All posts by we make money not art

The Word is Art: The creative power of letters and texts

The Word is Art, by artist, author and director of London’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Michael Petry.

On amazon UK and USA.

Publisher Thames & Hudson describes the book: Presenting a history of word- and book-based art, and examining major areas where the word has dominated artistic practice, this book takes us on a fascinating and richly illustrated global tour of diverse contemporary art forms.

What value can text hold in the sphere of visual art? How is such text different from poetry? Can the poetic itself be visual art, or is text in this context consigned to the realms of gimmick and catchphrase? Looking at the work of a broad range of artists including Bruce Nauman, Julien Breton, Jeremy Deller, Tracey Emin, Jenny Holzer, Shirin Neshat and many more, The Word is Art examines each of these questions, contending above all that in the digital age, words have become more important than ever.

Luca Rossi, If You Don’t Understand Something Search For It On YouTube (photomontage with wooden letters), 2017

Christopher Wool, Untitled, 2000

The way we read, communicate and use words or even characters evolve with each technology. The changes have been particularly visible with the advent of digital technologies and our reliance on emojis, acronyms and other shortcuts.

This book is a wonderful dive into artistic strategies to rediscover and reinvent the magic of words and characters in the 21st century. Letters so big they become installation works. So luminous they reformulate their surroundings. Words so physical and disturbing they call for increased attention and meditation. Words in wood, words engraved on laminate panels or projected onto facades or even the moon. Words handwritten on post-it notes, words printed on posters, words that become sculptural or words that are painted and remind you of the difference between seeing an artwork and reading it.

Sometimes the words are full of humour. Sometimes they denounce tragedy and injustice, as exposed in my (unsurprisingly) favourite chapter in the book: “Social Comment” which investigates how artists combine good art with an effective message that exposes corrupt politics, discrimination, unethical work practices, or flaws in the art world itself.

The other chapter i found relentlessly fascinating was the one dedicated to ‘new media’ or how QR codes, robots, dating apps and live projections are used to give new dimensions to textual information.

The Word is Art is entertaining, stimulating, beautiful, packed with images and ideas. It’s been the much-needed breath of fresh air i needed this month.

I loved many many of the works presented in the book. Here’s a super short list of my favourite:

eL Seed, Perception, 2016

eL Seed’s painted a ‘calli-graffiti’ piece across 50 buildings in the neighbourhood where Cairo’s garbage collectors live.

Jake & Dinos Chapman, Skull Etched Zippo Lighter, 2015

Julien Breton, aka Kaalam, La beauté, 2015

Kaalam uses long exposure and no digital manipulation to record rehearsed motions that translate on film to Arabic handwriting.

Hubert Czerepok, Nigdy nie bedziesz polakiem (You Will Never Be Polish), 2008

The Brazilian Roger Guerreiro was one of the first players of colour in Poland and many were angry at the speed at which he received citizenship in order to play for the national team. Football fans in Polish cities hung banners and shouted “Roger, you will never be a Pole!” at matches when Guerreiro was on the field. Czerepok has used red and white (Polish national colours) in many works as a comment on the rightwards drift in Polish, European and U.S. politics.

Pilvi Takala, Workers’ Forum, 2015

Workers’ Forum is an animated message conversation, the idea for which developed from Pilvi Takala’s experience as a micro-tasker in the United States, in which she worked for a service where users pay to have a pretend girlfriend or boyfriend texting them.

Thomson & Craighead, Hello World, 2014

Thomson & Craighead‘s Hello World LED sign displays current world population in realtime, updating in response to statistical sources. The vertical mirroring of this simple macroview of our world transforms the information into a decorative totem.

Lilian Lijn, moonmeme, 1992- ongoing

Liliane Lijn’s moonmeme is a homage to the feminine principle of transformation and renewal that for millennia was held sacred in the form of the full moon and its recurring cycle. In this as-yet unrealised work a single word is projected across the lunar surface – large enough to be seen from Earth. As the entire lunar surface is revealed, over the course of its cycle, ‘SHE’ emerges from its gender opposite ‘HE’. In using the lunar surface as a living screen the artist is also signalling the concern that the moon could one day be used for advertising and propaganda.

Carey Young, Terminal Velocity, 2010

The beam of light that enables the text to be read moves across the universe at about 186,000 miles per second. Dr. Malcolm Fairbairn, an astrophysicist based at King’s College London, calculated that the Earth, the gallery, the artist and all viewers are moving at a rate of 1.404.000 miles relative to the Big Bang. The light is thus not just part of the installation, it enables the work to exist.

Paul Coombs, Flag of Dildosis, 2015

The ISIS flag “has become a potent symbol of brutality, fear and sexual oppression,” artist Paul Coombs wrote in the guardian. Replacing the Arabic script with dildos and butt plugs was his way of denouncing the organization’s interpretation of Islam. “If I wanted to try and stimulate a dialogue about the ridiculousness of this ideology, the flag was key.”

Massa Lemu, Passages for the undocumented, 2010-2012

During two years, Massa Lemu held cardboard signs on the streets of Houston, Texas. With slight grammatical alterations, misspellings, and odd word insertions, common expressions were transformed into awkward phrases and nonsensical but semantically loaded poetic statements.

Zena el Khalil, A’Salaam Alaykum: Peace be upon you, 2009

The foreground of the installation A’Salaam Alaykum: Peace be upon you displays the word “Allah” in Arabic letters: a 3.80-meter-tall sign made of glass mirror tiles. The work also includes a dj set by Ayla Hibri, who recreates the atmosphere of the Beirut nightclubbing scene.

Vibha Galhotra, Who Owns the Earth, 2016

Vibha Galhotra’s project “Who Owns the Earth” explored the impact of climate change on Mongolia’s topography and nomadic lifestyles which relies on traditional knowledge systems and weather forecasting techniques.The artist has used the medium of cow dung to inscribe the above question in many different sites to research and understand who actually owns the commons, including air, water, earth, fire and ether.

Kendell Geers, S:LAUGHTER, 2003

The New Newsroom: Lost (and found?) in the information stream

We consume more news than ever but does that mean that we are better informed?

Every day, we eat up, share and generate stories through news apps, podcasts, Twitter, youtube, facebook updates and even VR. Yet, it seems that the more intimate we get with the creation of information, the less grip we have on its meaning and on the impact its manipulation has on politics and society. The exhibition The New Newsroom. Reporting Redesigned at MU in Eindhoven, explores how we can use the power of digital technology to create meaningful content and regain control of information.

In The New Newsroom, journalists, technologists, artists and designers investigate innovative formats, analyse the news and present their findings in stimulating visuals and installations

The exhibition is packed with emoticons, VR installations, humour, poetry, anecdotes and other weapons of mass distraction. And yet, the more you engage with the art and design works in the show, the clearer the message: the shape of information is evolving faster than ever and we need to probe and question its new guises if we don’t want to remain trapped inside filter bubbles and lose all consciousness of what makes and breaks society.

Here’s a quick tour of some of my favourite works in the show:

Reporters without Borders, Uncensored Playlist, 2018. The New Newsroom: Reporting Redesigned – MU Eindhoven, 2018. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

Reporters without Borders, Uncensored Playlist, 2018

China, Vietnam, Uzbekistan, Thailand and Egypt are some of the countries at the bottom of the list for freedom of press. The Uncensored Playlist is the result of a collaboration between Reporters Without Borders Germany and local journalists and musicians to by-pass censorship. They turned censored news stories into songs with innocuous titles that can then be streamed for free via music apps.

Using music as a loophole, the platform aims to get the work of exiled journalists across the border, into people’s playlists. Just like other pop songs, the music spreads through word of mouth, turning news stories into hits.

Lilian Stolk, Emoji Newsfeed, 2018

Lilian Stolk, Emoji Newsfeed, 2018

Lilian Stolk, Emoji Newsfeed, 2018. The New Newsroom: Reporting Redesigned – MU Eindhoven, 2018. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

I had no idea that there are already 3000 emojis for us to chose from. 100 are added every year. The Unicode Consortium determines which icons are added, but news media also plays a role in the pre-selection and modification of the icons. Proposals that meet a large audience in the media, are more likely to be added. Lilian Stolk monitors the development of emoji as she sees the process as a reflection of the choices and changes society is going through. Her colourful and ridiculously interesting Emoji Newsfeed charts the controversies and strange stories surrounding emoji communication.

Arvida Byström and Molly Soda, Pics or it Didn’t Happen. Photo: Cassie Brown. Insta: @show_you_mine

Arvida Byström and Molly Soda, Pics or it Didn’t Happen

Arvida Byström and Molly Soda, Pics or it Didn’t Happen. The New Newsroom: Reporting Redesigned – MU Eindhoven, 2018. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

Pics or it Didn’t Happen is an archive of photos banned from Instagram.

Arvida Byström and Molly Soda collected these images -most of them strange rather than offensive- into a book as a guarantee that they would not disappear: “We have to think about how to archive the web,” they told the Independent. “Putting something in a book is an interesting way to take encapsulate something, but also elevating the things that we aren’t supposed to be seeing.”

According to their own analysis, the social platform tends to reject (mostly female) bodies that aren’t young, hairless, lithe, and white. The tendency to favour the standard over what is considered deviant reflects the way society perceives, regulates and suppresses bodies.

Nicolas Maigret and Maria Roszkowska, Computational Propaganda About Computational Propaganda, 2018. The New Newsroom: Reporting Redesigned – MU Eindhoven, 2018. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

Nicolas Maigret and Maria Roszkowska, Computational Propaganda About Computational Propaganda, 2018. The New Newsroom: Reporting Redesigned – MU Eindhoven, 2018. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

Nicolas Maigret and Maria Roszkowska‘s Computational Propaganda About Computational Propaganda is a troll campaign that looks at the social and political responsibility of the five Big Tech companies (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft).

The troll campaign is executed by a bot that has no political agenda other than stressing the presence of the GAFAM in popular political discourse. “Using Big Data analysis techniques to extract hidden correlations from Wikipedia, the bot is built to spark discussions that link the companies to major social and political issues. The resulting assumptions are spread on social media under the viral form of internet memes. The memes are tracked and recorded, so that their aftereffect can be observed and scrutinized.”

I need to come back with a more detailed story on that one soon!

DROG, Slecht Nieuws, 2017
. The New Newsroom: Reporting Redesigned – MU Eindhoven, 2018. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

The disheartening influence of fake news highlights the need for greater media literacy. Including among adults. Slecht Nieuws (Bad News), a game made by DROG, entices players to fabricate and spread fake news themselves. By learning to recognise the methods involved in the spread of disinformation, players are thus better equipped to distinguish falsehood from truth.

Forensic Architecture, al-Jinah Mosque

In March last year, the U.S. forces bombed a site in Al-Jinah, Syria, claiming that it was a terrorist meeting place and that the only causalities were terrorists.

Forensic Architecture worked with Human Rights Watch and British blogger Bellingcat to analyze numerous videos and images (from both before and after the drone strike) and interviewed survivors, first responders and the building’s contractor to demonstrate that the U.S. had in fact aimed fire at a mosque. Their work revealed the fatal misindentification, the killing of civilians and a possible cover-up by U.S. forces. After making the information public, the Pentagon eventually retracted part of their statement and confessed the target was indeed, “part of a mosque complex.”

Coralie Vogelaar, Looking for a Possible Algorythm for the Popular News Image, 2016

Coralie Vogelaar, Recognized / Not Recognized – A Comparative Movement Analysis of Popular and Unpopular News Images, 2016. The New Newsroom: Reporting Redesigned – MU Eindhoven, 2018. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

Coralie Vogelaar, Recognized / Not Recognized – A Comparative Movement Analysis of Popular and Unpopular News Images, 2016. The New Newsroom: Reporting Redesigned – MU Eindhoven, 2018. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

Coralie Vogelaar, Looking for a Possible Algorythm for the Popular News Image, 2016. The New Newsroom: Reporting Redesigned – MU Eindhoven, 2018. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

Coralie Vogelaar browsed through the databases of the large press agencies for photographs of ten high-profile news events and used search engines to determine how often each image – 850,000 in total – was published online. She then compared the most popular photographs to the least published ones of the exact same situation to figure out what made news agencies favour one over the others. The result, Looking for a Possible Algorithm for the Popular News Image, is puzzling. Each of the iconic photo is brought side by side with its least published “twin” and soon patterns in the focus and composition of the images seem to emerge: babies and tears have to be clearly visible, for example. Gestures well defined and crowd movements easy to interpret.

The artist then attempted to translate these images in Recognized / Not Recognized, a two-channel video installation that reproduces these images in the form of a performance piece created in collaboration with choreographer Marjolein Vogels. Nine dancers move from one frozen position to another: on one screen, they mimic the news photograph that was most popular and on the other, the simultaneously shot but failed image.

Interestingly, the successful images often show people in poses that evoke famous western artworks, such as Michelangelo’s Pietà or Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa. From a vast ocean of photographic data, we have the tendency to favour images that confirm our visual frame of reference.

Donghwan Kam, After Photography, 2018

Donghwan Kam, After Photography, 2018

Donghwan Kam, After Photography, 2018. The New Newsroom: Reporting Redesigned – MU Eindhoven, 2018. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

In After Photography, Donghwan Kam renders iconic news images in 3D and then walks around with his VR headset and a digital point-and-shoot camera he modified to capture the virtual through the use of sensors attached to the front of the device. He thus cuts through the numbness of yet another image of human suffering to create a personal relationship with the event.

Submarine Channel & VPRO, The Industry – Mapping the Dutch Drug Economy (intro), 2017

The Industry, an interactive documentary made by VPRO and Submarine Channel, delves into the drug industry in The Netherlands.

The work interweaves hard facts and figures with personal stories from the people who keep the industry going: housewives, students, dockworkers, weed growers, full-time coke dealers, etc. You can meet the protagonists “on location”: in cannabis plantations hidden in villas, coffeeshop, containers in harbors, etc. Some spaces are real, some are reconstructions based on existing spaces.

Soon enough, you realize that the shady drug world is all around you. 

More images from the exhibition:

Jim Brady, Mobile Journalism, 2018. The New Newsroom: Reporting Redesigned – MU Eindhoven, 2018. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

Daan Wubben, In Aerial Times. The New Newsroom: Reporting Redesigned – MU Eindhoven, 2018. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

Maxime Benvenuto, Lexicographies of Propaganda and News, 2018. The New Newsroom: Reporting Redesigned – MU Eindhoven, 2018. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

Maxime Benvenuto, Lexicographies of Propaganda and News, 2018. The New Newsroom: Reporting Redesigned – MU Eindhoven, 2018. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

The New Newsroom: Reporting Redesigned – MU Eindhoven, 2018. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

The New Newsroom: Reporting Redesigned – MU Eindhoven, 2018. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

The New Newsroom: Reporting Redesigned – MU Eindhoven, 2018. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

The New Newsroom: Reporting Redesigned – MU Eindhoven, 2018. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

The New Newsroom: Reporting Redesigned – MU Eindhoven, 2018. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

The New Newsroom: Reporting Redesigned – MU Eindhoven, 2018. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

The New Newsroom: Reporting Redesigned, curated by Nadine Roestenburg & Angelique Spaninks, remains open at MU in Eindhoven until 11 November 2018.

Image on the homepage: Donghwan Kam, After Photography.

Does art have any relevance “in the Age of AI”?

Christie’s recently sold for $432,000 a rather amusing portrait created by AI. Last Summer, (human) participants deemed that the artworks created by a computer system were more communicative and inspiring than human-made ones. A few years ago, an artist convincingly automated the kind of texts written by art critics. I could multiply the attention-grabbing stories but i’m sure that you’ve also been following the debates around the impact that AI is having on art and on the specificity of human creativity. But does art have a voice when it comes to understanding and shaping AI?

Blinking Turing by Vuk Cosic

E-relevance of Culture in the Age of AI at RiHub in Rijeka. Photo credit: Tanja Kanazir / ECOC Rijeka 2020

A couple of weeks ago in was in Rijeka, Croatia, to participate to E-relevance of Culture in the Age of AI, a seminar that aimed to offer food for thought to the Council of Europe’s reflection on the role that culture can have on the field of artificial intelligence. The sun was shining, i was wearing my favourite jumpsuit and the company was smart: Felix Stalder (media and cultural theorist and professor for Digital Culture and Network Theory at the Zürich University of the Arts), Vladan Joler (artist, founder the SHARE Foundation and professor at the University of Novi Sad), Gerfried Stocker (artistic director at Ars Electronica), Matteo Pasquinelli (professor in Media Philosophy at the University of the Arts and Design, Karlsruhe), etc. Everything was orchestrated by Vuk Cosic, a “cosmopolitan retired artist” and a classic of

I didn’t take many notes during the festival as i was engrossed in the debates so instead of a proper report, i’m just going to freewheel my way through a few bits and bobs i learnt over these two days in Rijeka. And i’ll focus ONLY on the art parts because you can’t really trust me with anything else.

E-relevance of Culture in the Age of AI. The cheekiness of the title isn’t obvious until you read it out loud. It sounds like the “irrelevance of culture in the age of AI.” It’s true it is often difficult to explain the invaluable role that art and culture can play in the evolution of forces that are going to shape society in ways we might not always fully comprehend.

E-relevance of Culture in the Age of AI at RiHub in Rijeka. Photo credit: Tanja Kanazir / ECOC Rijeka 2020

E-relevance of Culture in the Age of AI at RiHub in Rijeka. Photo credit: Tanja Kanazir / ECOC Rijeka 2020

And yet, even if it is not immediately obvious, art (and culture in general) does have a role in stimulating a culture of reflection and healthy skepticism, in shaping new models and narratives, in articulating all the social dimensions of a technology like AI, on seeping into discussions and eventually into reality.

Science-fiction is a powerful example of the role art can have on the perception and even the development of a technology. Much the public’s imagination of what AI looks like and the kind of interaction we have with it is still shaped by Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey. That film is 50 year old which tells us a lot about the role that culture can play in the debate around AI. The clean lines of Alexa and the voice of Siri, for example, probably owe a lot to the haunting image of AI that the film created.

As for the smoothness of technological ‘personal assistants’, they mask the complexity of the power relationships that are built into these machines.

Vuk Cosic made that hidden complexity of relationships more tangible when he brought to the discussion a series of anecdotes about the way folk culture is mocking AI, revealing how small accidents uncover the hold the technology has over our lives. And how we can sabotage it, albeit in very modest ways.

Starting with stories of accidental orders i had never heard of. Such as the one in which Amazon’s Alexa started ordering people dollhouses automatically upon hearing a news presenter on tv declare: “I love the little girl, saying ‘Alexa ordered me a dollhouse’.”

The burger king ad debacle. Photo from phandroid

A few months later, Burger King perhaps thought it would be a genius idea to piggyback on the dollhouse episode and exploit it for a TV spot. “You’re watching a 15-second Burger King ad, which is unfortunately not enough time to explain all of the fresh ingredients in the Whopper sandwich. But I’ve got an idea,” the narrator said, standing behind the counter at the burger chain. “OK Google, what is the Whopper burger?”

The trick was supposed to prompt voice-activated smart speakers into describing its burgers, just like Alexa had been tricked by a voice on the television to buy dollhouse. The problem, however, is that Google gets its explanation of the Whopper from Wikipedia, an encyclopedia everyone is free to edit.

Within hours of the ad’s release, users had made humorous modifications to the Whopper Wikipedia page. Soon after, Google appeared to make changes that stopped the commercial from activating the devices.

An interesting issue worth mentioning here is that wikipedia is free and written collaboratively by volunteers. And yet, this unpaid, crowdsourced source of valuable information is plundered by multi-billion corporations to make even more money.

At that moment in the conversation, Felix Stalder asked me: “Do you know of !Mediengruppe Bitnik’s work with Alexa?” No, i didn’t. And yes, it’s a great project. We wouldn’t expect anything less from these guys.

!Mediengruppe Bitnik (music by Low Jack, graphics by Knoth & Renner), Alexiety, 2018

Together with musician Low Jack, !Mediengruppe Bitnik have created an EP music record titled ‘Alexiety’. The album is made to be streamed on the radio “for the enjoyment of smart homes everywhere.”

In ‘Alexiety’, a set of three songs attempts to capture the feelings we develop toward Intelligent Personal Assistants: the carefree love that embraces Alexa before data privacy and surveillance issues outweigh the benefits; the alienation and decoupling / uncoupling from the allure of remote control and instant gratification; the anxiety and discomfort around Alexa and other Intelligent Personal Assistants that is Alexiety.

The work explores the unbalanced power relationship between Intelligent Personal Assistants that are taking more and more control over our lives and us, poor flesh and bones creatures who know so little about their algorithms, rule-sets and even real machinic presence.

Hardcore Anal Hydrogen, Jean-Pierre,2018

Speaking of music, in his statement Gerfried Stocker presented us with many fascinating artistic works that use AI. The one that really struck me might not be the most thought-provoking nor the most valuable in terms of critique of the technology though. Click and see above.

Kate Crawford and Vladan Joler, Anatomy of an AI System, 2018

E-relevance of Culture in the Age of AI at RiHub in Rijeka. Photo credit: Tanja Kanazir / ECOC Rijeka 2020

The event was also the opportunity to see Anatomy of an AI System in all its printed majesty. The map, created by Vladan Joler and Kate Crawford, elegantly dissects the whole genesis, life and death of an individual networked device based on a centralised artificial intelligence system. Printed on a gigantic sticker, the work was covering one of the walls of the seminar room.

Sterling Crispin, N.A.N.O. , B.I.O. , I.N.F.O. , C.O.G.N.O., 2015

My own contribution to the discussions in Rijeka consisted in reminding the audience that technology is not made of just algorithms and big data. I briefly explained the cost that the sometimes invisible materiality of AI, its infrastructures and the devices we use, is having on the environment and on the lives of workers who often live far away from us. I’m sure you already follow this kind of discussion so i’ll spare you the details. Among the artistic projects i used to illustrate the issue, i’ll only mention Sterling Crispin’s N.A.N.O. , B.I.O. , I.N.F.O. , C.O.G.N.O. because of the way it illustrates the tension between the grand vision and promises of the Silicon Valley and the fragility of a world that is increasingly shaken by contingencies such as the depletion of natural resources (energy, minerals, etc.) and climate change.

Michael Mandiblerg, Postmodern Times, 2018

I also talked about Michael Mandiberg’s Postmodern Times. The artist commissioned freelancers on the crowdsourcing labor platform to recreate small clips of Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times. Mandiberg then assembled all the small clips made by the hidden human cogs in the powerful digital machine and recreated the famous 1936 comedy, drawing a bittersweet portrait of the digital factory and its ruthless reliance on precarity.

E-relevance of Culture in the Age of AI at RiHub in Rijeka. Photo credit: Tanja Kanazir / ECOC Rijeka 2020

In conclusion, i’m not afraid for artists. I trust them to unfold all the expressive forms of AI technology, to use, abuse, hack, sabotage AI just like they do with any new medium. And as for us, the public, i suspect we’ll start treasuring human fallibility just like we are amused by the glitches in the machines nowadays.

With that said, i AM worried about the shrinking space that is left to art and culture today. Europe needs to create an even more nurturing environment for artists through education, commissions, residency programs and by facilitating collaboration with research centers. If Europe doesn’t make them feel valued, some of these bright and critical minds who have been educated with public money in Europe might just move to Silicon Valley (or to any of its European outposts) and dedicate their creativity to the sole glory of the GAFAM.

E-relevance of Culture in the Age of AI at RiHub in Rijeka. Photo credit: Tanja Kanazir / ECOC Rijeka 2020

E-relevance of Culture in the Age of AI at RiHub in Rijeka. Photo credit: Tanja Kanazir / ECOC Rijeka 2020

The seminar took place at RiHub in Rijeka, Croatia. RiHub in case you were wondering is a “nursery for innovative and creative work”. I find the term utterly ridiculous but the space is welcoming and amazingly well designed.

Studio Time: Future Thinking in Art and Design

The pile of books to review at Maison WMMNA gets more intimidating with each passage of the postman but i’m going to face them one at a time. The exciting ones at least. Here’s a publication i enjoyed on my way latest long train trip:

Studio Time: Future Thinking in Art and Design, edited by Jan Boelen, Ils Huygens and Heini Lehtinen.

On amazon UK.

Publisher Black Dog Press writes: The ability to use imagination to envision future needs is crucial in art, design and architecture. Future thinking and making require the capacity to create narratives for near and far futures and to compose proposals to meet the imagined needs of the future. Future-oriented creative practices also require future literacy—understanding the temporal continuum in which future-oriented work is created and being aware of the underlying incentives, motivations and structures of works, commissioned or self-initiated. Similarly, viewing or consuming speculative creative works requires some level of understanding of the context of the works.

Studio Time: Future Thinking in Art and Design approaches these questions with essays from international design and art thinkers, a number of shorter essays and a selection of art, design and architecture projects. The book consists of three parts that each focus on future fictions in art and design from different perspectives: future fictions and imagination in creative practices, future literacy and future ethics. Each part consists of two essays, two reflective contributions from artists and designers and selected projects from practitioners around the world.

Michael Burton, Astronomical Bodies, 2010. Photo: Theo Cook

Because future world-building shouldn’t be left in the hands of corporations, politicians and “trends forecasters”, the Studio Time book investigates the meaningful roles that art and design can play in formulating alternative visions of the future but also (and more importantly) in providing a space for free questioning, debates and encounters. I particularly liked that some of the contributors of the book went even further and looked at the mistakes artists and designers have made in the past (and continue doing) when grappling with their visions for future societies.

Although each of them was invited to write about (roughly) the same topic, the 30 thinkers and makers whose work is featured in the book adopted perspectives different enough to keep the reader absorbed, puzzled and stimulated. From page 1 to page 291.

The essays in the book i found most engaging were the following:

Artist and scientist Angelo Vermeulen teamed up with researcher Caroline Nevejan and Professor Frances Brazier to point out the need for a more inclusive future-thinking that would actively cultivate diversity.

Writer and artist James Bridle wrote about the difficulty for artists of balancing the seductive and the disturbing in dystopian narratives, lest the most aesthetic aspects of these works overshadow the dark sides and eventually seep into the mainstream.

Marina Otero Verzier, an architect, curator and the Director of Research at Het Nieuwe Instituut, made very interesting comments about the future in defense departments and asked whether designers could/should participate to military thinking or altogether reject the association with the military in the name of ethics.

Curator and theorist Louise Schouwenberg commented on the current crisis of the criteria when it comes to distinguishing between the valuable and the valueless in both art and design.

Science-fiction writer Bruce Sterling takes Robinson Crusoe as an entry point to discuss “abject fiction design,” a universe of tragedy, suffering, misery and other inconveniences that design fiction can’t design away but should still grapple with.

In his essay, architect and writer Theo Deutinger charts the ownership of the future. First religions had a monopoly on the future. Later on, people realized that hard facts were more interesting and science grabbed the keys to the future. More recently, the ownership was passed on to big data or rather on to algorithms and their ability to spot patterns in a sea of information. Today, feelings appear to have gained the upper hand.

Curator, writer and researcher Nicola Triscott wrote about co-inquiry, a constantly evolving model that involves curators, artists, scientists and other experts. This interdisciplinary approach to knowledge-production provides space for a fruitful discussion between different groups of people with broadly different viewpoints.

Rotor, Opalis, 2012-2013

Dunne & Raby, Not Here, Not Now, 2014. Exhibition opening at Z33. Photo: Kristof Vrancken

Designers and design thinkers Dunne & Raby explained why they believe that it is important design for the rich spectrum located between the real and the unreal.

Nik Baerten, founder of the design and foresight studio Panopticon, looked at our collective imagination deficit when it comes to picturing ourselves within the post-capitalist post-fossil fuel society we so eagerly desire.

The book is a closing chapter of Studio Future, one of the research studios developed by Z33 House for Contemporary Art in Hasselt, Belgium, to explore various aspects of future-oriented art and design practices.

A big bravo to Joris Kritis and Bernardo Rodrigues for their graphic design work. It’s elegant, calming and efficient.

Staying Alive. A “wunderkammer” of disaster solutions

The third project i discovered at A School of School, the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial (after Halletmek. The Turkish art of speeding up design processes and Genetically Modified Generation) is not a project but a cabinet of curiosities curated by SulSolSal, a collaboration between Brazilian architect Guido Giglio and South-African designer Hannes Bernard.

Demystification Committee, Offshore Spring/Summer 2018, 2018

Exhibition view of Staying Alive, part of the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial. Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz

Global warming, widespread precarity and the threat of another economic crisis, the rise of far right discourses across Europe and the US, the mass extinction of natural species, (cyber)terrorism, political unrest, etc. The world seems to be facing a constant stream of menaces and crisis that only seem to grow with each passing day. Governments don’t seem too concerned about it, they are too busy signing climate agreements they won’t respect and courting votes with short-time measures that can only fool the naive and the self-centered. As for industries, they pursue their strategies of turbo-greed as if there was no tomorrow. And maybe indeed there won’t be any tomorrow.

SulSolSal’s Staying Alive is part a “wunderkammer” and part a survival guide. The artists, designers, architects and other resourceful citizens whose thoughts and works the SulSolSal duo has collected look bravely at some of the crisis we are facing today and attempt to help us prepare for a future of adversity and scarcity.

I wish SulSolSal‘s website was up and running and that they hadn’t titled their contribution Staying Alive because i’ve spent the whole weekend pretending i’m Robin Gibb. Other than that, i can’t fault the work of these guys. The research they did for the Istanbul Design Biennial was smart and inspiring.

Here’s my favourite projects in their selection of interesting and often tongue-in-cheek attempts to respond to the ongoing climate of impending doom:

Theo Deutinger, Europe in Africa, 2014

Theo Deutinger, Europe in Africa, 2014

Europe in Africa (EIA) is a proposal for a new city – state on an artificial island to be created right between the Exclusive Economic Zone of Tunisia and Italy. The aim of EIA is to provide a secure place for people that have to flee their country and want to reach Europe.

The purpose-built island would offer a football stadium, a business park, a mosque and a church, a business park, a police station, schools and spaces to live and grow crops.

After living and working 5 years in EIA its inhabitants would be granted with a truly European passport and could leave and legally reside in any European country; if wanted. The designer believes that Brexit exiles would be welcome on the island as well.

SkyLift V0.3 (current build) Photo ©Adam Harvey. Used in Adam Harvey and Anastasia Kubrak, Data Pools, 2018

The pools and mansions of Silicon Valley are financed by the mechanisms of economic surveillance and ownership of your personal data. Yet the geographic locations of these luxurious residences are often removed from open source databases. Data Pools uses SkyLift, an experimental wifi geolocation spoofing device that relocates your smartphone to these hidden locations of interest. The work explores the relationship between data collection, consent and the technologies behind wifi geolocation positioning.

With this project, Adam Harvey and Anastasia Kubrak allows you to cheat these technologies of control and pretend you’re having a drink by the private pools of big tech billionaires such as Jeff Bezos, Peter Thiel, Mark Zuckerberg or Larry Page.

Human Rights Foundation, Flash Drives for Freedom, 2005

The Human Rights Foundation is using USB sticks to counter Kim Jong-un’s propaganda machine and influence people living in North Korea.

A few years ago, a group of defectors began smuggling USB drives with educative and informative contents from the outside world. The campaign invites people all over the world to support their “subversive” effort and donate their unused drives. The USBs will then be filled with e-books, films, an offline Korean Wikipedia and other content proven to inspire North Koreans to disbelieve Kim Jong-Un’s propaganda and take a stand. The drives are then smuggled into the country.

Meeus van Dis, Super Green (Solar powered tanning bed), 2016. Photo credits: Sabrina Gaudio

Meeus van Dis, Super Green (The diesel fuel powered electric car), 2016. Photo credits: Sabrina Gaudio

Steven de Peven, Meeus van Dis and Bart Eysink Smeets used absurdist humour to question the “technofix”, this tendency we have to look at technology and design as providers of the ultimate solution to climate change and other man-made problems.

Their Super Green series features the GreenBrown solarium powered by solar energy to give you an eco-tan, an electric car powered by a diesel generator and an electric fan that uses wind energy.

Joao Roxo, The Hand that Feeds you, 2017. Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz

The Hands That Feed You: Global Dependency and Design for the Third Space maps the North-South divide and the dynamics of its inter-dependency systems, in particular its flows of waste and surplus. The work also exposes a “Third Space” made of self-reliance and resourcefulness and informal economies. An example of this inventiveness is the furniture that people in the South craft using the excess of unwanted clothing sent as ‘charity’ from the North. People stuff big bags with the clothes and use them as poufs for example.

Janna Ullrich, Quantified

Janna Ullrich, Quantified (image)

’Quantified’ is a cooperative board game, set in a world in which everyone’s behavior is constantly surveilled and analyzed. A player’s behavior results in a social credit score leaving traces of data behind for governments and corporations to analyse and determining their position on the social ladder. Players start from different positions on the social ladder, as refugee, unemployed or employed, with unequal access to human rights. The goal of the game is to make all rights accessible to all players and to fight the implementation of totalitarian policies.

By gamifying the complex challenges of migration, participants experience how legal innocent activities can make them lose their rights and how they can collectively fight for laws that protect their rights.

Tattfoo Studio, New Earth Personal Survival Kit, 2017. Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz

Tattfoo Studio, New Earth Personal Survival Kit, 2017

New Earth Personal Survival Kit, aka NEPSK, is a series of small survival kits that form part of an educational program teaching an ethos of self-reliance and living closer to the Earth. Although the work intends to prepare us for any type of challenging situation we might encounter in the future, it features artifacts inspired by folk craft and everyday objects. The artist believes that equipping yourself for the future also involves a great deal of looking back at past practices and strategies.

Demystification Committee, exhibition view at the Istanbul Design Biennial. Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz

Demystification Committee, exhibition view at the Istanbul Design Biennial. Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz

The Demystification Committee is an art and research project that takes the shape of an international corporate structure set up to model and explore offshore finance. Secretive movement of money is a crucial component of the offshore world. In order to benefit from this, the Demystification Committee has launched a collection of beachwear: Offshore Spring/Summer 2018. In this leisure collection, the stakeholders and strategies of the dark infrastructure is portrayed as being just as unseen as brightly coloured, pop-fashion diagrams.

Demystification Committee, Offshore Economist, 2018

The Offshore Economist, a digital publication focusing on the cracks inherent to the offshoring practices of corporate finance.

Mary Ponomareva, Luxury Survival Fair, 2017

Our anxieties and uncertainties about future disasters shouldn’t stifle the economy. In fact, ‘The end of the world’ is a business opportunity like any other, with high-end private security systems, state-of-the-art predator drones, luxurious survival condos and jewel-encrusted gas masks, etc.

By speculating on the objects and services that will make post-apocalyptic life more glamourous, Mary Ponomareva’s Luxury Survival Fair questions the role that aesthetics plays in the construction of ideology.

A School of School, the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial is curated by Jan Boelen and organised by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (IKSV). The exhibitions remain open at various locations in Istanbul until 4 November 2018.

Also part of the biennial: Halletmek. The Turkish art of speeding up design processes and Genetically Modified Generation (Designer Babies).

High Static, Dead Lines. A book about the spooky resonances of communication technology

High Static, Dead Lines. Sonic Spectres & the Object Hereafter, by Kristen Gallerneaux, an artist, sonic researcher and a curator at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn in the United States.

Publisher MIT Press writes: Trees rigged up to the wireless radio heavens. A fax machine used to decode the language of hurricanes. A broadcast ghost that hijacked a television station to terrorize a city. A failed computer factory in the desert with a slap-back echo resounding into ruin.

In High Static, Dead Lines, media historian and artist Kristen Gallerneaux weaves a literary mix tape that explores the entwined boundaries between sound, material culture, landscape, and esoteric belief. Essays and fictocritical interludes are arranged to evoke a network of ley lines for the “sonic spectre” to travel through—a hypothetical presence that manifests itself as an invisible layer of noise alongside the conventional histories of technological artifacts.

The objects and stories within span from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day, touching upon military, communications, and cultural history. A connective thread is the recurring presence of sound—audible, self-generative, and remembered—charting the contentious sonic histories of paranormal culture.

Dr. John Farrar using an FM antenna to pick up radio waves from a pill as it passes through Dr. Vladimir Zworykin, 1957. Photo

In 1924, as Mars drew near Earth’s orbit, Charles Francis Jenkins, an American pioneer of early cinema with his Phantoscope and one of the inventors of television, teamed up with Dr. David Todd for an attempt to “listen to Mars”. The whole country collaborated in the experiment. A military-imposed radio silence ensured that Jenkin’s Radio Camera, an apparatus that could picturize sound produced by radio phenomena, had a chance to detect signals from Martians trying to communicate with us. The US Naval Observatory cooperated too by sending an antenna 3,000 meters above ground in a dirigible pointed to Mars. After 3 days of recordings, the film was developed, the dots and dashes on the image were analyzed but Jenkins had to conclude that they didn’t constitute a message from outerspace.

Photo: Music Trade Review, via International Arcade Museum Library

Still in the 1920s, psychologist Walter Van Dyke Bingham worked with Thomas Edison to study the effects that music has on the moods of human beings. His “Mood Music” study became the basis of a marketing campaign to sell phonographs to customers on the idea of holding social ‘mood changing parties’. The New Edison, the Phonograph with a soul was born!

In 1932, inventor A. B. Saliger patented a device he called Automatic Time-Controlled Suggestion Machine. The machine, more commonly known under the name Psycho-phone was a kind of phonograph which played recordings during sleep. Saliger made a fortune promising his clients that the messages would enter their unconscious and have a powerful influence on their behavior and help them be more successful in life and in love.

News segment on WFLD Channel 32 regarding the Max Headroom Pirating Incident in 1987

Kristen Gallerneaux‘s book is a fascinating exploration of the ‘shadow world’ of communication devices. High Static, Dead Lines weaves together the histories of media and material culture with superstitions, conspiracies, quests for ghosts and the exploitation of our misunderstanding of communication technologies.

The real walks hand in hand with the dubious and the mysterious. One moment you learn about the invention of muzak, the swallowable radio, the woman who set the record for high altitude communication and the urban legend of the mass burial of unsold Atari video game cartridges. Next, a fridge throws a cabbage at a little girl, Poltergeists are all around you and devices are inhabited with spiritual resonance.

“Finding ways to allow our media to haunt us is crucial to understanding it,” writes the author. Gallerneaux reminds us that it’s ok to be irrational when confronted with new technologies. She doesn’t seem to pass any judgement whatsoever on the appeal that the supernatural might have on perfectly balanced minds. We might look with amusement at the historical examples of human gullibility described in the book but i doubt we are much wiser today. The inner functions of our devices are getting more opaque with each new model and the power communication technologies have over our lives is more mystifying than ever.

I can’t recommend enough that you check out Nicolas Nova‘s contribution to the 2017 edition of the Mapping festival if you’re interested in that topic:

Magical Thinking, Contemporary Superstitions And Digital Technologies

I have two minor criticisms. The first one is that i wish the book were illustrated with photos of the devices and the experiments (when available). The second is that the texts don’t follow a clear chronology nor logic. Now i do realize that this is part of its charm and that the non-narrative strategy leaves space for imagination to expand beyond the pages but i sometimes found it challenging to follow the narrative.

Genetically Modified Generation (Designer Babies)

New scientific techniques, such as CRISPR-Cas9 have raised debates about whether or not we will soon be able to get babies à la carte and whether this will be ethically acceptable.

If making designer babies ever becomes acceptable, genome modification would not be used solely for therapeutic reasons (to eliminate genes causing disorders such as cystic fibrosis for example) but for enhancement. Parents who can afford the expense would then be able to ask labs to give them a full list of the traits they can select for their child and ensure that he or she will be faster, smarter, stronger and sexier than their peers.

Pınar Yoldas, Genetically Modified Generation (Designer Babies), 2016-2017

Pınar Yoldas, Genetically Modified Generation (Designer Babies), 2016-2017. Installation view at the Scales School exhibition, Pera Museum. Photo by Kayhan Kaygusuz

Artist and researcher Pinar Yoldas is participating to A School of Schools, the 4th edition of the Istanbul Design Biennial, with nine delicate 3D printed statuettes – one for each month of human pregnancy – that reflect the characteristics of gods and goddesses in Greek mythology.

Her installation Genetically Modified Generation (Designer Babies) invites us to consider the societal impact of a gene editing tool that might in the future allow some of us to tweak human DNA and ‘play god’ with future generations of children.

Yoldas’ designer babies have been genetically altered to be superior beings. They are endowed with truly exceptional levels of intelligence, beauty, clairvoyance, longevity, social status or even moral reasoning. Each of them has grown in a very peculiar environment that only enhances their specific and extraordinary gift but that makes it difficult to distinguish whether their identity has been shaped mainly by their background, by their education or by the fact that their genes have been ‘improved.’ What is sure is that these god-like individuals come with their own insecurities and weaknesses. They are scientific marvels, military experiment, display of privilege and power or cultural artifacts as much as they are flawed human beings.

Let me introduce you to a couple of these kids:

Pınar Yoldaş, Genetically Modified Generation (Designer Babies), 2016-2017. Installation view at the Scales School exhibition, Pera Museum. Photo by Kayhan Kaygusuz

Boreas is the first designer baby to have been gifted with a superpower. His is longevity. He was “made in China”, the first country to edit the genes of human embryos using the CRISPR-cas9 tool back in 2015. It has also often been said that China, or at least its government, is more tolerant towards programs that could be regarded as “eugenics” such as selective abortion of fetuses with severe genetic disorders.

Kronos was born at Duke University Hospital. The identity of his parents is classified, all we know is that his birthgiver was a third-year graduate student in that university. She had agreed to deliver him to pay her student loans. 6 months after his birth, Kronos was relocated to an education facility and bred to have perceptual time wrapping. He’s an ongoing experiment and his progresses, his ability to slow down or accelerate time, are carefully monitored by the team of scientists who take care of him.

My favourite in the group is Artemis because there’s something almost inevitable about her existence. Her parents are Nike. She’s an athlete (what else?) engineered to serve the American corporation’s propaganda. Whether she finds her role and existence ethical or not is of no significance to her designers.

Aphrodite is exceptionally beautiful of course. She is the child of Hollywood stars. She is a star herself, an influencer on social media. She is not sure if she’s adored because of her personality, because her two mothers are so famous or simply because of her own fame.

What distinguishes Hermes is his lineage: Mark Zuckerberg, Beyonce Queen Elizabeth, Elon Musk and King of Saudi Arabia. As befits an heir to world’s most powerful people, Hermes was born in the “New Cayman Island.” He’s neither particularly smart nor beautiful but he possesses the genetic imprint from 7 bloodlines from across the world’s richest new “aristocracy”. And that’s enough to make him exceptional.

Calculus is a secret military experiment. He is extremely disciplined and dedicates all his time and precocious intelligence to study and sport. He doesn’t seem interested in anything else.

Pınar Yoldaş, Genetically Modified Generation (Designer Babies), 2016-2017

Pınar Yoldaş’ small 3D-printed models are accompanied by a publication that further explores the story of each baby. I found Genetically Modified Generation to be very moving. The beauty and delicacy of the tiny sculptures draws you into a nuanced and insightful meditation about the ethical dilemmas society would face if the gene editing technique was adopted without a rigorous public discussion of its impact on individuals and society.

Finally, and in the own words of the artist:

The bio-critical, techno-feminist aesthetic disrupts the mainstream media’s infantilizing superhero narrative that conditions us to think that we need saving instead of being able to change and develop our own world.

Pınar Yoldaş, Genetically Modified Generation (Designer Babies), 2016-2017. Installation view at the Scales School exhibition, Pera Museum. Photo by Kayhan Kaygusuz

Pınar Yoldaş, Genetically Modified Generation (Designer Babies), 2016-2017. Installation view at the Scales School exhibition, Pera Museum. Photo by Kayhan Kaygusuz

Pınar Yoldaş, Genetically Modified Generation (Designer Babies), 2016-2017. Installation view at the Scales School exhibition, Pera Museum. Photo by Kayhan Kaygusuz

A School of School, the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial is curated by Jan Boelen and organised by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (IKSV). The exhibitions remain open at various locations in Istanbul until 4 November 2018.

Also part of the biennial: Halletmek. The Turkish art of speeding up design processes.

Global Control And Censorship

After last week’s Notes from the RIXC Open Fields conference, it’s time to have a quick look at the accompanying exhibition of this year’s edition of the RIXC Art Science Festival.

The theme of the exhibition, curated by Lívia Nolasco-Rózsás and Bernhard Serexhe, is encapsulated in its title: Global Control And Censorship.

Ruben Pater, Drone Survival Guide, 2013. Photo: RIXC

The curators wrote in their introductory text to the exhibition:

Surveillance and censorship are mutually dependent; they cannot be viewed separately. It has always been well known that the surveillance of citizens, institutions, and companies, indeed, including the monitoring of democratically elected politicians and parliaments or of journalists and lawyers, is a secret task of government agencies. Recently, however, this tradition of government-legitimized spying on all citizens has expanded to include additional spying by powerful service providers and business enterprises. At the same time, courageous journalists, who disclose information that carries enormous importance to society such as illegal surveillance activities, censorship and torture by governmental institutions, are prosecuted and punished. Even in our day, journalists, artists and writers critical of the system and whistle-blowers are branded as traitors.

The exhibition is not ground-breaking* but it is solid, coherent and thought-provoking. I was particularly impressed by the way the curators take us from one location to another, showing how surveillance encroaches on freedom of movements, communication and actions no matter where we are on the planet. Sometimes the means of surveillance and their impact seem to be site-specific. Often though, they replay the same patterns of scrutiny and blackout that have been adopted everywhere else.

Here are some of the works i found most interesting:

Osman Bozkurt, Post Resistance, 2013

Osman Bozkurt, Post Resistance, 2013

Photographer Osman Bozkurt documented the remains of the slogans, drawings and other signs that were painted onto the surfaces of public spaces in Istanbul at the time of the Gezi Park demonstrations in Istanbul in 2013.

That Summer, thousands of citizens occupied the park to oppose its proposed demolition as part of an urban development plan. The police’s violent response to the unrest provoked strikes and further protests across the country, with citizens expressing their disapproval of large-scale urban and economic changes proposed by the government, attacks on freedom of the press and of expression, the encroachment on Turkey’s secularism and Erdogan’s authoritarian measures. The movement was eventually dispelled by the brutal governmental riposte, leaving many people injured or imprisoned.

Authorities made sure that the protests slogans and signs on the walls were swiftly painted over. Boskurt documented the grey patches that haunt the areas surrounding the unrest. They remain as ghosts of attempts to defend the rights to a fair society.

aaajiao, GFWlist, 2010. Photo: RIXC

The Great Wall of China, an over eight thousand kilometers-long series of fortification, was built to protect the Chinese states and empire against raids and incursions by nomadic peoples. Its information age equivalent, the Great Firewall of China, was engineered to regulate the Internet domestically and keep unwanted information, ideas and images out of the Chinese Internet. Both Chinese and foreign websites and news stories are censored by the GFW mechanisms.

GFWlist, by artist and activist Xu Wenkai aka aaajiao, is an installation that relentlessly prints the URLs of the websites that are banned on the Chinese Internet. A printer spits out the list on a long scroll of paper that falls down and forms a heap onto the floor. The printer is perched on a black monolith similar to the one that puzzles prehistoric humans in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 movie A Space Odyssey. The meaning of the monolith remains a mystery for most film critics. Some like to interpret the structure as a trigger of self-awareness in the early humans and thus the beginning of civilization.

Because China prohibits to even publish the list of the blocked web-addresses, aaajiao’s installation stands as a poetical but explicit message of civil disobedience.

Hamra Abbas, Text Edit, 2011

Hamra Abba’s video is simple and incredibly moving. The screen shows an email in the process of being written by a woman who is announcing her pregnancy to a friend. While composing her message, the writer keeps erasing and correcting her words, self-censoring for fear that her words might be monitored and misinterpreted. Her joke about how people “terrorized” her into having a child is being amended so that the word “terrorized” becomes “coaxed”. Similarly, words like ‘blast’ or ‘chaos’ suddenly take an ominous meaning and she quickly erases and replaces them.

Such is her fear of the possibility of being under surveillance, that the final version of her message is brief but bland and devoid of any of the joy you would expect in such circumstances.

Daniel G. Andújar, Let’s Democratise Democracy, 2011-ongoing

Daniel G. Andújar, Let’s Democratise Democracy, 2011-ongoing. Photo via think commons

During the celebration of Labor Day and then again the day before Spain’s general election in 2011, Daniel G. Andújar rented a small plane and flew a banner that said Democraticemos la democracia (Let’s Democratise Democracy) from Murcia to Alicante. His yellow banner reappeared several times in Spain that year. The slogan was translated and brandished in places as diverse as the Ministry of Defense in Belgrade, the nuclear shelter of Tito in Bosnia Herzegovina or a refugee camp in Western Sahara. Whether his slogan takes the form of stickers, posters, graffiti, flags or installations, it always adapts and takes a new meaning and target with each location. Depending on the context, the Let’s Democratise Democracy slogan is interpreted as a challenge to corruption, inflation, expulsions, surveillance, etc. The motto works no matter the type of attack on democracy.

Because the artist believes that public space belongs to everyone and that it must be continuously conquered from hegemonic attempts to control it, he encourages passersby who stumbles upon his project to document it with their phone and spread the message further.

Marc Lee, Security First, 2015. Photo: RIXC

Marc Lee, Security First, 2015. Photo: RIXC

Marc Lee, Security First, 2015

Marc Lee shows displays “the wonderful world of surveillance technology.” The array of surveillance cameras he lines up on shelves is completed by a monitor showing the website While the cctv apparatus is sold as the gateway to protection and peace of mind, the directory of online surveillance security cameras reminds us of the threat these cameras present for our privacy.

More works and images from the Global Control and Censorship exhibition:

Dan Perjovschi, Drawings, 1995–2015

Dan Perjovschi, Drawings, 1995–2015. Photo: RIXC

View of the exhibition space. Photo: RIXC

Erik Mátrai, Turul, 2012. Photo: RIXC

Ma Qiusha, Twilight Is the Ashes of Dusk, 2011

View of the exhibition space. Photo: RIXC

Also part of the exhibition: Peters Riekstins, Back to the Light.

The RIXC Open Fields conference, organized by RIXC the center for new media culture, is over but if you’re in Riga, don’t miss the accompanying exhibition: Global Control and Censorship. It’s at the National Libary of Latvia until 21 October 2018.

More images of the exhibition opening in RIXC’s flickr album.

* i think i will always miss the extraordinary bite and vision that Armin Medosch was bringing to the RIXC festival.

Halletmek. The Turkish art of speeding up design processes

“Halletmek” is a popular Turkish catchphrase that refers to the art of solving, adjusting, fixing a problem. Designer Nur Horsanali noticed that the practice of halletmek is everywhere in the streets of Istanbul. People improvise repairs, upgrades and improvements with craft, any cheap material available and a lot of ingenuity. It might not looks very sophisticated but it’s fast, smart and efficient.

Nur Horsanali, Halletmek. Image courtesy of the artist

Nur Horsanali, Halletmek. Image courtesy of the artist

Nur Horsanalı, a designer interested in ethnographic research, vernacular design and craft, wanted to pay homage to practices that are so ubiquitous in Istanbul that people don’t even notice how shrewd they are.

What fascinated the designer is the way that these halletmek practices offer a shortcut to the methods and strategies adopted by designers: the researches, surveys, analysis, mind maps, sketches and models that make design dependable but somewhat slow and complex.

By offering a non-institutional alternative to traditional design approaches Halletmek asks us: “Could practical makeshift solutions in everyday life, be a guide for designers?”

Having received a ‘traditional’ design education, Horsanalı started her project by doing a field research in the different neighborhoods of Istanbul, documenting “halletmek” -both methods and objects- with photographs, drawings and interviews.

The outcome of her investigation is a wonderful little book that records 70 of the halletmek examples encountered in the public space. The publication maps the objects and processes and reveals how ideas for repair or upgrade spread from one neighbourhood to another, circumvent municipal rules and prohibitions or simply keep street cats and dogs happy.

Nur Horsanali, Halletmek. Image courtesy of the artist

Nur Horsanali, Halletmek. Image courtesy of the artist

Nur Horsanali, Halletmek. Image courtesy of the artist

I discovered Nur Horsanali’s work while visiting A School of Schools, the 4th edition of the Istanbul Design Biennial. Here’s an interview with the designer:

Hi Nur! How did people react when you approach them to take photos of their Halletmek creations and started taking photos and asking questions? Did they suggest that your interest might be a little strange?

Most of them are suspicious of me at first. They do find it strange because for them it’s such a normal practice. After I explain myself and why I find their objects interesting, they are mostly happy and talkative. Sometimes I even feel that they are proud that I noticed their production.

I have some little tricks too. For example, if I am going to talk to a maker of a stool, I introduce myself as a furniture designer, to make it more relatable. Since this was my graduation project, saying that I am a student was also incredibly helpful. Turkish tradesmen have a weak spot for students.

Nur Horsanali, Halletmek’s booklet (the digital version is available online.) Image courtesy of the artist

Nur Horsanali, Halletmek’s booklet (the digital version is available online.) Image courtesy of the artist

In your intro of the Halletmek book you explain that these practices are so widespread in Istanbul that no one notices them anymore. So what made you pay attention to them? How difficult was it to train your eyes to spotting them?

It started with one street food vendor. This vendor caught my attention because it inheld so much simple problem solving in one small area.

After that, it was not at all difficult to spot these in the street. My perception somehow opened for these practices immediately. In fact, now it is impossible for me to close this feature. Wherever place I visit, I see and find these objects around me. Now it happens pretty much automatically. I guess my eyes first spots the common materials such as tape or cardboard before the objects. Then my brain makes a fast analysis of what I see and decides whether if I should investigate closely or not.

Nur Horsanali, Halletmek. Image courtesy of the artist

Nur Horsanali, Halletmek. Image courtesy of the artist

Nur Horsanali, Halletmek. Image courtesy of the artist

Nur Horsanali, Halletmek. Image courtesy of the artist

A chapter of the book is dedicated to cat culture in Istanbul. I had never been to Istanbul before the design biennial and was surprised to see all those cats that roam freely in the city and that are fed by the whole population. Could you tell us about some of the halletmek practices that address specifically the feline inhabitants of the city?

Houses and food containers made for stray animals on the streets of Istanbul are very diverse. Some are produced in very simple ways, mostly reusing discarded materials such as pet bottles or cardboard boxes. To this people, even the simplest material can serve as a temporal animal house when modified slightly. Some of the houses are built using more durable materials to be more permanent. In these cases people focus on customization and decoration as well. Sometimes the old furniture thrown into the street are upcycled into cat houses.

While various municipalities and firms also offer a variety of animal house solutions, people are still intervening in these ready-made houses because these “designed” products cannot fully meet the needs or tastes of real-life users. People tend to customise or upgrade these, for example, by adding blankets or newspapers inside to keep the animals warm or covering the houses with waterproof materials.

These practices are mostly for cats and dogs in the city, but I occasionally see things made for birds as well.

Nur Horsanali, Halletmek. Image courtesy of the artist

What are the most inspiring or surprising ideas and comments that emerged from your interviews with the authors of halletmek?

The most surprising and inspiring thing for me is a stool of a shoeshiner that has being fixed for 40 years now. This stool was given to him in the past by someone else. When a problem occurred with the stool, he kept on fixing it instead of buying a new one. This shows me a very anti-consumerist approach that I value.

A comment of one maker also had an influence on me. While we were producing a palette stool together for the biennial, he said that “Everybody could produce anything with unlimited materials and tools, the important thing is being able to do it with limited means.” This comment showed me that he truly understands why I do this project and why am I interested in his stool.

Could you give us a couple of examples of the halletmek practices that are meant to ‘overcome the municipally rules and prohibitions’? And do you know how much tolerance authorities might have towards them?

The most common example for this is the illegal street vendors at Istanbul. One of the most interesting scene I ever encounter in Istanbul is when police comes and all the illegal vendors start to run while carrying their stands. That is when I fully realize why do they produce their stands as in the shape and qualities they are now. To be honest, I don’t know how much tolerance the authorities actually have on this.

Fish sandwich stand built out of styrofoam is my favorite example. Sellers are looking for the cheapest and the most practical stand building methods because the municipality constantly take away their stands and they have to build their stands from scratch each time. The interesting part is that, when the most effective method to make that stand is found, information spreads and all different sellers in the same location begin to built their stands with the same method.

Nur Horsanali, Halletmek. Image courtesy of the artist

Nur Horsanali, Halletmek. Image courtesy of the artist

I suspect that halletmek might disappear before we know it. After all, buying a new chair, a vase or a little cat house is getting cheaper and cheaper. Do you see resistance to this idea of buying something new and cheap versus being more resourceful and crafty and doing your own bricolage operation?

Yes, it might disappear. In our domestic daily lives it has been disappearing for a long time now. In the streets, I do see a resistance though. In the street, there is an approach to use the waste materials and means at hand, instead of buying new. It’s being told that this approach connects to the nomadic past of Turkish people.

Even if people on the street are buying a new and cheap product, they are hacking them with their crafty operations to keep that cheap product longer than it’s usual life cycle. People do not find what’s ‘designed’ enough, so they update it in order to make it more useful or more aesthetically pleasing for themselves. So, I think ‘halletmek’ will keep it’s presence in some way.

What can designers learn from the “Halletmek” practice?

I am still constantly thinking on this. I aimed to open a discussion on what design is and how we can learn from our environment, rather than giving a certain answer on how ‘halletmek’ should be implemented into design. I think understanding these practical productions which don’t rely on big budgets or high technologies, and the approach of making something out of nothing is valuable in order to think of a more anti-consumerist and sustainable way of designing.

Nur Horsanali, Halletmek, exhibition view as part of the “Unmaking School” show at Akbank Sanat. Photo by Kayhan Kaygusuz, courtesy of IKSV

Nur Horsanali, Halletmek, exhibition view as part of the “Unmaking School” show at Akbank Sanat. Photo by Kayhan Kaygusuz, courtesy of IKSV

What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects, events, fields of research you’d like to share with us?

I’m currently doing my master’s in Helsinki. There I continue to think on ways of making and designing. I got interested in the behaviour of “improvisation” -which also relates to ‘halletmek’ in a way- and I would like to research it’s relationship to design further. I still like to continue on the ‘Halletmek’ research as well. Continuing collecting examples from different countries and creating an online collective archive of these objects would be great.

Thanks Nur!

A School of School, the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial is curated by Jan Boelen and organised by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (IKSV). The exhibitions remain open at various locations in Istanbul until 4 November 2018.

Related stories: Gambiologia, the Brazilian art and science of kludging and Gambiologia magazine: “The gambiarra movement”.

Global control, macho technology and the Krampus. Notes from the RIXC Open Fields conference

The RIXC Open Fields conference took place a couple of weeks ago in Riga, Latvia. Like each year, the event spurred conversations addressing the current and upcoming challenges of a society that is increasingly shaped by technology and science. This year’s edition specifically looked at ubiquitous surveillance and data privacy.

One of Dan Perjovschi’s drawings which is part of the Global Control and Censorship exhibition

The festival conference, titled GLOBAL CONTROL, investigated these issues from three main perspectives. The first, “hybrid war”, explored the rise of “post-truth” propaganda in media, its consequences on global politics and on individual nations. The second perspective dealt with the scale of surveillance and at its potential “depth” due to the development of immersive technologies. The third concerned “the next big privacy” issue and zoomed in on social media, the safety and future of the data we publish and the need to re-establish some kind of trust on/of social media.

As is often the case with conferences that invite multiple perspectives and speakers with backgrounds as different as architecture, choreography, computing, photography and feminism (to name just a few), the discussions often showed the impact that the main topic under study can have on areas that might seem unrelated: telepathy, feminism, public transport, memory loss, real estate, mattresses that outsmart you, etc.

It’s been a fun and intellectually stimulating conference. I came back with a notebook full of quotes, references to artworks and comments scribbled during the conference. Here’s a short selections of the ones i found most interesting:

Dani Ploeger, frontline, 2016-17. Still from 360 video, edited by William J. Bates

Dani Ploeger, Patrol, 2017. Photo by Alexia Manzano via Furtherfield

Dani Ploeger presented a body of works that investigates the coexistence of digital consumer culture and firearms in everyday life. fronterlebnis (“front experience”, a literary genre which romanticized the war experience and the camaraderie of being ‘brothers-in-arms’) emerged from two journeys through Ukraine, during which he spent some time with soldiers on the frontline in the war in Donbass, and explored shopping malls, weapon stores, monuments and flea markets.

In 2017, the artist got himself a press card and travelled to the so-called ‘ATO zone’ (Anti-Terrorist Operation zone) to document Ukrainian army and volunteer forces on the frontline.

Dani Ploeger, Patrol, 2017

For Patrol, one of the works in the series, Ploeger recorded a firefight on the frontline in East-Ukraine with his smartphone. In his short film, soldiers are handling technologies from two different centuries. On the one hand, they use kalashnikovs and other mid-20th century firearms. On the other, they use their state-of-the-art digital devices to record and share the documentation of their exploits on the frontline. Ploeger’s video footage was later transferred to 16mm film, a medium that echoes the era of the weapon technologies represented.

Dani Ploeger, frontline, 2016-17

His Fronline installation is set in a white space filled with loud war soundscape produced in a movie studio. In the middle of the room, a VR headset shows uneventful video documentation of a frontline position in East-Ukraine where a group of (slightly out of shape) soldiers is sitting down waiting for something to happen, reminding us that the reality of war might be less action-packed and far more frustrating than we might think for wanna be Rambo.

Ploeger’s work points to the complicity between two types of technologies that are the object of much fetishization: communication devices and firearms. It also highlights wider issues around society’s continued masculinised and fetishised relationship to war.

One of Sterling’s slides shows an American troll as seen by Russians

Multicolor Revolutions, the title of the keynote given by Bruce Sterling on the opening night, also evoked war and digital media in Ukraine after the Euromaidan demonstrations. The science-fiction author talked about the extravagant palace that Viktor Yanukovych built in secret in the middle of a forest outside of Kiev, American trolls pictured by Russians, cyberwarfare and much more. One of the most fascinating comments he made was that, from what appeared on forums and other digital media, people who live far away from the place of a conflict tend to be far more excited about the escalation of violence than people living in close proximity of it. Sterling said he was particularly worried about the rich guys who live far away from the scene of war. They might never have touched a weapon but they have enough money to pay an army of people who can rage a very damaging war electronically. However, he concluded, the one thing he’s most concerned about is climate change. Wise words!

As a parenthesis, i was very interested in a comment made after Sterling’s keynote by Rasa Smite who was moderating the evening. She too is concerned about the rich guys, the ones who see themselves as the new Medici and who throw big money and their own idea of ‘good art’ at major art events. Sometimes they do it with taste, sometimes not. What is certain is that the budget of the events they bankroll dwarfs the one of public-funded festivals like RIXC Open Fields festival.

Sound artist Jasmine Guffond contributed to the conference with a performance/presentation of Listening Back, a research based project that sonifies online data surveillance as one browses online. Focused on tracking cookies, the plug-in for chrome and firefox translates data generated from cookies into (rather unpleasant) sound, providing sonic evidence of otherwise invisible monitoring and data gathering infrastructures.

I couldn’t find any trace of the plug-in online but i still thought it was worth mentioning because i believe sonification can play an important role in the understanding of the extent of data collection (and exploitation.)

Karen Palmer, The Future of Immersive Filmmaking

Dr. Ellen Pearlman is the director of the ThoughtWorks Arts Residency, a program in New Yorks that supports artists exploring new lines of inquiry intersecting technology and society. In her keynote, she introduced us to some of the artists who developed their work with them. I was particularly interested in RIOT by digital filmmaker Karen Palmer.

Inspired by unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, following the police killing of Michael Brown in 2014, RIOT is an emotionally responsive, live-action hybrid of film and game which uses facial recognition and A.I. technology to respond to your emotional state and alter the video story journey in real time. The objective is to get through a dangerous riot alive.

Palmer hopes that a new type of storytelling might shift people’s perspectives on social issues and raise more empathy towards multiple points of views.

Daniela Mitterberger and Tiziano Derme, The Savage Mind

Bad photo i took of one of the slides of Daniela Mitterberger and Tiziano Derme that showed The Krampus

I’ve always had a soft spot for the Krampus so i was delighted to see its cheerful little face appear in The Savage Mind, a project by Daniela Mitterberger and Tiziano Derme, co-Founders and directors at FutureRetrospectiveNarrative.

The Savage Mind uses digital architecture, data capturing technologies and VR to explore the relation between intangible cultural heritage, technology and the production of a speculative architecture. More specifically it focuses on the traditional Klaubauf ritual performed each winter in alpine villages in eastern Tyrol in Austria.

The project looks at how technology can translate the emotional data of a pagan ritual into new realms. It also explores how machines can help us reconsider the world of nature and play a role in the valorization of immaterial cultural heritage

Timo Toots, Memopol-2

In their joint presentation Privacy Experiments in Public and Artistic Spaces, Raivo Kelomees and Stacey Koosel, explored the parallels between Timo Toots‘ installation Memopol and the national ID card and public transport card currently used in Tallin, Estonia.

Estonia is notoriously well-ahead of other nations in terms of digitalization of its services. Memopol shows the drawbacks of this governmental policy. Visitors are invited to insert a national ID-card or passport into the Memopol machine which then starts collecting information about the visitor from (inter)national databases and the Internet. The data is then visualized on a large-scale display. In some cases, the amount of data gathered reaches disturbing dimensions: By logging in the government portal, citizen can see information from prescription drugs to high school exams, from tax reports to driving licenses. All recorded for unlimited time. This intrusion into private life doesn’t regard only Estonian citizens but each of us who use social network sites, public transport cards, loyalty shopping cards, etc.

One of the things that surprised me in Kelomees and Koosel’s presentation is that some of the inhabitants of Tallin protested AGAINST the city’s plan of offering free public transport to its citizens. Most people would think protesters were crazy but their discontent only showed that some people are well aware that privacy is the price to pay for free services nowadays.

An interesting paper mentioned during the conference was Heroic versus Collaborative AI for the Arts (PDF of the paper), by Mark d’Inverno and Jon McCormack. The text looks at the nature of the relationship between AI and Art and introduce two opposing concepts: that of “Heroic AI”, to describe the situation where the software takes on the role of the lone creative hero and “Collaborative AI” where the system supports, challenges and provokes the creative activity of humans. We then set out what we believe are the main challenges for AI research in understanding its potential relationship to art and art practice.

I’m going to end with a very disturbing business mentioned by Jens Hauser in his keynote “Ungreening Greenness”:

Not everyone complains about global warming in California. The drought is seen as a great business opportunity for a grass painting company called Green Canary. Its employees will be happy to come and paint your lawn whenever the grass is too pale. You can let that grass die and pretend that you’re rich enough not to be bothered by climate change.

The RIXC Open Fields conference, organized by RIXC the center for new media culture, is over but if you’re in Riga, don’t miss the accompanying exhibition: Global Control and Censorship. It’s at the National Libary of Latvia until 21 October 2018.