I finally made it to the PAV - Parco Arte Vivente (park of living art) in Turin and visited Vegetation as a Political Agent. The exhibition charts a history of the plant world, by looking beyond the biological and exploring the political and social implications of vegetation. And it is pretty much as exciting as i had hoped.

Plants are not as neutral and powerless as we might think. For example, they played a particularly important role in the 17th and 18th centuries, when navigators and 'explorers' sent to discover the world ended up annexing the land, colonizing populations and looking for ways to exploit the financial potential of new plant species (culminating in the spice trade.)

At the other end of the spectrum are individuals and communities which, from the 1970s on, have been using plants to resist, revolt and defy. The exhibition tells their story through documents that date back to the first ecological revolutions, specially commissioned projects and contemporary artworks.

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Emory Douglas, Zapantera Negra. Wall painting, variable dimensions. Courtesy the artist, painted by Pietro Perotti. Photo PAV

The show opens with the mural Zapantera Negra in which Emory Douglas (Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party from 1967 until the 1980s when the group disbanded) brings together the Black Panther movement and the Escuelita Zapatista supporting the rural working-classes in Chiapas. Douglas modified one of his famous posters Afro-American solidarity with the oppressed people of the world (1969) by turning a rifle into a corn plant, symbol of Mexican populations.

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RozO (Philippe Zourgane and Severine Roussel), When vegetation is not decoration, 2014. Photo PAV

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By placing plants in the context of territorial control in colonial and postcolonial periods, RozO's When vegetation is not decoration is perhaps the work that best encapsulates the exhbition. On a larger-scale, vegetation can become a tool to manage a territory or, conversely to support resistance against foreign control. The installation, made of archive material housed inside a temporary architecture of bamboo and palm leaves, illustrates contrasting uses of vegetation in history:

First, black and white photos taken by the French army in the mid-1950s show the French army harvesting wheat in Algeria. They are protected by elite soldiers and armored units.

These images clearly depict the exploitation of land for the benefit of the coloniser. Aside from the word "Algeria" written on the grain sacks, it seems that we are witnessing a French cereal farming region. Here vegetation is clearly used to assimilate and acculturate. Vegetation is employed by the attacker and coloniser of a country or region, to deterritorialize its inhabitants. Rendering the natives foreigners in their own land was a technique that frequently used by colonisers. In the 20th Century, following the invasion of Poland, Nazi Germany implemented a wide-reaching process of "Germanisation" of the territory, to render it German.

On the other side are stills from Chien thang Tay Bac (North West Victory), a documentary filmed in 1952 by the Viet Minh military forces during the war against French occupation. The images demonstrate how Vietnam fighters used topography and vegetation as a weapon. Instead of traveling through the road infrastructure, the soldiers used pathways that allow them to avoid detection by the French occupiers and instead of using the traditional bamboo rafts to cross rivers, they built bamboo bridges that were almost impossible to detect as they were positioned 10 centimetres under the surface of the water.

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Critical Art Ensemble, Sterile Field, 2014. Photo PAV

Roundup Ready Crops are genetically engineered crops that have had their DNA altered to allow them to withstand the active ingredient of Monsanto's herbicide Roundup. Farmers who plant these seeds must use Roundup to keep other weeds from growing in their fields.

Members of Critical Art Ensemble prepared an artificial plot of land with RR herbicide, and challenged people to try and grow something in the enriched soil. The result of their efforts is depressing, it illustrates better than any essay the reason why the herbicide's nickname is 'killer exterminator'.

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Adelita Husni-Bey, Part of chronicle of zines about the English radical environmental movement (details)

The most fascinating work in the show for me was Adelita Husni-Bey's timeline of English 'green' movements between 1987 and 2004 as seen through the radical and underground zines they published. Before the widespread use of the internet, zines and magazines were the only way to spread counter-information, controversial ideas and research.

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Dan Halter, Mesembryanthemum Space Invader, 2014. Delosperma cooperi. Photo PAV

Dan Halter planted a colony of Mesembryanthemum, a flower originally from southern Africa which is considered an alien species in many other parts of the world. Once in full bloom, the plant forms the famous icon of the Space Invaders video game, suggesting thus a very literal take on the idea of invasion. Excepts that this time, the colonization is upside down: it's African invaders that are about to colonize Europe.

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Fernando García-Dory, Dream Farms The Lost Path: Learning from George Chan's Legacy, 2009-2014. Photo PAV

Fernando Garcia-Dory brings to our attention George Chan's models of Integrated Farming and Waste Management System. The IFWMS involves a closed sustainable cycle in which matter and energy flow within the productive unit, increasing yields to meet the demands in food and energy of local populations while at the same time guaranteeing the sustainability of the ecosystem.

This revolutionary model, called Dream Farms, is as yet largely unknown.

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Claire Pentecost, Greetings from the Cornbelt, 2012. Series of five postcards, poster, archival envelope Courtesy the artist. Photo PAV

Claire Pentecost's series of postcards document the artist's research in Mexico where she discovered that transgenic maize is illegally cultivated. Working with grassroots organizations in Sierra Juarez di Oaxaca, she catalogs the OGM plants and portrays them on postcards that are then distributed to Mexican farmers in the hope that they will help stop the contamination.

More images from the exhibition:

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Imre Bukta, In The Cemetary Of Farm Wagons, 1976. Photo PAV

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Imre Bukta. Photo PAV

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Piero Gilardi, O.G.M. Free [G.M.O. Free], 2014. Costumes for political animation, painted expanded polyurethane, cloth and mannequins. Photo PAV

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Adelita Husni-Bey, Story of the Heavens and Our Planet, Archetype I, 2008-2009 (installation view.) Photo PAV

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Amilcar Cabral. Photo PAV

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View of one of the exhibition rooms. Photo PAV

Vegetation as a Political Agent was curated by Marco Scotini. It is on view at the PAV - Parco Arte Vivente in Turin until 11 January 2014.

Sponsored by:





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For over 60 years, scientists have been deliberately exposing plants and seeds to radiation in order to mix up their genetic material and speed up mutations. The results are unpredictable and only the mutated plants that show useful or otherwise desirable attributes (stronger, tastier, bigger, more resistant to disease, etc.) are reproduced, creating a mutant variety from the original one.

The technology is called radiation breeding. It emerged in the early 1950s, as part of Atoms for Peace, a program to develop "peaceful" uses of fission energy after WWII. So-called Gamma gardens were planted in laboratories in the US, parts of the former USSR, India, Japan and even in GMO-phobic Europe. A number of plant varieties were commercialized and some of their offspring can now be found in your local supermarket.

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A garden show featuring "super atomic energized seeds," 1961. Photo by Frank Scherschel for Life (via Pruned)

The Center for Genomic Gastronomy, an art think tank that investigates food controversies and prototypes 'alternative culinary futures', was concerned by the lack of research on radiation-bred edible plants and their possible impact on our health and on the environment. CGG founders Zack Denfeld & Cat Kramer worked with Heather Julius to create a barbecue sauce that contains some of the most common radiation-bred ingredients: Rio Red Grapefruit, Milns Golden Promise Barley, Todd's Mitcham Peppermint, Calrose 76 Rice and Soy.

The peppermint is a mutation of Mentha piperita, it is able to resist a particularly nasty fungal disease and can be found in chewing-gum, candies and toothpaste. The modified barley is used to make beer and whiskey. As for the grapefruit, it was developed to produce the deepest red. Hundreds of mutation-bred varieties of soy and rice have been registered in the International Atomic Energy Agency database. Now the name of the sauce is a reference to Cobalt-60, the radioactive source gamma gardens are submitted to.

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Exhibition view at MU, Eindhoven, 2014. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

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Exhibition view at MU, Eindhoven, 2014. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

Cobalt 60 Sauce is part of the exhibition Matter Of Life: Growing new Bio Art and Design at MU in Eindhoven. A big sauce dispenser is at the disposal of visitor who'd like to taste the recipe. It's very dark, very yummy and a bit sweet.

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Matter of Life | Growing Bio Art & Design exhibition at MU, Strijp S, in Eindhoven. The show remains open until 22nd February 2015.

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This week, i'm talking with French artist Benjamin Pothier who is currently frost-bound for an ARS BIO ARCTICA residency organized by the Finnish Bio Art Society at Kilpisjarvi Biological Station in Lapland.

Pothier is in the region to shoot videos and make sound recordings but because he a PhD researcher in Arts, Anthropology and Architecture at the CAIIA Hub of the Planetary Collegium, University of Plymouth, he is also investigating nomadic architecture, drawing lessons from the way nomadic cultures live in symbiosis with the environment and more generally exploring issues of global warming which are felt so acutely in circumpolar regions.

The artist had previously attended the FIELD_NOTES laboratory at Kilpisjarvi Biological Station and last year he had been invited as an artist to participate to the Arctic Circle Residency 2013, in the international territory of Svalbard.

I'm catching up with Benjamin while he is still in the Arctic and before he flies to South Africa to show his photos of icebergs in Johannesburg....

Benjamin Pothier, 8KNOT Trailer

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Hi Benjamin! The ARS BIO ARCTICA residency has an emphasis on the Arctic environment and art and science collaboration. Are you working with scientists over there? How?

Well, I am not working with scientists right now as there are no scientists at the station at the time, I mean apart from me! What is specific to my work is that I am actually an artist AND a researcher. I am a researcher in anthropology, which is usually classified as a "Social Science". But of course anthropology means much more than that for me. I have been driven to anthropology researches for intellectual and artistic reasons. I think the perspective on society one can gain through anthropological studies or research is quite similar to the position of the artist in our societies, and maybe even in traditional societies, as long as you consider the role of the shaman, which in my opinion is connected in many ways to the role of the artist in contemporary societies. But this is probably more an artist statement than an academic point of view.

As an artist i'm connecting to the site, the landscape, the nature and surroundings, through Photography and documentary film direction, but it is really a way to connect to the site. because all of this also include long walks, or staying still under snow or strong wind near an arctic lake shore, for example, to do video or sound recording. And the body is as much an interface with the landscape as the camera or the microphone.

Then as a researcher I try, and sometimes manage, to get an overview about theses experiences, mainly life in the arctic circle for this residency, in order to widen the frame of reference for my research.

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Sound recording on the Shore of Kilpisjarvi's Lake 22/10/2014. -5°C strong wind

What brought you there? Because surely there must be art residency in more hospitable parts of the world?

I'm actually a PhD candidate at the CAIIA the Center for Advanced Inquiry in the Interactive Arts, in the program of the Planetary Collegium, which is supervised by the professor and artist Roy Ascott, and my research is focused on Circumpolar North Arctic and Subarctic Tribes... that's probably one of the reason! But I would love to visit... hum... Vancouver or San Francisco for example ! I am also passionate about the art and craft of the Haida people of Pacific Northwest Coast of North America for example...

Well last year I've been selected for the Arctic Circle residency, organized by The FARM,INC, a NYC based cultural organization. And we went up to 20° from the North Pole. I find this kind of residencies challenging. And I like it. For the Arctic circle residency we had to take a zodiac boat every morning to go to the shore, protected by three armed guide against potential polar bears attacks, and it's an "interesting" way to do film direction or photography. For me it was also a way to gain "field knowledge" on contemporary ways to "survive" in the arctic, through discussions with the arctic guide and a study of their gears and behavior.

As an artist I am also interested by that kind of harsh environments because it questions the place of humans on Earth... it's connected to some of my pursuits, I am quite interested by the work of Survival research laboratories, for example, or the Makrolab created by Marko Peljhan, or Angelo Vermeulen's Seeker projects. I'm honestly a die hard fan of "old school Cyberpunk", science fiction at large as well as bio-regionalism and vegan cooking... and to deal with rugged, waterproof or foldable technologies in this harsh environment, or to cook my vegan bolognaise with dried soy chunks in the station kitchen, all of these are experiences that fits with all those pursuits.

And well, of course the Arctic is NOT Antarctica, but I'm a big fan of the movies The Thing, the John Carpenter's one and the quite recent prequel as well. So some of the experiences I'm living there are materials for future art projects, who knows? Art installations, short sci-fi movies or novels, but with strong first-hand field experiences as background. And some like photographing the landscape or directing a cross media project here are very concrete art experiences with a result in the short term.

The Arctic is the perfect place to engage into those kind of life and art experiences. I like being in a place where I can feel that nature is stronger than me, even if it is always a very calculated risk, I'm very cautious and I have a kind of "preppers" mindset. But in a "philosophical" point of view, when I'm saying that "Nature is stronger than me", it's probably because "I" like when "I" becomes "Nature" and there is no more "me" for a few minutes. that's the reward. It's a Zen type experience. I am really not the first human nor artist talking about that!

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Fire inside the Kota

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Benjamin Pothier, Maiitsoh (open)

This is not the first time you are at the Kilpisjarvi research station. You first went there in 2011 for the Finnish Bioart Society's Field_Notes workshop. So is this residency a continuation of the previous one? Or are you working on something entirely different?

Well I was working on something quite different at that time, an interactive documentary Installation about Computer History that I presented at the Computer Art Conference #4 CAC#4 in Rio de Janeiro in September, the project is called Maiitsoh: I've interviewed various people from William Gibson to Noam Chomsky, or John Cale, about topics dealing with computer history, consciousness and creativity, and I was working on that project at the time of the Field_Notes workshop. Maiitsoh is the Navajo word or more precisely the Dineh world because the so-called "Navajo" call themselves Dineh... And it's more than time to give some recognition to the indigenous people. So it's the Dineh word for the Wolf. It's a direct homage to the code talkers during World War II, at that time the Dineh language was used by the Allies as an "analog" cyphering technique, while the Axis Countries where using a mechanical cyphering machine, the Enigma machine. The first ever modern computer ever built, Colossus, was actually built to break the Enigma machine code. It's a part of history quite well known in the computer community. There is also a not that good movie directed by John Woo about the Dineh code talkers. I used the name Maiitsoh as a tribute to the Code Talkers, but also for it's similarities with Macintosh. Maiitsoh is made of wood, like the first computer mouse or the first Apple computer... it's really a multi scalar project. It's about creativity, it's a 3 or 4 dimensional Nodal point, in the Gibsonian perspective. it's a wooden computer and it's an icon of computer recent History. Forget about plastic, the first computers owe things to the wood!

Nowadays i'm very focused on my PhD research, which is a study of the patterns of the Ainu people, the aboriginal people of North Japan. It's for me one of the most beautiful form of craft on this planet. This is a very subjective comment. As an artist, I just love the shape of their patterns.

But the subject is a bit wider. I am questioning the origins of arts and craft on this planet, basically. Why did the human species started to draw, to do sculptures, embroidery ? That is the question! I never take for granted anything that exists on this planet. Why do people wear pants made with denim fabric for example ? And why don't we embroider our clothing nowadays ? What is an object ? Why do human grow those kind of vegetables in the area, and not other ones ? To get perspective is always a good way to make a daily fresh start and enhance your human experience.

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You brought a bike in the Arctic? Is it a very practical mode of moving around up there? What's the story of the bike?

Yes, I brought a foldable bike there, a Brompton. For various reasons. First, It's an artistic and activist statement, here in the Arctic which is of course one of the first region exposed to global warming. I am really pro-biking, I was even close to people from Critical Mass at a time. I am proud about that past. It's a shame to see that people are so unconscious of environmental problems. Last year in Svalbard, at 20° from the North pole, we saw styrofoam on the shore. In that incredible landscape... and of course the invisible pollution is also quite dramatic... Species are disappearing , the arctic is melting, and I guess nobody forgot Sandy Superstorm... well , I don't have a short term memory and I remember being already aware of those increasing problems in the 90ies... And you can really make eco-friendly businesses and make money. So come on! Humanity is a teenager trashing its room.

So it is in a way an homage to old friends from the activists community, to bring a bike here in the Arctic, and to use it to circulate around the station, or to go to the grocery store few kilometers from here, despite the wind and snow... But there is also something related to artistic performance, to use that quite "urban Bike" which is in a way the "Rolls Royce" of folding bikes, and to use it on hard snowy roads in the Arctic Circle. I also applied a kind of "artistic protocol" to the use of the Bike, which is a direct homage to Joseph Beuys piece I Like America and America Likes Me.

The bike never actually circulated nor touched the ground on a road before I took it out of its rugged case, here at the station. The same way Beuys didn't touch the U.S. soil before being brought to that room with a live coyote... It was an homage to the political situation of "Native Americans", and here in the North of Finland there are still Sami people, northern Europe's last hunters and gatherers. So the title could be "I like Finland and Finland Likes me", maybe ! hahaha!

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Suohpanterror, Blowupnorth

I don't personally know them but I have seen some work by a collective called Suohpanterror, they do street art and art related projects dealing with the Sami identity. They are probably much more reliable than me to talk about the Sami question. What I can give as an artist is some visibility about the question. And of course for the bike performance itself, there are some unconscious parts I can't myself explain. It's like making a collage, but in 4 dimension and in real life, with an Arctic logistic, and a study of the possible ways to bring that bike to a research station. It's very useful here for me, and it's of course a bit burlesque to bring it here. I like that mix. It's a very serious and complicated project, it's suddenly completely absurd, and then it becomes really serious again.

I honestly thought that it would be a bit more challenging than that to use the bike. The Brompton works quite well on Sapmi's roads...

And then of course the Brompton itself is a very amazing object. it's manga like and also almost Steampunk . But it's quite Beat-Punk for me. It's a super contemporary object with that 1950ies or 60ies taste and quality. And I'm actually NOT paid to say that.

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Drone FPV Training with the Search and Rescue Team from the Norwegian Red Cross

You've also been invited for a training session with people who use Drones for Search and rescue for the Norwegian Red Cross in the High Arctic. Can you describe the experience? Are you planning to apply to your work what you learnt there?

It was honestly a fascinating experience... As a researcher I have a kind of "classical anthropology " approach, but as an artist I am more interested by digital anthropology or the anthropology of technology. Honestly i've been baffled to meet those people in Tromsø. I was missing some spare parts to make my drone works here in the Arctic, so I looked for forums in Norway on the internet, and two days later I was in contact with those people. And they are very skill full experts on that domain. Their practices are connected to many of my pursuits. I've been invited last year by European Union's oldest program for collaboration in Science and technology to deliver a talk about the future of 3D printing. And then one year later, in Tromsø, on a rest area in a mountainous road I've met this guy who actually makes homemade and huge Octocopters, with 3D printed part that he designed himself.

I remember when there was no mobile phone, that's something I always remember when I want to get some perspectives about the mutations of western societies, or the world at large. I don't take technical progress for granted. It's an organic process in perpetual evolution. It's fascinating to realize what we can do in our ages with technology. People tend to forget about that. I never complain when Skype is slow... I'm always amazed to be able to talk in video with someone in California when i'm in Paris.

And well, for the experience of Drone and FPV, which stand for First Person View. It's way more fascinating than what I imagined. It's actually a physical experience to see through a camera which is flying 200 meters above yourself or at 1 kilometer from you... it's a bit trance-like, or even techno-shamanic like. The only similarity I can find is when i used a 360° camera during a training at the SAT Society for Arts and Technology in Montreal in 2013, and when I was able to see my recording in the 360 dome theatre at SAT, the Satosphere. I had the same weird physical experience challenging my perspective on vision, the body, etc... very impressive!

And of course there is this satisfaction to realize that this technology is used to rescue people, to bring two ways radios or first aid kit to people stuck in mountains.

FPV in the Arctic is definitely an amazing experience. There is that contrast that I really like, I talked about that previously. To be in the middle of that impressive nature, and to be able to use the most up to date technology. So, yes, I will clearly apply to my work what I have learnt there, probably in the form of an installation, might be a short movie also, but it's a bit too early now, I still have to integrate the process and the experience. I am really thankful to those people, and particularly people from FPV.no, Hi Kristian! :)

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Quadcopter Flying test #1....

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with aerial view of Kilpisjarvi's Research station

From what you told me by email about your residency, meeting people is an important part of your work. You're also in contact with the Sami people, for example. How do they fit into your research there?

I am actually in a region that can be defined in many ways... I'm in North Finland, i'm in the Arctic Circle, but I am much more clearly in Sapmi, which is the proper name to describe this region, usually called Lappland. I prefer to use the word Sapmi, the land of Sami people. Lappland comes from Lapp which means rag in swedish. Honestly the Sami people are not the Indigenous people I know the most, I mean in terms of anthropology or basic contemporary History. I'm mostly here to do a comparative study of their decorative patterns. Well for me the residency is much more about feeling the landscape and the ways of living in the arctic.

Next month I am invited as a visiting scholar in Anthropology at the Center for Sami studies, at the University of Tromsø, in Norway. it is actually the northernmost university on earth, and the SESAME, center for Sami studies is at the forefront of Sami and Indigenous studies. They actually deliver masters in peace studies and in indigenous studies... quite an amazing place! There, I will meet Sami people and some colleagues from various countries in order to discuss my research.

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TROMSØ'S Bridge

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View of the Bay from TROMSØ'S Bridge

What's next, after the ARS BIO ARCTICA residency?

Well in the short term, I will exhibit my series of photographs taken at 20° from the North Pole in Svalbard last year at Kalashnikovv Gallery, in Johannesburg, South Africa in December. The exhibition is organized in collaboration with the IFAS, the French Institute in South Africa. It's really a great opportunity for me to be able to exhibit this Arctic related work in Johannesburg. And it will be another opportunity to talk about the arctic situation and the globalized aspect of the Climate question. I am very thankful to the IFAS for their support as well as to MJ Turpin, one of the owner of the gallery for the invitation. I think he definitely understand my work, which is something rare. He is also an artist and I really like some of his printed work and performances. South Africa is a very specific country, there is a very active art scene, as far as I know through discussions with my South African colleagues, and I had a glimpse of South African creativity last year at the Gaité Lyrique in Paris.

I'm really thrilled to be given the opportunity to exhibit my work in Johannesburg. Then I'm definitely looking for other residency opportunities, as well as planning a trip to Japan in the coming two years for my PhD research.

Thanks Benjamin!

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Preparing for some underwater video recording as well as sound recording at Kilpisjarvi's lake

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Reindeer in the forest near Kilpisjarvi's research station

All images by Benjamin Pothier.

Related story: Field_Notes: From Landscape to Laboratory.

It took Simon Faithfull 3 years to be granted permission to sink a boat off the Isle of Portland, a few km south of Weymouth, in Dorset, England.

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© Simon Faithfull. Photo: Gavin Weber

What might sound like an ecological abomination is actually the start of a process that will create a new eco-system beneath the sea: an artificial reef. The sunken boat will provide a hard surface to which algae and invertebrates adhere, providing food for fish.

The artist bought the boat off eBay for 75 pounds. It was called Brioney Victoria and had been rotting for decade at a Canvey Island yard. He emptied it, added a concrete wheelhouse to make it look like a working boat and then stripped it of anything that could potentially be harmful.

Once ready, the small fishing vessel was towed out to sea. Faithfull set it alight, opened the seacocks, let water into the boat and dove off as it started sinking.

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© Simon Faithfull, REEF, Sinking of Brioney Victoria ship. Photo: Gavin Weber

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© Simon Faithfull, REEF, Sinking of Brioney Victoria ship. Photo: Gavin Weber

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© Simon Faithfull, REEF, Sinking of Brioney Victoria ship. Photo: Gavin Weber

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© Simon Faithfull, REEF, Sinking of Brioney Victoria ship. Photo: Gavin Weber

Five cameras were mounted on board to record the boat's descent and they are still monitoring its transformation, transmitting images via a dedicated website and relaying them to exhibitions. The first one is at Fabrica, a former chapel turned art gallery in Brighton. The show, which is part of the Brighton Photo Biennial, will later move to Calais and Caen.

In the Brighton gallery, a big overhead screen show the boat smoking and very slowly sinking beneath the waves. A series of monitors at ground level broadcast the images from the drowned boat.

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Reef, installation view at the Brighton Photo Biennial 2014. Photo: Nigel Green

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Simon Faithfull, screenshot from live videp

Faithfull was interested in investigating how an ordinary object at the end of its existence is given a new, almost eternal life.

Like some of the artist's previous works, REEF documents the plight of a camera exposed to extreme elements or sent on a journey from which they might never come back. In 2003, for example, Faithfull sent a video camera attached to a weather balloon into the stratosphere.

Simon Faithfull Interview for REEF Project

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© Simon Faithfull, REEF, Sinking of Brioney Victoria ship. Photo: Gavin Weber

Simon Faithfull will be giving a talk at Lighthouse on Tue 21 Oct 7- 8.15pm. And if you miss the evening, check out REEF at Fabrica in Brigton as part of the Brighton Photo Biennial. The show is open until 23 November 2014.

Also part of the Biennial: Amore e piombo: The Photography of extremes in 1970s Italy.

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Visual artist Melle Smets and researcher Joost van Onna followed the travel of discarded cars from Europe to Ghana and ended up at Suame Magazine, near the town of Kumasi, in Ghana. In this area, 200,000 artisans are working in 12,000 workshops, stores and factories to repair and give a new life to European disused vehicles.

Smets and van Onna then collaborated with local craftsmen and mechanics to build a African concept car in three months. The vehicle is called SMATI Turtle. SMATI because it is the acronym for the Suame Magazine Automatics Technical Institute, an engineering training centre for the artisans. And Turtle because the vehicle is strong and sturdy like the reptile.

The completed car was even inaugurated by Otumfuo Nana Osei Tutu II, King Asantehene of the Kingdom of Ashanti.

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Otumfuo Nana Osei Tutu II, King Asantehene of the Kingdom of Ashanti, testing the SMATI TURTLE

The Turtle has been touring Europe since its creation. It will spend the Autumn in Pau, France, as part of the Disnovation exhibition and the accès)s( festival of digital culture.

The show opens on October 8 and i caught up with project leader Melle Smets to have him talk about his adventures in African mechanics.

Hi Melle! The text describing the project mentions the Buafo. Was this pickup truck prototype at the origin of your project? Where did the idea for the Turtle 1 come from exactly?

The Buafo was a car from the 70ies. From this vehicle we extracted a lot of essential idea's of what a African car should be. The existence of this car was unknown to us until a old mechanic from the neighborhood told us this story. Then we started to look for it and found one around the corner of our workshop. The reason we searched for this vehicle was the fact that we don't know anything about cars, and needed a lead to start working from.

And once you had the idea for the Turtle 1, what happened? You and Joost van Onna just turned up in Ghana and put your project into a full working prototype?

The idea to build a car came much earlier. We wanted to research the potential of a society without formal structures. Suame Magazine looked like the most incredible example of a city which was also a working car plant. Something we could hardly imagine as we thought car assembling is a very high tech business. Because the place is very hectic we thought of a narrative to tell the story of the informal car assembly line. This is how the idea came to built a car from scratch and go from workshop to workshop to learn the process and tell the story.

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How did you navigate the Suame Magazine and find the right people to work with?

We went there a year earlier to scout the area and try to find a partner. This became Suame Magazine Industrial Devellopment Organisation. They liked the idea as a PR stunt for their NGO. They are a umbrella organisation for all guilds.

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Apart from being skilled and resourceful, what did local people bring to the project in terms of creativity, ideas?

The car is developed by the whole neighborhood in terms of storytelling, throwing idea's, bringing in their networks and their labor. We tried not to take the lead in design and organised every step in the proces as a communal decision. For example the car design is done by wooden sticks. On the other hand people started to use the project to draw the attention on SMIDO by the media. This free publicity was good for the project but also good for growing the network of SMIDO members. In terms of work, we had to pay people to actually do the job.

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SMATI Turtle being tested in The Netherlands. Image

And conversely, what did you bring that the Ghana craftsmen needed? They were already repurposing car parts after all....

The most lucrative thing we brought them is a story. The Turtle became a National story which they used to get access in the highest networks of the country. And this is where the real business is done. Wright now they are making contracts with Danida (Danish devellopment organisation from Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark) for over 2 million dollars to set up a new land for a car production fascility.

The project involved building a car in 12 weeks. Why was this timeframe important to you?

Money and time. ; )
Unfortunately I was on a time schedule.
Although the time pressure also made it work.
Just the same as making a theatre play. You can practice for ever.

Do you think it would make sense for western consumers to have a car culture driven by the moto "let's make things simple"?

We need to seriously start thinking in terms of what we really need and want, instead of try to build a paradise of things around us.
Stuff we don't understand but just buy in the hope it is a short cut to happiness. So the car is just an example.

Of course our infrastructure is evolved in a way we need sophisticated cars to be save driving 140 KM/hour. But it would be healthy to keep rethinking the whole concept of traveling. There are a thousand ways we can go from A to B. Why we make ourselves dependent on this system? The concept of a highway is a hundred years old and in the time they made it up there were fantastic idea's to get from A to B in total different way. We would like to remind people on this freedom of choice but also responsibility to give meaning to our environment.

And is there any commercial interest for the prototype (or an adapted version of it) outside of Africa?

Not that I know of. But we also never put energy in this. I envision a car production future where every continent has its own species of cars. The climate, economy and landscape demand certain needs to a vehicle. Technology will make it possible to manufacture more on demand and more specific adjustments.

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Turtle 1 is part of a broader project that looks at "the stream of discarded cars to Ghana in order to document their hitherto unknown destination." So which kind of images, videos and discourses do you bring to European destinations where you show the Turtle prototype?

We do lectures to governments, sit in advisory boards, work with industry on new idea's. Next to this we did some exhibitions on car shows, art festivals to show drawings, photo's and video's. Every member of the team had it's own medium. You will see on the exhibition. There was also a lot of media coverage on television, news papers and magazines in Germany and the Netherlands.

The prototype is called Turtle 1. Does it mean that there will be new and improved models of the Turtle? More generally, what's next for the project?

We are now working together with the Dutch car industry on a vocational training program. The ambition is to start this program in Suame Magazine next year. In the Dutch Design week we organise workshops around this businesses case. See Word doc for more detailed concept.

Thanks Melle!

Check out the vehicle at the DISNOVATION exhibition, on October 8th- December 6th, at Le Bel Ordinaire, Billière, France. The 14th edition of the festival itself will run November 13th -16th, 2014, at Le Bel Ordinaire + associated venues in Pau & around. Programme curated by Nicolas Maigret and Bertrand Grimault.

I already mentioned the exhibition Strange Weather: Forecasts from the future in a number of posts (in particular this one which focused on clouds) so i won't bore you with repeating myself too much. The artworks on show invite the public to think about today and tomorrow's weather with the gravity that befits the topic but also with lightness and humour, asking questions such as:

Should human culture be reshaped to fit strange weather or should we reshape weather to fit our strange culture? Who is going to take advantage of climate chaos and how will strange weather benefit me? How will you choose to work, celebrate, live and die when weather gets weird?

Since so many pieces in the shows got my attention, i thought i should write on last post about Strange Weather. This one will include plastic flowers modelled on the alien species that have started to invade the Arctic, an instrument that monitors 'space weather', HazMat Suits for kids and more.

'Raindrop' by Alistair McClymont as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.scinecegallery.com 1.jpg
Alistair McClymont, Raindrop. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin


Alistair McClymont, Raindrop

'Raindrop' by Alistair McClymont as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.scinecegallery.com 5.jpg
Alistair McClymont, Raindrop. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

Inspired by a machine invented in the 1970s by two physicists from the University of Manchester, Alistair McClymont built a machine which sole purpose it to allow a drop of water to float mid air.

The Raindrop machine works like a mini open wind tunnel and it is both a continuation of the scientists original experiment and an artwork exhibited in a very different cultural context.

'Occupy II' by Tania Kitchell as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 3.jpg
Tania Kitchell, Occupy II. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

'Occupy II' by Tania Kitchell as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 2.jpg
Tania Kitchell, Occupy II. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

Scientists and ecotourists visiting the Arctic are bringing in thousands of seeds that were attached to the sole of their shoes or are falling off from their pockets. It wasn't a problem until a few years ago but temperatures are warming up and the seeds are now taking root, potentially disrupting the ecosystems.

Tania Kitchell 's Occupy II is a representation of alien and invasive plant species that have been sighted in Arctic regions.

In Occupy II the plants are made of ABS plastic that have been formed with 3D modelling software and formed on a 3D printer. Photos were used as references to reproduce plant forms; there is an intentional disregard for a precise likeness as sizes and proportions are not adhered to, but there is a strong connection to the existing plants.

Does this disconnect between perception and reality in any way parallel our misconceptions about the Arctic?

This was one of my favourite works in the show. It is simple and elegant. Yet, there is something slightly disturbing in this assembly of 3Dprinted plants. Even before you even read the text that explains what they represent.

'Solar Wind Aeroscope' by Jonas Hansen and Lasse Scherffig as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Tirnity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegalelry.com.jpg
Jonas Hansen and Lasse Scherffig, Solar Wind Aeroscope. Photo Science Gallery at Tirnity College Dublin

The Solar Wind Aeroscope is another subtle, unassuming but fascinating work.

Jonas Hansen and Lasse Scherffig built an instrument that monitors 'space weather', the environmental conditions created by the Sun and the solar wind and that ultimately influence our own atmosphere.

The system relies on global network of amateur HAM-radio stations known as WSPRnet to measure radio signal range. The signals from this network can travel for thousands of kilometers, by bouncing off of the ionosphere. Because the ionosphere and its reflectivity is affected by the solar wind, the activity of the WSPRnet echoes space weather conditions.

By monitoring radio signals and their origin, the Solar Wind Aeroscope can 'see' the current atmospheric conditions caused by the solar wind. To make these measurements perceptible, the instrument translates the solar wind into actual wind--transforming the gallery into a terrestrial weather station for extraterrestrial weather. The effect is actually very subtle, you need to place your hands on the Aeroscope to perceive the strength of the wind.

'Archive of Old and New Events' by Jodi Newcombe and Tega Brain as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 5.jpg
Jodi Newcombe and Tega Brain, Archive of Old and New Events'. as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

'Archive of Old and New Events' by Jodi Newcombe and Tega Brain as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 2.jpg
Jodi Newcombe and Tega Brain, Archive of Old and New Events, as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

'Archive of Old and New Events' by Jodi Newcombe and Tega Brain as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 1.jpg
Jodi Newcombe and Tega Brain, Archive of Old and New Events, as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

Archive of Old and New Events, by Jodi Newcombe and Tega Brain, imagines what festivals and gatherings will be like after climate change has seriously messed up with the seasonal cycles and local climate conditions that were at the origin of these revelries. Strange new cultural phenomena could take their place.

This speculative project, set in 2030, brings side by side two collections; The Collection of Lost Festivals holds materials from events that have fallen into oblivion. The other is The Collection of New Festivals which documents recent cultural phenomena that have emerged in response to new weather and climate.

How could anyone not covet these stunning 'Toboggan shorts' worn by 2028 race winner worn for the 5th Ave Toboggan Race in New York City:

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N2.01: Toboggan shorts worn by 2028 race winner. Region: USA. Event: 5th Ave Toboggan Race

Or this container of dried jellyfish snack that will be a staple of our diet when jellyfish overpopulates seas that are getting increasingly warm.

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N1.01: Takeaway container with jellyfish snack. Region: China. Event: Sea Moon Jellyfish Feast

'Hazmat Suits for Children' by Marina Zurkow as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 1.jpg
Marina Zurkow, Hazmat Suits for Children. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

Creepy children-size mannequins wearing HazMat Suits are loitering around the Science Gallery.

The corporation DuPont patents their Tychem cleanup suits for hazardous materials, these outfits are used in petroleum industry disaster response to mitigate ecological disasters. Cleanups are thus conducted with the same materials that potentially harm us. Marina Zurkow hand-sewn little HazMat suits for children. These suits, however, are sealed to prevent them from ever being worn by a child.

'Forecasts from the Future' by CoClimate as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegalelry.com 3.jpg
CoClimate, Forecasts from the Future. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

CoClimate invited artists and scientists in STRANGE WEATHER to produce scripts about what weather forecast will be like in the future. And then they had the brilliant idea of installing a fully functional weather forecast set, complete with green screen, teleprompter and camera. Visitors are invited to step in and play the television weatherman, recording the futuristic forecast of their choice and share it on YouTube if they want to.

More images from the show:

'SurvivaBall' by The Yes Men as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 3.jpg
The Yes Men, SurvivaBall. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin


Halliburton´s SurvivaBall from The Yes Men Fix the World

'SurvivaBall' by The Yes Men as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 2.jpg
The Yes Men, SurvivaBall. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 2.jpg
STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

'Isobar Drawings' by Met êireann as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 2.jpg
Met êireann, Isobar Drawings. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

'Climate Bureau' by CoClimate as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 3.jpg
CoClimate, Climate Bureau. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

Strange Weather: Forecasts from the future was curated by artists Zack Denfeld, Cat Kramer from CoClimate and meteorologist Gerald Fleming. The show is open at the Science Gallery in Dublin until 5 October 2014.

Previously: Strange Weather: into the clouds, A People's Archive of Sinking and Melting and The Tornado diverting machine.

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