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Metropolitan traffic policeman controls traffic in Fleet Street, London in 1960 before traffic lights and roundabouts came in to regular use. Credit: English Heritage/National Motor Museum

Few people would associate the words "English heritage" with car showrooms, repair garages, filling stations, traffic lights, inner ring roads, multi-storey car parks, and drive-through restaurants. Yet, the exhibition Carscapes: How the Motor Car Reshaped England draws our attention to the country's motoring patrimony and shows that the car's impact on the physical environment needn't be reduced to ruthless out pours of concrete and "wayside eyesores".

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The Esso filling station on the A6 at Leicester is one of the few surviving buildings commissioned from industrial designer Eliot Noyes by Mobil. Steve Cole/English Heritage

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Laurel Garage, Ramsbury, Wiltshire. Peter Williams/English Heritage

The first motor cars entered the country in the late 19th Century. New buildings, signage, rules and systems had to be invented for dusty roads that so far had only been crisscrossed by horse traffic. It is only recently that we have started to value the infrastructures that have facilitated their construction, sale and maintenance of cars. "It took the best part of 100 years for the railway infrastructure to be appreciated," argue Kathryn Morrison and John Minnis in the book Carscapes: The Motor Car, Architecture, and Landscape in England, "now it is the turn of the car."

Many of these buildings, road signs and infrastructures have disappeared, others are under threat of being demolished or are decaying beyond repairs but English Heritage has started to list motoring heritage sites in England. The exhibition at Wellington Arch shows archives images, contemporary photos and a series of motoring memorabilia. It also explores the impact that motor car have had on the planning of cities, towns and on the countryside.

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Argyll's Car Showroom, Newman Street, London in 1905, which featured a lift to the rooftop where cars were taken for 'grooming'. Credit: English Heritage/National Motor Museum

Below are some of the most spectacular buildings and road systems i discovered in the exhibition:

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Bibendum on the facade of the Michelin Building. Image Picky Glutton

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Michelin Building, Fulham Road, London. Credit: English Heritage/National Motor Museum. Credit: English Heritage/National Motor Museum

Bibendum aka the Michelin Man!! Michelin Building on London's Fulham Road is now a restaurant but it was built to house the first permanent UK headquarters and tyre depot for the Michelin Tyre Company Ltd. It also function as advertisement for the company with its corner domes that resemble sets of tyres and the large stained-glass windows starring the cheerful "Bibendum."

The building opened for business on 20 January 1911.

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Brewer Street car park, London. Photo Retrorides

When the Lex (now NCP) car park opened in Soho in 1928, its architects were catering for the rich men who could afford the luxury of a car. The Art Deco architecture thus also housed a cafe (for car-owners) and a separate canteen for chauffeurs.

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Anglo-American Oil Company (Pratts) Filling Station, Euston Road

The photo above shows one of the earliest filling stations to open in London. It was built by F.D. Huntington in 1922. Each pump was manned by a uniformed attendant.

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An early AA Filling Station, Stump Cross, Essex. Credit: English Heritage/The AA/Hampshire Record Office

This was one of the six filling stations built by the Automobile Association in 1919-20, the first to be opened in Great Britain, and originally selling only British-made benzole.

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The Markham Moor petrol station in Nottingham. Steve Cole/English Heritage

In 2012, English Heritage granted listed status on two 1960s petrol-station canopies - one on the A6 near Leicester (photo on top of the page but check out also this night view) and the other at Markham Moor, Nottingham.

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The first vehicles rolling off the production line at Dagenham in October 1931

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The Ford factory. Credit: English Heritage/National Motor Museum

When it opened in 1931, the Ford factory on the banks of the Thames at Dagenham was the largest car factory in Europe. The nearest building in this 1939 photograph is the power station. Behind it, fuel for the power station and furnaces is unloaded from ships via a double-decked jetty.

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Coventry Inner Ring Road. Image: English Heritage Archives

Coventry Inner Ring Road built between 1962 and 1974 is one of the most highly developed and tightly drawn inner ring roads of any city in England.

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In 1963, the M4 motorway was extended on a continuous viaduct, seen here under construction, running above the existing road. Credit: English Heritage/National Motor Museum

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Wellington Arch in 1930. Credit: English Heritage

The Wellington Arch was built in 1828 but Victorian traffic jams meant that in 1883, the Arch was dismantled and moved some 20 metres to its current location. Between 1958 and 1960, to further ease congestion - this time from motorised transport - Hyde Park Corner was altered and the Arch separated from Constitution Hill by a new roadway.

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An exterior view of the shop front of the Metallurgique Car Company's shop at 237 Regent Street. Photo English Heritage

Metallurgique was a Belgian company which opened the first car showroom on Regent Street in 1913

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M62 at night as traffic passes around the Stott Hall Farm. Photo Si Barber

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Romford in 1920 was still a country town with gardens and fields behind the market square. Today, engulfed within suburbia, it is completely urban and surrounded by car parks and relief roads

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This view of Reading in 1971 exemplifies what was going on all round England at that time as new inner ring roads made their mark on the urban environment

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Preston Bus Station and Car Park, built in the 60s, is now a Grade II listed building

More images on The Guardian, Heritage Calling and itv.

Carscapes: How the Motor Car Reshaped England is at the Wellington Arch until 6 July 2014.

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M1NE#1

It would be convenient but unfair to reduce the work of Frederik de Wilde to its award-winning ultra dark, nano-engineered black painting. Just like Yves Klein collaborated with chemists to create the now iconic International Klein Blue, de Wilde worked with scientists in both Europe and the U.S.A. to nano engineer a material so dark that it absorbs all visible light as well as some invisible like infrared light. Quite aptly, the artwork is called Hostage.

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Nano Painting. Hostage

De Wilde further expanded his research into spectral behaviour and innovation at the atomic level with M1NE #1, a 3D sculpture so dark that it appears as if it were devoid of any volume. The artwork translates classified data gathered from Belgian coal mines into a structure that hides political dossiers and possibly commercial interests into abstract forms.

Frederik de Wilde in collaboration with Frederik Vanhoutte, SoN01R 1.0

In fact, de Wilde's investigations don't stop at nanotechnology, he also explores biotechnology, data networks, or any other scientific fields of research in order to uncover new frontiers of the intangible, inaudible, invisible. I was particularly intrigued by SoN01R for example. The work is a real-time visualization of true random numbers generated from a quantum mechanical system.

All of the above might sound abstract and highly conceptual but as the interview with the artist will demonstrate research into elusive energy measurements and other barely perceptible phenomena quickly gives rise to reflections about politics, art history, economic emergency, universe hacking and very practical innovations in 'clean' energy.


Nano Painting, Rice University Nano Lab, 2010

Hi Frederik! What makes nanotechnology a valuable field of experimentation for an artist?

Let's debunk some myths first. Nanotechnology is not new on itself. The Mayans used nano particles in their pottery, the Romans in glass, and so on. A great example is the Lycurgus cup made from translucent glass containing colloidal gold and silver particles dispersed in the glass matrix in certain proportions so that the glass has the property of displaying a particular transmitted colour and a completely different reflected colour, as certain wavelengths of light either pass through or are reflected. This is called surface plasmon resonance where photons interact with electrons. It's like a dance on subatomic level. It connects colour theorists like Da Vinci with Isaac Newton, Cézanne, Kandinsky, ...

In my case i most interested in creating a black body, an idealised body that absorbs all incident electromagnetic radiation, regardless of frequency or angle of incidence. The first artistic result was the artwork entitled "Hostage p.t.1" which won the Ars Electronica Next Idea Grant in 2010.

What changed dramatically is the level of control in the nano tech praxis. It's unprecedented and still evolving rapidly. Let's take a step back into time to make things more clear.

One of the seminal events in the history of nanotechnology is -ever jittery- physicist Richard Feynman's lecture entitled "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom" at Caltech on December 29, 1959. Feynman considered the possibility of direct manipulation of individual atoms as a more powerful form of synthetic chemistry than those used at the time. Let's not forget John Von Neumann, one of the founding figures in computer science, concept of the universal constructor in his theoretical and mathematical frameworks of self-replication. This clearly inspired Feynman to suggest the possibility of self-replication from atomic level onwards.

The concept led also to dystopian projections and hypothetical end-of-the-world scenarios, out-of-control self-replication (nano-)robots consuming all matter on Earth leaving nothing but a ''gray goo'', a term coined by nanotechnology pioneer Eric Drexler in his book Engines of Creation (1986).

As an artist i am not only interested in the history of science -or connecting it to an art historical perspective, a source of inspiration, a practical tool, the technological innovation potential, and so on ..., but also, and this has been less exposed until now, from a societal point-of-view. We are in a time of fundamental transition(-s), great turbulence, ... our contemporary society (read also 'old' world) is crumbling, it's fundaments are shaking profoundly.

Nanotechnology offers me a context to reflect upon the idea of building up a society anew from scratch -or 'personalise' it by the level of individual control-, atom by atom sort of speaking ((I am well aware that we've heard this story before (e.g. Futurist Manifesto ;), but where governments currently overload us with rules, regulations and restrictions we should bend it to possibilities, personalisation, et al. If not anticipated in the future we'll be confronted with a higher frequency of massive upheavals, strikes, civil unrest and revolts. This time from the proletarians AND the middle class. That's the 99%.

Multinationals and corporations have the leverage to make governments change their agenda, but they won't as long as there is no economic urgency and clear business model. This model will need to grow from inside and from the bottom of the pyramid. This will take time but one can see this slowly happening.

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Nano Painting, Nano Black Material

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Nano Painting, Scanning Electron Microscope Image _ Nano Black Material

But what's in it for the scientists you collaborated with (i read you worked with NASA, the University of Hasselt and Rice University)? What made your research into ultra black valuable for them?

It's layered. Most valuable is bringing together a group of passionate inter- and transdisciplinary individuals. As an artist you are a free electron. I don't have to align myself so easily with rules and regulations, institutes, ... i can be 'wild' and that's a quality that is generally accepted and respected. This stimulates and facilitates cross linking, confrontations with different ways of seeing, other ways of experimentation, getting out of the comfort zone.

In the case of the Nano Black research it depends. Currently i am challenging my collaborators at NASA to grow CNT's on a three dimensional matrix, which is not easy to accomplish. The concrete result of this first experiment in this direction is M1NE#1. The sculpture is made by direct laser sintering of micro particles titanium. The artwork is based on highly sensitive (political and economic) data of the coal mines in Belgium, seven mines in total. After a half a year of lobbying, and signing documents, i finally achieved to get a hold of the data. The main restriction was not to represent the actual data but only 'subjective' data, whether it's a sculpture, painting didn't matter.

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M1NE#1

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M1NE#2

This said; it's all about challenging, maintaining and accelerating dynamics, growing connections: stimulating growth. Maybe i am also used as an excuse for failure, haha :).

Whereas the scientific world is still too much compartmented, an artist can add a more personal, holistic, ... approach. I am interested in models, whether it's mathematics, art, society, ... it doesn't really matter. That's the bigger picture i am interested in and scientists are very eager to discuss these matters but preferably in a well defined -and controlled- context. I think that's a pity, and also scientist should participate more in societal issues. It's one of my ambition to create more space for this issue by the means of setting up art, science and technology projects. This is a gradual process. Most of the time it ends up with a demonstrator but that's not enough for me. The next step is deduct or grow a model from it with a deeper impact on more societal levels and give it a shape.

I also read about potential industrial applications: photovoltaic systems, invisible airplanes (oh, please no!), telescopes coating, etc. Do you want to give more details about it?

When you have a material that absorbs all visible light, and even some spectra of the invisible light like infrared and UV light, it's logical to think about photovoltaic cells. If one can improve the efficiency of a solar panel then that's a real good thing. Participating in the clean energy discourse makes me feel good, having potential solutions imbedded in an artistic and crossover project is even better. Making objects 'invisible' or three dimensional objects appear flat like a cutout, augmenting a canvas or substrate, a three dimensional matrix or sculpture with an enhanced topography or nano coating that can act as a photovoltaic cell is certainly interesting from artistic, scientific and industrial applications point-of-view. Innovation thrives not only on single innovations but also combining and recombining ideas, techniques and technologies.

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Frederik de Wilde, NASABlck-Crcl #1, 2013

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Frederik de Wilde, NASABlck-Crcl #1, 2013

The artwork entitled ''NASABlck-Crcl #1'' makes clear reference to Duchamp's readymades.

It's the most complete black body to date only applied in one telescope in space. This allows for less stray light which results in a sharper image. Yes, it would make a very good camera obscura.

The projects Quantum Objects, Quantum Foam and SoN01R explore true random numbers. Can you briefly explain what these true random numbers are? And what drew you to randomness?

Generating true random numbers is rather exceptional. Most random number generators are based on computer algorithms. Once the input conditions are known, one can reverse-engineer such algorithms which suggests a reproducible outcome. To be able to generate truly random numbers one would need a routine that can break the causality law, an observation of a source that acts without any or any knowable cause.

I've always been interested in the concept and notions of 'noise', again from different points-of-view (astrophysics, music, art, mathematics, societal, ...). The installation αTown #Lead Angels 1.0 is a fine example. Here i use uranium glass aka vaseline glass or Great Depression glass as a source for generation true random numbers. In the case of Quantum Objects, Quantum Foam and SoN01R i use quantum vacuum noise to generate true random numbers. It's hacking, or tuning into, the substrate of the universe.


αTown #Lead Angels 1.0

Reliable and unbiased random numbers are needed for a range of applications spanning from numerical modelling to cryptographic communications. It use will become more and more important in our contemporary society. For instance equations used at stock markets like the Black-Scholes equation should incorporate more noise, more randomness. That's why i developed the idea of social algorithms. Currently i am collaborating with Post-doctoral researcher Vincenzo De Florio to develop an art and science project that will demonstrate the application of such an algorithm. For the record; i am not a scientist or mathematician, but i do my best in trying to understand the big picture and specificities related to a certain research topic.

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Quantum Foam #2 [sphere] - Red Edition

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Quantum Foam #2 [sphere] - White Edition

How did you go from exploring the super small to investigating the vacuum? Was it something logical for you?

I guess by getting lost, and connecting the pieces step-by-step. It's intuitive as much as logical.

One of my main sources of inspiration is the 'Powers of Ten' (1977), a cinematic scientific film essay by Charles and Ray Eames. In short; a set of pictures of two picnickers in a park, with the area of each frame one-tenth the size of the one before. Starting from a view of the entire known universe, the camera gradually zooms in until we are viewing the subatomic particles on a man's hand. I am trying to insert a less materialistic point-of-view in science by the means of art. It's not that i have a perfect marriage with science :)


Powers of Ten, 1977

You've collaborated with various research departments in universities across Europe and the United States. Which form did the collaboration take? Was this you bringing the ideas, explaining scientists exactly what you wanted them to achieve for you and then they worked in their lab behind closed door? Or do you, in some way, take a more active role in the lab processes?

Collaboration is a format, a template but at finer resolution it can take many shapes. I see also similarities but also differences in approach depending on the country etc. Sometimes it's a question, an idea or an image that pops up in my mind when confronted with scientific research that i resonate with. The next step is to get in contact with the scientist and pose your question, communicate your idea. Generally I include some reference projects so the scientist has a better idea of your approach, potential outcomes, ...but most of all that you are able to bridge the gap between art and science. This is crucial. You have to do your research and do your hours :)

In the best case i am invited for a residency, this enables me to stay for a longer time, get to know the people, daily routines but most of all getting hands on experiences and go deeper into the subject. You have to be in an ecology to understand it, get a feel of it. Blowing things up is a part of that too ;). This reminds me of Jean-Jacques Cousteau whom was asked in an interview why he blew up a part of coral reef when he was young. He answered that it was the only way to understand how a coral reef regenerates. Anyway, i wanted to produce the blackest artwork in the universe and i knew that Rice was and is the heimat of nanotechnology. In the case of developing the ''Hostage p.t.1" i went to Rice University in Texas Houston several times and collaborated with Prof. Pulickel, Robert and Daniel in the chemistry lab. They were already researching CNT's so that was a perfect match. Sometimes you have to be lucky too. The next step was to grow the array of vertical aligned CNT's uniformly and on a large enough substrate. The latter is very difficult as the ion sputtering rooms and chemical vapour depositing don't allow large samples. So for that time being we focused on creating a mosaic and going as black as we could. It's obvious that initially i was not allowed to be in the lab alone, hence i was accompanied by Daniel, a very promising scientist and entrepreneur, to help me out.

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UNPAINTED art fair 2014 booth view

Ultimately i'm amazed at how brave you are to tackle such complex scientific fields. Science today seems to get increasingly compartmentalized with researchers specializing in various sub-disciplines. How can an artist approach these intimidating scientific fields? Is there a steep learning curve?

Forget being an artist, or pretend to be one. Be a person that is very interested in what the scientists do, be curious, make semantic connections, share you thoughts, ideas and feelings.

The more open you are the more chance you have to find like-minded people, they will help and guide you through topics that are hard to wrap your brain around. Sometimes making a sketch or drawing of the topic helps a lot. Knowing your limits is very important too.

I'm quite familiar with art and science initiatives, commissions, programmes and funding organizations in the UK but i know very little of what is at the disposal of an artist living in other European countries and wanting to work with scientists. What exists in Belgium where you live for example? Is this common for an artist to find funding and opportunities to work with research institutes?

Unfortunately our ministry of culture doesn't support yet artistic crossover with research and development. Which is a real pity. As the financial envelope for the arts becomes smaller and smaller i notice some conservative tendencies. That is very corrosive for the arts, which thrives on the niche, and is maybe a niche on itself. Stigmatising it is like stigmatising art itself. To come back to your questions; generally I am invited by a University, sometimes I co-invest myself to make the project and collaboration possible. With the University of Hasselt (UH) i have a long term commitment, this is often due to long term friendships like with Prof. Jean Manca from the UH. Currently i am also involved in some EU funded projects, most of them have a crossover DNA. Funny enough the initiative for crossover projects isn't an arts initiative but an initiative from the ministry of innovation, science and technology and Flanders DC. It's called CiCi and supports crossover projects.

More info here: http://www.flandersdc.be/en/cici-call

Also iMINDS offers an ART&D call.

More info here: http://www.iminds.be/en/research/start-a-project/artd-program

Thanks Frederik!

The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on Resonance104.4fm, London's favourite radio art station, is aired tomorrow Wednesday afternoon at 4pm.

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Song of the Machine

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Dynamic Genetics versus Mann

My guests in the studio will be Anab Jain and Jon Ardern from Superflux. Superflux is an Anglo-Indian design practice: they are based in London, but have roots and contacts in the Gujarati city of Ahmedabad.

Superflux is looking at the ways emerging technologies interface with the environment and everyday life and the result of their research is a rather extraordinary portfolio which explores deviant economies for India's elastic cities, climate change, political engagement, desertification, human enhancement, etc.

The radio show will be aired this Wednesday 26 February at 16:00, London time. Early risers can catch the repeat next Tuesday at 6.30 am. If you don't live in London, you can listen to the online stream or wait till we upload the episodes on soundcloud one day.

Image on the homepage: 5th Dimensional Camera.

Show Time: The 50 Most Influential Exhibitions of Contemporary Art, edited by writer and exhibition maker Jens Hoffmann. With contributions by Hans Ulrich Obrist, Massimiliano Gioni and Maria Lind.

(available on amazon USA and UK.)

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Publisher Thames & Hudson writes: Tracing a history of the field through its most innovative shows, renowned curator Jens Hoffmann selects the fifty exhibitions that have most significantly shaped the practice of both artists and exhibition curators.

The book's thematic sections focus on a huge variety of exhibitions, including those that have explored public space; reflected on globalization; engaged audiences in revolutionary ways; and brought into the gallery other disciplines such as theatre and architecture.

Short texts introduce and place each exhibition in context, accompanied by installation photographs and factual data about the participating artists, venues, dates, curators and publications, and many feature quotations from the originating curators exploring the premise of the show. The book concludes with a roundtable discussion by some of today's leading curators.

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Carsten Höller, Y, 2003. Courtesy La Biennale di Venezia - Archivio Storico dell Arti Contemporanee and Air de Paris. Photography: Giorgio Zucchiatti

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David Hammons, America Street, 1991 (featured in the exhibition Places with a Past: New Site-Specific Art in Charleston)

Show Time examines the most game-changing and risk-taking exhibitions of the past 30-ish years. The survey begins in the late 1980s when the Cold War ends and globalization takes off.

The book surprised me. I knew i'd find beautiful images, compelling ideas and elegant texts in there and i haven't been disappointed. But i also thought that Show Time would provide me with a clear confirmation that contemporary art is far too busy contemplating its own navel to question its relevance in today's society and to engage with a public whose idea of a wise investment does not involve shelling out 32 pounds to enter the immaculate tents of the Frieze art fair. But i was wrong (up to a certain extent) as many of the innovative exhibitions the author selected not only show the evolution of the profession but also a clearer desire to go and meet the public whoever and wherever it may be. Another fairly recent trend in curatorial practice is to cross boundaries, to explore and communicate with other practices such as theater, architecture, literature, science (though i didn't find any convincing example of art&science exhibition in the book), etc.

The book explores nine themes in contemporary curating:

Beyond the White Cube presents exhibitions that invade public space often with the purpose to meet a public which would not normally be tempted to enter a cultural institution. These are probably my favourite kind of exhibitions as they usually deal more efficiently with social and political engagement and ambition to achieve deeper connections between art and the whole society.

The best example is probably inSITE. Located in the border region between San Diego and Tijuana, the biennial focused on social and political issues related to border control and of course immigration between the US and Mexico. Artists and cultural producers from both sides worked together and the organization usually involved the participation of immigration officers and human rights groups.

Interestingly, Hoffmann notes that while the biennial drew much attention in the press and local public, it didn't attract the more 'traditional' art crowd.

I suspect that inSITE is the most exciting biennial that ever was. Ever timely theme and terrific selection of artists. Here are two of the works created for it:

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Francis Alÿs, The Loop, ephemera of an action, Tijuana-San Diego, inSITE97, 1997

In 1997, Alÿs 'crossed' the US-Mexico border at Tijuana by plane. He boarded in Tijuana and flew to Mexico City, then to Panama City, Santiago, Auckland, Sydney, Singapore, Bangkok, Rangoon, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Seoul, Anchorage, Vancouver, Los Angeles, and arrived in San Diego a few days later. Alÿs exposed a loophole in Mexico-US border control through a physical loop on a global scale, but in so doing highlighted the fact that this could only be possible for a privileged few.

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Mark Bradford, Maleteros, 2005

Mark Bradford's contribution for inSITE_05 was to give a hand to the Maleteros, the porters who -unofficially- transport luggage and goods between the border of the US and Mexico. Together they worked on a system of maps and signs that promoted their marginalized work alongside that of the labor of policemen, bus drivers and taximen.

Artists as Curators as Artists celebrates artists who intervene through artistic experiments or curatorial work in museum collections as gestures of institutional critique or as a way to use the exhibition as an artistic medium.

In 1992, Fred Wilson collaborated with The Maryland Historical Society to shake up its collection and present Mining the Museum: An Installation. The intervention highlighted museums' hidden agendas and the silences around certain episodes of the history of Native and African Americans in Maryland.

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Fred Wilson, Mining the Museum: Modes of Transport, Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore, 1992-1993

Across the Fields and Beyond the Disciplines. The key word here being (as always) 'interdisciplinary'. This section of the book explores exhibitions that open up to other fields such as architecture, science and mass media. New methodologies, new ideas, new processes and thus new perspectives emerged from these broader cultural influences.

In 1999, the exhibition Laboratorium turned the whole city of Antwerp (BE) into a laboratory where artists and scientists explored possible common aspects of their working processes. Workstations in the exhibition space enabled visitors to carry out their own experiments while other workstations, distributed throughout the city, worked as laboratories to reflect on specific themes: the laboratory of doubt, a cognitive science laboratory, the first laboratory of Galileo, etc.

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Carsten Höller, Key to the Laboratory of Doubt, 2006

New Lands looks at shows that paid homage to the 1989 exhibition Magiciens de la Terre, one of the first group shows to give equal emphasis to art from all over the world. The shows in this chapter therefore take on art from areas of the world as diverse as Eastern Europe and Africa, and that had remained for political, cultural or other reason, under the radar.

A chapter is dedicated to Biennials, the prolific model of exhibition that launches curators' careers, opens up vast touristic possibilities for cities in search of new energy and serves as meeting point of the international art elite.

While some have merely replicated the biennial model, others have attempted to twist and reinvent it. Manifesta, for example, is 'pan-European' and nomadic. Each edition sees the event move to and infiltrate a new city.

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Maurizio Cattelan, Untitled, 1998. Manifesta Luxembourg. © Roman Mensing / artdoc.de

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Hans Schabus, 'Forlorn' and 'Another Try for a Room for "Western"', 2002, installation view from Manifesta 4, Frankfurt, Germany. Courtesy Manifesta, the artist and the Kerstin Engholm Gallery, Vienna. Photography: Bernd Bodtländer

New Forms looks at attempts to rejuvenate or even overthrow well-known exhibition formats and processes. (Is it me is this starting to get a bit repetitive?)

For example, An Unruly History of Readymade applied the principles of the readymade to the making of the exhibition (which was obviously about readymade artworks.) The show was held in the largest juice-production factory in Mexico. Stacked artworks and pallets of juice stood side by side.


An Unruly History of Readymade

The chapter Others Everywhere deals with shows that explore race, sexuality, class, gender, nationality. Phantom Sightings: Art After the Chicano Movement, for example, embraced the Chicano movement and the more experimental art that comes with and out of it. The movement, which emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, encouraged political empowerment and ethnic prides over issues such as civil rights or immigration.

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Gary Garay, Paleta Cart, 2004. Courtesy of the artist, © Gary Garay

Tomorrow's Talents Today presents exhibitions that, by placing artists under new categories, have been formative to certain artist groups or affiliation. Nicolas Bourriaud's show Traffic and his text about relational aesthetics is probably the most discussed example. As was Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection which gave us/made up the YBAs.

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Jake and Dinos Chapman, Tragic Anatomies 1996

The last chapter, History, presents exhibitions that set a new art-historical agenda through a greater consideration of female and non-Western artists and underrepresented art forms such as performance and conceptual work. I'm sad to read we still see 'female and non-Western artists' as separate categories in need of special attention.

That's for the 'more socially-engaged than expected' content. Now for the form: Show Time features the slick images that define art books nowadays. It is also doing a great job at not being too heavy on the art jargon. I wouldn't say that this is a book for a public that has zero interest in contemporary art but it does help making it more approachable, easier to read and experience. It also definitely puts the whole curatorial practice into a more challenging and 'challengeable' perspective

I hope the intro to the review doesn't me sound like a bitter, ever-discontented gallery-goer. I do love contemporary art but i've been almost traumatized by the aloofness some of the major art shows and fairs i've seen recently. The book made me realize that i should just be more selective and see better exhibitions.

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Philippe Parreno, No More Reality, 1991, installation view from No Man's Time, Centre National d'Art Contemporain--Villa Arson, Nice, France, 1991. Courtesy the artist, Villa Arson, Nice, and Air de Paris, Paris, © Jean Brasille/Villa Arson

I'll close the review with a sentence Hoffmann wrote in the introduction of the book: "Show Times includes very few museum shows from the United States, which is perhaps an indication of a general lack in curatorial innovation in the American art world, cuts in public funding, increase in private interests, or all of the above." I don't think the problem is the lack in curatorial innovation, i'd rather believe that slashed funding for culture and increasing mingling of private sponsorship is to blame. Take note, Europe! We are well on our way to meet the same under-funded, risk-phobic fate.

Views inside the book:

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Image Austin Houldsworth

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Image Austin Houldsworth

In 1948, behavioral psychologist B. F. Skinner published Walden Two, a utopian novel set in an experimental community of about one thousand people who all live, eat and raise their family in common.

The functioning of the Walden Two community is guided by behaviorist principles, and its members are conditioned to be productive, creative and happy. If there is evidence that a new social practice (not saying "thank you", for example) will make people happier, it is implemented and its consequences are monitored.

There is no real governing body but members subscribe to the Walden Code of self-control techniques. Community counselors supervise behaviour and provide assistance to members who experience problems in following the Walden Code.

In Walden Two, people work for maximum four hours, they don't receive any salary but then nothing at Walden Two costs money*.

Austin Houldsworth imagined a monetary system within the cultural context of Walden Two. The payment system would challenge the established monetary function of 'a store of value', creating a new method of exchange that encourages people to actively destroy their money during a transaction. The process positively reinforces the behavior through the creation of music produced from the burning of money inside a transaction machine that doubles as a pipe organ.

Walden coins are made from potassium nitrate and sugar to produce smoke.


A Walden Note transaction

Austin was showing the Walden Note money project at the Work In Progress show of the design school of the Royal College of Art a couple of weeks ago. I knew about Skinner but had no idea he had written a utopian novel and was intrigued by the designer's intervention in the novel (destroy your money during the transaction?!?) So i had a little Q&A with him:

Hi Austin! Walden Note money is a monetary system designed within the cultural context of Walden Two, an utopian novel written by behavioral psychologist B. F. Skinner. How did you apply the utopian novel to a monetary system?

Whilst reading the novel, I asked myself the question; how would money function within this society? What would it look like? My initial ideas were depressingly similar to monetary systems in use today, echoing the established system that I've used throughout my life. To overcome my natural tendency to design within the world I know, I decided to accept Skinners proposed utopia as a real place and accept that his behaviour modification techniques could create selfless individuals - and increase co-operation rather than competition.

Imagining a society made-up from selfless individuals means the traditional functions of money might start to change. For example; why would a long-term store of value be need if no one desires more than what is required? Who would create this money? Would security features be necessary if people were trustworthy, or could money be used as a way to measure the stability of the society?

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Image Austin Houldsworth

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Image Austin Houldsworth

What is a transaction like and why would people accept to destroy money?

During every transaction the seller is obliged to aid the buyer in the destruction of their money equal to the cost of the service or object he/she is purchasing. Through the destruction of money, musical notes are created which are linked to the coins denomination. For example a C is 1 Walden-note, a D is 2, an E is 3 and so on; these notes have two main functions. Firstly the pleasant sounds created help to positively reinforce this behaviour and secondly the burning money communicates the economic state of the society to the 'managers and planners'.

Regarding the creation of the money; every individual within Walden has the right to create money. The planners within the society give guidelines of an average workers pay, but the responsibility of how much was earnt lay with the worker.

The work is about the future, yet the prototype doesn't have the typical futuristic sleek aesthetics. In fact (and please don't get offended) it looks a bit rustic. Why this choice? Does it hint that people will be able to DIY their own?

I suppose the work has been created within a paleofuture, as Skinner wrote the novel in 1948. So I see this monetary system as simply one of a million alternatives rather than a single vision. Regarding the aesthetics; the people within Walden Two were encouraged to live a relatively simple rural life but also a life full of experimentation, encouraged to create new objects which may lead to a better society. So that's where the DIY look comes in; each person creates their own individual music creating money incinerator.


Now how does this wooden structure work exactly?

It works in a similar way to a pipe organ; but rather than air, smoke is used to produce the notes within the wooden pipes. Walden money is made from potassium nitrate and sugar coins; the money to be burned is sealed in the machine by the seller and then ignited via a fuse wire. As the mixture burns the smoke can only escape from the pipes and the Walden 'notes' are created.

This project is part of a 3-year research investigation into counter-fictional design. What is counter-fictional design?
Why do you think it is a good vehicle to investigate alternative monetary payment systems?

Counter-fictional design is a term I use to communicate the method that I'm developing within my research project. It borrows aspects from 'Counterfactual' history; which was originally used as a form of historiography in an attempt to determine the significance of historical events by proposing 'what if' scenarios. This method has recently been employed by designers to imagine how ideologies of different timelines, might alter the cultural constraints surrounding design.

Although counterfactual history offers the creative mind freedom, (which would otherwise be difficult to achieve), its' scope is still limited to historical events. Therefore I started to develop a method that moves beyond designing 'alternative histories', to designing within 'alternative worlds.' By using a design methodology I call Counter-fictional design; which uses past social science fiction novels as a framework to design radically different socially dependent technologies. This Counter-fictional methodology aims to both highlight the importance of the impact of fiction upon the real world, and also offer a new playground for designers to imagine radically different systems.

What is next in your exploration of alternative monetary payment systems?

Fortunately there are no shortage of social science fictions that are absent of monetary systems. The next alternative payment systems will be designed within the context of Aldous Huxleys' 'Brave New World.' During this research my aim is to create at least ten monetary payment systems within a broad array of utopian / dystopian novels.

Thanks Austin!

Previously: Crime Pays, Austin Houldsworth's exploration of an entirely cashless society.
*I stole bits of the summary from Sparknotes.

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