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Cécile Babiole, BZZZ! The sound of electricity, 2012. Image courtesy RIXC

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Raitis Smits, Rasa Smite (RIXC), Voldemārs Johansons and Jānis Jankevics, Biotricity, 2013 - 2014. Image courtesy RIXC

Last month, i was in Riga for the festival Art+Communication and this was undoubtedly one of the most pertinent and satisfying art & science events i've ever attended. I'll do my best to share my enthusiasm in a series of upcoming reports and interviews with artists. Let's start with a broad overview of FIELDS, an exhibition which was huge and surprisingly devoid of any weak work.

FIELDS investigates the place of contemporary art practices in society and the role artists can take not just as generators of new aesthetics but also as catalysts of active involvement in social, scientific, and technological transformations. While some of the works in the show present a critique of ongoing political or ecological issues, others go a step further by suggesting positive visions for the future.

The artworks exhibited explore alternative energy, others engaged with neo-liberalism, unemployment, surveillance, endangered bee ecology, global market crisis, climate change, genetic mutations, etc. A sense of urgency emanated thus from the exhibition rooms but any doom and gloom was compensated by hints of defiant counter-action and strategies of productive rebellion.

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Martins Ratniks, Fields, 2007 + Michal Kindernay, Ondřej Vavrečka, Milos Vojtechovsky, Imagograph, 2013/2014. Image courtesy RIXC

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Isidora Todorovic, Luka Ranisaljevic and Andrea Palasti, Can you feel the spill?, 2013. Image courtesy RIXC

We were expecting proposals from artists, who are working with contemporary ideas and tools, science and technologies, yet are deeply engaged with social issues, curators Raitis Smits and Rasa Smite explained. We call them 'critical interlopers', because Fields artists instead of unrealistic future scenarious, propose constructive approaches towards more sustainable future and more then that - they act, through their creative practices obtaining a touch of reality.

Armin Medosch, the third curator of the exhibition, goes further: If we look at energy, agriculture, transport, systems of production, it is clear that the ideology of limitless expansion is driving us straight into catastrophe. Everybody knows that, but while there are many initiatives, mainstream society seems to be blindly following its course, unable to change. In this situation new patterns are urgently needed, new ways of thinking, but not just that, new ways of interacting with the world, with technology, with nature. An ecological turn is overly due, but to achieve this seems almost utopian within current social relations. In this situation art can provide new models, new directions, but those are models, like in a mini-mundus world. Art gives Form to the imagination, Herbert Marcuse wrote. And this artistic imagination we are talking about in Fields is involved in the construction of a new society.

This is Riga:

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The exhibition presents almost 40 works. I won't be able to cover all of them but i'll bring the spotlight on a dozen of them over the coming days. Here are four of the art pieces i found particularly compelling:

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YoHa (Matsuko Yokokoji and Graham Harwood) and Matthew Fuller, Endless War, 2012 (image)

YoHa (Graham Harwood and Matsuko Yokokoji) and Matthew Fuller's Endless War scours in real time through the data obtained from Wikileaks' release of the Afghan War Diaries. Characters on the screens show the slow process of going through over 76,000 files covering the war in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2010.

The reports were written by soldiers and intelligence officers and calculated by clocks, computers, and satellites. As the war is fought it produces entries in databases that are in turn analysed by software looking for repeated patterns of events, spatial information, kinds of actors, timings and other factors. Based on this analysis, military decisions are taken.

Instead of looking at the War Diary as a record of specific military acts, Endless War critically reflects on the database machines that generated it, showing how the way war is thought relates to the way it is fought. Both are seen as, potentially endless, computational processes.

Graham Harwood writes: If journalists tried to make the data transparent, to use it as a window to real world events, what we wanted to make visible was the data itself, and its role in a system of war in which we are also implicated. Endless War was an attempt to convey a sense of how the machine is able to read the entries in a way that is unlike a human, yet makes sense of the entries, ordering them in order to allow the human to participate in an intelligence that is not their own.

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Class Wargames, The Game of War


ClassWargames, The Game of War

One of the keynote speakers of the conference that accompanied the FIELDS exhibition was Richard Barbrook, an author, lecturer at the University of Westminster who, as part of his research into the politics of ludic subversion, co-founded Class Wargames in 2007. This group of artists, academics and agitators plays and explores the possibilities of Guy Debord's The Game of War. While the game has sometimes been dismissed as Debord's 'retirement project', Barbrook affirms that it not only 'plays well', it also offers lessons in life and politics inspired by the tactics of situationism.

Debord's Game of War was inspired by Carl von Clausewitz, a Prussian general and military theorist who stressed both the "moral" and political aspects of war. In the Napoleonic-era military strategy game, armies must maintain their communications network to survive. For Debord, The Game of War wasn't just a game, it wasn't about competing but about exploring ways for people to live their lives within Fordist society. By playing, revolutionary activists could learn how to fight and win against the oppressors of spectacular society.

Debord wrote in 1989: So I have studied the logic of war. Indeed I succeeded long ago in representing its essential movements on a rather simple game-board... I played this game, and in the often difficult conduct of my life drew a few lessons from it -- setting rules for my life, and abiding by them. The surprises vouchsafed by this Kriegspiel of mine seem endless; I rather fear it may turn out to be the only one of my works to which people will venture to accord any value. As to whether I have made good use of its lessons, I shall leave that for others to judge.

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I was also intrigued by Hayley Newman's Daylight Rubbery.

As part of her work as a Self-Appointed Artist-in-Residence in the City of London, Newman is a 'bank rubber', she makes rubbings of the fronts of banks in the City of London. She performed dozens of bank rubbery on used envelopes to form a Histoire Economique, a sort of natural history of the banks in the City. The rubbings are exhibited in vitrines, like dried plants in the natural history museum.

I am interested in unconscious aspects of corporate life - what is repressed and what is revealed, the artist explained in an interview with Corridor8. Frottage seemed an appropriate technique to use in that it is often applied in an attempt to relinquish conscious control of an artwork. In Histoire Économique I use it as a method to help reveal something (the unconscious?) of the bank I am rubbing.

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Maja Smrekar, Hu.M.C.C. m.k.2 (Human Molecular Colonization Capacity), 2013

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Maja Smrekar, Hu.M.C.C. m.k.2 (Human Molecular Colonization Capacity), 2013

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Maja Smrekar, Hu.M.C.C. m.k.2 (Human Molecular Colonization Capacity), 2013

The food industry is exploring how the new possibilities offered by synthetic biology and biotechnology could meet the demands of a growing global population. Maja Smrekar embarks on a similar quest with her project HuMCC--Human Molecular Colonization Capacity, a line of yoghurt containing her own enzyme that she offers for public consumption.

Working with scientists at the University in Ljubljana, the artist combined her own DNA with that of a common yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae which, after being genetically transformed with the artist´s gene sequence, produces lactic acid.

The project also references Soylent Green, a scifi movie set in a future when most of the world population survives on rations produced by a corporation that produces Soylent Green, a green wafer advertised to contain "high-energy plankton". However, the main protagonist of the story discovers that the oceans no longer produce the plankton from which Soylent Green is reputedly made, and infers that it must be made from human remains, as this is the only conceivable supply of protein that matches the known production.

The artist explains that the work is located in the Soylent Green paradigm where the fear of ecological cataclysm turns into a subtle critique of corporate cannibalism: not only are corporations actually using people to continue to maintain themselves in their own lives but these same people are simultaneously yearning for those products! "Maya Yoghurt" is an overidentification tactical media product as means of producing pressure on the population--this infinite desire of capital to continue developing regardless of whether that would include even (sublime) levels of cannibalism.

I guess i'm completely immune to the ever-seducing 'shock factor' of cannibalism. Out of habit of seeing art/design projects dealing with similar topic and also for the very mundane reason that i already take probiotics that contain human strains. The 'human dairy' scenario also reminded me of the breast milk ice cream sold in London a while ago.

I was however, very seduced by Smrekar's suggestion that our own body, this nutritious source of "uncolonized biotechnological materials", might hold a key to the way growing populations might be fed in the future.

Fields exhibition was produced by RIXC and curated by Raitis Smits, Rasa Smite (Latvia) and Armin Medosch (Austria).

The show remains open at Arsenals Exhibition Hall of the Latvian National Arts Museum (LNAM) in Riga until August 3, 2014.

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The Social Mining Union. Image courtesy of Tearlach Byford-Flockhart

Last weekend was the Goldsmiths degree show at the Truman Brewery in London. There were quite a few interesting projects but the one that really stood out for its depth, coherence and reach is Tearlach Byford-Flockhart's The Social Mining Union (SUM.)

The BA Design project aims to reposition the role of the 'labour union' (and function of positive activism) within a globalized landscape of post-consumer society, examining the industrial mining industry and peripheral territories it is associated with.

Tearlach's adventures took him from scrapyard in south London to Glencore Xstrata's Annual General Meeting in Switzerland.

Metal scrapping, i learnt from my conversation with the designer is a a multi-million pound business. A documentary on Channel 4 revealed that the business of a yard owner in south London can turn over £7million a year while "scrappers", the men who scour the streets in the hope of turning trash into cash, can make up to £800 a day.

Trailer for documentary 'Getting Rich In The Recession - Scrappers'

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Getting Rich In The Recession: Scrappers. Picture by Jude Edginton/ Channel 4 Picture Publicity

Tearlach joined the scrappers and collected discarded objects from all over New Cross, a district in the London Borough of Lewisham. He also 'mined' websites like Gumtree and freecycle for discarded computers. He then sold his scrap in scrapyards and used the money to buy Glencore (a multinational commodity trading and mining company) shares. Being a shareholder, he somehow managed to infiltrate the annual general meeting of Glencore Xstrata last May when he took the opportunity of a Q&A session to suggest more positive economic, social and environmental impacts in the mining industry. His intervention might not have had much effect but imagine what would happen if whole communities of scrappers engaged in similar forms of activism!

The Social Mining Union project looks back at the Industrial Revolution when large-scale industries were centred around people and place. The paternalism of companies such as Cadbury's and Unilever ensured that communities flourished around places of work, sharing a common ground and an inherent sense of place. This affiliation between workers, industry and environment strengthened social and cultural values and cultivated prosperity at an individual level, and consequently this had a positive effect on the commercial output. The picture is obviously quite different in today's global context.

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The Social Mining Union. Image courtesy of Tearlach Byford-Flockhart

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The Social Mining Union. Image courtesy of Tearlach Byford-Flockhart

Extracts from my conversation with the designer:

Hi Tee! I'm very interested in your experience in scrapyards. Could you detail where you collected the scrap and how you turned it into money that you then used to buy some Glencore shares?

I collected old radiators, piping, cans which were often left in skips and on the side of the road. I then visited two different scrap yards - Sydenham scrap metals and Lewisham scrap metals ltd. When you arrive you weigh your van load for the cheaper scrap - iron and steel etc and then for the more valuable scrap such as copper you weigh it separately on smaller scales. Once the van has been weighed you then remove all the scrap and weigh it again working out how much scrap you had.

You then get payed by check, which I put strait into a bank account set up for the union - this then gets transferred into my Barclays stockbroker account where you can by any public companies shares, once bought you can request a proxy from to attend shareholders meetings and other events.

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View of the project at Goldsmiths Degree Show

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These bullion ores are the processed, melted down scrap. They represent a variety of metals (iron, gold, copper, tin, alluminium, silver steed) mined from different sources

By the way, why did you chose Glencore rather than any other mining company? Any particular reason?

Glencore is the largest commodities and mining giant, from my research I was interested in the anonymity and secrecy they only recently become a public company so not many people know about their operations. I felt it was important to show some transparency and realised that whilst investigating them they were incredibly corrupt in a variety of ways.

One of the goals of your project is to question the role of the union and of activism nowadays. What is wrong with the way they function now?

Activism it seems still predominately relies on models such as protesting, embarrassment and sometimes aggression, these are important but outdated, as policing and government legislation has changed and evolved. The Battle of Orgreave is one of the signifiers to how policing was evolving to deal with large crowds with new techniques being used to control the people.

Unions have lost the strength they once held. Although in the past they did at times act like bullies, they have lost the sense of community connections and this is due to the combinations of small unions into larger ones. They are also stuck in a mentality that suits the past in terms of how they deal with gaining better paid employees based upon a time when striking had more of an impact.

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Glencore Xstrata, Annual General Meeting, 20 May 2014, Zug, Switzerland. Image courtesy of Tearlach Byford-Flockhart

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Tearlach at the Glencore Xstrata with a Colombian activist. Image courtesy of Tearlach Byford-Flockhart

During our conversation, you mentioned the industrial paternalism policy of Cadbury's and Unilever which 'facilitated social capital at a domestic level.' If i understood your project correctly, workers and unions would have to take matters into their own hands and recreate this social capital, instead of relying on corporate mining industries? Can you walk us through what you did once you owned some Glencore actions? And what you think could happen if other people did like you and the whole action was scaled up?

Once I bought the shares I was able to begin a dialogue with Glencore via emails, this enabled me to assess what was possible at the meeting I was planning to attend.

What I found from the meeting is that if we are to make a change within this centralised forum we need to one take matters into our own hands as management seem little concerned and two to speak through a collective voice, if we imagine The Social Mining Union with 1 million members each of these members holds a small amount of shares but collectively they hold a massive amount of shares then we collectively are a threat, as our voice is much louder than one. But I also think it is important to remember that this project is about access and navigation The Social Mining Union suggests a new way to engage with these global companies at a human level. ​

Thanks Tee Byford!

Synthetic Aesthetics. Investigating Synthetic Biology's Designs on Nature, by designer Alexandra Ginsberg Daisy, social scientists Jane Calvert and Pablo Schyfter, bioengineers Alistair Elfick and Drew Endy.

Available on amazon UK and USA.

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Publisher MIT Press writes: Synthetic biology manipulates the stuff of life. For synthetic biologists, living matter is programmable material. In search of carbon-neutral fuels, sustainable manufacturing techniques, and innovative drugs, these researchers aim to redesign existing organisms and even construct completely novel biological entities. Some synthetic biologists see themselves as designers, inventing new products and applications. But if biology is viewed as a malleable, engineerable, designable medium, what is the role of design and how will its values apply?

In this book, synthetic biologists, artists, designers, and social scientists investigate synthetic biology and design. After chapters that introduce the science and set the terms of the discussion, the book follows six boundary-crossing collaborations between artists and designers and synthetic biologists from around the world, helping us understand what it might mean to 'design nature.' These collaborations have resulted in biological computers that calculate form; speculative packaging that builds its own contents; algae that feeds on circuit boards; and a sampling of human cheeses. They raise intriguing questions about the scientific process, the delegation of creativity, our relationship to designed matter, and, the importance of critical engagement. Should these projects be considered art, design, synthetic biology, or something else altogether?

Synthetic biology is driven by its potential; some of these projects are fictions, beyond the current capabilities of the technology. Yet even as fictions, they help illuminate, question, and even shape the future of the field.

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Christina Agapakis and Sissel Tolaas, Selfmade, 2014. Photo: Science Gallery

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Human Cheese Making 2: Bottles, 2010. Photograph by Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg

I don't think i've ever reviewed a book and recommended it to scientists. Synthetic Aesthetics, however, should appeal to the art/design crowd and to the science community alike. It should also interest anyone who is eager to look beyond overenthusiastic headlines that promise a world-saving 'green' technology and who would like to understand better the benefits, risks and uncertainties of a field that might sometimes appear foreign and abstract.

Synthetic Aesthetics brings together synthetic biologists, social scientists, designers and artists to talk about what it means for science, culture and society to not only redesign existing organisms but also to design new ones, constructing in the process completely novel biological entities. As you can expect from the avant-garde minds invited to take part in Synthetic Aesthetics, the essays discuss the possibilities, real and imagined, of a future in which 'synbio' is part of 'nature', design and everyday life but some of the authors also look at the historical and cultural precedents of human interference with nature, from The Island of Doctor Moreau to producing GMOs.

Synthetic Aesthetics doesn't offer any easy answer regarding the challenges and potentials of 'synbio'. What it does very well, however, is opening up a space to have a broad discussion about questions as critical as: Could reprogramming organisms answer the problem of the finite resources of the planet? How do you design what doesn't exist, not even in our imagination? When should we turn to synthetic biology rather than to political or technical solutions? What are the implication of applying an engineering mindset to life materials? etc.

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Designers: Will Carey, Adam Reineck. Scientists: Reid Williams, Wendell Lim, Packaging that Creates its Content

Roughly one half of the book explores projects that resulted from a close collaboration between scientists and artists/designers. I'll just highlight one of them because it has a good balance of 'sci-fi' and everyday practicality.

Packaging that Creates its Content envisioned a probiotic drink that relies on bacteria to morph into a physical cup when exposed to a specific light wavelength. During shipping and storage, the cups remain dormant until water is poured inside, creating a healthy drink. After several uses, the cup's walls begin to degrade and it can be composted.

'Packaging That Creates Its Contents' helps people think about what the world would be like if packaging never created waste.

Get that book! I've searched high and low for a book that would explain synbio in a clear, engaging and intelligent way. I'm glad i've finally found it.

Views inside the book:

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Image on the homepage: Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, The Synthetic Kingdom: Carbon Monoxide Detecting Lung Tumour, 2009. Photograph by Carole Suety.

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

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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:

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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.

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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."

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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:

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GDFB2014-Research. Photo: Eline Baggen

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GDFB2014-Reflect. Photo: Eline Baggen

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GDFB2014-Reflect. Photo: Eline Baggen

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GDFB2014-Remark. Photo: Eline Baggen

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GDFB2014-Remark. Photo: Eline Baggen

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GDFB2014-Remark. Photo: Eline Baggen

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GDFB2014-Remark. Photo: Eline Baggen

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2014: Review. Photo: Eline Baggen

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GDFB2014-Reverb. Photo: Eline Baggen

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GDFB2014-Reverb. Photo: Eline Baggen

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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.

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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.

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Raoef Mamedov, The Last Supper, 1998

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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:

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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.

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

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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.

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Christopher Morris, Obama's War

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

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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.

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Branislav Kropilak, billboard #15, 2008

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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.

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Philippe Chancel, Arirang

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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.

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Robert Boyd, The Man Who Fell To Earth, 2014

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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.

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Ansembourg Museum. Image BIP

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Ansembourg Museum. Image BIP

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Ansembourg Museum. Image BIP

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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.

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Matthieu Gafsou, Sacré, 2011-2012

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Matthieu Gafsou, Sacré, 2011-2012

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Matthieu Gafsou, Sacré, 2011-2012

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Matthieu Gafsou, Sacré, 2011-2012

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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.

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Fabrice Fouillet, Notre Dame du Chene, Viroflay, France, completed 1966. Architect: Frères Sainsaulieu

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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.)

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Chapelle St-Roch

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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:

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From Jean-Michel Chesne's postcard collection

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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.

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

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