Fire and Forget: On Violence

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2015-07-28 10:31:26

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Julius von Bismarck, POLIZEI, 2015. Photo by Timo Ohler

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He Xiangyu, Tank, 2011-13. Plant-based-tanned leather. Photo by Timo Ohler

Fire and Forget is military jargon for a type of missile guidance that can hit its target without the launcher being in line-of-sight. The expression is symptomatic of a new type of warfare in which the people firing, killing and destroying are emancipated from the fear for their own life and the direct physical -or sometimes even visual- contact with the victim(s) of their shooting.

The exhibition Fire and forget. On violence currently on view at KW in Berlin asks whether this loss of direct physical confrontation has led to a new definition, production and perception of violence.

The show follows four main threads: the first one explores how Borders are decided and enforced to contain political, economic, cultural, religious, or ethnic tensions. Affect explores the long-term impact that violence from a distance has on the human psyche. Memory/Remembrance investigates whether history and commemoration inhibits or heighten violence. The final section looks at how the Event of violence itself reflects how each new situation is once again a singular moment of release, and of a decision for violence.

Fire and Forget is a brilliant and timely exhibition. However, while walking from room to room, i kept wondering why most works were not accompanied by descriptions and commentaries. Some of the pieces on show as self-explanatory, others left me frustrated. I could guess they were interesting and coherent with the whole show but i missed the elements to fully understand why.

Fortunately, i am a blogger and had plenty of time to waste online looking for the missing pieces of information...

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Kris Martin, Untitled, 2010. In the background, works by Henning Rogge and Hrair Sarkissian. Photo by Timo Ohler

Many Europeans (and Americans) tend to associate the Middle East with violence and several pieces in the show brought some much needed nuance to our prejudices.


Sharif Waked, To Be Continued, 2009

Sharif Waked's film, To Be Continued, follows the format of the "living martyr" videos made by a man or woman declaring in front of a camera their determination to carry out a suicide bombing mission.

In this video, however, the protagonist, played by Palestinian actor Saleh Bakri, doesn't read his last will. Instead, he reads a lengthy excerpt from One Thousand and One Nights. By mixing the familiar and feared figure of the suicide bomber with poetic texts, Sharif Waked confounds our expectations of masculinity in the Islamic world.

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Hrair Sarkissian
, Execution Squares, 2008

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Hrair Sarkissian
, Execution Squares, 2008


Video interview with Hrair Sarkissian on Execution Squares

Hrair Sarkissian's series Execution Squares shows fourteen public squares in three Syrian cities (Aleppo, Lattakia and Damascus) at sun rise, the time when executions usually take place in the country. The condemned person is often brought to the square at 4.30am, and their body is left there until around 9am so that citizens can witness the scene on their way to school or work.

In the late 1990s and 2000, the practice became less frequent in Damascus because the capital had become more internationally visible, Sarkissian explained in an interview. But they kept doing it in other cities such as Aleppo, where at least one person was hanged every month.

The artist was as a schoolboy when he passed one of these squares and saw three bodies hanging in the street. The image has haunted him ever since. Sarkissian's images show empty streets, there is not hanging body to gape at, no trace of violence. Yet, once you know the story, the photos seem to be haunted by the brutality that took place on those squares.

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Roy Brand, Ori Scialom and Keren Yeala Golan, The Country Sand Printer, 2014. Photo by Timo Ohler

Nowhere does daily border violence manifests itself so stringently as inside and around the ever expanding Israel land. Walls, watchtowers, constant controls and other obstacles regulate the movements of Palestinians.

A room in the show is almost entirely occupied by The Country Sand Printer, by Roy Brand, Ori Scialom, and Keren Yeala Golan. The machine traces the evolution of the Israeli state through its settlements, reprinting over and over the expansion of Israel into the sand. A mechanic metal needle lightly draws lines in the sand, ensuring that traces of previous plans remain visible while new lines demarcate new territory borders.

A nearby video by Armin Linke, Road Block at Gaza City, Netsarem Settlement Beach Road (sorry couldn't find any image of it online and i didn't take any of the work while i was visiting the show) seems to respond to the invasive printing machine. The film shows how an event as banal as a roadblock near Gaza City forces Palestinians to make long and uncomfortable detours by foot in order to get to their intended destination. Colonization isn't just a theft of land, it is also a theft of time.

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Henning Rogge, Mascheroder Holz, 2011

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Henning Rogge, Altwarmbüchener Moor, 2013

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Henning Rogge, Projensdorfer Gehölz, 2013

Like Sarkissian
, Henning Rogge documents in photos the scars left by violent events. This time however the traces are still visible. His series shows how nature has adapted to the craters left by the bombs launched during World War II in Germany. After the war, the craters have slowly become part of the landscape and ecology, offering new pond habitats for animals, including endangered species.


Damien Hirst, Do It, 1995-96

The ultra short video above reminded me how good Hirst can be. The artist takes a gun and explain very quietly the best way to shoot yourself.


NEOZOON, Buck Fever (excerpt), 2012

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NEOZOON, Buck Fever (video still), 2012

Buck Fever explores the emotions that surround the violence perpetrated against animals. The film is a You Tube collage of hunter amateur recording the moments directly preceding and following the shooting an animal.

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James Bridle, Drone shadow, ongoing project. Photo Timo Ohler

Guided missiles and drones are clear examples of Fire and Forget technology. James Bridle's silhouette of a drone painted on the street in front of KW reminds us that, in spite of being located far away from the battlefield, drone operators fire but do not forget. Studies have shown that the pilots can still develop mental health problems like depression, anxiety as well as other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

More images from the show:

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Joachim Koester, The Place of Dead Roads (production still), 2013

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He Xiangyu, Tank, 2011-13. Plant-based-tanned leather. Photo by Timo Ohler

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Daniil Galkin, Tourniquet, 2015

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Fire and Forget. On violence, installation view. Photo: Timo Ohler

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Emily Jacir, Bank Mirror, Ramallah, April 22, 2002, 2002

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Ala Younis, Tin Soldiers, 2010

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Ron Amir
, Malek, 2004

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Chto Delat, Time Capsule. Artistic report on catastrophies and utopia, 2014/2015. Photo: Alexander Koch / KOW

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Mircea Cantor, Shooting, 2005

Fire and forget. On violence was curated by Ellen Blumenstein and Daniel Tyradellis. The show remains open until August 30, 2015 at KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin.

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The Glomar Response. James Bridle solo show in Berlin explores torture, surveillance, imperialism and immigration

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Published on : 2015-07-23 11:11:09

The Glomar response refers to the US government prerogative of power to "neither confirm nor deny" the existence of information. The expression was created by the CIA in 1975 in response to media inquiries about a covert program which involved the Glomar Explorer, a salvage vessel built to recover a sunken Soviet submarine. The form of non-denial denial is symptomatic of the times we are living. Nevertheless, the ever-increasing opacity of political and social processes accelerated by computer code and secret law is countered by the growing ability of individuals and activists to use those same networked technologies to investigate and act with ever greater agency.

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James Bridle, Seamless Transition. Inflite Jet Centre, Stansted airport Photograph: Picture Plane

The Glomar Response is also the title of James Bridle's solo show which will open tomorrow at NODE, a gallery in Berlin dedicated to the interweaving areas of art, science and political activism. Bridle's exhibition will present a series of works that use computer code, investigative journalism, and visualization to explore hidden spaces and classified information. Whether they investigate CIA torture, automated police surveillance, relics of British imperialism or immigration, the works on show demonstrate the impact that politics has on technology and architecture.

"Politics are encoded into the architecture and the technology," the artist told me during a skype discussion. "They betray the intent. But we still need some literacy in order to be able to decode the situation so my work aims to make these codes visible but it also calls for the need to raise this literacy.

There's also another aspect to these works and it's that i'm not entirely convinced by this process. I think that there are limits to what you can do. None of these works is going to lead to huge changes in the system. The pieces in the show also speak of that frustration."

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Diego Garcia (Waterboarded Documents 001), 2015. Photo by Bresadola+Freese/drama-berlin.de

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Chagos (Waterboarded Documents 002), 2015. Photo by Bresadola+Freese/drama-berlin.de

Bridle will premiere the work Waterboarded Documents in Berlin. The installation is made of research documents surrounding the operation of websites and domains that end in .io. These web domains, popular with a number of trendy companies, are linked to the island of Diego Garcia and the other islands of the British Indian Ocean Territory. But most people who use these domains are unaware of the dark story of these islands.

The islands of the British Indian Ocean Territory form an archipelago that was forcibly depopulated in the 1970s by the United Kingdom, at the request of the United States which needed an unpopulated island to set up a military base. Ironically, the base is called Camp Justice. Because of its strategic position, the US used it as a base during the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as a CIA black site and transit point for the extraordinary rendition programme.

The British government has consistently denied any illegalities in the expulsion. Moreover, in 2010, the British Cabinet announced that most of the archipelago would be turned into the world's largest Marine Protected Area, a move that will prohibit commercial fishing as well as oil and gas exploration in the area. Leaked documents seem to confirm Chagossians' suspicion that this MPA was created to prevent the islanders from returning to the islands.

The case has not been heard by any international court of law as no appropriate venue has been found to accept the case.

The navigation charts, maps and other documents shown in the gallery have been submitted to waterboarding, just like some of the people 'interrogated' in the framework of the rendition program. The same water damage also alludes to the water damaged claimed by the British Government to prevent the release of information relating to the UK's role in the CIA's global rendition operations. Finally, these damaged documents illustrate the complicity between contemporary technological networks and older forms of entrenched and imperial power.

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Inflite Jet Centre, Stansted airport Photograph: Picture Plane

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Special Immigration Appeals Court, London. Photograph: Picture Plane

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The interior of Inflite Jet Centre. Photograph: Picture Plane/The interior of Inflite Jet Centre

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Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre, Heathrow. Photograph: Picture Plane/Picture Plane

Bridle is also showing Seamless Transitions, a work that demonstrates the quality of his investigative practice and that makes tangible and visible sites shrouded in invisibility and secrecy.

Developed in collaboration with digital imaging studio Picture Plane, Seamless Transitions puts into images three unphotographable sites of immigration judgment, detention and deportation in the UK: the Special Immigration Appeals Court, whose design is informed by the need to present secret evidence; Harmondsworth Detention Center, a privately run prison near London Heathrow Airport; and the Inflite Jet Center, a private terminal at Stansted Airport that the Home Office uses to deport rejected asylum-seekers.

Bridle reconstructed the spaces by collating witness accounts, planning applications and open source information in the hope that the resulting animation would raise a debate about the legal procedures of immigration and detention. Moreover, the work looks at the use of new imaging practices to carry out investigation in the absence of other visual media such as photography.

Having no pictures available of a phenomenon has become a technique of not talking about it, he told ICON. Physical representations make more tangible the kind of things people find it difficult to talk about because they are non-physical, digital or complex.


James Bridle Interview - Seamless Transitions

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James Bridle, Fraunhofer Lines 004 (Information Commissioners Reports, 2008-2012), 2015

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James Bridle, Fraunhofer Lines 005 (David Miranda), 2015

The third piece exhibited at NOME is Fraunhofer Lines, a series of visualizations from a variety of sources, including the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture and the UK Information Commissioner's reports on automated police surveillance. These documents, released following Freedom of Information requests, have been analyzed with computer vision to reveal the extent of redaction and the discrepancies between different documents. They are named and patterned after the gaps in the sun's spectra discovered in 1814 by physicist Joseph von Fraunhofer, which both revealed the absence of certain frequencies of light reaching the earth's surface and pointed toward new methods of analysis and understanding.

And i'll end the story with video for anyone who doesn't get a chance to see the exhibition in Berlin this Summer:


re:publica 2015 - James Bridle: Living in the Electromagnetic Spectrum

James Bridle - The Glomar Response is at NOME gallery in Berlin from 25 July until 5 September 2015.

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High-Speed Horizons. Using sonic booms and nuclear energy to power aviation

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2015-07-16 09:07:34

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Tim Clark, The Boomjet, High-Speed Horizons, 2015

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X-1SB and Boomjet models receiving initial coats of paint. Photo by Juuke Schoorl

High-Speed Horizons is another of my favourite works exhibited at the graduation show of the Royal College of Art earlier this month.

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One of the models in the exhibition space

In this project, Design Interactions graduate Tim Clark plays with the language and history of aviation, offering us a trip into critical and speculative visions of alternative energies.

Aviation, says the designer, has always been viewed as a test bed for radical new ideas and visions to reshape culture, politics and economics on Earth and far beyond it. Some of these dreams of alternative futures became reality and even transformed other areas of life (especially in military or space exploration contexts), while others were aborted because of political, economic or environmental pressures.

Tim Clark tapped into this fascination for unrestricted innovation to design a series of airplanes that investigate the possibility to ditch environmentally damaging fossil fuels in favour of sonic booms and nuclear power.

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Bell X-1. Image Smithsonian Air and Space Museum


Chuck Yeager Breaks the Sound Barrier, X-1, 1947. Newsreel from 1948

The most experimental and speculative aircraft research is often classified. An example of this is the American X-Plane. Started after WW2 and still in operation today, the program conceived a series of experimental planes and helicopters and used them to test new technologies and aerodynamic concepts.

The first of American X-Plane model, the Bell X-1, was the first aircraft to break the sound barrier in level flight in 1947. This breakthrough opened up a new field of supersonic research and led to experimentation in aerodynamics and new propulsive systems.

Supersonic speed travel is accompanied by an explosive 'bang' sound called sonic boom. These sonic booms also generate enormous amounts of energy. In theory they could thus power planes with an efficient, green and sustainable energy source.

But sonic booms are one of the main reasons why supersonic airplanes never became more commonplace. In several countries, the law prevents aircrafts from flying above Mach 1 due to the shock wave's auditory and vibrational disturbance.

Limiting the impact of sonic booms is a current concern of the aviation industry as many are dreaming of a new supersonic age. But if it is to be more successful than the last one (the Concorde required high quantities of fuel), a supersonic plane would need an energy source free from the influence of global affairs, politics and planet scarring infrastructure. Something that we can quickly produce and have complete control over -- like sonic booms.

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Tim Clark, The X-1SB, High-Speed Horizons, 2015

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Tim Clark, The X-1SB, High-Speed Horizons, 2015

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Tim Clark, High-Speed Horizons (X-1SB being airdropped by B-29 Duo mothership. Oil on canvas by Michael Lightfoot), 2015

The X-1SB, aka the "Sonic Sundae", is Clark's counterhistorical research aircraft designed to test the feasibility of this sonic boom propulsion. Its cone shape design is the combination of a .50 caliber bullet (an object know to be stable while breaching the sound barrier) just like the design of its predecessor the X-1 aircraft, and the shape of the shock wave created by an object traveling faster than sound.

The front of the aircraft features a housing for an interchangeable triangular spike used to test how different shapes could create potentially optimized shock waves to use for propulsion.

And because Clark's work is counter historical, Sonic Sundae and Boomjet (more about that one below) were to have existed before any of the anti-noise laws were to have been instituted.

He told me: I am suggesting that in a sonic boom powered world those laws would not exist because the ability to travel with that type of greener propulsion would probably be more beneficially economically than instituting the flight restrictions. In this case the benefit of the disturbance would outweigh the desire to limit the noise.

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Conceptual drawing of a supersonic biplane. Image: Christine Daniloff/MIT News based on an original drawing courtesy of Obayashi laboratory, Tohoku University

Anyway if we were to live in true supersonic age these restrictions would need to be changed/relaxed anyway sonic booms or not. The big research in limiting the sonic boom now is finding a way to make a wing design that will create little to no noise when it breaks the sound barrier so it does not disturb people below the plane. Amazingly this question was answered over a decade (1935) before we even broke the sound barrier (1947) by Adolf Busemann who suggested a supersonic biplane design where the two wings would be used to cancel the other wave out.

It's crazy to think a supersonic jet would resemble a biplane from the 1920s but it would probably be the best solution and it was theorized way before it ever would be seen as a problem which is amazing. MIT just did some research into it in the last year or so and it would totally work and might be quite viable.

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Tim Clark, B-29 Duo, High-Speed Horizons, 2015

Because of its large rear circumference, the X-1SB cannot fit under the fuselage or wing of a larger aircraft for taxiing and takeoff. The B-29 Duo "Double Mama" has thus been designed to be its carrier aircraft of choice.

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An F/A-18 Hornet breaks the sound barrier in the skies over the Pacific Ocean, 1999. Image Ensign John Gay, U.S. Navy (via wikipedia)

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Tim Clark, The Boomjet, High-Speed Horizons, 2015

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Tim Clark, The Boomjet, High-Speed Horizons, 2015

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Boomjet on mobile aircraft crawler. Computer rendering by Tim Clark

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Tim Clark, High-Speed Horizons (Boomjet taxiing at water-based airport. Watercolor on paper by Hector Trunnec), 2015

Another of Clark's designs, the Boomjet is a sonic boom-powered commercial transport that sustains its flight by driving 47 propellers from the pressure energy released by the aircraft as it travels faster than the speed of sound. The sonic boom transport vehicle stores excess energy for use during takeoff which can be vertically or from water depending on location.

Clarks then looked at another source of energy that could disentangle aviation from its dangerous relationship with fossil fuels: nuclear energy.

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The Convair NB-36 in flight, with a B-50. Photo: USAF - U.S. Defenseimagery.mil photo no. DF-SC-83-09332 via wikipedia

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Advert from November 1951 AIR TRAILS magazine promoting the promise of nuclear power as an unlimited energy source for flight. Image from Secret U.S. Proposals of the Cold War: Radical Concepts in Factory Models and Engineering Drawings by Jim Keeshen

During the cold war both the USSR and the USA had an experimental nuclear aircraft program. While the risk was high, nuclear power promised an aircraft with theoretically unlimited range capable of constant flight.

Only two known nuclear aircraft that have been fully built and tested. The NB-36H was America's nuclear-powered aircraft. Refitted for this new propulsion system after it was damaged in a storm and deemed unfit for combat, the aircraft featured a direct phone line to the President of the United States that was to only be used in the event of an incident. The NB-36H completed 47 test flights between 1955 and 1957 over New Mexico and Texas. It was scrapped in 1958 when the Nuclear Aircraft Program was abandoned.

The Soviet Union's aircraft, the Tu-95L, was based on the Tupolev Tu-95 strategic bomber and missile platform. First flown in 1952, the plane is still in operation today and Russia sometimes flies it in close proximity of the airspace of other European countries in order to show its military prowess.

The nuclear variant of the TU-95 flew from 1961 to 1965.

Both the USA and the Soviet Union had ambitious plans for their second nuclear-powered aircraft but due to environmental concerns, political pressures, and rumors that the other side called off their research both projects were shelved.

While the risk of a nuclear accident is deemed too high in aviation, we have nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, submarines and 11% of all the world's electricity being based on nuclear power.

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Tim Clark, High-Speed Horizons, 2015

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Tim Clark, High-Speed Horizons, 2015

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Designer applying the 500+ dry transfer window decals and nuclear logo decals to the Air Laissez-faire model aircraft. Photo by Juuke Schoorl

Clark proposes to update to our times a technology that looked promising at the height of the Cold War. And the ones willing to bankroll the experiment might not be countries but technology companies which are already at the forefront of some ambitious innovative projects (Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic for example.) Because these tech companies are increasingly under governmental scrutiny so that they don't get out of control, they might also take to the sky to further innovation free from the restriction of regulation, utilizing the energy source historically clouded by politics to sustain continuous flight and prove that anything is indeed possible through innovation. An inspiration for the idea is Blueseed. This "start-up community on a ship" proposes to gather hundreds of immigrant entrepreneurs on a floating startup city in international waters off the coast of San Francisco and have them live and work undisturbed by the burden of national boundaries and government regulations.

Clark's mini Silicon Valley on air is called Air Laissez-Faire. A nuclear power plant on board of this self-piloting aircraft would provide virtually limitless amounts of continuous propulsion, while a crew made of nuclear physicist, chemical engineer, radiation consultant, and other figures would ensure safety on board. The mega plane presents satellite and radar communication equipment for remote business meetings, all necessary business facilities as well as a landing space on its rear wings that allow small 'commuter aircrafts' to whisk entrepreneurs from and back to major business centers.

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Tim Clark, High-Speed Horizons, 2015

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Carsten Höller: experiments in perception and decision-making

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Published on : 2015-07-15 12:08:14

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Carsten Höller, Isomeric Slides, 2015 during installation of Carsten Höller_ Decision at Hayward Gallery, Courtesy the artist and LUMA Foundation. Photo David Levene

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Carsten Höller, Divisions (Wall Painting with Aphids), 2015 © Carsten Höller. Installation View Carsten Höller l Decision, Hayward Gallery, London 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Massimo De Carlo, Milan. Photo © Linda Nylind

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Carsten Höller, The Forests, 2002_2015 © Carsten Höller. Installation View Carsten Höller l Decision, Hayward Gallery, London 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Air de Paris. Photo © Linda Nylind

The show to see and experience in London at the moment is Carsten Höller: Decision.

Carsten Höller likes to unsettle, upset, delight and surprise. You get out of one of his shows and feel like you've lived through 'something' new and totally unexpected. The Hayward retrospective is an experiment, from the perspective of the artist but also from the one of the visitor, in perception and decision-taking: are you going to enter through the doors on the right or on the left? Will you dare to be harnessed to a flying machine? Will you ingest one of those curious little pills that are dropped from the ceiling? Or will you just watch and see what other people chose? And in the end, will you conclude that this was fun but a bit shallow or that it was thought-provoking and enlightening? Is this art or just entertainment?

The exhibition is what you would call a crowd-pleaser (although the £15.00 entrance ticket is definitely not crowd-pleasing.) Which in conservative art speak is a bit of an insult. It shouldn't be. Because art doesn't need more snobs and because if gigantic slides, bouncy Stonehenge and rain rooms are what it takes to get everyone to experience and discuss contemporary art, that's good enough for me.

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Carsten Höller, Decision Corridors, 2015 © Carsten Höller. Installation View Carsten Höller l Decision, Hayward Gallery, London 2015. Courtesy of the artist, Photo © Linda Nylind

The first decision you take is whether to access the show by the entrance on the right or the one on the left. I chose the left one and very quickly regretted it. I found myself in the darkness of a long, a very very long steel corridor. It sometimes goes up, sometimes down, it bends to the right or to the left. With each step, i was wondering whether i should keep on walking or whether i should just hurry back to where i came from and take the other entrance (which takes you to a similarly awful corridor if i understood correctly.)

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Carsten Höller, Flying Mushrooms, 2015 © Carsten Höller. Installation View Carsten Höller l Decision, Hayward Gallery, London 2015. Courtesy of the artist, Photo © Linda Nylind

Now of course i find it funny so i'd recommend the experience to anyone because one day, i promise, you finally reach the end of the tunnel and find yourself in a room inhabited by huge hallucinogenic mushrooms. They are mounted on a mobile and you're invited to push them around. And every single adult but me thought it was jolly good fun to push a bar and make the mushrooms turn.

Next, please!

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Carsten Höller, Pill Clock, 2011-2015 © Carsten Höller. Installation View Carsten Höller l Decision, Hayward Gallery, London 2015. Courtesy of the artist, Photo © Linda Nylind

Right after the red and white mushrooms, you encounter a growing pile of red and white little pills. Every three seconds, a little capsule drops from the ceiling. You're actually free to pop one with water from the nearby mini sink. There's no information about what is inside the pills. That's part of the experiment, of course, it's another decision you have to take.

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Carsten Höller, Upside Down Goggles, 2014 © Carsten Höller. Installation View Carsten Höller l Decision, Hayward Gallery, London 2015. Courtesy of the artist, Photo © Linda Nylind

People were queuing to try the Upside Down Goggles. The goggles are based on an experiment carried out by George Stratton in the 1890s. While studying the perception in vision, the psychologist wore special glasses which inverted images up and down and left and right. He found that after 4 days wearing them continuously, his brain started to compensate, and he could see the world the right way up again.

Höller's perception-altering goggles are very disorientating. You feel a bit seasick and unsure of your steps.

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Carsten Höller, Two Flying Machines, 2015 © Carsten Höller. Installation View Carsten Höller l Decision, Hayward Gallery, London 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery. Photo © Ela Bialkowska

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Carsten Höller, Two Flying Machines, 2015 © Carsten Höller. Installation View Carsten Höller l Decision, Hayward Gallery, London 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery. Photo © Ela Bialkowska

More queuing! This time to be harnessed to one of the Two Flying Machines. You can pretend you're Icarus flying over the Waterloo Bridge. Except that you're just dangling from a big arm and slowly rotating while other visitors and the odd guy on the top the double deckers are pointing at you.

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Carsten Höller, Dice (White Body, Black Dots), 2014 and Reflections On Her Eyes, Reflections On My Eyes, 1996_2015 © Carsten Höller. Installation view Carsten Höller_ Decision, Hayward Gallery, London, 2015

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Carsten Höller, Half Mirror Room, 2008_2015 and Snake, 2014 © Carsten Höller. Installation View Carsten Höller l Decision, Hayward Gallery, London 2015. Courtesy of the artist. Photo © Linda Nylind

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Carsten Höller, Dice (White Body, Black Dots), 2014. Installation view Carsten Höller_ Decision, Hayward Gallery, London, 2015. Courtesy the artist

The top floor of the Hayward also houses Half Mirror Room, a room with floor-to-ceiling mirrors positioned at 90-degree angles to one another, another disorienting experience. How big is this room really? Are these mirrors or is this another of Höller's tricks to play with our perception? In the middle of the room is a super big dice. Instead of black dots, it has holes for children to crawl through.

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Carsten Höller, Two Roaming Beds (Grey), 2015. © Carsten Höller. Produced with Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm, and HangarBicocca, Milano. Installation view_ Carsten Höller_ Decision, Hayward Gallery, London, 2015

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Carsten Höller, Two Roaming Beds (Grey), 2015 and Half Clock, 2014 © Carsten Höller. Installation View Carsten Höller l Decision, Hayward Gallery, London 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Thyssen-Bornewmisza Art Contemporary

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Carsten Höller, Two Roaming Beds (Grey), 2015 © Carsten Höller. Installation View Carsten Höller l Decision, Hayward Gallery, London 2015. Courtesy of the artist, Photo © Linda Nylind

Meanwhile, two self-navigating robotic beds are quietly gliding around one of the gallery spaces. The beds move in relation to each other, using radio beacons and a laser. During the day, a big sign informs you that you shouldn't touch them but if you have £300 to spare, the beds are yours to sleep in at night. I read that for that price, you also get "dream-enhancing toothpaste."

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Carsten Höller, Isomeric Slides, 2015 © Carsten Höller. Installation View Carsten Höller l Decision, Hayward Gallery, London 2015. Courtesy of the artist and LUMA Foundation Photo © Linda Nylind

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Carsten Höller, Isomeric Slides, 2015 © Carsten Höller. Installation View Carsten Höller l Decision, Hayward Gallery, London 2015. Courtesy of the artist and LUMA Foundation Photo © Linda Nylind

Höller's shiny Isometric Slides are a very efficient marketing ploy to lure you into the building. They are also the last episode of your journey into the exhibition. You get to climb to the top of the space with a fabric bag and then merrily slide all the way back to normal life.

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The catalogue is pure Höller. It takes the form of two books wrapped in glossy white paper. Two because it forces you to decide which one to read first. One of the books contains new short stories by six writers - Naomi Alderman, Jenni Fagan, Jonathan Lethem, Deborah Levy, Helen Oyeyemi and Ali Smith - responding to the theme of decision-making. The other one focuses on the show itself with a photographic interpretation of the multiple ways of experiencing Höller's immersive exhibition and an interview in which the artist talks to curator Ralph Rugoff about participatory art, proprioception, machines for meditation, and aphid's non-sexual mode of reproduction. I haven't looked at the short stories yet but i greatly enjoyed reading the interview.

Decisions is at the Hayward Gallery in London until 6 September.
If you're in London this weekend, do check out the programme of Hayward's performance day on Saturday 18 July, as part of their exhibition Echoes & Reverberations.

As usual, i took some pretty bad photos at the show.

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OpenSurgery, a DIY laparoscopic surgery robot

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2015-07-09 09:26:57

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Frank Kolkman, OpenSurgery, 2015

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Frank Kolkman, OpenSurgery, 2015

Robots are transforming surgery. The Da Vinci Surgical System, for example, allows long and complicated procedures to be performed with super human precision and dexterity. All while decreasing patient trauma and providing a more comfortable experience for the surgeon.

Costing up to $2.000.000 however, a surgical robot represents large capital investments and only becomes cost effective after intensive use and thus fits into a more "market driven" concept of healthcare that indirectly contributes to the overall rising medical expenditures.

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A surgeon sitting in an ergonomic control console, a few meters removed from the operating table, uses specialized joysticks to control a variety of tiny surgical instruments attached to robotic arms

One of the corollaries of expensive professional healthcare is the rise of communities of uninsured Americans who share videos on Youtube to demonstrate how they performed medical hacks on themselves.


Henry Knoll, How to make your own dental fillings to performing minor amateur surgery, $5 DIY Cosmetic Dentistry, 2009

Designer Frank Kolkman, a new graduate of the Design Interactions course at the Royal College of Art in London, wondered if a compromise could be found. His OpenSurgery project investigates whether building DIY surgical robots, outside the scope of healthcare regulations, could provide an accessible alternative to the costly professional healthcare services worldwide.

There have been several attempts within the robotics community to come up with cheaper and more portable surgical robots. The RAVEN II Surgical robot, for example, was initially developed with funding from the US military to create a portable telesurgery device for battlefield operations. The machine is valued at $200.000 and all of the software used to control the RAVEN II has been made open source. However, The Raven doesn't have the (often costly) safety and quality control systems in place, required by regulation to allow it to be used on humans meaning that it might take a while before the RAVEN II will be fully embraced by regulatory and commercial worlds. In any case, most medical hacker communities would still be unable to afford its $200.000 price tag.

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Frank Kolkman, OpenSurgery, 2015

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Frank Kolkman, OpenSurgery, 2015

For the past five months, Kolkman has thus been trying to build a DIY surgical robot for around $5000, by using accessible prototyping techniques like laser cutting and 3d printing and by sourcing as many ready-made parts as he could find.

Designing a surgical robot that could perform laparoscopic surgery (a surgery so minimally invasive that it is also called keyhole surgery) presents a number of challenges. The designer found an answer to each of them:

- the many laporoscopic tools that the robot would have to handle can be ordered directly from their Chinese manufacturers using Alibaba.
- these tools are usually sterilized in an autoclave, a machine that uses high pressure and hot steam that is not very likely to be accessible to many people. The bulky machine could be replaced by a domestic oven (for stainless steel instruments) or a microwave (for plastic parts.)
- Kolkman also replaced the trocar, a medical device that functions as a portal for the subsequent placement of other instruments, with a design that uses 3d printed parts controlled by DC servo motors that rotate around a central pivotal point.

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Frank Kolkman, OpenSurgery (domestic sterilization), 2015

The electronics to control the robots were copied from designs used in 3d printer communities, while the software was build with Processing.

The main challenge the designer encountered however was intellectual property. In a bid to make the project open source, Kolkman tried to develop his own mechanisms. Unfortunately, it appeared that most of the fundamental concepts that allow robotic surgery have already been patented. Fortunately, he also found out that as long as you make parts protected by intellectual property in private and for non commercial purposes they are theoretically exempted from patent infringement.


Frank Kolkman, OpenSurgery, 2015

After five months of iteration, the robot does move. The designer concludes:

And based on my experiences the concept of a DIY surgical robot is surprisingly plausible. If you would be able to build a community of makers who bring the same amount of attention and dedication to building surgical tools as they do to designing 3d printers and cnc machines these days, I believe accessible DIY surgery equipment would be within reach.

And of course you still need a trained surgeon to operate the machine.

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Frank Kolkman, OpenSurgery, 2015

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Frank Kolkman, OpenSurgery, 2015

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Frank Kolkman, OpenSurgery, 2015

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Frank Kolkman, OpenSurgery, 2015

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Frank Kolkman, OpenSurgery, 2015

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Sudden Justice: America's Secret Drone Wars

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2015-07-01 12:03:42

Sudden Justice: America's Secret Drone Wars, by investigative journalist Chris Woods.

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Available on amazon USA and UK.

Publisher Oxford University Press writes: In Sudden Justice, award-winning investigative journalist Chris Woods explores the secretive history of the United States' use of armed drones and their key role not only on today's battlefields, but also in a covert targeted killing project that has led to the deaths of thousands. The CIA nurtured and developed drones before the War on Terror ever began, seeking a platform from which it could monitor its targets and act lethally and instantly on the intelligence it gathered. Since then, remotely piloted aircraft have played a critical role in America's global counter-terrorism operations and have been deployed to devastating effect in conventional wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. Drone crews, analysts, intelligence officials and military commanders all speak frankly to the author about how armed drones revolutionized warfare--and the unexpected costs to some of those involved.

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A US Reaper drone at Kandahar airfield. Credit: Jack Sanders/US Air Force (via BIJ)

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A US Air Force drone in a hangar in Iraq, August 2011. Photo: US Air Force/Master Sgt. Ricardo (via BIJ)

Sudden Justice is probably the most talked about drone book of the year. It is also the most detailed, the most thorough study of the evolution of weaponised drone warfare you can find. The author, Chris Woods, is an investigative journalist who specializes in conflict and national security issues. He was awarded the Martha Gellhorn Journalism Prize for his investigations into covert U.S. drone strikes with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. He also contributes to The Guardian.

In preparation to this book and as part of his work as a journalist, Woods has interviewed former drone operators and mission controllers, retired intelligence commanders, senior Air Force officials and psychologists, US Navy veterans, diplomats, parents of young people killed during the strikes, survivors of attacks, etc. In short, anyone who had any (voluntary or not) role to play in this new form of asymmetrical warfare is bringing their own view about the issue.

The use of weaponized drones outside of the battlefields is one of the most worrying characteristics of our times. At the time Woods was writing the book, drones had already killed 3000 people. Some of them civilians, not militants. The author reminds us, for example, that when Obama's presidency was just 72h old, he had already authorized a secret action that accidentally killed 14 civilians.

By acting as judge, jury and executioner, the U.S. is not only setting a worrying template for the future of warfare, its is also antagonizing the populations targeted (drone strikes have apparently become a recruiting tool and a motivator for jihadists), creating a new generation of operators so stressed that psychologists still have to invent a word that would describe their condition, and alienating allied countries that believe (rightly) that the targeted killing practice is illegal.

There's no sign of a slowdown. Since 2010, the US Air Force has been training more drone pilots than fighter and bomber pilots combined. And the Obama administration intends to keep on eschewing any request for transparency and accountability.

A Theory of the Drone, by philosopher Grégoire Chamayou, is undoubtedly my favourite drone book but it follows also a very different perspective. While Chamayou analyzes how drones have irremediably remodeled the laws of war , Sudden Justice compiles facts, quotes and numbers, clinically and masterfully charting the history of drone use by the CIA and by US (and also Israeli) military, the escalation of targeted killing as well as the evolution of militants' tactics and procedures.

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For Ever Amber, ennobling working class and marginalized communities

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2015-06-26 11:39:01

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Tish Murtha, Youth Unemployment, 1981

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Amber Films, Launch (still), 1973

My interest for photography, working class culture and marginal communities is fairly well documented on this blog. Hence my enthusiasm when learning about the upcoming For Ever Amber exhibition.

The Amber Collective was born in the late 1960s when a group of students at Regent Street Polytechnic in London realized that their education drove them away from their working class background. Resolving to reconnect with their origins and document working class culture in photos and videos, they moved to the North East of England in 1969 and in 1977 opened Side Gallery.

Over the past 45 years, the members of the collective have been documenting the industrial and post-industrial communities living along the river Tyne, the fishermen, the shipbuilders, the people working in the coal and steel industry, but also their families, the unemployed and the marginalized communities. The result is a vast archive of photos and films that present both both artistic and historical value.

In parallel with Amber's own film & photographic production, the collective has also been collecting and presenting to the broad public a series of classic and contemporary international documentary works, presenting similar socially-engaged concerns.

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Jindrich Streit, The Village is a Global World, 1995

Hopefully, i'll get an opportunity to visit the show in Newcastle before it closes. In the meantime, i had a chance to chat with author Graeme Rigby, one of the founding members of the Amber Collective. Here's a transcript with the brief exchange we had over skype:

Hi Graeme! Why is this a good time for an Amber retrospective? Does the timing reflect a particular social moment for example?

There's never a time in this country when an exhibition of this kind isn't relevant!

For Ever Amber is actually part of a programme of works funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England to redevelop the gallery, do some digitalisation and make the works more accessible to people.

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Amber Films, Shooting Magpies (poster), 2005

The work of the Amber Collective is rooted in social documentary, built around long term engagements with working class and marginalized communities in the North of England. I'm curious about the situation of the working class. How has it evolved over the 45 years of Amber's existence?

That changes constantly. A lot has happened over the last 45 years because in the North East of England (and elsewhere but particularly in the North East of England) many of the industries that shaped the identity of the working class communities have closed. When these industries shut down, people send the message out that these industries are not important, that they should be eradicated.

The sense of their identity has changed considerably. This week, members of the Amber Collective worked in a school in Easington. Children there didn't know anything about coal miners even though there is a miner banner hanging in the school hall. It is interesting and important to help children and others find their sense of identity, even if this is an entirely new identity. But having your sense of identity is important. The nature of these communities have changed. It was quite late before you saw widespread immigration in the North East of England. As a result, many of the communities were still overwhelmingly white working class but that has changed since the 2000s.

Whether they are white working class, or marginalised communities, these are people have a lot in common and their voices are denied by the mainstream.

The early members of Amber came themselves from a very working class background and felt that their education pushed them away from the places where they grew up. Instead, they wanted to celebrate their origins and the people who, so far, had mostly been used as material for jokes in films and on tv.

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Peter Fryer, The Arab Boarding House, South Shields, 2006

What about the cultural value of the work done by Amber photographers? The photos seem to resonate not just with people living in the North East of England but also with the rest of the country and i think i can also say that they are interesting far beyond the UK borders.

We find that the work resonates enormously with people from other countries. When you go to countries like Spain, France or Germany, you find that people immediately connect with these images. People see that the images depict lives and streets that are not so dissimilar from their own. It's actually much more the case in Europe than it is in some parts of the UK.

In this country, especially in the cultural world, there is a resistance to document these marginalized worlds. The UK has a few difficulties with documentary. I'm not talking about the audience but about curators and funding bodies. They show some interest in documenting the 1930s and the 1940s up until the 1980s but they don't seem to be interested in documentaries about the present days.

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Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen, Byker, 1974

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Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen, Byker Revisited, 2008

Konttinen explained to The Guardian why the photo above is her "best shot."

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Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen, Byker Revisited, 2008

Do you think that television is doing a better job at representing the working class then?

No, with TV, we've even gone backwards. We are going back to a situation in which the working class is there to provide cheap laughs. But these things come in circles and we need another movement to challenge the current situation.

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Peter Fryer, Peaceable Kingdoms, 1992

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Julian Germaine, Steel Works, Phileas Fogg Snacks, 1989

I was reading a letter published in The Guardian this morning. The street photographer was from Birmingham and he explained that he was often stopped in public and private spaces. Security spots him on CCTV and ask him to stop shooting. I haven't photographed children playing in a public space for many years, and the work of people such as Vivian Maier and Shirley Baker would be impossible these days. It seems to me, from a photographic point of view, that the public space has become privatised, with CCTV everywhere and the lone photographer increasingly unwelcome. Is this something Amber members have noticed as well? Are people still comfortable with being photographed nowadays? Or are they reluctant because of privacy or other concerns?

Yes, when Amber began, street photography was very much a part of what documentary photographers did. But things have changed in a number of ways. Nowadays, people are suspicious that the photographer might be a pedophile for example. Then there is also the issue that part of the public space has been privatized. Almost everyone has a camera phone so, in a way, there is now more street photography than ever. But people are more suspicious than in the past when they see a camera. All of the photographers responded to the challenge in their own way. By negotiating access to people's life, for example, and by making certain that people were genuinely inviting them into their life. If people were not happy with the photo, the photographer would not use it. This in turn enables the photographer to go further and opens up new areas.

In any case, we've lost a significant amount of what is happening in the street. In terms of photography, a lot of questions have been raised as to what is legitimate for a photo to portray.

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Amber Films, High Row, 1973

I was also curious about Coke to Coke, a series of photographs you worked on together with Peter Fryer. The photos were taken in the 1980s and follow the closure of Derwenthaugh coking plant and the opening of the nearby Metro Centre shopping mall. What was the mood of the people then? Where they angry or sad about the end of an era or optimistic of what the new shopping mail represented?

You can't generalize of course but i think that when i accompanied Peter to photograph the opening of the Metro Center, we had a sense of people being dazed by it. It was all bright and artificial and protected from the weather. It was like a place to visit. It gave you a sense of the 'new world.' And it still does because it is so artificial. People loved it. In the States, it was nothing new but it was the first out of town shopping mall in the UK. There was a fun fair aspect to it, with people looking at the shop as if they were at the fair.

At the time, i had just moved to the Derwenthaugh Valley. Derwenthaugh Coke Works was a vision of Dante's Inferno at the end of the Valley. One place was closing, another one was opening. It was a symbol of time changing. That's why we looked at it.

People working at Derwenthaugh Cokeworks were sad but they were also starting to realize that they worked in a cancerogenic atmosphere. Looking back at the '80s, that's when people started to think about the environmental impact of fossil fuels. Before that, these issues were not really discussed.

The opening of the Metro Center was a moment in time. The steel making town was closing its steel factory, the miner strikes had failed and Thatcher's programme of closures was accelerating.

Thanks Graeme!

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Bruce Rae, Shipbuilding on the Tyne, 1981

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Nick Hedges, Fishing Industry, 1981

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Amber Films, Seacoal (poster), 1985

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Simon Norfolk, Goaf, Dalton Park, 2005

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Amber Films, T Dan Smith, 1987

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Amber Films, The Scar, 1997

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Amber Films, In Fading Light (still), 1989

For Ever Amber opens at the Laing Gallery in Newcastle on 27 June and runs until 19 September, bringing together over 150 original photographs and film clips capturing over 40 years of cultural, political and economic shifts in North East England.

'For Ever Amber' is a partnership between Amber Film and Photography Collective and Laing Art Gallery, with support from Tyne & Wear Museums and Archive. The exhibition has been supported by Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England.

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Out of Play: Technology & Football

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2015-06-18 08:29:20

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Malik Thomas, Football Engineering Images

This Friday, the National Football Museum in Manchester is opening a new season of commissions, artists residencies and artefacts. One of the highlights of the programme is Out of Play: Technology & Football, an exhibition that explores the impact that new technologies have in the development of the game but also on the way it is experienced by fans around the world.

Out of Play: Technology & Football brings together works by designers, artists, scientists and fans who explore and demonstrate how football and new technology overlap in today's society.

The works on show range from a robotic soccer robot to the Soccket energy generating football, from the ever irresistible and painful Leg Shocker to the world premier of Jer Thorp's immersive installation The Time of the Game. The result is an interactive exhibition that brings into a highly popular museum an entertaining but also critical and provocative view of the impact that technology has on 'the beautiful game.'

The show opens tomorrow and i'm looking forward to visiting it in a couple of weeks. But in the meantime i caught up with curator John O'Shea. You might remember John from his work as an artist. When he isn't busy growing Pigs Bladder Football from living animal cells and developing his other artworks, John is the Art Curator and Head of visual art programme at the NFM. He has spent the past two years embedded in the museum with the goal of establishing an art and technology exhibiting and learning programme from scratch.

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Uppies and Downies. Image credit ©stuartroyclarke @homesoffootball

Hi John! First of all what can technology do for football? How does it impact the game itself on the football pitch? Excuse my very boring remark but it's always the same game of men running after a ball after all...

Over the past few years, some interesting questions related to technology and football have emerged. For example, during last year's world cup, goal-line technology was introduced following many debates around whether or not football should remain this 'primitive' game or whether technology should intervene on the field.

Connecting with these concerns, last year, the National Football Museum commissioned James Bridle to write a piece about it. In his essay, Spectacular Sports Visualisations, Bridle analyzes football and computer vision technology.

We also collaborated with the festival FutureEverything on a body of works that looks at the intersection of data and football. The commissioned work was the Winning Formula futuristic newspaper by the Near Future Laboratory.

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Near Future Laboratory, Winning Formula newspaper. Photo by Fabien Girardin

But even data and computer vision fit a conventional story of technology, it's about control, about making the game more consistent.

The exhibition Out of Play is different, it's not about showcasing the latest advances of technology but about looking at the more unusual points where technology and football are intersecting. And the outcomes are often weird, unfamiliar.

The Time of The Game is the major new commission which will be presented within the museum's immersive, 180 degree wrap-around, cinema space. Developed by Jer Thorp with Teju Cole and Mario Klingemann, the work brings together almost 2000 photos made by football fans at the same time as they were watching last year's World Cup. The images show private spaces, public spaces, pubs, etc. Most were taken inside people's homes. What they show is a communal moment shared by people from Nigeria, Brazil, England.... Smartphones equipped with cameras are now almost ubiquitous, you find them everywhere even in poorer countries and it's that technology that makes it possible to represent this moment shared globally by football fans.

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Teju Cole, Jer Thorp & Mario Klingemann, The Time of the Game - a synchronized global view of the World Cup final

There is also a lot of humor in the show. We sometimes forget that football is fun. During our exchange of emails you mentioned the rather unpleasant coverage that FIFA is having at the moment. Do you think this will somehow reflect on the exhibition? (no need to answer this one if you feel the question is irrelevant)

The National Football Museum is an independent museum that tells the story of football in England from the perspective of the fans. The scrutiny FIFA is coming under is not really a surprise for fans as many have been dissatisfied with the federation for years. And this crisis only highlights the poignancy of a work like The Time of the Game.

The reason for this title is that we are looking for a common ground between art and football. (There aren't many!) But one of them is that both football and art have origins in play, they're both about introducing play into something. And in football, just like in art, it is important sometimes to remember not to take things too seriously.

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Jason Eppink, We Tripped El Hadji Diouf (Yabanjin, Feb 06, 2011 07:46)

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Jason Eppink, We Tripped El Hadji Diouf (Shmorky, Feb 07, 2011 23:17)

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Jason Eppink, We Tripped El Hadji Diouf (Kieselguhr Kid, Feb 06, 2011 06:28)

The Humanoid Soccer Robots?! You're going to show them? a whole team? Will they be playing?

With the art programme, we want to broaden the scope of what the museum displays and collects so we've been developing new collaborations and partnerships for the future. Plymouth University is one of those partners. They are the leader in the UK in humanoid soccer robots and participate to the competition organised by the Federation of International Robot-soccer Association (FIRA) since 1997. The robots might look a bit basic but the ultimate goal of the competition is to have them challenge a team of human football champions by 2050. This might sound outlandish but if you think about it, Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov in 1997. No one would have imagine it was possible 35 years before the chess match.

For the exhibition, we will have one of the robots on display and the Plymouth robotic team will come and do a demo (no precise date yet.)

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Humanoid robot team made by Plymouth University

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Humanoid robot footballer made by Plymouth University. Image courtesy the National Football Museum

The robot will actually be shown in the same display as Soccket and Leg Shocker. So that's science, art and design, all in the same display. The energy generating ball might look a bit silly but the premise is interesting. Imagine it used in refugee camps for example. Children would play and generate electricity through kinetic action. The third work in the display is Fur's art piece. By new media standards, Leg Shocker is almost an antique. As a museum, we want to be able to collect new media works related to football. As we go along with the art programme, the team here is learning a lot: how to maintain these media works, what role they play as provocative objects, etc.


Fur, Legshocker. Enhanced PlayStation2 Controller, 2002

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Fur, Legshocker. Enhanced PlayStation2 Controller, 2002

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Uncharted Play, Soccket

Could you talk to us about World Scratch day, a series of football-based computing activities aimed at introducing children to code. How does it work? How exactly do kids use football to learn code?

Scratch is a programming language developed by MIT. We used the World Scratch Day to enable visitors and communities to get hands-on with technology and make computer games.

Over the course of the day, 80 children in groups of 6 or 7 came to the museum and were able to create simple animation works related to football, make simple games or work with Sonic Pi software to make their own version of the match of the day theme song. It was like a little hackathon for kinds. Ultimately, what we'd like to do is see groups come and use the museum over the weekends to learn some coding.

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World Scratch Day at NFM. Photo National Football Museum

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World Scratch Day at NFM. Photo National Football Museum

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World Scratch Day at NFM. Photo National Football Museum

Next, i saw that artists are in residency at the NFM. Can you already tell us about their work there? What makes the robot lawnmower an artwork rather than just a robot lawnmower, for example?

We commissioned 4 artistic residencies that enable artists to develop works related to football clubs or to the communities around football. So far, artists were (unsurprisingly) more interested in working with more unusual communities than with football clubs.

Matthew Plummer Fernandez was curious about lawn mowers with computerized systems to design patterns on football pitches. Forest Green FC already has a robotic lawnmower which has its own algorithm for cutting the grass, it 'decides' which areas need to be cut more, which ones need to be cut less. It creates its own version of a field. Matthew wants to understand better the algorithm on board o the lawnmower and then create an online identity for this lawnmower and make it 'the 12th man' of the team.

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Matthew Plummer Fernandez with robot lawnmower. Image courtesy of the National Football Museum

The other residency has Jen Southern and Chris Speed were interested work with Workington Uppies and Downies. Uppies and Downies is an ancient version of football - a game with no rules. Thousands of men try to move the ball in a scrum up the hill or down to the harbour. The artists placed GPS trackers on some of the men and will be making work based on the data obtained.

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Uppies and Downies. Image credit ©stuartroyclarke @homesoffootball

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Uppies and Downies. Image credit ©stuartroyclarke @homesoffootball

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Uppies and Downies. Image credit ©stuartroyclarke @homesoffootball

Now i'm also curious about your own work at the museum. You head a rather edgy art program in an institution that doesn't usually cater for the traditional art crowd. I think this is a great opportunity you have there! i'm quite jealous. But how do you navigate the desire to show good art and the need to please the 30,000 visitors the museum welcomes each month?

Certain languages, certain conventions are used in established art institutions. At the National Football Museum we have our own etiquette: Interactivity is a given, for example. You can touch things. And the museum is not a white wall space. So the question for me was "How should art fit into this environment?" The challenge here is to exhibit art in a way that is sensitive to both the work and the environment.

The National Football Museum has some challenging displays such as one dedicated to the weapons of hooligans, or football disasters. It also raises critical questions, like the Football Association ban of women playing football on its premises until 1971.

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Hooligan knives at the NFM. Photo by Zachary Kaplan

There is sometimes this assumption that making bold statements in an art museum context is going to have a huge impact but often artists are just making a gestures to people already informed about the issue they're trying to address. Basically, the established art community is often just talking to itself. The National Football Museum, I feel belongs more to the public realm and the works in the show have the potential to influence anyone among our visitors, not just a self-selected audience.

Thanks John!

Out of Play opens on 19 June at the National Football Museum, Manchester, UK. It remains open until 19 July 2015.

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Politics and Practices of Secrecy (part 2)

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2015-06-15 09:44:12

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Liberty Crossing is a complex for 1,700 federal workers and 1,200 contractors. Photo by Michael S. Williamson / The Washington Post

Previously: Politics and Practices of Secrecy (part 1).

And this is part 2 of the notes i took during the Politics and Practices of Secrecy symposium which took place at King's College in London last month. My reports do not follow the schedule of the panels, nor do they cover all the talks. I'm just cherry picking the more interesting moments of the day. Part 1 focused on the art projects. This post is less uniform in its theme. Two of the presentations i enjoyed covered the representation of intelligence agencies in films and tv fiction. Another was about the influence that new forms of surveillance are having on the rise of home-grown ('home' being the U.S.A., the symposium was organised by the Institute of North American Studies) white extremist groups. And a fourth talk wondered if transparency could fix our democracy.

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The Top Secret Network of Government and its Contractors

Let's start with Timothy Melley, Professor Affiliate of American Studies at Miami University and author of The Covert Sphere. Secrecy, Fiction, and the National Security State and of Empire of Conspiracy. The Culture of Paranoia in Postwar America.

In his talk, 'The Democratic Security State: Operating Between Secrecy and Publicity', Melley listed up a few numbers:

This secret world costs 8 billion dollars per year.

According to 2010 Washington Post analysis:

50,000 intelligence reports are written each year. Their volume is so large that most are never read.

The intelligence hides out in the open:
In Washington D.C., 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work have been built (or are being built) since September 2001. Their total surface is equal to 22 U.S. Capitols.
Similar buildings can be found in 10,000 other locations across the U.S.A.

The complexity of this system defies description Lt Gen. (Ret.) John R. Vines

The U.S. covert state is a growing industry. It handles a huge number of secrets all over the country. It relies on democratic structures but acts like a shadow state that has its own territory and laws. It also support some film makers by lending helicopters needed for films that publicize the covert world. The reason for that is that the secret programme needs public approval.

What we know about the CIA comes from leaks but also from fiction. Our screens are awash with what Melley calls 'terror melodrama." One of his presentations slides even listed those films. Covert CIA operations are celebrated in books, films, games, tv series, etc. Earlier this year, the CIA, pleased with the way it is portrayed in "Homeland", invited the show's cast and producers to visit its headquarters in Virginia and have a discussion. Another example is when Michelle Obama presented the 2013 Best Picture award to Ben Affleck's Argo, a film adapted from CIA operative Tony Mendez's book The Master of Disguise and the 2007 Wired article The Great Escape: How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans from Tehran.

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An exit marker points to the National Security Agency. Photo by Michael S. Williamson / The Washington Post

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The N.S.A. properties in Maryland total 8.6 million square feet of office space, 1.3 times as big as the Pentagon. Photo by Sandra McConnell, N.S.A.

Keeping with the spy in entertainment theme, Matt Potolsky, Professor of English at University of Utah, looked at the representation of the NSA on tv and in cinema.

Fiction and films are often the only way the public can picture and judge for themselves the activities of intelligence agencies. FBI, KGB, CIA have often been presented in films. How about the NSA? According to Potolsky, the NSA never turned into real fictional tropes.

The 2009 movie Echelon Conspiracy features NSA agents and the signals intelligence collection system Echelon.

There have been more recent attempts to depict the activity of the massive NSA:
- Citizenfour by Laura Poitras, of course.
- but also "Let Go, Let Gov" a South Park episode that satirizes the 2013 mass surveillance revelations, and casts Eric Cartman in the role of a whistleblower, in which he infiltrates the NSA in protest of the agency's surveillance of American citizens. In the episode, NSA agents appear as little more than anonymous cogs working behind desks. This obviously is very different from the 'Men in Black' style description of CIA agents. The NSA agents look like they are working for a multinational corporation rather than for a spy agency.


South Park, Let Go Let Gov

Mark Fenster, Professor at the Levin College of Law (University of Florida) and author of the book Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture. His talk was titled 'Secrecy and the Hypothetical State Archive.'

Fenster started by reminding us of a whistleblower of the early 1970s. Daniel Ellsberg was employed by the RAND Corporation when he not only read classified documents he wasn't supposed to open but also photocopied and released them to The New York Times and other newspapers. The Pentagon Papers, officially titled United States - Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense, were top-secret documents that charted the US' political-military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967.

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In June 1971 the New York Times began publishing the Pentagon Papers (image)

There is now a trust in 'transparency' but, Fenster asks, Can transparency fix our democracy? Obama was elected to end Bush's secrecy. But the secrecy is now as deep as ever. If not deeper.

But Fenster says, information leaks. Sometimes from the top, sometimes from the bottom. Sometimes drop by drop, sometimes it flows.

It is particularly tricky to control State information. If you think about the model of communication Sender-Message-Receiver, the Sender would be the State, the Message is state information and the Receiver is the public.

The state is organizationally complex, it is spatially deployed, it is enclosed in buildings, offices. In truth, it is a mess that is difficult to keep shut.

State information is difficult to perceive clearly, it is a vast amount of information, it is hard to archive and to control its release. Sometimes state information can leak by mistake.

The public is made of individuals and they will have their own interpretation of any information released.

In brief, information cannot be controlled, on any level.

According to Fenster, the revelation of a secret often offers marginal gains. It certainly doesn't lead necessarily to a reformed democracy.

Another talk i found very informative was the one by Hugh Urban, professor of religious studies at Ohio State University and author of The Church of Scientology: A History of a New Religion

His talk, 'The Silent Brotherhood: Secrecy, Violence, and Surveillance from the Brüder Schweigen to the War on Terror' looked at the white males' belief that they are the victims of racial oppression. In their view, white males are persecuted by women, Black people, Muslims, Jews, etc. That's what Urban calls the "white man falling" syndrome.

0abrotherhbslarge.jpgBrüder Schweigen or Silent Brotherhood, was a white nationalist revolutionary organization active in the United States between September 1983 and December 1984. Its founder Robert Jay Mathews wanted to create an elite vanguard of Aryan warriors to save the white race. The Silent Brotherhood group was responsible for a number of violent crimes: robberies, bombings, murders, counterfeiting operations, etc.

Nowadays, much of the anti-terrorist attention focuses on radical Islam, neglecting home-grown white extremist groups. Figures show that the number of patriot groups in the U.S. is growing very rapidly. The reasons for that are many: bad economic conditions, black president but also the rise of surveillance which augments these people's distrust of the FBI, NSA and other governmental agents.

Urban's conclusions were that:

1. Secrecy is both the explanation and the radical solution for the 'white man falling' syndrome.

2. New forms of surveillance play into, feed and reinforce the narratives of such radical groups.

Politics and Practices of Secrecy was organized by the Institute of North American Studies at King's College London, on 14-15 May, 2015.

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Experiments in sound and perception. An interview with Aernoudt Jacobs

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2015-06-11 11:56:53

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Aernoudt Jacobs, Induction #4, 2014. Photo Kristof Vrancken for Z33

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Aernoudt Jacobs, photophon #1

Aernoudt Jacobs is an artist fascinated with sound in all its forms and possible expressions. He collects fields recordings around the world but he also creates installations based on Bell's photoacoustic effect that reveals the sonority of any material hit with a strong beam of light, builds sound microscope that magnifies the freezing and melting process of water or suspends coils, magnets and 1000 tin cans into the air to play with the laws of electromagnetic induction and generate tiny vibrations that produce sounds. It is as if everything in the visible and the invisible world provides him with endless opportunities for sound exploration.

Like most of his other installations, Jacob's latest work is half scientific experiment, half art piece. It involves using a membrane made of electroactive polymers as a sort of "living" speaker to autonomously manipulate the playback of a recording he made in a Romanian forest. Which might sound a bit confusing in words but gets instantly clearer if you take a look at the video that documents it:


Aernoudt Jacobs, Color of Noise

Under their peaceful, impeccably engineered and elegant appearances, Jacob's installations evoke phenomena that pertain to perception, psychoacoustics, physics and scientific processes. Alluring as they are on youtube and on the pages of his website, his works gain all their dimensions when experienced in situ. Sadly, i never got that chance. Hence my desire to interview the artist:

Hi Aernoudt! I was expecting you to have trained as an artist or musician but i discovered in your bio that you studied Architecture in St. Lukas Ghent. How did you get to go from architecture to sound? How is your architectural training helping you approach your work with sound?

First there was sound/music then I discovered architecture and after that I came back to music/sound again in a professional way. Sound never really left me. I needed more freedom, the kind of freedom you rarely find in architecture. I left the studies after 4 years because real creativity is only a very small part of the job. Anyway that is how I perceived it. But the study itself is extremely broad and it gives a lot of insight. So I never build anything, I did a few years of assistance.

In a way, making sounds/installation is a very architectural process. And a lot of elements of the studies just came back in my actual work (like technological research, using 3D software, material science, philosophy, anthropology, ...) I'm very glad with that background. I just regret that the aspects of acoustics in architecture or even aural architecture was not developed at all in the courses at that time. I think my path would have been completely different if I would have started the studies today. I hear and read that a lot has changed in this regard. Also much more research and publications have been done in the field of building acoustics. There has been an exponential increase in knowledge during last 25 years. And still yet too many buildings have awful acoustics, even spaces where acoustics should be a primordial preoccupation.

There is no sound without space, that is the link between sound and architecture. And I think it is also the main reason why you find a lot of composers who studied architecture.


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Aernoudt Jacobs, Permafrost, 2009

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Aernoudt Jacobs, Permafrost, 2009

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Aernoudt Jacobs, Permafrost, 2009


You are sound artist. But your installations are visually very elegant. Could you talk to us about the visual aspect of your work? How important is it to you? And how does it complement the sound work?

I am an artist that works primarily with the medium of sound. The seed of any work starts with a sonic aspect, and so to speak it progresses from that in a visual way. In general I never disconnect the sonic from the visual in my installations. They are always in tandem. Only a few times I was commissioned to make a 'speaker or headphone' installation because of certain limiting situations (like a public space or imposed infrastructure, ...) and even then the sound was indirectly evoking images.

The visual is also quite important because I tend to work on the transition between what you hear and what you see. The visual is a kind of an interface that brings the medium into motion, into the space, or into something that you can listen to. This interface can be highly technological because I am interested in phenomena, science, experimentation. Or it can be low-fi because I'm an autodidact mostly interested in carrying out research by myself, interested in the first hand experiences of phenomena. In fact, I see it a bit of prolongation of my field recording work where I hunt for sounds or when I try to grasp the origins of sounds.
Neither of my installations are loud, that is another reason why the audible elements shifts easily into the visual because the balance has been carefully weighted.


A couple of your works investigate the photoacoustic effect, a discovery made by Alexander Graham Bell. The technique consisted in creating sound by exposing certain materials to focused beams of light. Light creating sound! That's pretty fascinating. Do you know if there are applications of this effect in non-artistic contexts? Have you ever dreamt of everyday life applications of the photoacoustic effect?

Actually there are a couple of applications that came from Bell's photoacoustic research: fiber-optic communication and the CD player. But those inventions came only definitively through many years later when lasers were invented. 



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Aernoudt Jacobs, The Photophon Principle

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Aernoudt Jacobs, The Photophon Principle

I was reading the description of The Photophon Principle. It says that with the work you were trying to  provide a certain kind of musicality: "but in the form of an installation, not of a playable instrument". Why was it important to underline that this is not about making music?

The research around the photoacoustic effect has multiple facets. And at that stage of writing I was primarily interested in presenting a work about a transformation process. Making a composition would ruin the perception of that installation. But just recently I had to make acoustic measurements on Photophon in an anechoic chamber. It would be very interesting to develop a composition in these conditions, then I would definitely treat it as an instrument. Sonically I was very much triggered by the digital sound that Photophon produces.

Making installation work or making a compositions are very different things. A composition is final once it has been published. It has a definite time factor. An installation is not. It is more flexible and it can evolve according to a different factors (space, situation, time, perceptive scope of the visitor, process of development). An installation will never be presented the same way twice. 



Do you think it is best to understand the techy/scientific background of some of your pieces to appreciate them? Or can they be enjoyed purely for their sound and the experience they transmit?

The sound and the research of perception in my installations are certainly more important than the technology they use. That said the installations are part of a long process, I'm not interested in hiding completely the technology either. Technology and knowledge is a medium, it is a tool for research.

It also depends on what or how I want to present something. It is more a matter of focus.

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Induction #4, 2014. Photo Kristof Vrancken


Induction series #4, at the exhibition Sense of Sound, Z33, Hasselt


Could you tell us about Overtoon which you co-direct with Christoph De Boeck? The objective of this platform and production facility is to 'support artists and give new impulses to the field of sound and media art.' How do you do that? I thought it was already difficult for young artists to support themselves so how do you manage to help other artists as well? And which kind of support do you provide them with?

Overtoon operates since 2013 as a platform for sound art and media art with a strong connection to sound. The platform has major a focus on production, research, residencies, distribution, sharing. Overtoon gives the possibility to develop further our own works, and it also offers yearly long-term residencies to artists with the aim to produce their works; they can also participate in our structure and benefit fully from our facilities. We are currently situated in a high-rise in the centre of Brussels.

They get a studio for one year and can work at their own pace on a specific production that we agreed on. During that year we follow-up the process, we hold regular meetings and we look out for possible partners or presentations. On a parallel level, Overtoon is also supporting the ongoing experiments of other artists; this is more short-time (weeks to couple of months) and depends mostly on request we get and the spaces we have available.
We are actively distributing the works that we produce too, we are organising exhibitions, or we are in contact with venues to discuss the distributions of these works, we facilitate between the artists and the organiser, we develop exhibition contexts. For example we are presenting productions during 4 periods in France in 2015 and 2016. It is a form of two double presentations in Rennes at Le Bon Acceuil (and festival Maintenant) and festival Interstices in Caen. Four different productions are being presented during the interval of 2 years. Last year we also organised a bigger exhibition Sense of Sound with eight works in Z33.

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Christoph De Boeck, Black Box, part of the Sense of Sound exhibition at Z33 in Hasselt. Photo (c) Kristof Vrancken

Besides this we organise lectures or presentation relating to the works we produce but it can also be anything touching the field of sound art (producing, presenting, curating, research, science, networks, history, expertise, future developments,  ...) In the frame of the exhibition at Z33 we organised a symposium.

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Aernoudt Jacobs, Sikuvalliajuq

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Aernoudt Jacobs, Sikuvalliajuq


I also had a look at the list of artists who undertook a residency with Overtoon and their work is pretty impressive. Each of them has a really strong portfolio. How do you come upon and select the artists to support?

Indeed we are very glad with the responses and productions we have so far. Past yearly residents artists were Jeroen Uyttendaele, Jeroen Vandesande, Gert Aertsen and Stijn Demeulenaere. And this year we have Erik Nerinckx and Katerina Undo.

We don't write out calls. But we organise regular meetings with artist whose works we follow-up. We are open to propositions, and we are also in contact with curators. Sometimes these meetings evolve in time into specific projects, production or residencies.

Now i have a bit of a tricky question (and you can ignore it if you like). In general, our society is very 'visual'. I sometimes feel that it is not so simple to write about sound art. It's quite easy to just fall back onto a technical description of the piece, for example. If i look at the art section of mainstream newspapers, they are full of 'visual art' and 'music'. And sound art falls back somewhere in the middle. Do you feel that sound artists have a disadvantage compare to visual artists?

Not really, sound art has been evolving nicely past decades. I just find it a bit sad that the term sound art exists as a category, it is easy for theoreticians but it is not that interesting for the arts to have categories

On the other hand, as I see it, it is a great way to say that anything can be done with sound.
You are right to say that our society is visually driven, furthermore I would say that sound has no image, does not need it. Sound can trigger the visual cortex, the visual imagination and give you information about a space..

But I want quote Max Neuhaus (who coined the term sound installation in the sixties):
"Our perception of space depends as much
 on what we hear as on what we see."



Any other upcoming exhibition, research or project you could share with us? I'm particularly curious about the work that appears on your homepage:

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Color of Noise

That work has been featured in Science magazine. While still in a research phase, the prototype has been presented during the exhibition KONTINUUM in Vienna which was organised by Roman Kirschner's Liquid Things. The development was in collaboration with EMPA, Angewandte and Liquid Things. I don't have any specific dates yet for final presentations.

There is a solo exhibition in Kristiansand Kunsthall, Norway that I'm preparing for early September. It is a big exhibition with one in situ work and different other works. It has already a nice title 'Once also this was a mutation' and many of the works deal with the idea of transformation. The exhibition is also part of the PUNKT festival and will feature live performances in the installations by Nils Christian Moe-Repstad, Espen Reinertsen and Marcus Schmickler. The exhibition is curated by Kjell Bjorgeengen.

Heliophone, based on the photoacoustic effect, will be presented in STUK, Leuven at the end of September. This will be accompanied with a small exhibition that lays out the complete photoacoustic research. 



Thanks Aernoudt!

Image on the homepage by Kristof Vrancken.

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