He was showing a witty, wonderfully researched and tactful fake documentary aimed as a subtly subversive introduction for North Koreans into diverse aspects of western culture. The film also explores how design can contribute and impact on a social and cultural level, subtly challenging an ideological status quo.
North Korea is one of the most politically and culturally isolated countries in the world, any foreign influences is systematically rejected. The fact that the first pizzeria opened only last year in the capital Pyongyang, is quite symptomatic of how culturally controlled the country is. I was first tempted to compare the opening of the pizzeria to the one of the first McDonald's fastfood in Moscow but that would be misguided. Only the leader Kim Jong-Il and a handful of wealthy people can afford a Margherita or a Quattro formaggi.
Filmed in South Korea and split into four episodes, Star Pizza introduces North Koreans to typical aspects of Western culture through the eyes of a fictional young couple.
The lovely couple is exposed to Western cuisine with the chapter on How to Make a Pizza; the possibility of going on holiday with the episode about How to Pack a Suitcase To Go Abroad; Western entertainment with How To Become A Trend Leader At Pop Dancing and finally learn How to celebrate Christmas Day.
Since there is no hope that Star Pizza would ever be shown on North Korean tv, Hwang Kim converted his film to 500 DVDs, managed to get in touch with people who smuggle over the North Korean borders from China, and had them distribute the film on the black markets of Pyongyang.
One of the smugglers asked the designer to send him some clothes and shoes for his wife and daughters as a price for this dangerous job.
As Hwang Kim explained me, North Koreans have almost no access to the internet. The only way they can watch films and soap operas from other country is to buy pirate DVD on the black markets of the capital.
All the actors of Star Pizza are South Koreans, casting North Koreans refugees may have threaten their security. To give the illusion that the film was made in North Korea, North Korean refugees gave the actors a one week intensive accent training course. The refugees, living now in London and South Korea gave advice and feedback on all aspect of the film, throughout its production.
Star Pizza is accompanied by a series of specially designed political props that have been inserted into the four episodes and that were also exhibited at the RCA show.
For example, the prop in the second episode of the film is an "Exile Blanket". The young couple is packing a suitcase for their holiday abroad. A Russian-style bed sheet embroidered with the portraits of famous political exiles can be seen in the back of their room. Images of exiles are not allowed to be shown in any kind of media in North Korea. Yet, exile is the only way for North Koreans to travel abroad. According to the UN HCR, over 300,000 North Koreans have already chosen this form of holiday.
The designer chose some of his own favourite exiles for the blanket. From left top, Karl Marx, Dea Joong Kim, Vladimir Lenin, Miklós Horthy, Napoleon Bonaparte, Alejo Carpentier, Aleksandr Danilovich Menshikov, Alfonso XII, Bob Powell, Edward VIII, Ferdinand Marcos, Francisco Goya, Haile Selassie, Sun Yat Sen and Manuel Azaña.
Another prop is the fan that doubles as a radio when you press the buttons in the correct order. Long distance, short wave radios are strictly forbidden in North Korea. In the film, a old fan is used as a vehicle to conceal this type of radio, enabling the protagonists to circumvent the regulations. It is a playful proposal for North Koreans on how to develop creative tools of cultural guerrilla.
From the same Platform: Nomadic Sound Systems.
While in Montreal i saw a wonderful video by Laurent Grasso at the Galerie de l"UQAM. The film was part of a group exhibition, Nomos et Physis, in which four artists explore the various types of relationships we might have with political institutions. The title refers to the Greek debate on the bonds that tie two antagonistic forces: Law and order (Nomos) on the one side and Nature (Physis) on the other.
Grasso's movie, shot in 2009 in The United Arab Emirates, looks at traditional hawk hunting. Except that the hawk gets equipped with light and sophisticated surveillance equipment. Once let to roam free above the land, the bird becomes a spying tool constantly tracked by its owner. The camera records every dune and village the hawk flies over. The images are fascinating but they are also threatening. Who is the man tracking the bird with an antenna? What is he trying to uncover?
The movie and its paranoia-inducing music reminds us that a technique to use pigeons for aerial photography of enemy lines during wars was developed as early as 1907. The practice might not have vanished completely. Two years ago, articles reported that Iranian security forces had captured a pair of "spy pigeons," not far from one of the country's nuclear processing plants.
Previously by Laurent Grasso: Haarp at the GAKONA exhibition in Paris.
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.