A couple of weeks ago, i was in Derry/Londonderry. It was my first trip to Northern Ireland. Beautiful landscapes as i'm sure everybody knows, super friendly people, vegan-approved yummy food at the Legenderry Warehouse, some stunning socially-engages exhibitions i'll tell you about later and a city-wide event called Lumiere. Lumiere is a festival of 17 projections and installations that lit up as the night came onto the city. It is a crowd-magnet, a place to bring your family and marvel at what artists and designers can do with light. But don't be mistaken: some of the works had depth and bite.
Here's some of my favourite:
I don't think i would have been that impressed had i seen Change Your Stripes by Ann Cleary and Denis Connolly inside a gallery. But in the street of Derry, when evening is coming and people are out to walk the dog and stumble upon the installation, it gains a touch of magic. The artwork only comes to life as you walk past.
The huge ondulating black and white stripes are projected on the facade of the Derry Credit Union. They move as people walk by it. Passersby silhouettes are multiplied and distorted in a fluid, dancing stream like in a living version of a fairground Hall of Mirrors.
At this point, i feel like i should add a few words about Derry/Londonderry's political context. First of all because i found the installation to be absolutely brilliant but far less fascinating than the surrounding Bogside murals. And second because it is difficult to avoid mentioning politics when you find yourself in a city which carries political tensions in its very name(s). Please skip the coming paragraph if, unlike me, you are not crassly ignorant about the local history.
The Free Derry Corner might be a good introduction to the whole Derry or Londonderry issue. It was painted in 1969, shortly after the Battle of the Bogside, one of the first major confrontations of The Troubles, the 30-ish year old conflict about the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and the relationship between the unionists and loyalists (the mostly Protestant community who wanted Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK) and the Irish nationalists and republicans (the Catholic community who dreamed of a united Ireland.) If you're a nationalist you'll call the city Derry, and if you're a unionists you'll use the name Londonderry.
Now allow me to open a parenthesis. From now on i will refer to Derry/Londonderry as 'the city'. I'm already tired of typing that double name over and over. End of the parenthesis .
The sum up above is a bit rough but that should provide you with some context. The Bogside is also the area where Bloody Sunday took place in 1972.
But let's get back to Lumiere.
Some artists openly engaged with the local context, others didn't. As was to be expected, Krzysztof Wodiczko created a sharp, deeply moving work about local people's perception and memories of the past conflicts and their hopes for the future of the city.
Public Projection for Derry~Londonderry was a series of extracts from interviews the artist had conducted with local people. Their words were screened from an ambulance (a fairly ubiquitous vehicle during The Troubles) onto several facades throughout the city .
Wodiczko talked to a cross-section of people, from ex-police officers to victims of the Troubles, from young people growing up in the aftermath of the conflict to people who had got into troubles for being on the 'wrong' side of the political divide at a certain time.
I saw people with tears in their eyes in the crowd....
Tim Etchells installed a few words that paid homage to Derry-Londonderry's shirt-making industrial past on top of the old Rosemount Shirt Factory.
The work was 23 metre long and 2-metre high making it visible from afar.
And so was Teenage Kicks. By this time, you've figured how much i (and the Lumiere festival) like to see big letters invading a city.
The 30m-long neon sign reading "A teenage dream's so hard to beat" sat on top of the city's BT building. It was inspired by the 1978 pop song of the same name, the greatest hit of Derry band, The Undertones.
"My impetus for this artwork is to celebrate a key moment from the history and culture of Derry," explained Deepa Mann-Kler. "I am an Indian woman who grew up in England, but came to live in Northern Ireland in March 1996. One of my abiding memories while growing up in Leicester, were of Northern Ireland during The Troubles, the TV footage of the army, rioting, and then the music of The Undertones."
Fire Garden by Compagnie Carabosse lit up the whole St. Columb's Park and made you feel like you had just stepped into the set of one of those lavish BBC period drama.
The empty plinth was originally topped by a statue of Governor Walker, until it was bombed (twice) by the IRA in 1973/4. It has remained unadorned since then.
These sound like suitable words to close the post.
A few more images though...
Related: Krzysztof Wodiczko: The Abolition of War.
Explore Everything: Place-Hacking the City by Bradley Garrett, an ethnographer from the School of Geography and the Environment at University of Oxford working within the global Urban Explorer community.
Publisher Verso writes: It is assumed that every inch of the world has been explored and charted; that there is nowhere new to go. But perhaps it is the everyday places around us--the cities we live in--that need to be rediscovered. What does it feel like to find the city's edge, to explore its forgotten tunnels and scale unfinished skyscrapers high above the metropolis? Explore Everything reclaims the city, recasting it as a place for endless adventure.
Plotting expeditions from London, Paris, Berlin, Detroit, Chicago, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, Bradley L. Garrett has evaded urban security in order to experience the city in ways beyond the boundaries of conventional life. He calls it 'place hacking': the recoding of closed, secret, hidden and forgotten urban space to make them realms of opportunity.
Explore Everything is an account of the author's escapades with the London Consolidation Crew, an urban exploration collective.
The book is also a manifesto, combining philosophy, politics and adventure, on our rights to the city and how to understand the twenty-first century metropolis.
Like almost everybody else i guess, i'd like to be Bradley Garrett in my next life... Minus the troubles with the Transport for London, of course.
Bradley is a writer, photographer and researcher at the University of Oxford. He is also part of a group of urban explorers who trespass into derelict industrial buildings, sewer mazes, construction sites, deep shelters, drains, transportation networks, skyscrapers and other tall structures (mostly for the unique perspective they offer on the city below), and even in the (then) under-construction 2012 Olympic stadium. Urban explorers enter where they are not supposed to set foot, they avoid security guards and often operate at night. They never, however, willingly cause damage nor commit criminal offences. Bradley compares urban explorers to computer hackers: both groups assist in strengthening security by exposing systems' weaknesses through benign exploration.
The reason why Bradley's name might be familiar to some of you is that he is part of the London Consolidation Crew. The group were all over the English newspapers last year when they entered, one after the other, London's 'ghost' tube stations. They had already gained access to a number of them when, 4 days before 'the royal wedding', they tried to get to the British Museum Tube Station, starting at Russel Square station, running across the platform, down the piccadilly line, then switching to the central line tracks. They were caught but the British Transport Police let them off with a caution but Transport for London issued an ASBO forbidding them to talk to one another for 10 years, or to carry any equipment that could be used for exploration after dark.
They've also infiltrated many other fascinating locations (some of which we will never see, no matter how much we are ready to pay.) They climbed on foot the 76 stories of the Shard when it was still under contruction. Or Burlington, Britain's Secret Subterrean City, the place where the British government was to be rebuilt in case of a nuclear attack. They also visited several of the 33,000 derelict buildings in Detroit. The took photos from the roof of the closed down Sahara casino in Las Vegas. They climbed up the wings of the Angel in Gateshead to wrap a scarf around its neck. The played with the London Rail Mail, a miniature underground railway used by the Post Office to move mail between sorting offices. They walked around the unglamorous but rather interesting London sewerage system designed by Joseph Bazalgette in the 19th century. And they managed to move around unnoticed in the spectacular plane graveyard of the George Air Force Base (The Southern California Logistics Airport).
In his book, Bradley narrates the many expeditions of the LCC in London, in the rest of Europe and in the United States. It does sound dangerous (and indeed it often is) but, as he explains, UrbEx is not just about adrenaline. It is also about exploring the fractures in the city, working together as a group, gaining a deeper understanding and awareness of the city and more importantly experiencing the world in non-scripted, non-normative, non-capitalist ways.
The pages also come with the reflections and lessons that each expedition brought about: the social exclusion felt by urban explorers who become unable to connect with people living a 'normal' life, the direct experience of the authoritarian state, the realization that the city is built vertically as well as horizontally.
Explore Everything: Place-Hacking the City is a lively book. One moment, you're exploring the architectural remains of the Soviet Union. Next, you are wondering along with the author whether or not it is ethical to visit drains when you know you might be disturbing the homeless who live there (as it happened in Last Vegas a city of 580,000 inhabitants that count 14,000 homeless people)?
I have severe vertigo and a reluctance to spend the night in a cold, humid bunker. But i'm grateful to Bradley for giving me an opportunity to live vicariously and comfortably through some of the episodes of his breakneck adventures.
Crack The Surface - Episode I, short documentary focusing on the culture of Urban Exploring
For some reason, i always forget to check the programme of lectures and exhibitions taking place at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London. And when i do, it's bliss and joy on every floor. Right now the institution is showing Cultural Hijack, an exhibition which presents a series of provocative interventions which have inserted themselves into the world, demanding attention, interrupting everyday life, hijacking, trespassing, agitating and teasing. Often unannounced and usually anonymous, these artworks have appropriated media channels, hacked into live TV and radio broadcasts, attacked billboards, re-appropriated street furniture, subverted signs, monuments and civic architectures, organised political actions as protest, exposed corporations and tax loopholes and revealed the absurdities of government bureaucracies.
Some works are openly political, others are more playful. Some have been designed to be used by people whose needs are otherwise overlooked, others are clever pranks. Cultural Hijack brings art out of the galleries and into the street. Which imho is always a good thing if you want to reach people who are not already convinced and content with your artistic, cultural or political ideas.
Cultural Hijack unfolds over three chapters: a slightly messy and crammed exhibition documenting the artworks in videos, photos, installations and artists' talks; a series of live-interventions around London; and CONTRAvention, a weekend of lectures, symposia, screenings, participatory actions, interventions, dinners and debate that will close the programme later this month. I'm spectacularly annoyed to miss that one as i won't be in town that week.
So let's wipe off a tear and make a quick selection of the works included in the exhibition.
Chicha Muffler Black Cab: yes, that one does exactly what it says on the tin. Instead of rejecting smoke, the modified exhaust of the cab provides a service of mobile hooka.
My jaw almost dropped to the floor when i saw the description text and the video for Visual Kidnapping. Street artist Zevs cut out a 40ft woman from a Lavazza billboard in Alexanderplatz, Berlin and 'demanded' a 500,000 Euro donation to the Palais de Tokyo art center in Paris for her return. Which he apparently obtained.
With the same haircut, twelve members of Ztohoven took a portrait pictures and using the Morphing software they merged every two faces into one. They applied for new Ids with these photos, but each of them used the name of his alter-ego. They lived for 6 months under someone's else identity, voted in the elections, travelled outside of the country, obtained a gun license or one of them even got married. After this period, they revealed theirs secret identities and documented the whole operation in an exhibition in Prague. The police confiscated their ID's and arrested co-founder of Ztohoven Roman Tyc for failing to show his ID card which was at the time part of the exhibition.
Paolo Cirio is showing the irresistible Loophole for All, a service to democratize offshore business for people who don't want to pay for their riches. It empowers everyone to evade taxes, hide money and debt, and get away with anything by stealing the identities of real offshore companies.
You can buy the identities of offshore companies on the website of the project Loophole4All.com at fairly low costs.
Cirio also interviewed major experts and produced a video documentary investigating offshore centers to expose their costs and to envision solutions to global economic injustice.
For his series of Minaret performances, Michael Rakowitz stands on a rooftop at the five designated times of prayer with a megaphone and an alarm clock that plays the entire adhan (the call summoning Muslims to prayer) from an embedded digital chip.
Electronic Disturbance Theater's Transborder Immigrant Tool hacks cheap GPS mobile-phones to install a device for helping Mexican immigrants cross the U.S.-Mexico border, providing them navigation, poetry, the location of highways, border patrols and water left by Border Angels in the Southern California desert.
EPOS 257 crafts oversized bullets that he fills with paints then shoots at commercial billboards and architectures using an extra-long shooting instrument. Each piece is both a unique abstract painting and a gesture of reverse takeover.
An 'old' one i was ignorant about: The Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army [or CIRCA], an army of professional clowns who protest against corporate globalisation, war and other issues.
I'm sure you know this one already. I still find it as charming as ever: Matthias Wermke & Mischa Leinkauf's In Between („Zwischenzeit") used homemade handcars that can be folded into backpacks to sneak into Berlin's U-bahn and navigate it at night.
Matthias Wermke & Mischa Leinkauf, Zwischenzeit Trailer
Cultural Hijack was curated by artists Ben Parry and Peter McCaughey. It runs daily at the Architectural Association School of Architecture, London, until 26th May 2013. The final weekend will be dedicated to CONTRAvention, a series of lectures, symposia, screenings, participatory actions, interventions, dinners and debate.
Bad Graffiti, by Scott Hocking.
Black Dog Publishing writes: Bad Graffiti is a humorous celebration of the graffiti seen everyday in our cities and often overlooked.
Bad Graffiti looks at the plethora of graffiti that adorns our cities at a ubiquitous, popular cultural level. It is a record of the graffiti of the everyday, not of the named 'artists' who have contributed to the many books on graffiti 'art' over the past ten years or so.
Scott Hocking has been photographing graffiti since 2007, focusing on the humorous commentary decorating urban landscapes and particularly in areas of decay or abandonment. Hocking's photographs, collected here for the first time, tell the story of the everyday and showcase the areas or markings so often seen but also overlooked by others.
Bad Graffiti is a funny, informative and at times irreverent look at the urban landscape today, making a great gift for those interested in the city and popular culture.
I don't think i've ever recommended that you rest your eyes on something truly awful. Nor have ever reviewed a book that made me laugh so much.
Artist Scott Hocking has been spotting and photographing the most unsophisticated, the crudest, the clumsiest and the most idiotic graffiti in and around Detroit since 2007.
He's not looking for the big names of street art but for what he calls 'the little guy', the one who's drunk, angry, frustrated, bored or who just want to look like a bad boy (and miserably fails in the attempt.)
The result is funny but somehow it has more soul than the works you can admire at the MOBA (the Museum of Bad Art.) And that's probably because Hocking knows that a graffiti can never really be taken out of its context. His photos show the comedy but also the tragedy of abandoned buildings, of a city hit by crisis, of its disenchanted inhabitants.
If ice skating's not your thing, check out Somerset House's ongoing exhibition about London's Forgotten Spaces and the way to reclaim them. The projects can be found in some of Somerset House's own forgotten spaces: damp lightwells, coalholes as well as hidden passages known as the Deadhouse. The whole itinerary is so labyrinthic and dusky, it sometimes feels like a treasure hunt.
Forgotten Spaces shows 28 projects shortlisted for a competition launched in Spring by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA.) The call invited architects, engineers, students and designers to submit proposals that reclaim overlooked spaces across Greater London. Inspired by success stories such as New York's High Line or Rotterdam's De Hofbogen, the competition aims to demonstrate how alternative way of thinking about urban space can inject new life and energy into some of London's most neglected corners.
The selected entries range from underground climbing tunnels to Atlantic salmons in the Thames, firepits in Crystal Palace, bee keeping, rooftops of tower blocks turned into social hubs and artist studios nested inside church spires.
During the Summer, Wayward Plants put the Urban Physic Garden into practice, transforming a derelict site on Union Street SE1.
Half way between street art intervention and community service, Denizen Works's proposal would give members of the public a set of simple instructions that they could follow to install accommodation for the declining bee population. The little bee houses would nest in unused gaps of land between buildings and boundary walls in central London.
Studiodare's Bee Project is more ambitious. The architects propose to combine urban park, 'agroforest' and bee-keeping aviary to highlight our dependency on bees and the delicate nature of our ecosystem.
Bee Project can be enjoyed as a park for recreational purposes, an educational facility for school children and the unemployed, an activity for pensioners or a business for community organisations. Furthermore, the project offers the potential to create an economic market for the exchange of fruits, jams or honey on a 'farmers' market.
The winning entry, (IN)SPires by Alex Scott-Whitby from Studio AR, proposes to strike a deal with the Diocese of London to turn 38 of the 51 of the disused belfry's of the City of London's church spires into low-cost studios for creative people. The architect is apparently already residing at the top of the Church of St Mary Woolnoth above Bank station.
Second Prize went to Steve McCoy's Urban Climbing Wall that would turn the tunnels and vertical shafts of a disused air raid shelter situated under Clapham High Street into climbing, abseiling and potholing centre for children and thrill seekers.
Area Landscape Architects's proposal suggests to reintroduce the Atlantic Salmon in the Wandle. At the mouth of this river sits a largely unknown wasteland. A sweeping fish ladder spanning the mouth of the Wandle will provide the Salmon access from the Thames to the breeding grounds in the upper reaches. A salmon hatchery will be set in a mosaic of riparian habitats, including marsh and wet woodland - a parkland reclaimed from adjacent post-industrial wasteground.
Aurelie Pot had a simple and charming idea: hosting a Brunel's Café on the platforms underneath the South pillar of the Hungerford and Golden Jubilee Bridges.
More images from the exhibition:
The WORK gallery is currently showing two of Krzysztof Wodiczko's works that invite the public to reconsider their understanding of the impact of war on veterans who have fought (or worked as medics) in Iraq and Afghanistan.
My admiration for Wodiczko's work knows no boundaries so i was delighted to meet him in London for an interview while he was installing the show a few weeks ago.
Throughout his practice Wodiczko has explored social and political marginalisation, and the creation of suitable platforms for alienated and excluded communities to "develop their shattered abilities to communicate" and testify about their personal experiences.
The work that brought him to my attention a few years ago was the Homeless Vehicle. The vehicle is a powerful communication tool that answered the basic necessities (sleeping, washing, as well as collecting and reselling cans and bottles) of homeless people living in New York and gave them and passersby the opportunity to engage in a dialogue.
The London show is not about homeless people. At least not literally. The show is dedicated to war veterans and for Wodiczko, the veterans are homeless too. They might go back to a house after the war, they might have a roof over their head but it doesn't feel like home anymore. They are traumatized to various degrees and feel like they've become strangers to the place where they used to live. They don't function like they used to. They have been conditioned to be constantly on alert, to react on the spot to any unexpected light, move, noise, etc. It is difficult for them to turn off that aggressive instinct once they are back to civilian life.
Rates of suicide among Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans are extremely high, as is homelessness. Some veterans can't communicate with their family anymore and go away, preferring to protect their family from the person they have become. Furthermore, they return to countries where most civilians are fiercely anti-war and express little sympathy for their plight. If you're a physically wounded soldier, people might understand that you've gone through hardship. If all the damage is inside, then society -even if we have all heard of "post-traumatic stress disorder"- has no mean to see how much combat stress has hurt you.
Wodiczko's project helps the veterans open up and bridge the gap that separates them from those who don't know what war is.
His War Veteran Vehicle is a ex-military vehicle complete with missile launcher converted into a mobile video projector with loudspeakers. Words, coming from interviews with homeless veterans were magnified and projected from the vehicle in buildings and monuments in Liverpool two years ago (a year before, a military Humvee had screened the words of American veterans on the facade of a homeless shelter and of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts during the Democratic National Convention.)
Watching the videos and listening to the testimonies of veterans is deeply moving. Some apologize to their son for having abandoned their family, others warn young men never to trust army recruiters, etc. They sound like people trapped in a never-ending nightmare.
The words are fired hard and sharp like projectiles, they are accompanied by the sound of cannon fire.
The War Veteran Vehicle is shown at WORK together with another of Wodiczko's works, The Flame, which shows a candle flame moving to the voices of veterans sharing accounts of war in Iraq and Afghanistan an the impact it had on their life.
The title of the exhibition, The Abolition of War, takes its name from Wodiczko's recent proposal to transform the Arc de Triomphe in Paris into the Arc de Triomphe--World Institute for the Abolition of War, thus reframing the traditional war monument as a site of education, critical discourse and proactive work towards peace.
Previously: Book review - Krzysztof Wodiczko.