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Darsha Hewitt, Feedback Babies, 2011

The Fisher-Price Nursery Monitor, sold in North America in the early 1980s, was engineered to transmit any noise from the nursery to a wireless receiver accompanying a parent in another part of the home. However, just like many other baby monitors, this model was known for its pesky audible interferences with signals from radio, static, cordless phone or even from neighbour's baby monitors. Furthermore, as with any audio input/output system, when both units are in close proximity they produce disruptive audio feedback. Not great for sleeping babies.

Darsha Hewitt built a whole installation that exploits these inherent glitches and she appropriately called it Feedback Babies. The receivers are attached to motors and slowly bow back and forth in front of the emitters, creating a subtle soundscape of nuanced feedback patterns and squelching radio interference reminiscent of the whimpers of crying babies.

Feedback Babies will be part of the program of the Sight + Sound festival which will open in Montreal on the 20th of May. Let the screeching Feedback Babies gently batter your ears by clicking on the video below and get more details about the work in the little chat i had recently with Darsha:


Darsha Hewitt, Feedback Babies

Hi Darsha! How did you find out about this late '90s model of Fisher-Price Nursery Monitor?

I grew up in the heyday of Fisher-Price technology - I had the baby monitors around when I was a kid. I had younger siblings so we had them in our home - I had a babysitter, she had them too. More recently, they became a common cast-off in the home electronics aisle at second hand stores. My dad was an antique dealer so the act of collecting old things in multiples comes naturally. Also, I'm a sucker for old radio technology and who doesn't love the idea of walkie-talkies made for babies?

And why did you focus on its glitch?

Audio feedback and radio interference are commonplace in sound art. These particular baby monitors seem to have somewhat of a cult following within experimental music. I've seen them used in performances and they are often subjected to circuit bending.

When the receiver and transmitter are used in extreme proximity they cease to function as a device for one-way human communication. Instead the internal voice(s) of the machine takes over. Depending on how you position them, the sonic distortions can range from Walt Disney style bird song to eerie whimpering. By rigging-up the transmitters slowly bow in front of the transmitters they oscillate through this tonal range. As a group they fall in and out of synchronisation and develop some sort of strange inter-machine worshiping pattern...the overall effect is mildly creepy.

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Darsha Hewitt, Feedback Babies

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Darsha Hewitt, Feedback Babies

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Darsha Hewitt, Feedback Babies

What made you decide to bring emphasis on them?

I am particularly drawn to their scale and volume limitations - in a way they remind me of babies. When a newborn belts out a scream from the top of their lungs it can be shrill and alarming, however; since baby anatomy is so mini its cry is still quite weak and helpless. Similarly, even though these machines are feeding back and generating interference to their maximum capacity, their signals are weak and much more subtle than the more balls-out approach to noise that often dominates experimental music and sound art.

Why do you leave all the wires and electronics uncovered?

Electricity is my medium and I enjoy working with its related material dimension. These are domestic electronics - cables and wires are part of everyday life, why should they be concealed?

You seem to work a lot with outdated technological devices. What do you find so fascinating in them?

I am skeptical of certain forms of innovation. As I mentioned above, my dad was an antique dealer - I was taught to value the quality and craft of objects from the past. Furthermore, the practice of planned obsolescence that inhabits industry generates an abundance of discarded electronic devices. This surplus is an economical and steady source of art supplies. Since old technology is inexpensive and readily available, I am free to experiment without fear of failure because I know there will always be more. In my studio I deconstruct these machines as a starting point to gain material knowledge - if I am lucky, artwork emerges.

Thanks Darsha!

Feedback Babies will be at the Sight + Sound festival in Montreal this month, along with Crystal forming robots and Phonotube, making music with light.
Images via (re)flexion

Branding Terror. The Logotypes and Iconography of Insurgent Groups and Terrorist Organizations. Available on amazon UK and USA.

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A book about the visual identity of some of the world's main terrorist organizations wasn't going to remain unnoticed. When it was published by MERRELL last year, every single design blog and magazine wrote about it. Yet, i only discovered the existence of Branding Terror last month, when i had a ridiculously great time at the Graphic Design Festival in Breda (NL.)

In a similar way to what happens with consumer goods, the name, slogans, and visual codes of a terrorist group are not only key manifestations of its identity, they also contribute to the reach and influence of the organization. An anecdote that appears in Artur Beifuss' introduction to the book illustrates the importance and impact of this visual communication. A few years ago, an Italian amateur ­league football club adopted for its players' shirts the logo of the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, changing its name to 'Zassbollah' (a combination of 'Hezbollah' and the name of the team's captain, Luigi Zasso) in the process.

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Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)

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Terrorist mask series #8: IRA (via Branding Terror facebook page)

The book is authored by graphic designer and creative director Francesco Trivini Bellini and by writer and (ex)counter-terrorism analyst Artur Beifuss. Which means that the publication is obviously carefully designed but also that the information about the history, imagery, attacks, ideologies and capabilities of each of the 65 organizations has been meticulously researched.

The authors of the book are conscious that they are dealing with a delicate topic. They approached it in an almost clinical way while acknowledging the suffering of the victims of terrorism.

In his foreword to the book, Steven Heller, a design writer and former Art Director at the New York Times, wrote: The extreme violence committed in the name of these logos makes writing about them in terms of aesthetics or production values seem silly and irrelevant. Yet these terrorist groups are all brands, and are given a certain viability through branding methods. Branding is a tool that has no conscience or morality - it can be used for good or bad, and sometimes for both in tandem.

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FAI (Federazione Anarchica Informale) From Branding Terror

I contacted Artur Beifuss as soon as i came back from Breda and he was kind enough to answer my questions:

Hi Artur! Are there logos that stand out from the others? Which ones do you think are the most imaginative, the most efficient (strictly from a design point of view of course)? and why?

Yes, there are some good ones, the Hezbollah logo for example. It perfectly reflects the organizations history and ideology. It is interesting to compare the Hezbollah and Iranian Revolutionary Guards logo. Allegedly the Iranian's founded and trained the group that later became to be Hezbollah. Both logos use the same elements to convey its ideological message. I think the Hezbollah logo is very powerful because it is memorable and easily recognizable.

But more important than the logo is what people will do with this logo. In the digital age, logos can go viral modified and used for all kinds of contexts. It is not uncommon to see fashionably dressed women and men wearing t-shirt with Hezbollah logos. Just google 'hezbollah' and 'girls' to understand what I am talking about. Seeing the logo in such a context tells the recipient that Hezbollah's ideology is indeed applicable in contemporary society. At least more than watching bearded men talking to a camera somewhere in the mountains of Waziristan.

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Hezbollah logo

And on the opposite hand, which one do you think is the worst conveyor of ideology?
The one(s) that completely missed the point?

All of the logos analyzed in Branding Terror make some kind of ideological reference. None of them really misses the point. However, there are some logos that are completely overloaded with references and elements, the logo of the Islamic Organization of Uzbekistan is a good example. It has so much Arabic text in it that one does not know where to look first. Also, this particular logo would be lost on all recipients that can't understand Arabic.

Does branding a terrorist organization has to respond to the same rules and requirements than branding any commercial product? Or do you find that other 'laws' are playing?

In a way it has to respond to the same rules, yes. People have to know what you stand for, and the logo should be easily recognizable. However, terrorism means violence and death in most of the times. Even terrorist groups find it difficult to advertise for that. In the letters from Abbottabad for example Al-Qaeda media advisors recommended Bin Laden to keep a distance to the Al-Qaeda branch in Iraq because they started beheading people. This is not something that Al-Qaeda central - if you want to call it like this - wants to be associated with. They were losing followers over that.

You used to be a counter-terrorism analyst? Now that sounds really interesting. What did the work involve? And how did you use that background while working on the book? when did it come helpful?

My position involved searching and analyzing information about terrorism in five languages. Through this job I acquired a good understanding of transnational terrorism. This did help me to make the content of the book multilayered. Also, I knew how to find information that gets as close to the primarily source as possible and how to correctly assess them.

I read that you used the official lists of "designated foreign terrorist organisations" of five governments: Australia, India, Russia, United States and the European Union. First of all do the list overlap? Or do they have different definition of what a terrorist organization is?

The definitions slightly differ. And the lists overlap to some degree. But governments tend to put groups on their list that are of relevance to their own geopolitical position. For example many separatist groups from India you will not find on the list of the United States. Globally active groups like Al-Qaeda are listed as a terrorist organization on most of the lists.

After the book was finished, did you get emails from people sending you other logos? And do you now find yourself in front of a long list of logos you wish you could have included? Could you imagine publishing a second edition of the book for example or do you think that what had to be told has already been communicated in the book?

Yes, some people approached us with their own projects and ideas. And we are always happy to get in touch and exchange ideas. Branding Terror was exhaustive as it is at the time of publishing. All organizations that are on the designated foreign terrorist list of which it was possible to track down the logo are included in the book. Branding Terror was set out as an encyclopedia, a branding manual and a collectible item. We like to see it as a work in progress. There are always new groups emerging and designated as a terrorist organization. It would be nice to have the logos of these groups all in one place, preferably in a nicely designed book series.

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Babbar Khalsa International logo

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RAF logo

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Hanns Martin Schleyer under the logo of the RAF (Red Army Faction) and a sign saying "Prisoner for 31 days" in 1977 (via Branding Terror facebook page)

Terrorism is a bit of a tricky subject. It is associated with subversion and violence and that often get people's attention. And it must be difficult not to pass any judgment, political or moral when dealing with the topic of terrorism. How did you approach the topic? Did you struggle to stay neutral? How did you manage that?

Branding Terror is based on information found in Open Sources. It is a technical analysis of the visual communication of terrorist and insurgent groups. The logo is the unit of analysis. Of course many so-called facts can be considered biased since they were collected and collated by people with a certain political and moral agenda in mind. These people can be ELN members in Colombia or Analysts in a Washington think tank. I used analytical techniques I learned in my profession to approach the topic. But of course it is not easy to read over hundreds of dead bodies every day. But I was not there to judge, just to simply collect, collate and analyze the information.

Have you ever received any feedback from any of the organizations you mention in the book?

No, I have not received such feedback.

What are you both working on now? Any new projects you could share with us?

Francesco is taking a creative break at the moment. In the meantime I speak on conferences, in design schools and advice marketing companies about what can be learned from Branding Terror. And yes, coming back to your questions earlier, I do systematically collect logos on the side. The next project is trend research, especially analyzing countercultures of the future.

Thanks Artur!

Views inside the book:

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HOLO - a magazine about emerging trajectories in art, science, and technology.

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Published twice per year, and weighing in at more than 200 pages, each issue of HOLO provides intimate views into fascinating studios, workshops, and institutions around the world, as seen through the eyes of stellar photographers and talented writers. The pace, depth, and sensibility of print allows us to invest heavily in each story, and draw on months of travel, research, and conversation to craft nuanced portraits that you won't find anywhere else.

HOLO is what happens when enthusiastic minds meet and decide they'd like to use a paper publication to share their passion about creativity and digital technology. The magazine is ambitious, elegantly curated, impeccably illustrated and intelligent. It also manages to convey a feeling of warmth. HOLO opens the door to artists and designer's studios for in-depth conversations and intimate moments. I loved seeing a photo of some of the trophies won by David O'Reilly, dozens of them are casually crammed up on a closet shelf in his L.A. flat. And HOLO is full of little, human touches like that. The content and tone of the interviews in HOLO are not the ones you'd find in your run-of-the-mill interviews. They are incredible conversations between people who have a lot of respect and understanding for each other's work. I love reading about the working life and ideas of David O'Reilly (who wouldn't?), Semiconductor, Zimoun, Philip Beesley, Raquel Meyers. And Wolf Lieser! The founder of DAM, a Berlin gallery selling and championing digital art, has quite a few eye-opening comments on the relationship between digital artworks & the art market.

HOLO also contains essays, called 'Perspectives', that look at the 'emerging representational and perceptual paradigms'. I particularly enjoyed reading an essay on surveillance by James Bridle who manage to give a new twist on an already much discussed issue, and a text in which Greog Borenstein details 'debug view art'.

HOLO closes its over 200 pages on a brilliant and witty "Stream' that charts the most interesting moments of the Summer/Fall 2013, reminding us in the process that we're so absorbed by the now and the next that we've forgotten how exciting our near past has been. The time line mentions lab-grown burgers, discussion on conservation in the computer age, royal pardon for Alan Turing, a robotic petting zoo, etc.

So there you are! HOLO is a beautiful world inhabited by talented and enthusiastic people and I spent a great time immersed into HOLO but it's not my world. Which is both criticism and praise...


Raquel Meyers, The Yeti Sound Machine (more videos)

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Dev Harlan, Parmenides I (image via Spectacular)

I'm obviously interested in "emerging trajectories in art, science, and technology" (i've been writing about it for 10 years after all) and it is stimulating to see that other people are covering the same areas of creativity from a radically different perspective.

I like everything i find in HOLO: the splendid photos and design, the dense texts, the people involved in the project. I could go on and on. But i do feel that HOLO could engage a bit more with the broader cultural context, it could develop a more critical voice while maintaining much of its contagious enthusiasm for all things digital and interactive. But maybe that's just me, maybe i should stop looking for the potentially worrying political, ethical and social impacts of technology everywhere. We are living maddening times and publications like HOLO allow us to think of something else than crisis, social inequalities, the NSA, speculation on the future of the planet, etc. Both criticism and praise, thus.

I need to add that i did feel a bit uncomfortable when i realized that very few women had been involved in the mag. Gender balance has never been a big concern of mine but i couldn't help but notice that only a handful of women are featured as artists/designers or are part of the editorial team. It would also be good to get outside of our comfortable Northern America/Europe/Japan media art bubble but i guess we all struggle with this.

Anyway, do get a copy. Really. It's ridiculously affordable, smart and entertaining. You'll cherish it for years to come.

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Photo Studio Axel Pfaender


Photo Studio Axel Pfaender

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Arcangel Constantini, Phonotube

In 1880 Alexander Graham Bell Invented the Photophone. While his earlier invention, the telephone, uses electricity to transmit voice communications, the photophone relied on a beam of light to send sound. A person's voice was projected through an instrument toward a mirror. The vibrations of the voice caused vibrations in the mirror. Sunlight was then directed into the mirror, where the vibrations were captured and projected back to the photophone's receiver where they were converted back into sound.

Bell believed that the photophone was "the greatest invention [I have] ever made, greater than the telephone". He might be right, the photophone was a precursor to the fiber-optic communication systems. The reason why the photophone didn't take off during Bell's time is simply that the system was useless whenever the weather was cloudy.

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A photophone receiver and headset, one half of Bell and Tainter's optical telecommunication system of 1880 (photo)

Inspired by Bell's patent for the photophone, artist Arcangel Constantini developed the Phonotube which uses fluorescent tubes and strips of leds as light instruments and sound sequencers for audio and visual performances.

The tubes are covered with negative offset, printed with sound patterns that spin at variable speeds. The oscillation from the light emitted by these patterns is transduced into sound processes by light excitation, through a variety of electronic circuits as pre-amps photo-cells and photodiodes, voltage control oscillators, relays, circuit Filters, 1bit systems.

The Phonotube is part of the program of the Sight + Sound festival which will take place in Montreal next month. And because i've been admiring Arcangel's work from afar on too many occasions, i thought i should take the upcoming festival as an excuse to get in touch and interview him about the work.


Phonotube Live : Calit2 auditorium UCSD " three junctures of remix" 2013

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Phonotube Live : Calit2 auditorium UCSD " three junctures of remix" 2013

Hola Arcangel! Reading through the description of the Phonotube on your website, i had the felling (perhaps wrong) that it relies on a fairly simple technology. Is that correct? How much did you have to tweak.improve/modify the Graham Bell patent for the Photophone?

In reality, it is a very simple technology, the patent is very crude, clever and significant. It is about the transmission of information using vibrating light, Graham Bell state that this was his legacy to human kind and this is true.

We perceive our surroundings because of light oscillations, our retina transmits the perception of the visible spectrum of light to the part of the brain that interpret this light frequencies as images.

Every aspect of reality is on its own frequency, mystics knew this by meditation and contemplation, science by theory and experimentation, all this intermingling knowledge is a legacy, Graham Bell had an intuition on how to manipulate light to integrate information on it, and with this started a revolution. I'm interested in researching this simple perception principles through art practice, in exploring the meanings and implications while experimenting with the process.

Phonotube is part of this research, based on a simple principle, in this case experimenting with fluorescent lights. To energize this kind of lamps, a transformer and electronic circuit are used to generate high voltage in a high frequency energy, the gas inside the lamp is expelled and turns into a light that is vibrating to this energy frequencies. The light produced is a kind of carrier, the repetitive patterns printed in the tube give a new oscillation to this light, small Photocells are transforming light into electrons, this energy is pre-amplified to audible sound, and processed trough filters. Furthermore, a circuit with Photo diodes is used as a variable for Low Fidelity Voltage Controlled Oscillators.

A second sound artifact uses a strip of LED lights inside a transparent Tube. A series of AtTiny85 microcontrollers are programed in 1 bit sound (1, 0) that produce light pulsations on each of these LEDS. Small photocells and a pre-amplifier Circuit transform these pulsations into audible sound. OculO is another instrument involved in the performance, it uses a Joule thief hack from a disposable camera that energizes a 22 watt circular lamp with a 1.5 volt battery. Photocells transform the gaseous light into sound. These energy frequencies and the electromagnetic induction become part of the sound performance of OculO. I also interact directly with my body, canalizing energy by receiving tiny electroshocks in my fingers trough contact with the electrodes and the lamps.

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Phonotube & OculO Live : -->Metting Point<-- CasaDaros Rio De Janeiro / OculO

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OculO
Arcangel Constantini, OculO

You use the Phonotube in performances but is it an instrument anyone could use? I suspect many people in the audience wouldn't mind to have a go and play a bit with it? is it intuitive or is there a steep learning curve to be able to play the instrument?

I started to explore this project as an installation for stop motion animation, in the style of Emontiscope or seminscope.

Phonotube is still an experiment. I have tested different sound circuits. The intensity of the sound frequencies in its current state are meant for live performance. I included small speakers on it, thinking that it could be used by the public also as an installation, as it is simple and intuitive to use. Now, the speakers are used during the performance to Generate some EVP, Electronic Voice Phenomena using piezoelectrics directly on the speakers, performing it with OculO turn into a spectral portal.

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seminscope, Laboratorio de Arte Alameda Mexico, 2005

The descriptive text says that the Phonotube was "inspired by visuals experimenters as Norman Mclaren, that used the optical sound of cinema, reversing the process to experiment with it." I looked online but didn't find much information about McLaren's experimentations. Could you tell us what they were about?

Norman is a pioneer of experimental sound and animation. He was artist in residence with the National film Board of Canada, he started to work directly in clear film, drawing, scratching, painting the material to produce abstract Motion films. This lead him to invade the film area dedicated to the optical sound. Fascinated by the abstract Sound Frequencies archived by different visual patterns, and how sound worked in synchronicity to the visuals, he started to produce an Impressive work using this techniques.

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Arcangel Constantini, Phonotube

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Arcangel Constantini, Phonotube

The description also said that "In the history of the invention of electronic instruments, the study of light and its behavior as a particle or wave, and its application to sound processes (...) is currently, one of the areas of scientific research with the greatest potential in human communication." Now that sounds really interesting. Do you have examples of how the study of the behaviour lights can lead to innovative means of communication?

Most Telecommunications nowadays are based on light transmission, fiber optic cables crisscross the planet connecting the continents transmitting terabytes of data using laser technology.

There is an important research in the spectrum of visible light to transmit wireless data, instead of electromagnetic radio WiFi. The researchers are using pulsating Led light to transmit data with a huge increment in broadband velocity.

There is also the fantastic research on Quantum teleportation that tries to establish instant communication between photons separated by large distances, the record now is 143 km,

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Arcangel Constantini, Phonotube

The object looks stunning. I really like its simple and striking design. How important is the visual aspect of the Phonotube in your performances?

Gracias Régine. As i mentioned, the research started as a visual project. Aesthetics become very important in its relation to sound. The tube has an the aura of a partitur. The intensity of the sound frequencies of the Low Fi oscillators are meant for live performance, the plan is to develop the project as an instrument, but as the lamps are no longer on production there is now an obsolete quality to it. The light of the lamps is the only light on stage, and for Sound & Sight performance will explore the use of analog video filming the tube.

Thanks Arcangel!

Previously, by the same artist: Nanodrizas, "flying" saucers for polluted waters, Net-art wrestling match.

Also at the Sight + Sound festival in Montreal: Crystal forming robots.

Mishka Henner has a solo show at the Carroll/Fletcher gallery right now. How come i never paid more attention to his work so far? Just like Edward Burtynsky, he looks at how industries shape landscapes. Like Trevor Paglen and Omer Fast, he is interested in (overt and covert) sites that the U.S. military deploys outside of its own borders. Just like Michael Wolf and Jon Rafman, he is a photographer using google mapping instruments instead of a camera. Yet, comparing his work to the one of some of the artists i admire the most is pointless. Henner is his own man slash artist. He uses contemporary technology to give a new twist on artistic appropriation and redefines the role of the photographer, the meaning of the photography medium and the representation of the landscape. Without ever using a photo camera.

The Black Diamond exhibition brings together four series of work, based on the collection and mediation of publicly available information sourced through the internet. Henner explains: 'I'm exploiting loopholes in the vast archives of data, imagery and information that are now accessible to us, connecting the dots to reveal things that surround us but which we rarely see or don't want to see.'

Oil Fields and Feedlots are large-scale inkjet prints taken from Google Earth's satellite imagery. The photos reveal landscapes carved by industries meeting the natural resource-devouring demands of two stalwarts of the U.S.'s hyper consumer society: oil and beef.

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Centerfire Feedyard, Ulysses, Kansas, 2013. Feedlots

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Randall County Feedyard, Texas, 2013. Feedlots

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Black Diamond Feeders Inc, Airbase, Herrington, Kansas, 2013-2014. Feedlots

Feedlots are cattle-feeding operations used in factory farming to 'finish off' livestock. Almost all the beef consumed in the United States will have been finished on a feedlot where up to 100,000 steers at a time spend the last months of their lives gaining up to 4 pounds a day on a diet of corn, protein supplements, and antibiotics. Everything on these farms is calculated to maximise meat yield; from the mixture in cattle's feed to the size of run-off channels carrying the animal's waste into giant toxic lagoons.

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Levelland Oil and Gas Field #2, 2013-2014

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Cedar Point Oil Field, 2013-14

In certain parts of the USA, natural features have long been supplanted by man-made marks and structures reflecting the complex infrastructural logic of oil exploration, extraction and distribution. The result is stunning. The prints look fake, painted over and heavily retouched. The exhibition essay compares the images to the work of abstract expressionists.

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Naval Support Activity, Bahrain, 2010. 51 US Military Outposts

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Diego Garcia, Indian Ocean, 2010. 51 US Military Outposts

Fifty-One US Military Outposts presents overt and covert military outposts used by the United States in 51 countries across the world. Once again, the sites were gathered and located using data which exists in the public domain, including official US military and veterans' websites, news articles, and both leaked and official government documents and reports.

"The internet is full of loopholes and leaks," the artist said. "I remember one day Hilary Clinton had categorically stated: 'we have no US military presence in Honduras.' However, the next day I was on Panoramio and was looking around pictures from Honduras - sure enough there was a photograph of a native Honduran worker with his arm around a sergeant major from the US cavalry regiment. The Honduran had even written to all his mates talking about how happy was to have got a job on this US military base. So the internet is full of these really simple leaks that completely contradict statements made by very powerful organisations."

The prints are displayed on plinths filling the rear gallery space, allowing visitors to walk around and watch the images from above, as if we were satellites. Or drones.

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The walls of the space downstairs are covered with Henner's ongoing Scam Baiters series. Scam baiters are internet vigilantes who pose as a potential victims in order to waste scammer's time and potentially expose their identity,. They respond to their email, pretend to go along with the scammer's demands in exchange for time-consuming requests supposed to ensure that the money transaction will be successful. Henner is showing cardboard signs that various scammers were asked to make as a result of email conversations, negotiation of fraudulent documents and bogus websites. One case involved an almost four-month long correspondence between Henner's associate, 'Condo Rice' and a trio of scammers spread across Libya and the United Arab Emirates. In one of his final message, the scam baiter asks the scammer for proof of identity. He asks for a photo containing a U.S. flag held on a stick, a sign with SKAMMERZ ISHU, and 'to be absolutely certain this is a genuine photograph", the scammer has to wear an Obama mask.

Sound recordings of the scammers singing popular songs permeate the space.

Henner is currently shortlisted for Consumption, the Fifth Prix Pictet Award. The exhibition of finalists will be on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London in May 2014, where Henner will show a selection of works from his "Oil Fields" and "Feedlots" series.

Black Diamond is at Carroll/Fletcher in London until 31 May 2014.

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