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Published on : 2013-02-26 09:49:57
KK Outlet, a communication agency slash art gallery slash bookshop, is now showing Franck Allais' comical Subverting The City, street photos of city boys dressed in their usual grey suit attire from the waist up but in pencil skirts and heels from the waist down.
And i was going to leave you with this when i realized i might as well add a quick sequences of of images illustrating exhibitions i've seen around town recently.
There's Tarzan and Arab! Their posters pastiche the Hollywood war movie genre. The title of each film sounds very action movie: Summer Rain, Autumn Clouds, Defensive Shield, Sea Breeze, Cast Lead, etc. The cruel irony is that each of them is also the name of a Israeli military operation against Palestinians. Their latest creation is Operation Pillar of Cloud which refers to the eight-day Israel Defense Forces offensive on Gaza.
Pillar of Cloud, as the poster states, is a film by IDF Production, produced by U.S.A. government and directed by Benjamin Netanyahu (assisted by Arab Governments.)
Laila Shawa's Stealth Cross-Metamorphoses, a cross equipped with four rockets, looms over your head as you go down the stairs of the gallery.
Adel Abdessemed, an artist who has my eternal gratitude for turning my ham-addicted boyfriend into a vegan, is at the David Zwirner gallery. The show is about war, violence, and spectatorship. There's an aptly-titled Le Vase abominable positioned on top of explosive devices. No explanation about the meaning of the work but there is a guided tour of the exhibition on March 7 and i do intend to find out. Upstairs, among other works, are drawings featuring soldiers in full battle gear. The animation in the adjacent room is fascinating on its own but i just read what it is about and i'm even going to copy/paste the text accompanying it: State is projected onto all four walls in a separate room and features labyrinth-like drawings which recall Republican prisoner protests at HM Prison Maze in Northern Ireland during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Fighting for their right to wear their own clothes on the basis that they were not convicted criminals, they wrapped themselves in blankets rather than the provided uniforms and refused to leave their cells, which in turn were not sufficiently cleaned. They consequently smeared the walls with their own excrement, beginning the so-called "dirty protests."
Never a dull moment with Abdessemed.
The central work in Massimo Bartolini's exhibition at Firth Street Gallery is a scaled-up barrel, like that of a giant musical-box, slowly revolves, opening and closing the valves of a wind organ whose pipes form part of the structure on which the mechanism sits. The music produced by the organ has been composed in collaboration with the artist by Italian composer Edoardo Marraffa. Surprisingly soothing and seductive.
Viral Research is the second exhibition dedicated to the Collection Sandretto Re Rebaudengo that i visit at the Whitechapel Gallery. The first i saw was all about Maurizio Cattelan. His dead squirrel, cheese carpet and hanged self-portrait. Viral Research is supremely different. I particularly liked the b&w photos of Zoe Leonard.
Paradise Row has a few good works in Kiss Me Deadly, a group show of new art from Los Angeles framed by the sensibilities and concerns of film noir culture that flourished in L.A. in the 1940's and 50's.
I'll close with one of Michael Bauer's paintings at Alison Jacques gallery.
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Published on : 2013-02-22 06:34:19
Jeremy Deller: Social Surrealism, by Brigade Commerz, Audio Arts Archives.
Publisher Verlag für moderne Kunst writes: In 2004 Jeremy Deller was awarded the Turner Prize for his multimedia installation 'Memory Bucket'. His signature work 'The Battle of orgreave' (2001) focuses on a critical moment of the international trade union movement, inviting us to a subtly differentiated examination of history. It forms only one part of a growing catalogue of projects that can be read as an ongoing processional body of work which examines, reflects upon and influences our society. Since his 'Manchester Procession' Deller uses the Term 'Social Surrealism' to describe his practise: 'It's going back to the original idea of carnival and procession, which is about inverting reality and changing reality if only for a day or a week and changing how you look at the world.'
Verlag für moderne Kunst has launched a collection of art audio CDs. I'm coveting the Jake and Dinos Chapman, the David Lynch one and crying my eyes out because the Jonathan Meese is in german only (although i did enjoy listening to the audio snippet in which he talks about stuff that are metabolisch and pornografisch.)
The one i had to get right here right now is the audio CD of conversation excerpts with Jeremy Deller. This is basically an audio book with extracts of conversations with Jeremy Deller and it is charming and fascinating. He has a good voice, a clear accent. He is passionate, at times provocative and he sounds like a fun guy to be around.
The files are fairly short, from 1 to 6 minutes. Each one is dedicated to a theme (political art, glam rock) or a particular work. The information and anecdotes come fast: organizing a procession of blind people with blind dogs that refuse to walk on the road, showing folk archives inside a museum and being misunderstood by art critics in the process, the art funding in Britain, the art world as a 'very middle class place', Jordan aka Katie Price, the annual "wanker of the year" contest, making art without making products, his meeting with Andy Warhol, his dealings with the 'image controlling' music industry while filming his documentary about the fans of Depeche Mode, bats eating moths, Acid Brass, etc. My favourite moment was when Deller talks about a project he had of making a poster for the Labour party that would say "Vote Conservative" and show the face of Rupert Murdoch.
Jeremy Deller: Social Surrealism! Best 45 minutes i've spent this year.
Now i hadn't held an audio CD in my hands for ages. it did feel weird and already retro. It does however have advantages over an MP3 file: the CD comes in a hard paper that you can keep as if it were a book on your library shelf. And there's always the possibility to transfer the files on your MP3 player if you wish.
Just because i love that work so much, i'm going to end with a video of Jeremy Deller talking about Acid Brass, the raves, the connections with 1987 minors strike, and taking a trip to Manchester where we witness the brass band getting to grips to a musical genre they are not used to play.
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Published on : 2013-02-21 03:43:12
The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on ResonanceFM, is aired tonight.
This week we'll be talking to Liam Young, a speculative architect whose work use fictional near-future scenarios in order to make us reflect upon the social, architectural and political consequences of emerging biological and technological futures.
Liam is a founder of Tomorrows Thoughts Today, a think tank that explores the possibilities of fantastic, imaginary and even perverse urbanisms.
Liam also runs the rather fascinating Unknown Fields Division, a nomadic workshop that travels to the most intriguing places on this planet in order to investigate forgotten landscapes, alien terrains and industrial ecologies. The Unknown Fields Division have traveled to locations as different from each other (and from our own daily environment) as the Amazon, the Alaska, the mining landscapes of the Australia Outback, the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and more recently the Roswell Crash Site.
If that were not enough, Liam is also one of the curators of this year's Lisbon Architecture Triennale.
My conversation with Liam today is going to focus on Under Tomorrows Sky, a project that will be shown at the Triennale. The first bricks of 'Under Tomorrows Sky' were laid last Summer, at the MU Foundation in Eindhoven, where Liam was joined by a group of scientists, technologists, futurists, science fiction writers and even special effects artists to collectively imagine and build a room sized miniature model of a fictional, future city.
The show will be aired today Thursday 21st February at 17:30. The repeat is next Tuesday at 6.30 am (yes, a.m!) If you don't live in London, you can catch the online stream or wait till we upload the episodes on soundcloud.
Image on the homepage: Under Tomorrows Sky concept art by Daniel Dociu.
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Published on : 2013-02-20 13:48:32
A couple of weeks ago, i attended the Performing Architecture evening at Tate Britain. The event attempted to answer the questions 'What does performance have to do with architecture?' and 'How can a building perform, and how can we perform a building?' Call me an ignorant but i had never heard about Performance Architecture so i'm gathering here a few notes i wrote down during the Late at Tate night. I hope to get a chance to explore performance architecture with more details in the near future.
The most enlightening introduction to the practice was probably the discussion that Tate Curator Marianne Mulvey had with performance architect Alex Schweder and Lamis Bayar , Associate Editor of Le Journal Spéciale'Z.
Performance architecture is an emerging term but it comes from a long history of performance art. Emblematic examples would be Yves Klein's Air Architecture and his iconic Leap into the Void in 1960. Performance architecture also builds upon the works of avant garde architecture studios such as Haus-Rucker-Co, Archigram and Superstudio.
While architecture is usually prescriptive, performance architecture has to do with permission. It gives more agency to the people who occupy or pass through a building, urging them to explore and open up a building.
For the Late at Tate event, Schweder and Bayar scattered instructions inviting visitors to 'perform' Tate's Duveen Galleries. The examples of performance architecture taken from Schweder's portfolio might explain the concept with more clarity:
For 5 days, Schweder and Ward Shelley lived in Counterweight Roommate, a twiglike building made for two occupants of the same weight. Movement in the house depends on using the body mass of one's roommate as a counter weight to aid ascent or slow descent. When one occupant wishes to go up to the kitchen at the top level, the other must go down to the bathroom at the bottom. Between these two rooms are two private sleep / work rooms on levels two and four, and a common room at level three where the ends of the rope meet.
The same pair spent a whole week living inside Stability, a wooden seesaw with two beds, a kitchen and a bathroom. The structure moved up and down whenever either of the occupants decided to move from one room to another. The work was about the negotiations and moments of cooperation that take place when several people share a living space as the position of one of the dweller immediately affects the comfort of the other occupant.
Other projects that the architect mentioned in his talk included giving instructions to people to 'paint this floor until it touches the ceiling' and asking people to breathe warm air as soon as they entered an adjacent room where the temperature is always lower (the room was used to store meat in the past.) Imperceptibly and over time, the breath of the visitors raised the temperature of the second room.
The rest of the evening included more talks, a couple of performances, a workshop, and a series of famous and less famous short films such as Gordon Matta-Clark's spiralling 'cut' that breathed light and air into two derelict 17th century buildings in Paris.
Two films that document Absalon living within his experimental Cellules, 1:1 architectural propositions for idealised living-pods scaled to, and designed to condition, the sculptor's body and mind.
A film by Thomas Lock that deconstructs northern France's abandoned WW2 bunkers and Atlantic Wall into a time-based collage of fractured imagery and sound.
Thomas Lock, Breaking points, 2010
As well as Sean Snyder's Dallas Southfork in Hermes Land that follows a Romanian oligarch's re-creation of the ranch from the TV show Dallas - one of the few American TV programmes broadcast under Ceausescu's Cold War rule.
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Published on : 2013-02-18 04:20:53
I discovered the work of Arcangelo Sassolino in 2008 at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. He was showing a nitrogen-powered sculpture that shot empty beer bottles against a wall at 600km/hr inside a zoo-like metal cage. 5 years later, i'm listening to the podcast of a presentation that the artist made at CCC Strozzina in Florence. the podcast gave me the opportunity to 1. get to know his work better 2. write a quick post about it and 3. advise you to check out Strozzina's archive of podcasts because, as i mentioned on twitter the other day, they contain real gems (quick selection at the end of this post.) Some are conversations between the artist and a moderator from Strozzina. Others are more akin to 'proper' lectures. Most are in italian though.
Here's the gist of Sassolino's talk:
At the time of this presentation, Sassolino was showing a new commissioned (and untitled) piece at CCC Strozzina for the exhibition Francis Bacon and the Existential Condition in Contemporary Art.
A heavy industrial piston is linked to an oil hydraulic system and set up following the longitudinal direction of the room. Another component of the work is a thick rope which traverses the entire length of the room at the height of the visitors' eyes. The rope passes through the piston and its ends are tied around two thick wooden beams anchored between the stone doorposts of the two entrances at opposite ends of the room.
Without warning and at irregular intervals the hydraulic system is activated and starts up the action of the piston that gradually pulls the rope taut. The traction is increased slowly until breaking point is reached, but just before the irreparable happens the piston eases the tension causing the entire system to return to a state of precarious calm.
That's the kind of work that Sassolino makes. It has danger, mechanical tension, darkness and makes the spectator vaguely uneasy ("Is this going to break? Will i be hurt? Shouldn't it take one step back?") In fact, Sassolino also explained that the beams vibrate but they hold the pressure. The system actually gets in motion when a visitor gets closer to the work. And that's when, as the artist puts it, a kind of Sadomasochistic moment emerges: the visitor would like to see some dramatic collapse of the wooden structure but doesn't dare to get too close to it.
In his talk, Sassolino explains that what he likes is to take a material 'by the neck' and torture it in order to make it scream and admit the truth.
A "variation on the same theme" --as he puts it-- is another work without title that made a piece of wood moan until it split.
As the video below demonstrates, sound is an important dimension of Sassolino's work:
The artist is generally less interested in bringing a completed art work in a gallery than in showing a material, be it a piece of wood or marble, that will gradually be stripped of its 'flesh' and maybe reach the point of collapse.
The most literal example of this would be Figurante.
The powerful jaw crushes a femur bone over 3 hours. The work references the sterilized war images we see on tv. They never include the sound of people suffering.
Another work discussed was Elisa, a sculpture assembled from four mechanical digger parts and hydraulically animated by a random generator. The digger arm moves with spasms like a big animal slowly dying.
A couple more image, mostly for my own pleasure:
Dilatazione pneumatica di una forza viva (Pneumatic Expansion of a Living Force) features a bullet-proof glass structure enclosing a glass bottle, which is set on a tube attached to nitrogen cylinders. The gas slowly fills the bottle, which explodes with a shatter of glass when its maximum capacity has been reached. After every explosion the glass bottle is replaced.
In case you're dying to see Sassolino speak about his work in english, here's his comment on Time Tomb, a sculpture he installed at Z33 back in 2010.
More podcasts i'm looking forward to listening to: Loris Cecchini talks about his work, Domenico Quaranta explores art and identity online, Gianfranco Pecchinenda discusses Video games and the production of the American imagination, Vito Campanelli talks Process flow and Web, Fabio Chiusi's lecture is about Transparency and freedom of expression after Wikileaks, Emiliano Ilardi imagines A modernity without catastrophe, etc.
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Published on : 2013-02-15 04:51:29
The latest exhibition of the Hayward Gallery is quite hard to resist. If you're into scientific experiments and geeky installations, you're bound to find something that will excite your senses and curiosity. But the exhibition is also a joy to visit if all you're asking for is pure entertainment, disco and thrills.
The Light Show displays the works of artists from the 1960s to the present day who have used artificial light as a medium.
With all the word plays about light at their disposal (the journalists certainly had a field day writing about "stepping into the light", a "dazzling show", the "light at the end of the tunnel", etc.), the curators chose the simplest title at their disposal and I decided to borrow their minimal approach and visited the show without even reading the texts explaining the works. That was a first for me, and also probably a very dumb idea as i've missed most of the references and dimensions of the works. But i only realized it when i went back home and flipped through the catalogue (a little gem that one!)
Here's just a couple of my favourite works:
Ann Veronica Janssens' Rose is a room filled with fake mist that makes the intersecting beams of light appears as if they formed a luminous, tangible star.
Katie Paterson never puts a wrong foot. I discovered her work only a couple of years ago and she keeps amazing me with each new piece. Paterson plays with moonlight, melting glaciers, dead stars, grains of sand and Gamma Ray Bursts. Light Bulb to Simulate Moonlight is a specially manufactured lightbulb that softly illuminates a small exhibition room with artificial moonlight, a light that, due to increasing light pollution, is almost never experienced in urban settings.
In the same way that lighting manufacturers created the standard incandescent 'daylight' bulb, Paterson worked with a lighting engineer to produce its opposite: a bulb that replicates the light emitted when the moon is in opposition with the sun. The finished artwork consists of a single, lit bulb together with a sufficient quantity of spare bulbs to provide a lifetime's supply of moonlight.
Carlos Cruz-Diez's neon-lit installation, Chromosaturation, gave me an almost physical understanding of the expression 'solid colours'. You walk from one red room to a green one, to a blue one. A few geometric shapes interrupt the monochromatic environment.
'Since the retina usually perceives a wide range of colours simultaneously,' Cruz-Diez explains, 'experiencing these monochromatic situations causes disturbances. This activates and awakens notions of colour in the viewer, who becomes aware of colour's material and physical existence. Colour becomes a situation happening in space.'
Ceal Floyer casually threw a puddle of light on the floor.
Bill Culbert's Bulb Box Reflection II easily tricked me. It looks like an incandescent light bulb and its reflection in a mirror but it's actually the opposite. The bulb's reflection is alight while the actual bulb itself is not.
The exhibition isn't overly socially-engaged, it is mostly sheer distraction from the grey London February. However, one of the works on the top floor is a huge stock exchange-style display of LED texts taken from declassified US government documents exposing the operations, interrogations and abuse that took place at Guantánamo.
Another politically charged piece is Reality Show. Iván Navarro invites visitors to step inside a phone box. Once you've closed the door behind you, you discover that the illuminated space above and below you seems to go on for ever. The sides have one way mirrors and when your eyes try to escape the vortex below and the one above, all they can find is your own face in the mirror. It's disturbing, with this infinite space that makes you feel isolated from the rest of the world. The work is a reference to the interrogation rooms and disappearances that characterized the brutal regime of Pinochet in Chile, where the artist grew up.
A couple more images and i'll close shop for the day:
Just for the title:
Previously: The Magic Hour.
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Published on : 2013-02-14 04:31:18
The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on ResonanceFM is aired tonight.
This week we'll be talking factory lines, outsourced production and the contemporary art system with artist Jeremy Hutchison. Last year, Jeremy was all over the blogs (including mine), newspapers and art exhibitions for his Err project.
The artist sent emails to manufacturers around the world, asking them to produce a fairly common item, a pair of shoes, a comb, a football, a spade or chair. However, he added a special requirement: the product had to be imperfect, come with an intentional error. Moreover, the worker was in charge of deciding which kind of error, malfunction or fault he would add to the item. Whatever the result, the artist would pay for the object.
The show will be aired today Thursday 14st February at 19:30. The repeat is next Tuesday at 6.30 am (yes, a.m!) If you don't live in London, you can catch the online stream or wait till we upload the episodes on soundcloud.
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Published on : 2013-02-12 12:38:04
Another project from the Design Interactions work in progress show!
This one is smart and thought-provoking and i'm looking forward to seeing how it will shape up for the graduation show.
Michail Vanis's project suggests that our romantic ideas and ideals regarding nature - a nature that has to be preserved exactly as it is- are holding us back from finding new ways to interact with the world surrounding us. Vanis' Neo-nature project invites us to reconsider our relationship to nature and adopt a more rational but also more daring and more techno-mediated approach to ecological thinking and to conservation.
The first chapter of the work, Animalia, deals with the animal kingdom and proposes three alternative ways to conserve coral reefs. In all three alternatives, the humans speed up the coral's evolution by genetically modifying it to adapt to the new environmental conditions that put the species in danger. The motivation behind why each coral is created illustrates how humans can donate, protect, or exploit.
The first scenario envisions a coral colony, a Stonehenge-like monument, that conservationists have generously financed and donated in order to save the species from extinction. The corals pass plankton efficiently between each other, creating a temple of nature, a celebration of marine life, and a spectacle for visitors to witness.
The second scenario sees a coral species seeded in areas where tsunamis might hit. In case of tsunami, the coral takes 70% of the impact. Most of the colony would die in the process but the humans would be saved.
The third scenario sees coral being exploited for the benefit of corporations. A hydrodynamic coral would be bio engineered to efficiently slipstream and merge water currents into powerful single streams. At the end of the coral colony, a convenient jet of water is exploited by the creators of the coral to harvest electricity.
I asked Michail (who, i should add, means the pandas no harm whatsoever) if he could tell us more about Neo-Nature:
Hi Michail! You wrote an essay that bears the cruel title of "Let the Pandas Die" to accompany or rather introduce the Neo-Nature project. In this text, you suggest that we might have to adopt alternative thinking in ecology and conservation. Could you briefly explain why traditionalist view of ecology and conservation might not be enough to save ourselves and the environment?
There is a lot of paradoxical thinking in ecology and conservation at the moment. Large sums of funding go towards programmes which aim to sustain organisms that are arguably at the end of their lifetime. We accept evolution and the cyclical nature of ecology, yet we try to halt nature from changing, from progressing. In a way, the nature that we are experiencing now is the perfect nature. Any other alternative seems to spoil the romantic, pure nature that we have created in our heads. Slavoj Zizek puts it very nicely: "[Ecology] is a balanced world which is disturbed through human hubris".
The ideology that we have created to define nature as human beings actually stops us ethically from experimenting with new technologies. For example, if we collectively agreed to save a species from extinction, maybe we could genetically modify it to survive the new conditions that we have introduced. This seems far from possible at the moment because you have two parallel schools of thought: the scientists and the romanticists. The scientists are prepared to take risks and talk openly about modifying organisms, the climate, the natural world. On the other hand, the romanticists protect the ideological, paradoxical nature that they believe in truly on ethical, emotional and guilt-driven grounds. This disagreement is a huge problem in conservation.
Has your research been inspired by existing scientific or commercial projects?
One big influence of mine is the Weather Modification Office in China. What I find fascinating is that China provides a cocoon of moral freedom in which scientists can experiment with controlling the weather. Officials regularly seed clouds to combat the draught in Beijing without worrying about the influence that their actions might have on the natural world. A lot of the time they get it right. But sometimes, they get it really really wrong. Recently they accidentally caused a snowstorm that covered Beijing in snow. And in a way, that's okay. They get it right 90% of the time, but when they get it wrong, it doesn't stop them from trying again. This is the kind of experimental practice that has inspired my project.
Another interesting scientific project is the modification of male mosquitoes to combat insect-borne diseases. When these newly modified mosquitoes try to reproduce, their offspring dies immediately. Doing this to insects is acceptable, but try to imagine if you had the same scenario with a more loved animal. It would be completely unethical! Deciding what is okay to modify and what isn't is completely subjective.
And more generally, have you talked to bioengineers and other scientists about the Neo-Nature scenarios?
I've been working with a fluids mechanic to actually shape the corals. He's been very interesting to work with because he doesn't treat the corals as an animal, but he treats it as a material. For the next chapter of Neo-Nature, I'm working with a climate scientist and a mechanical engineer to explore the domestication of weather control. I am also going to an interesting discussion in April, which is titled "The Future of Nature" and is organised by the Wildlife Conservation Society. Half of the audience are synthetic biologists and the other half are conservation scientists and policy makers. I think this project generates its full potential of discussion when it is debated with scientists as well as romanticists. I'm trying to make that collision happen with a series of debates and talks in the coming months.
Why did you chose to illustrate the project with corals? Is it because these marine animals are easier to manage and modify? Or because they are not 'cute' so we might be less concerned by their fate than by the one of the pandas?
The coral is a very fragile animal that is dying quickly, but there is a lot of opportunity to manipulate it. Corals are more important than other endangered animals because they provide a living environment for a plethora of marine life, yet they receive less funding. I also chose the coral because it's not as sacred as the panda. It's an animal that is usually compared to plants, not to other animals. This emotional distance makes it easier for people to consider the possibilities of modifying coral to fulfill human desire, but to also conserve it in a more artificial way.
You showed 3 models of modified corals at the WIP show. Are you planning to push the project further?
This chapter of Neo-Nature is almost complete. I wanted to suggest three new alternative strategies for saving the coral. I'm putting it in the background for now until the other chapters of the project are complete. I will be testing the coral models at the Imperial College wave tanks to test their shapes and record some videos of the water flowing through them. I'm now working on the next two chapters, which are arguably more megalomaniac! I don't want to reveal too much though...
Thank you Michail!
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Published on : 2013-02-11 13:53:28
Today i'm stuck in Turin, it's been snowing all day long. I'm not complaining but i don't feel like venturing outside to see exhibitions so i'm going to point you to an online exhibition over at dARTboard, a digital art space that the Vilcek Foundation created to 'celebrate the accomplishments of foreign-born artists living in the United States and working in the realm of digital art.' This year's featured artist is Marc Böhlen who's showing two works that investigate the relationship between people and automated systems.
The first work is WaterBar, an installation that geoengineers water so that its mineral composition reflects online news about the concerns, crisis and expectations surrounding water. The liquid is first filtered to be perfectly clean and then remineralized using a filter bank which releases traces of magnesium, iron, calcium and other elements in proportion to the intensity of related problems found in pertinent realtime online news.
The minerals delivered are connected to a number of locations and symbolic significations. For example, increased readings on water conflicts caused by greedy corporations are countered by adding more of the water mineralized with sandstone from La Verna, Italy, where St. Francis cared for the poor. Similarly, increased readings on topics suggesting over confidence in technology, is counterbalanced by adding more water mineralized with quartz-rich granite from Inada by Fukushima, home of the latest devastating high-tech catastrophe. The result is a unique water mix that acts as an 'antidote' to the news of the day.
The second work, MakeLanguage - SyntheticAccents, attempts to overcome the shortcomings of commercial text-to-speech (or TTS) systems which only offer standardized, idealized speeches devoid of any slur or strong accent.
MakeLanguage - SyntheticAccents creates accented Englisch (Frenglisch, Genglisch and Spanglisch accents in limited vocabularies) to speculate upon the imagined lives of these accents without origins.
To be honest, i wasn't particularly impressed by Volcek's "electronic art space" because i can't see how a couple of webpage that reproduce some of the content of the artist's website can be regarded as an online exhibition. I was expecting more curatorial weight, effort, and inventiveness. That said, i'm not only impressed by the Foundation's general aims and missions but i also welcomed the news of this online show as it allowed me to catch up with Marc Böhlen, an artist-engineer whose work i've been admiring almost ever since i started this blog.
Extracts of our online interview:
Hi Marc! Let's start with WaterBar. The installation is a 'water-well designed for the post-sustainability age when clean water is simply not good enough.' Can you explain what you mean by post-sustainability age? Is this when we realize that achieving sustainability is impossible? Or when we go to extreme lengths in order to obtain what we regard as 'sustainable'?
WaterBar is inspired by two different and related ideas.
The second idea is the current fixation on the 'sustainability' model. No doubt, sustainability is of paramount important in the near and midterm. But one day, we will have solved the sustainability challenge (provided planet earth still exits). And then what? What kind of relationship can we build with resources beyond risk management and damage control?
I just showed WaterBar for one month in Singapore, where industrial level water management delivers clean (as in not risky) water to the entire island. Even waste water is recycled and returned to the drinking water system. The water cycle is complete. From a sustainability perspective, the problem is 'solved'. Interestingly, the exact proportion and timing of the release of this processed water (coined 'new' water) into the public drinking water system is a state secret; details are withheld from the public. The researchers at the Aquatic Science Center I consulted claimed that people simply do not want to know this because of the unresolved relationship to dirty water in general. Similar responses have been reported in San Diego (USA) where a novel waste water processing plant delivers 'clean' drinking water. In short, the water problem is not just a technical, not just a political problem. It is a problem of a 'failed' relationship between people and technology. It is a civilization challenge. Up to now, good water was equated with fresh water. But there is not enough fresh clean water to serve everyone on the planet. The future will require new approaches to this problem. That is one reason geo-engineering is so important. These are the aspects of sustainability WaterBar responds to.
To me, WaterBar sounds a bit like a satire of the fashion for food that will 'heal' us more than feed us, for the new 'superfoods' that keeps being praised in the health pages of newspapers. But of course i might be completely wrong so what motivated this desire to 'improve' the water we drink?
Well, there is a component of satire, but not in the installation. The WaterBar installation really does produce mineralized water. It adds iron, calcium, magnesium and other minerals in minute but detectable levels.
The satire is in the shelves of supermarkets and restaurants that sell mineral water to health-fashion victims. The improvement, as it were, that WaterBar offers is an improved relationship to water, to the water mix of the day as it is influenced by current water problems occurring all over the world.
The remineralized water is offered for public consumption. Are people eager to test them? Do they taste very different from each other?
WaterBar searches the internet for news on water problems that concern everyone. WaterBar makes in response to this collection of information (usually bad news!) by passing water from its reservoir through the filter banks and mixing it to a 'catch of the day'.
The relationship between the filter banks (of collected rocks and minerals from different parts of the planet) and the news feeds is based on an oppositional mapping scheme. For example, the Inada Granite filtered water is added to the mix when the system finds instances of 'overconfidence in technology'. (This Inada Granite was sourced from a quarry south of Fukushima, home of the latest high tech meets natural resources catastrophe). Anyway, depending on the mix, the water tastes different. You can't taste all the variations - at least I cannot - and it usually has a bit of chalky taste due to the choice of limestone and marble in the filter banks. Some people really enjoy it.
In order to 'mineralize' the water one has to expose the water to the filter materials for a certain time. At about 30C it takes only about 5 hours or so for the filters I have chosen to reach close to saturation level. At colder temperatures it can take longer. I usually fill up the filters 24hrs in advance and refill overnight.
Yes, the mixes are always different, as different as the news feeds describing water problems. News feed change all the time, but luckily water catastrophes have a slower update rate! This is an interesting problem - how do you relate temporal flows of information systems to the temporal flows of geological systems. Anyway, some mixes taste very different from others, some seem hardly different. The variations in chemical properties are far greater than the resultant variation in tastes.
Some people were very eager to taste the water. During the first show in Buffalo, NY, one fellow stopped by the WaterBar every day. At the end of the week, he stopped by with a large canister to get WaterBar water for his cats and plants!
Can you also explain us the 'internet-scanning, text-processing control system"? What does the system scan exactly? And how does its search influence the final mixing/mineralizing of the water?
WaterBar's software contains a module that checks a large list of websites on water resources, including, waterworld.com, circleofblue.org, ecology.com, mondediplo.com and many others. Depending on where WaterBar is operating, I add sites with locally pertinent information. The internet-scanning algorithm checks these sites, dissects the content and maps it onto an 'association matrix' that relates the origins of the filter banks to the web search results. This is where information directly becomes material. I use the simple 'bag of words' approach. For example, the Inada filter (see above) bag of words contains the concept attributes: 'hazard', 'hightech', 'disaster', 'nuclear', 'contingency', 'emergency', 'highrisk', 'failure', 'advanced technology' (with spelling variations). The algorithm creates a normalized distribution map based on frequency of occurrences for all the filter banks and concept attributes. This does not produce an exact representation of the information flow relevant to the filter topic. But the error rate is uniform across all the filters. From an engineering perspective this is not really good enough, and certainly needs some more attention. But even if I spend the next five years perfecting this, there will always be a difference between what I can capture, what is flowing in the internet and what actually happens in the world. I see the current approach more like a fishing expedition.
The catch of the day are fish that were actually in the water at the time you went fishing, but the fish you catch do not necessarily represent all the fish in the ocean. Anyway, the result from the internet scanning algorithm might suggest this kind of distribution: 20% filterA, 35% filterB, 15%filterC and 30%filterD. A second algorithm creates a water mix in this proportion by opening and closing the electronic valves that connect the filter banks to the bottom jar. A third algorithm calculates the effective chemical composition of the resultant water (based on the mix ratios and measurements of the water in the filter banks). E mg/L of iron, F mg/L of calcium, and so on. Just like the descriptions on commercial mineral water bottles. This info is scrolled on the large LED screen at the top of WaterBar. Gravity is the only force moving the water from the top to the bottom.
My experience has been that people find these accents mostly humorous. I don't know why! To me they are vehicles of 'Entfremdung'. They sound like humans with a life history but are fake!
To me the weird experience hearing these voices is not unlike the 'uncanny valley' effect coined in robotics that describes the effect of experiencing an almost living/human thing and then all of a sudden realizing that what was thought to be alive is inert (technology). The fall from the initial attraction is augmented by the degree of veracity of the effect. I don't think we have culturally come to terms yet with machines that really sound like we do. Not only because of this direct audible disjoint, but because of the subsequent intuitive step of assuming that what sounds human must be human. Maybe this is as disruptive a step as the introduction of the telephone that undid the notion of presence and voice. Prior to the popularization of the telephone, presence was coincidental with physical proximity. The advent of the telephone changed that, and a 'live' voice could be heard from faraway. It took some time before people could grasp this in daily life.
Now this might be a naive and silly question but how did you record these heavy accented sentences? Did you ask a german-speaking person to speak like a computer? Or did you tweak the TTS system instead?
The accented utterances are 100% synthetic! They have never been uttered by a living person, and can be generated on the fly by the system.
Synthetic speech systems use various approaches, but one popular one is based on the unit selection principle by which elementary units of speech (phonemes and diphones) are combined based on language specific rules to larger units such as word and phrases. One starts with a collection of sound bites (a corpus of utterances) made by a specific human being, recorded in a studio. Synthetic speech engineers refer to people whose voices are used as 'voice talent'. Anyway, these utterances are then dissected, rearranged and 'atomized' to elements that can be recombined ad lib, usually in the language model of the native speaker. Whatever such a synthetic voice says will sound as if the original human being said it. Anyway.
Back in 2005 I approached a startup company (SVOX, no longer operating..) that had, in my view, an excellent synthetic speech engine and asked them if I might experiment with the system, promising 'interesting results'. Luckily I received access to the software. It would have been almost impossible to do this project having to build all the software from scratch.
My very simple but effective approach was to selectively mix units of speech from one language with language models from another. This in itself did not produce good results, so I added some 'accent rules' to address the problem of intonation. Even that did not work well. I had to make lots of special rules, and the system got rather unwieldy. I was not able to create a general purpose accent generator (as I hoped for in wild dreams) but a system that would work with a few languages for limited vocabularies. One rather weird part was the testing. Who do you test on? How do you know when the fake accents sound 'right'? So I concentrated on language mixes I am familiar with through my own history and background and tested the strange voices on myself. Once I was ok with the basic sounds, the question of content moved front and center. What should/could these voices say? Some very weird conversations between the voices and me ensued, as you might imagine. Amway, I ended up mostly in the service industry (hotels, airports) and played with the kind of phrases you hear in those impersonal settings. It felt so right in a very wrong way.
What does an exhibition on the online platform dARTboard, bring to your practice? Do you think that an online exhibition has as much strength as one in a brick and mortar museum? In terms of audience, recognition and also ability to engage with an artwork?
I do prefer brick and mortar for installations like WaterBar. I really do want people to drink the water. The installation has a powerful presence, I think. Video documentation is a compromised replacement. Plus you don't get to see people's reactions.
The synthetic voices from the MakeLanguage trilogy are a different matter. I don't think they lose much by being online. Maybe that is the only place they can really be at home after all.
Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2013-02-09 13:35:51
A couple of weeks ago, i took the bus with the Arts Catalyst in the direction of Southampton to see Transformism, an exhibition and symposium that explore the new forms and systems of life that men have devised in the past and even more dramatically in present days, using the latest advances in science and technology.
The exhibition space is occupied by 2 new pieces commissioned by the Arts Catalyst to Melanie Jackson and Revital Cohen. The works investigate with radically different results how cultural archetypes and ideas interweave with science and technology to create new shapes, visual forms and structures.
The most moving work in the show is Kingyo Kingdom which continues Revital Cohen's research into animal design and more explicitly the reasons why some animals are regarded by men as being more of an object or a 'living product' than a pet. Two years ago, Revital looked at the SERT Knock-out rat, a laboratory rat genetically designed to be constantly depressed. This new work investigates the culture surrounding the Ranchu fish, an exotic goldfish developed over centuries in Japan to present strict aesthetic criteria. Bred with meticulous attention as if they were Bonsai, the fish are designed to be viewed from above. For that reason, they were cultured to have kimono-like tails and no dorsal fins. Any fish that does not correspond to the strict aesthetic criteria (the vast majority of the fish) are simply thrown away.
The project questions the definitions used to indicate living creatures. Does one denominate a manipulated organism as an object, product, animal or pet? What consequences does this entail for our feelings and behaviours?
The documentary Kingyo Kingdom shows the first stage of the research, it depicts the economy, ceremonials and culture that turn Japanese goldfish into ornamental and prized objects. The most striking images (at least for me) show goldfish being bagged, packed and sent away to be shipped and sold.
The other work in the exhibition is Urpflanze (Part 2), part of Melanie Jackson's investigation into mutability and transformation that takes its lead from Goethe's concept of an imaginary primal plant, the Urpflanze, that contained coiled up within it the potential to unfurl all possible future forms.
The Crafting Life - Materiality, Science and Technology symposium accompanied the opening of the exhibition. And hurray! the talks have been uploaded on vimeo.
The first speaker was social scientist Dr Emma Roe whose research explores 'how things become food.' You'll never look at a piece of pork in your plate the same way after you've heard what her talk.
Prof Susanne Kuechler gave a brilliant brilliant talk about immanence, societies living in the Pacific, textures of the landscape and other topics i don't usually get to hear about.
Finally, Prof Raymond Oliver talked about materials that become intelligent and damn! that went fast and furious. I was particularly surprised by the slide that brings side by side the year in which a new technology was conceived and the year in which it was effectively realized.
You can download the catalogue of Transformism.
The exhibition is at John Hansard Gallery, University of Southampton until 9 March 2013.
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