All posts by we make money not art

How the humble sweatpants became “critical wearables”

While in Brussels last month, i went to BOZAR to see Somewhere In Between, an exhibition that “provides a unique window on today’s artistic hotbeds of Europe.” I found the show to be surprisingly good. There were moments when i despaired that i’d never truly understand contemporary art. And moments when i got happy, excited and genuinely amazed. I was particularly impressed with a row of sweatpants neatly aligned on one of the walls of the exhibition space.


Life Sport, Sweatpants at BOZAR. Installation view


LIFE SPORT, with Puppies Puppies. Photo: Life Sport

The garments are by LIFE SPORT, an anonymous art collective that sells (mostly) grey sweatpants at a reasonable price to anyone in need of a leisure item. The artists then invest the money earned in exhibitions they organize with other artists.

The work of the art collective is fueled by the city where they are based: Athens. The members of LIFE SPORT noticed that in the Greek capital, sweatpants act as a great equalizer. No matter their social class, gender or age, people wear sweatpants in Athens. But there’s also a political side to grey sweatpants. To some, they evoke nothing but unemployment and disorder.


LIFE SPORT, Sweatpants Production. Image Life Sport

The model LIFE SPORT chose for its sweatpants is not a random one, it is based on a pair of Nikes from the 90s, a time when the American corporation still produced garments in Greece (before they moved to Asia where labour costs are much lower.) A pair costs 35 euros. You can buy them online or in LIFE SPORT hybrid space in Athens, it is both an art gallery and a sweatpants shop. As the artists explained in an interview with Dis Magazine:

“We are utilizing the art system that we are part of to sell our product and we use their formats to advertise our brand. Dealing with sweatpants opposed to artworks allows for a less abstract relation. The prices are based on what we get charged by our producers in Athens, the material plus labour cost. Sweatpants are so easy, people understand them without needing to engage further with LIFE SPORT or the ideas we are invested in. It feels good to be part of a more inclusive market.”

I think LIFE SPORT is onto something. Something brilliant. First of all because LIFE SPORT can be seen as an exercise in exploring the role that art can play in a local social context. By locating the production in Athens, LIFE SPORT invests in the local economy while addressing the global forces that have so deeply impacted it.

The other obvious reason why i’m so enthusiastic about LIFE SPORT is that the model allows them to bypass traditional forms of art funding. They remain part of the art world but do not need to rely on traditional (and shrinking) public arts funding or on the dictates of the commercial gallery model.


Stefanos Mandrake, Black on black, 2016. Installation view


LIFE SPORT, with CALM BALM. Photo: Life Sport


LIFE SPORT, with Bonnie. Photo: Life Sport


LIFE SPORT, with Micha. Photo: Life Sport

Somewhere in Between. Contemporary Art Scene in Europe remains open at BOZAR in Brussels until 19 August 2018.

Get Up, Stand Up! Changing the world with posters

If ever you’re in Brussels this summer, don’t miss Get Up, Stand Up – Changing The World With Posters (1968 – 1973) at the MIMA museum. I had never been to the MIMA before. Mostly because i’m lazy and crossing the canal seemed like a Herculean task when i’m in town with only a few hours and a long list of exhibitions to see. Well, that was a stupid excuse! MIMA is a wonderful place to visit. The art space is committed “to a culture that breaks down barriers and reaches out to a broad audience, reflecting the world of today and paving the way for the world of tomorrow.” That’s what most cultural centers claim to do these days but rare are those that fulfill these promises as convincingly as MIMA does. Not only did i see people from all ages and cultural background when i spent a few hours there but each of the visitors seemed to be genuinely excited about the exhibition.


John Sposato, Power to the penis, 1970

MIMA’s programme is relentlessly surprising and attractive. Previous shows have looked at creative vandalism, invasive installations, comic book aesthetic, etc. Anything labelled ‘subcultural’, anything with humour, bite and a resonance with the contemporary finds a home in this ex-Belle-Vue brewery. There’s a reason why MIMA stands for ‘Millennium Iconoclast Museum of Art’.


The MIMA museum along the canal. Photos by MIMA


Lambert Studios, War is good business: invest your son, c. 1969


View of the exhibition space. Photos by MIMA

The current exhibition, Get Up, Stand Up, is dedicated to protest posters created between 1968 and 1973. These were six years of civil unrest where people demonstrated against war, racial discrimination, dictatorship, patriarchy, violence towards the environment, etc. Protestors had a powerful and new ally in their fights: screen printing (or serigraphy). The technique was fast, cheap and simple to learn.

The posters that used to be instruments of protest and antagonism have now become objects of aesthetic interest. In spite of that and in spite of being half a century old, the images and slogans have lost nothing of their strength, nor sadly of their relevance. Today we have hashtags and other social media tools but we’re still yearning for equality, freedom and justice.

The 400 posters from 30 countries have been selected by Michaël Lellouche, a film maker and a writer who, over the past few years, has collected more than 1600 posters printed during those 6 eventful years.

Here’s a pick of some of the posters exhibited. You can see more of them on MIMA’s website, i’m also copy/pasting their descriptions (with minor changes and added links):


Anonymous, Break the Dull Steak Habit, also known as “Cattle Queen”, 1968

On the 7th of September 1968 in Atlantic City, a few hours before the election of Miss America, a hundred activists from the New York Radical Women binned various attributes of female submission: mops, false eyelashes, hair curlers, bras or issues of Playboy. They brandished placards in the effigy of historical heroines of feminism such as Lucy Stone or Sojourner Truth and this poster showing the degrading way beauty pageants turned women into little more than prime cuts of meat in “cattle markets”.


Guerrilla Girls, If you’re raped, you might as well “relax and enjoy it,” because no one will believe you, 1992


Free the Panthers

In January 1969, three attempted explosions failed in New York, targeting in particular two police precincts. On the 2nd of April, 21 people were arrested, all members of the Black Panther Party. They were charged with attempted bombing and conspiracy, and their bail was set at 100,000 dollars each. One of those arrested, Afeni Shakur, 24 (pregnant with the future musician Tupac Shakur), decided to defend herself without a lawyer during the eight-month trial. Her remarkable pleadings would mark public opinion. Due to a lack of evidence, all were acquitted in May 1971.


Emory Douglas, Untitled (On the Bones of the Oppressors), 1969

Emory Douglas became the resident artist of the Black Panther Party in the late 1960s. Appointed Minister of Culture, he created most of the posters and illustrations of the official weekly “The Black Panther”.


Anonymous, Bobby Seale Kidnappé

In August 1968, Bobby Seale, the co-founder of the Black Panther Party, was accused of conspiracy and incitement to riot. At the so-called Chicago Seven trial, having asked to defend himself, he was tied up and gagged in full court before being prosecuted in a separate trial.


Anonymous, Move on Over or We’ll Move on Over You, circa 1967


Anonymous, Indian power, 1971

On the 27th of February 1973, 200 Oglala Sioux Indians and members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) took over the small town of Wounded Knee, Pine Ridge Reserve, South Dakota. They were protesting against the alleged corrupt management of tribal leader Richard Wilson and the United States government’s failure to fulfill treaties with Native American people. Wounded Knee was chosen for its symbolic significance – it was the site of the massacre of more than 200 Indian civilians by the US military in 1890.

Marlon Brando, who was due to receive an Oscar for The Godfather, had his acceptance speech read out by Sacheen Littlefeather, an apache activist and the president of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee. Brando boycotted the ceremony in protest of Hollywood’s portrayal of Native Americans and to draw attention to the standoff at Wounded Knee. His gesture relaunched media attention on Wounded Knee.


Anonymous, Train Now

In the middle of the U.S. presidential campaign, marked in the spring of 1968 by the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, this poster proved to be a hard-hitting and provocative one. The Vietnam War looked set to require more young soldiers. But who is shooting whom?


Anonymous, And Babies?

In October 1969, the Art Workers Coalition (AWC) was commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art of New York to create a poster denouncing the war in Vietnam. The AWC decided to use a photograph taken by the army photographer Ronald L. Haeberle after the My Lai Massacre. They then superimposed on the image the confession that Private Paul Meadlo made during an interview when he admitted that yes, babies were killed.

The MoMA refused to distribute the poster, deemed to be too shocking. The AWC printed 50,000 copies and during a blitz operation at the MoMA, on the 26th of December 1969, activists brandished it in front of Picasso’s Guernica, on loan by Spain. The symbol was unmistakeable: the Americans had joined the Nazis in their barbarism.


Yoko Ono and John Lennon, The War Is Over!, 1969

On the 15th of December 1969 New Yorkers discovered in giant letters on Times Square the information: “The war is over!” The small print tempered the good news. In this poster, John Lennon and Yoko Ono incite civil disobedience, encouraging people to be active rather than passive. Translated into several languages, the campaign was displayed in 11 cities around the world.


Dutch poster, by the anarchist environmentalist movement Provo


George Maciunas, U.S.A. Surpasses All the Genocide Records, c.1966

The American flag was also to come under the fire of foreign countries and American artists. George Maciunas, founder of the Fluxus Artistic Movement, created a flag denouncing the mass killings perpetrated by the United States. Thousands of copies of the poster went on to be sold with a leaflet listing the most morbid statistics.


Atelier Populaire, La Lutte Continue, 1968


Atelier populaire, La police s’affiche aux Beaux-Arts, 1968

Last poster of the famous Atelier populaire, in response to the police raid in the premises of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts on the 27th of June 1968.


That’s All Folks!

Views of the exhibition space (all photos by MIMA):


Julio Le Parc, Frappez les gradés, 1971

Get Up, Stand Up – Changing The World With Posters (1968 – 1973) is at MIMA in Brussels until 30 September 2018.

Eco-Visionaries. Art, Architecture, and New Media after the Anthropocene

Eco-Visionaries. Art, Architecture, and New Media after the Anthropocene, edited by Pedro Gadanho.

On amazon USA and UK.

Publisher Hatje Cantz writes: Alternative visions for humankind’s place on earth.

Eco-Visionaries presents contemporary positions in art and architecture seeking answers to current environmental problems that transcend mainstream notions of sustainability. This comprehensive volume is a companion to the collaborative 2018 exhibition endeavored by four participating European museums. Each show maintains a different focus and curatorial approach, and for each, artists investigate alternative visions regarding humankind’s place on earth through video and sound works, paintings, and installations.

While the series of exhibitions presents the works of artists and architects who offer critical reflections on pressing contemporary issues, the book unites research, essays, as well as a survey of the artworks. Besides the historical antecedents of current ecological thinking in the fields of art and design, this catalogue also promotes current approaches that represent alternative visions for future uses of energy, resources, and the environment.


Ant Farm, Clean Air Pod, 1970. Image via Spatial Agency


John Gerrard, Western Flag (Spindletop, Texas) 2017: midday

The authors of this collective publication remind us that one of greatest challenges posed by climate change is that no one knows how to effectively communicate its magnitude and consequences to a non-specialised audience. The facts are there for all to see, they are shared in newspapers, on tv, in books, etc. And yet, the message doesn’t seem to sink in. Everywhere you look, it’s business, meat and plastic as usual. Even when we know the facts, their consequences still seem to be too abstract and distant for most of us to react. Belief that climate change is a hoax has even become normal among members of the U.S. Republican party (on that topic, i’d highly recomment one of the episodes of WNYC’s podcast The United States of Anxiety that explains how this criminal assumption has grown in the U.S.)

Factual knowledge is not enough and that’s where eco-visionaries come in. Eco-visionaries are artists, designers, writers, architects and pretty much everyone else who, confronted with tragic and dispiriting ecological catastrophes, mobilize their create minds to suggest alternative lifestyles, prototype micro-solutions or encourage us to adopt more mindful ways of relating to the world. Through their work, they provide empathetic experiences and help us get a better grasp on complex knowledge.


Leena Valkeapää & Oula A. Valkeapää, Manifestations, 2017

With its web tools that visualize internet-induced deforestation, refuges for urban honeybees, mobile architecture that turn desert into vast areas for crops and robots that sonify pollution, the book is a seducing journey to a possible future, one that is not marred by speciesism, petrocapitalism and anthopocentric mentality.

If the works selected in the book (and the exhibitions it aims to accompany) are solid and tirelessly inspiring, the essays are of unequal interest. Maybe i’m not the right public, maybe i read too much about art and the anthropocene but i thought that some of the texts were a bit bland. Others, however are solid. Linda Weintraub, for example, reminds us that the work of eco-art pioneers has gained more meaning and relevance with time; Matthew Fuller fearlessly brings mathematics to the discussion and T.J. Demos penned a fervent, provocative and politically-minded text populated with Guattari, Standing Rocks and warnings against apocalyptic populism and self-annihilation. Finally, i don’t understand the reason why the title of the book has to catapult us in the post-anthropocene. That’s a bold move.

Since i liked the artworks in the book so much, i’m going to introduce you to a short selection of them:

Joaquín Fargas, Glaciator, 2017

Glaciator is a robot roaming around Antarctica. Powered by solar solar energy, its mission is to compact and crystallize the snow turning into ice and then adhering to the glaciers, allowing them to regain the mass they lost as a result of warming temperatures.


Gilberto Esparza, BioSoNot 2.0, 2017

Gilberto Esparza created an instrument that translates the pollution levels of different rivers into sound.

Microbial fuel cells in the device generate energy from the metabolism of microorganisms found in contaminated water. These cells also estimate the bioelectrical activity of the bacteria while other sensors measure PH, conductivity, temperatures, ORP and other data that define the contamination of the water. The data are then converted into analog signals and translated these values ​​into sound.

John Gerrard, Western Flag (Spindletop, Texas) 2017: midday

The flag of John Gerrard‘s digital simulation work Western Flag (Spindletop, Texas) marks the site of the Lucas Gusher, the world’s first major oil find in 1901, in Spindletop, in the middle of the Texan desert. Gerrard’s flag i made of perpetually-renewing pressurised black smoke. The computer generated Spindletop runs in exact parallel with the real site in Texas throughout the year: the sun rising at the appropriate times and the days getting longer and shorter according to the seasons. The simulation is run live by software that is calculating each frame of the animation in real time as it is needed.

Western Flag symbolizes our reliance on oil. It’s everywhere, it is one of the forces behind climate change and yet it remains invisible. In an interview with the Irish Times, Gerrard describes oil as a “dynamic that allowed for a very particular change in society, allowed for hyper-mobility, changes in food and agriculture. Much of what we think of as ‘real’ is a petroleum reality. Heat, comfort, mobility, it all comes from petroleum.”


HeHe, Domestic Catastrophe Nº3: La Planète Laboratoire, 2012

HeHe, Domestic Catastrophe Nº3: La Planète Laboratoire, 2012

As an earth globe turns inside an aquarium, a fluorescein tracing dye is released, enveloping the sphere in what appears to be a thin gas or atmosphere that surrounds the Earth. The difference between emissions and atmosphere, the ‘man-influenced’ and the ‘natural’ climate cannot be easily defined.


Kiluanji Kia Henda, Havemos de Voltar (We Shall Return), 2011

In Kiluanji Kia Henda’s video Havemos de Voltar (We Shall Return), a giant sable antelope (an Angolan national symbol) wakes up an archive center. Her name is Amélia Capomba. She finds her body stuffed and displayed in a museum display. She decides she no longer wants to be an artifact at the service of history, intends to push the embalming fluid from her veins, escape from the Archive Centre and return to her past. Amélia’s desire to return can be framed in relation to the ideals of the Angolan Liberation Struggle and more broadly, to the African continent’s need to tell their side of the colonial story.

Rasa Smite and Raitis Smits, Fluctuations of Microworlds, 2017

Wanuri Kahiu, Pumzi, Trailer, 2009


SKREI, Biogas digester (individual plant), 2017


Malka Architecture, The Green Machine, 2014

Exhibitions:

You can already visit Eco-Visionaries at the MAAT—Museu de Arte, Arquitetura e Tecnologia in Lisbon until 8 October, 2018 and at Bildmuseet in Umea until 21 october, 2018; at HeK—House of Electronic Arts Basel in Basel, 30 August–11 November, 2018; and at LABoral Centro de Arte y Creacion Industrial in Gijon, 28 September, 2018–22 April, 2019.

What would a public park look like if it was built from the perspective of bees?

Erik Sjödin‘s art and research practice has led him to investigate human relationships to fire, aquatic plants that might one day feed the first inhabitants of planet Mars, bees and humans connections and community-based ways of producing food.


Erik Sjödin, Bee shed in Lötsjön natural reserve and park, Stockholm, Sweden 2018. Photo Erik Sjödin

I’ve been following his work since 2011 and always thought there was something remarkably peaceful, generous and efficient about his work. At a time when artists, journalists and scientists alike are calling for a more considerate, a less anthropocentric way to live on this planet, Sjödin is quietly doing just that. Working on potential solutions to problems of contemporary urgency and sharing the lessons with others through exhibitions, publications, workshops as well as collaborations with scientists, farmers, gardeners, other artists and chefs.

Anytime is a good time to catch up with Sjödin and interview him about his latest projects. My excuse to get in touch with him again is Community Services, an exhibition in Marabouparken in Sundbyberg, just north of Stockholm. The show brings human beings closer to bees by revealing how the small pollinators have been “understood, written about, cared for, neglected and persecuted by humans.”

The Political Beekeeper’s Library and Bee Shed are two of the works the artist is showing in Marabouparken. The former is a collection of books where authors from Aristoteles to Thomas D. Seeley draw parallels between bees and humans, in particular how they are socially and politically organized. “What starts as a story of a patriarchal monarchy ends with a tale of radical democracy.” Bee Shed is a sculpture that also functions as a large house for pollinators. The shelter explores what a public park would look like if it was built from the perspective of the wildlife that use the park alongside the humans.


Reading performance by artist Mia Isabel Edelgart at the bee shed in Marabouparken, Stockholm Sweden, 2018. Photo Erik Sjödin

Here’s what our email exchanges looked like:

Hi Erik! For the Marabouparken, you have created a sculpture that also functions as a house for pollinators. The work questions our understanding of what constitutes a ‘good’, pleasant park and suggests that we might want to interrogate this human-centered perception and think about what a park would be/look like if it were built from the perspective of the wildlife that use the park. Can you then tell us about some of the characteristics and qualities of a park that caters also for non-human living species?

For the Marabou park I have created a bee shed. It is essentially what’s usually called a “bee hotel”, although I’m trying to contrast the transient dwelling and luxury connotations that a hotel has by calling it a shed. In its appearance the structure is humble and resembles a wood shed for storing firewood. A wood shed is a typical structure that is part of the old cultural landscape in Sweden and may provide habitat for many insects and other animal.

The Marabou park was initially landscaped in the beginning of the 20th century with the intent to provide relief for workers at the Marabou factory which is now an art space. Two separate parts of the park were explicitly constructed with inspiration from The Arts and Craft Movement and Functionalism respectively. The arts and craft movement came about in 19th century Britain as a reaction to increased industrialisation and harsh conditions for factory workers. Functionalism emerged in the first half of the 20th century and promoted increased industrialisation and efficiency. Although contradictory both of these design and construction philosophies have in common that they try to provide for the needs of humans. They also have in common that they don’t actively take into account the needs of nonhumans such as animals and plants.

With the bee shed we try to add an element of consideration also for nonhumans in the park. It provides a habitat for solitary bees and other insects. We will also work with the park management to increase the amount of flowering plants in the park, for example in the form of more meadows instead of lawns, and to create more habitats for animals, for example by leaving logs and falling tree branches on the ground for insects to nest in. Since public awareness and interest in biodiversity in cities is increasing this is also something that the park management and the municipality is interested in and already working with.

Increased biodiversity in parks in the form of flowering plants, buzzing bees and chirping birds etc can provide aesthetic pleasure to park residents and be relevant besides from the intrinsic value nonhuman life has. Biodiversity doesn’t have to conflict with human interests. Studies have also shown that the best protection for biodiverse urban areas such as parks and forests is human engagement in them.

You’ve been working a lot with bees over these past few years. Recently, journalists have been writing about insect numbers falling because of pesticides, pollution and loss of habitat. Have you found that the public is sufficiently informed and concerned about the disappearance of the little pollinators?

In Sweden media attention and campaigns from various organisations and public figures have done a lot to increase awareness about pollinators. Recently other species than honey bees, mainly pollinators, have gained media attention and people are becoming more aware that there are many insects that are integral to agriculture and our ecosystems in general. People want to save the bees. In general though I would guess that the interest for insects is marginal and insects are probably still mostly considered an annoyance.


Our Friends the Pollinators, workshop at Marabouparken, 2018

How much can artists and grassroots movements bring to the emergency to save bees? Can citizens have a real impact on the problem or is the survival of bee populations mostly in the hands of governments and the agro-food industry?

Artists and other citizens and organisations that create awareness help shape public opinion which create incentive for governments to develop policies that allow for farmers and industry to change their practices in ways that increase biodiversity. When many people change their consumption patterns, for example by choosing more ecological and locally produced food and other products, that may also make real difference.


The Political Beekeeper’s Library at Bildmuseet in Umeå, Sweden 2017


Karl von Frisch, The Dancing Bees, 1927

The Political Beekeeper’s Library (a research which you generously share at thepoliticalbeekeeperslibrary.org) looks at books where parallels are drawn between how bees and humans are socially and politically organised. “What starts as a story of a patriarchal monarchy ends with a tale of radical democracy.” Could you explain what you mean by that?

Those are not my own words but it is a fitting and hopeful description of the library as a whole. The library contains books spanning from 4th century BCE when the hive was generally considered as a kingdom, a notion that dominated into the 17th century when the idea of the hive as a monarchy but now with a queen began to emerge. In the 21st century there has been scientific books published which dethrone the queen and describe the beehive as having democratic elements. Radical is a word that is relative but in some contexts the collective decision making methods the bees apply could be described as radical.

As your research shows, bee organisations have been understood in different ways through time. Are the way they function and govern themselves subject to as many interpretations as there are political systems in favour at a certain moment? Or have we, in the 21h century, finally reached an agreement, an objective understanding on how bees are socially organised?

I suspect there isn’t agreement or understanding about all aspects of how bees are socially organised even among scientist such as entomologist and animal behaviourists. However, there are a lot of behaviours that have been independently observed and there is consensus around. In contemporary non-academic but “science based” literature interpretations of the bee society still vary wildly, from the hive being described as a smooth running company with a skilled CEO to the hive being a dystopian totalitarian state.


The Political Beekeeper’s Library at Losæter, in Oslo, Norway 2017


The Political Beekeeper’s Library at Losæter, in Oslo, Norway 2017

What lessons could humans draw from the way bees are organised?

I would be careful to apply ideas about how bees are organised onto how humans ought to be organised, but many people have done so. The roman philosopher Seneca for example is said to have been inspired by the poet Virgil’s depiction of the beehive as a kingdom in claiming that monarchy is an invention of nature. Seneca was the teacher of emperor Nero who eventually forced Seneca to take his own life for alleged treason. Perhaps Seneca regretted drawing conclusions from the bees.

Thomas D. Seeley who is the author of Honey Bee Democracy, published in 2010, advocates that humans should learn from the decision method that bees use when they swarm and have to decide for a new place to nest in. However, that decision method, a form of representative quorum sensing, is just one of many more or less democratic decision making methods that are available to us humans.


Nest for solitary bees made of reed bundled in birch bark, at Marabouparken 2018.

Let’s say i’m someone who has access to a balcony or a garden but i don’t want to install a beehive. Is there still something i can do to help bee pop thrive?

Yes. Lawns are great for play and leisure but if you have more lawn than you need then it’s a good idea to convert some of it into meadow or to plant other flowering plants. Bees enjoy flowering herbs for example, which also works great to grow on a balcony. If the balcony is too high up for the bees then at least you have something to spice up your food with. You can also create habitats for wild bees, for example by making dry sand and soil beds for ground nesting mining bees, or by drilling holes of various sizes in old logs for mason bees and leaf cutter bees.


The Azolla Cooking and Cultivation Project at Agoramania in Paris, France 2018. Screening of video material courtesy of Ségolène Guinard / NASA


Azolla Cultivations at Hauser & Wirth Somerset. Photo: Hauser & Wirth Somerset


Azolla Cultivations at Hauser & Wirth Somerset. Photo: Hauser & Wirth Somerset

I think the last time i interviewed you was about The Azolla Cooking and Cultivation Project. That was in 2011 and the work continues to attract interest from art institutions. Has the project evolved and grown since we last talked about it?

It keeps getting more complex and has reached a point where it’s difficult to push some aspects of the project further without proper scientific studies, but I’m still working with it when opportunity arises. Recently I’ve been collaborating with Ségolène Guinard, a philosopher and PhD candidate who has studied space exploration and plants in space. Since Azolla has been proposed as a potential crop for Mars settlement I think it’s valuable to bring her contextualising perspectives into the project. I’ve also participated with an indoor Azolla cultivation in the comprehensive exhibition The Land We Live In – The Land We Left Behind at Hauser & Wirth in Somerset. This gave me some resources and incentive to try new technology for growing Azolla under artificial light. I’ve had some trouble growing Azolla indoors previously but now I have gotten this to work pretty well. If cultivation under artificial light makes sense in general can be questioned, but it enables me to keep the plant growing year around and learn more about it.


Apiary made of drift wood. In the west fjords, Iceland 2017

Any upcoming project, event or field of research you’d like to share with us?

Currently I’m mainly focusing on research and production of work related to pollinators. Last year I visited beekeepers in Iceland to document their apiaries and try to understand their motivations for keeping bees in Iceland. Beekeeping is not yet established in Iceland and the conditions are not always ideal for beekeeping. Honey bees might also compete with native pollinators for limited floral resources. I’m hoping to maybe go back to Iceland to visit more beekeepers and to connect to researchers who monitors the flora and fauna on Iceland. Eventually I would like to put some effort into presenting the material and research I’ve gathered, which I think paints a complex and both problematic and hopeful picture.


Apiary in south-west Iceland, 2017

Why would beekeepers want to establish bee colonies in Iceland if the conditions there are, as you noted, not optimal? Do you already have an idea of the motivation of the beekeepers or do you still need to do more research into it?

Why people attempt to keep bees on Iceland is part of what I have been trying to find out. People have been trying since the 1940’s and so far it hasn’t worked out in the long run. There are around a hundred beekeepers on Iceland now, more than ever before. Maybe together they can figure out how to make the bees thrive. Some people are quite successful, although in general they are still dependent on import of bees.

The beekeepers on Iceland are all part of the same community of beekeepers and they import bees from a beekeeper on the island Åland in the Baltic Sea. The reason they import from Åland is because the honey bees there aren’t infested with the dreaded varroa mite. One reason for beekeeping on Iceland that many beekeepers bring up is that if beekeeping is successfully established then Iceland could be another “safe zone” where bees can thrive without the mite.

There’s not much reason to keep bees for the honey. The yields are generally quite small and importing honey is much easier and cheaper. However, although I don’t think people do it just for the money, local honey can be marketed and sold to very high prices on Iceland and this actually makes it a more lucrative business for some than beekeeping is in, for example, Sweden. Some beekeepers hope that honey bees could help with pollination of plants and boost their local flora, but there’s not a real need for pollination of crops. I think generally people keep honey bees simply because they think it’s fun and they would like to have bees around just like they have other domesticated animals. Some people have lived abroad and been beekeepers in for example Norway or Sweden, and they want to continue to keep bees on Iceland too. One beekeeper, an artist, simply said it was for aesthetic reasons, he would like to have bees buzzing around on his farm.

Thanks Erik!

The work of Erik Sjödin and of Mia Isabel Edelgart is on view at the exhibition Community Services in Marabouparken’s BOX and park until 26 August 2018.

Sjödin’s work is also part of the exhibition Eco-Visionaries at Bildmuseet in Umea, Sweden until 21 October 2018.

Previously: Super Meal; Interview with Kultivator, an experimental cooperation of organic farming and visual art practice; Survival Kit Festival in Umeå and The Seed Journey to preserve plant genetic diversity. An interview with Amy Franceschini.

“Dangerous Art”: the latest issue of the (free) Experimental Emerging Art Magazine

A quick reading recommendation for your weekend: EE: Experimental Emerging Art Magazine, a free and fearless publication which latest issue reflects upon dangerous art. Go this way to download EE #3.

The magazine opens on a fascinating essay that questions our understanding of dangerous art, asking whether dangerous art is art that breaks taboo, art that lands you in prison, performances that puts the artist’s or the audience’s body at risk, outrageous art works that reduce art to its most attention-seeking shock tactics or art that’s so banal, trashy or boring it almost kills art itself. Some of these forms of dangerous art are discussed in the magazines. And then some.

If art is about challenging and shaking our established notions of the world, are not all artists then dangerous? Are you a dangerous artist? In the end it might be your perceived sense of threat that decides what is dangerous or not. But one danger constantly hovers over us: in this age of the Selfie, the missing image is the most dangerous.
Welcome to our bla***end issue.

In a bold and brave statement, the editors decided to blacken the images in the magazine. I’m clearly not that daring so i’m going to present and illustrate below the work of some of the artists and curators i discovered (or rediscovered) in the interviews E.E. had with contemporary artists, thinkers and actors in art who are producing dangerous works and ideas.


Marko Marković, Selfeater (Thirst), 2009. Image

Marko Marković talks about his auto-cannibalistic performances. In Selfeater, the artist ate a larger piece of his own skin including flesh. In another version of the performance, a medical needle was stabbed in his arm allowing him to drink his own blood.


Zoran Todorović, Assimilation, 1997 – 2016


Zoran Todorović, Assimilation, 1997 – 2016

The gore is taken up a notch with Zoran Todorović who made food out of human tissue. More specifically tissue thrown away during an aesthetic surgery procedure. For the public performance, he collaborated with chefs to create meals and offered them to the audience for consumption, while a video documented the origin and the cooking process.

Asked about the audience reaction to the piece, Todorović tells E.E. magazine:

In different places, I hear different reactions. For example, here in Serbia, Croatia and especially Slovenia, many people wanted to taste it and to open some discussion around it. But in central Europe, for instance, and especially in Germany, the primary question is whether this performance is legal; the answer may surprise you – cannibalism is not forbidden, at least not in Europe. In Great Britain, the underlying problem about this work is a sanitary one. The British are concerned whether the offered food is healthy, and it is only in Britain that it is prohibited for the audience to taste this food since it was not possible to get the sanitary certificate for this food, which otherwise, in other places, was eaten for the most part during the performance. The performances usually function in such a way that during the performances themselves there’s the discussion going on between those who tasted the food and those who refused it. On one occasion the discussion which started at the exhibition in Novi Sad ended up in the parliament of Vojvodina province.

E.E. also interviewed Jurij Krpan, the director at Kapelica Gallery, aka the most exciting art space in Europe. Krpan talks about quantum biology, Maja Smrekar‘s most radical pieces and the mechanisms of funding critical and edgy art.


Erik Hobijn, Delusions of Self-Immolation, part of the exhibition The Body in Ruin at V2_, 1993 (photo)

Alex Adriaansens is one of the founders of V2_ and its director until the end of this month. He told E.E. that, to him, dangerous art can also take the form of speculations that explore the darkest socio-political apects of technology. He did also mention the most physically threatening work from the V2_ archive: Delusions of Self-Immolation by Erik Hobijn, a machine that sets audience members on fire for less then half a second then immediately after extinguishes the flames.

Dalila Honorato, an Assistant Professor in Media Aesthetics and Semiotics at the Ionian University in Greece and the organizer of the Taboo-Transgression-Transcendence in Art & Science conference which took place in Corfu last year explained how dangerous art can be an act of necessity to do something provocative in a moment when everything seems prohibited, forbidden. In Greece, we are not supposed to have money to do anything that is not saving the population, solving some sort of (economic) difficulty.

I’ll end this super superficial run through the magazine with an old video of what will always be one of my favourite dangerous artworks:

Marnix de Nijs and Edwin van der Heide, a href=”http://www.marnixdenijs.nl/spatial-sounds.htm”>SPATIAL SOUNDS (100dB at 100km/h)

And with the best quote from the magazine. It’s from Cathrine Kramer and Zack Denfeld from the Center for Genomic Gastronomy talking about how some members of the public reacted to their participatory performances that prototype alternative culinary futures:

CK: Only two people have thrown up.

ZD: Yes, which is a great reaction! For one hung-over audience member, the smell was too strong, and he got sick, but another person at the Art Meat Flesh event could not overcome the anxiety when the lab-grown meat was served. I think they got quite physically ill and that is not an experience you hope for, but I think it is good to know that one possible outcome can be a sense of pure disgust.

EE: Experimental Emerging Art Magazine is an independent art magazine edited by Stahl Stenslie (author of some very dangerous works) and Zane Cerpina. The third issue “Dangerous Art” is co-edited by Espen Gangvik, co-produced and funded by TEKS, Trondheim Electronic Art Centre.

Related stories: Magazine recommendation: EE #2. Beyond Nature.

“Dangerous Art”: the latest issue of the (free) Experimental Emerging Art Magazine

A quick reading recommendation for your weekend: EE: Experimental Emerging Art Magazine, a free and fearless publication which latest issue reflects upon dangerous art. Go this way to download EE #3.

The magazine opens on a fascinating essay that questions our understanding of dangerous art, asking whether dangerous art is art that breaks taboo, art that lands you in prison, performances that puts the artist’s or the audience’s body at risk, outrageous art works that reduce art to its most attention-seeking shock tactics or art that’s so banal, trashy or boring it almost kills art itself. Some of these forms of dangerous art are discussed in the magazines. And then some.

If art is about challenging and shaking our established notions of the world, are not all artists then dangerous? Are you a dangerous artist? In the end it might be your perceived sense of threat that decides what is dangerous or not. But one danger constantly hovers over us: in this age of the Selfie, the missing image is the most dangerous.
Welcome to our bla***end issue.

In a bold and brave statement, the editors decided to blacken the images in the magazine. I’m clearly not that daring so i’m going to present and illustrate below the work of some of the artists and curators i discovered (or rediscovered) in the interviews E.E. had with contemporary artists, thinkers and actors in art who are producing dangerous works and ideas.


Marko Marković, Selfeater (Thirst), 2009. Image

Marko Marković talks about his auto-cannibalistic performances. In Selfeater, the artist ate a larger piece of his own skin including flesh. In another version of the performance, a medical needle was stabbed in his arm allowing him to drink his own blood.


Zoran Todorović, Assimilation, 1997 – 2016


Zoran Todorović, Assimilation, 1997 – 2016

The gore is taken up a notch with Zoran Todorović who made food out of human tissue. More specifically tissue thrown away during an aesthetic surgery procedure. For the public performance, he collaborated with chefs to create meals and offered them to the audience for consumption, while a video documented the origin and the cooking process.

Asked about the audience reaction to the piece, Todorović tells E.E. magazine:

In different places, I hear different reactions. For example, here in Serbia, Croatia and especially Slovenia, many people wanted to taste it and to open some discussion around it. But in central Europe, for instance, and especially in Germany, the primary question is whether this performance is legal; the answer may surprise you – cannibalism is not forbidden, at least not in Europe. In Great Britain, the underlying problem about this work is a sanitary one. The British are concerned whether the offered food is healthy, and it is only in Britain that it is prohibited for the audience to taste this food since it was not possible to get the sanitary certificate for this food, which otherwise, in other places, was eaten for the most part during the performance. The performances usually function in such a way that during the performances themselves there’s the discussion going on between those who tasted the food and those who refused it. On one occasion the discussion which started at the exhibition in Novi Sad ended up in the parliament of Vojvodina province.

E.E. also interviewed Jurij Krpan, the director at Kapelica Gallery, aka the most exciting art space in Europe. Krpan talks about quantum biology, Maja Smrekar‘s most radical pieces and the mechanisms of funding critical and edgy art.


Erik Hobijn, Delusions of Self-Immolation, part of the exhibition The Body in Ruin at V2_, 1993 (photo)

Alex Adriaansens is one of the founders of V2_ and its director until the end of this month. He told E.E. that, to him, dangerous art can also take the form of speculations that explore the darkest socio-political apects of technology. He did also mention the most physically threatening work from the V2_ archive: Delusions of Self-Immolation by Erik Hobijn, a machine that sets audience members on fire for less then half a second then immediately after extinguishes the flames.

Dalila Honorato, an Assistant Professor in Media Aesthetics and Semiotics at the Ionian University in Greece and the organizer of the Taboo-Transgression-Transcendence in Art & Science conference which took place in Corfu last year explained how dangerous art can be an act of necessity to do something provocative in a moment when everything seems prohibited, forbidden. In Greece, we are not supposed to have money to do anything that is not saving the population, solving some sort of (economic) difficulty.

I’ll end this super superficial run through the magazine with an old video of what will always be one of my favourite dangerous artworks:

Marnix de Nijs and Edwin van der Heide, a href=”http://www.marnixdenijs.nl/spatial-sounds.htm”>SPATIAL SOUNDS (100dB at 100km/h)

And with the best quote from the magazine. It’s from Cathrine Kramer and Zack Denfeld from the Center for Genomic Gastronomy talking about how some members of the public reacted to their participatory performances that prototype alternative culinary futures:

CK: Only two people have thrown up.

ZD: Yes, which is a great reaction! For one hung-over audience member, the smell was too strong, and he got sick, but another person at the Art Meat Flesh event could not overcome the anxiety when the lab-grown meat was served. I think they got quite physically ill and that is not an experience you hope for, but I think it is good to know that one possible outcome can be a sense of pure disgust.

EE: Experimental Emerging Art Magazine is an independent art magazine edited by Stahl Stenslie (author of some very dangerous works) and Zane Cerpina. The third issue “Dangerous Art” is co-edited by Espen Gangvik, co-produced and funded by TEKS, Trondheim Electronic Art Centre.

Related stories: Magazine recommendation: EE #2. Beyond Nature.

5 things i learnt at Forum Paradigm_Shift in Geneva last month

Back in May, i was in Geneva to attend the Forum Paradigm_Shift #2. The event, which was part of the audiovisual and digital art festival Mapping, investigated the theme “Humans + Machines by Design, not by Default”.

Forum Paradigm_Shift, Mapping Festival 2018 at HEAD Genève – Nouveau Campus. Photo (c) Stéphane Pecorini

The artists, designers, curators, scientists and philosophers invited delved into technodiversity, contemporary utopias and dystopias, the future of money, Glitch Feminism and cultural resistance, and the human-technology relationship from an artistic, philosophical and scientific point of view. This program, which had been curated by Carmen Salas, might sound a bit haphazard but it made for an exhilarating and thought-provoking day. Each of the speakers challenged, in their own way, dominant discourses around progress, technology, future and hybridity.

The videos of the keynotes and panels are online. Unfortunately, they seem to be available on facebook only so far. I’d still recommend you check them out because they build up a much-needed picture of some of the ethical and cultural reflections that surround digital technology today.

1. Cash is not dead


Rachel O’Dwyer at Paradigm Shift, Mapping Festival in Geneva

Rachel O’Dwyer‘s presentation Cash or Cache: What is your money saying about you? dissected the emerging politics around transactional data. She explained how the push for a cashless society on the part of states and platforms is creating new forms of business models based on data, not fees. Which of course entails new forms of discrimination and of surveillance but also new practices of resistance. Her talk was fascinating. I was particularly interested in her comments about how cash, though it doesn’t record traces of transactions anymore, can teach us a lot about the way paper money mediates social relationships as it moves from hand to hand. I liked the research made by Dirk Brockmann, a physicist from Humboldt University of Berlin.


Dirk Brockmann/Northwestern University. Image via NPR

A few years ago, Brockmann used the dollar bill tracking website Where’s George to visualize migratory patterns of banknotes. His map of those patterns of money exchanges shows how money moves and thus where American citizens go/don’t go and where they make or don’t make business. This builds a new geography of the U.S. with internal borders that disintegrate while others are almost never crossed.

2. Everything is NOT gonna be alright


Julian Oliver and Crystelle Vu, Extinction Gong, installed in the Tieranatomisches Theatre, Berlin, as part of The World as Forest (travelling exhibition, 2018). Photo by Anexact Office


Workers on tractors harvest soybeans in the deforested land of Campo Novo do Parecis, in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. Photograph: Maurilio Cheli/AP, via The Guardian


Julian Oliver at Paradigm Shift, Mapping Festival in Geneva

The panel Beyond The Utopia-Dystopia Mindset, moderated by curator Daphne Dragona, took us in a very different direction. The panelists were artist and critical engineer Julian Oliver and designer Tobias Revell.

Oliver defied everyone’s expectations by not talking about his artistic work nor any of the issues his presentations usually explore (data forensics, creative hacking, counter-surveillance, etc.) Instead, he gave us a crash course in the Anthropocene: from the 6th extinction (the extent of which the work Extinction Gong reveals in a simple and poignant way) to how our meat-based diet is responsible for 60% of global biodiversity loss; from deforestation to the text World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice.

His intervention might look at odds with what is usually discussed at digital art festivals but, as his talk also made clear, we can’t disconnect technology from the fate of our planet. To put it in words so blunt even cold-hearted utilitarians would understand, our resources in metals are not infinite (the digital world still relies on a very physical and very energy-hungry infrastructure) and we need insects, animals and plants to perform all sorts of services for us.

Oliver believes that we are in front of a narration challenge when it comes to the ongoing planetary crisis. On the one hand, he quoted, “We’re always preparing for the apocalypse we want” (author unknown). Black Mirror turned this desired apocalypse into dinner table conversations. In the episodes of the scifi series, humans are shown as resilient, cunning and ever resourceful beings.

Techno-centric discourses are not helping either. ‘Reverse climate change” is a delusion, things will not roll back to where things were on earth even if we manage to drop a few degrees back down. Things have already changed. Mass extinction is already well upon us for example.

What we need right now are realistic conversations about the future. They will not have the same feel good effects as techno-fix proposals such as the one that postulates that we only need to suck CO2 from the air in order to stop climate change. These conversations might even be a bit pessimistic but, as Derrick Jensen writes: Hope is what keeps us chained to the system, the conglomerate of people and ideas and ideals that is causing the destruction of the Earth.

Julian Oliver concluded that now is the time for artists and designers to react and embrace planetary crisis as a challenge. We need them to tell stories that would play a key role in propagating a new planetary subjectivity and shape a more realistic, more comprehensive ‘understanding as to how our chains of production and supply interact with both biosphere and climate.’

3. Understanding technology also means being ill-mannered towards it


Tobias Revell at Paradigm Shift, Mapping Festival in Geneva

In his contribution to the panel, Tobias Revell made a few fascinating points about using computer-generated imagery (CGI) for purposes that were not intended by the developers. Do check out his talk, it’s packed with interesting insights about strategy of breaking through the technology. I’ll just mention the ones that stuck with me long after the conference:

Nikita Diakur, Ugly Dynamics (Fest), 2018

Ugly Dynamics is a series of works in which Nikita Diakur explores CGI potential to create what he calls the “digital grotesque”. His renderings deconstruct the software and the physics that go into it, breaking apart the engine and revealing how it is made.

As Creative Applications writes: Nikita goes through a number of examples, showing how different dynamics affect models as well as produce very unexpected results. In some cases it is simply because the system doesn’t know how to deal with the set task and in another producing a beautiful result in this alter-reality worlds dictated by these rule based systems.


Screenshot from Dark Souls – SPEED RUN (0:26:58) with resets [Xbox 360]

Revell also introduced me to Speedrunning, a huge gaming subculture with videos that can get millions of views. The aim of speedrunning is to complete a video game as fast as possible. You don’t have to complete all the steps in the game, you don’t need to follow the narratives and rules set by the developers, you just have to get to the end as quickly as possible.

Speed runners play with the rules of the architecture that constructs the game, exploiting its glitches, loopholes, frame rate drops, bending the software and hardware to their will. To be a good speedrunner, you don’t need to be a good player. You need to have a nuanced understanding on how the world you live in is built and how it operates.

4. #GLITCHFEMINISM can help us decolonize the architecture of the body


Legacy Russell at Paradigm Shift, Mapping Festival in Geneva

Legacy Russell’s talk ‘URL IRL’ examined Glitch Feminism! Russel is a writer, an artist, a cultural producer and a glitch feminist. She is particularly interested in how the Internet (and the artists activating it) can be harnessed for creative resistance. Glitch Feminism is a cultural manifesto and movement that aims to use the digital as a means of resisting the hegemony of the corporeal. She defines #GLITCHFEMINISM as “a creative and political exploration of how the material the internet can expand -or glitch- the construct of the binary body. it deploys the language of ‘glitch’ in positing that an error within the flawed machine we operate within one that disproportionately enacts violence on historical ‘OTHERED’ bodies – is not an error at all, but rather an integral systems correction to the mechanics of culture and society as we know it.”

Internet is thus a space that asserts the violence against female and queer people and people of colour but it is also a place that allows them to defy and resist that violence.

Her first book ‘Glitch Feminism’ will be published by Verso at the end of the year.

5. Bodies are restless, open and, as such, should dispute the normal


Panel discussion ‘Minds, Bodies and the Machine’ at Mapping Festival 2018 — with Marco Donnarumma at HEAD Genève – Nouveau Campus. Photo (c) Stéphane Pecorini


Marco Donnarumma at Paradigm Shift, Mapping Festival in Geneva

The panel on Minds, Bodies and the Machine, moderated by the brilliant Rosario Hurtado, looked at how artists, designers and scientists respond to advances in the field of human-machine-interaction.

Marco Donnarumma, an artist and scholar investigating the relationships between body, sound and technology, kicked his presentation with images of purification rituals called skin cutting and ended up surprising me by adopting a feminist position.

Skin cutting rituals are performed in several parts of the world but the one the artist showed us is performed in Papua New Guinea. Deep cuts are made in the backs, arms, chest and buttocks of young men. The patterns adopted and the method of treating the wounds aim to sculpt the scars so that they remain raised when healed and make the skin look like the one of a crocodile, an animal the Kaningara worship.

The reason why Donnarumma’s practice explores these rituals so closely is that, according to him, they act as a gateway to think about how different societies establish criteria for what constitutes a normal body. In the case of the Kaningara tribesmen from PNG, a ‘standardized’ body allows men to hunt, get married and perform expected roles in society.

The problem with the ‘normal’ is that its definition is generally established by those in power.

Today, we’ve developed different and often more technology-mediated ways to define what’s normal. What hasn’t changed is that, again, the norms of the normal are being prescribed by those in power.

A clear example of that is Hiroshi Ishiguro‘s female android Erica. She is very pretty, very young, she is slim, has big lips, smooth skin and a fine nose. She is the epitome of a woman built by a man. What is regarded as normal for woman is thus reinforced by technology, disseminated in media and ends up being what our kids identify as being normal.

That’s why Donnarumma’s work explores alternative forms of embodiment. By creating tangible speculations about what different bodies can be, he hopes that something will be triggered in the mind of the viewers and that it will open gates onto ideas and counter cultures able to untie what we regard as normal.

Over the past 4 years, he has been working on what he calls “configurations” which are various types of assemblages of humans and machines.

Marco Donnarumma, Amygdala MK3

His Amygdala work for example is and artificially intelligent robotic limb that has been programmed to perceive its own body, respond to unforeseen reactions from others and cut its own skin, in a way inspired by the purification ritual of “skin-cutting”.


Marco Donnarumma, Eingeweide, a work in progress

The next step for Amygdala is to be part of Eingeweide, a ritual of coalescence in which the machine is attached to the artist’s body for a performance during which the two of them are searching for their own joint, bodily identity, a process which makes the distinction between them, between flesh and circuits, muscles and wires blurred and undefined.

For Donnarumma, it is important to abuse technology and use it to destroy traditional ideas of what constitutes the normal.

During the short debate at the end of the panel, he also had a few meaningful words about the necessity to think about who owns the tech that will change our bodies.

More images from Forum Paradigm_Shift #2:


‘Minds, Bodies and the Machine’ at Mapping Festival 2018 — with Jürg Lehni, at HEAD Genève – Nouveau Campus. Photo (c) Stéphane Pecorini


Minds, Bodies & The Machine panel discussion with Prof. David Rudrauf. Photo (c) Stéphane Pecorini


‘Minds, Bodies and the Machine’ at Mapping Festival 2018 — with Prof. David Rudrauf, at HEAD Genève – Nouveau Campus. Photo (c) Stéphane Pecorini


‘Minds, Bodies and the Machine’ at Mapping Festival 2018 — with Susanna Hertrich at HEAD Genève – Nouveau Campus. Photo (c) Stéphane Pecorini

Beautiful Rising. Creative Resistance from the Global South

Beautiful Rising. Creative Resistance from the Global South, edited by Juman Abujbara, Andrew Boyd, Dave Mitchell, and Marcel Taminato.

It’s on amazon UK and USA.

Publisher OR books writes: In the struggle for freedom and justice, organizers and activists have often turned to art, creativity, and humor. In this follow-up to the bestselling Beautiful Trouble: A Toolbox for Revolution, Beautiful Rising showcases some of the most innovative tactics used in struggles against autocracy and austerity across the Global South.

Based on face-to-face jam sessions held in Yangon, Amman, Harare, Dhaka, Kampala and Oaxaca, Beautiful Rising includes stories of the Ugandan organizers who smuggled two yellow-painted pigs into parliament to protest corruption; the Burmese students’ 360-mile long march against undemocratic and overly centralized education reforms; the Lebanese “honk at parliament” campaign against politicians who had clung to power long after their term had expired; and much more.

Now, in one remarkable book, you can find the collective wisdom of more than a hundred grassroots organizers from five continents. It’s everything you need for a DIY uprising of your own.


Zapatista Caravan, Chiapas and Mexico City, Mexico, 1994-1996

I keep on reviewing books about art and activism. The topic is all the rage right now. Unfortunately, many of the publications, discussions and events on the subject tend to stay at the surface of things, going for the spectacularly ‘subversive’, the in your face and the provocative. There are real gems here and there though. Beautiful Rising is one of them.

Beautiful Rising is not a ‘coffee table’ object. It’s a manual, a toolkit for citizens who dream of grassroots movements that are effective, creative and compelling.

As for the Global South, it “is not a place. It’s a way of talking about a diverse set of struggles: the uprising of the planet’s people against neoliberal policies, at least, and against the capitalist system, at most.”

The projects described and analyzed in the book come from Asia, Africa and Latin America. But they should inspire the rest of the world too. Wherever we live, we all have to contend with the hysterical aftermaths of the latest U.S. presidential elections, the rise of intolerance, the deepening of social inequalities, the destruction of our environment as well as various systems of repression and discrimination. Although some countries and people have it far worse than others, of course.


Banksy, Sorry, the lifestyle you ordered is out of stock in London, December 2011. Photo via creating clever

The authors of Beautiful Rising have identified five types of tools for social change that should be mixed and matches, customized and combined according to every specific context:

Stories: accounts of significant actions and campaigns, with an analysis of what worked, what didn’t and why.
Tactics: the various types of creative actions and the potential risks they entail.
Principles: the sets of rules to follow and/or adapt in order to design successful actions and campaigns. Because there’s method and methodology even in disobedience.
Theories: the section zooms out on concepts that provide a foundation context and help us understand how the world works.
Methodologies: the practical bit with strategic frameworks and hands-on exercises to help assess your own situation and tailor a campaign.

Beautiful Rising is an energizing ode to civil disobedience. The stories of creative popular struggles might not all have a happy ending (many do though!) but they demonstrate that citizens have determination, imagination and humour, even in the face of brutal intimidation. As for the lessons to be found throughout the book, they build a picture of a South that needs solidarity not aid (or “NGO-ization” as the authors call it.) There’s a lot we can learn by listening to one another.

Here are some of my favourite stories from the Beautiful Rising toolkit:


BoxGirls Kenya, at Kariobangi Community Center. Photo: Adam Daver

After Kenya’s post-election violence in 2008, when many young women were sexually abused and traumatized, the organization Boxgirls Kenya used boxing to provide young women with an antidote to the shaming, stigma and fear that followed the brutality they had experienced. The sport is used as an entry point to discuss difficult topics related to sexuality and to violence against women.

The office also support girls with counseling, sanitary towels and, for those who can’t afford food, the opportunity to participate in a small feeding program.

The Vula Connection


Infographic showing the African National Congress (ANC) communication network during apartheid. Infographic: Ariel Acevedo | CC BY-NC-SA

At the height of the anti-apartheid struggle, South African freedom fighters and hackers created an encrypted communication network that connected the leadership in exile with operatives in South Africa.


Traffic mimes in Bogota. Photo

Faced with a corrupt traffic police force as well as chaos and deaths on the roads, Bogota mayor, mathematician and philosophy professor Antanas Mockus fired 3,200 traffic cops and offered them the option to be retrained and hired back as mimes. 420 accepted the offer. They dramatized road maneuvers and mocked reckless drivers using only white gloves, expressive gestures and face paint. Traffic fatalities drop by over 50 percent.


The Ugandan women who strip to defend their land, Apaa village, Uganda, 2015. Photo

Female elders in northern Uganda invoked powerful cultural taboos by removing their clothes in front of two government ministers who were attempting to evict people in Apaa Village by force, grab their land and sell it to a South African investor who was planning to use the territory for elite sports game hunting.
To block the ministerial convoy, the community put up a roadblock and local women stripped naked in front of government ministers, soldiers and policemen. The move invoked a powerful cultural curse in Uganda where it provokes deep shame to see a woman the age of one’s mother naked.


Israeli activists were arrested for holding “Welcome to Palestine” signs at Ben Gurion airport. Photo: ActiveStills, via electronic intifada

Israeli authorities can deny tourists the right to visit Palestine if they state their intention to do so at the border. To protest Israel’s border policies, activists launched Welcome to Palestine, a campaign during which hundreds of international solidarity activists staged a “fly-in” at Ben Gurion airport demanding to visit Palestine.

In 2011, the first year of the action, more than 300 people from different nationalities took part. After arriving at the airport, activists peacefully unfurled “Welcome to Palestine” banners. Israeli police ripped down the signs and arrested activists. In 2012, following a “diplomatic” campaign by the Israeli government most of the 400 people worldwide who were set to fly to Palestine were denied boarding at their departure country.

The local and international media coverage exposed the Israeli regime of discrimination and repression.

Sofia Ashraf, Kodaikanal Won’t

In 2015, South Indian rapper Sofia Ashraf and Vettiver Collective turned Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” song into a protest against Unilever’s mercury poisoning at its thermometer factory in Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu. The environmental crisis has affected the health of workers and is still polluting local soil and groundwater. Ashraf’s video went viral, giving 15 years of local campaign the international media coverage it needed. Intensified campaigning and a boycott of Unilever products forced the company to do the previously unthinkable: compensate Kodaikanal workers.


Sign in memory of the Black Panther Traffic Light’s effort to protect school children against traffic incident. Photo: Eric Fischer

Tired of waiting for a traffic light to be installed near a historically “black” public school in Oakland, armed members of the Black Panther Party escorted children across the street before and after school until authorities finally intervened and installed a traffic light on 1 August 1967.


Alexandre Orion, Ossario, 2006

The walls of the Max Feffer tunnel in Sao Paulo were covered with grime and soot from engine exhaust. Thinking he couldn’t be arrested for cleaning a public space, Alexandre Orion selectively cleaned parts of the walls through reverse graffiti. Local authorities had no choice but to clean all the walls in the tunnel, which had been Orion’s plan all along.


Freedom Summer activists sing before leaving training sessions at Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio, for Mississippi in June 1964. Photo: Ted Polumbaum Collection/Newseum, via

Photo on the homepage: Adam Daver, via Positive Magazine.

Plastic plankton, the Anthropocene’s emblematic “microorganism”


Mandy Barker, Ophelia medustica. Specimen collected from Glounthaune shoreline, Cove of Cork, Ireland, (Pram wheel), 2015. Series: Beyond Drifting: Imperfectly Known Animals, 2015

In 1816, John Vaughan Thompson was posted to Cork in Ireland as an army Surgeon. He was not only a physician but also a marine biologist. His interest in sea life led him to be a pioneer planktonologist, the first who systematically used a plankton net back at a time when plankton didn’t even have a name.

Inspired by Thompson’s research into small sea creatures, artist Mandy Barker spent several months exploring the shores of Cork to collect and document the aquatic specimens she encountered there. The samples she found on the beaches, however, are not living microorganisms, they are plastic detritus. A pram wheel, an electric plug, broken parts of children toys, a shoe sole, a mobile phone casing, plastic bottle parts, etc.


Mandy Barker, Laplusa forastuic. Specimen collected from Cobh shoreline, Cove of Cork, Ireland, (Plastic bags). Series: Beyond Drifting: Imperfectly Known Animals, 2015


Mandy Barker, Index spread. Recovered plastic objects alongside specimen images, with fictitious names that contain plastic. From the book Beyond Drifting: Imperfectly Known Animals, 2015

Using defective photographic material and a bit of digital manipulation, Barker shot the plastic bits of trash to make them look like plankton in water. “Movements recorded during several seconds of exposure result in the blurred images that represent plankton drifting in water,” she explains. “Film grain is intentionally visible, alluding to microplastic particles being ingested. They were captured on expired film with faulty cameras to highlight the imperfection of both technique and subject matter.”

The images look like microscope slides one can find in the archives of a natural history museum. To complete the effect, the artist gave each ‘specimen’ a pseudo-Linnaean name.


Mandy Barker, Poletastae nipliuc. Specimen collected from Whitepoint, Cove of Cork, Ireland (Container base). Series: Beyond Drifting: Imperfectly Known Animals, 2015


Mandy Barker, Plamacina retroversta ic. III. Specimen collected from Cobh shoreline, Cove of Cork, Ireland, (White plastic horse, 3), 2015. Series: Beyond Drifting: Imperfectly Known Animals, 2015

The photo series evokes the degradation and contamination of plastic particles in the marine environment. Microplastics in the seas now outnumber stars in our galaxy. They can be found everywhere: in Antarctic snow, in the most remote oceanic spot, in plastiglomerates (a new type of rock made of plastic, volcanic rock, beach sand, seashells, debris and other hard materials held together by plastic) and in plankton.

Plankton eating plastic caught on camera

Plastic can decompose in particles so tiny that plankton ingest them. After that, plastic particles keep on traveling up the food chain until they reach our digestive systems too. Plastic is so ubiquitous it has become an integral part of nature. One day, it might even consume us.


Mandy Barker, Amphilima distinctae. Specimen collected from Cobh shoreline, Cove of Cork, Ireland, (Coathanger). Series: Beyond Drifting: Imperfectly Known Animals, 2015

I discovered the photo series at the Prix Pictet Space exhibition currently open at CAMERA – Centro Italiano per la Fotografia in Turin. The Prix Pictet is an international photography award focusing on the theme of sustainability. This year, ‘sustainability’ is explored through the lens of ‘space’ understood in its broadest, most far-reaching sense. The concept of space was applied to so many subjects (urban overcrowding, migrations, territorial disputes, trash, etc.) that, to me, it lost much of its sense and purpose.

More photos from this edition of Prix Pictet:


Michael Wolf, Tokyo Compression 75, 2011. Series: Tokyo Compression, 2008–11


Saskia Groneberg, Untitled. Series: Büropflanze (office plant), 2012 © Saskia Groneberg, Prix Pictet 2017

I loved the humorous spin that Saskia Groneberg put on humble “the German office fauna.” Her photos show plants growing and taking control over the office architecture.


Sergey Ponomarev, Police on horses escort hundreds of migrants after they crossed from Croatia in Dobova, Slovenia. Tuesday 20 October 2015. Series: Europe Migration Crisis, 2015


Richard Mosse, Olympic Arena, 2016. Series: Heat Maps, 2016-17


Richard Mosse, Idomeni, 2016. Series: Heat Maps, 2016-17


Richard Mosse, Larissa, 2016. Series: Heat Maps, 2016-17

Richard Mosse won the Prix Pictet 2017 prize with his heat-map shots of refugees. He used a hi-tech surveillance camera designed to detect body heat from a distance of over 30km to track the movements of migrants from the Middle East and north Africa.


Pavel Wolberg, Protestor running from tear gas during riots in the Palestinian village of Nilin in the West Bank, 2010. Series: Barricades, 2009–14


Benny Lam, Trapped 04 Series: Subdivided Flats, 2012. © Courtesy of Benny Lam (photographs), Kwong Chi Kit and Dave Ho (concept)


Benny Lam, Trapped 08 Series: Subdivided Flats, 2012. © Courtesy of Benny Lam (photographs), Kwong Chi Kit and Dave Ho (concept)


Beate Gütschow, S#30, 2008. Series: S Series, 2004–09

Prix Pictet Space is open until 26 August 2018 at CAMERA in Turin.

Offshore tour operators, lithium landscapes and other things i discovered at MUTEK_IMG

A few weeks ago (two months ago actually but who counts?), i participated to MUTEK_IMG, the forum on current practices in digital creation at the Phi Centre in Montreal.

Sherry Kennedy and Greg J. Smith from HOLO magazine curated five of the panels in the programme. I missed one because jetlag but otherwise i got to hear some very interesting and, at times, provocative ideas about artificial intelligence, post-truth media, human-machine choreographies and automated storytelling tools. MUTEK_IMG could have been an event that uncritically extols the glories and wonders of digital technology. It wasn’t, or at least it wasn’t just that. In Montreal, i found food for thought, intelligent comments on tech and creativity and a desire to share some of that with you.

Here are 7 ideas i discovered at the festival:

1. The house next door might be part of the tax haven landscape


RYBN. Photo: Bruno Destombes for MUTEK

One of the members of RYBN.ORG, the French collective that uncovers the darkest and most esoteric aspects of finance, technologies and information, participated to the Automation Rules Everything Around Me panel. She also made a very brief intervention later on in an event in which she presented the groups’ Offshore Tour Operator project.


Basel Cross-Border Workshop data visualisation. Alain, Renée, Samuel, 21st january 2018. Photo: RYBN


Basel Cross-Border Workshop data visualisation. Alain, Renée, Samuel, 21st january 2018. Photo: RYBN


Basel Cross-Border Workshop data visualisation. M, K, Valérie P., 21st january 2018. Photo: RYBN


Basel Cross-Border Workshop data visualisation. M, K, Valérie P., 21st january 2018. Photo: RYBN

As part of an inquiry into tax avoidance and other tricks of the finance industry, RYBN organizes workshops in which participants are invited to literally walk through the offshore layer of their neighbourhood. “Offshore Tour Operator” is a psycho-geographic project that guides participants through the local addresses that appear in the panama papers database.

Equipped with a compass and a camera, participants have to find the physical locations of the shell companies, the ghosts addresses, mailboxes and other locations that compose the offshore network. Once in front of the building, they take pictures of the location, and, when possible, leave a message through the letter box.

If you are curious about the work, check out Aude Launay’s fascinating conversation with RYBN on ZeroDeux.

2. Criminalizing wealth is not on top of cities agenda


Brian Clifton, Sam Lavigne and Francis Tseng, White Collar Crime Risk Zones, March 2017

Artist and programmer Sam Lavigne gave us a quick tour of his projects during the panel titled Digital Art for a Post-Truth Reality.

I particularly liked White Collar Crime Risk Zones which uses machine learning to predict where financial crimes are mostly likely to occur across the US.

A similar system is used by police forces already but it focuses only on street crimes. The problems with predictive policing, as it has been applied so far, is that it often results in bias and a disproportionate targeting of impoverished communities of colour.

White Collar Crime Risk Zones is different though: it shows white collar crime, and not “street” crime. The software identifies locations with “risk likelihood” for crimes like unauthorized trading, insider dealing or breach of fiduciary duty and flags them as potential financial crime hotspots. Using profile photos of financial executives on the LinkedIn database, the work also shows a computer-generated image of what the “most likely suspect” looks like. He’s very white and very male!

The artist emailed mayors across the U.S. to inform them that WCCRZ could be a useful tool for crime-fighting. Sadly, alas, the answers he received indicate that catching and punishing members of poorer communities is much higher on their agenda.

3. How did i miss the memo on lithium?

City Everywhere by Liam Young (Lecture Performance) at MUTEK_IMG 2018


Liam Young/Unknown Fields, August 2015. Llipi, Bolivia’s first lithium production plant built on the world’s largest lithium deposit, the Salar De Uyuni. Photo via


Kate Davies and Liam Young/Unknown Fields, August 2015. Salar De Atacama. Photo via

In his City Everywhere keynote, speculative architect Liam Young looked at the diffusion of urban architecture. The architecture of today’s cities, far from being circumscribed to a limited perimeter, is built on a planetary-scale and densely-networked infrastructure. Young’s performance gave us a brief but affecting view of some of the minerals, innovations and mechanisms our modern life relies on. Most of them appear to be fragile and beyond anyone’s control. One of the aspects the video he showed us looked at the environmental cost of “clean” energy. In order to free ourselves from fossil fuels, we will have to increase the mining of lithium, a metal crucial for battery-powered technologies such as smartphones, laptops, electric cars, etc.

“Lithium-ion battery production is forecast to double to eight billion cells by 2025,” writes DW. “And the world price for lithium carbonate has almost doubled in a short span of time to about $13,000 per ton. A new analysis indicates that, without proper planning, there could be short-term bottlenecks in the supplies of some metals, particularly lithium and cobalt, that could cause temporary slowdowns in lithium-ion battery production.”

Young and his nomadic research studio Unknown Fields traveled to ‘the lithium triangle’: Bolivia (a country claimed to hold more lithium than anywhere on Earth), Argentina and Chile.

4. Coding suffers from linguistic imperialism

Ryan Stec, the artistic director of artengine in Ottawa, presented Artificial Imagination, a symposium about creativity in the age of algorithm, artificial intelligence and machine learning. And the two main things i remember from his talks are 1. the videos of the symposium are on vimeo. 2. the english language is fundamental to coding. According to him, the prevalence of english keeps the colonial axis alive.

5. Getting rid of enduring colonial influences can be a creative endeavour


Andre Baynes and Chiedza Pasipanodya from Hacking Black Futures. Photo: Bruno Destombes for MUTEK


Ashley Jane Lewis, Tree Tank, 2018. Photo

Andre Baynes and Chiedza Pasipanodya are the curators of Hacking Black Futures, an exhibition that took place at BAND [Black Artists Network Dialogue] in Toronto a few weeks ago. The duo described how their exhibition used design to speculate about Black-centric, post-capitalist societies. The participating projects explored how such societies would tackle problems that plague today’s world. No idea how they’d deal with coding but a future (hopefully?) edition of Hacking Black Futures might investigate the issue.

6. No one can resist a Gay Roman army

The panel Searching for Digital Aesthetics’ ‘Unknown Unknowns’ was particularly entertaining:


Alan Warburton. Photo: Bruno Destombes for MUTEK

Especially Alan Warburton‘s talk. I had heard of his work but never looked into it. Now i will. He’s brilliant. Here are just two of the works i found particularly moving and smart:

Alan Warburton, Training Camp, 2016

The film Training Camp applies a motion capture file labelled “Gay” in a online mocap library to a Roman soldier and then to an army of Roman soldiers.


Alan Warburton, Dust Bunny, 2015


Alan Warburton, Dust Bunny, 2015

Dust Bunny is a sculpture made of angora-like dust the artist harvested from the inside of ten 3D animation workstations at visual effects studio Mainframe in England.

Dust Bunny articulates a particular inversion that occurs between the real and the virtual: in the real world we seek to banish dust and dirt to optimise functionality, in CGI we labouriously reintroduce it at great cost – complex simulations, layered pseudo-random noise algorithms and intricately constructed 3D models seek to emulate the photographic, chaotic, infinitely dusty real world.

7. We’re ready to believe anything for love or a good headline


Tega Brain. Photo: Bruno Destombes for MUTEK

Smell Dating Press Clips


Tega Brain and Sam Lavigne, Smell Dating, 2016

Tega Brain took us through the depth of media gullibility with Smell Dating. A couple of years ago, she collaborated with Sam Lavigne to launch a matchmaking service built around body odour. You register, receive a T-shirt and wear it for three days. You’re not supposed to use deodorant nor perfume during that time. After that, you mail it back to the dating service and in return you receive 10 samples cut from the T-shirts of other participants. You sniff to your heart’s content, and once you’ve chosen your scent match, you get the phone numbers of your future dates.

It was a participatory art project and installation. As the video above demonstrates, mainstream media didn’t seem to have processed the ‘art’ element of the project. They laughed a lot during the news segments but in the end, they took the idea very very seriously.

For more info about the panels, check out Creative Applications‘ report Inventing the Future at MUTEK_IMG.


MUTEK_IMG audience. Photo: Bruno Destombes for MUTEK


Greg J. Smith from HOLO Magazine. Photo: Bruno Destombes for MUTEK


Daito Manabe. Photo: Bruno Destombes for MUTEK