This month, i've been reading...
I recently discovered that Aksioma (the Ljubljana-based Institute for Contemporary Art exploring projects that utilize new technologies in order to investigate and discuss the structures of modern society) was publishing brochures about the work of some of my favourite artists and activists: Jill Magid, SOCIÉTÉ RÉALISTE, monochrom, Trevor Paglen, UBERMORGEN.COM, Frederik De Wilde, etc. The last issue is dedicated to the work of Evan Roth, with a special focus on the selection of works displayed in his show Flight Mode. I wrote that one. This will probably sound ridiculous but i usually avoid mentioning any extra-wmmna activity at all costs. However, i had so much fun writing this text, i don't even feel embarrassed sharing it with you. Here it it in all its PDF glory.
One of the best surprises of recent months was receiving a parcel containing the latest issue of FACTA, the magazine of Gambiologia, the Brazilian art and science of kludging. It's punk, it's upbeat and incredibly smart. The first issue addressed the 'science of Apocalypse' and this one is all about accumulating, collecting and re-purposing.
The publication explores the theme under various angles. I loved the text on 'scrap artists', from the Dadaists to Chinese farmer Wu Yulu and Brazilian eccentric Farnese de Andrade. Tutorials will teach you how to make lamps and 'alarms' to protect your collection. An essay on fast fashion explains why 'to collect is quite different from collecting'. And i need to mention the story of the ultimate compulsive 'hoarders': the Collyer brothers. They died among their garbage. The police had to dig for 5 hours until they uncovered the body of Homer Collyer behind an accumulation of books and debris. The decomposing corpse of his younger brother was found 2 weeks later, ten feet from where his elder had died.
To buy a copy of FACTA, send an email to euquero at facta.art.br. And because they are that nice and generous, the Gambiologia team also uploaded the magazine on ISSUU.
I still need to wrap my head around the fact that the award-winning magazine Neural has just turned 20. That's 20 years championing new media art, electronic music and hacktivism! To celebrate the achievement, Alessandro Ludovico and his team have recently published a bigger than ever issue (#46), "Unearthed: The 20th Anniversary Issue." It contains 'visionary' interviews (from William Gibson to Jodi!) and articles published in its first decade and available for the first time in English. And if you're a subscriber, you will also get the "First 20 years" poster.
You can also subscribe to the magazine Digital Edition accessing all issues since #29. It's only £16.50 for one year. That's such a reasonable price, it would be rude not to jump on the offer.
Aspect: V21: A Good Place to Stop! The title of this issue of the dvd-magazine is literal: this is the final stop for a publication that, in 10 years & 26 DVDs, has shown, promoted, curated, archived and put into context the works of over 200 artists working in new or experimental media. While i understand and respect the editors' decision, i'm going to miss Aspect. I liked it a lot, you see. While any artwork benefits from being seen 'in the flesh' rather than on the pages of a magazine, time-based works usually need the addition of sound and video to be better appreciated. ASPECT: The Chronicle of New Media Art gave the public the possibility to enjoy an artwork at their own pace: each work is introduced by a brief statement from the artist, it is then shown in its totality both as it would be in any art gallery but also in a version that shows the same video with optional audio commentary by a curator, theorist or educator who discusses the background and meaning of the piece.
Aspect: V21: A Good Place to Stop presents 8 time-based works that explore the concept of endings. Either literally or metaphorically.
This electromechanical sculpture was 'born' in Nashville, Tennessee on 2 June 2012. It has been programmed to have the average human lifespan of babies born in Tennessee on that same day: approximately 78 years. The kick drum beats its heartbeat (at 60 beats per minute), and the mechanical counter displays the number of heartbeats remaining in its lifetime. An internal, battery-operated clock keeps track of the passing time when the sculpture is unplugged. The sculpture will die once the counter reaches zero.
Pilvi Takala, Real Snow White (video excerpt)
Pilvi Takala's Real Snow White is by far the most charming and absurd work in the selection. The young and pretty Finnish artist arrives at Eurodisney in Paris dressed as White Snow. Soon children want a photo and autographs from her. But her adventure will end before she can even pass the gates of the entertainment resort. Takala is asked by a security guard not to enter because the 'real' Snow White is already inside. That could create confusion. Besides, what would happen if the 'fake' Snow White does 'something bad'? The conversations between the artist and members of the security team sounds laughable. Unless you know about Disney's thirst for trademark and its application pending with the US Patent and Trademark Office for the name "Snow White", which would cover all live and recorded movie, television, radio, stage, computer, Internet, news, and photographic entertainment uses, except literature works of fiction and nonfiction.
There are 6 other works to discover inside the new issue. Grab yours here!
I wouldn't normally review a zine that's ridiculously hard to get your hands on but the purpose, production and spirit of Critical Making are so meaningful and pertinent to today's culture that i had to make an exception. Critical Making is series of small booklets that look at the political, social, activist and even historical dimensions of the DIY culture:
A handmade book project by Garnet Hertz in the field of critical technical practice and critically-engaged maker culture. Critical making is defined by Ratto as exploring how hands-on productive work - making - can supplement and extend critical reflection on the relations between digital technologies and society. It also can be thought of as an appeal to makers to be critically engaged with culture, history and society.
Releasing Critical Making must have been an exhausting experience. It's a hand-made zine and Garnet Hertz played the role of the chief editor of course but he also had to print the texts and images, fold the pages, trim them, get blisters while relentlessly stapling the booklets together, craft a parcel, add the address and ship the zines. That's hundreds of stacks of booklets that had to be sent to hundreds of people across the world. I know i'm going to treasure my copy as if it were an artwork (which it probably is.) He's not even selling the zines, nor is he earning money from ads because the pages are rigorously ad free.
Critical Making might look all punky and crafty but the content is solid. Contributions started pouring in after Hertz asked people on social networks to respond to the concept of critical making. And because he knows some of the most interesting people in the art & tech world, the line-up is pretty spectacular: from an essay by Carl DiSalvo on adversarial design to cuttings of vintage magazines that explain you how to build a poultry feeder that doubles as a rat trap, from Rafael Lozano-Hemmer revealing How to Make Very Large Projects to interviews with Alex Galloway or Natalie Jeremijenko. I'll stop the list here because the table of content is on the webpage of the project.
But Critical Making is also a courageous project. While acknowledging the role and importance of O'Reilly and Make Magazine in popularizing the DIY culture, the publication asks us to look at aspects of the DIY culture that go beyond buying an Arduino, getting a MakerBot and reducing DIY to a weekend hobby. Critical Making embraces thus social issues, the history of technology, activism and politics. The project stems also from a disappointment. A year ago, Make received a grant from DARPA to create "makerspaces" for teenagers. Everyone who, so far, had assumed that a culture built on openness was antithetic to the murkiness that surrounds the military world was bitterly disheartened. CM is not the anti-Make Magazine, it is simply an alternative, a forum for electronic DIY practice to discuss hacking, making, kludging, DIYing in a less sanitized, mass-market way. One of the CM booklets (aptly titled MAKE) brings side by side Dale Dougherty's defense of the grant (Makerspaces in Education and DARPA) and an essay by Mitch Altman who asks Do Funding Sources Matter? Further discussion about the controversy in the video DARPA Funding for Hackers, Hackerspaces, and Education: A Good Thing? with Mitch Altman, Psytek, Willow Brugh, Fiacre O'Duinn, Matt Joyce)
Ultimately, what Garnet Hertz is now wondering is what he should do with Critical Making: Should he turn the zine into a book people would be able to buy? Release it for free online? Should he hand-make more copies?
I love the format, the physical effort, the limited-edition aspect of Critical Making. On the other hand, i believe that a critical discussion in art and tech deserves a more popular platform (a book, a blog, a PDF, etc.) especially when it is presented in such a pleasant and intelligent way. If you have any suggestion, you know where to reach him (plus, he might have a few extra copy to send out.)
Until CM can be mass-marketed, we'll have to make do with two videos in which Garnet Hertz explains the context and motivations behind the creation of the Critical Making zines: Critical Making: Moving Beyond Arduinos and MakerBots (lovely shirt, Garnet! very Isabel Marant) and Crunch Lunch with Garnet Hertz:
Previously: Interview with Garnet Hertz.
I've visited 5 photo exhibitions all over London yesterday. Here's a few words about the ones i found most interesting. Starting with 'Last Days of the Arctic'...
The exhibition on view at Proud portrays a disappearing landscape and the Inuit people who inhabit it. Because much has changed since Ragnar Axelsson's first visit to Greenland's remote regions 35 years ago, the photos capture what might be the last moments of an ancient culture that has contributed the least to cause climate change and yet is the one suffering the most visibly and acutely from its effects.
Next in line is not an exhibition but a magazine i picked up while visiting a rather disappointing photo show. Vignette is a free paper magazine you can grab in various bookshops and art galleries across the UK. I've seen many photo magazine but Vignette is The One for me. It's a broadsheet without any glossy page you might spoil with greasy fingers, but each issue is so beautifully and simply designed that you'd want to hold on to it. Vignette contains the usual: information about photo book, photo products, exhibitions, list of events, spotlight on online resources for photo enthusiasts, list of competitions and other opportunities, etc. Each issue has a theme and the current one, the "travel Issue", presents a couple of photo essays, the most striking is probably Right Wing Along the Rio Grande - a journey along the Rio Grande River through four states of America, reflecting on the American Right TEA Party movement.
Zed Nelson followed the flow of the river through three states two years after the election of America's first black president. On the way, he met people who claim that Obama is 'a radical Muslim', are afraid of 'Marxism' and believe that fences and guns are the best way to deal with illegal immigration.
The second exhibition i should mention is the solo show of Hisaji Hara at Michael Hoppen Gallery. Hisaji Hara used his camera and a few delicate Japanese schoolgirls to recreate paintings by Balthus (1908-2001). Hara creates his images through multiple exposures, all done in-camera without computer manipulation, which coupled with the use of smoke machines and cinematic lighting lends them a wistful, timeless quality akin to the paintings he has referenced.
MCD#65 The culture of green tech is a bilingual (french/english) magazine. Each edition brings the spotlight on one particular theme. Previous issues of MCD focused on the Internet of Things, Media Labs in Europe, Gaming, Digital Festivals.
Here's how the green tech issue is introduced: The inventors of digital and "post-digital" creation are raising issues about production and energy under a new light: they are already testing solar-powered 3D printers in the desert, using sand as raw material. Soon buildings will swap peer-to peer energy through photovoltaic systems, you will make an open source box to know the number of available public bicycles down in your street, you will no longer run after a bus, it will come to you. Some web artists are even providing us "the first in a promising line of tireless, unstoppable, robotic class warriors"!
In this issue, you will discover how technological creativity is here to help saving the planet, and how each one of us is a potentially actor regarding these ideas meant to make the world more sustainable.
As you can guess from the excerpt above, MCD is aimed at a broad audience. You don't need to be an art&tech aficionado to enjoy the essays and interviews. Content, style and design are everything but intimidating (well, the cover is a bit daunting.) And if you're already pretty versed in digital culture, you might still learn -or rediscover- a thing or two. A few French initiatives on the topic of green tech for example, such as artists, associations and designers' eco-experiments in Nantes, European green capital of 2013. Or Bureau d'études's ideas for a Parliament which brings humans, animals and plants closer together. There's also a conversation between Jean-Baptiste Labrune and artist David Guez and an interview with Art Orienté Objet about their appeal to list Lake Clifton as a World Heritage Site. The French duo hope that the move will save the thrombolites, rock-like structures built by micro-organisms and often regarded as the earliest geographical features of primitive life on Earth (sign the petition over here.) There's also a fascinating interview with Hugo Sossah. Founder of Ashelvea, a French company that claims to manufacture 'the cleanest computers in the world' (or rather, as Sossah concedes "the less polluting ones"), he is struggling to convince French banks to help his business grow as much the high demand for his 80% recyclable computers would require.
Plenty of usual suspects on the international front: Critical Art Ensemble, HeHe, FoAM, Joshua Allen Harris, etc.
And a couple of names i wasn't familiar with.
The work of photojournalist Stanley Greene appears in a series of essays about the human cost of our addiction to electronics. One of the essays offers a list of artistic works that engage with the war waged to control coltan. Another text from this group of essays explores Greene's E-Waste Trail, a photo documentary series "that tracks the afterlife of our electronic trash, as corporations and governments make irresponsible, yet lucrative, deals, at enormous injury to the world's most vulnerable citizens."
Other notable articles include Eric Kluitenberg's look into the way we inhabit our current 'technological ecologies' and celebration of the Whole Earth Catalog, an American counterculture catalog first published in 1968 and dedicated to the alliance of technology and ecology.
MCD#65 The culture of green tech is a timely publication. 2009 saw plethora of festivals, exhibitions and conferences dedicated to sustainability, 'greener planet' and ecology. I attended so many of them i ended up turning into a cynical eco-phobic. The following year, culture moved to other issues (financial crisis, anyone?) but the relevance of an artistic reflection on green living and green tech is as high as ever. MCD#65 proposes an intelligent, critical view that goes beyond the monolithic 'green is beautiful' moto and looks into the dilemma and contradictions of green tech.
The opening article illustrates the point by putting into graphics and numbers the carbon footprint of our digital lifestyle. Switching to digital involves less paper, less DVDs, less transports but it also energy-devouring data centers. France's 38 million web users produce over 376 000 tons of CO2 per year. That's the equivalent of a European city inhabited by 45 000 people.
A few pages are also dedicated to the 'eco-festivals', techno music festivals that offer sawdust toilets, solar panels, reusable cups, etc. The author of the article asks whether they are a valuable attempt to limit the pollution that any festival create or little more than an exercise in eco-marketing.
MCD#65 comes with lucidity thus, but also with enthusiasm and energy. I'm looking forward to see what their upcoming issues will be about.
I do need to say something about the translation though. I started reading the version in french and as usual, i was baffled by the French's fear of adopting english words. So you get words like le pair à pair instead of peer-to-peer. There were a few more gems but that one kept me laughing for hours. Anyway, halfway through the mag, i decided to skip to the english version of the text and all i can say is "Guys, get a professional translator!" If I, who makes Maurice Chevalier sound like Henry Higgins , finds errors of english in almost each paragraph then you'd better hire a proof-reader or a translator whose mother language is english.
Image on the homepage; HeHe, Toy emissions (My friends all drive Porsches), New York, 2007.
ASPECT Magazine releases periodically DVDs documenting works by 5-10 artists working in new or experimental media. The videos of the pieces can be viewed in their original version or accompanied by the audio commentary of an expert. The commentators usually start with a description of the work then they go deeper by bringing the work in the broader context of history/art history/history of technology, by revealing anecdotes about the career of the artist, by explaining the technological challenges of the work or highlighting the issues the artist wanted to raise.
This week, i've been watching Volume 16: Lo-tech and Volume 17: Hi-Tech. The first presents nine artists who work with basic, or in some cases antiquated technology. As its name indicates, its 'hi-tech' counterpart features ten artists working at the intersection of new ideas in art and technology.
There were only a few names that were familiar to me in Lo-tech and Hi-tech and that's good, i'm all for discovering new artists. One of the reasons of my ignorance might be that i tend to be a little too enwrapped in Europe and most of the artists and commentators in both volumes are North Americans (one notable exception is Arie Altena presenting with his delightful Dutch accent Marnix De Nijs's Beijing Accelerator.)
I'll just highlight a work that blew me away. Nikhil Murthy's video Two Crashes (1926/2007) juxtaposes special effects that were regarded as "high tech" at the beginning of the 20th century to what was considered "high tech" at the beginning of the 21st. The first film is Buster Keaton's The General (1926) that shows the most expensive stunt of the silent era: a real wood burning steam locomotive driven onto the burning bridge, where it collapses. The second scene shows the spectacular crash of a real Porsche Carerra GT in the film Redline (2007).
The artist slowed-down and sped-up the video extracts according to data from two notorious stock market crashes: the ones of 1929 and 2008. The two clips are then edited together by rapidly flashing between the two films. Because of their differing speeds different combinations are seen throughout the video. It is always the same scenes, there are only two of them, yet the construction of the ensemble is mesmerizing. What is most annoying however is that i can't find the video online, just the extract on ASPECT's website.
New media art can do with it as much introspection and analysis as it can get and ASPECT does that in a very approachable yet precise and professional way.
Image on the homepage: Stephen Vitiello, Something Like Fireworks, 2010.