I've known for a while that Manchester is far cooler than London. The Northern Quarter, the art festivals (FutureEverything, Abandon Normal Devices), affordable vegan places, genuine love of alternative culture, etc. Even its National Football Museum has a pretty decent art programme. I can now add a new entry to the list: Ancoats.

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Shift//Delete, Suspect Package at Politika. Photo Upper Space

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Politika Crypto Party. Photo Upper Space

I had never heard of Ancoats before i went to the Politika event a few days ago. Ancoats is a few minutes (well, rather 20 minutes) walk from the Northern Quarter. The area has been called "the world's first industrial suburb" and nowadays its canals and former mills and glass factories are being turned into spaces for artists and, inevitably, fancy lofts for moneyed office gents and ladies.

Upper Space, a group of 'insurgent arts activists' which engage with social and environmental justice issues, took up the renovated engine room of a former cotton mill in Ancoats to organize a series of exhibition, workshops, screenings, talks and public interventions. Each of the selected works and discussions invited citizens of Greater Manchester to reflect on possible alternative and resistance to consumerism and the disempowerment that it represents. The events explored themes related to the Ancoats community, social network structures used for activism, people's relationship to capitalism, sustainability in urban context, and campaigning effectively for social change.

I wish i could have spent more time at Politika's workshops and other events but i did have a good look around the exhibition and i'd say that the selection of works was really REALLY good. Most of the installations, videos and objects documented actions that were brave, witty and happened in the public space.

Here's a far too short selection:

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Robin Hood Minor Asset Management Cooperative representatives at the launch of Politika. Photo Upper Space

Robin Hood Minor Asset Management Cooperative (RHMAM) is an asset management cooperative whose mission is to bend the financialization of economy into the advantage of precarious workers. RHMAM developed what they called a Parasite Algorithm that hooks to the brains of the financial elite at Wall Street and puts their knowledge to work for the cooperative. Profits are then shared with "Robin Hood Projects," including "grants for creative work, no interest loans, or anything else," to be determined by the members of the cooperative. I'm going to investigate that one further because it sounds brilliant. But no need to wait for my follow-up post, just sign up and become a member!

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Francisco Tapas (aka Papas Fritas), Ash coins at Politika. Photo Upper Space

In May of 2014, Francisco Tapia - aka 'Papas Fritas', burned $500 million of student loans contracts from the Universidad del Mar, and freed students from their debt. The private, run-for-profit university is a notorious money laundering society for various real estate companies. The Chilean artist and activist sneaked into a vault at the university, removed tuition records and then burned the documents, rendering it nearly impossible for the Universidad del Mar to call in its debt. He later exhibited the ashes inside a camper van as an art show.

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Steve Lambert, Capitalism Works for Me. Politika. Photo Upper Space


Intervention at Labour Party Conference, Manchester 2014

As part of Politika, Upper Space collaborated with Steve Lambert and drove the artist's gigantic Capitalism sign on a truck tour to the Labour party conference in Manchester on September 21st. We wanted to engage citizens of Manchester by taking the elephant out of the room, and down to the conference to generate discussion, debate and conversations about our relationships with the 'C' word - Capitalism.

The little truck trip was a great idea because if there's one place where this work belongs it's outside of an art gallery.


Shift//Delete, Act of Parliament

Shift//Delete's Act of Parliament projection is as silly as it is spot on. He turned the Gherkin, the iconic building of London's financial district, into the world's biggest penis. And the bankers into wankers.

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Chim Pom, Red Card, 2011

One of the members of Chim Pom worked undercover at the Fukushima nuclear plant and photographed himself dressed wearing a radiation protection suit and holding up a red card in front of the destroyed plant.

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Exhibition view (the engine room) of Politika. Photo Upper Space

Why don't we ever see anything like that in London? Why the apathy (please, feel free to contradict me, you'd actually do me a favour)? It's not as if capitalism doesn't give us enough reasons to cry over here, right?

Politika was the starting point of a 4 year community-led project and it is part of a broader reflection involving local residents about the issues that include the loss identity (and place) of the traditionally working class, regeneration policies in the area, the community relationship to wider socio-political ideologies, etc. I'm definitely looking forward to Upper Space's upcoming moves.

More images from Politika:

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Politika. Photo Upper Space

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Politika launch. Photo Upper Space

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Politika launch. Photo Upper Space

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Chim Pom at Politika. Photo Upper Space

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Urban Foraging for Politika. Photo Upper Space

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Workshop outside for Politika. Photo Upper Space

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Politika workshop. Photo Upper Space

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Politika workshop. Photo Upper Space

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Check out also Politika: Art & Local Power In Manchester, UK on Important Cool.

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BIO LUDDITE grade h264

In the early 19th century, textile artisans started to break into factories at night to destroy the new labour-saving machines that their employers had bought. They saw the stocking frames, spinning frames and power looms as a threat that would make their skills obsolete and lead to lower wages.

The movement began in Nottingham on 11 March 1811 and spread throughout England over the following two years. The artisans who opposed the newly introduced machinery were called the Luddites. The origin of the name is uncertain but over time, the term "Luddite" came to describe people opposed to any form of technological progress. In the late 21st century, the neo-luddites emerged. They protest(ed) against the negative impact that technology has on individuals, their communities and the environment and aspire to a return to a 'simple lifestyle'.

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17 year old Austin Haughwout was assaulted on a Connecticut beach by a woman upset about his use of a drone

Newspapers suggest that society is now facing the rise of a new type of neo-luddites. They don't fear for their jobs or for any damage to the ecology, they fear the loss of privacy brought about by drones and google glasses. In any case, the smartest form of luddism or neo-luddism is not one that commends violence, it's one that calls for a better understanding of new technologies and demands that people (all of them not just the ones who can afford to buy these technologies) have a voice in how they are to be distributed and used.

Speculative designer Lisa Ma, however, is pushing the discussion further. Over the past few month, she has been looking for the relevance of Luddism in the modern era by shifting focus from digital and communications technologies to the innovations of biotechnology industries. These biotechnologies which have started to pervade the food, health and ecological systems will undoubtedly attract their own forms of luddism. So who are the BioLuddites? Where are the group and individuals who ask for a demystification of biotechnologies and who are calling for a public debate about GMOs, systems ecology, hormone replacement, etc?

She writes:

"Biotechnology, its beaucrocies, peripheries and implementation affect our everyday lives. There is a lot of work on the public engagement of emerging technologies, but there are gaps between where we believe science should cover and what is not yet covered. The recent ebola outbreak is an example of where the epidemic is actually one of fear, as society comes face to face with and area not yet solved by biotechnology or policy.

In digital technologies, we've seen an emergence of e-etiquettes and social manuals etc. of digital behaviour. These are what we refer to when society reaches the inner and outer limits of digital technology. Similarly, we also need guidances to reform our social relationships with biotechnology. Bioluddites is filling a necessary role in guiding the social and not just the ethical critiques of biotechnologies."

As part of her residency at Near Now, a programme which works closely with artists and designers to produce projects that explore the place and impact of technology in everyday life, Lisa Ma organised a panel titled Where are the Luddites - An Open Call for BioLuddites. The event took place on 4th June 2014, in Nottingham, birth place of the Luddite movement.

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John O'Shea (photo)

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Lisa Ma

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unMonastry

Taking part in the discussion were Lisa Ma, Ben Vickers, David King and John O'Shea.

John O'Shea gave a compelling talk about his very funny adventures in proposing the implementation of a Meat Licence, and in bio-engineering a Pigs Bladder Football. Both are projects that catches the imagination of the public but the artist also discussed the legal, ethical and cultural questions that arose during the development of the works.

David King, who has a PhD in molecular biology, is the founder and Director of Human Genetics Alert, the founder of Luddite 200, and of the Breaking the Frame conference. He is also a frequent contributor to media debates on genetics and it is clear from his contribution to the panel that he has some strong and thought-provoking opinions about synthetic biology, three-parent babies, the need to engage in a dialogue with the powerful systems that control biotechnological innovations, etc.

Ben Vickers is a curator, writer, technologist and self-proclaimed Luddite. He talked about the functioning of unMonastery, a space that aims to develop a new kind of social space, akin to co-living and co-working spaces, drawing influence from both Monasteries and HackerSpaces, with a focus on the process of co-creation and co-learning between the community and unMonasterians. He is also a NearNow fellow.

An Open Call for BioLuddites was a great event and i can't recommend enough to watch the video of the panel:

Image on the homepage via BBC news.

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Addie Wagenknecht, At least we tried, 2014. Photo ©Joseph Carr

If you're in Dublin or anywhere near it, then this week is your last chance to see GLITCH 2014. Cash Rules Everything Around. GLITCH is Dublin's digital and new media art festival and the title of this year's edition is directly inspired by New York hip hop group Wu-Tang Clan's single C.R.E.A.M Cash rules everything around me.

The exhibition examines how artists use new media to investigate social and political systems to find their position within and in relation to these larger systems. In this fuzzy zone of information production, where boundaries and roles are increasingly blurred, the exhibition deploys humour and critique to reconfigure our ideas about our current digital economic climate.

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Addie Wagenknecht cutting a piece of 'At least we tried'. Photo ©Joseph Carr

The main gallery hosts a solo exhibition of Addie Wagenknecht. In a series of brand new commissions, the artist explores the topic of the festival under the 'internet angle', revealing how money voraciously seeps in and out of the internet.

Ironically, the backdrop of the exhibition is one that everyone working in the cultural sector is all too familiar with: the lack of funding. But if you're Wagenknecht, you don't let that stop you, you turn the limitation into a full-on exercise in alternative economies, authorship and nifty outsourcing.

The most thought-provoking result of the challenge is a series of paintings titled 'Outsourced Outsourcing.' First, the artist looked online for the most popular images associated with Google Street View. Amusingly, some of them were famous screenshot that Jon Rafman took of his computer screen for his photo project The Nine Eyes of Google Street View. She then downloaded and emailed the photos along with a few instructions to the manager of a painting factory in China. Asked whether she wanted painting of low, medium or high quality, she opted from "medium." A few months later, DHL shipped the works to Ireland. Upon arriving at the gallery the paintings were stretched and mounted onto canvases and subsequently hung under the direction of the curator.

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Addie Wagenknecht, Outsourced views, Search result # 3, 2014. Photo ©Joseph Carr

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Addie Wagenknecht, From left to right: Outsourced views, Search result #1 and Outsourced views, Search result # 2. Photo ©Joseph Carr

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Addie Wagenknecht, Outsourced views, Search result # 3 (detail), 2014. Photo ©Joseph Carr

So, it appears as if Wagenknecht didn't do anything. She never touched the canvas (but then neither do Takashi Murakami or Damien Hirst these days.) She even let google dictate the subjects of the paintings and discovered her own work as she entered the exhibition. But if Wagenknecht can afford to delegate every step of the creation and exhibition process, it is because she is an artist with a deep and playful understanding of some of today's most exciting issues in both art and society: the mechanisms of the intangible, the faith in data and processes, and also the critique of the notion of authorship:

In an interview with Totally Dublin, the artist explained: There's a romance and fascination in my generation with forgery, copies and bootlegs. It's a question of what is the original: the .mp3 I purchased on the iTunes store or the same .mp3 I downloaded from The Pirate Bay? Is the iTunes version the original because a corporation tells me it is, or is the one from The Pirate Bay the original because my friends tell me it is?

We are a generation that was born and grew along with the .mp3, Napster and Pirate Bay. I want to divorce the experience of art from authentication of the brand of the artist; the power of the artist name, our social investment in the concept of genius and of ownership of an idea, a shape, or colour. The certainty that something is real - is that even a possibility anymore? Forgery embraces fantasy. It is disruptive to the system, which is something art is supposed to do.

The work that hit me as i entered the room was a vanilla-smelling and candy-coated wedding cake masterfully baked by curator Nora O Murchú for the show (it was the first time in my life i met with a curator who can both code and bake.) What remains of the cake should still be there for people to eat and share and is surmounted by a unicorn ordered from Amazon. An internet icon topping a symbol of women's ultimate dreams and hopes.

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General view of the exhibition space. Photo ©Joseph Carr

Toy cars, once again ordered from Amazon, come crashing at the base of the cake podium. "Everything you ever wanted." The arc of the little red vehicle references Guo-Qiang's 99 taxidermy wolves. The car crash provides a dramatic ending to the futile race that takes place on a wall nearby where Scalextric tracks, purchased this time from eBay, have been installed vertically, a controller dangling at one end.

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Addie Wagenknecht, Everything you ever wanted. Photo ©Joseph Carr

Two opposite walls in the exhibition echo contemporary worries in the most ironically joyful way. On the one side, 30 CCTV cameras keep a sparkling eye on gallery visitors. The cameras purchases from Chinese marketplace Alibaba and then wrapped with crystals in gallery by technicians reflect the "grown up" state of the Internet. A glamorous take on surveillance devices which ubiquity we've long taken for granted.

On the other side of the room, the handwriting of the artist repeats over and over a dilemma of our times: "I will not download things that will get me in trouble" until the words turn into "I will download things". Should you download for immediate personal satisfaction (and thus risk being punished if ever your 'act of piracy' is discovered by the apparatus of online surveillance)? Or should you act like a 'responsible' citizen and abide by the laws?

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Addie Wagenknecht, Loves lies. Photo ©Joseph Carr

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Addie Wagenknecht, Everything I know, then some. Photo ©Joseph Carr

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General view of the exhibition space. Photo ©Joseph Carr

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Addie Wagenknecht. Photo ©Joseph Carr

The other gallery showed works by two Irish artists:

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Entrance to the other gallery. Photo ©Joseph Carr

In her video installation The Pit, Breda Lynch used a short sequence from Anatole Litvak's 1948 film The Snake Pit. The film takes its name from a dream made by the main character, Virginia (played by Olivia de Havilland.) The character finds herself surrounded by other patients of the mental asylum where she is staying. The place is very crowded and she seems desperate to escape. Slowly, the camera starts to move upwards from the ground until the patients appear as tiny, nervous dots. Like reptiles in a pit.

Lynch muted the video, splits the screen in two and loops two channels as one sequences - the left-hand frame features the original sequence, the right-hand one simultaneously plays the same sequence in reverse. The result is a hypnotizing and communicate a feeling of anxiety and disequilibrium. As the curator's text explained, the images are visually reminiscent of a Wall Street Trader's pit, whilst conjuring up values of fear-driven greed, exploitation, and hyper-consumption.

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Breda Lynch, The Pit

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Drawings by Breda Lynch. Photo ©Joseph Carr

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Fergal Brennan, 'Italian for Beginners. Photo ©Joseph Carr

Fergal Brennan's 'Italian for Beginners' could also be called "Gaeilge, English for Italian beginners" which would clearly be clumsier and far less seducing. Brennan's video is certainly as funny as the Danish film of 2000.

Brennan asked Italian people who live in Dublin to read out loud names of famous shop fronts. Some of these words are in Gaeilge, others are in English. The words then appear as phonetic deconstructions of three languages - Gaeilge, English and Italian- on the screen. The result is hilarious and mesmerizing. It reflects the multicultural city that Dublin has become. You walk down the street and meet people who were brought there by economic interests ranging from tourism to job opportunities. Yet in Dublin like in most major European cities, the language that unite passersby is english. It might be distorted, mangled and barely recognizable but (thanks to the unflappable patience of people whose main language is english) it is still english, the lingua franca of the contemporary economy.

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Fergal Brennan, 'Italian for Beginners. Photo ©Joseph Carr

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Fergal Brennan, 'Italian for Beginners. Photo ©Joseph Carr

More images from the show.

GLITCH 2014. Cash Rules Everything Around was curated by Nora O Murchú. The exhibition remains opens until 19 July at RUA RED in Tallaght, just outside Dublin.

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Cécile Babiole, BZZZ! The sound of electricity, 2012. Image courtesy RIXC

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Raitis Smits, Rasa Smite (RIXC), Voldemārs Johansons and Jānis Jankevics, Biotricity, 2013 - 2014. Image courtesy RIXC

Last month, i was in Riga for the festival Art+Communication and this was undoubtedly one of the most pertinent and satisfying art & science events i've ever attended. I'll do my best to share my enthusiasm in a series of upcoming reports and interviews with artists. Let's start with a broad overview of FIELDS, an exhibition which was huge and surprisingly devoid of any weak work.

FIELDS investigates the place of contemporary art practices in society and the role artists can take not just as generators of new aesthetics but also as catalysts of active involvement in social, scientific, and technological transformations. While some of the works in the show present a critique of ongoing political or ecological issues, others go a step further by suggesting positive visions for the future.

The artworks exhibited explore alternative energy, others engaged with neo-liberalism, unemployment, surveillance, endangered bee ecology, global market crisis, climate change, genetic mutations, etc. A sense of urgency emanated thus from the exhibition rooms but any doom and gloom was compensated by hints of defiant counter-action and strategies of productive rebellion.

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Martins Ratniks, Fields, 2007 + Michal Kindernay, Ondřej Vavrečka, Milos Vojtechovsky, Imagograph, 2013/2014. Image courtesy RIXC

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Isidora Todorovic, Luka Ranisaljevic and Andrea Palasti, Can you feel the spill?, 2013. Image courtesy RIXC

We were expecting proposals from artists, who are working with contemporary ideas and tools, science and technologies, yet are deeply engaged with social issues, curators Raitis Smits and Rasa Smite explained. We call them 'critical interlopers', because Fields artists instead of unrealistic future scenarious, propose constructive approaches towards more sustainable future and more then that - they act, through their creative practices obtaining a touch of reality.

Armin Medosch, the third curator of the exhibition, goes further: If we look at energy, agriculture, transport, systems of production, it is clear that the ideology of limitless expansion is driving us straight into catastrophe. Everybody knows that, but while there are many initiatives, mainstream society seems to be blindly following its course, unable to change. In this situation new patterns are urgently needed, new ways of thinking, but not just that, new ways of interacting with the world, with technology, with nature. An ecological turn is overly due, but to achieve this seems almost utopian within current social relations. In this situation art can provide new models, new directions, but those are models, like in a mini-mundus world. Art gives Form to the imagination, Herbert Marcuse wrote. And this artistic imagination we are talking about in Fields is involved in the construction of a new society.

This is Riga:

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The exhibition presents almost 40 works. I won't be able to cover all of them but i'll bring the spotlight on a dozen of them over the coming days. Here are four of the art pieces i found particularly compelling:

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YoHa (Matsuko Yokokoji and Graham Harwood) and Matthew Fuller, Endless War, 2012 (image)

YoHa (Graham Harwood and Matsuko Yokokoji) and Matthew Fuller's Endless War scours in real time through the data obtained from Wikileaks' release of the Afghan War Diaries. Characters on the screens show the slow process of going through over 76,000 files covering the war in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2010.

The reports were written by soldiers and intelligence officers and calculated by clocks, computers, and satellites. As the war is fought it produces entries in databases that are in turn analysed by software looking for repeated patterns of events, spatial information, kinds of actors, timings and other factors. Based on this analysis, military decisions are taken.

Instead of looking at the War Diary as a record of specific military acts, Endless War critically reflects on the database machines that generated it, showing how the way war is thought relates to the way it is fought. Both are seen as, potentially endless, computational processes.

Graham Harwood writes: If journalists tried to make the data transparent, to use it as a window to real world events, what we wanted to make visible was the data itself, and its role in a system of war in which we are also implicated. Endless War was an attempt to convey a sense of how the machine is able to read the entries in a way that is unlike a human, yet makes sense of the entries, ordering them in order to allow the human to participate in an intelligence that is not their own.

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Class Wargames, The Game of War


ClassWargames, The Game of War

One of the keynote speakers of the conference that accompanied the FIELDS exhibition was Richard Barbrook, an author, lecturer at the University of Westminster who, as part of his research into the politics of ludic subversion, co-founded Class Wargames in 2007. This group of artists, academics and agitators plays and explores the possibilities of Guy Debord's The Game of War. While the game has sometimes been dismissed as Debord's 'retirement project', Barbrook affirms that it not only 'plays well', it also offers lessons in life and politics inspired by the tactics of situationism.

Debord's Game of War was inspired by Carl von Clausewitz, a Prussian general and military theorist who stressed both the "moral" and political aspects of war. In the Napoleonic-era military strategy game, armies must maintain their communications network to survive. For Debord, The Game of War wasn't just a game, it wasn't about competing but about exploring ways for people to live their lives within Fordist society. By playing, revolutionary activists could learn how to fight and win against the oppressors of spectacular society.

Debord wrote in 1989: So I have studied the logic of war. Indeed I succeeded long ago in representing its essential movements on a rather simple game-board... I played this game, and in the often difficult conduct of my life drew a few lessons from it -- setting rules for my life, and abiding by them. The surprises vouchsafed by this Kriegspiel of mine seem endless; I rather fear it may turn out to be the only one of my works to which people will venture to accord any value. As to whether I have made good use of its lessons, I shall leave that for others to judge.

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I was also intrigued by Hayley Newman's Daylight Rubbery.

As part of her work as a Self-Appointed Artist-in-Residence in the City of London, Newman is a 'bank rubber', she makes rubbings of the fronts of banks in the City of London. She performed dozens of bank rubbery on used envelopes to form a Histoire Economique, a sort of natural history of the banks in the City. The rubbings are exhibited in vitrines, like dried plants in the natural history museum.

I am interested in unconscious aspects of corporate life - what is repressed and what is revealed, the artist explained in an interview with Corridor8. Frottage seemed an appropriate technique to use in that it is often applied in an attempt to relinquish conscious control of an artwork. In Histoire Économique I use it as a method to help reveal something (the unconscious?) of the bank I am rubbing.

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Maja Smrekar, Hu.M.C.C. m.k.2 (Human Molecular Colonization Capacity), 2013

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Maja Smrekar, Hu.M.C.C. m.k.2 (Human Molecular Colonization Capacity), 2013

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Maja Smrekar, Hu.M.C.C. m.k.2 (Human Molecular Colonization Capacity), 2013

The food industry is exploring how the new possibilities offered by synthetic biology and biotechnology could meet the demands of a growing global population. Maja Smrekar embarks on a similar quest with her project HuMCC--Human Molecular Colonization Capacity, a line of yoghurt containing her own enzyme that she offers for public consumption.

Working with scientists at the University in Ljubljana, the artist combined her own DNA with that of a common yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae which, after being genetically transformed with the artist´s gene sequence, produces lactic acid.

The project also references Soylent Green, a scifi movie set in a future when most of the world population survives on rations produced by a corporation that produces Soylent Green, a green wafer advertised to contain "high-energy plankton". However, the main protagonist of the story discovers that the oceans no longer produce the plankton from which Soylent Green is reputedly made, and infers that it must be made from human remains, as this is the only conceivable supply of protein that matches the known production.

The artist explains that the work is located in the Soylent Green paradigm where the fear of ecological cataclysm turns into a subtle critique of corporate cannibalism: not only are corporations actually using people to continue to maintain themselves in their own lives but these same people are simultaneously yearning for those products! "Maya Yoghurt" is an overidentification tactical media product as means of producing pressure on the population--this infinite desire of capital to continue developing regardless of whether that would include even (sublime) levels of cannibalism.

I guess i'm completely immune to the ever-seducing 'shock factor' of cannibalism. Out of habit of seeing art/design projects dealing with similar topic and also for the very mundane reason that i already take probiotics that contain human strains. The 'human dairy' scenario also reminded me of the breast milk ice cream sold in London a while ago.

I was however, very seduced by Smrekar's suggestion that our own body, this nutritious source of "uncolonized biotechnological materials", might hold a key to the way growing populations might be fed in the future.

Fields exhibition was produced by RIXC and curated by Raitis Smits, Rasa Smite (Latvia) and Armin Medosch (Austria).

The show remains open at Arsenals Exhibition Hall of the Latvian National Arts Museum (LNAM) in Riga until August 3, 2014.

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

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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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