The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on ResonanceFM, London's favourite radio art station, is aired this Wednesday afternoon at 4pm.
My guests will be designers and artists Michiko Nitta & Michael Burton.
Michael works on the edge of speculative design, arts, and as a researcher. His works investigate the choices we face in our evolution as a species and in redesigning life itself. Meanwhile, Michiko's interests are in the relationship between nature and humans, often taking extreme vantage on how humans can change their perception to live symbiotically with nature.
You might have heard of Michiko and Michael's work already. Last year, they were at the Victoria and Albert Museum with a performance that showed how opera singers with powerful lung capacity might produce food in a future world where algae have become the world's dominant food source. And in Spring they were at the Watermans cultural center to explore the possibility of a city that would be isolated from the wider environment and where food, energy, and even medicine, are derived from human origin and man-made biological systems. Obviously, you're in for a weird ride with two charming people...
The radio show will be aired this Wednesday 6 November at 16:00, London time. Early risers can catch the repeat next Tuesday at 6.30 am. If you don't live in London, you can listen to the online stream or wait till we upload the episodes on soundcloud.
Inspired by the environmental work of Diller & Scofidio, the performative and multi-sensory work of Bompas and Parr, and the nostalgia of 1960s event architecture, Shichong Li's project utilises sugar as a base element and 'centrifugal random fibre extrusion' fabrication (candyfloss) to build cloud structures.
Unsatisfied with the scale of the miniature clouds he thus produced, the artist and designer decided to build a candy floss cloud on an architectural scale, with sugar as an ideal base material for a floating semi- rigid architecture. Indeed, sugar can form structured space to be inhabited and engaged with in ways water cannot. These cloud formations create a medium between architecture and inhabitants which aims to stimulate communication and interaction.
Shichong Li's quest to build the ultimate and most efficient candy cloud-making machine is still ongoing. He has spent the past year making prototype after prototype. Often failing but always learning and fine-tuning his creations.
I discovered the Candy Cloud Machine at the graduation show of the Interactive Architecture Studio - Research Cluster 3 at the Bartlett School of Architecture UCL. The unit, headed by Ruairi Glynn and Ollie Palmer, focuses on kinetic and interactive design looking at the latest robotics, material and responsive systems while at the same time borrowing from a long history of performative machines and performing arts.
I already mentioned one of the works developed over this one-year postgraduate course: William Bondin's research into self autonomous creature-like structures which take their cue on slime mold and very slowly navigate public parks. The other stand-out work for me was Chong's poetical, elusive and absurd Candy Cloud Machine. I contacted him to ask if he had time to tell us more about his candy cloud adventures.
Hi Chong! What are the physical and technological challenges of creating clouds using sugar rather than water?
Whether they're conscious of it or not, I believe Architects dream of building clouds. Not in the narrow sense of a cloud, but rather architecture which is "cloud like", soft, , ephemeral, responsive, light etc. Water doesn't have to be the base component and so I explored sugar for its inherent properties.
Could you describe some of the prototypes you developed in your quest to make a candy cloud machine? Why do you think the experiments failed?
Sure! The first and second prototypes were built following a study of the mechanical principles to make a candy floss maker. The heating and rotating systems have to be tested properly and they will be the base of the next step studies. These experiments were successful in a way. But as the research moves along, the air control and generating system have became the biggest challenges.
The third and fourth prototypes, for example, are wind tunnel systems, they were designed following the study of air driving system. The third one is called Laminar air flow generator (LAFG). Laminar air is a type of flow where the motion of the particles of fluid occurs in orderly straight movement. Compressed air is blown into a perforated wind box. The wind box has the shape of a circular ring surrounding the candy floss maker, which blows the candy floss up smoothly. I was thinking of using laminar air which is stable enough to hold candy floss. However, the results of the LAFG experiment show that the airflow looses a large amount of energy in the box and at the edges of holes. The outward-streaming airflow is too weak to drive the candy floss upwards.
The second air control system tested was a multi-fan system. In order to solve the problem of insufficient air flow in the LAFG, this design comprised eight powerful axial fans to blow air into the chamber directly.
Despite the fact that the attempts of the Candy Cloud Machine air control system failed, these first experiences are worth studying. Firstly, the candyfloss itself is light, but the air power needed to drive it upwards cannot be low. Because the candyfloss structure doesn't have a surface which can hold airflow, the air can permeate the gaps between the candyfloss fibres. Secondly, small-scale installations are inappropriate to test aerodynamics. According to knowledge gained in the multi-fan system test, the circulating air has a strong influence on the vortex, as the air in the chamber is highly limited. The circulating air and the vortex interact with each other and destroy the air system. These experiences and lessons are an important basis for the development of the project.
The final project on view at the show right now is a cabin. Could you explain what the cabin is about? Why did you decide to show a wooden cabin rather than a modified candy floss machine?
The final fabrication machine- the Candy Cloud Cyclone Chamber, is too big to be exhibited so, inspired by the nostalgia of British Garden Shed Inventors, I've presented the project as an inhabitable portfolio. Visitors could search through the drawings, tastes and sugars, and examine the prototypes.
Now that your thesis is done and you graduated, are you planning to push the cloud machine further? To try and develop it until you reach the kind of candy cloud machine you were dreaming of?
Yes, the research of the cloud dream is still ongoing, and I am still trying to further develop the candy cloud machines. The fascination held by clouds offers designers a multitude of ways of thinking about space and designing in architectural practice. This story of clouds is a framework for future studies and design works. The role of designers and architects with an understanding of 'cloud theory' must be to use their knowledge to embark upon a 'higher' architectural approach.
Also from RC3: Morphs, the architectural creatures that behave like slime mould.
Top Secret: Images from the Stasi Archives, by Simon Menner.
Publisher Hatje Cantz writes: First publication of pictures from the archives of the Stasi, the East German secret police
Almost 300,000 people worked for the East German secret police, per capita far more than were employed by agencies such as the CIA or the KGB. Not quite fifty years after the Berlin Wall was built, Simon Menner (*1978 in Emmendingen) discovered spectacular photographs in the Stasi archives that document the agency's surveillance work. Formerly secret, highly official photographs show officers and employees putting on professional uniforms, gluing on fake beards, or signaling to each other with their hands. Today, the sight of them is almost ridiculous, although the laughter sticks in the viewer's throat. This publication can be regarded as a visual processing of German history and an examination of current surveillance issues, yet it is extremely amusing at the same time. The fact that the doors of the opposite side--the British or German intelligence services, for example--remained closed to the artist lends the theme an explosive force as well as a tinge of absurdity.
Simon Menner has one of the most peculiar portfolios i've ever encountered. Snipers hidden among the trees, soldiers posing with corpses, Boobytraps and "Unconventional Warfare Devices and Techniques" from the 1960s, weapons used to murder people, views of WWI from both sides of the conflict, etc. Even the photos of Happy People have been selected for some very dark reason.
The Ministerium für Staatssicherheit (Department of State Security) of the former German Democratic Republic was one of the largest surveillance apparatuses in history and its record of citizens' intimate life was thorough and sinister. The story and practices of the Stasi have been fairly well documented. Until this book however, we still lacked a clear visual account of the methods, tactics and props used by the spying agents.
The publication presents a selection of images documenting many of the Stasi operations: the spying accoutrement of Stasi personnel, the techniques employed to shadow or arrest a suspect, the signs used to convey secret messages, the packages sent via mail and confiscated by the secret police, etc.
The most baffling photos were taken during seminars in which Stasi employees learnt the art of disguise.
The props are amateurish, the poses are awkward and the result is grotesque beyond words. Yet, the intentions were serious: repression, control, surveillance.
The award for most disturbing photos go to Polaroids of unmade beds, (Western-made) coffee machines and rows of shoes. The photos were taken by Stasi agents when they secretly searched peoples' houses on the hunt for evidence they might be betraying the communist state. Photos of the rooms and furniture were taken upon arrival and used by the agents to be able afterwards to put everything back as if nothing had been touched.
The photos below were taken at the birthday party of a high-ranking Stasi official. The party guests were asked to come dressed as members of demographic groups under Stasi surveillance such as athletes, dancers, academics, peace activists, and religious figures.
Spies of the western Allied Forces photographed Stasi spies and Stasi spies photographed their Western counterparts. "Sometimes they met, both sides were absolutely aware that the other side was there, but nevertheless both sides took photos, showing that both East and West lived in pretty much the same state of mind," the artist explained. So far, however, Menner hasn't been granted access to the correspondent photos from the British or Federal German secret services.
I love the necklace, very Tatty Devine!
Last weekend, i went to Mechelen (Belgium) for Contour, the Biennial of Moving Image. I had loved the 2009 edition of the biennial and the theme this year was rather intriguing: Leisure, Discipline and Punishment. The venues of the exhibition were quite unusual: the prison, the football stadium of KV Mechelen, the Church of Our Lady-across-the-Dyle and the Museum Hof van Busleyden. Places that people enter for pleasure, necessity, belief or by force.
Besides, it was sunny and Mechelen (aka Malines) is a cute little city.
In this edition of Contour, curator Jacob Fabricius wanted to examines social roles and relations within society.
To serve their very specific purposes, prisons, stadiums, churches and museums are governed by specific rules, rhythms, hierarchies and regulations.
The three words of the exhibition title, Leisure, Discipline and Punishment, are also connected, but not to any of the specific venues. Rather, the theme Leisure, Discipline and Punishment is an attempt to tap into these institutions, to examine their possibilities, restraints, social function and relations within society.
Unsurprisingly, the first venue i wanted to visit was the prison but the access was very limited so all i saw was the facade of the prison (obviously) but also the Rules of the Prison, one of the posters that David Shrigley was commissioned and that lists the rules of conduct for the prison. A second one is inside the church. The last one at the entrance of the football stadium.
Off to the main exhibition space then, The Hof van Busleyden (Court of Busleyden.) Built at the beginning of the sixteenth century for ecclesiastical jurist, Maecenas and humanist Hiëronymus van Busleyden, thehe Hof is now the municipal museum.
That's at the Hof, that i finally got my bit of prison lurking with Mark Raidpere's static shots of ten violent criminals posing in front of the camera as they are serving time in a prison in Estonia. They move and grin slowly and the camera moves sometimes too close for the viewer's comfort. But the proximity and the voyeuristic slow motion also invites the viewer to feel empathy for the men: are they vicious criminals or victims of society?
The selection of posters of old films about women in prison is at the opposite spectrum. The women are depicted as sexual and hysterical creatures. The clichés about these women however are still the ones you can see in contemporary tv series about prison (Bad Girls, Orange Is the New Black, etc.) For Prison Score Liz Magic Laser extracted from these films a number of scenes showing inmates making hysterical movements. She then used them for a choreography filmed in Mechelen prison and developed with dancer and choreographer Lisbeth Gruwez which mimics the movements of the film characters.
Sarah Vanhee spent the Summer working with inmates at Mechelen prison. She describes this artistic project: 'For an outsider, the prison building is a warning or a reassurance. The prisoner himself doesn't have a face. He is reduced to legal matter, to government penal policy. Within the prison walls, there is only space for silent, obedient bodies. I Screamed and I Screamed and I Screamed challenges this silent body, and hence the normalizing society. The sterile anonymity of the prison wall is disturbed by the voices of the prison inhabitants. And centrally, in the midst of it all, stands a screaming body.' The video is just a vertical view of a wall and nothing else. Until you pick up the headphones and hear the screams of the inmates.
In Edgardo Aragón Díaz's Hunter an African man takes us on a tour of a Belgian zoo. He sings songs about hunting in his homeland. The artist draws attention to the contrast between the quality of life of immigrants from post-colonial countries and the protected life led by the animals in the zoo.
At this point i should say that most of the works in the Contour biennial are not about prison but more generally about regulated behaviour, institutional structures and society's codes.
My next stop in Mechelen was the Church Of Our Lady-Across-The-Dyle. I've seen my fair share of exhibitions and parties inside desacralized religious buildings but this one is still very much used by the local Roman Catholic community. Here's what greets the visitors:
More views inside the church on Sacred Space.
You actually have to embark on a hunt around the church to see all the works. They are not aligned nicely on blank walls like in most art galleries. Which made the visit a bit challenging but in a pleasant way. At least the space is manageable. I wasn't so lucky at the football stadium. While i was happy to be back in a stadium (the last time i was on a football field i ended up on the national news. Long story... and an embarrassing one at that), i quickly got frustrated in my attempt to locate the videos. I found the Shrigley one (hurray!) but otherwise the place was deserted and the few people i met there had no clue about the artworks shown on the premise.
I was very excited by the theme of the biennial and the locations of the exhibitions but i wouldn't say that my expectations were fully met. Many of the works were a bit too dry and abstract for me and i struggled to engage with half of what i saw. On the other hand, i took the Eurostar back home with a bag full of dark chocolate. When you're a Belgian living in the UK, finding chocolate that lives up to what you're used to is nothing but a depressing crusade.
More images from the biennial:
Contour 2013, the 6th Biennial of Moving Image closes this Sunday 3 November so hurry up!
Most of us don't really know (nor probably care to know) how "the network" functions, what its structure of communication cables and servers looks like or how, more concretely, our private data travel. Roel Roscam Abbing spent a month at Laboral in Gijón to work on Border Check, a software that lays out the physical and political realities behind the internet.
And i'm sorry to quote him but in this age of reckless online surveillance even Dick Cheney thinks that you never know how much knowledge you're going to need. So maybe a good place to start would be to visualize how our data are moving from place to place (and thus which government can potentially have a look through it) and Border Check enables just that:
As one surfs the net, data packets are sent from the user's computer to the target server. The data packets go on a journey hopping from server to server potentially crossing multiple countries until the packets reach the desired website. In each of the countries that are passed different laws and practices can apply to the data, influencing whether or not authorities can inspect, store or modify that data.
Hi Roel! Border Check (BC) is a browser extension that illustrates the physical and political realities of the internet's infrastructure using free software tools. Why did you think it would be interesting to investigate the travels of data packets?
I stumbled upon this topic when pursuing a personal interest I developed last year as I started with the Networked Media programme at the PZI. I joined this course because my practice has always been engaged with new technologies and the internet. At the same time however, I felt I lacked a lot of knowledge (technical, theoretical) to make statements with and about these media. For one, if someone would have asked me what the internet was, I would not really have had an answer. So one of the first things I started researching while at the PZI was exactly this. What is the internet? It was during the programming courses that I started working with software such as traceroute, which shows you how you connect to servers. Traceroute really fascinated me because suddenly it linked websites to specific machines that could be linked to a company and to a location on the world. This suddenly made the internet very tangible for me.
At the same time while reading up on the history of the internet I realised the difference between how I had previously perceived the internet as a 'cloud', 'wireless', non-physical (which is probably a more common understanding) and the internet as a bunch of physical cables that run through countries and the bottoms of oceans. Tracerouting then became a way to experience this normally invisible infrastructure.
Some of the demo you sent me show the data taking a straight line. In other cases, such as for dilma.com.br, the path is more tortuous. How do you explain this? And is every non-straight path accountable for?
The complexity of the paths has a lot to do with the degree of interconnectivity of the networks. Generally, the better the connection between you and the destination server, the smaller the amount of hops on your travel. So if you see a lot of hops and twisting paths, it is probably because there is no direct connection between you and the destination.
The complexity of the paths can also be the result of certain assumptions embedded in the databases used for the visualisation. One of these assumptions has to do with determining where a machine is located in the world. Sometimes the geographical data tied to a machine's IP address reflects where it's owning company is registered, rather than the actual physical location of the machine. So you might get visualisations where you'd see a line travel back and forth between Europe and the US. Rather than actually travelling back and forth the Atlantic, what happens, is that your travel stays in Europe, yet you get on and off networks owned by US and EU companies. Because of this when using BC it's important to click the hops to reveal the machine names, often they contain more hints of where the machines may be actually located.
In this sense BC's visualisations are sometimes a bit more abstract, showing ownership and jurisdiction rather than the physical location.
How does a particular country's laws and practices regarding data affect the path adopted? Do you have examples?
It is not necessarily the case that a state's laws and practices affect the route, rather that the route determines which states's laws and practices one is exposed to.
The internet is routed passively, that is to say, there is no way you can tell your data how it should reach its destination. The internet is designed in such a way that data will always try to find the fastest route available, and that may happen to take your data through countries like the UK that monitor all passing data.
In this sense the route is often more influenced by geography and money. Geography, because some places such as the the UK's West Coast act as a 'funnel' for submarine cables, since they are the first stop for many of those cables when they cross the Atlantic. Money, because richer countries will also have the faster infrastructures and those get a preference when it comes to routing.
Laws and policies can influence where companies set up their offices and data centres though. Facebook for example serves non-US users from Ireland, because of the low taxes it pays there. However, the fact that Facebook is registered in Ireland also means it has to comply with EU privacy laws. A funny example of what that means concretely is a 2011 'meme' that spawned on reddit where European users flooded Facebook with data requests, something that was not possible for American users of Facebook.
What were the most surprising discoveries you made while testing the data travels?
One of the more interesting things I've realised and which is something that I would like to follow up on is how 'historical' the networks actually are. If you compare maps of the submarine cables that make up contemporary intercontinental fibre optic networks with maps of telegraphy networks of the 19th century you will see a lot of similarities.
However, this historical element also became apparent to me using Border Check when for example I found out that much of Latin America is predominantly connected through the Telefonica network. Telefonica is a very large telecommunications company that resulted from the privatisation of Spain's state telecom company.
In this sense one could argue that a lot of Latin American countries are dependent on the telecommunications infrastructure of their former coloniser. This could lead to clashes of interest. In the case of Brazil this has recently become apparent when, in response to NSA spying, Brazillian president Dilma Rousseff announced plans to build a national Brazilian telecommunications infrastructure. There Rousseff wants to ensure that Brazil no longer needs to route via the United States (that is the Telefonica network) and as a consequence be subjected to American monitoring when it connects with the rest of the world.
How do you retrieve the information necessary to map these travels?
While you run Border Check it uses your browser history in order to detect whether you are loading a new website. It then relies on Layer Four Traceroute, which is a tracerouting software, to map the ip addresses of the machines that route your data on it's way to that destination website. Border Check then uses Maxmind's free GeoIP databases to link these adresses to cities, countries and companies. Maxmind to some extent gets this information from repositories of internet registries (organisations that keep track of who registers what website, who owns a certain ip-adress etc). For visualisation Border Check uses Openstreetmap with the leaflet visualisation library.
What's next for BC?
I am really interested in adding more information layers to Border Check that provide some more context on what it could mean when one surfs through a specific country. One of the initiatives I find exciting is www.diriwa.org. It tries to collaboratively map communications and informations rights in the world. I think adding this sort of information will make Border Check much richer. Other than that, releasing updates that would make the software more easy to install and run on different platforms.