Photography: A Cultural History (Fourth Edition), by Mary Warner Marien.

Available on Amazon USA and UK.

5cov1RMBjHjNzL.jpg

Publisher Laurence King writes: Mary Warner Marien discusses photography from a truly global viewpoint and looks at a wide-ranging collection of images through the lenses of art, science, travel, war, fashion, the mass media and individual photographers. In addition to representing the established canon of Europe and the United States, key work from Latin America, Africa, India, Russia, China and Japan is also included. Professional, amateur and art photographers are all discussed, with 'Portrait' boxes devoted to highlighting important individuals and 'Focus' boxes charting particular cultural debates. New additions to this fourth edition include an overview of photography's involvement in conceptual art, a detailed review of the photographic work of artist Ed Ruscha and new material on European Worker Photography during the 1920s and 30s. Many new pictures have been added throughout the book, including superior versions of historical photographs and recent images from contemporary photographers, including Walead Beshty, Youssef Nabil, Lalla Essaydi and Ryan McGinley. A rich and vivid account of the history of photography placed in an essential cultural context, this indispensable book shows how photography has charted, shaped and sharpened our perception of the world.

0richard_bellingham_rays_a_laugh_07.jpg
Richard Billingham, Ray's A Laugh, 1996

Mary Warner Marien is Emeritus Professor at Syracuse Uni­versity and this publication started as a textbook for her students. Don't let that detail alarm you, this is by far the most engaging, exciting and informative book on photography i've ever read (and i've read quite a few).

The author examines the story of photography, the technical innovations and the key figures of the rather brief story of the medium but she also looks at the impact it had on society and culture. And vice versa. Photography is indeed a powerful weapon. From its early days until its current guise, it has been equally used to denounce social injustice and to function as an instrument of political propaganda.

By explaining the historical and cultural contexts in which photographers worked, Warner Marien shows us how to research, interpret, understand and ultimately look at a photography. A skill we often overlook in our age of image overload.

Photography. A Cultural History is also a very entertaining book. It will take you from the early days of tabloids to the heyday of Kodak, from racial profiling to documenting public executions, from social documentary to the history of medical experiments.

Have a look at some of the works, ideas and facts i discovered in the book:

0Guillaume_Duchenne_de_Boulogne_performing_facial_electrostimulus_experiments_(2).jpg

0Guillaume_Duchenne_de_Boulogne_performing_facial_electrostimulus_experiments.jpg
Guillaume Duchenne de Boulogne performing facial electrostimulus experiments on "The Old Man"

French neurologist Duchenne de Boulogne used electrical currents to stimulate facial expressions. The newly invented photography offered him a tool to capture the resulting expressions of his subjects.

His monograph The Mechanism of Human Physiognomy was the first publication on the expression of human emotions to be illustrated with actual photographs.

0The-Crawlers.jpg
John Thomson, The Crawlers, London, 1876-1877

John Thomson collaborated with journalist Adolphe Smith to produce the monthly magazine, Street Life in London, from 1876 to 1877. This early type of photojournalism documented in photographs and text the lives of the street people of London.

The "Crawlers" lived in the street and whenever they had enough cash to buy tea leaves then they would "crawl" to a pub for hot water.

0unknown_photographer_corporeal_samuel_thummam_pch385-141D7FB465C15161A00.jpg
Photographer Unknown, Corporal Samuel Thummam, 1865

Photographs of American Civil War veterans were circulated to teaching hospitals in an effort to improve battlefield care, recovery and prosthetics

0childlabour-hil-7.3.jpg
Lewis Hine, Child in Carolina Cotton Mill, 1908

Lewis Hine, photographer for the National Child Labor Committee, recorded the lives and work of hundreds of children in the United States in the first decades of the twentieth century. His pictures were instruments of persuasion. He believed that if the public could see for themselves the abuses of child labor, they would demand laws to end it.

0hankinsgl0.jpg
Clara Sheldon Smith, Claude F. Hankins. Caption reads: "In 1904 Claude Hankins , aged 14, was convicted of murder and paroled after serving four years."

0ruth-snyder-execution-6.jpg

0ruth-snyder-execution-7.jpg
Tom Howard, Dead! (Execution of Ruth Snyder in New York's electric chair. Front page of the New York Daily News (January 13 1928)

Ruth Snyder was sentenced to death for killing her husband. Her execution, in the electric chair at Sing Sing Prison was captured in a well-known photograph.

Because photographers are not permitted into executions in the United States, the New York Daily News commissioned a man no one at the prison knew to document the moment. Tom Howard strapped a miniature camera to his ankle and linked he photographic plate by cable to the shutter release concealed within his jacket.

The next day, the photograph made the front page of the paper. For many years afterwards witnesses to executions were searched and asked to hold up their hands so they could not operate hidden cameras.

0Bobbie-Libarry.jpg
Imogen Cunningham, Irene Bobbie Libarry, 1976

Imogen Cunningham was one of the first photographer to portray older people in a way that reflected their individuality. She was 92 when she started working on After Ninety, a series of photos of elderly people. The photo above sows tattooed circus attraction Irene "Bobbie" Libarry (83) in a nursing home.

0a07_lee-miller_theredlist.jpg
Lee Miller, Buchenwald, April 1945

0a2gestapo informer0_lg.jpg
Henri Cartier-Bresson, Dessau. A young Belgian woman and former Gestapo informer, being identified as she tried to hide in the crowd © Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photo

0american-dream-0904-01a.jpg
Ralph Amdursky and Charles Baker, Colorama. © 2009 Kodak

0i0colorama2.jpg
Colorama by Kodak

From 1950 until 1990, Kodak's gigantic Colorama photographs dominated the east wall of Grand Central's Main Concourse. The photographers employed used the company's innovative technology to print oversize and meticulously staged photos that portrayed an idealized view of American life.

-0a94-9birmingam50x302.jpg
Charles Lee Moore, Firefighters hose demonstrators, Birmingham, 1963

Charles Lee Moore documented the American civil rights era.

0PhilipJonesGriffiths.jpg
Philip Jones Griffiths, Napalm Victim, Vietnam, 1967

0voANHkhahn.jpg
Vo An Khanh, Vietcong Improvised Operating Room, U Minh Forest, 1970

0i0i0faking-fs.jpg
Yves Klein, Harry Shunk, and Jean Kender, Leap into the Void, 1960

The famous photography Leap into the Void is also a famous photomontage. Harry Shunk first photographed the street empty except for the cyclist. Then, Klein "climbed to the top of a wall and dived off it a dozen times--onto a pile of mats assembled by the members of his judo school across the road. The two elements were then melded to create the desired illusion." (via)

0-Praying-Mantis-Eating-a-Caterpillar.jpg
Catherine Chalmers, Praying Mantis Eating a Caterpillar from Food Chain, 1994-1996

0-Frog-and-a-Praying-Mantis.jpg
Catherine Chalmers, Frog eating a Praying Mantis from Food Chain, 1994-1996

Catherine Chalmers portray predatory insects and animals snacking on other living, wriggling creatures.

0-Chris-Killip-I-Youth-on-Wall-Jarrow-Tyneside-1976-1024x843.jpg
Chris Killip, Youth on Wall, Jarrow, Tyneside

Chris Killip spent two decades in the industrial communities of the North East of England. His gritty images attest the impact that the decline of industries and the detrimental economic policy had on British working class.

0_meiselas_1981016k051.jpg
Susan Meiselas, Street fighter, Managua, Nicaragua, 1979

Susan Meiselas is best known for her coverage of the insurrection in Nicaragua and her documentation of human rights issues in Latin America.

0acambodiio89.jpg

The Cambodian Genocide Program at Yale University has scanned more than 10,000 photographic images pertaining to various aspects of gross human rights violations under the Khmer Rouge regime. In this preliminary release of data from our existing archive, we focus on the victims of the Tuol Sleng Prison in Phnom Penh, the notorious "S-21" extermination center.

More than 5,000 photographs were taken of prisoners being processed into the facility for interrogation and execution.

0leeson_01.jpg
Peter Dunn and Loraine Leeson, Health Cuts Can Kill. Campaign to Save Bethnal Green Hospital, 1978

A2 poster produced and distributed through the hospital campaign committee over 30 years ago. Still painfully relevant.

0Piss-Christ-damaged-007.jpg
Piss Christ, with partial damage. Photograph: Jean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters

Andres Serrano's Piss Christ, a "photograph of the crucifix submerged in the artist's urine"), was made in 1987 and wherever and whenever it was exhibited the work met with controversy, protest or vandalism. In 1989, Sen. Alfonse D'Amato used it as an example of art that ought not to be supported by state funding.

0toxiclagoon-l.jpg
Tim Head, Toxic Lagoon, 1987

Tim Head created brash, seductive compositions using discarded mass-produced materials.

0richard-billingham.jpg

0i0billingham.jpg
Richard Billingham, Ray's A Laugh, 1996

Ray's a Laugh is probably one of my favourite photo series ever (together with Pieter Hugo The Hyena & Other Men.) In this work, Richard Billingham portrays the domestic life of his alcoholic father Ray, and chain-smoking, tattoo-covered mother, Liz. The wonky framing and approximative focus gives the series sincerity and authenticity. It is brash and unforgiving but in the process Billingham managed to make his parents perfectly lovable.

0_SULTAN_Golfswing_1986-700x571.jpg

0larry-sultan-1.jpg
Larry Sultan, Pictures from Home

Larry Sultan photographed his father and family over a ten year period spanning the 70s and 80s as part of an elaborate project that included his parents own photos, home movies and statements.
Larry Sultan's project Pictures From Home was inspired after watching some old family films and looking through old albums that they had not seen in years. He looked through the old reels of films and albums and studied how they represented his family and their connection to history, memory and time.
Using the old images as inspiration Larry Sultan took photographs of his parents in their retirement home

_misrach_imageprimacy_v1_compressed_640.jpg
Richard Misrach, Bomb Crater and Destroyed Convoy, Bravo 20 Bombing Range, Nevada, 1986

In 1952, the U.S. Navy began illegally testing high-explosive bombs on an enormous expanse of public land near Fallon, in Nevada. Richard Misrach's photographs capture both the natural beauty and the man-made devastation of the land.

0ronahavivoo.jpg
Ron Haviv, Blood and Honey: A Balkan War Journal, 1992

Blood and Honey: A Balkan War Journal chronicles the horrors that the Serbs, Croats, Bosnians, and Kosovar Albanians perpetrated against each other. The image above shows a young Serb militiaman about to kick a woman in the head.

Views inside the book:

7gille1MVIi853FL._SL1247_.jpg

7globa10LRAwefTL._SL1247_.jpg

0ui9o0prototype.jpg
Neil Thomson, The Economic Computer (prototype)

The Phillips Hydraulic Computer (known as Monetary National Income Analogue Computer or MONIAC in the U.S.) was an hydro-mechanical computer created in 1949 by Professor Bill Phillips to model the economic processes of the United Kingdom. The 2 metres tall analogue computer used the movement of coloured water around a system of tanks, pipes, sluices and valves to represent the stocks and flows of a national economy. The flow of water (which symbolized money) between the tanks (which stood for specific national expenses, such as health or education) was determined by economic principles and the settings for various parameters. Different economic parameters, such as tax rates and investment rates, could be entered by setting the valves which controlled the flow of water about the computer. Users could experiment with different settings and note the effect on the model.

0i10piilips74.jpg
Phillip's Economic Computer, 1949. Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library

Phillips demoed his machine at the London School of Economics in 1949. Copies of the machine were built and sold to universities, companies and banks across the world. A few of them remain but it seems that the only one still working is located at the Faculty of Economics and Politics at Cambridge University.

Economic theories have grown in scale and complexity in the last half a century but many models are still founded on newtonian physics. Inspired by this hubris of correlating human behavior to mechanical equations, Design Interactions student Neil Thomson is attempting to create a Phillips machine based on modern economic models.

The current prototype is the first iteration of this attempt. based on the Euler Equation which describes a consumer's propensity to save or spend in relation to the present and predicted interest rate, it attempts to find a pattern in the movement of the double pendulum that matches the designer's personal economic data.

Neil Thomson was showing the first prototype of the Economic Computer last month during the work in progress exhibition at the Royal College of Art. I contacted him recently to get more details about his project:

Hi Neil! The description of your project says that the machine was created to 'demystify money'? What does it mean 'demystify money'? why would money need to be demystified?

Money systems and economies are a mystery to me and I think most people would say the same. Economists might say otherwise and certainly in politics you have to make categorical claims. I think this is fascinating, this open secret that there's a level of complexity beyond which we can't understand (let alone predict) but I think we need someone who believes they can. I've been told by an economist at the Bank of England that being caretaker of the nation's finances is akin to piloting an oil tanker in total darkness.

Whilst researching economic theory you find that there is in fact a lot of debate within the field about the usefulness of economic models. Why these berated systems are still here, despite all the flaws I think is not only interesting but an urgent question for us all.

The best answer I found to that question so far suggests the things we would think of as flaws - over simplification and generalisation - are in fact the very reason these models are still here: economic equations take numerous (but measurable) variables, process it with seemingly objective mathematics and give a finite answer that is given with certainty. Other fields can't or won't make such claims.

I think it's part of our nature to study systems and look for patterns - that's why I think these systems, especially physical representations of them (such as the Phillips Machine), are so seductive.

0philmacinecloseup.jpg
Phillip's Economic Computer, 1949. Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library

Would your own version serve the same demystifying purpose?

That would be the intention but its success is going to be purposefully questionable. What I would like my project to achieve is simply that people think about how and why these systems are conceived and what impact they have. Often they start as diagnosis tools but quickly evolve into a template that then becomes prescriptive and self-fullfilling until the inevitable black swan event comes along and tips everything over the edge.

So what will your machine look like?

I'm still very much in the design process at this stage but I'm going to look at analog mechanisms as Phillip's did which i think is interesting in two ways. Firstly, it exposes the mechanical mathematics behind these models that generalise human behaviour. Secondly, they help to correlate the claimed objectivity of these systems to aesthetic subjectivities, allowing us to see them as questionable.

And how are you going to build it?

Instead of taking on the entire economy I'm going to look at my own finances. I will analyse my personal economic data and look for patterns in my spending behaviour, such as most data analysts and economists would do. Similarly I will have to gloss over or generalise when faced with missing data that may explain my behaviour. I will then try to isolate some of these patterns and develop a device for each creating several smaller machines. These will then combine (and possibly conflict) to create a whole - an economic algorithm of me.

Is your machine really going to focus on the global economy?

Once I have an algorithm that predicts my economic behaviour I can then use it as a 'microfoundation' in a larger economic model. Microfoundations are the name for a relatively recent development in economics; instead of an equation that describes an entire economy, they use algorithms for parts in that economy (e.g. a business or household) and these individual agents are then multiplied and interact in a simulation. Eventually I would like to get to this level to see what en entire economy of me would be like.

0i0faceplatepositioning.jpg
Neil Thomson, The Economic Computer (face plate positioning)

How does the Euler Equation come into play here?

An economic Euler Equation (the same name is given to a whole class of general maths equations) describes how much a household or individual will spend / save given the interest rate, their credit limit and current balance. Its based on the idea that people act rationally to maximise their profit. I am basically creating my own version of this equation.

Are you planning to push the project further?

Absolutely, this is the very first step!

Thanks Neil!

Previous posts about this year's RCA work in progress show:
Walden Note money - How would money function within a behaviorist society?
and Chicken warming up nuclear mines and other technocratic fables.

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.

This week I'm going to be talking with Antony Hall. I interviewed Antony many many years ago and his work is as interesting as ever. Antony creates kinetic artworks; sculptures and installations, often using sonic, mechanical, fluidic, electronic or biological elements. But in the show we will focus on Owl Project, the artist collective that Antony forms together with Simon Blackmore and Steve Symons.


~Flow Documentary (Short Edit)

0log1k_htba2001.jpg
Log1k


Owl Project, SoundLathe

Owl Project works with wood and electronics to create musical and sculptural instruments that question human interaction with computer interfaces and our increasing appetite for new and often disposable technologies.

The work of Owl Project goes from simple ironic devices such as the iLog which is a log that thinks it is a music player to large scale installations such as ~Flow, a floating tidal waterwheel powered  electro acoustic musical instrument responding to the river Tyne in Newcastle. Owl Project has also toured festivals and events with their rather ingenious Sound Lathe, a musical instrument based on a traditional green wood turning pole lathe that explores the relationship between the crafting of physical objects and the shaping of sound.

The radio show will be aired this Wednesday 5 March 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.

0Traffic-policeman-ii-C120.jpg
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".

0ESSOstatio8ed64ea7-620x372.jpg
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

0i5laurelgarage.jpg
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.

0argyllshowroomabde65814b-620x482.jpg
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:

0bibendum-exterior-stained-glass-window.jpg
Bibendum on the facade of the Michelin Building. Image Picky Glutton

0abibendum.jpg
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.

0NCPCarParkBrewerStSoho.jpg
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.

0eustonroad0170c7-620x503.jpg
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.

0u1petrolstation856f-620x415.jpg
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.

0imarkmooor493902.jpg
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.

_1931dagenhamfirstvehicleoffline.jpg
The first vehicles rolling off the production line at Dagenham in October 1931

0frordfactory9c4bbd9978-620x487.jpg
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.

0coventry1-89b4a16894eb-478x480.jpg
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.

0construrcitiondem4.jpg
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

0a0a0tthearch.jpg
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.

0metallL22290.jpg
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

0stott_hall_m62.jpg
M62 at night as traffic passes around the Stott Hall Farm. Photo Si Barber

0avenue-romford.jpg
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

0a4-reading.jpg
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

0preston3541db6-620x420.jpg
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.

0M1NE#1 - 2.jpg
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.

0i1-nanopaont480x480.jpg
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.

0IMnanoblackmaterial.jpg
Nano Painting, Nano Black Material

0fscanningelectron.jpg
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.

0M1NE#1 -1.jpg
M1NE#1

0small mine.jpg
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.

0NASABlck-Crcl #1 -1.jpg
Frederik de Wilde, NASABlck-Crcl #1, 2013

0NASABlck-Crcl #1.jpg
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.

0Quantum Foam #2 [sphere] - Red Edition.jpg
Quantum Foam #2 [sphere] - Red Edition

0Quantum Foam #2 [sphere] - White Edition.jpg
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.

0UNPAINTED art fair 2014 booth view - inside.jpg
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!

sponsored by:
Categories: