Sudden Justice: America's Secret Drone Wars, by investigative journalist Chris Woods.
Publisher Oxford University Press writes: In Sudden Justice, award-winning investigative journalist Chris Woods explores the secretive history of the United States' use of armed drones and their key role not only on today's battlefields, but also in a covert targeted killing project that has led to the deaths of thousands. The CIA nurtured and developed drones before the War on Terror ever began, seeking a platform from which it could monitor its targets and act lethally and instantly on the intelligence it gathered. Since then, remotely piloted aircraft have played a critical role in America's global counter-terrorism operations and have been deployed to devastating effect in conventional wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. Drone crews, analysts, intelligence officials and military commanders all speak frankly to the author about how armed drones revolutionized warfare--and the unexpected costs to some of those involved.
Sudden Justice is probably the most talked about drone book of the year. It is also the most detailed, the most thorough study of the evolution of weaponised drone warfare you can find. The author, Chris Woods, is an investigative journalist who specializes in conflict and national security issues. He was awarded the Martha Gellhorn Journalism Prize for his investigations into covert U.S. drone strikes with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. He also contributes to The Guardian.
In preparation to this book and as part of his work as a journalist, Woods has interviewed former drone operators and mission controllers, retired intelligence commanders, senior Air Force officials and psychologists, US Navy veterans, diplomats, parents of young people killed during the strikes, survivors of attacks, etc. In short, anyone who had any (voluntary or not) role to play in this new form of asymmetrical warfare is bringing their own view about the issue.
The use of weaponized drones outside of the battlefields is one of the most worrying characteristics of our times. At the time Woods was writing the book, drones had already killed 3000 people. Some of them civilians, not militants. The author reminds us, for example, that when Obama's presidency was just 72h old, he had already authorized a secret action that accidentally killed 14 civilians.
By acting as judge, jury and executioner, the U.S. is not only setting a worrying template for the future of warfare, its is also antagonizing the populations targeted (drone strikes have apparently become a recruiting tool and a motivator for jihadists), creating a new generation of operators so stressed that psychologists still have to invent a word that would describe their condition, and alienating allied countries that believe (rightly) that the targeted killing practice is illegal.
There's no sign of a slowdown. Since 2010, the US Air Force has been training more drone pilots than fighter and bomber pilots combined. And the Obama administration intends to keep on eschewing any request for transparency and accountability.
My interest for photography, working class culture and marginal communities is fairly well documented on this blog. Hence my enthusiasm when learning about the upcoming For Ever Amber exhibition.
The Amber Collective was born in the late 1960s when a group of students at Regent Street Polytechnic in London realized that their education drove them away from their working class background. Resolving to reconnect with their origins and document working class culture in photos and videos, they moved to the North East of England in 1969 and in 1977 opened Side Gallery.
Over the past 45 years, the members of the collective have been documenting the industrial and post-industrial communities living along the river Tyne, the fishermen, the shipbuilders, the people working in the coal and steel industry, but also their families, the unemployed and the marginalized communities. The result is a vast archive of photos and films that present both both artistic and historical value.
In parallel with Amber's own film & photographic production, the collective has also been collecting and presenting to the broad public a series of classic and contemporary international documentary works, presenting similar socially-engaged concerns.
Hi Graeme! Why is this a good time for an Amber retrospective? Does the timing reflect a particular social moment for example?
There's never a time in this country when an exhibition of this kind isn't relevant!
For Ever Amber is actually part of a programme of works funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England to redevelop the gallery, do some digitalisation and make the works more accessible to people.
The work of the Amber Collective is rooted in social documentary, built around long term engagements with working class and marginalized communities in the North of England. I'm curious about the situation of the working class. How has it evolved over the 45 years of Amber's existence?
That changes constantly. A lot has happened over the last 45 years because in the North East of England (and elsewhere but particularly in the North East of England) many of the industries that shaped the identity of the working class communities have closed. When these industries shut down, people send the message out that these industries are not important, that they should be eradicated.
The sense of their identity has changed considerably. This week, members of the Amber Collective worked in a school in Easington. Children there didn't know anything about coal miners even though there is a miner banner hanging in the school hall. It is interesting and important to help children and others find their sense of identity, even if this is an entirely new identity. But having your sense of identity is important. The nature of these communities have changed. It was quite late before you saw widespread immigration in the North East of England. As a result, many of the communities were still overwhelmingly white working class but that has changed since the 2000s.
Whether they are white working class, or marginalised communities, these are people have a lot in common and their voices are denied by the mainstream.
The early members of Amber came themselves from a very working class background and felt that their education pushed them away from the places where they grew up. Instead, they wanted to celebrate their origins and the people who, so far, had mostly been used as material for jokes in films and on tv.
What about the cultural value of the work done by Amber photographers? The photos seem to resonate not just with people living in the North East of England but also with the rest of the country and i think i can also say that they are interesting far beyond the UK borders.
We find that the work resonates enormously with people from other countries. When you go to countries like Spain, France or Germany, you find that people immediately connect with these images. People see that the images depict lives and streets that are not so dissimilar from their own. It's actually much more the case in Europe than it is in some parts of the UK.
In this country, especially in the cultural world, there is a resistance to document these marginalized worlds. The UK has a few difficulties with documentary. I'm not talking about the audience but about curators and funding bodies. They show some interest in documenting the 1930s and the 1940s up until the 1980s but they don't seem to be interested in documentaries about the present days.
Konttinen explained to The Guardian why the photo above is her "best shot."
Do you think that television is doing a better job at representing the working class then?
No, with TV, we've even gone backwards. We are going back to a situation in which the working class is there to provide cheap laughs. But these things come in circles and we need another movement to challenge the current situation.
I was reading a letter published in The Guardian this morning. The street photographer was from Birmingham and he explained that he was often stopped in public and private spaces. Security spots him on CCTV and ask him to stop shooting. I haven't photographed children playing in a public space for many years, and the work of people such as Vivian Maier and Shirley Baker would be impossible these days. It seems to me, from a photographic point of view, that the public space has become privatised, with CCTV everywhere and the lone photographer increasingly unwelcome. Is this something Amber members have noticed as well? Are people still comfortable with being photographed nowadays? Or are they reluctant because of privacy or other concerns?
Yes, when Amber began, street photography was very much a part of what documentary photographers did. But things have changed in a number of ways. Nowadays, people are suspicious that the photographer might be a pedophile for example. Then there is also the issue that part of the public space has been privatized. Almost everyone has a camera phone so, in a way, there is now more street photography than ever. But people are more suspicious than in the past when they see a camera. All of the photographers responded to the challenge in their own way. By negotiating access to people's life, for example, and by making certain that people were genuinely inviting them into their life. If people were not happy with the photo, the photographer would not use it. This in turn enables the photographer to go further and opens up new areas.
In any case, we've lost a significant amount of what is happening in the street. In terms of photography, a lot of questions have been raised as to what is legitimate for a photo to portray.
I was also curious about Coke to Coke, a series of photographs you worked on together with Peter Fryer. The photos were taken in the 1980s and follow the closure of Derwenthaugh coking plant and the opening of the nearby Metro Centre shopping mall. What was the mood of the people then? Where they angry or sad about the end of an era or optimistic of what the new shopping mail represented?
You can't generalize of course but i think that when i accompanied Peter to photograph the opening of the Metro Center, we had a sense of people being dazed by it. It was all bright and artificial and protected from the weather. It was like a place to visit. It gave you a sense of the 'new world.' And it still does because it is so artificial. People loved it. In the States, it was nothing new but it was the first out of town shopping mall in the UK. There was a fun fair aspect to it, with people looking at the shop as if they were at the fair.
At the time, i had just moved to the Derwenthaugh Valley. Derwenthaugh Coke Works was a vision of Dante's Inferno at the end of the Valley. One place was closing, another one was opening. It was a symbol of time changing. That's why we looked at it.
People working at Derwenthaugh Cokeworks were sad but they were also starting to realize that they worked in a cancerogenic atmosphere. Looking back at the '80s, that's when people started to think about the environmental impact of fossil fuels. Before that, these issues were not really discussed.
The opening of the Metro Center was a moment in time. The steel making town was closing its steel factory, the miner strikes had failed and Thatcher's programme of closures was accelerating.
For Ever Amber opens at the Laing Gallery in Newcastle on 27 June and runs until 19 September, bringing together over 150 original photographs and film clips capturing over 40 years of cultural, political and economic shifts in North East England.
'For Ever Amber' is a partnership between Amber Film and Photography Collective and Laing Art Gallery, with support from Tyne & Wear Museums and Archive. The exhibition has been supported by Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England.
This Friday, the National Football Museum in Manchester is opening a new season of commissions, artists residencies and artefacts. One of the highlights of the programme is Out of Play: Technology & Football, an exhibition that explores the impact that new technologies have in the development of the game but also on the way it is experienced by fans around the world.
Out of Play: Technology & Football brings together works by designers, artists, scientists and fans who explore and demonstrate how football and new technology overlap in today's society.
The works on show range from a robotic soccer robot to the Soccket energy generating football, from the ever irresistible and painful Leg Shocker to the world premier of Jer Thorp's immersive installation The Time of the Game. The result is an interactive exhibition that brings into a highly popular museum an entertaining but also critical and provocative view of the impact that technology has on 'the beautiful game.'
The show opens tomorrow and i'm looking forward to visiting it in a couple of weeks. But in the meantime i caught up with curator John O'Shea. You might remember John from his work as an artist. When he isn't busy growing Pigs Bladder Football from living animal cells and developing his other artworks, John is the Art Curator and Head of visual art programme at the NFM. He has spent the past two years embedded in the museum with the goal of establishing an art and technology exhibiting and learning programme from scratch.
Hi John! First of all what can technology do for football? How does it impact the game itself on the football pitch? Excuse my very boring remark but it's always the same game of men running after a ball after all...
Over the past few years, some interesting questions related to technology and football have emerged. For example, during last year's world cup, goal-line technology was introduced following many debates around whether or not football should remain this 'primitive' game or whether technology should intervene on the field.
Connecting with these concerns, last year, the National Football Museum commissioned James Bridle to write a piece about it. In his essay, Spectacular Sports Visualisations, Bridle analyzes football and computer vision technology.
We also collaborated with the festival FutureEverything on a body of works that looks at the intersection of data and football. The commissioned work was the Winning Formula futuristic newspaper by the Near Future Laboratory.
But even data and computer vision fit a conventional story of technology, it's about control, about making the game more consistent.
The exhibition Out of Play is different, it's not about showcasing the latest advances of technology but about looking at the more unusual points where technology and football are intersecting. And the outcomes are often weird, unfamiliar.
The Time of The Game is the major new commission which will be presented within the museum's immersive, 180 degree wrap-around, cinema space. Developed by Jer Thorp with Teju Cole and Mario Klingemann, the work brings together almost 2000 photos made by football fans at the same time as they were watching last year's World Cup. The images show private spaces, public spaces, pubs, etc. Most were taken inside people's homes. What they show is a communal moment shared by people from Nigeria, Brazil, England.... Smartphones equipped with cameras are now almost ubiquitous, you find them everywhere even in poorer countries and it's that technology that makes it possible to represent this moment shared globally by football fans.
There is also a lot of humor in the show. We sometimes forget that football is fun. During our exchange of emails you mentioned the rather unpleasant coverage that FIFA is having at the moment. Do you think this will somehow reflect on the exhibition? (no need to answer this one if you feel the question is irrelevant)
The National Football Museum is an independent museum that tells the story of football in England from the perspective of the fans. The scrutiny FIFA is coming under is not really a surprise for fans as many have been dissatisfied with the federation for years. And this crisis only highlights the poignancy of a work like The Time of the Game.
The reason for this title is that we are looking for a common ground between art and football. (There aren't many!) But one of them is that both football and art have origins in play, they're both about introducing play into something. And in football, just like in art, it is important sometimes to remember not to take things too seriously.
The Humanoid Soccer Robots?! You're going to show them? a whole team? Will they be playing?
With the art programme, we want to broaden the scope of what the museum displays and collects so we've been developing new collaborations and partnerships for the future. Plymouth University is one of those partners. They are the leader in the UK in humanoid soccer robots and participate to the competition organised by the Federation of International Robot-soccer Association (FIRA) since 1997. The robots might look a bit basic but the ultimate goal of the competition is to have them challenge a team of human football champions by 2050. This might sound outlandish but if you think about it, Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov in 1997. No one would have imagine it was possible 35 years before the chess match.
For the exhibition, we will have one of the robots on display and the Plymouth robotic team will come and do a demo (no precise date yet.)
The robot will actually be shown in the same display as Soccket and Leg Shocker. So that's science, art and design, all in the same display. The energy generating ball might look a bit silly but the premise is interesting. Imagine it used in refugee camps for example. Children would play and generate electricity through kinetic action. The third work in the display is Fur's art piece. By new media standards, Leg Shocker is almost an antique. As a museum, we want to be able to collect new media works related to football. As we go along with the art programme, the team here is learning a lot: how to maintain these media works, what role they play as provocative objects, etc.
Could you talk to us about World Scratch day, a series of football-based computing activities aimed at introducing children to code. How does it work? How exactly do kids use football to learn code?
Over the course of the day, 80 children in groups of 6 or 7 came to the museum and were able to create simple animation works related to football, make simple games or work with Sonic Pi software to make their own version of the match of the day theme song. It was like a little hackathon for kinds. Ultimately, what we'd like to do is see groups come and use the museum over the weekends to learn some coding.
Next, i saw that artists are in residency at the NFM. Can you already tell us about their work there? What makes the robot lawnmower an artwork rather than just a robot lawnmower, for example?
We commissioned 4 artistic residencies that enable artists to develop works related to football clubs or to the communities around football. So far, artists were (unsurprisingly) more interested in working with more unusual communities than with football clubs.
Matthew Plummer Fernandez was curious about lawn mowers with computerized systems to design patterns on football pitches. Forest Green FC already has a robotic lawnmower which has its own algorithm for cutting the grass, it 'decides' which areas need to be cut more, which ones need to be cut less. It creates its own version of a field. Matthew wants to understand better the algorithm on board o the lawnmower and then create an online identity for this lawnmower and make it 'the 12th man' of the team.
The other residency has Jen Southern and Chris Speed were interested work with Workington Uppies and Downies. Uppies and Downies is an ancient version of football - a game with no rules. Thousands of men try to move the ball in a scrum up the hill or down to the harbour. The artists placed GPS trackers on some of the men and will be making work based on the data obtained.
Now i'm also curious about your own work at the museum. You head a rather edgy art program in an institution that doesn't usually cater for the traditional art crowd. I think this is a great opportunity you have there! i'm quite jealous. But how do you navigate the desire to show good art and the need to please the 30,000 visitors the museum welcomes each month?
Certain languages, certain conventions are used in established art institutions. At the National Football Museum we have our own etiquette: Interactivity is a given, for example. You can touch things. And the museum is not a white wall space. So the question for me was "How should art fit into this environment?" The challenge here is to exhibit art in a way that is sensitive to both the work and the environment.
The National Football Museum has some challenging displays such as one dedicated to the weapons of hooligans, or football disasters. It also raises critical questions, like the Football Association ban of women playing football on its premises until 1971.
There is sometimes this assumption that making bold statements in an art museum context is going to have a huge impact but often artists are just making a gestures to people already informed about the issue they're trying to address. Basically, the established art community is often just talking to itself. The National Football Museum, I feel belongs more to the public realm and the works in the show have the potential to influence anyone among our visitors, not just a self-selected audience.
Out of Play opens on 19 June at the National Football Museum, Manchester, UK. It remains open until 19 July 2015.
Previously: Politics and Practices of Secrecy (part 1).
And this is part 2 of the notes i took during the Politics and Practices of Secrecy symposium which took place at King's College in London last month. My reports do not follow the schedule of the panels, nor do they cover all the talks. I'm just cherry picking the more interesting moments of the day. Part 1 focused on the art projects. This post is less uniform in its theme. Two of the presentations i enjoyed covered the representation of intelligence agencies in films and tv fiction. Another was about the influence that new forms of surveillance are having on the rise of home-grown ('home' being the U.S.A., the symposium was organised by the Institute of North American Studies) white extremist groups. And a fourth talk wondered if transparency could fix our democracy.
Let's start with Timothy Melley, Professor Affiliate of American Studies at Miami University and author of The Covert Sphere. Secrecy, Fiction, and the National Security State and of Empire of Conspiracy. The Culture of Paranoia in Postwar America.
In his talk, 'The Democratic Security State: Operating Between Secrecy and Publicity', Melley listed up a few numbers:
This secret world costs 8 billion dollars per year.
50,000 intelligence reports are written each year. Their volume is so large that most are never read.
The intelligence hides out in the open:
The complexity of this system defies description Lt Gen. (Ret.) John R. Vines
The U.S. covert state is a growing industry. It handles a huge number of secrets all over the country. It relies on democratic structures but acts like a shadow state that has its own territory and laws. It also support some film makers by lending helicopters needed for films that publicize the covert world. The reason for that is that the secret programme needs public approval.
What we know about the CIA comes from leaks but also from fiction. Our screens are awash with what Melley calls 'terror melodrama." One of his presentations slides even listed those films. Covert CIA operations are celebrated in books, films, games, tv series, etc. Earlier this year, the CIA, pleased with the way it is portrayed in "Homeland", invited the show's cast and producers to visit its headquarters in Virginia and have a discussion. Another example is when Michelle Obama presented the 2013 Best Picture award to Ben Affleck's Argo, a film adapted from CIA operative Tony Mendez's book The Master of Disguise and the 2007 Wired article The Great Escape: How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans from Tehran.
Keeping with the spy in entertainment theme, Matt Potolsky, Professor of English at University of Utah, looked at the representation of the NSA on tv and in cinema.
Fiction and films are often the only way the public can picture and judge for themselves the activities of intelligence agencies. FBI, KGB, CIA have often been presented in films. How about the NSA? According to Potolsky, the NSA never turned into real fictional tropes.
There have been more recent attempts to depict the activity of the massive NSA:
Mark Fenster, Professor at the Levin College of Law (University of Florida) and author of the book Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture. His talk was titled 'Secrecy and the Hypothetical State Archive.'
Fenster started by reminding us of a whistleblower of the early 1970s. Daniel Ellsberg was employed by the RAND Corporation when he not only read classified documents he wasn't supposed to open but also photocopied and released them to The New York Times and other newspapers. The Pentagon Papers, officially titled United States - Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense, were top-secret documents that charted the US' political-military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967.
There is now a trust in 'transparency' but, Fenster asks, Can transparency fix our democracy? Obama was elected to end Bush's secrecy. But the secrecy is now as deep as ever. If not deeper.
But Fenster says, information leaks. Sometimes from the top, sometimes from the bottom. Sometimes drop by drop, sometimes it flows.
It is particularly tricky to control State information. If you think about the model of communication Sender-Message-Receiver, the Sender would be the State, the Message is state information and the Receiver is the public.
The state is organizationally complex, it is spatially deployed, it is enclosed in buildings, offices. In truth, it is a mess that is difficult to keep shut.
State information is difficult to perceive clearly, it is a vast amount of information, it is hard to archive and to control its release. Sometimes state information can leak by mistake.
The public is made of individuals and they will have their own interpretation of any information released.
In brief, information cannot be controlled, on any level.
According to Fenster, the revelation of a secret often offers marginal gains. It certainly doesn't lead necessarily to a reformed democracy.
Another talk i found very informative was the one by Hugh Urban, professor of religious studies at Ohio State University and author of The Church of Scientology: A History of a New Religion
His talk, 'The Silent Brotherhood: Secrecy, Violence, and Surveillance from the Brüder Schweigen to the War on Terror' looked at the white males' belief that they are the victims of racial oppression. In their view, white males are persecuted by women, Black people, Muslims, Jews, etc. That's what Urban calls the "white man falling" syndrome.
Brüder Schweigen or Silent Brotherhood, was a white nationalist revolutionary organization active in the United States between September 1983 and December 1984. Its founder Robert Jay Mathews wanted to create an elite vanguard of Aryan warriors to save the white race. The Silent Brotherhood group was responsible for a number of violent crimes: robberies, bombings, murders, counterfeiting operations, etc.
Nowadays, much of the anti-terrorist attention focuses on radical Islam, neglecting home-grown white extremist groups. Figures show that the number of patriot groups in the U.S. is growing very rapidly. The reasons for that are many: bad economic conditions, black president but also the rise of surveillance which augments these people's distrust of the FBI, NSA and other governmental agents.
Urban's conclusions were that:
1. Secrecy is both the explanation and the radical solution for the 'white man falling' syndrome.
2. New forms of surveillance play into, feed and reinforce the narratives of such radical groups.
Politics and Practices of Secrecy was organized by the Institute of North American Studies at King's College London, on 14-15 May, 2015.
Aernoudt Jacobs is an artist fascinated with sound in all its forms and possible expressions. He collects fields recordings around the world but he also creates installations based on Bell's photoacoustic effect that reveals the sonority of any material hit with a strong beam of light, builds sound microscope that magnifies the freezing and melting process of water or suspends coils, magnets and 1000 tin cans into the air to play with the laws of electromagnetic induction and generate tiny vibrations that produce sounds. It is as if everything in the visible and the invisible world provides him with endless opportunities for sound exploration.
Like most of his other installations, Jacob's latest work is half scientific experiment, half art piece. It involves using a membrane made of electroactive polymers as a sort of "living" speaker to autonomously manipulate the playback of a recording he made in a Romanian forest. Which might sound a bit confusing in words but gets instantly clearer if you take a look at the video that documents it:
Under their peaceful, impeccably engineered and elegant appearances, Jacob's installations evoke phenomena that pertain to perception, psychoacoustics, physics and scientific processes. Alluring as they are on youtube and on the pages of his website, his works gain all their dimensions when experienced in situ. Sadly, i never got that chance. Hence my desire to interview the artist:
Hi Aernoudt! I was expecting you to have trained as an artist or musician but i discovered in your bio that you studied Architecture in St. Lukas Ghent. How did you get to go from architecture to sound? How is your architectural training helping you approach your work with sound?
First there was sound/music then I discovered architecture and after that I came back to music/sound again in a professional way. Sound never really left me. I needed more freedom, the kind of freedom you rarely find in architecture. I left the studies after 4 years because real creativity is only a very small part of the job. Anyway that is how I perceived it. But the study itself is extremely broad and it gives a lot of insight. So I never build anything, I did a few years of assistance.
In a way, making sounds/installation is a very architectural process. And a lot of elements of the studies just came back in my actual work (like technological research, using 3D software, material science, philosophy, anthropology, ...) I'm very glad with that background. I just regret that the aspects of acoustics in architecture or even aural architecture was not developed at all in the courses at that time. I think my path would have been completely different if I would have started the studies today. I hear and read that a lot has changed in this regard. Also much more research and publications have been done in the field of building acoustics. There has been an exponential increase in knowledge during last 25 years. And still yet too many buildings have awful acoustics, even spaces where acoustics should be a primordial preoccupation.
There is no sound without space, that is the link between sound and architecture. And I think it is also the main reason why you find a lot of composers who studied architecture.
You are sound artist. But your installations are visually very elegant. Could you talk to us about the visual aspect of your work? How important is it to you? And how does it complement the sound work?
I am an artist that works primarily with the medium of sound. The seed of any work starts with a sonic aspect, and so to speak it progresses from that in a visual way. In general I never disconnect the sonic from the visual in my installations. They are always in tandem. Only a few times I was commissioned to make a 'speaker or headphone' installation because of certain limiting situations (like a public space or imposed infrastructure, ...) and even then the sound was indirectly evoking images.
The visual is also quite important because I tend to work on the transition between what you hear and what you see. The visual is a kind of an interface that brings the medium into motion, into the space, or into something that you can listen to. This interface can be highly technological because I am interested in phenomena, science, experimentation. Or it can be low-fi because I'm an autodidact mostly interested in carrying out research by myself, interested in the first hand experiences of phenomena. In fact, I see it a bit of prolongation of my field recording work where I hunt for sounds or when I try to grasp the origins of sounds.
A couple of your works investigate the photoacoustic effect, a discovery made by Alexander Graham Bell. The technique consisted in creating sound by exposing certain materials to focused beams of light. Light creating sound! That's pretty fascinating. Do you know if there are applications of this effect in non-artistic contexts? Have you ever dreamt of everyday life applications of the photoacoustic effect?
Actually there are a couple of applications that came from Bell's photoacoustic research: fiber-optic communication and the CD player. But those inventions came only definitively through many years later when lasers were invented.
I was reading the description of The Photophon Principle. It says that with the work you were trying to provide a certain kind of musicality: "but in the form of an installation, not of a playable instrument". Why was it important to underline that this is not about making music?
The research around the photoacoustic effect has multiple facets. And at that stage of writing I was primarily interested in presenting a work about a transformation process. Making a composition would ruin the perception of that installation. But just recently I had to make acoustic measurements on Photophon in an anechoic chamber. It would be very interesting to develop a composition in these conditions, then I would definitely treat it as an instrument. Sonically I was very much triggered by the digital sound that Photophon produces.
Making installation work or making a compositions are very different things. A composition is final once it has been published. It has a definite time factor. An installation is not. It is more flexible and it can evolve according to a different factors (space, situation, time, perceptive scope of the visitor, process of development). An installation will never be presented the same way twice.
Do you think it is best to understand the techy/scientific background of some of your pieces to appreciate them? Or can they be enjoyed purely for their sound and the experience they transmit?
The sound and the research of perception in my installations are certainly more important than the technology they use. That said the installations are part of a long process, I'm not interested in hiding completely the technology either. Technology and knowledge is a medium, it is a tool for research.
It also depends on what or how I want to present something. It is more a matter of focus.
Could you tell us about Overtoon which you co-direct with Christoph De Boeck? The objective of this platform and production facility is to 'support artists and give new impulses to the field of sound and media art.' How do you do that? I thought it was already difficult for young artists to support themselves so how do you manage to help other artists as well? And which kind of support do you provide them with?
Overtoon operates since 2013 as a platform for sound art and media art with a strong connection to sound. The platform has major a focus on production, research, residencies, distribution, sharing. Overtoon gives the possibility to develop further our own works, and it also offers yearly long-term residencies to artists with the aim to produce their works; they can also participate in our structure and benefit fully from our facilities. We are currently situated in a high-rise in the centre of Brussels.
They get a studio for one year and can work at their own pace on a specific production that we agreed on. During that year we follow-up the process, we hold regular meetings and we look out for possible partners or presentations. On a parallel level, Overtoon is also supporting the ongoing experiments of other artists; this is more short-time (weeks to couple of months) and depends mostly on request we get and the spaces we have available.
Besides this we organise lectures or presentation relating to the works we produce but it can also be anything touching the field of sound art (producing, presenting, curating, research, science, networks, history, expertise, future developments, ...) In the frame of the exhibition at Z33 we organised a symposium.
I also had a look at the list of artists who undertook a residency with Overtoon and their work is pretty impressive. Each of them has a really strong portfolio. How do you come upon and select the artists to support?
Indeed we are very glad with the responses and productions we have so far. Past yearly residents artists were Jeroen Uyttendaele, Jeroen Vandesande, Gert Aertsen and Stijn Demeulenaere. And this year we have Erik Nerinckx and Katerina Undo.
We don't write out calls. But we organise regular meetings with artist whose works we follow-up. We are open to propositions, and we are also in contact with curators. Sometimes these meetings evolve in time into specific projects, production or residencies.
Now i have a bit of a tricky question (and you can ignore it if you like). In general, our society is very 'visual'. I sometimes feel that it is not so simple to write about sound art. It's quite easy to just fall back onto a technical description of the piece, for example. If i look at the art section of mainstream newspapers, they are full of 'visual art' and 'music'. And sound art falls back somewhere in the middle. Do you feel that sound artists have a disadvantage compare to visual artists?
Not really, sound art has been evolving nicely past decades. I just find it a bit sad that the term sound art exists as a category, it is easy for theoreticians but it is not that interesting for the arts to have categories
On the other hand, as I see it, it is a great way to say that anything can be done with sound.
But I want quote Max Neuhaus (who coined the term sound installation in the sixties):
That work has been featured in Science magazine. While still in a research phase, the prototype has been presented during the exhibition KONTINUUM in Vienna which was organised by Roman Kirschner's Liquid Things. The development was in collaboration with EMPA, Angewandte and Liquid Things. I don't have any specific dates yet for final presentations.
There is a solo exhibition in Kristiansand Kunsthall, Norway that I'm preparing for early September. It is a big exhibition with one in situ work and different other works. It has already a nice title 'Once also this was a mutation' and many of the works deal with the idea of transformation. The exhibition is also part of the PUNKT festival and will feature live performances in the installations by Nils Christian Moe-Repstad, Espen Reinertsen and Marcus Schmickler. The exhibition is curated by Kjell Bjorgeengen.
Heliophone, based on the photoacoustic effect, will be presented in STUK, Leuven at the end of September. This will be accompanied with a small exhibition that lays out the complete photoacoustic research.
Image on the homepage by Kristof Vrancken.