Book review: 100 Ideas that Changed the Web

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Published on : 2014-08-25 08:56:27

100 Ideas that Changed the Web, by Jim Boulton, curator of Digital Archaeology, an organisation that seeks to document the formative years of digital culture and raise the profile of digital preservation.

Available on Amazon UK and USA

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Publisher Laurence King writes: This innovative title looks at the history of the Web from its early roots in the research projects of the US government to the interactive online world we know and use today.

Fully illustrated with images of early computing equipment and the inside story of the online world's movers and shakers, the book explains the origins of the Web's key technologies, such as hypertext and mark-up language, the social ideas that underlie its networks, such as open source, and creative commons, and key moments in its development, such as the movement to broadband and the Dotcom Crash. Later ideas look at the origins of social networking and the latest developments on the Web, such as The Cloud and the Semantic Web.

Following the design of the previous titles in the series, this book will be in a new, smaller format. It provides an informed and fascinating illustrated history of our most used and fastest-developing technology.

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The book had me at page 8, the one that says "The idea of the internet was born in Belgium.' I was born there too! How thrilling! That idea, thus, was born at the Mundaneum, an institution which Slates calls a 'Proto-Internet made of index cards' and Speigel defines 'an analog version of Google'. Created in 1910, the Mundaneum had the ambition of collecting all human knowledge and classify it according to a system that Belgian lawyer Paul Otlet and Nobel Peace Prize winner Henri LaFontaine called 'Universal Decimal Classification'. While this networked world relied on index cards and telegraph machines, it nonetheless anticipated the hyperlinked structure of today's Web.

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The answers had to be searched for by hand, and that could take weeks. The index card system was developed in 1903 by Otlet, seen here in the same year (via)

100 Ideas that Changed the Web is a thick, compact book that charts the key moments that made and make the Web. The author presents one idea over two pages. One of them being the short essay, the other is the image that illustrates the concept. The book follows a logical and chronological order. The 20 first ideas are about the vanguard that paved the way for the creation of the Web. Ideas 21 to 53 are about the early days of the Web. These were times of experiments and wild dreams. The following 20-ish ideas deal with the pre-social era of the Web, full of ups (PayPal) and downs (that dot-com bubble). Ideas 74 to 98 brings us into the right here, right now of the web. The last two ideas look into the future.

The book is very upbeat and celebratory. It makes me love the fact that i lived from dial-up modems (don't miss understand me: i'd never ever want to go back there) to the era of Big Data. It also reminded me of the importance of ideas i either take for granted nowadays (eBay!! or real-time reporting) or had almost forgotten (The Blair Witch Project, a film that accumulated a series of 'first time ever', one of them being that its promotion relied heavily on a website.)

I think it's a book anyone might enjoy. It sums up efficiently important concepts and allows readers to take a step back and look at how much their lives have changed in a relatively short period of time.

With that said, i feel that the book is glossing over the unpleasant aspects of the web: the trolls, the spam, the scams, the mass-surveillance, the revenge porn, the platforms that are closing themselves, etc. All are corollaries of those magnificent 100 ideas that changed the web.

More views inside the book:

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Image on the homepage: The Amazon Swansea fulfillment centre is one of the largest in the world, spanning 800,000 square feet. Additional UK fulfillment centres are located in Doncaster, Hertfordshire, Milton Keynes, Fife, Gourock, South Yorkshire and Peterborough. [Image: Getty Images]

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Anecdotal radiations, the stories surrounding nuclear armament and testing programs

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Published on : 2014-08-22 12:59:24

In our collective unconscious the atom bomb is synonymous with Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But since 1945 it has been documented that more than 2079 nuclear bombs have been detonated on Earth. Since the end of the Second World War, nuclear power countries have methodically bombed their own lands. Self mutilation in the name of self defense.

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David Farhi, Anecdotal radiations

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Copa Room showgirl Lee Merlin poses in a cotton mushroom cloud swimsuit as she is crowned "Miss Atomic Bomb 1957." Photo Credit: Don English/ Las Vegas News Bureau/Las Vegas Sun

Anecdotal Radiations is a series that uncovers the unknown, forgotten and often very strange stories surrounding nuclear armament and testing programs. A couple of the anecdotes are well-known such as the Miss Atomic Bomb pageant or the story of the bikini. Others are downright baffling: the chicken vaporized when a nuclear bomb is dropped by mistake, the taste of a beer after a nuclear explosion, the ultra secret activation code on all American nuclear weapons set to "00000000", etc.

David Fathi has collected archive photos, satellite imagery, packshots and road-trip photos. By adding his own images to the archive documents, the photographer orchestrates a series of baffling, yet true, stories that illustrate the discrepancies that exist between the world we have created and the world we believe we live in.

I discovered the series last month at the festival Photo Ireland and the more i read about these anecdotes on Fathi's website, the more i thought i should get in touch with him and interview him:

Hi David! What inspired you to have a look at some of the 'unfamiliar stories and anecdotes' about nuclear bombing and experiments?

I believe my fascination started a couple of years back with one image.

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Nuclear explosion photographed less than one millisecond after detonation. From the Tumbler-Snapper test series in Nevada, 1952, showing fireball and "rope trick" effects. The fireball is about 20 meters in diameter in this shot

This is the photo of a nuclear explosion, just a couple of milliseconds after its detonation. At the time, nothing could capture such images, and scientists had to design an entirely new high-speed camera. I was mesmerized by this photo, as it is a scientific document of something terrifying but seems so abstract and beautiful.

We normally have this very clear image of the atomic bomb as a mushroom cloud, and here we have a photo that completely changes our perception of it, by showing its origin.
I wanted to find a way to talk about this image in a project some day, but hadn't found the right approach yet.

Last year I finally started researching nuclear testing, and it was like going down the rabbit hole. I knew, just like everybody else, that nuclear testing happened during the cold war. But I had never really stopped to think about what that meant. When I thought about the bomb, Hiroshima and Nagasaki is what came to mind, even though since then, more than two thousand bombs have detonated on earth.

The more I researched, the weirder it got. When trying to deal with the gap between weapons of unfathomable power and the human stories of the men who try to master them it becomes absurd, terrifying and darkly funny.

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David Farhi, Anecdotal radiations

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David Farhi, Anecdotal radiations

The series mixes archival photos, satellite imagery, packshots and road-trip photos. How do you combine them? do you start with archive material and then add your own images to fill some gaps, for example?

I start with an anecdote. After enough research, I find this small story that is totally true, but seems unreal. It becomes one of the building blocks around which I start gathering photos.

Then I list the typologies of photos I want to use (satellite imagery, archives, packshots, roadtrip) and try to find how I can illustrate in a literal fashion the story. Once I have gathered enough material, it seems very factual and straightforward. That's when I try to break it up, and find images that are more metaphorical and only tangentially related to the story.

The aim is to create a documentary based on facts, but the result seems like fiction. So it's all about finding a balance between precise documentation and playful deconstruction.

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David Farhi, Anecdotal radiations

Some of the experiments you selected for the series seem to have been conceived by brazen, unconscious minds. There are also accidental releases of nuclear bombs too. Do you you think the military is more cautious nowadays or are there still some dangerous experiments taking place? How much do you think is still hidden from us?

I'm close to finishing my project, and I'm trying to find a couple of stories that are more recent, so that people remember that nuclear weapons are not just a thing of the past and more probably something we will have to continue dealing with for centuries to come.
So here are a couple of things that we learned recently about the United States nuclear program:

- In August 2007, six nuclear warheads were loaded by mistake on a military plane. When it landed, nobody knew the devices were on board. The plane was left unguarded on the tarmac for 36 hours before people realized what was happening.

- In September 2013, the n°2 officer in charge of Nuclear Command was fired for gambling with counterfeit poker chips.

- In December 2013, one of the top generals in command of nuclear armament was fired for an incident in Moscow where he was seen with Russian escort girls drunkenly boasting about what he was in charge of.

- In March 2014, 82 nuclear launch officers were implicated in a cheating scandal on their security exams.

These are just stories uncovered by the press in the USA, as Russian, Chinese, French, British, Israeli, etc. Nuclear programs are very tightly kept under wraps. It's nearly impossible to get relevant data about those.

With all of this in mind, I find it hard to understand how nuclear armament is not more prominent in the news.

Could you pick up some of the images you selected from archives or made yourself and comment what they are about? Explaining why you chose them from archives or why and how you made them? (i started selecting the photos that intrigued me the most but i ended up with so many of them i decided i'd let you chose instead)

This photo is an actual press archive of Spanish minister for information and tourism Manuel Fraga Iribarne and US ambassador Angier Biddle Duke swimming near Palomares, Spain, after the crash of a B-52 bomber and the loss of four nuclear warheads. All to assure the local population that everything is safe and under control.
The manipulation on top of Fraga is a superposition of the satellite image of a nuclear crater.

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David Farhi, Anecdotal radiations

Speaking of satellite imagery, I printed out photos of nuclear impacts. I then created these sculptures for two reasons. Firstly they seem like rocks & minerals, alluding to the melted rocks you can actually find on sites where nuclear bombs were tested. And secondly to give these images a 3D existence. All these "scars" are visible just by going on Google Earth, but we still don't really know they exist, so maybe by giving them this three-dimensional quality they can appear as more "real".

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David Farhi, Anecdotal radiations

This photo was taken on the road between Nevada and California. There have been some lawsuits around these regions by communities who claim having been exposed "downwind" from the Nevada Test Site. I took quite a few photos along this path, looking for semi-fictional traces of these stories.

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David Farhi, Anecdotal radiations

This is a screenshot from the documentary Atomic Café, a great source of information that everybody should watch. The movie has an incredible wealth of obscure archival films of the cold war era. This particular clip is still amazing to me, as I have found no clue to where it came from. It's part of a long list of absurdities you stumble upon when doing research on the subject (like Nuclear War card games, Miss Atom Bomb beauty pageants, etc)

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David Farhi, Anecdotal radiations

What were your objectives in publishing this series of photos. Was it purely informative and anecdotical or is there a more socially engaged or political motivation behind the series?

My interest in this subject is mainly psychological. The politics of nuclear armament seem pretty easy. Even people in charge of such programs do not see nuclear bombs as a good thing. So how do we deal intellectually with their continuing existence?

There is a huge dissonance between the world we imagine we live in and the one we actually live in. The over-the-top consequences of nuclear bombs are so immense that we naturally shut it out of our minds. My objective is not to say nuclear bombs are bad (that is quite a boring statement and everybody agrees), but more to force people to question everything, entities of power as much as their own selves.

Governments and media have of course their role in keeping out of reach the implications of nuclear weapons, but we as individuals have as much a responsibility in comprehending history, science and human knowledge. In telling these small anecdotes, I try and use humor, terror, and a general playfulness to try to suck in the viewer, and get him or her to question what they think they know.

I hope this series is more about confronting our own way of perceiving the world, and how to think critically of the consequences of our decisions.

In fact the best thing for me would be if people would even call into question my own photos and stories. I'm telling you all this is true, but you'd be better off by doubting and starting your own investigation.

Thanks David!

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Strange Weather: alien flowers in the Arctic, raindrop that floats in mid-air and jellyfish snacks for all

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Published on : 2014-08-21 07:59:46

I already mentioned the exhibition Strange Weather: Forecasts from the future in a number of posts (in particular this one which focused on clouds) so i won't bore you with repeating myself too much. The artworks on show invite the public to think about today and tomorrow's weather with the gravity that befits the topic but also with lightness and humour, asking questions such as:

Should human culture be reshaped to fit strange weather or should we reshape weather to fit our strange culture? Who is going to take advantage of climate chaos and how will strange weather benefit me? How will you choose to work, celebrate, live and die when weather gets weird?

Since so many pieces in the shows got my attention, i thought i should write on last post about Strange Weather. This one will include plastic flowers modelled on the alien species that have started to invade the Arctic, an instrument that monitors 'space weather', HazMat Suits for kids and more.

'Raindrop' by Alistair McClymont as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.scinecegallery.com 1.jpg
Alistair McClymont, Raindrop. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin


Alistair McClymont, Raindrop

'Raindrop' by Alistair McClymont as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.scinecegallery.com 5.jpg
Alistair McClymont, Raindrop. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

Inspired by a machine invented in the 1970s by two physicists from the University of Manchester, Alistair McClymont built a machine which sole purpose it to allow a drop of water to float mid air.

The Raindrop machine works like a mini open wind tunnel and it is both a continuation of the scientists original experiment and an artwork exhibited in a very different cultural context.

'Occupy II' by Tania Kitchell as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 3.jpg
Tania Kitchell, Occupy II. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

'Occupy II' by Tania Kitchell as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 2.jpg
Tania Kitchell, Occupy II. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

Scientists and ecotourists visiting the Arctic are bringing in thousands of seeds that were attached to the sole of their shoes or are falling off from their pockets. It wasn't a problem until a few years ago but temperatures are warming up and the seeds are now taking root, potentially disrupting the ecosystems.

Tania Kitchell 's Occupy II is a representation of alien and invasive plant species that have been sighted in Arctic regions.

In Occupy II the plants are made of ABS plastic that have been formed with 3D modelling software and formed on a 3D printer. Photos were used as references to reproduce plant forms; there is an intentional disregard for a precise likeness as sizes and proportions are not adhered to, but there is a strong connection to the existing plants.

Does this disconnect between perception and reality in any way parallel our misconceptions about the Arctic?

This was one of my favourite works in the show. It is simple and elegant. Yet, there is something slightly disturbing in this assembly of 3Dprinted plants. Even before you even read the text that explains what they represent.

'Solar Wind Aeroscope' by Jonas Hansen and Lasse Scherffig as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Tirnity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegalelry.com.jpg
Jonas Hansen and Lasse Scherffig, Solar Wind Aeroscope. Photo Science Gallery at Tirnity College Dublin

The Solar Wind Aeroscope is another subtle, unassuming but fascinating work.

Jonas Hansen and Lasse Scherffig built an instrument that monitors 'space weather', the environmental conditions created by the Sun and the solar wind and that ultimately influence our own atmosphere.

The system relies on global network of amateur HAM-radio stations known as WSPRnet to measure radio signal range. The signals from this network can travel for thousands of kilometers, by bouncing off of the ionosphere. Because the ionosphere and its reflectivity is affected by the solar wind, the activity of the WSPRnet echoes space weather conditions.

By monitoring radio signals and their origin, the Solar Wind Aeroscope can 'see' the current atmospheric conditions caused by the solar wind. To make these measurements perceptible, the instrument translates the solar wind into actual wind--transforming the gallery into a terrestrial weather station for extraterrestrial weather. The effect is actually very subtle, you need to place your hands on the Aeroscope to perceive the strength of the wind.

'Archive of Old and New Events' by Jodi Newcombe and Tega Brain as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 5.jpg
Jodi Newcombe and Tega Brain, Archive of Old and New Events'. as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

'Archive of Old and New Events' by Jodi Newcombe and Tega Brain as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 2.jpg
Jodi Newcombe and Tega Brain, Archive of Old and New Events, as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

'Archive of Old and New Events' by Jodi Newcombe and Tega Brain as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 1.jpg
Jodi Newcombe and Tega Brain, Archive of Old and New Events, as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

Archive of Old and New Events, by Jodi Newcombe and Tega Brain, imagines what festivals and gatherings will be like after climate change has seriously messed up with the seasonal cycles and local climate conditions that were at the origin of these revelries. Strange new cultural phenomena could take their place.

This speculative project, set in 2030, brings side by side two collections; The Collection of Lost Festivals holds materials from events that have fallen into oblivion. The other is The Collection of New Festivals which documents recent cultural phenomena that have emerged in response to new weather and climate.

How could anyone not covet these stunning 'Toboggan shorts' worn by 2028 race winner worn for the 5th Ave Toboggan Race in New York City:

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N2.01: Toboggan shorts worn by 2028 race winner. Region: USA. Event: 5th Ave Toboggan Race

Or this container of dried jellyfish snack that will be a staple of our diet when jellyfish overpopulates seas that are getting increasingly warm.

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N1.01: Takeaway container with jellyfish snack. Region: China. Event: Sea Moon Jellyfish Feast

'Hazmat Suits for Children' by Marina Zurkow as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 1.jpg
Marina Zurkow, Hazmat Suits for Children. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

Creepy children-size mannequins wearing HazMat Suits are loitering around the Science Gallery.

The corporation DuPont patents their Tychem cleanup suits for hazardous materials, these outfits are used in petroleum industry disaster response to mitigate ecological disasters. Cleanups are thus conducted with the same materials that potentially harm us. Marina Zurkow hand-sewn little HazMat suits for children. These suits, however, are sealed to prevent them from ever being worn by a child.

'Forecasts from the Future' by CoClimate as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegalelry.com 3.jpg
CoClimate, Forecasts from the Future. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

CoClimate invited artists and scientists in STRANGE WEATHER to produce scripts about what weather forecast will be like in the future. And then they had the brilliant idea of installing a fully functional weather forecast set, complete with green screen, teleprompter and camera. Visitors are invited to step in and play the television weatherman, recording the futuristic forecast of their choice and share it on YouTube if they want to.

More images from the show:

'SurvivaBall' by The Yes Men as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 3.jpg
The Yes Men, SurvivaBall. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin


Halliburton´s SurvivaBall from The Yes Men Fix the World

'SurvivaBall' by The Yes Men as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 2.jpg
The Yes Men, SurvivaBall. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 2.jpg
STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

'Isobar Drawings' by Met êireann as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 2.jpg
Met êireann, Isobar Drawings. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

'Climate Bureau' by CoClimate as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 3.jpg
CoClimate, Climate Bureau. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

Strange Weather: Forecasts from the future was curated by artists Zack Denfeld, Cat Kramer from CoClimate and meteorologist Gerald Fleming. The show is open at the Science Gallery in Dublin until 5 October 2014.

Previously: Strange Weather: into the clouds, A People's Archive of Sinking and Melting and The Tornado diverting machine.

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Meta-Life. Biotechnologies, Synthetic Biology, ALife and the Arts

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Published on : 2014-08-14 13:28:08

Meta-Life. Biotechnologies, Synthetic Biology, ALife and the Arts, a Leonardo-MIT Press e-book edited by Annick Bureaud, Roger Malina and Louise Whiteley.

Available on amazon USA and UK.

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Publisher Leonardo/Olats writes: Artists have opened new avenues in the art world by employing these developments in biotechnology, synthetic biology and Artificial Life; going from inanimate to autonomous objects to living creatures; exploring the thin border between animate and inanimate; confronting the grown, the evolved, the born and the built; and raising aesthetic but also social, political and ethical issues.

New forms of 'exo-life' may not arrive on Earth from outerspace by hitching a ride on a meteorite, but instead come out of the lab, designed by scientists - or perhaps artists - weaving together biology and computing in a petri dish or bioreactor.

Over the last fifty years our ideas about the nature of life have changed dramatically. Revolutionary advances in genetics and molecular biology have given us new insights into how carbon based life on our planet originates and functions. In more recent years the development of synthetic biology has dramatically expanded our ability to design and modify life forms. At the same time, disruptive developments in computing technologies have led to the possibility of generating digitally-based artificial life. And outside traditional institutions, emerging DIY, bio-hacking and citizen science movements have begun to appropriate laboratory technologies, challenging ideas about the governance of the life sciences.

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Ai Hasegawa,I Wanna Deliver a Dolphin..., 2011

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Vincent Fournier, Post Natural History, 2012

Meta-Life is an anthology of articles published in Leonardo about the living, the non-living and the 'kind of living' in all their forms. There are 45 articles in total, some date back to the 1990s, others are newly commissioned texts. In fact, the whole DIY Biology - BioHacking section is composed of new commissions.

A quick look at the titles of the sections demonstrates the wide-range of themes explored: Between Bio, Silico and Syhtetic: Life and the Arts reflects on how our notions of life and of art are challenged both by computer technology and biotechnologies; Artificial Life and the Arts as well as the section called BioArt contain theoretical and philosophical texts about both fields, Bio - Fiction, Design, Archictecture explores the thin border between reality and fiction; DIY Bio - BioHacking proposes various points of view on the bio DIY movement.

I haven't been through the whole ebook but i've read most of the articles and so far, so very good. To be blunt, I don't trust Leonardo to publish texts that are approachable and engaging. Intelligent, informative and thought-provoking, they do very well but appealing to broad(ish) audiences? I wasn't not so sure. Well, that's where i was very wrong. There is no abstruse language nor complex theories in this ebook. Trust me, I deliberately looked for it.

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Hugo de Vries, a Dutch botanist and early geneticists, who suggested the concept of genes, rediscovering the laws of heredity in the 1890s while unaware of Gregor Mendel's work, for introducing the term "mutation", ca. 1930. Photo © C.G.G.J. van Steenis

Here's just a couple of examples of the essays i've enjoyed, in no particular order:

Dr Craig Hilton writes about his collaboration with artists Billy Apple® to create what is simultaneously a subject of art and of scientific endeavor. This project consisted in growing the first biological tissue made available for artists and the first biological tissue for science research made available by an artist as art. The Immortalisation of Billy Apple® is a work of art that lives, multiplies and has the potential to create other works of art ad infinitum, especially because there is no restriction placed on the use of the Billy Apple® 's tissue.

The flamboyant Adam Zaretsky authors a sex-infused manifesto about the utopias surrounding the art (manipulation) of the living.

Following the exhibition GROW YOUR OWN ... Life After Nature, Michael John Gorman offers a coherent and crystal-clear introduction to synthetic biology, in which he also manages to include a few reflections on intellectual property, ethical and regulatory framework, media frenzy, and market interests.

Anna Dumitriu explores the relationship between bacterial and digital communications networks through the lessons she learnt while working on her project Cybernetic Bacteria 2.0.

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Anna Dumitriu, Cybernetic Bacteria 2.0

Steve Tomasula places bio art into the context of the tradition of manipulating nature for aesthetic reason.

Oron Cats investigates the concept of being alive or 'just kind of living.' He makes some important points about the absence of a cultural language that would help audiences deal with tissue culture and other fragments of life. How should we culturally articulate and position lab-grown life when we have no cultural reference that would allow us to relate to it?

David Benqué has an enlightening conversation with independent synthetic biologist Cathal Garvey. The discussion explores the difference between DIY biology and BioHacking, the fear of biotechnology escaping the labs, the cost of creativity in biology, etc.

The first text i ran to was actually Alessandro Delfanti's research about DIY biology and its position in the world of science, the world of the market and the state.

I think i could go on and on. I carried Meta-Life in my e-reader throughout the Summer and enjoyed dipping in and out of it. I think that this collection of texts by illustrious artists, designers, and researchers constitutes a great reference to anyone who has a mild-to-strong interest in how the art world is exploring the synthetic and the aesthetic, the artificial and the new natural, the fictional and the ethical dimensions of life.

Get that one for your Kindle, it's a gem.

Image on the homepage: Brandon Ballengée. Malamp Reliquaries, 1996-ongoing. Unique IRIS prints on water-colour paper. 2003-07.

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A People's Archive of Sinking and Melting

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Published on : 2014-08-11 12:09:47

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Amy Balkin et al, A People's Archive of Sinking and Melting

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Amy Balkin et al, A People's Archive of Sinking and Melting

There's nothing remarkable about a can of tuna, an empty packet of candies, a plastic toy bird, or a battered video tape of a Queen concert. But stories and issues that affect us all can hide behind the most mundane objects.

These items and many others are part of A People's Archive of Sinking and Melting, a growing collection of objects "from places that may disappear owing to the combined physical, political, and economic impacts of climate change." Each time the project is exhibited in a new city, artist Amy Balkin calls for local people to contribute to the archive and donate items which constitute an evidence of rising sea level, coastal erosion, desertification and extreme weather getting more extreme. Each object is then catalogued and archived as if it were a rare historical artifact, because one day it may well be.

The materials in the archive mark the asymmetry of present or anticipated loss, standing in as proxies for the contributors' recognition of the geopolitical production (or spatial politics) of precarity and slow-onset dispossession. Together, the contributions form one material record among many; a collection of community-gathered evidence, a public record, a midden.

So far, the collection includes objects from the antarctic, items rescued from the floods caused by Superstorm Sandy, water from Venice, etc. And i'm looking forward to seeing what Dubliners will contribute to the project as the archive is now on view (and open for submissions) at the Science Gallery. In the meantime, i've contacted
Amy Balkin to learn more about the work:

'A People's Archive of Sinking and Melting' by Amy Balkin et al as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. 1.jpg
Amy Balkin et al, A People's Archive of Sinking and Melting. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

Hi Amy! The items collected come from places that may disappear owing to the impact of climate change. So how does Dublin fits into this? Are the effects of climate change already visible in the city and more generally in the country?

I hope your questions will be answered by people living in Dublin and across Ireland and its outlying islands, whose contributions to the archive, whether related to predicted increases in coastal flooding events along the East Coast, or other experienced or forecast climate impacts, will form a new Ireland Collection.

What kind of items have people in Dublin added to the archive so far?

None yet-the exhibition opened recently-the call for contributions is at https://dublin.sciencegallery.com/strangeweather/peoplesarchive

What were the most unexpected items that have been contributed to the archive so far?

It's hard to say, as each contribution is complicated by the circumstances and context of it's submission. Your readers can view the entire archive at sinkingandmelting.tumblr.com and decide for themselves.

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A bottle cap found on a beach outside of Dakar, Sénégal. Submitted by Matt Swagler. (Photo courtesy of A People's Archive of Sinking and Melting)

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The flag of Nepal, a nation experiencing more frequent flooding, landslides and soil erosion due to accelerated glacier melt. Submitted Sandhya Parajuli, of Nepal's New York City consulate. (Photo courtesy of A People's Archive of Sinking and Melting)

And which ones would you say are the the most representative of the climate change crisis?

Items contributed from places where people's ability to remain is difficult or becoming untenable, such those in the Kivalina (Alaska, USA) Collection.

The description of the project says that "Through common but differentiated collections, contributed materials form an archive of the future anterior; what will have been." Could you elaborate on this? Explain in more details what the 'future anterior' means?

The phrase "common but differentiated" is taken from Article 3 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which states "The Parties [which have ratified the convention] should protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.

In A People's Archive of Sinking and Melting, all contributions together form a 'common' archive, a coalition of items from radically varied situations. These are 'differentiated' based on the UNFCCC Party status/commitment category of the country each was contributed from, which is included on the museum label (Annex I, II, B, Non-Annex, No Status) for each item in the archive .

In the context of the archive the language of "common but differentiated" is taken to situate the archive against the inequity of present climate politics, including the UNFCCC treaty process, which as it politically constructs the atmosphere, influences the habitability of locations represented by objects in the archive, influencing the meaning of the archive, the individual items within it, and the lives of the archive's contributors.

The future anterior, which describes "what will have been," is a position the archive asks its contributors, audience, and users to take. I understand this as a political task demanding insight and the willingness to confront uncertainty and loss.

'A People's Archive of Sinking and Melting' by Amy Balkin et al as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. 2.jpg
Amy Balkin et al, A People's Archive of Sinking and Melting. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

'A People's Archive of Sinking and Melting' by Amy Balkin et al as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. 3.jpg
Amy Balkin et al, A People's Archive of Sinking and Melting. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

I think what strikes me the most about A People's Archives is how tangible it makes the issue of climate change feel. When i discovered the project at the Science Gallery, i suddenly visualized how much part of daily life it has become, even if we don't necessarily realize it yet. The fact that you left the archive in the hands of everyone played a big role in this feeling. But do you 'curate' the collection? Or do you accept anything people give?

One framing idea of the archive is that it is not 'curated,' and is always presented in its entirety, whether all the contributions are exhibited, as they are in Dublin, or available as a research tool in archived collections, as it was at the Prelinger Library earlier this year.

As of August 2014 the archive contains roughly 100 items, none of which weighs more than 1kg, so presenting all the contributions hasn't created any logistical problems. If the archive gets much larger, there may be a need to do things differently.

Everything contributed to date has been accepted, other than two items offered that misunderstood the parameters of the archive. More complicated is the question of including items contributed after specific weather events, such as materials sent from Germany after the 2013 European Floods or from New York and Cuba after Superstorm Sandy, or materials offered from places that are at risk but will have significant adaptation infrastructure built, like Venice, Italy, which is getting a $7 billion flood-protection system.

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A dollar bill found floating in the basement of the offices of Smack Mellon, a Brooklyn arts organization, after flooding due to Superstorm Sandy. Submitted by Adriane Colburn. (Photo courtesy of A People's Archive of Sinking and Melting )

Where will the objects go after the Dublin show? Because the project has been exhibited in several countries so far so i suspect that the collection is getting quite voluminous by now.

The archive will go to New York next for the exhibition Lenin: Icebreaker, which opens at the Austrian Cultural Forum in December. I'm currently working with Olga Kopenkina to solicit contribution from across Russia, with particular attention to the northern autonomous okrugs (administrative divisions) and Murmansk Oblast.

If your readers want to contribute to A People's Archive of Sinking and Melting, from Ireland, Russia, or anywhere else, how to submit is www.sinkingandmelting.org

Thanks Amy!

Strange Weather: Forecasts from the future was curated by artists Zack Denfeld, Cat Kramer and meteorologist Gerald Fleming. The show is open at the Science Gallery in Dublin until 5 October 2014.
Previously: Strange Weather: into the clouds and The Tornado diverting machine.

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Where are the Luddites - An Open Call for BioLuddites

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Published on : 2014-08-07 13:29:40

BIO LUDDITE grade h264

In the early 19th century, textile artisans started to break into factories at night to destroy the new labour-saving machines that their employers had bought. They saw the stocking frames, spinning frames and power looms as a threat that would make their skills obsolete and lead to lower wages.

The movement began in Nottingham on 11 March 1811 and spread throughout England over the following two years. The artisans who opposed the newly introduced machinery were called the Luddites. The origin of the name is uncertain but over time, the term "Luddite" came to describe people opposed to any form of technological progress. In the late 21st century, the neo-luddites emerged. They protest(ed) against the negative impact that technology has on individuals, their communities and the environment and aspire to a return to a 'simple lifestyle'.

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17 year old Austin Haughwout was assaulted on a Connecticut beach by a woman upset about his use of a drone

Newspapers suggest that society is now facing the rise of a new type of neo-luddites. They don't fear for their jobs or for any damage to the ecology, they fear the loss of privacy brought about by drones and google glasses. In any case, the smartest form of luddism or neo-luddism is not one that commends violence, it's one that calls for a better understanding of new technologies and demands that people (all of them not just the ones who can afford to buy these technologies) have a voice in how they are to be distributed and used.

Speculative designer Lisa Ma, however, is pushing the discussion further. Over the past few month, she has been looking for the relevance of Luddism in the modern era by shifting focus from digital and communications technologies to the innovations of biotechnology industries. These biotechnologies which have started to pervade the food, health and ecological systems will undoubtedly attract their own forms of luddism. So who are the BioLuddites? Where are the group and individuals who ask for a demystification of biotechnologies and who are calling for a public debate about GMOs, systems ecology, hormone replacement, etc?

As part of her residency at Near Now, a programme which works closely with artists and designers to produce projects that explore the place and impact of technology in everyday life, Lisa Ma organised a panel titled Where are the Luddites - An Open Call for BioLuddites. The event took place on 4th June 2014, in Nottingham, birth place of the Luddite movement.

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John O'Shea (photo)

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Lisa Ma

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unMonastry

Taking part in the discussion were Lisa Ma, Ben Vickers, David King and John O'Shea.

John O'Shea gave a compelling talk about his very funny adventures in proposing the implementation of a Meat Licence, and in bio-engineering a Pigs Bladder Football. Both are projects that catches the imagination of the public but the artist also discussed the legal, ethical and cultural questions that arose during the development of the works.

David King, who has a PhD in molecular biology, is the founder and Director of Human Genetics Alert, the founder of Luddite 200, and of the Breaking the Frame conference. He is also a frequent contributor to media debates on genetics and it is clear from his contribution to the panel that he has some strong and thought-provoking opinions about synthetic biology, three-parent babies, the need to engage in a dialogue with the powerful systems that control biotechnological innovations, etc.

Ben Vickers is a curator, writer, technologist and self-proclaimed Luddite. He talked about the functioning of unMonastery, a space that aims to develop a new kind of social space, akin to co-living and co-working spaces, drawing influence from both Monasteries and HackerSpaces, with a focus on the process of co-creation and co-learning between the community and unMonasterians. He is also a NearNow fellow.

An Open Call for BioLuddites was a great event and i can't recommend enough to watch the video of the panel:

Image on the homepage via BBC news.

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Strange Weather: into the clouds

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2014-08-05 12:22:35

One of the thing that surprised me when i moved from Belgium to Italy all those years ago is that i suddenly found myself in a culture where the weather wasn't part of the conversation. The sky never changed much. Every day was mostly sunny and fairly dry. This is less the case nowadays. I'm living in London where the Summer has been boiling hot. Meanwhile, Northern Italy has been showered by torrential rains. The weather has decidedly taken a turn for the weirder.

Newspapers publish alarming and disconcerting articles about climate change and 'extreme' meteorological phenomena on a daily basis. It seems that no matter how much we cycle to work and recycle our trash, this is too little too late (becoming a vegetarian would have a bigger impact anyway.) Climate change is a phenomenon so complex and grim that most people feel powerless and inadequate even taking about it..

'SurvivaBall' by The Yes Men as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 1.jpg
The Yes Men, SurvivaBall as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

The exhibition Strange Weather: Forecasts from the Future at the Science Gallery in Dublin gives a more human dimension to the issue. The show features 26 artworks that, each in their own way, act as springboards for new discussions and debates about the eccentricities of the weather.

The show goes from the very absurd (the Halliburton survivaball) to the very dark and dramatic. But the adjective that pervades the show is 'fun'. While visiting the exhibition, i've been drinking cloud, watched a 1959 film that speculates on how weather control departments would use satellites and met with little child mannequins in Hazmat suits in the most unexpected places.

Strange Weather is one of those rare shows that's never dull, never obscure, never preaching. A quick video walk-through of the exhibition will prove my point:

Given my enthusiasm for the exhibition, there's a lot i'd like to blog: all the ideas, all the works i've discovered. Being notoriously lazy, i'm going to bide my time and slowly publish stories about Strange Weather. Here's a first batch of artworks which explore clouds in the most poetical and critical ways:

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Karolina Sobecka collecting clouds near Dublin. Photo Jodi Newcombe

'Thinking Like a Cloud' by Karolina Sobecka as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 3.jpg
Karolina Sobecka, Thinking Like a Cloud. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

'Thinking Like a Cloud' by Karolina Sobecka as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 2.jpg
Karolina Sobecka, Thinking Like a Cloud. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

Karolina Sobecka climbed to the Sally Gap in the Dublin Mountains to harvest clouds, decant them into little tubes and invited gallery visitors to consume them.

The artist built her own Cloud Collector, a device that is sent into the atmosphere attached to a weather balloon. Clouds condense on its mesh wings and flow into a sample container. These cloud samples are analysed for microorganisms and ingested by experimental volunteers. By combining the cloud microbiome with their own, the volunteers become part cloud and keep a cloud journal reporting their transformation.

Thinking Like a Cloud owes a lot to Aldo Leopold's land ethics motto 'thinking like a mountain'. It describes an ability to appreciate the deeps interconnectedness of all the elements in the ecosystems. By ingesting clouds, clouds become part of you and you become part of the atmosphere yourself.

'I Wish To Be Rain' by Studio PSK as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com  1.jpg
Studio PSK, I Wish To Be Rain. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

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Studio PSK, I Wish To Be Rain

I was strangely moved by Studio PSK's proposal for the ash dispersal of your loved ones. I don't care whether it is speculative or art or whatever, i want this project to be real.

I Wish to Be Rain suggests that after their death, people could literally become part of the weather by having their ashes used for cloud seeding, the dispersing substances into the air to trigger rain.

Following a funeral and cremation of a body, the crematorium will give the bereaved an aluminium vessel that contains their loved ones remains and a dormant aerostat. When the family are ready, the encapsulated ashes are sent skywards tethered to a weather balloon, to be dispersed in the macroscopic structure of a cloud. The capsule becomes increasingly pressurised. At the point it reaches the troposphere, the highest point at which clouds form, the capsule bursts, dispersing the ashes into the clouds below. When dispersed into the clouds, the remains get enveloped into a macroscopic structure far beyond the most grandiose human experience. But this is short lived, again they enter the domain of the miniature, falling back to earth as raindrops, before eventually finding their way back into the sea.


Matt Kenyon, Cloud 2014 (Dublin version)

'Cloud' by Matt Kenyon as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 1.jpg
Matt Kenyon, Cloud. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

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Matt Kenyon, Cloud. Photo University Times

'Cloud' by Matt Kenyon as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 3.jpg
Matt Kenyon, Cloud. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

One thing i noted when i spoke to people who live or used to live in Dublin is that they all have something to say about the fluctuating prices of the houses in the city. Matt Kenyon's Cloud therefore feeds into two concerns: real estate and weather. The artist turned the last 10 year of housing market into a stream of small house-shaped clouds that fly to the ceiling of the gallery, stick there for a while, lose stamina (and metaphorically value) and then fall down to the floor.

The viewers witness common house-ownership dreams disappear as fast as they materializes -- just as many saw the false promises of their homes disappear as they were quickly foreclosed upon during this period.

Strange Weather: Forecasts from the future was curated by artists Zack Denfeld, Cat Kramer and meteorologist Gerald Fleming. The show is open at the Science Gallery in Dublin until 5 October 2014.
Previously: The Tornado diverting machine.

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POLSPRUNG (POLE SHIFT) - Devastating Experimental Set-ups

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2014-08-02 12:36:23

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POLSPRUNG, installation view in Riga. Image courtesy of FIELDS

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POLSPRUNG

Yet another work i discovered in Riga when i visited Fields - patterns of social, scientific, and technological transformations, an exciting exhibition featuring artworks that challenge existing viewpoints, deconstructs social issues, and proposes positive visions for the future.

POLSPRUNG, by Erich Berger, explores the psychology and politics of disaster. The installation focuses on geomagnetic reversal, a change in Earth's magnetic field that makes poles switch ends with the magnetic north pole becoming south, and vice versa. Scientists believe that the reversal is cyclically and some have even calculated that the moment is long overdue.

Starting from (im)possible disasters during a polar reversal, an attempt is made to generally ask how we deal with threat scenarios and states of emergency. We are hereby especially interested in the role of mass media in the production of a permanent state of emergency, as well as the social function and the possible exploitation of disasters for personal, economic and political purposes.

The POLSPRUNG installation features a series of instruments that measure the earth's magnetic field to detect a possible polar reversal, register the gamma radiation caused by the solar wind and compare the data with the speculative disastrous gamma radiation data during a polar reversal. A small reading space also provides information about polar reversal research and disaster speculation, a magnetite laboratory and a notebook in which visitors can write down their thoughts about disasters.

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POLSPRUNG, installation view in Riga. Image courtesy of FIELDS

Interview with the artist:

Hi Erich! I've been looking online to understand the meaning of Polsprung and the more i googled, the more lost i felt: it is geomagnetic reversal and not pole shift, right?

In Polsprung I refer to the geomagnetic reversal, when magnetic north and south are reversing their position and earth its geomagnetic polarity. The German word for the geomagnetic reversal is POLSPRUNG and I use it because of "SPRUNG" - which means "jump" as substantive. A "jump" implies some form of time, something very short in our time experience. But a geomagnetic reversal has a duration of about 10.000 years - nothing we humans would consider a jump, it is only a jump considering geological time. I liked the idea of the jump which makes us think about different time scales.

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Appearance of magnetic field before and during a reversal (credit: Gary Glatzmaier/Los Alamos National Laboratory)

The other thing about frantically googling Polsprung is that it does look scary. Maybe worse than anything we might read about climate change (sorry for the link to that awful publication) Yet, it doesn't get that much coverage in newspapers. How do you explain that? Is it because we cannot yet feel the effects of the Polsprung?

True, from time to time we hear about a possible catastrophic scenario related to the polar reversal, but maybe it is not so popular amongst journalists, as the concept is not so easy to sell. And there are less "esoteric" scenarios around. This was also the reason I picked it, because it is rarely used in talking about catastrophes.

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POLSPRUNG, installation view in Riga. Image courtesy of Erich Berger

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POLSPRUNG, installation view in Riga. Image courtesy of Erich Berger

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POLSPRUNG, installation view in Riga. Image courtesy of Erich Berger

Could you tell us about the setting of the installation. It's very techy, with instruments that look scientific. Yet, the work explores 'the role of mass media in the production of a permanent state of emergency, as well as the social function and the possible exploitation of disasters for personal, economic and political purposes.' So what is the role of the instruments if the works explore the psychological and political dimensions of a catastrophe?

A constant flow of states of emergency produced through media was the starting point for me to work on POLSPRUNG. In the last years I saw myself constantly bombarded with possible catastrophes, the swine flue, the bird flue, climate change, global warming, peak oil, an asteroid hitting, super solar storms, you name it. Some of these scenarios are just briefly in the media, some stay for some weeks and month others are permanently with us.

It is a really interesting phenomena when you observe it for a while. Most of these scenarios never play out, or were totally disproportionate or are predicted for a future we are not part of. What they have in common is that they create states of emergency which create fear, keep us occupied and make us worry about our current life, our loved ones and our future. States of emergency are also perfect for enforcing measures which we could call unpopular, so I am also interested in the politics of these states.

So I thought to create a test environment, a laboratory, a vehicle to explore such a case. I was looking for a possible scenario which would not be possibly created by human impact like climate change or random (act of god?) catastrophes like an asteroid collision. My interest in geology lead me to the geomagnetic reversal. If we look at the reversal statistics of the last 5 million years then the next reversal is long overdue - so I found my perfect state of emergency. Now, the speculations of possible catastrophes related to a polar reversal range from nothing to a complete mass extinction event. One quite probably effect could be an increase in gamma radiation on the ground leading to a higher rate of mutation in biological organisms but also to unwanted interaction with the electronic hardware. The electromagnetic spectrum was always of high interest to me in my artistic work and so I settled for the gamma radiation increase as possible catastrophe. With this as basic setting the installations manifests itself in 3 parts:

* Disastrous test arrangement # 1: Polar Reversal Detector
A magnetometer measures the earth's magnetic field to detect a possible polar reversal and make the deviation of the pole from its "normal" position audible through sonification.

* Disastrous test arrangement # 2: Muon Telescope
A muon telescope permanently registers the gamma radiation caused by the solar wind, comparing the measured data with the speculatively disastrous gamma radiation data during a polar reversal.

These two arrangements are self build but functioning instruments which permanently detect the fluctuations of the earth magnetic field (magnetometer) and the related gamma radiation (muon detector). With enough patience and time at hand (a couple of hundreds to thousand years) one can observe the reversal process and gamma ray increase - I call that radical witnessing.

Though the instruments are built quite simple and open they still remain black boxes for the visitor and make it difficult to completely understand the whole process. The detection really happens but people also need to believe in it and need to make them believe to actually be able to create the state of emergency.

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Image courtesy of Erich Berger

* Disastrous test arrangement # 3: Reading and Feedback
Includes information about polar reversal research and disaster speculation. The disaster notebook invites spectators to give personal feedback on their fear of disasters.

The third arrangement is central, as here fears and personal catastrophes of visitors and witnesses are collected. A black book on a writing table invites people to write down their stories and thoughts. The book collects the stories of the different exhibition venues. I haven't seen the result from Riga yet, but in Hamburg, where POLSPRUNG was exhibited for the first time, people made intense use of it. At the same table you find literature to read regarding the polar reversal, the dynamic environment our earth represents when you look at it from a deep time perspective but also philosophy and ecology of geology and disaster sensationalism. For the more playful mind there is also a box where you can investigate and play with magnetic minerals.

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Curie's Children [glow boys, radon daughters] (Martin Howse and Erich Berger measuring radiation). Picture by Liisa Louhela during Case Pyhäjoki

"POLSPRUNG is the first installation in a cycle of the works that deal with the psychology and politics of disaster." Do you already know what the upcoming installations will be like?

I am currently working on the second work called INHERITANCE together with Finnish/Danish jewellery artist Mari Keto.

I already mentioned my interest in geology which specifically focuses on techno minerals, like uranium and thorium ores or rare earth elements, their origin, occurrences, mining, technologies and politics, etc. In one of my field trips quite close to my home I discovered native copper in the bedrock.

I knew this was exceptional and informed the geological research centre. To make a long story short, my sample also caught the attention of the researchers working for the Finnish nuclear waste industry. They saw the sample as physical evidence that copper is resistant enough as canister material for nuclear waste in Finnish bedrock. This was a rather
unforeseen and unfortunate outcome of my activities and the only sensible way for me to respond was to start to engage with the topic.


Into Eternity - Trailer

Finland currently builds the first permanent nuclear waster storage facility called Onkalo. There is a quite interesting film by Danish film maker Michael Madsen which I can recommend, called INTO ETERNITY which explores the facility and the people working around it. Also last year I participated in the excellent nuclear field lab Case Pyhäjoki organised by Mari Keski-Korsu which engaged with Finnish nuclear politics from an art and activism viewpoint. Anyway, nuclear processes are vast in time but also in their spacial and economical dimensions, and as such really difficult to grasp. I was thinking of ways how to make them more comprehensive and now we are working on sets of family jewellery which are rendered unwearable through their radionuclide content for quite a long time.

Family jewellery is perfect to inverse the logic of nuclear waste. Family jewellery is a vehicle for family identity and wealth into the future. With nuclear waste we in-debt the future. We have now researched the legal conditions we are working in and planned 3 different jewellery sets which will be presented as installations. Details are too early to
explain.

Another off-spin of this workings is the Curie's Children [glow boys, radon daughters] workshop which I developed together with Martin Howse.

Thanks Erich!

This is the last weekend to discover the Fields exhibition, produced by RIXC and curated by Raitis Smits, Rasa Smite and Armin Medosch. The show remains open at Arsenals Exhibition Hall of the Latvian National Arts Museum (LNAM) in Riga until August 3, 2014.

Other posts about the Fields exhibition: Sketches for an Earth Computer, Ghostradio, the device that produces real random numbers, On the interplay between a snail and an algorithm and FIELDS, positive visions for the future.

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Mexican cowboys, rubber masks and the little Merman. This was July in London

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2014-08-01 11:23:40

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Trujillo/Paumier, Untitled (Muxes 10), 2009

I'm one day late (how lame!) for my wrap-up of the exhibitions i enjoyed in London in July.

Starting obviously with the favourite one. Men y Men by TrujilloPaumier at New Art Projects. Joaquin Trujillo and Brian Paumier went to Oxaca to portray two communities who communicate radically different ideas of masculinity. Paumier's Moros are cowboys standing next to their horses, while Trujillo's Muxes shows a community of mixed gender people living in the indigenous Zapotec culture of Oaxaca.

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Trujillo/Paumier, Untitled (Muxes 4), 2009

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Trujillo/Paumier, Untitled (Muxes 11), 2009

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Trujillo/Paumier, Untitled (Moro 2), 2012

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Trujillo/Paumier, Untitled (Moro 27), 2012

Trujillo Paumier: Men y Men closed on 20 July.

British Folk Art at Tate Britain is bizarre, quirky but thankfully never condescending. Instead of wasting time speculating on is it art/is it not art?, the exhibition celebrates people's creativity and resourcefulness. Expect gigantic boots that served as tradesmen's signs, a cockerel made by prisoners from the Napoleonic Wars out of mutton bones, imposing ship figureheads, embroidered remakes of classic paintings, etc. I'd be more enthusiastic if folks didn't have to pay £13.10 to enter.

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As assortment of oversized objects, including a boot used to advertise a cobbler's. Photograph: Anna Partington/Rex Features

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British Folk Art © Ana Escobar for Tate

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Image by HFA

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Jesse Maycock, King Alfred 1961, Museum of English Rural Life. Photo: Tate

The show is up until 31 August 2014. Happy Famous Artists has a great flickr set.

Still at Tate Britain, there's a couple of rooms hosting Chris Killip's photos. Love the work, not so much the sponsor of the exhibition.

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Chris Killip, Whippet Fancier. Serie Huddersfield, 1973. © Chris Killip

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Chris Killip, Crabs and People, Skinningrove, North Yorkshire © Chris Killip, 1981

One of the most interesting galleries in London, Calvert22, is showing the work of photographers and video artists who explore identity and place in early 21st century Russia alongside the pre-revolutionary works of Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky.

I liked the work of Alexander Gronsky a lot. Especially the series Pastoral, which looks at the desolate spaces where the urban and the rural meet.

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Alexander Gronsky, Yuzhnoe Tushino II, 2010. From the series "Pastoral: Moscow Suburbs"

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Alexander Gronsky, Dzerzhinskiy VI, 2011. From the series "Pastoral: Moscow Suburbs"

Close and Far: Russian Photography Now is at Calvert22 until 17 August.

I also went to the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill, London. The building and botanical gardens opened in 1901 to host the collection of a business man who traveled the world to gather objects related to world culture, natural history and music. Among the 350,000 objects, there are lots of stuffed animals, a Spanish Inquisition torture chair and a charming little Merman (the husband of the mermaid?)

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Specimen of Ningyo mermaid, Feejee mermaid or merman, Japan, with paper-mache body, and fish-tail originally from the Wellcome Collection

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Flying Fox (Pteropus sp.) Skeletal - taxidermy double preparation of Flying Fox

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European Hedgehog specimen from the Natural History Gallery

I never found the merman, alas! But i discovered doublepreps: half the animal is shown as taxidermy, the other half is stripped to its skeleton.

One of the Horniman galleries has a fascinating photo exhibition that documents the lives of indigenous peoples in the Russian Arctic. The photos were taken by British photographer Bryan Alexander who has been travelling to the Arctic since 1971.

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Grisha Rahtyn, a Chukchi reindeer herder, iced up at -30 C after working with his reindeer during the winter

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Khanty women in traditional dress at a spring festival in the village of Pitlyar

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When thrown into air at -51C, boiling water transforms into vapour and ice. This is because boiling water is close to a gas and breaks into tiny droplets that can freeze at once

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Reindeer graze in the Yamal peninsula

Whisper of the Stars: Traditional Life in Arctic Siberia is at the Horniman Museum until 07 September 2014. Interview with the photographer. More photos in The Guardian.

I'll end with An Idiosyncratic A to Z of the Human Condition at the Wellcome Collection. The exhibition offers a selection of some of Henry Wellcome's objects, medical artefacts, paintings, photographs and sculptures, along with a couple of contemporary artworks.

I wasn't as impressed as every single journalist who published glowing reviews of the show in their newspapers but i did enjoy some of the artefacts. Such as this photo of rubber beauty masks that removed wrinkles and blemishes.

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Rubber beauty masks, 1921. Image Wellcome Library

Or this fetching corrective ear-cap, patented by Adelaide Claxton in 1945 to wear at night in order to 'correct and prevent the disfigurement of outstanding ears'.

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The Claxton improved patent ear-cap, 1925-1945.

The exhibition is up until 12 October 2014.

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Not all documents are records

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2014-07-29 12:09:34

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Facade of the Open Eye Gallery. Paul Morrison, Urformen © Photo Katie Louise Dixon

Last month, i visited the Liverpool Biennial. It was boring (BO-RING) but it was still worth the trip. One: because I love Liverpool and i'm happy as long as people around me have that cute accent. Two: because of the show at the Open Eye Gallery. It is part of the official programme of the biennial but it was one of the few shows in town that made me think and reflect upon the art world and the way it is represented/represent itself.

Not All Documents Are Records: Photographing Exhibitions as an Art Form looks at photographic works that bring a critical and artistic gaze on some of the most important art events in the world and asks the question: "Can photography be the site where the history of an exhibition is produced and still retain its independent artistic autonomy, thus overcoming pure documentation?"

Four bodies of works are brought together to make us reflect on this question. Two are contemporary, they are by Cristina De Middel of the Afronauts fame and by Ira Lombardia. The other two, by Ugo Mulas and Hans Haacke respectively, are historical.

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Venice, 1968. Workers protests, XXXIV Esposizione Biennale Internazionale d'Arte Photo Ugo Mulas © Ugo Mulas Heirs

Venezia, 1968. Proteste studentesche, XXXIV Esposizione Biennale Internazionale d'Arte
Venice, 1968. Student protests, XXXIV Esposizione Biennale Internazionale d'Arte Photo Ugo Mulas © Ugo Mulas Heirs

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Photo © Paul Karalius

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Photo © Paul Karalius

Venezia, 1968. Sala di Rodolfo Aricò, XXXIV Esposizione Biennale Internazionale d'Arte
Venice, 1968. Room of Rodolfo Aricò, XXXIV Esposizione Biennale Internazionale d'Arte. Photo Ugo Mulas © Ugo Mulas Heirs

I'm going to start with Ugo Mulas' take on the Venice biennale of 1968. I knew the photographer's work for his portraits of the superstars of the art world in the 1960s. But the photos exhibited at the Open Eye Gallery are miles away from the glamour you might expect from the Venice event.

Mulas had been covering each edition of the Venice biennial since 1954. The images in the gallery date from 1968, a year marked by social uprisings around the world (Mai 68 in France, anti-Vietnam war demos, etc.) The art biennial, which naturally echoes changes in society, experienced similar turmoils. Students and intellectuals took to the street to protest against the establishment represented by the Venice Biennale, brandishing banners that denounced the "policed biennial of the bourgeoisie" (policemen were indeed guarding the entrance of the Giardini) and claiming that 'La Biennale è fascista.'

They also questioned the institution itself on matters such as freedom of speech and vilified it for its sales department, accusing the biennial of being a capitalist playground for the rich. The biennale's board subsequently dismantled the sales office.

In solidarity, some of the participating artists covered up their works, withdrew their work, turned them over or wrote over "in these conditions i'm not working."

Mulas photographed the most salient moments of the opening: the protests, the curators carelessly drinking spritz on Piazza San Marco, the police crackdown against demonstrators, etc.

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Photographic Notes, documenta 2, Gonzales Nun, 1959 © Hans Haacke © DACS, London

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Photographic Notes, documenta 2, Kandinsky, Micky Mouse, 1959 © Hans

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Photographic Notes, documenta 2, Léger Family, 1959 © Hans Haacke © DACS, London

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Photographic Notes, documenta 2, Cleaning Women, 1959 © Hans Haacke © DACS, London

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Photographic Notes, documenta 2, Magritte 2 Profiles, 1959 © Hans Haacke © DACS, London

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Photographic Notes, documenta 2, Pollocks, Large Group, 1959 © Hans Haacke © DACS, London

The context of Hans Haacke's photos of the second edition of Documenta in Kassel is very different from the one of the 1968 biennial. Founded in 1895, the Venice biennial is the oldest exhibition of its kind. Documenta was created 60 years later as a means for bringing Germany up to speed with the most modern and contemporary art forms that had been banned under Nazi's politics of artistic obscurantism and censorship.

Haacke, still a student at the Art Academy in Kassel in 1959, worked as an exhibition guard for the second edition of Documenta. In his free time, he independently took on the task of visually 'documenting Documenta'. The 26 black and white images hanging on the walls of the Open Eye Gallery are witty and full of humour. Instead of being strictly about the art exhibited, the images display Haacke's interest into the rituals and peculiarities of an art event. They show how absurd the dialogue between artworks and viewers can be. A family attempts to find some relationship between a description in the catalogue and the work hanging on the wall. A young boy is far more interested in mickey magazine than in the Kandinski hanging behind his back. Other photos gives us a glimpse of what happens behind the curtains of the art world: cleaning ladies doing their job, a Moore sculpture waiting next to a pile of bricks to be carried to the exhibition room.

Nowadays, most of us have seen images of the kind. The museum photos of Thomas Struth or Martin Parr's sneaky portraits of collectors at Dubai Art Fair, for example. In 1959, photographers' sociological explorations of the art world were pretty unusual.

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Cristina De Middel. Photo © Paul Karalius

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Cristina De Middel

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Cristina De Middel

Cristina De Middel was invited by the gallery to imagine what the future edition of the Liverpool Biennial would be like. The commission came as the preparations for the event were underway.

Instead of going into wild speculations, the photographers looked for evidence in the archives of photography and press cuttings that documented past editions of the event. She then used and remixed the images and headlines in prints that cover the walls of the first room of the gallery.

To create her collage, she contacted both the photographers who had made the original images and the artists whose work appear in the photo. The photographers gave her the permission to use and rework their images. Many of the artists, to my great surprise, refused. So while artists have been constantly borrowing and re-appropriating other artists works to create new ones, they negate photographers the possibility to do so. Does that mean that a photographer is not an artist? That they can only produce images that document? To meet their censorship, De Middel painted over the artworks appearing in the photos, blurring and often even distorting their contour. Her new body of work interrogates thus the authenticity of photography (something she had done previously with the Afronauts, a series that charted the 1964 Zambian space programme which never actually came to its full realization) and highlights the tension between creativity and documentation that the photographic medium encompasses.

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And I Think to my selffffffffff what a wonderful worlllllllllld © Ira Lombardia, 2012

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And I Think to my selffffffffff what a wonderful worlllllllllld © Ira Lombardia, 2012

Upstairs, i almost missed the work of Ira Lombardía. During her visit of the last edition of Documenta, the artist saw a light phenomenon on the floor of one of the exhibition gallery. She mistook it for an authentic work of art (such confusions happen to the best of us when dealing with contemporary art.) Lombardía took a photo of it and went on to create a whole narrative around it. She invented an artist and a description for the artwork that never was. She then copied faithfully the catalogue of the Documenta exhibition and substituted one of the artworks by her photo of the light phenomenon and added the bio of her fictitious artist. She later wrote a letter of apology to the artist whose name and work she had removed from the catalogue.

Not All Documents Are Records: Photographing Exhibitions as an Art Form, curated by Lorenzo Fusi, remains open until 19 October 2014 at the Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool.

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