The Where, the Why, and the How: 75 Artists Illustrate Wondrous Mysteries of Science

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Published on : 2012-12-05 12:05:20

The Where, the Why, and the How: 75 Artists Illustrate Wondrous Mysteries of Science, by Jenny Volvovski, Julia Rothman, and Matt Lamothe • Foreword by David Macaulay.

Available on amazon UK and USA

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Publisher Chronicle Books writes: A science book like no other, The Where, the Why, and the How turns loose 75 of today's hottest artists onto life's vast questions, from how we got here to where we are going. Inside these pages some of the biggest (and smallest) mysteries of the natural world are explained in essays by real working scientists, which are then illustrated by artists given free rein to be as literal or as imaginative as they like. The result is a celebration of the wonder that inspires every new discovery. Featuring work by such contemporary luminaries as Lisa Congdon, Jen Corace, Neil Farber, Susie Ghahremani, Jeremyville, Jon Klassen, Jacob Magraw, and many more, this is a work of scientific and artistic exploration to pique the interest of both the intellectually and imaginatively curious.

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Gilbert Ford illustrated Why do we blush?

Teaming up science mysteries with illustration, comics or even fine art is obviously a nice idea. But a great idea is not enough. It needs to comes with a fresh direction, clever match-making, genuine curiosity and impeccable taste. This book, fortunately, has all these ingredients.

The scientific enigmas explored in the book depart far far away from us with "What existed before the Big Bang?" then moves gradually, in a very Powers of Ten fashion, to issues pertaining to the universe ("Are there more than 3 dimensions?"), our planet ("Can evolution outpace climate change?), the mundane peculiarities of human beings ("why do we hiccup?"), the idiosyncrasy of the animal world ("Why don't animal muscles atrophy during hibernation?") then the questions start investigating what goes on inside our bodies and they end on the nanoscale ("Are nanomaterials dangerous?")

The result is often gripping and sometimes even baffling. Some issues remain a mystery: i'm afraid that scientists are still unsure about the reason why whales sing (in case the question is keeping you awake) and more annoyingly, they don't know either what happens to time as you approach the speed of light. But whether they have a clear-cut answer to a mystery or only tentative theories, the scientists manage to explain the phenomenon and its raison d'être with a limpid, intelligible and fairly short text.

This book is delightful and if i have one negative commentary to say about the book it's that I'm not a huge fan of the retro-feel of the illustrations. It gives a uniformity to the book which imho is both a blessing and a curse. But, hey! Now i know why pigeons bob their head when they walk and that knowledge, my friend, is going to make me the star of all the Christmas parties this year.

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Lab Partners illustrated the Circadian Clock

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John Hendricks illustrating Do Rogue Waves Exist?

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Lauren Nassef's illustration of "What is the origin of the moon?"

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Alex Eben Meyer's take on "Why do pigeons bob their heads when they walk?"

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Matt Forsythe illustrated "Why are humans and chimps so different if they have nearly identical DNA?"

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Yelena Bryksenkova illustrated "Can evolution outpace climate change?"

The book trailer!

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Luke Ramsey illustrated "What triggers the Earth's polarity?"

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#A.I.L / artists in laboratories, episode 13: Koen Vanmechelen

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Published on : 2012-12-04 04:25:39

A new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present ResonanceFM, will be broadcast today Tuesday 4th December at 4:00 pm. There will be a repeat on Thursday 6th December at 10:30 pm. You can catch it online if you don't live in London.

The host of this episode is conceptual artist Koen Vanmechelen who has spent the past 20 years crossbreeding national species of chicken in order to create the ultimate 'Cosmopolitan Chicken Project.' You might or might not know it but each country has cultivated its own peculiar breed of chicken: the French, for example, have the Poulet the Brest. It's white and red with blue feet, the same colours as their flag. Americans like their chicken to be big and powerful. The Chinese have created a chicken covered in silky feathers.

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Koen Vanmechelen, 'Golden Spur' at Parallellepipeda, M - Museum, Leuven (part of the Cosmopolitan chicken project)

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Koen Vanmechelen, Mechelse Silky 14th Generation - C.C.P., 2011

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Koen Vanmechelen, The Cosmopolitan Chicken Project

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Koen Vanmechelen, The Cosmopolitan Chicken Project

I've been admiring Vanmechelen's work for several years but i only got to meet him a few weeks ago at Z33 House for Contemporary Art in Hasselt. That's where the interview took place. The conversation has moments of humour and moments of deeper reflection. There's something both humble and heroic about Vanmechelen's stories of the incestuous and infertile English Red Cap or of the rooster that underwent surgery to be fitted with a new golden spur. But Koen's research project is not just about chicken and egg. His work encroaches on the fields of science, philosophy and ethics to ask questions about biocultural diversity, identity, evolution and freedom of movement.

For a sneak peek of his work, check out this short video of Koen Vanmechelen summing up the Cosmopolitan Chicken:

Or this other one, showing the artist at work in Venice:

Image on the homepage: Koen Vanmechelen, Mechelse Bresse (M) x English Redcap (F), 2007

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Manfred Mohr: one and zero

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Published on : 2012-12-02 09:00:51

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P-18 "Random Walk", 1969

The spotlight on computer art tends to fall on the shiny and new. Who won what at this year's edition of Ars Electronica, who's just designed a work of generative art for the promotion of a swanky car, who's exhibiting at the STRP festival. But a look back at the work of computer art pioneers sometimes proves to be a surprising and uplifting experience. To be honest, i was convinced that i'd find the exhibition Manfred Mohr: one and zero too austere, too abstract. A week ago however, i was walking down Eastcastle street on my way from the Alexey Kallima show at Regina Gallery (quite good) to the Vivisector at Sprüth Magers (very very good) and i thought it wouldn't hurt to push the door of the Carroll Fletcher gallery and have a look at Manfred Mohr's lines and cubes for a maximum of 30 seconds. I stayed almost half an hour staring at volumes emerging from flat surfaces and since then i've been telling people to go and see the exhibition. Today is Sunday, it's sunny out there and i won't pretend that i'm not copy/pasting a few paragraphs from the press release:

Beginning in 1969, Mohr was one of the first visual artists to explore the use of algorithms and computer programs to make independent abstract artworks. His early computer plotter drawings - when he had access to one of the earliest computer driven plotter drawing machines at the Meteorology Institute in Paris - are delicate, spare monochrome works on paper derived from algorithms devised by the artist and executed by the computer. P198aa (1977-79) is an elegant rhythmic composition of nine randomly rotated and cut cubes that hints at multi-dimensional space.

In other works that pre-date Mohr's pioneering work with the computer, his interest in systematic art-making can clearly be seen; Bild 24/768 (1968) is reminiscent of a simple circuit board with its curious symbols and hard-edged patterning.

one and zero explores how the complexity of the cube in 3, 4, 5, 6 and 11 dimensions, as well as the possibilities of going to even higher dimensions, have influenced Mohr's practice over the course of forty years. Originally a jazz musician, he compares the cube to a musical instrument and the detailed improvisation that the instrument allows within fixed tonal parameters. His large-scale wall relief - P-499A (1993) - is composed of fifteen unique laser cut steel pieces evolved from Mohr's investigation into the 6-dimensional hyper-cube.

In 1999, Mohr returned to the use of colour to emphasize and distinguish between subtleties in spatial relationships. P709b1-5 (2002), a large-scale digital painting on canvas shows five views of the 6-D rotation of a hyper-cube revealing an intriguing orchestration of solid greens, blues, purples and pink. More recently, digital technologies have enabled the artist to create works such as P1411-A (2010), in which a generative algorithm based on an 11-dimensional hyper-cube manifests an evolving progression of colour and shape as a screen based real-time computer animation.

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P1411-A, 2010

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P1420-A, 2012

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Manfred Mohr: one and zero is at Carroll Fletcher until 20 December 2012.

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Shoot! Existential Photography

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Published on : 2012-11-30 13:36:54

The exhibition Shoot! Existential Photography opened a few weeks ago at The Photographers' Gallery and i never got to mention it so far. The selection of work is fantastic, the theme is seductive and it makes you want to locate the nearest playground.

Load, aim, Fire!

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Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Paris 1929

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Simbeck's Foto-Schiessen, Freiburg 1979

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Simbeck's Fotoschießen, 1980

In the period following World War I, a curious attraction appeared at fairgrounds: the photographic shooting gallery. If the punter's bullet hit the centre of the target, this triggered a camera. Instead of winning a balloon or toy, the participant would win a snapshot of him or herself in the act of shooting.

The exhibition celebrates the use of the shooting gallery at fairgrounds by the famous (from Jean-Paul Sartre to Federico Fellini) and the non-famous but also the contemporary artists who have been intrigued by the idea of shooting oneself.

The most stunning work in the show is probably the video-sound installation Crossfire by Christian Marclay. I felt like that rabbit in the headlights of a car (or was it a hare? or a deer?) Crossfire is a super fast, loud and powerful sampling of shooting scenes from Hollywood movies. You stand in the middle of the room and wherever you turn your gaze there's Clint Eastwood, Antonio Banderas or some other action hero star aiming and shooting at you.

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Christian Marclay, still from 'Crossfire, 2007

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Christian Marclay, still from 'Crossfire, 2007

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Christian Marclay, still from 'Crossfire, 2007. Photo by Kate Elliott

Since the late 1970s, Jean-François Lecourt has been literally shooting his own image. In his early experiments, the bullet smashes the camera. The roll is pierced by the shoot. In the second series, the bullet perforates a wall of the lightproof box, a ray of light comes in and leaves a mark on the photosensitive paper.

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Jean-François Lecourt. Shot into the camera, 1987

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Jean-François Lecourt. Shot into the camera

Similarly, Rudolf Steiner uses the camera as a target. In the series Pictures of me, shooting myself into a picture, the bullet hole is the aperture for a pinhole camera, creating an image upon impact.

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Rudolf Steiner, Pictures of me, shooting myself into a picture

The story of Ria van Dijk is endearing. Every single year, the lady goes to a fairground shooting gallery in Tilburg, Netherlands to shoot a self portrait. She started her pilgrimage to the shooting booth in 1936, when she was 16. The artist Erik Kessels collected all the images she has taken at the fair. Going from one self-portrait to another is fascinating. You see her hair getting greyer, her glasses following the fashion of the passing decades, her friends or fans coming along with her, etc. The only pause in the sequence is from 1939 to 1945.

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Ria van Dijk, Photo-shot, 1936

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Ria van Dijk, Photo-shot, 1969

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Ria van Dijk, Photo-shot, Oosterhout, Netherlands, 1978

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Ria van Dijk, Photo-shot, Tilburg, 1998

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Ria van Dijk, Photo-shot, Tilburg, 2006

I've written about the work of Steven Pippin in the past. His Point Blank series of photos was made by cameras recording the precise moment of their own destruction by a gun.

The action takes place in total darkness with the flash being triggered just as the bullet breaks open the analogue camera and hits the negative inside it.

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Steven Pippin, Mamiya 330 twin lens reflex shot with.25 calibre (self portrait), 2010

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Steven Pippins, Point Blank (detail), 2010

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View of the mechanism used by Steven Pippin. Photo by Kate Elliott

Sylvia Ballhause bought a shooting rig from the booth of a family business in Germany. It was the last booth working with analogue, large-format cameras in the country.

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Sylvia Ballhause, Shooting rig [active / passive]

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Sylvia Ballhause, Shooting myself, 2008

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Photographers' Gallery installation photograph by Kate Elliott

The shooting gallery is not as popular as it used to be but you don't need to go far to try the amusement yourself, the Photographers' Gallery has turned on of its rooms into a photographic shooting gallery so that visitors can shoot (at) themselves.

Shoot! Existential Photography is up at the Photographers' Gallery in London until 6 January 2013.

Related story: The cameras that record the moment of their own destruction.

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Book review - Darkitecture: Learning Architecture for the Twenty-First Century

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Published on : 2012-11-29 09:53:00

Darkitecture: Learning Architecture for the Twenty-First Century, edited by Iwona Blazwick and published by Two Little Boys.

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(available on amazon UK and USA)

Darkitecture is an anthology of texts and projects exploring how we learn about and build architecture for real communities in the twenty-first century. It draws on the ideas and methods of the late architect and Royal College of Art tutor Gerrard O'Carroll, a vibrant and unorthodox thinker of architecture. Along with his writings and statements are texts and projects by his contemporaries and alumni. Together they represent some 'what if?' scenarios with which to proceed on the journey towards becoming an architect; towards the conception of a design vocabulary that expresses everyday lives; and the creation of buildings and urbanities that embrace the irrational and celebrate the social. Darkitecture is a revolutionary handbook that will challenge students, designers, architects and citizens to review the way they look at, think about, learn and build architecture.

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Assemble Folly for Flyover, 2011

The figure of architect and senior tutor at the Royal College of Art Gerrard O'Carroll is at the center of the book. I couldn't remember where i had heard his name until i leafed through the book and i realized i had visited some of the exhibitions he had organized and blogged about the work of several of his architecture students.

A critic called O'Carroll the "King of Darkitecture" after having visited an exhibition of his in 2007. The neologism made for an attention-grabbing book title. However, I don't find the book nor the projects and ideas it presents dark at all. I found them thought-provoking, relevant to our times (which i admit are fairly dark) and lucid. Even if most of the essays and works are dealing with "speculative near future and alternative nows." There's plenty of humour in the book as well. And not necessarily of the dark kind. My favourite quote was by O'Carroll asking why the modulor man has no penis.

O'Carroll called for a more thoughtful brand of architecture, for an architecture that engages with society, with the 'fragility of human behaviour', for an architecture that doesn't enclose but create a framework for things to happen.

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Tom Greenall's 2009 project Cultivating faith: The feeding of the 59,000 imagines that a UK shortage of halal meat might be answered by the building of an in-vitro meat production facility.

The content of the essays is eclectic. One moment you read about how radical architecture emerges with times of economic crisis, unrest and doubts. Next, you read about aspiring models knocking on the doors of photographer Juergen Teller. Or about the way technology interferes with the way we love, about the handing over of our streets and squares to private developers, the role of the anti-hero in architecture, the tension between our nostalgia for unspoilt 'natural' food and our interest for the consumption of fruit enhanced with drug-delivery systems. The people evoked in the book include J. G Ballard, radical architects Superstudio, Jacques Tati, Gaetano Pesce and Ennio Morricone.

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SuperStudio

The book is edited by Iwona Blazwick OBE and includes contributions from Iain Aitch (journalist), Paola Antonelli (MoMA), Iwona Blazwick (Whitechapel Gallery), Nigel Coates (architect), Emma Dexter (curator), Tom Greenall (RCA), Rosy Head (RCA), Jonathan Hill (Bartlett), Claire Jamieson (RCA), Anna Minton (writer), Rowan Moore (critic), Jake Moulson (RCA), Richard Noble (Goldsmiths College), Lucy Pengilley Gibb (RCA), Fiona Raby (RCA), Alex Smith (RCA), Noam Toran (RCA), Anthony Vidler (Cooper Union) and Gilda Williams (writer).

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View inside the book

Pretty nice design by Luke Fenech and Morag Myerscough too!

Image on the homepage from Mon Oncle, the film by Jaques Tati, 1958.

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#A.I.L / artists in laboratories, episode 12: Ruairi Glynn

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Published on : 2012-11-27 03:28:55

A new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present ResonanceFM, will be broadcast today Tuesday 27th November at 4:00 pm. There will be a repeat on Thursday 29th November 10:30 pm. You can catch it online if you don't live in London.

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Fearful Symmetry. Photography by Simon Kennedy

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Fearful Symmetry. Photography by Simon Kennedy

This week, i'm talking with Ruairi Glynn, architect, artist, curator, ex-fantastic blogger and if that were not enough he is also a lecturer in Interactive Architecture at Bartlett. His interactive kinetic installations have earned him awards and exhibitions across the world, from the Centre Pompidou in Paris to the National Art Museum in Beijing. Ruairi Glynn was one of the first artists invited to fill in the Tank space at Tate Modern where he installed Fearful Symmetry, a glowing tetrahedron that glided above visitors' heads, danced and encouraged the public to become an active part of the performance.

It's been a fascinating conversation with a pleasant guy. We talked cybernetics, interactivity, puppetry and machines with a mind of their own. I hope you like the programme!

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Watchtowers, West Bank, Palestine

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Published on : 2012-11-26 12:41:52

This afternoon i stopped by the Victoria & Albert Museum to see Light from the Middle East, an exhibition of contemporary photography from and about the Middle East. It wasn't overwhelmingly brilliant but the show has some very strong pieces. In particular, a photo series that appears to draw parallels between the water towers photographed by Bernd and Hilla Becher and the Israeli watchtowers in Occupied Palestine.

Bernd and Hilla Becher notoriously documented in black and white the disappearing industrial architecture of Europe. Taysir Batniji's series similarly attempts to index typologies of constructions. His subjects are the military watchtowers erected by Israel to control the movements of Palestinians inside and outside their own land and unlike the Berchers' fading industrial structures, they are still in use. The photo tableau does look like a Bechers: the use of black and white, the grid disposition, the front views of the buildings, etc. However, closer inspection reveals that the geopolitical context didn't allow the photographer to reproduce faithfully the Bechers' method and impeccable compositions.

The artist writes:

As a Palestinian born in Gaza I am not authorized to return to the West Bank, so I delegated a Palestinian photographer to carry out these photos. They are out of focus, clumsily framed, imperfectly lighted. In this territory, one cannot install the heavy equipment of the Bechers or take the time to frame the perfect position, let alone afford to wait days for the ideal light conditions. Aestheticization becomes a vivid political challenge, both in the creation of these photographs and in their reception, as these images challenge viewers to see these functional military constructions as sculptural, or as a part of a formal architectural heritage.

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Taysir Batniji, from the series: Watchtowers, West Bank/Palestine, 2008

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Taysir Batniji, from the series: Watchtowers, West Bank/Palestine, 2008

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Taysir Batniji, from the series: Watchtowers, West Bank/Palestine, 2008

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Taysir Batniji, from the series: Watchtowers, West Bank/Palestine, 2008

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Taysir Batniji, from the series: Watchtowers, West Bank/Palestine, 2008

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Bernd and Hilla Becher, Water Towers (Wassertürme), 1980

Light from the Middle East is at the Victoria & Albert Museum until 7 April 2012. Admission is free.

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Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men

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Published on : 2012-11-23 06:38:42

There is a spectacularly informative and macabre exhibition at the London Museum right now. Its title is suggestive enough: Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men.

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Skull saw, c. 1831-1870 © Science Museum, Science & Society Picture Library

Resurrection men were body snatchers who often worked in gangs to steal corpses from mortuaries and to dig up recently buried corpses to supply anatomy schools with bodies to dissect and study. Unsurprisingly, the poor, often hastily buried, were easier to unearth and carry to the nearest anatomy school.

Before the Anatomy Act of 1832, the only bodies that hospitals were legally allowed to use for surgeon training were the ones of executed criminals. And because the gallows only provided surgeons and anatomy schools with a few bodies each year, the medical profession had to resort to illegal means to get a practical understanding of human anatomy. Surgery was a dirty and agonizing affair back then. There was no anaesthetic nor antiseptic and even if the operation went well, the patient could still die from shock, loss of blood or infection. Surgeons had to be fast, their gesture confident and for that, they needed bodies on which to practice.

Some resurrection men were more unscrupulous than other. A handful even killed people to provide the corpses needed for surgery practice. The most famous case was the one of Thomas Williams and John Bishop who murdered 16 people and sold the bodies of their victims to science. They were convicted in 1831 and the irony is that after their execution, their own corpses ended up on the surgeon's table. The exhibition is showing fragments of their tattooed skin and even a slice of the brain of infamous body snatcher and murderer William Burke.

To end the ensuing public hysteria, the parliament passed the Anatomy Act in 1832. It expanded the legal supply of bodies to "unclaimed" corpse from hospitals, workhouses or prisons. Once, again, it was the poor who usually ended up on the anatomy lesson table.

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Fragment of tattooed skin from John Bishop or Thomas Williams. Photograph: Science Museum

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Amputation saw, reputedly the property of the English surgeon George 'Graveyard' Walker, c. 1800. Courtesy Science Museum, Science and Society

Because they feared to have their body or the body of a loved one stolen by resurrection men, people defended their right to 'rest in peace' by being buried in gilded iron coffin, outfitted with locks, and graveyards were protected by fearsome "man-traps", loaded pistols with trip-wire, etc.

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19th-century man trap © Museum of London (image History Extra)

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Classes with direct contact with contagious diseases were not feasible so models were used instead. Joseph Towne made hundreds of wax samples, cast from living patients, in order to aid the students' study (image BBC news)

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Dissection hooks © Science Museum, Science & Society Picture Library

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Post-mortem instruments, c1850 © The Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons

The exhibition starts on firm historical ground but by the third room you realize that the theme finds an echo in 21st century Britain. First of all because Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men was inspired by a recent event: the finding in 2006 of a burial ground at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel. They remains excavated by archaeologists showed marks of dissection, autopsy and amputation, along with skeletons of animals dissected for comparative anatomy. The discovery suggests that the hospital dissected the body of diseased patients for surgery practice both before and after it was legal to do so.

The second reason is that the Anatomy Act was only replaced in 2004 by the Human Tissue Act which ensures that access to corpses for medical science in the UK is now regulated by the Human Tissue Authority. But even today, demands for bodies to either dissect or use as a source of organ for transplantation far exceeds the offer.

Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men, as you can guess, often verges on the gruesome but it is also remarkably instructive and engaging. I'm leaving you with a few more images from the show, starting with the work that impressed me the most:

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Conservator Jill Barnard installs the 19th-century anatomical plaster cast of convicted murderer James Legg. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Anatomy classes also took part at the Royal Academy of Arts. In 1801, 3 artists demonstrated that most depictions of the Crucifixion were anatomically incorrect. With the assistance of a surgeon, they acquired the body of a criminal and nailed it into position, flayed to remove all skin and then cast in plaster. The cast was never intended as a work of art but is otherwise on display at the Royal Academy of Art.

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The Superficial muscles of the thorax and the axilla, 1876. Photo Wellcome Library

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Female wax anatomic model showing internal organs, 1818. Courtesy Science Museum, Science and Society Picture Library

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Front view of dissection table © Science Museum, Science & Society Picture Library

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Female momento mori © Science Museum, Science & Society Picture Library

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Excavation of tightly packed burials from the later part of the hospital cemetery. Photo Museum of London Archaeology

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View of the exhibition space (image Visit London)

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View of the exhibition space (image BBC news)

Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men is up until April 14 at the Museum of London.

Related story: Brains: The Mind as Matter.

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Hold On, when a joystick manipulates Hollywood

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Published on : 2012-11-21 13:39:36

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Still from Hold On, The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)

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Installation view of Hold On at Festival Gamerz, Fondation Vasarely, Aix-en-Provence,2012. Photo by Luce Moreau

One of the best surprises of this year's edition of the GAMERZ festival in Aix en Provence was a work that mixed clips from cult movies with video game dynamics. Using 2 buttons and a joystick, visitors could navigate inside movie sequences from The Shining, Jurassic Park, The Blair Witch Project, Old Boy and many more. The main actor becomes an avatar and you can delay the inescapable moment when the little boy in The Shining bumps into the evil-looking twins or you can give a couple of extra kicks and lengthen the fight that opposed Bruce Lee to Chuck Norris in Way of the Dragon.

Hold On, by Maxime Marion & Emilie Brout is pretty irresistible. You want to try all the movie sequences and then you want to try them once again to see how much more you can do inside the same movie clip.

There's no video to demonstrate how the installation work. Not yet. In the meantime, i've asked the artists Maxime Marion & Emilie Brout to take us behind the scenes of their project:

Bonjour Emilie and Maxime! How did you chose the film sequences? Does any action movie work for example? What were you looking for exactly when selecting the extracts?

The idea behind Hold On is very simple, but its efficiency depends heavily on the choice of sequences, which proved to be more complicated than we initially thought! Many constraints have to be respected. For example, you need a main character at the center of the action so that he or she can immediately be identified as avatar. You also need homogeneous settings, lest you get shocking discrepancies as you move around. We are also looking for autonomous extracts, with an introduction, a conclusion and an issue to solve. There are many extracts we would have liked to use but we had to leave them aside because they wouldn't work.

More generally, we've been looking for film sequences that have their own originality, often referring to famous video game genres, like in The Shining where the little Danny irresistibly evoques Mario Kart, or the puzzles that the dung beetle needs to solve in Microcosmos which evokes games such as Worms or Lemmings. We've made some 15 sequences so far, but for Gamerz we left aside the ones that didn't fit this year's theme. We will show Travolta's incredible danse in Saturday Night Fever another time.

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Still from Hold On, Microcosmos (Claude Nuridsany & Marie Perennou, 1996)

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Still from Hold On, Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993)

It was amusing to watch people play with Hold On at GAMERZ. Some had reactions of surprise and tension because instead of diluting the suspense, the installation often increased it. Is this something you were expecting?

Indeed, the visitors' reactions far exceeded our expectations. It was great for us to witness it. When people are allowed to navigate inside a movie, they have a feeling of freedom, of broader space and abolished temporality. Paradoxically, by losing these limitations of the views, you find yourself in a kind of maze, in a scary labyrinth.

The sensation is enhanced by the fact that it is far more engaging to embody an avatar than to just watch an actor on the screen, and we often know what to expect at the end. That's another reason why we chose very famous movies. When you stop playing, the film simply proceeds till its -not alway happy- ending. Some people were thus playing as long as possible in order to delay the unescapable death in the final scene of The Blair Witch Project, or to avoid meeting the little girls of The Shining, which might occur after each turn in the corridors.

We are also happy to have been able to reproduce faithfully classic game controls, such as in the fight between Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris in The Way of the Dragon, its game play is identical to the Street Fighter 1: we've seen some pretty enthusiastic otakus. And seeing how much fun people were having, sharing with them this fantasy of 'getting inside' a movie was probably what mattered the most.

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Installation view of Hold On at Gamerz, Fondation Vasarely, Aix-en-Provence,2012. Photo by Luce Moreau

You developed the work Hold On during a residency with M2F Creations in Aix-en-Provence. Can you tell us something about the residency? What you found there, how it went on?

We first had the idea of the project in 2006 and its form has evolved ever since, but we needed an impuse to make it come into existence. That's exactly what M2F Créations gave us. We also needed some technical support, especially regarding the responsiveness of the HD video that had to react under 40 ms, plus some electronics for the interface.

So last May we were invited to the Maison Numérique, which Quentin Destieu & Sylvain Huguet are developing more and more. While we benefited from the invaluable technical skills of artists such as Stéphane Kyles and Grégoire Lauvin, we also found that the residency provided us with a fantastic space for exchange and sharing where we've built long lasting relationships. We particularly enjoyed M2F's innovative approach which enables experimental practice while fostering research. In a nutshell, this is a residency we highly recommend!

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Still from GEM, Fellini's Roma (Federico Fellini, 1972)

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Still from GEM, Once upon a time in America (Sergio Leone, 1984)

Most of your other works show how fascinated you are by cinema. I particularly like Google Earth Movies. What did you learn from this transposition of cult movie sequences into the Google Earth software?

Cinema plays indeed an important part in our works. The concept of GEM is to transform a mapping tool into a filmic object, to use Google Earth as if it were VLC. The software allows you to manage many factors when you enter the code, such as tilting, or the focus that enabled us to recreate the famous Jaws Shot.


Google Earth Movies - Jaws (beach panic scene with vertigo effect)

As we were trying to reproduce as faithfully as possible inside Google Earth the movements of the cameras on the real shooting locations, we realized how complex and subtle these movements can be. It was a real lesson of cinema. For example, we recreated the scene of the death of Dominic in Once Upon a Time in America. As the child falls after the shot, the camera follows him, gently going down. Then, as he dies, the camera goes up, a metaphor for "ascending to heaven." So although there is no visible character in GEM, you understand the whole action. In Apocalypse Now, you almost see the helicopters performing their massacre.

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Still from GEM, Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)

While adjusting the light, determining the year, the month and the time with an accuracy of 5 minutes in some cases, we also realized that some scenes that seemed to follow each other perfectly had been shot at different moments (because of the quality of the light.) But this only serves to reproduce a cinematographic feeling for viewers who can discover by themselves the off-screen landscape by turning the camera around.

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Still from Dérives, La Piscine (Jacques Deray, 1969)

Hold On, as you wrote in the presentation text, does the opposite of a machinima, it uses cinema for gaming purposes. But would you use games to make a film? I'm not talking about machinimas but about a film, experimental or not, that would use the dynamics of a game or its interactivity? Is this something that already exists or that you are planning to do at some point?

This is an angle that interests us but it is also different from what we do because it entails some real directing work. Our approach involves the use of found footage, and remaining in reality which triggers so much fascination, rather than in purely synthetic images. At the beginning of Hold On, we had worked on Rashomon by Akira Kurosawa, which tells the same story under four different perspectives. We wanted to make a kind of total movie/game that would allow you to create your own story. But the result was too complex to use. The current version is far more efficient because the simplicity of the controls does not disturb the immersion of the player (a big problem with interactive films) and that is what matters.

But it is true that we are very interested in the dynamic aspect. The work Dérives, for example, uses more than 1500 film clips that represent water and, by constantly renewing the editing, it generates a kind of infinite meta-film. Dérives is not interactive but it is dynamic and generative so it's not cinema anymore. It is almost impossible to cover it all. There's still a lot to do with captured images and generative effects.

Merci Emilie et Maxime!

The festival GAMERZ is over alas! but Google Earth Movies is currently part of the show UPLOLOLOAD - In praise of a diminished reality in Paris.

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Russian Criminal Tattoo portraits

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2012-11-20 11:41:53

This morning i went to the press view of Gaiety is the most outstanding feature of the Soviet Union at the Saatchi Gallery and I'm not sure that the artists participating to the exhibition heartily agree with Joseph Stalin's statement. Although this survey of contemporary art in Russia contains humour, balls and a few satisfyingly good pieces, the show is not exactly cheerful.

Take the gentlemen portrayed by Sergei Vasiliev. Their skin is their biopic: each of their tattoos carries political messages and details about their criminal life. The motifs were drawn using whichever tools and ink they could get their hands on: melted books, urine, blood, etc.

Vasiliev worked both as a photographer for a newspaper in Chelyabinsk and as a prison warden when he encountered the work of Danzig Baldaev. Baldaev was the son of an ethnographer who was arrested as an "enemy of the people", he grew up in an orphanage and spent over 30 years working in the Soviet penal system. Baldaev recorded the horros of the Gulag in dozens of drawings but he gained fame for his meticulous documentation of the tattoos etched on the skin of the inmates. His notes and part of the 3,000 drawings he made of the tattoos are published in 3 volumes entitled Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia.

Photographs by Sergei Vasiliev are featured in the Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia. Now they are also at the Saatchi Gallery where they are covering the walls of one of the exhibition rooms:

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Sergei Vasiliev, Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia Print No.12, 2010

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Sergei Vasiliev, Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia Print No.10, 2010

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Sergei Vasiliev, Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia Print No.8, 2010

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Sergei Vasiliev, Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia Print No.5, 2010

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Sergei Vasiliev, Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia Print No.4, 2010

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Sergei Vasiliev, Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia Print No.15, 2010

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Sergei Vasiliev, Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia Print No.20, 2010

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Sergei Vasiliev, Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia Print No.13, 2010

Gaiety is the Most Outstanding Feature of the Soviet Union: Art from Russia, Saatchi Gallery, London, runs from November 21 2012 till May 5 2013. Don't miss the accompanying show upstairs Breaking the Ice: Moscow Art, 1960-80s, it has some stunning works.

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