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Tim Clark, The Boomjet, High-Speed Horizons, 2015. Photo by Juuke Schoorl

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X-1SB and Boomjet models receiving initial coats of paint

High-Speed Horizons is another of my favourite works exhibited at the graduation show of the Royal College of Art earlier this month.

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One of the models in the exhibition space

In this project, Design Interactions graduate Tim Clark plays with the language and history of aviation, offering us a trip into critical and speculative visions of alternative energies.

Aviation, says the designer, has always been viewed as a test bed for radical new ideas and visions to reshape culture, politics and economics on Earth and far beyond it. Some of these dreams of alternative futures became reality and even transformed other areas of life (especially in military or space exploration contexts), while others were aborted because of political, economic or environmental pressures.

Tim Clark tapped into this fascination for unrestricted innovation to design a series of airplanes that investigate the possibility to ditch environmentally damaging fossil fuels in favour of sonic booms and nuclear power.

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Bell X-1. Image Smithsonian Air and Space Museum


Chuck Yeager Breaks the Sound Barrier, X-1, 1947. Newsreel from 1948

The most experimental and speculative aircraft research is often classified. An example of this is the American X-Plane. Started after WW2 and still in operation today, the program conceived a series of experimental planes and helicopters and used them to test new technologies and aerodynamic concepts.

The first of American X-Plane model, the Bell X-1, was the first aircraft to break the sound barrier in level flight in 1947. This breakthrough opened up a new field of supersonic research and led to experimentation in aerodynamics and new propulsive systems.

Supersonic speed travel is accompanied by an explosive 'bang' sound called sonic boom. These sonic booms also generate enormous amounts of energy. In theory they could thus power planes with an efficient, green and sustainable energy source.

But sonic booms are one of the main reasons why supersonic airplanes never became more commonplace. In several countries, the law prevents aircrafts from flying above Mach 1 due to the shock wave's auditory and vibrational disturbance.

Limiting the impact of sonic booms is a current concern of the aviation industry as many are dreaming of a new supersonic age. But if it is to be more successful than the last one (the Concorde required high quantities of fuel), a supersonic plane would need an energy source free from the influence of global affairs, politics and planet scarring infrastructure. Something that we can quickly produce and have complete control over -- like sonic booms.

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Tim Clark, The X-1SB, High-Speed Horizons, 2015. Photo by Juuke Schoorl

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Tim Clark, The X-1SB, High-Speed Horizons, 2015. Photo by Juuke Schoorl

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Tim Clark, High-Speed Horizons (X-1SB being airdropped by B-29 Duo mothership. Oil on canvas by Michael Lightfoot), 2015

The X-1SB, aka the "Sonic Sundae", is Clark's counterhistorical research aircraft designed to test the feasibility of this sonic boom propulsion. Its cone shape design is the combination of a .50 caliber bullet (an object know to be stable while breaching the sound barrier) just like the design of its predecessor the X-1 aircraft, and the shape of the shock wave created by an object traveling faster than sound.

The front of the aircraft features a housing for an interchangeable triangular spike used to test how different shapes could create potentially optimized shock waves to use for propulsion.

And because Clark's work is counter historical, Sonic Sundae and Boomjet (more about that one below) were to have existed before any of the anti-noise laws were to have been instituted.

He told me: I am suggesting that in a sonic boom powered world those laws would not exist because the ability to travel with that type of greener propulsion would probably be more beneficially economically than instituting the flight restrictions. In this case the benefit of the disturbance would outweigh the desire to limit the noise.

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Conceptual drawing of a supersonic biplane. Image: Christine Daniloff/MIT News based on an original drawing courtesy of Obayashi laboratory, Tohoku University

Anyway if we were to live in true supersonic age these restrictions would need to be changed/relaxed anyway sonic booms or not. The big research in limiting the sonic boom now is finding a way to make a wing design that will create little to no noise when it breaks the sound barrier so it does not disturb people below the plane. Amazingly this question was answered over a decade (1935) before we even broke the sound barrier (1947) by Adolf Busemann who suggested a supersonic biplane design where the two wings would be used to cancel the other wave out.

It's crazy to think a supersonic jet would resemble a biplane from the 1920s but it would probably be the best solution and it was theorized way before it ever would be seen as a problem which is amazing. MIT just did some research into it in the last year or so and it would totally work and might be quite viable.

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Tim Clark, B-29 Duo, High-Speed Horizons, 2015. Photo by Juuke Schoorl

Because of its large rear circumference, the X-1SB cannot fit under the fuselage or wing of a larger aircraft for taxiing and takeoff. The B-29 Duo "Double Mama" has thus been designed to be its carrier aircraft of choice.

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An F/A-18 Hornet breaks the sound barrier in the skies over the Pacific Ocean, 1999. Image Ensign John Gay, U.S. Navy (via wikipedia)

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Tim Clark, The Boomjet, High-Speed Horizons, 2015. Photo by Juuke Schoorl

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Tim Clark, The Boomjet, High-Speed Horizons, 2015. Photo by Juuke Schoorl

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Boomjet on mobile aircraft crawler. Computer rendering by Tim Clark

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Tim Clark, High-Speed Horizons (Boomjet taxiing at water-based airport. Watercolor on paper by Hector Trunnec), 2015

Another of Clark's designs, the Boomjet is a sonic boom-powered commercial transport that sustains its flight by driving 47 propellers from the pressure energy released by the aircraft as it travels faster than the speed of sound. The sonic boom transport vehicle stores excess energy for use during takeoff which can be vertically or from water depending on location.

Clarks then looked at another source of energy that could disentangle aviation from its dangerous relationship with fossil fuels: nuclear energy.

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The Convair NB-36 in flight, with a B-50. Photo: USAF - U.S. Defenseimagery.mil photo no. DF-SC-83-09332 via wikipedia

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Advert from November 1951 AIR TRAILS magazine promoting the promise of nuclear power as an unlimited energy source for flight. Image from Secret U.S. Proposals of the Cold War: Radical Concepts in Factory Models and Engineering Drawings by Jim Keeshen

During the cold war both the USSR and the USA had an experimental nuclear aircraft program. While the risk was high, nuclear power promised an aircraft with theoretically unlimited range capable of constant flight.

Only two known nuclear aircraft that have been fully built and tested. The NB-36H was America's nuclear-powered aircraft. Refitted for this new propulsion system after it was damaged in a storm and deemed unfit for combat, the aircraft featured a direct phone line to the President of the United States that was to only be used in the event of an incident. The NB-36H completed 47 test flights between 1955 and 1957 over New Mexico and Texas. It was scrapped in 1958 when the Nuclear Aircraft Program was abandoned.

The Soviet Union's aircraft, the Tu-95L, was based on the Tupolev Tu-95 strategic bomber and missile platform. First flown in 1952, the plane is still in operation today and Russia sometimes flies it in close proximity of the airspace of other European countries in order to affirm its military presence.

The nuclear variant of the TU-95 flew from 1961 to 1965.

Both the USA and the Soviet Union had ambitious plans for their second nuclear-powered aircraft but due to environmental concerns, political pressures, and rumors that the other side called off their research both projects were shelved.

While the risk of a nuclear accident is deemed too high in aviation, we have nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, submarines and 11% of all the world's electricity being based on nuclear power.

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Tim Clark, Air Laissez-Faire, High-Speed Horizons, 2015. Photo by Juuke Schoorl

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Tim Clark, Air Laissez-Faire, High-Speed Horizons, 2015. Photo by Juuke Schoorl

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Designer applying the 500+ dry transfer window decals and nuclear logo decals to the Air Laissez-faire model aircraft

Clark proposes to update to our times a technology that looked promising at the height of the Cold War. And the ones willing to bankroll the experiment might not be countries but technology companies which are already at the forefront of some ambitious innovative projects (Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic for example.) Because these tech companies are increasingly under governmental scrutiny so that they don't get out of control, they might also take to the sky to further innovation free from the restriction of regulation, utilizing the energy source historically clouded by politics to sustain continuous flight and prove that anything is indeed possible through innovation. An inspiration for the idea is Blueseed. This "start-up community on a ship" proposes to gather hundreds of immigrant entrepreneurs on a floating startup city in international waters off the coast of San Francisco and have them live and work undisturbed by the burden of national boundaries and government regulations.

Clark's mini Silicon Valley on air is called Air Laissez-Faire. A nuclear power plant on board of this self-piloting aircraft would provide virtually limitless amounts of continuous propulsion, while a crew made of nuclear physicist, chemical engineer, radiation consultant, and other figures would ensure safety on board. The mega plane presents satellite and radar communication equipment for remote business meetings, all necessary business facilities as well as a landing space on its rear wings that allow small 'commuter aircrafts' to whisk entrepreneurs from and back to major business centers.

Sponsored by:





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Panamarenko, Scotch Gambit

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Panamarenko, Pahama, Spitsbergen, Nova Zemblaya, 1996 courtesy Collection Fondation Cartier, Paris photo M HKA

Panamarenko, the artist and inventor who builds zeppelins, mechanical chickens, flying backpacks, flying saucers, robots, submarines and other machines designed to travel over land, under water and in outer space, is having a big and rather wonderful retrospective at the M HKA, in his home town of Antwerp.

As its name suggests, Panamarenko Universum attempts to cover the full spectrum of his artistic production and mental landscape. Along with many of the vehicles and devices Panamarenko has created ​​between 1965 and 2005, M HKA is also exhibiting drawings, objects, documentations of tv interviews, scientific experiments and performances, models and editions.

It's difficult not to be seduced by Panamarenko's childlike enthusiasm for movement and science, by his inventiveness and by machines which are successful as artworks but often hopeless as vehicles for ocean and space expeditions.

Some of the works i (re)discovered in Antwerp:

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Exhibition view Panamarenko Universum, 2014. Photo M HKA

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Exhibition view Panamarenko Universum, 2014. Photo M HKA


Panamarenko had always wanted to build a submarine to take to the open seas and defy any storm. His ultimate purpose was to use this craft to journey to the Far North. Nonetheless, it took until the middle of the 19990s before the project really got under way.

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PAHAMA, Spitsbergen, Nova Zemblaya

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Arlikoop, 2004

A one-man aircraft which construction is based on the flapping movements of birds.

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Raven's variable matrix, 2000

An advanced deep-sea diving apparatus engineered to dive faster. It consisted of a shaft attached to a screw-propeller and two pedals with belts. The device was strapped around the diver's hips, leaving the arms and torso completely free.

'You just have to peddle away with your legs, and it's just like you have a tail. That moved you forward fast, much faster than a swimmer...' - Panamarenko

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Big Elbow (Razmo Special), 1990-1992

Panamarenko testing one of his diving contraptions:

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Panamarenko Archive, M HKA, Antwerp, 2014

A diving suit for walking over the gentle slopes of the seabed. The diving suit has a plastic dome helmet and a small cylinder pump, ten centimetres in diameter, to be worn on the back. The helmet is supplied with oxygen by a cylinder with a piston that goes up and down, a four-litre bladder that serves as an extra lung, and a flexible hose that floats on the water surface.

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Portuguese Man of War, 1990

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Panamareko testing the Portuguese Man of War in the Maldives. Panamarenko Archive, M HKA, Antwerp, 2014

In the 1970s, to create devices that take off vertically, Panamarenko concentrated his research on rotation speed and lifting power. The artist developed a series of compact but powerful Pastille Motors to power his rucksack helicopters. The name Pastille Motor refers to the round, flat shape reminiscent of a large aspirin. The engine must not weigh more than twelve kg, while five kilos of fuel should be sufficient for twenty minutes' flying.

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R.p.M. (Revolutions per Minute)

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Panamarenko Archive, M HKA, Antwerp, 2014

The propulsion for the Pepto Bismo is powered by short rotor-propellers, each driven by its own motor. The helicopter principal allows the pilot to take-off vertically, controlling the apparatus by body movement.

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Panamarenko, Pepto Bismo, 2003 courtesy Private Collection photo M HKA

Panamarenko built flying saucers and other spacecraft, he also researched into the various possibilities of using existing magnetic fields as cosmic highways to travel the solar system. In 1997 his fascination for the cosmos resulted in the final project Ferro Lusto that he describes as a spaceship of 800 meters in length and fit for a crew of 4000. Ferro Lusto would act as the mother ship that carres various smaller crafts, which he calls Bings.

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Bing of the Ferro Lusto (model), 2002

Panamarenko developed Bing of the Ferro Lusto and Bing II as hybrid machines suitable for flying through both the atmosphere and outer space. Bing II was powered using air and has three 4D booster engines developed on the basis of the Toymodel of Space theory. The engine consists of two cylinders set in parallel in a metal block. Four pistons make alternate upward and sideways movements. The drive power develops on the basis of the difference in speed and mass in contrast with the direction of movement of the earth and solar system, boosted by centrifugal force. '

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Panamarenko, Bing of the Ferro Lusto (model) , 2002 Courtesy Mulier Mulier Gallery

Panamarenko built The Aeromodeller between 1969 and 1971. The basketwork gondola was designed as a living space. Two aircraft engines on top of it are used to steer the imposing airship, which is held aloft by a cigar-shaped balloon, thirty metres long.

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The Aeromodeller (Zeppelin), 1969-1971

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Dubbele zeppelin, 1990

Panamarenko designed this machine on insect-like aluminium legs, to enable him to walk around the Swiss mountains more easily. Crooked Leg is powered by a boat engine and is operated using two vertical levers on either side of the device.

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Knikkebeen [Crooked Leg], 1994

The Magnetic Shoes are made with military boots from the former East Block and copper stator coils taken apart from electric motors. He would weld the coils' magnets to a rod and then trapped an electrical charge. The result was amazing! If you then touched a piece of metal to it, you couldn't get it off no matter how hard you pulled! In a green rucksack (where military personnel would keep their walkie-talkies) are the lead batteries to provide the current. By alternatingly turning the current in the magnets on and off, I could hang upside down from a ceiling and walk around. I thought: well, that's a start... a little bit like flying...

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Magnetic Shoes, 1966-1967

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May-bug (Salto Arte), 1972

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Exhibition view Panamarenko Universum, 2014. Photo M HKA

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Exhibition view Panamarenko Universum, 2014. Photo M HKA

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Exhibition view Panamarenko Universum, 2014. Photo M HKA

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Exhibition view Panamarenko Universum, 2014. Photo M HKA


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Panamarenko, Donderwolk, 1970-1971. Collectie Koninklijke Musea voor Schone Kunsten van België photo M HKA


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Panamarenko, Prova Car, courtesy collection M HKA


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Panamarenko Archive, M HKA, Antwerp, 2014

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PAHAMA (detail)

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Inside the PAHAMA

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Panamarenko testing his electronic tank. Location: Furkapas. ©image: Panamarenko Archive

Panamarenko Universum is on view at the M HKA in Antwerp until Sunday 29 March 2015.

Notes about A screaming comes across the sky. Drones, mass surveillance and invisible wars , Laboral's new exhibition that addresses the ethical and legal ambiguity of drones, mass surveillance and war at a distance.

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Hito Steyerl, Strike

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James Bridle, Watching the Watchers. Creech AFB, Nevada, 21.6.2011

Drones are very much part of today's culture. You can buy one on amazon and fly it as if it were a sophisticated kite. You also probably read how they are (or will be) used to deliver urgent medical supplies, shoot movies, monitor crops, track wildlife or gather information after a natural or manmade disaster.

In many people's minds, hobbyist and civilian uses of UAVs have overtaken the military role and origins of drones. No surprise here as what governments are doing with drones, who they are killing and how is a mystery for the public. And even often for government officials, as this video shown by curator Juha van' t Zelfde during Laboral's drone conference illustrates:


Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Drones

Drones have been operating and killing since the early 2000s. Yet, we still have fairly few or no statistics regarding civilian casualties. The Bureau of Investigative Journalist does a great job at counting strikes and casualties in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. Data gets blurry when it comes to attacks in other countries such as Afghanistan. And a lack of transparency goes hand in hand with a lack of accountability. The wars are fought in remote countries by invisible technologies operated in the name of people who have only a very limited knowledge of what is happening 'on the war front' and this situation contrasts with the ability that satellite images have given us to see and explore the world. The irony is illustrated by James Bridle's ongoing series of aerial photographs of military surveillance drones, found via online maps accessible to everyone.

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James Bridle, Watching the Watchers. Dryden Research Center California, 2011

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James Bridle, Watching the Watchers

The title A screaming comes across the sky is taken from Thomas Pynchon's novel, Gravity's Rainbow, which explores the social and political context behind the development of the V-2 rocket, the first long-range ballistic missile and the first man-made object to enter the fringes of space. The rocket was developed by the German military during World War II to attack Allied cities as a form of retaliation for the ever-increasing Allied bombings against German cities. Today's technologies of war, such as the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones, and their laser-guided Hellfire missiles, bear resemblance to the V-2 in their ability to operate unseen and to strike without warning.

In the post-PRISM age of mass surveillance and invisible war, artists, alongside journalists, whistleblowers and activists, reveal the technological infrastructures that enable events like drone-strikes to occur.

I've now seen quite a few exhibitions that explored the politics, ethics and meanings of drones. A screaming comes across the sky manages to bring a fresh and compelling perspective on the issue by taking sometimes a more oblique, metaphorical approach to drones. While the curator selected some of the most iconic works dealing directly with drones today, he also looked at artists who are interested in questions of surveillance and control but in a rather poetical, symbolic or even sometimes humourous way.

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Martha Rosler, Theater of Drones

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Martha Rosler, Theater of Drones, 2013

Martha Rosler's Theater of Drones is a great introduction to the subject of drone warfare. The banner installation was first exhibited in Charlottesville, the first city in the United States to pass a law restricting the use of drones in its airspace

Talking about the drones, Rosler said: "They appear to make war invisible, but of course in the countries that we're bombing, and where people are being killed, they are a terror fact of everyday life. They don't terrorize us, because we have this classic split, which we also had during the Vietnam War of over here and over there are two different worlds, and they're not really connected."

The banners list a series of chilling facts about drones: "The Air Force has plotted the drone future to 2047. The Pentagon plans to increase funding by 700% over the next decade." "Since 2004, drone strikes have killed an estimated 3,115 people in Pakistan. Fewer than 2 percent of the victims are high-profile targets. The rest are civilians, and alleged combatants. " And this little gem of a quote by a Pentagon official:

"They don't get hungry. They're not afraid. They don't forget their orders. They don't care if the guy next to them has just been shot. Will they do a better job than humans? Yes."

The same room also showed works developed by fabLAB Asturias. The prototypes, platforms and maps bring the drone issue into a context closer to citizens' daily interests and experiences (a dedicated post about fabLAB's drone experiments is coming up!) Their projects also remind the public that the U.S> military doesn't have the monopoly of questionable use of drones. Using them for surveillance, border control and in military contexts is very much part of the European agenda as well.

Quick tour of the other works on show:

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Lot Amoros, Dronism, 2013

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Lot Amoros, Dronism, 2013

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Lot Amoros, Dronism, whitedesert

As part of his ongoing research on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), Lot Amoros placed posters around Egypt to inform people how to protect themselves from Israel's Heron drones. Israel is the world's leading exporter of military drones. As this video shows, Israeli drones and other weapons meet with great success on the international market as they have been repeatedly tried and tested on Palestinians.

The instructions of the Dronism document were directly quoted from real Al-Qaida drone documents. All al-Qaida references or aggressive languages were removed and replaced with peaceful instructions for the sole purpose of offering innocent civilians a series of tools to protect themselves from unmanned aerial vehicles, using common materials and trash to construct frequency inhibitors, camera blinders, etc.

Amoros also intended to send the instructions to Palestine on board a tiny DIY drone. It turned out that flying the quadcopter over the border into Palestinian territory was too dangerous. The artist and activist did however succeed to send the instructions via underground tunnels.

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Laurent Grasso, On Air (still)

I was so glad to get another chance to see Grasso's wonderful On Air again. , The film, shot in 2009 in The United Arab Emirates, looks at traditional hawk hunting. The bird in the movie is equipped with light and sophisticated surveillance equipment. Once let to roam free above the land, it becomes a spying tool, recording every dune and village it flies over. The images are fascinating but they are also threatening.

The movie and its paranoia-inducing music reminds us that a technique to use pigeons for aerial photography of enemy lines during wars was developed as early as 1907. The practice might not have vanished completely. A few years ago, articles reported that Iranian security forces had captured a pair of "spy pigeons," not far from one of the country's nuclear processing plants.

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Alicia Framis, History of Drones

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Alicia Framis, Pigeon photographers

Which brings us nicely to Alicia Framis's History of Drones. Her taxidermied work presents the pigeon as the predecessor of today's drones. In 1908, German apothecary Julius Neubronner patented aerial photography by means of a pigeon photographer. The invention was tried out for military air surveillance in the First World War and later.

Besides actually being used in military contexts as a means of surveillance and collecting intelligence, they were indeed unmanned aerial instruments, which might had a different historical importance if it wasn't for the quick and strong progress in the field of aviation. In this new work, Framis creates a light-hearted reminder of the evolution of aerial espionage.

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Preparing James Bridle's Drone Shadow drawing in Gijón, 2014

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James Bridle, Drone Shadow drawing in Gijón, 2014

MQ1 Predator Drone Shadow
located in the port of Gijón. The work has been painted by local practitioners using James Bridle's: Drone Shadow Handbook, which can be found here. A brilliantly simple and poignant reminder of military technologies, as James Bridle reminds us: "We all live under the shadow of the drone, although most of us are lucky enough not to live under its direct fire."

Check out the video below for more details about Bridle's interest in drones:

The talk is available in spanish as well.

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Marielle Neudecker, The Air Itself is One Vast Library

Really like this work. I wrote about it Here.

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Roger Hiorns, Untitled (view of the exhibition)

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Roman Signer, 56 kleine Helikopter, 2008

A video showing 56 remote-controlled toy helicopters taking to the sky to great chaos.

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Metahaven, Silent Dazzle, 2014

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Metahaven, Silent Dazzle

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Hito Steyerl, Strike

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AeraCoop (Lot Amorós, Cristina Navarro y Alexandre Oliver), Flone

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AeraCoop (Lot Amorós, Cristina Navarro y Alexandre Oliver), Flone

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AeraCoop (Lot Amorós, Cristina Navarro y Alexandre Oliver), Flone

A screaming comes across the sky. Drones, mass surveillance and invisible wars is at LABoral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial (Art and Industrial Creation Centre) until 12 April 2015. In collaboration with Lighthouse.

Related stories: Flone, The Flying Phone, A dystopian performance for drones, KGB, CIA black sites and drone performance. This must be an exhibition by Suzanne Treister, Under the Shadow of the Drone and The Digital Now - 'Drones / Birds: Princes of Ubiquity'.

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Engine Blocks, Multipurpose engine boat. Photo BIO 50

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Engine Blocks, Multipurpose engine motorbike. Photo BIO 50

I just spent a few days in Ljubljana for BIO 50. It's a design biennial and i know i keep shouting around that i often find design dull and pretentious but that particular biennial was anything but boring. Or pompous. But more about that in later posts.

The event positioned design as a space for collaboration, experimentation and enquiry. Nine themes were explored and the one that i -surprisingly- found most fascinating dealt with the future of transportation. Called Engine Blocks, the project was led by designers Gaspard Tiné-Berès and Tristan Kopp of Re-do Studio who chose to work with Tomos, a Slovenian manufacturer of mopeds.

The result of the collaboration focuses on the mechanical essence of vehicles and uses one Tomos engine as an ever-adaptable, hackable and interchangeable element that can be transferred to different vehicles, machines and contexts.

The Engine Block group envisions a not so distant-future when instead of buying the latest model of a vehicle or machine, people will be able to take (post-)post-industrialisation into their own hands and use a unique modular engine that they can re-purpose and customize to their specific needs.

Re-Do-Studio, Engine block

Engine Block is for me what design should be: it is imaginative, critical and down to earth. It doesn't pretend to change and save the world but that doesn't stop it from suggesting valid ideas, scenarios and models.

I asked the members of Re-do Studio more details about the project:

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Engine Blocks, Finished project. Photo BIO 50

I found it amazing that one engine could end up being able to power so many different tools and vehicles. But was the whole process as easy as it sounds? Can you really plug one engine into different context and make it work? Is there really no limit to what this engine and a bit of imagination can do?

Well this particular engine is quite a simple one so it wasn't such a big problem to make it work on the different machines, but it obviously needs a bit of time to attach it properly before you can run the machines. And about the efficiency, it's an engine that has been design to power a small scooter so obviously it's not ideal for the other machines, but our intention was not to make the most efficient machine more to talk about how industrial product can always be used for a different purposes than what it was designed for.

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TOMOS engine. Photo TOMOS

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Visit to the TOMOS factory. Photo: Marko Obid

What were the most challenging moments and steps in the Engine Block project?

So, the project started with a Slovenian industrial partner, TOMOS the brand that produced the engine, and about 2 month before the opening of the show they went bankrupt and told us that they was not allowed to give anything from the factory.... not even an engine ...

So that was quite challenging, but it actually triggered a larger reflection and debates with the participants that enriched the project and helped us push the statement further, we then decided to change the scenography and to make a sci-fi style movie, enlarged the group and everybody had a great time conceiving and shooting the movie so we think that everybody actually made an advantage out of this problem, so it was great...

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Engine Blocks team meeting Photo: Lucijan & Vladimir

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Engine Blocks working process

Why did you decide to show the final works as museum pieces?

The project is showing a close and apocalyptic future where the economic crisis destroyed the local industry, and a guy fixes old tools by using a unique engine to run all of them. This idea of standardised components and especially energy source has been there for years in the industry and it is the most rational way to run a range of tools, but lately industrial product tend to produce more and more unaccessible, unfixable and unadaptable goods. We basically state that humans will always finds ways to hack and tweak even the most complex industrially-made product, to propose more rational and sensible way to use them.

So the idea of showing the product as archeological piece was to express this idea of a important shift in the design world when people had to go back to put their hand inside the goods and finds ways to fix them, stating that even if the industry would collapse the people will still go back to the most logical solutions...

So to try to make it clear; we are showing a near future but in the past tense, with archeological pieces that express the importance of a big change or rupture in the relationship people have with goods and the moment we might have to go back to fix and hack them again rather then buying the latest versions.

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Engine Blocks, exhibition BIO 50. Photo: Ana Kovač

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Engine Blocks, exhibition BIO 50

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Engine Blocks, exhibition BIO 50

Thanks Gaspard and Tristan!

Engine Block.
Team Mentors: Gaspard Tiné-Berès and Tristan Kopp, product designers and founders of Re-do Studio.
Partner: Tomos, d. o. o.
Team members: Antoine Monnet, Ricardo Carneiro.

BIO 50, the 24th Biennial of Design is open in various locations around Ljubljana until 7 December 2014.

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Visual artist Melle Smets and researcher Joost van Onna followed the travel of discarded cars from Europe to Ghana and ended up at Suame Magazine, near the town of Kumasi, in Ghana. In this area, 200,000 artisans are working in 12,000 workshops, stores and factories to repair and give a new life to European disused vehicles.

Smets and van Onna then collaborated with local craftsmen and mechanics to build a African concept car in three months. The vehicle is called SMATI Turtle. SMATI because it is the acronym for the Suame Magazine Automatics Technical Institute, an engineering training centre for the artisans. And Turtle because the vehicle is strong and sturdy like the reptile.

The completed car was even inaugurated by Otumfuo Nana Osei Tutu II, King Asantehene of the Kingdom of Ashanti.

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Otumfuo Nana Osei Tutu II, King Asantehene of the Kingdom of Ashanti, testing the SMATI TURTLE

The Turtle has been touring Europe since its creation. It will spend the Autumn in Pau, France, as part of the Disnovation exhibition and the accès)s( festival of digital culture.

The show opens on October 8 and i caught up with project leader Melle Smets to have him talk about his adventures in African mechanics.

Hi Melle! The text describing the project mentions the Buafo. Was this pickup truck prototype at the origin of your project? Where did the idea for the Turtle 1 come from exactly?

The Buafo was a car from the 70ies. From this vehicle we extracted a lot of essential idea's of what a African car should be. The existence of this car was unknown to us until a old mechanic from the neighborhood told us this story. Then we started to look for it and found one around the corner of our workshop. The reason we searched for this vehicle was the fact that we don't know anything about cars, and needed a lead to start working from.

And once you had the idea for the Turtle 1, what happened? You and Joost van Onna just turned up in Ghana and put your project into a full working prototype?

The idea to build a car came much earlier. We wanted to research the potential of a society without formal structures. Suame Magazine looked like the most incredible example of a city which was also a working car plant. Something we could hardly imagine as we thought car assembling is a very high tech business. Because the place is very hectic we thought of a narrative to tell the story of the informal car assembly line. This is how the idea came to built a car from scratch and go from workshop to workshop to learn the process and tell the story.

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How did you navigate the Suame Magazine and find the right people to work with?

We went there a year earlier to scout the area and try to find a partner. This became Suame Magazine Industrial Devellopment Organisation. They liked the idea as a PR stunt for their NGO. They are a umbrella organisation for all guilds.

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Apart from being skilled and resourceful, what did local people bring to the project in terms of creativity, ideas?

The car is developed by the whole neighborhood in terms of storytelling, throwing idea's, bringing in their networks and their labor. We tried not to take the lead in design and organised every step in the proces as a communal decision. For example the car design is done by wooden sticks. On the other hand people started to use the project to draw the attention on SMIDO by the media. This free publicity was good for the project but also good for growing the network of SMIDO members. In terms of work, we had to pay people to actually do the job.

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SMATI Turtle being tested in The Netherlands. Image

And conversely, what did you bring that the Ghana craftsmen needed? They were already repurposing car parts after all....

The most lucrative thing we brought them is a story. The Turtle became a National story which they used to get access in the highest networks of the country. And this is where the real business is done. Wright now they are making contracts with Danida (Danish devellopment organisation from Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark) for over 2 million dollars to set up a new land for a car production fascility.

The project involved building a car in 12 weeks. Why was this timeframe important to you?

Money and time. ; )
Unfortunately I was on a time schedule.
Although the time pressure also made it work.
Just the same as making a theatre play. You can practice for ever.

Do you think it would make sense for western consumers to have a car culture driven by the moto "let's make things simple"?

We need to seriously start thinking in terms of what we really need and want, instead of try to build a paradise of things around us.
Stuff we don't understand but just buy in the hope it is a short cut to happiness. So the car is just an example.

Of course our infrastructure is evolved in a way we need sophisticated cars to be save driving 140 KM/hour. But it would be healthy to keep rethinking the whole concept of traveling. There are a thousand ways we can go from A to B. Why we make ourselves dependent on this system? The concept of a highway is a hundred years old and in the time they made it up there were fantastic idea's to get from A to B in total different way. We would like to remind people on this freedom of choice but also responsibility to give meaning to our environment.

And is there any commercial interest for the prototype (or an adapted version of it) outside of Africa?

Not that I know of. But we also never put energy in this. I envision a car production future where every continent has its own species of cars. The climate, economy and landscape demand certain needs to a vehicle. Technology will make it possible to manufacture more on demand and more specific adjustments.

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Turtle 1 is part of a broader project that looks at "the stream of discarded cars to Ghana in order to document their hitherto unknown destination." So which kind of images, videos and discourses do you bring to European destinations where you show the Turtle prototype?

We do lectures to governments, sit in advisory boards, work with industry on new idea's. Next to this we did some exhibitions on car shows, art festivals to show drawings, photo's and video's. Every member of the team had it's own medium. You will see on the exhibition. There was also a lot of media coverage on television, news papers and magazines in Germany and the Netherlands.

The prototype is called Turtle 1. Does it mean that there will be new and improved models of the Turtle? More generally, what's next for the project?

We are now working together with the Dutch car industry on a vocational training program. The ambition is to start this program in Suame Magazine next year. In the Dutch Design week we organise workshops around this businesses case. See Word doc for more detailed concept.

Thanks Melle!

Check out the vehicle at the DISNOVATION exhibition, on October 8th- December 6th, at Le Bel Ordinaire, Billière, France. The 14th edition of the festival itself will run November 13th -16th, 2014, at Le Bel Ordinaire + associated venues in Pau & around. Programme curated by Nicolas Maigret and Bertrand Grimault.

In the second half of the 19th century, the Mexican government partnered with British companies to built the railway line that would connect Mexico City with the Atlantic Ocean. This iconic railway infrastructure now lies in ruins, much of it abandoned due to the privatisation of the railway system in 1995, when it was decided that transporting people was simply not profitable enough. Many passenger train lines were thus cut off, the infrastructure was left to rot and communities became geographically and economically isolated as a consequence.

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Ivan Puig and Andrés Padilla Domene, SEFT-1 in front of the volcano Yuhualixqui in the exhibition SEFT-1 Abandoned Railways Exploration Probe - Modern Ruins 1:220 presented by The Arts Catalyst and Furtherfield, London June 2014

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Ivan Puig and Andrés Padilla Domene, SEFT-1 interior of cabin in the exhibition SEFT-1 Abandoned Railways Exploration Probe - Modern Ruins 1:220 presented by The Arts Catalyst and Furtherfield, London June 2014

Ivan Puig and Andrés Padilla Domene, aka Los Ferronautas (from ferrocarriles which means railway in spanish), wanted to travel along the ruins of the passenger railway system and investigate the remains of what they consider a misuse of common resources and therefore a political issue.

But to drive around the rusty lines, they needed to build their own light vehicle. The result is a half car half spaceship hybrid called SEFT-1 (the Sonda de Exploración Ferroviaria Tripulada, in english Manned Railway Exploration Probe). But SEFT-1 is much more than a vehicle. Los Ferronautas call it a research tool because it allows them to investigate notions and promises of progress. The vehicle is also a transmitter of non-eletronic stories, it enabled the duo to visit and interview communities which the privatization of the railway has been left behind.

As they traveled through the country in 2010 and 2011, the artists shared their discoveries online, mapping their trajectory, archiving objects found by the tracks, writing down anecdotes, uploading photos and interviews with the people they met along the way.

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Marte (Mars in english) is a half-abandoned village in Oaxaca, in the south east of México

I've been following the work of Los Ferronautas ever since i read an article about them in the always excellent blog Arte en la Edad del Silicio so i'm really happy that they finally have their first London exhibition, SEFT-1 Abandoned Railways Exploration Probe: Modern Ruins 1:220, thanks to The Arts Catalyst and Furtherfield Gallery.

The show opens tomorrow 20 June between 6 and 8pm and there's a tour of the exhibition with the artist on Saturday. The vehicle will be on show of course but there will be more:

For this new exhibition, the artists are inviting British expert model railway constructors to collaborate by creating scale reproductions of specific Mexican railway ruins, originally built by British companies, exactly as they are now. One gallery becomes a space for the process of model ruin construction. The room's walls will show the pictures, documents, plans and other materials used as reference for the meticulously elaborated ruin construction. With this action a dystopian time tunnel is created.

I'm really looking forward to discovering what Los Ferronautas will do in collaboration with the model makers. Already, they have reproduced in photo and using their own vehicle a scene painted by José María Velasco in 1881. During a presentation they gave on Saturday at a London LASER04 session, they announced that the whole landscape would be recreated by British model enthusiasts.

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Ivan Puig and Andrés Padilla Domene, SEFT-1 over metal bridge in the exhibition SEFT-1 Abandoned Railways Exploration Probe - Modern Ruins 1:220 presented by The Arts Catalyst and Furtherfield, London June 2014

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José María Velasco, Bridge at Metlac, 1881

SEFT-1 Abandoned Railways Exploration Probe

More photos:

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Esperanza station in Puebla, was created thanks to train traffic. Its population reached up to 19000 inhabitants in its heyday. The town is now looking for ways to survive

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This lunar landscape is in fact set in the salt mine of Las Coloradas, Yucatán, in the south east of México

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Los ferronautas started they journey on 20 November 2010 in front of the Museo Nacional de Arte, in Mexico City

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A Baldwin locomotive from 1925 (image Los Ferronautas)

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Ivan Puig and Andrés Padilla Domene, SEFT-1 in La Loma station, Durango in the exhibition SEFT-1 Abandoned Railways Exploration Probe - Modern Ruins 1:220 presented by The Arts Catalyst and Furtherfield, London June 2014

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Ivan Puig and Andrés Padilla Domene, SEFT-1 in Telixtlahuaca in the exhibition SEFT-1 Abandoned Railways Exploration Probe - Modern Ruins 1:220 presented by The Arts Catalyst and Furtherfield, London June 2014

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van Puig and Andrés Padilla Domene, SEFT-1 with Citlaltépetl in the background No. 2 in the exhibition SEFT-1 Abandoned Railways Exploration Probe - Modern Ruins 1:220 presented by The Arts Catalyst and Furtherfield, London June 2014

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Ivan Puig and Andrés Padilla Domene SEFT-1 under the stars of Taviche in the exhibition SEFT-1 Abandoned Railways Exploration Probe - Modern Ruins 1:220 presented by The Arts Catalyst and Furtherfield, London June 2014

SEFT-1 Abandoned Railways Exploration Probe: Modern Ruins 1:220 is at Furtherfield in Finsbury Park from 20 June until 27 July 2014.

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