Rutger Termohlen, Super A and Collin van der Sluijs at Achter De Lange Stallen. Photo GDFB


GDFB2014-Resolute. Photo: Rene de Wit Architectuurfotografie

The Graphic Design Festival Breda, that event which explores current developments in the field of graphic visual culture and turned me into a super fan of everything graphic overnight is over but one of the exhibitions part of the festival is up until the end of next month at MOTI - the Museum Of The Image in Breda. And it's a good thing because that little show is really good.

Resolute - Design Changes shows the work of graphic designers who aren't afraid to come to grip with burning social and political issues.

Their work goes beyond protest. The designers make us confront problems we'd rather not think about, they turn complex issues into clear and limpid visual communication, and some of them even craft tools that can be used for immediate action.

Resolute - design changes explores the current state of social responsibility taken up by designers. In vigorous projects these firm designers are determined to contribute to the process of change in society and their profession. Based on moderation, inspiration and engagement they encourage people to shape their opinions and stimulate them to take action.

The show was curated by Sven Ehmann and Dennis Elbers. I don't know which blogs and magazines these two eat for breakfast but i'd better find out and subscribe to them because it looks like i've been living under a stone over the past few years. All the games, posters, publications, projects and campaigns selected were strong and many of them were entirely new to me.

Quick overview some of the most striking ones:


Christopher Hope and Kenji Nakayama, Signs for the Homeless, 2012

Since 2011, Kenji Nakayama has been hand-painting signs for some of Boston's homeless population. The hastily written slogans that homeless people hold in the hope to get passersby attention go from beige brown bits of cardboard to colourful design pieces.

Lazaros Kakoulidis and Tzortzis Rallis, The Occupied Times of London, 2011-present

The Occupied Times of London is a political newspaper founded in October 2011 during the first week of the occupation of St Paul's.

Free, non-profit and devoid of any advertising, the publication is dedicated to highlighting perceived problems with current global socio-economic practices: "Neoliberalism is bleeding society dry, feeding upon the worst instincts of human nature and destroying the best - the qualities of solidarity, altruism, interrelationship with nature, meaningful work, and respectful coexistence within our families and communities."

Tzortzis Rallis told Dazed & Confused "We use a typeface called Bastard designed by Jonathan Barnbrook. It's reminiscent of the typefaces used by banks and companies during fascist times. He wanted to create a typeface that no one in the corporate sector would use to advertise."


Lucas Pope, Papers, Please, 2013

Papers, Please is a video game focusing on the emotional toll of working as an immigration officer, deciding who to let in and who to exclude from entering the fictional dystopian socialist state of Arstotzka.

The player earns money based on how many people have been processed and bribes collected. Money is taken out of the inspector's salary if they let terrorists, wanted criminals, or smugglers enter the country. Any money earned has to be invested in paying for rent, food, heat, and other necessities in low-class housing for themselves and their family. As relations between Arstotzka and nearby countries deteriorate, sometimes due to terrorist attacks, new sets of rules are gradually added, such as denying citizens of specific countries or demanding current documentation from citizens. The player may be challenged with moral dilemmas as the game progresses; such as allowing the supposed spouse of an immigrant through despite lacking complete papers, at the risk of accepting a terrorist into the country. (via)


Ruben Pater, Drone Survival Guide, 2013

Ruben Pater's Drone Survival Guide is a birdwatching-style poster designed to help you spot and identify drones. Silhouettes of the most commonly used drones are presented along with information about their country of origin and purpose: to spy or to kill. On the back of the poster, the guide details survival tips for spotting, hiding from, and interfering with the sensors of drones.

The poster was printed on a mirrored surface and could, in theory, confuse a drone's camera and be brandished as an anti-drone protection.

Center for Urban Pedagogy, I Got Arrested! Now What?, Making Policy Public, 2009-2014

The Center for Urban Pedagogy collaborates with teachers and students, policy experts and community advocates, and artists and designers to turn complex urban-planning processes and policy-making decisions into engaging and visually appealing brochures. CUP's aim is to provide practical advice to groups who lack access to such information: immigrants, public-housing residents, and at-risk youth, to name a few.

Joran Koster, The Social Media War, 2013

November 2012, The Israelian - Palestinian conflict erupts in an outburst of violence. This time not only in real life, but also on Social Media, where both parties use propaganda to conquer the hearts and minds.

The Social Media War is boardgame designed to give a visual, analog presence to a conflict fought in virtual space. Players can use propaganda to conquer and defend territories and thus win the digital war over the Gaza Strip.

I didn't get a chance to attend the whole festival but hey, hurray, the organizers uploaded on flickr fantastic sets of images that document the event:

GDFB2014-Research. Photo: Eline Baggen

GDFB2014-Reflect. Photo: Eline Baggen

GDFB2014-Reflect. Photo: Eline Baggen

GDFB2014-Remark. Photo: Eline Baggen

GDFB2014-Remark. Photo: Eline Baggen

GDFB2014-Remark. Photo: Eline Baggen

GDFB2014-Remark. Photo: Eline Baggen

2014: Review. Photo: Eline Baggen

GDFB2014-Reverb. Photo: Eline Baggen

GDFB2014-Reverb. Photo: Eline Baggen

GDFB2014-Reverb. Photo: Eline Baggen

More photos on GDFB flickr page.

Previously: Conflict Kitchen and Branding Terror. The Logotypes and Iconography of Insurgent Groups and Terrorist Organizations.

The exhibition Resolute: Design Changes remains open at the MOTI - Museum Of The Image, Breda, The Netherlands, until till 29 June 2014.

This year, BIP2014, the 9th International Biennial of Photography and Visual Arts in Liège, looks at the ambiguous relationship between images and belief. Image seduce, persuade, deceive and lie. And even if we are used to seeing images (and their meaning) being modified and manipulated, we still want to believe that what is under our eyes is The Truth, The Whole Truth, and Nothing But The Truth.

On the basis of this near irresistible attraction, power, whether it is clearly identified or ambiguous, relies on visual persuasion in its attempts to gain our conscious or unconscious consent. The fanaticism of the image and its attendant effects of belief have, in fact, today taken on a dimension that has never before been reached, perhaps in contrast to a society that claims to be rational. Included within the scope of the image are media and communication industries, spiritual and religious proselytizing of any kind, and marketing and economics, all crudely convened to force us to follow them.

Edouard Decam, Le Quatrieme Continent

BIP2014 was a passionate, curious, ambitious edition. I wish i could have written about it when the biennial was still on but i only managed to get to Liège as the event was closing.

The theme was great and i salute a biennial that refrained from dictating the audience what they ought to think about the power of deception that images hold. However, as i walked from one venue to another, i felt increasingly overwhelmed. The theme was explored in all its many facets, interpretations and directions. It wasn't just about 'believing' in a strictly religious sense but also about believing in the paranormal, in authority, in illusion, in technological dreams, in cultural icons, etc.

Raoef Mamedov, The Last Supper, 1998

Raoef Mamedov, The Last Supper

I also felt that the theme was stretched to its most lose ends. For example, i was glad to discover Raoef Mamedov's version of the Last Supper reenacted by people with Down's syndrome but it wasn't clear to me how the series fits with the idea of our ambiguous relationship with images. Still, the series is striking. Mostly because we are not used to seeing religious scenes inhabited by people who do not conform with what society regards as a 'desirable' or even 'normal' appearance. That goes not just for religious images but also for anything we see on TV and in magazine. However, you only need to go back in time to realize that society might have been more open-minded than we give it credit for. In the 16th century, Andrea Mantegna painted a Virgin and Child which, appears to have Down Syndrome.

End of the parenthesis. Start of a quick walk through the biennial:

Image BIP

Let's start with IDOLES, the exhibition that explores the image of power and authority. The show is hosted by the Cité Miroir. The building used to be a swimming pool. It used to be MY swimming pool. Why? What have they done with my swimming pool? I might not have set foot there for ages but that doesn't give them the right to transform it into a bland container of culture, right? Please give me back the swimming pool. Please!

Sorry, let's get back to business... Images are allies of dictators and democratic leaders alike. They command attention, speak to the masses, convey messages often clearer than long speeches. The show efficiently demonstrated that power of the image is so vast, it can propel an individual to the status of an idol.

Photo series taken around the world demonstrate the various forms of contemporary idolatry. Rows of uniforms facing a speech by Barack Obama, Syria's cult of personality, dehumanising May 1st celebrations in North Korea,

These powerful images, which reveal disturbing similarities, regardless of the "camp" to which they belong, express the fascination caused by the aestheticization of power, its staging and its decadence better than words ever could.

Oliver Hartung, "Welcome to the Governorate of Idlib. With regards from the Directorate of Technical Services." From the series Syria al-Assad

Oliver Hartung, "Electric Company of Jandar. Forever with you, Bashar al-Assad."
Jandar, south of Homs, 2009. From the series Syria al-Assad

From 2007 to 2009, Oliver Hartung documented the monuments and billboards erected by the side of the road to honor the Assad family who ruled Syria since 1971. The homages were built by local citizens and business people to declare loyalty to the government. The photos were taken from moving vehicles as Hartung was concerned about drawing attention to himself in such a heavily controlled police state.

Christopher Morris, Obama's War

Christopher Morris, Cadets listen as President Obama addresses the nation on Afghanistan. West Point, New York, 2009 (from the series Obama's War)

Christopher Morris, Obama's War

Obama's words and images are always sublimely engineered (If only his actions could follow suit.) Morris's photo series show the leader standing out in his dark suit, alone in front of identically attired young men.

Branislav Kropilak, billboard #15, 2008

Branislav Kropilak, billboard #10, 2008

Branislav Kropilak gives mundane "Billboards" a symmetrical nobility. They look like authoritative totems, not supports for marketing slogans and images.

Philippe Chancel, Arirang

Philippe Chancel, Arirang

In Arirang, Philippe Chancel document North Korea's flawlessly orchestrated annual mass games in Pyongyang where each move, each collectively sketched pattern reflects the tight control that the "Great Leader" Kim Il-sung holds over the country. The festival might be absurd in its antiquated extravagance and unsubtle propaganda but, strangely enough, it never fails to captivate "Western" audiences when images of the events are broadcast on tv.

Robert Boyd, The Man Who Fell To Earth, 2014

Robert Boyd, The Man Who Fell To Earth, 2014

The biennial presented the world premiere of Robert Boyd's The Man Who Fell To Earth. The triptych video installation uses archive images in a fast and furious montage to chart the fall of regimes and men. Former Romanian dictator Nicolae Caeusescu's deadly fall from power in December of 1989 is followed by images of Saddam Hussein's demise, George W. Bush's decline in political influence, the cracks forming in Kim Yong Ill's reign in North Korea and the political tumult resulting from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad 2009 re-election in Iran. The historical moments are mixed with images of mass spectacles, military defiles and clips from Nicholas Roeg's sci-fi classic staring David Bowie in the role of a humanoid alien who lands on Earth in search of a way to save his dying home planet but ends up alcoholic and disenchanted. By comparing the end games of contemporary heads of state to the dejected alien of Roeg's film, Boyd's video reflects on the transient nature of power and its ability to corrupt, while serving as a harbinger to the politically ostentatious.

This is going to sound lame and lazy but i don't think anything i could write could reflect the mark that video left on me. It is by far the most stunning and moving video i've seen this year.

Ansembourg Museum. Image BIP

Ansembourg Museum. Image BIP

Ansembourg Museum. Image BIP


The sleepy and bourgeois atmosphere of the Ansembourg Museum, an eighteenth century mansion, is the backdrop of MIRAGE. This chapter of the biennial reflects on virtual reality, illusion and emptiness.

Matthieu Gafsou, Sacré, 2011-2012

Matthieu Gafsou, Sacré, 2011-2012

Matthieu Gafsou, Sacré, 2011-2012

Matthieu Gafsou, Sacré, 2011-2012

Matthieu Gafsou, Sacré, 2011-2012

I was fascinated by Matthieu Gafsou's Sacré photographic series, a disturbing portrait of the Roman Catholic church in Fribourg (Switzerland.) Gafsou explores figures, spaces and moments that have a key place in catholic faith. the opulence of the rituals and relics appear to be disconnected from our contemporary life. In fact, there is in all these images an air of past grandeur that will never come back.

1a3 Corpus Christi Photography by Fabrice Fouillet.jpg
Fabrice Fouillet, Notre Dame du Chene, Viroflay, France, completed 1966. Architect: Frères Sainsaulieu

0a9 Corpus Christi Photography by Fabrice Fouillet.jpg
Fabrice Fouillet, St Ludwig, Saarelouis, Germany, completed 1970. Architect: Gottfried Böhn

Fabrice Fouillet's series 'Corpus Christi' brings the church slightly closer to us by focusing on architecture of places of worship built in the 20th Century. Many of the cathedrals and churches caused an outcry when they were first built, such was their deviation from traditional notions of religious architecture, upsetting the more conservative members of the clergy. That series was part of another exhibition at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Liège (note that none of these art institutions has thought relevant to invest in decent online representation.)

Chapelle St-Roch

Chapelle St-Roch

OMG* was a very charming show set in the Chapelle St-Roch, a sixteenth century church decrepit and covered in pigeon shit. The MADmusée (Liège's museum for outsider art) chose it as a setting to exhibit photographic accounts of outsider artist environments built through the sheer force of conviction and commitment of an individual. I couldn't find many images online so i;ll have to limit myself to two pitiful photos:

From Jean-Michel Chesne's postcard collection

From Jean-Michel Chesne's postcard collection

Jean-Michel Chesne's collection of postcards that show locations and constructions that emerged out of personal faith and mysticism. These places are so eccentric-looking that have become touristic attractions.

The exhibition also included images that photographer Mario Del Curto had taken while visiting outsider artists in their working environment or homes. The photos selected show 'outsider environments' born of an epiphany, an unshakable spiritual will.


Related story: Manipulating Reality - How Images Redefine the World.

The Secret World of Oil, by Ken Silverstein.

Available on amazon USA and UK.


Publisher Verso writes: Oil is the lifeblood of modern civilization, and the industry that supplies it has been the subject of intense interest and scrutiny, as well as countless books. And yet, almost no attention has been paid to little-known characters vital to the industry--secretive fixers and oil traders, lobbyists and PR agents, gangsters and dictators--allied with competing governments and multinational corporations. Virtually every stage in oil's production process, from discovery to consumption, is greased by secret connections, corruption, and violence, even if little of that is visible to the public. The energy industry, to cite just one measure, violates the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act more often than any other economic sector, even weapons. This book sets out to tell the story of this largely hidden world.

Based on trips to New York, Houston, New Orleans, Paris, Geneva, and Phnom Penh, among other far-flung locales, The Secret World of Oil includes up-close portraits of Louisiana oilmen and their political handlers; an urbane, captivating London fixer; and an oil dictator's playboy son who had to choose among more than three dozen luxury vehicles before heading out to party in Los Angeles. Supported by funding from the prestigious Open Society Foundations, this is both an entertaining global travelogue and a major work of investigative reporting.

Didier Ruef, Lokbatan, Baku Region, Azerbaijan, 2007. A man, working and wearing a BP pullover, poses with a dead buffalo's head

Didier Ruef, Baku, Azerbaijan. A shepherd and his flock of sheep

The Secret World of Oil. Now that's a catchy title.

Silverstein investigates the murky oil scene through a series of characters that have so far received very little attention. These middle men stand between corrupt governments and the industry. The scope of their dirty operations is global, their influence is often colossal but they manage to remain in the shadow, quietly amassing fortunes and political ties along the way.

Each chapter in the book investigates a particular figure that personifies one of the many reasons why the energy business is even more squalid than it is profitable.

The first chapter looks at oil fixers. Ely Calil is one of them. He opens the list of secret is an oil fixer. He uses his powerful network to open doors for corporate clients in countries ruled by dictators, he makes sure the right palms are greased, and knows how to set up front companies to move money around. (the whole chapter about Calil is online.) Silverstein obtained exclusive information from Calil because over the years they've established a personal relationship (i wonder if it survived the publication of this book. Probably not.)

Transparency International reports on corruption policies of oil companies. The Deepwater Horizon oil rig burning in the Gulf of Mexico. Photograph: AP (via)

Abandoned oil rig (image)

However, it doesn't seem like Silverstein has ever managed to chat with kleptocrat
Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue. He had to rely on discussions with former employees and other people who had a professional relationship with 'Teodorin.' Teodoro Obiang is the son of the dictator of Equatorial Guinea, a tiny country with massive oil resources and one of the worst human rights records in the world.

The book demonstrates that the higher the U.S.'s economic interests in a country energy resource, the more tolerant it grows towards any gross human rights violation. In fact, it seems that dictators who keep a thigh grip on their country are regarded as bearer of 'stability.' And obviously, as far as multinational energy are concerned, it is easier to strike a deal with a dictator than negotiate with local communities: "As long as we want cheap gas, democracy can't exist," said Ed Chow, a longtime Chevron executive.

Anyway, while the wealth that oil brings to the country directly ends up in the Obiang family's deep pockets, the daily existence of people living in the country has seen little improvement. In fact, many social welfare indicators have gotten worse, not better, since oil money started flowing in (infant mortality rate climbed up, net drop in enrollment for primary education, etc.)

Theodorin, who dedicates his days to extravagant shopping sprees in Miami and dreams of being a hip-hop mogul, is favourite to his father's throne. It is very unlikely that the country's ecological and financial situation will thrive once he gains even more power.
Again, you can find the content of the chapter online.

The chapter about traders zooms in on Glencore, the biggest company you've never heard of. The chapter relies on WikiLeaked cables and interviews with traders who speak 'off the record'. And you can see why they are not keen on revealing their names. Traders go where multinationals fear to thread in order to negotiate and purchase output from energy-producing nations, and they often operate at the margins of what is legal. They are responsible for anything that goes from manipulating the price of oil to dumping toxic waste in Ivory Coast.

They operate through a maze of offshore accounts, subsidiaries and shell corporations and it's virtually impossible to keep track of their activities.

The next player is Bretton Sciaroni. He is a 'gatekeeper', he provides advice and counsel to foreign investors seeking to do business in Cambodia. Sciaroni seems to be content of his friendly relationship with a government described by Human Rights Watch's Southeast Asian Director, David Roberts, as a "vaguely communist free-market state with a relatively authoritarian coalition ruling over a superficial democracy." On the one hand, he has brokered deals that are highly detrimental to the public but that benefit government officials and well-connected domestic and foreign insiders. On the other hand, his role also involves orchestrating PR campaign that depict Cambodia as the ideal country to do business in.

You can find the chapter on Sciaroni online as well.

The Kashagan oil field in the Caspian Sea produces 26,000 barrels a day, but could yield up to 1.5 million barrels a day. Photo: Anatoly Ustinenko/Reuters

The chapter about Tony Blair (the 'flack' in SIlverstein's book) was particularly staggering. As we know, Blair spends much of his time traveling around the world as a highly paid speaker and senior adviser for governments and corporations. He not only imparts his 'wisdom' onto the privileged audience but he also helps glam up the image of countries with poor human right track records, brushing corruption, political repression, and glaring social inequalities under the carpet.

Blair has been very active, it seems, endorsing internationally the regime and promoting the images of the rulers of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and other Caspian states. Not even the accusation that the head of a country is 'boiling alive political opponents' will stop him.

Silverstein wrote about Blair in New Republic.

The sixth part of the book explores the activities of lobbyists in Louisiana. This chapter is particularly grim. The author goes as far as to compare the U.S.'s third energy-producing state with "classic Third World states" because of rampant corruption, glaring social inequalities and little spending on social programs. The situation is so bad that the energy industry has often managed to get its own appointed to top positions at the state's two main environmental agencies (the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Environment Quality.)

Amusingly, Silverstein obtained much of his information because one of the most active lobbyist he interviewed confused him with a journalist of the same who writes also about energy issue, only that the other Ken Silverstein writes for industry-friendly trade publications.

Neil Bush is the icon of the final chapter that looks at con artists and hangers-on attracted by money. They have little talent but it never prevents them from trying. Bush is the son and brother of US presidents. He relentlessly travels in search of deals to strike in the oil industry but most of his efforts often end in failure. Which doesn't really matter as his name shields him from any unpleasant responsibility or complete financial collapse.

I opened the book already aware that the oil business is one without honour nor conscience but, because the book puts a name on some of the most squalid players involved in the energy racket, i closed it with more despair than ever. Suddenly i encountered the stories of individuals who have families and histories. Not just faceless corporations and far away country.

The content of The Secret World of Oil relies on the author's investigative journalism which means that you can't cross check every single fact in the book but have to rely on Silverstein's professionalism. I'm more used to heavily referenced essays but i've no doubt he is a scrupulous and honest journalist.

This is not a book about the oil industry per se, it merely brings the spotlight on a few players who operate in the dark. For a broader (and really engrossing) picture of the field, i'd recommend another Verso book: The Oil Road: Journeys From The Caspian Sea To The City Of London by James Marriott and Mika Minio-Paluello (on amazon USA and UK.)

Gawker has an interview with the reporter.

Manifesta Bus Trip installation. Part of the Piratbyrån and Friends exhibition at Furtherfield Gallery. Photo Furtherfield

Now that I'm back from a series of trips, i might finally be able to catch up on the many conferences, festivals and exhibitions i've attended over the past few weeks. Starting with Piratbyrån and Friends, an exhibition at Furtherfield that presents screenings, installations and artworks by founding and more recent members of Piratbyrån (The Bureau for Piracy), keen to tell the story of the group on their own terms.

Piratbyrån was created in 2003 to support the free sharing of information, culture, and question intellectual property. In clear contrast with the 'values' of Antipiratbyrån, Hollywood's lobby group in Sweden. Until i saw this exhibition, i didn't realize how much contemporary culture owes to the trailblazing thinking and acting of Piratbyrån. Piratbyran is often reduced to file-sharing and The Pirate Bay. In reality, the group looked more broadly at the potential of copying in technical, artistic and philosophical contexts. As Geraldine Juarez wrote me "I don't know how whisteblowing would work today without someone knowing that you can copy files in a USB and send it to journalists. Leaking is fundamentaly file-sharing. Leaking an album or secret documents go through the same process of *copying*. And as the exhibition efficiently demonstrates, Piratbyrån is also about more egalitarian models of networked culture, about collaboration, about not being an artist but using art as a strategy to spread values.

Piratbyrån Timeline

Palle Torsson, Riot Chat. Part of the Piratbyrån and Friends exhibition at Furtherfield Gallery

In 2007 - after having kickstarted the Swedish debate over file-sharing, which by the time had become a major issue in the previous years national election and after having created The Pirate Bay as a side-project that became the world largest file-sharing system - the people from Piratbyrån had grown tired of the file-sharing debate and its endless repetitions of for-or-against, legal-or-illegal, payment-or-gratis. At the last day of April in a Walpurgis fire on the top of the highest mountain in Stockholm the masked members burned the remaining copies of a book on file-sharing they had published some years earlier and declared the debate dead. The video documentation of this ritual, set to the soundtrack of KLF's What Time is Love, found its way to the Indian Raqs Media Collective group who was just about to curate the next Manifesta biennial in Bolzano, Italy.

Piratbyrån closed in 2009 and the Furtherfield show tells the story of this group of friends through videos, a timeline, archive material and newly commissioned work by artists Geraldine Juarez and Evan Roth.

Quick and partial walk-though:

Appropriated police riot shields:

James Cauty, PB2. Part of the Piratbyrån and Friends exhibition at Furtherfield Gallery

James Cauty. PB2 & Smiley Riot Shield 2


Geraldine Juárez, Torrent Tent

Inside The Tent: Piratbyrån and Friends, Tapecasts. Geraldine Juárez / Simon Klose / Piratbyrån, S23m (System 23 Modified). John Higgs, KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band Who Burned a Million

Kopimi Totem by Evan Roth

The seven open wireless routers of Evan Roth's Kopimi Totem are arranged in the iconic Kopimi pyramid. Visitors can connect to each of the routers and download archival media (text, images, video, etc) from the 10 year history of the Piratbyrån organization. Visitors can also upload their own files, thus contributing to the harmony of the data life cycle of copy (yin) and paste (yang).

Piratbyrån and Friends installation

From the dotcom bubble to the Embassy of Piracy at the Venice Biennale. Magnus Eriksson showed us snippets from the Piratbyrån archives.

Magnus Eriksson presents Piratbyrån digital archive at Furtherfield Commons

Magnus Eriksson presents Piratbyrån digital archive at Furtherfield Commons

Exhibition trailer: Piracy as Friendship @Furtherfield

More photos at Furtherfield and Paul Ros.
Piratbyrån and Friends, was curated by Rachel Falconer & Furtherfield. The exhibition remains open at Furtherfield in Finsbury Park, London, until Sunday 08 June 2014.


Pau Waelder has recently published at Merkske $8,793 Worth of [Art], a collection of 159 real and false certificates of authenticity, culled from S[edition], an online platform that sells limited edition artworks in digital format. All Waelder had to do was a small 'hack'. He copied the preview certificates of all artworks being sold in the "curated" section of Sedition. At the time the preview of the certificates displayed his name as owner and a fake edition number, just as if I had bought them. He then added to these certificates real certificates from artworks he bought on the platform. That was it.

The title refers to the amount that would have been paid if all of the works had been bought as the certificates apparently attest.

Waelder is not an artist, he is an independent art critic, curator and a researcher in new media art. And judging from what i read in his essays, he is someone who certainly has a few interesting comments to make on notions of ownership and authenticity in the digital era, networked pieces sold and exhibited in gallery environment and "traditional" art sold and exhibited online, new ways of selling art online, "Damien Hirst for six quid", etc. Someone to follow on twitter and elsewhere. And someone to interview...


Hi Pau! You're an art critic and curator so i'm tempted to think that $8,793 Worth of [Art] functions also as a piece of art criticism. What motivated the publication of $8,793 Worth of [Art]?

To be honest, I didn't know if it was worth publishing. I am working on my doctoral research on art, new media and the art market and Sedition is one of my case studies. I've followed this platform with great interest since it was launched on November 2011 because I consider that its business model could be a viable way for selling new media art. I've also bought some artworks (or editions) in order to experience what it meant to collect these pieces and be able to experience them on my computer, smartphone or tablet. So far, I've learned that I really don't look at the artworks very often, so probably I should have a screen connected to the Internet and hung on a wall at home to really enjoy these works as I do with other artworks I own. Another thing that struck me from the beginning was that the only document asserting my ownership of these "digital editions" was an equally digital certificate of authenticity, which is in fact a JPEG that pops up in my profile page.

One day, as I was browsing Sedition's website to have an idea of the average price of the artworks, I noticed that on the page of each artwork there was a preview of the certificate of authenticity that I would get if I bought the piece. This preview looked exactly the same as the certificates of the artworks I owned, including the artist's signature and an edition number. So I started taking screenshots of the preview certificates of all the artworks and kept them in a folder. My intention was (and is) to use this information in my thesis. It was later on that I thought it would be interesting to put together the real and false certificates in the form of a book, which would be an artist's book if I were an artist. Since I'm not, I didn't know what to do with it until I contacted Merkske and they decided to publish it. We present it as a limited edition for a low price that is incremented as more copies are sold in order to (playfully) follow the rules of the art market.

In an article you wrote for artnodes, you mention Olia Lialina's exhibition Miniatures from the Heroic Period, in which she offered for sale 5 works of net art, by Alexei Shulgin, Heath Bunting, JODI, Vuk Ćosić and herself. That happened in 1998. How much has changed since 1998? And why do you think now is a better time to sell art on the internet?

I'd say that one of the changes has taken place in Olia Lialina herself: if you read, for instance, her texts from 1998 (cheap.art), 2007 (Flat against the wall) and 2013 (Opening speech at Offline Art: new2 at XPO gallery), you will see an evolution on her point of view about the delicate question "does it make sense and is it possible to show net art in an art gallery?" As she admits, her answer has changed "from a definite No to Maybe, to Yes, but and finally, to Yes." I don't criticize her change of mind, in fact I welcome it as the result of observing this situation for more than a decade. I agree with her in the fact that the web is now a mass medium. The naïeveté that impregnated our perception of this medium is long gone, and therefore it may be argued that a gallery environment is valid for a networked piece since it is placed in a space that invites a more focused observation and finally does not extract the piece from its original context, since the Internet is everywhere now.

Lialina's remarks are part of a wider context in which many artists have developed innovative ways of selling art online, or making a net art piece salable in the context of a gallery. For instance, Carlo Zanni has been researching on this subject for more than a decade and has created artworks such as Altarboy (a net art piece sold as a server-sculpture in 2003) or My Country is a Living Room (an online generative poem made in 2011 which can be seen on pay-per-view). Mark Napier created The Waiting Room in 2002, an online piece that was sold at bitforms gallery and requires collectors to share the same online space. Rafaël Rozendaal is known for selling his websites under his own Art Website Sales Contract, which he also shares with other artists. And lately Aram Bartholl is developing interesting ways of taking online art to the gallery as in the group show OFFLINE ART: new2, which he curated in 2013 at the XPO gallery in Paris. These are just some examples, but they illustrate the fact that many people have been thinking about selling net art since the late 1990s.

Carlo Zanni, altarboy, 2003

Aram Bartholl, OFFLINE ART: new2, 2013

In a parallel direction, many other people have been working on selling "traditional" art (paintings, sculptures, drawings and so on) online. Probably the most notable example is Saatchi Online (now Saatchi Art), an online platform where artists can set up a profile and sell their work. It was launched in 2006 and quickly attracted around 70,000 artists who sold their work without paying commissions to Saatchi. It was estimated that the sales amounted to around $130,000,000 in 2007. In 2010, the website was redesigned and now took a 30% commission on each sale. Around a year later, several new platforms where created, such as VIP Art Fair (now Artspace), Artsy, Paddle 8 or Sedition. Maybe the news around Saatchi's website making so much profit spurred these other initiatives, or maybe as Olia Lialina says we've reached a moment in which most people in the art world understand the medium. In any case, it must be pointed out that most of these platforms are not particularly interested in selling new media art, they sell the same artworks that you may find in an art gallery or an art fair, but now they do it online.

Rafael Rozendaal, Hybrid Moment

At the time of its launch, enthusiastic journalists repeatedly wrote that sedition was 'revolutionizing the art market'. But i've been wondering whether sedition truly offers something new to the art market - in general and on the internet- or whether it isn't just replicating 'traditional' models of selling artworks, except that everything takes place online. What is you opinion on this?

Sometimes, when I read news on the mainstream media about art and technology I have the impression that the journalist has been hibernating for the last ten years. Obviously, there are many journalists who are quite aware of what is going on, but at the same time it seems that everything was invented yesterday, everything has to be new and revolutionary, as if it were a newly released product from the computer industry. So it is not surprising that Sedition was described in that way. Certainly their model is interesting, but not that new, since other people had been working in this direction. I remember, for instance, Carlo Zanni telling me some years ago that it didn't make sense to sell a video in a very limited edition at a high price when you could sell it at a more popular price in an edition of several hundred (or thousand). But Sedition has turned these ideas into a working platform and it has done so with good funding and connections in the art world. Certainly, if Sedition hadn't launched selling "Damien Hirst for six quid" it wouldn't have attracted the attention of the media, and the model would not seem so revolutionary, since it is in fact quite unprecedented to "own a Damien Hirst" (with a signed certificate of authenticity) for that price. From the point of view of someone who is familiar with net art and new media art in general, it makes no sense to pay any amount for a JPEG of a painting by Damien Hirst. I guess this is true for many people who like Hirst, too. In my opinion, Sedition is interesting when it sells a work by Ryoji Ikeda, Rafaël Rozendaal or Casey Reas, which must be experienced on a screen or a projection anyway. Of course, it is not the original work, which usually results from a continuous calculation process or is interactive. What you get is a video, but for the price you pay it is obvious that you can't ask for more, so in a way it is similar to buying a lithograph.

Sedition replicates traditional models and it has to do so, because the art market is based on those models. It needs scarcity (limited editions), control over the artworks (a closed system for accessing the files) and certificates of authenticity. Otherwise, it wouldn't be taken seriously. The problem is therefore not so much with Sedition itself but with the contradiction between how the art market works and what it means to sell, buy and own digital files.


When asked about piracy, the founders of sedition answered: "The videos cannot be streamed to someone who doesn't own them. As for the still works, they are digitally watermarked and have their owner's name on them." So what is the meaning of the certificate of authenticity and more generally of the notion of ownership in a digital context?

I have the impression that Sedition is learning by doing, which is the natural thing to do when you explore a new business model. Initially, the videos on the website didn't have watermarks, but they were added when they realized they could be copied. The previews of the certificates of authenticity have been changed after I did most of the screenshots, now they don't display the real signature of the artist nor the edition number. In any case, it is always possible to copy a digital file, and therefore the only way to prove one's ownership is the certificate of authenticity. Most artists and dealers selling art in a digital format will mention the certificate of authenticity when asked what happens if the collector or anyone else makes a copy of the files. When you access an art website by Rafaël Rozendaal, your browser is loading a copy of the file stored in the server, but the artwork belongs to the person mentioned in the source code. I'd say that ownership of a digital file is mainly about having unrestricted access to it (just as it happens when we buy an ebook or an music album in mp3 format) and some document or database record indicating that you've paid for it and therefore have the right to access the file, download it, copy it, and so on.

When I interviewed Rory Blain, director of Sedition, at the UNPAINTED art fair in Munich in January, I told him that ownership in Sedition seemed like a fiction to me. He admitted that owning a digital artifact is a "slightly bizarre idea", but more interestingly he pointed out that what gives collectors a greater reassurance was the possibility to sell their editions in the Trade section, which is Sedition's secondary market. In the Trade section you actually make money, because the edition you bought has necessarily risen its value: for instance, an artwork by Ryoji Ikeda that was sold for £5 now costs around £70. So it seems that ownership means being able to sell the digital artwork and make a profit.

Mat Collishaw, Burning Flower Digital limited edition © Mat Collishaw

Obviously i'm happy that sedition offers new ways for young artists to earn a living. however, in every interview i've read about the platform, the founders and journalists insist on the fact that sedition offers a democratization of the art world and that people who would normally not be able to afford a Tracy Emin can finally do so. This reminded me of an interview in which Takashi Murakami explained that he was selling dolls and little objects of his most famous characters Kaikai and Kiki so that everyone can have pieces of the Murakami art experience. But ultimately, i've been wondering how different is a limited edition of a digital work on sedition different from the limited edition of a t-shirt or mug with a Hirst skull or other objects sold in museum shops. is this something you'd like to comment on?

The first article I wrote about Sedition was titled "art for the Long Tail", since what Sedition is doing is addressing the "Long Tail" (as Chris Anderson would put it) of art lovers who are eager to buy a Tracey Emin but can't afford it. Following Anderson, it seems that there is a lot of money to be made in selling products for smaller amounts to a large number of customers, particularly if no storage or shipping costs are involved. So it could be a profitable market niche, but then the art market is not like other markets. Digital works on Sedition are not so different from a limited edition of a T-shirt, and in fact the prices are quite similar. This can be a problem if you apply the traditional notion of the artwork as something unique and very limited, which cannot possibly be sold in a museum shop. Murakami states that he sells his merchandise because, to him, there is no difference between "high" and "low" art, that this separation does not exist in Japanese culture. If you apply this idea, then it is not a problem that a digital edition is something like a t-shirt or a mug, because it doesn't replace the original artwork, it just refers to it or derives from it. Then maybe what you must consider is how much of the "Murakami experience" you get, if it is worth your money or not.

Has sedition reacted in any way to your work?

The only reaction I know of is the following tweet: "Yes, we saw this. Clever appropriation art. Like to see how much will sell" (April 30th). It's interesting that they are concerned (or interested) about the sales of the book, while obviously this project is not about profit (100 copies at £2-3.5 each is not really money). Anyway, I don't expect them to "react": this project is not against Sedition but rather intends to sparkle a conversation about how will the art market adapt to the digital environment: will there really be a "revolution" or a "democratization"? Or will everything just stay the same, the same galleries selling the same art on a website?

Thanks Pau!

You can get the book at Merkske, a publisher of original artworks in book form as limited editions of 100, each numbered and signed by the artist. They have a very small but perfectly curated catalogue.

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