Who Owns The Arctic

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2013-07-08 11:02:34

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The project that Owen Wells developed and exhibited at the Design Interactions graduation show this year looks at the Arctic, a region that global changes has transformed into the new El Dorado.

It is feared that Arctic summer sea ice is melting at a rate faster than predicted, and could be ice free as early as 2015. The loss of sea ice and innovations in exploitation technologies are making the Arctic region more easily accessible. And more easily exploitable. The Arctic is indeed home to the world's largest untapped gas reserves and an estimated 13% of the world's remaining oil as well as vast mineral deposits are thought to lie beneath the ocean floor. The resources expose the Arctic to corporate greed and to potential geopolitical tension caused by unresolved sovereignty claims.

Well's research project, Who Owns The Arctic, identifies the weakest territorial points and the legal loops in the status of the Arctic sea region to devise four subversive ways to overcome the legislation and shake the system that protects the Arctic.

Through an examination of the weaknesses of systems subversion can be seen as a form of critique - a deceitful narration of legitimate practices. With the help of several members of my own family who offered specific expertise, I have planned 4 subversive financial enterprises for the arctic. Each seeks to exploit the unique infrastructure, ecology, and legal ambiguity of the region to provide devious financial rewards. The project takes the form of scenes, maps and equipment. Through their planning, these schemes identify and expose the legitimate systems set to exploit the Arctic.

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The first scheme is called The Mineral Rush. Under the guise of a normal fishing routine on the west coast of Svalbard, Russian men feed Beluga whales with by-catch stuffed with lithium. Whales soon start to show the early signs of lithium toxicity and after 5 days, suffer seizures, organ failure, and eventually die. When the mammals are washed onto the west coast of Svalbard, experts conclude that the metal in their bodies indicates the presence of vast deposits of lithium off the Svalbard coast. These rumors ultimately trickling through to the 39 signatory states of the Svalbard treaty, countries who retain the right to undertake commercial activities on the island without discrimination.

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Crab pot

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Fishing dispute route

In the second scheme, The Fishing Dispute, Russian crab boats travel to the northern tip of the Bering sea. Once the ships have entered the Alaskan king crab fisheries, 20 icosahedron crab pots are deployed and the vessels return to waters within the Russian exclusive economic zone. 2 days later, they come back to tow the catch north, 1,600 km underwater. The pots are released in the Beaufort sea where fishing rights are still claimed by both America and Canada. After 5 days the cotton netting surrounding the pots dissolves, freeing the crabs. An anonymous press leak reporting catches of King crab far beyond their normal range is later sent to newspapers in both Barrow, Alaska, and Toktoyaktuk Harbor, Canada. The resulting scramble for the prized crab meat will greatly increase the opportunity for confrontation between Canadian and American fishermen, driven by confusion over fishing rights.

A third scheme involves an oil spill caused by devices placed on top of icebergs that travel from the northern tip of Greenland into to North Atlantic. On this journey they float past Hans Island and onto the oil fields of Baffin bay and the Labrador sea where, if spotted, they are usually towed a safe distance from the pipelines and oil rigs. But in this scenario the remotely activated devices would shake the iceberg apart. Still large enough to sink a ship or damage a rig, the smaller chunks of ice would not be detected by radar nor by the naked eye. The icebergs would thus float quietly onwards to the oil fields.

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The last scenario involves a man working for the Keystone Pipeline, a pipeline system that transports oil sands bitumen from Canada and the northern United States "primarily to refineries in the Gulf Coast" of Texas. The man's job is to operate a pig launching station. He makes extra money by smuggling goods across borders on board of a "pig", a devices used to clean and survey the pipeline.

More details about each scheme can be found in this PDF.

Hi Owen! You asked members of your family to help you create 4 subversive financial enterprises for the Arctic. What are their areas of expertise? And why did you decide to work with members of your family? To show that anyone can do it? 

Finding the true direction of the project was quite a painful process. After lots of research and deliberation looking for what I was interested in it dawned on me that specific friends and members of my immediate family had a really unique but highly specialised set of skills that I could hypothetically corrupt. I don't want to give too much away about them because I respect their anonymity, but the main area of expertise I was able to draw upon centered around aspects of the shipping industry. It was through this advice that I was made aware of the Arctic as an environment where climate change is in the process of rendering the region potentially prone to corporate profiteering and political tension. In the latter stages of the project I also had advice on finance, and icebergs.

The dialogue around the amount of sensitive information readily available on the internet is pretty visible, particularly at the moment. While there is undoubtedly a huge amount of inspiration for potential deviants on the internet (The UN website offers information on how to set up shipping front companies if you're willing to sit through some very dry videos) the opportunity to "physically" construct this kind of network, around the dinner table so to speak, was far too enticing. The implication that anyone can do it is defiantly a big part of the spirit of the project.

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Owen Wells, Who Owns The Arctic. Installation at the RCA graduation show. Image d_&_r

The texts describing the four enterprises in the show looked as if they were merely the start of a thriller. Why did you give just set the scene and didn't go further in the description of the scenario? 

I planned each of the four parts of the project pretty meticulously. I scouted locations, used google maps to plan how far and for long different actions would take. I produced inventories for different sections of the trips, found out how and where I get important pieces of equipment, and how many people were involved at any one time. Rather than display these as maps I decided to condense them into introductory texts. The scale of the schemes was far larger than anything I had dealt with before and so the texts gave me a way of contextualising them within the voice of individual characters. While specific locations might not be instantly recognisable I trust that the region is visible enough to begin to imagine what each of the schemes is suggesting.

In a way the schemes themselves serve as introductions - a way of describing the complexity of problems that climate change provokes beyond the environmental effects that everyone is aware of by now. There is room for them to be presented in more detail and I hope to develop the project beyond its current incarnation. Perhaps I might hold one of the arctic states to ransom in order to fund it.

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Ship Towing an Iceberg. Source: Randy Olson, National Geographic

Several objects were exhibited in the show. Can you explain the one linked to the oil spill? How would it work exactly? Which technology does it use? And could you confirm how it would eventually trigger an oil spill? Would it be through an encounter similar to the one that sank the Titanic?

Of the four objects in the show that one is by far the most speculative in terms of how well it would work in the field. Icebergs are such an ominous symbols of danger that I had to include them, but they are notoriously difficult to destroy. The mechanisms through which they are created make them incredibly tough - there are reports of dropping bombs on them and only making a dent.

The device that I exhibited was an amalgamation of a helmholtz resonator and an autodialing device. The autodialing device would cycle through frequencies until it found the resonance frequency of the ice, similar to the way autodialling machines could theoretically crack a safe. The frequency would then resonate though the Helmhotlz resonator into fracture lines that are formed when icebergs calve from the face of a glacier and fall into the sea. The resonance effect would eventually cause the iceberg to break itself apart through vibration, forming smaller but potentially far more dangerous chunks of ice. In practice it is difficult to predict the effect this would have on an iceberg because it is dependent on structure not dampening the effects of resonance. I couldn't confidently tell you if it would work in the field, but the object serves a narrative purpose so plausibility won out.

The weakness lies not in the icebergs themselves but in the system through which they are found and tracked. There are daily iceberg reports available through the International Ice Patrol (an entity whose existence was brought about by the sinking of the Titanic). Their main tool for finding Icebergs is Side looking Airborne Radar (SLAR), so if an object can evade radar (which smaller chunks of ice smoothed by the erosion of ocean are good at) then effectively it remains invisible to the system. Part of the current research on icebergs is about developing a way of towing them from collision courses with oil rigs. The actions of the individuals in the oil spill scenario are intended to make the icebergs invisible to radar by turning larger ones into fragments, flooding an oil rich area with ice that cannot be detected and hopefully (in this instance) won't be spotted in time to be towed from a collision course.

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Potential weak points map

I'm afraid i didn't understand very well the Mineral Rush scenario, the one with the Beluga whales poisoned by lithium. The start is crystal clear but it's the consequences of the perceived presence of lithium off the Svalbard coast that isn't so easy to understand. How are the 39 signatory states of the Svalbard treaty supposed to react to the lithium deposit? 

The Archipelago officially became part of Norway under the terms of the Svalbard treaty. This treaty also states that the signatory countries (whose exact numbers fluctuate depending on what you're reading) have equal rights to exploit mineral deposits in Svalbard. This scheme relies on the stock market to spread a rumor that there is a potentially valuable mineral wealth that has been made visible through its effects on the local food chain. Money could be made through buying land and the selling it once its value has risen due to the potential for prospecting. Alternatively the rumor could be used to engineer demand for legitimate infrastructure.

This one is by far the most complex of all the schemes and admittedly would benefit from a far more in depth demonstration of how it could function.

Finally, i was interested in knowing about antecedents for this exploitation of the weaknesses behind the laws and rules that protect the Arctic region. Did you come across similarly devious tricks from fishermen, speculators, businessmen or others? 

Around Australia there are lots of reports of people smuggling operations exploiting a part of maritime law that states that you must always help a boat in distress. If the authorities intercept them on route then they will feign distress and by maritime law have to be towed to the nearest port rather than turned around. This only seems to delay the inevitable rather than allowing them to achieve their goal.

As I previously mentioned you can find out from the UN website a process that allows you to set up what amounts to a collection of front companies through a relatively cheap corporate web. This is a practice that is legitimate, pretty common in shipping, and is openly advertised. You have nominee directors and have physical shares that can be handed to people rather than existing digitally, so the real owner can remain anonymous. To see how this system worked at a very basic level, I got a quote to incorporate a company in the Marshall Islands on behalf of 5 Norwegian businessmen I pretended to represent; it was a very convenient service.

In the open ocean laws and rules become a little abstract because the high seas are still the high seas - Jurisdiction becomes incredibly complex and in some places redundant. There are international waters where ships come under the jurisdiction of the state under whose flag they sail, but if that state has no interest in bringing them to justice then law becomes unenforceable. Piracy proliferates in these areas. It's completely anarchic in places, and forms a big part of international shipping discourse. Once the Arctic sea ice melts more thoroughly then ships will be able to pass through sea routes in the Arctic and avoid piracy areas, as well as save huge sums of money on fuel. This is why the Arctic is about to become so important to shipping.

If you want a good example of corruption at sea then have a look at the Salem case from 1980. It is too long to explain here but it involves government officials, a criminal sea captain and scuttling a supertanker during the South African oil embargo.

As for the Arctic I haven't heard anything specifically about exploiting the law in the region. That doesn't mean that there isn't anything, but it still won't be really accessible on a large scale for a number of years, so for now any underhand behavior is still hidden. At a governmental level the consensus appears to be to promote good relations between the Arctic states and protect the environment. This is fantastic, but the Arctic is a long way from prying eyes, so as a theatre of deviance (both "legitimate" and "illegitimate") it will surely become a very attractive prospect, if not already.

If I may I would like to say thank you to Alexa Pollmann, Hyung-ok Park, Lana Z Porter, Mohammed Ali, Shing Tat Chung and the family and friends without whom this project would not have been possible.

Thanks Owen!

All images courtesy Owen Wells.

Also at the graduation show: Post Cyberwar Series and Circumventive hybrid organs.

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Aspect: V21: A Good Place to Stop

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2013-07-07 13:07:17

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Aspect: V21: A Good Place to Stop! The title of this issue of the dvd-magazine is literal: this is the final stop for a publication that, in 10 years & 26 DVDs, has shown, promoted, curated, archived and put into context the works of over 200 artists working in new or experimental media. While i understand and respect the editors' decision, i'm going to miss Aspect. I liked it a lot, you see. While any artwork benefits from being seen 'in the flesh' rather than on the pages of a magazine, time-based works usually need the addition of sound and video to be better appreciated. ASPECT: The Chronicle of New Media Art gave the public the possibility to enjoy an artwork at their own pace: each work is introduced by a brief statement from the artist, it is then shown in its totality both as it would be in any art gallery but also in a version that shows the same video with optional audio commentary by a curator, theorist or educator who discusses the background and meaning of the piece.

Aspect: V21: A Good Place to Stop presents 8 time-based works that explore the concept of endings. Either literally or metaphorically.


Pulse Machine

Alicia Eggert and Alexander Reben's Pulse Machine deals with the ultimate ending: death. Both the death of human beings and the one of technologies that have become obsolete.

This electromechanical sculpture was 'born' in Nashville, Tennessee on 2 June 2012. It has been programmed to have the average human lifespan of babies born in Tennessee on that same day: approximately 78 years. The kick drum beats its heartbeat (at 60 beats per minute), and the mechanical counter displays the number of heartbeats remaining in its lifetime. An internal, battery-operated clock keeps track of the passing time when the sculpture is unplugged. The sculpture will die once the counter reaches zero.

Pilvi Takala, Real Snow White (video excerpt)

Pilvi Takala's Real Snow White is by far the most charming and absurd work in the selection. The young and pretty Finnish artist arrives at Eurodisney in Paris dressed as White Snow. Soon children want a photo and autographs from her. But her adventure will end before she can even pass the gates of the entertainment resort. Takala is asked by a security guard not to enter because the 'real' Snow White is already inside. That could create confusion. Besides, what would happen if the 'fake' Snow White does 'something bad'? The conversations between the artist and members of the security team sounds laughable. Unless you know about Disney's thirst for trademark and its application pending with the US Patent and Trademark Office for the name "Snow White", which would cover all live and recorded movie, television, radio, stage, computer, Internet, news, and photographic entertainment uses, except literature works of fiction and nonfiction.

There are 6 other works to discover inside the new issue. Grab yours here!

Previously: Magazine review: ASPECT - The Chronicle of New Media Art.

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The Alternative Guide to the Universe

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2013-07-05 15:23:21

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Rammellzee, Color Letter Racer Set, c.1988. And White Letter Racer Set, c.1991. Installation view 'Alternative Guide to the Universe', Hayward Gallery 2013 © Estate of Carmela Zagari Rammellzee. Photo: Linda Nylind

The Hayward Gallery in London has recently opened a fairly eccentric exhibition filled with the works of outlandish inventors, maverick engineers, self-taught architects, and other people whose imagination won't stop at the laws of physics nor at the rules set by society.

Contributors to the exhibition explore fictional identities and design imaginary cities; they build healing machines and record the unseen energy flows of our bodies. They speculate on mysteries of time and space; create devices for time travel and communication with other dimensions; and fashion new letter forms designed to liberate the alphabet from the strictures of Western civilization.

The Alternative Guide to the Universe is never dull nor predictable. And it is as much about artworks, models and speculation as it is about the stories and personalities of the individuals behind them..

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Jean Perdrizet, Untitled, Un robot ouvrier qui voit les formes par coupes de vecteurs en étoile (Worker robot who sees shapes in star-like vectoral planes), 1970

Take Jean Perdrizet for example. He was a civil engineer who lost his job because of mental health troubles. Around 1955 he became an "inventor", stretching the limits of physics, drawing and prototyping machines to communicate with ghosts or aliens. He also invented a language, the "sidereal esperanto" that enabled all humans to understand each other but also to communication with extra-terrestrials. His machines are lost, only the intricate drawing, plans and mathematical formulas remain.

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Lee Godie. Lee and Cameo on a chair...., early to mid 1970s © the artist. Courtesy Richard and Ellen Sandor Family Collection

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Lee Godie, Untitled

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Lee Goodie, Four Photos (Photo booth Portrait)

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Lee Godie, Untitled Photograph (Photo booth Self-Portrait)

Lee Godie is the one who fascinated me the most. Godie was living on the streets of Chicago in the late 1960s. She called herself a French Impressionist and was selling her drawings and paintings on the steps of the Art Institute. So far, so almost normal. What makes Godie a star of the Hayward show are the theatrical self-portraits she was taking inside a photo-booth at the bus station. She'd bring along accessories, bits of fabric and other props to build different personae. She would then add bright colour to her lips or paint her eye brows in a Scouse fashion. Godie was thus doing theatrical self-portraits long before Cindy Sherman did. And long before celebs started invading twitter with 'selfies.'

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Eugene Von Bruenchenhein, Untitled, 1940s

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Eugene von Bruenchenhein, from Untitled, 1940s. Photograph: Hayward Gallery/© 2013 Lewis B Greenblatt

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Eugene Von Bruenchenhein, Untitled (Bonnet), 1940s © 2013 Lewis B. Greenblatt, all rights reserved. Courtesy Lewis and Jean Greenblatt

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Eugene Von Bruenchenhein, Untitled (Green Background), 1940s © 2013 Lewis B. Greenblatt, all rights reserved. Courtesy Lewis and Jean Greenblatt

The romantic in me is charmed by a self-taught photographer who sees his wife as his muse and takes thousands of photos of her dressed as a pin-up, wearing little more than cascades of pearls or donning christmas tree decorations on her head. Preferably against a rococo backdrop. From the early 1940s to the mid-1950s, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein documented the Marie's beauty but even when she is naked, the portraits have more tenderness than kinkiness.

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Bodys Isek Kingelez, Mundial Isek Sport, 1989. Installation view 'Alternative Guide to the Universe', Hayward Gallery 2013 © the artist. Photo: Linda Nylind

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Installation view of works by BODYS ISEK KINGELEZ at 'Alternative Guide to the Universe' exhibition, Hayward Gallery 2013 ©the artist. Photo: Linda Nylind

Bodys Isek Kingelez uses cardboard, candy wrappers and other materials found in the streets of Kinshasa to make what he calls Extrêmes maquettes (Extreme Models) of extravagant buildings and utopian cities. They look neither purely African, nor European, even when they bear the name of a European city. I wouldn't say that they are futuristic either. In truth, these buildings can't be assigned to any architectural movement. They are in a league of their own.

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Richard Greaves, The House with Windows, 2005 © the artist. Courtesy Mario del Curto

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Richard Greaves, The House with Windows, 2005 © the artist. Courtesy Mario del Curto

Richard Greaves sculpts houses as much as he builds them. Like many of the artists in the exhibition, Greaves is self-taught. He never learnt to be an architect. Yet, his constructions successfully defy the laws of gravity. The cabins and shelters he erects in the middle of the forest in Canada are made from abandoned barns which he takes apart and rebuilds at his whim.

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Rammellzee, Color Letter Racer Set, c.1988. And White Letter Racer Set, c.1991. Installation view 'Alternative Guide to the Universe', Hayward Gallery 2013 © Estate of Carmela Zagari Rammellzee. Photo: Linda Nylind

Rammellzee's graffiti and art work are based on his theory of Gothic Futurism. He imagined a world in which letters of the alphabet would arm and liberate themselves from the slavery and corruption of language. Made from found objects and customised skateboards, his Letter Racers are flying armoured vehicles poised for linguistic and galactic warfare. His style is stunning. Why had i never heard of him before?

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Yulu Wu, Remote Controlled Cart with Clothing (detail), 2013. Installation view 'Alternative Guide to the Universe', Hayward Gallery 2013 © the artist. Photo: Linda Nylind

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Yulu Wu, Remote Controlled Cart with Clothing (Yao Kong Chuan Yi Xiao La Che), 2013. Installation view 'Alternative Guide to the Universe', Hayward Gallery 2013 © the artist. Photo: Linda Nylind

I guess everybody knows about Wu Yulu's amazing, rural robots. Using rubbish that he finds near his farm, Wu Yulu creates robots that do the cleaning, wash dishes, light cigarettes, or take him to market. The Hayward is showing the small robot that climbs a wall and a child robot that chases people (as Ralph Rugoff, Director of the Gallery and Curator of the show, pertinently noted, it's not a coincidence if a man from the country of the one child policy decided to build himself a little boy.)

I'm going to stop here because unfinished, unpolished, unpublished posts are piling up and i need to move on but in an ideal life, i'll find the time to write about Karl Hans Janke, the man who discovered the 'radiation-free German Atom'; Philip Blackmarr and his theory of "quantum geometry"; or Emery Blagdon who built a 'Healing Machine' from wire, copper, aluminium foil, Christmas tree lights, ribbons, beads, leaves, butterfly wings, magnets and 'earth elements'. I cannot vouch for the scientific soundness of their theories but i'm glad an art gallery has given them a chance to expose them to the public.

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Morton Bartlett, Untitled, c.1950s. © Morton Bartlett and Marion Harris. Courtesy The Museum of Everything

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Morton Bartlett, Untitled, c. 1950. Photograph: Hayward Gallery/© The Bartlett Project, LLC

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Installation view of works by MARCEL STORR at 'Alternative Guide to the Universe' exhibition, Hayward Gallery 2013. © Liliane and Bertrand Kempf. Photo: Linda Nylind

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Installation view of works by GUO FENGYI at 'Alternative Guide to the Universe' exhibition, Hayward Gallery 2013. © the artist. Photo: Linda Nylind

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Paul Laffoley, Thanaton III, 1989. Installation view 'Alternative Guide to the Universe', Hayward Gallery 2013 © the artist. Photo: Linda Nylind

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Paul Laffoley, The World Self, 1967. Installation view 'Alternative Guide to the Universe', Hayward Gallery 2013 © the artist. Photo: Linda Nylind

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Installation view of works by ALFRED JENSEN at 'Alternative Guide to the Universe' exhibition, Hayward Gallery 2013 ©ARS, NY and DACS, London 2013. Photo: Linda Nylind

If you can't make it to London, i guess that the next best thing is to get your hands on the catalogue The Alternative Guide to the Universe: Mavericks, Outsiders, Visionaries. It's on amazon .co.uk and .com.

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Alternative Guide to the Universe is at the Hayward Gallery in London until 26 August 2013.

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Beyond the Fantastic: Contemporary Art Criticism from Latin America

Feed : Universes in Universe - Magazine
Published on : 2013-07-04 23:58:32
Contemporary Art Criticism from Latin America. Edited by Gerardo Mosquera; iniVA, London 1995. Book review.

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Post Cyberwar Series

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2013-07-04 14:48:08

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Social Teletext Network

During the Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, governments restricted the access to the Internet in an effort to hamper online peer networking and thus self-organization. Could other governments ever operate a similar media shutdown and cut their citizens off the internet?

What would we do if ever an Internet kill switch was implemented in our country? Not necessarily to prevent us from orchestrating riots but to protect the internet "from unspecified assailants".

At the latest graduation show of the Design Interactions department in London, Philipp Ronnenberg was showing 3 methods to prepare for the time after a cyberwar. The Post Cyberwar Series proposes an alternative open navigation system, a makeshift wireless communication infrastructure as well as a novel data storage.

The Teletext Social Network enables people to bypass network providers and governmental institutions and communicate using the analogue television broadcasting which was freed last April in the UK.

OpenPositioningSystem relies on the seismic activity, produced by generators in power plants, turbines in pumping stations or other large machines running in factories to provide an open navigation system. I interviewed the designer about it a few months ago.

Finally, Sewer Cloud is a bit more complex. The system is inspired by the current research on the storage of data into DNA. 1 gram of DNA is capable of storing up to 700 terabytes of data.

People living in urban areas could use the Sewer Cloud as a living, self-reproducing data network. This living network would be located in the sewerage system and use the algae species Anabaena bacteria for the insertion and extraction of data.

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Member using the Social Teletext Network

I contacted Philipp again to ask for more details about his project:

Hi Philipp! When i first interviewed you about the OPS, you didn't mention the kill switch. How did it go from one project about positioning system to a more complex scenario in which internet has been killed off? Were you inspired by any particular events from the recent news? I'm thinking of the NSA data collection: isn't controlling the internet and surveilling our every click enough for States?

The kill switch scenario stands for "killing" the Internet. But the Internet is only one network which is under control of companies and governmental institutions. The kill switch particularly is about the Internet, but other networks such as GPS navigation and mobile phone networks can be affected as well. In all three cases, the GPS navigation network, the mobile phone networks and the Internet, the control is in the hand of companies and governmental institutions.

I wanted to create three independent network alternatives. The body of work wrapped in the series Post Cyberwar is a reflection of how dependent we are today on the authoritarian structures of the networks we are using day to day. It is not only about surveillance and tracking down activity of users, it is also about content which becomes increasingly restricted, censored and monitored. The installation of controlling instances (i.e. kill switch) within these networks is justified with cyberwar and cyber-terrorism.
The recent news of the NSA data collection came just about right for the project. I have been working on the Post Cyberwar series since we last met. For me, it was always obvious that the NSA or any other governmental institutions are monitoring, but I was surprised about the dimension. Nowadays the perception (in the public) of surveillance has slightly changed, thanks to the main stream media and whistleblowers like Snowden. When I talked 5 years ago about surveillance and tracking, I often heard words like paranoid and being mistrustful.

Controlling the Internet and surveilling our every click is enough for getting an insight. But as we saw in Georgia, Egypt and sometimes China, shutting down the Internet and mobile phone networks (or at least parts of it), is a powerful way to prevent communication and the circulation of undesirable information.

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OpenPositioningSystem. Sensor prototype


OpenPositioningSystem

Speaking of OPS, how much has it grown since we last talked about it? Have the prototype and software improved and has the project given rise to attention and interest?

The OPS has grown a lot. First it got attention through your first blogpost and it was reblogged by some bigger blogs. I got very diverse feedback from "this comes out when art students try to be engineers (theverge.com comments)" and people asking me to get actively involved. I have 80 registered members on the website so far, but there is not much activity yet. I want to spend more time soon to bring new content on the website and therefore activate the registered members. The prototype and the software have slightly improved being more accurate and I worked on better tuning to seismic frequencies.

I gave two talks (#geomob London and W3C Open Data on the Web workshop) about the OPS so far where I tried to convince people to come on board. There is a third presentation at OHM2013 planned.
I applied for funding to bring the OPS to a working prototype stage in a small scale test area. I think, if I can build up a solid working prototype, the project will come to the next big step. There is still a lot of work to do.

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Social Teletext Network. Profile page of Zoe Johnson

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Social Teletext Network

Is the Social Teletext Network installation at the show a working prototype? Which part of the communication would it replace exactly? I can't believe it could replace all internet communication, it seems to be so rudimentary.

The Social Teletext Network in the show was showing a demo. But I have the hardware and the software ready to switch it on. The demo in the show was created with the help of the same software which is used in the real setup. Unfortunately it is highly illegal to broadcast your own TV signals, therefore I decided to show a demo in the show. I could apply for analogue (VHF) frequencies, but it is very expensive (too expensive for a student project).

It is not meant to replace the entire Internet. The technical limitations for this task are too high. The Social Teletext Network is capable to provide wireless information streaming, using the old obsolete teletext technology, which makes it harder to track or to monitor. I tried to port some comfort which we know from computer interaction to the Social Teletext Network. For example: You can zoom into specific regions on a map and visualise user locations and other information.

The Teletext specifications provide a very limited resolution and it can only display text and graphics programmed with single pixels. Overall, the strength is that you can send and receive information wireless and over a distance (5km and even more possible with the right hardware and a high antenna).

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Sewer Cloud. Stench pipes provide access points to the sewerage system

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Sewer Cloud. Accessing the sewer system and obtaining algae

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Sewer Cloud. Data extraction from and insertion into algae at the local corner shop


Algae circulation in London's sewer system

Could you explain me with more details the process of the data insertion and extraction from algae? Because if i want to retrieve some data, how do i know which algae i should fish and where?

Text, images, video and any piece of digital data is written in binary code (110011110). These 1's and 0's are then encoded to the four base-pairs of DNA (Adenine, Cytosine, Thymine and Guanine). The new base-pair string will be synthesised to a complete DNA string and inserted into living organisms. To read data out of a DNA string the base-pairs would be decoded to 1's and 0's again and from that to human readable information.
In the beginning of each DNA string, there is an address block which indicates what kind of information is in each string. With this method you could know what you will find in a specific piece of algae.

As 1 gram of DNA can hold up to 700 terabytes (700.000 gigabytes), the amount of data what you can find in a single piece is very high.

If you would insert data into algae and hide the algae at a specific site, the chance that it stays there is high. It would reproduce itself and the following generations would go on a journey. But if the conditions are good, the origin would stay at the same spot and you could still find the same data even years after you have put it somewhere. So the idea is more, that you would know by locations where you can find specific information.

More infos here: Writing the Book in DNA and Test-tube data.

Thanks Philipp!

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#A.I.L - artists in laboratories, episode 36: Ilona Gaynor

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2013-07-02 14:28:08

The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on ResonanceFM, London's favourite radio art station, is aired this Wednesday afternoon at 4pm.

My guest tomorrow will be Ilona Gaynor and she'll be talking to us about forensic science, police reconstructions and the not so technically sophisticated (but very smart) way to rob a bank in broad day light on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. Ilona is a young artist and designer who got the attention of the press - from blogs to the Financial Times- in 2011 for her RCA graduation project Everything Ends in Chaos. The work explored economics, finance, global markets, risk management, insurance and mathematics.

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Downtown Los Angeles, 20x20m Block

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Scale Model, One Wilshire

Over the past 2 years, however, Ilona has been working on Under Black Carpets. The research project is a thorough investigation and planning of the robbery of 5 of the richest banks located in downtown LA. Posing as a LAPD officer, Ilona has researched not only how to 'investigate, intervene and be forceful' but also how to efficiently rob banks.

Ilona Gaynor also runs the design and research practice The Department of No.

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Los Angeles Police Academy. Training ground

The show will be aired this Wednesday 3rd of July at 16:00, London time. Early risers can catch the repeat next Tuesday at 6.30 am (I know...) If you don't live in London, you can listen to the online stream or wait till we upload the episodes on soundcloud.

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Charles Fréger, The Wild and the Wise

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2013-07-01 14:47:27

A few weeks ago i was in Liverpool for the opening of Turning FACT Inside Out, an exhibition that celebrates the 10 years of existence of the UK's favourite media arts centre (I will get back with a report later this week.)

My well documented love for Liverpool has been growing since i discovered the Open Eye Gallery last year. The independent not-for-profit photo space is now showing the sensational Charles Fréger, The Wild and the Wise. The exhibition opened in collaboration with LOOK13, Liverpool International Photography Festival and as befits the theme of the festival this year (WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?), the gallery has selected the work of an artist concerned with both individual and collective identity.

One of Fréger's series documents some of the pagan rites that still celebrate the cyclical patterns of nature and life in general in Europe.

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Babugeri, Bansko, Bulgaria, 2010-2011. From the "Wilder Mann" series © Charles Fréger

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Schnappviecher, Tramin, Italy. From the "Wilder Mann" series © Charles Fréger

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From the "Wilder Mann" series © Charles Fréger

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Ursul (Bear), Palanca, Romania, 2010-2011. From the "Wilder Mann" series © Charles Fréger

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Caretos, Lazarim, Portugal, 2010-2011. From the "Wilder Mann" series © Charles Fréger

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Charles Fréger, Busos, 2010. From the "Wilder Mann" series © Charles Fréger

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Juantramposo, Alsasua, Spain. From the "Wilder Mann" series © Charles Fréger

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Charles Fréger, Krampus, Bad Mitterndorf, Austria, 2011. From the "Wilder Mann" series © Charles Fréger

I could go on and on with those images. They might be less fancifully attired, but the Namibian Hereros, dressed in a vernacular version of colonial uniforms, impressed me just as much as the European revelers of all things folk and pagan.

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Hereros 10, 2007. From the "Hereros" series © Charles Fréger

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Hereros 11, 2007. From the "Hereros" series © Charles Fréger

I smiled at the Wilder Mann and at the Hereros series but i was moved by the portraits of rikishi ('sumo wrestlers' in Japanese) as children and adults.

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Rikishi, Japan, 2006 © Charles Fréger

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Rikishi, Japan (sumo portrait 4), 2006 © Charles Fréger

Charles Fréger, The Wild and the Wise is at Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool until 26 August 2013.

Image on the homepage stolen from the Double Negative.

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Book review - Introducing: Culture Identities, Design for Museums, Theaters and Cultural Institutions

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2013-06-29 14:46:30

Introducing: Culture Identities - Design for Museums, Theaters and Cultural Institutions, edited by Robert Klanten, Anna Sinofzik and Floyd Schulze.

Available on amazon USA and UK.

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Publisher Gestalten writes: Introducing: Culture Identities features outstanding poster campaigns, publications, and cross-platform corporate design for international cultural institutions by both young designers, who are striving to prove themselves creatively, and established studios, who are experimenting with new forms of visual expression. In the book, readers not only hear from designers who are especially active in the cultural field, such as Bureau Mirko Borsche, the New York-based studio 2x4, James Goggin, and Johannes Erler, but also from notables on the client side including MoMA, the Barbican, Van Abbemuseum, and documenta.

With its selection of striking collaborations between innovative designers and visionary cultural institutions, Introducing: Culture Identities presents the field of visual identities for cultural clients as a continuous dialogue that pushes the limit of what is possible creatively.

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Les Graphiquants, Biennale de la Danse Lyon, 2012

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Jürgen Fehrmann, HAU Hebbel am Ufer, 2012

I like a book that influences the way i look at the city i walk through every day. Since reading Introducing: Culture Identities, Design for Museums, Theaters and Cultural Institutions, i've started paying more attention to the design of posters and leaflets advertising the programme of cultural institutions. And even if being more attentive to promotional material isn't exactly my life greatest ambition, there's some great graphic design and typography out there that deserves to be granted more than a distracted glance.

The book features tree main sections. The first one looks at graphic design from the point of view of the cultural institutions. The chapter reveals how some museums or art events select a design studio, integrate them as collaborators and how the internal team welcomes (or not) the proposals of the designers. Only 7 institutions are featured but their relationship with typography and graphic design is analyzed with a depth i wasn't expecting. That first chapter sometimes gave me the feeling that i was taking a peek behind the curtains of institutions such as the Barbican Art Center or Documenta.

The next chapter brings the perspective of the design studios, looking at the relationship they establish with the institutions and how they subtly tweak or break with the identity that cultural institutions have developed over the years. For some designers, a theater or a dance festival is a client like any other. For others, it's a particularly stimulating interlocutor who is receptive to experiments and has developed a similar understanding of creativity.

The last chapter is pure Gestalten: a fast and vast selection of success stories with plenty of images and über efficient descriptions.

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Daniel Josefsohn, Volksbühne, 2012

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Scandinavian Design Lab, The Theatre Republique, 2009

Introducing: Culture Identities, Design for Museums, Theaters and Cultural Institutions is a book that should inspire and inform anyone interested in graphic design and typography. It should also entertain anyone interested in uncovering yet another layer of their urban environment and in discovering some of the strategies that culture is using to sell itself to the public.

The only negative comment is a geographical one. Apart from a couple of exceptions, most of the design studios and institutions are based in either Europe or the US. I wouldn't have minded seeing some works from countries such as China, New Zealand, Mexico or South Africa.

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Helmo, Pronomade(s), 2011

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Helmo, Pronomade(s), 2010

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Cobbenhagen Hendriksen, Nederlands Instituut voor Mediakunst / NIMk. Corporate Identity, 2007-2012

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Côme de Bouchony and Vincent de Hoÿm, Fête de la musique, 2009

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DERRIERELACOLLINE, Deftig Barock, Kunsthaus Zürich, 2012

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75B, International Film Festival Rotterdam Campaign 39th edition, Old Luxor Theatre, 2010

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75B, International Film Festival Rotterdam Campaign 40th edition Poster, 2011

And now for the views inside the book:

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Image from the book Introducing: Culture Identities, Copyright Gestalten 2013

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Image from the book Introducing: Culture Identities, Copyright Gestalten 2013

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Image from the book Introducing: Culture Identities, Copyright Gestalten 2013

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Image from the book Introducing: Culture Identities, Copyright Gestalten 2013

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Image from the book Introducing: Culture Identities, Copyright Gestalten 2013

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Image from the book Introducing: Culture Identities, Copyright Gestalten 2013

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Circumventive hybrid organs

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2013-06-27 12:07:18

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Electrostabilis Cardium - a defibrillating organ using parts from an electric eel that can discharge an electric current to the heart when it recognises it going into fibrillation (a heart attack.) Image courtesy Agatha Haines

I just realized that there is only a few days left to see the Degree Show of the Design Interactions department at the RCA so i'd better speed up and mention at least one projects i found interesting before the exhibition closes on Sunday.

Set in a medical context, Agatha Haines' project Circumventive Organs brings the whole "We are all cyborgs now" mantra into a new light. In the future, maybe the health and enhancement of human beings won't be entrusted solely to artificial pace makers and other embedded electronics or robotic parts. Instead, our bodies might one day be fixed and improved with the help of hybrid organs that will be custom-designed, printed and inserted into the body to overcome a specific illness.

With the introduction of bioprinting the possibility of new organs is becoming a reality. The ability to replicate and print cells in complex structures could mean different cells with various functions could be put together in new ways to create new organs we would take millions of years to evolve naturally. Frankenstein-esque hybrid organs could then be put together using cells from different body parts or even different species.

The organs are using animal parts to respond to the risk of suffering from a stroke (Cerebrothrombal Dilutus), a heart attack (Electrostabilis Cardium) or cystic fibrosis (Tremomucosa Expulsum),


Electrostabilis Cardium being installed during surgery

I had a quick online chat with Agatha:

I'm curious about the shape these organs have: does the shape reflect their function? The exact space they can occupy in the human body? Why didn't you make them look more appealing to the human eye?

Yes, I researched how these cells and tissues exist and look in humans and other species already and how they might look when they are joined to things they aren't usually attached to. I then tried to design the shapes they are in based on the functions they have to perform. I also spent a long time testing colors that could give a sense of what the organ does. So I hoped the form might be slightly descriptive of the function. They are also lifesize to show how much space they may take up when inside the human body.

After looking at lots of viscera I felt people may believe in them more as objects if they look more disgusting like the weird and wonderful things designed by nature that already exist inside us.

Could you detail to me some of these organs?

Electrostabilis Cardium is an organ designed for people with heart problems and is designed to act like a defibrillator. It has a suction pad that attaches to the heart and then a tube, which has walls lines with cilia cells similar to that in the human ear. These cells can recognize vibrations, and if the heart goes into fibrillation (a heart attack) these cells will cause the muscular wall at the base of the organ to contract. Behind this muscular wall is a series of blobs which contain rows of electroplax cells, which are similar to those found in an electric organ of an electric eel. When the muscular wall contracts these cells discharge causing an electric shock to travel to the heart which then defibrillates it causing it to revert back to its normal beating pattern.

Tremomucosa Expulsum is an organ designed to help people who suffer from cycstic fibrosis. It is surgically attached to the trachea with holes that form walls between. The top of the organ has a similar muscular structure to that of a rattlesnake, which can vibrate vigorously without using much energy for long periods of time. This vibration causes any mucus on the trachea walls to become dislodged and to move down the tubes into the new organ, which then moves down into the bottom opening that is attached to the stomach. This allows the mucus to then be dispelled through the digestive system.

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Tremomucosa Expulsum - an organ that uses rattlesnake muscles to release mucus from the respiratory system of a person who suffers from cystic fibrosis and dispel it through the stomach. Image courtesy Agatha Haines

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Tremomucosa Expulsum (detail). Image courtesy Agatha Haines

To me the project makes sense: having something organic rather than medical pacemakers that transform the human into a 'cyborg' seems to be more 'natural.' Yet, the organs would contain cells from leach, rattle snake or electric eel. Can these cells be made compatible to each other and of course to the human body?

There has been lots of research into using animal parts in our bodies and also a few noted existing procedures that have been successful.

Xenotransplantation (which is the transplantation of tissues or organs from one species to another) has become relatively famous with the possibility of transplanting a pig heart into a human. Yet there are problems with rejection, which are now being solved by genetically modifying the animal. This is a way of tricking the body to recognize these parts as human. So the possibility of altering the cells before they enter our bodies could mean they can be made compatible or at least our bodies may recognize them as compatible.

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Cerebrothrombal Dilutus - an organ that contains cells from the saliva gland of a leech and releases an anticoagulant when it feels the pressure of a potential blood clot in the brain as a way of avoiding a stroke. Image courtesy Agatha Haines

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Cerebrothrombal Dilutus (drawing). Image courtesy Agatha Haines

Does a human with these new, hybrid organ becomes a 'new cyborg' or something entirely different? Do you think it would be easier for someone to accept that these scary-looking new organs made with bits of animals will be part of their body instead of a clean, polished piece of electronics and metallic implants?

In a way the host may become like a 'new cyborg' as they are still being enhanced by a new technology, even if it is visceral rather than metallic. Another term often used for a human enhancement like this is 'transhuman.' Transhumanism is a movement that attempts to overcome the current limitations of the human body using emerging technologies.

Whether people are more likely to accept these organs is something that I am trying to question through doing the project. I have been interested in how people respond and relate to new body parts, whether it is a transplant or a prosthetic, and how sometimes it takes a while to accept this new part as initially it feels alien to the body. Yet I think if the organs are partly made from our own cells we may be more likely to accept them into our bodies.

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Electrostabilis Cardium, the defibrillating organ. Image courtesy Agatha Haines

Thanks Agatha!

If you want to know more about Agatha's work, you should check out Happy Famous Artists' take on Agatha's modifies babies or head to V2_ in Rotterdam on July 9, she will presenting her project at Test_Lab: The Graduation Edition.

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The Technoviking documentary. Or what happens when your internet Meme gets angry

Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2013-06-26 11:57:04

There are countless parodies, imitations, versions of the Technoviking. The fabulous and the lame ones that you can expect Youtube to harbour. But the character has also inspired a couple of artworks: Wafaa Bilal put the head of the raver in a public park and watched it grow bigger as people were tweeting about it. And for The Marc Horowitz Signature Series, 19 performances aimed at 'improving' the lives of the citizens he encountered, Marc Horowitz reenacted the techno viking dance session in a junkyard in Walsenburg, Colorado. I saw that one a few years ago at the Espace culturel Louis Vuitton in Paris. Because technoviking knows no social boundaries. Neither does he have any mercantilelimits: you can buy Technoviking action figures and Technoviking t-shirts.

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And now there might be a documentary about Technoviking. But probably not the one its many fans were expecting.

Matthias Fritsch, the artist who shot and uploaded the video has spent 3 years in a legal battle in Germany. In 2009 (3 years after 'the technoviking' became an internet hit), the raver starring in the video sued the artist for uncleared 'personality rights' and tried to remove Technoviking from the web. Not only the original video (called "Kneecam No. 1") but also all the thousands of mash-ups, copies, comics, parodies and other content uploaded online by enthusiastic users. All had to be removed. The protagonist of the video even requested that his famous fingerpointing pose be erased from the internet. At the end of last month, the judges decided that the original video would not be allowed to be shown as long as it is possible to identify the protagonist. Besides, the filmmaker has to pay the money that he had earned to the plaintiff. The earnings came mostly from YouTube ads with a few extra euros from TV-licenses and T-shirts sales.

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Kneecam No.1 aka Technoviking, 2001 (video still)

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Technoviking says Obey

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Jeremiah Palecek, painting of the Technoviking

Fritsch has started a campaign on indiegogo to raise funds for a documentary about the Technoviking story. First of all, because Fritsch has been studying and documenting the many reactions to the videos for years and the phenomenon in itself is worth discussing. But also because, as he puts it, the documentary would be a means to pave the way for artists and internet users around the world to be able to protect themselves against old laws that have yet to catch up to contemporary meme culture.

All this without ever being allowed to actually show the main protagonist of the story.

Matthias Fritsch, The Story of Technoviking - Indiegogo Campaign, 2013

I caught up with Matthias online the other day...

Hi Matthias! You published the Technoviking video on YouTube in 2006 but it was not before 2009 that the mysterious man sent a legal notice asking you to stop using the video and all derivations of it. Why do you think it took him so long to write you? Was it because he wasn't aware of the phenomenon until then? Or is it because something changed in culture or laws in 2009 that made him realize that the moment had come to do something to protect his "personality"?

I can't say for sure why it took the plaintiff so long to get back to me. Already in October 2007, just a week after the video became viral, I met people in China whom I'd never met before and who already knew the video. Therefore I find it hard to believe that it will take somebody two years to get notice of being involved in such a big viral effect.

What happened with this trial? Is it finished? What was the decision of the law?

The trial is finished. Basic results are that I am not allowed to show the video anymore in its original form, meaning as long as it is possible to identify the plaintiff's image. If I cant show the protagonist so can't users anymore who mash up the video. According to the judgement a violation can have consequences of up to 250 000 Euro fine or up to 6 months of jail for me. Also I have to pay him all the money that I have earned since 2008 and I will need to cover 7000 Euro for my part of the fees for the trial and costs for his and my lawyers over the last 3,5 years. Since the judges didn't support him in many points of the lawsuit like the banning of user reactions like comics, re-enactments or mashups that are deemed "arty" enough (the German term is "besondere kunstgerechte Bildbearbeitung") in connection with the video's protagonist. Those should still fall under the freedom of expression. Also the judges seem to have concluded that the plaintiff is rather after the money than really trying to solve his argued personal problems in connection with the video and therefore denied him to claim further financial compensation from me. There is still a chance that the plaintiff is not happy enough with this result and files an appeal against the judgement.

In the indiegogo campaign you say that "The trial was not just about me and Technoviking, it pointed out the borders of free culture and user reactions and one can also conclude that we need new categories in the law how to deal with memes on a legal basis." Could you tell us what you mean by this? Where do you think the law should go? And where do you fear it might go?

I am not a specialist in law and I can just describe my "amateur" feeling after being involved in this case. Therefore I can't provide a solid legal concept yet how the law should include new forms of expression that we find in the contemporary network culture, but I realized that there is a big gap between the actual laws and how I think of this case from a perspective of logic & human spirit. What was the situation when the legal problem started and what could be changed about it by a trial? If there has been a viral Meme in the net for years, if it's been watched globally, copied, used for mash-ups, and if it got out of control - what possible result can a judgement bring in reality that by stating that it is not allowed anymore to continue with the further use? Especially since it it became a web-celebrity which is handled by users like a common piece of media that belongs to everybody?! The young generation grows up with a new understanding of how to deal with media in times of instant copy, paste and edit. And the most common effect of censoring something popular is that this makes it even more popular.

If there is no right for mash-up and fair use for cases like the Technoviking-Meme I fear that, as it is already the case in the music business, lawyers might pick up this way of easy & massive money making and start to send cease and desist letters to prosumers for violating personality rights by doing mashups or forwarding it in FB, etc.

An other interesting point is the fact that in Spain or the US the Technoviking-Claim wouldn't even have a legal basis since it all happened in public space. I would love to talk with competent people about those issues, bring them together within the film that I am planning to create and hopefully find answers and possible solutions.

But more generally, i've been wondering how your case wasn't symptomatic of what is happening more generally with internet culture nowadays, when laws seem to be crafted in retrospect and punish you now for something that wasn't illegal at all 5 or 10 years ago. With -for example- designers or artists receiving bills for copy rights of images they used online 10 years ago as part of a student project, at a time when there wasn't any law detailing what could be or shouldn't be done in terms of copyrights for online images, etc. Is this something you would like to comment on?

I think that's of course a problem and always will be one. I am not aware of those examples when a bill points back 10 years, but it points out that the images you talk about are still online. Since the web hardly forgets anything we need an awareness of what we put out there and what is still online in our own accounts. One radical way could be to cut credits completely, only focus on important content and ideas that will be published anonymous, untraceable but alive.

The Technoviking is by far my favourite meme. Yet, i do sympathize with a man who is universally ridiculed (and didn't ask for it, unlike many reality tv 'stars'). Did you try to reach some kind of arrangement with him? Some understanding which would have been less dramatic and time/money consuming than a court case?

The first thing I did was sending him a personal letter, thanking him for finally contacting me and offered that of course I'd like to share whatever I earn and that I would be open to think together about how to make both a part of living out of the meme's popularity.

What strikes me in your case is not so much that you are brought to court (i do find it sad though, don't misunderstand me!) but that you have to be held responsible for the fact that the whole technoviking meme got out of your hands (as is the case with any meme.)
Can any judge really believe that you are responsible for comics and kidrobot figurines like this one?

The judges didn't hold me responsible for user reactions and neither denied me the right of showing them in lectures or art projects as long as they don't show the plaintiff.

You are planning to shoot the documentary within the legal restrictions that have been made clear by the judges. What are these legal restriction exactly?

The conditions are that the plaintiff should not be identified in the material. I also will not reveal any name, address and so on that could point out how people can find him.

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Wafaa Bilal, Meme Junkyard: Technoviking, 2012 at the AND Festival in Manchester. Photo credit: Paul Greenwood

You have created an archive of the different versions, creations and reactions inspired by the technoviking. It is so big that, as you write, "you would need a week to see all the versions that are out there!" So let's end on a cheerful note! If you could select 5 of these versions, which one would they be?

In the past I have created some compilations that research specific recycling strategies by fans and are real enjoyable to watch:
one is the re-enactments mash-up We Technoviking.
an other shows virtual re-enactments Technoviking Transmedia.

For the biggest part of the user-reactions, since they mash up the original video, my hands are bound at the moment because i shouldn't link directly to content that shows the plaintiff's face. So people need to find these ones themselves. But i can talk about it and it is just incredible how perfect Michael Jackson's song "Beat It" is fitting on the Technoviking clip. As if they were made for each other. There are other songs that are awesome in combination with my video but "Beat it" beats them all in terms of accidentally perfect match.

Also some collages like "the end of the vorld party" or a streetfighter like game simulation of Technoviking against Vernon Koekemoer are results of an incredible fan culture that i could have never come up with myself.

Thanks Matthias!

I do love that Beat It techno viking and Matthias might not be allowed to point directly to it, but i can!


Techno Viking, Beat It

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