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Richard Misrach, Atomic Bomb Loading Pit, Wendover Air Force Base, Utah, 1989

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Trevor Paglen, Headquarters of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in Springfield, Virginia

I've been strangely busy ('strangely' because believe me it's not my style at all to be a busy person) over the past couple of weeks and i never got a chance to sit down and write a small report of the Politics and Practices of Secrecy symposium which took place at King's College in London last month. Here's the blurb that lured me into spending a whole day in a lecture hall:

In the wake of the Snowden revelations about the surveillance capabilities of intelligence agencies, this interdisciplinary symposium gathers experts to discuss the place and implications of secrecy in contemporary culture and politics.

0mg223-2_1500.jpgThe event started with a keynote by Jamie Bartlett about the Secrets of the Dark Net. It was entertaining and more about the dark sides of the internet in general than strictly speaking about the Silk Road. The journalist talked us through his adventures online and offline with sex cam ladies, neo-nazis, drug sellers and anorexic girls. If you're curious about the content of the talk, then i advise you to check out his book The Dark Net.

The symposium itself looked at how the relationships between citizens and government have changed since the Snowden revelation, the impact of secrecy on society and the place of the subject in a world that keeps us under close surveillance and doesn't regard us as fully-formed political agents. The angle was very much American. Not because the USA is the only nation that uses and abuses of secrecy (although they are making a name for themselves in that field) but because the symposium was organized by the Institute of North American Studies at King's College.

I won't cover all the symposium presentations. I'm just going to do a pick and mix of what i heard there. This first post about the event might still be fairly coherent though because it will focus on the arty Roundtable 2: Aesthetics of the Secret. And since he is an artist and an artist who has some valuable ideas to share about secrecy, discrimination and control, i'm also adding to this post Zach Blas' talk (which was part of another series of talks that zoomed in on Opacity and Openness.)

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Zach Blas, Facial Weaponization for Queer Opacity at LA Pride, reclaim:pride / ONE Archives

Let's start with Zach Blas. He is an artist, writer and Assistant Professor in the Department of Art at the University at Buffalo. The title of his talk 'Informatic Opacity' is also the one of his upcoming book.

The idea of informatic opacity is explored in two of Blas' artworks. The first one, Facial Weaponization Suite, is a series of workshops in U.S. and Mexico that looked at biometric facial recognition. The artist worked with members of specific minority communities (queers, black people, etc.) to create masks that are modeled from the aggregated facial data of participants. The amorphous and slightly sinister masks are then worn in public performances. The masks represent each individual but cannot be detected as human faces by biometric facial recognition technologies. The work is a dark critique of the silent and gradual rise of the use of biometric facial recognition software by governments to monitor citizens. The symbol of the mask is also important. Pussy Riot, members of the Black Bloc and the Zapatistas wear masks to hide their face but also because masks make them visible.

For Blas, the main motivation behind the work wasn't so much privacy and transparency. His first interest laid in highlighting a technology that standardizes identity globally in order to create templates that can calculate identity and can be applied around the world.

The standards of face recognition technology are rigid and they can break down. As the two examples below demonstrates, these technologies are routinely accused of not recognizing non-Caucasian faces:

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'When camera facial recognition fails' (via)

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Are Face-Detection Cameras Racist? (via)

Not being recognized by biometric machines makes some people more vulnerable to discrimination and criminalization.

Édouard Glissant called for the right to opacity. For him opacity was protecting anyone who is 'diverse'. Blas book takes Glissant's idea of opacity and puts it into the context of informatics. Information opacity, he says, resists forms of globalization and standardization.

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Zach Blas, Face Cage #2, portrait

The second work Blas mentioned is his Face Cages series which focuses on biometrics as a form of capture.

Face Cages is a dramatization of the abstract violence of the biometric diagram. Diagrams are fabricated as three-dimensional metal objects, evoking a material resonance with handcuffs, prison bars, and torture devices used during slavery in the US and the Medieval period. The virtual biometric diagram, a supposedly perfect measuring and accounting of the face, once materialized as a physical object, transforms into a cage that does not easily fit the human head, that is extremely painful to wear. These cages exaggerate and perform the irreconcilability of the standardized, neoliberal biometric diagram with the materiality of the human face itself-and the violence that occurs when the two are forced to coincide.

Now to Roundtable 2, Aesthetics of the Secret which was, unsurprisingly, the one i was most looking forward to listen to.

John Beck, Director of the Institute for Modern and Contemporary Culture at the University of Westminster, kicked of the session with 'Photography's Open Secret.'

The talk explored the desert landscape in the South West of the U.S., one of the most photographed regions in the world, but also one that hosts a vast amount of secrecy.

The desert is a space where there is nothing and where therefore anything can be done and left: military bases, weapon testing facilities, nuclear waste, etc. It can be used as a dump space where unnecessary leftovers of power can be placed. It is a space where secrets are literally left into the open.

The medium of photography echoes the ambiguous characteristic of the desert. Photography is an instrument for revealing, unveiling, documenting and exposing. But it can also be used to hide, by leaving things out of the frame, by staging or doctoring evidence. Photography is at once a medium of transparency and a medium of opacity. And that makes it difficult to regard photography as a source of reliable evidence.

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Richard Misrach, Bomb Crater, Wendover Air Force Base, Utah, 1989

Richard Misrach photographed places that are now less restricted than they were during the Cold War but that were used to conduct secret programs and operations.

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Trevor Paglen, Chemical and Biological Weapons Proving Ground / Dugway, UT; Distance ~ 42 miles; 10:51 a.m., 2006

After 9/11, Trevor Paglen has taken up the role of photographer/investigator of sites of secrecy. Using limit telephotography, he documents black sites and other secret spaces and programs of the USA. Some of his photos, however, move toward abstractions and as such, embody the skepticism that photography can provide us with straightforward representations of the world.

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Laura Kurgan, Monochrome Landscapes, 2004

Laura Kurgan bought hi-res satellite images showing four vulnerable landscapes: a desert in Iraq, the rain forest in Cameroon, the tundra in Alaska, and the Atlantic Ocean. Seen from afar, the images evoke monochromatic Minimalism, but a closer investigation reveal traces of geopolitical issues such as illegal logging or helicopters flying over the desert during "Operation Iraqi Freedom."

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Mishka Henner, Staphorst Ammunition Depot, Dutch Landscapes

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Mishka Henner, Paleis Noordeinde, Den Haag, Dutch Landscapes

When Google launched its satellite imagery service in 2005, some governments attempted to censor sites deemed vital to national security. The Netherlands, for example, hid hundreds of significant sites including royal palaces, fuel depots and army barracks behind stylist multi-coloured polygons. Ironically, it made the censored sites even more conspicuous. The country has since adopted a less distinctive method of visual censorship.

The second speaker of the roundtable was Neal White, artist, Associate Professor in Art and Media Practice at Bournemouth University, he is also Director of Emerge - Experimental Media Research Group.

His talk, Secrecy and Art in Practice, looked at the various methods art employs to reflect on the practice of secrecy.

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Taryn Simon, The Central Intelligence Agency, Art CIA Original Headquarters Building, 2003/2007

He mentioned the Critical Art Ensemble's tactical biopolitic works, Taryn Simon's photo series An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar, Trevor Paglen (but then almost every single speaker spoke about Paglen's work), Charles Stankievech's Counterintelligence, etc.

White also talked briefly about the works he is involved in with the Office of Experiments. I've blogged in the past about The Overt Research Projects which combine field observation, alternative knowledge gathering and experimental geography techniques with other research methods to archive and geo-map spaces related to techno-scientific and industrial /military research in the UK.

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The Mike Kenner Archive

I was also surprised to learn about The Mike Kenner Archive which was donated to the Office of Experiments in 2009 so that they can show the archived material to the public. Mike Kenner's collection of thousands of documents were obtained following over thirty years of research and FOI (Freedom of Information) requests into the activities at the Biochemical Research Centre at Porton Down, Wiltshire (referred to as MRE) and other sensitive research establishments. The documentation contains photographs, de-classified but restricted secret and top-secret documents, cabinet office and official correspondence, experimental data, images, diagrams , analysis, video, photographs, newspaper cuttings etc. Many of these highlight experiments that had a significant impact in the region of Weymouth in the UK, with experiment conducted on the public using live pathogens, largely through around Lyme Bay. Far from being historic research alone, Kenner's work points to controversy generated by what may well be ongoing scientific trials and experiments, continuing to this day often concealed from the public in plain sight.

The last speaker of the roundtable wasn't an artist but a Senior Lecturer at King's College and the curator of the whole event. Clare Birchall explored how artists are using the materiality of secrecy in their practice. Unsurprisingly, she discussed Paglen and mentioned his keynote at last year's edition of Transmediale. Which i'm copy/pasting below:


Trevor Paglen -- transmediale 2014 keynote: Art as Evidence

Birchall also spoke in details about Jill Magid's work at the AIVD, the Dutch secret service.

In 2005, AIVD asked her to create a work for its new headquarters. They were hoping that the commission would help improve its public persona by providing "'the AIVD with a human face."

Magid spent the following three years meeting with eighteen employees of AIVD in "non-descript public places." AIVD restricted the artist from using recording equipment, so she had to write down her notes. She never disclosed the identity of her contact but compiled the information she had collected during the interviews into a collective persona that she referred to as "The Organization."

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Jill Magid's artwork being confiscated from Tate Modern Monday, January 4, 2010. Photo: ©Amy Dickson (via)

When AIVD agents visited the first exhibition of the project in 2008, they confiscated several works and censored the draft of Magid's report.

The artist "protested against the censorship of her own memories," prompting AIVD to suggest that she "'present the manuscript as a visual work of art in a one-time-only exhibition, after which it would become the property of the Dutch government and not be published.'" Magid's 2009/10 exhibition at Tate Modern, Authority to Remove, marked the fulfillment of this request: the uncensored report sat securely behind glass. In its penultimate state, the project thus expressed "what it means to have a secret but not the autonomy to share it." (via)

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Gilberto Esparza, Plantas Autofotosintéticas, 2013-2014

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Gilberto Esparza, Plantas Autofotosintéticas, 2013-2014. Photo: Fundación Telefonica

For a number of years, artist Gilberto Esparza has been using recycled electronics, alternative forms of energy and other modern technologies to investigate the action of human beings on the environment. His Urban Parasites are small robotic insects made of recycled consumer goods. They climb, crawl and hang over the urban space in search of any source of energy they can feed on. In 2010, he developed Nomadic Plants, a robot hosting living plants and microorganisms. Whenever its 'guests' need to be fed, the autonomous robot will move towards a contaminated river and drink water from it. Through a process of microbial fuel cells, the elements contained in the water are transformed into energy that powers its circuits. The cleaned up water is then sprayed onto the plants.

Like Nomadic Plants, but on a larger scale, Esparza's new research project makes use of microbial fuel cells technology to produce electricity and improve the quality of water.

Autophotosynthetic Plants takes the form a hybrid, self-regulating organism. Part machine, part organic ecosystem, it feeds on organisms found into the sewage water of Lima, Peru, in order to create its own light, energy and be self-sufficient.

As any living organism, Autophotosynthetic Plants features a central system where microorganisms, crustaceans and algae live; a digestive system where bacteria feed on polluted water and transform it into cleaner water that can be used for photosynthesis; and a nervous system made of an electronic network that monitors the activities of the organic parts.

The process is probably better explained in the video below:

The modules create hydraulic network that administers bio-filtered water to the central container, creating an optimal environment where producer species and consumer species from different trophic levels (protzoans, crustaceans, micro algae and aquatic plants) can achieve homeostatic equilibrium. The electricity produced by the bacteria is released as intervals of luminous energy, enabling photosynthesis by the plants that inhabit the central container which thereby complete their metabolic processes. When the organic material present in the microbial cells has been entirely consumed, an electronic monitoring networks pumps out the byproducts generated by the species that inhabit the nuclear ecosystem to the modular cells, restoring the cycle.

The ambitious project not only suggests that polluted water can be used as a source of energy but it also stands as a model that could potentially be applied to other cities, communities and industries.

I contacted the artist to know more about the project (Scroll down if you prefer to read the interview in Spanish):

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Gilberto Esparza, Plantas Autofotosintéticas, 2013-2014. Photo: Fundación Telefonica

Hi Gilberto! Where do the electricity-bacteria come from? Did you find them existing already in the contaminated water? Or were there introduced from another source? Are they the same bacterias as in Plantas nomadas?

The bacteria come from the rivers where the samples are taken. One of the bacteria commonly found in organic waste is the Geobacter which has been used in various studies to generate energy by microbial fuel cells. It is the same system that Nomadic Plants is using.

The obvious question is: could the system be implemented on a large scale? Going thus from the scale of an art installation in an exhibition room to a fully functional system used for a whole area of the city?

Yes, all the research centers that are working with this technology have that possibility in mind. The idea is to implement the use of microbial cells in wastewater treatment plants to reduce the power consumption that the plant requires.

Does the system require a lot of maintenance and attention? Or does it pretty much manage itself without any help from you or from scientists?

The installation has analog electronics and multiple sensors that auto-regulate the functioning of the installation. The only maintenance consists in aliment it with wastewater each time a biodegradation cycle ends.

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Gilberto Esparza, Plantas Autofotosintéticas, 2013-2014. Photo: Christian Sánchez

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Gilberto Esparza, Plantas Autofotosintéticas, 2013-2014. Photo: Christian Sánchez

In the video, you explain that you took water from various parts of the city and that each zone of the city had its own level and type of pollution. Could you explain a bit more? How does that translate in the installation? Do the various types of polluted water require different bacteria? produce different intensity or types of energy?

It depends on the area where the samples were taken. In industrial areas, for example, you can find a higher amount of toxic waste that sometimes inhibit bacteria. In other sectors of the city, household waste generate more organic matter. In those waters bacteria feed on this waste and produce more energy and this energy is reflected in the installation in the form in flashes of light that are more intense and that make aquatic plants perform their photosynthetic processes better.

In the video, we see visitors entering the room of Plantas autofotosintéticas wearing a mask. Is it because the installation has a bad smell? Or is dangerous to breathe in? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wyL4jRlqbY

The installation emits bad smells and presents a source of infection for visitors, so we decided to protect them. I find this approach to the work interesting because those same conditions are found in the urban area bordering polluted rivers and their inhabitants are exposed to them all the time.

Thanks Gilberto!

And now for the spanish version of the interview:

¿De dónde provienen las bacterias que se alimentan de electricidad? Ya existían en el agua contaminada? O lo habías introducido desde otra parte? ¿Son las mismas bacterias en Plantas nómadas?

Las bacterias provienen de los ríos de donde sacan las muestras, una de las bacterias que es muy común en donde se presentan desechos orgánicos es la Geobacter con las que se han estado haciendo diversos estudios para la generación de energía a través de celdas de combustible microbianas. Es el mismo sistema que utiliza Plantas Nómadas.

¿Se podría llevar a gran escala el sistema? Yendo solo así de la escala de una instalación de arte en una sala de exposiciones a un sistema totalmente funcional utilizada para toda una zona de la ciudad?

Sí, todos los centros de investigación que están trabajando con esta tecnología tienen presente esa posibilidad. La idea es implementar el uso de las celdas microbianas en las plantas de tratamiento de aguas residuales para disminuir el consumo de energía que la planta requiere.

¿El sistema requiere mucha atención, mantenimiento? ¿O más o menos se maneja por sí mismo sin ninguna ayuda de usted o de los científicos?

La instalación tiene una electrónica análoga y múltiples censores que autorregulan el funcionamiento de la instalación, el único mantenimiento es proveerle de aguas residuales cada que termine el ciclo de biodegradación.

En el vídeo, se explica que le "tomó agua de diversas partes de la ciudad y que cada zona de la ciudad tiene su propio nivel y tipo de contaminación. ¿Podría explicar un poco más? ¿Cómo se traduce en la instalación? ¿Los distintos tipos de aguas contaminadas requieren diferentes bacterias? produce diferentes tipos de energía o la intensidad?

Depende de la zona en donde se tomaron las muestras, se presentas distintos contaminantes por ejemplo en las zonas industriales se presentan mas desechos tóxicos que algunas veces inhiben a las bacterias. En otros sectores de la cuidad, se presentan más materia orgánica por desechos domésticos, en esas aguas las bacterias se alimentas de estos desechos y producen más energía y esta energía se manifiesta en la instalación como destellos de luz más intensos que hacen que las plantas acuáticas que habitan en el núcleo realicen mejor sus procesos fotosintéticos.

En el video, vemos a los visitantes que entran en la habitación de las Plantas autofotosintéticas con una máscara. ¿Es porque la instalación tiene un mal olor? ¿O es peligroso para respirar?

La instalación despide malos olores y representa un foco de infección para los espectadores, por eso se decidió protegerlos. Esta aproximación a la obra me interesa porque esas mismas condiciones se encuentran en las zona urbanas que colindan con los ríos contaminados y que sus habitantes están expuestos todo el tiempo.

¡Muchas gracias Gilberto!

5a1oDQ9XvrJL.jpgPhotography Visionaries, by Mary Warner Marien.

Available on amazon UK and USA

Publisher Laurence King writes: Photography Visionaries is an inspiring guide to 75 of the most influential photographers from around 1900 to the present. Entertainingly written by an expert on photography, it provides fascinating insight into the lives and careers of men and women working in a medium which perhaps more than any other in the visual arts has been deeply affected by technological change.

The entries are arranged chronologically, instilling in the reader an understanding of what marks each photographer as a visionary. Each entry is less about providing a full biography of the person and more about creating a sense of excitement regarding their work and the lasting impact that it has had on photography.

With the aid of an arresting selection of photographs, some well-known and others less so, this book offers a unique and engaging perspective on the development of photography through some of its most inventive practitioners.

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Weegee, Charles Sodokoll and Arthur Webber use their top hats to hide their faces, 1942

"A good photograph is like a good hound dog, dumb, but eloquent." Eugène Atget.

Mary Warner Marien knows where to find a quote or anecdote that says more about a photographer's life, career and ethos than a long biography. She found something witty or striking to say about each of the 75 photographic visionaries she selected for the book. Those visionaries are people who experiment, expand the scope and significance of photography and are inspiring to their peers. They work in any field: portraiture, advertising, photo reportage, documentary, fashion or conceptualism.

Each of them gets one page of bio and three pages of images with a timeline charting the most salient moments of their career. There is always also a portrait of the photographers. I thought i didn't care much for artists' portraits until i realized i had never seen a photo of Bernhard and Hilla Becher before. Or one of Cindy Sherman being no one else but Cindy Sherman.

Obviously not everyone is going to be happy with the author's selection. And i'm going to agree with the English reviewers who deplore the absence of Martin Parr. Another reviewer mentioned Hiroshi Sugimoto. Indeed! He should be there as well. I'm going to add Broomberg and Chanarin to the list. What i like in the author's selection, however, is that women and non-Caucasian people do not feature only as subjects. I don't know if there was a conscious effort to include women photographers, black photographers, Chinese photographers, etc. But it feels just that the white male monopoly is somewhat under assault.

Warner Marien is also the author of Photography. A Cultural History, perhaps the most informative, interesting and intelligent photo book i've ever read about photo. Photography Visionaries is very different (i probably shouldn't compare one with the other anyway): it's snappier, shorter and less elaborate. But it's written with the passion and verve that characterizes her style.

And now for some images and (fairly random) comments

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August Sander, Die Boxer, Paul Roderstein, Hein Hesse, 1928

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August Sander, National Socialist, Head of Department of Culture 1938, printed 1990

August Sander's major project, People of the 20th Century, attempted to give an overview of the most archetypal figures of contemporary society, categorizing his subjects by profession or social class. His photos represent types (The Woodcutter, The Farmer, The Sculptress, The Bricklayer, The Bohemian, The Bank Official, etc.), not individuals.

Although there was nothing progressive about this model of society, the Nazis disapproved of Sander's work. In 1936 they confiscated the publisher's copies of Face of our Time (a selection of portraits from his series People of the 20th Century); the printing plates were destroyed and the book was officially banned.

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Liu Zheng, From the series The Chinese, Two Miners, Datong, Shanxi Province, 1996

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Liu Zheng, Convicts Fetching Water, Baoding, Hebei Province, from The Chinese series, 1995

Inspired by Sander's work, Liu Zheng traveled throughout China to portray archetypal Chinese characters from every social stratum: homeless children, transvestite performers, provincial drug traffickers, coal miners, Buddhist monks, prison inmates, Taoist priests, waxwork figures in historical museums, and the dead and dying. The images of The Chinese series depict a country caught between tradition and unprecedented economic upheavals.

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Imogen Cunningham, Irene "Bobby" Libarry, 1976

When she was herself in her early nineties, Imogen Cunningham started working on After 90, a series that portrayed the elderly. One of them was Irene "Bobbie" Libarry who used to be a circus attraction and was living in a nursing home at the time of the photography.

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Edward Weston, Excusado, 1925

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John Heartfield, Und sie bewegt sich doch! (And Yet It Moves!), 1943

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John Heartfield, Self-Portrait with Berlin President of Police, 1929

John Heartfield was one of the first artists to use photomontage, manipulating photographs to satirize the brutality of the Nazi regime.

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Lisette Model, Woman with veil, San Fransisco, 1949

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Lisette Model, Divorcee, Reno, 1949

Lisette Mode never formally studied photography but took it up in the 1930s while living in Paris. Her images are early examples of "street photography," a style which developed after the invention of the hand-held camera, which made impromptu shots possible.

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Walker Evan, Workers Loading Neon "Damaged" Sign into Truck, West Eleventh Street, New York City, 1928-1930

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Margaret Bourke-White, At the Time of the Louisville Flood, 1937

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Henri Cartier-Bresson, Gestapo Informer, Dessau, Germany, April 1945

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Gordon Parks, Colored Entrance, Mobile, Alabama, 1956

Yes, the photo above just made me realize how black and white the book is.

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Nacho López, Hands with cigarettes under cell door, Lecumberri Penitentiary, Mexico City, from the series Prisión de sueños, 1950

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Nacho López, La Venus se va de juerga, 1953

López orchestrated situations in public space and document passersby reactions. In the series "La Venus se va de juerga", for example, a man travels through the crowd carrying a blond mannequin.

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Santu Mofokeng, Democracy is forever, Pimville, 2004

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Eugène Atget, Avenue des Gobelins, 1927

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Frances Benjamin Johnston, Stairway of the Treasurer's Residence: Students at Work from the Hampton, c. 1900

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Paolo Cirio, Overexposed (Michael Hayden), 2015

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Paolo Cirio, Overexposed (Michael Hayden), 2015

Over the past few months, artist Paolo Cirio has been quietly collecting pictures of high-ranking U.S. intelligence officials on social media. He then blew the photos up using High Definition Stencils (an OS graffiti technique he invented), spray-painted the reproductions of the misappropriated photos and plastered the copies onto the streets of cities like New York, Paris or London.

The individuals targeted in the Overexposed series are some of the officials responsible for programs of mass surveillance or for misleading the public about them. Their names are: Keith Alexander (NSA), John Brennan (CIA), Michael Hayden (NSA), Michael Rogers (NSA), James Comey (FBI), James Clapper (NSA), David Petraeus (CIA), Caitlin Hayden (NSC), and Avril Haines (NSA).

Cirio tracked down these portraits through open-source intelligence (OSINT), an information-gathering method that uses the internet, including social media, as an investigative tool. OSINT is used by government agencies, law enforcement, corporations and people involved in marketing. But activists and journalists are also routinely relying on it for their research. The portraits brought to light by Cirio are photographs and selfies of government officials taken in informal situations by civilians or lower ranking officers.

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Paolo Cirio, Overexposed (Keith Alexander), 2015

By making private portraits of members of the CIA and NSA part of the public domain, both through his street interventions and the detailed documentation of the research he published on his website, the artist invaded the private life of these government officials (though not as much as they might invade ours) and literally gave a face to U.S. intelligence services. The work holds a satirizing mirror to the people participating to operations of mass surveillance, commenting on the need for public accountability and pushing to its most uncomfortable limits the trends for 'overly mediated political personas.'

Cirio's political satire reverses the contemporary means of propaganda, exposing the extent to which a public image can be captured on camera and exploited by the very same systems that intelligence officials seek to control. Overexposed derides the watchers with embarrassing pictures over which they have lost control, effectively turning the tables on them and their advocacy of mass surveillance and lax privacy practices.

An exhibition of Overexposed is opening tomorrow at the NOME gallery in Berlin (keep your eyes peeled for their programme in the future because they work with some of the most thought-provoking artists engaging with digital technologies) so i contacted the artist to get more details about the series:

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Paolo Cirio, Overexposed, (Michael Rogers), 2015

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Paolo Cirio, Overexposed, (Michael Rogers), 2015

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Paolo Cirio, Overexposed, (Michael Rogers), 2015

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Paolo Cirio, Overexposed, (Michael Rogers), 2015

Hi Paolo! To be honest, when i first read the description of the project, i was expecting some blurry portraits and no name at all. But in the series you go full on: the individuals are very recognizable and their identity is given. Do you expect to get into trouble with this work?

The legal question is not really about the officials because they are public figure, so the use of their photos fall under parody laws and free expression. The controversy is actually about the ownership of those photos and from where they were obtained, in most of the cases the selfies were taken by civilians, random people or acquaintances of the intelligence officials. On my website you can find the original photos where you have the individuals together with officials in the snapshot taken with smartphones and uploaded directly on the social media. I think so far they still don't know that their pictures ended up on public walls around the world. I don't know how they will react yet, the project was published just a few weeks ago.

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Paolo Cirio, Overexposed (Caitlin Hayden), 2015

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Paolo Cirio, Overexposed (Caitlin Hayden), 2015

And since you actually have a history of getting into trouble with your work, could you explain us which part these (mis)adventures, legal threats, cease & desist play into your work?

It's not just about getting in troubles, instead it's about generating legal reactions that reveal contradictions on the inadequacy or abuse of the laws that I want to criticize. In same cases, confronting the subjects of my performances on the legal terrain lets everyone understand which are the actual power structures that generate particular social conditions.

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Paolo Cirio, Overexposed (James Comey), 2015

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Paolo Cirio, Overexposed (James Comey), 2015

According to the press release, you used your HD Stencils graffiti technique and spray-painted hi-re reproductions of the photos onto public walls. How do you select the locations for these street interventions?

I paste these reproduction of photos mainly in popular street art locations, where people often take pictures that end up on the social media again. This exposes these officials even more through having their pictures in recirculation on the social network with the glamour of the street art.

And how do you go from street graffiti to art gallery? Do you feel that your work, and these stencils in particular, gets another meaning or has to be framed in another way when you change the exhibition context from public space to white wall space?

Beyond the public art interventions made for a wider public, I'm interested in formalizing the pieces as pop art and appropriation art, bringing them in the realm of the art world, which for me it is also a distribution system. Eventually they became historical portraits of figures that mark our time of expansion of cyber-warfare and astonishing programs of mass surveillance, which hopefully we will only remember as an awful war against civil society of the past. Also my technique HD Stencils offers very particular aesthetic qualities that can be fully appreciated with maximum perfection of the works made for the art gallery.

Thanks Paolo!

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Paolo Cirio, Overexposed (James Clapper), 2015

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Paolo Cirio, Overexposed (John Brennan), 2015

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Paolo Cirio, Overexposed, 2015

The exhibition Overexposed opens at the NOME gallery in Berlin on 22 May and remains on view until 20 July.

A detailed catalogue of the show is available for download (PDF.)

Previous mentions of Paolo Cirio's work on the blog: Unstable Territory. Borders and identity in contemporary art, Cultural Hijack, Notes from WJ-Spots Brussels, History and future of artistic creation on the Internet and The Digital Now - 'Drones / Birds: Princes of Ubiquity'.

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Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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Jasna Veličkovic performing live at Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

Internet Yami-ichi (japanese for Black Market) is a flea market where people sell Internet-ish things face to face.

The last edition of the market took place in Amsterdam on 9 and 10 May. More precisely at the Flemish Arts Centre De Brakke Grond, a (vast) space dedicated to promoting and showcasing contemporary art productions from Flanders. Any kind of art and with an emphasis on innovation, cross-over, interdisciplinarity, and artistic guts. Some of their events are in dutch but a big part of their programme caters for the international audience. I've only been to De Brakke Grond twice but what i've seen so far was critical, witty and resolutely embedded into contemporary culture.

The goods on sale at Yami-ichi were both smart and silly. I bought a little mirror to stick on a phone and observe/photograph scenes and people i wouldn't normally dare to watch openly (i'm not one to take the metro and ignore fellow travelers), all sorts of things made or baked to the glory of internet memes and a fabric patch with a glue gun sewn on it. And some mystery eggs. One thrown in a plastic container by JODI, the other enclosing the url of a Fresh Unpopular Video. I was also made a member of the institutions of Resolution Disputes, participated in a 'hate mail writing' workshop and got myself (fake)photographed in the company of Stefan Simchowitz (whom ignorant me had never heard about before.)

Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market is not just a place to throw your wallet around. I quickly found out that it also offers a great opportunity to meet people who are interested in art&tech, hacking, and contemporary culture in general. Artists, designers, art students and hackers were selling objects, offering food and DIY workshop, participating to hilarious performances (singing a cappella the sound of dial-up internet, for example.) And pretty much anyone who's someone in art&tech (whatever that means) had made the trip from Eindhoven, Amsterdam, Brussels or Rotterdam to 'browse' around. It was internet but in the flesh. I didn't count the number of visitors but De Brakke Grond did. Apparently, over 1900 visitors turned up over the Yami-ichi weekend! 'Zeer succesvolle editie'!

All of the above would probably make more sense if i actually showed some images from the event and commented them briefly. There you are:


Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market, 9 & 10 May 2015 at de Brakke Grond, Amsterdam

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The IP addresses of the websites were associated with geographical coordinates using an OS database. The closest images associated with the location were then retrieved through Panoramio and turned into postcards. By Julie Boschat Thorez

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All you had to do was bring your own food and the lightbox turned it into instagrammable foodporn

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Wikilinks, a kit for the conspiration-obsessed

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Corrupted files (for your nails)


And i got one of these Radical Perspective Changers by Sander Veenhof

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I LOVED those ceramic memes. Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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Tijmen Schep was selling Crypto fries (Patatje Crypto) at the Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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YouCube, a free stage box for live, open mic performances. Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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People reading the CRYPTODESIGN brochure. The publication announced the Crypto Design Challenge, an open call to young designers and artists in the Netherlands and Belgium to submit plans and proposals to make the encryption of digital images and information accessible to all. Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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A 3D print on demand stall. Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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Julie Scheurweghs was selling some vegan Meme Cookies. Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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LINK Center for the Arts of the Information Age was selling some their amazing publications and handing over surprise eggs containing url to overlooked videos

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Faithfull Enemy, a Hate Mail workshop led by the brilliant Iffy Iemand and Ksusha Holmes

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Visors to change the shape of your face when caught on CCTV. On the bottom right corner are some paper pop ups

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Rosa Menkman, institutions of Resolution Disputes [iRD]. Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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Rosa Menkman's mother was kindly sewing on my sweatshirt a patch of the institutions of Resolution Disputes [iRD]

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iRD Patch, Institutions key, 2015. Image via the creatorsproject

By the way, institutions of Resolution Disputes [iRD] was one of my favourite projects at the market. It's far brainier than the other pieces sold/exhibited and hopefully i'll find a moment to come back to it in a later post. But in the meantime (and if i don't come back to the work on the blog), do check out this interview that Daniel Rourke did with Rosa Menkman for Furtherfield.

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Free Safari tours! Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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This one might not look like much but it is a brilliant work and i need to track down the artists (they are there, somewhere in the grubby notes i took down) before i can write a proper post about the piece. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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More photos? Check out the ones taken by Sebastiaan ter Burg and mine.

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