Yesterday i was in Manchester for the FutureEverything festival. Mostly to see the art exhibition. The festival is up until Saturday but the exhibition remains open until June 10. It's a good show. Small but smart and with a sharp focus on artistic and political potential of new participatory technologies. I'll come back to it over the weekend.
Right now i wanted to have a look at Ollie Palmer's Ant Ballet.
Because of their decentralized organization (swarm intelligence), ants are a good model for the kind of participatory projects the exhibition is exploring this year. In the designer's work however, the behaviour and navigation of the insects are manipulated for artistic purposes. Palmer has spent 2 years observing the Argentine ant, aka Linepithema humile to build the Ant Ballet Machine, a system that enables him to direct ants and make them move in a choreographed fashion.
Using synthesised pheromones and computer vision system, a robotic arm sprays out pheromone powder trails that cause the ants to follow artificial trails in preference to the route they would normally take in search of food.
The project is separated into four phases referencing the 1974 scifi movie Phase IV. In the film, scientists are puzzled by the complex designs that ants have started building in the desert. The ant colony have in fact undergone rapid evolution as a result of a mysterious cosmic event.
Phase I of the Ant Ballet (2010-2012) is the one documented at the FutureEverything exhibition, it covers thorough research into ants and control systems, synthesis of ant pheromones and testing of systems with live ants in Barcelona. Phases II-IV (2012-2015) will develop further technologies, chemicals and mechanisms. In 2013 the first public ant ballet performance will be presented at Pestival Sao Paolo.
Check out the documentation of the Ant Ballet at the 1830 warehouse, the world's first railway warehouse, part of the MOSI (Museum of Science and Industry), Liverpool Rd, Manchester. Entrance to FutureEverybody art exhibition is free. The show remains open until 10 June 2012.
There's only one week left to head to Newcastle, Sunderland, Gateshead and Middlesbrough and visit AV Festival, a biennial of contemporary art, music and film which main theme this year is As Slow As Possible.
One of the works on show is the extremely long-term project that sees Agnes Meyer-Brandis training a flock of young geese to fly to the moon. The whole training started last Spring and according to her schedule, the birds will go on their first unmanned flight to the satellite in 2024. However, the artist plans to accompany them on a later flight, most probably in 2027.
Meyer-Brandis' scientific experiment is inspired by The Man in the Moone, a story written in the early 17th century by English bishop Francis Godwin, a believer in the Copernican heliocentric system and of the latest theories in magnetism and astronomy. The book tells how Domingo Gonsales flies to the moon and gets to meet an advanced lunar civilization. The adventurer managed to escape the 'magnetic attraction of the earth' by harnessing a flock of birds called gansas, specifically trained for the purpose. Some critics regard the story as the first work of science fiction in English.
Since it has become so difficult to locate moon geese, Meyer-Brandis breeds her own moon geese. She acquired the eggs last April, named each of them after an astronaut, placed them in an incubator, watched over them, witnessed the hatching and imprinted herself on to them as their stand-in mother, just like Konrad Lorenz did with greylag geese.
The surrogate mother had to spend the weeks following the hatching in close contact with the eleven geese. The astronaut training started almost immediately, the young birds were encouraged to walk in a V-shape --the formation used to tow Godwin's chariot-- taken on expeditions into the mountains for high altitude training, taught how to use morse code devices for improved interspecies communication, and given lectures about astronomy and navigation.
The birds are currently continuing their training at Pollinaria (Italy), in an analogue that simulates the conditions of the Moon. Visitors of the show The Moon Goose Analogue: Lunar Migration Bird Facility in Newcastle can see a scaled model of the remote analogue site, admire the portraits of the astronauts, watch a documentary of the experiment and follow the birds daily life through the screens in the control room at the back of the gallery.
Documentation of the project and installation The Moon Goose Analogue:
Agnes Meyer-Brandis: The Moon Goose Analogue: Lunar Migration Bird Facility is part of the AV Festival and you can see the film and installation at the Great North Museum: Hancock in Newcastle through 31 March, 2012.
Also on view at the AV Festival: Slow Motion Car Crash.
A wire brush spins around randomly, threatening your open-toe sandals. A motion-activated vacuum pump sucks out the air from a gallery space: the longer viewers remain inside, the less air for them to breathe. A cobble stone is rotating on a rope. The sole purpose of that kettle is to spread red acrylic paint on your shoes. An electric fence criss-crosses the path that leads to an art gallery or the bar. Elsewhere a randomly activated tripwire awaits visitors...
There is nothing even remotely safe in Ben Woodeson's works. In fact, they purposely run on hazard and liability waiver forms. Sometimes they even require safety helmets. Woodeson is from the United Kingdom, a state notorious for its stringent regulation and enforcement of workplace health, safety and welfare. Almost every artists you'll meet in the UK have their own share of H&S-related misadventures to tell.
Woodeson's work uses everyday objects and materials to deride and confronts head-on these often absurd rules. The pieces in his Health & Safety Violation series entice visitors to be brave and come nearer as much as they repel and unnerve them. In the coming weeks, Woodeson will present new works at transmediale in Berlin and at The Florence Trust in London. The installation he will show at the TM festival is A seemingly innocent sculptural curtain bisects the foyer space obstructing the visitor's default routes. Avoiding the work requires a conscious detour while also engaging with it requires a willingness to take risk - an "interactive" piece that does not pretend to be harmless.
I've decided not to go to Transmediale this year (first time in 8 years) but i'll be in London to tell you about what he'll be showing at The Florence Trust. In the meantime, a short interview will have to do....
You've exhibited works that involve a very high degree of risk of injury or death to visitors in several art galleries in the UK. How did you avoid the Health and Safety hassle?
Ha! I don't really try to avoid it, it is part of my practice, I think the dialogue between the exhibiting institutions and myself forms a layer of implied meaning within the work. Most of what I do does entail some form of risk, but the Health & Safety Violation's are a specific group of works, where that risk is overtly presented. This is through a clear and obvious physical danger or sometimes via titles that the gallery is forced to acknowledge and negotiate how the works will be presented. Let's face it with titles like Spinning cobblestone (high speed crack your skull open bleed through your ears version) I'm not really hiding the risk, it's right there shouting; they're not coming to me thinking I'm going to show a nice, safe, comforting watercolour...
Masses! Seriously though, I'm expecting in fact I'd say I was requiring the galleries to compromise so, I'd be a real hypocrite if I wasn't prepared to be flexible. Besides as I mentioned, the dialogue forms a layer of implied meaning within the work. As with any negotiation, there are things that you can or can't compromise on. I'm not prepared to lessen the work by corrupting it or compromising it is such a way that alters the meaning and basic experience that the viewer has. However, within most works there is usually some room for give and take.
As artists I think we become adept at the dialogues with institutions, curators and other artists; the pragmatics about what goes where and all that sort of thing. I'm definitely not a foot stomper or a diva. Things usually come to some form of organic conclusion that fits all concerned. I'd rather pull a work from a show than compromise too far, but, the reality is that the artists, the curator and the gallery all want a show to be as good as possible, the rest is mostly details.
Do you observe visitors? Does it take long before they leave their role as a viewer and become an 'adventurer' of Health and Safety Violation?
Nice question! I certainly do observe, in fact I often film the openings of the shows. I need to answer in a sideways manner: Quite a lot of the recent works are different from the early Health & Safety Violations in that they have become eventful, previously the works such as Spiral Twist Hazard (featured recently on WMMNA) would randomly activate / deactivate / wait and repeat.
A lot of the newer works including ones from the new Causality series are still randomly activated but they only trigger once, their activation has become catastrophic. Examples include One Shot Pretty Sculpture where 2000 matches burn and spell out a text or Ball Droppingly Awesome Glass Sculpture where with no fanfare or warning a small mechanism drops a large steel ball into the middle of a sheet of glass. Both works are irrevocably altered by their activation; the resulting debris then forms a kind of sculptural performative afterlife. I used to hold a position that if my works were switched off they were as invalid as for example a switched off video monitor. However, these recent works are made to be experienced in several states and the exhibition(s) therefore evolves depending on the state of the works.
So, coming back to the question, the viewer is sometimes held in a kind of prolonged anticipation: What is it they are actually seeing? Quite often they've signed a liability waiver at the entrance, so they already have this sense of potential danger and heightened awareness, what they don't have is knowledge of what is or is not safe... The random timing on even the repetitive works means it's hard for them to pigeon hole works as safe, not safe etc. The works often function quite abruptly so rather than there being a sense of things about to happen, there is more a sense of things maybe about to happen but no one is quite sure. The abruptness with it's consequent shock is definitely a fundamental factor in many of the works.
I think there is also a big difference in the adventuresome experience of those present at the opening night and those who visit in quieter circumstances. I do tweak the timings a bit so that some stuff does happen at the openings, and a lot of those people present usually know some of what I do, so in a way as a group they've already crossed over into the adventurer role. By contrast a visitor to a comparatively empty gallery might have little or no prior knowledge of my practice, and there might not be other viewers whose behavior could give clues.
The works are visceral and demanding, their in-your-faceness forces both experienced and inexperienced viewers to physically engage and take the adventure.
Can you tell us about your new Causality series? What is it about?
The Causality series are a new group of works started when I was preparing for my recent show at Elevator Gallery; so far they tend to be less direct. Something happens which then has a result, whereas the Violations switch on and off, there is no direct sense of cause and effect. The Causality works are no less challenging and dangerous, but somehow as I mentioned earlier, becoming more of a specific event rather than a repeating one.
In A Perilous Environment Positively Oozing With Pain and Suffering twelve panes of glass are held angled by fishing twine, a computer randomly selects one of the twelve and ignites a wire wool fuse. The fuse burns the twine causing the glass to crash to the floor. I think the difference between the two groups of works is quite organic; they're all confrontational, challenging and possibly a wee bit dangerous, some just seem to intuitively belong to one or the other series.
I'm definitely still working on the Health & Safety Violations for example I'm just finishing a big new piece called Health & Safety Violation #36 - Bite you on your ass and kiss your socks goodbye for Transmediale in Berlin at the end of January. I'm also concurrently working on the Causality series some of which I hope will be ready to show at the Florence Trust open weekend.
You are a Florence Trust resident this year, what are you planning to work on during this residency?
The Florence Trust residencies are really pretty special, time is whizzing by, we're about half way through, in fact the Winter Open is the weekend of 3rd February (PV on the Friday night). For me it has been an interesting time in that I had planned to develop new works that while still clearly fitting within my interests would maybe be more versatile and flexible. However ironically 90% of the new works I've made have been just as difficult and confrontational as ever and so far I don't see any signs of that shifting. I work quite intuitively; balancing concept, material and activity, and maybe it's the church or whatever, but versatile and flexible suddenly seems far less interesting and engaging when compared to fear, fire, gravity, electricity, breaking glass and general sculptural carnage; in other words all the usual stuff that floats my boat.
Previously: Experimental Station - Part 1, In the Laboratory.
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: