A few weeks ago, i was back in Gijón for the opening of Elastic Reality at the Laboral Art Center. The show looks at how artists are representing, commenting on and reacting to the shift in our understanding of the world brought about by technical innovations and in particular by our permanent state of 'connectedness.' I'll write with more details about the exhibition in the coming days but right now, i wanted to bring the spotlight on a work i found particularly impressive and thought-provoking.

In Tarnac. Le chaos et la grâce, Joachim Olender explores a police and judicial blunder that hit France in November 2008 when a group of policemen wearing black balaclavas stormed into the small village of Tarnac and arrested a group of people who were later accused of being far-left terrorists plotting to overthrow the state.

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Police swooped on Tarnac at dawn and arrested four men and five women, aged 22 to 34, over terrorist claims. Photograph: Thierry Zoccolan/AFP/Getty Images (via)

Known as the Tarnac Nine, these people were in particular accused of incidents of vandalism on France's high-speed railway lines, which caused delays but no casualties. The case was characterized by a lack of proof against the 'terrorists'. The whole case against them was built on two things. The first was that the 'ringleader' Julien Coupat and his girlfriend had allegedly been seen by police near a train line that was later vandalised. The second one was an anonymous tract against capitalism and modern society titled The Coming Insurrection which the police believed was authored by Coupat.

Joachim Olender's explores the affair through a set of a video-installation and an animaiton film. In one room, three screens hanging side by side show the images that the artist took on the 'scenes of the crime' and these images are pretty unspectacular: empty landscapes, desolate roads, farms in Tarnac, railways and dirty snow. A small room contains the second part of the installation: an animation film charting the various episodes of the affair, from the arrest to a discussion in the French Parliament. In the animation, the Tarnac Nine are wearing masks, they never utter a word and move quietly.

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Joachim Olender, Tarnac

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Joachim Olender, Tarnac

I found the project very moving. The story of the Tarnac Nine was obviously gripping, especially as i discovered it right when i was watching the final episodes of the TV series Spiral which was also dealing with social revolutions, acts of sabotages and the far-left in its various guises. But the way the artist dealt with the issue was also clever: he set the pace, exposed what have been called 'the facts' but let us draw our own conclusions. There's an air of mystery, an ambiguity that kept me glued to the installation's screens.

That's why i wanted to interview the artist and in case you'd rather read his answers in original language, you can scroll down and read Joachim's answers in french.

Hi Joachim! Why did you decide to explore the Tarnac affair? Why this particular story?

The first image i recall evokes an American blockbuster. The headline of Libération on December 3, 2003 was Tarnac, des terroristes vraiment? ("Tarnac, are they really terrorists?"). You see men wearing black balaclavas storming into a village. There were talks of terrorism everywhere so i assumed they were terrorists. Later on, I realized they were cops. But i found the confusion striking and it stayed with me ever since.

I starter collecting all the articles i could get my hands on. There was something peculiar that bothered me in this affair, I just didn't know what it was exactly. But my intuition told me that I needed to dig deeper into the story. Time passed, I worked on other projects and I came back to it in the Summer of 2011.

I was stricken by the unresolved issue, the dark stain right in the middle of the photo, the one that conceals a crucial element, the one that prevents the case to be closed and that builds up a myth instead.

Everything brought me back to a fiction, a story that needed to be told in order to expose its absurdity. I had the feeling that there was material, a breeding ground for reflection but above all, there was a dimension i could not grasp, a dimension that would not be grasped. The more i delved, the more obvious it was to me that the investigation was futile. It wasn't that the truth (the legal truth, the truth of the facts) couldn't be proved. To me, the issue was elsewhere. There were elements in the story that prevented me from moving on and that gradually made their roots into my projects, to the point of becoming its very core. Like a trick, an ambush that would become the making and the re-making of the affair. And of my film.

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View of the exhibition at LABoral. Photo LABoral/Marcos Morilla

Can you tell us about the material you used to research, document, prepare the installation? Did you meet some of the protagonists? Use mostly information found in mainstream media?

The issue of the sources is probably the one that matters the most to me. In 2008, a few months before the arrest of these young people in Tarnac, a very engaged philosophical and political essay titled "L'insurrection qui vient" (The Coming Insurrection) authored by an invisible collective. People in power got scared by that book and decreed that the authors were young "anarcho-autonomous" people from Tarnac. They pointed to links between extracts from the book and the sabotage of TGV (high-speed train) lines and attempted to claim that these acts of sabotage were in fact acts of terrorism.

In other words, the book was a bomb and its authors were terrorists. There were also plenty of press articles about the affair, many of them were published in Mediapart. I was reading everything i could get my hands on. I remember one article in particular: Pourquoi l'affaire de Tarnac nous concerne tous ("Why the Tarnac Affair matters to all of us.") It was written by Edwy Plenel (the President of Mediapart) on April 25, 2009. He explains with great clarity (a rare occurrence in this affair) that the issue with the Tarnac affair was the violation of vital democratic principles and that it should matter to each of us, even if and especially if we didn't agree with the ideas brought forward with the main protagonists.

That was precisely what needed to be told.

No matter what they were thinking, what they had written and even no matter what they had done, as long as their guilt had not been proven, they were entitled to the presumption of innocence. Strangely enough, what was important to me what not so much to figure out whether they were guilty or not. But the problem is that once the presumption of innocence is violated, it's too late and those in power have won because in people's minds, these guys are guilty.

I later got in touch with David Dufresne, a former journalist who had followed the Tarnac Affair for Mediapart. At the time, in November 2011, he was finishing his book "Tarnac, Magasin général" (Tarnac, General Store.) I wrote him a long email, i wanted to submit my twisted vision to someone who had a good understanding of the affair. I needed to know whether i was completely mistaken or not. Everything was quite confusing at the time. And that's probably this chaos that i found so compelling. I found it totally unreal.

Reading Dufresne's book taught me a lot about the affair. At the start of the affair, in late 2008, i read the texts and essays authored by the Tiqqun collective but often attributed to the Invisible Committee, the authors of The Coming Insurrection.

I didn't want to interview the protagonists and enforce their desire of discretion. But i wrote them, to say that i was coming to Tarnac and that I would have liked to meet them. They confirmed my intuition by answering that they'd rather remain in the shadow. While i was there, i met one of the defendants. We said we'd meet again to talk. But then it snowed so much, it was so cold. I never saw her again.

That's it for the sources. I should add that, although I was originally trained as a lawyer, i became an artist. Unlike the lawyer or the journalist who follows an affair, i can chose to feed exclusively on confusions, incoherence, gaps, cracks and on my own intuition. Instead of using what appears, i exploit what doesn't appear. Since nothing was clear in this affair, i decided to produce my own archives. That's why the virtual film is a document like any other document, although it has been built from scratch. It reveals the deception as much as it conveys the essence of the affair: the reconstitution. My film and installation became secondary sources. So while i was revealing the deception, i was also contributing to it and keeping the myth alive.

Another thing: i wrote a scenario, based on 'real facts.' And i say 'real facts' because that is where the impossibility of telling the story started. Facts are inherently real but, in the Tarnac affair, every single element seemed to be debatable. To the point that my documentary project was, right from the start, distorted. Nipped in the bud. So this impossibility was what i worked on. No evidence, no trace, nothing. Just books. And that's fundamental, the main source used by the government, the one they regarded as 'evidence' was a book.

Joachim Olender, Tarnac

Now i'm also curious about the form that the installation takes. First, there's a 3 screen installation showing images you shot on location. And in an adjacent room, video game images chart the whole affair in complete silence, with members of the Tarnac Nine wearing masks. Why did you chose to show explore the subject this way? Why are the protagonists silent? Why using both videos of the location and virtual images?

I wanted to fragment. The double installation sets a kind of mirror. I wanted to create an off-camera, separate the points of view. Each film is the counterpart of the other one. On the one hand, there's what appears to be real. On the other one, the virtual. Whichever reality we choose to see remains amputated. It's as if neither of the videos was sufficient to tell the story but the only thing that could account for this was the double installation itself, its fragmentation, the division between the materials: the real and the virtual.

The working process was laborious. Each step, which had to fit into the project, acted as a basis for the following stages. I went shooting in Tarnac and Dhuisy (the location of the sabotage) with my cameraman and the editor who, because i couldn't afford to hire a sound engineer, had accepted to undertake the sound part as well. The idea was to make a "movie without a trace." I wanted to show the location of an affair that had shaken France. The places were obviously empty... The words of the accused had to be superposed to these images. I used extracts from the essays that were attributed to them as well as the superb interview with Julien Coupat (the main suspect in the Tarnac Affair) that was published in Le Monde on 26 May 2009, while he was still in prison where he would be detained for 6 months. Adding a voice-over was a way to confront the viewer. Because of the chaos, it was important to articulate certain things. You can always beat around the bush but the only things that seemed 'real' to me were their own words. They had to be heard. If you stay put and listen to the words, you are bound to ask yourself questions, it's a 'matter of sensitivity' (dixit Julien Coupat.)

The making of the video game was the most important part. During five months, i worked in Garry's mod, a video game software, with two 3D animators. Using my footage and the images from Google Earth, we made a reconstitution of Tarnac and Dhuisy. I wanted to make a film you didn't know how to enter. Just like in Waltz with Bashir by Ari Folman, i felt that only animation could convey the real. The ideal suspect would be in place but nothing would happen. No action nor crime. Nothing. Only the direction would suggest the action. Twisting the video game universe, diverting it, hijacking the bugs, the constraints, the impossibility to manipulate the characters as one would wish, all these elements build up a kind of strangeness.

The peculiarity is that it was a real "virtual shooting." I placed the cameras inside the sets built with my graphic designers and I filmed the models of the characters. I worked shot by shot rather than frame by frame. My approach is thus, on this aspect, closer to cinema than to animation.

The idea of the mask came out of the anonymity of the protagonists. It was part of their ideology. The Invisible Committee wrote in The Coming Insurrection that "Being invisible is to be exposed.' They hardly ever accepted any interview. They were distrustful. Even when he was released from prison, Julien Coupat was in the truck of a car, to avoid meeting the press. Appearing in the case meant entering the political arena and the 'society of the spectacle.' The masks made them anonymous as much as it made them suspects. Besides, masks turned them into characters of the Commedia dell'arte. They had ended up in the spotlight and despite themselves, they kept the myth alive. Finally, it was also a way to play with the codes of the video game. The fact that everyone, the heroes and the villains, were wearing masks added to the general confusion in the film. I wasn't convinced of their innocence but it didn't matter to me anymore. However, i was convinced that the law had been violated. Even if the book had displeased those in power, that didn't make these guys terrorists. So I staged the abnormality, the fear, the figure of the guilty one, with a certain dose of irony so that viewers would ask themselves "But are they really guilty?" "What have they done exactly?"

The silence of the protagonists, just like the mask, plays on the ambiguity. It erases any trace of culpability while raising suspicion at the same time. Besides, this reflects the "truth" quite accurately since the defendants have almost never expressed themselves in this affair. That might have driven the government crazy. And that's probably what 'saved' them. But the voice-over of the triptych was devised to echo the animation film. Even if they don't have a face, their words are present, their texts haunt the film.

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Joachim Olender, Tarnac

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Joachim Olender, Tarnac

While working on this interview, i've been reading about the Tarnac Affair and trying to figure out where the "Tarnac Nine" are nowadays, if they have been cleared of the accusations, etc. But i couldn't find any satisfying answer. Information seems to stop in 2010. Has the State and the police formally apologized for the unjustified accusations? And what does the general public think? Do they still believe that the protagonists are guilty or is it now clear to everyone that there was little to no evidence to sustain the accusations?

I don't know the current legal situation of the defendants but i do know that these young people from Tarnac have long been (up to the time i was making the film at least) forbidden to leave the country and under judicial supervision. The situation is moving gradually. In November 2011, after the Tarnac Nine had accused the counter-terrorism police to have fabricated a counterfeit statement, the prosecutor of Nanterre opened an investigation for "forgery and use of forgery of public documents." In March 2012, the counter-terrorism examining magistrate, Thierry Fragnoli, is removed from the case. And on 24 October 2012 (four years after the start of the affair!), the newspaper Le Canard Enchaîné revealed that the credit card of Yildune Lévy, girlfriend and later on wife of Julien Coupat, had been used in Paris in the night of the 7th to the 8th of November 2008. Thus far away from Dhuisy, where the sabotage took place. The bank statement reports a withdrawal of 40 euros in Pigalle at 2.44am. Two days later, the Versailles Court of Appeal ordered the hearing of 18 policemen who had participated to the surveillance operation of the members of the Tarnac group. And, on 12 November 2012, Julien Coupat finally broke his silence and accepted to answer questions from journalists. "From now on, the only way we can disappear is by appearing," he explained. I'm not aware whether justice has pronounced a dismissal of the case.

As regards public opinion, i think it has evolved over the course of the affair. For the first three years, at the exception of Mediapart, only very little alternative information was published. I believe that unfortunately, when the press follows those in power and violates the presumption of innocence, people engulf themselves in that direction too. Libération, a newspaper widely regarded as 'left-wing' headlined "L'Ultra gauche déraille" (The Far-Left goes off the rails), they later changed their position but by then it was too late. I think that many people believed they were guilty. Especially because, as I explained earlier, the defendants themselves contributed to the mystery. By refusing to appear, for example.

Since the launch of the book "Tarnac, Magasin Général", the election of François Hollande and the latest legal elements of the case, the police blunder seems to be confirmed. But I doubt that the majority of the people really care.

As i said earlier, before choosing art, i studied law. It is clear that the question of the criminalization of 'terrorism' has concerned me a lot. Let's remember that the 'terrorists' of 1940 were regarded as hero after the Liberation. But you know, everything is connected. In a case like this one, you cannot chose on side and leave another one aside. The rest is just a matter of communication. I think that the viewer understands better when they do they own reasoning. They have to be free to understand.

There's this really interesting essay written in 2009 by Alberto Toscano for The Guardian. He argues the Tarnac Nine has demonstrated that we are losing "the political literacy, and the legal capacity, to distinguish between sabotage and terrorism, vandalism and mass murder, as every oppositional alternative to the status quo is swallowed up under the umbrella of terrorism. "

Was your work commenting on this kind of issue? Or did you want spectators to draw their own conclusion?

I wanted to highlight the absurdity of an affair that was built upon the publishing of a book. The criminalization of thought is a nightmare beyond understanding. It is pure literature (or, as you wrote, it is now worthy of a tv series.) It is Kafka's The Trial, George Orwell's 1984, it is science fiction. In Minority Report, Philip K. Dick imagines a society that hunts 'pre-crime', the crime before it has even been committed. Only fiction could make people reflect. Paradoxically, people regard it as a documentary work. But i wrote a screenplay based on facts that were entirely reinterpreted. What else was I supposed to do? What is real, apart from the books that i read and the mounting of a case no one knows anything about? The absence of traces or the way to create archive using fiction: that's the whole issue. What can you see in virtual reconstructions, in a video game? A piece of evidence? An archive?

Thanks Joachim!

Credits: scenario and direction of the animation film: Joachim Olender. Production: Le Fresnoy + Solilok asbl. 3D animation: Thomas Jorion and Alexis Fradier. Editing of the image: Yannick Leroy. Sound editing: Yann-Elie Gorans. Mixing: Simon Apostolou ; Calibration: Baptiste Evrard
Scenario and direction of the triptych: Joachim Olender. Production: Le Fresnoy + Solilok asbl. Voice-over: Soufian El Boubsi. Music: Pierre Hujoel. Image: Vincent Pinckaers. Sound: Yannick Leroy. Editing of the image: Yannick Leroy. Sound editing: Yann-Elie Gorans. Mixing: Simon Apostolou. Calibration: Baptiste Evrard.

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Now for the answers in french:

Why did you decide to explore the Tarnac affair? Why this particular story?

La première image dont je me souviens est celle d'un blockbuster américain. Le Libé du 3 décembre 2008 titrait "Tarnac, des terroristes vraiment?". On voit des mecs avec des cagoules noires qui débarquent dans un village. On parlait de terrorisme à tout bout de champ, j'ai donc pensé que c'était les terroristes. Ensuite, j'ai compris que c'était les flics. Mais cette confusion m'a marqué, et elle m'est restée.

Je me suis mis à collecter tous les articles que je trouvais. Il y avait quelque chose de particulier qui me préoccupait dans cette affaire, sans savoir quoi au juste, mais j'avais l'intuition qu'il y avait quelque chose à creuser. J'ai laissé passer du temps, j'ai travaillé sur d'autres projets et j'y suis revenu à l'été 2011. 

Ce qui m'avait interpellé, c'était la question non résolue, la tache sombre en plein milieu de la photo, celle qui dissimule un élément crucial, empêchant toute résolution de l'affaire et construisant, à la place, un mythe.

Tout me ramenait sans cesse à une fiction, une histoire qu'il fallait raconter afin d'en relater l'absurde. J'avais la sensation qu'il y avait là une matière, un terreau de réflexion mais surtout il y avait une dimension qui m'échappait, qui était là comme pour m'échapper. Plus je m'y plongeais, plus l'impossibilité m'apparaissait évidente et rendait à mes yeux l'enquête vaine. Non qu'il fut impossible de prouver la vérité (je veux dire juridique, des faits) mais la question à mes yeux n'était pas là. Il y avait comme des éléments qui m'empêchaient d'avancer et qui progressivement s'enracinaient dans mon projet, au point d'en devenir le noyau même. Comme une supercherie, un guet-apens qui serait la constitution et la re-constitution même de l'affaire. Et de mon film.

Can you tell us about the material you used to research, document, prepare the installation? Did you meet some of the protagonists? Use mostly information found in mainstream media?

La question des sources est sans doute l'une des plus importantes à mes yeux. Il y a eu en 2008, quelques mois avant l'arrestation des jeunes de Tarnac, la publication d'un essai de philosophie politique très engagé intitulé « L'insurrection qui vient » signé par un comité invisible. Les politiques ont pris peur face à ce livre et ont considéré que les auteurs étaient les jeunes « anarcho-autonomes » de Tarnac. Ils ont pointé des liens entre des passages du livre et les sabotages des lignes de TGV et ils ont tenté de qualifier les sabotages d'actes terroristes. Autrement dit, ce livre était une bombe et ses auteurs des terroristes.

Il y avait bien sûr les articles de presse sur l'affaire, dont nombreux publiés par Mediapart. Je lisais tout ce que je trouvais. Je me souviens en particulier d'un article d'Edwy Plenel (président de Mediapart) du 25 avril 2009 qui titrait « Pourquoi l'affaire de Tarnac nous concerne tous ». Il y expliquait de manière limpide (ce qui fut rare dans cette affaire) qu'il était question dans l'affaire de Tarnac de violation de principes démocratiques vitaux et combien cela nous concernait tous, même et surtout, si nous ne partagions pas les idées de ceux qu'elle mettait en cause. L'essentiel était dit. Quoi qu'ils aient pu penser ou écrire, et même quoi qu'ils aient pu faire, tant que leur culpabilité n'était pas démontrée, ils avaient droit à la présomption d'innocence. Etrangement, il n'était désormais plus question pour moi de chercher à savoir s'ils étaient coupables. Mais le problème, c'est qu'une fois que la présomption d'innocence est bafouée, c'est trop tard, les politiques ont gagné, parce que dans l'esprit des gens, ils sont coupables.

Ensuite, je suis entré en contact avec David Dufresne, ancien journaliste chez Mediapart qui avait couvert l'affaire de Tarnac. Au moment où je lui ai écrit, en novembre 2011, il achevait son livre « Tarnac, Magasin général ». Je lui ai écrit un long email afin de confronter ma vision tordue auprès de quelqu'un qui connaissait bien l'affaire. J'avais besoin de savoir si je ne me plantais pas complètement. Il faut dire qu'à l'époque tout était très confus. Et c'est probablement ce chaos qui m'avait attiré. J'y voyais quelque chose de totalement irréel.

J'ai donc lu le livre de Dufresne qui m'a beaucoup appris sur l'affaire mais surtout, dès le début de l'affaire fin 2008, j'avais lu les textes et essais du collectif Tiqqun, qu'on attribue généralement au Comité invisible, auteur de « L'insurrection qui vient ».
Je ne voulais pas interroger les protagonistes, ça me semblait aller totalement contre leur désir de discrétion. Je leur ai quand même écrit en leur disant que j'allais venir à Tarnac et que j'aurais aimé les rencontrer. Ils ont confirmé mon intuition en me disant qu'ils préféraient rester dans l'ombre. Quand j'étais là bas, j'ai croisé une des inculpées. On s'est dit qu'on se reverrait pour parler. Et puis il a beaucoup neigé, il faisait très froid, et je ne l'ai jamais revue.

Ça c'est pour mes sources. Je dois préciser que, bien qu'ayant à l'origine une formation de juriste, je suis devenu artiste. Contrairement à l'avocat ou au journaliste qui couvre une affaire, je peux exclusivement me nourrir des confusions, des incohérences, des manques, des failles et de mes intuitions. Plutôt que de me servir de ce qui apparaît, j'exploite ce qui n'apparaît pas. Puisque rien n'était clair dans l'affaire, j'ai décidé de produire mes propres archives. En cela, le film virtuel prend la forme d'un document comme un autre, bien que construit de toute pièce. C'est une manière de révéler la supercherie et, en même temps, je transmets l'essence de l'affaire : la reconstitution. Mon film et mon installation devenaient des sources secondaires. Ainsi tout en la révélant, je contribuais à la supercherie, je faisais exister le mythe.

Autre chose : j'ai écrit un scénario, tiré de « faits réels ». Je précise « faits réels » parce que l'impossibilité du récit commençait là. Les faits sont par nature réels mais, dans l'affaire de Tarnac, chaque élément semblait discutable. Le « réel » n'apparaissait jamais de manière évidente. Au point que mon projet documentaire était en quelque sorte déjà faussé, comme tué dans l'œuf. C'est donc là-dessus que je suis mis à travailler, sur cette impossibilité. Pas de preuve, pas de trace, rien. Excepté des livres. Et ça c'est fondamental, la source principale de l'Etat, qu'ils ont considéré comme un élément de « preuve », était un livre.

Now i'm also curious about the form that the installation takes. First, there's a 3 screen installation showing images you shot on location. And in an adjacent room, video game images chart the whole affair in complete silence, with members of the Tarnac Nine wearing masks. Why did you chose to show explore the subject this way? Why are the protagonists silent? Why using both videos of the location and virtual images? 

J'ai voulu fragmenter. Le dispositif double installe une sorte de miroir. Je voulais créer un hors champ, disjoindre les points de vue. Chaque film est le pendant de l'autre. D'un côté ce qui semble être le réel, de l'autre le virtuel. Quelle que soit la réalité que l'on décide de voir, elle reste amputée. C'est comme si aucune des deux vidéos ne suffisaient à raconter l'affaire mais que la seule chose qui pouvait en rendre compte ce serait le dispositif même, sa fragmentation, le partage entre différents matériaux, réel et virtuel.
Le processus de travail a été laborieux. Chaque étape, qui devait s'intégrer au projet, servait de base aux étapes suivantes. Je suis parti en tournage à Tarnac et à Dhuisy (le lieu des sabotages) avec mon chef op et mon monteur qui, à défaut d'argent pour payer un ingé son, avait accepté de prendre le son. L'idée était de faire un « film sans traces ». Je voulais montrer les lieux de cette affaire qui avait fait trembler la France. Bien sûr c'était des lieux déserts... Et sur ces images, il fallait qu'on entende les paroles des inculpés. J'ai pris des extraits des essais qu'on leur attribue ainsi que de l'entretien magnifique de Julien Coupat (principal suspect dans l'affaire de Tarnac) paru dans Le Monde du 26 mai 2009, alors qu'il était encore détenu dans la prison où il est resté six mois. Instaurer une voix off, c'était une manière de confronter le spectateur. Vu le chaos qui régnait, il fallait à un moment choisir de dire les choses. On peut toujours tourner autour du pot mais la seule chose qui me paraissait « vraie », c'était leur parole. Et il fallait qu'ils soient entendus. Si on reste et qu'on écoute ce qui est dit, on est forcément interpellé, c'est une « affaire de sensibilité » (dixit Julien Coupat).

La création du « jeu vidéo » a été la plus importante. Pendant cinq mois, j'ai travaillé dans Garry's mod, un logiciel de jeu vidéo, avec deux animateurs 3D. A partir de mes rushes et d'images tirées de Google Earth, nous avons opéré une reconstitution de Tarnac et Dhuisy. Je voulais réaliser un film qu'on ne sache pas par quel bout saisir. Comme dans « Valse avec Bachir » de Ari Folman, j'avais l'impression qu'il fallait passer par l'animation pour dire le réel. L'idée était de mettre en place le suspect idéal mais que rien ne se passe. Aucune action. Aucun crime. Rien. Seule la mise en scène qui le suggère. Venir tordre l'univers du jeu vidéo, le détourner, s'approprier les bugs, les contraintes successives, les impossibilités de faire faire ce que l'on veut aux personnages, tout cela crée une forme d'étrangeté.

La particularité, c'est qu'il s'agit d'un véritable "tournage virtuel". Je pose des caméras dans les décors reconstitués avec mes graphistes et je filme les personnages qu'on a modélisés. Je travaille donc plan par plan et non image par image. Ma démarche est donc, de ce point de vue, plus proche du cinéma que de l'animation.

L'idée du masque est née de l'anonymat des protagonistes de l'affaire. Cela faisait partie de leur idéologie : « être visible, c'est être à découvert » écrit le comité invisible dans « L'insurrection qui vient ». IIs n'acceptaient pas, ou très peu, d'interviews. Ils étaient très méfiants. Même en sortant de prison, Julien Coupat est sorti dans le coffre d'une voiture, évitant ainsi les rencontres avec les medias. Apparaître dans l'affaire, c'était rentrer dans le jeu du politique et dans la « société de spectacle ». Les masques, ça les rendait anonymes mais ça les rendait suspects aussi, et puis ça en faisait des acteurs de la Comedia del arte. Ils avaient fini au coeur du spectacle. Malgré eux, ils faisaient vivre le mythe. Et puis, c'était tout simplement une manière de jouer avec les codes du jeu vidéo. Les « bons et les méchants », tous masqués, ça ramenait la confusion générale au sein du film.

Je n'étais pas convaincu de leur innocence, mais ça n'avait plus aucune importance pour moi. En revanche, j'étais convaincu que le droit avait été violé. Le livre pouvait déplaire au pouvoir, ça n'en faisait pas des terroristes. Donc j'ai mis en scène l'étrange, la peur, la figure du coupable, avec une certaine ironie, pour que le spectateur s'interroge « mais sont-ils vraiment coupables ? qu'ont-ils fait au juste ? ».

Le silence des protagonistes, comme le masque d'ailleurs, joue sur l'ambigüité : il efface toute trace de culpabilité et en même temps accroît la suspicion. D'autre part, c'est assez proche de la « vérité » puisque les inculpés se sont très peu exprimés au sein même de l'affaire. C'est d'ailleurs ce qui a pu rendre les politiques fous. Et c'est sans doute ce qui les a « sauvés »... En revanche, la voix off du triptyque a été pensée en écho au film d'animation. Même sans visage, leur parole est donc présente. Leurs textes hantent le film.

While working on this interview, i've been reading about the Tarnac Affair and trying to figure out where the "Tarnac Nine" are nowadays, if they have been cleared of the accusations, etc. But i couldn't find any satisfying answer. Information seems to stop in 2010. Has the State and the police formally apologized for the unjustified accusations? And what does the general public think? Do they still believe that the protagonists are guilty or is it now clear to everyone that there was little to no evidence to sustain the accusations?

Je ne connais pas la situation juridique actuelle des inculpés mais je sais que les jeunes de Tarnac ont été longtemps (encore lorsque je réalisais ce projet) interdits de quitter le territoire et sous contrôle judiciaire. Progressivement, on a pu voir quelques évolutions. En novembre 2011, suite à l'accusation par les jeunes de Tarnac de la police antiterroriste d'avoir rédigé un PV mensonger, le parquet de Nanterre a ouvert une information judiciaire pour « faux et usage de faux en écriture publique ». En mars 2012, le juge d'instruction antiterroriste Thierry Fragnoli s'est dessaisi de l'affaire. Et enfin, le 24 octobre 2012 (quatre ans après le début de l'affaire !), le journal Le Canard enchaîné a révélé que la carte bancaire de Yildune Lévy, compagne et depuis lors épouse de Julien Coupat, avait été utilisée à Paris dans la nuit du 7 au 8 novembre 2008, donc loin de Dhuisy, le lieu du sabotage. Un retrait bancaire fait état d'un retrait de 40 euros à Pigalle à 2h44. Deux jours après, la Cour d'appel de Versailles ordonnait l'audition de 18 policiers ayant participé à la surveillance des membres du groupe. Et, le 12 novembre 2012, Julien Coupat a pour la première fois brisé le silence et accepté de répondre aux questions des journalistes. « Désormais, la seule façon de disparaître, c'est d'apparaître" s'expliquait-il. Je n'ai pas connaissance que la justice ait déjà prononcé le non-lieu.
Concernant l'opinion générale, je pense qu'elle a dû évoluer au cours de l'affaire. Pendant les trois premières années, excepté sur Mediapart, il y avait très peu de contre-information. Je pense malheureusement que quand les medias suivent le politique et bafouent la présomption d'innocence, les citoyens suivent. (Libération, journal communément considéré à gauche, avait titré le 12 novembre 2008 : « L'ultra gauche déraille » pour ensuite revenir sur sa position mais c'était trop tard). Je pense que beaucoup ont du penser qu'ils étaient coupables. Surtout, comme je l'ai écrit plus haut, que les inculpés créaient le mystère, notamment par leur refus d'apparaître. Depuis la sortie du livre de David Dufresne « Tarnac, Magasin général », l'élection de François Hollande, ainsi que les derniers éléments judiciaires de l'affaire, la bavure semble avérée. Mais en réalité je pense que la plupart des gens ne se sentent pas concernés.

There's this really interesting essay written in 2009 by Alberto Toscano for The Guardian. He argues the Tarnac Nine has demonstrated that we are losing "the political literacy, and the legal capacity, to distinguish between sabotage and terrorism, vandalism and mass murder, as every oppositional alternative to the status quo is swallowed up under the umbrella of terrorism. "

Was your work commenting on this kind of issue? Or did you want spectators to draw their own conclusion?

Comme je l'ai dit plus haut, avant de me tourner vers l'art, j'ai fait des études de droit. Il est évident que la question de la qualification pénale de « terrorisme » m'a beaucoup préoccupé dans cette affaire. Souvenons-nous que les « terroristes » de 40 ont été considérés comme des héros à la Libération. Mais vous savez, tout est lié. Dans une affaire pareille, on ne peut pas prendre une partie et en délaisser une autre. Le reste, c'est une question de « comment transmettre ». Je pense que le spectateur ne comprend jamais aussi bien que quand il fait son propre trajet. Il faut qu'il soit libre de comprendre.

J'ai voulu mettre en évidence l'absurdité d'une affaire qui s'est bâtie sur la publication d'un livre. L'incrimination de la pensée est un cauchemar qui échappe à l'entendement. C'est de la pure littérature (ou, comme vous l'écrivez, c'est aujourd'hui digne de séries télévisées). On est dans Le procès de Kafka, dans 1984 de Georges Orwell, on est dans de la science fiction. Dans Minority Report, Philip K. Dick imagine une société où l'on traque le « Précrime », c'est-à-dire avant que le crime ne soit commis. Seule la fiction pouvait faire réfléchir. Et paradoxalement, les gens y voient un documentaire. Pourtant j'ai écrit un scénario à partir de faits totalement réinterprétés. Comment aurais-je pu faire autrement ? Qu'est-ce qui est réel finalement, à part les livres que j'ai lus et le montage d'une affaire dont on ne sait rien ? L'absence de traces ou comment créer une archive avec de la fiction, voilà l'enjeu. Peut-on voir dans des reconstitutions virtuelles, dans un jeu vidéo, un élément de preuve, une archive ?

Merci Joachim!

Crédits:
Film d'animation
scénario et réalisation : Joachim Olender ; production : Le Fresnoy et Solilok asbl ; animation 3D : Thomas Jorion et Alexis Fradier ; montage image : Yannick Leroy ; montage son : Yann-Elie Gorans ; mixage : Simon Apostolou ; étalonnage : Baptiste Evrard
Triptyque
scénario et réalisation : Joachim Olender ; production : Le Fresnoy et Solilok asbl ; voix off : Soufian El Boubsi ; musique : Pierre Hujoel ; image : Vincent Pinckaers ; son : Yannick Leroy ; montage image : Yannick Leroy ; Mmontage son : Yann-Elie Gorans ; mixage : Simon Apostolou ; étalonnage : Baptiste Evrard

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In my first post about the Design Interactions work in progress show, i was mentioning the wide scope covered by the project. From the most plausible to the utterly conceptual. My first article was about an alternative positioning system powered and controlled by the people. This new post is about an alternative world where bespoke sports events replace traditional warfare as a means of solving seemingly chronic conflicts.

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Commoditised Warfare, by Yosuke Ushigome, envisions a series of UN PeaceKeeping Olympics games in which each sport has been carefully designed to reflect the cultural and geopolitical characteristics of participants of the opposing sides.

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The first game opposes North Korea to South Korea + Japan + USA. Their dispute, triggered by a missile launch, is to be resolved through a game of Synchronised Baseball and hosted on a specially designed ship called "Dong-Gihwa". The floating stadium is sent to the middle of the Asian conflict area, beyond borders to better communicate the neutrality of the peace keeping intervention.

As its name suggests, synchronised baseball is a mixture of mass games and baseball: mass games such as Arirang Festival favoured by North Korea and baseball which is quite popular in the other countries (i had no idea that baseball was popular outside of the US but what do i know about sport?) This strange sport brought about an opportunity for people from each country to negotiate, mediate, and improvise through the process of developing this weird sport.

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Yosuke Ushigome designed a second game, this time with the objective of settling the conflict opposing India to Pakistan.

"HATHA-MILANA", which means handshaking in Hindi, is one of the most renowned models amongst UN's PKO Stadiums for its rigorous craftsmanship of decoration derived from its intervening area: India and Pakistan. Being inspired by the Wagah border closing 'lowering of the flags' ceremony, these two trucks are created to be a mobile stage of border-merging ceremony which can travel all over the border area between two countries.

Border-merging ceremony is designed to imitate the Wagah ceremony, but it is less aggressive and militant. Two local people perform a kind of Silly Walks show on the trucks' catwalk and advance towards the central circle where they shake hands. This ceremony creates so many laughter and peaceful moments on the border street that "HATHA-MILANA" is now on revival with limited hand-painted version.

The decoration of the truck is directly inspired by Pakistan's flamboyant trucks. The designer also pointed me to the Japanese "Decotora" trucks.

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All images courtesy of Yosuke Ushigome.

If i were a man i'd want to be either Idris Elba or Garnet Hertz. You know Elba, he was gangster Stringer Bell in The Wire and a detective in Luther. Now Garnet Hertz is neither of that (to my knowledge) but he's the guy everybody wants to talk to at media art, tech or design conferences because his works play with several levels of engagement: from instant entertainment to deep reflection on DIY culture, design processes and technological progress. Hertz makes robots controlled by cockroaches, video game systems that you can literally drive around, he gives talks about Zombie Media and has just crafted a magazine about critical technical practice and critically-engaged maker culture that puts us all (us being media people) to shame.

And now for a more rigorous bio of the artist:

Doctor Garnet Hertz is a Fulbright Scholar and contemporary artist whose work explores themes of technological progress, innovation, do-it-yourself culture and interdisciplinarity. His work often involves building real-world technologies that are designed to take his audience into a speculative future gone humorously astray. In the process, Hertz's work inverts the idea that technology needs to be faster, more efficient or higher resolution: innovation is born out of human emotion, historical tradition, and creative obsession.

Hertz is Co-Director of the Values in Design Lab at UC Irvine, is Artist in Residence / Research Scientist in Informatics at UC Irvine and is Faculty in the Media Design Program at Art Center College of Design.

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Garnet Hertz, Outrun, Denmark, 2011

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Garnet Hertz, Cockroach-controlled mobile robot. Photo by Sharmanka

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Garnet Hertz, Videodome

Hi Garnet! I'm very intrigued by Videodome. Can you explain us what the experience of using it will be like? Can the person whose head is inside the big helmet move around? What will he or she perceive and how? And is what they see broadcast in any way to a broader audience?

Videodome is a project that I'm developing that explores different types of virtual reality without the use of a computer. Instead of a computer, I'm using a large number of miniature "spy" videocameras connected to many televisions. At this point, the project has two main physical structures: a helmet-like globe containing the cameras and a two meter diameter geodesic dome covered in televisions. These two components will be configured in different ways -with inner-and-outer facing cameras and screens, for example- to creatively explore the process of mediated sensation, perception and reality.

The initial configuration simulates being inside of someone else's head. To do this, I've constructed a wearable panopticon-style helmet - a clear plastic globe with a diameter of 45cm that has 48 cameras that face inward toward the person's head. Each camera is connected with cables to a flat panel television, and the group of televisions are arranged in a dome with screens facing inward. The screens form a low-tech VR-style cave that show the person's face turned inside-out.

At this point, this project is local and live with no transmission or recording - it's goal is to be analog. If I was going to do recordings of the camera array, it might be fun to try to do it with a mountain of VHS VCRs.

A major theme in my work is the exploration of inefficiencies and intentionally doing things the wrong way, and I have a recurring interest in poking fun at virtual reality. I love graceful kludges, rural folk machinery, and chindogu, and building Videodome is like trying to build a realtime immersive imaging system with parts that don't cost more than $10.

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Project Sketch for Videodome

From a technical perspective, the project is a RAID - a redundant array of inexpensive devices - and is easy to reconfigure. It's just a $10 camera, a cable, and an old television multiplied many times. The cameras can be positioned to face outward on the helmet, or the camera cluster can be put on a dog or a tree - or the televisions can be arranged on a floor, in different shapes or on the side of a building. For me, it's a return to the spirit of video installation artists like Dan Graham or Nam June Paik when the format of video still had a sense of technological magic.

When my sons (aged 7 and 9) first played with a typewriter, their perception of it is that it was a very fast computer that instantly printed letters as fast as you typed them. And - if you think about it from the perspective of the time it takes between hitting a keystroke and when the letter is rendered on paper - the typewriter beats a supercomputer every time. In a similar way, an analog video camera is like a streaming video server with zero lag - typewriters, analog video cameras and other devices from media history are still very high performance and interactive devices in their own limited ways. The project is aimed at exploiting the high performance component of an old technology - it's a bit of a novelty at a time where digital cameras are thickly layered in technical infrastructure. You just plug an analog camera and it's instantly streaming video, although your network is only as long as your video cable.

The project is influenced by a few projects, especially Michael Maranda's Sphereorama (1991), Kenji Kawakami's 360' Panorama Camera (1995), and Hyungkoo Lee's Objectuals (2002) - and the idea to use a mountain of cheap cameras initially came from my friend Jason Torchinsky. It's scheduled to premiere in San Jose at an exhibition that Madeline Schwartzman is curating related to her book "See Yourself Sensing". The piece is not in the book, but I'm very happy the project is included in the show - in my opinion her book is the most brilliant contemporary art books I've seen in a long time.


Garnet Hertz, OutRun

Judging by the reaction the project OutRun received in gaming, gadget, vehicle blogs and magazines, have you ever thought of modifying the work and giving it a commercial existence, making it something that rich kids could buy?

The original car is actually for sale, but it's priced at $100,000 - so it would take a very rich kid to purchase it. I've floated the idea of purchasing the original car to a few obscenely rich people like Jay Leno but as of right now it's still for sale. There was a glimmer of hope when the billionaire owner of Lego, Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, drove the original project in Denmark. He clearly had a lot of fun driving the project - and he had the money to pay to replace anything he crashed into - but I don't think he thought I was serious when I proposed to trade him for one of his Ferraris.

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Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen driving OutRun in Billund, Denmark

I generally don't pursue the monetization or commercialization of my projects - I tend to enjoy focusing on research and the exploratory prototyping phases of technological development. At this point I'm comfortably paid to do my artwork, so I'd rather spend my time focusing on building new projects.

That said, if anybody is interested in the original vehicle or working on porting the concept into a more commercially viable platform, I'm open to ideas.

And more generally, have you ever been tempted to work more closely with the gaming industry or any other industry? Surely they'd welcome creative people like you?

I used to work in the design industry through advertising agencies, film production houses, and by doing product prototyping, and at that time my slogan for much that work was "Making Your Shitty Idea a Reality". There were a few exceptions of situations where you have a blank slate and a blank check that I found enjoyable, but for the most part I've found it uninspiring.

There are significant exceptions to this - I think of Julian Bleecker at Nokia for example - I think there's a lot of room in research positions that might be rewarding. It also may be that most of my experience in industry was in the 1990s when I had a thinner portfolio and CV; maybe there are a lot of places that would be a good fit.

I generally like the quirks of the art world and academia; I usually find my colleagues in these environments to be interesting, intelligent and strange in a fun way. Both of my current appointments - full time at UC Irvine in Informatics and part time at Art Center in Media Design - are great because of the people and the projects they're working on. Paul Dourish, Gillian Hayes, Don Patterson, Geof Bowker, Anne Burdick, Tim Durfee, Ben Hooker, Chris Csikszentmihalyi and everybody else I work with - they're all brilliant and fun to be around. And for now I generally get to do whatever I want, so I can't complain.

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Pixel VGA (Version 1, Banff Floor Cluster)

You wrote in your statement page: "I believe that industry and academia often draw false distinctions between experts and amateurs, hardware and software, mind and body, and science and creativity, and my goal is to meld these polarities in the projects I develop. Many of our greatest social challenges and technological opportunities now lie in these connection points." How can experts / amateurs connection lead to technological opportunities? Also what can experts learn from amateurs?

I'm interested in leveraging DIY, hackerspace and amateur cultures for a number of reasons. I believe that innovation and breakthroughs happen when individuals go beyond their standard frames of reference and discipline to learn new skills on their own: breakthroughs often require us to become amateurs in a new field, in other words. During the process of learning new things, we often cobble together materials, figure things out informally, and explore things on our own. For this reason, DIY culture and doing things in nonstandard or non-expert ways are useful models for how innovation is done.

I've also seen a significant cultural surge toward DIY electronics, physical computing, and hands-on "making" over the last decade. The turn toward physical making is partly due to people being tired of mass produced consumer Walmart culture - they're tired of having disposable, spiritless and generic junk. DIY electronics is also partially in response against the trend of conceiving information and knowledge as virtual things. Platforms like the Arduino - which started out filling a niche within the physical computing community - has grown to be quite widely implemented in multiple fields of design.

I also think that higher education has become increasingly detached from physical objects. I think that this is a mistake: I believe that innovation and education needs to be engaged with the real world, get dirt under its fingernails, and learn the skill of working hard at problems that are often ambiguous. Universities needs to combine hands-on construction and skill with advanced knowledge and concepts in order to effectively innovate in research - and for workforce development.

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Critical Making

If i understood correctly, the hand-made zine on critically-engaged making were printed in only 300 copies and given out for free. i do suspect that far more than 300 people would love to get their hands on it. Most would even be happy to pay for it. The content is brilliant, so is the format. Are you planning to change the distribution model?

Yes - the project is called Critical Making and I the documentation for the project is at http://conceptlab.com/criticalmaking/. There's been an outpouring of interest in expanding this project and there are clearly a lot of people involved in DIY or maker communities that don't fit into the "family-friendly kit-based weekend-project" focus of Make Magazine. The initial idea was to do an actual photocopied zine with a bunch of people I admire and to give it away for free - although this has become a much bigger project with almost 350 pages of content from about 60 contributors. It's nicely grown into a pack of zines, a little like Ginko Press's "McLuhan Unbound" project.

I'm still going to give the 300 copies away for free - and I'm making a special edition for the contributors - but I haven't yet determined what to do after my initial run. I'm currently talking to some different people and presses, and I'm open to ideas.

At this point, I'm not inclined to just slap an open source license on the content and put a PDF of it online. I'd ideally like the project as only available as a photocopied object that somebody hand produced - but I realize that this may not be practical. I'd consider an academic or art press, distributing it through the contributors, or returning to a zine model of people sending cash in an envelope to an address.

There's an interesting push against electronic books happening - instead of the format of physical books dying, there's a fresh crop of bookmaking work that fetishizes the physical page. I wouldn't term it as a "zombification" of books, but a useful opportunity to rethink what physical components of a book are valuable.

For my Critical Making project, if people want copies or are interested in this as a publishing/distribution project, let me know. I'll send you a copy too, Régine - but the contents of this collection of zines is a whole other conversation... we should talk about it after I've shipped them off.

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Circuit Bending Workshop, 24 Jan 2010, Art Center

One of my favourite projects on your homepage must be the customized taco (food) truck that would go around communities and give D.I.Y. laboratory for circuit bending. Is it going to happen soon?

This project, with an official title of Repurposing Obsolescence: Teaching DIY Science, Technology and Engineering Practices to Adolescents in Underserved Communities, will design, develop and test Do-It-Yourself (DIY) hands-on workshops to introduce and teach middle school kids in underserved communities technology and design by customizing and repurposing e-waste technology, like old electronic toys. Right now the major outcome of the project will be the creation of a workshop kit that covers the processes of learning DIY electronics for distribution to after school programs and other informal educational venues.

My team has implemented a number of pilot projects over the last three years that demonstrate the ability of hands-on DIY electronics curricula to motivate and encourage students and to enable them to acquire a deeper understanding of core engineering, mathematics and science concepts by introducing creative and artistic use of circuit bending,ì the creative short circuiting of electronic devices that make sound.

I'm interested in extending maker culture into different environments, and I think the approach is useful in getting kids interested in learning about how things work. In this project, I'm particularly interested in reaching out to communities that normally wouldn't have the resources in their schools to explore art or electronics. Sadly, California has a growing list of schools that have slashed art or any items that aren't part of the standardized test structure. Hands-on education - with shop, woodworking and art classes - have been removed from most schools. This is doing an incredible disservice to kids, and it's especially bad in communities that don't have a lot of resources. It's not teaching people how to think, be creative or holistic problem solving - it's teaching people how to memorize things to get a high score on a test.

I think circuit bending is a great antithesis to a standardized test. It doesn't have one right answer. It uses your hands. It makes noise and can be dangerous. It can be very simple or incredibly complicated. It involves genuine exploration and discovery. In a nutshell, I think it's a better model for how life works than a test on paper, and I think the United States would be a better place and have a more skilled and creative workforce (and more interesting artwork) if more kids were taught things like circuit bending at an early age. The scientific hypothesis of the project is that this approach will lower barriers to experimenting with custom-built electronic instruments and lead to greater participation and success of people pursuing secondary education.

So, my challenge in this project is to develop hands-on workshops, kits and curriculum that work within the educational system of the United States, or at least Southern California. I also want it to work for people with English as a second language, and as a result have translated prototypes of the curriculum into Spanish, Chinese, Korean and French - but within Southern California, Spanish is my main focus.

My vision is to extend this work through the development of a mobile D.I.Y. laboratory to more easily bring our specialized infrastructure to underserved communities. In other words, have a vehicle that acts as a "bookmobile" to bring specialized resources to groups and communities that lack educational infrastructure. The initial idea for this "makermobile" would be to have it in the form of a customized taco (food) truck, a common component of Los Angeles and Orange County culture. This vehicle would transport workshop mentors and specialized tools and would serve as a public platform to disseminate the workshop materials. I've envisioned that the vehicle would need to be really cool - with lowrider hydraulic suspension, nice rims, and a cool paint job - as a form of propaganda to get kids excited.

I've recently got funding to develop the curriculum and hardware component of this project, but I don't yet have funding to buy a vehicle. As it turns out, purchasing a vehicle through a university or research funds is usually problematic - it doesn't fit into the standard categories of research equipment, especially a pimped out lowrider taco truck.

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Garnet Hertz, Experiments in Galvanism, 2003. Photo by Bill Eakin, as installed in Ace Art Inc, Winnipeg, Canada

Do you think schools, and education in general, isn't doing enough to make young people 'techno-literate'?

I think kids generally get quite a bit of informal education around technology using computers, mobile phones or iPads at home. What they're missing is the opportunities to open up and learn about the mechanics of what's inside of the black boxes of technology, to go beyond a consumer of the technology. I want kids to move beyond downloading a game off of the Apple App Store - that's not technical literacy, it's just another format of consumption.

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Toy Hacking: Verano After School Program, March 2011. Photo by Silvia Lindtner

You are Co-Director of the Values in Design Lab at UC Irvine with Geof Bowker, Cory Knobel and Judith Gregory. The objective of the lab is to blend "rich social theory with design practice in order to produce information systems and technology imbued with strong social and ethical values." Which kind of works are you developing in the Lab? Do you have some examples of projects that represent particularly well what the students are working on there?

Actually, within the last couple weeks this lab name has changed to "EVOKE" - Emerging Values, Ontologies, and Knowledge Expression - we're working on a number of different things, including a Values in Design workshop for doctoral students.

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At this point we're still getting the lab set up, but we're interested in infrastructure, ontologies, values, big data, making, and how knowledge is formed and communicated. It's an intentionally big mix of topics that doesn't neatly fit into the format of something like a TED talk. I see the lab like a research group or design initiative, perhaps like a smaller version of the MIT Media Lab, that work on investigating complex issues, building prototypes and solving problems built on a foundation of serious social theory.

We have a lot of projects going on, including researching new forms of scholarship that move beyond linear texts, design by youth, and work that encompasses biomedical informatics. The first project that we completed at UC Irvine during summer 2012 was a design workshop for doctoral students, titled "Values in Design". Our mission in this project was to train researchers in a broad range of disciplines - including Informatics, Computer Science, Design and Science and Technology Studies - to produce new forms of information systems and technologies which express strong social and ethical values. It ran over the course of a week, and the format was a little bit like Project Runway - with teams designing technology prototypes - and an academic conference with guest speakers lecturing on design-oriented topics. It was a lot of fun.

Within the different projects through EVOKE, I'm primarily interested in making physical prototypes of complex concepts: I'm focused on what art can do to actually extend and add to research and science.

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Garnet Hertz, Doom at Catalyst Arts (Belfast, UK), 2012

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Garnet Hertz, Doom at Catalyst Arts (Belfast, UK), 2012

I hope you won't mind if i say this but you're an established artist. You're also teaching and holding academic positions. Could you point us to young, emerging artists whose work we should be paying more attention to? Either students or yours or just people whose work you stumbled upon online or at a Dorkbot meeting?

I have some student work that I'm very proud of, especially my graduate students coming out of Media Design Practices at Art Center. My favorite projects over the last little while are:

- Chiao Wei Ho, Slow Letter (2012). "The design of Slow Letter is based on the concept of Process-based Interaction which focuses on the process instead of the task itself. It is my challenge to the instantaneous interaction of user-centered design. It questions the essentiality of instantaneity and convenience in current digital service. What would the interaction be like when time and space are being elongated? We all have experienced the satisfaction of these digital devices around us, it can take us from point A to point B within no time. However, Slow Letter tends to discover alternative values outside of task-orientated interactions. The project reevaluates the weight of our words in the digital communication by elongates the process between point A to point B. It transforms instantaneity into emotional values and inject unconventional perspectives into the numbed daily routine."


Chiao Wei Ho, Slow Letter

- Alex Braidwood: Noisolation Headphones (2011). You've written about these at http://we-make-money-not-art.com/archives/2011/10/the-noisolation-headphones.php - since you wrote that article an updated video of the project is here:


Noisolation Headphones. Video by Mae Ryan

- Hyun Ju Yang: Measurement of Existence (2010). "This hypothetical device informs your quantum state within innumerable versions of our universe in the quantum state of the universe. The main idea is inspired by an equation, the measurement of existence from the relative quantum mechanics created by physicist, Everett who invented Many-World theory."

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Hyun Ju Yang, Measurement of Existence

Thanks Garnet!

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Still from Hold On, The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)

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Installation view of Hold On at Festival Gamerz, Fondation Vasarely, Aix-en-Provence,2012. Photo courtesy EBMM

One of the best surprises of this year's edition of the GAMERZ festival in Aix en Provence was a work that mixed clips from cult movies with video game dynamics. Using 2 buttons and a joystick, visitors could navigate inside movie sequences from The Shining, Jurassic Park, The Blair Witch Project, Old Boy and many more. The main actor becomes an avatar and you can delay the inescapable moment when the little boy in The Shining bumps into the evil-looking twins or you can give a couple of extra kicks and lengthen the fight that opposed Bruce Lee to Chuck Norris in Way of the Dragon.

Hold On, by Maxime Marion & Emilie Brout is pretty irresistible. You want to try all the movie sequences and then you want to try them once again to see how much more you can do inside the same movie clip.

There's no video to demonstrate how the installation work. Not yet. In the meantime, i've asked the artists Maxime Marion & Emilie Brout to take us behind the scenes of their project:

Bonjour Emilie and Maxime! How did you chose the film sequences? Does any action movie work for example? What were you looking for exactly when selecting the extracts?

The idea behind Hold On is very simple, but its efficiency depends heavily on the choice of sequences, which proved to be more complicated than we initially thought! Many constraints have to be respected. For example, you need a main character at the center of the action so that he or she can immediately be identified as avatar. You also need homogeneous settings, lest you get shocking discrepancies as you move around. We are also looking for autonomous extracts, with an introduction, a conclusion and an issue to solve. There are many extracts we would have liked to use but we had to leave them aside because they wouldn't work.

More generally, we've been looking for film sequences that have their own originality, often referring to famous video game genres, like in The Shining where the little Danny irresistibly evoques Mario Kart, or the puzzles that the dung beetle needs to solve in Microcosmos which evokes games such as Worms or Lemmings. We've made some 15 sequences so far, but for Gamerz we left aside the ones that didn't fit this year's theme. We will show Travolta's incredible danse in Saturday Night Fever another time.

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Still from Hold On, Microcosmos (Claude Nuridsany & Marie Perennou, 1996)

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Still from Hold On, Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993)

It was amusing to watch people play with Hold On at GAMERZ. Some had reactions of surprise and tension because instead of diluting the suspense, the installation often increased it. Is this something you were expecting?

Indeed, the visitors' reactions far exceeded our expectations. It was great for us to witness it. When people are allowed to navigate inside a movie, they have a feeling of freedom, of broader space and abolished temporality. Paradoxically, by losing these limitations of the views, you find yourself in a kind of maze, in a scary labyrinth.

The sensation is enhanced by the fact that it is far more engaging to embody an avatar than to just watch an actor on the screen, and we often know what to expect at the end. That's another reason why we chose very famous movies. When you stop playing, the film simply proceeds till its -not alway happy- ending. Some people were thus playing as long as possible in order to delay the unescapable death in the final scene of The Blair Witch Project, or to avoid meeting the little girls of The Shining, which might occur after each turn in the corridors.

We are also happy to have been able to reproduce faithfully classic game controls, such as in the fight between Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris in The Way of the Dragon, its game play is identical to the Street Fighter 1: we've seen some pretty enthusiastic otakus. And seeing how much fun people were having, sharing with them this fantasy of 'getting inside' a movie was probably what mattered the most.

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Installation view of Hold On at Gamerz, Fondation Vasarely, Aix-en-Provence,2012. Photo by Luce Moreau

You developed the work Hold On during a residency with M2F Creations in Aix-en-Provence. Can you tell us something about the residency? What you found there, how it went on?

We first had the idea of the project in 2006 and its form has evolved ever since, but we needed an impuse to make it come into existence. That's exactly what M2F Créations gave us. We also needed some technical support, especially regarding the responsiveness of the HD video that had to react under 40 ms, plus some electronics for the interface.

So last May we were invited to the Maison Numérique, which Quentin Destieu & Sylvain Huguet are developing more and more. While we benefited from the invaluable technical skills of artists such as Stéphane Kyles and Grégoire Lauvin, we also found that the residency provided us with a fantastic space for exchange and sharing where we've built long lasting relationships. We particularly enjoyed M2F's innovative approach which enables experimental practice while fostering research. In a nutshell, this is a residency we highly recommend!

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Still from GEM, Fellini's Roma (Federico Fellini, 1972)

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Still from GEM, Once upon a time in America (Sergio Leone, 1984)

Most of your other works show how fascinated you are by cinema. I particularly like Google Earth Movies. What did you learn from this transposition of cult movie sequences into the Google Earth software?

Cinema plays indeed an important part in our works. The concept of GEM is to transform a mapping tool into a filmic object, to use Google Earth as if it were VLC. The software allows you to manage many factors when you enter the code, such as tilting, or the focus that enabled us to recreate the famous Jaws Shot.


Google Earth Movies - Jaws (beach panic scene with vertigo effect)

As we were trying to reproduce as faithfully as possible inside Google Earth the movements of the cameras on the real shooting locations, we realized how complex and subtle these movements can be. It was a real lesson of cinema. For example, we recreated the scene of the death of Dominic in Once Upon a Time in America. As the child falls after the shot, the camera follows him, gently going down. Then, as he dies, the camera goes up, a metaphor for "ascending to heaven." So although there is no visible character in GEM, you understand the whole action. In Apocalypse Now, you almost see the helicopters performing their massacre.

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Still from GEM, Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)

While adjusting the light, determining the year, the month and the time with an accuracy of 5 minutes in some cases, we also realized that some scenes that seemed to follow each other perfectly had been shot at different moments (because of the quality of the light.) But this only serves to reproduce a cinematographic feeling for viewers who can discover by themselves the off-screen landscape by turning the camera around.

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Still from Dérives, La Piscine (Jacques Deray, 1969)

Hold On, as you wrote in the presentation text, does the opposite of a machinima, it uses cinema for gaming purposes. But would you use games to make a film? I'm not talking about machinimas but about a film, experimental or not, that would use the dynamics of a game or its interactivity? Is this something that already exists or that you are planning to do at some point?

This is an angle that interests us but it is also different from what we do because it entails some real directing work. Our approach involves the use of found footage, and remaining in reality which triggers so much fascination, rather than in purely synthetic images. At the beginning of Hold On, we had worked on Rashomon by Akira Kurosawa, which tells the same story under four different perspectives. We wanted to make a kind of total movie/game that would allow you to create your own story. But the result was too complex to use. The current version is far more efficient because the simplicity of the controls does not disturb the immersion of the player (a big problem with interactive films) and that is what matters.

But it is true that we are very interested in the dynamic aspect. The work Dérives, for example, uses more than 1500 film clips that represent water and, by constantly renewing the editing, it generates a kind of infinite meta-film. Dérives is not interactive but it is dynamic and generative so it's not cinema anymore. It is almost impossible to cover it all. There's still a lot to do with captured images and generative effects.

Merci Emilie et Maxime!

The festival GAMERZ is over alas! but Google Earth Movies is currently part of the show UPLOLOLOAD - In praise of a diminished reality in Paris.

This year, even GAMERZ, an art&tech festival with a name that promises its visitors much joy and entertainment, didn't want to turn its back to the times of fear and uncertainty we are living. The festival was as playful as ever but with a slightly darker tone and with a selection of artists whose works question the worrying changes at work in society.

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Night view of the Fondation Vasarely. Photo : Luce Moreau - for M2F Créations

The opening of the festival took place at the gloriously Op-Art Fondation Vasarely, a museum designed by Victor Vasarely and containing some spectacular works of his. Sadly, the space is now equally famous for the state of disrepair of the artworks and of the building itself.

I've mentioned two of the works exhibited there already: Cécile Babiole's Bzzz! The sound of electricity and Benjamin Gaulon's Printball and i'm still working on a post focusing on the work of two young and ridiculously talented artists from Paris. Which means that i haven't much left to say about the exhibition at the Fondation. I must however mention the stunning Salamander:

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Photo : Luce Moreau - for M2F Créations

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Pascual Sisto, Salamander, 2006

Pascual Sisto used stock images of explosions from the movie industry as "digital ready-made" and collaged them with the After Effects software. The potentially deadly explosions are turned into sublime, hypnotizing fire works.

I can't find a way to embed the video on the blog so do me a favour and click over here to see the film.

The rest of the exhibition is spread throughout the center of the city of Aix-en-Provence. Let's start with Paul Destieu's solo show at the Seconde Nature space because, year after year, my first question when arriving at the festival is "What is Paul showing this time?" And as always (see Project NADAL and Fade-Out) his pieces were simple and brilliant.

Révolutions pits against each other two different moments in the history of the audiovisual media: the beginnings of home-made cinema and YouTube. The artist transferred the loading circle of YouTube onto the silver band of a Super8 projector, an object nowadays obsolete. The history of home-made video draws a circle metaphorically and visually.

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Paul Destieu, Révolutions. Photo : Luce Moreau - for M2F Créations

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Paul Destieu, Révolutions. Photo : Luce Moreau - for M2F Créations

Another work Destieu was showing compiled scenes of duels from the Star Wars saga to create a fight made of light and sound. The dialogues of the duelists can be heard in the room but the only image of the duel is shaped by the light emanating from two video projectors. They face each other at a distance, each at another end of the room. Below, smoke machines give shape and materiality to the projected beams that emerge in the dark and look like the fighting swords of the Star Wars warriors. A moment of violence and anger turned translated in darkness and white mist.

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Paul Destieu, DOJO. Photo : Luce Moreau - for M2F Créations

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Paul Destieu, DOJO. Photo : Luce Moreau - for M2F Créations

Apart from the screenings, games and installations, the festival also programed a series of performances. I saw a couple of them but the one that impressed me the most was by Feromil, the 'post-apocalyptic one man band'. The artist gave a concert using a metal detector as his main musical instrument. The performance was very raw, and very physical. Try wearing a gas mask while holding and moving around a metal detector for half an hour over a bass amp and you'll get the idea.

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Performance by Feromil. Photo : Luce Moreau - for M2F Créations

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Performance by Feromil. Photo : Luce Moreau - for M2F Créations

There a video of one of his performance over here but i'm going to embed the one made by Jérôme Fino.

The room where My Computer Just Started to Smoke was exhibited at the Galerie Susini was filled with smoke that the computer was 'enthusiastically' inhaling, depending of the temperature variations of its processors.

The computer runs a software that navigates the internet exclusively through pop-ups that pitch porn, poker, and tricks that will make you rich almost instantly. The more pop-ups the computer encounters and opens, the more its processor heats up and, of course, the faster the fans are spinning. But that's not enough. To further 'calm down' the computer also inhales the smoke of the hookah.

At first sight, the work created by the Dardexcollective might seem to be merely mischievous. But it is actually a comment on computer animism and on the internet, a new world that promises freedom but delivers equal doses of mercantilism.

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Collectif Dardex, My computer just started to smoke, 2012. Photo : Luce Moreau - for M2F Créations

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Collectif Dardex, My computer just started to smoke, 2012. Photo : Luce Moreau - for M2F Créations

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Collectif Dardex, My computer just started to smoke, 2012. Photo : Luce Moreau - for M2F Créations

To be honest, i wasn't expecting to see GAMERZ invade the venerable Musée des Tapisseries (museum of tapestry) of AIx-en-Provence but the organizers used the entrance space to display several experimental games people could play with.

Hommage a New York, by Florent Deloison, is one of them. The game was inspired by Breakout, the video game released in 1976 by Atari, and also by the self-destructive sculpture created in 1960 by Jean Tinguely with the help of engineer Billy Klüver.

In Deloison's version, instead of breaking bricks, the player must destroy the computer code behind the game. You can never win and the game inevitably ends when vitals commands stop working. A big red button on the control panel is used to restart the game

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Florent Deloison, Hommage à New York, 2012

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Florent Deloison, Hommage à New York, 2012. Photo : Luce Moreau - for M2F Créations

If GAMERZ is for me the best festival to discover new names in art&tech, it is also a space where confirmed names are given 'carte blanche' to invade an exhibition space as they please. This year, Quentin Destieu and Sylvain Huguet, curators and founders of the festival, invited Rafael Rozendaal to spread one of his internet works onto the walls, ceiling and floor of the gallery of the Aix en Provence art school using mirrors and 5 video projectors. The experience of 'walking inside' a web page, moving through it, seeing your shadow cutting through solid chunks of colours is eerie.

Video this way!

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Rafaël Rozendaal, Everything Always Everywhere. Photo : Luce Moreau - for M2F Créations

A couple more images:

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One Life Remains. Photo : Luce Moreau - for M2F Créations

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Romain Senatore, wAAAr, interactive installation, 2012. Photo : Luce Moreau - for M2F Créations

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Grégoire Lauvin, Landstape, sound installation, 2012. Photo : Luce Moreau - for M2F Créations

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Graffiti Research Lab (France). Photo : Luce Moreau - for M2F Créations

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Paul Destieu, Série T. Photo : Luce Moreau - for M2F Créations

A quick post about The Art of Chess, an exhibition of 16 chess sets designed by some of the biggest names in contemporary art. Hirst has a medicine cabinet, Tracey Emin a chess set that looks slightly unhygienic, Paul McCarthy adds ketchup, Yayoi Kusama goes for dots, and the Chapman brothers do it dark and provocative. Most of the artists are playing their usual tricks, then. But somehow i didn't mind because many of the works are spectacular.

The show is inspired by Marcel Duchamp, an artist who revolutionised art in the 20th century like no one else did. Yet, Duchamp gave up his art practice and spent the end of his life playing chess. He justified his decision by observing that chess "has all the beauty of art--and much more. It cannot be commercialized. Chess is much purer than art in its social position."

My photography skill being what they are, i'm going to joyfully steal the images that my Happy Famous Art Friend took during the press view:

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Jake & Dinos Chapman, Chess Set, 2003. The Art of Chess @ Saatchi Gallery

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Jake & Dinos Chapman, Chess Set, 2003

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Jake & Dinos Chapman, Chess Set, 2003

I don't have anything particularly smart to say about the Chapman's chess set. It clearly was my favourite in the show. So let's go to the next one....

Maurizio Cattelan placed on the board a series of action figures that represent famous international and Italian people he either despises or admires.

The 'Good' side has Martin Luther King as its king. Close to him are Superman, La Cicciolina, Gandhi, Sitting Bull, Sofia Loren, Pinocchio, Mother Theresa, Superman, Sitting Bull, the Dalai Lama, Che Ghevara, Joan of Arc. I didn't recognize them all.

The 'Evil' team is headed by Adolf Hitler, his black queen is Cruella de Vil. They are accompanied by Dracula, Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Nero, the snake on the Tree of Knowledge, General Custer, Rasputin. I laughed when i recognized also Donatella Versace. Anyone has an idea of who the latex-clad villain is?

Stunning chess board. Yours for peanuts.

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Maurizio Cattelan, Good versus Evil, 2003

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Maurizio Cattelan, Good versus Evil, 2003

Fryer's chess is an homage to Nikola Tesla. Because Tesla was a pioneer of the vacuum tubes, the 32 pieces in the set are glass vacuum tubes. I didn't dare touch the work but apparently The board of the chess set powers the vacuum tube pieces so that when unplugged the individual pieces glow for a little while, struggling to keep connection with the board, and then die. Plug them back in and they reactivate.

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Paul Fryer, Chess Set for Tesla, 2008

Paul McCarthy created a Readymade chess set using objects he had found in his kitchen. The board itself is made of squared segments from the artists' kitchen floor.

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Paul McCarthy, Kitchen Set, 2003

And i promised you pharmacology:

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Damien Hirst, Mental Escapology, 2003

The Art of Chess is open until Oct. 3 2012 at the Saatchi Gallery, London.

All images courtesy Happy Famous Artists.

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