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Julian Röder, World of Warfare. Demonstration of fighter jets at the IDEX - the largest arms fair in the middle east, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, February 2011. Credit: Julian Röder / Agentur OSTKREUZ / Picturetank

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Julian Röder, World of Warfare. Credit: Julian Röder / Agentur OSTKREUZ / Picturetank

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Julian Röder, World of Warfare. At the stand of BAE SYSTEMS at the IDEX - the largest arms fair in the middle east, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, February 2011. Credit: Julian Röder / Agentur OSTKREUZ / Picturetank

I've just spent a long weekend in Berlin to attend the Drones event organized by the Disruption Network Lab. The talks, panels and screening were engaging, informative and quite mind-blowing. I'll be back with a report as soon as i've managed to give some intelligible form to whatever i scribbled on my notepad.

Since the event was taking place at Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien, i got a chance to see one of the exhibitions running at the space this month: Boys and their Toys. Zur Omnipräsenz von Krieg und Waffen - auch in der Kunst... (which, according to my ultra rudimentary knowledge of German might mean something like Boys and their Toys. On the omnipresence of war and weapons - also in the art....) As the photos i took will easily demonstrate this is a very entertaining show with some moments of gravity.

The photo groupie that i am was particularly interested by Julian Röder's series World of Warfare. Thrilling copy/paste action follows...

In February 2011, while popular protests were rising in the Arab world, the young photographer traveled to Abu Dhabi for the International Defense Exhibition and Conference. 50,000 military officers and arms dealers attended the fair. Some represent dictators. Others are mortal enemies: India, meet Pakistan. But here they meet and mingle, shopping for missile systems, assault rifles, and attack helicopters.

On a sunny morning, combat helicopters flew in attack formation over Abu Dhabi. Tanks rumbled through the streets, and commando teams launched assaults on barbed-wired encampments. But this display of military might wasn't designed to start or suppress a rebellion. It was a sales pitch.

The copters, the tanks, the troops--all were part of a carefully choreographed spectacle designed to impress 50,000 military officers, arms dealers, and government representatives from 150 nations. It was the start of the biennial International Defence Exhibition and Conference, or IDEX, the Middle East's largest arms fair. There were media presentations to be seen, VIPs to schmooze, and plenty of speculation about the ongoing Arab spring. One could see a wide range of weapons and riot-gear that are not suitable for the battlefield but for street fights against the own revolting population. But mostly there were guns. Lots of guns.

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Julian Röder, World of Warfare. Credit: Julian Röder / Agentur OSTKREUZ / Picturetank

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Julian Röder, World of Warfare. Credit: Julian Röder / Agentur OSTKREUZ / Picturetank

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Julian Röder, WOrld of Warfare. Demonstration of fighter jets at the IDEX - the largest arms fair in the middle east, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, February 2011. Credit: Julian Röder / Agentur OSTKREUZ / Picturetank

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Julian Röder, World of Warfare. Credit: Julian Röder / Agentur OSTKREUZ / Picturetank

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Julian Röder, World of Warfare. Credit: Julian Röder / Agentur OSTKREUZ / Picturetank

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Julian Röder, World of Warfare. Credit: Julian Röder / Agentur OSTKREUZ / Picturetank

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Julian Röder, World of Warfare. Credit: Julian Röder / Agentur OSTKREUZ / Picturetank

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Julian Röder, World of Warfare. At the IDEX - the largest arms fair in the middle east, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, February 2011. Credit: Julian Röder / Agentur OSTKREUZ / Picturetank

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Julian Röder, World of Warfare. Russian stand at the IDEX - the largest arms fair in the middle east, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, February 2011. Credit: Julian Röder / Agentur OSTKREUZ / Picturetank

Boys and their Toys. Zur Omnipräsenz von Krieg und Waffen - auch in der Kunst... is at Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien until 26 April 2015.

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The third edition of the magazine Facta - Revista de Gambiologia is out. As usual, the texts are in Portuguese and English and the content is brilliant.

Facta is an experimental publication orchestrated by Fred Paulino and the Gambiologia group. The first issue of Facta addressed the 'science of Apocalypse', the next one looked at people who accumulate, collect and re-purpose. This issue is all about the hacker culture, poetics and ethics in all their guises and deeds.

I'm waiting from my paper copy to arrive from Belo Horizonte but in the meantime i had a quick look at the online edition of the magazine. It's already available on ISSUU. As are Gambiologia's previous publications. Hurray!

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So what's inside? Things you don't expect and things you expected, only approached from a new angle.

Some of the articles explore hacking very directly. With a history of society's perception of hacker. Up to today and what Brett Scott calls 'the gentrification of hacking' (meaning that pretty much anyone likes to call themselves a hacker, especially people busy making money in Silicon Valley.)

Or with a portrait of/homage to Aaron Swartz, the hacktivist and computer programmer who believed that knowledge should be available to all. His Guerilla Open Access Manifesto is also featured in the magazine.

I also liked the little tour of hackerspaces around the world: Bogohack in Bogota, Hacker Space Palestine in Gaza, Ihub in Nairobi, Raul Hacker Club in Salvador Brazil, Xinchejian in Shanghai, MadLab in Manchester, etc.

I discovered the existence of Kids Hack Day in Facta. KHD, which ethos is summed up in School is dead, learning is not, is a one-day hackathon in which children are invited to open up everyday objects and rebuild, re-purpose, reinvent them. The experiment started in Stockholm and rapidly spread to other cities.

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Inside Facta #3

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Inside Facta #3

However, many of the articles put hacking into a broader context. Dispelling any misconceptions we might still have about hacking/hackers, looking at how the hacker ethic can be applied to all areas of life and calling for hacker culture that would focus more on social and ecological processes, rather than just technology.

Brett Scott wrote Hacking the future of money. Setting up a financial hackspace in which he explains why he is setting up The London School of Financial Arts, a space where creative minds apply the hacker philosophy to the financial system.
By the way, Brett Scott's book Heretic's Guide to Global Finance: Hacking the Future of Money is still up for download.

Maria Ptqk has a witty article about reality hacking that goes from Yes Men's stunts to patterns of open sources technologies.

There's also an essay about Steganography. The Art of Writing Hidden Posts. Steganography is the art of hiding message into message, image or objects. So it is a bit like cryptography. Only sneakier because you will probably never know there is a crypted message somewhere in front of you. Unless you look for it. Apparently, it's one of Al Qaeda's preferred mode of communication.

There's an essay on Houdini, 'Sense deprogrammer and supernatural debunker' who was also working as a spy for US and UK secret services.

And i learnt about MSST, Movimento dos Sem Satélite (Movement of Peoples without Satelites.)

Of course, Facta also contains some great little tutorials. One shows how to resurrect and transform a burnt out bulb (a project by Thomas LEDison). Another explains how to make homemade hydrogen to inflate balloons.

We need more mags like Facta. It's critical, smart and passionate. And it's made by doers who are not afraid to dip their toes into theory, history and the social dimensions of technology.

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Inside Facta #3

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Inside Facta #3

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Inside Facta #3. Fernando Rabelo, HQML. Algoritmo Cotidiano

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Nicolas Larmessin, Habit d'orlogeur, circa 1700 (image)

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Houdini (image)

This way to buy a paper copy.

Previouslyy: Gambiologia, the Brazilian art and science of kludging and Magazines: Facta (the Gambiologia magazine), Neural and Aksioma brochures.

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Cecilia Jonsson, The Iron Ring

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Cecilia Jonsson, The Iron Ring. Photo: Carina-Hesper

In the South of Spain runs a river so red and soalien-looking that the Spain tourism board is marketing it as Mars on Earth. NASA scientists even came to the area to investigate the ecosystem for its similarities to the planet Mars.

Due (mostly) to the intense mining for copper, silver, gold, and other mineral in the area, the Rio Tinto is highly acidic, its water has a low oxygen content and it is made dense by the metals it carries in suspension. Its deep reddish hue is caused by the iron dissolved in the water.

Cecilia Jonsson visited the region to collect some of the wild grass that grows on the borders of the Rio Tinto. The name of that grass is Imperata cylindrica. It is a highly invasive weed and its other particularity is that it is an iron hyperaccumulater, which means that the plant literally drinks up the metal in the soil and stores high levels of it in its leaves, stems and roots.

The artist harvested 24kg of Imperata cylindrica and worked with smiths, scientists, technicians and farmers in order to extract the iron ore from the plants and use it to make an iron ring. The innovative experiment brought together the biological, the industrial, the technological and even craft to create a piece of jewellery that weights 2 grams. The project also suggests a way to reverse the contamination process while at the same time mining iron ore from the damaged environment.

While "green mining" aims for a more ecological approach to mining metals, The Iron Ring explores how contaminated mining grounds may benefit from the mining of metals.

Cecilia Jonsson's mining adventures are detailed in the e-book of the project but i found her investigation into the overlaps between nature and technology so fascinating that i contacted her in the hope that she'd agree to an interview. And lucky me, she did!

Hi Cecilia! I am very curious to know more about the way you, as someone who was primarily trained to be an artist, approach the science/technology side of your projects. Do you typically work with experts to assist you in your research? Or do you just learn the skills and work on your own? Or maybe a bit of both?

My constructions are a combination of hypothesizing outcomes plus trial and error, especially within parameters of biology, physics and technology. Informed by methods used in the natural sciences and empirical material in a site-related context. Mostly they take the form as installation which are the result of intense field work.

The Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier claimed that the great error of the Surrealists was their own lack of faith: they tried to create the marvelous without really believing in it. "Objects" are often a living metaphor of their own history, their formation. To follow their trace through a wide flow of informative perspectives captures a reverberant relation of objective and subjective distinctions in a sort of intermingled morphology. Built on this quantitative data, the cluster eventually starts to web. When the notion of reality shifts into real it has become a concrete term. Which directs me to sites, material, methods and technologies including disseminated collaborations within other disciplines.

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Cecilia Jonsson, The Iron Ring

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Cecilia Jonsson, The Iron Ring. Photo: Carina-Hesper

The Iron Ring is an incredible project. You extracted iron from plants and made a ring from what you collected. How did you discover the existence of those iron-containing plants?

Since iron is not the most toxic pollutant, has a low economical and symbolic value and can be virtually scooped up from everywhere, it was tricky to apply the idea to the knowledge base of present-day remediation processes. The research started around five years ago, from my interest for iron in its intrinsic qualities and paradoxical changes. I was looking into experiments of electro-culture, plant communication and how plants can be applied as analytical filters, as a mirroring of their own environment. I found some plants that are more tolerant to iron and are able to grow on this type of contaminated soils. But, most coherent plant studies about efficient iron uptake mostly targeted the human perspective in relation to high organic iron content as an effective adjunct in the treatment of iron deficiency and anemia.

The research was conducted for the project The original arrangement was for a solo violin and a string orchestra from 2012. The installation shows an ambiguous process of an iron hyperaccumulating plant taking up magnetized iron particles that have been scraped of from a reel-to-reel tape of Antonio Vivaldi's The Four Seasons. On a later stage the iron was extracted again, glued back to the tape and played, resulting in a reinterpretation of The Four Seasons. This work is a predecessor to The Iron Ring were I was interested in taking a more straight functional and site-specific approach to the grass unique ability to extract and encapsulate iron.

The defined iron hyperaccumulating plant with a minimum required amount of 10000 mg/kg Fe revealed in research articles on plant physiology and biochemistry from the university in Madrid. The constructive study had been conducted on the naturalized weed Imperata cylindrica. Collected from the highly acidic (pH 1.6-2) riverbanks of the Rio Tinto in the mining district Rio Tinto in South-western Spain. That model presented me results and a first equation for the calculations of the Iron Ring.

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The original arrangement was for a solo violin and a string orchestra

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The original arrangement was for a solo violin and a string orchestra

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The original arrangement was for a solo violin and a string orchestra

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The original arrangement was for a solo violin and a string orchestra. Iron absorption: I. cylindrica, root - Spring concert. Scanning electron microscope: 5.00 KX-10 ?m. Collaboration with; Irene Heggstad and Egil Erichsen at the University of Bergen, Laboratory for Electron Microscopy

What was the most challenging aspect in the project? Were there moments you thought it was a mad idea and you'd better give up on it? Or did you know right from the start that everything would go according to plans?

I had actual figures on an expected iron content from the grass in Spain. I knew how to extract iron from organic material and had read about iron reduction and deoxidization processes. It was possible. The next step was to figure out the practical weight of how much bio-ore was actually needed for the process of making a ring of 2 grams. I made some calls to traditionally trained smiths to discuss my idea and I got suggestions on possible processes and an "about" quantity.

The greatest challenge was always the restricted iron quantity to create one ring. The problem isn't the metal but its proportion of mass (quote). The thin ring is a complex form to cast even with industrial produced iron. Cast iron is very susceptible to loss of metallization at high temperatures, such as the melt temperature required for the cast. A consequence of this is that with each new attempt we made there was a continuous formation of slag and an equal loss of iron. The inclusion of even small amounts of some elements can have profound effects. Because of the impurities in cast iron and its crystalline structure, it is a strong material in compression but weak in tension and very brittle. As a result, when it fails, it does so in an explosive manner, with little warning.

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Cecilia Jonsson, The Iron Ring

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Exhibition of The Iron RIng at V2_ Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Photo; Jan Sprij

The project starts with humble plants and end up with a tiny little ring. But what I found amazing was the amount of craft, heavy industrial processes and knowledge required to go from plant to ring. What have you learnt about the flow of organic matter while working on the project?

From working with iron as material, the matter itself as well as on its interaction with the living. The Iron Ring has really broadened my understanding of the complexity of ecosystems. From the field to the laboratory-scale to craftsmanship and industry, I have had a proper opportunity to build collaborations with proficiency on a wide scale. Their engagement to think out of the box and the connectedness to sort of re-invent and re-discover iron production in our industrial age, has really made a strong impression.

The Iron Ring also highlights the toxic impact of mineral exploitation on the environment. However, you write in the description of the project: "The result is a scenario for iron mining that, instead of furthering destruction, could actually contribute to the environmental rehabilitation of abandoned metal mines." Could you elaborate on this rehabilitation of the abandoned mines? How would that work? What would it be like?

The abandoned mines in Rio Tinto are a no man's land. Apart from tourists who come to visit the unworldly sites, the area continues its forgotten glory to slump and erode. Rio Tinto has a dark, long history of being exploited for ferrous and non-ferrous minerals, copper, gold, silver and lead and due to its historical perspective the rightful ownership of the excavated mess is undefined and beyond present laws of remediation. To stabilize or reduce contamination of sites like Rio Tinto, you first need to analyse the soil and from that result, plant several different types of hyperaccumulating and tolerant green plants.

The project elaborates on this possibility to utilize the cleansing process of the naturalized grass, which overlooked ability is left unutilized. The project proposes to harvest the grass for the purpose of extracting the ore that is inside them. The idea of the ring is to complete the circle, to maintain the clean-up commitment. So that when the soil is stabilized, other native plants can be introduced to restore the biodiversity and help bring back the heritage of flora that was lost through the human activity.

There are many layers behind the "rehabilitation" statement. Which under controlled conditions could include the naturalized grass: Imperata cylindrica in a remediation process where its biomass is utilized for iron production. A larger harvest would also contribute to less complications and a more refined iron production with less slag and more iron in just two steps. Going back to the complexity of ecosystems and my second connotation of the "rehabilitation". Which is to utilize the already inhabited weed to be able to control its spread in the environment. Imperata cylindrica is an aggressive fast-growing perennial grass that can and has become an ecological threat. It's listed as one of the ten worst weeds in the world and is placed on the U.S. Federal Noxious Weed list, which prohibits new plantings. The grass does not survive in cultivated areas but establishes along roadways, in forests and mining areas, where it forms dense mats of thatch that shade and outcompete native plants.

The enigma of use- and exchange-value enchants me as well as the perspectives on precious matter and how it earns its cultural weight. Something that I think Ralph W. Emerson beautifully formulates in What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered. A metal is deemed to be precious if it is rare and on account of its material nature and rarity, the high value is linked to its cost of extraction.

How long did the whole process take? From the moment you found the plants to the final realization of the ring?

From when the first plant community was found in Spain to the ring had become one continuous solid, 5 weeks of intensive work.

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Stratigrafi

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Stratigrafi

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Stratigrafi

Could you explain what we can see in the photos of the installation Stratigrafi? What is the strange metallic sculpture?

Stratigrafi is a work developed in collaboration with colleague Signe Lidén. Thematically, we were exploring cavities, man-made places and fundamental changes of the landscape. Exploring the mine as an in-between space a geographical cavity between nature, ideas and technologies and how history works way through its forms. Signe had been in Kakanj in central Bosnia and Herzegovina and Bytom in Poland to explore coal mines. I had gathered material in relation to iron from re-vegetation institutes and large-scale surface mining in the region of the Iron Quadrangle, southeast Brazil. The installation intertwined our works where one was taken inside and introduced to impressions from these places. Representations, imitations, scent, recordings, objects and photographs from the sites.

The metal sculpture is a propane driven apparatus, a citrus distiller. The steam was forced through the citrus material and transported onward through the condenser where the temperature is lowered and consistently forms refined acidic drops and erosion. In the windows scorched wood were piled up and filling the room with intense scent. A video without sound projected an exotic landscape in one meeting with passing carts filled with iron ore. The light table consisted of oscillating reversal film, archive material, seeds, a small projection and an exhibition text written by Roar Sletteland. The visitor obtained an auditory access to these sceneries by putting their heads into listening boxes.

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Water extraction, Geneva - Rhône: 02.11.2009 / Rain: 02.11.2009 / Arve: 02.11.2009

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Water extraction, Geneva - Rhône: 02.11.2009 / Rain: 02.11.2009 / Arve: 02.11.2009

I'm also fascinated by the work Water extraction, Geneva. The work seems to be about global warming. Could you explain the installation?

Water extraction, Geneva - Rhône: 02.11.2009 / Rain: 02.11.2009 / Arve: 02.11.2009 was a site specific work consisted of three water extracts, three modified found light bulbs and one light sourced bulb. For the installation, the wooden planks in the floor of the exhibition space were removed, uplifted and were then used to create a platform and a bridged island to the work.

The work looks at the impact that climate change is having on the glaciers and the changes it brings with it. A glacier is important for freshwater storage, while glaciers also can be regarded as reservoirs for the production of electricity through their seasonal water flow. The project focuses on the melting of the Rhone Glacier in Switzerland, which over the past ten years has lost 6% of its mass. The raising temperatures in the region have a strong influence on the seasonal runoff regime of the alpine streams. Where the Rhone glacier runoff with the residues it brings with it, is the main water source for the largest freshwater reservoir in Europe, Lake Geneva.

You are currently in Venice for a residency at the Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa. What are you working on over there? What is the residency about?

It's a three months residency from February to mid May supported by the Office for Contemporary Art Norway. I'm here to develop a new work, a hydrodynamic analogy that acoustically transcribes an interdependent exchange between external forces and internal positive feedback. The Venice lagoon is a delicately balanced natural system that combines to produce one of the largest wetlands in the Mediterranean. Land and water are intermingled. An urban Lagoon, a natural Venice as Marcel Proust captures the reverberant paradox relationship. The project explores the Venice Lagoon's sedimentary environment, its dynamics and composition and is developed in collaboration with the University of Padova at the Hydrobiological Station in Chioggia in the Veneto region.

Any other upcoming exhibition, research or project you could share with us?

After Venice, I will be in Helsinki for a collaborative project on magnetotactic bacteria as part of my participation in a research platform for Art and Synthetic Biology at Biofilia, Alto University. In the fall I will undertake a three-month's residency in Marseille at Triangle France. Let's say there are a few larger research projects under development and works that are more in the making for planned venues.

Thanks Cecilia!

The Iron Ring was made possible through the support of Production Network for Electronic Art, V2_ Institute for the Unstable Media and the Arts Council Norway.

In my naive and poorly informed mind, the stock market breathes at the rhythm of men wearing dark suits, pressing an earpiece against their head and frantically raising and waving their other hand. Mine is however a very antiquated vision of trading. Investing and speculating, it seems, is now mostly controlled by algorithms. These computer programs speculate, send and cancel orders tirelessly, basically doing the job of a human trader. Just much, much faster. So fast that they can execute a trade in milliseconds and even microseconds. That's why we are now talking about high frequency trading algorithms.

The volume of trade goes far beyond human physical perceptions. These bots are so fast, they can flood the market with millions of fake information to confuse and hide their true investments. The process is called quote stuffing.

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Photo by Benjamin Gaulon

RYBN have been investigating the world of finance since 2006. Four years ago, they even launched their own trading bot on the financial markets. The autonomous program executes, buys and sells orders online, and its activity is mapped into real-time visualizations such as charts, soundscapes, and timelines. Its Twitter account even provides details about ongoing orders. Its performance will end when the bot reaches bankruptcy.

More interestingly, RYBN's program is distributed in open-source format. Unlike the black box of the algorithmic and high-frequency trading.

Members of RYBN were participating to refrag, a series of workshops, talks and performances that took place in Paris a few weeks ago and that explored Glitch Art. Their presentation looked at what happens when HFT algorithms slip, glitch and disrupt the trading system. Basing their research on a rigorous analysis of documents available online, the artists analyzed four famous 'flash crashes.' They mostly used the data compiled by Nanex, a firm that offers streaming data on all market transactions and distributes the data in real-time to clients.

The automated trade execution systems i mentioned in the opening paragraph might be sophisticated but they are far from flawless. Once in a while they act in unforeseen ways and trigger "flash crashes". A flash crash is a sharp drop in security prices occurring within an extremely short time period. And because algorithmic trading is disconnected from the economy, any variation is an opportunity for a flash crash.

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Image via Nature

The most famous flash crash is called... 'the Flash Crash.' It occurred on 6 May 2010, when the Dow Jones index dropped 9% in minutes. The loss was estimated at one trillion dollars. The US stock market then took a few more minutes to right itself back. During that short period of time, some trades were executed at extreme prices (either very low or very high) After the event, it was agreed that all transactions made that day between 2:40 and 3 p.m. would be canceled. No one knows exactly how the crash happened but many attributed it to some miscalculation of HFT algorithms.

RYBN made a sound work out of it. Flash Krach turns into sound the raw data of the day, recorded from the 9 stock exchanges routed on the NYSE.

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One of the Nanex Tick Charts of Knightmare event

Another important flash crash took place Aug. 1, 2012. Knight Capital, one of the biggest executors of stock trades in the United States, suffered a technical glitch in its algorithmic trading systems, causing stocks to be misquoted (the algorithm was apparently buying high and selling low which doesn't sound like a very lucrative formula) and costing the firm more than $440 million in 40 minutes.

An analysis by Nanex explains that almost all these trades alternate between buying at the offer and selling at the bid, which means losing the difference in price. In the case of EXC, that means losing about 15 cents on every pair of trades. Do that 40 times a second, 2400 times a minute, and you now have a system that's very efficient at burning money.

The computer-trading glitch was nicknamed, the Knightmare.

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Screenshot of the fake AP tweet

Another memorable flash crash occurred when the Twitter feed of the Associated Press was hacked and a false tweet announced that the White House had been hit by two explosions and that Barack Obama was injured. The Dow Jones dropped about 150 points in a seconds before bouncing back when traders realized that the tweet was a hoax.

The event revealed how high-frequency trading algorithms comb Twitter and other news sources, interpret them and almost instantly turn certain words into trades. It also shows how vulnerable the markets are to random pieces of information.

RYBN also noted that algorithm trading is calibrated to work in 'normal' conditions. The system will work seamlessly until it meets a black swan such as this fake tweet. The black swan broke the system and the trading strategy had to be re-calibrated accordingly.

The last flash crash is the humiliating one that BATS (Better Alternative Trading System) suffered in March 2012. The company had to withdraw its IPO when, in mere seconds, its shares plunged to less than a penny from the $15 IPO opening price.
The trades were later voided.

Some believe that the crash was due to a software glitch but others think that it was the result of a malicious, 100% intentional Nasdaq algorithm that purposefully brought BATS stock to a price of 0.00 within 900 millisecond of the company's break for trading.

What is sure that, as is often the case, the precise cause(s) of the flash crash remains unclear. The markets remain thus at the mercy of technological outages that cannot be predicted or even fully understood.

RYBN's concluding words were that these four crashes received much attention from the press but in fact, flash crashes, and the permanent state of instability they create, are now part and parcel of the way the market works. Nanex estimates that 18.000 mini flash crashs or Flash equity failures were reported between 2006 and 2011.

I think i'm going to read Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, Michael Lewis' book about the role of high-frequency traders in global stock markets.

See also this other presentation i heard at refrag in Paris: The 3D Additivist Manifesto + Cookbook.

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Suohpanterror

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Suohpanterror

Two years ago, indigenous and non-indigenous activists started joining forces to stop a UK-based mining company, Beowulf, from carrying out another drilling program in Kallak, in northern Sweden. Local opposition to mining projects is nothing extraordinary. In other parts across the world, people are campaigning against drilling, fracking, mining and other projects that translate short term profit into long-lasting damage to the environment (if you have any doubt about this, check out a story this morning about a Swedish mining town that will have to be moved away or 'risk plunging into the earth.') But what made the fight against the mining company particularly moving is that Kallak is a reindeer winter grazing land and an area of great spiritual and cultural importance to the Sami Peoples.

The Sami live in the the Arctic area of Sápmi, which covers parts of far northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula of Russia. They are regarded as a minority in these countries but they've inhabited that area for at least 5,000 years, live in close connection with nature and are one of the very few remaining indigenous people in Europe. The right to own their own land, the right to speak their own language or live according to their own culture is dependent on the nation states within which they live. Finland, for example, still has to ratify the ILO Convention No. 169 which would grant rights to the Sami people to their land and give them power in matters that affect their future.

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Map of Sápmi

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Suohpanterror

The Swedish government ended up refusing to allow Beowulf to exploit the Kallak area for iron ore but that doesn't mean that the fight is over for the Saami. They inhabit what is probably the last true wilderness of Europe and because this wilderness is rich in precious natural resources, the Sami have to face many other cultural and environmental threats.

So far, we haven't hear Saami people's voice a lot outside of Scandinavia but this will hopefully change thanks to the work of a Sami collective called Suohpanterror. The anonymous group of artists uses wit, iconic images and humour as weapons to comment on the issues their people have to experience on a daily basis: discrimination, racism, marginalisation, colonialism, dam building, logging, military bombing ranges, as well as exploitation by the tourism and energy industries. And of course, climate change.

Suohpanterror reinvents, re-purposes and 'Sami-fies' well-known icons of advertising, art history, cinema, street art and other manifestations of popular culture to striking results. The first time i saw one of their images, i had no idea what it represented exactly but i could sense that there was something powerful and meaningful at stake.

I recently got in touch with Jenni Laiti, a performance artist and spokesperson for Suohpanterror, and she kindly accepted to answer my questions via a skype interview. I wrote down out Q&A:

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Jenni Laiti. Photo credit: Carl-Johan Utsi

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The Saami Manifesto 15, a non-violent direct action performed last month at Jokkmokk Winter Market, one of the biggest gatherings in Sápmi

Hi Jenni! Where does the name Suohpanterror come from?

Suohpan means lasso. The lasso plays an important role in our culture. To catch reindeer, you need a good lasso hand, it´s called Suohpangiehta, Lasso hand. And of course, it also has a deeper meaning. We are very peaceful people. If we had our own army, the lasso would be our weapon of choice.

The posters you make are really striking. But being from Belgium i suspect that i'm not the best person to understand these images. Which kind of reaction do you hope to raise with the posters? Anger, laughter, mere uneasiness?

Outsiders can't read the symbolic the way we do. To us these posters often have a wider symbolic and several layers of meanings. Each member of Suohpanterror has its own idea of what the images convey. Some are meant to make you angry. Others are ironic or satiric. Some have more of a 'feel good' feeling. Others describe the anxiety we are carrying within ourselves. Some makes us feel powerful. Etc. And of course the images will resonate differently according to who you are.

Take the Suohpanterror version of the American We Can Do It poster for example. Every one recognizes the image and where it comes from. It's America, it's feminism. It will have additional meanings for a Sami, a Scandinavian or someone from another part of the world. To us, it conveys an encouraging message, it says "This is who we are and we can do it."

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More generally what do you think that images can achieve? Why use posters rather than other forms of action?

One of the main reasons is that there is a lack of this kind of art in Sami culture. So the posters are filling a gap. On the other hand, they make for good communication between us and other people. They are easy to understand and everyone can also perceive the added Sami dimension of these pictures.

But it doesn't stop at images. There are many other revolutionary things going on. I also do performances, for example. We also use cultural jamming, performance, artivism, direct actions, etc. All the strategies are useful to us.

Other members of Suohpanterror prefer to remain anonymous. Is there a reason for that?

Many people are asking "Who is Suohpanterror?" One could answer that question "Who isn´t Suohpanterror?"

We are indigenous people, also a minority and face a lot of racism. It is very difficult to live as a Sami today when your culture is not appreciated, when you and your people are hated and the majority doesn't share the same values. The Sami are little more than 100 000 people and we live in small communities. Some of us want to protect themselves and their families from the physical and psychical violence and threat that we are already experiencing.

Would you mind commenting on some of the images below?

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The background of the image is a mine in North Sweden. It's a reference to the touristic marketing campaign Visit Lapland. Our land is the last wilderness in Europe and the state is happy to welcome everyone to visit it but what if all that's left to see one day are just mines?

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We are peaceful people. We don't want fight. On the other hand, it's difficult not to get angry at the way companies are treating us. At every stage of any discussion, we have to listen to a monologue (they call it a 'dialogue'.) The only way companies enter in a dialogue is by speaking and not listening to anything we have to say. And then suddenly the meeting is over. So i think what this image says is that both sides need to be involved in the discussion for a real dialogue to emerge. If instead companies continue this deaf monologue, we should just kick them out!

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In Finland, both the government and the tourism industry exploit us, sell us without ever asking for our permission. They describe us as cartoon characters, who smile, who are cute but aren't real people. The reality however, is that their policies that do not support our livelihood are killing the reindeer.

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The character of this version of Edvard Munch's The Scream is horrified by the many ways our land is exploited. There are wind turbines, hydro power, mining. The sign says "Mining Area. Trespassing Forbidden." This image describes what is really happening in Sápmi, our homeland, which has been colonized and exploited and have been dislocated and disconnected from our land and from each other. This is the reality we are living. Or more, instead of living, we are just surviving.

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Sámi rights movement is having this campaign "Show your Sami spirit." And this is one of the symbols for the Sami rights movement. It's quite an aggressive picture. Even the reindeer are carrying bombs on their back. The image is challenging us, calling for a revolution, a mobilization. We need to defend our own country, our people.

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This is a reference to an old game popular in Sweden and Finland. Afrikan tähti (the star of Africa). If you superimpose the map that shows the protected zones of Sapmi and the areas for reindeer herding with maps that display active mining areas and areas with a high potential for mining all kinds of resources, you realize that they are in conflict with each other. If you combine touristic infrastructure, logging, hydro power, mining and zones threatened by climate change (that's actually the biggest threat for us), we've got nowhere left to escape. Mining companies are arguing that they will only implement 'sustainable' mining that can coexist with reindeer herding but that's not possible. Mining companies come from Canada and Australia. They arrive, they exploit the land and when they are done, they leave nothing but a big hole behind them. The land never recovers from it. I recently went to visit an area that had been mined 20 years ago. It was supposed to be a 'recovered' area. But the reality is that the land had not recovered at all.

We are living in an Arctic area and the legislation about land recovering from mining is made for southern areas. Regrowth is much slower over here. What we're fighting for is our very existence, our land and our right to use it.

Is it that bad? Do you feel that the threats to your livelihood have worsen over the past few years?

Definitely. Threats have been multiplying over the past few years. The North of Scandinavia has the last wilderness of Europe and there are many governments and corporations interested in taking over everything they can in the Arctic area.

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Suohpanterror. Gállok / Kallak 2013

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What are the biggest, most urgent issues on top of Suohpanterror's agenda?

There are two main issues:

One is the indigenous rights of the Sami people. Our right to self-determination. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all people have the right of self-determination. And within this self-determination, we want to protect the land so that it can nourish future generations. We live in close contact with the land so protecting nature is very important to us. Finland still hasn't ratified the ILO 169 convention.

And finally, there is climate change. I personally feel that the time is very critical We are going to work more and more on the issue of climate change.

Are you showing your work in galleries or festivals as well?

Yes, we've got quite a few exhibitions lined up in 2015 and 2016.

Thanks Jenni!

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Thanks Jenni!

(and a big thanks to Benjamin Pothier and Alexander Svartvatten for helping me get in touch with Suohpanterror!)

See also: Under Northern Lights, an Al Jazeera video report about mining in Sápmi; The Saami Manifesto 15: Reconnecting Through Resistance ; and the United Nations Declaration on the. Rights of Indigenous Peoples (PDF.)

You can follow the activities of Suohpanterror on facebook and instagram.

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