The Nine Eyes of Google Street View

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2012-08-02 07:34:02

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630 St Clair Ave W, Toronto, Canada. Picture: Google Street View. Courtesy of Jon Rafman

Yesterday, i went to the Saatchi Gallery to see Korean Eye and the most charitable comment i'm willing to make about the show is that it has a few good moments. However, the exhibition on the top floor, The Nine Eyes of Google Street View, is worth the trip to King's Road.

The nine eyes are the cameras mounted on the pole on top of each vehicle that Google sent around the world 5 years ago. The technology of Google Street View has sparkled moments of deep humiliation, interest from the press photography community, privacy concerns and brilliant artistic reactions.

Jon Rafman was one of the first artists who spent hours looking at the images collected by the cars and searching not just for the amusing, the ridiculous and the fortuitous but also for postcard perfect moments. And does he have an eye for stunning images...

As the artist writes: With its supposedly neutral gaze, the Street View photography had a spontaneous quality unspoiled by the sensitivities or agendas of a human photographer... capturing fragments of reality stripped of all cultural intentions.

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Nacozari De Garcia - Montezuma, Sonora, Mexico. Picture: Google Street View. Courtesy of Jon Rafman

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853 Ménez Ham, Kerlouan, Finistere, France, 2009. Picture: Google Street View. Courtesy of Jon Rafman

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Rv888, Norway, 2010. Picture: Google Street View. Courtesy of Jon Rafman

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330 R Herois de Franca, Matosinhos, Portugal. Picture: Google Street View. Courtesy of Jon Rafman

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Edam, North Holland, Netherlands, 2009. Picture: Google Street View. Courtesy of Jon Rafman

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5 Rua Tocachi, São Paulo, Brasil, 2010. Picture: Google Street View. Courtesy of Jon Rafman

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NánRén Rd, Manjhou Township, Pingtung County, Taiwan 947, 2011. Picture: Google Street View. Courtesy of Jon Rafman

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51 E. Claremont St, Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom, 2009. Picture: Google Street View. Courtesy of Jon Rafman

Without indication of their location:

Looks like Trellick Tower in North Kensington, London.

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Picture: Google Street View. Courtesy of Jon Rafman

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Picture: Google Street View. Courtesy of Jon Rafman

Probably my favourite:

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Picture: Google Street View. Courtesy of Jon Rafman

The Guardian has the best slideshow and The Independent has the most informative interview with Rafman.

The Nine Eyes of Google Street View is at the Saatchi Gallery, in London until Thursday to 29 August 2012.

Previously: Community Performance in Google Street View, Aaron Hobson's Cinemascapes: Google Street View Edition which i discovered at the London Festival of Photography, and Michael Wolf, We are watching you...

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Superhuman, exploring human enhancement

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2012-07-31 15:02:14

I finally went to the Wellcome Collection to see Superhuman - An exhibition exploring human enhancement.

Glasses, lipstick, false teeth, the contraceptive pill and even your mobile phone - we take for granted how commonplace human enhancements are. Current scientific developments point to a future where cognitive enhancers and medical nanorobots will be widespread as we seek to augment our beauty, intelligence and health.

Superhuman takes a broad and playful look at our obsession with being the best we can be. Items on display range from an ancient Egyptian prosthetic toe to a packet of Viagra, alongside contributions from artists such as Matthew Barney and scientists, ethicists and commentators working at the cutting edge of this most exciting, and feared, area of modern science.


Trailer of the exhibition

Yes! Superhuman is all of the above and much more. In fact, the exhibition gives visitors a lot to chew on. In no particular order, Super human discusses: The definition of enhancement (is the smart phone an enhancement of our body and brain?) Missing body parts that get replaced -even if their function is forever lost- in an attempt to 'normalize' a body. Man and Machine and the perspective of becoming cyborgs. The Superheroes that anticipate transhumanism. A future of humanity timeline. And of course a focus on Sport.

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Superhuman gallery shots: Vivienne Westwood's ghillie shoes (via Londonist)

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Superhuman gallery shots (via Londonist)

It's not all RoboCop and Spider-Man though. The exhibition opens on a warning: a statue of Icarus that reminds us that every attempt to improve our bodies and brains comes with its own set of pitfalls and ethical questions. High heel shoes elevate us but too high, they make walking a challenge. Tom Hicks won the 1904 Olympic marathon after having been doped with strychnine mixed with brandy (performance-enhancing drugs were allowed at the beginning of the 20th century.) He collapsed on the line.

Prosthetic limbs are a particularly striking case of the perils and advantages of enhancements.

Aimee Mullins, the double-amputee model and Paralympian, sees her condition as an opportunity. With each new set of legs comes new powers, new function and a new identity.

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Aimee Mullins in Matthew Barney's Cremaster 3, 2002

Oscar Pistorius can now compete in mainstream athletics using his 'blade' legs. His performances prompted the question: does his carbon-fiber give him an unfair advantage over other runners?

More questions arise if we look beyond the case of Pistorius: Will the distinction between Olympics and Paralympics be erased one day? Or will prosthetics become so advanced that they will be seen as an advantage over the 'natural' body?

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Philippa Verney Drinking Coffee with her Foot. Credit: Photograph by Frank Hermann /The Sunday Times/NI Syndication

At the opposite end of the spectrum are the prosthetic limbs whose sole function was cosmetic. They provided no relief nor aid. Such were the prostheses designed for the "Thalidomide babies", these artificial limbs were so bulky and unhelpful that many children eventually abandoned them.

Thalidomide was a sedative drug given to pregnant women to alleviate morning sickness. It was sold from 1957 until 1961, when it was withdrawn after being found that the drug interfered with the development of a baby's limbs. During that short period, 10,000 children in 46 countries were born with deformities as a consequence of thalidomide use.

The government funded the design of prostheses for children affected by thalidomide in order to make them look 'normal'. The experimental arm and leg prostheses had to be custom-made but they were clunky and uncomfortable. They replicated the aspect of the limb but were not able to reproduce its function. Many children refused to wear them.

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Pair of artificial arms for a child, Roehampton, England, 1964. Credits: Science Museum London

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Pair of artificial legs for a child, Roehampton, 1966. Photograph: Science Museum, London

Both Mullins' experience as well as the history of the Thalidomide babies makes us realize that the role of prostheses nowadays is not so much to give a sense of 'normality' (at the detriment sometimes of the wearer's comfort) but to accommodate a difference and allow the wearer to embrace a new identity.

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A still from Terry Wiles footage from the films of Dr Ian Fletcher, Senior Medical Officer in the Artificial limb Fitting Centre at Queen Mary's Hospital, Roehampton, c. 1965. Picture: Wellcome Library, London

Speaking of prosthetic limbs. I found these images of elegant women showing their wooden leg but not their face extremely moving. The legs were crafted by James Gillingham (1839-1924), a shoemaker based in Chard, Somerset. Gillingham first started making artificial limbs after a local man lost an arm firing a cannon for a celebratory salute in 1863.

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Studio photograph of a seated woman wearing an artificial leg manufactured by James Gillingham

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Woman wearing an Artificial Leg, 1890-1910. Manufatured by James Gillingham of Chard © Science Museum / Science & Society

One of the most pertinent points developed in the exhibition is the shift in perception: what was regarded as exceptional is now ordinary. IVF treatment which made the covers of newspapers not so long ago is now a relatively routine procedure (in 2009, 12 714 babies were born in the UK through IVF.) False teeth and contraceptive pills are now so common we don't see them as enhancements anymore.

Would someone from the 19th century regard us as superhuman? What will the 'normal' people of tomorrow be like? Look like? What will they be able to do better and faster than us?

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Meet Louise, the world's first test tube arrival. Evening News, 27 July 1978

Quick round-up of the stories, images and ideas i discovered in the exhibition:

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Ivory denture with human teeth Credit: British Dental Association Museum

The set of teeth above were known as Waterloo Teeth. Replacement teeth were traditionally made from ivory (hippopotamus, walrus or elephant). However such teeth deteriorated faster than real teeth. The best set of dentures in the early 19th century were made with real human teeth set on an ivory base. Some of these teeth were scavenged from dead soldiers on battlefields.

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Whizzinator (tan). Manufactured by Alternative Lifestyle Systems

The Whizzinator kit was originally marketed as a way to fraudulently defeat drug tests. The kit comes with dried urine and syringe, heater packs (to keep the urine at body temperature) and a false penis (available in several skin tones). The manufacturers were prosecuted for conspiracy to defraud the US government; the device is now sold as a sex toy. Should you be interested...

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A motorised wheelchair with proximity detectors, designed in 1997. Photograph: The Estate of Donald G Rodney

Artist Donald Rodney was born with sickle-cell anaemia, a debilitating disease of the blood. Psalms is a wheelchair programmed to explore the floor space of the gallery and symbolises the presence of the artist when he was too sick to attend the opening of his own exhibitions.

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'General Adoption of the Rolling Skate'.Illustration by George Du Maurier, 'Punch', 1866. Wellcome Library

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Jesse Owens competing at the 1936 Olympics. © The Ohio State University Archives

During the Berlin Olympics of 1936, Adolf Dassler (founder of Adidas) approached Jesse Owens and convinced him to wear a pair of his track shoes in order to improve his performance.

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Charles Atlas, Don''t waste your time or money on ROT!, 1939. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images

Legend has it that Charles Atlas used to be mocked for being skinny. He went on to change his body and develop a bodybuilding method and its associated exercise program that, allegedly, enabled weaklings to turn themselves into fit, strong men. He advertised his method in comic books from the 1940s and the campaign is regarded as one of the most longest-lasting ad campaigns of all time.

The image above shows one page of a correspondence course sent out in early 1939 giving instructions in how "in just 7 days YOU can have a body like mine" by using his Dynamic Tension program. The leaflet includes numerous photographs of Charles Atlas posing in leopardskin trunks and flexing his muscles.

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Francesca Steele, Routine. Photo by Simon Keitch

For Routine, the artist Francesca Steele transformed her physique over a year through adoption of bodybuilding training and diet.

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Francesca Steele, Routine. Photo by Simon Keitch

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Prosthetic toe, Cartonnage, 600 BCE. British Museum

This artificial toe is one of only a few examples found on or buried with Egyptian mummies. It was initially thought to complete the body after death, essential for successfully passing over to the afterlife. However, signs of wear and repair suggest it may also have been used in life. Tests using a replica found it was possible for a volunteer who had lost their right big toe to walk successfully while wearing it, with the toe itself withstanding the pressure of use.

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The Invincible Iron Man: The hammer strikes! David Michelinie, writer; John Romita Jr, penciller; Bob Layton, inker. Marvel Comics Group, 1979

Many comic-book heroes seem to anticipate 'transhumanism' - the application of technology to humans to enhance their abilities. Iron Man is a cyborg who will die without his artificial heart and whose power comes from his high-tech suit. Spider-Man's special abilities come from his artificially altered biology. And life imitates art: scientists are now developing powered exoskeleton suits to allow paraplegics to walk, while spider silk is providing the basis for new biomaterials used to repair knee cartilage.

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Rebecca Horn, Scratching Both Walls at Once, 1974-1975. Image Tate London 2012


Floris Kaayk, Metalosis Maligna

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Yves Gellie, Human Version 2.0, 2007

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Yves Gellie, Human Version 2.0, 2007

Yves Gellie toured the scientific research laboratories dedicated to the development of humanoid robots.

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Yves Gellie, Human Version 2.0, 2007

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Nasal surgery before and after images, 1931. Photograph: Wellcome Library, London

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A knitted breast prosthesis designed by the Lactation Consultants of Great Britain and Beryl Tsang, knitted Louise Sargent in 2012. Photograph: Wellcome Image

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A double amputee climbing on to a chair, descending from a chair and moving. Photogravure after Eadweard Muybridge, 1887. Credit: Wellcome Library, London

Also in the exhibition: The Immortal, life-support machines keeping each other alive. The machines are turned on daily but only for one hour (from 12.30 to 1.30 if i remember correctly.)

Evening Standard has photos of the opening.

Superhuman is at the Wellcome Collection until October 16, 2012.

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Al & Al: The Creator

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2012-07-30 13:44:14

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AL and AL, The Creator, 2012 (Film still). Image Courtesy and copyright the artists

Last month, i went to the UK premiere of The Creator, a 45-minute movie by Al & Al commissioned by Cornerhouse for AND, the Abandon Normal Devices festival.

I entered the cinema wondering how much i'd enjoy a computer animated homage to a genius born exactly 100 years ago and i got out of the screening obsessed with everything Turing. I spent the weeks that followed reading everything i could about the 'father of the computer'.

The short(-ish) film narrates and speculates on the last days of Alan Turing. I knew Turing as the genius who had successfully worked on cracking German ciphers at Bletchley Park during the WWII, as a man who has defined the basics of computer science, and developed the eponymous Turing test, which sets a standard for a machine to be called "intelligent".

Turing's name was therefore little more than synonymous with a landmark in the history of computer. I wasn't aware of his personal life so i was shocked to see him portrayed as a broken man about to (maybe?) commit suicide. 2 years before his death, Turing was indeed found guilty of "gross indecency", because of his sexual relationship with another man. Homosexual acts being illegal in the UK at that time, Turing was given a choice between imprisonment and chemical castration. He opted for hormonal treatment. The conviction also led to the removal of his security clearance, and barred him from continuing with his cryptographic consultancy for the British signals intelligence agency.

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AL and AL, The Creator, 2012 (Film still). Image Courtesy and copyright the artists

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AL and AL, The Creator, 2012 (Film still). Image Courtesy and copyright the artists

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AL and AL, The Creator, 2012 (Film still). Image Courtesy and copyright the artists

As the directors write: Our film tells the legendary myth that thinking machines in the future will make about their creator's life; an emotional story about how one of Britain's greatest scientists ended up in a very dark place, because the country which he helped save from fascism, chemically castrated him because he was gay.

This is the background for a film that intertwines Turing's dreams, a therapy session with his psychologist and a couple of intelligent machines looking for their father.

The focus on the session with the German therapist is particularly fascinating. As the film directors explained in the Q&A that followed the screening, Turing arrived in Manchester as an entirely rational and logical man and because his therapist, Dr Franz Greenbaum, was using Jungian psychology and encouraged Turing to write a dream diary, the mathematician was suddenly confronted with the irrational and the unconscious.

The film certainly explores this irrationality, suggesting that after all, being irrational is part of human intelligence.

The Creator is a clever and moving film that not only celebrates the tragic life of a man we owe so much to but also reminds us that Turing is still waiting for an official and posthumous pardon.

Cornerhouse uploaded the video of the Q&A with the film makers. Don't miss it, their passion for Turing is contagious. Bonus! The irresistible accent of one of the artists.

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Image credit: Cornerhouse Manchester

The Creator will be screened again at the Cornerhouse, on Thu 30 Aug, at 15:50 as part of the AND festival.

Abandon Normal Devices (AND), the Festival of New Cinema, Digital Culture and Art will run from August 29 until September 2.

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dOCUMENTA (13), 2012

Feed : Universes in Universe - Magazine
Published on : 2012-07-28 12:24:11
9 June - 16 September 2012, Kassel, Germany. Extensive photo tour with works by 90 participants at 13 venues.

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Fondation des Treilles: Photography Prize

Feed : Universes in Universe - Magazine
Published on : 2012-07-28 10:17:46
Call for submissions from photographers of any nationality. Subject related to the Mediterranean world. Deadline: 1 September 2012

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Taipei Biennial 2012

Feed : Universes in Universe - Magazine
Published on : 2012-07-28 10:12:04
29 September 2012 - 13 January 2013, Taiwan. Theme: Modern Monsters / Death and Life of Fiction. Curator: Anselm Franke.

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n-Polytope, Behaviors in Light and Sound after Iannis Xenakis

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2012-07-25 13:46:00

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Image courtesy LABoral

A few days ago, Chris Salter premiered n-Polytope, Behaviors in Light and Sound after Iannis Xenakis at LABoral Art and Industrial Creation Centre in Gijón, Spain.

The cutting-edge light and sound environment is an homage to Iannis Xenakis' Polytopes which at the time of their development (1960s-1970s) were regarded as pioneering and radical. Reading articles about the Polytopes, you realize that many of the concepts and structures used to describe them are part of today's new media art and interaction design language: large-scale "multimedia performances", "immersive architectural environments", etc. Xenakis' Polytopes were live performances that merged electronic sound, light shows, and temporary structures. They made the indeterminate and chaotic patterns and behavior of natural phenomena experiential through the temporal dynamics of light and the spatial dynamics of sound. But as ground-breaking as they sound, the polytopes are still relatively unknown.

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Iannis Xenakis,Polytope de Cluny, Paris, 1972 (photo)

Salter's n-Polytope re-imagines Xenakis' work as short performances as well as a continuously evolving installation, both steered through a sensor network utilizing machine learning algorithms. And i'm going to pretty much copy/paste the press release now:

"The 'learning' network studies the rhythmic and temporal patterns produced by the light and sound and helps in generating a totalizing, visceral composition that self organizes in time. LED's and tiny speakers are suspended through the space on a single ruled surface, creating a walk-through performance environment which continually swings between order and disorder, akin to Xenakis's original fascination with the behaviors of natural systems. Creating bursts of light as well as evolving patterns, the behavior of the LED's suggest cosmological events, like the explosion of stars and supernovas. While the LED's create a changing space of bursting points, colored lasers that bounce off the surface of fixed and changing mirrors generate fleeting architectures of lines and shapes that that appear, flicker and disappear before the visitors' eyes. Counter-pointing the intense visual scenography, multi-channel audio from the small speakers as well as the larger environment fills the space, shifting between sparse natural and dense electronic textures - noisy bursts, clangerous, gamelan-like lines and percussive explosions of sound. Across the architectural structure, the network of tiny speakers produce the behaviors of mass sonic structures made up of many small elements (sonic grains) creating swarms of tiny sounds that resemble a field of cicadas or masses of insects."

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Image courtesy LABoral

Check out this video on El Comercio : Chris Salter briefly explains the work and in the background you can get a sneak peak of the preparation of the installation at LABoral.

I haven't traveled to LABoral to see the installation/performance but i'm glad the new work gave me an opportunity to briefly interview Chris Salter. Salter is Associate Professor for Design + Computation Arts at Concordia University in Montreal and Director of the Hexagram Concordia Centre for Research-Creation in Media Arts and Technology. The artist and researcher is currently working on Alien Agencies: Ethnographies of Nonhuman Performance. The little information i found about the book sounds as exciting as its title. The publication will explore questions such as What does it mean that nonhuman matter "performs"? How can contemporary techno-scientifically influenced and produced artworks be understood under the term "new materialism" - the increased interest in the acts of nonhuman objects, processes and matter itself promoted by such scholars as Donna Haraway, Bruno Latour, Karen Barad and Andrew Pickering? What can fields and practices fields such as Science, Technology and Society (STS), anthropology and sociology offer to current technologically molded practices in the area of "research-creation?"

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Christopher Salter works on his installation n-Polytope at LABoral. Photo: LABoral/Sergio Redruello

Hi Chris! Unfortunately i couldn't come and see the work in Gijón but i've been wondering what visitors can experience exactly during the performance? And since the piece is using machine learning algorithms, does the performance evolve over time and how?

This is a complex question but in a nutshell, what audiences experience is a kind of visceral journey from tranquility to chaos and back again, made manifest through light and sound that is partially choreographed (that is, organized and scored) and partially open to what happens in the environment. The techniques we are using (designed by my collaborator/student Québec based artist and PhD researcher Sofian Audry) come from a branch of machine learning called reinforcement learning - which basically involves software learning agents that interact with their environment in order to achieve a goal. The agent seeks to achieve its goal despite the fact that there is a high degree of uncertainty about the environment - in other words, the agent doesn't know until it does something and is then "rewarded" in either a positive or negative manner. Hence the term "reinforcement." The agent's actions thus influence not only the state of the environment in the present but also can affect the environment's state in the future.

In n-Polytope, the agent receives sensor-actuator information from the environment (the brightness of an LED or the amplitude of a sound, for example) and can either turn the LED or the sound on or off, receiving a reward for it. However, the environment around the agent (and the sensor) is continually changing, so it's hard to determine what steps the agent will take and what they will result in. In this sense, the performance is evolutionary in that each "time step" the agent takes is going to be different from the last.

On the opening day, we already had visitors who saw a performance earlier in the day and then one later tell us that they felt the performance was qualitatively somehow different - that it "felt" different. At the same time we have to "tame the algorithms" by shaping how these behaviors and actions are revealed to the public, particularly given that some of these processes take many minutes to unfold and are not entirely interesting in the long run. Sure, they produce patterns but patterns or the formal processes that produce them are not always intrinsically interesting from an aesthetic or affective point of view in and of themselves. This gets us to your next question...

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Image courtesy LABoral

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Image courtesy LABoral

The composition "self organizes in time". Does that mean that the work is going to surprise you? To create light and sound compositions that you had not forecast? 
And if that is the case, do you find it upsetting that you have to relinquish some of the control over the system?

The idea that something will surprise you is at the heart of the concept of "experiment." In science, of course, you want to somehow stabilize this over time and reduce the surprise so things can become consistent and deterministic (and thus, other people can repeat the experiment, achieve the same results and then eventually call this a scientific "fact"). In art, particularly art that utilizes these unstable computational systems, you hope to create the conditions to enable something surprising to happen and then hope it does! This is one reason why artists like Cage with his "chance operations," Xenakis with his "stochastic music" (i.e., music based on probability models) or us with these statistical procedures from machine learning (which are also similarly stochastic), are interested in using techniques in which the results can only partially be predicted.

The issue of relinquishing control is a really interesting question and I've found after working over many years with similar ideas that one is always in a moving target between something which is scripted/fixed and, at the same time, allows a certain degree of improvisation and self-organization in order to keep the sense of "liveness" - that is, something that is taking place right then and there in real time before you. This is the reason to explore these techniques - because ultimately you want to create an experience that renews itself and that maintains its "nowness" - its "life." Control in the real time context of performance is something that I think is vastly overrated! Despite using computational systems (which are at their heart, control systems) and techniques from probability, for example, Xenakis (or Cage, for that matter) was wholly in control of his work and we are too - in the sense that control involves plotting something out in time in some kind of purposive manner. But at the same time, you are never wholly in control because you are dependent on so many other factors, materials and things that have their own tendencies and predilections -- what my friend, the famous sociologist of science Andrew Pickering usefully terms, their "material agency" - their own way of producing material affects in the world.

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Detail of the structure of the installation. Photo: LABoral/Sergio Redruello

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The installation n-Polytope, tested by Chis Salter and his collaborators during his Production Residency at LABoral Photos: Courtesy of the artist

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The installation n-Polytope, tested by Chis Salter and his collaborators during his Production Residency at LABoral Photos: Courtesy of the artist

n-Polytope is using sophisticated technologies that didn't exist at the time of Xenakis' experiments, but apart from the technology what does your work bring that sets it apart from his "Polytopes"?

I think there is more that unites our different approaches than separates them, although clearly our own histories are very, very different than Xenakis's World War II experience. First, the similarities. The original idea to revisit the Polytopes came from two different directions.

The first is my general interest in the history of performative, technologically augmented "total works of art" I wrote a whole book published by MIT Press called Entangled that came out in 2010 about these performative histories) of which the Polytopes are an essential but unfortunately, mostly forgotten part. Indeed, in describing them Xenakis used terms like "interactive," "self-organizing," temporal acts, etc. that are part of our cultural vocabulary now.

The second is more specific to Xenakis' and my own interest in using formal systems (such as those from mathematics or statistics) to generate visceral, perceptual experiences for audiences that continuously slide from order to disorder and in this process, somehow manage to transcend these formal, abstract structures. What is different is clearly the historical and techno-social context that has radically changed since the Polytope de Montreal in 1967. The kinds of media environments that Xenakis had imagined that the Polytopes represent have become, in some ways, common and part of our own technical-cultural moment. Even though we are using very sophisticated techniques culled from current research in computer science and engineering, I think we bring to this re-imagining perhaps a more sober, less utopian approach to technology. Our approach is far less "Platonic" than Xenakis's in that we are interested less in creating a kind of ideal, perfect experience that would be achieved by the "beauty of numbers" or formal principles of geometric thinking but rather creating something less perfect: more fragmented, disordered and messy and whose actions and influence are open to the world.

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Image courtesy LABoral

I'm also quite curious about the fact that n-Polytope is described as a "performance installation". Could you describe what makes the work performative? Why is it not a simple light show?

There are two scales of performance going on in the piece. First, there is, in the traditional sense of a performance, an event that takes place over a very specific window of time, that has a clear beginning, middle and end and has a specific dramaturgical or narrative shape - that takes the audience through a carefully shaped range of experiences - from a kind of meditative silence to absolute, almost apocalyptic chaos and then back to silence. We run five of these performances daily so people know what to expect - when you use the word performance, audiences understand that they should come in at a specific time and stay the duration and that if they wander in or out they will miss part of the experience. It is, of course, always difficult to create this kind of time in the context of museums or visual art exhibitions (think of works from James Turrell or Robert Irwin which, in one way or the other, force audiences into understanding/experiencing a different sense of time than one is used to in the shopping center/ browsing atmosphere of museums) so we are very clear that one should experience the work from beginning to end.

But there is also a second sense of performance. Indeed, why couldn't a light show be seen as performative? Why does a performance have to imply a human performer at all?

This is the core question underlying my current book project for MIT Press called Alien Agency: Ethnographies of Nonhuman Performance. There is now a huge interest in science studies, in sociology and clearly in art and design in moving away from understanding performance as something that is a strictly human act and instead, emphasizes material actions or behaviors of techno-scientifically orchestrated things, transient objects and processes. We already see this taking place in the early days of cybernetics and indeed, this is one reason why we subtitle n-Polytope "behaviors" in light and sound. What one should observe and experience is how light and sound acts and unfolds indeterminately over time, that is, performs - particularly given the fact that this performance is not completely under human control but instead, based on the environment.

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Image courtesy LABoral

Xenakis worked on several "polytopes". How about you? Do you think that this is the first of many n-Polytope?

I think so. The Polytope LABoral is site specific in the sense that it is built for that particular, difficult space, particularly the acoustic design. As soon as the piece opened, I already started thinking of how we can change it to make it better and to resolve things that aren't working yet to our satisfaction. There is already interest from other venues in Europe, in Asia and in North America and they will have their own cultural contexts. So, yes, I think there will be other Polytopes to follow!

Thanks Christ!

n-Polytope, Behaviors in Light and Sound after Iannis Xenakis remains on view at LABoral until 10 September 2012.

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The Theatre of Synthetic Realities

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2012-07-24 14:05:10

As i mentioned a few days ago, the Barltett's student show is one of my favourite events of the Summer in London. It is however so overwhelming and turbulent that you need dedication and pure chance to spot the works that might interest you the most.

I'm glad my Bartlett expedition led me to The Theatre of Synthetic Realities.

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The project, authored by architectural designer Madhav Kidao, is miles away from what you'd expect from an architecture work. No model, no plan. In fact, it rather looks like an essay made of photos, short videos and texts. Together, they reflect on immoral architecture, unsympathetic machines, reality filtered by artificiality and more generally, our symbiotic relationship to technology. In fact, Kidao likens his project to "an exaggerated caricature of our present and near future relationships to technology as is stands."

What made the project remarkable is its focus on how new technologies prompt new behaviour and new ethical questions and decisions. I realize i might be accused of heresy and crucified in front of the populace for writing this but ethics and social concerns are usually not the nerve centers of architectural exhibitions.

Allow me to do a bit of copy/pasting and let's see each other right after that for an interview with Madhav Kidao.

The Theatre, as illustrated in the film Making Friends and Other Functions, is a vehicle in which to explore the relationship that exists between the designer/creator and his or her repertoire of increasingly intelligent collaborative tools, be these tools to create or tools to think. The machines, under the selective guidance of the designer, construct their own reality based upon the information they extract from their environment and its unwilling occupants. This is ultimately a task with no beginning or end, and fundamentally questionable ethical integrity. As result we are left to question the role of the Architect, both in regard to creative authorship and ethical responsibility.

Making Friends and Other Functions v.2 from Madhav Kidao on Vimeo.

Hi Madhav! What are the 'Unsecure Webcams' that are mentioned in ACT I - The Observer? What makes them unsecured?

As I'm sure you are aware most live feed web and surveillance cameras can be accessed remotely through the internet. It is possibly one of the Internet's worst kept secrets that by simply googling specific codes for particular camera models, for example "intitle:liveapplet inurl:LvAppl" a list of all the live webcams of that particular make and model is given. Often, however, the owners of the cameras, usually domestic or small businesses, fail to password protect them, this is what makes them unsecured. Therefore in theory anybody is able to view the camera's live stream and with many cameras actually control the pan and tilt of the camera. As long as you have not cracked any passwords, this is entirely legal.

Whilst the feeds are usually pretty innocent, and frankly often mundane, every now and then you come across something that you no doubt shouldn't have done, an insight into a private world completely unconnected to our own other than through technology. It's quite a peculiar relationship that exists between the remote observer and the realities of an unknown space that is unfolding before them. Time is of particular importance as you are viewing in real time a world in which you have no knowledge of its past beyond the moment you logged in, yet our extended embodiment into the animate camera somehow immediately embeds us into this unfamiliar space.

This is not too dissimilar to the tele-assistance relationship between a drone pilot and the drone. Initially we are completely ignorant of where and what it is we are looking at other than what can been interpreted from the point of view of the camera. It's in our nature to be inquisitive, to people watch, and there is some perverse pleasure in trying to comprehend the events unfolding before us. However due to the lack of context more often than not this is simply educated speculation. The more I explored this strange paradigm the more I found myself just making up wholly fictitious scenarios in my head based upon the slightest clues garnered purely from body language, perceived interactions and the environment. The epistemologically variety of this action means that truth soon begins to seem irrelevant compared to the desire to fabricate an alternative reality.

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Machine Vision Portrait - Gesture Recognition

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Machine Vision Portrait - Skeleton Tracking

The name of the project, The Theatre of Synthetic Realities, places your work in the realm of fiction. Yet, it was inspired by elements of reality. Could you tell us about the trends, behaviors and technologies that have inspired the project?

It was from this point that the concept of a Theatre of Synthetic Realities emerged, a kind of reinterpretation of Hitchcock's Rear Window for the 21st Century, in which the binoculars are replaced by the the vast interconnected complexity of our computing networks; with each input - be it a camera, a sensor or even another person - acting as a portal into a parallel environment. In much the same way as the binoculars are a prosthesis to extend our vision, the global technological systems that we symbiotically rely upon extend our powers of perception and influence around the world. In Rear Window the architecture of community and society defines the story. I was keen to explore how technology facilitates new forms of social interaction and redefined concepts of neighbourhood and community, and how this in turn redefines our concepts of architecture.

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James Stewart in Hitchcock's Rear Window, 1954

The impact technology has had upon our social systems, access to knowledge and global influence is nothing particularly new, Marshall McLuhan famously introduced the concept of a Global Village and Global Theatre almost 50 years ago. For me what is more interesting is how this has evolved into the relatively more recent concept of the Internet of Things. The trend I believe that we we will see with the Internet of Things is that it is not just objects that can be tagged and categorised but also the spaces they inhabit and the actions and events that they are associated with. In this way spaces, buildings and environments are becoming encompassed in the Internet of Things. This is not limited to architecture though, the social activities, and routines that are contained within that architecture add to the data history of a place, a form of artificial psychogeography. What this means is that in much the same way as we exist in a duality between physical and digital social circles, the spaces that we occupy do too. What we begin to see is a physical environment and the live updating digital representation of that environment. This is facilitated by new advances in sensory and scanning technologies, computer vision and biometric analysis.

I, like many others, was investigating the potential of the XBox Kinect as means of capturing complex real time data. Its capabilities have been widely publicised but in simple the idea that a machine can see in three dimensions and then also recognise human gesture is incredible. It allows any machine created using such technology to become actually embodied in a physical world. It begins to transcend the border between the physical and the digital which is a very powerful concept when thinking about intelligent environments. And as we increase our dependence upon the internet as our primary source of knowledge and interaction, our interpretation of truth becomes more reliant upon the technology that we assign to gather and interpret the real world. So fundamentally we start to view the physical world through the filter and perception of machines, in effect, a synthetic reality.

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ACT III - The Vision Machine

Could you describe the Vision Machine, the way humans would 'interact' with it and its ultimate purpose?

The idea of the Vision Machine originated from Paul Virilio's book The Vision Machine. In it he discusses the concept of the "automation of perception", predicting a machine that sees for itself not for the benefit of man. This concept coupled with an interest in how artificial intelligence feeds into responsive/adaptive environments intrigued me. The capabilities that a computer has to extract a significant amount of information from a physical location combined with its ability to comparatively analyse that data with the vast amounts of data stored online through a neural network is almost enough to simulate perception. The resources that a computer has immediate accesses to - such as The Internet of Things - and its methods of analysis are completely alien to our own, therefore it could be predicted that its interpretations of the physical world would be alien too. Building upon the idea of how a human would perceive a space as viewed remotely through a webcam, I wanted to create a sensationalised demonstration of how the camera itself could possibly perceive the space it inhabits in relation to its learned perceptual world.

In regard to the Theatre of Synthetic Realities, the Vision Machine is in essence a robotic actor, cameraman and director in one. Whereas in the initial webcam scenario I was in complete control of the camera and was free to make my own conclusions of what I saw, with the Vision Machine at the other end I am relegated to a more collaborative role in which the machine dictates what it is I view however provides information that I would never have ordinarily been able to extract. Working from this principal we could then predict that the collaborative relationship between myself and the semi-autonomous machine could lead to an emergent performance unique to the relationship. The next stage in the Vision Machine was to then suggest that, much like I had done, it too begins to fabricate elements of reality and as such distort the reinterpretation of the digital model of that environment as well as what the viewer believes to be true.

The project has never really been a serious proposition for a machine to be developed. In fact it was supposed to be an exaggerated caricature of our present and near future relationships to technology as is stands. The machine is portrayed as more of a mild irritation that we just coexist with rather than any kind of interactive companion. Its ultimate purpose is as an analogical device to critique and explore our concept of what digital fabrication is or could be. In this project we are fabricating reality and the representation of reality as part of the Internet of Things. It is very much an attempt to question the relationship we have to tools and technology in a world in which we continue to transfer not just physical but increasingly cognitive faculties over to those tools. The is not seen to be necessarily a negative thing but rather an interrogation of the possibilities this presents, especially in regard to new forms of collaboration.

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ACT IV - Making Friends and Other Functions

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ACT IV - Making Friends and Other Functions

I found 'ACT IV - Making Friends and Other Functions' a bit daunting: here is a machine that observes human beings constantly and then assesses them and assigns them a character. Do you see current technology going in that direction? And what would be the benefit of having such machines around?

In Making Friends and Other Functions everything is real and works to some degree. Somethings I have exaggerated or simulated to communicate the ideas more coherently, however they are all based upon pre-existing technology, most of which is already incorporated into our smartphones. So rather than technology heading in that direction it is in fact already there. In fact casinos have been using some of the most advanced computer vision systems for sometime to catch out those attempting to cheat as well as identifying individuals who have been banned. But what I am more interested in is the relationships between the designer, society and emerging technology rather than necessarily a specific technology and its implications.

One of my aims for the project was to see how technologically advanced I could make it for the least amount of money; so begging, borrowing and hacking spaces, hardware, open source software and code. Then was an attempt to demonstrate how the role of the designer is changing, particularly in the world of open source projects. Practically any designer can now create they're own tools and machines for any job-specific purpose with a relatively low budget, the RepRap being the archetype. As complex and powerful technologies become cheaper and easier to hack, like the Kinect, the designer is gifted with power and responsibility that is free from supervision.

That sense of malaise you have from the idea of camera watching and judging you is in large part due to your loss of control and empathy due to the unpredictable nature of a non-human agent. I think this is an issue that as designers, and particularly architects, we will have to address. As architecture reacts to shifts in social habits I think we will see a lot of unforeseen challenges in regard to what technologies we use and the manner in which we do so.

Fundamentally my project is an immoral one and I think the concept of an immoral architecture is something that will become increasingly prevalent in the future.

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ACT IV - Making Friends and Other Functions

The text of your project says that "The Theatre (...) is a vehicle in which to explore the relationship that exists between the designer/creator and his or her repertoire of increasingly intelligent collaborative tools, be these tools to create or tools to think. The machines, under the selective guidance of the designer, construct their own reality based upon the information they extract from their environment and its unwilling occupants. This is ultimately a task with no beginning or end, and fundamentally questionable ethical integrity. As result we are left to question the role of the Architect, both in regard to creative authorship and ethical responsibility." Is ethical responsibility already an issue architects and designers encounter nowadays when working with new technological tools?

Ethical responsibility has always had some part to play in the design process but I think that is slowly coming to the forefront. The explosion of open source has really brought ethics into the design process as it not only transfers power from the institution to the individual but it also provides new forms and channels to disseminate information, this recent article actually being a perfect example.

For me, consciousness and intent are just as important as categorical right and wrong. For exploring emergent technology is just that, emergent, it is unknown. While a particular technology may have positive society changing impact it may well have dire consequences too. I'm not one for speculations upon utopian ideals and believe that we will have to tread and adjust the boundary of what is acceptable to progress civilisation, however whilst the unquestioning embrace and exploration of new technology is exciting we often fail to question its merit beyond novelty. As Joseph Weizenbaum suggested, just because we can do something doesn't mean we ought to. I think we have to take a utilitarian stance and ask ourselves is doing something in a new way beneficial to design and society? And if so is it not to the detriment of others?

Admittedly I think architecture is a bit slow off the mark when it comes to these kinds of issues. This is understandable when you consider the timescale architecture operates on compared to other design fields. However Architects have always been eager to incorporate new design methodologies and the ethics of the technology used will undoubtedly become an issue.

In terms of the Bartlett show, I'm guessing there is a particular reason you have asked this question so I would ask the same of you. The show is always a dazzling array of phenomenal work and the mastery of a variety of mediums used is breathtaking. I do feel the density and complexity of the show does however sometimes make it overwhelming and distracting from the work. Of course as with any degree show the work on display can only ever be a vast reduction of the full scope of the project and as such the viewer is never going to get a comprehensive understanding of that project.

Thanks Madhav!

All images Madhav Kidao.

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Book review - Reframing Photography: Theory and Practice

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2012-07-23 10:08:16

Reframing Photography: Theory and Practice by Rebekah Modrak and Bill Anthes.

Available on amazon USA and UK.

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Publisher Routeledge says: In an accessible yet complex way, Rebekah Modrak and Bill Anthes explore photographic theory, history and technique to bring photographic education up-to-date with contemporary photographic practice. Reframing Photography is a broad and inclusive rethinking of photography that will inspire students to think about the medium across time periods, across traditional themes, and through varied materials. Intended for both beginners and advanced students, and for art and non-art majors, and practicing artists, Reframing Photography compellingly represents four concerns common to all photographic practice: vision, light/shadow, reproductive processes, editing/ presentation/ evaluation.

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Jessica Frelinghuysen, Personal Horizon Lines, Wearable Tension Fabric, 2005, 2006. Sculptures and photo © Jessica Frelinghuysen 2005, 2009

I'm guilty of a serious case of Judging a Book by its Cover. The indecisiveness in picking up a single image for the cover put me off. Once you open the book, i can't say that the design gets much more appealing (although it is remarkably effective) but the content is literally mind-blowing. Bringing together rigorous theory, idiot proof 'how to' tutorials, artistic works that illustrate each concept and method might sound a bit too much for a sole book written by only two authors but somehow, it works. Theory, techniques and illustrative works complement each other efficiently.

The texts are extremely rigorous and well-researched but the authors never take readers' knowledge of any concept nor reference for granted. Nothing is too pedestrian: the tutorials are extremely detailed and info boxes regularly pop up on the side to explain in few words what is a magic lantern, a chiaroscuro or an installation. Who is Lacan, why Bauhaus matters.

Reframing Photography is probably not a book you'd want to read from cover to cover in one afternoon (it's 500 dense pages, my friend!) I headed to chapters presenting the work of the artists, looking for new names as much as new perspectives on artists i already knew. In the coming weeks i'll probably be back inside the book for the step-by-step on how to construct a pinhole camera and use it. I'm also quite tempted by the one detailing how to hand-colour black and white images.

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Matt McCormick, Vladmaster performance, University of Milwaukee show

Another quality of the book is that it doesn't abstract photography from its social context, discussing issues such as censorship in military operation, the place of photography in social networks like facebook, or comparing notions of originality and reproduction in photography to the same notions in genetics, etc. I learnt a lot from the paragraphs dedicated to the right to photograph, the authors not only explain that private parties have no right to confiscate your film if they don't have a court order, they also explain how to handle confrontation.

Reframing Photography: Theory and Practice is accompanied by a website of the same name. The online resource is so action-packed i sometimes wondered if the publishers were not shooting themselves in the foot.

Here's a few works i discovered in the book:

With Objective Distortions, Garth Amundson questions photography by manipulating the image with lenses made from recycled water bottles.

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Garth Amundson, Objective Distortion--Large Lens, Recycled plastic and thread, 2000-2009

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Garth Amundson, Objective Distortion--Large Lens, photograph, 2000-2009.

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John Baldessari, The Spectator Is Compelled..., 1966-68

Rebecca Cummins converts trucks, buses and mobile homes into moving camera obscuras.

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Rebecca Cummins, Tamworth by Bus (bus camera obscura), 1996. Courtesy of the artist

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Rebecca Cummins, Tamworth by Bus: Road, 1996. Courtesy of the artist.

Somewhere in France, long before Cindy Sherman:

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Claude Cahun, Autoportrait, 1927

Shizuka Yokomizo sent an anonymous letter to people living in ground-floor apartments asking them if they could stand in their front window at a specified date and time, for them to be photographed. Anyone unwilling to participate, they are suggested to draw their curtains. Because the seance takes place at night, Yokomizo's subjects can only see the photographer as a dark silhouette.

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Shizuka Yokomizo, Stranger,1998-2000

Just because i love Edward S. Curtis' photos:

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Edward S. Curtis, Koskimo person wearing full-body fur garment, oversized gloves and mask of Hami ("dangerous thing") during the numhlim ceremony. Edward S. Curtis Collection. November 13, 1914

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Edward S. Curtis, Apache Gaun Dancers, 1906

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Edward S. Curtis, Eskimo Ceremonial Mask, 1929

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Edward S. Curtis, Hopi girl, 1922

German expressionists were pioneers in the art of playing with shadows:

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Still from the movie Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, 1920. Directed by Robert Wiene

I love that movie btw, and it's now in the public domain in the US.

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Air Futures, the company that controls the trade of Air Rights in New York

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2012-07-20 13:51:49

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Image credit: Theo Games Petrohilos

If there's one student show that never disappoints, it's the Bartlett Summer Show. There are models over drawings over installations over plans over rendering. Over the floor, the walls and the ceilings. Year after year, that show is consistently eye-pleasing and inspiring. The exhibition is now closed but i caught up with one of the new graduates, Theodore Games Petrohilos to talk about Air Futures. The speculative project investigates the trade of Air Rights (TDRs - Transferable development Rights) which, in real estate, refer to the empty space above a property. Generally speaking, owning or renting land or a building gives one the right to use and develop the air rights.

What would happen if the regulation of air rights was given free rein, if air became a commodity that could be bought and sold? How would the trade physically manifest itself? Can we imagine that one day an Air Bank will open in the heart of Manhattan?

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The Wall Street headquarters of the Air Futures Company - the company controls the trade of Air Rights in New York. Image credit Theo Games Petrohilos

The Air Futures project speculates on the apparition and spread of a system that would manipulate, buy and sell air. The work explores both the legality and physicality of the air above New York.

Here's the result of the Q&A session with the architect:

Hi Theo! Air Futures is a speculative project but it is anchored in elements of reality as well.
Could you explain us what they are?

Yes, the fact that this project emerged from existing realities is what made it so exciting to work on. Air Futures is the speculative evolution of the air rights trade in New York, where volumes of 'air' are bought and sold to facilitate complex development manoeuvres over the city's grid. The trade in TDR's (Transferable Development Rights) works on the basis that the owners of a plot in the city should be able to fully exploit that plot, as an extruded volume up until the full height of the city's zoning limits. So if the existing building on that New York plot doesn't reach the full height of this invisible zoning limit, then the owner of the plot can sell the leftovers! This is what my project deals in - the leftover developable volumes of space above the city's urban landscape, and the further ramifications, and processes that arise from giving this air value.

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View of the model and drawings at the Bartlett Show. Image credit Theo Games Petrohilos

How and why would the trading of air appear?

At the moment, the air rights trade allows the transfer of these developable volumes under strict rules. For example, you sell the space above your building, and the new owner can build his new building over your plot or bend over it. This happened in 1962 with the Pan Am (now Metlife) Building, the first foray into air rights, where the largest office building at the time was constructed over the historic Grand Central Terminal. The air rights volume can also be transferred to another area, across the road or over strict movements in the grid, to develop elsewhere, and to allow development beyond the set zoning limit. This action of maximising a plot's value without destroying the existing structure has proven to be a valuable tool for the ever-densified city: selling air rights to gain the full 'value' of a plot without physically touching the existing building itself.

The value of these air volumes have the potential to be enormous, for example, in 2005 Christ Church on Park Ave and 60th sold its air rights to developers building on the same block for $30 million. The value of that air volume was based on a speculative idea of what could be developed with it. What fascinated me, was that people where, and are paying millions of dollars for 'air', that is 'air' as a legal entity - a potential future developable volume that could reap even more gains if moved elsewhere, and perhaps joined with other volumes of air. Whole skyscrapers can be built from air rights accumulated from the same block, but now there is real talk of the expansion of the system - air is going public.

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Images credit: Theo Games Petrohilos

Government officials and speculators alike are looking into the creation of an 'air bank', where air rights can be accumulated and divided just like shares. Air rights will also be able to be transferred from one district to another, so the playing field will be larger, as will the potential profits. Brokers and traders will be brought in to facilitate these movements for new investors, who are betting on the potential of these air stocks to perform for them. The New York air rights trade is currently to do with relatively micro- transactions, with values closely associated with both the donor and receiving sites - as a development tool it appears to be manageable. As an investment tool, air becomes subject to the same systems that got us into our current financial mess, it becomes totally detached from reality and fully enters the maniacal world of speculation. We now see air as a commodity and this is where the Air Futures Company comes in.

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The Pan Am Building (image)

What 'air' are we talking about? It's not simply oxygen, right?

Well the term 'air' defines a legal volume with invisible boundaries, it's a completely intangible commodity, its values are based on speculative futures. As the air trade becomes more detached from the actualities of the development of a city and sways more to the fluctuations of a financial market - for the system to pertain to be sustainable it must try and find a solidity of value. In my thesis for this project; 'The Architecture of Mania' I explored how constructions around other intangible commodities create this tangible notion of value - these, like the Air Futures trade, I define as 'manias' that are subject to the crazed emotions of crowds and instinctual reactions to environments. In my research, I saw how important it is to give architectural physicality to these 'commodities' in order to excite a value in the mania as a whole.

Starting from Marx's assertions about commodity fetishism (that eventually led to revolutions!) arising from a detachment from physical production, I needed to define the physicality of this air being traded - give it a more solid value and gain the trust of investors already sick of intangible sub prime mortgages etc.
For example, the ascetic practice of St Simeon Stylites sitting on his pillar in 4th Century Syria for nearly 40 years, without being called a madman showed the power of his architecture. By giving physicality to his desired state "betwixt heaven and earth" with his pillar, his inaction gained a value - it separated him from the everyday earth below, and people could physically relate to his beliefs.

This is the same need as the Air Futures system, they need to separate their commodity from the everyday air of New York to be shown to asserting some sort of control over it. As the air above New York becomes bought, and traded through the Air Futures Company they erect red boxes to define their ownership of those volumes and presence in the city. These frames act as signifiers to excite potential investors in the city and define the intangible air. The Air Futures headquarters on Wall Street confronts investors with controlled flows/gusts that create certain boundaries and thresholds in the building. These ritual paths and thresholds come from my research into the grand museums of art like the Altes Museum, and Louvre etc - places that have to create value in ART: another commodity with intangible values.

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Image credit: Theo Games Petrohilos

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How does the project reflect current commercial practices?

The use of manipulated oxygen levels around the building are used to excite traders and investors alike into euphoric states. I used these to highlight the addictive and unstable nature of high-risk investing and aggressive speculation we see today. I tried to reflect that in the crazed eyes of the fat cats that inhabit my spaces and illustrations for the project.

With the Air Futures system I aimed to create a scenario that evolved what I see as the mania of speculation. The project is very much based on existing practices, albeit with a critical eye. I tried to reflect little reasonable ventures that accumulated to make a quite unsettling proposition. Its like the traders of todays financial markets saying "its okay to take this little risk", without thinking of the ultimate impact on the rest of the world, and everything, all the lively hoods staked against their little actions.

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Detail of the model. Image credit: Theo Games Petrohilos

Could you walk us through how the trading would take place? Who buys the air? How is it distributed?

The whole Air Futures building is arranged into hierarchies that reflect the attitudes of the system. The Air Futures Building raises itself above the street on a new city datum, which serves to separate the traded and valued air, from the everyday air of the city. The concrete ritual paths into the building, serve to create a feeling of entering another realm, where this valued air resides, and is controlled by the commercial system. Investors are then led up through the regulator spaces of the system, who check both the legality of trades and monitor the purity of claimed air - the system has to be seen to be under control after all. There are then the Air Club sections of the building, where people come to literally get high on air - the commodity - and then trade on the city set out below them. Then there is the Trading Floor, where crowds of euphoric Air Futures traders shout and hustle to inflate stock values, in a sort of gladiatorial performance. They watch trading fluctuations on ionised air barometers on the ceiling that glow with each change in the market. The systems played out in the building are intentionally dense, to echo the alchemic nature of their speculations. The traders are after all turning air into gold.

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The trade floor. Image credit: Theo Games Petrohilos

Could this kind of trade spread to London and other European cities?

Of course! With cities around the world getting more intense, with populations growing in space hungry metropolises, people are always looking upward. I treated air in this project as the last commodity to go public, and it has the ability to reap infinite revenues. In London for instance, cash strapped local governments or historic buildings would be able to sell of their air rights to sell to designated 'high zones' in the city or other cities in the EU for that matter, pretty much like a carbon credit system, but for development. Its all ridiculous of course but possible. I've tried to play the devil's advocate with this project and say "what if it goes this far?"

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View of the model and drawings at the Bartlett show

How would 'normal' people be affected by this trade?

On the physical side of things, if all the air in a city becomes privately owned and that ownership is asserted, it's possible that new types of responsibilities could arise. These could be to do with possible threats to that air above the city and its purity. These subjects were tackled for instance in New York's Times Square after September 11th, where studies were undertaken to assess the possibility of building owners fortifying the public realm from possible terrorist attacks on the air breathed.
The city would see development take place above the standard city datum. This traded air, with highly inflated values would end up inaccessible to the general public, they would end up priced out of the market, and a new 'oppulent datum' would arise.
If people tie up their lively-hoods with this new market that promises so much, pensions, jobs become linked to the price of air - the last commodity, and we end up in the same situation as 2008. I have tried to say that we don't learn from our mistakes, and the alchemists who create financial markets are always in work, able to re-invent the same excitement again and again. After all what is money anyway? Just IOU's made out of paper.

The Air Futures story is pretty dystopic, but of course it's speculation.

Thanks Theo!

All images courtesy Theo Games Petrohilos.

Related story: Airspace Activism.

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