The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on ResonanceFM, is aired this afternoon at 4pm (London time.)
Today i'm talking with Alison Craighead and Jon Thomson, aka Thomson & Craighead, a duo of artists who have been creating video, sound, installation, desktop documentaries and other online pieces since 1993. Many of their art works appropriate and recontextualise found footage, spam messages, live statistics or even local tweets to make artworks that talk about the way we perceive and position ourselves in the information age.
We'll be talking about how to handle and archive materials found on the web, the absence of any image documenting war in certain parts of the world, spam and other jolly subjects.
The show will be aired today Wednesday 8th May at 16:00. The repeat is next Tuesday at 6.30 am (yes, a.m!) If you don't live in London, you can catch the online stream or wait till we upload the episodes on soundcloud.
It's been too long since i've blogged about a project supported by Symbiotica (although they did get their fair amount of mentions and praises in #A.I.L., the show i present on ResonanceFM.)
For the In-Potentia work, the artists grew cells that were taken from human foreskin cells purchased from an online catalogue. The cells were then re-programmed by genetic manipulation and bio-engineered to become a neural network.
This functioning "brain" is presented in a sculptural incubator containing custom-made automated feeding and waste retrieval system as well as an electrophysiological recording setup.
The work is more clearly explained in the video below:
In-Potentia exposes, in the most limpid and absurd way, how science is blurring what we are used to regard as clear-cut categories, such as where life begins and ends or what constitutes a person. Or in Guy Ben-Ary's words:
What is the potential for artists employing bio-technologies to address, and modify, boundaries surrounding understandings of life, death and person-hood? And what exactly does it mean culturally, artistically, ontologically, philosophically, politically and ethically to make a living biological brain from human foreskin cells?
The artists have kindly accepted to answer my questions:
In Potentia is without doubt a very powerful and thought-provoking work. What is the state of the scientific but also cultural debate around liminal forms of life? where could i read more about it (in a not too daunting, hi-tech language if possible)? do you have simple examples of these 'uncertain lives' at the border between human/non-human, coherent/hybrid, etc.?
Liminal lives can be "brain dead" or coma patients who are only being kept alive due to machinic intervention, or severely pre-term newborns kept alive with external life support systems, or embryos (both within or outside of a female host body) whose status as "pre-beings" disrupts our understanding of "life" as being conscious, independent and "useful". Liminal lives could also be humans with animal (or other human) organ transplants, genetically modified/manipulated (human and non-human) lives that challenge the ontological status of where and how "life" starts, or even non-humans that exhibit "human-like" characteristics of consciousness etc etc. A liminal life can therefore be found anywhere that our traditional western understandings of what it means to be human is challenged, altered or transgressed. If you were only going to read one thing on liminal lives, I would suggest Susan M Squire's 2004 seminal text: Liminal Lives - Imagining the Human at the Frontiers of Biomedicine.
I like the humour behind 'project dickhead' as you nicknamed it but i've been wondering if you're not worried that certain journalists (and bloggers) will jump on the opportunity to depict the project in a simplistic light? Your choice was quite bold because you could have avoided potential simplistic headlines by choosing to use other cells than the ones of foreskin?
Could you briefly explain me the audio-soundscape that exposes the electrical activity of neural signals or synaptic output? It is just the electrical activity from the neural network being amplified? Did you modify the sound in any way to make it more 'evocative' of what the activity of a brain might sound like?
Thanks Guy and Kirsten!
A few weeks ago i was in Brussels for The Digital Now, the first thematic exhibition of a series produced by Cimatics, that explores relevant artifacts within the current artistic context and media art related discourse.
The first chapter in this series, 'Drones / Birds: Princes of Ubiquity', looks into autonomous technology through the lens of birds as objects reflecting our contemporary relation with technology.
The bird has long been seen as a symbol of freedom, communication, transborder mobility but also as an indicator of environmental change. However, much of the bird physical and spiritual significance has been lost on the way to and from the industrial revolution. But according to Bram Crevits, curator of 'Drones / Birds: Princes of Ubiquity', digital culture has brought birds back to the fore. Or maybe it's the birds which have forced their way into our techno-mediated world. Think Twitter of course. And birds incorporating ringtones into their repertoire so effortlessly that Richard Schneider of the NABU bird conservation centre in Germany suggested that, in the interests of ecology, mobile phone users convert their tones to pop songs which are too complex to be mimicked by the birds. Woodpeckers attacking CCTV cameras. Or confused birds trapped into the twin columns of light shot into the sky each year on September 11 in New York. The bright memorial short circuits some of the cues that birds use when they are migrating at night. And then there's drone watching as the new bird watching. And drones counting birds.
The relevance of drones -or Unmanned Arial Vehicles- in relation to birds is more than purely formal or anecdotal. Another source of inspiration for the exhibition is indeed the New Aesthetic and the focus on the ways we experience our digital condition: always on, always there. Drones have been related to this New Aesthetic debate ever since it started.
Part of the exhibition was located at the Botanique. Christoph De Boeck & Patricia Portela installed invisible birds inside the greenhouse. Sensors measure the dynamics of wind and light harvested by the plants during their photosynthetic process, and translates it into bird sounds. When there is human movement in the garden a financial algorithm (similar to the ones used in a speculation economic market) interprets the variation of the received data and transforms and remaps the natural garden soundscape to which plants seem most profitable in that split second.
However, most of the works were in a gallery hidden inside a tunnel. It took me ages and a couple of panicked phone calls to find it. The show was pretty exciting though because instead of showing only artworks and building up the usual art&tech discourse around it, the curator chose to insert the works into a broader context that included the political and the downright popular.
For example, two videos demonstrated the impact that unmanned aerial vehicles have on every day life in Pakistan.
On the one hand, a video shot by Noor Behram outside his house in North Waziristan, the footage shows a reaper drone flying over Waziristan. For more than five years, Behram has been documenting drone attacks in Pakistan's tribal areas, the hub of the CIA's remote assassination program.
Trevor Paglen interviewed Behram a while ago: "[The few places where I have been able to reach right after the attack were a terrible sight" he explains, "One such place was filled with human body parts lying around and a strong smell of burnt human flesh. Poverty and the meagre living standards of inhabitants is another common thing at the attack sites." Behram's photographs are miles away from official American reports that deny civilian casualties from drone attacks: "I have come across some horrendous visions where human body parts would be scattered around without distinction, those of children, women, and elderly."
Pop song Za Kaom Pa Stargo Stargo Drone Hamla" (My gaze is as fatal as a drone attack) shows the other hand of the spectrum, where the increasing appearance of unmanned vehicles over the skies of Pakistan (see data viz Drone war: every attack in Pakistan visualised for more details) inspires little more than the lyrics of a song:
'Drones / Birds: Princes of Ubiquity' was thus full of contrasts. One moment, you were reflecting on surveillance technologies, next you were laughing (the suitors of the frantic singer are peerless.)
I'm now going to revert to my usual "throw as many images and projects in their face" mode and leave you with a few works i've (re) discovered in the show:
Subtwitter is a free application that scans subtitle-files (.srt) of a film and replaces them with similar tweets. The application uses the original subtitle-file of a movie or series of your choice, then looks into each separate sentence of the subtitle and crawls the twittyverse for a similar tweets. The result are --sometimes absurd and sometimes witty- subtitles that consist of computationally associated tweets.
A microphone picks up and amplifies the sound of woodworms eating their way through a piece of wood. Temperature, humidity and other environmental qualities determine how the wood worms dig their tunnels and 'play' the piece of wood.
The Pussy Drones gifs trigger a new form of discourse between the webbased experience (lolzcat, memes, gifs) and historically closed systems of the patriarchal structures which control the physical world. That is to suggest drones are merely 'unmaned' cocks controlled by (finding) pussy.
In theory the democratic nature of the internet should allow everyone to create equally, controlling its code at an open root p2p level. Yet the internet net art, the very essence of the web (programming, the code structure itself) is still ruled by men and corporations who control and own it in its entirety. We are not Facebook's customers, we are their product. The web has never been a democratic medium, Mark Zuckerberg said 'There are probably 200 million people who think that Facebook is the internet.' It is easy to include the digital life is not any different than our life away from the keyboard.
David Bowen's now famous Fly Tweet sends Twitter messages based on the activities of houseflies living inside an acrylic sphere along with a computer keyboard. As a particular key is triggered by the flies, the corresponding character is entered into a Twitter text box. A message is tweeted as soon as 140 characters are reached or when a fly triggers the "enter" key.
More fly thrills at https://twitter.com/@flycolony
Marcus Coates uses shamanic rituals and his knowledge of the animal world to try and solve problems faced by local (human) communities. In 2009, he visited the mayor of Holon in Israel who asked him how he should handle the problem of the violent youth in the city. Coates first consulted with the animals that he had encountered, and in particular the plover, a bird known for luring predators away from its young by pretending to be injured so as to appear as an easy target for predators. His reading of the meeting with the plover was then explained to the Mayor. According to Coates, The important thing for [Israel] as a nation is, through education, to emphasize shifting identities and an empathy with a different position. It's a fundamental position of resolution within a conflict, to be able to emphasise with your enemy or oppressor.
His solution to Holon's social ills is to teach empathy and recognise that victim status is often used as justification for violent behaviour.
Hi answer left the Mayor very impressed as you can see at the end of the video i've pasted below:
Erica Scourti's video were among my favourite. Taking her cue from stock video sites corresponding to the key words 'woman', 'nature' and 'alone', the young artist filmed herself performing each action described in the title. The video and title was then uploaded to YouTube, forming a collection of 'rushes' which were used to create the final single channel version. After that, videos started to get a life of their own, with artists and film makers using Scourti's films as another stock library and including then in their own videos.
The Digital Now is produced by Cimatics, a Brussels-based arts organisation which activities includes the production support of audiovisual and digital creations as well as live events, exhibitions, workshops and guest-curations.
All images courtesy Cimatics. Except the ones illustrating the work of Erica Scourti and Marcus Coates,
Elastic Reality is an exhibition about the internet, about its ubiquity and ability to permeate physical space, it's about the way permanent connectedness has added layers and complexity to the notion of 'reality'. Elastic Reality is not just reality, nor is it simply virtual reality or augmented reality, it is an expanding, ever-morphing reality.
This ever more complex environment blends the virtual and the real, the dataflow with the landscape. Whereas new terms are regularly coined to describe this state of things, none truly encapsulate the multi layered realm we inhabit. Hence, comes the notion of elastic reality, which was inspired by the works on display in this exhibition. The participating artists not only play with these distortions of the "real", but also pioneer new ways to interact with their work. The formal exploration of new interfaces is as much part of their preoccupation, as is the content of their work, and the kind of commentary on the current state of reality we live in.
Elastic Reality was co-produced with Le Fresnoy, Studio des Arts Contemporains, a post-graduate art school and audio-visual research and production centre, where young artists are invited to produce new work under the mentorship of guest artist-professors. The exhibition is a selection of the works produced in the course of last academic year (ending in June 2012.)
Some of the works are openly political, others are of the 'move around and interact' kind, some invite to introspection, others are made to dazzle. There were good surprises (notably Tarnac, Chaos and Grace.) and a few fresh ideas but I must say that half of the description texts drove me CRA-ZY. Do french-speaking people really have to write in such a convoluted way? Does being arcane equal being smart?
Anyway, here's a couple of works i found particularly interesting:
The Mafia's retaliation was brutal. Bombings, murders, attacks on touristic spots and other demonstrations of violence. Vincent Ciciliato grew up against that background and the game he has developed unfolds in six different locations in Palermo, some of which are the stage of a murder. Players have to re-enact the murders and fire at moving targets inspired by real murders but they don't actually know if the person is an innocent passerby or the specific person who has to be eliminated. The identity of the victim is revealed only after they have been shot (to kill people, players have to do the well-known gesture of holding a handgun up and then aiming and firing with the finger.) The executor becomes the witness when the shot is followed by a series of archives documents that reveal the murder that took place at that exact spot some 30 years ago.
Zahra Poonawala's Tutti installation made me think of Futurist composer Luigi Russolo's magnificent Intonarumori but the reference was actually the acousmonium or loudspeaker orchestra, a set of 80 loudspeakers of various sizes and shapes designed by Francois Bayle for tape playback.
Tutti invites visitors to a dynamic experience of listening by walking around the components of the orchestra. The characters each have their own volume, register and a different personality. In front of this background the soloists stand out, isolated loudspeakers that are mobile because they react to the movement of the spectator who is incited to move to make them react. The different layers of sound intensify this spatial organisation. From a fundamentally complex chord which forms a base, the reaction to the spectators' movements determines the changes of intensity, ignites solos which stand out from the sound mass.
Ryoichi Kurokawa was one of the mentors of the students at Le Fresnoy in 2012 and as such, he was invited to develop his own work during his stay in Northern France. As can be expected from the über-talented artist, the result is jaw-dropping.
Dead End is a charismatic metallic sculpture inspired by abandoned industrial monuments and futurist constructions, the start of fantastic progress of the edification of a modernist mirage; hybrid architecture striving to rise up but also to deconstruct, to gradually deteriorate.
"The void of distance is nowhere else."
Véronique Béland's installation attempts to listen to radio waves that civilizations living on other planets might broadcast. This is exactly what the SETI program has been doing with very little success since the beginning of the 1960s as part of its mission to find intelligent extraterrestrial life.
The young artist, however, proposes to capture «non intelligent» radio broadcasts and process it through an automatic generator of random texts. The data is captured by radio-telescopes from the Paris Observatory, the algorithm turns it into a text and a synthesized voice articulates it in the exhibition space in real time.
More descriptions, details and essays in the press kit.
Previously: Tarnac, Chaos and Grace.
Elastic Reality. Beyond the Exhibition: New Interfaces for Contemporary Art in Europe was curated by Benjamin Weil. The exhibition remains open at LABoral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial (Art and Industrial Creation Centre) in Gijón, Spain, until 8 September 2013.
I discovered the work of Arcangelo Sassolino in 2008 at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. He was showing a nitrogen-powered sculpture that shot empty beer bottles against a wall at 600km/hr inside a zoo-like metal cage. 5 years later, i'm listening to the podcast of a presentation that the artist made at CCC Strozzina in Florence. the podcast gave me the opportunity to 1. get to know his work better 2. write a quick post about it and 3. advise you to check out Strozzina's archive of podcasts because, as i mentioned on twitter the other day, they contain real gems (quick selection at the end of this post.) Some are conversations between the artist and a moderator from Strozzina. Others are more akin to 'proper' lectures. Most are in italian though.
Here's the gist of Sassolino's talk:
At the time of this presentation, Sassolino was showing a new commissioned (and untitled) piece at CCC Strozzina for the exhibition Francis Bacon and the Existential Condition in Contemporary Art.
A heavy industrial piston is linked to an oil hydraulic system and set up following the longitudinal direction of the room. Another component of the work is a thick rope which traverses the entire length of the room at the height of the visitors' eyes. The rope passes through the piston and its ends are tied around two thick wooden beams anchored between the stone doorposts of the two entrances at opposite ends of the room.
Without warning and at irregular intervals the hydraulic system is activated and starts up the action of the piston that gradually pulls the rope taut. The traction is increased slowly until breaking point is reached, but just before the irreparable happens the piston eases the tension causing the entire system to return to a state of precarious calm.
That's the kind of work that Sassolino makes. It has danger, mechanical tension, darkness and makes the spectator vaguely uneasy ("Is this going to break? Will i be hurt? Shouldn't it take one step back?") In fact, Sassolino also explained that the beams vibrate but they hold the pressure. The system actually gets in motion when a visitor gets closer to the work. And that's when, as the artist puts it, a kind of Sadomasochistic moment emerges: the visitor would like to see some dramatic collapse of the wooden structure but doesn't dare to get too close to it.
In his talk, Sassolino explains that what he likes is to take a material 'by the neck' and torture it in order to make it scream and admit the truth.
A "variation on the same theme" --as he puts it-- is another work without title that made a piece of wood moan until it split.
As the video below demonstrates, sound is an important dimension of Sassolino's work:
The artist is generally less interested in bringing a completed art work in a gallery than in showing a material, be it a piece of wood or marble, that will gradually be stripped of its 'flesh' and maybe reach the point of collapse.
The most literal example of this would be Figurante.
The powerful jaw crushes a femur bone over 3 hours. The work references the sterilized war images we see on tv. They never include the sound of people suffering.
Another work discussed was Elisa, a sculpture assembled from four mechanical digger parts and hydraulically animated by a random generator. The digger arm moves with spasms like a big animal slowly dying.
A couple more image, mostly for my own pleasure:
Dilatazione pneumatica di una forza viva (Pneumatic Expansion of a Living Force) features a bullet-proof glass structure enclosing a glass bottle, which is set on a tube attached to nitrogen cylinders. The gas slowly fills the bottle, which explodes with a shatter of glass when its maximum capacity has been reached. After every explosion the glass bottle is replaced.
In case you're dying to see Sassolino speak about his work in english, here's his comment on Time Tomb, a sculpture he installed at Z33 back in 2010.
More podcasts i'm looking forward to listening to: Loris Cecchini talks about his work, Domenico Quaranta explores art and identity online, Gianfranco Pecchinenda discusses Video games and the production of the American imagination, Vito Campanelli talks Process flow and Web, Fabio Chiusi's lecture is about Transparency and freedom of expression after Wikileaks, Emiliano Ilardi imagines A modernity without catastrophe, etc.
The latest exhibition of the Hayward Gallery is quite hard to resist. If you're into scientific experiments and geeky installations, you're bound to find something that will excite your senses and curiosity. But the exhibition is also a joy to visit if all you're asking for is pure entertainment, disco and thrills.
The Light Show displays the works of artists from the 1960s to the present day who have used artificial light as a medium.
With all the word plays about light at their disposal (the journalists certainly had a field day writing about "stepping into the light", a "dazzling show", the "light at the end of the tunnel", etc.), the curators chose the simplest title at their disposal and I decided to borrow their minimal approach and visited the show without even reading the texts explaining the works. That was a first for me, and also probably a very dumb idea as i've missed most of the references and dimensions of the works. But i only realized it when i went back home and flipped through the catalogue (a little gem that one!)
Here's just a couple of my favourite works:
Ann Veronica Janssens' Rose is a room filled with fake mist that makes the intersecting beams of light appears as if they formed a luminous, tangible star.
Katie Paterson never puts a wrong foot. I discovered her work only a couple of years ago and she keeps amazing me with each new piece. Paterson plays with moonlight, melting glaciers, dead stars, grains of sand and Gamma Ray Bursts. Light Bulb to Simulate Moonlight is a specially manufactured lightbulb that softly illuminates a small exhibition room with artificial moonlight, a light that, due to increasing light pollution, is almost never experienced in urban settings.
In the same way that lighting manufacturers created the standard incandescent 'daylight' bulb, Paterson worked with a lighting engineer to produce its opposite: a bulb that replicates the light emitted when the moon is in opposition with the sun. The finished artwork consists of a single, lit bulb together with a sufficient quantity of spare bulbs to provide a lifetime's supply of moonlight.
Carlos Cruz-Diez's neon-lit installation, Chromosaturation, gave me an almost physical understanding of the expression 'solid colours'. You walk from one red room to a green one, to a blue one. A few geometric shapes interrupt the monochromatic environment.
'Since the retina usually perceives a wide range of colours simultaneously,' Cruz-Diez explains, 'experiencing these monochromatic situations causes disturbances. This activates and awakens notions of colour in the viewer, who becomes aware of colour's material and physical existence. Colour becomes a situation happening in space.'
Ceal Floyer casually threw a puddle of light on the floor.
Bill Culbert's Bulb Box Reflection II easily tricked me. It looks like an incandescent light bulb and its reflection in a mirror but it's actually the opposite. The bulb's reflection is alight while the actual bulb itself is not.
The exhibition isn't overly socially-engaged, it is mostly sheer distraction from the grey London February. However, one of the works on the top floor is a huge stock exchange-style display of LED texts taken from declassified US government documents exposing the operations, interrogations and abuse that took place at Guantánamo.
Another politically charged piece is Reality Show. Iván Navarro invites visitors to step inside a phone box. Once you've closed the door behind you, you discover that the illuminated space above and below you seems to go on for ever. The sides have one way mirrors and when your eyes try to escape the vortex below and the one above, all they can find is your own face in the mirror. It's disturbing, with this infinite space that makes you feel isolated from the rest of the world. The work is a reference to the interrogation rooms and disappearances that characterized the brutal regime of Pinochet in Chile, where the artist grew up.
A couple more images and i'll close shop for the day:
Just for the title:
Previously: The Magic Hour.