Yesterday i was going through the press images of the 11th Biennale de Lyon which will open on September 15 and stumbled upon a work by Marina De Caro. I know nothing about it, except what Frieze magazine writes: Marina de Caro's work 4 Ojos (4 Eyes, 2007) is a video that portrays the artist wandering through Buenos Aires as a comical yet oddly poignant two-headed being. This four-eyed creature purports to have two consciousnesses, owing to the fact that its second head, which exhibits the will of a helium balloon, floats any which way it pleases while tethered to its twin only by a lengthy, limber neck.
That's it, now i just want to see the video.
More images in the project flickr set.
Peeping Tom's Digest is an experimental and subjective publication dedicated to contemporary art. Each issue focuses on trends and movements of a particular geographic area and highlights the artists and initiatives represented within it. The point of departure for each edition is a residency of the Peeping Tom collective lasting several months in the chosen city, region or country. Deliberately empirical, without critical, theoretical or historical pretensions, its approach allows them to veer off the beaten path. Not only sharing the work, the artists, and the artistic and cultural efforts they encountered, each volume also aims to reveal the specificity of a depicted art scene: the curatorial process and the structure of the magazine (graphic design, format, number of pages and so on) varies from issue to issue reflecting the characteristics and stakes of each locale. The genealogy of the experiment and its numerous protagonists are showcased in the publication as an inserted poster.
Curator/photo editor Caroline Niémant and graphic designer/artistic director Stéphane Blanc are two Parisians who applied the dérive principles to the world of art magazines. For each edition, they pick up a city, country or region, fly there for a couple of months and set up to discover its art scene through a fairly unplanned journey that relies mostly on word-of-mouth. They boarded the plane in the Autumn of 2009, knowing next to nothing about contemporary art from Mexico, apart from the usual suspects (Orozco, Ortega, Margolles, etc.) They sent emails to a couple of people who recommended people to meet there. These people in turn recommended other people to meet. And so on.
My love for Mexico knowing no boundaries, i was overjoyed to received the second issue of Peeping Tom's Digest. The collective stayed in the country from October through December 2009. First in Mexico City, later in Oaxaca and Guadalajara (a word which, like jorongo, i've attempted to pronounce correctly countless times without even a shadow of success.) They met artists, curators, gallery owners, students, art historians, collectors. They interviewed plenty of them and received essays or photo galleries from others.
The result is a lively, partial, passionate and absorbing snapshot of Mexican art scene in 260 pages. No matter how whimsical and intuitive Peeping Tom's method was, it nevertheless managed to capture the spirit and flow of Mexico's contemporary art scene (at least what i have experienced about it.) The experiment sometimes made me think about the Postopolis edition we had last year in Mexico. Except that Peeping Tom didn't benefit from Daniel Hernandez's expertise of what is Down & Delirious in Mexico City.
Although Peeping Tom features the work of established artists living in Mexico such as Miguel Calderón and Francis Alÿs, the collective also set themselves the mission to uncover new talents. I posted a series of images of artworks i've discovered in the magazine below but before we go there i'd like to highlight two artists in particular.
The first one is Marcela Armas whose work uses and comments on technological media. Together with two other young and talented artists, Gilberto Esparza and Ivan Puig, Armas is part of the collective TRiodO. Her portfolio is quite impressive. I think i should try and interview her soon. Here's just one of her installations:
Soaking the gallery wall in burnt motor oil, Cenit (Zenith) traces the history drawn by 20th century fossil fuel consumption. Slowly pumping a black viscous liquid through plastic piping shaped as a city skyline, the piece unfoldis over a period of approximately five days to build an ongoing period of excess.
The other wonderful discovery of the book is Orlando Jiménez who is a researcher but also a lucha libre referee, researcher and producer. Jiménez has been organizing events in the art world that involve luchadores. He would either screen movies about or staring luchadores or export in Europe lucha libre as a live art form, often in festivals, exhibitions and non-lucrative events.
Elsewhere in the book i met:
Unfortunately i missed the symposium which took place on July 1 to 3 but some of the videos of the presentations are available for online viewing.
This year, the biennial closed a trilogy dedicated to cybernetics. Emoção Art.ficial followed a logical sequence that started with the basics in 2006 when the exhibition and symposium were dedicated to interaction. That year, i even had the chance to interview Guilherme Kujawski, one of the organizers of the biennial. The 2008 edition of the event went a step further by exploring emergence: artworks in which the cybernetic cycle allowed the devices themselves to generate behaviors and rules that were unforeseen even by their creators.
In 2010 the biennial was guided by the notion of cybernetic autonomy - by the evolution of principles and patterns derived from the emerging behaviors of the devices themselves. The devices not only possess the ability to enter in a dialog with their surroundings, they also determine the rules for this interaction and change their behavior as if they had "personality."
I'll just highlight two works which, i think, illustrate perfectly the scope of cybernetic autonomy explored by the exhibition.
The images above illustrate one of the works on show, Silent Barrage by SymbioticA. This forest of little robots going up and down white columns connects the exhibition space to nerve cells cultured miles away from Sao Paulo, in the Potter Neuro-Engineering Lab at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta.
This video gives more details about the work:
Silent Barrage investigates the nature of thoughts, free will, and neural dysfunction. The work focuses at the bursts of uncontrolled activity of nerve tissue, a typical characteristic of epilepsy and cultured nerve cells. Silent Barrage uses audience movements in, and responses to the architectural space of amplified neuronal activity to feed it back to the cultured nerve cells in an attempt to silence the barrage of electrical impulses. The scientists hope that this might help them understand better how to quieten the activity in the culture dish, and this in turn would assist in treating epilepsy.
One of the pieces which amazed me the most when i visited the exhibition is a 1994 video by Karl Sims, a pioneer in the use of particle systems and artificial life in computer animation.
The video Evolved Virtual Creatures stems from a research project involving simulated Darwinian evolutions of virtual block creatures. A population of several hundred creatures is created within a supercomputer,. Each of them is tested for their ability to perform a given task, such as swimming. The most successful ones survive, and their virtual genes containing coded instructions for their growth, are copied, combined, and mutated to make offspring for a new population. The new creatures are again tested, and some may be improvements on their parents. Creatures with increasingly successful behaviors emerge through this cycle of selection.
The creatures in the video are results from independent simulations in which they were selected for swimming, rowing, walking, jumping, following, and competing with their little cuboid 'limbs' for the control of a green cube. The video is actually more gripping than it sounds.
Some of the works exhibited at Emoção Art.ficial [Art.ficial Emotion] include:
My pictures from the exhibition.
That afternoon we were all very curious to hear what Capitán Remigio Cruz, the curator and guide of the Museo de Enervantes, had to tell us. His presentation wasn't exactly the one we expected but we did get quite a show. First we got scolded for calling it the Museum of Drugs, its official name is Museo de Enervantes.
Preppy, dynamic Capitán Remigio Cruz came to Postopolis with an agenda. He wasn't there to show us images of the museum nor did he spend much time commenting on his work as a curator. He was there to educate us about how bad drugs are. Any kind of drug, even marijuana which, the Captain explained, inevitably leads to the use of hard drugs. His statement raised a few eyebrows in the audience. Especially as more voices in the country are calling for the legalization of cannabis.
Nothing these voices could ever argue can dampen the Captain's enthusiasm for the mission of military authorities. He told us that the army is working extremely hard at fighting drug barons and that their efforts have paid off. According to the World Drug Report of the United Nations, Mexico is no longer the number 1 producer of marijuana. The U.S. have beaten up to the top spot.
I was a bit frustrated not to hear more about the museum. I could not even go and make my own opinion of it since the museum is not open to the public. Schools are welcome, otherwise you have to be a military officials, counternarcotic cadet or visiting diplomat to be allowed entrance.
I've gathered below a few facts, links and images about the Museo de Enervantes.
Open in 1985 and located on the seventh floor of the Mexican Defense Ministry building, the private museum documents the country's drug culture and the government's battle against the drug cartels. It appear that the main raison d'être of the museum is to teach military personnel about the tricks and strategies deployed by drug barons to hide, smuggle and sell their merchandise.
Many of the pieces on show demonstrate traffickers' almost unlimited inventiveness:
A section of the museum highlights the connection between religions and drug trafficking. A bust of Jesus Malverde is enshrined in one exhibit. According to the legend, the bandit was killed by authorities in 1909. He is revered in the country as a patron saint of traffickers and a Robin Hood for the poor.
The "narco-culture" room is packed with over-the-top bejeweled cellphones, gold and silver-plated pistols (one of them is even engraved with "Better to die on your feet than live on your knees"), jackets with hideaway armor plating, etc.
After Capitán Remigio Cruz's presentation several people in the audience questioned President Felipe Calderón's brutal strategy to fight drug mafias. I didn't know the exact facts they were referring to until i read Daniel Hernandez's report which pointed to children caught in the line of fire and human rights violations.
And now for something completely different...
Cassim Shepard from Urban Omnibus had invited architect and designer Eduardo Terrazas to tell us about his awe-inspiring career. The name Terrazas might not sound familiar to many readers but i'm sure that anyone can remember or recognize the identity program he designed for the Olympics Games in Mexico in 1968. He was very young at the time but nevertheless came up with a unique and quite revolutionary design that involved every single element that would represent Mexico to the whole world during the Olympics: from a logotype for the Games to the urban-scale communication and wayfinding system. The design was very modern but it also recalled patterns used by the Huichol Indians.
The architect and designer reminded us that Mexico '68 is not just a synonym of the Olympics but also of the Tlatelolco massacre, a government massacre of student and civilian protesters and bystanders which took place ten days before the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.
The artist is interested in the concept of time and the way it has been appropriated by institutions and rules outside of us. Work-time is converted into salary, and leisure-time into consumption. Bills and coins have come to represent time better than hands on a clock. For Marcotela the prison is the perfect embodiment of this idea of hijacked time.
In his project Time Divisa [Time Currency] , the artist explored the possibility of substituting money for mutual favors.The deal he offered prisoners was the following: I would use a certain amount of my time to do things in their representation at a specific day and hour. At the same time they would do whatever I asked them to do as an artist.
Macotela made a total of 365 exchanges with inmates. One asked him to stay with his wife and witness the first steps of his child; another told him to go to his brother's party and get drunk for him; he also to say a few words on the tomb of a brother; ask a father for forgiveness, etc. He registered everything on video for the inmates.
In exchange, Macotela asked them to measure time using their body. The artist gave many examples. One had to hold his hand to his neck for 3 hours and register each heartbeat on a paper for the artists. Another had to map every step he made in the prison voer a period of 3 hours. Sometimes the artist would ask them to teach his their particular "skills" in exchange for his time (how to kill someone with a shoelace for example.)
Since this was my last story about Postopolis, i'd like to thank the organizers and sponsors for enabling us to participate in this wonderful experience: Storefront for Art and Architecture, Museo Experimental El Eco, Tomo and Domus Magazine of course but also our sponsors Mexicana, the British Embassy, Urbi VidaResidencial, UNAM, Difusión Cultural UNAM, el Museo Experimental El Eco, Cityexpress and XXLager. And a huge muchas gracias to Daniel Perlin for his bananAs energy, patience and enthusiasm.
Ehécatl Cabrera Franco is an architect, he's also the founder of the collective of the digital media and urban activism group MANGUM and an independent researcher of various urban phenomena. Whether he is busy doing graphic/architectural/industrial design, developing interventions in public space, organizing happenings or shooting videos, Cabrera is interested in making fissures into architecture. The hackarchitect believes that since architecture isn't able to answer the many issues that a city has to face nowadays, we should raise and 'make the city ourselves'.
In 2007, Carbera created MANGUM, an independent agency of digital media and urban activism. While MANGUM pays homage to MAGNUM it also differentiates himself radically from the photographic cooperative by encouraging a more bottom-up approach in which the very people who were so far only the subject of photos must now be recognized as critical actors.
MANGUM questions traditional models of cultural management, its objective is to generate answers to existing but inadequate institutions. MANGUM doesn't just portray the "otherness", it interacts with it.
MANGUM seeks to build an urban culture characterized by action and critique, to find opportunities in underused or intermediary spaces, to inhabit public space. The members of MANGUM believe that interacting with the city is an important form of daily communication that shouldn't be left in the sole hands of artists, activists and architects. They believe that a city is produced day by day through critical encounters, relationships, actions and events.
One of MANGUM's projects is PÁPALO PAL TACO, a series of workshops about urban gardening that aim to disseminate alternative forms of participation, diversify the use of space and create environmental awareness among participants. Some of the activities were especially designed for children such as a workshop about 'vegetal activism', eco-cine, etc.
MANGUM built the miniLAB, a mobile station built with cheap materials that travels through the streets of Santa Ursula Coapa (in the area of Coyoacan, DF, Mexico) to promote the activities of PÁPALO PAL TACO and explain passersby that instead of just buying fruits and vegetables, they can also cultivate them and while doing so contribute to the construction of a more participative public space.
Tomo had invited Raúl Cárdenas to close our last day at Postopolis. Cárdenas is the founder of Torolab, a collective workshop/laboratory for territorial research and contextual studies, based in Tijuana. The artist was in Mexico city to present his ongoing project Instituto de la Basura (The Institute of Waste.)
The city of Mexico produces 12.500 tons of waste every day, only 12% of it is recycled. Raúl is proposing to set up a platform that would encourage a dialogue and exchange of ideas between citizens and experts on the issue of waste.
Called Instituto de la Basura (The Institute of Waste), the proposal is part of a wider project called Residual. Artistic Interventions in the City. Residual addresses the problem of garbage from different points of view and aims to raise awareness among residents about the shared responsibility associated with its generation and management. The projects attempt to interact with the local community, and are developed in collaboration with a multidisciplinary group of university experts.
The themes, questions and problems explored by Instituto de la Basura are restricted to the context of Mexico city. Waste is an international issue, the pollution generated by an inadequate handling of waste knows no boundaries. Therefore, Torolab suggests to create the Embassy of Waste. The Embassy is the traveling branch of the Institute, it would move from location to location, adapt its approach to local contexts and reflect on themes closely related to the issue of waste (which should not necessarily be regarded trash.)
Both the Institute and the nomadic Embassy actively attempt to develop an international and interdisciplinary network of experts who would share their knowledge and look for -technical, legal, urban, social, environmental, or economic- solutions to problems related to consumption, and to the generation and management of waste.
The Museo del Estanquillo is currently lending its terrace to the project. There, the Instituto de la Basura has not only started to archive the information provided by specialists, it is also organizing and recording talks, interviews and working sessions around the issue of waste.
The furniture that the Instituto is using for its office in the museum is made mostly of wooden crates used to pack and transport art works, tetrapacks and other recycled materials.
You can visit the Instituto de la Basura until September 5, 2010 at the museum. After that, the institute will move to San Francisco, California to follow the discussion in a different context.
From what i've seen the other week in Sao Paulo, FILE, the International Festival of Electronic Language, is extremely popular with the broad public. It's easy to understand why. The event is not only free, it also offers extremely good works and mainstream entertainment (a few pieces even manage to be both). Some works delighted me, others made me want to dedicate this blog to Ukrainian cuisine (which is actually very good.) But that happens with most media art festivals i attend.
Far from being confined to the stern white walls of the Sesi Paulista's cultural space, FILE has also invaded the whole Paulista Avenue with animations, artistic interventions, interactive installations and screening. They wait for passersby in bookstores, subway stations, buses or on the facade of the buildings.
Just a few shots from FILE PAI - Paulista Avenue Interactive before i focus on the main exhibition:
Unlike many of similar art and tech festivals in Europe, the FILE exhibition doesn't have a theme, its main objective is to showcase and promote some of the most exciting artistic productions in the field of electronic and digital arts. The sound installations were outstanding. My little round-up of the exhibition will try to do them justice. If you'd like to discover more of them, head to the Electronic Sonority section of the FILE Prix Lux website.
The artist describes his work as follows: vinyl+ tries to expand timecode vinyl, usually used for digital djing, with visual and interactive elements. This is accomplished by sending the turntables rotational speed and needle position to a processing sketch. This sketch then generates corresponding visual output on the surface of the vinyl itself.
METROBANG, by Ricardo Brasileiro, turns the frequencies and noise from vinyl records into a sequence of synthesis of low and granular synthesis (i'm merely copy/pasting, to be honest i was amazed by the result but i'm not sure i understand fully the how and why.) Musicians can change speed, volume, pitch and other effects with the touch of the instrument and by changing disks. The frequencies of the disck are simultaneously displayed in ASCII format on the computer terminal.
Jörg Piringer created an application for iPhone & iPod touch that allows you to create and control different groups of tiny sound-creatures in the shape of letters. They have several kinds of behaviour, some being more aggressive or gregarious than others for example, that react to gravity or to each other and generate rhythms and soundscapes.
From Dust Till Dawn, by Markus Decker, Dietmar Offenhuber and Ushi Reiter, is a dark room with a fluorescent glow and a broom up against a wall. Phonographs are playing back silent vinyl records. The fluorescent mist is actually made of particles of dust. As visitors move through the room, the particles swirl up and some of it accumulate in the grooves of the records and define a musical score. A carpet of monochromatic light visualizes the turbulence in the atmosphere and detects its ephemeral structures, which are directly linked to the noise generated by the dusty records. Over time, the physical impact of the interaction irreversibly consumes the interface and destroys the needles of the phonographs. (if dusty floors make you happy, check out The Dustbunnies, by Stijn Schiffeleers and Hendrik Leper from Boutique Vizique.)
Robert Mathy's Light Frequency Fingertips is a musical instrument composed of four fingercaps which transform light frequencies emitted by the displays of mobile phones into acoustic signals that can be mixed and faded during live performances.
The work turns the light setting into a organism that can both live on its own or interact with spectators when they enter the roon. When viewers are outside the active tracking area, the system dialogue with the space by extruding and morphing sequences of geometric light forms. As soon as visitors enter the projected light-space, a collective and participatory expression of space unfolds.
Frame Seductions, by Pierre Proske, explores the concept of looking outside of the video frame by tracking the head movements of people in front of the screen. Only a static but very seducing image can be seen from the distance but as visitors come nearer and turn their head to the left or to the right the perspective of the video on the screen automatically follows their gaze, enabling them to access material that would otherwise be outside of the filming frame. Viewers can this discover quirky scenarios lurking in the sidelines: characters appear in several places at once, exit through doors to reappear elsewhere and sometimes give the viewer or each other quizzical looks.
This neat little video is much clearer than a description:
The media art festival brought the high brow and the low brow under the same roof. Enters Mood Tail, by Wei-Chieh Tseng. Do you really need me to elaborate on it?