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

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We Colonised The Moon, Enter at Own Risk

In this episode i'm going to catch up with the ever astute and cheerful Sue Corke and Hagen Betzwieser from WE COLONISED THE MOON.

Their installation, performance and graphic works seek to demonstrate that the future may indeed be frightening, but also highly entertaining. Previous projects have included creating solutions for space waste by disguising satellites as asteroids, building a solar powered solarium because 'the sun dies anyway', synthesising the smell of the moon and embedding it into scratch and sniff cards. So we're going to talk space colonisation, moon smell patent and their current residency at the Republic of the Moon.

The radio show will be aired this Wednesday 29 January 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.

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Alvin Baltrop, Friend (The Piers) 1977

The Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool is probably the most exciting photo gallery in England (especially now that Foto8 has closed.) On 22 February they will open a show dedicated to Letizia Battaglia's chronicle of the brutal anni di piombo in Sicily. And right now they have a show that brings together self-taught photographer Alvin Baltrop and 'anarchitect' Gordon Matta-Clark.

I went to see Alvin Baltrop and Gordon Matta-Clark: The Piers From Here a couple of weeks ago. I had never heard of Alvin Baltrop before. His photography met with very little artistic appreciation until after his death when art institutions finally started paying attention to his portrayal of emerging gay subculture in New York.

At first glance, Matta-Clark and Baltrop seem to have very little in common. In fact, the two men probably never met. But they both turned their artistic interest to the Piers of New York City during the mid 1970s.

They found Manhattan's West Side piers abandoned and decaying as a consequence of the oil crisis that reconfigured the geography of the city along with the international trading system. Left to rot, the vast industrial space on the outskirts of the city was soon occupied by people living at the fringe of society: graffiti writers, artists, drug addicts, prostitutes. the homeless, etc.

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Image: @Gordon Matta-Clark, the Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark

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Gordon Matta-Clark, Day's End (Pier 52), 1975

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Gordon Matta - Clark, the Estate of Gordon Matta

Pier 52 is the site of one of Matta-Clark's famous building cuts. In 1975, the artist made large cuts into the floor, ceiling and sides of a derelict metal hangar, exposing the Hudson River and sky, creating a sculpture brought to life by the rotation of the sun. Matta-Clark argued that he had created an indoor park. He called it Day's End out of a decrepit space. However, visitors were afraid to cross the large lacerations, the police shut down the opening event and the artist faced an arrest warrant for trespassing and defacing property.

Matta-Clark described the piers as being completely overrun by the gays. So much so that the piers became the site of at least two pornographic films, Arch Brown's Pier Groups (1979) and Steve Scott's Non-Stop (1983). And while Matta-Clark was seesawing his architectural installation, Alvin Baltrop was documenting men having sex, cruising or sunbathing there. Or corpses dredged up from the river.

Most of the time, Baltrop was hiding from his subject, hanging from steel girders, shooting from afar, capturing the freedom these crumbling spaces gave to their occupants. The images are voyeuristic but, perhaps paradoxically, they are never pornographic.

Baltrop photographed the piers and their residents from 1975 to 1986, right up to the moment they were razed. The result is an archive of thousands of photographs that hover between raw passion, violence, furtiveness and tenderness.

Gordon Matta-Clark believed that art could be used as a tool for urban regeneration and the exhibition offers an opportunity to reflect on that very topic but also on the gentrification of (sub)urban areas that usually comes with the dissolution of underground culture.

Both the Piers in New York and the docks in Liverpool experienced a similar process of transformation during the 1970s. Dispossessed of their industrial activity, the areas were gradually reclaimed by people living at the margins of society (from prostitutes and drug dealers to visual artists, performers and film-makers.) I've never been to what is left of the New York piers but Liverpool's docks, where Open Eye is situated, has now left place to office buildings and luxury apartments.

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Alvin Baltrop, Super Cream, 1980

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Al Baltrop, Untitled

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Alvin Baltrop, The Piers (exterior view of Day's End) 1975-86

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Al Baltrop, Untitled

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Al Baltrop, Untitled

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Al Baltrop, Untitled

Alvin Baltrop and Gordon Matta-Clark: The Piers From Here is up at the Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool until 9 Feb 2014.

Art and the Internet, edited by Phoebe Stubbs, with contributions from Joanne McNeill, Domenico Quaranta and Nick Lambert.

(Available on amazon UK and USA.)

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Publisher Black Dog Publishing writes: Art and the Internet is a much-needed visual survey of art influenced by, situated on and taking the subject of the internet over the last two and a half decades. From the early 1990s the internet has had multiple roles in art, not least in defining several new genres of practitioners, from early networked art to new forms of interactive and participatory works, but also because it is the great aggregator of all art, past and present. Art and the Internet examines the legacy of the internet on art, and, importantly, illuminates how artists and institutions are using it and why.

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Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries (image via ilikethisart)

To be honest, my first reaction when faced with a book dealing with 'internet art' was akin to the cries uttered by a heretic about to find himself into the hands of Tomás de Torquemada (the only thing i can say in my defense is that my job exposes me to an awful amount of really bad online art.) In theory, i'm not a fan. However, a quick look in the book made me realize that i shouldn't be so hasty in my judgement. You see, internet art or net.or or web-based art or however you wish to call it is not monodimensional. It comes with depths and with as many opportunities for interpretations and distortions as its purely 'physical' equivalents. So yes, i was definitely not jumping for joy when i read the words 'art and the internet' but then i opened the pages and they were all there! JODI, Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries, Vuk Cosic (please bribe this man out of his art-retirement), Alexei Shulgin, etc. All of whom i believe are all quite genius. And then there's the new generation of artists, pranksters and activists who like you and i, probably spend far too much time on the internet but have the excuse of turning it into spectacular, thought-provoking or simply amusing works.

Art and the Internet opens with 3 essays. Nicholas Lambert explores how web-based art has been embraced (or rather not really embraced) by art galleries and institutions. Joanne McNeill looks at how moments of intimacy are shared via web cams. Domenico Quaranta takes a more historical approach to net.art and to its relationship with physical space. Each of these essays communicate splendidly the gaiety, wit, diversity and charm of art on the internet.

The book closes on interviews with Attila Fattori Franchini, LuckyPDF, Eva and Franco Mattes and Marisa Olson and on seminal texts about art and/in the internet by some of its most recognised rock stars: Alexei Shulgin, Miltos Manetas, Olia Lialina, John Perry Barlow, etc.

It often seems that internet has been created for the sole purpose of having people droll over cute cats and then stick their head into home appliances to recover from the emotion. Art and the Internet demonstrates not only that there's nothing wrong with that but also that internet art deserves a greater offline exposure.

Now for a couple of remarkable works i discovered or rediscovered in the book:

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Kenneth Tin-Kin Hung, 60X1.com, 2003

The very garish, very dazzling 60X1.com throws into a tumble dryer photos of political figures, pop culture icons and images found in cyberspace. The result is as user-unfriendly as possible: the domain name is not catchy, the file size are slow to appear on the screen (at least they were at the time) and it's a struggle to locate the word 'enter' that will lead you to the next page where another word 'enter' will be carefully hidden. After going through a series of splash pages, the visitor realizes that there is no destination to explore, that it's journey ends there as there is in fact no core content.

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Charles Broskoski, Directions to Last Visitor, 2011

Directions to Last Visitor demonstrates how easy it is to geographically locate users through their IP address. Log on to the website and it will use the Google Maps API to show you the driving directions to the (physical) address of the last person who visited the website. The project makes you realize how simply typing an url can lead to further dissolution of your privacy.

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Owen Mundy, I'm Unable to Fulfill Your Wish, 2011

I'm Unable to Fulfill Your Wish are 'dystopian visualizations' that use a computer program to streamline data from social networking websites and turn them into delicate, basic but also anonymous graph drawings.

Ultimately, the works highlight the inability of interfaces and other digital spaces to represent the complexity of everyday life and question whether technology and open data will ever achieve its utopian promise.

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Andy Deck, Glyphiti, 2001

Glyphiti is composed by multiple, anonymous participants who edit a "drawing wall" collaboratively by working on one 32 x 32 pixel section at a time.

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Clement Valla, Postcards from Google Earth, 2011-2013

Clement Valla fortuitously discovered what he first thought were glitches on Google Earth images. However, these broken images are the result of a constantly of the constant and automated data collection handled by computer algorithms. In these "competing visual inputs", the 3D modellings of Earth's surfaces fail to align with the corresponding aerial photography.

Google Earth is a database disguised as a photographic representation. These uncanny images focus our attention on that process itself, and the network of algorithms, computers, storage systems, automated cameras, maps, pilots, engineers, photographers, surveyors and map-makers that generate them.

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Aram Bartholl, Map at 'Hello World!' Kasseler Kunstverein, Fridericianum 2013

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Aram Bartholl, Map at Rencontre Arles 'From Here On'. Photo by Anne Foures, 2011

Aram Bartholl's iconic Map drags Google Maps red map marker into the street.

In the city center series 'Map' is set up at the exact spot where Google Maps assumes to be the city center of the city. Transferred to physical space the map marker questions the relation of the digital information space to every day life public city space. The perception of the city is increasingly influenced by geolocation services.

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David Horvitz, 241543903, 2006-ongoing (image via urlesque)

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David Horvitz, 241543903, 2006-ongoing (Image via artribune)

David Horvitz's Heads in Freezers is as simple as its title. People are invited to take a picture of their head in freezers. The twist is that they must tag it with "241543903" and uploaded it to social media sites.

Now a quick image search of the number 241543903 shows pages after pages of people shoving their heads into freezers.

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

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me and my shadow at the National Theatre in London. Photo credit JP Berthoin, via body>data>space (and via)

My guest in the studio will be Ghislaine Boddington, an artist researcher, dramaturge, curator and thought leader specialising in body responsive technologies. Ghislaine is also recognised as an international pioneer in full body telepresence. A co-director of the Creative Guild, she is a Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts and an Artist Research Associate at ResCen, Middlesex University since 1999. but the reason why i invited her in the studios of ResonanceFM is that Ghislaine is also the Creative Director of body>data>space, a collective of artists and designers that looks at the future of the human body and its real-time relationship to evolving global, social and technological shifts.

In this episode, we will talk about experiences in telepresence, digital culture in London and gender (im)balance in tech careers (believe it or not, we're still there!)

The radio show will be aired this Wednesday 22 January 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: ATMOS // Outreach : Crystallising Movements.

Last week i went to the London School of Economics for the LSE Sociology Forum: Bitcoin, alternative currencies reloaded, a panel dedicated to the decentralized, peer-to-peer currency Bitcoin. Historian Garrick Hileman, sociologist Nigel Dodd and financial activist Brett Scott were sitting around a table to reflect on the question:

Is Bitcoin the new gold? Shaking up online and offline worlds, the online currency Bitcoin has increased its 'value' at immense speed in the last year. Being immune from government interference and private manipulations, it has been celebrated as a new alternative currency by some and condemned as source of unpredictable risk by others.

If, like me, you're not sure you perfectly understand the functioning and meaning of Bitcoin, then head to Brett Scott's blog post How to explain Bitcoin to your grandmother .

Going to that conference was probably the best move i made that week. It was engaging, smart and eye-opening. And thanks to the presentations, i think i might even sound slightly less clueless next time The Boyfriend tells me about his Bitcoin adventures.

Interestingly, the room was packed and when one of the speakers asked who among us owned bitcoins, no one raised their hand. I wondered how (if?) different the discussion would have been like if users of Bitcoin had been in the audience.

Garrick Hileman was the first to take the stage. Hileman is an economic historian at the London School of Economics and he talked succinctly and articulately about the history of alternative currencies and why all of them have failed so far.

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First slide of Garrick Hileman's presentation (Note to self: I should really get a new camera)

Why are we so interested in Bitcoin? An obvious reason is that the Bitcoin price index has gone up 56 times in 2013. Another reason is the mystery of Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonym of the person or persons who published the paper Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System in 2008.

With previous digital currencies, there is a risk of double spend, unless you get the help of the bank. Bitcoin makes it more difficult to replicate your currency and double spend it (all transactions are displayed in a public list. The validity of each new transaction is checked by confirming from the list that the digital currency was not used before.) It is a solution without a third party as it bypasses the banks.

Alternative currencies have a long history. They appear at some point (usually during periods when there is a high level of debt), survive for a short period and then they go away. Hileman identified three ways these currencies die: they die by regulation, by technology or by lack of adoption.

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Freigeld: One Schilling note with demurrage stamps from Wörgl

An example of death by regulation is Freigeld. Freigeld was started by an Austrian town called Wörgl during the Great Depression to kickstart the economy. You basically paid for owning or holding currency which stimulated spending. The experiment was successful but the Austrian National Bank decided to terminate it for some unknown reason on the 1st of September 1933.

The example of death by technology are the merchant tokens used in London and other British towns because of the failure of parliament to provide sufficient small denomination coinage. Merchants were desperate to get more small change for transactions so they started issuing their own. Merchant tokens were long lived: they were widely used in 17th through 19th century
They finally disappeared with the advent of fiat money.

The third type of death is caused by the lack of adoption (or demand). The example is the UK-based barter system LETS. Started in late 1980s-early 90s following UK leaving European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM), the LETS still exist but are in steady decline: 350 in 1995, 303 in 2001, 186 in 2005.
Now fully virtual but previously physical currency.

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People queuing to use the world's first real Bitcoin ATM in Vancouver, Canada on October 29, 2013

Now Bitcoin faces many challenges:

Regulatory uncertainty leading to:
- avoidance by traditional financial institutions
- slow adoption of Bitcoin by consumers/merchants. Also Bitcoin has bad PR (stories of buying drugs on Silk Road, etc.)
Switching costs, real and perceived
Convenience trumps anonymity for most consumers.
Bitcoin technical infrastructure (i.e. cost, latency, it takes 10 minutes to update every transaction.)
Hoarding: desirability of Bitcoin as store of value works against use as a medium of exchange. The increasingly high value of bitcoin makes it less likely that you will spend it to buy pizzas.

But it also has many strengths:

Merchants and consumers both benefit from a change to the status quo. Makes for powerful allies.
The financial system is expensive and inefficient. The fees are high and money transfers are slow and cumbersome.
It may prove difficult for regulators to ban Bitcoin.
Bitcoin innovations go beyond currency's role as a medium of exchange/store of value
Silicon Valley investment and track record in changing behavior and driving technology adoption on a large scale (think of Twitter.)

Check out this video of another of Hileman's presentations
Bitcoin 2013 conference - Garrick Hileman - History and Prospects for Alternative Currencies where he explain all the above with more details and draws interesting parallels between Bitcoin and the Brixton pounds.

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The next speaker was financial activist Brett Scott. He is the author of The Heretic's Guide to Global Finance. Hacking the Future of Money (available on amazon USA and UK) and he's been exploring alternative financial communities, a section of which is alternative currency for a number of years now. You can buy his book with a number of alternative currencies. He's sold 30 copies with bitcoins so far.

Scott reiterated that the figure of Satoshi Nakamoto is indeed important as its mythical character creates an emotional bond with the currency. Which is probably the reason behind the existence of the dogecoin.

The problem of Bitcoin is that the public doesn't understand it. Experts explain it in reference to itself, instead of in relation and contrast to 'ordinary' currencies.

Another important point Scott brought about is that Bitcoin is not as apolitical, neutral and liberal as it is claimed to be. Society is neither apolitical nor neutral so how could Bitcoin be that paragon of liberality? He illustrated the comment with his experience of the Bitcoin Expo where there was a massive gender imbalance. The conference was 90 to 95% male. His talk at the conference was therefore about Bitcoin and gender.

The topic of gender-imbalance reappeared later in the Q&A. Is there something inherently male about Bitcoin that attracts males? Or is there something about Bitcoin that repels women? You can read more about the topic in Scott's blog post Crypto-patriarchy: the problem of Bitcoin's male domination.

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Bitcoins are accepted in stadscafé De Waag in Delft as of 2013. Photo by Targaryen

The last speaker was Nigel Dodd, an Associate Professor in Sociology at LSE. His new book, The Social Life of Money, will be published by Princeton University Press this year. The main purpose of the book is to reformulate the sociological theory of money in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, focusing on the question of how money can be wrested from the domination of banks and the mismanagement of states and restored to its fundamental position as the 'claim upon society' that Simmel once described in The Philosophy of Money.

Dodd started by stating that he is favour of monetary liberalism and that consequently he is in principle pro-Bitcoin. Except that he thinks that something is weird behind the philosophy of Bitcoin. Bitcoin is sexy but it is also misleading. He added (in reference to one of Garrick Hileman's last points) that if Silicon Valley is involved, it gets even sniffier.

From here my notes are getting a bit messier as this guy thinks and talk brilliantly but also very fast.

We need to see Bitcoin in the context of other monetary systems. There are 72 to 73 other digital currencies so there is a lot going on besides Bitcoin.

The monetary theory is another problem. For all its radical aura, Bitcoin rests on a backward monetary theory. It actually has a lot in common with the politics of austerity that regard money as a 'thing', a commodity. That's something that Bitcoin celebrates too, whether or not it realizes it. There is a limit in the number of Bitcoin that can be generated. Just like there is a limit with gold. Also it's mathematically possible for Bitcoin to be controlled by one computer and because of that it is similar to money.

So what makes Bitcoin different? Usually institutions protect money as if it were a commodity. Bitcoin does the same except that it does away with the intermediary. What makes Bitcoin attractive is that it's managed by a bunch of machines. However, that there are always humans behind the machines.

Money as a claim upon society/social life. All currencies interpret this claim in their own way, whether we're talking about time, gift giving, trust, etc. The claim of Bitcoin is technology of mistrust, you don't need trust with Bitcoin: machine do all the job. But again, there isn't a machine that operate without humans.

According to Dodd, every currency fulfills a different social need but which one Bitcoin fulfills is still unclear.

For Dodd, money is a process, not a 'thing' and Bitcoin is the only currency that doesn't acknowledges money as a process. It's the least sociological form of money we have.

An interesting question that emerged during the Q&A was the possibility to make Bitcoin taxable. Dodd explained that for most regulators, the number one financial obligation is tax. If Bitcoin starts to threaten that, it won't simply evade tax but it might also stop the whole machinery of tax.

The Financial Times crowd has long been skeptical of Bitcoin, mostly because the currency is not regulated. Bloomberg even published an article titled Virtual Bitcoin Mining Is a Real-World Environmental Disaster (a theory which is obviously questionable.)

With tax, Bitcoin would receive a certain legitimacy. Business would find that very seducing. Each regulation could actually help Bitcoin. For Hileman, Bitcoin is actually the best challenge we have to the current financial system.

Photo on the homepage by Rick Bowmer.

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