Synthetic Aesthetics. Investigating Synthetic Biology's Designs on Nature, by designer Alexandra Ginsberg Daisy, social scientists Jane Calvert and Pablo Schyfter, bioengineers Alistair Elfick and Drew Endy.
Publisher MIT Press writes: Synthetic biology manipulates the stuff of life. For synthetic biologists, living matter is programmable material. In search of carbon-neutral fuels, sustainable manufacturing techniques, and innovative drugs, these researchers aim to redesign existing organisms and even construct completely novel biological entities. Some synthetic biologists see themselves as designers, inventing new products and applications. But if biology is viewed as a malleable, engineerable, designable medium, what is the role of design and how will its values apply?
In this book, synthetic biologists, artists, designers, and social scientists investigate synthetic biology and design. After chapters that introduce the science and set the terms of the discussion, the book follows six boundary-crossing collaborations between artists and designers and synthetic biologists from around the world, helping us understand what it might mean to 'design nature.' These collaborations have resulted in biological computers that calculate form; speculative packaging that builds its own contents; algae that feeds on circuit boards; and a sampling of human cheeses. They raise intriguing questions about the scientific process, the delegation of creativity, our relationship to designed matter, and, the importance of critical engagement. Should these projects be considered art, design, synthetic biology, or something else altogether?
Synthetic biology is driven by its potential; some of these projects are fictions, beyond the current capabilities of the technology. Yet even as fictions, they help illuminate, question, and even shape the future of the field.
I don't think i've ever reviewed a book and recommended it to scientists. Synthetic Aesthetics, however, should appeal to the art/design crowd and to the science community alike. It should also interest anyone who is eager to look beyond overenthusiastic headlines that promise a world-saving 'green' technology and who would like to understand better the benefits, risks and uncertainties of a field that might sometimes appear foreign and abstract.
Synthetic Aesthetics brings together synthetic biologists, social scientists, designers and artists to talk about what it means for science, culture and society to not only redesign existing organisms but also to design new ones, constructing in the process completely novel biological entities. As you can expect from the avant-garde minds invited to take part in Synthetic Aesthetics, the essays discuss the possibilities, real and imagined, of a future in which 'synbio' is part of 'nature', design and everyday life but some of the authors also look at the historical and cultural precedents of human interference with nature, from The Island of Doctor Moreau to producing GMOs.
Synthetic Aesthetics doesn't offer any easy answer regarding the challenges and potentials of 'synbio'. What it does very well, however, is opening up a space to have a broad discussion about questions as critical as: Could reprogramming organisms answer the problem of the finite resources of the planet? How do you design what doesn't exist, not even in our imagination? When should we turn to synthetic biology rather than to political or technical solutions? What are the implication of applying an engineering mindset to life materials? etc.
Roughly one half of the book explores projects that resulted from a close collaboration between scientists and artists/designers. I'll just highlight one of them because it has a good balance of 'sci-fi' and everyday practicality.
Packaging that Creates its Content envisioned a probiotic drink that relies on bacteria to morph into a physical cup when exposed to a specific light wavelength. During shipping and storage, the cups remain dormant until water is poured inside, creating a healthy drink. After several uses, the cup's walls begin to degrade and it can be composted.
'Packaging That Creates Its Contents' helps people think about what the world would be like if packaging never created waste.
Get that book! I've searched high and low for a book that would explain synbio in a clear, engaging and intelligent way. I'm glad i've finally found it.
Views inside the book:
Image on the homepage: Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, The Synthetic Kingdom: Carbon Monoxide Detecting Lung Tumour, 2009. Photograph by Carole Suety.
The Secret World of Oil, by Ken Silverstein.
Publisher Verso writes: Oil is the lifeblood of modern civilization, and the industry that supplies it has been the subject of intense interest and scrutiny, as well as countless books. And yet, almost no attention has been paid to little-known characters vital to the industry--secretive fixers and oil traders, lobbyists and PR agents, gangsters and dictators--allied with competing governments and multinational corporations. Virtually every stage in oil's production process, from discovery to consumption, is greased by secret connections, corruption, and violence, even if little of that is visible to the public. The energy industry, to cite just one measure, violates the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act more often than any other economic sector, even weapons. This book sets out to tell the story of this largely hidden world.
Based on trips to New York, Houston, New Orleans, Paris, Geneva, and Phnom Penh, among other far-flung locales, The Secret World of Oil includes up-close portraits of Louisiana oilmen and their political handlers; an urbane, captivating London fixer; and an oil dictator's playboy son who had to choose among more than three dozen luxury vehicles before heading out to party in Los Angeles. Supported by funding from the prestigious Open Society Foundations, this is both an entertaining global travelogue and a major work of investigative reporting.
The Secret World of Oil. Now that's a catchy title.
Silverstein investigates the murky oil scene through a series of characters that have so far received very little attention. These middle men stand between corrupt governments and the industry. The scope of their dirty operations is global, their influence is often colossal but they manage to remain in the shadow, quietly amassing fortunes and political ties along the way.
Each chapter in the book investigates a particular figure that personifies one of the many reasons why the energy business is even more squalid than it is profitable.
The first chapter looks at oil fixers. Ely Calil is one of them. He opens the list of secret is an oil fixer. He uses his powerful network to open doors for corporate clients in countries ruled by dictators, he makes sure the right palms are greased, and knows how to set up front companies to move money around. (the whole chapter about Calil is online.) Silverstein obtained exclusive information from Calil because over the years they've established a personal relationship (i wonder if it survived the publication of this book. Probably not.)
However, it doesn't seem like Silverstein has ever managed to chat with kleptocrat
The book demonstrates that the higher the U.S.'s economic interests in a country energy resource, the more tolerant it grows towards any gross human rights violation. In fact, it seems that dictators who keep a thigh grip on their country are regarded as bearer of 'stability.' And obviously, as far as multinational energy are concerned, it is easier to strike a deal with a dictator than negotiate with local communities: "As long as we want cheap gas, democracy can't exist," said Ed Chow, a longtime Chevron executive.
Anyway, while the wealth that oil brings to the country directly ends up in the Obiang family's deep pockets, the daily existence of people living in the country has seen little improvement. In fact, many social welfare indicators have gotten worse, not better, since oil money started flowing in (infant mortality rate climbed up, net drop in enrollment for primary education, etc.)
Theodorin, who dedicates his days to extravagant shopping sprees in Miami and dreams of being a hip-hop mogul, is favourite to his father's throne. It is very unlikely that the country's ecological and financial situation will thrive once he gains even more power.
The chapter about traders zooms in on Glencore, the biggest company you've never heard of. The chapter relies on WikiLeaked cables and interviews with traders who speak 'off the record'. And you can see why they are not keen on revealing their names. Traders go where multinationals fear to thread in order to negotiate and purchase output from energy-producing nations, and they often operate at the margins of what is legal. They are responsible for anything that goes from manipulating the price of oil to dumping toxic waste in Ivory Coast.
They operate through a maze of offshore accounts, subsidiaries and shell corporations and it's virtually impossible to keep track of their activities.
The next player is Bretton Sciaroni. He is a 'gatekeeper', he provides advice and counsel to foreign investors seeking to do business in Cambodia. Sciaroni seems to be content of his friendly relationship with a government described by Human Rights Watch's Southeast Asian Director, David Roberts, as a "vaguely communist free-market state with a relatively authoritarian coalition ruling over a superficial democracy." On the one hand, he has brokered deals that are highly detrimental to the public but that benefit government officials and well-connected domestic and foreign insiders. On the other hand, his role also involves orchestrating PR campaign that depict Cambodia as the ideal country to do business in.
You can find the chapter on Sciaroni online as well.
The chapter about Tony Blair (the 'flack' in SIlverstein's book) was particularly staggering. As we know, Blair spends much of his time traveling around the world as a highly paid speaker and senior adviser for governments and corporations. He not only imparts his 'wisdom' onto the privileged audience but he also helps glam up the image of countries with poor human right track records, brushing corruption, political repression, and glaring social inequalities under the carpet.
Blair has been very active, it seems, endorsing internationally the regime and promoting the images of the rulers of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and other Caspian states. Not even the accusation that the head of a country is 'boiling alive political opponents' will stop him.
Silverstein wrote about Blair in New Republic.
The sixth part of the book explores the activities of lobbyists in Louisiana. This chapter is particularly grim. The author goes as far as to compare the U.S.'s third energy-producing state with "classic Third World states" because of rampant corruption, glaring social inequalities and little spending on social programs. The situation is so bad that the energy industry has often managed to get its own appointed to top positions at the state's two main environmental agencies (the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Environment Quality.)
Amusingly, Silverstein obtained much of his information because one of the most active lobbyist he interviewed confused him with a journalist of the same who writes also about energy issue, only that the other Ken Silverstein writes for industry-friendly trade publications.
Neil Bush is the icon of the final chapter that looks at con artists and hangers-on attracted by money. They have little talent but it never prevents them from trying. Bush is the son and brother of US presidents. He relentlessly travels in search of deals to strike in the oil industry but most of his efforts often end in failure. Which doesn't really matter as his name shields him from any unpleasant responsibility or complete financial collapse.
I opened the book already aware that the oil business is one without honour nor conscience but, because the book puts a name on some of the most squalid players involved in the energy racket, i closed it with more despair than ever. Suddenly i encountered the stories of individuals who have families and histories. Not just faceless corporations and far away country.
The content of The Secret World of Oil relies on the author's investigative journalism which means that you can't cross check every single fact in the book but have to rely on Silverstein's professionalism. I'm more used to heavily referenced essays but i've no doubt he is a scrupulous and honest journalist.
This is not a book about the oil industry per se, it merely brings the spotlight on a few players who operate in the dark. For a broader (and really engrossing) picture of the field, i'd recommend another Verso book: The Oil Road: Journeys From The Caspian Sea To The City Of London by James Marriott and Mika Minio-Paluello (on amazon USA and UK.)
Gawker has an interview with the reporter.
A book about the visual identity of some of the world's main terrorist organizations wasn't going to remain unnoticed. When it was published by MERRELL last year, every single design blog and magazine wrote about it. Yet, i only discovered the existence of Branding Terror last month, when i had a ridiculously great time at the Graphic Design Festival in Breda (NL.)
In a similar way to what happens with consumer goods, the name, slogans, and visual codes of a terrorist group are not only key manifestations of its identity, they also contribute to the reach and influence of the organization. An anecdote that appears in Artur Beifuss' introduction to the book illustrates the importance and impact of this visual communication. A few years ago, an Italian amateur league football club adopted for its players' shirts the logo of the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, changing its name to 'Zassbollah' (a combination of 'Hezbollah' and the name of the team's captain, Luigi Zasso) in the process.
The book is authored by graphic designer and creative director Francesco Trivini Bellini and by writer and (ex)counter-terrorism analyst Artur Beifuss. Which means that the publication is obviously carefully designed but also that the information about the history, imagery, attacks, ideologies and capabilities of each of the 65 organizations has been meticulously researched.
The authors of the book are conscious that they are dealing with a delicate topic. They approached it in an almost clinical way while acknowledging the suffering of the victims of terrorism.
In his foreword to the book, Steven Heller, a design writer and former Art Director at the New York Times, wrote: The extreme violence committed in the name of these logos makes writing about them in terms of aesthetics or production values seem silly and irrelevant. Yet these terrorist groups are all brands, and are given a certain viability through branding methods. Branding is a tool that has no conscience or morality - it can be used for good or bad, and sometimes for both in tandem.
I contacted Artur Beifuss as soon as i came back from Breda and he was kind enough to answer my questions:
Hi Artur! Are there logos that stand out from the others? Which ones do you think are the most imaginative, the most efficient (strictly from a design point of view of course)? and why?
Yes, there are some good ones, the Hezbollah logo for example. It perfectly reflects the organizations history and ideology. It is interesting to compare the Hezbollah and Iranian Revolutionary Guards logo. Allegedly the Iranian's founded and trained the group that later became to be Hezbollah. Both logos use the same elements to convey its ideological message. I think the Hezbollah logo is very powerful because it is memorable and easily recognizable.
But more important than the logo is what people will do with this logo. In the digital age, logos can go viral modified and used for all kinds of contexts. It is not uncommon to see fashionably dressed women and men wearing t-shirt with Hezbollah logos. Just google 'hezbollah' and 'girls' to understand what I am talking about. Seeing the logo in such a context tells the recipient that Hezbollah's ideology is indeed applicable in contemporary society. At least more than watching bearded men talking to a camera somewhere in the mountains of Waziristan.
And on the opposite hand, which one do you think is the worst conveyor of ideology?
All of the logos analyzed in Branding Terror make some kind of ideological reference. None of them really misses the point. However, there are some logos that are completely overloaded with references and elements, the logo of the Islamic Organization of Uzbekistan is a good example. It has so much Arabic text in it that one does not know where to look first. Also, this particular logo would be lost on all recipients that can't understand Arabic.
Does branding a terrorist organization has to respond to the same rules and requirements than branding any commercial product? Or do you find that other 'laws' are playing?
In a way it has to respond to the same rules, yes. People have to know what you stand for, and the logo should be easily recognizable. However, terrorism means violence and death in most of the times. Even terrorist groups find it difficult to advertise for that. In the letters from Abbottabad for example Al-Qaeda media advisors recommended Bin Laden to keep a distance to the Al-Qaeda branch in Iraq because they started beheading people. This is not something that Al-Qaeda central - if you want to call it like this - wants to be associated with. They were losing followers over that.
You used to be a counter-terrorism analyst? Now that sounds really interesting. What did the work involve? And how did you use that background while working on the book? when did it come helpful?
My position involved searching and analyzing information about terrorism in five languages. Through this job I acquired a good understanding of transnational terrorism. This did help me to make the content of the book multilayered. Also, I knew how to find information that gets as close to the primarily source as possible and how to correctly assess them.
I read that you used the official lists of "designated foreign terrorist organisations" of five governments: Australia, India, Russia, United States and the European Union. First of all do the list overlap? Or do they have different definition of what a terrorist organization is?
The definitions slightly differ. And the lists overlap to some degree. But governments tend to put groups on their list that are of relevance to their own geopolitical position. For example many separatist groups from India you will not find on the list of the United States. Globally active groups like Al-Qaeda are listed as a terrorist organization on most of the lists.
After the book was finished, did you get emails from people sending you other logos? And do you now find yourself in front of a long list of logos you wish you could have included? Could you imagine publishing a second edition of the book for example or do you think that what had to be told has already been communicated in the book?
Yes, some people approached us with their own projects and ideas. And we are always happy to get in touch and exchange ideas. Branding Terror was exhaustive as it is at the time of publishing. All organizations that are on the designated foreign terrorist list of which it was possible to track down the logo are included in the book. Branding Terror was set out as an encyclopedia, a branding manual and a collectible item. We like to see it as a work in progress. There are always new groups emerging and designated as a terrorist organization. It would be nice to have the logos of these groups all in one place, preferably in a nicely designed book series.
Terrorism is a bit of a tricky subject. It is associated with subversion and violence and that often get people's attention. And it must be difficult not to pass any judgment, political or moral when dealing with the topic of terrorism. How did you approach the topic? Did you struggle to stay neutral? How did you manage that?
Branding Terror is based on information found in Open Sources. It is a technical analysis of the visual communication of terrorist and insurgent groups. The logo is the unit of analysis. Of course many so-called facts can be considered biased since they were collected and collated by people with a certain political and moral agenda in mind. These people can be ELN members in Colombia or Analysts in a Washington think tank. I used analytical techniques I learned in my profession to approach the topic. But of course it is not easy to read over hundreds of dead bodies every day. But I was not there to judge, just to simply collect, collate and analyze the information.
Have you ever received any feedback from any of the organizations you mention in the book?
No, I have not received such feedback.
What are you both working on now? Any new projects you could share with us?
Francesco is taking a creative break at the moment. In the meantime I speak on conferences, in design schools and advice marketing companies about what can be learned from Branding Terror. And yes, coming back to your questions earlier, I do systematically collect logos on the side. The next project is trend research, especially analyzing countercultures of the future.
Views inside the book:
Photography: A Cultural History (Fourth Edition), by Mary Warner Marien.
Publisher Laurence King writes: Mary Warner Marien discusses photography from a truly global viewpoint and looks at a wide-ranging collection of images through the lenses of art, science, travel, war, fashion, the mass media and individual photographers. In addition to representing the established canon of Europe and the United States, key work from Latin America, Africa, India, Russia, China and Japan is also included. Professional, amateur and art photographers are all discussed, with 'Portrait' boxes devoted to highlighting important individuals and 'Focus' boxes charting particular cultural debates. New additions to this fourth edition include an overview of photography's involvement in conceptual art, a detailed review of the photographic work of artist Ed Ruscha and new material on European Worker Photography during the 1920s and 30s. Many new pictures have been added throughout the book, including superior versions of historical photographs and recent images from contemporary photographers, including Walead Beshty, Youssef Nabil, Lalla Essaydi and Ryan McGinley. A rich and vivid account of the history of photography placed in an essential cultural context, this indispensable book shows how photography has charted, shaped and sharpened our perception of the world.
Mary Warner Marien is Emeritus Professor at Syracuse University and this publication started as a textbook for her students. Don't let that detail alarm you, this is by far the most engaging, exciting and informative book on photography i've ever read (and i've read quite a few).
The author examines the story of photography, the technical innovations and the key figures of the rather brief story of the medium but she also looks at the impact it had on society and culture. And vice versa. Photography is indeed a powerful weapon. From its early days until its current guise, it has been equally used to denounce social injustice and to function as an instrument of political propaganda.
By explaining the historical and cultural contexts in which photographers worked, Warner Marien shows us how to research, interpret, understand and ultimately look at a photography. A skill we often overlook in our age of image overload.
Have a look at some of the works, ideas and facts i discovered in the book:
French neurologist Duchenne de Boulogne used electrical currents to stimulate facial expressions. The newly invented photography offered him a tool to capture the resulting expressions of his subjects.
His monograph The Mechanism of Human Physiognomy was the first publication on the expression of human emotions to be illustrated with actual photographs.
John Thomson collaborated with journalist Adolphe Smith to produce the monthly magazine, Street Life in London, from 1876 to 1877. This early type of photojournalism documented in photographs and text the lives of the street people of London.
The "Crawlers" lived in the street and whenever they had enough cash to buy tea leaves then they would "crawl" to a pub for hot water.
Photographs of American Civil War veterans were circulated to teaching hospitals in an effort to improve battlefield care, recovery and prosthetics
Lewis Hine, photographer for the National Child Labor Committee, recorded the lives and work of hundreds of children in the United States in the first decades of the twentieth century. His pictures were instruments of persuasion. He believed that if the public could see for themselves the abuses of child labor, they would demand laws to end it.
Ruth Snyder was sentenced to death for killing her husband. Her execution, in the electric chair at Sing Sing Prison was captured in a well-known photograph.
Because photographers are not permitted into executions in the United States, the New York Daily News commissioned a man no one at the prison knew to document the moment. Tom Howard strapped a miniature camera to his ankle and linked he photographic plate by cable to the shutter release concealed within his jacket.
The next day, the photograph made the front page of the paper. For many years afterwards witnesses to executions were searched and asked to hold up their hands so they could not operate hidden cameras.
Imogen Cunningham was one of the first photographer to portray older people in a way that reflected their individuality. She was 92 when she started working on After Ninety, a series of photos of elderly people. The photo above sows tattooed circus attraction Irene "Bobbie" Libarry (83) in a nursing home.
From 1950 until 1990, Kodak's gigantic Colorama photographs dominated the east wall of Grand Central's Main Concourse. The photographers employed used the company's innovative technology to print oversize and meticulously staged photos that portrayed an idealized view of American life.
Charles Lee Moore documented the American civil rights era.
The famous photography Leap into the Void is also a famous photomontage. Harry Shunk first photographed the street empty except for the cyclist. Then, Klein "climbed to the top of a wall and dived off it a dozen times--onto a pile of mats assembled by the members of his judo school across the road. The two elements were then melded to create the desired illusion." (via)
Catherine Chalmers portray predatory insects and animals snacking on other living, wriggling creatures.
Chris Killip spent two decades in the industrial communities of the North East of England. His gritty images attest the impact that the decline of industries and the detrimental economic policy had on British working class.
Susan Meiselas is best known for her coverage of the insurrection in Nicaragua and her documentation of human rights issues in Latin America.
The Cambodian Genocide Program at Yale University has scanned more than 10,000 photographic images pertaining to various aspects of gross human rights violations under the Khmer Rouge regime. In this preliminary release of data from our existing archive, we focus on the victims of the Tuol Sleng Prison in Phnom Penh, the notorious "S-21" extermination center.
More than 5,000 photographs were taken of prisoners being processed into the facility for interrogation and execution.
A2 poster produced and distributed through the hospital campaign committee over 30 years ago. Still painfully relevant.
Andres Serrano's Piss Christ, a "photograph of the crucifix submerged in the artist's urine"), was made in 1987 and wherever and whenever it was exhibited the work met with controversy, protest or vandalism. In 1989, Sen. Alfonse D'Amato used it as an example of art that ought not to be supported by state funding.
Tim Head created brash, seductive compositions using discarded mass-produced materials.
Ray's a Laugh is probably one of my favourite photo series ever (together with Pieter Hugo The Hyena & Other Men.) In this work, Richard Billingham portrays the domestic life of his alcoholic father Ray, and chain-smoking, tattoo-covered mother, Liz. The wonky framing and approximative focus gives the series sincerity and authenticity. It is brash and unforgiving but in the process Billingham managed to make his parents perfectly lovable.
Larry Sultan photographed his father and family over a ten year period spanning the 70s and 80s as part of an elaborate project that included his parents own photos, home movies and statements.
In 1952, the U.S. Navy began illegally testing high-explosive bombs on an enormous expanse of public land near Fallon, in Nevada. Richard Misrach's photographs capture both the natural beauty and the man-made devastation of the land.
Blood and Honey: A Balkan War Journal chronicles the horrors that the Serbs, Croats, Bosnians, and Kosovar Albanians perpetrated against each other. The image above shows a young Serb militiaman about to kick a woman in the head.
Views inside the book:
Publisher Thames & Hudson writes: Tracing a history of the field through its most innovative shows, renowned curator Jens Hoffmann selects the fifty exhibitions that have most significantly shaped the practice of both artists and exhibition curators.
The book's thematic sections focus on a huge variety of exhibitions, including those that have explored public space; reflected on globalization; engaged audiences in revolutionary ways; and brought into the gallery other disciplines such as theatre and architecture.
Short texts introduce and place each exhibition in context, accompanied by installation photographs and factual data about the participating artists, venues, dates, curators and publications, and many feature quotations from the originating curators exploring the premise of the show. The book concludes with a roundtable discussion by some of today's leading curators.
Show Time examines the most game-changing and risk-taking exhibitions of the past 30-ish years. The survey begins in the late 1980s when the Cold War ends and globalization takes off.
The book surprised me. I knew i'd find beautiful images, compelling ideas and elegant texts in there and i haven't been disappointed. But i also thought that Show Time would provide me with a clear confirmation that contemporary art is far too busy contemplating its own navel to question its relevance in today's society and to engage with a public whose idea of a wise investment does not involve shelling out 32 pounds to enter the immaculate tents of the Frieze art fair. But i was wrong (up to a certain extent) as many of the innovative exhibitions the author selected not only show the evolution of the profession but also a clearer desire to go and meet the public whoever and wherever it may be. Another fairly recent trend in curatorial practice is to cross boundaries, to explore and communicate with other practices such as theater, architecture, literature, science (though i didn't find any convincing example of art&science exhibition in the book), etc.
The book explores nine themes in contemporary curating:
Beyond the White Cube presents exhibitions that invade public space often with the purpose to meet a public which would not normally be tempted to enter a cultural institution. These are probably my favourite kind of exhibitions as they usually deal more efficiently with social and political engagement and ambition to achieve deeper connections between art and the whole society.
The best example is probably inSITE. Located in the border region between San Diego and Tijuana, the biennial focused on social and political issues related to border control and of course immigration between the US and Mexico. Artists and cultural producers from both sides worked together and the organization usually involved the participation of immigration officers and human rights groups.
Interestingly, Hoffmann notes that while the biennial drew much attention in the press and local public, it didn't attract the more 'traditional' art crowd.
I suspect that inSITE is the most exciting biennial that ever was. Ever timely theme and terrific selection of artists. Here are two of the works created for it:
In 1997, Alÿs 'crossed' the US-Mexico border at Tijuana by plane. He boarded in Tijuana and flew to Mexico City, then to Panama City, Santiago, Auckland, Sydney, Singapore, Bangkok, Rangoon, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Seoul, Anchorage, Vancouver, Los Angeles, and arrived in San Diego a few days later. Alÿs exposed a loophole in Mexico-US border control through a physical loop on a global scale, but in so doing highlighted the fact that this could only be possible for a privileged few.
Mark Bradford's contribution for inSITE_05 was to give a hand to the Maleteros, the porters who -unofficially- transport luggage and goods between the border of the US and Mexico. Together they worked on a system of maps and signs that promoted their marginalized work alongside that of the labor of policemen, bus drivers and taximen.
Artists as Curators as Artists celebrates artists who intervene through artistic experiments or curatorial work in museum collections as gestures of institutional critique or as a way to use the exhibition as an artistic medium.
In 1992, Fred Wilson collaborated with The Maryland Historical Society to shake up its collection and present Mining the Museum: An Installation. The intervention highlighted museums' hidden agendas and the silences around certain episodes of the history of Native and African Americans in Maryland.
Across the Fields and Beyond the Disciplines. The key word here being (as always) 'interdisciplinary'. This section of the book explores exhibitions that open up to other fields such as architecture, science and mass media. New methodologies, new ideas, new processes and thus new perspectives emerged from these broader cultural influences.
In 1999, the exhibition Laboratorium turned the whole city of Antwerp (BE) into a laboratory where artists and scientists explored possible common aspects of their working processes. Workstations in the exhibition space enabled visitors to carry out their own experiments while other workstations, distributed throughout the city, worked as laboratories to reflect on specific themes: the laboratory of doubt, a cognitive science laboratory, the first laboratory of Galileo, etc.
New Lands looks at shows that paid homage to the 1989 exhibition Magiciens de la Terre, one of the first group shows to give equal emphasis to art from all over the world. The shows in this chapter therefore take on art from areas of the world as diverse as Eastern Europe and Africa, and that had remained for political, cultural or other reason, under the radar.
A chapter is dedicated to Biennials, the prolific model of exhibition that launches curators' careers, opens up vast touristic possibilities for cities in search of new energy and serves as meeting point of the international art elite.
While some have merely replicated the biennial model, others have attempted to twist and reinvent it. Manifesta, for example, is 'pan-European' and nomadic. Each edition sees the event move to and infiltrate a new city.
New Forms looks at attempts to rejuvenate or even overthrow well-known exhibition formats and processes. (Is it me is this starting to get a bit repetitive?)
For example, An Unruly History of Readymade applied the principles of the readymade to the making of the exhibition (which was obviously about readymade artworks.) The show was held in the largest juice-production factory in Mexico. Stacked artworks and pallets of juice stood side by side.
The chapter Others Everywhere deals with shows that explore race, sexuality, class, gender, nationality. Phantom Sightings: Art After the Chicano Movement, for example, embraced the Chicano movement and the more experimental art that comes with and out of it. The movement, which emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, encouraged political empowerment and ethnic prides over issues such as civil rights or immigration.
Tomorrow's Talents Today presents exhibitions that, by placing artists under new categories, have been formative to certain artist groups or affiliation. Nicolas Bourriaud's show Traffic and his text about relational aesthetics is probably the most discussed example. As was Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection which gave us/made up the YBAs.
The last chapter, History, presents exhibitions that set a new art-historical agenda through a greater consideration of female and non-Western artists and underrepresented art forms such as performance and conceptual work. I'm sad to read we still see 'female and non-Western artists' as separate categories in need of special attention.
That's for the 'more socially-engaged than expected' content. Now for the form: Show Time features the slick images that define art books nowadays. It is also doing a great job at not being too heavy on the art jargon. I wouldn't say that this is a book for a public that has zero interest in contemporary art but it does help making it more approachable, easier to read and experience. It also definitely puts the whole curatorial practice into a more challenging and 'challengeable' perspective
I hope the intro to the review doesn't me sound like a bitter, ever-discontented gallery-goer. I do love contemporary art but i've been almost traumatized by the aloofness some of the major art shows and fairs i've seen recently. The book made me realize that i should just be more selective and see better exhibitions.
I'll close the review with a sentence Hoffmann wrote in the introduction of the book: "Show Times includes very few museum shows from the United States, which is perhaps an indication of a general lack in curatorial innovation in the American art world, cuts in public funding, increase in private interests, or all of the above." I don't think the problem is the lack in curatorial innovation, i'd rather believe that slashed funding for culture and increasing mingling of private sponsorship is to blame. Take note, Europe! We are well on our way to meet the same under-funded, risk-phobic fate.
Views inside the book:
Speculative Everything. Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming, by Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby.
Publisher MIT Press writes: Today designers often focus on making technology easy to use, sexy, and consumable. In Speculative Everything, Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby propose a kind of design that is used as a tool to create not only things but ideas. For them, design is a means of speculating about how things could be--to imagine possible futures. This is not the usual sort of predicting or forecasting, spotting trends and extrapolating; these kinds of predictions have been proven wrong, again and again. Instead, Dunne and Raby pose "what if" questions that are intended to open debate and discussion about the kind of future people want (and do not want).
Speculative Everything offers a tour through an emerging cultural landscape of design ideas, ideals, and approaches. Dunne and Raby cite examples from their own design and teaching and from other projects from fine art, design, architecture, cinema, and photography. They also draw on futurology, political theory, the philosophy of technology, and literary fiction. They show us, for example, ideas for a solar kitchen restaurant; a flypaper robotic clock; a menstruation machine; a cloud-seeding truck; a phantom-limb sensation recorder; and devices for food foraging that use the tools of synthetic biology. Dunne and Raby contend that if we speculate more--about everything--reality will become more malleable. The ideas freed by speculative design increase the odds of achieving desirable futures.
A book that champions the power of ideas is always a great addition to anyone's library. And because my lack of enthusiasm for design is fairly well documented, i'm going to be cynical and add that a book that calls for more ideology and values in design is a rare find indeed.
In Speculative Everything, Dunne and Raby ask whether it is possible for design to operate outside of the market place while at the same time acknowledging that we live in a consumer society. Once the focus of design is not on selling a product, can it act as a catalyst to connect, debate and speculate? And more importantly, can it turn us into more discernible consumers?
You probably already know how the formula works: the two designers create objects, photos, texts and insert them into scenarios that are neither too realistic nor too outrageously disconnected from the world as we know it already. They don't package the work in a complete narrative either. Instead, they sketch a skeletal structure that leaves enough space for the public to be puzzled, fill in the gaps and attempt to answer the many questions that lie at the core of the work that Raby and Dunne submit to their attention.
Most of us aren't used to a design that doesn't do all the imaginative work and requires us to think. Yet, we live in a time when consumers moonlight as producers, rediscovering craft, 3Dprinting at home or self-publishing porn fiction. So why shouldn't we also be stimulated (by design or other creative disciplines) to produce our own dreams, our own ideas about a future that should or shouldn't be?
If you've ever asked yourself perfectly sensible questions such as "What is speculative design?" "Is it the same as critical design?" "Is this another name for fiction design?" "Why don't they call that art?" or just "What's the point?", then you'll probably find satisfying answers in this book. And because by now Dunne and Raby are used to communicating with scientists, artists, fellow designers, as well as the broad public, they answer these questions in a clear, efficient and very enjoyable way.
Speculative Everything neatly and quietly dispels the myths, misunderstandings and simplifications surrounding speculative design. Of course, there will always be people who dismiss Dunne and Raby's work for being too arty, and, well, too speculative to be strictly design but if some of them ever read the book, i'm quite convinced that they will at least agree on the fact that its authors ask some valid questions and more importantly perhaps articulate them in an intelligent, compelling way.
I often find design to be too insular but in their book, Raby and Dunne look beyond design and survey the works that operate in the same speculative area. These works belong to all creative disciplines under the sun: art, architecture, film, manga, cinema, literature, science, art, ethics, politics, etc. And it's quite a joy to read about works as different as Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror tv series and Luigi Colani's shark-shaped plane. I couldn't resist listing some of these works below:
P.s. Favourite quote from the book is "Designers today are expert fictioneers in denial" (p.88)