From the back-cover: Every second year the Finnish Society of Bioart invites a significant group of artists and scientists to the Kilpisjärvi Biological Station in Lapland/Finland to work for one week on topics related to art, biology and the environment. "Field_Notes - From Landscape to Laboratory" is the first in a series of publications originating from this field laboratory. It emphasizes the process of interaction between fieldwork, locality and the laboratory. Oron Catts, Antero Kare, Laura Beloff, Tarja Knuuttila amongst others explore the field and laboratory as sites for art&science practices.
I was about to add this book to the list of books i liked in 2013 but i decided at the last minute that i might as well give it its own space.
In 2011, the Finnish Society of Bioart organised the Field_Notes - Cultivating Grounds laboratory. Five working groups led by Oron Catts, Marta de Menezes, Anu Osva, Tapio Makela and Terike Haapoja developed various art and science projects while in contact with nature and ecology in Kilpisjärvi, a rural area in Lapland, Finland.
The book contains seventeen articles (in both English and Finnish) that report and meditate on the research, reflections and activities that took place during the scientists and artists' stay in Lapland. Field_Notes offers one of the very few residences that allows people who engage with art&science to work and experiment directly in a natural environment and not exclusively in laboratories or galleries.
I wouldn't say that this is a book for anyone who's interested in bioart. It's not the kind of crazy sexy pop bioart you read about in Wired magazine (or in my own blog.) It is sober and at time theoretical, but not less surprising and thought-provoking than any razzle-dazzle bioart works you've read about in the past.
Field_Notes offers is a great mix of essays by scientists and lively stories of experiments by artists. I particularly enjoyed reading Laura Beloff's essay on how experience is a key aspect (and sometime even the main objective) of art practices that use organic materials or has some affinity with science. Professor Antero Järvinen wrote about the icon of global warming that is the Arctic charr and more generally about the difficulty of drawing simple conclusion of complex material systems and phenomena. Oron Catts came with the most unexpected essay about a piece of plexiglass from a German aircraft that had crashed in Kilpisjärvi in 1942 and how the discovery led him to explore 'new materialism in action'. Andrew Gryf Paterson has a great piece about berries foraging and a proposal to set up Berry Commons which sounds trivial until he makes you realize the politics of berries. Maria Huhmarniemi looked at the dilemma of preserving the endangered Capricornia Boisduvaliana butterfly or building an hydroelectric power plant.
I'll close with two of the many projects i discovered in this book:
A Unit is a miniature green area an individual would wear on their shoulder. A Unit speculates on the concept of green environment and its beneficial impact. It experiments with an idea of wearable miniature green space that becomes part of ones everyday existence and asks if this can be considered as natural environment with potential health benefits?
A Unit contains a GM-plant or other primarily human-constructed plant and as such acts as a training device for our changing relation with organic nature for the future when both humans and nature are artificially modified or constructed.
Niki Passath took his touristic robots for walks around Kilpisjärvi and soon found out that fungi and bacteria had adopted them as a habitat. Traces of moss and lichen started to grow on the structures.
So there you are: a serious, solid book for anyone who'd like to go beyond the easy reductions, the fast conclusions and simplification that sometimes characterizes articles and books about bioart.
I could have titled the post "Gift ideas for Christmas" but to be honest, these books are not christmassy in the traditional sense of the word. Neither is my blog, for that matter. The truth is that this is a list of books i've enjoyed but never found the time to review as they deserved. I always meant to but here we are in mid-December and the "to review ASAP" pile of books is reaching skyscraping dimensions on my table. So here's a few publications that shouldn't be off your radar:
Bulletproof Skin. Exploring Boundaries by Piercing Borders, by Jalila Essaïdi, was the very good surprise of the year. Its starting point is the famous project 2.6g 329m/s, aka the 'bulletproof skin' developed with the help of the Designers & Artists 4 Genomics Award. The publication is described as A stunning hardcover book with a special cover and paper that feels soft like skin/silk, counting 160 pages that visually explore the process of creating bulletproof skin. Which is true but doesn't do the book justice. What Bulletproof Skin. Exploring Boundaries by Piercing Borders does what very few books about biotech art do: it brings the project but also the whole field into a broader context. Scientists, philosophers and renowned people involved in the 'biotech art' world contributed to the volume with essays that ponder on the ethical, cultural, artistic and scientific meaning of the project and of biotech artworks in general. Among them are Symbiotica Director Oron Catts, Director of the Center for PostNatural History Richard Pell, artist Clifford Charles, scientific director of the Center for Society and the Life Sciences Dr Hub Zwart, expert in spider silk (and its many high tech potential uses) Randy Lewis, science writer Simon Ings, forensic firearms expert Benno Jacobs. A space is also given to random people who commented on the project.
Bulletproof Skin. Exploring Boundaries by Piercing Borders is a smart, entertaining and thought-provoking book. It's also splendidly designed, i can't recommend it enough.
Yes, i've mentioned that one already. It's a 'best of' F.A.T., a guide to copy/replicate/customize their most astute or ludicrous projects. I still can't believe they've allowed me to plaster a text inside the book.
Outerviews. Conversations with Artists, published by MoTA. 17 interviews with artists, selected from the pretty spectacular archive of the ArtistTalk.eu project. The conversations included illuminate the processes behind the making of art works, which in have in our view proposed the most interesting challenges to the common conceptions of art.
You need to email the address at the bottom of this page for a copy. Well worth the trouble.
The definitive history of the drug cartels, Narcoland takes readers to the front lines of the "war on drugs," which has so far cost more than 60,000 lives in just six years. Hernández explains in riveting detail how Mexico became a base for the mega-cartels of Latin America and one of the most violent places on the planet. At every turn, Hernández names names--not just the narcos, but also the politicians, functionaries, judges and entrepreneurs who have collaborated with them. In doing so, she reveals the mind-boggling depth of corruption in Mexico's government and business elite.
This one's on my kindle and i've only just started reading it but so far, so very good. Gripping, informative in the 'i can't believe i'm reading this' sense.
Landscape Futures: Instruments, Devices and Architectural Inventions, edited by Geoff Manaugh. Published by Actar.
From autonomous tools for remote archaeology to radio telescopes scanning electromagnetic events in space, by way of colorful mechanisms allowing children to experience the animal superpowers of other species, Landscape Futures looks at the world of extraordinary scientific machines and their hypothetical alternatives that filter, augment, clarify, and transformatively reproduce the world they survey.
Another book from the one and only Manaugh, the guy who makes good old planet earth look like a distant, slightly bonkers and ever fascinating planet.
The publication comprises of 38 illustrated articles on built projects received through a Call for Work. Punctuating these articles, a series of conversations between world leading experts from design to engineering, incl. Mark Burry, Philip Beesley, Gramazio & Kohler and Hanif Kara, discussing themes on drawing to production, behavioural composites, robotic assembly, and digital craft. This densely illustrated publication is intended to impart unequivocal evidence to the reader on how these projects were made, to encompass the breath, complexity and skill required in making digital architecture (i.e. its not as easy as some make out), and to impart the vitality of making as a collaborative and exciting practice.
The book accompanied a conference that took place in 2011. I only got my hands on it a few weeks ago. And because it is still as relevant as ever, it's now available in paperback.
Art Since 1980 charts the story of art in contemporary global culture while holding up a mirror to our society. With over 300 pictures of painting, photography and sculpture, as well as installation, performance and video art, we are led on an illuminating journey via the individuals and communities who have shaped art internationally.
Kalb approaches art from multiple angles, addressing issues of artistic production, display, critical reception and social content. Alongside his analysis of specific works of art, he also builds a framework for readers to increase their knowledge and enhance critical and theoretical thinking.
I wouldn't advise this book to anyone who has only a flimsy interest in contemporary art, they'd be put off by the amount of information to ingest. However, this is a solid reference book for people who are passionate about art and think they lack some of the basic knowledge necessary to better understand and appreciate its meaning and context.
Deller explores how the trauma of the Industrial Revolution and chaotic urbanisation affected British society, focusing on emblematic figures including: Adrian Street, born into a Welsh mining family, Street rejected a life in the mines to become a flamboyant androgynous international wrestler; James Sharples, a 19th centrury blacksmith and self-taught painter from Blackburn, famous for his much-reproduced image, The Forge; and rock stars from industrial towns whose roots can be traced back through generations of workers in factories and mills. The radical transformation of the landscape in the early industrial era is powerfully evoked in Victorian images of factories ablaze at night, shown alongside an apocalyptic painting by John Martin. Industrial folk music, the incessant rhythms and racket of the factory floor, and heavy metal will also permeate the exhibition in sound installation and film.
I read this one in a couple of hours. I'm obviously biased. I love Jeremy Deller's work and i've always been fascinated by the Industrial Revolution. The artist clearly isn't the best writer in the world but some of the parallel he draws between now and then (in particular the working conditions in factories in Northern England at the time of the IR and today's culture of zero hour contracts) are worthy of consideration.
This is the publication that accompanies an exhibition of the same name. It's now up at the Manchester Art Gallery and i'll review in the coming days.
Obviously, i enjoyed these books too in 2013.
Image on the homepage: Bio-artist Jalila Essaidi, who used Professor Randy Lewis's special spider-goat silk to create "bulletproof skin". Picture: AP Source: AP.
Out of Hand: Materializing the Postdigital, by Ron Labaco, curator at the Museum of Arts and Design, New York.
Publisher Black Dog Publishing writes: Out of Hand: Materializing the Postdigital examines the increasingly important role of digital fabrication in contemporary art, design, and architecture practice from 2005 to the present. New levels of expression will demonstrate the reciprocal relationship between art and innovation as seen through the lens of emerging twenty first century aesthetics.
Out of Hand, the first publication to examine this interdisciplinary trend, accompanies a major exhibition at the Museum of Arts and Design, New York, bringing together for the first time an array of seminal works by more than 80 international artists, architects, and designers, including Ron Arad, Barry X Ball, Wim Delvoye, Zaha Hadid, Stephen Jones, Anish Kapoor, Marc Newson, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and Frank Stella.
Out of Hand looks in detail at the rise of digital tools in the production of sculptures.
It is a lovely book in itself (nice images, texts explaining with clear terms each of the works, photos of the working process, etc.) It is also a useful publication for people like me whose interests do not focus solely on digital creation. Through its pages, I caught up with many projects, ideas and processes i was crassly ignorant of.
We might all be familiar with digital technologies but the introductory essays of the book made it clear that art created with the help of these same technologies still needs to be defended, that its existence and meaning still needs to be justified and that its relationship to materiality has to be carefully defined. At least to some audiences.
The focus of the book is sculpture but there are as many designers (of the chair and sofa genre) and architects as artists in this book. In fact, the authors write that digital technologies have enabled sculpture to infiltrate the boundaries of other disciplines: design, architecture, science, fashion.
I think the biggest quality of this book is that it brings side by side Anish Kapoor and Markus Kayser, Hiroshi Sugimoto and The T/Shirt Issue. Designers who have reached a superstar status online but don't have any gallery audience and artists who rely on museum exhibitions and press releases from galleries to give them some form of online presence.
Out of Hand: Materializing the Postdigital is organised around six themes. Modeling Nature looks at works inspired by biomorphic structures. New Geometries openly refers to the use of advance mathematical theories in the creation of new works that range from sport shoes to delicate plywood pavilion. Rebooting Revivals shows how artists and designers use 3D laser scanning to reinfuse life into forms associated with artistic movements from the past. Patterns as Structure is about the translation of sound, light, electrical activity and other data into shapes and decorative motifs. Remixing the Figure reinvents the human figure through innovative representations of the body and 3D-printed fashion garments. Processuality brings emphasis to the process of making, either by a fully autonomous machine that does all the work or by an intervention of the audience.
Out of Hand: Materializing the Postdigital is an exhibition, curated by Ron Labaco and running at the Museum of Art and Design in New York City until July 6th, 2014.
Top Secret: Images from the Stasi Archives, by Simon Menner.
Publisher Hatje Cantz writes: First publication of pictures from the archives of the Stasi, the East German secret police
Almost 300,000 people worked for the East German secret police, per capita far more than were employed by agencies such as the CIA or the KGB. Not quite fifty years after the Berlin Wall was built, Simon Menner (*1978 in Emmendingen) discovered spectacular photographs in the Stasi archives that document the agency's surveillance work. Formerly secret, highly official photographs show officers and employees putting on professional uniforms, gluing on fake beards, or signaling to each other with their hands. Today, the sight of them is almost ridiculous, although the laughter sticks in the viewer's throat. This publication can be regarded as a visual processing of German history and an examination of current surveillance issues, yet it is extremely amusing at the same time. The fact that the doors of the opposite side--the British or German intelligence services, for example--remained closed to the artist lends the theme an explosive force as well as a tinge of absurdity.
Simon Menner has one of the most peculiar portfolios i've ever encountered. Snipers hidden among the trees, soldiers posing with corpses, Boobytraps and "Unconventional Warfare Devices and Techniques" from the 1960s, weapons used to murder people, views of WWI from both sides of the conflict, etc. Even the photos of Happy People have been selected for some very dark reason.
The Ministerium für Staatssicherheit (Department of State Security) of the former German Democratic Republic was one of the largest surveillance apparatuses in history and its record of citizens' intimate life was thorough and sinister. The story and practices of the Stasi have been fairly well documented. Until this book however, we still lacked a clear visual account of the methods, tactics and props used by the spying agents.
The publication presents a selection of images documenting many of the Stasi operations: the spying accoutrement of Stasi personnel, the techniques employed to shadow or arrest a suspect, the signs used to convey secret messages, the packages sent via mail and confiscated by the secret police, etc.
The most baffling photos were taken during seminars in which Stasi employees learnt the art of disguise.
The props are amateurish, the poses are awkward and the result is grotesque beyond words. Yet, the intentions were serious: repression, control, surveillance.
The award for most disturbing photos go to Polaroids of unmade beds, (Western-made) coffee machines and rows of shoes. The photos were taken by Stasi agents when they secretly searched peoples' houses on the hunt for evidence they might be betraying the communist state. Photos of the rooms and furniture were taken upon arrival and used by the agents to be able afterwards to put everything back as if nothing had been touched.
The photos below were taken at the birthday party of a high-ranking Stasi official. The party guests were asked to come dressed as members of demographic groups under Stasi surveillance such as athletes, dancers, academics, peace activists, and religious figures.
Spies of the western Allied Forces photographed Stasi spies and Stasi spies photographed their Western counterparts. "Sometimes they met, both sides were absolutely aware that the other side was there, but nevertheless both sides took photos, showing that both East and West lived in pretty much the same state of mind," the artist explained. So far, however, Menner hasn't been granted access to the correspondent photos from the British or Federal German secret services.
I love the necklace, very Tatty Devine!
Walk the Line: The Art of Drawing, by Marc Valli, co-founder of Magma and of magazines Graphic and Elephant, and by Ana Ibarra, editor of Elephant.
Publisher Laurence King writes: Drawing has always been a fundamental skill and good drawing skills allowed artists to grasp the reality around them. At the turn of the millennium, however, the general impression was that with the wide availability of computers, scanners, digital cameras and image software, drawing would dwindle into a marginal activity. In fact, the opposite happened: the enthusiasm for digital imagery died down and the ability to draw has become a treasured skill.
In the art world, attitudes to drawing have also changed. Drawing became a way of making a statement as an artist, of showing masterly skill - something that up to then had been most commonly associated with painting. After centuries in the shadow of its more illustrious fine art relatives, drawing started to be appreciated for its own sake, as an art discipline, an end in itself, an art form.
Walk the Line: The Art of Drawing includes interviews with the international selection of artists, as well as examples of their work. It will appeal to anyone interested in contemporary art and illustration.
I'm going to keep my review of this book so short, it's not even going to be a review. I loved this book. When everyone can take hi-def photos with their phone and photoshop them to perfection (or absurdity), this renewed enthusiasm for drawing is refreshing. Or maybe the enthusiasm for drawing had never faltered, i just noticed that i've spent more time staring at drawings displayed at art fairs in recent years.
The introduction of the book charts the 'trends' in drawing (large scale drawings executed as a performance was the one that got all my attention), the rest is just page after page of absorbing drawings, mostly in black and white.
Drawing seem to be made for humour and tenderness as the images discovered in the book demonstrate:
Views inside the book:
Explore Everything: Place-Hacking the City by Bradley Garrett, an ethnographer from the School of Geography and the Environment at University of Oxford working within the global Urban Explorer community.
Publisher Verso writes: It is assumed that every inch of the world has been explored and charted; that there is nowhere new to go. But perhaps it is the everyday places around us--the cities we live in--that need to be rediscovered. What does it feel like to find the city's edge, to explore its forgotten tunnels and scale unfinished skyscrapers high above the metropolis? Explore Everything reclaims the city, recasting it as a place for endless adventure.
Plotting expeditions from London, Paris, Berlin, Detroit, Chicago, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, Bradley L. Garrett has evaded urban security in order to experience the city in ways beyond the boundaries of conventional life. He calls it 'place hacking': the recoding of closed, secret, hidden and forgotten urban space to make them realms of opportunity.
Explore Everything is an account of the author's escapades with the London Consolidation Crew, an urban exploration collective.
The book is also a manifesto, combining philosophy, politics and adventure, on our rights to the city and how to understand the twenty-first century metropolis.
Like almost everybody else i guess, i'd like to be Bradley Garrett in my next life... Minus the troubles with the Transport for London, of course.
Bradley is a writer, photographer and researcher at the University of Oxford. He is also part of a group of urban explorers who trespass into derelict industrial buildings, sewer mazes, construction sites, deep shelters, drains, transportation networks, skyscrapers and other tall structures (mostly for the unique perspective they offer on the city below), and even in the (then) under-construction 2012 Olympic stadium. Urban explorers enter where they are not supposed to set foot, they avoid security guards and often operate at night. They never, however, willingly cause damage nor commit criminal offences. Bradley compares urban explorers to computer hackers: both groups assist in strengthening security by exposing systems' weaknesses through benign exploration.
The reason why Bradley's name might be familiar to some of you is that he is part of the London Consolidation Crew. The group were all over the English newspapers last year when they entered, one after the other, London's 'ghost' tube stations. They had already gained access to a number of them when, 4 days before 'the royal wedding', they tried to get to the British Museum Tube Station, starting at Russel Square station, running across the platform, down the piccadilly line, then switching to the central line tracks. They were caught but the British Transport Police let them off with a caution but Transport for London issued an ASBO forbidding them to talk to one another for 10 years, or to carry any equipment that could be used for exploration after dark.
They've also infiltrated many other fascinating locations (some of which we will never see, no matter how much we are ready to pay.) They climbed on foot the 76 stories of the Shard when it was still under contruction. Or Burlington, Britain's Secret Subterrean City, the place where the British government was to be rebuilt in case of a nuclear attack. They also visited several of the 33,000 derelict buildings in Detroit. The took photos from the roof of the closed down Sahara casino in Las Vegas. They climbed up the wings of the Angel in Gateshead to wrap a scarf around its neck. The played with the London Rail Mail, a miniature underground railway used by the Post Office to move mail between sorting offices. They walked around the unglamorous but rather interesting London sewerage system designed by Joseph Bazalgette in the 19th century. And they managed to move around unnoticed in the spectacular plane graveyard of the George Air Force Base (The Southern California Logistics Airport).
In his book, Bradley narrates the many expeditions of the LCC in London, in the rest of Europe and in the United States. It does sound dangerous (and indeed it often is) but, as he explains, UrbEx is not just about adrenaline. It is also about exploring the fractures in the city, working together as a group, gaining a deeper understanding and awareness of the city and more importantly experiencing the world in non-scripted, non-normative, non-capitalist ways.
The pages also come with the reflections and lessons that each expedition brought about: the social exclusion felt by urban explorers who become unable to connect with people living a 'normal' life, the direct experience of the authoritarian state, the realization that the city is built vertically as well as horizontally.
Explore Everything: Place-Hacking the City is a lively book. One moment, you're exploring the architectural remains of the Soviet Union. Next, you are wondering along with the author whether or not it is ethical to visit drains when you know you might be disturbing the homeless who live there (as it happened in Last Vegas a city of 580,000 inhabitants that count 14,000 homeless people)?
I have severe vertigo and a reluctance to spend the night in a cold, humid bunker. But i'm grateful to Bradley for giving me an opportunity to live vicariously and comfortably through some of the episodes of his breakneck adventures.
Crack The Surface - Episode I, short documentary focusing on the culture of Urban Exploring