For some reason, i always forget to check the programme of lectures and exhibitions taking place at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London. And when i do, it's bliss and joy on every floor. Right now the institution is showing Cultural Hijack, an exhibition which presents a series of provocative interventions which have inserted themselves into the world, demanding attention, interrupting everyday life, hijacking, trespassing, agitating and teasing. Often unannounced and usually anonymous, these artworks have appropriated media channels, hacked into live TV and radio broadcasts, attacked billboards, re-appropriated street furniture, subverted signs, monuments and civic architectures, organised political actions as protest, exposed corporations and tax loopholes and revealed the absurdities of government bureaucracies.

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Ben Parry and Peter McCaughey, Balaclava Road (in collaboration with Lauren O'Farrell), 2013


Tatzu Nishi, Ascending Descendingi as part of Cultural Hijack at the Architectural Association London. 24th / 25th April 2013

Some works are openly political, others are more playful. Some have been designed to be used by people whose needs are otherwise overlooked, others are clever pranks. Cultural Hijack brings art out of the galleries and into the street. Which imho is always a good thing if you want to reach people who are not already convinced and content with your artistic, cultural or political ideas.

Cultural Hijack unfolds over three chapters: a slightly messy and crammed exhibition documenting the artworks in videos, photos, installations and artists' talks; a series of live-interventions around London; and CONTRAvention, a weekend of lectures, symposia, screenings, participatory actions, interventions, dinners and debate that will close the programme later this month. I'm spectacularly annoyed to miss that one as i won't be in town that week.

So let's wipe off a tear and make a quick selection of the works included in the exhibition.

Chicha Muffler Black Cab: yes, that one does exactly what it says on the tin. Instead of rejecting smoke, the modified exhaust of the cab provides a service of mobile hooka.

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BGL, Chicha Muffler Black Cab, London, 2013. Image Ben Parry

My jaw almost dropped to the floor when i saw the description text and the video for Visual Kidnapping. Street artist Zevs cut out a 40ft woman from a Lavazza billboard in Alexanderplatz, Berlin and 'demanded' a 500,000 Euro donation to the Palais de Tokyo art center in Paris for her return. Which he apparently obtained.

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Zevs, Visual Kidnapping, 2002

With the same haircut, twelve members of Ztohoven took a portrait pictures and using the Morphing software they merged every two faces into one. They applied for new Ids with these photos, but each of them used the name of his alter-ego. They lived for 6 months under someone's else identity, voted in the elections, travelled outside of the country, obtained a gun license or one of them even got married. After this period, they revealed theirs secret identities and documented the whole operation in an exhibition in Prague. The police confiscated their ID's and arrested co-founder of Ztohoven Roman Tyc for failing to show his ID card which was at the time part of the exhibition.

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Ztohoven, Obcan K (from Citizen K), 2012

Paolo Cirio is showing the irresistible Loophole for All, a service to democratize offshore business for people who don't want to pay for their riches. It empowers everyone to evade taxes, hide money and debt, and get away with anything by stealing the identities of real offshore companies.

You can buy the identities of offshore companies on the website of the project Loophole4All.com at fairly low costs.

Cirio also interviewed major experts and produced a video documentary investigating offshore centers to expose their costs and to envision solutions to global economic injustice.

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Paolo Cirio, Loophole for All

For his series of Minaret performances, Michael Rakowitz stands on a rooftop at the five designated times of prayer with a megaphone and an alarm clock that plays the entire adhan (the call summoning Muslims to prayer) from an embedded digital chip.

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Michael Rakowitz, Minaret, 2001 - Ongoing (Enver Hoxa Monument (Pyramide), Tirana, Albania 2005)

Electronic Disturbance Theater's Transborder Immigrant Tool hacks cheap GPS mobile-phones to install a device for helping Mexican immigrants cross the U.S.-Mexico border, providing them navigation, poetry, the location of highways, border patrols and water left by Border Angels in the Southern California desert.

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Electronic Disturbance Theater 2.0/b.a.n.g. lab, Transborder Immigrant Tool (2007; photo courtesy 319 Scholes)

EPOS 257 crafts oversized bullets that he fills with paints then shoots at commercial billboards and architectures using an extra-long shooting instrument. Each piece is both a unique abstract painting and a gesture of reverse takeover.

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Urban Shoot Painting, Prague and suburbs, winter and spring of 2009

An 'old' one i was ignorant about: The Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army [or CIRCA], an army of professional clowns who protest against corporate globalisation, war and other issues.

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The Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army. Photo Karen Eliot

I'm sure you know this one already. I still find it as charming as ever: Matthias Wermke & Mischa Leinkauf's In Between („Zwischenzeit") used homemade handcars that can be folded into backpacks to sneak into Berlin's U-bahn and navigate it at night.

Matthias Wermke & Mischa Leinkauf, Zwischenzeit Trailer

Cultural Hijack was curated by artists Ben Parry and Peter McCaughey. It runs daily at the Architectural Association School of Architecture, London, until 26th May 2013. The final weekend will be dedicated to CONTRAvention, a series of lectures, symposia, screenings, participatory actions, interventions, dinners and debate.

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Today is the last day to witness All Rise, the week-long performance from Liberate Tate at the Tate Modern gallery. Filming devices strapped on to their chest, performers are reading aloud sections of the transcripts of the trial which started in February in New Orleans and sees BP stand accused of gross negligence over the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry.

The performance marks the third anniversary of the disaster but it also questions the sponsorship of Tate by the oil multinational. Each day, three different performers are whispering courtroom transcripts from the BP trial. The videos are streamed live for anyone who can't make it to the Turbine Hall and other exhibition rooms of the institution.

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Liberate Tate, All Rise, 2013. Photo credit: Amy Scaife

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Liberate Tate action at Tate Britain, 2011. Photo credit: Amy Scaife

Two years ago Liberate Tate performed Human Cost in the Duveen Gallery in Tate Britain, where a naked man curled up on the floor had oil poured all over him. And last year the group delivered a 16.5 metre wind turbine blade to the gallery, along with documents officially gifting it to the nation as piece of art. '

Strangely enough, Tate itself triggered the artistic protest. Liberate Tate was indeed founded during a workshop in January 2010 on art and activism, commissioned by Tate. When Tate curators tried to censor the workshop from making interventions against Tate sponsors, even though none had been planned, the incensed participants decided to continue their work together beyond the workshop and set up Liberate Tate.

Now the performance interested me for two reasons: the trial against BP isn't receiving the major international coverage i would have expected (even though the damages to human health and the environment are still very much felt, even though the clean-up is far from being finished and even though the local communities are still struggling to recover from the economic devastation.) The second reason is that, like many people working in art, i find it difficult to make up my mind: is it really so bad to take some dirty money to support the art community? Do we really have a choice in these harsh times of cuts in the art funding?

Mel Evans of Liberate Tate has kindly accepted to answer my questions about the performance.

Liberate Tate has been protesting since 2010 but has been achieved so far?

Well, over 300 artists and cultural workers have signed their name to letters calling on Tate to drop BP sponsorship in the press. Over 8000 Tate members and visitors have petitioned Nicholas Serota to end the sponsorship deal with the oil company. And, at the 2012 Tate Members' AGM, a full hour of the session was filled with diverse voices calling for Tate to disclose more information on the sponsorship deal and heed members' perspective on it. For Liberate Tate, their performance interventions are now held in Tate's archive: a mixed response, but a recognition of significance nonetheless. More and more artists have gotten on board with the call for change, including Conrad Atkinson who has numerous works at Tate, and Raoul Martinez, who has been exhibited as part of the National Portrait Award. Beyond this, we regularly hear tell of Tate staff at all levels sharing our concerns with BP sponsorship at Tate.

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Liberate Tate, All Rise, 2013. Photo credit: Amy Scaife

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Liberate Tate, All Rise, 2013. Photo credit: Amy Scaife

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Liberate Tate, All Rise, 2013. Photo credit: Amy Scaife

Because of Liberate Tate, I (and i'm sure many members of the public) am now acutely aware of the sponsorship and entering the exhibition space with a sense of guilt...

Liberate Tate doesn't intend to make anyone or any visitors feel guilty: our slogan is Love Tate Hate Oil.

We want to raise the question, what does a future look like beyond oil? What role does culture have in shaping oil? And what democratic processes are available in a public body such as Tate to question the social legitimacy given to an oil company whose global impacts are devastating lives and livelihoods? We welcome anyone's participation in this questioning, and this gathering of momentum to push for a shift in this cultural sphere. The arts have moved away from tobacco and arms sponsorship; likewise they will shift from oil, we simply insist it is sooner rather than later.

But it is not a sense a guilt we wish to generate, but rather one of possibility - often this is the question the arts often ask, how do we understand the world, how might we understand it differently, and what might we make possible. Just because oil is a feature of our every day lives does not mean we cannot question it - in fact it is when something is so pervasive that we must consider it more.

In these times of cuts in public funding, corporate sponsorship seems to be a reasonable option. What right do we have to judge Tate and decide where they can and cannot take the money to produce and exhibit contemporary art?

Pressure on arts institutions to make deals with corporations is certainly premised by the Tory-Lib Dem government as justification for the cuts. The opportunity for sponsorship and the impact of the cuts is felt very differently according to organisations sizes however: smaller arts organisations have lost everything through the ACE cuts, and have little opportunity for corporate sponsorship, because business is only interested in the notoriety of allegiances with big name institutions. With Tate as the key example, all of their corporate income from events and sponsorship amounts to a minimal percentage of their overall income. Tate has refused to dispose figures on the BP deal, but we estimate it to be £500,000 - a minuscule slice of Tate's budget. From Tate's own figures we know they still receive about 35% state funding, and raise almost half via Tate Enterprises in their shops, cafes and restaurants. The picture of the corporate knight in shining armour saving the flailing arts institutions is a total misnomer. It is in fact the CEO of Tate Enterprises Laura Wright who has led the way in securing Tate's financial stability.

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The tip of a turbine blade is carried over the Thames from St Paul's Cathedral by Liberate Tate for the artwork The Gift in Tate Modern's Turbine Hall 7 July 2012 Credit: Martin LeSanto-Smith

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The Gift performance by Liberate Tate Tate Modern 7 July 2012. Credit: Ian Buswell

Last year, Tate wasn't too pleased about the wind turbine blade that you offered them as a gift. How is Tate reacting to this year's performance?

The Gift was probably our most confrontational performance to date. It was certainly the largest! Over a hundred people and a 16.5 metre wind turbine blade...It feels good to go in absolutely the other direction with All Rise, and make a work that is quiet, small, unobtrusive. All Rise is really about the ripples a performance can make. Over this week we've drawn in audiences from around the world who can watch the three performers move around Tate Modern via live stream every day 3-4pm GMT+1. On the first day Tate staff questioned what we were doing, but now we have been told no-one will interfere. Visitors notice us and ask questions as performers pass them in the gallery, or stop and listen to the legalistic text of the trial whispered by the performers, but we're not obstructing anyone in any way, so I think there's little grounds to ask us to leave. Tate might also be aware that should they eject us, we have news media on speed dial. Overall, allowing this piece to grow into the space has been great, and unlike The Gift, we're able to bring our questions back to the terrible harm still being felt since the BP Gulf of Mexico disaster, at the same time as inviting Tate visitors, members and staff into a conversation with us.

What do you say when people claim that BP has no influence about what is exhibited in the galleries anyway?

It's very hard for us or them to make an absolute measure on BP's curatorial influence. The presence of a sponsor can censor silently even if not directly - any cases of which would be surely fiercely hidden from view. Several artists note numerous cases in which they have seen BP related censorship take place. Liberate Tate was itself founded during a workshop at Tate in which BP sponsorship was raised when staff sent an email to the organiser stating "to be aware that we cannot host any activism directed against Tate and its sponsors". Beyond that. I see the question also being about, what impact does BP have on Tate by its presence and association? What does Tate become, despite presenting itself as a politically savvy, progressive institution, by association with BP?

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And what can we, general public, do to help 'liberate Tate'?

Go to Tate and raise the questions. Write to Tate. Make art about BP at Tate. Speak to Tate staff you know and ask them what they think. This is an art movement for change that affects us all as artists on some level - we have a stake in the values that influential contemporary art institutions uphold, and it is for us to shape those values in our work. See you in the gallery, challenging the presence of BP in whatever creative way you see fit, be it on feedback forms or something more adventurous! And get in touch at liberatetate [at] gmail.com or @LiberateTate on Twitter if you want to connect with us and what we're trying to do.

Thanks Mel!

If you've missed All Rise, i'd recommend that you check out Tate à Tate, Lib­er­ate Tate's altern­at­ive audio tour of the Lon­don Tate gal­ler­ies.
Also check out Platform London's book The Oil Road - Journeys from the Caspian Sea to the City of London, it's available on Amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

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Mammoth Imperator, -4,5M years ago, Installation view - Photo credit: Stuart Bailes

More than 2 years ago, i was interviewing young designer Marguerite Humeau about her attempt to bring back to life the voice of extinct creatures by reconstructing their voice box. The idea is even bolder than it sounds because the lungs, trachea, larynx + vocal folds, mouth and nose are made of soft tissue, and therefore don't fossilize. Marguerite started by giving her voice back to Lucy (aka Australopithecus Afarensis), one of the first hominids who used to live 3,85 to 2,95 million years ago.

Since then, Marguerite's work has gathered awards, been presented in several exhibitions and discussed in conferences. But even more interestingly, the resuscitation endeavour has expanded to more extinct animals. A mammoth and two ultra ugly and fearsome creatures, the Walking Whale and the Terminator Pig, have now joined the loud party.

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The Opera of Prehistoric Creatures. Left to right: Entelodont, "Hell Pig", -25M years ago; Ambulocetus, "Walking Whale", -50M years ago; Mammoth Imperator, -4,5M years ago. Photo credit: Dirk van den Heuvel, March 2013

To re-create the vocal tract of the animals, the designer met with paleontologists, elephant vocalization specialists, explorers, engineers and other experts. The process of reconstruction involved shaping 3D models of the soft tissue from MRI scans and/or fossil data. Sending air through the resulting prototypes triggers a sound that might be similar to the sound the prehistoric creatures made when they were alive.

Marguerite presented the animals in the Politique-Fiction exhibition in Saint-Etienne. Check out the audio recording. More recently, the prehistoric creatures where in Eindhoven for the STRP biennial where they performed live for the first time together with Dutch musician and DJ Jameszoo. If you're curious about the result of the encounter, just click on the images at the bottom of this page.

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Entelodont, "Hell Pig", -25M years ago - Photo credit: Dirk van den Heuvel - March 2013

Sadly, i missed the prehistoric creatures' performance in Eindhoven. Which gave me a good excuse to contact Marguerite and get more details about her work:

Hi Marguerite! I first interviewed you during the work in progress show at RCA. You were starting to work on 'bringing back to life' the vocal chords of Lucy (Australopithecus Afarensis) who used to live 3,85 to 2,95 million years ago. Your new opera features 3 prehistoric creatures. An Ambulocetus, an Entelodont, and a Mammoth. Can you tell us why you chose these 3 creatures? And what they are exactly?

We talked at the very beginning of my epic quest to resuscitate the sound of prehistoric creatures by reconstructing their vocal tracts.

'The opera of prehistoric creatures' now features three beasts namely an Ambulocetus aka 'Walking Whale' (which used to live 50 to 48 million years ago), an Entelodont aka 'Terminator Pig' (which used to live 38 to 16 million years ago), and a Mammoth Imperator (which used to live 4,5 million years ago). All three pieces are realised on a 1/1 scale and standing on trestles at the height of each original animal.

I first started to work on Lucy, one of the first hominid. Lucy is now part of the MoMA permanent collection and touring as part of a show curated by Mark Leckey for the Hayward Gallery (Hayward Touring program) called The Universal Addressability of Dumb Things. The show deals with our contemporary animistic relationship to the objects around us. As Mark Leckey explains, "as modern technology becomes more pervasive objects appear to communicate with us". This seems to bring us back "an archaic state of being, to aboriginal landscapes of fabulous hybrid creatures, where images are endowed with divine powers, and even rocks and trees have names".

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Ambulocetus, "Walking Whale", -50M years ago, Installation view - Photo credit: Felipe Ribon

The three large pieces - Entelodont, Ambulocetus, and Mammoth Imperator - are hypothetical reconstructions of the beasts vocal tracts. Because the vocal tract (larynx, vocal chords, trachea, lungs, resonance cavities) is made of soft tissue, it does not fossilise. This was problematic from a scientific perspective. But as a designer, solving this enigma was really exciting. I would have to redesign all these inner parts, using different areas of science, but also, and most important, other tools like speculation, design, rumours, collective imaginary.

My work of reenactment was therefore made difficult. The project questions the way we talk about prehistory - and about our history. How can we talk about something that has entirely disappeared? All the attempts to tell this story will only be one version amongst many different versions of the original story.

This was made very clear in the process of the project. We have a lot of clues on how Woolly Mammoth used to look like, to sound like, where they used to live, etc. Also, as we talked about last time, there are a few Woolly Mammoths which have been found in the Siberian permafrost. We have much less clues on how the Mammoth Imperator used to be like. This is why I was really interested in it.

The plot thickens with the Walking Whale, a terrestrial mammal which started to swim. I speculated on its vocal tract. It might have been somewhere between a larynx (like terrestrial mammals) and a sonar (like dolphins).


Ambulocetus, from the BBC series Walking with Beasts

There are equally very few fossils of the Terminator Pig. I therefore even had to recreate a fictional skull of this creature so I could base my research on something tangible.

The beasts are now revived. They are semi-real, synthetic ruins.

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Setting-up the performance

The 3 beasts are performing in an opera which premiered at the STRP biennial a few weeks ago. I couldn't be there for the performance but i did see the beasts in the exhibition. How did you animate them? What was the performance like?

The beasts perform an opera. Each of them produces a sound as their vocal chords vibrate. The sound is controlled by a 'brain' which was designed by Julien Bloit. We had long conversations together with Julien Bloit and our sound collaborator Charles Goyard on how this brain should be constructed. We looked into Claude Levi-Strauss research and were especially inspired by this quote: «Humanity is constantly struggling with two contradictory processes. One of these tends to promote unification, while the other aims at maintaining or re-establishing diversification».

We were interested in the idea of creating a fictitious cycle for a speculated rebirth. We also looked into Oudeyer's research on the evolution of speech.

Instead of starting from a parent (single) call, and then get more and more complex like most languages; we would reverse the process so the beasts would get born as complex beings and tend towards simplification and unification.

Each performance lasts for 1H30.

For STRP we tried a new experiment. We asked local dubstep musician Mitchel van Dinther (aka Jameszoo) to tell the beasts a story in 3 acts. For the performance, I asked Mitchel to face the beasts, so it was a battle between himself (the maestro) and the three creatures. As if he was persuading them to reveal something. Mitchel was challenging them to react to the story, trying to find the right notes and attempting to have an impossible conversation.

PERFORMANCE

Synopsis
No reenactment is possible without destroying the original versions of the extinct and unknown creatures that we are trying to resuscitate. We soon realised that, in the absence of evidentiary material, we would have to pillage past and present times. We don't copy, and we don't remix, but what we do is recreate. We clone beasts and we clone beats. The soundtrack is dark and exhilarating, creating an electronic ceremony for semi-real animals. We are the tour guides of this post-prehistoric jungle.

Act I - Extinction - 3"
This act shows the creatures' last days and their fight against extinction. The last descendants of each of these species have disappeared and the circumstances of their extinction remain unknown. This first act is a reenactment of the process of extinction which took place millions of years ago.

Act II - Prehistoric cryogenics - 7"
Millions of years later surprising discoveries are made around the Taymyr Peninsula in Siberia. In 2007 the body of a 37,000 year old baby mammoth is found frozen and perfectly preserved. This baby mammoth, Lyuba, is now the oldest baby on Earth. The sleeping beauty has now awoken and its genes will be used to clone a synthetic woolly mammoth. Similar processes will be used to clone a 'terminator pig' and a 'walking whale'. This act also relays the story of a modern Professor, Frankenstein, whose ambition is to grow prehistoric vocal cords. At the end of this act the beasts are brought back to life and the first semi-real roars can be heard.

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The carcass of the world's most well-preserved baby mammoth, named Lyuba, is displayed in Hong Kong on April 10, 2012. Photo credit: Aaron Tam / AFP - Getty Images

Act III - Reverse evolution - 4"
The beasts are semi-real and suddenly they roar in a non-macabre but spectacular pandemonium. The beasts are alive, but while their voices and their linguistic skills evolve they face complex challenges. Claude Levi-Strauss wrote that humanity was constantly facing two contradictory processes; the beasts are struggling with similar evolutionary contradictions. While one process promotes unification, the beasts will also try to maintain and reaffirm diversification. It is not known whether the beasts will embrace a unique, primal sound or if they will succeed in their quest to become complex and ever-evolving creatures.

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Walking Whale in Politique Fiction exhibition curated by Alexandra Midal, installation view. Image credit: Felipe Ribon

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Mammoth Imperator. Larynx with vocal cords, 2012

A text describing the opera says that the performance "sets up the rebirth of three cloned prehistoric creatures, showing their wanderings and their epic journey through time. They are seeking to evolve in our contemporary era." How do you see them evolving in our era? Surely, there is no place for them now?

The opera is an ambiguous piece of work. On one hand, the revived creatures and their sounds are fascinating and exhilarating. On the other hand, one might think: "How far will we go with cloning technologies? Is this really what we want?".

Proposal for Resuscitating Prehistoric Creatures- Installation trailer (Video: Ben Penna, Sound: Association Phonotonic)

Are you planning to do something else with these creatures? Or are they happy staring in an opera only?

"Proposal for Resuscitating Prehistoric Creatures" is now comprised of a trailer directed by Benjamin Penaguin; a book called "The Infinite Odyssey" gathering all my documents and correspondence; an 'Épopée' in 14 chapters which has been published in TAR Magazine Issue n.9.
There is the large-scale installation with the three creatures, and Lucy ... Then the performance with Mitchel van Dinther accompanied by a libretto.

I am very interested in the idea of an infinite, never-ending project, a project that always renews itself and comes back to life in different forms.

This project is the first chapter of the 'design trilogy' I am currently working on, which deals with attempting to communicate with unreachable, extinct or unknown forms of life.

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The Infinite Odyssey - correspondance et documents -- 38 X 26.5 CM - Edition of 10- Collection: MoMA, New York, 2011

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Tar Magazine
"Epopée" written and designed by Marguerite Humeau with extracts from book designed by Ghazaal Vojdani - 32.5 X 35 CM - April 2013

I'm also intrigued by the people you collaborated with in order to create the opera. Namely, Jameszoo, Julien Bloit and Ben Penna. How did you get to work with them? Is it easy to convince other artists to work on an opera for prehistoric creatures?

In June 2011, I completed the Mammoth Imperator for my final show at the Royal College of Art. I was then commissioned by curator Alexandra Midal to complete my opera for the exhibition Politique-Fiction at the Cité du design in Saint-Etienne.

I started then to work with Julien Bloit who is a research engineer and musician; and engineer/inventor Charles Goyard whom I worked with to refine the design of the larynges and vocal cords. Working together was truly fantastic. We would spend days experimenting in Charles' studio in Montreuil, discussing about the project on a more conceptual level, building and testing prototypes.

The project is like a science-fiction adventure film made for real. I was also interested in using strategies from the film industry to exhibit the project, as an installation, online, as a printed story, and so on.

I have been discussing about this project from the very beginning with art director/graphic designer Benjamin Penaguin . We then developed the idea of a trailer together and I gave him "Carte blanche". We now work and discuss a lot together. Benjamin also designed the libretto for the performance Beasts Back Saga with Mitchel van Dinther.

I discovered Mitchel's music recently. I immediately became a big fan of his EP Faaveelaa. He mixes the sound of his chicken (which lives in his kitchen) and of his parrot to create very strange and interesting beats. I wrote a story in three acts and asked him to create a track for each chapter. It was also a "Carte Blanche".

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The Opera of Prehistoric Creatures. Installation view 
in Politique Fiction exhibition
. Curator: Alexandra Midal. Image credit: Felipe Ribon

Any upcoming project, field of investigation, or exhibition you'd like to share with us? Do you want to talk about the letters to the (almost) Aliens?

I am working on the second chapter of my design trilogy for my upcoming solo show.

With 'The Opera of Prehistoric Creatures' project, I wanted to explore the use of design as a catalyst of supernatural events and miracles, as a producer of real-time science-fictions and as the prosthetics of parallel worlds. These are topics I have been investigating since my Master dissertation at the Royal College of Art.

In this second chapter I will explore the idea of the 'designer-illusionist' further.

This new project is an epistolary novel relating my attempt to communicate with the possible 'almost-alien' inhabitants of the Vostok Lake in Antarctica.

The Vostok Lake is one lake amongst four hundreds subglacial lakes in Antarctica which are covered with kilometres of ice. The Vostok lake has been isolated under three kilometers of ice from the rest of the world for more than fifteen million years.

A dilemma emerges from this situation. Drilling through the ice and reaching the lake (like what the Russian scientific team has been doing in the past years) means altering its 'alien' character. But if we choose not to enter this lake we are left with a complete mystery.

This situation also occurs in Fellini's film Roma. While building the Roman subway, the workers reach a wall. They have to drill through this wall in order to pursue the construction of the subway. They discover behind this wall a magnificent roman villa covered with beautiful frescoes. These paintings had been isolated from the rest of the world for thousand of years.
The hole is drilled. Immediately, the paintings start vanishing. Exposing them to modern air triggers their instant destruction.


Fellini, Roma, 1972

How could I find an alternative way to communicate with these 'almost-aliens' without penetrating the lake pristine waters? And how could I convince them to reveal their identity and tell us more about what is hidden under the ice? How could my "letters" to them look like?

Maybe I could trick them into thinking that we know who they are... using illusions, mimicry, or camouflage, building dummies in order to trigger a response.

I am really inspired by the work of illusionist Jasper Maskelyne who was hired by the British Army during the Second World War. He and his "Magic Gang" used magic tricks on a large-scale: they made Alexandria disappear, created a dummy army with fake tanks and soldiers and so on.

This project could also refer to Ettore Sottsass "Ceramics of Darkness" designed in 1963.

I am currently being advised by glaciologists, illusionists, psychologists, conspiracy theorists, telepathy practitioners and even dowsers.
The piece will be unveiled in a solo exhibition curated by Alexandra Midal in the Design Project Room, at the HEAD in Geneva in November 2013.

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Mammoth Imperator, -4,5M years ago, Installation view. Photo credit: Dirk van den Heuvel, March 2013

Merci Marguerite!

The Universal Addressability of Dumb Things curated by Mark Leckey is at Nottingham Contemporary until 20 Oct 2013. I think i might go....

Previously: The rebirth of prehistoric creatures and STRP Biennial, a walk through the city of cyborgs.

The Art of Walking: A field guide. Edited by David Evans and published by Black Dog Publishing.

0atheartof aw.jpgAvailable on amazon USA and UK.

Book description: The Art of Walking: a field guide is the first extensive survey of walking in contemporary art. Combining short texts on the subject with a variety of artists work, The Art of Walking provides a new way of looking at this everyday subject.

The introduction relates peripatetic art now to a wide range of historic precedents, and is followed by a series of visually led 'Walks' dealing with seven overlapping themes: footprints and lines; writers and philosophers; marches and processions; aliens, dandies and drifters; slapstick; studios, museums and biennales; and dog walkers.

The guide includes newly commissioned art and writing, and many artists have been actively involved in the design of their respective pages.

This overview of artworks dealing with walking completely took me by surprise. I was expecting psychogeography, peripatetics, geolocation and theory. But The Art of Walking: A Field Guide is not only light on words, it also follows themes that range from aliens to slapstick to dog walking.

The way the content is illustrated is worth a mention too. There are the usual photos that document performances of course but also letters, preparatory drawings, souvenir programme, etc. The succession of images for each artwork allows the reader to fill in the dots, complete the short presentation text and create their own narrative. The author even asked some of the artists to participate in the editorial process. For example, The Art of Walking opens on a series of proposals that artist Peter Liversidge wrote down on his old typewriter for the author of the book, for himself or for the reader. He invites you to put down the book and go outside, for example. And following his suggestion, the book closes on 5 empty pages for you to write down notes.

The book was thus nothing i expected. And that's never a bad thing.

Special mention for the format and design of the book. Soft cover. Thick, glossy pages but not too glossy (if you know what i mean.) Round corners.

And now for the traditional tour of some of the works presented in the book:

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Regina José Galindo, ¿Quien Peude Borrar Las Huellas? A Walk from the Court Of Constitutionality to the National Palace of Guatemala, leaving a trail of footprints in memory of the victims of armed conflict in Guatemala, 2003

In 2003, Regina José Galindo walked from the Congress of Guatemala building to the National Palace, dipping her bare feet in a basin filled with human blood, leaving red footprints behind as a protest against the presidential candidacy of Guatemala's former dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt whose military regime committed widespread human rights abuses.

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Francis Alÿs, The Collector, Mexico City 1991-2006. In collaboration with Felipe Sanabria

In 1991, Francis Alÿs dragged a magnetic toy dog on wheels through Mexico City until it became covered entirely in coins, bits of old tin cans and other street debris.

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Marcus Coates, Stoat, 1999. Photo: © Andy Keate

In the 1999 video performance 'Stoat', Marcus Coates is staggering on wooden platforms, in a pitiful attempt to recreate the animal's gait.


Simon Faithfull, 0.00° Navigation, 2009

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Simon Faithfull, 0º00 Navigation, 2009

GPS device in hand, Simon Faithfull walked along the Greenwich Meridian from Peace Haven in Hampshire to Cleethorpes in Lincolnshire. Following the exact line of longitude involved climbing through windows and up fences, crossing private properties, swimming through streams and crawling through hedges.

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Simon Faithfull, Going Nowhere, 2011 (video still)

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Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Marches - A sonic mapping of London, February 2008 - May 2009

Marches by Lawrence Abu Hamdan is an audio recording, booklet and map documenting two performances on 23 May 2008.

Lawrence Abu Hamdan choreographed two marches in the Queen's Walk and Tower Hill areas of London. The marchers stomped wearing footwear created by local cobblers for greater sonic effect.

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And While London Burns, An operatic audio tour across The City

And While London Burns is the soundtrack for the era of climate change, set amongst the skyscrapers of the most powerful financial district on Earth, London's Square Mile. An opera for one, it takes the listener, equipped with an mp3 player on a walking audio adventure through the streets and alleyways of our city.

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Keith Arnatt from the series: Walking the Dog, 1976-9

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Keith Arnatt from the series: Walking the Dog, 1976-9

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Keith Arnatt from the series: Walking the Dog, 1976-9

Between 1976 and 1979, Keith Arnatt photographed dogs and their owners out for walks near his home in South Wales. The artist went to great lengths to ensure that the owner and his pet are looking at the camera at the same time.

"Where the photographic act is concerned, a dog's attention span is extremely short. When, for example, calling a dog's name fails to attract its attention, I am forced to resort to more extreme measures."

"My barking and growling are quite effective, though such antics tend also to affect the owner's own response. And though a fair number of pictures do show the dog making the required response, they are marred by showing the owner peering down to see whether they are doing so."

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Catherine Yass, High Wire, 2008. Photo: Angie Catlin. Commissioned and produced by Artangel

In 2007 high wire artist Didier Pasquette attempted to walk between three of Glasgow's Red Road high rise tower blocks. Unfortunately, high winds forced Pasquette to retrace his path. The performance was used by artist Catherine Yass as the basis of a reflection on the urban environment.

Also by David Evans: Critical Dictionary.

The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on ResonanceFM, is aired today at 4pm (London time.)

My guest at Resonance this afternoon is Kira O'Reilly, a performer whose work i've encountered a number of times in biotech art context. I've been particularly drawn to the works that address the ethics of human/animal interactions and more generally our complex relationships with animals. The most discussed of her work is probably inthewrongplaceness, an intimate performance that Kira developed on her return from a residency at the art science collaborative research lab SymbioticA in 2004. Realizing the similarities between the pig's skin and her own, Kira danced skin to skin with a dead pig and invited members of the audience to touch both her own and the skin of the nonhuman animal,

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Kira O'Reilly, inthewrongplaceness, 2009. Photo by Axel Heise

A few years later, Kira presented the performance, Falling Asleep With a Pig in which she cohabited with a live pig called Deliah in a specially constructed sty. Sometimes they shared the space for 36 hours and in other performances, the cohabitation lasted 72 hours.

Kira O'Reilly's work has been exhibited and discussed widely throughout the UK, Europe, Australia, China and Mexico.

Kira is currently busy working on a three year AHRC funded creative fellowship at Queen Mary University of London called Thresholds of Performance, between body, laboratory and text.

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Kira O'Reilly, Falling asleep with a pig, 2009, Cornerhouse, London © Kira O'Reilly

The podcast is now on Soundcloud.

I just read in a press release that i was one of the 20.000 visitors of the sixth edition of STRP in Eindhoven. The yearly festival is now a biennial but the formula hasn't changed much: 10 days of science&tech-infused art and of electronic music.

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The New Machine Era, by Boudewijn Bollmann

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Marguerite Humeau, Back, Here Below, Formidable - The Rebirth of Prehistoric Creatures, 2011. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann

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Marshmallow Laser Feast, Forest, 2013. Photo Boudewijn Bollmann

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Silent Cinema. Photo by Saskia Schilten

The theme of this year's exhibition is City of Cyborgs. Not the city of androids, clunky clones and man/machines contraptions but the city we are already walking through, smartphones in our pockets, implants in our bodies for some and ready to get our hands on Google glasses. City of Cyborgs in STRP speak means animatronics, opera for prehistoric creatures, a forest of interactive lasers, tapas made from edible solar cells, absurd mega machines and lots of dance. The high tech, the low tech, the digital, the organic and everything in between and beyond.

This year, STRP provided me this with a good excuse to catch up with and reflect on today's cyborg scenery and with the opportunity to discover artists and works i had never encountered so far.

I might be late to the party but i've just added the name of Ief Spincemaille to my list of young artists t follow. Sadly, I didn't manage to get my hands on his Reverse Blinking goggles. All i can say is that people kept telling me "Have you tried it? Have you?! it's brilliant! Brilliant!' Since i've missed the fun, i'll just copy/paste the description:

Imagine being caught with your head inside a photo camera. It's completely dark. Only when the shutter opens for a very brief moment, you perceive a flash of the world. You see people as static figures, entire street scenes as moments frozen in time. Everything you lay your eyes on seems to acquire the characteristics of a photograph. The shutter moves so fast that it leaves no space for movement. The plates move up and down causing your eyes to make a reverse blinking movement: the plates are generally shut off, and only open and close quickly and briefly. The spectators can open and close the shutter themselves with a button, allowing them to determine the frequency, but not the speed (shutter time).

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Ief Spincemaille, Reverse Blinking. Photo by Saskia Schilten

I did however, have a go at the other work that the artist was showing: the Chain driven 3D mirror which makes it possible to walk around your own head and view it as if it belonged to somebody else. The most remarkable aspect of the work is that it doesn't involves any digital technology but relies entirely on mechanical components: a chain, sprocket and motor.

I actually found it more interesting to watch visitors trying on the apparatus. They seemed to hover between the fascination to watch their own head under every possible angle and the self-conscious feeling that people around them are watching them. I wish i had a better photo of the installation but i stupidly deleted mine and the ones provided by the festival focus more on the near-orgasmic expressions of the visitors than on the artworks themselves.

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Ief Spincemaille, Chain Driven 3D Mirror. Photo by Saskia Schilten

Paul Granjon's modified Robotic Perception Kits were available for a test-run in the exhibition space but they were so much in demand that yet again, i didn't manage to get them on. The goggles and ear sets allow users to experience the world as is if you were a robot.

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Paul Granjon, Robot Perception Kit, 2006. Photo by Saskia Schilten

I'm going to hop right into the performances programme. Because you cannot curate a cyborg-themed festival without including Stelarc, one of the opening night performances saw him manipulating his now legendary Exoskeleton. The beastly machine has been touring festivals and exhibition for several years and it still has the power to knock out and turn us into a collectively gasping crowd. I for one was very impressed.

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Stelarc Exoskeleton. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann

That same night saw a performance by Daito Manabe. The artist has gained fame over the past few years by sitting solemnly in front of a table while the muscles of his face are controlling the tones and rhythms of his musical performances.

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Daito Manabe. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann


Daito Manabe, Electric Stimulus to Face -test 4 (Daito Manabe 's friends)

Back to the exhibition and to contraptions i wouldn't be seen dead wearing: Guo Cheng's The Mouth Factory is made of drills and lathes designed to be operated with the user's jaw and mouth.

A couple more works you might or might not have heard about already:

Valerie, My Crystal Sister is a crystal chandelier that hides a moving story: the attempt by designer Lucas Maassen to create an object that would be, genetically speaking, the sister that he never had. The chandelier is not only a visualization of the basic code of life, it also asks whether it is possible to use the biological process that created Maassen as a design process to create an object. The designer first crystallized synthetic DNA fragments taken from his parents and then produced a magnified version of this crystal also out of crystal. Finally, Maassen assembled one thousand such pieces to form the chandelier exhibited at STRP.

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Lucas Maassen, Valerie, My Crystal Sister. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann

Jordi Puig's A-ME is an 'emotional memory recall device.' The installation allows visitors to upload memories to an artificial brain. They can also navigate the brain and listen to the memories that other people have stored in A-ME.

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Jordi Puig, A-ME. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann

A-me : Augmented memories from WASAWI on Vimeo.

Waterfall Swing. The name says it all.

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Dash7Design, Waterfall Swing. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann

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Waterfall Swing. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann

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The New Machine Era, by Boudewijn Bollmann

More images on STRP's flickr set.

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