Category Archives: Art in Flanders

Shoot the Women First

“Shoot the women first!”, a German official is reported to have advised in the 1980s when members of GSG-9, Germany’s elite anti-terror squad found themselves in front of a large group of people suspected of being terrorists. Eileen MacDonald used the order as the title of the study of female terrorists she wrote in 1991. Navine G. Khan-Dossos, in turn, borrows it for an exhibition that looks at the theme of female targets.


Navine G. Khan-Dossos at Z33 House for Contemporary Art. Photo: Kristof Vrancken Photography and Research


Navine G. Khan-Dossos painted in pink one of the walls at the entrance of Z33 House for Contemporary Art. Photo:

For Shoot the Women First, her solo exhibition at Z33 in Hasselt, the artist recreated a shooting range. Paintings in soft colours are hanging on the wall and from the ceiling. The first ones you encounter carry symbols similar to the type of targets used in Discretionary Command training. During those police and military trainings, shooters receive a chain of commands which require them to shoot at triangles, circles and squares of various colours in a certain order.

As you walk through the exhibition space, the reference to a body become less abstract and you soon recognize human shapes on the paintings. The exhibition is choreographed so that your body comes in close proximity of the targets, making the experience feel somewhat ominous and almost visceral.


Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Pink Discretionary Command, 2018 at Z33 House for Contemporary Art. Photo: Kristof Vrancken Photography and Research


Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Pink Discretionary Command, 2018 at Z33 House for Contemporary Art. Photo: Kristof Vrancken Photography and Research


Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Pink Discretionary Command, 2018 at Z33 House for Contemporary Art. Photo: Kristof Vrancken Photography and Research

All the works in the series feature the colour pink. Not any type of pink but the particular shade of pink used to paint the doorways of brothels in the Metaxourgeio neighbourhood of Athens.

The area was the theater of police brutality against women in 2012 when a group of drug-users were arrested and forced to undergo HIV tests. It was assumed that the women were prostitutes. They were imprisoned on charges of grievous bodily harm for transmitting the virus through sex work. Most of these women had never worked as prostitutes and were not even aware they were HIV-positive. The violence towards them didn’t end there. The police published their mug-shots and personal data on their website and the images spread from there to major TV channels and other media. Eventually the charges were dropped, but some of these women struggled to recover from this experience of incarceration and public shaming.


Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Grey Discretionary Command, 2018 at Z33 House for Contemporary Art. Photo: Kristof Vrancken Photography and Research


Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Grey Discretionary Command, 2018 at Z33 House for Contemporary Art. Photo: Kristof Vrancken Photography and Research

Being diagnosed with HIV meant that, for the authorities, the body of these women epitomized deviance and bio-terrorism. They were both a danger and a target, both victims of society and perpetrators of sexual disorder. The colour pink in the paintings is thus not one that evokes innocence and romanticism but violence, violation of privacy and HIV criminalization.

Khan-Dossos managed to give a presence to these women without ever using the humiliating mugshots that had been shared online and in the Greek mainstream media.

Shoot the Women First demonstrates that it is possible to use abstract forms to convey a poignant narrative, to talk about violence without using explicit images. Perhaps, that’s the smartest way to do it now that images of violence are so commonplace online that we barely register them.

The work doesn’t address only the fate of these women but also the one of other marginalized bodies. The pink triangles in some paintings allude to the rise of AIDS activism, and in particular ACT UP’s SILENCE = DEATH posters. The work also refers to the militarization of the US police and their use of lethal weapons against civilians. And in general, the harassment of women worldwide which, as recent stories like the Ligue du LOL in France and the Spanish far-right parties pushing back against gender equality indicate, shows no sign of abating. Not even in 21st Century EU.

While writing this review, i also couldn’t stop thinking about 19 year old Shamima Begum. In 2015, she was an English schoolgirl who left her family to join the so-called Islamic State. We don’t know whether she committed crimes while in Syria. The United Kingdom has nevertheless decided to revoke her citizenship and the young woman now sits in a Syrian refugee camp with her newborn son. A few days ago, a shooting range in north-west England has made headlines for using a photo of her face as a target, following “a large number of requests from customers.”


Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Bulk Targets 1-100, 2018. Opening at Z33 House for Contemporary Art. Photo: Kristof Vrancken Photography and Research


Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Bulk Targets 1-100, 2018. At Z33 House for Contemporary Art. Photo: Kristof Vrancken Photography and Research

One room features heaps of gouaches on cardboard, ‘Bulk Targets 1-100’. The shape and number also refer to the target models for training. The vast number of these works on a humble material suggests their throw-away use, the sheer banality of violence. On the other hand, they also hint at the possibility that we can make them ours and train as an army that would fight against the demonization of vulnerable people.

The exhibition also features one of Khan-Dossos’ motifs: a standard forensic ruler that runs the walls of the exhibition rooms and transforms the gallery into a crime scene. Crime investigators use forensic rulers to facilitate photographic documentation of evidence at crime scenes. Its title, Below the Belt, evokes not only the unfair and slightly cowardly practices that often accompanies gender politics but also the physical and metaphorical site of domestic violence and control.


Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Silent Latitude (detail) and Below the Belt (detail), 2018 at Z33 House for Contemporary Art. Photo: Kristof Vrancken Photography and Research


Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Silent Latitude, 2018 at Z33 House for Contemporary Art. Photo: Kristof Vrancken Photography and Research


Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Silent Latitude, 2018. Opening at Z33 House for Contemporary Art. Photo: Kristof Vrancken Photography and Research


Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Silent Latitude (detail), 2018 at Z33 House for Contemporary Art. Photo: Kristof Vrancken Photography and Research

The last work Khan-Dossos is showing in Hasselt is Silent Latitude. This new commission is part of the other exhibition you can visit now at Z33: Dissidence – Quilting Against. Silent Latitude is a quilt designed together with the members of the Greek Trans Support Association in Athens and embroidered with the help of MIA-H Fashion Incubator for Accessories in Hasselt. This “community-made textile” evokes the value of collective labour as a healing and bonding activity, referring to the Beguines, laywomen from the urban middle class who lived together in domestic spaces (such as the ones that house Z33 exhibition spaces), supporting themselves with their labor, outside of male control and without submitting to monastic rule.

Ending the show with the quilt lifts up the spirits. The work points to a more hopeful humanity, one that relies on solidarity to create, defy and resist.

Navine G. Khan-Dossos – Shoot the Women First was curated by Silvia Franceschini. Dissidence – Quilting Against was curated by Ronald Clays. Both exhibitions remain open until 26 May at Z33 – House for contemporary art in Hasselt, Belgium.

Photos of the opening ‘Shoot the Women First’ & ‘Dissidence’.
India Doyle did a fascinating interview with Navine G. Khan-Dossos for Twin back when the artist was showing the first iteration of Shoot the Women first at The Breeder gallery in Athens. Also worth your time: Ruins – Chronicle of an HIV witch-hunt, a documentary directed by Zoe Mavroudi about the women victims of HIV criminalization in Athens.

Previously: Painting on and painting off ISIS propaganda.

Climate Surprise, a temperature-sensitive exhibition

If ever you happen to be in or near the city of Mechelen in Belgium this Spring (Spring starting in February courtesy of global warming of course), don’t miss a small but incredibly fascinating show at WINDOWBOX #, an artist-run space a short walk away from the splendid Saint Rumbold’s Cathedral.


Kaat Van Doren, MIROIR NOIR, 2017

The exhibition was curated by Sue Spaid and changes according to temperature. As for the title, “Climate Surprise”, it subtly echoes the rise of extreme and unpredictable climate events that have brought about scientific studies of how “climate surprise” impacts human behavior and health but also environmental policymaking.

I was particularly fascinated by the use that Kaat Van Doren, one of the two artists in the show, has made of bitumen, a material most of us would normally overlook. Because it is used for road surfacing and roofing, bitumen appears mundane and unsophisticated. And because the majority of the bitumen used commercially is a residue from petroleum distillation, we might view it as an inert and nasty material.

Van Doren, however, saw the artistic potential of the material. When the weather is cold, it becomes hard and brittle, its surface appears shiny and glass-like. When sun rays hit bitumen however, it gets more pliable and spreads a golden glow. The wonders of bitumen don’t end there. While visiting the show, i was told about the pitch drop experiment, an excruciating long-term experiment that aims to demonstrate the high viscosity or low fluidity of bitumen (which is a form of pitch, hence the name of the scientific exercise.) The material appears to be solid at room temperature, but is in fact flowing extremely slowly, taking several years to form a single drop.

The Pitch Drop Experiment – University of Queensland, Pitch Drop Time Lapse 2 years to date

The artist thus experimented with the various material dimensions of bitumen in photos and sculptures.

The most spectacular one is the giant Mirror Noir she made by spraying with bitumen an abandoned gas station in Campus Coppens, a former military site near Antwerp in Belgium. She covered both the inside and the outside the disused building, creating a striking contrast with the vegetation that had started to regain ground after human activities left the area.


Kaat Van Doren, MIROIR NOIR. In situ installation at Campus Coppens site, 2017


Kaat Van Doren, Miroir Noir inside 17092017 / 11.18 h

I was amazed by the poetry of the result. Bitumen, after all, is a sticky form of crude oil, a liquid i had come to associate with all the ills and evils of this world. As the artist explains on the page of the project:

Thanks to the special properties of bitumen the gas station Miroir Noir is not a finished product but a constantly evolving work, as the material remains susceptible to the impact of climatic aspects. Miroir Noir is both a reflection of and witness to the (in)visible processes of change in which we are all entangled: political, economic, climatological and ecological waves propelled by history.


Kaat Van Doren, From the Bitumina series, 2017


Kaat Van Doren, From the Bitumina series, 2017


Kaat Van Doren, From Bitumena series, Fig.1 to 24 (of 32), 2017


Kaat Van Doren, From the Bitumina series, 2017

The title of Van Doren’s series alludes to a painter’s tool called Mirror Noir. Also named Claude glass (or black mirror), this portable mirror was slightly convex and its surface tinted a dark colour. Picturesque artists in England in the late 18th and early 19th centuries used it as a frame for drawing landscapes. They would turn their back on the scene to observe the reflection of the scenery in the mirror. The tinted surface reduced the colour range and precision, evoking the paintings of 17th Century landscape painter Claude Lorrain.

The black mirrors of our times are of course the black screens of our tablets and phones. The reflection of reality they produce is much sharper than the black mirrors of 19th century landscape painters but they nevertheless provide us with an experience that is more mediated (and sometimes even manipulated) than real.


Isabel Fredeus, Under the Weather #1 and #2, 2018

The other artist in the show is Isabel Fredeus. She explored another tool from the 19th century: the storm glass. This instrument was invented to help ship captains predict weather and thus the storms much dreaded by sailors. Her hand-blown storm glass sculptures also visibly react to weather, becoming more animated as temperatures rise.

Climate Surprise is curated by Sue Spaid. The show runs until 05 May 2019 at WINDOWBOX #, an artist-run space in Mechelen, Belgium. You can experience the changing exhibition through the gallery window as you walk by or take an appointment to enter and visit the show. There will be an event on Sunday 05 May 2019 to mark the closing of the changing exhibition.

Perpetual Uncertainty. Inhabiting the atomic age


Susan Schuppli, Trace Evidence (video still), 2016. ©-Polly-Yassin

Nuclear cultures, its promises, dangers and dilemmas, are never far away from media headlines. Sometimes the stories are terrifying (as in Kim and the Donald fighting over the title of “World’s Most Irresponsible Leader”.) Other times, the stories echo events or political choices from the past: radioactive waste that keeps on piling up, toxic legacies of European bomb tests in its African colonies, seaborne radiation from Fukushima nuclear disaster detected on the U.S. West Coast, etc.

Perpetual Uncertainty, an exhibition that opened a few weeks ago at Z33 House for Contemporary Art in Hasselt, reminds us that the nuclear forms the backdrop of our lives, for thousands of generations to come. And even beyond.

The show brings together artists from across Europe, the USA and Japan to investigate experiences of nuclear technology, radiation and the complex relationship between knowledge and deep time.

Perpetual Uncertainty is amazingly informative and stimulating. It helps the public face its anxieties by visualizing every material and immaterial aspect of nuclear technology: the extraction of uranium from the ground, the production of energy, the repercussions of deliberate and accidental explosions and the thorny subject of radioactive waste. Through each of work in the show and each aspect they explore we get to realize how much man-made radiation has transformed our understanding of materiality, knowledge and time.

While the exhibition helps us comprehend what it means to inhabit the atomic, it also leaves space for the impasses and dilemmas that characterizes nuclear culture, a subject which, as we know, still brings far more questions than answers.


Nick Crowe and Ian Rawlinson, Courageous, 2016


Suzanne Treister, NATO, 2004-2008. Exhibition view at Z33. Photo by Kristof Vrancken

Z33 is an ideal venue for a reflection on nuclear culture. First, because Z33 is a research-based institution that explores the critical perspectives that art, design and architecture can add to the understanding of the contemporary challenges and dilemma that society is facing today.

Furthermore, Z33 is located in Hasselt, Belgium. Now you might not automatically associate Belgium with nuclear blasts. Yet, the country is disturbingly linked to the bombs that were dropped on Japan by the U.S.A. back in 1945. At the time, Belgium had made itself incredibly rich by extracting the mineral resources of its colony, the Belgian Congo. One of the mines was located in Shinkolobwe and had been identified as a source of uranium. The quality of the mineral was so high that it was sold to the U.S. and supplied nearly a large part of the uranium used in the bomb dropped over Hiroshima, and much of the related product of plutonium that went into the one that destroyed Nagasaki.

Here’s a few lines about some of the works in the show:


Lise Autogena and Joshua Portway, Kuannersuit, Kvanefjeld, 2016

Lise Autogena and Joshua Portway, Kuannersuit, Kvanefjeld, 2016


Lise Autogena and Joshua Portway, Kuannersuit, Kvanefjeld, 2016. Exhibition view at Z33. Photo by Kristof Vrancken


Lise Autogena and Joshua Portway, Kuannersuit, Uranium ore from the experimental mine at Kvanefjeld, 2016. Exhibition view at Z33. Photo by Kristof Vrancken

The region of Kvanefjeld in southern Greenland is the site of rich rare earth mineral resources and large deposits of uranium. It is also a place of incredible beauty with unspoiled mountains, wooden houses and deep blue fjords.

Foreign mining companies have shown great interest in Kvanefjeld and a recent relaxation of regulations by the government of Greenland has opened up the possibility of creating an open pit mine there.

Lise Autogena and Joshua Portway spent the summer 2016 traveling in South Greenland, meeting residents, politicians, farmers and government officials and uncovering the deep divisions surrounding the mining project.

For some, the mining activity is a means of gaining autonomy from Denmark and keeping younger generations employed.

However, opponents to the project believe that courting foreign investors amounts to swapping one form of dependency for another, with the added risk of environmental degradation, health hazard for the community and their livestock as well as a threat to traditional ways of living from the land and the sea.

According to environmentalist NGOs, the mining project does not ensure that environmental risks are reduced as much as is practically possible. For example, polluting tailings from the refinery are disposed of in Lake Taseq high up in the Narsaq valley river system. From here, there is a high risk that radioactive isotopes and toxic chemicals will enter the groundwater, rivers, fiords and the sea.

The divisions within the local communities illuminate the dilemmas of our times and underline that the quest for energy and ‘progress’ has trade-offs and costs for society and the whole ecosystem.


Yelena Popova, Unnamed (Video still), 2011

Yelena Popova’s Unnamed video essay combines personal and archival footage to relate the story of her hometown in Russia.

Ozyorsk (codenamed City 40) was a “secret” town, built to accommodate the scientists and technicians of a plutonium factory along with their family. The residents were forbidden from leaving the city or making any contact with the outside world. For decades, this city of 100,000 people did not appear on any maps.

The government went to great lengths to ensure that the city’s occupants would be content with their secluded lives: they enjoyed high quality healthcare and education, generous wages, beautiful buildings and parks as well as well-stoked grocery stores.

The film goes on to reveal how, in 1957, the plant was the site of the Kyshtym nuclear disaster, the third-most serious nuclear accident ever recorded. The Soviet managed to keep the explosion secret for years. It’s only in 1976 that scientist Zhores Medvedev made the nature and extent of the disaster known to the world.

As the film develops, the representation of the disaster becomes a metaphor for the failure of science in the twentieth century and the difficulty to both understand a phenomenon (thus comprehending its details) and knowing it (by being aware of its consequences and significance).

Today, the city of Ozyorsk is still home to most of Russia’s nuclear reserves and people living in the area remain exposed to high levels of radiation.


David Mabb, A Provisional Memorial to Nuclear Disarmament. Exhibition view at Z33. Photo by Kristof Vrancken


David Mabb, A Provisional Memorial to Nuclear Disarmament. Exhibition view at Z33. Photo by Kristof Vrancken

A Provisional Memorial to Nuclear Disarmament combines William Morris fabrics with anti-nuclear symbols and slogans. The association is less arbitrary than it might seem. The British Ministry of Defence used the Morris Tudor Rose print (1883) for over thirty years (from the 1960s through to the 1990s) to furnish the officers’ quarters inside its nuclear submarines.

In 2014, David Mabb visited one of those submarines, the decommissioned HMS Courageous which the public can now visit naval dockyard in Plymouth, on the southwest coast of England.

Famous 19th century socialist Morris would have probably been upset to see his designs used inside instruments of war and violence. Mabb reappropriates Morris’ fabrics and pairs them with anti-nuclear protest signs and slogans from different times and countries.

The works are presented on old-school freestanding projection screens. Distributed over two exhibition rooms, they look like an actual protest march.

As Mabb explained the title of the work in The Bulletin:

The work is called A Provisional Memorial to Nuclear Disarmament.” “Provisional” because Britain’s Conservative government has—despite considerable opposition—decided to go ahead with the commissioning of a new generation of Trident nuclear submarines armed with nuclear missiles. And just last week, it confirmed that it is going to proceed with Hinkley Point, the first nuclear power station to be built in Britain for two decades.


Jon Thomson and Alison Craighead, Temporary Index (Dessel), 2017. Exhibition view at Z33. Photo by Kristof Vrancken

Will people in a distant future be aware of radioactive sites? Will they understand the language we try to develop now to warn them of the danger? Thomson and Craighead’s Temporary Index is a totem that marks both time and space.

First, the totem acts as a signpost, mapping the distance between Z33 and the Category A Radioactive Waste Facility to be built at Dessel, 44km from the gallery.

Temporary Index also counts down the seconds that remain before the nuclear waste facility is finally deemed safe for humans. The numbers displayed on the screen are overwhelming. Yet, the radioactive substances they point to have a super short life compared to others. They are low-level radioactive waste that will require ‘only’ 300 years until they no longer represent a threat. Other waste disposal facilities have to provide protection for over hundreds of thousands of years, which far outstrips the understanding that most of us have of time.

Temporary Index, Chernobyl Reactor #4, Ukraine, an earlier version of the Temporary Index, was exhibited at the Perpetual Uncertainty show in Umea last year. It marked the distance from the museum to the Chernobyl reactor and visualized the 20,000 years of radioactive decay necessary for the Ukrainian location to be safe, providing us with a glimpse into the vast time scales that define the universe in which we live, but which also represent a future limit of humanity’s temporal sphere of influence.

Isao Hashimoto, 1945-1998 (video still), 2003


Isao Hashimoto, 1945-1998 (video still), 2003

Isao Hashimoto’s video doesn’t need much explanation. His video plots on a map every single known nuclear test and explosion that took place across the world from 1945 until 1998. 2053 in total. It’s shocking to discover how gaily the UK and France have tested their nuclear weapons in distant territories.


Shimpei Takeda, Trace. Exhibition view at Z33. Photo by Kristof Vrancken


Shimpei Takeda, Trace

Shimpei Takeda used photo-sensitive material to physically expose the traces of radiation present in the samples of the contaminated soils he collected throughout the landscape surrounding the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

He used no camera for the photographic process. He simply placed the radioactive soils on photo-sensitive films in a light-tight container and left them there for a month. Radioactive substances emit radioactivity to expose gelatin halide on the surface of photographic film.

The number and size of the white dots are proportional to the amount of radiation present in the soil.


Shuji Akagi, Decontamination of My Yard, Fukushima City, 2013


Shuji Akagi, Fukushima City, 2011-2017. Exhibition view at Z33. Photo by Kristof Vrancken

Since the nuclear disaster in Fukushima in 2011, Shuji Akagi has been documenting the changes his hometown is going through. Most of his images feature big plastic blue or green bags and tarps. They seem to be everywhere: in the streets, in the fields, in people’s backyard, etc. They are filled with contaminated soil. In his photos you also see how people have resumed their daily life. Only now they have to navigate around the plastic-wrapped manifestation of invisible radiation.

It has been estimated that the decontamination process could take more than 100 years.

More works and images from the exhibition:


Dave Griffiths, Deep Field (UnclearZine), 2016. Exhibition view at Z33. Photo by Kristof Vrancken


Dave Griffiths, Deep Field (UnclearZine), 2016. Exhibition view at Z33. Photo by Kristof Vrancken


Eva and Franco Mattes, The Last Film, 2016. Exhibition view at Z33. Photo by Kristof Vrancken


Ken & Julie Yonetani, Crystal Palace: The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nuclear Nations, 2013. Exhibition view at Z33. Photo by Kristof Vrancken


Robert Williams and Bryan McGovern Wilson, Cumbrian Alchemy, 2013. Exhibition view at Z33. Photo by Kristof Vrancken


Exhibition view of Perpetual Uncertainty at Z33. Photo by Kristof Vrancken


Cécile Massart, Laboratoires, 2013. Exhibition view at Z33. Photo by Kristof Vrancken


Cécile Massart, Colours of Danger for Belgian High-Level Radioactive Waste, 2017. Exhibition view at Z33. Photo by Kristof Vrancken


Kota Takeuchi, Take Stone Monuments Twice, 2013-2016


Kota Takeuchi, Take Stone Monuments Twice, 2013-2016. Photo via z33 research


Kota Takeuchi, Take Stone Monuments Twice, 2013-2016. Photo via artsy

Nuclear Culture presents: Perpetual Uncertainty is at Z33 in Hasselt until 10 December 2017. Entrance is free.

More photos from the exhibition on Z33 flickr set and on mine.

Perpetual Uncertainty is produced by Bildmuseet, Umeå and curated by Ele Carpenter with the support of Z33 and Arts Catalyst London.

Related stories: Sonic Radiations. A nuclear-themed playlist commissioned by Z33 for the exhibition and The Nuclear Culture Source Book.

Sonic Radiations. A nuclear-themed playlist

Yesterday i was at Z33 in Hasselt to visit Perpetual Uncertainty, an exhibition that explores “contemporary art in the nuclear anthropocene.”

I had already read The Nuclear Culture Source Book, the publication that accompanies the research and was hoping that the show would be at least as informative and exciting as the book. It certainly delivered and i’ll get back to you with aenthusiastic report as soon as i’m back home. In the meantime, i’d like to share with you the decidedly bizarre but very enjoyable nuclear-themed playlist commissioned by Z33 to Micha Volders and Tim Geelen from Meteor Musik.


William Onyeabor, Atomic Bomb, 1978


Black Moth Super Rainbow, Radiation Society, 2016

Sonic Radiations. In search of a nuclear musicology is online for you to enjoy and scratch your head. The compilation is pretty eclectic. Among the tracks you’ll find:

Energy & The Atom, a 1976 production of the American Nuclear Society that extols the virtues of atomic power and downplays its dangers; Z_Boson by the cult Doppler Effekt; A Child’s introduction to atomic energy and outer space, an educational record from 1960; Atomic Bomb, ‘electronic sounds mixed with Nigerian afro beat grooves’ which William Onyeabor released in 1978; Radiation Society, a recording by Black Moth Super Rainbow that’s slowly being eaten away by radiation; dialogues from the 1983 scifi movie WarGames; excerpts from the original background music of Godzilla (a metaphor for nuclear weapons) composed by Masaru Sato, etc.

Bernard Fevre, Molecule Dance, 1975

Tom Dissevelt & Kid Baltan, The Ray Makers, 1968

A trois dans les WC, Contagion, 1978

Perpetual Uncertainty is at Z33 in Hasselt until 10 December 2017.

Artefact: are technology and magical thinking really incompatible?

Final chapter of my report from the Artefact festival which is closing tonight at STUK in Leuven (this way for the previous posts, ladies and gentlemen —> Dataghost 2. The kabbalistic computational machine and Artefact festival: Magic and politics.)


Suzanne Treister, Cybernetic Séance (MACY CONFERENCES ATTENDEES), 2011


Troika, Squaring the circle, 2013 + Troika, All Colours White, 2016. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken

This year, the event looked at magic, its meaning, reach and role in contemporary culture and society. The topic was analyzed through various lenses: entertainment, politics, finance, technology, etc.

The relationship between technology and magic is a particularly puzzling and interesting one. You’d think that progress in science and technology would automatically mark the demise of our interest for magical thinking and occult forms of knowledge. Far from it. It seems that humans have an inherent need to leave some space in their world for the unaccountable and the supernatural. That’s why progresses in science and technology have often been accompanied by the arrival or renewal of paranormal phenomena. The advent of photography, for example, saw a rise in the popularity of spiritism and photography was even used as a proof that ghosts and other spiritual entities did indeed exist.

A series of artists in the festival present work that explore these complex connections between magic and technology/science. Some built machines that question our firmest beliefs in technology, other probe alchemy or look to quantum theory to make us query our own understanding of the world. Whether or not you believe in Arthur C. Clarke’s third law (Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic), the Artefact exhibition gives you plenty of opportunity to ponder upon it.


Verena Friedrich, The Long Now, 2015. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Verena Friedrich, The Long Now, 2015. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken

Verena Friedrich, The Long Now, 2015

In Western European paintings from the 16th and 17th century, soap bubbles were used as a metaphor for the transience of the moment and the fragility of life.

With The Long Now, Verena Friedrich turns the famous vanitas motif into a symbol of the artificial prolongation of life made possible by science and technology. At the core of the installation is a magical machine that defies the laws of physics such as surface tension and gravity and keeps soap bubbles in suspension for as long as possible.

The mechanism slowly creates and releases a perfect, fat bubble into a controlled atmosphere chamber. The bubble is kept floating inside the plexiglass cube for much longer than the laws of nature would normally allow. The bubble will eventually burst and the process will start all over again, demonstrating that technology’s control over ephemeral life is not as infinite as we would like to believe.


BCL, Ghost in the cell, 2016 + Jonathan Allen, Magic Shop, 2002. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken

Hatsune Miku started her life as a vocaloid, a voice synthesis computer program. The anime character has reached iconic status in both Otaku and mainstream culture. She has been featured in J-pop music videos, games, starred in mangas, an opera, concerts, was invited to the David Letterman show and was materialized as figurine. She is a new kind of semi-living entity that blurs the space between idols made of flesh and idols made of pixels.

In Ghost in the Cell, the virtual superstar Hatsune Miku is given an organic dimension.

The artist collective BCL created a synthetic genome of the character, based on an average Japanese female genome. From this synthetic genome some relevant parts were biologically synthesised and inserted into human induced pluripotent stem cells (also known as iPS cells or iPSCs), which were then differentiated into beating heart cells. These cells stand as a pars pro toto for her heart, her whole physical body.


Tobias Revell, The Finite State Fantasia, 2016 (a newly commissioned work by STUK-KU Leuven coproduction, with the support of STRP). Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Tobias Revell, The Finite State Fantasia, 2016. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Tobias Revell, The Finite State Fantasia, 2016. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken

The Finite State Fantasia visualizes the space mapping behaviour of a smart, but invisible, machine. The machine moves erratically around the exhibition room, using its sensors to measure distance and bumping into obstacles (some of them temporary) to progressively build a model of the space.

Visitors can only apprehend the existence of the machine through the representation of its senses; its flickering infrared trails and ultrasonic locators that are projected on the walls of the space.

It’s a surprisingly moving spectacle. You suddenly come to realize that, just like us, machines depend on a limited set of information to experience the world. However, they often rely on different tools and respond to different stimuli than us in order to perceive their surroundings. As a result, we are left as disoriented as the invisible robot when we try and interpret the lights on the wall in order to guess its location.

“The Finite State Fantasia draws out the dissonance between the ‘magic’ of technology and the technical reality by showing us how the trick is done while simultaneously re-representing the seemingly supernatural machine sensorium.”


Troika, All Colours White, 2016. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Troika, All Colours White, 2016. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken

All Colours White consists of a mechanism which projects red, blue and green light onto a canvas sculpture. The colours slowly bleed into each other, creating a spectrum until their amalgamation results in pure white light.

“All Colours White lays bare the technology and invites the curious viewer to consider the idea that understanding and enchantment can exist in the same universe.”

More works from the exhibition:


Jens Brand, Disappearance of Media, Manifestation of Elephants, 2011. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Jens Brand, Disappearance of Media, Manifestation of Elephants, 2011. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Center for Tactical Magic, Witches Cradles, 2009. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Center for Tactical Magic, Witches Cradles, 2009. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Femke Herregraven, Subsecond Flocks, 2016 + Femke Herregraven, Rogue Waves, 2015. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Femke Herregraven, Subsecond Flocks, 2016. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Tim Etchells, Mirror Pieces, 2014. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Tim Etchells, Mirror Pieces, 2014. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Suzanne Treister, HEXEN 2.0, TAROT CARDS, 2009-2011. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Suzanne Treister, HEXEN 2.0, HISTORICAL DIAGRAMS, 2009-2011. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Jonathan Allen, Twenty First Century Silks, 2016. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Marjolijn Dijkman, Cultivating Probability, 2015 + Dijkman, In Our Hands, 2015. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Marjolijn Dijkman, Cultivating Probability, 2015. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Jonathan Allen, Magic Shop, 2002. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken

Artefact : The Act of Magic is at STUK – House for Dance, Image & Sound, in Leuven, Belgium until 9 March 2017. The exhibition was curated by Karen Verschooren from STUK & Ils Huygens from Z33.

Also part of the show: Dataghost 2. The kabbalistic computational machine and Artefact festival: Magic and politics.
Previousy: The Occult, Witchcraft & Magic. An Illustrated History, HEXEN 2.0 and Interview with The Center for Tactical Magic.

More installation views of the exhibition Artefact : The Act of Magic. And yet another quick demo on my flickr album that i am indeed the worst photographer in the world.

Photo on the homepage by Victor S. Brigola: Verena Friedrich, The Long Now.

Artefact festival: Magic and politics


The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception, 2009


The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception 2009. Image via Gizmodo

During the Cold War, the CIA paid magician John Mulholland $3,000 to write a manual on misdirection, concealment and deceit. The manual teaches spies how to surreptitiously slip powder into someone’s drink, send messages with their shoelaces, steal documents, etc. In true spy fashion, the text was supposed to have been destroyed in 1973. It was however recovered, declassified, and reprinted a few years ago under the title The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception.

Mulholland was not the first magician who put his skills at the service of governments. The famous Harry Houdini used his career as a cover and worked as a spy for the American and British governments. As for stage magician Jasper Maskelyne, he is remembered nowadays for his collaboration with British military intelligence during the Second World War when he elaborated all kinds of ruses and illusions to deceive the German troops.

PBS, The Ghost Army trailer, 2013


A halftrack with a 500 speaker mounted on the back for sonic deception. Image National Archive via Chicago Tonight

Around the same time, the U.S. set up the Ghost Army, an elite force whose specialty consisted in “tactical deception.” Its soldiers were recruited from art schools and ad agencies and given the mission to create visual decoys such as rubber airplanes and inflatable tanks, sonic deception and fake radio transmissions to fool the enemy into thinking that the allies troops, weaponry and infrastructures were far more formidable then they were in reality.

All these stories are of course entertaining but they also demonstrate that magic, because of the way it can deceive, confuse and manipulate is a powerful art that can be applied beyond the stage. Magic is an ambiguous and wide-ranging concept that sits at the intersection of science, spirituality and politics. It can be used to unsettle, misinform, divert the attention or even to put a veil over and make more opaque and inscrutable the complex structures that control us.


Hollington & Kyprianou, Gladiator, 2016 (Artefact commission.) Digital composite using ITN news archive

This year, the Artefact festival at STUK in Leuven (Belgium) is looking closely at magic and the role it plays in politics, finance, the military, technology and more generally in society.

The artists in The Act of Magic shed light on the way in which magic and the magical has permeated all layers of our everyday life. From poetry to activist strategy, from magical object to black box, from benign illusion to deception and manipulation, from New Age self-help advertisement to spiritual vision: the artworks throughout the exhibition incite magical thinking and reveal a passage to another world.

Artefact: The Act of Magic is a joyful, thought-provoking and intelligent festival. I expected razzle-dazzle, hocus-pocus and charming artifices. I certainly found some of that across the exhibition space but i also encountered a series of artworks that explore and demystify offshore constructions, high frequency trading algorithms, political ploys and other black boxes that keep the secrets of power away from society. I’ll focus on some of these work in this first report from the festival. The first one is from one of my favourite artistic duos:


Goldin+Senneby, Zero Magic, 2015-2016. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken

For the past ten years, Goldin+Senneby have been studying the economic and financial world to master its strategies and bring its shadier businesses into public discussions.

For Zero Magic, the artist infiltrated a hedge fund in the US, reverse engineered its methods and recreated its short selling practices.

In finance, ‘short selling refers to the practice of selling something you do not own. Making a profit of it if and when the target company looses in value. Successful short sellers commonly trade in the narratives of failure, fraud and corruption, since dire findings and rumours are what help realize their short positions. Just like magicians, short sellers make a living by ‘adjusting’ people’s perception of reality, making them see things that don’t exist.

In collaboration with the magician Malin Nilsson and finance sociologist Théo Bourgeron, Goldin+Senneby developed and patented a magic trick for the financial markets that has the capacity to undermine the perceived value of a publicly traded company and to profit from this. The magic gimmick consists in a computer program that help non-experts identify suitable short selling targets, and a step-by-step guide to undermining their perceived value and executing thus a successful short sale.


Goldin+Senneby, Zero Magic, 2016. Magic box. Installation view: Stockholm School of Economics

Goldin+Senneby put the Zero Magic computer software inside a magic box that also contains a US Patent Application for Computer Assisted Magic Trick Executed in the Financial Markets and four historical examples of magic tricks played out offstage, in real life. One of them is the ‘Light and Heavy Chest’ trick performed in the 19th century by magician Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin and used in colonial Algeria as a demonstration of European superiority.

The work was first presented as part of a magic show in Helsinki in 2015 and, according to the artists, it realized a 64.7% profit for the members of the audience who had participated in the experiment by buying special tickets.


Liz Magic Laser, Stand Behind Me, 2013. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Liz Magic Laser, Stand Behind Me, 2013. Performance and two-channel video, 10 minutes, Lisson Gallery, London, UK

Liz Magic Laser worked with dancer Ariel Freedman to adapt oratorical gestures from speeches made by politicians from various countries. A video of the performance made at the Lisson gallery in London is screened at STUK. Next to it, a teleprompter displays the corresponding script delivered by the politician mimicked. The isolation of expressive gestures is mesmerizing. Even if you pay no attention to the text, you can’t help but be seduced by the movements and rhythms of the body. You also gradually come to realize that, as soon as they step on their speaking platforms, world leaders behave and appear like magicians selling their illusions to the public.

Center for Tactical Magic, Linking & Unlinking, 2009

The Center for Tactical Magic, an activist art collective that uses the many guises and functions of magic to challenge existing power structures, had several works in the exhibition. One of them was the Linking & Unlinking video. Initially designed to be displayed on a digital billboard in New York after the city had implemented the stop-and-frisk policy, the short film combines 3 different source materials: found footage demonstrating how to pick locks to free yourself from handcuffs; found footage of professional and amateur magicians performing the classic magical escape trick, “the linking rings” (a.k.a. “ninja rings”); and, a rolling text of “Know Your Rights” information from the American Civil Liberties Union explaining what your rights are if you are stopped by the police.


Center for Tactical Magic, Universal Keys, 2017. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Center for Tactical Magic, Universal Keys (detail), 2017

Universal Keys, an installation especially made for Artefact: The Act of Magic, is the perfect companion for Linking & Unlinking because of the way it exposes the competing illusions of liberty and law. Thousands of “universal” handcuff keys hang on a wall in a formation that evokes two interlocking links. Visitors are invited to take a key for personal use.

According to Aaron Gach, founder of the Center for Tactical Magic, the work explores the illusion of control and liberation. This illusion was at the forefront of the escape acts popularized by Houdini and other magicians. Handcuff escapes are particularly appealing to people seeking their own release from authoritarian control. As the artist explains:

Offering visitors their own handcuff key invites the potential for accomplishing their own self-liberation. Although it is completely legal to purchase, own, and carry a handcuff key in most countries, possession of such a key is also sure to invite scrutiny.

Similarly, notions of security and threat are seen as linked to our collective desires for freedom and safety as they form two parts of the same illusion. Does possession of a universal key truly enable the beholder? Or, does it simply make visible the material strengths and weaknesses of state power? In what context might such a key open up new possibilities for understanding power relations? Ultimately, these are questions to be answered by those who hold the keys.


CIA, The Ghost Army + Jonathan Allen, Levitating The Pentagon. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Abby Hoffman and friends attempt to levitate the Pentagon. From the University of California, via Unredacted

Exorcising the Evil Spirits from the Pentagon, by The Fugs

The festival has a room dedicated to historical films that explore the connections between the military and the magical. One of these films is The Ghost Army mentioned above. The other one recounts The Levitation of the Pentagon.

On 21 October 1967, activist Abbie Hoffman, poet Allen Ginsberg and Ed Sanders of the band The Fugs devised an exorcism ritual as part of the ongoing protests of the Vietnam War. They organized a ‘magical’ happening called Levitating the Pentagon. The activists even attempted to secure a permit beforehand, asking for the authorization to elevate the HQ of the U.S. Department of Defense 300 feet (almost a meter) in the air. They were granted 3 feet. Together with thousands of demonstrators, they joined hands and meditated around the Pentagon while chanting Aramaic exorcism rites. They announced that they would use ‘psychic energy’ to make the building float above the ground and vibrate until all of its war-loving demons spilled out of it. The Pentagon never did rise nor vibrate (in case you were wondering.)

However, the wacky action demonstrated that playful energy, magic and ‘secret’ insights are not the appanage of the political or military elite. They can also be harnessed by citizens to achieve political ends, greater public debate and manipulation of corporate media techniques.

Artefact : The Act of Magic is at STUK – House for Dance, Image & Sound, in Leuven, Belgium until 9 March 2017. The exhibition was curated by Karen Verschooren from STUK & Ils Huygens from Z33.

Previously: Dataghost 2. The kabbalistic computational machine and Interview with The Center for Tactical Magic.
More installation views of the exhibition Artefact : The Act of Magic. I also have a crappy flickr album.
Photo on the homepage: Liz Magic Laser, Stand Behind Me, 2013, via Lisson Gallery.

Artefact festival: Magic and politics


The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception, 2009


The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception 2009. Image via Gizmodo

During the Cold War, the CIA paid magician John Mulholland $3,000 to write a manual on misdirection, concealment and deceit. The manual teaches spies how to surreptitiously slip powder into someone’s drink, send messages with their shoelaces, steal documents, etc. In true spy fashion, the text was supposed to have been destroyed in 1973. It was however recovered, declassified, and reprinted a few years ago under the title The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception.

Mulholland was not the first magician who put his skills at the service of governments. The famous Harry Houdini used his career as a cover and worked as a spy for the American and British governments. As for stage magician Jasper Maskelyne, he is remembered nowadays for his collaboration with British military intelligence during the Second World War when he elaborated all kinds of ruses and illusions to deceive the German troops.

PBS, The Ghost Army trailer, 2013


A halftrack with a 500 speaker mounted on the back for sonic deception. Image National Archive via Chicago Tonight

Around the same time, the U.S. set up the Ghost Army, an elite force whose specialty consisted in “tactical deception.” Its soldiers were recruited from art schools and ad agencies and given the mission to create visual decoys such as rubber airplanes and inflatable tanks, sonic deception and fake radio transmissions to fool the enemy into thinking that the allies troops, weaponry and infrastructures were far more formidable then they were in reality.

All these stories are of course entertaining but they also demonstrate that magic, because of the way it can deceive, confuse and manipulate is a powerful art that can be applied beyond the stage. Magic is an ambiguous and wide-ranging concept that sits at the intersection of science, spirituality and politics. It can be used to unsettle, misinform, divert the attention or even to put a veil over and make more opaque and inscrutable the complex structures that control us.


Hollington & Kyprianou, Gladiator, 2016 (Artefact commission.) Digital composite using ITN news archive

This year, the Artefact festival at STUK in Leuven (Belgium) is looking closely at magic and the role it plays in politics, finance, the military, technology and more generally in society.

The artists in The Act of Magic shed light on the way in which magic and the magical has permeated all layers of our everyday life. From poetry to activist strategy, from magical object to black box, from benign illusion to deception and manipulation, from New Age self-help advertisement to spiritual vision: the artworks throughout the exhibition incite magical thinking and reveal a passage to another world.

Artefact: The Act of Magic is a joyful, thought-provoking and intelligent festival. I expected razzle-dazzle, hocus-pocus and charming artifices. I certainly found some of that across the exhibition space but i also encountered a series of artworks that explore and demystify offshore constructions, high frequency trading algorithms, political ploys and other black boxes that keep the secrets of power away from society. I’ll focus on some of these work in this first report from the festival. The first one is from one of my favourite artistic duos:


Goldin+Senneby, Zero Magic, 2015-2016. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken

For the past ten years, Goldin+Senneby have been studying the economic and financial world to master its strategies and bring its shadier businesses into public discussions.

For Zero Magic, the artist infiltrated a hedge fund in the US, reverse engineered its methods and recreated its short selling practices.

In finance, ‘short selling refers to the practice of selling something you do not own. Making a profit of it if and when the target company looses in value. Successful short sellers commonly trade in the narratives of failure, fraud and corruption, since dire findings and rumours are what help realize their short positions. Just like magicians, short sellers make a living by ‘adjusting’ people’s perception of reality, making them see things that don’t exist.

In collaboration with the magician Malin Nilsson and finance sociologist Théo Bourgeron, Goldin+Senneby developed and patented a magic trick for the financial markets that has the capacity to undermine the perceived value of a publicly traded company and to profit from this. The magic gimmick consists in a computer program that help non-experts identify suitable short selling targets, and a step-by-step guide to undermining their perceived value and executing thus a successful short sale.


Goldin+Senneby, Zero Magic, 2016. Magic box. Installation view: Stockholm School of Economics

Goldin+Senneby put the Zero Magic computer software inside a magic box that also contains a US Patent Application for Computer Assisted Magic Trick Executed in the Financial Markets and four historical examples of magic tricks played out offstage, in real life. One of them is the ‘Light and Heavy Chest’ trick performed in the 19th century by magician Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin and used in colonial Algeria as a demonstration of European superiority.

The work was first presented as part of a magic show in Helsinki in 2015 and, according to the artists, it realized a 64.7% profit for the members of the audience who had participated in the experiment by buying special tickets.


Liz Magic Laser, Stand Behind Me, 2013. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Liz Magic Laser, Stand Behind Me, 2013. Performance and two-channel video, 10 minutes, Lisson Gallery, London, UK

Liz Magic Laser worked with dancer Ariel Freedman to adapt oratorical gestures from speeches made by politicians from various countries. A video of the performance made at the Lisson gallery in London is screened at STUK. Next to it, a teleprompter displays the corresponding script delivered by the politician mimicked. The isolation of expressive gestures is mesmerizing. Even if you pay no attention to the text, you can’t help but be seduced by the movements and rhythms of the body. You also gradually come to realize that, as soon as they step on their speaking platforms, world leaders behave and appear like magicians selling their illusions to the public.

Center for Tactical Magic, Linking & Unlinking, 2009

The Center for Tactical Magic, an activist art collective that uses the many guises and functions of magic to challenge existing power structures, had several works in the exhibition. One of them was the Linking & Unlinking video. Initially designed to be displayed on a digital billboard in New York after the city had implemented the stop-and-frisk policy, the short film combines 3 different source materials: found footage demonstrating how to pick locks to free yourself from handcuffs; found footage of professional and amateur magicians performing the classic magical escape trick, “the linking rings” (a.k.a. “ninja rings”); and, a rolling text of “Know Your Rights” information from the American Civil Liberties Union explaining what your rights are if you are stopped by the police.


Center for Tactical Magic, Universal Keys, 2017. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Center for Tactical Magic, Universal Keys (detail), 2017

Universal Keys, an installation especially made for Artefact: The Act of Magic, is the perfect companion for Linking & Unlinking because of the way it exposes the competing illusions of liberty and law. Thousands of “universal” handcuff keys hang on a wall in a formation that evokes two interlocking links. Visitors are invited to take a key for personal use.

According to Aaron Gach, founder of the Center for Tactical Magic, the work explores the illusion of control and liberation. This illusion was at the forefront of the escape acts popularized by Houdini and other magicians. Handcuff escapes are particularly appealing to people seeking their own release from authoritarian control. As the artist explains:

Offering visitors their own handcuff key invites the potential for accomplishing their own self-liberation. Although it is completely legal to purchase, own, and carry a handcuff key in most countries, possession of such a key is also sure to invite scrutiny.

Similarly, notions of security and threat are seen as linked to our collective desires for freedom and safety as they form two parts of the same illusion. Does possession of a universal key truly enable the beholder? Or, does it simply make visible the material strengths and weaknesses of state power? In what context might such a key open up new possibilities for understanding power relations? Ultimately, these are questions to be answered by those who hold the keys.


CIA, The Ghost Army + Jonathan Allen, Levitating The Pentagon. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Abby Hoffman and friends attempt to levitate the Pentagon. From the University of California, via Unredacted

Exorcising the Evil Spirits from the Pentagon, by The Fugs

The festival has a room dedicated to historical films that explore the connections between the military and the magical. One of these films is The Ghost Army mentioned above. The other one recounts The Levitation of the Pentagon.

On 21 October 1967, activist Abbie Hoffman, poet Allen Ginsberg and Ed Sanders of the band The Fugs devised an exorcism ritual as part of the ongoing protests of the Vietnam War. They organized a ‘magical’ happening called Levitating the Pentagon. The activists even attempted to secure a permit beforehand, asking for the authorization to elevate the HQ of the U.S. Department of Defense 300 feet (almost a meter) in the air. They were granted 3 feet. Together with thousands of demonstrators, they joined hands and meditated around the Pentagon while chanting Aramaic exorcism rites. They announced that they would use ‘psychic energy’ to make the building float above the ground and vibrate until all of its war-loving demons spilled out of it. The Pentagon never did rise nor vibrate (in case you were wondering.)

However, the wacky action demonstrated that playful energy, magic and ‘secret’ insights are not the appanage of the political or military elite. They can also be harnessed by citizens to achieve political ends, greater public debate and manipulation of corporate media techniques.

Artefact : The Act of Magic is at STUK – House for Dance, Image & Sound, in Leuven, Belgium until 9 March 2017. The exhibition was curated by Karen Verschooren from STUK & Ils Huygens from Z33.

Previously: Dataghost 2. The kabbalistic computational machine and Interview with The Center for Tactical Magic.
More installation views of the exhibition Artefact : The Act of Magic. I also have a crappy flickr album.
Photo on the homepage: Liz Magic Laser, Stand Behind Me, 2013, via Lisson Gallery.

Dataghost 2. The kabbalistic computational machine


RYBN, Dataghost 2, 2016. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken

As early as the 1st century, Jews believed that the Torah and other key religious texts contained encoded truths and hidden meanings. They used a system called Gematria to uncover them. According to this numerological system, each Hebrew letter also corresponds to a number (for example: 1 is Aleph, 2 is Bet, 3 is Gimel, 4 is Daleth, etc.) Kabbalists extended the method to other texts and, by converting letters to numbers, they looked for a hidden meaning in each word. Other hermeneutic techniques used by the Kabbalah are Temurah, which rearrange words and sentences to deduce deeper spiritual meanings, and Notarikon which creates words from letters taken from the beginning, middle, or end of words.


RYBN, Dataghost 2, 2016. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


RYBN, Dataghost 2, 2016. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken

The French collective RYBN.org has applied this numerological system of transformations, associations and substitutions to computing. Their Dataghost 2 installation is a kabbalistic computational machine that seeks to reveal the hidden messages buried within the data traffic.

A daemon, installed on a server, catches all incoming and outgoing digital communications, and dumps their content using network interception tools. All the encapsulated data are then submitted to several decyphering algorithms, reproducing the hermeneutic techniques of Kabbalah. The raw data are decomposed and recomposed according to the substitution principles that govern the Kabbalah, in order to unveil the mystic of network communications.

By following the kabbalistic alpha-numerical system, the fragments of codes generate in the process millions of shell commands, most of them incoherent or nonfunctional. However, from time to time, the commands will ‘make sense’ to the computer. The machine will interpret them as tasks that needs to be executed. At this precise moment, the machine achieves the invocation ritual of a digital Golem.

However, there is no way to predict where the ritual might lead the machine: the executed commands might saturate the memory capacity of the machine, provoke a definitive stop within the software layer, or overpass several critical limits that results in an overheating of certain electronic components, or lead to the destruction of parts of its physical layers. Over the course of its life, the system constantly publishes its self-destructive activity in the form of a print out of all the different commands.

I discovered the work two days ago at the Artefact festival at STUK in Leuven (a mere 15 minute away from Brussels so take the train now if you’re in Belgium because the show is as enchanting as its theme suggests) and Dataghost 2 was dead. The demise came quite early. The email exchange in which the artists and STUK tried to understand what had happened was printed out and added to the exhibition space. The emails reveal that the system probably erased a critical file which brought the whole process to its term.

The installation is currently running in dead mode. Both the printing machine and the screen remain frozen. 



RYBN, Dataghost 2, 2016. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


RYBN, Dataghost 2, 2016. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken

I found the work brilliant. On the one hand, it is super complex and perplexing, just like most esoteric practices. On the other hand, it demonstrates with great efficiency and simplicity that algorithms (and by extension any technology system) are only as rational (or irrational) as the humans who program them.

Dataghost 2 is exhibited at the artefact festival in Leuven, Belgium. The exhibition, curated by Karen Verschooren from STUK & Ils Huygens from Z33 continues until 9 March 2017

If you find yourself in Paris, the RYBN collective will be discussing Dataghost 2 tomorrow 3 March at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Arts de Paris Cergy.

Related stories: The Occult, Witchcraft & Magic. An Illustrated History.

ENERGY FLASH. The Rave Movement

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Walter Van Beirendonck, Hard Beat collection, 1989-1990. Opening of the exhibition. Photo: Bram Goots for MUHKA

While i was in Antwerp a couple of weeks ago to visit Show Us the Money at the Photo Museum (i reviewed it on Monday in case you’ve missed the story), i checked out ENERGY FLASH. The Rave Movement, a M HKA exhibition which brilliantly puts the large dance party culture of the 1990s into a neat museum package.

I had already loved the catalogue of the exhibition RAVE. Rave and Its Influence on Art and Culture and i was curious to see how the show compared to the publication. It was magnificent and invigorating. I stayed there for hours and i will probably run and see any show that curator Nav Haq organizes in the future.

I thought that a review of the exhibition might sound too much like a tiresome revival of my review of the catalogue RAVE. Rave and Its Influence on Art and Culture. So instead of my usual super lengthy art reports, i’ll just fill this post with lots of images from the show. Some are mine (the ones that lack any proper credit.) Most of the others are photos from M HKA, they show the preparation of the exhibition, the opening and the final installation views. There might be a couple of comments here and there because i just can’t shut up:

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I’m not sure it had anything to do with the show but there was this giant potato frie raving right in front of the museum. Because we’re in Belgium, that’s why!

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Piece of the dancefloor from The Haçienda

M HKA had the super smart idea to hand out little booklets titled A Glossary of Rave. The publication guided the visitor through some of the key places, phenomena, style and characteristics of the rave culture: Bocaccio Life (a nightclub in a small Belgian town), Copyright and how music publishing industries tried to crack down on the use of sampling, Acid House, New Beat, New Order, Relational Aesthetics, etc. The terms were also embodied by objects scattered around the show. The first one i spotted in the exhibition rooms was this piece of the dancefloor from The Haçienda, a famous nightclub in Manchester.

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Walter Van Beirendonck, Hard Beat collection, 1989-1990. Preparation of the ENERGY FLASH exhibition. Photo M HKA

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Walter Van Beirendonck, Hard Beat collection, 1989-1990.

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Walter Van Beirendonck, Hard Beat collection, 1989-1990.

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K Foundation, Abandon All Art Now, published in Guardian weekend, 31 July 1993

The K Foundation was an art foundation set up by Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty from famous Dance/Techno band The KLF. Between 1993 and 1995, they spent the money they had earned from the music industry by a series of actions that subverted the art world. Their most famous performance consisted in burning a million pounds in cash.

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News article warning readers about the evils of ecstasy. Exhibition view at M HKA

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Matt Stokes, Real Arcadia, 2003-ongoing. Exhibition view at M HKA

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Matt Stokes, Real Arcadia, 2003-ongoing. Exhibition view at M HKA

Real Arcadia documents a series of illegal “cave raves” that took place in a rural region of North West England during the late 1980s and early 1990s. The installation includes a clip from a local television news reporting on the wrongful deeds of the young party goers.

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Opening of the exhibition. Photo: Bram Goots for M HKA

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Daniel Pflumm, Elektro, 1992. Exhibition view at M HKA

Daniel Pflumm, an artist, musician and club promoter, founded the legendary Elektro club in Berlin. He re-contextualizes corporate logos and reduces them to graphic images that no longer fulfill their original marketing function.

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Matt Stokes, MASS. Exhibition view at M HKA

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Jeremy Deller, Acid Brass, 1997. Photo Jeremy Deller

I’ll never get tired of this:

Acid Brass, What Time Is Love. Performance by the Williams Fairey Band at James Lavelle’s Meltdown

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A few euros to get another fabric bag to add to my collection of totes designed by Jeremy Deller. RESULT!

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Jeremy Deller, The History of the World, 1997. Preparation of the ENERGY FLASH exhibition. Photo M HKA

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Henrik Plenge Jakobsen, Everything is Wrong, 1996. Preparation of the ENERGY FLASH exhibition. Photo M HKA

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Energy Flash: The Rave Movement, Installation View. Photo M HKA

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Rineke Dijkstra. Energy Flash: The Rave Movement. Installation View. Photo: M HKA

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Rineke Dijkstra, Buzz Club / Mysteryworld, 1997. Photo: Paul Koenen

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Rineke Dijkstra, Buzz Club / Mysteryworld, 1997 (via)

In 1997, Rineke Dijkstra made a series of one-minute videos in two night clubs, one in Liverpool, the other in Zaandam, The Netherlands. She asked clubbers to perform as they wished in front of the camera. Most of them dance and either look embarrassed or like they are trying not to look embarrassed.

I found the videos very moving. At first, i laughed out loud then i felt some sympathy and tenderness towards them. Teenagers! So awkward, so sweet!

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Dan Halter, Untitled (Zimbabwean Queen of Rave), 2005, Courtesy the artist

Dan Halter, Untitled (Zimbabwean Queen of Rave), 2005

Rozalla’s hit single “Everybody’s Free (To Feel Good)” was released in 1991. Dan Halter writes: It was amazing to have a Zimbabwean song topping the international music charts. This was at the height of the rave scene and Rozalla became known as ‘The Queen of Rave’. This was also at a time when protests in South Africa were boiling over. In Untitled (Zimbabwean Queen of Rave) I combine some of these elements and also later events such as my experience of attending large public raves in Europe and later in Zimbabwe. The video expresses a personal reality and also the cultural gap between white and black that I was experiencing. These were two fundamentally different scenarios, yet each was guided by crowd psychology and longing for a different reality.

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Henrik Plenge Jakobsen, Terminator, 1997. Opening of the exhibition. Photo: Bram Goots for M HKA

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Energy Flash: The Rave Movement, Installation View. Photo M HKA

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Denicolai & Provoost, Nothing, 2005

Mark_Leckey,_Fiorucci_Made_Me_Hardcore,_1999,_Courtesy_the_artist_and_Cabinet,_London
Mark Leckey, Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore, 1999, Courtesy the artist and Cabinet, London

Mark Leckey, Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore, 1999

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Jacques André, James Brown is Dead (ARTERS* No.148), 2016

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Energy Flash: The Rave Movement, Installation View. Photo M HKA

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More fries and people queuing at a frietkot

ENERGY FLASH. The Rave Movement remains open at the M HKA in Antwerp until 25 September 2016. The show was curated by Nav Haq, Senior Curator at M HKA. And if you can’t make it to Antwerp, there’s always the catalogue of the exhibition: RAVE. Rave and Its Influence on Art and Culture.

Brown Sound Kit. ‘Toilet humour for gallery space’

Because we could all do with a bit of humour today, even if it’s of the Benny Hill kind…

Martin_Kersels,_Brown_Sound_Kit,_1994,_Courtesy_of_the_Artist_and_Galerie_Georges-Philippe_and_Nathalie_Vallois
Martin Kersels, Brown Sound Kit, 1994. Courtesy of the Artist and Galerie Georges-Philippe and Nathalie Vallois

While preparing a review of black dog publishing‘s book RAVE. Rave and Its Influence on Art and Culture, i encountered this sound art piece which, as the catalogue states, brings ‘some toilet humour to the gallery space.’

Martin Kersels’s sculpture Brown Sound Kit is a piece of sound equipment that emits low frequency infrasound waves, which causes those in its path to release the contents of their bowels—or more colloquially, to “shit themselves”. This kind of sound cannon has its roots in sonic weapons first developed by the Nazis for the purposes of crowd control, and purportedly also by the French authorities during the Paris riots of 1968. Utilising a speaker, an amplifier, an equaliser and an oscillator, all contained with a mobile yellow case, Brown Sound Kit works reflexively of the fact that experiments in weapons technology were also important in the development of sound systems for music.

There seems to be some doubt about how efficient the firing of brown notes can be. In any case, the final sentence in the description of the work will reassure any visitor of an exhibition featuring the work: Brown Sound Kit is presented unplugged within exhibitions. I think Brown Sound Kit is actually part of the show Energy Flash. The Rave Movement at M HKA – Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp. It closes on 25 September. I’ll definitely pop by before that.

Related story: Tanks, drones, rockets and other sound machines. An interview with Nik Nowak.