Forensic Oceanography is a research project started in 2011 by Lorenzo Pezzani and Charles Heller to investigate the militarised border regime in the Mediterranean Sea, and document the violence perpetrated against migrants attempting to cross the liquid border.
The sea, and in particular the Mediterranean, is a space of escape for thousands of people who leave the African continent in hope of a safer life in Europe. It is also a space of control and thus a political space. Much of what happens on the surface of that liquid political space takes place far away from the public gaze and often remains unaccounted for. However, the sea is closely surveilled, information about what happens and what sails through it is being generated, analyzed and recorded.
Forensic Oceanography looks at the sea as a witness to interrogate and cross-examine, re-purposing data and technologies initially produced as evidence of illegal migration and turning it into evidence of a crime of non assistance.
Lorenzo Pezzani was at The Lighthouse in Brighton a few weeks ago to talk about Forensic Oceanography and more particularly about the case of 72 migrants who had been left to die while they were attempting to flee Libya and reach the Italian shores during the Libyan conflict of 2011.
The Mediterranean is a fairly crowded sea and Western military forces were made aware of the refugees' distress shortly after the dinghy's departure when the captain lost control of the boat and called for help. The Italian coast guards received the appeal and relayed it, along with the position of the boat, to the NATO coordination centre and to military vessels present in the area. The distress calls were repeated every 4 hours for 10 days. But no-one came to their assistance. The dinghy was seen by an airplane, military helicopters, two fishing vessels and a large military vessel, which ignored their distress signals. After 15 days adrift, the boat washed up on the Libyan coast with only 11 survivors on board, two of whom died shortly afterwards. FO call the case, the 'left-to-die boat'.
Here's Liquid Traces, a short film which sums up the case.
And the video of Pezzani's presentation at The Lighthouse. It was a great evening. He talked about how a journey at sea is fast for goods and for privileged passengers but excruciatingly slow for the unwanted, about the dilemma of producing evidence to account for violence while trying not to be complicit with governments, about FO new project to make and distribute to migrants leaflets containing legal information about their rights, etc.
I entered the PEER gallery a bit by chance and quickly realized that the exhibition involves one artist whose work i admire, an interesting-sounding organization called Archive of Modern Conflict and a photographer who has won numerous awards for his work on AIDS in Uganda, the conflict in Kosovo, the war in Lebanon, anti-terrorism in Algeria, etc.
The artist is Fionna Banner and the photographer is Paolo Pellegrin. Banner asked the photo reporter to explore the City of London and to reflect its activities, behaviours, customs and costume through the lens of conflict photography.
The photos are every bit as good as you would expect from Pellegrin and the way Banner has orchestrated them in the exhibition only adds depth, humour and an extra layer of information. Hundreds of the images are sequenced in a short and gripping film, accompanied by a mixed soundtrack of open cry trading at the London Metal Exchange, melded with a persuasive and hypnotic drumbeat. The other photos are either displayed in museum-type vitrines or inside frames hanging on the walls of a second gallery. Floor to ceiling graphite drawings magnify traditional City pinstripe suits to the point that they become overbearing (or maybe it's just me who's uncomfortable with having a drawing of a banker's crotch at eye level.) The iconic pattern of the financial district even finds itself, absurdly, turned into nail art design. An amusing juxtaposition if you think that the financial sector in London has been relentlessly accused of being sexist.
Speaking of sexy sex, i had to smile in front of the map that shows how strip bars are surrounding the Square Mile. The City of London Corporation has its own electoral system and its own laws. One of them forbids the presence of strip bars in the City. :
The title of the show is Mistah Kurtz--he not dead. Mistah Kurtz is a character from Joseph Conrad's book Heart of Darkness. Kurz is a shrewd and corrupt ivory trader in Africa who has managed to turn himself into a demigod of all the tribes surrounding his station. Towards the end of the book, the death of Kurts is announced by a 'manager boy' with the words 'Mistah Kurtz - he dead.' The City culture of excess, greed and aloofness from society offers indeed parallels to Conrad's narrative.
It is not the first time that Banner references Heart of Darkness. Two years ago, she organised a performance of Orson Welles' screenplay Heart of Darkness, based on Conrad's story. It would have been Welles' first film but it was rejected. He made Citizen Kane instead.
Mistah Kurtz - He Not Dead, 2014, High definition digital film projection and mixed media wall drawing, 6.19 minutes, 2014. Image Fiona Banner
Mistah Kurtz--he not dead is at PEER in London until 26 July 2014:
Previously: Fiona Banner at Tate Britain.
If you're in Dublin or anywhere near it, then this week is your last chance to see GLITCH 2014. Cash Rules Everything Around. GLITCH is Dublin's digital and new media art festival and the title of this year's edition is directly inspired by New York hip hop group Wu-Tang Clan's single C.R.E.A.M Cash rules everything around me.
The exhibition examines how artists use new media to investigate social and political systems to find their position within and in relation to these larger systems. In this fuzzy zone of information production, where boundaries and roles are increasingly blurred, the exhibition deploys humour and critique to reconfigure our ideas about our current digital economic climate.
The main gallery hosts a solo exhibition of Addie Wagenknecht. In a series of brand new commissions, the artist explores the topic of the festival under the 'internet angle', revealing how money voraciously seeps in and out of the internet.
Ironically, the backdrop of the exhibition is one that everyone working in the cultural sector is all too familiar with: the lack of funding. But if you're Wagenknecht, you don't let that stop you, you turn the limitation into a full-on exercise in alternative economies, authorship and nifty outsourcing.
The most thought-provoking result of the challenge is a series of paintings titled 'Outsourced Outsourcing.' First, the artist looked online for the most popular images associated with Google Street View. Amusingly, some of them were famous screenshot that Jon Rafman took of his computer screen for his photo project The Nine Eyes of Google Street View. She then downloaded and emailed the photos along with a few instructions to the manager of a painting factory in China. Asked whether she wanted painting of low, medium or high quality, she opted from "medium." A few months later, DHL shipped the works to Ireland. Upon arriving at the gallery the paintings were stretched and mounted onto canvases and subsequently hung under the direction of the curator.
So, it appears as if Wagenknecht didn't do anything. She never touched the canvas (but then neither do Takashi Murakami or Damien Hirst these days.) She even let google dictate the subjects of the paintings and discovered her own work as she entered the exhibition. But if Wagenknecht can afford to delegate every step of the creation and exhibition process, it is because she is an artist with a deep and playful understanding of some of today's most exciting issues in both art and society: the mechanisms of the intangible, the faith in data and processes, and also the critique of the notion of authorship:
In an interview with Totally Dublin, the artist explained: There's a romance and fascination in my generation with forgery, copies and bootlegs. It's a question of what is the original: the .mp3 I purchased on the iTunes store or the same .mp3 I downloaded from The Pirate Bay? Is the iTunes version the original because a corporation tells me it is, or is the one from The Pirate Bay the original because my friends tell me it is?
We are a generation that was born and grew along with the .mp3, Napster and Pirate Bay. I want to divorce the experience of art from authentication of the brand of the artist; the power of the artist name, our social investment in the concept of genius and of ownership of an idea, a shape, or colour. The certainty that something is real - is that even a possibility anymore? Forgery embraces fantasy. It is disruptive to the system, which is something art is supposed to do.
The work that hit me as i entered the room was a vanilla-smelling and candy-coated wedding cake masterfully baked by curator Nora O Murchú for the show (it was the first time in my life i met with a curator who can both code and bake.) What remains of the cake should still be there for people to eat and share and is surmounted by a unicorn ordered from Amazon. An internet icon topping a symbol of women's ultimate dreams and hopes.
Toy cars, once again ordered from Amazon, come crashing at the base of the cake podium. "Everything you ever wanted." The arc of the little red vehicle references Guo-Qiang's 99 taxidermy wolves. The car crash provides a dramatic ending to the futile race that takes place on a wall nearby where Scalextric tracks, purchased this time from eBay, have been installed vertically, a controller dangling at one end.
Two opposite walls in the exhibition echo contemporary worries in the most ironically joyful way. On the one side, 30 CCTV cameras keep a sparkling eye on gallery visitors. The cameras purchases from Chinese marketplace Alibaba and then wrapped with crystals in gallery by technicians reflect the "grown up" state of the Internet. A glamorous take on surveillance devices which ubiquity we've long taken for granted.
On the other side of the room, the handwriting of the artist repeats over and over a dilemma of our times: "I will not download things that will get me in trouble" until the words turn into "I will download things". Should you download for immediate personal satisfaction (and thus risk being punished if ever your 'act of piracy' is discovered by the apparatus of online surveillance)? Or should you act like a 'responsible' citizen and abide by the laws?
The other gallery showed works by two Irish artists:
In her video installation The Pit, Breda Lynch used a short sequence from Anatole Litvak's 1948 film The Snake Pit. The film takes its name from a dream made by the main character, Virginia (played by Olivia de Havilland.) The character finds herself surrounded by other patients of the mental asylum where she is staying. The place is very crowded and she seems desperate to escape. Slowly, the camera starts to move upwards from the ground until the patients appear as tiny, nervous dots. Like reptiles in a pit.
Lynch muted the video, splits the screen in two and loops two channels as one sequences - the left-hand frame features the original sequence, the right-hand one simultaneously plays the same sequence in reverse. The result is a hypnotizing and communicate a feeling of anxiety and disequilibrium. As the curator's text explained, the images are visually reminiscent of a Wall Street Trader's pit, whilst conjuring up values of fear-driven greed, exploitation, and hyper-consumption.
Fergal Brennan's 'Italian for Beginners' could also be called "Gaeilge, English for Italian beginners" which would clearly be clumsier and far less seducing. Brennan's video is certainly as funny as the Danish film of 2000.
Brennan asked Italian people who live in Dublin to read out loud names of famous shop fronts. Some of these words are in Gaeilge, others are in English. The words then appear as phonetic deconstructions of three languages - Gaeilge, English and Italian- on the screen. The result is hilarious and mesmerizing. It reflects the multicultural city that Dublin has become. You walk down the street and meet people who were brought there by economic interests ranging from tourism to job opportunities. Yet in Dublin like in most major European cities, the language that unite passersby is english. It might be distorted, mangled and barely recognizable but (thanks to the unflappable patience of people whose main language is english) it is still english, the lingua franca of the contemporary economy.
More images from the show.
Radical Cities: Across Latin America in Search of a New Architecture, by Justin McGuirk.
Publisher Verso Books writes: What makes the city of the future? How do you heal a divided city?
In Radical Cities, Justin McGuirk travels across Latin America in search of the activist architects, maverick politicians and alternative communities already answering these questions. From Brazil to Venezuela, and from Mexico to Argentina, McGuirk discovers the people and ideas shaping the way cities are evolving.
Ever since the mid twentieth century, when the dream of modernist utopia went to Latin America to die, the continent has been a testing ground for exciting new conceptions of the city. An architect in Chile has designed a form of social housing where only half of the house is built, allowing the owners to adapt the rest; Medellín, formerly the world's murder capital, has been transformed with innovative public architecture; squatters in Caracas have taken over the forty-five-storey Torre David skyscraper; and Rio is on a mission to incorporate its favelas into the rest of the city.
Here, in the most urbanised continent on the planet, extreme cities have bred extreme conditions, from vast housing estates to sprawling slums. But after decades of social and political failure, a new generation has revitalised architecture and urban design in order to address persistent poverty and inequality. Together, these activists, pragmatists and social idealists are performing bold experiments that the rest of the world may learn from.
It's mid July and this might already be my favourite book of the year 2014 (unless Jo Nesbo publishes a new one before December.) It is lively, daring, insightful and it might actually be one of the very few books about future cities that make sense to me.
While we (in Europe) are still proudly exhibiting in biennials 3D printed visions of what the city of tomorrow might look like, cities in South and Central America are already experiencing elements of our future urban conditions. Countries in Latin America have not only gone through mass urbanization long before China and Africa, they've also given rise to a new generation of architects who believe that architecture can be used as a tool for social change. These men (who are not only architects but also in some cases squatters and politicians) have had to respond to housing crisis, traffic congestion, segregation, lack of political participation and other effects of rapid unplanned urbanization.
The urban experiments described in Radical Cities should teach European and North American urban planners and architects valuable lessons about conceiving and managing the mega cities of the future. Such as what happens when you value adaptability over perfect order, acknowledge the informal city as a vital part of the urban ecosystem, include the citizen into collective efforts of imagination and construction or embrace and work with the dynamic force that is precariousness.
Among the cases explored:
Alejandro Aravena created social housing for a poor community living in the north of Chile. He simply provided families with half a house and they built the rest, within a defined structural framework. The project was self-initiated and the final dwellers of the houses were involved in the design process.
In Colombia, it's a new radicalized political class that took the initiative of improving the quality of life of all urban dwellers. The movement started in the 1990s when Antanas Mockus, the mayor of Bogotá used tactics of performance artists to tackle violence and instil a new civic culture. He reduced road accidents by hiring mime artists to mock bad behaviour on the road and to direct traffic, he set up a scheme allowing people to exchange their guns for toys and he dressed as Superciudadano (SuperCitizen) to urge his fellow citizen to take care of their urban environment. The results of his unorthodox social experiments included homicide rate dropping by 70% and traffic fatalities by more than 50%.
Torre David which the author calls 'a pirate utopia' is the third tallest skyscraper in Caracas. Built in the business district to host luxury offices, the building had stood empty for 13 years until 2007 when squatters moved in. Some 3000 people now live in "the tallest squat in the world.' Inhabitants managed to organize a legitimate electricity distribution, they enjoy spectacular views over the city and live in apartments that range from the barely inhabitable to well furnished flats with all commodities. The building has developed its own community rules and even houses convenience stores and bodegas every two floors. On the other hand, there is no elevator so going to the top floor with the grocery can quickly turn into a fitness challenge. There are open facades and holes in the floor and accidents happen if you don't stay away from the edge.
Ghostradio, by Pamela Neuwirth, Franz Xaver and Markus Decker, is a physical mechanism that generates random numbers through chance. The works is an intriguing comment on the mass-surveillance of our everyday digital moves:
At the moment, information exchanges on the internet are either in plaintext, or they use, for 'secure' transmission, encryption. For cryptograpic methods to be safe it is essential to create a very good random key. Usually these keys are produced by pseudorandom generators. As they are produced by algorithms, they are not really random, and can be outguessed with the help of powerful computers.
And this is where ghostradio comes in. The device produces real random numbers. Referring to the use of chance in art and to the Second Order cybernetics of Heinz von Förster, Ghostradio deploys feedback and quantum effects to create random numbers from the boundaries of reality and beyond. Ghostradio publishes the resulting random number datastream for the generation of cryptographic keys. This will release the public from the current state of surveillance.
I discovered Ghostradio a few weeks ago in Riga. The installation was part of Fields - patterns of social, scientific, and technological transformations, an
Ghostradio sounded suitably mysterious and dark. So i contacted the artists for a quick Q&A:
What makes the random number produced by the ghostradio more 'real' than the random key usually produced to ensure the safety of cryptographic communication?
The ghostradio randomness is not more real than the randomness calculated in industry made computers. But it is a different approach and the mechanism has a systematic and theoretical complexity but is technically easy to understand. This prevents manipulative elements to be inserted in, so backdoors are unlikely, compared to the calculations of randomness, where someone needs higher math knowledge to understand the mechanisms.
With the ghostradio project we try to discuss this issues of trust, which underlies such security structures, either you believe in the security of a system or not. You, as a untrained person, will never know. We personally rather distrust all public known models of the crypto warfare, than believe in it, and that was the motivation to dig into this field.
Funnily enough, we do see this relationship of trust everywhere in our constructed reality. Maybe today's most prominent religious system is, for instance, the banking sector. This makes us think about dollar note in the movie They Live.
The project description mentions that "we are publishing this random numbers datastream for cryptographic key generation." Where are you publishing it? Can we get access to it?
Yes, we publish each day, as long as a exhibition lasts and therefore the ghostradio mechanism is in service, a 2gb random binary on the web. You can access it via the address http://www.firstfloor.org/ghostradio/web/random.html and each month we do a special signal radio broadcast on air, on the local radio station FRO, and distribute a 2h long random signal of our prototype machines.
Can you describe the exhibition setting? What it is made of and what is the purpose of each part?
ghostradio is a metaphysical geometric setup. We do have a feedback noise signal accelerated to the speed of light. This signal is broadcast over 3 metaphysical antennas,
The light speed and the antennas open a string into the multiverse of our doppelgänger, we know nothing about, the ghost. the thunderstorm generator is a source of uncertainty,
I was interested by the fact that the text that describes the work focuses on the need to protect ourselves from surveillance rather than piracy. Is surveillance the new/another form of piracy?
In the daily communication experience, surveillance interface technologies are invasive. Piracy on the other hand are matters of corporate politics, concerned about their market shares, and so on. In that sense, both terminologies for us are not directly comparable. Although the corporations and the surveillance space serve each other.
In legal terms we do see the mass-surveillance as a criminal constant, that goes along with the constant state of emergency and might be legally for a state within the material law. Otherwise we don't see much difference to the act of piracy.
As supporters of the idea of a open information society we do like the utopia of the free information flow, where all data are save and there's no need to protect them because no one is after them. In that sense the communication is safe but not private, a trustful relationship in a fictional open knowledge-based society.
Check out the ghostradio at the Fields exhibition, produced by RIXC and curated by Raitis Smits, Rasa Smite and Armin Medosch. The show remains open at Arsenals Exhibition Hall of the Latvian National Arts Museum (LNAM) in Riga until August 3, 2014.