Panamarenko Universum

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2015-01-28 11:57:52

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Panamarenko, Scotch Gambit

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Panamarenko, Pahama, Spitsbergen, Nova Zemblaya, 1996 courtesy Collection Fondation Cartier, Paris photo M HKA

Panamarenko, the artist and inventor who builds zeppelins, mechanical chickens, flying backpacks, flying saucers, robots, submarines and other machines designed to travel over land, under water and in outer space, is having a big and rather wonderful retrospective at the M HKA, in his home town of Antwerp.

As its name suggests, Panamarenko Universum attempts to cover the full spectrum of his artistic production and mental landscape. Along with many of the vehicles and devices Panamarenko has created ​​between 1965 and 2005, M HKA is also exhibiting drawings, objects, documentations of tv interviews, scientific experiments and performances, models and editions.

It's difficult not to be seduced by Panamarenko's childlike enthusiasm for movement and science, by his inventiveness and by machines which are successful as artworks but often hopeless as vehicles for ocean and space expeditions.

Some of the works i (re)discovered in Antwerp:

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Exhibition view Panamarenko Universum, 2014. Photo M HKA

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Exhibition view Panamarenko Universum, 2014. Photo M HKA


Panamarenko had always wanted to build a submarine to take to the open seas and defy any storm. His ultimate purpose was to use this craft to journey to the Far North. Nonetheless, it took until the middle of the 19990s before the project really got under way.

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PAHAMA, Spitsbergen, Nova Zemblaya

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Arlikoop, 2004

A one-man aircraft which construction is based on the flapping movements of birds.

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Raven's variable matrix, 2000

An advanced deep-sea diving apparatus engineered to dive faster. It consisted of a shaft attached to a screw-propeller and two pedals with belts. The device was strapped around the diver's hips, leaving the arms and torso completely free.

'You just have to peddle away with your legs, and it's just like you have a tail. That moved you forward fast, much faster than a swimmer...' - Panamarenko

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Big Elbow (Razmo Special), 1990-1992

Panamarenko testing one of his diving contraptions:

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Panamarenko Archive, M HKA, Antwerp, 2014

A diving suit for walking over the gentle slopes of the seabed. The diving suit has a plastic dome helmet and a small cylinder pump, ten centimetres in diameter, to be worn on the back. The helmet is supplied with oxygen by a cylinder with a piston that goes up and down, a four-litre bladder that serves as an extra lung, and a flexible hose that floats on the water surface.

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Portuguese Man of War, 1990

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Panamareko testing the Portuguese Man of War in the Maldives. Panamarenko Archive, M HKA, Antwerp, 2014

In the 1970s, to create devices that take off vertically, Panamarenko concentrated his research on rotation speed and lifting power. The artist developed a series of compact but powerful Pastille Motors to power his rucksack helicopters. The name Pastille Motor refers to the round, flat shape reminiscent of a large aspirin. The engine must not weigh more than twelve kg, while five kilos of fuel should be sufficient for twenty minutes' flying.

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R.p.M. (Revolutions per Minute)

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Panamarenko Archive, M HKA, Antwerp, 2014

The propulsion for the Pepto Bismo is powered by short rotor-propellers, each driven by its own motor. The helicopter principal allows the pilot to take-off vertically, controlling the apparatus by body movement.

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Panamarenko, Pepto Bismo, 2003 courtesy Private Collection photo M HKA

Panamarenko built flying saucers and other spacecraft, he also researched into the various possibilities of using existing magnetic fields as cosmic highways to travel the solar system. In 1997 his fascination for the cosmos resulted in the final project Ferro Lusto that he describes as a spaceship of 800 meters in length and fit for a crew of 4000. Ferro Lusto would act as the mother ship that carres various smaller crafts, which he calls Bings.

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Bing of the Ferro Lusto (model), 2002

Panamarenko developed Bing of the Ferro Lusto and Bing II as hybrid machines suitable for flying through both the atmosphere and outer space. Bing II was powered using air and has three 4D booster engines developed on the basis of the Toymodel of Space theory. The engine consists of two cylinders set in parallel in a metal block. Four pistons make alternate upward and sideways movements. The drive power develops on the basis of the difference in speed and mass in contrast with the direction of movement of the earth and solar system, boosted by centrifugal force. '

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Panamarenko, Bing of the Ferro Lusto (model) , 2002 Courtesy Mulier Mulier Gallery

Panamarenko built The Aeromodeller between 1969 and 1971. The basketwork gondola was designed as a living space. Two aircraft engines on top of it are used to steer the imposing airship, which is held aloft by a cigar-shaped balloon, thirty metres long.

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The Aeromodeller (Zeppelin), 1969-1971

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Dubbele zeppelin, 1990

Panamarenko designed this machine on insect-like aluminium legs, to enable him to walk around the Swiss mountains more easily. Crooked Leg is powered by a boat engine and is operated using two vertical levers on either side of the device.

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Knikkebeen [Crooked Leg], 1994

The Magnetic Shoes are made with military boots from the former East Block and copper stator coils taken apart from electric motors. He would weld the coils' magnets to a rod and then trapped an electrical charge. The result was amazing! If you then touched a piece of metal to it, you couldn't get it off no matter how hard you pulled! In a green rucksack (where military personnel would keep their walkie-talkies) are the lead batteries to provide the current. By alternatingly turning the current in the magnets on and off, I could hang upside down from a ceiling and walk around. I thought: well, that's a start... a little bit like flying...

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Magnetic Shoes, 1966-1967

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May-bug (Salto Arte), 1972

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Exhibition view Panamarenko Universum, 2014. Photo M HKA

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Exhibition view Panamarenko Universum, 2014. Photo M HKA

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Exhibition view Panamarenko Universum, 2014. Photo M HKA

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Exhibition view Panamarenko Universum, 2014. Photo M HKA


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Panamarenko, Donderwolk, 1970-1971. Collectie Koninklijke Musea voor Schone Kunsten van België photo M HKA


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Panamarenko, Prova Car, courtesy collection M HKA


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Panamarenko Archive, M HKA, Antwerp, 2014

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PAHAMA (detail)

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Inside the PAHAMA

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Panamarenko testing his electronic tank. Location: Furkapas. ©image: Panamarenko Archive

Panamarenko Universum is on view at the M HKA in Antwerp until Sunday 29 March 2015.

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A Simple Line. A zebra finch ponders upon abstraction

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2015-01-26 09:27:40

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Exhibition view at MU, Eindhoven, 2014. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

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Jalila Essaidi, A Simple Line, 2014

I'm sure you've heard about Jalila Essaidi's work before. She is an artist who uses biology as an artistic medium, the founder of the BioArt Laboratories Foundation and the author of one of my favourite books about bioart: Bulletproof Skin, Exploring Boundaries by Piercing Barriers. And yes, she is also the artist behind the famous Bulletproof Skin project.

Essaidi is currently participating to the exhibition Matter of Life | Growing Bio Art & Design at MU in Eindhoven with a less headline-grabbing but equally fascinating work called A Simple Line. The installation looks at how the thin line between reality and abstraction is taking shape inside our brain and more precisely at the level of the 'simple cells' that are responsible for the formation and perception of the abstract concept of a line.

With 'A simple line', Essaïdi attempts to merge the abstract idea of a line with its most tangible reality by having a zebra finch look at its own brain cells in the form of a line. The result of her experimentation joins the organic (a bird inside a cage), the abstract (colour block lines) and even the conceptual.

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Jalila Essaidi, A Simple Line, 2014

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Jalila Essaidi, A Simple Line, 2014

A few words with the artist:

Hi Jalila! Do you have a link to the research about specific cells (simple cells) that are responsible for the formation and perception of the abstract concept of a line?

Information processing and specifically the functioning of simple cells find its origin in the research of Hubel and Wiesel. These cells were discovered in the late 1950s. It would be hard to pin point a specific article that would be interesting for your readers but I think the videos of Hubel and Wiesel's cat experiments say more than a thousand words. There are several available online.

Serendipity & discovering simple cells:


Hubel and Wiesel Cat Experiment

Simple cells & complex cells, tests that show* how the cells are reacting to orientation specific lines:


Hubel & Wiesel - Cortical Neuron - V1

*What you are hearing are the cells -connected by electrodes placed in the brain- firing when stimulated

How does the installation work? What is it made of? What do we see in the two tubes?

I have the feeling this question is technical/practical in nature so I am skipping the intent of the work, which of course is a vital part to the question "how".

What you see is the setup needed to merge the abstract idea of a line with its most tangible reality.

The installation is a work in progress; inside the tubes a line made of simple cells is visible. The cells are attached to a thin floating horizontal structure, which acts as a scaffold. The entire installation is designed to offer an optimal environment by controlling the temperature and composition of the atmosphere inside the inner tube, containing the line.

The next stage of the work would be an exploration into golden support structures, how to preserve the line outside of its current environment, and how to combine these preserved lines into their final form.

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Jalila Essaidi, A Simple Line, 2014

Is there a particular reason why you chose a zebra finch? rather than any other bird, or even a mouse or a bug?

Zebra Finches are, just like Zebra Fish, a model organism in scientific research. At the Bio-Imaging Lab of Antwerp University they research plasticity of the Zebra Finch brain using functional magnetic resonance imaging. These studies give us new insights in for example Alzheimer's disease. My intention was to visualize the capacity of simple cells to detect lines using fMRI and make that the foundation of the project. This turned out to be not possible with current fMRI technology (of which they have at Antwerp the state of the art).

But even with fMRI out of the picture, the Zebra Finches stayed. Their brain being mapped out in histological- (for example http://www.zebrafinchatlas.org/)and digital three dimensional atlases simplified the entire process and of course their traditional birdcages -made mostly out of lines- charmed me and they felt like a natural choice for the project.

How did you get the brain cells of the bird?

The cells aren't from the actual birds in the birdcage, but from zebra finches that passed away due to old age.

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Exhibition view at MU, Eindhoven, 2014. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

Any upcoming project, research, event you'd like to share with us?

There will be an event on February 7th 2015 at MU Artspace where there will be a reflection on the work from the arts, philosophy and neurosciences. The evening will be in the format of a talk show.

I'm working on /researching a new project again with spidersilk which I hope to present at the end of 2015.

Thanks Jalila!

A Simple Line is part of the exhibition Matter of Life | Growing Bio Art & Design at MU, Strijp S, in Eindhoven. The show remains open until 22nd February 2015.
Also part of the exhibition: Cobalt 60 Sauce, a barbecue sauce made from 'supermarket mutants' and FATBERG: Building An Island of Fat.

Don't forget to send your proposals to the BIO ART & DESIGN AWARD. The three winning ideas will be awarded €25.000 to fully realize a new work of art or design that pushes the boundaries of research application and creative expression. They will be developed in collaboration with a Dutch research institution then exhibited to the public in MU Art Space in Eindhoven at the end of the year. The deadline for applications is 2 February 2015.

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Vampires, crucifixion and transfusion. BLOOD is not for the faint-hearted

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2015-01-22 10:47:30

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Shaun McCann, A human placenta from 'Stem Cell Transplantation. Part of BLOOD at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

It flows throughout our bodies and yet some of us faint when they see a drop of it. It is a key features in stories of vampires and children fairytales. It is the fluid that is most closely associated to life but also to the Ebola virus, diseases transmitted by mosquitoes and other life-threatening conditions.


BLOOD at Science Gallery Dublin

The 25 artworks that make the exhibition BLOOD (Not for the faint-hearted) aptly reflect the complex space that blood occupies in our cultures. From the vampire killing kit to the video of stem-cell extractions, from the luminol dripped down onto a sculpture made of blood and resin to Hermann Nitsch's cathartic Theatre of Orgies and Mysteries, all grounds seem to be covered: history, pure science, crime, medicine, literary fiction, ethics and taboo.

A couple of works in the show might be upsetting for some and indeed the gallery recommends it to the 15+. Strangely enough, i had no problem visiting the show but writing about it makes me far more uncomfortable. I could not even watch the video of Maria Phelan's work MYTYPE.

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Marion Laval-Jeantet and Benoit Mangin, May the Horse live in Me! Part of BLOOD at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

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Marion Laval-Jeantet and Benoit Mangin, May the Horse live in Me! (Dried horse blood) Part of BLOOD at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

One of the works that opens the show is a documentation of Que le cheval vive en moi! (May the horse live in me!), a performance in which Marion Laval-Jeantet was injected with horse blood plasma. This bold self-experiment continues the artistic duo's exploration of trans-species relationships.

In the months preceding the performance, Marion Laval-Jeantet built up her tolerance to the foreign animal bodies by being injected with horse anibodies. The artists called the process "mithridatization", after Mithridates VI of Pontus who cultivated an immunity to poisons by regularly ingesting sub-lethal doses of the same. Once her body was ready, she was injected with horse blood plasma containing the entire spectrum of foreign antibodies, without falling into anaphylactic shock, an acute multi-system allergic reaction.

In this Science Gallery interview below, Benoit Mangin explains how Marion was able to hide the eyes of the horse. A horse would normally react very violently to having his eyes covered but somehow, the animal didn't perceive her as being an entirely different organism.


May the Horse Live in Me! at BLOOD

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Robert McDonnell's blood transfusion apparatus on display. Photo The City.ie

Nearby, lies the apparatus used by surgeon Robert McDonnell on a fourteen year old girl whose arm was torn and lacerated while she was working in a paper mill. Robert drew 350 millilitres of blood from his own arm and syringed it back into Mary Anne. The girl's condition improved for a short time, but she died the day after. It was the first human-to-human blood transfusion performed in Ireland.

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John O'Shea, Black Market Pudding. Part of BLOOD at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

John O'Shea is showing a video recipe of his renowned delicacy, the Black Market Pudding. Just like we get milk from cows and eggs from chicken without the need to kill them, we could also get fresh blood from pigs and make black pudding, a type of blood sausage commonly eaten in Britain and Ireland.

The blood is extracted from living pigs via a routine veterinary procedure and the whole business model ensures that the pig grows old peacefully. Kind of. And because vegetarian suet is used to emulsify the ingredients, the black market pudding is branded as being an ethical animal product.

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Marc Quinn, Legion. Dried horse blood as part of BLOOD at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

Marc Quinn is an artist famous for many reasons. One of them is a series of casts of his head made out of 8 pints of his own blood, frozen.

Quinn is participating to the show with a wax model of his baby son. The sculpture is made of wax mixed with animal blood and protein his son is intolerant to. The work is thus both tender and savage. It evokes the love for a child and the cruelty of appropriating the blood of a non-human animal.

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Peter Arnds, The Nazi Ideology of Blood and Blood-Ridden Tales From German Children's Literature

Professor Peter Arnds is showing a fascinating collection of German children's books in which children come to harm and blood is shed, posters that detail the Nazis' obsession with blood and its purity, and a short video on the Nazis' ideology of blood.

It turns out that children's literature and folktales are quite at ease with the depiction of murder, cannibalism and other violent scenes. In Germany and elsewhere. One example of this is Charles Perrault's version of Little Red Riding Hood from 1697or the Grimm Brothers' original fairytales.

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Chella Quint, STAINS™. Part of BLOOD at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

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Chella Quint, STAINS™. Part of BLOOD at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin (image from the Science Gallery facebook page)

There is a lot of humour in the gallery as well. STAINS™ is a fake company that challenges the hypocrisy of marketers trying to sell female menstrual products while showing blue liquids and pretty girls laughing in the sunshine.

Visitors to the exhibition are invited to take a selfie with one of the blood stain broaches made by STAINS™ and share the photo via the Twitter with the hashtag #periodpositive. You can also buy the blood stains as earrings or pendant.

More images from the show:

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Charlie Murphy, Blood Vessels. Part of BLOOD at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

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Maria Phelan, MyType. Part of BLOOD at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

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Shaun McCann, A human placenta from 'Stem Cell Transplantation. Part of BLOOD at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

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Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Pulse Index. Part of BLOOD at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

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Franko B, Lover. Part of BLOOD at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

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Franko B, Woof Woof. Part of BLOOD at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

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Clemens Ruthner, Vampire Killing Kit. Part of BLOOD at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

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Clemens Ruthner, Vampire Killing Kit. Part of BLOOD at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

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Clemens Ruthner, Vampire Killing Kit. Part of BLOOD at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

The exhibition was curated by curator and media studies scholar Jens Hauser, haematologist Prof Shaun McCann, Immunologist Prof Luke O'Neill, literary and cultural scholar Prof Clemens Ruthner and Science Gallery Dublin director Lynn Scarff. It remains open at the Science Gallery Dublin until tomorrow, Friday 23rd of January.

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Mediterranean. Portrait of a region in turmoil

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2015-01-19 10:52:45

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Ghadaffi's compound Bab Al-Aziziya, Tripoli

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Saint-Tropez, France. © Nick Hannes

Photographer Nick Hannes spent four years traveling around the Mediterranean looking for the traces left by mass tourism, migration, financial crisis, political upheavals and other burning issues. "[The Mediterranean] remains unique on the map of the world: a sea at the intersection of three continents, a relatively short distance from each other," Hannes told Flanders Today. "There's a reason why this region is considered the cradle of our civilisation."

History meets very contemporary troubles in his photos. While touring some 20 countries, the photographer saw tourists dancing on beaches while poverty-stricken people at the other hand of the sea were hoping to board a boat and migrate to richer shores, protests by family members of people who disappeared during the Algerian civil war, Gazans smuggling goods through underground tunnels in an attempt to overcome the severe food shortage imposed by the Israeli blockade, etc.

Hannes' series Mediterranean. The Continuity of Man is currently on view at the Photo Museum in Antwerp. I visited the show a few days ago and here are some of the images i found most striking:

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Crisis wedding, Rio, Greece. © Nick Hannes

Doing prospection for my Mediterranean Project in the port city of Patras, Greece, I bumped into this weird wedding party. Christos Karalis (44), who married Anna (26), decided to have the party in his petrol station, to save on expenses. "This is how we respond to the crisis", a family member said to me. "Please show these pictures to Merkel. A Greek keeps on laughing and celebrating, even when his money is being taken away."

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Thiva, Greece

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Rock of Gibraltar, seen from La Linea de la Concepcion, Spain. © Nick Hannes

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Qalandiya checkpoint, Ramallah © Nick Hannes

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Valencia, Spain. © Nick Hannes

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Checkpoint, Sirte, Libya. © Nick Hannes

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Tunis

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Asylum seekers, Athens, Greece. © Nick Hannes

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Istanbul, Turkey. © Nick Hannes

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Adana, Turkey. © Nick Hannes

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Cairo, Egypt. © Nick Hannes

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Ibiza, Spain. © Nick Hannes

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Palase, Albania. © Nick Hannes

Mediterranean. The Continuity of Man is at FotoMuseum Antwerp until February 1, 2015.

Check also my post on another FoMu exhibition that features Hannes' work: Red Journey, a photo trip across the former Soviet Union.

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Prison Gourmet

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2015-01-16 12:33:54

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Karla Diaz is an activist, artist, writer and one of the founders of the artist group Slanguage Studio. A couple of years ago, she got interested in the prison food system in California and in particular in the prisoners' ingenious strategies to overcome the culinary flaws of the CDCR cafeterias.

It turns out that prisoners create their own recipes using the limited list of ingredients they can buy either from the jail commissary or the vending machines. The men also design kitchen tools using whatever is available to them and make some unconventional mixtures of ingredients to create their own unique flavours.

Diaz asked friends serving time in prisons in California to send her their own food recipes and collected them for a print on demand book called Prison Gourmet.

On a documentary and curiosity level, Prison Gourmet is a kind of culinary version of Prisoners Inventions. But Prison Gourmet is also a performance in which the artist addresses the politics of food and incarceration by reproducing prison recipes devised by inmates.

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I contacted Karla Diaz and she kindly accepted to answer my questions about Prison Gourmet:

Hi Karla! How did you get the idea to make prison recipes?

This idea first came in a meeting I had with my mentor, Manuel "Manazar" Gamboa who was an L.A. poet and playwright. He died in 2001. Manazar spent 17 years of his life in a California prison and after being released from prison, he dedicated the rest of his life writing and teaching writing to others. One day, he shared with me one of his favorite prison recipes-- a tuna casserole with potato chips and dipped pickles. I was so intrigued by the taste of this recipe, the combination of flavors, the process, and Manazar's story. I wanted to recreate this recipe and share it with others. It was not until 2010, that I had the opportunity to do so. My brother had gone to prison and I became more actively involved in the prison food system. I was amazed on the limited choices of food-packages that prisoners could eat. They are saturated with salt, oil and high cholesterol. There had been a few food strikes by prisoners demanding better food conditions. At the same time, I became aware of alternative food recipes that prisoners were eating. These recipes are made from food items that prisoners get to choose from their commissary food items. It's not the cafeteria food. They choose these food items and combine them to make their own recipes. I also learned that some of these recipes are done collaboratively. In a prison system, that tends to isolate and segregate people by race. I was so intrigued by the idea that food recipes were a means of unity. I decided to make this performance called prison gourmet, emphasizing the term "gourmet" and giving value to the prisoners as self-taught chefs.

What does (or did) the Prison Gourmet performance look like exactly?

In 2010, I was asked to participate in "Let Them Eat LACMA" a one-day event of collective performances organized by the art collective Fallen Fruit, that happened at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Prison Gourmet was originally a three-hour, one-day performance recreating recipes from California prisoners. The performance not only gave audiences free-samples of the recipes but also guided audiences through the process of which the food was made. This process is very important because prisoners make these recipes with limited cooking tools for instance, some prisoners use plastic bags, towels and t-shirts instead of pots and pans. The original Prison Gourmet also included a notebook with some of the letters with the recipes and general information on the California prison food. In 2014, Prison Gourmet was part of the exhibition "Around the Table: Food, Creativity, Community " at the San Jose museum of Art. I was glad to expand on the performance and make a full-length video of the recipes, a book documenting some of the recipes, a performance recreating one of the recipes and answering audience questions, and an installation.

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Karla Diaz, Prison Gourmet. Around the Table, San Jose Museum of Art, November 9, 2013 - April 20 2014. Photo Aperture Priority

How did you get prisoners to share these recipes with you?

I asked prisoners that I had a relationship with or friends that had a loved one in prison. Looking back, I don't think I would have gotten much response if I approached the prison institution officials. I've tried that approach before and have gotten a lot of paperwork, delay, red tape, censorship and no response. Also, you have to understand that prisoners have a different relationship to the police authorities and the amount of information they share with police. From what prisoners have told me, sometimes information whether it be written or in images can be used against them. It could be a simple letter or phone number, or an image that can be used against them. Prisoners had to trust me. And that is a very big responsibility as an artist. To keep that trust. Working with many different communities in my work, I've learned that this is one of the first most important things to build.

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Prison Gourmet, Sweet & Sour Chicken. Image courtesy of Karla Diaz

I'm also curious to know more about prisoners' cooking experiences: what kind of ingredients and cooking tools do they have at their disposal? And do you know where they cook? In their cell or do they have access to a kitchen?

I think I answered this a little bit earlier. The prisoners use limited tools at their disposal--essentially what they have available to them in their cell or what they can trade or access without permission from the kitchen. Cooling pans and pots take the place of trash bags and bath towels or t-shirts.

Could you give us some examples of creative uses of prison ingredients?

Yes, of course. One example of an interesting creative use of an ingredient is strawberry jelly. For example, in a recipe for orange chicken, a prisoner uses strawberry jelly with sugar, water and the powder drink Kool-Aid to make the orange sauce. Prisoners use pork rinds as a substitute for chicken. It's incredible how visually the strawberry jelly looks the same as the orange chicken sauce.

I suspect that Prison Gourmet is about more than just food. So which kind of issues are you exploring during the performance, how do you manage to engage the public into the discussion?

Yes, Prison Gourmet is more than just about food politics. Its about human creativity, even in the most limited of conditions. It's also about freedom. What I mean by this is that for prisoners, food consumption is not about taste. One day, I wrote to a prisoner asking him why he had made this recipe for orange chicken. I thought he really liked the taste of it. He replied that it wasn't so much the taste of these ingredients put together but that it was the memory that this created for him. Every time he made it, he remembered being home with his daughter. It meant freedom. It meant being home with his family. I also think about the impact this has on food culture, health and its context. You look at the prisons in the united states and there is a high rate and disproportionate rate of people of color (young men in particular) that are currently incarcerated...they are making alternative food practices that they learned from their culture from their memories living in their neighborhoods.

What now seems like a hipster food to eat like Korean-tacos, prisoners have already invented long ago. Taste is about remixing and remembering who they are on the outside world. It means tasting that bit of freedom....

By no means is my intention to comment on prisoners' crime or punishment. I am no one to judge this or is interested in that. I say this because there have been many audiences that have made comments that prisoners deserve to eat bad food. I try to engage audiences throughout the performance by allowing them to ask questions. To facilitate dialogue and exchange, I also keep a journal for audiences who want to comment on the recipes directly to the prisoners.

Prison Gourmet is also a book. Do you sell it? Where?

Yes, Prison Gourmet is also a book. I have self-published a limited edition of these and they are published on demand by emailing my studio website at info at slanguagestudio.com. Please make sure you write Prison Gourmet on the subject line. The first edition was published with the help of the Mexican consulate via the facilitation of the San Jose Museum of Art.

Thanks Karla!

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The 10th edition of GAMERZ. From dancing trash bag to dichotomic perception

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2015-01-12 11:11:07

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View of the Fondation Vasarely. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

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Adelin Schweitzer, Dichotomie #Eyeswalking, 2013

Here's my -as usual- very belated and -as usual- very enthusiastic review of the GAMERZ festival which took place in Aix-en-Provence so many days ago i refuse to count.

«The liberation of the game, its creative autonomy, supersedes the ancient division between imposed work and passive leisure» May 17, 1960. Excerpt from the Situationist international manifesto.

The 10th edition of the festival celebrated thus the death of passive leisure in the hands of games and art as well as the transformation of the compliant consumer into a creative user and abuser of technology. The exhibitions across town also investigated how the digital environment impacts and disrupts people's development at conscious and unconscious levels (cognitive, social, psychological, among others) and looked at how these often invisible adjustments can be harnessed in alternative social, economic, political or ecological practices.

The result is a free exhibition that proved, once again, that a digital art event can be both highly entertaining and smart. But the one thing that strikes me the most about GAMERZ is that, year after year, the festival manages to uncover and select young artists whose work i would otherwise not know about. And they are pretty good at spotting talents. The portfolio of artists like Labomedia, Antonin Foruneau, Jackenpopp, Maxime Marion & Emilie Brout or Paul Destieu has gone from strength to strength ever since i discovered their work at GAMERZ.

Here's what the 2014 edition brought us (and there's more to come):

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Lucien Gaudion, Spectra, installation for prepared vinyl, 2011. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

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Lucien Gaudion, Spectra, installation for prepared vinyl, 2011. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

Spectra, by Lucien Gaudion, is a vinyl printed with a chromatic circle, like the picture discs that were so popular up until the 1970s. As the record needle travels around the vinyl, the sound spectrum of each colour is made audible, from its lowest to highest frequencies, by a reading cell scanning the surface.

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Ink Geyser (Mapping), Mathieu Tremblin, 2011-2014. Part of F.A.T. Lab, Like Jacking. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

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Mathieu Tremblin, Ink Geyser (Mapping), 2011-2014. Part of F.A.T. Lab, Like Jacking. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

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Mathieu Tremblin, Dancing Trashbag, 2011. Part of F.A.T. Lab, Like Jacking. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

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Addie Wagenknecht & Pablo Garcia, Webcam Venus, 2013

F.A.T. Lab was exhibiting a series of artworks ranging from a Dancing Trashbag to a Cam bootleg screening of The Pirate Bay Away From Keyboard.

Each of these artworks exploits the concept of LikeJacking Spam (a kind of spam targeted at social network) but by sharing their source code, the artists want to stimulate empowerment through poetic/activist/humorous perturbations.

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Adelin Schweitzer, Dichotomie #Eyeswalking, multimedia installation, 2013. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

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Adelin Schweitzer, Dichotomie #Eyeswalking, multimedia installation, 2013. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

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Adelin Schweitzer, Dichotomie #Eyeswalking, multimedia installation, 2013. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

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Adelin Schweitzer, Dichotomie #Eyeswalking, multimedia installation, 2013. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

If one subtracts what the eye can see from what the ear can perceive, what remains of our perception of a given place ? What does our body become when it's not anymore the actor of our perceptions?

These are the questions at the origin of Adelin Schweitzer's exploration of the notion of dichotomy. The artist was showing two pieces where natural and artificial perceptions play with and against one another.

Dichotomie #Eyeswalking is made of two videos that document Schweitzer's walk in the snowy Canadian landscape. One gives a traditional, horizontal view of someone walking and is shown on a (traditional again) video screen. The other is shot from above, from a bouquet of balloons he is carrying along. It is screened inside a pedestal and you have to bend your head and watch inside goggles to watch that perspective. Constantly looking up to the wall screen in order to compare the two perspective is irresistible but if you stick to watching the perspective from above, it almost feels as if your body is pulled up and the scene is unfolding below your body.

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Yro, Bernard Szajner, Jesse Lucas & Erwan Raguenes, Persystograf. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

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Yro, Bernard Szajner, Jesse Lucas & Erwan Raguenes, Persystograf. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

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Yro, Bernard Szajner, Jesse Lucas & Erwan Raguenes, Persystograf. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

Inspired by an old instrument called the hurdy-gurdy, the Persystograf is activated by a hand crank. It emits sounds and images that can be customized using additional control knobs.

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Art of Failure, Flat Earth Society, 2008-2014. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

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Art of Failure, Flat Earth Society, 2008-2014. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ


Art of Failure, Flat Earth Society

Flat earth society takes readings from the stylus of topographic radar, cuts them into vinyl and then plays them back with a stylus.

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Gaspard and Sandra Bebie-Valerian aka Art-Act, Viridis. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

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Gaspard and Sandra Bebie-Valerian aka Art-Act, Viridis. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

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Gaspard and Sandra Bebie-Valerian aka Art-Act, Viridis

Viridis is both an online survival game and a fully-operative spirulina farm run by artists Gaspard and Sandra Bebie-Valérian.

The Viridis game is set in a post-apocalyptic world, in which humans owe their survival to spirulina, the "green counterpoison". But what makes the game interesting is that it gives players the possibility to collaborate with the farmers on the daily management of the real spirulina farm. Players can convert their points into daily tasks or items, vote in referendums about the cultivation of spirulina, etc.

More images from the festival:

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Screening of Machinimas selected by Isabelle Arvers. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

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Olivier Morvan, à ton image (le projet escapologique, épisode VIII). Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

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Olivier Morvan, à ton image (le projet escapologique, épisode VIII). Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

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Olivier Morvan, à ton image (le projet escapologique, épisode VIII). Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

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Olivier Morvan, à ton image (le projet escapologique, épisode VIII). Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

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Performances at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

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Opening night at the Fondation Vasarely. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

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Opening night at the Fondation Vasarely. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

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Catering of the opening night by Dolls in the Kitchen. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

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Catering of the opening night by Dolls in the Kitchen. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

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Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

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Performance at the Fondation Vasarely. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

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Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

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Guillaume Stagnaro, Fluorescent Umwelt, at the Fondation Vasarely. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

Loooots more photos over here.

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Vegetation as a Political Agent

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2015-01-06 12:11:24

I finally made it to the PAV - Parco Arte Vivente (park of living art) in Turin and visited Vegetation as a Political Agent. The exhibition charts a history of the plant world, by looking beyond the biological and exploring the political and social implications of vegetation. And it is pretty much as exciting as i had hoped.

Plants are not as neutral and powerless as we might think. For example, they played a particularly important role in the 17th and 18th centuries, when navigators and 'explorers' sent to discover the world ended up annexing the land, colonizing populations and looking for ways to exploit the financial potential of new plant species (culminating in the spice trade.)

At the other end of the spectrum are individuals and communities which, from the 1970s on, have been using plants to resist, revolt and defy. The exhibition tells their story through documents that date back to the first ecological revolutions, specially commissioned projects and contemporary artworks.

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Emory Douglas, Zapantera Negra. Wall painting, variable dimensions. Courtesy the artist, painted by Pietro Perotti. Photo PAV

The show opens with the mural Zapantera Negra in which Emory Douglas (Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party from 1967 until the 1980s when the group disbanded) brings together the Black Panther movement and the Escuelita Zapatista supporting the rural working-classes in Chiapas. Douglas modified one of his famous posters Afro-American solidarity with the oppressed people of the world (1969) by turning a rifle into a corn plant, symbol of Mexican populations.

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RozO (Philippe Zourgane and Severine Roussel), When vegetation is not decoration, 2014. Photo PAV

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By placing plants in the context of territorial control in colonial and postcolonial periods, RozO's When vegetation is not decoration is perhaps the work that best encapsulates the exhbition. On a larger-scale, vegetation can become a tool to manage a territory or, conversely to support resistance against foreign control. The installation, made of archive material housed inside a temporary architecture of bamboo and palm leaves, illustrates contrasting uses of vegetation in history:

First, black and white photos taken by the French army in the mid-1950s show the French army harvesting wheat in Algeria. They are protected by elite soldiers and armored units.

These images clearly depict the exploitation of land for the benefit of the coloniser. Aside from the word "Algeria" written on the grain sacks, it seems that we are witnessing a French cereal farming region. Here vegetation is clearly used to assimilate and acculturate. Vegetation is employed by the attacker and coloniser of a country or region, to deterritorialize its inhabitants. Rendering the natives foreigners in their own land was a technique that frequently used by colonisers. In the 20th Century, following the invasion of Poland, Nazi Germany implemented a wide-reaching process of "Germanisation" of the territory, to render it German.

On the other side are stills from Chien thang Tay Bac (North West Victory), a documentary filmed in 1952 by the Viet Minh military forces during the war against French occupation. The images demonstrate how Vietnam fighters used topography and vegetation as a weapon. Instead of traveling through the road infrastructure, the soldiers used pathways that allow them to avoid detection by the French occupiers and instead of using the traditional bamboo rafts to cross rivers, they built bamboo bridges that were almost impossible to detect as they were positioned 10 centimetres under the surface of the water.

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Critical Art Ensemble, Sterile Field, 2014. Photo PAV

Roundup Ready Crops are genetically engineered crops that have had their DNA altered to allow them to withstand the active ingredient of Monsanto's herbicide Roundup. Farmers who plant these seeds must use Roundup to keep other weeds from growing in their fields.

Members of Critical Art Ensemble prepared an artificial plot of land with RR herbicide, and challenged people to try and grow something in the enriched soil. The result of their efforts is depressing, it illustrates better than any essay the reason why the herbicide's nickname is 'killer exterminator'.

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Adelita Husni-Bey, Part of chronicle of zines about the English radical environmental movement (details)

The most fascinating work in the show for me was Adelita Husni-Bey's timeline of English 'green' movements between 1987 and 2004 as seen through the radical and underground zines they published. Before the widespread use of the internet, zines and magazines were the only way to spread counter-information, controversial ideas and research.

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Dan Halter, Mesembryanthemum Space Invader, 2014. Delosperma cooperi. Photo PAV

Dan Halter planted a colony of Mesembryanthemum, a flower originally from southern Africa which is considered an alien species in many other parts of the world. Once in full bloom, the plant forms the famous icon of the Space Invaders video game, suggesting thus a very literal take on the idea of invasion. Excepts that this time, the colonization is upside down: it's African invaders that are about to colonize Europe.

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Fernando García-Dory, Dream Farms The Lost Path: Learning from George Chan's Legacy, 2009-2014. Photo PAV

Fernando Garcia-Dory brings to our attention George Chan's models of Integrated Farming and Waste Management System. The IFWMS involves a closed sustainable cycle in which matter and energy flow within the productive unit, increasing yields to meet the demands in food and energy of local populations while at the same time guaranteeing the sustainability of the ecosystem.

This revolutionary model, called Dream Farms, is as yet largely unknown.

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Claire Pentecost, Greetings from the Cornbelt, 2012. Series of five postcards, poster, archival envelope Courtesy the artist. Photo PAV

Claire Pentecost's series of postcards document the artist's research in Mexico where she discovered that transgenic maize is illegally cultivated. Working with grassroots organizations in Sierra Juarez di Oaxaca, she catalogs the OGM plants and portrays them on postcards that are then distributed to Mexican farmers in the hope that they will help stop the contamination.

More images from the exhibition:

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Imre Bukta, In The Cemetary Of Farm Wagons, 1976. Photo PAV

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Imre Bukta. Photo PAV

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Piero Gilardi, O.G.M. Free [G.M.O. Free], 2014. Costumes for political animation, painted expanded polyurethane, cloth and mannequins. Photo PAV

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Adelita Husni-Bey, Story of the Heavens and Our Planet, Archetype I, 2008-2009 (installation view.) Photo PAV

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Amilcar Cabral. Photo PAV

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View of one of the exhibition rooms. Photo PAV

Vegetation as a Political Agent was curated by Marco Scotini. It is on view at the PAV - Parco Arte Vivente in Turin until 11 January 2014.

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Techno-Ecologies II. Acoustic Space #12

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2015-01-02 10:19:21

Techno-Ecologies II. Acoustic Space #12, edited by Rasa Smite, Armin Medosch and Raitis Smits.

(available on amazon USA or by ordering directly from RIXC via e-mail: rixc @ rixc.lv.)

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Publishers RIXC Center for New Media Culture and MPLab, Art Research Lab of Liepaja University write: Techno-ecological perspectives have become now one of the key directions in contemporary discourses and are part of a larger paradigm shift from new media to post-media art. A range of practices which were once subsumed under terms such as media art, digital art, art and technology or art and science, have experienced such growth and diversification that no single term can work as as a label any more. Traditionally separated domains are brought together to become contextual seedbeds for ideas and practices that aim to overcome the crisis of the present and to invent new avenues for future developments.

This is the 2nd volume in the Acoustic Space series that continues to build a 'techno-ecological' perspective whereby new artistic practices are discussed that combine ecological, social, scientific and artistic inquiries. Edited and published in the context of the exhibition Fields, it makes a perspective its own that sees art as a catalyst for change and transformations.

This 300+ page publication is a collection of papers by artists, curators and academics. The texts are mapping contemporary practices in art & technology but they also had the specific function of providing a framework to the Fields exhibition that took place in Riga last Summer. The show investigated the place of contemporary art practices in society and the role artists can take not just as generators of new aesthetics but also as catalysts of active involvement in social, scientific, and technological transformations. The publication is as deep and as wide-ranging as the Riga show was. Its content also echoes many of the current conversations that makes media art such an exciting field to follow: DIY culture vs 'black box' technology, digital archiving, continued influence of early locative art, funding models for the digital culture, reconciliation between sciences and humanities, etc.

Here's a far from exhaustive list of essays i've enjoyed reading:

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Graham Harwood and Matsuko Yokokoji, Coal Fired Computers, 2010. Photo by Marc Wathieu

In Slow Media Art - Seeing through Speed in Critiques of Modernity, Kevin Hamilton and Katja Kwastek applied the ideas of the slow food to Media Art. The slow media art works they presented share a 'deep engagement with sensation, duration, and speed.' I like the concept because it proves media art detractors that there is more to media art than the quest for innovation and sparkly spectacle. The examples of the genre selected by the authors of the paper include YoHa's magnificent coal-fired computers and Esther Polak's Milk Project.

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Kuai Shen Auson, 0h!m1gas

In Stridulation Amplified: An Artistic Research of the Bioacoustic Phenomena of Leaf-cutter Ants Using the Turntable, artist Kuai Shen Auson shares what he learnt from 5 years working on and exhibiting 0h!m1gas , an installation that harnesses the relentless activity of an ant colony into a DJ scratching performance.

In Ars Bioarctica. Five Years of Art & Science Work by the Finnish Society of Bioart at Kilpisjärvi Biological Station, Erich Berger and Laura Beloff draw lessons from their five years of experience organizing art&science collaborations in sub-Arctic environment

Michel Bauwens's essay Evolving Towards a Partner State in an Ethical Economy looks at the free software industry and defends the idea that society can learn something from the politics of this value creation model and that of a 'P2P' state might emerge from these social practices.

In Contestation and the Sustainability of the Digital Commons, Eric Kluitenberg reflects on the outcomes of the Economies of the Commons, a series of conferences that focused on how sustainable models could be identified for creating and maintaining public online media culture and knowledge resources. The final part of his paper charts various revenue models that can sustain commons based initiatives in the digital domain.

I learned about the existence of anticartographism in Gavin MacDonald's text Moving Bodies and the Map: Relational and Absolute Conceptions of Space in GPS-based Art in which he walks us through the short history of the use of GPS as an artistic medium.


Bug Music: David Rothenberg's Insect Choir

In Bird, Whale, Bug: The Reasons for an Interspecies Music, composer David Rothenberg tells about his experience of working with bird song neuroscientists, playing music with animals and even bugs and his findings about how a musical approach might lead to better understanding and respect for 'natural' sounds.

About the FIELDS exhibition: FIELDS, positive visions for the future, Ghostradio, the device that produces real random numbers, Sketches for an Earth Computer, POLSPRUNG (POLE SHIFT) - Devastating Experimental Set-ups, On the interplay between a snail and an algorithm.

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Survival Kit Festival in Umeå

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2014-12-29 10:25:56

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Anthony Clair Wagner. Photo: Fanny Carinasdotter

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Umeå Skafferi / Umeå Pantry at Pilgatan 16 (photo)

It's almost 2015 and i still have to write reviews of a couple of festivals i've visited over the Autumn. The first one that was languishing in my draft is the very smart, very socially-engaged and exciting Survival Kit festival in Umeå, Sweden. The event explored the theme of local and global survival through the lenses of visual art, music, food, discussions and lectures.

How can we look at issues such as ecology, economy and human survival at large? And on a more personal level: how can I navigate as an individual in this new and complex world?

Wherever we look, there is a feeling how being disconnected, of living in the midst of uncertainties regarding our economic and political systems, social structures, and ecological future. The Survival Kit Festival looked at what can be done to regain some control. The artists and activists selected don't stop at denouncing what is wrong with society and the world at large, they also document or implement small, practical solutions that might ensure our survival. These experiments go from building a biodome with an aquaponic system for fish and vegetable cultivation to converting a parking lot into a collective garden. From proposing a new currencies for culture to inviting the public to a cup of chaga mushroom tea.

I had never been to Umea. It's a small city and it was pissing rain all along. Yet, i found that place amazing: strong leftie values, free wifi on public buses, a culture of veganism and cheerful cut-out figures greeting you at the entrance of supermarkets:

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Also i slept inside a prison cell. So what was not to love?

Here's a small selection of the works i discovered at the festival:

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Joost Conijn, Wood Car, 2002

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Joost Conijn, Wood Car, 2002

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Joost Conijn, Wood Car, 2002

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View of Joost Conijn video installation inside John Söderberg's caravan, at Verkligheten. Photo: Fanny Carinasdotter

In 2001 Joost Conijn spent the Summer riding a car he had built himself through Eastern European countries. The car is made out of wood, it runs on wood and because the world economically runs on oil, the artist wasn't going from petrol station to petrol station (like we normally would) but from rural area to rural area with no specific destination nor itinerary.

His objective was to use the plywood-clad vehicle as a ploy to generate unexpected situations and meetings across the road. The film of his expedition shows people in small villages guiding him to local saw-mills, offering him spare wood and inviting him to a picnic.

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John Söderberg at Verkligheten. Photo: Fanny Carinasdotter

Conijn's film is screened inside John Ola Söderberg's caravan. I really REALLY like that one, it is simply a caravan made out of a caravan.

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Siri Hermansen, Chernobyl Mon Amour, 2012 (video still)

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Siri Hermansen, Chernobyl Mon Amour, 2012 (video still)


Chernobyl Mon Amour, 2012 (Extracts)

Siri Hermansen's films shows what might emerge from complete despair and devastation. The festival was screening two videos that document the survival strategies developed by local communities and individuals who have chosen to live in Chernobyl and Detroit.

In Chernobyl Mon Amour, the artist follows two state-employed guides who take catastrophe tourists, journalists and scientists to the exclusion zone of Pripyat, a city built for the families of power plant workers and evacuated at the time of the disaster in 1986.

In the interview, they talk about their fondness of the area. One of them even describes how he believes that his body is now accustomed to the radioactivity and how, after five years in the zone, his body actually gets ill when he enters the normal world. They both stay longer and longer periods in Chernobyl, ignoring the breaks their doctors advise.

They add that if you look around, it appears as if the whole nature is thriving in this radioactive environment. More and more animals are moving into it and vegetation grows unrestrained.

To them the zone offers a unique situation of hope, freedom and possibility within the hardships of Ukrainian society, and they describe Chernobyl as their "paradise".

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Siri Hermansen, Land of Freedom, 2012

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Siri Hermansen at Verkligheten. Photo: Fanny Carinasdotter

In the other film shown in the gallery, Land of Freedom, Hermansen follows the members of The Yes Farm, an artistic/activist community that moved from San Francisco to Detroit where they repaired and settled in one of the city's many abandoned buildings. The members of the collective see Detroit as an opportunity to explore new ways to live a more sustainable and socially-conscious life, through farming, gardening and a return to skills that the Fordist economy made obsolete.

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Gunilla Bandolin, Bi installation at Verkligheten. Photo: Fanny Carinasdotter

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Gunilla Bandolin, Bi installation at Verkligheten. Photo: Fanny Carinasdotter

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Gunilla Bandolin, Bi installation at Verkligheten. Photo: Fanny Carinasdotter

If the earth was destroyed, Gunilla Bandolin would start building up the whole survival process with a bee-hive. Bee hives provide you with honey and pollen, the bees would pollinate the few plants that subsisted and new crops would grow. A beehive also produces surplus warmth, and thus cheap, retrievable energy.

It is a prototype like this, or the beginning of it, that I have tried to create in this exhibition. I want the bee-hives to be made in a transparent material and preferable place them in a shopping centre to remind people of the conditions of our existence. It is calculated that about 70% of what we have on our daily plates is dependent on pollinating insects.

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Kaspars Lielgalvis, Non-convertible culture currencies

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Kaspars Lielgalvis, Non-convertible Culture Currencies in Trailer Gallery, at Umeå University. Photo: Fanny Carinasdotter

Artist and art manager Kaspars Lielgalvis proposes the use of a new culture currencies as a possible solution to the situation of funding culture which has suffered greatly from the ongoing financial crisis.

This new medium of exchange, called Non-convertible Culture Currencies, would be used only in the cultural context. The first Culture currency - Dobžiks is already in use since March 2012 as a valid payment for entering events at the Totaldobže Art Center in Riga. There is a plan to create a worldwide network of those organizations that will accept Culture currencies and use Culture currencies as a payment for work which is done in cultural field and in most cases is paid too less.

Other works and images from the festival:

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Anthony Clair Wagner. Photo: Fanny Carinasdotter

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Anthony Clair Wagner. Photo: Fanny Carinasdotter

Isabelle Fremeaux, John Jordan and Kypros Kyprianou, Paths Through Utopias (trailer)

Isabelle Fremeaux, John Jordan and Kypros Kyprianou spent seven months on the road visiting eleven Utopian communities across Europe, documenting a parallel universe where money is worthless and private property has been abolished.

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Antti Laitinen at Verkligheten. Photo: Fanny Carinasdotter

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Lisa Busby. Photo: Fanny Carinasdotter

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Emma-Lina Ericson, I Still Have an Other-Ache at Kungsgatan 92. Photo: Fanny Carinasdotter

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Atsuko Otsuka's photo showing animals living in the "no-go zone" in Fukushima. Photo: Fanny Carinasdotter

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Erik Sjodin's biodome and workshop

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Erik Mikael Gudrunsson's work

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Chto Delat, The Tower

The festival, which ran in collaboration with Survival Kit 6 in Riga, was organised by Verkligheten, a non-commercial and artist-run gallery that explores various kinds of art expressions.

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Meeting one of the founders of the EDL (English Disco Lovers)

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2014-12-24 09:14:12

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Photo: English Disco Lovers

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Photo: English Disco Lovers

For most people, EDL is the acronym of the English Defense League, a far-right group that regularly and vehemently protests in the street against what it considers to be a spread of Islamism and Sharia in the United Kingdom. Over the past two years however, a number of UK residents have started to associate EDL with another movement: the English Disco Lovers. The story started as a joke when art students decided to reclaim the acronym and google bomb EDL so that English Disco Lovers would appear on top of the results for the search 'EDL' and the three letters would, over time, be associated with tolerance, multiculturalism and equality. Another key strategy of English Disco Lovers consists in participating to counter-English Defence League demonstrations across the UK, wearing garish shirts, dancing to disco music and singing "Go! Walk out the door! Turn around now 'cause you're not welcome anymore!" to the members of the islamophobic group.

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Photo: English Disco Lovers

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The English Disco Lovers manifesto

As the popularity of its online and offline presence demonstrates, English Disco Lovers has grown into a socially-engaged project that is far more powerful than what its initiators had initially envisioned. I talked online with Chris Alton about the EDL adventures, the wrath of the original EDL, the positive changes a humorous campaign can yield and how English Disco Lovers fits into the history of disco music.

Hi Chris! Who's Alex Jones? i keep finding his name rather than yours in all EDL interviews. he seems to have had a Quaker upbringing as well.

Alex Jones is my pseudonym. At first it was a safety precaution, as the English Disco Lovers email account had been receiving death threats from EDLers who were none to pleased about my cheeky acronym-pinching antics. I didn't fancy a bunch of heavies turning up on my doorstep, so I did the sensible thing and used a fake name. If you look at my TEDxYouth@Hackney talk I'm even wearing a mirrorball mask. The name and mask ultimately became a license to 'perform' Alex Jones. I see him as an idealised aspect of myself, given form and amplification.


A new meaning for disco beats: Alex Jones at TEDxYouth@Hackney

When i first read about your EDL project, i assumed it was just great fun and pleasant anti-racism but then i read in an interview that some of you actually attempt to discuss with members of the English Defense League? Do you manage to achieve something by engaging in conversations with them? Because they look pretty scary and some might be very annoyed by your own take on the acronym...

Yeah, through running the project that dialogue opened up. I'd get the odd message from an English Defence League member, one said, "hate the idea, but love the badge". He was referring to our logo, so I offered to send him a badge with it on. Those messages would become inroads, which allowed me to speak to them on a one-to-one basis about why I was doing what I was doing and why they were doing what they were doing. On mass they're a pretty scary bunch, but over social media there's (unsurprisingly) less to fear. In some cases the discussions led nowhere, but in others I found that the English Defence League members opened up to the possibility that their EDL could be causing an increase in the radicalisation of young Muslims, a few even left the organisation (or so they told me).

You wrote me that one of your sources of inspiration was your Quaker upbringing. What has the Quaker education taught you that helped you set up and run the EDL?

Since a young age I've been around people who are more actively engaged in changing the world than most. Quakerism exposed me to countless individuals and groups campaigning in various ways for numerous causes. At the age of 14 I met a woman who'd canoed out to the Trident Submarines in Faslane, planted potatoes onboard, then tried to make her getaway before being surrounded by vessels far superior to her tiny canoe. She was in her 60s at the time and at 17, I was present at the British Yearly Meeting where Quakers made the decision to allow same sex marriages and to lobby the government to legalise them.

Those are two examples among many, both of which exemplify the commitment of Quakers to peace, equality, simplicity and truth (the Quaker testimonies), despite the approaches being so different.

I think it's clear that some of the testimonies mentioned above manifest themselves in English Disco Lovers. It's a peaceful alternative to the English Defence League, which supports equality and togetherness over the divisions the other EDL capitalise upon and exacerbate.

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Photo: English Disco Lovers

You've been working on EDL for two years now. What have been the most surprising moments in the life of EDL?

As you can imagine there have been many! Getting it off the ground was certainly a surprise. When I made the Facebook page I never imagined the idea would move beyond my friendship group. However, after less than 6 months of using social media to generate interest in the idea, I got an email from Dorian Lynskey, a writer at The Guardian. He asked me a few questions via email and wrote a piece on English Disco Lovers, which was featured in The Guardian's G2 in February 2013.

Then in April 2013 I went down to Brighton for a counter-English Defence League demo. I was surprised to find a mass English Disco Lovers presence opposing the EDL march, bedecked in disco gear (I'm talking wigs, sequinned shirts, flares, the lot) and singing along to disco classics like Chic's "I Want Your Love". When they launched into Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" and told the English Defence League to, "Go! Walk out the door! Turn around now 'cause you're not welcome anymore!" the surrounding protesters joined in and danced along. I surprised that people felt so strongly about an idea that I'd brought into the world, and that they were willing to spend their afternoons embodying it!


Clips of the English Disco Lovers (EDL) at the counter-MfE demonstration on 21/04/2013


Chic, I Want Your Love

Why did you chose disco rather than any other type of music?

The choice of disco is fundamental to the ideology of English Disco Lovers, not only because of the genre's positive sound, but due to the history of disco. In the 1970s discotheques were havens for minorities, they brought together people of every colour and sexuality to listen to music that celebrated unity and self-expression. In 1979 there was an anti-disco rally called Disco Demolition Night, which involved the destruction of disco records. It has been said that the event had racist and homophobic undertones and that it played a significant role in the decline of disco's popularity.

It's also significant that, the word discotheque comes from Nazi occupied France, where jazz music was banned, as it was seen as a potential music of revolution. As live performances were deemed to be too obvious, citizens began to opt for underground bars where they could listen to recordings. These places became known as record libraries, which translates into French as 'discotheque'.

I wanted to redeploy this history in opposition to contemporary intolerance and the recent rise of right-wing extremism in the UK. The English Disco Lovers' motto is "Unus Mundas, Una Gens, Unus Disco", so it's also worth mentioning that, in Latin, disco could be understood to mean 'I learn', 'I learn to know', 'I become acquainted with'.

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Photo: English Disco Lovers

Apart from google bombing the far-right group, what do you hope to achieve with EDL?

Well, English Disco Lovers has already achieved many things beyond google bombing the English Defence League. For example we've been holding disco nights for about a year and a half, where the profits are donated to charities that tackle issues such as racism, HIV and hate-crime. We've held nights in London, Brighton, Bristol and Manchester, so I hope that these nights continue to grow in popularity and that we can continue spreading the "Don't Hate! Gyrate!" message.

What is next for EDL? any upcoming performance or meeting?

Well I'm heading down to Brighton in early January to meet with two stalwart English Disco Lovers about this very question, what next? I intend to step away from the project for a while and focus on new work, so the future of English Disco Lovers is a little uncertain at the moment. We have a few DJ sets booked in the coming months, which will be posted up on our website and social media, but in terms of big plans and aims, we'll all have to wait and see.

Thanks Chris!

English Disco Lovers is part of an exhibition at the Collyer Bristow Gallery in London. The show remains open until Jan 28th, 2014.

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