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.
Summer is back in London and dozens of bees have now settled in the middle of Spitalfields. Real bees passersby don't try to wave away. They are dead and hang on fishing lines as if they were caught in mid flight inside a giant glass case, surrounded on all sides by office blocks.
The work is called BEE BOX and was created by artist Anne Brodie to remind us of the overlooked disappearance of the pollinators. Bees, like us, form communities of workers capable of generating intelligent social interactions.
"There is also a very strong and perhaps more obvious analogy between both human and bee society's, particularly in the heart of the working city," the artist told me. "Both are fragile systems capable of working harmoniously and productively, but what happens when the balance becomes unstable? It seemed particularly poignant the week before beebox was installed, London had to deal with some of the worst riots in recent history."
BEE BOX was curated by Howard Boland and Laura Cinti of C-LAB with the support of the European Public Art Centre, a collaboration between European organisations to exhibit in public space works that explore relations between art, science and society art-science artworks. The work will remain on view on the square until November 1 and will be recreated in Helsinki in October, using Finnish bees.
More images in the flickr set: European Public Art Centre: in London with C-LAB and Spitalfields - Anne Brodie's Bee Box 2011.
Last week, i was telling you about Le Cadavre Exquis, an interactive installation commissioned Making Future Work. This Nottingham-based initiative that called for artists, designers and organisations based in East Midlands to submit proposals that would respond to four distinct areas of practice: Co creation / Online Space, Pervasive Gaming / Urban Screens, Re-imaging Redundant Systems and Live Cinema / 3D.
The Urban Immune System Research, one of the 4 winning projects, investigates parallel futures in the emergence of the 'smart-city'. During their research, the Institute has produced a series of speculative prototypes that combine digital technology and biometrics: one of the devices 'functions as a social sixth sense', a second one is a backpack mounted with 4 megaphones that shouts out geo-located tweets as you walk around, a third one attempts to make its wearer get a sense of what might it feel like to walk through a 'data cloud' or a 'data meadow'.
The devices are the starting point of a series of user tests, performative research and public engagement events that seek to provoke debate and facilitate wider public discussion around potential urban futures, and our role in shaping them.
Just a few words of introduction about The Institute for Boundary Interactions before i proceed with our interview. IBI is a group of artists, designers, architects, technologists and creative producers conduct practice-based research into the complex relationships between people, places and recent developments in the field of science, technology and culture.
The name of your project is quite intriguing. Why did you call it Urban Immune System Research? How does the immune system of a city compare to the human body immune system, for example? What are the differences and similarities?
The Urban Immune System Research [UISR] project was the culmination of a two day event we ran in December 2010 as part of our LAB commission for Sideshow2010. We set out to discuss the relationship between notions of 'intelligent' systems, and principles of ecology. A whole raft of interesting and thought provoking ideas emerged but after some discussion they coalesced into the UISR project.
We found the immune system a fascinating and intriguing departure point because it demonstrates complex self-organising properties, but what's interesting about this to us is how this kind of system is understood outside of scientific circles, in the everyday and within the context of the city. There is a general understanding of these kinds of systems, but we discovered an absence in the general lexicon of everyday terms with which to describe the kind of phenomena we explored in that workshop. So in part the name of the project is to ask questions about perceptions of intelligence and explore that gap between the science and the experience.
The interest in looking at urban space as an organism developed from thinking about this relationship between ecologies and intelligent systems. We looked at how these systems scale up, inspired by Geoffery West's research into the similarities and differences between mammalian and urban scaling. So despite their very clear differences urban ecologies correlate strongly to biological systems and although made of different components behave in similar ways.
This research quickly grew into a fascination by what happens at that juncture where human technology meets ecology, how personal electronic devices, micro-biology and nano-technology effect us at the macro level. We were interested in how this will manifest macroscopically, or ecolologically if you will, and how this in turn will affect us individually as constituent parts of that urban ecology. Asking what form an Urban Immune System might take, and the devices we have developed under this title thus far are the first steps in our efforts to understand these ideas and their implications.
The devices all look to find alternative ways of connecting the individual directly to their ecology (the urban organism) and feel their place within it. These technologies operate to mediate our relationship to, and navigation through physical, social and virtual space. This process of upgrading could be seen as the momentum leading us towards transhumanism, an imagined yet possible future where the augmented body replaces natural selection as an evolutionary process in turn effecting the development of our 'ecological' surroundings.
This notion of transhumanism is another aspect that we we're very interested to explore within this project as it has a lot of synergy with the notion of the urban organism. From one perspective we are looking at the inorganic environment as an organic organism, and from another we look at the organic organism as a component within an inorganic machine.
With The Sticky Data device you were asking "What might it feel like to walk through a 'data cloud' or a 'data meadow'?" Did you find an answer to the question while you were testing the device? Is the experience of knowing how much data our body goes through every single second a stimulating one? or is it rather stressing? worrying? overwhelming? Does it influence the way you navigate a city afterwards? Would you for example avoid a quiet street because you've discovered that it might looks like a pleasant street empty of cars and passersby but with a data traffic that you find too intense?
The most stimulating thing about being able to sense geo-located data is the thought that you are physically feeling traces of people's experiences in the same place where they happened. We think this gives an extra sense of connection to a place, even if only for a moment.
It's difficult to say exactly what that should feel like, we're still playing with different haptic sensations, but the device certainly challenged our assumptions about certain areas. For example, in one test we found a really high density of data outside a bus depot, whereas across the street near a stadium, a seemingly much more social and 'eventful' place, there was comparatively little. So you definitely get a sense that the topography of a city's data layer can be quite different to that of its architectural space, but also an alternative sense of a places social makeup. So, finding themselves in a less sociable environment, did the inhabitants of the bus depot turn to more digital forms of social interaction, while the stadium offered enough 'face to face' social encounters that digital interaction was unnecessary?
The hope is definitely to ask people to question their relationship with space by providing a very different experience of navigating a city - the technologies that we use everyday are creating this digital topography, so how does this affect the urban organism and our interactions within it?
At the end of your description of the Sticky Data project, you explain that "As the user moves on, data seeds will be copied and dropped in new locations spreading them throughout the city or collected and cataloged by the device." Why did you feel the need to add this 'manipulation' of the data? Is it not going to make the 'datascape' too confusing?
This was an idea that came from discussions around the notion of the Urban Immune System. We talked about the idea that perhaps urban space already has an immune system of sorts that operates to keep the city within normative parameters. We discussed this redistribution as something that might function like an immunisation to bolster this existing immune system by disrupting it with non-normative behaviour to see how it responded.
We were interested in devices that have parasitic (viral) properties or where the owner could engage in the production of data and urban data configuration using the traces that others leave behind just through wearing the device and walking. We leave behind traces of our electronic identities almost daily and it's something that we are not really aware of.
Also, if data is part of our physical world then it in some way degrades or gets pasted over like the posters in a metro station over time, the datascape is constantly shifting. We were going to be selective over how what qualities of data we were looking for, so older data might not be as 'memetically healthy' and so may not spread as far or at all. We were interested in being deliberately disruptive to see what might happen if we push messages into and across territories. So the Sticky Data project could sift through what is there in electronic space to find data that might benefit the wearer or be most disruptive.
One of the objectives of UISR is to explore new ways to 'sense the social characteristics of a city as you would temperature, or air quality.' Do you have a better idea of Nottingham (or any other city where you have experimented with the devices) after having tested your prototypes through its streets? Do you see the city with another eye?
The devices have opened up new ways of experiencing the city, so we're pleased about that. When testing the Sticky Data device we discovered huge amounts of twitter data in surprising places - like the bus depot on an unremarkable street that we mentioned before. So the device certainly challenges your perceptions of the social makeup of your environment and certain expectations or pre-judgments you may have made. Of course it also has the ability to re-enforce some prejudices too. However, not knowing what the messages are it leaves you to read into their presence from what is physically around you, building the virtual narrative into the physical narrative of your surroundings.
In the tests we have carried out we have felt some interesting things that have challenged and re-enforced our assumptions of particular locations. However no one of us has tested the device thoroughly across the city yet as we are still fine tuning it and have remained largely within familiar areas. Personally I am looking forward to taking the device somewhere totally unfamiliar and finding out what a city you've never visited before feels like. If you have no pre-suppositions about a particular street does the device make it easier to walk down or give you spidey-sense tingle that there will be something unpleasant around the corner? We just don't know yet.
Could you describe The LOST (Local Only Shared Telemetry) device? How does it work?
The idea with the LOST device is for it to function as a social sixth sense. It's a wireless device, kept in close contact with the body that stores its owners profile. It simply transmits and receives this profile data over relatively small distances. When it finds a similar signal to its own the device communicates this to the owner by changing its temperature.
We wondered how a system that is similar to that of ants leaving pheromone trails might work in the social context of a city. In antithesis to the omniscient Internet this device doesn't use any kind of infrastructure as it communicates only locally, so the user has to physically travel to find new data rather than just clicking hyperlinks. The sensory feedback the wearer receives is specific only to the time and place in which they find themselves.
It's a thought experiment thinking that if everyone in an urban space wore such a device you would develop a very granular sense of the social make up of your very local vicinity with the cumulative heating, cooling effect of everyone else's device surrounding you. In such a way you could get a very clear feeling about whether a particular area is sympathetic to you as an individual or not. Kind of like blind man's buff, but instead of other players saying warmer or colder you simply feel it directly.
As with the sticky data device, having no lingual or visual output, it interfaces at a somatic level - we're interested in what happens when social data is perceived physiologically rather than visually. By integrating these digital sensory devices into our normal bodily senses we can start to understand the possible positive and negative implications not just of existing systems but also our rapid progress towards transhumanism.
The notion of being a trans-human is very exciting but until technologies are developed we can never really know what the implications of them will be. Devices like the LOST device allow ways of imagining how technological and biological integration might operate and in turn perhaps begin to understand their consequences individually and socially.
I'm afraid i forgot the name of the device you used for the public performance on the day of Making Future Collaboration Work. Beyond the fun and spectacular side of the performance, what are you trying to achieve with this piece?
That was the Town Crier. It's a backpack mounted with 4 megaphones that shouts out geo-located tweets as you walk around. The other two devices we made offer very subtle, private interactions, so we wanted to try something a little more confrontational.
The idea was to use the disparity between what can often be intended as very private or relatively anonymous reflections, and the openness of physical spaces that they are associated with. Shouting out these bits of text wrenches them, quite forcibly, back into public view. On the other hand though, the electronic voice puts all these statements on an even plane, and democratizes them giving a sense of the voice belonging to the place rather than any individual. These statements are at different times nonsensical, funny, or timely and touching, but they all add to the texture of a place, offering a glimpse of the collective memory embedded within it.
Are you still working on the project? Do you plan to push the prototypes any further? Add new ones?
We see this as a long term research project so we are definitely still working on not only testing and improving current devices, but also using this process to develop our understanding of the data city, the technologically augmented human, and the ecology that they create.
We're currently developing the town crier into some kind of performance work and playing with the Google Navigation voice more as a means of exploring the way in which the network operates as a continuous landmark in our landscape.
The Sticky Data and LOST device projects are still very much a works in progress. With Sticky Data we are going to continue experimenting with the way that the data is sensed or output. The immediate question we want to address is the character of the sensation in relation to the density of data being sensed. Similarly, what types of data are being sensed, and what are the most appropriate modes of sensation for these different bits of data? With the LOST stone, we are going to play with what information is used to form the user profile to find which provide most effective functionality.
Once we've worked out the technical challenges with both of these devices we want to produce enough of them for each of us to wear and live with them for a significant period of time. Perhaps with the LOST device also using willing volunteers to test them to increase the area density.
We'd like to know what it would feel like if I put on a sticky data sleeve at the same time you put on your watch in the morning and wore it wherever you go for a month. Is it an irritation, will you get muscle spasms, or forget you've got it on most of the time and only notice more drastic or uncharacteristic changes?
After this we hope to have a better idea of how we can develop the project further, fine tuning these devices and perhaps developing new ones. To put it in techno-garb, perhaps create the Urban Immune System 1.0 rather than its current beta version.
It is perhaps worth making clear that the focus will remain on provoking speculation on what the possible social implications of developing this sort of technology might be, rather than trying to create a cure for urban illness. Technology is exciting and interesting, however the implications of innovations are rarely visible until you have the grace of hindsight. One can only speculate how developments might or might not change the world, but that process of speculation is really interesting and tells us something about our current understanding of our society and technological culture.
Previously: Le Cadavre Exquis.