On Thursday i went to Artissima. Turin's contemporary art fair lands in the agenda almost straight after Frieze and compared to the London's fair, it feels lighter, fresher, edgier. It also demonstrates a greater attention for the design -in all its forms- of the event. I'm a fan.
That evening I've discovered a dozen of artists whose works i'll mention in the coming days (or weeks given my propensity to write at the speed of a banana.)
Let's start with Tatsuki Masaru whose photos were exhibited by Gallery Side 2 (Tokyo). The artist spent a decade following the Decotora (an abbreviation for "Decoration Truck") subculture, photographing the trucks of course but also their drivers and in the long series of "Japanese do it better", these vehicles have a panache and extravagance that never reach bad taste.
In an interview to Photoeye, the artist explains that the phenomenon is subject to trends and economic woes: There was a peak in say 1980, that was the peak time in terms of the number of decorated trucks existing in Japan. This trend got started somewhere in the '60s when Japan's economy was growing and people were starting to spend money decorating their trucks. In the beginning it was like, "Who has the most number of lights on the truck," that kind of competition. But then in the '90s there started to be a little bit more specialization, and one area which became popular was Gundam, which are like Japanese transformer movies, and anime type of decoration, so there are some stages to its development. Recently, because of the economic difficulties like Japan's recession, and governmental regulations, traffic laws and all that, the [truckers] can no longer do the things they used to do. So in a way, they're sort of going back to the '70s style, which is a little bit less lighting, more heavy on the paintings, a little bit more subdued decorating style so they cannot get busted by the police.
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
An exhibition at the Design Museum is proposing a fictional future in which the United Kingdom is broken into four counties that function according to radically different techno-centered models.
Each of their 4 scenarios looks at how innovations such as research about human-powered helicopters, integrated biohydrogen refinery or robots with jelly-like artificial muscles translate into politics, economy and lifestyle.
The digitarians live in the East of England and are governed by digital technology. The Bioliberals are the biotech-freaks, they occupy the West corner. The Communo-nuclearist, whose fate lays in the hands of nuclear energy, relentlessly travel up and down a single strip in the middle of the nation. And North of the UK are the Anarcho-evolutionists, they have turned their back on technology and self-experiment on their own body to turn themselves into powerful machines.
The counties are 'live laboratories' set in a future that will probably/hopefully never come. They are nevertheless so plausible that you are drawn into the fiction and wonder where you'd belong if you had to chose where/under which regime to live. The scenarios are sketched rather than neatly detailed which allows you to bring your own narrative and fill in the gaps.
To make the project tangible, the project looks closely at the modes of transport that the different tribes would adopt.
The Digitarians move around their tarmac-covered land in pretty pastel-coloured, self-driven pods. To save space on the road, the driver has to stand, a bit like standing-only plane tickets that Ryanair was hoping to sell its travelers. Pushing further the no-frill airlines analogy, the routes they travel are suggested by a computer system that calculates the best, most economic route in real time.
The inhabitants seem to mean little more than data that needs to be tracked, controlled and processed by the system.
Residents of the Communo-nuclearist micro kingdom live on a 3 km-long train that moves constantly up and down the central strip of land they occupy. The giant carriages are powered by nuclear energy and each has been assigned a specific function: auditorium, factory, swimming pool, farm, etc. Communo-nuclearists are rich, entertained and their lifestyle is rather fancy. The downside is that they are under constant threat of a nuclear accident. Their complete reliance on nuclear energy makes them pretty unpopular and no one likes to have them around.
Bioliberals fully embrace biotechnology. Each person produces their own energy according to their needs. Bioliberals grow plants and food, but also products. Which sounds pretty exciting until you have a look at their vehicles: they are covered in lab-grown skin made from yeast and tea. They are powered by anaerobic digesters that produce gas. The cars not only look and smell revolting, they are also as little aerodynamic as possible and won't drive you fast anywhere.
This leaves us with the Anarcho-evolutionists who strength train and bio-hack their own body in order to maximise their own physical capabilities. They believe that humans should modify themselves to exist within the limits of the planet rather than modifying the planet to meet their ever growing needs. Some of them have massive thighs to help them power the local public transport system: the VLB, Very Large Bike. Others are long and extra-lean, the ideal silhouette to travel by hot air balloons. The animals living in the area are not spared. The 'hox" is the ideal beast of burden, a hybrid between a horse and an ox. The Pitsky is strong like a pit bull and amiable like a husky.
The discussion doesn't stop at the models and photos on show. There's also a small space with suggested readings that go from sci-fi novels to Bldgblog Book: Architectural Conjecture, Urban Speculation, Landscape Futures and Thinking: Objects - Contemporary Approaches to Product Design. The website of the project also contains links to all the research papers and articles that fed the 4 fictional futures.
General views of the exhibition:
The facade of the Little Black Gallery in Chelsea is indeed painted in black, the interior is not that small and right now they have a stunning show that bears a slightly unnerving title: The Silence of Dogs in Cars. Martin Usborne portrays dogs locked inside cars. Some look peaceful and lost in their own thoughts, others are barking. Or sleeping.
When he started the series, the photographer walked around car parks looking for dogs left inside cars but his quest wasn't too successful so he decided to entirely orchestrate each photo, stopping people who were having a stroll with their dogs, matching each animal with a car and location. As Usborne explained to Max Houghton: I did start it as a reportage project but after I found myself walking around supermarket carparks making barking noises to try and awaken sleeping dogs that were not actually there, I set up the shots. But I now realise that is the right thing. It's very important that it's lit and looks cinematic, dreamlike almost.
I never thought i'd write a post dedicated to dogs photos one day but these were irresistible:
The Silence of Dogs in Cars is at The Little Black Gallery until 27 April 2013.
During the AND festival, Heiko Hansen and Helen Evans from HeHe were inviting people to ride their autonomous vehicle, the 'M-blem', on a track that made history in 1830 as the world's 'first recognisably modern inter-city railway,' the Liverpool and Manchester.
The experience starts at the original station building of the Manchester to Liverpool line (now part of the Museum of Science and Industry) where you get a ticket and are escorted upstairs to the track. You remove your shoes and hop inside the lightweight, transparent vehicle for 2. You press the red button and off you go. You're sitting almost at ground level and there's nothing between you and the landscape. Very pleasant, very very childish.
The project is inspired by ARAMIS, a research project for the development of a network of on-demand, non-stop, automated cars to carry up to 4 people along guided rails around Paris. Aramis was a fiasco, much like many of the Personal Rapid Transport projects that emerged in the second half of the 20th century. PRT research projects proposed an alternative to both cars and collective transportation by operating small automated vehicles for 1 to 6 persons on specially built guide ways. Bruno Latour for example, reflected on the Aramis fiasco in Aramis, or the Love of Technology.
M-blem shares the fascination for a personal automated travel experience but it piggybacks on existing transport infrastructures. So did the previous versions of the artists' transportation system in other cities:
A second version took the form of a battery-powered Flying Carpet driven on the tram track that runs along Istiklal, a pedestrian shopping street in the western part of Istanbul.
Michel de Broin hung a gigantic disco-ball over Paris, threw 12 tons of asphalt on the road to create a absurdly twisted bike lane in Montreal, rode his polluting bicycle in parks, knitted New Orleans street lamps into a satellite-shaped structure, silenced an alarm bell under a vacuum system and famously got his pedal-powered 86' Buick Regal car pulled over by the police.
Michel de Broin lives between Berlin and Montreal. I've seen his work in Spain, Belgium, Germany. I read about it in catalogues and other books about urban art and public art. The more i saw of his work, the more i wanted to interview him. Hence the following Q&A:
I'm very curious about the way you work. You graduated in visual art at Université du Québec, in Montréal. But looking closer at your artworks, it appears that they require the kind of knowledge that most art program do not teach such as a knowledge of mechanics and engineering.
I've never seen an artist succeed at simply applying knowledge learnt from school. Ideally art schools are not simply technical; you don't learn a skill in art school. But each student develops specific skills from their interests. You learn to learn, and you discuss a lot. Like many others, I was not good at high school and I was kicked out of 2 before attending art school where things changed and I began to be successful because you are asked to think for yourself and make your own work.
When I was a kid, I was doing mechanics and electronics and a lot of funny things playing with found objects in the garbage. I hated high school so much, but I was not a problem at home because I was helping my father, who was handicapped, round the house; doing a lot of things at a very young age like using power tools and fixing appliances. So I inherited all these tools from my father, and I was then able to build tree houses, go carts and caves. My older brother was studying mathematics and was playing with electronics. Nothing fancy, but I remember we installed an alarm system in our bedroom to prevent adults from getting in. I don't remember learning anything; I was just looking outside and playing with what was around me. I was hostile to institutions, schools and adults in general, and so I was more inclined to do things by myself.
So how do you handle the crafting/building/hacking/engineering of each of your projects?
I've been growing since then, and I now do big things with serious people. When it is a public commission I need an engineer to sign my drawings, I prefer to work with an engineer who lets me do my work and does not get stressed about the consequences. But you normally need good insurance to play outside, and fortunately I have worked with some very helpful people.
Do you rely on the expertise of other people, like Carsten Holler or Takashi Murakami do?
I'm not working at the same scale. But still there is sometime friends, technicians, and collaborators working or answering my questions. The most difficult is not the technical aspect of the project but to have a project interesting enough to keep my attention for the duration, generate the resources involved, and also to induce the will to make it happen.
Or do you do have a more hands-on approach, acquiring the expertise yourself and experimenting?
I like to learn new skills when I'm experimenting, and refuse to rely on experts. But I'm very grateful to experts from whom I can learn something or share some knowledge with. Making art is more difficult than solving problems, but problems are generative and can contribute to creating new thought.
And why this choice (relying on other experts vs going through the trouble of DIY)?
It is part of the process to work through problems, I need a confrontation with the world to be able to create an outcome. But it doesn't need to be technical; it can be emotional, social, philosophical... It depends on where I address my work. Most of the time I use devices that were made by others. I sometime question how it would be if I was making all the objects that surround me. Making a light bulb seems like very hard work, I would guess it could take me almost a year to make one functional light bulb, and only if I could have access to existing technology. But if I had to go mining for the tungsten, and make everything from scratch, I don't think a whole lifetime would be enough to create a light bulb.
Few artists make their own canvases, collect their pigments from plants, or collect the silicone to power the microprocessor of their computer. Duchamp would say that we are all doing readymade, applying a very low level of transformation to the manufactured object of our appropriation. It is as true for the images, the language, and the tools we are using, they were developed over time and I arrived afterwards. Most things already exist before we figure them out, and being able to draw an image doesn't mean it belongs to us. The origin is very far behind and very difficult to claim.
Some of your work deals with a progress and progression that goes awry: stairs that are supposed to lead you up but end up leading you to your point of departure, road signals that confuse you, roads that go nowhere, etc. Do these works translate a cynical or pessimistic vision of where the world is going? Or are they about something else?
This is your interpretation, I'm trying to not have any moral value about how things should or should not be. For more than ten years, I have been building stairs as infinite paths of circulation, extracted from architecture and stripped from all functionality. I think they raise the question of progress by showing how things rise and fall in a continuous cycle, like living species, bringing my understanding of natural processes against a dated modern belief in progress.
In Entanglement 2001, I created a cycle path inspired by abstract gesture, but represented at the scale of the urban landscape. The freehand drawing defies the rationality of the public planning. It is not about confusion but about having a different experience other than rationalism in the public space. I'm optimistic, even in my pessimistic vision, because I need to believe in something to make it work in reality.
Works such as Shared Propulsion Car, Reparations and Keep on Smoking take art outside of the museums and into the streets. Is that so just because of the nature of the work or because you want to engage with the public in a different way? or with a public that might otherwise not enter a museum or art gallery?
The public is not my concern; I'm interested in art. Sometimes it is fun to please the public, but it is different to making something that makes sense in art. My public interventions were not 'spectacles' where the public was invited. It was more a kind of experience of the outside, a test for the object itself that could be perceived as a gentle act of terrorism. I didn't ask permission, but I didn't break the law. No one was invited. They were isolated acts, documented and carefully collected and presented by galleries and museums.
It is on site that an opportunity of making sense appears. Then those occurrences can be brought into a studio, sampled, edited, deconstructed and transformed into works of art.
How did people react to Keep on Smoking?
Some people love it, some people hate it. There is a good articale from Bernard Schutze, available online at this address http://www.micheldebroin.org/text/2006_schutze_en.html
The Shared Propulsion Car went through some misadventures. It was pulled over by the police in Toronto. Did the brush off with the law go any further?
This car seems wrong from a normative point of view. The police were fooled by the successful illusion I created. There is noting against pedaling a car in the law, there was no reason for the arrest. For the police it is illegal to modify a car, but what happens when you modify it until it is not a car anymore? A car is defined by its engine, with no engine there is no car, and there is no cause. I knew this before taking it out onto the road, but I also knew that there were some risks, luckily the judge could see clearly in this case.
Have you driven the vehicle in other cities?
New York (USA), Toronto (Canada), Montreal (Canada), Poitier (France) now it is part of a French collection in Angoulême.
And were you expecting or maybe even hoping for the police to stop you? Maybe to appear in the newspaper and get a discussion going about car culture?
If an object creates new perception it risks creating problems and misunderstanding. I like to try to make the impossible possible, because it is a sign of the presence of the art for me. When we look at history we see that some of the good art confronts the mind and takes time to be accepted.I got a lot of attention from media, there were 15 journalists in the courtroom, and it was interesting to see how an art project can create a discussion outside of the art world. But I got tired of answering questions from journalists that made no research and were misinformed. It is very boring to deal with the mainstream media.
Reciprocal Energy is a fascinating work. The project speculates that the automobile could acquire its energy directly from the body fat of its driver. It looks like an ambitious scientific research verging into dystopian territory. What was the inspiration for it? Is it pure imagination or are elements of it based on some scientific research?
The human body can be compared to a machine that transforms ingested food into energy. If a surplus of food is ingested, the energy is stored in the form of fats in the adipose tissue beneath the skin. However fats can be transformed into fuel through an chemical process. The procedure consists of removing the suspended water in order to trigger a chemical reaction known as transesterification, which entails the extraction of glycerine. A chemical reaction is obtained through the conveyance of methanol alcohol (CH4O) and caustic soda (NaOH). The resulting fuel is comparable to diesel fuel.
Why not recuperate the stored fat extracted in liposuction clinics in order to transform it into biodiesel and use it as a fuel? The conversion of the fat into fuel would make it possible to recover the potential energy, which is otherwise merely incinerated or dumped into the environment.
This project seeks to draw attention to a particular problem: the fact that automobile drivers and their automobiles are not yet sufficiently well assembled. In effect, when the human body uses a machine, it economises a certain quantity of energy. The energy provided by the ingestion of food is then stored in the form of fats. At the same time as the automobile driver stores energy and accumulates fat, the automobile consumes fossil fuel and wastes energy resources. Why not couple man and machine in order to resolve both the problem of obesity and the energy crisis, while also providing an ecological alternative?
This coupling would make possible an intimate reciprocity between man and machine. Moreover, the use of fat as a fuel would contribute to resolving the problem of which it is itself a symptom by maintaining the resource both renewable and accessible.
Any upcoming works, exhibitions, projects, or events you could share with us?
Retrospective at the Musée d'art contemporain of Montreal, summer 2013 (with a Catalogue)
Installation of a permanent public sculpture in Berlin in the German parliament in 2014.
Installation of a permanent public sculpture at the National Gallery of Canada.