It's hard to believe that it took me so many years to finally email Mogens Jacobsen and ask him for an interview. I've been following his projects since the very beginning of the blog (which was 8 years ago, in case you were wondering.)
Jacobsen is a media artist based in Copenhagen and an Adjunct Professor in Digital Culture and Mobile Communication at IT University, Copenhagen. His artistic work either closely follows social, political and ethical questions or sabotages technology, by mix-matching new and old media or by inviting web users to subvert web banners.
Some of his most acclaimed works include Crime Scene, two computers swapping copyrighted material in full view of the public; Power of Mind 3 Dissociative Defense, an installation powered by potatoes and hosting a report on human rights in Denmark; and TurntablistPC, a series of vintage turntables that spin their record according to visits to certain websites.
One of his most recent pieces, OECDlab comments on the cult for data and more precisely the instrumentalization of statistics by politicians, academics and economists. By manipulating the levers, dials, and knobs of three retro-looking lab-instruments, people can adjust parameters like percentage of women in parliament, distribution of income, military expenditure and see how these alterations are influencing other factors in society. The countries remain anonymous but all the data used is real data supplied by OECD, the WorldBank and UN.
I was curious to know more about OECDlab and that was the excuse i needed to finally get in touch with Mogens Jacobsen and discover if he could possibly be wittier than his own artworks:
Your work often responds to current social and cultural issues: human rights in Denmark, the rise of surveillance, file sharing, interactivity/reactivity, etc. What do you think are the themes that should be urgently addressed right now? Either by you or by other artists? Do you think that artists have any impact on ethical, cultural or social issues? Can they change the way a problem or situation is perceived and handled?
I'm sad to say this - but I wouldn't overestimate the impact done by artists at the moment. I wish more media artist would deal with real-world, everyday political issues. There seem to be a rather dominating escapist interest in phenomenology and the individual spectator. A problem I personally blame on the "experience economy" focus some years back. Now the "money" economy has crashed and experience economy has become unfashionable, it might be a good time to make art relevant outside the safe haven of the established art spaces again.
By turning the knobs of the OECDlab instruments, people can manipulate different parameters such as the percentage of women in parliament, distribution of income (the GINI index), military expenditure, etc. and then see how the alterations are influencing other factors in society. Can the manipulation ever lead to a satisfactory situation? One with maximum freedom of the press, one without shocking income inequality, etc.
One of the things that surprised me was the chaotic behavior of the instruments. Naively I thought there might be some correspondence between parameters such as freedom of press and distribution of wealth. But not so.
The OCEDlab lets you explore the world as it is - according to statistics at least, not construct a personal utopia. On one of the instruments, the one titled "Qui magistratum obeunt mundum credunt sibi subiectum esse ut ad suam voluntatem flectatur", you will never be shown the name of the country as you try to combine parameters. So it is not a travel/emigration-guide, but more a disrupting guide through your own beliefs of social-economic politics.
Have you thought of making an online version of the OECDlab?
I have thought of an online version. But of course I won't do it. I am really trying to avoid screens and fancy visuals at the moment. It like a personal struggle to be in the "media arts" and not revert to amazingly colorful pixels on a screen. Ten years ago I said Flash spoiled net.art by pulling the attention towards the surface. So now I really try hard to avoid the screen altogether.
And basically all data of the OECDlab is already available online on the website of the OCED, the Worldbank, UN and a couple of other sites. So you can easily access the data, which was what I did as I started on the project.
I'm also interested in the reason why you gave the instrument such a retro look. Why not present them with fancy touch screens and spectacular infographics?
The project OECDlab is deliberately looking quite old - like the apparatus of science, at a time when science was thought to be objective, when science was trusted and thus allowed to control society without anyone questioning the facts.
So OECDlab looks like the nostalgic technical tools of objective power. Like test-equipment in a lab or instruments from the science lab of a school: Dark polished wood, analogue meters and large knobs.
Have you tested the Democratic Dazzler or the Oplyser (two devices that disrupt surveillance systems and transmits by Morse code article 1 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights) on security cameras in public space? How did it go? Did you get any reaction? Either from passersby or from the people who are monitoring the surveillance cameras?
The Dazzler project started when I was invited the Danish gallery "Torpedo 18", which is a gallery for "inaccessible art". What a freedom to get invited to do something inaccessible! As the first version of Dazzler was working, I wanted to do a small presentation of the project. So I arranged an event in front of the Danish Supreme Court one evening at 8 PM. Only a very few friends showed up at this event. But as the clock struck 8, I thought I needed to do some sort of welcome. So I stepped up a small staircase, raised the Dazzler and was getting ready to speak. Then the door behind me opened and the - at that time - Danish prime minister Anders Fog Rasmussen (now Secretary General of NATO) stepped with his security guards. Everybody - including myself - were quite baffled. The prime minister quickly got in this limo and drove off. Sadly nobody took a photo.
Your work Crime Scene (in which two computers exchange copyrighted works) is illegal to show in Denmark. What happened? Did you get into legal troubles because of the installation?
At the time I was working in a small ground with some people from museums and cultural institutions around Denmark. And all were really scared of showing digital art due to unsolved questions regarding intellectual rights. I really tried to understand the Danish copyright laws but was baffled. And nobody was really capable of answering my questions.
So instead I made this piece, not as a provocation or protest, but more as my way of stating a question. I was approached by some lawyers from the ministry of culture, who thought it was an interesting question. And they asked me if they could investigate it as a legal case (and they guarantied me I would not get into trouble). Well, the case ended by stating the piece was legal for me to produce - referring to artistic freedom and freedom of speech. But a museum wanting to exhibit the piece might get into trouble.
So far, the Crime Scene has been shown in Sweden, Spain and France. But it has never been shown in Denmark.
You define yourself as a media artist. Is this a 'label' you find important? Would it be just the same to you to say you're a 'contemporary artist'?
It does matter that much for me. I used the "media" label to put some distance to painting and graphics (even thing happening on a monitor). I would like to get the attention away from the visual imagery. "Media" sort of covered a lot of thing - and as "new media" has grown old, I settled on just using the word "media".
What kind of advice would you give to someone who would like to establish themselves as a media artist as well?
First of all - and very important - get some way of having an income. Artists don't make money. And media artists certainly do not, as nobody is buying media art.
Then secondly: Learn to program. Any programming language: C#, C, Java, processing whatever lingo that fits your needs and abilities. It might sound very old fashioned - focusing on learning the craft. But it gives you a lot more freedom sketching things out in the actual medium, not only working on the conceptual level. And let you experiment without having to beg, bribe or pay somebody else.
Are there any upcoming projects you could share with us?
I have some things coming up. A new piece for a group show with the theme "money". This might end up with another apparatus in the style of OECDlab. Also I will be showing some works at the exhibition Audio Art - Sound as Medium for the Arts at ZKM in Germany. The exhibition opens on March 16th. And one of my contributions is a new piece which I'm really busy making right now. The working title is Pairs - Conversation Piece from 1965. It is based on a note from one meeting between several Danish artists in 1965. Each artist will be represented by an old wooden chair, and rearranging the chairs you will be navigating between their discussions.
'The Intel - Cyprus Merger' showed how the world's first merger of a country and a corporation might be possible, and advantageous for both parties. Moreover through the execution of due diligence, stakeholder engagement and communication, how such a merger could be enacted responsibly, and in the best interests of both, or how at least it might appear so.
At first sight, Zoe Papadopoulou''s new project is challenging and absurd, but dig deeper and you'll see how thought provoking it is. This is especially true, in the light of impending economic bailout measures being forced upon Greece, and how the Greek government has indeed found itself looking to corporations to buy assets from the State.
Merger was born in February 2008, in response to a brief at the Royal College of Art on 'The Future of Money' sponsored by Intel's People and Practices Research Group. Zoe reappraised the project for the ongoing Paris Design Week.
Merger, is told through a video in which a fictional character, Anna Rodgers, the director of overseas acquisitions at Mackenzie M&A, presents an overview of how and why the Merger came to be to other interested parties. She also describes how the merged corporation and country have generated economic and democratic benefits to both parties and turned around the fortunes of a nation. The project allows the viewer to ask why Intel might see an opportunity in Cyprus - a small island-state, with strong historic links to Greece, but with a separate economy.
Cyprus decided to take advantage of the EU precedent created by UK's Olympic and Paralympic Act in 2006, which made the words "London 2012" and "2012" protected trademarks, along with the name of the official LOCOG website, and "various derivatives". The Olympics were created in Greece, so Cyprus starts to protect the revenue made from products and services borne out of the inventions of the ancient Greeks.
That's where Intel, which built their revenue in no small part through protecting the Intellectual Property of their developments, intervenes. In this scenario, Intel would bring their expertise and lawyers, and look at every single aspect of modern life (from architecture to urban planning, from language to technological inventions) that borrow from Greek inventions, and claim a bounty from each. In so doing they create a sustained income stream that sees the Cypriots be the exemplar of economic growth, at odds with the fortunes of the rest of Europe.
By highlighting the ease with which the UK Government and the International Olympic Association use their power to protect something that originated in Greece, this project asks, with Intel's might, if the Island of Cyprus could challenge and regain their past glory and wealth.
Not content with protecting revenue, Merger also aims to revisit and update one of the Greek's most widely-adopted inventions - democracy.
Merger highlights the current lack of trust in politicians and in Governments too slow to tackle adequately the significant challenges that countries and their populations face. Surely this lack of responsiveness would not be tolerated in the corporate world. The lady in the video explains that Cypriots didn't want a Prime Minister or a President. They wanted a CEO, a businessman that would run the country like a successful company. I bet the Italians who now have a 'successful businessman' as their head of State would beg Cyprus to be very cautious about their choice.
Merger proposes a Real Time Democracy model that allows Cypriots to track how their Government is doing 24/7 - on a collection of metrics including the share price of Intel - which they now all, each, own a share in. One man, one vote becomes 'one man, one share.'
In the three years since Merger, this project proposed that the Cypriots and Intel have built the world's biggest monument to commemorate their union. The Antikytheran Monument, in the centre of the capital city Nicosia, recognises another Greek invention - the Antikythera Mechanism; the world's first computer designed between 150 and 100 BC to calculate astronomical positions.
This also reveals why Intel has gone to all the effort of merging with a country, that they could buy piece by piece if they had chosen to. In this brave new world, Intel owns the rights to all computers - their entire supply chain and competitors.
With this project, Zoe Papadopoulou questioned, via the power Intel and Cyprus yield as a result, what might be the implications of a "merger" of a corporation and a state. She also invites the public to question if this one day might be possible, or if by stealth it was an inevitable part of our futures.
Finally, the future of this project will be to curate an exhibition based on the evolution of this new national entity that further explores the changes it is likely to undertake in the next 20, 30 or 50 years. This will not only be considered from a design perspective but also a philosophical one with the help of Greek Cultural theorist and essayist Elia Ntaousani.
The Brussels Biennial has opened its first edition a few weeks ago. The programme is good. A bit severe but really good. However, the whole experience is laborious. The first venue we visited was so cold i almost took no picture afraid as i was to remove my gloves (Brussels i love you and that derelict Post Sorting Center was charming but if you can't afford to heat the place do consider to biennial us in the Summer next time, ok?) The second one was remarkably well hidden. Number three was a bit gloomy and the fourth venue was indicated on the Biennial map as 'the Central Station', easy peasy to locate the station but this is a big train station and where the artworks to see actually were remains a mystery to me.
It will be my pleasure to moan and curse in another post but let's focus this one on an art piece that got my attention.
At the beginning of 2001 Silke Wagner bought a Volkswagen-van.
During one year, the artist drove her Bürgersteig (Pavement) project to three German cities. Her budget for the project was left at the disposal of local socio-political groups to customize the vehicle according to their needs and set up various projects in public.
The third stop of the van was Frankfurt am Main. There, Wagner cooperated with the Hanau activist group kein mensch ist illegal (no-one is illegal) to comment on the practice of deporting refugees and immigrants living illegally in Germany and examine it in the framework of the process of European integration (see Lufthansa Deportation Class brochure). Lufthansa is deeply involved in the deportation process. Germany deports between 30,000 and 35,000 people each year and more than one third are taking off from Frankfurt, making it the country number one airport for deportation.
The van was repainted to resemble a Lufthansa van marked with the words "Deportation Class". Different events were carried out in the bus, focusing on the deportation of refugees carried out with the help by the German airline: protests, handling of information leaflets, performances in the street, at the airport but also at a major cultural event such as the Frankfurt Book Fair. The only feature of the project brought to Brussels is the onboard radio that broadcasts the audio documentation of the project.
Lufthansa sued the artist to obtain that they stopped using the van but the airline company lost its case.
The Brussels Biennial runs until January 4, 2009.
The videos of Artur Żmijewski are screened in almost all the major collective exhibitions and biennales these days. I caught a glimpse of his video in one such events and thought 'looks interesting' but i passed my way. In front of art cornucopia, video is always the last on my list and it gets my attention only if there's a seat available for me to have nap in the dark.
But on Thursday i took the train to Utrecht to see the solo exhibition of the Polish artist at BAK, basis voor actuele kunst.
The exhibition presents "social studios," social experiments of sorts documented on film in an openly confrontational way. Think reality shows for art galleries. The artist confronts individuals to uncomfortable situations that explore complex moral issues. He then waits and films as the scenes unfold.
In Repetition, 2005, Żmijewski revisits the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, a two-week investigation to respond to the following question: "What happens when you put good people in an evil place?" At the time, 24 undergraduates were selected to play the roles of both guards and prisoners and live in a mock prison. After six days, Philip Zimbardo was forced to end the experiment. The guards took great pleasure in exercising violence, humiliating and torturing the prisoners; the prisoners, too, lost their ability to distinguish what was real and what was simulated.
Żmijewski recreated the experiment despite the fact that contemporary science would regard it too dangerous--and effective--to carry out again. Whether you catch the film right from the beginning or arrive in the middle of it, the scenes of sadism, frustration, humiliation, anger, and especially fear look way too real and instinctual, to be just a game.
Repetition is more than just a mechanical representation of the 1971 undertaking. The artist removes the experiment from its scientific context and the conditions of the time and places it in today's world, to transform it into a "universal manifestation of weakness and moral failure." Besides the 7 inmates and 9 guards (all of them unemployed people without), participants included psychologists responsible of stopping everything if it turned dangerous, a former prison inmate, and a sociologist involved in prison system reforms. The experiment collapsed after only few days as the participants collectively decided to leave the prison. As Maria Hlavajova wrote in her essay for the exhibition, Can this moment of resistance be seen--in a time in which the world struggles to come to terms with Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and the like--as a humble indication that violence, cruelty, brutality, and terror can be expunged as accepted options for creating the conditions for how to live together after all? What is sure is that the artwork raised much controversy and discussion at the time in Poland.
Żmijewski believes that in order for art to regain its value in society, it has to expose societal conflict and disclose the conditions in which social antagonisms are cultivated and maintained by the powers that be. Convinced that the hard-won autonomy of art--in which art is considered independent from the "real" world--has actually disempowered it from acting as an accountable public voice, Żmijewski insistently requires of art that it take responsibility and engage in a dialog with the current social and political reality around us.
Apart from Repetition, several other videos can be viewed at BAK. The one i found most moving is 80064. Its title is the camp number of a 92 years old Auschwitz survivor, Jozef Tarnawa. The tattoo has faded with the years and Zmijewski meets the old man in a tattoo parlor and tries to persuade him to have it 'refreshed'.
The old man is not to be convinced easily. He wants to be left in peace. He is worried that the renewed tattoo will not be 'original.' In the end, Zmijweski gets his way and the poor man submits his arm unwillingly to the tattoo artist. In Zmijweski's own words: 'When I undertook this film experiment with memory, I expected that under the effect of the tattooing the 'doors of memory' would open, that there would be an eruption of remembrance of that time, a stream of images or words describing the painful past. Yet that didn't happen. But another interesting thing happened. Asked whether, while in the camp, he had felt an impulse to revolt, to protest against the way he was treated, Tarnawa replied: 'Protest? What do you mean, protest? Adapt - try and survive.' In the film, suffering, power relationships, and subordination are repeated.
Artur Żmijewski: The Social Studio is on view from 28 September until 16 November 2008. n view until 16 November 2008 at BAK, Lange Nieuwstraat 4, Utrecht, the Netherlands.
Yesterday i arrived in Manhattan just on time to see the last hour of Anton Kannemeyer's solo exhibition at Jack Shainman Gallery. The title, The Haunt of Fears, comes from the 1950s EC Comics title, The Haunt of Fear, a bi-monthly horror comic from the '50s. As co-editor of Bitterkomix, the satirical comic magazine he started with Conrad Botes in 1992, Kannemeyer became known for creating a new South African brand unconcerned with hypocrisy and political correctness.
The gallery presented a selection of Kannemeyer's works on paper from The Alphabet of Democracy-series, a new series entitled Cursed Paradise and drawings from recent sketch books; all of which raise extremely uncomfortable questions in the debate about racial stereotypes and South Africa cultural and socio-political landscape.
With The Alphabet of Democracy, the white South African artist tackles many issues politicians and journalists tent to "diplomatically" avoid. The series sharply comments on the madness below the surface of the rabidly conformist parts of white South African society, especially the Afrikaans community. Black politicians are not protected from his sarcasm either as the alphabet also targets the absurdity of some of their statements. However, some images from this series transcend satire. J is for Jack Russell, for example, shows a dog sleeping on the blanket with which its master's murdered body has been covered.
In this context, the word "democracy" becomes subversive. The liberated South African society and its form of government are shown as just another arbitrary social order fraught with moral ambiguity and human absurdity.
In Pappa in Afrika, a parody of the controversial Tintin in the Congo, as a white African trapped in his own incriminating skin - a character who cannot escape his colonial past regardless of his personal political convictions. It depicts a content white man in a car driven by a black servant. A machine-gun-toting black soldier stands guard, while poor black natives watch the car filled with boxes labeled Texaco and Halliburton pass.
A political party has been set up in Sweden that plans to participate to the upcoming national elections. Piratpartiet plans to remove all immaterial rights, including copyrights and patents and also hopes to stop Sweden's participation in international copyright organizations, including WIPO and WTO and to make it illegal to put any restrictions on distribution of digital content.
"Pirate Party" also aims to push even further the privacy laws and to make it illegal to track or monitor citizens' communications online and offline.
To register an official party in Sweden, they need to get 1,500 signatures to support its cause. The organization managed to gather over 4,000 signatures in first 24 hours and is in process of validating the signatures.
The party says that it is against seeing the developing world starve because the developed world refuses to share its intellectual property.