I just spent a few days in Ljubljana for BIO 50. It's a design biennial and i know i keep shouting around that i often find design dull and pretentious but that particular biennial was anything but boring. Or pompous. But more about that in later posts.
The event positioned design as a space for collaboration, experimentation and enquiry. Nine themes were explored and the one that i -surprisingly- found most fascinating dealt with the future of transportation. Called Engine Blocks, the project was led by designers Gaspard Tiné-Berès and Tristan Kopp of Re-do Studio who chose to work with Tomos, a Slovenian manufacturer of mopeds.
The result of the collaboration focuses on the mechanical essence of vehicles and uses one Tomos engine as an ever-adaptable, hackable and interchangeable element that can be transferred to different vehicles, machines and contexts.
The Engine Block group envisions a not so distant-future when instead of buying the latest model of a vehicle or machine, people will be able to take (post-)post-industrialisation into their own hands and use a unique modular engine that they can re-purpose and customize to their specific needs.
Re-Do-Studio, Engine block
Engine Block is for me what design should be: it is imaginative, critical and down to earth. It doesn't pretend to change and save the world but that doesn't stop it from suggesting valid ideas, scenarios and models.
I asked the members of Re-do Studio more details about the project:
I found it amazing that one engine could end up being able to power so many different tools and vehicles. But was the whole process as easy as it sounds? Can you really plug one engine into different context and make it work? Is there really no limit to what this engine and a bit of imagination can do?
Well this particular engine is quite a simple one so it wasn't such a big problem to make it work on the different machines, but it obviously needs a bit of time to attach it properly before you can run the machines. And about the efficiency, it's an engine that has been design to power a small scooter so obviously it's not ideal for the other machines, but our intention was not to make the most efficient machine more to talk about how industrial product can always be used for a different purposes than what it was designed for.
What were the most challenging moments and steps in the Engine Block project?
So, the project started with a Slovenian industrial partner, TOMOS the brand that produced the engine, and about 2 month before the opening of the show they went bankrupt and told us that they was not allowed to give anything from the factory.... not even an engine ...
So that was quite challenging, but it actually triggered a larger reflection and debates with the participants that enriched the project and helped us push the statement further, we then decided to change the scenography and to make a sci-fi style movie, enlarged the group and everybody had a great time conceiving and shooting the movie so we think that everybody actually made an advantage out of this problem, so it was great...
Why did you decide to show the final works as museum pieces?
The project is showing a close and apocalyptic future where the economic crisis destroyed the local industry, and a guy fixes old tools by using a unique engine to run all of them. This idea of standardised components and especially energy source has been there for years in the industry and it is the most rational way to run a range of tools, but lately industrial product tend to produce more and more unaccessible, unfixable and unadaptable goods. We basically state that humans will always finds ways to hack and tweak even the most complex industrially-made product, to propose more rational and sensible way to use them.
So the idea of showing the product as archeological piece was to express this idea of a important shift in the design world when people had to go back to put their hand inside the goods and finds ways to fix them, stating that even if the industry would collapse the people will still go back to the most logical solutions...
So to try to make it clear; we are showing a near future but in the past tense, with archeological pieces that express the importance of a big change or rupture in the relationship people have with goods and the moment we might have to go back to fix and hack them again rather then buying the latest versions.
Thanks Gaspard and Tristan!
Over the years, Burnham-on-Sea, a seaside resort in Somerset has been regularly affected by tidal flooding. As a response, a high wall was erected along the coastline, returning waves back to the sea. The 1.6 kilometres long and 3.2 metres high sea wall regulates access to the sea by a series of raised steps and vehicle access points which can be closed during storms.
As part of her BA Design course at Goldsmiths, designer Hannah Fasching decided to make use of that gigantic wall and reacquaint the inhabitants of the town with the intertidal zone, the space between the high and low tide. She organized a screening along the sea wall, using footage shot in the 1930s, before the wall was built. The films shows how people used to ride bicycles and do sport on the beach and how in the past, the seafront functioned as a vibrant cultural hub.
The project, called the Intertidal Cinema, established a conversation with this architecture of control and neutralization. It also looked at how new relationships can be established between humans and the temporary spaces provided by nature.
Can we continue to exist within an infrastructure that seeks to not only resist, but nullify natural forces? How might we approach increasingly fragile sites in a way that challenges the inherited attitude of conquering nature as though it were an opponent? Can the temporary spaces that occur naturally in the environment provide us with a new way in which design can operate?
Hannah has recently exported the project to London. For three nights, she turned the tidal beach of Deptford creek into a social space. I caught up with Hannah to have her talk about the project in general and about the film she projected in Deptford.
Hi Hannah! Could you first tell me again the story of that beautiful vintage cinema sign we see emerging from the water in Burnham-on-Sea?
The first Intertidal Cinema took place in Burnham-on-Sea's intertidal zone, between high and low tide. We stood the sign in the mudflats on the beach at low tide. What we didn't realise at the time was that the speed of the tide coming in depends mainly on the bank of the beach and that the flats being 'flat' submerge within minutes. Thinking we had time to play the film and collect it afterwards, at sunset, just as the film began playing we turned around just in time to see a wave sweep away the bottom rung of letters. And a few minutes later the whole sign was submerged; an unexpected but appropriate demise.
What made you chose Deptford Creek for the second edition of the IC, rather than any other area by the river bank?
Deptford is at a pivotal point in its history, the waterfront that I remember less than a year ago is now unrecognisable. As a former royal dock, it has evolved from an area defined by its natural topography into an area characterised by rapid urbanisation and gentrification.
In Deptford, much like in Burnham, there is an abrupt contrast between the natural and artificial landscape though the artificial is much more dominant here. The tidal river, Ravensbourne runs from the Thames through Deptford and creates an intertidal zone fluctuating 7m in the heart of Deptford.
As a project that explores this relationship by creating social spaces in temporary environments, taking the project to Deptford meant it developing in a new way.
I've never been there but i had a look on google image. It seems to be a radically different from Burnham. How is the tidal creek of Deptford used now? Is there any social activity there?
Things do happen here, but many are not specifically tied to the river. There is a big community of artists along this part of the river, with studio spaces and galleries as well The Laban Dance Centre, which was built 11 years ago.
The creek creates a unique wildlife area which the local authorities are keen to preserve. The creekside centre, an educational facility, provide tidal walks once a month on the creek. The ahoy centre, a charity in Deptford based on the waterfront, encourage water activities and sports on the river. The Ha'Penny hatch bridge, which can open to allow boats to pass, is a public walkway with many commuters passing over every day. The creek runs underneath this bridge.
How did you make the space more comfortable and enjoyable for people?
Holding a cinema in an area where it doesn't normally function instantly transforms it. Using the bridge as a watching platform, we projected onto structures which faced out onto the creek. One of the projections leaned out over the bridge, projecting vertically onto the water. The cinema took place as the tide was going out, as the water emptied from the creek the projection became clearer, until it eventually hit the rocks below the surface. The tide became the factor which focused the image.
Could you talk to us about the Deep Ford film? It seems to be very different from the film you showed in Burnham.
The film in Burnham consisted of archive footage, a window into the history of the seafront before the wall.
In Deptford it's more of a contemporary take on gentrification and how the area has developed relating back to the history of the dock.
The Deep Ford is a reference to the ford on which Deptford developed. The film shows historical architectures and landmarks around Deptford, many of which played an important part in the shipping industry. Voices of people who were interviewed as part of the project are used to animate these architectures, each voice representing a different place, as though the places are talking to you. These people are people who live, grew up and work in Deptford, but also people involved with how it's changing such as redevelopers. The physical space starts to take on the voice of the social.
Why do you think that it is important that humans (re)connect with natural forces?
To use a quote from Wendell Berry, a poet, environmental activist and cultural critic:
"The cities have forgot the earth and will rot at heart till they remember it again."
Wendell Berry, 1969
In its broadest context the project is about climate change, though it addresses in a different way than a project that might involve weather robots and cloud seeding. I think what is required is an increased understanding of the natural environment, but it seems to me that the well documented expansion of cities is fundamentally incompatible with this. A city is essentially a hardscape.
Using an extreme example; Tokyo as a city sitting on a tectonic boundary, is in permanent conflict with it's natural surroundings. The strict building codes in Tokyo mean that the architecture responds the the natural surroundings. Building foundations are built to move with seismic activity. If our natural environment is to be increasingly volatile, a failure to understand and act in relation to it will only ever cause problems.
The Intertidal cinema that took place in Deptford works in direction relation to the tide, using this force to focus the image of the projection.
Your project explores ways for people to "experience the extremes of the environmental conditions'. Is that out of concern for the future of a country threatened by sea rising?
It can't not be. The project began by documenting an area of land artificially lower than sea level, and suffers from flooding as a result (Somerset).
If the sea is rising what will our relationship with it be?
I think this is already happening, this relationship is being configured through sea wall's and flood defences. Whether it's on the coast in Burnham or in the city of London. They both dissolve the relationship with the water and are also potentially apocalyptic because of the risk of them failing.
What's next for the Intertidal Cinema?
Following on from the last answer, I see the project developing towards larger scale responses to the temporary spaces in the natural environment.
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.