Category Archives: Art

RIBOCA. A moment to reflect on our age of technoscience

Previously: RIBOCA review. A disturbingly tangible Anthropocene.

Second part in my overview of Everything was forever until it was no more, the first edition of Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art (aka RIBOCA) which closed a couple of months ago.


Sasha Huber + Petri Saarikko, Dziedināšana Remedies, 2018

The artists invited by curator Katerina Gregos investigate change. In particular, how change, because of its relentless speed and much proclaimed inevitability, seems to escape robust critical scrutiny. Some of the main sub-themes of the biennial looked at issues as vast as our flawed relationship to other living species, the negotiation of collective historical memory in post-Soviet regions or the impact of unseen technologies on landscapes and society. I only had a couple of hours to visit the exhibitions but even as was reading the catalogue on the way back home, i had to admit that it was a lot to take in for a sole event.


Kerstin Hamilton, A World Made by Science, 2018

Still, RIBOCA turned out to be one of the highlights of 2018 for me. I discovered new artists, new perspective on Baltic states, was intellectually stimulated and eavesdropped on heated discussions about the private Russian funding of the biennial (only a few years after the annexation of the Crimea had put strain on the relationships between Russia and formerly Soviet Baltic states.) I also admired the way each exhibition, no matter how wide-ranging its focus, anchored itself firmly in the historical and architectural context of Riga.

Here are some of the most exciting works (for me):


Nabil Boutros, Ovine Conditions (Celebrities), 2014


Nabil Boutros, Ovine Conditions (Celebrities), 2014


Nabil Boutros, Ovine Conditions (Celebrities), 2014


Nabil Boutros, Ovine Conditions (Celebrities), 2014. Exhibition view. Photo: Andrejs Strokins

We tend to regard individual animals, especially the ones we turn into food and consumer goods, as mutually interchangeable within a herd. All cows become the same, as do pigs and sheep. We rarely consider their sentience: what they think and feel or the nature of their inner world. To us they are mindless animals. Something similar happen to human animals once they are part of a crowd: they are said to adopt a ‘herd mentality’.

As Nabil Boutros‘s portraits demonstrate sheep, like human beings, regain their individual character when separated from the flock. He photographed sheep, lambs and rams, as if they had commissioned these portraits themselves. Each animal’s distinct features and individuality then becomes apparent.

It becomes impossible, in front of these portraits, not to ascribe psychological features of human beings to the individual animals. They appear confident or insecure, modest or cheeky, anxious, surprised, inquisitive, thoughtful, upset, arrogant, withdrawn, excited, seductive, etc.


Erik Kessels, The Human Zoo, 2018. The Former Faculty of Biology of the University of Latvia. Photo: Andrejs Strokins


Erik Kessels, The Human Zoo, 2018. The Former Faculty of Biology of the University of Latvia. Photo: Andrejs Strokins


Erik Kessels, The Human Zoo, 2018. The Former Faculty of Biology of the University of Latvia. Photo: Andrejs Strokins


Erik Kessels, The Human Zoo, 2018. The Former Faculty of Biology of the University of Latvia. Photo: Andrejs Strokins

The Zoological Collection of the Museum of the University of Latvia features the usual skeletons, taxidermied bodies, pinned down insects and other animal remains for us humans to gawk and marvel at. Erik Kessels believes that human animals are often as strange and exotic as the ones in zoological displays. To prove his point, he placed found photos inside the exhibition cases, pairing them with the original artifacts in associative and often comical ways. Both male and female individuals of our species are caught preening, mating, eating and performing other rituals.

The odd juxtapositions force us to have a more introspective look at our own species and the deep connections we share with other animals.


Maarten Vanden Eynde, Pinpointing Progress, 2018. Photo: Andrejs Strokins

Titled Pinpointing Progress, Maarten Vanden Eynde’s sculpture is an homage to the Town Musicians of Bremen, a sculpture based on the story of the Brothers Grimm, in the centre of Riga.

The artist stacked on top of one another technological products that used to be manufactured in Riga and exported all over the USSR and beyond. The objects become smaller and smaller as they reach the top of the sculpture. A bus, car, moped, bike, computer, radio, telephone, camera and a transistor. Pinned on a needle, as if they were insects in a natural history museum.

Progress comes with the promise that we are moving forward, towards a better situation. The faster we get there, it is suggested, the better it is. New inventions swiftly follow one another, often shrinking in size, with nano-technology the ultimate goal. Nanotechnology will potentially have implications on a macro scale. And because we won’t be able to perceive its impact with our unaided human sense, we will have to believe the new forms of progress nanotechnology bring. In this context, information and faith in progress replace material goods as the most valuable resources in capitalist society.

Vanden Eynde’s sculpture wasn’t the only work in the biennial that questioned our age of technoscience…


Lynn Hershman-Leeson, Genetically modified cat from The Infinity Engine, 2010


Lynn Hershman-Leeson, Infinity Engine, 2011-2018. Photo: Andrejs Strokins


Lynn Hershman-Leeson, Infinity Engine, 2011-2018

Infinity Engine explores the societal and ethical challenges of DNA programming and all the applications it enables, from the production of transgenic organisms to 3D bioprinting of human organs.

In collaboration with reknown scientists, Hershman-Leeson created a functional replica of a genetics lab, complete with printed scaffolds of human noses and ears and scientific equipment.

The installation was fascinating and i wish i had had a full afternoon to explore its informative content. One of the rooms was wallpapered in images of hybrid crops, animals and interiors of biomedical engineering labs across the world. Another room allowed visitors to read files of legal documents related to genetic engineering. The most curious was the speculative ‘capture room’, devised in collaboration with biohacker and molecular biologist Dr. Josiah P. Zaynor, in which facial-recognition software captures the images of the visitors, attempts to deduce information about the person’s genetic makeup and adds the data to an evolving composite archetype.

The project points to the possible implications of this kind of genetic research: on the one hand, the astonishing medical breakthroughs; on the other, the new forms of governmental and corporate surveillance it enables. The work also invites us to ponder upon uncomfortable questions: How do these scientific practices challenge our understanding of human identity and life? Who owns the engineered human body parts when human cells and tissue are turned into commodities? How might bio-engineering affect human evolution in a planet that is increasingly uninhabitable?


Stelios Faitakis, The New Religion, 2018. Photo: Vladimir Svetlov


Stelios Faitakis, The New Religion, 2018. Photo: Stelios Faitakis


Stelios Faitakis, The New Religion (detail), 2018. At the Former Biological Faculty

Stelios Faitakis created a spectacular site-specific mural for the lobby of the former Faculty of Biology of the University of Latvia.

His work follows the style of Byzantine painting and specifically the iconostases of Orthodox churches – the icon-covered panels that separate the nave from the sanctuary. The figure that dominates the New Religion is the scientist. In his biblical epic the artist raises questions about the central role that techno-scientific progress plays within the value system of Western society.

Faitakis vision of techno-religion is a dark one. Its mural depict scientists signing contracts with pharmaceutical companies, observing a gigantic nuclear mushroom cloud or working calmly next to a rabbit with its skull open.


Kerstin Hamilton, The Science Question in Feminism, 2018

Kerstin Hamilton‘s The Science Question in Feminism paid homage to female physicists, chemists and biologists from the Baltic and Nordic region in a series of photomontages that subtly highlighting gender inequality in science. Latvian chemist Lidija Liepina, for example, helped create the first Russian gas mask while she was still a student. Latvian biologist and botanist Magda Staudinger was acknowledged as the collaborator of her husband when he won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

The works are inserted inside single vitrines and spread all over the Former Faculty of Biology of the University of Latvia. If you don’t pay attention you might even think they are relics from the glory days of the institution.

While scientific results can arguably be regarded as factual and objective, there is little doubt that the complex structures that surround the scientific knowledge production are socially constructed. These structures have rarely been favourable to women, who systematically have been excluded from formal and informal scientific networks.

Danilo Correale, Mr. Bojangles…….may also enjoy, 2014-15

Mr. Bojangles…….may also enjoy was a 52 weeklong project where the artist tried to comprehend the ability of the Amazon algorithm to get to know the ideological viewpoint of its customers. Over the course of one year Danilo Correale bought books Amazon suggested to him, starting from a text by Judith Butler. Once the book arrived he ripped off one page and returned the now-damaged book to Amazon. He then proceeded to buy the first book in the list suggested by Amazon, using the refund granted by the e-commerce giant.

In every image, next to the book, lays the page that the artist cut out in order to create a new publication of 52 pages: a symbolic representation of the algorithm that modelled the choices for Mr. Bojangles (Correale’s username on Amazon) and aims to make each and everyone of us a nicely predictable customer.


Robert Kusmirowski, IGRA, 2018. Photo: Vladimir Svetlov


Robert Kusmirowski, IGRA, 2018. Photo: Vladimir Svetlov


Robert Kusmirowski, IGRA, 2018. Photo: Vladimir Svetlov


Robert Kusmirowski, IGRA, 2018. Photo: Vladimir Svetlov

I didn’t see this one but i’m a fan of Robert Kuśmirowski

His astonishing talent consists in turning discarded materials into time capsules that give the illusion of decay and bygone times. The title of the work commissioned especially for the Former Bolschevichka Textile Factory in Riga, IGRA, means ‘plays’ in Polish, and refers to phrases such as ‘playing with death’ and ‘playing with fire’, while simultaneously providing an anagram of ‘Riga’.

IGRA consists of a large machine for producing vodka, referencing the illegal production of moonshine at hidden locations in the forest. The work is constructed from equipment found by the artist: ladles, pipes and piping systems. The last tank of the installation contains 40 litres of vodka, which drips into a glass throughout the duration of the exhibition, creating the illusion of a working vodka distillery.

More works from RIBOCA:


Sputnik Photos, Lost Territories Archive, 2018


Sputnik Photos, Lost Territories Archive, 2018


Sputnik Photos, Lost Territories Archive, 2018. Residence of Kristaps Morbergs. Photo: Andrejs Strokins


Kerstin Hamilton, Zero Point Energy, 2018


Kerstin Hamilton, Zero Point Energy, 2018. Installation view. Photo: Vladimir Svetlov

Kerstin Hamilton, Zero Point Energy, 2018


Sven Johne, Anomalies of the early 21st century/Some case studies, 2015. Photo: Vladimir Svetlov


Johanna Gustafsson-Fürst, The Week Has Eight Days, 2018


Femke Herregraven, Malleable Regress, 2016-2018


Alexis Destoop, Phantom Sun, 2016. Photo: Dirk Pauwels

RIBOCA review: A disturbingly tangible Anthropocene

In 2006, Alexei Yurchak published Everything was forever until it was no more. The beautifully-titled book examined the political, social and cultural conditions that lead to the collapse of the Soviet state. The anthropologist argued that everyone knew the system was failing, but because no one could imagine any alternative to the status quo, politicians and citizens maintained the charade of a functioning society.


Sven Johne, A Sense of Warmth, 2015


Katrīna Neiburga, Pickled Long Cucumbers, 2017

Everything was forever until it was no more is also the title of the first Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art (aka RIBOCA) which closed a couple of months ago. I didn’t know about the biennial until i found myself in the Latvian capital for the always excellent RIXC Art and Science Festival (there’s still time to send your proposals for the upcoming edition of the conference and exhibition.) There were leaflets advertising the biennial at the hotel, i picked up one to read during my last breakfast in town and almost dropped my tea mug over another guest when i read that Katerina Gregos was the curator of the event. Gregos is an art historian and, to my eyes, the most perceptive and politically-minded curator we have in Europe.

Under her guidance, RIBOCA investigated the phenomenon of change – how it may seem inevitable (especially in these relentlessly accelerating times) and yet manages to take us by surprise. The works and artists Gregos selected investigated capitalism, technological revolutions, migration, Europe’s existential crisis, post-Soviet history in the Baltic states and our foolish destruction of the environment. I had only 3 hours to visit the biennial and could only run through two of the exhibition venues before i had to leave for the airport. These were probably the most exciting 3 hours i spent in 2018.

I’ll try and give an overview of what i saw at the biennial over a couple of blog posts. Today’s story is looking specifically at the works that make the Anthropocene disturbingly palpable. As befits an event that aimed to engage with the space of the city of Riga, many of the artworks that delved into our uncertain future on this planet were housed inside an abandoned biology faculty. Invading disused buildings is one of the tropes of contemporary art exhibitions but the ploy worked liked a charm as art pieces that examined the many paths to the demise of humanity cohabited with a once grandiose entrance, musty corridors and desolate labs.

Here are some of the RIBOCA works that embodied in the most distressing way the many threats and dimensions of the Anthropocene:


Jacob Kirkegaard, MELT, 2016

Jacob Kirkegaard traveled to Greenland in 2013 and 2015 to record different stages of ice melting.

The ice sheet in Greenland contain about 8% of the Earth’s fresh water. Particularly vulnerable to climate change, the ice is melting at an accelerating rate not seen for more than 350 years.

The alarming phenomenon is causing a rise in the sea level, which directly threatens populations who live in or near coastal areas. It causes other secondary effects, such as changes in the global ocean circulation patterns and in the patterns of rainfall.

Kirkegaard’s MELT sound installation features recordings of different stages of ice melting, moving from violent sounds of ice caps grinding against each other, to trickling sequences and flows of water. MELT traces how water moves through different aggregate phases, from solid to liquid, changing the combination of molecules. You can get an idea of what it sounds like in this video interview with the artist.

MELT dramatizes and makes perceptible a phenomenon that affects each of us but that remains too often distant and abstract.


IC-98 and Kustaa Saksi, A World in Waiting (78°14’08.4″N 15°29’28.7″E), 2017. Former Biological Faculty. Photo: Vladimir Svetlov

IC-98 and Kustaa Saksi’s millefleurs tapestry (a pattern of thousands of flowers) is another work that reminds us, in a visually seducing yet disquieting manner, that the Arctic is one of the fastest warming areas on the planet.

The tapestry transports us into a dark future, when sea levels have risen and the human race is long gone, but the consequences of its past actions are everywhere. The scene is set at the current location of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault (the coordinates of which are in the title of the work.) The seeds that had been sent from around the world in the early 21st Century have sprouted in the warmer climate of the future. Svalbard is no longer covered with glaciers and frozen tundra but with lush meadows.

The carpet itself will not escape degradation. In the future, it might rot. The artists consulted with climate scientists and the people responsible for the seed program to identify the plants that would be viable in 2,000 years time. Some of the seeds of these plants have then been woven into the fabric of the tapestry, literally waiting for their time to sprout.

“Culture and nature are completely intertwined and even if humans disappear, nature will still be shaped by man, by humans, for millennia to come”, the artists told TL mag. “In a way, the Svalbard Seed Vault is a strong symbol of that. But what happens when those seeds start to have their own lives? Which kind of flora would be dominant from Svalbard in 2,000 years?”


Michael Sailstorfer, Antiherbst, 2012-2013


Michael Sailstorfer, Antiherbst, 2012-2013

Michael Sailstorfer demonstrated in the most poetic way the absurdity of using technology and human efforts to counter a natural processes.

In October 2012, the artist selected a lone tree alongside a dyke of the Rhine, in the Ruhr area, one of the most heavily industrial regions of Europe. Once the first leaves began to fall in early autumn, he and his team collected them, preserved them, painted them and then re-attached them to the tree using a fine wire and a mechanical cherry-picker. This painstaking task continued until mid-November, by which time the tree had shed all of its foliage and the leaves had all been reattached.

The entire operation was documented on film. The footage of Anti-Herbst (Anti-Autumn) was then edited to exclude images containing people or machinery. The artificial transformation would look normal unless other trees in the background didn’t reveal that something is odd in the landscape.

“The goal of the project was to reverse a natural process simply by using human power or effort; to use human labour to artificially revert the tree to the way it looked four weeks earlier – green, in summer,” the artist told Frieze. “In the Ruhr area, it’s really hard to say what’s nature and what’s artificial. Of course, today anyone can walk outside of a city and enter a forest, but even there nothing is truly ‘natural’.”

At the end of the project, the team spent 3 days taking down all the leaves again.


Katarzyna Przezwanska, Early Polishness, 2017


Katarzyna Przezwanska, Early Polishness, 2017

Katarzyna Przezwanska works in Warsaw. A few hundred million years ago, that area of Poland was located closer to the equator and covered by a lush tropical forest and inhabited by dinosaurs and other animals.

The artist collaborated with scientists and geologists to create a model of today’s Warsaw terrain from 200 million years ago.

After the mass extinction that ended the Triassic geologic period depicted in her model, life recovered during the Jurassic and the Earth became repopulated with the most diverse range of organisms that ever existed. These organisms then died and gave way to the mineral resources that can now be unearthed in the area: lignite and natural gas, and a major offshore oilfield in the Baltic Sea; large reserves of sulphur and other mineral resources include bauxite, barite, gypsum, limestone and silver; and rich deposits of salt. In so far as present-day Poland is rooted in its mineral economy, these resources are what remain of prehistoric ‘Polishness’.

Her hand-made diorama puts our short-sighted view on everything from energy to politics into the challenging perspective of deep time. It’s this tendency to disregard the long-term consequences of our decisions that have led us to cause tragic and unstoppable damages to the environment.


Julian Charrière, Tropisme, 2015. Photo: Andrejs Strokins


Julian Charrière, Tropisme, 2015. Photo: Andrejs Strokins

After the Triassic and the Jurassic came the Cretaceous period. Julian Charrière placed a plant known to have existed during the Cretaceous period inside a hermetically sealed, glass vitrine. The plant has been shock-frozen at –196˚ centigrade by being dipped in liquid nitrogen and then kept refrigerated at –20˚C. As long as this plant from 65 million years ago is kept in this artificial environment and cared for by humans, its appearance will be protected from the forces of entropy and decay, serving as a bridge between distant past and uncertain future. The “living fossil” hovers between life and death, distant past and future. Its fragility echoes our reliance on non-sustainable resources and our arrogant attempts to dominate the environment, at the cost of disturbing its natural order.

Jani Ruscica, Ring Tone (en plein air), 2018

Jani Ruscica fleshed out the direct and unplanned effect of technology on other living species. His video Ring Tone (en plein air) depicts a digital recreation of a lyrebird. This Australian bird is famous for its capacity to render with great fidelity the songs of other birds but also noises made by animals such as koalas and dingoes. In fact, the lyrebird’s ability to imitate almost any sound, including man-made mechanical sounds, has made it quite popular on youtube.

Ruscica created a CGI animation that combines field recordings and special effects. In order to recreate the bird in CGI, the artist studied YouTube and nature documentary clips of lyrebirds. As with many bird species, the movements of the lyrebird can be quite robotic, somewhat unnatural almost, and the CGI, being a digital recreation of the species, only reinforces this feeling.

Oswaldo Maciá, The Opera of Cross-Pollination, 2018


Oswaldo Maciá, The Opera of Cross-Pollination, 2018. Photo: Vladimir Svetlov

Oswaldo Maciá’s The Opera of Cross-pollination is an immersive installation that echoes Silent Spring, an environmental science book written by Rachel Carson in 1962 about the catastrophic environmental impact of pesticides.

The Opera of Cross-pollination bombards your senses with intense colour, subtle audio and defused aroma to remind us that the ecological drama unfolds in ways that often escape our senses.


Julian Rosefeldt, In the Land of Drought, 2016


Julian Rosefeldt, In the Land of Drought, 2016


Julian Rosefeldt, In the Land of Drought, 2016. Installation view at RIBOCA. Photo: Vladimir Svetlov

The scenes in Julian Rosefeldt‘s In the Land of Drought feature scientists in white lab suits investigating the bleak remnants of civilization in an undefined, post-humanity future.

Shot using a drone in an abandoned film sets close to the Moroccan Atlas Mountains, the images give the viewer a feeling of alienation but at the same time, a sense of thrill, enigma and suspense.


Jevgeni Zolotko, The Sacrifice, 2018 (installation view). Photo Andrejs Strokins

I didn’t see Jevgeni Zolotko‘s The Sacrifice but since we are so intent on treating sentient beings as disposable objects, i feel like i need to mention the work. The artist installed a gray trailer outside the Art center Zuzeum. The trailer, normally used for carrying livestock, evokes the ones in which Latvians were transported to Siberia during mass deportations under Stalin. Disturbing banging noises can be heard as you go near the trailer, but it is unclear whether animals or humans are trapped inside. The ambiguity evokes the cruelty with which humans treat anyone they regard as “Other”, whether this other is another animal species or human being who has different beliefs or ethnic background.

Sven Johne, A Sense of Warmth, 2015

“I’m not going to make it. I’m a loser. Not good enough. I’m cold. Exhausted. Thirty-three years old, fucked by life.” These are the first words of Mindy, the protagonist in Sven Johne’s video A Sense of Warmth. Mindy, who remains unseen throughout the video, recounts her alleged escape from the digital working environment and her new life on a deserted island. A Sense of Warmth catapults the viewer into a paradise, a life without exploitation, war, ecological destruction; in short, a life without capitalism.

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

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

On amazon UK and USA.

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

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


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


Christopher Wool, Untitled, 2000

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

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

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

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

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

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


eL Seed, Perception, 2016

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


Jake & Dinos Chapman, Skull Etched Zippo Lighter, 2015


Julien Breton, aka Kaalam, La beauté, 2015

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


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

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


Pilvi Takala, Workers’ Forum, 2015

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


Thomson & Craighead, Hello World, 2014

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


Lilian Lijn, moonmeme, 1992- ongoing

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


Carey Young, Terminal Velocity, 2010

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


Paul Coombs, Flag of Dildosis, 2015

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


Massa Lemu, Passages for the undocumented, 2010-2012

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


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

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


Vibha Galhotra, Who Owns the Earth, 2016

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


Kendell Geers, S:LAUGHTER, 2003

Using art to build bridges between people living in prison and people outside

Anastasia Artameva is the artist behind Prison Space, an ongoing project that investigates how art can be deployed to establish empathy and communication between incarcerated people and the public outside the prison. Arlene Tucker is the designer and artist behind Translation is Dialogue which looks at how translation processes can be harnessed to make art. As for Sonny “Elinkautinen” Black (Sonny Nyman), he is a musician based in Helsinki. After a few years behind bars, he decided to use his experience and talent to work with young people in the streets of Helsinki and through correction institutions all over Finland, making music and encouraging them to follow their dreams.


Image from a performance and workshop at Cultura Fest in November 2017 in Helsinki. Photo by Anastasia Artemeva

Together, they collaborate on projects that connect people who would otherwise have very little opportunity to meet, share experiences and debate about questions as diverse as social justice and the challenges of mutual understanding. One of these projects is Let It Out, a series of art exchanges for young people affected by imprisonment in Finland and in Russia. The three artists organize workshops and other events where the young people are invited to use art, music, poetry and other creative practices to work together, connect as individuals or simply let their imagination run wild.


Image from a performance and workshop at Cultura Fest in November 2017 in Helsinki. Photo by Svetlana Mikhailova Ostonen


Image from a performance and workshop at Cultura Fest in November 2017 in Helsinki. Photo by Svetlana Mikhailova Ostonen

You (Anastasia, Henkka and Arlene) seem to have very different backgrounds. So how did the three of you meet and decide to ally on the Prison Outside project? How do you complement each other on this project?

Arlene: Anastasia and I met years ago in Helsinki, as we were both exhibiting in a group show. This was back in 2014. I think Anastasia took the lead and contacted me about making art with children. Our projects always have seemed to run parallel and intersect with each other’s, either thematically or spatially. I was preparing for an installation at Performanssifiesta and suggested that Anastasia show her work there. That was the first time I heard about her prison project. Who knew years later that Translation is Dialogue (TID) would find itself snuggling with Prison Outside.

Anastasia: I met Henkka in a peer support center for released prisoners in Helsinki. He used to come there to play pool on his lunch break from studying to become a social care worker, while serving the last six months of his prison sentence. In Finland, in most cases, the last six months of a prison sentence are completed in an “open prison” – an institution with less strict rules. I visited this center Redis for many months as an artist researcher, setting up informal art workshops.

Our creative practices are very different, and I also feel that at the moment we have taken on quite different roles. I am perhaps more of an organiser in this project, and Arlene has been developing and will be teaching the workshops to both young people and their mentors. While both Arlene and I are artists, and will curate the visual aspect of the Let It Out exchange project, Henkka will produce the music. He has been working with correctional institutions and directly with youth on the street for some time now. His experience in composing and teaching music is an integral part of the project.

Arlene: I think what also makes us work well as a group is how passionate each one of us are about using art practice as a means of self expression. This probably stems from our own experiences on how art has touched us personally! Survival skills! Also, I can just plainly say that I always get loads of energy when talking about the project with Anastasia and Henkka!


Image from a performance and workshop at Cultura Fest in November 2017 in Helsinki. Photo by Anastasia Artemeva


Image from a performance and workshop at Cultura Fest in November 2017 in Helsinki. Photo by Anastasia Artemeva

How and why did you decide to explore the world of prison in connection with artistic practices? Did you have particular affinities with the issue of incarceration (if the question isn’t too personal)?

Anastasia: A few years ago, my close friend was sentenced for a very serious crime, which came as a big shock for me. This made me question my understanding of badness and goodness, and I feel that prison is a phenomenon by which as a society we draw a line between the bad and the good.

Henkka: I have been in state care since I was 2 years old, back and forth between over 20 different institutions. When I was 13 I started to write and perform music, and music saved my life. I had to go to prison for two and a half years when I was eighteen. And when I was released, that nine months was the first time in my life when I was free. And now I have served my life sentence, which was 13 years and 2 months. In total, I am now 34 years old, and I have spent over 15 years in prison and overall 32 years in institutions. Many people have told me that I have no chance, but it’s not true. I made it. I have been building my life, studying, and I want to inspire young people to get off the street and begin to follow their dreams.

Arlene: We all have our own story and personal relationship with justice and making mistakes. When I was 13 I became very involved with Amnesty International, which I have to thank my big sister for introducing me to. I remember at my school there was an Amnesty International club where we would all stay after class and write letters to various governments letting them know that we were on to what they are doing. That was when I first started learning about human rights on an activist level.


Art workshops in Redis, an open space for ex-convicts in Helsinki, managed by Kriminaalihuollon tukisäätiö, a Finnish non-govermental non-profit organisation supporting convicts, ex-prisoners, and their families. Photo: Prison Space


Invisible Neighbours, with Annika Niskanen, Helsinki Prison and Esitystaiteen Keskus performance art center. Photo: Prison Space

Your project “Let It Out” connects (or will connect) young people affected by imprisonment in Russia and in Finland. They are invited to exchange artworks, lyrics, and short videos, produced during workshops with artists and musicians. Their exchange will be facilitated using rap composition and translating techniques. Now i can guess the importance of music in this project, maybe as a language of resistance, social gathering and open expression. I’m curious about the role that the translating techniques will play in Let It Out. Is it just a matter of translating from one language to another or is there something more to it?

Arlene: Happy you asked about that! Since you mention it… TID uses the framework of intersemiotic translation as a means to understand what happens in the communication and creative process between different mediums all carrying their own system of codes. Let’s see how the groups take to it, but what I hope to integrate into these workshops in the prisons is to experiment with different translation techniques as a means to guide their creative process. This could help articulate what they would like to say, but also what is being communicated.

Now i’d like to have a look at the locations: Russia and Finland. I know very little about incarceration there. I do know that Scandinavian prisons are praised for the relative quality of life they offer to prisoners and guards. As for Russian penitentiary system, it doesn’t have a very good reputation. But then all i know about it comes from wikipedia, Pussy Riot and those books about Russian Prison Tattoos. Do you think my rough summaries of prison conditions in both countries need to be refined and nuanced?

Anastasia: Yes, penitentiary systems are different in Russia and in Finland, each with its own challenges. However, for me, this project is not about looking at these systems as such, but rather at the support structures that exist for incarcerated people and ex-convicts in these countries. I am also interested in the way society relates to ex-convicts, the stigma people live with once they leave prison. I feel also that the international community has this idea of Russian prisons as places of some kind of horror show, or a gangster movie.

As much as the conditions are, for sure, challenging, I encourage us all to look closer and see individuals, men, women and children, people for whom this is an everyday environment, in which they live and create. We are not here to showcase these systems, but rather encourage people to communicate and see the people beyond these systems.

Henkka: In Finland there are different types of prisons, some stricter than others, and then in Russia it is even stricter again. In our work we are trying to and find ways to create a connection between people in and beyond these institutions. Having an “insider” experience creates trust and makes it easier to communicate and understand the people behind bars.


Let It Out workshop. Photo by Svetlana Mikhailova Ostonen

Apart from the fact that Anastasia was born in Russia but currently lives in Finland, are there other reasons why you wanted to work with these two countries in particular? How easy or difficult is it to work with countries that have such different penitentiary “cultures”?

Anastasia: Russia and Finland are neighbouring countries, yet with very different prison systems, and different cultural relationships with incarceration. Both contexts have their own challenges. It is hard to navigate between institutions, particularly within such a stigmatised issue, but that is what makes our project unique. In my experience, cross-border public dialogue about prisoner support and rehabilitation is very limited. These issues seem to be at most only discussed within the very close circle of prison service professionals or academic research. I want to open it to the larger public, to find ways for solidarity and understanding.

What do you hope to achieve with Prison Space? Who do you think might be affected by it? And what do you think participants will take from the project?

Anastasia: Prison Space the website is designed for the general public. I also hope that it will act as a resource for creative practitioners, social workers and volunteers to share experiences and techniques for working with people affected by imprisonment. My dream is to open up a dialogue and challenge the stigma attached to incarcerated people and ex-convicts. With Let It Out project, in particular, I hope young people will investigate their experience of life when their freedom is restricted, express themselves, and share their creative processes with each other and with a wider public. I want them to know that there are others who have perhaps made decisions that have lead to incarceration, that no matter what country and circumstances you are in, your voice is valuable and you are not alone.

Henkka: I want the people who participate in Let It Out (the art exchange project designed for youth in Russia and Finland) to notice and value their talent and to have more self-confidence in expressing themselves. It is important for me that we do this project not for ourselves but for others. I believe that young people begin to understand the possibility of pursuing a career in creative profession even from one session. Young people I meet on the streets of Finland often have no plans or dreams for the future. Music and art workshops can affect their whole life, and can be a first step in becoming a professional musician or artist. Even if this only happens to one person, then we have achieved more than we could have hoped for. Myself I grew up in an environment where there are no big dreams, and I want to create a space where, by working hard, you can dream big, apply your talent, and achieve your dream.

Arlene: Following similar dreams and hopes with the project as Anastasia and Henkka, I hope that this exchange can also show how much one’s voice is a source of inspiration for somebody else. TID started as creating a space to show the translation process and how we are in constant translation. The contributed artworks are an inspiration and source for more points of self expression. Without the participants and without the artworks, we would just wallow in stillness, but they create movement and excitement within themselves and with others.

Why do you think art is a good medium to establish bridges and communication between the inside and the outside of prisons? Rather than activism for example? Or do you regard the project as form of activism?

Arlene: Making art gives me freedom and space to explore, make mistakes, and experiment. If I could share that with others and they would feel the same, great! If not, at least they tried something new.

Anastasia: For me personally this project is not about representing the community of incarcerated people, neither is it a fight, but rather a gentle, long-term journey to bring together folks of different walks of life. I enjoy art-making as a way reach out and learn new possibilities for communication, and this is what I hope will happen in this project. I am incredibly lucky to be able to do this as part of my artistic work.

Henkka: No, I don’t view this project as activism. An important aspect I’d like to mention is the therapeutic experience that art provides for people in incarceration.


Taryn Simon, Ronald Jones, 2002. Scene of arrest, South Side, Chicago, Illinois. Served 8 years of a Death sentence


Taryn Simon, Calvin Washington, 2002. C&E Motel, Room No. 24, Waco, Texas. Where an informant claimed to have heard Washington confess. Wrongfully accused- Served 13 years of a Life sentence for Murder


Edgar Evans. Photo by Suzy Gorman, courtesy of Prison Performing Arts. Photo via This American Life

Do you know of other artistic projects that have had some impact on the life of the people affected by incarceration?

Arlene: That’s a bit of a tricky question because how can we measure impact? I’m a huge fan of talk radio and especially for the show, This American Life. I had heard this one episode, where “Over the course of six months, reporter and This American Life contributor Jack Hitt followed a group of inmates at a high-security prison as they rehearsed and staged a production of the last act—Act V—of Hamlet” (2002). What the inmates say about their theatrical work is amazing. What Prison Performing Arts does is build empathy, forgiveness, and awareness with the actors.

Another art project that has been very thought provoking for me is Taryn Simon’s photographic series The Innocents (2002), which “documents the stories of individuals who served time in prison for violent crimes they did not commit.” I was very much affected by this project because it made me think about not just the judiciary system, but I was feeling torn because I couldn’t imagine what these people must be going through. Being back in that place they were wrongfully committed.

What’s next for the project? Where is it going to lead you in the coming months?

Anastasia: In November 2018 we will have an exhibition of artworks by people affected by imprisonment, and a symposium on the subject of art in prison.

Arlene: I am excited for that and also am looking forward to making art and music with young artists in Finland and in Russia!

Thanks Anastasia, Arlene and Henkka!

Related stories: Inside Private Prisons. An American Dilemma in the Age of Mass Incarceration, Prison Gourmet and YOUprison, Some thoughts on the limitation of space and freedom.

Curatorial Activism. Fighting sexism, racism, homo/lesbophobia and western-centrism one exhibition at a time

Curatorial Activism. Towards an Ethics of Curating by Curator and arts writer Maura Reilly. Forewords by Lucy R. Lippard.

It’s on amazon UK and USA.

Publisher Thames & Hudson writes: Despite decades of postcolonial, feminist, anti-racist and queer activism and theorizing, the art world continues to exclude ‘Other’ artists – those who are women, of colour and LGBTQ. Indeed, the more closely one examines the numbers, the more glaring it becomes that white, Euro-American, heterosexual, privileged and, above all, male artists continue to dominate the art world. The fight for gender and race equality continues apace.


Lilibeth Cuenca Rasmussen, Never Mind Pollock, 2009

It’s 2018 and the art world is still suffering from an over-representation of white, straight, male artists. Stats (when and where they exist) show signs of marginal improvement, but there’s no denying that old values and canons have never ceased to dominate museums, collections and auction houses at the expense of female, LGTBQ and non-white and non-Western artists.

Curatorial Activism provides us with much needed moments of self-reflection and institutional critique. In her book, Maura Reilly looks into details at the pioneering exhibitions that have bravely challenged assumptions and leveled hierarchies. She also discusses the most successful tactics for addressing inequality, charting their potential, their flaws and the difficult questions they raise: how do you avoid ghettoizing the work of Other artists? How do you give more space to non-Western artists who don’t think they should have to ‘display their identity’? How do you ensure visibility to LGTB artists who don’t want to be identified solely on the basis of their sexual orientation?

One thing this book explains eloquently is that progresses are too often followed by setbacks. One of the many examples explored in the book looks at how, in 2008, the Centre Pompidou in Paris consigned to storage most of its works by male artists and ­rehung its permanent collection to show only works by women. The elles@centrepompidou initiative didn’t encounter a massive critical success and a year after it, the works by male artists were hung again while the ones by women went back to oblivion.


Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook, Two Planets: Renoir’s Ball at the Moulin de la Galette and the Thai Villagers, 2008


Guerrilla Girls, Is it even worse in Europe?, 2016. Photo: David Parry/PA Wire

Although Curatorial Activism targets mostly curators, its content is relevant to anyone with some interest in the art world: Reilly urges museum to diversify their boards; holds private galleries responsible for perpetuating discriminatory practices; exhorts critics to draw attention to disparities and invites artists and marginalized people to make trouble and speak up. The rest of us should relentlessly question the art standards devised by white men for white men. We all have a role to play.

An easy thing to do would be to seek out and visit “alternative” art spaces that fill the void left by mainstream institutions. Reilly mentions the Studio Museum in Harlem. I’m thinking of Autograph APB located at Rivington Place in London. I try to visit their shows whenever i’m in town. Not because i’m explicitly seeking out ‘otherness’ but because their photography program is really good. Until we’ve achieved equality, the work of these organizations will remain invaluable.

Making the the art world more inclusive is an important endeavour. It feels particularly urgent today, in this general climate of reactionary and conservative politics, with a male white supremacist at the head of the US and with a Europe that seems intent on closing its borders to foreign influences.

Here’s a very short list of works i’ve discovered or re-discovered in the book:


James Luna, The Artifact Piece, 1986-1990

In 1986, Native American artist James Luna “installed’ himself in an exhibition case in the San Diego Museum of Man in a section on the Kumeyaay Indians, who once inhabited San Diego County. His performance challenged the way contemporary American museums have presented his people and culture as essentially extinct and vanished. He performed the piece in several cultural institutions.


Catherine Opie, Self-Portrait/Cutting, 1993

One of my favourite art interventions in the whole art history is Fred Wilson‘s Mining the Museum back in 1992 at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore. I like it so much that instead of a photo i’m copy/pasting below a video from a presentation he made a couple of years ago at the V&A in London:

A change of heart – Fred Wilson’s impact on museums


Mary Kelly, Post-Partum Document: Introduction, 1973


Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Vittorio Scarpatti, 1989


Miwa Yanagi, Yuka, from the My Grandmother series, 2000


Alfredo Jaar, La géographie, ça sert d’abord à faire la guerre, 1989


Wangechi Mutu, The End of Carrying All, 2015


General Idea (Felix Partz, Jorge Zontal and AA Bronson), Baby Makes 3, 1984-1989


Tariq Alvi, The Importance of Hanging, 2008

Inside the book:

Lyon Biennale. Floating Worlds: an ambivalent review


Pratchaya Phinthong; Damián Ortega; Marco Godinho; Nairy Baghramian. ©Blaise Adilon


Apichatpong Weerasethakul, The Vapor of Melancholy, 2014. Courtesy Kick the Machine Films, Bangkok et kurimanzutto, Mexico City

I still haven’t decided how much i liked this year’s edition of the Biennale de Lyon which is still open -but only for a few more days- at the Musée d’art contemporain (MacLyon) and at La Sucrière.

Biennale de Lyon: Floating Worlds is the second episode in a trilogy exploring the “modern”. For this edition, invited curator Emma Lavigne found inspiration in Zygmunt Bauman’s concept of liquid modernity. In the 1990s, the Polish sociologist and philosopher started questioning the use of the term “postmodern.” He suggested “liquid modernity” as a better way to describe the condition of constant plasticity and change he observed in social life, identities and global economics within society. Other influences for Lavigne’s vision included the Japanese culture of “the floating world” (ukiyo) and, more prosaically, the important role that the rivers Rhône and Saône have played in the development of the city of Lyon and its surroundings.

I was expecting these ideas of transience, instability and uncertainties to be translated into powerful works that directly engage with some of today’s most pressing and depressing concerns. I got very little of that. I got plenty of clouds (including a couple of atomic ones), foam, puddles, waves and fountains though. Plenty of poetry and classics of modern art that “converse” with contemporary art pieces.

Fortunately, the biennale also features a surprisingly high number of sound works (always a perk in my book!), extraordinary visual and emotional experiences and, here and there, a couple of more politically-minded artworks.

Maybe my problem is that i should be more open-minded and accept that not every single piece of art has to come with dissent and explicit calls to arms. And maybe a contemporary art event that shies away from politics is more laudable than one that pretends to engage with protests and activism just because that’s what gets people’s attention nowadays.

I suspect that i’m going to keep on pondering on the above for a while. In the meantime, here’s a short list of some of the works i found most in line with my expectations from a contemporary art event:


Doug Aitken, Sonic Fountain II, 2013-2017. ©Blaise Adilon


Doug Aitken, Sonic Fountain II, 2013-2017. © Blandine SOULAGE

I’ll start with the biggest exhibition space: La Sucrière, a former sugar warehouse on the banks of the river Saône. Some of the works were massive and played with the battered and enormous volumes of the ex-industrial space. Doug Aitken’s Sonic Fountain II, which occupies one of the silos of the building, is one of them.

A concrete crater has been dug out of the gallery floor and filled with a pool of milky water that is disrupted by droplets tinkling or cascading from the ceiling onto its surface. The drips and drops are released according to a precisely written score and their sounds, recorded by underwater microphones, are amplified in the space. The experience is incredibly soothing. You could stay there for hours.


Susanna Fritscher, Helices soniques / Flügel, Klingen, 2017. ©Blaise Adilon


Susanna Fritscher, Helices soniques / Flügel, Klingen, 2017. ©Blaise Adilon

Susanna Fritscher fills another of the three silos at the Sucrière with a work that plays with the industrial volume and reveals its intrinsic acoustic properties. Simple white pipes, activated by a rotating motor, behave like propellers and produce different sound pitches and geometries according to the speed of their movements through the air. Faster speed makes for higher pitches and almost horizontal volumes that reach out and almost touch the faces of visitors. Dramatic and slightly disquieting.


Philippe Quesne, Welcome in Caveland, 2017. ©Blaise Adilon


Philippe Quesne, Welcome in Caveland, 2017. ©Blaise Adilon


Philippe Quesne, Welcome in Caveland!, 2017. ©Blaise Adilon

The cave dreamed up by theatre director Philippe Quesne for Welcome to Caveland! squeezes in and outside the pillars of the space. The vast, almost organic entity breathes and inflates at the rhythm of the fans that fill it with air. The plastic ecosystem is made of simple black tarpaulin and its inside is lit up by lamps which luminosity changes over time. But what matters is probably the way visitors use the cave: as a site to investigate, a mysterious stage to take selfie, a vast playground, etc. It’s ridiculous how much i was drawn to that one!


Damián Ortega, Hollow /Stuffed: market law, 2012. ©Blaise Adilon

Damián Ortega hung a nine-metre long submarine above one of the largest rooms of La Sucrière. The sculpture, based on a plastic model of a World War II German Type XXI submarine, is made from industrial food sacks stuffed with salt. Salt escapes from a hole in the sculpture and slowly piles up on the floor. The work is a reference to the recent use of submarines to traffic cocaine along the coasts of South America into Mexico. Instead of being martial and aggressive like the original submersible, Ortega’s vessel is pitiful, deflated and unable to protect its contents from the effects of gravity. Not sure i see the point of this one but damn! it is stunning!


Tomás Saraceno, Hyperweb of the present, 2017. © Blandine SOULAGE


Tomás Saraceno, Hyperweb of the present, 2017. ©Blaise Adilon

A single spider moves across and weaves its web over a ‘hybrid web’ designed by Tomás Saraceno. The vibrations of the spider movements are picked up by microphones and amplified to create the subtle soundtrack of the installation.

Beside the arachnid is a projection of the Large Magellanic Cloud, a galaxy 163,000 light years away from earth. The work thus establishes links between the “miniature universe of a spider’s web” and the vast collection of galactic objects and phenomena.


Ari Benjamin Meyers, The Art, 2016. ©Blaise Adilon


Ari Benjamin Meyers, The Art, 2016. ©Blaise Adilon

A disused industrial space is the perfect setting for the rehearsals and performances of a rock band. The Art is an ephemeral group made up of five art students who get together every weekend to play inside one of the exhibition rooms for the duration of the biennial. The group’s stage is surrounded by posters, musical scores, a framed contract that details the terms of the band existence, t-shirts with their “tour dates”, etc. The band and its paraphernalia have all been devised and brought together by composer, conductor and artist Ari Benjamin Meyers. The musicians are free to improvise, modify and interpret the scores as they wish but they are required to disband when the biennale ends.

The Art is part of the artist’s attempts to disrupt the settings of live music events. Meyers wanted live music to free itself from its usual economic model, venues and logic. Talking about his attempt to stage music outside of the traditional clubs and concert halls, Meyers explained: “If I imagine presenting a new work in a gallery context, it’s very different: now it means you didn’t pay, so I don’t owe you anything in that sense, and if you don’t like what you hear or see, leave. And if you do, you can come back the next day, next week, and actually have a relationship with the piece and experience it unfolding over time.”


Bruce Conner, Crossroads, 1976. ©Blaise Adilon


Bruce Conner, Crossroads, 1976. ©Blaise Adilon


Bruce Conner, Crossroads, 1976. ©Blaise Adilon

Operation Crossroads was the name of the first two of numerous nuclear weapons tests the United States conducted at Bikini Atoll between 1946 and 1958. Both tests involved the detonation of a weapon as powerful as the atom bomb dropped on Nagasaki.

Because the purpose of the tests was to investigate the effect of nuclear weapons on warships, the U.S. surrounded the site with over 700 cameras, and some 500 camera operators surrounded the test site. Nearly half the world’s supply of film was at Bikini for the tests, making these explosions the most thoroughly photographed moment in history. Yet, the images long remained classified.

In 1976, Bruce Conner asked for the declassified but so far unreleased footage. He then used the archival material to present 23 shots of the same detonation from multiple viewpoints, so that the viewer can experience the test several times over the course of a 36-minute film. We all know these images of the mushroom clouds. By extending the length of this otherwise ultra short moment, Conner reminds us that these images are as visually fascinating as they are terrifying, especially in the light of the recent insults and threats exchanged between Kim Jong-un and Trump.


Marcelo Brodsky, 1968 le feu des idées


Marcelo Brodsky, Bonn-Saigon, 1968


Marcelo Brodsky, Melbourne, 1968


Marcelo Brodsky, Paris, 1968

1968 was an important a year for civil rights: young people took to the streets around the world demanding more freedom and brandishing new slogans: No more War, More Political Participation, More Freedom, Power to the Imagination, The Street is Ours, etc. The states often responded with repression and violence.

Marcelo Brodsky spent three years investigating visual archives all over the world, trying to find the most representative images of these street protests and intervened directly on the photos to highlight the protagonists and their demands. The artist, who was forced into exile the military dictatorship in Argentina (1976- 1983), writes: These photographs enable us to approach the facts through the emotions that they (the photographs) elicit. They contain details and also ideas, they tell stories within stories. The way I have treated these photographs underlines the context of the time, those moments of life, the exuberance of the proposals. The ideas of 1968 are more alive than ever and are still relevant to the present.

Now off to the MAC, Lyon’s Museum of Contemporary Art, for other works:


Jill Magid, The Exhumation (video still), 2016


Jill Magid, The Exhumation (video still), 2016


Jill Magid, The Proposal (Trailer)


Jill Magid, The Exhumation, 2016. ©Blaise Adilon

Since 2013, Jill Magid has been exploring the consequences for an artist’s historical legacy of the acquisition of their archive and copyright by a private company. Her research focuses on the Mexican architect Luis Barragàn, whose professional archive -including the rights to his name and work and all photographs taken of it- was bought by Rolf Fehlbaum (the chairman of Vitra and collector of architectural and design iconic works) as an engagement gift for his fiancée, the architectural historian Federica Zanco. For the last twenty years, the archive has been publicly inaccessible.

After being refused access to the archive several times, Magid made the couple a rather astonishing proposal: the repatriation of Barragàn’s professional archive from Switzerland (where it is currently held) in exchange for a ring with a diamond made from some of Barragàn’s ashes: “the body of the artist, in exchange for his works.” Her offer didn’t raise the lady’s interest.

Despite Zanco’s silence, Magid continues her exploration of “the intersection between psychological and legal identity, international property rights and intellectual property, the author and his or her estate.”


David Tudor & Composers Inside Electronics, Rainforest V (variation 2), 2015. ©Blaise Adilon


David Tudor & Composers Inside Electronics, Rainforest V (variation 2), 2015. ©Blaise Adilon


David Tudor & Composers Inside Electronics, Rainforest V (variation 2), 2015. ©Blaise Adilon

Rainforest V (Variation 2), by avant-garde composer David Tudor, is a colourful ecosystem of mundane and often oddly-assembled objects that entices visitors to go from one contraption to the other and immerse themselves into sound. The sculptures hum, whistle, grunt, click, ring and use the exhibition space as a vast amplifier. The distance between the visual perception of an object and the kind of sound added to it participates to the joyful cacophony.


Cildo Meireles, Babel, 2001. ©Blaise Adilon

Cildo Meireles has erected a tower made from 800 of second-hand analogue radios at the entrance of the MAC. The older the radio, the bigger and the lower it is placed in the tower. The top of the tower is thus made of more recent, mass-produced and smaller radios.

The artist tuned each of the radios to different stations and adjusted to the minimum volume at which they are audible, creating a dissonance of incoherent information and music, like a contemporary, electronic Tower of Babel.


Icaro Zorbar, Home, 2017. ©Blaise Adilon

Icaro Zorba works with obsolete technology and equipment he had already used in previous exhibitions to create an immersive, enchanting world. He tinkered with the cathodic tubes of 89 mini tv screens till the image they produce is reduced to one luminous pixel. He then hung them on the wall of one room as if they were a flock of birds, while a record player on the floor quietly plays out a soothing soundtrack.

As he explained in a video interview, Zorbar was inspired by his grandparents who repair everything at their home in Colombia. A poetical nostalgia for a time when objects accompanied us our whole life.


Dominique Blais, Phases of the moon (Full Moon Cycle), 2017. ©Blaise Adilon


Dominique Blais, Phases of the moon (Full Moon Cycle), 2017. ©Blaise Adilon


Dominique Blais, Phases of the moon (Full Moon Cycle), 2017. ©Blaise Adilon

Every day, from 6 September until 5 October 2017, Dominique Blais (who had a number of super interesting works in the biennale) has been posting in the mail a glass representation of the Moon. Each parcel is identical to the last, with the exception of the stamp, which depicts the moon-phase of the postage date. Together, the small globes recreate a complete lunar cycle.

Phases of the moon (Full Moon Cycle) is a kind of mail art that depends on the involuntary collaboration of the postal service and brings together astronomical phenomenon and a not so reliable public service (one of the boxes got lost on its way to the museum.)


Lygia Pape, New house, 2000-2017. ©Blaise Adilon


Lygia Pape, New house (inside), 2000. Photo: ©Paula Pape © Projeto Lygia Pape

New House stands in two, very different locations: overgrown with tropical vegetation in the Tijuca forest in Rio de Janeiro, and in the gallery, in the form of a house which interior appears to have been smashed to pieces.

The piece evokes the progressive destruction of a favela and the marginalization of the people who live there.

More images from the 14th Biennale de Lyon:


Davide Balula, Coloring the WiFi Network (with Power Pink) ; Coloring the WiFi Network (with Pale Yellow) ; Coloring the WiFi Network (with Banana White), 2015. ©Blaise Adilon


Dominique Blais, Untitled (Melancholia), 2016. ©Frederic Lanternier


Anawana Haloba, Leggkhota Za Mazwahule, 2017. ©Blaise Adilon


Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Power Boy (Mekong), 2011. Courtesy of Kick the Machine Films, Bangkok and kurimanzutto, Mexico City


Cerith Wyn Evans, A=P=P=A=R=I=T=I=O=N, 2008. ©Blaise Adilon


Peter Moore, 52 photos, 1963-1978. ©Estate of Peter Moore ©Blaise Adilon

The Biennale de Lyon: Floating Worlds was guest curated by Emma Lavigne. The exhibition takes place across several venues in Lyon until 7 January 2018.

Lyon Biennale. Floating Worlds: an ambivalent review


Pratchaya Phinthong; Damián Ortega; Marco Godinho; Nairy Baghramian. ©Blaise Adilon


Apichatpong Weerasethakul, The Vapor of Melancholy, 2014. Courtesy Kick the Machine Films, Bangkok et kurimanzutto, Mexico City

I still haven’t decided how much i liked this year’s edition of the Biennale de Lyon which is still open -but only for a few more days- at the Musée d’art contemporain (MacLyon) and at La Sucrière.

Biennale de Lyon: Floating Worlds is the second episode in a trilogy exploring the “modern”. For this edition, invited curator Emma Lavigne found inspiration in Zygmunt Bauman’s concept of liquid modernity. In the 1990s, the Polish sociologist and philosopher started questioning the use of the term “postmodern.” He suggested “liquid modernity” as a better way to describe the condition of constant plasticity and change he observed in social life, identities and global economics within society. Other influences for Lavigne’s vision included the Japanese culture of “the floating world” (ukiyo) and, more prosaically, the important role that the rivers Rhône and Saône have played in the development of the city of Lyon and its surroundings.

I was expecting these ideas of transience, instability and uncertainties to be translated into powerful works that directly engage with some of today’s most pressing and depressing concerns. I got very little of that. I got plenty of clouds (including a couple of atomic ones), foam, puddles, waves and fountains though. Plenty of poetry and classics of modern art that “converse” with contemporary art pieces.

Fortunately, the biennale also features a surprisingly high number of sound works (always a perk in my book!), extraordinary visual and emotional experiences and, here and there, a couple of more politically-minded artworks.

Maybe my problem is that i should be more open-minded and accept that not every single piece of art has to come with dissent and explicit calls to arms. And maybe a contemporary art event that shies away from politics is more laudable than one that pretends to engage with protests and activism just because that’s what gets people’s attention nowadays.

I suspect that i’m going to keep on pondering on the above for a while. In the meantime, here’s a short list of some of the works i found most in line with my expectations from a contemporary art event:


Doug Aitken, Sonic Fountain II, 2013-2017. ©Blaise Adilon


Doug Aitken, Sonic Fountain II, 2013-2017. © Blandine SOULAGE

I’ll start with the biggest exhibition space: La Sucrière, a former sugar warehouse on the banks of the river Saône. Some of the works were massive and played with the battered and enormous volumes of the ex-industrial space. Doug Aitken’s Sonic Fountain II, which occupies one of the silos of the building, is one of them.

A concrete crater has been dug out of the gallery floor and filled with a pool of milky water that is disrupted by droplets tinkling or cascading from the ceiling onto its surface. The drips and drops are released according to a precisely written score and their sounds, recorded by underwater microphones, are amplified in the space. The experience is incredibly soothing. You could stay there for hours.


Susanna Fritscher, Helices soniques / Flügel, Klingen, 2017. ©Blaise Adilon


Susanna Fritscher, Helices soniques / Flügel, Klingen, 2017. ©Blaise Adilon

Susanna Fritscher fills another of the three silos at the Sucrière with a work that plays with the industrial volume and reveals its intrinsic acoustic properties. Simple white pipes, activated by a rotating motor, behave like propellers and produce different sound pitches and geometries according to the speed of their movements through the air. Faster speed makes for higher pitches and almost horizontal volumes that reach out and almost touch the faces of visitors. Dramatic and slightly disquieting.


Philippe Quesne, Welcome in Caveland, 2017. ©Blaise Adilon


Philippe Quesne, Welcome in Caveland, 2017. ©Blaise Adilon


Philippe Quesne, Welcome in Caveland!, 2017. ©Blaise Adilon

The cave dreamed up by theatre director Philippe Quesne for Welcome to Caveland! squeezes in and outside the pillars of the space. The vast, almost organic entity breathes and inflates at the rhythm of the fans that fill it with air. The plastic ecosystem is made of simple black tarpaulin and its inside is lit up by lamps which luminosity changes over time. But what matters is probably the way visitors use the cave: as a site to investigate, a mysterious stage to take selfie, a vast playground, etc. It’s ridiculous how much i was drawn to that one!


Damián Ortega, Hollow /Stuffed: market law, 2012. ©Blaise Adilon

Damián Ortega hung a nine-metre long submarine above one of the largest rooms of La Sucrière. The sculpture, based on a plastic model of a World War II German Type XXI submarine, is made from industrial food sacks stuffed with salt. Salt escapes from a hole in the sculpture and slowly piles up on the floor. The work is a reference to the recent use of submarines to traffic cocaine along the coasts of South America into Mexico. Instead of being martial and aggressive like the original submersible, Ortega’s vessel is pitiful, deflated and unable to protect its contents from the effects of gravity. Not sure i see the point of this one but damn! it is stunning!


Tomás Saraceno, Hyperweb of the present, 2017. © Blandine SOULAGE


Tomás Saraceno, Hyperweb of the present, 2017. ©Blaise Adilon

A single spider moves across and weaves its web over a ‘hybrid web’ designed by Tomás Saraceno. The vibrations of the spider movements are picked up by microphones and amplified to create the subtle soundtrack of the installation.

Beside the arachnid is a projection of the Large Magellanic Cloud, a galaxy 163,000 light years away from earth. The work thus establishes links between the “miniature universe of a spider’s web” and the vast collection of galactic objects and phenomena.


Ari Benjamin Meyers, The Art, 2016. ©Blaise Adilon


Ari Benjamin Meyers, The Art, 2016. ©Blaise Adilon

A disused industrial space is the perfect setting for the rehearsals and performances of a rock band. The Art is an ephemeral group made up of five art students who get together every weekend to play inside one of the exhibition rooms for the duration of the biennial. The group’s stage is surrounded by posters, musical scores, a framed contract that details the terms of the band existence, t-shirts with their “tour dates”, etc. The band and its paraphernalia have all been devised and brought together by composer, conductor and artist Ari Benjamin Meyers. The musicians are free to improvise, modify and interpret the scores as they wish but they are required to disband when the biennale ends.

The Art is part of the artist’s attempts to disrupt the settings of live music events. Meyers wanted live music to free itself from its usual economic model, venues and logic. Talking about his attempt to stage music outside of the traditional clubs and concert halls, Meyers explained: “If I imagine presenting a new work in a gallery context, it’s very different: now it means you didn’t pay, so I don’t owe you anything in that sense, and if you don’t like what you hear or see, leave. And if you do, you can come back the next day, next week, and actually have a relationship with the piece and experience it unfolding over time.”


Bruce Conner, Crossroads, 1976. ©Blaise Adilon


Bruce Conner, Crossroads, 1976. ©Blaise Adilon


Bruce Conner, Crossroads, 1976. ©Blaise Adilon

Operation Crossroads was the name of the first two of numerous nuclear weapons tests the United States conducted at Bikini Atoll between 1946 and 1958. Both tests involved the detonation of a weapon as powerful as the atom bomb dropped on Nagasaki.

Because the purpose of the tests was to investigate the effect of nuclear weapons on warships, the U.S. surrounded the site with over 700 cameras, and some 500 camera operators surrounded the test site. Nearly half the world’s supply of film was at Bikini for the tests, making these explosions the most thoroughly photographed moment in history. Yet, the images long remained classified.

In 1976, Bruce Conner asked for the declassified but so far unreleased footage. He then used the archival material to present 23 shots of the same detonation from multiple viewpoints, so that the viewer can experience the test several times over the course of a 36-minute film. We all know these images of the mushroom clouds. By extending the length of this otherwise ultra short moment, Conner reminds us that these images are as visually fascinating as they are terrifying, especially in the light of the recent insults and threats exchanged between Kim Jong-un and Trump.


Marcelo Brodsky, 1968 le feu des idées


Marcelo Brodsky, Bonn-Saigon, 1968


Marcelo Brodsky, Melbourne, 1968


Marcelo Brodsky, Paris, 1968

1968 was an important a year for civil rights: young people took to the streets around the world demanding more freedom and brandishing new slogans: No more War, More Political Participation, More Freedom, Power to the Imagination, The Street is Ours, etc. The states often responded with repression and violence.

Marcelo Brodsky spent three years investigating visual archives all over the world, trying to find the most representative images of these street protests and intervened directly on the photos to highlight the protagonists and their demands. The artist, who was forced into exile the military dictatorship in Argentina (1976- 1983), writes: These photographs enable us to approach the facts through the emotions that they (the photographs) elicit. They contain details and also ideas, they tell stories within stories. The way I have treated these photographs underlines the context of the time, those moments of life, the exuberance of the proposals. The ideas of 1968 are more alive than ever and are still relevant to the present.

Now off to the MAC, Lyon’s Museum of Contemporary Art, for other works:


Jill Magid, The Exhumation (video still), 2016


Jill Magid, The Exhumation (video still), 2016


Jill Magid, The Proposal (Trailer)


Jill Magid, The Exhumation, 2016. ©Blaise Adilon

Since 2013, Jill Magid has been exploring the consequences for an artist’s historical legacy of the acquisition of their archive and copyright by a private company. Her research focuses on the Mexican architect Luis Barragàn, whose professional archive -including the rights to his name and work and all photographs taken of it- was bought by Rolf Fehlbaum (the chairman of Vitra and collector of architectural and design iconic works) as an engagement gift for his fiancée, the architectural historian Federica Zanco. For the last twenty years, the archive has been publicly inaccessible.

After being refused access to the archive several times, Magid made the couple a rather astonishing proposal: the repatriation of Barragàn’s professional archive from Switzerland (where it is currently held) in exchange for a ring with a diamond made from some of Barragàn’s ashes: “the body of the artist, in exchange for his works.” Her offer didn’t raise the lady’s interest.

Despite Zanco’s silence, Magid continues her exploration of “the intersection between psychological and legal identity, international property rights and intellectual property, the author and his or her estate.”


David Tudor & Composers Inside Electronics, Rainforest V (variation 2), 2015. ©Blaise Adilon


David Tudor & Composers Inside Electronics, Rainforest V (variation 2), 2015. ©Blaise Adilon


David Tudor & Composers Inside Electronics, Rainforest V (variation 2), 2015. ©Blaise Adilon

Rainforest V (Variation 2), by avant-garde composer David Tudor, is a colourful ecosystem of mundane and often oddly-assembled objects that entices visitors to go from one contraption to the other and immerse themselves into sound. The sculptures hum, whistle, grunt, click, ring and use the exhibition space as a vast amplifier. The distance between the visual perception of an object and the kind of sound added to it participates to the joyful cacophony.


Cildo Meireles, Babel, 2001. ©Blaise Adilon

Cildo Meireles has erected a tower made from 800 of second-hand analogue radios at the entrance of the MAC. The older the radio, the bigger and the lower it is placed in the tower. The top of the tower is thus made of more recent, mass-produced and smaller radios.

The artist tuned each of the radios to different stations and adjusted to the minimum volume at which they are audible, creating a dissonance of incoherent information and music, like a contemporary, electronic Tower of Babel.


Icaro Zorbar, Home, 2017. ©Blaise Adilon

Icaro Zorba works with obsolete technology and equipment he had already used in previous exhibitions to create an immersive, enchanting world. He tinkered with the cathodic tubes of 89 mini tv screens till the image they produce is reduced to one luminous pixel. He then hung them on the wall of one room as if they were a flock of birds, while a record player on the floor quietly plays out a soothing soundtrack.

As he explained in a video interview, Zorbar was inspired by his grandparents who repair everything at their home in Colombia. A poetical nostalgia for a time when objects accompanied us our whole life.


Dominique Blais, Phases of the moon (Full Moon Cycle), 2017. ©Blaise Adilon


Dominique Blais, Phases of the moon (Full Moon Cycle), 2017. ©Blaise Adilon


Dominique Blais, Phases of the moon (Full Moon Cycle), 2017. ©Blaise Adilon

Every day, from 6 September until 5 October 2017, Dominique Blais (who had a number of super interesting works in the biennale) has been posting in the mail a glass representation of the Moon. Each parcel is identical to the last, with the exception of the stamp, which depicts the moon-phase of the postage date. Together, the small globes recreate a complete lunar cycle.

Phases of the moon (Full Moon Cycle) is a kind of mail art that depends on the involuntary collaboration of the postal service and brings together astronomical phenomenon and a not so reliable public service (one of the boxes got lost on its way to the museum.)


Lygia Pape, New house, 2000-2017. ©Blaise Adilon


Lygia Pape, New house (inside), 2000. Photo: ©Paula Pape © Projeto Lygia Pape

New House stands in two, very different locations: overgrown with tropical vegetation in the Tijuca forest in Rio de Janeiro, and in the gallery, in the form of a house which interior appears to have been smashed to pieces.

The piece evokes the progressive destruction of a favela and the marginalization of the people who live there.

More images from the 14th Biennale de Lyon:


Davide Balula, Coloring the WiFi Network (with Power Pink) ; Coloring the WiFi Network (with Pale Yellow) ; Coloring the WiFi Network (with Banana White), 2015. ©Blaise Adilon


Dominique Blais, Untitled (Melancholia), 2016. ©Frederic Lanternier


Anawana Haloba, Leggkhota Za Mazwahule, 2017. ©Blaise Adilon


Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Power Boy (Mekong), 2011. Courtesy of Kick the Machine Films, Bangkok and kurimanzutto, Mexico City


Cerith Wyn Evans, A=P=P=A=R=I=T=I=O=N, 2008. ©Blaise Adilon


Peter Moore, 52 photos, 1963-1978. ©Estate of Peter Moore ©Blaise Adilon

The Biennale de Lyon: Floating Worlds was guest curated by Emma Lavigne. The exhibition takes place across several venues in Lyon until 7 January 2018.

Pazugoo, the 3D printed evil spirits of nuclear waste storage


Speculative Demonology as Deep Geological Repository Marking Strategy, 2016. 3D-additive design and printing workshop with invited guests, Bildmuseet, Umea, Sweden, 8th-10th November 2016

Part of Nuclear Culture, a curatorial project that brings together visual artists and researchers in humanities to reflect on issues related to the nuclear, looks at how we can communicate the presence of a radioactive waste disposal site across hundreds or even thousands of generations.

Some of the artists involved in this complex inquiry have imagined various strategies to communicate the presence of radioactive material around us over a period of time that extend beyond human temporality. Thomson & Craighead, for example, created Temporary Index, a totem that acts as a counter for representing the decay rate of nuclear waste products and as a signpost, mapping the distance between its location and the nearest radioactive waste facility. Meanwhile, Erich Berger and Mari Keto‘s INHERITANCE jewellery set brings the issue of the slow decay of radioactive material into a domestic setting.


Andy Weir, Pazu-goo: 3D Printed Deep Geological Repository Marker for a Future Posthuman Palaeoarcheologist (c.700 BC—4.6 x 109 AD). Image courtesy the artist.

Artist, researcher and writer Andy Weir has chosen a very different avenue.

His Pazugoo project consists of a constellation of collectively modified Pazuzu, the Assyro-Babylonian demon of epidemic and dust. The figurines, which brandish an uranium glow-stick, are created during collaborative workshops using digital 3D object files of scanned museum figures which are edited and 3D printed. The work envisions that the Nylon 12 mini statues will then be encased in clay tablets and flushed into local water supplies, perhaps later discovered as artefacts, or left to slowly degrade and form new molecular configurations through ingestion and drift. Once they have been thrown away, the figurines will live the enduring life of plastic. They will end up in the waste, will crumble into microplastics, will join trillions of other plastic particles into the ocean where they might find their way into the bodies of marine organisms. Which we might eventually consume. If ever humans still inhabit the earth when that might happen.

As Weir wrote in the essay Deep Decay – Into Diachronic Polychromatic Material Fictions, the Pazugoo figures, once they have been scattered into the landscape, become an “anti-marker”:

The anti-marker focuses on leakage, non-containment and the speculative potential of future transformations of humans in dynamic relation and alliance with other entities across scales. This is practised not as metaphor or sign, but through its own performative materiality, drifting from dump to sea, navigating from local sites towards a universal ungrounding current of deep time.

By anchoring the (anti)marker in mythology, Weir points to future radioactive menaces that are as intangible, as powerful and as eluding as the dust and viruses brought about by Pazuzu.

As markers of deep geological repositories, the figurines also seem to echo the superstitions and irrational beliefs that accompany our understanding of the underground world.

Pazugoo is currently part of the exhibition Nuclear Culture presents: Perpetual Uncertainty at Z33 in Hasselt, Belgium. I caught up with the artist and asked him to tell us more about Pazugoo:


Speculative Demonology as Deep Geological Repository Marking Strategy, 2016. 3D-additive design and printing workshop with invited guests, Bildmuseet, Umea, Sweden, 8th-10th November 2016

Hi Andy! Why do you think that tiny figurines of Assyrian-Babylonian demons have the power to speak to future generations? Rather than a more abstract sign or the usual symbols of dangers we use nowadays?

I’m very curious about the way you propose to communicate the presence of radioactive storage sites. Instead of designing a monumental marker, you would lose the figurines in the landscape. How would people in the future find them and make the connection with danger?

My initial interest in the deep geological repository sites was the immense timescales at stake, the way for example that imagination of the 4.46 billion year half life of Uranium-238 became part of a design process.

With the Pazugoo project, then, I was interested to ask what it might mean to consider artwork over these timescales. The buried objects would have a future life of decay, mutation and entanglements with the surrounding environmental materials, over hundreds, thousands, millions of years, in a way very different to the usual timescale of an exhibition.

Pazugoo is based on mutative iterations of Pazuzu, demon of dust and contagion, and in this case is invoked as a navigator through deep time.

The work, in this sense, parasites on the temporal context of nuclear storage. Rather than proposing a direct form of communication with future generations, it suggests more of a material thought experiment, opening to a future out of my control, and infecting thought now.

On the other hand, the models do also communicate through their relation to an ‘index-Pazugoo’, which I am currently developing for the next stage of the exhibition in Malmo. As part of the museum collection, this will act as a marker for the buried objects. I’m interested in how this uses the museum exhibition as a kind of refractive indexing (the model is there as reference to the distributed Pazugoos), focal point for the work’s loosening into the surrounding environment.


Speculative Demonology as Deep Geological Repository Marking Strategy, 2016. 3D-additive design and printing workshop with invited guests, Bildmuseet, Umea, Sweden, 8th-10th November 2016


Speculative Demonology as Deep Geological Repository Marking Strategy, 2016. 3D-additive design and printing workshop with invited guests, Bildmuseet, Umea, Sweden, 8th-10th November 2016


Speculative Demonology as Deep Geological Repository Marking Strategy, 2016. 3D-additive design and printing workshop with invited guests, Bildmuseet, Umea, Sweden, 8th-10th November 2016

When your work was exhibited at Bildmuseet in Umea, Sweden, you organised workshops in which participants 3D printed glitched Pazu-goo models. Why glitch the figurines? And according to what logic?

Following on from thinking about the models as objects in the earth, I became interested in their qualities less in terms of monumental signification, but more in terms of their material plasticity. I became interested in particular plastics, in other words, as a kind of synthetic-natural hybrid deep time connector between distilled and polymered fossilised remains and contemporary plastiglomerate relics. At the same time, I was thinking about the 3D printer as a technology to distribute and propagate pollution as future relic-making (I consider burying the models a kind of ‘critical pollution’ strategy). The glitch in this case comes simply from retaining the machine-produced plastic effects in excess of the original designs (the oily molten drip made solid, for example) usually removed in the finishing of models. I keep it to draw critical attention to the objects as plastic and as a self-aware reference to its own design process. It emphasises these demons as material plastic objects as well as ritualistic navigational figures. It’s also another way that the aesthetics of the work develops at tangents to my agency, through workshops, through the morphology and through the machine.


Andy Weir, Pazugoo, 2017. Exhibition view at Z33


Andy Weir, Pazugoo, 2017. Exhibition view at Z33

Would the figurines be thrown in the landscape following some specific rituals?

This is an interesting question, as it is a part of the project I haven’t developed yet. Yes, I think they will. I hope there is some scope for collaborative performative action with nuclear agencies here.


Andy Weir, Pazugoo, 2017. Exhibition view at Z33


Domenico Ghirlandaio, Three saints fresco featuring Santa Barbara (detail showing, 1471-72. Photo

The work is currently on show at Z33 in Hasselt and, once again, you modified the little demon but this time the changes were inspired by Saint Barbara. Could you tell us the story behind this religious figure and why you chose to work with it?

I came across Santa Barbara as the patron Saint of miners when I saw a figure displayed in a glass vitrine on my visit to the H.A.D.E.S research laboratory in Mol, Belgium. I later discovered that a similar figure is on display at the entrance to deep geological repositories around the world (and tunnels more generally), touched for protection by miners. It is evidence of a rich shared contemporary mythical culture around the sites, which I see my Pazugoo project in dialogue with. Engineering, myth and futurology are intimately entwined. I liked the image of a mythic underground connection through ritualistically protected tunnels, in a strange balance with Pazugoo’s airborne flight driven by an excess of wings. Barbara also morphs, becoming, for example Yansan, orisha of wind, in Candomble, crusher of the patriarchal will in Ghirlandaio’s 15th Century frescoes, and also apparently the inspiration for Barbiturates.

Do you see Pazu-goo as an ever-evolving figure and project? Are there more steps and manifestations coming up?

Yes very much so, I mentioned above the development of the project for the next stage of Perpetual Uncertainty in Malmo. For this I plan further prototypes for burial and the index marker. Discussions around the work are an important part of it for me and I’ll be taking part in a roundtable discussion as part of the Z33 exhibition soon. I’ve also been making some new diagrams which I’m publishing as part of a collaborative project on ‘the contemporary’. I will work next on the burial ritual, some new sound work, and other production/ distribution/ reformulation strategies (including algorithmically produced objects). Pazugoo continues to drift.


Andy Weir’s figurines are lined up on the mantelpiece, at the back of the photo. Exhibition view at Z33. Photo by Kristof Vrancken

Could you tell us also about the short field recordings you made in 4 different deep geological repositories in Europe and the USA? It’s interesting that you didn’t use a visual language back then. How do you get authorization to make the recordings on these sites? And what is it that the listener can perceive exactly, apart from ambient sound?

Yes, this actually returns in the video in the Z33 exhibition, where the sound is composed from the noise of the lift descending into and ascending from the H.A.D.E.S lab. I’m also returning to sound in some current work, from a different perspective, around sonification as futurology. When I first researched and visited the sites, I was interested in the processes of projection, pre-emption and modelling alongside this mass of radioactive stuff that is there as hidden driving agency of the whole project. I approached this through playing with modes of fictionalisation. Recording, archiving and distributing ambient sound was proposed as a ‘sonic fiction’ as angle of approach to deep time. This drew on histories of hyperstition as bringing about reality through fiction, and reflected on the complex temporality of the sites, extending beyond and looping back to human experience. The idea was not so much that the listener would perceive something as catch something! This led to further play with ideas of contagion, and the emergence of the figure of Pazuzu (demon of dust and contagion) as ritual navigator through deep time, which loops back to your first question.

Thanks Andy!

For more background about Andy Weir’s research, check out Deep Decay – Into Diachronic Polychromatic Material Fictions, an essay he wrote for Z33 research blog.

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

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

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

Related stories: Perpetual Uncertainty. Inhabiting the atomic age, Sonic Radiations. A nuclear-themed playlist commissioned by Z33 for the exhibition and The Nuclear Culture Source Book.

Janez Janša, Janez Janša and Janez Janša explore the “collateral effects” and damages of name change


Janez Janša® at +MSUM. Photo: Dejan Habicht / Moderna galerija

In 2007, three artists officially changed their names and adopted the one of Janez Janša, a very powerful, right-wing and generally unpleasant political figure regularly embroiled in accusations of corruption and authoritarianism.

The administrative procedure not only turned their lives into a perpetual performance but it also altered their private, civil and artistic lives in ways they had not always foreseen. Ten years later, an anthological exhibition titled
Janez Janša® at the +MSUM – Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova in Ljubljana explores some of the most meaningful “collateral effects” of the move.

What’s in a name? How does it relate to ownership, legal status, self-perception and self-representation, profiling, surveillance, copyright and commodification of language, and related topics that define the contemporary condition? What’s an artwork and what are the boundaries that define it in relation to life, institutions and companies?

The trio has always affirmed that the name change was only a matter of personal choice but this didn’t prevent their gesture to be interpreted and misread in many ways. Especially among political commentators who saw it as either a brazen act of political affiliation or protest. And as the soberly-titled article “Culture according to leftists: provocateurs abuse Janez Janša’s name, and political godfathers finance it all with taxpayers’ money” suggests, a full decade may have passed but the controversy surrounding the work of the three Janez Janša hasn’t abated (the other thing to note from the article is that artists receive “millions” of euros for setting up a show in Slovenia. If i were an artist i’d be looking into moving there myself.)

However, the very long-term impact of the name change indicates that its significance extends far beyond any direct reference to the Slovene politician. It not only brings about a shift of perspective on the mechanisms of power but it also demonstrates how a name can be used as an interface that unlocks a series of questions related to the conventions and ambiguities associated with identity, the limits (or lack thereof) of the fictionalization of life, the confluence of mass-consumption and customization, etc.


350 Janez Janša Bottles, 2017. Janez Janša® exhibition at +MSUM. Photo: Dejan Habicht / Moderna galerija


Installation view of Janez Janša® exhibition at +MSUM. Photo: Dejan Habicht / Moderna galerija

My name is Janez Jansa (trailer)

The last time i laughed so much while visiting an exhibition was… never, i think. I always knew i’d enjoy the show but i wasn’t expecting the exhibition to hit me so deeply and keep me pondering on identity, politics and the mechanisms of art institutions weeks after i’d visited the museum.

There are dozens of works in the show. Each of them explores a different status of names in the cultural, political and social spheres. I’m going to briefly introduce some of my favourite works below (you can find others in stories i’ve written in the past: My Name Is Janez Janša and Self-portraits for bank cards investigate money circulation, art ownership and identity.)

Let’s start with a bit of romance, shall we?


Janez Janša, Janez Janša, Janez Janša, Wedding, Ljubljana, 11 August 2007. From left: Janez Janša, best man, Marcela Okretič, bride, Janez Janša, bridegroom, Janez Janša, best man and Branko Franc Grošl, Marriage Registrar, Municipality of Ljubljana. Photo: Nada Žgank/Memento


Janez Janša®, Marcela in Janez: Poroka, 2017. Installation view at +MSUM. Photo: Dejan Habicht / Moderna galerija

Janez Janša, Janez Janša, Janez Janša, Wedding, Ljubljana, 11 August 2007

On August 11, 2007, Janez Janša and Marcela Okretič got married. Janez Janša was the best man of the bride and Janez Janša the best man of the groom. The guests, unaware of the artists’ name change, learned of it during the ceremony directly from the marriage registrar at the municipality of Ljubljana.


Janez Janša®, I Love Germany, at +MSUM. Photo: Miha Fras / Aksioma

Most of Janez Janša’s works make me grin then mull over. Especially I Love Germany.

“I Love” t-shirts are the most mainstream items of clothing anyone could wear… Unless it says “I Love Germany”. The word Germany is a loaded one. The county being, rightly or not, associated with European leadership, influence and prosperity.

I Love Germany, shows how even abused significants such as the “I Love” trend may take an unsuspected, powerful meaning when juxtaposed and remixed with other significants, and how a similarly abused gesture (the tourist portrait) can become a strong political gesture.

An I Love Germany t-shirt becomes a powerful medium for political commentary when worn in front the Greek parliament in Athens. Or while posing next to a Royal Guard in London for a GIF titled “Brexit”.


Janez Janša® at +MSUM. Photo: Dejan Habicht / Moderna galerija

An important aspect of the work investigates the documents that emanate from identity: signatures, passports, ID cards, credit and debit cards, etc. The 2008 Name Readymade exhibition showcased the artists identity cards, passports, bank cards and other documents that bear their names. These artifacts operate both as valid legal documents and works of art, rising the question of what comes first in terms of value and significance: the cultural object or the administrative document? These objects belong to the state, not the artists. On the one hand, they are passports which can’t be sold on the art market as long as they are valid legal documents. And once they have expired, the same documents must be destroyed or returned.


Janez Janša® at +MSUM. Photo: Dejan Habicht / Moderna galerija

The perceptual power of a name runs far deeper than i had expected (although given the name of my blog i should have seen it coming!) A name is such a vital part of the way you are perceived that it can determine the success of your job application or whether potential dates will swipe left or right on Tinder. I recently read that white people named Washington complained about the discrimination they face on the phone because other U.S. citizens immediately assume they are black (sorry i can’t find the link to the article anymore!)

One of the videos in the show explore the emotions that the artists’ parents went through upon hearing that their son had changed their names. One dad seemed to wave it away as yet another shenanigan from his mischievous arty child. Another understood it as a public gesture of rejection. That’s when i realized the toll that a simple administrative procedure like this can take on friends and families. Maybe that’s why the parents selected the most embarrassing photos of their kids to illustrate the video?


Life Span, 2017. Janez Janša® at +MSUM. Photo: Dejan Habicht / Moderna galerija


Life Span, 2017. Janez Janša® at +MSUM. Photo: Dejan Habicht / Moderna galerija


Life Span, 2017. Janez Janša® at +MSUM. Photo: Dejan Habicht / Moderna galerija

A troublesome byproduct of Janez Janša, Janez Janša and Janez Janša’s name changes is how they will be remembered. Which name will be inscribed on their tombstones? Does their artistic career start when they graduated from art school or when they adopted the new name? Are Emil Hrvatin, Davide Grassi, Žiga Kariž legally and artistically dead?

Three tombstones, placed on the lawn in front of the museum, look at how online database of Slovene art Pojmovnik slovenske umetnosti has processed their existence. When referring to their original name, the website indicates that each of the artists died in 2007. But there is only one entry for Janez Janša and it is devoid of date of birth or death, making them ageless and eternal.


Janez Janša®, 2017. Graphic designer: Luka Umek

The exhibition premieres the latest episode in the Janez Janša, Janez Janša, Janez Janša adventures: the registration of the Janez Janša name as a trademark for the next ten years. With this trademark, the artists “promote the commodification of their own names and their value by colonizing the area of trade, and name it as a property that you can legally protect.”


Janez Janša® at +MSUM. Photo: Miha Fras / Aksioma

All of the above is tinged with a certain irony when you learn that the legal name of Janez Janša (the politician) is actually Ivan Janša. Apparently, Janez is seen as ‘more’ Slovenian than Ivan in the country. As one of the 3 Janez Janša artists explained in an interview with Marc James Léger: In his case, he appears with different names in two institutional situations. In political life he always appears with the name Janez Janša, but in legal affairs, and he goes very often to the courts, for various reasons, now because of corruption charges, and appears with his legal name, Ivan Janša.

More images from the show:


Janez Janša® at +MSUM. Photo: Dejan Habicht / Moderna galerija


Janez Janša® at +MSUM. Photo: Dejan Habicht / Moderna galerija


Janez Janša® at +MSUM. Photo: Dejan Habicht / Moderna galerija


Janez Janša® at +MSUM. Photo: Dejan Habicht / Moderna galerija


Janez Janša® at +MSUM. Photo: Dejan Habicht / Moderna galerija


Janez Janša® at +MSUM. Photo: Dejan Habicht / Moderna galerija


Janez Janša® at +MSUM. Photo: Dejan Habicht / Moderna galerija

Janez Janša® was co-produced by Moderna galerija (MG+MSUM) and Aksioma – Institute for Contemporary Art and curated by art critic and independent curator Domenico Quaranta. The exhibition is at +MSUM – Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova in Ljubljana until 18 February 2018.

Janez Janša® is part of State Machines – Art, Work, and Identity in an Age of Planetary-Scale Computation, a project that investigates the new relationships between states, citizens and the stateless made possible by emerging technologies, focussing on how such technologies impact identity and citizenship, digital labour and finance.

Previously: My Name Is Janez Janša and Self-portraits for bank cards investigate money circulation, art ownership and identity.

Ecovention Europe: Art to Transform Ecologies, 1957-2017 (part 1)


Paul Chaney, Breast Plough’o’metric, 2014. Photo via THG (Thelma Hulbert Gallery)

Scientist, curator and philosopher Sue Spaid coined the term ‘Ecovention’ in 1999 and went on to illustrate its meaning and reach three years later with an exhibition titled Ecovention: Current Art to Transform Ecologies at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati. Spaid defines ecoventions as inventive, practical actions with ecological intent. The focus of an ecovention is not to interfere aesthetically with the landscape but to explore how art can contribute, even on a microscale, to the improvement of a given ecosystem.

This year, Sue Spaid teamed up with Roel Arkesteijn to look at the development of these artistic ecological interventions in Europe. Together, they curated Ecovention Europe: Art to Transform Ecologies, 1957-2017 at De Domijnen in Sittard.

The artists in the show not only remind us that the way we exploit the earth and its resources is irresponsible and unsustainable but they also look for solutions to environmental destruction. Alone or with the help of local communities, they’ve cleaned up polluted soils, planted wheat fields, provided pollinators with appetizing flowery landscapes, built hanging gardens, initiated edible and medicinal urban farms, developed schemes for sharing excess food and bred more resilient chicken breeds.

Unlike the website of De Domijnen, the show is in both Dutch and English. It is also very good. Informative, impeccably researched and uplifting. Ecovention Europe cheered me up and convinced me that the human animal is not a hopelessly toxic species after all.


Cecylia Malik, Białka’s Braids, 2013/2017. Photo credit: Mieszko Stanisławski

Do me a favour and visit the show if you live in the area (Sittard is 15 minutes away from Maastricht by cheap and cheerful train) because exhibitions like these are few and far between. Sue Spaid explains why in this extract from a fascinating interview she had with Metropolis: Pragmatically speaking, this kind of art is a nightmare for institutions. They prefer the kind that comes in a box, comes out of a box and then gets returned in a box a few months later. If the artists decide to exhibit something living, the museums are responsible for keeping it alive! If it is living, it might generate insects, dust, vapor, etc. Then there is the issue of commissioning ecoventions, which is another thorny issue, since it demands artists working with politicians, scientists, community members, etc., not to mention securing permits to place the work.

The exhibition is huge, with dozens of art works, all of which i’d like to mention. I’ll only cover a fraction of what i’ve discovered at De Domijnen in this article and the one coming up tomorrow (if i have good wifi access during my 9 hour long journey and i’m not too lazy) or on Wednesday. Here’s a first selection:


Paul Chaney, Breast Plough’o’metric, 2014 (video)


Paul Chaney, Slug’o’metric Device II, 2008


Paul Chaney, Slug’o’metric Devices


Paul Chaney. Installation view at Museum De Domijnen. Photo by Bert Janssen

Made of forged iron and chestnut, Breast Plough’o’metric is a replica of an ancient breast plough. Paul Chaney outfitted it with digital strain gauges and a small computer to record the exact amount of effort needed to plough a given tract of land by human power alone.

The instrument is part of a series that explores the metrics of direct human interaction with the land. A previous work, the Slug’o’metric series of kinetic sculptures employs progressively more complex technologies to kill and count slugs in your garden patch. The more technologically sophisticated each device gets, the more it removes the user from the physical action of killing the mollusc. Both the Slug’o’metric series and the Breast Plough’o’metric unsettle the typical illusion that ‘living with the land’ is a pure and uncomplicated affair.


George Steinmann, Blues for the glaciers, 2015. Photo: Tabea Reusser

In 2015, artist and blues musician George Steinmann became the first ever official “artistic observer” at the World Climate Conference COP21 in Paris.

It’s in this context that Steinmann recorded a concert of blues music in the Glacier du Rhône, in the Swiss Alps. He chose this particular glacier as the venue for the performance because the ice up there is melting about 8 cm a day. It’s global warming in action and without any veil of modesty.

The concert was filmed and unfiltered with all the sounds of nature


Brandon Ballengée, DFA136: Procrustes, cleared and stained Pacific tree frog collected in Aptos, California in scientific collaboration with Stanley K. Sessions (from the series Malamp Reliquaries), 2013


Installation view of Ecoventionat Museum De Domijnen, September 2017. Photo by Bert Janssen

Malamp Reliquaries are a series of portraits of severely deformed amphibians that artist and biologist Brandon Ballengée has discovered in wetlands, ponds and rivers around the world. Their extra or missing limbs can be explained either by the presence of chemical pollutants or by a parasite, Ribeiroia ondatrae. It is thought that the parasite disrupts the cells involved in the limb bud formation of tadpoles.

To make these portraits, the artist chemically “cleared and stained” the frogs. The photos are printed as unique watercolor ink prints and each individual frog appears to “float” in clouds. This otherworldly quality is reinforced by the titles named after ancient characters from Greco-Roman mythology.

The artist writes: They are scaled so the frogs appear approximately the size of a human toddler, in an attempt to invoke empathy in the viewer instead of detachment or fear: if they are too small they will dismissed but if they are too large they will become monsters. Each finished artwork is unique and never editioned, to recall the individual animal and become a reliquary to a short-lived non-human life.


AnneMarie Maes, Transparent Beehive, 2013-2014. Photo by AnneMarie Maes


AnneMarie Maes, Red Flag. Photo by AnneMarie Maes

The Transparent Beehive is an observation beehive that used to home a living bee colony. The beehive is fitted with microphones which pick up the vibrations and sounds of the hive and monitor the colony. Cameras inside the hive survey the growth of the wax structures and the activity of bees. Additional sensors measure the microclimate inside the structure. Data is then processed and visualized to make the state of the colony tangible.

In 2013, the bees inhabiting Maes’ beehive suffered colony collapse disorder due to the invasion of the waxmoth. Standing empty, emitting only the recorded sounds of the honey bees that once inhabited it, the work bears witness to colony collapse disorder that challenges our food future.

In the exhibition, the beehive is accompanied by a lightbox depicting a scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of a honey bee’s extended glossa, the hairy “tongue” in the bee’s mouth that collects nectar from flowers.

Finally, the Red Flag, a biotextile grown by microorganisms, warns us that we should act to preserve (or restore) the well being of our environment.


Vera Thaens, Lost Common Sense, 2014/2017, Black lights, broccoli, Monsanto broccoli seed patent


Vera Thaens, Lost Common Sense, 2014/2017. Installation view at Museum De Domijnen. Photo by Bert Janssen

Vera Thaens hid an illicit plantation of broccoli under the staircase of the museum. The work, called Lost Common Sense, reacts to Monsanto being granted a patent on broccoli in all of its natural forms in Europe (in EUROPE!!!)

I’ll mention Thaens again in my upcoming story. I wish i could find more documentation about her work online. That lady is my new hero!


Lara Almarcegui, Mineral Rights, Tveitvangen, 2015

Lara Almarcegui looked into issues surrounding the ownership of the ground and the depths beneath it. Mineral Rights are regulated differently from country to country. They entitle an individual or organization to explore the rocks, minerals oil and gas found below the surface of the land. It is often impossible for a private individual to acquire them. After a lengthy procedure, Lara Almarcegui gained the mineral rights to the iron ore deposits for an area of one square kilometer in Tveitvangen, near Oslo. The mineral rights reach from the subsoil down to the center of the earth. Her objective though was to prevent the resources from being extracted.

She later acquired another iron deposit in Buchkogel and Thal, near Graz.

The artist writes: The project reminds us of how the territory is shaped at a geological level and how it is broken down and split into pieces for mine exploitation. While presenting what is below the feet in our contemporary cities and who owns it, the project raises the question of mineral extraction for the production of construction materials and it brings to light questions on land ownership and resources ownership.


Federica Di Carlo, Come in terro cosi in cielo (As in earth, so on heaven), 2013-ongoing


Federica Di Carlo, Come in terro cosi in cielo (As in earth, so on heaven), 2013-ongoing

Since Federica Di Carlo noticed that not all rainbows have all 6 colours, she has been working with scientists to discover the relationship between incomplete rainbows and air pollution.


Installation view of Ecoventionat Museum De Domijnen, September 2017. Photo by Bert Janssen


Czekalska + Golec, Homo Anubium (St. Francis 100% Sculpture), 1680-1985

Tatiana Czekalska and Leszek Golec co-created these artworks (originally church sculptures) with woodworms that had eaten so much of the material that their former owners deemed them useless as religious sculptures. The artists however saw the aesthetic and intrinsic value in the contribution of the animals, in particular their having selected Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals and the natural environment. The artists date it 1680-1985 as they see the creative process as being conducted over centuries

More views from the exhibition:

Installation view of Ecoventionat Museum De Domijnen, September 2017. Photo by Bert Janssen


Installation view of Ecoventionat Museum De Domijnen, September 2017. Photo by Bert Janssen


Installation view of Ecoventionat Museum De Domijnen, September 2017. Photo by Bert Janssen


Installation view of Ecoventionat Museum De Domijnen, September 2017. Photo by Bert Janssen


Installation view of Ecoventionat Museum De Domijnen, September 2017

The publication that accompanies the exhibition is a fantastic resource for anyone interested in ecological art. You can get it online at BOL if you live in The Netherlands. The rest of us can buy it on Amazon.

Ecovention Europe, art to transform ecologies, 1957 – 2017 remains open at Museum Hedendaagse Kunst De Domijnen in Sittard (NL) 7th January 2018