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POLSPRUNG, installation view in Riga. Image courtesy of FIELDS

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POLSPRUNG

Yet another work i discovered in Riga when i visited Fields - patterns of social, scientific, and technological transformations, an exciting exhibition featuring artworks that challenge existing viewpoints, deconstructs social issues, and proposes positive visions for the future.

POLSPRUNG, by Erich Berger, explores the psychology and politics of disaster. The installation focuses on geomagnetic reversal, a change in Earth's magnetic field that makes poles switch ends with the magnetic north pole becoming south, and vice versa. Scientists believe that the reversal is cyclically and some have even calculated that the moment is long overdue.

Starting from (im)possible disasters during a polar reversal, an attempt is made to generally ask how we deal with threat scenarios and states of emergency. We are hereby especially interested in the role of mass media in the production of a permanent state of emergency, as well as the social function and the possible exploitation of disasters for personal, economic and political purposes.

The POLSPRUNG installation features a series of instruments that measure the earth's magnetic field to detect a possible polar reversal, register the gamma radiation caused by the solar wind and compare the data with the speculative disastrous gamma radiation data during a polar reversal. A small reading space also provides information about polar reversal research and disaster speculation, a magnetite laboratory and a notebook in which visitors can write down their thoughts about disasters.

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POLSPRUNG, installation view in Riga. Image courtesy of FIELDS

Interview with the artist:

Hi Erich! I've been looking online to understand the meaning of Polsprung and the more i googled, the more lost i felt: it is geomagnetic reversal and not pole shift, right?

In Polsprung I refer to the geomagnetic reversal, when magnetic north and south are reversing their position and earth its geomagnetic polarity. The German word for the geomagnetic reversal is POLSPRUNG and I use it because of "SPRUNG" - which means "jump" as substantive. A "jump" implies some form of time, something very short in our time experience. But a geomagnetic reversal has a duration of about 10.000 years - nothing we humans would consider a jump, it is only a jump considering geological time. I liked the idea of the jump which makes us think about different time scales.

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Appearance of magnetic field before and during a reversal (credit: Gary Glatzmaier/Los Alamos National Laboratory)

The other thing about frantically googling Polsprung is that it does look scary. Maybe worse than anything we might read about climate change (sorry for the link to that awful publication) Yet, it doesn't get that much coverage in newspapers. How do you explain that? Is it because we cannot yet feel the effects of the Polsprung?

True, from time to time we hear about a possible catastrophic scenario related to the polar reversal, but maybe it is not so popular amongst journalists, as the concept is not so easy to sell. And there are less "esoteric" scenarios around. This was also the reason I picked it, because it is rarely used in talking about catastrophes.

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POLSPRUNG, installation view in Riga. Image courtesy of Erich Berger

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POLSPRUNG, installation view in Riga. Image courtesy of Erich Berger

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POLSPRUNG, installation view in Riga. Image courtesy of Erich Berger

Could you tell us about the setting of the installation. It's very techy, with instruments that look scientific. Yet, the work explores 'the role of mass media in the production of a permanent state of emergency, as well as the social function and the possible exploitation of disasters for personal, economic and political purposes.' So what is the role of the instruments if the works explore the psychological and political dimensions of a catastrophe?

A constant flow of states of emergency produced through media was the starting point for me to work on POLSPRUNG. In the last years I saw myself constantly bombarded with possible catastrophes, the swine flue, the bird flue, climate change, global warming, peak oil, an asteroid hitting, super solar storms, you name it. Some of these scenarios are just briefly in the media, some stay for some weeks and month others are permanently with us.

It is a really interesting phenomena when you observe it for a while. Most of these scenarios never play out, or were totally disproportionate or are predicted for a future we are not part of. What they have in common is that they create states of emergency which create fear, keep us occupied and make us worry about our current life, our loved ones and our future. States of emergency are also perfect for enforcing measures which we could call unpopular, so I am also interested in the politics of these states.

So I thought to create a test environment, a laboratory, a vehicle to explore such a case. I was looking for a possible scenario which would not be possibly created by human impact like climate change or random (act of god?) catastrophes like an asteroid collision. My interest in geology lead me to the geomagnetic reversal. If we look at the reversal statistics of the last 5 million years then the next reversal is long overdue - so I found my perfect state of emergency. Now, the speculations of possible catastrophes related to a polar reversal range from nothing to a complete mass extinction event. One quite probably effect could be an increase in gamma radiation on the ground leading to a higher rate of mutation in biological organisms but also to unwanted interaction with the electronic hardware. The electromagnetic spectrum was always of high interest to me in my artistic work and so I settled for the gamma radiation increase as possible catastrophe. With this as basic setting the installations manifests itself in 3 parts:

* Disastrous test arrangement # 1: Polar Reversal Detector
A magnetometer measures the earth's magnetic field to detect a possible polar reversal and make the deviation of the pole from its "normal" position audible through sonification.

* Disastrous test arrangement # 2: Muon Telescope
A muon telescope permanently registers the gamma radiation caused by the solar wind, comparing the measured data with the speculatively disastrous gamma radiation data during a polar reversal.

These two arrangements are self build but functioning instruments which permanently detect the fluctuations of the earth magnetic field (magnetometer) and the related gamma radiation (muon detector). With enough patience and time at hand (a couple of hundreds to thousand years) one can observe the reversal process and gamma ray increase - I call that radical witnessing.

Though the instruments are built quite simple and open they still remain black boxes for the visitor and make it difficult to completely understand the whole process. The detection really happens but people also need to believe in it and need to make them believe to actually be able to create the state of emergency.

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Image courtesy of Erich Berger

* Disastrous test arrangement # 3: Reading and Feedback
Includes information about polar reversal research and disaster speculation. The disaster notebook invites spectators to give personal feedback on their fear of disasters.

The third arrangement is central, as here fears and personal catastrophes of visitors and witnesses are collected. A black book on a writing table invites people to write down their stories and thoughts. The book collects the stories of the different exhibition venues. I haven't seen the result from Riga yet, but in Hamburg, where POLSPRUNG was exhibited for the first time, people made intense use of it. At the same table you find literature to read regarding the polar reversal, the dynamic environment our earth represents when you look at it from a deep time perspective but also philosophy and ecology of geology and disaster sensationalism. For the more playful mind there is also a box where you can investigate and play with magnetic minerals.

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Curie's Children [glow boys, radon daughters] (Martin Howse and Erich Berger measuring radiation). Picture by Liisa Louhela during Case Pyhäjoki

"POLSPRUNG is the first installation in a cycle of the works that deal with the psychology and politics of disaster." Do you already know what the upcoming installations will be like?

I am currently working on the second work called INHERITANCE together with Finnish/Danish jewellery artist Mari Keto.

I already mentioned my interest in geology which specifically focuses on techno minerals, like uranium and thorium ores or rare earth elements, their origin, occurrences, mining, technologies and politics, etc. In one of my field trips quite close to my home I discovered native copper in the bedrock.

I knew this was exceptional and informed the geological research centre. To make a long story short, my sample also caught the attention of the researchers working for the Finnish nuclear waste industry. They saw the sample as physical evidence that copper is resistant enough as canister material for nuclear waste in Finnish bedrock. This was a rather
unforeseen and unfortunate outcome of my activities and the only sensible way for me to respond was to start to engage with the topic.


Into Eternity - Trailer

Finland currently builds the first permanent nuclear waster storage facility called Onkalo. There is a quite interesting film by Danish film maker Michael Madsen which I can recommend, called INTO ETERNITY which explores the facility and the people working around it. Also last year I participated in the excellent nuclear field lab Case Pyhäjoki organised by Mari Keski-Korsu which engaged with Finnish nuclear politics from an art and activism viewpoint. Anyway, nuclear processes are vast in time but also in their spacial and economical dimensions, and as such really difficult to grasp. I was thinking of ways how to make them more comprehensive and now we are working on sets of family jewellery which are rendered unwearable through their radionuclide content for quite a long time.

Family jewellery is perfect to inverse the logic of nuclear waste. Family jewellery is a vehicle for family identity and wealth into the future. With nuclear waste we in-debt the future. We have now researched the legal conditions we are working in and planned 3 different jewellery sets which will be presented as installations. Details are too early to
explain.

Another off-spin of this workings is the Curie's Children [glow boys, radon daughters] workshop which I developed together with Martin Howse.

Thanks Erich!

This is the last weekend to discover the Fields exhibition, produced by RIXC and curated by Raitis Smits, Rasa Smite and Armin Medosch. The show remains open at Arsenals Exhibition Hall of the Latvian National Arts Museum (LNAM) in Riga until August 3, 2014.

Other posts about the Fields exhibition: Sketches for an Earth Computer, Ghostradio, the device that produces real random numbers, On the interplay between a snail and an algorithm and FIELDS, positive visions for the future.

Sponsored by:





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Sketches for an Earth Computer, installation view in Riga. Image courtesy of FIELDS

Yet another post about a work i discovered in RIga when i visited Fields - patterns of social, scientific, and technological transformations, a (fantastic and still open) exhibition featuring works by artists who have adopted an engaged, critical and active role in society.

Sketches for an Earth Computer is an ongoing series of living "laboratory" studies that explore the links between the earth, code and the human psyche of the viewer.

Over the past few years, Martin Howse has been investigating the possibility to build a computational device that would not only be constructed solely from the earth but would also be embedded within the earth as a critical monument to human technology.

The computer enters a feedback loop with the environment itself as geophysical, biological and electro-chemical elements can both encode and be modified by the computational structures.

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Sketches for an Earth Computer, installation view in Riga. Image courtesy of Martin Howse

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Sketches for an Earth Computer, installation view in Riga. Image courtesy of Martin Howse

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Sketches for an Earth Computer, installation view in Riga. Image courtesy of Martin Howse

Questions to Martin Howse:

Hi Martin! Could you explain the setting of the installation at the FIELDS exhibition?
What each elements stands for? Its role in the system?

As background it's important to understand that all of these elements are simply fragments of sketches towards the working out of what could be described an earth computer. The images in the background show elements of the installation operating within a forest environment in Germany. So the elements of the installation are designed as pointers towards these functional aspects of the earth computer, which may or may not operate correctly within an exhibition environment.

For example, the hanging sealed earth container references the potential recoding of electrochemical earth elements using a primitive solar cell constructed between copper, copper oxide plates and forest earth.

The large, floor-situated earth container (using forest earth dug one hour away from Riga in the "magic forest", and gypsum from a nearby quarry), refers to potential chemical changes in the earth induced by water passing through this stack of minerals above the earth. At the same time all of these containers draw attention to the drawing of a boundary for the earth, and the disconnection from the deep forest setting for which the earth computer is intended.

The last, most complex earth computer demonstrates several parts of the earth computing system; a display based on early telegraphy technology, the mirror galvanometer, transduces and makes visible signals from the earth using a moving mirror, fixed coil and small laser light beam. This is the interface to the earth computer. Forest earth in this container is also seeded with oyster mushroom mycelium and doped with silver nitrate, attempting to form over time a processor for the earth computer.

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Sketches for an Earth Computer, installation view in Riga. Photo by RIXC, The Centre for New Media Culture

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Sketches for an Earth Computer, installation view in Riga. Photo by RIXC, The Centre for New Media Culture

You developed an earthboot that 'enables almost any computer to boot straight from the earth'. How reliable is the system exactly?

The system is far from reliable, given that the earth has no interest or intention in correctly coding an operating system. Most of the time the computer crashes silently; a blank unresponsive interface. In perhaps one out of twenty sessions there are more colourful (see image on: http://www.1010.co.uk/org/earthcode.html)

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earthboot

Would any kind of earth do? or is it like a plant, responding better to certain types of earth (drier, more acidic, etc.) than to other?

Dry earth presents more problems for the flow of signals so is not so well suited for the earthboot device. I also prefer to use more active soils, with plenty of mycelial or insect/worm action. I modified the earthboot device towards the production of worm coded sound performance and worm poetry recitals. This came directly from work with Shu Lea Cheang focusing on links between code or data and the composting process.

The project puts the computer in direct contact with the Earth which at first doesn't sound very eco-friendly. What about all the mercury and other polluting chemical elements leaking into the soil?

Well the earthboot operates on a very small scale and there are no polluting chemicals directly in contact with the earth or soil, but other projects such as The Crystal World with Jonathan Kemp and Ryan Jordan have explored the techno-ecological cycle of extraction (of minerals) and return of polluting elements to the earth. I'm very interested in less direct parallels between such cycles and computation itself.

In an interview with Motherboard, you say: "One question I'm very interested in which you could say fuels my research is to ask where exactly software executes. In other words, where exactly do these seemingly abstract coded processes which seriously effects our lives, where do these take place?" Could you explain in more details what you mean by that and how the earth fits into this?

Software is viewed as a more or less invisible, obscured or blackboxed process which is situated, if at all, in computer hardware. Yet the exact place of the transition from physical, material flows or changes to symbolic structure is hard to pin down. So I was interested in speculating where that place of transition might be located, also in moving it away from this black-boxed laptop, phone or PC. These new locations I viewed as sites of execution, of where that thing called software enacts on the physical. One site could be the earth, as code runs predominantly on silicon substrates which have been synthesised from sand/earth.

And concerning the literal impacting of software on humans, I considered skin as another potential site of execution, relating this to computer virus and pornography. I also created a work called Pain Registers which explored very literally this connection; in this piece minute software changes operating under the interface surface of say an app like Firefox are literally painstakingly translated (by code) into the movement of a needle tattooing the hand of the user.

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Pain Registers (two days after two minutes firefox activity)

The work in the FIELDS exhibition is called Sketches for an earth computer', does it mean that this is just the beginning, that you are going to push the project further?

Sketches forms the background of a range of works and performances over the years and definitely the central idea of an earth computer or earth interpreter (in the software sense) will be pushed further. I'm interested now in looking at how software processes coded by the earth instead of being simply observed can equally re-code or impact on the earth. Parallels could be established with certain mining practices and I've recently explored these possibilities with Jonathan Kemp during our Stack, Frame, Heap residency in Lueneburg which also aimed to see how this exploration can mesh with historical land art, or large-scale alterations to the landscape.

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Stack, Frame, Heap (in collaboration with Jonathan Kemp.) Image courtesy of Martin Howse

Thanks Martin!

Check out Sketches for an Earth Computer at the Fields exhibition, produced by RIXC and curated by Raitis Smits, Rasa Smite and Armin Medosch. The show remains open at Arsenals Exhibition Hall of the Latvian National Arts Museum (LNAM) in Riga until August 3, 2014.

Other posts about the Fields exhibition: Ghostradio, the device that produces real random numbers, On the interplay between a snail and an algorithm and FIELDS, positive visions for the future.

Ghostradio, by Pamela Neuwirth, Franz Xaver and Markus Decker, is a physical mechanism that generates random numbers through chance. The works is an intriguing comment on the mass-surveillance of our everyday digital moves:

At the moment, information exchanges on the internet are either in plaintext, or they use, for 'secure' transmission, encryption. For cryptograpic methods to be safe it is essential to create a very good random key. Usually these keys are produced by pseudorandom generators. As they are produced by algorithms, they are not really random, and can be outguessed with the help of powerful computers.

And this is where ghostradio comes in. The device produces real random numbers. Referring to the use of chance in art and to the Second Order cybernetics of Heinz von Förster, Ghostradio deploys feedback and quantum effects to create random numbers from the boundaries of reality and beyond. Ghostradio publishes the resulting random number datastream for the generation of cryptographic keys. This will release the public from the current state of surveillance.

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Image courtesy of FIELDS

I discovered Ghostradio a few weeks ago in Riga. The installation was part of Fields - patterns of social, scientific, and technological transformations, an
exhibition featuring works by artists who adopt an engaged, critical and active role in society.

Ghostradio sounded suitably mysterious and dark. So i contacted the artists for a quick Q&A:

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Image courtesy of the artists

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Image courtesy of the artists

What makes the random number produced by the ghostradio more 'real' than the random key usually produced to ensure the safety of cryptographic communication?

The ghostradio randomness is not more real than the randomness calculated in industry made computers. But it is a different approach and the mechanism has a systematic and theoretical complexity but is technically easy to understand. This prevents manipulative elements to be inserted in, so backdoors are unlikely, compared to the calculations of randomness, where someone needs higher math knowledge to understand the mechanisms.

With the ghostradio project we try to discuss this issues of trust, which underlies such security structures, either you believe in the security of a system or not. You, as a untrained person, will never know. We personally rather distrust all public known models of the crypto warfare, than believe in it, and that was the motivation to dig into this field.

Funnily enough, we do see this relationship of trust everywhere in our constructed reality. Maybe today's most prominent religious system is, for instance, the banking sector. This makes us think about dollar note in the movie They Live.

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Stills from the movie They Live

The project description mentions that "we are publishing this random numbers datastream for cryptographic key generation." Where are you publishing it? Can we get access to it?

Yes, we publish each day, as long as a exhibition lasts and therefore the ghostradio mechanism is in service, a 2gb random binary on the web. You can access it via the address http://www.firstfloor.org/ghostradio/web/random.html and each month we do a special signal radio broadcast on air, on the local radio station FRO, and distribute a 2h long random signal of our prototype machines.

Can you describe the exhibition setting? What it is made of and what is the purpose of each part?

ghostradio is a metaphysical geometric setup. We do have a feedback noise signal accelerated to the speed of light. This signal is broadcast over 3 metaphysical antennas,
the pentagram antennas. Two of these antennas are an active sender transmitter couple, the third one is a mirror. This electromagnetic field is crossing the electrostatic field
of a Lord Kelvin thunderstorm generator, a device able to generate electricity out of the gravity of water drops.

The light speed and the antennas open a string into the multiverse of our doppelgänger, we know nothing about, the ghost. the thunderstorm generator is a source of uncertainty,
the dodecahedron building is conductive and is a faraday cage.

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Image courtesy of the artists

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Image courtesy of the artists

I was interested by the fact that the text that describes the work focuses on the need to protect ourselves from surveillance rather than piracy. Is surveillance the new/another form of piracy?

In the daily communication experience, surveillance interface technologies are invasive. Piracy on the other hand are matters of corporate politics, concerned about their market shares, and so on. In that sense, both terminologies for us are not directly comparable. Although the corporations and the surveillance space serve each other.

In legal terms we do see the mass-surveillance as a criminal constant, that goes along with the constant state of emergency and might be legally for a state within the material law. Otherwise we don't see much difference to the act of piracy.

As supporters of the idea of a open information society we do like the utopia of the free information flow, where all data are save and there's no need to protect them because no one is after them. In that sense the communication is safe but not private, a trustful relationship in a fictional open knowledge-based society.

Thanks!

Check out the ghostradio at the Fields exhibition, produced by RIXC and curated by Raitis Smits, Rasa Smite and Armin Medosch. The show remains open at Arsenals Exhibition Hall of the Latvian National Arts Museum (LNAM) in Riga until August 3, 2014.

Other posts about the Fields exhibition: On the interplay between a snail and an algorithm and FIELDS, positive visions for the future.


Guest exploring wind turbine in Q121. Image György Kőrössy

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Outside view of Q121. Image György Kőrössy

I know you're not supposed to ever be tired of London but if you feel like a change of atmosphere, there's some rather spectacular disused wind tunnels to gape at in Farnborough, a mere 35 minute train ride from Waterloo station.

The Wind Tunnel project filled with site-specific commissions two wind tunnels buildings, known as R52 and Q121, that were built to test planes, from Spitfires to Concorde. These buildings were decommissioned after the 1960s and have remained closed to the public ever since.

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A Bristol Bulldog TM, K3183 fitted with a Napier Rapier I engine, suspended in the 24ft Q121 wind tunnel, 1935. Photo courtesy of Farnborough Air Sciences Trust

Opened in 1935, Q121 is the largest wind tunnel in Great Britain. Inside, two gigantic holes face each other. One is a powerful fan with 600kg blades which would drag air fast and furious across the space between them to test complete planes and sections of bigger airplanes.

R52 was built in 1917. It is now an empty hangar but it used to house one of the world's earliest aerodynamic testing facilities.

Contemporary artworks by James Bridle and Thor McIntyre-Burnie explore the past of the buildings.

McIntyre-Burnie's sound pieces makes use of archive materials from the BBC to fill the impressive Q121.

The basis of his sound work is an outside recording made by the BBC of the song of a nightingale in 1942 in a garden in Surrey. It was a yearly broadcast since 1924 but this year, the microphone accidentally picked up the sound of RAF bombers flying overhead on their way to Germany. The program had to be interrupted, for fear it would have tipped off Germany about the upcoming bombing attack.

McIntyre-Burnie's new composition fills the wind tunnel. It doesn't try and compete with the impressive structure (that would be foolish.) In fact, it make the whole experience of going through the historical space even more awe-inspiring.

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In Q121

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In Q121


In Q121

One of Bridle's works, Rainbow Plane 001, also paid homage to the history of the site. The installation outlines the silhouette of a Miles M.52, an experimental supersonic aircraft developed in secret to break the sound barrier at Farnborough in the early 1940s.

The contour is shown as if distorted by the pansharpening effect of satellite photography, as if viewed, in flight, from space. There never was any original photography of that Miles M.52 in flight. First of all because, the aircraft never flew. It was a research project that was cancelled in 1946 even though its aerodynamics had been successfully demonstrated by a scale model. Besides, satellites don't take 'photos' of what lays below them. Instead, they use sensors to look down onto the earth and acquire information about its surface and atmosphere.

Rainbow Plane 001 is ducted tapped under the site's portable airship hangar. The structure was one of the 6 airship sheds in the UK at the outset of WWI and it probably isn't as 'portable' as its name suggests. It is estimated that it would take 50 men ten days to dismantle the structure, 7 to load it onto railway and 2 to 3 weeks to reassemble it.

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James Bridle, Rainbow Plane 001. Image György Kőrössy

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James Bridle, Rainbow Plane 001. Image György Kőrössy

The Wind Tunnel Project was organised by Artliner and curated by Salma Tuqan. I must say that the website of the project is one of the most frustratingly dysfunctional i've ever visited. Anyway, you can see the tunnels and artworks in Farnborough until the 20th of July. A shuttle service is helpfully available outside the Farnborough railway station.

More images from the wind tunnel (I also posted a photo set from the opening on flickr, if ever you're interested):

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Launching paper planes in R52

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Control room for wind turbine in R52. Image Shaun Jackson

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Control room for wind turbine in R52. Image Jay McLaughlin

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Support structure underneath R52 wind turnbine. Image Jay McLaughlin

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Inside R52 turbine. Image Jay McLaughlin

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Inside wind tunnel in R52. Image Jay McLaughlin

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Testing of fir tree root loads for the Forestry Commission in 1967. Image courtesy of FAST (Farnborough Air Sciences Trust) Museum

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Wind tunnels project Testing of the Short Belfast aircraft in 1968. Photograph: Courtesy of Farnborough Air Sciences Trust

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In R52

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In R52

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In R52

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In R52

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In Q121

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Darsha Hewitt, Feedback Babies, 2011

The Fisher-Price Nursery Monitor, sold in North America in the early 1980s, was engineered to transmit any noise from the nursery to a wireless receiver accompanying a parent in another part of the home. However, just like many other baby monitors, this model was known for its pesky audible interferences with signals from radio, static, cordless phone or even from neighbour's baby monitors. Furthermore, as with any audio input/output system, when both units are in close proximity they produce disruptive audio feedback. Not great for sleeping babies.

Darsha Hewitt built a whole installation that exploits these inherent glitches and she appropriately called it Feedback Babies. The receivers are attached to motors and slowly bow back and forth in front of the emitters, creating a subtle soundscape of nuanced feedback patterns and squelching radio interference reminiscent of the whimpers of crying babies.

Feedback Babies will be part of the program of the Sight + Sound festival which will open in Montreal on the 20th of May. Let the screeching Feedback Babies gently batter your ears by clicking on the video below and get more details about the work in the little chat i had recently with Darsha:


Darsha Hewitt, Feedback Babies

Hi Darsha! How did you find out about this late '90s model of Fisher-Price Nursery Monitor?

I grew up in the heyday of Fisher-Price technology - I had the baby monitors around when I was a kid. I had younger siblings so we had them in our home - I had a babysitter, she had them too. More recently, they became a common cast-off in the home electronics aisle at second hand stores. My dad was an antique dealer so the act of collecting old things in multiples comes naturally. Also, I'm a sucker for old radio technology and who doesn't love the idea of walkie-talkies made for babies?

And why did you focus on its glitch?

Audio feedback and radio interference are commonplace in sound art. These particular baby monitors seem to have somewhat of a cult following within experimental music. I've seen them used in performances and they are often subjected to circuit bending.

When the receiver and transmitter are used in extreme proximity they cease to function as a device for one-way human communication. Instead the internal voice(s) of the machine takes over. Depending on how you position them, the sonic distortions can range from Walt Disney style bird song to eerie whimpering. By rigging-up the transmitters slowly bow in front of the transmitters they oscillate through this tonal range. As a group they fall in and out of synchronisation and develop some sort of strange inter-machine worshiping pattern...the overall effect is mildly creepy.

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Darsha Hewitt, Feedback Babies

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Darsha Hewitt, Feedback Babies

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Darsha Hewitt, Feedback Babies

What made you decide to bring emphasis on them?

I am particularly drawn to their scale and volume limitations - in a way they remind me of babies. When a newborn belts out a scream from the top of their lungs it can be shrill and alarming, however; since baby anatomy is so mini its cry is still quite weak and helpless. Similarly, even though these machines are feeding back and generating interference to their maximum capacity, their signals are weak and much more subtle than the more balls-out approach to noise that often dominates experimental music and sound art.

Why do you leave all the wires and electronics uncovered?

Electricity is my medium and I enjoy working with its related material dimension. These are domestic electronics - cables and wires are part of everyday life, why should they be concealed?

You seem to work a lot with outdated technological devices. What do you find so fascinating in them?

I am skeptical of certain forms of innovation. As I mentioned above, my dad was an antique dealer - I was taught to value the quality and craft of objects from the past. Furthermore, the practice of planned obsolescence that inhabits industry generates an abundance of discarded electronic devices. This surplus is an economical and steady source of art supplies. Since old technology is inexpensive and readily available, I am free to experiment without fear of failure because I know there will always be more. In my studio I deconstruct these machines as a starting point to gain material knowledge - if I am lucky, artwork emerges.

Thanks Darsha!

Feedback Babies will be at the Sight + Sound festival in Montreal this month, along with Crystal forming robots and Phonotube, making music with light.
Images via (re)flexion

Science Fiction: New Death seeks to provoke the question - have the Sci Fi visions we once imagined of the future since become a reality? I guess we all know the answer to that one.

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Dario Solman, Target Orbit

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Jon Rafman, Hope Springs Eternal/Still Life (BetaMale)

Because i write mostly about art and science/technology, i've seen my fair share of exhibitions that reference scifi. However, FACT's latest show is the first one i've visited that is entirely dedicated to science-fiction and visual arts. And in this instance, science fiction isn't explored as the ultimate future forecaster, it is rather the starting point of a reflection on our current condition, an invitation to explore how our relationship with technology has made our everyday lives increasingly look like it is set against the backdrop of a science fiction novel.

Inspired by the work of J.G. Ballard, our story looks to the bleak, man-made landscapes of the future and asks: What happens when virtual environments become indistinguishable from reality? Will our global culture allow us to choose where to live, and who will stop us? What will we do with knowledge that becomes freely available to all? With social platforms acting as camera, how will 'selfies' develop and what new forms of narcissism will thrive? What is it that we need to preserve, and what do we need to change? These questions are explored through intense visualisations of electronic communication, dystopian domestic interiors, and re-enactments of historical revolutionary moments.

New Death, a title which comes from a text that fantasy writer China Miéville wrote for the exhibition, is ominous but so are the glimpses that the participating artists give into the techno-mediated we've built ourselves: conditions of intensified surveillance and repression, border control, loss of citizenship, etc. Not everything is bleak and joyless in the show though. You can bounce off a trampoline and pretend you're an astronaut, meet intelligent robots that attempt to avoid boredom at all costs, you can even participate to the exhibition by writing a story describing a dystopian near future. I don't know what a sci-fi fan would make of the exhibition but i found it smart, provocative and thought-provoking.

Quick overview of the show:

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Petra Gemeinboeck and Rob Saunders, Accomplice. Installation at FACT Liverpool as part of Science Fiction: New Death

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Petra Gemeinboeck and Rob Saunders, Accomplice. Installation at FACT-Liverpool as part of Science Fiction: New Death

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Petra Gemeinboeck and Rob Saunders, Accomplice. Installation at FACT-Liverpool as part of Science Fiction: New Death

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Petra Gemeinboeck and Rob Saunders, Accomplice. Installation at FACT-Liverpool as part of Science Fiction: New Death

Accomplice is a small clique of social autonomous robots hidden behind one of FACT's gallery walls. Because these machines are curious, they attempt to discover their environment and the first step to live new adventures is to break down the wall. Their mechanical arm relentlessly punches against the wall. In the process, they not only make holes, they are also acquiring knowledge: how the wall react to their poking, how to best expand their horizon and what it is like out there, on the other side of the wall.

As the wall disappears, the robots discover other creatures: the gallery visitors. The more they can see and hear, the more excited and active these robots are getting. Their behaviour, however, isn't predictable and linear. As soon as the movements and noises made by the visitors or the colours and patterns they are wearing have become too familiar, the robots become bored. In a sense, the roles usually taken by the audience and the robots or the artefacts and the visitors are reversed: the robots are the spectators and the gallery goers perform for them.

I had a chance to talk with Rob Saunders at the press view. I scribbled our conversation on a bit of paper, lost it so i'm going to point you to this Robots Podcast: Curious & creative in which he talks about being inspired by Gordon Pask's conversation theory, designing curious systems, the laws of novelty and the social structure that might evolve from them.

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The Kazimier

The bits and pieces of walls laying unceremoniously on the floor and the unpredictable attitude of the Accomplice robots echo the exhibition experience that Venya Krutikov & Michael Lill of The Kazimier have designed for Science Fiction: New Death. They turned the FACT building into a disordered, stern and slightly disquieting space to navigate. Your movements inside the gallery might or might not be filmed. That poorly-lit corridor might be off limit. That door over there might open on another artworks or maybe it's a dead end.

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Sascha Pohflepp, Camera Futura

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Sascha Pohflepp, Camera Futura

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Sascha Pohflepp, Camera Futura

Before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon in 1969, the NASA elaborated various exercises to understand how man would move in microgravity. The experiments were not just simulations but "pre-enactments" of a new set of rules that we were about to enter, providing a window into the future through which NASA researchers collected not only data but also visual impressions. One such experiment was conducted at Stanford University in the mid-1960s by Thomas R. Kane. The applied mechanics professor had studied the ability of cats to spin their body mid-air so that they could securely land on their four paws. Kane would film a cat bouncing on a trampoline, study its movements, and then a gymnast in a spacesuit would try to reproduce the cat's movements on the trampoline.

Sascha Pohflepp's Camera Futura enables visitors to replicate the experiment. You are invited to wear a light space suit and jump on the trampoline while a camera captures your moves.

The energy stored in the trampoline's springs amplifies the power of our muscles, so that we can briefly launch ourselves and experience an instant of relative weightlessness when falling back to Earth. Camera Futura captures images from that very instant. These photos allow for a glimpse of our brief moment in a post-gravity world. In a sense, they are impressions of ourselves from one of many futures.

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Jae Rhim Lee, Infinity Burial Project Installation at FACT Liverpool as part of Science Fiction: New Death


Jae Rhim Lee: My mushroom burial suit

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Jae Rhim Lee, Mushroom Death Suit #2

The Infinity Burial Project is an art project with an aim to help us accept the reality of our own death. It is also a very bold and practical alternative to current burial system. Once buried or cremated, our bodies do not just decompose and vanish, they also contribute to the deterioration of the environment by releasing the toxic pollutants that our bodies have accumulated over the course of the years: pesticides, preservatives and heavy metals such as lead and mercury.

Mushrooms, on the other hand, can detoxify soils.

Jae Rhim Lee has thus developed the Mushroom Death Suit, a burial suit infused with mushroom spores to assist the decomposition of human corpses. The outfit comes with capsules that contain infinity mushroom spores and other elements that speed decomposition and toxin remediation. Besides, an open source burial container, and a membership society devoted to the promotion of death awareness and acceptance and the practice of decompiculture (the cultivation of decomposing organisms).

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Zach Blas, Facial Weaponization Suite


Zach Blas, Facial Weaponization Communiqué: Fag Face

Facial Weaponization Suite is a playful but also dark critique of the silent and gradual rise of the use of biometric facial recognition software by governments to monitor citizens.
During a series of workshops, Zach Blas worked with members of specific minority communities (queers, black people, etc.) to create masks that are modeled from the aggregated facial data of participants. The amorphous and slightly sinister masks are then worn in public performances.

Masks remain an effective tool to prevent identification technologies from capturing, analyzing, archiving and identifying our face. The use of mask also refers to social movements that use masks as a sign of protests. From the Zapatista rebels, to Pussy Riot, Anonymous, etc.

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Brad Butler and Karen Mirza, Deep State Installation at FACT Liverpool as part of Science Fiction: New Death

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Brad Butler and Karen Mirza, Deep State. Installation at FACT Liverpool as part of Science Fiction: New Death

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Brad Butler and Karen Mirza, Deep State. Installation at FACT Liverpool as part of Science Fiction: New Death (photo FACT)

Brad Butler and Karen Mirza are presenting Deep State, a film scripted by science fiction author China Miéville. The film takes its title from the Turkish term "Derin Devlet," meaning "state within the state," and tells a story about the representation of political struggle, moments of crisis, solidarity, schisms and oppression.

The whole film, which overlays archive protest footage and performed interludes, is online:

Brad Butler and Karen Mirza, Deep State

At first, i wasn't sure what to make of it but, as the images rolled on, i started connecting them to what was going on in Ukraine at the time of the press view of the show and i realized that at this very moment, maybe we still have a choice: we can be the people who raise their heads, protest and attempt to take some control back or we can be the people who are blindly herded into a society of control.

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James Bridle, Homo Sacer, 2014. Installation at FACT-Liverpool as part of Science Fiction: New Death

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Close and Remote, Zone

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Laurence Payot, 1 in a Million You

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Mark Leckey, Pearl Vision. Installation at FACT-Liverpool as part of Science Fiction: New Death

Also part of the show: Nation Estate, a "vertical solution to Palestinian statehood."

Science Fiction: New Death was curated by Omar Kholeif and Mike Stubbs. The show is open at FACT in Liverpool until 22 June 2014.

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