In the early 19th century, textile artisans started to break into factories at night to destroy the new labour-saving machines that their employers had bought. They saw the stocking frames, spinning frames and power looms as a threat that would make their skills obsolete and lead to lower wages.
The movement began in Nottingham on 11 March 1811 and spread throughout England over the following two years. The artisans who opposed the newly introduced machinery were called the Luddites. The origin of the name is uncertain but over time, the term "Luddite" came to describe people opposed to any form of technological progress. In the late 21st century, the neo-luddites emerged. They protest(ed) against the negative impact that technology has on individuals, their communities and the environment and aspire to a return to a 'simple lifestyle'.
Newspapers suggest that society is now facing the rise of a new type of neo-luddites. They don't fear for their jobs or for any damage to the ecology, they fear the loss of privacy brought about by drones and google glasses. In any case, the smartest form of luddism or neo-luddism is not one that commends violence, it's one that calls for a better understanding of new technologies and demands that people (all of them not just the ones who can afford to buy these technologies) have a voice in how they are to be distributed and used.
Speculative designer Lisa Ma, however, is pushing the discussion further. Over the past few month, she has been looking for the relevance of Luddism in the modern era by shifting focus from digital and communications technologies to the innovations of biotechnology industries. These biotechnologies which have started to pervade the food, health and ecological systems will undoubtedly attract their own forms of luddism. So who are the BioLuddites? Where are the group and individuals who ask for a demystification of biotechnologies and who are calling for a public debate about GMOs, systems ecology, hormone replacement, etc?
"Biotechnology, its beaucrocies, peripheries and implementation affect our everyday lives. There is a lot of work on the public engagement of emerging technologies, but there are gaps between where we believe science should cover and what is not yet covered. The recent ebola outbreak is an example of where the epidemic is actually one of fear, as society comes face to face with and area not yet solved by biotechnology or policy.
In digital technologies, we've seen an emergence of e-etiquettes and social manuals etc. of digital behaviour. These are what we refer to when society reaches the inner and outer limits of digital technology. Similarly, we also need guidances to reform our social relationships with biotechnology. Bioluddites is filling a necessary role in guiding the social and not just the ethical critiques of biotechnologies."
As part of her residency at Near Now, a programme which works closely with artists and designers to produce projects that explore the place and impact of technology in everyday life, Lisa Ma organised a panel titled Where are the Luddites - An Open Call for BioLuddites. The event took place on 4th June 2014, in Nottingham, birth place of the Luddite movement.
John O'Shea gave a compelling talk about his very funny adventures in proposing the implementation of a Meat Licence, and in bio-engineering a Pigs Bladder Football. Both are projects that catches the imagination of the public but the artist also discussed the legal, ethical and cultural questions that arose during the development of the works.
David King, who has a PhD in molecular biology, is the founder and Director of Human Genetics Alert, the founder of Luddite 200, and of the Breaking the Frame conference. He is also a frequent contributor to media debates on genetics and it is clear from his contribution to the panel that he has some strong and thought-provoking opinions about synthetic biology, three-parent babies, the need to engage in a dialogue with the powerful systems that control biotechnological innovations, etc.
Ben Vickers is a curator, writer, technologist and self-proclaimed Luddite. He talked about the functioning of unMonastery, a space that aims to develop a new kind of social space, akin to co-living and co-working spaces, drawing influence from both Monasteries and HackerSpaces, with a focus on the process of co-creation and co-learning between the community and unMonasterians. He is also a NearNow fellow.
An Open Call for BioLuddites was a great event and i can't recommend enough to watch the video of the panel:
Image on the homepage via BBC news.
One of the thing that surprised me when i moved from Belgium to Italy all those years ago is that i suddenly found myself in a culture where the weather wasn't part of the conversation. The sky never changed much. Every day was mostly sunny and fairly dry. This is less the case nowadays. I'm living in London where the Summer has been boiling hot. Meanwhile, Northern Italy has been showered by torrential rains. The weather has decidedly taken a turn for the weirder.
Newspapers publish alarming and disconcerting articles about climate change and 'extreme' meteorological phenomena on a daily basis. It seems that no matter how much we cycle to work and recycle our trash, this is too little too late (becoming a vegetarian would have a bigger impact anyway.) Climate change is a phenomenon so complex and grim that most people feel powerless and inadequate even taking about it..
The exhibition Strange Weather: Forecasts from the Future at the Science Gallery in Dublin gives a more human dimension to the issue. The show features 26 artworks that, each in their own way, act as springboards for new discussions and debates about the eccentricities of the weather.
The show goes from the very absurd (the Halliburton survivaball) to the very dark and dramatic. But the adjective that pervades the show is 'fun'. While visiting the exhibition, i've been drinking cloud, watched a 1959 film that speculates on how weather control departments would use satellites and met with little child mannequins in Hazmat suits in the most unexpected places.
Strange Weather is one of those rare shows that's never dull, never obscure, never preaching. A quick video walk-through of the exhibition will prove my point:
Given my enthusiasm for the exhibition, there's a lot i'd like to blog: all the ideas, all the works i've discovered. Being notoriously lazy, i'm going to bide my time and slowly publish stories about Strange Weather. Here's a first batch of artworks which explore clouds in the most poetical and critical ways:
Karolina Sobecka climbed to the Sally Gap in the Dublin Mountains to harvest clouds, decant them into little tubes and invited gallery visitors to consume them.
The artist built her own Cloud Collector, a device that is sent into the atmosphere attached to a weather balloon. Clouds condense on its mesh wings and flow into a sample container. These cloud samples are analysed for microorganisms and ingested by experimental volunteers. By combining the cloud microbiome with their own, the volunteers become part cloud and keep a cloud journal reporting their transformation.
Thinking Like a Cloud owes a lot to Aldo Leopold's land ethics motto 'thinking like a mountain'. It describes an ability to appreciate the deeps interconnectedness of all the elements in the ecosystems. By ingesting clouds, clouds become part of you and you become part of the atmosphere yourself.
I was strangely moved by Studio PSK's proposal for the ash dispersal of your loved ones. I don't care whether it is speculative or art or whatever, i want this project to be real.
I Wish to Be Rain suggests that after their death, people could literally become part of the weather by having their ashes used for cloud seeding, the dispersing substances into the air to trigger rain.
Following a funeral and cremation of a body, the crematorium will give the bereaved an aluminium vessel that contains their loved ones remains and a dormant aerostat. When the family are ready, the encapsulated ashes are sent skywards tethered to a weather balloon, to be dispersed in the macroscopic structure of a cloud. The capsule becomes increasingly pressurised. At the point it reaches the troposphere, the highest point at which clouds form, the capsule bursts, dispersing the ashes into the clouds below. When dispersed into the clouds, the remains get enveloped into a macroscopic structure far beyond the most grandiose human experience. But this is short lived, again they enter the domain of the miniature, falling back to earth as raindrops, before eventually finding their way back into the sea.
One thing i noted when i spoke to people who live or used to live in Dublin is that they all have something to say about the fluctuating prices of the houses in the city. Matt Kenyon's Cloud therefore feeds into two concerns: real estate and weather. The artist turned the last 10 year of housing market into a stream of small house-shaped clouds that fly to the ceiling of the gallery, stick there for a while, lose stamina (and metaphorically value) and then fall down to the floor.
The viewers witness common house-ownership dreams disappear as fast as they materializes -- just as many saw the false promises of their homes disappear as they were quickly foreclosed upon during this period.
Strange Weather: Forecasts from the future was curated by artists Zack Denfeld, Cat Kramer and meteorologist Gerald Fleming. The show is open at the Science Gallery in Dublin until 5 October 2014.
Yet another work i discovered in Riga when i visited Fields - patterns of social, scientific, and technological transformations, an exciting exhibition featuring artworks that challenge existing viewpoints, deconstructs social issues, and proposes positive visions for the future.
POLSPRUNG, by Erich Berger, explores the psychology and politics of disaster. The installation focuses on geomagnetic reversal, a change in Earth's magnetic field that makes poles switch ends with the magnetic north pole becoming south, and vice versa. Scientists believe that the reversal is cyclically and some have even calculated that the moment is long overdue.
Starting from (im)possible disasters during a polar reversal, an attempt is made to generally ask how we deal with threat scenarios and states of emergency. We are hereby especially interested in the role of mass media in the production of a permanent state of emergency, as well as the social function and the possible exploitation of disasters for personal, economic and political purposes.
The POLSPRUNG installation features a series of instruments that measure the earth's magnetic field to detect a possible polar reversal, register the gamma radiation caused by the solar wind and compare the data with the speculative disastrous gamma radiation data during a polar reversal. A small reading space also provides information about polar reversal research and disaster speculation, a magnetite laboratory and a notebook in which visitors can write down their thoughts about disasters.
Interview with the artist:
In Polsprung I refer to the geomagnetic reversal, when magnetic north and south are reversing their position and earth its geomagnetic polarity. The German word for the geomagnetic reversal is POLSPRUNG and I use it because of "SPRUNG" - which means "jump" as substantive. A "jump" implies some form of time, something very short in our time experience. But a geomagnetic reversal has a duration of about 10.000 years - nothing we humans would consider a jump, it is only a jump considering geological time. I liked the idea of the jump which makes us think about different time scales.
The other thing about frantically googling Polsprung is that it does look scary. Maybe worse than anything we might read about climate change (sorry for the link to that awful publication) Yet, it doesn't get that much coverage in newspapers. How do you explain that? Is it because we cannot yet feel the effects of the Polsprung?
True, from time to time we hear about a possible catastrophic scenario related to the polar reversal, but maybe it is not so popular amongst journalists, as the concept is not so easy to sell. And there are less "esoteric" scenarios around. This was also the reason I picked it, because it is rarely used in talking about catastrophes.
Could you tell us about the setting of the installation. It's very techy, with instruments that look scientific. Yet, the work explores 'the role of mass media in the production of a permanent state of emergency, as well as the social function and the possible exploitation of disasters for personal, economic and political purposes.' So what is the role of the instruments if the works explore the psychological and political dimensions of a catastrophe?
A constant flow of states of emergency produced through media was the starting point for me to work on POLSPRUNG. In the last years I saw myself constantly bombarded with possible catastrophes, the swine flue, the bird flue, climate change, global warming, peak oil, an asteroid hitting, super solar storms, you name it. Some of these scenarios are just briefly in the media, some stay for some weeks and month others are permanently with us.
It is a really interesting phenomena when you observe it for a while. Most of these scenarios never play out, or were totally disproportionate or are predicted for a future we are not part of. What they have in common is that they create states of emergency which create fear, keep us occupied and make us worry about our current life, our loved ones and our future. States of emergency are also perfect for enforcing measures which we could call unpopular, so I am also interested in the politics of these states.
So I thought to create a test environment, a laboratory, a vehicle to explore such a case. I was looking for a possible scenario which would not be possibly created by human impact like climate change or random (act of god?) catastrophes like an asteroid collision. My interest in geology lead me to the geomagnetic reversal. If we look at the reversal statistics of the last 5 million years then the next reversal is long overdue - so I found my perfect state of emergency. Now, the speculations of possible catastrophes related to a polar reversal range from nothing to a complete mass extinction event. One quite probably effect could be an increase in gamma radiation on the ground leading to a higher rate of mutation in biological organisms but also to unwanted interaction with the electronic hardware. The electromagnetic spectrum was always of high interest to me in my artistic work and so I settled for the gamma radiation increase as possible catastrophe. With this as basic setting the installations manifests itself in 3 parts:
* Disastrous test arrangement # 1: Polar Reversal Detector
* Disastrous test arrangement # 2: Muon Telescope
These two arrangements are self build but functioning instruments which permanently detect the fluctuations of the earth magnetic field (magnetometer) and the related gamma radiation (muon detector). With enough patience and time at hand (a couple of hundreds to thousand years) one can observe the reversal process and gamma ray increase - I call that radical witnessing.
Though the instruments are built quite simple and open they still remain black boxes for the visitor and make it difficult to completely understand the whole process. The detection really happens but people also need to believe in it and need to make them believe to actually be able to create the state of emergency.
* Disastrous test arrangement # 3: Reading and Feedback
The third arrangement is central, as here fears and personal catastrophes of visitors and witnesses are collected. A black book on a writing table invites people to write down their stories and thoughts. The book collects the stories of the different exhibition venues. I haven't seen the result from Riga yet, but in Hamburg, where POLSPRUNG was exhibited for the first time, people made intense use of it. At the same table you find literature to read regarding the polar reversal, the dynamic environment our earth represents when you look at it from a deep time perspective but also philosophy and ecology of geology and disaster sensationalism. For the more playful mind there is also a box where you can investigate and play with magnetic minerals.
"POLSPRUNG is the first installation in a cycle of the works that deal with the psychology and politics of disaster." Do you already know what the upcoming installations will be like?
I am currently working on the second work called INHERITANCE together with Finnish/Danish jewellery artist Mari Keto.
I already mentioned my interest in geology which specifically focuses on techno minerals, like uranium and thorium ores or rare earth elements, their origin, occurrences, mining, technologies and politics, etc. In one of my field trips quite close to my home I discovered native copper in the bedrock.
I knew this was exceptional and informed the geological research centre. To make a long story short, my sample also caught the attention of the researchers working for the Finnish nuclear waste industry. They saw the sample as physical evidence that copper is resistant enough as canister material for nuclear waste in Finnish bedrock. This was a rather
Finland currently builds the first permanent nuclear waster storage facility called Onkalo. There is a quite interesting film by Danish film maker Michael Madsen which I can recommend, called INTO ETERNITY which explores the facility and the people working around it. Also last year I participated in the excellent nuclear field lab Case Pyhäjoki organised by Mari Keski-Korsu which engaged with Finnish nuclear politics from an art and activism viewpoint. Anyway, nuclear processes are vast in time but also in their spacial and economical dimensions, and as such really difficult to grasp. I was thinking of ways how to make them more comprehensive and now we are working on sets of family jewellery which are rendered unwearable through their radionuclide content for quite a long time.
Family jewellery is perfect to inverse the logic of nuclear waste. Family jewellery is a vehicle for family identity and wealth into the future. With nuclear waste we in-debt the future. We have now researched the legal conditions we are working in and planned 3 different jewellery sets which will be presented as installations. Details are too early to
This is the last weekend to discover 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.
Other posts about the Fields exhibition: Sketches for an Earth Computer, Ghostradio, the device that produces real random numbers, On the interplay between a snail and an algorithm and FIELDS, positive visions for the future.
I'm one day late (how lame!) for my wrap-up of the exhibitions i enjoyed in London in July.
Starting obviously with the favourite one. Men y Men by TrujilloPaumier at New Art Projects. Joaquin Trujillo and Brian Paumier went to Oxaca to portray two communities who communicate radically different ideas of masculinity. Paumier's Moros are cowboys standing next to their horses, while Trujillo's Muxes shows a community of mixed gender people living in the indigenous Zapotec culture of Oaxaca.
Trujillo Paumier: Men y Men closed on 20 July.
British Folk Art at Tate Britain is bizarre, quirky but thankfully never condescending. Instead of wasting time speculating on is it art/is it not art?, the exhibition celebrates people's creativity and resourcefulness. Expect gigantic boots that served as tradesmen's signs, a cockerel made by prisoners from the Napoleonic Wars out of mutton bones, imposing ship figureheads, embroidered remakes of classic paintings, etc. I'd be more enthusiastic if folks didn't have to pay £13.10 to enter.
The show is up until 31 August 2014. Happy Famous Artists has a great flickr set.
One of the most interesting galleries in London, Calvert22, is showing the work of photographers and video artists who explore identity and place in early 21st century Russia alongside the pre-revolutionary works of Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky.
I liked the work of Alexander Gronsky a lot. Especially the series Pastoral, which looks at the desolate spaces where the urban and the rural meet.
Close and Far: Russian Photography Now is at Calvert22 until 17 August.
I also went to the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill, London. The building and botanical gardens opened in 1901 to host the collection of a business man who traveled the world to gather objects related to world culture, natural history and music. Among the 350,000 objects, there are lots of stuffed animals, a Spanish Inquisition torture chair and a charming little Merman (the husband of the mermaid?)
I never found the merman, alas! But i discovered doublepreps: half the animal is shown as taxidermy, the other half is stripped to its skeleton.
One of the Horniman galleries has a fascinating photo exhibition that documents the lives of indigenous peoples in the Russian Arctic. The photos were taken by British photographer Bryan Alexander who has been travelling to the Arctic since 1971.
Whisper of the Stars: Traditional Life in Arctic Siberia is at the Horniman Museum until 07 September 2014. Interview with the photographer. More photos in The Guardian.
I'll end with An Idiosyncratic A to Z of the Human Condition at the Wellcome Collection. The exhibition offers a selection of some of Henry Wellcome's objects, medical artefacts, paintings, photographs and sculptures, along with a couple of contemporary artworks.
I wasn't as impressed as every single journalist who published glowing reviews of the show in their newspapers but i did enjoy some of the artefacts. Such as this photo of rubber beauty masks that removed wrinkles and blemishes.
Or this fetching corrective ear-cap, patented by Adelaide Claxton in 1945 to wear at night in order to 'correct and prevent the disfigurement of outstanding ears'.
The exhibition is up until 12 October 2014.
Last month, i visited the Liverpool Biennial. It was boring (BO-RING) but it was still worth the trip. One: because I love Liverpool and i'm happy as long as people around me have that cute accent. Two: because of the show at the Open Eye Gallery. It is part of the official programme of the biennial but it was one of the few shows in town that made me think and reflect upon the art world and the way it is represented/represent itself.
Not All Documents Are Records: Photographing Exhibitions as an Art Form looks at photographic works that bring a critical and artistic gaze on some of the most important art events in the world and asks the question: "Can photography be the site where the history of an exhibition is produced and still retain its independent artistic autonomy, thus overcoming pure documentation?"
Four bodies of works are brought together to make us reflect on this question. Two are contemporary, they are by Cristina De Middel of the Afronauts fame and by Ira Lombardia. The other two, by Ugo Mulas and Hans Haacke respectively, are historical.
I'm going to start with Ugo Mulas' take on the Venice biennale of 1968. I knew the photographer's work for his portraits of the superstars of the art world in the 1960s. But the photos exhibited at the Open Eye Gallery are miles away from the glamour you might expect from the Venice event.
Mulas had been covering each edition of the Venice biennial since 1954. The images in the gallery date from 1968, a year marked by social uprisings around the world (Mai 68 in France, anti-Vietnam war demos, etc.) The art biennial, which naturally echoes changes in society, experienced similar turmoils. Students and intellectuals took to the street to protest against the establishment represented by the Venice Biennale, brandishing banners that denounced the "policed biennial of the bourgeoisie" (policemen were indeed guarding the entrance of the Giardini) and claiming that 'La Biennale è fascista.'
They also questioned the institution itself on matters such as freedom of speech and vilified it for its sales department, accusing the biennial of being a capitalist playground for the rich. The biennale's board subsequently dismantled the sales office.
In solidarity, some of the participating artists covered up their works, withdrew their work, turned them over or wrote over "in these conditions i'm not working."
Mulas photographed the most salient moments of the opening: the protests, the curators carelessly drinking spritz on Piazza San Marco, the police crackdown against demonstrators, etc.
The context of Hans Haacke's photos of the second edition of Documenta in Kassel is very different from the one of the 1968 biennial. Founded in 1895, the Venice biennial is the oldest exhibition of its kind. Documenta was created 60 years later as a means for bringing Germany up to speed with the most modern and contemporary art forms that had been banned under Nazi's politics of artistic obscurantism and censorship.
Haacke, still a student at the Art Academy in Kassel in 1959, worked as an exhibition guard for the second edition of Documenta. In his free time, he independently took on the task of visually 'documenting Documenta'. The 26 black and white images hanging on the walls of the Open Eye Gallery are witty and full of humour. Instead of being strictly about the art exhibited, the images display Haacke's interest into the rituals and peculiarities of an art event. They show how absurd the dialogue between artworks and viewers can be. A family attempts to find some relationship between a description in the catalogue and the work hanging on the wall. A young boy is far more interested in mickey magazine than in the Kandinski hanging behind his back. Other photos gives us a glimpse of what happens behind the curtains of the art world: cleaning ladies doing their job, a Moore sculpture waiting next to a pile of bricks to be carried to the exhibition room.
Nowadays, most of us have seen images of the kind. The museum photos of Thomas Struth or Martin Parr's sneaky portraits of collectors at Dubai Art Fair, for example. In 1959, photographers' sociological explorations of the art world were pretty unusual.
Cristina De Middel was invited by the gallery to imagine what the future edition of the Liverpool Biennial would be like. The commission came as the preparations for the event were underway.
Instead of going into wild speculations, the photographers looked for evidence in the archives of photography and press cuttings that documented past editions of the event. She then used and remixed the images and headlines in prints that cover the walls of the first room of the gallery.
To create her collage, she contacted both the photographers who had made the original images and the artists whose work appear in the photo. The photographers gave her the permission to use and rework their images. Many of the artists, to my great surprise, refused. So while artists have been constantly borrowing and re-appropriating other artists works to create new ones, they negate photographers the possibility to do so. Does that mean that a photographer is not an artist? That they can only produce images that document? To meet their censorship, De Middel painted over the artworks appearing in the photos, blurring and often even distorting their contour. Her new body of work interrogates thus the authenticity of photography (something she had done previously with the Afronauts, a series that charted the 1964 Zambian space programme which never actually came to its full realization) and highlights the tension between creativity and documentation that the photographic medium encompasses.
Upstairs, i almost missed the work of Ira Lombardía. During her visit of the last edition of Documenta, the artist saw a light phenomenon on the floor of one of the exhibition gallery. She mistook it for an authentic work of art (such confusions happen to the best of us when dealing with contemporary art.) Lombardía took a photo of it and went on to create a whole narrative around it. She invented an artist and a description for the artwork that never was. She then copied faithfully the catalogue of the Documenta exhibition and substituted one of the artworks by her photo of the light phenomenon and added the bio of her fictitious artist. She later wrote a letter of apology to the artist whose name and work she had removed from the catalogue.
Not All Documents Are Records: Photographing Exhibitions as an Art Form, curated by Lorenzo Fusi, remains open until 19 October 2014 at the Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool.