Ever since i heard the endearing and hilarious talk of Wim Delvoye (ha! every single gesture or word from this guy screams "Belgium!") at ars electronica last September, i'm trying to follow the episodes of his Cloaca adventure.

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Wim Delvoye, Untitled, 2004

The Casino de Luxembourg has recently held a retrospective exhibition of Delvoye's defecating machines.

The whole family was there: Cloaca Original, Cloaca - New & Improved, Cloaca Turbo, Cloaca Quattro, Cloaca N° 5, Super Cloaca and Personal Cloaca. Plus original drawings, 3D and x-ray photographs, models of Cloaca Clinic gates, videos, sealed bags of Cloaca Faeces and other paraphernalia.

0aacloamini.jpgThe brand new 8th Cloaca, Mini Cloaca (on the left), was premiered at the Casino. The tubular structure is made of metal and glass, and composed of mechanical organs that swallow, grind, digest and defecate a given amount of food. While Super Cloaca consumes 300 kg of food and produces 80 kg of faeces per day, the quantity of food ingested by the dwarfed one is equivalent to that of a breakfast.

The idea of a mechanical reproduction of the human digestive system goes back to the Digesting Duck by 18th century engineer Jacques de Vaucanson and just like Piero Manzoni 's Merda d'artista [Artist's shit] Delvoye's machines can be regarded as an assault on the system of art.

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The best part of the exhibition for me were the video extracts of tv films about Cloaca.

Favourite is an extract of "Is This Sh*t Art", an episode from the very very brilliantissimo Art Safari.

Ben Lewis had a series for BBC4 where he'd go and meet the most iconic figures of contemporary art. He condensed his approach in an article he wrote about his encounter with Delvoye:

I will go to any lengths to find out if art means something. Just talking to the artist and looking at the work is never enough. The artists are usually inarticulate, or English is their second language, or they're just not very bright. None of these criticisms was true of Delvoye - but his art was so ambiguous it was impossible to work out what it meant. Was it raising up the lowly, or humbling the mighty? Was it optimistic or cynical?

In this case not only did Lewis get himself the same tattoo as one of Delvoye's pigs (video extract), he also ate the same meal as a Cloaca machine, gathered some of the product of its digestion, went to the toilet, collected some of his own faecal matter and brought the two samples to a laboratory. The scientist compared the two samples bacteriologically and found them very similar. Video:

I could not find the other videos online, except this extract from Eurotrash. Definitely not the best of what i've seen there but if you're interested in cloaca's farting problems and the solution to it...
Video:

I realized that what i liked best in Delvoye's work was not that much the work itself but to listen to Delvoye talk about it. Cloaca, he said in an interview, is not about aesthetics. Each machine is in total synchronicity with the advances of technology, there is no frivolity. Every single element you see has its function: you pour the food into the "oral" side of the machine, it is then processed by a series of mechanical organs (there is the stomach, the small intestine and the colon). Yet, Cloaca is not a commentary of science and is not either meant to be useful. The artist actually refused to sell one of his machines to a diaper company that hoped to use it for tests.

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Delvoye also set himself the task to insert the products of Cloaca in the global economic system. The Casino Luxembourg had a special Wim shop where you could buy a Wim action figure but also a whole range of Cloaca products: Cloaca T-shirts, a 3D Viewmaster, Cloaca toilet paper, posters, etc. But that's just a merchandising detail: the Cloaca machines are works of art which produce works of art. On show were dozens of vacuum-packed Cloaca eliminations made during the 5 first exhibits of the machine around the world. There's apparently a waiting list of collectors eager to buy one of those, and the faeces made during the New York exhibition are the most sought-after. The matter is irradiated with gamma rays to kill bacteria, dried and vacuum-packed. After that they are packed air-tight in a plexiglass box. In 2003, they were offered for sale online. The faeces were also integrated into the company Cloaca Limited as a contribution in nature.

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Cloaca-X-Rayed, 2003

Cloaca X-Rayed immediately brings to mind another famous art piece by Delvoye: his X-ray views of people having sex which he then turned into stained-glass church windows. Utilizing mammograms, sonograms and MRI's in addition to standard X rays, the artist captured skinny (they had to fit inside the machines) models tongue kissing, masturbating, or doing blow jobs. The key to getting such images was to slather the models with barium powder mixed with Nivea cream in order to "illuminate" the bones during x-raying.

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I give the microphone back to Ben Lewis: Delvoye's work satirises the art world, with its inflated prices and daft intellectual cul-de-sacs. Cloaca makes the ultimate criticism of modern art - that most of it is crap; that the art world has finally disappeared up its own backside. 'When I was going to art school, all my family said I was wasting my time, and now I have made a work of art about waste,' he told me happily.

My set of images.

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Previously: Winners of the VIDA awards announced.

Here is a list of the Honorary Mentions of VIDA, the international competition on art & artificial life.

Human beings, animals and even machines are affected by overlooked aspects of machines: sound, movements, vibration, heat, electromagnetic waves, etc. While similar to "carebots" and companion robots, Omo draws on Kelly Dobson's ongoing Machine Therapy work revealing the psychological, social, and political dynamics between people and machines.

In their scenario, most of the time these robots are predominantly focuses on conscious behaviour. Omo is an alternative relational object which interacts with the subconscious.

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OMO, Kelly Dobson

Omo's role is empathic and sometimes unexpected rather than normative. It is not a perfectly behaving companion, it does not always privilege soothing but it is neurothic and surprising. Omo isn't cute, it just looks like a big green egg, it breathes and senses the breathing of anyone interacting closely with it, matching--or seeking to lead--patterns of breathing.

Sensors can pick up tiny vibrations when placed against the torso and over time the robot can develop an informed interaction.

Placed on a machine which vibrates and works in cycles (such as a washing machines), Omo will pick up the vibration and attempt to communicate with the washing machine. There is no market for machines that counsel other machines. Not yet...

0ajuilj90u.jpgJulius Popp's bit.flow. Red and transparent liquids travel through a long flexible tube. The aim of the machine is trying to understand what it is doing, developing an understanding or some sort of consciousness. By releasing the red liquid and following the flow of the information, it somehow builds up a code which is injected in the tubes and sometimes builds a pattern which it will recognize.

Once the machine is able to reproduce patterns then it has gained some kind of consciousness. It knows what will happen if it takes this or this action, which action will follow a particular decision. Once it has recognized a pattern, it sends it to a "twin machine" and asks "Can you reproduce this pattern?" However to do so the machines, though identical, have to agree on a similar language, so a back and forth negotiation has to take place to build up a common vocabulary.

Here's a video of a previous prototype:

Hibernator: Prince of the Petrified Forrest by London Fieldworks. Jo Joelson and Bruce Gilchrist created a working animation studio in Beaconsfield's upper gallery to explore and link themes of natural animal hibernation, the cryonics movement and the myth surrounding the death of Walt Disney. The project utilised a range of video animation techniques, soundtrack, narrative, prosthetics and solar activated animatronics. The artists worked in the upper gallery to produce an animated film - Prince Of The Petrified Forest - part inspired by the seminal eco novel, Bambi by Felix Salten and Robert Ettinger's Prospect of Immortality. The 30 minute long animation was presented as a series of weekly episodes in Beaconsfield's arch space as it developed over a 7 week period. While the Disney industry was about manipulating our perception of the world, with their project, the artists invited people to come to the studio and see the making of an alternate reality.


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Hibernator, London Fieldworks

Jed Berk's ALAVs are Autonomous Light Air Vessels which communicate the concept of connectivity among people, objects, and the environment. People can use their phones to influence the behavior of the ALAVs by starting conversations and building closer relationships with them.

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ALAVS, Jed Berk

The Interactive Voice Recognition system allows mobile phone users to engage in a conversation with the blimps -either the entire group or an individual, affecting both their own and the blimps' behavior.

The ALAVs have the following predefined behaviors: flocking, feeding, bread crumbs, sour milk, hide, scatter, courtship, guardian, bump, call back and the "happiness factor."

Evelina Domnitch and Dmitry Gelfand
's installation Camera Lucida (Light Chamber). The "sonic observatory" converts sound waves into light by means of a phenomenon called sonoluminescence.

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Camera Lucida, E.Domnitch and D.Gelfand

The continually evolving light sculpture allows one to see sound moving through space - at the meeting point of acoustics and optics. Using sonoluminescence, sound waves are directly converted into light inside a glass chamber filled with gas-infused liquid. After adapting to the darkness surrounding the installation, one can gradually perceive the highly detailed shapes and movements of multiple sound sources.

Delicate Boundaries, by Christine Sugrue, is an interactive installation where human touch can dissolve the barrier of the computer screen.

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David Rokeby, Cloud. The kinetic installation is suspended in the Great Hall at the Ontario Science Centre. 100 elements, arranged in ten by ten grid, are rotated at slightly differing speeds by computer-controlled motors. The elements slowly shift in and out of synchronization. When the motors are just out of sync, huge waves ripple across the space. When completely in sync, the work appears almost solid then suddenly almost invisible. When far out of sync, the sculptural elements float in apparent chaos.

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Cloud, David Rokeby

All images courtesy of Fundación Telefónica.

The winners of the VIDA awards have been made public this morning in Barcelona.

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The international competition on art & artificial life, a project set up 10 years ago by Fundación Telefónica, rewards works of art produced with and commenting on artificial life technologies.

The many projects which have received an award over the past ten years form an inestimable and unique collection documenting the evolution of electronic art in one of its most significant aspects. Previous winners include a robot that sweats, a walking table, robotic dogs suffering from the mad cow disease, solar-powered devices which modify their own instruction code in response to environmental changes, autonomous non-violent protest agents, a Universal Whistling Machine, etc.

The Head of Fundación Telefónica, Francisco Serrano, came with some good news at the press conference:

- next year they will double the amount of money granted to the artists,
- they will also create an award for a career,
- finally, FT will create a Virtual Gallery which will collect and exhibit the winning works of past and future editions.

The winning projects will be exhibited at the Fundación Telefónica stand in ARCO which takes place on February 13-18 in Madrid. Coinciding with the Madrid Contemporary Art Fair, a exhibition celebrating the tenth anniversary of VIDA will present a selection of the past award-winning works and an International Forum will gather experts from all over the world to discuss artificial life art.

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Mission Eternity Sparcophagus

There was a presentation of the three winners this morning but a very brief mention of the honorary mentions. So i'll just dive into the DVDs and paper documentation i got this morning and get back with more details on the honorary mentions later. In the meantime, here are a few words about the 3 winners.

First prize (10.000 euros) went to Mission Eternity Sarcophagus by etoy.CORPORATION (Switzerland), a mobile cemetery tank which allows for simple re-location of the "massive body of information" remains of up to 1000 M∞ PILOTS. The interior of the SARCOPHAGUS is covered with a LED screen which displays the ARCANUM CAPSULE content and functions as a public installation wherever the TANK travels. Visitors of the SARCOPHAGUS access and interact with ARCANUM CAPSULES via their mobile phones or a web browser. The VIDA jury liked the project for the way it expresses eternal human fears in an innovative way and for the fact that death and the technologically-mediated memory of a person are intricately linked to life itself, be it artificial or not.

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Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr, Noark

Second Prize (7.000 euros) went to NoArk (a work mentioned a few weeks ago), by Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr (Australia).

NoArk is an experimental vessel designed to maintain and grow "neo-life", a mass of living cells and tissues that originated from different organisms. This vessel serves as a surrogate body for a collection of living fragments which are presented alongside technologically preserved specimens of organisms. The work questions the validity of taxonomical systems. These new organisms, instead of being part of a cabinet of curiosities like it would have been the case in the 19th century, are now collected inside hospitals, research centers, labs of the biotech industry, etc. Today we get to know life by tweaking it, not by just observing it. How can we define these new categories of life?

The artistic director of the Vida awards, Daniel Canogar, explained that the work met with much discussion inside the jury. For the first time VIDA didn't give an award to a work based on electronics but on biotechnology. Yet it is still dealing with the concept of life, but in a broader sense.

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Propagaciones

The third prize (3000 euros) went to Propagaciones, a work by Leandro Núñez (Argentina) which brings John Conway's cellular automaton The Game of Life (1970) to reality. The installation counts 50 small robots placed on top of a pole and made with low-tech elements. They have similar circuits and components but they all look different. They form a kind of ballet, interacting both with visitors and between themselves by turning on their lights or spinning around. Besides, the robots are divided in 10 nodes. Each robot interact with the other robots around but their behaviour inside a given node also depends on the one shown by the other nodes.

All images courtesy of Fundación Telefónica.

More in Honorary Mentions of the VIDA competition.

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My notes from Natalie Jeremijenko's talk at the New Cultural Networks conference, a one day event organized in Amsterdam by the Sandberg Institute.

Natalie decided to work in new media and techno art because the field promised new worlds, new relationships and looked like a place where social and cultural changes were possible.

Developments in technology are mostly done by the military and big corporations, they work for they own interests and what comes out of their R&D labs has unintended consequences and provides artists with opportunities to create social changes.

She showed one of her previous works which engaged with structures of participation. The project was installed in a "white box" type museum. Traditionally, explanatory texts are hanging or printed on the wall. People stand side by side to read it but never talk to each other. Most museums now have at least one audio tour. Visitors are then immersed in their own private audio space and won't talk to each other either because they simply wouldn't be able to hear each other. Her intervention was a sound installation which broadcasts the message. The sound seemed to pierce through the silence of the gallery but it also temporarily synchronized visitors, giving them more opportunities for exchange, local participation, interaction.

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HSM: The drums spin the jelly beans as workers pour in freshly made flavored and colored syrups onto the centers

How Stuff Is Made is an online visual encyclopedia started 4 years ago. It visually documents every process in the production of goods. If you wanted to transform the industry into something more sustainable which strategy would you prefer? Would your method be characterized by secrecy and non disclosure agreements? Or would you rather promote openness and communicate where are the new ideas, the good materials? If you think of what you possess and what you wear, how much can you really account for? Do you know anything about the labor conditions? Or how these products recycle once they are dumped? We are supposed to live right into the information age, we often complain of being flooded with too much information, yet we know very little when it comes to toxic activities.

For the How Stuff Is Made visual essays, each students have to make their way inside manufactories and discuss with workers, employees, designers, etc. The students document every processes, labor conditions and environmental impacts involved in the production of the good. Afterwards they list a series of suggestions to improve the manufacturing process. Making some discoveries along the way: such as Chinese workers receiving 45 cents per hour to make the American flag or Chinese fortune cookie made mostly in Chicago by Hispanics. One of the project's aims is to redirect manufacturing practices and consumer purchasing decisions toward a transparent and legible information base.

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Haul Trucks. Reminiscent of giant beetles, haul trucks wait in line to deliver their coal loads

Every students who did their assignment felt more responsible after that. They also discovered that reality is much more complex than the idea that there are just bad corporations manipulating poor innocent consumers.

Feral Robotic Dogs was inspired by the craze for interactive toys.What are robotics dogs for? What do you have to learn with interactive toys? To be interactive? We don't need them to learn how to interact.

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The FRD are dogs rescued from the dumps where the abandoned robotic dogs end up. They get an upgrade: a brain surgery, a new nose and some robust legs or wheels to go everywhere.

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Bronx: old tanks underneath the park. When you release a pack of FRD on a contaminated space, they sniff the area for traces of contamination. The media show up immediately and of course if they talk about the robot dogs they have to mention the existence of the contamination, they interview the students, etc.

Natalie showed a map of Silicon Valley which is the area with most Superfund Sites.

Ooz is zoo backwards and without cage.

We are facing a new phenomenon of urban migration. It used to be the poor from rural areas who migrated to the city in search of work in the industry. Nowadays, the animals "formally known as wild" are migrating to our cities. So it might be time to rethink our relationship with the natural system.

Several remote-controlled robotic geese let loose in various urban areas. The robotic goose interacts with the local goose population. The interface allows people to follow the birds closely and interact in ways that would not otherwise be possible. The goose drivers (or "gooser") can 'talk to' the geese through the interface, delivering prerecorded goose 'words,' their own vocal impersonations, or other sounds (such as goose flute hunting calls). Each utterance via the robotic goose triggers the camera in the robot's head to capture 2-4 seconds of video recording the responses of the animal. These video samples upload to the goosespeak database that the participants can annotate.

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Left to their own devices, the robotic geese repeat what another (real) goose has done a few moments before. It's like a big gameboy, except that the platform is your local park.

Natalie freed her robotic gooose in the ECO Park of Los Angeles. Kids came running, they wanted to play with the robotic goose too and realized in the process that they had never noticed the existence of the geese before. By tiptoeing around to see the habitat of the geese, the children saw broken shells. They did their research and discovered that if the shell was broken it was because the pesticides and fertilizers used in the park were bad for the eggs. By playing they had discovered the complexity of ecological connections. That's another difference with Gameboy, here the game is open-ended not crypted.

Together with Debra Solomon, Natalie cooked a Dinner for Geese and People with food delicious for both the goose and the humans. Natalie and Debra are working on an interspecies cookbook and are still in search of a publisher for it.

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Pasta di Larvae (image Debra Solomon)

She also designed bird operable technology. For the Whitney Biennale, the artist installed public twoilets (toilets for pigeons), the guano was collected and used for soil fertilization. She also developed perches allowing birds to communicate with humans. When the birds land on the perch they trigger a sound file that translate birds concerns into the human dialect. The messages range from "Buy some health bar (you call it bird food) and scatter it around. That's a good person!" to "It's in your interest that i am happy and healthy. Bird flu so please share your lunch with me and do not monopolize the nutritious resources."

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Ooz for the Fish communication: Fishface Sensor Array. When a fish swims underneath the buoy, the light is turned on to tell humans that the fish is in that area at that particular moment and that they can throw it some food. The same goes for the fish who knows that it is the signal: food is likely to appear.

In zoo, you'll see almost everywhere notices that say "Do not feed the animals". Why not? What we eat is good enough for us but not for them? Why can't we interact with the animals? Whether we like it or not we keep interacting with them and interfering with their life and habitat.

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Fish Restaurant interaction window

Fish restaurant where you feed the fish instead of eating fish.

New laboratory.
What if we are in the middle of a climate crisis? How can we react to global warming? What can we learn from our experience with participative media?

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We all know about global warming. Consuming less gas, closing the water tap while brushing our teeth, writing to politicians, etc. doesn't make us feel useful enough. It makes us feel impatient. But that doesn't mean that we cannot make progress. We need high standards of evidence: What works where, how and with whom? We need to concentrate our effort on our local environment.

That's how Natalie came up with her new project: a health clinic not for patients but for the environment. Impatient people would come with their environmental concerns and get our with prescriptions and advice. Prescriptions for action and referrals to relevant art, design, participatory projects, local environmental organizations, etc.

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The records of the visits and treatments would be like Facebook, they are external and shared. You can log on and create your own impatient page.

You could be prescribed a tadpole. You get one, raise it and set up a social network page for it where you can upload videos of it. Tadpole are so sensitive that we can regard them as experts in environmental pollution. PCB level in women's breast milk is the same as in the Hudson River.

The age of puberty of US girls has fallen of 3 years. A tadpole could detect the quality of the water.

Other examples of prescriptions:
Mouse live in our houses and share our diet. One of the prescriptions is a mouse trap to take blood samples from the mouse. When the animal is in the trap, the trap sends a text message on your cell phone so you can rush there, take a blood sample, have it analyzed and check if there is anything suspect in your body.

Energy return system in shoes, a spring installed in the heel of the show "returns a spring to your steps."

2 specially-developed prescription products:

0aadalighte4.jpgGreenlight (x design) addresses indoor air quality.

The solar-powered lighting product diffuses light by coupling to photosynthetic processes. Planting strategies can be specified to address particular indoor air quality issues including VOC, benzene and formaldehyde removal.

Like other prescription products this product requires a clinic appointment to introduce the design parameters involved, and the novel issues involved in distributed power production.

The second one: If we are in a climate crisis what you need is a spacestation.

Portrait of Natalie Jeremijenko by Trujillo-Paumier for GOOD magazine.

Previously: OOZ, Inc. (...for the birds), Reverse Engineers.

Aharon Ozery´s installation has peacefully invaded a big room at the Davide Gallo Gallery in Mitte, Berlin.

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The Egg Project is an extremely charming kinetic mechanical structure whose arms move big egg-like objects from one location towards another in a circular movement. Again and again. It is elegant, smooth, slightly absurd and certainly less noisy than the video would have you believe.

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The machine behaves like a mother whose delicate rubber fingers only live for the pleasure of nesting her eggs from one platform to another. The machine in its role as a care-taker reflects the ambivalent relation our culture sustains with machines which is that of suspicion and admiration. The machine' s potential of self awareness makes the human a possible anachronism. Not only does the machine simile humanity, it aspires to be more than human - a better version, which frightens us.

On view until 10th November 2007.

More images. Thanks for the tip Tikva!

Fancy more eggs?

almost certified (grade A noise for non-discerning consumers) are robotic drum machines that make music by playing an exotic range of real eggs.

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Enjoy By employs eggs sawed in half and implanted with microcontrollers and LED displays.

Myriam Laplante gave a fantastic performance during the City of Women festival (well, that's what everybody says cuz i stupidly missed it, i arrived too late and just saw the video of the event this afternoon).

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The inspiration is Brothers Grimm’s tale The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids. A mother goat warns her kids to be wary of the wolf and leaves the house. Enters the wolf who claims to be their mother. The kids let him in, wolf tears apart the house, finds them and eats them all except the youngest, who was hiding in the clock.

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The mother returns, sees the crime scene, looks for nasty wolf and finds him sleeping. Something is struggling inside his stomach. Mother and the son cut him open, and the other six emerge alive.

Myriam's performance Lupus in Fabula turns the image of mother the saviour into mother the destroyer of the world she herself creates. There's no woolf but three big and lovely bears sleeping on the floor. She cuts them open, disembowels them and little robot bunnies emerge from the stomach (giving a new sense of purpose to all those Chinese toys banned from the European and US market) which is really cute and endearing... Until she grabs a big hammer, goes after the bunnies in the gallery and smashes them one after the other. When i went to the gallery today, everything was neat and peaceful, all traces of the massacre had disappeared apart from a small carpet that the artist had crafted using what was left of the bear fur.

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Video and more images. The remains of the tragedy are on view until October 13 at the Moderna galerija/Mala galerija in Ljubljana.

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