I discovered the work of Iraqi-Finnish artist Adel Abidin in 2007 at the Nordic pavilion of the Venice Biennale. The artist had filled a space with tv commercials and leaflets advertising exciting holidays in Baghdad. An Abidin Travels video informed tourists about all the tricks and tips to enjoy their stay as much as possible: museums are closed, but that doesn't really matter as most of their content was looted; avoid sidewalks as they hide mines; never leave without candles or a torch with extra batteries, for the times when electricity is unavailable; stay at a hotel of the lowest possible quality (the posh ones are targeted by Fundamentalist Muslims, or the National Forces), etc.
If the adventure tempts you, a computer was at hand in the pavilion to book your fly (you can also do it online.) In a darker room, another video monitor was showing real images of everyday life in Iraq.
If you happen to be in Helsinki, don't miss the solo exhibition of Abidin at Kiasma. Abidin Travels welcomes you by the entrance of the museum but it's the videos screened upstairs that got all my admiration. Children playing Hopscotch, musicians using flat breads as percussion instruments, an inverted Coca-Cola neon sign, etc. Abidin uses mundane objects and gestures to explore issues such as exclusion, gender roles and sexuality, religion, violence and power.
The most stunning video is probably Ping Pong. Two men in a dark room engrossed in a fierce match. Instead of a net, the body of a beautiful woman that bears the marks of the ball each time it hit her skin. She is silent but winces at every blow. Neither the player not the faceless referee seem to care.
It is a struggle for power where the outsider is the victim. But who are those who play for power - and why is the victim a naked woman? The artist wants to leave the interpretation of his work to the viewer.
Also on view at Kiasma: Rentyhorn, making the legacy of colonialism visible, part of the exhibition It's a Set-Up.
Like everyone involved in media art, I knew of Ashok Sukumaran's work. In 2007 his project Park View Hotel was awarded the Golden Nica for Interactive Art at Prix Ars Electronica. He went on to receive numerous other awards and has exhibited around the world. The Pixelache exhibition offered me the first opportunity to see several works by Anand and Sukumaran together in a same space. While looking at the videos and photo documentation of their projects side by side, i realized how remarkably consistent and intelligent their work is.
The exhibition title refers to anisotropy, the property of materials or mediums being direction-dependent. Crystals, wood and tendons for example are anisotropic, they show different strengths when pulled in different directions. Anand's and Sukumaran's work suggests that technology can follow paths different from the ones imposed by a purely capitalist perspective. When radio, electricity or CCTV is "pulled" in this way, it reveals a different set of properties, a vivid materiality and expanded parameters.
If i had to single out a work in the exhibition it would be (Al jaar qabla al dar) The Neighbour Before the House.
This series of video probes into the landscape of East Jerusalem, shot with a fixed security camera. The artists were sitting together with Palestinian residents in East Jerusalem as they commented the scenes captured by the camera. Some of them have had their house confiscated without much warning nor justification and they explain how happy they used to be in a house now occupied by settlers, others are quietly pointing out the changes that the topography of the city had to undergo over the past few years. The resulting video which was screened inside the gallery is a bit raw but it is also the most moving film i've seen recently. The idea behind the project is simple but the effect goes far beyond anything you could expect. Camera pans, zooms and live commentary become ways in which Palestinian residents reach out to what can be seen from their homes, and speak about the nature of their distance from others. (a project by CAMP).
The Neighbour Before the House is not the artists' first foray into the surveillance systems. A few years ago already, Shaina Anand's project KhirkeeYaan put security devices at the disposal of the audience, allowing them to interact with each other.
I caught up with Ashok and asked him a couple of questions about (Al jaar qabla al dar) The neighbour before the house:
Turning the surveillance camera on the one who are usually the one responsible for the surveillance is a very strong idea. Did you have to buy a new camera? or did you manage to get your hands on a model similar or identical to the one used by the Israeli?
The turning around of the surveillance system is a starting point, for the project. It is something that, in Shaina's work in expanded film and in CAMP's visual projects more generally... is a given. I.e. that there are going to be many different ways to produce and retrieve moving images. The "general economy" of images is then a much larger and more interesting area than just auteur film, or commercial film, or art, etc.
When we enter this space, we are: a) working with standard equipment, that is not only "repurposed" but that reveals the dynamics and intentions of the system, and what drives its "use". This is a much more interesting interpretation of something than the word "hacking" implies.
So in these cctv cameras, we can sense how the design of the pan/ tilt system, and the extreme zooms (250x) are integral to its imagined function. The camera used is a standard dome pan/ tilt camera, used generically around the world. It doesn't matter so much where it came from, it is quite everyday and universal. It is used routinely, in many airports, etc. It costs about 400 dollars, about the same as a consumer handycam.
In the 2nd episode in jaar, there is a scene where the speaker points to a camera set up by the Isrealis in a street, that a guy on a bike had pulled of the wall. This camera isn't that one, just to be clear :)
How easy was it for you to go back and forth between east Jerusalem and the rest of the city?
We were staying in East Jerusalem, and the work was part of the Jerusalem Show, held in the Christian quarter and in other places, curated by Jack Persekian and Nina Montmann. We never actually engaged with west Jerusalem. Moving around was not so difficult. We were stopped a couple of times, but that was it. And we weren't doing anything really, just moving equipment around. Things are different every week, of course, and these past few weeks have been quite tense in Al Quds.
How did you select the people who commented on the images you shot? was there a strategy? people living at a certain distance of a separation wall for example?
The people were found in different ways. They did not comment on the images afterwards, it happened in sync with the shooting... i.e. the speaker was also manipulating the camera. Which is why you get this strange asynchronicity. The story is looking for an image, an image giving rise to a story.
There were some people close to the wall obviously, since the wall is everywhere. But one of the more poignant ones is where people are talking about their own house.. i.e. the house they lived in for decades, before they were evicted a few months ago, this is in Sheikh Jarrah.
The webpage of the project says "The project is ongoing." Do you have plan to work further on it? to develop it in other directions?
Yes, the project is being developed as a larger project. But we will keep publishing it in various ways. The videos you saw are one way. The other form this takes is raw footage on pad.ma:
You can download and reuse this material. You can even mark in and out and download parts of it (go to actions/ download this selection) And of course you can write your own commentary.
If you happen to be in Beirut next month, don't miss Don't Wait for the Archive. Archiving practices and futures of the image, a workshop and colloquium with pad.ma. The event takes place on Sunday, April 25th at Home Works, Beirut.
Previously: Japan Media Arts festival - The Art Division.
Last and overdue notes from the Japan Media Arts Festival which took place last month in Tokyo. You'll have to forget my laziness, today i'll just gloss over the entertainment and animation categories and then go back to that mountain of books i'm supposed to review before 2010 shuts down.
Some rather good projects were submitted to the entertainment division. I often think that there's much confusion between the entertainment and art categories in many media art festivals but it didn't seem to be the case in Tokyo this year.
Two of the excellence prizes went to:
scoreLight, the electronic musical instrument designed by Alvaro Cassinelli, Daito Manabe, Yusaku Kuribara and Alexis Zerroug. The prototype generates sounds in real time from the lines of drawings and the contours of 3D objects nearby. A modified laser scanner works like the pick-up head that searches for sounds over the surface of a vinyl record. The difference is that the groove is generated by the contours of the drawing itself. The result is a light beam that dances on the surface of the drawing, while singing its secret score.
Director Naoki Ito created a documentary style web advertisement. A real couple in long distance relationship was selected to run the 1,000 km distance that separates Tokyo from Fukuoka. It took them one month (only!??) The run was broadcast live on the web and it was not until they reached their goal that it was announced that Love Distance was to be turned into a TV advertisement for the world's thinnest condom.
I spotted many gems among the Jury recommended works for this entertainment category:
daruman, by Mari Matsumoto, is a daruma otoshi that changes facial expression as it loses his body pieces, becoming frightened or angry of being dismembered by players. If anyone has other links or maybe a video of the projects, that would be more than welcome.
Rather unsurprisingly some of the entries are best enjoyed if you understand japanese. I haven't got much clue about what is going on in the video below but that shouldn't prevent me from posting it:
The animation, called Here comes the Gyorome Alien, was created by Yosuke Kihara. The stories are told using hand knitted stuffed toys in stop motion animation.
What would a Japanese media art event be without the presence of Maywa Denki?
Designed by KAYAC Inc. and Maywa Denki, YUREX is a device that improves your concentration through Binbo-Yusuri, or twitching leg. It will be released on April 24th.
Now for the Animation category!
The charming stop-motion animation Elemi by Hideto Nakata got an Excellence Award. The short movie follows the romance and struggle of a telephone pole standing in a downtown area.
Ryo Okawara's Animal Dance, which only received an Encouragement prize, narrates the dynamism of life through charcoal strokes on a vibrant orange background.
A young man is struggling with a Deadline while the post-it notes he had stuck on the wall begins to move and morph. A stop-motion animation by Yao Liu Bang.
In Chisato stared, by Wataru Uekusa, a line is used to reflect emotion, and the theme is the sublimation of a complex and continuous moment, like following one phrase of a song.
The image on the homepage illustrates the work of Yoshinori Kanada who passed away last year. The festival awarded him a Memorial Achievement Prize. Looking through his amazing works i was reminded of my favourite tv programme when i was a kid (i don't think Kanada ever worked on that one though) and i'll leave you with Goldorak, or whatever you call it in your language, until tomorrow.
Who would have thought i'd end up blogging about a splatter movie on wmmna? I'm not talking about any horror flick, i'm talking "gay-porn zombie film", a genre which i assume is under-represented in contemporary art. Written and directed by Bruce LaBruce and starring porn actor François Sagat, LA Zombie is on view at the Peres Projects gallery in Berlin, along with a dozen new works on canvas.
It was a bit of a hard core spectacle for someone like me who has no interest nor experience in the genre(s). I'm still wondering how i'll manage to convey the happiness and sense of beauty that the film gave me. There's something respectable about a porn movie that you watch inside a renowned art gallery. You might be shocked but you're never ashamed. Bruce Labruce's other queer cinema horror film Otto; or Up With Dead People debuted at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, the artist has contributed to magazines such as Vice, Index, and BlackBook,
I doubt LaBruce bothers much about making you and me and other art lovers comfortable. Just like Murakami delights in selling his art in both prestigious art galleries and shops merchandising fugly brown monogram bags, LaBruce doesn't seem too eager to drawing a line between art and porn. He told Salon: "All of my work has been about that line. You can situate yourself on either side of the line without really altering the work itself. I could take a picture for Honcho magazine, but can take the same image and put it in a frame in an art gallery, and it becomes art. For me that speaks to the arbitrary nature of those labels." A soft-core version of L.A. Zombie will tour film festivals this year. You can expect to find the hard-core DVD gracing the shelves of your favourite sex shop in the spring.
LA Zombie was shot in Los Angeles. Guerrilla-style. With almost no budget. The main protagonist rises from the sea, with as much clout and allure as Ursula Andress herself in that famous Bond scene. He's a zombie or maybe he's just a bit deranged and fancies himself as an undead creature. He sports canine teeth and is dressed like a homeless. Good looking young guys get killed or die in accidents. He finds them, gives them the fuck of life right into their wound, they open their eyes. They have become zombie too and lead the life of tramps around LA. People don't seem to even notice their presence.
Bruce Labruce LA Zombie: The Movie That Would Not Die runs at Peres Projects in Berlin until April 24, 2010.
This exhibition explored the way photographic images and videos represent reality as much as they can construct and betray it. One of its section was dedicated entirely to the treatment of images in the context of war.
As James der Derian notes in his essay for the exhibition catalog: No State or state of mind can exercise full authority in the contemporary infosphere - which of course does not stop many from trying.
Images and politics are of course intimately intertwined. A clamorous example is offered by the German and Italian fascist movements in the 1930s. Inspired by the techniques of agitprop of the Russian Revolution, both governments used the relatively new media that were photography, radio and film to bolster their power through visual messages where propaganda and reality appeared to be one and only.
The issue was brought to the public attention more recently when the Pentagon imposed a strict blackout on media coverage of US soldiers' coffins returning from Iraq (a censorship which seemed to extend to art portraits of living but reclining soldiers.) The ban, in force since the Persian Gulf war, was eased last year.
Artists Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin followed the British army in Afghanistan as embedded photo reporters in June 2008. Embedded reporters are expected to 'document' the conflict while complying with the rigid directives of military command. Only the images that make it through their censorship process are published.
Instead of running after bullets and casualties, Broomberg and Chanarin exposed a roll of 76.2 cm wide and 6 m long photographic paper to the sun for twenty seconds every day. The result, titled The Brother's Suicide, is a series of abstract, mostly white images, with colourful marks where the light and the heat triggered a chemical reaction on the paper.
The next step of their work in Afghanistan is The Day Nobody Died, a video that traces the return of the cardboard box containing the roll of photographic paper. The artists followed the soldiers and filmed them as they had to load and unloading the roll of photographic paper from one military base to another. The same gestures are repeated as the soldiers and the box step inside on Chinooks, planes, buses, tanks and jeeps. The object bore no meaning nor probably any sense for the soldiers who become the involuntary protagonists of an absurd performance encapsulating the repetitive nature of military life outside the battleground. A touching and quirky moment in the video sees the soldiers watching the reality show Big Brother under a military tent, with the big cardboard box 'sitting' among them.
The choice of communicating their experience on the war front through abstract and formalistic representation might seem almost irrational. When it is impossible and even forbidden to faithfully communicate the pain and horror of the personal tragedy of soldiers waiting for the moment to fight or die, The Brother's Suicide and The Day Nobody Died force us to reflect and imagine what we do not see and what we are not told.
What Broomberg and Chanarin seek to demonstrate with this paradoxical work of "anti-documentation" is that their images are equivalent in terms of truth content to the photographs of embedded reporters approved by military censorship. Their abstract painting of light bears witness to the reality of the conflict in the same almost paradoxical way as the work of the war photographers, which in any case does not present the truth.
While in Athens, i checked out the Mark Amerika retrospective at The National Museum of Contemporary Art. How could i miss it? I knew so little about Amerika, an artist who, as the press release reminds, had been described as one of the "Time Magazine 100 Innovators" of the 21st century.
Amerika describes himself as a "thoughtographer", an "artist-medium", a "fictional philosopher", a "remixologist", a "network conductor", a wonderer who constantly changes identities and roles in a fragmentary world where time acquires an a-synchronic and non real dimension. By trying to express the complexity and the interest of contemporary digital reality, he delves into different aspects of himself and draws on elements and traits that he transfers to the characters of his works, by using the media the technological platforms of our time. Developing projects on the net, filming with mobile phones, remixing common moments and figures of today`s culture in an VJ-like audiovisual rhythm, Amerika redifines the characteristics of today's culture and opens up the possibilities for new interpretations and thoughts from the audience itself.
What is sure is that he's probably the only net artist who is not only responsible for a publication that Publishers Weekly described as "the literary publishing model of the future" but also the director of a feature-length film shot entirely on mobile phone. After having seen the digital videos -Society of the Spectacle (A digital Remix) is particularly good- and internet artworks on show at the museum, i feel more puzzled than ever. It's one of those shows that require a second viewing (at least in my case) because everything doesn't come to you at the first visit. Just like the OK TEXTS printed on stickers and hidden under the steps of the stairs when you go downstairs to see the Amerika retrospective. I only saw them on my way out of the museum.
I copy/pasted a couple of them below:
We cannot process your information. Your information is corrupt and needs cleansing. Erase brain?
An error has been detected in your consciousness. All source-code is corrupt. Continue?
Revolutionary double-speak has engendered a new information war. The system is about to crash. Download drugs now?
The application could not be opened because your genetic code is dysfunctional. Abort?
A cyborg orgy is not valid. Only digicash transactions are available at this time. Would you like to pay for the privilege?
The network is monitoring your Digital Being. Create alias?
This document wants to blow you. Go to finder?
A transfer of $247,789.40 is about to download. Are you sure you want to disconnect?
At least, I'll get a second chance with the online works which EMST has listed on one of its webpages and made accessible to visitors in their Media Lounge.
P.S. You can also see Immobilité Remixes at the Vivo Arte.Mov festival in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, on November 12 - 15, 2009.