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.
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:
Future Exhibitions is a thick and insightful yearly magazine dedicated to new forms of expression in the field of exhibition media. The theme of this year's issue is Spatial Encounters. As the editors explain: We will focus on the visitor as we move from the content to the receptacle. What does space really mean? How can the totality of the visitor's experience be enhanced by architecture, set design and technology? How does this influence the prerequisites for exhibition production?
The magazine doesn't provide clear-cut answers to the questions above but the contributors' conversations with inspiring individuals and visits to innovative exhibitions spaces offer plenty of clues, ideas, pointers and stimuli to further cogitate on the theme of exhibition media.
LaTourelle, master in the art of creating mesmerizing spaces, lists and comments on exhibitions and spaces that challenge visitors' expectations and engage their senses and attention. The strategies adopted range from the subtle to the spectacular. Some curators chose to play with the atmospheric qualities of light, others subvert the sequence of space and artefacts (by having visitors wear rubber boots and have them experience physically the consequence of climate change or by inverting the service entrance and the monumental one to make the audience experience the volumes of the space in a different way), etc. I found LaTourelle's essay particularly interesting as he looked for innovation in the geography and the atmosphere of the exhibition space rather than in technology.
Future Exhibitions asked the ever ingenious Raqs Media Collective to present a fictive future exhibition. They came up with Eccentric Orbits - The Biennale of Solar Systems. After all, the galactic space might very well be the only place devoid of any art biennale.
In his essay Exhibitions in spaces of flux, Eduardo Navas draws on its own experience and on interviews with the likes of Mark Garrett from HTTP gallery, Sean Dockray from TELIC and the Public School, artist and curator Gustavo Romano and Marco Garcia from Medialab Prado to explore the opportunities offered by 'interactivity' in all its guises.
Another key features of Future Exhibitions is the spotlight on cultural institutions they regard as "ahead of the rest": Laboral in Gijón, the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Miraikan aka The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo and Temporäre Kusthalle in Berlin.
Finally, the magazine interviews 4 'oracles' or 'people worth listening to'. They are: Lebanon NGO Febrik who organizes art and design workshops for children living in refugee camps in the Middle East; Carina Ostenfeldt whose educational project All aboard - the Salutogenic museum in Stockholm ensures that children with any kind of functional challenge can enjoy the educational experience provided by the space; stage designer and artist Robert Wilson; and Patrik Schumacher, partner at Zaha Hadid Architects, who explains why, in his view, parametricism is the preeminent style for avant-garde architecture and urbanism practice.
This way to order the mag.
Review of the first issue of Future Exhibitions.