I discovered the work of Anri Sala only a few months ago but once i looked into it, i started seeing his work everywhere. Back in September 2011, i was invited to the Absolut Art Award in Stockholm to see some of his videos, attend a screening with popcorn of 1395 Days without Red and interview the artist. A few weeks later, Anri Sala had a solo show at the Serpentine Gallery in London. The show is now closed. I've waited far too long to write about Anri Sala's work.
Sala is a video artist but somehow, he outgrows the title. He makes films of course but each of them enters in a dialogue with local weather conditions, architecture, history, live performances, sound, language, public participation, etc. Even more interestingly, he seems to play his own works against each other.
Many of Sala's works are stuck inside my head, even months after having seen them. Let's start with the first video i saw:
On what looks like the outskirts of a city, a lonely man is slowly playing Should I Stay or Should I Go? on his music box. Somewhere nearby, a man and woman are pushing a music box on a cart that plays the same punk-rock tune.
But there's a third instrument playing the famous riff of the song: an abandoned concert hall where The Clash played in the early 1980s. Microphones were placed inside the building and the music reverberates with a melancholy that the original tune didn't have.
Le Clash is an homage to punk-rock song Should I Stay or Should I Go?. It is also almost a reenactment of the concert the group gave in that building in Bordeaux. But the once influential rock and punk venue is derelict, its future uncertain, just like the relationship the song is talking about.
The show at Serpentine added a further layer to the movie: a glass pane was fitted with a music box that visitors could play. The music was the same as the film's soundtrack. Sadly, it was broken when i visited the show.
In the site-specific installation, Score, the perforated score used in the barrel organ is part of the architecture of Serpentine gallery. The perforated pattern is carved through walls covering the windows in one of the exhibition spaces, translating sound into a different materiality and creating openings to the park, letting the natural light sneak into the gallery and intertwining the sounds of the park and the sounds of the gallery.
The lion of Why the Lion Roars is the Metro Goldwyn Mayer one. The lion usually roars to signal the start of a movie, the start of the viewer's disconnection from the outside world. In Sala's piece, the animal roars each time the temperature outside of the cinema room goes up or down. The installation is based on a temperature chart made up of several movies. Every degree Celsius represents one movie. A film like Jean-Luc Godard's Alphaville is associated with cool temperatures, a romantic drama will evoke the Summer. Whenever the temperature outside the exhibition building changes, the movie on display inside changes, too.
If you're lucky, the temperature outside won't bulge and you'll be able to watch Ninotchka till the end. Most of the time, however, only fragments of various length of the films are screened.
Why the Lion Roars is the temperature-cut version of a fiction based on a true story: the weather.
Answer Me was filmed in Berlin's listening station Teufelsberg, which means "Devil's Mountain" in German. It's actually just a hill but a hill made from the rubble of postwar Berlin and a military-technical college designed by Albert Speer (Adolf Hitler's chief architect), is buried under it. Later on, the NSA built a listening station on top of the hill to monitor Soviet and East German communications.
In the film, a woman attempts to end a relationship, but the man stubbornly plays the drum to silence her. Her appeal is lost in the spectacular space of the Buckminster Fuller-created geodesic dome and even after the man has stopped playing the drum, the whole drama is deafened by the long echos reverberated in the building structure. But the role of the building doesn't stop there, the frequencies of the man drumming are amplified by the dome, causing the skin of a drum abandoned next to the frustrated woman to vibrate and its drumsticks to bounce.
1395 Days Without Red, 1395 without being able to wear red or any other bright colour that might be easily spotted by one of the snipers positioned in the hills surrounding Sarajevo during the siege that lasted from May 1992 till February 1996. The film relives the trauma experienced day after day by people caught up in the siege.
The camera follow a woman crossing the city. Each crossing, each alley, each street commands a change of pace. She often has to pause when she feels that the next few meters will expose her to shootings. Then she holds her breath for a moment (i found myself doing the same) and runs till she has reached a safer street. The city's topography alternates exposure and protection, fear and relief.
As the woman moves through the deserted city, an orchestra rehearses Tchaikovsky's Symphony No 6, Pathétique elsewhere in the city. She seems to rehearse the music in her head too, using it as the soundtrack of her perilous journey through the city under siege.
The ABSOLUT ART AWARD was instituted in 2009 to celebrate the vodka company's 30 years of creative collaborations (which started by chance during a dinner attended by Andy Warhol i was told.) After giving the award to Keren Cytter in 2009 and Rirkrit Tiravanija in 2010, the third annual ABSOLUT ART AWARD went thus to Anri Sala. He clearly deserved the recognition.
The jury's citation reads: "Anri Sala's work offers a unique way of looking at the world that combines reflection on history, memories, and consciousness of the instant, with an absolute awareness of presence and disappearance. He possesses a special talent for precise and subtle displays, and a unique ability to conceive installations and architectural proposals including sound, image, sculpture, film and live performances."
I can't seem to hold their flash website against the Gamerz festival. It remains one of my favourite events of the year.
The 7th edition of GAMERZ took place last November in postcard pretty Aix-en-Provence. As its name suggests, the festival presents video games, interactive works and a playground atmosphere but gaming is more a pretext than the whole raison d'être of GAMERZ. The free exhibitions, performances, concerts and conferences embrace all kinds of art forms that refer to or use digital technology. So yes, Gamerz offers machinima and AR video games but also paintings, light performances and choir singers.
I like GAMERZ because it's eclectic, because it makes me discover plenty of artists i had never heard about before but also because it reminds me that festivals should be left more often in the hands of artists. They take risk, follow their whim, trust other artists barely out of the academy, and care little about sticking to genres and formulas.
Talking about taking risks....
One of the most popular pieces in the exhibition was Paul Destieu's Fade-Out, a video that records the progressive burying of a drum set under gravels. The gravel hitting the percussion parts produces a rhythm section, which rapidly turns into a sound and visual chocking. I watched the video a first time for the images and came back to it, just to take the sound in. The sequence shot proposes experimentation around the technical state of Fade-out, by materializing the decrease of sound and visual signal, until a complete silence and disappearance.
Monsieur Moo's Meule 2 Foin (french for haystack) is a big hay ball that emits loud sound when you push it. To turn the loud noise into a melody, visitors have to keep a certain, equal pace. It looks like the most elementary way to 'interact' with an artwork: you just have to roll it around. In fact, the work's sole ambition is to cheer up visitors. However, once you're in front of the ball, you realize it's not going to be a piece of cake. First of all the hay ball is ultra heavy and you might need some help in order to get it rolling. Add to that that the surface around the hay ball is slippery and you're in for a good sweat moving that damn ball around.
Mr Moo imposes a forced walk that illustrates his mocking analysis of mobility and interactivity issues in contemporary art.
Le Faussiare (The Forger) by artists' collective Dardex-Mort2Faim (Quentin Destieu, Romain Senatore, Sylvain Huguet and Stephane Kyles) is a robotic arm that counterfeits the autograph of famous artists. The work is intended to satisfy an audience that has elevated famous artists to the rank of major rock stars but also to set the artists themselves free from any unwanted social obligation towards the public. So far the robotic device only fakes Andy Warhol's autograph but it will soon offer art fans a databank of famous artists' signatures to chose from.
Antonin Fourneau was showing the work in progress version of Oterp, a mobile phone game using a GPS sensor to manipulate music in real time, depending on the player's position on Earth. Players have to locate and capture sounds in their surrounding, the more sound creatures they catch, the more sophisticated the music becomes. I played with Oterp at the exhibition opening. It was fun to be that rude girl walking through groups of people having conversation and frustrating not to be able to catch a creature because that would have implied jumping into a pond. What makes Oterp stand from similar dérive-like games is the quality of its design. The music was created by Jankenpopp and Thomas Michalak aka T M. The graphic designer is Syclo. They all did such an outstanding job that players tend to stick to the game longer than they would normally.
Dipterous experience is an archaic visual process combined with a micrographic device paying tribute to flies... some fruit burst open so that you may enjoy it better. No idea how to explain this one clearly, i guess you just have to pop your head into Servovalve's Dipterous Experience.
ELIZA meets an old Olivetti typewriter in Gauthier Le Rouzic's TypeWriterBot. Ask the typewriter a question and it will engage in a conversation with you, greeting you with a 'hello, night bird!' if it's late, asking you about your hopes for the national elections if there's a political election running at the moment and answering your most stupid questions with humour and astuteness. Reading through the printed conversations, it immediately appears that the typewriter is far wittier than the humans.
Isabelle Arvers curated a Machinima exhibition for GAMERZ. All the details can be found on her webpage so i'll only highlight Josh Bricker's Post Newtonianism, a two channel video that shows side by side images from the video game Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and actual war footage taken from cameras mounted on American military aircraft during the first Gulf War in 1991 as well as during the recent occupation of Iraq. There are bombing of vehicles, military targets, shooting of insurgents and oppositional forces. The sound track mixes the audio from the video game with the sound of a classified material released in 2010 by Wikileaks showing Apache helicopters killing two Reuters reporters and attacking, wounding or killing other targets on dubious grounds.
The pictures from both sources are disturbingly similar. Josh Bricker's experiment is a simple but effective analysis of why images should be watched with a certain suspicion. The documentary value of this film is not only on what we see, but on how incapable we are to recognize the origin of the images our own society produces.
I wanted to embed directly the video in this post but YouTube first asked me to login to 'verify' that i'm 18 or older and when i tried to do so, the page said that "YouTube is not available for wmmna.com". But here's the link to the video and my blog will make do with the comment from the artist:
And with that i'm wishing you all a happy 2012!
Over 50 years ago, Philips commissioned Le Corbusier to create their pavilion at the 1958 Brussels World's Fair. Designed to showcase the company's engineering prowess, the pavilion was a cluster of nine hyperbolic paraboloid in which music was spatialized by sound projectionists using telephone dials. Edgard Varèse composed a piece of electronic music, the Poème Electronique, and drew up a detailed spatialization scheme for the entire piece.
Neither Varèse nor Le Corbusier were Dutch but Varèse's composition was developed with the engineers at Philips' NatLab, in Eindhoven. This experimental laboratory gave light to many inventions such as the radio tube, short wave transmitter, videodisc and compact disc. The NatLab was located at the Klokgebouw, a 1928 industrial hall which in November was housing the STRP festival for the fifth time.
STRP was in great shape this year. It's a real pleasure to follow a festival that gets from strength to strength in such a fast and steady way. The symposium was impeccable, the night programme as edgy and spectacular as ever. At least that's what i was told. At night i either sleep or blog but as you can see the crowd was clearly satisfied:
The organizers and curators also had the excellent idea of setting up an exhibition that brought the spotlight on the history of Dutch art and technology. The show was both a celebration of the talent of media artists in The Netherlands but also a gesture of support towards the Dutch new media institutes (namely V2_, Waag Society, STEIM, Mediamatic, WORM, Submarine Channel, NIMk) whose survival is threatened by drastic (and short-sighted) governmental cuts.
Regarded by some as the first "multimedia work of art" and developed at the very location of the STRP festival, the Poème Electronique was the best opener to the exhibition timeline of past and present media art works in The Netherlands. The exhibition was a captivating journey that brought me from old favourite such as Spatial Sounds....
To classics of Dutch media art (many of which i was only discovering) and world premiere of installations developed by young Dutch artists. Here's a quick selection:
The video of the re-enactment of Dick Raaijmakers' 1979 excruciatingly slow performance. In Graphic Method Bicycle, a naked cyclist covers a distance of 10 metres in 30 minutes. The bicycle is pulled forwards by a motorized winch and steel cable. Lifted up off the saddle by one of the pedals extremely slowly, the cyclist is forced to dismount. It's like a slow-motion video in flesh and bone. The performance requires considerable strength, concentration and balance and one can hear his pulse, breath and see his muscles quivering.
Perhaps my favourite work in the exhibition, Edwin van der Heide's DSLE -2- plays with light and sound to throw off spatial perception. The immersive environment uses octophonic loudspeakers and a surround installation made of LED panels that light up a screen.
Moments where sound and light appear to interrelate with each other are complemented with moments where the spatial perception of sound and light contradict with each other and lead to distinct ambivalences in our perception of space.
STRP had also toured the country's art academies to find some of the most promising artists. One of them is Jeffrey Van Oers whose Ambisonic Flightcase is a dark box for one person that encloses you into 3-D surround sound. At a time when every single work is multi-sensory, multi-disciplinary, it's fantastic to be offered the opportunity to focus on hearing only:
Marnix de Nijs gave a world wide update to his installation Exploded Views. The immersive piece invites visitors to physically navigate 3D models of some of the world's most photographed sites constructed from images uploaded on Flickr. The amount of detail in the 3-D model corresponds to the amount of photos of a given location. The 2.0. suffix is thus still very much in vogue in the NL.
Evelina Domnitch and Dmtry Gelfand's Hydrogeny is a tank of ultra-pure water scanned by a laser sheet.
Electrodes at the bottom of the tank split water into hydrogen and oxygen gas which form bubbles that slowly make their way to the surface. The water is further disturbed by sound and as the sonic frequency and amplitude rises, the hydrogen bubbles start to coalesce with one another while a white laser sheet scans and illuminates their movements.
Beyond macroscopically observable bubbles, an expanse of nanobubbles hides within the water's internal architecture. Some researchers presume that these nanobubbles of dissolved gas are the carriers of water's magnetic 'memory', enabling electromagnetic fields to saturate its innards for hours and even days after their initial appearance. In the seas and oceans, the lingering presence of electromagnetic fields photonically imparted by sunlight, triggers the electrolysis responsible for most of the Earth's hydrogen. An essential form of photosynthesis, solar water splitting is the cleanest and most efficient means imaginable for generating and storing energy.
Bert Schutter's windmill is best enjoyed with sound and movement:
A week ago i was in Eindhoven for an of the STRP festival that surpassed all my expectations. The curators and directors of the event had the brilliant (and timely) idea of dedicating the whole exhibition to the history of new media art in The Netherlands. I'll come back with a report or two about the show as soon as i've collected all the pictures and texts i need. But i found that one of the pieces exhibited, Delusions of Self-Immolation, is so powerful and disturbing it deserved its own post.
Delusions of Self-Immolation, aka 'the suicide machine', was a built by Erik Hobijn in the 1990s to set members of the public on fire. Literally.
The person would stand on a platform covered in a flame-resistant gel. A flame-thrower would then burn their body for less then half a second. The platform then turns on itself so that the extinguisher situated on the opposite side of the machine can extinguish the person immediately.
In an interview with Derek Holzer, Hobijn explained: There are three states on the machine which I call "rare", "medium", and "well done". "Rare" means you survive without any wounds. "Medium" is more for, say, the SM session or for people who like pain to understand parts of life, or to have this experience of pain. The third possibility is death. It is possible to die in this machine; I just have to change the liquid, and I have to change the timing.
Some 30 people have tested it at the time, many of whom were women.
Obviously, there is something physical in the Self-Immolation experience but what goes on inside the mind of the people before, during and after the burning alive experience must be even more intense and fascinating.
If you speak dutch, i would recommend the book SKG: kunst, muziek & terreur 1978-1981 by Martijn Haas that reconstruct the 'night of terrorism' orchestrated by Hobijn in the Summer of 1980 in Amsterdam.
A quote from John Cage, 'art is sort of an experimental station in which one tries out living', gave its title to the exhibition that opened a few days ago at Laboral Art and Industrial Creation Centre in Gijón, Spain. Estación experimental [Experimental Station] (see the first part of my report over here) presents the work of artists who see in scientific research a path for artistic methodology and inspiration. Whether the relationship they have developed with science is akin to formal research, pataphysics, science-fiction or investigates paranormal events, these artists play with our expectations and question our current knowledge without necessarily looking for a definite answer. The works selected are often low-tech, they are made using plastic flowers, old school turntables, magnets, music boxes or butane gas cylinder. The way they function is sometimes even laid before the visitor's eyes. No mystery, no magic trick but poetry, irony and inquisitiveness.
The exhibition is divided into 4 sections that sometimes intertwine and overlap. I've already explored the chapter about artists in the laboratory. Here's my notes on the artists who leave the lab to explore nature and on those who are looking for alternative uses of existing technology.
The Fieldwork section, dedicated to artists who get out of the labs to collect data or formulate theories that combine art, science and nature, contained two of my favourite works.
The first is Herbarium of Artificial Plants for which Alberto Baraya took the role of a botanical explorer and collected, catalogued and displayed artificial plants from some of the earth's most fertile places, starting with Colombia, his own native country and one of the world's most biodiverse countries. Made out of plastic or fabric, the samples are dissected and exhibited inside botanical slides that rigorously detail the false plant parts and their characteristics.
Baraya's concern is representation, not ecological critique. "A lot of people need a relationship with nature, the good feeling of nature, but they sometimes get it through artificial plants. We need the representation of nature more than the reality" (via.)
4,000 years ago, a shower of meteorites crashed into Campo del Cielo, Argentina, a rare event that turned the area into natural research laboratory. Since 2006, Guillermo Faivovich and Nicolás Goldberg have been investigated the cultural impact of the Campo del Cielo meteorites.
One of the meteorites, named El Taco, weighed 1998 kg. It is older than Earth itself, and comes from the Asteroid Belt located between Mars and Jupiter. Discovered in 1962 by a farmer, the meteorite was shipped to the Max Planck Institute in Germany and divided in two halves through a cutting procedure that took more than a year. Since then, one part has been located at Washington's Smithsonian Institution, the other one in Buenos Aires's Planetarium. In 2010, a Faivovich & Goldberg exhibition held at Portikus, Frankfurt, reunited the two main masses of El Taco, after almost forty-five years of being apart.
The artists have now embarked on a research for a second specimen that seems to have mysteriously vanished into thin air. The Mesón de Fierro was a meteorite venerated by the area's original inhabitants since it crashed there thousands of years ago. It was last recorded in 1783 by lieutenant commander Miguel Rubín de Celis, who led one of the first scientific expeditions in South America. Despite its weight of 15 to 20 tonnes, the Meson del Fierro is now lost, no one has the slightest idea on its whereabouts.
The artists in the Artefacts and Mechanisms section are mostly interested in subverting existing technology. Interestingly, most of them were sound artefacts and their cohabitation in the same space leads to a surprisingly pleasing 'soundscape.' O Grivo's turntables proved to be the perfect companions for the tired and delicate sound of Alberto Tadiello's Eprom. I'll never get tired of seeing this installation (or any other of Tadiello's work), strangely enough, i have the feeling i might have blogged this one a thousand times but can't find the post anywhere.
O Grivo build musical instruments using waste or cheap materials. From old turntables to bits of cables or wood. Activated by mechanical and electrical systems, the instruments might look like accidental contraptions but pay closer attention and you will realize that their sound is as delightful as their visual appearance.
Julio Adán's Ecografía (no tocar, por favor) had a whole room to itself. Adán uses musical instruments for drawing using magnetic dust. The result is unpredictable and often fairly loud. The motors and sensors are activated by the presence of visitors.
Guillem Bayo gives life to banal objects in his Misfits Series. The emergency fire hose got out of its box and snakes around the room but the fire extinguisher hasn't quite found a way to escape and repeatedly knocks on the door to be able to exit.
The idea is simple and perhaps not particularly original but its realization was charming and the artist somehow managed to give a 'soul' and a real intent to the rebellious objects.
Estación experimental [Experimental Station] remains open through April 9, 2012 at Laboral Centre of Art and Industrial Creation in Gijón, Spain.
Estación experimental [Experimental Station], an exhibition that just opened at Laboral Centre of Art and Industrial Creation, presents the work of artists who are inspired by scientific research. Whether the relationship they have developed with science is akin to formal research, pataphysics, science-fiction or investigates paranormal events, these artists play with our expectations and question our current knowledge without necessarily looking for a clear answer. What matters in their work is not the end result, but the process, the experiment, the long journey of trial and error.
The exhibition is at time playful and amusing and at time leading to more contemplative moments. I was particularly glad that Estación experimental gave me the opportunity to discover so many young Spanish artists. I hope i'll get to see more of their work in the coming years.
The first chapter of the exhibition gives a general overview of the concept behind the show. In the Laboratory brings together the artists who use their studio or an exhibition space as a place for experimentation. I've already mentioned Caleb Charland and the homemade experiments he photographs in his garage.
Another artist who makes jaw-dropping experiments with physical phenomena is Alistair McClymont who recreated a tornado inside one of the exhibition rooms. The mechanics that activate the rotating column of air are not hidden from visitor's view: fans, scaffolding, black tubes and a humidifier.
The sculpture uses mundane materials to recreate a rare meteorological phenomenon that can have devastating effects. In the gallery however, visitors are free to step into the whirlwind of air and vapor and experience its physical presence without any danger.
Danger, or rather the perception of it, is at the core of Ben Woodeson's work. The sculpture he's showing in Laboral bears the tongue-in-cheek name Health & Safety Violation #15 - Spiral twist hazard. I'm all for poking fun at the over-regulations that dominate cultural spaces (especially in England, a country never afraid of reaching new heights of ridicule in that matter.) Spiral Twist Hazard is a black cable that hangs from the ceiling and twists, untwists, whips and moves as if it had a life of its own.
Because the title warns you of the cable 'purpose', the threat becomes appealing, it puts visitor to the test: will you dare go nearer or will you retreat safely?
Spiral Twist Hazard is one of the exercises in a long series of "Health and Safety Violations" that the artist began in 2009. I'm quite fond of the aggressive shoe brush (video might take a few moments to load but well worth the wait), the pump that suffocates you by vacuuming air away from the gallery space, the beads thrown on the floor, etc. I like them all. I should interview him one day. Right?
Artist Rubén Ramos Balsa worked at the service of engineer Oumar Haidara Fall to help him communicate his physics theory. The video and mock-up on show illustrate in a tangible way the Senegalese scientist's work on the mechanical disruption of symmetry.
I'm not sure i understood the theory quite clearly but from what i managed to gather, the research questions the laws of gravity inherited from Newton and tests the possibility of increasing mass in the same trajectory.
The project page explains that The work carried out jointly by the engineer and the artist explores and tests the validity of the Autonomous Mechanical Multiplier as a principle that can prove the theory of the evolutionary conservation of the unity of multiple dimensions.
I'll come back later on this week with more posts about the exhibition but don't wait for me to check out the catalogue of the show, it's available as a PDF on Laboral's website. And here's a few pitiful photos i made while visiting the show.