Forays is a low profile (that's their words) artist group strung somewhere between New York and Montreal whose work focuses on the research and creation of open-source minor architectures and low-tech modifications of everyday life.
Forays is Adam Bobette and Geraldine Juárez.
Geraldine Juarez is a self-taught designer and an artist from Mexico City based in Brooklyn, New York where she is a Senior Fellow at Eyebeam and play around the city with Forays. She is a drop out of Communication and Graphic Design of a university in Mexico City and worked in advertising for several years doing visual effects in Mexico City, New York and Los Angeles. Her current interests are low-tech crafts and artifacts. Most of the time she obtains her supplies in trash bags, by freecycling or by hacking public sites.
Adam Bobbette is a writer, researcher and artist based in Montréal.
What started as an innocent conversation between Geraldine and i about the Postal Gown she was modeling around Williamsburg during the Conflux festival escalated into a fully-fledged interview about her, and mostly the works she's currently working on together with Adam. Here we go:
Hey Geraldine, you write that you find your supplies in trash bags, freecycling or by hacking public sites. Sounds interesting but we'd like to get more details. How does one hack a public site? can you give us examples too? And what is freecycling?
G:. I read once that hacking is the creative adaptation to immediate circumstances. I switched not so long ago from purely digital work to more analog and tangible object production and I had to learn electronics from scratch, a bit of code and a whole lot about materials. I started hacking the city accidentally. I was working a lot with paper and electronics and I needed something that I couldn't afford. Looking online for alternatives I found it freely available in the public infrastructure of the city: the postal office. Not paying for my source material was a complete delight and I pushed it forward. Picking stuff from the street in New York is nothing new, everybody does it. There is a royal amount of quality waste all around the city. However there is an easier and more social way to get specific things that you need. Freecyle is a simple yahoo list that let's you ask and offer things for reuse. Most of the time the craft materials are just surplus so you get perfectly good stuff for free. Often I found just what I needed and it was an opening to start wandering around the city to get what I need and most important, interacting with the moneyless layer of New York City.
Together with Adam Bobbette, you work on the Forays projects. How did you get to meet and work together? Does each of you have his or her own skills and knowledge that complete the other?
AB. Like yin and yang? Like milk and tea? Like diamonds and roughness?
G:. it's actually not like that at all, we don't really like each other. We met in Eyebeam. I knew he wanted to work with steam and I thought that was wicked but he was too cocky so I didn't want to talk to him. One day I stole a little kaleidoscope from his desk. I confessed to it and then we found out that we both were into folding stuff, trash and useless things. He is a luddite and I'm more geeky. He speaks French and I speak Spanish, so it helps to create confusion.
AB. We always have experiences to share about crossing the American border, which is a strong bond.
G. Also, we really work hard to keep it low and that's really encouraging. Adam has trouble with authority while i have it with sustainability and environmentalism. He likes space and i like materials. We both find waste inspiring. We like the idea of creating pieces that make you realize your space and environment in a more beautiful and accidental way. Since we come from different worlds we are constantly questioning what it really means to step into these arenas like activism, art, architecture. We are also really afraid of how art goes, and we don't know how to slip in and come out clean. And yeah we don't like each other.
AB. Which makes for this great productive confusion. Collaborative work is mostly frustrating.
G. And there are others we work with too, wonderful, distant others.
AB. And some of them like you, Jerry.
AB. We do a lot of our own stuff and sometimes just fall into each other's projects mid-way, towards the end or drop out from the beginning. But it's definitely important that we are surprised by what we work on individually. Or, it's great to be surprised by how differences end up overlapping.
One of your pieces Field Notes addresses the ways in which the delineation of interior and exterior or private and public space can be used towards political ends. Using cocoons, you and Adam propose open source architecture and hacked materials as forms of grassroots activism. Can you give us more details on that? Which materials you use? And how the cocoon can be turned into OS architecture?
A-- G: The basic nature of the cocoon is to turn the structures and infrastructures of the city into a vehicle for experimentation. It might need space, it might need a certain material, it might need a certain action to hang it. When a cocoon needed certain materials, it made us go and find it around, explore sites and slip into and through cracks to get it. This gives us the chance to hack infrastructures. When the cocoon needs to be used you have to look for space: a scaffold, a tree, a fire escape, which enables reclaiming some lost space. Also, the cocoon is meant to be a tool for tactical occupation, like in the case of More Gardens --
AB. A kick ass New York City community garden advocacy group that saves community gardens from being destroyed by the city
G. -- Either for tree sitting or for creating a temporary squat, when you slip into a cocoon you slip into a tool riddled with the potential of continually evolving.
AB. With the cocoons we weren't really so interested in focusing on the objects but on the whole network, the whole approach that building and thieving, freecycling, skill sharing and trespassing gets you into. I mean, we personally really cared about the objects but that was not what we wanted to show to the public. That stuff is personal. What we do care about is pointing in a direction; towards techniques of trespass, of building, of acquiring materials. It was important to provide entry points into the very material circumstances and consequences of art making.
The kind of materials we were using were things like construction netting hacked from construction sites. To get them you climb up inside scaffolding and cut out some chunks. We also used modified Tyvek postal envelopes grabbed for free from post offices around New York. And, 1 dollar beach mats. These are the main materials, but there is tones of other stuff, mostly culled from construction sites, hardware shops, outdoors shops and the street.
Open source architecture refers to the way that we hoped to distribute a process of building, not instructions on how to build a particular thing. We had to break codes and hack systems to build the cocoons and what we are interested in distributing are the techniques we used. We don't think any body would be really all that interested in reproducing the objects we produced, but the techniques could help people build their own stuff or at least take an adventurous approach to buildings. We are just hoping to pass on a very basic program for experimental architecture.
What does one of these cocoons look like exactly? Can you sleep in it?
A-- AB. People have said they look like many things. Some people think they look like body bags, which I kind of like. Some people think they look like jewels, some say they are just hammocks, some don't really know what to make of them.
Yes, you can sleep in them. We have and will continue to. There is this whole experiential side, as you can imagine, to sleeping in trees and hanging up against scaffolding, strapped to some edifice under construction like you were, well, a little larvae grafted to structures. Which you are already, with or without some cocoon.
G. They are really a simple hammock. However the material and the way in which they are built, make them what you want them or need them to be.
And how about the Craigslist chapter of the project? How did it go and did it encounter the kind of response you were hoping to get?
A-- G. Well, Adam got all those emails. Actually the Craiglist chapter are the origin of the cocoon. He was trying to advertise free space for people to occupy as well as describing this kind of poetics of squatting. Squatting not only as a political strategy but also a creative architectural endeavour.
AB. Craigslist is a funny place. It was really a way for us to talk to an audience that would otherwise have little relation to this kind of work (though maybe we're making bogus assumptions). And, yeah we had great responses ranging from sincere interest to total confusion to pick-up lines.
I like the "swing actions�? a lot. How did the public react to the swings? Do you know if the idea has spread around?
A-- AB. It's pretty hard not to love swings even when they are set in places they shouldn't be; they are pretty benign objects. Everybody loved them, from construction workers who would tell us we 'gotta patent that shit', to passersby, and of course, kids. But this is why they can be a decent introduction or gateway to more intense experiences of disruption, or of bending and twisting space.
G. I was just the trooper. I had to wait in line to use the freaking swing. The pictures I took are beautiful though.
Did you ever get into trouble for installing swings and portable squats?
A--G. Not a real problem. Some building porters that double as mini-cops...
AB: So many people in New York city are mini cops...
G. Some have come to us to ask what the hell we are doing, but often people give us a break to finish or even let us keep going. You would be surprised by how many public servants are tamed by the word "art". It's really the best antidote or word you can use to dissolve confusion and tension. We just published recently 'How to Unload bags and Practice Failure', a description of getting busted and the function of the "artist�?. Why don't you read it. It's my favorite project.
I want to know more about 100% Local Irradiated Food. And that TV set that you turned into an Edible Excess Machine. What was the impetus for that project? How does the EXM work?
A-- G. Oh! The EXM doesn't work.
AB. It is a symbolic machine. We have been inspired by freeganism for quite some time and wanted to build a machine that spoke to the very interesting contradictions of freeganism, the same contradictions that underlie so much of our own work. I was excited about the machine because of the way that it spoke to all of these interesting problems of the excess/consumption, host/parasite relationship.
Basically, parasitic activity requires the very consumer society it deplores in order for it to survive. Freegans would be impossible without the excess generated by consumer society. Their activism, their scavenging, which is a totally justified protest against this consumption at the same time depends on it. So, in their own ideal world they would not exist. In a way they are fighting for their own disappearance as a group. That's interesting.
What the machine is supposed to do is allow you to turn absolutely anything (garbage, bricks, old tires) into edible waste by irradiating it and swallowing a laxative. A perfect circle. A perfect impossibility. If it were true, at a certain point, you would end up turning your own self into edible waste.
We built it as a workshop at Eyebeam. Jerry and some excellent workshop folks built a commercial around the EXM. We hope to eventually get a feature in Martha Stewart's magazine.
G. I have a crush on garbage bags so I really wanted to do something directly with them. The idea came up actually because someone told us that you can actually create x-rays out of a tv.
So the project is meant to raise attention to the enormous amount of waste we produce everyday, right?
G. We are trying to make clear the fact that while everybody goes green, local and organic our waste will remain there. It's about excessive consumption. If everyone is really really interested in being sustainable, how about eating your own waste? THE EXM is as retarded as green capitalism.
There's a strange little device on your website. It's called Bucky and seems to implode. Can you tell us something about it?
A-- AB. This is Jerry's killer project and she thinks more clearly about it than I but we do share this distrust of Mr. Bucky Fuller. He is still someone that we have to contend with, maybe one of the most important idols that we have yet to destroy. He is really this figure head of all of this naïve technological optimism that threatens to murder anything that was once dangerous and/or interesting about sustainability.
G. The Bucky is an exploding microcosm contained in a dome. It simulates the illusion of cheap and easy sustainability and environmentalism based on the commodity. Saving the world has became a commodity that you can buy in Whole Foods and every other shop on the block and it's really pathetic. Why is being green even an interesting future? Honestly, it looks all the same to me.
AB: Isn't it just the same as the present except that people will feel guiltless about their consumption, about their excesses? You know, I feel like sustainability even has enough room in it's future for things like solar powered tanning salons and ways to power your television set by the energy emitted by burning your own calories. And all sorts of other "neat�? stuff.
JG. For me, a sustainable future based on consuming "with the earth in mind" is the ultimate social disaster. I prefer to stop preparing for the upcoming natural disasters and start acting on the social disaster around me, like consumer capitalism.
The Bucky's are based on Fuller's Geoscope: This globe that allows you to see the big picture and help humanity somehow to "anticipate and cope with inexorable events". Bucky I is a forest made of money that explodes. Pure illusion. My Bucky is meant to mimic the actual fragility of 'Space Ship Earth'. Green or not. I really want to destroy this illusion of "saving" the world going "green". I don't think we are going to "save" it. But i do believe we have to go more dark in order to learn how to live on it from now on.
During the last edition of Conflux, I saw you walking around with your friends wearing some pretty Postal Gowns. How can I make one? Can you give us a little step-by-step?
A--AB. Regine, haven't you heard how damn stubborn Jerry is with instructions these days? She avoids them like she had a nut allergy or something.
JG. Uff. Don't even get my started. What's with this obsession for systematization? Yeah i don't like instructions, but actually some people really dig instruction sets and they even think they allow you to show how instructions for anything always rely on some impossibility and the unthinkability of chance.
Well my allergy to instructions is that i don't think there is a possible way to break down into steps things that are not technical, and maybe i really want to move over the technical. I like to share information yes, but i think we have to subvert the way we share it some how too. Instructablism is getting a little boring to me. To make a Postal Gown first you need to get some material for free by any means. And this can be as broad as you want. Hacking, thieving, freecycling. You have to make an effort to avoid money exchange. You have to learn how to step into strangers homes (it's really weird sometimes as well as interesting), receive something and take responsability of it.
Once you got your material:
(You need a pattern and a sewing machine)
1. Cut your pattern
2. Sew both parts together,
Thanks Geraldine and Adam!
All images courtesy of the artists.
Each day for a year, this online data visualization application will visit one toxic site currently active in the Superfund program run by the U.S. Both the contaminant and the responsible party are represented. There are about 1300 toxic sites on the Superfund's National Priorities List (NPL), the project archive will only spotlight a fraction of them. Superfund 365 features video interviews with people involved with or impacted by Superfund, RSS feeds, the possibility for people living near the site to leave comments and add images, etc.
Brooke highlighted 2 of the toxic site:
The US Radium Corp. in New Jersey. Until the ´60s radium was used to make the clock-dial luminous. An illness termed "radium jaw" was first seen in the mid-1920 amongst young women who painted the clock-dials. They had the habit of licking their brushes to make the bristles form a point. Over time their jawbones were disintegrating, their teeth were fracturing and falling out, and they were suffering from awful mouth and gum infections and ulcers (via).
The Old Roosvelt Field Contaminated GW Area where Charles Lindberg took off for his solo transatlantic flight.
The panel closed with Eve Mosher's presentation of her work in progress High Water Line which is based on the forecasts on global warming and more particularly the rise of the water (10-feet above sea) level and its consequences on the New York landscape.
Since May 2007, Mosher is translating the issue into a dramatic visualization: a chalk line that shows the impact of the sea level rise on neighborhoods, commercial zones, private residences, traffic infrastructure, etc.
Anything below the line that she draws either by walking or using a tricycle becomes inhabitable. So far she completed the whole area south of Brooklyn. Her performance is a great way to generate discussion and while she is out she handles pamphlet to people. Inside they can get information about what they can do to be more eco-savvy either at home or at work, who they can talk to, etc.
The event also launched Eyebeam’s Ecovisualization Challenge, a competition to heighten environmental awareness through creative data visualization projects. Group sign-ups will coincide with the panel, and the challenge is scheduled to run from October-November, 2007. Winning projects will be included in Eyebeam’s upcoming exhibition focusing on environmental and sustainability issues.
- an eco icon contest to design a graphic that can be used for tattoo, stickers, etc to make visible environmental/ecological concerns. Deadline is Nov. 5th.
First panelist, Tiffany Holmes focused on her project 7000 Oaks And Counting. The goal of this eco-visualization research is to show that daily visual feedback can elevate understanding of consumption patterns and possibly increase conservation behavior in resident populations.
The project makes use of the existing building control system typically found in large institutional buildings. These systems provide central management and monitoring for air conditioning control, lighting control, and electrical and chilled water status monitoring, as well as providing energy management services. Typically, data from such systems is available only to a select audience of engineers and facilities personnel. The eco-visualization software focuses on the electricity consumption and its purpose is to make the data accessible and easy to understand for everyone through a website, a kiosk animation and a model tree sculpture. Ultimately, Holmes hopes that the project will stimulate people to adopt a more eco-conscious behaviour.
Tiffany Holmes is aware of both the advantage and challenges of any eco-viz experiment:
She ended her talk by recommending everyone to read her blog, Ecoviz.
Next came Michael Mandiberg with a presentation of his projects: Oil Standard and Real Costs.
Oil Standard is a web browser plug-in that converts all prices from U.S. Dollars into the equivalent value in barrels of crude oil.
Real Costs is a Firefox plug-in that inserts emissions data into travel related e-commerce websites. The first version adds CO2 emissions information to airfare websites such as Orbitz.com, United.com, Delta.com, etc. Following versions will work with car directions, car rental, and shipping websites. Think of it like the nutritional information labeling on the back of food... except for emissions.
Marisa Olson set up and moderated a fantastic panel yesterday afternoon at Conflux about Souveillance Culture. The panel was sponsored by Rhizome and gathered Amy Alexander, Jill Magid and Hasan Elahi, 3 artists whose work engages surveillance and explore the cultural and political implications of sousveillance. The panel assumed that we live in a surveilled society but also in a culture that likes to show and tell. Our society has shifted from one that cherished its right to privacy to a society that promotes the idea "if you see something, say something."
Amy Alexander's talk, Software, Surveillance, Scareness & Subjectivity was a presentation of SVEN: Surveillance Video Entertainment Network aka "AI to the People", a software performance or installation for public spaces that she developed together with Wojciech Kosma, Vincent Rabaud with Nikhil Rasiwasia and Jesse Gilbert.
Surveillance is scary and when you're fearful you're not very productive. You do not know when you are surveilled (that's the principle of the Panopticon), nor do we know how (racial profiling, etc.)
Much of the surveillance is based on softwares. Softwares should not be scary nor mysterious.
She showed as an example these images that document the results of an attempt to use computer vision algorithms to match photographs of individuals with those in a database. Most of the time, the algorithm detected the correct person from the database. However, the few incorrect cases are interesting. The software attempted to detect similarity between photographs and faces but instead of confusing people of the same race, for example, the software will sometimes confuse two people with a smug expression on their face (attitude profiling!) or wearing a bushy moustache.
Computer vision algorithms have their own agendas.
If a computer can decide when you are not "desirable", it can also detect when you are desirable, that's called Rock Star Detection which turns boring surveillance videos into exciting music videos. How does the system become suspicious that you might be a rock star?
When SVEN system detects any of these characteristics it generates an automatic music video surveillance cinematography.
Then Hasan Elahi got us riveted on our seat with the story of how he was arrested by the FBI and submitted to endless interviews and several polygraphs for, basically, having an Arab name (and thus flying with bombs in his pockets), it took him months to (he thought) convince them that he was innocent. Suspecting that he might never be totally cleared he devised a software that tracks him wherever he goes. If you visit the website Tracking Transience, you'll see where he is now, where he was a a few days ago, which airport he went through, what he ate on the plane, how much money he spent where, etc.
Interestingly, when he has a look at who is visiting the website, he discovered that the users who logs in come from the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice (the FBI), the House of Representents, etc. During the discussion that floowed the talks, Elahi explained how his project devalue the FBI file by flooding them with data. And although the work makes his life transparent, he hasn't lost any parcel of intimacy. You never see his face or body on the pictures and while you can see what he had at lunch in a plane that doesn't tell you much about himself.
The idea to engage with surveillance technology came while she was still a student working on the Kissmask piece. At the time she was also looking for a way to connect the two "kissers" together, maybe with video. So she asked around how she could do that and was advised to use a lipstick spy camera.
She later used the camera to perform Lobby 7 in MIT main lobby. She phoned the manufacturer of the lobby’s informational monitor pretending she had lost the remote control, was sent one and hijacked the monitor, interrupting its daily broadcast with a transmission of her own. This transmission was a real-time exploration of her body and the surrounding architecture as seen through the openings of her clothes, via the lipstick surveillance camera. A camera was recording the 30 min performance and the reaction of passersby. Many of them reached out and patted their body, suspecting that it might be them on the screen.
She explained that she liked the aesthetics of the surveillance camera images, how any given space looks like a stage on a screen and anyone who enters it becomes an actor.
Later on she spent 5 years in Amsterdam where the word "repression" doesn't have the same importance as in Boston. She nevertheless noticed the presence of surveillance cameras in the city. There are there as icons of power, sometimes mere decoy that does not necessarily work. She hand-glued rhinestones to security cameras in front of the Rijksakademie and people suddenly noticed the cams, asking them when and why she had installed the camera although they had been there for 7 years.
Next she set herself the task to do the same at the Amsterdam Headquarters of Police. When she phoned to ask whether that would be possible she was told that "we don't work with artists." She thus had to create her own company System Azure Security Ornamentation, took a formal appointment with the police and arrived with her portfolio of glam cams under the arm.
The artist was not only authorised to glue rhinestone on the police CCTV cameras using permanent adhesive but she was also hired and paid to do so.
It was decided that the colours used would make the 9 cameras in front of the HQ look like flags. She used colours from the international code: Green is for justice, white for integrity, red is for full of love, etc.
Back to New York City after five years abroad, she kept hearing this announcement in the subway "You may be a subject to searches "for security reasons"." She approached a police officer and asked him to search her. He refused because only women officer had the right to search a woman but she managed to convince him to call her and tell her each night where he was on shift and she'd join him to be "trained". She kept record of the meetings and logged them in different forms. More about the project.
The mobile unit is inspired by street vendors, knife sharpeners from India, refills of gas in Africa, fake Gucci bags in Paris and chair massages in New York, the Power Cart looks and feels like another service for the city of today. Where ever you might be in the world, hail the Power Car for a quick fix. The Power Car owner will turn the crank for you and get the electricity you need, one minute of cranking at a time. With a little help from the solar panel.
A few notes from Conflux Festival day one which runs until Sunday in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The HQ is at the gallery The Change You Want to See, a space for projects at the intersection between art, activism and academia.
Christina Ray introduced this edition of the annual festival for psychogeography by reminding that it started in 2003 when a bunch of friends decided to set up an event where they would invite other people to come and explore the city with them. Conflux gathers artists and also people who wouldn't call themselves artists such as architects, activists, researchers, etc. This year there are over 100 artists selected. I'm not going to blog everything, just a few projects i particularly liked.
Here's my pick of the day:
Free103point9/31 Down Radio Theater (Ryan Holsopple, you might remember his Pay Phone Murder Mystery project) presented Supplied by the Public which is currently working as Conflux radio station. The content of the radio station is made of calls from participants of the festival.
The calls (from public phones, cell phones, home phones) to 212-202-0637 are streamed in real time over the Internet. The stream is also broadcast on a low power FM transmitter to the local area of the event for people to listen to via a wireless radio. The calls are archived and will repeat when no active calls are being broadcast. The project is inspired by Max Neuhaus's telephone/radio work, Public Supply (1966).
At the Luna lounge a space is provided for artists to come and discuss their work, it's rather informal and some of them only come with flyers and a laptop. Kiera Ormut-Fleishman had more! She came with a prototype of Maintenant, a system designed to make us more ecologically aware.
Maintenant revolves around the Social Pedometer/So-Ped, a device which connects to your mp3 player and auditorily alerts you whenever you're passing through a high-air pollution saturated area.
The So-Ped, equipped with a carbon monoxide and methane sensor, is continually searching the air you breathe as you walk around. When a higher level of gases is detected, the sensor sets off the voice chip and alerts you to this. First the alert temporarily cuts off your music then you get a tip that says how to save up energy, for example.
There is only one So-Ped and it is not for sale. However, you can sign up to test the So-Ped when it becomes available in your area, you will then be able to use it for two weeks.
Molly Schwartz was showing her moving After You Leave... website and animations which document the way trees are struggling and often winning the battle in the street against cement, sidewalks, fences, decorative brick borders and buildings.
Anyone can contribute to Molly's project by submitting their own photo and written observations of the struggle. Besides, a map can be downloaded to guide participants to the key locations of the green battle.