A couple of weeks ago i spent yet another fruitful afternoon in Brighton for the Critical Exploits. Interrogating Infrastructure event.

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Julian Oliver, No Network, 2013 (a battle tank toy that implements a blanket ban of mobile telephony in its presence)

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Julian Oliver, No Network, 2013

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Julian Oliver, No Network, 2013

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Julian Oliver, No Network, 2013

The day was part of The Lighthouse's ongoing exploration of the social and political implications of technological infrastructures. The curatorial research started in 2012 with the exhibition Invisible Fields in Barcelona and continued at The Lighthouse with exhibitions by James Bridle, Mariele Neudecker, Trevor Paglen, etc.) The last event brought together artists and critical engineers Julian Oliver and Danja Vasiliev, critical designer Tobias Revell, and activists from the Open Rights Group for a day of talks and workshops.

Critical Exploits showed how a new generation of artists, designers and engineers are taking a highly critical approach to the development and use of the engineered systems and infrastructures that we increasingly rely on for daily life.

This post is going to focus mostly on Oliver and Vasiliev's presentation which looked at black boxes in the context of infrastructures. The talk is already on youtube but i thought i'd sum up some of the observations that the artists made and add links to the artworks and documents they mentioned while they were in Brighton.


Julian Oliver & Danja Vasiliev's talk at The Lighthouse

Their presentation started with a quote from Bruno Latour. Talking about blackboxing, the sociologist wrote that When a machine runs efficiently, when a matter of fact is settled, one need focus only on its inputs and outputs and not on its internal complexity. Thus, paradoxically, the more science and technology succeed, the more opaque and obscure they become.

Typical modern devices and infrastructures function (and actually also look) like black boxes, they are far more opaque than they are transparent.

If you look at a gramophone, you'll notice that its inner working is displayed externally. An iPod nano is at the other end of the spectrum, it is completely opaque. We can't actually explain what the many parts inside the device do. And maybe even what they do behind out back. As these devices get smaller, we get even less clue about their inner working. We cannot say we know the devices inside our pockets.

Our understanding of internet infrastructure is similarly foggy. Most of the time, our contact with it is clustered around firefox, safari, explorer, etc. Most users cannot see beyond their web browser. And there is indeed much misconception about the internet. Julian Oliver mentioned a quote he heard at the Chaos Communication Congress where someone said that the only people who talk about 'users' are drug dealers and software developers.

Very few people can actually give an intelligible answer to the question "What is a computer network?" Most people have no problem describing how a postcard goes from its sender to recipient but they are at a loss when it comes to explaining how emails are exchanged. In fact, the Oliver and Vasiliev described the Internet as a deeply misunderstood technology upon which we increasingly depend. Even the terminology used makes our understanding literally nebulous. Take the concept of 'the cloud'. A survey showed that the majority of Americans believe that cloud computing was affected by bad weather.

Another interesting fact their talk mentioned is that the net doesn't belong to the people as it is often assumed. If you have a look at the Submarine Cable Map, you quickly realize that most of these cables are privatized.

Vasiliev and Oliver take their distances from a traditional definition that sees engineering as the practical application of science to commerce or industry. Instead, they wrote, together with Gordan Savičić, a critical engineering manifesto which they regard as a frame for applied research and development that positions Engineering, rather than Art or Design, as primary within the creative and critical process.

The rest of their talk illustrates the manifesto using works of critical engineering. I'm going to simply write their titles down and link to the project pages but i'd encourage you to watch the video of the artists/critical engineers talk to get more background and comments on each work.

Gordan Savičić, Packetbrücke (illustrates the 5th point of the CEM). Julian Oliver and Daniil Vasiliev, Newstweek, 2011 (#3). Julian Oliver, No Network. Daniil Vasiliev, Netless. Julian Oliver, Transparency Grenade. Julian Oliver and Daniil Vasiliev, PRISM: The Beacon Frame. Martin Howse, Earthboot computer (illustrates #8). Gordan Savičić, City CPU. Julian Oliver, Border Bumping. Dennis Pual, Nullstecker (relates to #6 in the CEM.)

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Julian Oliver and Daniil Vasiliev, PRISM: The Beacon Frame, 2013 (a "functional response to the general absence of information as to what NSA PRISM equipment actually looks like")

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Julian Oliver and Daniil Vasiliev, PRISM: The Beacon Frame, 2013

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Julian Oliver and Daniil Vasiliev, PRISM: The Beacon Frame, 2013

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Gordan Savičić, City CPU, 2012

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Dennis Paul, Nullstecker, 2013

Don't miss the video documenting the other talk of the afternoon. Tobias Revell's talk portrayed current practices within critical design and the way the discipline can be used as an antagonist tool for provoking conflicts between set narratives, beliefs and ideologies for awareness, debate and alternate interpretation. The result is a lively and carefully curated inventory of all things Design Interactions at RCA.


Tobias Revell's talk at The Lighthouse

Sponsored by:





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F.A.T. GOLD Europe by F.A.T. Lab. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann for MU Eindhoven, 2013

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F.A.T. GOLD Europe - Five Years of Free Art & Technology is the European streak of the GOLD exhibition that opened at Eyebeam in New York last Spring. F.A.T. Lab was born in 2007 but 5 years sounds better in a title than 'almost 7 years' (the show was originally scheduled for November 2012 but got postponed because of Hurricane Sandy, hence the "5 years".) In any case, I'm grateful to MU for having brought the show so much closer from home.

I'm sure most of you know F.A.T. Lab, the international group of 25 artists, hackers, engineers, lawyers, musicians, and graffiti writers who collaborate on projects that look at technologies and media in a critical but also entertaining way. F.A.T. Lab is committed to supporting open values and the public domain through the use of emerging open licenses, support for open entrepreneurship and the admonishment of secrecy, copyright monopolies and patents.

The exhibition allowed me to catch up with works from F.A.T.'s early days and discover new pieces they launched on the opening night. I'm sure curator Lindsay Howard had a ridiculous amount of fun looking into the dozens of projects that F.A.T. has been churning out over its (so far) brief existence. I wish i could mention them all and even add a couple more but i'll keep it short and fast by highlighting only a couple of exhibited works that are particularly representative of the ethics and ethos of the group.

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Golan Levin and Shawn Sims, Free Universal Construction Kit. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann for MU Eindhoven, 2013

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Golan Levin and Shawn Sims, Free Universal Construction Kit. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann for MU Eindhoven, 2013

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Golan Levin and Shawn Sims, Free Universal Construction Kit

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Golan Levin and Shawn Sims, Free Universal Construction Kit

The gloriously acronymed Free Universal Construction Kit is a set of adapters that enable children to connect and lock together blocks from ten construction toys made by different companies. Lego®, Duplo®, Fischertechnik®, Gears! Gears! Gears!®, K'Nex®, etc. The complete interoperability between otherwise closed systems allows for designs that had so far been restricted to children's imagination.

Adapters can be downloaded from Thingiverse and other sharing sites as a set of 3D models and then fabricated using personal 3D printers.

The Free Universal Construction Kit isn't just about playing and building though, the project is also an invitation to look at the complex issues of copyright-protected artefacts that accompany the future of 3D printing. "This isn't a product. It's a provocation," explained Levin. "We should be free to invent without having to worry about infringement, royalties, going to jail or being sued and bullied by large industries. We don't want to see what happened in music and film play out in the area of shapes."

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Greg Leuch, Shaved Bieber. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann for MU Eindhoven, 2013

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Greg Leuch, Shaved Bieber

But some F.A.T.'s works are just what they seem to be. Absurd and provoking. Only that quite often they lead to surprising repercussions. Greg Leuch spent a few hours making an extension that would hide all mentions of Justin Bieber on the webpages you visit. He posted it on the F.A.T.'s blog and got on with his life but the extension garnered far more attention than expected. The press loved it. Bieber's fans not so much and the artist was soon inundated with messages from indignant teenagers and grateful parents.

@gleuch i freaking hate u... go somewhere and never come out. u old molester creep fag. BIEBER fans are about to pee in ur face for this.

Mum just showed me that she did block justin bieber on the computer. So ive locked myself in the bathroom and im crying.

In fact, Leuch received so many emails and tweets about the project that he's now sharing the most amusing of them on tumblr.

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Evan Roth, Ideas Worth Spreading (TED Talks). Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann for MU Eindhoven, 2013

I'm obviously a big fan of Ideas Worth Spreading, as i am of any project, article or thought that challenges the TED cult. Just go to the MU gallery with your own Power Point presentation and deliver a talk that will stun/delight/horrify the audience using the fake TED stage complete with headset, camera, gigantic red letters, screen, spotlight, etc. After that go home and edit and upload your own pirate TED talk.

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Theo Watson and F.A.T. Lab, 40,000 GML Tags. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann for MU Eindhoven, 2013

GML, or Graffiti Markup Language, is an open file format designed to store graffiti motion data.

Currently, there are over 40,000 tags in the #000000book database. The projection screens tags in chronological order, from the very first ones drawn by Tempt1, to the most recent captured by a variety of GML-powered apps.

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Geraldine Juarez, F.A.T Nika Award. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann for MU Eindhoven, 2013

Each year, Ars Electronica's Golden Nica awards give rise to intense debates, frustrations, satisfactions, anger and congratulations in the art and tech world so I love the super simple idea behind the F.A.T NIKA award. The 3D modelled replica of Ars Electronica's statuette is copied from a wikipedia photograph. Geraldine Juarez prints one each time she wants to award a prize to an artist whose work she admires. You're very welcome to head to the project page and do the same.

A few more photos from the show:

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Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann for MU Eindhoven, 2013

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F.A.T. GOLD Europe by F.A.T. Lab. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann for MU Eindhoven, 2013

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F.A.T. GOLD Europe by F.A.T. Lab. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann for MU Eindhoven, 2013


F.A.T. GOLD Europe - Five Years of Free Art & Technology, a video by stichting MU

If you can't make it to Eindhoven to see the show this month, then do check out The F.A.T. Manual, edited by Geraldine Juarez in collaboration with Domenico Quaranta and Published by Link Editions.

You can either get it print on demand (this way, please) or download it for free as a PDF. Alternatively, you're very welcome to ruin yourself on amazon UK.

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Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann for MU Eindhoven, 2013

F.A.T. Lab members are Mike Baca, Aram Bartholl, Magnus Eriksson, Michael Frumin, Geraldine Juárez, KATSU, Tobias Leingruber, Greg Leuch, Golan Levin, Zach Lieberman, LM4K, Kyle McDonald, Jonah Peretti, Christopher "moot" Poole, James Powderly, Evan Roth, Borna Sammak, Randy Sarafan, Becky Stern, Chris Sugrue, Addie Wagenknecht, Theo Watson, Jamie Wilkinson, Bennett Williamson, and Hennessy Youngman.

F.A.T. GOLD Europe - Five Years of Free Art & Technology is open until January 26 at MU in Eindhoven.

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Ben Roberts, from the series Amazon Unpacked, 2011. In their bright orange vests, 'pickers' deliver goods between various areas of the warehouse

There's an exhibition called All That is Solid Melts into Air right now at the Manchester Art Gallery. It's been curated by Jeremy Deller. So of course i took the train to see it.

In a show which title refers to a passage in Marx and Engels' Communist Manifesto, Deller takes a personal look at the impact of the Industrial Revolution on British popular culture, and its persisting influence on our lives today.

This is not an exhibition of Deller's work (apart from his film about glam rock wrestler Adrian Street.) Neither is it a historical treatment of the industrial era. Instead, Deller brings side by side historical artefacts and contemporary works to explore several threads that expose the impact of the Industrial Revolution on British cultural life.

I was particularly interested in the connections drawn between the digital revolution and the Industrial Revolution, in particular working conditions. They were notoriously harsh in the 19th century: low wages, long hours, child labour, etc.

A document entitled Rules to be Observed in this Factory, Church Street Mills, Preston (c. 1830) informed workers that to give their notice they must do so on Saturday only, in writing and one month in advance. Whereas the "Masters have full power to discharge any person employed therein without any previous notice whatsoever." The same documents states that workers are to be at the factory from 6 in the morning to 7.30 at night, with half an hour allowed for breakfast and one hour for dinner.

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But accounts from the time deplored the fact that managers did as they liked, with clocks brought forward in the morning and back at night. Some clocks were even made to measure productivity as time. One of the artefacts in the gallery is a two-faced clock that was connected to a watermill at a silk factory and would show 'lost' time if the wheel did not turn quickly enough. The time would then have to be made up at the end of the working day. The struggle to shorten working days was hard fought by successive generations.

Nowadays however, the growing use of 'zero hours contracts' in the low wage sectors of the service and digital economy is shaping a new form of day labourer, imposing another time discipline where the worker is informed often at short notice if their labour is required. A tapestry (by Ed Hall, maker of remarkable protest banners), hanging near the clock, is adorned with the words, 'Hello, Today you have day off', a message texted to a worker on a 'zero hour' contract on the morning his shift was due to start. No work, no pay.

Also next to the clock are photos from Ben Roberts' series that documents the inside one of Amazon's nine UK 'fulfilment centres' where employees spend 10½ hours a day picking items off the shelves.

Visitors have no problem joining the dots by themselves....

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Ben Roberts, from the series Amazon Unpacked, 2011. The interior of Amazon's giant fulfilment centre is the size of nine football pitches

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Swainson Birley Cotton Mill near Preston, Lancashire, 1834.. ©Science Museum/SSPL

The last object on that wall is a Motorola WT4000, a computing device worn on the wrist by people working in a warehouse. Retail giants rely on this kind of device to monitor the speed of orders and the efficiency of its staff in fulfilling them. It can also send warnings if the worker is falling behind schedule.

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Motorola WT4000

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But as can be expected with Jeremy Deller, there's a great deal of music in this show. Here he is posing next to a jukebox visitors are welcome to activate. Pressing buttons triggers archive recordings from factory machinery, folk songs or quarrymen singing at work.

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Jeremy Deller with Jukebox, 2013 and mural backdrop by Stuart Sam Hughes. Courtesy Alan Seabright / Manchester City Galleries

All That is Solid Melts into Air also looks at heavy metal and rock bands such as Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Happy Mondays and Slade and at how they are the products of the industrial towns their members came from. Many came from working class backgrounds and their music echoed the loud and traumatic rhythm of the factories.

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Judas Priest, Unleashed in the East (album cover), 1979

The only Deller work in the show is a film about Adrian Street. Street was born into a Welsh mining family but he refused to follow in his father's footsteps and spend his life working in the coal mines. He left home as a teenager and became a flamboyant wrestler and for a brief time also a glam rock singer.

The photo showing Street posing next to his father in the Welsh coal mine he had fled from embodies a country attempting to get to grip with its new role: services and entertainment.

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Adrian Street and his father, 1973 (photo: Dennis Hutchinson) © Dennis Hutchinson 2012


Jeremy Deller, So many ways to hurt you, the life and times of Adrian Street (excerpt)

More images from the exhibition:

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Iron Workers, Tredegar, Wales, 1865, W Clayton. Manchester Art Gallery. Photographs courtesy Manchester Art Gallery

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Iron Workers, Tredegar, Wales, 1865, W Clayton. Photographs courtesy Manchester Art Gallery

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Stockport Viaduct 1986. ©John Davies

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Mersey Square, Stockport 1986. ©John Davies

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G. Greatbach, 'The Black Country' near Bilston 1869 Engraving. ©Science Museum / SSPL

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Chapman, W.J., Francis Crawshay Workers Portraits. Courtesy National Museum Wales, Cardiff

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Portraits of Scuttlers, members of youth gangs characterized by their carefully coiffed hair and colourful scarves (and as such precursors of the Teddy Boys)

All That is Solid Melts into Air: Jeremy Deller is an exhibition curated by an artist so don't expect academic interpretations and rigorous narratives. It is an eclectic and thought-provoking show that confronts with each other elements from our past and present, draws parallels, and triggers all kinds of associations.

If you're curious about the show but can't make it to Manchester, you'll find more information in the film that Deller shot together with BBC. And, obviously, in the exhibition catalogue:

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All that is Solid Melts into Air Curated by Jeremy Deller is at the Manchester Art Gallery, until 19 January 2014. The exhibition will tour to other cities known for their strong industrial heritage: Nottingham, Coventry and Newcastle.

Related stories: Ed Hall, the art of protest banners and Audio CD review - Jeremy Deller: Social Surrealism.

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Ron Haselden, Fête. Photo Chris Hill

A couple of weeks ago, i was in Derry/Londonderry. It was my first trip to Northern Ireland. Beautiful landscapes as i'm sure everybody knows, super friendly people, vegan-approved yummy food at the Legenderry Warehouse, some stunning socially-engages exhibitions i'll tell you about later and a city-wide event called Lumiere. Lumiere is a festival of 17 projections and installations that lit up as the night came onto the city. It is a crowd-magnet, a place to bring your family and marvel at what artists and designers can do with light. But don't be mistaken: some of the works had depth and bite.

Here's some of my favourite:

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Cleary Connolly, Change Your Stripes. Photo Chris Hill

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Cleary Connolly, Change Your Stripes. Photo Denis Connolly

I don't think i would have been that impressed had i seen Change Your Stripes by Ann Cleary and Denis Connolly inside a gallery. But in the street of Derry, when evening is coming and people are out to walk the dog and stumble upon the installation, it gains a touch of magic. The artwork only comes to life as you walk past.

The huge ondulating black and white stripes are projected on the facade of the Derry Credit Union. They move as people walk by it. Passersby silhouettes are multiplied and distorted in a fluid, dancing stream like in a living version of a fairground Hall of Mirrors.

At this point, i feel like i should add a few words about Derry/Londonderry's political context. First of all because i found the installation to be absolutely brilliant but far less fascinating than the surrounding Bogside murals. And second because it is difficult to avoid mentioning politics when you find yourself in a city which carries political tensions in its very name(s). Please skip the coming paragraph if, unlike me, you are not crassly ignorant about the local history.

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The Free Derry Corner might be a good introduction to the whole Derry or Londonderry issue. It was painted in 1969, shortly after the Battle of the Bogside, one of the first major confrontations of The Troubles, the 30-ish year old conflict about the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and the relationship between the unionists and loyalists (the mostly Protestant community who wanted Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK) and the Irish nationalists and republicans (the Catholic community who dreamed of a united Ireland.) If you're a nationalist you'll call the city Derry, and if you're a unionists you'll use the name Londonderry.

Now allow me to open a parenthesis. From now on i will refer to Derry/Londonderry as 'the city'. I'm already tired of typing that double name over and over. End of the parenthesis .

The sum up above is a bit rough but that should provide you with some context. The Bogside is also the area where Bloody Sunday took place in 1972.

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The Petrol Bomber (Battle of the Bogside), painted in 1994. Image by Keith Ruffles

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Bloody Sunday Mural. Photo by Keith Ruffles

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Operation Motorman, The Summer Invasion. Image by Keith Ruffles

But let's get back to Lumiere.

Some artists openly engaged with the local context, others didn't. As was to be expected, Krzysztof Wodiczko created a sharp, deeply moving work about local people's perception and memories of the past conflicts and their hopes for the future of the city.

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Krzysztof Wodiczko, Public Projection Derry-Londonderry, at Lumiere Derry 2013. Photo Chris Hill


Krzysztof Wodiczko, Projection at Lumiere Festival Derry Londonderry Ireland. Video by Maria Niro

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Krzysztof Wodiczko, Public Projection Derry-Londonderry. Photo Maria Niro

Public Projection for Derry~Londonderry was a series of extracts from interviews the artist had conducted with local people. Their words were screened from an ambulance (a fairly ubiquitous vehicle during The Troubles) onto several facades throughout the city .

Wodiczko talked to a cross-section of people, from ex-police officers to victims of the Troubles, from young people growing up in the aftermath of the conflict to people who had got into troubles for being on the 'wrong' side of the political divide at a certain time.

I saw people with tears in their eyes in the crowd....

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A Stitch in Time, Tim Etchells, 2013, Photo Chris Hill

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Tim Etchells piece being lifted into place on the roof of Rosemount Shirt Factory. Instagram by Artichoke

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Tim Etchells, A Stitch In Time. Picture Martin McKeown

Tim Etchells installed a few words that paid homage to Derry-Londonderry's shirt-making industrial past on top of the old Rosemount Shirt Factory.

The work was 23 metre long and 2-metre high making it visible from afar.

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Deepa Mann-Kler">Deepa Mann-Kler, Teenage Kicks. Photo via saatchi online

And so was Teenage Kicks. By this time, you've figured how much i (and the Lumiere festival) like to see big letters invading a city.

The 30m-long neon sign reading "A teenage dream's so hard to beat" sat on top of the city's BT building. It was inspired by the 1978 pop song of the same name, the greatest hit of Derry band, The Undertones.

"My impetus for this artwork is to celebrate a key moment from the history and culture of Derry," explained Deepa Mann-Kler. "I am an Indian woman who grew up in England, but came to live in Northern Ireland in March 1996. One of my abiding memories while growing up in Leicester, were of Northern Ireland during The Troubles, the TV footage of the army, rioting, and then the music of The Undertones."

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Fire Garden, Compagnie Carabosse, 2013. Photograph by Chris Hill

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Fire Garden, Compagnie Carabosse, 2013

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Fire Garden, Compagnie Carabosse, 2013. Photo Martin McKeown

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Fire Garden, Compagnie Carabosse, 2013. Photo Martin McKeown


Fire Garden. Video by Derry~Londonderry 2013

Fire Garden by Compagnie Carabosse lit up the whole St. Columb's Park and made you feel like you had just stepped into the set of one of those lavish BBC period drama.

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Holywell Trust and the Nerve Centre, The Empty Plinth. Photograph by Chris Hill

The empty plinth was originally topped by a statue of Governor Walker, until it was bombed (twice) by the IRA in 1973/4. It has remained unadorned since then.

Nerve Centre and Holywell Trust gave it a new life with a simple column of white light, as a symbol of togetherness and tolerance of a protestant and catholic cultural identity.

These sound like suitable words to close the post.

A few more images though...
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Daan Roosegaarde, Marbles. Picture Martin McKeown

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RMS Design, Grove of Oaks. Picture Martin McKeown

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The Lumiere public. Via Telegraph Belfast

Lumiere was produced by Artichoke for Derry-Londonderry UK City of Culture 2013.

Related: Krzysztof Wodiczko: The Abolition of War.

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Thomson & Craighead, stills from October, two-channel installation, 2012. Commissioned by Photoworks © Thomson & Craighead

To be honest, i'd take any excuse to hop on a train and go to Brighton. Two Saturdays ago, it was sunny, i needed a break from the Frieze art fair and the 5th edition of the Brighton Photo Biennial had the kind of theme that makes me buy a train/plane/bus ticket, Agents of Change: Photography and the Politics of Space.

BPB12 explores how space is constructed, controlled and contested, how photography is implicated in these processes, and the tensions and possibilities this dialogue involves. This year's Biennial provides a critical space to think about relationships between the political occupation of physical sites and the production and dissemination of images.

Agents of Change is a theme that belongs to the moments of economic and political uncertainty we are experiencing today. The exhibitions are at times dark and disturbing but they also demonstrate the role that photography can play in servicing a cause, an agenda, a belief. Whether it is the one of a corporation advertising its products, of a government attempting to enforce new measures or the one of grassroot activists struggling to give another view of a contentious or under-discussed issue.

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Omer Fast, 5000 Feet is the Best, still by Yonn Thomas, 2011. Courtesy of the artist, Arratia, Beer, Berlin, and gb agency, Paris, © Omer Fast

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Omer Fast, 5000 Feet is the Best, still by Yonn Thomas, 2011. Courtesy of the artist, Arratia, Beer, Berlin, and gb agency, Paris, © Omer Fast

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Omer Fast, 5000 Feet is the Best, still by Yonn Thomas, 2011. Courtesy of the artist, Arratia, Beer, Berlin, and gb agency, Paris, © Omer Fast

The most compelling work in the biennial for me was Omer Fast's video about drone surveillance and warfare.

The film is based on two meetings with the operator of a Predator drone sensor. The operator had been based in the desert outside of Las Vegas for 6 years while he was working for the U.S. military. The artist met him in Vegas where he was looking for a job as a casino security guard.

But Fast's film is not a documentary with news footage and testimonies from real protagonists of the events. Instead, the stories are told by an actor cast as the drone operator. His narration is moving, informative and sometimes even humorous.

The operator is sitting in a nondescript hotel room. He unenthusiastically recalls his missions in Afghanistan and Pakistan, unsure that the audience will ever understand what he went through. The soldier never set foot in the countries where the unmanned plane he piloted fired at civilians and militia from the optimum height of 5000 feet.

At times, the ex-soldier seems to ramble, using unrelated stories as metaphors. The most striking of the anecdotes he recalls is the one of an American family that takes the road for 'a long drive' (see the video below.) To leave town, they have to go through security checkpoints and present documents to the "occupying forces," which are depicted as Asians. It's a complete reversal of the situation in which Americans get to see how much a war in their own turf would affect daily life. Except that the U.S. is at war too but for most citizens, only from a distance. The drone operator never leaves the material comfort of his own country to fight in foreign countries, most of the American population never gets bombed or fired at by drones.


Omer Fast, 5,000 Feet is the Best

The dark world of the U.S. military goes far beyond the drones and bombings as Geographies of Seeing, the show on view at The Lighthouse, convincingly demonstrates. But I'm going to try to keep this one short because i seem to be unable to let a month pass without writing about the work of artist and geographer Trevor Paglen.

The exhibition is focused on two series of photos that document the secret activities of the U.S. military and intelligence agencies. The first one is The Other Night Sky which tracks and documents classified American satellites in Earth orbit. With the help of a network of amateur "satellite observers" and of a specially designed software model able to describe the orbital motion of classified spacecraft, Paglen calculated the position and timing of overhead reconnaissance satellite transits. He then photographed their passage using telescopes and large-format cameras.

The second body of work shown at The Lighthouse is Limit Telephotography. For this series, Paglen used high powered telescopes to picture the "black" sites, a series of secret locations operated by the CIA. Often outside of U.S. territory and legal jurisdiction, these locations do not officially exist, they range from American torture camps in Afghanistan to front companies running airlines whose purpose is to covertly move suspects around.

Well, that wasn't so short but i do have to confess that i merely copy/pasted texts i wrote about Paglen's work a few months ago.

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Trevor Paglen, They Watch the Moon, 2010, C-print © Trevor Paglen, Courtesy of Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne and Altman Siegel Gallery, San Francisco

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KEYHOLE 12-3 (IMPROVED CRYSTAL) Optical Reconnaissance Satellite Near Scorpio (USA 129), 2007. Courtesy of Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne, and Altman Siegel Gallery, San Francisco, © Trevor Paglen

A couple of years ago, Edmund Clark traveled to Guantanamo to document three experiences of home: the home of the American community at the naval base; the camp complex where the detainees have been held; and the homes where former detainees, never charged with any crime, find themselves trying to rebuild lives.

With the body of work presented at the Biennial, Clark pursues further his interest in structures of control and incarceration. In December 2011, the photographer was the first artist to be granted access to a house in which a person suspected of terrorist related activity had been placed under what the UK calls 'a Control Order.'

The 2005 Prevention of Terrorism Act granted the Home Office the power to relocate any controlled person to a house in an alien town or city and impose restrictions and conditions, similar to house-arrest. So far, 48 people have been made subject to a Control Order.

Clark could not reveal the identity of the controlled person nor the location of their house. He also had to pre-register all digital equipment and to accept restrictions on how the equipment could be used. All his photos were then screened by the Home Office and the controlled person's lawyers.

The series is still a work in progress and i wish i could be in England on Thursday, 1 November 2012 because the photographer will be discussing his work at The Lighthouse.

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Edmund Clark, Control Order House, 2011. © Edmund Clark

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Edmund Clark, Control Order House, 2011. © Edmund Clark

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Edmund Clark, Control Order House (view of the exhibition space)

The images screened on Thomson & Craighead's October installation are brutally shocking. Maybe because even when the videos were shot at the other end of the world, they echo the social and economic inequalities we are experiencing in Europe (or wherever you're living right now.) The film installation creates a portray of the Occupy protests by drawing on amateur footage that the activists uploaded on YouTube. Below the video screen is a luminous compass that points to the locations where the videos were originally filmed, adding the precise distance of the location of the footage from the viewers. The piece examines the relationship between geographical space and the Internet: the role online organisation plays in shaping offline activism.

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Thomson & Craighead, October (view of the exhibition at Space @ Create)

The exhibition of photographer, journalist, researcher and political activist John "Hoppy" Hopkins also document peace marches, protests and underground movements from the inside but this time in and around London in the 1960s. Some 50 years are separating the Occupy videos from Hopkins' photos but both show the power of the image when it comes to telling the activists' side of a news story.

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John 'Hoppy' Hopkins, Speakers' Corner, 1964. © John 'Hoppy' Hopkins

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John 'Hoppy' Hopkins, Homeless March St Paul's

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John 'Hoppy' Hopkins, A CND protest in West Ruislip

There's so much more to say about this biennial. There are many other exhibitions i don't have the space to mention here. And talks, tours, workshops. I'll close my superficial review of the biennial with random photos of the shows and of the city.

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The Argus Archives, Anti-nuclear protestors block the road by lying down, holding up traffic until police were able to remove them, London Road, 1982. ©The Argus

I forgot to mention Whose Streets?, an outdoor show located on one of the city's public square that looks at the archive of local newspaper The Argus, to extract images that depict Brighton as a contested political space for protest. From the late 70s to the present.

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The Argus Archives. Exhibition in the streets of Brighton

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The Argus Archives, The far-right National Front march through Brighton. The party's membership had decreased significantly by the early 1980s. Castle Square, 1981. ©The Argus

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Jason Larkin, 'Untitled #2', Cairo Divided, 2011, © Jason Larkin

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Theo Simpson, from Four Versions of Three Routes by Preston is my Paris, 2012. © Theo Simpson

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The 2012 Brighton Photo Biennial is curated by Photoworks Head of Programme, Celia Davies and Programme Curator, Ben Burbridge. Brighton Photo Biennial is free and it is up all over the city of Brighton until 4 November 2012.

Previously: Exhibition tip - Omer Fast at the Netherlands Media Art Institute,
Architecture of Fear - a conversation with Trevor Paglen
and Guantanamo: If the Light Goes Out by Edmund Clark.

My sincere apologies for this belated (but enthusiastic) report from the AND Festival, a festival of new cinema, digital culture and art that takes place annually in Liverpool or Manchester with an extended regional programme.

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Todd Chandler & Jeff Stark, Empire Drive-In, 2012 at AND Festival 2012. Photo credit Paul Greenwood

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The Centre for Genomic Gastronomy, Spice Mix Super Computer, 2012. Photo credit: Paul Greenwood

Finally! An art & tech festival that makes sense. A festival that resonates with the media art expert and the casual passerby alike. An event that values art above in-your-face tech prowess. It was my first visit to an AND festival. I found it witty, surprising, often thought-provoking and enlightening.

Exhibitions, performances, open air cinema and workshops were free and distributed all over the city. My first stop was for the CUBE which was showing two works dealing with biotechnology. Pigs Bladder Football by John O'Shea and Reproductive Futures by Zoe Papadopoulou.

Pigs Bladder Football looks back at the time when football balls were made from pig bladders but instead of using an existing organ, the project tissue engineered small balls from animal cells harvested from abattoir waste. The artist was showing a video, a DIY incubator case as well as prototype of bladder muscle cell growing on 3D-printed polymer scaffold.

Zoe's exhibition was charting the history of assisted reproductive technology, putting the spotlight on landmarks such as the first premature baby wards in the US which used to be part of freak shows, the first test-tube baby, the first orphan who had more than 2 genetic parents, artificial wombs and the possibility to be the 'ultimate solo parent' one day. Reproductive Futures particularly explores one of the many cultural implications of these breakthrough: how are we going to explain children how babies are made? And will the techniques themselves have the potential to fundamentally change the way we perceive parenthood and reproduction?

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Zoe Papadopoulou, Reproductive Futures. Photo credit: Paul Greenwood

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John O'Shea, Pig Bladder Football

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John O'Shea, Pig Bladder Football

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John O'Shea, Pig Bladder Football

I'll talk about these two works in more details in the future. Zoe is going to have a show of the final project this Fall in London and an interview with John O'Shea and Professor John Hunt is coming up next month on my art&science radio series for Resonance FM.

The AND festival had also given caravans to artists (London Fieldworks, Hellicar & Lewis, The Center for Genomic Gastronomy, Bureau A, Julian Oliver and Designers Republic) for them to customize, turn into micro art spaces and form a Mobile Republic.

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The Mobile Republic. Photo credit: Paul Greenwood

Julian Oliver is perhaps the artist that made the most congruous use of the caravan with a work of "dislocative media." Boarder Bumping highlights the fact that as we traverse borders our cellular devices hop from network to network across neighbouring territories, often before or after we ourselves have arrived. These moments, of our device operating in one territory whilst our body continues in another, can be seen to produce a new and contradictory terrain for action. A free custom-made app on your phone checks for discrepancies between location data and mobile phone towers, thus between where you actually are and where your network says you are. The Border Bumping server then redraws accordingly the map of the national borders you are crossing.

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Julian Oliver, Border Bumping, 2012

One of the most stunning works i saw at the festival was a duo of videos by Jan Peter Hammer: The Anarchist Banker and Monarchs and Men. They were part of What have I done to (de)serve this? at Blankspace. The show presented works that reflect on the current global financial crisis and explore alternative economic systems.

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Jan Peter Hammer, The Anarchist Banker, 2010

The Anarchist Banker reinterprets a short story of the same name published in 1922 by Fernando Pessoa.

The protagonist of Pessoa's story was inspired by Artur Alves dos Reis, a fraudster who mounted a scam so big, it shook the credibility of the Portuguese currency, the Escudo. The repercussions on the economy and politics of the country were considerable: the escudo lost much of its credibility and so did the Portuguese government. The crisis enabled the military coup d'état of the 28th of May 1926 and eventually brought the dictatorship of Salazar who stayed in power until 1968.

In Hammer's film, the dialogue between Pessoa's protagonists has been adapted to reflect upon the financial practices of neo-liberalism and the current credit crunch. It is set as a tv talk show in which a banker with a ruthless logic is interviewed in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.

The other film, Monarchs and Men, is a sequel of The Anarchist Banker. The same banker is back on screen with a similar panegyric of 'rational egoism' and individualism. This time the scenario is based on an imaginary conversation between Leon Tolstoy and John Davidson Rockefeller, published in 1913 by Maximilian Harden. Hammer sets the scene at the opening of an art exhibition at a gallery supported by the banker.

The films are brilliantly frustrating. The banker is the star of both. Anyone watching it will detest his brutal point of view and be irritated by the way he invariably defeats any argument opposed to his dogma. But it is also impossible not to admire his eloquence, firm beliefs and unflappable logic. Besides, the media usually show us capitalists attempting to defend their practice. There's no apology nor hypocrisy here, just merciless, unadulterated mindset.

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Torsten Lauschmann, Khronos

The theme of the Blue Crystal Ball exhibition at the Holden Gallery should have repelled me. Well actually it did repel me but i tried not to let my prejudices stop me. The show presented film and video works that explore the ideals and values of the Olympic movement.

The videos were very different from each other and very good. Without any exception. But i've already exhausted my quota of video reviews that aren't accompanied by any extract online for the day so you'll just have to take my word for it alas!

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Susan Pui San Lok, Citius, Altius

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Kota Ezawa, Jump Cut, 2012

And i'll close with men briefs. Because i couldn't find any reason not to end on this happy note.

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Lanfranco Aceti, Mancunian Panties (detail), 2012. Part of the 'National Panties' series at BlankSpace

My flickr set is over here.
Previously: Artistic automated transport system, Meme Junkyard: Technoviking, Al & Al: The Creator.

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