Inside the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Image courtesy Steve Rowell


As i mentioned this morning, The Center for PostNatural History in Pittsburgh has recently opened The Cold Coast Archive: Future Artifacts from the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, an exhibition that takes the famous "Doomsday Vault" as its starting point.

Opened in 2008, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault (SGSV) preserves seeds from nearly every nation on Earth in an underground cavern engineered to withstand catastrophe. It is located on the outskirts of Longyearbyen, on the arctic island of Spitsbergen, Svalbard Archipelago, halfway between the North Pole and Norway.

The seeds stored in this biological safety deposit box are duplicate samples held in seed banks worldwide. The facility is about 130 meters above sea level to protect it against any rise in sea level as a result of global warming, nuclear attack, and earth quakes. The vault itself has been tunnelled 120 meters into the mountain, in order to guarantee stable permafrost.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Image courtesy Steve Rowell

Inside the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Image courtesy Steve Rowell

Inside the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Image courtesy Steve Rowell

The exhibition currently on view at the Center for Postnatural History is a joint research and extrapolative project by artists Signe Lidén, Annesofie Norn, and Steve Rowell. Together, they examine the meaning and function of the world's largest and most well-protected collection of agricultural diversity.

The artists traveled to Longyearbyen in February, August, and September 2011 and came back with hundreds of photographs, videos, and audio recordings. The collaborative work also includes an experimental garden, field guide, and map from a survival kit designed to help future generations successfully locate this critical cache of seeds.

Bigger version. Courtesy Steve Rowell

Steve Rowell: "The map above reveals the speculative geopolitics of the territory surrounding the vault, in a possible future-scenario in which China, Russia, and NATO have established military bases and industrial sites there. The document includes locations of navigation hazards, beacons, and other points of interest: emergency food/fuel caches, communication towers, weapons dump sites (radiological, chemical, even biological), wind turbine farms, ship wrecks, ruined oil platforms, undersea communication cables, etc. Since a treaty was signed in 1925, Svalbard has been officially demilitarized. But, WWII saw the sacking and burning of Longyearbyen by German troops and covert intelligence activities by both the US and USSR. Evidence of this can be found in historic photos and declassified documents and maps in the Cold Coast Archive exhibition."

Steve Rowell, In the Best of All Possible Worlds

The Cold Coast Archive project investigates and explores human beings' efforts to preserve civilization and defy the inevitability of its demise. We look at the vault as a whole: its practical, political, historical and symbolic structure, its arctic location, as well as its infrastructure and cultural nuances, with all the research concentrated at this site, as a backdrop to explore the human relationship to time between now and eternity.

I spent several hours yesterday clicking through the website of the project. It contains sound files that gives us a feeling of the atmosphere in the area as well as video interviews with the people who live there: from the world´s northernmost surfer to the miners working in the coal mine, from volunteers attempting to protect the coast from oil spills to experts in plant breeding and genetics. And of course there are dozens of stunning images. I've asked Steve Rowell to comment a couple of them for us:

Image courtesy Steve Rowell

Steve Rowell: "This is an artist's billboard mural (not sure who) on the road between the airport and the Sval Sat earthstation on the plataeu above the Seed Vault. The whole region is historic and active coal mine country. There's an active mine a few hundred meters down the road from this sign and the seed vault is situated between two closed mine shafts."

Image courtesy Steve Rowell

Steve Rowell: "We did drive these snowmobiles on a tour of the Advent valley and Temple Fjord / glacier. Typically we drove a 4x4 van (white one in one of the pics) or walked. There are no roads between the 3 active towns on Spitsbergen. Besides Longyearbyen, there are two mining towns: Barentsburg (Russian and Ukranian almost exclusively) and Svea Gruva (Norwegian). Remote Pyramiden was a Russian town, but now completely abandoned. The northernmost Lenin head is there as well as baby grand piano in an empty Russian hotel building. In the winter, when I went, travel outside of Longyearbyen was a pretty serious task and involved a mandatory guide who was licensed to carry a rifle, and trained to shoot and kill a polar bear if need-be. Anyone who leaves town MUST carry a rifle for self defense, along with a trailer (dog-sled or snowmobile) with enough supplies, food for 3 days."

Inside the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Image courtesy Steve Rowell

Steve Rowell: "These are the doors to the inner vault where the seeds are being stored. There are three inner vaults. Only 1 of the 3 is being used now."

Image courtesy Steve Rowell

Steve Rowell: "Yeah, pretty amazing how wrong that one is. This is one of many that I found at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC in their maps collection. Did you notice the CIA map? There was no note of this being declassified, but I'm sure it is. The yellowish coloration in my photo isn't from a hi-lighter marker, but residual adhesive from tape that I removed. I noticed two white pieces of tape in both corners and peeled them back to reveal that the CIA had designed and printed this. All that Arctic strategizing is now coming to fruition. Russia was in the news this week about a deal that they just signed with Exxon-Mobil to explore the Russian Arctic for oil, incl the area to the East of Svalbard. "

Image courtesy Steve Rowell

Steve Rowell: "A peninsula on Spitsbergen between Longyearbyen (the vault) and Barentsburg. Incredible how many shades of blue exist up there in the winter, long blue spectrum wavelengths reflecting infinitely between atmosphere and snow. "

SvalSat. Photo by Steve Rowell

Steve Rowell: This one is an "Aerial view of the SvalSat facility."

SvalSat. Image by Signe Lidén

Svalbard Satellite Station, aka SvalSat, is a large satellite earth station located on the island of Spitsbergen, above the Seed Vault. In a mountain nearby, the only remaining coal mine in operation provides power to the Seed Vault. On the mountain top above it, a research station monitors aurora borealis. As the website Cold Coast states, So here we have dramatically contrasting manifestations of space and time at an immense scale: on the mountain tops, instruments that reach deep into space and measure the present and predict relatively close future; deep underneath in the ground, two cavities - one harvesting the energy of fossilized rainforest created millions of years ago and the other protecting life into eternity.

Antenna array in Adventalen, near Longyearbyen. Image by Signe Lidén

And finally, Steve Rowell was kind enough to send me some views from the exhibition The Cold Coast Archive: Future Artifacts from the Svalbard Global Seed Vault at the Center for Postnatural History:

View of the exhibition The Cold Coast Archive: Future Artifacts from the Svalbard Global Seed Vault at the Center for Postnatural History. Image courtesy Steve Rowell

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View of the exhibition The Cold Coast Archive: Future Artifacts from the Svalbard Global Seed Vault at the Center for Postnatural History. Image courtesy Steve Rowell

View of the exhibition The Cold Coast Archive: Future Artifacts from the Svalbard Global Seed Vault at the Center for Postnatural History. Image courtesy Steve Rowell

View of the exhibition The Cold Coast Archive: Future Artifacts from the Svalbard Global Seed Vault at the Center for Postnatural History. Image courtesy Steve Rowell

View of the exhibition The Cold Coast Archive: Future Artifacts from the Svalbard Global Seed Vault at the Center for Postnatural History. Image courtesy Steve Rowell

The Cold Coast Archive: Future Artifacts from the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is on display at the Center for Postnatural History until August 15th, 2012.
See also Alexander Rose's account of his visit to the Vault with Steve Rowell.

Sponsored by:

There's an exhibition featuring sci-fi, history, video games, sexuality, soap operas, censorship and a powerful sense of humour at Cornerhouse in Manchester right now. The show is called Subversion and it questions and knocks around whatever assumption you might have about an homogenous 'Arab world', whatever image politicians and the media might have given you about its culture and identity.

Larissa Sansour, Palestinauts. Installation shot. Photo credit WeAreTAPE.com

Khaled Hafez, Of Presidents and Superheroes, 2009

Curator Omar Kholeif explained in an interview with Film International: I worked with artists [...] who wanted to dissent, poke fun, critique and re-define themselves as artists of the imagination, and not of any specific social or political condition. Together they reference a deep culture of subversion that traces back to the 1940s and 50s with the work of the Egyptian trickster, Ismail Yassin, whose slapstick film performances poked fun at the roles that many Arabs had to play under a militarised social condition. With Subversion we bring this narrative up to date for the good of our artists and our audiences.

Larissa Sansour, A Space Exodus, 2009

Larissa Sansour, A Space Exodus, 2009

The show opens on the video of a Palestinian astronaut landing on the moon. Given the fact that the Nakba has been going on for 64 years now, one wouldn't be surprised to hear that one day, the empty celestial body might become yet another place of refuge for the uprooted population. Larissa Sansour's A Space Exodus propels a Palestinian astronaut into an adaptation of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Referencing Neil Armstrong's moon landing, a voice can be heard saying that this was 'a small step for a Palestinian, a giant leap for mankind'.

Meanwhile, small Palestinauts are quietly invading the exhibition floor....

Larissa Sansour, Palestinauts, 2010

Larissa Sansour, Palestinauts, 2010. Installation shot. Photo credit WeAreTAPE.com

Upstairs, Sansour is showing another project, the preview of The Nation Estate, a work conceived in the wake of the Palestinian bid for nationhood at the UN. The Nation Estate gained fame after Lacoste attempted to censor it by withdrawing its sponsorship for a photo prize to which the young artist had been shortlisted.

Larissa Sansour, Jerusalem Floor, part of The Nation Estate, 2012

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Larissa Sansour, Lobby, part of The Nation Estate, 2012

Larissa Sansour, Olive Tree, part of The Nation Estate, 2012

In this sci-fi photo series (which will later be accompanied by a video), Palestinians have finally been conceded their own state in the form of a single skyscraper. Erected outside the city of Jerusalem and unsurprisingly surrounded by concrete walls, the building of 'the Nation Estate' houses the entire Palestinian population. Each city has its own floor: Jerusalem is on the third floor; Ramallah, fourth floor; Bethleem, fifth floor; Nablus, sixth floor; Gaza, seventh floor, etc. Intercity trips previously hindered by checkpoints and soldiers are now made by elevator.

Colorful Journey, Trailer

Tarzan and Arab live in Gaza (i was going to write 'come from' but that would suppose that they are allowed to get freely in and out of the territory), a region that has not had a functioning cinema since the 1980s. The artists didn't go to a film school either. Everything they learnt about cinema, they learnt through practice and by watching movies on satellite TV and illegal DVD copies. In 2003, they founded a media production company: Gazawood. Since then, their works have won awards, been banned by Hamas and shown in Europe and the U.S.

Cornerhouse is showing Colourful Journey, a short film set in a bombed-out Gaza building, and a series of posters that pastiche the Hollywood war movie genre. The title of each film sounds as action movie as it is possible: Summer Rain, Autumn Clouds, Defensive Shield, Sea Breeze, Cast Lead, etc. The cruel irony is that each of them is also the name of a Israeli military operation against Palestinians.

Tarzan and Arab, Colourful Journey poster from the Gazawood Project, 2010

Tarzan & Arab Posters from the Gazawood Project, 2010. Installation shot. Photo credit WeAreTAPE.com

Wafaa Bilal is showing a video documenting the furore that surrounded the exhibition of Virtual Jihadi. The video is mounted on the wall of a rundown internet café where visitors are also invited to sit down and play the game.

Wafaa Bilal, Virtual Jihadi, 2008. Installation shot

Wafaa Bilal, Virtual Jihadi, 2008

Wafaa is from Iraq and, as is sometimes the case in his work, he plays with the way Western media portrays people from his home country.

Virtual Jihadi can be traced back to a military computer game called The Quest for Saddam that involved players fighting stereotypical Iraqi enemies and trying to kill the ex-Iraqi leader. The game in turn inspired an al-Qaida-produced spin-off called The Night of Bush Capturing with the ex- U.S. president as the target. For his piece, Bilal hacked into the al-Qaida game and inserted himself as a converted suicide bomber, who joins al-Qaida after learning that his brother has been murdered by US forces.

Bilal's version brings the attention to the personal sories and dilemmas experienced by civilians caught in a conflict zone. It also demonstrates that games of this kind, no matter who is writing them, leave little space for moral choices and subtlety. In fact, both were made to teach hate.

In March 2008, as he had just released Virtual Jihadi, Bilal gave a talk at the Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute (the video is available online) and an exhibition of Virtual Jihadi opened the same night... to be closed the day after.

Wafaa Bilal's installation re-opened a few days later in another gallery. Unfortunately, one day after the second opening the City of Troy censored the work again and closed the gallery due to "code volition."

Art ≠ Terrorism

In I've heard stories - part 1, Marwa Arsanios attempts to piece together rumors surrounding the now demolished Hotel Carlton. The hotel was a popular meeting place for gay men living in Beirut, Lebanon where homosexual acts are considered illegal. In its time (1973 to 1993), the hotel was also the setting of three murders that might or might not have been related to the sexual encounters. Among the victim of these (probably) passionate crimes was Lebanese politician and businessman Henri Pharaoun. The nature of the murders went unreported and Arsanios' reconstruction of the event blends drawings and videos, gossips and facts, in an effort to give the crime a place in the history of the city.

Marwa Arsanios, I've heard 3 stories, 2009

Marwa Arsanios, I've heard 3 stories, 2009. Installation shot. Photo credit: WeAreTape.com

Subversion is on show in Galleries 1, 2 & 3 until Tue 5 June.
They have a fantastic set of images from the show on flickr (i still need to upload mine.) I wish more art centers would be as generous as Cornerhouse is with the online documentation of their events. Also check Creative Tourist next time you travel to Manchester and wonder what you can do/see in town.

Previously: A few words with Wafaa Bilal.


Five years ago, three artists legally changed their name to Janez Janša and joined the conservative Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS.) So far, so almost normal. Except that Janez Janša is also he name of the leader of the party and Prime Minister of Slovenia. Suddenly there were more Janez Janšas acting together within the same physical and media space.

Their experience is being turned into the documentary My Name Is Janez Janša in which individuals, artists and academics ponder about the meaning and purpose of one's name from both private and public perspectives.

A debate arose in the media and art circles around the three Janez Janša's artistic gesture: What was its intent and significance? Was it a political critique? A work of activism? Pure provocation?

Followers of the politicians didn't leave much space for discussion and subtlety when they launched a defamatory campaign and declared that My Name Is Janez Jansa was little more than a work of pornography. The cover of a recent issue of the conservative magazine Reporter illustrates the manoeuvre (the still images published on the cover are actually from Bruce La Bruce and Rick Castro's movie Hustler White which has been quoted in My Name Is Janez Janša.)


The artists have now opened a crowdfunding call to ensure that they'll be able to finish the post-production of the film and distribute it widely.

I contacted the three Janez Janša, asked them to tell us more about the movie, the name change, the defamatory campaign and immediately realized that they haven't lost any of their sense of humour in the process:

It's been 5 years already since you decided to change your names (Davide Grassi, Emil Hrvatin, and Žiga Kariž) to Janez Janša, the same name as the Prime Minister of Slovenia. I'm sure you were expecting that it would have an impact on your everyday life but what were the effects of the new names on your work as an artist?

Janez Janša: Let me correct you first. My legal name is Janez Janša while the politician's legal name is IVAN Janša. He has been called Janez since his childhood, but he never changed his legal name into Janez Janša.

Janez Janša: Interestingly enough, when he appears in front of the court, as he is involved in many legal cases, he does it with his legal name Ivan Janša while in his political life, when he represents Slovenia, when he signs state documents, he uses a pseudonym, Janez Janša.

Janez Janša: I was expecting him to change his legal name in the same name we have, Janez Janša.


What has the experience brought you?

Janez Janša: My life didn't change because of the name changing. I still live the same kind of life and my artistic work is still my main profession.

Janez Janša: Shakespearean Juliet maintains that the name of the rose does not affect the sweetness of the rose itself. Yet, it is right my new name that makes now other people smell me different.

Janez Janša: The name is what you put forward when you introduce yourself to others. It streams your figure into public life. Other people use your name much more than you do. When you change your name, you don't change yourself. You change your "interface". That is why your name change affects other people more than it does affect you.

Janez Janša: ...as one's death. It affects more relatives and friends than the one who actually died.

How do you feed the discoveries and experiences of the past 5 years into your work as artists?

Janez Janša: They basically feed by themselves into our work as artists because the name change practically merged our art with our life.


I read this afternoon in El Pais that the documentary had faced censorship. Can you explain us what happened exactly?

Janez Janša: This issue around our documentary is far from being over so I wouldn't use the pass tense here. It is rather difficult to summarize the whole story. Maybe the best is if you can point your readers to the on-line document that contains the chronology of facts. Then they can make up their minds about the issue. I'm not even sure I will call this a case of censorship. It's more a case of "preventive media pillorying", an attempt to disqualify the work in front of the public opinion before it even get released...

Janez Janša: ...this way creating conditions for the public opinion to easily accept the censorship that might follow. The rhetoric used for achieving this goal is of a very populist kind. All the media close to the conservative government agree to define the movie as a "merely pornographic" and "highly offensive" product. A kind of "art" that shouldn't be allowed any further to be supported and produced with taxpayers money.

Janez Janša: The funny thing is that all the discrediting arguments are based on "something" that "somebody heard" that "someone else has seen". No one of the journalists attacking us has actually seen the work as the movie is not even finished yet.

But were you not expecting to be challenged and criticized when you decided that the 3 of you would adopt the name of the PM of Slovenia and join his own party? Surely that gesture must have been interpreted as a political position? And probably not as one that pays homage to his person and politics? How did he react to it?

Janez Janša: The first reaction by the Prime Minister was silence, and his silence was a very clear reaction. There was a lot of speculation in the media whether our name change is to be understood as a gesture of support or criticism to the politician.

Janez Janša: It is only in February 2011 that Janša, at the time the leader of the opposition, commented on our gesture. In an interview he gave for the 1st channel of the National Radio he said that he was receiving invitations to appear in front of the court and invoices for fines related to crimes we've done.

My Name Is Janez Jansa (excerpt #43)

Janez Janša: After Janša made his public statement also conservative media and intellectuals started to comment on our name change especially highlighting the way public money were spent and for which kind of "politicized art". Some of the progressive critic instead maintained that by changing our names we helped the politician to himself to the public under a better light. Other accused us of doing a mere marketing operation to gain more visibility and therefore get more money.

Janez Janša: But all of them basically agreed on the fact that this name change would be a short exploit in our careers and that soon we will all change our names back, or further.

Janez Janša: Well, they were right, at least in my case. I've changed back my name to Žiga Kariž in January 2009 and now I'm still using Janez Janša as a pseudonym especially when I do some work with these two guys, Janez Janeša and Janez Janša...

Thank you Janez Janša!

The documentary My Name Is Janez Janša is in its post-production phase, and it needs financial strengthening. Help the artists finish the film and reach worldwide audience.

On Tuesday, i took that decrepit and charming train that goes from Liege to Maastricht to visit one of my favourite architecture centers: NAIM / Bureau Europa.

Part of a research on the relationship between architecture and conflict, their current exhibition ZOO, or the letter Z, just after Zionism explores the constructive and destructive forces of architecture through the work of Israeli architect Malkit Shoshan.

The show is an approachable and moving extension of the book she published a few years ago: Atlas of the Conflict. Israel-Palestine. The book was mapping literally and figuratively the appearance of a nation at the detriment of another one and highlighting the influence that political agendas have on urban planning and architecture. But instead of displaying countless maps at Bureau Europa, the curator and architect found inspiration in a story that toured the world in 2009: the one of the zebra of the Gaza zoo.

Because they couldn't afford to buy and smuggle a real zebra through the tunnels like they did with the other animals, the owners of the Gaza zoo used masking tape and black hair dye to paint a donkey into a zebra. It was an instant hit with children.

Image: Bureau Europa

Image: Bureau Europa

The exhibition ZOO, or the letter Z, just after Zionism has turned Bureau Europa into a small zoo. The first animals you meet in the gallery --if you visit it during the weekend-- are donkeys. Unpainted and peacefully eating their hay. They symbolize the daily struggle to lead an almost 'normal' life in the Gaza Strip where regular trade continues to be prohibited, where almost no construction materials or raw materials is allowed to enter, where the population is isolated and subject to electricity cuts of 4 to 8 hours per day, where there is no longer access to regular, clean water and where, according to the World Food Programme, "The evidence shows that the population is being sustained at the most basic or minimum humanitarian standard."

Apart from the donkeys, Bureau Europa also hosts rats. Nested in tunnels, running around or playing on a wooden wheel. The lovely rats evoke human beings living in an area, the Gaza Strip, that is running out of space. The Strip has one of the highest densities in the world. Add to that its inhabitants are not allowed to construct nor rebuild what has been destroyed by bombings (or the Israeli practice of moving through walls) since construction material is denied entrance in Gaza. There's no high rise building, no tower, no skyscraper to make room for parks, cultivation and proper public infrastructure.

Image: Bureau Europa


In 1958, John B. Calhoun conducted over-population experiments on rats. The ethologist provided a group of rats with food and water but the size of their cage was considered sufficient for only 50 rodents. As the population grew there were soon too many rats for each to have its own territory and the animals became increasingly stressed. Males became aggressive. Mothers neglected their infants. Cannibalism began. The rodents had lost the ability to live harmoniously together.

Image: Bureau Europa

Fortunately, Gazans manage to keep a remarkable sense of humour and many still hope that peace might one day prevail. Hence the third group of animal present in the gallery: doves.

The walls and windows around the installations are covered in posters that illustrate and provide facts and figures about the history of zoos around the world, the human zoos of the 15th to 18th century, how most of the animals of the Gaza zoo had died of starvation or because of bombing during the Israeli war on Gaza, how wild animals are smuggled through the tunnels, the movement for animal rights, the black market, architecture in Gaza, living conditions in the Gaza Strip, etc.

Elsewhere, a strip of sand suggests that the Gaza Strip used to be a place of rest for travelers.

Image: Bureau Europa

Apart from the installations, Bureau Europa also exhibits books related to the topic of the show as well as a series of short documentaries or tv news reports such as the one below (it broke my heart so i've never watched it till the end):

Gaza's only zoo is up for sale

But why bring zoo and Zionism together? According to Shoshan, the origins of both can be traced back to the Age of the Enlightenment: the classification of nations (Jewish people had none at the time) and the classification of nature. The urban zoo emerged at the same time as the ideology that calls for the establishment of a homeland for Jewish people was gathering strength.

Image: Bureau Europa

Image: Bureau Europa

Image: Bureau Europa



ZOO, or the letter Z, just after Zionism remains open at NAIM / Bureau Europa through 20 May 2012.

Related: Book review: Atlas of the Conflict. Israel-Palestine.
Previously at Bureau Europa: Clip/Stamp/Fold - The Radical Architecture of Little Magazines 196X-197X, Rien Ne Va Plus at Bureau Europa in Maastricht, Changing Ideals: Re-thinking the House at NAI in Maastricht, State Alpha, on the architecture of sleep, Edible City - Part 1 and Part 2.

Since 2009 writer and filmmaker Arnold van Bruggen and photographer Rob Hornstra have been touring around Sochi (Krasnodar Krai, Russia), a small city on the Black Sea that will host the Winter Olympics in 2014. The choice of Sochi is not the most opportune one. Not only does the area boasts exceptionally mild Winters by Russian standards, it is also located in close proximity of some of Russia's most unstable regions. Hornstra and van Bruggen currently have a show at Foto8 gallery in London that focuses precisely on one of those regions: the Republic of Abkhazia.

Kuabchara, ABKHAZIA, 2009 - Brothers Zashrikwa (17) and Edrese (14). Copyright © Rob Hornstra

Sukhum, Abkhazia, 2010 - Sea terminal (for ferries) in the center of Sukhum. On the left side cafe Apra

You might never have heard of Abkhazia and that's probably because only a handful of countries regard it as an independent state.

Abkhazia broke away from Georgia after a short, violent civil war in '92-'93 and only Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and the atoll of Nauru recognised it as independent state in 2008.

The 13 month long war killed between 20,000 to 30,000 ethnic Georgians and between 2,500 and 4,000 Abkhaz. Over 250,000 Georgian refugees were displaced. Abkhaz 20,000 became refugees.

Eshera, ABKHAZIA, 2009 - Mikhail Yefremovich Zetunyan (88). Copyright © Rob Hornstra 2009

The artists spent four years witnessing and documenting the country's attempts to repopulate with new immigrants a country that is ravaged by the war, almost empty and in great economic distress.

In 2007 we first visited a refugee centre in Tbilisi, where we interviewed Georgians who had fled from Abkhazia during the war in 1992-1993. An estimated 250,000 Georgian refugees have since been living in 'temporary' accommodation, such as former student apartments, old primary schools and abandoned hotels. Every Georgian president has promised the refugees that he would end the frozen conflict and that the refugees would soon be able to return to their homeland Abkhazia. When we visited these refugees in 2007 in a totally rundown former student apartment in Tbilisi, they had already spent 14 years in their 'temporary' accommodation. But we could still detect a faint glimmer of hope among the refugees we spoke to.

In 2010 we visited many of the refugees we had met in 2007. All hope was gone. It was distressing to see that the situation had not improved for any of them.

Small selection of images with text found on Time Machine (as well as on a leaflets inside Foto8 exhibition space):

Pitsunda, ABKHAZIA, 2009. Copyright © Rob Hornstra/INSTITUTE

Pitsunda is a resort town on the shore of the Black Sea. In October 1964 Nikita Khrushchev was vacationing in Pitsunda when he was deposed from power. There are many hotels for Russian tourists, who frequent the area in summertime.

Shamgona, Georgia, 2010

A blue painted wooden kindergarten has been used as a shelter for refugees. In the early 1990s for the ethnic Georgians forced to flee Abkhazia were housed in student flats, hotels and schools across Georgia, with the promise that they would soon be able to return to their homeland.

Tbilisi, Georgia, 2010 - Altar of Mediko Zarandiya (56) in a refugee kommunalka on the outskirts of Tbilisi

A kommunalka is an apartment building in which dwellers share facilities like toilet and kitchen. Until the early nineties this building was used as student housing. Since the Georgian - Abkhazian war, the building has been occupied by Georgian refugees from Abkhazia.

Tkuarchal, Abkhazia, 2010 - Ainar (7) in his class in Tkuarchal. He wants to become the president of Abkhazia

The image that Abkhazia wants to present to the world is one of a real country, with all the institutions and infrastructure that it involves: schools, healthcare institutions, administration, police stations and a prison. That's right, the whole country has only one prison but then there are only some 240,000 inhabitants in Abkhazia.

Sukhumi, ABKHAZIA, 2007 - Sergei Vasilyevich Bagapsh, President of the Republic of Abkhazia since 2005

Dranda, Abkhazia, 2010 - Director of Dranda, the only prison of Abkhazia

Abkhazian police man and peace keeper Eric Amichba (33) in Azhara, 2009

In the shadow of the war between Georgia and Russia in August 2008, a small war is still playing out. With Russian support Abkhazia captured the officially demilitarised Kodori Valley, a remote mountainous region on the border of Abkhazia and Georgia. Since then, Georgia has attracted another 2,000 refugees. As a notable exception, Abkhazia allows journalists to visit the region.

The Sochi Project: Empty Land, Promised Land, Forbidden Land remains open at Foto8 in London through April 21, 2012.
More info about The Sochi Project. Images on Borotov, Time Machine and INSTITUTE.

Previously: The Sochi Project.

A belated review of the exhibition Jeremy Deller - Joy in People...

Life Is to Blame for Everything, banner by Jeremy Deller, outside the Hayward Gallery in London. Photograph: David Levene

It's always daunting to write about an exhibition that so many articles have commented on already. We've all read that Jeremy Deller won the Turner Prize in 2004. That he has never been a good drawer nor a talented painter. In fact, his teacher strongly advised against art school (a suggestion i fully understand if Deller is to blame for the mural painted behind the screen that shows the documentary So Many Ways to Hurt You, the Life and Times of Adrian Street, see photo below.)

Jeremy Deller does art outside galleries. It thrives in 'low culture' and it is usually ambitious, socially-engaged and unexpected. Indeed, most of his career is built on looking for art in the most unpredictable places, working with the public or with people who have particular knowledge or skill but who wouldn't otherwise be associated with the contemporary art world. They include unemployed miners, brass bands, a campaign banner maker, fans of Depeche Mode, a glam rock wrestler, experts in battle re-enactments, etc. He even collaborated on an art project with nightclub owner and trendsetter Peter Stringfellow.

In late February, a retrospective of Jeremy Deller's work opened at the Hayward gallery. It is called Joy in People and joy is precisely what it brings.

Exotic Adrian Street and his father, 1973. Photo : Dennis Hutchinson

Jeremy Deller, Valerie's Snack Bar, 2009. Photo Linda Nylind

It should be tricky to exhibit the work of Jeremy Deller, an artist who doesn't produce artefacts but experiences, happenings and interventions. Out there. In the streets. Neither you nor i were there. Consequently, the show includes many videos and video documentation of some of his works. But there's also a reconstruction of Valerie's snack bar in Bury market, Lancashire. You can sit down and get a free cup of tea. There are people hired to read texts to make you melancholic, people on hand to discuss their experience of war in Iraq, t-shirts, photos of his 'failed' artworks, an introduction the world of re-enactment aficionados, music videos, magazines, a replica of Deller's teenage bedroom where he organized a solo show while his parents were on holiday, etc. Many art critics wrote that it was all a bit 'second hand'. But if it was, it was good enough for me. I spent a whole afternoon visiting Joy in People. I'll probably go back before the show closes.

Most of the works on show are very well documented already but i'm going to highlight two that i found most irresistible.


The show had a whole section, titled My Failures, that documents the projects Deller never realized.

Jeremy Deller, Fourth Plinth proposal - ©Jeremy Deller

One of them is a proposal for Trafalgar Square's Fourth Plinth. Deller wanted to place on top of the plinth a life-size model of Dr David Kelly, the biological warfare expert who committed suicide in 2003 following the media frenzy provoked by his comments on the British government's dossier on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

'I had two ideas for the Fourth Plinth that I suggested to the committee, the first was for a destroyed car from Baghdad - a victim of the Iraq occupation - called "Spoils of War (Memorial for an Unknown Civilian)". The other was going to be a mannequin of Dr David Kelly [who committed suicide in 2003 following the controversy his comments on the British government's dossier on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq] just sitting on the edge of the plinth, facing Whitehall, because some people may have forgotten who he was. They were both ways of deflating the meaning or effect of public sculpture, basically to act as an antidote to the sculpted men who had done things in battle.'


So Many Ways to Hurt You (The Life and Times of Adrian Street), 2010. Photograph: Linda Nylind

I wish So Many Ways to Hurt You, the Life and Times of Adrian Street was available online somewhere (there's only a short extract of the film.) So Many Ways to Hurt You documents the life of glam rock wrestler Adrian Street Street was born into a coal mining family in Wales in 1940. He was sent down the mine at a very young age, fled to London at 16 to pursue a career as a model for bodybuilding magazines and professional wrestler. One day he realized that the way to stardom was through a glam rock persona that would tap into the homophobia of the macho wrestling world. And so he started designing and cutting his own costumes, wearing garish make-up and extravagant platinum hair-dos. He'd blow kisses to his opponents or make silly dances to further provoke them.

Street now lives in Florida, he's still wrestling but I haven't got a clue about what happened to his singing career:

Also in the exhibition:

His 2001 film The Battle of Orgreave reconstructed the famous and violent clash between police and striking miners in 1984 with the help of historical re-enactment societies and former miners.

Jeremy Deller, The Battle of Orgreave, 2001

Jeremy Deller, The Battle of Orgreave, 2001


For 1997's Acid Brass, Deller invited a brass band to play acid house tunes. The video at the Hayward shows the actual performance but just the soundtrack makes my day.

The History of the World demonstrates the intertwined histories of traditional brass band music and the acid house scene of the late 1980s.

The History of the World, 1997. Photo Linda Nylind

It Is What It Is or how to get people to sit and discuss about the war in Iraq using a car wreck.

Jeremy Deller, It Is What It Is, 2009 (detail)

Jeremy Deller, The Search for Bez, 1994. Photograph: David Levene

Jeremy Deller, Open Bedroom, 1993. Recreation for Joy in People. Photo LInda Nylind

Jeremy Deller, Open Bedroom, 1993. Recreation for Joy in People. Photo LInda Nylind

Jeremy Deller, Exodus, 2012. Photo Linda Nylind

Mural by Stuart Hughes in Jeremy Deller Joy in People. Photo by Linda Nylind

Don't miss The Posters Came from the Walls, a brilliant, witty and charming film about fans of Depeche Mode around the world. It's in the gallery upstairs, by the entrance. And it's free.

Jeremy Deller - Joy in People remains open until 13 May 2012 at the Hayward Gallery in London.

More in the I Love Jeremy Deller series: Adrian Street, Queen Bitch of pro wrestling, Baghdad, 5 March 2007, Ed Hall, the art of protest banners and The Steam Powered Internet Machine.

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