Beyond Contemporary Art, by artist and founder of Tenderpixel Etan Jonathan Ilfeld .

Available on Amazon USA and UK.

2222cover6195.jpgVivays Publishing says: In this book, the author surveys the key concepts and ideas that have reverberated throughout the art world in the last decade through studying the artists who have created them. From blockbuster museum exhibitions to influential art fairs and art-stars, the ever-expanding contemporary art world has been increasingly integrated into popular culture. While highlighting established artists such as Gerhard Richter, the book also includes emerging and mid-career artists whose work ranges widely. Artists such as Jeremy Wood who plots his movement across the globe through GPS tracking, Tatsuo Miyajima who does digital light displays, Eduardo Kac who does transgenic bio-art or Santiago Sierra who paid workers to shift a heavy rock back and forth are among the international artists included in this book. Often controversial, these artists push the boundaries of what would traditionally be considered art.

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Richard Ansett, No Coat on Fatal Attraction #9, 2007

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Richard Ansett, The Big Society, Man living with mother (deceased)

Beyond Contemporary Art is the first book i've read that not only recognizes that contemporary art is constantly reinventing itself (a fact that most books on the subject acknowledge) but that also exemplifies clearly the relentless flux and stretching width of the definition for contemporary art. The book shows painting and photography for galleries, sculpture and installation for museums but also street art, game art, information aesthetics, computer-based art, etc. It's an eclectic book, a fact highlighted by the presentatin of the artists in alphabetical order. Anish Kapoor comes right before Eduardo Kac. Takashi Murakami directly follows M/M.

Beyond Contemporary Art is also a very subjective book. I can't see how it is possible to be entirely objective when it comes to contemporary art but it does make you wonder what your own choices would have been. I know that if i had to write a book that focuses so strongly on emerging art, i wouldn't have felt the need to add Damien Hirst, Antony Gormley and Anish Kapoor. Maybe i would have left Banksy aside too. I would have chosen more political works (the kind of work we define as 'activism' and 'hacktivism'), i would have looked beyond the USA and Europe. But that's just me being equally subjective. And that's also just a detail because the author does a far better job at showing what is contemporary art today than any contemporary art fair does. Which brings us to Frieze, the fair is opening tomorrow in London and it's going to be interesting to see how static or forward-looking Frieze is this year compared to the book (last year was decidedly on the stagnant side.)

Beyond Contemporary Art is a brilliant book. Only a couple of blogs would bombard you in such short succession with Aram Bartholl, Björk, Usman Haque, Burning Man, Ryoji Ikeda, INK Illustration.

However, i would advise the author to be better acquainted with geography. Ars Electronica doesn't take place in Vienna, Stroom isn't in Belgium.

A few examples of what you can find in the book. With or without comments:

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Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, From here to ear (detail), 2007

Céleste Boursier-Mougenot transformed the Curve (at the Barbican in London) into a walk-though aviary for zebra finches. The birds went about their daily life, flew around and perched on or fed from the electric guitars and other instruments and objects that the artist had installed in the space. By doing so, they composed an unexpected, live soundscape.

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Jenny Pickett & Sunshine Frère, Wheel of Death. From the exhibition 'If i Can't Have You, No One Can', 2008

Jenny Pickett & Sunshine Frère offered gallery visitors the opportunity to purchase art works. If they couldn't afford the object they coveted but they did not want anyone else to have it, they could pay to have it destroyed for a fraction of the price. The destroyed artworks was then presented in beautifully packaged remains and come complete with an authenticated DVD of the art(efact's) destruction.

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Katie Paterson, Earth-Moon-Earth (Moonlight Sonata Reflected from the Surface of the Moon), 2007

Earth-Moon-Earth involved the transmission of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata to the moon and back with the help of moon bouncers.

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Katie Paterson, Vatnajökull (the sound of), 2007

With Vatnajökull, Katie Paterson broadcast the sounds of a melting glacier live to a visitor on a mobile phone in an art gallery.

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Roman Ondák, Measuring the Universe, 2007. © The Museum of Modern Art

Over the course of Roman Ondák's exhibition, museum attendants had to mark the visitors' heights, first names, and date of the measurement on the gallery walls. Beginning as an empty white space, over time the gallery gradually accumulated the traces of thousands of people.

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Gerhard Richter, Stained glass window in the Cologne Cathedral, 2007. Image © designboom

Gerhard Richter'sstained glass window in the Cologne Cathedral is a 113 square metres abstract collage of 11,500 pixel-like squares in 72 colors, randomly arranged by computer (with some symmetry), reminiscent of his 1974 painting "4096 colours". Cardinal Joachim Meisner did not attend the window's unveiling; he had preferred a figurative representation of 20th century Christian martyrs and said that Richter's window would fit better in a mosque or prayer house.

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Miguel Palma, Air Print, 2012

Inside a transformed container, a ventilation system sucks in air and dust particles, which are filtered onto a piece of fabric. The result is a constantly changing pointillist imprint of the pollution present in Liverpool's air.

The fabric is replaced every two week and the print is then displayed in the exhibition space.

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Jeremy Wood, Data Cloud, 2008

Data Cloud asks where we are in relation to where technology thinks we are. A GPS receiver was placed on 2 benches to record their position every ten seconds for one minute. The successive locations of the benches were mapped on a 3d chart of where the GPS infrastructure said they were. 12 new identical park benches were then assembled at 1:1 scale according to where the GPS positioned them, over, underneath, and nearby the two original benches.

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Lisa Anne Auerbach, Did You Hear What Bush Said When Asked about Roe vs. Wade?, 2005

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Yaris & Kublitz, Anger Release Machine, 2006-2008

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Olafur Eliasson, La situazione antispettiva (The Antispective Situation), 2003

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Michael Johansson, Toys'R'Us, Dingy scale 1:1, 2006

Quick look inside the book.

Image on the homepage: Rona Yefman, Pippi Longstocking, The Strongest Girl in the World, 2006.

Sponsored by:





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Photo Kristof Vrancken

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The Creative Factory (detail). Photo Kristof Vrancken

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Photo Kristof Vrancken

You might not be aware of it because i try to behave like a lady on my blog but I've spent the past couple of years shouting over the rooftops of the city that nothing bores me more than an exhibition of industrial, product or interaction design. Well, i've shouted too fast and too loud because last Wednesday i saw this brilliant exhibition called The Machine - Designing a New Industrial Revolution and suddenly, design became exciting again for me.

As befits the title, the show takes place on the site of an ex-coal mine in Genk, in the Belgian Limburg mining region. But instead of focusing on the industrial revolution, the exhibition champions the current revolution in digital production

'The Machine' is indeed a metaphor for the machinery deployed by designers who appropriate tools, material and systems and use them to help shape the future of production, consumption and more generally our relation to goods.

This new, and almost domestic machinery is exhibited among the impressive historical machines of the ex-coal mine. The work of the young designers both acknowledges and contrasts with the historical setting. The dark, heavy and now silent machines serve as a dramatic set for the exhibition, with Pantone Process Cyan hanging like the blue 'key' screen used in the cinema industry.

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C-mine. Photo via matandme

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Photo Kristof Vrancken

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Photo Kristof Vrancken

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Photo Kristof Vrancken

The industrial revolution was a revolution for engineers. Now designers are at the forefront of a new revolution. They are part of networks that enable them to develop new materials and systems, build their own machines, and seek new tools for production and distribution. These developments offer an alternative to mass production and open paths to a new economy and society.

By making production processes more transparent, designers demonstrate that production doesn't have to be completely disconnected from the consumption.

In an interview for the catalogue of the exhibition (which you can and should download), Jan Boelen, the curator of The Machine as well as the artistic director of Z33 explains: "The physical object is yours, but the information is shared between everybody. Making this exhibition demonstrates the hope that things can really change.That on the ruins here in Genk or even in Detroit, things can change because people take control and start doing things by themselves."

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Juan Montero Valdes, Hacking Hope: All I Want to do is Make Some Money, 2012 - ongoing. Photo Kristof Vrancken

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Juan Montero Valdes, Hacking Hope: All I Want to do is Make Some Money, 2012 - ongoing. Photo Kristof Vrancken

Juan Montero Valdes's All I Want to do is Make Some Money does literally what you're already suspecting: the work replicates, on a domestic scale, the industrial process used to make dollar bills. Following the designer's set of instructions and using only domestic appliances, anyone can print money at home.

All I Want to do is Make Some Money is part of 'Hacking Hope', a wider project that attempts to highlight the possible decentralisation of our current means of production by utilising the untapped potential of the many household appliances and machines we amass at home. From the tv set to the toaster or the printer, most of these devices often has only one function. Montero Valdés's project taps into the mass potential of these machines, forcing them to collaborate with each other or adopt new roles.

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Thomas Maincent, SpiderFarm, 2011 - ongoing. Photo Kristof Vrancken

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Thomas Maincent, SpiderFarm, 2011 - ongoing. Photo Kristof Vrancken

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Thomas Maincent, SpiderFarm, 2011 - ongoing. Photo Kristof Vrancken

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Thomas Maincent, SpiderFarm, 2011 - ongoing. Photo Kristof Vrancken

Thomas Maincent's SpiderFarm is a bio-factory that reconstructs the environmental conditions of a Madagascar silk spiders' natural habitat.

SpiderFarm from Thomas Maincent on Vimeo.

These spiders might produce the most spectacularly golden silk, but they are also territorial and may cannibalize each other if they are kept too close to each other. Maincent's answer to the challenge is to build a high-rise indoor farm that gives spiders enough space to live until they're guided to a "milking" area that coaxes the spiders to produce silk for human use.

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Jinhee Kwon, Stupid Machine

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Jinhee Kwon, Stupid Machine

Jinhee Kwon's Stupid Machine is a catalogue that charts the history of redundancy of the typewriter in reverse chronological order.

Each page describes one step in the rise and fall of the typewriter. It provides hand drawn illustrations of each specific model of typewriter and describes its peculiarities and also the reason for its demise. The catalogue ends in April 2011 with the closing of the last manual typewriter factory in Mumbai, India. The catalogue is typeset using a typewriter and a specially designed typewriter generated display font.

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Thomas Vailly, The Metabolic Factory, 2011 - Present

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Thomas Vailly, The Metabolic Factory, 2011 - Present

Thomas Vailly used human hair as the main material for a set of cups. The hair melts into a type of bioplastic resembling leather when mixed with glycerine and sodium sulphite. The designer sees this new polymer as a 'vanitas still life' that might revolt us but also invites us to consider the natural process of deterioration as well as the realistic options for the creation of new materials.

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Mischer'Traxler, The Idea of a Tree, 2008 - ongoing. Photo Kristof Vrancken

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Mischer'Traxler, The Idea of a Tree, 2008 - ongoing. Photo Kristof Vrancken

Katharina Mischer and Thomas Traxler from Studio Mischer'Traxler

The Idea of a Tree explores the relationship between machines and the natural environment. The installation constructs an object that documents its own production by expressing the amount of solar energy harnessed during a 24-hour period. When activated the machine uses threads to construct an object, with the colour depicting the intensity of sunlight.

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Mischer'Traxler, Collective Works. Photo Kristof Vrancken

The duo is also exhibiting Collective Works, a device that works on a similar principle. The machine manufactures a basket, but only if it is being observed. Production is activated by the physical presence of a viewing audience, with the colour of the wooden veneer-strip getting darker as more people gather around the device. Each basket bears the unique traces of the interest in its own fabrication.

According to Studio Mischer'Traxler, Collective Works attempts to question the relationships between man and machine, with the spectators transformed into 'workers' - observation becomes labour.

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Tal Erez, (Waiting for) the People, 2012 - ongoing. Photo Kristof Vrancken

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Tal Erez, (Waiting for) the People, 2012 - ongoing. Photo Kristof Vrancken

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Tal Erez, (Waiting for) the People (The End of Retail), 2012 - ongoing. Image Tal Erez

For Tal Erez, new production methods construct new socio-political systems. From the development of guilds in the Middle Age's to the labour unions of the 20th century, workers have always influenced political power. Erez's project questions the demise of the workers voice and proposes ways to reinstate it within our post-Fordist society. '(Waiting for) the People' is a set of 14 protest signs that call for change. The recto of each sign bears an image that hints at a possible future, where the home has become the site of production thanks to a wider availability of 3D printers. The verso shows a documentary image that depicts a workers' protest from the industrial era - proposing a link between production methods and socio-political change.

Each project in the exhibition deserves a post of its own or at least a mention in this one but you can read about the other works exhibited in the catalogue. It is available for download from the press area.

More images from the show:

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Photo Kristof Vrancken

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Photo Kristof Vrancken

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Unfold, L'Artisan Electronique. Photo Kristof Vrancken

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Historical photos. Credit: Hasselt city archive - LRM

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Historical photos. Credit: Hasselt city archive - LRM

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Historical photos. Credit: Hasselt city archive - LRM

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Maya Ben David and Jon Stam, Save as Mine. Photo Kristof Vrancken

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Christian Fiebig, Flatform. Photo Kristof Vrancken

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Christian Fiebig, Flatform. Photo Kristof Vrancken

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Eugenia Morpurgo, Repair It Yourself. Photo Kristof Vrancken

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Photos i've taken in the exhibition.

The Machine - Designing a New Industrial Revolution remains open at C-mine Designcentrum, in Genk, Belgium until 07.10.2012.

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Nick Cave, Various works. Exhibition view at CCC Strozzina. Photo Martino Margheri

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Thomas Doyle, Null Cipher, 2006

American Dreamers, the exhibition currently on view at Strozzina, Center for Contemporary Culture at Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, invites us to question what remains of the American dream in this age of weak economy, war on terror and housing crisis.

Does the American dream still exist? What is its future in an era in which the promise of happiness and economic prosperity seems to clash with an increasingly complex and difficult scenario?

America's sense of invulnerability is long gone and whether they live inside or outside the country, people are now struggling to hold on to the American dream. Recent reports even show that for first time since Depression, more Mexicans leave U.S. than enter.

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Will Cotton, Consuming Folly, 2009-2010

How do contemporary artists react and comment on the situation? While many of them have chosen to document the social and economic crisis, others are using it to build a refuge, an alternative world made of fantasy and illusions. This second reality might sometimes present a veneer of nostalgia and hedonism but it always comes with a dark undercurrent. In some cases, the imagined reality steps right into dystopia.

But have no illusions about American Dreamers. There's nothing 'exotic' and distant about it. It also (alas!) holds a mirror to a Europe where social welfare policies are at risk, economic unease is growing in households and market-wide, austerity measures spark protests and far right votes (this morning hit me with worrying stories about Greece and Verona.)

Eleven artists have been invited to show their vision of what is left of the American dream, here's a quick selection:

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Nick Cave, Soundsuit, 2010 and Mating Season, 2011. Photo Martino Margheri

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Nick Cave, Soundsuit, 2010 and Soundsuit, 2011. Photo Martino Margheri

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Nick Cave, Various works. Exhibition view at CCC Strozzina. Photo Martino Margheri

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Nick Cave, Soundsuit, 2010 and Mating Season, 2011. Photo Martino Margheri

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Nick Cave, Soundsuit, 2010. Photo Martino Margheri

Soundsuits! Soundsuits! Nick Cave's wearable sculptures are made of beads, feather, sequins and fabrics found in thrift stores but also discarded fake fur, human hair, twigs, etc. Even children's toys. When worn by dancers during street or gallery performances, the Soundsuits take a life of their own, shifting volumes, producing different sounds depending on the materials they are made out of.

By physically sheltering the wearer from external gaze, the Soundsuits neutralize their gender, age, race and class. The soundsuits also act as carapaces where wearers can retreat from reality. Moreover, the spectacle they create during public performances projects spectators into an alternate reality.

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Christy Rupp, Various works. Exhibition view at CCC Strozzina. Photo Martino Margheri

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Christy Rupp, Various works. Exhibition view at CCC Strozzina. Photo Martino Margheri

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Christy Rupp, Great Auk, from the series Extinct Birds Consumed by Humans, 2005-2008

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Christy Rupp, Dodo, from the series Extinct Birds Consumed by Humans, 2005-2008

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Christy Rupp, Brinkiness, 2007-8

Christy Rupp's skeletons of Extinct Birds Previously Consumed by Humans evoke the remains exhibited at museums of natural history, but they are actually made from bone fragments of chicken and turkey that she collected from rubbish bins outside fast-food restaurants and barbecues. The Strozzina shows a Dodo, a Great Auk and a Moa, three flightless birds that were erased from the surface of the earth because of reckless hunting. The bird species consumed in fast food joints might not be extinct but, raised in intensive factory farming, they are nevertheless the victims of man's greed and disregard for basic animal welfare.

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Will Cotton, Abandoned (Churro Cabin), 2002

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Will Cotton, Various works. Exhibition view at CCC Strozzina. Photo Martino Margheri

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Will Cotton, Various works. Exhibition view at CCC Strozzina. Photo Martino Margheri

Will Cotton's paintings also allude to hyper-consumption but in a cotton candy, cupcakes and all things syrupy way. Drawing inspiration from 18th century French Rococo painters, from Tiepolo and 1950s pinups, his works seem ethereal and insouciant but a closer inspection reveal underlying fears of decadence and over-indulgence. Consummation of Empire, for example, directly points to Thomas Cole's five-part series The Course of Empire, which even in the 1830s was sounding a warning bell about American imperial ambitions.

Cotton recently worked as Art Director for Katy Perry's California Gurls, transferring his saccharine painted universe into music video. He certainly has all my admiration for getting Snoop Dogg into that cupcake suit.


Katy Perry, California Gurls ft. Snoop Dogg

Richard Deon looks back at golden-era America with paintings that restage drawings from 1950s civics handbooks.

The main protagonist of the works is a dapper man in a suit. He's stern, he's standing tall and keeping his hands at his sides but the nostalgia for a more glorious time stops here. The figure in suit is also submitted to absurd juxtapositions and erroneous perspectives. He is surrounded by mysterious symbols and placed in inadequate settings and historical references.

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Richard Deon, Weehawken 2, 2008

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Richard Deon, Various works. Exhibition view at CCC Strozzina. Photo Martino Margheri

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Richard Deon, Various works. Exhibition view at CCC Strozzina. Photo Martino Margheri

Home is the center stone of middle-class American culture. They are bigger, more comfortable and immaculate than anywhere else in the world. But in Thomas Doyle's sinister settings, there is something worryingly precarious about the American home. Families tend to their garden, chat in the kitchen or come back from grocery shopping without realizing that the whole world around their home is about to crumble.

There's no clearer metaphor for the real estate bust that is hurting so many householders.

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Thomas Doyle, Various works. Exhibition view at CCC Strozzina. Photo Martino Margheri

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Thomas Doyle, Acceptable losses (detail), 2008

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Thomas Doyle, Acceptable Losses, 2008 (detail)

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Thomas Doyle, Flying for Effect, 2010

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Thomas Doyle. Exhibition view at CCC Strozzina. Photo Martino Margheri

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Thomas Doyle, Various works. Exhibition view at CCC Strozzina. Photo Martino Margheri

I took some photos, they are as awful as ever.

American Dreamers remains open Strozzina, Center for Contemporary Culture at Palazzo Strozzi in Florence until 15 July 2012.

Ghetto at the Center of the World: Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong, by Gordon Matthews, Professor of Anthropology at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (available on Amazon USA and UK.)

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Publisher The University of Chicago Press Books writes: There is nowhere else in the world quite like Chungking Mansions, a dilapidated seventeen-story commercial and residential structure in the heart of Hong Kong's tourist district. A remarkably motley group of people call the building home; Pakistani phone stall operators, Chinese guesthouse workers, Nepalese heroin addicts, Indonesian sex workers, and traders and asylum seekers from all over Asia and Africa live and work there--even backpacking tourists rent rooms. In short, it is possibly the most globalized spot on the planet.

But as Ghetto at the Center of the World shows us, a trip to Chungking Mansions reveals a far less glamorous side of globalization. A world away from the gleaming headquarters of multinational corporations, Chungking Mansions is emblematic of the way globalization actually works for most of the world's people.
(...)

Gordon Mathews's compendium of riveting stories enthralls and instructs in equal measure, making Ghetto at the Center of the World not just a fascinating tour of a singular place but also a peek into the future of life on our shrinking planet.

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Image by Gerald Figal

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The mall in the ground floor of Chungking Mansion. Photo by bricoleurbanism

Chungking Mansions inspired Wong Kar Wai's Chunking Express movie. It is also where my literary idol of the moment, Harry Hole, is found smoking opium at the beginning of The Leopard. Chungking Mansions is a derelict 17 storeys high building located in one of the busiest areas of Hong Kong. It offers dirt cheap accommodation for tourists and traders, shops selling clothes, souvenirs or small electronics (copies and originals), curry restaurants, foreign exchange offices and other services. Mathews calls it "an island of otherness in Hong Kong." A place that Chinese people find to seedy to enter, where the lingua franca is english and an informal gathering place for ethnic minorities in Hong Kong, particularly South Asians and Africans in search of a better (or rather richer) life.

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Photo by Shin K

The book gives a perspective on globalization i had never heard about before. Not only because it talks about globalization from an anthropologist's point of view but also because it focuses on what Matthews calls "low-end globalisation" of which Chungking Mansions is a central node. The protagonists of low-end globalisation are relatively small fry compared to the corporations we usually associate with the word 'globalization.' They are traders coming from Sub-Sahara African countries who carry in their suitcases the goods they buy from Chinese manufacturers (the author calculated that a trader can fit 250 to 300 mobile phone within an airline baggage allowance), hoping to make a big profit from it back in their home country, once they have paid the necessary taxes and bribes at customs. Or they are young people from Kidderpore in Kolkota who land in Hong Kong because the ticket fare to the city is cheaper than any other destination where they could find work. They arrive with sari and basmati rice in their suitcase, stay on extended tourist visa, work for pitiful wages in a curry house and go back home with clothes to sell in their neighbourhood. In Hong Kong, these traders and illegal workers struggle to buy a Cup Noodle at the nearest 7-Eleven. Back in their home country, they are regarded as successful members of the middle-class or upper-class.

In "low-end globalisation", people still use cash and favour face-to-face business.

Whether they are traders, shop owners, asylum seekers, prostitutes, or temporary workers, these people end up in Chungking Mansions because it offers cheap accommodation, because it is located in a city-state that doesn't have strict visa rules and because Hong Kong is a gateway towards Southern China where mobile phones and textiles are manufactured at low prices.

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Photo by Alasdair Pettinger

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Room at Germany Hostel in Chungking Mansion. Photo by bricoleurbanism

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Photo by Shin K

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Photo by Lucy Lou

Matthews explores the building through its history and location, the groups of people living there, the goods that pass through it, the laws that govern (with much laxity) the transactions taking place in the building. The final chapter speculates on the future of Chungking Mansions.

Matthews's passion for Chungking Mansions and the people that inhabit it is contagious. I read the book from cover to cover over the weekend. His writing is clear, entertaining, and it never verges on the intimidatingly academic. The personal stories collected from the traders, shopkeepers, asylum-seekers and other people who pass through the building make the book even more engaging.

Berfrois has an excerpt of the book. And Foreign Policy has a photo set of CM.
Photo on the homepage by Shin-K.

"They [superstitions] give us a feeling of control over uncertainty and so it might be predicted that the current feeling of instability in the world would create an increase in superstition," said Prof. Richard Wiseman in 2003, just before launching his 'UK Superstition Survey'. The research demonstrated that levels of superstition in the UK were surprisingly high, even among people with a scientific background (full details in the PDF.)

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Image courtesy Shing-Tat Chung

In this time of crisis and confusion, are we going to resort more than ever to superstition and irrationality in order to get back an illusion of control? The project that Shing-Tat Chung was showing at the work in progress show of Design Interactions, explores a world in which beliefs and rituals emerge from the seemingly harmless private sphere to infect larger and more complex public systems. In times of uncertainty will the population demand an alternative logic to be implemented? This project imagines a stock market in which superstitions abound, producing uncanny algorithms and illogical bankers attired in green suit and Feng-Shui briefcases.

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Image courtesy Shing-Tat Chung

Questions to the designer:

I found surprising that your project associate people working in the Stock Exchange with superstition. I thought they were the only people who had control these days. What triggered this interest in 'illogical bankers'?

We're at our most superstitious in times of uncertainty, as we are hardwired to gain control of a situation by recognising patterns, even if they ignore current rationale. When I started researching superstition, I started to concentrate on looking at contextualising my project in scenarios that would best suit my project. This drew me to the stock market and thus bankers. Due to the high levels of instability and vast amounts of money at risk, it seemed the ideal economy to play out my project.

The stock market is in essence a breeding ground for superstition. We have this view that trading is done the rational way, almost emotionless, and then there is this whole other part that is hidden in the private sphere of the banker or trader, such as being buried in their lucky trading jacket or large hedge funds using financial astrology as a source of advice.

One of my favourite researched rituals is a 'reputable' trader who establishes his starting trading position based on the nipple direction of the Sun's page 3 model (up or down). Whilst these facts may be fun and whimsical, what really interests me is when these irrational beliefs start to emerge and become implicated into more cemented systems. For example, 70% of the largest lift supplier's orders, request that the number 13 is removed. So in question, how far will it go, and how far do we demand such beliefs to be implemented? What I want to do is extract these irrationalness and redesign a system which is governed by alternative beliefs. One in which all these beliefs that exist on a private level emerge to infect larger systems. In effect creating this parallel stock market.

With the economic and financial systems collapsing, will we seek an alternative logic? One in which will give us illogical bankers.

Do you think people would trust them more (or at least see them in a more favourable light) if they knew that bankers' decisions are influenced by superstition and illogical elements?

Maybe we would see them as more human and as a result vulnerable. However I think it says a lot more about us in general. The stock market is just another structure among many in which decisions are much more influenced by superstition. The same with extreme fishing, or even sports. That's why a lot of sports stars or even politicians deploy more superstitions than average.

In the early 20th Century, the anthropologist Bronisław Malinowski noted that islanders in the pacific who fished in 'safe zones' carried out their jobs with a high level of rational expertise. However the fisherman who ventured off beyond the coral reef displayed many superstitious rituals and ceremonies to invoke magical powers for safety and protection. So it would seem reasonable that bankers would use more irrationalities. What I want to see is what happens when they solely use illogical elements.

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Image courtesy Shing-Tat Chung

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Image courtesy Shing-Tat Chung

Can you talk to us about the Power of 8 suit? Why the number 8? And what do you mean by "The suit provides the owner with the comfort that even the process of the making of the suit has accommodated relevant superstitions'?

The idea was to begin to question what, why and how the stock market is run. What bankers and traders wear, the colours, the organisation. My first objective was to imagine what it may look like visually, would all the bankers wear green because green represents a rise in the market. However, I wanted to take this a bit further, so working with a pattern cutter, we came up with a pattern that had all its dimensions tailored towards a multiple of the number 8 (cm). Whilst it may look like a regular suit, the cuffs are in fact a bit wider than normal, the sleeves stretch out a bit more than usual.

Why I used the number 8? Well 8 is a lucky number in Asia. (Translates as sudden fortune and prosperity). A number 8 plate in Hong Kong sold for around half a million pounds, where as the Beijing Olympics started on 8.2008 on the eighth hour, eighth minute and eighth second. Part of the project is not only to critique certain collective beliefs but also to see how far we demand them to become implanted and that's where the comment comes in. To what extent do we take our beliefs. Do we require that the current logic in manufacturing is replaced with alternative ones? So if all the measurements of products had to abide to the number 8, what would our reality shape to look like?

If I was rich and superstitious and someone came up with the proposal to convert the all my belongings to be tailored towards 8, I would probably go for it.

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Architecture following Feng Shui principles in China

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Image courtesy Shing-Tat Chung

One of the experiments of Superstitious Thoughts involves an Uncanny Algorithm. What is this algorithm about? And what do people invest in when they invest in this Uncanny Algorithm?

The Uncanny Algorithm is a trading algorithm. One that is currently in stage 1, which is the call for investment and the creation of the actual algorithm. The algorithm will use a trading platform and buy and sell shares with the investors money. However, rather than using current rationale, the algorithm will use superstition as its principle logic. The rules or logic will be governed by collective beliefs such as the fear of the number 13. Buying and selling on a collection of numerological rules (that don't clash). Whilst it will acknowledge collective superstitions, it will also generate its own. Hopefully it will recognise hidden patterns whilst it is trading. So upon a successful trade it will seek for hidden 'charms'. Speculating a bit here, but if I could link this pattern recognition with, for example, the BBC sports webpage, it could potentially start to develop superstitions that are related to the performance, of say, Manchester United. It will then use this to govern how it trades. Or much more simply, if it made a successful trade at a certain time, it may consider the numbers in this time lucky and start computing these as the logic to trading.

So what will happen is that the algorithm will happily trade shares for one year, after this period, the result, whether it has lost or won money will be returned to the investor.

During the trading year, I hope to release quarterlies (reports) and AGMs where investors can attempt to raise trading performance supernaturally. At this very moment, £686 had been invested.

Essentially, what people are investing in is superstition. The experiment, rather than a tool to make money, is more about moving people into the thought space that an algorithm could operate with a very humane way of working and to also act as a live social experiment. As an experiment, that is why I am accepting investments as low as two pounds.

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Image courtesy Shing-Tat Chung

How do you feng-shui a briefcase?

I like the term 'to feng-shui'. Maybe I'll use that more. What I was trying to be careful with, was not to embody the briefcase with, all aspects of superstitions, but to sub divide beliefs into more manageable slices. Feng-Shui has a lot of rules to abide to. So I didn't want to use them all in one go (my project would be over in a flash). In this case, I wanted to take the iconic 'hole in a structure' that channels through chi. It still amazes me when I see those buildings in Asia that have huge holes in the middle of their architecture. Incidentally Feng-Shui is used a lot in businesses, I wonder how you could Feng-Shui a business plan.

Maybe I should go to a specialist and ask to Feng-Shui my thesis.

Did working on this project make you more superstitious than ever?

I would say I am on the half way line. I am pretty rationale, however I like to entertain myself with superstitions. But by working on this project, and unearthing all these wonderful superstitions out there and its effect on systems, it hasn't made me more of a believer, but it has definitely made me admire them more.

Although now that my superstition knowledge has quadrupled and that I now know of more beliefs and rituals, maybe they will slowly or subconsciously affect me.

In fact, I recently found out the time I was born which was 8.18pm. Combine this with 8th Nov 1986 and I am starting to feel pretty lucky.

Thanks Shing-Tat!

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Image credit: John O'Shea

Because he is interested in the ethics and dilemmas of eating meat, John O'Shea is looking into schemes to achieve a more compassionate meat consumption. Since 2008, the artist has been working on Meat Licence Proposal. Under the law proposal, citizens willing to buy or consume a certain type of meat would need to obtain a licence to do so first. And the only way to acquire the licence is to slaughter the animal yourself.

If you happen to be in The Netherlands right now, head to Stroom in The Hague where O'Shea is showing two works related to The Meat Licence Proposal as part of the Food Forward, an exhibition presenting scenarios for the future of our food based on the work of artists and designers.

The first work in the show features the responses recorded on the streets of Manchester to The Meat Licence Proposal. The audio fragments are presented within a bespoke technological interface (developed in collaboration with artist and developer Tom Schofield) which makes connections between the recordings and actual written legal documents which support but also sometimes contradict claims that people made in response to the proposal for a new law.

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Black Market Pudding. Photo credit: John O'Shea

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Black Market Pudding. Photo credit: John O'Shea

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Black Market Pudding. Photo credit: John O'Shea

The second piece is Black Market Pudding, a real and ethically conscious food product of a new type. The project involves making the traditional blood sausage but this time using blood from a living pig. Black Market Pudding is also supported by a business plan that would ensure a fair deal for farmer, animal and consumer.

O'Shea is currently working within the Clinical Engineering department of the University of Liverpool in collaboration with Prof. John Hunt on Pigs Bladder Football , a football ball grown from living cells, for Abandon Normal Devices Festival as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad.

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Image from the Pigs Bladder Football project

Plenty of reasons to be willing to interview John, then!

Hi John! You have been working on the Meat Licence Proposal since 2008. After 4 years developing and presenting the proposal, do you think you're getting closer to seeing it accepted?

I can positively say that, following several consultations, dinners and public meetings, I think that many of the ethical and legal challenges for implementing a law like the one being proposed have been fleshed out.

The Meat Licence Proposal is a much more developed discourse than when it began as a web dialogue in 2008. Since then, there seems also to have been a steady increase of alternative ideas around meat consumption and production entering the mainstream consciousness in the UK, particularly through television programmes focusing on the origins of meat products and celebrity chefs advocating nose to tail approaches and so on, so I think that the cultural environment is more ripe than ever for this kind of law to work.

However, despite any small successes The Meat Licence Proposal may have had in terms of consciousness raising around apparent discrepancies between the products and processes in our food supply, I really don't think that we are any closer to making the proposed meat licensing law an actuality for the UK. I think that I would have to take responsibility for this lack of progress in terms of actually getting the law accepted, which has mostly been down to a failure on my part to properly understand how our laws are made within our democratic society.

Fortunately, through research with Newcastle University (and the Law School there) I have begun to get a more proper understanding of the actual way in which food producers, supermarkets and other large corporations actually relate to the legal and democratic process of lawmaking around food. As I understand it now, the way things really work is pretty much the opposite to what one might expect: where The Meat Licence Proposal has started from a position of principle (people who are comfortable eating meat should be comfortable with killing animals) and attempted to extrapolate a policy from there, our actual laws and regulations around food, rather than being pro-actively constructed based upon an existing value system, are in fact developed quite subversively, in reaction to particular products and trends which emerge and are successful within the free market.

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Photo credit: John O'Shea

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Photo credit: John O'Shea

How have ordinary meat-eaters but also lawmakers and politicians reacted to the proposal so far? How much support/opposition has the proposal encountered?

One of the pieces on show within the Food Forward exhibition (entitled "The Meat Licence Proposal, 2012") features a whole series of short audio pieces which are recordings of people on a Manchester High Street giving their opinion and gut-reaction to the law as it is proposed. These views vary wildly but most people seem very apprehensive about the idea that they would have to get involved with animal slaughter in order to consume meat. There is a great deal of skepticism too about how a proposed meat licencing law could work in practice; however, these logistical questions are for the most part already dealt within existing parts of UK and European law and this is what the work attempts to demonstrate, through literally using a video projector to "shed light" on over a hundred different legal statutes.

My practice is, of course, as an artist, and, to begin with I wanted to wait until the proposal had reached a reasonable level of development before approaching "professionals" and "specialists" in government and law. My justification for this quite oblique strategy is that, having been subject to innumerable laws for my whole life, I thought it would be interesting to have a go myself, on my own terms. More recently, I have been in contact with legal scholars at Newcastle University Law School and for them, The Meat Licence Proposal presents and intriguing case, since it does not operate in a way which we might expect laws to behave - it is an object of curiosity.

A few years ago I also had a brief conversation with a high ranking UK government minister about the proposal and their view was, regardless of his own opinion on it, any law which might be seen as unpopular in the short-term presents a difficult case for government (hence the very long consultation period before the inevitable implementation of UK wide bans on smoking in public places.)

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Black Market Pudding at Stroom. Photo credit: John O'Shea

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Black Market Pudding at Stroom. Photo credit: John O'Shea

What was the inspiration for the proposal?

The Meat Licence Proposal in itself is not a particularly original idea - I had discussed this kind of thing many years previous with friends and it crops up sporadically on internet forums, at dinner parties and down the pub. I think the element which distinguishes this work is my decision to actively work towards making the idea for a law which would control meat into a legal reality. That strategy didn't come from a moment of "inspiration", as such, but like most of my work, actually emerged from a much more sustained period of anxiety around a blatant contradiction (at the time I ate meat pretty much every day, but had never killed an animal) and also the claustrophobic legal infrastructure which appeared to me to be impenetrable. I just wanted to get involved in these two parts of my daily experience and, to begin with, an activist approach seemed most appropriate.

If the proposal is enacted as law one day, how would it be put into effect? Would there be specially designed slaughter houses that anyone can enter to kill a pig and get a license? Would the killing be made following a special ritual? Using special weapons or tools? How would the law affect the distribution of meat?

These questions are very important, and I think that the suggestions you have made are probably not far off the mark. Discussions around the actual logistics of making a workable meat licencing law are still very much at the centre of this public research and development. To take the points you have made specifically: In my opinion slaughterhouses would not require very significant physical changes in how they work - instead changes would be needed at the level of policy.

At the moment you or I would typically not be permitted to enter the majority of slaughterhouses in the UK, even to see what is happening, since these are private enterprises. The right of entry is one of the first things which would have to change and I would see this as being in a similar realm to laws enabling citizens to enter courts of law and witness legal process. I think we should have similar guarantees of transparency around hidden processes in society since, at the end of the day, we are the consumer of these products and should be allowed to witness how they are made if we choose. Regarding taking part in the act of slaughter - again, there are various systems in place which allow subtle, often religious, variations on how the slaughter takes place and I think much could be drawn from existing regulation of special allowances around these methods. An illustrator, Chris Rodenhurst, with whom I have worked on several elements of how the proposal has been presented to date, produced a lovely set of sketches to suggest potential new tools for citizen slaughter. Like anything else, once this engagement with killing is happening on a national scale it will be in the hands of designers and marketers to determine exact specifications for new kinds of execution devices.

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Marcus the sheep was reared by pupils of Lydd Primary School. Given the choice to keep him as a pet, or sell it for meat, the children voted by an overwhelming majority for the lamb to be sold for meat. Photo: IMAGES INTERNATIONAL

When i read about your proposal, i thought 'great! the emotional stress of killing an animal might put people off meat' but recalling the sad story of Marcus the sheep, i'm not so sure anymore about how much people can be moved by animals.

In your opinion, how would the law affect the way people see animals and consume meat?

Yes, I remember this Marcus the sheep story being all over the media at the time; for the "animal loving" (and mostly meat eating) British public it seemed to pose a kind of conundrum i.e: "Why has the killing of this particular animal caused such outcry?" I think the answer lies in part with the peculiar cultural and emotional distinctions made, across the world, between animals kept as "pets" and animals kept to be slaughtered for food. I think, even more important, in this case, is the act of giving the animal a (human) name which demands an identification at the level of the individual animal which would not be usual in the context of slaughter, where animals are numbered. "We are going to butcher Marcus..."

The aim of The Meat Licence Proposal is to facilitate a more coherent engagement with both animals and meat. Those people wishing to eat meat would obtain their licence by actively taking part in the slaughter of an individual animal (which would correspond to the type of meat which they would like to eat.) I think that there is a strong likelihood that some people may be put off, but this it important to keep in mind that this is certainly not a pro-vegetarian law and, surprising as it may seem, some people may find that they actually enjoy killing.

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Image credit: John O'Shea

Can you tell us about the Black Market Pudding that you're showing at Stroom in The Hague? Will it really be manufactured using blood from a living pig? The description on Stroom's page says "In purchasing and consuming Black Market Pudding we are keeping the animal from slaughter - no animals are harmed!" How would this ensure that the animals won't suffer?

Black Market Pudding is my own culinary invention. It is a subtle variation on the traditional black pudding which is a blood sausage dish of the UK and Ireland made using congealed pigs blood, oats and different herbs and spices. I have devised my own special recipe for what I call Black Market Pudding where, crucially, the key ingredient (pigs blood) is obtained without any animals being slaughtered; this is the unique selling point: No animals are harmed.

I worked with Stroom over several months prior to the Food Forward show to establish a supply-chain in the Netherlands in order to obtain blood from living pigs in a way which is legal, humane and safe. For the show I made several Black Market Puddings in the kitchen at the gallery, using blood from the living pigs and these are presented within a refrigerated deli-counter as "real" proof-of-concept products. An important aspect of this work is that it is not speculative or representational in a way which might be expected within a future oriented show: Black Market Pudding is already "real".

Of course the true reality for Black Market Pudding would be for this delicacy to be for sale on the open market and this is an aim about which I have spoken at length with Karen Vershooren (curator of Food Forward). Over the course of this year I will be attempting to set up a legitimate production and sales operation for Black Market Pudding within Europe and I have made a simple website where people can register their interest. The challenges in bringing Black Market Pudding to market would be quite great I think, especially within the UK (where I am based) because it is difficult to work with animal blood in the food chain since the BSE crisis (where dried pigs blood found within animal feeds was seen to be a contributing factor). If the product were to be sold, it would be necessary that it be subjected to all of the regulations which would face any food innovation for human consumption and perhaps in this instance (where the process is different to the normal order - the animal is not killed) perhaps new laws would have to be developed for this.

I hope that Black Market Pudding can be seen as a continuation of consumer trends towards food products which contain not only their intrinsic value as foodstuffs and sources of energy but also a kind of additional ethical value which is quite difficult to quantify. If we think about the "fair trade" and "free range" labels, people are paying extra to opt out of a system which they believe to be exploitative; with Black Market Pudding I am proposing a similar business model. The name "Black Market" hints at the fact that this product operates outside of the normal order of things and the idea would be that the Black Market Puddings are sold at such a premium that, not only are you buying a delicious product, but also you are buying the animal out of the regular supply chain and ensuring it will not be slaughtered. This business model presents a fair deal for the producer (who is compensated) the animal (which gets to keep its life) and the consumer (who has this unparalleled piece of mind).

There is I suppose one caveat with Black Market Pudding and that is, by going outside of the regular carnivorous foodchain, where humans, as flesh-eaters, would consider themselves to be at the very top - here we are taking blood from an animal which is alive and so our own position in the hierarchy changes - as animals consuming the blood of another living animal we are explicitly "parasites" and so the real question for the market is whether people would be comfortable with that designation.

What are the MLP next steps?

At the very beginning of January 2012 I made a statement on the front page of The Meat Licence Proposal website explaining that there would be a change of strategy. Over the last several years I have focused my energies on a democratic approach, engaging directly with processes of law-making and suggesting that a new law could (and should) be developed in a public and transparent way, by citizens themselves, in a similar way to open-source development models which operate within software culture.

These kinds of initiatives can continue I think but it is my view now that the overall approach needs to be much more market-oriented and, once Black Market Pudding is established, I will be looking to identify more products and strategies which can close the gap between product and process (especially in meat production).

I'll leave you now with an anonymous quote from one of the participants of a 2010 consultation exercize:

"Ultimately, The Meat Licence Proposal must engage and identify with the values of 'the market' where production (killing animals) is about making money, and consumption (eating meat) is about getting what we want."

Thanks John!


The Very First Game of Pigs Bladder Football to Take Place in The 21st Century, a video by Tim Brunsden

Check out The Meat Licence Proposal at the Food Forward exhibition, Stroom, The Hague, NL. The show is curated by Karen Verschooren and remains open through April 1, 2012.

Related story: Solo exhibition of Adel Abdessemed postponed.

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