Visual artist Melle Smets and researcher Joost van Onna followed the travel of discarded cars from Europe to Ghana and ended up at Suame Magazine, near the town of Kumasi, in Ghana. In this area, 200,000 artisans are working in 12,000 workshops, stores and factories to repair and give a new life to European disused vehicles.
Smets and van Onna then collaborated with local craftsmen and mechanics to build a African concept car in three months. The vehicle is called SMATI Turtle. SMATI because it is the acronym for the Suame Magazine Automatics Technical Institute, an engineering training centre for the artisans. And Turtle because the vehicle is strong and sturdy like the reptile.
The completed car was even inaugurated by Otumfuo Nana Osei Tutu II, King Asantehene of the Kingdom of Ashanti.
The show opens on October 8 and i caught up with project leader Melle Smets to have him talk about his adventures in African mechanics.
Hi Melle! The text describing the project mentions the Buafo. Was this pickup truck prototype at the origin of your project? Where did the idea for the Turtle 1 come from exactly?
The Buafo was a car from the 70ies. From this vehicle we extracted a lot of essential idea's of what a African car should be. The existence of this car was unknown to us until a old mechanic from the neighborhood told us this story. Then we started to look for it and found one around the corner of our workshop. The reason we searched for this vehicle was the fact that we don't know anything about cars, and needed a lead to start working from.
And once you had the idea for the Turtle 1, what happened? You and Joost van Onna just turned up in Ghana and put your project into a full working prototype?
The idea to build a car came much earlier. We wanted to research the potential of a society without formal structures. Suame Magazine looked like the most incredible example of a city which was also a working car plant. Something we could hardly imagine as we thought car assembling is a very high tech business. Because the place is very hectic we thought of a narrative to tell the story of the informal car assembly line. This is how the idea came to built a car from scratch and go from workshop to workshop to learn the process and tell the story.
How did you navigate the Suame Magazine and find the right people to work with?
We went there a year earlier to scout the area and try to find a partner. This became Suame Magazine Industrial Devellopment Organisation. They liked the idea as a PR stunt for their NGO. They are a umbrella organisation for all guilds.
Apart from being skilled and resourceful, what did local people bring to the project in terms of creativity, ideas?
The car is developed by the whole neighborhood in terms of storytelling, throwing idea's, bringing in their networks and their labor. We tried not to take the lead in design and organised every step in the proces as a communal decision. For example the car design is done by wooden sticks. On the other hand people started to use the project to draw the attention on SMIDO by the media. This free publicity was good for the project but also good for growing the network of SMIDO members. In terms of work, we had to pay people to actually do the job.
And conversely, what did you bring that the Ghana craftsmen needed? They were already repurposing car parts after all....
The most lucrative thing we brought them is a story. The Turtle became a National story which they used to get access in the highest networks of the country. And this is where the real business is done. Wright now they are making contracts with Danida (Danish devellopment organisation from Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark) for over 2 million dollars to set up a new land for a car production fascility.
The project involved building a car in 12 weeks. Why was this timeframe important to you?
Do you think it would make sense for western consumers to have a car culture driven by the moto "let's make things simple"?
We need to seriously start thinking in terms of what we really need and want, instead of try to build a paradise of things around us.
Of course our infrastructure is evolved in a way we need sophisticated cars to be save driving 140 KM/hour. But it would be healthy to keep rethinking the whole concept of traveling. There are a thousand ways we can go from A to B. Why we make ourselves dependent on this system? The concept of a highway is a hundred years old and in the time they made it up there were fantastic idea's to get from A to B in total different way. We would like to remind people on this freedom of choice but also responsibility to give meaning to our environment.
And is there any commercial interest for the prototype (or an adapted version of it) outside of Africa?
Not that I know of. But we also never put energy in this. I envision a car production future where every continent has its own species of cars. The climate, economy and landscape demand certain needs to a vehicle. Technology will make it possible to manufacture more on demand and more specific adjustments.
Turtle 1 is part of a broader project that looks at "the stream of discarded cars to Ghana in order to document their hitherto unknown destination." So which kind of images, videos and discourses do you bring to European destinations where you show the Turtle prototype?
We do lectures to governments, sit in advisory boards, work with industry on new idea's. Next to this we did some exhibitions on car shows, art festivals to show drawings, photo's and video's. Every member of the team had it's own medium. You will see on the exhibition. There was also a lot of media coverage on television, news papers and magazines in Germany and the Netherlands.
The prototype is called Turtle 1. Does it mean that there will be new and improved models of the Turtle? More generally, what's next for the project?
We are now working together with the Dutch car industry on a vocational training program. The ambition is to start this program in Suame Magazine next year. In the Dutch Design week we organise workshops around this businesses case. See Word doc for more detailed concept.
Check out the vehicle at the DISNOVATION exhibition, on October 8th- December 6th, at Le Bel Ordinaire, Billière, France. The 14th edition of the festival itself will run November 13th -16th, 2014, at Le Bel Ordinaire + associated venues in Pau & around. Programme curated by Nicolas Maigret and Bertrand Grimault.
Ways of Looking: How to Experience Contemporary Art, by Ossian Ward, Head of Content at the Lisson Gallery and former chief art critic at Time Out London.
Publisher Laurence King writes: Art has changed. Familiar styles and movements that characterized art production prior to the twenty-first century have all vanished. Traditional artistic media no longer do what we expect of them.
This book provides a straightforward guide to understanding contemporary art based on the concept of the tabula rasa - a clean slate and a fresh mind. Ossian Ward presents a six-step program that gives readers new ways of looking at some of the most challenging art being produced today. Since artists increasingly work across traditional media and genres, Ward has developed an alternative classification system for contemporary practice such as 'Art as Entertainment', 'Art as Confrontation', 'Art as Joke' -- categories that help to make sense of otherwise obscure-seeming works. There are also 20 'Spotlight' features which guide readers through encounters with key works..
Contemporary art is not what it used to be. The old rules, classifications and movements don't apply anymore. Art can be anything, anywhere, it can even be anyone. You might pass by it on the street and never realize it. The author thus set up to guide us through art appreciation and consumption. Thankfully, Ward is a witty, straightforward and seasoned art critic who realizes that no one needs an encyclopedic knowledge of art history nor a master in art speak to enjoy art. In fact, Ward advises that you come with a fresh mind and a clean slate, calling for a tabula rasa approach where T.A.B.U.L.A. stands for:
Time: just hold on, don't turn your back yet. Stay there for a few minutes before deciding the work is not for you (that's one rule i should follow more often.)
Ward then suggests that we look at today's art through various lenses: entertainment, confrontation, event, message, joke, spectacle and meditation.
The theory is never overwhelming nor dogmatic. The author illustrates each point with a number of artworks which he dissects according to the T.A.B.U.L.A. perspective.
I loved this book. I'm tempted to offer a copy to my many friends who stare at me with a look of "poor loser, that art job must be so BO-RING" in their eyes. I never managed to explain them why what i do for a living makes me want to spring out of bed every morning but this book might be more convincing. But Ways of Looking will be of great help to me as well. I've always thought that i was good at feeling when a work is 'good' or 'bad' but i often struggle to form intelligible thoughts that would help me express what i find so interesting about a particular piece or exhibition.
I particularly liked the tone of the book. While the author sounds genuinely passionate about contemporary art, he doesn't seem to take it too seriously either. From what i could infer, he doesn't suffer sloppy, easy and pompous art. There certainly isn't any of that kind of art in his book.
Some of the works presented and analysed in the book:
This 7-metre-long version of a medieval bronze and steel cruciform sword is suspended in mid-air over the heads of visitors. Like the Sword of Damocles, this memento mori reminds us of the precariousness of all things.
Mohamed Bourouissa's photos look like evidences from a photo reportage about delinquency in French suburbs inhabited by Arab and African communities. Taken between 2005 and 2008, the photos directly echo the 2005 unrest in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois.
Each image has actually been carefully staged and choreographed to simulate the documentation of tensions and confrontations about to explode. Yet, the composition is so precise and elegant that the photos also evoke Romantic paintings.The series was named after the Boulevard Périphérique, the ring-road surrounding Paris that effectively ostracizes communities that live beyond this physical and metaphorical barrier.
The trilogy And Europe Will Be Stunned follows the activities of the Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland (JRMiP), a utopian political group that calls for the return of 3,300,000 Jews to Poland.
Views inside the book:
Vice interviewed the author about Ways of Looking.
Image on the homepage: Gregor Schneider, Man With Cock.
The Media Space at the London's Science Museum has recently opened a retrospective of photographer Joan Fontcuberta's work. The series on show explore constellations, geography, natural history and many more science-related topics. Each of the body of works exhibited would deserve its own blog post but i'm going to focus on the Fauna series because it brings to the attention of the broader public the long-lost archives of a German zoologist called Professor Peter Ameisenhaufen.
Fontcuberta discovered the archives by chance during a trip to Stockholm with his friend writer and photographer Pere Formiguera. Ameisenhaufen gained fame in the first half of the 20th century for his controversial research on rare animals. Many of his colleagues refused to believe these creatures were real but Ameisenhaufen spent decades collecting evidences of their existence. The archives uncovered in the late 1980s by Fontcuberta were surprisingly rich and well detailed: photos, field notes, dissections drawing, audio clips documenting the calls and other sounds of these truly exceptional animals. Several specimens were even remarkably preserved by taxidermy.
Here are a few examples of the creatures the professor discovered over the course of his career:
Alopex Stultus- An herbivorous animal, completely inoffensive and very timid. When it senses the proximity of an enemy, it finds a shrub of the species Antrolepsis Reticulospinosus and digs a hole in the earth, into which it sticks its head, leaving the rest of the body suspended in a vertical posture in an attempt to mimic the shrub. Unfortunately, the outcome is not particularly satisfactory and both men and predators usually capture it at this point.
Solenoglypha Polipodida- Extremely aggressive and venomous, it hunts for food and also for the pleasure of killing. It is quite rapid and moves forward in a curious and very rapid run, thanks to the strong musculature of its 12 paws and the supplementary impulse which it obtains by undulating all of its body in a strange aerial reptation. When facing its prey it becomes completely immobile and emits a very sharp whistle which paralyzes its enemy. It maintains this immobility for as long as the predator needs to secrete the gastric juices required to digest its prey, which can vary between two minutes and three hours, as determined by the size of the victim. At the end of the whistling phase, Solenoglypha launches itself rapidly at its immobile prey and bites the nape of its neck, causing instantaneous death.
Cercopithecus Icarocornu- the sacred animal of the indigenous Nygala-Tebo tribes, for whom it represents the reincarnation of Ahzran (he who came from heaven). The females give birth inside a large cabin in the village to which only the great shaman has access. The baby animals remain inside the cabin until they have completely developed their ability to fly, at which point the tribe celebrates a lavish ceremony during which Cercopithecus undergoes an operation in which it is grafted with the skin of the silver fish of the Amazon, which covers all of the pectoral and abdominal zone. Once this has been done, the animal is set free, although it never strays very far away from the village, and participates by its presence in all of the sacred festivals of the NygalaTebo. During these festivals the animal is given a spirituous beverage which it drinks eagerly, sinking into a state of complete inebriety, at which point it begins to flap its wings so madly that it hovers in mid-air with its body immobile, singing like one possessed.
Of course none of these animals have ever existed and i knew of the hoax before i entered the show. Yet, i wasn't sure. Fontcuberta is such a master in deception and seduction that i needed to remind myself that this wasn't 'documentation'.
In fact, when Fauna was shown at the Barcelona Museum of Natural Science in 1989, 30% of university-educated visitors aged 20 to 30 believed some of the imaginary animals Fontcuberta devised could have existed.
I didn't know at the time what Fontcuberta looked like, otherwise i might have detected that Hans von Kubert, the assistant of Professor Ameisenhaufen bears an uncanny resemblance to Fontcuberta himself:
More evidences of the existence of the creatures, i just can't resist:
Joan Fontcuberta grew up in Spain under the dictatorship of General Franco, at a time when propaganda shaped what people should believe and trust. Like many other members of his family, Fontcuberta worked in advertising until the late Seventies, when he decided to learn photography by himself and investigate how the medium constructs truth and untruth.
The other photo series shown in the exhibition Stranger than Fiction are as amusing and deluding as Fauna. The show closes on the hilarious Miracles & Co series which shows Fontcuberta in the guise of a monk living in a Finnish monastery school specialized in teaching how to perform all kinds of wonders. By the time i exited the show, there really remained no doubt in me that photography shouldn't be trusted unreservedly.
"Photography is a tool to negotiate our idea of reality. Thus it is the responsibility of photographers to not contribute with anaesthetic images but rather to provide images that shake consciousness."
Views of the exhibition space:
Stranger than Fiction is at Media Space Gallery, the Science Museum in London until 9 November 2014.
A few weeks ago, i discovered the existence of the Barts Pathology Museum. And then i visited it so you don't have to.
The museum was opened in 1879 and its collections of organs and tissues were used to train medical students. The museum is located in a charming wood, steel and white shelves space with three mezzanine levels and a spiral staircase. The 5,000 specimen collection, however, is even more gruesome than i had suspected.
The jars are filled with all kinds of deformed and diseased body parts: a gout-swollen hand, an inguinal hernia from around 1750, the bound foot of a Chinese woman, the skeletons of conjoined twins, a liver dented by years of wearing tight corsets, a brain perforated with an ice pick during a frontal lobotomy, a rat that died of tuberculosis, a cabinet of surprisingly voluminous objects that people inserted into their bodies (more about that one in the video below), etc.
I loved the place and i hope it will be open to the public more often in the future. Even though that museum will haunt my nightmares for years to come. Photos were not allowed on my visit. I've therefore stolen as many images as i could online (with due credit wherever i could find it, of course.)
Here's a quick presentation of some of the specimens. Some with comments, others with only the shortest description:
On the afternoon of 11 May, 1812, John Bellingham, a bankrupt businessman, walked into the lobby of the Palace of Westminster and shot prime minister Spencer Perceval, making him the only UK prime minister to be assassinated. Bellingham was sentenced sentenced to death by hanging. As was customary for the time, his body was donated to hospitals to be dissected and anatomized. His skull is preserved at Barts Pathology Museum.
These vertebrae were damaged following a method of judicial hanging called The Long Drop or "Measured Drop" which takes the person's height and weight into consideration. It meant that the rope was the right length to ensure an instantaneous death caused by 'a broken neck' but didn't result in the decapitation of the victim which did occur frequently.
This pot contains a large portion of the liver of a 52 year old female. It is supposedly exhibiting the deformities caused by prolonged 'tight-lacing' of corsets and is dated 1907. The liver is on its side in the glass pot, and the deformity can clearly be seen in the form of a cleft splitting the right lobe of the liver in two.
"A fracture of the mandible. The jaw is broken between the canine and the first bicuspid teeth on either side. This is the common seat of fracture. It was wired during life. (1886)
I'll close this post with a little gem. Carla Valentine, Assistant Technical Curator at the museum takes us through some of the dangers of inserting foreign objects into orifices:
The Barts Pathology Museum is located at the St Bartholomew's Hospital in Smithfield in the City of London. The museum is usually closed to the public. Except for a few afternoons in August and for special events and taxidermy classes. Unfortunately, The Gordon Museum of Pathology which seems to be bigger and fascinating is not open to the public either.
Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.
Lacplesis Technology was created by Andris Vetra and Artis Kupriss (in collaboration with programmer Viesturs Kavacs) with the aim of looking for evil in copyright issues.
The project bears the name of Lāčplēsis, a hero in Latvian mythology. A very interesting hero! Of course he did the usual: fighting against a giant and then against monsters with various numbers of heads, rising a castle into the air, but i liked the fact that the Latvians are celebrating him because he battled anyone plotting to replace Latvian old gods with Christianity.
The Lacplesis Technology project comprises 3 prototypes. The first one is LT-ML002, a pirated music legislation software that detects all the .mp3 files stored in your portable USB media device, cuts the songs into tiny pieces and rearranges them randomly into a new unique composition.
LT-GR002 is an alternative media player which can be used in public spaces for both noncommercial and commercial purpose without any fee. A mechanical clapper regulates the tempo and volume and creates different soundscapes. The device can be used with headphones or speakers.
Finally, E1-FLAX investigates how pirated music affects living organisms. Scientists from University of California even succeeded to affect work of plants stomata (which are responsible for evaporation of water from plants) with help of high frequency sounds.
I discovered Lacplesis Technology during the final day of the Renewable Futures Conference organised at Liepaja University's Art Research Lab. Young graduates were presenting their work and i thought that this one really stood out. Andris talked to me about the project:
Hi Andris! How small do the snippets of files made by LT-ML002 have to be for the work to be 'legal'?
To find that out we called Latvian authors' society AKKA / LAA. Technically it is illegal to take and/or make changes with anything at all without the authors' permission. If something is recorded and put under copyright no one can use it without permission. So our legalization software does that illegally and the actual result is not really legal but the idea is to make the result hard to recognize for responsible institutions. But snippets taken by LT-ML002 are approximately 10 to 100 milliseconds long. After the legalization process, most of them are changed in time scale as well (made faster or slower) so the length of the new composition is different.
Have you ever received any feedback from musicians whose work had been rearranged by your software?
Unfortunately, we have not received any feedback from musicians. But reasons for that are quite clear. This work has been exhibited only once for wider public and not too many people carry flash drives with music in them so those new compositions have not spread widely yet. But fortunately we are working on online version which will be available in beginning of this autumn hopefully.
Is there any way we can get the software?
We are not sure about download version but as I said there will be online version available for all who can access internet connection.
Could you explain was LT-GR002 is made of? Is it just an Mp3 player dismantled and put inside a transparent box?
LT-GR002 is completely analog media player. It produces sound out of mechanical mechanism. Spring rotates and hits metal bars, contact microphone attached to mechanism receives the sound and sends it to mini jack output through amplifier. See picture 1 attached.
LT-GR002 plays analog dance music.
I am also very curious about LT E1-FLAX. Could you explain the experiment, the conditions and process, the observations and results?
There are quite a lot of research that proves that music can affect growth of plants and other organisms. In the experiment LT E1-FLAX, we researched how pirated music affects plant growth compared to non pirated/legal music. In this experiment we made two identical containers with the same soil, the same seeds of flax (10 in each container), identical speakers and provided them with the same amount of water and light. The only difference was the content played through the speakers. For the experiment we used old song of composer Raimonds Pauls called "Zilie lini (Blue Flax)" in one container we played the legal version bought in an online store but in the second one, we played a copy of it that technically is pirated file. Results were quite similar though in the container with pirated music the plants grew little bit taller.
Yes, there are positive examples around the world. A good example is Pay What You Want pricing strategy. The loudest example of this was Radio Head's album In Rainbows released under this pricing strategy. Also I liked this Techno Brega music industry in Brazil where music releases are used more as advertisement for live performances. The last one is documented in a good documentary related to those questions called "Good Copy Bad Copy".
I was wondering how you (as someone who grew up among debates about copyrights in music) saw where the discussions are leading to. Do you have much hope that things will change? have you, for example, observed that younger musicians are more likely to fight for a debate around copyrights than older generations for example?
We would not say that we have grown up among debates about this. This is more recent topic of our interest as young artists. This project of course is based on idealistic hope that some day it will be possible to deal with those problems. And that is the reason we chose this mythological hero Lacplesis to represent our project as he embody this romantic hope of victory of good over bad forces and golden age coming afterwards.