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Gilberto Esparza, Plantas Autofotosintéticas, 2013-2014

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Gilberto Esparza, Plantas Autofotosintéticas, 2013-2014. Photo: Fundación Telefonica

For a number of years, artist Gilberto Esparza has been using recycled electronics, alternative forms of energy and other modern technologies to investigate the action of human beings on the environment. His Urban Parasites are small robotic insects made of recycled consumer goods. They climb, crawl and hang over the urban space in search of any source of energy they can feed on. In 2010, he developed Nomadic Plants, a robot hosting living plants and microorganisms. Whenever its 'guests' need to be fed, the autonomous robot will move towards a contaminated river and drink water from it. Through a process of microbial fuel cells, the elements contained in the water are transformed into energy that powers its circuits. The cleaned up water is then sprayed onto the plants.

Like Nomadic Plants, but on a larger scale, Esparza's new research project makes use of microbial fuel cells technology to produce electricity and improve the quality of water.

Autophotosynthetic Plants takes the form a hybrid, self-regulating organism. Part machine, part organic ecosystem, it feeds on organisms found into the sewage water of Lima, Peru, in order to create its own light, energy and be self-sufficient.

As any living organism, Autophotosynthetic Plants features a central system where microorganisms, crustaceans and algae live; a digestive system where bacteria feed on polluted water and transform it into cleaner water that can be used for photosynthesis; and a nervous system made of an electronic network that monitors the activities of the organic parts.

The process is probably better explained in the video below:

The modules create hydraulic network that administers bio-filtered water to the central container, creating an optimal environment where producer species and consumer species from different trophic levels (protzoans, crustaceans, micro algae and aquatic plants) can achieve homeostatic equilibrium. The electricity produced by the bacteria is released as intervals of luminous energy, enabling photosynthesis by the plants that inhabit the central container which thereby complete their metabolic processes. When the organic material present in the microbial cells has been entirely consumed, an electronic monitoring networks pumps out the byproducts generated by the species that inhabit the nuclear ecosystem to the modular cells, restoring the cycle.

The ambitious project not only suggests that polluted water can be used as a source of energy but it also stands as a model that could potentially be applied to other cities, communities and industries.

I contacted the artist to know more about the project (Scroll down if you prefer to read the interview in Spanish):

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Gilberto Esparza, Plantas Autofotosintéticas, 2013-2014. Photo: Fundación Telefonica

Hi Gilberto! Where do the electricity-bacteria come from? Did you find them existing already in the contaminated water? Or were there introduced from another source? Are they the same bacterias as in Plantas nomadas?

The bacteria come from the rivers where the samples are taken. One of the bacteria commonly found in organic waste is the Geobacter which has been used in various studies to generate energy by microbial fuel cells. It is the same system that Nomadic Plants is using.

The obvious question is: could the system be implemented on a large scale? Going thus from the scale of an art installation in an exhibition room to a fully functional system used for a whole area of the city?

Yes, all the research centers that are working with this technology have that possibility in mind. The idea is to implement the use of microbial cells in wastewater treatment plants to reduce the power consumption that the plant requires.

Does the system require a lot of maintenance and attention? Or does it pretty much manage itself without any help from you or from scientists?

The installation has analog electronics and multiple sensors that auto-regulate the functioning of the installation. The only maintenance consists in aliment it with wastewater each time a biodegradation cycle ends.

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Gilberto Esparza, Plantas Autofotosintéticas, 2013-2014. Photo: Christian Sánchez

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Gilberto Esparza, Plantas Autofotosintéticas, 2013-2014. Photo: Christian Sánchez

In the video, you explain that you took water from various parts of the city and that each zone of the city had its own level and type of pollution. Could you explain a bit more? How does that translate in the installation? Do the various types of polluted water require different bacteria? produce different intensity or types of energy?

It depends on the area where the samples were taken. In industrial areas, for example, you can find a higher amount of toxic waste that sometimes inhibit bacteria. In other sectors of the city, household waste generate more organic matter. In those waters bacteria feed on this waste and produce more energy and this energy is reflected in the installation in the form in flashes of light that are more intense and that make aquatic plants perform their photosynthetic processes better.

In the video, we see visitors entering the room of Plantas autofotosintéticas wearing a mask. Is it because the installation has a bad smell? Or is dangerous to breathe in? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wyL4jRlqbY

The installation emits bad smells and presents a source of infection for visitors, so we decided to protect them. I find this approach to the work interesting because those same conditions are found in the urban area bordering polluted rivers and their inhabitants are exposed to them all the time.

Thanks Gilberto!

And now for the spanish version of the interview:

¿De dónde provienen las bacterias que se alimentan de electricidad? Ya existían en el agua contaminada? O lo habías introducido desde otra parte? ¿Son las mismas bacterias en Plantas nómadas?

Las bacterias provienen de los ríos de donde sacan las muestras, una de las bacterias que es muy común en donde se presentan desechos orgánicos es la Geobacter con las que se han estado haciendo diversos estudios para la generación de energía a través de celdas de combustible microbianas. Es el mismo sistema que utiliza Plantas Nómadas.

¿Se podría llevar a gran escala el sistema? Yendo solo así de la escala de una instalación de arte en una sala de exposiciones a un sistema totalmente funcional utilizada para toda una zona de la ciudad?

Sí, todos los centros de investigación que están trabajando con esta tecnología tienen presente esa posibilidad. La idea es implementar el uso de las celdas microbianas en las plantas de tratamiento de aguas residuales para disminuir el consumo de energía que la planta requiere.

¿El sistema requiere mucha atención, mantenimiento? ¿O más o menos se maneja por sí mismo sin ninguna ayuda de usted o de los científicos?

La instalación tiene una electrónica análoga y múltiples censores que autorregulan el funcionamiento de la instalación, el único mantenimiento es proveerle de aguas residuales cada que termine el ciclo de biodegradación.

En el vídeo, se explica que le "tomó agua de diversas partes de la ciudad y que cada zona de la ciudad tiene su propio nivel y tipo de contaminación. ¿Podría explicar un poco más? ¿Cómo se traduce en la instalación? ¿Los distintos tipos de aguas contaminadas requieren diferentes bacterias? produce diferentes tipos de energía o la intensidad?

Depende de la zona en donde se tomaron las muestras, se presentas distintos contaminantes por ejemplo en las zonas industriales se presentan mas desechos tóxicos que algunas veces inhiben a las bacterias. En otros sectores de la cuidad, se presentan más materia orgánica por desechos domésticos, en esas aguas las bacterias se alimentas de estos desechos y producen más energía y esta energía se manifiesta en la instalación como destellos de luz más intensos que hacen que las plantas acuáticas que habitan en el núcleo realicen mejor sus procesos fotosintéticos.

En el video, vemos a los visitantes que entran en la habitación de las Plantas autofotosintéticas con una máscara. ¿Es porque la instalación tiene un mal olor? ¿O es peligroso para respirar?

La instalación despide malos olores y representa un foco de infección para los espectadores, por eso se decidió protegerlos. Esta aproximación a la obra me interesa porque esas mismas condiciones se encuentran en las zona urbanas que colindan con los ríos contaminados y que sus habitantes están expuestos todo el tiempo.

¡Muchas gracias Gilberto!

Sponsored by:





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The third edition of the magazine Facta - Revista de Gambiologia is out. As usual, the texts are in Portuguese and English and the content is brilliant.

Facta is an experimental publication orchestrated by Fred Paulino and the Gambiologia group. The first issue of Facta addressed the 'science of Apocalypse', the next one looked at people who accumulate, collect and re-purpose. This issue is all about the hacker culture, poetics and ethics in all their guises and deeds.

I'm waiting from my paper copy to arrive from Belo Horizonte but in the meantime i had a quick look at the online edition of the magazine. It's already available on ISSUU. As are Gambiologia's previous publications. Hurray!

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So what's inside? Things you don't expect and things you expected, only approached from a new angle.

Some of the articles explore hacking very directly. With a history of society's perception of hacker. Up to today and what Brett Scott calls 'the gentrification of hacking' (meaning that pretty much anyone likes to call themselves a hacker, especially people busy making money in Silicon Valley.)

Or with a portrait of/homage to Aaron Swartz, the hacktivist and computer programmer who believed that knowledge should be available to all. His Guerilla Open Access Manifesto is also featured in the magazine.

I also liked the little tour of hackerspaces around the world: Bogohack in Bogota, Hacker Space Palestine in Gaza, Ihub in Nairobi, Raul Hacker Club in Salvador Brazil, Xinchejian in Shanghai, MadLab in Manchester, etc.

I discovered the existence of Kids Hack Day in Facta. KHD, which ethos is summed up in School is dead, learning is not, is a one-day hackathon in which children are invited to open up everyday objects and rebuild, re-purpose, reinvent them. The experiment started in Stockholm and rapidly spread to other cities.

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Inside Facta #3

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Inside Facta #3

However, many of the articles put hacking into a broader context. Dispelling any misconceptions we might still have about hacking/hackers, looking at how the hacker ethic can be applied to all areas of life and calling for hacker culture that would focus more on social and ecological processes, rather than just technology.

Brett Scott wrote Hacking the future of money. Setting up a financial hackspace in which he explains why he is setting up The London School of Financial Arts, a space where creative minds apply the hacker philosophy to the financial system.
By the way, Brett Scott's book Heretic's Guide to Global Finance: Hacking the Future of Money is still up for download.

Maria Ptqk has a witty article about reality hacking that goes from Yes Men's stunts to patterns of open sources technologies.

There's also an essay about Steganography. The Art of Writing Hidden Posts. Steganography is the art of hiding message into message, image or objects. So it is a bit like cryptography. Only sneakier because you will probably never know there is a crypted message somewhere in front of you. Unless you look for it. Apparently, it's one of Al Qaeda's preferred mode of communication.

There's an essay on Houdini, 'Sense deprogrammer and supernatural debunker' who was also working as a spy for US and UK secret services.

And i learnt about MSST, Movimento dos Sem Satélite (Movement of Peoples without Satelites.)

Of course, Facta also contains some great little tutorials. One shows how to resurrect and transform a burnt out bulb (a project by Thomas LEDison). Another explains how to make homemade hydrogen to inflate balloons.

We need more mags like Facta. It's critical, smart and passionate. And it's made by doers who are not afraid to dip their toes into theory, history and the social dimensions of technology.

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Inside Facta #3

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Inside Facta #3

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Inside Facta #3. Fernando Rabelo, HQML. Algoritmo Cotidiano

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Nicolas Larmessin, Habit d'orlogeur, circa 1700 (image)

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Houdini (image)

This way to buy a paper copy.

Previouslyy: Gambiologia, the Brazilian art and science of kludging and Magazines: Facta (the Gambiologia magazine), Neural and Aksioma brochures.

Radical Cities: Across Latin America in Search of a New Architecture, by Justin McGuirk.

Available on amazon USA and UK.

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Publisher Verso Books writes: What makes the city of the future? How do you heal a divided city?

In Radical Cities, Justin McGuirk travels across Latin America in search of the activist architects, maverick politicians and alternative communities already answering these questions. From Brazil to Venezuela, and from Mexico to Argentina, McGuirk discovers the people and ideas shaping the way cities are evolving.

Ever since the mid twentieth century, when the dream of modernist utopia went to Latin America to die, the continent has been a testing ground for exciting new conceptions of the city. An architect in Chile has designed a form of social housing where only half of the house is built, allowing the owners to adapt the rest; Medellín, formerly the world's murder capital, has been transformed with innovative public architecture; squatters in Caracas have taken over the forty-five-storey Torre David skyscraper; and Rio is on a mission to incorporate its favelas into the rest of the city.

Here, in the most urbanised continent on the planet, extreme cities have bred extreme conditions, from vast housing estates to sprawling slums. But after decades of social and political failure, a new generation has revitalised architecture and urban design in order to address persistent poverty and inequality. Together, these activists, pragmatists and social idealists are performing bold experiments that the rest of the world may learn from.

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Torre David in Caracas. Photograph: Daniel Schwartz/U-TT & ETH

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Torre David in Caracas. Photograph: Iwan Baan/WENN.com

It's mid July and this might already be my favourite book of the year 2014 (unless Jo Nesbo publishes a new one before December.) It is lively, daring, insightful and it might actually be one of the very few books about future cities that make sense to me.

While we (in Europe) are still proudly exhibiting in biennials 3D printed visions of what the city of tomorrow might look like, cities in South and Central America are already experiencing elements of our future urban conditions. Countries in Latin America have not only gone through mass urbanization long before China and Africa, they've also given rise to a new generation of architects who believe that architecture can be used as a tool for social change. These men (who are not only architects but also in some cases squatters and politicians) have had to respond to housing crisis, traffic congestion, segregation, lack of political participation and other effects of rapid unplanned urbanization.

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Teddy Cruz, Cross-Border Suburbia. Photo via ciutatsocasionals

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Photo: Metrocable Medellín. Source: Cities Programme webpage

The urban experiments described in Radical Cities should teach European and North American urban planners and architects valuable lessons about conceiving and managing the mega cities of the future. Such as what happens when you value adaptability over perfect order, acknowledge the informal city as a vital part of the urban ecosystem, include the citizen into collective efforts of imagination and construction or embrace and work with the dynamic force that is precariousness.

Among the cases explored:

Alejandro Aravena created social housing for a poor community living in the north of Chile. He simply provided families with half a house and they built the rest, within a defined structural framework. The project was self-initiated and the final dwellers of the houses were involved in the design process.

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Elemental (Alejandro Aravena, Alfonso Montero, Tomás Cortese, Emilio de la Cerda), social housing in Iquique, Chile. Image Mindmap

In Colombia, it's a new radicalized political class that took the initiative of improving the quality of life of all urban dwellers. The movement started in the 1990s when Antanas Mockus, the mayor of Bogotá used tactics of performance artists to tackle violence and instil a new civic culture. He reduced road accidents by hiring mime artists to mock bad behaviour on the road and to direct traffic, he set up a scheme allowing people to exchange their guns for toys and he dressed as Superciudadano (SuperCitizen) to urge his fellow citizen to take care of their urban environment. The results of his unorthodox social experiments included homicide rate dropping by 70% and traffic fatalities by more than 50%.

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Antanas Mockus, mayor of Bogota, dressed as Superciudadano (Supercitizen)

Torre David which the author calls 'a pirate utopia' is the third tallest skyscraper in Caracas. Built in the business district to host luxury offices, the building had stood empty for 13 years until 2007 when squatters moved in. Some 3000 people now live in "the tallest squat in the world.' Inhabitants managed to organize a legitimate electricity distribution, they enjoy spectacular views over the city and live in apartments that range from the barely inhabitable to well furnished flats with all commodities. The building has developed its own community rules and even houses convenience stores and bodegas every two floors. On the other hand, there is no elevator so going to the top floor with the grocery can quickly turn into a fitness challenge. There are open facades and holes in the floor and accidents happen if you don't stay away from the edge.

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Torre David in Caracas. Photograph: Daniel Schwartz/U-TT & ETH

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Torre David in Caracas. Photograph: Daniel Schwartz/U-TT & ETH

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Torre David in Caracas. Photograph: Jorge Silva/Reuters

The Oaxaca Valley in Mexico is regarded as the heartland of corn diversity. Not only can cultivation of the plant in the region be traced back to over 6000 years ago, it also presents the highest genetic diversity of corn in the country.

Yet, this rich and ancestral biodiversity is threatened by the introduction of genetically modified seeds in the region. In November, 2001, David Quist and Ignacio Chapela from the University of California, Berkeley published an article in the journal Nature in which they reported that some of Oaxaca native corn had been contaminated by pollen from genetically modified corn. Unsurprisingly, the essay was heavily criticized by academics who had suspicious ties with the biotechnology industry.

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BIOS Ex machinA: Serán ceniza, mas tendrá sentido ligeramente tóxico

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Marcela Armas and Arcángel Constantini, Milpa polímera

An exhibition at the MACO, Oaxaca Contemporary Art Museum, reflects local attempts to preserve Oaxaca's rich genetic heritage. The 'corn issue' cannot be reduced to a fight against the transgenic industry, it is also a battle to preserve a whole culture, an identity and a certain vision of the world.

Bioartefactos. Desgranar lentamente un maíz (Bioartefacts. Slowly treshing corn) presents 9 installations which highlight the 'artefact' nature of corn. The plant is a biological artefact because it is the result of a human domestication that took place thousands of years ago and it has in turn shaped the whole country over as many years.

The works exhibited include a robot that 3d prints then plants seeds made of a biopolymer created from corn (PLA), an installation that monitors and visualizes the breathing of corn as well as a series of corn plants connected with electrodes to record the interaction between plants and humans.

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Macedonio Alcalá street in Oaxaca. Photo courtesy of Arte+Ciencia

I haven't visited the show but the theme, the works selected and the political undertones deserved to be further investigated so i contacted María Antonia González Valerio, curator of the exhibition and director of Arte+Ciencia (Art+Science), asked her for an interview and she kindly agreed to answer my questions.

Hi María! Could you explain the political and economical context of the exhibition?

The exhibition faces a difficult political and economical context in Mexico. Political decisions, in general, are being taken without including the actual living conditions and opinions of Mexican people. This makes us ask how is a community organized, how is it build. Which, of course, has no easy answer. It depends not only on the cultural context of the community, but also on the economical context. Diversity of possibilities of organization is something that we want to stress with the exhibition. Given the political context, that is very artificial and faraway from everyday life, and given the economical conditions, that in general terms and related to politics are benefiting the big and international enterprises, we need to find a way to preserve cultural diversity and biodiversity. This is not an easy task. But if we can show that there are many ways to dwell in this world, and that the capitalism-Western style is still not the only one, but a possibility among others, then we are making a strong point. It is then very important to highlight the complexity of the problems, the many perspectives, the way in which they are related and co-dependent, that is, that economical and political context have a lot to do with cultural diversity and biodiversity.

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BIOS Ex machinA: Desde adentro

Why does the exhibition focuses on corn, rather than any other cereal or edible plant?

Corn is a special plant for Mexico. It has many layers for us. Corn is related to cultural identity, land, food, religion, mythology, rites, family, economy, animals, etc. By stressing the ways in which corn is produced, grown and used in different contexts, we want to meditate on the different aspects that constitute also different worldviews.

Corn is still the basis of Mexican nourishment. What is the relationship that we have to our food? We can at least point to the industrialized way in which it is being produced in the north of the country, the traditional way like in rural Oaxaca, and the indigenous way also taken Oaxaca as an example. From the very much-mediated relationship to food that we have in the cities where everything comes from markets and supermarkets, to the self-subsistent system of corn growth and consumption in rural Oaxaca, we can think about the different ways in which we build our world. Instead of thinking of opposites, I believe that people from the cities have a lot to learn from the countryside, not only in respect to food consumption, but also from the different ways of life. In the same sense, the city has a lot to teach to the countryside.

We cannot face the problem of corn, food, GMO's, biotechnology, etc. only thinking about economical, biological or scientific issues, the cultural aspect is very important. When we talk about different ways of producing corn, from rural to industrialized, we are not talking only about machines or monocultures, but really about cultural diversity.

Art is one of the better ways to show this cultural diversity that at the same time is intimately related to the natural world, which for us now means also the production and designing of "bio-artifacts". Corn is a bio-artifact. But we have to learn to see degrees, nuances and be more specific in the kind of analysis that we make when we draw a border between the natural and the artificial.

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El Banco de Germoplasma de Especies Nativas de Oaxaca (gene bank of Oaxaca's native species). Photo courtesy of Arte+Ciencia

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El Banco de Germoplasma de Especies Nativas de Oaxaca (gene bank of Oaxaca's native species). Photo courtesy of Arte+Ciencia

In Europe, GMO are submitted to very strict regulations. The U.S.A. are notoriously far more favorable to GMOs. How is the situation in Mexico and what is the state of the debate about 'native' corn vs transgenic corn?

For the moment, there is a prohibition in Mexico to continue with the planting of transgenic corn, not even for experimental purposes, because it has been demonstrated that all our country has corn biodiversity, not only the south, and that therefore all the territory must be protected from contamination. Being also the center of origin of corn, puts us in the special condition of watching for biodiversity.

But it is very important to say, and we have previously demonstrated this, that we are importing corn seeds from the USA, some of them are transgenic and germinal. Non-human animals are being fed in Mexico with transgenic corn. There is not an adequate surveillance from the Mexican government in regard to the importation of these seeds. And since we are bound to buy corn to the USA, because of the NAFTA, and the USA is producing transgenic corn, we are very worried.

It can be said that there is no problem with transgenic food, but there is no consensus in the scientific community about this. And this should be enough to have more precaution. But I insist, what is at stake is not only the way in which we produce food and what for, but also how we dwell in this world, and what cultural diversity are we willing to preserve and respect.

The example of high fructose corn syrup allow us to see how things are related to each other in more profound and complex ways that what we usually are seeing. The production of this syrup has signified for Mexico a financial crisis regarding the sugar cane industry. The consumption of these products is also a health problem. Why are we eating everything so sweet? How and why have we changed so profoundly in the past century our relationship to the land, the planet, our bodies, our cultures, etc.? What does technology means seeing from this perspective?

How can art contribute to the discussions around the issue?

The nine pieces that we are presenting are dealing with many of the topics afore mentioned. BIOS Ex machinA: Serán ceniza, mas tendrá sentido ligeramente tóxico/ It will be ashes, but will make sense (slighty toxic). Is an experiment to detect contamination of transgenic corn in seeds in Mexican soil. We test the resistance to the herbicide glyphosate or Roundup produced by Monsanto.

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BIOS Ex machinA: Serán ceniza, mas tendrá sentido ligeramente tóxico

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BIOS Ex machinA: Serán ceniza, mas tendrá sentido ligeramente tóxico

BIOS Ex machinA: Polinización cruzada/Cross-pollination is a video documental that presents interviews to different actors in the current debate regarding transgenic corn in Mexico. It exhibits the capacity of the discourse to say true or to lie.

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BIOS Ex machinA: Polinización cruzada

BIOS Ex machinA: Desde adentro. Experiments in situ to teach the reaches and limites of DIY biology.

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BIOS Ex machinA: Desde adentro

Arcángel Constantini and Marcela Armas working with BIOS Ex machinA: Milpa polímera/Polymer milpa. Is a robot-3D printer that prints PLA in form of
corn seeds. The ultimate degree of industrialization of corn, is use it to produce plastics.

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Marcela Armas and Arcángel Constantini, Milpa polímera

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Marcela Armas and Arcángel Constantini, Milpa polímera

Lena Ortega's La dulce vida/La dolce vita deals with the problem of high fructose corn syrup, the way in which families are fed nowadays, and the transformation from the rural world to the cities.

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Lena Ortega, La dulce vida

Alfadir Luna's Containers reflects about the problem of transforming corn into a commodity that is being transported in containers along with fuel, concrete, steel, etc.

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Alfadir Luna, Container

Collective MAMAZ. Códice del maíz exhibits textiles that tell the story of what corn represents to local women in Oaxaca and in other places of Mexico.

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Colectivo MAMAZ, Códice del maíz

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Colectivo MAMAZ, Códice del maíz

Collective Zm_maquina Media Lab: Installation that senses the respiration (production of CO2) of corn plants and engraves a copper disc with this data.

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Collective Zm_maquina Media Lab

Minerva Hernández and Héctor Cruz: Zea mays. Installation that reflects on how the corn plants are altered by the presence of humans.

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Minerva Hernández and Héctor Cruz, Zea mays

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Minerva Hernández and Héctor Cruz, Zea mays

I read in an online article that visitors will be able to work with scientists to determine whether a corn is transgenic or not. Could you tell us more about the setting and the participation of the public?

There are two possibilities for actual interaction of the public with the exhibition. The day of the inauguration we set a lab of DIY biology. We wanted to show to the public how to extract a DNA molecule out of a corn seed. Also, we wanted to show how to do a process of electrophoresis and of replicating DNA with a PCR. For this we used DNA from E. coli.
The other possibility is bringing corn seeds to the museum. Here we will plant them and grow them to test the resistance to Roundup. In case that we have resistance to the herbicide, we will take the surviving plants to the lab, to test if they are transgenic or not.

The exhibition seems to feature works in which artists have collaborated with scientists and engineers. Was this art/science collaboration one of the main thread of the curatorial process? How did you select the artworks that participate to the exhibition?

This exhibition has an important antecedent in a previous one, Sin origen/Sin semilla (Without origin/Seedless) that we presented in 2012-2013 in the museums MUCA Roma and MUAC at UNAM in Mexico City.

We have been working with scientists, engineers, artists, scholars, students, editors, designers, etc. We strongly believe that the interdisciplinary work is the way to approach complex issues, because it permits a wide perspective that can relate different layers. This is how we have been working on the issue of corn, and so far we have very good results.
In the group Arte+Ciencia (Art+Science) based at UNAM we have been building a path to intertwine arts, science and humanities.

Thanks María!

All images courtesy of Arte+Ciencia.

In the second half of the 19th century, the Mexican government partnered with British companies to built the railway line that would connect Mexico City with the Atlantic Ocean. This iconic railway infrastructure now lies in ruins, much of it abandoned due to the privatisation of the railway system in 1995, when it was decided that transporting people was simply not profitable enough. Many passenger train lines were thus cut off, the infrastructure was left to rot and communities became geographically and economically isolated as a consequence.

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Ivan Puig and Andrés Padilla Domene, SEFT-1 in front of the volcano Yuhualixqui in the exhibition SEFT-1 Abandoned Railways Exploration Probe - Modern Ruins 1:220 presented by The Arts Catalyst and Furtherfield, London June 2014

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Ivan Puig and Andrés Padilla Domene, SEFT-1 interior of cabin in the exhibition SEFT-1 Abandoned Railways Exploration Probe - Modern Ruins 1:220 presented by The Arts Catalyst and Furtherfield, London June 2014

Ivan Puig and Andrés Padilla Domene, aka Los Ferronautas (from ferrocarriles which means railway in spanish), wanted to travel along the ruins of the passenger railway system and investigate the remains of what they consider a misuse of common resources and therefore a political issue.

But to drive around the rusty lines, they needed to build their own light vehicle. The result is a half car half spaceship hybrid called SEFT-1 (the Sonda de Exploración Ferroviaria Tripulada, in english Manned Railway Exploration Probe). But SEFT-1 is much more than a vehicle. Los Ferronautas call it a research tool because it allows them to investigate notions and promises of progress. The vehicle is also a transmitter of non-eletronic stories, it enabled the duo to visit and interview communities which the privatization of the railway has been left behind.

As they traveled through the country in 2010 and 2011, the artists shared their discoveries online, mapping their trajectory, archiving objects found by the tracks, writing down anecdotes, uploading photos and interviews with the people they met along the way.

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Marte (Mars in english) is a half-abandoned village in Oaxaca, in the south east of México

I've been following the work of Los Ferronautas ever since i read an article about them in the always excellent blog Arte en la Edad del Silicio so i'm really happy that they finally have their first London exhibition, SEFT-1 Abandoned Railways Exploration Probe: Modern Ruins 1:220, thanks to The Arts Catalyst and Furtherfield Gallery.

The show opens tomorrow 20 June between 6 and 8pm and there's a tour of the exhibition with the artist on Saturday. The vehicle will be on show of course but there will be more:

For this new exhibition, the artists are inviting British expert model railway constructors to collaborate by creating scale reproductions of specific Mexican railway ruins, originally built by British companies, exactly as they are now. One gallery becomes a space for the process of model ruin construction. The room's walls will show the pictures, documents, plans and other materials used as reference for the meticulously elaborated ruin construction. With this action a dystopian time tunnel is created.

I'm really looking forward to discovering what Los Ferronautas will do in collaboration with the model makers. Already, they have reproduced in photo and using their own vehicle a scene painted by José María Velasco in 1881. During a presentation they gave on Saturday at a London LASER04 session, they announced that the whole landscape would be recreated by British model enthusiasts.

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Ivan Puig and Andrés Padilla Domene, SEFT-1 over metal bridge in the exhibition SEFT-1 Abandoned Railways Exploration Probe - Modern Ruins 1:220 presented by The Arts Catalyst and Furtherfield, London June 2014

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José María Velasco, Bridge at Metlac, 1881

SEFT-1 Abandoned Railways Exploration Probe

More photos:

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Esperanza station in Puebla, was created thanks to train traffic. Its population reached up to 19000 inhabitants in its heyday. The town is now looking for ways to survive

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This lunar landscape is in fact set in the salt mine of Las Coloradas, Yucatán, in the south east of México

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Los ferronautas started they journey on 20 November 2010 in front of the Museo Nacional de Arte, in Mexico City

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A Baldwin locomotive from 1925 (image Los Ferronautas)

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Ivan Puig and Andrés Padilla Domene, SEFT-1 in La Loma station, Durango in the exhibition SEFT-1 Abandoned Railways Exploration Probe - Modern Ruins 1:220 presented by The Arts Catalyst and Furtherfield, London June 2014

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Ivan Puig and Andrés Padilla Domene, SEFT-1 in Telixtlahuaca in the exhibition SEFT-1 Abandoned Railways Exploration Probe - Modern Ruins 1:220 presented by The Arts Catalyst and Furtherfield, London June 2014

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van Puig and Andrés Padilla Domene, SEFT-1 with Citlaltépetl in the background No. 2 in the exhibition SEFT-1 Abandoned Railways Exploration Probe - Modern Ruins 1:220 presented by The Arts Catalyst and Furtherfield, London June 2014

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Ivan Puig and Andrés Padilla Domene SEFT-1 under the stars of Taviche in the exhibition SEFT-1 Abandoned Railways Exploration Probe - Modern Ruins 1:220 presented by The Arts Catalyst and Furtherfield, London June 2014

SEFT-1 Abandoned Railways Exploration Probe: Modern Ruins 1:220 is at Furtherfield in Finsbury Park from 20 June until 27 July 2014.

The Level 2 space at Tate Modern is having an exhibition of works by artists from Latin America who address interwoven themes of history, nature and politics.

For some reason No Lone Zone is not listed in Tate's 'current exhibitions' page. It's not even on the one of Level 2 Gallery. I wasn't allowed to take any photos of the exhibition and Tate's press office wasn't able to send me any, just photos of some of the individual works taken out of this exhibition context. So you'll have to take my word for it. Or the one of the reputable Time Out.

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Teresa Margolles, Rendición de Cuentas / Score Settling (Score 15), 2008

No Lone Zone finally gave me the opportunity to see some of the works i had lamentably missed at the Venice Art Biennale in 2009 when Teresa Margolles was selected for the Mexican pavilion.

Her works took the form of mundane and 'luxury' objects that embody the trauma of violent deaths in Mexico, more precisely in Sinaloa. The Northwestern state is the home of the Sinaloa Cartel, a criminal organization regarded as "the most powerful drug trafficking organization in the world." Every day in Sinaloa people are victims of drug related violence.

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Teresa Margolles, Score Settling, 2008. Courtesy the artist

Margolles and her assistants went to the scenes of the crimes and collected the traces of violence and social suffering: they soaked pieces of cloth with the mud and blood left on the site of executions, they picked up fragments of windshield glass that had exploded after a shooting, and they copied narcomensajes -the messages left by drug lords over the corpses of beheaded victims.

The artist used these remnants of gun violence to create jewellery, embroidery pieces, or colour fabrics and Level 2 Gallery is showing some of these works.

The flag at the entrance of the exhibition space was dyed using the blood found on the site of shootings and decapitations.

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Teresa Margolles, Rendición de Cuentas / Score Settling (Score 11), 2008. Courtesy the artist

The glass fragments, collected from shot-out car windscreens, are exhibited at the back of the gallery. They have been fashioned like precious stones into ostentatious bracelets, rings, necklaces resembling that typically worn by the narcos responsible for these killings. Each piece of jewellery is accompanied by a text detailed the circumstance of the victim's death in a dry police report style.

The exhibition takes its name from a military term designating an area where the presence of just one person is not allowed. Implying mutual observation, this two-person rule is often used in highly sensitive or unstable places for reasons of safety and security. Along with the works of Teresa Margolles, it shows videos, photos and sculptures by Cinthia Marcelle, David Zink Yi and the collective Tercerunquinto.

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Tercerunquinto, Public sculpture in the urban periphery of Monterrey 2003-2006. Courtesy the artists & Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Zurich

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David Zink Yi, Untitled (Architeuthis) 2010. Courtesy the artist, Johann König, Berlin and Hauser & Wirth

The exhibition is curated by Iria Candela, Tate Modern and Taiyana Pimentel, Sala de Arte Público Siqueiros, Mexico City. It remains open at Level 2 Gallery through May 13, 2012.

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