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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Fabio Cuttica, The set of the film "El baleado", Narco Cinema, Tijuana-Mexico, November 2010

Before going through the series of winners of World Press Photo, i had never heard of narco cinema. But then again each time i've discovered a cinematographic (sub)genre recently it was thanks to photography. In late 2009, i found about Nollywood cinema through Pieter Hugo's work. This year Fabio Cuttica brought me to Narco Cinema.

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Fabio Cuttica, The set of the film "El baleado", Narco Cinema, Tijuana-Mexico, November 2010

The name says it all. Narco cinema churns out low-budget, action-filled B-movies that star drug dealers, corrupt cops and politicians, strippers, explosions, blood baths but also plenty of trucks and those vehicles that are twice the size of my flat. Although they are fictional, the films mirror and glamorize the stories of the real battles that oppose police vs narcos or drug cartels vs other drug cartels. The more brutal the real conflicts get, the more violent the scenarios of narco movies.

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Fabio Cuttica, The set of the film "El baleado", Narco Cinema, Tijuana-Mexico, November 2010

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Fabio Cuttica, The set of the film "El baleado", Narco Cinema, Tijuana-Mexico, November 2010

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Fabio Cuttica, The set of the film "El baleado", Narco Cinema, Tijuana-Mexico, November 2010

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Fabio Cuttica, The set of the film "El baleado", Narco Cinema, Tijuana-Mexico, November 2010

Making a 90 minute movie is an experience as fast-paced as the action in the film itself: most of the time only 2 weeks separate the writing of the scenario from the distribution of the film. The films never make it to the big screen, they go directly to DVD case. VICE went to the shoot of a narco movie last year and came back with a long article and a short documentary.

But let's get back to the winning entry at the World Press Photo 11:

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Fabio Cuttica, Actor Fabian Lopez on set in Tijuana, playing the lead in the film El Baleado 2, Narco Cinema, Tijuana, Mexico, 06 November 2010

Tijuana is a focal point of real-life drug wars raging in Mexico. The wars have inspired 'narco cinema', a B-movie genre dating back to the 1980s that has become increasingly violent in recent years. Formulaic and action-packed, the films have been accused of glamorizing the drug lords' way of life, but reflect a world much of the audience recognizes. Narco cinema is enormously popular both in Mexico and with Mexicans living in the USA. Over 30 such narco movies are shot each year in Tijuana alone, and many actors achieve star status.

Fabio Cuttica speaks about the project:
"In November 2010, I begun to document the cinema production in Tijuana, Mexico. I focused my work on the production of movies that offer a representation of narco trafficking. In the last years, with the increase of violence due to conflicts among drug cartels, a cultural market (music, literature, movies) has developed that seeks to describe and tell some aspects of this conflict.

The winning picture, which is one of a series about narco cinema, was shot during the filming of the movie El Baleado 2. It was one of the last scenes, before the main character, actor Fabian Lopez in the role of Saul 'El Baleado' was shot to death. I worked on the set of El Baleado 2 film during a week. In the scene, 'El Baleado' leaves his office, shooting at the enemies that want revenge. In the background, a cloud of cocaine fills up the room. His face, drug crazed, is also cover by cocaine-like powder. That day was the last day of filming. It was a 20-hour, non-stop journey, at a set inside a house in Tijuana. It was a very tiring day, but really lucky, I will not forget it!"

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Fabio Cuttica, The set of the film "El baleado", Narco Cinema, Tijuana-Mexico, November 2010

In an interview with The Independent, Cuttica explained that narco cinema may even be a way to make sense of the violence. As he suggests, "it is something happening today in Mexico and the people feel somehow involved with this, they want to know, suffer, and - why not? - also laugh about it."

More photo in The Independent, Contrasto.

Previously: The pavilion i wish i hadn't missed at the Venice Biennale and World Press Photo 11, the most spectacular works of photo journalism from the year 2010.

Remember i was telling you about "Anti Anti Utopia", the talk that Vicky Messi gave at the FILE festival symposium a week ago? She was highlighting media art projects from Latin America that 'look beyond anti-utopia.' The first work she presented was Arcángel Constantini's Nanodrizas, a fleet of "flying" saucers deployed in polluted waters to clean them up.

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A second brilliant project she mentioned was Ciudad Nazca / Nazca City, a land art project in which a robot draws a true scale map of an imaginary city onto the surface of the Peruvian desert.

Artist Rodrigo Derteano's autonomous robot plows the desert ground to uncover its underlying, lighter color, using a technique similar to the one of the Nazca lines, the gigantic and enigmatic geoglyphs traced between 400 and 650 AD in the desert in southern Peru. Guided by its sensors, the robot quietly traced the founding lines of a new city that looks like a collage of existing cities from Latin America.

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Nazca monkey, Peru

Because of the city would extend over several squared kilometers, the map can only be appreciated as a whole from certain a height by means of airplanes or satellite imaging. Just like the Nazca lines.

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The project invites to reflect upon the explosive urbanization of the deserts of the Peruvian coast, taking place since the middle of the last century, and its consequences on environmental sustainability and the quality of living.

I asked Rodrigo to talk to us about Ciudad Nazca:

Hello Rodrigo! What is the motivation behind the project? During her presentation at FILE, Vicky mentioned the spectacular growth of the city of Lima and the need to find new ways of designing and envisioning cities, maybe by building them in the desert. Can you expand on this?

I live and grew up in Lima. About 60% of the city today lies within the desert, most of it grew without any serious urban planning. It's a self-made metropolis, the second largest city built in the desert after Cairo. It grew from 1 million to 8 million people in less than 60 years. There's a lot of problems derived from this development in terms of sustainability and living standards which exacerbate the huge inequality of our society. The desert plays a big role in this regard. People living in desert areas of the city are usually poor and often have to pay more for water than those living in more centric (richer) areas. They also lack proper infrastructure and have much less public places and parks. For a long time, these areas were not considered part of the city by the ruling class and the authorities until they became the majority.

By drawing a gigantic map of a city onto the desert, the project not only seeks to draw attention to this facts, but questions our very concept of city, specially in regards to its environment. Lima is a sort of negation of the desert. Our model and ideal of city is very occidental, and does not adapt very well to its context. The desert is seen a kind of non-place, not a part of our living environment. In this sense, there's a sort of irony in using a robot to draw a city onto the desert, as if it would be drawing it on the surface of Mars (exploring the outer space for the possibility of urban life).

I'm also fascinated by the Nasca people and their lines (200 BC - 600 AD). Studying theories about them, I found their notion of desert as ritual space, and therefore an expansion of their living space, to be in sharp contrast to our notion today. Some see the Nasca lines as cult to fertility and life in the desert, trying to communicate beyond. In this sense, Nasca City is kind of a cult to urban life in the desert today, not communicating beyond, but within our society...

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I was also interested in the cities you selected for the final collage. How did you chose them? Why Belo Horizonte and Rio de Janeiro rather than Sao Paulo? Why Bogota rather than Medellin for example?

The project required an interdisciplinary group of people working together to make it happen. In regards to the design of the city we worked together with the Latin American architecture collective Supersudaca, represented by the 51-1 architecture studio in Lima. The collective proposed to do a real scale collage of pieces of the 10 largest cities in Latin America (Sao Paulo is included). They would overlap at the borders creating new urban forms and zones of conflict. The idea was to create a map of mixed references, city patterns already charged with meaning, that people would be able to recognise, compare, and understand the scale of the drawing according to their own real life experience.

Why 10? Well, they like to put up simple rules. The cities pieces were put together conserving their relative geographical position and original orientation.

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The city drawn in the desert is ephemeral is that correct? Isn't it disheartening to dedicate so much energy and see the city being slowly erased by the wind and other natural elements?

Sometimes I also find it disheartening, but most of the time I think it is ok for it to be slowly erased by the wind. The lines loose the sharp contrast with the surface in a couple of weeks, but the relief will be visible for years. I don't know if I would find the drawing and whole action equally meaningful in, let's say, 20 years. The desert is quite a special place for me, and I had my thoughts about leaving permanent marks that large on its surface.

For it to stay forever, we would have had to do it in a terrain with almost identical conditions as in Nasca, which is a protected area classified as world heritage by UNESCO. We would have ended in jail for sure, if we had done it over there. Which brings me to question number 5...

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How long did it take to draw the whole city and did you have to stay near the robot constantly to monitor its work?

The drawing took 5 days (4 under ideal conditions). We had to rescue the robot sometimes and had some problems, but most of the time, it would do fine by itself.

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Did you need to obtain special permits to do this piece of land art or can anyone do anything they fancy in the desert?

In theory, you can't do what you want in the desert (in Peru), unless you own it. And even then, you'll have to do an official and quite expensive study certifying the absence of archeological rests. In a protected area like Nazca, it would be a serious crime (to destroy national heritage). We certainly could not buy up that amount of terrain (!!). But it is permitted to drive around in non protected areas, which also leaves marks. So there's kind of a gray zone. In practice, people exploit the landscape in all sorts of ways, but we wanted to go public with it. We had to make sure we could do it, or at least be prepared for the consequences. The local authorities were sympathetic to the project and we got an unofficial permit...

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Are you planning to repeat or show the project elsewhere in the near future?

The project is not completely finished, because there are lots of follow ups. Maybe I'll take on the topic in further projects or exhibitions. Maybe someday we repeat the drawing process, but it's quite a production and I have no concrete plans. There are no exhibitions planned at the moment, but I have a lot of material and would like to show it again.

Thanks Rodrigo!

And if you speak spanish, check out this interview that Vicky did with Rodrigo:

All images courtesy of Rodrigo Derteano.

Previously: Nanodrizas, "flying" saucers for polluted waters.

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Every year, the FILE festival invites artists and other people who have a hands-on approach to new media art to share their views, works and ideas with the audience during a 4 afternoon long symposium. One of the most fascinating talks for me this year was the one that Victoria Messi, author of the fantastic blog El Pez Eléctrico, gave about media art projects from Latin America that 'look beyond anti-utopia.'

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Vicky Messi at the FILE symposium

Titled Anti Anti Utopia: Arte Eletrônica na América Latina / Anti Anti Utopia: Electronic Art in Latin America, the presentation introduced us to four projects by media artists who believe that art still has the power to transform society. I was planning to write a long post that contained her whole presentation but i thought it would be more fruitful to highlight the projects one by one. First of all because each of them is so clever, quirky and fascinating that it should have its own space. Secondly because i've just started The Leopard and as much as i'd like this Jo Nesbø gem to last as long as possible i can't stay away from the book more than it is strictly necessary for my mental well-being.

The first project Vicky Messa mentioned is Nanodrizas, a project that Mexican artist Arcángel Constantini has been working on since 2006.

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Shaped like small flying saucers, the Nanodrizas are floating autonomous robots forming a network of wireless sensors, which attempt to interact with biological elements. The robotic prototypes measure, in real time, the environmental conditions (temperature, pH scale, level of humidity, turbidity, etc.) of polluted water surfaces. The data collected is then transmitted via wireless communications for interpretation and analysis. Once to the level and nature of pollution has been identified, the nanodrizas directly intervene by emitting synthesized sound and releasing bacterial and enzymatic remedies in the eco-system that, ultimately, should regulate the quality of the water.

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Prototypes of the nanodrizas have been deployed in heavily polluted locations. In particular, in the river going through the city of Puebla in Mexico. Puebla hosts "La Constancia", an ex textile factory which used to be one of the most modern factories in Latin America. La Constancia relied heavily on water to function: water was used to power its turbines and water was where waste was then dispersed. As a consequence, the river is now suffering from high levels of pollution. The mission of the robots is therefore to intervene directly and revert the effect of the pollution in the water.

The Nanodrizas benefit from relatively sophisticated technologies but were made using discarded materials such as children's toys.

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First prototype, 2006

The work thus moves beyond other environmental tactical media interventions by making an attempt to be actively therapeutic. The work will also functions to alert and sensitise people to the situations via, in the first location, the sound emissions of the Nanodrizas and second via displays in exhibition centers and online.

The project thus exemplifies an admirably holisitic kind of art practice which is simultaneously technologically well informed and technologically inventive, while being engaged with complex social histories and activist with respect to fundamental problems of our time.

Check out this interview that El Pez Eléctrico had with Constantini about the Nanodrizas fleet. I'd recommend watching it even if you don't understand spanish because you will not only see the nanodrizas in action but you will also be able to listen to the artist's melodious Mexican accent.

Related: Nomadic Plants by Gilberto Esparza.

FILE, the Electronic Language International Festival remains open through August 21, 2011, at the FIESP Cultural Center - Ruth Cardoso, in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Entrance is free.

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Coletivo Gambiologia (Fred Paulino, Ganso and Lucas Mafra), Gambiociclo, 2010 (image Eduardo Berthier)

Gambiarra is the Brazilian practice of makeshifts, the art of resorting to quirky and smart improvisation in order to repair what doesn't work or to create what you need with what you have at your disposal. Gambiologia is the 'science' that studies this form of creative improvisation and celebrates it by combining it with electronic-digital techniques.

Gambiologia is also the name of a collective of artists - Fred Paulino, Lucas Mafra and Paulo Henrique 'Ganso Pessoa' - who mix this art of improvisation with DIY culture & technology to develop electronic artifacts.

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Saulo Policarpo, Prismatic Gambièrre. Image Pedro David

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Mariana Manhães, Isso (Taça Azul) e Isso (Taça de Cristal). Image Pedro David

Last year, Fred Paulino gathered the work of Gambiologia along with the one of over 20 Brazilian and international artists in an exhibition titled "Gambiólogos - Kludging in a Digital Era". The objects, sculptures and installations selected explored the concept of technological gambiarra: they adapt, reinvent recycled and found materials using electronic technologies and much improvisation.

Fred Paulino, who is an artist, designer, gambiologist as well as the curator of the exhibition, was kind enough to send me the catalog of the show a few months ago (you can also download the catalog in its PDF form.) I liked its content so much i thought it was my duty to pester him with my questions:

You translate 'gambiologia' with Kludging. How different is it from hacking?

Gambiologia is something like "The science of gambiarra", which is a Brazilian cultural practice of solving problems creatively in alternative ways with low cost and lots of spontaneity, or giving unusual functions to everyday life objects. There is no exact translation for 'gambiarra' so we initially used kludge which means (from Wikipedia): 'a workaround, a quick-and-dirty solution, a clumsy or inelegant, yet effective, solution to a problem, typically using parts that are cobbled together'. In the US they'd call it makeshift. Gambiologia is the study of 'gambiarra' in a technological context.

We actually stopped translating Gambiologia at all :^)

I 'd say it is a specific kind of hacking - it's the proposal of hacking not only electronics or codes, but objects as well. It's about using things (or bits, maybe) in functions they were not initially proposed to. Modify them or join them in improvised and creative ways so they'll not accomplish the original task anymore. Using parts that were not supposed to be together to create a distressing whole. In our case it's also deeply linked to Brazilian folk culture.

Before we go to the artworks themselves, could you give us a few examples of everyday gambiology in the streets of Belo Horizonte?

It's easy to find many samples of 'gambiarras' if you travel anywhere in Brazil. You can also get many pics if you google it but I attached some I collected myself.
Many Gambiologia's - as we propose artistically - can be found at our group's website www.gambiologia.net or at the collective exhibition I proposed about the theme.
Also in www.thereifixedit.com you'll get it the north-american way.

Samples:

Audio cable fixed with candy wrapper:

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Beer chilled in suspended pail:

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Sound systems:

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Shower in a pet bottle:

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Mobile beer chilling:

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Pet bottle lamp:

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Car mirror:

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Safe plug:

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Simplest way to leave it open:

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Among the works presented in the catalogue i was particularly curious about the following ones:. O Grivo, Polvo, Eles estão vivos, Furadeiras. Can you describe them briefly and tell us what they are about?'

Passo a Passo (Step by Step) is a work by the guys of O Grivo. They propose a random percussion symphony where different notes are played as the shadows of small pieces of wood are detected by sensors connected to a computer. Each of these pieces is attached by the end of a stick which rotates 360º at random speed, so when it gets to 0º, it plays its own note very loud. It proposes an interesting contrast between a very delicate structure and loud music tones in a kind of physically constructed musical timeline.

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O Grivo, Passo A Passo, 2010. Image Pedro David

Polvo (Octopus) from Paulo Nenflidio is a sound machine made by plastic conduits. These are originally used to hold electric cables but Paulo used them to hold compressed air. As the visitor "plays" a keyboard made out of door ring bells, the conduits blow, generating different sounds. The seven bells form a complete tone set. This bizarre octopus-instrument still have an 8th note generated by an water spray on its top.

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Paulo Nenflídio, Polvo, 2010. Image Pedro David

Eles Estão Vivos (They're Still Alive) was created by Paulo Waisberg. I initially invited him to be the scenographer of the exhibition but he also came with this work. We had all these old displays and keyboards that were donated by the city's council but we didn't know how to use. Paulo created this artwork during the exhibition preparation just a day before the opening, using old footage of blinking eyes in the displays. In my opinion it tells a lot about how re-creating can be much more interesting than recycling. It's also a good demonstration of how a strong sense of improvisation and spontaneity was incorporated all through the exhibition.

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Paulo Waisberg, Eles Estão Vivos. Image Pedro David

Furadeiras (Drills) is one of the simplest exhibited artworks but surely one of the smartest. It's by Guto Lacaz, an experienced artist from Sao Paulo. He proposed an unusual meeting between "different generation" drills - one being analogue and the other electrical. It's an ironic interpretation between planned obsolescence and how technology evolves, sometimes just rotating around itself in an infinite loop. Or how the old (low-tech) and the new (high-tech) can live collaboratively.

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Guto Lacaz, Furadeiras. Image Pedro David

How about Gambiociclo? What made you decide to create this 'mobile unit of multimedia transmission"?
Have you used it outside of the exhibition space? How was the experience and how did people react to it?

The Gambiocycle is inspired on Graffiti Research Lab's mobile broadcast unit. I got to be friend with those guys a few years ago, we made some stuff together, they proposed to me run GRL Brazilian sister cell www.graffitiresearchlab.com.br . We run it in parallel to Gambiologia.

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Sketch of the Gambiociclo (image by angelicasegui)

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Coletivo Gambiologia (Fred Paulino, Ganso and Lucas Mafra), Gambiociclo, 2010

I always wish to have a multimedia vehicle that could project video and digital graffiti in public space. It's terrific how that can be a straight path to a democratic dialogue between people and the city itself. But our MBU should be gambiological - reflecting the logics and aesthetics of 'gambiarra' with this strong Brazilian accent. So we built it inspired by trolleys of salesmen who ride here mostly selling products or doing political advertisement. The idea was to mix performance, happening, electronic art, graffiti and 'gambiarras'.

Yes. People are always surprised as they're not much used to digital graffiti or having electronic art in the streets here. But what impressed me the most is the immediate affinity that the Gambiocycle caused in ordinary people not directly involved to art. I was initially most worried about the vehicle's funcionality or the performances' visual contents, but probably due to the strong local aesthetics it incorporates, people were suddenly feeling more like touching the MBU, taking pictures with it or riding it. I believe it comes from this unconscious feeling of spontainity the work proposes and everybody practice some way since childhood.

And we just got the news that Gambiocycle got an Honorary Mention at Prix Ars Electronica 2011 yeah!

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Alexandre B, O Instante Impossível. Image Pedro David

Is there a conscious art community of gambilogos in Brazil but also beyond it? Or is it more like a natural and widespread way of using technology that doesn't really need a name or a purpose community to exist?

Gambiologia was initially the name our three guys' collective but the word is now being used here to identify a new way of think about technology, hacking and (Brazilian) pop culture. Like a science or a movement... It somehow captured the feeling of many creators, and I believe not only in this country. Many artists worldwide are "gambiólogos" (gambiologists) without knowing that. I recently had been in touch with the work of European artists like Niklas Roy which are pretty much gambiological! That's the feeling that Gambiólogos exhibition proposed to group and show.

It doesn't need a name at all but if it had that should be in Brazilian Portuguese :^) Yes I strongly believe this country is a perfect example of chaotic miscegenation - cultural or technological - that results in a notion of creative spontaneity. As a colonial country we initially didn't have enough resources for solving everyday problems so we had to invent simple and cheap solutions... Gambiologia tries to go beyond this, bring it into the art scene with an aesthetical and political discussion about technology.

Does Gambiologia have any consideration for aesthetics?

Sure! But for us we had enough of Apple-like clean aesthetics, we had enough newly-released electronics. People can't stand so many rubbish and consumption... That's why we love to work and play with recycling, remixing and - why not - reproposing the notion of "old" and "new".

Obrigada Fred!

Sorry for being so silent over the past few days. A combination of medicine-proof flu and weak wifi at the hotel have thrown me into the arms of Jo Nesbo again and i've only emerged from this lethargy now. So here's a last and light post about the ongoing London Street Photography Festival where i discovered Anahita Avalos's tableaux of everyday life in Villahermosa, Mexico.

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More of her images on flickr.

Anahita Avalos's work can be viewed until June 22 at Photofusion in Brixton, as part of the show On Street Photography: A Woman's Perspective but her photos have also been selected for the festival award along with the following talents:

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Jesse Marlow, Three people look inside a skip that was full of 3rd prize trophies from a ten pin bowling alley

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Jesse Marlow, A cardboard box I encountered on the streets of Milan, Italy

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Julien Coquetin, Count the flakes do not fall asleep, counting snowflakes

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David Solomons, A boy plays keepie uppie outside Marble Arch Subway toilets

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Douglas Ljungkvist

Told you that was a light post. I'll do better tomorrow when i finally know how inspector Harry Hole catches the serial killer who marks his victims with the 'devil's star.'

The photos of the winners and finalists are on view through July 24 at the German Gymnasium, along with Vivian Maier's solo show.

Previously: Vivian Maier at the German Gymnasium.

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