HMPark Life was triggered by the reaction to last Summer's England Riots: the public wanted to see the looters severely punished, courts were advised to hand out tough sentences, the Daily Mail suggested that incarceration might not be enough since -they wrote- prisons are little more than 'holiday camps' and the government stepped in with the proposal to subject inmates to 40-hour working weeks.
HMPark Life is a radically new type of prison that would be built in the middle of London. The project questions this drive to turn a prison population into a cheap labour force - one that works not just to provide skills to inmates in the name of 'rehabilitation' but forces offenders to be both visibly productive and punished to quench the public's ever-present blood thirst for justice.
The prison is modeled on the concentric circles of Hell in Dante's Inferno: the higher the offense, the harsher the punishment and the deeper within the Earth the sinner is sent.
At HMPark Life, the gradation of current UK prison security categories reflect this gradual increase in offense and need for security. The architecture of the prison pushes the analogy even further: it is built deep into the ground, with the most dangerous offenders finding themselves at the bottom of the structure. But the project also introduces an element of spectacle with the possibility for the public to come during their leisure time and gape at the prisoners.
With high security at the deepest point climbing up to an open prison at the surface of the offender-made canyon, this seeping of the prison into the well-healed high street of Herne Hill provides moments of inmate / outsider interaction in the form of a theatre, library and workshops. A public viewing platform perched on the prison main's circulation core provides an ideal point from which to survey the throng of productive inmates, leaving the public with the sense of satisfaction. This is the new panopticon.
I had to interview the young architect who brought Dante Alighieri and the Daily Mail in such close contact:
Hi Alexis! The project seems to be a reaction to last year's riots. Did any other event, piece of news, aspect of social or political life inspire the project?
While writing my dissertation, investigating the physical implications of Michel Foucault's 'Heterotopias', which are a series of principles that define the nature of what creates deviant/ synchronised/ paradoxical/ time based/ exclusive or inclusive and illusory spaces; I came across the essay Simulacra and Simulation by Jean Baudrillard with the statement,
"The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth - it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true."
As a Londoner, watching the riots unfold on the rolling news from the safety of my suburban family home. I was not only astonished at the randomness of the violence, but also the erratic reactions to it. Passers-by, "social commentators", politicians, all had their own over-simplified and unsurprising takes on the events blaming education, the benefits system, bankers' bonuses and the X Factor. But as statistics started to emerge that a majority of the perpetrators had previous criminal convictions, everybody knew there was going to be some kind of reactionary policy making by the Conservative lead coalition Government. I didn't have to wait long.
The Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke announced less than a month after the events sweeping changes to the way offenders were to be reformed in Prisons. The phrases "providing skills", "rehabilitation through purposeful work" several weeks later turned into "offenders shall 'earn their keep'". Working a full 40hr week doing menial tasks like laundry or gluing light bulbs together and getting paid up to £10 per week.
This apparent confusion over the purpose of skilling-up offenders or work as punishment is what inspired me to create HMPark Life. Rehabilitation was no longer for the benefit of the offender, but was a tool for the state to either reassure the liberal section of society that offenders were being offered skills to better themselves and the more conservative amongst us that offenders were being put to work as punishment.
Could you describe exactly how HMPark Life works? Its structure/architecture? In particular Dante's Inferno and the circles of Hell.
Dante's Inferno, the first part to the epic poem 'The Divine Comedy' acted not just as an allegory for the horrors and turmoils of hell but also for its clear programatic and spatial organisation. Throughout history there have been many versions of diagrams explaining the descending rings of hell and all follow the poem's stepped, conical canyon description bellow the surface of the earth, with Lucifer and a frozen lake at its deepest point. The lower you descend the more heinous the sin one had committed. This logic seemed appropriate for a prison.
Dante's Inferno also worked as a way of planning the views to depict parts of the project. The poem is divided into 34 Cantos or chapters, each describing Dante's journey further into the depths. The Canto numbers on the views relate to the points within the poem that are identical to parts of the prison; for example Canto III describes the 'Lost forest' and the entrance to Hell, which in HMPark Life has become a woodland littered with trees disguising columns and the library/ visitor centre. Some of which function as light funnels for the prison workshops bellow and provide perches for CCTV cameras. Canto IX is the point at which Dante looks back at where he had come from, Canto V is where judgement of sins are passed deciding on the level of inferno, so here I show the public observation tower. Canto XXXIV is the lowest point depicting the worst sinners' accommodation with cells of category A.
Why did you locate the prison in Brockwell Park?
Brockwell Park is just south of Brixton, where some of the worst rioting occurred. It acts as a barrier between the affluent neighbourhood of Herne Hill to the East and a large council estate to the West and contains the must have pleasant park facilities such as a restored 1920's lido, an organic community garden and tennis courts. It is also half a mile from the existing HMP Brixton.
During my Research I discovered HMP Brixton to be the worst in terms of the Prison system's own ratings. No outdoor space, offenders spend up to 23hrs a day in their cells designed for one in the 19thC but now accommodating up to 4, unsanitary conditions, rat infested and the building is Grade II* listed so updating the facilities is bizarrely out of the question. By placing the prison in the park I'm merely following current legislation to its extreme.
"Prisons should be built within close proximity to communities in order to form close links and aid integrating offenders back into the community" planning guidelines state.
London's inner city prisons such as Pentonville and Brixton occur in the midst of residential areas, behind high walls barely sign posted they almost disappear into the urban fabric. It was important to the project that opportunities were borne out of program conflicts with the context: Pleasure/ Punishment, Play/ Work, Freedom/ Enclosure.
Finally with prisons being so over crowded, and London's prisons lacking in the legally required space then London's parks become an ideal site, especially since the prison is to be our prison and become part of our leisure time experience.
Also i was wondering about the kind of people who would want to watch the inmates working. I suspect, like you probably did, that among them we'd find mostly readers of the Daily Mail. In my view, most readers of the DM are far more dangerous than prisoners. So what would protect the inmates from the public?
I did draw a lot of inspiration from the Daily Mail. It is always useful to look at something so opposed to your own opinions in order to draw something out of yourself. The headline "Prison is a Holiday Camp" popped up a few times in the Daily Mail, citing inmates' ability to access TV (for a fee) and table football. Though if you asked the inmates of HMP Brixton i'm sure their opinions would differ.
There is a viewing platform for each level of security as you descend the tower. I imagined the more casual park passer by might take their children as a warning for misbehaving and perhaps the lower one goes you might come across characters like Jeremy Kyle, or a demonstration by 'Parents Against Pedophiles'. Now i'm thinking Gordon Ramsay would happily sit there with the Daily Mail crowd. I caught 5 minutes of his new series where he's getting some inmates of HMP Brixton to make fairy cakes, when I heard the tagline "Gordon Ramsay thinks it's time Britain's prisoners paid their way." I had to switch it off. For a man arrested for 'gross indecency' in a male public toilet you'd think he'd want to distance himself from this issue of public humiliation as a form of punishment, unless this is a long overdue part of his community service.
HMPark Life would host different categories of prisoners. Do they mirror the already existing categories?
The categories of prison exist already. But only in a few instances do prisons of differing categories occur on the same site and they never share facilities. For example, Belmarsh Prison (Category A) is the UK's highest security Prison where those charged (or not quite charged) of terrorism are held. But next door is a male juvenile detention centre.
Finally, i had a look into the publication that accompanied the exhibition at RCA. One of the chapter is "precedency study" and it features works by Herzog & de Meuron, Lina Bo Bardi's Sesc Pompeia, the prisons of Piranesi. Could you explain briefly how you draw inspiration from them?
References are important in trying to develop a language that informs the project whilst at the same time being sympathetic to the way I like to draw and depict. CaixaForum Madrid by Herzog & de Meuron was mainly a formal reference. The perforations and it's 'cragginess' being conducive in a way to design the caged exercise spaces of the inmates, with differing perforation densities in accordance to the level of punishment/ prison category. In Lina Bo Bardi's amazing Sesc Pompeia in Sao Paulo I was looking at the system of exposed circulation and the ruthlessly efficient series of walkways that jut between its two monolithic towers. The most immediately obvious precedence I drew from was Piranesi's Carceri d'invenzione (imaginary prisons) etchings. HMPark Life's 4 'Cantos' used the same techniques of awkward angled view points and constricting the image inside the frame as well as a disorientating sense of scale. In Piranesi's etchings it is quite hard to judge how big this world is until he places a crumpled figure somewhere in the foreground.
One of the reasons why i go through the trouble of taking one bus and two trains in order to get to Z33 in Hasselt is that the Contemporary Art Center regularly identifies and confronts phenomena, ideas and flows that characterize or affect contemporary culture. Their new exhibition, Architecture of Fear, examines how feelings of fear pervade our daily life.
The show explores how fear has moved from being an immediate emotional strategy for survival, the result of a personal experience, to becoming a constant, more abstract, low level feeling that paves the way for new infrastructures based on security, prevention and 'risk-managemen't. Without ever judging nor pointing the finger, Architecture of Fear asks visitors to put their anxieties into a broader perspective. Are threats of terrorism, viral diseases, pollution and financial crisis entirely unbiased and valid? Have some of them been surreptitiously fashioned by politicians and the media? Are CCTVs in the metro making me feel more secure or in danger, for example?
As Frank Furedi, author of Politics of Fear: Beyond Left and Right, explained in an article for Spiked, "The prominent role of fear today merely indicates that it serves as a framework through which we interpret a variety of experiences."
Architecture of Fear has invited international artists and designers to investigate how fear as a mental construction can be built up through language and images. I've already mentioned the work of Charlotte Lybeer and Jill Magid. I'll come back with an interview with Trevor Paglen soon-ish. In the meantime, here's a quick walk through some of the works in the exhibition.
In Museum of Nature, photographer Ilkka Halso articulates his fear of a world where nature will be confined to museums, private amusements parks and performance spaces. The buildings will not only allow the inhabitants of the Earth to see what forests, lakes and rivers look like, they will also protects these last fragments of flora from threats of pollution and from actions of man himself.
The works shown by Laurent Grasso in the exhibition are equally compelling and sinister but they are also more complex and allude to conspiracy theories and ambiguous military researches. The title of Grasso's video 1619 refers to the year when Galileo Galilei first used the term "aurora borealis" in his writings.
Nikola Tesla looked into the aurora borealis almost three centuries after the Italian scientist but he was more interested in its capacity to reflect electromagnetic waves. Inspired by Tesla's research, the American military set up the "High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program" or HAARP, a research program specialized in the application of high frequencies to the "aurora borealis" in Alaska. HAARP is studying the transmission of electricity in the uppermost portion of the atmosphere. But because of its military funding and the fears associated with electromagnetism, HAARP is surrounded by controversy. Its forest of antennas have been accused of beaming electromagnetic waves that are extremely hazardous to human health, of disrupting climate, of having all sorts of influence on human behaviour and of being weapons able to disrupt communications over large portions of the planet.
Grasso's video artificially reproduces the color vibrations of this luminous phenomena in an environment where one can discern a geodesic sphere.
Visitors of the exhibition will find a model of that very sphere in the adjacent room. Bathed in pink light, the sculpture leads to more worrying stories, conspiracy theories and mystery.
The geodesic sphere, directly inspired by Buckminster Fuller's model, refers to the shape of the receiving stations of the Echelon network, an ambitious listening programme created in in 1947 and operated on behalf of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, UK, and the US. ECHELON was reportedly created to monitor communications between the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc. Since the end of the Cold War, it is believed to search for terrorist plots, drug dealers' plans, and political and diplomatic intelligence. Some even claim that ECHELON is also used for large-scale commercial theft, international economic espionage and invasion of privacy.
Rather than researching, explaining or interpreting what lies exactly behind military uses of natural phenomena and global surveillance systems, the works by Laurent Grasso open up even more speculations, conjectures and ambiguities.
Tsang Kin-Wah's The Second Seal refers to the Seven Seals of the Apocalypse. In the video installation, words that seem to be made of fire descend slowly from the ceiling and snake down the walls of the gallery space. Written by the artist, the text talks of war, violence, evil, vengeance, power, death. The words attempt to articulate the complexities of our society with its many doom scenarios, its dilemmas and anxieties.
Designer Susanna Hertrich's Risk charts bring us back with our feet firmly on the ground. The posters confront a series of risks (terrorist attacks, plane crash, car accident, cancer, etc) as they are perceived by the public with the actual hazard they represent.
The charts are accompanied by the Alertness Enhancing Device and other Prostheses for Instincts that aim to awaken human beings' long lost natural instinct for the real dangers of life, as opposed to the above-mentioned perceived risks that often cause a public outrage.
Through electronic simulation, some prostheses are able to create physical and mental sensations (goose bumps, shivers down the spine, hair standing up on your neck) similar to the ones we experience in instinctive fear responses.
Global Anxiety Monitor, by De Geuzen, investigates reasons for paranoia as well but brings them into a different perspective. The work looks for anxiety buzzwords on Google image and shows side by side the results obtained in several languages. Sometimes the google image angle on pollution, torture, recession, future or unemployment coincide in all the languages investigated, sometimes they are at odds with each other and reveal cultural biases and local tensions.
More details about Architecture of Fear in the mini catalogue available online for free:
Architecture of Fear remains open at Z33 in Hasselt, Belgium through December 31, 2011. Entrance is free.
Z33 House of Contemporary Art in Hasselt, Belgium, has just opened an exhibition with a very promising title. Architecture of Fear explores how feelings of fear pervade daily life in the contemporary media society.
I'm going to visit it on Thursday but in the meantime i thought i'd ask one of the participating artists, Jill Magid, to tell us about the work she is showing at Z33 and more generally about her experience with impersonal power structures (police, intelligence agencies, security systems, etc.) which, whether they contribute to it or fight it, are part of this 'architecture of fear.'
One of Magid's most ironic works is System Azure. In 2003, the artist introduced herself to the Amsterdam Police as a "Security Ornamentation Professional" working for a fictitious company. Magid's proposal to embellish police cameras was accepted and she was hired to hand-glued rhinestones to security cameras at the Amsterdam Headquarters of Police, a work that had previously been rejected when she had first presented it as an art project.
In Evidence Locker, Magid developed a personal relationship with the operators of Liverpool's citywide video surveillance cameras. Dressed in red, she had them follow her every steps as she moved across the city. Back in New York, she managed to gain the trust of a police officer and infiltrate his professional (and personal) world. Magid pushed even further her enquiries into the personality of the human beings hidden behind the faceless instruments of power and surveillance in 2005, when she met with employees of the Dutch secret service, the AIVD, and almost turned into an agent herself for a commission by the AIVD itself to create an artwork that would help them improve upon their public persona and provide them 'with a human face'.
The work Magid is showing at Z33 this Fall, A Reasonable Man in a Box, was inspired by the "Bybee Memo", a 2002 document signed by Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee. The document considered the use of mental and physical torment and stated that acts widely regarded as torture might be legally permissible under an expansive interpretation of Presidential authority during the "War on Terror." The memos were declassified by President Obama in 2009. One of the acceptable methods of "enhanced interrogation" described in the document involved the use of a confinement box. The prisoner would be confined inside this box with insects which would not harm them. The people in charge would know that the insect or the animal is innocuous but would leave the prisoner in the dark about it.
Magid's take on the interrogation technique is a room where the silhouette of a big hissing scorpion is projected wall. Every once and a while a pair of tweezers appears on screen to catch the animal by the tail.
Hi Jill! I''ve been following and admiring your work ever since i started blogging. So far i associated you with performative works in which you put yourself on the front line (Lincoln Ocean Victor Eddy, Lobby 7 or Evidence Locker for example.) There's no visible trace of you in "A Reasonable Man in a Box". How do you decide whether you are going to be so visibly involved and present in a new work or when you are going to step back?
The Spy Project-- in which I am the main protagonist, finished just before I began the research that led to A Reasonable Man in a Box. The Spy Project involved the censorship of my novel by the Dutch secret service about my experience working with it. This redacted manuscript got me to thinking about other government-censored documents. Simultaneously I was researching torture as it is used by democracies, and how these practices are hidden from public view or scrutiny. Both paths led me to the Bybee Memo. As the document was already complete and therefore no longer open to change, I did not feel I could not enter into it as a protagonist. I found a different way to engage it.
I saw images and read descriptions of the installation at the Whitney Museum. The room where the film was screened seemed to be spacious, with a visible entrance/exit. From what i gathered it still made quite an impact on visitors. But why didn't you chose to take a more extreme road and show the video in a claustrophobic space or in one that looked more like a cell or in a room you couldn't exit until the end of the video?
I was not trying to make the viewer the tortured victim inside the box (i.e. gallery); rather, I wanted the viewer to consider the fundamental questions at the heart of the memo: what is reasonable; and what is a reasonable man in a box? The install is creepy, uncomfortable, and simple. The gallery becomes a shadow box: the shadow of the scorpion in the gallery is proportional to 'the stinging insect' in a confinement box. The shadow, as projected in both the Whitney and at Z33, is larger than life, as the rooms in which they are installed are of course bigger than a confinement box, which is only the size of a person sitting or standing. The fragment of the Bybee Memo discussing the enhanced interrogation practice of placing a man in a box with a stinging insect is also enlarged to scale. This enlargement is a kind of highlighting. Through it, the language has been made physical, enterable. Under these conditions, the memo and the questions it provokes can be examined and experienced on a personal level.
The installation was inspired by the "Bybee Memo". I had never heard of it before. In Europe we are familiar with stories about the kind of music played to drive prisoners crazy, rendition flights (which couldn't have been carried out without the complicity of European governments anyway), etc. But i think that the "Bybee Memo" is less well-know here. Is that the same in the USA? Did the installation play with something that the audience was familiar with or did it reveal the existence of that "Bybee Memo" as well?
There seem to be varying degrees of awareness about The Torture Memos (the common name for the Bybee memos), and the CIA's Enhanced Interrogation program. (Most notably in the press was the detailed practice of waterboarding, a type of enhanced interrogation practiced that simulates drowning.) Regardless, I felt 1. That it was an important document to (re)consider, and 2. That the installation was self-contained and therefore, did not rest upon a prior knowledge.
The practice of placing a man in a confinement box with an insect was detailed in the Bybee Memo that was released in 2009 when President Obama came to office. I'd heard of the memo before working on this project, but I'd never actually read it (It's 18 pages of legalese). I have not yet met more than a few people who have. When I in fact did read it, I was shocked-- more by its language and (absurdist) 'empirical' logic than even by the practices it invoked and legalized.
I'm interested in things that appear to be obvious or known, but aren't. I wanted to slow down the memo, focus and enlarge it, so that I could really look at it. The Bybee memo successfully changed the definition of torture in the United States for half a year, making acts that under the Geneva Convention were considered torture, legal.
A Reasonable Man is one of a series of projects that deal with secret services. In previous works you explored the Dutch secret service and engaged with a number of intimate relationships with members of the AIVD. The purpose of these meetings was "to collect personal data of the agents and to use this information to find the organization's face." So how were these people like? Is secret service all James Bond, exciting adventures and fearless clean-shaved men?
What I find most intriguing about my engagements with government institutions is that in entering them I find that they are far more fantastic than I could have imagined, and rarely resemble what I have seen in films. I never cease to be surprised as to what I find and what I cannot find, and how both of these things affect me. The people I have engaged with are as varied and complex inside the service as they are outside of it.
While working on A Reasonable Man, how much information did you manage to find about the "enhanced interrogation" of high-level Al Qaeda operatives? Did you contact anyone? Meet? Found other pieces of information? How close did you manage to get to the issue?
I focused on the memo and understanding it. I was also interested in the memo as to what was visible and what was missing due to redaction, and how my understanding of the former was influenced by the latter. The idea of the shadow-- of not being able to see the real but only its ghost, had much to do with this schism of visible/hidden.
When I had questions about the memo, I did have some people to turn to. I was in contact with an investigative reporter (who has both a military and intelligence background) that had been embedded with the US army in both Iraq and Afghanistan and had visited Abu Ghraib (He is a protagonist in my current project), and a PhD student at NYU studying torture, law and the media. I also read about torture and democracy in books and in the news. These contacts and this research helped me approach and re-approach the memo with a continually deeper understanding.
Are secret services a theme you're going to keep on exploring?
I never know where the work is going from project to project, as my process is organic. That being said, secret services will no doubt continue to interest me. They epitomize many of my interests (secrecy, intimacy, power, legal and coded language), and they are inexhaustible. I still find myself drawn to any story on intelligence matters in the paper. I'm still a little hurt the CIA has never contacted me; )
I'm curious about something else... What happened to the rhinestone-studded surveillance cameras you installed in Amsterdam?
They are still there, in full glamour (perhaps with a little city dirt and grime) on the headquarters of the police in Amsterdam. Check them out. They're permanent.
Quick one from STRP, the festival of art and technology which is taking place right now in Eindhoven, NL.
One of the installations that made me keep coming back to it over and over again last night is the Physiognomic Scrutinizer by Marnix de Nijs who, as usual, is using humour to reflect on some of the key issues of our society. In this case, the role biometric systems play in present our public space.
The visitor is invited to walk through a brightly lit security gate similar to the ones you can find at airports, football stadiums and other protected public spaces. A camera takes a picture of their face and projects it on a LCD monitor behind the gate. A biometric video analyzing software scrutinizes the face but rather than try and identify the person, the software probes for facial features and characteristics that are similar to one of the 250 persons in the data base: each and everyone of them has gained fame for controversial or infamous acts (there are notorious transgender people, torturers, serial killers, pop stars addicted to drugs, etc.) Based on what the software detects, the visitor passing through the entry point will be accused according to the disrepute of their match and a stern, cold voice will enumerate their past deeds and misdeeds for everybody around to hear. The faces of the visitor and of the famous person are then displayed side by side on the LCD monitors behind the gate.
The tile of the work refers to physiognomy, the skill of interpreting a person's personality from looking at their external features and in particular the face. Ancient Greek philosophers recognized the validity of the study but it met with more disrepute in the Middle Ages and fell from favour over time. However, recent studies are now claiming that people's faces can indicate such traits as trustworthiness, social dominance and aggression.
Face-recognition software is mainly developed for surveillance and security applications and commonly referred to as "biometric systems". The person undergoing the recognition process usually feels uncomfortable, even if he or she is innocent.
Spectators of this security gate process never fail to have a good laugh to their friend who has just been paralleled with the world record gangbang holder or with Paris Hilton.
The STRP festival is open until November 28, 2010 in Eindhoven, The Netherlands.
Last post about BIP2010, the 7th International Biennial of photography and Visual Arts in Liège. There's much more i would like to write about but given the appalling high amount of reports and reviews i still have to blog, it is probably wiser to stop the flow here and let your discover the rest of the biennale for yourself if you happen to be in Liège in April.
The BIP2010 biennale is distributed into several location in the city of Liege, each venue focusing on a different aspect of the general theme: Out of Control.
The Theater of Authority was the exhibition i liked the best. Not only because of the artists i discovered there but also because of the magnificently decrepit state of the building that hosts it. Europe has long been converting ex-warehouses and other industrial spaces into glorious cultural venues but never before had i witnessed such a stylish shabbiness.
I might sound ironic but i was truly charmed by the place.
Now how about the show itself? Its premise will sound familiar to most readers: The Theater of Authority explores how our perception is mediated by and eventually adapts to the images coming from inquisitive medias such as satellites and security cameras. Everywhere around us, screens are showering our retina with information most of us hardly ever take the trouble to cross check. We tend to forget that these images are not first-hand, they are mediated, selected and distributed by media, political or scientific authorities.
Whether we like it or not, we are not only the resigned receptors of those images, we are actors as well. The anonymous gaze of surveillance devices, now ubiquitous in urban spaces, is following our every step. The photos shown in the exhibition Theater of Authority raise a number of pertinent questions: What happens when we confront this "authority of the visible"? When we push it to its limits? Or when we use and misuse it?
Claudio Hils' stunning photo series documents a ghost town located in Senne, North Rhein-Westphalia (DE). Until recently, Senne was a British training ground for military emergencies. Everything about the place is fake, especially the targets in the shape of human beings wearing old fashioned clothes. Meant to enliven the city, the mannequins have the effect of highlighting its emptiness and bleak atmosphere.
What is real though are the traces of military activity. Holes in facades, damaged targets, cartridge cases on the floor, etc. The series is called "Red Land - Blue Land", a code for maneuvers, Red Land stands indeed for enemy, Blue Land for friendly territory.
Claudio Hils has chosen a documentary, factual approach which leaves the viewers with the task of building up their own scenarios and explanations.
The lenses of the camera are barely a meter apart, they overlook each other so that the only thing visible within each camera's field of vision is the lens of its twin. Meanwhile, a pair of monitors screens the pictures registered by each of them.
The installation remind us that one of the problem faced by the STASI bureaucracy was the difficulty to process the absurdly overwhelming amount of data its structure was collecting. Similarly, one can wonder whether there really is any attentive gaze behind the cameras that are monitoring our behaviour in public space.
In her work, Lucinda Devlin explores how architectural spaces express the values of the culture that creates and uses them.
Between 1991 and 1998, Devlin traveled through some 20 states to photograph in penitentiaries, with the cooperation of the local authorities. The Omega Suites series -an allusion to the final letter of the Greek alphabet as a metaphor for the finality of execution- portrays execution chambers, holding cells, viewing rooms and other spaces associated with the act of institutionalized killing. With over 3000 inmates on death row and a large majority of US citizens supporting the death penalty, the almost clinical images bring to light one of the most disquieting ethical questions facing contemporary Americans.
November 13 1993. Philippe Meste attacks with his ludicrously tiny "War boat" the military harbor in Toulon. The rockets he crafted in his artist studio manage to damage the aircraft carrier Foch and other military ships anchored in the harbour. The artist's boat is seized by the police and returned only five years later.
Meste's actions are motivated less by a urge to criticize the army than by a desire to test the limits of what is acceptable and tolerable, in the name of art. At first sight, his attack seems to be pathetic but i also reawakens our fear of insecurity and violence in the middle of an otherwise quiet Mediterranean city. The means and arsenal of war are, after all, ready to be activated should any agitation more threatening than Meste's emerge.
Paul Seawright's Hidden is a photo response to the war in Afghanistan in 2002. The minefields and battle sites in the images are eerily tranquil and composed. They nevertheless betray the presence of a violence that could be set in motion again.
"I'm sorry, Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that" declares HAL in his dispassionate voice before taking full control of the ship's operations from the human crew. Simon Norfolk borrows the quote from 2001: A Space Odyssey to name a series of photos portraying some of the supercomputers working in silent locations around the world. The ultra powerful machines administer internet connections, decode human genome, calculate the physical phenomena taking place inside a nuclear warhead when it explodes, etc. Technology at its most fascinating and frightening. Like HAL, the supercomputers were designed to assist humans but they are also unable to sympathize with our logic and dilemmas.
A BOMB - Beauty of Destruction is a stunning collection of rare and original images compiled by Galerie Daniel Blau in Munich. The photos record nuclear tests performed in the '50s and '60s in Nevada and in the Pacific Ocean, explosions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, some of them are press impressions, other come from the military, the rest were used for research.
The images of atomic explosions are as beautiful as the horror they represent. They are the ultimate theater of authority.
BIP2010, the 7th International Biennial of photography and Visual Arts in Liège, is open until April 25, 2010.
Next stop on the line for my review of BIP2010, the 7th International Biennial of photography and Visual Arts in Liège, is the arresting Grand Curtius Museum where the exhibition Out of Control, Berlin takes place.
Overseen by two Berlin curators Dr. Matthias Harder (Helmut Newton Stifftung) and Félix Hoffmann (C/O Berlin), this exhibition is small, impeccably curated and it is also the one that follows most punctiliously the main theme of the exhibition: control and its antithesis.
In his Sie und Wir photo series, Ulrich Gebert follows special law enforcement troops of the German police during their training exercises. The buildings where they shoot, jump and hide are fake, their interior is a total wreck that the photographer has also documented in another series called Bloody Mess.
Ricarda Roggan 's Garage is are nocturnal 'still-life' depicting cars which have 'escaped' from the control of their driver. Under the harsh light and half hidden by a cloak, the vehicles appear to be wounded victims rather than just wrecked cars.
Murder Weapons... The tile of Simon Menner's photo series says it all. The photographer managed to convince the Berlin Police Department to give him access to weapons that have been used to murder people.
In his series City TV, Frank Thiel exposes 101 photos of surveillance cameras in public space. The close-up abstracts these inconspicuous devices from their context which has the effect of conveying the idea that video control is almighty and ubiquitous.
In her series Suspicious Minds, Viktoria Binschtok turned the spotlight on the unconspicuous bodyguards that stand at the periphery of statesmen in public venues. She extracted these men from their original context, mostly press pictures. The men they are paid to protect might all be different but these body guards adopt similar posture, they have the same intense look on their face and they are all dressed to blend in the background.
Tobias Zielony has long been portraying young people living at the margin of society, out of its control and rules. Many of the young men in the series Big Sexyland earn their living as male prostitutes. Zielony found them in a porno cinema and its adjoining park in Berlin. Shot with artificial or infrared lighting, the photographs concentrate on the gestures and poses of young men. Avoiding any form of judgment, the images depict them killing time between action: smoking, sleeping, or simply loitering.
I'm not entirely sure to understand why Thorsten Brinkmann is part of this selection of photographers but that doesn't matter so much, i'm always glad to see his work hanging on a wall:
BIP2010, the 7th International Biennial of photography and Visual Arts in Liège, is open until April 25, 2010.
Previous posts about Viktoria Binschtok's work: One bear, one elephant, and three people on the phone. About Thorsten Brinkmann's: Self-portraits with stuff.