ajessicafin.jpgAugust is ending and everyone is coming back from the beach. Including the interviews!

Jessica Findley lives in Brooklyn where she works as a "freelance designer, illustrator and animator." That brief description hardly encompasses all Jessica's many activities and talents: she makes animated movies, crafts reversable dolls, she draws, she is also a web designer but what brought my attention to her work are the performances and interactive installations she developed and shows around the world., crafts reversable dolls, she draws, she is also a web designer but what brought my attention to her work are the performances and interactive installations she developed and shows around the world.

Oh! And just for the info, Jessica received her BA at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA with her studies focusing on Film, Video and Animation. She then completed her MA in the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU.

On your website there is a section called "Work" and another is "art". what's your art for if it is not work? is it just a question of what pays the rent? Are you happy with that equilibrium or would you rather focus only on the art?

This is always a difficult challenge. In a dream world it would be great to focus on the art all the time, but a girl needs to eat. It is also nice not to have to think of the monetary value of my art when I make it. I would love to have less work and do more art. Or at least more interesting work and do more art. I have been very happy doing illustrations and work for museums and educational programs. It would be great to take a break to just focus on the art for a while, then go work, then do art. For now both art and work seem to need to be constantly in process.

Can you explain us the project "millefiore effect"? And in particular the Front inflatable garments? How do they work?


The Millefiore Effect was the name that Margot Jacobs, Ralph Borland and myself gave our team when we made "Front". Millefiori means 1000 flowers in italian, it is also a technique used in crafting many colors of glass or clay together to create patterns. We liked this symbolism for the collective efforts of our group. Margot came from an industrial design education, Ralph from sculpture, and I from film video and animation and had experience sewing my own clothes.

The project "Front" consists of 2 symbiotic, voice-activated, inflatable conflict suits. Front is a sort of an endless game of vocal battle between two people who wear suits equipped with fans which inflate when they yell. Each suit has two types of inflation sacks - aggressive and defensive - which inflate depending on who is making sound. The suits are to be worn by the public.

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How do people behave when they wear it? Does it trigger any particular/unexpected behaviour?

It's interesting, some people are quite shy and then others get really into it and get really silly or serious about it. It can have a explosive emotional release or instill stage fright. We have had people sing opera, burst into contagious laughter, bark like dogs, talk like knights in armor, and make up comedy routines. Some places we go people are too shy to even put them on, and usually Margot and I will just get in and go for it, after that we end up with at least a couple people who sign up to get ridiculous.

Aeolian Ride in Melbourne, photo by Clayton Harper

What was the impetus for your project Aeolian Ride?

I wanted to do something that would transform the everyday public landscape and make people giddy or baffled.

One day I was riding my bike in Brooklyn with white nylon jacket on that was unzipped. I felt it fluttering behind me and thought that it would be great to make costumes for a big bike ride. I forgot about it until one day my friend Ryan O'connor was trying to think of ideas for an art project at burning man. I told him my idea and he thought it was great but he ended up making a giant octopus instead. A year later he called me. He said he had been thinking about my project and I needed to do it. This was not too long after 9/11 and my life seemed to lack any luster. A switch flipped in my brain and I suddenly was up to my elbows in rip-stop nylon designing inflatable costumes. 0aaeloinaridessss.jpg

You brought the project to different cities, was the experience extremely different from one place to the other? Any plan of organizing another Aeolian Ride any time soon? I'd love it if you could bring that to Europe.

I find that riding a bike in a city is such a wonderful way to get to know its landscape. The people are what make the place for me. Its interesting who comes to the ride. It often depends on the connection who brought me to the city. It's usually a combination of different cycling cultures, every day cyclists, commuters, advocates, artists, messengers... anyone with a bike is welcome! I am always looking for people willing to organize and find funding to bring the ride to their city. I call these people champions. Each ride has had great champions who made it happen.

The responses vary from city to city. New York was the first ride, it was rainy so I wasn't sure if it was going to happen and I didn't have a permit so I was nervous when the cops showed up. Funny my dad was there and he is such a charmer he gave the cops a couple of Aeolian buttons and told them about how excited he was for his daughters art project and they left.

San Francisco happened in conjunction with the Bicycle Film Festival and was sponsored by a grant from the Black Rock Arts Organization. The people there had seen it all and loved it. They shouted out Angels! Sperm!

Capetown was gorgeous. My good friend Ralph Borland was the Champion of this ride. The Discovery Chanel was doing a program on local artists and tried to show a collaboration between myself and artist Matthew Hindley. They purchased a couple suits for Matthew to work with. Unfortunately the Discovery Channel dropped the ball and gave me no images or video for that event.

Aeolian Ride in Cape Town, photo by Sean Wilson

I worked with Bike Summer's Dave Benoff to bring the Aeolian Ride to LA. The riders out there were used to lots of fun. Before the ride I joined the Midnight Ridaz for a fun ride in Heavy Metal Costume to a bowling alley where they had Metal Karaoke and giant paper mache musical instruments.

LA was our first night ride with lights in the suits and we had a magical moment where mostly just the riders got to see the effect of the lights. During our ride through the bright city most of us didn't notice or remember we were wearing lights inside the suits. When we arrived at the dark park all the riders softly gasped and oohed at the forgotten surprise that they were glowing.

My connection in Melbourne, Chris Star, is very deep into the politics of cycling and its community. We had a bit of competition in that the naked ride was happening at a similar time. The city and its people are super charming and laid back.

Halifax was wonderful, my connection, a great photographer Francesca Tallone is embedded into the arts there. It was great fun and there was tons of enthusiasm for the ride. The Aeolian Poster was on the cover of their local weekly happenings paper all around town! The waterfront there is magical.

The next Aeolian Ride will be Saturday September 8th 2007 from Brooklyn New York to the Dietch Art Parade in SOHO. Sign up already available!

I would love to bring the ride to Europe. Who wants to be the champion?

Grow is a serenade for plants. Are you sure that the plants appreciate all that musical effort? How did you compose the music? Does it depend on the plant?

Haha. I am not sure if the plants really react to the sounds or not. It seems at least one vintner believes it.I did read that it is a common grade school experiment to play music for plants.

I found it difficult to write love songs for the plants. Half of them are for the plants and half are actually love songs for my friends. I wrote and recorded each song myself in an abandoned studio in a building I used to live in.


Design, animation, illustration, interactive installation, etc. You seem to jump effortlessly and with talent from one medium to the other, is there anything you are bad at?

My strength is definitely my weakness. I love learning new skills and working in different mediums, but sometimes this can be fragmenting. I really envy people who know exactly what they want and have a path to get there. I chose this path, to explore, and it can be really challenging not to lose sight of what I really want. I try to follow my heart, eat my dessert first.


And more seriously, what do you find rewarding about each of these mediums?

I am most interested in the idea first, then the materials and medium second but they definitely inform each other. Every medium provides me with a way to explore my ideas in different ways.

Are there any designer and/or artist whom you think should get more attention from the public?

Two of my favorite artists are Gelatin and Theo Jensen. I love the possible positive and the ingenious imaginative.

Any upcoming project you could share with us?

I am working on a graphic novel about the adventures of a girl who gets transported to the twin planet of earth.

Thanks Jessica!

More on her websites: Work + Art, Illustrations and Inspirational Blogging.

Sponsored by:

misssalazar.jpgLast month i was in Colombia for (and thanks to) the Pixelazo festival.

I then asked Alejandro Tamayo if he could point me to any artist worth meeting in Bogota. Several names came to his mind but when i had a look at the images of Adriana Salazar's machines, i just said "Stop! Stop! no more names, how can i get to meet her?" How could i not want to know more about a girl who creates delicate and elegant (but slightly ludicrous) machines that smoke, tie shoes, pull thread through the hole of a needle, relentlessly measure walls, switch the light on and off, on and off, on and off, dust walls, cry while another one dries its tears, etc.

What is your background? How did you start creating machines? Is "machine" the correct word to describe them by the way?

I studied fine arts at the Jorge Tadeo Lozano University, here in Bogota. At the very end of my career, just when I was starting to develop my last academic project, I came to the encounter of moving devices, by chance, or maybe because I just couldn’t stand stillness. After that I decided to work with a more specific kind of movement: human actions that are performed repeatedly and without any awareness of what happens to the body meanwhile. I started thus with smoking, as an action with a very complex body movement involved. The idea of isolating this action, from its context, resulted in a sort of “machine-like object?, but with the exact opposite functions a machine would usually perform: it just had no purpose, no practical value. Besides, the object that resulted was rather clumsy, simple and almost hand-made, so there is no fancy technological operations involved, and no industrial mass-produced object as a result of the process. The word machine seems then incorrect, in that sense.

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Mademoiselle, Máquina fumadora (Smoking machine)

What fascinates you in the absurd and the useless?

The fact that it is precisely through the absurd and the useless that we can really get to understand what us humans are like: we can perform coherent and beautiful actions that still have no purpose. The purpose of our actions, or even better, their ends, somehow always escapes our comprehension, and yet we keep moving and doing things. It is fascinating then to see, as in a distorted mirror in front of us, what we do, but without our presence: just the action repeating itself over and over.


What is your relationship with the machines you create? Do you see them as mere objects for galleries or do you develop a more personal relationship with them?

There is something I really like about them: Their design is always the result of very simple mechanical or physical processes, and it is conceived by the mind of an amateur: There is no engineering or high-tech involved. The result is therefore a very personal interpretation of a movement, so it turns to be more an expressive device than a robot or an automatic appliance.

On the other hand there are a couple of pieces that work very well with galleries, but not because they look good in them or because they are commercial. Both the smoking machine (Mademoiselle) and the careless machines (the ones that start making a toast, and end up drunk and unsynchronized) invert the social roles of the actors in an exhibition opening: When the guests drink and smoke while looking at the art pieces, these two art pieces drink and smoke while looking back at their beholders.

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Máquina desempolvadora and La desaparición de las necesidades

How do you develop them? On your own? or do you collaborate with someone else to build up the technical elements?

The whole process of designing and building these objects is rather interesting. I am becoming first of all very comfortable with the fact that they are created in sort of a naïve way. I need to understand what is going on in there, and I need the viewer to do so too, so I tend to avoid complex operations or technological novelties that could leave you just amazed and overwhelmed. Nevertheless, I have always had the support of people that obviously know how to do certain things better than me, especially concerning working with metal or other industrial materials that require special instruments. The rest is just small disco ball motors working!

Máquina que intenta amarrar un zapato (Machine that tries to tie shoes)

Are your works a comment on technology, human beings or their relationship to technology? Maybe all of those?

Certainly all of those. I am not a moralist towards technology, but I love to show its ironic side, I love to laugh at the fact that we truly believe technology is progress, and that it is eventually going to save our lives: in my pieces there is always something that remains incomplete, some sort of imperfection that becomes an effective part of the work. It is as if our actions as well as our machines were always failing to succeed their task. Maybe what humanizes our technological world isn’t its tendency to boost human form or function, but its constant failure, its fragility.

There is in fact one of my pieces that is actually a “trying machine?, a machine that makes an effort and always fails (machine that tries to thread a needle): it is small, modest, and stubborn as a man.

Is there any artists that has influenced you or that you particularly appreciate the work of?

I know I should probably be bringing influential figures here, such as Rebecca Horn or Jean Tinguely, or even Stelarc or Wim Delvoye. I discovered that the artists I love the most are those who are completely alien to my processes and those whose work is most disturbing and uncomprehensible. In the research process for my last piece “llorona? (crying woman), for example, I rediscovered some fascinating Man Ray pictures, and I fell in love with Hans Haacke’s Condensation Cube. I also truly related to this last piece in the sense that it is very complex, theatrically complex almost, and at the same time it is the simplest thing of all!!!

What is the reaction of the public when they see your art pieces?

I’ve seen all kinds of reactions. I like the fact that this kind of things tend to escape the discursive, enclosed, and elitist approach to contemporary art. I like, for example, when people laugh at them or when they become interested in how they work or in how they relate to certain human experiences. I had once a group of industrial design students that came with a very unexpected and interesting approach, from the designer’s point of view. I had never thought of my work as design, but I understood that definitely design played a very strong role in it: The human being is able to redesign its body and modify it to perform a certain function, and artists are mostly perception and body designers. I owe this discovery to the input from the public.

Thanks Adriana!

All images courtesy of Adriana Salazar.

1.-PaddyHartley.jpgBack in 2004, i stumbled upon a project called The Face Corset. Designed by Paddy Hartley to simulate the effects of cosmetic surgery, they were one of his first comments on and explorations of cosmetic surgery and our culture's obsession with beauty. Furthermore, the artist collaborated with Biomaterials Scientist Dr Ian Thompson to adapt the corsets into facial dressings that could protect and support the face during the recovery period after surgery or skin grafting.

With Project Facade, the second step into this research, the artist is looking into the personal and surgical stories of soldiers who, disfigured in battle during the First World War, had to undergo pioneering surgical reconstruction. "The very nature of trench warfare, moreover, proved diabolically conducive to facial injuries: "[T]he...soldiers failed to understand the menace of the machine gun," recalled Dr. Fred Albee, an American surgeon working in France. "They seemed to think they could pop their heads up over a trench and move quickly enough to dodge the hail of bullets." (via)

Working from original patient and surgical notes along with personal family archive material of the men, Hartley designs, modifies and embroids uniforms similar to those the servicemen fought in. Each garment tells the fragmented personal history of a man who had to go back to his families with a seamed and shattered face.

Working in partnership with Gillies Archive Curator Dr Andrew Bamji at Queen Mary's Hospital Sidcup and Dr Ian Thompson at in the Oral Maxillofacial Dept, Guys Hospital London, the project allows Hartley to examine and respond artistically to the origins of surgical facial reconstruction, compare current techniques in facial surgery and the development and implementation of bioactive materials for the repair of facial bone injuries.

Victor T.

What prompted your interest in the origins of surgical facial reconstruction techniques?

Even though I trained in ceramics and sculpture, I've always been more interested in human biology, technology, and engineering, that sort of thing than in art. I see the Artistic/creative process as a vehicle for the examination and combination of ‘anything with everything’. So much of the work I produced at University and in my early career was about anything other than ‘Art or the Artist’. Examining the use/abuse of Steroid in bodybuilding, religious organizations shifting attitudes towards medical technologies and recently the origins of facial reconstruction.

Having seen some of my previous work using medical equipment, I was invited by the Victoria & Albert Museum in London in 2002 to exhibit work for an evening-long event called ‘Short Cuts to Beauty’ which consisted of a series of public demonstrations, presentations and debates on ‘beauty industries’ and their impact on society today. Not having anything appropriate for the event in my back catalogue, I proposed I make new work for the event and considering one of the topics up for discussion was extreme cosmetic surgery and the use of facial implants, it seemed appropriate to make work based around a hypothetical of facial surgery as taboo. What if it was considered taboo in today’s society to alter the structure of the face surgically for cosmetics alone? How could an individual radically alter the structure of the face without the use of surgery? Corsetry immediately sprang to mind (particularly as I left the V&A after my meeting I left via the Dress Gallery and saw the collection of corsets on display). If it was possible to alter and ‘train’ the structure of the body with a garment, could I do the same with a ‘facial corset’ to shift the soft tissue of the face?

Paddy Hartley's studio

So having never even sat at a sewing machine, I set about making patterns based on my own face (the only one readily available!) and getting to know the basics of garment construction. The original idea was to make ‘neutral’ looking garments from white fabric incorporating external ‘adornments’ using commercially available facial implants. This was how I came to meet Biomaterials Scientist Dr Ian Thompson at Imperial College London via recommendations from the Science Museum, London. I originally approached Ian to try and obtain some commercially available facial implants but when I saw the work he was doing making Bioactive glass facial implants for the repair of bone facial injuries, I thought I just had to incorporate these into the ‘Face Corsets’, which as it turns out, we did. As far as the Corsets themselves were concerned, an unexpected (yet with hindsight totally foreseeable outcome) was that the tighter the garment was fixed to the head, the more the wearer was able to reposition the exposed skin.

The presentation of the work at the V&A event really was the start of a long working relationship between Dr Thompson and myself. My skills in developing the casting of the implants with Ian coupled with his vision of the ‘Face Corsets’ as potential pressure dressings cemented our working relationship and the logical next step was to seek funding to pursue our collaboration. Obtaining our first grant from The Wellcome Trust allowed us to develop the work full-time for a year but if the truth be known, quite early in the project my interest turned to the origins of facial reconstruction.

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First Face Corset and Paisley

How has the public reacted to the Face Corset when you exhibited the work?

Very mixed, sometimes with a raised eyebrow, sometimes with a knowing look, sometimes with a chuckle. Everyone brings their own interpretation which, to a certain degree is great because I didn’t intend to load the work with meaning. They are physical devices built around a ‘functional’ brief. What I have found though is that the majority of people see a facial garment as a device to hide the face, often referring to the Face Corsets as Face ‘Masks’. As I see it a mask is intended to hide the identity of the wearer whereas the Face Corsets are intended to alter the appearance of the wearer by manipulating the skin of the wearer. The intention is do ‘display the wearer in a different way’.

Many people seem to assume that a facial garment has some kind of sexual connotation. I tell you, the amount of enquiries I've had from PVC clad ‘exotics’ looking for a bespoke PVC Face Corset. That’s not my scene and not why I made the work, which is why I've never sold or given a piece away. I don’t want to be responsible for making something that could cause physical harm to a wearer/user. There did come a point where I decided to make the Face Corsets out of fabric as far removed from the S&M scene as I could imagine. I used old suit material, my old shirts, that kind of thing but regardless, the facial locating of the Face Corsets was still read by viewers and having aesthetics which alluded to a sexual/menacing/disguising. This is why I ‘buried’ the Face Corsets.

What exactly are the Bioactive© glass facial implants you mentioned earlier?3.-Bioglass-implants.jpg

The implants are made from a special glass that contains a combination of other components that make the glass less prone to rejection by the body. Bioactive glass was invented by Prof Larry Hench as a material to repair massive bone injuries of US servicemen injured in the Vietnam War. Even though the Bioglass© in a powdered/paste form did bond bone fragments, the material was not load bearing. Dr Thompson (Ian) has recently been casting the glass into small monolithic forms to repair non-load bearing bone injuries, particularly of the face. When I came on the scene, Ian was by his own admission using fairly primitive casting and carving methods. The skills I acquired in mold making and casting I picked up at University and at a later post in bronze casting foundry enabled me to work with Ian to try out new lost-wax casting techniques for the production of patient specific implants. Since then, the production methods of the implants have advanced and this element of the collaboration has run its natural course.

For ‘Project Façade’ you collaborated with Dr Andrew Bamji, Consultant Rheumatologist and Curator of The Gillies Archives, and Dr Ian Thompson from the Department of Oral Maxillofacial surgery at King's College. How did you get to work with scientists?

It’s always the ideas for the work I make that lead me to meet the people I work with whether they be Dress Historians at the V&A, Scientists at University Hospitals, Family Historians based at the National Archives at Kew or Army Surplus suppliers in Portsmouth. I don’t have a specific desire to work with scientists, that’s just the direction the work has taken me.

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Top V: Sketch proposing grafting skin to replace scarred cheek and Skin from tubed pedicle 1. in place on chin and nose.

How difficult has it been to trace the records of men injured and disfigured during the First World War? Can you tell us the story of one of those injured Servicemen that you found particularly touching/interesting/meaningful?

In so far as tracing the medical records, this was pretty straightforward. When I first became interested in finding out more about the origins of facial reconstruction, I recalled seeing a very short clip of an interview on a TV documentary which mentioned the pioneering surgery developed by Sir Harold Gillies during the First World War to repair horrific facial injuries. A web search brought the Gillies Archive to my attention so I booked an appointment to meet the Curator Dr Andrew Bamji (who was the chap on the TV documentary) and see some of the records. On first sight I was overwhelmed by the amount of material Andrew had collated. The Archive holds somewhere in the region of 2500 documents recording with photographs, pre-op sketches, plaster casts and handwritten notes, the surgeries the patients underwent under Gillies.

I was originally drawn to the Archive because of an interest in the surgery yet I found myself becoming incredibly curious to find out more about the post-surgery stories of the men treated by Gillies. However, only a handful of the records Andrew has collated tell the pre-injury and post-surgical stories of the men and this is largely due to Gillies patients sending him photographs and letters to let him know how they were getting along in life.

The Plastic Theatre, Queen Mary's Hospital, 1917. Harold Gillies is seated on the right (image reproduced from the Gillies Archive)

I was keen that the work I was embarking on making didn’t just tell the surgical stories of individual men but the personal stories also. I didn’t want the men to be defined by their injury and subsequent surgery. So once I had selected a small group of men whose stories I would like to tell, I employed Genealogist Elizabeth Evans to take the information we had and on the 10 men I had selected and search the archives at the National Records Office at Kew to see what additional information we could find. Some of the men had very little information other than census records and Regimental war diary entries by their Commanding Officers. Others however had details on the men’s trade before joining the Armed Forces, details of family members and in one case in particular, personal letters from nursing staff pleading with higher ranking officials for patients to be admitted to the plastic surgery unit at Sidcup for their facial injuries to be treated.

There are so many stories that have emerged over the past two years its hard to say which has touched me the most. Willie Vicarage the Welsh watchmaker who was so badly burned in the Battle of Jutland he lost most of the skin from his face, his nose, parts of his ears and almost all of his fingers. Alfred Russell who received skin grafts from his buttocks to his cheeks. Alfred’s wife Florence would joke that when kissing him on the cheek she was actually kissing him somewhere else! It’s the story of 2nd Lieut Henry Ralph Lumley that really got to me.

Henry, son of Robert and Florence and elder brother of Molly was a well-educated young man working for the Eastern Telegraph Company. Having not being a member of the Officer Training Corps Henry went out of his way to train as a pilot sought special permission to do so for which he was granted and attended Central Flying School, Upavon from 15th April 1916. The first tragedy to strike was on the very day Henry graduated from flying school when his plane crashed and he suffered horrific facial burns. A letter from Central Flying School to his mother stated on the same page that her son had graduated and that his aircraft ‘met with an accident’.


Roughly a year after his crash, Henry was transferred to Sidcup for reconstructive surgery under Gillies who proposed removing Henry’s badly scarred face entirely and replacing it with a single, huge skin graft taken from Henry’s chest. A similar less extensive procedure had proved highly successful for the aforementioned Willie Vicarage a month earlier. Henry’s surgery was more ambitious and partially due to Henry’s weakened condition the graft rejected and Henry died a few days after his surgery.

Gillies continued to encounter similar injuries to pilots and sailors and as a result of the failure of Henry’s surgery; Gillies began repairing full facial burns in stages, thus giving the patient chance to recover between surgeries. Henry’s death brought about an entire reassessment as to how to treat such injuries and hundreds of patients benefited from what was learned from Henry’s tragic surgery and paved the way for the highly successful skin grafting surgery performed on the self styled World War 2 pilots ‘The Guinea Pig Club’ over 25 years later.

As a result of the record search, I discovered Henry was buried close to my home so I took it upon myself to visit his grave. Something I never envisaged doing at the beginning of the project. Tucked away in Hampstead Cemetery is a small family headstone naming his mother, father and sister along with Henry. Sitting by Henry’s headstone for a couple of hours and being physically that close to him made me realize this was more than just ‘a project’ to me. Here were stories about incredible people that needed to be told.

William Spreckley

For Project Facade you are creating a series of garments. What are you trying to achieve or communicate with these pieces? How do they complete or respond to your previous work, The Face Corsets?

The main aim of the work initially was to communicate an understanding of the pioneering surgery Gillies performed on his servicemen patients. Now though it is more about telling the stories of the people who underwent this surgery, who they were, how they came to be injured, illustrate the surgery they underwent and how they dealt with the physical and psychological consequences of receiving this surgery. I’m very much a believer that ‘you wear your history on your face’, particularly with these men. The military uniform, itself a record of the wearers military service, seemed a perfect vehicle to tell these fragmented ‘patchwork’ stories. Gillies patients ended up ‘wearing’ their military history on their faces for the rest of their lives. The uniform sculptures and accompanying face garments pool all the information I have from a variety of sources to present a collage of experience of that individual. The facial garments made from identical fabric as that of the uniforms represent the military history being worn on the face and act as an anchor point for the illustration of movement of skin by Gillies from other parts of the body to the face. I was keen that the work did not replicate injury. That in my opinion would be crass.

As far as I’m concerned, if the work I make merely provokes viewers to want to find out more about these amazing heroic people and acknowledge their sacrifice, it has been successful.

Walter F.

Did the fact that you have spent several years working on this project changed the view you have on your own appearance, the fact that cosmetic surgery is getting mainstream and (if you have any) beauty ideals?

Actually yes. In my youth I was something of a ‘peacock’. Because of the last couple of years work, I don’t worry about putting on a little weight, the dark circles under my eyes, my slightly less elastic skin. This is just how I am. I’m more concerned that my back doesn’t work quite as well as it used to. I must say though, the plethora of cosmetic surgery TV shows really makes my blood boil I just wish a fraction of airtime was given over to tell the stories of the servicemen Gillies treated to restore function to their faces as is given over to people having the fat sucked out of their backsides.
Speaking personally, my beauty ideals tend to be personality based but if we are going to get superficial, I do like ladies with gaps between their front teeth that speak with a lisp and a top lip that looks like its been smeared flat! I find difference attractive.

What can members of the scientific community learn from your own artistic research?

Speaking very generally, to be open to collaborate across disciplines, but that goes for anyone in any profession, but not to ‘force’ the collaboration. Let it take you where it will. Fellow artists have asked me on a number of occasions as to how they can have their work taken on board as part of clinical practice in health care and my answer never changes. ‘I don’t know!’ That has never been an aim of the work I set out to do. If it contributes towards clinical practice by proxy, that’s great because its evolved naturally rather than by design. As far as I’m concerned the main audience I want to connect with is the general public. Essentially that’s who the work is about.

Any upcoming project’s that you could share with us?

Project Façade Phase 2
. I’m trying to trace as many descendants of Gillies patients to record their memories of their ‘Gillies repaired’ relatives to find out and preserve their later life experience. This has becoming a life long undertaking for me.

Thanks Paddy!

All work produced by Paddy Hartley and associated Gillies Archive documents and objects can be seen at the first Project Façade exhibition ‘Faces of Battle’ produced with and opening on November 10, 2007 at The National Army Museum, London.

For further details contact Paddy directly on paddyhartley at projectfaçade dot com or visit the project website to find out more about the stories of the men and Paddy’s responses.

Meet one of my favourite Berliners! Christine Hill invited me last year to give a talk at the Bauhaus University in Weimar where she heads the Department Media, Trend and Public Appearance. That's how i got to know her, i then googled her name and immediately realized the extent of my ignorance when i discovered that she has been exhibiting all over the world with a very unconventional and intriguing project (or should i label it "production label"?) called Volksboutique.


Volksboutique began as a thrift store/sculptural installation in Berlin back in the '90s when she left New York and landed in Germany. Visitors would open the door to her underground shop, tea was served, clothes were cheap and people congregated to discuss topics ranging from identity and self presentation, to weather and the effect of tourism on the neighborhood (via).

Volksboutique projects kept on evolving, surprising and questioning the audience and the art world. She franchised the boutique for Documenta X in Kassel in 1997, then abandoned her role as a salesgirl and mutated into a late-night talk-show host, a tour guide, a masseuse, a handbags and retro-looking stamp kits designer, etc. Turning everyday job into an artistic activity that could either be presented inside galleries or taken on the road inside carefully crafted trunks.

She is currently showing one of Volksboutique manifestations, Minutes, at the Venice Biennale of Art. This interview was made before the Venice art exhibition.

A book about your work "Inventory : The Work of Christine Hill and Volksboutique" has been published recently. How did it feel? Like a chapter of your professional life that had been turned?

0ainventoooooo.jpgNot to invoke a too-female metaphor here, but that book was as much birthed as it was published. The compilation process was pretty strenuous and I almost fell over when my editor mentioned that "the next book will be much easier" for inability to ever comprehend ANOTHER book. But indeed, there will be another book, as soon as this month! So, I survived the first Volksboutique Inventory. But of course, having an opportunity like that one was incredible, and making the book into a project became my primary task that entire year. I like to keep order, and surveying the projects made since I really began working professionally (depending upon when that actually was) was incredibly satisfying.

Initially, I thought of this book as a sort of end of year Annual Report, and was thinking of course about summing up.
I also was glad to have the opportunity to formally define what makes up Volksboutique for me, as it has often been (mis)understood as solely a second-hand shop. The book was the opportunity to show breadth, and to also underscore the aesthetic and "philosophical" stance I take. I also write a fair amount, and the book was the perfect showcase for that activity.

It was an incredibly tidy feeling to draw the line somewhere and say to myself "All this has been accomplished", but then a sort of enormous void was staring at me, as in "what now?" This is rather familiar to me after large projects.

And as I've gotten increasingly interested in libraries and other archiving systems, I am happy to be working on books that can show that interest.

Why these deliberate confusions between art and commerce?

Well, I'm quite interested in properly defining which things are assigned value. And I'm very preoccupied with what counts as labor.

This began quite practically following my move to Berlin in 1991 — with my larger project of assimilating. It is noteworthy that I had no real permission to work here, and so I devised series of service pieces in the early 90s, where I, for example, worked as a masseuse, largely for tips. Also, that I was included in (and working for) numerous group shows all over Europe at this time, and realized that, rewarding as that is, it doesn't pay money.

This idea of merging income and art occupations culminated with opening the Volksboutique-as-shop in 1996. It was a way of claiming autonomy. It both freed me from being anyone's employee, and launched me straight into Proprietor-status, and it absolved me from having to rely on the art system to provide me with an audience. It allowed me to build a base of operations, and work from it, which is a device I've held onto over years.

"I've always held the belief that art is labor that deserves proper compensation. It is often difficult to assert this, in all levels of the art system. I'm sure that all involved would agree that art has "value", but where the work lies, and who is paying for it becomes a very clouded issue. I have issues with the premise that art is its own reward."

My work path over years has continued to punctuate my thoughts on this, in the form of anecdote or in specific exhibition or project experience. A museum I did a project with revoked a small production fee when they discovered that the piece I had made — a vending machine — was turning a small profit within the exhibition itself. Hundreds of visitors to my installation at documenta X (a franchise of the Volksboutique shop, installed in the exhibition) complained loudly that this "wasn't a commercial exhibition!", missing the irony that, for example, a Jeff Wall was hanging directly opposite my store. Numerous visitors (including a reporter from The Wall Street Journal) found my $12 tour fee as part of my Tourguide? piece in New York city excessive, although that is exactly the sum charged by all tour guide agencies in the city. A museum director in Italy refused to refund my travel and production costs for the installation, barking at me that I was "lucky to be in Italy".

0aakasss4.jpg 0aakasssl2.jpg
Volksboutique Franchise, 1997

On the one hand, we have art fairs and Sotheby's auctions reminding us all the time about the financial inequalities or excesses of the art system, but then, on the other, we have puritan calls for the work to be freed of economics so that it can exist in some reality-free bubble. And I disagree with both of these extremes.

Of course, I am isolating these experiences to underscore this particular point. It should not be misinterpreted that my entire work path has been a litany of complaint or abuse. To the contrary. Most artists I know find themselves being pushed forward by "mistakes" or such experiences, and I am no different. Hitting a point of adversity, whether within one's own process or from the outside, pushes things forward.

Basically, I identify with being a working artist - I work hard in order to live from this and live AS this. And it's important to me to feature that in projects. And it is important that that include financial aspects.

Of course, when I am involved is larger scale projects — which I call "Organizational Ventures" – that contain large amounts of administration, preparation, and on-site labor, I am often asking myself what I am trying to prove to myself by creating these insanely confounding schemes. It IS the addition of chaos, of overwhelming-ness, of over-stressing productivity that ends up defining many of these projects.

Pilot, 2000

Do you perform or role-play with Volksboutique? How do you differentiate one from the other?

It is good that the the word "performative" has entered the general art vocabulary, because it rescues work like mine from being labeled as Performance Art. I am extremely averse to theater, because I don't want to see a simulation of life. I want life. I want things real and in real time. And there is always going to be that unfortunate leap the mind makes when hearing the phrase "performance art" that conjures the stage whisper, or someone setting themself on fire. So I don't consider myself to be performing in the sense that we understand "acting" or staging. But I DO find that the entire thing is about performance, in terms of what in German is the word Leistung. And I do have a certain public persona that is in the work (and probably in my teaching as well). It is a part of my own personality, not something that is assumed, but it is also specific to certain projects that contain an extroverted element. Initially, my labors in the Volksboutique were specifically about pointing directly to the fact that this was an occupation. Something all-consuming, that required a sweat to be broken. And about clarifying that my own person/a was the guide through this set of ideas. This is also a way of addressing accountability and responsibility. Projects of mine require participation of various levels by viewers. How much they can access has in part to do with how they approach me as the representative of any given work. I feel this is a fair exchange, similar to any in a shop transaction.

Tourguide?, 1999

Which criteria guide the choice of the identities you adopt in the Volksboutique performances?

I spent one year at a university before switching to an art school, and while I was there, I remember being astonished at the number of extremely focussed majors some people had. I had no idea that these occupations existed. In high school, I was told by those in the position of advising me that I would be a good artist or a good lawyer. (I will assume because I was generally considered a "creative type" but I was also extremely loud and opinionated.) My step-mother thought I should become a dental hygienist. Upon graduating from art school, though my occupation as artist was never really something I questioned, I realized I missed many aspects from other occupations. I remain infinitely curious, for example, about office culture, although I've never worked in a true cubicle-zone ever. My initial incarnation as shopkeeper at the Volksboutique was mostly informed by my taking German service culture to task, not to mention wanting to define publicly what I felt was the role of the artist in the society, and that this was a service providing role. Thereafter, I began investigating which jobs would best illustrate my preoccupations. I am particularly interested in librarians now, for example.

I suppose it is redundant to mention these works also point out my femaleness to an extent. Either I have chosen to take on some stereotyped female roles (shopgirl, librarian) or I am intentionally trying out things that fewer women end up in (late night talk show host).

Volksboutique, 1996-1997

One of the more reproduced photographs from the Volksboutique store shows me holding up an actual debutante's ball gown in a wall-sized mirror. There was a fair bit of sniping regarding that image, that it was self-serving or narcissistic, etc. But what it was was my trying something out that interested me. Sizing it up, putting it on.

The aesthetic of the Volksboutique object is very peculiar. What inspired it?

0afashonme.jpgThe name Volksboutique stems from the VEB, or VolksEigenen Betrieb, which was the socialist term for collective ownership and industry in the GDR. I moved to Berlin Mitte in 1991, and it was a profoundly different aesthetic experience than today, not to mention from that which I was accustomed having grown up in the States. The remnants of the GDR were everywhere, literally cast out on the street in piles day by day. I wandered the streets daily hauling in everything I could physically transport home. A store called "Dumping Kuhle" sold off stockpiled VEB products that were suddenly rendered valueless. That was the environment I lived in, and so it naturally entered my work.

However, this is not exclusively a GDR nor Ostalgic thing. My residence in Brooklyn had me obsessed with visual elements I found locally, for example, my studio there is housed in a former pencil factory. Many elements invoke a hand-made aesthetic, and I have a predilection for cast-off objects. I collect 50s office furniture, vernacular signage, manual typewriters, and have a mini-museum of vintage stationery products.

Volksboutique is to a large extent about examining concepts of “value? in our culture and re-investing discarded appurtenances with meaning and use. I’m trying to point viewers’ attention to specific objects and events in life that risk being overlooked as being too quotidian or too common.

One of the mottos of Volksboutique is "Make the most of what you've got." Are there examples in your life when you had no choice but "make the most of what you had"?

I think I could answer this many ways. In my family, there is a particular tic to be constantly striving for a point of "readiness" or "departure" that is pretty unattainable, and can be frustrating. What I mean here is, that "work" can only get done once every little other thing is done — dishes washed, clothes straightened, recycling out, checkbook balanced — rendering a clean slate so that this WORK can begin. But this is a state that will never really be attained! I realized pretty early that rather than waiting for this ultimate constellation or alignment of graces, or whatever, that I simply had to jump in and work with whatever was at hand. This could easily be seen in financial terms, that when XXX stage of financial security is arrived at, THEN XXX can be achieved. Rather than waiting for an impossible or utopian situation to suddenly arise, better to get to work and create a better situation. I mean, I moved to Berlin with no permission to be here, not speaking the language, and with really no obvious skill set that differentiated me from anyone else...and so working within these limitations became my project.

Volksboutique Accounting Archive, 2002

With regard to being a practicing artist, especially since entering the teaching community, there is this misunderstanding to dispel that one entered an art career with other cards than anyone else. What I mean here is that I went through the same channels that anyone would: art school, move to urban environment, work, dialogue within the art system. People are not born with cards optioning them to art careers, (or any careers). There is no mystical thing that suddenly bestows an artist with a career. An artist works and finds him/herself in the midst of it.

I also understand art making to be less about the invention or construction of new things, but more about the close paying attention to and realignment of existing things.

What is Christine Hill doing when she's not keeping the shop? I'm particularly curious about the work of your students.

Well, I make a lot of lists. And I am a master procrastinator. It is sort of a job in itself. But yes, one of the larger re-structurings of my work life since 2004 is that I teach full time at the Bauhaus University. I chair the department "Media, Trend and Public Appearance" within the media faculty. This is something that sort of serendipitously presented itself to me, and turns out to have been fairly revolutionary for me. I am lucky that teaching is less a diversion from what I normally would be doing, rather it is a pretty natural extension of what I do. And though it has taken some getting used to in terms of the organization of my working time, I find myself impressed and inspired by my students to an amazing degree. The math for embarking on a career as an artist is not necessarily in one's favor, and the culture — even if we happen to be in some art market boom right now – doesn't necessarily jump over itself in appreciation for the artistic occupation. So these people are incredibly brave, and I appreciate them following their instincts, and their being uncompromising about what they demand from their lives. And it is there that I can offer the most guidance. I am not necessarily sitting with them teaching them software or how to patina something to a particular finish. More so, it's training them for the long fight. To instill in them a rigor, so that they can go out with that in their toolkit. I'm not trying to scare them, but I am trying to explain to them what will be required of them in terms of discipline and focus. Furthermore, I am myself a huge fan of good work, and when my students come up with good projects, I'm just completely invigorated by that.

0amolekkkkk.jpgCan you tell us something about the work you're preparing for the upcoming Biennale of Art in Venice?

Well, that aforementioned Second Book is the main contribution for Venice. It is entitled Minutes (as is the entire piece for Venice) — referring to detail, minutae; the passing and accruing of time; and of course, taking meeting minutes, the tallying of progress.

The book as an object is patterned after a calendar/datebook. In considering what one could/should put in an exhibition like Venice, there seemed to be pressure for Big Project, and I sort of dislike the notion of the masterpiece or opus. I like the continuum, that the machine is humming, that things are ebbing and flowing insofar as industry is concerned, and that many factors contribute to the so-called Process. This is most easily evidenced by a glimpse into my own datebook. So, the piece for Venice speaks to that...how my (or the mind) is organized, and what things are in there, and they can be very small things, and that it is something about growth via accumulation. And organization. I like that haircut appointments reside in the same space as big deadlines, and so-called Events of Note.

"Minutes" features work since the Inventory book, and texts I've written on them. There is a marvelous essay at the beginning by the author and musician (and my friend) Rick Moody. The publication was designed by the Leipzig-based Markus Dreßen (as was Inventory) and he is simply a masterful talent. Our collaboration is one that I am incredibly proud of.

Minutes, installation view at the Venice Biennale, 2007

In addition to the publication, which is displayed in a sort of reading room environment, there is an installation of my Trunk Show in the Arsenale. These are a pretty spot-on manifestation of how my work and thought process organize themselves. The idea for this trunk system came from a conversation with my sister a number of years ago. She had visited a 60s submarine-turned-museum in Hawaii, and was extolling the wonders of how the interior worked...the attention to detail, how every little thing had its place in order to economize space, etc. She exclaimed "It was SO Volksboutique!". I realized that at that time, it wasn't particularly that any Volksboutique pieces were like this, but that my sister has such a good understanding of how my mind works, that she knew I would identify with this sort of organizational system. And so, the trunks were about making a physical representation of that. They isolate a five day work week into 5 governing tasks (Accounting, Management, PR, Production and Reception) and there are the complete accouterments for each of these occupations in each trunk. They are about economizing space and also rendering these tasks mobile.

Accounting Portable Office

My Brooklyn studio is right alongside the workspace of Booklyn — a bookmaking artist alliance that I've worked closely with since having been in New York. Particularly my friendship and collaboration with Mark Wagner — who manufactured these trunks as over-dimensional, exploded "books" – is important to me, and the show pays homage to that.

Name us 3 to 5 artists whom you think should get more attention from the public.

Well, I will preface this by saying that these are artists I admire and am inspired by, and am lucky enough to be friends with.
But I am not inferring that they are necessarily under-respected or underexposed in any way. But it is certainly excellent if even more people learn about them, because they all do amazing work. I notice that they are all mostly based in New York, which certainly means I need to get out in Berlin more!

Allison Smith (The Muster and Notion Nanny.)
Nina Katchadourian
J. Morgan Puett
Pablo Helguera
Michael Rakowitz.

Thanks Christine!

0aaaiiiik8.jpgAccording to what i have eaten in the morning i am either a bit cynical about the real impact of activist projects or totally enthusiastic about their objectives and methods. Most of the time i am both. It also depends on the cleverness of the activists themselves. I still have to find any trace of ungainliness when it comes to The Institute for Applied Autonomy. The anonymous activist group believes in the importance of disseminating knowledge, encourages autonomy, and develops methods of self-determination through artistic expression and application of military-like technology to the topics of criminal mischief, decentralized systems and individual autonomy.

You might have read or seen one of their pamphlet-distributing or spray painting robots or participated to the protests during the 2004 US presidential campaign, by using their TXTmob system.


The Institute for Applied Autonomy (IAA) was founded in 1998 as an anonymous collective of artists, activists, and engineers united by the cause of individual and collective self-determination.? Why did you decide to stay anonymous? How much does that anonymity serve your objectives? Is it part of a strategy?

Initially, we embraced anonymity as a defensive tactic, as many of our projects exist in a legal grey area. Working collectively and anonymously seemed natural to those of us with backgrounds in direct-action politics and the hacker and cypherpunks communities. Groups like Cult of the Dead Cow and native Hawaiian activists Hui Malama gave us a model for action that was both publicly engaged and effectively anonymous.

We’ve also found anonymity to be a useful tactic in dealing with the press. Many journalists seem to be more interested in writing about artists than about the art they create – this is particularly true when the work has explicitly political content. By refusing to provide any personal information about ourselves, we control the kinds of narratives that journalists create about our work and the issues it engages.

iSee enables users to avoid CCTV surveillance cameras. Some UK-based artists working on ideas of counter-surveillance for the broad public have discovered that in fact most people are totally comfortable with the idea of surveillance in public space. Have you noticed anything similar when you have deployed the project in several cities, both European and American? Did you notice different attitudes towards surveillance according to the country?


It’s true that many people are comfortable with surveillance of public space, especially when confronted with the usual choice between privacy and security. With iSee, we tried to subvert (or at least complicate) this binary. Initially this meant focusing on the mechanics of surveillance, pointing out that in practice CCTV surveillance has had very little impact on actual crime and that it is subject to the biases of system designers and operators, which means it often gets used to ogle women and single out youth and minorities for scrutiny. Ultimately though, the camera-avoidance part of the project became less significant than the data-collection and visualization aspects. We held workshops in which participants used our tools to create interactive maps of their city’s surveillance infrastructure. This activity asks a very different set of questions than simply “Does CCTV make you uncomfortable?? Instead, it points to the lack of any kind of baseline data about surveillance. Before we can have an intelligent conversation about CCTV surveillance, for example, it would be nice to know how many cameras are in operation, where they are, who owns them, etc. For the most part, this information simply doesn’t exist – In most countries, cameras are put up by individual building owners and their data is increasingly managed by third-party private companies. In effect, we have an emergent infrastructure of video surveillance that is growing on an ad-hoc basis, without any public discussion or oversight. The only way we have any information about the number and location of surveillance cameras is through the efforts of grassroots activists and concerned citizens.

Apart from surveillance and counter-surveillance, what are the issues you find worth fighting for/against?

0aagrafwrit.jpgWe’re generally interested in the intersection between technology, public policy and social control, and with building systems that facilitate freedom of speech and public acts of dissent. This encompasses a number of related issues including surveillance, public space, and law enforcement. We’re also extremely interested in the ways that technologies and scientific knowledge are produced, which has lead to an ongoing engagement with academic research labs and with the funding agencies that support them.

0lillllbo0.jpgYour robots have a very peculiar look. Little Brother has a cute metal tin look, while the GraffitiWriter just looks efficient. What or who guides the way you design robots?

We employ what might be called a kind of “tactical aesthetics,? in which aesthetic decisions are determined by the intended goals of a particular project. Little Brother was intended to distribute subversive literature to unsuspecting audiences, so we tried to make him really cute and engaging.

GraffitiWriter on the other hand leveraged techno-fetishism to confer a kind of legitimacy to robot-mediated criminality, so it needed to look like a “cool? robot. While functionally similar to GraffitiWriter, Streetwriter was intended as a clandestine graffiti writing machine so it looks fairly innocuous, appearing to be an ordinary cargo van. The latest version of StreetWriter, which we call SWX, was intended for the very specific purpose of infiltrating the 2004 DARPA Grand Challenge which lead to a particular kind of sleekness in
the design, with a glossy white exterior and laser-cut aluminum logos.

0aaroguegw.jpgGraffitiWriter invites the public to spray paint graffiti on the pavement. How much are people ready to forget that they are well-behaved citizens and contribute to this piece of “street art? protest? Which kind of messages do you receive? Mainly love messages or rather angry complaints?

You’re referring to our “Rogues Gallery? project in which we took our GraffitiWriter robot to public spaces across the United States and Europe and offered it for use by the general public. One of the things that was so interesting about this project was that so many people were wiling to participate! We’d simply show up unannounced in a public park or city center, drive the robot around, and invite people to use the machine to spraypaint messages on the ground. Virtually everyone we encountered was willing to give it a try, even though what we were doing was clearly illegal. To us, this seemed to be an interesting inversion of the usual narratives about technology extending human abilities. With Rogues Gallery, the robot overcame certain kinds of social conditioning not because of its mechanical capabilities but simply because it was seen as legitimate, based on the assumption that anyone possessing a robot represented some large research institution which probably had the “right? to spray its messages on public space, rather than simply being a couple of crazy people who built a machine in their garage. Imagine if we had tried the same experiment without a robot, using only a few cans of spraypaint – no one would have participated because the action would have been clearly understood as an illegal act of public defacement.

What are the best locations to unleash a contestational robot?

It turns out you can release them almost anywhere. Although, I’d probably be careful around airports these days.

With the kind of public art/activist projects that you develop, things might not always go the way you foresaw. How much do you learn from the way users behave and interact with your pieces? Could you give (an) example(s) of unexpected and unwelcome/delightful experience?

Because our work mostly happens in uncontrolled environments, we’re almost always surprised by the way our projects unfold. The Rogues Gallery project we just discussed is a good example – our initial idea for the GraffitiWriter robot was to be able to spraypaint in places that are too dangerous for human activists, like banks, shopping malls, and government buildings. We had anticipated that if there were any problems with authority the robot would be sacrificed rather than the person. However, during its initial public deployment on the steps of the U.S. Capital Building, the robot and its human operators were detained by one of DC’s finest. Surprisingly, the presence of the high-tech looking robot confused what might have been a straight-forward arrest. At that point in 1999 it was unthinkable that juvenile delinquents would have a robot at their disposal. We probably fell between the categories of having to file a complicated report or needing to call for backup, so the officer let us go. In that moment we discovered that the robot functions best not as a covert writing machine but rather as a way to engage the public in participating in subversive activity using a powerfully legitimizing technology. There’s a bit of the Stanley Milgram experiment here, only using robots rather than lab coats as the symbol of legitimate authority.

Similarly, with TXTmob the SMS-broadcast tool we created for use by
protesters at the 2004 Democratic and Republican National Conventions, we found many examples of unexpected use. Because we worked closely with several activist groups to design the system, we had a pretty good idea of how it would be used by protesters. However, it quickly became clear that it was also a really important tool for journalists covering the protests. Because so many of the actions were spontaneous and short-lived, occurring all over the city (for example, groups of demonstrators mobbing convention delegates who were spotted eating at local restaurants), there was virtually no way for sympathetic journalists to know what was going on. Once the journalists started using the SMS system, however, they were able report on all kinds of sit-ins, street theater, and demonstrations. As a result, the quality of reportage for the Republican National Convention in New York was better than we’ve seen for most recent demonstrations in the United States.

Terminal Air is a visualization system developed for mapping the movements of planes used in the CIA extraordinary rendition program. How can the project help counter the extraordinary rendition program practice? Has anyone ever tried to silence the project?


There are several components to the Terminal Air project. It is primarily an installation that examines the mechanics of extraordinary rendition, a current practice of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in which suspected terrorists detained in Western countries are transported to so-called “black sites? for interrogation and torture. Based on extensive research, the installation imagines the CIA office through which the program is administered as a sort of travel agency coordinating complex networks of private contractors, leased equipment, and shell companies. Wall-mounted displays track the movements of aircraft involved in extraordinary rendition, while promotional posters identify the private contractors that supply equipment and personnel. Booking agents’ desks feature computers offering interactive animations that enable visitors to monitor air traffic and airport data from around the world, while office telephones provide real-time updates as new flight plans are registered with international aviation authorities.

Seemingly-discarded receipts, notes attached to computer monitors, and other ephemera provide additional detail including names of detainees and suspected CIA agents, dates of known renditions, and images of rendition aircraft.


The project was inspired through conversations with extraordinary rendition researcher and author Trevor Paglen (Torture Taxi: On the Trail of the CIA's Rendition Flights – Melville House Publishing). Data on the movements of the planes was compiled by Paglen, author Stephen Grey (Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program – St.Martin's Press) and an anonymous army of plane-spotting enthusiasts.

The main goal behind the Terminal Air project is simply to raise awareness about extraordinary rendition, to call particular attention to governments, airports, and private contractors who are complicit in its operation, and to recognize the ongoing efforts of various journalists, activists, and citizens who are continuing to uncover and document it.

We’ve also amassed a large database of flight log information, which we make available to the public. So far, no one has tried to interfere with the project (indeed, public reception has been quite positive), but it’s still in the early days – the first installation of the project was in March, and we anticipate a few high-profile shows this fall, so we’ll see what happens.

Any upcoming project you could share with us?

We’ve got a few things in the works, but generally prefer to announce projects after they launch rather than beforehand. We’ll let you know!

Thanks IAA!

0amisscoox.jpgA few weeks ago, i went to Newcastle for the opening of the Picture House exhibition. It was at least minus 37 degrees up there and i was walking from one room of Belsay Hall to the other, watching the installations and following a girl with a nice bag that sported a funny phrase in crooked french. I still don't know if it was the bag or the girl i was stalking but i ended up having dinner with her under a (non-heated) tent. Anyway the girl with the funky bag was in fact Sarah Cook , researcher, co-founder and co-editor of CRUMB (the Curatorial Resource for Upstart Media Bliss), an online resource for curators, producers, commisioners and exhibitors of new media art. Sarah is also a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Sunderland (England) and an independent new media curator. She has organized exhibitions, commissioned new media art and managed educational projects for BALTIC, Gateshead; Bellevue Art Museum, Seattle; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Banff New Media Institute; Reg Vardy Gallery, Sunderland; Locus+, Newcastle; etc. Oh! and she did an interview of me, should be online soon here.

You co-edited the book Curating New Media in 2002. Has the panorama evolved a lot since you wrote that book? Are new media curators still facing the same challenges?

That book was the result of a three-day conference CRUMB organised in Newcastle/Gateshead in May 2001 and in retrospect might be considered the first such meeting of curators and producers of new media in the UK (it resulted in at least one marriage and baby!). At that time we were talking a lot about net-based art and how museums such as the Tate were commissioning artists to make work for their websites (in part because there was a dearth of venues for media art in the UK). We had curators with backgrounds in film and video (who were defining themselves as moving image or lens-based art curators), debating with commissioners from the Science Museum who were interested in interactive installations, debating with sound artists and net-artists who were just trying to get their work commissioned fairly. So while there were disciplinary boundaries to overcome, there were fundamental concerns which affected everyone up for discussion: funding, audiences, institutional support, and professional development.

Curators are still facing a lot of the same challenges today – what is this new art, who is making it, where do I find it, how do I install, collect or preserve it? – but their self-definition is helped by the fact that the landscape of art exhibition has changed and become more multifaceted. For new media art it's not just a question of whether to show it 'on the web or not' anymore (Though getting the Tate to realise that is still a challenge as I understand from the curators there). Art is now exhibited in spaces and places other than white cube galleries – from science museums to media museums to festivals and even airports. The web has changed enormously too, so what we might have thought of as net-art then we might think of as research or social networking today. Curators understand that some work uses the web but doesn’t result in a project that is solely exhibited on the web (it might have a physical component to it too). Artists, as usual, are using whatever medium necessary to realise their work and curators should be responding to that, no matter what their backgrounds may be.

How optimistic are you about the near future of new media curating? Do you see things of positive (and fast) changes?


CRUMB has organised a few workshops for new media curators which have taken the form of 'crisis centres' playfully suggesting that there are deep tensions at the heart of new media curatorial practice, most of which can be partially relieved by a good chat over a nice cup of tea. [For the Enter Festival in Cambridge in April we ran a ‘Bliss Out Centre’ with Indian Head Massage, Open Source Embroidery – courtesy of Ele Carpenter – knitting, fortune teller games and other activities.] These tensions usually are from uncertainty about definitions of the art but also of the curatorial practice. What is the role or value of a curator in the age of 'user-generated content', to be only a filter or editor? How do the other seemingly invisible skills curators have – about dealing with the press, being the interface between the art and the audience – get supported? How do you learn the necessary skills to engage in the production of publicly sited art? I think curatorship, as a field of practice, is quite slow to evolve (certainly slower than the art is changing), and mostly because it is only in the last 15 years that curatorial practice has become reflexive (and some argue, overly so). But this is predominantly in the field of independent or freelance curating, which I am optimistic about. For instance in the way curators might evolve their social networking skills based on how we live and work on the web today, and therefore make their curatorial process more open, more collaborative (though does that result in better shows? Not always). 0amyfroid.jpg

I suppose I am less optimistic about institutional curatorial practice as far as new media art is concerned, but only because art museums are themselves in a state of crisis and are dealing with it by moving away from having curators with any form of subject specialties at all (resulting in the cancellation of experimental programs or the closing down of departments - look at MoMA with its Media Department which is focused on video installation). If new forms of art aren't getting collected and well documented and written about or shown, then the depth of knowledge of the mainstream art curators who have to be generalists and have knowledge about everything is going to be limited (to what is written about in magazines, and to what they see when they go to the big art fairs). This means they might not be able to respond easily to the exciting projects that challenge the structures of the art museum or challenge the idea of what art is. Sorry, this is becoming a big long chew of a mouthful of an answer.

What do you think are the elements that hamper the integration of new media art pieces in museums?

In art museums I think a lot of the resistance to new media art has to do with the traditional ways of judging and valuing art – new media art isn't always an object (it's a process or event), it isn't always unique (it's easily reproduced or made collaboratively, sometimes, god forbid, by the audience participating!), it therefore isn't always collectable (it can be ephemeral data or code) or even predictable as to what it will be. And it plugs in, so could break down, and that scares curators who are trained to put on exhibitions of unchanging, static objects.

I get bummed out having to write answers like that one above because while I know a lot of that is to a certain degree true, I also think good curators will be able to look to art history and say, but wait, conceptual art is ephemeral, live performance art is a time-based, interactive process which can't be collected, and still we have long histories of supporting that! Good curators look for the balance between form and content, and don't get hung up on the form or, in the case of new media art, the technology. That said, you do have to know something about the form – enough to know why it might be significant for this particular work of art, or at least to know what you don't know!

I have had directors of museums tell me that they don't believe there is an audience for new media art, certainly not enough of an audience to warrant what they perceive to be an overly costly investment in it ("It costs £7.00 per head to put on a live media art event here and I'd rather give them £10.00 each and tell them to stay away!" one director had the gall to say to me). And I've had other art gallery directors say to me, "We don't show new media art because I haven't seen anything that I think is very good" when they are sitting next to the artists whose show they've just opened whose CVs include winning prizes at the Venice Biennial and only working with digital video or immersive and responsive sound environments. Hello?! Neither would admit they haven't seen very much new media art, or don't know where to look, or even what it looks like.

0ccccccrn.jpgSo that's art museums, but your question didn't specify. In Science museums and Media museums it seems to me as though the integration is less hampered, perhaps because the curators there are less afraid of the form. Some of the only permanently installed, commissioned new media works on view in London are in the Science Museum – perhaps because part of their remit is to engage in technological culture. The new British Film Institute Southbank venue has a gallery which is capable of showing all forms of interactive, immersive, responsive, data-driven new media art; though whether they’ll show anything more than film and video installation remains to be seen.

Your webpage says that you are a curator of contemporary art. Your practice is mainly concerned with new media art. Do you regard new media art as a distinct entity or would you rather see it as "just" another form of art?

I've worked in museums and galleries of contemporary art and feel comfortable in each world. My background is in philosophy, modern history, contemporary studies, not art history. I think it's funny two of my degrees have the word contemporary on them, written in Latin, loosely translated as Aetatem recentissiman pertinentibuss as there is no actual word for "contemporary studies" in Latin – there is only 'pertinent to the recent time' studies. So for me new media art is the most 'pertinent to the recent time' art. New media art IS art (not JUST art) and as an ever-changing field of practice it has the potential to completely redefine what art is, just as it might redefine what new is, or what media is.

What are the conditions required to achieve "upstart media bliss"?

Tea and cookies and wifi? As a curator, keeping up with the times but not “dancing the novelty hustle? (as Barbara London has said); having a sense of history is important. Challenging the system – be it the art system, the museum, or the format of the exhibition – and not being afraid to take a risk (generally being an upstart). At the same time, remembering to take care of the artist and the work, take care of other people and your ethics. Creating situations for contemplation and reflection (bliss doesn't have to be monumental, it might only last a minute, but a minute worth remembering).

If you could teach new media art bloggers one thing, what would it be?

To inspire others to do what they do. Because I think there is room for a lot more of them than there are now. I'd like some of them to be more rigorous and critical. To get their work published in non-new-media print magazines, newspapers, and journals, or to take those established formats on at least.

Natalie Bookchin's Databank of the Everyday, part of Database Imaginary

I've always loved the title of an exhibtion you co-curated with Steve Dietz, "The Art Formerly Known As New Media." That was a provocative title (I think). Which kind of discussion were you hoping to raise with such title & exhibition? Did a debate take place as you expected?

The curatorial remit for that exhibition was to look back across ten years of activity at the Banff New Media Institute in Canada, and so expectations were that we might curate some kind of 'best of' retrospective. Steve and I weren't as interested in that mode of exhibition making as we were in choosing works which might redefine for us what 'new media art' is, or what art is in the age after new media, if indeed we are in such an age. We looked at the work of hundreds of artists who had ever been to a new media event at Banff and asked many of them what they were doing now. We considered some of the big themes which had recurred in the discussions at Banff – artificial intelligence, the body and biological matter, data visualisation, social networks, identity, memory, interactivity – and thought about art works in relation to those.

The title caught people’s attention, though I'm not sure the show generated much debate (except perhaps over the way we installed the work of irational.org). It coincided with Re:fresh, the (so-called) first conference on the histories of media art and science, and I think the historians who attended might have liked to have seen a ‘best of’ retrospective after all, which would have been nice, but to us it didn't feel like the right mode to work in. Steve and I, with Anthony Kiendl, had before that curated the exhibition Database Imaginary, and so we were still asking questions like 'what is this thing called newness?' or ‘what is the behaviour of these works in relation to me?’ or ‘what does this work of art tell me about the 'postmodern condition' or the informational-technological world I live in?’ We hope people who saw that show (and you can still buy the t-shirt if you want!) left asking similar questions.

Together with Sabine Himmelsbach, you curated the exhibition "My Own Private Reality" at the Edith Russ Haus for Media Art in Oldenburg (Germany.) The works selected reflect the phenomenon of social communities on the Internet and its democratisation. What is your view on these issues? Critical? Openly enthusiastic?


I have what could be called an irrational aversion to the myspace.com 'phenomenon' because (of Murdoch but also because) I have what could be called a nostalgic snobbish adherence to earlier, better made, smaller, smarter versions of just about everything (depending who you ask I'm either old before my time, criticising that 'they don't make them like they used to' or I exhibit the all-consuming enthusiasm and desire of the early adopter). I think that some so-called web 2.0 technologies are the corporate world's way of creating dependent consumers and thereby discouraging alternative peer-to-peer computing from flourishing. Which is why I love Cory Arcangel's work BlueTube which just serves to remind viewers of the infrastructure which they so mindlessly meld in to. But I equally believe that these softwares (and especially the open source ones, which allow you to learn a little, and share, and to move beyond the generic template) make possible meaningful activity, through the social communities they encourage, which deserves a look in. It is interesting to see how having an alter-ego online, being a part of a community on the web, has come full circle – from in the early 90s putting yourself online, to in the late 90s and early 00s being someone else online, or someone you can’t be in your offline life, and now in the late 00s to a mix of those modes. Being part of an online social network is now an enhancement of your offline life. People are still learning the nuances and social manners and etiquette of this new hybrid existence.

I think curating is about challenging yourself and your beliefs, assumptions, and contradictions, so that’s a reason I took the approach I did. I also wanted to curate this show because I knew of a lot of great art projects which are about the using the web to talk about the social impetus in all of us and I wanted the chance to think about that work all together in a space – works which embody both of my views on the technology itself. Working with Sabine and her team at the Edith Russ Haus was fantastic; it's so vital to have spaces like that in the world where there aren't the pressures of a museum collection to maintain or enormous spaces to fill and instead there are artists in residence making new work for consideration (in our case Hans Bernard/Ubermorgen and Annina Rust).

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My Own Private Reality (more images)

How does one get to be like you, an internationally-esteemed curator of new media art?

Well, gee, hmmm. Having a degree from a curatorial programme (in my case Bard College) and working in esteemed institutions (The Walker Art Center; The National Gallery of Canada) helps gets the ball rolling. Then having a full-time research post at a University that is supportive of your freelance curatorial work (Thank you University of Sunderland) is invaluable. Otherwise, I’d suggest that you find good people to collaborate with and learn from them (Thank you Steve Dietz). Try and be in the right places at the right times (Thank you Sara Diamond and Susan Kennard and the Banff New Media Institute). Don’t be a hermit, except when you have to; in other words, network, but moreover, do good work, even if it means doing less (such a hard lesson to learn) (Thank you Beryl Graham). My favourite tea-leaf fortune says: Let your manners speak, your deeds prove, and your delivery impress.

Any upcoming CRUMB or personal project that you could share with us?

When I'm not under the blanket of the book CRUMB has been writing, one thing I struggle to do is give back to my city, to think globally but act locally. So while a lot of the curatorial projects I've done of late have been focused internationally, I hope to do something lasting for where I call home before I move elsewhere. So I'm trying to keep some time aside to work more with the awesome collectively-built and volunteer-run Star and Shadow Cinema in Newcastle (which is a cinema and so much more!) and (fingers crossed) I will be curating and commissioning work for the next AV Festival which takes place across the North East of England, on the theme of Broadcast.

Thanks Sarah!

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