Two nights ago, Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky was speaking at the Long Now Foundation in San Francisco, proposing a 10.000-year gallery to go along with the Clock of the Long Now, as part of their Seminars About Long term Thinking.
For those not familiar with the project, among many other endeavors, the foundation is planning to build a mechanical clock in a remote mountain site, designed by Danny Hillis, which will run for ten-thousand years along with a library. Practically all the foundation's projects aim to provide counterpoint to today's "faster/cheaper" mind set and promote "slower/better" thinking. The foundation's work is very intriguing in the way that they undertake seemingly vast projects which in turn force their creators to radically re-think many of the notions of today's processes as we are not used to long term thinking, which, as it becomes increasingly clear that our survival might depend on just that.
Burtynsky says the clock (which will most likely live at Mount Washington) reminds him of land-art projects like James Turrell's Roden Crater or Walter De Maria's Lightning field, in the way that it might almost become a site of pilgrimage once it will be finished. In order to give the future pilgrims an additional benefit, and also a sort of cultural context out of which the clock was coming from, he thus proposes a gallery of contemporary photography to go along with it, a Long Gallery. As he pointed out, most cave paintings and other archaeological findings like the pornography in Pompeii was simply a testament to that period's system of thinking, and-being a photographer himself-he proposes that we do the same. So what's the case for photography over contemporary art like painting? He says that photography essentially is an outcome of an industrial process, which has been shaped by us, but by which we're also shaped as well. We have personal memories, but often enough they refer to photos that have been taken of us on our way through time, and the very same applies-thinking of iconic historical photos- to humanity as a whole.
Finding a technology for creating ultra-durable photographic prints proved to be quite a challenge. Initially looking at inkjet-prints which might employ the same pigments as highly durable paints used in cars, he ended up with a process which was developed in 1855: the carbon transfer print. This time and money intensive process produces the most durable prints we know, but is somewhat of a dying technology which only a handful of companies in the world still employ. With this project, they also help to revive it a bit. The prints would be applied on special paper, which as opposed to the alternative porcelain, is unbreakable and less sensitive to fluctuations in atmospheric temperature and moisture. However, there's still hope for a much less expensive yet equally durable inkjet-technology to appear before the launch of the gallery in 5-10 years time.
So what to show? Burtynsky proposes a range of different exhibitions to be stored with the clock, each curated by another photographer and consisting of approximately 20+ images. He as gathered three proposals so far which are somewhat different approaches to representing the contemporary world:
Canadian photographer Vid Ingelevics proposes a Museum of the Mundane, which would working with the elements of the banal, "stuff that we already feel archival about", as Stewart Brand later put it. The show would consist of images on two sides-side one shows photos of everyday objects taken from two big Canadian archives, one of which belongs to a major department store, mostly items from the past. Side two shows photos of items that will be bought in contemporary dollar-store, representing a more present and probably also more readily disposable world of things. It would be an unofficial poll of the the "true necessities of life", and as such anticipating a future archaeological dig, in most of which usually the mundane is discovered and often most intriguing (see Pompeii pornography) because it shows that people's needs and desires often change very little.
The second proposal is curated by Marcus Schubert and would be titled Observations from a Blue Planet. His approach is to collect images from the web, in a found-footage manner and present similarities and differences in the form of diptychs. For Schubert, planet Earth is an "experiment in diversification and consumption" and the juxtapositions (for instance well-fed American families from the sixties and starving families from East Africa, Manhattan and slums and the likes) serve to show us the range of lives that exist within the same environment.
Finally, the third exhibition would be curated by Burtynsky himself, mostly talking photos from his series In the Wake of Progress which he has been working on for 25 years. Most of his work focuses on the notion of industrialization which was created in Europe and in the last centuries has changed our relationship to what we regard as nature as profoundly as probably nothing before. In the process, internal combustion engines have boosted human expansion to the point where in Burtynsky's lifetime, human population has so far more than tripled. His work, mostly landscapes which show how "the surface of the Earth is a skin and [how] we shape it in a certain way", are meant to be reflexions of these relationships.
For him, mines are especially iconic, since it has been natural resources like metals and especially oil (driving the engines) for which the Earth is being reshaped in many places. Burtynsky has taken many photos of mines, for instance the largest copper mine in the World in British Columbia, or more recently the oil sands of Northern Alberta where oil-soaked bitumen is being converted into oil in what is currently the largest surface-engineering project on the planet, and they've only touched 1% of the area. The forest that is standing on top (sometimes called "The right lung of the Earth") of the sand is being cleared and this and other reasons cause the oil to have a four times larger carbon footprint than even regular oil. For this reason, the state of California is refusing to import oil from this source.
Other impressive examples include 40 million tires that had been dumped outside of Modesto, California in a field so massive that a power plant was built to turn the tires into energy, halfway through which the field caught fire and the project had to be abandoned. Or spaces in granite-mines in Vermont and the famous marble-quarries in Carrara, Italy, where the removal of giant cubes of stone has created an "inverted architecture" of sorts, just as copper and ore-mines often create inverted pyramids into the ground.
More recently, Burtynsky has focused on the notion of globalization and received a lot of acclaim for his large-scale images of Chinese factories (with a mobile workforce currently in the range of 100 million people) and Bangladeshi ship-breaking yards. This he argues, "is the export of ideas from the west, unbolted and transported to China" to become the world's factory. Which is consistent with the notion that his images are trying to connect us to the earlier ages of our industrial society-a world that still exists, but has been moved out of sight for many Westerners, which is why these photos today serve a particular role.
Related: Chinese industrialization
Back in June, LABoral Art and Industrial Creation Centre in Gijón was opening Banquete_nodos y redes, Interactions Between Art, Science, Technology and Society in Spain's Digital Culture. The exhibition presents more than 30 digital and interactive works that critically and creatively explore the notion of Network as a shared matrix, not just from a technological perspective but also from a socio-cultural perspective.
I wrote a few stories about the show at the time (Sightseeing telescope reveals open wifi networks in urban space, The Bank of Common Knowledge and Vacuum Virtual Machine) but as Banquete runs until November, 03, i thought it would leave me plenty of space to come back with more details on the exhibition.
This exhibition is almost god-sent for me. I don't know why but in the course of my work i'm asked again and again the same question: 'which country is the most dynamic in terms of new media art?' Spain always comes on the top of my list, but while i have no difficulties in naming some particularly active organizations, events, competitions and institutions which support media art, i struggle to enumerate Spanish media artists, i only seem to come up with those active in the field of activism. The works exhibited at banquete have all been developed in Spain and they are demonstrating how much broader and energetic the media art scene is in the country.
Karin Ohlenschläger, who curated the show and has worked for many years in Spain, knows it better than anyone. She is a critic and exhibit curator specializing in contemporary art and new technologies. She is a founding member of the Fundación Banquete and has curated numerous art exhibits related to new media. From 2002 to 2006, she was the co-director of the MediaLabMadrid programme.
I asked her to tell us more about her experiences with banquete, the exhibition in Gijon and the media art community in Spain:
Banquete is an international network of conversations and actions among artists, scientists, technologists, and other producers of knowledge. Would you mind telling us briefly how the project started (15 years ago already?) and how it came to take the form of an exhibition?
Banquete started 15 years ago on a Mediterranean island, in a kitchen, around a table, and during a intense conversation about art and life. Since then, the idea evolved steadily from kitchen to kitchen and from table to table. More and more people became involved until, in 2003, the project materialized in Barcelona (Palau de la Virreina), Karlsruhe (ZKM) and Madrid (MediaLabMadrid/Centro Cultural Conde Duque). Since then, banquete has brought together scientists, artists, activists and others from all over, to expose and explore the complex relationships between biological, social, technological and cultural systems. The theoretical contributions and participation of Roger Bartra, Lynn Margulis, Dorion Sagan, Aminata Traoré, Vandana Shiva and many others have been as important as some of the historical projects by Joseph Beuys, Gordon Matta-Clark and Lygia Clark from the 70's, or the current proposals from Antoni Abad, Eduardo Kac or Technologies To The People. You can find the contents of the banquet_editions of 2003 and 2005 in www.banquete.org, as well as 2008.
You have been working with and observing closely the Spanish new media art community for a while. Since the late '80s if i'm not wrong. I've been following them for only a few years (and certainly not as closely as you did) and i found, for example, that there is a lot of maturity and intelligence in their activism discourse. I also noted their keen interest for free software and free culture. Would you agree with me? And more generally, do you think that Spanish new media artists have something that makes them stand out from new media art communities of other countries? Is there any characteristic which could be regarded as peculiar of their approach to the intersection between art and technology? And more particularly their approach of the concept of network?
Karin: I came to Spain in 1985, founding the video art department at the Museo Español de Arte Contemporáneo (MEAC) in 1986 and collaborating at the same time with one of the very few independent artist spaces in Madrid in the 80´s, called Espacio 'P'. So I have participated and observed Spanish media art closely for more than 20 years.
On the other hand, artists like Marcel.li Antúnez>, Alvaro Castro or Águeda Simó and groups such as Kònic Thtr or Laboratorio de Luz have conceived and developed their projects through close dialogues and collaborations with scientists and research centres . But it is difficult to point out something specific related to the Spanish. Some of the pioneer media artists like Muntadas or Francesc Torres developed an important part of their projects in the United States, and other outstanding artists of the younger generation here in Spain are originally from Colombia, Brasil, Austria or Germany.
In 2009, the show Banquete_nodos y redes will move to ZKM. Did this trip outside of the country influence your curatorial choices in any way? Do you expect the German audience to engage with the work in a different way as in Gijon? Or do you feel that, as the works on show reflect the networked society we live in, they will transcend cultures?
My curatorial choices don´t depend on the venue, but on the ideas and concepts behind an exhibition project. Concerning the audience in Gijon, people of all ages are enjoying and participating in the different proposals. For example, the open, collective production workshop by Escoitar was such a success, that people asked LABoral to continue creating the soundmap of the city. Other local groups, such as disabled associations will be actively involved in the workshop sessions with Evru in October. Whether or not nodes and networks can be generated through the exhibition project will depend on each venue and on the on-line and off-line visitors and participants.
As regards the German audience, I suppose that it is as diverse as the Spanish audience and hopefully, visitors will embrace the works in different ways. On the website of Platoniq's The bank of common knowledge, for example, you can see how different or similar people interact and participate with the same project held in Barcelona, Lisbon or Casablanca.
Generally, the works in the exhibition are addressing an idea of network society characterized by diversity and plurality and the challenge is not how to transcend cultures, but how to connect, communicate and evolve under this bright umbrella of a diversity of cultures.
The exposure of Spanish new media art in the country is having a rather enthusiastic moment. There is the Reina Sofia show, Maquinas y Almas, and also The Discreet Charm of Technology Arts at the MEIAC.
The coincidence of the three exhibitions you mention, is first of all a sign of normalisation and acceptance of 'new' formats and practices in contemporary art institutions. If you want to talk about 'enthusiastic moments', you should also take into account the increasing number of photo festivals and exhibitions, or the increasing interest on performance events in Spain. I would say that we are sharing a moment of maturity and diversity of concepts and practices related to current art and new media. Proof of this are the exhibitions at LABoral, MEIAC and MNCARS, which are, at the same time, quite different in nature. Maquinas y Almas (Machines and Souls) is an international project about the aesthetics and the techniques of current media art. The Discreet Charm of Technology is an anthology, with special emphasis on video art and installations.
Meanwhile banquete_nodos y redes is a work in progress, part of a trilogy and yet an ongoing project, based on the dialogue between art, science, technology and society. The first edition metabolism and communication dealt with the transformation of matter, energy and information. The second edition dealt with biological, technological, social and cultural communication systems and processes; and the present edition analyzes structures, from neural patterns to network society. None of these three banquet?s deal with new media art in itself, but rather with the use of technology in the construction and perception of reality, identity and relationships.
Some of the pieces exhibited result from the collaboration between artists and scientific research centers. How widespread is this idea of having art meet science in the country? Are there organizations and programmes which foster such collaborations?
When we founded MediaLabMadrid in 2002, we generated one of the first permanent platforms for an open dialogue between art, science, technology and social dynamics in Spain. MediaLabMadrid connected research, training, production and exhibition in such an open and dynamic setting that from that moment on, the link between art, science and society became more than just an idea of having art meet science. It became reality through a widespread programme of activities and productions which inspired similar iniciatives and programmes all over the country. So, six years later we can observe a growth in art and science projects, discussions and platforms here in Spain. Some of these initiatives are on the banquet website and one of the founding member of the historical art, science and technology programme at the Centro de Cálculo de la Universidad de Madrid (1968-1972), Ernesto García Camarero, is also a member and adviser of the current banquete project.
Banquete_nodos y redes runs at LAboral Art and Industrial Creation Centre in Gijón, Spain, until November, 03, 2008. The exhibition will then travel to the ZKM | Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, March-July 2009.
A tidbit from the recent This Happened in London, where Semitransparent Design from Japan, Matt Jones and Russell Davies, Simon Oliver and Brendan Walker gave some insights in the inner workings of their recent projects.
Brendan calls himself a thrill researcher and engineer, and his design practice Aerial is "specialising in the creation of tailored emotional experience". This might sound a bit like standard lingo at first, but they actually mean it, since they're not looking at aesthetic pleasure from glitzy bathrooms or glossy interfaces, they're talking death-defying experiences, screams and cold sweat. This is an interesting subject for design since we are living in a time where often the emotional aspects of an object can be as important as the item itself, with people attributing cuteness to robots and such.
Originally trained as an aircraft engineer, he soon realized that there's more to flying than just getting from A to B. Especially fairground or theme park-rides often aim to produce the same feeling that you had when that jet you were on suddenly dropped a few hundred meters. Thrill Laboratories looked at the way roller coasters are created as scripted experiences: people usually undergo a series of feelings when on the ride, which often enough (think of the ones that pretend to be over and then comes the real drop) follow a narrative almost like in a film.
To get a grip on the world of thrills, Walker teamed up with a criminologist from UCLA in Los Angeles to create the Taxonomy of Thrill and Thrilling Designs, two publications which try to formalize the aspects of the experience of being thrilled. And because this is proper research, they even created thrill-equations which include variables like euphoric value, valence polarity or the strong emotion coefficient.
Having that somewhat formalized, Thrill Labs and a gentleman named James Conran teamed up and applied for one of the British Wellcome Trust's grants to create a harness which can be stripped to people on rides and would capture their emotions. "The technology for recording extreme emotions is there, it's just a question of bolting together the right parts". So they did and successfully created a setup which allows to record audio, video and different vital signs like the heart rate of someone on a ride, as well as their current acceleration.
After demoing this device, they were approached by London Science Museum's Dana Centre to create a three-week Fairground show which would include three "classic British fairground rides", the Miami Trip, the Ghost Train and the Booster to their venue in South Kensington. Each ride exploring a slightly different theme (pleasure, frisson and visceral delights), the main challenge was how to convey the subjects' experience on the rides in the yard to the audience inside the Centre. Dressed like Russian engineers in red overalls, Brendan and his colleagues from Shunt created a whole "carnival of experimentation" around the rides. The the images and data from individuals on the rides was streamed into the center (with wi-fi dropouts unintentionally but effectively adding to the drama) where there it was just displayed upstairs and interpreted by an expert downstairs.
Since then, there has been increasing interest in the research of thrill, with the Fairground performance being repeated at the iconic Oblivion ride at Alton Towers, which claims to be the world's first vertical drop roller coaster. There Brendan worked with a team of psychologists to survey 80 riders and collect their data into what became "a real monster of information". This eventually hints at the more serious side of thrills-there is a big market for developing technology and methodology of these extreme experiences. There has been little research so far in that area, especially in terms of design since most of these rides more or less stand upon 100 years of tacit knowledge and not rules and methodology.
The ultimate goal, of course, would be designing a cybernetic ride with actual biofeedback from the individuals on it, always adapting the ride to their emotions and sensations. A little hint of that might be the internet-infamous robo coasters, some of which are already in use at Legoland California.
And, for everyone who wants to have a controlled near-death experience of their own: Brendan and Thrill Laboratories will perform their Airphoria: Terminal 3, a.k.a. The Death Slide, this Friday (11th) evening at Shunt in London, which is located under the arches of London Bridge. Go scream!
Related story: Thrill Laboratory.
I'm back from Asturias which was as lovely as ever. We even had real vegetable to eat this time. The LAboral Art and Industrial Creation Centre in Gijón was opening Banquete_nodos y redes, Interactions Between Art, Science, Technology and Society in Spain's Digital Culture, an exhibition initiated by Karin Ohlenschläger and Luis Rico.
The press conference started with a string of surprising figures listed by LABoral's Director Rosina Gómez-Baeza Tinturé. In its 14 months of activity, the centre -which has given itself the mission to foster the interaction between art, society and technology- has hosted the work of 261 creators (45 of them come from the region of Asturias), 54 workshops given by some 90 teachers to more than 3000 participants. Add to that many concerts, conferences, debates and other activities. Amazing, even for a space that covers more than 14.000 m². Which reminds me that it would be good to come back one day on the design and architecture of the centre. The public bathrooms only are worth the visit, i feel like stepping inside 2001: A Space Odyssey each time i enter there.
Banquete_nodos y redes presents more than 30 digital and interactive works that critically and creatively explore the notion of Network as a shared matrix, not just from a technological perspective but also from a socio-cultural perspective. I'll be back with a lengthier overview of the exhibition and a small interview with its curator, the art critic Karin Ohlenschläger, later on but right now i wanted to share with you one of the best projects i saw in Gijón last week.
You've probably read about Clara Boj and Diego Diaz before, either in some media art catalog or on this blog, i interviewed them a few months ago about their project AR Magic System, their Lalalab studio and their interest for the visualization of wifi networks.
For the LABoral exhibition, the Valencia-based duo developed a sightseeing telescope named Observatorio (Observatory).
Observatorio builds upon Boj and DIaz' 2004 project Red Libre Red Visible (Free Network, Visible Network) which was born in an optimistic time when it seemed possible to achieve an utopia made of wireless, open communication networks managed by social groups offering services to the local community. At that (not so distant) time, several city governments offered free access to the WiFi network, sometimes in the entire city. The CMT (Telecommunications Market Commission) denounced those city governments for unfair competition with telecom companies, the free wifi municipal projects were canceled, and grassroot groups started installing, maintaining and extending open WiFi networks throughout Spain.
Today, some companies have adopted new tactics based on the deceptive slogan "Share your WiFi". Companies like FON, and commercial projects such as Whisher and Wefi exploit the current infrastructure of access nodes to the Internet in urban space to provide coverage to the whole city if it were an open, shared structure.
Obervatorio reflects on this scenario by informing viewers about the current state of wireless networks located in the area where the device is installed. The sightseeing telescope, installed on the Laboral tower, tracks and shows where Gijon's wifi networks are located in real time. You can visualize them on the screen of the telescope, swing it around and see which areas have a denser wifi coverage, and get additional data such as which ones among these networks are open or private. Because Observatorio is programmed to try and connect to any open network available in the area, it can send the information from the observation tower to the exhibition hall, where it is displayed on a big screen. If there is no open networks detected in the area, Observatorio remains separated from the main exhibition space, located in another building. A modification of these networks is also offered, showing an ideal configuration in which the local residents of large areas in the city could gain or share access to it.
After having installed Observatorio, the artists discovered many more open nodes than they expected. While testing the project at their studio in Valencia, they couldn't find more than 5% of open networks. In Gijón the percentage is higher, around 30% in the LABoral area.
From the tower Observatorio can reach theoretically almost the whole city of Gijón. The device comprises a high power uni-directional WiFi antenna with a 30º aperture, able to detect wireless networks within 1 to 4 kilometers depending on the number of obstacles encountered; a video surveillance camera with a telephoto lens with the same aperture as the WiFi antenna; and a viewer which, like a periscope, offers a real time image taken by the camera, with the WiFi networks detected by the antenna placed geographically on it.
Banquete_nodos y redes runs at LAboral Art and Industrial Creation Centre in Gijón, Spain, until November, 03, 2008. The exhibition will then travel to the ZKM | Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, March-July 2009.
Also related: Wifi Camera Obscura.
The Influencers is a Barcelona-based event which explores controversial forms of art and communication guerrilla, presenting independent projects that play with global popular culture, infiltrate the mass media, and transform fashions, consumption and technological fetishism.
It was one of the very few conferences i shouldn't have missed this year. Well... i did. But life has its little consolations and the videos of The Influencers have just found their way online. Most of them at least, the missing ones will be there in the next few days. In the meantime, hurray! There is Trevor Paglen (video) and Brody Condon (video). There's also wondrous Santiago Cirugeda (video), he speaks in spanish and one day, maybe one day, i will translate his talk and publish the text here.
First of all a little present. I've got one free pass for a reader interested in attending Mediabistro Circus which takes place in New York on May 20 and 21. The two-day conference focuses on the digital platforms and trends that are changing media today. Just send me an email (reg at this domain's address) explaining why you'd like to go and i'll forward the details of the most charming/desperate/convincing reader to the organizers of the event.
An overview of the programme: May 20: the publishing industry's transition to new media, successful business models, blog power and finally video and social media. May 21: mobile media, the editor of digital news for the New York Times discussing the passage to online publication and user experience design (believe it or not i'm taking part to that panel!)
Next! One of my favourite events on this planet is Conflux, the festival of psychogeography which gathers artists, technologists, psychogeographers, urban explorers and experience designers from around the world in New York every year.
The organizers have recently opened their call for project. Deadline for submission is May 31.