The Maison Européenne de la Photographiein Paris is currently hosting the 10th edition of the Festival @rt Outsiders. (Un)Inhabitable? - Art of Extreme Environments explores the meaning of living in extreme environments.

These environments are either those that were, until recently, uninhabited by human beings and that contemporary science and technology is turning into "inhabitable" places (Antarctica, underwater world, outer space, deserts); or they are those that the consequences of man's actions have ruined and made "uninhabitable" for himself but also for other species.

Ana Rewakowicz, SleepingBagDress Prototype II

It seems that every single European city is coming up with its own global warming-infused exhibition. @rt Outsiders was smart enough to narrow the focus of its show and to present a couple of artworks that stand out for their complexity, beauty and sense of involvement with the subject.

Sounds from Dangerous Places, Chernobyl, 2006-2009 © Peter Cusack

One of them is Sounds from Dangerous Places, Chernobyl, by sound artist Peter Cusack. Since the nuclear catastrophe of April 26, 1986 nature at Chernobyl seems to be thriving. As humans were evacuated from the exclusion zone around the nuclear power station over 20 years ago, animals moved in. Existing populations multiplied and species not seen for decades began to return (although not every scientist agrees with the statement that the benefits for wildlife from the lack of human activity outweigh the risks of low-level radiation.)

Sounds from Dangerous Places, Chernobyl, 2006-2009 © Peter Cusack

Sounds from Dangerous Places, Chernobyl is part of a broader project by Cusack to collect sounds from sites which have sustained major environmental damage. Impressed by the natural sounds of springtime in the Ukrainian city --dawn chorus, nighttime concert as well as frogs and nightingales-- the artist coupled photographs taken at and around Chernobyl with sound recordings. The sound of birds singing, the view of lovely old houses and wild flowers contrast with the sinister image we have of dilapidated buildings and the invisible radioactivity crackling through Geiger counters. This is one of the most striking works in the show as it's one of the rare artworks that explores Chernobyl without stopping at its potential for spectacularity and drama. As Cusack writes:

There is, often, an extreme dichotomy between an aesthetic response and knowledge of the 'danger', whether it is pollution, social injustice, military or geopolitical. The project asks, "What can we learn by listening to the sounds of dangerous places?"

The project also provides us with a further opportunity to reflect on some governments and industry suggestion that nuclear power is one of the greenest fuels available right now and that it would allow us to cut carbon dioxide emissions and keep climate change at a tolerable level.

Audios of Chernobyl Dawn and Chernobyl Frogs.

Rose after Martian environmental exposure. Photo credit: c-lab; 2009

Howard Boland & Laura Cinti presented a new version of The Martian Rose, an experiment about life on Mars. A series of roses were exposed to Martian conditions using a planetary simulation chamber specifically built for Mars.

The fragile floweres were placed inside a biochamber that simulates most of the extreme conditions found on Mars. The low pressure, the hard penetrating UV-light and the chilling temperature.

The roses emerged, dark red, frozen, their shape intact. The project reminds us that no matter how many spaceships we build and launch into outerspace, no matter how much we want to adapt and explore new planets, space is still a pretty unhospitable place for men.

Shiro Matsui, EP04 Dewey's Forest, 2009

EPO4 Dewey's Forest, by Shiro Matsui, was inspired by Silent Running, a sci-fi movie that depicts a future in which all plant life on Earth has been made extinct, except for a few specimens preserved in a fleet of space-borne freight ships. The artist designed a garden for weightlessness. An experiment of the garden should be sent to the International Space Station during the Autumn 2009, in collaboration with JAXA, the Japanese Space Agency. The garden looked fit and healthy when i visited the show. I'd be curious to see what the plants look like in a month or two.

Plants are locked in a rotating machine, behind a porthole and thus unreachable, allowing the vegetation to grow in all directions, like in weightlessness. A camera is filming the garden from inside, capturing the audience looking at it. Visitors cannot enter the garden anymore that astronauts can go outside.

Moon Museum, 1969 © Forrest Myers

If a garden can thrive in space? How about art?
On July 20, 1969, Armstrong steps onto the surface of the Moon. This same year, Forrest Myers invited 6 leading contemporary artists of the day to create an artwork for our natural satellite. Robert Rauschenberg drew a straight line; David Novros, a black square; Claes Oldenburg, Mickey Mouse; Andy Warhol expanded his signature into a penis; John Chamberlain drew a template like the ones used to produce paintings done with automobile lacquer and Forrest Myers, a computer drawing. The result is a Museum for the Moon made of drawings miniaturized on a ceramic tile (1,9 cm x 0.60cm). Several of them were made but only one tile was (secretely as NASA never answered Myers' letters) attached to the Landing Module of the November 1969 Apollo 12 mission.

Steve Eastaugh's 'Headhome in Antarctica', 2003

Moulting Adelie penguins overlook the statue garden

In 2003, while he was an artist in residence at the Australian Antarctic Base of Davis, Stephen Eastaugh created a sculpture garden between the meteorology building, a usually-frozen sea and a public mostly made of penguins. The sculptures look like small totems. Inspired by a wooden head planted in a pile of rocks years ago by an unknown explorer, they compete with the antennas, flagpoles and windsocks distributed around the station.

My pictures, c-lab has more images as well as a review of the exhibition.

The 10th edition of the Festival @rt Outsiders, curated by Annick Bureaud and Jean-Luc Soret, runs until October 11, 2009 at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris. If you're in Paris on Wednesday don't miss the conference and debate that will focus on the economic and political challenges in the Arctic territories, an area coveted for its reserves of oil, gas and other materials buried deep under the
ocean floor.

Related: Lucy + Jorge Orta's Antarctica expedition, Interview with Laura Cinti and Howard Boland (c-lab).

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I'm not going to write down Agnes Meyer-Brandis's presentation at Biorama 2 as her talks are performances that i would only dumb down by trying to blog them. Instead, i'll just post this witty short video that documents the Moon Goose Experiment.

After the first touch, contact of moon and sun at 16.45, the geese stayed calm and Luba, the parachutist got in position. Photo: Agnes Meyer-Brandis

The artist set up a space expedition on a sand island in the Siberian river Ob and observed the effect of the total eclipse of the Sun (1st August, 2008) on the behaviour of the moon geese. Watch the space carriage take off!

The Moon Goose Experiment (MGE) is based on an excerpt from a book which is often regarded as the first science fiction short story in English. In The Man in the Moone, Francis Godwin described weightlessness for the first time ever (1603) - long before Newton's theory of gravity. The protagonist in the book flies to the moon in a chariot towed by geese. These special moon geese migrate every year from the earth to the Moon.

Title Page of Godwin's 'The Man in the Moon' (image)

The Moon Goose Experiment is a part of Curated Expedition by curatorial research group Capsula.

Previously: Interview with Ulla Taipale from Capsula.

Simon Faithfull's exhibition Gravity Sucks and his recent talk at the British Film Institute focuses largely around his examination of that most elementary of forces we experience. What Wikipedia calls a "consequence of the curvature of spacetime which governs the motion of inertial objects" and what we call gravity.

In what has come to be sometimes called Gravity Art, there is actually a couple of artists who have chosen to use it as their medium, often in somewhat beautiful yet futile actions, "heroic failures". Among these however, there's different directions of movement, namely down (submission) and up (escape).

Bas Jan Ader, Fall II (Amsterdam) 1970, © Mary Sue Ader-Andersen

The most relevant of the down-camp would probably be the late Dutch-Californian artist Bas Jan Ader whose body of work only contains a few pieces but who has significantly gained in importance as people have been re-discovering him over the last few years. Ader's gravity-related work focuses on the "The artist's body [and the way that] gravity makes itself its master" as he put it when his films Fall I (Los Angeles) and Fall II (Amsterdam) were being shown in Düsseldorf in 1971. He used the most basic elements - an omnipresent force and his own body.

His work, however, as his friend Rene Daalder's documentary Here Is Always Somewhere Else convincingly shows, is seeded with references to his family history and his personal confusion that might have resulted from that and which peaked in his mysterious disappearance at sea during his final piece In Search of the Miraculous in 1975. In Fall 1 (Los Angeles) we see him on the roof of the house he and his wife were living in, sitting on a chair. Like in another performance, which refers to the night when Nazi soldiers forced his family out of their house in the Netherlands, a piece of the domestic environment becomes part of the performance. Ader leans over, loses balance, tumbles across the roof and crashes into the bushes in front of the porch while the chair comes to a halt still on the roof.

Bas Jan Ader, Fall I (Los Angeles) 1970, © Mary Sue Ader-Andersen

Chairs it seems, have a special significance in relation to Gravity Art, possibly because they are a device which in a way suspends us in mid-fall, in a pose we call sitting. They also represent a highly familiar artifact and thus create a link between the universal force of gravity and the utterly domestic.

In the work of Simon Faithfull, who perfectly represents the opposite direction of movement, they play an even more obvious role as he explicitly uses them as a means for both him and the audience to project themselves into what he calls Escape Vehicles. He says the vehicles allow "[to] imagine occupancy of the seat while at the same time acknowledging that it is incapable of the pronouncement made within its title." He has built a series of them since the mid-1990s, the most recent being no.6 which was commissioned by Arts Catalyst in 2004.

"Lawnchair" Larry Walters, taking flight on July 2nd 1982

This latest one, which the accompanying text to the exhibition at the BFI calls an "alarming" success, partly takes its inspiration from the famous flight of Lawnchair Larry. In the summer of 1982, because "a man can't just sit around", Walters attached a great number of weather balloons to a chair and - somewhat accidentally - shot off to an altitude of 11,000 feet and into the controlled airspace of LAX. (Don't miss the original NBC news coverage) Equipped with a pellet gun, sandwiches, beer and having dropped his glasses. His often-ridiculed trip could well be called the ultimate combination of the everyday and the heroic aspiration to "lose the shackles of gravity".

In the case of Escape Vehicle no.6, the chair is empty, but the experiment is not any less successful, it rose to an altitude of 30 kilometers - the edge of space. The setup consisted of a weather balloon, and a jigsaw-like structure which had the chair on one side and a camera, a transmitter (built by an expert in ham video) and a GPS unit which submitted the vehicle's position using the video's audio track. One mainly sees the chair as it quickly gains altitude until the curvature of the Earth is clearly visible and the metal parts of the chair reflect brilliant sunlight. The temperature is -60º Celsius or lower and there is no air.

Escape Vehicle no.6, installed at the BFI Gallery

Faithfull says "the chilling nature of the film is that the empty chair invites the audience to imagine taking a journey to an uninhabitable realm where it is impossible to breathe". Suddenly the balloon bursts because of the low pressure which caused the air inside to vastly expand and everything attached starts a violent descent to the ground. The chair gets tangled up and bangs against parts of the structure, a leg comes off, then the backrest.

A few minutes into the descent, the transmission ends and the chair of course was never recovered. According to the GPS data, somewhere over Kent, gravity won.

Gravity Sucks, until September 20th at the British Film Institute South Bank Gallery, London SE1 8XT

Related chair in space: Nelly Ben Hayoun's Soyouz Chair

Desperate to experience the thrill of a trip into space? If you can't afford Space Adventures's multi-million ticket to fly into space and if you don't want to wait till 2011 to hop on one of Richard Branson's upcoming Virgin Galactic flights, then the Soyuz Chair, designed by Design Interactions graduate Nelly Ben Hayoun is the best you can hope for right now. The comfortable living room chair won't fly you into space but it will replicate the experience of a liftoff.


Space tourism is said to become a booming industry. Today, the opportunities offered to would-be space tourists are limited and expensive. Space tourism company Space Adventures will ask you to shell out $20-28 million to get aboard a Soyuz spacecraft. The upcoming Virgin Galactic will take passengers into suborbital space at a mere US$200,000. Flights are expected to be made available to the public shortly after the construction of Spaceport America, the world's first purpose-built commercial spaceport is completed Around 2011.)


The designer consulted with astronaut Jean Pierre Haignere to ensure a take-off experience as close to the original one as possible: : the inclination of the chair, the frequencies of the vibration, the sound, etc. Soyuz Chair accurately reproduces the 3 stages of the Soyuz rocket launch. Reclining into launch position (on your back so as to stand better the acceleration), you face the sky, put on your headset, and use the control panel to select your mode; just a single stage, or the full lift off experience.

Interview with astronaut Jean Pierre Haignere:

Conceptually: The Soyuz chair brings the debate on
- the democratization of space and science
- the creative possibility of a domesticated space
- the power of human passion.

Photography: Nick Ballon.

You can try the Soyunz Chair for yourself, at SHUNT in London, from July 8 to 16. Departure of the chair 6pm to 8pm.

And if you can't make it to London on time, the chair will be at the exhibition WHAT IF? Testing the boundaries of our future, running 09:10:2009 until 13:12:2009 at the Science Gallery in Dublin.

See also: Brendan Walker at This Happened and Thrill Laboratory.

There's a remarkable exhibition running for just a couple more days at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery. Broadcast explores the ways in which artists since the late 1960s have engaged, critiqued, and inserted themselves into official channels of broadcast television and radio. I wish i could find the time to write a more comprehensive post about it. Instead, i'll just mention the piece i found most interesting:

Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, Search - En Busquedad, 2001

For Search, Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle transformed a monumental bullfight ring in Tijuana into a radio telescope complete with an antenna and a large reflector dish that would search for signs of aliens from outer space. The signals picked up by the telescope created a "white noise" that the artist broadcast to the Tijuana region on pirate FM radio. Realized some 100 feet away from the U.S. border, Search comments also on the constant search along the border for 'aliens' of a more terrestrial kind.

Rhizome has a nice write-up of the exhibition.


Back from the 10th edition of ZEMOS98, a festival of audiovisual culture titled this year Regreso al futuro, Back to the Future. I wish all the events i attend were as intelligently curated, carefully organized and stimulating as this one. The audience was great too. And extremely polite: they sat all the way through the talk i gave there in a spanish bastardized with franco-italian words and grammar.

Image from the workshop Control Sonoro

There were workshops, concerts, presentations, screenings and talks. One of the highlights of the week for me was Lisa Parks' talk. Her lecture was part of Critical Powers which invited thinkers and creators to share their views on the possible functions of utopia in an era of advanced Capitalism, the effects of technology changes on cultural process, or on the power of a public sphere.

Lisa Parks, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies at UC Santa Barbara. She is the author of Cultures in Orbit: Satellites and the Televisual and co-editor of Planet TV: A Global Television Reader. Her research explores uses of satellite, computer and television technologies in a transnational context.

ZEMOS98 put a tiny extract of the presentation online:

And i'll add my notes:


The lecture was articulated around two themes (Spying and Dreaming) and was a small compendium of the many topics she has been working on over the past few years, most of the material she presented is based on case studies but for lack of time she merely glossed over them.

Her first slide showed us a list of satellites that Spain has ownership on. Most are used for remote sensing. The first one (intersat) was launched in 1974, the latest DEIMOS in 2008 which will be used for disaster management. Parks stressed the importance of developing more literacy about satellites. We can name tv channels and websites by wouldn't be able to name satellites. Throughout history, hundreds of satellites have been launched into space.

Another of her key interests is the visualization of satellites. We can have an everyday tactile contact with other technologies like mobile phones or television sets but our experience of satellites is very different. Right from the start as satellites are a highly specialized technology. They have to be constructed in clean room, protected from the rest of the world and they are launched in locations which are often closed off for security purpose. Once they are sent into orbit, most of us will never think about them again.

Parks then talked about the footprint of satellites. No matter how clearly defined the boundaries of nations can be, their space will always be crisscrossed by footprints from different satellites launched by various countries. Spain uses satellite technology to beam its signal to Latin America for example. That's what she calls "Nation Beaming".


1. The Corona Project

The Corona Project was a top secret program run by the CIA with the help of the US Air Force. One of them was hidden in Discoverer Spacecraft which contained biological experiments (to check how plants would withstand being launched into orbit). The project was top secret and involved a huge capital investment that the public financed without ever knowing about it.

Corona film recovery diagram

Of the 144 Corona satellites launched, 102 returned usable images.
The Corona satellites secretly monitored and gathered a huge amount of satellite data about USSR, Eastern Europe and Asia from 1960 until 1972.
The program was declassified by President Clinton in 1995 and he made the images collected available to the public.

Catch of a Corona capsule off of Hawaii (image)

The recovery of the images taken by Corona was quite remarkable. A mechanism would drop the film canister and drop it in the air. The canister would then be recovered in mid-air by a C-119 aircraft. If the recovery mission failed, the canister would deploy a parachute and be recovered on earth or on the ocean.

The Corona program was initiated during the Cold War to check if "the other" was developing new weapons. The satellites were thus used to develop an image intelligence which would help the government decide on their own internal and external policy.

Corona launch preparation shed in ruins (image)

The Corona facility are now in decay.

2. Satellite imaging and global conflicts

It's also important to discuss the relationship between orbit and earth in the age of image intelligence and see how remote sensing get integrated into news culture, how and when classified images suddenly make their way into our global media culture. More precisely the questions her research is focusing on are:

How have satellite images been used to represent global conflicts in the public sphere? Where does the authority to use and interpret satellite images come from? What kinds of phenomena and events do satellite images represent? Have satellite images increased public awareness and knowledge about global conflict? How have practice and meaning of "intervention" changed in the digital age?

First case study: Rwanda

James Nachtwey, Survivor of Hutu death camp, Rwanda, 1994

Refugees International used aerial and sat images in 1996 to try to find and assist 1 million displaced persons. The combination of sat/aerial images was used as a medium that could uniquely visualize a "nationless social body". The organization understood how these images could capture better than any other medium the displacement of a moving mass of people who have nowhere to go.

Many satellite images have to be inscribed with caption, without them the images lose their significance, they look like abstract paintings. We need to be directed to read these images.

Pressured US to release sat images to draw world attention to a conflict that was being ignored by the international community.

Second case study: Bosnia, July 1995

Satellite photo of Nova Kasaba mass graves.

US was boasting to have real time visibility over the war theatre - Information Dominance
Srebrenica is US-protected, highly monitored and as such regarded as a "Safe Haven".
US State Department released sat images of alleged mass graves in Srebrenica 6 weeks after the massacre occurred.
Sat evidence of atrocities released after the fact, rather than during the act. The US State department claimed that the problem was that volume of sat data was to plentiful.

Case study 3. Colin Powell and Irak, 2003

Slide 12 of Powell's address

Powell presented sat images in his address to the UN Security Council to make the case for a US-led war against Irak, alleging they contained "undeniable proof" of Iraqi development of weapons of mass destruction.

From Lisa Parks vantage point the case raises a real problem as Powell not only plagiarized a PhD thesis but, more crucially, the whole story undermined the credibility of any future use of sat images by US official in a global forum.

Satellite images are digital images and have thus no physical reference, they are generated by a series of 0 and 1. Yet they are useful. One shouldn't embrace them as state truth but as a field of investigation. The 3 case studies highlight how much has changed in the US after the Corona programme.

Institutional Changes

The privatization sector is led by European companies:
1983 SPOT (Satellite Pour l'Observation de la Terre) begins selling sat images - 10 m resolution, meaning that an object 10 m long can be visible from space.
1987 Soviet company Soyuzkarta joins the game. They charge $500 to $800 for images of 5 m resolution, a price affordable for States or corporations.
1994 Clinton administration privatizes remote sensing in the US. The technology can no longer be used solely by CIA and the scientific but can be tuned into a profi-making industry.
The privatization of remote sensing occurs throughout the '80s and '90s.
In the 1990s Earthwatch and Space Imaging emerge and sell images of 1 m resolution.

Today the website of Satellite Imaging Corporation claims that they are the largest because they are the one who possess most satellite assets. They own a fleet of satellite, one of them moves makes a complete turn of the Earth in 90 minutes.

The commercialization of sat images has led to some odd uses and requests.

In 2001, Dan Bollinger, a fan of the tv program Survivor: Africa, sent a request to Space Imaging to acquire the image data over the Kenya location and share them with other fans of the show. The CBS facilities were discovered but the tv channel didn't want to see their production site exposed.

The images nevertheless traveled all over the world showing that satellite images are no longer a matter of security issue but are part of a broader visual culture.


Another case which illustrates the previous statement come from a campaign by KFC. The fried chicken company needed to re-design the brand and came up with the "Face from Space" in the Nevada desert, also known as the "UFO Capital of the World." The fast food company purchased an Ikonos image of the site and distributed it through global media circuits.

While satellites have historically passed over the earth to observe "naturally unfolding" phenomena, now events are staged precisely so they can be viewed from an orbital perspective. Remote sensing satellites are now being used to pitch products and address global consumers just as other media such as commercial television or the world wide web. More in this article by Lisa Parks: Obscure Objects of Media Studies: Echo, Hotbird and Ikonos.

Google Earth

Since 2005, Google Earth presents us with a "mosaic'ed" version of the world using satellite images coming from various sources. But while the logo of Google is always clearly visible on the images, no matter how blurry they are themselves, we are kept in the dark regarding the satellites used to compose these images. Google Earth is a great opportunity to educate the public about satellite but instead they do GE tends to almost erase the existence of the satellites.

Digital Globe provides date information for satellite images that are part of Google Earth using color-coded squares and "I" icons. By clicking on "preview," you enter a meta-browser featuring the single satellite image captioned with information about how to purchase it or others from Digital Globe. Digital Globe is thus providing date information as part of a marketing strategy. GE becomes a billboard.


Google Earth teamed up with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to create the Crisis in Darfur mapping initiative which collects and diffuses visual evidence of the destruction in Darfur.

On the surface it looks like an admirable project but in several ways it missed the opportunity to represent the conflict in all its complexities. It uses tropes to represent African tragedy (images of suffering children carried by their mother). There is no visible effort of providing a political and economical education about the tragedy.

With the slide i pasted below, Lisa Park claims to demonstrate that earlier media news provided more opportunities for education:


Problems of GE Crisis in Darfur layer:
- obscure satellite imagery,
- represents the "past perfect", because it show what we monitored from space but didn't do anything about at the time,
- involves the branding of global conflicts (no matter how blurry the image, the Google brand is always conspicuous),
- exemplifies neoliberalism (David Harvey) and disaster capitalism (Naomi Klein),
- from CNN effect to Google Earth effect? In order to get world attention will an event have to appear on Google Earth?

What does it mean for a US corporation to reproduce foreign territory as they want and without asking permission (some nations actually complained that GE causes a serious security concern.)

In a nutshell:

The public remains relatively uninformed about satellites, their uses and their impact on everyday life even though citizens taxes subsidize satellite developments.

The second part of Lisa Parks was about The Dreamers, the artists who use and comment on satellite technology. I found this part a bit weaker (less documented and with errors in the orthography of the artists' names, happens to everyone of course but look quite bad on slides.) But here are a few notes:

"The Dreamers" encourage us to see and reflect about sat technologies and their potentials. they dare to experiment with satellites (traditionally seen as a heavy and highly specialized technology) and how they are used. Encourage us to think about who owns and control, satellites, orbital space and the spectrum. Develop uses that are not just about state security or corporate profits but about citizens' needs.

Artists acknowledged in her presentation about satellite art and activism:
- Kit Galloway and Sherri Rabinowitz,
- Douglas Davis,
- Brian Springer,
- Marko Peljhan,
- Trevor Paglen,
and a special and enthusiastic mention of Aram Bartholl.

Last recommendations from Parks:

Investigate satellites, learn their names, who owns them, what they do, how they have been used. There is a need for more satellite literacy.

Contest the militaristic and corporate appropriation of satellites with more art, activism, dreaming and experimentation.

Imagine how the use of satellite in the public interest might be defined.

Image on the homepage showing Laika, a dog launched in orbit together with the satellite Sputnik II in 1957.

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