i've (re)discovered in the book:
Axel Brechensbauer 3Dprinted a cheerful-looking UAV that would playing loud 'clown music' and spray 'terrorists' with a cloud of Oxycontin, a pain-relief drug that also induces feelings of euphoria, relaxation and reduced anxiety. I used to think that a weapon could never be more devious than a predator drone....
The OpenReflex is the first open source 3D printed analog camera with a mirror Viewfinder and a finger activated mechanic shutter. All the pieces can be printed and assembled at home using a RepRap-like ABS 3D-printer.
The DIY instructions are up on Instructables.
Jesse Howard designed household appliances for a not so distant future that will see people being increasingly involved in making, repairing, and customizing their own products. Each appliance is constructed from 3D-printed and CNC manufactured components based on OpenStructures, standard components, and parts salvaged from discarded appliances.
Amanda Ghassaei created a technique for converting digital audio files into 3D-printable, 33rpm records that play on ordinary turntables. Though the audio quality is low, the audio output is still easily recognizable.
This Growth Modeling Device scans an onion plant, 3D prints a plastic model of it and then displays it on conveyor belt. The process is repeated every twenty-four hours. The result charts the growth of the plant in little plastic models.
Dries & Verstappen scanned the interior of buildings with their own developed hardware. The resulting 3-D sculptures are materialized with a 3-D Print.
Foster + Partners looks at how 3D printing might be used to construct lunar habitations, using raw lunar soil as building matter.
Views inside the book:
A Theory of the Drone, by philosopher Grégoire Chamayou
Publisher The New Press writes: In a unique take on a subject that has grabbed headlines and is consuming billions of taxpayer dollars each year, philosopher Grégoire Chamayou applies the lens of philosophy to our understanding of how drones are changing our world. For the first time in history, a state has claimed the right to wage war across a mobile battlefield that potentially spans the globe. Remote-control flying weapons, he argues, take us well beyond even George W. Bush's justification for the war on terror.
What we are seeing is a fundamental transformation of the laws of war that have defined military conflict as between combatants. As more and more drones are launched into battle, war now has the potential to transform into a realm of secretive, targeted assassinations--beyond the view and control not only of potential enemies but also of citizens of the democracies themselves. Far more than a simple technology, Chamayou shows, drones are profoundly influencing what it means for a democracy to wage war. A Theory of the Drone will be essential reading for all who care about this important question.
When a journalist of Libération asked Chamayou about the motivations behind the book, he replied that "some philosophers in the United States and in Israel work hand in hand with the military to elaborate what I call a 'necro-ethics' that tries to justify targeted assassinations. So it is urgent to respond. When ethics is brought into a war, philosophy becomes a battlefield." (via)
Chamayou is a researcher in philosophy. A title that might sound a bit daunting for some readers. But fear not, A Theory of the Drone is as entertaining as it is thought-provoking. The rhythm of the author's reflections are fluid and easy to follow, the chapters are concise and highlight with precision a particular aspect of the weapon under study and Chmayou's references might sometimes be heavy (yet never obscure) on Kant but he also quotes Albert Camus, Harun Farocki, Eyal Weizman and even mentions Adam Harvey's anti-drone clothing.
I haven't read many books about drones. In fact, i think this is the first one i read about the topic but i doubt i could find another publication that explains with so much ease and intelligence the dilemmas posed by unmanned aerial vehicles to the traditional codes of war.
Of course i've always had a visceral feeling that the use of drones by the U.S. and Israeli military is debatable, not to say coward and unethical. Chamayou's book articulates with precision and rigorous references to the history of war philosophy what is wrong with this form of unilateral warfare. Chapter after chapter, his books explores questions such as: What happen to the traditional principles of a military ethos of bravery and sacrifice when only one side of the conflict shoots and deprive the other of the possibility of fighting back? And more generally, how can one justify homicide in a noncombat situation? How does one-way-only armed violence distinguishes between fighting and killing? Within what legal framework do drone strikes take place? What does it mean for a zone of armed conflict to be fragmented into kill boxes the size of a human body? How does post traumatic stress disorder in this context differs from the one experienced by soldiers who fought on the battlefield? How do local populations hack and defy drones? How do you recognize a combatant dressed as a civilian, outside the zone of combat? etc.
The final pages of the book look at how the use of drones, a technology developed in a military context, is already seeping into civil society -mostly for police purposes- and what this will mean in the future for the subjects of a drone-state.
Perhaps part of the answer can be found in this image and these words i found in one of the last chapters of A Theory of the Drone:
In 1924, a popularizing scientific magazine announced a new invention: a radio-commanded policing automaton. The robocop of the twenties was to be equipped with projective eyes, caterpillar tracks, and, to serve as fists, rotating blow-dealing truncheons inspired by the weapons of the Middle Ages.
On its lower belly, a small metal penis allowed it to spray tear gas at unruly parades of human protesters. It had an exhaust outlet for an anus. This ridiculous robot that pissed tear gas and farted black smoke provides a perfect illustration of an ideal of a drone state.
Experimental Eating, edited by Thomas Howells. With introductory essay by Zach Denfeld, Cathrine Kramer and Emma Conley from The Center for Genomic Gastronomy.
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.
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:
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.
Condiment Junkie experimented with modifying the perception of taste, making it bitter or sweeter, using sound only.
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.
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 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.
The title says it all. This is also one of the most stomach-churning works i've ever read about.
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.
(available on amazon USA or by ordering directly from RIXC via e-mail: rixc @ rixc.lv.)
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:
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.
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.
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.