Works of Game. On the Aesthetics of Games and Art, by John Sharp, Associate Professor of Games and Learning at Parsons.
Publisher MIT Press writes: Games and art have intersected at least since the early twentieth century, as can be seen in the Surrealists' use of Exquisite Corpse and other games, Duchamp's obsession with Chess, and Fluxus event scores and boxes--to name just a few examples. Over the past fifteen years, the synthesis of art and games has clouded for both artists and gamemakers. Contemporary art has drawn on the tool set of videogames, but has not considered them a cultural form with its own conceptual, formal, and experiential affordances. For their part, game developers and players focus on the innate properties of games and the experiences they provide, giving little attention to what it means to create and evaluate fine art. In Works of Game, John Sharp bridges this gap, offering a formal aesthetics of games that encompasses the commonalities and the differences between games and art.
Works of Game is part of MIT Press' Playful Thinking, a series of compact, short, sharp volumes on game-related topics that should interest pretty much everyone, from academics to industry professionals to members of the general public. I've only got this one book from the series but i can confirm that it counts some 115 pages only (excluding the notes which, by the way, are surprisingly amusing to read) and that it analyses its subject in depth while remaining extremely readable to art experts and curious players alike.
In the book, John Sharp attempts to explore the way game makers and artists conceptualize and create game-based artworks. He identifies three connected community of practice:
Game artists appropriate the tools of the video game industry to create art.
Sharp illustrates the three practices with examples and brings them in parallel with key moments or players of the history of art. It is one of those rare books in which Donkey Kong finds itself in the company of Marcel Duchamp, Dune and Raby, Nicolas Bourriaud and Sol Lewitt.
A clear example of Game Art is when Julian Oliver exploits a bug in the Quake 3 game engine to 'paint' abstract images and videos. The result is a wok of art that stand on its own but that might not necessarily appeal to a gaming community who expects interaction.
A great artgame would be Castle Doctrine, a massively-multiplayer game set in the early 1990s. Each player has two missions: protect their home and break inside other players' houses and steal money from their vaults. It's not pleasant, you can lose everything and commit suicide, be mauled by a guard dog, or be killed by the traps your neighbour has installed to protect their belongings.
In creating this paranoid game, Jason Rohrer was influenced by his childhood fear of his house being robbed, shootings that made the headlines, and his own political views regarding gun rights and home invasions. Castle Doctrine demonstrates that a game can be autobiographic, like a painting or a poem.
The series is composed of six separate non-digital games that experiment with the traditional notions of games and the way they can extend human experience and create emotions not traditionally associated with games.
One of them is Train, a board game where players have to transport as many yellow game pieces from one end of the game board to the other. But the winner discovers the name of their destination only once they've reached it. All of them are concentration camps. The player can then choose to stop playing or attempt to sabotage the game by intentionally trying to draw derail cards.
Another game, Síochán leat (aka "The Irish Game") re-creates Oliver Cromwell's mid-17th century invasion of Ireland. As the English army advances, the Irish people (game pieces) are displaced onto other squares of the board until the figures representing Irish people can barely squeeze into increasingly crowded areas. Two players manipulate the Irish pieces. When there isn't enough free spaces left, the Irish people will have to fight one another in order to stay alive, for example by sending some of the Irish people to one side of the board where they will wait to shipped to Barbados to serve as slaves.
All the games in the series put the player in the very embarrassing position of playing an active part into a human atrocity. The rules of the game are not published anywhere, you discover them as you play.
Now artists' games have the best of both world. They satisfy the art community because of their critical and conceptual rigor and they entertain the gamers with their level of interactivity and their representation of real phenomena experiences.
An example of artists' game is Mary Flanagan's [giantJoystick] which critically engages with the design, play and cultural place of games. In the installation, you have to handle an oversize Atari VCS joystick to play classic games designed for one player. However, you need the help of another player in order to successfully manipulate it. The idea is thus very simple. However, questions soon arise in the mind of the player: How do you collaborate on a game that was designed for one player only? How does the playing activity change once you're in a museum rather than alone in your living room? etc.
Molleindustria's The Best Amendment, a game that pushed the pro-gun rhetoric to its most absurd limits, is as ludic as it is socially-engaged and as such, it appeals to both the game community and the art crowd. It particularly challenges Wayne LaPierre's argument, made in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, that "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."
In the concluding pages, Sharp states that the artgames movement is more or less on its last leg and that game art is relegated to the 'marginalized world of media art.' He does however make a great case for artists' games, explaining why they deserve to get the attention of galleries and museums, what is their place in culture and also why we should develop a new literacy to better appreciate (and create) them.
Now who might enjoy this book? That's a no-brainer!
Works of Game is a book for people who love contemporary art and read Jonathan Jones' art column on The Guardian (i like Jones' writing but his good sense seems to evaporate as soon as any form of technology is involved.)
It is also a book i'd recommend for gamers, for the media art crowd and anyone else who want to further reflect on art's contribution to games. And vice-versa.
More notes from the Drone event organized by the Disruption Lab Network in Berlin a couple of weeks ago (the first post, The Grey Zone. On the (il)legitimacy of targeted killing by drones, is over here.) Eyes from a distance. On Drone-systems and their strategies brought together a former drone operator, investigative journalists, criminal law researchers, artists and critical thinkers to reflect on the following issues:
What is the politics and the regime of power beyond drone-systems? Which are the consequences both on militant networks and civil society of an increasing automatism of conflicts? Can we track down the hidden strategies that move target-killings? Can we understand better drone technology?
The symposium was brilliant. For many reasons: the impeccable choice of speakers, the variety of perspectives, the stimulating Q&A with the audience. But i think i should salute the fact that many women participated to the conference, both as speakers and as members of the public. This will hopefully be a inspiration to conference organizers who believe that technology is a 'man thing.'
But let's get to the talks of the first evening. Two of them were given by people who have or used to have a direct, daily experience of drones.
i was incredibly moved by Asma al-Ghul's video contribution. She is a journalist and author from Gaza who writes about human rights, social issues and is never afraid to openly criticize Palestinian ruling authorities. She has won numerous awards for her work, including the international award for courage in journalism. On August 3, 2014, at least nine members of her family were killed in an Israeli airstrike. She was not allowed to get out of Gaza (more about that below) and sent a video to tell us about everyday life under drone surveillance and sometimes attacks.
The other speaker was Brandon Bryant, a former U.S. Air Force pilot who joined the Predator drone Program in 2006 and left in 2011 when he started questioning the ethics of the program and his own role as a soldier. He has since shared with the world his battle with PTSD, his guilt over killing people and his concerns about the U.S. drone operations.
Bryant also recently set up Project Red Hand to expose mechanisms of corruption, manipulations and wrong doings.
You can watch Bryant's presentation on YouTube but here's a small summary.
Brandon Bryant. Photo Ethan Levitas for GQ
When the GQ article came out in 2013, it was titled Confessions of a Drone Warrior. The word 'warrior' offended him. Drone technology made him feel like a coward, not a warrior. He could kill a human being at the other end of the world at the click of a button. 'What's more cowardly than that?'
And since the technology is used by the U.S.A., a country supposed to be the most powerful in the world, then he believes that the U.S. is the worst type of coward. Instead of leading by example, the U.S. is acting like the bully in the playground.
When you're a drone operator, you're a low class sniper. No one respects you in the military. You don't have to do the hard stuff. Yet, you are given the responsibility to take someone else's life without really being given the information necessary to understand what's going on and who exactly you've just murdered. You are told to look for people doing 'nefarious things', but we have no understanding of these people's culture. The first time Bryant had to shoot, he was told to fire at 3 individuals simply for the fact that they were carrying weapons.
Bryant also believes that as citizens we have responsibilities as well. Our duty is to raise our voice whenever there is a concern about the involvement of our government in the drone program. And if you're not American and think this doesn't really concern you, do check out his video, towards the end he describes the role of Europe and in particular Germany in making the drone operations possible.
Bryant's talk was very moving, especially when he revealed that 'back home' people don't want to hear his story. His brave decision to speak out and denounce the lack of ethics of the drone program was not seen with a kind eye, he even received threats from friends and colleagues who said he deserved to be shot for raising his voice.
Israel is the world's number one drone exporter. It has been experimenting the technology with deadly consequences on Palestinians for years so it wasn't surprising that the DNL had invited two writers from Gaza to Berlin to share their experience with us. Unfortunately, it was also no surprise to learn that neither Ebaa Rezeq nor Asma al-Ghul had been allowed to get out of Gaza.
However, Asma al-Ghul sent a video to tell us about life under drones in Gaza. Alghoul couldn't come to Berlin because of the closure of the borders. She is blacklisted for some unknown reason (like half the population of Gaza, she explained) and wasn't allowed to go beyond the Erez checkpoint controlled by Israel.
Gazans are very familiar with drones. They have lived through 3 wars in 8 years and even a child is able to recognize the arrival of a drone. They are so much part of everyday life that people in Gaza are giving the drones nicknames such as as 'Buzzer' or 'Zanana', onomatopoeia that come from the ugly sounds they make in the sky. In fact, drones have taken such a part of people's culture that they started calling 'zananas', the intelligence men who follow people or simply nosy people.
Drones cause serious stress and anxiety among the population. A drone evokes war and death. Once you hear it coming, you brace yourself for a bombardment and the death of people. On a side note, it's impossible to ignore their presence if you are watching TV because they ruin the transmission. "Every Israeli aircraft is dreadful,' she explained. "Apaches, F-16s and drones. Especially the F-16, when they break the sonic barrier and make severe explosions in the sky. "
Some Israeli drones are used for reconnaissance purposes, others fire missiles. Some do both.
"It's been six months since the war ended,' she says and war is still inside of us. People keep asking us whether there's a war coming. Since the end of the war, 40 people who live by the border-line areas have been killed by drones. One of them was a resistance fighter. Over 60 boats have been destroyed. 66 civilians including fishermen were detained by the Israeli forces in the post-war six-month period.
These statistics show there's no peace, there's no real truce and people feel they are threatened all the time."
A study recently released by Aid agencies in Gaza shows that over 100,000 Palestinians are still displaced. The situation is catastrophic. Gazans live in complete depression, in addition to unemployment and poverty.
Young people still dream of change, of reconciliation, of a new life to be born.
In addition to the domestic obstacles which cripple the population, Gaza is also facing political arrests and lack of speech freedom for journalists. The West Bank is not any better than in Gaza. Any journalist who criticizes president Mahmoud Abbas on Facebook can get into trouble, for example. Even the political reconciliation is far away now. It's the first anniversary of the Beach Camp accord this month and nothing has been applied.
The next event of the Disruption Network Lab will take place on May 29-30 in Berlin.
Previously: The Grey Zone. On the (il)legitimacy of targeted killing by drones.
Last week, i was in Berlin for the talks and screenings organized by the Disruption Network Lab, a platform of events and research focused on art, hacktivism and disruption. DNL opened its program with Eyes from a Distance. On Drone-Systems and their Strategies, a conference that explored the politics and the regime of power beyond drone-systems. A couple of the talks have already been uploaded online. They will all be there eventually and in the meantime i'm going to dutifully post my notes from the conference.
Starting with the brilliant panel of the first evening. The Grey Zone. On the (il)legitimacy of targeted killing by drones, moderated by journalist Laura Lucchini, explored drone strikes under the perspectives of an investigative journalist, a criminal law researcher, an activist and a blogger/journalist who lives in Gaza under the constant surveillance of the Israeli drones (more about her in a later post but go ahead if you're curious...)
The grey zone is of course the dangerous, blurry area where drone attacks operate. The practice of targeted killing by drones raises many questions: "How many civilians have been killed as collateral damage during these strikes?" "And even if we're talking about militants, how can the killings be justified when there has been judicial supervision? "If these drones can reach their targets anywhere, then how is the battlefield defined?" "87 countries (and counting) are now equipped with military drones, which they use mostly for surveillance. Only 3 countries use drones for targeted killings: the U.S., Israel and the UK. Where will this stop?" "And if these targeted killings are illegal, why does Europe keep silent?"
The first panelist was John Goetz, an American investigative journalist and author based in Berlin. He wrote, together with Christian Fuchs, the book Geheimer Krieg (Secret War) which reveals how the war on terror is secretly conducted from covert U.S. bases in Germany.
Goetz's presentation attempted to reconstruct one day of a drone attack in Somalia and as the narrative unfolded, we got to hear about Germany's involvement into these military operations, the way the U.S. gather intelligence in foreign territories and how innocents end up being caught in the line, if not directly targeted due to inaccurate information.
As he explained at the conference (and as an article in The Intercept further confirmed), drone strikes wouldn't be possible without the support of Germany. The Germans might not launch the attacks themselves but they provide intelligence and they coordinate the strikes that target suspected terrorists in Africa and the Middle East, but that also kill civilians.
The U.S. drone war in Africa is controlled from U.S. bases in Germany, namely Ramstein and Stuttgart. Germany is also responsible for gathering human intelligence. There are many Somali immigrants and asylum seekers in Germany and as they arrive, they are asked about streets, shops, location of members of Al-Shabaab, etc. Any information that could be used by the "War on Terror" is immediately relayed to U.S. intelligence officers.
The second speaker was Chantal Meloni, a criminal lawyer and the author of Is there a Court for Gaza? A Test Bench for International Justice, a book about the crimes perpetrated during the Operation Cast Lead against the Gaza Strip.
Meloni put the issue of targeted killing by drones into a legal framework.
Since 2004, up to 5,500 people have been killed by drone strikes in Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan. These are countries the U.S. is not officially at war with.
Killing has supplanted capture as the centerpiece of the U.S. counter terrorism strategy. Opposition to drone killing is growing but it is not as effective as the opposition to torture was. A reason for that might be that the legal framework for drone strikes is more complex.
Drone strikes have escalated under the Obama administration and they are characterized by a lack of transparency: states don't disclose who has been killed, why and who are the collateral casualties. Obama doesn't disclose the identity of the people on the kill list. There is no public presentation of evidence, nor any judicial oversight. The level of opacity is actually ridiculous. The little information we have is provided by media reports, leaks or testimonies.
An analysis by the human rights organization Reprieve found that US operators targeting 41 men have killed an estimated 1,147 people. So who are the 1,106 individuals? We don't know, most of them remain unnamed. What is sure is that the collateral damage shows that drones are not as 'surgically precise' as the U.S. claims.
Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown professor and former Pentagon official under President Obama, sums up the situation: "Right now we have the executive branch making a claim that it has the right to kill anyone, anywhere on Earth, at any time, for secret reasons based on secret evidence, in a secret process undertaken by unidentified officials."
We associate the start of the drone attacks with the U.S. and their post-9/11 counter-terrorist strategy but the military use of drones started long before that, in Israel, a country that has the longest track record for targeted killing (aka "targeted prevention") of Palestinians. Targeted killings can be defined as the state-sponsored practice of eliminating enemies outside the territory.
Nowadays, most of the drones sold around the world are used for surveillance purposes but it has been forecast that in 10 years every country will have armed drones.
60% of the world export of drones come from Israel. Israeli manufacturer Elbit is producing the best selling model: the Hermes drone which was used in the latest attacks on Gaza. 37% of the killings that occurred during the attacks on Gaza can be attributed to drones.
One can see the appeal of drones for governments and policy makers: they are relatively cheap, they are claimed to be 'surgically precise', they make it easy to kill without any risk and they allow the army to reach their target in areas that would otherwise be difficult to reach. But do their use comply with the martial law?
Targeted killings are generally unlawful under international laws.
The laws under war time are more permissible regarding the use of lethal forces. However, the right to use armed force is not unlimited. Civilians, for example, need to be protected from direct attacks.
States have thus expanded the concept of war on the battlefield as to include situations that should in fact be regulated by law enforcement agencies. The 'war on terror' is a total war for which no end nor boundaries is conceived. The number of enemies is infinite too. Governments justify the use of lethal forces by claiming that this is 'anticipatory self-defense' but, under the laws applicable under war time, the self-defense argument allows killing only when all other solutions, such as capture, have been exhausted. Most targeted killings outside the battlefield constitute thus premeditated deprivations of life, violations of the right to life.
When killings cannot be justified they constitute war crimes and other states have the duty to investigate and not leave dormant this huge accountability vacuum.
Tactical Technology Collective, Unseen War (Exposing the Invisible)
The final speaker was Marek Tuszynski, the co-founder of Tactical Tech, an organization 'dedicated to the use of information in activism.'
Tuszynski's talk focused on a series of short documentaries called Exposing the Invisible. The films look at the investigative work of journalists, artists, reporters, activists and technologists who explore publicly accessible data in order counter mainstream reports and go further than traditional journalistic investigations. One of the documentaries, Unseen War examines the physical, moral and political invisibility of US drone strikes in Pakistan.
He argued that counter powers should build their own intelligence practice.
The operations in Pakistan might be located far away but they concern us because
But there's no reason to be passive, we need to protect ourselves because surveillance doesn't require machines flying above our heads, we are already providing a vast quantity of valuable indormation when we use social media and that data can be used to analyse our digital behaviour. To protect yourself from intrusion to privacy, check out Tactical Tech's Security in-a-Box website.
Image on the homepage via BBC.
It's that time of the year again. The winning images of the Sony World Photography Awards have been revealed. It's the eight edition of the competition and, as usual, the Italians made a killing and take a large portion of the awards, there is a fair deal of suffering, at least one of the awards goes to an image featuring Palestinians being bullied by soldiers with sophisticated weapons (this year however, the photos are joyful), and it is always strange to look at the photos and realize that the main events of the year before have almost already been erased from consciences.
I've received the press images this morning, selected the ones i found most striking, made my community proud and copy/pasted the description and then i hit publish:
In the summer of 2014 Monrovia, Liberia became the epicenter of the West African Ebola epidemic, the worst in history. Although previous rural outbreaks were more easily contained, once the virus began spreading in Monrovia's dense urban environment, the results were described by Medecins Sans Frontieres as "catastrophic". With a tradition of burial rites that include the washing of the dead bodies of loved ones, Liberians became infected at alarming rates. Only a decade after a long civil war, Liberia's fragile health system was unable to cope, international agencies were slow to react, and the country struggled.
Molotov Cocktails have been the weapon of choice for the EuroMaidan protestors in Kiev. Using fire to their advantage, the protestors were able to defend their barricades, extend their lines and fortify their positions. In order to set fire to tanks, armoured vehicles, buses, and tires in opposition to local cops, Kievís protestors used thousand and thousands of Molotov Cocktails, inspiring and mobilizing people throughout the city to collect as many bottles as possible.
It is usual to see scenes like this because people spend all day along at the beach and all the usual activities, like playing, eating, sleepping, etc., are done outdoors. All kind of people are seen, and it is a pleasure to contemplate at the same time so much of humanity enjoying and relaxing under the sun.
35% of Mongolians are living a nomadic life and depend on their land for survival. This is increasingly difficult due to serious changes: 25% of the Mongolian land has turned into desert in the past 30 years. Potentially 75% of the territory is at risk of desertification. These environmental changes directly threaten the Mongolian nomadic way of life, which has been passed from generation to generation. This project attempts at recreating the museum diorama with actual people and their livestock in a real place where decertifying is taking place. It is based on an imagined image that these people try to go into museum diorama for survival in the future. This is accomplished with printed images on a billboard placed in conjunction with the actual landscape horizon.
Discotheques, the symbol of 80s and 90s hedonism, were fake marble temples adorned with Greek statues made of gypsum, futuristic spaces of gigantic size, large enough to contain the dreams of success, money, fun of thousands people. And then the dreams are gone, people disappeared and nightclubs became abandoned wreck, cement was laid on large empty squares, places inhabited by echo and melancholy. The grass is growing in the crack, the Discobolus is hiding under a porch, priggish Venus lurks behind the bars. The Paradise Discotheque, contemporary monuments of our civilization, are waiting to be burned to the ground, and in this expectation made of vacuum, only the memory of a former glory remains.
These fire lines I have drawn indicate where the front of the rapidly disappearing Lewis Glacier was at various times in the recent past; the years are given in the titles. In the distance, a harvest moon lights the poor, doomed glacier remnant; the gap between the fire and the ice represents the relentless melting. Relying on old maps and modern GPS surveys I have rendered a stratified history of the glacier's retreat. Mount Kenya is the eroded stump of a long-dead, mega-volcano. Photographically, I hope to re-awaken its angry, magma heart. My fire is made from petroleum. My pictures contain no evidence that this glacier's retreat is due to man-made warming (glaciers can retreat when the don't get sufficient snow, or if the cloud cover thins, for example,) but it is nonetheless my belief that humans burning hydrocarbons are substantially to blame.
The Palestinian Circus School was established in 2006. In 2011 it moved into its own premises in Birzeit near Ramallah. Around 150 young people participate in regular circus classes which accommodate different age groups and ability levels. The school's policy affirms that no student will ever be turned away if they cannot pay the tuition fees. Gender equality is considered an intrinsic aspect of the circus school's structure and practice. Weekly workshops are held in refugee camps and cities across the West Bank for people unable to attend the school in Birzeit. The school has implemented performance tours in various European countries. Exchange programs have been established with European circuses to host qualified trainers and performers in Palestine. The Palestinian Circus School fuses contemporary culture with Palestinian storytelling and identity. The first production, Circus Behind the Wall, explored Palestinian separation from family, land and water by Israel's Wall.
These pictures were taken in June-July near the city of Luhansk (Luhanskaya village). I arrived there half an hour after Ukrainian army airstrikes. Buildings were destroyed and blazed, some locals were dead, while others were escaping in fear. In 2014 the conflict between rebels and the government army in Ukraine led the country into full-scale hostilities. The local residents of the strategically located city of Luhansk were left without water and electricity for three months over the summer, while constant gunfire could be heard above their heads.
According to the Federal Migration Service, more than 800 thousand Ukrainian citizens had to be relocated as a result of the conflict.
In a Flemish village, surrounded by nature, Laura and Maurice live together with their daughter Eva. In the garden, Eva plays with her dog or meets with her classmates. Friends and family come along and fill the house with activity. But when Eva is at school, Maurice and Laura shoot what most people prefer to keep to themselves. The porn they make is not populated by Barbies or muscled superheroes. Ordinary women play with men who are also dad or neighbour. A humanity that not only exists in the porn they make, but also emerge behind the scenes and in their family life. In recent years, Laura has built strong bonds with a number of like-minded people: every one of them confident women who have consciously chosen this lifestyle and only depend on themselves with respect to their work. On a regular basis, they go to erotic fairs, rendez-vous evenings or an erotic nightclub: to make money or to have fun - or both.
Romania joined the European Union in 2007, the whole prison system went through major revamp and the biggest reform was to introduce the right to private visits. This means that a prisoner who is married or in a relationship has the right to receive, every three months, a two-hour private visit which takes place in a separate room inside the prison compound. Plus, if a prisoner gets married in detention he or she can spend 48 hours with the spouse in the special room and is allowed visits once a month in the first year of marriage. I started photographing the private rooms in 2008 and I have now photographed the private rooms inside all Romanian penitentiaries (35 penitentiaries).
Bolivia is proud of being the Latin American country with the highest the number of actively working women. Bolivian women no longer are the subject for the ìweaker sexî prejudice, they are rather associated with the outstanding physical stamina, the inclination to struggle and the great brute strength. Then must not be surprising the fact that, in the poorest neighbourhood of La Paz (4000 mt), a bunch of female farmers from the countryside get together every Sunday in the ring for a public fight. Wearing the traditional cholitas (the term originally refers to the ìindigenous mixed raceî people) clothes and bowlers, Bolivian Valkyries deal with even more demanding fights once they get off the ring, raising their children all by themselves and working between the fields and the urban street markets.
I started visiting different hair salons to capture the moment where we let other people get intimately close and shape the way the world sees us. When I meet ordinary people, I'm intrigued by the fact that they have so many fascinating stories and interesting personalities. Meeting strangers and getting to hear a chunk of their lives really gets me. In this case the stories were found at the local hairdresser. The project is not yet finished - there is still so much to discover in Copenhagenís smaller hair salons.
Lidos were perhaps at their most popular between the wars when people took their holidays here in England. Many of them were built in the 1930s or earlier and were naturally located on the English south coast, which was a favoured holiday destination for those living in London and the home counties. However there were many that were built in towns and cities to cope with the demand that once was and many of these remain. However, when the affordability of overseas holidays started to emerge in the 1960s many of these lidos fell into decline and have never recovered. Some have survived and have benefited from investment and so have taken on a new lease of life as popularity has started increasing again. Most have been left to decay or lost under modern developments, such as Ramsgate's once booming pool which is now under a car park.
In Iraq, life expectancy is 67. Minutes from Glasgow city centre, in Calton, it is 54. I looked at this community and the day-to-day lives of its inhabitants. My intention was to juxtapose Glasgow with the vastly different setting of Kensington and Chelsea in London. Being from Glasgow and familiar with the landscape, I am moved by what I perceive to be missing chunks of life and the bleakness of those shortened lives lived in the Calton compared to those lived in Kensington and Chelsea. The difference in fortunes is not only apparent in mortality but in the cut of their suits and coats, the accessories they carry, the way the women apply their make-up, even their expressions tell a tale, confident and haughty vs downtrodden and malnourished.
I walked along with enormous macaque troop on Sulawesi tens of hours and learned many about their behavior. At one moment the troop rested all around me, babies played each other while adults checked surrounding if it is safe enough. I noticed there is one male in dark shades nearby.
Image on the homepage: © Marcin Klocek, Poland, Sport, Shortlist, Professional Commpetition, 2015 Sony World Photography Awards.
Last year, the Unknown Fields Division, a nomadic design studio that explores peripheral landscapes, industrial ecologies and precarious wilderness, travelled to Asia to follow the path of the symbol of globalization: the massive container ship. The group came back with amazing stories, images, videos and with a set of radioactive Ming vases made from the toxic waste of our electronic gadgets.
Along their journey, Unknown Fields investigated Rare earth element, a set of seventeen chemical elements which are all metals that are often found together in geologic deposits. What makes REE important to our times is that they are used for computer memory, rechargeable batteries, night-vision goggles, precision-guided weapons, phones, energy-efficient lighting, solar panels, and many other electronics and green technologies.
China is the number one consumer of rare earths, they use it mainly in the manufacture of electronics products for domestic use as well as export. Since the 1990s, China is also one of the world's main producer of rare earths. A large proportion of the country's rare earth production is located in the west of Inner Mongolia where the Bayan Obo Mining District oversees the largest deposits of rare earth metals yet found.
The giant industrial complex is one of the most polluted regions on the planet. It processes 100 thousand tons of rare earth concentrate per year using the sulphuric acid-roasting method and for every ton of rare earth concentrate produced 10,000 cubic metres of waste gas, 75 cubic metres of acid-washing waste water, and one ton of radioactive residues are generated.
To accompany the film that documents their adventures, Unknown Fields Division crafted a set of three ceramic Ming vases, using mud extracted from one of Bayan Obo's gigantic radioactive tailing ponds. The toxic sludge, which contains acids, heavy metals, carcinogens and radioactive material, was transported it to London where it was tested for radioactivity. After that, the mud was given to sculptor Kevin Callaghan who turned it into elegant vases which silhouette evokes the Ming dynasty porcelain Tongping Vases. Once a family global superpower, the Ming dynasty presided over an international network of connections, trade and diplomacy that stretched across Asia to Africa, the Middle East and Europe, built on the trade of commodities such as imperial porcelain.
Each object is made from the amount of toxic waste created in the production of three items of technology - a smartphone, a featherweight laptop and the cell of a smart car battery. Besides, the vases are sized in relation to the amount of waste created in the production of each item.
The three Rare Earthernware vases embody the contemporary global supply network but also the long-lasting impact that our thirst for technological goods has on the environment. They will soon be shown at the What is Luxury exhibition in London:
These three vessels are artifacts of a contemporary global supply network that weaves matter and displaces earth across the planet. They are presented as objects of desire, but their elevated radiation levels and toxicity make them objects we would not want to possess and in this case the museum vitrine serves to protect us from the exhibit on display rather than the other way round. They are the undesirable consequences of our material desires.
Rare Earthenware is a work by Kate Davies and Liam Young of The Unknown Fields Division in partnership with the Architectural Association. Photography by Toby Smith. Ceramics by Kevin Callaghan and the London Sculpture workshop.