I'm just back from the Galleria Franco Soffiantino in Turin where i saw a pretty amazing creepy thought-provoking drama by Melanie Gilligan, an artist whose previous 4 part video Crisis in the Credit System received much attention back in 2008. I've just discovered that the 5 episodes of Popular Unrest are available online too. I wish i'd known before because the screening at the Turin gallery was as uncomfortable as humanly possible.
Popular Unrest is set in a fictional future that looks very much like today's London. The drama explores a world in which the self is reduced to physical biology, directly subject to the needs of capital. All exchange transactions and social interactions are overseen by a system called 'the Spirit'. Hotels offer bed-warming servants with every room, people are fined for not preventing foreseeable illness, weight watching foods eat the digester from the inside and the unemployed repay their debt to society in physical energy.
The film starts at the moment when things start to go wrong in the world that was so far impeccably controlled by 'The Spirit.' Unexplained killings are taking place across the globe. Sometimes the assailant strikes in public but no one has ever seen it/him. Just as mysteriously, groups of unrelated people are suddenly coming together everywhere, forming groups that are becoming bigger by the day. They feel a deep and inexplicable sense of connection to one another.
Shot in London with a cast of twelve main actors, the film is inspired by the current state of politics, technology as well as public debates about privacy, capitalism and societal organization. Popular Unrest owes also a lot to David Cronenberg's 'body horror' and American television dramas CSI, Dexter and Bones, where reality is perceived through a pornographic forensics of empirical and visceral phenomena.
If you have to see one exhibition in London...
Let it be whiteonwhite:algorithmicthriller at Haunch of Venison. Bonus! You can then climb up the stairs and see Places,strange and quiet, some 40 large-scale and spectacular photos that filmmaker Wim Wenders shot between 1983 and 2011.
The exhibition by artist Eve Sussman and Rufus Corporation centers around whiteonwhite:algorithmicnoir a thriller/scifi movie that follows a geophysicist code writer stuck in a futuristic, cold and unwelcoming city.
If you're afraid of experimental fiction (i know i am), this film should win you over. whiteonwhite:algorithmicnoir runs endlessly, editing live in real time, with no beginning, middle or end, never repeating the same way twice. The movie is so extraordinarily beautiful and puzzling that i will go back and see it today, tomorrow again and probably over the weekend as well.
A level of control is granted to a computer software that edits the film in real time, live as you are sitting in the screening room. The machine culls scenes from a server loaded with 2637 video clips, creating suspense through unexpected juxtapositions. The implied narrative is communicated through voiceovers, wire tapped telephone conversations and snippets of a job interview between Mr. Holz and his prospective employer, Mr. White. It becomes evident that the character is controlled by a city and the code he is working on, as the course of the story is controlled by the code that edits the film.
whiteonwhite:algorithmicnoir was created on an "expedition to unravel utopian promise" with a small crew, one American actor and local actors hired en route. The fictional location is named - in a nod to Godard's 1965 science fiction film Alphaville - City-A. The place is a fusion of many places (mostly Soviet era (dys)utopian cities) encountered during the artists' journey in European Eastern countries.
This improvised film noir is accompanied by where the future throws a shadow over the land, a series of photographs shot by Simon Lee during production of whiteonwhite. These photos exemplify the idea of 'archival footage from the future' and contain a sense of time speeding by, as the impending future - implied through a contradictory metaphor of darkness as the past blows out to white - throws a shadow over the land.
Laboral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial in Gijón, Spain, is going to celebrate its 4th birthday this week. Since its opening, the art center has exhibited over 850 artworks, 108 of which were created by artists from the Asturian region. Quite an achievement for such a young institution. Over the years, Laboral had also become a trusted harbour for new media art works. The space's audacious programme gave artists working with new technologies the opportunity to exhibit their pieces in the best possible conditions and over a period of time that extends way beyond the one allocated by new media art festivals.
This doesn't seem to be the case anymore. I don't know how long Laboral's new love story with video art will last but judging from the delight of the crowd that came to the opening last week, the Laboral exhibition team is clearly onto something. I can't remember seeing visitors so charmed and fascinated by an exhibition. As much as it pains me to see that another door might be closing for new media art, i must admit that i completely share their enthusiasm for the show. Noches Electricas, featuring mostly videos, is one the most breath-taking and audacious i've seen so far in Gijón.
The title of the new exhibition, Electric Nights, is directly inspired by Les nuits électriques, a short film directed by Eugene Deslaw in 1928, in which city lights at night-time around European cities are presented like a fireworks show.
The similarity between fireworks and movies is at the very heart of this exhibition. Both are intermittent ephemeral projection of light in the darkness. Fireworks are yesterday's action movies. They used to last 90 minutes and their complex, narrative structures, often told a story of war and chaos upon which the hero would prevail.
The works selected come from the collection of the Centre Georges Pompidou. They include classic photographs, engravings, installations, contemporary videos as well as early experimental and scientific films.
Presented in open plan and conceived both as a parcours and as entertainment, like a classical exhibition, the show follows the principle of fireworks, alternating installations with projections. The moving images are presented on screens in different sizes and formats hanging at varying heights in the space.
Electric Nights attempts to recreate the magic of fireworks and movies through a use of the exhibition space that transcends the usual 'white box' set. In the main room, screens of various sizes are hung on the ceiling, inviting visitors to zigzag through the show but also to keep their head up as if they were attending a firework show. There is very little use of sound, everything is image, mind-blowing image.
Claude Closky's Brrraoumm video illustrates perfectly the spirit of the show. The artist has edited excerpts from films at the moment of the explosion -an obligatory scene of the big budget action movie- and presented them in loop. Each explosion leads silently to another one. Each conflagration annihilating any effect the other might have had.
Anthony McCall strips down the movie experience to the shaft of light from a projector that slices through the dark in a theater hall during screening. White beams of light are coming from the ceiling. Cutting through smoke, they are slowly - so slowly you might not even realize anything is happening - tracing shapes on the floor. The cones of light appear almost solid and tangible. Most visitors seemed to think twice before daring to get their body through the beam.
Curators Philippe-Alain Michaud and Benjamin Weil explained at the press conference that they had conceived the show as an explosion of images that needs little introduction. In fact, the only texts that the captions on the walls contain is the title of the artworks, the name of the artist, the media used and the date. Nothing else. I feel like i've already spoken too much so the rest of this post is going to follow Michaud's stripped-down tactic:
Also part of the exhibition: The Way Things Go.
PDF of the exhibition guide.
Electric Nights - Art and Pyrotechnic, an exhibition conceived by Centre national d'art et de Culture Georges Pompidou and coproduced by LABoral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial, is open at Laboral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial in Gijón, Spain, until September 12, 2011.
Last week, i was at Laboral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial in Gijón for the opening of Electric Nights - Art and Pyrotechnic, an exhibition slash fireworks showcasing works from the collection of the Centre Georges Pompidou. My report is still in its draft stage but i thought i'd share with you the video that got visitors glued in front of a screen on the night of the opening.
Der Lauf der Dinge (The Way Things Go) is a 1987 film by Peter Fischli and David Weiss following a 30 minute long, uninterrupted chain of physical and chemical experiments. One explosion leads to a fire that heats up a teakettle until its steam whistle flies away and hits a bottle that falls and pour its content over a... It goes on and on. One chemical trigger leads to another or sparks a physical phenomenon. The film watches like a thriller (even if you've seen it twice already), every single step can go wrong.
The assembly of everyday objects is set in a warehouse, like a long Rube Goldberg machine.
Honda actually ran into a bit of trouble with a commercial that looked way too much like a polished version of The Way Things Go.
Riley showed me What It Is Without the Hand That Wields It, a piece which has been touring the festivals and exhibitions almost non-stop since 2008. I obviously felt deeply humiliated not to have come across it before.
What It Is Without the Hand That Wields It is one of those game-based pieces where the actions of online players have consequences on the physical space (see Domestic Tension for example or in a more imaginary way, John-Paul Bichard's Evidencia series.) It is also a work that is so simple and effective you wonder why no one thought about it before.
While exonemo's UN-DEAD-LINK translated digitized and symbolized death into the 'screaming' and motion of everyday devices, Riley Harmon went for the visceral and powerful experience. Each time a player dies in a game of Counter-strike, a popular online first person shooter, electronic solenoid valves open up and dispense a small amount of fake blood. The trails left down the wall create a physical manifestation of virtual kills, bridging the two realities. During the show's run players who have a copy of Counter-Strike can join the game and spill more blood over the walls and floor of the exhibition space:
The installation will be on view this Fall at Nikolaj, Copenhagen Contemporary Art Center. It will then travel to Istanbul, location TBA.
Don't miss Harmon's Passengers video series. Some are still works in progress, others are already on the homepage of his website. I laugh each time is see them. Laugh and feel uncomfortable too. The artist cut scenes from Hollywood movies, removed one of the two characters sitting in a car and took his place. Except that he's not participating in the dialogue nor displaying a facial expression that would match the scene in any way. Here's an example:
"Everything you need to know about genetics you can learn from your cat"
Over the last two years Karen Guthrie & Nina Pope of the London art collective Somewhere have been working on a research and documentary project focusing on pedigree cat breeding. They followed pedigree cat owners at cat shows, worked with breeders, and interviewed Dr Leslie Lyons, an internationally-respected authority on feline genetics who ratified the world's first cloned kitten ("Cc") and the first GFP ("glow-in-the-dark") transgenic kitten.
Demonstrating a fascinating mix of scientific knowledge and creative experimentation, breeders have an acute alertness to the aesthetic requirements of their chosen breed, underpinned by the genetic knowledge to safely breed towards the refinement of particular characteristics. Some breeders already utilise genetic testing and collaborate with scientists, bridging the traditional gap between amateur and professional science and providing a flow of information between these two worlds.
Artists/directors Pope & Guthrie have a track record of working with hobby or 'pro-am' groups and are particularly interested in ways that knowledge can be generated by actual 'making and doing' combined with close observation. Pedigree cat breeders show a fascinating mix of scientific knowledge and creativity, their acute sense of the correct look for the cats, underpinned by the genetic knowledge required to breed for 'refining a look'.
The working title of the documentary is Cat Fancy Club. I don't often write about videos, especially those i've never seen. However, the extracts from the documentary i saw at the Euston Road window of the Wellcome Collection a few weeks ago made me want to ask a few questions to the directors of the documentary.
In your documentary, you interview both scientists and amateur breeders. How much genetics manipulation can one really do outside of a university lab?
NP: Well I'm not sure we would describe it as genetic manipulation (!) but one of the aims of the film is to show that you can at least understand a lot about genetics just by observing your cats. The level of genetic knowledge in breeders obviously varies but we are very interested in working with people who find it particularly interesting and have developed a deep understanding of how basic genetics work which they then utilise to plan their breeding programmes. This can affect simple things like trying to breed for particular coat colours, but can also help them to keep the breeds really healthy.
LL: The average person, especially early farmers, have been genetic manipulators for thousands of years. Regular people are responsible for 99% of our animal breeds and varieties of flowers and crops. Most genetic manipulation in the lab is still done the same way, just by breeding animals and selecting for the natural variation. But, now we can move genes from one organism to another - called transgenics. This is a very particular speciality and cannot be done outside of the lab. But the interaction of most breeders and scientists do not pertain to transgenics anyhow - just natural breeding and selection.
I couldn't help but be a bit judgmental when is saw the trailer of the upcoming film and read about genetic research on cats, i had the feeling that there is a huge chasm between my love of cats and the one felt by people participating to cat shows with their hairless cats and LaPerm. I don't quite understand that search for a particular aesthetics. But are amateur breeders only driven by aesthetics? What motivates their quest for the perfect breed? The desire to produce a unique luxury item?
NP: You won't find more cat lovers together anywhere outside of a cat show that's for sure! I guess whether you're into 'moggies' or LaPerms is more about personal taste that anything else. Both of us own rescue cats but that doesn't mean we're not tempted by the amazing range of pedigree cats out there.
KG: For some breeders the thrill of the genetic chase for a particularly rare colour (for example) is very motivating - the tougher and more recessive a gene, the more some breeders work towards bringing it forward - somewhat like bringing a rare orchid to flower from seed! Establishing a new breed of cat and the networks with other breeders and owners is obviously something that particular people also enjoy.
AN: Nine out of ten cats bred by pedigree breeders are for pet homes where they will never be involved in breeding or showing so for the average breeder good health and good temperament are far more important. No one expects to breed the aesthetic ideal but it's a guideline to aim towards. It is ultimately more satisfying for a breeder to be involved with a new DNA screening programme and to eliminate a genetic disease. But showing is designed to promote good health and confirmation, as well as good grooming and care. Cat show judges check for signs of health and penalise 'defects' that impact on a cat's health/welfare.
Did you have any preconception about the world of professional and amateur cat breeding before starting to work on this movie? Did getting in close contact and discussing with them changed you assumptions in any way? For example, do you now desire to own a cat similar to the grey ones featured on that pink image you made?
KG: Some preconceptions - such as that many cat enthusiasts are women of a certain age - are true! One hears of 'kitten farms' where unscrupulous breeders are churning out pedigree kittens just for money, but of course if they are out there mixing with people at Cat Shows and in the Cat Fancy you don't meet them. We were struck often with the very high level of genetic understanding amongst domestic breeders with little or no science education - some breeders are more instinctive, describing their breeding animals' charisma and 'star quality' as what directs them, whilst others really are breeding with genetics so much at the forefront that a litter will rarely contain any 'surprises' - instead the breeder will know exactly what colour kittens to expect and may even have a fellow breeder in another country waiting to acquire and breed forward with a certain kitten.
Like any kind of learned connoisseurship, learning more about how an unusual colour, coat texture or eye colour actually happens, definitely enhances your appreciation of it in a cat. BTW one never owns a cat, it's the other way around! We do have our personal aesthetic tastes - Nina already has a longhaired grey cat, and Karen had until a recent death, two ginger tomcats.
Apart from aesthetics, what else motivates genetic research on cats?
KG: The domestic breeders we've met that are at the forefront of certain breeds (e.g Birman, LaPerm) are as interested in breeding for robust health as aesthetic 'brilliance'. There are instances recently of certain breeders instigating successful breed databases that aim to prevent inbreeding or accidental close crosses by 'mapping' all births of a certain cat breed that occur. This is very ambitious, and it shows how technology is helping make this possible - as an aside, many of the breeders we met involved in creating databases and networking internationally via the web, are quite elderly but really tech-savvy.
A considerable amount of feline genetic research (in the US at least) is supported because of close analogies with human genetics and health: how viruses spread, and kidney problems for example. The cause/s of blindness is one of many research interests of the world's leading feline geneticist Dr Leslie Lyons (UC Davis) who we filmed, and there is strong evidence that tracking genetic blindness and trailing treatments in cats will progress understanding of and ultimately prevention of blindness in humans.
Dr Lyons invites DNA samples from all over the world for her work because she needs to access the widest possible gene pool. She concentrates her work on pedigree breeds because there is then certain known parameters that her material relates to, but in the UK at Bristol University, research is more focused on 'moggies' at large, in one exercise they are collating life-spanning information on a sample of ordinary cats to try and establish what the biggest risk factors are for the cat - I guess it could be anything from proximity to heavy traffic, coat colour, diet...
NP: One of the things that has been most interesting to hear about is that Leslie often finds new leads or clues to genetics through the observations of breeders. Obviously pet owners spend a LOT of time closely watching their cats and this can be invaluable as a way to uncover unusual features and traits. Often breeders will know from observing for generations what to expect from certain pairings, when the actual genetic 'facts' behind these intuitions may actually come out at a later date.
How about the impact of pedigree cat breeding on the personality or physical well-being of the cat? i recently saw a report on tv about how intense forms of dog breeding are creating dogs suffering from brain damages or illness.
KG: In the UK there was quite a furore after a TV doc screened highlighting the link between poor canine health and excessive inbreeding and a certain worry in the cat community that the media would attempt the same with cats, but there really isn't an equivalent argument with felines. Cat breeds never served human purposes (hunting, primarily) as dogs did, so there is much less diversity in size and build across breeds. In the past, there was certainly often a lack of knowledge or disregard of health risks associated with certain breeds - e.g the Persian's congested nose / eyes - but there's a general consensus now that some of those problematic breeds (e.g. Persians) are really falling out of favour now amongst breeders and cat-lovers alike.
NP: One interesting breed is the Korat (a small blue cat), in the UK all Korats have been screened for Gangliosidosis - a genetic disease, which has been diagnosed in Korats - meaning that here through using a genetic screening programme and collaboration with the GCCF (Governing Council of the Cat Fancy) breeders have been able to entirely eliminate the problem and carry on enjoying what is in fact a very old breed of cat originating in Thailand. Breeders had already gained an understanding of how recessive genes work by observing that occasionally they would get unexpected lilac kittens in a litter from two blue parents, observing this helped them to understand that the Gangliosidosis problem could also be 'carried' but not observed in the parent and so testing provided a way around this, meaning no cats were being used that would inadvertently pass on the problem.
AN: Cat breeds have never had the range of problems that dog breeds have had and cat breeders are lucky in some ways that the tradition of cat breeding is not as old as dog breeding because they have been able to learn from the mistakes of the dog breeders and avoid repeating them, and scientific advances mean that cat breeders have all sorts of new tools to avoid the same problems. The GCCF is very keen to make sure that cat breeding never goes down the same road as certain dog breeds. The GCCF is very strict about avoiding any breed related health problems and refuses to recognise several breeds from other countries where there are potential issues and works closely with animal welfare organisations, like the RSPCA and the FAB through the Cat Group consortium. The GCCF genetics committee has produced a general breeding policy for all cats and is currently overhauling all the individual breeding policies for the different breeds to ensure that any genetic health issues are addressed.
KG: Unfortunately no as it's still in production!
NP: To date we have been filming at shows and building up contacts with breeders and scientists alike. The image we made for the Wellcome Trust exhibition shows just how visually different pedigree cats can be. All the cats in the picture have one strong genetic link in common - the gene for a Blue (or in moggie-terms grey!) coat, the image shows in how many wildly different ways this can be expressed.
Thanks Nina, Karen, Leslie and Anthony!
Nina Pope will present Cat Fancy Club as part of Alter Nature: The Unnatural Animal at Z33 in Hasselt on 17.02.2011 at 19h00.
Pope & Guthrie have collaborated as artists and film-makers for over a decade and founded their company Somewhere in 2001. Their early career innovated the use of new media in contemporary art practice. 'A Hypertext Journal' (1996) prefigured the blog and 'TV swansong' (2002) utilised early webcasting technology. Their work has consistently innovated in both form and subject, focusing on the motivations and social contexts of ordinary people, and the communication of these stories.
Professor Leslie A. Lyons, PhD is a Professor at University of California-Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine, located in the Center for Companion Animal Health (CCAH). Research focuses on the genetics of the domestic cat and the development of genetic tools and resources that assist gene mapping in the cat and other companion animals. Feline research is focused on the discovery of mutations that cause inherited diseases and phenotypic traits and in the population dynamics of breed development and domestic cat evolution.
Anthony Nichols is the chair of the UK LaPerm Cat Club and a long-standing LaPerm breeder who helped to establish the breed in the UK. He has a particular interest in feline genetics and is a member of the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy's Genetics Committee.