On 12 July, the Arts Calalyst organised one last evening of discussions in its Clerkenwell Road HQ.

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Ariel Guzik, Resonador espectral armónico

The Language of Cetaceans brought together two men who share a passion for whales. One is environmental scientist and marine biologist Mark Peter Simmonds who investigates and raises awareness about an issue that is far away from our sights: the threats to the life of marine mammals caused by the increasing emissions of loud noise under water. The other is artist and inventor Ariel Guzik who has spent the last ten years looking for a way of communicating with cetaceans.

The evening started with Nicola Triscott, Director of the Arts Catalyst, showing us the Field Guide To UK Marine Mammals. I had no idea there were whales, dolphins, seals and sharks sharks on the coast of the UK!

Next was Simmonds' talk. It was very entertaining but also almost heartbreaking.

We might think that oceans are silent but they are filled with noises and animal conversations. First of all, marine mammals, fish, and a few invertebrates depend on sound to locate food, identify mates, navigate, coordinate as a group, avoid predators, send and receive alert of danger as well as transmit other types of information. It's very dark deep in the ocean so hearing is the sense they rely the most on.

Nowadays, however, whales and other mammals cannot hear with each other because of all the man-made noise intruding on their habitat.

Some of these sounds are so loud, they are driving the animals away from areas important to their survival, and in some cases injuring or even causing their deaths. The intense sound pulses of mid-frequency military sonars, for example, have been linked to several mass whale strandings. But it's not just the military that is to blame. The fossil fuel industry is firing loud air guns fusillades to detect oil buried under the seafloor, undersea construction operations drive piles into the seafloor and blast holes with explosives. Add to the picture, the dramatic growth in shipping traffic that generates a constant noise.

Whales are particularly vulnerable because they communicate over vast distances in the same frequencies that ship propel­lers and engines generate. The whales are not only unable to communicate with each other but they also panic when the noise gets too loud. When they are hit by a blast, the creatures flee, abandon their habitat and with that the source of their alimentation.

NGO Ocean Care has launched the Silent Ocean campaign. Have a look at their video, it explains the issue with more clarity and details.


Underwater Noise - The Overlooked Catastrophe

And here's the video of Mark Peter Simmonds's talk:


The Language of Cetaceans - Introduction and presentation by Mark Peter Simmonds

Ariel Guzik then presented his attempts at creating instruments that would mediate the communication between cetaceans and humans. One of his latest instruments is currently shown in the Mexican Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.

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The devices that the artist developed over the course of his career go from Laúd Plasmaht which uses the electric variations of Mexican cactuses to make a concert for plants to Nereida, an underwater capsule that doubles as a musical instrument to establish contact with cetaceans.

Here's Ariel Guzik's talk. It is not as fast-paced and entertaining as the one by Mark Peter Simmonds but Guzik is one of those 'crazy' visionary artists whose work involves biology, physics, music and a deep respect for the environment. His work, i'm sure, will fascinate you:


Ariel Guzik - The Language of Cetaceans. Part 1

The rest of Ariel Guzik's talk is over here!

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Matteo Bittanti and IOCOSE, Game Arthritis, 2011

Matteo Bittanti and Domenico Quaranta, the authors of the very enjoyable and clever book GameScenes. Art in the Age of Videogames, are onto great game art adventures again. This time, they curated an exhibition that celebrates the work of Italian artists who have been experimenting with game-based technologies for more than two decades. The retrospective is heralded as an alternative to the Italian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale --which content Adrian Searle has compared to a tour of Silvio Berlusconi's brain-- and its title is as provocative as it can get: ITALIANS DO IT BETTER!! While some of the names of the artists selected in the show might be new to many of you, the work of others has traveled beyond the frontiers of Italy, and in some cases has even reached far beyond the world of art games itself.

Because i make it my duty to attend as few art openings as possible and because i'm a creature from the North who finds Summer temperatures in Venice to be unbearable, i won't be able to visit and report on the show before October. But the exhibition looks so good that i decided to go ahead and ask Domenico Quaranta to tell us what we can expect from ITALIANS DO IT BETTER!!

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Eva and Franco Mattes aka 0100101110101101.ORG, My Generation, 2010

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Eva and Franco Mattes aka 0100101110101101.ORG, My Generation, 2010

Hi Domenico! Let's start with the title of the exhibition because i can't let you get away with a title like that without a word of explanation. How dared you?

Ah ah! To answer this question, I have to tell you why I enjoy so much to work with Matteo Bittanti. First, he is a good friend. Second, we have a pretty different perspective. Matteo is interested in art, sometimes he even acts as an artist himself; but he is much more into games. He debuted as a reviewer for game magazines, and he is now one of the most acclaimed game students around. I'm interested in games, even if I'm not a hardcore gamer, but I'm much more into art. As Italians often working abroad, we both have to confront ourselves with several commonplaces. I'm not just talking about that Jersey Shore kind of stuff. If you work in the games world, you know that Italy has a weak game industry, that has never been able to produce something relevant not only internationally, but even for its own local audience. Italians interested in working on games usually leave for other countries.

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Stefano Spera, Grand Theft Auto, 2009

If you are working in the art world, you know that Italy has a weak art system, unable to support the artists working here on the international platform. The absence of Italian representatives in some key international events doesn't even become news anymore.
Notwithstanding this, sometimes Italians do well anyway. When it happens, it's always surprising, because not everybody would be able to do that well in spite of so many political, economic and cultural limitations. This is of course another commonplace: institutionally weak, we seem to be very good in DIY.

Discussing the show, we realized that the contribution that our artists brought to the international debate around videogames is much more relevant than what our weak art system, our weak game industry, our retrograde art schools, and the immaturity of the same debate in the Italian academia (and on the Italian media), would let you imagine.

Wanting to make this visible, we decided to deliver the message in a blatant, outrageous way. To be aggressive, and make some noise. To fight a commonplace you need a stock phrase. Matteo proposed to call the show "Teh Italians do it Bettah!!". We moved back from jargon to plain English to make it easier for anybody. Matteo kept the original title for his catalogue text.

The title seemed to match with many other things: the recent involution of our international reputation. The nightmare of the Italian Pavilion in the Venice Biennale. The celebrations for the 150 years from the unification of a nation that somebody called "a geographical abstraction". The fact that many artists in the show - and Matteo himself - actually live and work abroad. And the fact that most of them hate the title :-)

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Marco Cadioli, ARENAE (D‐Day, Omaha Beach), 2005

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Damiano Colacito, Cold meal power-up, 2006

I couldn't see which artworks were selected (only the name of the artists) so i have to ask you whether what you attempted with this show was to demonstrate how broad the range of Italian video art game is or whether you were rather trying to highlight something they have in common?

The show is as dumb as the title we chose for it. We selected fifteen artists / works that have a little in common except their passport and the interest in videogames as a cultural form. The exhibition space was just a bunch of square meters, so we decided to fill it up without caring about the dialogue between the works. Some of them are whispering love to each other, some others are enjoying a flame war session. It's more like a salon or a fair booth: we want to sell "Italian Game Art" to the international audience of the Venice Biennale. We are waiting for some better images, but in the meantime you may enjoy my Flickr set.

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Mauro Ceolin, Hi I am Maryam Muhammed from Libya, 2008. Gameboy cartridge (Addams Family) with a 1:144 Gundam plastic

By the way, is there something that makes Italian video art game different from art games from the rest of the world? The press release for the exhibition states: ITALIANS DO IT BETTER!! thus asks "What does it mean to be an 'Italian' artist working with video-games, today?" Do you have some kind of answer to that question?

No, except for what I told you above. I don't even know what it means to be Italian. A national identity is not, for me, a fixed concept. It's an abstract idea that should be always negotiated. Institutions usually take care of restoring it, protecting it from the attacks of internal and external forces. Somebody said: "We made Italy, now let's make Italians". Today, nobody is working on this anymore. We did what an Italian cultural institution should do, claiming the contribution of our artists to a given field of culture. But we did it without the rhetoric of an institution, and with all the irony that being freelance curators playing the role of a phantom institution allowed us to use.

The artists included in the exhibition are Italians by chance. Many of them are not even living in Italy. They are not a group, and they didn't learn what they do at school. They just share a common interest in videogames. They can't even be described as "game artists". If the term Game Art can still make some sense as a category (and I'm not completely sure about it), the term "game artist" doesn't make sense at all. It's not a matter of identity, it's just a matter of cultural interests and medium occasionally employed. With a few exception, for these artists the interest in games is just part of a broader interest in media. Carlo Zanni made a wonderful online videogame in 2004, and back in 1997 Antonio Riello made one of the first art games ever. Is this enough to call them game artists?

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Carlo Zanni, Average Shoveler, 2004 - ongoing

Neoludica is one of the collateral events of the 54. Esposizione Internazionale d'Arte - la Biennale di Venezia. Can you imagine that one day a game artist would be selected to represent a country (Italy maybe?) in one of the national pavilions? How far away are we from that idea?

Well, Cory Arcangel is having an important solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Maybe he is on the good way. But again, he is not a game artist.

More seriously. The art establishment is ruled by old people who still think that videogames are just entertainment for teenagers. The cultural impact of videogames is still far to be broadly recognized by highbrow culture. But it's just a matter of time. Bill Viola made a videogame recently. The Smithsonian Museum is setting up an impressive exhibition on videogames. Neoludica is just trying to force the process a bit, bringing people together, facilitating dangerous liaisons, etc.

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Damiano Colacito, C:\Cook, 2009

The exhibition was curated for the first edition of Neoludica. Can you tell us something about Neoludica? For example, is IDIB just part of a broader event? Who is behind that organization?

Italians Do It Better!! is a selection of contemporary artists concerned with the socio-cultural impact of videogames, and sometimes using games as an art medium. It was commissioned as part of Neoludica, a bigger event attempting to explore the relationship between these two terms - "art" and "videogames" - in the broader sense. Can videogames be considered art, and not just entertainment? How many creative practices converge in this innerly multimedia art form? Can videogames change our broader understanding of art? These are some of the questions Neoludica is trying to raise.

The mind behind the event is Debora Ferrari, one of the founders of Musea (the association that co-produced the event), who two years ago organized a big show on concept art in Valle d'Aosta, called The Art of Games. The exhibition puts together many different things, from contemporary art to concept design, from commercial videogames to indie games (the work of Tale of Tales is well represented). Personally, I'm both frightened and excited by this overlapping of different fields and different ideas of art. And if, on the one side, I made my best to work as a gatekeeper, designing the space in order to keep IDIB separated from the rest of the show, at the same time I think that we somewhat need such a broader platform. I'm sure that the Biennale audience will turn its nose up in front of such a mess, where commercial videogames, good craftmanship and contemporary art share the same space. But I'm really interested to see how such a dialogue will help all these cultural forms to evolve in the next years.

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Federico Solmi, Douche Bag City, 2010

Any new video game artist, Italian or not, we should keep an eye on?

Let me give you a couple of names. Santa Ragione is a little game factory based in Milan. In IDIB they show their first consistent effort, Fotonica (2011). It is a first person game about jumping, traveling and discovering. You don't win or lose, you just endlessly explore a metaphysical space made of light lines inspired by abstract paintings and early 3D videogames. It has been released a couple of days before the opening, and I loved to play it at the exhibition.

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Santa Ragione, Fotonica # 0, 2011

The other work came too late for the show. It is a photographic project by Giovanni Fredi, a former student of mine at the Academia in Milan. He visited two places with a somewhat similar name, but very different nature, and he portrayed people playing videogames. The first place is Kinshasa, capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo. There, boys play videogames - mainly soccer games for Playstation - all together in self-built game arcades, on found TV screens, using electricity stolen from the street lightings. Akihabara, also known as Akihabara Electric Town, is a major shopping area for electronic, computer, anime, and otaku goods in Tokio, Japan. There, people play everywhere, walking in a bubble inhabited only by themselves and their Nintendo DS. Giovanni followed these gamers, pictured them, and made two nice booklets picturing two different ways of approaching videogames. And, of course, of living in the XXI century. The project is called Kinshasa vs Akihabara (2011). When I saw the project, I sent it to Matteo, who made this nice interview for his Wired.it blog.

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Giovanni Fredi, Kinshasa vs Akihabara

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Giovanni Fredi, Kinshasa vs Akihabara

I thought Miltos Manetas was Greek?

Miltos Manetas is a netizen. He was born in Greece, he studied in Italy where he started getting interested in videogames. Than he moved to the States, and the Internet became his core interest. Then again he moved to London and then back to Italy. Currently, he lives in Rome. In an interview that we published in the book we just made with LINK Editions, he says: "I don't belong to any Nation. I have a Greek, an Italian, an American and also a British in me, but more than anything I am from the Internets. (Internets are realities that exist online as well as in any different territories influenced by the power of the Internet.)"

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Miltos Manetas, Untitled (Lara Croft), 1998

Grazie Domenico!


VJ Visualoop, "Italians Do It Better - Biennale di Venezia", Official trailer, 45", 2011

Italians Do It Better!!, an exhibition curated by Matteo Bittanti & Domenico Quaranta as part of the NEOLUDICA EVENT - ART IS A GAME 2011-1966 at the 2011 Venice Biennale of Art remains open at Sala dei Laneri, Santa Croce, 131 in Venice until November 27, 2011.

Previously on the Domenico Quaranta channel: Playlist - Playing Games, Music, Art, Playlist, it's not (just) about nostalgia, Playlist - the physical dimension, KIOSK. Artifacts of a Post-Digital Age, ARCO - Expanded Box and ARCO Beep New Media Art Award.

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Les Liens Invisibles, The Game Is Over, 2009

By bringing the focus of their exhibition on the thousands of buildings that remain unoccupied in The Netherlands, the Dutch Pavilion puts an ironic twist on "People meet in architecture", the theme of the ongoing Architecture Biennial in Venice.

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Even the building where the exhibition takes place has been empty for over 39 years since its inauguration in 1954. The Dutch Pavilion -just like any of the pavilions of the giardini- is indeed open for just a few months per year.

Rietveld Landscape, the office appointed by the Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAI) as curators, has emphasized the vacancy of the pavilion by leaving the ground floor of the pavilion completely empty. Only by walking the stairs up to the mezzanine can the visitor discover that what looked like a foam blue ceiling is in fact a suspended landscape made of the models of vacant lighthouses, schools, water towers, factories, hangars, offices, etc.

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A 'placebook' on the wall shows the connections that could between vacant buildings and creative professionals:

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The exhibition Vacant NL is a call for the intelligent reuse of temporarily vacant buildings around the world in promoting creative enterprise.

Vacant NL, where architecture meets ideas is not only an appeal to creative talents to exploit the value hidden in society but also unsolicited advice to countries who want to advance up the table of global knowledge economies but don't know where they can find the hidden strengths. The transition to a creative knowledge economy demands specific spatial conditions. Offering young talents from the creative, technology and science sectors an affordable place where they can share their knowledge, creativity and networks is a way of promoting mutual influences, enterprise and innovation. Vacant NL, where architecture meets ideas shows how architecture can contribute to tackling major social problems.

Project Team for the pavilion: Curator Rietveld Landscape worked with Jurgen Bey (designer), Joost Grootens (graphic designer), Ronald Rietveld (landscape architect), Erik Rietveld (philosopher/economist), Saskia van Stein (NAI curator), Barbara Visser (visual artist).

Previously: Architecture Biennale in Venice - The Belgian pavilion.

The Venice Biennale of Architecture runs until 21st November, 2010.

Sorry i've been a bit lame and vague in keeping up with my reports from the Venice Architecture Biennale. I'm going to post a couple more stories about the event then we'll move on with our life.

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Image by Eric Mairiaux

Just like two years ago, the Belgian pavilion was the one i liked the most. This has very little to do with my nationality. I entered having no idea of what i'd find there and was almost immediately struck by the simplicity and charm of the exhibition.

This year's Director of the Biennale Kazuyo Sejima of SANAA invited participants to explore the relationship between architecture and human occupation. No one has taken the theme as literally as Rotor at the Belgian Pavilion. By focusing on the mundane and the overlooked details of architecture, the collective brought poetry, history and emotion to the biennale.

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Two double flights of stairs. Image by Eric Mairiaux

Called Usus/Usures, the exhibition investigates a specific phase in the life of construction materials: the time when they are subjected to use and are gradually re-shaped by human beings passing through them, walking on them, touching, pressing, stroking, scratching or holding them.

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Photo by Eric Mairiaux

The Rotor collective spent years touring public buildings in Belgium to document and collect sections of walls, banisters with chipped paint, wooden floors, stained carpets, tired stairs, elevator cabins, plastic chairs, door handles, windows, and other worn out fragments of buildings. A selection of them hang on the white walls of the pavilion. Taken out of their original context, the objects looks like minimalist sculptures.

Rotor's interest in fatigued bits and pieces of architecture started as a study to evaluate the viability of a resale network for construction and demolition waste. Their concern, however, was not entirely ecological:

Like any product, they also elicit an aesthetic evaluation and, indeed, an emotional one. Traces of wear play a crucial role in this. They frequently evoke a sense of repulsion from potential buyers, but occasionally evoke attraction and even fascination.

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With wear and tear, the material gains a new dimension that is both physical and situational.

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A few pictures i took. Image on the homepage by Eric Mairiaux.

Usus/Usures is a project by Lionel Devlieger, Michaël Ghyoot, Maarten Gielen, Benjamin Lasserre, Tristan Boniver, and Melanie Tamm, in collaboration with Benedikte Zitouni and Ariane d'Hoop.

The Venice Biennale of Architecture runs until 21st November, 2010.

Keeping up with the visit to the exhibition of the Venice Architecture Bienniale at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni:

A nail house is a Chinese neologism for homes belonging to people who refuse to move out and make room for estate development. The most famous case is the one of Wu Ping and Yang Wu who declined during two years to sell their house to the developers of a shopping mall under construction in Chongqing. The developers cut their power and water, and excavated a 10-meter deep pit around their home. The family turned down an offer of 3.5 million yuan (US$453,000), but eventually settled with the developers in 2007.

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Nail house in Chongqing (image)

Architect Caruso St John and artist Thomas Demand are paying homage to the Chongqing nail house with a project currently exhibited inside the Palazzo delle Esposizioni during the Venice Biennale of Architecture.

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Caruso St John + Thomas Demand, Nagelhaus

The Nagelhaus (nail house in german) is the winning project of a competition to redesign the Escher Weiss Platz, a former industrial area in Zurich undergoing a dramatic transformation that involves new commercial developments, new cultural institutions, and even new inhabitants. Caruso St John and Thomas Demand propose to reconstruct the Chinese Nail House in the square, under a road viaduct, and to open it to the public as a 24/7 restaurant. The modest building would appear as an archaeological fragment of a street that stood there previously.

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Caruso St John + Thomas Demand, Nagelhaus, Project for Escher-Wyss-Platz, Zurich, illustrations by Martin Mörck (2010)

The reconstruction of the nail house is also a social experiment that explores how migrating forms can bring new life into an overlooked urban setting. The experiment takes a particularly interesting meaning in a country ill at ease with immigration. Only a few months ago, a referendum has backed a proposal to ban the construction of new minarets.

The Nagelhaus project is facing controversy in Zurich, with the right-wing populist SVP trying to prevent its construction. The party has obtained the requisite number of signatures to force a referendum and the matter will be voted this month. Looks like the brave little Chongqing nail house will have to face yet another battle.

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Caruso St John + Thomas Demand, Nagelhaus

The installation at the Biennale consists of the reconstructed house, built to look like a Demand paper model and squeezed under the roof of the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, as well as illustrations of the restaurant under the viaduct.

The inside of the Nagelhaus looks like the hidden side of a theater set.

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Caruso St John + Thomas Demand, Nagelhaus, Project for Escher-Wyss-Platz, Zurich


Adam Caruso and Thomas Demand interviewed by Hans Ulrich Obrist at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2010

Also at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni: Tom Sachs at the Venice Biennale of Architecture.

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Tom Sachs, Untitled (Modular Man with Syringe), 2001

After the Arsenale, let's move to the Palazzo delle Esposizioni to explore the rest of the Biennale exhibition. As i mentioned yesterday, Kazuyo Sejima, this year's Director, has invited some of the biggest names in the contemporary art world to participate to the Venice show.

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View of the exhibition room

Tom Sachs, who made a career revisiting contemporary icons such as Prada and the atomic bomb, has been given a large room to exhibit his take on the work and legacy of Le Corbusier.

The most recognizable piece is his handmade version of the landmark of modernism that is the Unité d'Habitation. Le Corbusier had conceived this massive housing block as a universal housing solution for cities that were facing a severe postwar housing shortage. The architect had planned to erect hundreds of Unités all over Europe. Each of them would have accommodated 1000 to 1200 people. 4 bastardized versions of his Unités were completed in Rezé near Nantes, Berlin, Briey and Firminy. Only the Cité Radieuse (radiant city) in Marseille was built exactly according to his designs.

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Tom Sachs, Unité (detail)

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Tom Sachs, The Radiant City, 2010

The construction was so innovative for the time that people in Marseille called the Cité Radieuse La Maison du Fada (French - Provençal, "The House of the Mad"). Corbusier's work is equally admired as it is reviled. According to Corbusier's detractors, the public housing projects inspired by his theories have had the effect of isolating poor communities in soulless high-rises and severing the social ties necessary to a community's development.

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Tom Sachs's drawing of the Unité d'Habitation

Sach's handmade Unité is part of a complex body of sculptural, mechanical, and video works. One of them is McBusier, a sculpture that brings together Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye (1928-31) and a McDonalds drive-in; each of them is monitored by security cameras and connected by a racetrack.

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Tom Sachs, McBusier, 2002

The meeting between the two buildings is less heretic than it might look at first sight. Villa Savoye is the first significant residential building to incorporate the automobile in its architecture. The approach towards the house was best experienced when arriving by car (via) and the driver could even park his vehicle under the pilotis.

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Tom Sachs, McBusier, 2002 (detail)

Talking about Villa Savoye and the drive-in, the artist explained: "The first represents a kind of ideal, but failed, modernism, the second the more successful, but greedy and corrupt, consumer version."

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Tom Sachs, The Radiant City, 2010

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Tom Sachs, Nutsy's Deluxe Racing Set, 2003

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Tom Sachs, The Open Hand Monument

Image on the homepage by designboom.

More Tom Sachs: Tom Sachs at Sperone Westwater, Artissima (intro), Sony Outsider (Gajin) and Tom Sachs in Milan.

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