A few weeks ago, i was back in Gijón for the opening of Elastic Reality at the Laboral Art Center. The show looks at how artists are representing, commenting on and reacting to the shift in our understanding of the world brought about by technical innovations and in particular by our permanent state of 'connectedness.' I'll write with more details about the exhibition in the coming days but right now, i wanted to bring the spotlight on a work i found particularly impressive and thought-provoking.

In Tarnac. Le chaos et la grâce, Joachim Olender explores a police and judicial blunder that hit France in November 2008 when a group of policemen wearing black balaclavas stormed into the small village of Tarnac and arrested a group of people who were later accused of being far-left terrorists plotting to overthrow the state.

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Police swooped on Tarnac at dawn and arrested four men and five women, aged 22 to 34, over terrorist claims. Photograph: Thierry Zoccolan/AFP/Getty Images (via)

Known as the Tarnac Nine, these people were in particular accused of incidents of vandalism on France's high-speed railway lines, which caused delays but no casualties. The case was characterized by a lack of proof against the 'terrorists'. The whole case against them was built on two things. The first was that the 'ringleader' Julien Coupat and his girlfriend had allegedly been seen by police near a train line that was later vandalised. The second one was an anonymous tract against capitalism and modern society titled The Coming Insurrection which the police believed was authored by Coupat.

Joachim Olender's explores the affair through a set of a video-installation and an animaiton film. In one room, three screens hanging side by side show the images that the artist took on the 'scenes of the crime' and these images are pretty unspectacular: empty landscapes, desolate roads, farms in Tarnac, railways and dirty snow. A small room contains the second part of the installation: an animation film charting the various episodes of the affair, from the arrest to a discussion in the French Parliament. In the animation, the Tarnac Nine are wearing masks, they never utter a word and move quietly.

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Joachim Olender, Tarnac

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Joachim Olender, Tarnac

I found the project very moving. The story of the Tarnac Nine was obviously gripping, especially as i discovered it right when i was watching the final episodes of the TV series Spiral which was also dealing with social revolutions, acts of sabotages and the far-left in its various guises. But the way the artist dealt with the issue was also clever: he set the pace, exposed what have been called 'the facts' but let us draw our own conclusions. There's an air of mystery, an ambiguity that kept me glued to the installation's screens.

That's why i wanted to interview the artist and in case you'd rather read his answers in original language, you can scroll down and read Joachim's answers in french.

Hi Joachim! Why did you decide to explore the Tarnac affair? Why this particular story?

The first image i recall evokes an American blockbuster. The headline of Libération on December 3, 2003 was Tarnac, des terroristes vraiment? ("Tarnac, are they really terrorists?"). You see men wearing black balaclavas storming into a village. There were talks of terrorism everywhere so i assumed they were terrorists. Later on, I realized they were cops. But i found the confusion striking and it stayed with me ever since.

I starter collecting all the articles i could get my hands on. There was something peculiar that bothered me in this affair, I just didn't know what it was exactly. But my intuition told me that I needed to dig deeper into the story. Time passed, I worked on other projects and I came back to it in the Summer of 2011.

I was stricken by the unresolved issue, the dark stain right in the middle of the photo, the one that conceals a crucial element, the one that prevents the case to be closed and that builds up a myth instead.

Everything brought me back to a fiction, a story that needed to be told in order to expose its absurdity. I had the feeling that there was material, a breeding ground for reflection but above all, there was a dimension i could not grasp, a dimension that would not be grasped. The more i delved, the more obvious it was to me that the investigation was futile. It wasn't that the truth (the legal truth, the truth of the facts) couldn't be proved. To me, the issue was elsewhere. There were elements in the story that prevented me from moving on and that gradually made their roots into my projects, to the point of becoming its very core. Like a trick, an ambush that would become the making and the re-making of the affair. And of my film.

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View of the exhibition at LABoral. Photo LABoral/Marcos Morilla

Can you tell us about the material you used to research, document, prepare the installation? Did you meet some of the protagonists? Use mostly information found in mainstream media?

The issue of the sources is probably the one that matters the most to me. In 2008, a few months before the arrest of these young people in Tarnac, a very engaged philosophical and political essay titled "L'insurrection qui vient" (The Coming Insurrection) authored by an invisible collective. People in power got scared by that book and decreed that the authors were young "anarcho-autonomous" people from Tarnac. They pointed to links between extracts from the book and the sabotage of TGV (high-speed train) lines and attempted to claim that these acts of sabotage were in fact acts of terrorism.

In other words, the book was a bomb and its authors were terrorists. There were also plenty of press articles about the affair, many of them were published in Mediapart. I was reading everything i could get my hands on. I remember one article in particular: Pourquoi l'affaire de Tarnac nous concerne tous ("Why the Tarnac Affair matters to all of us.") It was written by Edwy Plenel (the President of Mediapart) on April 25, 2009. He explains with great clarity (a rare occurrence in this affair) that the issue with the Tarnac affair was the violation of vital democratic principles and that it should matter to each of us, even if and especially if we didn't agree with the ideas brought forward with the main protagonists.

That was precisely what needed to be told.

No matter what they were thinking, what they had written and even no matter what they had done, as long as their guilt had not been proven, they were entitled to the presumption of innocence. Strangely enough, what was important to me what not so much to figure out whether they were guilty or not. But the problem is that once the presumption of innocence is violated, it's too late and those in power have won because in people's minds, these guys are guilty.

I later got in touch with David Dufresne, a former journalist who had followed the Tarnac Affair for Mediapart. At the time, in November 2011, he was finishing his book "Tarnac, Magasin général" (Tarnac, General Store.) I wrote him a long email, i wanted to submit my twisted vision to someone who had a good understanding of the affair. I needed to know whether i was completely mistaken or not. Everything was quite confusing at the time. And that's probably this chaos that i found so compelling. I found it totally unreal.

Reading Dufresne's book taught me a lot about the affair. At the start of the affair, in late 2008, i read the texts and essays authored by the Tiqqun collective but often attributed to the Invisible Committee, the authors of The Coming Insurrection.

I didn't want to interview the protagonists and enforce their desire of discretion. But i wrote them, to say that i was coming to Tarnac and that I would have liked to meet them. They confirmed my intuition by answering that they'd rather remain in the shadow. While i was there, i met one of the defendants. We said we'd meet again to talk. But then it snowed so much, it was so cold. I never saw her again.

That's it for the sources. I should add that, although I was originally trained as a lawyer, i became an artist. Unlike the lawyer or the journalist who follows an affair, i can chose to feed exclusively on confusions, incoherence, gaps, cracks and on my own intuition. Instead of using what appears, i exploit what doesn't appear. Since nothing was clear in this affair, i decided to produce my own archives. That's why the virtual film is a document like any other document, although it has been built from scratch. It reveals the deception as much as it conveys the essence of the affair: the reconstitution. My film and installation became secondary sources. So while i was revealing the deception, i was also contributing to it and keeping the myth alive.

Another thing: i wrote a scenario, based on 'real facts.' And i say 'real facts' because that is where the impossibility of telling the story started. Facts are inherently real but, in the Tarnac affair, every single element seemed to be debatable. To the point that my documentary project was, right from the start, distorted. Nipped in the bud. So this impossibility was what i worked on. No evidence, no trace, nothing. Just books. And that's fundamental, the main source used by the government, the one they regarded as 'evidence' was a book.

Joachim Olender, Tarnac

Now i'm also curious about the form that the installation takes. First, there's a 3 screen installation showing images you shot on location. And in an adjacent room, video game images chart the whole affair in complete silence, with members of the Tarnac Nine wearing masks. Why did you chose to show explore the subject this way? Why are the protagonists silent? Why using both videos of the location and virtual images?

I wanted to fragment. The double installation sets a kind of mirror. I wanted to create an off-camera, separate the points of view. Each film is the counterpart of the other one. On the one hand, there's what appears to be real. On the other one, the virtual. Whichever reality we choose to see remains amputated. It's as if neither of the videos was sufficient to tell the story but the only thing that could account for this was the double installation itself, its fragmentation, the division between the materials: the real and the virtual.

The working process was laborious. Each step, which had to fit into the project, acted as a basis for the following stages. I went shooting in Tarnac and Dhuisy (the location of the sabotage) with my cameraman and the editor who, because i couldn't afford to hire a sound engineer, had accepted to undertake the sound part as well. The idea was to make a "movie without a trace." I wanted to show the location of an affair that had shaken France. The places were obviously empty... The words of the accused had to be superposed to these images. I used extracts from the essays that were attributed to them as well as the superb interview with Julien Coupat (the main suspect in the Tarnac Affair) that was published in Le Monde on 26 May 2009, while he was still in prison where he would be detained for 6 months. Adding a voice-over was a way to confront the viewer. Because of the chaos, it was important to articulate certain things. You can always beat around the bush but the only things that seemed 'real' to me were their own words. They had to be heard. If you stay put and listen to the words, you are bound to ask yourself questions, it's a 'matter of sensitivity' (dixit Julien Coupat.)

The making of the video game was the most important part. During five months, i worked in Garry's mod, a video game software, with two 3D animators. Using my footage and the images from Google Earth, we made a reconstitution of Tarnac and Dhuisy. I wanted to make a film you didn't know how to enter. Just like in Waltz with Bashir by Ari Folman, i felt that only animation could convey the real. The ideal suspect would be in place but nothing would happen. No action nor crime. Nothing. Only the direction would suggest the action. Twisting the video game universe, diverting it, hijacking the bugs, the constraints, the impossibility to manipulate the characters as one would wish, all these elements build up a kind of strangeness.

The peculiarity is that it was a real "virtual shooting." I placed the cameras inside the sets built with my graphic designers and I filmed the models of the characters. I worked shot by shot rather than frame by frame. My approach is thus, on this aspect, closer to cinema than to animation.

The idea of the mask came out of the anonymity of the protagonists. It was part of their ideology. The Invisible Committee wrote in The Coming Insurrection that "Being invisible is to be exposed.' They hardly ever accepted any interview. They were distrustful. Even when he was released from prison, Julien Coupat was in the truck of a car, to avoid meeting the press. Appearing in the case meant entering the political arena and the 'society of the spectacle.' The masks made them anonymous as much as it made them suspects. Besides, masks turned them into characters of the Commedia dell'arte. They had ended up in the spotlight and despite themselves, they kept the myth alive. Finally, it was also a way to play with the codes of the video game. The fact that everyone, the heroes and the villains, were wearing masks added to the general confusion in the film. I wasn't convinced of their innocence but it didn't matter to me anymore. However, i was convinced that the law had been violated. Even if the book had displeased those in power, that didn't make these guys terrorists. So I staged the abnormality, the fear, the figure of the guilty one, with a certain dose of irony so that viewers would ask themselves "But are they really guilty?" "What have they done exactly?"

The silence of the protagonists, just like the mask, plays on the ambiguity. It erases any trace of culpability while raising suspicion at the same time. Besides, this reflects the "truth" quite accurately since the defendants have almost never expressed themselves in this affair. That might have driven the government crazy. And that's probably what 'saved' them. But the voice-over of the triptych was devised to echo the animation film. Even if they don't have a face, their words are present, their texts haunt the film.

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Joachim Olender, Tarnac

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Joachim Olender, Tarnac

While working on this interview, i've been reading about the Tarnac Affair and trying to figure out where the "Tarnac Nine" are nowadays, if they have been cleared of the accusations, etc. But i couldn't find any satisfying answer. Information seems to stop in 2010. Has the State and the police formally apologized for the unjustified accusations? And what does the general public think? Do they still believe that the protagonists are guilty or is it now clear to everyone that there was little to no evidence to sustain the accusations?

I don't know the current legal situation of the defendants but i do know that these young people from Tarnac have long been (up to the time i was making the film at least) forbidden to leave the country and under judicial supervision. The situation is moving gradually. In November 2011, after the Tarnac Nine had accused the counter-terrorism police to have fabricated a counterfeit statement, the prosecutor of Nanterre opened an investigation for "forgery and use of forgery of public documents." In March 2012, the counter-terrorism examining magistrate, Thierry Fragnoli, is removed from the case. And on 24 October 2012 (four years after the start of the affair!), the newspaper Le Canard Enchaîné revealed that the credit card of Yildune Lévy, girlfriend and later on wife of Julien Coupat, had been used in Paris in the night of the 7th to the 8th of November 2008. Thus far away from Dhuisy, where the sabotage took place. The bank statement reports a withdrawal of 40 euros in Pigalle at 2.44am. Two days later, the Versailles Court of Appeal ordered the hearing of 18 policemen who had participated to the surveillance operation of the members of the Tarnac group. And, on 12 November 2012, Julien Coupat finally broke his silence and accepted to answer questions from journalists. "From now on, the only way we can disappear is by appearing," he explained. I'm not aware whether justice has pronounced a dismissal of the case.

As regards public opinion, i think it has evolved over the course of the affair. For the first three years, at the exception of Mediapart, only very little alternative information was published. I believe that unfortunately, when the press follows those in power and violates the presumption of innocence, people engulf themselves in that direction too. Libération, a newspaper widely regarded as 'left-wing' headlined "L'Ultra gauche déraille" (The Far-Left goes off the rails), they later changed their position but by then it was too late. I think that many people believed they were guilty. Especially because, as I explained earlier, the defendants themselves contributed to the mystery. By refusing to appear, for example.

Since the launch of the book "Tarnac, Magasin Général", the election of François Hollande and the latest legal elements of the case, the police blunder seems to be confirmed. But I doubt that the majority of the people really care.

As i said earlier, before choosing art, i studied law. It is clear that the question of the criminalization of 'terrorism' has concerned me a lot. Let's remember that the 'terrorists' of 1940 were regarded as hero after the Liberation. But you know, everything is connected. In a case like this one, you cannot chose on side and leave another one aside. The rest is just a matter of communication. I think that the viewer understands better when they do they own reasoning. They have to be free to understand.

There's this really interesting essay written in 2009 by Alberto Toscano for The Guardian. He argues the Tarnac Nine has demonstrated that we are losing "the political literacy, and the legal capacity, to distinguish between sabotage and terrorism, vandalism and mass murder, as every oppositional alternative to the status quo is swallowed up under the umbrella of terrorism. "

Was your work commenting on this kind of issue? Or did you want spectators to draw their own conclusion?

I wanted to highlight the absurdity of an affair that was built upon the publishing of a book. The criminalization of thought is a nightmare beyond understanding. It is pure literature (or, as you wrote, it is now worthy of a tv series.) It is Kafka's The Trial, George Orwell's 1984, it is science fiction. In Minority Report, Philip K. Dick imagines a society that hunts 'pre-crime', the crime before it has even been committed. Only fiction could make people reflect. Paradoxically, people regard it as a documentary work. But i wrote a screenplay based on facts that were entirely reinterpreted. What else was I supposed to do? What is real, apart from the books that i read and the mounting of a case no one knows anything about? The absence of traces or the way to create archive using fiction: that's the whole issue. What can you see in virtual reconstructions, in a video game? A piece of evidence? An archive?

Thanks Joachim!

Credits: scenario and direction of the animation film: Joachim Olender. Production: Le Fresnoy + Solilok asbl. 3D animation: Thomas Jorion and Alexis Fradier. Editing of the image: Yannick Leroy. Sound editing: Yann-Elie Gorans. Mixing: Simon Apostolou ; Calibration: Baptiste Evrard
Scenario and direction of the triptych: Joachim Olender. Production: Le Fresnoy + Solilok asbl. Voice-over: Soufian El Boubsi. Music: Pierre Hujoel. Image: Vincent Pinckaers. Sound: Yannick Leroy. Editing of the image: Yannick Leroy. Sound editing: Yann-Elie Gorans. Mixing: Simon Apostolou. Calibration: Baptiste Evrard.

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Now for the answers in french:

Why did you decide to explore the Tarnac affair? Why this particular story?

La première image dont je me souviens est celle d'un blockbuster américain. Le Libé du 3 décembre 2008 titrait "Tarnac, des terroristes vraiment?". On voit des mecs avec des cagoules noires qui débarquent dans un village. On parlait de terrorisme à tout bout de champ, j'ai donc pensé que c'était les terroristes. Ensuite, j'ai compris que c'était les flics. Mais cette confusion m'a marqué, et elle m'est restée.

Je me suis mis à collecter tous les articles que je trouvais. Il y avait quelque chose de particulier qui me préoccupait dans cette affaire, sans savoir quoi au juste, mais j'avais l'intuition qu'il y avait quelque chose à creuser. J'ai laissé passer du temps, j'ai travaillé sur d'autres projets et j'y suis revenu à l'été 2011. 

Ce qui m'avait interpellé, c'était la question non résolue, la tache sombre en plein milieu de la photo, celle qui dissimule un élément crucial, empêchant toute résolution de l'affaire et construisant, à la place, un mythe.

Tout me ramenait sans cesse à une fiction, une histoire qu'il fallait raconter afin d'en relater l'absurde. J'avais la sensation qu'il y avait là une matière, un terreau de réflexion mais surtout il y avait une dimension qui m'échappait, qui était là comme pour m'échapper. Plus je m'y plongeais, plus l'impossibilité m'apparaissait évidente et rendait à mes yeux l'enquête vaine. Non qu'il fut impossible de prouver la vérité (je veux dire juridique, des faits) mais la question à mes yeux n'était pas là. Il y avait comme des éléments qui m'empêchaient d'avancer et qui progressivement s'enracinaient dans mon projet, au point d'en devenir le noyau même. Comme une supercherie, un guet-apens qui serait la constitution et la re-constitution même de l'affaire. Et de mon film.

Can you tell us about the material you used to research, document, prepare the installation? Did you meet some of the protagonists? Use mostly information found in mainstream media?

La question des sources est sans doute l'une des plus importantes à mes yeux. Il y a eu en 2008, quelques mois avant l'arrestation des jeunes de Tarnac, la publication d'un essai de philosophie politique très engagé intitulé « L'insurrection qui vient » signé par un comité invisible. Les politiques ont pris peur face à ce livre et ont considéré que les auteurs étaient les jeunes « anarcho-autonomes » de Tarnac. Ils ont pointé des liens entre des passages du livre et les sabotages des lignes de TGV et ils ont tenté de qualifier les sabotages d'actes terroristes. Autrement dit, ce livre était une bombe et ses auteurs des terroristes.

Il y avait bien sûr les articles de presse sur l'affaire, dont nombreux publiés par Mediapart. Je lisais tout ce que je trouvais. Je me souviens en particulier d'un article d'Edwy Plenel (président de Mediapart) du 25 avril 2009 qui titrait « Pourquoi l'affaire de Tarnac nous concerne tous ». Il y expliquait de manière limpide (ce qui fut rare dans cette affaire) qu'il était question dans l'affaire de Tarnac de violation de principes démocratiques vitaux et combien cela nous concernait tous, même et surtout, si nous ne partagions pas les idées de ceux qu'elle mettait en cause. L'essentiel était dit. Quoi qu'ils aient pu penser ou écrire, et même quoi qu'ils aient pu faire, tant que leur culpabilité n'était pas démontrée, ils avaient droit à la présomption d'innocence. Etrangement, il n'était désormais plus question pour moi de chercher à savoir s'ils étaient coupables. Mais le problème, c'est qu'une fois que la présomption d'innocence est bafouée, c'est trop tard, les politiques ont gagné, parce que dans l'esprit des gens, ils sont coupables.

Ensuite, je suis entré en contact avec David Dufresne, ancien journaliste chez Mediapart qui avait couvert l'affaire de Tarnac. Au moment où je lui ai écrit, en novembre 2011, il achevait son livre « Tarnac, Magasin général ». Je lui ai écrit un long email afin de confronter ma vision tordue auprès de quelqu'un qui connaissait bien l'affaire. J'avais besoin de savoir si je ne me plantais pas complètement. Il faut dire qu'à l'époque tout était très confus. Et c'est probablement ce chaos qui m'avait attiré. J'y voyais quelque chose de totalement irréel.

J'ai donc lu le livre de Dufresne qui m'a beaucoup appris sur l'affaire mais surtout, dès le début de l'affaire fin 2008, j'avais lu les textes et essais du collectif Tiqqun, qu'on attribue généralement au Comité invisible, auteur de « L'insurrection qui vient ».
Je ne voulais pas interroger les protagonistes, ça me semblait aller totalement contre leur désir de discrétion. Je leur ai quand même écrit en leur disant que j'allais venir à Tarnac et que j'aurais aimé les rencontrer. Ils ont confirmé mon intuition en me disant qu'ils préféraient rester dans l'ombre. Quand j'étais là bas, j'ai croisé une des inculpées. On s'est dit qu'on se reverrait pour parler. Et puis il a beaucoup neigé, il faisait très froid, et je ne l'ai jamais revue.

Ça c'est pour mes sources. Je dois préciser que, bien qu'ayant à l'origine une formation de juriste, je suis devenu artiste. Contrairement à l'avocat ou au journaliste qui couvre une affaire, je peux exclusivement me nourrir des confusions, des incohérences, des manques, des failles et de mes intuitions. Plutôt que de me servir de ce qui apparaît, j'exploite ce qui n'apparaît pas. Puisque rien n'était clair dans l'affaire, j'ai décidé de produire mes propres archives. En cela, le film virtuel prend la forme d'un document comme un autre, bien que construit de toute pièce. C'est une manière de révéler la supercherie et, en même temps, je transmets l'essence de l'affaire : la reconstitution. Mon film et mon installation devenaient des sources secondaires. Ainsi tout en la révélant, je contribuais à la supercherie, je faisais exister le mythe.

Autre chose : j'ai écrit un scénario, tiré de « faits réels ». Je précise « faits réels » parce que l'impossibilité du récit commençait là. Les faits sont par nature réels mais, dans l'affaire de Tarnac, chaque élément semblait discutable. Le « réel » n'apparaissait jamais de manière évidente. Au point que mon projet documentaire était en quelque sorte déjà faussé, comme tué dans l'œuf. C'est donc là-dessus que je suis mis à travailler, sur cette impossibilité. Pas de preuve, pas de trace, rien. Excepté des livres. Et ça c'est fondamental, la source principale de l'Etat, qu'ils ont considéré comme un élément de « preuve », était un livre.

Now i'm also curious about the form that the installation takes. First, there's a 3 screen installation showing images you shot on location. And in an adjacent room, video game images chart the whole affair in complete silence, with members of the Tarnac Nine wearing masks. Why did you chose to show explore the subject this way? Why are the protagonists silent? Why using both videos of the location and virtual images? 

J'ai voulu fragmenter. Le dispositif double installe une sorte de miroir. Je voulais créer un hors champ, disjoindre les points de vue. Chaque film est le pendant de l'autre. D'un côté ce qui semble être le réel, de l'autre le virtuel. Quelle que soit la réalité que l'on décide de voir, elle reste amputée. C'est comme si aucune des deux vidéos ne suffisaient à raconter l'affaire mais que la seule chose qui pouvait en rendre compte ce serait le dispositif même, sa fragmentation, le partage entre différents matériaux, réel et virtuel.
Le processus de travail a été laborieux. Chaque étape, qui devait s'intégrer au projet, servait de base aux étapes suivantes. Je suis parti en tournage à Tarnac et à Dhuisy (le lieu des sabotages) avec mon chef op et mon monteur qui, à défaut d'argent pour payer un ingé son, avait accepté de prendre le son. L'idée était de faire un « film sans traces ». Je voulais montrer les lieux de cette affaire qui avait fait trembler la France. Bien sûr c'était des lieux déserts... Et sur ces images, il fallait qu'on entende les paroles des inculpés. J'ai pris des extraits des essais qu'on leur attribue ainsi que de l'entretien magnifique de Julien Coupat (principal suspect dans l'affaire de Tarnac) paru dans Le Monde du 26 mai 2009, alors qu'il était encore détenu dans la prison où il est resté six mois. Instaurer une voix off, c'était une manière de confronter le spectateur. Vu le chaos qui régnait, il fallait à un moment choisir de dire les choses. On peut toujours tourner autour du pot mais la seule chose qui me paraissait « vraie », c'était leur parole. Et il fallait qu'ils soient entendus. Si on reste et qu'on écoute ce qui est dit, on est forcément interpellé, c'est une « affaire de sensibilité » (dixit Julien Coupat).

La création du « jeu vidéo » a été la plus importante. Pendant cinq mois, j'ai travaillé dans Garry's mod, un logiciel de jeu vidéo, avec deux animateurs 3D. A partir de mes rushes et d'images tirées de Google Earth, nous avons opéré une reconstitution de Tarnac et Dhuisy. Je voulais réaliser un film qu'on ne sache pas par quel bout saisir. Comme dans « Valse avec Bachir » de Ari Folman, j'avais l'impression qu'il fallait passer par l'animation pour dire le réel. L'idée était de mettre en place le suspect idéal mais que rien ne se passe. Aucune action. Aucun crime. Rien. Seule la mise en scène qui le suggère. Venir tordre l'univers du jeu vidéo, le détourner, s'approprier les bugs, les contraintes successives, les impossibilités de faire faire ce que l'on veut aux personnages, tout cela crée une forme d'étrangeté.

La particularité, c'est qu'il s'agit d'un véritable "tournage virtuel". Je pose des caméras dans les décors reconstitués avec mes graphistes et je filme les personnages qu'on a modélisés. Je travaille donc plan par plan et non image par image. Ma démarche est donc, de ce point de vue, plus proche du cinéma que de l'animation.

L'idée du masque est née de l'anonymat des protagonistes de l'affaire. Cela faisait partie de leur idéologie : « être visible, c'est être à découvert » écrit le comité invisible dans « L'insurrection qui vient ». IIs n'acceptaient pas, ou très peu, d'interviews. Ils étaient très méfiants. Même en sortant de prison, Julien Coupat est sorti dans le coffre d'une voiture, évitant ainsi les rencontres avec les medias. Apparaître dans l'affaire, c'était rentrer dans le jeu du politique et dans la « société de spectacle ». Les masques, ça les rendait anonymes mais ça les rendait suspects aussi, et puis ça en faisait des acteurs de la Comedia del arte. Ils avaient fini au coeur du spectacle. Malgré eux, ils faisaient vivre le mythe. Et puis, c'était tout simplement une manière de jouer avec les codes du jeu vidéo. Les « bons et les méchants », tous masqués, ça ramenait la confusion générale au sein du film.

Je n'étais pas convaincu de leur innocence, mais ça n'avait plus aucune importance pour moi. En revanche, j'étais convaincu que le droit avait été violé. Le livre pouvait déplaire au pouvoir, ça n'en faisait pas des terroristes. Donc j'ai mis en scène l'étrange, la peur, la figure du coupable, avec une certaine ironie, pour que le spectateur s'interroge « mais sont-ils vraiment coupables ? qu'ont-ils fait au juste ? ».

Le silence des protagonistes, comme le masque d'ailleurs, joue sur l'ambigüité : il efface toute trace de culpabilité et en même temps accroît la suspicion. D'autre part, c'est assez proche de la « vérité » puisque les inculpés se sont très peu exprimés au sein même de l'affaire. C'est d'ailleurs ce qui a pu rendre les politiques fous. Et c'est sans doute ce qui les a « sauvés »... En revanche, la voix off du triptyque a été pensée en écho au film d'animation. Même sans visage, leur parole est donc présente. Leurs textes hantent le film.

While working on this interview, i've been reading about the Tarnac Affair and trying to figure out where the "Tarnac Nine" are nowadays, if they have been cleared of the accusations, etc. But i couldn't find any satisfying answer. Information seems to stop in 2010. Has the State and the police formally apologized for the unjustified accusations? And what does the general public think? Do they still believe that the protagonists are guilty or is it now clear to everyone that there was little to no evidence to sustain the accusations?

Je ne connais pas la situation juridique actuelle des inculpés mais je sais que les jeunes de Tarnac ont été longtemps (encore lorsque je réalisais ce projet) interdits de quitter le territoire et sous contrôle judiciaire. Progressivement, on a pu voir quelques évolutions. En novembre 2011, suite à l'accusation par les jeunes de Tarnac de la police antiterroriste d'avoir rédigé un PV mensonger, le parquet de Nanterre a ouvert une information judiciaire pour « faux et usage de faux en écriture publique ». En mars 2012, le juge d'instruction antiterroriste Thierry Fragnoli s'est dessaisi de l'affaire. Et enfin, le 24 octobre 2012 (quatre ans après le début de l'affaire !), le journal Le Canard enchaîné a révélé que la carte bancaire de Yildune Lévy, compagne et depuis lors épouse de Julien Coupat, avait été utilisée à Paris dans la nuit du 7 au 8 novembre 2008, donc loin de Dhuisy, le lieu du sabotage. Un retrait bancaire fait état d'un retrait de 40 euros à Pigalle à 2h44. Deux jours après, la Cour d'appel de Versailles ordonnait l'audition de 18 policiers ayant participé à la surveillance des membres du groupe. Et, le 12 novembre 2012, Julien Coupat a pour la première fois brisé le silence et accepté de répondre aux questions des journalistes. « Désormais, la seule façon de disparaître, c'est d'apparaître" s'expliquait-il. Je n'ai pas connaissance que la justice ait déjà prononcé le non-lieu.
Concernant l'opinion générale, je pense qu'elle a dû évoluer au cours de l'affaire. Pendant les trois premières années, excepté sur Mediapart, il y avait très peu de contre-information. Je pense malheureusement que quand les medias suivent le politique et bafouent la présomption d'innocence, les citoyens suivent. (Libération, journal communément considéré à gauche, avait titré le 12 novembre 2008 : « L'ultra gauche déraille » pour ensuite revenir sur sa position mais c'était trop tard). Je pense que beaucoup ont du penser qu'ils étaient coupables. Surtout, comme je l'ai écrit plus haut, que les inculpés créaient le mystère, notamment par leur refus d'apparaître. Depuis la sortie du livre de David Dufresne « Tarnac, Magasin général », l'élection de François Hollande, ainsi que les derniers éléments judiciaires de l'affaire, la bavure semble avérée. Mais en réalité je pense que la plupart des gens ne se sentent pas concernés.

There's this really interesting essay written in 2009 by Alberto Toscano for The Guardian. He argues the Tarnac Nine has demonstrated that we are losing "the political literacy, and the legal capacity, to distinguish between sabotage and terrorism, vandalism and mass murder, as every oppositional alternative to the status quo is swallowed up under the umbrella of terrorism. "

Was your work commenting on this kind of issue? Or did you want spectators to draw their own conclusion?

Comme je l'ai dit plus haut, avant de me tourner vers l'art, j'ai fait des études de droit. Il est évident que la question de la qualification pénale de « terrorisme » m'a beaucoup préoccupé dans cette affaire. Souvenons-nous que les « terroristes » de 40 ont été considérés comme des héros à la Libération. Mais vous savez, tout est lié. Dans une affaire pareille, on ne peut pas prendre une partie et en délaisser une autre. Le reste, c'est une question de « comment transmettre ». Je pense que le spectateur ne comprend jamais aussi bien que quand il fait son propre trajet. Il faut qu'il soit libre de comprendre.

J'ai voulu mettre en évidence l'absurdité d'une affaire qui s'est bâtie sur la publication d'un livre. L'incrimination de la pensée est un cauchemar qui échappe à l'entendement. C'est de la pure littérature (ou, comme vous l'écrivez, c'est aujourd'hui digne de séries télévisées). On est dans Le procès de Kafka, dans 1984 de Georges Orwell, on est dans de la science fiction. Dans Minority Report, Philip K. Dick imagine une société où l'on traque le « Précrime », c'est-à-dire avant que le crime ne soit commis. Seule la fiction pouvait faire réfléchir. Et paradoxalement, les gens y voient un documentaire. Pourtant j'ai écrit un scénario à partir de faits totalement réinterprétés. Comment aurais-je pu faire autrement ? Qu'est-ce qui est réel finalement, à part les livres que j'ai lus et le montage d'une affaire dont on ne sait rien ? L'absence de traces ou comment créer une archive avec de la fiction, voilà l'enjeu. Peut-on voir dans des reconstitutions virtuelles, dans un jeu vidéo, un élément de preuve, une archive ?

Merci Joachim!

Crédits:
Film d'animation
scénario et réalisation : Joachim Olender ; production : Le Fresnoy et Solilok asbl ; animation 3D : Thomas Jorion et Alexis Fradier ; montage image : Yannick Leroy ; montage son : Yann-Elie Gorans ; mixage : Simon Apostolou ; étalonnage : Baptiste Evrard
Triptyque
scénario et réalisation : Joachim Olender ; production : Le Fresnoy et Solilok asbl ; voix off : Soufian El Boubsi ; musique : Pierre Hujoel ; image : Vincent Pinckaers ; son : Yannick Leroy ; montage image : Yannick Leroy ; Mmontage son : Yann-Elie Gorans ; mixage : Simon Apostolou ; étalonnage : Baptiste Evrard

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In my first post about the Design Interactions work in progress show, i was mentioning the wide scope covered by the project. From the most plausible to the utterly conceptual. My first article was about an alternative positioning system powered and controlled by the people. This new post is about an alternative world where bespoke sports events replace traditional warfare as a means of solving seemingly chronic conflicts.

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Commoditised Warfare, by Yosuke Ushigome, envisions a series of UN PeaceKeeping Olympics games in which each sport has been carefully designed to reflect the cultural and geopolitical characteristics of participants of the opposing sides.

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The first game opposes North Korea to South Korea + Japan + USA. Their dispute, triggered by a missile launch, is to be resolved through a game of Synchronised Baseball and hosted on a specially designed ship called "Dong-Gihwa". The floating stadium is sent to the middle of the Asian conflict area, beyond borders to better communicate the neutrality of the peace keeping intervention.

As its name suggests, synchronised baseball is a mixture of mass games and baseball: mass games such as Arirang Festival favoured by North Korea and baseball which is quite popular in the other countries (i had no idea that baseball was popular outside of the US but what do i know about sport?) This strange sport brought about an opportunity for people from each country to negotiate, mediate, and improvise through the process of developing this weird sport.

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Yosuke Ushigome designed a second game, this time with the objective of settling the conflict opposing India to Pakistan.

"HATHA-MILANA", which means handshaking in Hindi, is one of the most renowned models amongst UN's PKO Stadiums for its rigorous craftsmanship of decoration derived from its intervening area: India and Pakistan. Being inspired by the Wagah border closing 'lowering of the flags' ceremony, these two trucks are created to be a mobile stage of border-merging ceremony which can travel all over the border area between two countries.

Border-merging ceremony is designed to imitate the Wagah ceremony, but it is less aggressive and militant. Two local people perform a kind of Silly Walks show on the trucks' catwalk and advance towards the central circle where they shake hands. This ceremony creates so many laughter and peaceful moments on the border street that "HATHA-MILANA" is now on revival with limited hand-painted version.

The decoration of the truck is directly inspired by Pakistan's flamboyant trucks. The designer also pointed me to the Japanese "Decotora" trucks.

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All images courtesy of Yosuke Ushigome.

Über Grenzen. On Borders, photographs by Ostkreuz - Agentur der Fotografen. Texts by Andrea Böhm, Wolfgang Büscher, Fabian Dietrich, Anna-Christina Hartmann and Marcus Jauer. Graphic design by Jan Spading.

Available on amazon UK, i couldn't find it on amazon USA.)

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Publisher Hatje Cantz writes: They offer protection, lead to war, limit freedom, or make it possible; they have always been there and they will continue to exist: borders. Hardly anything else is as socially ambivalent, as timeless, and simultaneously as extremely relevant. The Ostkreuz agency was founded when what was probably the most important border in the history of Germany--the Berlin Wall--disappeared. Two decades later, the agency's photographers set out on a search for today's frontiers. Their pictures tell of discovering a state identity in South Sudan; they portray groups of indigenous peoples battling for their land in Canada and gay people in Palestine seeking exile in the enemy country of Israel. The focus is always on people: how do boundaries influence their everyday lives, and how do they shape their lives along those that surround them?

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Maurice Weiss, Libya, Misrata, war museum, handmade construction, autumn 2011. From the series "Arabian Autumn". © Maurice Weiss / OSTKREUZ

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Anne Schönharting, Gerry Reynolds, Catholic Priest, Bombay Street, West Belfast, 2011. © Anne Schönharting / OSTKREUZ

This book is about conflicts, misunderstandings, distrust, isolation, greed, fear, privileges and control. Über Grenzen. On Borders contains the kind of images you see in newspapers and press photo exhibitions. This time however they come with the personal story of the photographer: the doubts, the dangers encountered (one of them was kidnapped on the job), the challenges, the disappointments. I like the way photographers write. Whether they do it in the form of a diary or of a more traditional reportage article, whether they attempt to stay neutral or cannot hide their involvement in the issue they are covering, photographers are factual, informative, and efficient. As someone whose job consists mostly in writing, i can only feel envy. I should have undertaken a formation in photography instead of philology (what was i thinking the day i enrolled in philologie classique?)

As the description suggests, Über Grenzen. On Borders takes you all around the world. The stories which are closer from home are obviously the ones that hurt the most: the extreme lengths the European Union goes to in order to keep at bay anyone who doesn't have the right passport; the communities, such as the Roma, who are vilified and driven out of their houses.

Here are some of photo reports presented in the book:

In A State Emerges, Espen Eichhöfer documents the first steps of a new nation: South Sudan. Houses might be ramshackle, government buildings might be hosted by temporary structures but the government and citizens rest their hopes on oil. About eighty percent of the oil deposits in all of Sudan are in their territory.

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Espen Eichhöfer, National garde, Airport, Juba, South Sudan, 2012. © Espen Eichhöfer / OSTKREUZ

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Espen Eichhöfer, Ministry of Information, Juba, South Sudan, 2012. © Espen Eichhöfer / OSTKREUZ

The Green Line looks at the Republic of Cyprus which, officially, is still undivided. Since the invasion by Turkish troops in 1974, however, the government only controls two-thirds of the national territory. The United Nations has guarded a buffer zone for almost forty years along the old ceasefire line. It runs right through the capital city.

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Lefkosia Airport, Nicosia, Nicosia's former international airport lies in the middle of the buffer zone and has been abandoned. A Cyprus Airways Hawker Siddeley Trident (ID 5B-DAB) still stands on the run way; it could not escape the fighting, was riddled with bullets, and later stripped, 2012, Cypress © / Ostkreuz / LUZphoto

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Heinrich Völkel, UN #UN Buffer Zone, Lefkosia Airport, Nicosia, Waiting room at the deserted Lefkosia International Airport. During the Cypress conflict the airport lay between the two fronts and the UN declared it a protected zone. It has been closed ever since, 2012 © Heinrich Völkel / OSTKREUZ

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Cypress (South), Barricade in the Greek national colors at the entrance to the buffer zone in the old city of Nicosia, 2012, Cypress © / Ostkreuz / LUZphoto

Members of the Lubicon Cree (in today's Canada) have never surrendered and relinquished their territory. But oil and gas development on or near their land is threatening their way of life, their culture, and their health.

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Dawin Meckel, Vern Hunting Pigeons, Canada, 2012. © Dawin Meckel / OSTKREUZ

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Dawin Meckel, Waterpump on the Lubicon Cree territory, Little Buffalo, Alberta, 2011. © Dawin Meckel / OSTKREUZ

Twenty-two years after the fall of the Berlin Wall Ute and Werner Mahler drove along the old border that used to separate East German citizens from the West: a strip of land almost 1400 kilometers long running from the Baltic in the Harz to the foothills of the Thuringian Forest, in Saxony.

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Ute und Werner Mahler, Tettau Railway, Thuringian border, Bavaria, 2012. © Ute und Werner Mahler / OSTKREUZ

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Ute und Werner Mahler, Wall near Waddekath, Sachsen-Anhalt border, Lower Saxony, 2012

Most illegal immigrants enter the European Union via the route that goes from Turkey to Greece. And the instruments put forward to keep them out are getting increasingly sophisticated. Mostly through the Frontex Agency, a EU border patrol that upgrades technology along the edges of Europe. In the future, they plan to use robots and drones.

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Julian Roeder, Greek-Bulgarian Frontex patrol at the European border between Greece and Turkey in the Evros region, January 2012. © Julian Roeder / OSTKREUZ

A four-kilometer-wide strip has separated North and South Korea since 1953. Soldiers there are still on alert, and every once in a while a shot is fired. Nevertheless, the South Korean tourist office still lures tourists to the last existing border left over from the Cold War, which was a prohibited zone for a long time.

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Jörg Brüggemann, Families collecting shellfish. The peninsular is blocked to protect the main land from North Korean spies. Songjiho Beach, South Korea, June 2012. © Jörg Brüggemann / OSTKREUZ

In Prato (Tuscany), the "pronto moda" industry churns out cheap clothes that imitate current trends. They are made by Chinese residents (many of whom entered the country illegally) who produce clothing "made in Italy," under the worst working conditions.

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Jordis Antonia Schlösser, In a sweatshop: Chinese immigrants sleep, eat and work here, Prato, 2012. © Jordis Schlösser / OSTKREUZ

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Jordis Antonia Schlösser, Police raid, called a blitz, in a Chinese sweatshop, Prato, 2012. © Jordis Schlösser / OSTKREUZ

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Jordis Antonia Schlösser, Via Pistoiese, Mainstreet, Prato, Chinatown, 2012 © Jordis Schlösser / OSTKREUZ

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Jordis Schlösser, Food truck in Prato's industrial zone: open evenings to feed workers on the night shift, Prato, 2012 © Jordis Schlösser / OSTKREUZ

Views inside the book:

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Supporter of Barry Goldwater presidential candidate, USA, 1964. © Eve Arnold / Magnum Photos

On Thursday i was in Turin and visited For President at the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo. The timely, informative and a tad star-struck exhibition examines the American election campaigns, its calculated emotional moments, theatrical strategies and incestuous relationship with media. Part of the show is also looking at the interest Italy (and with it, the rest of Europe) is having for the American event, from a very brief article on page 3 of a daily newspaper in 1868 to the current front pages.

Starting from John Fitzgeral Kennedy, the first president to have reached the rest of the world through television, For President retraces the history of the different election campaigns, all having relied on photojournalism, contemporary art and the widespread production of paraphernalia and advertising for the various candidates.

In the spaces of the Fondazione, the artists who were influenced by their own research on the elections mix their work with the iconic images of the agency Magnum.

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Republican Party National Convention. Young Republicans. Detroit, USA. 1980.
© Richard Kalvar / Magnum Photos

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Former Governor of Georgia Jimmy Carter campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination in the nation's first primary election. New Hampshire, USA. 1976. © Richard Kalvar / Magnum Photos

The first presidential debate between candidates from opposing political parties as well as the first one to be televised took place in 1960 between Senator John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard Nixon. The event is now more famous for the TV appeal of the candidates than for the content of the debate. It has often been written that people listening to the discussion on the radio were convinced that Nixon had emerged victorious from the debate. Television audiences, however, thought Kennedy had decidedly won the debate. Nixon was recovering from a knee injury and from a demanding tour of every single State of the US, he had refused to wear makeup and appeared unhealthy and stiff. Kennedy, on the other hand, was tanned and looked directly at the camera with confidence. JFK's suit was dark and contrasted well against the background. Nixon's grey suit almost blended in with the background.


26 September 1960: Senator John Kennedy of Massachusetts vs. Vice President Richard Nixon

Polls later revealed that more than half of all voters had been influenced by the Great Debates, while 6% claimed that the debates alone had decided their choice. Most importantly, the four Kennedy-Nixon debates also heralded a new era in which media exposure became a key part of a successful political campaign and in which television played an important role in the democratic process.


Max Almy, Perfect Leader, 1983

Fast forward to 1984 and artists are satirizing the circus of politics on tv. Produced to coincide with the "Ronald Reagan vs Walter Mondale" Presidential Campaign, Perfect Leader is a virulent parody of media politics. A computer program is creating candidate archetypes -- dictator, evangelist, moderate -- before it blends them together to create the ultimate mass-marketed leader.

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Francesco Vezzoli, Democrazy, 2007. Photo by Matthias Vriens

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Francesco Vezzoli, Democrazy, 2007. Photo by Matthias Vriens

The Democrazy video installation screens two political ads for a fictional presidential campaign. The two candidates are Patricia Hill (played by Sharon Stone) and Patrick Hill (played by French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy). The ads were produced in collaboration with political experts, Sharon Stone's ad was supervised by one of George W. Bush's media advisors in 2004, and Levy's by a member of Bill Clinton's creative team in 1996.

The political ads feature every political cliché in the book. Every move and expression is studied. Both candidates talk about peace, international politics and future of the country. They kiss children, smile broadly, wear impeccable haircuts and it is almost impossible to make out any differences in their programs.

The short videos demonstrate that the rules of election campaigns are increasingly similar to the ones governing the world of entertainment and show business. The obvious examples being Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger. A situation which strikes a chord in Italy where media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi might even come back for another round as a Prime Minister.

The film also demonstrates that the political discourse is no longer anchored in argumentation, logic, nor even in content but in the image filtered through the media. And in particular on television, the main arena of political confrontation.


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Ramak Fazel, Smithsonian Freer Gallery, Washington, January 20th 2009, 2009

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Ramak Fazel, Smithsonian Freer Gallery, Washington, January 20th 2009, 2009

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Ramak Fazel, Smithsonian Freer Gallery, Washington, January 20th 2009, 2009

Most of the works in the entrance hall featured the president Europeans like so much: Barack Obama. There were large-scale portraits, images from the current campaign as well as a photo series -by Ramak Fazel- that showed another aspect of the few hours that preceded the inauguration of Obama on January 20, 2009. Surprised by a storm while waiting for the appearance of the President, people had to take refuge in the Smithsonian Freer Gallery where they quickly lost interest for the art works and used the museum to rest and shelter against the elements.

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Paul Fusco, Robert Kennedy funeral train, USA, 1968

Most of the works shown at the Fondazione were image shot by photographers working for Magnum. The most moving series was Paul Fusco's Funeral Train.

In 1968, Fusco accompanied the funeral procession that transported the body of Robert Kennedy from New York City to its final resting place in Washington. Traveling by train, the coffin was elevated so that the public could see it through the large windows of the carriage. However, Fusco photographed the mourners who were waiting and standing silently by the track to pay their respects.

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Paul Fusco, RFK Funeral Train No. 2598, 1968

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Paul Fusco, Untitled from RFK Funeral Train Rediscovered, 1968

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Paul Fusco, RFK Funeral Train No. 1706, 1968

And in no particular order (well, except the first one because Carter has always been my favourite.)

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Alex Webb, Jimmy Carter campaign billboard, Plains, Georgia, 1976

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© Hiroji Kubota / Magnum Photos

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New York state senator Robert Francis Kennedy campaigning in a small town. Indiana, USA. 1968. © Burt Glinn / Magnum Photos

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Marion Frost, an elderly American woman, watches the 2000 presidential debates between George W. Bush and Al Gore. San Maro County, California, USA. 2000. © Jim Goldberg / Magnum Photos

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John F. Kennedy campaigning for president. USA. 1960. © Cornell Capa / International Center of Photography

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George W. and Laura BUSH, New York City. September 2, 2004. © Eli Reed / Magnum Photos

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Barack Obama at a rally, Salem, New Hampshire, USA, 2008. © Christopher Anderson / Magnum Photos

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Ronald Reagan at the Republican National Convention. California, USA, 1964. © Burt Glinn / Magnum Photos

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Banners for the New Hampshire State's Primary elections Robert Dole. New Hampshire, USA. 1996. © Paul Fusco / Magnum Photos

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Presidential campaign. American candidate Richard Nixon. Louisville, Kentucky, USA, 1968. © Raymond Depardon / Magnum Photos

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Paul Fusco, Halloween on Castro Street, San Francisco, 1992. © Paul Fusco/Magnum Photos

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Rene Burri, Election campaign for Ronald Reagan, New York City, 1980

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Gilles Peress, Ronald Reagan campaigning, 1980

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Martin Schoeller, Barack Obama, 2004

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Bruce Gilden, Cardboard cutout of John McCain, Republican National Convention, Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA, September 2008

For President was curated by Francesco Bonami and Mario Calabresi. The former is an international art critic, curator and the current artistic director of the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo (where he does a fantastic job.) The latter is the director of the Turin-based newspaper La Stampa. A large room at the Fondazione was dedicated to the space that La Stampa has allocated to the presidential elections since it was founded (under the name La Gazzetta Piemontese) in 1866.

The first mention of the US elections was a short article on page 3 of the Italian newspaper to announce the election of Grant as president of the U.S.A. At the time, Italian newspapers were more interested in what what happened in France, Prussia, London or in the Ottoman Empire.

Throughout the 19th century, news from the other side of the Atlantic came by telegraph through the submarine cable that ran across the Ocean. The first time an election received a whole issue was in 1928, with the victory of Herbert Hoover. Under Fascism the gap between Italy and the Atlantic widened again, to the point that in 1936 the re-election of Roosevelt was confined to page 8.

The first front page for the US election came with the election of Eisenhower. Photo, maps and charts, however, only appeared in 1960 when John F. Kennedy conquered the White House. Since then Italians have been never ceased follow with passion the American elections.

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A few shots from the show:

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View of the exhibitions space (photo)

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Jonathan Horowitz, Obama '08, installation view, 2008 (photo)

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View of the exhibition space (photo)

For President, an exhibition curated by Mario Calabresi and Francesco Bonami, remains open at the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin until 6 January 2013.

If you think that the ongoing edition of the Manifesta biennale is not enough to lure you to the Limburg region of Belgium, how about an exhibition about the work of 30 artists who are looking for gaps in the ruling systems and structures?

Mind the System, Find the Gap is this year's Summer exhibition at Z33 and the concept of the show has been applied literally to the Z33 space. The artworks occupy every space available: they are in the usual exhibition spaces of course but also in the garden, in the reception area, and inside the little Beguinage houses.

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Atelier Van Lieshout, Autocraat (part of Insect Farm), 2012. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Ahmet Ögüt, Strategic Diagram for Non-hierarchical Participatory Radical Democracy, 2011. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

Our society is governed by all sorts of systems and structures. No system, however, whether political, judicial, economical, socio-cultural or spatial, can comprise life in its entirety. Every system has loopholes, leaks and ambiguities.

The exhibition is uplifting and timely. In these moments of social inequality, austerity, cuts in culture budgets, low social mobility, loss of privacy, recession, it is reassuring to discover that the systems that govern our existences have flaws and spaces that we can infiltrate. Even if this form of resistance is often more symbolic than truly power-challenging.

Some of the participating artists merely reveal and document these gaps while others go further and demonstrate how to take advantage of them. The artworks are organized according to themes: political systems, spatial systems and socio-cultural systems with of course much overlap since many of the artworks confront several systems at the same time.

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Pablo Valbuena, Re-Flex [Z33], 2012. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

The clearest and probably most amusing introduction to the show has to be Matthieu Laurette's project. For 8 years, the artist ate, shaved, dressed and showered for free thanks to Moneyback Products, a method of shopping that pushed to the extreme the marketing system of the major food corporations which offer their product with a "Satisfied or your money back" or "Money back on first purchase" label. Similarly, Laurette's home was always equipped with brand new electrical goods which he sent back before the end of the guarantee - to replace them with brand new ones.

The strategy requires to be extremely well organised. Because most manufacturers ask you to send back a separate till receipts before they will refund items, you need to pay separately for each product.

Moneyback Products was an art project but also a life style that leaked beyond the walls of art galleries. Laurette became indeed a celebrity in the French media, he was invited to popular talk shows and his project appeared on the cover of mainstream magazines.

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The freebie king, Daily record (UK)(detail), Friday December 8 2000. © Matthieu Laurette

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Matthieu Laurette, Mobile Information Stand For Moneyback Products, 1999. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

In Identity4You, Heath Bunting creates off-the-shelf new legal identities built up from a portfolio of unique legal relationships. The work - a continuation of Identity Bureau and the Status Project - draws on the fact that as a human being one can have several legal identities. These identities are constructed through a network of registrations: loyalty cards, bank accounts, phone cards, bills, government correspondence and other person related data. The vaster the network, the stronger the legal identity. Identity4You demonstrates that an identity depends mainly upon administrative systems, rather than personality or even a physical body.

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Heath Bunting, Identity4you, 2012. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

The animation film What Shall We Do Next is presented as an "archive of gestures to come". The gestures refer to the patents for the invention of new devices taken out from the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office) from 2006 to 2011. The functioning of upcoming tablets, smartphones, laptops, game consoles, medical instruments and other devices involves gestures that are defined and copyrighted even though the interface does not yet exist. In the video, the artist appropriates the gestures and separates them from their utilitarian function, letting them float in the air and follow a choreographic abstraction.

The work not only explores how technology shapes our behaviour but also questions the privatization of something as basic as a human gesture.

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Julien Prévieux, What Shall We Do Next?, 2006-2011. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

For her performance Bag Lady, Pilvi Takala spent one week in a shopping mall in Berlin, carrying a lot of cash in a transparent plastic bag. As soon as they spotted the content of her bag, sales personnel, security staff, shop owners as well as fellow customers, looked uncomfortable and unsure how to react. Although she behaved like a normal customer, Takala was both a security threat and a subject of protection. This slight intervention sheds controversial light on the fragility of the social order, where private property in the form of money or product is such a holy cow, that it is under constant intuitive public control.

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Pivli Takala, Bag Lady, 2006-2008

We're getting used to read about architectural works that engages with the cracks in urban space. But we tend to forget that they come from a long tradition of 'gap exploration.'

In 1973 and 1974, Gordon Matta-Clark purchased, at New York City auctions, fifteen leftover and unwanted properties. Because these properties were too small or too oddly shaped, they were unusable or inaccessible for development. He got each of them for a few dollars.

Matta-Clark documented these urban voids with an archive of deeds, maps, photographs of every inch of his lands, tax receipts, videotapes and other documents. Unfortunately, Matta-Clark died before he could fully realise his plans, and ownership of the properties reverted to the city (the taxes to pay were too expensive.)

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Reality Properties: Fake Estates, Little Alley Block 2497, Lot 42, 1974

Dutch architect Anne Holtrop based the design of the Trail House not on gaps but on unofficial use of land. The building structure follows Elephant Paths, the shortcuts that people adopt and trace when they go through meadows, parks or city squares. Over time, the tracing of the Elephant Paths appears on the ground which reinforced the informal route. The architect simply shaped a house to further recognize its existence. Z33 shows the model and Bas Princen's always impeccable photos.

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Anne Holtrop, Trail House, 2009. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Anne Holtrop, Trail House, 2009. Photo: Bas Princen

Tadashi Kawamata's Tokyo Project - New Housing Plan explores the possibility to squeeze the home of city dwellers into the overlooked spaces of the Japanese capital: between the fences of construction sites, behind vending machines or even billboards.

Kawamata actually build the houses, each of which was occupied on rotation over a one-week period by the artist and his associates. The inside of the guerrilla houses was surprisingly comfortable with wall-to-wall carpeting, heaters and CD players powered by electricity lifted from external sources such as the vending machines.

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Tadashi Kawamata, Tokyo Project : New Housing Plan, Tokyo, December , 1998, © ANZAÏ

I probably don't understand fully what makes KALENDER a work that looks for 'gaps in the system' but i'm glad i discovered it at Z33.

Between 3 January 2009 and 2 January 2010, Benjamin Verdonck performed more than 150 actions in Antwerp. These actions related to traditional public holidays, the cycle of the seasons, geopolitical shifts and life as it is.

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Benjamin Verdonck, Kalender, 2009-2010. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Benjamin Verdonck, Kalender, 2009-2010. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

I particularly like the procession of oversized toilet sanitizer, lighter, mobile phone and soda can.


Benjamin Verdonck, Kalender, Processie der dingen (Procession of Things), 2009

Also in the show:

In 'Based on a Grid', Esther Stocker creates a spatial system from a series of black painted wooden blocks in the entrance hall of the Z33 exhibition building. The visitor is drawn into the installation, as it were, and is challenged by the system, the grid that is there but not immediately visible. For Stocker, the system is implied as much by its gaps as it is by its contours. But do we want to look for the system or are we happy to loose ourselves in the chaos of scattered elements drifting apart?

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Esther Stocker, Based on a Grid, 2012. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Minouk Lim, International Calling Frequency, 2011. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

Founded in 1998, Mejor Vida Corp. (Better Life Corporation) is a political and art organization that attempts to level social inequalities by injecting guerrilla art operations into capitalist structures. Mejor Vida Corp. provides free products and services such as international student ID cards, subway tickets for the Mexico City network, recommendation letters, fake barcode stickers to reduce the prices on goods sold by supermarket chains, etc.

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Minerva Cuevas, Mejor Vida Corp. (Better Life Corporation), 1998-. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Minerva Cuevas, Mejor Vida Corp. (Better Life Corporation), 1998-. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Minerva Cuevas, Mejor Vida Corp. (Better Life Corporation), 1998-. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Dora García, The Inadequate, 2012. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Dora García, The Inadequate, 2012. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Dora García, The Inadequate, 2012. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Agency, Verzameling / Assembly, 2012 (Commissioned for Mind the System, Find the Gap). Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Carey Young, Obsidian Contract, 2010. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Stephanie Syjuco, Free Texts, 2012. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Leandro Erlich, Window and Ladder Too Late For Help, 2008. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

Z33 has youtubed a series of introductions to the show as well as some interviews with artists participating to it. I'd recommend the one with Benjamin Verdonck because his accent is so lovely.
Z33's flickr set. My questionable flickr set.

Mind the System, Find the Gap is a free exhibition and it is open at Z33 in Hasselt until 30 September 2012.

Previously: Mind the System, Find the Sukima (gap).

Identity Bureau, transferable synthetic British natural person.

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Corsham Computer Centre

Neal White is an artist, an Associate Professor in Art and Media Practice but he also holds the enigmatic title of 'Director of Experiments' at the international collaborative research practice The Office of Experiments.

I discovered the activities of the OoE in 2008, when i read about Truth Serum, a performance that involved self-experimentation, psychological games and a comment on the rise of 'security state.'

One of the current interests of the Office involves an 'overt research' that attempts to build up an alternative and experimental knowledge source about the UK's "Dark Places", the labs and facilities of advanced technological development which are often (purposefully or not) concealed, secret or inaccessible to the public.

The techno-scientific and industrial-military sites under study are approached through publicly available information but conspiracy theories and rumours surrounding these sites form also part of the narrative. The Dark Places place is headed by Neal White and Steve Rowell, but the overt researchers also invite artists, amateur scientists, urban explorers and local communities to contribute to the investigation by participating to bus tours and by contributing to the online geo-mapped database Dark Places.

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Secrecy and Technology Bus Tour

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Greenham Common

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QinietiQ - Portland Bill. Compass Test Centre

The next critical excursion that will take people on an Overt Research tour will be in London in October. In the meantime, here's what Neal White had to say about my many questions regarding the Dark Places and his work at the Office of Experiments.

Hi Neal! My only contact with the world of sites of advanced technological development in the UK took place a few months ago when watching an episode of the tv series Sherlock: The Hounds of Baskerville.

Your experience and knowledge of these sites, while not being complete, is obviously much wider and more grounded in research than mine. Does getting to get closer to these sites makes you more worried about what goes on inside than before? Should we be concerned about what is devised and created in these places?

In our research we are interested in where the limits of an experiment end; literally, spatially and structurally, but also in terms of the 'public imaginaries' that closed spaces of all kinds generate - myth, rumour, conspiracy. So we are interesting in interrogating our own relationship to the military-industrial or techno-scientific complex as cultural and critical practitioners. Sharing practices and approaches with other culturally positioned research organisations, such as the Center for Land Use Interpretation in the USA, our aim is to utilize some of the technologies and techniques used by this contemporary complex and developed by them in terms of technologies of surveillance, mapping, intelligence and to invert them. So with Overt Research for example, our aim is to re-frame documentation of a site or sites.

Within this research we also explore alternative archives and knowledge extracted through new open governance policies as well as posthumous release of information from the official accounts of such sites. We make links with autonomous and independent researchers, activists and amateur enthusiasts, whose work in this area is often informed by a person having worked at a site, having a personal issue or a political motivation.

We feel that the bodies of knowledge produced by this unofficial research are overlooked and should play a stronger role in our cultural life. In using, interpreting and sometimes exhibiting such knowledge, our aim is to create new and open resources that anyone can use or interpret. It is this opening up of what is not visible that makes the world less full of fear.

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Office of Experiments - Dark Places Database - installation. From Dark Places - An exhibition curated with Arts Catalyst, SCAN and the John Hansard Gallery 2010

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Tales from the ARC - The Mike Kenner Archive (Declassified archive of Secrets of Porton Down) - OOE/ Mike Kenner. From Dark Places - An exhibition curated with Arts Catalyst, SCAN and the John Hansard Gallery 2010

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Steve Rowell - Ultimate High Ground UK. From Dark Places - An exhibition curated with Arts Catalyst, SCAN and the John Hansard Gallery 2010

The Overt Research Project relies on personal research and field trips. How much can you actually discover through these field trips? I guess most of the structures you investigate must be off limits.

You will appreciate yourself that much of the way in which we experience the world is shaped and informed by media, including online sharing of photographic imagery of remote, interesting, derelict or even secret places - or artwork in exhibitions. The staff at the sites we focus on are of course also aware of this and so use the media to project the official story of a site, or not. We visit the sites as this information about them often frequently does not add up or we have information about them unofficially which we want to explore.

For example, you may go to a site, standing in plain sight with a high viz jacket (the Overt part that inverts the logic of the secret site and the technology) of a site that might be a decommissioned Nuclear Power Station, and find that this is only part of the story. Part of the site is decommissioned but a new business park or some new activity is going on there, more discretely communicated shall we say. We can document that in the images. The interpretations on our site of these images then alludes if not explicitly points to the other activity. Part informed by our dark sensibilities and by a critical eye, we point to the construction of scientific research as one which shares intimate links with some of the more sinister aspects of government, security organisations etc. And if you want to add to our database, or undertake Overt Research, we insist that you must first participate physically by joining us on one of our research fieldtrips to learn more about what we do and how we do it. We like to make a link between the worlds we inhabit - informational and experiential. Testing limits and boundaries from the spatial to the virtual I suppose.

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Neal White: Fieldworks from the Museum of the Void, Experiments in the Event of an Archive (Entropic Popsicle fridge, Spiral Jetty Petition, and Information Point) Photography Giulia Imbriaco

You're working with Steve Rowell from CLUI and Lisa Haskell on the Overt Research Project. How do you complement each other?

I met Steve Rowell through the Center for Land Use Interpretation as I received a grant from the Henry Moore Foundation in 2008 to make some work with them and consequently spent too much time at their research residency in Utah, on and off over three years (See 'Museum of the Void - Experiments in the Event of an Archive'- Chelsea Space 2010). During this period I was also undertaking initial research for the exhibition Dark Places at John Hansard Gallery in 2009-10. It seemed like a good idea to see if Steve and I could work together as he was based in Europe for a while. So we performed an informal and strategic knowledge exchange about how to approach, document and uncover information about the sites in which we were interested. I had realized OOE could learn more directly about the methods developed by CLUI and then start to build on these. This formed the basis of the site Dark Places around which the exhibition was then curated. The inclusion of Steve and then Beatriz da Costa, who worked closely with Critical Art Ensemble, made total sense for that exhibition then.

I had known Lisa Haskell for some time (we worked together at Ravensbourne College with Prof Karel Dudesek and Armin Medosch). Wanting her great experience as well as some gender balance in our organization, I approached her to come on board as Technical Director. In this capacity she not only builds our technical back end, but her experience with smaller activist organisations, such as Irational etc, have meant that we could also exchange ideas and knowledge in approach to physical and virtual sites, what to disclose and reveal, intelligence and its counter forms.

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Harwell Science and Innovation Campus

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Abbotts Cliff Sound Mirror

I had a look at a few of the sites mapped on the Dark Places website. These sites don't seem to hide themselves, their architecture is often even massive. So what makes them dark?

As I have mentioned, we know that the sites we list may or may not fully disclose all of their activities. Some of the work that goes on is official, but in others it is unofficial. In the USA, the approach is different, and as Trevor Paglen (Experimental Geographer - Blank Spots on the Map, etc) or Lize Mogel (Radical Cartography) would tell you, there is a different official attitude and foundation in law in terms of what constitutes official secrecy and a security threat. Also, in the USA, the vast scale of the landscape is used to conceal.

Here in the UK with such a dense population, and a different legal structure (Officials Secret Act), the aim is to sometimes create public secrets in plain sight, about which we do not speak. As I have mentioned, there are numerous ways in which the truth is presented, leaving room for other truths to remain untold or hidden beneath.

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DSTL Porton Down

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Porton Down. Image: Neville Marriner/Daily Mail/Rex Features, via New Scientist

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Hanslope Park

Can you tell us something about the ones that are secret? The ones that don't have such a visible presence in the landscape? How do you find about them? Are there national or international networks of amateurs investigating them?

Take for example GCHQ, nearly everyone knows it is there, Google it! But disclosing more information about how they organize themselves, who works there, etc. would leave you open to direct legal problems. So when we documented it, we photographed the housing estate that surrounds it, with only small glimpses of its structure. Obviously, no people, cars, no number plates. We avoid disclosing any information of this sort. However, the documentation creates a different landscape, something we explored at Apexart in New York in our publication - The Redactor. Redaction is the ultimate aesthetic of a security driven world. Inadvertently the act of redaction drives speculation and conspiracy in terms of the security networks, which is something advantageous to those with power, so to short circuit or speak truth to power in some ways is good. Back to GCHQ, you can go there and drive around.

However, sites like Hanslope Park or Porton Down are less visible, even by car. They make use of geomorphology to reshape the landscape, traffic controls to create circuits of access and entry at high speeds, a range of measures and counter measures. Since we documented Hanslope Park, they have updated their websites and attempted to communicate a little more - openness can be a strategy too.

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Office of Experiments with Tina O'Connell - Intervention - Department of Homeland Security, Emergency Preparedness Office, Washington DC

There is the word 'research' in the Overt Research Project but may we take it at face value? Where do you intervene as an artist?  And how important is it that artists and citizens engage with these sites?

Art has always sought to question the way in which we know and understand the world. It cannot simply take the world for granted, but how can it take into account the globalized scale life? Academic research does much to enable greater understanding of the world, but it is slow, bound in a set of ethical dilemmas and almost moribund when it comes to unofficial or non-institutional accounts of the world.

The Office of Experiments itself is based on what Maria Lind has called the 'fourth wave of Institutional Critique', the pseudo institution. However, our aim is to go beyond a critique of the artworld institution per se, and alongside others create new and alternative resources, knowledge and interpretations of the world that surrounds us. Research is a word used to describe this, but it is experimental, non-standard and undisciplined in our minds and in its practice. Our research is collaborative, discursive and opens up dialogue to discussions that many wish to keep concealed. It is a dialogue outside of the mass media, beyond the art of the aesthetics of protest, but is networked and precisely focused on its subject. I wonder if it is an emergent form - structural aesthetics. That would chime with the drive of artists like Ashok Sukumaran or writers such as Owen Hatherly and Stephen Graham.

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Research for Experimental Ruins. Harwell Campus, Oxford

Another chapter of the research, 'Experimental Ruins', focused on sub-urban London. What did you discover during that phase of the project?

Experimental Ruins refers to the shifts and changes in the specifics of scientific research. As we virtualize through models on computers, less laboratory space is required. Digitisation has meant that models can replace organisms, the infrastructure of labs is shrinking onto networked, distributed and smaller scale sites. There are empty labs in the heart of London. So we wanted to explore the recent geology of science, to excavate its ruins and see what else there was and make a relationship between sites. We started with a workshop with academic colleague Dr. Gail Davies at UCL, a while back and have taken it from there.

Of course when you think about it, Sub-urban London is the perfect place to conceal in public as you have the cooption of local workers, the banality of infrastructure with the efficiency of logistics. It remains a key space in which to place a site of interest to us.

JG Ballard lived in Shepperton all his life. I was born very near there and was always fascinated by the barbed wire fences and private spaces of anonymous private organisations - firing my imagination perhaps. However, JG Ballard also knew that suburbia is a space of fear, a thinly veiled reality that behind its net curtains is morally dark. By way of example, you can go to a site on a small business park in the heart of suburban west London just off of Ballard's beloved M4 corridor and as you come around the corner, you will find it guarded by armed Military Police. This is the Defence Geographic Centre (DGC), which includes the MOD Geospatial Library and Map Depot.


We are currently organising a critical excursion - another of our fully mediated bus tours following on from hugely successful versions around Southampton, Falmouth, Newcastle and Portland, that will train people to undertake Overt Research based on this specific project. This tour will explore the London Orbital to the West of London. As is often the case with our work, it is supported by Arts Catalyst. The tour will launch from The Showroom in West London in October.

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THE LAARC. Museum of London Archaeology Archive Centre 2011 OOE (cc)

On your website there is an announcement for the Office of Experiments Department of Catastrophe - with Museum of London, a new project examining 'Post-Event Archaeology'. Can you already tell us something about the project?

We are working with Museum of London on 'Experimental Ruins'. This has led to the possibility of exploring their vast archives, but also into looking more deeply into contemporary archaeology, a development that enables the forensic exploration of sites at a micro level.

As we are interested in event-structures (a term coined by John Latham with whom I worked a little) - that is the temporal dimension of space and its use, and the context of a social engagement, then this works with the history of site, also revealed in archives. Thinking further about this in an International context, we started to explore ideas of time and events through sites. Catastrophic is probably a category at one end of the register - a very sudden event. At the other end is a slow social decline, in places such as Detroit. Both ends of this register are difficult to document, either due to the rawness of trauma of conflict or massive environmental disaster, or as illustrated in the photography of Detroit, with Ruin Porn. In February, both Steve Rowell and I discussed these challenges at the Association of American Geographers in New York with the Detroit Unreal Estate Agency. The panel was called Ruinations: violence, snafu and porn. We also started to explore the Catastrophic area in a major public artwork that Steve Rowell curated in Washington DC - the 5x5. With the Irish artist Tina O'Connell and Transformer Gallery, we tried to draw on links between communities in the USA and Japan following the Tsunmai and Fukushima Diaichi disaster last year.

Overall as a project it is exciting, but fraught with danger of all kinds. Ultimately it might spell disaster for us, or for those with who are exploring how we might turn their Museum into a ruin itself. This is what we mean by the Department of Catastrophe.

Thanks Neal!

Previously: Truth Serum by The Office of Experiments, at the Sk-interfaces exhibition.

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