I met Dave Young at the small but very efficient exhibition Movable Borders: Here Come the Drones! at Furtherfield in London a few weeks ago.

Credit: USAF (via)

The title of the show is pretty self-explanatory. Because, yes! The drones are indeed getting closer. Nowadays UAVs aren't just shooting at terror suspects and innocent civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, they also have civilians uses such as monitoring orangutans and other endangered species or helping farmers check the condition of their crops which is obviously valuable and exciting. But drones are also enrolled to increase control and surveillance over our heads: the German railway network is deploying them to combat graffiti-spraying 'gangs' and a European commission document suggests that, in the coming years, drones could be used in crisis management, law enforcement, border control and firefighting. Human right activists are calling for "greater clarity and transparency about when and how these tools are deployed." Eric King of Privacy International also told The Guardian that "the secretive way in which surveillance drones have been put into operation, and the failure of the police to recognise and address the human rights issues involved, has created a huge potential for abuse."

The exhibition addressed these issues with projects that range from the chillingly premonitory Bit Plane by Bureau of Inverse Technology (1997) to Young's most recent research projects. One of them is TELEWAR, a book and video made in collaboration with The Force Of Freedom (the book is available for free in PDF and it makes for a very informative reading about the uses and impacts of new warfare technologies.)

As part of the TELEWAR project, the group of artists were also showing military patches used on drone programmes. You can get some for cheapo on ebay and if you really are into creepy military patches, i can't recommend enough Trevor Paglen's collection of Emblems from the Pentagon's Black World (more in I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have to be Destroyed by Me.)

Desert Prowler

432 AEW Hunters -Predator drone

MQ-9 Reaper patch

But let's get back to business because the reason why i wanted to interview Dave Young is that a couple of weeks ago he headed the workshop Movable Borders - The Reposition Matrix at the Furtherfield gallery.

Participants were invited to contribute to Movable Borders, Young's ongoing research project that investigates shifts in the permeability of territorial and political boundaries and the role that technology plays in the 'reterritorialisation' of the borderline.

The workshop focused on the use of cybernetic military systems such as remotely piloted aircraft (drones) and the Disposition Matrix, a dynamic database of intelligence that produces protocological kill-lists for the US Department of Defense. Together, participants were challenged to collaborate on developing a cartography of control: a map of the organisations, locations, and trading networks that play a role in the production of military drone technologies.

Movable Borders: The Reposition Matrix Workshop. Part of the Movable Borders: Here Come the Drones! exhibition at Furtherfield Gallery. Credits: photos by Giorgia Cipolla

Since i only had a brief chat with Dave Young at the opening of the Furtherfield show, i decided to ask him a few more questions via email:

Hi Dave! The Reposition Matrix aims to create an "open-access database that geopolitically situates the organisations, locations, and trading networks that play a role in the production of military drone technologies." First of all, i'm curious about the source of the information that you collect through this project. Where do you find it? I guess some of it must be hard to come by? Concealed? supposed to remain out of reach of the public?

The fascinating thing about this project, for me at least, is how one public thread of information begins an almost overwhelming process of unraveling. A mention of a drone crash in a very public news source leads to the military crash report subsequently released under an open government initiative, which then mentions an external non-military public company involved in the piloting of the drone that day, who publishes some information about their involvement in military operations in their annual reports, and so on. The information is perhaps not deliberately concealed as such, but is hidden in the mass of documentation, hyperlinks, and search terms provided on governmental and corporate websites. Past participants have often expressed their surprise at what is deliberately revealed by companies - on their social media profiles, for example. These companies are often proud of their contributions to national defense efforts, and occasionally can be perhaps a little over-generous in the information they volunteer online. In the context of a single Facebook post, a corporate image can seem innocuous, but when cross-referenced with the correct secondary source, you can begin to reveal something otherwise concealed.

A drone that crashed on the roof of an Iraqi house is recovered by Marines in 2006.
US Marine Corps Photo (via)

And how is the open-access database going to be kept alive? How and who updates it? Where can we read it?

The database is being compiled and added to by me personally at the moment, but I am developing a collaborative framework for use in the workshops which I will test out over the next few weeks. The database will be made available over the Summer (date to be announced!), and will form the basis for future workshops.

Another thing i've been wondering about is the way that you handle the data you find. Most of it i guess is obviously genuine information but how about the data coming from conspiracy theorists, or from people who have an interest at spreading as much dis-information as possible, etc? Is this something you consider?

This is an interesting question, and often leads to a good discussion in the workshops about how to filter sources. Participants have to debate what is important, and what can be considered trustworthy - or indeed if a fabricated theory can indeed be an important part of the map.

Most of the information participants work with is released 'genuinely' - as I said above, through official channels by public companies or governmental open data programmes, although it is important to place these too within the context of an agenda. The trustworthiness of the information we work with is always up for debate, and can be divisive amongst the participants, but in general, what tends to happen is we treat each thread of information as part of a wider network. Curiosities discovered during the workshop will corroborate or conflict with each other. This is where the world map becomes a useful interface for physically aggregating the found information, as participants can immediately begin to see a formalisation of their research, and can ask questions of it as it develops.

The drones and the US kill list seem to be far away from the kind of culture and preoccupations we have in Europe... Or are they? How much impact does the Disposition Matrix (a database that United States officials describe as a "next-generation capture/kill list." ) and drone program have in Europe? Why should it matter to us?

I think for the participants of the workshop it quickly becomes apparent that the production and military use of drones is truly a global issue. Washington quickly has links to London, Berlin, The Hague, Seoul, UAE, Turkey - the list goes on (and on...) What we can see emerging at the moment are the formation of alliances, power blocs that collectively invest in drones and share them and the information they collect as a trans-national resource. It is interesting to attempt to unpack this and examine how such alliances function as a network of power and control.

As for the disposition matrix, the use of an algorithm or protocol to compile a capture/kill list is really something worth having an open and frank discussion about. To me it really speaks of a wider societal shift which I find problematic, specifically these processes of monitoring and individuating populations. Indeed a well-treaded debate with many unresolved fundamental issues, but despite this, it can only be said that it is becoming increasingly embedded in governmental thinking.

Also, it is important to explore how and where these technologies function - while it is unknown for now how much impact the disposition matrix has in Europe, similar protocols are becoming increasingly pervasive here, particularly in countries such as the Netherlands, the UK, Germany, France, to name but a few. They may not be applied to such direct efforts as targeted killing, but they do appear to operate in welfare systems, immigration control, predictive policing, among others.

Movable Borders: The Reposition Matrix Workshop. Part of the Movable Borders: Here Come the Drones! exhibition at Furtherfield Gallery. Credits: photos by Giorgia Cipolla

Movable Borders: The Reposition Matrix Workshop. Part of the Movable Borders: Here Come the Drones! exhibition at Furtherfield Gallery. Credits: photos by Giorgia Cipolla

Movable Borders: The Reposition Matrix Workshop. Part of the Movable Borders: Here Come the Drones! exhibition at Furtherfield Gallery. Credits: photos by Giorgia Cipolla

You recently organized a workshop at Furtherfield in London. Participants were invited to investigate drones and the Disposition Matrix. Can you describe briefly what happened? What the participants managed to achieve?

The workshop opened with a discussion framed around a few specific questions I wanted to put to the participants, as I was keen to encourage a critique of some of the conventional ideas regarding the use of drones that appear regularly in news reports. The participants were very open, willing to engage and question each other which was fantastic. Their backgrounds were quite diverse too, with a mix of artists, academics, social scientists, etc, and the ensuing discussion really reflected this. Following that, the participants formed small groups and began to work together on the world map. Each group worked with their own base document, researching its contents and trying to visualise its geopolitics through this process of mapping.

So, one example is a group who began looking at Wikileaks cables detailing US fears that Iran was using 'proxies' to get components required to build their own drone and evade trade embargoes. They began to draw the trading networks Iran had allegedly built up onto the map, criss-crossing West Asia, North Africa, Europe, and Japan.

What is interesting is where different groups collided on the map - important nodes in the network predictably appear in Washington and the FATA regions of Pakistan. Often some surprising locations pop up too, usually reflective of the backgrounds of the workshop participants as they try to investigate any connections between the drone war and their own politics and places of origin.

I'm also fascinated by the description of Google Boundaries, "a series of images taken by the Google Streetview car as it encounters border checkpoints. The project is an investigation into the geopolitical systems that influence Google's streetview product, re-situating its task of mapping the streets of the world as being an invasive, territorial act." Could you explain what you meant by that? And how you came to investigate border checkpoints through the eyes of the Google Streetview car?

The Google Street View car has famously made the debates about privacy and digital rights visible - people who in the past felt perhaps unthreatened by Google's data-harvesting all of a sudden saw it as an invasive act. They could suddenly see their own houses - perhaps even themselves outside, in all their vulnerability. I became more interested in this idea of Street View as a colonialisation while researching The Reposition Matrix. When you zoom out as much as possible with Google Maps, you can see the territories that have Street View - a strange hierarchical geography revealed by a blue overlay on the map. Recently, Iran have announced they will release their own "Islamic" version of Google Earth as they see Google's services as a threat to their national security, so there are strong territorial politics at play here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/apr/10/iran-plans-islamic-google-earth




I know this is still a work in progress but what have you discovered so far?

I started by trying to "road-trip" across the US-Mexico border control using Streetview. You can't pass through them like you often can in Europe - frequently the Street View car seems to get as close as possible to the border then turn back at the last moment. It is interesting to examine historically contested borders - the Israel 1949 Armistice Borderline shows a border control officer looking straight at the Street View car, gun hanging from his shoulder.

Examining the border crossings begins to illustrate the materiality of Google's task, and the beuraucratic issues operating in the background. Despite Google's omnipresence in the cloud, the Street View car is often caged in by boundary politics. They are regularly adding new Street View data to the map, so I'll be curious to investigate how this changes over time.

Any upcoming projects, areas of investigation or exhibition you want to share with us?

There are some more Reposition Matrix workshops coming up over the following months - Dublin as part of the Glitch Festival on the 15th June, another one at V2 on July 6th, Share conference in Croatia 18-20 July. People are of course very welcome to get in contact and come along to the workshops if they'll be in the right place at the right time! More information available on http://movableborders.com.

There are some more projects that are part of the Movable Borders series, following on with these investigations of alternative territorialisations and geographies. One of them requires some research into the history of cocktails and mixology, which I am particularly excited about...

Thanks Dave!

More images of the workshop at Furtherfield.

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Under the Shadow of the Drone by James Bridle, Brighton seafront. Photo by Roberta Mataityte

I closed my report of the exhibition The Air Itself is One Vast Library on the promise that i'd come back to my last visit to Brighton with a few words about the crime scene-style outline of a drone that James Bridle painted on the city seafront.

Under the Shadow of the Drone, commissioned by The Lighthouse, is a one-to-one representation of one of the military drones piloted remotely to strike targets in distant areas of the world. The aerial attacks they conduct leave hundreds of people dead, many of them innocent civilians.

The controversy surrounding unmanned aerial vehicles has been recently intensified in the UK with the news that pilots at Waddington (Lincolnshire) are now working in relay with the military in the US to remotely operate American Reaper drones in Afghanistan.

For Bridle, what matters is not so much the drone in itself but the 'black box' side of contemporary warfare technology. "I have a political interest in drones as well, but beyond that, they stand for all aspects of these invisible technologies that have a great effect on the world but are kind of largely hidden from view," he told the Creatorsproject.

Installing Under the Shadow of the Drone by James Bridle. Photo by Roberta Mataityte

Installing Under the Shadow of the Drone by James Bridle. Photo by Roberta Mataityte

We might read about drones, get horrified by the way they monitor, gather intelligence, destroy and kill but we still cannot fully understand them, simply because we don't see them properly, even people who are directly affected by them hardly ever get a chance to see UAVs. Under the Shadow of the Drone suddenly brings drones into our daily life.

I had intended to write down the notes i took during a talk that James Bridle gave last month in Brussels for The Digital Now series of events but The Lighthouse has recently uploaded on youtube a similar talk that the designer gave to the Brighton audience. I highly recommend it. It is both entertaining and chilling. Bridle explains in detail his research into drones and more generally his investigation into the way we perceive and understand technology. He analyzes how the most reproduced 'photo' of a Reaper drone is actually a photoshopped image that first emerged in a forum for 3D modeling hobbyists, he discusses the Disposition Matrix and the escalating assassination program which tracks and kills suspects militant terrorists in other part of the world, etc. He also illustrates his research by explaining briefly some of his own projects such as Dronestagram: A Drone's Eye View which collects images of locations of drone attacks along with a description of the carnage they incur and A Quiet Disposition, a software system that is constantly scanning the web for news reports on Disposition Matrix and drones and finding links between them.

James Bridle - Meet The Artist presentation on 9 May at The Lighthouse in Brighton

This much shorter video brings the spotlight on Under the Shadow of the Drone:

The most reproduced image of a drone firing a missile is actually the work of a 3D modelling hobbyist

Protesters hold up a burning mock drone aircraft during a rally against drone attacks in Pakistan (Credit: Reuters/K. Pervez)


Under the Shadow of the Drone by James Bridle, Brighton seafront. Photo by Roberta Mataityte

Installing Under the Shadow of the Drone by James Bridle. Photo by Roberta Mataityte

Installing Under the Shadow of the Drone by James Bridle. Photo by Roberta Mataityte

Under the Shadow of the Drone remains on view on the Brighton seafront, five minutes' walk east from the Brighton Wheel (do stop by The Lighthouse, they'll hand you a map with the location of the shadow) until May 26, 2013. The work was produced by Lighthouse and Brighton Festival.

Previously: The Digital Now - 'Drones / Birds: Princes of Ubiquity', The Air Itself is One Vast Library.

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.

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.

Joachim Olender, Tarnac

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.

0Joachim Olender Tarnac1.jpg
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.

Joachim Olender, Tarnac

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.

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!

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
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

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.


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.


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.



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.


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.)


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?

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

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.

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

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.

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

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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

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:






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.

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

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.

Francesco Vezzoli, Democrazy, 2007. Photo by Matthias Vriens

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.

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

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

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.

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.


Paul Fusco, RFK Funeral Train No. 2598, 1968

Paul Fusco, Untitled from RFK Funeral Train Rediscovered, 1968

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.)

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

© Hiroji Kubota / Magnum Photos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gilles Peress, Ronald Reagan campaigning, 1980

Martin Schoeller, Barack Obama, 2004

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.



A few shots from the show:

View of the exhibitions space (photo)

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

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.

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