Category Archives: art in London

Making cheese from the black mould on your wall

Stachybotrys chartarum, aka black mould, is one of the nastiest guests you can find in your home. The microfungus grows inside damp buildings and produces toxic spores. Its presence in your home can affect your health and expose you to greater risks of suffering from respiratory problems, allergies or even immune system disorders.

The problem seems to be particularly common in London rented accommodations. Landlords are either too stingy or too sloppy to take the necessary measures to limit the moisture in the air. When they are not just plain greedy and let the flats deliberately rot so that tenants will move out and the property owner can renovate the building and turn it into lucrative Airbnb accommodations.


Avril Corroon, Spoiled Spores, 2019


Avril Corroon, Spoiled Spores, 2019

Avril Corroon, a young artist currently pursuing a Masters in Fine Art at Goldsmiths University, decided to give a pungent visibility to the problem of rogue landlords and poor living conditions in rented accommodation. She did so by making artisan cheeses using bacteria cultures collected directly from the mould growing in London housing. I wouldn’t eat the cheeses she makes but they look surprisingly convincing!

The project is called Spoiled Spores (at the moment.) Corroon’s social critique might be insalubrious but it is also one of those rare projects that manage to talk about gentrification and class divide with humour.

I got in touch with Avril and asked her to tell us more about her range of “sick building” cheeses:


Avril Corroon, Spoiled Spores, 2019


Avril Corroon, Spoiled Spores, 2019


Avril Corroon, Spoiled Spores, 2019

Hi Avril! I’ve never made cheese in my life. You made yours using bacteria cultures collected from the mould growing in London housing. How did you discover the existence of these bacteria and their suitability to make cheese?  



Neither had I before this. To make blue cheese you add penicillium roqueforti to your milk and rennet, so I wondered what would happen if I swapped the ‘good mould’ for ‘bad’ mould and if it’d make a black mouldy cheese? Or what a Camberwell Camembert would look like from damp mould grown in a flat in Camberwell in London?

I had no idea if the cheese would come out looking and smelling like cheese or if the new mould would cause it to fall apart. It turns out that it does look and smell like cheese but as for taste I don’t know, it’s definitely not fit for consumption.



I’ve been doing call outs online and using word of mouth to find people living with mould and then visiting to take samples to make an individual cheese.
 Another element to the project is filming the homes where the moulds come from and interviewing the participants about their lives and any health problems they might have living around black mould. Some of them said they had mild respiratory issues and many said they constantly have to ask the landlord to come and sort it after the mould reappears after cleaning and repainting.


Avril Corroon, Spoiled Spores, 2019


Avril Corroon, Spoiled Spores, 2019



Of course, what i found most interesting about the project is that it is, if i understood correctly, a comment on the poor living conditions in rented accommodation. Could you elaborate on that?  

I had a lot of black mould growing in my last accommodation in Dublin and know many people living in damp housing managed by neglectful landlords. I wanted to make something that juxtaposed the mould, as a sign of neglected living conditions in rental property, with an artisan product like cheese, as a possible marker of gentrification.

Developers and city planners focus on areas, intentionally allowing them to become run down before pumping investment into recreating a new narrative of the area, as somewhere more attractive for middle and upper classes making it difficult for the community to sustain living there.

I hope that the work gives a sense of how interlinked and calculated disinvestment and investment is as a system and also gives the finger to private landlords for charging extortionate rental prices for poorly maintained flats and houses.

At the moment I’m being evicted from my rental accommodation in Elephant and Castle in South East London as developers are going to build luxury apartments. That whole area is under new urban development. Property developers Delancey have been given the go ahead by the council to take down the famous 75 year old Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre to make a ‘town centre’, but it’s already a centre for the traders and large multicultural community who go there. Up The Elephant campaigners are bidding to pose a legal challenge to drop the scheme, which is great.


I’m critical of how art institutions play a role in gentrification and want the work to address this too. In the work, I’m taking mould from people in bad living conditions and creating a high-end commodity out of this suffering as cheese, but then by giving it the status of art it then becomes a super commodity in the art gallery. I’m very interested in how the work touches these seemingly separate economies and how it can implicate a wider system than just the individual landlord. The cheese stink in the gallery and you can’t get away from the smell. It’s making an accusation there to question how art institutions function in the creation of inequalities, disinvestment and gentrification in areas.



Avril Corroon, Spoiled Spores, 2019

The photo of the bedroom the mould came from doesn’t suggest “yummy! appetizing!” to me. How ready are people (and you!) to taste the cheese? Is it allowed to actually have people consume them or is there some Health and Safety issue that would prevent you from organising tasting sessions?  

At first some people have really wanted to try it before seeing the video footage of how they’re made. I have artisan style labels for each corresponding cheese, which includes on it the first name of the person who lives with the mould, the type of accommodation, and annual rent and location details in the ingredient list. It’s easy to not read the label in full, as much as we don’t read the ingredients on most packaging, so the cheese still retains a sort of sinister element to it. Authentic artisan cheeses that are expensive, strong smelling, especially the blue cheeses, don’t really seem like they should be edible anyway, but we’ve been assured that they are. If no one had told you that you can eat cheese with blue mould veined through out it, you wouldn’t put that in your mouth would you?

I like toeing between the lines of disgust my cheese looks no more suspicious than normal cheese, like a savory present waiting for the landlord.



Excerpt of Fresh Paint on The Walls, full duration 9min, 2016

How does the work fit into your own practice? Does it build upon some of your previous works? I’m thinking about Fresh Paint on the Walls which looks at the difficulty of living in the neoliberal city through the antics of an awful landlord who licks beige walls and covers his face in paint.


I make work, which uses my own surroundings or living and working conditions as a starting point and then re-present them in an exaggerated manner with a satirical narrative in video or through interventionist actions in live performance.

In Fresh Paint on The Walls, the archetype of the monstrous Landlord is obsessed with ingesting magnolia coloured paint, resulting in megalomaniac behavior and terrible spatial judgment, which causes him to charge extortionate rates for small rooms. The cheese work feels like a continuation from this work and shares some similar imagery such as eating from interior walls.



In some of my previous work, I outline a story with voice over narration, the cheese is more suggestive of a narrative instead. While I was making one of them I was reminded of Roald Dahl’s The Witches where all the witches have an AGM and plan a grand opening of sweet shops where they’ll poison all the children and turn them into mice. Except here, maybe it’s all the landlords who come to stuff their faces instead.


Avril Corroon, Spoiled Spores (installation view), 2019


Avril Corroon, Spoiled Spores, 2019

What’s next for the cheese? Was it a one off or are you planning to reproduce the cheese experiment in other settings?

At the moment I’m working on this project along with others towards my degree show for my masters in Fine Art at Goldsmiths University. I’m making new cheeses, visiting homes, taking mould samples and filming homes from new people that I come into contact with.

I’d love to take the project further and travel with it to make further renditions that are area specific to where it’s exhibited, so that each place and the specificities to that local are examined. I’m also getting in touch with food labs to get an analysis of the cheese sample and its toxins.

Getting other expertise in to expand the work could produce interesting results, like getting a cheesemonger and a real estate agent together to assess the value of a mouldy house or one of my cheeses. I think there’s a lot of ways I can develop the work further.


Thanks Avril!

Crises of labour, language and behaviour. An interview with Jeremy Hutchison

I discovered Jeremy Hutchison’s work in 2011 when he was exhibiting a series of laughable objects he had commissioned to manufacturers around the world. Not only did he ask them to fabricate items that would be unusable but he also requested that each worker had full license to decide what the error, flaw and glitch in the final product would be. Hutchison ended up with a collection of dysfunctional objects and prints of online exchanges with baffled factory managers. Err is an artwork that’s both ridiculous and profound. Behind its perfectly impractical combs, chairs, skateboards and trumpets, lay moments of poetry within the perfectly oiled machine of globalization and an elusive portrait of the anonymous factory workforce that manufacture all the consumer goods we don’t need but have been conditioned to yearn for.


Jeremy Hutchison, ERR, 2011. Untitled (made by Carlos Barrachina, Segorbina de Bastones, Segorbe, Spain)


Jeremy Hutchison, Movables, 2017. Fondazione Prada curated by Evelyn Simons. Photo by Paris Tavitian

At the time, I was expecting Hutchison to be a one hit wonder. I liked Err so much, i imperiously decided the artist would never be able to live up to everyone’s expectations. And yet, over the years, he kept on creating artworks that “explore improper arrangements of labour, language, behaviour and material to produce crises.” Artworks that proved my instincts wrong again and again: canvases involving BOTH an investment banker and an Occupy protestor, an exhibition orchestrated by members of the Sapporo Police Department, a video starring employees of a peanut factory without peanuts and a series of consumer goods that explore the (possible) “well-meaning dictatorship” of design.

Whether it meditates on the condition of the worker or investigates the recuperation of anti-capitalistic aesthetics by capitalism, Hutchison’s work is always imbued with humour and compassion. He’s having a few exhibitions across Europe this month. One of them is Transnationalisms which opens this week at Furtherfield in London. I liked Aksioma‘s version of the show in Ljubljana so much, i thought i’d use the London edition of Transnationalisms as an excuse to get in touch with the artist.


Jeremy Hutchison, from the series Movables, 2017. Courtesy the artist


Jeremy Hutchison, from the series Movables, 2017. Courtesy the artist

Hi Jeremy! Your project Movables will be part of the Transnationalisms group show that opens this week at Furtherfield in London. I find the work very moving. You sourced an image from the Daily Mail – a website that spreads hatred and contempt towards immigrants – and you used this as a starting point to question the regulations over the freedom of movement. Can you tell me more about this work?

Yes: I came across this photo on the Daily Mail website. It had been taken by police at a border point somewhere in the Balkans. The image showed the inside of a Mercedes: the headrests of the front seats had been torn open by police, revealing a human body hiding inside each seat.

This photograph testifies to a reality where human bodies attempt to disguise themselves as inanimate objects, simply to acquire the same freedom of movement as consumer goods.

In Movables, I translated this absurdity into a series of photo collages. They combine elements of high-end fashion shoots and car adverts – enacting an anthropomorphic fusion between human bodies and consumer products. The results are sort of uncanny. They appropriate a familiar visual language, but distort it to present a series of freaks. In doing this, I wanted them to embody a contradictory premise of global capitalism – with respect to the freedom of movement. Capital requires ‘free’ individuals to function as cheap labour forces. But it simultaneously needs to restrict their movement since it can’t offer the same freedom to everyone. 


Jeremy Hutchison, Fabrications, 2012-16. EVA Biennale curated by Koyo Kouoh. Photo by Miriam O’Connor


Jeremy Hutchison, Fabrications, 2012-16. Courtesy the artist


Jeremy Hutchison, Fabrications, 2012-16. EVA Biennale curated by Koyo Kouoh. Photo by Miriam O’Connor

You are currently showing Fabrications at Division of Labour. For this project, you spent time in a jeans factory in Palestine and asked the workers to make jeans that translated what it was like to make jeans in Palestine. How did they react to your request?

Well, this project started with a conversation I had with the factory manager. He showed me a photograph of an Israeli tank, parked outside the factory. Its cannon was pointed directly at the building. He said it was hard to describe the physiological effect of this experience: of working under the threat of total obliteration.

So I asked him if he could manufacture jeans that described it instead. He produced five pairs. Each was distorted into unwearable positions; monstrous contortions of human legs. In some ways, I think they point to the way in which trauma becomes inscribed on the body. Stress isn’t simply a psychological state, it’s an embodied experience. It becomes genetically encoded, and passed down through generations. I think these jeans describe something of this process; how history is inscribed on the body – producing material, anatomical realities.


Jeremy Hutchison, Fabrications, 2012-16. EVA Biennale curated by Koyo Kouoh. Photo by Miriam O’Connor

Jeremy Hutchison, Fabrications, 2016

The description on your website says that the “project constructs a counter-history of Palestine.” What do you mean by that? And how does Fabrications achieve it?

I’ve produced a number of projects in the Middle East. And the more time I spend there, the harder it becomes to think in terms of facts, history, or truth. Whatever position you take, it’s subject to a myriad of subjective distortions.

So in this project, I accelerate this process. Via a series of heavily retouched images, I suggest that Palestine was once bright blue, like the sky. Vast quarries of dazzling indigo rock spilled out of the land. They used the indigo to dye jeans. In turn, this attracted foreign investment, colonisation – and ultimately the Indigo Wars.

Of course, this is absurd. Indigo isn’t a mineral, but a flower. There were no indigo mines, no Indigo Wars, and Palestine was never blue. By invoking this fictitious narrative, the work invites a critical reflection around the construction of historical discourse, alluding to the distortions that take place in the structuring of history. But ludicrous as it may be, this falsified history operates in a tension with contemporary reality. After all, Palestine’s representation in Western media is plagued by uncertainty. Its geopolitical status is perpetually ambiguous. So the work concentrates this state of uncertainty into a poetic delusion. The land itself becomes a vessel for the imagination.

I’ve exhibited this work several times – including the ICA in London, the EVA Biennale in Ireland. What’s interesting is how often it passes for historical fact: how readily a fictitious history is unquestioningly accepted by a sophisticated audience. Perhaps this is part of the project’s success: it performs its own problem. It demonstrates how truths can be manufactured and circulated, like consumer goods. And it points to the role of white British men in doing so.


Jeremy Hutchison, In heaven people play peacefully sometimes people helping each other love making and working together peacefully, 2016. Photo by Rebecca Lennon


Jeremy Hutchison, In heaven people play peacefully sometimes people helping each other love making and working together peacefully, 2016. Photo by Rebecca Lennon

I’m interested in your work In heaven people play peacefully sometimes. In this project you invited four Task Rabbit workers to paint a mural as if they were a single person. Does the performance point to potential new forms of collaboration that would somehow counterbalance the new tech-mediated trends in labour that dehumanize workers and reduce them to just another cog in the machine?

In many ways, yes. I wanted to explore a situation that rehearsed a kind of solidarity between this distributed workforce. A physical solidarity among workers in the gig economy. None of them had ever worked alongside another ‘Tasker’ – in fact, they’d barely even met one. And this is precisely the point. The fragmentation of workers in the gig economy means that they are pitted against one another. Their individual success depends on their ability to outperform their peers – not to organise or collaborate with them.

The project was triggered by something a gig worker told me. He had stopped using the leather case for his iPhone. Why? Because the time it took to open the flap would result in him losing a gig. During that split-second delay, another worker would get there first. The apparently casual working conditions of the gig economy don’t produce casual workers, but individuated neurotics, fixated on data, personal rankings and milliseconds.

So in this sense, I’d agree with you: we can see the gig worker as a ‘cog in a machine.’ But do the new tech-mediated trends in labour de-humanize workers? Not always. In fact, I think it’s precisely the workers’ humanity – their human capital – that is often foregrounded in these labour platforms. Their personality, social attributes and subjective traits are commodified in their profile pages. So rather than de-humanising workers, I would argue that digital technology does the opposite. It obliges us to amplify our subjective human traits: to exaggerate our individuality and present it as a quantifiable economic resource.

With each new project, it seems that you uncover and investigate a new aspect of production, of consumption but also of labour and how technology is changing its dynamics and logics. How does it affect you personally? How does it change (if it does) the way you shop, work, relate to others?

Well I buy fair trade, I don’t eat meat and I boycott fast fashion. But I have an iPhone that’s stuffed with conflict minerals from Congolese mines. Like everyone else, I’m inextricably complicit in these exploitative networks of production and consumption. Try as we might, it’s extremely difficult to adopt a position outside them. I guess I’m interested in understanding my own complicity and articulating this; to trace out a relationship between my own lifestyle and a global problematic. How do my consumer choices relate to current humanitarian catastrophes? How does the stuff I buy feed off racial hierarchies, economic inequalities, and exploitative supply chains? Consumer objects are portraits of these things – and like most people, my home is filled with them. So I think my art practice helps me to think about the invisible structures that support my privileged Western position. These structures are man-made: they can be re-shaped and distorted by us. I think art can be a way to think through these questions.

Jeremy Hutchison, Monolimum, 2017


Jeremy Hutchison, Limomolum, 2016, Documentation of linocutting workshops at Trust In Fife housing shelter, Kirkcaldy

I learnt a lot from the text you wrote for Limomolum. I found it very moving too. Is this all based on your own experience/relationship with linoleum? Or did you mix stories you heard while in Kirkcaldy?

Thanks Regine, yes all the texts draw on my own experience. Limomolum explores a town called Kirkcaldy on the East coast of Scotland. For two centuries, it was a very productive, affluent place: home of the global linoleum industry. But in the eighties, it started to fall apart. Today Kirkcaldy is largely a place of unemployment and drug addiction.

My father was born there. His family owned a linoleum factory, but he was estranged from them. So I grew up knowing very little about the town. So I took the train up there, and set out to explore. One morning I wandered into the homeless shelter and started chatting to a couple of residents. This was the beginning of a year-long project: we turned the shelter into a performance centre, and the employment support clinic into a linocutting workshop. The work was exhibited in the Kirkcaldy museum.

So yes, I wrote a publication to accompany this show. I wanted to try and capture the complexity of this place, without reducing this constellation of histories and economies. When projects become as extensive as this one, there’s a temptation to make the work complex. I find that writing helps to keep things simple.


Jeremy Hutchison in collaboration with James Inglis and Deone Hunter, Limomolum, 2016. HD video still


Jeremy Hutchison in collaboration with James Inglis and Deone Hunter, Limomolum, 2016. HD video still

I only have an external and superficial perspective on your work of course but it seems to me that you manage to establish a relationship based on mutual trust and respect with the workers (or unemployed people) you feature in your works. How do you manage to convince them that you’re not there to exploit them and make a spectacle of their life? How much efforts, strategies does that require?

These are complex ethical questions. How do I convince people to work with me? How do I avoid making a spectacle of their lives? I don’t think I necessarily do. If we engage with them squarely, the exchanges that take place in social practice are often loaded with asymmetrical power relations. Value can be produced in tacit, invisible ways. Rather than smoothing over awkward socioeconomic imbalances, I try fold these questions into the work. I think the more interesting answer is to be honest, about when social arrangements become exploitative, or turn sour, or fail. Despite my best efforts to anticipate ethical problems, sometimes I fall right into them. I don’t think the answer is to avoid these messy situations, but to move through them.

You were recently on residency in Japan. Can you tell me what you were doing there?

I went to Japan to think about labour conditions. I wanted to explore a country that even has a word for work-induced death: karoshi. Given the relentless pressure to work, what will happen when jobs are automated? How will Japanese people navigate the existential challenge of a post-work condition? What will they do?

This resulted in a project called HumanWork. Borrowing its name from the premier recruitment agency in Japan, it explores the process of recruiting someone for a week of non-productive labour. The project was commissioned by Arts Catalyst / S-Air, and should be exhibited fairly soon. Oh, and I also made a project with the Sapporo Police Department. But I’ll tell you about that another time!

Thanks Jeremy!

Transnationalisms, curated by James Bridle, is at Furtherfield in London, from 15 Sep until Sunday 21 Oct 2018.
Jeremy Hutchison’s work is also part of APPAREL at Division of Labour in Salford, Manchester, Jerwood Drawing Prize at Drawing Projects in Trowbridge, Market Forces at HeRo Gallery in Amsterdam and many more i’m sure.

Transnationalisms is realized in the framework of State Machines, a joint project by Aksioma (SI), Drugo more (HR), Furtherfield (UK), Institute of Network Cultures (NL) and NeMe (CY).

Previously: Transnationalisms – Bodies, Borders, and Technology. Part 1. The exhibition and Err (or the creativity of the factory worker), a conversation with Jeremy Hutchison.

Treebour. Do we pay trees fairly for the immaterial labour they perform for us?

Very few of us think of trees in terms of how hardworking they are. And yet, they work 24/7 and most of their labour is to our benefit. Trees (and any plant for that matter) perform all kinds of services for us. They shelter us against the elements, they help filter water and cool the air, soak up solar radiation, prevent soil erosion, provide living space for wildlife, can be turned into wood, some of them bear fruit and beautiful flowers, etc. They also perform all sorts of ‘cultural services’ for us: they help us unwind, inspire art, mental well-being and spiritual experiences. All of us, human and non-human alike, benefit from their presence around us.


Marija Bozinovska Jones, Treebour, 2018. Photo by Pau Ros


Image courtesy of Marija Bozinovska Jones

Artist Marija Bozinovska Jones pays homage to this ‘treebour’ in her contribution to Playbour – Work, Pleasure, Survival, an exhibition at Furtherfield in London that explores an issue that deserves more attention from us: the blurring between work, well-being and play in an age of increasingly data-driven technologies.

With the sound piece, Bozinovska Jones investigates playbour from the perspective of trees and asks:

What would it mean to value this treebour like we value human labour? Trees’ careers last hundreds of years. They’re also natural co-operators and communicators, existing in symbiotic harmony with each other and other lifeforms. If they ever form a union and strike for back pay we’re in trouble.

If we were more aware of what trees do for us, would we treat them like we treat women doing an unfair share of household chores? Like the YouTubers creating free content, the factory and field workers exposed to hazardous chemicals and the other human workers who don’t get a decent wage for their efforts?

And if we valued the labour that trees perform for us, wouldn’t we be tempted to make them work harder? Would we try and extract profit from the “social” underground and air-borne networking of trees? Would they end up being the new victims of companies like Uber, Deliveroo and Amazon Mechanical Turk that promise autonomy and flexibility but make humans compete for each gig to drive down costs and reframe hobbies as potential revenue streams?

Marija Bozinovska Jones, Treebour promo video

The Treebour sound installation gives a human voice to three treebourers. Each of these anthropomorphised trees patiently describes their worth, highlighting the insidious logic of the gamification of all forms of life and work.


Marija Bozinovska Jones, Treebour, 2018. Photo by Pau Ros

Treebour is a very moving and smart sound piece. I don’t have a video or sound file of the beautiful text of the trees’ pleas but i got in touch with Marija Bozinovska Jones and asked her to tell us more about trees, anthropocentrism and all things playbour:

Hi Marija! Why did you decide to approach the playbour theme through trees? Looking at some of your previous works, i would have expected you to explore playbour through a piece that comments on playbour in virtual environment.

I tend to consider mimicry of biological in computational and social infrastructures.

The early stages of conceptualising the work was collective, during a workshop organised by curator Dani Admiss with Furtherfield. After its conclusion some of us participating were asked to produce work towards an exhibition.

In the course of the workshop we were discussing the unusual gallery location of Furtherfield – in the middle of a park; I am personally keen to exhibit in environments outside the white cube. The first idea was to work with couple of chosen trees surrounding the gallery onto which we would map contemporary socio-cultural values, for example through creating social media profiles for the trees, where they would compete against each other for attention, followers and likes.

Consequently, another workshop participant, Rob Gallagher who is a postdoctoral researcher in Gaming and Identity at King’s College, and myself developed individual monologues for three tree species found in Finsbury park to correspond to human characters. They were to communicate gamified aspects and corporatization of interpersonal relationships online. We likewise aimed to disneyfy the tree personas to appeal to the wide demographic of the audience that passes through the park and the gallery.


Marija Bozinovska Jones, Treebour, 2018. Photo by Pau Ros

The text of Treebour is amazing. It’s moving, very well researched and it made me appreciate trees even more. Perhaps, if we had a better understanding of what trees and other plants do for us we would be less keen on ‘artificializing’ our landscape with roads, airport extensions, shopping malls, etc. Do you think we need to instrumentalize nature more in order to recognise its value? Or are there dangers to that strategy?

Being an anthropocentric society, we have a tendency to translate other natural species’ communication to fit our logic rather than leaving it as something open which transcends our knowledge and perception.

Beyond our own nature, we often tend to take others’ for granted, as something to be consumed, exploited and conquered. In this respect we can learn from trees who live in symbiotic relationships with each other and other life forms.

We have organised ourselves in a way that we are dependent on concrete infrastructural architecture. In urban environments, the ratio of the built and the artificial is highly disproportionate with the natural.

Research studies observe how our wellbeing increases when surrounded with other natural species of flora and fauna, even with downscaled botanical versions such as plants in our living and working environments; the sole use of green colour in interior space is supposed to have calming properties for the human nervous system.


Marija Bozinovska Jones, Treebour, 2018. Photo by Pau Ros


Marija Bozinovska Jones, Treebour, 2018. Photo by Pau Ros


Marija Bozinovska Jones, Treebour, 2018. Photo by Pau Ros

I can imagine where you found the information for the techy-intellectual tree and the habitat tree. But what about the “relaxing tree”? How did you manage to make it sound so Gwyneth Paltrow-ish? Where does that particular jargon come from?

The character for the Relaxing (beech) tree was based on ASMR YouTubers. I asked my studio colleague to contribute with his voice for it as he has a very soothing voice.

The monologue was based on guided mindfulness instructions as something I am practicing myself as well as researching for work.

Treebour is clearly the outcome of a research on trees and the role they play in making our planet more liveable for us and other living species, etc. Is there anything you discovered during your research that truly amazed you?

The research was building on previous knowledge, for example of way in which trees communicate with each other as well as other life forms, phrased as ‘wood wide web’ and arboreal ARPANET. Rob came across some descriptive botanical jargon such as ‘vascular cambium’ and ‘carboniferous rhytidome‘.


Marija Bozinovska Jones, Treebour, 2018. Photo by Pau Ros

I love that you made Treebour a sound installation. It’s very suggestive and gives a sense of intimacy. But what were your motivations to do an art piece rather than a video animation or a performance for example? Why did you decide to give trees a voice?

For awhile now, our modes of communication is mediated through blackboxed screen interfaces predominantly employing the visual sense, followed by the haptic and the sonic. Over the past years, I have been examining human voice as a dimensional interface which is able to encapsulate affect. Due to our ability to detect and project emotions onto voice, it is often exploited by technocapitalism through disembodied AI. For example, intelligent personal assistants couple sleek consumer products with a sentient often female voice since we are genetically predisposed to react to a voice most similar to our primary caregiver’s, our mother. Anthropomorphised technologies are something I have been addressing through a proxy MBJ Wetware, a simulation of my voice via machine learning.

What shape does the concept of playbour play in your life as an artist?

Producing ’Treebour’ was a role-play itself.

With the plethora of social media with its potentials to promote work, lifestyle and disseminate opinions, playbour reaches new immaterial labour heights.

Thanks Marija!

Marija Bozinovska Jones’s Treebour is part of Playbour, an exhibition curated by Dani Admiss for Furtherfield Gallery in London. The show remains open until Sunday 19 Aug 2018.

Playbour is realized in the framework of State Machines, a joint project by Aksioma (SI), Drugo more (HR), Furtherfield (UK), Institute of Network Cultures (NL) and NeMe (CY).

Treebour. Do we pay trees fairly for the immaterial labour they perform for us?

Very few of us think of trees in terms of how hardworking they are. And yet, they work 24/7 and most of their labour is to our benefit. Trees (and any plant for that matter) perform all kinds of services for us. They shelter us against the elements, they help filter water and cool the air, soak up solar radiation, prevent soil erosion, provide living space for wildlife, can be turned into wood, some of them bear fruit and beautiful flowers, etc. They also perform all sorts of ‘cultural services’ for us: they help us unwind, inspire art, mental well-being and spiritual experiences. All of us, human and non-human alike, benefit from their presence around us.


Marija Bozinovska Jones, Treebour, 2018. Photo by Pau Ros


Image courtesy of Marija Bozinovska Jones

Artist Marija Bozinovska Jones pays homage to this ‘treebour’ in her contribution to Playbour – Work, Pleasure, Survival, an exhibition at Furtherfield in London that explores an issue that deserves more attention from us: the blurring between work, well-being and play in an age of increasingly data-driven technologies.

With the sound piece, Bozinovska Jones investigates playbour from the perspective of trees and asks:

What would it mean to value this treebour like we value human labour? Trees’ careers last hundreds of years. They’re also natural co-operators and communicators, existing in symbiotic harmony with each other and other lifeforms. If they ever form a union and strike for back pay we’re in trouble.

If we were more aware of what trees do for us, would we treat them like we treat women doing an unfair share of household chores? Like the YouTubers creating free content, the factory and field workers exposed to hazardous chemicals and the other human workers who don’t get a decent wage for their efforts?

And if we valued the labour that trees perform for us, wouldn’t we be tempted to make them work harder? Would we try and extract profit from the “social” underground and air-borne networking of trees? Would they end up being the new victims of companies like Uber, Deliveroo and Amazon Mechanical Turk that promise autonomy and flexibility but make humans compete for each gig to drive down costs and reframe hobbies as potential revenue streams?

Marija Bozinovska Jones, Treebour promo video

The Treebour sound installation gives a human voice to three treebourers. Each of these anthropomorphised trees patiently describes their worth, highlighting the insidious logic of the gamification of all forms of life and work.


Marija Bozinovska Jones, Treebour, 2018. Photo by Pau Ros

Treebour is a very moving and smart sound piece. I don’t have a video or sound file of the beautiful text of the trees’ pleas but i got in touch with Marija Bozinovska Jones and asked her to tell us more about trees, anthropocentrism and all things playbour:

Hi Marija! Why did you decide to approach the playbour theme through trees? Looking at some of your previous works, i would have expected you to explore playbour through a piece that comments on playbour in virtual environment.

I tend to consider mimicry of biological in computational and social infrastructures.

The early stages of conceptualising the work was collective, during a workshop organised by curator Dani Admiss with Furtherfield. After its conclusion some of us participating were asked to produce work towards an exhibition.

In the course of the workshop we were discussing the unusual gallery location of Furtherfield – in the middle of a park; I am personally keen to exhibit in environments outside the white cube. The first idea was to work with couple of chosen trees surrounding the gallery onto which we would map contemporary socio-cultural values, for example through creating social media profiles for the trees, where they would compete against each other for attention, followers and likes.

Consequently, another workshop participant, Rob Gallagher who is a postdoctoral researcher in Gaming and Identity at King’s College, and myself developed individual monologues for three tree species found in Finsbury park to correspond to human characters. They were to communicate gamified aspects and corporatization of interpersonal relationships online. We likewise aimed to disneyfy the tree personas to appeal to the wide demographic of the audience that passes through the park and the gallery.


Marija Bozinovska Jones, Treebour, 2018. Photo by Pau Ros

The text of Treebour is amazing. It’s moving, very well researched and it made me appreciate trees even more. Perhaps, if we had a better understanding of what trees and other plants do for us we would be less keen on ‘artificializing’ our landscape with roads, airport extensions, shopping malls, etc. Do you think we need to instrumentalize nature more in order to recognise its value? Or are there dangers to that strategy?

Being an anthropocentric society, we have a tendency to translate other natural species’ communication to fit our logic rather than leaving it as something open which transcends our knowledge and perception.

Beyond our own nature, we often tend to take others’ for granted, as something to be consumed, exploited and conquered. In this respect we can learn from trees who live in symbiotic relationships with each other and other life forms.

We have organised ourselves in a way that we are dependent on concrete infrastructural architecture. In urban environments, the ratio of the built and the artificial is highly disproportionate with the natural.

Research studies observe how our wellbeing increases when surrounded with other natural species of flora and fauna, even with downscaled botanical versions such as plants in our living and working environments; the sole use of green colour in interior space is supposed to have calming properties for the human nervous system.


Marija Bozinovska Jones, Treebour, 2018. Photo by Pau Ros


Marija Bozinovska Jones, Treebour, 2018. Photo by Pau Ros


Marija Bozinovska Jones, Treebour, 2018. Photo by Pau Ros

I can imagine where you found the information for the techy-intellectual tree and the habitat tree. But what about the “relaxing tree”? How did you manage to make it sound so Gwyneth Paltrow-ish? Where does that particular jargon come from?

The character for the Relaxing (beech) tree was based on ASMR YouTubers. I asked my studio colleague to contribute with his voice for it as he has a very soothing voice.

The monologue was based on guided mindfulness instructions as something I am practicing myself as well as researching for work.

Treebour is clearly the outcome of a research on trees and the role they play in making our planet more liveable for us and other living species, etc. Is there anything you discovered during your research that truly amazed you?

The research was building on previous knowledge, for example of way in which trees communicate with each other as well as other life forms, phrased as ‘wood wide web’ and arboreal ARPANET. Rob came across some descriptive botanical jargon such as ‘vascular cambium’ and ‘carboniferous rhytidome‘.


Marija Bozinovska Jones, Treebour, 2018. Photo by Pau Ros

I love that you made Treebour a sound installation. It’s very suggestive and gives a sense of intimacy. But what were your motivations to do an art piece rather than a video animation or a performance for example? Why did you decide to give trees a voice?

For awhile now, our modes of communication is mediated through blackboxed screen interfaces predominantly employing the visual sense, followed by the haptic and the sonic. Over the past years, I have been examining human voice as a dimensional interface which is able to encapsulate affect. Due to our ability to detect and project emotions onto voice, it is often exploited by technocapitalism through disembodied AI. For example, intelligent personal assistants couple sleek consumer products with a sentient often female voice since we are genetically predisposed to react to a voice most similar to our primary caregiver’s, our mother. Anthropomorphised technologies are something I have been addressing through a proxy MBJ Wetware, a simulation of my voice via machine learning.

What shape does the concept of playbour play in your life as an artist?

Producing ’Treebour’ was a role-play itself.

With the plethora of social media with its potentials to promote work, lifestyle and disseminate opinions, playbour reaches new immaterial labour heights.

Thanks Marija!

Marija Bozinovska Jones’s Treebour is part of Playbour, an exhibition curated by Dani Admiss for Furtherfield Gallery in London. The show remains open until Sunday 19 Aug 2018.

Playbour is realized in the framework of State Machines, a joint project by Aksioma (SI), Drugo more (HR), Furtherfield (UK), Institute of Network Cultures (NL) and NeMe (CY).

Tomorrow’s tailor-made cows


Management Polled, Doon just the job. © Maria McKinney


Production Graph, Cloondroon Calling (QCD) © Maria McKinney

The delicate and colourful sculptures that the bulls above are carrying on their back are made from semen straws. These plastic straws are storage receptacles used in the process of artificially inseminating cows. They come in a variety of colours to help distinguish between different bull’s semen while being stored in liquid nitrogen.

Each straw sculpture has been specifically crafted by artist Maria McKinney for the animal whose genetic signature it denotes.

McKinney‘s project Sire (a “sire” is a bull used specifically for breeding purposes) investigates genetics in cattle breeding. Through these sculptures and their photographic documentation, the artist not only explores the past and future of humanity’s efforts to shape nature but she also reveals the hidden systems behind beef and milk production.


Shaping the cow of the future © Maria McKinney


Maria McKinney, video (still from the video), 2016

In pre-Christian Europe, people would perform a series of rituals in an attempt to influence the future behavior of nature. One of these practices involved crafting corn dolls, a figurine made by binding straw with the final sheaf of that year’s crop.

Today, genomics and its deep understanding of the complex patterns held within the structure of DNA give us the ability to manipulate how nature behaves in future generations of animal and plant species. With this field of science, scientists are now able to direct breeding strategies and conceive more ‘profitable’ animals.

McKinney‘s photographs and sculptures consider the newly proposed breeding objectives to ‘design’ the cow of the future: it would have to produce a large quantity of milk and meat, present good reproductive performance, live a long and healthy life, be docile and easy to manage, have a low environmental footprint, etc.

Throughout her project, the artist was in constant dialog with scientists. She worked with quantitative geneticist Dr. Donagh Berry, genome biologist Prof. David MacHugh and Head of Veterinary Clinical Studies Prof. Michael Doherty. The artist also consulted with a veterinarian and worked closely with the animal’s handlers to ensure the animals were not made uncomfortable or distressed while making the work. As for the bulls themselves, they are pedigree animals from Dovea Genetic, an artificial insemination co-operative with a bull stud farm in Ireland.

One of the many reasons why i found McKinney‘s work important is that she not only shows her work in art galleries but she also exhibited the sculptures at events attended by the farming community, including the National Ploughing Championships, Ireland’s foremost annual outdoor agricultural show:


Live installation at the National Ploughing Championships, Tullamore, 2015 © Maria McKinney

I asked the artist how familiar farmers are with these fairly new breeding techniques. She explained me that “artificial insemination has been common practice for quite a few decades, whereas the use of genomics in cattle breeding has only been introduced in the last number of years. Farmers are being asked to put these breeding strategies into practice. They are the ones taking scientific theory into reality. They do however not blindly trust and often there is pushback from them, when they realize something that perhaps the scientists do not (in particular in relation to monetary gain promised by the scientific advantage). They know their animals and line of work very well, and I got the impression from speaking to some farmers that sometimes the ideal, controlled environment of scientific labs does not exactly always translate into the reality of farming.

And again, there is never a guarantee that the desired genetics of the bull will get passed down to the progeny (offspring).”


Longevity/Apoptosome, Black Water Lad © Maria McKinney


Reproduction/Chromosome, Templemichael Zebo © Maria McKinney

I was also curious (and naive) about the reason why artificial insemination is such a widespread practice. She told me that it is “because these animals are potentially dangerous to keep – at least a couple of people are killed every year by bulls in Ireland alone, so farmers do opt for artificial insemination.”

“The males of this bovine species are a lot more objectified than their female counterparts,” McKinney continued. “They are kept in basically quarantine farms like Dovea. They are treated very well here, probably some of the best pampered in the country. If they are not kept healthy both in feed and body, then it doesn’t matter how good their genetics are. Genetics is only really half of it. The environment an animal is kept in is equally important if they are to thrive and their positive genetics given the opportunity to express. This is the same for humans – I’ve been looking into epigenetics more recently.”


Maria McKinney, Sire at the Wellcome Collection (exhibition view.) Photo: Michael Bowles, Wellcome Collection

My favourite quote from our online conversation was a response to my concern about how we instrumentalize other living beings, how we customize them according to our desires:

“These bulls are more and more hidden away and people don’t really think about them. Most people do not realize the day to day reality for these animals. I realized once I made this work, that it actually made them visible again. People couldn’t turn away, as the photographs are large scale and are quite confronting. The animals mostly are looking directly at the camera. They are present.

I am of course concerned about the position of animals on earth today. We consider them so separate, forgetting our own animal origins. Yet, we have benefited from their nutrition for centuries. Their muscle has provided us with both sustenance and brawn (cattle were also draught animals before mechanization). They have fueled and helped build the society we now find ourselves, while we continually push them to the margins.”

Maria McKinney’s work is part of the exhibition Somewhere in Between, on view at the Wellcome Collection in London until 27 August 2018.

If the questions raised by McKinney’s project interest you, then you might enjoy the following podcast: The New Animals which looks at animals genetically engineered for human consumption.

Artists explore the ethical aspects of commercial DNA ancestry testing

Last month, i attended an evening of ethical debates and artistic comments related to ancestry DNA testing, a commercial service offered by competing private companies to individuals who are eager to know more about their ethnic roots or who are searching for distant relatives.


A Larry Achiampong & David Blandy, Finding Fanon, 2015

The evening, titled Trust Me I’m An Artist – DNA Ancestry Testing with Larry Achiampong and David Blandy, took place at The Arts Catalyst‘s new and cozy location near Kings Cross. This was the last public event of Trust Me I’m an Artist, a project set up by partners across Europe to investigate how artists and cultural institutions can creatively and ethically engage with biotechnology and biomedicine. The format of the event is as follows: the artist (or artists) present(s) their project, a specially convened ethics committee deliberate upon its feasibility and value, a conversation between artists, committee and audience ensues.


Larry Achiampong, Glyth, 2013 – 14


An embarrassingly bad photo i took during the evening Trust Me, I’m an Artist: DNA Ancestry Testing with Larry Achiampong and David Blandy at The Arts Catalyst. From Left to right: David Blandy, Larry Achiampong, Nicola Triscott from the Arts Catalyst and Lucas Evers from Waag Society

The artists presenting their project that night were Larry Achiampong and David Blandy. The last time i had seen Blandy’s work it was all about manga and personal identity. As for Achiampong, i only knew about the magnificent pan-Africa flag he had raised last year over Somerset House. It turns out that the two artists have been collaborating for a couple of years, using game and fiction to explore issues such as racism, capitalism, immigration, veteran incarceration, etc.

What brings them together, apart from creativity and a certain taste for topical concerns, is that they are both interested in breaking down their personal histories.

And that’s exactly what the project they presented at The Arts Catalyst promises to do: unravel their genetic roots and see how DNA analysis fits into the story their respective families have told them about their ancestry.

Because the project is still in its infancy, it’s difficult to evaluate its artistic merits and ethical challenges but the theme the artists decided to explore brings to the fore all sorts of reflections and debates related to race, relationships, identity and privacy.

Each artist took a series of three ancestry DNA tests. They compared the results and discussed whether or not the tests had any significant bearing on their own sense of identity, on their present and future. They wondered if the tests could be used for exercises in forensic anthropology: would the results be enough to be able to build virtual versions of themselves?

The kits, once they had been processed, give you a (more or less) detailed view of your ethnicity, breaking it down into regions and sub-regions. Some of the tests come up with a Neanderthal Ancestry report that informs about how much of your ancestry can be traced back to our long extinct relative. Finally, the data can also be used to discover distant relatives who have used the same service. In fact, if you’re interested in filling in the gaps in your ancestry history, it can be quite enlightening to meet genetic relatives and exchange stories with them.


Photo: AFP/Getty Images, via

These DNA kits are big business. Back in December, they were popular Christmas presents. In the U.S., for example, African American buy the kits to get a better idea of their roots. White supremacists do the same tests but with the objective of demonstrating that they are as ‘pure’ as can be. Which sometimes results in denial and disappointment.

During the evening, Achiampong and Blandy presented the result of the tests to the audience and to the ethics committee chaired by expert in medical ethics Professor Bobbie Farsides, with curator Annie Kwan, researcher Debbie Kennett, and artist Trevor Mathison of Dubmorphology.

It turned out that while Blandy’s origins can be traced back fairly precisely to several regions and sub-regions of the UK as well as to a couple of European areas, Achiampong, whose genes are 98.5% African, received a very rudimentary overview of the geographical origins of his family.

I found that information fascinating. This difference in the quality and quantity of the results seems to point to a lack of a good genetic database in Africa.

Does this mean that, once again, caucasian individuals are privileged compared to other races? Or, as someone in the audience judiciously observed, does it mean that people in Africa are just more cautious when it comes to giving away DNA samples? One of the reasons why Africans might be more suspicious than we are about the motivations of tech companies is that they probably remember a not so distanced past when they’ve been profiled, analyzed, measured and dehumanized in the process. They are wise to be careful and to call for what philosopher and poet Édouard Glissant called “the right to opacity.”

We clamor for the right to opacity for everyone.
—Édouard Glissant

There is however a downside to this prudence: a richer DNA collection would make it easier to study and fight tropical diseases.

Many interesting questions were raised during the evening: Should we be wary of for-profit organization with no interest in the impact that the test results might have on individuals, families or communities? Could you launch a similar service based on ethical and political values instead of having money as your only incentive? How do you protect people? How do you manage their expectations and possible disappointment? Could the data be hacked into and leaked? What would the consequences be? Can genetic data be used to revoke the right of an individual to reside in a territory?

But the most interesting (to me) ideas that emerged during the discussions were the following ones:

– These DNA tests highlight the differences in our DNA. Yet, we are all related to each other: 99.5% of human DNA is identical…
– despite this common DNA, our experiences are radically different depending on our racial origins: being (for example) black is not just about genetics, it’s political. In fact, our identities are fluid and socially constructed by sex, social background, education, etc.

– Some people think that DNA tests pose a threat to privacy. Yet, they contain far less information about who we are and what we do than our supermarket loyalty card, our internet search history or Facebook activity.


Mission//Misplaced Memory (Gary Stewart, Trevor Mathison, Zaynab Bunsie), Dreamed Native Ancestry [DNA], 2017

The whole conversation was audio recorded (i believe there will also be a video soon.)

The DNA ancestry evening was part of Dreamed Native Ancestry (DNA) by Mission//Misplaced Memory (Gary Stewart, Trevor Mathison, Zaynab Bunsie.) Thi installation and participatory project celebrates migrations, hybridity and diversity.

Embracing plastic and the apocalypse: An interview with Morehshin Allahyari and Daniel Rourke

Quick post to say that:

1. If you’re in London this coming weekend, don’t miss the Digital Design Weekend 2017. It’s the 7th edition and this year’s a particularly good one with plenty of critical, intelligent and edgy works and ideas. Think Garnet Hertz‘s Disobedient Electronics: Protest, Tactical Tech, Nina Sellars, etc.

2. Artist Morehshin Allahyari and writer/artistDaniel Rourke are also part of the programme with The 3D Additivist Manifesto and The 3D Additivist Cookbook. And i’ve been asked by the lovely and sharp Irini Papadimitriou to interview them for the catalogue of the Digital Design Weekend. What they’ve done for the reflection around 3D fabrication, speculative design, and more generally digital culture is invaluable. The texts of the catalogue are online but i’m copy/pasting my intro (i’m always surprised at how flowery my prose gets when i’m asked to write ‘outside’ of my blog) and our interview below because it has images and you know i love images:

#Additivism: An interview with Morehshin Allahyari and Daniel Rourke

For its evangelists, 3D printing is going to breezily save the world one 3D printed kidney, wind turbine, honeycomb or insect snack at a time. The costs of domestic 3D printers are dwindling, the products custom-manufactured to meet our precise needs and the technology has been hailed as the most liberating and revolutionary since the steam engine.

Like with many innovations, this cheerful outlook has soon been met with warnings of copyright hurdles, high energy uses, harmful air emissions, and the realisation that the technology relies on the toxic extraction and processing of minerals and crude oil.

#additivism is the bastard of these two visions. It conjures nightmares of toxic machines churning out guns, drugs, counterfeit cash and meaningless trash ad libitum. It also take its cue from additive manufacturing technology itself and suggests that small scale, cumulative actions have the potential to bring about bigger, more complex realities.

In 2015, Morehshin Allahyari and Daniel Rourke released The 3D Additivist Manifesto and called for objects and strategies that would push the physical and conceptual boundaries of 3D printing to its most radical, dystopian and disobedient limits. Artists, designers, activists and thinkers responded with speculative or practical projects, each of them a kind of recipe for transgression and critical meditation on 3D printing and the emancipatory promises of technology. They are presented in The 3D Additivist Cookbook. Made available in 3DPDF format, it is free to download, share, remix and subvert (at additivism.org).

With it, 3D printing finally gets the counterculture movement it deserved.


Laura Devendorf, Anatomy of a Cyborg 3D Printer. A #figure from The 3D Additivist Cookbook


Anna Greenspan & Suzanne Livingston, The Electric Deep: Dream Visions of the Additive Machine. A #method from The 3D Additivist Cookbook

Régine Debatty: Hi Morehshin and Daniel! I like that you chose to follow the idea of ‘staying with the trouble’ and that we probably need to accept that the world is already beyond fixing. This is quite at odds with the tendency of design to imagine nicely-packaged solutions to all sorts of small and vast problems. Have you found that the idea of embracing the horror is still as radical as it was when you embarked on the project?

Morehshin Allahyari and Daniel Rourke: This notion of ‘solving’ a problem, especially in a world that feels increasingly non-fixable, is something that we have discussed and taught in many of our talks and workshops. In the world of #Additivism and our own practices as individuals, we’ve been big advocates of micro actions as ways to make something with wider reach and more critical potential. To build platforms and communities and frameworks for educating through rethinking and refiguring. And in contradiction to many of the principles of design, we are not interested or obsessed with answers and solutions. We want to expose things. Make invisible things visible. Mess things up, or at least offer mess and humour and darkness and speculation as ways to reconsider the complicated status of topics like equality, global ecology, or reproductive rights that need to be constantly re-assessed.

#Additivism is about poking at things with weird sticks and asking ever difficult, and often unpalatable questions. To take the very powers that oppress you and using their strategies and languages and aesthetics against them. Embrace the apocalypse but use its darkness to create light. That’s how we’ve been staying with the trouble.

A solution is always a solution ‘for’ some particular, universalised group. And so ‘radicality’ is a constantly shifting notion, dependent on the struggles and conflicts that impact the lives of unheard and unrecognised subjects. Over the life of our project the rise of negative political campaigns, such as Brexit and Donald Trump, signal how appeals to universals are still a powerful force. We oppose the grand narrative, and rather hope for an explosion of counter and micro narratives, for a recognition of singularities – plural – a project that by necessity must go on and on endlessly.


Antonio Esparza, The TurtleBag. A #fabulation from The 3D Additivist Cookbook


Golan Levin and Shawn Sims, The Free Universal Construction Kit. A #toolkit from The 3D Additivist Cookbook

R: Judging from the content of The 3D Additivist Cookbook, it seems that #Additivism has found echoes beyond plastic and 3D printing. Could you tell us how the dystopian and utopian dimensions of 3D printing can be applied to other disciplines, media, practices and technologies?

M&D: For us the 3D printer has always been a metaphor and point of departure to delve into and overlap others disciplines and worlds. The more we developed the project, and especially when it was the time to make selections for the Cookbook, we used #Additivism as a network of forces. Economic, social, political, material, infrastructural. The 3D printer is a machine that offers the promise of being able – one day – to make copies of itself. A radical metaphor for the capacity of life breathed into the world of inert matter. In an era of increasing interest in robots, AI, and other non human technological agents, the 3D printer is still a vibrant metaphor for the capacity of our technologies to inhabit and parasitise new spaces and realities. Who the particular subjects are who seek out and inhabit these new spaces is our concern, and this is another point at which the 3D printer becomes more than a neutral technology. #Additivism sought to wrestle control of 3D printer narratives away from the white tech males who dominate the field. So we still believe that #Additivism is a call for those on the ‘outside’ to seize control and multiply the possible spaces and worlds they inhabit from fablabs, maker-spaces, bedrooms, and laptop screens.

An Additivist is someone who is interested in the potential of technology to leverage small, incremental actions to potentially planetary significance. No 3D printer is required.

For a large central section of The 3D Additivist Cookbook we commissioned two artist groups – A Parede and Browntourage – to curate a series of ‘Additivist’ works. The works from artists of Middle Eastern, South American and other non-western heritages spiral around queer, feminist and decolonialist narratives. We are really proud of that section of The Cookbook in particular, because it often calls our entire project into question. Challenging dominant narratives is crucial to maintaining plurality. The 3D Additivist Manifesto asked to be contradicted and re-envisioned. Every work in the resulting Cookbook is therefore a seed for generating worlds and actions that even – and perhaps especially – its original designers did not envisage.


Jasper Meiners and Isabel Paehr, The Webcamera Obscura. A #toolkit from The 3D Additivist Cookbook

R: Few things make me happier than seeing provocative design or art ideas spread outside of the usual creative circles of galleries and festivals. How can someone who’s neither an artist nor a designer engage with the #Additivist ideas and introduce small, concrete forms of radicality into their life?

M &D: That’s awesome to hear! We share that happiness with you. So much of what we wanted to build was accessibility, education and activation (daily small actions). We urge people to do the same, and hope #Additivism inspires them. How can your particular skill or knowledge be translated into frameworks for educating and including others? What story or counter narrative do you have to bring to the world? The Cookbook’s most radical feature – we hope – is its accessibility and openness (download it for free now and see). But we are far more excited about the projects that are not contained in it, that still have to be imagined. That’s a daily radical proposition. What worlds have yet to be envisioned? We can only answer that together. Jump in.

A lot of action-based projects in the Cookbook can be realised by anyone with any kind of background, as long as they can download the objects from our website and take it to a fablab for a cheap 3D print. For example, a project by Isabel Paehr and Jasper Meiners called ‘Webcam Obscura’ which is a simple playful anti-surveillance tool for laptops. In addition, a good portion of the Cookbook includes essays, interviews, and stories (mostly science fiction) brought together to encourage Additivist way of thinking. Out of the many many workshops we have delivered we’ve only ever used a 3D printer once. Many projects in the Cookbook do their critical work without ever needing to be 3D printed. Kyle McDonald’s Liberator Variations, for instance, questions the status of the now infamous 3D printable ‘Liberator’ gun, but is also a playful tutorial and poetic homage to 3D rendering software. Many of the most ‘radical’ Additivist Cookbook projects are also the simplest. We hope the Cookbook encourages people to play, experiment and not be afraid to make mistakes. That’s the best way to learn, and it’s fundamental to the practices of art and design. We all start as amateurs. Some of us try really hard to stay that way.

R: Because the place of women in the tech world is still one we have to fight for, do you think that there is a place for feminism in #Additivism?

M&D: Yes of course or we wouldn’t do it at all. It’s actually quite interesting to walk into Fablabs anywhere in the world and see so many women standing next to machines 3D printing or laser cutting objects. It’s something we’ve been counting and paying attention to. But in addition to quantity and numbers, so much of #Additivism is about ‘the female future’ we want to participate in building. The feminism we are interested in is a philosophy of more than women, it is a philosophy of non male, non cis, non white. All those people who have at one stage or another been considered less than human by the social systems that oppress them.


Zach Rispoli, Snowden Crown Jewels. A #device from The 3D Additivist Cookbook

R: #Additivism brings to light an apocalyptic vision of the world. Yet, there is a fair amount of irony and humour in The 3D Additivist Cookbook. How do you reconcile horror with humour?

M&D: Between the two of us we have often talked about (jokingly and for real) being Positive Nihilists. So much of that is about our personalities and how we also perhaps handle the dark world we live in…lol. Do we really have to reconcile humour? If humour is a radical act in itself then it need not be considered as somehow the opposite of dystopia/darkness/apocalyptic visions.

Laughter is a shared bodily sound that carries across a group to show that the threat has passed. One human thinks they see a snake in the grass and call out an alarm, but then they quickly realise it is just a stick, and begin to laugh, and their companions laugh at their mistake. Humour today might play a similar role in light of the global problems we face. #Additivism is full of distractions and counter propositions, pointing to a perceived threat, but showing that the real concern lies elsewhere, at a different scale. Humour is significant in that act. Shared mind shifting. Reflective counter-actions and realities. Embracing the horror together.


Debbie Ding, How to Mine for Space Geodes. A #recipe from The 3D Additivist Cookbook


Belén Zahera, Surface Breeding. A #method from The 3D Additivist Cookbook

The Digital Design Weekend is taking place at the V&A in London on Saturday 23 & Sunday 24 September, 10:30-17:00. It coincides with the London Design Festival at the V&A. All events are free.

Previously: The 3D Additivist Manifesto + Cookbook.

Artists vs. London’s massive Arms Fair


Peter Kennard, Warhead 3, 2017


Darren Cullen / Spelling Mistakes Cost Lives, New War, 2017

This September, London will once again host one of the world’s largest arms fairs. The event brings dictatorships and human rights abusers together with some of the biggest arms companies. The fair that sells everything that can maim, kill, wound, and hurt people is euphemistically called Defence & Security Equipment International.

In the past, campaigners have discovered that illegal torture equipment were sold at DSEI, including electric shock stun guns and batons, cluster bombs, leg-irons, as well as body and gang-chains. It’s not just illegal trade that raises concerns though. As UK-based NGO Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) explains, the vast majority of arms sold around the world, including those to human rights abusing governments or into conflict areas, are legal and actively supported by governments. Some of these arms are used by state-nations on foreign battlegrounds but also on the streets, against their own rebelling citizens.


Peter Kennard, Stop the Arms Fair 2, 2017


Protest Stencil, ‘Wear Your Poppy With Pride’ Imperial Stormtrooper bus stop poster, from the series #WeAreTheEmpire, November 2016

Most people in London don’t even know about the existence of the arm fair. DSEI doesn’t partner with mainstream media, nor does it welcome the visit of Amnesty International experts.

The artists and activists of Art the Arms Fair want to raise awareness about the arms fair and the deadly consequences of selling arms with an exhibition held in opposition to DSEI. Three tube stops away from the arms fair, artist-run SET Space will host an exhibition of art works that shine a light on the arms fair and the impact it has on millions of lives across the world. Hundreds of artists have submitted work, including Guerrilla Girls, Peter Kennard & Darren Cullen. Work will be sold to support the work of Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).


POPX, Stop Wars


The successful 2012 Disarm the Gallery campaign


Human rights campaigners walk alongside the queue for taxis to the Farnborough International arms fair as part of a protest against arms sales to Saudi Arabia used in human rights abuses in Yemen, London, UK. 11th July, 2016


Amy Corcoran, Life and Death, 2017

You can still get involved and support Art the Arms Fair by participating as an artist, volunteering, donating and of course by checking out the programme of exhibitions and performances. ART THE ARMS FAIR is at SET Space in London on 12 – 15 September 2017.

Previously: World of Warfare, a day at the arms dealers fair, Policing the Planet: Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter, Book review: Drone. Remote Control Warfare, Book review: Future War, Book review: A Theory of the Drone and Eyes from a distance. Personal encounters with military drones.

Vegetable smuggling, grimmy goods and other retail sabotages. An interview with Louise Ashcroft

In January 2017, artist Louise Ashcroft invited herself to be an artist in residency at Westfield Shopping Centre. That’s the mega mall in Stratford, East London. Its retail area is as big as 30 football pitches (says wikipedia), it has famous chains of fast fashion & fast food, screens budget-bloated blockbusters, rents kiddy cars and boasts some seriously boring ‘public’ artworks. Because there’s nothing remotely boring, mass manufactured nor glittery about her work (and also because she is quietly plotting the demise of capitalism), Ashcroft spent her time there undercover, pretending she was only looking for a bit of shopping fun.

The artist will present the result of her stealth research this week at arebyte in Hackney Wick, a five-minute walk from Westfield. Some of the works she developed at the shopping mall include a transposition of words from slogan fashion T-shirts on traditional narrow boat signs, offers to exchange ‘happy’ meals toys with more ‘soulful’ artist-designed toys, seditious retail therapy sessions, bookable tours of Westfield where she will guide participants through playful (pseudo)psychoanalytical activities, ‘mallopoly’ cards that invite shoppers to use the mall and its contents as a material, etc. Oh! and, since the Westfield area is the home of grime she also compiled words from Argos shopping catalogues into a cut-up text and grime artist Maxsta recorded it as a track.

This is not Ashcroft’s first incursion into the magical world of retail poisoning. She regularly smuggles unfamiliar-looking African vegetables into supermarkets and then throws the store in disarray when she attempts to buy them (Vegetable, 2003-17.) Two years ago, she spent time on another unsanctioned residency at Stratford Centre, a 1970s shopping precinct right in front of the flashy Westfield mall. She analyzed the centre’s marketing philosophy of “taking something negative about yourself and owning it” in the first hilarious TEDx talk i’ve ever seen:

Louise Ashcroft, Shopping and subversion at TEDxHackneyWomen

Ashcroft‘s solo show I’d Rather Be Shopping opens this Friday at Arebyte gallery as part of the gallery’s 2017 programme, Control. I asked her to take us through her research inside the best air-conditioned workshop an artist could hope for:

Louise Ashcroft, Stratford Works Trailer

Hi Louise! You had a residency at the Stratford center a couple of years ago. If i understood correctly, you simply invited yourself. It wasn’t an official one. Did the same happen this time in Westfield Center?

Yes, I invited myself to hang around the Stratford centre for some weeks. I’d noticed that it’s a space of resistance- people who can’t or don’t want to opt into the big capitalism of the Westfield mall hang out here, sell things, buy things; and the conventions of modern marketing are repeatedly broken.

It offers an alternative version of capitalism in which street traders, local characters and loiterers coexist with chain stores in a way that Westfield wouldn’t allow. The Stratford Centre is anarchic compared with Westfield – it shows its imperfections, has nothing to hide, whereas its megamall neighbour tightly controls the shopper’s experience so that we only see a partial view of the system and its wider social impact.

Westfield also has peculiar marketing strategies, but their bizarre qualities come from their efforts to conceal darker truths. For example, the biodiversity themed playground, the empty bee nesting boxes fitted into benches in the outdoor ‘street’ area, the plague of slogans featured on all the fashion at the moment- much of which features activist style slogans like ‘we are the future’ or ‘more bikes less cars’ or ‘feminist’. Despite the fact that these items themselves are the causes of ecological issues and problematic body politics. Other fashion slogans are more pessimistic, as though referring resignedly to the impending planetary destruction that consumerism has brought about: ‘I sold my soul’, ‘the end is nigh’, ‘nothing changes’. etc. Some of the t-shirts voice the angry isolation of a relationships based on likes and swipes: ‘whatever I’ll just date myself’, ‘like is the new love’, ‘why you so obsessed with me?’ I’m quite fixated on the t-shirts, they’re like our cultural stream of consciousness. Many express a sort of depressed helplessness: ‘too lazy to be crazy’, or ‘stay in bed’; whilst many celebrate neoliberal ambition and endless self-improvement: ‘no days off’, ‘run’, ‘I want it all’.

I found it hilarious that all the designers seemed to have taken a holiday and set up some sort of algorithm that prints hashtag phrases onto the cheapest plain t-shirts and sells them like hot cakes. It’s like wearable social media, a walking Facebook wall. I figured that these phrases were the key to the subconscious of society at this point in time, and I wanted to analyse this types of phrases that were being selected.

There so much more though. The Mallopoly game I’ve made (which will be given away free to all visitors to the show and people in Westfield) is a self-led series of activities to carry out in the centre, using the products and architecture as materials/props for challenges which each relate to an aspect of the shopping centre’s socio economic DNA. I think encouraging people to behave in different ways there is better than describing what I think is going on. I hope it’s not too didactic, as the tasks all relate to problems like seed rights, pollution, plastic and commodities trading. The tasks are very playful but there’s something quite futile about them too, in the face of these big issues. I want to simultaneously make the players feel liberated from the hegemony of the space but also powerless because the rebellious tasks (mainly involving role play, mime, sensory experiments, disguise, drawing, sound) are all quite benign and impotent really. A lot of my work is hedonistic yet melancholy, maybe that’s what Westfield is like too.


Mallopoly card


Mallopoly card

Also i was wondering how you behaved during this residency. Did you pretend to be a shopper like anyone else? Did your activities stand out in any way?

I had to pretend I was a shopper so I didn’t get in trouble, particularly when filming or watching people. YouTube vloggers have been banned from Westfield because many were playing pranks. There are a lot of security guards and I was stopped several times and asked if I needed help (or basically asked why I was behaving differently by loitering or photographing). I often get mistaken for staff in some shops, particularly sports shops, if I was wearing casual clothing. I’d originally hoped to find ways of working in the shops as part of the residency but it was difficult to even have conversations with shop assistants – it’s very much about efficiency in a modern shopping centre (not like the social space shops were when I was growing up in the north of England – my mum would spend hours chatting to shop assistants).

Louise Ashcroft, Unicorns of Westfield, 2017

Like many shopping centres, Westfield Stratford is a very loud place, especially visually. A fairly short amount of time in a shopping mall leaves me quite depressed. Since you spent so much time there, i was wondering if the experience affected your senses and mental well-being in any way?

I felt really lonely there. I remember once eating a packed lunch in the food court and really wanting to start a conversation with an old lady who also looked lonely but there was something about the place that made me nervous to do that – I felt like I’d come across as suspicious (I should have just gone for it). I listened to a lot of teenage conversations in the food hall- chat about social media interrupted by bleeps of social media. It’s definitely a social space if you’re with your group but it’s not the kind of place where people chat to passersby like they do in the Stratford centre. I talked to a middle aged woman for a while, because she was doing market research and I thought I could turn it into a more interesting conversation, but she had targets to meet and was really just interested in following the script that was popping up on her iPad questionnaire. I suppose people expect that if you try to talk to them in this space then you’re motivated by a financial transaction in some way. The first couple of months I found it really hard to be there, but now I feel I could do with much more time. I think the ‘retail therapy’ and performances I’m doing with individuals and groups of audiences will be the point when all of the research comes together in a way that feels really dynamic and impactful.

I’m a believer in the power of confusion, and when a group behaves unusually it provokes those involved and their witnesses to question what’s going on, and to question the whole environment they might have taken for granted.

I’m interested in the research you did with UCL students at The Institute for Global Prosperity to develop a “Deviant Planning Committee”. Are you going to publish online the inventory of deviations you compiled with them? Can you give us examples of some of these deviations?

Having spent so long in the mall, I invited these students, who were from various disciplines (mostly non arts subjects) and were on a summer school, to take my place for a day and hunt for opportunities for deviation within the Olympic park. They weren’t focusing so much on the shopping centre, rather its wider context. Many of the students found it very difficult, and a lot of what came back was ideas for business opportunities or ways of making the place more pleasant. Some of the responses were more critical though, and asked questions, for example about the value of the natural resources such as water and land, about the ways the security staff operate and how they might be used differently, or the names of the streets, or how busy the body is encouraged to be in this space of consuming and exerting energy.

There is a lot of humour in your work. Far more than in capitalism, the theme you’re exploring in many of your works. How do these two relate? How can humour be a useful instrument in subverting capitalism?

I get the same dopamine hit from the punchline of a joke as I do when a concept clicks into place in a conceptual artwork or theoretical text. Comedy is philosophy at its most efficient, with all the excess cut off. Jokes often happen when contrasting ideas come together and connect as part of the same thought, creating a chemical reaction which shifts their original status. If applied to our surroundings I think this is a powerful recipe for challenging the status quo, so I collage together what’s around me to make comic situations which unfold in public. Subverting ordinary situations is inherently funny- it’s what clowns have done for centuries, often literally reversing ordinary behaviour. Humour lets the viewer in because it’s pleasurable to laugh and because it shows that the artist is aware she is not special (a lot of art puts itself on a pedestal and I think this alienates people). It’s my failure to overthrow capitalism and the absurdity of my attempts to do so that make it funny.

There is also a level of naivety which helps me to get away with public actions in the first place. Beauty or technical excellence traditionally provide entry points for the viewer’s contemplation, but these are often focusing on impressing the viewer. My work is ordinary, it’s made with low value materials, it doesn’t require expertise, it often goes wrong and yet it reports back on these inadequacies with glee, a bit like how the Stratford Centre owns its weaknesses.

During these shopping mall residencies you’ve learnt a lot about marketing. I’m wondering if you’re not tempted to apply any of that in your art practice. Not so much in terms of content but as an instrument to advance your career, sell your work, turn you into a formidably marketable artist?

Marketable work tends to be work that has been completed and that it is possible to collect. I wrote a dissertation on wildness and ways of resisting being captured by the market. I only enjoy making work if I feel like it’s somehow transgressive, when it starts to feel like ‘work work’ I’m not interested any more. Wildness is an important part of the DNA of my practice. It’s what allows me to retain exteriority to the systems I analyse. Outsider status is fundamental to that. Even if I’m making objects they are always part of performative gestures and it’s not about finished objects but the effect they have in the moment. The traditionally painted signs featuring t-shirt slogans which I’m making for this show will all be given to the local boating community after the show. In an ideal world I’d have just painted directly into their boats. I love the idea of switching the fashion slogans and boat names.

You worked with grime artist Maxsta on a record inspired by your work at Westfield. How did the collaboration come about and what made you chose the Argos catalogue as a source for the lyrics? Is there a video of the track?

A lot of the pieces I’ve made for this show are collage-like, in that they take aspects of contrasting cultures and combine them. Like jokes do. I found out that this area is the home of grime music and i became interested in the anger in this working class genre and the way it rejects the blingy consumerism of commercial rap. Of all the catalogues in the mall, the Argos catalogue was most bountiful with evocative words I could cherry pick and bring together to make abstract lyrics. I approached a local grime station Don City Radio and they recommended someone but he didn’t get around to it and I couldn’t get through to him on the phone so I did some research and found a more experimental rapper then sent him a twitter message. He got the track to me within a couple of days and it is fantastic. He’s up for working on more collaborative stuff because the way I bring words together seems to work well with his phenomenal vocal abilities. It’s an exercise in appropriation really, but everyone’s appropriating everyone else, speaking through one another’s voices (the Argos copywriters, me, Maxsta). For me, the track reveals that what shops are really selling you are words and images – the materiality of most of the products is often generic (cotton, wheat, plastic, wood, metal…). The society of the spectacle and all that. Me and Maxsta are a pair of spectacles! Words are so rich and yet they’re all free and you can make them anywhere, anytime- that’s liberating. I’m a big believer in the power of parody, and mimicry, like the woman I heard on the radio yesterday doing Shakespeare in an Eastenders accent. By shifting the voice of something you reveal it for what it is.

What will the retail therapy sessions with Louise Ashcroft be like?

The retail therapy sessions will involve me and strangers (1-3 per session) completing a series of tasks in different shops and talking about the products we encounter, as devices for understanding our own lives and futures. We will begin with some exercises from Mallopoly the Westfield themed card game I’ve made which involves challenges like finding a product from as many countries as possible, making a noise track on our phones, dressing up as 18th century farmers in the fitting rooms, miming a coffee break, applying botanical classifications to the architectural decorations. All kinds of experiments, each of which relates to a problem with capitalism such as seed patents, waste or inequality.

Louise Ashcroft, Bread Suit, 2010

The bio on your website starts with the words “Recognising the power of small acts of resistance”. What can these small acts achieve?

Maybe just to remind us all to question everything and to see past the surface of things, deconstruct our presumptions about the world around us and reconstruct it more knowingly and more actively. An accumulation of small actions is the only way to change the world without becoming a replacement dictator. That’s why I hope my work isn’t preachy or didactic, I think empathising with one another’s weaknesses (mine especially) is crucial to making change happen.

And on top of your bio text, there’s “Nobody likes an activist.” But i feel that everyone wants to be an activist these days. Or at least pose as one. What’s not to like in an activist?

Once my dad said this so I wrote it down. I think he meant that people think activists believe that they’re better than everyone else. I wanted to remind myself that it’s ok not to be liked and that activism isn’t easy, even when it’s this small. If you’re going against the flow then that saps your energy, so reminding myself if that helps me keep going. I’m naturally stubborn and contrary, so the idea of going against the flow appeals. It’s not just for the sake of it either- as artists we have the duty to voice ignored, invisible or repressed truths. Our senses are heightened, we’ve trained for this – like sniffer dogs it’s our job to alert people to unnoticed things and then let them respond to that however they feel.

Thanks Louise!

Louise Ashcroft solo show I’d Rather Be Shopping opens at Arebyte gallery in Hackney Wick on 25th August 2017.

Play Station: Bread and Circus for the new jobless society


Lawrence Lek, Play Station, 2017


Lawrence Lek, The Nøtel (with Steve Goodman/Kode9), 2015

In Ancient Rome, politicians used to court the approval of the masses with circus games and cheap food. The satisfaction of citizen’s immediate needs distracted them from any concern regarding the management of the state and made them more likely to vote for lavish politicians. Satirical poet Juvenal found the political strategy disgraceful and talked about panem et circenses.

What will be the 21st century’s bread and circus when the unavoidable impact of job automation puts many of us out of work? Where are we going to find satisfaction and self-worth in the coming years when, as experts predict, automated systems replace 50 percent of all jobs? Will our countries have to face waves of unrest as citizens flood the streets asking for employment, dignity and a reason to get up in the morning? If a universal basic income provides us with bread, what will be our circus?

Artist Lawrence Lek’s latest utopian fiction VR game imagines that in the near future tech companies might throw us a bone:

Set in 2037, Play Station takes place in a futuristic version of the White Chapel Building, the London headquarters of a mysterious technology start-up known as Farsight. A world leader in digital automation, Farsight trains employees to outsource their jobs as much as possible, rewarding top performers with access to exclusive entertainment and e-holidays.

Play Station is ‘a useless-job simulator’. Farsight has no need for human workers, because it relies on automation to ensure profit and growth. The VR simulation is only there to give people a sense of fulfillment. Because Lek trained and worked as an architect, most of his works are site-specific. Play Station, for example, will be installed in the atrium of the recently re-invented White Chapel Building in London where it will stand as a critical comment on the changing boundaries between workplace and playground.

I had a quick email conversation with Lek ahead of the launch of the work for Art Night 2017 on July 1:

Hi Lawrence! Should we rejoice at the idea that playing video games might one day become the new form of work? Or is there something more sinister behind the idea?

In the training and promotional video for Play Station, the guide explains, ‘It’s work! It’s Play! No, it’s Playwork™!’

Play Station is a VR simulation set in 2037 London, where the player is a new employee in a warehouse distribution training centre for Farsight Corporation, a company that specialises in AI automation technology. Here, all work is disguised as play.

The project continues my hybrid site-specific/science-fiction world of Sinofuturism, exploring scenarios where advanced technology, driven by Asian research and investment, poses an existential problem for humanity’s heroic vision of itself. In the Nøtel (made in collaboration with Steve Goodman/Kode9), a fully-automated luxury hotel has its staff replaced completely by drones; In Geomancer, a Singaporean satellite AI comes to earth, hoping to become an artist. With Play Station, I asked – if mechanical automation and AI have kept on replacing the human workforce, could this be seen as an unexpected form of utopia?

I think it would lead to some kind of crisis about work because so much human self-worth is defined in relation to an individual’s value as a labour-provider. It’s a universal syndrome. Whether these beliefs stem from the Protestant Christian or Chinese work ethic, an individual’s relevance to society has extremely deep-set roots in the basis of civilization in agricultural societies, where labour was necessary for survival and (hopefully) prosperity.

Modern work culture has its roots in the transition from an agriculture to the Victorian mechanised workforce; jobs that used to be performed by human labour have repeatedly been augmented and replaced by technology. But what if the ultimate conclusion of the Marxist liberation from drudgery was actually a life of leisure? What would people do if they had universal basic income and they never no longer had to work in order to enjoy a sustainable living?

One idealistic possibility is that everybody will be an artist, free to express themselves and explore the highest forms of human creativity (with lots of government grants and charitable funding of course). More realistically, people would spend time playing computer games, hanging out, and indulging in some kind of play. And at its most extreme, there will be a crisis when the justification for our place in society is no longer predicated on our ability to work.

Lawrence Lek, The Nøtel (with Steve Goodman/Kode9), 2015

Why did you chose a Virtual Reality game to explore post work society?

Play Station is essentially a useless-job simulator. In a way, it’s a future version of medieval re-enactment cosplay scenarios, where people dress up as knights and gather for banquets, tournaments and archery.

In the game, you’re being trained to perform a job that isn’t actually a financial necessity for Farsight corporation. They’ve made billions through AI automation projects. Play Station is one of their charitable goodwill projects. In the future, maybe ‘corporate social responsibility’ goes beyond sponsoring charities. The VR simulation is to give people the illusion that they are productive members of society!


Lawrence Lek, Play Station, 2017

Should we be worried that, soon, all we will have left to spend time is going to be game and VR?

Virtual reality is just the latest in a long line of entertainment mediums that seek to be more immersive. From theatre, to cinema, television, and video games, I think these forms of mass media are designed to envelop the viewer in ever-increasing forms of immersion. That’s why there’s been such a big push in investment, from Facebook acquiring Oculus, to Samsung and Sony developing their own forms of VR. It’s compelling from a multinational business perspective, because the medium can be distributed and domesticated into individual households. There’s a huge potential market for the devices.

So in a post-work society, if everybody has 100% leisure time then VR might be the new opiate of the masses.

Geomancer (Trailer), 2017

Your visions of the future tend to be quite dystopian. But is Play Station anchored in actual examples of trends, news stories and practices? How much of this piece and how much of your work in general is tied to reality and how much of it is the result of your own imagination?

In Geomancer, set in Singapore in 2065, the curator AI says, ‘Utopia VR is big business these days.’

Although it’s often set in the future, my own work is very much tied to reality and what I see in everyday life, from promotional stands at Westfield shopping centre to the hyperactive ads that pop up before Youtube videos. Play Station and Farsight are fictional entities based on how tech companies continuously attempt to improve their public persona through architecture and branding. As part of the installation, I’m creating a marketing video based on promotional videos for hi-tech companies seeking investors and customers. Many of these companies’ founders have genuine utopian dreams about the potential of technology to create a thriving company and to benefit humanity. Naturally, those two things don’t always work together. But in the fictional world of the promo trailer or the VR playground, they do.

I don’t make these works as judgemental criticisms, they are simply more of a reflection of the symbiosis of society, culture, technology, and corporate growth. Whether that’s dystopian or not, I don’t know. But it’s what I see around me every day.


Lawrence Lek, Play Station, 2017


Lawrence Lek, Play Station, 2017

Is there anything about The White Chapel Building that call for this type of post-work/game scenario?

I’m very interested in the interdependent relationship of property economics and architectural aesthetics. The White Chapel Building itself is a newly-renovated former centre for the Royal Bank of Scotland. It’s now leased out to digitally-driven companies and agencies. The new interior reflects trends in workplace design; the 1980s anonymity of big-business architecture (stone cladding, vast central atrium, muted colours) has given way to the post-Millennial workplace (the atrium has a cafe and is open to the public, and you can see the open-plan offices, colourful furniture, and contemporary artwork all around).

We know the ‘playground’ aesthetic of Google workplaces, and Play Station is an imagined continuation of this kind of primary-colours-and-bean-bags aesthetic. But while the interior design of the future workplace will look ever more playful, the underlying economic prerogatives won’t change.

Could you describe the interaction? How do people explore the game and participate?

Play Station is set up as a mandala-like pentagon in the atrium of the White Chapel Building, with each of the five points housing a ‘promo’ station with an Oculus headset, PC, and TV screens playing the instructional video for Farsight Corporation’s ‘new brand of automated workplaces’. The video is for training new employees how to become more efficient workers. Once they put on the VR headset, players engaged in a variety of tasks for fulfilment services (goods distribution). Lucky employees even get to go on Farsight’s rollercoaster ride…

Just like Amazon’s distribution warehouses combine robot and human workforces, there’s a certain kind of automated performance that the player has to learn in order to progress in the game. I’m interested in how video games use ‘fun’ and interactivity to make the player forget the actual physical work and repetitive motion required to play the game.

I actually really dislike putting on those ugly, unhygienic VR goggles. And i’ve had to wear them A LOT over the past few years. Sometimes it was worth it though. What do you find compelling and relevant in VR technology? What makes you want to work with this technology?

I’m most interested in the how the player becomes a performer to other members of the audience, who are also waiting for their turn to become a performer themselves.

There’s a huge difference between ‘ideal’ VR where the virtual world is indistinguishable from the physical one, and the sheer clumsiness of the technology itself. VR headsets add a comedic element to interaction in a public space. At its most basic level, putting on goggles is being blindfolded to your immediate surroundings. When you’re playing, you become the object of attention for other viewers to look at, but you remain happily complicit in this relationship because you’re in another world. This results in a strange kind of reverse voyeurism, where the player’s mind is in another world, but their body stays in the public space of the exhibition.

I find these invisible relationships and social connections very interesting. While exploring, people express subconscious parts of their personality in how they interact with virtual worlds. Some want to win the game by exhausting all possible routes; others want to walk off the edge of the planet. All of these approaches express an attempt to make sense of the world, to master it, to explore the joy or sadness within it; except that it’s literally through the lens of this absurd VR technology that we see as somehow ‘advanced’.

Lawrence Lek, Sinofuturism (1839-2046 AD), 2016 


Lawrence Lek, Sinofuturism (1839-2046 AD), 2016


Lawrence Lek, Geomancer, Commissioned for the Jerwood/FVU Awards 2017


Lawrence Lek, Geomancer, Commissioned for the Jerwood/FVU Awards 2017

Is the future of work something that concerns you personally? Because i suspect that one day AI will take an even more ‘active’ role in the field of creativity as well.

I think AI will increasingly learn to perform ever more complex and creative tasks. I’m interested what this means in my own role as an artist. Can every job be replaced? Is being a writer and artist any different in essence from being a warehouse worker or stockbroker? We all have to make decisions based on certain rules that govern our task. Of course, there’s the romantic ideal of an artist making genius masterpieces. But these are also the result of a very large series of decisions, tastes and preferences as well as the mastery of a range of skills.

My last film, Geomancer, addresses this a problem specifically. While seeking independence from the Singapore government, the satellite AI decides that the most illogical (and therefore most compelling) thing for them to do is to become an artist. What kind of art work would a consciousness create if they had the whole store of human knowledge, of every human and machine language, the entire archive of the internet from 1969 to 2065? And also the capacity to use machine vision on an unimaginable scale, perceiving and recording the movement of every wave and living creature within the ocean? The places where this posthuman idea of creativity will lead are terrifying and beautiful, and maybe even sublime. I think that’s where technology and art are heading.

Thanks Lawrence!

You can experience Play Station at The White Chapel Building for Art Night 2017 on July 1. Lawrence Lek will also be joining Art Night curator, Fatos Üstek at Whitechapel Gallery on Thursday 6 July to discuss his new project.

Play Station by Lawrence Lek for Art Night 2017 is a co-commission by Outset Young Patron Circle and Art Night, supported by Derwent London.