New year, new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on ResonanceFM.
The guest of this episode is artist and critical engineer Julian Oliver whose award-winning software and hardware works include a wall plug that manipulates the news appearing on other people's screens, a pair of augmented-reality binoculars that replace advertisements in public spaces with artworks in real-time, but also a Transparency Grenade able to capture network traffic and audio at the site of secret corporate or governmental meetings and to anonymously stream the data to a dedicated server where it is mined for information. Julian Oliver's projects might be provocative and entertaining but their ultimate aim is to make us question the technologies we use every day: who really owns them? Who made them and to what purpose? How much do they shape our behavior? Do these technologies service us as much as we service them?
During the show, however, we're not going to talk about Julian's exciting projects. Instead, i wanted to focus on the Critical Engineering Manifesto that Julian wrote a year ago together with Gordan Savičić and Danja Vasiliev. Expect explanations about why Engineering is the most transformative language of our time, questions about how to adopt the critical engineering ethos if you have next to zero technical skills, and details about Julian Oliver's upcoming projects.
Post-Digital Print - the Mutation of Publishing Since 1894, by Alessandro Ludovico.
Publisher Onomatopee writes: In this post-digital age, digital technology is no longer a revolutionary phenomenon but a normal part of everyday life. The mutation of music and film into bits and bytes, downloads and streams is now taken for granted. For the world of book and magazine publishing however, this transformation has only just begun.
Still, the vision of this transformation is far from new. For more than century now, avant-garde artists, activists and technologists have been anticipating the development of networked and electronic publishing. Although in hindsight the reports of the death of paper were greatly exaggerated, electronic publishing has now certainly become a reality. How will the analog and the digital coexist in the post-digital age of publishing? How will they transition, mix and cross over?
In this book, Alessandro Ludovico re-reads the history of the avant-garde arts as a prehistory of cutting through the so-called dichotomy between paper and electronics. Ludovico is the editor and publisher of Neural, a magazine for critical digital culture and media arts. For more than twenty years now, he has been working at the cutting edge (and the outer fringes) of both print publishing and politically engaged digital art.
The Mutation of Publishing Since 1894... I won't hold it against you if you tell me that this sound austere. This book is however a joy to read. It is entertaining, impeccably researched and written in a compelling style. Alessandro Ludovico blends together retro-futuristic drawings, theory, anecdotes, art works and personal observations to narrate the paper vs pixel battle and ultimately kick off a discussion about the role of print in digital times. To be honest, i knew Ludovico would write a good book about the issue because i've followed his many activities and researches in the field for a number of years now but i had no idea i'd have so much fun reading it. I can't remember having had in my hands a book that made my brain go from quotes by Clay Shirky, Marissa Mayer, Jorge Luis Borges, Vuk Cosic, or Cory Doctorow to stories about keitai shousetsu, Paulo Coelho's call to 'pirate' books, Amazon erasing from your Kindle the copies of George Orwell's books 'while you were sleeping', Daniel Vydra's New York Times Roulette, artistic imitation of banknotes, Sniffin' Glue punk zines, mail art, etc. Add to that the odd flashback (for example the magazines that used to be sold with a floppy disk containing 'bonus' content) that reminds you how fast the publishing world has to adapt in order to keep on attracting readers.
The first chapter, "The death of paper (which never happened)" analyzes 7 moments in history when a new medium has been heralded as a superior alternative to paper. Chapter 2,"A history of alternative publishing reflecting the evolution of print", looks at how artistic avant-gardes have been using print throughout the 20th century. The third chapter, "The mutation of paper: material paper in immaterial times", explores the reasons why paper still makes sense in our digital age. Chapter 4, "The end of paper: can anything actually replace the printed page?", take a critical look at electronic devices, strategies and platforms. The Fifth Chapter, "Distributed archives: paper content from the past, paper content for the future", explores the long-term implication of choosing a medium rather than the other one. The final chapter, "The network: transforming culture, transforming publishing" explains how much quality cultural entities can gain from working as a network.
I've been particularly fascinated by the Appendix which brings side by side the world of print and the digital world to highlight their similarities and differences: shelf space vs web host storage space, shipping strike vs no connection, smell of ink vs sound of clicks, etc.
Post-Digital Print is a book i'd recommend to bloggers, journalists, writers, publishers, designers (of the physical and the 'immaterial' alike), and to anyone who wants to be able to shine at elegant dinners when the conversation turns to questions such as "what's more eco-friendly? is it the print or the digital?' "Will printed magazines disappear in the coming years?" "Is The Pirate Bay killing the publishing industry?"
And because Alessandro Ludovico is the founder and editor of the magazine Neural, he illustrated many of the observations, facts and ideas about post-digital print with a series of artworks. Here's a couple i discovered along the pages:
The Quick Brown monitored Fox News regularly and highlighted changes made on the headlines over the course of the day.
Pamphlet: people typed a message on a computer. As they pressed the 'send' button, the message was printed and dropped as a pamphlet from the 10th floor of the building.
Tim Schwartz's iPod's contents cataloged on paper cards:
Alessandro Ludovico was interviewed about Post-Digital Print in visualMAG.
Vivays 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.
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:
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.
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.
Earth-Moon-Earth involved the transmission of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata to the moon and back with the help of moon bouncers.
With Vatnajökull, Katie Paterson broadcast the sounds of a melting glacier live to a visitor on a mobile phone in an art gallery.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Quick look inside the book.
Image on the homepage: Rona Yefman, Pippi Longstocking, The Strongest Girl in the World, 2006.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
The Machine - Designing a New Industrial Revolution remains open at C-mine Designcentrum, in Genk, Belgium until 07.10.2012.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I took some photos, they are as awful as ever.
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.
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.
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.
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.